Branding | Creativity | Life

Month: February 2019 (page 1 of 1)

How To Be Young Again

Some people say getting old is a choice. I used to think that was big, fat happy load of…ahhh… self-deceit. Now, I don’t.

Yes, you can be young again.  Young with a spark in your eye and spring in your step. Young in the way you remember feeling as a kid. Really. You just need to know what to do.

If you’re at a point in your life when this idea seems foreign – impossible even — I get that. And you may not even be what is, chronologically anyway, considered to be ‘old’. In fact, a lot of people seem to be ‘old’ when they’re in, say, their mid-thirties, while other people seem to be ‘young’ when they’re in their mid-eighties.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

When you’re a kid, everything’s new. Everything. It’s the nature of being a kid, and new to the world. Which is why you can spend hours looking at, and playing with, the simplest toy. Because it’s new to you. Completely.

Which means you don’t know what it can do.  And that means it can maybe do anything.

And, when you’re a kid, you move on. Quickly. Without thought or consideration. To explore the next thing you’ve never ever seen before.

And the wonder begins anew.

Again. and again. And again.

Never ending, always exploring. Time falling away and lost in joyful discovery without assessment. Until…

One day you circle back to something you’ve already seen. Explored. Become familiar with. Even loved.

But because it’s no longer fully and completely ‘new’, when you come back to it this time, you bring experience too, and with that just the slightest knowledge of its limitations.

This thing, let’s say it’s a red-and-silver shiny rocket ship, is no longer unlimited as it once was.  Maybe you’ve learned something that it can’t do – just one thing is enough to create a corral for the possibilities. Maybe it’s still a huge space where your imagination is free to roam, but now it’s walled in just a little bit.  This is inevitable; neither good nor bad it is simply the natural order of things and the progression of learning.

But the net result of this progression is that your imagination has become limited —  just a little — by experience.

How? Well, when you first came to it, you came to it not knowing anything, and in not knowing anything, that rocket ship could do absolutely everything. So you became lost in the possibility and the joy of exploration without even realizing it.

And that is where you were most young, and in the best way.

But with experience, you lose just a little bit of wonder.  It’s okay, and it’s natural for this to happen.  But each time, with even more experience with the same thing – and that part’s important – your initial blissful unthinking wonder ebbs away a little more. Now you’re more familiar, maybe more comfortable, likely less excited but soon you may find that yourself getting pulled into a routine.

And you can’t spell routine without ‘rut’.

The first time you grabbed that rocket ship without thinking or knowing you let out a whoosh and in your mind you were going to Mars and there’d be aliens and lasers and things and maybe your carpet was the Earth, and you discovered that your rumpled blanket and pillows were the perfect Martian landscape, and who knew what creatures lived in the cracks?

But when you go back, maybe not the first time, but over time, now you start out with your pillows and blanket as the default Martian landscape. You now set up based on what you already know, rather than create anew each time from the now. Sure you play, but you’re playing within parameters now, even if you don’t realize it.

Repetition may be the mother of learning, but if that’s all you do it becomes the father of aging, too.

While that seems sad it is not. It is Life. And it is not a perpetual downward slope because in understanding how it works, there is actually Hope.

And that is quite wonderful.

Fast Forward to Today.

What Fully and Completely New Thing have you Experienced for the First Time Today?

For many of us, the answer is Nothing. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves and take stock, our Today is pretty much our Yesterday. And the day before that. And our Year, possibly, the same as the Year before that. Ad Nauseum.

Think about it: it’s Sunday as I write this, and if I look ahead to my week, I pretty much know how it’s going to go.  I know what clients I need to take care of, largely what I’ll eat, when I’ll work out, what shows I’ll watch, what time I’ll go to bed and so on.

Could you imagine doing that as a kid?

Of course not! In fact, for a kid that’s the worst possible thing about being an adult.

It’s soooo Boring!

It’s the cliche of an adult’s life from a kid’s perspective. And they’re right.

The adult usually defends this choice of non-existence by saying, ‘Well, that’s the way it is. I’ve got bills to pay and responsibilities and yada yada yada” knowing even as they say it that it’s a lie. But the most effective lies are based on partial truths, which makes this particular one especially dangerous. 

The reality is that, as we get chronologically older, I think most of us yearn not to have better indestructible limbs and joints and the smaller waistlines of our youth, but instead for the unbridled, unthinking joy of possibilities without limitation. Of exploring and having hope and being driven by that energy toward the new so that time falls away and we don’t know in advance what’s coming later, or tomorrow. Or next week or next year.

That’s what being young is. And you can be young again starting right now.

Here’s how you do it:

Fear is going to be your biggest enemy. It always is. Fear will try to drive you back to the comfort of the routine, so you need to solve the fear equation first.

The fear-driven stories you make up in your head in the middle of the night are never accurate. Fear, as always, is something you create. Why? Because Fear is simply an anticipation of the worst case scenario that which has not happened.

Fear is paralyzing, but it is unnecessary pain in advance. And it is a lie. Every time.

Because in reality, if that wholly unlikely scenario — that imagined worst result of whatever change you need to make that you’ve painstakingly created in your head — actually does begin to happen, then something you haven’t anticipated will also happen:  you’ll immediately begin responding to the situation. You become lost in the moment, not thinking, just doing.  And because of this, not only will it not turn out the way you fear, but you’ll likely be so focused in that adrenaline-pumped state of survival that fear will cease to exist because the moment is here, and that is what we do automatically. It is our hard-wired survival instinct.

When we take action, fear — imagined or otherwise – immediately dissolves in the face of reality. Every time.

So, first, put Fear right out of your head. It ain’t gonna happen the way you think. It never does,

And second, start small. Baby steps.

Take a chance. Do something – one thing – different. One thing outside of your routine.

Take a different road to work. Go see a movie you know nothing about. Order something different off the menu. Miss your usual train, or get on an earlier one.

Say yes to the next opportunity you’d normally say no to.

Go talk to someone you’ve never met. Join a pickup game. Ask that question, or speak up and say you disagree, instead of nodding and thinking about what else is on your plate after the mid-afternoon meeting.

Or skip the soul-sucking meeting entirely. And don’t tell anyone. Leave your phone behind and go for a walk instead.

The world will not end if you do any of these things. And you’ll begin to see things for the first time. Again.

You need to find that child’s sense of Wonder again. And Wonder comes from experiencing something entirely new. Wonder is the fuel of childhood.

Your day-to-day environment is key. When you go home, throw some crap out. You’ve got too much stuff just accumulating like barnacles on the ship of your life, and it’s slowing you down.

PIck something. If you haven’t used it in 6-months, toss it. Just pick one thing.

Maybe that’ll get you going. Momentum makes everything easier. The thing is, you’ve got to make it a practice, not a one-off.

If your rut is more serious, you’re feeling ancient and dead inside and you’re dying to feel alive again, try this:

Set aside an entire day and do NOTHING you’ve ever done before.  Get up and go and retrace none of your usual steps.

Get in the car and drive somewhere completely new and unscripted. Pick a direction – don’t go to Google maps first – and drive for 2 hours. That leaves you plenty of time to get back, and it’s far enough away to be unfamiliar. Stop whenever you see something that looks interesting. Find a place far enough away where you can be anonymous, so that you can decide how you want to present yourself and what you want to do based on your immediate impulse without fear of judgment. Order the exact opposite of what you’d normally order or, better yet, order something that you have no idea what it is. If someone catches your eye, go talk to them, because who knows?

And that’s the point. Entirely.

As soon as you lose track of time, you’ll know you’re on the right path. You’ll be so immersed in the moment that you’ll start seeing things with new eyes. Perhaps finding new directions. Hopefully walking new paths.

Stop living the rerun and start living the new.

And before you know it, blog posts like this won’t attract your attention anymore.

And wouldn’t that be the Best Thing? 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

How to Save the Movies. And Maybe your Business.

When I used to go to the movies it was an Event. Two hours away from more of the same, and transported to somewhere new.

An escape.  Something different. I’d be excited, alert, aware. Fidgety even. Sitting in my seat. Waiting with anticipation.

There used to be a neat screensaver – oily, lava-lamp colors projected on the screen. Anticipation built. There was trivia sometimes; not GEICO trivia, movie trivia. Designed to speak to people who, well, loved movies. To encourage that love, even. The day-to-day fell away.

Then darkness. Then previews. Exciting, because I hadn’t seen them before.

Then the movie and I’d get lost in it.

Today when I go to the movies, it’s my living room transported to a public space with worse seats.

I see all of the commercials I see at home. They’re just bigger here.

Then too many previews I’ve already seen.

Then, finally, darkness, movie and larger-than-life screen – that part’s still exciting.

But if I miss it, I know it’ll be out on Netflix or DVD in the space of about 60 days or so, so if the experience is pretty much the same, but more costly and without added benefit, what’s the point?

Theaters complain. Hollywood complains.

But the simple truth of the matter is this:  they’re doing it to themselves.

They are no longer inviting us to escape. Instead, they’re asking us to experience exactly what we could otherwise at a greater cost and with less convenience. They are taking a short-term view of profitability, grasping at straws without a larger strategy. Nickel-and-diming and trying to extract every penny of built-in yet dwindling demand, instead of capitalizing upon – and amplifying – the incredible opportunity they already have.

In a world of people dying to get away, even for just an hour or two, they’re ignoring the obvious; they are uniquely positioned to succeed.

