Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tim McGraw Has Got it Right

Part of the benefit of being self employed is that you can do things on your terms and on your own time.  Which is why it was 10am Central and I was on an elliptical yesterday morning...  and The View was on the fitness room TV.  For some reason, I was distracted by their interview of Tim McGraw and that ended up being fortuitous for me - as he is the inspiration for today's post.  Here's why:

I know what you're thinking...  You're thinking I've taken leave of my senses if I'm including Tim McGraw in a post about business and/or marketing.  Nope...  Actually, he's done all of us a favor by reinforcing the point I made in my last post.

For it is Tim McGraw who can teach my old friend American Express a thing or two about staying true to what you are and what you are not.  In the last post, I bemoaned AmEx's departure from reinforcing its brand values its new "social currency" campaign.  The new spot reminds one very strongly of MasterCard's Priceless spots which can't have been intentional.

The reason why I liked this Tim McGraw interview is that he's not confused by who and what he is at his core: a country music star.  And it's that music platform that has given him access to other platforms and not vice versa.  Consequently, though he is appearing in more TV and movies, he knows it's critical to his authenticity as a brand to reinforce his core.  He's never going to NOT be a country music star and he's not ashamed of it.  Actually, he's thankful.

Don't Be Fake.

There's another reason why I don't enjoy the "social currency" spot.  It rather reminds me of junior high where there is so much pressure to be who you think others want you to be rather than who you actually are at the risk of alienating those who were always by your side.

So why all the pique?  This repackaging to present itself as other than what it always has been is kind of a disavowal of long time loyal customers.  Case in point: when Amir saw the spot, he immediately said, "Um.  What do they say to the people who've always used this?  Are we no longer good enough?"

And so, "social currency" doesn't sit right with me because I don't think it's entirely accurate.  All of the things it's saying you can now do are things you were always able to do if you have an American Express Card and if you are enrolled in Membership Rewards.  It's been years since we've been able to redeem points for travel, shopping, entertainment, etc.  That's not new.

It always was a "social currency" but this spot is using semantic plastic surgery with an overlay of social media to present the old as new.  No amount of throwing in Cityville or showing a woman using a smartphone changes what American Express and Membership Rewards were before and still are now.

Tim has got it right.

Because Tim isn't confused about who he is, his fans are not confused about who he is.  It's a simple formula for him to use his music career as the feeder for other things.  As he replenishes the music, the other things benefit in an almost waterfall kind of style.

And I wish for the days when American Express wasn't confused about who it was and I was a happy customer because of it.  And I wish for the days that AmEx also followed that simple formula like Tim does.

What say you?  I'm enjoying your comments and emails.  And, if you think your smart friends may want to comment, please share this post with them.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Your Brand's Currency

Hi!  Please watch this...

As I've mentioned before, I spent some post business school salad days at American Express...  It was a tremendous way to learn about marketing real time and in real life.  And I truly got the sense that the company was an institution that was grounded in its identity but at the same time embraced the new and the different -- within the boundaries of what its customer base and its brand would allow.

So, I must admit to a bit of confusion when I first saw this commercial.  Well...  not confusion so much as something that feels like disappointment because I've always thought AmEx does marketing so well and so true to its core.  And this commercial rather feels like a sellout to me and I think it hurts the brand.

Memory Lane

In this post, I talked about how I thought there was a distinct overlap between Esurance and Progressive.  To me, it's a brand no no when your customers/prospects are reminded of your competitor's marketing.  And in the case of this commercial, here's an example of what I'm reminded of every time I see it:

Friends, I think of MasterCard's Priceless campaign.  Everything that's wonderful and aspirational about the  AmEx spot takes me right to what is wonderful and aspirational about the slew of MasterCard Priceless spots that have come before it.

It's a shame.  Not only because of the points I brought up in my Esurance-Progressive post but, more importantly, a legacy brand with lasting legacy brand values (e.g., Don't leave home without it!) has a former employee thinking of the competition.  If I'm thinking of MasterCard, what is the rest of the viewership thinking of?  That can't be good.

I know what some are saying...  They are saying that credit cards are commoditized, that it's unfathomable that I would get upset by this and that this is no tragedy.

Ah, but it is.  

The tragedy is that AmEx should have enough faith in its products to have them stand on their own two proverbial feet.  The tragedy is that there are palpable AmEx brand attributes that live to this day though you may not now nor ever carry one of their cards...  and they've all been squandered away by a "me too" commercial.

Any time a brand deviates from its core values, it feels like its center of gravity is off.  We instinctively know that something is "not right" and we're fixated on the "not right" part.  No amount of knowing what's still "right" can shake us of the "not right" part nagging us.

And, for me, the "not right" part is that I'm thinking of MasterCard when I should be having loving thoughts of American Express.  What say you?  Please share your thoughts...

And...  in our next post, we'll talk about the other "not right" part of this spot...  Stay tuned!  Oh, I should mention that if you've liked this post, share with your friends and colleagues.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Contextual Intercourse

This video has been getting posted amongst my Facebook friends lately...  Please have a look:

Powerful, no?  Compelling, no?  It kind of makes you wonder about how you could be framing things in a more impactful or easy to understand way using the notion of context as your guide.  And, if you're like me, maybe you're also going through the annals of "I could have done that better" because that's what aspirational perfectionists do.

(Really, why rest on your laurels of a job well done when you can find the .05% that could have been better?  I kid.  Sort of.)

False Advertising.

I'll admit that I chose today's post title before writing a single word.  It was meant to intrigue, titillate and perhaps put thoughts into your head based on a snap judgement only to learn that I mean to discuss something else.  If it worked, great, and thanks for humoring me!  If it didn't work, please humor me and pretend it did anyway.

I've said many a time before that first impressions matter because we don't often get a second chance to make one.  I still stand behind those words but this video, seeing Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy and a couple of different online conversations have me thinking about context and what it means in the grand scheme of things.

Limp Handshakes Mean Nothing.

There was a great chat earlier this week on Twitter about networking with a sidebar conversation about the impact of a weak handshake.  There was a question on Facebook on the impression you have of someone with a weak handshake.  For the most part, the impressions were negative.  As the recipient of many a weak shake, I was sympathetic.  

But lately, thanks to the movie and now this video, I've been thinking about context.  So in answer to the Facebook query and the chatter, I wrote something like, "It just means they have a weak handshake.  I have no impression."  Why did I say that?  This is a contextual problem.  The weak handshake could be because:
  • They have a cultural reason.
  • They are coming off a sprain/break and are treating the wrist with care.
  • They hate shaking hands.
  • They have a thing about germs generally.
  • They just coughed or sneezed into their hands and don't know how to remove themselves from shaking yours.... things moved too quickly to come up with something.  
  • Similarly, you just coughed or sneezed into your hands.
  • [Insert your favorite reason here]
In other words, there are so many variables and/or reasons why things are the way they are.  By just quickly looking at the surface of something and rushing to judgement, we miss so very much.

So what are the implications here?  As a seller of a product or service, it becomes that much more critical for us to do more than just have the facts and figures of our personas down pat.  The onus is on us to create and act on their personas in their context in the best way we can...  just as the woman in the video put the blind man's message in context of others' vistas (pun intended).  

What say you?  Please comment below and share this post with others so they can see how smart and cogently written your comment is!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You Like Me... You Really Like Me!

Okay, so that's not what Sally Field said when she accepted her Oscar in 1985.  Here's what she actually did say:

"...I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!"

Where is this walk down memory lane coming from? Well, I'm still musing on my last post. Particularly, I am reflecting on how I can be doing a better job to make others my focus as opposed to making my needs my focus. My mantra lately is:

"My interest is your best interest."

In other words, in a cheesy kind of way, I want people to say what Sally Field said long ago when they interact with me.  It sounds easy conceptually but it's actually not easy to retrain ourselves to net that result.  And the reason is that it requires a certain belief that you reside in a virtuous karmic circle: whatever you provide to others will ultimately be repaid to you.  And, it also requires that you hone your skills to identify better those people who can live in that circle with you.  Not all people are both givers and takers...  A lot are just takers.

Whatever, dude.

Concepts are pretty...  They're occasionally even amusing or thought provoking over your favorite beverage.  But, they can also be hard to grasp and implement unless we see them in real life...  So, what to do in this case?  I was just thinking that yesterday when, fortuitously, the universe delivered unto me yet ANOTHER tweet but this time from @SouthwestAir:

"Do you prefer honey roasted peanuts or dry roast peanuts when flying Southwest?"

To which I very quickly replied:

"I do enjoy the honey roasted peanuts! thank you for asking!"

At that moment in time, I felt like Southwest was talking to ME and ME only!  They wanted to know if I had a preference which is not often experienced when we travel by plane these days.  I felt special.  I felt wanted.  I felt liked.  I may have even harbored warm fuzzies for Southwest.  I felt like Sally Field.

Um.  Here's where I harbor some human contradiction.

As you know, I wrote this post last month about how I got all excited for in flight wifi courtesy of Southwest that never came to fruition.  I felt disappointed and, well, a hair betrayed even.

