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Give the Occasional Unexpected Extra

3 Apr

I was exiting a parking garage I frequent not long ago, on the first day of Spring, and was surprised to see the attendant out at the exit gate. (The garage uses a ticket system, so typically the attendant is in the booth awaiting the occasional confused patron or gate malfunction.)

When I got to the gate, the attendant said, “Happy Spring!” and handed me a small pack of Skittles candies. The package had a sticker on it that read:

Penn Parking Welcomes Spring! Thank you for your support!

As corny as it sounds, that made my day. And it wasn’t even a bad day before that.

But it’s that little unexpected extra. It makes a difference in spirit, but costs little. In this case, each packet of Skittles cost maybe a dime. The cost of the stickers was probably less than a penny each. There was a little time in making them and sticking them on. But that’s it. My guess is, most of the parking patrons that day were as happily surprised as I was. Something like this, as minimal as it is, can be the difference in a customer coming back again and again.

KISS Love Gun toy

One of KISS's many surprises in their 1970s albums: the cardboard pop-gun included in their "Love Gun" album.

It reminds me of when I was a kid in the ’70s and eagerly awaited each new KISS album. One reason was that they were masters of what I’m talking about. Each album had something special in it—stickers, a poster, a surprise of some sort. While many bands do something of the kind now, KISS was nearly alone in this at the time (and largely mocked for their commercialism).

So, what can your business offer on occasion, your own little unexpected extra that customers and clients would remember and tell others about?

Bon Jovi Celebrates 50th Birthday Today

2 Mar
Jon Bon Jovi in the 1980s and now

Jon Bon Jovi, then and now

A 50th birthday seems like a good time to reflect on your life so far, and Jon Bon Jovi certainly has nothing to regret in terms of accomplishments. He’s led one of the most successful rock bands for over 30 years, which has sold well over 100 million albums; he’s amassed a net worth of roughly $120 million; he’s received acclaim and awards for his solo albums; he’s enjoyed cross-over success on a number of songs; and he’s had a bit of fun dabbling in television and film acting.

And the fruits of his labor have extended to charitable ventures as well. He started the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation in 2006 in an effort to help America’s homeless, hungry, and poor. Then in late 2011, with his wife and personal chef, he opened Soul Kitchen, a “community restaurant” in New Jersey to offer those with little or no money the chance to enjoy better food through a “pay what you can” model. (The food is mainly donated by Whole Foods, with much of the vegetables grown on the property.) The concept allows people with low incomes to enjoy a restaurant meal that’s not fast food, while people with more means can pay a suggested price, or more, to help those who can’t. Incidentally, Panera Bread has been successfully operating several restaurants under the same model for a few years.

Bon Jovi exemplifies a number of key traits that mark every successful entrepreneur:

  • Hard work—He is a noted workaholic among his band and peers, diligently tending to his music business and other ventures.
  • Ethics—He doesn’t use his industrious nature as an excuse to run over people, treating those around him with due respect, especially his band mates who as a result have mostly been with him since the beginning.
  • Brand management—His flagship venture, his band, has been handled magnificently over the years, perhaps only matched (at that level) by U2, AC/DC, and Aerosmith. Though his and the band’s look and music has evolved over the years to keep up with the times, their core values have not. Bon Jovi’s middle-class, blue-collar, Jersey roots still run through all that he does both on stage and off stage; he never relocated to Los Angeles and adopted a Sunset Boulevard lifestyle.
  • Leadership—Aside from his solid ethical grounding, his band members attribute their loyalty to his leadership. He has a strong vision for Bon Jovi (the band) but has also allowed the others their creative room to breathe in side projects. He’s demanding, and yet doesn’t expect his band mates to share his workaholic nature.

Though he’s now eligible for membership in AARP, it’s highly unlikely Bon Jovi will be retiring anytime soon. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if he has another 50 years of meaningful contribution to music, business, and society in him.

Entrepreneur or dabbler?

14 Dec

One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make is taking on too much at once. Or I should say, taking on too much before you’re successful at one thing. This is understandable because, after all, the DNA of entrepreneurs compels us to start stuff. The problem, though, is the confusing message it often sends out to the world, as well as the dissipation of energy and attention.

I met a woman a few years ago who was selling custom scarves online, writing a book, looking to start a cafe, and getting her real estate license. I forget what else she mentioned. While I commend her Renaissance spirit, purely from a business standpoint (and she did say she wanted to be financially successful, not just have fun) she was making it harder on herself. My guess is, few people at the party where I met her walked away with a clear idea of what this woman’s about, other than being a dabbler.

If her pursuits where all under one brand umbrella, then it might be different. Conceivably, she could tie two of those ventures together, like selling custom scarves and opening a cafe, but that’s about it. The book could tie in, if the intended reader were very much within her target audience for the cafe and scarves — but that would still be pushing it.

The point is, 99% of the time, success comes to those who focus on a very singular pursuit to the exclusion of other opportunities or interests. I think this is a major, unspoken challenge for many budding entrepreneurs. We tend to think that if we throw enough stuff against the wall, something will stick. But look at the stories of successful entrepreneurs (and rock stars), and you’ll see this is not their story. Mark Zuckerberg was very singularly focused on making Facebook a success, as was Gene Simmons with KISS. Jeff Bezos started Amazon as an online retailer only selling books, while Bono helped start U2 to only make great, socially conscious music.

The good news is, you can keep your additional interests and dreams close to your heart, because success in one area will open doors later in others. Amazon now sells everything. Bono promotes and participates in many ventures. Gene Simmons has a TV show. And Mark Zuckerberg is trying to tackle problems in the U.S. education system. Not likely, however, that any of them could’ve achieved their additional (and possibly more meaningful) successes without having focused on making their first venture successful.

What’s in a name?

8 Dec

Perhaps nothing needs to be as unique to any band or business as its name. And the name must be memorable. While having a longer name doesn’t necessarily mean people will forget it, nearly every successful band has been wise enough to choose names of only one or two words (and businesses would be wise to learn from that).

Spelling helps, too, whether intentionally misspelled (Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, Linkin Park) or simple to spell (Rush, Yes, Kid Rock, 311, U2). “I like our name because it’s easy to spell,” said Ric Ocasek of the Cars. Likewise, guitarist-vocalist Paul Stanley is credited with coming up with the KISS name because it was easy to remember and spell. (To make it more prominent in text in the era of the typewriter, they spelled it in all caps.) After all, if your name isn’t easy to remember and communicate, how will it be easy to spread the word?

In fact, more-complicated names will often evolve to shorter ones as people naturally seek to make them easier to say and remember, such as FedEx (once Federal Express), IBM (International Business Machines), and Nabisco (National Biscuit Company). Fans often refer to Led Zeppelin as simply Zeppelin, Black Sabbath as Sabbath, and Iron Maiden as Maiden. As with IBM, popular, long band names often became acroynms—Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO), and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (ELP). More often, however, bands with long names simply don’t last. For every They Might Be Giants or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, there are many that never made it (and still, both bands’ names are often shortened to TMBG and CYHSY).

Sometimes, it’s hard to come up with a name, though. And with the dominance of the Internet making a good domain name important to your brand effort, you need a name that’s truly unique in order to find a dot-com name that’s not taken. Look all around you for inspiration. Names often come from the most unlikely sources, but if you don’t keep your eyes open, you won’t see it even if it’s right in front of you. Here are some sample rock band names and their inspirations:

  • Lynyrd Skynyrd — Based on a high school teacher named Leonard Skinner.
  • Spandau Ballet — Graffiti on a bathroom wall.
  • Grateful Dead — Jerry Garcia saw the two words next to each other on a page and they jumped out at him. (LSD can cause that to happen.)
  • Pink Floyd — Despite rumors that it’s a phallic euphemism, the name actually came from two blues musicians: “Pink” Anderson and Floyd Council. Interestingly, Pink Floyd originally went by the name Meggadeth, almost twenty years before the metal band Megadeth.
  • Fleetwood Mac — In 1967, guitarist Peter Green and drummer Mick Fleetwood decided to start a band in place of the one they were in and wanted the bassist, John McVie, to join them. McVie wanted to remain in their existing band, however, so they successfully enticed him by naming the new band “Fleetwood Mac.”
  • Seven Mary Three — It’s been misinterpreted as having a Biblical meaning, but it actually came from the 1970s’ hit TV cop show CHiPs. Officer Jon Baker’s unit number was 7M3, called on the police radio as “7 Mary 3.”

But be careful your inspiration isn’t unattractive, difficult to remember or say, or already taken:

  • In the film That Thing You Do, the Oneders had to change their name to the Wonders because their manager (played by Tom Hanks) was finding that people didn’t know how to pronounce it.
  • The Doobie Brothers were originally named Pud.
  • Audioslave found out their name was already being used by another band in England, so they paid the English band $30,000 to use it. Ironically, they were later panned by critics for having an “assinine” name that was “one of the dumbest” in recent history.
  • Chances are, Sex Maggots wouldn’t have become a multi-platinum band if they hadn’t changed their name to Goo Goo Dolls.
  • And grunge may not have taken the rock music scene by storm in the early ’90s if the bands Mookie Blaycock and Pen Cap Chew hadn’t renamed themselves Pearl Jam and Nirvana, respectively.

So, what’s in a name? Sometimes everything.

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