Instead, they see us as fish in a barrel; trapped and unable to get away, at least for a little while, from the old marketing game. For now, for that brief window of experience before the movie starts, we remain a captive audience. Rather than being creative with that opportunity, they ham-handedly exploit it .

The movie experience is fast becoming all too similar to what you can get somewhere – maybe everywhere – else. It is, essentially, neither special nor unique anymore – not really. It is the result of greed, fear of risk, and a lack of creativity on the part of the theater industry. And that is very sad.

As with all brands, if you do not differentiate, you die a slow and painful death. It is what I call The Rule of the Parity Provider: when you offer the same thing as everyone else, price becomes the sole differentiator.  Margins shrink as you try to compete and, eventually,  you simply go under. This is what’s happening here.

Twelve bucks for a ticket for two hours, OR twelve bucks for a month of Netflix?

If the movie theaters understood their opportunity to position themselves as a provider of escape, entertainment and respite from the world, this would be a magical ticket — a temporary pass to somewhere else —  that anyone would buy.

They have the opportunity to provide – and capitalize on – something truly unique. But they don’t.

They should. In fact, they must. There really is no alternative.

And when it comes to your business, and your brand, so should you.

What do you provide that’s truly different?  Be honest with yourself: What does your business do that’s the same as what your competitors do?

Once you figure that out, the important question becomes what do you offer that’s different?

What’s the one thing you can identify that you do Best, and that people can’t get anywhere else?

Build on that, and you’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive. And also suddenly discover that you no longer have as much competition as you used to.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

That’s what the Movie Theater Industry needs to do. And pretty much everyone else.

Is Brand Loyalty Dead?

I was reading an article the other day in The Wall Street Journal about how major brands are finding it necessary to raise prices on consumer staples in large part, it seems, to meet profit and earnings goals.  For some reason this is being presented as news though, if you are the type of person who, say, shops for their own food, this is in no way surprising. Or news, actually.

The reality is that prices on consumer goods – despite (questionable?) inflation index reports to the contrary (if you’re getting less for the same or more, isn’t that by-definition, inflated?) – have been going up for the better part of the past three years.  The trick, it seems, has been to change the packaging dimensions and reduce the actual amount of product volume while keeping the price reasonably stable, with only incremental increases.

For example, the concept of “a gallon of bleach’ now seems somewhat nostalgic, if not archaic: things used to come in standard weights and measures like gallons, pints, quarts, liters and the like. As consumers, this was a matter of course, and not worthy of perpetual vigilance.

That is, like so many things, no longer the case.  In fact, if you buy a ‘gallon’ of Clorox bleach now – or really, any name brand – you are looking at not 128 fl. ounces, but instead, 121 fl. ounces.  And, in-step with this, comes the change in copy away from a traditionally defined unit of measure, like gallon, and toward a more subjective and slippery term, like “pack”. Curiously enough, off-brand and generics are still 128 oz, and far less expensive – a point brought up by the WSJ article as a factor with which the big name-brands must now contend. It seems that vigilance is indeed necessary.

The look and feel of the bleach bottle is about what it once was, though upon careful inspection, it’s a little thinner front-to-back, no doubt to keep shelf visibility high and create the illusion of traditional size.  If you use a lot of bleach, that 7 ounces adds up, especially when the prices creep higher.  And if you produce a lot of bleach, that skimming tactic also contributes handily to your company’s bottom line – especially when considered at a massive production scale wherein you essentially give the consumer 3{23224a7f521af97bae50b30e4728840741fbe348559ab868556c0274d88c7331}+ less product for the same price.

Now that this under-the-radar practice has become so commonplace, and repeated so often as to be accepted and made invisible to the average consumer, it appears to be safe for producers to more overtly raise the prices publicly, further exacerbating the value inequity.

And it’s not just Clorox, of course.  It appears to be every single, ‘trusted’ brand out there. Another example? I eat a lot of tuna – Bumblebee Solid White Albacore in water, to be exact. It’s quick, easy (I’m not a millennial and thus can wield a can opener) and has always been of dependably high-quality.  In fact, if you go to their website it was always pretty close to the so-called ‘steaky’ option on the right.

About 6-months ago, that changed. At first I thought I’d gotten a bad batch; the tuna was yellow, watery, chunky and smelled strongly of fish (yes, I know it’s fish, but this wasn’t quite right). It wasn’t bad per se, but much closer to a lower grade of tuna.

The price had already crept up, first in can-size back around 2010 and more recently in actual (net) product — you needed to read the print to realize that the 5 oz. can was not only 4-ounces of actual tuna — but now, it seemed, we were also dealing with additional sleight of hand from the good folks at Bumble Bee; while I didn’t want to believe it, after repeated attempts it became clear that inferior tuna wrapped in a familiar and more premium package was the new norm.

Then, when I discovered THIS, it all became quite clear:

This isn’t just solid white tuna – oh no, this is Prime Fillet!

Ooooh. Take in the majesty of the gold can. The aspirational, pinkies-up font choice of Prime Fillet…. The far higher price.

I cracked open this golden can of wonder and, gasp! It was, as near as I can tell, filled with my old Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water!

Now, I don’t like to think bad things about anyone, especially corporations, which are apparently people, but the evidence would suggest that there was a bait and switcheroo going on here! I don’t know for sure, of course, but as a loyal consumer of Bumblebee Solid White Albacore Tuna – for years, mind you – and presented solely with actual tangible experiential evidence, I dare say the Good Folks at Bumble Bee might be playing games.

And testing my Brand Loyalty.

Is there any reason for Consumers to remain blindly loyal to Brands anymore?

It’s a good question, and as a someone who works with brands for a living, and helps shape the way people think about them, an important one.

From the consumer side, the short answer is no. And that should be frightening to brands, both large and small.  Sure, publicly traded companies have an obligation to their stockholders, but they shouldn’t think only in quarterly terms, and sacrifice consumer trust for shareholder profitability – that’s slow suicide.

It is my experience that, despite a million bits of content to the contrary, your Brand is simply the way people think about you, your product or service.  That’s it – everything else details.  And the details are important, the way that is accomplished and the strategy behind it.

The best thing you can do for your brand is to ensure that people (1) understand what you do, and (2) always have a genuinely positive association with it whenever and wherever they encounter it.  That little, deceptively simple piece of brand-philosophy forms the basis for a Brandphilic™ approach to branding. Brandphilic™ is a process I developed after years of working with brands and figuring out what works universally and consistently. Also, yes the trademark is real – as was the struggle to secure it 😉

Think about this:  if Clorox – a name synonymous with bleach – or Bumble Bee, a Brand similarly associated with tuna – cannot be trusted to deliver on their core value proposition, what does that mean for the strength and value of their brand?

It’s not a good sign. Trust is the key to a strong brand. Consumers are forgiving, but not stupid. And they communicate their approval or disapproval for a Brand and its actions with their pocketbook.

Now, this would normally be the place where, in the past, I might suggest that Brands need to shape up or they will eventually take a beating.  And, yes, that is true, but no, it will not change their behavior — not anymore.

I asked whether Brand Loyalty is Dead and, despite identifying the problems, I believe that we’ve moved into a new era. Bottom line: the corporations no longer care, and are brazenly overt about it.  They are no longer scared of – or really, even beholden to – the consumer, because they’re far more scared of the shareholder, and the potential blowback from missing e.p.s. estimates by a penny.  So they will continue to wring out and wrangle every drop of possible profit.

To the detriment of their customers.  To the detriment of their employees. But ultimately not to their detriment – especially if they are one of the last few conglomerates standing, because they will simply be Too Big to Care.

As I wrote at the end of Cogh and The Machine, we are fast moving into a future which will ultimately see merger and acquisition activity increase: it is a simple matter profitability through economy of size, a matter of their survival and a matter of time.  In the end, there will be a handful corporate behemoths to which we are all beholden – regardless of whether the vast majority of the populace – or perhaps even the government –  likes them or not.

It is a matter of scale, of economics and of – whether we say differently or not –  consumer behavior. Yes, the onus is on us. Every time we buy a product from an Amazon or a Walmart, we are choosing convenience, which is certainly understandable. But we are also voting for a certain future in which only the largest survive, and once the corporations become few and giant and the only choices, then Brand loyalty won’t matter because there ultimately won’t be that many brands left. And if a brand is really a matter of perception, and the brand no longer needs to care about how people think about them, then what?

The question then moves from ‘Is Brand Loyalty Dead’ to  “Does Brand Loyalty Even Matter?”

And in that future, the answer is still no.

The Good News? Please? Anyone?

That future has not been written yet. It’s still a 2-way street where the consumer can — and does — strongly impact the behavior of the corporations and businesses they choose to have a relationship with.  And the better news is that that somewhat apocalyptic economic scenario need not happen – but mindfulness is key.

Voice is powerful.  Action is necessary. And your Choices matter.

To passively accept the increasingly unacceptable behavior of many – though to be fair, not all — corporate entities is to allow this behavior to continue. Even encourage it. In an age where most people are treading water financially, it’s difficult to make the hard choice. But if you look downstream, and see where the path may lead, it becomes necessary to step back for just a moment and say Enough! And say it loudly, and rationally – don’t just scream, because no one wants to hear that.

And vote with your wallet, and encourage your friends to do likewise.

Perhaps then those Brands That Listen, when they respond appropriately to that particular line of financial reasoning, will have earned your Loyalty and it will begin to Matter once again.

Here’s to optimism, choice, discourse and dialogue in a world that sorely needs it – cheers!