Posted by: brandextenders | December 2, 2014

There Aren’t Many Famous Accordion Players

See if you can guess this musical celebrity: He played the accordion as a kid, but wanted to be in a rock band (nope, not Bruce Springsteen). Had his first big hit on MTV in 1984, a time when they actually played music videos. He sold 12 million albums between 1974 and 2007. His latest release, Mandatory Fun, is the first comedy album to reach #1 on the Billboard charts in more than 50 years. Give up?

His name is Alfred Matthew Yankovic, but he much prefers the moniker he gave himself, Weird Al Yankovic, the king of parody songs. From Michael Jackson to Madonna, The Eagles to Eminem, Green Day, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, Weird Al has parodied them all. And the weird thing is, the artists he parodies feel honored.

What is it that makes this 54 year-old still relevant after three decades of taking other people’s creations and making them his own? Someone who is still hitting his stride when many of those he parodied have faded into oblivion? There are several keys to his success, keys which all of us would do well to take note of.

  1. He’s polite. Yankovic would never consider giving a song his treatment without first asking the artist permission. And all, with the exception of Prince, have been happy if not thrilled to have him do a number on their songs. For the original artists, a Yankovich parody in essence says they’ve made it.
  2. He’s not original. Let’s face it, he takes something that is usually already a hit and puts his own spin on it. So much of what we see in the world today is just that, someone taking a product or service and adding a twist to it, to make it that much better. While that may seem like cheating, almost every product in our lives is not the same after 10, 20 or 50 years as it was when it was created. Would you want to be driving a Model A Ford today?
  3. He knows how to adapt. His first hit, “Eat It” was huge in 1984 because MTV played it over and over again. But in 1984 PC’s were brand new, there was no Internet, cell phones were the size of a suitcase, social media hadn’t been created and word-of-mouth meant a friend told a friend, usually in person. With his latest album, Mandatory Fun, Yankovic released one song and video a day for eight days across a range of what he calls “Internet portals.” His record label told him they couldn’t afford to make videos for this release, so he went to these portals and convinced them to fund the videos if they got exclusive rights to release them.
  4. He loves what he does. He says he would have laughed if someone told him 30 years ago he’d still be making parody albums today. While money most certainly plays a role in his career, he is still having fun at other artist’s expense because he loves it. It’s his passion and the perfect job for him and he says he has no plans to retire…ever.
  5. He’s humble. One of the most thrilling moments of his life was years ago when he was invited to a party in Hollywood for Paul McCartney. He was told there was no way he would meet his musical hero, but once there he wound his way through the throng and tapped McCartney on the shoulder. The legend turned around and said, “Oh, Weird Al. Look honey (to his wife Linda), it’s Weird Al.” Yankovich was stunned that McCartney would even have a clue who he was.

Life changes rapidly these days and if we are to stay relevant and engaged, we have to keep up and continue to learn, change and adapt. Given the first 30 years of his career, I suspect we’ll see Weird Al doing parody songs on artists yet to be born. Perhaps they’ll be holograms or some future technology yet to be invented, but chances are he’ll find a way to keep us laughing.

Posted by: brandextenders | November 24, 2014

What’s Your Joy?

(I originally wrote this piece eight years ago and re-publish it each holiday season because of all the requests I get for it. It seems a good time of year to look for the joy in our lives and find ways to show it to others on a daily basis. Sadly, our friend’s mom who was the inspiration for this article passed away several years ago, but her passion and memory lives on in my mind.)

Elaine Feder's Smile

Elaine Feder’s Smile

We sat in the dining room of a friend’s home, having just finished a delicious and filling Thanksgiving meal. My wife, our two sons and I had taken a road trip to Florida to visit friends with children the same age as ours, albeit girls. Our friend’s mom, Elaine Feder,  a former dance instructor and now in her late 70s, sat across from me and it was she that asked the question, “What’s your joy?” One by one, we went around the table as she queried each of us, looking for an answer that came from our hearts.

For one of us, it was traveling and being able to help others go to the places she had been. Another told us reading was his passion—and taking naps (one with which I could strong identify!). Yet another loved woodworking and spending time in his shop creating things others would use and enjoy.

When she got to me, I answered, “My joy is my family and the time we spend together as I realize how, before we know it, our children will be grown and gone.” She responded that family should be a joy, but she probed deeper, wanting to know what lit my fire and what was it inside of me that sparked passion? I told her I loved to write and touch people’s hearts with the words I strung together to form the articles, stories and plays I create. I told her I also loved to teach about our industry and help others understand what a diverse and creative medium it is.

What this wise woman was hoping to do was to get me—and all of us around the table—thinking about what brought joy to our lives and how we could tap into it more often.

The sad part is that to survive in the work-a-day world, the majority of us have suppressed those things that make us passionate. Many have so repressed the things that bring them joy they can’t even tell you what really gets them fired up. In each of us though, no matter how deeply we’ve buried it, there is a passion that if brought to light and developed can not only make us happier as individuals but also bring joy to others as well.

Your work may be your passion, but chances are it is not. You may love to paint pictures, play an instrument, work in your garden or cook—and odds are you do this outside of your job. But why does this have to be?

I have a friend who is very good at sketching and has turned this love into a career by drawing people’s homes in pen and ink. She then sells these pictures to homeowners to frame for their walls and for putting on note cards, holiday cards and other things with the house prominently displayed. She loves what she does and is able to touch people’s hearts with the artistic gifts she’s been given.

So how do you go about finding your joy, your passion? Here are a few steps that may help:

  • During some quiet time in your life, ask yourself what you consider fun? What do you get a kick out of doing? Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, says, “Imagine you’re at a party and you overhear someone talking about a subject that fascinates you, one that makes you want to join in the conversation. Ask yourself, what would that subject be?” Also, think back to your childhood and try to remember what you enjoyed doing back then. Chances are if you were passionate about something as a child, it’s probably something you can be passionate about as an adult as well.
  • Determine your talents. Take a sheet of paper and brainstorm those things you enjoy doing and at which you’re good. We all have things we do that we enjoy and at which are skilled, but if you have trouble listing your gifts, ask those you trust what they think your best skills are. These might include sports, artistic endeavors, working with your hands or being mechanical.
  • Find the significance in your current work. Stephen Covey, author of the bestseller The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, suggests asking yourself three questions:

1. Do I like what I’m doing?

2. Am I good at it?

3. Does the world need it?

If you’re passionate about something, but the world doesn’t need it, chances are you’ll eventually get frustrated. But if you’re really good at something, enjoy doing it and it’s something the world needs, what a chance to make a difference and earn a living at the same time. I truly believe we choose our career paths intuitively. If you can come to understand why you’re on the path you are, you’ll become empowered to make future choices to do the most good for yourself and the world around you.

Let’s face it, you’re going to spend tens of thousands of hours working during the course of your life, so why not spend that time doing something that will leave a positive imprint on those people and things you touch?

One of my passions is continuing education, and I agree with Oprah Winfrey who said, “Education is freedom.” As a result, I take classes on a regular basis to advance myself and had been working with Junior Achievement to teach business skills to 7th and 8th graders. These kids learn about science, math and social studies through a core curriculum, but business skills are something they may not learn until college, if then. I realize these kids won’t take what I teach them and become the next Bill Gates, Ted Turner or Fred Smith (founder of FedEx); but I pray I can reach just one in each class and touch something inside that one to help make a positive difference for the future. The key is I don’t know which of the kids I’ll reach, so I treat them all as though they are the one—and who knows, maybe one day I will reach them all!

What Brings You Joy?

What Brings You Joy?

Finding your joy and a way to share it with others, as your life’s work or a hobby, is an adventure that can bring bountiful rewards. To me, it’s what life is all about, the reason I’m here and why I wake up each day excited about the opportunities I’ll encounter. That’s not to say it’s always an easy adventure, but what in life that’s worthwhile is easy? Katherine Graham, owner and former publisher of the Washington Post, sums it up for me, “To love what you do and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”

Posted by: brandextenders | November 12, 2014

Why do you go here?

I was driving home from an appointment recently and needed to pick up a few things for dinner. Normally I’d go to the store by my house, but happened to pass a Fresh Market and decided to stop. As soon as I walked through their doors, I felt at home. It was a sensual blast of nostalgia, warmth and visual enchantment.

I started thinking, what is it that makes a brand stand out from its competitors? How do you create an atmosphere that makes a customer want to

Do the brands you love value you?

Do the brands you love value you?

visit and buy or even hang out? There are many reasons and I came up with five that seem to ring true for most of those brands I love and trust.

  1. Culture: Brands we love grow on us over time and become part of our lives, almost like friends. Top level management must create a culture where employees are hired and trained to reflect the brand’s values at all times. A culture must exist that pulls us in and makes us want to return. It starts with the CEO and works its way down to every employee through training and passion.
  2. Consistency: If the brand is brick and mortar, strictly online or both the experience needs to be the same with each and every customer interaction. The coffee at one Starbucks must be the same from one to the next. The layout at each Apple store must be similar and the environment at every Fresh Market must remain the same. We’re creatures of habit and consistency makes us want to return to a favorite brand time and time again.
  3. Emotional Connection: In physical stores a brand can activate all the senses in their customers. In my Fresh Market example, the smells were of cinnamon and fresh-baked bread, soothing music played, people offering samples of food and I could touch items I might like to purchase. Internet stores don’t have this advantage, but can use colors, content, sound and the way they display their products to make that connection.
  4. Understanding their customers: Brands must understand who their customers are to ensure they create the atmosphere to make that emotional connection. Age, income, geography and more must all be understood if a brand truly wants to create an atmosphere conducive to building loyalty.
  5. Convenience: Internet stores have an advantage of being open 24/7 and always ready to greet their customers. For brick and mortar stores, convenience doesn’t mean a store on every corner. I will go out of my way to find the store of a brand I connect with knowing the experience will be worth perhaps the extra drive time to get there.

Seth Godin wrote, “A brand’s value is merely the sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose, the expectations, memories, stories and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.”

 Starbucks, Amazon, Zappos, Apple, Disney or ? Tell us what brands you love and why?

Posted by: brandextenders | October 6, 2014

Five Myths on Using Promotional Products

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear these terms: trinkets and trash, swag, giveaways, tchotchkes? Junk with a logo on it, right? Cheap pens, useless products with a logo, T-shirts you wear to do housework? Unfortunately, many companies purchase promotional products with no thought as to recipients or what those people might find useful. Thus myths are created, which I will debunk below.

How long the average promotional products are kept.

How long the average promotional products are kept.

People don’t keep promotional products: At some point in your life you’ve been given an item with a logo on it from a cheap pencil to candy, a key ring, tote bag or padfolio. The myth is people dump this crap in the trashcan however a study by the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), an industry for-profit association, shows people on average keep these branded gems for six months. Awards and apparel have the longest shelf life at close to eight months with writing instruments (a fancy name for pens) the lowest at just over five months (hey, they run out of ink or you lose them). Further evidence shows only 16% of people throw promotional products away while 66% pass them along to others, thus extending the life and branding opportunities of these gifts.

Cheaper is better when it comes to promo products: Given people tend to keep these products for a measurable amount of time, does it make sense to give people the cheapest product you can buy? The study shows eight of 10 recipients will keep a product they feel is useful. That’s not to say that cheap products don’t have their place, but for longer lasting results, investing in items that are practical will yield better results. Useful means different things for different people so take into consideration your audience, their lifestyles and items that make sense for them. Investing in the right promotional products will, in the long run, offer a long-term impression for your branding message.

Promotional products don’t leave a lasting impression on recipients: In the world of media, CPI, or cost-per-impression is the measure of how effective a medium is. While it is somewhat more difficult to determine the CPI of something as fluid as a promotional product, the study shows tote bags, caps, writing instruments and apparel offer the highest exposure to multiple people given their visibility. More personal items like USB drives, health and wellness products and food products deliver the lowest number of overall impressions, but make personal connections with the recipients. Before purchasing a branded item, companies should decide on the connection they want their product to have and whether it should be more personal or be seen by a wider audience.

Marketers can’t track the effectiveness of promotional products: Those dang marketers feel it’s their job to be able to track the effectiveness of their campaigns, so the myth persists promotional product effectiveness can’t be quantified. While it’s true handing out something with a basic logo can’t be tracked, there are easy ways to change this.

  • Add a QR code or specific web address to your products that takes the user to a special landing page that only those with your products will access specifically for that product or campaign.
  • Add a call-to-action. Print an offer on your product that will give the recipient/user something if they respond. It could be a discount on their next purchase, a gift with purchase, a buy one, get one offer or anything else that only those mentioning the product or offer can receive.
  • Print a phone number on the product with an offer so you can count the number of calls received in response to that offer.

Promotional products don’t generate new business: It’s easy to see why this myth persists. Why would someone you give a product to do business with you? The study shows when consumers were asked how likely they would be to do business with a company they hadn’t done business with previously after receiving a branded item, 31% said they would. Products that make it more likely the recipient would do business with the advertiser include logoed apparel (53%), USB drives (43%) and tote bags (42%). Unique items and uniquely branded items tend to make the recipient more likely vs. a cheap pen or food products.

The conclusion is promotional products are a unique and effective way to keep your brand and message in front of those you would like to do business with. While some forms of media are seen as an interruption (i.e. TV and radio ads and those pesky pop-up ads on the Internet), promotional products become a part of one’s lifestyle and are seamlessly used and reused over long periods of time. There’s a reason the tagline, “Products that remain to be seen” has been successful in busting these myths and making promotional products a media presence to be reckoned with.

Posted by: brandextenders | August 20, 2014

Simple is as Simple Does

Simple Menu

Simple Menu

I was in California not long ago and had the chance to stop by one of my favorite fast food joints, In-N-Out Burger. What I love about this restaurant is the simplicity of its menu and business model. If you want a chicken sandwich, don’t go here. If you want a salad or onion rings or tacos, don’t go here. There’s a reason the word burger is in their name cause that’s what you’re going to get.

The first In-N-Out was opened in 1948 by Harry Snyder and his wife Esther in San Bernardino, CA. It was tiny and the very first drive-thru hamburger stand in California. Their vision then is still the restaurant’s passion today, “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”

So what is it that makes this chain of 299 restaurants a place where customer loyalty is almost a religion?

  • Their menu is basic and uncomplicated. Double-Double cheeseburger, hamburger, French fries, shakes and soft drinks. That’s it. Because of the limited offering, the chain can focus on quality and consistency.
  • The restaurants don’t have freezers, heat lamps or microwaves. Everything is literally made to order and you can watch it being made through a large waiting area window that looks into the kitchen. Even the French Fries are cut one potato at a time.
  • The restaurant starts employees in California at $10.50 per hour, well over the minimum wage, as well as offering vacations and a 401K plan and as a result is rated as one of the best places to work. Employees are loyal and hundreds of people wait in line to fill out applications whenever a new location opens.
  • They have a (not so) secret menu that’s not printed on their menu board. A few hints are 3 x 3, 4 x 4, Animal Burger, the Flying Dutchman and On the Sal. You’ll need to do your research to figure these out, but that’s part of their allure. (hint: take a look at their website)
  • This burger mecca must be special because they have an online store where you can order all sorts of products with the In-N-Out branding. T-shirt anyone?

For me I’m at a point where I want my life to be simpler. I know, simple life is an oxymoron given the complexity of everything we contend with on a daily basis. But the success of In-N-Out Burger with such a seemingly simple menu means as companies and in our personal lives we don’t need to be all things to all people. We can make a very nice living and lead a satisfying life by getting down to the basics, keeping it simple and focusing our energies on our core strengths.

As David Myers, chef of Los Angeles French Brasserie Comme Ca says, “It’s fast, it’s hot, there are code words — what’s not to enjoy?” I’ll have a Protein Style with Animal Fries and a Tea-Ade to go. Don’t you just love secret codes?

Posted by: brandextenders | July 30, 2014

What is Old is New Again…Even in Sales

Restored "Doc" & friends

Restored “Doc” & friends

I’ve always loved aviation and saw a story recently about a restored B-29 Flying Fortress named “Doc.” She was one of 4,000 B-29’s built during WWII, but after the Korean War Doc sat for decades in a California desert and was used by the military for target practice. Recently restored and flying, she truly brings to mind the saying what’s old is new again.

Sales people are always looking for the newest mantra to generate more sales, find prospects, close deals and make money. But the story of Doc and seeing the stats below from Referral Squirrel got me to thinking. First the stats:

  • 2% of sales are made on the First contact.
  • 3% of sales are made on the Second contact.
  • 5% of sales are made on the Third contact.
  • 10% of sales are made on the Fourth contact.
  • 80% of sales are made on the Fifth to Twelfth contact.


  • 48% of sales people never follow-up with a prospect.
  • 25% of sales people make a second contact and stop.
  • 12% of sales people make three contacts and stop.
  • Only 10% of sales people make more than three contacts with a prospect.

How many of us in sales bang our heads against a wall always looking for new customers and never understand the statistics above? Maybe we reach out to new prospects a few times and then move on looking for greener pastures. These stats should not be a surprise and have probably always been true. Sure, there may be times when you stumble on someone ready to buy today, but most people want to buy from those they know and trust and that takes time.

So if you’re looking for a sales advantage, note the two highlighted numbers above. 80% of sales are made on the fifth or higher touch points and only 10% of sales people ever make more than three attempts. More touches won’t guarantee more sales, but fewer touches will certainly guarantee fewer sales.

Posted by: brandextenders | July 11, 2014

Life, Liberty and a Birthright to Happiness

I love history, especially American history and the more I read and study the American Revolution the more amazed I am by our founders. The Declaration of Independence is a brilliant document in so many ways and set our country on her path to greatness.
thepursuit 2The second paragraph of that document starts with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the entitlement to happiness.” Oh wait, that’s not right, is it “life, liberty and the right to happiness?” Actually many people wish this inspiring document said that because they could then blame others for their lack of happiness. The fact it says “the pursuit of happiness” is somewhat annoying to many who would like to shrug off the minor detail that they are responsible for their own contentment.

It was Thomas Jefferson who added this line in the Declaration and if you Google the term “pursuit of happiness” you will take a mind-boggling journey down many paths and explanations as to the reason and meaning of this term. It seems Jefferson believed if you cultivated close friendships, limited your desires to the essential necessities of life, and rejoiced in the moment, happiness was yours to keep. That’s a far cry from those today who claim their right to happiness means the government supplies them with anything they want and desire at the literal the expense of everyone else.

We all have the right to pursue happiness, but there is no right to be happy. Happiness comes from within and it is up to each of us to decide what will truly make us happy and to pursue a course in our lives that will bring that about. I like the quote from Dennis Waitley, a well-known motivational speaker and author who said, It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit.” Thankfully we have the right to pursue happiness in whatever way we choose, but there are no guarantees in our Declaration that we will achieve it. And that’s the way it should be.

Posted by: brandextenders | June 23, 2014

Don’t Try This at Home

Try to do this with a pen.

Try to do this with a pen.

Here’s an experiment I’d like for you to try. Take a pen, any pen, and try to stand it on its end. Go ahead; balance it so it is standing on its own. Try the other end and see if that helps.

So what happened? Were you able to balance it? Did you try harder to make it work? Chances are no matter how hard you tried you just couldn’t make that pen stand up on its own.

Standing a pen on its end is an example of how you either do something or you don’t. Sure, there are some things where trying harder might make a difference, but for the most part we either decide to do something by setting a goal or putting our all into it or we don’t. When I hear that someone tried to do something I usually assume they didn’t want it badly enough to “Just Do It” as the Nike slogan says. And believe me, I am just as guilty of this as anyone.

Your mortgage company, power company or Internet provider don’t want to hear you tried to make enough money to pay their bill. You either pay it or you don’t. Same with life, you either make the decision to do it…or you don’t.

As John Yokoyama, owner of the famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle said, “There is no state of being called “trying.”

Do it or don’t or try. The choice is yours.

Posted by: brandextenders | June 9, 2014

Are You Optimistically Cynical or Cynical Optimist?

That may sound like an oxymoronic headline, but it’s true. We’re all endowed with both optimism and cynicism, but usually one becomes dominant over the other as we mature. Do you always see the glass as half-empty? Are you like Lilly Tomlin who once said, “No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.”? Or maybe you feel like the comedian who noted, “I’m not cynical. I’m just experienced.”

If you see yourself in the comments above, then you probably won’t believe the study published in the most recent edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. That study shows people with high levels of cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism. Earlier studies have also shown that cynics have a higher rate of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular problems, cancer-related deaths, premature death and overall poorer health.

sad-happyShould that surprise us? It doesn’t take a big leap of faith for me to connect cynicism and negativity with poor health. Nor the opposite of better health being associated with optimistic people. Would you rather deal with an optimist or a cynic? While I’m certain there are some wealthy cynics, I suspect research would show that positive and upbeat people are much more likely to become wealthy and be happy with their work and lives.

It’s true the world we live in is a stressful place where cynicism can become an easy sedative to disengagement, but I have to believe optimism and a positive attitude will always trump the cynic. Cynics say, “Life sucks then you die”, but I prefer the quote from Winston Churchill, “For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use to be anything else.”

The choice is yours

Posted by: brandextenders | May 29, 2014

What Would You Do Differently?

Here’s the scenario: Just shy of a year ago I was referred to a woman at a Fortune 500 company who’d just taken over a new position. Part of her job was purchasing promotional products in large quantities for scores of managers to use as gifts for customers and prospects. We met on email, then over the phone and finally in person to discuss her needs and how best I could assist. Over three months I pulled together ideas and samples, created virtuals of what their logo would look like on a variety of products, all for a meeting where managers could choose the items they liked.

Sales is not for sissies.

Sales is not for sissies.

The meeting came and went and the date she had given me for ordering also came and went. I reached out via email and phone calls, very few of which were answered, and I did my best to stay in front of her in hope some of the business she promised would come our way. After six months one small order arrived with promises again that she would be ordering in the next “few weeks.” Then nothing.
I finally sent an email I reserve as a last hope, where I ask if I have done something wrong or misunderstood the situation. I don’t whine, but simply ask for feedback in case I have done something unintentional. Still nothing. I decided to send a handwritten note basically saying the same thing; apologizing for any unintentional gaffs I may have committed. I marked the case closed and moved on knowing that things like this happen in sales and often there is no logical reason.
About three weeks later I received an email from her apologizing profusely and saying things had taken much, much longer than anticipated and there were still some large orders she would be placing and planned to keep me busy this summer. That was almost a month ago and I’ve heard nothing more, but will keep my fingers crossed and hope we do get an opportunity.
If you’re in sales, how do you handle this kind of situation? I know many people would have given up after a few unanswered attempts, but if nothing else I’m persistent. What would you have done differently? Have you ever had a sales situation like this? I’d love to hear your comments below and I know others can benefit from our collective wisdom.

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