Tag Archives: story

A 2:19 Masterpiece

Let’s say you’re on the marketing team at Philips, the electronics manufacturer. Your company is releasing the first ever cinema proportion (21:9) TV. It would be pretty easy to design a magazine ad or billboard with arrows and measurements in inches vs. a regular widescreen (16:9) TV and some catchy phrase like “see what you’ve been missing”.

Or, you can do what Philips did. They hired Adam Berg to make a short film called Carousel.

The film is only 2:19 in length (get it? 2:19 / 21:9) but after watching it, I feel like I just sat through the best part of a great action movie. Which is interesting, because technically, there is no action. Berg captures a single still scene in an intense firefight between cops and the bad guys, dressed up as clowns. The characters never move, but the camera does, floating through the street, in between bullets, and out of windows, moving through a single, frozen, intricately staged moment.

When watching the film online, Philips even simulated what the TV will look like hanging on your wall, including their popular AMBILIGHT technology.

Kudos to Philips and Adam Berg for making the ad that wasn’t easy and has the potential to be viral.

You can watch the embedded video below but I’m sure Philips and Adam would prefer you watch the full video on the Philips website here.

All of a sudden, my TV looks rather unremarkable.

[UPDATE: Initially the video wasn’t on YouTube. Now it has over 173,000 views on YouTube and likely many more on the Philips HD site. Viral achieved.]

Don’t think. It can only hurt the ball club

In Bull Durham, one of my favorite movies ever, Kevin Costner, as Crash Davis summed it up best…

Crash Davis: You just got lesson number one: don’t think; it can only hurt the ball club.

Ji Lee, Creative Director at Google and the founder of the Bubble Project, tells a story about when he was hired to do a redesign of the five flavors of Cheerios boxes. Working with his partner, they came up with a wonderful slogan and branding campaign to illustrate the five flavors.

“Only their holes taste the same.”

Succinct. Brilliant. Simple.

The meeting was held. All the right people attended. “Only their holes taste the same” was presented. Everyone loved it. Ji was thrilled, knowing that his clear and clever message was going to be the new slogan for the five flavors of Cheerios.

And then all of a sudden, a discussion started about the difference between ‘flavor’ and ‘taste.’ All the excitement shared in the beginning disappeared, and they were locked into an absurd discussion, forgetting the big picture.

You can probably predict the rest. Dissenters appeared. The ‘flavor vs. taste’ debate dragged on. Consensus was lost. The original, brilliant slogan was scrapped.

Avoid “testing by conference table”. Go with your gut. If an idea feels right, support it vociferously. Drown out the dissenters.

Like Crash taught us…”don’t think. It can only hurt the ballclub.”

Ketchup and Best Buy

If I asked you how different your service was from that of your closest competitors, many would say, “we’re pretty much the same.”

It couldn’t be further from the truth.

People buy Heinz ketchup, when it is chemically indistinguishable, from the store brand. Same for C&H sugar over generic. By putting a brand around commodities that people used to buy in bulk quantities, from unnamed wooden barrels in Snuffy’s General Store on Main Street, these brands made billions of dollars.

So don’t think your services are the same. Heinz only changed the label and the packaging but by doing so, they changed the story.

Your service is delivered by human beings, who naturally have far more unique qualities than ketchup labels. The tone of voice they use. The confidence they inspire. The rate at which they complete the job. Or don’t. The story they tell and the feeling they deliver to your customer.

As a consumer, you can feel it. Within one minute of entering a business that provides dynamic service, you can tell. If you’ve walked into a Best Buy in the last couple months, you likely felt it. If you’ve walked into a Circuit City in the last couple months………..

Nevermind. You can’t.

The middle will kill you

The top is good. The bottom is good. The middle will kill you.

Your price is a signaling mechanism.

If you’re the high priced provider, like:

Cars – Mercedes
Jewelry – Tiffany
Watches – Rolex
Cookware – All Clad
Refrigerators – SubZero

…people assume you offer the best quality.

This is good.

If you’re the low-cost provider, like:

Meal – McDonald’s
Cookware – Lodge
Furniture – IKEA

…people assume you deliver an acceptable product at the lowest cost.

This is also good.

If you price in the middle, you’re saying:

“We’re not the best, so we’re not priced like the best. But we’re pretty good. We cost more than the low cost guys because we’re better than them.”

It’s not a very compelling message.

Also, it’s crowded. By definition, almost everyone is in the middle. Now you’re competing with everyone. Also not compelling.

When pricing your product or service, the top is good. The bottom is good. The middle will kill you.

Carpe defect

Defects are not only OK, they are opportunities to make a customer for life.

Your business should strive to deliver phenomenal service but phenomenal service doesn’t mean zero defects. A wealth of opportunity lies in how you handle the defects.

It may not seem like it, but your customers understand that your business is run by humans and that humans aren’t perfect.

Let’s say you own a new trendy restaurant. It’s the honeymoon stage. Things are good. It’s a busy Friday night. Your restaurant is slammed; there is an hour long wait. In the controlled chaos, three orders from a table of fifteen are made completely wrong.

Option A
The server, cowering in fear from the tyrannical owner, tells the kitchen to rush the fix but tries his best to hide the error from management. The diners whine and complain when the red-faced server finally brings the entrees.

Throughout the week, some of the fifteen diners continue to grumble about the delay and the others simply forget it. It’s a non-story.

Option B
The server, understanding the culture of service that the owner has instilled in everyone from the hostess to the bartenders to the busboys, immediately notifies the kitchen and then the owner. Even before the fixed entrees are rushed to the table, the owner comes by to personally and genuinely apologize for the mistake, delivering a self-deprecating remark about the growing pains of a hot new restaurant, comps the three entrees, gives the slighted diners certificates for a free entree on their next visit and buys the table two bottles of wine.

For a couple minutes of time and very minimal cost, the owner has flipped the story upside-down. Now, throughout the week, all fifteen diners get to spread the story of their favorite new restaurant, where the food was amazing, the service was excellent and how they know the owner. They tell everyone they know the story of how well the mistake was handled.

Perfection is a myth. Seize defects as opportunities.

Hit ‘em where they ain’t

The first time I heard this advice from my Dad, he was teaching me (a right hander) to bat left handed. At the time, I was still young enough and naive enough to think that he invented the phrase.

In fact it was coined by Wee Willie Keeler, a great hitter in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and at 140 pounds and maybe 5 feet, 4 inches, one of the smallest players ever in professional baseball.

The point is, you can hit the ball hard but if you hit it right at someone, it’s a likely out. Alternatively, you can hit the ball softly, but if you place it between fielders, it’s a sure hit.

It’s true in baseball and it’s true in business.

Sam Walton opened his first store in Rogers, Arkansas. The second store was in Harrison, Arkansas, population 6000. His eighth store was his first outside of Arkansas, in the thriving metropolis of Sikeston, Missouri. Sam hit ‘em where KMart and Woolworth weren’t. By the time he has expanded to the same markets as the leaders, Wal-Mart had the profits, growth and momentum to compete, and eventually crush KMart and Woolworth.

Before you buy a plane ticket to Arkansas, understand that “where they ain’t” doesn’t necessarily mean geography. In the 1950s and 1960s, Joe Flom hit ‘em where they weren’t by taking on the work that the traditional, white-shoe law firms disdained: litigation and proxy fights. By helping position his law firm, Skadden Arps as M&A specialists, Flom and his partners dominated when relaxed federal regulations and the internationalization of markets in the 1970s resulted in a boom in the number and size of corporate takeovers. By carving out the niche and doing the work nobody wanted to, when the tidal wave hit, Flom and his partners were the default experts. Being experts in the complex world of M&A allowed Skadden Arps to spread into every area of old-line work and by 1989 had gross revenues of $517.5 million dollars, making them at the time, the world’s richest law firm.

Whether geography or area of focus, listen to Wee Willie Keeler and hit ‘em where they ain’t.

The little extras

We recently ate a late night dinner at the Nob Hill Cafe in San Francisco. It’s a cozy, bustling little cafe with the aroma of fresh food and spices emanating from the kitchen.

As we waited to order, our waitress brought us the usual pre-meal basket of bread, except there was nothing usual about this bread. A warm, pillowy soft foccaccia, the dense chewy interior contrasted with the firm, crunchy rosemary crust. We all silently looked at each other in amazement as we slowly chewed this heavenly bread.

After we ordered our entrees, we sheepishly asked our waitress for another basket. She didn’t look surprised in the least and with a wink, promised to check if there was any more in the back. She said that people often come early just for the bread and they often run out by then (we were seated around 10pm). We were in luck and she scored us the final basket before our entrees came.

I failed in my attempt to acquire the recipe for this miraculous rosemary foccaccia but next time I’m anywhere near San Francisco, I know I’ll be back. The rest of the food was very good, but the bread was clearly the star.

The basket of bread didn’t cost us a dime (and only cost the restaurant a few dimes), but it was the most memorable part of the meal. It not only brings the same diners back night after night and month after month but the bread is so good, people tell their friends.

