A little creative inspiration for us all from the US Postal Service.

Last week I needed to mail a check. Yes, this sometimes still happens. I went to the drawer where our mailing paraphernalia lives and pulled out a sheet of stamps. And I paused. I was struck by just how artful, detailed and interesting the stamps were. Then my wife Dawn said, ‘Don’t use those. I bought those for Johann.’ (My son Johann is really into trains, as you can read about in Never Be Afraid To Ask For What You Want.)

The stamps that got me thinking.

As I examined the stamps in our Stampatorium, spending far more time engaging with them than I ever imagined I would, I realized the US Postal Service could teach a master class on creativity. Because they infused massive creativity into a space that required none.

These are current US Postal stamps, as of this posting. How cool are these? I mean, it’s the sun, and the sun is super hot. But the design and idea are way cool.

The Stamp

The postal stamp has no reason to be cool or interesting. After all, its only job is to tell the Postal Service that the delivery fee has been paid. It could simply say PAID, and it would have met the minimum requirement. Heck, it doesn’t even need to do that. It could be a black square that you put on your white envelope and that would serve as a signal that the fee had been paid.

America’s first stamp from 1847. I think that is the guy from the Ben Franklin Stores. Although it looks like one of the guys from the 80s Hair Band Reunion Tour, who is now in his 80s.

Pushing The Envelope

Instead, the US Postal Service has created an endless parade of tiny works of art to adorn our envelopes. They are ever-changing, covering every season, every category of honor and commemoration you can think of. And plenty that you would never have thought of. But don’t worry, the Director of Stampology at the USPS has spent a lot of time thinking about it for you.

Some Super Stamps

As a result, stamps not only are interesting to look at, they often tell an interesting story, or teach a valuable lesson, within the bounds of a one-inch square. In fact, they do such a great job, that people collect them, trade them and sell them. In fact, my head high school track coach, Tom Jennings, had an entire business selling stamps, that all started with a stamp collection he had when he was a kid. And the only reason a kid starts collecting stamps is that stamps are cool and collectible.

Why Hello Stamp!

The Big Question

The postal service saw an opportunity to turn a tiny, forgettable touchpoint into their hallmark. Which should inspire all of us to ask:

Which touchpoints could I turn into differentiators or signatures for my business or personal brand?

As the postal service has shown us, anything can become a signature element of our brand. Just look around. Find the most boring element within your brand, or within your personal ecosystem, and do something interesting and differentiating.

Beautify America though stamps and plants.

My Calling Card

Can’t think of anything? Call me at 614-256-2850. If I don’t pick up you’ll get my voicemail greeting which always has a non traditional message. In fact, people often text me and tell me they are about to call just to hear my voicemail greeting. Which means people call me who don’t even want to talk to me because I have made something boring interesting. You can do that too.

Key Takeaway

Find your special thing. The thing that didn’t have to be special. That usually isn’t. But that you made special. That thing will not only add joy, intrigue, or interest to others, it will make you more memorable.Which means that when opportunities come along, you will be thought of first.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

What is your Mount Rushmore?

South Dakota is an out-of-the-way place. It’s beautiful, but out of the way. Probably like you. Which is why the people of the state wanted to come with something to attract others to come see just how beautiful it is.

Doane ‘How you Do-ane’ Robinson had the idea to create Mount Rushmore. Ok, so they actually re-created Mount Rushmore. The carved it up and put the faces of American presidents on the mountain for national appeal. It was a crazy idea. And it worked like crazy.

Now, 2 million people each year make the the pilgrimage to far western South Dakota to see the great faces. In the process, many of them travel across the entire state, spending money at The Corn Palace, Wall Drug and some of the state’s finest prairie dog farms.

IMG_2990 2 

Mount Rushmore is an amazing marketing idea. It is a man-made attraction that attracts visitors and their spending money from all over the world. But anyone can do what South Dakota did. Whether you are a state (you are probably not a state), a city, a brand, a business or a person trying to attract more attention, you can create your own Mount Rushmore. 

You can create something interesting, surprising or intriguing. You can do something unusual or epic. Provide value to others. Give people a good reason to come see you, and they will come see you. They will give you their time, money and attention. Then give them a great photo op and they will help spread the word for you for free. #hashtag

Key Takeaway. 

Big ideas and big actions lead to big rewards. By thinking bigger you can draw people to you, even if you are in an out-of-the-way place. Like South Dakota (Mount Rushmore) or Waco, Texas (Mount Chip and Joanna). Just give people something interesting to see or do. And they will give back to you much more in return.

*If you know someone, someplace, or some brand that could benefit from this post, please share it with them.

Making connections: 3 things I do to make total strangers laugh.

I wish the world was funnier. Funny is one of the most precious commodities. If they traded funny on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange I am certain it would make people forget all about wheat, hogs and butter. I know of nothing that draws two strangers together faster than funny. Except maybe blackholes.

I am a naturally happy person. But sometimes I wish I knew more funny people who entertained me and made me laugh. I’m willing to bet that your life would be even more enjoyable if you knew more people that made you laugh more often too.

The workplace is the perfect place to get a good laugh. It provides a never-ending mix of new, odd and surprising situations. In fact, I want my ad agency, The Weaponry, to be the world’s funniest place to work. Meetings should be funny. Lunchtime should be funny.  The holiday party should be funny. I want to make this a place where we can laugh at ourselves, at the things we don’t know, at our mistakes and at the predicaments we find ourselves in. Finding the humor in our shared experiences helps us bond. And it helps us through the challenges and setbacks that naturally come with hard work.

I’m considering a policy that says that if you can make me laugh you get hired. The rest we can train.  Heck, maybe we can train the funny too. I’ve tested a lot of funny things over the course of my career. Not all of it hit the mark. But I have never been deterred.  I keep what works and tweak what doesn’t.

To that end, here are a few things that I like to do or say that are proven to make even total strangers laugh.

The Unpleasantry: It is common (and polite) in our culture to end an interaction by saying, “Have a good day.’ or “Have a great weekend!’ or ‘Have a good night!’ The expected reply is to simply repeat what the other person says. Or to say ‘Thank you.’ Or ‘You too.’ I prefer to say, “Don’t tell me what to do!’ That always get’s a laugh.

The Fritz Astaire: You know that moment when two people are about to run into each other, then both try to step out of the way, but they actually step in the same direction, so they end up taking awkward steps and getting nowhere?  I love it when that happens! It gives me a chance to say, ‘Thanks for the dance.’  That always gets a laugh.  Or I get punched in the eye by my new dance partner’s significant other.

The Family Connection: You ever notice how people introduce themselves by inserting, ‘My name is (NAME) by the way.’?  This is one of my favorite things.  I love to respond to this introduction by asking, ‘Are you related to any other Bytheways?’ It usually takes a moment. But laughter eventually follows.  Of course, I don’t distingusih between people laughing at me and people laughing with me.

I encourage you to find your own ways to make the world a funnier place. And if you find yourself with some really good material, please try it out on me. If you have skills that apply to advertising, all the better. The Weaponry is always looking for talented and funny people to akwardly run into in the hallway. Have a great day, Bytheway!

An easy way to make a memorable impression in the next hour.

 

I’m starting a new series called, “What are you doing with your blank?” I will pick a different blank for each post. You’re probably wondering, ‘What the blank is a blank?’ Blanks are the thousands of things in our lives that we could each make more interesting and distinct with a tiny bit of effort. Just ask athletes Ocho Cinco and Metta World Peace.

Today’s blank is: voicemail message. (So the question is ‘What are you doing with your voicemail message?’) Your voicemail message impacts your personal brand or your business (and probably both) whether you make an effort or not. Yet most people completely ignore these valuable messages. If you have chosen the default setting on your phone, you are hanging up on the opportunity to make a strong, favorable brand impression.

I’ve been having fun with my voicemail messages since they were called answering machine messages. Maybe too much fun. When I was in college, my roommates and I were recording an enthusiastic voicemail message at 4:00am, when Police Officer Buzzkill banged on our door to tell us they had received noise complaints ‘down at the Cop Shop.’

At The Perfect Agency Project we believe there is great value in unique, memorable or funny voicemail messages. Partially because they are so surprising. Our voicemail expectation are so low that it is easier to jump over the voicemail message bar than to limbo under it.

Last night I got a text from Monica Baer, a former coworker of mine from Cramer Krasselt.  The text read:

Hey, I’m going to call your vm so my kids can hear it :). Don’t pick up.

Does that happen to you?  Probably not. Could it?  Absolutely. Offer a message that will put a smile on your caller’s face. Make them feel important, give them a great quote, a piece of trivia or useful information. If you do, they’ll be happy they called.  Maybe they will even be a little disappointed when they get you instead of your interesting recording.

A memorable voicemail message is also free. It costs no more to create a great, value-adding, entertaining message than to leave no message at all. You can also update messages to match the weather, holidays or major events. You can tout business awards and successes. You could even use your voicemail message to tell callers about an interesting blog post you read about voicemail messages.

I often offer a voicemail promotion, offering a faster call back if the caller performers a specific request, like yodeling. I’ve asked callers to sing their voicemail messages. Think,  The Voice: Voicemail Edition.

Don’t be afraid to try. The great thing about unique voicemail messages is that they can be changed at any point. So try different messages and learn what works well for you and your brand. Just keep it relatively brief.

If you would like to hear my voicemail message give me a call. You can always text me first to tell me you want to hear my VM, so I know not to pick up. My number is 614-256-2850. Don’t be afraid to say hi. I look forward to your message.

What leaves the room when you do?

There are a lot of people on this planet. The last time I lined everybody up and counted them I tallied 7.4 billion humans. With that many people, all connected by the interwebs, you have a lot of options when you need a human. Whether you need an employee, a spouse or a plumber the supply works in your favor.

But we often find ourselves on the other side of that equation. We want to be employed. We want to be asked on a date. We want to snake someone’s drain. So how do we stand out in this 7.4 billion person crowd? It’s an important question that people spend far too little time contemplating. Yet I found a quote that states the answer quite succinctly:

Something special must leave the room when you leave the room. -Peter Drucker

Read that again a couple of times. (I’ll wait.)

Do you bring something special everywhere you go? You may have never thought about you in these terms. But you should. Over the next week I want you to think about what you bring to a room when you walk in. What do you add to the meeting, to the organization, to the relationship, to the overall value equation that others do not? What disappears again when you leave? If you can’t come up with anything you are a commodity. Our country places a very specific value on the commodity human. It’s called minimum wage. 

You’ve sat in meetings where there were too many attendees. You know there were too many because the meeting would have been exactly the same had one or more of the attendees not attended. On the other hand, we have also been in meetings when we asked, ‘Why are we meeting if Fill-In-The-Name isn’t here?’ You, my friend, want to be Fill-In-The-Name!

So what leaves the room when you do?

Here is a sample of the things you might bring to a room. Mix and match to create unique combinations. Or collect them all!

  • Energy
  • Experience
  • Connective tissue
  • Humor
  • Creativity
  • Compassion
  • Insight
  • Reason
  • Balance
  • Knowledge
  • Relationships
  • Trust
  • Positivity
  • Diversity
  • Know how
  • Spunk
  • Confidence
  • Reality
  • The wi-fi password

As you think about differentiating and marketing yourself The Perfect Agency Project reminds you that the same Principle of Specialness applies to all products and services.  What changes if your iPhone walks out of your life? Or your Yeti tumbler? Or your Johnsonville brats? You can’t simply replace these things with commodities without feeling you have lost something.

You and I both know you are not a commodity. But you must make sure that others clearly recognize the specialness you bring to the room. So reflect on your brand. What are your features and benefits that make you special. Focus on enhancing and augmenting them. Study the business and social situations you find yourself in. What isn’t there that you could add so that others miss you when you’re gone? I’ve always said that I never want to attend a meeting that I’m not in. Which sounds like something Yogi Berra might say. But if I can bring enough to the party that others are disappointed by my absences, we’re talking pure Drucker.