Sense-Check

Sense-Check

It’s an interesting phrase in English, “Let’s just sense-check that…” But what does it mean? Well it means to check out the data, the numbers, the facts to see if they add up and make logical sense. It’s a great manifestation of Mathematical-Logical Intelligence.

But I’m a Creative. I like to find new meanings – or even make new meanings.

You see (and hear and feel and taste and smell) we all use our senses to check out if something ‘makes sense’ to us. It’s more than just logic, it’s sensory. Empirical data judged through the senses.

This is a fundamental principle of my approach to Accelerating Learning. The more senses one layers to make a point, the faster that point gets across to the learner, and the more ‘sense’ it makes. Many traditional communicators rely on one-sense-only to make a point. If the audience doesn’t prefer that specific sensory channel, there can be a mis-match and a danger of communicating ‘non-sense’.

So, in Accelerating Learning, I encourage the trainers, teachers and communication professionals I work with to ‘GO VHF’ – to help every target group ‘tune into’ their broadcast.

In radio language, do you know what ‘VHF’ stands for?

‘VHF’ stands for ‘Very High Frequency’. You can have a ‘Very High Frequency’ of success in engaging your audience if you layer another VHF, the VHF of ‘Vision’, ‘Hearing’, and ‘Feeling’ (in the physical and emotional senses.) The ‘GO’ stands for ‘Gustatory’ (sense of taste) and ‘Olfactory’ (sense of smell). I have a few programmes that use scent and taste to make the learning point, but usually I layer just Vision, Hearing and Feeling. Those three strands, woven together, are not easily resisted!

What then if we were to reframe ‘Sense-Check’ to mean the physical senses? To sense-check our information, a client would literally check in with their senses to see/hear/feel if our message was congruent, consistent and convincing.

For marketing professionals or anyone with an important message, this then becomes a great strategy for influencing with integrity. You would answer three questions:

  • How can I present this message in a visually compelling way to my target group?
  • How can I enrich the sound component so that it is sonically alluring?
  • What can they touch and physically interact with to convince them of the quality of my offering?

Isn’t this why top brands choose known vocal talents to sell their product? Isn’t this why we have visual celebrity endorsements of products or services? Isn’t this why some stores have the invitation to ‘please touch’ on some soft furnishings?

If you want to pass the ‘Sense-Check’ – check out the ways your message makes sense!!!

The New Marketing Mix: P8 – Brand Alchemy

Brand-Alchemy-700-JPG

 

In times of increasing competition, Brand Alchemy is required.
Through Brand Alchemy you can create a brand that effectively had no competitors. This is because you create a unique experience that gives you a monopoly in the market place.
You can achieve this through one or a many of the 8x P factors on the map below.
• An unique product
• An unique price structure
• An unique place in the customer’s mind
• An unique promotional strategy
• An unique process that redefines the industry and thus is truly “cutting edge” innovation
• Location, location, location – a unique physical environment that becomes inextricably associated with your product or service
• Totally uncopyable people – something the franchise models have yet to understand
• And the driving force – an unique passion.

 

Brand AlchemyP1 = Product

Iconic companies like Apple have built their legend around bringing unique products to market. Of course, as soon as they are created, competitors try to emulate the products… and lawyers get rich.
If you choose the fast-track of creating an Intellectual Property Company, you’ll always be reinventing yourself, and you’ll be able to bring new innovative offerings to market far fastest than a commodity-based company. You’ll also accelerate to be leading so in front of the competition that they will never catch up.

 

P2 = Price

Pricing is the most dangerous branch of our P8 Brand Alchemic Strategy. So many people are tempted to compete on price.
But “Price” doesn’t necessitate you being the cheapest. In fact, being the most expensive (reassuringly so) can be a powerful strategy. Who really wants something cheap?
Don’t we say, “cheap and nasty”?
Of course, if you want to make a high price a key part of your strategy, you’ll need to add high perceived value, won’t you?

 

P3 = Place

“Place” here is psychological space. Where are you placed in the minds of your target customer groups?  Up-market?  Bargain Basement?  Posh?  Pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap?
Whilst I abhor the whole concept of Class or Caste, these dreadful concepts exist because of a flaw in human psychology. People want to feel like they belong. If they can feel like they belong to something amazing, even better.
Strive for associations that set you high in the minds of customers. “Exclusive” and “Elite” or “Professional” and “Deluxe” are all ‘place’ holders.  There are three twigs on this branch because you may want to layer your place levels – Affiliate, Associate, Approved for example.

 

P4 = Promotion

Here’s where the 21st Century offers brilliant new paths to promote to and reach your audience. There is a new democratisation of access to a World-wide audience.
What really excites me is the fact that creativity is the key factor now, not cost. Of course TV advertising is still expensive but anyone can access the World through YouTube or Vimeo or SlideShare.
Only your imagination can limit you.

Your unique offering can go viral at virtually no cost to you.

That’s truly revolutionary.

 

P5 = Process

Product, Price, Place and Promotion were the classical “Marketing Mix” of the 20th Century. As “Service” became more important and products less tangible, marketeers added three new Ps to the Marketing Mix:
• Process – how easy are you to do business with?
• Physical Environment – what does this say about you and your company?
• People – what’s the chemistry like.
Dan Sullivan and other Entrepreneurial Gurus have now taken this further. They emphasise the importance of creating an unique process that no one else has. This moves you beyond competition (until your process is duplicated!)
So, what could your unique processes be.
This also includes the process of what you are like to do business with. How seamless are your front-stage and back-stage offferings? (Check out Dan Sullivan’s “How the Best Get Better” and the classic, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
More than this, I’ve only met one proactive organisation in my experience – Dan Sullivan’s.
So how could you proactively woo, pursue and win the hearts and minds of your customers with a consistent process?  (And by “procactive” I don’t mean “pushy sales” – Dan’s organisation have continued to bless me with inputs that I value at little or no cost to me.  That’s truly tuning into Wii.fm isn’t it?

 

P6 = Physical Environment

The Real Estate (USA) and Estate Agents (UK) and Marketeers have been chanting the same mantra for years: “Location, Location, Location.”
The Physical (and Virtual) Environment in which you conduct business really counts.
People are multi-sensory beings. What they see, hear, feel, touch, smell and taste really makes a difference.
What quality of coffee do you serve?
What does you Website ‘say’ about you?
Where do you meet clients when you are out of the office?

Your location should reflect your vocation.

Are you an inspirational speaker?  If so, the locations where you meet clients and prospective clients should be inspirational.

 

P7 = People

All the Ps are important but this one is an easy winner. If you choose the right people, they CANNOT be in two places at once. As far as I know, we still cannot clone them, so you will have a monopoly on the exprience your customers have with your organisation by attracting and retaining the right power team.
Of course, it only take one idiot to spoil it for the brand, so don’t be a cheapskate when it comes to hiring the finest people who reflect the ‘place’ you want to stake your claim to in the client’s perception.

How many restaurants do you go to where unmotivated casual staff are Frontstage?  Folks, this is unforgiveable madness.  Put your most experienced, motivated, talented ‘troops’ on the frontline.

 

P8 = Passion – beyond a ‘Job’ or ‘role’

I’ve added ‘Passion’ here because it is missing from both the first and second generation Marketing Mixes (P4 and P7 respectively).
Anthony Robbins has really branded into the World’s consciousness the importance of living with passion, which is why I find it fascinating that so few organisations achieve this.
Wherever I go in the World, I proactively seek out service givers who live with passion. One would think this would be the dominant model in the USA but I have not found it to be so.
I find passion in the most remarkable of places. (For example, Poets Corner Cafe in Sturminster Newton, Dorset, UK.) Passion is no respecter of persons – ANYONE can be passionate about ANY role.
Any job can move into the sacred realm of becoming a Vocation.
Don’t expect everyone to like it though! If you manifest your passion, you will frighten those who have settled for mediocrity – for lives of quiet desperation.
Good news though: there are 7 Billion people on the Planet which means that there are enough good ones to go around!

And for those who would say, “Lex, ‘Passion’ is a sub-set of ‘People’,” I’d agree provided it is given equal attention as the other Ps.  Since this is rarely the case, I think it is worth it’s own branch.

There’s another reason too: the power of stories.  Passionate brands (‘Love Brands’ as I have posted previously) have a story that their ideal clients can associate with.  Whether you’re an Olives et Al or a Chococo, an Innocent or an Apple, having brand values and a story, a mission and a vision drives the passion… just Google it!

Afterthought: the Power of Compounding

Whilst excellence in any single P-strand can keep you beyond competition, we can only begin to imagine the cumulative impact of weaving multiple strands together.  My favourite Proverb says,

9Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 11Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? 12And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. [Ecclesiastes Chapter 4, verses 9-12.]

Clearly the reference here is to people, but I believe it is equally true for the Ps.  Two strategies will be better than one, where one can lift up the other if it falls.  Two produce more ‘heat’ in the Market… but three can withstand more threats than even two – forming a cord that is not easily broken.

In my workshops I demonstrate this with strands of sewing cotton.  Two people in the workshop will be asked to pull on the three strands, which, not surprisingly, snap under the (market) pressure.  Then they try the same exercise with three strands platted together.  It is not quickly broken.  This is an important additional point – the strands must be woven together as part of a coherent strategy.

 

The Power of Speech: Your Slogan of Destiny

JPG-Slogan-Blogpost

What Is Your Slogan?

Until we truly can talk to the animals and understand their languages, we assume that we are the only species on Earth that can articulate their ideas and consciousness in speech.

This is our power.

This is our pitfall.

Why? Because our power of speech programmes us – and does this from the earliest ages. If you want to know what your family slogans are, just listen to your children as they begin to learn to talk. You’ll hear them using your phrases!

Bang your finger with a hammer and you’ll find what words are at the top of your brain’s search engine!!!

Mohammed Ali believed in affirmations – that what he repeated often enough would come to be believed by others as well as himself. Whether he was right or wrong, he’s not alone in that belief. The Good Book is full of commentary on the power of speech.

“Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.”

So if you could choose life – choose a slogan for you that empowered you – what would it be? When you need to speak to the mountains of resistance in your life, what would your power-phrase be?

Brands know the power of this – hence brand slogans like,

“Just Do It!”

Propaganda knows the power of this –

“Keep Calm, and Carry On!”

If our subconscious mind is truly programmed by the words we speak out, let us choose those words carefully. Here are some really good slogans:
• All things work together for my good
• I can find positive meaning in everything and anything
• With a strong hand (My family Clan motto)
• My body is my temple
• Carpe Diem (Seize the Day or Seize the Moment)

“Carpe Diem” is a favourite as it comes from the idea of plucking. It could literally be translated as “pluck the day” – because the day is ripe. Well friends, for good or for bad, the day is ripe for plucking!

[btw, Latin phrases are invested with more power in our imaginations for some bizarre reason. In the scarey movies, the baddies chant in Latin, but so do the heroes too. See if you can find a Latin phrase that works for you. Check out your Clan or Family Motto – that’ll be in Latin. Speak it like a spell (a good one in a Narnia kind of way!)]

Let me conclude with this: you can change your personal history and destiny by changing your slogan. Try on a new slogan until it fits. This can be like a pair of shoes that are too gorgeous to resist. You buy them even though they don’t quite fit. You know that they are more likely to wear you in than you to wear them in… but somehow it works.

Sometimes we need to grow into a slogan – so pick (or pluck) a good one!

High Time for Apple to Evolve

With the demise of the old-style Mac Pro, Apple reaches a technological ‘T’ Junction and a potential parting with some of its important fan-base.  To the left (i.e. those of us left behind) may have to turn the hundreds of thousands of professional audio, video, and graphic artistes who have bought into expensive dedicated processing cards.  These won’t work with the new architecture – not without expensive breakout boxes.  Heaven forbid, we may have to go back to basics… to the PC.  At least PCs have slots.

To the right is the Steve Jobs paradigm: I’m right, you’ll catch up someday.  And you know what?  He was right.  His paradigm of the rugged indiviualist, the innovative entrepreneur was right… for the 20th Century.  It’s 180 degrees facing in the wrong direction for the 21st Century.  In the Wiki-Worlds, it is www: wrong, wrong, wrong.

The way of the 21st Century is collaboration.  The dinosaurs that don’t get that deserve to go extinct.  Evolve and involve people!  In a world of connected-customers, the way of the dictator cannot stand… even if the dictator is benevolent (which I’m not sure Jobs was!)

Before I go any further, let me state in unambiguous black print on a white page: I love my Apple kit.  I love it’s beauty.  I love its functionality.  I love its easy of use (most of the time).  It’s Apple, the culture, that has life-threatening problem.  The 21st Century is the time for symbiosis – win-win on equal terms with the partners who are its customers.

Living Organisations or Zombie Companies?

A Living Organisation – one that will survive and thrive in the 21st Century – will be one for whom all the seven aspects of life are true.  Two of these are showing warning signs on the Intensive Care monitors for Apple:

  • Respiration
  • Sensitivity

Respiration

Respiration is the give-and-take that all living organisms have within their environment.  They take what they need to live on, but they also give out.  There is a balance of Nature.  For an organisation, this means way more than doing something noble for charity.  It means a living and breathing relationship with their customers and suppliers.  I don’t experience that with Apple, nor with the other “Usual Suspects” that I will mention below.

Sensitivity

Sensitivity does what it says on the label: it senses.  It keeps track of the internal environment and it makes sense of the external environment that it depends upon for life.  Without it, the organisation becomes a zombie.  It is ‘animated’ as if it is alive, but it is just going through the motions.   The spotlight was turned on Amazon recently in the UK – with a television documentary showing just how ‘sensitive’ the mighty Amazon are to their staff.  Staff are customers too in my book.

Adobe and Mindjet

Two of the companies I depend upon for my creative tools have recently gone down the ‘subscription’ route.  With marketing spin on this, this is positioned as good for the customer.  Yeah, right.  It’s great for rich customers, but not for those of us who have saved hard to get access to this technology.  For those of us whose cashflow is uncertain, this marks another T Junction.  You stop paying your subscription?  Find out what happens next.

I love marketing but I hate some many marketing smart-arses.  Listen up people: Win-Win or no deal.  And now: Win-Win, or WIN-WIN, but not WIN-win.

So what’s the difference between Adobe and Mindjet?  Mindjet are sensitive to their environment.  They changed the model to suit their customers – from all payscales.  They restored the option to buy the upgrade.  Top marks.  Mindjet’s Alive!

Amazon proudly told me they were the World’s most customer-centric organisation.  I was really excited by this.  I wanted to know more.  Couldn’t reach anybody.  Didn’t get any response.  Knocked – nobody answered.  Guess I was the ‘wrong’ type of customer.  I applaud the dream Amazon – now talk to your customers and listen to your staff.

Zombie companies like Adobe, Akai, Amazon, Apple, Avid, and, to break up the ‘A’ list, Yamaha who forget their customers have a past dedicated to their products, deserve to cease to get our support.  There is a value on customer loyalty – it should lead to mutual respect and benefit.  Get a load of the ongoing success of the John Lewis Partnership.  John Lewis has it stayed vibrant, vital, and vivacious – by choosing the symbiotic route of partnership.  It’s worked for a long time and will continue to do so.

I want Apple, Avid, and maybe even Amazon to succeed – but only if they return to their senses.

[Ed – btw, when I typed “zombie” into my tag field, “Eurozone” came up – is there a message there?]

Sermon: How Much is Your Self Worth?

How Much is Your Self Worth?  Yes, it’s time for the Sunday Sermon for the non-religious!

Today’s lesson will begin in Matthew, chapter 20.  [Text from New International Version (NIV) via biblegateway.com]

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Author’s Intended Meaning vs this Sermon

Clearly this is a parable about the generosity of God and the repeating motif of the fact that the last will be first, and the first will be last. If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you’ll realise that my sermons are not for those with a particular faith but rather are a channel for learning life’s principles. Living Coaching is what I have in mind!
There’s only one verse I want to focus on today:

“Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?” (v13)

That’s a pretty powerful summary of most people’s lives: they’ve agreed to work for whatever their particular ‘denarius’ is.
We live in a Universe that has riches in abundance. We live on the most abundant, resource-rich, and perfectly-suited planet. Nature is generous. Real Wealth never disappears; it just changes hands and form. Humans have even created new genuine wealth – more of it. So let’s get one hurdle out of the way:

there are plenty of denarii to go round!

That leads us to the big question: what is your self worth?

Obviously I’m enjoying the play on words here. I’m asking what your talents are worth in the market, but I was also alluding to the fact that the value you put on your talents is often indicative of your self-worth – the value you put on yourself.
When life gives us a bit of a bashing, it’s easy to begin to devalue your life-currencies: your time, your fees, your ideas, and your attitude. It is, however, the greatest foolishness to let circumstances or even the market define your worth. Consider how many artists (Vincent van Gogh instantly comes to mind) were not valued in their time – but whose works are now worth millions. You might say to me that this is the opposite of the point I am making. You might say that the market is now saying how much they are worth. And you would be right.

stone_table 3

Deeper Magic Before the Dawn of Time

I, however, am talking about the “Deeper Magic before the Dawn of Time”. What do I mean? I mean there is a ‘worth’ that goes far deeper than the magic of market forces. This deeper magic is far more influential on the final outcome. The fact is that:

Vincent van Gogh’s pieces of art were always worth millions – if we value their true worth.

In the current world paradigm, where the art appears on the time-line is defining its worth. That’s the magic of marketing. The market is defining the price. My point is that YOU are more than the time-line you are on. Vincent van Gogh is worth more than his pictures. The artist (i.e. you) are worth more than your art. This is the deeper magic.

In the New Paradigm, the Artist sets the value.

This is what the workers in the vineyard did at the beginning of the day. They agreed to work for a denarius. Later, by comparing themselves with others, they became dissatisfied. Assuming a ten hour day, and taking into account that the last workers got a denarius too for just an hour’s easy work, even the market was valuing them at an hourly rate equivalent to 10 denarii-a-day – ten times their own estimation.
So, if you charge by the hour, how much do you charge? (If you are an employee you can easily work out your hourly rate too. It may even be explicit in your contract.)
Now times that by ten.
That’s a good start.

Delivering Value

I can hear rebellion in the ranks! The thought arises: “No one is ever going to pay me that rate!” You’re right. If I can paraphrase Henry Ford,

“Whether you think you are worth it or not, you’re probably right.”

But…
True wealth comes from true value. Value begins at home. You’ve got to value yourself – otherwise you’ll end up bitter and twisted like the first workers in the vineyard. Notice that by under-valuing themselves they actually became envious of the others because of the Vineyard Owner’s generosity.

Undervaluing yourself does no one any favours.

You and I need a New Paradigm of just how much we are truly worth. Then we need to play to that value. We need to deliver outstanding value.

The Heart of the Agreement

The Vineyard Owner said, “Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?”
Here’s a glimpse of your future:

Don’t agree to work for a denarius. State what you’re worth.

You can pull a “Mr Scott” if that helps. You could say, “I agree to work for ten denarii, but I know you won’t pay that so you’ll give me ____ at this point in time…” They may look at you strangley but the valuable point has been made. Mr Scott was famous for his estimates on repairs. If the Starship Enterprise needed fixing, he’d say it would take so long, then agree that the crew didn’t have that long, so he’d do it in ____ – and you can fill in the gap depending on the episode.
The point is, he delivered the value regardless of the timeframe. He valued his work highly and he was highly valued for it. The timeframe didn’t define the value. Mr Scott’s uniqueness did.

You are unique

You should be internally referenced and externally calibrated.

This means that you alone decide upon your true wealth and value (internally referenced) but you also remain sensitive to where you are on the timeline and what the market environment is like (externally calibrated). The external does not define your true wealth. Work for what you can work for but always deliver based upon your internal reference of what you’re worth. You’ll play a higher level game. You can play from a 2 or you can play from a King (or an Ace when Aces are high). Your choice will be driven the internal reference of your true value.

Wealth begins within.

I had “Rule 5000” stuck to the top of my computer monitors years ago. That was the value I’d put on my day-rate, and that’s what I sought to deliver. It worked for me. The ‘rule’ has changed but the commitment to deliver, and to do whatever it takes to deliver, remains.
Here’s the warning: if you undervalue yourself you will make negative comparisons between your rates and other people’s. You will grumble and become envious. Flipping that over, if you are grumbling and envious because you are comparing yourself against others (if, and only if, they deliver similar or less value than you but get more for it), you can bet your bottom-line that you have seriously undervalued your worth.

So I ask you again, what will the internal sum be that you agree to work for?

What’s your self worth?

Get it right and the last shall be first.

Amen.

The Ambassador

The Ambassador

And the Embassy that Celebrated Customers

I love to write. I love people. I love ideas… but more on these three strands in a minute.

The Customer Evangelists: St Jan and St Darren

Jan Walsh (BT) and Darren Cornish (E.ON) are two senior executives whom I have found to describe themselves as “Customer Evangelists”.  I think this is a great way to send a message about how important the customer is to an organisation.  Vast sums are invested nowadays on Social Media and PR to promote the ‘goodness’ of the organisation to the customers we want to keep and to the ones we want to ‘convert’.  In fact ‘evangelist’ comes from ‘evangel’ – which means ‘good news’.  St Jan and St Darren have good news for their customers – their organisations care and have good news to share.

From Evangelists to Ambassadors

A more frequent description is of our colleagues as ‘Ambassadors’ for the brand.  This sounds magnificent – even ‘Stately’, and adds great dignity to the rôles of Customer-facing staff.  (N.B. I think we are all ambassadors, regardless of whether or not our rôle is internally or externally facing.  We all represent the brand and we want the internal ‘customer’ to be proud of it too. There must be utter congruence throughout the inside and outside of the company – a congruent continuum!)

The idea of the Ambassador inspired me, early this Sunday morning.  You cannot have an Ambassador without an Embassy!  And what is an ‘Embassy’?  An Embassy is a permanent diplomatic mission, but to whom?  I believe each organisation has an important diplomatic mission to the nations of customers!

Through PR and some Social Media, most of this mission is outgoing, like evangelism, but many organisations are missing an absolute goldmine of opportunity.

The Customers who want to give

When we open our eyes, ears, and hearts, we find that there are a lot of customers who want to give freely back to the organisation.  People are naturally creative.  The output of this natural creativity is ideas.  People also love to share.  It gives a giver great pleasure to share a gift that is well received.  Ideas need to go somewhere!

Thus we come to the flow of ideas that often pour into organisations.  Eventually, most of these ideas are responded to – usually as a secondary part of someone’s role – and usually it takes far too long.  Too often, in my experience, there is no response!  I believe this is a grave mistake.

The Embassy that Celebrated Customers!

This is where the Ambassador’s role comes to the fore.  I would laud and applaud any organisation that set up an Embassy to the United Nations of Customers – an Embassy whose main diplomatic mission was to respond to those customers.  It would be “The Embassy that Celebrated Customers!”

The rôle would be straight-forward and the impact would be enormous.

The Ambassador would have an appropriately senior position, and their mission would be to respond rapidly and personally to each and every customer idea.  (I’m not talking about ‘Customer Services’ dealing with complaints – that’s another valuable opportunity for another blog.  This one is purely about positive ideas and contributions given freely to the organisation.)

Every idea and contribution (e.g. photographs) would be acknowledge and responded to – and understanding of the ideas reflected back accurately – not just with a generic idea or form letter.  If I was the Ambassador, my responses would be sent in a personalised greetings card, and signed.  Why would I take such trouble?  I would make such an effort because the customer has made a pilgrimage.  It takes a lot of energy for a customer to have an idea, articulate that idea, and then send that idea in.  That’s a lot of effort.  It’s a personal effort that deserves, even ‘demands’ a personal response.  Good organisations go the extra mile – so I think anything that shows ‘the personal touch’ is a great way to match and then exceed customers’ expectations.  This builds brand loyalty and personal commitment far more powerfully than Facebook competitions!

I’m sure you can see how this is easily a full-time rôle, even for a small organisation.  How would it pay for itself?  Clearly, not all customers’ ideas are practical or actionable, but their loyalty is worth its weight in gold.  For those ideas that are practical, an opportunity arises for the organisation to improve its performance and its credibility.  By nurturing such customers, an organisation can even create devotion – becoming a ‘Love Brand’.  I promise you that the vast majority of customers do not require any more reward for their contributions than the recognition of acting on their idea or publishing their photograph (and thus publically acknowledging it).  I personally see no loss in also thanking the customer with products or services as a token of appreciation.  This is low cost to the organisation, and high value to the customer.

The alternative is quite sad.  I love to share.  I have shared hundreds of ideas with organisations – free of any strings attached or hidden agendas – over the years.  Many of those organisations haven’t even bothered to respond.  The logical result is that I’ve stopped the flow of ideas to that organisation, and, wherever possible, shopped elsewhere!  These very same organisations continue to send me emails and newsletters and catalogues, saying how wonderful they are, and how focused they are on customer satisfaction.  Yeah, right…  Which customer?  Clearly not me!

The rôle of the ‘Ambassador to the Customers’ is a central rôle for PR.  After all, isn’t PR all about ‘Public Relations’?  The Ambassador’s rôle is to meet and connect.  This is why I said at the start of this blog that I love to write, I love people, I love ideas.  These are the Ambassador’s core skills.  An Ambassador must be articulate in their response to each and every message from customers.  They must love people, otherwise another message will leak through their prose.  Also, the Ambassador must be a Creative – someone who can take an idea and really work it until it is proven valuable or becomes a stepping stone to a better idea.

An Ambassador is a Diplomat – and thus must be diplomatic!

Diplomatic Tennis

An Ambassador must also play diplomatic tennis.  By this I mean that a good game of tennis involves rallies – a back and forth – just as does a great conversation that builds rapport.  I can say, hand on heart, that even the organisations that have responded to me in the past, have cut the rally off with their response.  The door was not left open for partnership in developing the idea.  Again, I can only authoritatively speak for myself, but I would have happily developed most of my ideas for free – just for the satisfaction of being creative and being acknowledged.  (To the cynics who might be thinking, “I bet his ideas are rubbish then!” I would say that some of the organisations I have shared with have used those ideas without acknowledgement – at least proving the worth of the ideas.)

The rôle of the Ambassador would therefore include promoting a rally – a back and forth of exchanges to engage our brilliant customers into partnership with the organisation.  This builds rapport.  Outstanding customers could then be given a visa to join us!

Of course, this is what many organisations are trying to promote with Social Media – and I see Social Media as an important set of diplomatic channels for the Ambassador.  My chief point today, however, is to harness the ideas and contributions that come from customers and are freely volunteered.  The customers that share these ideas, if treated with respect, become ambassadors themselves – absolutely the best (and most economically sustainable) form of PR any organisation could wish for.

The bottom line is that many of your customers know your business better than you do, and they certainly know their own minds better than you do.  We must listen, and respond rapidly, and become the Embassy that Celebrated Customers, if we are to harness this power for good.

Signed

Lex

An Ambassador in search of a new Diplomatic Posting!

Afterthought

If you drive a company vehicle that broadcasts the brand, don’t drive the company van like a devil!

It’s Not Failure, It’s Farming

Waiting to be Milked (Watercolour)

Waiting to be Milked (Watercolour)

Last Sunday (9th June, 2013) was “Farm Sunday”.  Farm Sunday is a National initiative where a selection of farms open wide their gates, arms, and hearts to the public so that we can better understand what keeps Britain Great.  We chose “Down Barn Farm” at Tarrant Rawston, Dorset.

Now, whilst I am always excited by farms, Garden Centres, and National Trust Gardens – this Farm really captured my imagination and fired my passion.  I’d grown up with a fashion for specialised farms.  One farm would host a dairy herd, another farm would be beef cattle, there’d be a pig farm, and, of course, lots of arable farms.  Not so “Down Barn Farm” – this farm was dairy and beef and arable… and successful!