It’s the little things.

What little things are you offering your customers to bring them back?

What little things are you doing to help them tell your story?

Blow up the stereo(type)

The first thing any customer thinks of you will be the stereotype they already have of you (or companies like you).

Used car salesmen are sleazy.
Marketers are liars.
Accountants are boring.
Techies are nerdy.
Lawyers are evil.
Chefs are impersonal.
Doctors keep you waiting.

Think long and hard about the stereotype your customers and prospects have about you. Write it down.

Then blow it up.

Jay Parkinson is blowing up the “doctors keep you waiting” stereotype with his new company, HelloHealth. He is almost single-handedly changing the way health care is delivered.

Hello Health is currently open in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and will soon be opening in the West Village, NY. I predict in a few years, they will be nationwide and insanely successful.

All because Jay blew up the stereotype.

The Leech Lake Knife Company

A great story. A purple cow. Phenomenal design. A Free Prize Inside. An army of customer evangelists. Scarcity.

Pretty phenomenal marketing from a 70 year old who has never heard of Seth Godin.

Don Canney has a superpower. He makes the best fillet knife in the world.

Don is an avid fisherman who has a home on beautiful Leech Lake in northern Minnesota. It isn’t unusual for Don to have filleted hundreds of fish after a day of fishing.

Years ago, Don noticed that his fillet knives got dull very quickly from the initial cut behind the gill. When making this cut you are cutting down into the scales that protect the body of the fish from the razor sharp teeth of other predator fish. With a nod and a wink to Mr. Charles Darwin, Don set out to redesign the traditional fillet knife.

Don used his education in metallurgy and material science to design a high carbon/semi-stainless alloy steel that is then hardened and tempered to Don’s specifications. The blade is extremely thin and flexible but the most unique and effective feature of this knife is really what sets it apart. The top is a sharp hook and top two inches of the backside of the knife is razor sharp.

Don didn’t just redesign a knife, he redesigned the process of filleting a fish.

Don’s Leech Lake knives are not only beautiful and extremely durable, they work unlike any other fillet knife in the world. When a Leech Lake knife owner meets a fellow fisherman, it is impossible not to show and talk about the knife.

You can’t buy Don’s knives on Amazon. Don prefers to sell his knives personally, one by one at the many sport shows he attends every year. This gives Don the ability to hand engrave the blade, “Made especially for your nameyear of purchase“.

Also, each knife comes with a nice leather sheath in which Don puts one standard size Band-Aid. Even though he warns people, everyone forgets and cuts themselves on the sharp upper side of the knife.

With a flexible, paper thin blade, many owners are worried about sharpening it themselves. After reminding you that it should only need sharpening once every couple years, Don offers to sharpen it for free, either at any of the sport shows or by mailing it to him. People that attend sport shows usually go every year, so after using your knife for a year, you go back to Don’s booth and buy a couple more for friends or family.

You can buy a basic fillet knife for $12 almost anywhere. Don’s amazing, hand-built knives cost $90 and are worth every penny. You get a lot more than a knife.

My Dad visited with Don at the Minneapolis Sport Show yesterday like he does every year. Don is getting older and he doesn’t do as many shows as he used to but he was still there, affable as ever, selling new knives and sharpening old ones, adding small but important personal touches that also help owners continue to tell his story.

Are you living your story?

The following is an interview with Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter, as published in the New York Times. Read it carefully and see if you notice anything interesting.

Published: March 7, 2009


I GREW up on a farm in Nebraska, where we grew mostly corn and soybeans. During the summers I was responsible for making sure the crops were irrigated.

After high school, I enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, but I stayed only a year and a half. I felt college was a waste of time; I wanted to start working. I moved to Florida, where I did some freelance copywriting. After that I moved to Texas and stayed with my older sister while I figured out what to do next. In 1994, I returned to Nebraska and started my first company with my dad.

We didn’t know anything about the Internet, but I thought it was going to be a big deal. We produced CD-ROMs and a video on how to use the Internet, and we did some Web hosting. I recruited some friends and we tossed around some ideas, but none of us knew how to write software and we didn’t have much money. We watched what entrepreneurs in California were doing and tried to play along.

We figured out how to create Web sites, but I didn’t want to work on other people’s projects. I had no business running a company at that time because I hadn’t worked at a real company. I didn’t know how to deal with people, I lacked focus, and I had no discipline. I’d start new projects without finishing old ones, and I didn’t keep track of money. I lost a lot of it, including what my father had invested, and I ended up owing the I.R.S. because I hadn’t paid payroll taxes. I made a lot of employees mad.

In 1997, I moved to California and worked at what is now O’Reilly Media. By 1998, I had acquired enough technical skills to do freelance Web development. In 1999, I started Pyra Labs with a friend, Meg Hourihan, to develop project management programs. Then we started a side project called Blogger, a Web publishing tool. In 2003, we sold that company to Google. I worked for Google for two years.

Several years ago I started Odeo, a podcasting company, with Noah Glass, another friend. I ran that company for 18 months. We started Twitter as a side project within Odeo during that time.

I didn’t like the direction Odeo was going. For one thing, Apple made a lot of what we worked on obsolete when it introduced podcasts into iTunes. I bought Odeo back from the investors and moved the assets to another company of mine, Obvious, a Web product development lab now on hiatus. In 2007, I sold Odeo and spun off Twitter into a separate company.

I appointed Jack Dorsey, who was engineer at Odeo, as C.E.O. of Twitter. In October 2008 it became apparent that Twitter required a day-to-day approach from a single leader. I took over as C.E.O., and Jack became chairman and assumed a more strategic position. He had worked in the courier and dispatch field, which is where he got the idea for Twitter — a social network for sending short messages to friends over cellphones and the Internet.

When people ask me when Twitter will make money, I tell them, “In due time.” They forget that we’re only 30 employees who have just gotten started. Right now, anything we would do to make money would take our time away from acquiring more users. We have patient investors.

My life has been a series of well-orchestrated accidents; I’ve always suffered from hallucinogenic optimism. I was broke for more than 10 years. I remember staying up all night one night at my first company and looking in couch cushions the next morning for some change to buy coffee. I’ve been able to pay my father back, which is nice, and my mother doesn’t worry about me as much since I got married a year and a half ago.

My wife, Sara, a designer, keeps me balanced. We’re building a modern house that we hope will be done by 2010. The design is a challenge — that’s why she’s in charge.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.


Did you notice? How many sentences in the entire article were longer than 140 characters? If you don’t think this was intentional, read any other article in the Times and perform the same count. (Copy and paste each sentence into Twitter for easy counting.)

Evan Williams is living the Twitter story everyday, even in a NYT interview.

Are you living your story?

There is a permanent record

This week, Seth Godin ran an excellent post on personal branding in the age of Google.  You can read it here.

It is ironic that when we were in elementary and middle school we were all threatened that any transgression, from running in the hallways to food fights to selling marked up dime bags of Kool Aid on the playground was going to go in your “permanent record”.  It was a very effective threat because eleven-year-olds didn’t have a way to prove that the principal wasn’t keeping a manila folder of every mistake and misstep.  Many parents even leveraged the same threat.

We were safe then.  There was no manila folder following us around and most of us didn’t realize it until long after we figured out that Mom was the Easter Bunny and Dad was Santa Claus.

But today, there is a permanent record.  Pending recent changes in their terms of service, Facebook is forever.  MySpace is MyHistory. Google doesn’t forget.  Everything is archived.

Don’t believe me?  Check out this view of the Apple website.

How does your permanent record look?  Are you ready for “just Google me” to be your business card?


Your business plan is incomplete.

Many business plans include things like mission statements, values, demographics, competitors and market share data. Those are important but too often they are given more weight than the three critical components of any effective business plan:

1) The Story
2) The Marketing Plan
3) The Sales Plan

The Story

What is your story? What is the story you are telling the people who buy your product or service? What is the story they are telling themselves? What is the story they are telling their friends, neighbors or family? Who else is going to be there? What are they going to experience?

Your story gives you the chance to tell your customers why this is a dream come true for them.

The Story feeds…

The Marketing Plan


How do people find out about it? How do you reach them? How does it spread? Who is talking about it? Why are they talking about it? Who are they telling? How often? In what format?

The Marketing Plan is a road map for how your story will spread.

There are three primary mistakes are made with The Marketing Plan:
1) Too much of the overall business plan is devoted to The Marketing Plan, forgetting about The Story and The Sales Plan.
2) The Marketing Plan is too focused on buying advertising to interrupt and yell at people…
3) instead of focusing on building and enabling the organic, viral component necessary for the idea to spread. Remember, a friend passionately telling ten friends about your product or service is more valuable than a thousand billboards on the busiest highways.

The Marketing Plan leads to…

The Sales Plan


Sales exist when the money changes hands.

Who will buy it? Where will they buy it? From whom? Are there coupons? Discounts? Joint ventures?

Just like your business plan should never contain the statement, “And then a miracle happens…”, your sales plan shouldn’t contain the statement, “And then someone will want to buy it.”

Is your business plan complete?