Resurrecting An Idea

Leaders do not live forever. Therefore, every follower has the opportunity to lead. By the hands of those who follow, the messages and teachings of a leader can live on. Apprentices, disciples and true believers are responsible for standing up for and keeping an idea alive. Traditions, trades, crafts and stories all pass away if not nurtured.

Fable or history, the story of Christ survives. No matter what you believe, you can admire the staying power of the brand and message. If the Disciples of Christ broke into the tomb to exhume Jesus’s body, give him a proper burial and cover their trail by haunting the authorities with his resurrection, the story bears no less weight. These followers loved a man and his teachings so much that they risked everything against one of the harshest regimes in history to help the memory and message never die. The power of that rebellion lasted two millennia and continues to live on. Even if the man never existed, cultural outcasts stood for, developed and passed on the message until it flourished throughout the world. Followers became leaders to resurrect an idea and keep the light alive. That’s worth celebrating, no matter what you believe.

Culture Is More Important Than Product

People want to be a part of something and have a good time. That’s why fancy restaurants make the big bucks. Product is important and the focal point of a solid business foundation. But the atmosphere around a product is the key differentiator. If you can build culture around a product, it’s like having an open front door to a raging house party. Something people want to be a part of. The most successful restaurants on a block are packed with people having a good time. Music helps. Alcohol helps. Great service helps. But without those things, great food means very little next to the fun house party. The aura you build around your brand makes a huge difference. Spend as much time developing your cultural recipes as you spend on your product recipes.

Woah There, Hot Shot! Take It Easy On Self-Promotion

You walk a fine line to promote yourself. How do you share your value with the world without boasting about it? How can you exude confidence without coming off as haughty? Blowing your own horn turns people off. I know I prefer to follow brands and artists that spend little time praising themselves and provide value to my life. Who wouldn’t? If Ramit Sethi spent less time praising his own accomplishments, I would spend more money on his content.

The key to building a great brand? Consistently providing great value. Without question, a brand like the one Ramit built will grow if you continue to deliver on your promise. People are thirsty for good content and will follow. However, the distance between a strong brand and a sustainable one can be measured by humility. Without too much self-deprecation, a brand must genuinely acknowledge weaknesses, listen to all parties invested and restrain bragging rights as much as possible. Celebrate success with your fans, defend your gifts to the world – and hold back the rest.

I have learned through nearly a year of writing this blog that headlines, tweets and content centered around myself or plugging my writing perform far worse than direct content. I beg you, dear readers – call me out any time my writing is sullied with boasting. No one likes content adulterated by too much Craig Ormiston.

Predictably Unpredictable

You can always count on true artists to surprise you. With a sense of regularity, the greats always deliver the same quality with a different twist. The same gets old, so it’s important to keep things fresh. We put less stock in sequels that merely re-deliver the original and our hearts into sequels that reinvent the wheel. We come to trust creators that, in any other forum, would not be trusted. And we always look forward to the next trick.

Want to be great? Learn to surprise audiences on a regular schedule.

Two Options? Or Just One?

While people do not enjoy an overwhelming number of choices, they enjoy even less not having a choice at all. Pretty obvious day to day, but how does that apply to business, entertainment, and marketing beyond? When you give customers or audiences only one choice, they are quicker to create another one of their own: “No thanks.” By providing more than one option, you expand your chances at inspiring them to consider the options first before considering their exit. That contemplation period is irrefutably valuable to marketers looking to convert users or customers. Depending on how you position the product and alert everyone to his or her options, you at least stand a chance at starting a conversation. That’s half the battle.

Do Not Charge Fans You Haven’t Earned Yet

I will not pay for your album without hearing it first. I will not buy your book without reading a good chunk of it. I will not spend a dime until I know that it will be a good use of my time. And I’m not alone in this anymore. There’s far too much noise fighting for audience money these days. To stand out, you need to be really talented and really clever. Reviews and popular consensus can help you reach the top. But you have to catch the attention of the people first.

The loyalty of fans goes a long way. I will, however, support artists and brands that have earned my trust over time. I do not think twice before paying for a Sam Mendes film, a Black Keys album, or a Legend of Zelda video game. Over the years, these names have consistently won my affection. But I didn’t pay for them at first. I saw my first Sam Mendes film in a class, heard my first Black Keys song in my brother’s car, and played my first Zelda game in a friend’s basement. Their talent and quality converted me alone. I became a loyal fan for life. The idea of curating loyal fans is not new or revolutionary. Brands as strong as Apple, In-N-Out Burger, and Pixar learned this very early on.

Creating brilliant products is not enough. The challenge is to convert freeloading bystanders into fans willing to pay. The trick is to acknowledge that fans won’t pay for you until you earn their trust. Therefore, the most effective way to develop a following early on is to share your work far and wide for free. Give great content away and audiences will thank you for it. When you have enough fans to scale your brand, start monetizing. Watch the loyalty role in.

Steering a Large Ship

When you are in a small raft, you have enough influence and power to pilot the entire thing in a completely different direction. When you are on a massive cruise ship, you have no power at all and must go with the flow. Nothing you can do as a cruise ship passenger will change the direction the boat is sailing (unless you can convince everyone otherwise, mutiny the bridge to navigate, or sink the ship).

The analogy applies to companies and brands. It is much easier to have stake in and pilot the direction of a small company than a large one. Big companies are much more difficult to steer and big brands much more difficult to reposition. One man or woman will fight an uphill battle if he or she wants to inspire change from within an established, large organization or industry. One man or woman can sink an organization or brand alone, but I doubt the resulting consequences and reputation will be worth it.

Cruise ships have many amenities and benefits worth the ride. You can really travel through life in style in a reputable large organization. If the company treats you well enough, it may be worth the complacency of a vacationing passenger. But do not expect to change anything you do not favor from within the bureaucracy.

If you truly want to make a difference on your own in your field, consider building a faster raft and inspiring the cruise ship to keep up. Competition may be the only key to making a difference and steering a large ship.

Live Performance

If you want to connect with your audience, you must share a room with your audience. You must get up on stage and entertain. Campaigning politicians and rock stars learned this a long time ago. Beyond entertainment alone, a successful live performance can communitize the audience around your personal brand. Everyone sharing a room together will feel apart of a big family, a family with your surname. Audience applause and energy are contagious; spread adoration for you and your product by collecting or streaming as many fans as possible into one room.

Unlike Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Steve Jobs never hid behind the veil of a press release or blog post. He stood on stage, fielded questions without fear, and put on a live show. I am convinced Apple succeeded on the foundations of its audience’s oohs and aahs at these keynote events. I am convinced Apple advanced forward because Steve Jobs knew how to put on a show. The collective power of audience intrigue spreads like a virus, and that intrigue can only be fostered in person and en masse.

If you want to build a brand, learn to overcome stage fright and put on a great show. This goes for anyone trying to make an impression on the market or on the world. You must show your face to the crowd.

Side note: one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen in person happens every Sunday night in Santa Monica. If you haven’t already, all Angelinos you must check out The Toledo Show – a “Cabaret Funk” band that performs every Sunday night 9pm at the classic Harvelle’s. $10 cover, two-part set until around 1am, totally worth every minute. The new definition of “cool.” Thank you, Adam Speas, for introducing it to me.

The Controversy of Change: Netflix, Facebook, and Chameleons

Many people freaked over Facebook’s face lift and Netflix’s reorganization. Yes, these changes are inconvenient. Some may break your routine or even damage your business. But what would you prefer instead? For the company or service to stay exactly the same?

Companies that fail to change fall prey to the market evolving around them. Inevitably, they are slain by the next best thing. By asking them to stay the same, you are asking them to fail. You are condemning the brand you embraced for so long to a slow death.

No, change may not always be good or necessary. But you cannot know until after you try. And neither can brands. No one has a crystal ball. Not even Steve Jobs. Smart leaders fail more often than lesser leaders and learn from their mistakes. They know that the biggest risk is avoiding risk altogether. You deserve to be eaten if you sit still in the savanna.

Like puberty, change may always be an ugly process. Some coast through it smoother than others. Those who make it out clean never forget who they are or what they believe in. A strong brand transforms with the market, but keeps its core mission at heart.

Embrace the chameleon business. Invest in progressive brands with solid foundation, not products destined for revision or absolution. If you truly believe in a brand, you should trust in change. Forgive the minor transgressions and take pleasure in discovering the next step along the way.

Advertise What You’re Advertising

I appreciate the need to launch marketing spots or materials to build brand awareness. But when you want to drive attention to a product, then make sure you . . . drive attention to your product. I am astounded by the number of designs, commercials, prints, and public gimmicks I see on a daily basis that fail to clearly communicate the product they mean to sell. Every good marketing campaign should tell a story, make the product clear to the customer, and clearly articulate where the customer can find the product.

For the last several weeks, my company has been running a spot for our latest web series on national television. Perhaps you’ve seen it? The spot is failing to communicate that it’s a web series that you should watch online. Am I crazy?