Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Your brand story. And why should it matter to me?

“We’re the lowest priced single-family detached, non-motor court product.”

“No two homes are the same – they are all different. Some have bedrooms with bay windows, because of these bump-outs. Others don’t. Nothing is cookie cutter.”

“Two of our plans have full-sized driveways, so you don’t even have to deal with the motor-court at all.”

Compelling, motivating reasons to buy a home in a new community? Or details I maybe didn’t know or need to care about, until that seed of doubt was planted.  True story, experienced when shopping for homes in a new planned community.

Stories that tell me nothing about the community itself, and give me reasons not to buy each specific home. Unintentional for sure, but a missed opportunity to connect with me. To understand me. What my situation is. What my needs are. Armed with that knowledge, the salesperson would have been able to understand exactly how their homes (not “product”) could make my life amazing. And why this community offered the lifestyle I crave.

Without that, the experience is like a doctor prescribing a medication, before they complete the diagnosis. Maybe I don’t need that anti-depressant. Maybe it’s the anti-inflammatory that will fix my strained Achilles tendon?

And it all comes down to the story being told. Even industry giants like IBM are on board with the power of story in business. Mary Winans, CMO of IBM explained in a recent AdAge article why they are hiring Hollywood screenwriters on staff, in-house. To tell their story, in ways that will connect with all their various customers. And to pay attention to the narrative arc – what comes first, how does interest build, then how does it end, leaving you wanting the sequel?

IBMs’ Winans said it best, “We’re getting better at not forcing a discussion about product too early in the process. Before we introduce a solution, we want to make sure we really understand a particular prospect’s challenge.” (Find the full interview here:

The best stories connect on a personal level. It’s what makes storytelling a very powerful tool in business, turning what you sell from a commodity, into an experience people want.  Next time you have the opportunity to talk with one of your customers, try switching from the old model: “We sell __________. They are made of the finest ________, with the finest ________. Want to buy one?”

Instead, try asking a few questions, and then listen to your customers before you hit the play button and launch the script about what you are or are not. Start with the why you do what you do. Then tell them how you do it. And only then, tell them the what you do.

Tell your story. And make it a good one. You know it will be shared!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Community forms in all the right places - and my found $5 bill finally finds the right home.

After a little over two years in my safe keeping, the $5 bill I found randomly tucked into the rim of a baseball cap in the Life is good store in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport has finally found its rightful, deserving home.

About 4:15pm on an overcast and not particularly nice Monday afternoon I headed out for a walk to clear my mind. I passed a gangly teenage boy with his bike, struggling to make the tape on a cardboard sign stick to a streetlight post. It read, “On Sidonia Street – LEMONADE”. Red felt pen on a piece of cardboard, hard to read for sure, never mind at 50mph. But at my pedestrian scale and pace the message was clear.
The tradition of the summertime lemonade stand lives on. But it took on an even deeper meaning. Here was this kid on a Monday, 4:15pm, overcast, with his lemonade stand fully 500 feet back, and even up the crest of a hill further away from his sign, with zero sightline from the road, putting in his time and ideas in the hopes of making money of his own. #entrepreneur

I altered my planned walking route, turned around and picked up the pace home, hopefully before the last glass of the day was poured, to retrieve my $5 bill. I’ve carried that bill on probably 50 trips since finding it. All over the country, to Canada, to Mexico and to Japan last month, looking for the right reason to pass it on. Today I found it.

Meet Noah, on the right, holding his $5 bill. He’s 15. And that’s his buddy Charlie on the left. He’s 13.

Noah, on the right, with his $5 bill

I told them the story of the $5 bill, where and how I found it, and what it meant to me. I told them the responsibility I felt to give it away to just the right person. They told me today was their first day in business, and it was a dry run for a busy sunny Saturday or Sunday when they’ll serve more people. They had to work the kinks out. And they described their market area a.k.a. community. "It's a great street," said Noah. "Lots of people walk here and everyone is really nice". 

I asked how sales were. “We’ve been open about 30 minutes before you got here and we have $3 so far. Now $8,” said Noah. Then he volunteered, “I know, our sign is in the wrong direction and it’s hard to read.” I handed him the thick black Sharpie pen I had brought as well, so they could make their message more readable.

And for $5 I had the best glass of lemonade ever. They were serving 2 choices, a small white cup, or a larger red cup, and the choice of regular or pink lemonade. Noah poured me a big red cup of pink lemonade, complete with ice. 

Best pink lemonade, ever. 
As he slipped the well-travelled $5 into the plastic money box on top of his lemonade stand his shy smile said it all. He was proud of being in business and doing something on his own. And to me, Noah was not just an excited new entrepreneur, but a metaphor of a positive future. One Noah at a time, doing what he does, with pride and commitment builds community.

I left knowing the $5 I found two years ago was finally where it was meant to be. And it truly made my day. Maybe my week.

Read about how I first found the $5 bill here: