Learning To Swim

When learning to swim, do you begin when it’s sunny or when the flood waters are approaching your second-story windows?  Why, then, have you waited for the proverbial storm clouds to fill the skies? Probably because, like many others, you never thought it would be THAT bad.

The Industrial Age is Gone

There are times when being an optimist is perfectly reasonable, but this isn’t one of them.  Now it’s all about realism. It’s time to open the blinds and take a long, hard look outside.  The Industrial Age is gone. So are land lines, televisions with 13-channel dials, and 8-track tapes.  We are now in the Internet Age, where consumers are armed with more information about brands AND individual  representatives than can be printed on a direct-mail piece. Where does all of this information come from? Transparent sharing by real human beings in and between an infinite number of online communities.  If you think your “dirty little secrets” can stay secure forever, prepare for a big surprise. You may be able to secure most inside information that is protected legally, but common-knowledge across-the-board “perks”  in any industry will likely not fall in that category.

It’s NOT About You

What happens when full disclosure really means full disclosure?  How do you explain to customers that the true reason for your 40 calls to their cell per week is less about them and more about you.  The legacy generation of customers that has provided your income stream for the last three decades already knows, but they no longer care. They are nearing the end of their buying cycle for your products and services.  Unless they are independently wealthy, the likelihood of them needing more from you than they already have is slim to none. What you’re failing to realize is that every generation of consumer that follows is going to have access to exponentially more information shared transparently across infinitely more platforms than their Industrial Age elders. No longer are they going to lie down in a sales appointment.  In fact, there won’t be a “sales appointment”. It will be a “validation meeting”. They will meet to validate that you are a real human being, confirm that you are as represented by your online avatar, and that your brand’s solution has identical features and pricing when you submit the application as when they quoted it on their mobile device.

How are you preparing for that reality?

Dealing The Cards Face-up

Dealing cards face-up

My wife and I enjoy getting together with other couples to play cards once in a while.  It’s a way to give the brain a workout while also having a good conversation with friends.  One of the husbands, in particular, always insists on cutting the cards after shuffling them.  Apparently you’re less likely to be dealt two bad hands in a row if you mix them up really well.  That made me think:  What if the same concept were applied to the business world?

The traditional marketing model is like the standard card game:  Each player is dealt cards, face-down, from the top of queue (otherwise known as the deck.)  Most games require that the cards remain face-down and out of their opponents’ sight throughout each round of play.  Players have little or no control over the hand they receive, nor do they know what cards their opponents possess.  Sounds like the traditional marketing funnel:   A large number of faceless “leads” are distributed randomly to players who then arrange their hands in a way that makes sense according to the game they are playing.  Just as different cards have different values or significance, different leads may require unique approaches based on their position in the buying journey.  In addition, players are rarely given the opportunity to openly trade cards with one another.  That’s probably where the old saying:  “You need to play the hand you’re dealt” comes from.  The problem with this system is that there are more losers than there need to be. Not everyone wants to play the same game and some cards have more value in one game versus another.  What if this could somehow be changed?  What if the cards could be dealt face-up and were matched to each specific game?  

Personal branding and content marketing are beginning to enable this process of shuffling and face-up re-dealing.

As more and more people tell their stories online, both representatives AND customers are finding it easier to align with those of complementary beliefs and values (or separate themselves from those with conflicting world views). Such re-shuffling is likely disconcerting for “territorial” traditional representatives who see the number of products or services they have sold their customers as the definition of relationship depth, but in the end the process will prove to be quite beneficial to brands, specifically as it relates to retention.  Using the analogy of the card games, some representatives prefer to play Poker while others may prefer to play Cribbage.  Both games use cards, but the rules of each game are different, as are the assigned point values.  For instance, the perfect hand in Cribbage is J (knobs)-5-5-5-5, while the perfect hand in poker is A-K-Q-J-10 (all same suit = Royal Flush).  The Crazy-8’s game I used to play with my grandpa has a different “perfect hand”.  Pitch has yet another.

The point is this:  If representatives are playing different games within the scope of one brand, wouldn’t it be advantageous to the brand’s retention AND acquisition rates to encourage redistributing the cards face-up based on what the best fit for each CARD is rather than only requiring one game to be played?  The greater the variety of games (differentiation between personal brands), the more cards (customers) could be perfectly aligned with each.

Segmentation: Personalities Behind The Posts

SegmentationWith all the talk about segmenting customers, wouldn’t it be equally as intriguing to dive into the brand and representative personalities that create, curate, share, and publish content?  News feeds and timelines are becoming more cluttered by the second, which is forcing consumer attention spans to get shorter each day.  As a result, consumers are becoming more aware of the motivations of the people they follow, although they likely have yet to get as analytical as some people. (Yes, I’m referring to myself.)  

Three years ago, I marked 2016 as the year that would re-define the term “Attention Deficit”, only this time it’s not a disorder, but a paradigm shift.  Why 2016?  Because it’s a presidential election year in which a good percentage of the American population is now relying on mobile technology as their primary source of communication:  Voice, text, and data, all in one.  The desktop computers on their kitchen counters are collecting dust, their land lines have been disconnected, and their DVR’s are all set to record their favorite shows (without commercials).  All of the focus now is on their handheld screens, and the visual noise is getting overwhelming.  2016 is the year that will make a lot of people rethink their priorities about who they follow and engage with, and whose content is worthy of their attention.  In previous years, much of the information consumed was chosen without regard for motive of the content creator/curator. From this point forward, my belief is that “attention deficient” consumers are going to begin categorizing their contacts into the following four specific segments:

  • The Subliminal Self-Promoter.  This person uses what Eddie Murphy called in his standup routine: “The Jedi mind trick.”  It happens when someone posts about their joy and happiness for someone else’s success…that they reveal in the next sentence was made possible by their business efforts.  It’s nothing more than a sales pitch covered up with frosting and sprinkles.   
  • The Bold Brander. These “human doings” wear their brands on their sleeves, or pockets, or across their backs—Literally.  Their entire wardrobe was purchased from their company store.  The e-mail containing the phrase:  “People care more about who you are than want you do” apparently bypassed their inbox and went right to “junk”.    
  • The Compliant Content Curator.  This person schedules and publishes alright:  But only the stuff that appears in their corporate suggested content queue.  What they fail to realize is that the only reach they are extending is that of the brand through their networks.  They are NOT differentiating themselves.  Instead, they are annoying the community members who used to “like” them.
  • The Under The Radar Renegade.  This person knows the rules of engagement.  They constantly manage their personal brand and attract others based on their world views.  Many times, customers ask to work with them because they DON’T do what the other three groups are doing…The only factor that affects timing is the level of noise tolerance of their potential customers.  Lower tolerance = faster growth.

None of this should come as any surprise, right?  What segment do you think you belong in?  Put yourself in the shoes of a customer and ask:  “What segment would I most like to work with?”

2016 appears to be a big year for decision-making.

Like It or Not, YOU’RE A BRAND!

No more hidingIt’s time to stop hiding behind the “employee” mask.  That title is dying right along with the Industrial Age it was coined in.  While we’re at it, let’s toss the “boss” title out the window, too.  Change is upon us, and all of our futures depend on one very important observation:

If you work with the public in any capacity and earn an income from those interactions, you are performing the FUNCTION of every business in the world:  The acquisition and maintenance of customers.  And you are likely doing this with some goal in mind:  To provide for yourself and your family by making money, which is coincidentally the GOAL of every business in the world.     

Why the assertion that everyone is a brand?  Because the Internet has made it that way.  Everything we post online is a representation of who we are and what we stand for.  Our values, beliefs, loyalties and oppositions are reflected in our words, expressions, clothing, vehicles, homes, possessions…  you name it. Don’t believe it?  Have you ever seen a Ford pickup with a window sticker of Calvin (of the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes) pissing on a red bowtie (aka Chevrolet) emblem?  That’s an example of brand loyalty, albeit an extreme one.  Do you know people who ONLY wear clothes of certain brands?  How about people who refuse to eat at certain restaurants or drink certain brands of beer?  Each of these is an example of brand loyalty.  “But how does this apply to the ‘employee’ label”,  you ask? To answer that question, we must first clarify your own priorities:

  • How did you choose your career?  Are you driven first by (a) intrinsic factors like personal passion and fulfillment, or (b) extrinsic factors like money and power?
  • How did you choose your employer? Are your employer’s values and beliefs: (a) well aligned and complementary to your own, or (b) inconsistent or conflicting with your own?
  • How committed/loyal are you to not only your employer, but all of the brands that you “endorse” by being directly or inadvertently connected to them?  Are you (a) proud to be associated with them, or are you (b) paid to be happy (i.e. with salary or discounted goods and services)?

