David and I were at the gym the other day talking about a race we had run in the Everglades. He was congratulating me on my performance when I pointed out how much better he did than I.
“It was a great race,” he said, “You and I did the same thing.”
“What are you talking about? You ran 50K to my 25 and your time per mile was faster than mine,” I answered.
“No, we did exactly the same thing. We both went out there and ran the course as fast as we could.”
This reminded me of the conversation between a Victorian worker and his liege.
Rich man: “If you bow to the king you wouldn’t have to live with so little.”
Poor man: “If you learned to live with less you wouldn’t have to bow to the king.”
Often the only thing that stands between success and failure — or the feeling of the two — is how the situation is framed.
If you can stand another running story, let me tell you about my friend Adam.
Adam has been training as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone train – up before 5 a.m. to run grueling repeats around the track. He gets there so early and works so hard that he’s often finishing up when I get there. By the way, in his spare time Adam runs a world-class corporation and is a terrific father, husband, and community crusader.
Two weeks ago Adam ran his big relay at the national championships. I couldn’t wait to hear how he did.
“Let me tell you what happened in Kansas City,” Adam said dejectedly. “One of our guys didn’t show up so we couldn’t field a team in our 50 to 59 age group. We found another runner to take his place but he was in his forties so we had to drop down to the 40-49 group.”
“So how’d you do?” I asked.
“Well, we won that division but there was no one else in it. If we had run in the 50-59 age group we would have come in third.”
“You won? You won the national championship? Wow – that’s amazing!”
“Nah, not really. I mean yeah, we won… technically. But we didn’t really win.”
Do you see what just happened? Adam took months of training, the loss of a team member, AND a national championship and wrote it all off simply because it didn’t happen the way he wanted it to happen. Because – last time I checked – the officials at national qualifying events don’t give out trophies unless you actually win fair and square.
Before you judge Adam too harshly, think about the last time you did the same thing.
Maybe you returned a compliment on how nice you look with a disparaging, “Me? No no no, my hair looks terrible… and I need to lose at least 20 pounds.”
Perhaps you blew off a congratulations for a new job or winning a piece of new business by crediting it to knowing the right person or being in the right place at the right time.
Or maybe you wrote off a smart investment or business decision to just being lucky.
Why is it we so willingly beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done badly or haven’t done at all, but we’re so loathe to take credit for the things we’ve actually achieved?
You see this in marketing all the time when companies build their branding programs around their weaknesses. They enumerate the items that they think will make their customers think they’re big or accomplished or credible or whatever they’re worried about instead of talking about what matters the most to their clients.
But like the best of friends, the real savvy marketers don’t talk about themselves. Instead they focus on the things they do that help their clients overcome their own negative feelings.
And like those friends, good brands make people feel good. But GREAT brands make people feel good about themselves.
Some things get better with age — wines mellow and so does balsamic vinegar. Classic music, both symphonic and rock, sounds better and better each time I hear it. Jeans and khakis get more comfortable, running shoes do too. To my eye, older Porsches, BMWs, and Alfas look even better over time.
Hopefully, we human beings improve as well.
Although it’s probably true that there’s no fool like an old fool, there’s also no substitute for experience. As George W. said, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
When I was in art school I remember being told that advertising was a young person’s business. I never understood why that was but I assumed it was because of creativity. Young people are creative, I thought, older people less so. I was wrong, of course, because what I’ve learned after years and years in the branding business is that lots of people get more creative as they age. Art Directors Hall of Fame member Mike Tesch started his agency career in the Mad Men 1960s and nearly 50 years later still cranks out prodigious amounts of paintings, books, and creative solutions for our clients. From Mike’s example I’ve learned that life experiences provide resources to call on for creativity.
One of the great things experience teaches, albeit often the hard way, are the things that should only be done once (if at all). For example, one need only touch a steaming teakettle one time to know never to do it again.
What are some of the other things that we’ve learned to do no more than once? I was walking with a very good friend of mine one day when we saw an acquaintance of his coming the other way. As we got closer he greeted her by name and inquired, “When are you expecting?”
“Expecting what?” she asked.
I immediately turned and walked the other way, but knew full well that I had just experienced something my friend would only do once.
In his song about “pool-shooting son-of-a-gun” ‘Big’ Jim Walker, Jim Croce listed a few other things you wouldn’t do more than once. “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim.”
So what else? If we’re all going to mellow like fine wine and get better with age, wouldn’t it make sense that we all learn the things we should only do once? I think this blog could be a great vehicle for crowdsourcing some ideas for this very important list.
What I’d like you to do is come up with your own suggestions of things you’ve learned you should do only once. Please click on the “COMMENTS” link at the end of this post and upload your tips for everyone to read. And if you feel like learning from other people’s mistakes, come back to the blog and check out the growing list.
In the meantime, here are a few ideas to get our list started:
With summer finally showing its sweaty face, those of us who live in Florida are starting to hear about hurricanes again. Just this morning I heard about one of the first named storms of the year — Chantal — which is swirling its way out of Barbados and up towards the Greater Antilles.
Newspaper, radio, and TV stations are inviting us to stay tuned for all of the information we need in the event a storm makes landfall nearby. And the uproar about named storms seems perfectly positioned to get us all atwitter and lined up at the local retailers to stock up on hurricane supplies; grocery stores are enticing us to buy can goods and bottled water and hardware stores are reminding us to stock up on flashlight batteries, plywood, and shutter hardware.
But after a winter of freakish storms in other parts of the country, hurricanes no longer have an exclusive on all the “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE” press we see down here each summer. It seems like this year the Northeast and Midwest have also had their fill of sensationalist headlines. It’s gotten so bad that The Weather Channel has even started naming winter storms. According to them, this is to provide a better service for their viewers. Under the headline “Why The Weather Channel Is Naming Winter Storms,” they list their reasons:
Of all these reasons, the one they somehow manage to leave out is that naming storms is good for business. After all, think about how much easier it is to sell special media packages for a storm named Saturn or Triton then it is for an unidentifiable ice event. In fact, look at the following list of names The Weather Channel is using and tell me any other good reason for these names than drama and commerce: Athena, Brutus, Caesar, Draco, Euclid, Freyr, Gandolf, Helen, Iago, Jove, Khan, Luna, Magnus, Nemo, Orko, Plato, Q, Rocky, Saturn, Triton, Ukko, Virgil, Walda, Xerxes, Yogi, and Zeus.
Brutus, Magnus, Rocky, and Q? Really??!! Those sound more like the names of gladiators facing off against the lions at the Colosseum than a list of snowstorms.
The bottom line is that marketers like to name storms because it’s much easier to spread fear and panic with names than with unidentifiable titles. And when people are scared, they open their pocketbooks. Last year’s Snowmageddon was an excellent example of a terror-inducing label but how many times can we expect the creative people at The Weather Channel to come up with such a humdinger? You may not worry about pulling your kids out of school and buying new chains and shovels if eight inches of snow are predicted, but you’ll surely rush out and stock up on precautions to keep your family safe from Zeus or Khan!
Looking over the list, my only question is how they came up with innocuous names such as Euclid, Gandolf, Helen, Nemo, and Yogi. While Draco sounds blood curdling, Euclid sounds mathematical; Gandolf reminds me of that hairy-foot little troll from Tolkien’s trilogy, Helen was the beautiful woman who launched a thousand ships, and Yogi reminds me of a bearded holy man or Boo Boo’s best friend. And while Nemo might have been chosen because of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it just reminds me of Disney’s hapless little clown fish from Finding Nemo.
The Weather Channel says, “naming winter storms will raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall.” The cynical marketer in me says the only thing naming winter storms will raise are the little hairs on the backs of our necks and opportunities for the channel to make money.
My friend Jimmy was filling his basket in the produce section when I ran into him.
“What are you doing this weekend?” I asked.
“Not too much, going out to dinner with Janet tomorrow night. How about you?”
“Gotta work tomorrow but I’m sitting in with a guitar player at Tobacco Road tonight.”
“I haven’t been there in years,” he said. “Used to love that place.”
“Come with me,” I interrupted. “It’ll be fun. Beer’s on me.”
“I’ll check and let you know.”
I was pretty certain that meant “no” but I called him around six that evening.
“You still coming? I can pick you up at eight and we’ll be home around 11:30.”
“Sure, come get me,” he responded.
I got to his house a little after eight and went up to knock on the door. I was positive he was going to show up in shorts and barefoot and give me some excuse about why he couldn’t make it, but when he answered on the first knock he was dressed for a night out. Jimmy kissed his wife goodbye and bounded out the door.
It wasn’t until after the gig when we were driving home that I mentioned my doubts. “I gotta tell you Jimmy, I’m surprised you went. I was sure you were going to bail.”
“I was going to,” he answered, “but then I remembered what your grandfather used to always say – ‘It’s too easy to say no.’”
“Yeah, your grandpa Nat. I used to install the coin laundry machines in your dad’s buildings, you know. One day when I was checking on an installation your dad and your grandfather were disagreeing on some change your dad wanted to make to their construction plans. Your granddad disagreed and your father was ready to throw his hands up and forget the whole thing when Nat said, “Do it Lenny, it’s too easy to say no.”
“So tonight, after dinner, when I was thinking about the hassle of going to the bar with you and how much easier it would have been to cancel and just lay on the couch and watch the game I thought of your grandfather and decided he was right. It is too easy to say no.”
“And I’m glad I went because I had a great time and never would have seen that place if I hadn’t gone with you. We should do this more often.”
Just Say No was the advertising slogan championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan to discourage children from using illegal drugs. Eventually it was expanded to counter both violence and premarital sex. But when it comes to new ideas, what would happen if we just say yes?
Yesterday I was talking with my mom about something she was thinking about doing. I was pretty sure she was going to say “no” when all of a sudden she said, “You know what your grandpa always used to say, ‘It’s too easy to say no.’ So I’m going to do it.”
It must have been 15 years since I heard that phrase from Jimmy and my grandfather has been dead since I was six. Still, his words and the inspiration behind them echo through the years. My granddad was right, it IS too easy to say no.
How many times have you not done something because it was more comfortable to let the opportunity pass? How often have you turned your back on a great idea simply because making it happen would have taken too much effort? How often have you found it easier to say “no” rather than take a chance?
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve presented great ideas that have been turned down simply because they’d make too much work for our clients, or because it would take too much effort to even figure out if the ideas were feasible.
Saying no is safe because we don’t have to venture out of our safety zones. And if we say no we don’t have to worry that our decisions will be proven wrong. After all, if things don’t happen, how can they be criticized? “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?” Indeed.
But think about what can happen if we take a risk, go out on a limb, try something new. Because as my grandpa Nat used to say, “It’s too easy to say no.”
Tom Brokaw wrote the book about the generation of Americans who grew during the depression and fought in World War II. In his preface, Brokaw describes the people he researched and wrote about this way:
“These men and women came of age in the Great Depression, when economic despair hovered over the land like a plague. They had watched their parents lose their businesses, their farms, their jobs, their hopes. They had learned to accept a future that played out one day at a time. Then, just as there was a glimmer of economic recovery, war exploded across Europe and Asia. When Pearl Harbor made it irrefutably clear that America was not a fortress, this generation was summoned to the parade ground and told to train for war. They left their ranches in Sully County, South Dakota, their jobs on the main street of Americaus, Georgia, they gave up their place on the assembly lines in Detroit and in the ranks of Wall Street, they quit school or went from cap and gown directly into uniform.
…They answered the call to help save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instrument of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. When the war was over, the men and women who had been involved, in uniform and in civilian capacities, joined in joyous and short-lived celebrations, then immediately began the task of rebuilding their lives and the world they wanted. They were mature beyond their years, tempered by what they had been through, disciplined by their military training and sacrifices. They married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”
Brokaw is so impressed with this generation and their exploits that he calls them – and his book about them – The Greatest Generation. Brokaw spends a lot of pages interviewing members of the greatest generation and telling their stories, and draws conclusions about their bravery, their sacrifices, their accomplishments, and the consequences of their actions.
What he doesn’t talk about is how the generations that came after his greatest one – the Baby Boomers, Generations X and Y, the Millennials, et al, were significantly different, especially when it came to consumerism and branding.
While WWII was certainly not the last war in which generations of young Americans have fought and died, it was the last war to be fought by all levels of American society. And while too many American lives were lost in wars from Korea and Vietnam to Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, WWII was the last war that enveloped and defined an entire generation, regardless of social standing, financial wherewithal or education.
As such, the generations that have followed Brokaw’s greatest one have looked for new ways to define themselves and many have embraced consumerism as their comprehensive, albeit shallow, defining factor.
The large black plastic keys for Mercedes, BMWs, and Jaguars; the doorstop-shaped profile of the Toyota Prius; the bitten Apple logo glowing on computers and phones; Lauren’s polo ponies and Gucci’s interlocking Gs are all icons that the undefined generations use to tell the world who they are. Somehow Rosie The Riveter’s “We can do it” has morphed to “We can buy it.”
Even younger consumers who claim to eschew brands and commercialism use the things they own – from flip-flops to ironic tee shirts to tattoos and piercings – to establish their place in their own tribes of crunchies, hipsters, geeks, and more.
For those of us born after The Greatest Generation, our lack of a defining moment in world history forced us to look elsewhere. Instead of a war and the sacrifices it required, we are defined by the things we own and display to the world. In other words, our parents’ generation is known by the wars it fought. Our generation is known by the things we bought.
When I was in high school one of my part-time jobs was working as a bagboy at the local supermarket. Even though the walls were plastered with signs that said, “Carry-out is a Publix service. No tipping please,” we bagboys stuffed our pockets with the single dollar bills the neighborhood housewives slipped us for wheeling the groceries to their cars.
I learned very quickly that there were two keys to getting good tips – being nice to my customers and making an extra effort to serve them. Besides a big smile and a happy “hello” each time I walked up to a new cash register, insisting on double-bagging, putting chicken into plastic bags to thwart leaks, and making a show of tightening the caps on Clorox bottles were all effective techniques to ensure a bigger gratuity.
This knowledge served me well a few years later when I worked as a waiter. The same two practices – smiling and being extra helpful – helped me earn the biggest tips and get regular customers. That’s why I was so surprised when a particular patron told me how unhappy she was with my service and asked me to “get the manager right away.”
I walked back to the kitchen and told the manager that the woman at table seven wanted to speak with him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I did anything wrong but she’s been unhappy with everything… her food, the service. No matter what I do, she’s angry.”
We walked back to the table together and the manager introduced himself. “How can I help you?” he asked.
She immediately launched into a litany of complaints – her salad wasn’t fresh, her food wasn’t hot, her server was surly, her water glass wasn’t filled quickly enough, and so on. Finally she stopped complaining to take a breath. The manager saw his opportunity.
“I’m sorry you’ve been served so poorly and of course I’ll take care of it right away,” he purred solicitously. “But let me ask you a question. You’re not really that upset about your lunch, are you?” He paused knowingly. “What’s really wrong?”
The woman glared at him with burning malevolence and I held my breath, waiting for her to start screaming. Then all of a sudden her face dropped and her shoulders slumped – it looked like she had been deflated. “My husband left me last week,” she said quietly. “I don’t know what to do.” She burst into tears.
The manager handed over his handkerchief. Without taking his eyes off her he leaned towards me and said, “Bruce, clear off the table and go get us two cappuccinos and a big slice of cheese cake… two forks.” Then he sat down across from the sobbing woman and told her to tell him all about it.
The two of them huddled like co-conspirators through the rest of the lunch service and continued to talk long after we had cleared the restaurant. It wasn’t until we were setting up for dinner that they got up. After bidding the manager goodbye, the woman came up to me and slipped a folded piece of paper into my hand. “This is for you,” she said before she walked out.
I never found out what they talked about that afternoon but I did learn a valuable lesson. Even though the woman came into our restaurant for lunch, that wasn’t what she was buying. What she really wanted was someone to listen to her. The manager was smart and sensitive enough to know that it was his job to give his customers not what they thought they wanted but what they really wanted.
Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” A century later Steve Jobs said, “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”
For us business owners and brand marketers these are very valuable insights. After all, when we continually surprise and delight our customers by fulfilling wants they might not even know they have, we demonstrate how much we care and why they should continue to do business with us.
Oh, and that piece of paper the restaurant customer slipped into my hand? It was a $100 bill.
In the seven or so years I’ve published this blog I don’t think I’ve presented a guest author before. But this Miami Herald article is so wonderful and inspirational that I just had to share. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. For complete transparency, you should know that I’m on the board of Our Kids.
BY CARLOS DE LA CRUZ JR. AND CLAUDIA DE LA CRUZ
Unexpected moments in life are often the most rewarding. May is National Foster Care month and it is also a time when our family reflects upon one of the most unexpected and rewarding times in our lives.
Education and improving the lives of abused and neglected children have been the focus of our family’s community service. For the past several years, Carlos has served as a volunteer board member and the immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees of Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc., the lead agency for Community-Based Care in Miami and the Keys.
