Marketing

Better Communication with Dirty Rhetoric

Do you write? Present? Communicate with other humans? Need to persuade or share a compelling idea? (hint: the answer is “yes”). Read on.

It’s been said, “When Cicero spoke, people marveled. When Caesar spoke, people marched.” That’s how I want to write and present. I don’t want people to like my ideas, I want my ideas to inspire people.

If only… writing and speaking, communicating and persuading, are not easy. The difference between good and great, between marveling at a speech and marching because of it, is often subtle. Learning those nuances has been a bludgeoning task of trial and error for me. Hard knocks and underwhelming responses and I still have a long way to go.

So, I was stupidly, geekily excited to receive a set of Dirty Rhetoric cards in the mail. Yep, that’s actually the name and, no, it doesn’t come from an “adult” themed store. Rather, Peter Watts Paskale (@speak2all), a communications coach and analyst, and Gavin McMahon (@powerfulpoint), a communication and presentation consultant, created a card deck to quickly and easily teach the fundamentals of persuasive communication.

The cards are color coded into four categories – persuasion, scaling, description, and memory – and  each card describes one technique (53 in all). Along with the technique’s name in English and Latin, there are icons showing whether the technique connects to Ethos (belief/ideals/credibility), Logos (consistency/logic), or Pathos (emotions/imagination). Plus, each card has a rating system indicating the difficulty of the technique, a simple description, and two examples. Woof, that’s a lot of info on a card only slightly bigger than an average smart phone.

The instructions include six “games” to help incorporate the techniques into your messaging. For example, Aristotle’s Dilemma has you draw four cards from the color category matching the purpose of your speech (persuasion, description, etc.) and then find ways to incorporate those techniques into your draft. Writer’s Block focuses on learning the techniques and asks you to write a sentence or two, shuffle the cards, draw one from the deck, and apply that card’s technique to your writing. There are also games for four to six plus players.

Today is the first chance I’ve had to really open and look at the deck and I can hardly wait to really dig in. I love the premise of Dirty Rhetoric – a simple, practical way of learning and applying effective persuasive techniques to my writing and speaking.

Peter and Gavin were kind enough to send me a pre-production set for review. If you want to learn more or get your own set, check out the Dirty Rhetoric webpage, follow the #dirtyrhetoric hashtag on social media, or participate in the kickstarter campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/99144298/dirty-rhetoric .

An Open Email to HR Vendors

There are some great HR vendors out there in the world. And then there are the others. I am generally happy to talk to most vendors because I want to know what solutions are available. I want to know about changing technology and where my organization is falling behind or could leap ahead. I want to see where I could be doing better.

That said, I’ve also developed a low tolerance for vendors with bad salespeople. I received an email last week that just put my teeth on edge. Rather than deleting it immediately, I found myself brooding on it and finally wrote a response. But rather than chastise one misguided salesperson, I thought it better to turn it into an open message to all HR vendors. Who knows, maybe it will help someone with their sales approach. If any of us get just one less email or phone call like this one, I know the effort was worth it (ok, that’s a bit melodramatic, but you get the idea). I have not changed the original sales email other than striking out identifying information. My open response follows.

Hi Broc,

My name is XXXX XXXXXX and I am a Strategic Accounts Manager at XXXXXX. We met at the XXXXXX SHRM Conference in XXXXXX a couple weeks ago and talked briefly about your background screening program. I’m reaching out to see if you’re still interested in XXXXXX ‘s services. We are currently the #1 ranked employee screening company and have the industry leading client services team.

If you’re available for a call this week or next I would be happy to discuss your current program to see if you would be a good fit for XXXXXX’s Screening Platform.

I look forward to speaking with you!

XXXX

Hi XXXX,

I’m not sure what to say other than, I’m pretty sure we didn’t discuss my background screening program and I never expressed interest in your company or service so I find your approach misguided at best and dishonest at worst.

Also, I’m not at all interested in finding out if I’d be a good fit for your product. When I look to vendors, I look for solutions to problems I’m responsible for solving, not trying to join an exclusive club. The question is not whether I am a good fit for your product; the question is whether your product can solve my problems. The implicit arrogance in this approach makes me fear your company’s customer service would be horrific – I want to work with companies who want to help me, not ones wanting me to hope I’m good enough.

I share this because I suspect you’re merely using the tactics your company insists on. I am seeing more and more vendors using both of these approaches and am completely baffled by them. Perhaps they work for some people, but it makes me never, ever, ever want to do business with your company (or any other company using these approaches).

My response would have been completely different if you’d simply said, “I see from the attendance list you and I were both at the same conference. I work for a company with a very good background check service and would love to set up 15 minutes to explore how we might be able to help you do faster and more accurate background checks.”

Cheers,

Broc

What thinks you?

can I get a little hate?

I’m fascinated by branding. Not the marking-cows-so-the-don’t-get-rustled kind. The kind of branding that’s about identity and messaging and clear authenticity. How clear? If No One Hates You, No One is Paying Attention. That statement is the title of a great piece by Alf Rehn (@alfrehn), and gets at the heart of branding. Alf reminds us that trying to be all things to all people doesn’t work, despite the legions of businesses that attempt it. It makes sense to know and declare who you are as a business and what you stand for. But the ugly, unmentioned downside is that in doing so you are also declaring who you aren’t and who you stand against.

So truly strong branding is only telling people “Our products are for you. You will like them. You will like what being associated with them says about you. You should buy them.” But it’s also taking that stand to say “Our products are not for you. You won’t like them. You won’t like what being associated with them says about you. You shouldn’t buy them.”

As an example Alf mentions the Cadillac “Poolside” ad. I hadn’t seen it, but it apparently launched in the spring to much criticism. Take a look:

Critics said it missed the mark, because it was obnoxious, reinforced negative stereotypes about Americans, and didn’t appeal to most buyers. Which was the point. They took a bold stand in defining who their target customers were and who they weren’t. It also got people talking and passionately arguing about Cadillac and what the ad represented. And it presented their electric cars a cool status symbol for people who would typically abhor electric cars as being for “tree hugging ecomentalists”.

Ford took advantage of the Cadillac’s self-induced negative press to parody it with an ad targeting a completely different group of buyers. Think young urban activist vs middle aged Wall Streeter. It’s a brilliant parody, nailing scene after scene and positioning buying the Ford as almost an act of protest against everything the Cadillac buyer stands for. It’s a pretty good jab, but not quite as much of a statement simply because the Ford has a bigger target market and the ad doesn’t have the same level of potential for starting internet flame wars.  See it here:

Not as bold as it seems

These ads actually highlight how low the bar for a definitive brand is set. That the ads appear buzzworthy is incredibly telling. This isn’t edgy – it’s actually very safe because it’s just acknowledging and reinforcing their long established brand images. The people who liked it were already on board and those who got irritated never going to be customers anyway. All the marketers have done is acknowledge and play off of what was already there.

Middle-age folks with some bucks treating themselves with a luxury car because “they’ve earned it”? Not quite a shocker. Twenty-somethings buying a small economy car? Well, few among that market could afford the luxury brand even if they did want it. Safe. Safe. Amusing. But safe.

Why are we so concerned with clearly defining our brands? Why are we so worried we might offend a potential customer when those who might be put off by the brand were never going to buy from us anyway? Why do we so rarely define both our target market and our anti-market? Our brand and our anti-brand? (A fun question for my HR friends: What’s the brand and anti-brand for your HR department? If you can’t answer that you might want to start asking around because it exists whether you’ve defined it or not.)

Bolder branding?

You know how difficult it is to shake the reputation you establish in the first few weeks on a job? Branding is the same. The brand image can boost or haunt you for years to come. So one of the biggest challenges is changing a brand by creating a new and different identity. The risk is that you’ll offend and lose the existing demographic while not convincing anyone of the new brand. Some retailers, such as JcPenney have been giving a master class in how not to change your brand for the past couple of years.

We started off with cars, so let’s continue there. Jaguar has been one of the most interesting rebrands to watch. They had a huge sporting heritage in the 1960s and then slowly morphed into an old man’s brand for people who liked luxury cars that tended to leak oil and break down on the way to the country club. Unfair? Tough. That’s the unfortunate power of branding. Your brand is not what you want it to be, it’s the identity and image stuck in the customer’s mind. And that can be tough to overcome.

A couple of years back they attempted to change their image with ads like this:


That’s a pretty swift kick to the crotch of the traditional buyers. Then, more recently they switched to the Good To Be Bad campaign with ads like this:

Are they good cars? Don’t know. But the branding has taken a bold, fun, tongue-in-cheek stance with a middle finger (or two fingers upraised) to the stodgy past. These are not cars for everyone. More importantly, judging by the styling and dragster-meets-F1 car sound, they are not cars for Jaguar’s traditional customer.

But they are cars for who they want their new customer to be. They have a very clear idea of who that is and isn’t.

Do you?

branding, HR, and the customer experience

Want to build your company’s brand? Give a close look at your HR department.

That’s not how we typically approach it, is it? There are a ton of articles on branding, but far too many that discuss it as though it’s a separate activity, as though it’s a shiny bit of chrome that gets bolted on to make the company look nice. Company leaders just decide how they want the company to be known by customers, then they create marketing to support that and it’s done, right? Um, no.

In reality, branding is deeply woven throughout the entire organization, despite our attempts to reduce branding to some eye catching advertisements. It’s a circular “chicken and egg” problem that has to be addressed as a whole and looks something like this:

Brand –> Values/Culture –> Hiring/Retention/Development –> Employee Experience –> Customer Experience –> Brand

 

Brand. The company decides what it wants to be known for and how it wants to be viewed by its customers. Highest quality, best value, best service, the choice of people in the know, whatever.

Values/Culture. Not the stupid mission statement nailed to the wall that no one can remember and everyone ignores. Not the list of safe values that shows up in the “About Us” section of the webpage but how things actually get down and the (unwritten) values the company uses to make decisions and set priorities. (Lest we forget: Enron’s posted values included “Integrity” and “Excellence” but those clearly weren’t the values underscoring their day-to-day operations.)

Hiring/Retention/Development. I cannot emphasize this enough: business gets done for, through, and by people. What the company stands for and how it operates is determined, supported, and reinforced by its people and the behaviors that are encouraged (and tolerated). The ideals written on the wall are irrelevant if they are not fully supported by who gets hired, who is allowed and encouraged to stay, and what they are taught through formal training AND daily interactions with managers and peers.

Employee Experience (EX). I’m not convinced we can create employee engagement or motivation – that’s one reason why who we hire is so important – but I’m very confident that we can utterly destroy it through the daily employee experience. Is the EX one of support, growth, and pride or terrible manager, toxic peers, inane policies, and a dehumanizing culture? Or, is it trapped in between and a daily dose of apathetic meh?

Customer Experience (CX). The customer experience determines how they think of your company. Your definition of the brand is meaningless next to the customer’s. Who determines the customer experience? It’s a combination of your culture (i.e., how things get done around your company) and your employees. It’s been said the customer experience will never exceed employee experienced (I like to think of it as: CX<EX). That makes sense. It’s ridiculous to think we can make our employees’ lives miserable and have them turn around and create a wonderfully fantastic experience for the customer.

Brand. Yep, all of this leads right back to brand. Not the one you want, but the one you actually have.

None of these operate in isolation; they all feed into each other. You can’t build the brand without linking it to your people and how you expect them to operate day in and day out. So how is you HR department supporting the brand?

Might be time to give it some thought.

hr’s missed opportunity to generate revenue

Blatant product placement or morning prep to speak at #ilshrm13 ? Does Red Bull sponsor HR speakers? What if I promise to be “extreme”?

I posted this comment along with the picture at the right while waiting for my co-presenter so we could go over our notes before presenting later that morning at the Illinois SHRM conference (yes, those are my authentic, actual speaker notes). I thought it was really funny in a ridiculous sort of way. Red Bull sponsoring “extreme” HR? So many paradoxes and contradictions. They sponsor stunt planes, insane jumps on bicycles and motorcycles, parachuting from record heights. Their image is all about athletes pushing the boundaries of possibility, not the middle age guy talking about company culture. Funny, right?

Almost immediately, Kris Dunn (@kris_dunn) from HR Capitalist and Fistfull of Talent responded, “Hey Broc, believe it or not, at FOT we got contacted about placement… Workforce application of red bull, etc…

Apparently there is nothing so ludicrous that it isn’t true somewhere.

I think this just might be HR’s chance to generate revenue through product placement, sponsorships, and advertising. What are some of the natural fits? Pharmaceuticals, diet and fitness, health care? How about day care, dry cleaning, and maid service? Car dealers and home builders? Universities?

When it comes to placement or ads, there’s the obvious approach of putting posters in the hallways or covering our desks or company shirts with logos until they look like race cars straight outta NASCAR. But what about sponsoring company picnics and the requisite Christmas party? Attaching ads to the side of email like in gmail or Facebook like ad placement in the Learning Management System? What about training – there’s so much that could be done inside of training programs that it really feels like a missed opportunity.

What if we named HR programs after the sponsor? For example, we could have the University X Tuition Reimbursement Program. Could we take it to the policy level? Is any sponsor willing to slap their name on or in the handbook? Anyone want some publicity every time the dress code is mentioned? (“Sorry, that beard is in violation of the Sponsor Y Grooming Guidelines.”)

I’m going to stop myself right there. Before I close, I need to emphasize three points:

1. I’m kidding.

2. If companies are not already doing this, I’m confident we’ll be seeing it inside of three years. After all, it’s already in the school system with advertising sponsored “educational” news content.

3. Given points #1 and #2 and my love of paradox, if Red Bull wants to sponsor my global adventures as an HR speaker, I’m more than willing to talk. I already have a few ideas on which metal bands I want to have open for me…

lessons from used tires

It’s pretty easy to confuse flash for substance. To think that we’ll do better once our surroundings, our products, our marketing are better. Once we have the nicer office, we’ll keep it better organized. Once we have a better brochure, we’ll be better salespeople. Once the new software is set up, we’ll provide better service to our customers. Once we redo the lobby, we’ll get more business.

And it’s a lie. We tell it to ourselves because flash is easier than substance.

Appearances do matter, but delivery matters more. Looks can give credibility to a first impression, but results keep people coming back. All else being equal, flash will attract more attention, but things are rarely equal.

I was reminded of this lesson over the weekend. My truck needed new tires so I headed over to my favorite tire shop on Saturday morning. It’s a business that most would say are doing everything wrong. They:

Only sell used tires. Used tires are not sexy.

Only carry popular sizes. Need something special ordered? They don’t do that.

Don’t advertise (as far as I know). If they do it’s in the local trader classifieds.

Don’t have any product displays. No pretty pictures of families traveling in their car, tough four wheel drives adventuring through the back country, or sports cars gripping the road at high speed. The only display they have is a shop with tires stacked to the roof. If you’re buying from them you want tires, not a lifestyle validation.

Don’t have individual bays for each car. They have a shaded concrete slab that’s about three cars wide. It looks like a race car pit crew decided to work in a driveway.

Don’t have a reception area. There is no lobby. The office is where you go to pay and it’s off to the side. There isn’t even a dedicated person to greet you.

Are off the beaten path where you would never pass by in your daily activities. You’d never even find them accidentally. They are in a rough and forgotten part of town. Not dangerous, just poor and long neglected.

Look well worn. The shop is old galvanized metal and looks like it belongs on a weathered farm. The office is the size of a small garden shed and is clearly an afterthought. The business name was painted on the outside once, but has long since faded and been obscured.

Don’t pamper the customer. You could wait in the office but probably don’t want to. Most just sit outside near the cars on plastic chairs.

The appearance doesn’t inspire confidence. There is no flash. Judging by looks you’d assume they can barely afford to be in business. And you’d be wrong simply because of what they get right. They:

Are friendly. They talk to and joke with their customers. They enjoy their work and their customers and it shows. Many repair shops are terrible with customers and these guys really stand out.

Are fast, fast, fast. Saturday morning and I was in and out in less than an hour. Done and on with my day.

Are busy. It is always a beehive of activity. The place would look abandoned EXCEPT for all the people and cars always there.

Greet you quickly. Despite all the noise and chaos of power tools, cars, people, etc. I have never waited more than 30 seconds before someone noticed me and came over to help me.

Know who they are and what they do. They don’t pretend to be anything else or waste the customer’s time trying to do something they can’t.

Thrive on repeat business and word of mouth. I’ve bought at least four sets of tires from them and every time I’m there it seems that most of the other customers are just as enthusiastic and have been coming to them for years.

Are empowered. There is no visible chain of command, no noticeable differentiation between employees. Everyone is helpful and everyone helps.

Have freakishly low prices. Seriously. They clearly aren’t spending money on their location, buildings, or marketing and the customer benefits. They’ve used what most would consider a major disadvantage (location and appearance) and turned it into a huge competitive advantage.

Are not a “me too” business. They have the segment to themselves. While others fight and scramble for their piece of the pie, these guys found a niche where they get the whole pie for themselves.

Want you to come back. Too many businesses stop caring the second they have your money. Not these guys. The manager/owner stopped working on a car as I left to shake my hand and tell me to come by if I needed anything, had trouble with the tires, or wanted them rotated.

What can we learn? Reputation matters. Attitude matters. A focus on long-term service matters. Speed matters. Results matter. What you deliver matters. Caring about the customer matters.

What other lessons can we take from this? How else does this apply to HR, leadership, sales, Realtors, health care, and everyone else?

fear of a human business (the freak flag advantage)

Business is run by humans for humans so why is the business world so, so scared of showing their humanness?

With rare exception, corporate social media policies shout: “We’re terrified our customers will find out that actual people work at this company!” The policies are very clear that you should never, ever associate yourself with the company. Don’t reveal that you have opinions, actual thoughts, passions, dreams, hobbies, families. Don’t give customers the opportunity to appreciate each individual’s uniqueness, good and bad. Assume customers are so easily offended that they will boycott the company because of what an employee posted on a social media site. Give no one the benefit of the doubt.

It’s so sad, it’s funny. There’s so much good that comes from recognizing humanity and individuality. It makes companies and their products real and relevant. Companies (marketers anyway) want us to have a relationship with the brand, yet don’t realize that no one develops attachment to faceless, soulless, neutered, beige vanilla sameness.

One of the easiest ways to differentiate your company is to let your humanness shine. But few get that. They miss that the root of differentiation is being different. And that celebrating your authentic differences and actually standing out is daring and wonderful.

Yesterday, though, I came across a magazine advertisement for the Jaguar XF that blew me away. The company not only got it but made it the absolute core of the entire ad campaign!

At risk of plugging products I know nothing about, let me describe the ad. Maybe you’ve seen it: two page spread with three electric guitars and amps taking up almost the entire space, in the lower left is a small picture of a sports sedan, in the lower right is a small and understated  Jaguar company logo. The headline is: “Some of the other machines our designers play with.” It goes on to brag that the lead design of the new car is the “spike –haired, head-banging lead guitarist of his own band, Scattering Ashes…” and describes how he brought that amped up rock passion to designing this car.

Wow! An ad that gets attention, an admission (no, a celebration!) that they have passionate-not-quite-mainstream employees, and a darn good looking car. A great, eye-catching ad that takes a risk and shows commitment to shattering old images and shaking up the status quo. Then it gets even better. There is a QR tag to hear the music. Whip out your smart phone and you’re taken to a youtube video with a tongue-in-cheek opening warning and a Scattering Ashes song playing while three Jags make lurid slides around the tarmac.

Wanna see?

Some of the commenters on youtube mention that the song isn’t all that good and it seems out of sync with the Jag image. Yeah, it’s not the greatest song ever. And, yeah, it runs counter to an image of   traditional, stodgy, understated, quiet class. Cleary, Jag is looking to aggressively redefine their image. It’s an electric scream against the what you think they are and an overdriven invitation to join them where they want to be.

But wait! This isn’t a neon colored hatchback with extreme graphics being sold to the fast & furious crowd. This is a luxury sports sedan being marketed to people that can drop $50 – 70k+ on a car – you know, uptight, conservative folks in suits and ties. Shouldn’t you be telling them how much status the car will bring them, or focusing on safety, or winking at how sporty you’d like them to think it is?

Sure, you could. But then you’d be just like everyone else. Or you could celebrate the glorious passion and humanness of your employees, crank your company culture up to 11, and actually differentiate yourself by actually being, well, different.

Don’t know if the car’s any good or if the campaign will be successful, but I love the bold stance. Anyone could have done it, but only one did. Unfurl the freak flag and rock on!