In a world where everyone seems to be encouraged to talk themselves up, it's great to read some really honest self-criticism. It gives you so much more confidence about a person's ability to grow and develop.
Stuart Pearce is a former international footballer who now manages England's Under-21 team. His name has recently been thrown around as a potential future England manager. Here's how he responded in a recent press conference...
"I'm a manager that has been in control of a team for maybe 150 matches over a four-year period. That is ridiculously lightly raced as a manager. Very lightly experienced. I've got a long-term plan that I keep to myself. The one thing I can tell you is that today I haven't got enough experience by any means. The England manager's job is the pinnacle of anyone's career. When I look at Fabio [Capello, the current England manager] every day and watch him work, I realise how inept I am as a manager."
Is the pop-up dead and dead dull? Or does it remain one of the more interesting and (by definition) dynamic features of our retail and experience landscape?
I'm definitely in the latter camp, because while I fully subscribe to the broadly-accepted thinking on good pop-ups (that they should be unique, curious, and fresh, and should be driven by a story beyond temporary retail) I think to dismiss the idea of time-limited and pop-up activity as a passing fad already past its sell-by date would be akin to dismissing television advertising because too many people have made bad ads.
That was a long sentence. Sorry about that. But the point stands...new, fresh, short-term, surprising, and constantly-reinventing stuff is interesting. Just as long as it is...interesting.
What's interesting me right now are things like...Banksy's ultra-stealthy exhibition that has suddenly popped up in his home town of Bristol...London's collaborative art-cum-drinking space The Doodle Bar...Andre Balazs' summertime-only hotel Sunset Beach (where I'm heading for a weekend break in a couple of week)...and the brilliant public art programme in my local park.
Why should everything last forever? Aren't some things better in shortish bursts of relevant fun? That's the thinking that will ensure that pop-up activity reains a big part of our experiential landscape for the foreseeable future.
There was a time when the prevailing wisdom in advertising circles was that brands had to get away from talking about product features (which bored and confused consumers) and should instead move on to focusing on product benefits (differentiating themselves through the emotional connections they made with people). They had to focus on higher-order needs, as it were.
For brands dealing in commoditised or undifferentiated currencies (like most banks, insurance companies, and internet service providers) that remains true. It shouldn't of course...they should be focused on creating unique product or experience innovations...but that's how it is today.
And then there's a different type of brand, one operating in a savvy universe of already-experienced consumers. Like Bing. Looking to take the fight to Google after the failure of Live Search. For Bing to promote itself by talking about emotional benefits would be absurd. Every (and I mean every) target consumer for Bing is already using a search engine, every day of their lives. For Bing to promote itself by talking about the joys of search would not only be pointless, it would potentially be damaging, suggesting that it was five years out of date and completely blind to the Google revolution.
Instead, Bing is fighting on design...visual design, interface design, search design. Bing is offering different features, different functionality, and a different experience. This is the future...no more distracting debates about a focus on rational product features or emotional brand benefits. Instead, a total focus on the experience, on all the tiny (but massively consequential) pieces that comprise that experience. And definitely no wishy-washy higher-emotional needs waffle.
It's a statement of the obvious, of course. But doesn't mean it's not worth repeating. Space matters.
The design of a space matters. The feeling created by a space matters. Whether you call it feng shui, or just good interior and experience design, the point is that spaces help to shape and contextualise our experiences (and the feelings we have about those experiences).
So whether you wantto build better relationships with your employees or your customers, whether you want to get people to work harder or talk and spend more, I'm betting that the physical space where they interact with your brand every day is not what it could be.
Am I right? And, if I am, why don't you do something about it? Surely there's something less important that you're currently wasting your money on...
Zappos.com is a company I find fascinating, and a great piece in Inc. Magazine gave me some fresh insights into its success story...
NARRATIVE. Everyone at Zappos gets a copy of a book of essays published every year. The essays talk about the company's culture and are written by each individual Zappos employees. Every year they all contribute a new essay to the book.
COMMITMENT. After a four-week training course, all new Zappos employees are offered $2,000 to leave. That's right...not $2,000 to stay, but $2,000 to leave. It's how Zappos weed out the committed from the waiverers.
EXPERIENCE. Zappos does not compete on range or price (although both are good), it competes on customer experience. From trying to get your shoes to you before you expect them to arrive, to empowering its employees to be themselves on every call, Zappos is building loyalty through experience. Like so much that is powerful these days, it's a low-measurability, high-pay-off strategy.
INTERNAL TRIBE. When a company creates a culture that is tribal in its quality, where people intrinsically understand the brand and they way they need to behave to fulfil its promise, something extraordinary happens. Customers start to 'feel' the brand in every interaction. The emotional connection increases exponentially. The article in Inc. tells a story that sums it up for me...
"In his speeches, Hsieh (Zappos CEO) likes to point out that Zappos does not have specific policies for dealing with each customer service situation. He claims that the company's culture allows it to do extraordinary things. I saw him make this point earlier this year in New York City, when he told a story about a women whose husband died in a car accident after she had ordered boots for him from Zappos. The day after she called for ask for help with the return, she received a flower delivery. The call center rep had ordered the flowers without checking with a supervisor and billed them to the company."
Ok, so I may have been a little hasty and harsh in a conversation earlier today. I told a recent advertising graduate that advertising was dying because it was part of the problem. In fact, think I referred to it as the death star. That was extreme and unfair!
The truth is the problem is not advertising but simply the way too many people think about advertising. Because while it may not always be the problem, it certainly ain't always the solution either.
Like any form of communication, advertising can be a powerful way to solve some strategic problems. But that's exactly the point...some problems.
The task for people who love advertising, who want to defend it, and who want to see it evolve and thrive is to become more subtle in the way they think about the role and strategic application of advertising.
Because advertising is not the only way to sell more stuff...and sell more stuff is not the only thing advertising can do. You just have to think about it a bit more.
I used to call myself a communications professional. I used to think I was good with words. I used to believe that my great strength was understanding how to persuade and influence people. And to an extent all that remains true.
But what I have realised over time is that the most interesting thing is not the ability to influence people through communication, but the ability to to improve stuff through innovation. The underlying skills are the same...thinking about people, understanding what makes them tick, and identifying what would make them happier. The difference is the application of those skills.
As a communications professional you use your skills to make the status quo sound, appear, and occasionally work better. As a innovative thinker, you use your skills to change the status quo. In other words, you don't just change the storytelling, you change the story.