Right pitch, wrong shirt

Know your audience before you start talking… This is not only the title of one of my earlier posts on this blog, but even more a piece of good advice for anyone who’s speaking in public. A group of people that also includes a growing army of young entrepreneurs, pitching in front of venture capitalists and potential investors to obtain the so desired initial funding to realize their dreams.

Not so long ago, I had the honor to be part of the jury for a (try-out) pitching session organized by a local business incubator. Among the 6 jury members were representatives of a regional business angel network, a few technology professionals (like me), and an investment expert from a major bank.

During the event, one of the startups was pitching a social app they developed for sports clubs. In an effort to accentuate his message visually, and probably to charm the audience and the jury too, the presenter-on-duty entered the stage dressed up in a colorful soccer shirt.

rsca_shirt

A great idea. Theoretically. The young guy made one wrong choice: the club shirt he was proudly wearing displayed in large letters the name and the logo of… a large bank. Unfortunately, not the one of the sixth jury member’s employer. But rather the one of its fiercest competitor in the market place.

Shit happens. The presenter delivered a great pitch for a nice product. But he won neither the hearts nor the (virtual) money of all jury members (guess which one wasn’t convinced?) A mistake that could have easily been avoided by conducting some quick, upfront research on who would be in the audience and in the jury (actually, the speaker should have known; the event was held at the bank’s HQ premises.)

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Penne all’amatriciana

Last week we returned from a vacation in Italy. During our stay we were confronted with the breaking news about the devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake that rocked the center of the country. One of the hardest-hit towns was the beautiful comune of  Amatrice, with 80% of the historic center destroyed and nearly 200 deadly casualties.

As we were safe and sound, visiting a region of the country hundreds of kilometers away from the quake’s epicenter, we heard the dramatic testimonials of disaster-stricken residents and saw the images of rescue teams digging through the rubble delivered via the local media.

In addition to all the dramatic facts and figures, we also learned that Amatrice is the birthplace of the bacon-and-tomato flavored all’amatriciana pasta sauce that was accordingly named after the severely hit mountain town. This factoid turned out to be an ideal context for Italian food blogger, Paolo Campana, to launch an appeal on Facebook in which he asked restaurants to put pasta all’amatriciana on their menus and donate 2 euros per dish sold to the Italian Red Cross.

Amatriciana

When we went for dinner on the last night of our Italian holiday, we found out that the restaurant had also appended a solidarity penne all’amatriciana item to their menu. So, guess what we chose as the primo piatto of our meal? And, actually, the food was  delicious, but the knowledge that we were supporting the earthquake victims with a symbolic donation made it taste even better…

My apologies for using some inappropriate terminology in this dramatic context for my conclusion, but the above anecdote is proving once again that combination of an emotion-touching story (the sauce that originated in the earthquake-hit town,) combined with an excellent product (a perfectly flavored pasta dish,) and an engaging cause (supporting the earthquake victims) is a powerful marketing and communication tool.

You may also have a look at these other posts about the value of brand storytelling:

Size matters!

Here’s another true story, possibly even an Oscar candidate in the “wrong answer to a good question” category.

One of my colleagues – let’s call him John – was recently presenting at an industry seminar. With more than 200 experts and potential customers in the audience, the speaker had a great stage for promoting our company’s vision and portfolio. The event turned out to be a big success and John’s message was well received.

Actually, the content of his talk was outstanding. But, during the after-event debrief, there was this one comment about “too much text on the slides and too small font sizes.” As I was sitting in the back of the room, I can acknowledge that a pair of binoculars would indeed have been a good thing to bring along.

eyetest

When confronted with the poor readability of his visuals, John’s reaction was unexpected and wrong:

“Well, when we come back next year, we should probably ask the organizers to install a larger projection screen…”

In my humble opinion, a more straightforward – and easier solution – might have been to put fewer words on the slides, and to increase the font size of the remaining text. A to follow Guy Kawasaki’s advice:

“The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, that they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing. Total bozosity. Force yourself to use no font smaller than thirty points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the most salient points and to know how to explain them well.”

Size matters, John, also for your presentation fonts!

The making of Guernica

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction” – Pablo Picasso

Last week I visited the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, renowned as the home of Picasso’s Guernica. The famous mural-sized, black-and-white painting was created in 1937 after the devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, and is considered one of the most powerful visual political statements ever made by an artists.

The painting was impressive indeed. Its visual message overwhelming. Undoubtedly the work of a genius.

Guernica

After intensively and extensively admiring the masterpiece, a series of small black-and-white photographs caught my attention. Posted on the wall opposite the canvas, they depict the making of Guernica. The snapshots were taken by Dora Maar, Picasso’s muse in those days, and show the consecutive development stages of the artwork.

Thanks to these historical pictures I could witness how some key components of the composition, like the bull, the horse, and the (light bulb) sun, were created, destructed and recreated by the Spanish painter.

While observing the metamorphosis of Guernica, I had to think of Dale Carnegie’s quote about delivering a presentation:

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

Just like Picasso’s masterpiece evolved during its inception, conception and creation, your presentation’s messaging, storytelling, and visualization may change over time – although an act of destruction is seldom required.

More reading:

Cut the crap (enterprise edition)

More than two years ago, I published a post on this blog with a not so very nice title: “Cut the crap.” In that article I fulminated against the corny, poorly designed, and –above all– unwanted canned PowerPoint Shows (appearing as PPS or PPSX attachments) that filled up my personal mailbox.

Today, In am writing the Enterprise Edition of this indictment. Denouncing another kind of scam that hits my work inbox with an almost daily frequency. No, I’m not talking about the real spam, like the recommendations for places on the web to buy pills, the discrete sex offers from cheating housewives, the generous donations from Nigerian billionaires, the free Amazon gift cards, or the not-to-miss opportunities to acquire booming stock. There’s actually a more soft kind of trash that is invading my mailbox.

As a B2B marketer, with my job title visible on the web and on social media, I am unintentionally but effectively exposing myself as an easy target for direct marketing campaigns and unsolicited mass mailings that sound like:

Hi Dave,

On your website I found out that your company provides content and video delivery network solutions.
Would you be interested in receiving a sample of our email lists? We have a comprehensive database of 42 million viewers of popular American horror films, such as:
* Assault of the Killer Bimbos
* Cannibal! The Musical
* Slime City Massacre
* Spooks Run Wild
* The Velvet Vampire

Thanks and looking forward to having a call with you.
Steve

PS: if you wish not to receive any more emails from us please reply with “leave out” in the subject line

Even if the content and the wording of the vast majority of these emails look the same to me, some of the senders seem to fail dramatically in conducting basic research on their addressees, or in personalizing their message.

  • One of my colleagues recently got an offer that was intended for somebody else. Though I’m not sure that a salutation like “Dear <firstname> <lastname>,” (with the placeholders not filled in) is a good way to avoid such naming mistakes.
  • As a potential (meuh, not really…) customer I can also confirm that phrases like “on your website I found out that …” or “we have identified you as an employee of …” don’t make a very good impression.

What I find most contradictory is the fact that all these mails are sent by people trying to convince me of the quality and the effectiveness of the address databases they sell – while the content of their message is actually telling me the opposite.

email_list

Most senders of such mass mailings get a unique – and equally impersonal – reply from me: “leave out”. Only the ones that, like in the example above, manage to attract my attention through their incompetence get an original and personalized reply from me, e.g.:

Dear Steve,

thank you very much for your email.
Unfortunately, my company doesn’t distribute any content, my name is not Dave, and I don’t like horror movies at all. As a fellow marketer, however, I’m impressed by the errors in your address database, as well as by the lack of customization and personalization of your message.
As a result, I am not interested in receiving a sample of your data, nor in having a phone call with you. May I kindly ask you to remove my address from your mailing list, and stop sending me unsolicited scams.

With regards,
Marc

Outbound marketing – even when delivered through a digital channel like email – is so 2000-ish. My dear B2B direct marketers, please cut the crap. Stop wasting your time, my mailbox space, and the internet’s bandwidth. There are lots of better ways to fill your sales funnel, and to make leads and prospects connect with your business. Consider this rant as a plea for better digital marketing. For a real data driven approach. For social selling. For decent content. For more personalization. And for an outstanding customer experience.

(Note: the email example I quoted above was fictitious, but the movie titles are too hilarious not to be true. You may consult this Wikipedia page to discover more juicy American comedy horror films…)

Slime_City_Massacre_FilmPoster

The triggerfish

I have just returned from a relaxing vacation on the Azores, the beautiful green Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. One night, my wife and I went for dinner at a small seafood restaurant on Faial island.

When we asked for the menu card, the young waiter told us: “My father-in-law went out fishing this afternoon. What about trying his catch of the day? Have you ever tasted triggerfish?”

Then he started talking about local fishing practices. So we learned that Azorean coastal fishery is still mostly artisanal and carried out by family crews, with 90% of the boats less than 15m long.

And finally, he dug up a small book, the “Consumer’s Guide to Azorean Seafood,”  that visualized the local fish species and provided us with some welcome information about the fresh peixe-porco or grey triggerfish on offer. On each page of the guidebook there was also a colored icon, that labeled the endangered species with a red fish and the sustainable-to-eat ones with a green one.

triggerfish

As you may expect (otherwise I wouldn’t bother writing this blog post), we ended up ordering triggerfish fillets for two. Of course combined with a nice glass of local Frei Gigante wine. Let me tell you that this was the freshest and most tasty seafood dish I have eaten in years (and the green icon in the book assured us that local stocks appear to be healthy.)

And while we were enjoying our meal, we noticed that the waiter repeated the same process with all new customers that entered the restaurant — probably until there was no peixe-porco left to recommend.

Our experience in the fish restaurant was yet another proof point of the power of a good story. By introducing us to the catch of the day, and visually documenting it with the guidebook, our restaurant host truly created a win-win-win situation for his business, for his father-in-law’s, and a for couple of hungry Belgian tourists too.

Yes, went back to the same place the following night. For more peixe do dia.

Moore’s law… and beyond

Earlier this year, the world (or maybe rather a few tech-savvy geeks like me) celebrated the 50th birthday of Moore’s Law.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that transistor density (and thus the performance) of microprocessors would double each 2 years. Take for example today’s iPhone 6, which is 3.5 times faster than the iPhone 1 while its price is 30% less than the first generation 7 years ago. Moore’s Law has been used as a stable basis for forecasting technology evolution in the ICT industry for the past 5 decades.

Reading a few articles about this special anniversary reminded me of a conference presentation I gave (also) many years ago, in which I explored the thin line between “nice to have” and “need to have” technology.

Starting with a picture of Moore’s Law, and with the help of two other famous industry laws, a bit of visual thinking, a healthy dose of abstraction and some creative chartsmithing, I developed the following storyline…

moore_curve

Note that, although “doubling each 2 years” suggests a parabola-shaped curve, Moore’s growth function is almost always represented a straight line ― complemented by an exponential scale on the Y-axis.

Several years after Gordon Moore’s famous observation, another ICT pioneer, 3Com co-founder Bob Metcalfe, stated that the value of a network grows as the square of the number of network nodes (or devices, or applications, or users, …) while the costs follow a more or less linear function. Take for example a wireless network: if you have only 2 subscribers with a mobile phone, they’re only able to make calls to each other. If you have millions of subscribers however…

metcalfe_curve

Metcalfe’s Law is about network growth, customer acquisition, and value creation, rather than about technology evolution. The combination of Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws explains the rise of information technology and the growth of the Internet as we know it today.

As the next step in my presentation flow, I introduced my audience to the technology adoption lifecycle, and more specifically to the “chasm theory” that was developed by another Mr Moore. In his book “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers,” management consultant Geoffrey A. Moore talks about the gap between the take up of new technology by early enthusiasts and the mainstream market.

adoption_curve

And finally, in an unprecedented apotheosis, by combining the three preceding charts and by ― I have to admit ― visually cheating with axes, scales, and representations I came to the observation that the chasm is actually the point where the transition from a technology driven business to a value driven business needs to take place ― and if this doesn’t happen, that any new product or technology introduction is doomed to fail.

combined_curve

That’s a nice conclusion, which ― just like Moore’s Law ― still holds today, isn’t it?

You may view my original presentation on SlideShare. Please note that the deck dates from 2002, and that the market, my company, and the technology and product related content obviously have evolved since then.

The knight on the plane

Last week I was flying with Air Malta, the airline operator of the Mediterranean islands with the same name.

Air_Malta

Malta has a rich and colorful history. From 1530 to 1798, for almost three centuries, the islands were ruled by the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, a.k.a the Knights of Malta, who transformed it into a center of art and culture.

In today’s post, I want to share Air Malta’s inflight safety movie with you. The message it gives, and even the spoken narrative, is the same one that I have heard hundreds of times before. On other flights. To other destinations. With other airlines. But the way the safety instructions were presented caught my attention.

Such a great example of brand storytelling, capitalizing on the beautiful Maltese Islands’ rich history and their famous Knights!

A night at the opera

An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house. ― Maria Callas

In my past posts I have written many times about ethos, pathos and logos. The three persuasive appeals, as described by ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Let me briefly recap what these three are all about:

  • Ethos means ethical appeal. We tend to believe people whom we respect. We trust in products with a good reputation. We go to places that were recommended on Tripadvisor…
  • Pathos translates to emotion. We all like stories about the good vs. the bad. We prefer presenters that speak passionate about their topic. We (too) often make decisions motivated by love, admiration, fear or disgust.
  • Logos stands for reasoning and argumentation. We believe in what we can see and what we can touch. We want statements supported by facts and figures. If not, we keep asking for the Why, the What and the How.

If you think about it, ethos, pathos and logos are present in almost every area of our daily lives. And more than we realize, they determine how we experience situations, interact with people and make decisions.

I witnessed this recently myself on a trip to Budapest, where my wife and I spent a night at the opera, watching and listening to Puccini’s Tosca. I am not that frequent opera visitor nor a lifelong opera lover, but this performance really hit my sweet spot, thanks to ― what I interpreted afterwards as a ― perfect mix of ethos, pathos and logos.

  • Ethos: a more than a century old institution that opened in 1884, the Hungarian State Opera House has a very good reputation. The operaház’ acoustics are considered to be among the best in the world. From the moment we entered the venue, we were impressed by its gold-decorated interior and its red velvet seats.

opera

  • Pathos: written by the late 19th century romantic Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, the opera Tosca is filled with emotion. With love, lust and jealousy. A webpage of the Metropolitan Opera describes Tosca’s antagonist Scarpia as “the 19th century’s Darth Vader.” Almost two months after our night at the opera, Scarpia’s words “Beware: this is a place of tears!” (in Italian, “Questo è luogo di lagrime! Badate!”) still echo in my mind.

tosca

  • Logos: apart from the wonderful setting and the touching story, my wife and I enjoyed an outstanding interpretation of Tosca. The orchestra and the lead singers delivered a rousing performance. This music would have sounded great on my iPod too!

Lesson learned: as for so many other things in life, the whole of Aristotle’s rhetoric is greater than the sum of its three parts. It’s neither about ethos OR pathos OR logos, but all about ethos AND pathos AND logos.

Other blog posts about the relationship between art and storytelling:

What are words worth?

Recently, I ran into the mission statement below. Do you have any idea what firm might have formulated this ambitious vision?  Which company would write (or as will become clear in the next paragraph, rather wrote) such big words?

mission_statement

It may come to you as a complete surprise, but – ironically enough – the mission statement above was owned by… Lehman Brothers. The financial services firm that collapsed in September 2008 and triggered a superior, unprecedented, global financial crisis. Their bold mission statement remains, the rest is history…

Actually, you may try any mission statement generator on the web (such as the one here) and I can assure you that its output may be as good as the text created by Lehman’s communication agency – for which they probably paid thousands of dollars.

Here’s a simple lesson. Stay away from buzz words, hollow phrases and meaningless statements. Tell the people what you really stand for. What you do. The value you deliver. Let your customers speak for you. Talk your walk. Walk your talk. And walk your walk.

More reading: