What’s your 15 second story?

At some point you’re going to bump in to someone you want to impress at work. It might be in the elevator, getting a coffee, or across a table while you’re both waiting for a meeting to commence. You’re not sure if you should say something and then they look over to you and ask ‘so how’s it going?’

If anyone with a ‘C’ or ‘GM’ in their title asks ‘how’s it going?’ they’re not asking you about your cat, or weekend, or recent holiday, they’re being polite and filling a few seconds and this is your chance to tell them something great that’s happening that they’re unlikely to know about.

A great 15 second story should cover off five key things:

1. Never assume they know what you’re talking about. A detailed answer full of technical terms, or assuming they know about your project in detail, is not helpful. You won’t have time to explain all the details or bring them up to speed on the history of the project so that your reply will make sense. Wrap your answer up to a high level view they’ll care about.

2. Make sure you include your boss or your team in your reply.We’ve‘ and ‘we‘ sounds a lot better than ‘I‘. The C-level exec wants to know the department is sound. Every team has a few particularly bright sparks, but the C-level exec wants to know that while there’s progress and innovation there’s harmony too. They also want reassurance your boss is across what’s happening – that you’re not running off and being a lone-wolf . You never know what they might share and with whom, which brings us to a crucial point,

3. Don’t say anything which can’t be backed up. It’s flattering you have a few seconds of this exec’s time but don’t make things up. Avoid the temptation to ‘creatively expand’ the truth or build something up beyond its true value. Maybe you’ve had a win recently stream-lining a process or are taking new things to market but making big statements such as ‘we’re going to change the whole company with this!’ or ‘it’s going to change the whole industry’ are, in a C-level’s mind, either bullshit or something they should have been across well before this 15 second chat – neither of which make your boss or you look great.

4. You never have problems, you have opportunities. The C-level exec has enough problems to solve for each day, this 15 second discussion is not the time to bring up another one. They’re already managing profitability, market share and shareholder challenges, there are proper channels for dealing with smaller HR issues, or that ‘it’s cold today’ or that you need more funding for Project XYZ (everyone always needs more funding, now is not the time to tell them you need more too). Real problems should be escalated properly.

5. They can’t solve anything for you right now. This is just a 15 second discussion, they’re not asking ‘how’s it going?’ so they can try and solve your biggest problem, they’re not writing down your answer and going to make it their top priority to solve for you. They want a good news story so be accurate in your reply and give them some.

So what should a great 15 seconds story sound like? Just one example is below.

Q: “Hey Jim, how’s it going?”

A: “Hey Sam, it’s going really well thanks. The team and I are just about to launch a great campaign, it’s tested well, we have a great baseline plan and we’re going to be trying some new things in market too. We’re very positive. How’re you?”

It’s a great reply because the C-level exec now knows: 1. Things are great and the team is working collaboratively towards a goal and you’re a part of it. 2. You haven’t given them percentages or baffled them with numbers (big or small)  3. What’s about to be in market – representing the whole company – has been mitigated for risk and done well (C-levels love a more sure bet) and, 4. The company is being innovative but off a good baseline that will get the company the majority of the way there anyway.


Demand and supply is easy right?

Demand and supply. It’s the fundamental lynchpin to the commercial structure of virtually every economy on Earth. If there is sufficient demand, the market will recognise it, and some clever entrepreneur, or multi-national conglomerate, will produce and distribute just enough of it to fulfill that demand. If marketed right, that demand will then increase – when those without see those who ‘have’.

The demand and supply system can, however, stumble, where consumers say they want something, but act differently. Focus groups, surveys and feedback may indicate that consumers are demanding something – better services, more interaction, new products etc, but that really only tells half the story. And that is the fine-line between demand and desire.

I observed a real life example of this in action a few years back, working with a small established retail clothing company. The company had a loyal customer base and high walk-in traffic. They’d hung up a sample shirt behind the counter to gauge customer reaction before confirming production. They knew the shirt pattern was ‘out there’, and producing a run of 200 shirts was a big investment for them.

Consumer feedback during the two weeks was overwhelmingly positive. Nearly every customer said they’d buy the shirt if it was available for sale. Much of the time the customer wasn’t even prompted for their opinion, it was offered.

What more encouragement to produce the shirt did they need? They had what they thought was sufficient demand and they had the resources to produce the shirts. Bada-bing-bada-boom instant profit, right!?

Wrong. When the shirts were made, and the customers now had the chance to buy them – including many of the same people who had been so positive and had left their contact details to be told when they were in – they overwhelmingly walked away from the shirt. Cnosumers um’d and ah’d and ultimately the shirt was a financial loss for the company.

Why? Well there are many reasons to consider:

– Maybe the consumers said they liked it hoping to get on the good side of the seller for a discount on their immediate purchase

– Perhaps the consumers really did like the shirt, but because it wasn’t an immediate purchasing decision it was easy to say ‘yes’, than to really think about it

– People, generally, like to make other people happy – so why not tell the seller you like the shirt right?

– ‘Yes’ and a smile is easier than telling the seller ‘no, and here’s all the reasons why’

– Maybe they genuinely liked the shirt but just had other financial considerations at that time, and by the time that had passed they’d forgoteen about it

Lets not discount the fact that we’re talking about a few hundred people here with their own buying decisions, motives, thoughts, financial situations, emtional situations etc. Whatever the reason(s), ultimately this process of determining demand wasn’t successful. Thankfully for businesses everywhere this isn’t always the case, but the frequency of this sort of situation happening is surprisingly frequent. Consumer demand, especially consumer demand for entirely new products, or new potential products, can be a very fickle thing.

As for creating desire, well that’s a whole different post.

Once upon a time….

What’s some of your best memories from your childhood?

Is it a favourite book that your parents used to read to you, or maybe it’s booting up a role-playing computer game for the very first time, or was it something as simple as sitting with your grandfather, looking up at someone so old, totally unable to imagine that he was once your age, and asking him to tell you a story?

Why did we enjoy those things? And why do we remember them fondly?

The answer may well lay with the mystery that was involved in each of these activities. When embarking on a journey, you don’t know the end, it’s not all predictable, it’s not laid out plain as day, you have to do some work – even if it’s just sitting there listening – to find out what happens next.

As humans we enjoy mystery, we actively seek it out, we look to find answers wherever we can, that’s why, for example, people climb to the highest peaks, dive to the deepest depths, and peer into microscopes for years on end. It’s just to see what’s there.

And it’s stories and mysteries that brands and companies should look at, at one point or another, look into developing. As marketers it is our job to invoke emotions within people, engage them – not interrupt them, and encourage them to find out more. Where you can start telling a story, and how can you use it during the average life-cycle of your customers?

If the story is good enough, they may just stay for a longer amount of time, they may share the story with others, and they may, if you’re particularly effective, buy a sequel.

It’s the little things that matter

A colleague came stumbling to my desk this morning looking like he was about to pass out, he managed to gasp out the words ‘coffee. now. must go. now.’ And so we immediately left to get a much needed dose of caffeine.

After he’d gulped down most of his double-shot latte and ordered another I asked him what on earth had happened to put him in such a state.

Which mug do you like more?

Turns out he and his wife decided to change which side of the bed they slept on because he wanted the fan on and she didn’t. (Why he didn’t move the fan I don’t know.)

It turns out both he and his wife had a terrible nights sleep because it was just so far out of whack from the normal. I asked if this happens when they travel too. The answer, surprisingly was no – that’s different he said, there’s no set routine, but at home it’s a different matter.

This is a great example of something larger than just a couple having a bad night sleep if you think about it in relation to a business and consumer. They were perfectly happy with their routine until it changed. It changed for the worse and now they’re going back to the way it was. And that’s fine where they have control of the variables.

But what about companies that change their product? Does change mean consumers will simply look for the updated packaging and carry-on unquestionably buying the same product? Or does change break the routine and suddenly create a choice that wasn’t previously there? Does it mean that the consumer now has to, on some level, pause and re-evaluate their buying decision process?

The impact of change on a consumer’s routine, when so many buying decisions are arbitrary, is crucial to understanding the buying process and something worth investing a time and research in. Companies both large and small perform hours and hours of research and focus groups specifically to try and understand consumer impact. A focus group I recently attended focused on virtually nothing else other than the shape of the bottle – should it be slender, bottom heavy, top heavy etc.

When you’re reviewing your product range and looking for boost, rather than focusing on changing anything about the product don’t assume that change is good necessarily – remember that people are purchasing your products for a reason. Think about where your product is placed placed or how your product could be perceived, rather than how consumers are currently seeing it. A couple of great examples of this have been highlighted in the videos below:

Seth Godin on standing out

And Rory Sutherland – life lessons from an ad-man. The part where he talks about Shreddies at the 12 minute mark.

One person’s brave is another person’s stupid

If you’re not in the habit of reading a lot of marketing websites and happen you stumble into one you could be forgiven for not really understanding what’s going on.

Sure there’s the occasional nice thing said, but often times there’s furious debate, heated words, vapid and droll comments smirking, biting and poking at each other all deftly used to smite thy enemy and done oh-so-bravely behind a protective wall of anonymity. You could be forgiven for thinking those commenting on the articles are debating climate change science, or ways to cure aggressive cancer.

But no, more than likely it’s because a company changed their agency and tried a new campaign and direction – or because a company didn’t change agency and didn’t change their current campaign and direction. That’s not to suggest these things are less important than efforts to cure cancer or the prevention of climate change (in the minds of the readers), but that’s what’s being talked about nonetheless.

There is one word in particular that marketers and agency people alike enjoy using when it suits to defend work, or as a source of acclaim that is that the work in question is ‘brave‘.

Much like the over used defense ‘God works in mysterious ways‘, ‘brave‘ is whipped out to stave off any argument that what’s been produced is ‘reckless’ or ‘stupid’.

And furious debate and whether something is brave or stupid is fine because the only thing that really matters is ‘did it work with the target market?’

And this really is the point. Forget everyone wanting to have their say, what should be focused on is did the campaign hit the spot with the market? Did the consumer change their perception of the product in the way the company wanted them to? Did the consumer buy more? Did they switch from a competitor? Did the message work because it shocked them, made them laugh, educated them or made them simply feel something?

In short, did the company accomplish its goal with the campaign?

This isn’t to say that industry websites should be ignored, far from it, there is valuable feedback to be garnered and discussion is great but the primary focus should be on results.

That’s nice, and now I feel dirty.

This morning I complimented a female friend and colleague of mine at the office via email as having a ‘nice’ new haircut.

I felt dirty afterwards.

Not because I was being sleezy or hitting on her, but because ‘nice’ is such a nothing word.

What is ‘nice’? It’s generic, it’s lazy, it’s a description of something just passably better than not worth noticing and commenting on.

She replied ‘thanks’ – fair enough what the hell else was she going to say? You know what I should have done? I should have either said something more than ‘nice’ or nothing at all.

So I replied to her email and said:

‘Sorry, and by ‘nice’ I mean your hair looks great, it really suits you … I was momentarily too lazy to type something less generic than ‘nice’. Apologies, one should think of a better word to compliment someone with than ‘nice’.

‘Nice’ is so generic, it’s so bland, ‘nice’ sounds like it should only be attached to the most basic domestic products and others products trying to be something they’re not. ‘Nice’ should marry ‘Quality’ and skip hand in hand down ‘Bland Lane’ and have two point three generic children, who do OK in their schooling and go on to lead uneventful, average lives, with flairs of mediocre success, like coming 3rd in the regional retail sales competition of a 4th rate bathroom products supply company, a success they’ll cling to for the rest of their days.

And  ‘nice’ and ‘quality’ are fairly close to nothing but condescending in product use too: “Use Generica brand quality shampoo and conditioner, it’ll leave your hair feeling nice!”

Have a great time on trip to Japan!’

Surely if something is truly ‘quality’ companies don’t need to say it? It should already be firmly established in the consumers mind why it’s quality, does simply saying it mean anything really?  ‘Quality’ can be said another, better, way. And similarly, what is ‘nice’ to a consumer? Another word or series of words will almost certainly better describe what the company wants the consumer to feel or think.

‘Nice’ has been the ending to short term consumer experiences for decades, but it’s time for companies to think bigger and get more excited about their products.

‘Nice’ means nothing and saying ‘quality’ doth not a better product make.

Have a nice day.

Are you searching, or are you finding?

It’s a well worn phrase, but ‘people don’t buy a drill, they buy a hole in the wall’, put another, less elegant way, consumers buy things, not to have them but for what obtaining the object does, or says, for the individual.

So are you searching or finding? Is a search engine really a search engine? Or is it more of a ‘show me everything relevant on XYZ topic’ engine?

With Google’s superbowl ad, which has been on their youtube account since November, is possibly the finest display of this theory and displaying a level self-brandawareness that most companies struggle to find, if ever.

Google understands implicitely their role in helping you find what you’re looking for. Their ability to get rid of you quickly so you’ll keep coming back has been well documented.

Take a look around your business and see if you truly understand why people are using your products and services and if you’re confident you do, try demonstrating it more. Be sure to find out how various groups are using your product, and perhaps focus on the core consumers that are your most reliable, re-purchasing ones.

Finding more of them might just be what your business needs.