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June 30th 2004 – I was driving from San Francisco to Sacramento after spending nine hours in an aluminium tube at 35,000 feet. Spell check is trying to make me say “aluminum”.

The plan was to spend six months in California and then go home. Didn’t quite pan out like that.

The AC was blasting in part due to the heat, in part to counter jetlag.

Over the radio came the familiar sounds of home ‘The Scientist’ by Cold Play rang out as I came up the hill heading out towards Fairfield on I-80. I became somewhat tearful.

You see for me in many ways I was going back to the start. I had been here before, California. Having lived in the US for a time as a child. The country has had a powerful draw for me ever since.

 

#1 An ongoing observation of cultural differences

There is something about living, long term in a different country that triggers pause. Even when you think it’s not explicit. It’s there. Pretty much daily.

These observations start with the obvious, like driving on the other side of the road and getting a sore hand from punching the door when trying to change gears. Or the vast open isles of super markets. The apparently unavoidable positivity of anyone who is serving you, be it a coffee or a gourmet meal.

By in large the culture here is founded on the puritanical beliefs held by a migration from some of the most religious Anglo-Saxons out of Great Britain, because they were trying to find a place to worship and not be persecuted for it. This migration was so domineering it managed to put hundreds of years of Spanish and French colonization of the New World in the back seat. Of course not all immigrants were from England, they came from all over Europe at first and eventually the world. However the core cultural drivers in the legal and ruling power base were, and still are, rooted out of old-Blighty. If this kind of history lesson turns you on then Alistair Cooke’s America is a must read, he really is the quintessential Ex-Pat.

In addition to this foundation there was also the pioneering spirit, the adventurous aspects of those early settlers and those who pushed out west across the continent. Maybe it is that which results in what I have observed as things being more of a recommendation than a hard and fast rule. For example when you are driving down the road be warned that "signaling" (indicating) is more of a vague suggestion. If it happens at all you might notice it about the time that two tons of metal, glass, plastic and rubber are hurtling from one lane to another, right in front of you.

 

#2 Politics and the pursuit of happiness

Most Americans are very passionate and involved in their politics. I have asked myself if my observation here was due to the fact I’m ten years older than when I last lived in Blighty. After careful consideration I feel confident saying it is more common in the US. Even if for many it’s primarily emotional rather than a deep and meaningful understanding of their own political system. As with Britain most parties here are the same. There is also an overzealous "left" / "right" debate raging on in which each side has both liberal and conservative hallmarks, yet most will never admit to that.

When the new country was being birthed the US cherry picked from the fairly well developed British political system. However unlike Britain and the rest of Europe there was no monarchy. No higher earthly power. Nothing above the unalienable right of the individual, as bestowed upon them either by a creator or the universe itself depending on which way you lean on faith. In many ways this belief fueled the growth of capitalism. It’s amazing how apparently brilliant the foresight of the "forefathers" was. Time and time again the system, and how it was constructed has served its purpose. Often this leads to gridlock. One way this manifests is that it is hard to change the rule of law here. There are defined rights which are either in the Constitution (and the freedom it outlines), or as ‘amendments’ to it, the first set known as the Bill of Rights. In other countries where a law may easily be passed to do "FOO", in the US if it is found (even if initially passed into law) to violate one of the aforementioned elements it is then deemed "unconstitutional" and scrapped. This apparent rigidity is reinforced by a checks and balances system of the Executive Branch, of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and Supreme Court. One consequence is that no new leader can simply waltz in and change things to his or her pleasing. In general this means becoming a dictator in the USA is really, really hard.

The concept of the rights of individuals and of property and the pursuit of happiness generally translates into what manifests as a "can do attitude". And the expectation is that the government is intended to get out of the way as much as possible. This latter point is one of the big ongoing debates between "Blue" (Democrat) and "Red" (Republican) elements of the country. Each accuses the other of grievous violations. For example the Democratic uproar at the "Homeland Security" act implemented by the Bush administration juxtaposed to the criticism the Obama administration received for the NSA snooping malarkey. "Get government out of our lives" also spawned the birth of the Tea Party movement which focuses on the reduction of the size and influence of government. Its name a reference to initial efforts to kick England out of the Colonies. Another hot button topic it is also used as an argument against those seeking to implement abortion control because that is the government meddling in the lives of individual citizens. The list goes on.

Consequently the cultural zeitgeist at any given time in this country is diverse and shifting yet its foundation is firm… which from what I gather is just what those clever founding father wanted.

 

#3 The United States of America is really flipping big

This country is vast and unimaginably large.

It is also removed from much of the world. True you have Canada and Mexico on your door step but getting to South America is a trek, as are Europe and Asia. Plus it’s not cheap to make any of those journeys. Let alone taking your whole family.

If you only know America through Hollywood, movies, television and music you might be forgiven for thinking that the country comprises of LA, Houston (Texas), Orlando (Florida) and NYC. It is, as you can imagine much more than that. For starters all of those places are at least a three hour flight from each other. LA to NYC is five hours at the quickest.

It truly is massive. In a shocking, almost unforgiving kind of way. Stories of pioneers are so much a part of the cultural lexicon here that it’s easy to forget how challenging their journeys across the young country were. At least 10% of them died trying to find better lives. It has a surface area that makes England look like a region around a US city. Size isn’t everything and yes, amazing things have come out of England (including America as I often jest, I’m sure the Spanish would take exception to that). This isn’t an attack on my beloved home country. It’s an observation on how simply HUGE America is. This has for the longest times informed much of the US mindset; "Bigger is better". Even ten years into my American adventure there is much of this place I’ve not yet seen. I can understand why some American’s travel less internationally, simply wanting to make the most of where they are. Less and less I find myself criticizing Americans who don’t have passports.

Whilst there are few actual frontiers left in the USA there are vast swathes of this country where you can feel really isolated and alone (visit Alaska, read Into the Wild). As easily as you can fly over it and as much as it is crisscrossed with interstate highways. The last un-allocated federal land was divvyed out mid last century. That still doesn’t diminish the sense of ‘blank slate’ and of opportunity that the soaring mountain ranges, big skies and vast rolling plains offer.

 

#4 One thing to do that will help you understand the USA better

Travel around it. Fly over some of the central parts. It just goes on, and on, and on. There are people who live in cabins, or ranches, literally hours from any significant population centers. Doing this will bring some hint of understanding to the American mindset.

I’d imagine many prior transplants have felt the way I have. That this large, opportunity filled country is just too good to pass up. It’s almost too big to ever make the most of. In many ways that’s its appeal. It keeps you feeling like there is more to do, explore, achieve, that its opportunity goes on forever. Personally, at the same time I also contemplate returning back to my motherland, to its rich and diverse history, beautiful landscape (The Lakes, Cornwall, Wales, rolling Downs of the ‘shires), easy access to the literally dozen of cultures and histories of Europe and of course English pubs. I’m lucky to be torn in such a way.

I’m proud of and love where I come from and I’m proud of and love where I live. As I work to instill British culture into my children, both of whom were born here, to have them feel connected to Blighty I’ve come to realize something; why at cocktail parties so many Americans are quick to mention that they are German, Italian or Chinese. You know, because their grandparents were.

Have you relocated from one country to another? What was your experience? What did you learn?

A friend of a friend recently asked for my advice on the topic of Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda. We made that journey in 2008. I took the opportunity to write it out in some detail and share it here in the hope it can be useful to a broader audience.

This post doesn’t cover the fascinating and emotional experience we had in Kigali including everything from motorcycle taxi’s to the genocide museum. Perhaps for another post.

Where Gorillas roam, Mount Karisimbi © Matthew Woodget 2008

Planning for your trek

We went to East Africa in 2008. Our Rwanda trip was a sub segment of a larger journey that included safari in Tanzania and several days on Zanzibar. We did Rwanda at the beginning. After arriving in Tanzania we flew to Kigali. We spent a day in Kigali and headed to the mountains that afternoon. Days two and three were trekking. Day three also included return to Kigali for a hotel stay and an early AM departure on day four to Kilimanjaro to continue our Safari.

Some companies will say one day of trekking requires five days of trip, this isn’t the only way to do it. You can get two trips up the mountain in just four days of visiting Rwanda. Having done the trip I would suggest spending longer in Rwanda by at least one or two more days. Visit some more villages and the people as well as the gorillas.

