The Power of Purpose in Business

It was the spring of 2013 and my first full year as an entrepreneur. I had been introduced to S. Chris Edmonds by a mutual friend. I mentioned to Chris that I was working on launching my business as an author and speaker. He recommended that I speak to Mark Levy.  

Mark Levy leads a consulting practice called Levy Innovation focused on positioning. Described as the “horse whisperer” for writers, Levy had worked with prominent thought leaders such as Marshall Goldsmith, Simon Sinek, David Meerman Scott, and Cali Yost. I hired Mark to help me with my platform. Over six weeks, he coached me on creating marketplace differentiation, crafting an elevator pitch, mining my backstory, and developing a go-to-market strategy.

Mark is brilliant. He taught me about crafting a big idea and developing a backstory. We spent a considerable amount of time on not only the what and how, but also the why. To illustrate the importance of communicating my why, Mark shared a story about one of his clients. It was one I’d never forget.

The Power of Purpose

CalculatorThe client was a financial planner serving small business owners. Let’s call him Ed. Ed had shared with Mark that he recruited the majority of his new clients by speaking. He would give a 90 minute seminar on managing finances. At the end of the seminar, Ed would offer a free one hour consultation/assessment. If there was 40 people in the room, he’d typically have only two or three take him up on the offer. The need to grow his client base led him to Mark. Mark asked Ed why he chose to pursue a career in accounting. He shared that the inspiration began during his teenage years. His parents had passed away in a car accident and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather had worked at a local company for over 30 years. His grandmother was working as an office administrative assistant in a local school. Ed could remember sitting in his living room at age 14 like it was yesterday. His grandfather was next to him reading the newspaper. An advertisement caught his eye. The ad was for the sale of a local butcher shop. He approached his wife and expressed his desire to purchase the business. They both would quit and go into business for themselves. She was skeptical, but eventually agreed.

Ed watched his grandparents cash in their life savings to start the new business. The butcher shop didn’t make any money the first year, lost money in year two, and a little more in year three. By the end of the fifth year they had lost the remaining capital and were forced to close the business. Instead of enjoying their retirement, they went back to getting full-time jobs and both worked until they passed away. Ed shared that he went into accounting because he didn’t want to have other small business owners experience what had happened to his grandparents. Mark asked Ed to share this personal backstory during his next seminar. The results were staggering. Ed merely told his backstory on why he became a financial planner before starting his regular session. At the end he made his usual pitch. The difference was that 37 out of the 40 attendees took him up on the offer, many of whom became clients for Ed.

Arriving at the Ultimate Differentiator

I began writing back in 2008. For one year I blogged about 50 different topics in marketing. Searching for what I thought would be a game changer in business. The following year I would have a “moment of truth” in New York City that changed my life. I walked away from that experience believing the biggest myth in business was the idea of meeting customer expectations. Too much attention was being placed on acquisition. Going forward businesses  would need to find the little things to maximize the customer experience by putting customers first. Taking care of the customers they had, so those customers would bring them the (referred) customers they wanted.

I became a disciple of the late Ted Levitt. Levitt believed that business should put the customer at the center of everything they do. Levitt asserted that “The search for meaningful distinction is central to the marketing effort. If marketing is about anything, it is about achieving customer-getting distinction by differentiating what you do and how you operate. All else is derivative of that and only that.” I believed the focus of business should be on customers and not just chasing bottom line profits. Profit was the result, not the aim. Customer experience was to become the new marketing.

PurpleGoldfishAfter collecting over 1,000 examples and writing Purple Goldfish, my thinking was slightly altered. I found that the companies who did the little extras for customers, also applied the same principles for their employees. In fact, many of those successful companies seemed to place a greater emphasis on culture and putting their employees first. It led me to crowdsource another 1,000+ examples. These examples were focused on the little things for employees to help drive engagement and reinforce culture. The result was my second book, the Green Goldfish.

GreenGoldfishMy outlook after Green Goldfish was altered once again. I had previously held the view that you treat all of your customers and all of your employees the same. I came to realize that for most companies, 80% of profitability is created by just 20% of customers. In addition, 80% of the value that is created by a business, comes from just 20% of the employees. I realized that you don’t treat everyone the same, you treat everyone fairly. My third book in the original trilogy, the Golden Goldfish, focused on the little things you do for your “vital few” in business.

GoldenGoldfishI now believe there is an ultimate differentiator. While writing Golden Goldfish I was introduced to Chris Malone. Chris Malone co-authored The Human Brand with Susan T. Fiske. The book examines the concepts of warmth and competence in relation to business. As humans, our brains are hardwired to sense warmth and competence immediately. Warmth trumps competence. It starts inside your organization and radiates to your customer. If you want to win the hearts of employees and wallets of customers, you must go out of your way to put their interests ahead of yours. Malone and Fiske call this the principle of worthy intentions. These worthy intentions are typically linked to the purpose of your company. Purpose is now becoming the ultimate differentiator.

