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A brand, a business and a career. From a nametag.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Can Your Company Bend Time?

Wait time is the single most important factor in customer satisfaction.

And yet, it seems no matter how fast we work, how hard we try, how much we promise, how big we smile, how friendly we act and far we reach, customers always find ways to complain about how long it’s taking.

So if we can’t make more time, why not try to bend it?

We can change the customer experience of time so that its passage is more enjoyable. We can keep customers happy by keeping them company. And we can employ a few artistic measures to influence the mood, modify the energy, enhance the environment and up the vibe, thereby changing the dismal experience of waiting into something more interesting.

What if you commissioned local cartoonists to create work for your walls that started conversations, offered hope and delivered inspiration?

What if you hired a team of local magicians to work the room and entertain so guests lose track of time while they wait for their table?

What if you projected on a screen that aggregated a stream of pictures, tweets, reviews and other mobile updates from customers who used branded hashtags?

What if you had live cigar rolling demonstrations to authenticate the evening and leave patrons with an artifact they could keep forever?

What if you stationed a glass blower in the lobby to create small sculptures on demand for people while they stood in line?

That way, people won’t look at their watch, they’ll forget that they’re wearing one.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's Time For Men To Woman Up

The universal archetype of mainstream masculinity is over.

And it’s time for men to woman up.

After all, we live in a post industrial, high touch, high context, service economy that rewards openness, intimacy, emotional intelligence, communication, focus, patience, listening and relationship building.

And considering women do all of those things better than men, I think it’s time men finally got over themselves and crossed a few gender lines.

No operations necessary, just a willingness to adopt behaviors typically reserved for the gentler sex.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Transactions Are Becoming Social Objects

A receipt is a written acknowledgment that money has been collected for the purchase of goods or service.

And originally, the function of the receipt was largely managerial. After a sale was made, the receipt established time of customer arrival, kept record of the inventory, enhanced fraud protection, helped reconciled financial statements and stopped employees from pilfering company profits.

But that was over a hundred years ago.

Now, the receipt is less of a static record and more of a sharing device.

When our favorite band releases a new album, we don’t just go to iTunes, pay our ten bucks, download the files, stick our ear buds in and start rocking out.

We share.

And the receipt, the record of that purchase – a picture, a link, a tweet, a status update, a wall post or a check in – becomes the social object that tells our relevant network, hey everybody, I’m listening to this music right now and I want to share it with you so we can experience this moment together.

The receipt becomes, as Brian Solis suggests, a platform for extending experiences.

Paying is just the beginning. Transactions are becoming social objects.

It won’t work for every product. And it won’t work for every customer. But for the brands that dare to expand their definition of what a receipt can become, look out.

Friday, December 28, 2012

What Motivates Me

The secret to creating value is answering one question, honestly and deeply.

Why do I do what I do?

Once we know that, anything is possible. Once we dig down through the many levels of why and find a way to activate our own internal generators, there’s no reason we can’t make a contribution wherever we go.

As human beings, each of us is motivated by a small collection of intrinsic means. 

Recently, I sat down and fleshed out the drivers that motivate me. I hope this list inspires you to create your own.

A blank canvas. Making things has always been the most natural way for me to engage with the world. When I get up in the morning, there’s a mechanism inside me that asks what I’m supposed to make next. I am motivated by the freedom to express myself.

A personal ritual. I can motivate myself to do just about anything, as long as there’s a ritual attached to it. Ritual is an intentional, purposeful experience I layer on top of an activity to make it more worthwhile. And I have one for everything I do. I am motivated by a repeatable process.

A captive audience. I believe human interaction is a divine transaction. Engaging with people, even for a moment at a time, fuels me more than anything. And every time I go out of my way to earn people’s attention, I reward them for giving it to me. I am motivated by a chance to perform.

A challenging situation. Creativity is my gift. As a lifelong thinker, the moment something activates the problem solving impetus of my brain, my body has a physical reaction. I start obsessing, imagining and zealously deconstructing everything in my path until the internal monologue stops. I am motivated by solving problems.

A meaningful contribution. I’m genetically wired for hard work. It’s just my nature. I’m happier when I’m being productive and prolific. And there is a place in me that starves if I go more than a few days without nudging the world in a positive direction. I am motivated by the chance to work.

Why do you do what you do?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

High Concept, High Context, High Content, High Contact

Ideas don’t sell themselves.

If you’re lucky enough to get a meeting with someone who can say yes to you, be ready to present more than just another high concept pitch.

After all, single assets in isolation don’t have much value. But when you come through the door with an arsenal of weapons, your ideas will be very hard to resist.

Try a few of these.

Research is the new black. Smart people do their homework, but a genius works over an idea like a train hobo with a chicken bone. Don’t feel compelled to present every thread of your research, but make sure people know you put in a hell of a lot of work when nobody was watching.

Give your idea a handle. Labels make it easier to classify and comprehend what’s going on around us. By putting something into words, you give people the ability to choose. Don’t be afraid to name your ideas. If you do so correctly, people will comprehend them correctly.

Bring props. Instead of building a hype engine around your idea, physically make one. Build a prototype of your idea and have the dummy ready to go. Then, when the time is right, slap it down on the table. And instead of talking, you’ll have something to do the talking for you. You’ll be interesting before you open your mouth.

That’s the secret of selling ideas.

High concept, high context, high content and high contact.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Our Hearts Don't Understand Settling

Entrepreneurs secretly want to lose it all.

To burn everything down, salt the earth and see if we can do it again. To throw a curveball and test how much faith we have in ourselves. To start from scratch, letting go of everything we’ve tried and built and accomplished, except for the person we’ve become, recognize that we are the only thing we have to offer, and reinvest that into something brand new.

It sucks to be wired this way.

But for entrepreneurs, not unlike gamblers, the thrill is in the bet. We’re addicted to the rush. If we can’t get in trouble, it’s not an adventure. And if it’s not an adventure, we’re not fulfilling our whole capacity for living.

Our hearts simply don’t understand settling.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Love is the Ultimate Delete Button

It happens to all of us.

We meet someone, hear something, go somewhere, buy something, use something, find something or join something, and after a short while, after falling madly in love with this new thing or person or place, that we can’t imagine living without, we start to forget what life was like before.

Love affects the head, not just the heart.

It’s the ultimate delete button.

Because it is the response to what represents our highest values, and because it is the song that reminds us what we most cherish in life, when it hits us, when love casts its magic spell, it does this spooky thing where it erases the memory of the past.

What did I do before I had ________?

And so the goal, either organizationally or personally, either digitally or physically, is to fill in that blank. To deliver so much value through our work that, once people have been bitten by our bug, once the venom of our value starts coursing through their veins, there’s no turning back.

Even if they did turn back, they wouldn’t remember the past anyway.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Customers Don't Want To Hear From You

The last place customers go when they have questions is to the actual company.

Instead of wading through the pages of some boring, bloated, antiquated, vain, salesy, marginally helpful corporate website, they’re clicking elsewhere. 

Since they’re accustomed to instant informational gratification, they’re off to the message boards, online forums, review sites, search engines, video tutorials, social media platforms and user blogs, to answer all their burning questions, right now, for free. They’re using their own devices to help each another with or without the help of the business.

In fact, customers would talk to each other all day long if they could.

They just don’t want to hear from you.

Because more often than not, those kinds of interactions involve too many inane hoops, too many repetitive interactions and too many unhelpful responses, the sum of which destroys customer value.

Can you blame them?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Digital Narcissism At Its Finest

Achievement used to mean something.

You wrote something worth reading. You built something worth noticing. You shipped something worth buying. You solved a problem that saved money. You discovered a compound that extended people’s lives. You invented a gadget that overturned an entre industry.

All because you had the guts to risk, the willingness to fail and the desire to change the world for the better.

That’s achievement.

But now, all you have to do is attract attention.

Simply accumulate the most hits, views, friends, followers, shares, likes or downloads, and you’ve reached the pinnacle of human achievement. You’ve ascended to the heights of greatness.

He who dies with the most eyeballs, wins.

That’s not achievement, it’s digital narcissism.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pressing The Refresh Button On Our Beliefs

We press the refresh button dozens of times a day.

From smartphones to tablets to laptops to personal computers, the purpose of the refresh button is to dump the old page, clean out junk files, trigger a metadata update and access the most current information, reflecting any recent changes.

It’s how we stay up to date with the digital world.

And yet, when it comes to our beliefs, we fiercely refuse to press the button.

Even when we place our faith in something that fails us, even when we outgrow some of our beliefs, even when we discover overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we still choose not to rebuild our understanding.

Because that would mean changing, and changing means admitting we were wrong.

As I get older, I seem to be pressing the mental refresh button more and more. What once felt like a necessity has become a nicety. What once defined me has started to derail me. And what once got me high now gets me meh.

But despite my internal kicking and screaming, every time I refresh, it provides vigor and energy. It breathes new life into my world. And it opens doors I didn’t even know there were keys for.

I am one constant rebeginning.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Good Things Shouldn't Have to End

Innovation begins with humility.

From a strategic perspective, it’s always helpful to start from the assumption that the marketplace is crowded. That whatever product you’re trying to sell, whatever message you’re hoping to spread, the world doesn’t need another one.

When you focus on that, you make sense, not noise. When you act from that place of humility, it’s much easier to smash down the mysterious doors of the impossible and give people what they actually need, not just what you want them to want.

In reality, what the world needs is somebody, some organization, to invent new ways to use what’s already successful. That’s what innovative companies do. Instead of reinventing the wheel, they find a wheel that already works and make run better.

The point is, good things shouldn’t have to end. What’s good is of utmost importance to our culture, and should be discovered, respected, shared and enhanced.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but don’t stop making it better.

Make it do things nobody’s seen before.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Caution, Designed to Get Better With Use

Once you have email, you want everyone to have email.

That’s why it works. It’s a product designed to get better with use. As the idea grows, it becomes more valuable. The more of your friends who sign up, the better it works for everybody.

And as the web evolves, we’re starting to see this trend in a number of industries.

Media streaming services get better the more they know about your interests. Gaming platforms unlock skills, levels and surprises the more you play. Search engines algorithms get more informed and accurate with every interaction. Social networking services are launching online art projects that grow more unique with every user interaction. Thermostats learn your schedule and program themselves the more you come and go. Speech recognition programs enhance language understanding with every word spoken. Adaptive learning technology better gauges student progress with every chapter.

It’s like denim jeans and leather boots, but more social.

For your next marketing push, before hawking your product to the users, try harnessing the collective intelligence of the users to make your system better.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Less Talkey, More Doey

Why give up freelancing and work for someone else?

I know. I never thought I’d do it either.

But in addition to being bored with the work, tired of running my own business, burned out by an incestuous industry, sick of sitting at home all day, sick of waiting for that one email that changes everything, done bloodying my knuckles knocking on a door that was never going to open, finished with my first career and finally okay with who I am as a person, here’s the other big reason I recently made a job transition.

Less talkey, more doey.

If I don’t go get raw and engage in the real world, if I’m not constantly tested in the crucible of everyday life, then my ideas will only exist in my own head.

If I don’t step outside of the echo chamber, get out into the cold and hostile world, then I’m stuck in a fantasy land with no basis in objective reality.

If I try to make it solely on personality, spending all my time pontificating on the stage and on the page without actually executing, I’ll just annoy people.

If I continue resting on my laurels, solely milking work I’ve shipped in the past, I’m just another blowhard who has lost credence.

Feels pretty amazing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Impossible to Keep Your Name a Secret

It’s easy to do right thing when people are watching.

But keeping a promise when you could have gotten away with breaking it, taking the blame when you could have gotten away with shifting it, and telling the truth when you could have gotten away with hiding it?

That’s class.

Gearbox, a software developer, is one of the rare companies that painstakingly maps out detailed audio soundtracks to enhance their user’s virtual experience. Tons of of love and attention go into creating their games, and if you read any of their online forums or message boards, you’ll quickly learn how ecstatic their users are. According to one thread, the sonic architecture is so real, it sends chills down your spine.

The best part is, Gearbox doesn’t put in this extra effort to get ink or to justify charging more for the game. They do it because they’re craftspeople, pure artists, who care deeply about the value of their work, who put obsessive amounts effort into the art they do, because they love their users and they’re proud to see them enjoying the game they worked so hard on.

If you become known as someone who puts in a hell of a lot of hard work when nobody’s listening, watching or expecting, all in the name of service, all in the name of the people who matter most, towards a promise that’s big and useful enough, it will impossible to keep your name a secret.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Little Old You, Doing Everything

As an entrepreneur, it’s always cheaper to hire yourself.

The only problem is, when you hire yourself to do the work, there’s nobody left to get new clients, nobody left to do marketing and networking, nobody left to figure out strategy, nobody left to raise money and nobody left to grow the business.

Unlike a traditional company, your enterprise isn’t boosted by a powerful machine working every angle.

It’s just little old you. Doing everything.

Which works well if you’re an incurable control freak and a consummate individualist, but after a while, especially if you want your enterprise to evolve, trying to wear every hat every day is unsustainable over the long term.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Imprint Customers With Your Idea

Games make dreams come true.

They give people a powerful and vicarious life. They let them do what they’ve always wanted to do, but were too afraid to try. And they create an interactive experience that doesn’t try to persuade them of anything, but rather, creates a playroom that rewards and validates users.

On the business side of things, if a game can build a critical mass of users around it, then it can be leveraged to do something else.

By helping the customer take their eye off the ball and play with something that’s unrelated, yet choreographed intelligently, you create a reason to believe. By encouraging users to actually do stuff, you imprint them with an idea more successfully.

Why show an advertisement about your cause when you could could create a simulation that allows people to tackle it directly?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Go Public Early and Often

I’m a firm believer in the art of hiding the art.

Meeting people where they are, taking them back in time, helping clients forget they’re clients and engaging people a way that they lose track of time and disappear from the world in a puff of love smoke.

But the minute customers start struggling with the ambiguity of the situation, feeling unsure of the relationship roles and questioning your expectations, every interaction thereafter is stained.

If a woman doesn’t know she’s on a date until she comes home from one, somebody failed to communicate. If a hotel guest doesn’t realize there’s an extra fee until he sees one on the bill, somebody failed to communicate. If a customer doesn’t know he’s eating at a vegetarian restaurant until he breaks out in hives, somebody failed to communicate.

When in doubt, map it out.

If you want to knock the socks of the untrusting masses, go public early and often. Telegraph your intentions. Leave as little doubt in people’s minds as possible. And never underestimate the power of observable candor.

Because there’s a fine line between frictionless service and expectational clarity, and it can make the difference between a customer for life and an online review from hell.

Everyone has an agenda, why not be one of the few to lay yours bare?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Just Be Completely Honest When Most People Would Say Nothing

The truth is powerful because nobody expects it.

In a world where most people have been duped, fooled, conned, scammed, spammed and screwed over too many times, if you can just be completely honest where most people would say nothing, communicate more than people think is needed, give more than people think is fair and care more than people think is expected, you will not be forgotten.

What if, next time you turned down new business, you sent customers a comprehensive list of your competition’s locations, services and prices? 

What if, next time you redesign your website, you included a public disclosure page of every single relationship you maintained?  

What if, next time somebody comes in for a tune up, you teach them how to test on their own first to prevent unnecessary repairs and replacements? 

What if, next time you’re making a pitch, you tell the client about a cheaper option that presumably means less money in your own pocket? 

What if, next time your company had a failure, you bragged about it as a public badge of lessons learned? 

What if, next time a prospect comes in for a free consultation, you explain what procedures and services are actually extraneous?

Sometimes all we have to do is be radically candid with people.

To let truth suddenly stare them in the face and change them forever.

How are you branding your honesty?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Work Isn't Our Plight, It's Our Purpose

Work is more than a job.
It’s a daily routine that ensures our days have a cadence and rhythm of movement. It’s a center of belonging where we connect to the collective human heart. It’s a contribution to the world where we become productive members of society. It’s the prime means to express our sense of who we are.

It’s an outlet for coming alive through the pursuit of our ideas. It’s the thing we do to build a stable life. It’s a platform we use to do art, hone skills, build a reputation and make our mark on other people. It’s a holy arena for our highest self and a home for all of our talents. It is our necessity, our pleasure and our playground.

It’s where we channel our ambition and satisfy the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. It’s where we practice the act of dreaming, doing and finishing, getting straight to the heart of what it means to be a person. It’s what informs our sense of self and contributes to our identity.

What interesting is, a hundred years ago, almost nobody on the planet had a job.

But they still worked.

Because as human beings, work is the organizing principle of life. It’s the iron rod in the center. It’s the validation of our existence. Work encompasses all we do, paid and unpaid, throughout our lives. It’s an institution that’s a central feature of every stage of life.

And while it’s not the only thing there is to life, without it, we definitely feel like a big piece of our life is missing.

Work isn’t our plight, it’s our purpose.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Everything Has the Potential to be Interesting

Interesting ideas are the cornerstone of progress.

Frankly, if the idea isn’t interesting, we’re not interested.

Boring stuff never goes anywhere. It just sits there and laps up time, money and attention, traveling in a circle, never arriving at its destination, never quite succeeding, never quite failing.

And when innovation is the code, when outright invention is the future, there’s a certain responsibility to take the boring ideas, grab the by the lapel and figure out what would make them more interesting.

A few helpful questions to ask:

What about the fright factor? Ideas become interesting the moment they start to scare us. Think about what would make the idea riskier and more provocative. Set aside your stylistic inclinations try disrupting to the status quo.

What about the arc? Story satisfies our human need for narrative. Think about the metaphorical thinking behind the idea. Map out the idea in terms of characters, conflict, journey and resolution.

The point is, everything has the potential be interesting.

We just have to apply the right filter.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Beating Customers to the Retail Punch

Paying retail is so last century.

Now that customers have instant and infinite access to flash buying, social shopping, online couponing, special incentives, daily deals, free shipping, loyalty programs, promo codes, online auctions, digital classifieds and hyperlocal discounts, there’s no reason not to find every advantage, and take it.
And companies can grumble all they want about the customer expectation of collective bargaining, but if they really wanted to blow customers away, if they really wanted to leverage this trend, they would reverse their trajectory.
They would befriend the current.
What if your company launched an application that was an aggregator for codes, discounts and coupons of its own products? Imagine a platform, branded by the company itself, which curated, in real time, all the savings offers from the web, then arranged it as a search engine to help customers never pay retail again.
The website could be promoted as a digital love letter, a secret menu, a remarkable pricing strategy, to be personally delivered to your best customers as a massive thank you for their business.
They’re already not paying retail anyway. Why not beat them to the punch?
That’s something worth talking about.
When you meet the closed heart of the world with kindness, when you create an act of generosity in a moment of scarcity, customers can’t resist.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Every Customer is the Most Popular Girl in Highschool

Every customer is the most popular girl in high school.

She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s pursued relentlessly, she has high standards, she has low patience, she has a busy schedule, she has a voice, she has a camera, she has a platform, she has an audience, she has serious influence over her friends and she’s used to getting what she wants, when she wants it, the way she wants it.

How might that change the way your company interacts with her?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Blogs Aren't Going Anywhere

Blogging is only dead if you want it to be.

Personally, I think it’s more alive than ever before. In fact, I believe blogs work for a number reasons.

Blogs work because they drip. It’s the continuum of output that has volume and gravity and narrative, all of which will carry your name to a wider pool potential work. What did you write today?

Blogs work because they heal. It’s the digital surfboard for riding the waves of life’s anxiety, your very small way to nudge the world in a positive direction. How are you writing through the pain?

Blogs work because they insist. It’s the dangling sword of obligation and its built in accountability of having to show up every day for readers that keeps you in the game. What’s your publishing schedule?

Blogs work because they reinforce. It’s the power of pressing the publish button that reminds your heart you’ve built up sufficient meaning capital to hold you over for another day. Have you decided to matter?

Blogs aren’t going anywhere.

Not the good ones.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Are You Shouting Over the Clutter or Carving It Up?

Big ideas are overrated.

Too much company advertising, too little customer interest and too powerful computer technology have rendered the excessive marketing habits of the past obsolete and wasteful, tolerated at best and loathed at worst.

It’s not about shouting over the clutter, it’s about carving it up, cutting through it and connecting with people on the other side with ideas that are small, simple, smart and social.

The simplest idea is the drop of iodine that purifies all the water.

Tegu wanted to make a difference in the lives and economy of the people of Honduras, where two thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. Inspired by that vision, they invented magnetic wooden building blocks that inspire creative and curiosity.

Their launched an interactive digital playground where people could tangibly experience Tegu’s magnetic wooden blocks from their living room.

Turns out, practicality was the best promotion. Outright invention is the future of marketing. Instead of creating an advertisement, it's a useful thing that advertises. By making the product inherently social, customers can’t tell where the product ends and experience begins.