On Getting More Fans

We can help you get more fans for your business.

This week’s Imagination Hat is inspired by the Iowa State Fair, going on right now in Central Iowa. What can we learn about marketing from the Iowa State Fair? The Fair is an Experience with a capital E. On any given day on the grand concourse, people watchers will see the most unique sampling of humanity ever, many of which are sporting hats. Some hats are worn for the activity, others for their sheer attention-getting quality. There are tiaras, baseball caps, cowboy hats, straw hats, doo-rags, fedoras, sombreros, top hats, hardhats, hoodies, riding hats, costume hats, foam lobster hats (and many other sorts of amazing shapes), balloon hats, and anything else that is attention getting, blinking, or completely ridiculous. When I was a kid, I looked forward to getting my annual cowgirl souvenir hat. President Obama sported his Iowa State Fair ball cap when he visited in 2012.

Fair Queen

Before you write-off the Fair as a red-neck activity for lower life forms, (well . . . I must confess, it is a little bit redneck), know that over a million people visited the Iowa State Fair last year. Our Fair is listed in “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” the NYT best selling travel book, listed as the #2 event for summer fun by USA Weekend, and one of “The Top 30 Things Every Midwesterner Should Experience” in Midwest Living. Why? It is completely unique. It has the perfect mix of things you expect from a great Fair, along with a smattering of SCD, (Something Completely Different).

That is the perfect mix for any business–to provide solid, predictable service, but with a splash of surprise. If you do not change it up once in a while, your customers will get bored. Try mapping out your entire sales process from beginning to end. You will be able to identify specific places where you can enrich the entire journey with simple things that will make your company memorable. If you are still not getting any attention, go back and make a better product.  It is not about making sales. It is about creating an experience and a product worth talking about. That is the best way to find more fans for your business.

That is this week’s Imagination Hat.

Louis Packs It In

Louis Vuitton

Today is the birthday of Louis Vuitton, born in 1821.  What can we learn about marketing from Louis Vuitton? Let’s just say Louis packs it in. Here are just a few:

Louis was born in Anchay France in 1821.  At age 14, he ran 292 miles away from home to get away from a strict stepmother. He found himself an apprentice to a box maker. He was so skilled at his craft, he found himself packing wares for Paris’ upper-class citizens, including the Empress of France. He soon opened his own shop.

The first thing we notice is how carefully Louis positioned his product. Well ahead of his time, the sign outside his shop read “Securely packs the most fragile objects. Specializing in packing fashions”. Louis was careful to differentiate his box from every other “common” box. His box was different.

The second thing we can learn from Louis is to keep an eye open for problems to solve, because common problems present opportunities. Soon after opening his store, he invented a solution to radically improve the common storage trunk. Most luggage in 1821 consisted of round-topped trunks, which could not be stacked when carried on boats, trains, or horse-drawn carriages. These round-topped trunks were treated roughly, and valuable items were frequently broken in transit.  Louis created a strong flat trunk that could be stacked. Both advantages were of great value to wealthy travelers, who were in need of many pieces of luggage and needed to protect their valuable items in transport.  In 1886, Georges Vuitton, Louis’s son, revolutionized the lock, turning a travel trunk into a treasure chest, and improving its value again.

The third thing we can learn? If you have a valuable product, you can bet that competitors will emerge wanting a piece of your pie. If you have competitors who want to be just like you? Take it as a compliment. It adds to your product value. Remember the Louis Vuitton conglomerate is one of the world’s most valuable fashion brands, yet Louis Vuitton knockoffs abound.

Learn from Louis. He was an inventor, yes. But Louis’s most amazing invention was how to position his products in the minds of the most wealthy and fashion conscious patrons in Paris.

That’s this week’s Imagination Hat.

Image Louis Vuitton Autumn 2012 Fashion Campaign.

Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Buy Local

Uncle Sam Wants You

This week’s Imagination Hat isn’t a hard concept to grasp. Uncle Sam wants you to buy American. We do not get a chance to go to the ballot box every day. But we can vote with our dollars every day. If you are a small business owner, one of the most patriotic things you can do, and one of the best things you can do for your own business is to support the other businesses in your own local economy. While this injunction seems a no-brainer, it is surprising how many businesses are still focused on purchasing the least costly goods and services from an unknown source, even if they could purchase that same product from a local business right down the road. The largest businesses in the area need to become role models for the rest in this effort. For example, if a local home-town bank makes purchases from a local vendor, that vendor will turn around and bring his larger paycheck back into the bank. The purchase allows this family to buy dance lessons for their kid. The dance instructor comes into the bank to request a loan for a larger storefront, bringing more and more people into town for dance lessons, and supporting the local eaterie. The local eaterie can then support the local ball team with new jerseys, improving the morale of the team, and bringing people back into the restaurant. The whole cycle repeats itself, increasing the health of the entire local economy.

Think greater good. It is good for your business! Buy local. Buy American.  

That is this week’s Imagination Hat.

Mad Hatter Management Tips from Wonderland

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

It was on this day in 1951 Walt Disney released the animated adventures of  “Alice in Wonderland.” Alice’s experience in Wonderland has so many parallels to the entrepreneurial journey. How so you say?

If you will be so kind to follow me down the rabbit hole . . .

Alice clearly was not intending to fall down that seemingly endless hole. She was simply following the strange little white rabbit. Alice is like many entrepreneurs who are just following the latest tactic, without any strategy for doing so. They end up free-falling, grabbing for things on the way down.

Unlike real business, this is a fairy tale, and of course she does not die. But like many business owners, she also does not have any idea how she got to the bottom.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to go,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—,” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

If your destination is not clear, neither is your daily to-do list. If your daily to-do list is not clear, your destination is also negotiable. You will not end up where you intended, except by accident. Clarify your goal, and the right road manifests itself.

Without a strategy, Alice was also unprepared for the unintended results of her many experiments. Alice became big too fast, and then shrinks as fast as she grew large. Without a strategy, you cannot tell which efforts are yielding the greatest results, or the difference between correlation and causation. At times, Alice was simply stuck.

“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,” said the Red Queen.

The Red Queen had such a strange brand of wisdom. She tried to help Alice to break out of limited thinking.

“There’s no use in trying,” Alice said,”one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Alice happens upon the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and concludes it is “the stupidest Tea Party ever.” I imagine Twitter must be like that for most new entrepreneurs who jump on the bandwagon of social media without understanding why they are there in the first place. It is all mass confusion, and riddles, and non-sequiturs.  In order to be social in social media, (and social is the point, is it not?), you must first understand the language and communication style of the party you are attending, and know why you are attending the party in the first place. Otherwise, you will leave the party scratching your head.

I remember reading this story for the first time in the college library–causing much disturbance by involuntary, uncontrollable laughter. If you have read it before, I encourage you to read it again, and pull some of your own entrepreneurial wisdom from Mad Hatter’s Hat. A nice change of pace from the tired old management books.

That’s this week’s Imagination Hat.

Do you work with a Star?

NASA astronaut

Today’s Imagination Hat is inspired by the Moonwalk. No, not that moonwalk, though Michael Jackson is certainly The Pro. I am speaking of Neil Armstrong’s Moonwalk, which happened 45 years ago yesterday. I remember the day vividly. My teacher wheeled the squeaky-wheeled AV cart into the classroom, turned on the black and white TV, adjusted for the static, dimmed the lights, and turned up the volume. We sat for what seemed the entire day, watching in awe while Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the surface of the Moon. My mouth was agape, and at the same time, not agape enough. My youthful expression had no comprehension at all of all that had transpired in the heart and head of mankind to bring this Giant Leap to pass. My youthfulness had no comprehension of the “Right Stuff” required. I was still too close to the world of fairy tales to know that what I was watching wasn’t in the normal course of human events, but rather the realization of a millennia of the hopes and dreams of mankind–that to be physically standing on that small silver orb.

To be honest, this Moonwalk Anniversary couldn’t have happened at a better time for me. The news reports for the past few days, as you already know, have been crushing. This Moonwalk Anniversary announcement coming across my Twitter feed was a much needed reminder that we while humans are capable of great evil, we are also capable of great good, fantastic feats, and brilliant bravery. I see small businesses doing these feats as well. When I see a business begin with a clear vision and with the goal of solving the problems that exist on earth, and I see people work together to accomplish big things? It restores my sense of Hope. It reminds me of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “When it is dark enough, you can see the Stars.” I have seen these Stars. I work with some of them. Maybe you do too.

Is your business working to solve a problem? Every day, you also can be one of those Stars. You may never Moonwalk in either capacity. But you have the opportunity every day to make the world a better place for your clients. You do not have to go to the Moon to do it.  And we can start today.

That’s this week’s Imagination Hat.

Develop your Own Voice

Woody Guthrie

Want to have bona fide impact in your business and on the world? Develop your own voice. It is hard to measure the influence of the man wearing today’s Imagination Hat. Today is the birthday of Woody Guthrie, singer, songwriter, and poet who influenced many contemporary artists, including Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and Harry Chapin, just to name a few. While many were influenced by him, Woody’s songs remain unmatched in character and value and sound. His sound was so unique that he was not afraid of competition. In fact, he encouraged people to sing his songs. You most likely know his most well-known song, “This Land is Your Land”. He wrote it in the 1940’s because he felt God Bless America was too complacent. He wanted to motivate his fellow citizens to take responsibility for their citizenship, and make it their own. But on the typescript submitted for copyright of “This Land Is Your Land”, Guthrie wrote:

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

Andrew Fletcher, Scottish political activist (1655-1716), said, “let me write the songs of a nation—I don’t care who writes its laws.” Woody had an affect on an entire generation. While Woody was not a politician, his name is more familiar to us than any politician during the dust bowl.  

Need to reduce the competition? Develop your own voice. Offer something of unique value. Become a class of one. That’s this week’s Imagination Hat.

Where There is a Need, There is a Business

baker hat

Today’s Imagination Hat honors Otto Frederick Rohwedder. Otto Frederick who? OK, so you may not know who he is. But I can guarantee you have at least heard the phrase, “the best thing since sliced bread”. Otto is the guy that invented the first bread slicing machine- that invention so wonderful that it inspired a household idiom that we are still using some 86 years later. Before Otto, loaves of bread were sold whole. You had to slice them yourself when you got home. If your knife was not sharp enough? Your loaf did not yield as many sandwiches for your hungry little munchkins. Householders dreamed about buying bread that was already sliced. Otto was paying attention. And the first loaf of sliced bread was sold commercially on this date, July 7th, in 1928.
Otto’s timeline was not exactly a straight line, and it contained a few detours and dips. He graduated college with a degree in optics but started his career as a jeweler. He was successful enough to own three stores in St. Joseph MO. But Otto was also an inventor, and he was thinking beyond jewelry. He knew that where there is a need, there is a business. He was convinced he could create a bread-slicing machine. He sold his jewelry stores and successfully prototyped this machine. Unfortunately, in 1917, a fire broke out in the factory, destroying his prototype and his blueprints. (That was one major dip in the timeline). He was delayed, and certainly discouraged, but not derailed. He went around the obstacles and kept right on going. He came back in 1927 to build a second better machine that not only sliced the bread, but wrapped it too. He patented it and sold it to the Chillicothe Baking Company, in Chillicothe, Missouri.
Want to find a great business idea? Be an Otto. Be on the lookout for problems that people have over and over, and on the lookout for things that can improve their lives. Where there is a need, there is a business. Notice how any existing idea might be improved. And even if you are derailed,  follow Otto’s example and keep right on going.
That’s this week’s Imagination Hat.

How to get a Standing Ovation

How to get a Standing Ovation

No one ever said this was going to be easy. You knew this going into it. Anyone with any foresight at all knows the odds have been stacked against small business from day one. Unfortunately, the challenges are not fading, but rather increasing. However, I am not a pessimist, so I am asking you to envision the following as a scene from a Road Runner cartoon. You are smiling, right?

On the immediate horizon, may I present the edge of a cliff. While flying off the edge, two possibilities appear. One, unprecedented opportunity, (“I’m flying!”). Two, unprecedented disruption, (please do not look down). Business lifecycles are getting shorter all the time. While it use to take 3-5 years for the anvil to fall on some poor, unsuspecting small business, today’s instant feedback ensures what can go wrong does go wrong, only much faster. And beyond this ever-increasing opportunity for our own mistakes to backfire in our faces, rapidly changing technology can explode your best product and render it completely useless–also overnight.

So yes, sometimes small business stories fit nicely into an explosion scene from a Marvin Martian cartoon. What we never hear in the aftermath of a social media beating however, are the circumstances that lead up to it. Coach John Wooden* says that winning and losing is all about the preparation. The score of a game is simply a by-product of what has gone on in the practice. Have you ever had one of those days in business? We all have. I want to change your perspective about them. Any bad day represents two big advantages for small business. One, every problem in business is an opportunity to make changes to ensure business operations improve. Two, small business can alter policy right on the spot. Big business has to involve thirty people to analyze the problem, and then it takes three months to train and implement the change.

Why is it so hard to proactively work on your business? So many small business owners are busy filling orders. They know if they do not fill orders? Well, let’s just say they are watching for anvils. How I wish I could change your perspective on this idea as well! 

Now imagine the Best Symphony in the World. Imagine Carnegie Hall, filled with adoring fans, ready to hear them play. The conductor raises his baton to begin the first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. But rather than those first strong, beautiful notes in unison, what you hear is a grating noise instead, several notes–close to unison, but not dead on. Any music aficionado knows that “close but not dead on” is one of the most annoying sounds you will ever hear. But so many businesses go about their day to day business just like this, like symphony that never tuned. No matter how skilled you are, you will never be doing serious business without tuning up first. Your business will never be what it could be without first deciding what song you are suppose to be playing, who you should play it with, who you are to play it for, and when and where you are to play it. Even after that, you can never draw a crowd without synchronizing everyone on your team to the same note before you begin.

Circumstances reveal our day to day disciplines. If you do not want to commit to working on your business? I am tapping you on the shoulder right now. You might want to look up. Remember that anvil I was telling you about? If you do commit to tuning up your business, please enjoy your adoring fans. And your Ovation.

*Coach John Wooden on TED. A very worthwhile listen. Click here.

The Success Trajectory

David Ogilvy

Part of business success is knowing that you are doing what you should be doing in life. Different people from different places may be telling you that you are good at a particular thing. And you sense it yourself. But just maybe you lack the confidence. And maybe you lack an official degree, or you lack long-term experience, and fear no one will take you seriously. Here is hoping this week’s Imagination Hat will be an encouragement to you.
Today is the Birthday of David Ogilvy. If you do not know who he is, the short story is that he ran one of the most famous advertising agencies in the world–and one of the original MadMen–at Ogilvy & Mather. His gift in advertising was indisputable. But the path to the top of the advertising world ever wasn’t exactly a straight trajectory. He began as a dropout of Oxford. Next he worked as a sous-chef in a swank hotel. Next, a door-to-door salesperson selling cookstoves. He was so good that he was asked to write down how he did it. His thesis, “How to Create Advertising that Sells” is still considered one the best sales manuals ever written. (Just Google it and read it yourself. You will find the original in many places). He worked for his brother’s agency, and then for George Gallup for a while. Yes, THAT George Gallup. He was in the Secret Service in World War II. And believe it or not, after that there was a stint for an Amish farmer. (Makes sense to me!). At age 38, after never working in Advertising per se, he opened his own agency in New York. Ogilvy & Mather was one of the most successful agencies ever.
It was the combined experience of each dot on Ogilvy’s timeline that created his genius in advertising. It was his timeline that was his degree. When people shoot quickly to the top, it is often by accident. They often do not know how they got there, and the success can neither be sustained or duplicated. If your path is somewhat eclectic, you are in good company. What you learn along that random pathway cannot be recreated by any diploma, and is often more valuable. So what is your degree?
That is this week’s Imagination Hat.

A House Divided


This week’s Imagination Hat:

Abraham Lincoln will forever be a continual source of inspiration for leadership and business. On this day in 1858, Lincoln was running for the US Senate against Stephen Douglas. He delivered his famous ‘House Divided’ speech to the Republican State Convention. Even his law partner William Herndon, who believed Lincoln was moving too slow and that the only solution was “bloody revolution,” thought Lincoln’s speech was too radical. Lincoln responded he would “deliver the speech as written . . . that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”

The troublesome line: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Peril is a very strong word. Lincoln knew without unified values and vision, our troubled nation would not only be in peril, it would cease to exist. He needed strong words. And indeed, any business without common focus and a common mission will eventually end up in the same state. A common goal is so obviously needed that it hardly seems necessary to state it. And yet, so many small business teams are tired, and in need of a shot in the arm. A visionless business is akin to a basketball team playing with no hoop. No one will be able to tell if you are winning or losing the game, and your whole team will get very tired from just running around.

Does your company have a clear vision? More often than not, the problem is not the fact that there is no vision, but rather that the vision is not communicated to rest of the team. If your team is tired and in need of fresh inspiration, maybe it is time for a huddle.

That is this week’s Imagination Hat.

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