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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Proudly promoting my president’s presentation pizzazz

I have never used this blog as a channel to promote my company, its activities, or its people (thought I have referred a few times to my own and my colleagues’ business presentations to illustrate some prominent public speaking do’s and don’ts) but today I’m going to make an exception for our chief executive. Not because he’s my big boss, but because he delivered such an outstanding presentation at one of the world’s most important tech industry events.

If you have about 20 minutes, take a look at the video recording of Nokia president and CEO Rajeev Suri’s keynote at the Mobile World Congress 2017. He speaks about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is the next wave of technological evolution or the “automation of everything,” and how the world needs to create a new 5G network that will act as a global nervous system to orchestrate this revolution.

rajeev-suri

Over the past 4½ years, I have written more than 160 articles about best practices in corporate storytelling and, while preparing this new post, it came to my mind that our CEO used almost every presentation technique I have written about. His presentation is compelling, credible, concrete, clear, consistent, customized, and conversational. Taking “the 3 P’s of a professional public presenter” as a checklist, I could only come to the conclusion that the head of my company is a smart orator, a skilled speaker, and a stylish presenter.

With his opening words “It’s a pleasure to be here at such a moment of change. We have the good fortune to stand on the threshold of one of history’s greatest leaps forward,” he’s playing the prelude to a visionary pitch, in which he talks in concrete terms about the possible outcomes of the technology revolution: “making our lives better, our industries more efficient, our planet more sustainable.” Note that, throughout the whole speech, he’s generously using the rule of three and illustrating his technological vision with appealing use cases, such as 3D printing, self-driving cars, an entire factory floor of robots, or millions of drones hovering our skies. And when the Nokia CEO says that “we need technology in the service of humans,” he is reciting the company’s mantra, “expanding the human possibilities of technology.” A theme that is also repeated in a strong ending: “Ultimately however, what matters most is how we put this technology to use. … We can do both good business and do good. Because that is the promise, the possibility, what we can do together.Your story is your brand (and vice versa), isn’t it?

Rajeev also uses compelling metaphors, like “hotspots on steroids” and word symmetries like “hyper-local, hyper-mobile, and hyper-scale,” while his visuals are simple and clean, with few words on the slides, supported by proper graphics. And, within a (relatively short) twenty-two-minutes time slot, he even manages to show an animation video and – how audacious! – to include two interactive demonstrations. The video streams of the monster trucks race and the industrial robot demo, wrapped in live conversations with the exhibition floor, turned out to be great means to walk his talk, connect with his audience, and lead people to the Nokia booth.

monstertruck-demo

Doing a live demo is always a risky undertaking, as the demo devil may be just around the corner, but knowing my marketing colleagues that contributed to the event I’m sure that everything was well-prepared.

Three years ago while I was attending a previous edition of the Mobile World Congress, I wrote a blog post “about storytellers, storydoers and storymakers,” in which I stated that only great personalities can combine these three roles. They not only have great ideas, but they also have the capabilities to execute them, and engage their audience – and as such create or change an industry. Listening to and analyzing his 2017 MWC keynote address have made me conclude that Rajeev Suri deserves a spot in this hall of fame.

You can replay the video recording of the presentation here:

Trump and the rule of one

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post “Obama and the rule of three“, in which I analyzed the previous American president’s re-election speech and praised his public speaking skills. Incidentally, over the past months – guess why? – this article has become one of the most frequently visited titles on my B2B Storytelling pages. Since then, an awful lot has changed, and the US as well as the rest of the world are getting used to living in the new, Trumpian reality.

I honestly admit that I’m not a fan of the 45th President of the United States. Neither of the person, nor of his political doctrine, nor of his deeds since January 20. But as Donald Trump was elected by kind of democratic process, he also deserves kind of credit.Tomorrow he will deliver his first State of the Union address. An occasion to zoom in on the newly-on-duty POTUS’ presentation skills.

Surely, Mr. Trump isn’t the eloquent orator that Barack Obama was, though in my honest opinion he is definitely not a bad communicator. Note that from the writing perspective of this blog, I’m only assessing his communication style, not his content nor his use of (alternative) facts and figures – which would put me on too thin ice. When analyzing his public talks, I think I’d rather associate him to a “rule of one” than to a rule of three: as a speaker, he systematically puts his one-self in the center; his person seems to be more prominent than his words or his audience.

There are common practices that seem to come back in every speech the president delivers. Some of them are so striking that they have become fodder for effective Trump parodies:

  • He has a clear and strong voice and uses simple, often sloganesque, language with short and declarative sentences. This is an appropriate habit, considering DJT’s target audience and key messages. His one-liners like “make America great again” and “let’s build that wall” have the same magnitude of emotional impact as Obama’s “yes, we can”.
  • The words he uses are congruent with his message, and he consistently repeats them. After analyzing 95,000 words used in campaign speeches, the New York Times concluded that “the most striking hallmark was Mr. Trump’s constant repetition of divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery that American presidents rarely use…”
  • The new US president (figuratively and literally) tries to take a maximum amount of space. His alpha male body language, facial expression, and hand gestures are compatible with his overall message. Take, for example, his index finger pointing in the air while putting his second finger and thumb together (accentuating he’s right and the others are totally wrong), his thumb-and-forefinger pinch (that signals precision and control), and his pneumatic drill movements (to hammer the point he’s making home.)

trump_cnn

Donald J. Trump has only been on duty for six weeks. Probably we ain’t seen or heard nothing yet. But, whether you agree with his politics or not, you can’t argue that he isn’t a good communicator.

More opinions and analysis:

Dress to impress

During the current period of carnival, people over the world dress up extravagantly. They wear masks and costumes to change their everyday appearance, make a statement or tell a story. The ultimate example of such dress-up story telling is probably shown in the image below: amid the great 1930s depression, attendees of the Beaux Art Ball in New York were asked to celebrate the innovative spirit that was sweeping the architectural world. Which resulted in this frivolous lineup of architects dressed up as the renowned buildings they designed.

beaux-arts-ball

As a public speaker, your attire can change your image or enforce your message too. Varying from casual over smart to formal, your dress code may help you to impress, to convince, or to express. Of course, the outside always counts and you’ll only get one chance to make a first impression. A smart business suit exudes confidence and success, but this doesn’t mean that you must overdress or – even worse – wear clothes that don’t fit your personality. Dress like an engineer if you are one, instead of trying to look like a corporate executive (although I can name some casually – or even sloppily – dressed men and women in this category too, including a famous CEO that was wearing blue jeans, a black turtleneck, and grey sneakers as his signature look). Particularly if you suffer from speaking stress, you may prefer comfortable clothing over a stiff three-piece business suit. Which doesn’t mean that you have to wear baggy trousers either.

And, most important, don’t forget that it’s your on-stage performance that counts. Dedicate your time and creativity to building your story, crafting your content, and rehearsing your presentation rather than to dressing up for the audience.

I’d like to close this post with a quote from Arthur Ashe, the only black tennis player ever to win the Wimbledon championships: “Clothes and manners do not make the man; but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.” And so it is…

Marketing lessons from Sun Tzu

The Art of War” is an ancient Chinese military handbook written during the 5th century BC by Sun Tzu. Probably only few people have read the entire book, but there are plenty of great takeaways in it for business leaders, executives, and strategists.

And though a customer should never be your enemy, and a sales presentation should never be a battle (not even with yourself), Sun Tzu’s enemy may be regarded as a metaphor for a business opportunity to pursue, and the war as the process of conquering your audience’s heart, mind, and wallet.

sun-tzu

Below are a handful of my favorite Art of War quotes (taken from the 1910 English translation by Lionel Giles), and how yours truly interprets and applies them in his daily job as a corporate marketer, business developer, and B2B storyteller.

First, always make sure you know your customers, the environment in which they work or live, and the opportunities and challenges they face prior to addressing them:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.” (from chapter 10: Terrain)

As Sun Tzu clarifies at the beginning of his treatise, “Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons,” and “Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.” But also, know your own strengths and weaknesses as they may set limits to what you can tell, do, or commit to.

Based upon this knowledge – of both your audience and yourself –  you can then adapt your sales strategy and customer value proposition properly:

“Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.” (from chapter 6: Weak Points and Strong)

Preparation is key. It’s all about you being ready to face the market and the customers. Build a message house, define your pitch, craft your presentation, and plan your meeting carefully.

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” (from chapter 8: Variation in tactics)

Support your presentation with proper visuals and multimedia testimonials (a.k.a. gongs, drums, banners, and flags)

“On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banners and flags.” (from chapter 7: Maneuvering)

But, always remember – as I have emphasized many times before in my blog posts – look and feel matter! Be direct and indirect. Be creative and consistent. Be subtle and clear.

