The straight story always works better

If you are selling, telling it straight is always the better tact. Sure, adding a dash of romance never hurts, but shifting story midstream is a surefire way to undermine trust.

If the customer asks for a product you no longer sell, telling them the straight story, which is that you have changed products, enables you to keep it simple, real, believable. If, on the other hand, you try to discredit your former line, you’re leading yourself down a path to the hard sell, the controversy no one needs.

This is why brands work so well. They tell a straight story in a consistent, credible manner. A good brand leaves the garbage talk in the can, personifies just enough romance to be its own iteration of sweet, and is true.

The difference between taking pictures and photography

Digital cameras and smartphone cameras have turned nearly everyone into picture takers, but there is a massive difference between taking pictures and photography. Where anyone can take pictures, photographers are true artists.

This is a significant distinction because snapshots are great for sharing experiences, but they really cannot be called photography. True photographers—people who earn a good living with it—bring not only technical skills and experience, but they are creators who make new compositions instead of copying existing work. There is value in the former, but not so much in the latter.

The distinction becomes obvious when we peruse online photo galleries. Most galleries are full of shots of other peoples’ art: architecture, landscapes, food, lighting and flower arrangements, art and sculpture, textiles, hard and soft goods already on display. Snapshots of these require no artistic talent, no creation. Point and shoot. It is the camera wielder profiting from other peoples’ art.

Photographers, on the other hand, create their own shots. They carefully frame each shot. They possess a high level understanding of spacial relationships, lighting, and display. They can set up various elements just for the shot. They understand how to work with art directors.

It’s not that there is no value in snapshots, but if you’re representing yourself as a professional photographer, a portfolio showing nothing more than pictures of other peoples’ art displays a lack of talent that belies the ‘professional’ tag.

Top tip for devising an online survey

Surveys come in all shapes and sizes, but a vast majority of them share one glaring problem: lack of focus. The less focus your online survey has, the more questions it will have, and in turn, the less completed, valuable surveys you will receive. (Plus, there’s one more problem.)

If a survey has more than 6-10 questions, the abandon rate skyrockets. Who has time for filling out 20-30 long questions with multiple blanks? Do you? I don’t.

Sure, people are happy to share their experiences and opinions, but giving them concise survey questions that clearly illuminate one sole purpose is the most likely way to produce three important results:
1) High quantity of completed surveys
2) Meaningful results
3) A captive audience who is likely to fill out the next survey

Doing the opposite, sending people to a survey that takes 15 minutes (or longer) to fill out, will result in the opposite of what you need. That’s really the lesson. Narrowly define the most important thing you need to learn, and make it as easy as possible for people to complete your survey in just a few minutes. Keep the language friendly and even fun if possible.

Keep it short. Any survey that takes longer than 10 minutes cheats people out of their time. At that point, they are literally consulting for free, and they are going to want some reward.

A great survey is Apple’s customer service satisfaction survey. They are courteous, to-the-point, and quick as could be. The language is friendly, conversational. They even reward you with a thank you. Always end your survey with an enthusiastic ‘Thank you!’

Flying without wings

There is an assumption in the world that we all speak the same learning language. It is assumed that everybody is learning from video, yet some people cannot learn much from watching instructional video because the teaching is entirely one-sided, with no interaction. Video instruction has virtually replaced software or application manuals, leaving many people flying blind.

You have to wonder if part of the reason apps are worth only $3.99 is because of the lack of instruction documentation. Then we wonder if the developer even knows how it works (or if they care at all).

When there is no documentation, the assumption is that we think like the developer thinks. The truth is, it’s rare that a consumer thinks like a developer.

Language gives us wings. It helps us make progress, fly over roadblocks, connect.

Making assumptions about which learning language we speak, which instruction we understand, is squandering opportunity for connection, sales success, and human potential. It’s asking a whole lot of us to fly without wings, or to hand over our money without getting anything useful. The picture is of people sitting on the ground flapping their arms and going nowhere. Is that really the goal?

Your ticket has closed

“Your ticket has closed,” reads the message subject. This is really just another way of saying “Go away, go find a competing product, we don’t care.” The support ticket was just opened two days ago. I haven’t had time to respond. Now, I probably won’t.

This is a systems design issue. A support ticket system which kills connection based on a short timer is a poorly designed system. It puts the timer’s needs well ahead of the customer’s, when it ought to be the other way around.

Businesses spend thousands (or millions) to open up connection, to forge dialog with customers. When a customer contacts you with a need, that’s an opportunity to connect. How you handle the connection determines if we will know each other for a day, a month, or years. It determines whether or not you get more money. If the goal is quick closure, why bother?

Save your best for first

You know that old advice for saving the best for last? Well, it’s time to toss that out the window. Instead, try saving your best for first.

No holding back anymore. Now is the time to do your best, which, by the way, makes me wonder when exactly was the time for saving the best for last? (Oh, that’s right, when eating pie.)

The problem with saving your best for last is simple: If your second best doesn’t impress, your best may never be seen.

Your second best may not be worth the effort, but your best almost certainly is. If you hold back your best, someone else may well spring upon the idea and beat you to it.

You will enjoy your efforts far more when you’re realizing your best vision. So will others, which means you stand a far greater chance of succeeding.

Someone is copying you right now

If you are lucky, someone is copying you right this minute. It’s lucky because it means what you are doing is different, at least for the moment. It also means you have an urgency to get your offering to market first, to brand excellently, to have integrity, and to keep your focus as you bring it to launch.

If you pause for a moment to reflect, you’ll probably find that most of your best ideas have been copied at some point. The truth is, you probably have copied someone too, but don’t worry about that. It’s what we are taught to do from birth onwards. Surely, you were not the first to call a parent ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad.’

Imitating is part of how we learn, so it’s fine. Copying a product or service, however, is what happens when people have more ambition than integrity, and more wherewithal than originality.

In business, copying is a two-sided equation, for when you are copied, it’s up to you to determine how much of your focus will be lost to your anger. The more you concentrate on being distracted by your anger, or simply by the presence of competition, the more your adversary wins. Conversely, if you keep your focus on what truly matters, chances are you will win.

If you enjoy stoking fires:
If you’re friendly with your competition who is copying you, send them a cheap copy machine, gift wrapped, to alert them that you know what they are doing. Then retrain your focus exclusively on your own efforts, and do not worry one iota about their imitation. Feel flattered if you are so inclined.

How to blend in with your competition

If you want to blend in with your competition, do what other people do in choosing how to design their website: buy a template.

If the sales text says anything like, “will help you stand out from the competition,” the reality is the opposite. Stock templates help you blend in, not stand out. That’s because most people want the website deal, the shortcut that leads to their one-of-a-kind dream website at a fraction of the cost. It’s also because in order to attract mass appeal, the template has to be generic in nature.

Once you buy a template, you’re stuck with whatever idiosyncrasies the template ships with. Changing those elements is difficult and expensive. But that’s not the worst of it. The worst thing is that no stock template is designed for your brand (unless your brand is designed to blend in, but then you have a much bigger problem).

The advantage of templates is price, but if your brand looks like every other brand, going with the low price option is, ironically, what you are encouraging others to do when they encounter your also-ran brand’s website.

The connection value of being unusual

When you are unusual, you have to work harder to connect. That’s why building a captive audience takes hard work, time, and patience. You can do something amazing and connect, temporarily, with people who follow trends, but if you’re looking for long-term business health, you need the other people, the ones who jump less, the people who value your difference.

When you are unusual, you have to show people how and why you are relevant. You have to illustrate your credibility by exhibiting integrity. You have to be visible and valuable.

The cool thing is, when you are unusual, you inherently stand out. You have a head start. To succeed, you have to start from that position and articulate your difference to those most likely to notice. The trick is in keeping your focus along the way. It’s the trick because keeping your focus while trying to appeal to a large audience is incredibly hard work.

What often happens is the unusual aspects of a brand succumb to desire for quicker sales, losing focus. The result is a watered down version of the original, a more usual iteration with less appeal.

This is why big business can outperform small business. Big business has the resources to endure slower sales when necessary (though they never like it). Small business, on the other hand, may fold if sales are slow.

People often think not standing out for their difference is safer, but the reality is the opposite.

When we’re talking about business, being more vanilla—more usual—is more dangerous. True, vanilla has broad appeal, but it also has far more competition, which means it’s much harder and more expensive to build a new brand that can compete. It’s also difficult to command a premium price.

Being unusual, you have less competition and greater ability to command a premium price. Sure, it’s riskier, but if you keep your focus, being unusual has far greater long-term prospects for setting trends and succeeding by connecting with people who value your difference.