Founded in 2004 with $14 and a dream, Imagine is an integrated marketing, branding and design firm that combines Northern Virginia’s flair for innovation with Chicago’s warm personality and West Coast creativity. We’re an industry-leading group of problem solvers that believe that marketing can’t truly be effective unless it’s integrated, and handled by dedicated experts in each field.
I’ll start off by saying that I love my wife.
She’s an incredibly talented individual in many ways and we complement each other amazingly well. With that said, she sucks at ironing. Try as she may, she couldn’t iron a washcloth flat. I’m not using this as an opportunity to point out her weakness; in fact, I should be trying harder to cover my ass here. I’m sure I’m failing miserably.
The point that I’m risking a couple days of marital bliss for is a strong one: know your weaknesses. Prolific writer Jack Handy put it best when he said, “If you think a weakness can be turned into a strength, I hate to tell you this, but that’s another weakness.” The entrepreneurial stereotype is focused on – and expectedly so – on being a rock star at handling whatever’s thrown your way. The truth is that a wise business owner doesn’t focus on trying to become mediocre at a weakness if they can simply bring on an expert to manage it.
A couple examples:
- A couple weeks ago, I painted a wall in my living room with this new-fangled, sparkly paint that my wife just fell in love with. This was no ordinary paint – two full gallons of the most stubborn substance known to man (I’m serious, the stuff works like Flubber), two days and six headaches later – the wall was done. It was and still is not an expert job, and I still kick myself when I consider that, if I spent only two hours on billable time during that weekend, it probably would’ve paid for a professional to do it…twice.
- When my company was just little ol’ me, the responsibility of repairing, installing and maintaining computers was up to me. Fortunately, I got my A+ certification a few years back (don’t know what it is? Don’t worry, neither does anyone else), so I had sufficient knowledge to keep my computer humming along. Now that ImagineDesign has many more computers and needs a grown-up network with tons of forgettable acronyms and boxes with blinking lights, I have someone else manage it and I stay away from it.
A goal of building a business is, to some degree, getting it to run perfectly without your daily involvement. Some of that relies on systems, but most of it depends on putting the right people in place that do everything you can’t, just as much as it depends on having people do what you can.
On that note, I have some ironing to do…
Over the past couple years, it seems that almost every household name is going for a new logo. As a fun way to bring you up to speed on just some of the new logos (and much-needed tweaks) that are popping up, I’ve put together this all-too-common game of “Guess That Logo”. To keep it fair, I didn’t include any sports teams.
Name the whole alphabet and you are automatically eligible for a sense of accomplishment. I’ll post the answers next week if someone doesn’t beat me to it. Good luck!
Wealth (ˈwelth): n. Abundance of valuable material possessions or resources.
I look to the dictionary pretty often, in fear that I’m going to misuse a word and ruin an entire conversation, speech, public bathroom vandalism or whatever. However, I have to say I have a particular problem with the definition offered for “wealth”, since all it does is validate the ongoing problem that we have as a consumer-driven culture. Imagine that, a business owner complaining about a society driven by materialism.
Or maybe I just have a warped view of what wealth is or how it’s measured. To me, wealth is not quantified by the volume of toys one has, or the size of the house in which they are packed. My own definition goes a little like this:
Wealth (ˈwelth): n. The freedom one has to be able to live the life one wants to live.
That seems to make a lot more sense to me. If for no other reason, it allows for each individual to decide what their idea of wealth is. A number of my best friends are far more comfortable living in an apartment and driving older cars than dealing with the pressure of a higher cost of living. Does this mean that, to be considered a success, they have to sacrifice their own happiness? I think that the measure of their satisfaction with the state of their lives could be the only real determining factor of how successful – or wealthy – they really are. Mind you, I would be a moron (not to mention a destitute one) if I didn’t understand the role of money in creating that freedom, yet cash and possessions are not my primary motivators. If it was, I may be a lot wealthier by the textbook definition, but I wouldn’t be as happy. So what does it for me? What do I use as a measure of wealth in my life?
Purpose. The great thing about entrepreneurship (aside from the ability to work myself into a narcoleptic daze) is that I can generate income through things that give me a great sense of purpose. That’s a need that I believe everyone has, whether they have the desire to venture out on their own or not. This is something to bear in mind as a manager. Your team’s happiness is never equivalent to their salary. In fact, if many feel like they are making an impact on the lives of customers, fellow employees, or society as a whole, the money they make only needs to sustain them – not help them accumulate more stuff.
Pay = compliance. Purpose = commitment.
So how do you give your team that sense of purpose? Here are a few ideas to start:
1. Give them control. Empowering your team to use their judgment and to make quick customer service decisions will not only make your team feel more important, it will dramatically increase your bottom line with the time saved by constantly requiring authorization. There are many success stories that reinforce this fact. However, it cannot be done without education. Teach your team that if a problem costs less than $x, just take care of it right away to please the customer. That dollar amount can usually be determined by the cost of time saved in the back-and-forth of managerial approval.
2. Know your employees and challenge them individually. Many industries, if not most, are structured in such a way that only allow for employees to climb the ladder in one direction. For instance, if you’re an architect, the only career path you have is to work yourself into managing other people. Does this mean that introverted architects are doomed to a job they don’t like? Apparently. Instead, look to what motivates them individually. For instance, the keep-to-himself architect may be a financial wizard, an avid writer on the history of western architecture or a fan of studying HR law. These are tools that you can take advantage of in your firm while giving that team member a greater feeling of significance.
3. Drop the leash. Envision the job from hell. I know it sounds funny (not to mention a simple thing to do), but picture your own idea of the worst employment scenario you can. I would be willing to bet that it involves someone standing over you, dictating every action and critiquing every impulse. Don’t be that guy.
A growing number of the greatest companies of our time are becoming so in part because they loosen restrictions on their team. For example, a legendary benefit of working at Google is their “20 percent time” program. Google will actually allow their employees up to 20 percent of their week to pursue special projects. This has resulted in an explosion of creativity, not to mention some of the most popular features Google has ever developed. It’s not because Google has the money to blow on touchy-feely ideas, but because they realize the importance of autonomy. It seems counter-intuitive that, by allowing your team to go willy-nilly and not stick to a predetermined workplan, you can actually boost productivity and offer a deep sense of autonomy. It’s happening more and more.
Take a look at what drives you at your job. If you have nothing to motivate you, quit wasting your time reading blogs and get a new job. Chances are though, when you have enough money to sustain yourself and your family, all you and your employees may be looking for is a greater sense of purpose.
I took four years of French in High School and, if stranded on the Champs-Élysées today, I wouldn’t be able to order dinner. It’s not that I’m incompetent (not entirely), I just don’t use the language everyday. Why? Because it’s not necessary in my environment and I can communicate easier by using a language that everyone around me understands. It’s the same reason that I cringe at catchphrases.
To make sure we’re “all on the same page”, a business catchphrase is a vogue expression, recreated into jargon. While it’s intended to make the speaker sound more “in the know”, it often ends up backfiring and disorienting the listener. In extreme cases, it makes the speaker sound like a tool. I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of phrases that have “run their course” and should be retired in an attempt to make office meetings clearer, business documents more intelligible, and colleagues better able to understand each other. Maybe one day, someone will publish a catchphrase rule book. Until then, we can only look to each other to safeguard our vernacular.
- “Right-sizing.” This is a media-friendly way of saying “we screwed up. It will cost some jobs, but not ours.”
- “It is what it is.” This often indicates that respondent isn’t happy, and the speaker doesn’t care. Everyone hates this one.
- “We’ll take this offline.” If you want to create a bad vibe, use this generic phrase during a conference call. If you have to exclude people from certain information, don’t be a jerk by being hip about it.
- “Step up to the plate.” This is a good one for squeezing that last bit of productivity out of an employee. Also great for obliterating one’s self-esteem, much like…
- “Think outside the box.” By saying this, you are confirming that every idea this person has developed throughout the tenure of their employment has been, quite simply, stupid.
- “Ownable.” This is not even a word. Seriously, look it up. This is often used in branding presentations and sales pitches as a replacement for “charging more for no good reason”.
- “Not so much.” Exactly.
- “Version x.0″. This phrase is inherently dorky, yet necessary to tech-related products like software and devices. However, using it unnecessarily to promote a person, business, etc. magnifies the dork factor exponentially.
There’s my short list. Any that you can think of?
Over the next few weeks, I plan to present the branding process in a way that’s not terribly boring and doesn’t use one catchphrase or chart. I’m sure that will be a relief to some. Instead, I’ll relate it to dating, something I was never able to take seriously or do very well. This should make these weeks a thrill for all of us.
First, could someone please explain to me why we will dress up in our finest clothes, wear our finest cologne, only to go out to clubs that are pitch dark, smell like an ashtray full of pee and are too loud to hear anything insightful come from any of the suitors that, try as they may, only seem to blow beer breath in your face? Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, but this just doesn’t seem to be an ideal mating ground. In fact, it reminds me a lot of how brands present themselves to consumers.
Think about how your brand makes its first impression. You get a sharp logo, a stack of the finest business cards and set off to a networking event, business conference, parking garage – whatever – to find your soul mate. Then, from across the room, you meet eyes and exchange furtive glances. You get anxious as you courageously cross the room to make that first move. After a handshake and an exchange of names, you deliver the most sterile and forgettable elevator speech that you could devise in the mere eight seconds you devoted to it while the person standing across from you was explaining what they do. Didn’t catch what that was? I’m not surprised.
“My company helps you achieve your business goals and grow your ROI. We think out of the box and deliver on time, on budget and would love to set up a time when we can go over our full portfolio.”
Even if your captive audience still has a pulse and is not expressly offended that you just wasted that much of their life, you should not expect a call from that ambiguous line of nothing. Ever. Unprepared and uncreative, the same as in a stinky, loud bar, you fade back into the crowd as if the encounter never happened.
How do we fix this? Simple. First, have your elevator speech ready before you go to the event. I mean days before. Develop, in less than 30 words, the “who, why, where, what, when” statement. Practice it endlessly; because, just like in picking up a date at the bar, the listener can tell when you’re just reciting lines. Once you have that ironed out and are reciting it in your sleep, you can then tuck it away in your mind until the moment you need it.
Let’s re-visit that encounter. Eyes meet, blah blah blah, and you deliver the line. Awesome, but they didn’t swoon or leap into your arms yet. What do you do now? If your elevator speech is effective, there’s not much more that you’ll need to say to paint the picture in their mind. Instead, you ask questions about them. Show a sincere interest in what they do and make sure that their memory of you is one of pure and genuine interest. Let them talk; ask open-ended questions to encourage them do so. After a few minutes, ask if you can give them a call the next day. Set up a lunch and continue to do the same. The opportunities to talk about you will naturally present themselves in relevant context, so don’t force it. Before you know it, you’re on your way to a beautiful relationship with a new client, or baby daddy, whichever you’re in the market for.
I love cars. Not just any cars, and not the insanely fast, newer cars that can knock your eyebrows to the back of your neck. I love muscle cars; the Challenger, the LeMans, the Chevelle. I’m often longingly watching these relics while I pass them on the highway, while I’m driving a brand new car. What sense does that make? I have far more conveniences and luxuries in my current car, and I would most certainly trust it more to get me back from a roadtrip.
The reasoning is not practical, and there’s something to learn from this regarding the strength of brand management. While the logical side of my mind tells me that I will have better gas mileage, fewer repairs, and a more comfortable ride in my newer car, it doesn’t outweigh the chance to capture a legacy – a piece of history – and the unexplainable attachment I have with these chariots of untamed fury . Granted, I wasn’t even around in the heyday of those sexy beasts, but it makes no difference. These masses of steel with dim dashboard lighting and the inability to make any type of turn above 45mph carry an unbreakable emotional bond with me.
Let’s translate that to your own experience. Is every purchase you make based solely on sound, rational judgment? Do you refuse yourself the things that you could certainly live without? The answer, 99% of the time, is probably “no”. The fact is that we buy with our hearts first, then justify it to our minds second. You don’t need the tabloid magazines, the candy bars, or the champagne (and whatever else you have) on New Year’s. But there’s no disputing it – you must have it. They are just cases of the emotional demand overruling logic.
How can you leverage this in your own brand? The idea is simple: have people develop an irrational love for what you have to offer. In many ways, you should consider branding to be a lot like trying to get a date; for instance, make every encounter an awesome one and, quite simply, look better than the alternative. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to offer specific approaches that you can focus on to deliver a brand that people can fall in love with, no matter what you’re offering.
Next week: the “Dark Smoky Bar Method.”
This morning, I went about my regular routine of stumbling out of bed, half-sleeping through my shower, and making my way downstairs. After pouring a bowl of cereal, I pulled from the drawer what appeared to be a spinach-stained spoon. My hunch was that this was not recommended for eating cereal. Disgusted, and optimistic that it would be the most off-putting part of my morning, I sit at the table, clean spoon in hand, ready to scarf down my breakfast before dashing out the door.
Then, in the midst of my Cheerio shoveling, I see a commercial on the TV in the living room that stops me cold…
I don’t know where to begin with this. Although the older woman has all the enthusiasm that one should for sourcing a superior (and, um, un-messy) catheter, I just don’t think she’s cut out for this line of work. And it’s unclear to me if they both need catheters, or just the younger gentleman with very little to say.
I’m convinced that the doctor is actually a licensed physician, because he sure as hell isn’t an actor. The stethoscope helps too, because what doctor in his right mind goes on camera – for a rehearsed commercial – without his stethoscope still wrapped around his neck?
There are some serious nuggets of wisdom from this commercial:
1. Stop using dirty catheters. Seriously, he raised his voice. Stop using dirty catheters!
2. Catheters are messy, and that’s bad.
3. A single, free catheter is obviously an effective incentive for building a mailing list.
4. Thanks to Medicare, we can now enjoy 6 catheters a day. I don’t know how Medicare came up with that number, but I’m sure it makes sense to someone.
And there you go. I could probably go on, but that might require a bit of explanation as to what a catheter does, and I don’t want to do that ever. So, happy weekend, everyone!
A number of recent situations have led me to think a bit more about fear when it comes to business. Depending on your role and where the fear comes from, I’ve noticed that it can be incredibly useful or incredibly damaging. Either way, it’s a very powerful thing.
I tend to work best when I’m excited about something, and the best thing to get me going is a challenge. I’m not sure why, and I sometimes wish it wasn’t the case, but the anticipation of doing something that has never been done energizes me with this fear that I’m toying with the unknown and could quite easily fail. Although I have written about how we should embrace failure as a learning tool, I do still try to avoid it.
I’ve noticed that most other entrepreneurs feel the same way. That type of fear fuels creativity, breaks monotony, and makes the job more exciting. So much more, in fact, that they search it out. New ideas mean new answers, which means business. The new problems that stem from this only fuel that pursuit.
While I just explained how fear can be a driver in business, I also need to stress how it can be a killer. If you’re not entrepreneurial and require security, fear sucks. It’s worse when it comes from within the company. When an employee finds out that their trusted employer is going through financial hardships, they’re not pumped. The only thing they’re inspired to do is look for a new job. Business owners need to understand this, since I’ve seen such a huge disconnect with owners thinking that their team will respond to fear the same way that they would.
The one thing that I can’t stand to see is when the owner tries to use it as a leadership tool. Personally, I find it to be a lack of creativity or compassion for their team. Perhaps it’s simply because they feel that it will inspire and motivate their crew, but once again, employees aren’t engaged that way. Employees have different motivators – stability, a sense of accomplishment, a promising future. Lead by fear and you lack to accomplish any of those.
With those points in mind, how do you see yourself? Are you currently an employee that gets excited about uncertainty? Are you a business leader that keeps white knuckles in the face of change?
First, a disclaimer: I understand the importance and difficulty of making cold calls to drum up business. This post is not an attack on telemarketers, as warranted as some may be. Instead, this is an attack on unscrupulous business practices in the hopes that better methods to attain prospects will be employed. Also, SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization, the practice of making websites highly visible on search engines.
Now, with that out of the way, this is a call I just got five minutes ago…
Caller: “Is this the owner of the business?”
Me: “Sure is. What can I do for you?”
Caller: “I’m with (insert company name) and we work to get companies like yours listed high on all of the major search engines. I’m sure you’re aware how important it is to be seen on the web, right?”
Me: “You know, it’s funny you mention that, since we’re a web design firm and provide the same service for our clients. By the way, I’m curious. Since we’re on the No-Call list, how did you get our company information?”
Caller: “Well, to be honest, we use a combination of strategies –”
Me: “Like the internet?”
Caller: “Pretty much…”
Me: “Ok, seems like our SEO is fine. Have a great day!”
Caller: (mumbles an expletive and hangs up).
I have to say I feel sorry for the guy – I’m sure it’s not his idea and he’s just trying to get by. I wish him the best, but can’t say the same for (insert company name). There are far more legitimate ways of prospecting and I hope that failing at this current approach leads this company to think of them.
On April 3, Apple’s mutant iPod hit the market. The sales of the iPad were so overwhelming that they simply ran out, delaying their European launch. Good for them. Apple has shown us once again that, regardless of the staggering global unemployment rate, you can still sell buttloads of stuff that no one needs.
But what lesson can we learn from this? Is it simply that people will buy just about anything? When you consider the success of Crocs and Snuggies, you may have a point. But what I’ve learned from this is that success in sales is far simpler than once thought. Truth be told, the iPad is not much of an invention. Tablet PCs have been in the market for years, as have PDAs. Before them were laptops, and before them were even bigger laptops. What Apple did was take an existing idea and make it better – the same thing they did with the iPod. They took something that was already widely popular and asked the simple question: what can we do to make it better?
Personally, I think the days of true invention died with the creation of the microwave and the disk drive, and ever since, we’ve been in an innovation age. This makes it far easier for people to develop newer and more exciting things, like automated toilets and paper towel dispensers.
What does this mean for you? Simple. Take a look at the technology in your environment; be it in your car, your kitchen, or your office. Give this technology a good look and ask yourself what could make it better. Developing a brand new idea can be intimidating, so use someone else’s. It’s not stealing, it’s innovation. And as Steve Jobs & Co. has shown, it can make you very successful.
On that note, I have a birthday coming up in July. And a 16gb iPad only goes for about $399. I’m just saying…