In 2008 Rwanda was considerably safer than Uganda, I’m not sure how much this has changed. It’s worth bearing in mind. All trekking must be done through the official Rwanda "Parc National des Volcans " organization. They manage the exposure of gorillas to humans and provide you layers of safety onto your trip that you will not want to be without. A worthwhile law in my opinion.

Day one

We got used to the fact you go to the "Parc National des Volcans " HQ where you are put into groups. They carefully manage the exposure that a handful of groups get to humans. The briefing is quite detailed to ensure your and the gorilla’s safety. Then we head off to the national park itself. On the edge were little villages where there is the opportunity to pick up a porter. It’s good to do so if you are carrying much, even a back pack. They are working for what they earn and benefiting from the tourism in an honest way so it was encouraged when we did it. The locals were in abject poverty but the children were all very happy to see us. "Muzungo! Muzungo!" They would shout which roughly translates as "Whitey!" or "Foreigner!"

We were somewhat apprehensive based on the fact some of my parents friends had been killed whilst doing this exact same thing in 1999, albeit in Uganda. But the world and Rwanda had changed a lot since then. There were two armed guards with AK-47s, one up front, one in the back of our hiking line, "for buffalos". Whilst this was technically true they were also there to provide protection from a potentially more dangerous animal in the undergrowth.

Hike Puzzle © Matthew Woodget 2008

We trekked up through some pretty steep terrain on the mountain in some very dense vegetation and the bamboo got insanely thick at points. And it was hard work. We both were glad we had trained for the hike. At some points we were trudging through mud as we pushed through stinging nettles eight feet high with the sun beating down on our heads. In 100% humidity of course. In addition to our guides there were a few trekkers who went out ahead to find the gorillas.

Dreamer © Matthew Woodget 2008

It is entirely possible that you do not see the gorillas at all on a trek. We did. And oh boy… it was one of the most emotional and moving experiences of our lives. We came across the edge of the family, some juveniles hanging out in the trees. The chap above was the first ever Gorilla that we saw in the flesh. We really were in the clouds at this point and our experience deepened as we found ourselves moving further into the family group who were spread out over perhaps a half square mile of rain forest. The guides were very prescriptive on how to behave and continually reminded us of what we should be doing. It’s hard to convey what it feels like to have young boisterous male gorilla’s play fighting and chasing each other right past you, so close that the brush against your waterproofs. Or seeing a mother cradling her child, then putting it on her back as she moves off into the mist.

The Bond © Matthew Woodget 2008

And of course the fabled silverback is something else entirely. A firm, confident, powerful master of his domain that is monitoring your every move, dare you threaten his family in any way. This particular family was probably 20 strong and they were a constant froth in the thick lush green that surrounded us. The bamboo had seemed somehow thicker on the return and the trek back proved it. We knew something was wrong when the time started to drip away and the light faded. A storm was coming and we were still not out of the forest. I remember with visceral clarity stepping on some bamboo that was hidden in the undergrowth. I had been trying to push my way through some very thick trunks when my foot slid violently to the side. Grabbing for the upright bamboo I caught myself before any damage was done to my ankle. All that was bruised was my pride. The heavy camera backpack on my back was really starting to feel its weight by this point. Two camera bodies, half a dozen lenses, a video camera, a point and shoot and other assorted gear. It was certainly worth it for the photos I was able to make. Suffice to say on day two I was to choose the use of a porter.

Day two

We were experts! Well, we know the drill at least, and before long were hiking up a mountain again. A very different experience to day one. Drier and simpler. We met a much smaller group with a younger father, Mr. Charles.

Mr. Charles © Matthew Woodget 2008

We were treated to both some very young gorillas playing with each other and with the "Pok Pok Pok!" sound of a silver back beating his chest as he rampaged through the undergrowth and ripped a small tree over. A display to remind us who was in control of the situation. This was a smaller more intimate affair and we thoroughly enjoyed spending some quality time just lounging around with this family. Aside from Mr. Charles’ display It was a very peaceful commune with some of our closest ancestors. It wasn’t until later when reviewing the GPS logs for my photo GPS tagging effort that we realized we had strayed over the boarder into the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was clear why we had our ‘buffalo protection’.

To this day our Africa trip remains indelibly marked on our memories. Nothing more so than the two days we spent up the side of a volcano with several dozen of our some of our cousins, a few millennia removed.

Full Gallery: Rwanda | Tanzania

Disclaimer: This post involves fast cars and the drinking of beer.

Here’s the scenario; you are at a dinner party, you meet a new person, maybe you are introduced, maybe you introduce yourself. Either way the experience is one of discovery, “What can I say that will interest this person and get me permission to continue the conversation?” Even if you don’t think this, your amazing and ancient brain is doing it on auto pilot for you.

As marketers we have an opportunity to infuse our message with storytelling, and I mean real stories. Ones with heroes, villains, inciting incidents, conflict overcoming of adversity and dealing with change. When we do this we open the door to a journey, one where our customer will want to join us for the experience.

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Here are two examples of content I recently created designed to help break the ice at that proverbial dinner party and connect you with something that could be of value to you. The videos below are designed so that you should find the content innately interesting. You may want to learn more about the story. And if you are in my target audience you will certainly want to do so. And if I earn your permission further still I then connect you to find out more about what we can do for you so that you can have an experience like the one that got your attention in the first place.

That being said I have two questions for you, and some FUN content.

#1 – Q: Do you like either cars, high-tech, or auto-sports?

A: Then watch this featuring Lotus F1 Team

150 Days (Preview, 60 secs)

150 Days (Trailer, 30 secs)

Full Nano-Documentary:

#2 – Are you interested in Craft Beer (or foods), or businesses that care not just about money but positively impacting the environment and the world we live in?

Q: Then watch this featuring New Belgium Brewing

Love in a bottle (Preview, 60 secs)

Love in a bottle (Trailer, 30 secs)

Full Nano-Documentary:

So, what do you think?

Was your time waste with this? With the videos? How do you approach content marketing and the customer experience when it comes to your content?

Epilogue

When I consider existing customers or prospects and the services, and apps we provide I have one key thing in mind “why should they care?”. There are many potential paths in actions you take but having this singular question held front and center is critical.

When serving up content we have to consider the whole experience of the customer. From never even knowing about our apps and services to being a RAVING fan.

In many ways I like to think of existing customers as prospects, that we should work hard to keep them engaged and interested. When someone at a [potential] customer company is already a fan you have trust, you can go to certain conversations more quickly than with a person with whom you haven’t yet built that trust. However there is always a place to invest more in a relationship, to reinforce that trust, to keep the romance alive.

I’ve recently been filming two sets of videos for work, the narrative and content is yet to be revealed. You can however get some glimpses behind the scenes with these two galleries.

It’s been a fun project melding visual and verbal story telling and I’m excited to share the actual pieces with you. Until them take a look at some of these fun photos. Which of course in their own way are also a story.

Lotus F1 Team

© Matthew Woodget 2011 www.fluidpixel.com

New Belgium Brewery

© Matthew Woodget 2011 www.fluidpixel.com

I was taking an early morning walk down to the breezy coast of West Seattle and was thinking about how it’s nice to have the down on the out bound so that I’m warmed up to deal with the hill on the way back. Then in my half-awake morning stupor a thought flitted across my cerebral cortex. It was about when we ask children about their future and that we don’t say "What do you want to do when you grow up". Rather we use the word be, not do. And I got to thinking about the importance of that little word. Two simple letters, a consonant and a vowel.

Fatherhood © Matthew Woodget 2011 www.fluidpixel.com

"To be, or not to be. That is the question." – Hamlet.

Unsurprisingly Shakespeare can impart some wisdom to us on this matter. Just as Hamlet was agonizing over the apparent helplessness of life he’s also torn as to giving it up. He’s trapped in a dark, tragic place where his very being is brought into question and he is thinking of ending it all.

In Hamlet’s despondency we come to recognize that when we are asking a child what they want to be we are not asking them about jobs or tasks or comings or goings. We are asking them what they want their life to feel like. And hopefully for it to feel quite the opposite of what Hamlet is going through. Think for a second of some of the classic answers that a child may provide to the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?".

An airline pilot, a fire fighter, a horseback rider, an astronaut. They know nothing of the grind of these jobs, of the challenges, the stresses. What they think about is what the people who do these things feel like. Or at least what their childishness imagines visualize… and I’ll give you a hint; in this case ‘childish’ is far from disparaging. Their minds soar with the thrill of flying a plane, the hero who saves those in danger, the wide open spaces and fresh air and camaraderie with animals, or a wonder and marvel of the earth and of the universe that being hurled into space on a rocket affords. It’s the very real, hear and now feelings of the child that they are tapping into and projecting into their future.

How does this relate to anything you may care about?

When it comes to what you do, think more about what you want to be. "What do you want to be… now!" This could be informing a career change where you are seeking something which will be better match with how you want to feel in what you are doing, or it could fuel your approach when tackling a particular project you are working on in a job you already love.

You maybe be an independent photographer or a cog in the corporate machine, it doesn’t matter. When it comes to how you interact with those you work with, the customers you build for or market or sell to, think about how those on the receiving end of your actions feel. What are they pursuing, what do they want? Every decision we make is intentionally designed to benefit us and how we feel. From consumer goods purchase to enterprise investments of grand scale. Good choices or bad we can’t help but put ourselves at the center. We do it because we feel it is the right thing to do based on any number of external stimuli. We just *have* to have *that* pair of shoes. The market data *clearly* states we must address things with a change in corporate strategy and if we win because of it *I* get the promotion. Even in a life of piety and sacrifice where everything you do is for others you are choosing this to satisfy a feeling in yourself, you feel it’s the right thing to do for moral or religious reasons.

Doing might be where the rubber meets the road and stuff gets made, built or shipped. But long before that there is being. Figure out what yours is, those around you, your partners and ultimately your customers and you will be able to tap into that powerful aspirational energy from your childhood when you once dreamed of mounting a screaming rocket to the stars.

How do you feel about this? Love to hear your thoughts, and feelings :-).

(cheesy overload of information © Matthew Woodget www.fluidpixel.com)

You probably won’t read this whole blog post. It’s true, CMO.COM recently had a great post on this; distraction. I’ve come to terms with it :) This post will cover a lot of [very important] ground, I promise, so it will be worth it. Without further ado; welcome to the year of Blade Runner (2014). Building sized billboards and all.

Maybe it was MTV that messed us up. Maybe it was something else. All I know is that despite my four year olds apparently distracted behavior (I guess I just have to come to terms with the fact that he’s simply not listening to me) he’s actually very focused on what he does. When I try show him a trailer for a movie three out of four times he’s left confused and dumfounded (I’ve probably done it a maximum of four times). Go watch a trailer right now, come back when you are done. It leaves my son feeling uncomfortable, confused, he genuinely doesn’t like the experience. Brash, speeding images, a rapidly sped up narrative. As a father of young children I’m faced with the fact I’m part of a society in which this is par for of the course. Whatever caused it, we need to accept that distraction is paramount. We are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages a day. Research by Huge says 5,000 daily, in urban environments, double what it was three decades ago (as above). That’s just marketing messages. You think you consume all of that? You brain goes into auto pilot, it’s why you often can’t remember you work commute. Our brain is unimaginably complicated and deals with an even more impressive array of ridiculously tiny things each day. It’s good at filtering out the crap and getting us to where we are going. Thankfully it does this with the marketing noise too.

That’s my point. It’s NOISE. I turned up the volume on that on purpose ;-) We live in an attention economy, well covered by Jeremy Epstein. We have limited time, focus, bandwidth, hours in the day. When it comes to communicating with our customer are we going to keep fighting this fact? Or are we going to start with a strategy that engages? Whether or not you realize it you have a complex set of filters to deal with all of this noise. The thing is your filters break. What’s that? I hear you cry? My filters break? That brings us full circle to why we need to respect distraction and leads us to how we can deal with it. Jeremy has been banging on about this since at least 2007. CMO.COM blogged about it this summer. At some point this thing is going to reach critical mass, and blow up.

Good content needs a good story. It doesn’t have to be 500,000 words long. It doesn’t have to be an NPR series on the creation of a tee shirt in the current global economy (a great story by the way). It can be as simple as effectively conveying a feeling and a sense as can be done in a single photograph that invokes thoughts and ideas that you end up filling in the blanks to complete the tale. It does have to have a character(s), tension, depth, meaning, it must reveal something and needs to have a narrative. Different mechanisms can be employed to convey this. Storytelling is a cornerstone in our ability to get ideas to stick. It is the informational genetic code that enables an idea to survive and be passed on from one generation to the next. It’s why religion, Santa, the boogeyman, organ theft, and love stories all virally spread between and stick with us.

Push marketing is dead. Advertising is dead, banner ads on websites, radio ads, billboards, popups that appear before you can load a site, popups that appear as you start reading a site (and by pop up I mean the ones that are ‘in’ the webpage, not the 1999 version of a separate window adding itself to your desktop clutter. Yes, unfortunately those still exist). They are all dead. It’s only a matter of time before the last tombstone in the last graveyard of advertising is set in the ground. Blade Runner I love you but our future will not include those bill boards. There will not need to be. And I disagree with the assertion that it’s not dead, it’s evolving or simply changing. The point here is that push marketing is dead. And that to all intents and purposes the future doesn’t include advertising as we see it today. Marketing is often mischaracterized as being only about promotion, advertising et al. It’s so much more than that, it’s about a deep understanding of the people who might want your product, your product/service, how those things intersect and how you communicate about that.

One day there will be no advertising. Not as we know it today. There will be content. Content that you want to consume. That is shared because it has value in and of itself. Content that appears in relevant context to what you are doing and connects you to new things, services, experiences that you probably want. It will be more effective. Less annoying. With the evolution of big data and the internet of things it becomes broadly real sooner than you think. If you are a fan of Stephen Hawking you might enjoy watching Grand Design – The Meaning of Life. Where he covers that all of our choices may well all end up boiling down to a complex predetermination any way. If anyone every figures out a Theory of Everything they can monetize it by selling it as a marketing service. That’s a bad physics joke and I’m aware of how beautifully cynical it sounds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it covered somewhere by Douglas Adam, Terry Pratchett or Ian M. Banks.

It all boils down to is Propaganda vs. Relevance. The crafting of propaganda has existed for as long as humanity itself. I’m told that after practicing law it’s the third oldest profession. Every conflict, war, work related butting of heads uses it as a tool. Its essence is that of one human being trying to convince another so it doesn’t comes across as such. If you are truly relevant and able to convince your customer to do something without them realizing it then you attain that mythic status immortalized by the quote "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist". As evil as that may sound really it’s all about a respect for your customer, reaching them in a relevant way to connects them with something which they will be care about. Not wasting their time. Not adding to the noise.

Putting this into practice takes progressive engagement (Gartner, Hank Barnes). It’s about leading a horse to water. Stepping stones. Phases. Conversations. Moving forwards through and to something. I love presenting and I feel like I can always do better, so when I’m given the opportunity for "presentation skills training" I lap it up. Sometimes it’s screwed me up, made me over think myself. But it’s all good. One time I was preparing for a presentation, that I never actually gave because I ended up getting horribly sick and missing the whole event. The guy who did the training laid on a really salient point that interestingly maps to this topic. He said "What do you really think you can get across in an hour?" Great question. Right? Think about that for a second. You can’t educate, much. You can’t deliver all the details of your subject. It might take you ten times that amount of time to prepare the presentation. Aside: arguably if there are 100 people in that room then you owe it to their time investment to invest a hell of a lot of time in the prep, that’s another blog post entirely. The point is you can’t get it all across at once so don’t try.

The same goes for "marketing" or "advertising". Give your audience enough to want more, to come back, to take the next step, the "next action" where they consume your content and embark on a journey of relevance with you. The future of marketing is about storytelling via content that creates progressive engagement, not one of billboards.

If there is one thing Ridley Scott got right with Blade Runner it’s that in 2014 we’d still have billboards. What do you think? What sort of science fiction of marketing and advertising can you dream up? Leave it in the comments…

If you are trying to communicate a complex topic how do you do it? Do you do it well?

Many of us in marketing easily get into orbit around planet “Marketing Speak”. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it is a sort of linguistic-one-up-manship, or an arms race of sounding like we know what we are talking about. Then there is our obsession with “over branding” things. Other times it seems like it is just well meaning, intelligent people hustling as they go, speaking as they think. The irony is we all end up sounding the same. Before long our respective companies are all revolutionary, segment leaders and give you solutions for your productivity and delivering results. One of the aims of marketing is not to sound like everyone else. Remember when everything was iSomething ala iPod?

I was inspired to blog about this after finding this rather interesting compilation of marketing speak. Some that ‘pop’ in particular for me when I encounter them are words/phrases like; productivity, empowered, solution, innovation, smart, flexible, next generation, revolutionary, best practice, robust, visionary, user friendly, breakthrough, transformative, ROI, Time-To-Value, TCO, ecosystem, best of breed, out of the box, feature rich, disruptive, customer-centric, sea-change, tables takes, silo, synergistic, solution driven, low hanging fruit, cutting edge, mission critical. I mean you kind of need to be trained to understand some of those. Time-to-Value?

What a killer crutch they make! And it’s good to challenge yourself not to fall into that trap. We often use them as a sort of placeholder, or cheat sheets to what we really mean. Think about it for a minute. You have 20, 50, 100 wicked smart, experienced marketers from a variety of industries and backgrounds that all find themselves at <insert company name here>. Working on a product launch, a rebranding, a marketing promotion… you name it. The ideas are flowing, debates are raging, budgets are being allocated. In this environment it would seem natural to use placeholders so you could quickly move on to the next part of the conversation, to make your point. The problem is that whatever you do inside your company inevitably gets out of your company. The language you use will take on a life of it’s own and we really don’t want our customers to have to get training to understand us.

Thankfully there is an alterative. Take any one of those words or concepts and ask yourself what you really mean by it. Revolutionary? What is new, why is it cool, how will it make someone’s life better than before? Then talk about that, it could be with a real customer. It could be fiction if you don’t have a specific example. Go deep on the company, the people that make it tick. Tell their story. Consider concepts like; work, build, ship, help, change, solve, problems, fixed, love, happy, purpose, meaning, feared, approached, considered, daily grind, hopes, aspirations, achievements, hurdles overcome. Explore the tension, the motivation, the pressures, the feeling of success.

Suddenly your ‘revolutionary product’ is being talked about by Billy P. from FOO Industries who was about ready to quit. For years he struggled to get his product change requests in on time because he relied on so many people to make it happen. Six of these people were in time zones where at least one of them would be asleep at any given time a question needed answering. One guy in particular, Frank always seemed irritated by the delays and let Billy and Billy’s manager know about it. It took four weeks at best to get the product change requests completed, a curve ball such as one of their suppliers running out of a component could easily extend that. It’s no surprise now that Billy P. sleeps better at night now. Why? It takes him two weeks, tops. He’s able to plan his work around clear information from his suppliers so he doesn’t do work on the products that will be impacted by late components. Those six people can now work on the project virtually at the same time. Frank and Billy have even become friends. It turns out they have a shared love for Bowling which Billy P. is finally getting to spend time doing again, which he hadn’t really done regularly in almost ten years. There are also murmurs in the team that the improvements he’s driven look like they might lead to a promotion. Billy P. has started smiling again. And it was YOUR product that helped?

Revolutionary? Sounds like it. Increased productivity? You bet! The thing is if you just laid one of those words on your audience it could mean many things, or nothing. Your intent could be lost, people could lose interest as it sounds like everything else. The biggest crime of all is that few people will even ‘get’ what it is you are trying to communicate.

Now, I just made up Billy’s story, on the fly. There isn’t even a product I had in mind. So just imagine what you can do with your products and customers. I tell it to helps illustrate that any of those words can have a great story behind them. What do you think? How have you tackled this subject? Do you have techniques or approaches to avoid slipping into marketing speak? I’d love to hear from you.

We are all probably familiar with the famous John Donne quote "No man is an island". The quote comes from such a potent paragraph it actually contains two world renown sayings. The other being "For whom the bell tolls". In today’s hyper connected, hyper busy world it would seem more real than ever that we are not alone. And yet many of these connections are fleeting (re-tweets on twitter, comments on Facebook). How do we effectively invest in relationships and get done what we need to get done?

Many of us rely on others whom we have never met face to face (email, teleconferencing) to do our jobs. Building relationships and partnerships in such a medium is harder than the luxury our ancestors had when they could simply focus on their village. We are interacting with and managing relationships with more people than John Doone ever did. Does his philosophy still stand? As such the relative depth of our connections are spread far thinner. It’s actually become more important to recognize the importance of partnerships. In a highly networked, dispersed world if we are not effective in connecting into that flow we will not be able to attain our goals. We rely on inputs from others to develop ‘our’ ideas. We rely on others to help us put those ideas into action. Being harmonious with this requires sacrifice, and generosity.

Consequently the explosion of connections and relationships makes it more difficult to know which relationships to assess and invest in. Partnership by definition and tradition is quid pro quo. A win-win for two parties. The concept of ‘pay it forward’ is one where you do nice things simply for others not expecting a return. It speaks to Karma. How can we incorporate this into our highly interconnected world view. If we expand upon that Indian philosophy to bring Dharma into the equation one could argue that the Dharma for each and every one of us should include tending to our shared matrix of existence. That by executing on a pay-it-forward action into the network we are maximizing our positive input and increasing the likely hood of systemic reciprocation.

It might be tempting to take a highly competitive view of living in this massively networked world, that we must act, execute and deliver at all costs and that there are enough bridges to burn a few. I would propose quite the opposite. Rather than looking at a positive investment in outbound generosity as a waste of bandwidth it is in fact highly valuable, beyond its moral or feel good implications, both of which are fine reasons. And if more people act in this way it has an amplifying impact on all the other connections. Even when there is no apparent quantitative material gain from a specific investment. The more positive energy in the system the more it will output, even when you least expect it. There might after all be some physics to this (David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order).

So the next time you are weighing up the pros and cons of ‘getting it done’ vs. ‘spreading a little bit of love’ realize the equation is both larger and far more non-linear than you will be able to grasp. Find time for both. It seems Boone’s philosophy is more relevant than ever.

I took the frames for this photo outside of the Lotus F1 Team HQ in Oxfordshire after a day long meeting I was running there. I was in fact in the middle of a conversation with a colleague when I realized what an epic view was behind him. I really love this view. It’s actually three exposures blended with some gentle touch up in Lightroom. I was on a mission to make something both realistic and painterly like. I think I established that I love it. What do you think?

In some ways this is a follow up to the last post. They are certainly related. There we talked about the importance of making a decision to enable you to lock onto something and go after it. The thing is you need to see that thing, to do so you must have vision.

Vision serves as a guiding light. It illuminates your thoughts and gives meaning to your efforts. It is also a yardstick by which you measure the worth and priority of other thoughts. How can you prioritize when you don’t know what is more important than another? Practically speaking I tackle this by having "projects" (even smaller ones) that I know I need to get done and then use these as a filter to allow specific behavior through.

In other terms there is the old Shakespearian proverb "the truth will out". You can’t hide who you truly are, or what you think. You bleed out of you as if a broken sieve. On the receiving end have you met people who just oozed with a certain vibe, positive or negative? If you don’t have a vision and simply allow the whim of the day to guide you then this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a lack of focus will prevent you from attaining focus. What the….?

To take us on a bit of a side journey, albeit an important one. If you find yourself in conflict with another person and you must work with this person then be warned. The truth will out. You will expose yourself and your intentions. Except for the most masterful or Machiavellian amongst us (no, that’s probably not you or I for that matter) we can’t hide a devious strategy. Try be devious and it will come out. Bitter, yup they will taste it. Frustrated? Your intonation will rise and you will cut people of. You will expose yourself. Especially over time, it’s inevitable.

In this side journey its possible to see how vision can play a key role. When you need to work with "that" person how can you find a true ‘win-win’, a reason to commit, something to get behind. Keep coming back to that. Find the silver lining. Make it positive, beneficial to you both. What you will discover is that the truth will out. If you want to dig deeper into this I can recommend a powerful and moving book, As Man Thinketh, James Allen talks about thoughts being seeds that you sow in your mind. Positive or negative they will grow and flourish. "Every action and feeling is preceded by a thought."

Likewise if you are working on a project and have a clear vision and thus a purpose others will see it, feel it. The fact such an apex exists means people will be able to latch onto it, to navigate by it and to join you for the ride. Especially if you are working to find the essence of win-win in all relationships.

I’ll leave you with two platitudes that I respect allot; go fast and go alone, go together and go far. Secondly; you will get further in life with honey than with vinegar. Both of which speak to having a vision, and making it real through partnerships.

What is your vision? It could be for a project. Your career. A story. A work of art that you are creating. A business idea. I’d love to hear from you.

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