Thanksgiving Part III, RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING

relationships imageThis is the last of three articles devoted to the topic of thankfulness. Gratitude, I have learned, is a powerful tool for enhancing our lives, health and overall well-being. People who are thankful are happier and less stressed. They are less susceptible to the fears and distractions of modern, every-day life. As a result, they can be more productive, more focused and more creative – characteristics business people value in themselves and their associates.

Last week, I invited you to share how you go about making gratitude a regular part of your day, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. The responses were uplifting, and – to me anyway – not at all surprising. Everyone who commented expressed gratitude for the people in their lives, family and friends.

My good friend Grant, whose wit and wisdom I missed for about 30 years until our paths recently re-crossed, commented “I’m thankful for all my friends—both old and new—who remind me every day how far I’ve come and how exciting the journey is yet to be.”

If we let them, our families and friends can be a deep well of support and encouragement, not to mention joyful companionship. Sure, the people we’re closest to can make us nuts, but they’re also the most forgiving. I’m talking about people whose hopes for you – and belief in you – often exceed even your own.

Years ago, my parents lived on a small lake in Lolo, Montana just down the Bitterroot Valley from Missoula. They had a neighbor, Bill, who was one of the funniest, most creative people I have ever had the pleasure to know. He was a gifted mimic with a particular talent for dialects. Bill and I would riff for hours on our fictitious adventures in WWII (pronounced dubya dubya eye eye), and their profound relevance to the challenges of the day – such as smoking fish… “they’re so hard to keep lit.” We were hilarious. Trust me.

One day, Bill took me to a sports complex in Missoula in his vintage Datsun 240Z. I don’t remember if we were there for a pickup game of softball or to watch his young daughter or son playing little league. What sticks with me about that day is what Bill said just before we got out of the car.

I don’t think I ever knew exactly what Bill did for a living. I know he was very highly educated, had a lovely wife, JoAnne, and that they had two small kids. I guess I’m unclear about his profession because it doesn’t align with our mutual, earnest pursuit of silliness. Looking back, I suppose it was his scientist’s rigor and attention to detail that helped make our nonsense so much fun.

You can imagine then, how surprised I was when just as we were about to hop out of the car, Bill asked me to hang on for a second. “Michael” he said, “I have something I want to tell you. You’re a young guy. You’re going to run into people and situations that’ll make you wonder if you’re on the right track, make you wonder if you’ll ever be a success or if you even deserve it, but I wanted you to know that no matter what, I believe in you. Just remember that, OK?”

That was more than thirty years ago and as I write about it, I can still feel myself sitting in the black vinyl seat of his Z car watching Bill speak in a way that was rare between us. Without his characteristically mischievous smirk, Bill was expressing confidence in me that I didn’t have myself. At the same time, he was challenging me. He knew I had grand aspirations and that I would certainly face discouragement. But with the words “I believe in you”, he was also saying that I deserved to have big plans. That I would be failing myself (and him) if I settled for less.

Bill was more emphatic and specific than most friends and family generally are, but most of us have had people in our lives who made, or continue to make, vital contributions to the way we see ourselves and our vision for the kind of person we want to be. It’s a striking and beautiful thing. My conversation with Bill is emblematic of all the positive relationships I have had with friends, colleagues and employers and customers throughout my life.

All of the things we make & sell, the stories we tell, songs we write and sing, the technology we develop, places we go, and buildings we build. Everything is for and about people. Relationships are everything.

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, 2014, I was blessed to be spending the holiday with my wife, Cathleen, two daughters Halley and Georgia Mae and Halley’s fiancé Jake. Cathleen and I are the guests of my mother in law Laura, and we spent the day with my wife’s sister, Caroline and her husband Fred and my niece and nephew Phoebe and Tobin. Cathleen’s brother John is baking the pumpkin pies. I can’t begin to describe how great it was for me after a couple of years’ absence to be back in this familiar, loving company, and how cool I think it is that our family’s circle has now expanded to include Jake.

More than anything, Thanksgiving is for me a celebration of relationships. My relationship with God, with the people who are nearest and most influential in my life, and with the many people who are continually entering and changing my life. Thanksgiving is a time for reveling in the quirks and eccentricities we ALL have, and for learning to love our differences.

As I conclude this treatise on gratitude, I’m thinking about all the people who have loved, guided, mentored, challenged, supported and encouraged me all along the way. My relationships with these people, now and in the future, are the most precious things I will have in this life, and I am – now, forever and always – grateful.

How are relationships important to you personally and professionally? Where have you worked or done business where relationships are a clear priority? How do they demonstrate their commitment to building and nurturing relationships?

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Give Thanks. Grow Your Business.

ThanksThis is the second of three articles leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday focusing on cultivating gratitude as a proven technique for improving your mental, emotional, and physical health – with real life implications for your business.

As a businessperson, I can be as pragmatic and analytical as anyone, but for me the human dimension has always been infinitely more interesting and rewarding than the technical or statistical.

I fully understand and appreciate the necessity of a healthy, well-managed balance sheet, of continually studying work processes, cash flows and optimizing for efficiencies and outcomes. I get that tracking and managing technical competencies and measurable outputs are essential to running a successful company.

I also maintain that these are the structural underpinnings to the real business of business – people.

Peter Drucker once wrote “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Customers, I hope we can all agree, are people – people with families, passions, dreams and frustrations. You and your company exist to help these people solve a problem or realize an aspiration. How well you connect with people to make them aware of your company, attract their interest, make a sale and maintain a relationship depends entirely upon your – and your company’s – capabilities as a marketer.

These capabilities are, in turn, directly related to the imagination, intention, enthusiasm and compassion you bring to the relationship. Qualities that are all enhanced, personally and institutionally, by being grateful. Here’s how…

Imagination

A 2012 Forbes Magazine article titled “Employee Brain on Stress Can Quash Creativity And Competitive Edge” by Judy Martin, reports that “with more than forty percent of American workers reporting chronic workplace stress, the long-term impact of stress and its influence on the human creative condition and business can be detrimental, says Rick Hanson PhD,  a California-based neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.”

Research, much of it conducted by psychologist and leading gratitude expert Robert Emmons, has shown that people who feel gratitude are happier, report more life satisfaction, and also report less stress.

The conclusion is easy to draw. If you are grateful, you are probably less stressed. If you are less stressed, you are probably more creative. If you are more creative, you can solve problems and innovate more effectively. Pretty straightforward, huh?

Intention

Gratitude acknowledges the vital role that others, including our employees, suppliers and customers have played in the good things we experience in our lives and in our business. This simple act de-emphasizes the individual’s and the company’s internal focus (obsession), and places it where it belongs – on the people you serve and the people who help make it possible.

Enthusiasm

Just as gratitude can help alleviate stress, it contributes to better health and feelings of well-being. A 2011 Harvard Medical School publication titled “In Praise of Gratitude” reports that “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Whether you are the CEO or just joined the mailroom staff, you will approach life and work with more energy, optimism and enthusiasm if you are happier and healthier. How you lead, how you collaborate and how you serve are all directly related to your enthusiasm.

Compassion

When we are freed from the negative affects of the flight-or-fight instinct triggered by stress and we become more generous about acknowledging the contributions of others to our own well-being, it’s easier to be more accepting, less judgmental and more eager to please.

Companies and employees who are open enough to recognize the challenges faced by their colleagues and customers are less apt to resort to “it’s not my job” behavior. Tell me honestly, as a customer aren’t you happier when the company and the person serving you is genuinely interested in you, solving your problem of helping fulfill your aspiration?

If Mr. Drucker was correct, and I believe he was, the purpose of business is to create a customer. Then, at all levels in an organization, and at all times through the development and execution of business strategies, people are the object of all your intentions. A deliberate and ongoing practice of gratitude makes people – leaders, managers, and employees – happier, healthier, more creative and more helpful.

That’s got to be good for business.

I am extremely grateful for the readers who take a few minutes out of their crazy-busy weeks to visit this site. I’m also grateful to my wife, Cathleen, my daughters Halley and Georgia Mae and to many friends and colleagues for their support as I launch my new business, Michael L Morrison Marketing. I am truly blessed. Thank you all.

I get very few comments on this blog, so I’m making a special request this week in preparation for my Thanksgiving Day post next week. Please share what you are thankful for and what, if anything, you do to make gratitude a regular part of your life. I look forward to hearing from you. – Michael

 

 

 

 

Want More Out of Life and Work? Practice This Miraculous Technique!

gratitude7Sometimes, the best marketing is no marketing at all. Sometimes heartfelt gestures of gratitude engender respect and a deeper connection by reminding ourselves, our customers and our neighbors that we are all in this together.

Be sure to check out the videos at the bottom of this article.

In a couple of weeks here in the United States, we’ll observe Thanksgiving Day – a day first observed in 1789 according to a proclamation by our first president, George Washington. The Thanksgiving holiday we continue to celebrate was established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and made into law by Congress in 1941.

Thanksgiving, the act of giving thanks – of being grateful – is a profound act. In an article titled “Why Gratitude Is Good”, Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components.

“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

For me as an individual, gratitude means enthusiastically acknowledging my Creator as the author of all good things. It also means contemplating the gifts I have received and the lessons I have learned from people who have shaped my life and colored my journey.

As a marketing professional, I believe gratitude is best expressed in the ways we think about, interact with, and serve our customers. If gratitude is, as Mr. Emmons suggests, an “acknowledgement that other people…gave us many gifts to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” Then companies who embrace gratitude have a powerful incentive to “pay it forward”, to deliver superior products and experiences.

If a company honestly and deliberately internalizes the conviction that the goodness it has experienced is the result of gifts from others – its customers, its employees, shareholders and partners – how do you suppose it would affect the way the company communicates with and serves those same people?

Personally and professionally, an Attitude of Gratitude is for me the best way to approach business and the business of life. As we approach this season of thanks, my best wish for you is gratefulness that lasts all year long.

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Speaking of the season of thanks…today, I was exposed for the first time to what has become a holiday tradition in Great Britain, television commercials (adverts there) by UK retailers John Lewis and Sainsbury’s.

For 2014, these companies have created very different stories, but each evokes shared experiences of love and brotherliness that reflect the good will of the season. For me at least, these wonderfully well-produced commercials remind me of all I have to be thankful for. Enjoy.

Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advert

John Lewis’ 2014 Christmas advert

Do you do business with a company that really seems to be thankful for your business? How does that affect your experience? How does your company express gratitude? 

Beer or Innovation? I’ll Take Both!

Rainier bottlesEven the oldest, most straightforward business models are capable of innovation. Your company may never be revolutionary like Apple or become a category buster like Starbucks. But if you innovate by making small, often simple, changes you can alter the way your customers and prospects think about you and your products. No matter how staid or commoditized your business is, follow the three tips at the conclusion of today’s post and you will become an innovator, with all of the attention and revived interest that innovation creates.

I love beer. Leonard and Darlene, my mom and dad, owned a bar and adjacent pizza place when my sister, Susie, and I were kids. Some of my earliest, most vivid memories are of the people and patrons whose joie d’ vivre convinced me that the business of conviviality, in this case beer and places to drink it, was a worthy pursuit.

Though my memories of those days are fond ones, the work itself was grueling for my folks, so when my dad was recruited by the Rainier Brewing Company to run their sales operation for the state of Montana, he happily sold the business and began a long and extraordinarily successful career as the “Rainier Rep” in a territory that eventually extended well beyond Montana’s borders.

In those days, the Rainier Brewery was a prominent fixture on the Seattle skyline, perched right next to I-5 between downtown and the airport. At its peak, brewing and bottling took place 24 hours a day to feed the demand for the Northwest’s (certainly Montana’s) favorite beer. Even more remarkable than their iconic physical plant was the relentless energy they devoted to keeping the brand, like the product, “Mountain Fresh”.

Rainier experimented constantly with its product, packaging and positioning – ultimately leading to its becoming the biggest selling beer in the region, quite a feat in the Bud and Miller dominated days long before the explosion in craft brewing. Many of the strategies they employed are adaptable to all businesses. With a little imagination and the willingness to make the effort, any business can innovate. Here’s how…

Packaging

We all get used to thinking about our companies and the products or services we sell in a fixed way. After all, our customers aren’t asking us to change the way we present our wares. They have a need. We have a solution. It’s as simple as that.

But is it? At Rainier then, and other breweries today, they are constantly working on new packaging designed to intrigue and persuade customers. Maybe it’s a can that signals when its contents are cold enough or a 30-pack that consumers assume is a better value. At Rainier, they developed a truly unique bottle shape (pictured at top) unlike anything else on the market – then or now.

How can other businesses “repackage”? Let’s say you have a professional services company, maybe a law firm, and your practice has a specialty in business start-ups. You can bundle the competencies and services that apply to most start-up engagements in a way that conveys specialized authority, and makes it possible to target your marketing with new, more relevant and compelling messaging.

Product

Starbucks busted an age-old category wide open by delivering quality, accessibility and consistency with both its products and the customer experience. They’re also developing new products all the time. Whether it’s a new line of food, the addition of wine and beer in select locations, prepackaged beverages for retail distribution, or instant coffee.

At Rainier, they offered side brands like Rainier Ale, and at one point they even experimented with an alteration to the basic formula, developing their “Light, Light Light, and Not So Light” brews (pictured at top). This was pretty revolutionary at the time. Today’s craft brewers have embraced what is really an ancient brewing tradition, offering a variety of products to suit the season and a wide variety of tastes and moods. Even the mass brewers now recognize that new products, or spin offs of existing products are a potent way to drive sales and revenue growth.

If you provide financial, accounting or legal services, you might begin by thinking of your product as the clients’ experience. Unless you can or will do something your competitors don’t, then the only thing that distinguishes your company is the ease and satisfaction your customers experience in their interactions with you. If you can develop a whole new competency, great. If that’s probably not in your future, think about ways to make your company and its services more accessible, valuable and indispensable to your customers.

Positioning

Rainier did something back in the 70s that made it stand out in a really crowded and competitive marketplace. It became the fun, funny brand. With brilliant advertising across multiple media and a cohesive event and sponsorship strategy, Rainier achieved brand awareness that survives to this day.

The first two videos here feature hilarious musical treatments of the Rainier brand. The first is a wonderfully odd piano and whistling recital (check out the name on the piano) and the second is a take off on the old Lawrence Welk Show. Look close and you can see my dad, the dark-haired guy with the bushy mustache on the far right of the screen blowing the bass beer bottles. Way to rock it, Len!

It probably doesn’t make sense for you to position your business as fun or funny, but you can influence the way your customers and market thinks about you, especially as it relates to your competition.

Again, start with your customers. Understand why they trade with you and the problems they face. Explore ways to position your company as the one with a unique appreciation for your customers’ struggles and ambitions and be ready to change the positioning as your customers or business evolves.

Rainer Beer knew that good times and good beer went hand in hand. By positioning themselves as creators of good times, they earned a special kind of consideration from beer drinkers and became a best seller despite powerful and unrelenting competition. What positioning makes you the best, most relevant choice?

What companies do you admire for their innovation? Are there any companies in traditional businesses whose innovations have surprised or impressed you? What can you and your company do to reframe or refresh your company in the minds of your market?

Thanks as always for reading. If you made it all the way to the end, I really appreciate your patience with my long form content. It’s not the fashion, I know, but I hope you hang in there because you feel like you’re getting something out of my weekly observations, ideas and suggestions. If so, please like, comment, share and keep tuning in.