Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Peanut Butter Marketing

I just downed a package of Peanut Butter M&M’s.  My stomach hurts.  Why did I eat those?  I don’t even like Peanut Butter M&M’s.  These are the thoughts running through my head as I sit here with my face skewed and stomach aching.

I walked by a co-worker’s desk and as I normally do, created some casual passing by type of small-talk, when I noticed a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew and not one, but two packages of M&M’s, one peanut and the other peanut butter flavored.  I jokingly say, “Gesh, do you think that’s enough sugar?” His response was fascinating from a business marketing standpoint.  “I bought the peanut ones to get to the peanut butter ones behind it in the vending machine; I love peanut butter M&M’s.” It’s only $0.70 so we’re not talking a huge investment, but the underlying principle here is something I think businesses should strive for.

This guy is so committed to a product that he is willing to buy additional products he doesn’t care for just to get to it.  Can this be said about your company?  We're not talking about just a product, this principle extends to a service.  Does your company provide such a great service that it causes customers to do unnecessary things if necessary to get to you or it? Example from my life: My wife and I are loyal to a local butcher shop. Yes, his meat is a bit more expensive, but the experience and quality makes me happy to fork out that additional green.  They know me by name, ask about my wife, the house, give me ideas about wine pairings, and above all make me feel like I matter.  In the corner of the store there is a board each day that displays which local farm the meat is from and what the animals are fed with.  The meat quality is amazing.  The service and quality make it worth it to me personally, aside from the fact that I am a huge advocate for supporting local businesses (for the most part, but more to come about that soon), to pay extra for their products, something I am not required to do. 

The challenge is perplexing: Does my company offer a product or service that someone would be willing to inconvenience themselves to acquire?  Is the way you treat your customer such that they would go out of their way to get to you?  Inconveniencing the consumer is not the point, they shouldn’t be inconvenienced, but are they willing to be for you or what you offer?  I just finished a pack of candy I don’t enjoy because I saw how dedicated someone was to it.  Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of reputation and influence in your environment?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Don't Suck

I was asked to give words of wisdom to a group of teens this weekend.  I was asked because of my past, starting a church and going to Bible College.  What wise words were stirred up within me?  Two simple words summed up what I think religious teens today should hear: “Don’t suck.”  I went on to unload the large amount of implications that lie beneath the surface of such a simple statement as we stood outside of a shoe store on a Saturday afternoon. 

How did this odd happening even begin to develop?  The plot unraveled in quite an awkward manner to say the least.  I was bored on a Saturday and decided to go to a local shopping center that is all outdoor storefronts.  I parked at the far end of the mall so I would be forced to walk a bit and get in some free and easy exercise.  I was on the phone having a lively discussion about someone who had hurt the person I was speaking with quite bad.  Let’s call the person I was speaking with Sasha and the person who hurt her Adolf (because he acts as if he is a Natzi sometimes).  Adolf was a very religious guy, always talked about wanting to please God and all that comes with it.  He’d be the type to ask if you’d like to pray before making a decision like what to buy at the grocery store.  Some would say he is “Too Holy.”  He can quote scriptures out of context and only listens to “Christian” music.  He doesn’t like cursing or alcohol and thinks everyone should feel and think the same way he does.  As religious as he is, or thinks he is, he has caused much heartache to Sasha.  I was speaking to Sasha and telling her that his religion means nothing if he is a nasty person.  I was talking about how so many people separate what is tangible (here and now) from what they would say is spiritual and how that separation causes great pain in the world.  Apparently my conversation was being overheard.  I’m not a paranoid person and never do I think what I have to say is so important that strangers would listen in.  I noticed a group of people walking in close proximity to me as I was walking around a certain store.  To test my theory of being followed and my conversation listened to I continued my conversation and began to walk to another store.  This group followed as I projected.  I reach this shoe store and decide to let Sasha go.  As soon as I hang up this guy, the adult in the group of teens asks how I am.  I knew it!  They were following me.  He told me he was on a mission trip and was just walking around telling people that God loved them as they felt led.  He said that he felt led to have a conversation with me and wanted to let me know God loved me.  I told him I appreciated it.  He asked what my story was and I began to tell him how I started a church and went to Bible College.  His reaction to this was surprising; he asks if I had any words for his group of teens.  “Don’t suck.”

This was met with some nervous laughter and smiles.  I began to unpack that a bit as we stood outside of the shoe store where my thoughts of being followed were confirmed and it went something like this:  Having faith and studying God and the Bible is important and a great thing.  Wanting people to know God loves them unconditionally is also a great thing.  You are teenagers and should have fun, don’t let all this stuff suck the life out of you.  I’m not saying go out and be irresponsible or destructive, but live life, it is what it was given to us for.  Studying your Bible and knowing your stuff about God doesn’t mean anything if you’re not a nice person.  If people think you are harsh and not nice then I’d say you’re missing the entire message of Jesus.  Instead of doing or not doing because you were told to do or not do, think about why you want to do or not do.  Instead of not slapping someone because it is wrong, think of why you want to slap them and address that.  Your faith is only as good as you are to others.  Don’t suck; don’t be harsh and not fun.  If people see you are kind and live a great life that is when your faith comes to life.  

I hope this message stuck with the teens more than running into a tattooed ex-religious guy.  "Don’t suck" are words I think we all should hear more often.  Enjoy life.  Be kind to others.  Love your family well.  Be generous and grateful.  If your faith gets in the way of these simple things, then I’d say your faith is twisted in a way.  You should smile more than you frown.  Laugh more than you cry.  If your faith makes you a somber and boring person than that faith isn’t what anyone will desire.  Faith is not oppressive, it is liberating.  Don’t suck.  Allow your faith to be something that brings life into the world, not sucks it out.

Do Work!

I've busted quite the moves on a hardwood floor in my day.  I’ve played with professional and non-professional athletes.  Not because I was professional, I just happened to be in the same gym as them and ended up in a game or two.  I have been very disappointed in some of my experiences actually.  Why?  Well, when one thinks of a professional athlete we automatically assume they will be the most and best at everything; tallest, strongest, quickest, etc.  I’ve seen some guys that leave me scratching my skull and asking myself, “How is he a pro-guy?”  Conversely, I’ve played with non-professional guys who leave me speechless as I watch them dominate a gym full of men like they were playing amongst boys.  “Why are they not pros?”  Where is the disconnect?  It can’t be all about talent if the most talented aren’t always pros.  What separates a professional athlete from a pick-up-ball guy?  I don’t think it is skill, good genetics and athleticism alone.  This same parallel can easily be drawn into the professional business world.  It isn’t always the smartest and most obedient.  The shiniest degree doesn’t always sit atop the ladder.  Why not?  I’m sure there are more factors or characteristics than I’ll list but the first 4 that come to my mind are discipline, having a network, being a hard worker, and having proper perspective.  These factors are what separate an entrepreneur from a secretary, a professional athlete from a sweaty guy dreaming somewhere in Indiana.  

In our current economy I cannot count on all my fingers and toes how many people I have spoken with who want a job or a new job and don’t understand why nothing is happening.  My first response to them is always, “Well, tell me what you are doing.”  The answers always frustrate and disappoint, “I’m online all day looking for jobs, I submit my resume so many times a day, I make sure I have keywords on my cover letter, etc.”  Here’s the reality of our market place, everyone knows how to make a resume, everyone can access Linkedin and other social media sites, everyone has a degree from somewhere, everyone submits their resume online and everyone knows the secret of using keywords on your cover letter to get past the automated resume-sorter thingy companies use.  On paper there is not much that separates many people from the pack.  By following the path of least resistance many waste away their days lamenting on how or why this is so hard for them while others, those who follow simple principle fly by them taking jobs they desperately want and need.  I give advice to people I get into conversations with time and time again about doing something and trailblazing new paths for careers.  Hopefully what follows can help you, wherever you may be.

Again, these simple factors are the first four that come to mind when I think of what separates professional athletes from pick-up-ball guys and what separated successful business people from those who hate their jobs and excel at mediocrity;  discipline, network, hard work, and perspective.  

Professional athletes spend countless hours in the gym working on their game.  They have strict diets, strict schedules, and painful workout regimes.  They have schedules for their off-season that they actually help set and stick to.  They set goals and follow plans.  In a saturated market with loads and loads of unemployed people, you must have a plan and some sort of personal goals in order to make it.  Just submitting resumes online is a very passive way to go about things.  You are leaving your career and well-being up to chance and someone else’s power.  Fat chance your resume stands out, the reality is that it is just another piece of paper in the huge stack sitting on some poor guy’s desk.   Come up with a plan and set yourself some goals.  I don’t know what is doable for you, but make them challenging.  If you always reach your goal with little sweat then I’d say you are not challenging yourself enough.  

“It’s not about what you know as much as it is who you know.”  I bet you’ve probably heard that before.  Maybe it has received the response of rolling eyes or cynicism, but regardless, it is fact.  It is great to know something, but unless you know the right person to put that knowledge of said something to work, you are just a self-proclaimed knower of that something.  Submitting resumes online doesn’t get you to know anyone.  How do you go about networking in an electronic environment then?  Change the environment, realize that it is about whom you know and go get to know people.  Email random companies and random professionals and ask them to just get together and ask about their industry or line of work.  People love to talk about themselves and what they do; take advantage of that.  You’re not going door to door asking to hand print a job application, those days are far gone, and employers are probably annoyed with people who think they will not comply with the system.  Instead of going looking for handouts, go meet people looking to learn, looking to just get into a good enough conversation where you will be at the front of that person’s mind.  Maybe nothing comes out of 99% of the meetings you have, but that still leaves 1%, which is a huge margin of victory against someone who isn’t doing something similar.  Networking is a much underappreciated art, but one that would behoove you to take up.

Hard Work
Once you have some kind of plan in place and goal set, look yourself in the mirror and convince yourself that you will work harder than the next guy.  If it truly is a level playing field, than you must tip the scales to your end.  Another tool of the trade besides networking would be education and hard work.  Read more than the next guy, know more than the next guy, and work harder than the next guy.  If the goal is 10 widgets put out 50.  If everyone stops at ½ mile run 2 more.  Make yourself stand out above everyone else by working harder.  That kind of hard work ethic is one that cannot be taught.  Employers look for this over knowledge of an industry.  Anyone can learn something, but hard work cannot be taught to even the most knowledgeable of folks.  Work harder than everyone else.  This is how a mediocre player makes it out of college into the pros.  He works harder and is not passive, he doesn’t rely on his skill to just get him there, and he understands he must beat out all the competition to make it.  

Passive and entitled are two adjectives I think describe a large majority of us.  I was and once I realized I fit that bill I aggressively looked to change it.  My perspective completely changed.  Instead of thinking, "I have a college degree and graduated Magna Cum Laude and that I am really good at what I do," I decided that doesn’t matter.  I don’t deserve anything over the next guy.  I’m not entitled to work; I have only had the opportunity.  No one owes me a job because I went to school and have been a good worker for years.  Back to the basketball parallel, the best players in the world are always in the gym looking for ways to improve.  What is significant about this is that they are at the top and still see areas to improve.  They have great perspective when it comes to not being the best or deserving certain things.  They know they have to continually improve and keep that perspective to keep being at the top.  Being grateful and humble goes a long way, but this is a perspective on things you must choose to have, which is difficult.  You must see your experiences, negative or not, as opportunities to learn and grow instead of inconveniences.  

I used to watch a show about a skater and his body guard on a popular television network.  My favorite saying was “Do work son!”  That is what the body guard would say to the skater when he was doing his thing.  In remembrance of this great show, and in reflection of doing and being well in this professional world, I say to you friend, “Do Work Son!”

Pro Choice

I bet you already think this is going to be some ignorant rant about abortion, don’t you?  It’s not; you can breathe a sigh of relief now.  I am pro-choice when it comes to handling frustrations in the work place.  We all have a choice daily.  Before we finish our first cup of coffee or even place our feet on the ground, it is our choice on how we deal with the day.  Some people choose wisely, others choose poorly, and their choices reverberate into their lives like a ripple in the water.  What choice you make has a direct impact on your quality of life and work.

It’s 7:00am when I arrive to my office.  I’m still in the process of finishing off my frothy latte and getting my eyes to adjust to the world after being shut for 7 hours.  It’s a Friday and it’s early, things should be tranquil with promising potential.  "Should be" is key here because the shrill of bad choices nearly causes me to run back home, crawl back into bed, and cover my head with a pillow.  Complaints of how things should be and why things are not and on and on deflated any sense of being bright eyed and bushy tailed I had.  I heard a gentlemen once say something in a passing conversation that has stuck with me all these years, “Accept and adapt.”  We were having a conversation about some big changes that had just went down within his department.  He wasn’t in harmony with the choir of complaints the rest of his department had, he was different.  He made other choices.  The choices are pretty simple; 1. Accept reality and adapt to it or 2. Kick and scream about things you can’t change and become miserable.  

It takes so much effort and time to complain, doesn’t it?  While it’s unrealistic to think we all won’t complain at some point, we can all fall into the easy trap of complaining.  Complaining is really just a lazy way out of being active.  It’s the most passive-aggressive thing a professional can do.  A process is wrong or broken so complaints naturally follow.  Are these complaints making an impact?  Are they changing the process or improving it?  Are you willing to do something about it or does it make you feel good to just complain?  I met a pal at my favorite little place in Indy and I was a little early.  As I sat outside on the patio sipping the nectar of heaven I couldn’t help but overhear conversations.  It was a little after 5 so most were coming to unwind and their conversations were all about work, complaining about things, processes, bosses, etc.  I just wondered silently to myself what these people were doing to change what they complain about.  Were they willing to do anything or were they just only happy being miserable?  Why would they allow all these external factors that they cannot control to impact them in such a way that they aren’t even enjoying the beer that sits in front of them after the work day is over.  Maybe they don’t realize they actually have a choice in the matter.  It is a gift to have choice.  We are not people with no will or choice, we are individuals free to choose how we react to our days.   

It all reduces down to the simple principle that we can only control ourselves and how we react to external factors that we cannot control.  The choice is yours, take control of yourself or go mad trying to control others.  I’m pro-choice, I have a choice every day and that choice is one of how I allow elements outside of myself to impact me.  In a professional world, control seems to be what everyone is fighting for, but ultimately the more your fight for control over anything outside of yourself the less you will have.