It’s Time For "Retro Marketing"

It’s what the customer wants that counts, Follow your gut first, Markets are conversations, Customers don’t know what they really want, It’s about telling stories, Be your own client, Etc, etc…

If I grabbed 10 books off of my shelf I could find researched theses on each of the concepts listed above and many more.

I find myself wondering if the “new era” of marketing is quickly becoming the cluttered noise that it is hoping to rise above. The latest “Fad” based on a few case studies where a different approach proved successful.

It reminds me of similar cycles in food and fashion:

Carbs are good, carbs are bad, protein only, protein only is bad, etc..

Ties are wide, ties are narrow, no ties, ties are back, etc…

Is marketing evolving or is it merely moving in a fad like cycle in the same way diets and fashions move in and out of style?

Fad Marketing = Fad Diets = Fashion Trends

Advertising is not as dead as some would think, word of mouth is not the singular answer and blogs are not the only way to go forward.

For all the new ideas being presented in order to find the front edge of the envelope, it is worth noting that the timeless wisdom of the likes of Peter Drucker, Napoleon Hill and Nelson Rockefeller remain highly effective. Follow the teachings of any of these authors today and you will still find success.

As companies accelerate to embrace all these “New Marketing” ideas, the classics become more surprising, more novel and more effective.

At some point, everything old is new again. Simple beats complicated. Comfort beats confusion.

“Retro Marketing” is just around the corner.

Don’t Sell. Inspire!

The imagery is great but the copy is incredible:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify and vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

This is not a post about or for “Apple Fanboys.”  This is about the power an ad like this had because it inspired those inside of Apple as much as those outside of Apple. To sell by inspiring instead of pressuring. It is about the power writing and storytelling can have to attract a specific type of people to your company while showing everyone in your company why they get up every morning.   

Having a strong sense of purpose is a powerful thing for a business. Maybe the most powerful thing it can have. But it will matter little if you do not find compelling ways to spread the word, live it and prove it.

If you want to start a movement, you need a rallying cry, a megaphone and persistence.

Buy The Premise….Buy The Bit

The late, great Johnny Carson once said about comedy… “If you buy the premise..you buy the bit.”

It seems to me that when you dig all the way down, so much of the discussion on sales, marketing, buzz, tipping points, etc.. come down to figuring out a highly efficient way for people “buy the premise.” But we are spending most of are time trying to get people to simply “buy the bit.”

The key is to hone that premise so that it allows people to buy into it as personally, quickly and easily as possible.

Imagine if a comedian opened his routine with the equivalent of…

  • A 40 slide PowerPoint or
  • The first 200 pages of a 300 page business book or
  • 20 pages of proposal verbiage or
  • 50 phone calls and a folder of brochures and clippings or
  • A slew of PR firms, ad agencies and Marketing guru’s…

… they would get booed off the stage every time. And quite rightly.

Think of how a truly great comedian can quickly connect to you, can set out the environment/situation/problem that you can totally relate to and then..BAM…that quickly…they deliver a punch line that generates a memorable response… The “bit” is sold.

What is the premise you are selling? How could you hone it to perfection so it takes the receiver only moments until they connect and buy it?

Focus on the premise and the bit takes care of itself.

Why Business Owners Need a Player-Coach

What happens when a business owner wants more, is no longer having fun, and is feeling the truism of the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top”? If you dig under the rationalizations, excuses and other superficial factors, not enjoying their business anymore is the core problem for so many business owners. I have experienced it myself, at times, throughout my career. And it is what we like to talk about the least.

I know first-hand the real stress and worry that come from a bank pressuring you.  Or finding out you are losing your largest client or key employees are leaving and taking business with them. Or learning that competitors who have much deeper pockets are undercutting your price. I know how these challenges damage your psyche and confidence, how you wince when the phone rings or are nervous sitting down with the client that has summoned you for a meeting. I know the pull to retreat to your office and your inbox. I’ve done all that before too. Collectively, they impacted me to my core. 

