08 Oct

What exactly do customers want to feel?

In Part 1 of this look at what customers want,  I made the case that they want to buy a future set of feelings.  To prove my point, I sent the willing reader to a grocery store to uncover for themselves how everyday products have deeper underlying meanings with emotional attachments.  The logical mind does not want to believe in the emotional reality of our purchasing habits because admitting so triggers feelings of vulnerability and ego responses.

In this Part 2, we answer a “how” question. If customers only want a future set of feelings when they are buying things, how can we figure out what those desired feelings are?

What do customers want to feel?

Principle 1:  You must know yourself

We all have subconscious and unconscious beliefs, habits, fears, and dreams.  They drive most of our thinking and behavior.  As marketers, we see, hear, interpret, analyze, and assess through the lens of this “stuff” that is bubbling constantly under our mental surface.

Want to become excellent at figuring out what customers really want?

Get yourself out of the way.

In other words, by becoming conscious of the engine that is under your own mental hood, you quickly clear the lens of how you see and understand other people.

Is this something you can do in one day or one week?  No.  Self-inquiry is a process that you start and never end – it takes a lifetime.  That said, the fact that you choose to initiate a self-inquiry process instantly puts you into a mental position that you want to see and understand the world they way it is, not the way you think it is.  If you are successful at making self-inquiry a daily habit, you actually reap the benefits in the first day and the very first week.

And as times goes by, you become more and more astute with your observations and understandings of human motivations and behavior.

Principle 2:  You can’t ask people what they want to feel

Another survey a company wants me to complete. Uggghh…

Surveys don’t work if you are trying to get at what customers really want.  Nor does simply asking customers in any form.  Oh, asking customers their opinions is good for uncovering some feelings after they have interacted with your product or service.  A survey can give you a sense of customer satisfaction. But asking customers cannot actually uncover their true purchase motivations.

Why? Because customers don’t know what they want.  I mean this literally: They don’t know the real reasons they want something.   By “know” I mean be able to clearly and in detail articulate the emotional underpinnings to their desires.

They think they know why and will defend their position vehemently if you were to press them or challenge them. But they generally can’t and won’t be able to give you the underlying reasons – the real reasons.

To give you the real reasons would be worse for them than stripping physically naked in front of you: It would be stripping emotionally naked in front of you. Most people are afraid to be physically naked in private and look at themselves in a mirror.  How many people are strong enough to strip emotionally naked to you, a stranger, when stripping emotionally naked to themselves would be one of the most terrifying things they could do as a human being?

A ridiculous example to make my point:

Researcher:  “So, what are the emotional reasons you want to buy the new iPhone?”

Customer:  “I want an iPhone because I am afraid of being left behind. If I don’t get a new iPhone, my friends will think I am loser and no-one will like me anymore. Girls will think I am poor and I will end up lonely and worse: I won’t be part of the “normal” people at school.  I fear this will lead to me becoming irrelevant and lost in social and work settings, leading to a life living without money or hope for the future. Belonging is extremely important to me, and if I don’t belong to what Apple and the iPhone represent, I will engage in negative habits and behaviors such as addictions, anger, sadness, and ultimately, self-destruction – I will die on the street as a beggar.”

While this is silly example, can you see that almost no-one in this world would allow themselves to uncover true feelings to themselves, much less openly to someone doing marketing research?

Principle 3:  You must uncover true customer desires

So, if you can’t ask customers why they really want to buy something, how do you find out?

You have to uncover the deeper truths – the emotions customers desire to feel.

To uncover the truth, you need to use a lot more of yourself than just your logical, rational brain.  You need to use a whole host of aspects, skills, and abilities in yourself, including emotional intelligence and some that are innate – they can’t be “learned”, but they can be developed.

Here is a summary PowerPoint slide I use in my MBA marketing course:

How do you find out what people really want?

 

Uncovering the truth is a messy business.

It means observing and engaging with your customers and allowing yourself to see deeply into their lives, gaining insights from their lifestyle behaviors, purchasing habits, and thinking.

It takes time, effort, strength of will, and allowing your own vulnerabilities to be exposed.

It means creating a connection to your customer so they will open up to you.

Would you like to see a master at work, someone who isn’t afraid to delve into his own emotions as he figures out what people really want?

Mad Men:  Don Draper and the Kodak Slide Carousel:

How do I build the skills and abilities to be like Don Draper?

The best marketers, as exemplified by Don Draper in Mad Men, must learn and develop more of themselves than simply their intellect.

Want to become like Don Draper?  Start learning and developing the following:

1.  About yourself (as noted earlier)

2.  Emotional intelligence – how other people feel, and why.

3.  The ability to feel emotions in yourself without pushing them down or getting overwhelmed.

4.  The personal strength to interact openly with others so as to engage much more of yourself with them.

These are life skills, really.  And perhaps engaging in life is the best way, if not the only way,  to learn these.

An exercise

As in Part 1, here is an exercise that can get you started on the path to expanding your skills and abilities in uncovering the truth about what people and customers really want.

1. Go to a coffee shop by yourself. Starbucks is a good one to begin with.

2.  Order your drink and get a seat where you can observe the lineup and at the same time be near other people who are sitting and drinking and chatting.

3.  Shut off your cell phone, shut off your laptop, remove your earphones, put down anything you are holding, and sit comfortably with your hands on your lap.

4.  Feeling a bit naked and uncomfortable?  Good!  You are used to being with friends, holding something, and being “plugged in” to your electronics.  Now you are alone, with no safety blanket and unplugged. You are a bit naked, no?  Sit with this feeling for 5 minutes or so.  What happens?  Are people looking at you, pointing their fingers and whispering to each other?

No, of course not.

As you come to realize that you are OK just sitting there, you will also begin to notice that your discomfort levels rise and fall, depending on what thoughts flow through your mind.  You may also notice that your mind tries to escape by going into stories, fantasies, or memories.  Gently return your attention to the coffee shop when this happens.

5.  Do a conscious observation:  Watch how people enter the coffee shop and line up to buy their drinks.  Watch how they stand in line, chat with each other, and how they interact with staff when it is their turn to order.

How do they behave? Where do they look? Do they seem comfortable or nervous? What patterns do you start to see emerging?

6.  Do another conscious exercise:  Listen to a conversation that is taking place near you.  Of course you cannot watch the people as this would be socially unacceptable (staring), but you can listen in. Or can you? Do you feel uncomfortable doing this? Why?

As you listen, sit with any feelings that arise in you. Are they your feelings being triggered by what you hear, or are you simply picking up the feelings of the people who are conversing, just as you pick up the heat of the sun when it shines on your skin?

As you listen to the conversation, can you observe your mind picking up interesting patterns and insights?  Can you hear your mind comparing what you are hearing to your own experience of life?

After 20-30 minutes of holding yourself separate from your habits and simply observing, you may find yourself getting mentally tired, emotionally upset , and even stressed.  Or you may find yourself in a new and exciting state of being, similar to a meditative state.  There is no right or wrong here of what you experience.  Be gentle with yourself if you do find this hard.  It takes practice to be by yourself and feel safe, strong, and open to hearing and experiencing the realities around you.

Question: How many times in the 20-30 minutes did you pick up your drink?  Was it a habitual movement, a nervous reaction, or simply a desire for a drink?  Be honest with yourself!

At the end of this exercise, walk out of the coffee shop and observe any feelings you have as you walk out. Relief? Exhilaration? Or feeling nothing?

Walk off the experience to clear your mind and emotions and reflect on what you learned.

Congratulations! You have practiced several skills and abilities that the best marketers have!

Are you ready and willing to do it again in another coffee shop?

14 Aug

The paradox of teaching “entrepreneurship”

I watched a video on entrepreneurship yesterday.

Well, actually, I only watched the first 10 minutes of the video – it was an hour long.

During those first 10 minutes, the very well-intentioned university professor attempted to intellectually conceptualize entrepreneurship and say something meaningful.

I gave up after 10 minutes of watching him struggle to bridge the gap between what he wanted to do and what entrepreneurship is.   He wanted to make something active into something passive.

The paradox of teaching “entrepreneurship”

Entrepreneur:  “A person who organizes and manages…”   (Dictionary.com)

There are two verbs in this definition: “organize” and “manage”.

These are active.  You organize and manage.  You do these things.

And you get good at organizing and managing as an entrepreneur by practicing organizing and managing. By independently daring to do the organizing and managing.  No-one gives you permission.  You answer to no-one. You initiate and do them yourself.

Like riding a bike, you can’t really study entrepreneurship in a way that makes it passive.  Well you, can. And you can study how to ride a bike, can’t you?

But in the end, you learn to ride a bike by…riding a bike.

And you learn entrepreneurship by…organizing and managing a business.

Which leads to the paradox:  Can you teach entrepreneurship?

Lorne Fingarson figured out how to teach entrepreneurship.

Homage:  Thank you, Lorne Fingarson, for inviting me to develop “curriculum” and “teach” in the Business Incubator Program at BCIT – The British Columbia Institute of Technology – from 1991-1993.

Lorne figured it out.  He convinced BCIT to deliver a program where entrepreneurs would get the learning and support they needed to increase their chances of startup success. His stats showed that with incubator support, he could get the success rate of business startups from 10-20% up to 60-70%.

But my “curriculum” and “teaching” in the program were anything but normal “university” lecturing.  Instead, at BCIT I supported entrepreneurs in learning the financial and marketing skills they needed for their businesses to be successful.  Not by lecturing, but by coaching them during their active “organizing” and “managing” of their businesses.

And that is the key difference:  The focus was on the entrepreneur and their business, not on me and my knowledge.

Student centered learning – the “flipped classroom”

When I first took a case-based business course during my undergrad, I was hooked.  Cases opened my mind to how the world works and gave me a chance to solve real problems. My MBA was entirely case-based.

And when we actually had to “do” a business in another undergrad course – actually make a business happen – I was ecstatic.

It is no wonder, then, that my teaching these last 23 years has been student centered.

In Dubai I led a team of faculty in creating something unique:  An entrepreneurship-based e-business bachelor degree program.  With the brilliant Tony Degazon in the co-pilot seat, we pushed and pushed to see how much we could get away with in a post-secondary institution.

Could we create an incubator-style program where students created online businesses?

We did!  And what an amazing Program!  From laying out their “classroom” (including painting the room and laying out the “office”) to choosing their own businesses that they actually started, our students were at the center of the learning.  This was the true student-centered, flipped classroom.

And it worked.

Back in Canada after 6-1/2 year in Dubai, I did two things:  Teach business part-time at a university and start my own businesses.

I wanted to organize and manage my own businesses for the sheer joy of being an entrepreneur and I wanted to share my passion for “doing entrepreneurship” in the higher-ed classroom.

The organizing and managing of my own businesses has been a wonderful journey, and often quite profitable.

The entrepreneurship “teaching”?

Kind of “hit and miss”.

Entrepreneurship and universities:  An awkward fit

Despite my best intentions, the fit was never a strong one between entrepreneurship – an active way of doing business – and the more passive study of business, as universities are set up to do.

Oh, I write lots of case studies for universities, colleges, and corporate trainers all over the world.

And in years past I got away with teaching an international marketing course primarily through my students creating real international businesses in their 14 weeks in the course. And again, amazing outcomes resulted.  One student team created such a successful business that they had to shut it down to finish their studies – it would take too much of their time.  In the end, the defacto team leader told me that she wanted to get her MBA because she wanted to work in a corporation, not run her own business.

A successful startup business...in an MBA Program marketing course

A successful startup business…in an MBA Program marketing course

 

(Oh the sometimes startling agony in being a teacher:  The most successful online venture from all the teams in all the running of the course and the business gets shut down because it was too successful and not what the student wanted to do!)

In the end, universities are set up to study things, not do things.  And no slight intended: The world needs things studied.  But so does entrepreneurship need a student-centred or “flipped classroom” approach to succeed. Perhaps not something that hundreds of years of history, process, and tradition, called the university model, is designed to support well.

We need more Lorne Fingarsons and more business incubators

Start-up weekends“, Lorne Fingarson,  business incubators, community support,  and $100 Startup’s Chris Guillebeau and his World Domination Summit entrepreneurial culture creation.

These are events, people, infrastructure, and cultures where entrepreneurship happens and where it can be “taught”.

We need more of these.

Bring it on!

A final note:

Lorne and his wife Pat keep on giving to BCIT.  Inspirational.

12 Jun

Customers want to FEEL something!

Mad Men – Season 2, Episode 1:

Peggy Olson: Sex sells.

Don Draper: Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this [marketing]. They take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. YOU are the product. You – FEELING something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.

 

emotionsI have taught hundreds of students this core marketing principle:   “Feelings” – emotions and desired emotional states – are the foundation for all customers needs and wants.  And yet, it is the minority who “get it” and seem to integrate it. Some even outright reject the notion! They have clearly stated to my face that they don’t want to see the world that way. They want to believe they make rational, unemotional decisions and that the world is constructed in a rational mechanical way.  All my students are really smart people, but the concept doesn’t seem to stick with most of them! Intelligence is not the issue here.  Something else is going on that is simply beyond the scope of intelligence to explain.

So why is it, as Don Draper says, that “They can’t do what we do…”?

This primer on emotions and marketing is my attempt to bridge that gap.  I believe everyone can understand and use this idea to more fully understand themselves and how they want to participate in our consumer driven society, as a customer or as a marketer.  It doesn’t matter if you are marketing professionally or simply marketing yourself into a new job:  Emotions are the basis of it all.

Foundation Truth: We really only want to buy emotions

We do not want things, such as shiny new cars, beautiful clothes, delicious food at a restaurant, 4k TV’s, or new iPhone models.  We do not want services, such as a car wash, a hair stylist, great service at a restaurant, 150 channel digital HD TV service, or 4g cell phone service.

Instead, we want to experience certain feelings, and we look to the world outside of our mind for some thing, some process, or someone to trigger those feelings in us.

Examples of the things and services we think we want and the emotions we really want:

What we think we want –> What we really want

In marketing a new car is an "emotional delivery device"...

In marketing a new car is an “emotional delivery device”…

A shiny new car  –>  The feelings of personal freedom, having “made it”, starting fresh, hope for the future, being seen by others as wealthy, modern, successful, young, desirable, …

Beautiful clothes –> The feelings of being attractive, confident, sexy, respected, honoured, desired, seen as successful, …

A hair stylist –> Someone who can help make me feel fresh, new, attractive, desired, beautiful, self-confident, …

Delicious food at a restaurant –> The feelings of happiness, treating oneself, pleasure, reward for having worked hard, …

A 4K TV –> The feelings of status, being rewarded for your hard work, feeling modern and up-to-date, feeling proud of your belongings, status because of your wealth, feeling the need to escape into another reality so very clearly available on a 4k TV, …

Buying a new model of iphone - an emotional rush!

Buying a new model of iPhone – an emotional rush!

A new iPhone model –>  Feelings of status, control, power, fitting in, empowered to excel, being seen as attractive because you are “with it”, rewarded for your hard work, deserving, excited, delighted, entertained, …

Accepting that you are a bundle of walking and talking desires for emotional states is the first step to understanding how emotions rule marketing…and rule our lives. Ignoring the surface level – the “artifacts” and “manifestations” of our conscious and unconscious desires – and looking for the underlying emotional drivers and causes of these artifacts and manifestations showing up in our lives is a habit worth cultivating.

Why is it so hard to see the world through the lens of emotional desires?

Earlier I noted that some students outright reject the notion that emotions are the driving force in how consumer buying decisions are made.  I think there is conditioned thinking happening:  Math, logic, and the scientific method are “true”.  Emotions and non-linear logic are “false”.  Emotions are messy, messy things and perhaps this simply scares a lot of people – and maybe men more than women, if I can be excused for a bit of stereotyping.

And I think it is also because we are scared of ourselves – of what might be lurking under our own illusory logical, rational beliefs about who we are.

Foundation Truth: Most people are not able to see below the surface

We live in a world where personal reflection and the seeking of truth are not valued, appreciated, encouraged, or supported.  Instead, they are actively discouraged by parents, teachers, friends, the media, marketing influences, and even our own ego, which fears what the truth might mean.  The tiny voice in the back of your mind which is calling you to seek truth is tiny indeed, and very much hidden in the background of our day-to-day thinking.

No, this is not a value judgement where I am shaking a fist at the bad people doing this to you.

No, this is not even something that is necessarily bad.

It just is.  It is truth.  Most people cannot see below the surface and you cannot make them do so.

However, once someones decides to start digging – once they are good and fed up of being a puppet whose strings are being pulled by their unconscious mind and the current circumstances they find themselves in – all the tools are ready for them to begin deconstructing their minds, lives, and how the world of marketing works.

Are you ready to see below the surface?

(Warning: Once you dig deep enough, you can never go back into the proverbial “Matrix”!)

We all get glimpses of truth now and again.  The veil of illusion shifts slightly and we see into the backstage for just a second.  This is not good enough.  These glimpses are just that:  glimpses. Your habitual way of thinking is to focus on the illusions of the world, which are the artifacts and manifestations you think are real. Now you must practice and habituate seeing through the veil – parting it, ripping it down, and walking through it – in order to see your own truths and the layers of truth under the illusions you think are real.

Ready?

Grocery StoreExercise:

1.  Shut off your cell phone. Remove your ear buds.

2.  Go to your local grocery store by yourself.  No cell phone, no smart phone, no ear buds, no distractions.

3.  Pick up a hand basket.  Do not put anything into this basket. This basket is a symbol of your free mind – empty and open.

4.  Walk through all the aisles of the store, pausing and letting your mind trigger into thoughts and emotions for each item that your eyes rest upon.  Allow your mind to fully form these thoughts and fully imagine the scene that plays out. Do not try to close down your thoughts or move on until they are fully formed and played out.  If you feel emotions of any kind, “be” with them as best you can.  We are not accustomed or encouraged to letting emotions flow through us.  It takes bravery and practice to allow them to be a powerful tool we can use.

My real example:  “I see the potatoes in a big pile. I think of my father, who loved potatoes.  He wanted them every day. They reminded him of the tough times he had during WWII when there wasn’t enough food. Eating potatoes made him feel safe.  I remember feeling his hurt when he talked about his experiences of being hungry during the war. My father is dead now. I miss him. I wish I could give him a hug right now. ”  (I am feeling a lot of emotion)  I pick up a couple of the nicest potatoes and put them into my basket, understanding now that they are not potatoes to me in that moment, but symbols of my love for my father and my honouring of him and the experiences he went through.  By buying those potatoes, I am actually buying a bit of a memory of him and triggering my desire to feel loving…

The whole store and this exercise too big and uncertain?  Try just wandering by these specific items:

– Lettuce and salad ingredients

– fruit

– canned soup

– seafood

– fresh baked bread

5.  When you are exhausted mentally and/or emotionally, stop the exercise.  If you have been open to the experience, you will likely get tired and emotionally overwhelmed very quickly. This is natural and it means you are doing the exercise correctly. No, this does not mean that seeing below the surface of things is always exhausting and emotionally draining. It only means that you have little practice with doing so and no-one has ever told you that this takes time and practice to build up the strength to allow the undercurrents of your mind to become conscious and to see the truth of how emotions drive your thinking and behavior.

The grocery store and food items were specifically chosen for this exercise because of the powerful role that food plays in our lives and the often very emotional states and stories that are connected to specific food items.

6.  Go for a walk or engage in another physical activity immediately after this exercise to let the truths you have exposed settle and clear from your mind. Maybe you need to sit quietly for awhile instead of physical activity. All good.  While walking or sitting quietly, embed in your memory the path backwards from the physical item through your “story” and to your underlying emotions.  In effect, you are seeing what every artifact you focused on means to you and how your behavior is the result of the emotional drivers as they pass through your “story”.

How does marketing work? It triggers your emotions by guiding you through a story that is presented to you, with an artifact at the end that you are encouraged to buy because you want to connect to and experience the underlying emotions that the marketing story has triggered in you.

Marketing is creation. It is the creation of needs for artifacts and manifestations through the triggering of your largely unconscious emotional needs and a “story”. if you don’t have this story within you, marketers will gladly supply it for you.

Want to do some more of this kind of exercise to see how pervasive emotions and stories are in your life?  Try exposing yourself to the following:

– A new car lot (from the sidewalk so that no salespeople interrupt you)

– A 7-11 or other convenience store you have frequented.

– A park with a playground.

– A movie theatre

– A shopping mall.

– A swimming pool

– A natural area that you love – maybe a path beside a lake or in the forest.

If you are brave enough to let the stories and emotions flow, it will literally change who you are. You will “wake up” in a very profound way.

Struggling to understand this? Watch the video clip I quote at the beginning. It might help:

Part 2:  How to discover the emotions that others want to experience

Once you see that emotional desires are the foundation of how you generate needs for things, you can make the logical leap that everyone else must also operate the same way (they do).  The best businesses do not try to sell you things. First they figure out what your underlying emotional needs are and then carefully construct a story that will engage you into wanting an artifact or manifestation (experience) that will give you those emotions.

The problem?  No-one talks this way! You can’t ask someone to share their “emotional desires”.  Finding out what people want, so that your marketing efforts can trigger the correct mix and temperature of desired emotions, is actually pretty tricky.

In Part 2, we start to look at how to discover the emotions that individuals and groups of people want to experience…

 

21 Feb

My 10 hard-learned principles for starting a business

I am an entrepreneur.

marbles - games of chance and skill

When I was 7 or 8 years old I was running my own gambling game and market stall at my public school.  With glass marbles, dozens of us would offer games of skill and chance. If you could hit the tiny ball bearing with a marble, you would get a larger ball bearing or a crystal boulder (a large marble). Sometimes you would amass a bag full of “misses” when people tried to hit your tiny ball bearing.  And there was a clear ranking as to the value of all sizes of marbles, boulders, and ball bearings, one that changed regularly, depending on supply and demand. Besides the games, there was a brisk market for trading various types of balls based on these values.  Ten marbles might get you a crystal boulder, for example. Or on a good day, you might negotiate a better deal, only to trade it for a higher value deal the next day.  Then there were bullies who tried to steal your collection.  The school yard was pretty well policed by teachers, but without overt permission for this marketplace to take place, the market was basically unregulated.  When the inevitable day came when the games and market were shut down by the powers-that-be, there was a true sense of loss for many of us.  But then we moved on to trading hockey cards. One entrepreneurial addiction to another…and just 8 years old.

Living in a town where alcohol was the preferred choice of entertainment, I would ride my bike up and down miles of roads looking for empty beer cans and bottles in ditches.  What a great gig for a 10 year old! As soon as the snow had melted in the spring it was bonanza time:  A whole winter of drinking and driving throwaways were mine for the taking. That is, if Lou, the retired Hawaiian guy who lived across the street, didn’t get them first.  He was a real competitor:  Arising at 5 am, Lou would head to the backstreets of the industrial area of town where guys in cars would drink themselves silly, throw away the cans and bottles, and then drive on.  I had a secret weapon, however:  Lou would walk his dog. I would ride my bike.  So I had vast areas to scout for my glass and tin loot that he couldn’t get to.  But he was a clever guy: He knew that Saturday and Sunday mornings were the best days, after workers got paid their weekly wages on Friday.  I listened to his proudly announced techniques and learned.  I loved to learn how to do things smarter and better.

A clean driveway...

A clean driveway…

When I was a bit older my brother and I would cut lawns in the summer, rake leaves in the fall, and shovel snow off people’s driveways in the winter. Newspaper routes were, of course, also thrown in there for good measure during those years.

As a teenager I tried buying and selling comic books, which was a real money pit. I learned that the commercial trader bought comics at a pittance for what they sold them to me for. And of course when I tried to sell my collection, I was offered only this pittance. Once rid of that business, I instead learned about the horse racing and horse trading business (literally) from another neighbour. Another summer I worked in his greenhouse business, seeing what an amazing cash cow bedding flowers were. As the teenage years rolled on, I wandered through a handful of businesses, learning how the world worked:  Window frames, house painting, furniture manufacturing, building supplies, a department store. Of course, the teenage years meant wanting to socialize with girls, so I often held down 2 or 3 jobs and businesses at the same time. From Burger King to babysitting. I did it all. Money and having an excuse to hang around girls. Perfect.

My adult years meant a dozen more businesses: From importing water filters with my college friend Reiaz to buying bicycles from police auctions, tuning them up, and reselling them at a tidy profit in the spring.  Online businesses, consulting businesses, writing,  training, buying and renovating properties, selling door lites, distributing infra-red heating panels, keynote speaking, … and the list goes on.  All great learning experiences and deepening of my understanding of how the world works.

From 40 years of business successes and failures come 10 principles I base my new business ventures on:

1.  Is there any money in it?

Want to help others?  Volunteer.  I do, and it feels great to give from the heart.

Want to make money?  Always be sure to leave your “do gooding” feelings at home.  Is there little chance for significant revenues and profits in the short or long run?  Immediately and firmly shut down any attention to that idea.  Only start businesses where you can clearly make a good profit with reasonable effort.

And context is important here:  What is the scale of profit you want to make?  Doubling your money on a $50 sale sounds wonderful. But you can’t live on the profits from a $50 sale if you only make one sale a month.  Is this a “fun” business or a “pay the bills” business?  Being clear on the context of this business opportunity helps to put into perspective your expectations and how those expectations compare to the scale of profitability of the business.

2.  Are there enough possible customers who would want your product or service?

No guessing here.  Yes, you can prove there are enough customers or no, you can’t.  Yes?  Take the next step. No?  Stop that business idea immediately.

3.  Can they actually pay for it? And will they?

“Never try to sell something to someone who can’t afford what you are offering.” This is a paradox, because often in life those in most need can’t afford to pay to have that need met.  Even more subtly, many people who can afford what you have to offer say they can’t afford it and want it for free. Then they turn around and spend 10 times the amount of money on some luxury they want.  So clearly, there must also be a strong desire for what you have to offer –  a desire that is not a nicety, but a “here is my cash: give it to me now” kind of desire.

4.  Can you get them to buy your product or service?

Most of my business failures resulted from me not having the confidence, tenacity, acumen, and willpower to promote my products and services properly.  I always felt that a great product – one that offered excellent value – would sell itself.  True, if you have something unique and differentiated. Or something that people know well and want more of:  A Subway franchise, for example.  But false if you are just a “me too” business. Another standard offering. Then you have to work hard at promotion.

Marketing has been the most complicated and stressful part of all my efforts.  And I know it is for many others.

But now, I have a simple and clear question to guide me: “Can I simply and easily get people to buy what I am selling?”  Yes? Proceed. No?  Shut down that idea right away.  I will not engage in a “me-too” business, unless I can offer significant differentiation or access to a customer group that makes marketing clear and simple.

5.  Understand and offer what your customers want to buy, not what you want to sell.

You want to sell lawn cutting services.  Your customers don’t want their neighbours thinking bad thoughts about them because of an unkempt lawn.

Two completely different products.  Your view is irrelevant.  Theirs is always right.  Learn how the world works:  You are almost never selling a functional product or service. You are always meeting emotional needs.  Learn to speak to customers in a way that means something to them, not you.

So, I ask:  “What emotional needs am I offering to meet? Will customers pay lots of money to get those emotional needs met? Can I correctly and fully meet those emotional needs so that I can get lots of money in return?”

6.  Deliver excellent value, above and beyond what your customers expect.

Giving them everything you can think of?  Then find a way to give them more.

7.   Fire your worst customers right away.

I hated the guy who demanded his driveway be shoveled right away after it snowed, and then got his expensive car stuck trying to push his way through the snow piles, because he couldn’t wait for us to finish our shoveling work.   Instead he had us push him out. And when we were done shoveling, he told us to come back another day for payment because he didn’t have any cash.

Never, never do business with bad customers.  Fire them immediately or better still, simply say “no” to selling them your product or service in the first place.

8.  Pareto Principle your efforts

80% of your sales and profits will come from 20% of your customers.  Give those 20% of your customers your best attention and service.

80% of your work will come from 20% of your customers who make you no profit and give you all the grief.  Find out who those 20% are and get rid of them.

9. Buy low and sell high.

If you can’t buy low and sell high right away, don’t start the business.  Low profit margins never get better. They just get lower as costs go up.

And the key here is real margins: Not 10%, 20% or even 30%.  Never touch a startup business idea without a 50%, 100% or even 200% profit margin.  This is not greed, it is simply logical:  No real profits and you don’t have a real business. You have a charity. Great, if you are rich. Not great if need money to live on.

10.  Start right away and stop right away.

Start up your business at minimal cost and right away while you have hungry customers.  Even if you don’t have it all planned and organized perfectly yet.  Just do it.

And shut down your business right away when the customers don’t need you any more.  The moment your sales look like they are going to drop significantly due to factors beyond your control, shut down that business right away.

I learned this early in my career  I pushed for the sale of our first house only 6 months after we bought it and I had done a bunch of renos on it by myself.  My wife and all our extended family were shocked at the idea of selling and discouraged the sale.  To them, it was a home, something that you didn’t treat as a saleable asset.   To me, it was a freshly renovated asset in a market that had just peaked. Further, the cash from the sale of the asset was needed for our Masters degrees, something my wife and I had both just started working on full-time.

One month after we sold, the market plummeted, eventually dropping the value our house 25%.

Business decisions will often be unpopular.  But if you know when to start a business and when to stop it, hold firm and make the decisions, despite naysayers. Even if you are occasionally wrong, you establish a pattern of thinking, listening to intuition, and trusting yourself.  This is a confidence that is very, very valuable to you in the long run.

11.  Fall, get back up, and do something differently.

A bonus principle:  Expect to fail.  And then learn why you failed.  The only real failure is to not learn why you failed. If you do learn, then it is not a real failure, but rather a great learning experience.

And when you do fall down, get up right away and do something differently.

Entrepreneurs are not those who get their businesses right the first time. They are the ones who make 10 mistakes, learn all they can, and then succeed spectacularly the 11th time they try.

~~~~~~

A week after I wrote this blog post another question came to mind:  “Where did I make the most money from all these ventures?”

Buying houses, renovating them, and reselling them.  Hands down the biggest payoff in absolute profit terms.

In relative terms, for the capital and effort involved?  Selling myself:  Teaching in Dubai on contract was the most spectacular payoff, in cash, personal growth, and the lifestyle “wow” factor.

The most satisfying?  Collecting bottles and cans as a kid.  Every one you find, pick up, and return feels like a gift.  Is there anything more satisfying in business than feeling grateful when you make money?

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Photo credit:  Marbles, Flickr User: “Rebecca Barray”. Creative Commons Licensed, accessed February 21, 2014.

04 Nov

Marketing Manifesto – #8: In marketing you can’t Judge…anything

I stage a lot of experiential learning opportunities in my classes. With the luxury of 3 hours per class session, a diverse range of nationalities, the maturity that is typical of grad students, and a foundation of trust, I can set up some pretty profound journeys for all involved – including me.  In my staging I quite often startle myself with what results.  I really don’t know they will turn out, which of course makes them even more powerful because they are authentic.  Truth is the central goal of pretty much everything I do, and truth is almost always startling.

So it will come as no surprise  that one day while we were exploring some marketing truths we suddenly found ourselves on the edge of a cliff I had not intended to go over:  the “Judgement” question, with a capital “J”.  If we looked at this question in the class we would be plunging to a new level of truth – one I was not sure most students in the class were ready for. I was uncharacteristically startled into momentary silence when we reached the cliff edge – and delightfully surprised by the arrival of the vista of truth that opened up.

I stopped on the cliff’s edge that day instead of plunging over. But that vantage point gave me the next Marketing Manifesto principle:

 

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#8: You can’t judge…anything

Arriving at this cliff edge came suddenly because you really can’t avoid the Judgement question in marketing – it is everywhere.  Heck, everyone already thinks marketers are evil, using psychological tricks to prey on innocent consumers. So, having to face the question of Judgement really should have happened sooner.

But here it is what lies below that cliff, on the plain of truth below:

In marketing you can’t judge…anything. Everything you do will have both intended and unintended consequences.  You can only act from a place of personal integrity. All that results from your efforts and actions is in the proverbial ‘eye of the beholder’.

The foundation of judgement:  Beliefs  (bye, bye beliefs)

Judgement is about making decisions about what is right and wrong, based on personal morals and ethics.  Organizations can’t have morals and ethics. An organization is just a grouping of people held together by various agreements.  However, the people in the organization can have morals and ethics. In fact, they always do have them, and are the only ones who can have them.

Morals and ethics are beliefs  – beliefs about what is right and wrong. These beliefs come to us through various experiences in our lives and even through our genetic structure, apparently. Our belief systems  are the result of a variety of mostly unnoticed influences. We arrive at a place in our lives called adulthood with a generally fully formed set of values – a mix of morals and ethics that are underpinned by a framework of beliefs. Again, they are generally unconscious, but we use them every day in large and small decision making.  By unconscious I mean that they result in us knowing what to do in a situation inately – we don’t really have to think, we know what is right and wrong.

As a marketer striving to become the very best at the art of matching customers to the emotional experiences they want to have,  a large and complex network of beliefs is a limiting factor on your path to becoming the very best at your art form.

It is not long before you bump up against situations that challenge your beliefs about what is right and wrong and you must right then judge the particular situation facing you to decide if you will go agree to buy into it. The situation could be as innocuous as being asked to script an ad for a second-rate product when you know a better product is available to customers. Or it can be more challenging, such as being asked to carefully craft cigarette marketing that will meet legal requirements but at the same time encourage the purchase of these deadly little emotional delivery devices.  (‘deadly’ = judgement, of course!)

To the outside world you are already considered evil, as already noted.  A wide range of societal ills  are pinned on the marketer, from encouraging young women to starve themselves in order to meet unrealistic body image types to promoting first-person shooter computer games  that train the brain that it is fun and totally acceptable to kill people.   As marketers, promoting products and services that both help and harm people is standard fare.  Beauty is in the proverbial eye of the beholder and the mind of participant. Young women don’t have to expose themselves to toxic role models.  And Young men don’t have to play first-person shooter games.  When asked point-blank if killing someone is fun and acceptable in everyday society the vast majority of young men will vehemently attest  it is not.

In the end, the best marketing in the world is done from a judgement-less state of mind. It has to be. If marketers decided to be careful judges of all they do, based on a large framework of personal beliefs, they would be crappy marketers.

Insightful crafter of emotional experiences…or psychopath/sociopath?

So, how can you actually do marketing so that you are an insightful crafter of emotional experiences that enrich people’s lives rather than a psychopath/sociopath who preys on people’s emotional, intellectual, and developmental vulnerabilities?

Personal integrity

And it is a simple principle. As you strive to be the very best marketer you can be, you inevitably question and challenge your own beliefs, in order to get them out the way.  You want them out of your mental field of vision so as to gain a bias-free  understanding of what customers really want and how best to deliver their experiences to them.  All good. However, what happens when you are free of your beliefs and judgements and see only the perfect way to deliver emotional experiences to customers.  What then?  Do you simply act?  For example:

“The best way to keep a war economy going is to have lots of developmentally vulnerable young men trained to go to war and  want to kill people because it is fun and exciting to do so.  We will market a video game that makes the killing of people emotionally irresistible to children and young men who are developmentally vulnerable to deep mental programming.  This marketing will engage these young people to play the game, allowing it to lay a foundation of mental patterns and beliefs that war and killing is acceptable, exciting, and emotionally rewarding. I will do the very best I can to use  naturally unconscious instincts and developmental vulnerabilities to get children and young men to play the game as much as possible, so that they don’t consciously challenge their beliefs in war and killing at an adult age, thereby allowing wars and killing to continue unabated, keeping a war economy going.”

Judgement-free marketing at its best!

Or in clearing your own beliefs and resulting patterns of judgement do you come to a point where you now have to take responsibility for your actions – be  fully responsible so that you must now actually think about who you are and how you want to act in the world?

If you decide that you are responsible for how you go about in the world, but wish to stay judgement-free, you become a very powerful person, not just in marketing, but in the world in general.  You now begin to act from a place of personal integrity, one that is conscious, created by choice, and thoughtful.

And, going back to a previous Marketing Manifesto, you decide on one of two courses of action:

To act from a place of fear.

or

To act from a place of love and hope, helping people have their emotional experiences, but in conscious manner for both you and them.

Acting from this consciously thoughtful place, deciding in real time what you choose to do to help people, is personal integrity at its very best.