Blue Men Chauffeuring Prom: Penta Date on Bicycles Built for Two

Monday 21 May 2012 @ 4:02 pm

There are two key takeaways from today’s post.

  1. It’s all in the marketing.
  2. Surprise broca!

My son Nathan turned 16 on April 4th of this year and has been excited to begin dating and go on his first romantic excursion.

He indeed had several significant challenges.

  • Challenge #1: The law posed a problem. When you are 16 you can’t drive with other teens until you’ve driven with your parents for six months. Nathan and all of his friends had made great plans and had selected the girls they wanted to ask out, however they had no way to go and pickup these girls for the date. How do you overcome that?
  • Challenge #2: Budget. My sons and their friends have enough money to pay for the event, but not the craziness of a $1000 limousine and all the nonsense of an expensive prom. So budget was a constraint also.

Of course, Nathan is a very creative young man who has carefully observed his older brothers. He has also heard his father talking extensively about broca—the frontal cortex region of your brain. I often tell my sons that whenever you are marketing anything, you have to surprise broca and delight broca to get to the processing parts of your brain.

If everything is normal, normal, normal, and then you do something to surprise broca–the brain lets it through. It delights. That is how you get attention in marketing or anything else.

Nathan and his friends came up with a very well formulated plan. They each rented bicycles built for two, and they went and picked up their dates on these bikes. You can imagine the surprise and the delight of these young women as their dates pulled up on their bikes built for two.

They then pedaled up to a picnic setup with all sorts of contrast. They had everything from fancy, non-alcoholic apple juice and crème brûlée to regular old peanut butter sandwiches. They had a delightful time with a very contrasting meal

Then came the time for the formal prom. How in the heck is it okay for your dad to drive you? How obnoxious is that? So my son came up with another great plan to surprise broca.

He had my dear friend, Matt Duffin and me, dress up as blue men and serve as the chauffeurs. The only rule was we weren’t allowed to speak! We could do all the miming and gesturing we wanted, but we just couldn’t speak.

Let me tell you, we laid it on thick and had a blast!

Of course the kids experienced the tension that always accompanies a formal dance. I mean, young women weren’t meant to be in those frilly dresses. The young men take one look at the pretty girls and they instantly freeze.

It was fun to watch the tension dissolve as we hit our first stop sign. Matt and I got out and did a little fire drill jig running around the car in our blue man suits.

Needless to say the teenagers had a delightful time and Nathan indeed hit a broca homerun. While everyone else was pulling up in their fancy stretched limos, Nathan and his friends arrived in a minivan chauffeured by blue men.

Two rules: whether you’re wanting to romance someone or whether you’re wanting to win a marketing competition or whether you are trying to snag some attention online.

Rule #1: It is all in the marketing and presentation.
Rule #2: Always surprise broca!

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Getting Squished by Fat Giants

Monday 20 February 2012 @ 11:39 pm

For years I have proudly proclaimed the strategy of sitting underneath the table of feasting giants and eating the scraps and crumbs that fall from the table. A bootstrapper’s dream is to get into that little market segment that isn’t being addressed by several large players, exactly.

In Bootstrap Business I go so far as to outline a landscape matrix that actually shows how to very deliberately get between several large companies and make sure you don’t infringe on their territory, while still eking out that little crack of opportunity.

I have deployed this countless times. There is; however, one danger. When the market starts to mature, sometimes the giants reaches down and pick up the scrap, and in the process–squish you like an ant.

Indeed, this happened to my team this week. Google released a new algorithm update and indeed it dramatically changed our channel. Simultaneously, another giant that we work with got up from the table. When the two big fat giant bellies hit each other we got squished in between. Needless to say, it’s very painful when that occurs, and it can actually be life threatening to the business.

In this situation, I believe we will recover, but it’s caused me to outline three distinct things that you need to do when deploying this type of opportunistic strategy.

1. Understand the giants eating patterns. How long do they eat? When is it time for them to move? In the case of Google, they release algorithm updates every so often. So, when you see the signs of movement you better get out from underneath their feet as they get up from the table.

2. Give yourself cushion either to the left or to the right. This means, have the ability to either push to your supply side or push to the customer side. If you get squished right between two giants with no place to move, you end up getting your margin squeezed, squeezed, squeezed.

Transactional businesses are wonderful, because they provide a repetitive income flow, but if you are not careful you can end up getting squeezed right to death. Either own the customer and control it, or make sure that you can control the supply cycle. I have discussed this principle many times and I have always stated:
–    Never maintain only one supplier.
–    Never rely on only one customer.

Well now I need to kick myself in the pants, because in the businesses currently getting squished, we basically have one supplier and one customer. That is always a precarious situation to be in.

3. Move from the table as quickly as you can. Once you get profitable, make sure you can then quickly move and transition to a place or a pocket where the giants aren’t quite as likely to rumble over the top of you. Once you’ve filled your belly, look for the exit door as quickly as you can.

I still contend that finding a really hot sector that is on a wave, where there are giants pounding the table, and where money and scraps are falling onto the floor–is a great strategy. Just beware there is a downside. I’m personally committed to using these opportunistic businesses to leverage and become viable quickly. Then I rapidly move in to more value transactional, longer-term engagement types of businesses. I encourage you to try it too.

The moral of the story is…keep your head up and your eyes open when you are sitting next to giants.

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Perfect Action…Pathetic Timing

Monday 13 February 2012 @ 8:25 pm

Last night my wife and I had a rotten guacamole, terrible night. I had been traveling all week long doing lectures and I was dead tired. I got home at 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., spent a little time with the family, and finally made it to bed about 11:30 p.m. At midnight someone began banging at our door, the dogs started yipping, and come to find out our second son had forgotten his key and was banging on the door to get in. We painted smiles on our faces, went out to let him in, spent a few minutes talking with him, and then crawled back into bed.

At 1:00 in the morning we heard the shower running and couldn’t figure out what was going on. The dogs start barking again, and at this point I almost didn’t dare go back to sleep.

We were again woken up at 4:30 a.m. when in stomped our 3rd son, ready to go to Drivers Ed at 5:00 in the morning. Again at 7:00 a.m. the 4th son headed to school and finally at 8:00 a.m. our final son departed. By the time we get him to school, needless to say, very little sleep had actually taken place.

My wife and I did eventually get a hearty laugh out of it when we figured out who had been showering in the middle of the night. We discovered that Nathan (Drivers Ed son) had looked at the clock wrong, got up at 1:00 a.m., showered, got dressed and completely ready, and then realized that the clock had said 1:00 a.m., not 4:00 a.m. I still chuckle thinking of it now.

This pretty much sums up the counsel that I gave in three of the lectures this week. The sequence of Zigging and Zagging is critically important. There is a reason why Zig #1 is Drive to Profitability, Zag #2 is Add Resources, and Zig #3 is Add a Scale Element.

Indeed the timing is critical.

So frequently people attempt to jump directly to Zig #3, which is a scale element. This is exactly what Nathan did this morning—causing havoc to our entire family. It of course is the perfect thing to do…have a shower and get dressed…but 1:00 in the morning is not the perfect time to take the action. The same thing is true with scale and so many other aspects of your business.

You see, when you are making cookies–how you put the ingredients in, and the order in which you put them in, is as important as the ingredients themselves. The sequencing and timing of how we build our businesses and how we take action is actually the trickiest part of making a perfect batch of business cookies…or getting a good nights sleep…or getting dressed properly and appropriately.

Remember when you are zigging and zagging: Zig #1 Drive to Profitability, Zag #2 Add Resources, followed by Zig #3 which is a Scale Element. Don’t get tempted to jump directly to Zig #3. Always nail it before you scale it.

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Taste Testing Dark Chocolate

Monday 1 August 2011 @ 10:23 pm

Last weekend was my wife’s birthday. As part of her birthday present I wanted to get her a special treat that she would really enjoy. Several nights before her birthday we went to a friend’s home. This individual is quite a charismatic connoisseur of chocolate, and as part of the dessert he had us sample some very high-end, dark chocolate, one of which was laced with bacon, of all things. Another was flavored with a certain type of mushroom.

My wife really enjoyed the chocolate and the entire experience. So as a good husband, I decided to get her some really high-end, fancy dark chocolate. Indeed, my wife loves dark chocolate. So on her birthday, I presented her with several bars of Amano Artisan Chocolate. The intriguing thing is that the only difference between each of these designer chocolate bars is where the cocoa bean is grown, yet there is a remarkably different flavor that stands out with each bar. Then to make it a little more fun, I got her some other types of chocolate. I got her a Lindt Swiss Chocolate bar. I even got her, from all places, some chocolate from Ikea. Of course, I also added in some famous Ghirardelli.

I have to admit I was pretty excited to present these elegant chocolate bars to my beautiful, chocolate-loving wife. When she started eating a little bit of the chocolate gift, much to my dismay she wasn’t salivating or even getting super excited about the expensive artisan chocolate. I was of course a little bit put out…indignant that I spent $7.00 for each small designer bar that she was glossing over. (Yes $21.00 for just little bit of chocolate.)

So I decided, okay, we are going to sample these seriously. We are going to test the artisan chocolate against the grocery store brands. We gathered my family and my brother’s family for the taste test. I cut the samples into little pieces, covered it with a cloth, had everyone blindly taste the samples one by one, and then rate the chocolates.

Indeed there was a dramatic difference between each chocolate. And everyone could pinpoint dramatically different flavors that came out of each of these chocolates.

Instantly Nathan, my 15-year-old son identified the gourmet chocolate and zeroed right in on it. He loved it. However, everyone else, for the most part, actually enjoyed the regular, non-designer chocolate better than the fancy stuff.

It was really a fun experience to go through and sample each chocolate. As I thought about this I saw the analogy. I realized that in business we often go through a very similar concept. We think that everyone is going to prefer the exotic, the way-out-there taste, or the highest priced option. However, sometimes the pallets of our target are not necessarily over-the-top extravagant, bacon-laced, dark chocolate experiences.

Now none of these chocolates were low quality. None of these chocolates were just the cheap stuff from the check out aisle. Nonetheless, they were dramatically different in price. So as you present product offers to your customers, make sure that you actually understand the taste of the consumer that you are subscribing to.

Additionally, when you are the consumer, consider this chocolate analogy. I never encourage anyone to go with cheap stuff that falls apart, but sometimes people just like the simple dark chocolate that isn’t the handmade designer style. You don’t have to spend extravagantly in your business when your flavor isn’t suited to that either. You can get decent office chairs and decent office equipment that isn’t necessarily over-the-top, high-priced stuff.

The interesting thing about this taste test is that the winner was the second lowest priced bar. Most everyone voted that the Lindt chocolate bar was the favorite. Whether you’re tasting chocolate or whether you’re buying or selling services, you don’t always have to be extreme.

—-

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Challanging My Affinity for Meyers Briggs

Saturday 30 July 2011 @ 3:33 pm

I’m a huge proponent of Meyers Briggs tests. In my businesses, we use these tests to help with hiring, forming teams, determining target markets, and learning how best to communicate with each other. So naturally, I had several employees and potential hires take the test. Here’s the email I got back from one of my senior team leaders.


Subject: I’m an enigma, but most people are…

These personality test results seem like a bunch of horse biscuits. I don’t agree with that thing. I think I contradict my own self. Either way, thanks for the gig.
   
– I like people, but pretty much all of them annoy me after a while.
– I’m emotional, but I love statistics and facts.
– I like parties and so forth, but I always need to detox from socializing.
– I love history. I think about the past all the time. I also dream of the future (living on my farm where all is perfect.)
– I love getting a ton of stuff done, but I can’t maintain a fast pace forever. I also excel at wasting time.
– I’m always late getting places. I’m never late on deadlines.
– I don’t like to hear about people’s problems, but they all tell me about them all the time, so I’m good at dealing with that kind of crap.
– I’m motivated by humor, a reaction, and (humorous) controversy. But I don’t want to be actively involved in controversy. I’d rather make it happen and then watch.
– I have a huge list of pet peeves. (People who smell like their breakfast, wasteful sounds, girls who scream for no reason, old people who give unwanted advice, people who toot their own horn, anything sticky, static, wind, people who say “I’m just sayin”, people who use the word “uber” in regular English conversation, people who eat sushi because it’s trendy, chalk dust, expensive workout clothes, etc, etc. On the other hand, I can also get along with pretty much anyone.
– Personality tests annoy me because there are close to 6,775,235,700 types of people on the earth–not 4.


After I finished laughing, I thought, this is a good reminder that personality tests have their place. We use them to get the conversation started, we use them to aid communication, but at the end of the day…people are unique individuals, all 6,775,235,700 of them.

 

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Don’t Pick Your Zits

Thursday 14 July 2011 @ 9:50 am

 

Never pick your zits when you’re a teenager, and especially not when you’re in business.

 

Several years ago a delightful young woman came up to me dressed in a white dress and a bright smile. She looked me straight in the eyes and started talking. Then about thirty seconds into our conversation she broke out into tears.

 

Crying she said “I know, I know, it looks terrible, it looks awful. I tried everything I could to cover it over but I just kept picking it and now I have this zit that is just all over my face! I’m so sorry, it’s so hideous!”

 

The funny thing is that I never even noticed that she had a zit. Quite frankly I was enjoying the conversation with this delightful young woman. How frequently in life and business do we stumble and make the same faux pas?

 

Last week I was contacted by a close friend and associate who has an online problem with Google and he was seeking some SEO advice. Apparently when you Googled his name the second listing that pops up is a negative term. As I dug deeper into the scenario, I realized what had happened—indeed he had picked the metaphorical zit. Frequently in business we become fixated on a small negative problem, and then we pick it and we pick it and we pike it, until it becomes a huge problem.

 

Several months ago, this individual noticed that when you searched his name…way at the bottom of the auto fill was the term lawsuit listed with his name. The interesting thing is this lawsuit result had nothing to do with him. This lawsuit was not his problem. However, he and his entire team, and everyone around him became so fixated with the “problem” that they repeatedly searched and clicked on the erroneous lawsuit results, repeatedly.

 

As anyone who knows anything about Google knows, the repeated searching and clicking, alerted Google that this certain search result was, in fact, pretty important and relevant. What was the result? The zit grew bigger, the problem got bigger because the team and the individual himself kept picking the zit.

 

So, when you have a problem, highlight the beautiful, good things, don’t get fixated on a negative problem. Don’t highlight it and bring it to everyone’s attention.

 

The lesson from that young woman that came up and looked me in the eyes and started a delightful conversation is this: Most people would never have noticed or cared. We don’t need to point out our problems. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t open and real! it simply means that we don’t need to make small problems into big problems.

 

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Rich Christiansen