Business Is Mental (F)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

F Is For Firehose

In business, we spend a lot of time putting out fires, which means fixing things that go unexpectedly wrong, like a fire is an unexpected wrong thing almost always, except to the person who sets the fire in the case of arson. Every organization has arsonists inside and outside who set intentional fires and clumsy people who set unintentional fires. Most of the time, the fire will intentionally or unintentionally overwhelm a manager and make the manager feel like they are “drinking from a fire hose.” But remember when you were young and drank from the garden hose and the water went up your nose? That was really uncomfortable. Trying to drink from a fire hose is a lot like that, except the water pressure from a fire hose can remove your eyeballs from your head.

Think about it: Instead of trying to drink from the fire hose, turn the hose on the arsonist, but not on the clumsy person, because they can’t help it.  

Business Is Mental (K)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

K Is For Knitting

The business world has long observed that people who knit have very short attention spans. The irony is that knitting requires, if not laser beam focus, some degree of prolonged attention. By reminding knitters to stick to their knitting, business leaders are paradoxically reminding themselves not to take up knitting before they retire, because if they do take up knitting, it will weaken their attention span. At the same time, they are providing a service to the knitting community by helping them focus, and in some states this is tax deductible.

Think about it: The threads of success are allegorical. 

Business Is Mental (I)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

I Is for Is

Politics aside, most professional business people agree that President Bill Clinton made a major contribution to business discourse when he said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Well, of course it does, but no one previous to Clinton had stated the obvious so obviously. In business, one of the easiest ways to pause a conversation so you can catch up is to say, “It depends on what your definition of (fill in the blank) is.” This tactic is especially helpful with accounting terms such as “Balance,” “Receivables,” “Payables,” and “Reconciliation.”

Think about it: Everything and everyone depends on something or someone but how those something’s and someone’s are defined is relative to circumstances and vocabulary.  

Business Is Mental (H)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

H Is For Hair

One of the most successful businessmen of our generation is Donald Trump, not only because he diversified into meaningful television programming when his real estate ventures kept going bankrupt, but because he succeeded in business while having the worst hair imaginable. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? The head or the hair? To succeed in business is to set aside the terms of the question because the question does not matter if you can afford history’s most stylized comb-over, and chickens can’t talk.

Think about it: Loose lips sink ships but chickens don’t have lips.

Business Is Mental (E)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

E Is for Epitaph

When you are both dead and buried or cremated, what do you want people to say about you and how you did business? Smart business people are smart planners and smart planners don’t leave their epitaph to chance. Think about your gravestone today and how you will convince others to ensure the right words appears on your marker, not by telling them, “I want these words on my grave marker,” but by influencing and/or manipulating them without their knowledge.

Think about it: You might be dead before you read this.

Business Is Mental (D)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

D Is for Damn The Luck

Not everything in business is under your control. Some things are outside your control, either over, under, or left or right of your control. The experienced business leader understands that control is three dimensional, but reality is made of five senses. If we do the math, we understand that 40% of everything is left to fate. If things go your way six out of ten times, you’re are doing pretty well. The rest of the time, you have to say, “Damn the luck.”

Think about it: We can see, feel, smell, taste, and hear, but we are not born with 3D glasses.

Business is Mental (C)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

C Is for Carrot

The carrot is the reward and the stick is the punishment, or does “stick” refer to the stick from which we hang the carrot and if that’s the case, why do we not recognize the string in this famous management idiom? What about people who don’t like carrots? For them, the carrot is a stick and if the carrot is big enough, it really can be a stick. In business, we must remember that some people consider punishment a reward and some people are vegetarians.

Think about it: Be the string. 

Business Is Mental (B)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

B Is for Bottleneck

The Bottleneck is not only the strongest part of the bottle, it is the most powerful because everything must go past the bottleneck and the bottleneck slows things down. The bottleneck cannot stop things from leaving or keep things out. That’s the job of the bottle cap, which is not technically part of the bottle, so the bottleneck is still the most powerful part of the bottle.

Think about it: Who are the bottle caps, bottlenecks, and bottle bodies in your organization? Be a bottleneck, not a bottle cap, which is not technically part of the bottle anyway. 

Business Is Mental (A)

The ABC’s They Didn’t Teach You at Muncie College of Business Administration*

*But might be teaching you now if this is a textbook for a class you’re currently taking at Muncie College of Business Administration.

A is for Apple

The first lesson we learn in school and the first letter in the alphabet reminds us to begin at the beginning and do first things first. This is a commonly conveyed life lesson but it is more important in business than it is in life. In business, to begin anywhere other than the beginning is to risk putting the cart before the horse and few things are as detrimental in business as putting the cart before the horse. Counting your eggs before they are hatched may be worse in the long run than putting the cart before the horse, but in terms of public disgrace, having a cart with a horse behind it is far more embarrassing to your brand than is making a poor estimate as to the number of eventual chickens.

Think about it: Horses love apples. 

I always drink beer, and when I do, I rarely drink Dos Equis.

[Originally Posted in December 2010] It’s true, I’m not a fan of Dos Equis the beer but I am a big fan of their ad campaign, The World’s Most Interesting Man. And I’m not alone. Facebook pages devoted to the character have over 200,000 fans combined (in 2012, Dos Equis folded Interesting Man into their corporate site, which has over 3 million fans) . The commercials are funny and well made. The entire campaign is a near pitch-perfect execution of the branding brief provided to the ad agency, Euro RSCG:

    • Distinctive (other than “Mexican-ness,” a direct quote from the agency’s initial research)
    • Desirable
    • Premium identity
    • Different from other brands
    • Cool brand
    • Worth paying more for

Okay, this list could be found in almost anyone’s branding brief, but then you look at “anyone’s” advertising and the execution does not live up to the intent.  Few industries produce as much advertising that looks as if it is cut from the same cloth as does the beer industry. The Dos Equis commercials are certainly distinctive and different from other brands. More importantly, they not only bring the brand intent to life, they delivered the desired measurable results.

Although Heineken USA, which owns the Dos Equis brand, first introduced The World’s Most Interesting Man in 2007, they did not go national with the campaign until 2009. Yup, right in the middle of the recession. Sales of Dos Equis in the US went up 27% while the most of the beer industry was seeing declines and it became one of the top 10 selling imports.

There are several things I love about all this, the first being that Heineken went for it during a recession and did not cower behind cost cutting, at least not in marketing the 2X. This, it seems to me, is how The World’s Most Interesting Man would have done it, attack when the chips are down.  But my favorite thing about the entire campaign is that the ad agency, Euro RSCG, appears to be breaking some rules.

Broken Rule #1: They used an old guy in a beer commercial. No, really, they did. The actor is 72.

Broken Rule #2: The old guy admits in the commercial that he doesn’t always drink beer. No, really, he does: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.”

I take notes for the specialty coffee industry from Broken Rule #2 because Broke Rule #1 is a bit of an illusion. Yes, the commercials feature a 72 year old man, but he is often surrounded by young women and the ads still capture the younger demographic because The World’s Most Interesting Man is everything 20 something guys actually think they will be and everything 30 something guys hope they will be. This is truly clever, a beer commercial that targets a wide demographic swath without relying on delusion or nostalgia from older men as they watch all the young and fit people having fun at the beach or out at a bar seemingly without other obligations.

[For a disquieting take on these kinds of traditional beer commercials, check out a public service commercial from the same advertising agency, Euro RSCG, here http://www.eurorscg.com (go to Our Work then TV Showcase and click INPES). And while you’re there watch their commercial for the Let’s Color Project sponsored by Dulux, which is Glidden Paint in the US. Also check out their commercials for Evian, Peugeot, and Canal+.]

The work-around on Rule #1 is clever , but Broken Rule #2 is just plain brilliant and raises questions for any marketer.  The brilliant part is that in the process of making a seemingly negative (but true) comment about beer, they frame the message that The World’s Most Interesting Man has a sophisticated palate and he ranges across a wide selection of drinks. He cannot settle down with just one kind of beverages and he never pretended he would. You knew what he was when he started drinking you.

Who doesn’t want to be so interesting that the answer to the question of what we like to drink might take a long time to answer. It depends. Where am I? Who am I with, kings or presidents? Have I just finished running with the bulls, or writing a novel?

And never mind the fact that drinking the same beer whenever you drink beer is the opposite of interesting. Yes, it’s a damn annoying detail but it is overshadowed by how well, in one brief feint with the marketing knife, they find our soft belly and sink it home. If this were not true, sales of Dos Equis would not have increased as dramatically as they did.

Dude, if you’re going to look this good when you reach retirement and look back on a life full of…action, maybe, then you had better be choosy about your beer. And, we know you know about wine and vodka and stuff too and don’t sit around drinking beer all day, but, you know, when you do, make sure it is as sophisticated as you are…brother.

I don’t buy it. You don’t buy it. But a whole bunch of beer drinkers did. Results.

Breaking the rules, written and lore. Thinking outside the box. Turning the problem inside out. Pick a cliché. For me, it’s about never letting an assumption escape alive. The specialty coffee industry, now well into its adulthood, has piled up its fair share of assumptions and sacred cows (speaking of clichés).   It’s not always easy to recognize them.  But when I do I try, if I have the presence of mind, to ask what if. Euro RSCG asked, What if we used an old guy and what if he sold a positive with a negative?

Your list will be different than my list, but here are some somewhat generic, but by no means benign, starters for coffee:

What if manual brewing (complete the question)?
What if barista competitions (complete the question)?
What if coffeehouses (complete the question)?
What if my target market (complete the question)?
What if instant coffee (complete the question)?
What if the supply (complete the question)?
What if China (complete the question)?
What if New York or London or Moscow (complete the question)?
What if Social Networking (complete the question)?
What if the temperature (complete the question)?
What if quality (complete the question)?

It might not be The World’s Most Interesting List, but I could gather a group of coffee professionals who would argue for a month about the most important sentence completion, let alone the answers to the resulting questions.

What an abundant place we find ourselves in as an industry segment if it is true that we can still argue about the questions before we even get to the answers.  What an empty place if we believe we understand the questions and have our answers filed and ready for the next reporter or grad student or industry presentation.

The World's Most Interesting Men