Friday, February 25, 2011

Are You Making Chess Moves?

Do you play chess?  Do you revel in mapping out a strategy?  Are you perfectly even keeled about the fact that your strategy may mean sacrificing some of your resources for the greater good?  Can you look objectively at a situation, make your decision and set forth without getting bogged down by panic or anxiety?

Or is Twister more your thing?  Are you tickled when you allow the random spin of someone else determine if you're putting your left foot and right hand on yellow?  Can you keep your balance when successive spins seem to make you have to bend in ungodly ways so as to avoid falling?

What about your product?  If you're a chess player, you've a laser like master plan at tackling the competitive landscape while also addressing contingencies to capture more revenue, share, customers, etc.  If you're playing Twister, you're giving up your fate in the "invisible hand" of commerce/business gods.

So what makes you a business chess or business Twister player?  The answer lies in presumptuousness: whether you lack or have it in great amounts.


I was in a seminar the other day and the person leading it said that regardless of business or life, we were either driving our own plan or a part of someone else's plan with the obvious desirable situation being that we were the ones driving.  In animal terms, we're either hunting for our dinner or being hunted for someone else's.

When you're mapping or executing a plan (or strategy), it's based on the assumption that you've identified that you need something.  The mapping helps you figure out how you're going to get that something and the execution is the actual task of getting it.  The underlying work and foundation of both the mapping and execution is based on a lack of presumption.

What do I mean by this?  Your need and how you meet the need always has an element of uncertainty behind it.  You don't presume that you'll always meet the need and you don't presume that your first attempt to meeting the need will be successful.  You don't presume customers will be dying to do business with you.  And you don't presume the first time you introduce yourself to someone, you'll be successful at winning business.  You have the objective, the vision, the desire and the energy but neither of those things are 100% guarantees.  Just as in chess, you may have the end goal in sight and an execution plan, but it doesn't mean you'll achieve a checkmate!

If you're making stuff up as you go (and please don't confuse this with bootstrapping) on your path to greatness, you think you have an end goal in mind but you really don't.  The only thing you're really doing is making it to the next day.  This approach is based on an overabundance of presumption.

What do I mean?  When you're playing business Twister, you don't have a formal roadmap.  You may be presuming that your existence alone is enough to satisfy your customers and prospects.  You're presuming that your natural smarts, your good looks, your clever product should be enough to entice and to win business.  But it's not that simple.  There are a host of things you have to do.  For one, you've got to build relationships before anyone will seriously consider you.  Actually, let me quote Valeria Maltoni here from an awesome post I read just this morning:

"What works on LinkedIn, as in real life, are personal introductions. The act of shaking someone's hand, looking them in the eye, taking in the non verbals within the context where you are, including the common contact, bind you in ways a social graph can only demonstrate *after* that connection is established."

Do you think the road to success is paved by a lack of presumptuousness?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  A special thank you to Heidi Cohen for the free blog titles as part of #BloggerLove month!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, February 17, 2011

2 Tweets Reminding Me That I Hate My Website

I've a confession: I hate our site. Well, okay I don't hate it. I love the website I have in my mind. It's just that what I have in my mind doesn't match what's out there in the ether today. And, if you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll quickly guess that this inability of mine to deliver an experience on our site consistent with what we deliver in person is probably a big thorn in my side.

And, you're right. It is. I'm not practicing what I preach and there's nothing worse than a hypocrite. I have a pretty good idea of what's basically wrong with it. Here are a few:
  • It needs more "warmth" but the good news is that our new headshots are done along with some other photos.
  • I need to do a better job with getting people to want to kick off their proverbial shoes and stay a while.
  • I need to do a better job with its foundation and structure. There are very basic things I could be doing with page titles, meta tags, etc.
Between us friends, if I share more of what I know to be wrong with it, I'll burst into tears. Not to be dramatic but I am a perfectionist.  This confession comes about because on Tuesday afternoon of this week, I was innocently sitting behind this very laptop when this tweet came randomly my way from someone whom I've not spoken to (live) in a year:

"@parissab Finally had a chance to check out your website. Spotted some things that could help with SEO and stickiness. Glad to share ideas."

