Are We Pivoting or Leaping?

In-Short
To physically pivot, we require a fixed anchor point. To leap requires complete freedom of movement. Both initiate change and may unlock growth, but each has drastically different requirements. So, are we pivoting or actually leaping?

In-Depth
There is a big difference between leaping and pivoting. When we pivot, everything around us remains the same except for our point of view. If we untether ourselves from a point and move, everything around us changes.

The same is true when strategically approaching our business. If we feel we are in the right place but need to adjust our approach –or we have a desire to explore the world that surrounds us– we pivot.

If we feel we are not altogether in the right place, we leap. We can try our approach elsewhere or try an entirely new approach from an entirely new position.

When I started to work in publishing while I was a photographer, that was a pivot: I was still in the ski industry; I was still working with the same companies and people; I was still telling stories; I just became more involved with the distribution of those stories.

When I jumped from publishing and photojournalism in the ski industry to a creative agency in San Francisco, I leaped­ –both literally and figuratively: I moved from Lake Tahoe to the Bay Area; I transitioned into a completely new field; and I was now working in entirely new industries.

Both transitions were powerful ones for me.
Both opened my eyes to the larger world around me.
Both opened up new opportunities.
Both were challenging.
Both required the development of new skills.
Both increased my income.
Both came with an enormous amount of change to my way of life.
Both endeavors ultimately failed, although I would do them both over again… only differently.
But one was a pivot and one was a leap; two drastically different experiences.

Pivots are easier movements than leaps, they carry less risk because there is less change and fewer unknowns. Leaps have the potential of creating a greater impact and doing so faster, because the movement is larger and often sudden.

Two fundamentally different paths with very different requirements. The word pivot gets thrown around a lot. There’s nothing wrong with pivoting, as long as we don’t think we’re pivoting when we are actually leaping.

How Much vs. How Little

In-Short
By changing the fundamental question surrounding marketing from “How much?”, to “How little?”, we can change our entire approach and become more efficient and effective.        

In-depth
Marketing has always been about a simple relationship: spend verses return. For decades, even centuries, marketers have been asking, “How much does it cost to reach how many people?” That’s the problem.

The question shouldn’t be;
“How much does it cost, to reach how many people?”

The question should be;
“How little do we have to spend to reach the right people?”

By asking, “How little” we:

  • Force comparison between other possible marketing vehicles instead of evaluating the merits of an isolated effort.
  • Spark creativity by creating a challenge with a constraint instead of asking an open-ended question.
  • Start with the low-hanging fruit instead of reaching for shiny objects.

The result is a more efficient portfolio of marketing vehicles.

By focusing on “the right” audience we:

  • Invest in building long-term loyalty instead of chasing one-time buyers.
  • Deliver a powerful, emotive message that breaks through instead of speaking to the lowest common denominator.
  • Segment based on psychographics (one’s values and principles) to find “our people” instead of by demographics (statistical data) to find statistically similar people.

The result is a more effective portfolio of marketing vehicles.

Because we have been asking the wrong question, we haven’t been taking advantage of readily available data and technology that makes marketing more efficient and effective. We really can do more with less and do so fairly easily, but execution requires good math.

We see a lot of bad math, lazy math, or no math at all. The math in question is pretty simple, for each dollar you spend, how much in revenue do you get in return. However, we often see that:

  • Nobody is looking at this equation, with marketing vehicles that are never measured, analyzed or optimized.
  • Drastically different efforts are clumped under a single vehicle like branded and non-branded search terms combined under Search Marketing (Separating these out, we find very different efficiency and effectiveness).
  • Not all costs are included, like management fees, creative production, materials, etc.
  • A lack of detail: Which campaign is performing, which key word, which city or door; the more detailed the data, the clearer the story.
  • Customer performance to understand if a vehicle or campaign attracts the right people that become loyal customers with repeat purchases or only one-time buyers.

Nothing here is complicated or complex. It’s all very simple, even easy. The hard part is deciding to try taking the unglamorous path and being disciplined enough to see it through.

Where Brand & Leadership Collide

Who leads who in the creation of product?
Does the product line manager dictate what should be made next?
Or is it the channels, those closest to the needs of the customer?
Or the creative team with a vision for how the brand can better express itself through product and create a storyline that will break through and drive long-term brand loyalty?
Or, seeing the preferences and desires of the customer in the data, is it the marketer?
Or maybe it’s the merchants and finance team that have pinpointed the best-selling and highest margin offering.

Who goes first?
Who leads?
Who follows?

Answer: It’s the brand team. Who is the brand team? The brand team is the leadership team.

If the leadership team is not well-schooled in the principles, values and vision of the brand –if its members are unable to manifest those principles, values and vision into their area of expertise– then they do not have the aptitude, inclination and skill set to be leaders.

If the product leader doesn’t understand how those principles and values manifest in a product (with the added vision for what that product looks like 3-5 years from now), then they should not be the product leader.

If the channel leader (head of sales) doesn’t understand how the product line should be sold in and presented at retail to create a consumer experience that puts those principles, values and vision on display, then they should not be the channel leader.

If the creative leader can’t connect the dots between the product made, the consumer pain point and the principles, values and vision of the brand to create compelling content, then they should not be the creative leader.

If the message distribution leader (marketing leader) can’t balance the desire to reach more people with the need to connect with the right customers by aligning core principles and values, creating an ever-deepening relationship over time, then they should not be the creative leader.

If the merchants and finance leaders can’t balance the company’s need to make a profit with its function of solving problems for its core customers, never abandoning them for the masses, never breaking its brand promise, it’s reason for being, then they should not be the lead merchants or finance leader.

“Brand” isn’t a department or a title among VPs or in the C-suite. Brand is the unwavering principles, values and vision that creates the standards a company holds itself to in every moment of every day.

The culmination of which exists in the product (or service), the physical manifestation of that brand.

The job of leaders is to define the brand, embody it, instill it, manifest it and grow it.

The Farm Stand Model

In-Short
What if we throw out the word “marketing” and instead thought in terms of “going to market”, like farmers have been doing for thousands of years? Could we then better understand the process and principles of selling a good or service? 

In-Depth
Once upon a time, people grew or made things for a living. Every day, or at the end of a week or season, they would travel to the local market to sell them. Thousands of years later, not much has changed.

Instead of small stalls in the town square, today’s markets have become the internet, strip malls, Main Streets and, even still, the small stalls of our local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are a beautiful and effective example of going to market.

If we throw out the word marketing for a moment (or, as I would prefer, forever) and examine the centuries-old lifecycle of farmers taking their products to market, we can get down to the principles of going to market that are still powerful today.

1. Product-Market Fit
Simply put, farmers need to start with the end in mind: What can they grow and how can they get it to customers? This is the simplest form of a go-to-market strategy, drawing a direct line between the product they plan to create and the end consumer. From the beginning of the process straight through to the end, this strategy informs what to make, when to make it and how to deliver it.

2. Product Creation
With a go-to-market strategy in place, the farmer knows what to plant and when to plant it. They turn their focus to growing the right amount of the right product at the right time.

3. Message Creation
What do you say when someone walks up to the stall? “The peaches are perfectly ripe.” and “Can I help you find the perfect potato for your recipe?”  Or “Everything is grown on our certified organic and bio dynamic, 5th generation family farm less than hour from here.”

Messages are the literal words we say or print; but messages are also the configuration of the stall, how the produce is displayed, how people dress and who is working the booth. Is it a rustic or sophisticated experience, neatly organized or an adventure of the senses? These are all messages about what the farmer values and how they see the world, which is what we are trying to share when we create go-to-market messaging.

4. Message Distribution
Free samples to show the sweetness of the peaches is some of the best message distribution I’ve seen at a farmer’s market. I’ve also been moved by the farmer’s incredibly informed kid helping me to pick out the best ones. Sign placement matters; how the names of apples are displayed matters; and if the seller is standing out in front or behind the table matters. If too forward, some people shy away. Too reserved and some people lose interest.

Message distribution is anthropology; it’s behavior science; it’s testing and analyzing to figure out what works or doesn’t and why –not just for today but for building long-term loyalty over time. 

5. Audit
How much was sold? How much is left? What did people ask for that we didn’t have? What was priced too low or too high? When the day is done, there is an accounting of what occurred in order to better plan for the next day, week or season. For farmers, margins can be thin, so quantitative and qualitative data is compiled and analyzed to minimize waste and maximize profit for reinvestment into the next yield. 

This is the foundation for going to market. The product will vary; the situation will vary; but the fundamental principles and processes are the same. 

It’s All About Me

In-Short
If we are going to be selfish (which we are), then we have to be 100% selfish and make this moment all about us, using it to do what every organism must do to survive… grow.

In-Depth
I’m the one this is all for. All of it. It’s all for me (stick with me on this for a minute).

Yes, that is a really bold statement and I’m being 100% honest when I admit that I believe this all exists as it does for me. I believe this is the appropriate way to view and embrace that innate selfishness that exists in each of us. And we are crazy selfish. I mean craaaaaaaazy selfish.

Even the kindest and gentlest among us are extremely selfish. We are self-absorbed creatures. Most of what we do is for ourselves. If we have a child today, even just one, we are being selfish because the last thing this planet needs is more humans. If we drive a car, selfish. If we eat meat, selfish. If we water our lawn (for most of us that live west of the Mississippi), selfish. If we don’t donate every dollar we make beyond what we need to survive, selfish. So, before we get to justifying five-dollar coffees and building giant homes and career paths and business at large, we are already some of the most selfish organisms on earth.

If this beautiful world is going to be all about us, let’s truly make it all about us: the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly –– all of it. 

This means that every challenge I face, every moment of stress, strain or discomfort, is not only about me; it is for me. And more so, I’m the challenge. It’s not my client, the market, the demands of parenting or being a good partner. It’s not the traffic, the weather, the guy snoring next to me on this flight as I try to focus on writing.

We can’t take the good and leave the bad. If we are going to be selfish, we need to be 100% selfish.

So all of this, is all for me. From the sun rising on the snowcapped peaks below me to that guy sawing logs in the seat to my right, it’s all for me. This makes our work-life a powerful catalyst for personal transformation and cultural evolution.

What we choose to do with that pain-in-the-ass boss, challenging young employee or disgruntled customer is an opportunity to grow and evolve. Because we no longer live in close-knit communities, work has become that community. It is the place we spend more time than any other interacting with a network of individuals. Work repeatedly places us in uncomfortable situations with people, and this challenges our way of thinking, acting and being.

If we take ownership of all of that, viewing it all as a personal lesson the world has conspired to provide us, a custom-made opportunity just for us, then we have an opportunity to do something about it. It’s then on us to make change, grow and create something special in this world.  

What’s A Win?

In-Short
In sports, it’s pretty simple: the highest number on the scoreboard, the fastest time on the clock, the highest score at the judges’ table wins. But in business, it’s never as simple as a single number, and the game is never over. So then, what’s a win?

In-depth
There it was in the weekly report, an eighth digit. Eight digits had never been seen before on the weekly report. The number broke records, it exceeded plan and was the culmination of months of hard work and dozens of people. But was it a win?

Well, we didn’t hit that number in the way we had planned to, so there were a number of critical data points flashing red. Some on the team called that milestone a win and were pushing for it to be more celebrated while others on the team felt we had missed the mark, despite breaking the record. People were looking to leadership for a sign.

The signal they received was mixed. There was recognition for breaking the record, for the hard work put in to get to this point and for the successes we saw. There was also a stern reminder that topline isn’t the whole story, that we are still missing the mark in critical areas of the business.

In my mind, there is no winning, at least not in some final-game-over sense of winning. Sometimes we’re ahead and sometimes we’re behind, but the game goes on (unless we lose). It’s kind of a sadistic game in that way: there is really only playing, losing and retiring. But to me, the fun of it is that we get to keep playing (as long as we choose to). 

If we remove this story about winning, maybe we can:
– Learn to enjoy the game a bit more.
– Appreciate the lows as much as the highs, trying to learn as much as we can from them.
– Learn to pace ourselves or recover after intense periods, knowing there’s always another quarter.
– Start to take a long view, sacrifice in the short term to build a brand that evolves the culture over time.
– Commit to never stop learning, allowing the game to present new lessons about ourselves, human nature, our culture.
– Work to stay humble, to be as thankful for those failures and beat-downs as we are for the successes and good luck that crosses our path.

Maybe if we stop making this about winning –recognizing that the end point is arbitrary– we can see that our work is all about people: our customers, our colleagues, our communities and our families. Maybe we’ll realize that if we work to serve them, we’ll find ourselves ahead more often than behind.

Maybe So, Maybe Not.

There is an old Zen story about a farmer and his son who had a beloved stallion that helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and the neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

The horse returned home a few days later, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares when she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Weeks passed when soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. Because he was still recovering from his injury, the son was not chosen. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Note, this post is for me, I’m just sharing it with you.

How Much vs. How Little

In-Short
By changing the fundamental question surrounding marketing from “How much?”, to “How little?”, we can change our entire approach and become more efficient and effective.        

In-depth
Marketing has always been about a simple relationship: spend verses return. For decades, even centuries, marketers have been asking, “How much does it cost to reach how many people?” That’s the problem.

The question shouldn’t be;
“How much does it cost, to reach how many people?”

The question should be;
“How little do we have to spend to reach the right people?”

By asking, “How little” we:
• Force comparison between other possible marketing vehicles instead of evaluating the merits of an isolated effort.
• Spark creativity by creating a challenge with a constraint instead of asking an open-ended question.
• Start with the low-hanging fruit instead of reaching for shiny objects.

The result is a more efficient portfolio of marketing vehicles.

By focusing on “the right” audience we:
• Invest in building long-term loyalty instead of chasing one-time buyers.
• Deliver a powerful, emotive message that breaks through instead of speaking to the lowest common denominator.
• Segment based on psychographics (one’s values and principles) to find “our people” instead of by demographics (statistical data) to find similar people.

The result is a more effective portfolio of marketing vehicles.

Because we have been asking the wrong question, we haven’t been taking advantage of readily available data and technology that makes marketing more efficient and effective. We really can do more with less and do so fairly easily, but execution requires good math.

We see a lot of bad math, lazy math, or no math at all. The equation is simple, for every dollar we spend, how many dollars do we get back? But we often see that:
• Nobody is watching, with marketing vehicles that are never measured, analyzed or optimized.
• Drastically different efforts are clumped under a single vehicle like branded and non-branded search terms combined under Search Marketing (Separating these out, we find very different efficiency and effectiveness).
• Not all costs are included, like management fees, creative production, materials, etc.
• A lack of detail: Which campaign is performing, which key word, which city or door; the more detailed the data, the clearer the story.
• There is a lack of measurement beyond the conversation to understand customer performance to identify if a vehicle or campaign drives repeat customers or only one-time buyers.

Nothing here is complicated or complex. It’s all very simple, even easy. The hard part is deciding to try the unglamorous path and being disciplined enough to see it through.

Christmas Emotion is Gone

In-Short
Why do companies wait till Christmas to create advertising that touches my soul? It’s never the wrong time of year to communicate beyond features and benefits and share why we exist and how it can impact our lives.  

In-depth
Does turkey stimulate the amygdala, turning on the emotional processing center of the brain; making us more sensitive to emotive messages? Does excessive eating, alcohol, a little R&R and the celebration of the new year turn off the amygdala; transforming us back into robotic data processing machines void of emotion?

Of course not. We are first and foremost emotional beings, and in most cases, make emotional decisions backed by just enough logic to justify our actions. So why then do brands only communicate on this emotional level around the holidays? Why only then do they pause the chest pumping, feature touting and price promoting to remind us what it is we actually crave; love, connection, and purpose.

We are back to where we were before Christmas. The same mundane ads trying too hard to be funny, bragging about features and benefits that all the competitors claim, or worst of all, competing on price. But why?

All the classic Christmas stories, from It’s a Wonderful Life, to children’s animated specials, to A Christmas Story and even my personal favorite, Elf, call us out on this false boundary we set around Christmas. They are all written to inspire us to keep that Christmas spirit going all year, to never lose sight of what’s truly important to us. Yet two weeks later, it’s gone.

But just like those Christmas stories all tell us, it’s a choice we make. We can choose to see each other as data points and providers of features and benefits. Or, we can choose to see each other has humans and organizations of humans, needing and wanting love, connection and purpose. We can choose to communicate from a commerce mindset, focusing on creating a transaction. Or, we can choose to communicate from a human mindset, focusing on serving the individual, providing them with the tools, education and inspiration to love, connect and fulfill their purpose.

Dylan Blew My Mind

In-Short
Powerful authentic brands that stand the test of time are built stone by stone through a process of uncovering and deeply understanding who they are at their core and then sharing that process with the world. 

In-depth
It was 1997, and I was a sophomore at Rochester Institute of Technology studying advertising photography. There was a group of us sitting in a friend’s finished attic (doing what college kids do in cozy attics in the dead of a blistery Rochester winter) when a friend said, “I’ve got a new album you need to hear”.

A moment later Bob Dylan’s young weathered voice and simple guitar picking moved through all of us as it resonated off the low hanging pitched ceiling. “Hard Times in New York Town” pierced my heart and flooded my soul like nothing I had ever heard before. We sat and listened to that album all night and replayed that moment countless times over the next few years. How were songs, many of them over 35 years old at the time and recorded using the most basic technology, able to touch us so deeply and influence our lives?

Dylan is simple.
Simple is powerful. Most Dylan songs are three chords. Most of the three disk sets feature only Dylan: just him, his guitar and harmonica. He is the ultimate example that it actually doesn’t take much to communicate deeply. The less that is said, the more piercing the potential of those words/images/experiences. I guess I should stop there.

Dylan is himself.
Dylan has always been and will always be unapologetically himself. He says what he sees and feels; he does what he feels is right and then leaves it at that. Even his voice is unapologetically himself. He didn’t go looking to make a hit; he just did him, and that is where art is born. He then put that art out into the world for people to do with it what they may and decide for themselves what to make of it.

The press and most of the public struggled with this. They often asked him what he meant by his songs or tried to attach him to movements, genres or current events. Dylan never understood this because he was just playing music; people could make of it what they will. This wasn’t posturing or positioning but simply being himself, and that came through in his music. It is the ultimate position, and the only defensible one. 

Dylan evolved.
Because Dylan is simple and is himself, he was able to evolve. He experimented and played with music, but more importantly he experimented and played with who he was as an individual and what he might be capable of. Because he evolved, so did his sound– countless times. Even as his health waxed and waned he persisted in being his authentic self, allowing what was happening on the inside to come through to the outside.

Bob Dylan remains one of the most authentic and powerful personal brands that exist today, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. He built that brand the old-fashioned way. He didn’t go around liking other people’s posts so they would like him back, vigilantly posting once a day at just the right time. He didn’t defend his name on Google searches to drive everyone to his website or buy his competitor’s names as search terms. He didn’t mold himself to the latest musical trends or chase the white space.

Instead he focused on himself. He put in the work to discover who he is and then shared that with the world. That’s the old-school way to build an authentic brand that stands the test of time. It remains the only way.

What’s The Problem Today?

In-Short
Most businesses don’t wake up asking this question because we are too busy dealing with yesterday’s problem to notice, care about or focus on today’s problem. What if there was a team focused on only today’s problem?

In-Depth
Log jams alter flow hydraulics by diverting flow towards the bed or banks, increasing flow resistance and upstream pools. This then diverts flow onto the floodplain, damming the channel and causing water to spill over the structure. While this is the effects of log jams on river geomorphology according to Wikipedia, it sounds an awful lot like the work flows of many companies.

The river is like all the work that needs to get done, and the banks of the river are our capacity to do the work: A big rain occurs (like the holiday season, a big PR hit, an employee leaves, perfect product/market fit), we max out our capacity and suddenly logs (unexpected problems) come flying down the river, jamming up any choke point.

If the big rain is temporary, we might be able to deal with the overflow by working harder and longer, disappointing some customers for a short period of time but not so many and so badly that we damage our reputation. The problem with this path is the rains will come again. Do we really want to take the risk of damaging our reputation and relationship with our customers?

If the big rain is seasonal or the sign of the new normal, we can scramble to hire more people to manage the increased flow of the river – throw people at the problem. The issue with this is that builders and managers are two different types of people: one solves problems and the other keeps those now-solved-problems from occurring again. Neither enjoys the other’s job or excels at it. They each trigger different cultures within teams or organizations.

 

What if there was a team whose only focus was to unclog existing jams, proactively prevent future jams and work to sculpt the river for optimal health and flow. This team would be:

  • an eclectic mix of individuals, each with specific skill sets and compatible mindsets
  • free from day-to-day responsibility of running the business
  • able to move quickly from log jam to log jam (or dive deep, if required)
  • empowered to hire outside resources like developers, creatives or other tactical specialists
  • capable of gaining a 360-degree view of issues and their impact on the business
  • skilled at designing 360-degree solutions for the business
  • reporting only to the leadership team

What if your organization had its own special forces team (internal or outsourced) so that it was able to solve your most pressing challenges without diverting existing resources from the task at hand?

Could you make more progress faster?
Could you increase employee satisfaction and therefore customer satisfaction?
Could it pay for itself or better yet be a profit multiplier?
Could you change your culture into a problem-solving organism?
Could you, the leader, founder, change-maker, be more effective by day and sleep at night?

 

Truly Communicating

In Short
The dilution and evolutions in the meaning of words, combined with a ratcheting up of noise, makes truly connecting with individuals or an audience increasingly difficult. Our only choice is to be impeccable with our words.

In Depth
I find myself using the world truly a lot. I get that it’s viewed as filler, an unnecessary adjective taking up room on the page, but I can’t help myself. I truly can’t help but use it. I stare at it on my screen and think, ‘Do I really need that word?’ My answer is most often yes.

I feel the need to emphasize that the word I’ve chosen, was done so intentionally. That this isn’t a word used out of convenience or for emotional effect, but because it is the right word. That this word might be simple, overused or misused, but at its core there is a very real and powerful meaning that we should pause and take note of.

For example, there are things we desire, and things we truly desire. There is caring and truly caring. Serving and truly serving. There is a layer deeper than our first reaction which requires us to pause, think and feel for a moment.

If I was a better writer, perhaps my message would come across without its use. Or maybe our words are losing their meaning. Our language is in a constant state of change and we are in an accelerated period of change; insert your personal opinion on millennials, Trump, social media and marketers.

The bottom line is I find it difficult to truly communicate without noting my authentic sincerity. This is the problem facing many companies as content replaces marketing and distribution becomes the new circulation, all while the volume on the noise dial is set to 10.

I think ultimately the answer to all of this is not “truly”, but rather consistency. If we say what we mean and mean what we say for longer enough, people will come to understand that the words, images and experience we choose are meaningful (full of meaning), that there are principles and values behind them, a depth to these words born from an authentic desire to truly connect.

Perhaps someday I’ll feel I don’t need the trulyies.