Thursday, November 20, 2014

Try Knocking On The Door

You can draw as many logos as you like.  You can come up with a dopey name nobody can spell.  And I suppose you could call that branding.  God only knows that most of the industry does it that way.

And then there are those who confuse branding with awareness, which is another misconception I could never understand.  Especially when advertising and marketing and public relations people whip out their charts and exclaim, "Look at how high your aided awareness numbers are!"

For the record, aided awareness is the most notorious loser in the Advertising Hack's arsenal.  The term refers to people who recognize your brand after you've helped them recognize it.  There might be a more pathetic statistic out there, but I can't think of one just now.  Unaided awareness is only slightly less anemic.   I mean, what's the point of everyone knowing who you are when they don't know why they should know who you are?  That never made any sense to me, but I'm sure it's confuzzled a lot of clients. 

There's a lot about branding that people simply don't know.  They like to cover up their ignorance by making it far more complicated than it has to be.   For those people, let me make one thing excruciatingly clear:  

The whole point of branding is to make more money

That's it. See how easy that is? The bottom line is a brand's most important deliverable.  If it's not increasing profitable revenue, why even bother?

And yet, I watch as a whole world of social media, business development services and networking tools flood the web space.  All kinds of new technologies and applications, seemingly designed to take your money and promise to help grow your business.  You can pay people to blog for you.  To post to Facebook.  To tweet and whatever the verb you use is to keep your Pinterest and Instagram accounts up to date.  There's no shortage of sites that want to link you to everyone else who wants to link to you, but nobody seems to be able to generate revenue from any of it.

So maybe it's time we got back to basics.  If it's really new business you're after, maybe you should take a cue from Clint Eastwood in this classic clip from Magnum Force: 

See how easy that is?  Who needs digital technology when all you really have to do is contact the prospect and ask for his business?  True, not all prospects are easy to get to on the first bounce, but you'd be surprised at how many truly are if you simply try knocking on the door.  Dialing a phone doesn't require an engineering degree and I'm fairly sure sending an e-mail isn't much tougher.  The trick, of course, is knowing what to say when the other guy picks up the phone.

Years ago, I had a conversation with Burt Sugarman.  If you don't know Burt, let me save you a ton of Google time and tell you he made a ton of dough producing early rock and roll television shows and then went on to make several tons more while marrying Mary Hart.  One day, as I was struggling to launch my own business, Burt was nice enough to lend me his ear.  I asked him, "How do I get in contact with higher end clients?"  He just cocked his head and asked, "Have you tried picking up the phone and calling them?"

See how easy that was?  And he was right.  One of the big myths of digital services and social media is that it sells you the promise of business-made-easy, which rarely, if ever delivers.  The fact is you can't offload your new business duties by paying your way out of them.  It simply doesn't work. At the end of the day, nothing beats cutting through the bullshit and simply reaching out to the guy you want to meet.  

It's not only more effective.  It's a lot cheaper, too.  After all, what does a phone call cost?  And e-mail's even cheaper.  

So now that you've paid your fees and gotten nothing in return, if you're really serious about developing new business, junk all those digital diversions and follow Clint's advice.

Try knocking on the door.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why "new" is tougher to sell than "improved"

This is the month that we'll be launching a totally new online service that allows anyone, anywhere to settle a dispute online, any time.  It's not just a better way for working Americans to settle their disputes, it's a totally new way to settle them.

Which means it's going to be much, much more difficult to launch this puppy.  Here's why:

If you look at the balance sheet, there's no question OneDayDecisions is a better solution for resolving disputes: No wasted time or money. No dragged out court dates. No chance the judge will throw your case out. No staring down the other guy in court.  Faster resolution. Faster payments. No credit damage for the paying party. Discounted payments for the paying party. Pay judgments by credit card -- the list goes on.

Essentially, you can get the matter done and move on with your life.  It unclogs court systems and saves taxpayers money.  There's no down side, except one:

It's new.

Not "improved." Not "advanced." New.  And that can be a problem. Because whenever people are presented with any concept, the first thing they do is try to fit it into their own frames of reference.  They try to understand it within the parameters of what they already know.  That makes it far easier for them to accept "it's what you know, only better" than "you've never seen this before."

People actually don't really like "new."  First, "new" can mean "strange and unrecognized," which some find threatening.  Second, "new" can be taken as a personal insult -- not everyone likes to be reminded that they aren't up to speed on the latest and greatest.  Third, "new" requires learning and some people just don't want to make the effort, even when that effort will drastically improve their lives.

So how to do sell "new?"  I'm thinking it's infusing education into sales, rather than allowing prospects to draw their own conclusions.  In the case of OneDayDecisions, that means running TV spots to drive traffic to the site, but more importantly, featuring short duration instructional videos on every page of the site, which educate and encourage prospects to explore further.

I'll be honest with you: We're in unexplored territory here. I have no idea just how effective the tactic will be.  I do know we have a much better service and it's totally new. It will drastically improve people's lives.

Assuming, of course, they can embrace something "new."

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Apple + Beats = Not So Good

A lot of people enjoy a lot of different hobbies.  Some like to play tennis.  Others go fishing.  Some jump out of airplanes.  I am, to coin a phrase, a bit more down to earth.  One of my main sources of leisure time joy is exposing poseurs.  I can't help it.  It's a personality flaw that, by some stroke of luck, I've been able to turn into a career.

Being a branding guy, I meet a lot of people who give themselves away by immediately citing Apple as a premium example of "great branding."  I listen patiently and then, very carefully, explain to them why Apple is anything but a great brand.

Actually, it's a failing brand.

Make no mistake, Apple is a very successful brand.  They make a ton of money.  They can boast legions of rabid evangelists lining up at their retail stores to blindly purchase the latest versions of pointless technology.  I have no argument with that.  Hey, more power to them.  But that's not why I feel Apple's best days are behind them.  

If you've been reading this blog over the last few years, you know that I've been watching Apple arc from underdog to King of the Hill to Second Generation Brand Headed Into the Meat Grinder (you can read them all by searching this blog for article titles containing the word "Apple").  I've called out Apple for being more of a fashion brand than a legitimate brand, much more akin to Abercrombie & Fitch than Federal Express.  And now, with their acquisition of Beats, it seems they've sealed that fate.

Here's why:

1. Fashion brands get hot and die cold.  What was once hip, slick and rebellious is now mainstream.  When your grandmother has an iPhone, it just isn't as cool any more. You start looking for the Next Big Thing.

2.  There was a time where Apple users sniffed at PC users as Neanderthals handcuffed to Microsoft.  That was when Microsoft was the only other game in town.  Today, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, there are plenty of other platforms with lots more to offer than Apple.  Android, in particular, comes to mind, but there are lots more systems, with lots more apps from lots more brands.  The time has come where Apple users want to switch out but feel trapped by having invested so much into Apple's fortressed, domineering domain.

3.  If you add points #1 and #2, you get to point #3, where users find themselves waking from the dream and asking why they're paying premium prices for Apple devices and systems that may be as good, but not better than, its competitors.  That bell you hear is the death knell of fashion brands as the public realizes its overpaying for under-delivery.  

4.  Apple has migrated from a productivity platform to an entertainment platform.  This is serious.  Back when Apple took its productivity seriously, we'd hear all kinds of technical achievements over competitive platforms.  Macs would smack down IBM mainframes and leave PC-based systems in the dust with an elegant ease.  You don't hear those stories any more, because Apple's focus has, like so much of America, been dumbed down to cater to the self-interest of the average Joe, whose primary needs revolve around music, videos, social media and mostly other non-productive tasks.  When it comes to pandering to the public's narcissism, Apple is tough to beat.

5.  Apple has become a stagnant brand.  As I've written here previously, there are Three Generations of Wealth:  The first one earns it; the second one spends it; the third one loses it.  Now that Steve Jobs is essentially a long-forgotten ghost, Apple is a second generation brand that has abandoned its fundamental vision.   Its management mistakes driving revenue at any cost with the much more complex task of driving revenue while maintaining the brand integrity and leadership that brought it to prominence.   Tim Cook et al are simply grasping at the lowest hanging fruit in order to generate the easiest money they can find.  That's what Second Generation brands do.  It's also what drives them into the ground.  It's why once-great brands like Maytag (which no longer builds its own washing machines, but essentially licenses its brand name on inferior, outsourced products) has swan dived from its previous premium perch into the cesspool of also-rans.

Now we find that Apple, for the first time, is also violating one of its long-held tenets:  Retaining the Beats brand identity.  Whereas there was a time when every product (built or bought) become an Apple brand, this is no longer the case -- and it's very telling:  By retaining the Beats name, Apple admits its own brand is not as strong as, or quite possibly weaker than, Beats.  Which means that the cracks in the Apple armor are beginning to show.

But hey, don't take my word for it.  All you fanboys can keep believing, if you like.  There are still millions of Beatles fans who don't want to accept John Lennon's announcement of the band's demise.  Decades later, they still can't believe it.  But believe it you must:

"The dream is over." 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Small is Stupid

Being the Branding Adonis I strive to be is not an easy pursuit. Attempting to stay physically and mentally prime is, like everything else in my life, a question of efficiencies.  It's not enough, for example, that I jump on the elliptical machine at the gym for the cardiovascular benefits.  No, twenty-five minutes of pedal pumping while staring into space seems a gargantuan waste of time when I could be making better use of it.  Piping music into my head  doesn't seem to fill the mental void, either, which is why my favorite means of simultaneous sensory stimulation is watching TED videos.

TED, for the uninitiated, is an acronym for Technology, Education and Design.  The organization sponsors events at which various people in various fields give short talks that are designed to broaden your mind with new approaches to various issues.  The talks are supposed to be smart, cutting edge and somewhat inspirational. Most of them are; some of them are not.  Watching a  a 3D printer create a human organ was fascinating, but honestly, listening to yet another third world human rights advocate or an environmental doomsayer whine for 20 minutes gets pretty numbing after the 124th time.  I tend to skip those.

There was one speaker, however, that captured both my attention and my horror, compelling me to notice a huge, dark cloud sweeping over humanity.  And the worst part is that his message was greeted with fanfare and applause.

It doesn't matter what his name is, and frankly, I've forgotten it.  But his presentation was as clear as it was disturbing.  In twenty minutes, he proudly described how he, a native New Yorker, had managed to reduce his footprint down to a ridiculously small size.  He lived in a 200 square foot apartment, where every piece of furniture folded into -- or out of -- something else.  The coffee table morphed into a dining table. The bed stowed into the wall. All the chairs stacked into a tower.  And everything was small.  I mean, really small.  There was a microscopic closet for his downsized wardrobe. There were no display cabinets because he had no stuff to display -- there was no room.  Everything that wasn't absolutely necessary for survival had not only been downsized, but eliminated.

At the end of his talk, the young man proudly puffed with pride, wagging his finger at the audience with his pseudo-wisdom, "Now, if everyone could reduce his footprint, there would be enough resources for generations to come. You just have to make the effort."

I was, in a word, horror-struck. Make the effort? To marginalize myself and live like a hamster in a cardboard box?  Is this the sorry state to which human existence has been reduced?

The audience rose  to its feet, applauding what had to have been the most depressing, idiotic proposal I'd heard in years. There's no pride to be had in downsizing. In fact, it runs counter to the human sprit. "Go forth and multiply" isn't some random commandment; it's an encapsulation of the innate urge we share to build things up and make things better. No matter how dull you may think they are, humans have an inner drive to expand their vision, not limit or reduce it. That's why people get depressed when they walk into their dark, cramped, tiny one room apartments, but  smile joyfully and breathe deeply when they stand before the Grand Canyon.  Whether we're exploring vast tracts of land, the depths of the oceans, the far reaches of outer space or even the business marketplace, our natural impulse it to make it bigger, better and more rewarding.  

We feel accomplished when we grow; we feel useless when we shrivel.

And here was this yutz was selling the exact opposite, justifying his own failure to achieve by hiding behind the convenience of a misapplied environmental agenda.  If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd swear there's a campaign sweeping the country, subtly encouraging people to be satisfied with less because less is all they're going to get.  

There's a voice out there, assuring citizens that it's actually a good thing to marginalize yourself.  It's good for the planet, they say.

Well, it might be good for the planet, but it sucks for you and me and everyone else who benefits from the rewards brought about by real accomplishment and true growth.  As people descend into depression and low self-esteem, the voice quietly assures them:  It's okay to be worthless. You were never going to amount to anything, anyway.  It's cool.  Here, numb your misery with Pandora. Forget about achieving anything. Make yourself feel this iWatch.

If you choose to live like a rodent in a cage, be my guest.  As for me, I'm not buying into it.  I'm sticking with the original plan.  No amount of social pressure or faux agenda is going to sway me from pursuing a five bedroom home with a big green garden and big ass grand piano and a 65 inch plasma screen in the living room. 

Oh, and the Cadillac DeVille?  I'm keeping that, too.

Monday, June 09, 2014

R.I.P. Renaissance Man

One of the most insidious words I've ever known is "hope," as in, "I have high hopes for this next generation."  Hope, to me, is poison. It's what the hopeless are given when their fate/doom is assured and they have no option other than wishing for miracles. The cure for hope is action, but our culture has been gradually lured to, and unwittingly enslaved by, the very technologies and services that were supposed to enhance it.

I'm no longer a young man. I probably have more past than I have future, so my view is likely biased.  But from where I sit, the future generation's chances to produce quality human beings are dwindling down to where hope seems to be its only option.  Let me explain:

My whole career is based on connecting social influences on individual behaviors, which in turn fuel the advance of the next wave of social influences. So I watch where the overall direction of culture goes -- and its influence on the masses.

It's not all gloom and doom. But for those of us with a richer frame of reference, it's not all good, either.

The atomization and dependency fostered on today's citizens was unheard of a generation ago, when self-reliance and community was the norm. It was a time when more people wanted to know more about everything other than themselves, rather than telling everyone everything about themselves. 

Importance was earned, not an entitlement.

We strove to become Renaissance men.  We took pride in being worldly and knowledgeable. And we did it through genuine education and real experiences, not by clicking an app to get just enough data to answer one narrow question. 

You see, to Renaissance men, getting the answer right isn't nearly as important as understanding why the answer is right.

Romantics. The lives of Renaissance men are riskier, but much nobler and far more rewarding.

To the Renaissance man, depth and breadth are admirable and make us better people. We care as much about human expression (art, literature, music -- real music, not melody-deprived, commercially-driven disposable jungle beats) as we do our ability to create and apply it. And when we write, we write to inform or persuade readers about real issues, rather than delude ourselves into believing people would be interested in photos of our lunches and cats and other self-involvements, simply because we have the means to instantly self-publish them.

The numbers of Renaissance men are rapidly dissipating. We are a dying breed. Where once people went to colleges and universities to become better thinkers and appreciative human beings, legions of drones march toward their diplomas expecting a job.  Increasingly, the tide is turning to a strictly utilitarian, tragically shallow society where each individual is confined to his own silo, relying on technology to connect to others -- for a low monthly fee. 

Sadly, it cultivates a loss of value in each person's own self-worth as each generation wonders why it feels so empty and at a loss.  I think the 30 second clip embedded in the article unwittingly exposed that agenda back when I first posted it.  Yet nobody said a word. Nobody objected.  Maybe because by that time, they didn't even know enough to object.

Rest easy, Renaissance man. You were the finest, shining example ever offered by the western world.  I doubt there will ever be others like you again.

But, I suppose, there's always hope.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How to Save the Middle Class

No matter where you turn, when the conversation turns to the economy, the one hobby Americans never tire of is bemoaning "the vanishing middle class."  And while it is true that the United States' middle class is losing ground to that ever-encroaching poverty line, I submit to you that the middle class need not be vanishing at all.  In fact, it could be thriving, if only this nation would wake up to reality.

Now before you go sideways on this, hear me out.  I'm not here to offer you overused, under-thought platitudes and soundbytes.  I've really thunk this out.  I mean, it's my job to find solutions where none have been previously found, so in my world, this is nothing special.  But it is different.  Which is why you should give it a spin.

The most common lament we hear about the loss of jobs is usually accompanied by phrases like, "worker displacement" and "off shore" theft of American jobs.  Let me state one thing at the outset of this wonderfest: 

This country needs to get real.

The first realization middle class Americans have to make is that the days of "getting a job" are, for the most part, over.  The second realization is that going to college or pursuing higher graduate degrees isn't going to solve the problems borne of the first realization.

Getting a job, working for the man, putting in your time are all lost causes, relegated to obsolescence alongside rotary dial telephones, iceboxes and fans of affirmative action programs.  Sure, those all were nice while they were needed, but those days are over.  It's time to move on.  And the reason "getting a job" is no longer relevant comes down to -- what else -- simple brand strategy.

For the most part, I believe that "life is a branding problem," my own personal definition of branding as "being perceived as the only solution to your prospects' problems."  The stronger others perceive yours as the only solution, the more likely your brand is viewed as the only game in town.  When you're perceived as the only game in town, people stop shopping -- and they pay your asking price -- because they have no place else to go.

The problem with those whose goal is "getting a job" is that they're perceived as generic.  They might be white collar, blue collar, light blue collar or completely collarless.  The point is that if your customer or employer can't distinguish one laborer or manager from another, all he's left to go on is price, which means he's hiring from mainland China, India or someplace where English is a second language.  And why not?  Nobody here gives him a tangible reason to pay more, so he goes with the lowest bidder -- and there are entire continents filled with people who work cheap.  Bottom line is that unskilled labor is out and that those engaged in skilled labor better get their acts together if they intend on paying the rent. 

That being the case, I submit to you there's a way to bulletproof the middle class.  And it has nothing to do with labor at all.

What everyone seems to be missing is understanding technology's true infringement on the human economy.  The obvious one began back in the Industrial Revolution, where machines began to displace human labor.  Sure, the initial capital outlay for machinery was higher, but in the long run, machines were more productive, worked longer hours, never complained about conditions, never got sick, never asked for time off or needed to run home early to coach their kids' soccer game.  Some displaced mill workers learned other skills, but the really smart ones learned a bigger, less obvious lesson:

Job security only exists in areas that aren't susceptible to mass production.

Today, the internet displaces retailers. Robots replace line workers.  Websites replace printed publications.  But if you look closely, each of these industries contains the same fatal flaw:  they're dependent on mass markets to survive.  The fact is that the larger the customer base, the more profitable it is to displace laborers and middle management with technology or offshore solutions.  That's because the public buys staples and supplies where product qualities don't really matter.  The larger that market is, the more efficient it becomes to deploy technology to produce and manage it.

Flip that observation over and you'll find a pleasant surprise waiting on the other side:  By developing businesses that don't cater to the masses, small and micro-business can provide a comfortable lifestyle for their middle class owners and staff -- while remaining impervious to economic behemoths -- precisely because their enterprises are too small to benefit from the technology that drives mass enterprise.  In fact, if small and micro-businesses build their brands according to my definition, no competitor large or small could touch them in terms of cost or quality.  They'd enjoy profitable revenues with no threat because they'd be perceived as "the only solution," too small to justify the capital investments that displace humans.

Am I off base here? Well, take a look at  Here's a guy that sells saddlebags for use as briefcases and other uses.  It's a fusion of real Texas know how and modern day reality.  Everything is hand made, with high-quality components -- and none of it is all too cheap.   You can have your hand-tooled saddlebag shipped to you for a whole lot more than that polyester Targus tote you drag out of WalMart, but if this is the statement and product quality you want, you simply won't find it anywhere else.  This is it.  You're not going to find any Chinese knockoffs, because the market for these bags simply isn't large enough to justify a pirate's investment.  Bad news for off shore counterfeiters, but good news for Saddleback Leather and proof positive that what I'm advocating is the right solution to save the middle class.

If you think "creating jobs" is the answer, you're way off course.  The last thing this country needs is more jobs destined to evaporate when stimulus programs and government funding dries up.  What America needs are small and micro-businesses niched in a way that protects their livelihoods as part of the business plan.  Staying just small and narrow enough to be perceived as the only solution to their prospects' problems -- which will solve the middle class's problems, as well.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Best Job Interview Ever

If there's one thing the internet has over-delivered, it's bad advice.  Thanks to modern technology, you can now obtain as much stupidity as you can download, most of which is free for the asking.  And if you're really a dope, you can even pay for it.

All kinds of gurus have all kinds of theories on just about everything.  At the time of this writing, the American economy is still stymied by a high unemployment rate, so there's a flood of quackery built around the best ways to interview in order to win the job. 

Let me be clear:  I am not an employment expert.  As I've repeatedly proclaimed, I'm a branding guy.  To me, what should happen isn't nearly as important as why it will be effective.   Some experts compose lists of what you should wear.  Others point out what colors to avoid. Wisdom, it seems, arrives in a variety of fashions, so I'm going to toss my hat into the ring with something I believe is more effective when it comes to "winning the job interview:"

A true story.

It was a dark and stormy night.  Actually, it was a dark and stormy day.  I mean, it was raining so hard and the cloud cover was so thick that at ten o'clock in the morning it felt more like six o'clock at night.  Big, black-bottomed clouds covered the sky for as far as the eye could see, dumping buckets of rain that flooded the streets.  As the owner of the business, I'd braved the torrents to make it into the office on time, only to find my entire staff absent.  The storm had pretty much stranded them in their homes.

All of this was happening in Los Angeles, which meant the rest of the country was completely unaware of the second coming of Noah's flood, meaning that our clients had no idea what we were going through.  To make things worse, I was in the midst of hiring more staff, many of whom were scheduled to show up for interviews that very day.

Only one person showed up.

She walked in -- right on time -- sat down and introduced herself.  Just her and me in an otherwise completely empty office.  We hadn't been chatting for more than a minute when the phone rang.

"Excuse me," I said.  "Nobody is here today so I have to answer this."  I took the call, made it short and got back to the interview.  Within the next minute, another call rang through.  Then line two started blinking.  I put line one on hold and answered line two.  Which is precisely the moment line three began ringing.

Without missing a beat, the young woman picked up line three.  "Rob Frankel's office," she announced. "He's on another line just now. May I take a message and have him call you back?"  Then scribbled down the caller's information and hung up the phone.  She waited for me to finish up my call and handed me the note.  I ended the call on line two.  Then I ended the call on line one.

Then I looked at her and said, "You're hired."