I was mortified.  This man just told EVERYONE something I was hoping to keep relatively secret: my poor little site is suffering mortally.  I had barely recovered from the embarrassment when it was followed up with this tweet:

"@parissab Send me a DM with your e-mail address and I'll send website suggestions to you."

I was feeling a little sassy and thought that since he "finally" scrutinized my site so thoroughly (uninvited), I could reply that he could get my contact information from the site.  And so I did.  I then got a very long email about all of the things wrong (and then some).  I was reminded that most people pay for a site overview such as I had gotten (uninvited) and that if I appreciated it, I should tell others.  I applaud his guts for this aggressive approach to what is kind of tweet telemarketing (twitemarketing?).  It did not give me warm fuzzies about him though.

Back to the matter at hand...  As you know, I wax on and on about the importance of focus, discipline and strategy in marketing. And, I wax on and on about these things being completely agnostic as to channel. Regardless of how you interact with me, you should always have the same idea of what I do and who I am about. You may not articulate my objective the same way I do, but it should be a close enough facsimile that if you were to ever recite it to me, I'd say "yes!"

I was on a call with a client last week explaining this very thing.  I said that no matter how someone finds out about her product, the impression should always be the same.  I brought up Starbucks as an example of why the best thing about it was also its worst.  Your favorite Starbucks has a certain way of doing things: the table set up, the music, the people taking the order, the baristas making your drink, cleanliness, etc.  But, when you walk into another Starbucks, something major may be "wrong" or missing.  And it gives you the impression that the left and right hands of Starbucks do not know what the other is doing.

Impressions matter as I've said so often and this week's Twitter adventure really drives that point home for me.  This man resides in another city and has no idea of the reach and network I've created within Chicago in the past 11 months since the creation of 678 Partners (sigh - it needs help).  He has no idea whom we've met, who considers us trusted advisors and how much we've filled our customer funnel.  I don't like to boast, but we've accomplished quite a bit.

And so shame on me for not inspiring confidence in those that visit our site for the first time looking to find out more about us.  The value that we bring to our business relationships personally isn't being translated online.  I may get accolades for writing this blog (and I do) which helps the 678 Partners Persona but I need to do a better job at getting people to want to know more about us if all they ever see is our site and not this blog, not our YouTube channel and not us in person.

What's your take?  Please share your thoughts and if you've liked this post, please share with your friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Friday, February 11, 2011

1 Bad Tweet, 1 Bad Ad Campaign, 2 Bad Kerfuffles

Do you know who's listening, reading or watching what you do?  The short answer is: everybody.  That fact alone is enough to shut most of us down and run to hide in the nearest corner.  But reality intrudes and we have to accept the responsibility whether we like to or not.

And given the reality, as owners of our personal brands and/or our business brands, we should be doing better jobs of understanding how we may be perceived by others.  Sadly, we can't go by positive intent alone.  Many of us don't know each other from a hole in the wall and many of us are not mind readers.  We can't always say with certainty, "Oh, he/she/it didn't mean it." when we hear, read or see something that may be odd, unusual or unsettling.  And we can't expect our customers to say that about us.

We can't rely on the forgiving nature of others mainly because they may a) not have forgiving natures or b) be tired of forgiving us.  The impressions we give others have long lasting effects.  As they say, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.  So, when we do interact with customers, prospects, peers, etc., what and how we say things always matter.

I've personal examples.  Amir spoke on a panel which covered strategic business development using LinkedIn.  When he explained that he used LinkedIn 1 hour per day and 3 hours on Sunday, a woman sarcastically asked if he were still married because of the Sunday hours.  He smiled and said, "My wife is sitting over there."  She came over to me later and called me "the wife."  I smiled and introduced myself as the majority partner of 678 Partners all the while thinking I'd never want to do business with her.

Later that same day, we were having coffee with an acquaintance.  He described a recent surgery and started railing on how anesthesiologists do a lot of nothing.  My dad's a retired well regarded anesthesiologist so I have an understanding of what they do.  I smiled and said that someone I know often jokes that he never got paid for putting people to sleep but he got when he woke them up.  I was thinking that this guy might have a propensity for putting his foot in his mouth which may explain his inability to close business deals.

But there are broader business examples, too.  By now, everyone has done a good job of documenting the Kenneth Cole tweet and the Groupon SuperBowl ad which got the most attention (Tibet).  Everyone's also done a good job of forecasting long term impact, etc.  I'm not going to do that for you here but it is telling to note that as of today (Friday, February 11), the Groupon ads will no longer be running which means that they have started to understand a bit more what tarnished reputations means.

What's the purpose of mentioning the personal and broader examples?  I think all are excellent examples of how thoughts, messages, campaigns, etc. are born in our mental incubators and are fed and nurtured by limited means and limited points of view.  And in all of these cases, the limited means and points of view prevented them from having a sensitivity chip with the net result being bad personal and business impressions.

The bad impressions are potentially lethal drugs to our brands.  Our brands are more fragile than we think.  And our brands only succeed with constant reinforcement of positive values that we espouse.  So, when these examples happen and it's obvious we're missing sensitivity chips, I wonder how much or little positive brand values have been identified early on in the process let alone espoused by all of us who work on the brand after we've established the look, feel, vibe, language, personal, etc. after it comes to life?

Have we really gotten that lazy with our brand marketing discipline?  Have we really forgotten that a good brand steward (meaning, all of us) is channel agnostic and should be a jealous spouse when it comes to its reputation?  Is it true that Zappo's is the exception to the rule?

I know we can do better.  But will we do so is the question.  I welcome your thoughts!  Please comment below.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, February 7, 2011

Two Minutes, $1000 and a Car

I often joke that the longest 40 minutes of my day happens while I'm battling the elliptical.  The last two minutes can be like watching paint dry and sometimes, I jump off and create excuses like, "Well I'm walking a mile to meet someone so that will make up for it."  Or I'll say, "Two minutes are nothing in the grand scheme of things."  Or I'll utter this ridiculous gem, "I'll eat a little less today."

It's easy to say the two minutes mean nothing.  But they do mean something.  How willing am I to comply with an exercise schedule that I've set for myself?  If I slack off on these last two minutes regularly, how much does that tendency to slack off affect the overall intensity of the workout?  Does the "good enough" attitude I sometimes have influence the decision to blow off exercising all together?  Does this lackadaisical view of exercise affect how much and what it is I eat?  

When I slack off the pounds come back on.  And it's hard to make them melt away again.  And I end up regretting every minute lost and calorie gained.  It's like torture.

Similarly, what happens when we slack off professionally?  What happens if we don't give our products and our customers our very best?  What happens if we're not willing to be completely thorough in everything we do?  What's the expense if I don't give them my very best but instead say good enough?  What if I set a per unit cost in advance and don't deviate from it when good, quality design costs more than my set per unit cost? 

Thankfully, we don't have to have a theoretical discussion about this.  Thanks to this lovely tidbit I found, we can get a true sizing of financial risk and cost when we're not thorough in product development.  For every $1 spent making sure requirements are error free:
  • You spend $1 making sure everyone has a clear understanding of said requirements; Or
  • You could wait until development has begun and waste $10 if what's been built in early stages doesn't match requirements; Or
  • Stay silent and wait to pay attention at QA phase - for that level of care, you're spending $100; Or
  • Just wait to see if anyone notices after it's released for your customers.  That level of care is $1000 expense.  
Rather expensive.  And it really gives one pause about our commitment to good design as well as thorough attention to detail in the beginning, middle and end of the development process.

Let's talk about the Ford Pinto.  Developed during a time in which Ford was worried about Japanese automakers, it's production mandate was that it couldn't have a retail cost that exceeded $2000.  Trouble was that during design and production testing, it became clear that if you rear ended one of these cars at 30 miles an hour, chances were good that the gas tank would go up in flames and the percentage went up at 40 miles an hour.  Look at this federal crash test:

But they went ahead with production because, according to their cost benefit analysis math, it was cheaper to pay damages to victims than it was to go back to design mode and install a piece that would minimize the risk of catastrophe -- $49.5MM (their payout to victims) versus $137MM (their cost to make the change).

Two famous cases marked the beginning of the end: a California case which awarded victims of a Pinto crash $125MM (later reduced to $3.5MM) and the Indiana case which tried Ford for homicide because documents showed that Ford was aware of defect (later acquitted).  Ford recalled some 1.5MM cars but it went out of production after numerous other suits were filed.

Tbere are numerous other bad product design/development examples: Ford Explorer and Bridgetstone tires, Toyota Camry brake failures, etc.  I wonder when we will realize that it's cheaper to start from the beginning than to "take our chances" in production.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

@RevRunWisdom Inspires Thoughts on Marketing and Positioning

Okay - before I write anything and before any of you ask, there is no secret agreement that I have with @RevRunWisdom to feature his tweets in blog posts.  It just happens that yet again and for some reason I was in front of the screen, a tweet from him flew by and I happened to be paying attention.

Question? Are you problem conscious or solution oriented? #becreative

I had a visceral (good) reaction to this tweet mainly for the second half of it.  I really gravitated towards "solution oriented" and I quickly copied the tweet for this blog post.  I had ideas of "positive thinking!" "hard work pays off!" "get out of your own way!" and other similar motivational themes.  And, truly, they're not bad themes.  Pretty good, actually.

When I started to write today, I found that while I still had the same love for the tweet, I started to (over)analyze it a bit and found that I didn't care for the very subtle judgment against "problem conscious" embedded therein.  In this context, being "problem conscious" is looking at the glass as half empty, obstructionist, malcontents, unimaginative, etc.

And here is where we have a conversation about perception and positioning.  Because, depending on your filter and your values, problem conscious and solution oriented may be the same or opposite.  It's up to us to be as clear as possible when delivering a message and have sharp filters to process the multiple ways a message can be processed by others before we actually deliver that message.

Earlier in my career, I was very good at identifying opportunity but could also see the wrinkle in the landscape.  When framing the opportunity, I always started with the wrinkle and then ended with the upside despite the wrinkle.  By doing so, I (unintentionally) developed a reputation for being negative or what @RevRunWisdom would call problem conscious.  

After a relatively long feedback session about my negativity, I replied that it was about getting caught up in positioning and perception.  I said that we all ended at the same place when sizing a business opportunity regardless if I started positive and ended negative or vice versa and couldn't we just focus on the outcome because my job was to deliver profitable customers and that's what I was doing?

Wrong answer in terms of professional advancement (that's another post) but also generally.  And here's why: though my comment was essentially correct in terms of arriving at the same outcome, the fact remains that positioning matters.  How you present things matter.  How you capture the essence in words or imagery matters.  How you make a connection with your customers or prospects matter.  Because that connection is borne of establishing your brand/product/service as something to be trusted and valued over the competition.  

Trust and value are hard to earn and very easily lost.  Being a marketer means accepting responsibility as the brand/product/service voice and tone.  And that voice and tone are built upon understanding of the tangible and intangible attributes of said brand/product/service.  Hard to get right, very easy to get wrong and, thanks to social media, wildly disastrous if you do get it wrong.  

Back to @RevRunWisdom's tweet...  by judging "problem conscious" he was actually being "problem conscious" in his desire to make us "solution oriented" etc.  He started with a negative on the path to the positive which on balance is a little confusing.  It's a good lesson generally on how sometimes we can get in our own way in communicating to others.

And so, it's super important to be crystal clear and direct in what we say, how we say it and to whom we direct what we say.  If we deliver a series of messages on a series of platform, the core and essence of each message must be identical.  The takeaway must be consistent.  Even the smallest 140 character tweet can be rife with meaning.  Not to be melodramatic but every letter actually does count.


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef