Things Are Changing, and That’s OK

I went to the #ACEComicon when it was in town last weekend. Comic books were central to my life when I was younger, from age 9-17 before I quit cold turkey when I graduate high school. Then about 7 years later I sold pretty much the entire collection to help pay for grad school. NO REGRETS! (well, maybe some regrets).

Now, go figure, my kids are into comics but in a different way. Why back in my day… there were comic books and I think the most expensive monthly was 75 cents. There were comic book conventions that my dad took me to, at the glamorous Pick Congress Hotel. There were artists and writers panels. It was heaven for young me.

Now the panels feature movie stars like Brie Larson, Tessa Thompson, Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal. The floor of the convention center is a treasure trove of comics, clothes, books, and so much crap I can’t believe we bought so much of it.

And cosplay! An institution unto itself. I am so amazed at how much heart and soul comic fans put into expressing themselves. I had such an amazing time with my wife and daughter and our two new friends, sisters IRL whom I know only as Spider-Gwen and Mary Jane. Yes, now there are females at these conventions too, not to mention the amazing creative talents now so integral to this industry, so much more diverse and jaw-droppingly good than some 30 years ago. Times are changing and I’m glad.

No photo description available.

Speaking Out of School or The Pink Spoon Pricing Model

Do you want others to trust you, to buy what you’re selling? Sometimes you have to absorb the cost of giving away a little bit of what you do or what you make in order to convince people to buy more of what you offer. We can call this the Pink Spoon model, named for the little pink spoons that #Baskin-Robbins uses to hand out samples of their ice cream.

You don’t pay for the spoon, and you don’t pay for the ice cream on that spoon, at least not directly. And if it weren’t for that sample, how would you know if you like Cherries Jubilee, Cotton Candy, or even the provocatively named and utterly non-descriptive Love Potion #31 (which I looked up: “white chocolate and raspberry flavored ice creams, a raspbery (sic) swirl, chocolate flavored chips, and raspberry-filled chocolate flavored hearts.” I’d try a pink spoonful of that).

I’ve never worked in an ice cream shop, so I don’t know how much those pink spoons and samples cost, and what the ROI is. That’s okay. And from a client’s point of view, isn’t it nice to know that you can minimize your risk and if you don’t like Love Potion #31 or the dangerous sounding Wild ‘n Reckless Sherbet or the esteem-raising but inscrutable Gold Medal Ribbon flavor (“…vanilla flavored and chocolate ice creams swirled with a caramel ribbon….” Ooh! I’ll have that instead because it’s “the champion of flavor”!) you can still get good ol’ Rocky Road or a chocolate shake if that’s what you want to satisfy your needs? You can even walk out and not buy anything… but you’ll come back next time. That’s the long-game plan.

This applies to more than just ice cream. This happen all the time in the “freemium” model, described by Vineet Kumar in #Harvard Business Review as getting “basic features at no cost (with) richer functionality for a subscription fee.” That means that If you create content or provide a service, the pink spoon also applies. Sometimes you won’t know until you try. The pink spoon allows customers to try. And then they’ll know. And Richer Functionality… that should be an ice cream flavor!

Brain Balm: It’s Opposite Day

Massage your Marketing Message: I’m thinking about brainstorming for my latest challenge, and I thought of the recent passing of over-the-top entertainer Rip Taylor, which made me think of more ever-so-slightly more subtle, but still over-the-top in his own way entertainer Chuck Barris.

Chuck Barris created and hosted The Gong Show, the performance-art showcase for amateur performers that ran in the 1970s (not the more recent version; sure, the original was contrived, but that was part of Barris’s irony. The more recent version seems to be contrived for contrived’s sake). Barris also created the $1.98 Beauty Show, hosted by Rip Taylor. Both of these shows celebrated how the ordinary oddballs react when the camera is on.

Barris found great success by showing how thinking doesn’t always work, or leads to a dead end. So be like Barris and Taylor and consider doing what nobody expects. Do the opposite.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should try to fail. Barris didn’t bring untrained performers to the center stage in order to upset or bore his viewers. He did it to entertain but in a way that the audience wasn’t expecting.

Consider changing your perspective and seeking different intermediate outcomes in order to successfully reach your larger goals.

To do this, consider the current status quo, the way “everybody” does what you are trying to do.

What would be the opposite of that?

If everyone is aiming high, could you aim low?

If the others are stressing speed, could you slow down?

You’ve heard of stress dogs visiting patients? The Humane Society of Missouri has children read to anxious dogs to help prepare the animals to live in their new homes

A classic marketing example: Volkswagen rose to prominence in the USA in the 1960s by telling customers the opposite of what they expected to hear: identifying their own car as a “lemon,” and urging metal-lovers to think small instead of big.

Would it help you to go against the grain, swim against the tide, and do the opposite of what everyone else is expecting?

The No BS Hall of Fame

I carry a binder around with me at work and inside this binder is a piece of paper listing what I call my “No BS Hall of Fame.” Enshrined in this hallowed Hall are the initials of several people who, in recent years, have called me on my own BS. To my face.

My lines of crap generally involve me feeling sorry for myself and whining about how busy I am, or how nobody respects PhDs because everyone thinks we’re too far removed from the real world, or how hard it is to live an hour away from where I work, or how my self-deprecation isn’t as cute as I seem to think it is (this post doesn’t count!), or  … I’m not too proud to say that this list goes on. Not too much longer, but a little longer.

Maybe I’m just humble-bragging? Call me on it, and you too might be added to the wall of the Hall.

We all face challenges, often real, sometimes painful, but sometimes of our own making.

Mine are minor. Each challenge that I listed above should be examined in terms of:

  • Is it really real?
  • If it IS really real, can I just fix whatever I’m complaining about?
  • Is there actually value to the reality or condition that I’m whining about, if only I’d see it that way?
  • Or is what I’m complaining about really an opportunity? Yes, an opportunity to change, improve, or grow.

Amazingly, at least as I’m experiencing life, the answer to the above four questions is almost always “yes.”

So I keep that list, my No BS Hall of Fame, to remind me every day. You are where you are, so you might as well be there completely.

What do you think?

The Cubs and The Toothbrush Test or Add Another One to the Floss Column

If you know me then you know this: I’m a rabid Chicago Cubs fan.

This was not a decision I made lightly… and I don’t know that it was really a decision at all. It was more of a daily deepening, an application of a balm that just made me feel better.

When I was growing up and coming home from school in the 1970s, the Cubs were always waiting for me at home. No matter what happened at school during the day… and “what happened” was often no fun at all… I could turn on the same television, to the same channel, at the same time, and watch the last few innings of a Cubs game.

That doesn’t mean that this routine was always magical. More tragic than magic really, because in the 1970s the Cubs lost so many more games than they won. But there they were, in the same place on my TV dial, with the same recognizable broadcast voices, the same uniforms, the familiar names, all feeding my youthful naivete.

Is this kind of familiarity enough to instill this kind of fanaticism?

Well, another perspective might be what Alphabet CEO Larry Page calls the “toothbrush test” to determine whether a company is worth buying.

The toothbrush test is this: Is the object of your attention something you will use once or twice a day, every day, and does using it make your life better?


The application of this to my love for a team might seem like a reach, but to me it makes sense. I “used” the product every day… at least during baseball season. The use of this product… and the anticipation of having it waiting for me at home, was of great positive value.

So here’s the lesson, if we generalize this out and then bring it back in. What can you offer that in one way or another is used, experienced, or anticipated on a daily basis? It brings pleasure or other positive thoughts and feelings to your customer or client? The right amount of consistency with the opportunity for variety? After all, even the 1970s-era Cubs teams won games once in a while.


What value can you offer to your customers, clients, fans, even employees, that passes the Toothbrush Test?

Be It and You’ll See It and Other Long-Lasting Lessons

Did you know that I taught my first marketing class just over 25 years ago?

A much younger me!

It’s true! As a doctoral student at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) I worked with two faculty members and two other grad students to create our spring semester undergraduate intro to marketing class. We divided up the lectures… I believe I wrote the lectures on advertising, consumer behavior, and brand management (not certain about that last one), and my colleagues divided up the remaining marketing topics. Together, we created the entire course and delivered the material to our own sections of the class.

This experience taught me a great deal about teaching marketing, of course, and also many other important lessons, like:

  1. When you speak, believe in what you are saying. Whenever you have an audience, you have to know that you have something important to say, and you’re the right one to say it
  2. When you’re part of a team, take time to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Our team of five divided up the semester’s worth of lectures according to our strengths and preferences
  3. With that said, remain aware of the big picture, the overall project goals and not just your role. Among my mistakes that semester was remaining ignorant of one of the lectures until the night I taught it. That was not an enjoyable lecture for anyone involved
  4. And with THAT said, accept happy accidents whenever you find them. Specifically, while I was struggling with a lecture on logistics and distribution, two graduate students who happened to be auditing the class told me, during a break, that they just heard a graduate level lecture on the topic and coached me through the rest of the evening’s material
  5. It’s not “fake it ‘til you make it,” it’s “be it and you’ll see it.” And that was my first time being a marketing professor.

How about you? Do you have any lessons from long ago that you still turn to even today?








Why Won’t You Leave?

The other day I was talking to a friend about the turnover he was experiencing in his department. He mentioned that he had the opportunity to conduct exit interviews with many of them but wasn’t really learning anything useful from them. And it was hard to find new people.

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? And we’ve heard the wisdom that people don’t leave their jobs as much as they leave their bad boss or their wrong culture. But my friend wasn’t a bad boss (as far as I could tell) and the culture wasn’t toxic (also as far as I could tell). Yet, if this wisdom is indeed wise, what would motivate a person who is on their way out the door to tell their boss or HR rep anything useful?

We thought about the value of focusing not on the people leaving, but on the people staying. Why are you still here? And furthermore, by talking to the people who haven’t left, we could get a sense of who might be thinking about leaving. We could also learn about the people who are still here but mostly due to inertia, a kind of spurious loyalty that can lead to the exit ramp soon as an opportunity becomes available.

And, importantly, who is still here because they want to be here. They like it here. Maybe they love it here and we want to know what they love. Maybe they know other people like them who would also love it here and lead to an even more cohesive culture. And maybe things aren’t perfect, but if we show the people who stay a little more love, they’ll tell us how we can lead them to love us even more.

So don’t forget the members of your team who are still with you.

Sleepy Linking (or, How I Built My Network)

Do you have a personal policy about who you connect with on LinkedIn? How about Facebook?

I do. On Facebook, I don’t connect with students until after they graduate. On LinkedIn, I believe that more contacts is better than fewer.

A few years back, I had a little LinkedIn connection adventure. I was with my family in Europe, teaching brand management at EM Strasbourg… an amazing experience. My January classes back home at Dominican were still a week or so away. My days started early to teach day-long classes, and continued late as I tried to finish my preparation for my back-home classes while also enjoying a bit of the beautiful Alsace region in France, on the German border. This led to some late nights on the computer.

One morning as I was getting ready for class, I looked at my phone and noticed that my LinkedIn account was unusually busy. Back then, I wasn’t very active on the network and my buzz was limited to the occasional past life or conference connection reaching out. But this was odd… there were about a dozen connection “Accept” notifications. And this ran the gamut of people I knew, high school, college, grad school, past jobs.

I didn’t remember sending those invites.

As the day went on, even more blasts from the past said yes to my request. Why, many of you are reading this right now! And maybe you wondered, why is Dave sending this connection request to me? We haven’t spoken in years. Decades even! What, did he fall asleep with his face on the keyboard while staying up late, supposedly to get some work done but really just diverting himself from his work to look at LinkedIn?

Yes. I call it SleepyLinking. I still do love you, but that’s pretty much what happened.

This act alone added many, many names to my network.

I think this is a good thing.

Also good… for all the new connections, I don’t know how many people rejected my request. That’s a number don’t want to think about.

So what’s your policy?

And no matter how you got here, I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for being part of my network. While we’re here together, please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.

What About the Stumps?

You never know what’s going to happen, but you should also not be in a position where you’re caught completely off guard. 

The question about the stumps was posed to me by William, old friend and coworker at the company I worked for before I returned to school. William was a big, genial guy with a quick sense of humor. He and my boss were friends and former sales reps too and they would sometimes as me to join them for lunch at Skyline Chili. 

William could also catch me by surprise. One day, out of nowhere, he leaned over the wall of my cubicle and asked “What about the stumps?” 

“What about ‘em?” I replied. 

William asked me if I ever watched Speed Racer, the cartoon about a race car driver and his family that was popular after-school fare in the United States 

“Sure. ‘Go Speed Racer, Go!’” I sang, repeating the familiar conclusion to the show’s opening theme. 

William continued. “Well, remember how his car…” 

“’…the powerful Mach 5’,” I interrupted, again referencing the opening song. 

“Yes!” William seemed relieved that he found a fellow fan. 

“Okay, remember how it could pop out rotary saw blades…” 

“Button C if I’m not mistaken” I added, referring to the control panel on Speed’s steering wheel. “Very handy when driving through dense forests…” 

William continued. “Well, did you ever wonder what happened after Speed used those blades?” 

paused. “Maybe I have, but not for very long.” 

William let out a note of frustration. “Well I have. I have wondered, what about the stumps?” 

“Okay….” I knew now that, as is so often the case, I would learn more by listening than by talking. 

Those saws are at least several inches off the ground, so they’re not going to uproot any trees. That leaves the stumps, several inches high, poking out of the ground. He’s going to drive over those stumps, ruin his suspension, and shred his undercarriage.” 

I nodded my head. “You’re right. I blame Pops.” Pops Racer, of course: Speed’s father and designer of the powerful Mach 5.  

William laughed, extended his hand to help me out of my chair, and we walked toward my boss’s office to get his input on this situation. And lunch. 

And THAT’S how I started thinking about unintended consequences. There is such a thing, per Psychology Today. In this article, Dr. Sherman takes a more scholarly look than any of Speed Racer’s adventures might suggest, so I’ll focus on example of my own.  

In my earlier teaching days, I scheduled a midterm examination for my undergraduate marketing students. It was right there on the syllabus, the “contract,” as some might call it, between my students and me. That morning, the department copying machine broke down. We could not make copies of the exam and by the time I found out there was not enough time to find and take over another department’s machine.  

So what’s the worst that could happen, I thought to myself, and who wouldn’t love a few extra days to study for an exam? 

Take a second to run through your mind on “worst that could happen.” I’ll wait. 

Well, have you ever spent a lot of time, moved a lot of things, put off friends and family, and essentially and unwillingly barricaded yourself in the preparation for an exam, presentation, project, etc.? Sure, who hasn’t? In college and high school we called it “cramming for the exam.” 

After all that sacrifice and inconvenience and missed opportunity, there are many reasons why “the copying machine ate my exam” will NOT be happily accepted. The students didn’t want to wait. They worked hard and likely at some personal cost to take the exam NOW, not later. Plus there’s all the learning theory about how information that is crammed isn’t retained well. For many students it meant yet another cramming session.  

So the unexpected consequences, the stumps left behind by my innocently-offered Mach 5 buzz saws, included a lot of resentment and some unkind words on my course evaluation. Not career-crusher or an undercarriage-shredding  disaster, but also not the outcome I expected. Unintended consequences. 

The lesson here is think through your decisions. Not just now, but consider the consequences that you might expect and even not expect, from people you know will be affected and maybe even some who you wouldn’t think about at first. 

Beware the stumps, Speed Racer!  Your happiness is important to me and that’s why I do this.

Speaking Out of School, or Ansoff to the Races!

I know it’s a balancing act, doing what you have to do and trying to do more of what you really want to do. This reminds me of a marketing tool called the Product-Marketing Growth Matrix. An important side note: this 2 x 2 grid is named for Igor Ansoff, which gives me the freedom to make puns like the one above and to call any related workshop activity an “Ansoff Dance-Off.” I have accepted my fate, of having a last name that doesn’t rhyme with anything. I think he would appreciate my wordplay. I should also note that according to Wikipedia, Ansoff’s nickname was “The Rock” and as you might guess, was a physicist, a mathematician, and a strategy genius. The nickname probably was the giveaway, right?

So the matrix looks at two dimension, a new offering vs. your current offering, and a new market or set of customers vs. your current ones.

The comfort zone, where you are now, is when you keep doing what you’ve been doing for the same people or, in many cases, the same organization (we’re modifying things a little bit here). Igor called this “market penetration.” The opposite end, a different offering for different customers, is called “diversification,” and as you might guess, this is wandering into new territory and is riskiest. You don’t know the customers as well and you might be as familiar with what you are trying to do.

The opposite line is either “product development,” offering something new to the people you know, and “marketing development,” offering what you already do for a new audience.

This question, of doing more of what you already do versus doing something different and/or doing it for a different audience, has come up a few times already this semester in my marketing class (we’re working with a small non-profit) and in my program overall.

Change is hard and scary and can even be expensive and even more, can push away your current customers or clients. But staying in the same place and working with the same people also has its possible risks.

Even if you;re staying put, so to speak, do your research. How long can you make this last? And if you’re ready for a change, know as much as you can about the new direction you’re going to take.

Thanks… your happiness is important to me and that’s why I do this.