KEVIN CARLOW

Paid Media Consultant for Growth-Focused Business

Category: Uncategorized

The Secret to Better Relationships: Tell Your Brain “No.”

There are conversations, and there are meaningful conversations. How do we have more of the latter? 

In Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, Jon Call (aka Jujimufu) was asked “what one of his new behaviors or habits has helped him most in the last five years?” His answer (paraphrased): 

Tell your brain “no” when it wants to relate a conversation you’re having with someone to a “bigger” story. Let the desire go to “one-up” someone’s story with your own. The loss of the opportunity to possibly impress someone is far outweighed by what you learn when you ask more questions. 

We’ve all had the impulse. A story one of your colleagues is telling about their Spring Break trip to Jamaica transports your mind back three years ago when your family spent a week in Ocho Rios over the holidays. And you’ve got that hilarious story about how, with the rest of the tour group watching, you and your brother just could not get your dune buggy up that hill! Is interjecting that story at your colleague’s first breath really adding the most value to the conversation? When instead you could ask your colleague to elaborate on any number of things from their experience: how was it traveling with their new spouse? What did they find most intriguing about the local culture? Did they have any noteworthy interactions with the locals?  

Think about it from a selfish standpoint. If you believe every person has value, every human has something to offer, then why wouldn’t you take every opportunity you get to learn, to expand your perspective, and to deepen your relationship with and understanding of that person? 

Let’s take a business example. You sit down to meet with someone in person for the first time. Maybe you’re in Sales and you are sitting down with a prospective client. Maybe you’re in a job interview. Maybe you’re at a networking event. In any of these business situations, you have the inevitable “ice breaker” introduction moment. Some number of seconds or minutes spent on connecting with that other person on a topic outside the real purpose behind your meeting. Current events and the weather tend to get the lion’s share of these conversational exchanges. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s delightful when, in this “ice breaker period,” you actually do make a meaningful connection of some kind. You find a few square feet of common ground; perhaps you have a mutual acquaintance, Linda. Your new contact used to work with Linda at their previous employer. You know Linda from university. So, as you stumble upon this fun fact and your new contact says, “I worked with Linda at Company Q,” you have a choice. You can either launch into explaining everything you know about Linda from three years at university, or you could ask a follow up question about their work experience at Company Q. Which of these paths is going to better serve you in developing your relationship with this new contact? Should you ask some questions like, “What was it like working with Linda? How closely did you work together? Oh, you worked on a project together, what was that dynamic like? What did other colleagues say about working with her? If I were to ask her what it was like to work with you, what would she say?” just imagine how much of a deeper understanding you’ll have about your new contact. Isn’t that worth more than getting that story about you and Linda partying hard in the tailgating lot on Homecoming Weekend off your chest?

I’m not saying storytelling is bad. It’s not; it’s essential. It’s not that you should never openly share about your own life. How is anyone supposed to learn about you otherwise? The point is to adopt a mindset of curiosity. Good conversation isn’t about having the “gift of gab” or “being able to keep the conversation going,” it’s about telling your brain “no” when it has impulses to one-up the other’s story or to jump into sharing mode when it should be seizing an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect. 

The next time you’re in a conversation with someone and a self-centered idea pops into your brain, try telling your brain “no” and instead ask a question. You might be surprised what you find out. 


 

I’d love to hear about a time you tried this; what the situation was and what you learned by telling your brain “No.” Let me know in the comments! 

Minimum Viable Audience

In our connected world, the rules have changed. In the Industrial Revolution, the trick to business was mass-producing a product and then selling those products at scale. Now, in the Information Economy, scale is both easier to attain (social media & blogs) but also, in a way, harder to attain (fragmented consumer attention, more options than ever before). 

This is where the concept of Minimum Viable Audience comes in. What is the minimum number of people or customers you need in order to have a viable product or business? And the way to succeed today is to be so incredibly value to that minimum viable audience that you become irreplaceable. A necessity. Because guess what? If that small audience is super happy and satisfied with the value you’re bringing them… they’re likely to tell a friend. 

The Minimum Viable Audience concept has so many applications. Take Sales, for instance.