***If you answered (a) in each instance, you’re probably an employee/brand advocate, whether anyone inside your organization realizes it or not.  If (b) was the choice each time, your work environment probably restricts or discourages advocacy because neither party in the equation knows what the other might say.  Very unfortunate, indeed.       


In the Industrial Age, passion and alignment with an organization’s values wasn’t part of a job description, especially for someone applying for work on a factory assembly line.  However, as the Industrial Age began fading,  assembly lines became more automated and less human. At the same time,  educational institutions began shifting their programs away from “blue collar” careers and toward “white collar” ones.  The paradigm that still exists, unfortunately, is best explained by visualizing the factory environment.  

Walk up to nearly any factory and what do you see?  Big doors, solid walls, and a few windows. The windows aren’t there to look out of, though.  Rather, they are windows usually located a few feet below the roof line.  They’re not intended to allow passers-by to look in and see the workers…they are intended to allow natural lighting into the building.  The walls (and placement of the windows) allow the majority of employees to remain anonymous to the outside world.

Look around today:   You won’t find many offices and businesses without windows.  Organizations know that great work environments attract great people.  Even cubicles, the trademark of ‘90’s office spaces, are being replaced by mobile technology leveraged by teams in remote locations with wi-fi that turn Starbuck’s seating areas into satellite business locations.     

As mentioned earlier, the LABOR shift from human to automated, specifically in the industrial sector, began years ago.  What has been clinging on to the Industrial Age is the Employee/Boss “MIND”-shift. It’s time to let go.


Business Focus: Ants or Elephants

elephantAntHow many sales representatives are trained to hunt “elephants”? (Figuratively, of course!)  Elephants are the big accounts that can surpass an organization’s annual sales budget in ONE DEAL.  

Reps that land these accounts are seen as heroes whose business practices are written in stone for everyone hired into that role going forward.  We can all agree that elephants provide an organization with significant revenue streams in the short term, but what about the long run?  Is there another source that could be as, if not MORE, lucrative over the long haul? As a matter of fact, there is…except not many representatives or companies are able to see them or the massive potential they represent. Why?  Their work is being done mostly underground.

I consider myself an “ant”, not an “elephant”.  In fact, most small business owners probably place themselves in the “ant” category.  The reason?  Because small business owners aren’t provided the same opportunities to leverage today’s technology and big data as large corporate counterparts. They simply have to be more frugal with their cash flows in order to make ends meet. Unfortunately, that means the customers they are passionate about serving are often faced with operational IN-efficiency throughout the buyer journey.  For instance, large companies have the resources to leverage predictive analytics to more accurately anticipate the needs of customers.  Small business owners have to physically listen to each of their customers’ interactions and reach out to them MANUALLY, not via automation tools provided to their larger competitors within their custom-tailored systems.  This seriously restricts the ability of small business owners to add value to their customers’ experiences.  My assertion, which is supported by at least a handful of influencers out there, is that “ants” provide a huge, untapped opportunity.

Ants are truly fascinating creatures, and perfect for this analogy.  Here are some interesting facts about ants that can be assimilated to small business ownership and marketing:

  • Ants can lift up to 100 times their body weight.  Like small business owners, they have to do their own heavy lifting.   
  • Ants recruit other ants into their colony to help do their work.  Sounds very similar to an advocacy program, doesn’t it?
  • Ants do most of their work out of sight.   They build massive networks of colonies across hundreds, even THOUSANDS of acres, and no one even pays attention.

What would happen if some attention and support were suddenly given to small business owners who have been doing their own heavy lifting, manually piecing together their own systems while diligently building tight-knit, connected and far-reaching communities of compatible world views? What if they suddenly had all of the tools necessary to come out from their underground networks and could start influencing others to build their own inter-connected communities above ground? How would the cumulative benefit of serving thousands of “ants” compare to that one “elephant” not only in present, future, value?

It might be worth a look, don’t you think?


boatFigure it out soon, or you’ll be standing on the dock when the boat leaves the harbor.  Seriously, if I read one more article about how a small business should market its products on the internet through social media, I’m going to puke.  Forbes, Business Week, and a ton of other publications are continually posting on this subject.  Come on, people, you’re missing the point! You don’t market your products through social media, you BRAND YOURSELF through consistent and transparent representation across whatever channels you choose;  Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn being the Big 3.   The only way you’re going to earn money in the very near future is by being genuine and accessible at all times.  If customers are coming to you for help, they already trust the brand you represent. Nothing happens unless they trust YOU.

Not a bad idea for brand managers to ponder, either.

I’m Listening, But I’m Ignoring You

hearing-protectionAt least if you’re telling me I have to conform to the way things have always been done, if I have to use the same performance metrics, if you tell me the only way I can grow my business is to do things people hate.

For the last decade, we’ve asked everyone how they feel about phone calls during dinner, direct mail, pop-up Internet messages, and unexpected doorbells.  100% of their reactions were negative, almost confrontational.  In fact, the majority stated that they have taken multiple steps to prevent any of those activities from happening in their lives.

If we’re truly listening to our customers, WHY are these strategies still required courses in sales training classrooms? Because brands refuse to open their minds to other options and instructors are only paid and retained if they follow orders. When this is the dominant corporate culture, how does significant change happen?

The only solution is to start from the ground up.

Exponential Magnification: The Power of Six

magnifying-glass-450690_1280In 1992, a scientist named Robin Dunbar assigned “150” as the number of close individual relationships human beings are capable of maintaining at one time.  The human brain, Dr. Dunbar asserted, reaches a tipping point and becomes overloaded if forced to retain information about more than 150 people.  Anyone who looks at their own life would likely see this theory as being quite reasonable.  But how does Dunbar’s Number apply to connectivity within social networks?  What if you could exponentially magnify that number by engaging with and connecting complementary community members in a very precise manner rather than at random?


Since Mitch Joel wrote a book called “Six Pixels of Separation”, I’ll choose the number “6” for the purpose of this discussion.  If you were to choose SIX topics you are most passionate about and SIX topics that would make you exit a room as quickly as you entered it, what topics would be on each list?  Do you have your lists made?  Good.  Now reflect on the 150 people closest to you.  You all share a few common insights and passions, right? Otherwise, you’d run the other way when you saw them approaching you.  The important thing to note here is that NOT ALL of your 150 closest relationships are compatible with ONE ANOTHER.  Because of this fact, I ask you to now categorize each person into whichever of the six “passion” categories you defined a moment ago.  If they fit into more than one, great!  It means you have more to talk about when you get together!  


This is where it gets interesting.  Where Dunbar’s Number caps the relationship figure is where the real magic happens.  How is this possible?  An old-school concept called DELEGATION. Except in this case, you’re delegating purposeful connectivity rather than authority.  And your network becomes exponentially magnified as a result.  Remember the six “passions”. and the six “deal breakers”? Let’s start first with the deal breakers.  Would you ever choose to engage with people with whom you share zero commonality?  Of course not.  The great thing about big data is that these people can now be identified before you send them ANY marketing correspondence.  By the way, this is the ONLY way they’d ever hear of you in the first place.  They, like you, certainly aren’t going to connect with anyone they have ZERO in common with, right?   This concept pinpoints exactly why traditional advertising is on its last leg.  


Finding people who share one or more of your passions is the key to success.  Why?  The relationships are more genuine, authentic and engaged when joined together by passion. Customers who share one or more common worldviews are also less likely to leave your care, and therefore, you make a better living as long as you never give them a reason to not trust you. “What does ‘Dunbar’s Number’ have to do with any of this”, you ask?  In order to understand, you need to take a step back and visualize a rather unique example.  I’d like you go back to science class and picture an ATOM, namely the individual molecules within that atom.  


Let’s start with the nucleus:  YOU.  Rotating around you in the next layer are 150 of your closest friends.  Connecting you to those friends are one or more BONDS (as discussed above).  The number of bonds between you is the number of passions you share. Dunbar’s Number stops there, but with the Molecular Networking model, we’re just getting started.   What happens next exponentially magnifies your network by delegating the power to expand it to your friends.  Although the two of you may share a few common friends, you are only one particle in their networks, right?  The thing you can be relatively assured of is that, because the two of you share compatible worldviews, it’s likely that others in their network you have yet to meet are likely to be compatible with you as well.  We see this playing out online every day.  My assertion is that, much of the time, such connections are less purposeful and more random.  By making these secondary connections more purposeful and focused, however, we gain two distinct advantages:  First, we maintain some element of control over our connectivity.  Second, we are able to inject passion into the second layer of communities THROUGH our first layer bonds.  


The difference between this Molecular Networking concept and traditional marketing is that there is no randomness, and therefore, a reduced level of discord within networks.  Once the passions and deal breakers have been determined, the focus of the networking process is EXCLUSIVELY ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.  The primary function of the nucleus is to strengthen the bonds between molecules.  When done correctly, the bonds (chemistry) between molecules (people/communities) are become stronger than any opposing force(competitor), thus dramatically reducing the pull (noise).  The potential size of a network using this theory is limited only by one’s ability to engage and energize their communities. Even if you only achieved a 20% bond with the group one layer beyond the initial friend layer, the potential is staggering:  


150 x 150 = 22,500 x .2 = 4500 people.

Not bad, right?  Hang on, friends.  This is only one facet of a multi-layers concept..  How many influencers on Twitter have used the phrase “Employee Advocacy” in the last 3 months? Exactly.  Your team members are also nuclei, aren’t they?  You have 3 of them?  Triple the product in the above equation. Three HUNDRED people report to you?  Bad news:  You need to buy a new calculator.  What about the impact on recruiting when networks and worldviews are factored into the selection process throughout all levels of an organization?  Wouldn’t people enjoy going to work more if everyone throughout an entire organization shared at least a few compatible worldviews? How much would such diversity benefit a company’s retention efforts?  

Personally, I believe it would be a game-changer.

Overused Words in New Media

Consultant. Everybody wants to be one.  Why?  Because consultants don’t have to be accountable to your results…but they still get paid.  How about we change this title to “Professional connector”?  That’s really what I’m looking for.

Social Media.  In #SocialBrand14, Chris Brogan and Jason Falls both basically said that Social Media is a small part of the big picture of marketing today.  Yet when in discussion with most people, social media is used as an all-encompassing term.  That leads me to believe that people that love social media understand this.  The ones that are marginal at best aren’t open to seeing it as more than what they use it for—keeping up with friends.

Sales.  News flash, folks…Sales no longer is.  People buy, but they are not sold.  They don’t need you to SELL them…They CHOOSE to buy from you.  If you’re in an industry where repeat business contributes to your company’s revenues and you get this very simple point, you will reap great rewards.  It’s a huge mind shift.  Figure it out.

Content Marketing.  The biggest problem I had with #SocialBrand14 was the lack of consistent clarity around the purpose of content.  On the positive side, content was explained as something that draws people to you. On the negative side, content was explained as something remarkable that gets someone’s attention.  If we were doing this according to the rules of inbound, wouldn’t we be creating content for a community who that is giving permission to entertain them with content about shared world views?  If so, why would I need to create something that will impress new community members?  Wouldn’t my current ones spread the word?

Here’s the most important message to take from this post:  It doesn’t matter what you call it if you don’t DO IT.

Commoditized Product and Service Sales

How many things can you list that can be purchased in multiple places and across multiple platforms(in stores, online, or download)?  Would that description fit a majority of goods and services regardless of distribution or consumption method?

There’s a huge misconception out there that it’s our products or our brands that define who we are or what we do.  Isn’t that a self-deprecating way of seeing yourself?

What brands fail to understand is that the people who represent and distribute their products and services, specifically those on the front lines, have as great an impact on their bottom lines as the brand marketing they engage in.