Blog : Marketing

Remember your rookie season

Most of you have probably never heard of my favourite hockey player before. He wore #15 for the Montreal Canadiens. He stood 5’8″ and weighed in at a spritely 180lbs. In his NHL career, he tallied 31 goals and 80 points over 192 games, before disappearing into the depths of international leagues.

His name was Paul DiPietro.

Moments of attention, frozen in time

I’ve written before about how autographs are nothing more than souvenirs from moments of individual attention. This is a story about how that single moment can shape a relationship forever. This is a story about remembering the little things, if you’re lucky enough to become a big thing.

Hearing the name Paul DiPietro, will invoke dusty memories of the early 1990′s for hockey fans. The kid blazed into the league and sparked the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup victory in 1993; scoring twice in the championship clinching game.

Kodak Moments

I was probably one of the first fans to send him a letter asking for an autograph.

I know this, because there was no hockey card to send; he hadn’t been around long enough to have one.

I know this, because the response came back in a matter of days; he obviously wasn’t getting a lot of mail.

I know this, because the response I got was real: a hand-written letter folded around a photograph. A 4×6 photograph, signed with ballpoint pen, printed on Kodak photo paper – as if freshly developed from a roll of film (I’m sure it was).

It was so fresh, so real, so exactly what a sports-crazed-kid wanted. As we grew up, my friends went through phases of sports heroes; jumping on bandwagons, following trends. Although he disappeared from the spotlight as soon as he entered it, my favourite hockey player was locked in.

That photo hung on my wall for the next 10 years.

We were all rookies, once upon a time

There’s more here than a romantic tale about boyhood heroes – a lot more.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane; back to your rookie season doing whatever it is you call your job.

Think about your first sale. Think about your first satisfied customer. Think about the first email you received; your first phone call; your first opportunity to make someone’s day.

Think about what it was like when you were hungry; when everything was new, and every single person mattered.

Are you still there? Or has the daily grind transformed you into a grizzled veteran, with shortcuts to get things done faster, content just knowing the cheque is coming at the end of the month?

We desperately need more rookies. Keep your eyes open for the next potential kodak moment. You could gain yourself or your organization a new fan for life.

Say 20% Less

Did you know that Spanish contains 20% more words than English? I didn’t. Not until it was too late. Not until my translators let me know – with a slight hint of frustration in their (out of breath) voices.

I had just completed my first speech with simultaneous translation, at an incredible event in Mexico City. I thought it had gone pretty well (and it had), with the majority of the room giving all of the usual signs of being on board: heads nodding, eyes and mouths smiling, notes scribbling; all happening at the right times.

But for those who weren’t quite able to speak my language, I had presented them with a situation where they could have potentially missed one out of every five words. Lesson learned.

Say 20% Less

Think about how often you communicate with audiences who might not be fully fluent in your language. For marketers, this happens a lot. If you’re trying to teach someone about a new product or service – there’s always going to be elements of your communication that are foreign to them.

By saying 20% less, you give them more time to think about what you’re saying.

  • You give them more time to write things down.
  • You give them space to ask some questions.
  • You give them less information to process and remember before they ask you for more.
  • You give the conversation room to breathe.

I’m taking this into account for all of my future speaking and writing. How can you communicate more by saying less?

Photo Credit: Julius Mourlon

Put scary on a sliding scale

You’re allowed to be scared. Being scared means you’re pushing yourself up against the edges, trying new things, and challenging the comfy cozy confines of normal, every day existence.

If you go through life and you’re not scared of anything, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

What are you scared of?

The answers are different for everyone. We’re each wired differently: some of us are outgoing, some are shy, some like corner offices in skyscrapers, others prefer to feel their roots in the soil at all times. But we are the same in that there are triggers for all of us that make us feel like cowering, turning on our heels and running the other way.

Take a few moments to think about where you want to be; whether personally or professionally. Chart your path from here to there, taking note of the hurdles of fear that you have to clear to achieve your goals.

Maybe you want to get promoted in your department, but you’re afraid to speak up and voice your opinions in meetings. Maybe you want to become a writer, but you’re scared of people not liking your work. Maybe you want to run a marathon, but you’re afraid you won’t have what it takes to cover the distance.

Put scary on a sliding scale

While its okay to be scared; it’s not okay to always be scared of the same thing. Growing is all about smashing one fear on your way to the next.

In the movies, the person who faces their fear does it in one heroic moment. If you’re scared of heights, Hollywood instructs you to jump out of a plane. Scared of spiders? Lock yourself in a room with a tarantula. Don’t like the ocean? Find yourself a shark tank.

This is akin to saying “Afraid of your credit card statement? Win the lottery”.

In your day to day life, it is much easier to face your fear in small doses on a regular basis; pushing it along the scale until it no longer matters to you.

Take public speaking for example:

  • Start with talking in front of a mirror or recording yourself on your phone and listening back to get used to your own voice.
  • Find a topic you’re passionate about, and talk to a few friends about it.
  • Arrange an informal gathering of colleagues at lunch to teach them about one of your favourite hobbies.
  • Find a local non-profit who could benefit from your abilities, and volunteer to teach them, without the pressure of being paid.
  • Work your way up to bigger events, with more people, and progressively higher stakes

By taking a measured approach, you’re not only always tackling a problem that feels attainable, but you’re progressively picking up confidence as you go. At each step along the way, you can look back and wonder what it was about what you just did that used to make you so scared. And you’ll wonder why it took you so long to take these important steps.

Once you’ve done it enough times, you’ll learn to appreciate the adrenaline you get from living on the edges of comfort. You’ll learn to realize that when things start to feel a little bit scary, you know you’re on the path to something great.

What are you scared of? What are you doing about it?

Photo credit: GViciano

Bend the corners of your customers

Somewhere in my parents’ attic are boxes full of baseball cards. They sit there and they collect dust. Once upon a time, I put them behind hard plastic cases, shoved them in binders, and shielded them from sunlight, dust and fingerprints. In another box lie comic books, pressed against cardboard backings in carefully sealed plastic bags; some never even read. In my dark closet sit bottles of wine, that I look at and rotate, but never think of drinking.

These things all sit there because, by not interacting with them, I have been led to believe they will appreciate in value.

Your customers are not baseball cards

Somewhere in your organization are collections of your customers. They’re pressed into database tables like baseball cards. Like unread comic books, their stories remain untold. You don’t interact with them, because if you did; someone is afraid you might bend the corners or put a crease on the page.

By keeping them safe, perfect, untouched… you’ve been led to believe that they will remain valuable to you.

People don’t like being in collections

Give this a try. The next time you interact with a customer (or even a friend), ask them for their email address or phone number. Tell them “I’m going to add you to my marketing database, so I can extract value from this relationship when the time is right for me.”
That bristling sound you hear will be all of the proof that you need. People are not baseball cards. Confirmed.

Try bending the corners

Here’s an A/B test to run, and I hope someone gives it a shot.

Segment your database in half. Start a dialogue with half, via email, for example. Send them all a note asking what’s new in their jobs, what’s changed since you last saw each other, what challenges they’re facing these days. Ask them how you can help. Tell them you’re open to their suggestions as to how you can help them win.

Leave the other half to “collect value”, safely protected in their cozy database cells, and only bother them when you’re ready to cash them in.

Track the engagement of the two groups over time. Which group opens your emails? Which group engages with your offers? Which group buys more stuff? Recommends you to their friends? Who has the largest lifetime value?

As a customer, which group would you rather be in?

Photo Credit: Adam Glasgow

Ready, Set, Go

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.
- Famous running proverb

There is no starting gun

The sun came up this morning, just like every other morning. And when it did, there was no ceremonial gunshot letting the lions and gazelles know that it was time to go. Instead, they listened to their instincts, swallowed their fear, and took off running.

I’m not sure what it is that makes us different. Why do we stop and wait for someone to say go?

Maybe it’s the Olympic Games, the palpable drama as the world stops and waits for the gun to go off, to tell us “it’s on”. Perhaps it’s the structure we’ve built into our lives; the ticking of clocks, the turning of calendars, news at the top of the hour, and drive time FM radio. It must have something to do with countless hours of steering-wheel-gnawing bumper-to-bumper agony, watching circles of light flicker from red to green and back again.

Something taught us to stop.

The secret about running

Here’s a secret, known by anyone you might put in the category of brilliantly-must-be-lucky-successful. Ready for it?

The race has already begun. Nobody bothered to tell you.

If that doesn’t make you feel like you’re running late, nothing will. The sudden realization that life has left you behind, without even thinking to check the manifest, like a train barrelling out of the station as you sip coffee in the terminal.

Luckily for you, there’s another secret; infinitely more important and tangible than the first. Scrunch up close to your screen for this one, because it just might change your path:

There’s another race starting now. And now. And now.

Empty The Stadium

If life is the Olympic Games, your goal should not be to watch, or even win the 100 meter dash; for its finish line is too concrete and limiting.

Instead, you should sneak away from the crowd when the countdown begins, escape the stadium of life’s passengers, and run like hell towards the horizon.

Close your eyes and imagine it; paint a picture in your mind and feel it in your soul. With every blink of your eyes, with every beat of your heart, with every breath in your lungs, the starting gun of opportunity goes off again.

The sun begins to rise

Repeat these words aloud if you must: at the start of every day or the moment you feel lethargy, mediocrity or defeat seeping into your bloodstream.

A hush falls over the crowd. You see no opponents to your left; no opponents to your right. This is the race of your life.

On your marks, get set, go

Photo Credit: Jon Marshall

Open your hands

Sometimes life makes it feel like you should ball up your fists. Fight this urge with everything you’ve got. It’s far better to go through your life with your hands wide open.

An open hand can:

  • wave hello
  • say “welcome, nice to meet you, stay awhile”
  • show your cards and keep no secrets.
  • hide no agendas.
  • give everything away, and yet is perpetually ready to receive.
  • show you’re not a threat; that you’re ready for new ideas.
  • be ready when someone says “tag – you’re it!”
  • catch someone if they fall.
  • dig through the dirt, and catch raindrops, and shield your eyes from the sun
  • show your problems to the world where certainly someone will have a solution.
  • wave goodbye, and say “thanks for the memories, see you soon”

A fist can only fight.

You must live your legacy

How much is a reputation worth? From the perspective of a brand trying to convince you to buy their product or join their tribe, it’s everything.

Would you put your money into a bank if they have a history of bankruptcy?

Would you vote for a politician with a history of corruption?

On an individual level, these decisions are easy. We make choices based on whether or not our values resonate with those of the others. But there are a lot of individuals within a market.

Just Do it

There’s more to Michael Jordan than the iconic Jumpman logo that defined an entire generation of young people.

The logo doesn’t tell the story of the late nights in Las Vegas, trips to Atlantic City between playoff games, and huge gambling debts.

Nor does it tell the story of violence and social unrest in inner city America, caused by teens coveting shoes they could not afford. It skips over the parts about a man who refused to speak up against a racist politician because “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Other people tell those stories. In fact, there is an entire discipline devoted to Michael Jordan/Nike discussion in the field of sport sociology and marketing.

Currency once paid for legacy

Sport sociologists and critical journalists don’t have big marketing budgets. Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Gazette once wrote:

In the 1940s there was no Internet, no television, and there were few systems or ideas about global marketing, but the first African American to play Major League baseball, Jackie Robinson corresponded with and inspired blacks from Camden to Capetown on human rights issues.

On the other hand, with his name and image among the most powerful in the new global community, Michael Jordan chatted with Tweety Bird on the telephone.

But as a society, we didn’t read that. Instead, the messages we saw and responded to were about buying shoes, jerseys, tickets and reputation. We were told Just Do It. And we did.

LeBron James and New Global Communication

Enter LeBron James. After making his famous “Decision” to join the Miami Heat, his reputation (and marketability) took a serious hit.

Nike’s campaign surrounding his decision, a 90-second spot justifying the move to Miami, attempts to rebuild the reputation, humanizing and rationalizing the choice.

If this were Jordan, in the 1990s, we would buy the shoes and the scholars would discuss the politics.

Evidently, marketing has changed since then.

Given a head start (and budget) Nike’s channel has 3.4 million views. The response already has 2.4 million.

Let this be a cautionary tale to businesses who think that money can buy values and shape their reputation. Reputation is no longer simply a branding exercise.

The era of Jordan is over. Take a hint from Jackie Robinson: stand for something and build a community of believers. Don’t try to pay for it. Just do it.

Photo credit: Esparta

What’s in a name?

The Beatles autographs

When I was younger, I wrote a lot of letters. Most of them were to professional athletes. The pattern was always the same: Write a letter, stuff a baseball card or photo into the envelope, send it and wait. I was after one thing: a signature.

The majority of those envelopes were met with silence. But some came back, with a name scrawled in glorious black ink across the image. What was once a piece of cardboard was now a work of art; its signatory transformed from an athlete into an idol.

What’s in a name?

What is an autograph? Why do we place such value on the signing of a name?

It’s not the scribble of a sharpie on the photo that instantly multiplies its value. Nor is it the signature, the shape of the words, or the style of the writing. In fact, if someone else were to make the exact same marking, with the exact same marker, the photo would be defaced and plummet in value.


The value of the autograph is not in the signature, the photo, or the marker. The gold comes from the fact that someone paid enough attention to participate in an experience.

While we’re on this philosophical trip, let’s take this a bit further…

You can’t duplicate authenticity

What if we wanted to duplicate our prized signed photo? Fire up the photocopiers and produce an identical clone. This one is easy and obvious – the copy is completely devoid of all value.

Yet if our super famous celebrity signed two identical photos, each is granted the hallowed magical status.


Collectors refer to this as authenticity. You can’t photocopy attention, you can’t duplicate a moment. The interactions have to be unique.

The moral of the story

All of the fuss that we make about autographs boils down to this:

We place incredible value on authentically unique moments of attention paid by individuals of perceived importance.

The value is entirely in the interaction. The actual signature simply serves as proof that it occurred.

Put your signature to work

Here are some thoughts on how to apply this to your business:

We’re all stars, sometimes. You don’t have to make movies or sing pop songs to be important. In the time of need… at the point of sale…in moments of confusion, your importance skyrockets. To someone whose cable was broken, Frank Eliason might as well have been a super hero.

Be on high alert – Keep your eyes and ears open for moments where your attention can increase your value. Twitter search and google alerts get all the fame these days – but giving people attention is equally valuable in your store or on the street.

Sign authentically. Every time - People can detect a fraud from a mile away. Even if you’re answering the same question for the hundredth time, don’t hand out photocopies. Value requires authenticity. Blue Sky Factory does a great job creating authentic customer experiences.

Grow more armsChris Brogan talks about growing bigger ears. But that’s only half of the equation. Signing autographs all day long takes energy. It takes strength. It takes time. To finish the play authentically, as the number of potential interactions increase, organizations have to grow more arms.

How much time and money is your organization spending on becoming famous?

Are you putting an equal amount of thought into what is happens when you get there?