Let’s say you are a digital marketing sales rep and you sell Facebook Ads to businesses as a managed service. Who are your prospects? Which type of businesses can benefit from advertising on the world’s largest social network? Answer: nearly every single one of them. So is the best approach to call up every single business one by one to pitch them your service? No. In fact, that’s exactly the wrong approach. Instead, pick the smallest niche you can imagine. “Credit Unions in Dallas that specialize in low home mortgage loan rates.” Sure, there might only be 5, 10, 15 potential businesses that meet that description. But now you can be uber-important to these 15 prospects. Become a credit union home mortgage expert. Know exactly how to run an effective Facebook Ad campaign to generate more home mortgage leads. That’s a phone call those prospects will take. And now instead of spinning your wheels calling 1,000 prospects with a vanilla, watered down pitch about Facebook Ads, you’ve become super important to these 15 people and your chances of creating value for someone (and closing a deal, or three) increase dramatically. 

Today is the Day I Commit to a Blog Post Every Day

This week is the week I discovered Seth Godin. I had heard of Seth before, seen the blog before… but today, Seth’s wisdom has LANDED. I don’t have a clear “end game” in mind. But something inside – the voice from within – is telling me writing is the right thing to do. I am compelled. 

I love everything I’m reading, hearing, and seeing come out of Seth’s mouth. The “minimum viable audience.” Trust and attention are what matters, and the way to earn both of them is through generosity. So much more. And one thing Seth preaches is what we all should write a blog post every day. 

I’m making this commitment to myself, and to the Internet, right now: I’m publishing a blog post every day. 

I’m tired of waiting for “the moment.” 

I’m done worrying about the writing being perfect. 

I’m through with thinking about “my audience.”

I’m not going to concern myself with all the blogging “tricks” of writing SEO-friendly content, hyperlinking everything, crafting the perfect titles, and following all of Neil Patel’s tips (no offense, Neil, I think you’re incredibly good at what you do). 

I don’t care if I fail, because I know I will learn from it and grow into something better because of it. 

The “Publish” button will now become my friend, not my enemy. 

I’m ready to be vulnerable. 

I’m ready to share. 

I’m ready. 

This blog is for me.

If one day you are reading this, I’m glad it has brought you value, too. 

I will write the things that I want to see in the world. The things that will give me value. The things I wish there were more of. The things that bring me joy and make me laugh. That will be enough. 

I want my existence to make a positive impact. That impact starts right now. 

I want my children and their children to be able to look back at the archives and see what kind of a ruckus their old man was stirring up. 

I’m on inspiration overload reading and watching content from people like Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Marie Forleo, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Gary Vaynerchuk. I feel like I have inspiration bursting at the seems. There’s no other place for me to channel this inspiration than right here. 

While this blog is for me, I want it to be about you. I want to provide value to you. I don’t know exactly how yet. But I’m committed to figuring it out.

Here’s a question I just asked myself while journaling and the four answers to it I came up with. 

“What dent do I want to make in the universe?”

  • Better the environment for the generations ahead.
  • Make marketing better. Improve the profession and improve what we see as consumers. Less noise. More relevancy. Better attribution. 
  • Help everyone lead more productive and fulfilling lives. 
  • Reduce the amount of stuff we all use and think we need (i.e. embrace minimalism). 

I expect future writings and works will embark upon some version of one of these directions. 

I’m excited to see what tomorrow brings!

Transparency: People Reward Companies for Pulling Back the Curtain

Take a moment to think of your absolute favorite brand. OK, now quickly think… why are they your favorite brand? Did it take you a moment to put your attraction toward that brand into words?

We are naturally, subconsciously drawn to brands and products which share openly about themselves without even knowing it. Human behavior follows this trend in our one-to-one interactions, too. Even though we don’t like to think of ourselves as being judgmental, we’re making judgments all the time, every day.

Consumers Gravitate Toward Transparent Companies

Picture these three different scenarios. A friend has brought you to a party in which you know nobody else except your one friend. You immediately go up to the punch bowl (because your friend just ditched you at the front door to go talk to the cutie they’d planned on seeing at the party, so what else would you do?) and encounter another party-goer ready to fill his or her cup.

punch-bowl-party

You say hello to the person, they say hello back, and you ask, “So, what do you do?”…

  • Scenario 1: Party-goer replies, “I work in real estate.”
  • Scenario 2: Party-goer replies, “I work in real estate. How about you?”
  • Scenario 3: Party-goer replies, “I work in real estate; I’m a realtor that specializes in helping first-time home buyers move into their first new home, mostly in the Uptown and North Loop neighborhoods. What do you do?”

Clearly response three is going to illicit the most engaging conversation between the two of you. Why? Because the party-goer opened up and shared a little more about themselves, which not only gives you some conversation fodder to work with, but it allows you to quickly assess whether you may have something in common with this person.

Companies and brands are no different. Letting people see behind the proverbial curtain, perhaps even sharing the ingredients to the company’s “secret sauce,” is not only trending in today’s marketplace, it can offer big rewards. Let’s look at some of the best examples of companies embracing the transparency movement.

Chipotle

The food industry is probably the category in which transparency is most desired by the public. What do you care more about: where the iron ore in your steel bed frame came from, or what was in the cow’s diet that is now inches away from your mouth? I can think of no better gold standard for transparency in the food industry than Chipotle. Chipotle is a fast casual restaurant serving Mexican food. Their slogan or tagline could have been: The Fresh Taste of West-Mex (not horrible Taco John’s), Un-Freshing Believable (trying way too hard Del Taco), or What Are You Going to Love at Qdoba (really Qdoba, that’s the best you could do?).

Instead, Chipotle management decided the company’s mission, not just a slogan, should be “Food With Integrity.” With a bold mission statement like that, they’d better live up to it, right? They do. Of the mere six tabs in the navigation bar of Chipotle.com, one of them is dedicated to the Food With Integrity mission.

Chipotle-food-with-integrity

Within this page you see their philosophy on food in the kitchen, on the farm, and beyond with additional links for deeper information if the customer desires it. Of the three other Mexican food chains mentioned in the above paragraph, not one mentions anything about the origins of their food on their home page.

Where will you be buying your next burrito?

Wendy’s

By now we’ve all seen how incredibly awesome GoPro footage can be. If you haven’t, please watch this GoPro compilation on YouTube by Washington Post right now.

In GoPro-like fashion, Wendy’s produced a fun 1:20 spot in which we get to take a journey alongside their romaine lettuce, from farm to table. And you thought their salads just magically appeared out of the in-store refrigerators.

wendys

McDonald’s

Does this image look familiar to you?

mcdonalds-pink-slime

In August of 2013, McDonald’s was the object of a lot of public scrutiny as this picture went viral on the internet, alongside headlines like “pink slime in school lunches” and “McDonald’s hamburgers made with 15% beef, 85% meat filler cleansed with ammonia.” It was also the inspiration for memes such as:

mcnuggets

It’s fashionable to diss on the big dog; unless you’re from the northeast, no one cheers for the Yankees or the Patriots come playoff time. In fast food, McDonald’s is the global big dog. And admit it, at some point you have asked yourself, “How the heck do they get the supplies for all those Big Macs to every store, from downtown New York City to nowheres-ville-North Dakota, and get them tasting exactly the same?” So it’s no surprise it only took one image of questionable contents to ignite a rampant viral backlash against the fast food monolith. This thing went so viral so fast that the public didn’t even know if the alleged “pink slime” was supposed to be a beef or a chicken ingredient!

What did McDonald’s do? It responded. If you’ve ever wondered how Chicken McNuggets really get made, this video bares all.
mcdonalds

McDonald’s also has an entire set of web pages dedicated to letting their customers “See What We’re Made Of,” with information on their suppliers and common questions about their food ingredients, recipes, and processes answered.

Gone are the days of keeping a little mystery in advertising. “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun,” just isn’t cutting it anymore. People want to know what’s in the special sauce. So instead of being afraid that a competitor could replicate their recipe, McDonald’s embraced the trend and made the ingredients available for anyone who cares to see them. I’m just guessing here, but I’d venture to say McDonald’s isn’t feeling the hit from previously loyal Big Mac eaters who are now making their own Big Mac sauce.

Restaurants and food companies aren’t the only ones hopping on the transparency bandwagon.

How It’s Made

Science Channel has an entire TV show dedicated to diving behind the scenes of everyday items and showing the audience How It’s Made. The show is in its 25th season and still going strong! To put that in perspective alongside other wildly successful television series:

  • Seinfeld (9 seasons)
  • Friends (10 seasons)
  • Cheers (11 seasons)
  • M*A*S*H (11 seasons)
  • Family Guy (14 seasons)
  • South Park (17 seasons)
  • Law & Order (20 seasons)
  • Late Show with David Letterman (22 seasons)
  • How It’s Made (25 seasons)

There is more public demand for transparency than there is for foul-mouthed cartoons, legal drama, or Cosmo Kramer. Who knew?