The book Red Goldfish, co-authored by Graeme Newell,  (launching 2/14/17) will explore how business is evolving, the importance of putting purpose first, how to define your purpose, the eight purpose archetypes, and how to create the little things that bring purpose to life.

Red Goldfish Book

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – here is a slideshare presentation on the concept of a Red Goldfish:

Purple Goldfish Hall of Famer – Doubletree Hotels

Hall of Fame Class of 2010 – Doubletree

I can distinctly remember my first stay at a Doubletree by Hilton like it was yesterday. It happened over two decades ago in Atlanta, GA. It was late and I was traveling on one of my first business trips. The flight from Los Angeles was delayed and I had missed dinner. In a bad mood and hangry (hungry and angry). As I checked in I was given a warm chocolate cookie. It was like a gift from the heavens. That day my love affair with the Doubletree chocolate cookie began.

WELL_Speaking1-190x111As much as I love the cookie, I pale in comparison to Jeff Hayzlett. The best-selling author of Running the Gauntlet, former CMO of Kodak, and founder of the C-Suite Network loves them so much, he says he dreams about the Doubletree cookie when he stays at other hotels.

Doubletree’s motto is “The Little Things Mean Everything.” This commercial highlights the cookie as one of “the little things our hotel team members do every day to create a rewarding experience for our hotel guests.

The Origin

Since the 1980’s, most hotels offered treats like chocolate chip cookies to VIP customers. Doubletree believes that every customer is a VIP and thus started handing them out to every customer in 1987. Fast forward to 2016, Doubletree by Hilton gives away over 60,000 per day across the world. Since starting the program, they’ve given away over 300 million cookies.

Why a Cookie?

Doubletree offers an explanation right on the brown paper bag the cookie comes in. “Why a cookie?” the headline asks. “Cookies are warm, personal and inviting, much like our hotels and the staff here that serves you.” Warm is the key here and a signature feature of the Doubletree cookie.

Takeaway:  You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Some may argue that a mere chocolate chip cookie is empty and meaningless gesture.  It’s not meaningless, especially when that little extra is a signature first impression.  I subscribe to the philosophy that Malcolm Gladwell offered in The Tipping Point, ”The little things can make the biggest difference.” Doubletree understands the chocolate chip cookie is not just a cookie, it’s a warm welcome and a stunning first impression.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Speaking of warmth, here is Chris Malone of Fidelum Partners speaking about the importance of warmth:

Blue Goldfish – A Brief History of Technology, Data, and Analytics

The following is an excerpt from the book, Blue Goldfish:

We are entering a new era driven by technology. A time that MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call the Second Machine Age. We are now on the cusp of a time where business can start to leverage the advances in computer processing, artificial intelligence and networked communication. An example of this is Waze. The app allows users to access maps and driving directions. It also provides up to date conditions, allowing the driver to navigate swiftly and safely. It can do this because each road map has been scanned into the database, but also because every cell phone transmitting from every car will reveal where the traffic jams are.

It took several decades for earlier breakthrough technologies, such as the steam engine or electricity, to reach the point of ubiquity and flexible application in the first machine age. Once they did, both fundamentally changed the way people lived and businesses operated. Information technology and digital communication are now just reaching that same inflection point.

The big winners in this new era will be consumers, who will be able to buy a wider range of higher-quality goods and services at lower prices. The other winners will be those who create and finance the new machines or figure out how best to use them to gain competitive advantage. Great wealth will be created in the process[1].

It’s Been a Journey

We didn’t get to this inflection point without innovation over the last 50+ years. Let’s look at some of the major breakthroughs over that time. Here is a slideshare on the journey:

1961 – The silicon chip was invented by two American electrical engineers, Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce. Their creation revolutionized and miniaturized technology and paved the way for the development of the modern computer. Until the chip was invented, most electrical devices were constructed using bulky, power-hungry vacuum tube technology. The development of transistors partially solved the problem but these still had to be wired to circuit boards. Kilby and Noyce hit on the solution almost simultaneously, combining separate components in an integrated circuit made of a semiconductor material. Intel founder Noyce, working in Palo Alto, California, favored silicon and can thus be credited as the man who put the silicon in “Silicon Valley.[2]

1964 – Roger Easton begins experiments that lead to the development of GPS (global positioning system), a ubiquitous feature of modern life. What began as a way of tracking satellites like Sputnik became a way for satellites to track us here on the surface of Earth[3].

1967 – Graduate student James Goodnight joins a project at North Carolina State University. The goal was to create a statistical analysis system (SAS) used by agricultural departments at colleges and universities. In 1976, SAS Institute becomes an independent, private business led by Goodnight.

1969 – Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to step onto the lunar surface of the moon.

ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) headed by J.C.R. Licklider is launched. Licklider’s idea of an intergalactic computer network, where everyone on the globe is interconnected with the ability to access programs and data at any site, from anywhere, begins to take shape[4].

1970 – Gordon Moore coins Moore’s Law, a computing term which states that processor speeds, or overall processing power (the number of transistors on a CPU) for computers will double every two years[5].

1973 – The Xerox Alto personal computer is developed at Xerox PARC. It becomes the first computer to use the desktop metaphor and mouse-driven graphical user interface.

In the same year, the world’s first mobile phone call was made when Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola, called a rival telecommunications company and informed them he was speaking via a mobile phone. The phone Cooper used, if you could call it that, weighed a staggering 2.5 lbs. With this large prototype device, you got 30 minutes of talk-time and it took around 10 hours to charge[6].

1975 – The first personal computers were introduced. The MITS Altair 8800 was followed by the IMSAI 8080, an Altair clone. Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote a BASIC compiler for the Altair and formed Microsoft.

1976 – Steven Sasson, a 24 year old engineer at Eastman Kodak invents the process to make digital photos.

A couple of other Steve’s, Jobs and Wozniak, launch the Apple I. As Apple’s only “kit” computer, consumers need to add a keyboard, power supply and enclosure to the assembled motherboard around the 6502 processor.

1978 – Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston introduce VisiCalc. The first electronic spreadsheet, it turned the personal computer into a useful business tool, not just a game machine or replacement for the electric typewriter.

1982 – The first thing (as in internet of things) connected to the internet was a Coke vending machine at Carnegie Mellon University. Programmers connected to the machine over the Internet, allowing them to check the status of the machine and determined whether or not there would be a cold drink awaiting them should they decide to make the trip down to the machine[7].

1983 – On a boat trip to Catalina Island in 1983, five marketing professionals conceived an electronic alternative that would transform the retail landscape.The solution involved using grocery scanners to distribute targeted coupons. Catalina Marketing was born. Catalina created a single solution–the Checkout Coupon–benefitting retailers, brands and consumers[8].

1983 – Motorola releases its first commercial mobile phone, known as the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. The handset offered 30 minutes of talk-time, six hours standby, and could store 30 phone numbers. It cost nearly $4,000[9].

1989 – Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist at CERN, invents the World Wide Web. The web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automatic information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world. The first website at CERN – was dedicated to the World Wide Web project itself and was hosted on Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer. The website described the basic features of the web; how to access other people’s documents and how to set up your own server.

1990 – Quantum Computer Services, Inc., introduces Promenade, an online service that will be offered with the IBM PS/1 computer. home computer has been introduced with a built-in modem and online services to provide families immediate access to live, interactive education and entertainment services. Quantum Computer Services eventually became America Online[10].

1991Linus Torvalds invents Linux. Torvalds, a student at the University of Helsinki in Finland, begins writing his own kernel. He started by developing device drivers and hard-drive access, and by September had a basic design that he called Version 0.01. This kernel, which is called Linux, was afterwards combined with the GNU system to produce a complete free operating system[11].

1992 – Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old test engineer for Sema Group (now Airwide Solutions), sent the first text message on December 3, 1992, from his personal computer to the Vodafone network to the phone of Richard Jarvis. The text message read “Merry Christmas.” AT&T would be the first to offer the service in the US in 2000[12].

1993 – CERN puts an updated version of World Wide Web software into the public domain. CERN makes the release available with an open license to maximise its dissemination. Through these actions, making the software required to run a web server freely available, along with a basic browser and a library of code, allowed the web to flourish.

1994 – Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel infamously stumble when confronted with their first email address on the Today Show. Bryant Gumbel asks “What is internet, anyway?”

Jeff Bezos incorporates “Cadabra” on July 5th. A year later he changes the name to Amazon after a lawyer misheard its original name as “cadaver.”

1995 – goes online.

Pierre Omidyar auctions off a single broken laser pointer via a site he’d developed, AuctionWeb, to see if it would sell. To his surprise the item sold for $14.83 and an idea was formed. The company was soon renamed eBay, short for Echo Bay, the name of Omidyar’s consulting firm. eBay’s vision for success transitioned from one of commerce—buying and selling things—to become something far more significant. It thrived because it placed customer data being at the heart of the business from its inception. “eBay was one the first websites of its kind and by giving people a high level of bargaining power it completely democratized ecommerce. eBay has pioneered an ecommerce marketing revolution, particularly when it comes to utilizing customer data in order to deliver a more engaging, seamless online experience. From day one they’ve used customer data to improve platform experience and they’re only getting better at contextualizing their data sources. Its lesson to the internet has been that success comes from continual data innovation[13].”

1995 – Google begins as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Both are Ph.D. students at Stanford University.

1999 – Kevin Ashton coins the term “the Internet of Things” (IoT) while working at Auto-ID Labs[14].

Oracle executive Marc Benioff invites three friends to his San Francisco apartment. His business idea gets a lukewarm response. Co-founder Dave Moellenhoff doesn’t sugarcoat it, “You’re an idiot. That’s the stupidest thing. This is never going to work.” The group presses forward and launches Salesforce, one of the first enterprise cloud software services in the world. The company pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website[15].

2000 – Confinity and merge in March. The combined company becomes PayPal in order to sync up the name of the company with the name of the product[16].

The United States stops intentionally degrading GPS signals available to the public. Originally developed by the Department of Defense to aid the military, the satellite-based system provides location and time data to users. In announcing the discontinuation of the feature that deliberately degraded the signal, the White House said in a statement that civilian users of GPS would be able to pinpoint locations up to 10 times more accurately than before[17].

2001 – A free user-generated online encyclopedia called Wikipedia comes online and quickly becomes the reference site of choice for Internet users[18].

2002 – Internet Archive search director Doug Cutting and University of Washington graduate student Mike Cafarella begin building Nutch. Over the course of a few months, Cutting and Cafarella build the underlying file systems and processing framework that would become Hadoop[19].

Amazon launches Amazon Web Services, a suite of cloud-based services including storage, computation and even human intelligence through the Amazon Mechanical Turk[20].

2003 – 500 million devices are connected to the Internet. One device for every 12 people on the planet.

Chris Stolte and Pat Hanrahan invent a technology called VizQL™ at Stanford. VizQL attacks a basic business problem: making databases and spreadsheets understandable to ordinary people. Now, visualization is part of the journey and not just the destination. Fast analytics and visualization for everyone becomes the basis for the founding of was born[21].

Scientists announced that they had sequenced the entire human genome two years ahead of schedule. The 13-year international project set out to identify the 20,000 to 25,000 genes in human DNA[22].

2004 – 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg launches in his dorm room as a Harvard sophomore.

2005 – YouTube is founded by former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim. The idea was born at a dinner party in San Francisco the year before, The inspiration was two key events that year: Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl and a devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean[23].

2006 – Doug Cutting begins working at Yahoo. They spin out the storage and processing parts of Nutch to form Hadoop as an open-source Apache Software Foundation project. Why Hadoop? It was named after Cutting’s son’s stuffed elephant.

2007 – The first iPhone was released combining the internet, a cellphone and an iPod into one device. In 74 days, Apple sells 1 million iPhones.

Waze is founded. The Israeli and Palo Alto-based company is a developer of free mapping and turn-by-turn navigation apps for iOS and Android devices.

Sitting in Zeke’s Sports Bar, Tom Preston-Werner shares an idea with Chris Wanstrath, “I launched into my half-baked idea for some sort of website that acted as hub for coders to share their Git repositories. I even had a name: GitHub.” Fast forward less than a decade later, GitHub is how people build software. With a community of more than 12 million people, developers can discover, use, and contribute to over 31 million projects using a powerful collaborative development workflow[24].

2009 – USAA, a privately held bank and insurance company, becomes the first company to introduce the mobile check deposit feature, which requires a customer to photograph both sides of the check with the phone’s camera. With just one branch, in San Antonio, and customers deployed all over the world, the company has been aggressively developing an anytime, anywhere banking strategy[25].

Al Gore makes his infamous claim in a CNN interview, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet[26].”

Web 2.0 hits its stride. Google offers browser-based enterprise applications, through services such as Google Apps[27].

2011 – The Oxford Dictionary added the common texting acronym “LOL” (laughing out loud or laugh out loud) to its official listings.

2013 – Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets[28].

2014 – Intel and its partners announce that they will begin commercial production of its 800 gigabit per second optical network cables, based on technology developed in its Silicon Photonics lab[29].

2015 – Amazon surpasses Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the United States by market capitalization.

Barclay’s release a report that Hortonworks, a Hadoop based company, is expected to become the fastest growing software company ever. The company is slated to reach $100 million in annual revenue in just four years from its inception.

The average person unlocks his or her smartphone 110 times each day[30].

Today’s Consumer

When these innovations from the last fifty years are listed out across several pages, two facts come into sharp focus. First, the rate of innovation is ever increasing. What would seem like a giant leap fifty years ago appears more like a small step today. Second, these innovations are changing the average consumer. Going from a world where connected technology is mostly a dream to such ubiquity where more humans have mobile phones than access to working toilets is nothing short of impressive.

BlueGoldfishAs you consider the journey, there’s no doubt that consumer expectations have changed–we’ve forced them to change with each innovation being faster, smaller and more accessible than the last. The same expectations apply to your business.

Customers expect faster response times, shorter wait times, more value and less cost all at once. The companies who figure out how to serve this modern consumer will thrive. And the others? Their days are numbered.

Blue Goldfish highlights those companies doing the former, using technology, data and analytics to improve customer experience. Technology brought us these increasing expectations and it’s the only thing that can save our businesses from them.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is Andrew McAfee talking about The Second Machine Age:
































Golden Goldfish – All Customer and Employees are not Created Equal

Here is a slideshare on the third book in the Goldfish Series, the Golden Goldfish: The book is based on the simple premise that all customers and employees are not created equal. For most businesses, 80% of profitability is driven by the top 20% of customers and employees. These are simply your “Vital Few.” The book focuses on nine different ways to do the “little extras” to promote customer advocacy and drive employee engagement with these key stakeholders.

Pareto’s 80/20 principle is brought to life by authors Yoon, Carlotti and Moore in a case study about Kraft Velveeta cheese. In 2012, sales of Velveeta cheese were on a downward trajectory. The brand managers were faced with a challenge. Should they focus on getting lapsed consumers to buy Velveeta again? Or should they work to get occasional purchasers to buy more frequently? Their research uncovered that the top 10% of Velveeta buyers account for over 50% of profit. Kraft decided to focused on this key segment of 2.4 million consumers. According to Greg Gallagher, Velveeta Marketing Director, “The previous thinking was that the quickest, easiest path to growth was to identify light users or lapsed users. But when we talked to superconsumers, we learned that in fact they wanted to use Velveeta more —they were starving for it.” Kraft went to work on creating brand extensions. Additional products that contained Velveeta. The results are anything but cheesy. New product spin-offs totaled over $100 million in additional sales.

GOLDEN GOLDFISH LESSON: Do more for your best ones. In the words of Yoon, Carlotti, and Moore, “Show the love to those that love you the most.”

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Speaking of a Golden and a Goldfish, here is a video of Rellie the Golden Retriever discovering a goldfish tank for the first time:

A Moment Of Truth Leads To The Purple Goldfish Project

Tales from a NYC Rooftop

It was a summer evening in 2009. I experienced a moment of truth that would change the course of my life. I was in New York City with a work colleague. Brad Bossow and I were at a trendy rooftop bar. One of those places where a bottle of beer is $14. [Rhetorical question – is it possible to enjoy a beer that is $14?]


We were waiting to meet a few people before heading over to a networking event. I noticed a older gentleman sitting on his own for over 30 minutes. It was obvious that he was waiting for someone. Feeling bad for him, I decided to strike up a conversation. I asked him my standard line about waiting:

“Do you know that we spend 10% of our life waiting?”

I told him I knew it was true because I once read it online.

Internet quotes

We laughed and started talking about the etiquette of waiting. I stressed the importance of being on time.

Right then this guy shook his head and said something I’ll never forget:

“There is no such thing as being on time. Being on time is a fallacy.”

I countered by saying it was possible to be on time. In fact, I’ve done it myself once or twice before. He shook his head side to side and gave me the Dikembe finger wave. “On time is a myth. You either are early… or you are late. No one is ever on time.”

This was a complete paradigm shift for me. I immediately starting thinking about how this applies to business and the idea of meeting customer expectations. I’ve always thought that the idea of meeting expectations was a surefire recipe for losing business. It almost guarantees you will fall short. It’s similar to playing prevent defense in football. Prevent defense only prevents you from doing one thing… winning.

This new paradigm has only made it clearer for me. Meeting expectations is the biggest myth in business. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Meeting Expectations. Kids cover your eyes and ears… they are all myths.

In business you either fall below expectations or you exceed them. There is no middle ground. It bears repeating:

“There is no such thing as meeting expectations.”

In a world where 60-80% of customers describe their customer satisfaction as satisfied or very satisfied before going on to defect to other brands, “meeting expectations” is no longer an option.

Changing Perspective

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” I went home that summer night and starting thinking about companies that purposely set out to exceed the expectations of their customers. I resolved to seek out 1,001 examples of companies that did little extras to delight customers and influence word of mouth. I called the crowdsourcing effort The Purple Goldfish Project.

Here’s a slideshare that further explains the concept of the Purple Goldfish:

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Dikembe Mutombo entered the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. His finger wave after a blocked shot became his signature move. It was immortalized in a GEICO commercial in 2013:

This ONE Skill May Be Keeping You From Becoming a Leader

This post was originally featured on the MENG Blend blog:

What is the true definition of a leader?  My friend and author Bill Treasurer offers one definition.  It comes from his son Ian.  A preschooler, Ian came home one day and proudly proclaimed he had been the leader for the day.  When Bill asked what that meant, Ian proudly shared, “I got to open doors for people.”  Leaders open doors.  This simple definition speaks to the essence of servant leadership.

While supporting others is a key aspect of leadership, I’d argue there is a better definition of a leader.  A leader is someone who rallies others towards a defined future state that currently does not exist.  The rallying part of the definition is crucial.  A leader has to hone the skills of becoming an effective presenter.  Writing and speaking are paramount.  This was echoed by the 38th president of the United States,

“If I went back to college again, I’d concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience.  Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.” — Gerald R. Ford

Over the last two years, I’ve committed myself to becoming a student in the art of presenting. I knew speaking would be key to help shifting business towards a greater focus on the customer and their experience. Leveraging those leanings, I’ve created a presentation that contains 21 Rules of Thumb when speaking:

Here are four major themes and 10 of those rules of thumb by the numbers:

Less Is More with PowerPoint

1.  No font size smaller than 30.
2.  No more than 16 words on a slide.
3.  The number of bullets you should use in a presentation…ZERO.

Preparation Is Key

4.  Beware of #13.  Bad things will happen while speaking.  Be prepared.  If something happens, you have three choices: you can fix it, you can feature it, or you can forget it.
5.  Dress to the 9’s.  Appearance matters.  Your audience makes split-second judgments about you before the first word is spoken.  Eighty percent of their judgments are based upon two factors: warmth and competence.  Dress smartly to leverage both for a strong first impression.

Organization Matters

6.  Don’t play 20 questions.  Finishing with a Q & A session makes a dud.  Take questions and then finish with a strong call to action and close.
7.  The brain can only concentrate for 10 minutes before shutting off.  Plan in breaks. Use videos, role-plays, and group exercises to help reset your audience.
8.  People remember things in 3‘s.  Use this simple yet powerful fact to your advantage when organizing main points in your talk.

Beyond Words

9.   We all have two hands with 5 fingers.  Gestures are key.  Use your hands to emphasize points.  Don’t be afraid to go BIG.  Let your elbows fly, but be sure to reset after each gesture.
10.  Give your audience 2 seconds of pause.  When you make an important point of emphasis, pause and let your audience have the time to let it sink in.

There are no natural born speakers.  The best only get better by doing.  They seek out opportunities and continuously sharpen their saw.  To steal a famous joke:

Tourist to New Yorker:  “Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”
New Yorker:  “Practice, practice, practice.”

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is a video about “Leaders Open Doors” by Bill Treasurer. In the spirit of opening doors, Bill is donating all of the proceeds from the book to organizations who support kids with special needs:

The ONE Thing You Need to Stop Doing to Become a Great Communicator

This post was originally posted on Forbes

The ONE Thing You Need to Stop Doing to Become a Great Communicator

Credit: Flickr David Berkowitz

Credit: Flickr David Berkowitz

Caroline Kennedy was making a run for the US Senate in 2008. The daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy was a front runner to represent New York. After being accused by the media of dodging questions, Kennedy agreed to a sit down interview. The result was disastrous. According to an article by Toastmasters, Caroline uttered 27 “ums” and 38 “you knows” in the space of five minutes. Three weeks after the interview, she withdrew from the campaign.

We expect great leaders to be great communicators. They need to present their ideas in a clear way that connects with the audience. According to authors Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, we can look to the late Steve Jobs for inspiration. Jobs did, “what a leader is supposed to do: provides a vision and makes sure everyone understands it.”

Over the last two years I’ve committed myself to improving my communication skills as a keynote speaker on the topics of customer experience and employee engagement. I’ve become a student in the art of presenting. Last week I distilled my learnings in a Slideshare entitled, 21 Rules to Help You Rock Your Next Presentation. 

The slide deck focuses on 21 rules of thumb when speaking. Each rule is based on a number. The lessons are distilled into the three areas of design, timing and speaking. Here are a couple examples of each:

Design – 1. Minimum size font should be 30. 2. The maximum number of words on any given slide is 16.

Timing – 1. For every 20 minutes of presentation, use no more than 15 slides. 2. Schedule in breaks every 10 minutes of your presentation. Our brains can only concentrate for 10 minutes without shutting off. Use exercises, role plays and videos to allow the audience to reset.

Speaking – 1. Don’t play 20 questions. Never finish with a standard q+a session. Budget in time to take questions, then finish with a story and a strong closing statement. 2. Go beyond words when communicating feelings. Words only account for 7% of the meaning, whereby body language accounts for 55% and tone 38%.

Out of the 21 rules, there is one that I believe has the great potential. It’s something you need to S.T.O.P. doing. STOP is an acronym for Single Thought, One Person. It was taught to me by speaking skills coach Alan Hoffler.

single thought one person

Coined by Andrew Gilman, here’s how S.T.O.P. works. You deliver a single thought to one person. You then think of your next thought while finding a new person in the audience. You not allowed to start delivering the thought until you establish eye contact. You deliver that single thought.

This one rule has three amazing benefits:

First, it eliminates filler words. This may be the biggest benefit for the listener. Filler words such as er, um and so automatically disappear. According to Susan Ward, “Using excessive fillers is the most irritating speech habit. They distract your listener often to the point that he or she doesn’t hear anything you say. Your message is entirely lost.”

Second, it allows you time to breathe by slowing you down. Breathing calms your nerves. It allows needed oxygen to your brain, making you smarter on your feet.

Lastly, the pauses allow you to create flow and tempo. The time also allows the audience to filter what you’ve just said. Our brains can’t effectively multitask. The gaps between thougths gives the listener needed time to process the information. A word of warning. Using the technique feels awkward at first. The pauses feel painfully long for the speaker, even though they are almost unnoticeable for the audience. You  feel mechanical, whereby the audience sees you as collected. As with any new habit, it need to be continuously practiced in order to be ingrained.

Are you ready to S.T.O.P. in order to start becoming a great communicator?

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is a video from my speaking coach Alan Hoffler. He has a whole series of videos of things you should also STOP doing:

Southwest Airlines does a creative little extra for a passenger

Southwest AirlinesMy good friend Keith Green of Synergy sent me a creative example this week. He was flying Southwest Airlines from Liberty in Newark to Midway in Chicago.

Here’s what happened in Keith’s words,

Southwest birthday cake“The flight attendant came on near the end of flight, called out passenger out by name asked him to ring his call bell. He did and the flight attendant explained that they knew it was his birthday. She then asked everyone to turn on their call buttons, lighting them up as candles and asked we all sing happy birthday. After we did we all turned off our call buttons to “blow out” the candles. They then delivered a bottle of champagne to the guy. Nice touch.”


According to VP of Airport Affairs, Bob Montgomery, “Southwest’s employees have fun on the job.” He believes that is among the reasons for the airline’s financial success.

“Because of our great people and the culture that we have here, they just simply work harder and more effectively. It’s impossible to put a number on the benefit that that gives us.”

Bringing Your Personality to Work

Southwest encourages employees to bring their personality to work. They also empower them to make decisions that put the customer first. Here are a handful of examples of how they’ve stepped up in the past:

southwest-love1. Holding a plane for a passenger going to see their dying grandson.

2. Recognizing the artistic efforts of a young passenger.

3. Stepping up to help a customer with a special need with JOY.

4. Party with a purpose.

5. A flight attendant rapping pre-flight instructions.

According to Dr. Fathi El-NadiSouthwest‘s relaxed culture can be traced back to unconventional CEO Herb Kelleher. Kelleher encouraged informality and wanted staff to have fun at their jobs. Employees were valued, with Kelleher acknowledging births, marriages and deaths by notes and cards. Staff were encouraged to pitch in and help out, especially at check-in, giving Southwest turnaround times less than half the industry average.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Southwest is a Purple Goldfish Hall of Famer. They’ve also shown up as an example of a customer-centric organization in this slideshare:

Beyond Expectations – Leveraging the Power of the Gift in Marketing and Sales

I recently read a fantastic article by Mark Bonchek of Orbit on HBR. Mark wrote about “How to Thrive in Social Media’s Gift Economy.” It touches on how brands should utilize social media to further relationships through non-monetary value exchange.

Background on Gift Economy

For over 99% of the history of mankind we’ve lived in small tribes. These tribes consisted of between 10 to 50 individuals. Groups that lived by hunting and gathering. Existing through a concept called by anthropologists as a gift economy. Each member provided for others and status was achieved through the concept of gifting. Cooperation was the route to success as a whole. Status was not a consequence of how much you had, but rather how much you gave away. Giving for the benefit of others with no expectation of immediate return. Trade existed, but only with outside groups. This trading was inherently competitive and thus only done with strangers.

Enter Today’s Market Economy

Today we are firmly entrenched in an exchange based economy. With the adoption of money, almost everything is now traded freely. Trading involves trying to get the best deal, typically at the expense of others. The basis of exchange is inherently antagonistic with the aim of giving less and getting more. The market economy is a zero sum game. You give me A and I give you B. Transactions strive to be equal, leaving no additional place left to go in the relationship.

Yet, there are still examples of gift economy models that exist today. On a larger scale there is Wikipedia, github or Linux. Examples of tribes that contribute (without compensation) to ultimately benefit the whole. On a smaller scale, there are instances of volunteering or helping out family or friends that touch on these concepts. Mark uses a fun example to distinguish between the two:

Consider the example of moving into a new apartment. When friends help you move, you express your appreciation by providing pizza and beer — really good pizza and beer. When you hire professional movers, you pay with money. Offer your friends money instead of pizza and beer, and they are likely to be offended. Offer to pay the movers in pizza and beer, and they won’t unload the truck. Your friends are operating in a gift economy; the movers in a market economy.”

A Hybrid Approach

zappos-free-shippingThrough my work on the Goldfish Rule (differentiation through added value) I believe you can leverage gift economy principles on top of the market transaction. Adding the unexpected extra to the exchange. Little things that help your brand stand out and further the relationship with the customer. Take Zappos for example, it is common practice for Zappos to upgrade shipping to overnight. Purple Goldfish #493 tells the story of a woman ordering shoes for her son at 10:00 p.m. and then receiving them at 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Imagine what it feels like to unexpectedly receive your shoes within 11 hours.

Here is an infographic showing the proposed middle ground between a gift and market economy:

goldfish hybrid economy

Giving More than Expected

As a business why would you want to incorporate gift economy principals into your market exchanges? I believe there are 3 distinct reasons and corresponding benefits of giving more to exceed expectations:

  1. beacon-300x191Positioning – stand out from your competition. If everyone is providing x, the fact that you provide x + y (gift)  differentiates your offering. Less than 30% of consumers buy on price. You want to tap into the 70+% who are looking for value and a strong customer experience. Benefit: Differentiation
  2. Loyalty – giving the little extra (gift) enhances the customer experience. It creates a bond between the business and the customer. The benefit of that bond include increased loyalty and ultimately patronage as a form of repayment. Benefit: Retention
  3. Reciprocity – Part of giving extra is to create goodwill (inequality).  That inequality is repaid by positive word of mouth or word of mouse. The best form of marketing is via positive word of mouth.  By giving a signature extra (gift) you provide something for your customers to talk, tweet, blog, Yelp or Facebook about. Benefit: Referrals

The gift or little extra is about the respect for the relationship.  It becomes a beacon, a sign that shows you care. It’s a physical sign of goodwill and customer appreciation.

Investment, not an Expense

Why do the little extras (gifts)? Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, sees the little extras as an investment in their brand.

tony hsieh investment quote

What say YOU?

Two questions:

1. What is your opinion? Can you have a hybrid model (market plus gift)? Or should you focus on leveraging gift economy purely with social initiatives (read Mark’s post for some great examples from Nike, Vail and Kraft). Or is this all just a lot of hooey?

2. Any good examples of brands that are utilizing the hybrid (goldfish) or social media gifting approach?

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) –  Here is a slideshare that provides further background on the Goldfish Principal. In includes the theory, the ingredients and the 12 different types of goldfish:

Top Restaurant Examples from Purple Goldfish including Five Guys, Rainforest Cafe and Maggiano’s

Dining out is the ultimate experience. A number of factors ontribute to the overall experience. More than just the food, things like service, surroundings and ambience impact this highly sensory experience.

Here’s a slideshare showcasing the top restaurant examples from the book, What’s Your Purple Goldfish – 12 Ways to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth:

BEST IN CLASS – Five Guys Burgers and Fries

five guys best in class


“We figure our best salesman is our customer. Treat thatperson right, he’ll walk out the door and sell for you. Fromthe beginning, I wanted people to know that we put all ourmoney into the food.That’s why the décor is so simple — redand white tiles. We don’t spend our moneyon décor. Or on guys in chicken suits. Butwe’ll go overboard on food.” – Founder Jerry Murrell

Here are the rest of the examples by category:

#1. Throw-ins (value) – little extras that are included with your product or service. They help you stand out in a “sea of sameness.”

Besito in New York provides diners with two throw-ins at the end of the meal. Churros and Worry Dolls.

#2. In the Bag / Out of the Box (value) – little unexpected things that are added as a surprise.

Maroni Cuisine has a little extra that you can take home. Diners receive free jars of Maroni pasta sauce after their meal.

#3. Sampling (value) – give your customer an additional taste by offering a free “little extra” on the house.

Maggiano’s Little Italy lets diners who pick a traditional pasta for their meal, pick another type that they get to bring home and sample.

#4. First & Last Impressions (value) – you have two chances to make an impression. When your customer comes through the door and right before they walk out, hang up or log off. These “little extras” make you memorable and more importantly talkable.

Lolita’s of Boston provides diners with a tequila flavored shaved ice upon entering and some cotton candy upon finishing their meal.

#6. Pay it Forward (value) – give a “little extra” back to the community.

 Mission Chinese in SFO and NYC donates 75 cents per entree to the local food bank to pay it forward.

#7. Follow-up (maintenance) – make the “little extra” follow up or say thanks to your customer.

 Capital Grille goes the extra mile for a birthday.

#8. Added Service (maintenance) – the “little extra” that’s an added unexpected service.

Boston’s Taranta uses squid ink toplace QR codes on platesusing fresh locally sourced seafood.

#9. Convenience (maintenance) – what “little extra” can you add to make things easier for your customers.

 AJ Bombers offers free peanuts…shot to customers in metal WWII bombers.

#10. Waiting (maintenance) – all customers hate to wait. If it’s inevitable, how can you do a “little extra” to make it more bearable.

French fries and three dipping sauces are a welcome little extra while you wait for your food at Stripsteak at Mandalay Bay.

#11. Special Needs (maintenance) – acknowledging that some customers have needs that require special attention.

Rainforest Cafe goes above and beyond for customers with food allergies.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Interested in learning more about What’s Your Purple Goldfish. Here’s a downloadable executive summary of the book on Slideshare: