How We Won The Olympics

Part 4 in the series “Pitching To Win…Without Pitching”

If Seattle’s decade of the dotcom gave us anything, it was breathtaking innovation followed closely by mountains of investment capital. Or the other way around. This became more obvious each day in my tip-of-the-spear New Business Director role at Horton Lantz & Low in the early 2000s. It seemed that, almost overnight, the entire marketing landscape started shifting at warp speed. Every hungry business now wanted a fancy website adorned with 1-click storefront technologies, pop-up windows and clever meta-tags tied to search engine optimization strategies. Suddenly the fabled “big idea” pushed by ad agencies and eye-popping graphics of branding firms were being kicked to the curb. Marketing innovation harnessed by digital technologies became the bright new currency of brand managers of consumer products–and data-driven lead generation campaigns for B2B clients–across the Northwest and the nation.

As fate or good fortune would have it, I left Horton Lantz & Low  with a mix of optimism and dread. I was determined to ply the new waters of digital marketing. But the currents seemed deep, dark and a bit deadly. I dove in anyway. Over a period of several months I became an expert digital marketing strategist (albeit self-appointed). I read volumes on a multitude of topics from every digital marketing web portal and e-newsletter my eyeballs could land on. But the ones that caught most of my attention were Click-Z and MecLabs, two daily e-newsletters that, though light on creative ideas, were heavy on data and analytics-driven content I was looking for.

While doing my industry due-diligence two topics rose to the surface that gave me pause, telling me these were worthy of my full attention. Three actually, though they are intricately interwoven—multi-variate testing, landing pages and keyword search.

Providentially while doing this research I discovered a quiet but potent Seattle digital marketing agency specializing in app development, web design and back-end data analytics—Peak Systems (subsequently renamed UpTop Corp (www.uptopcorp.com). I was mostly drawn to the company by their roster of super cool clients like Warren Miller Ski Films and the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. But what was most exciting was a) they were looking for a New Business Director / Chief Marketing Officer and b) their CEO lived on Bainbridge Island, which meant we were fellow ferry boat commuters to downtown Seattle.

After making contact with John Sloat (the CEO) which led to an engaging lunch interview, I was hired. John gave me one specific assignment: to help UpTop win the RealNetworks account. More specifically, win a never-done-before project to acquire new subscribers for RealNetworks’ new streaming music service, Rhapsody. For me it was a perfect storm opportunity to apply my love for music with my passion for digital marketing, sales and analytics.

What ultimately won me an open-ended Rhapsody marketing assignment and subsequent full-time job offer as UpTop’s CMO was the surprising initial success of the project. Admittedly, that success had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the dream-team to whom I handed off most of the heavy lifting—my boss John (and the UpTop developers); Scott Fasser, the project manager; Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody Division VP; and last but not least Scott Simonelli, Optimost’s VP of Sales (who was the primary architect of the multi-variate testing platform that pioneered a systematic way to test offers, images, colors and headlines to ensure the optimal combination of creative messaging on landing pages were tied to the most popular keyword searches at the time, such as streaming music, Coldplay, free digital music, jazz, etc).

The Rhapsody music project was a watershed moment for me. Not only did I get a primer in back-end data analytics but it earned me more time and opportunity with UpTop to wield the most powerful weapon in their (or any agency’s) arsenal—its client portfolio. I knew the impressive website and app develop work they’d done for Warren Miller Ski Films–and more importantly, the Salt Lake Winter Olympics—would be my calling card to bigger and more lucrative new business. Providentially, this meant chasing after the biggest event within 200 miles of Seattle in the past decade—the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Though I only realized it in hindsight, the Rhapsody project taught me the incalculable value of trusted partnerships that fostered collaboration leading to breakthrough results. This was the big take-away for me, the one I determined to apply to the Vancouver Winter Olympics account–to win it for UpTop. What I learned then about innovation in digital marketing–and am still learning–is that true digital creativity happens most efficiently and sustainably when you saddle up with people who have already blazed technology trails with proven success. In Rhapsody’s case  our dream-team members were Scott Fasser, a seasoned search engine marketer; Scott Simonelli, one of the nation’s pioneers in multi-variate landing page testing; and my company, UpTop, a back-end application development firm that could slice up a page and code it with an infinite array of message and image options. And of course Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ VP of Rhapsody Music, the master conductor of the project.

If there’s a main reason I’ve enjoyed success as a business development specialist, it’s that I read a lot…perhaps more than most of my friendly competitors, if not all of them. As a daily habit I scan trade periodicals, websites and e-newsletters featuring business trends and industry news. This morning ritual has yielded a treasure trove of leads over the years. And on that fortuitous morning when I read a small piece in the business section of a British Columbia Newspaper on the upcoming Winter Olympics I knew I’d hit the mother lode. I discovered that in preparation for the 2010 Winter Games the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee (VANOC) had just been assembled. The article went on to say the committee was in its infancy but would soon be recruiting staff and vendors to help facilitate the logistics of the Games. To me that meant one thing: my company, UpTop, needed to be THE tech firm that brought the logistics together with one massive database solution—our specialty. It’s what we’d done for the Salt Lake 2002 Games years before. So in my mind it was our business to lose. How could we not chase after this with abandon and transfer our database solutions from one Olympic Games to the next? It seemed like a walk in the park.

From that moment on I began the chase. The most important step in this Approach Stage, as I’ve mentioned earlier, was gathering  as much insider information as possible. This meant finding someone within the VANOC organization who could give us a competitive advantage to learn what the SWOT profile was (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and where we could swiftly move in– quietly without any competitors around–to build relationships from within, along with the critical information we needed to present the best solution to our prospect.

As more good fortune unfolded, my first phone call to Canada connected me with the new office manager in Vancouver who had just been awarded the 4-year contract role to manage all administrative aspects of the Games. This included hiring an army of volunteers and paid staff to coordinate traffic, transportation, Olympic village accommodations, security and a million other details. The blessing for me was that she was not only incredibly capable and informative, but extremely warm. We made friends quickly, and over the ensuing dozens of phone calls and emails we established a mutual trust that paid rich dividends. One of the pay-offs was learning that Canadian companies—transportation companies, foodservice providers, construction firms and the like—would be given strong preferential treatment when it came to awarding contracts to bring the Olympics to Vancouver, Canada.

So again I went to digging…this time to explore suitable a British Columbia software development company with whom we could saddle up and fill in the technology expertise we lacked to build a gargantuan database to manage the logistics of the Games—and more importantly, give us the advantage over any and all competitors who wanted a stake in the software infrastructure to organize the Games and the resources to pull them off.

I was thrilled when my research pointed to a small software development firm headquartered in Victoria, BC that had just the chops we needed. They had an impressive portfolio and list of clients, and their leadership team was quite affable and open-handed. Between the many conference calls and trips from Seattle to their Victoria offices we forged a strong, trusting partnership. And in a matter of months…well, the rest became history.

In keeping with this series of Winning Without Pitching, I can’t exactly say we won the business without a few competitors nipping at our heels. In fact, as was my customary way, I sheepishly asked the administrator one day, “Would you mind telling me the names of the other companies in the running for this software development project?” In hindsight I wished I’d never asked. The moment my administrator-turned-new-best-friend mentioned the names of two global technology companies  we were contending with–IBM and Fujitzu Business Solutions—you could hear my bubble of optimism pop like a bomb, then a slow fizzling sound as our “we got this” positivity became a vanishing vapor.

Though chasing projects on the scale of the Olympic Games–with the odds in your favor (including the best team and the best solution) hardly guarantees a win–in this case, shockingly, it did for our UpTop team. We won the business. And we learned later we won handily, with subsequent fees generating well over a million dollars for the agency. I guess that’s why the company was aptly named UpTop.

For me personally, the learnings of the Olympic Games pursuit–and the RealNetworks win–were vast. But to strip it down, here are a few simple take-away points you may be able to apply to your own hunt the next time you see a big piece of new business in your cross-hairs…

  1. Apply successful, relevant experience—In my experience, prospective clients have a difficult time imagining success with your firm if you haven’t shown solid marketing case studies and a portfolio that validates your expertise. No client wants to be a guinea pig.
  2. Be a relentless researcher—Make research a daily habit. In the above illustration I talked about how my research led to landing a big project, then a big job offer. It led me to discover Optimost that was the partner I presented to our client as the best technology partner for testing. We got in on the ground floor of the Olympic Games before any competitor knew about it, and we found the perfect partner to give us the local competitive advantage to help break parity with our rivals.
  3. Speed—In business development, speed is critical. Everyone pays attention when you’re fast with solutions and clear in your communication. It raises the bar for everyone to do their best and keep things moving quickly and efficiently. It’s called professionalism.
  4. Partnerships—You know the saying made famous by Aristotle… “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That especially applies to team members with expertise far beyond your own capabilities. That goes back to speed and efficiency and professionalism, which is what clients are buying.
  5. Collaboration—When smart and experienced people band together amazing things happen. Ideas from one category or discipline can be cross-pollinated with others from different team members. The result is what everyone should be shooting for…genuine innovation through synergy.
  6. Likability—Very little of the above happens when pitch or implementation teams don’t get along. Common courtesies foster trust and respect. When people are liked and appreciated they do their best work. It’s where the Golden Rule applies in spades.

These tips and tactics may seem rudimentary to most. But it’s taken me two decades to live these principles out with any consistency. If you’ll take these concepts to heart perhaps you can hasten your personal learning cycle and win your pitch–with or without pitching—almost every time.

Be First, Be Fast, Be Fabulous


john hamm dapper

Part 2 in the series “Pitching To Win…Without Pitching”

In today’s free-wheeling, market-driven economy, category dominance is often won simply by being first to the party. Depending on the complexity of a new product or service, capital requirements, intellectual property, patents or talent needs, that’s easier said than done. It’s one thing to start out at the top of the heap. It’s quite another to stay there. But since we’re focusing on new business in this post we’ll shift to the phase where companies often look outside their companies for category marketing expertise to grow and prosper.

Enter integrated marketing, design or digital agency.

When pursuing new business in a burgeoning industry, I’ve discovered this “first-to-the-party” scenario is also hugely important for ad agencies chasing those companies to secure contract marketing work. In the many situations where I’ve been hired to bring in new clients for ad agencies—whether on contract as Director of Business Development or as full-time VP of Sales—I utilize a simple, uncomplicated sales process that’s served agencies well when pursuing new business to drive revenue.

As a refresher from last week’s Introduction on Winning The Pitch Without Pitching, here’s my de facto sales process that has served me well—in one form or another—for over two decades.

Approach > Qualification > Agreement of Need > Sell the Company > Act of Commitment  > Fill the Need > Cement the Sales

As I mentioned last week, in my experience as the “tip of the spear” biz dev guy at six different agencies, no other phase in the sales process is more important—that separates the men form the boys—than the Approach phase. Why? Because nothing happens in business development without this first step. It requires fierce tenacity, grit, courage, creativity and a tad of insanity. And it’s where I have often left my friendly competitors in the dust.

The insanity part is well documented by any and every biz dev guy or girl in any business. To be successful you must first and foremost be willing to throw a ton of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. That’s what we call the dreaded term “cold-calling.” To get a new account, you must often chase 100 prospects, at least for a time. But does the definition “Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result” apply to business development work? In my experience, “Heck yeah!” Is it often the right approach to the new business process? Yes it it.

In my next several posts I’m going to give you three super-fun examples of the cagey strategies I took during the approach stage that won my agency teams over $10,000,000 in agency fees–DirecTV, The 2010 Winter Olympics and Mercy Ships.

The first one, DirecTV, earned me a quick and tidy $50,000 commission check.

Stay tuned…

Winning The Pitch…Without Pitching

Part 1–Introduction

At the height of the frantic, money-grubbing dotcom era, Seattle’s business landscape was littered with tech start-ups and fat digital marketing budgets lining every street from Seattle to Bellevue to Blaine. Venture funding was flowing like freshly corked bottles of Dom Perignon. It was a heavenly moment for entrepreneurs and opportunists. For me and the ad agency pitch teams who chased after them with abandon it was a four star meal ticket to cash in on the region’s new-found prosperity. Or so we all thought.

On January 21, 2001 I uprooted my family from the piney woods of East Texas to stake my claim of fame and fortune in Seattle’s pot of digital marketing gold. I had a heart full of optimism, a head full of modestly successful marketing campaigns and a 20-year resume documenting my experience as the head of business development for Los Angeles and Dallas ad agencies and design firms. I had fire in my belly, fully convinced that hunting for plum new advertising accounts in the emerald green pastures of industry titans like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon meant one thing. Big bucks.

And it was…until it wasn’t.

As many of us painfully discovered–in the irrefutable trends of macro-economics–what goes up must come down. The dotcom go-go era eventually slowed to a trickle, then bottomed out in 2001—not so fortuitously at the same time I left the comforts of East Texas to assume the reigns of new business for Seattle’s Horton-Lantz-Low marketing agency (arguably the largest and most innovative independent agency in Seattle at the time which unofficially merged with Ascentium in 2010).

Despite the downturn, for me it was a time of enormous challenge, growth and modest success. I learned to pitch business from the very best, in a team environment, competing for some of the richest and most storied advertising and design accounts on the planet—Patagonia, Shimano, Princess Cruises, Phillips Electronics, Microsoft, etc.

Though I brought to HL2 a solid background in account strategy and copywriting, I was hired for one reason: to get in front of prospects. And I did so, with dutiful enthusiasm as the sort of “tip of the spear” big game hunter for the firm.

What I learned could fill a book (which may happen one day). But for the purpose of this blog series I’ll lay the foundation for my learnings and pitch strategy by borrowing the simple but profoundly effective proprietary sales process model from my sales mentor and forever friend, the late Roy Chitwood. In his Max Sacks “Track Selling” training program (www.maxsacks.com – I wrote most of the copy and produced the website) Roy defines the track selling process as follows…

Approach  >  Qualification  >  Agreement of Need  > Sell the company  >  Fill the need  >  Act of commitment  >  Cement the sale

With this groundwork of a brief introduction and sales model laid, we’ll talk next week about that critical first step in the sales process that I’ve discovered, time and again, which separates the men from the boys—the Approach Stage.

Check in next week for Be first, be fast, be fabulous—Part 2

(photo credit courtesy of John Hamm, post Mad Men)

Greed Causes Fighting. Trust Leads To Prosperity.

greed

Not long ago I met with a company that specializes in digital apps for entertainers. Their client roster reads like a Who’s Who of recording artists: Usher, Sara Bareilles, the Eagles, Smashing Pumpkins, Kelly Clarkson and others. Their work is very good, exceptional in fact when you realize the team has deftly cornered the market on high-dollar app development projects, not from LA or New York—but a dingy basement in Bremerton, Washington.

They are young and lucky and they know it. When we started talking about combining our talents in a “unite-and conquer” partnership to further dominate the entertainment app development space their excitement was palpable. But the minute we started talking money—about who gets paid for what in a series of hypothetical scenarios—their eyes got shifty, their words tightly measured and their vibe cagey.

It was clear to me their suspicions were fueled by fear. What was written on their foreheads on an invisible Post-It note was the elephant-in-the-room question, “What if we don’t get our fair share of the money?”Try as I did to reassure them it would be a win for everyone, they seemed skeptical. Looking back, I guess I can’t blame them. They simply didn’t know my team enough to trust us, nor me. But the underlying issue was more immovable: When it comes to money—and the power that often accompanies it—people often get weird. And the perpetrators of such behavior are the evil twin sisters, Greed and Fear.

Some years ago I took a marketing team to Atlanta to make a once-in-a-lifetime presentation to the top executives of Coca-Cola’s digital marketing division. It went pretty well, but throughout the pitch one of our developers continued to interrupt the discussions with her dogmatic points of view which quickly overpowered the ideas of the client. At one point she even turned on me and adamantly refuted the rationale for my perspective on a matter. It was bad enough that she was completely mistaken in her judgment. But she embarrassed our team, and worse, the Coke executives. It was greed that drove her subversive assault. Greed for power, greed for recognition. As you might guess, we didn’t win the business.

When we later stepped out of the elevator following the meeting I paused to read a massive quote etched into the black granite wall of the stately lobby. It moved me deeply, as if I were reading The Ten Commandments written on Moses’ tablets of stone:

“THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT PEOPLE CAN ACHIEVE IF THEY DON’T CARE WHO GETS THE CREDIT” (written by Coke founder Asa Griggs Canler)

If the Coke brand is a shining testament to that tenet—which it is—my colleagues’ behavior in that meeting was the polar opposite.

Whilst lying in my hotel room that night, staring up at the black ceiling, I rewound the day’s events. After a few minutes I heard a faint whisper…

“You learned something big today, Phil. You learned by simply observing how ugly and destructive greed, fear and insecurity look like from the other side of the desk. May that lesson stick with you. Don’t be greedy with power, influence or money.

“Keep trusting others to do their part—especially when they appear better, more productive or important than yours—and give credit where credit’s due.”

“I Was Cable Before Cable Was Cool”

ted turner 3

Ted Turner is one of my heroes. My first encounter with Ted, or shall I say his persona,  was while driving through Atlanta’s Peachtree Plaza en route to a national sales meeting for Rollins, one of the South’s true media giants back in the 80s. I glanced up from the taxi window at a towering 40 foot billboard displaying a bold declaration:

“I WAS CABLE BEFORE CABLE WAS COOL.” Signed, Ted Turner.

“Who would do that? Who would have the gall to think they invented a whole industry and publish their bravado on billboards scattered throughout their own home town?” I asked myself. A few years later I learned the answer. Only Ted would do something like that. Why? Because back in those days only Ted had the courage, insight and legitimate ownership rights to a field that would swiftly turn the entire entertainment industry on its ear.

In the mid-80s I temporarily left behind my executive sales career to stake my claim of fame and fortune in the direct marketing industry, a relatively obscure business back then simply known as direct mail (the ugly step sister to the glamorous advertising industry). My plan was to briskly hop three stepping stones–the first to the drab DM industry, then to the emerging cable business, then into the sexy world of entertainment advertising.

Little did I know that first stepping stone, direct mail, would one day become the mother lode of marketing, the true darling of today’s fast-morphing interactive, social media, direct response marketing industry. As luck (or fate) would have it, I was blessed to hire on as an Account Supervisor and assistant to the iconic Freeman Gosden Jr, one of the pioneers of modern direct marketing as we know it, and chief architect of the legendary 40-40-20 Rule (the de facto formula for direct marketing success).

For several years I was Freeman’s shadow. He took me everywhere–to the boardroom of Hilton Hotels, to Universal Studios executive lunchroom to the publisher’s penthouse at Architectural Digest. He even sent me to New York one time with the expressed purpose of meeting John Yeck, the brilliant copywriter and founding chairman of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.

Anyone who ever worked for Freeman owes him a debt of gratitude. He was brilliant, a mad scientist trapped in an ad man’s body. A simple glance of those piercing eyes over the rims of his reading glasses could set legions of AEs aflight. He was a tyrannical perfectionist, yet merciful to a fault when you cost the company $20,000 due to a simple proofing error or missed drop date. “How else are you going to learn?” he would often say to those of us mistaken-prone AEs who were moving at mach speed in the West’s  largest direct marketing agency.

To this day I have the utmost respect for those who have graduated to the fast-pitch league of social media, email marketing, “two-step” landing page strategies and the like from the hallowed halls of direct mail. Want to create the perfect order page? Take your queue from a well-designed reply card. Looking for the ultimate hook in a subject line? Search no further than a clever outer envelope teaser.

Note to hiring managers: On the lookout for the most talented direct marketers to help you win the war on branding and customer acquisition simultaneously? Hire direct mail specialists—the foot soldiers of direct marketing. You can never go wrong.

One day we’ll look around and see precious few of the founding fathers of direct marketing among us. Yet in my dreams I see a 40 foot billboard along the Santa Monica Freeway sporting a familiar headline in quotes…

“I WAS DIRECT MARKETING BEFORE DIRECT MARKETING WAS COOL.” Signed, Freeman Gosden Jr.

Except Freeman would never do that. First because he doesn’t own a billboard company. And second because he’s just too humble a guy.

Hats off to our direct marketing forefathers whose tried and true techniques help us serve clients in the digital world to their most strategic, profitable advantage.

Go Big Or Go Home

taylor swift 2My 19 year old daughter is an aspiring professional singer. As a sophomore vocal performance major she’s often auditioning for a part or performing in a concert.

Every once in awhile she’ll call or text me about a show she’s getting ready to take the stage for. She’s usually looking for a pep talk or reassurance that she won’t biff.

My advice is always the same…

“Go big. Have fun…or stay in your dorm room.” She seems to listen because it apparently pays off.

What does going BIG mean to you? Whether you’re a salesperson or singer, presenter or preacher, in my mind it means tapping into that passion and energy deep within your heart to share a prized gift to your audience.

Since I’m an entertainment marketer I’ll give you a couple of examples. The best is from the King of Pop. If you read my earlier post you watched MJ’s History show in Munich as he floated, stomped, screamed and whispered to the roar of 100,000 ravaging fans.

Let’s face it. Michael was from a different planet, oozing passion and energy from drinking kryptonite or something from distant galaxy. It seemed that from every pore in his body, shoes, even that raw energy electrifying reshaped the sound waves produced from his voice.

The best preachers tap into it when attempting to pierce the hearts of souls they’re seeking to convert. Call it hell fire and brimstone, or whatever. It’s palpable. The late Chris Farley applied it with abandon while sitting in the interview chair on the Late Show with Conan O’brien.  The best pop singers have made it their signature sound (think Christina, Miranda, Adam Levine, etc).

For example, feel the passion, crazy talent playfulness from the biggest star you’ve never heard of…yet:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TwpajZIUxM

Celica Westbrook was all of 15 when this video was shot. Not in front of adoring fans or flanked with hunky dancers, but in a small Nashville studio. Which is an even bigger testament her energy and love for the lyrics and music of Al Green’s People Get Ready.

 When Celica makes her television debut in the next week or so on The Voice (under the expert coaching of Keith Thomas), she’ll hopefully be adding that magic ingredient she projects that can even make a sour note sound heavenly. What’s that? Humor. It’s what a beautiful, energetic, fun-loving high school senior should be doing at the ripe old age of 17…having fun.

Another case in point since we’re on the topic of beautifully talented, golden-yet-light-hearted young women: Taylor Swift. Want to know why this 22 year-old grossed more sales last year–$100 million–than any recording artist on the planet? Take a looks and see for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA4iX5D9Z64.

$100 million. Let me say it again. $100 million.

Love her or hate her, she proves my point: Everything she does…whether videos, arena tours or talk show interviews, she is who she is—oozing passion and playfulness at every turn.

Tomorrow I get my own shot at five minutes of fame. I will be a presenter at Interbike, North America’s largest stage for the bicycle industry. I will be presenting a global marketing campaign for bike shop owners around the world—many of whom need a primer on how to sell electric bikes to their die-hard spandex-and-shaved-legged cycling customers.

So I’ve been thinking…like you should always be thinking…how do I go big?

Since I’m pitching electricity-powered bikes maybe I’ll switch my mic to a 220 volt power supply with a 1,000 watt amp and jolt everyone to attention with my booming voice? For that maybe I’ll need rubber-soled tennis shoes while talking through my PowerPoint slides.

Otherwise my next blog post might be…”Stay Grounded Or Die.”

(originally posted 10.30.13; reposted 2.5.16)

Who Are You Wearing Tonight?

gwyneth

Two of my favorite TV shows are the Grammys and Academy Awards. For a couple of reasons.

One reason is the opening act. The opener always sets the stage for the evening, providing a glimpse of the current quality and state of music and film in the entertainment business.

The other is the red carpet. The appearance of the industry’s biggest successes always leaves me star struck.

When I’m at my kitchen counter cooking or writing and I hear Lara Spencer or Natalie Morales ask that million dollar question “Who are you wearing tonight?” I know it’s time to drop everything, impose a gag order throughout the house and settle in to my front-row recliner.

What I’m about to witness (along with 3 billion other viewers) is humanity at the height of glamour—the stunning, beautiful people, glittery fashions, jewelry, and yes, even the diamond-studded accessories.

But under the lights of center stage, amid the perfect teeth, coiffed hair and sequined gowns shines an even brighter star:

Branding.

Since volumes have been written and broadcast on the topic of branding by marketing stars like Seth Godin and Donny Deutsch I won’t rehash more of the same. Instead, I’d like to take a peek behind the curtain, into a world many consider counter culture (which in this sense is an oxymoron) but in reality defines authentic, classic branding:

Indie music.

There’s no cooler music riding the airwaves today than the rapturous tunes of Eisley, short-listed by Billboard Magazine a few years ago as one of the special “Indie bands to watch”. If you’re not familiar with them (most of us late adapters aren’t) perhaps you will shortly. They’re continually following the path of Coldplay, Switchfoot, and Death Cab, for whom they open shows when not headlining their own. But make no mistake. They are Eisley. No one else.

Eisley-Tour-Banner-LO (2)

As I’ve watched their slow, steady rise to fame I’ve observed their unwavering commitment to be true to their values, style and passions—ultimately, that thing we call brand.

Curiously, the concept of branding (with origins from American West’s pioneer days) that helped define the classic cowboy persona is the same that identifies an indie fan, frequent flyer or Pandora One listener:

Loyalty.

In today’s free-for-all, circus-like marketing world loyalty is everything. Seattle’s Kennedy High School Development Department cultivates “Lazers for Life.” Masterworks, the premier faith-based ad agency chants the mantra “Donors for Life.” Even my own two companies—SmoothStone Partners and SmoothStone Sports + Entertainment Marketing rally to the slogan “Connecting Fans to Bands for Life.”

Smart companies have long since moved their main focus away from single-transaction ROI. Today’s marketing metrics are about projecting lifetime customer values and pro formas based on amortizing and analyzing customer acquisition costs over months and years. And not just original customers. Friends, neighbors, even extended family who become brand loyalists are worth thousands if treated with tender loving care.

It’s no secret in this economy: Differentiate your brand, foster fierce customer loyalty—or die.

eisley girl

One day, if you’re really lucky like Eisley, you can have a photo of People Magazine’s Best Dressed Woman gracing the front page of the London Times fleeing the paparazzi in your company’s cool new t-shirt.

Timing Is Everything

michael-jackson-32

You’ve heard it a million times. “Timing is everything.” In the Western world, and most often in business, we tend to think in a linear fashion, in sequence. We process items from A to B to C to get to our intended destination. Yet in other realms, like music or film for example, timing is often used in seemingly random and arbitrary ways to create a dramatic effect. But don’t be fooled.

There are many delicate, deft uses of timing in entertainment, and a myriad of words to describe them. Pacing, tempo, slow-motion, fading, pause, freeze-frame, fast-forward, momentum, crescendo, cadence, and rhythm are a few of many techniques. While many words can describe the ways timing is used to create drama and impact, no one has better used them or invented new ones like the late Michael Jackson, the undisputed King of Pop. Business professionals should take note.

One of the most epic shows ever performed by Michael was the History Tour performed 15 years ago at Munich’s Olympic stadium with a crowd of over 100,000 fans. The show was choreographed by Kenny Ortega, the genius behind many opening shows for the Olympics, Madonna tours, and High School Musical’s Step Up.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF3MO0sCMP0

The show begins as an illusion. In other-worldly fashion, Michael appears on the Jumbotron screen strapped inside a space orbiter. En route to Mother Earth from a faraway galaxy, Michael passes through iconic images and sound bites such as Martin Luther King Jr., Caesars Palace, the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Sistine Chapel. Once landed on stage, the King emerges from the orbiter in a Tron-like space suit to the screams of a crazed audience. The longer Michael pauses, the more deafening the applause becomes.

Finally, the opening song, so aptly chosen is Scream.

Consider the peculiar but profoundly powerful first words of the show:

Next there are perfectly timed explosions followed by louder screams. Blaring sirens, more screams, fire effects, and chaos. The energy is nearly overwhelming.

About eight and a half minutes into the performance screaming gives way to ghoulish, high stepping Gestapo storm-troopers marching to the rhythm of drill sergeant MJ’s hate-provoking epithets such as “skin head, dead head” whilst flanked by Michael’s team of riot gear-clad dancers.

At 11 minutes 30 seconds we’re presented with the show’s theme—HIStory—with subtle relief from the chaos in the form of Miss Liberty’s flaming torch paired with a flowing American flag. The dancers downshift to super-slow motion for effect, as if to freeze frame the show’s redemptive take-away: liberty and freedom for all.

 Curiously, the fans aren’t presented with any of the pop icon’s classics until 14:30 minutes into show.

How do we know?

Being the consummate audience connector, MJ simply asks his 100,000 zealots: Do you want to be starting something?” The legendary music again takes flight into the stratosphere, this time with the husky and larger than life dancers sporting flat-black unitards and burly boots, strikingly juxtaposed against the shiny gold, lighter-than-air Michael.

But how much “Don’t stop till you get enough” intensity can a fan take? At exactly 21 minutes, MJ deftly slides into the lush, symphonic song, Stranger In Moscow (my personal favorite).

The tune is intended to slow things way down so the fans (and performers) can rest and breathe in the magic. True to his nano-second timed sensibilities, the sultry sway of lush strings and synthesizers morphs violently into Smooth Criminal. So erupts the rat-a-tat-tat machine gun fire followed by the suspenseful pause of a stretched note held tight by the violins, which then transitions into a West Side Story style entrance of 1930’s era gangsters  dancing to the staccato chorus of  “Annie are you ok?” The back beat is a classic treatment of heart-pounding solo percussion and bass riffs. The timing is yet again deliberate and palpable; with the slow motion side-winding moon walkers and stiff-bodied dancers listing like ironing boards as their noses nearly touch the stage. Brilliant.

Then it happens, the first of several climaxes in the set.  Around an hour into the show we witness one of the finest dance sequences in HIStory. Set to the iconic beat of Billy Jean, there’s no music, no props, no back-up singers or dancers. Just the King of Pop alone, silhouetted by a sliding 90 degree vertical spotlight from on high trained on his every move.

Then finally, the moment arrives: Thriller. And the rest is…HIStory.

So how does all this relate to business?

Timing truly is everything, and is as critical for the business professional as for the entertainer. To make perfect, you must practice perfect, and practice takes time. MJ is a classic example of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier. Yes, Michael was gifted beyond human ability, but he was also a staunch believer in the theory of 10,000 hours, times two. You don’t become the King of Pop or king of anything without practicing more than your peers, unless you’re a prince by default, like Prince William.

The next time you need to apply intricate timing to an important business task or event, ask yourself a few questions. How long should this presentation be? When should I close this deal? When should I stop talking and speak up? When should I move on? When should I buy…sell? When should I walk away?

Timing doesn’t just apply to your business, to PowerPoint presentations or cold-calling. It also applies at home, on the tennis court, the kitchen and even in the bedroom.

OK, maybe timing isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. We could all likely write a book on the times our timing was bad (think stock purchases, speeding past a highway patrol officer, asking a dumb question). However, we could also write another book just as thick on moments of perfect, providential timing (think parking spots, the haul we made at the One Day Only sale, that first date).

michael-jackson-dancing-leather-shoes-1

The next time you need to be intentional in your timing, pause and ask yourself…“WWMD?”