What do you think of when you hear the word “icon”? You might think of those little squares on your smartphone screen that link you into an app. You might think of some other graphic that has meaning in the way that it looks. Or you might think about someone or something that is a symbol and is the object of uncritical devotion, as the dictionary defines it. It’s this last meaning that I want to address today.
Photo by Agnieszka Kowalczyk
You can probably think of several iconic brands – companies that are market leaders and offer great (read that as high-value even if they’re not high-cost) products to their customers. Disney, Apple, and others would qualify here. They have a lot of things in common despite their very different business sectors. They have strong branding that is unique in the consumers’ mind. The brand itself has a clearly defined meaning in those minds as well. Customers know what to expect and the reality of the product they receive usually beats those expectations.
Icons offer high value. Customers get their problems solved at what they perceive to be a fair investment of time and money. Icons are also very consistent – it’s a repeatable brand experience. Lastly, their positions are highly-defensible. It will be very hard for another brand to take its place. None of that is news to you, right?
The question I have is why don’t we think of our personal brands in the same way? Do we think about becoming an iconic business person, one that has a strong, unique branding in the business world? Are we consistent, offering all of those with whom we interact the same, high-quality experience? When people deal with us, whether they are partners, clients, suppliers, peers or employees, do they know what to expect? Are they excited about that prospect because they know a positive experience awaits?
In a world where we’re heading for a million corporations of one, your personal brand is becoming your corporate brand. Why not make it as iconic as you can?
I’ve been thinking about writing this rant for a few weeks now. I’ve refrained, hoping that what’s prompting it will go away but it hasn’t so today, I rant.
I spent nearly my entire professional career in some sort of advertising-related business. I sold media. I was a media publisher. I’ve bought advertising on behalf of consulting clients and my own businesses. I’m pretty well-acquainted with how the business works. It’s rare, therefore, that something ad-related surprises me but this has. Lincoln is running an ad called “Sanctuary” for its Navigator vehicle. It features Sarah Vaughan’s recording of “Make Yourself Comfortable,” a song I like from an artist I like as well. At least I used to.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t watch a ton of non-news or sports programming via traditional TV. You can pretty much find me on a news channel or sports channel if it’s old-school TV or a streaming service otherwise. I bring this up because what I’m about to rant about isn’t caused by my rapacious consumption of TV.
I have seen the aforementioned ad at least once every half hour for the last month. In fact, I’ve seen it far more often than that, often once every few commercial pods. I am now at the point where when I hear the thunderclap that begins the ad I reach for the remote. I am sick of the song. I have so tuned out the ad that I didn’t even notice that it’s Serena Williams sitting in the car. I could see this happening if I was on a ton of channels in lots of different programming but I’m not. I’m about 10 more impressions from setting fire to the next Lincoln I see.
Who do I blame? Let’s see. First, the media buying agency who apparently has never heard of frequency-capping. When your ad is running every 10-20 minutes FOR HOURS on the same channel you’re well into overkill. Second, I blame whoever sold this schedule. Maybe it’s a ROS deal (run of schedule/station) and they’re just filling pods with creative to run up the bill. You might be making a few bucks but you’re losing at least this loyal viewer. Third, I blame the client. Aren’t you looking at the reports? Aren’t you running research that tells you reach isn’t increasing while frequency is off the charts? For the love of all that is holy – make another commercial – you’re killing me.
OK, I feel better. But if you’re a marketer and you’re not asking your people about frequency distributions and commercial wear out, do yourself and your prospective customers a favor: ask ASAP. Deal?
We’re starting down that road to another presidential election here in the US. There are a lot of people who want the job, apparently although having watched my way through “The West Wing” multiple times I’m not sure why. The plane maybe?
No, we’re not heading into the world of politics but one thing that struck me as I have been watching the various candidates making their cases is that there are an awful lot of good ideas being tossed around. Every candidate has a grand solution to one or more of the many things that can be improved here in the US of A. Of course, so did nearly every other person who has run for the office over the years. What they found is something that’s useful to any of us in business: good ideas aren’t enough.
I’m sure you’ve had many groundbreaking ideas in your business life. Maybe you even got the chance to try and bring them to life. The reality is that a good number of those ideas withered away because the strength of an idea isn’t really enough to make it happen. You need buy-in from all the stakeholders which means you also need some good persuasion skills. You might need money which means you need to be able to justify your brainstorm in dollars and cents for the money mavens. And of course, you need the leadership skills to make others understand your vision and work hard to implement it even if the value of that idea isn’t necessarily apparent to them until the very end.
Being great means Getting Stuff Done or as Elvis used to have on his belt buckle, TCB – Taking Care of Business. I had a boss who used to tell me I had 100 ideas a day and 99 were pure crap. I had to learn how to get that one great idea done. He was right (well, maybe more than 1 a day was pretty good). I became a much better manager when I learned not to fixate on the idea but to pay attention to the process so the idea could bloom. Yes, it’s like a garden – the great idea is just the seed and without a proper environment and lots of care it will wither and die.
So now you know that. I wonder how many of the candidates do?
Let’s think, this Foodie Friday, about how dishes are “finished.” No, I don’t mean how you eat every last bit off of your plate. Instead, I mean those last few things you do as a cook when the dish is done but you’re adding what I would call a lagniappe of sorts – a little something extra at the end, almost a gift.
For example. Let’s say you’ve just cooked your guests some perfect steaks. Now you could certainly just let them rest and present them to your hungry diners or you could finish them in style. Maybe you make an herb butter which you allow to melt over the warm steak, adding another layer of richness and flavor. Maybe you provide a container of truffle salt, adding heady umami to the dish.
We’ve all been offered grated cheese to go on our pasta. That’s finishing in style in my book, especially if the cheese offered is correct for the dish itself and not just the same cheese for everyone (and heaven forfend that’s it’s grated ahead of time!).
Finishing in style can be as simple as offering a drop of true balsamic vinegar for aged cheese or even ice cream (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). What I think it really shows is that the cook is willing to go the extra steps to make a meal memorable.
It’s the same in business. When was the last time you hand-wrote a thank you note to a customer for an order or sent a gift to a new client to welcome them aboard? When I joined my franchising network and finished training, a lovely bonsai tree showed up at my house to congratulate me. Did it make me work any harder? No, but sure showed me that I had exercised great judgment in joining the group that I had. That was finishing in style.
Business today is way too competitive for any of us not to think about the lagniappe – the something extra. How can we finish each transaction – each dish we prepare – in style?
You can call shared interests believing your own BS or you can call them eating your own dog food. I like to think of it as having skin in the game, a phrase coined by Warren Buffet referring to a situation in which high-ranking insiders use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running. I use it in a much broader context and it’s something you should be looking for at every turn.
Photo by rawpixel.com
I can’t tell you how many companies paraded into my office when I was in corporate life promising to solve issues we might be having with revenue generation, audience measurement, or dozens of other common problems. Many of the offerings were actually quite interesting although not yet deployed in the real world to any extent. If I was interested but skeptical, I’d usually make an offer somewhat akin to this:
I like your product but it’s awfully difficult for me to stroke out a check on something that is promising but unproven. So let’s do this. You provide the product and service as you say and I will pay you a much lower fee (or nothing!). However, if you deliver the results you say you will deliver, we’ll set up a success fee that will pay you more than you’re currently asking. In fact, if your numbers are right, you’ll earn double what you are charging.
In other words, I wanted them to have skin in the game. I wanted our interests to be perfectly aligned and I wanted there to be consequences for us both if we didn’t achieve what we set out to do. The reality is that you should always ask yourself who has what skin where because most businesses do their damnedest to avoid any sort of risk by putting in some skin. Sure, they pay lip-service to the notion of entrepreneurship but there are few who have put their money where their mouth is and invested into the tech ecosystem or directly into startups. Pay attention – much of the time the investment comes only after the product has proven itself or is a direct ripoff of something that’s already successful. I call this the second penguin strategy (you don’t want to be the first penguin that jumps in the water since there may be predators lurking).
If you’ve ever played cards, inevitably there is a kibitzer around. You know – the person who looks on and often offers unwanted advice or comment. They have no skin in the game. There are kibitzers in business too – you can find them writing for many trade publications – and you might even have some in your company as partners or clients or even employees. Not many companies took me up on my offer to make them more money. The few that did were fantastic partners and I still speak with some of the executives from those firms almost 20 years later. Having skin in the game made all the difference. What do you think?
A little science this Foodie Friday. I swear this doesn’t come from some satire site either. A group of Swiss scientists conducted a little experiment with music and cheese. The idea was to find out if exposing cheese to round-the-clock music could give it more flavor. They took 9 wheels of Emmenthal cheese and put them in individual wooden crates. Then, for the next six months, each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels. You with me so far?
As one report had it:
The tracks include A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it From Here, Mozart’s The Magic Flute opera, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Vril’s UV, and Yello’s Monolith. Three of the other wheels were exposed to either low-, medium-, or high-frequency sound waves. One control wheel was left in silence.
Any guesses on the results? Well, amazingly, there was a noticeable difference in flavor according to the food experts who tasted them. They reported that the cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor compared to the non-musical cheese. They also found that the hip-hop cheese had a stronger aroma and stronger flavor than other samples. If you ask anyone who’s been around me whilst I’m preparing a meal, they will tell you that I often play a type of music appropriate to the cuisine being prepared: Zydeco when cooking Cajun, Salsa when cooking Mexican, etc. They think I’m crazy but now I have science to back up my thinking, right?
The business point here is that we often don’t pay enough attention to the environment we set up in our business places. While it’s become more common for people to listen to headphones while they work, there are many other factors in the environment that affect performance. Creating an environment where people are happy and motivated pays huge dividends, especially when you look at places where people are generally miserable. It’s not just good lighting and clean spaces. It’s also having an open-door policy as a manager and allowing the staff to personalize their spaces. It means bending the rules from time to time to accommodate special situations and doing a lot more listening than talking when conversing with your team.
If cheese can pick vibrations and react, you can be very sure that the people with whom you work can as well. Why not make them the kind of vibes that create the best flavor?