Do you know that I totally forgot about that post in my excitement over thinking that they cared about what peanuts I like?  Yes, friends, something as small as a tiny bag of peanuts completely threw out of my mind an actual customer experience issue I had in real time.  And, also, made me forget that tiny crack in the fuselage problem, too!  Something as small as a tweet that asked about ME did all of this.

For a moment.

And then I smiled.  I realized that one small question that had nothing to do with where Southwest flies, free checked bags, quality of service, etc., made me deepen an emotional tie that I already had with them.  That small little tweet about peanuts embodies this:

"My interest is your best interest."

What better practical example exists than a question about peanuts to demonstrate why this mantra is effective?  Perhaps more importantly, this practical example shows that the mantra does not have to be reserved for grand gestures only.  These little details, these surprise and delight moments matter to people.  They feel special, they feel valued and they feel distinctive.  And it's what we should be working towards all the time.

What say you?  Please comment below and share this with others!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Two Months or Two Years

"You make more friends in 2 mo's by becoming interested in other people than in 2 yrs trying to get them interested in you. - Dale Carnegie" -- @JeffreyHayzlett

On April 2, my most righteous co organizers and I hosted ProductCamp Chicago at Orbitz.  It was well attended by a whole bunch of engaging and engaged Product Managers and Marketers with a great keynote by Ross Kimbarovsky, co founder of Crowdspring.  I was lucky enough to have my topic "How to Win the Hearts and Minds of Decision Makers" voted into a presentation slot -- a tremendous honor!

And yet, procrastination and a little bit of anxiety got in the way so I turned to Twitter for some assistance and I was not disappointed!  Right when I went to Tweetdeck, that lovely tweet quoting Dale Carnegie flew by.  Whew!  Thanks, Jeffrey Hayzlett!  

We spend a lot of time convincing people every day to buy our services, hire us outright, buy our products, buy our client's products, not buy our competitor's products, not buy our client's competitor's products, etc.  It's a never ending odyssey of facts, figures, illustrations.  Some even believe that overwhelming people with information will get them to cry out for only the help that we can provide... not unlike a lifeline from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

We've got it wrong.

I submit to you that it's a recipe for tepid short term success and, come to think of it, tepid long term success with a healthy dose of frustration to boot.  Oh sure, what we say matters.  What I'm suggesting is that how we say it and to whom we say what we say differs by time of day, where we are in the sales cycle, where we are with internal projects that need cross functional support, to which business function we're presenting, etc.  We keep making the same sales presentation without bothering to think who might be in the audience and what specific things may be hot buttons for them.  We're selfish.

And what do people say when we make our typical self interested pitches?  It's often things like:

  • "Thanks, I'll think it over."
  • "Gosh, I'd love to meet with you but I'm tied up the next four weeks.  I'll call you then."
  • "We've had to put that project on hold for a while."
At 678 Partners, we often say that we treat every business situation like a fingerprint -- no two are alike. And it's because each person has his or her own emotional lens through which the business issue is viewed. At the core of it, our positive and not so positive emotional drivers are the ones that make us gravitate one way or the other. Our decisions are often ostensibly based on discrete facts and figures but if we peel back the layers enough, we see that how we feel about something or someone plays the largest role in how we make decisions.

It's not that our emotions justify the rational decisions (discrete facts and figures) we make. It's that our emotions color how we value discrete facts and figures and then drive what we buy.

Let's use the iPhone as an example. Verizon's announcement that it would start selling the iPhone probably caused ATT no small amount of worry. ATT's differentiator is that with its iPhone, you can talk and surf at the same time unlike Verizon. By telling it to you straight (discrete fact) just as I am here, the best reaction one could hope for is a shrug and maybe a yawn. But, ATT made this commercial which brings the point home in a very real and easy to relate to kind of way.

What this commercial does is transform the boring "browse and surf" feature and turns it into a life saving (and maybe relationship saving) device. We can all imagine scenarios similar to this one -- actually I was locked out recently and was able to browse and call for a locksmith at the same time. That got me out of a jam and now, I see this feature as critical and necessary as opposed to just another gizmo on this phone. And... get this... I feel that ATT is a more secure choice for me than Verizon despite the known issues with ATT. That's emotion right there.

Dale Carnegie had it exactly right. Of course, the quote was in general terms but if we think about it in the marketing and/or business development process, it 100% applies. If we just took a little bit of care to find what emotionally motivates our audience (e.g., job security, ego, financial security, image, etc.), then we will make much more headway in building a strong relationship and, ultimately, a business transaction than by just selling something on its discrete features alone.

What say you? Please give me your two cents and, if you've liked this post, please share it with others!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef