Every Rolex tells a story

While on my evening stroll during a recent business trip in London, I came across a small specialty shop in Burlington Arcade. Located in the posh part of town, about 200 meters away from the iconic Ritz hotel (note to my financial controller: I was staying in a somewhat cheaper place a few blocks away,) the boutique is called “the Vintage Watch Company.” As you can see on the photo I took, the shop window is decorated with an impressive collection of antique Rolex watches.

I must admit that the closest encounter I had with the Rolex label to date came via unsolicited emails, and through colorful street hawkers in a Far East country trying to sell me a genuine “Lolex”. But what I saw lying behind the glass certainly triggered another experience. This window display was all about emotion and brand love!

Even by just reading the texts below the many watches on display, I learned that there are rare Rolex species with an all red date, a thunderbird bezel, or a semi bubble back (whatever these may mean). And that I probably didn’t have enough cash on me to take one these vintage bling-bling chronometers home with me.

Fascinated by the subject, I went doing more online research from my hotel room. So I found on the shop’s website (with not very common, but probably very lucrative language options English, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian) that the Vintage Watch Company owns a collection of over 1000 vintage timepieces (with some of them eve, dating back to the 1910s), has a team of 6 full-time Rolex trained watchmakers, and delivers workshops to support the collection. Wow!

Rolex is often referred to as the Rolls-Royce of watches. I don’t consider myself a connoisseur of either brands, but looking at the sales prices listed on the Vintage Watch Company’s web pages, Rolex must have a special place in the hearts (and the wallets) of many watch lovers. The  appreciations from fans around the world, like the ones I found on lovemarks.com, don’t lie:  “Rolex it is not only about telling the time, it is a label of luxury you carry on your wrist,” or “this brand is my dream and inspiration,” or “I wouldn’t trade it for any other kind of watch.

Some of their advertising campaigns were iconic too. Already in the early 1900s Rolex ran newspaper advertisements claiming that the wristwatches were for both men and women. In the 1920s they published a photograph of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim across the Channel, to promote their first waterproof watch. But my favorite ad is the one with Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner, the first men to summit Mount Everest – respectively with and without oxygen, but both of them with a Rolex on their wrist.

And what timekeeper do you think that James Bond was wearing in movies like Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger? – until Omega started supplying 007’s watches in 1995 (the first one worn by Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye.) No surprise that there’s an Omega Vintage Boutique in the shopping arcade too, almost next door to the Rolex one.

So, here’s the lesson I took from my close encounter with Rolex in London. Every business has a unique value proposition and a compelling story to tell. So, find your niche, create your brand, tell your story, and seduce your (in this case, wealthy) customers!

Some complementary reading about Rolex and brand love:

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Occam’s razor shaves better

Yesterday, my company Alcatel-Lucent combined with Nokia. Two industry leaders joined forces, and their combination will profoundly change the technology market. But the Finnish touch may also change our corporate communication style.

In the brand starter kit that my new employer distributed, I read that “we bravely refine and simplify,” that “our communication is clear, honest and free of the unnecessary — yet still warm,” and that “each sentence should be meaningful and valuable to the audience.”

As a long-time fan of crisp and clear communications, I can do nothing but warmly applaud these guidelines. And I’m looking forward to applying Occam’s razor

Also known as the lex parsimoniae (Latin for law of parsimony,) Occam’s razor is a problem-solving principle attributed to the Franciscan monk William of Ockham (1287–1347.) The principle, as originally written, states that:

“When one is faced with competing hypotheses, he or she should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions,”

or simply said:

“Don’t make things more complex than they are.”

The term “razor” is used as a metaphor for cutting apart two similar conclusions or shaving away unnecessary material.

Scientists have adopted the principle of parsimony to synthesize research data into actionable insights, and medical practitioners use it to deduct a viable diagnosis from a set of illness symptoms.

But Occam’s law also applies to corporate messaging and presentation design. Simplicity always works, though it often requires a thorough understanding of the complex details. Keep your messages short, sweet and simple. Cut your slides down to the information your audience absolutely must absorb. Be consistent in what you tell and what you show.

Occam’s razor shaves better. Cheers to the new Nokia and its pure communication style!

Nokia

More reading:

Do you speak jargonese?

“In a world crowded with complexity, simplicity stands out. It brings clarity instead of confusion, decision instead of doubt. And the rewards are real. Simplicity inspires deeper trust and greater loyalty in customers, and clears the way to innovation for employees.” ― Global Brand Simplicity Index 2013, siegel+gale

Lately, I was listening to a conference talk about “an UART implementation on FPGA using VHDL.” And the presentation certainly rang a bell with me. Not the “Ah, that’s interesting!” bell, but rather the “Help, what am I doing in here!” one.

Although I have worked in tech industry for more than half of my lifetime and I have listened to hundreds of this type of presentations, enthusiastically embraced by engineers, I still suffer from acronyphobia or fear of acronyms.

OK, the presentation became a lot ‘clearer’ to me when the speaker expanded the accursed four-letter abbreviations into “Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter”, “Field-Programmable Gate Array”, and “VHSIC Hardware Description Language.” (yes, sometimes an acronym may hide another one.)

But then, I was gripped by a sense of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia. Why didn’t the speaker explain in simple human language that he had used a programmable chip to build a new piece of computer hardware? OK, I admit that I am more of a software guy, which may be a an explanation for why I was not appreciating the hardware design jargon. Though I’m pretty sure that I was not the only VHDL layman listening to this presentation in jargonese.

Here are a few public speaking tips for this (without any doubt) highly qualified hardware engineer ― and for the rest of us techies  too:

  • Don’t overestimate your audience. Even if there are few experts in the room that fully understand the technical details on your slides, the majority of your listeners may not (very often it’s not the engineer, but rather his or her manager that attends a conference…)
  • Apply the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. No acronyms (hehe, do you see the joke?) No difficult words. No long sentences. And refrain from technology/financial/business jargon.

acronyms

Image courtesy of Manu Cartoons

  • Avoid complex drawings with detailed architectures. As a speaker you will need too much time to explain them, your audience will spend too much energy to understand them, and most often the text on the slides will be too small to read anyway.
  • Prove to your listeners that you have the “right to speak”, that you’re a person of interest and an authority on the topic you are presenting. Win their attention ― as well as their respect ― by telling interesting things instead of difficult ones.
  • Don’t just copy & paste text from a written document to a PowerPoint slide. Sentences will be too wordy and too structured. Never use your slides as your teleprompter.

So, next time you’re start preparing a technical presentation, keep Arthur Schopenhauer‘s advice in mind:

“One should use common words to say uncommon things.”

Here’s some more reading (not only for UART designers):

Your story is your brand (and vice versa)

The relationship between brands and customers often draws upon love and respect. A mix of ethospathos and logos. Isn’t that exactly what storytelling is about? As such, storytelling is probably one of the most powerful tools for brands and companies to communicate their core values, win more customers, and differentiate from competition.

Below are a few examples of how companies have used stories to take their customers on a journey, connect with them emotionally, or position their products and services beyond functionality and price.

Let me start with a quite recent one. When Amazon introduced their first smartphone last June, the invitation for the launch event they sent out was accompanied by CEO Jeff Bezos’ favorite children’s book “Mr. Pine’s Purple House.” As the book tells a story of being special, standing out from the rest and inspiring others, it was a perfect teaser for the Fire Phone – which, after launch, turned out not to be a big success.

My favorite brand story, however, is without any doubt the video that Apple created for launching the Macintosh in 1984. In exactly one minute, the company managed to articulate its mission, introduce its new product, and tell an unforgettable story – that contained all thinkable elements of good storytelling: suspense, emotion, metaphors, antagonist and protagonist, …

Another famous Apple branding example is the “Think Different” blitz, about which Steve Jobs said afterwards that “it took maybe 60 seconds to re-establish Apple’s counter-culture image that it had lost during the 90s.”

Similar ‒ but more controversial ‒ to Apple’s Think Different advertising is Johnnie Walker’s “Walk with Giants” campaign that shows videos featuring running legends Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat.

In an older post on this blog, I have written about a series of Hollywood-style movie trailers we created in Alcatel (today, Alcatel-Lucent) to pitch our portfolio of broadband solutions. “The Convergence Factor” was probably the most impactful, but certainly the most fun business presentation I created and delivered in my whole career.

Two other of my favorite brand stories come from FMCG giant Unilever. Ask any woman what Dove stands for, and she will tell you about the “Real Beauty” campaign, showing non-stereotype women, in different ages, shapes and colors, with real curves, wrinkles and spots.

Dove-firming

A memorable video published in the Real Beauty campaign reports on an experiment in which a forensics artist draws sketches of different women. A first one based on each woman’s personal description of herself, and a second one based on the description given by a stranger. Experience the movie and understand what makes it so powerful….

The “Lifebuoy” campaign, also by Unilever, hits the storytelling spot too. It addresses the necessity to change the hand washing behavior of one billion people in developing countries – and as such help reduce respiratory infections and diarrhea, the world’s two biggest causes of child mortality.

As can be learned from the Unilever examples, sustainability stories are often good recipes for success. A growing number of eco-, local– and fairtrade-labeled products succeed in seducing consumers with the promise of contributing to a greener, healthier and fairer world. Read also my post about “the good life”, which tells about a farm in Denmark that manages to sell eggs at three times the market price thanks to a “happy chickens must lay delicious eggs” message.

Another example of a sustainability message comes from my own employer’s “Campus in the Cloud” project that aims to bridge the knowledge gap for those who have no or little access to education by leveraging our in-house skills, talent and communications technology. Alcatel-Lucent employees share their knowledge by creating short (10-15 min) educational videos, which are made available to children and young adults.

Here’s one more. “Nike Better World” tells us how sports contribute to developing the next generation of youth with skills such as teamwork, determination, self-confidence, creativity, resilience, and physical and emotional health.

But not only big multinationals are good in story marketing. Belgian communication agency Mosquito introduces itself on LinkedIn with: “We believe that, whoever claims that his behavior cannot be changed by a small thing, has never slept in a room with a single Mosquito…”. You’ll never have to guess again about where the company’s name came from – or what it stands for.

More reading on stories and brands: