From May 2011

Two sides of fear

Fear is both a marketers best friend and worst enemy. When marketers employee fear, they often get people to buy. You don’t have to look far – insurance companies, car dealers and just about any drug company out there trades on your fears. While the Rapture may have come and gone without incident last week concrete bunkers are selling well in anticipation of the end of the Mayan Calendar – and hence the world in 2012.

Fear mongering does nothing to move society forward. No matter what decade you’re in, you’ll find someone trading on your fears. Fears that are largely manufactured. Fears that you face by relinquishing the power you have to create your own life. As a marketer, you can make a lot of money on fear. At least until you’re found out. And then there’s selling the promise of a better life. A sexier, fitter, healthier, richer you if you just buy this product.

Of course, you as a consumer could take control, say hogwash, and pursue your own path. You don’t exactly need half of what everyone thinks you need. You can buck the trends. Ahh, but that’s scary. We’re all urged to conform and thought a little nutty if we don’t. There’s a lot of pressure placed on conforming. It makes for a more orderly society. And in most cases it works nicely.

But as a marketer, conformity isn’t working so well. And this is where fear is your worst enemy. When you’re afraid to step out and try the untested. To get emotional when your product is theoretically perfectly rational (and YOU have the data to prove it), you face a lot of pressure not to. There’s a lot of fear in the unknown. What if you fail? Will your brand take a hit? Will you be fired? What if you offend someone? Your brand is certainly not Howard Stern so you can’t possibly go down that path, right?

Again, fear rules the day. Few marketers have established the trust and credibility needed to take chances. I talked about this last week but it bears repeating. They have to deliver the numbers. They need the data to prove their concepts and programs are going to work. Before they launch. So they just add water. More and more water until that shiny, daring concept looks like all the others that’ve come before. And that’s a shame because since we’ve all seen it. We ignore it. You ignore it too. Think about the iPhone. If Apple had listened and tested and focused grouped the device to make sure it had ALL the features everyone wanted, think it would be so successful? Think it would open up a whole new market for apps, mobility and connections? Or would it be dumbed down and featured up to offer something for everyone? And thus fail?

There are things you can test. And things you just have to put out there. People are emotional. People are irrational no matter how much data and rationalizing you throw at them. So fear not.

It’s easy to tell a fellow marketer to go for it. To take the chance. Afterall it’s their skin in the game, not yours. Much harder for you to be the one to hold the accountability card. I’m thinking though that it’s scarier not to take the chance. It’s scarier not to forge a new path because eventually someone else will and then you’ll be left in the dust. Playing catch up or worse. You need to go for it. When you feel fear – or those around you feel it – you know you’re on to something and that’s a good thing. So how do you go for it? Find the opening. Carve out areas where you can show results by taking chances. Find a niche and push. Then push some more. And if your company’s down, maybe betting the farm is your only hope. Your only way out of the abyss.

So embrace fear. Just don’t always rely on it to peddle your wares.

“You can’t be cool and dress like Elmer Fudd” – Jeffrey Hayzlett


I had the opportunity last week to hear Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO of Kodak, speak and he reaffirmed something I’ve long supported. And that’s the need to take risks with your marketing. To push the envelope and ruffle a few feathers. If you’re not, then you’re trying to appeal to everyone and will find it tough to cut through the clutter. If you’re not upsetting someone then it means you’ve watered down your message, your creative to the point that it’s innocuous. And it’s going to get ignored.

You simply can’t matter to everyone. Plain vanilla is just that. Plain vanilla. As Jeffrey said, your marketing needs to create tension. Find the line you need to hit and go there. Not 60 steps away from it. And if you cross it, then you definitely know where it is!

How likely are you to respond to a message that says ‘we’ve got the next generation solution that’s going to revolutionize your productivity’? Right. Means nothing doesn’t it? It’s convenient because all you have to do is insert brand or company name and off you go. My colleague Jason just returned from Confab and in one session speaker Eric Karjaluoto of Vancouver, B.C. based Smashlab talked about how no one wants to read your press release. You know the one filled with jargon? He quipped that there’s a fax machine that takes it in and spits it into the garbage as it’s transmitted. Rather, he says people want to know your story. What cool things have you and your company discovered or done? What really gets you up in the morning?

So stop with the milk toast marketing speak! It’s funny how we humans become so much less so behind the guise of marketing. As if we’re not able to speak like the real people we are.  Yes, it’s harder because you actually have to know a little something about your prospects. Like what really matters to them. And it’s not your leading solution! It’s how you make their lives better.

And you know what? Your customers want to see that you’re a real human! Warts and all. Based on data from Bazaarvoice, Mitch Joel talks about how negative online reviews drive sales more than positive. Why? Because it means the company’s not afraid to let you know some people don’t like their stuff. And it gives them an opportunity to show you how they addressed the problem. In fact, it gives the company a front row seat into where they need to innovate. It’s simply REAL LIFE! No one seriously believes all the hype marketers spout.

“No one is going to die.”

Yet so many companies are afraid to let you see they actually make a mistake now and then. And even more are afraid to create marketing that actually gets noticed. Partly because of the layers of approval campaigns need to go through – causing death by committee because no one wants to take credit for creative that pushed the envelope and failed.

And that’s where Jeffrey’s final point comes in: No one is going to die. It’s marketing after all. So if it doesn’t work, try again. Keep innovating and pushing; don’t fall back on what’s safe.  And just as you can’t go out and make something go viral, you don’t always know what’s going to work.

Companies need to foster a culture that rewards smart risk taking over safety. Note I say smart – this isn’t a license to risky just because. Otherwise few are going to stick their neck out if no one else in the room will back them up. Yes, it takes guts. It takes a willingness to stand for something and risk being wrong. To risk ridicule and embarassment. Use such moments to learn and teach. Yet the safe path isn’t really that safe. More and more marketers are going to find themselves deleted. Tuned out. Trashed. Ignored.

But before you start down the path of radical creative, you have to set what Jeffrey calls conditions of satisfaction. You must always be relevant. You gotta know what it is your customers want. What they expect. And deliver on it. Because once your radical marketing brings people in the door – whether that door is physical or virtual – you have to fulfill their expectations or you just wasted your money.

There’s plenty of time for the safe stuff. Save it for giving your customers the reason to believe. For backing up your claims and proving you’re the partner they want to work with. Just don’t expect safe to bring them in the door.

Oh, you also have just 8 seconds to capture their attention. Try doing that with safe.

Bobblehead Leadership

A couple weeks ago in #LeadershipChat we were talking about CEOs that were more figureheads then real leaders motivating their teams. I made a remark about Leader as a Bobblehead and @CASUDI inspired me to turn this into a post. The nut here is that there are many figurehead CEOs who operate almost like Tiger Woods endorses products. They’re affiliated but don’t exactly get in the trenches to do the hard work of setting the vision and leading the teams into action.

Rather, they’re, well, like a Bobblehead – sitting on a shelf and brought out for showcase tours. Leaving Senior Management to do what they do best. (or not).

So what exactly defines a Bobblehead Leader?
  • A leader who serves as the company figurehead, assuming total credit for this great turnaround (when in reality it takes strong, organized teams of motivated people to execute a successful turnaround)
  • A leader who spouts messages rather than getting into the heart of important matters. They’re not willing to get too concrete in case they’re held accountable.
  • Someone who espouses core values, mission and vision but doesn’t live them.
  • One who’s not curious about what happens on the front lines choosing to isolate themself in the executive tower. The customer is not their priority. Nor their employees. Only the shareholders.
  • A person not willing to surround themself with people smarter than they, preferring yes people vs. professionals who know how to execute.
  • A leader not open to hearing news they don’t want to hear.
  • They make drastic cuts to save money and drive up the stock price that come back to haunt the company later (See Sunbeam in the 90s).
  • Prefers short-term rewards over long-term vision, hoping they’re not around long enough to see things fall apart – focusing more on their payout rather than building a company that gives back to society, empowers employees while still making shareholders happy.
  • Style without substance.

Who do I think is the antithesis of the Bobblehead Leader? Steve Jobs. He’s fanatically passionate about his company and the products. Involved in the total experience and surrounded by a talented team who makes it happen. He’s the glue. Now many would say he’s a pretty tough boss and that Apple may have a hard time finding a suitable successor because he’s SO MUCH a part of it. But look at how he turned a company many wrote off for dead into one that’s now larger than Microsoft. In short, he cares about the success of the company. Not just his paycheck.

And Tony Hsieh. Fanatical about the customer experience at Zappos, he baked service into every aspect of the company inspiring employees and hiring and training for performance – offering $2,000 to new hires to walk away from their job. Yet he faced a skeptical board who considered it a nice experiment, essentially motivating him to sell to Amazon to avoid changing the vision.

How about Lou Gerstner? He turned IBM around when it was floundering without a vision. For awhile big blue had lost its way but he took the time to learn how the company functioned, where the opportunities lied and injected a long-term vision that took several years to fully realize. Now IBM is back stronger than ever with focus and discipline. It’s proof that even large legacy companies can find their groove with a leader that cares at the helm. Who do you think embodies exceptional leadership?

Want to lead with intention and get results? Don’t be a Bobblehead!

Integrating advertising, simple elegance in branding, the right approach to social plus Hyundai’s brilliance

Like it or not, product placement is everywhere and going to get even more integrated as this article on the future of advertising makes the case. And that means in social media, content, games and any online stream that captures our attention. It needs to do so because we’re tuning it out everywhere else. The key for advertisers is to do it right. Make it relevant. And find new ways to engage with us.

Although I like nice cars like BMWs and Porsches and Audis, I drive a Volkswagen. And although I long for a Leica, I currently use a Nikon. (And more often my trusty iPhone). But Oh, how I would love a Leica. The feel. The quality of the optics. The sheer experience with shooting with a finely crafted machine. Just like driving a finely tuned automobile. There’s a feeling you get from each that creates delight the more time you spend with them.  What I appreciate about Leica is how they’re maintaining their relevance in a world of iPhone and point ‘n shoot cameras that do a good enough job for most of us. Leica hasn’t wavered from their focus on quality and feel and continue to innovate with their brand experience. This is a great lesson for any brand and further proof that you don’t always need a line extension to grow and maintain your brand. Less is still more.

Along these lines Converse gets social media by getting out of the way. Rather than use it as a marketing channel, they use it to connect with their prime audiences, rewarding the musicians who adopted their shoes by creating a recording studio free for artists. They act as facilitators and get out of the way – great lessons for businesses struggling to understand how they can integrate social media into their marketing or wondering why they’re not seeing any traction.

And now for some pure brandutainment Hyundai brings us this incredible 3D outdoor projection to introduce their new Hyundai Accent. Great concept meets great choreography and execution. Props to them for approving this creative. Such brilliance required over 120 crew members, 6 hd projectors, 10 hd cameras, 6 cranes 4 months production, 1 stuntman, and a 1000+ live event audience.  I’m curious as to how they measure success and determine if this is a worthy approach for future releases. Hat tip to @jacoutofthebox for sharing this one.

Big banking certainly has a bad rap these days, particularly in the U.S. I know I’m a tad cynical about their motives, preferring a credit union to traditional bank. Most need to go beyond their brand ID and focus more on showing they actually care about their customers. But in this world of instant videos and communication, design and branding often gets short shrift. Particularly in smaller companies. As Leica demonstrates, design is a prime opportunity to separate yourself from all the me-toos. I hadn’t realized Deutsche Bank ‘crowdsourced’ their logo in 1974 but they obviously got it right. This look at their new brand standards and brand museum is testament to the power of design. And for a financial institution no less. While most companies can’t afford to spend the millions Deutsche bank did, there are lessons here. Design is scalable. It’s not the dollars so much as the attention to detail and passion invested in creating a brand that resonates.