The “pocket” is underappreciated

When marketers rave about one of the greatest ad slogans of all time, they tend to overlook the most important piece.

I’m speaking of the iPod ad: A thousand songs in your pocket.

A lot has been said about how brilliant it was to translate 3GB into 1000 songs. Because what’s 3GB, right? It can’t be overstated how much better 1000 songs is than the default tech slogan of “The 3GB MP3 player”.

And yet, the “pocket” is way underappreciated.

If the slogan ran like this: “The MP3 player that carries a thousand songs.” … it would still be better than “The 3GB MP3 player” … but not even close to Apple’s version.

What the “pocket” does is that it translates the slogan into a story. With this device, you can carry your whole music library (back then) in your pocket. It’s not about the device at all, neither 3GB nor MP3 (or AAC, for that matter).

It’s about you! You are going to have your entire music library with you. How cool is that?

Now, how does your product transform your customers life? Don’t stop at translating the numbers. Translate it into a story that relates to our life.

What do you mean?

Imagine you meet a good friend of yours for a beer. You tell them about your newest idea.

As they respond with a blank stare, you try a different way of explaining the idea because it’s like Google just for screws. (Or whatever it is in your case.)

In a 1:1 conversation we’re brilliant at coming up with analogies like that. We naturally find simple words to explain complex things. We use examples from our partner’s domain so they can easily translate what we mean.

Back in the meeting room, we forget everything about that. We stick with abstract language and generic, eloquent sounding words – because, well, that’s the professional thing to do.

I don’t think that’s true. I feel like the professional thing to do is to speak with clarity. Using words our audience can relate to and easily understand.

Private conversations are a great way to practice that. Taking what we learn there back into our professional world often leads to way clearer language than the alleged professional language we’re used to in meeting rooms.

How did you brighten someone’s day today?

Did you say a word of appreciation to someone who needed to hear it?

Did you give to someone more than you needed to give?

Did you smile when they entered the room?

Did you call someone who missed you?

Did you encourage someone to say “no” to something that deeply troubled him?

Did you encourage someone to say “yes” to something she couldn’t find the courage to agree to herself?

When was the last time that this someone was you?

Settling with second best

A lot of doors open up when you are willing to settle with second best. Many of these doors never get within reach when you are unwilling to settle with anything less than perfect.

The art, of course, is in deciding what the areas are that you are never going to compromise.

When you have clarity about that, it’s a lot easier to see where second best is actually better than never opening the door.

I’m so obviously right, what the hell is going on with you?

Some stances are just so obviously wrong that it’s hard to understand how anyone can even come to that conclusion.

The natural reaction is to just dismiss the other argument: What’s going on with you? (Which easily leads into pointless fights that lead nowhere.)

A much better approach is to turn that feeling into a genuine question. Really, what’s going on here? What brings them to that conclusion? As, from my perspective, this argument is so obviously wrong that there must be something going on here. Really, what?

Often, it turns out that there, in fact, is a reason to come to a different conclusion. Or, at least, a cause. Addressing that cause can lead to way more meaningful discussions. And to way more meaningful reactions to deal with a situation.

(A simple example: As a business owner, we are sometimes baffled about why a customer didn’t choose us, right? What’s wrong with them that they really considered our competition the better offer. Asking a genuine question about what the hell is really going on there gets us much more meaningful answers – and, consequently, much more meaningful reactions to adapt our offer.)

Will it break?

Quite early in our lives we learn that porcelain breaks when it drops onto the floor.

A fact, that one of my clients used to great effect in one of his presentations. He was speaking about their new sensors which were made of porcelain – as opposed to metal.

You might wonder how durable porcelain as a material is.

Well, quite durable.

His presentation was right after the coffee break. So, he brought his (empty) cup of coffee with him. He spoke a bit about the drawbacks of metal surfaces.

Then he took the cup. Told the audience that the new sensors were made out of porcelain. Walked a few steps towards a table.
And. Smaaaashed. The cup. Against. The. Table.

BAM!

The whole audience held their breath. Did he really just smash that cup?

Well, no, he didn’t! Because the cup endured. Porcelain is, in fact, quite a bit more durable than we intuitively think – if you know how to handle it.

You can imagine that afterwards, the audience was quite eager to listen to the facts about the new material and how to make it work for them.

What are unexpected properties of your product? How could you demonstrate them?

Can an ugly site work?

Amazon has a pretty ugly site. It’s overloaded and cluttered. There are hundreds of places to click with several competing calls to action. In design school, their site would utterly fail. Back to the drawing board.

And yet, the site works rather well for Amazon, I’d argue.

So, who’s wrong?

Well, the better question to ask is: What’s wrong?

The metric is.

For Amazon, it’s not about elegance but about conversion. All that counts for Amazon is the numbers and the numbers tell them all they need to know about UX and UI design. If that’s true for you, your time is likely wasted if you obsess over beautiful.

But for others that might not be true. For them, it’s not all about conversion. It might be about trust, sustainability, elegance, quality, influence, reach, or any other metric.

It pays to be clear about your metric before you obsess about what to optimise.

Karaoke skills

In their great book „Moments of Impact“ on how to make better meetings, Chris Ertel und Lisa Kay Solomon define this term:

Karaoke skills is our term for areas where people’s confidence tends to exceed their competence.

It’s obviously easy to use that term to describe others’ over-confidence in some of their skills. Yet, it’s a great practice to – once in a while – reflect on your own skills. Where might you be over-confident? What skills should you work on?

But also: where might you be under-confident? What skills do you have that you don’t apply to your full potential?

Fear of commitment

Better to play it safe because what if they don’t like it, right?

Fear of rejection is one of the huge roadblocks in many corporate cultures. When failure is not tolerated well, it keeps people from exploring the edges and crossing boundaries.

And yet, it’s not always missing tolerance that causes people to play it safe. Sometimes, fear of rejection is a comfortable hiding place from the actual fear which is much rather a fear of commitment.

Bad bosses who don’t tolerate failure mean that it’s not my fault when I don’t make bold moves. It’s their fault. It’s the bad culture. In a different culture, with a more tolerant boss, I would dare bravely.

And probably you would.

But probably you wouldn’t.

Because what if it’s much rather the effort that you fear. The effort to cross the boundaries and come up with something that’s so good that rejection is not an option.

Fear is a compass. Quite often, it’s a tool that forces us to decide whether we want to stick out or fit in.

Just the way you are

You’re not Apple. Neither Red Bull nor Tesla.

Keynotes that work for Apple won’t work for you. You just don’t have the media attention that Apple has and you won’t get it by out-producing Apple. It’s not the slick production that make these events work for Apple. Mimicking them is a waste of resources.

PR stunts that work for Red Bull won’t work for you. Buying a Formula 1 team is probably prohibitively expensive for you and you don’t own extreme sports to the degree Red Bull does. It’s not the logo on the cars that make these investments work for Red Bull. Mimicking them is a waste of resources.

The results that these companies see from their marketing efforts are the results of patience and perseverance. They have earned their spots by building an infrastructure around their flagship strategies.

That’s not to say that you couldn’t do the same in principle. But it’s a mistake to consider these marketing efforts as singular events – which many people do.

It’s not one Apple keynote but the history of decades of doing these events and the culture of making a secret of what will be announced exactly that turn these events into these enormous PR waves.

It’s not the logo on Max Verstappen’s car but the history of decades of sponsoring extreme sports plus the culture that Red Bull has built around it that turn these ventures into a huge bargain.

Most of all, it’s been derived out of these companies’ cultures. It’s true to what these brands stand for. It’s authentic to them.

Given the culture in your company. Also, given your budget. It pays to look not so much on what these gigantic companies do but much more to who your customers are. What resonates with them? How can you attach to that?

And then, when you’ve done something that works, stick with it and amplify it. Just like Apple, Red Bull, Tesla, Lego, Coca-Cola, Nike, and all the others did. For decades.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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