For years our family believed that serving on boards and volunteering to support charities was the best and most effective way to give back to our hometown community. This thinking all changed abruptly last August when we received a call from Our Kids about a teenager attending school near Key Biscayne, where we live, who needed a temporary home. Our Kids’ staff wanted to ensure that she would not need to be moved from her high school and they contacted us to see if we knew of a family that lived nearby that might be willing to consider becoming foster parents.
Halfway through the conversation we had our eureka moment, and before the call ended we knew that by calling us, the staff had already found the family they were seeking for this teenager.
Although Carlos was very knowledgeable about Florida’s foster-care system as a result of his years of service on the Our Kids Board, the thought of becoming foster parents had never occurred to us — until that instant, during that phone call.
Without hesitation, we said we would love to be considered as her new foster family. That was the day our journey to become foster parents began. Without warning or planning, and only with our instinctual desire to help a family in need, we jumped in headfirst. We soon met with the young woman and we all knew that we immediately clicked. Our adult children and our extended family were enthusiastically welcoming and supportive — everyone was on board.
Our Kids’ staff visited our home, conducted the necessary background checks and we immediately began attending the training classes so that our new foster child could come live with us.
While we had been involved with Our Kids for years, this was the first time we had experienced firsthand, the amazing support, training and protections Our Kids and its network of case-management agencies provides for hundreds of foster children and families in Miami and the Keys.
That was almost a year ago, since then we have worked diligently to earn our foster child’s trust and the trust of her biological family. In between, we have attended many court hearings and staff meetings with her and for her.
This year we will celebrate her 18th birthday and we plan on having her remain with us after she ages out of foster care. We have already begun the planning to help her to transition to college and we will continue guiding her toward a fulfilling and rewarding life. Our home has been a perfect fit, matching her needs with our strengths.
We created a home for her that allows her to complete an impressive and competitive high school education without interruption or disruption. We are doing for her exactly what we did for our own children when they were teenagers: helping her prepare for SATs; supporting her preparation for AP tests; taking her on college tours; and otherwise preparing her for life as a responsible adult.
Many people tell us that our foster daughter is lucky to be with us, but through this fortuitous and very unexpected turn of events, we discovered that we’re the lucky ones. She is a brilliant child, blessed with many talents and gifts. The greatest gift of all is the joy that she has brought into our lives.
Despite all the years we’ve spent helping to positively impact the lives of children through our charitable work, we never could have imagined how personally rewarding it could be to serve at this level — as foster parents.
By becoming foster parents, our lives have been forever changed for the better.
If you live in Miami or in the Florida Keys and are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, contact Our Kids by calling 1-855-786-KIDS or click HERE.
This email exchange is almost all verbatim. I removed the names and identifiable facts.
Potential Client: “It was a pleasure visiting your website and speaking with you today, Bruce. I have attached our ad agency RFP (Request For Proposal).
We look forward to your proposal. If you have any questions please contact me.”
Agency: “Attached is our response. Because we specialize in your industry we feel confident we can exceed all of your requirements.”
Potential Client: “We can tell you put lots of hard work into this.
We will have a meeting room with projector. Let me know what else you need.
But please sharpen your pencil.
We will be looking for you to drill down on creative, suggested media, social media strategies and spend based on demographics.
Please confirm you are on board and we will proceed.”
Agency: “We are excited by the prospect of helping you build a great creative program and we are eager to undertake the next step.
See you next week. Thanks for the opportunity.”
Potential Client: “Just received note from my bosses. As soon as you have creative they want a preview before confirming presentation. I’m just the messenger here.”
Agency: “Do they want to see existing creative we’ve done for other clients or custom work for you?”
Potential Client: “Creative ideas for us. The other agencies did submit customized creative samples, teasers if you will.”
Agency: “We appreciate that ownership wants to see our ideas before the presentation.
We hope they understand our ideas are our most valuable assets and we take them very seriously.
As you can see by our insightful RFP response we have more knowledge, understanding, and successes in your segment than any agency anywhere.
We are excited to share that knowledge with you to create powerful work. We are not willing to share our ideas before we have planned a strategy with your input nor are we willing to do that for free.”
Potential Client: “I will share your comments and get back to you.”
Did we get the meeting? Have we won the business? What do you think?
When a potential client asks for free ideas, a short turnaround time, AND lower prices before we’ve even met, what’s the chance that it could possibly turn out well? This is a presentation we won’t be making.
After all, to win business we will do everything. But we won’t do anything.