We never use that word

Your organization probably has one.

You may even have notebooks full of them.

They are “the words we never use when we talk about our __________.”

(Product, service, company, employees, tool.)

I get it. I do.

You have good reason for never wanting to use those words.

But what if, just maybe, one of those words you never use is actually the perfect word?

Fresh. Concise. Immediate. Visual.

Maybe times have changed enough that the word doesn’t mean what it used to back when it landed in the Book of Forbidden.

Semantics do evolve.

Maybe that word needs to be released.

Take a look at it. Write it down. Put it in a comp. Look at it with fresh eyes.

Let it breathe. Try it out. See how if feels. Test it.

You never know.

Small Batch Branding – Realer Than You Think

My in-laws are in the process of sifting through a late relative’s estate. He wasn’t rich by any means, but he did have an eye for good craftsmanship, and left behind a modest collection of antiques. There’s nothing to get rich off, but the items are still too nice to simply cart off to Goodwill. Clearly, this is a classic job for eBay, and, eventually, the dreaded post office.

But this Thanksgiving, as I showed my in-laws around the eBay mobile app, I was shocked to hear my wife rattle off, verbatim, the commercial for Stamps.com, which runs at least once per episode on our favorite podcast. She knew everything, from the promo code to the sign-off. It was like a heartwarming, homespun version of The Exorcist.

Almost as shocking: the fact that I recognized she was repeating it word for word.

We are, clearly, big podcast listeners. And we tend to be very loyal to our favorite shows.

Podcasting is an especially intimate medium, with the familiarity of radio, and the peer-to-peer rapport of the internet. What it might lack in numbers, it more than makes up for in loyalty and engagement (though some of those numbers are nothing to dismiss). We’ve heard that commercial thirty or forty times, and could recognize it by heart—happily. When was the last time you could say that about an overlay ad?

I bring this up to illustrate a point, which organizations still seem reluctant to put into practice: The future belongs to the hard core. The market is too fractious and flat to market broadly anymore. But small, fiercely devoted audiences will make your nut and spread the word more effectively than the widest marketing blast, or the most mimicked “influencer.”

That means that the stories you tell have to be richer in detail, more pointed in their specificity, more sincere in their desire to truly connect. It means that building a relationship with your user isn’t a metaphor for sales acquisitions. It’s for realsies.

That means that the product has to be, too. It has to be worth saving, worth passing on to a good home. If you want a relationship with users, you first have to craft your half of the equation: not just a quality product, but the personality that outsiders will want to spend time with. You have to find sincere partners and vehicles for your message, who will share your goal of authentic, intimate connection to a devoted following—who value quality engagement over quantity engagement.

Call it brand if you must, but it can’t be synthesized. It can be only discovered and refined. Brand can’t be constructed, only realized. And that’s not just hard—it’s scary. It means exposing yourself for a judgment as honest and true as you are. For some people, smoke and mirrors are more appealing. But if you can connect authentically and intimately, your message will spread everywhere your users go.

And I’ll see you never at the post office.

Staples On a Telephone Pole

We still see staples on a telephone pole — the analog begetting the digital — staples as remnants of past messages. There’s something nice about seeing a flyer stapled to utility pole. It’s a reminder that the tactile, the tangible — the item, or service, or support – is the end goal. It’s why the NFC ‘hello’ bump is a hollow substitute for the handshake. Google Hangouts is an intermediary for sitting across the table.

All of our techie innovations seek to simulate in-person actions or interactions. As a brand, this places us at the slender intersection of convenience and personalization — this is the playground of #CX: Customer Experience.

There are approximately 130 million creosote-soaked trees propping up the ones and zeroes that drop packets into your devices. Yet most towns have a host pole with paper flyers for local sales, a band playing at the coffee shop or a house for sale – your iPhone and Facebook have not taken this away. In contrast there are 3.85 billion web pages (as of today), each one of them seeking a physical reaction: a purchase, a sign up, a laugh, a cry, a “hmm”, a share or a view of a brand message.

Technology aims to reduce effort but it never replaces interactions. When you are designing your customer experience bear in mind that email newsletters, tweets, micro-sites, mobile and surveys are tactics that employ scents of your brand. But when the next newsletter comes into a customer’s email box will they remember you? Or will you be another rusted staple on the telephone pole?






Two Types of Work

Your Bottom Line is Your Customer’s Experience

Finished products are often merely that – finished. Nothing more, nothing less — just complete. We’ve all been involved in these projects. Necessary on some level but uninspired, destined to move no needles nor make any waves. Upgrades rarely reassess. Instead they operate under the assumption that the original, proven hypothesis is still relevant—well, maybe it isn’t. Things change.

Projects that affect your customers aren’t ever finished. Done correctly, these projects never really end.  Customer-first projects operate under the assumption that a hypothesis is always worth going back to, that nothing is forever and that everything changes, quickly and dramatically.

Asking why is the exhaustive (and exhausting) work that puts your users’ ever-changing needs ahead of yours. And your users are more nimble than you. They’re more up to date, more connected and unfortunately more fickle. They don’t have ERPs/CRMs/customer service systems that need to be integrated. They don’t need policies and style guides to use the latest social media tool.

This makes the kind of work we do every day vital. When your customers are researching brands on the web or cruising around Facebook, they aren’t concerned with social media budgets or test markets. They only care about how interacting with your brand makes them feel. The trust you’ve established after 50 years of making pants or flour or bikes might be worth something. But unless you’re selling cigarettes (please don’t be selling cigarettes), brand loyalty is a scarce commodity. Customers/users will happily follow whatever new brand speaks to and engages them. Your ad spend muddies the issue. Your tagline likely means nothing to them.

What matters are the uncounted little things: The thoughtful design of a receipt. Copy in a thank-you email that exceeds boilerplate. A careful wrapping job. The feeling that they are the only customers in the world. These little things are the Big Thing—the Only Thing. This is today’s marketing work, content strategy work, UX work—even product work. The budget may be fixed, but you always have the opportunity to choose what type of work to do.

You Can Do Things Your Way or Your Customer’s Way

Your Way – (Potentially) Insignificant change, pursued because doing otherwise would be operationally painful to someone with the authority to veto big change. This type of work is usually performed in a vacuum and will have a minor impact on customers.

Your Customer’s Way – Inspirational, change-making adaptations that reshape how an organization relates to its customers. This work will likely have you reassessing your business goals and customer experience. The beauty is that it risks so little financially. The dread is that it will lead to sincerity, transparency, change—that it will succeed.

Can We Have A Difficult Conversation, Please?

Actionable insights and channel optimization through proprietary technologies — Is that really what you want to discuss? KPI’s and modified metrics? Sounds like great stuff if you are in optimizing mode, but are you looking to optimize, or innovate and change? Is your product/service so good that you are squeezing the best .000001 from an already out-of-this world-amazing thing? Or is optimization easier than the innovation and change that promise greater returns?

How about we really get into it?

How about we discuss the really difficult internal change that will help your business by 3x or 20x or 1000x. Here’s how it might work. I will show up on time and deliver you the truth. I won’t arrive with a presentation or laptop, but instead just a notebook and a pen — I will listen and ask a few questions along the way. I’ll help you determine if you have a product challenge, a customer experience challenge or an operational challenge. When the meeting ends we can look at your goal(s), and your challenges, and move towards making change.

But before we do that we need to get back to passion, to that day one excitement. To the reason you started the company, or took the job, or joined the cause. I want to unearth that day one vitality and help give it back to you, so you can give it back to your customers, supporters and constituents.

Or, we can discuss fonts, colors, LinkedIn integration and social media.

I’m free on Monday. What are you doing?


Declarations & ________

Declarations vs. Invitations

The Balanced Scorecard is recognised as the world’s leading management tool for enterprise performance management and strategy deployment.”


It’s happening right now. You in?


Declarations & Invitations

The World’s #1 Project Management App”


Last week 5,794 companies signed up for Basecamp to manage their projects. Today it’s your turn.


Declarations vs. Interactions

World’s Best Coffee


Chrome Maze

You’re Going to Need to Wear Boots

When you go home tonight, put your bag down, do your Mr. Rogers thing and change into house clothes. But this time, leave the boots on – or put boots on if you have to – either way you’ll need boots. Next, find some groovy music. I recommend Massive Attack or Bowery Electric, anything without a ton of lyrics, or that reminds you of high school or is in 3/4 time. Head to the bathroom and grab a few towels, place them on the kitchen floor near the drawers and cabinets.

Now open your silverware drawer. If you have one of those utility-shit-collecting-random-utensil drawers, open that too. Pull the drawer out until it’s just about to snap the rails. Now here comes the moment of faith. I want you to pull the drawers all the way out and dump them on the floor into individual towels. You’re going to see corks, crumbs, tablespoons, toothpicks, spoons, knives, a broken #4 candle, a ketchup packet and the thermometer that only reads in celsius. I told you to wear boots.

Congratulations, this is day one of a UX/CS project.

Project Steps:

Step one: Toss the crap out.

Step two: Figure out if the drawer location is correct based on the flow of your kitchen. If it isn’t currently in the right place, locate the appropriate drawer location – pull that drawer out and dump contents onto the floor. Repeat Step one.

Step three: Clean everything. Put things into piles. If a friend calls say you’re busy, “knee-deep in taxonomy, bro.”

Step four: Determine what needs to go back in the original drawer. If you had to empty other drawers, cinch up those towels and put them aside. These are out-of-scope projects you’ll need to address later.

Step five: Sketch out an insert tray that holds all the items in the orignal drawer. Get some cardboard, scissors and tape — mock-up and adjust until all the items fit and contain a hierarchy appropriate with usage.

Step six: Schedule a dinner party where everyone has to cook their own dish at your house. If they question you about the other towels and missing drawers, blame it on the landlord or your father-in-law. Watch how the drawer is used, take notes and after they leave adjust your mock-up.

Step seven: Make a final product keeping in mind future utensil purchases.

Step eight: Order take-out.




Erich Fromm as Art Director

Marketing team: “Our site is dated. We need to push the envelope and look more like our competitors.”

Erich Fromm: “Equality, instead of being the condition for the development of each man’s peculiarity, means the extinction of individuality.”

Marketing team: “Whatever Fromm, you are a strange bird.”

Erich Fromm: “Indifference is what characterizes modern man’s relationship to himself and to others.”

Be bold. Be you.