Sole to Soul

If you’re like me, one of the first things I notice about people is their shoes. I’m not sure where this comes from. Maybe it’s due to the fact that as babies crawling around, we see a lot of what people wear on their feet.

Regardless, there is no doubting the role shoes play in our lives. They’re magical. We want to wear the shoes our heroes and role models wear so we can be them. Shoes transform us into those people.

Have dreams of playing in the NBA? You will wear Lebron’s, Curry’s or Jordan’s.
Have dreams figure skating? You’ll wear the skates of your favorite olympian.
Want to be in a rock band? You’ll wear same kicks as your favorite artist.

New Shoes

Growing up I was no different, except the shoes I wanted to wear were the ones my dad wore.

At nine years old I bought my first golf shoes with money I earned from picking up range balls and cleaning clubs in the locker room. Instead of buying new oxford models like my friends were getting, I proudly purchased brown wingtips with tassels. My dad wore a pair just like them. I can still hear the sound the metal spikes made on pavement as he walked across the parking lot.

When I was 11 years old I started playing recreation basketball and my dad took me to buy shoes. My teammates wore Air Jordan IVs and Reebok Pumps, but I asked my dad what he wore when he played. As we walked into the sporting goods store, he said he wore Converse All-Stars. Ten minutes later, I floated back home holding a brand new pair of teal high-top Chuck Taylors.

Friends at the golf course and kids on other teams in the rec league may have looked at me weirdly or made fun of my kicks, but when I laced up, I had confidence and belief. Like wielding Thor’s hammer, wearing the shoes gave me power. Even on the rare occasion my dad wasn’t there, the shoes were a constant reminder that I had a hero, my father.

Sole Mates

By the time I possessed a license, there were several pairs of Topsiders and dress shoes shared between us. Wearing them was a reminder that we weren’t just sharing shoes but a name that carried principles and standards. We were sole mates.

After college, I started playing the mini-tours and was fortunate to receive golf shoes from FootJoy. At that point, on the golf course at least, the tables had turned and I gave a duplicate pair to my dad for him to wear around the links at Morehead City Country Club. Maybe I passed along some confidence to him as he stood over four-foot putts to win a skin off his buddies.

Today, the tradition has come full circle. I’ve seen both of my sons wear out the sneaks that mimic the style that I wear. Like a time machine, their shoes propel them into the future of who they want to be while simultaneously taking me back to my youth.

Sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and neighbors are looking for a sole mate. And they’re choosing you.

Wearing the shoes of parent, child, friend and coworker is an important responsibility because someone is walking in our shoes. The burden and opportunity of this fact is felt every time I lace up my Old Skools.

We all have big shoes to fill.

The Barnacles of Life

Growing up in a coastal town affords one a multitude of interesting environments. I compare it to all the stories people who grow up on farms have except instead of chickens, cows and fields, it’s boats, fish and the sea.

And just like a kid who has the “time I painted the barn” or “set fence posts” story, I have a removing barnacles story.

A barnacle is a type of crustacean that, as larvae, attaches itself (permanently) to anything it finds. Most often they’re seen fixed like warts onto piers, buoys, rocks and of course, boats.

These stubborn arthropods aren’t really a problem if you keep moving and regularly keep your boat maintained. However, leave your boat in the water sedentary for any length of time and you’ll have a long hard job in front of you. In fact, the US Navy spends millions every year on hull maintenance to remove barnacles.

Now why am I telling you about barnacles? Let me get back to my story.

When I was around 12 years old, we lived on Bogue sound and had a small boat to tool around in. Most of the time we took it out of the water to clean and care for it. But one year we left it tied up for a couple of months in winter without any grooming. Bad idea.

As the barnacles covered the bottom of the skiff, the added weight caused the boat to burn more fuel and put more stress on the engine. When we took it out of the water to get it ready for spring, it was covered in barnacles. Not missing a “character building” opportunity, my dad volunteered me to help him get the boat cleaned and prepped for use.

I remember spending an entire Saturday, scraper in hand, chiseling hundreds of barnacles from the sea craft. It was difficult and tedious work for a boy. I wasn’t strong enough to pry them off easily so it took everything I had. By the end of the day I was exhausted and blistered.

After we finished, my dad took me to TCBY. As we sat with our frozen yogurt (we didn’t call it froyo back then), he explained to me that barnacles don’t only grow on boats and that we can get them. He said they weren’t the animal kind, but equally devastating. The “barnacles we get”, he said, “come in the form of negative thoughts, doubts and fears we hold on to.” When we don’t let these things go, they attach themselves to us and hold us back. My dad even said success can become a barnacle if we use it to live in the past, holding on to our “glory days”.

Barnacles grow when we hold grudges, carry strife and resentment. They grow when we’re jealous of others, prideful and self-loathing. And if we don’t remove them, they’ll weigh us down and damage our lives.

Ideally we should not let them attach and grow in the first place. We can do this by regularly examining ourselves, looking for negative or destructive patterns or emotions. It also helps to have a few people in your life who know you and care enough to let you know if they see any barnacles growing.

I’m not sure if my dad was talking to himself all those years ago or to me. At 12 years old, I had no idea what he was talking about. Thirty years later I still remember that afternoon, my dad eating a small chocolate with walnuts while I enjoyed my french vanilla with Reece’s peanut butter cups, and I think about it with gratitude. It’s a life lesson I’m still learning.

High-Touch Marketing: Earning Trust in a High-Tech World

It’s no mystery we live in a high-tech age. Technology continues to reinvent itself and, to use Eric Reis’ phrase, “It’s not a matter of if it can be built, it’s a matter of should it?” We live in a time where the battle for our attention gets tiring. Everyday a new channel, application or social network is launched with a mission to make it “easier or better” for us to consume content of all types.

This presents new challenges for companies trying to find, reach and earn the attention of their customers. It’s the first time in the history of commerce that many screens and mediums are in constant use, simultaneously. We’ve already seen the reports of second screen use.

The answer of course, is for businesses to use technology to build high-touch marketing. High-touch marketing focuses on earning the trust and attention of its customers long-term. Customers want to know there are people behind the technology and not just ones and zeros because at the heart of every transaction is trust.

Here are four ways you can build high-touch marketing:

1. Improve culture

High-touch marketing is a philosophy born out of having a high-touch business culture. I believe an organization’s culture is at the root of being a high-touch business whose actions and attitudes are manifested in high-touch marketing. The principles below can only be authentic if they are true about the company executing them. A company can’t be something it’s not.

Culture defines expectations and accountability for each employee in an organization. It also provides a filter through which all decisions should be made. This foundation unifies your team around your core beliefs and values.

Improving your culture or changing it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s built over time. Jason Fried says, “You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behavior.” Let high-touch marketing happen this way too, as a byproduct of high-touch business.

2. Make trust deposits

Hundreds of companies offer services to track data and analytics across all channels online and offline to give you insights into the likes, shares, and other vanity metrics. Instead of focusing on these, work towards making a deposit into the “trust account” of your customers.

Every interaction you have with a potential customer (online or offline) either makes a deposit or withdrawal into their trust account. Deposits are made by keeping your promises and through human interactions like recognition, going the extra mile, being helpful and other actions that bring delight. Conversely, withdrawals occur when you break promises, interrupt, spam, act weird or provide poor service.

Think about this every time a person comes into contact with your company’s product, service and communications. Disney’s “moment of wow” is a good example of this. They constantly look through the lens of their customer to ensure every experience, down to the smallest detail, adds up to a huge wow.

3. Build relationships

The market is more fragmented than ever. And high-tech makes it easy to think in terms of single conversions and what’s happening now. This is only part of the equation. High-touch marketing looks at the long-term value of the right customers. Sometimes this means not trying to get the sale, but rather moving the relationship one step forward and doing what’s best for the customer. Think about courtship vs. dating. The dating mentality is usually short-term while courting requires one to consider a lifetime relationship.

Like anything valuable, building relationships takes time and communication. High-touch marketing businesses understand this and put forth the effort to get to know their audience. Personas, surveys, listening and other means of communication show your customers you care. Even if they are a one-time buyer, they want to be treated like a customer for life.

4. Capture their hearts

Marketing is emotional. All information is received through the heart. This truth is why benefits always sell better than features. People do want to know what your product or service can do, but customers buy because it provides them with a solution to a problem or the fulfillment of a need.

High-touch marketing goes beyond feature lists and gets to the core of “how” this satisfies the customer’s desires. It’s about what’s in it for them. It’s emotional and wins their heart.

In closing

Don’t think I’m against technology. Digital tools and software have enabled us to build marketing practices that reach people all over the world who care about our products and services. High-touch marketing is no longer restricted to physical space or proximity. The key is to use technology to earn more attention and build deeper relationships. Look for ways to use your technologies to enhance your ability to interact with your customers and prospects. Remember at the heart of every transaction is trust.

Surfing Lessons

My brother yelled “go! go! go!” as I paddled hard to catch the head-high break off Triple Ess Pier. The wave’s momentum, like a symphony’s crescendo, propelled me forward as I dropped in and rode it to the shore.

I spent the two hours preceding this “right of passage” getting tossed around and buried in the sand. I was tired, with nothing to show for my efforts except the raw spot on my chin, courtesy of a failed duck dive which introduced my face to the ocean floor.

That was my first wave. It was so many years ago, but I remember it vividly. I can smell the ocean air, taste the saltiness of the sea and feel the texture of the wax under my chest. It was a defining moment for me on many levels. The greatest thing I took away from that experience, and surfing in general, is the concept of working smart versus working hard.

When I first got into the lineup, the name given to the queue of surfers waiting for waves to come in, I would go after every wave I could catch. I didn’t care about position or quality. I was all in. I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do. After all, you catch waves. They don’t catch you.

Nevertheless, this was not the strategy my brother and his friends used. They studied the horizon and anticipated where the next swell was going to come from. Then they’d paddle to get in position to catch the waves at their peak. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they weren’t working. After all, a bunch of people sitting on their surfboards staring into space, looks mindless. However, the opposite was true because when the waves to started to curl, they were in the right place to paddle with everything they had and enjoy the ride. They were working smart.

I learned during those summer sessions that you need both hard work and smart work. Working hard helps you find opportunities and working smart helps you capitalize on them.

Hard work isn’t always breaking rocks in the hot sun or 15 hour days. What makes work hard is that it requires discipline and persistent effort. Hard work is what produces craftsmanship. It takes time to master a skill. The consistency of doing the work helps train your senses to uncover and spot opportunities.

Working smart is usually simple, but not easy. Smart work requires being productive and doing work efficiently. I’ve found one way to create smart work habits is to ask myself, “Am I doing this thing because it’s the best way to get the most benefit, or am I doing it this way because it’s how I’ve always done it?” Once I learned how to do smart work, taking advantage of opportunities was easier.

Success doesn’t just fall out of the sky and land on people. It is a planned event. The combination of hard work and smart work enables you to see the plan and execute it.

The Art of Repositioning

Few things in the world of marketing are tougher to concept and successfully execute than repositioning a brand or product. The strategic graveyard is lined with the tombstones of well-intentioned repositioning gone wrong (cough – Club Med) .

Even still, there are bright spots like Target, Mountain Dew (Thanks for the reminder Dr. C!) and Abercrombie & Fitch, to name a few, that have been massive boons for their companies.

Part of the reason it’s so hard to reposition is it’s not all about the brand or organization. There are almost always external contributing factors making it a need as opposed to a want. Some of the major ones are:

  • Emerging technologies
  • Changing customer/audience needs
  • Growing market competition
  • Flatlined benefits

It’s good to keep an eye out for these threats lest they sneak up on you, cough – Blackberry. But missing out isn’t usually the killer for failed repositioning efforts.

Want to know what it is?

Old mindset.

The new position of your brand or idea can’t live in an old mindset. Your audiences and customers must have a new story to tell about the product. The new position has to make (and keep) a different promise.

And it’s hard work to alter perceptions.

A person convinced against her will, is still a person unconvinced.

Changing what your brand means to your customer has to happen first or all the other seeds you plant to successfully reposition (we’ll discuss later) will fall on infertile or hazardous soil. Like the good book says, you can’t put new wine in old wineskins.

The –easier– way to do this is to use new customers who don’t have a preconception of your product’s legacy. Mountain Dew was able to take advantage of this. When they rebranded and went to market with a new position, their ideal customers didn’t know them as a “hillbilly” beverage. Abercrombie & Fitch also used this strategy. I’m sure the college kids today can’t even imagine A&F as an L.L. Bean or Orvis competitor.

But what if you don’t have that luxury and you’re trying to reposition to an existing market audience?

You need to “burst the bubble,” as Jack Trout would say.

I think in movie and music analogies and metaphors, so I call it “Brand Shakubuku.”

Ultimately, this means knocking out the old mindset and replacing it with the new. It’s the less sci-fi version of Inception (see, told you, movies and music)

The most famous example of this, and one Trout and Reis used in their book, Positioning, is not a brand or product at all.

Christopher Columbus popped “the world is flat bubble”. Then he went and sailed the ocean blue. The masses couldn’t even consider seeing the world as “round” until he knocked out the “flat” mindset.

A more recent example of this is the successful repositioning of Reebok from jazzercise and aerobics to urban fitness brand (Crossfit anyone?) They’ve done a smashing job of bursting the fitness bubble.

Once the old mindset is out, now you can begin the hard work of making new promises and telling new stories.

Let’s dive in to the four step repositioning process.

Congratulations, you’ve made it through the biggest reason most fail on this quest. Now to get to where you want to go, there are four strategic elements to implement.

1. Differentiate
Just like the famous examples of 7up as the “uncola” or something more recent like DuckDuckGo, the anti-Google search engine, the goal here is to zero in on how and why you’re different. Tip: Make sure it’s something your customer cares about.

2. Increase the Value
Look for ways to make your product more valuable to the customer and industry. When Target repositioned, they improved customer benefits as well as put nicer products on the shelves. Tip: Start with product benefits and customer experience.

3. Top-Down Vision
Don’t forget your employees, tribes and other internal customers. They will need to buy in to the new positioning for it to be successful in the market. This works best when the vision is cast by someone in a high-leadership role. This could be a CEO or founder, spokesperson or influencer. Richard Branson is a master at this. Check out his book, Business Stripped Bare.

4. Standout
There are too many messages competing for our time and attention not make your efforts remarkable. Keep in mind this is different from differentiation. When The Cure was repositioning themselves as a band in the early eighties, Robert Smith took to wearing black and putting on makeup. It worked because it aligned with their new story. Think less about standing out with gimmicks and more about doing so through innovation or brand voice and tone.

Successful repositioning is a planned event. Start by bursting the bubble. Follow it up with differentiation, value addition, vision casting and standing out. This is the art of repositioning. Good luck!