Archive for Differentiation

One of these things is not like the others. | How to ensure your MC fits in

Some say that you learn all you need to know during kindergarten. If this is true, one of the biggest lessons for me was Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the others” segments.

In these segments, four items are shows; three are related to each other in some way, the fourth is not. Your job is to determine which is not like the others.

Part of what I enjoyed was also determining how the other three were related to each other.

Despite this early life lesson, and Sesame Street’s over 4,000 episodes since 1969, it seems some have still not applied this learning to the key moments at their events.

HiResI’m referring of course to the Host or Master of Ceremonies (MC) who is out of sync with the flow of the keynote, whose jokes are falling flat, and who is not like the others. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen it at least once. It makes us cringe, cover our eyes, or shake our heads in confusion.

Some feel an MC or host is essential for introducing presenters, covering housekeeping announcements, or making sure executives are not “reduced” to these chores. In some cases, the role is needed or the experience improved as a result of having one. But like comedy (an unfortunate place many MCs tend to go even in a serious keynote) hosting is not easy.

But an MC gone wrong can be far worse to the sense of Place, Purpose, and Pride than asking someone associated with the hosting organization or the audience to fill this role.

Another childhood experience may lend some guidance on how to make sure the MC does fit – the circus. The Ringmaster serves as the Master of Ceremonies at the circus, helping direct the attention of the audience from one stage/ring of the big tent to another, but they are much more.

Like the Ringmaster, MCs fit best when then they are:

Authentically Relevant and to the story and experience: Traditional circus Ringmaster have a big top with several performance areas (rings) where performances take place. Their relevance to the performances (and the audience) is to direct the audience’s attention to the right performance. Their creditability came from the fact that they are the leader of the circus – it’s performers, performances, and story.

Modern circuses like Cirque de Soleil still point the audience’s attention and string together the performances, but in a new form. They appear in the form of a character(s) more woven into the storyline, who interact with the audience and the story. They bridge the two. Their connection to the audience is increased by being part of the story as well as the audience’s guide.

Today’s new program hosts are different from anchors in the past who read the news. News hosts today are part of the storytelling, direct the discussions, and act as the “voice of the audience” in asking the questions the audience might if they could. Hosts at award ceremonies are often relevant as they are from the industry such as actors hosting the Oscars or Tony’s; journalists hosting a press core dinner; your parent’s hosting Thanksgiving.

If your host is not relevant to the story, the experience, or the organization putting on the event, they may not be a good fit.

Recognizable to the audience: The audience should be able to recognize the host – if not as an individual, as a persona or type.

It’s best for the audience to recognize the individual as they do when they tune into the favorite sporting event and hear the long time announcer. However, even in situations like a corporate event, there are ways to “introduce” the host prior to the event, and show their relevance to the audience.

Whether an outside professional MC, or an employee within an organization, using social media, videos, blogs, and other communication channels can position the individual as the host for the entire event rather than just for the MC for the keynotes or presentations. This also provides a connection to the event pre and post, using the same host as during the event.

Another method of speeding up recognition is to use a recognizable persona – like a news reported, industry analyst, or other recognizable (and relevent) type of person even if the specific individual is not well known. In most cases, audience don’t recognize the actual Ringmaster at the circus, but they recognize the persona of the Ringmaster.

If your host is not recognizable by the audience, they may not be a good fit.

Relatable: Finally, the audience needs to relate to the host or MC in order to feel they are representing their interests. The more “like” the audience, or the more creditable to the audience, the more the audience will “follow” them through the experience.

Part of what makes comedy funny is that you can “see” yourself or others in the humor. The same is true in an experience like a keynote. If you do not relate, you will likely tune (or actually walk) out. If the host is not relatable, it can make relating to the balance of the experience even harder.

And as mentioned above, comedy is a tactic many professional MCs use to be relevant and relatable to the audience. Not only is comedy difficult, but if the tone of the event is not comedic, it can result in the opposite of its objective – less relatable and less relevant.

If your host is not relatable to the audience, they may not be a good fit.


There are many ways to manage the housekeeping and announcing/introducing aspects of a keynote or event. Audio announcements, visuals on screen, pre-recorded videos, and more. Even the largest events such as sports, awards, and the recent political conventions use a combination of these tactics with or without a host.

However, a host who is Relevant, Recognizable, and Relatable can easily carry some of these duties with no issues. An MC who is not relevant, not recognizable, and/or not relatable will certainly make it feel like they don’t belong.

“Yes, And” – The Power to Ignite Groups and Leaders | Guest blog by Kelly Leonard from The Second City

Yes and Available Today

Rule number one in improvisation is that when you are tasked as a group to make something out of nothing, you can’t start with the word “no.” You also can’t simply say “yes.” To build something original as a team, you must begin with “Yes, And.”


Because great original work isn’t easy. In fact, it most often emanates from some discomfort. This can be a real physical discomfort that pushes us to innovate a better wine bottle opener or more comfortable mattress; or it can be a societal discomfort, how do we feed more people or how to we provide a better education for those without access to well equipped or well staffed schools.

These are all real world, tactical issues. But the fact is, most working human beings are part of teams and groups that are also tasked with some level of original thinking. New slogans, new software, new processes or new methods of employee engagement.

A “Yes, And” approach does a few things.

  • It speaks to an individual orientation of not only accepting someone else’s idea, but building on that idea – even if it might seem a bit crazy.
  • It also speaks to a group orientation, with broad participation and increased value on every contribution.
With those two orientations in place, it creates a greater abundance of ideas. With more ideas to choose from and positive reinforcement for all ideas – you can get to the best ideas more quickly and without shutting people out of the process.

In some ways, “Yes, And” makes “No” a whole lot easier.

Mind Map Team - IllustrationThe fact is, people are not practiced at working well in groups. Except for the occasional team building workshop, there is no group “warm up,” no group “practice” before we set off on our collective working day. This would seem unfathomable in sports. No team practice? You won’t win.

At Second City, we call our teams “ensembles.” And there’s a reason for this. The ensemble is an orientation, a guiding practice, a methodology that various individuals move in and out of all the time. Indeed, that means the ensemble changes – sometimes dramatically so – with each addition and subtraction. But the same “Yes, And” principles apply.

Here’s another thing about ensembles. We’ve all heard the adage that “we’re only as good as our weakest member.” We don’t buy that. We offer, instead, that “an ensemble is only as good as it’s ability to compensate for its weakest member.” In our world, the onus isn’t put back on the individual, it’s put back on the group. Because at any given time one of us will be the weakest member. And it’s at those crucial moments that great ensembles reveal themselves.

And what about leaders?

We have some thoughts on that as well. We were leading a workshop for The Spertus Institute in Chicago, covering some basic improv exercises. We began playing the game “Follow the Follower,” which is a silent game in which an individual is picked to be leader, and the rest of the group has to imitate their movements until the individual – in silence – successfully hands off leadership to another. The rest of the players need to keep keenly aware to recognize the new leader and begin following their lead.

Dr. Hal Lewis, who runs the center, pulled me aside and said, “You know you’re teaching Peter Drucker’s theories on management. This is all about a flat organizational structure.” I nodded in agreement and then went home and looked-up Peter Drucker. Hal was right.

There’s a great improv phrase, “All of us are better than one of us.” Great leaders know how to lead and how to follow. In Sydney Finkelstein’s terrific book, “SuperBosses,” he calls this kind of leadership, “hands on delegation.” Leadership operates in a dynamic that is decidedly non hierarchical in nature. Leadership is a practice, not a position. We’ve all seen amazing leaders who are nowhere near the top of the corporate food chain. Just as we have seen singularly terrible leaders who are running the show.

Our lab for understanding this work is about 60 years old. We’ve been actively beta-testing these theories in our classrooms and on our stages for decades. Just recently, we made the initiative to move from anecdote to actual. We are teaming with the Center for Decision Research (CDR) at the Booth School to test out our improvisational theories and practices with a broad swath of scientists and researchers.

I really like the language that we put in our proposal with the CDR: “This research initiative examines improvisation in a more expansive sense: as an elemental feature of human experience in an inescapably dynamic and social world…In essence, we can make it possible for people to practice being unpracticed, and thus to encounter life’s many such moments with greater courage, resilience, and success.”

Yes, And.



Editor’s note: Kelly Leonard has served in executive creative roles at The Second City in Chicago for nearly three decades. He has developed productions with such talent as Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Keegan Michael Key, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Steve Carell and more.

His book, “Yes, And: Lessons from The Second City” – about the seven elements used in improvisation and how these elements can be used in business to improve creativity and collaboration – was released by Harpercollins in 2015.

Kelly has presented at The Aspen Ideas Festival, TEDxBroadway, Chicago Ideas Week and The Wharton School of Business. He currently hosts the podcast, “Getting to Yes, And” which has featured conversations with Dan Pink, Christie Hefner, Mike Birbiglia and more.

He agreed to write a guest blog for Janus Dialogs for which he has our enduring gratitude.





The New Era of Silent Movies

In a short attention span, “I’m not listening”, world – communicators need to ensure that their visuals carry the story on their own when needed.

To address the “mute” button and multi-screen society, some of the best broadcast commercials have told moving stories without spoken words for years. Check out the Budweiser #bestbuds series with the sound off – still moving, emotional, universal, and effective.

Social media and streaming services now offer a preview of rich media in one’s social posts, but until your click to view, without sound. This is further changing how people engage with video and rich media, forcing creators to look for ways to capture attention and tell the story with visuals only; or in the best case scenario, solicit a click to view the content with sound.


Fortunately, there are lessons to learn from Silent Movies. The golden age of Silent Movies was the result of new technology (moving pictures) and the lack of technology (no real way to capture and sync sound as well). Stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Mildred Davis all rose in their craft by telling stories that captured the imaginations of the audience through their acting, visual techniques, and intertitles. An audio soundtrack was in some cases provided by an organ or piano in the theater, and added to, rather than carrying on its own, the storyline.

Adding simple subtitles and captioning can make the difference between a video that’s “silent ready” and one that isn’t. The BBC has a series called BBC Trending that does a nice job of using subtitles graphically and selectively. In contrast, KOMO News in the Seattle area posts “QuickCasts” on Facebook without captioning. Adding captions would immediately change the value and view-ability of these otherwise concise and relevant local news.

Using techniques from broadcast, commercials, and silent movie era – and lessons from live presentations such as graphics, charts, and animations to carry the story – the new era of silent movies has arrived. These tactics also benefit in reaching diverse audiences by allowing those with hearing disabilities to receive the message, and by using multiple languages, reaching a broader audience.

Some organizations are leading the new ear of silent movies. Robert Reich’s Big Picture series on,


and Home Cooking Adventure

are good examples where silent movie techniques allow the message and information to be told with the sound off, or understood more when the audio is on. Unlike the mini-stories of broadcast commercials, both of these examples have specific details, information and actions, and both are part of series which is also not lost on the viewers.

So if you want to know just how “silent-ready” your rich media is, turn off the sound and see if your message is being communicated.



The only thing we have in common is that we are all different.

In live marketing such as tradeshows, events, conferences, etc., feeling welcomed and being included is critical. It can mean the difference between having the broadest impact, or not; having relevant experiences and receiving the right content, or not; and most importantly, walking away with a positive impression, or not.

iStock_000001568739smallerDiversity – The aspects of diversity people are most attuned to are those apparent to their eyes and ears, or which are in the headlines: gender, skin color, national origin, sexual identity and preference. But there are many facets that make us who we are and it is important that we think broadly and also consider less-apparent traits such as life experience and heritage when planning events.

People are also diverse in physical capabilities or needs – for example sight, hearing, or mobility challenges. These may be temporary or permanent – think of accommodations that would be appreciated by an audience member with a broken leg or one who is pregnant.

Diversity is also evidenced in beliefs and backgrounds – a person may have religiously-motivated needs or assumptions based on political views, educational focus and accomplishment, or socio-economic upbringing or current status.

Diversity is good, and in more ways than may be apparent. In scientific and social disciplines, bio-diversity leads to better outcomes. In metal-working, mixing multiple raw materials creates stronger or more pliable composites. For investors, diversifying financial holdings reduces risk and increase yield. In civil society, consider a 1978 decision by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell (Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke), in which he contended that the “future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this nation of many peoples.”



Inclusion – Inclusion is the intentional response to diversity. Organizations should plan, structure, design, and execute events to ensure all audiences are welcomed and accommodated. Planners can make logistical, environmental, and other decisions to make audiences comfortable and eliminate any elements that are intentionally or inadvertently dismissive or exclusionary.

Customers and partners are sure to be as diverse as the world they come from – around the globe and from all cross-sections of the population – and will respond best to being surrounded by a diverse crowd, to recognizing those who “are like them,” and to feeling included by all event elements – especially those that recognize and respect their particular diversities.

Inclusion exemplifies “Yes. And…” thinking. Yes, inclusion is right for moral reasons. And, inclusion has direct business impact. The more people who feel included in the experiences, messages, communications, marketing – the more potential customers there are.

An example: shops in ancient Roman forums often had mosaics depicting the commerce taking place within – fish for a fishmonger or a ship for a sail-maker – because not all locals could read and many foreign visitors did not speak the language. Merchants using just the written word would have cut off much of their potential market. While illiteracy is not likely to be a problem at events today, the lesson remains – recognizing diversity through inclusion can drive increased business.

Companies and organizations big enough to host conferences are likely to have corporate diversity policies and event professionals’ efforts should begin there. This could include partnering with human resources teams where diversity plays a critical role in recruitment and retention of employees, and where a broad and inclusive workforce has benefits in building relationships with partners and customers.


Event Planning – From the time planning begins, an inclusionary mindset can help reach the broadest audience. Even setting event dates can benefit from sensitivity to the diversity of the audience – for example, planners in the U.S. think to plan around majority religious events like Easter or Christmas, or national milestones like the Fourth of July. It’s equally respectful to note other cultures’ or religions’ significant dates such as the Jewish High Holy Days or Ramadan for Muslims.

Bring diverse voices into the planning process. This could mean including other business groups to create a more compelling agenda, or reviewing event plans with representatives from key gender, race, and cultural groups to add details and avoid pitfalls that a less diverse team might miss.

Recruit a diverse speaker base – speakers can include employees, customers, partners, industry experts, specialists from other industries, even celebrities.

The same considerations apply to third-party events. Booths, side-rooms for meetings, and any sponsored activities should be accessible and inclusive, and on-site staff should represent the diversity of our company and customers.


Event Logistics – From working with caterers to address the array of food options available today – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, halal, and more – to designating and outfitting new mothers’ rooms or prayer rooms, there are many ways to make an audience feel respected and included.

Diverse conference greeters can smile warmly and say “good day” to everyone, while aiding to those who may need it without drawing undue attention.

Arranging services for attendees with hearing, vision, or mobility challenges is now standard and many service providers exist to help. This may include arranging ability-aware lodging options for these attendees, and transportation options that take this into account. Clear signage and wide hallways clear of clutter will be appreciated not only by those of different abilities, but all attendees.

Even taxonomy can play a role. A recent conference in the southern U.S. offered a themed evening for which all attendees were asked to wear white, and it was billed as the “All White Party.” More thought might have led to a more sensitive and inclusionary name such as “Wear White Party” or another theme entirely.


Note: This topic is a derivative of a recent Trends and Innovations article released by Microsoft’s Marketing Events and Production Studios.

Plus Pass: Increase Interest and Value with Unique Experiences and Limited Packages.


Across diverse industries, customers eagerly embracing upgrades that offer increased convenience, are more personal, are viewed as more valuable, and offer access to exclusive activities.

Audiences will naturally gravitate toward activities and enhancements that are most relevant to them.

Everyone wins when attendees can craft their conference experience in ways that excite and captivate them.

Taking a page from the travel, retail, and entertainment industries, tradeshow and conference organizers are improving attendee experiences with exclusive offers, upgrades, and value packages. They are inventing new, more enjoyable ways to engage audiences, while at the same time increasing revenue and improving attendance satisfaction.


Package vs. à la Carte: Which Model Works Best? There are two main approaches to up-level the attendee experience:

  • Package a collection of high-value offers into a premium single price offer.
  • Allow attendees to pick and choose the offers most important to them with à la carte pricing.

concertConcert organizers, entertainment industry conferences, and theme parks find success in the “packaged” route. Live Nation, for example, creates “experience packages” for their headline concerts. Customers buying tickets for the Justin Timberlake concert had the option to purchase the Perfect Vision Tour, Perfect Vision Party, or 20/20 VIP Bar & Lounge package. Each level offered a unique experience, increased convenience, special access, and merchandise.

Offering packages like these creates high value for concertgoers and provides an opportunity to increase the average ticket price for a show or an event. For the recent Rolling Stones 50 and Counting tour, the show was staged in smaller venues compared to previous tours–but thanks to various VIP packages, the average ticket price jumped from $50 a show to $250 a show. And, production costs were reduced because of the smaller venues.

Universal Orlando Resort and Parks offer consumers the star treatment with custom tours, private entrances, and expedited services for varying days and parks.

The alternate approach is to offer guests à la carte options based on what is of highest value to them, and at times as “in the moment” decisions. Movie theaters pioneered this trend many years ago, increasing their profit by offering concessions to go along with the movie. This innovation is expanding in the modern day to include full menus and professional chefs.

The travel industry has taken this model to a new level, focusing on what matters most to the traveler and developing a wide range of add-ons to meet those needs and desires.

Hawaiian Airlines, for example, offers travelers the opportunity to pre-order inflight amenities such as premium meals, Made-In Hawaii snacks, or tablet entertainment systems before boarding their flights.

Delta_Air_Lines_-_N365NW_(8351131571)Delta recently gave its flight attendants wireless devices allowing them to sell passengers last-second seat upgrades and more on the plane. And Jet-Blue is bridging the packaged and á la carte experience upgrade by announcing the new Mint Experience, which, for a single fee, offers travelers a private suite on the plane plus tapas-style dining and plush amenity kit.

Total airline revenue generated by these ancillary fees skyrocketed from $2.45 billion in 2007 to $27.1 billion in 2012. In fact, a full 14% of United Airlines’ revenue comes from these fees, with passengers spending, on average, an additional $38.11 on extras.


Putting the Right Offers Together What value attendees put on premium offers is largely dependent on the degree to which relevance comes into play. What is relevant or valued by one attendee may not be for another.

Customization can address the relevance, and can be based on a variety of factors—job title or level, content interest, geographical location, even gaming platform preference.

Some may value a convenience pass that includes express registration lines, preferred keynote seating, or a preferred hotel block at the hotel nearest to the convention center. Others may choose increased networking opportunities such as private meeting room access or a lunch with well know industry representative.

Here again, the travel industry offers a model. They segment offers by trip type (spa offers for leisure travelers, extra Internet bandwidth for business travelers), location (packages that include fine dining for Las Vegas or NYC trips), and status (executive room upgrades only for non-Gold or Diamond members.)

Cross-promotion with sponsors and partners can extend the value of these packages even further. There are valuable opportunities for partners to increase awareness of the partners’ products or offerings by making special offers or activities available that further highlight the value and relevance to key audiences.


Limited Availability

Limited red grunge vintage seal isolated on whiteOnce a relevant upgrade package has been developed, an important aspect is its limited availability. In most cases, limiting the availability (due to limited resources or by design) increases the interest, perceived value, and urgency to purchase. The result is a shift from the purely economic value and an “I can get it any time”, to an “I want that so I should act soon” mind-set.

The legacy price based approach of offering “early bird” pricing to attendees can be offset by the availability of a series of highly valued packages available for a limited time or in limited quantity. This contributes to an increase in interest without needing to discount, and in increase in average attendee revenue without the need to raise prices for everyone.


Note: This topic is a derivative of a recent Trends and Innovations article released by Microsoft’s Marketing Events and Production Studios    .

The P’s of Event Marketing

Event teams can adopt a classic marketing model to focus efforts and achieve their objectives.

In early 2013, Harvard Business Review posted an article titled, “Rethinking the Four P’s” suggesting that the classic marketing mix model1 (product, place, price, and promotion) should be retooled to better address the needs of B2B marketers. The article was based on a five-year study of more than 500 B2B marketers worldwide, and suggested a model that explicitly emphasized more “current” commodities such as solutions and value.

4p_smallThe “Four P’s” durability over time is arguably due not to its rigidity, but to its flexibility. It often expands to six or more P’s, folding in such concepts as people, packaging, positioning, process, performance…the list goes on.

The “P’s of Event Marketing” defines parameters that can be used to ensure that all aspects of event strategy, experience design, and execution support core marketing objectives and are aligned with broader marketing strategies.

The P’s of Event Marketing include the following elements: Place, Purpose, Pride, and Promotion. At a glance, these may seem more similar to the original Four P’s of Marketing than they actually are.

Sense of Place –  sense of place for an event marketer is not about geography or venue. It’s about “owning” the space as if it was yours, your office or your “home”. When the audience arrives do they get the feeling that this is your place or just a venue you rented that you will be leaving soon? Does it feel like an executive visitor center, your ideal game room, your best research facility, or lobby to your global headquarters? Is it unique, organized, and special? It should be.

In designing a live event, you need to craft a place for experiences, conversation, information sharing, influence, and dialog that is worth the time your audience will carve out to participate. This may sound slightly esoteric, but it just might be the “secret sauce” that makes live events such an effective and desired component of the marketing mix.

The objective is to ensure that the question “Where am I?” is answered firmly with “at ____”, not just with “at a _____ Event”, or worse “a conference”.

A Clear Purpose – A sense of purpose, not generically but with regard to serving defined audience segments, is an important criteria for attracting attendees and delivering an experience that resonates. It is critical to understand Purpose in terms of what strategic marketing initiative an event needs to support (lead generation, product awareness, perception change, revenue generation, community.)

It is equally important to design the experience with a sense of purpose tailored to each audience member, with the increased levels of personalization and participation that event audiences have come to expect.

Purpose can – and should – change over the course of the event – from initial awareness to considering a purchase; from arriving to learning to departing – so the purpose may need to change over time as well. Different messages entering and leaving, on day one to day last.


pridePride – Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising, and nothing says “You don’t need to care” more than saying “I don’t care.” The pride and passion of the host needs to shine from every corner and mountain top. How the temp staff greets the audience, how the cables are laid and how clean the venue is, how fast the social media comments are responded to. Pride is contagious, as is the lack of it, and as events are one of the most engaging live experiences the audience may have with a Brand, they need to feel the pride.


Cross Promotion – Traditional B2B marketing has evolved to a more Person-to-Person approach, a truism has emerged – inside every commercial business or technical decision maker is a consumer. Further, consumers are often fans of the products they buy, a state of engagement those who market to commercial buyers should look to achieve.

The art is in the mix of primary and secondary message, ensuring that the reasons the audience is participating are meet, and adding some unexpected, relevant cross promotions.


Note: This topic is a derivative of a recent Trends and Innovations article released by Microsoft’s Global Events and Production Studios team.

Presentation at CEMA Summit 2013 | “Be a Fool – Innovate”

In July of 2013 I had the honor to present “Be a Fool – Innovate” at the CEMA Summit 2013. That presentation is below.



Think Global, Act Local, Be Personal



The world is not only getting smaller, it’s getting more personal.

Look to retail – consumers are taking a more pro-active role than ever before. “Cash Mobs” are the latest intersection of local, personal, social, and retail. This twist on “flash mobs” brings together a group to one store to support the community by buying local.

Activities like this are as much about highlighting and activating the buyer’s power in the transaction as they are about supporting local merchants.

Yet despite the overwhelming pressures on physical retail, some major brands such as Tiffany, Apple, Lululemon Athletica, and Microsoft are expanding their physical retail networks with great results. How are they succeeding in the environment of empowered buyers where organizations such as Best Buy are not? How are they viewed as “local” while being part of a global network?

The book The Experience Economy laid this out years ago: the differentiators of esthetics, education, escapism, and entertainment can transform a transactional retail environment into a desired experience.

These differentiators need to be focused on the individual. Vocational training, once thought for “dumb kids or the supposed misfits” is experiencing a revival. Focusing on something of personal interest, and with a hands on approach, can increase interest and therefore attention.

SAP began moving from SAP centric presentations to audience centric conversations several years ago at its SAPPHIRE NOW program. The micro forums (unstructured 30 minute conversations around one topic with no slides or presenter) have quickly become as popular as the theater sessions due to their personal relevance and interaction.

Successful retailers focus on the individual with personal shoppers, training, and experiences at – and away from – the store. And it doesn’t hurt that the products themselves are very personal, from “sleep number beds” at Select Comfort stores, to clothing, jewelry, and computers.

Another significant element of these retail experiences/outlets is the staff. They are the brand – not the retail distributors’ brand, but the product brand. Their excitement, the personal interaction, and the relationship translates back to the product. An informed, exciting, and energetic Apple or Tiffany or Lululemon retail employee makes the product exciting and desirable.

It is not surprising then to see some corporate retail outlets exceeding $1,000/sq. ft. in annual sales while larger retailers such as Wal-Mart average a few hundred.

Proprietary experiences and events are like these corporate retail outlets. They offer the opportunity for distinctly different, and uniquely managed experiences that a 3rd party tradeshow or “big box” event doesn’t.

Equally important, they allow for personal experiences between the product and the consumer or buyer and an immersive brand environment and experience. Apple has over 1,000,000 visitors each day at their stores – think of this as 1,000,000 attendees each day at their experience marketing events.

Does your experience marketing offer the right level of personalization and draw this level of engagement? Could it?


Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.



Marketing is…

…one half of an unfinished symphony.

Whether marketing communications, product/solution marketing, experience marketing, brand, advertising, demand generations, social media, or anything else, the balance of the melody is “sales”.

“Sales” is in quotes because this word is also incomplete when it stands on its own.

“Sales and marketing” is a “complete sentence” containing an objective and a verb (you decide which is which – it works either way). The complete story requires a need (organic and/or generated), a solution (functional and/or emotional and/or aspirational), and a method of connecting these two.

Are the Apple stores (drop a dollar in the “Apple is over used as a case study” jar) “sales” or “marketing”? Yes, they are. When you attend a tradeshow, are you being sold to or marketed to? Is the special offer via an email sales or marketing?

The classic sales continuum starts with “awareness” and journeys to “advocacy”. Each is touched by marketing and sales activities. Some of the steps have been considered more “marketing” (awareness, interest, consideration, loyalty, advocacy) and others more sales (preference, purchase). But this may not hold as true today as in the past (if it ever really did).

The distinction may best be considered as in the mind of the person being “marketed” or “sold” to. Some look to avoid the sales process, investing time researching and learning on their own, while some jump happily into the sales experience as soon as they decide (on their own or via external influence) they indeed have a need to fill.

The stereotype is that the car buying experience is to be avoided; yet many flock to the Apple store (another dollar) for training and workshops and “just looking around” that often result in the purchase of new software or accessories.

Some are more motivated by the functional differences of the product or the price; some want an account exec or sales associate to work with them through the process. They want to be “sold” to.

Others are more attracted to the story, the message, the meaning, they may be quick to advocate and/or associate themselves with the solution. (“I’m a Cadillac guy”)

So if the distinction is in the eye of the recipient, so is the definition.

At best, sales or marketing is the emotional, functional, and aspirational experience that offers solution to “my need where, when, and how I want it.”

At worst, it is a manipulative interruption that upsets and annoys.

When are sales/marketing successful? When they are:

  • Targeted | Who are you trying to reach and with what message, call to action? What are you trying to do? This should include a targeted Audience and Objective.
  • Relevant | How are you being relevant to their needs, wants, desires? Is your Message and Medium appropriate and compelling?
  • Differentiating | How are you different from other solutions, alternatives? What makes you stand out?
  • Orchestrated | Are all the marketing, sales, and execution touch points aligned?
  • Measured | How do you know you are reaching your objective?

Just like music, a limited number of notes (7 in music, a few more in sales and marketing) can be combined into endless songs, both good and bad.

Different as a Differentiator | The Value of Differentiating

Can you increase the value of something simply by inventing a story about it?

Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker set out to answer this question with a simple experiment. They purchased roughly 200 items from thrift stores at an average cost of $1.25, invented stories about each, and sold them on eBay for nearly $8,000 – a 30x plus increase.

The results are published in Significant Objects (available on Amazon) and show the power of stories to perception and value.

“Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively.” — Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker

The addition of a story is certainly one important aspect of the changed value, but the objects took on another change that likely contributed to the value shift as well.

Each item became special and exclusive by being part of the experiment. Instead of buying a simple wooden apple core (originally $1 from the thrift show), it is now “Object 45 of 50 – Significant Objects v3” and sells for $102.50. It is different from all other copies of that wooden apple core.

While not fully exclusive, a different Apple, the one that makes computers, software, and consumer items, offers very limited (and therefore close to exclusive) access to its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Tickets to this event are limited to a few thousand, despite demand likely in the tens of thousands, and tend to sell out in a couple of hours. Yes, hours.

Simply attending the events makes you exclusive, increasing the value. When was the last event you produced an event that sold out in two hours? Often the industry leans towards “early bird” pricing to attract ticket buyers – not very exclusive for the attendee.

Many Kickstarter (@kickstarter) projects offer exclusive Limited Edition rewards to attract early supporters with special colors, versions, or experiences. These differentiate higher levels or earlier support with more exclusivity.

Items do not need to be exclusive or limited to increase in value; simply being different can be enough. Differentiation is an important element of successful marketing regardless of availability (exclusivity). In the Significant Objects collection there is a brass boot and porcelain shoe, number 3 and 4 in the top 10. While similar, each has a different story making it stand out from the others.

Several years ago JavaOne (@JavaOneConf) experimented with higher-priced packages that offered reserved seating and name badges with a special indication. Access to content was the same and anyone could buy the package at any time, yet a surprising number of these “special” packages sold. Attendees were looking to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

NetSuite (@netsuite), at their 2012 SuiteWorld event, updated the “attendee ribbon” concept with a series of buttons allowing the attendees to self identify, differentiate, and identify others in a creative and expressive way.

Why does different and exclusive matter? Because being or having something special makes you feel special. In some cases, folks are willing to pay (extra) for it.

How does your experience marketing make the audience feel special? What are they getting that makes them feel exclusive or different from the crowd?


Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.