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Zane Caplansky’s tips for getting the media to love you

December 23, 2015
As the owner of a small chain of Jewish deli restaurants, I’ve somehow managed to get an awful lot of media attention. It wasn’t all part of a conscious strategy, but I have learned a lot about what catches the media’s interest. Here are some tips if you want to get your company noticed.

Do something interesting, different or new. My adventure with food and media began in 2008 in the upstairs room of a dank saloon in Toronto’s Little Italy. Back then, media attention was never a consideration. Being unable to afford a conventional restaurant, I just needed an affordable place to sell my homemade smoked-meat sandwiches. Media? Who was ever going to find me up there on the second floor inside an old “dive bar?”

That “deli-in-a-dive-bar” is considered by many to be Toronto’s first pop-up restaurant. Before I opened, Save the Deli author David Sax wrote about it for this newspaper. “Jewish food comes back downtown,” the headline read. Thanks to him, I ran out of food.

Before long, New York Times writer Adam Sachs wrote about me being part of the new wave of artisanal meat purveyors in Toronto. The penultimate issue of Gourmet included a profile of my efforts to bring smoked meat to downtown Toronto. As a former subscriber I never imagined I’d see my name, let alone my photograph, in those pages. USA Today, Details and many others wrote about the deli. It became almost obnoxious.

Reporters need stuff to write about. If you’re doing something interesting, don’t be shy: Tell people. And if it really is interesting, word will get around. Storytelling is a bit of a skill but look for examples of what other people do and tell stories about. Take food trucks, for example.

Not every food-truck owner got the kind of press attention that mine got. But by being the first modern food truck in Toronto, I got lots of media interest. Since launching “Thunderin’ Thelma’s” in 2011 I’ve had four years of news stories about fighting city hall, battling the restaurant lobby and starting a food-truck revolution. Clearly, being the first modern food truck in the city provided an opportunity to tell a great story. It also gave me a reason to go on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

Be controversial. The event that stirred the most media controversy was, despite what many people suspect, not a cheap attempt to gain media attention. But sponsoring the Toronto Palestine Film Festival gained global attention.

Social media certainly played a role. After seeing all the anger between the warring sides of the Middle East conflict posting on Facebook I decided to post a simple status update. “Caplansky’s Deli is sponsoring the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival.” A reporter friend on Facebook saw that, notified his editor and the following day I was interviewed on the phone. I truly never expected the reaction that story got.

Media outlets sought interviews as far away as London and Jerusalem. Yet the sponsorship offer was made in February, long before violence erupted in Israel. It really just seemed like a nice thing to do.

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Makes U Think

These 10 marketing truths will flip your brand

December 21, 2015
Traditionally, companies created brands and then attracted customers, who, if they came in sufficient numbers and remained loyal, sustained the company. But smart companies these days flip that approach, according to bestselling marketing author Marty Neumeier. They create customers, not brands. Those customers, in turn, build brands that sustain the company.

He calls it The Brand Flip in his latest book, and says while it’s a new approach that is increasingly going to dominate marketing, it’s actually a very old concept. In 1954, management thinker Peter Drucker declared the first purpose of a business is to create a customer. “But how do you do it? That’s the trick,” Mr. Neumeier said in an interview.

You don’t start by reaching out to a large group of people who seem like a possible target, segment out the best slices to attract and then send a flurry of messages. Instead, you need to design a world they will wish to inhabit. After they try it out, they will invite friends to join them.

In this process, Mr. Neumeier says you need to pay attention to 10 truths that require changes to your thinking:

1. Power has shifted

Stop focusing on the product and your corporate needs. Understanding the customer identity – who they are, what they want – is now all important.

2. Customers crave meaning

People want to know if they buy a product, what will that say about them – and, even deeper, what does it make them? In most of the developed world, Mr. Neumeier argues we have satisfied our lower-level or basic requirements on Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” and are now knocking on the door to the pyramid’s top level, where meaning and self-actualization are dominant.

Marketers used to sell features, and then benefits, and more recently experiences. These days, flip to meaning and belonging. Also, flip from thinking of tangibles to the intangibles people desire.

3. Brands build identities

Everything people buy helps nurture their identity. Customers should see themselves and what they want to be in the brand. The flip here is from authority to authenticity – the fact your company may be large and powerful isn’t as important to people as whether it’s authentic, which starts with purpose.

And if your purpose is to maximize profit, you’re heading in the wrong direction. Your purpose should be aimed squarely at helping your customers. He notes Intel may make computer chips, but its purpose is to change the world.

4. People hate being ‘sold’

“If you try to sell, you’re doomed,” Mr. Neumeier says flatly. You must make the flip from transactions to relationships. Aim for not just a single sale, but for a much deeper bond with your customers.

5. People buy in ‘tribes’

Mr. Neumeier introduced the notion of “tribes” – a widely used catchphrase these days – in his first book, The Brand Gap, back in 2003. A tribe is a group of people who share interests and information, in this case tied to your brand. Traditionally, in segmenting markets, brands have been working with quite different people. “You can trip yourself up if you try adding more than one tribe, particularly if they are contradictory,” he cautions. “The standard rule is one brand for one tribe. If you are supporting a second tribe, then you have to think of creating a second brand.”

6. Tribes do battle

The battle is no longer between companies, but between tribes. So think carefully about the tribe you are attracting and which ones you won’t go after, because they have different interests. If nobody hates you, you’re not a tribe.

7. Get the strongest tribe

Some tribes won’t lead you to success. So look for a tribe that people look up to and want to join – and can help you grow successfully. Apple, for example, went after people who were technologically sophisticated, with whom other people want to associate. The flip here is from a concern about creating better products to attracting better customers. The nature of your customers determines the future of your company. “Pick your tribe well,” he says.

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Makes U Think

Executives, Protect Your Alone Time

December 17, 2015
In our contemporary offices and always-busy lives, alone time can be difficult to come by. But successful creative thinkers share a need for solitude. They make a practice of turning away from the distractions of daily life to give their minds space to reflect, make new connections, and find meaning.

Great thinkers and leaders throughout history — from Virginia Woolf to Marcel Proust to Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak — have lauded the importance of having a metaphorical room of one’s own. But today’s culture overemphasizes the importance of constant social interaction, due in part to social media. We tend to view time spent alone as time wasted or as an indication of an antisocial or melancholy personality. Instead, we should see it as a sign of emotional maturity and healthy psychological development.

Of course, positive social interactions and collaboration are a critical part of a healthy workplace. But while some people may be inspired by experience and interacting with others, it is often in solitary reflection that ideas are crystallized and insights formed. As author and biochemist Isaac Asimov wrote in his famous essay on the nature of creativity, “Creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.”

Now science has reinforced what countless artists and innovators have known: solitary reflection feeds the creative mind. In recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that we tend to get our best ideas when our attention is not fully engaged in our immediate environment or the task at hand. When we’re not focusing on anything in particular — instead letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions — the brain’s default mode network is activated. Many of our most original insights arise from the activity of this network, or as we like to call it, the “imagination network.”

Its three main components — personal meaning making, mental simulation, and perspective taking — often work together when we’re reflecting. Using many regions across the brain, the imagination network enables us to remember the past, think about the future, see other perspectives and scenarios, comprehend stories, understand ourselves, and create meaning from our experiences.

As mentioned above, activating this network requires deep internal reflection — the state that many artists and philosophers refer to when describing how they arrive at their most original ideas. This type of reflection is facilitated by solitude, which is why we often get creative insights when we’re relaxing or doing mundane, habitual tasks like showering or washing the dishes.

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3 Things the Most Creative Leaders Do

December 11, 2015
Over the past three decades at IDEO, I’ve worked with some of the most innovative companies in the world and seen a lot of creative leaders in action. I’ve paid attention to how the best of them operate — how they nurture creativity all around them — and I’ve noticed three things:

They build core enthusiast communities inside and outside of their organizations. Chris Anderson, CEO of drone-maker 3D Robotics, started seeking knowledge and insight from drone aficionados with his website DIYDrones long before he ever hired his first employee, and has continued to practice open-source innovation in the years since. The company nurtures its creative community and recognizes participation at every level. When a contributor offers even the simplest input, the company sends him or her a T-shirt, signifying inclusion in 3D Robotics’ tribe of “insiders.” As bright people from around the world ratchet up their participation, they might instead get plane tickets so they can travel to the company’s headquarters and meet its leaders in person. Some eventually cross over to become full-time employees. The free-flowing exchange, in which employees, partners, and collaborators gain social capital through their creative input, has helped propel growth. 3D Robotics currently makes more consumer and commercial drones than any other company in America.

They achieve big change through a series of small experiments. Many years ago, Jim Hackett, then CEO of Steelcase — a long-time IDEO strategic partner — wanted to get his top executives to move to open workspaces. Then, as now in many organizations, the private office was a privilege of rank, but because Steelcase was a global leader in system furniture, Hackett thought it was important for its managers to walk the talk and demonstrate the value of working in non-traditional office formats. He had a hunch that if he simply announced a sweeping change — out with the old way and in with the new — many of his execs would have resisted and asked to be exempted.

So Jim instead proposed a small experiment. He asked his management team to join him in a six-month prototype of the company’s open “Leadership Community.” All he wanted was for them to give it an honest try for a limited time, using the best of Steelcase’s own products, and he promised that whatever was not working at the end of six months would be addressed. When a respected leader asks you to join a short experiment, it’s very hard to say no, or even complain. And no one did. Though it has evolved over time, Steelcase’s six-month experiment turned into 20 years. The executives never went back to their private offices.

They jump-start their innovation journey with storytelling. Marketers have always understood how great messaging contributes to the success of new products, services, and brands. And the best creative leaders are now screening ideas from the very beginning for the potential to both delight customers and also tell an engaging story. Jane Park, CEO of the beauty-products start-up Julep, worked with IDEO to find a breakthrough in nail polish that would spark new conversations among core users, known as “mavens.” The design research highlighted an issue long understood but never fully addressed: the difficulty that women have applying nail polish when holding the brush in their non-dominant hand. Park and her team realized that all tools requiring precision — like a pencil or a paintbrush, or even a surgeon’s scalpel — have length. So they developed a long, articulated handle — dubbed Plié — which allows users to get a smoother, more precise finish and also docks magnetically to the nail polish cap.

The creative solution had value all its own, but the origin story linking Plié to other tools gave it the buzz it needed to catch on. It helped win the hearts and minds of both Julep’s internal team and external stakeholders out in the marketplace. Noting the combination of great stories and an invested community, Forbes recently suggested that Julep might be “the next billion-dollar beauty brand.”

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Makes U Think