I’ve been revisiting that most wonderful of BBC series, “The Good Life” – where Tom and Barbara Good throw off their dependency on the world and pursue self-sufficiency in suburbia.  They too had to have the whole farming mix: Geraldine – the Goat, Pinky and Perky – the Pigs, the gardens and allotments full of veg, Lenin – the Cockerel, and, of course, his harem of chickens.   Effluent from the animals was even used to fuel the generator.  What I really liked about both “Down Barn Farm” and the fictional “The Good Life” was that the reality came shining through.  Yes, this is a form of near autonomy, and equally ‘yes’ – it is very tough work… but it’s worth it.

The Strange Attraction of a Tractor never fails

The Strange Attraction of a Tractor never fails

“It’s not failure, it’s farming…”

So why my title?  Well, here’s the heart of how “Down Barn Farm” and “The Good Life” inspired me.  I’m in my 50s now.  My work as a trainer has disappeared over-night.  It feels like ‘failure’ and, more to the point, I feel like a ‘failure’.   This is entirely my fault.  Why?  I relied on third parties to get sufficient work in – and now they say the work is only for a select few – not old Lexiboy.  As for me, I haven’t been sowing my seed for future business.  Only a foolish farmer would look at his or her fields day after day and complain when their crop isn’t coming up, if they hadn’t planted their seed!

But my “problem” is deeper than this.  The market has changed.  It may be that there will never be enough training work again to sustain my life.  With this in mind, I have been seeking ‘proper’ employment, going back to ‘Sir’ and asking for a job.  Well, as the excellent band, “After the Fire” said in one of my favourite songs, “Who’s gonna want you when you’re old, and fat, and ugly?”  In my 50s it looks as if it is “Game Over” for a sensible job with a sensible salary.  The cult of the young and the new is worshiped at every employment agency and by their devoted employing followers.  You and I know how foolish this is, but it is the state of the environment in which we live, and move, and have our being.

Is this the end?  No.  I am inspired again.  If the employment market doesn’t want me, they won’t have me!  But I will need to go back to a more balanced model of farming.  I will need to continue to present training programmes, but I will need also to take my programmes on-line, and onto podcasts, and vodcasts.  I will need to generate an income from my photography, but also from my video work.  I need to make greetings cards and prints and T-Shirts.  I will need to farm my imagination as a writer, but also offer my services as a ghost-writer.  I will need to publish and promote others who are younger.  I will need to have that market stall with food and flowers, plants and prints, Teas and T-Shirts.  And I’m happy about this.  It’ll probably be harder work than ever before, and that in itself is motivating.

Come to the Standard, and Rally Round the Banner

So, you post 50 year olds whom the world doesn’t want – rally round the banner of “Down Barn Farm” style farming.  The posh writers call it “portfolio careers” but I prefer “Farming”!  You’ve got plenty of seed, get sowing, and don’t rely on one source of income from now on.  This is old wisdom from Ecclesiastes and from “The Merchant of Venice” – but sometimes we forget, don’t we?  “Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for you know not what evil shall be on the earth…” (Ecc 11:1-2)

Remember Margo and Jerry

Tom and Barbara, in “The Good Life”, actually got a bit arrogant about self-sufficiency.  The reality is that they couldn’t have achieved their dream without the constant support of their neighbours and friends, Margo and Jerry.  “Love thy Neighbour”!!!  Family far away is one matter, a neighbour who is near is better.  Once you begin to move in a spirit of boldness again (rather than fear), you will be pleasantly delighted by the level of support you will get from the most unusual sources.  Say “Yes” to help, don’t try to do this alone.  Farmers know they are part of a living system – not an island all alone.  I say it again, accept help.  When your harvest comes in, you can give them a lettuce!

And Action!

If you had seven or eight ventures, what would they be?  How could you make a step forward in each one – perhaps focusing on one per day for the next week (didn’t you know, farmers work all week?  Some work an eight day week!)  And if you are younger than 50, wake-up, your time is coming, and ‘they’ won’t want you either – so prepare; don’t be stupid like I have been.

As for me?  Now I need to go and dust off my ‘Combine Harvester’ of a Recording Studio that’s been sitting idle for months!  Harvest is coming, and I need to reap 30, 60, and 100 fold all those ‘free’ seeds that I’ve sown over the years!