A place to buy things

What do your customers really think of you?

Do they have a compelling story to tell about your brand? Have they had experiences that deeply resonate with them? Do they proactively advocate on your behalf? Can they easily justify the premium they choose to pay? Would they give you another chance if you screwed up?

Or, when it comes down to it, in their minds and hearts, you’re merely a place to buy things?

And when there’s a slightly better price–or a marginally more convenient option–they jump at the opportunity, without a trace of regret.

Optimizing to extinction

There’s a growing narrative that suggests that as e-commerce grows the obvious answer for most retailers is fewer and smaller stores.

It’s nearly taken for granted that if a brand struggles with sales then it’s time to take a whack to expenses.

And, most often, it seems as if investors value a story of efficiency rather than one of effectiveness.

It doesn’t take much creativity or inspired leadership to lay people off, close stores, prune inventory, defer capital expenditures and the like. Sadly, though not too surprisingly, it’s rare to find a company that actually becomes more customer relevant by following this path.

In fact you don’t have to look very long or hard to find scores that have tried cost-cutting their way to prosperity only to end up in the retail graveyard. You might even be able to come up with a few that are in the midst of this downward spiral.

It’s typically pretty easy to rally behind optimizing the cost side of the ledger. It’s far harder to get the revenue side right–to go from average to remarkable, me-too to intensely relevant.

All I know is if you set out to optimize something you might want to be sure you picked the right thing.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff

We live in a world of expanding choice. A world where–if we are fortunate enough to have the money–almost anything can be purchased from almost anywhere in the world almost anytime we want. With the smart phone as a growing (and often omnipresent) access point, the web provides the portal to nearly infinite information and virtually unlimited products and services.

At one level this is a consumer bonanza. Limited data can now rarely be seen as a barrier to purchase. Prices are down, selection is up. A click replaces waiting until the store opens. Products come to us, rather than us going to them. Consumers are empowered in ways never thought imaginable.

Yet, more and more, we are faced with a tsunami of stuff. A bewildering array of seemingly undifferentiated products. Look-alike websites and marketing schemes. In-boxes chock-a-block with one-size-fits-all promotions. Spam, spam, spam, spam.

This growing mass of information and options–often combined with unrelenting interruption marketing–can be overwhelming. When the distracted consumer is the norm and it becomes increasingly harder to separate the signal from the noise, more is often less.

As our customers’ world grows ever noisier our reflexive response is often to dial things up to 11. Resist that urge.

The new battle ground is for share of attention. And we earn and command attention not through shouting louder than everyone else, throwing more at the wall to see what sticks or defaulting to using price as the only arrow in our quiver.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff is to know more about our customers than the competition and to turn that insight into intensely relevant products and experiences.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff is to eschew mass marketing techniques and to move aggressively toward more personalization and customization.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff is to embrace editing and curation as a fundamental competency.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff is to ruthlessly root out the friction in our customer experience and to distort those things we wish to amplify to the truly remarkable.


HT to Barry Schwartz and his TED talk on the The Paradox of Choice  

In search of amplification

When you live in a cacophonous world, if you want to be something other than a dim signal amidst the noise, you need amplification.

When consumers are inundated by a tsunami of marketing messages, much of which are virtually identical, you need amplification.

When your default strategy is to lower your price, and you find yourself in a losing race to the bottom, you need amplification.

When you find yourself regressing toward the mean in almost everything you do, because it seems safer, you need amplification.

The battle for share of attention isn’t won by merely shouting louder, beating the consumer into submission or constantly bribing customers to buy from you.

It’s won by being intensely relevant and remarkable. It’s won by taking one or more aspects of what’s commonly done and distorting it to new heights. It’s won by cultivating an obsessive core of customers. It’s won by creating a story that begs to be told, again and again.

If your business plan doesn’t contain clear points of meaningful value amplification, it’s time for a re-think.

If your best customers aren’t willing to amplify your message to your most valuable prospects, something is amiss.

Creating and leveraging points of amplification isn’t easy. But being irrelevant is a whole lot tougher.


Never underestimate the power of a symbol

Donald Trump is a lout and oafish buffoon. He may be a good business person, but he is wholly unqualified to be President and, thankfully, just about everyone knows it. Bernie Sanders is smarter and clearly demonstrates a capacity for empathy and self-awareness that The Donald sorely lacks. But he’s not going to be President either. Yet both are generating a lot–or as Trump would say, “yuge”–amount of attention.

And the reason is this: they are both powerful symbols.

Symbols of the frustration that so little gets done in Washington. Symbols of being fed up with politicians that are more concerned with avoiding a gaffe than speaking the truth. Symbols of the fear over where America is headed, even if their takes are polar opposites. And their potential impact as symbols should not be taken lightly.

Symbols matter because they tell a story that goes beyond the mere facts, the puts and takes, the purely rational and what may seem most expedient in the moment.

Symbols matter…

…when as people others look up to, we speak out against injustice and immorality even if some people won’t like it or us.

…when as business people, we do the right thing on behalf of a customer even if it is unprofitable in the short-term.

…when as parents, we model the behavior we wish our children to emulate even if, in the moment, they don’t “get it.”

…when as leaders of organizations we celebrate noble failures even if we had hoped for a different tangible result.

…when as human beings, we look each other in the eyes and simply connect even if it feels awkward and uncomfortable.

Symbols often rise above the typical narrative and tap into something more visceral.

Symbols remind us that people buy the story before they buy the product.

You picked a really bad time to be boring

There was a time when you could get away with average products for average people.

There was a time when rapid growth could smooth over patches of mediocrity.

There was a time when being just a little bit interesting could hold our attention.

There was a time when relationships were built over time, face-to-face.

Now, consumers live in an anything, anytime, anyway world and there’s simply no reason to settle.

Now, largely stagnant markets require us to steal share if we wish to grow–and good enough isn’t.

Now, we are overwhelmed with choices and, more and more, the battle for share of attention is won by the weird, the purple cow, the remarkable.

Now, posts that include “more for Sagittarius”–or are merely a running commentary on your activities–get eliminated from our feed in one easy click. And winning back a lost relationship is harder than ever.

There’s a reason people don’t come to your store, leave your website within seconds, hit “unsubscribe”  or unfollow you.

Now is hardly the time to be dull, uninteresting and outright boring if you hope to make any kind of impact. If people see what you put out in the world and their first reaction is “who cares?” you’re either focused on the wrong folks or it’s time to rethink what you’re doing.

The fact is the tried and true no longer is. What once seemed safe is now often the most risky.

Yes, it’s a really bad time to be boring. But the good news is we can change.

What better time than now?


Ask the nearest hippie

In his dissent on the Supreme Court’s historic decision on gay marriage Justice Antonin Scalia offered this:

“Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think that Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”

Regardless of where one stands on the question–and I stand firmly on the side of love–we should be impressed by Scalia’s ability to reach back some 50 years for a cultural reference, all the while doing virtuosic leaps of logic. Then again, perhaps he meant “hipster.” Also perhaps his marriage of 48 years ain’t going all that well. Maureen, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

But whether he meant hippie or hipster, he may be on to something.

Hippies defied convention.

Hippies valued love over war.

Hippies created lots of music and art that has stood the test of time.

Hippies were inclusive.

Hippies challenged the status quo, often pushing society to embrace new norms.

Many hippies were far more remarkable than those who shunned them.

Maybe we could use a few more hippies?

Ask the nearest hippie indeed.

And we just might want to heed their advice.