When I Don’t Know My Customer

I look stupid.

Really, really, really stupid.

I tried writing some copy for our customer base, and had someone in the industry take a look. They laughed and said, “I don’t think this guy knows what he is talking about or who he is talking to.” That stings, but it’s a good dose of humility.

Seth Godin says that the essence of marketing is “people like us do things like this.” But what happens if you *aren’t* one of those people? What happens where the culture and climate of who you are serving isn’t who you intrinsically are?

The first thing is to be patient. Falling in love, if done well, takes time. That’s why the liberal NPR host can marry the Trump-voting Afghanistan veteran, but maybe she wouldn’t think of him initially.

Second thing, is to realize that if you “aren’t” one of them by custom, you can become one of them by love. One of the most essential ways to love is to try to understand. If I try and understand something or someone, I begin to develop an appreciation or love for it.

There are basic ways to develop this love. For example: read the things they are reading, learn why they are doing what they are doing. Tell them you appreciate what they do. Figure out what things they need. Find out what their own “love languages” really are. This doesn’t mean you have to end up as one of them, but just that you have to seek them.

However, we cannot miss three essential points that will aid in understanding:

  • What does the customer want? No, what do they really want.
  • What is good about what they want? Think about it.
  • What is their internal motivation? Why do they want it personally / emotionally.
  • What is their external motivation? What functionally makes them want this.
  • What is their philosophical motivation? Why do they do it on a big picture? Can you speak to that?

If we don’t understand these things, then we cannot respond to their need. However, our understanding will be incomplete unless we have the motivation given by…..love.


Building Concensus: 7 Ways to Avoid Bad Decisions

Deciding between 2 people, is sometimes a wrestling match.

When making a tough decision, I follow the WRAP process, as articulated by Chip and Dan Heath in their book “Decisive.” I LOVE this book, because it helps me gain the confidence to decide about a myriad of difficult circumstances. While I can control the decision making I make on my own, I cannot control the other’s decision making process. Whether a spouse, boss, coworker, respected leader, etc, if I have someone’s attention, I am often painfully aware that they make decisions in a different way than I do. That is, unless I’m with Chip or Dan Heath (I’m guessing).

So, in my own decision making lifetime, here are 7 things I have learned to do in order to avoid making bad decisions.

  1. Run a good self-checkup.
    Are you hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or stressed (HALTS). You aren’t making any good decisions right now. “Oh, I’m fine…I just really want…or I just really feel…” Guess what, you have a lot on your mind below the surface right now. If you are like me, you have a whole host of feelings that float below the surface, and it takes a great deal of humility to say, “shoot, I’m not doing great right now. I need to get some perspective.”
  2. Nip your “fear-of-loss” in the bud.
    Fear of loss is always going to be more potent than opportunity for gain. When you fear loss, write it down in a concrete number / figure. Now place that number right next to the possibility of gain in a concrete number / figure. If your “fear-of-loss” figure feels more potent than the possibility of gain, then take some time in prayer or meditation to come to terms with this particular decision. Practice giving up control of all outcome.
  3. Make time to talk.
    Very little gets decided without concrete time to talk. Be up front and say, “Hey, I see we have a big decision to make, and it’s the most important thing in the world to me that we be unified in our decision. When can we find some uninterrupted time to talk about this?” That signifies it’s importance and the person’s importance to you in this process.
  4. Communicate early and communicate often about the process.
    I know this sounds basic, but communicate to the other that this is on your mind, and it’s really important to make a decision about it.
  5. Ask “How/when/where?” questions.
    These are the are the least emotionally charged we can ask. Ask “how are you planning to decide about this?” “When do you think you will know?” If you receive “I don’t know,” then their emotional circuits are blown. In that case switch to empathy. What can you see in the other person that you recognize. Fear? Stress? Overwhelmed? At least you can say, “Hey, I see that this is a difficult decision for you. Please let me know if you want me to listen to what you are thinking before any need to make a decision.”
  6. Understand the fastest.
    Realize whoever understands the fastest wins. Spend 10x more energy understanding “why” the other would want to make the decision the way they want to make it. Then if you think that they should change their minds, consider what new information they might not be aware of that would trigger them to reconsider.
  7. Write down the decision shortly after you make it.
    This should never be brought out, but write it down so that you have it in your mind clearly. That way, when you look back and say, “I decided this because of this,” you can say so with more peripheral clarity. Often our minds change and we see events in the past differently than we did at the time we made them. It’s called being human.

These tips can help you avoid unhealthy, expensive, resent-building decisions. That will make a much greater difference to you and your professional and personal relationships and you will be known for making decisions with greater integrity.


The Hermeneutic of Charity

It is very easy to assume the worst about another.

  • They didn’t show up on time? They don’t respect me.
  • They didn’t complete the project on time? They are lazy.
  • They didn’t communicate with me? They are arrogant.
  • They didn’t fulfill their commitments? They are millenials.

The list goes on, and on…and none of it is of any use.

What happens in life is that our expectations are constantly unmet. Always, always what happens is that something happens inside of us when our expectations are unmet. Some of us can react in resentment or anger, others simply never work with you again. Note, none of this has anything to do with the other person, only our response to them.


The most important thing to realize is the incredible amount of power or importance you have given another person who disappoints you. You had such high expectations for them, of course they would disappoint you at some time or another. Their disappointing you has absolutely nothing to do with them, it has everything to do with the importance you give them.

There are two tools that I would propose when you are dealing with these disappointments:

The first is confusion. Being confused is the most effective psychological tool, because it puts a pause on your amygdala’s fight or flight reaction. It allows you to gather more information, to see the information more clearly. Still mad? Stop, say the words, “I am confused.” That will help you diffuse your own anger, keeping you from going down a spiral of bad emotion.

The second is a hermeneutic of charity. Hermeneutics are how we interpret events or information. If I show up late, for example, it may be helpful to say, “I know that Alan knows that it’s important to be on time, since we talked about this yesterday. However, since I believe he is a good man and would do his very best to be on time, I’m not sure (read: confused) why he is late again. I am sure there is something going on with him or his family, and maybe even there is something I can do to help him.” This takes a great amount of humility to accept that you might not know everything at first.

It’s hard, however, when you don’t get to have those conversations. If you lose a job, it’s easy to resent your previous employer. They might be a two-faced spineless spawn of Satan, but you also get to undo the evil they have done to you by embracing a hermeneutic of charity. It will do far more for you than it will for them, and you will have new opportunities to love and to be understood much better in the future. That is the choice of love, and also the choice of hope.


What Story to Tell

When people ask to “tell me about your time in Spain,” what they are really asking is for a story. They want to hear a great story that puts them in the front seat of the sights, sounds, successes, failures, and above all the story that I went through myself. What I typically tend to do is present a bunch of jumbled up facts that don’t amount to much of a plot. But since my aim  is to be a story marketer,  I know that I need to obey the laws of “story.”

First of all, if I am in an interview, I am going to choose from the 7 basic story forms one that will be both appropriate, and put the great confusion of this time into a manageable framework. So, let’s walk down the list:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
    Yeah, there were monsters to overcome, especially Spanish bureaucrats, but that wasn’t the overall picture of what I was accomplishing. There was no major resolution after the monster was overcome.
  2. Rags to Riches
    This would work if I had gotten rich or had decided to make a life in Spain. It might be the story later, after I go from making near nothing to earning well.
  3. The Quest
    I didn’t have any particular quest in mind, except perhaps self-discovery and to help create a greater society in America by bringing back with me what makes Spain a great place (and leaving the bureaucrats here). Possible.
  4. Voyage and Return
    This is the land of Robinson Crusoe – a strong possibility. This is the voyage that always had the plan of return, and self-knowledge is gained and the disorder in the world is resolved as a result of the voyage. Let’s see.
  5. Comedy
    This is where things that are normalized become chaotic, but eventually become righted again at the very end. This righting is usually the result of some self discovery or some self-knowledge. This is another strong possibility.
  6. Tragedy
    There has been some tragedy while here, but that isn’t the main arc of my time in Spain, nor do I think it’s a particularly appealing plot device for an interview. Skip.
  7. Rebirth
    I certainly have undergone renewal, and would say I am a different, more confident man at the end of this experience, but I didn’t have to sacrifice myself at any point. There is no willing giving up of self in order to have a new life in a new way. Skip this for now too.

So, that brings us down to two strongest options, Voyage and Return and Comedy.

To decide on this, I am going to go for what I think an interviewer wants to hear in particular, “why do you want to work for our company?” This means that making the plot point of “self discovery” to be the key moment (no matter where it falls in the plot), is essential. Therefore, the choice is simple: the story I tell to an interviewer should be a comedy since its form has a stronger connection to this self discovery moment.

Okay, one other thing, how does my “comedy” plot fit into the story marketing framework? If the client asks me the questions, how does that help the client be the hero? Well, keeping in mind that my job is to be more master Yoda and less Luke Skywalker, so I need to give my credentials.Even Yoda says, “For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi.”

Therefore, the story needs to give credibility for who I am and what I can offer.

Alright, this week, I’m going to try and tell my story of my time in Spain as a comedy. I’m gonna make it short, and try and tell it 5 different ways, all using the comedy framework. That’s my promise to you!






Goals Update: 1st Quarter

I am a big fan of goals, because they let me take control of the long-term goals for my life.

Here is what I mean:

Every year I spend time in self discovery, asking the big questions about who I am, what I want out of life, and what my greatest hopes and aspirations are. I have HUGE dreams, but know that I need a plan to get there. That’s where goals come in. Goals are the technology that allow me to reach a long term dreams that I have, because they allow me to move big things little by little. In addition, success for me has never been purely financial, it has always been according to the wheel of life proposed by Zig Ziglar and many others. That is to say, we need to be successful in every area of our life in order to live a life well. This means, Financial, Physical, Personal, Family, Spiritual, Social, and Career.

Here is what I do practically:

  1. Refine my big dreams / visions for my life.
  2. Create 5-year goals in each category, based on my big dreams / visions for life.
  3. Create 1-year goals in each category, based on my 5-year goals in each category.
  4. Create 90-day goals in each category, based on my 1-year goal in each category.
  5. Every week, create a goal list that corresponds to the 90-day goals.
  6. Check in each week with a friend / accountability partner, to watch myself not only accomplishing goals during the week but also see how I’m moving toward the 90 day goals.

So, with a serving of humble pie, here were my 90-day goals for the 1st quarter.

Financial: 3/3
• Update Quickbooks with all relevant banking information. (Win!)
• Submit taxes. (Win! And in both countries!)
• Determine if there is a better way to use miles / such for flights. (Win! Note, there wasn’t / didn’t have enough miles.)

Physical: 0/2
• Start food journaling (No.)
• Track workouts (Nope.)

Personal development: 2/3
• Finish the digital marketing certificate on iMBA. (No. Made progress, but didn’t get it)
• Organize reading list to hit 5 books. (Win!)
• Get linked in posts done. (Goal changed slightly, but I’m calling this a win!)

Family: 1/2
• Finish Christmas letter 2015 by February 2nd. (No.)
• Backup all files. (Yes, actually! Chose OneDrive over Dropbox for a variety of reasons)

Spiritual: 0/2
• Focus on finishing The Way on iPieta. (No.)
• Begin novena for work. (No.)

Social: 1/1
• See friends at least 1/week. (Yes!)

Career: 2/4
• Finish cover mailing for ____ company. (Yes! )
• Finalize list of 30 companies in Eugene / Portland (No, did some work, but didn’t get it really refined)
• Begin mailing campaign. (Had a lot of changes that  made me cancel this.)
• Purchase Plane tickets 54 days in advance. (Yes! With great success.)
• Schedule interviews. (Again, cancelled.)
• Finish “You majored in what?” and work through the process by the end of January. (No. Amazing what it takes to finish a book. Sheesh!)

Since data visualization is nice, here is a radar chart so I can see how i did in each of the areas.



Now, just because I didn’t make a “spiritual” goal doesn’t mean I wasn’t spiritual during the quarter. I attended mass and prayed more times than I can count. But I did mean that I didn’t make my goal with respect to that.

Alright, I’ll have 2Q goals up tomorrow.




Herding Cats a.k.a. Marketing Leadership

I am not a “cat guy” purr-say, (sorry for that)  and it’s not because I don’t admire nature’s best-built killing machines, but rather because they are a bit messy. We had a cat growing up, and I quite liked her, though as my sister says, she was “purely decorative,” i.e. it was very difficult to discern her as a being separate from the box and heating pad that she sat on all winter. In fact, she sat there for so long that the fur on her belly all but fell off from the heater. Poor thing. But I digress.

In Chris Locurto’s recent episode on “how to lead a people person” he hits some real key points on how to approach people who tend to be much more focused on the relationships they are in than accomplishing the tasks. In particular, marketing tends to attract these “people people” like moths to a lamp. To my mind this isn’t a bad thing, but it presents a challenge. Marketing people, like cats, are often going in all different directions, and they can be very difficult to focus. They have so many ideas and there is a lot of rapid change, no wonder the can’t sit still. Add to this the constant distractions of smartphones and social media, and you will have the quintessential marketing associate who gets things done, but remains unorganized, doesn’t meet deadlines, focuses more on talking with others, and doesn’t necessarily work great with his or her team. In essence, you have me five years ago.

It takes a lot to admit my own shortcomings, but looking back I can now see that two things were at work. First, I wasn’t in an environment that helped me focus. For a leader, this is a quintessential aspect of focusing people persons. This means that there needs to be established moments and times for focus and drive forward. Small competitions to see who gets the most done in an hour can be extremely effective. Also, making sure that the workplace is free of distractions, making expectations for cleanliness and organization part of the weekly if not daily routine can be huge.

Second, I didn’t have the right moments to brainstorm and stimulate. I think that every marketer would be happiest brainstorming for at least an hour on Monday mornings. That way they start the week of happy, energized, enthused and excited that their own creative energies might affect the outcome of their life, success, projects, everything! In addition, those Monday morning meetings can be made fun, with coffee / treats, with any news from over the weekend, with reminders of what the 90 day plan is.

Third, don’t “expect” them to work with others, “guide” them to. Regardless of personality style, depending on one’s maturity and confidence, many people can be very shy. It takes positive collaborations to really build understanding between two people. That is to say, “people people” tend to work with “people people,” but that person might not be interested in working with a cranky, though talented, graphic designer who is politically and personally diametrically opposite. Common ground can always be found, but it takes concerted effort to figure things out .


Fourth, ask good questions. Marketers love to be asked “what” but they need to be asked “how.” This is the challenge that is presented to them and allows them to use their creativity. The usual conversation goes, “Wow! I love that idea, but how do I get there??” Then the marketer is inspired because you took his “what” and you challenged him to make it concrete. You will watch the wheels turn and move forward. Also, if they say, “I don’t know,” then they are effectively saying that the idea doesn’t mean so much to them that they are willing to invest their hearts into it. That is good for you to know because then you wont make them work on projects that don’t inspire them, and also it allows them to feel heard and invested in the team, regardless of whether or not the project goes forward.

Fifth, a wall of creativity! Your marketer needs to have an opportunity to display half-done, interesting though not necessarily useful, integrative and inspiring material across a variety of media. In addition, they need to have a wall of recognition, when they earn serious accolades from colleagues and staff for their best work, which moves from mere creativity to serious value and utility. This doesn’t need to be an official awards / voting process, it just needs to be an idea that was adopted that made the company money.

These are just a few elements that I have found helps move your people person marketer to a team that is focused on goals, and has an unleashed level of creativity.









Why They Aren’t Listening to You

I have someone in my life who is a terrible listener.

He loves talking about himself, his interests, life, work, hobbies, on and on and on. And sometimes, when he asks something about me I get kind of dazed, and I’m not really sure what to say. I erk out lots of “uhhs,” and “hmms..” and unconnected, abstract comments about what I am doing and what my thoughts are on life. However, I realized something very important: I am terrible at telling tories.

Often times we feel passed over by people who are excellent storytellers. We may resent that these people are the center of the party and fan themselves with the accolades they receive from others who are charmed by their soothsaying. We may become resentful of the attention these people receive, and get resentful that others aren’t fawning over us on account of our life experiences. However, this isn’t their fault. In addition, we might be upset that we listen attentively but they glaze over when we speak. While this might be rude, the fact that they are uninterested is not a slight against me, it’s only a statement that it’s really hard to make them pay attention.

Here is the key point: I need to clarify my story.

Clarity is that from which psychology cannot escape. Our brains are on a desperate quest to use as little energy as possible, and we are not likely to spend much time investing ourselves into something that does not engage our minds. In addition, the folks at storybrand.com have pointed out that our brains have been conditioned for many thousands of years to respond to stories. Even in the most crazy times of our fast-paced, mobile life, stories seem to come through. That’s why someone will have no time to call you back, but be willing to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The great thing about stories is that they fall into what you might call 7 basic plots. There is even a book about this by Christopher Booker (ironic last name). But even these seven plots can be boiled down to only 1 basic plot. Again stealing shamelessly from StoryBrand: You have a hero, who has a problem, he meets a guide who gives him a plan, that the hero takes action on, and leads him to either great success or tragic failure. Let that sink in for a while, or seriously, go visit storybrand.com.

I will leave with just a few more insights: The first is that everyone is the hero of their own story. In order to get someone to listen they must first realize that you are telling a story in which they see themselves as the hero. You are not your hero, your customer is. In your story, anything that doesn’t relate to the basic plot of what you are doing is of no use.

The second, is that when you speak, you are generally not telling a story. I can tell you all manner of details about life in Spain but that doesn’t matter in the least unless it’s put together in a story that communicates something, that solves the problem, or that appeals to a key interest you have, it doesn’t have any momentum.

Third: Telling a story is a performance.  A performance can create momentum. And that momentum is extraordinarily valuable because it draws others in and keeps their attention. You don’t have to be an extraordinary story teller, but any good story teller knows a few things that will draw you in. Basic techniques in performance: eye contact,  posture, tone of voice, vocal pauses, are the elements of good communication. You don’t need to be a master, but you need to start using them today.

Third: When you are listening, you aren’t listening for the elements of the story that the person is telling you. This is important because it clues you in to how this person sees themselves as the hero. When you are getting to know someone, it’s great to ask “where are you from,” “what are you doing these days,” but are you prepared if someone were to tell you, “I’m from Tattoine and I am here to undergo Jedi training after my only living family was destroyed by stormtroopers.”

Try this next time, repeat their story back to them, and tell them that you love their story. Then show them how they can be the hero in the story you are about to tell.