Stuff You Should Know

In a similar concept to How It’s Made, HowStuffWorks.com’s Stuff You Should Know Podcast has over 100 million downloads and almost 10,000 ratings, 4,000 reviews on iTunes. Ever wanted to know what really goes on at the FDA or all the secrets inside a can of SPAM? This podcast provides answers to satisfy your curiosities.

Transparency Isn’t Only For Your Image – Transparent Corporate Culture Matters Too

We also are seeing transparency in the form of flattening organizational structures. Take the online retailer Zappos, for instance.

zappos

This is a picture of the Zappos corporate office, courtesy of designleveraged.org. What’s interesting here is not the Hello Kitty balloon dangling from the exposed air ducts, nor is it the built-in whiteboard paneling on each worker’s cube, nor is it the Superman costume mounted on the wall. Every employee in this office has equal rank; no manager above nor below them.

This approach is called “holacracy,” and it allows an employee to focus on tasks or projects as opposed to being placed in a silo and assigned to a manager. It eliminates a lot of bureaucratic red tape, allowing employees to focus on their work and have more of a stake in the direction of the company. Plus, no one wastes their time wondering/worrying “what the bosses are discussing in the conference room” because – there are no bosses! The Washington Post dives into the strategy in this article.

The Open Source Movement

Transparency can be an efficient operational strategy, too. Of course companies like Microsoft and Adobe profit from using their teams of engineers to develop robust proprietary software programs for which they can charge a premium. This is what they do. This method, however, is not the only way to develop a large-scale software program.

open source

On January 22, 1998, Netscape, the pioneering internet browser of its time, announced it would make the source code for its next release available to license for free. While this wasn’t the first instance of open source coding (where anyone can contribute to improving the code to make the program better or add functionality), this single event was the launchpad for large software companies to consider open source development as a legitimate method to build important programs. This event led to the eventual development of Mozilla’s Firefox browser, which you may be using to read this post. Heck, this entire blog is written on WordPress, which allows 3rd party coders to develop widgets and enhance the software.

Five Steps Your Company Can Take to Embrace Transparency

Neil Patel (founder of CrazyEgg.com) wrote a great post on the topic for FastCompany. Here are some of his points along with some of my own.

  1. Be transparent about both successes and mistakes. Give credit where credit is due; if you teamed up with a partner or vendor on a success, don’t hog all the credit. Own up to blunders, and explain how the company has learned from them. The public gets it – everyone makes mistakes. What the public hates (and the media loves) is when companies have been hiding their mistake until it gets leaked.
  2. Create a brand personality. Decide on voice and stick to it in your advertising, email marketing, and social posts. This can be as literal as using a celebrity endorsement to as simple as writing down a few bullet points (e.g. our brand is sarcastic, funny, and relatable) for your marketing department to use. A consistent voice gives your brand a tangible personality to which people can relate.
  3. Be transparent about less-than-satisfied customers. Have you ever been scoping out a product on Amazon, researching a car dealership, or searching for a restaurant that has 5.0 out of 5 stars with 100+ reviews? Isn’t that a little bit suspicious? Don’t delete bad reviews. Consumers can tell the difference from a legitimate complaint to an overly-hostile customer who has some ulterior agenda to get a freebie from the company if they bark loud enough. Instead, engage consumers who leave bad reviews to show them you care, which in turn shows the rest of the internet you care too.
  4. Tell Your Secrets. Your company has customers, stakeholders, fans. They do business with you and want to follow your progress. Let them in on what’s going on behind the scenes! Think about how excited a music fan is when they get to meet the artist after the show, and the artist tells them some personal nugget about “how they just wrote a new riff on the bus ride into town” or “how cool it was hanging out with Rihanna in-studio in L.A. last week.” This transparent sharing turns your followers into loyalists. 
  5. Link Transparency With Sales. Cleveland Clinic is an excellent example of a healthcare company that has achieved bottom-line benefit from bearing all. Forbes’ contributing writer David Whelan covers the case study here. Essentially, Cleveland Clinic compiles all its Cardiology data into a report showing the overall outcomes of all procedures: successes, deaths, complications, etc. with various segments including physicians, times of day, and so on. They then share this report with cardiologists across the region, whose job it is to refer patients to a specialty clinic when their hospital can not meet the needs of the patient. Even though Cleveland Clinic doesn’t necessarily have the best results (some of their patients do indeed die), they have won large contracts from companies like Boeing specifically because they are open and willing to share their statistics. If your company can find a way to take a transparency campaign and link it driving sales, you have just stumbled upon a gold mine.

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