Many turn to a business coach and then turn to another and another. Been there. Done that. And I have the frustration and disappointment in my memory bank to prove it. We business owners are a tricky bunch. We all need help seeing our business from the outside in and we often need help curating the many ideas and responsibilities spinning in our minds all day… and night. BUT, we hate the idea that someone is going to come in and tell us they know how to run our business better than we do.  To sit in front of us and tell us why we suck at our job as leaders or CEO’s. So we jump for a coach who will boost our egos and just let us rant against how unfair business is. To structure and give reason to our false stories and rationalizations. There are more than enough coaches out there who will tell you they have a simple formula for rapid growth. A sure fire plan to double your revenue in no time flat! Imagine it and the universe will deliver! Also known as: Snake oil. 

If you believe every business is basically the same, then go call the coach or people trained in a “system.” Let me know how that works for you.  Worse yet, if you believe your personal blocks and issues have no place in discussing the future of your business, then enjoy telling the same story of woe about the lack of progress your business is making every year for as long as you can stand it. Maybe longer.

Like I said, been there and done that. I talked to plenty of business “geniuses” who all knew better. People who decided their mission is to help other businesses even when they have not sat in the owners chair themselves. So I would chat with them every week for a few months and update them on my 5-year plan. And you know what happened?  Nada. Because filling out workbooks and imagining a grand vision misses out on what the real needs of a business owner actually are. 

Who will take the time to understand the interpersonal issues that are causing problems? Who will tell us our marketing is not only boring but is not actually what our clients look to us for? Who will help us make the changes that we keep rationalizing away? Who will help the stressed, worried and frantic mind of a business owner find some peace and calm so they can build the business that satisfies them professionally AND personally? And who will help them turn that critical work into aggressive action?

To deliver a solution of real value, I propose a new model: Consider the Player-Coach.

A Player-Coach, in sports, is a member of a sports team who simultaneously holds both playing and coaching duties. The term can be used to refer to a player who serves as head coach or an assistant coach.

In my business, I have been doing more coaching lately, and it is some of the most rewarding work I have ever done.  What I do is not coaching in the traditional business coaching sense. I don’t come in and tell clients what to do to be a success. 

By contrast, I treat business owners like the unique individuals they are. I understand that you can’t separate yourself from your professional role; the two go hand in hand. It is one thing for a coach to help you realize you are frightened to innovate or go on a complex sales call. To face an angry client or a banker who is no longer a fan (Or whatever the particular worry or fear for each leader is – And they all have at least one). But it is quite another if the coach helps you re-imagine your communications strategy and then sits next to you on that critical sales pitch. Maybe an introduction needs to be made, financing needs to be found or a buyer for the business needs to be identified. Maybe an innovation needs to be unearthed, built and launched. This, using these most basic of examples, is the difference in the kind of service I offer my clients. If I am delivering maximum value, then I am not shouting from the back of the theater, I’m on stage alongside you. Too many talk. Too few do. 

I have been through it all and can share stories, and strategies based on those experiences, to almost every nasty business situation a business owner finds himself or herself in.  I don’t get nervous or scared when my clients tell me where their business is because I have seen much worse, and I am still here. My experience allows me to have the compassion and empathy to understand how my clients feel inside. What they hate to admit but must. 

One thing that has always troubled me about the typical coaching relationship: execution. It is certainly helpful to be able to work with someone for an hour a week, to vent, brainstorm, and problem solve. But what about in between, when your world, your inbox, and the endless distractions of modern life swallow you whole?  Maybe it is not traditionally the coach’s job to step in during the in between time and fight alongside their clients, but every experience I have had and every honest conversation I have had with CEO’s and business owners over many years are proving that it absolutely should be.

I happen to be wired to work with business owners who are going along on their bumpy plateau, or, in some cases, are at some point on the downward slope. What I am good at is helping business owners identify the specific actions that must be done in order to aggressively change course. But what is also needed in those moments is that extra set of eyes, ears, arms AND an ample dose of heart to help support the changes and fight through blocks so the right kind of momentum can begin again, and to protect the business owner as an individual every step of the way. That’s where I come in. It is in the talking AND doing where I make sure a business owner does not make the same mistakes I have made and where they can learn and benefit most from my experience. There is a fundamental difference when you have been through the battles that only a business owner knows, wrestled through a few recessions and have a bunch of tough legal/financial negotiations under your belt.  When you have made some big errors in trust and judgment. 

I was describing the type of work I have been doing to a new friend here in Portland who is quite the branding g
enius.  He quickly turned to me and said, “Like a Player-Coach!” His words resonated and stuck with me ever since.

What a business owner who is stuck needs more than anything else is someone who will also jump in the fox hole with her or him and fight like hell when times demand it. Sometimes the weight of the business is simply too great and the business battle scars have left too many wounds. Any business that has gone through the last few years has probably been worn down and out by it all. Sometimes resilience needs a spark and a leg up.  In other words, a Player-Coach.

Player and coach. I help business owners get straight about how they are feeling inside so they can be the best leaders for their businesses. The business cannot be separated from the human issues of the owner. And vice versa. The Player-Coach gives equal doses of therapy, empathy and strategy, and does so with his “sleeves rolled up,” to do what is needed to make it real.

More to come.

You Are Not Groupon. Phew!

There is much buzz, chatter and opionion over the announcement of Groupon going public (And this smart post from David Heinemeier Hansson should tell you why it is not as rosy as it seems). Much the same as so many that ogled over the previous discussions of Google looking to acquire them for 6 billion. We seem obsessed with “wonder” companies like Groupon, Twitter, Zynga, Facebook,etc… Somehow they represent the business equivalent of winning the lottery and we forget the odds of getting there are about the same. And that is more than okay. We look at them and try to find the missing ingredient they have used so we can just splash it on our business to have the same success (Or, as it turns out is the case with Groupon, staggering losses to match their staggering revenue).

You are not Groupon et al. And you should feel better about that fact than you probably do.

We business owners have a problem letting our businesses be themselves. And for that to be enough.

I have lost count of how many great businesses I have encountered through my career. From a company that makes door hardware to a company that makes 100 varieties of adhesive plastic hooks. They make a lot of revenue and a lot of profit and receive little to no press. They may only grow 5-10% every year but they grow and hire. Year after year and decade after decade. They work hard and are building something to last. Maybe it is not Groupon revenue or Zynga profits. So what?

Your business is yours. The ingredients are yours. No investors, lenders, bloggers or experts telling you why and what to do. And, as long as you are having fun and making some money, that can and should be enough.

The Bumpy Plateau

When people talk about the lifecycle of a business, they typically draw a simple bell curve. A steady rise that ultimately leads to a moment where it all begins to fall.  But that moment isn’t a moment at all. Instead of a descent, the business enters a period of many years that I call “the bumpy plateau.”

Every business starts off with passion and purpose.  Deals are made on the fly, systems are cobbled together as needed, and there is a limitless can-do attitude. As the business scales, it keeps structures loose and grows by simply adding bodies to keep up with new business (add a client, add an employee, etc.).  After a certain time, the structure that has worked for so long of can now only sustain a certain volume of business and so it levels out to a plateau.  And here is where so much of the frustration business owners deal with begins.  This is when the passion starts to bleed away because this is when you begin to spend most of your time in your business instead of on it. This is when you are dealing with increasing customer complaints, staffing issues, cash flow hiccups, and so on. What is tricky about the plateau is it never feels flat because you push ahead with a new sales focus and start to land a few new clients, but then you lose a few because the structure of the business cannot support the growth. Business grows organically in good economic times and then falls as the economy naturally dips.  So you ride and fight along that plateau for months and years, growing a little and slipping back. Bouncing along until this existence becomes all you can remember about what it is like to run your business. Each day a new battle. Some days some good news, and some days some bad news. The fun is gone and grind is all that your business becomes for you. 

Most business owners are blind to the problem.  It is like the frog, coming gently to boil, that never jumps out of the pot. The bumpy plateau does not feel painful.  But it is frustrating. You feel close to growing again and yet you never do.  Like a big tease, opportunity for the next level of your business seems just a few steps away. So you keep at it.  You bring in a marketing company, you change your branding, and you hire the sales person that is going to change your future.  They all fail.  

“So,” you think as you drive home after another stressful day, “I must not know what I am doing anymore.  I have lost my touch. This doesn’t feel like it used to.  Why do I feel like we are not getting anywhere when I am working so hard?”

What to do? Let’s get tactical:

1. Get back to basics: Figure out what your business does better than anyone else. Cut away all of the bloat and complexity that has piled up over the years. Of course it is overwhelming – akin to battling a 10-headed dragon! You did not add it all to the business in a day. Don’t expect it to all get resolved quickly. Map out everything that needs to get done, prioritize it, and then start with the first effort and get it done. I wrote an entire book on the need to get back to basics for the sole purpose of making your business fun to run. What I am describing here is the phenomenon that takes place for so many businesses.  (If you sign up for my newsletter, you will get the entire book as a PDF absolutely free – end of commercial).

2. See your business from the outside in:  My favorite saying from my book, “it is hard to read the label from inside the bottle,” is what is partly to blame here.  You simply lack perspective. You are not only stuck inside of a hurricane, you do not even know you are there. That is a human frailty and not an organizational one. When I begin to work with a client, I often feel that most of my job is to simply be a mirror.  To listen carefully to everything that is going on and then show them the picture they just painted for me. They are shocked every time. They know the dysfunctional picture to be true and yet they never saw it themselves. The same happens to me with my business. Often. Congrats, you are human.

3. Be determined to re-ignite the flame: How you feel about your business when you are stuck is not correct or true. Most people do not realize when they are depressed (not that you are, just stay with me).  The progression to depression is so slow and it lasts so long that it just becomes how a person feels. How they feel is all they know how to feel.  Unless someone comes along and tells them that they never smile like they used to, they would never realize they stopped smiling. Those adrenaline filled days when you were charging up the hill to conquer the world have been replaced and/or buried. Like that was someone else’s business. Recognize it.

“Ok, I got some perspective about my business, I am getting back to the basics, and I understand now that I am not having fun anymore.  Now what?”

1. Re-imagine: You need to redesign your business based on what you want it to be instead of where it is now.  For a simple example, let’s say you want to grow your business from 50 million in sales to 100 million in the next 5 years.  The company structure that properly manages 50 million simply cannot support a company that is properly managing 100 million.  But there is a structure that can and you have to design it.  You have to architect, in as much detail as possible, what your company looks like when it is managing 100 million in sales. Don’t just plan what it looks like at twice the size, because that just has you adding people to do more of the same. That is the process that keeps you on the plateau. So envision, vividly, what businesses are you in?  How many clients do you have?  How many people do you need to keep them happy, and what type of people did you need to bring in to get you there?  What technology is powering it all? What infrastructure will you need? 

Notice how different this structure, created from a blank canvas, differs from the business you are running today. Once you have painted that picture, then your work becomes clear on how to create the path from where you are today to that clear vision of where you want to be.  Now you can tell that marketing/PR/design firm exactly what you need them to do.  You can inspire your entire company with the new hill you want to conquer with them together.  You are no longer thinking about the type of company you wish you had.  You now have a road map on how to build the type of company you want. 

2. Get back to start-up mode: All the things we think about a start-up cause us to picture three people in a small room or garage getting ready to take the world by storm. But who says that is what a start-up needs to be?  Apple received a lot of press for claiming they act like a start-up. They have chosen to structure the company to stay that way. Some business owners may chuckle because they think a big company cannot possibly act like a start-up. Why not?  Being a start-up is as much a mindset as anything else. It is a mindset where you make decisions without endless meetings and deliberations.  Where you execute relentlessly because you want to win each and every new client.  Reconnect to what it felt like when you were starting out and bring everyone along with you since they will have forgotten as well. Figure out what parts of your day must be automated or delegated so
you can spend more and more of your days like you used to.

Again, there is a lot of hard work to do and there is no guarantee of success. Sure the economy, your competition, or the gods may work against you, but all of that would be true bouncing along that plateau as well. 

I will be blogging more about these concepts in the future, as there is a lot to think about and explore. The blocks we face because we are complex beings impact the business we run. There is simply no escaping that fact. We have traits that have created great success and we have traits that hold us back. Welcome to the club.  But you always get to decide where you go from here. 

I challenge you to go find your smile again. Start by recognizing what your businesss actually feels like to you every day. Today.