“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.” (from chapter 5: Energy)

“There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.” (from chapter 5: Energy)

“There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.” (from chapter 5: Energy)

Finally, always choose your battle and don’t waste your (or your customer’s) time if there’s no real opportunity for growing your market or creating new business.

“The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.” (from chapter 3: Attack by Stratagem)

“Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.” (from chapter 6: Weak Points and Strong)

“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.” (from chapter 7: The Attack by Fire)

I realize that making connections between ancient warfare and today’s business environment is not straightforward. Still I see Sun Tzu’s Art of War as a timeless and priceless masterpiece that may help marketers and sales people to develop successful strategies, make better decisions, run effective campaigns, deliver powerful presentations, and consequently generate more business.

No words needed

Body language can be a powerful communication tool. Sometimes a (mysterious, naïve, smart, candid, …) smile may tell you more than a hundred words.

Only a few days ago I saw this news video on TV. Confronted with US president-elect Donald Trump calling Brexit “a great thing,” and suggesting that more European countries would leave the EU, the European Commission’s chief spokesperson gave this simple statement: “We have read this interview with interest,” and complemented his answer by an (IMHO) priceless, all-saying smile.

Pressed by a journalist if this was all the Commission had to say about the issues Trump had raised, the speaker confirmed his earlier reply by a short and dry “yes.”

I think I clearly understood the message. And probably many Europeans with me…

Wow! here came the iPhone

Today, exactly 10 years ago, Apple introduced the iPhone. During his keynote presentation at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, the late Steve Jobs told the audience that:

Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products.
The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.
The second is a revolutionary mobile phone.
And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.
So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough Internet communications device.
An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator.
An iPod, a phone… are you getting it?
These are not three separate devices. This is one device.
And we are calling it iPhone.
Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.

For the thousands of people in the auditorium, as well as for the crowd of technology enthusiasts like me that followed the event via a live blog, this was certainly a wow! moment.

iphone_jobs

This was one of these points in time when you recognize that a product or service is a must have that might change your life. Something powerful enough to make one say: “Wow! I’ve never seen (or heard) something like this in my whole life.” Or, like Jobs had perfectly described this moment a few seconds earlier in his speech:

Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been – well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career.
Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world.
In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry.
In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and… it didn’t just – it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.

So, as a product marketer and a public speaker, what can you learn from the January 9th, 2007 iPhone announcement? besides that the iPhone was – and still is – a great disruptive product. Here are a few tips on how to turn a new product introduction into a memorable wow! moment:

Sometimes a wow! moment just comes spontaneously (or even unexpectedly.) But if you want to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to wow! your audience, then you’d better plan, script and rehearse your presentation well in advance.

Bambi does the toothbrush test

Did you ever hear about the toothbrush test? The term is attributed to Alphabet’s CEO, Larry Page. And, as you may guess, it has nothing to do at all with a shiny white smile. The Google co-founder uses the test for determining whether a company is worth buying – which is always a complex and risky assessment to make.

As an alternative to diving into the nitty-gritty of revenue projections, cash flow forecasts, and profitability analyses, the test consists of this simple question:

“Is the company’s product or service something people will use once or twice a day, and does it solve a problem or make their life better?”

If I was asked for an opinion about my own toothbrush, the outcome would definitely be “yes.”

In this case, the toothbrush is used as a metaphor for usefulness and long-term value, in contrast to short-term RoI. Of course, one must be a business genius to make such an important decision based upon such a simple question. Please, note that I’m not naïve; you don’t have to convince me that Google’s people carry out a lot of due diligence beyond the toothbrush inquiry.

In an older post I wrote that simplicity always works. Life (and business) can be made so much easier than it is today, if you enable decision-making by asking simple questions, and effective communications by telling compelling stories.

Similar to Larry Page’s toothbrush test, I started using something I call the Bambi test. When preparing a public presentation, I ask myself the question below:

“Will people remember my words (or my visuals) two days from now, and did they get emotionally involved?”

I got inspired to use the Bambi metaphor after observing my kids watching Disney’s famous movie scene with Bambi and Thumper sliding on the icy pond. And like for the toothbrush one, the answer to the question would certainly be a “yes!” (Note to my sons Yannick and Robin: if you read this text, which you probably won’t, this was of course loooooong time ago…)

bambi

(image from Bambi by Walt Disney Studios)

Background reading:

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.)

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: