Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger, Tiger, Tiger

What the latest celebrity scandal can teach us about taking control of our brand.

Don't they hire publicists anymore? I thought when you get to the "big time", you surround yourself with professional people who can help you take full advantage of the new status and power you've achieved. Apparently those in Tiger Woods' camp didn't get the memo. As you probably know by now, Tiger was involved in a mishap this past holiday weekend involving his car, his wife, a fire hydrant, a tree and an 8-iron... on his own property at 2:00 in the morning.

After weak statements issued by Tiger and the avoidance of police questioning by he and his wife, only adds fuel to a now roaring fire. From alcohol or drugs to marital infidelity... the rumor mill runs rampant. Especially for the world's cleanest and most powerful sports "brand", this kind of circus is precisely what the tabloid media is designed for -- to tear down an icon. Get ready, folks, for the next great disaster!

How about me?
When bad news strikes your brand, self-inflicted or from outside sources, the best thing you can do is to honestly take charge of the situation. At the outset, you have a window - but it begins to close fast if you don't seek the upper hand. Outside of the emotion, jot down exactly what happened - and why. Understand it and look for the human aspects in it all. People are people... and the more human our flaws and foibles appear (especially when we're up on a pedestal), the more likely anyone might shrug off the offense as a one-time thing, a stupid mistake or an embarrassing blunder. Pre-emptively offer your heartfelt mia culpa, followed by some honest (and sometimes not so honest) penitence, and you'll be surprised how many fans will stick with you. Tell your story... in terms that people can empathize with. It's easy to speak from the heart when it actually is. If you're not sorry, then you should have someone else speak for you. Don't be afraid to be the butt of the joke. And don't sweat the immediate fallout. It's temporary, so long as you are actually taking steps to mitigate the issue that lead to the bad-press in the first place.

Your friends may even like you more than before.

Taking curative action upon the "offense" can often propel you past your competition because your fans will "find" that you're the ONLY one doing something about an issue that they presume to be problematic for everyone in your industry. If you're the restaurant that got the "Dirty Dining Award", then showcase how your new procedures will ensure food safety. You may soon see Courtney Gerrish on your door with a "Blue Ribbon Award" in short order. If you had the shipment of product that made it's way to Hoboken when it was supposed to be in Honolulu - well, you can now actively discuss how your new "Sure Shipping Policy" is changing the way business delivery is done. Staying on the offense is best. Defensive positioning is being a deer caught in the headlights and you'll never recover.

And when they dig for more dirt - give it to them in "friendly" doses, then twist back the conversation to your new "branding issue".

"We heard that you had rats in your kitchen," the reporter cajoles. "Ya, and he was a big one! But now, with our PACK TO PREP policy, diners will know that their food is the freshest in town," you respond averting any further attacks.

For athletes, Tiger needn't look any further than fellow super stars Kobe Bryant and Brett Favre. Both, back on the top of their game, on top of their leagues, and enjoying more fan (and sponsorship) support than every before.

As for Tiger?
Maintaining a "perfect world" is no longer an option. Accept the media scrutiny. Re-issue a new story that is closer to the honest truth. Let's face it, the jokes about your wife taking the 8-iron to you instead of saving you are already making the monologues. Pretending that this will go away won't make it so. Booking the interviews on late night TV should begin, allowing the flogging to commence. Once done - by Christmas, you'll have your life back, and you're best ally will most likely come from Nike, who will use the new "bad boy" image to propel a new line of drivers, golf balls and apparel that motivates wayward golfers to "get back on top of their game."

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to take the fork in your creative road.

How can you take the fork? Don't you have to choose?
There's a creative joke that goes like this, "How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb?"

"Who says it has to be a light bulb?"

Creative thinking doesn't normally following logical thinking. And for some of us, that's tough to do when our lives are filled with mathematical precision. OK, maybe yours, but mine is a little light on precision. Everyday, I'm expected to BE creative. What follows is a short primer on giving you a handle on how it can happen - more quickly and with greater success.. with a lot less anxiety.

Quick, from thin air, be creative.
The word comes down from on high (your boss) and you are charged with the task of "coming up with something" that satisfies a very vague set of parameters. You need a theme for this year's big trade show; there's the ad to go into the high school basketball program; maybe you're to get this year's Christmas party gift. It's supposed to be special, and it has to be on-time and under budget. If you're not used to being put to use this way, it may feel daunting.

My job requires me to be "creative" every single day. From the trade show theme to the party, as well as making the website bring in more business; coming up with the packaging for the new product and, oh, BTW, come up with the name, too. Still daunting, but somehow, not as intimidating because I know something that you do not. I WILL COME UP WITH AN ANSWER. I will not have writer's block. Guaranteed.

How can this be?

It's not because I'm special, as much as my mother may say so. It's because there is both a process and a mentality that you can garner for yourself to do the same. Here's how:

First, accept that there is a deadline and that by a certain time, you will have an effective answer. Every creative person worth their salt will want more time. Even when the answer is perfect, at 11:59 in the project, they will be wondering if there isn't some extra little tidbit that would be that much better. Most likely, there is - but you ain't gonna get it because you're out of time. Pencils down.

To do this, you need to actually tell yourself, that you want an answer prior to the time you selected. (This works pretty well for retrieving names and info, too - let your internal computer subconsciously work for you. You'll be surprised how often it will spit out the very answer you seek. (i.e. What was the name of your first grade crush?)

The second part of this is much more mathematical. Let's say it's the trade show theme. Where do you begin? Don't start with the budget, that's last. Applying a great concept to any dollar figure can be done and the concept may still hold. Like a screenwriter, don't write in your own special effects, let the director and producer do that - your job is to tell a great story. So tell it.

Start with what you hope show attendees will think, do or say when they meet with your team (and it's wonderful theme). Maybe they should be thinking, "Wow, what a cool bunch of people; man, are they sharp; I love how focused they are on just the one product; they seem to do everything, don't they..." We could go on, but you get the idea. Once that's in place, you've got a beginning framework from which to brainstorm.

No idea is a stupid idea... oh yes it is!

But that's OK. We are so afraid to make a mistake, that we stay away from doing something spectacular. Most often, the big winners are also the big risk takers. But no one focuses on the big losers who took the same big risks. Why not mitigate the risk by dissecting your ideas into those that seem outrageous, those that seem strong and those that appear to be dull as a butter knife. That doesn't mean to skip dull, but you have to rephrase your quest a bit differently. The famous designer Bob Gill (you recall Gill Sans Bold?) once wrote, "If you accept a boring question, you're going to get a boring answer." In other words, if you want an exciting answer, you need to ask an exciting question.

"We need a theme for the trade show" is boring. You'll get an answer, but it will be just like last years'. What if you re-wrote it to, "Let's pick a theme that will force attendees to deal with us." The operative word here, is FORCE. That may lead you into incredibly loud sounds, or sales people who have to shake hands or actually say "hello" or maybe even the smell of the booth might come into play. In that one thought, you now have three beginnings on theme creation. Let's choose the last - smell. A good smell, presumably - maybe cookies, freshly baked. But, we make widgets, you say. Do your widgets show up in any companies that distribute, deal or make foodstuffs? Maybe even a little co-op dollars from that same company? Hmmm, we may be getting somewhere.

By walking down this path for awhile, you begin to understand if it has legs. Let the "pun masters" go to town on how "fresh" or "tasty" your products are. Maybe your widgets are have their own "special recipe for success". Corny, to be sure, but sometimes that's all it takes. The bottom line is that your prospect needs to come away with a singular positive experience. Don't get too caught up in the nuances.

There's so much more to get into, but we'll save that for another day. For now, take these two points: 1) give a deadline to your subconscious brain and accept the curious path that it will take you. Don't sweat the answers - they will come because they have to - your brain always produces. Just write them down, no matter how smart or dumb so that you may use them in step 2) Which asks you to rephrase your question to demand a better answer - allowing yourself to actively follow that path.

By employing these two skills, subconsciously and consciously following paths, you're sure to come to answers that will finally give you a good night's sleep and the boss his wish for "out of the box thinking"... only you'll know which box (or which path) it all came from.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to become a millionaire from someone who isn't one.

Write a book on "How to become a millionaire." Fake it until you make it, right? Well, that doesn't sit very well with me - or most Midwestern types. And it's not really the million dollars that we're after, is it? It's what it could do for us, our families; the financial stress it would relieve; the trips and boats and cars and fancy parties down by the lake. Now that you put it like that, well, who wouldn't want that?

Hey, how about the lottery?
Let's face facts: WE AREN'T GOING TO WIN THE LOTTERY. EVER. "But someone has to win," you say. Someone eventually will, but the odds are so stacked against us all that you could spend a thousand lifetimes and never come close to the jackpot. (I once had 3 numbers right and was off by one or two for the remaining three! I won $7)

The truth is, the only way we're going to earn (and I mean 'earn') our fortune is to work for it. Not a rocket scientist? No problem...

Start cultivating your own million dollar ideas.
Everyday, in every way you can... and here's the kicker - SHARE THEM with anyone and everyone who will listen. That's my plan. And before you say I'm crazy, understand this: I have helped make fortunes for other people and their businesses because I was the guy hired to help market their products, their services and their businesses; to help promote that which was best and jettison that which was not; to re-invent the mousetrap just about every single day. It's a daunting task, and it isn't easy, but I love doing it and couldn't stop if I tried.

But I got an itch...
Why don't I start doing this for myself? Seems like a noble purpose. My wife sure wouldn't mind a trip to Tahiti - and I might even be able to tag along! Don't get me wrong, I make a nice living doing what I do - but it ain't the high life - at least not yet. So I made a vow: share your ideas. 100% of nothing is still zero. 1% of something is better than zero. I suspect that if your brilliant brainstorm were any good, and it was stolen (just like you think it would be), that the thieves might actually throw you a bone after they've made their killing. Even better, you can sue them and amass your fortune that way, or better still, you go on the Today Show telling your story to get picked up as a reality TV show. Either way, you make money.

Want to know the real odds-on-bet?
NO ONE WILL PICK UP YOUR IDEA. They might nod and smile, some might even dabble with it for awhile, but when it comes right down to it - your idea is safe because it will take time, energy, money, blood, sweat and tears to bring it to life. Who would do all of that unless it was "their" idea? The reason you share your million dollar idea is to get feedback. Help. Investment. Criticism. Support.

I just joked on FaceBook with a friend that I invented "warm" fusion when I was 12. I did. You run a laser into a mirrored sphere and the laser beam bounces off the walls like a Spiro-graph and all of the beams intersect at the very center. You drop in a bit of U-235 and WALLAH! Instant fusion AND the outside laser lines stay cool. It's only the center that's at a zillion degrees. (Geez, that's like a trillion dollar idea!) Only, I'm not a rocket scientist, nor could I ever be. Maybe this is completely stupid. Maybe it has been tried 500 times and failed. But what if it hasn't? What if no pointed-headed rocket scientist ever had the thoughts of a 12 year old? Maybe he/she can run with it. How cool would it be to say, "I invented controllable fusion, and you can thank me for saving the planet"? It's kind of like being Al Gore.

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

My father told me that. It's as old as dirt. But it's true. So what are we to do to start harvesting our fortunes? By getting feedback from friends, family, business associates and complete strangers, you increase your chances of actually producing that which you conceived. An endorsement to a prototyping guy; a clever addition to your storyline; the key ingredient to your recipe... who knows. Be prepared for some "good" nay-saying, too. If they don't get your idea - that's not a reason to run home, but it is a good reason to re-think how you need to pitch it. Keep refining it. Most folks would love for you to succeed. Helping you invites them to hope that maybe you'll share a bit of the wealth when your ship comes in.

I'll be adding more on this blog. Maybe we can both meet in Tahiti ...I hear there's room.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Getting 1000% ROI... or higher!

Hyperbole. Crazy.
Not possible.

"What? Do I look like a sucker?" you ask.

"No," I answered. "You just haven't thought about your clients lately. I'll bet a buck that you can generate that kind of Return On Investment if you just listen to a few thoughts I have for you. Sound good?"

For a very low cost, you can expect some big time success - not every time, but consistently, over time, you'll see results you won't want to give back.

Here's how:

1. Pick up a pen,
a postcard and stamp and write a thoughtful thank you to a spotty client. Your great clients hear from you all the time, and those at the bottom of the barrel should probably be released anyway... but those in the middle often get left out in the cold. Not a big enough pay day to warrant full scale attention, but not so small that you'd care to ever see them move over to your competition. A simple postcard or letter, that's creative (but not contrived) - you'd be surprised what a campy retro card wishing you "Aloha" can do to an otherwise dreary day. "Hey Pete, was thinking of you when I saw this - hope your next trade show is a smash. If you need a little help, just drop me a note or give me a ring!"

2. Buy a lottery ticket
for a prospect or client and hand it to them. In fact, buy up a bunch for your next networking meeting and hand 'em all out. Don't ask for anything. I guarantee you, they will be thinking about you and your business until the time they lose. That could be days! (Hope that they win... and win big.) I wonder if they'll share the wealth? And if they win the lottery and keep it all for themselves. Ouch - and yet, what kind of story would that make on the Today Show? Might anyone want to deal with your business then?

3. How about YouTube? Rummage through and find the perfect pick-me-up video for one of your long lost clients. You know he loves fishing... why not the video where the fish jump into the boat? She just came back from maternity leave - maybe this would do her good? Who doesn't love a little Monty Python to brighten their day?

4. What was their favorite song?
Doesn't matter... did you know you can get a printable gift certificate for iTunes for as little as $10? Who can't use the songs that they love most? Completely custom. Genuinely thoughtful.

5. Costco sells gorgeous flowers for under $10 a bundle. Careful, that one might actually lead to romance and you shelling out $10,000 for the wedding.

6. Can you ad a page to your own website?
Create a client of the day, post their logo, add a link to their site, a custom message and a vanity URL (you know, Send out the e-mail and see what happens.

The point, of course, is to make a memorable "touch" of a client you may not have been holding hands with for some time now. Doing so may rekindle the trust and bond they had with you on the first days of your business relationship - when all was new. Just how many sales orders or project requests will it take from them to make your thoughtful gesture worthwhile?


I tried no.2 awhile back and it netted over $5,000 worth of business. Business that I doubt I ever would have seen. For a $1 purchase, that's a 5,000% ROI. Not bad, not bad at all. What will you do?