Saturday, 30 August 2014

The first thing a man looks at

... in another man are the shoes.

For they are a very quick giveaway of the social and financial status. 

Our mind has developed these shortcuts, to cut through the clutter of how a man is trying to market himself - to what he is

This is a story about personal marketing and human instinct. 

If tests forever show that we humans tend to be more friendly to someone who drives a luxury car, it's not just the car that does the trick. 

For everyone can have a Maserati. All you need to do is skip that plan to buy a house, forget about annual holidays or an Ivy League education for the children or a protection and insurance plan for the whole pack. We assume though that the man in the Maserati has all those things in place already.  

Consequently: 'He can even spend so much money on a low priority item. Just how secure must he be'? 

This is not mere superficiality. It's our own protection plan: 'Phew, with this person we can relax. He won't be asking me for cigarettes, money or to buy the drinks. He won't be asking me around midnight if he can sleep on my couch, or run away with my wallet or suck up to me for unknown reasons. He's stable and what you see is what you get. Maybe he's got good business contacts for me, or it might be a fun evening ending in a pool party in a luxury villa. At any rate, there's no DANGER. I can let my guard down'.  

The car becomes a pars pro toto for a life. One attribute conjures up a whole set of possible qualities or advantages.  

The same applies to the shoe-issue. It's the last thing on our own radar, and thus the most handy giveaway on the radar of the other.  

For when it comes to his appearance, the average man will first focus on his face. Having the money for the dentist, getting that mole removed, and to be neatly shaved. Only then he turns to the wardrobe. Shirt, tie, jacket, slowly trickling down to trousers, belt - oh, wait, the watch doesn't go with this, now the smartphone is out of tune and then - oh, wait, studies show that with a branded shirt people are nicer to you, etc. 

And shoes come at the very end. They are those things you jump in when you're half way out the door.  

And thus, you think you look like - and feel like - a walking Dollar-sign, but your shoes are from the Chinese shop around the corner and there you go, the very first impression is: 'poor'. 

Even if the conversation partner is lightyears away from thinking in financial terms, there might be a feel of 'something doesn't click'. He wants to appear financially stable, or hip, or trendy - whereas he clearly isn't. In what else is he being insincere? Or it's simply vague intuition that kicks in: What's wrong with this picture? 

The other way around, you can forever wear the same sun-bleached T-shirt and jeans, but with high quality shoes that first impression can tip in your favor again. 

Still not superficial? 

Well, if every rabit would want to study that eagle from up close, really know the personality and background of that fox, there wouldn't be any rabit left. 

Until further notice all personal and professional marketing and survival techniques alike are very much about the facade. 

And since we know that too, and have passed the phase of relying on it, we develop ways to cut to the chase. To pierce through that facade. 

We dress ourselves up for eyes, but eyes are only one tool: our instinct makes the final decision. 

Any moment in time is an attack on our senses, an avalanche of information, forcing us to see or meet hundreds of people, while our rational brain also has to balance our personal, professional, short term and long term goals, our temperament, our mood, our thoughts, budget, social norms - it's a miracle we don't end up in a straitjacket. 

Hence why we tend to instantly zoom in on what might be deciding factors. So, you've got a Rolex, the right iPhone and right branded shirt - that don't impress-a-me much. Those are the tools of the magician to make you look in the wrong direction. 

Hence why a website converts a visitor into a client in 7 seconds. Hence why we don't read a website but quickly scan it.  We are scanners, all the time, everywhere. 'Is this picture consistent'?  It's merely a survival technique. And only if the result of that scan is positive, we open the security fence.

'Good shoes. He's someone who is really secure, or has got a sense of priorities, of what part of the body needs quality and which one not, he's NOT trying to dazzle or fool us or put up a facade, not a brand-addict nor a snob, I feel I can trust this guy'. 

Do you need to buy good shoes? Well, a shirt is not likely to ruin your body or health. So, yes. Are you so confident you couldn't care less what someone else thinks of you?  Great, that's worth more - and more appealing - than anything else. 

Does your business depend on impressions and you notice your conversation partners seem to be reluctant to convert into clients? 
Invest in quality shoes.
And then, naturally, in those other extremities of your business persona: your business card and website.

Those last things on your mind, often are the first ones for others.

It's the reason why your website can have 20,000 visitors a month, but only few of them convert into clients. 

There's something wrong with the shoes. 


Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Ice Bucket Blackmail

One can only revel in the success of the year. Now here's a marketing campaign that takes social pressure and peer pressure to new heights.

Either you pour cold water over yourself, or you donate money to a charity of my choice. Those are your options, friend.

Yes, you can dedicate one day a week to help out a Cancer Charity, have a standing order to donate on a monthly basis, adopt an elephant, help every homeless person you see while being cautious you only buy ethical products and are careful not to waste energy in between the moments you are not rescuing abandoned animals...

What? You don't want to throw cold water over... and not donate either? Spoilsport! Unethical person. Weirdo. Intellectual. 

How lovely the feeling you've not only had a fun moment, saw your number of Facebook Likes climb to 50, had the opportunity to show yourself without shirt or in a glossy setting - while knowing you've done a good deed, and you're excused again for another year.

It's called slacktivism. Activism for the lazy. Or as a study puts it: people who share a charity or cause through social media are much less likely to donate or actually do something. They are rewarded with the feel they do so.

Don't get me wrong. Grossing 80 million dollar, not to mention a whole generation suddenly knowing the acronym ALS - how fantastic is that? Whether it's emotional blackmail or not, the equivalent of a chain letter or not, only the fun game of the moment or not, people who were in need have been helped.

And, after all, all marketing and sales strategies are based on our human fear not to fit in, not to be liked, not to belong to a tribe, and our permanent wish to have a great front door, be it through liking the right music, carrying the right smartphone and wearing the right Brand or driving the right car. Things we can be seen with. 

Let's just hope that the hype of 2015 will be about millions of people saving water, actually caring or setting aside 4 hours a week to help a charity, or better still - ensuring that charity is no longer necessary.

I cross my fingers for the moment it becomes fashionable to ask each other: "At what charity are you working every Saturday"? 

This is the real achievement of the Ice Bucket Challenge: that even the many negative reviews out there still help, since they too raise awareness, make other charities profit in the slipstream, and start a social debate. 

And now we're used to it, let's all start just taking cold showers. Imagine the energy we save by doing that


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Commercial Web Design in Tervuren

There's a convention that says: to be successful as business you need 20% skill and 80% sales. 

That would mean we'd better all get a degree in Sales and then, in the weekend or so, also study a skill. 

Another convention talks about 50% skill and 50% playing golf.

And for sure there's a convention somewhere saying you can't market yourself with a photo of you smoking. 

So much for conventions. 

I'm not a sales person, I'm a marketer

That means: the person opening the door towards the market

The sales person stands in the door and converts the visitor into a customer: the task of the marketer is to get that visitor there in the first place

So I don't play golf, I'm not one to go to network events and I definitely don't start cold calling. With as result that I've got customers from Dubai and Cologne, but not a single one in my home town of Tervuren.

I market my Web Design skills. Selling only occurs when the phone rings.

It's Not Done to be seen smoking in an advert, so I do it. For my own business I love the Zig-Zag Theory of Marketing:

'When all web designs go to the left, you go to the right'

For sure, few businesses have that luxury. For in the first place one needs to cater to expectations. And cater to the largest common denominator of the target market.

It's only one of these advantages of very small businesses: there's no chain of command, no never ending decision process and one can be astonishingly flexible and quick as silver: surfing on the waves of the expectations and fashions of the day itself. 

In such a case, sales is not necessary. Marketing is a very uniform world, where everyone wants or does what the competitor is doing - so just working with the Zig-Zag Theory is sufficient for me.

(It also helps that being a bit subversive or creative is accepted, even expected from web designers - and that Tervuren is close to Brussels, which rings more bells to international clients).

And so every business has its very own marketing potential 

The one hurdle being: detecting it.

What is that one marketing strategy that will attract the right customer, over online competition, with the highest potential at the lowest cost or least effort? 

My convention: marketing is 80% thinking and 20% work.

To be good at marketing, you need to be good at knowing humans.
Those humans that are your target market.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Customers buy your Brand, never your product

Your reputation. Your image. Your story. Your gloss, so to speak. 

All that drives sales. Far more than your actual product. 

The blind coke test is a classic: test upon test upon experiment upon experiment shows that participants always prefer Pepsi Cola. When they can't see the label. Whereas if you put two branded bottles on the table, it's the Coca-Cola one that will be empty most quickly. 
Now  a test in Sweden with 100 beer lovers went one step further. Here the participants could simply not distinguish Heineken and Stella.

And here we're talking 2 brands that are hugely defended by their consumers, at least those from Belgium (Stella) and the Netherlands (Heineken).

Once again the approval or disapproval seems to stem from social confirmation or social training - or what one within the tribe is told to be better. 

If you hear 10 times that Italian is such a beautiful language, chances are higher that you start to focus on the beauty of some Italian words - your radar focusses on that detail you've been told about. Whereas if you've heard (and we all did, for 7 decades in movies) German described as harsh, the 30-odd harsh words in that languages are instantly picked up.

Back to the beer test:

It must be said that neither of the participants were Dutch or Belgian. "Come on, this can't be true" was the reaction of a Belgian newspaper, "for sure we Belgians will know the difference". But a similar blind test at their redaction showed that it was not that easy. And here we're talking about a country that religiously defends, almost reveres, it's most popular brand.

For marketers that have studied cultural determination, it's not a big surprise. For the same applies to basically everything.

"French is a more beautiful language than Finnish". Think again. If the opera's had been written in Finnish, or it would have been Finland forever repeating it's language is 'better', or parents would motivate their children to speak it as eloquently as possible, we would all say that Finnish is 'so musical, so elegant, the real language of love'.

For you will be on the look-out of nice tones and words in one, and strange or unfamiliar ones in the other.

Hence why German went from the cultural language of the great composers, poets and scientists, to being the 'ugliest' or 'most unpleasant' language, to a slow restoration again. 

Languages, just as products, are Brands. They have established their reputation in the market, or market share so to speak. Once riddled with French expressions, most European languages have gotten rid of them again, for they lost their hipness or reputation of being cultured, to replace them by, first, German ones and, over the past 7 decades, English ones. That too will pass.

Everything is a brand. It does not matter what our topic of conversation is, Apple, Italian or Abercrombie & Fitch: the best Brand will be the market leader. 

The one who knows that packaging is not just about a glossy ribbon. The story and myth are equally important. And social confirmation is used to kick the ball in the goal.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Grand Hotel, the TV series you love to hate

Spain has given the world more than 5 other countries combined. 

You'll probably reach middle age before you know all dance styles, all music styles, all languages, all subcultures, all food, all world class literature, paintings, that handful of great movies - and feel the need to also study another country (nope, no chauvinism here, this is a Dutch-Belgian speaking).

TV is SO not part of that success story. 

If anything, more often than not Spanish TV is a complete reputation killer.

Those that do have theatre in the genes (the Italians, Britons) can sometimes look at it and think: que? Why is there no build-up or cool down? Why is one emotion not carefully crafted upon the other? Is this a rehearsal? Just a paella of emotions, without further reason, roots or purpose?

And, dammit, it's a pity for there are flashes of brilliance. 

If I were Spain, I would heavily invest in a certain TV series. Take it as seriously as some other countries do. If only as an economic tool. 

England has proven just how profitable and advantageous that can be for a country: the Queen and Period Dramas alone put it on the radar of tens of millions of tourists, investors and CEOs of multinationals alike.

Sure, other countries can't sell that hyper popular product of 'quint-essential Englishness', a source as profitable as the oil of Shell.

I exaggerate. But only for sake of the argument. As a marketing tool 'Downton Abbey' might not attract mass tourism, it does attract a classy or affluent tourism though: those who visit museums, dine out, buy literature, and spread the message to others. Jane Austen is not a mass product, but has the same staunch, educated, rock solid following of Rolls Royce.

Such were my thoughts when I noticed I started to want to speak Spanish better... because of a soap opera.

Pardon, a shampoo opera, for this takes the basics of a soap opera to a whole new level. Compress all the scheming of 3 seasons of Downton Abbey into 5 minutes, and you've got 'Gran Hotel'. 

After the success of the former, it's no surprise also this Spanish TV series is taking the world by (calm) storm. Sure, it is set in 1905, in a Grand House, with a clear division between Upstairs and Downstairs, but that's where the similarities end. 

For where Downton Abbey taps into that winning product of Englishness (say 'English series' and you already know what to expect and are already amused by it), Grand Hotel obviously can't.

It's only set in a luxurious hotel for it wanted to be set in a luxurious hotel, and not because there was a need for it, or to tell something about society or our history or to makes any other connection on a deeper level.

And where Downton Abbey introduced a plethora of true, warm, breathing personalities, characters you recognise in your own life or would wish to know, 'Grand Hotel' has none. From script writer to director to the actors: everyone seems to have been given an urgent order to please not waste time on building a character, not even a caricature. 

This is where I would intervene. As minister of Culture I would call the minister of Finance out of bed: "We have a unique opportunity here! Free all money you've got for the very best script writer we can track. Someone who can really build a personality and a moment. For all other elements are there. It's a once in a lifetime chance to put Spanish TV on the map, not just of Spanish speaking audiences but the whole world".  

In the mean time, we have this suspicion that we are supposed to root for waiter Julio Espinosa and heiress Alicia Alarcón to come together, but we don't. We couldn't care less. They're merely contracted as eye-candy, human shaped creatures that stride from restaurant to gardens, without any genuine or understandable human emotions bar dubious morality. You watch them now, and they're forgotten the moment you switch off the TV.

In this general war on character creation there are only a few flashes of hope: for example fellow-waiter and faithful friend Andrés often is a credible, likeable and consistent character: a person that could actually exist

Every once in a while our limbic brain also manages to organize some sympathy -  quite an achievement in this series - for unlucky sister Sofia Alarcón. After which any empathy for any character goes down the drain again for many, many episodes on end. 

But, but, but... BUT... how beautiful that eye-candy! 

How gorgeous the eyes, how magnificent those gardens, the costumes, the art-direction. It all shines and sparkles as a, er, luxury spa hotel in 1905. 

And then there are the 5 intrigues per square inch! How anyone even dares to whisper in that hotel is beyond me: it's a guarantuee that someone is eaves-dropping, while someone is spying, and the spy is being shadowed by a murderer. 

It is so over the top there should be an Olympic medal for it. 

And yet, and yet: country after country is purchasing broadcasting rights, and who will start watching will do everything to switch off the TV but, damn, will not be able to do so. For it is simply THE guilty pleasure of 2014. 

Everything and everyone is attractive in this series, superficial and exterior attractiveness that is, forgotten the instant the end titles start, but the 50 minutes before are sheer joy: a 'pleasure for the eyes'

Keep on doing that, Julio Espinosa and Alicia Alarcón, Javier, Belén, Andrés, Teresa and the Doña of whom I always forget the name - for whatever you're doing (creating a story? thinking about creating a character one day?), it's fun. Costume and Art Direction - maravilloso.

One very big extra push, minister of Culture, just one more push.  


Friday, 1 August 2014

Which of the 2 Spains will break your heart?

The Sanguine part or the Choleric part? 

The finger snapping one - or the austere, hard faced nobleman? One of the 2 will. 

Either the bull or the torero.
The only question is: who? 

Who will it be: 
The Don Juan or the Carmen?  

The left or the right

One of them will, there's no shadow of a doubt. 

It will be swift, fully unexpected, under third quarter moon. The dagger is already casting its shade on the wall of the church. 

The Spain of the Flamenco or the one of the Paso Doble - who will it be? Heart or balls?  One can ruin you, the other haunt you. There's no middle ground. At one point or the other the Spain Stockholm Syndrome will hit.

Maybe protect yourself and see it through fog. Stick to the coasts and the tourist hot spots. So you will not be damaged and your emotions will never alter. 

Otherwise you will  complain about it and sigh about it and gossip about it and cry about it and curse it and make a thousand plans - and then stay. 

For you're handcuffed, caught between Cap Finisterre and Nec Plus Ultra. Your head is no longer in full control: you've heard the call from heart and balls. You're hearing the voice of Plato over the lecture of Aristotle. A world of shadows outside the cave. 

You're ruined. You're spoiled. You're no longer studying life, you let life study you. You've found the switch on the control panel: bye bye neo cortex: you provide security and well maintained lawns: that's your task and nothing more. 

Who cares who breaks your heart? Someone will have to. It are not birth or death that define our lives, it are the first and the last heartbreak. 

Caminante, no hay camino. All roads lead to Rome, except if you accidentally took a road to Hispania and then a path towards its heart. Then there's no turning back. You're in a straight line towards the very last heartbreak.