There is a difference between the story that is told and the reality of the situation unfolding.

The best storytellers in the world take events that aren’t real and spin them out in stories that bring the picture in their head to life. Storytellers of the top caliber become marketers, politicians, consultants and maybe even novelists. However, the majority of storytellers don’t end up writing books.

The best piece of sales advice I was ever given was to not tell someone why you are the best or about your features or about how valuable your product is. Instead you should tell them stories about all of the ways that you are going to make their life easier or better. Paint them a picture so that they can see themselves in the situations that you are trying to help them with. Make them feel their current frustration and make them realize how quickly and easily you can take that frustration away. Make the story of your product about them.

Notice how journalists are often writing their articles about big topics by focusing on a single person impacted by the issue? They write about the single mother that only lives because of Obamacare. They write about the small business that is going under because of Obamacare. They give you a story of why their position or angle is the right one. They simply don’t tell you that in this enormous world you can find a single case study to support any position that may have happened to want to take up. Some was hurt by every decision just as someone was helped by that same decision.

Storytellers know that their message needs to have an audience and a moment. They have to capture the feeling of the time while giving the audience something to believe in while also giving them something to run with.

I always hated case studies to show how products made someone else’s life better. You are never handed a case study showing how the product wrecked a person’s organization. You never are given the case study about where the implementation failed and nothing went right. You are given the ones that look the most like you and that went really, really well. Because case studies are simply stories. It’s something to make you feel comfortable without giving you the rest of the context that is being left out.

When you start to experience the stories around you always ask yourself what the broader context is. There’s really no such thing as fake news, only news that has the wrong context.

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The top BoxThoughts posts of 2014. I enjoyed re-reading them at least.

It was a good year here at BoxThoughts.  We almost doubled our audience while maintaining a steady flow of material.  I’m not going to do a top 10 or 20 or whatever because you can each find your own favorites (if you care to at all).  But these are the four most read and also (in my opinion at least) four of the best.

So here’s the top posts that people read around here this year:

  1. #CRE Needs to Have a #Hacker Mentality.  The run away winner on the year and also a topic I keep coming back to on a regular basis personally. Hacking standard operations is the single best way to get ahead.
  2. How Much Conflict do You Allow on Your Team?  Culture is important to me (if you haven’t noticed).  Apparently it’s important to a lot of others as well.
  3. 4 Stages of the Business Cycle: What Role Does It Play in #CRE Decisions?  Business cycles impact real estate decisions probably more than any other business situation.  Knowing where your business is in the cycle will make a big difference in the decisions you make.
  4. Why Global #Workplace Standard Will Never Take Off.  Workplace standards is always a fun topic.  Global standards are even more fun.

Redesign often. Why changing your website look can be a good thing.

One of the sites I read regularly online is Medium.  It’s a great mix of news, opinion, science and other stories that are longer or shorter form.

An interesting thing happens regularly with the site though – it is constantly changing its homepage for browsing articles.  It’s fascinating how the site has evolved from being very picture heavy with fewer articles listed up front to now being headline heavy with some pictures and more total articles.  Evolution is wonderful.

But the surprising thing to me is that I don’t necessarily like or dislike any design more or less than the others (although I’m sure they are engineering it for more total reads).  The thought that runs through my mind is that I like going back (#1) for the content but also (#2) for the new layouts.

I see a day in the future where the actual layout of sites doesn’t matter and people will either have a choice of how they prefer to view content (bring their own content viewer similar to how some RSS feeds work today) or sites will give them choices (visual, text based, topic based, or other).

However, if we don’t experiment with different styles regularly we’ll never get the right fits for our different audiences.

The idea of service value has been on my mind a lot recently.

Value.  It is what we all preach to our clients.  Choose us because we offer the most value.  Give us the partnership because we bring the most value to the table.  Use our tools because they save you time and give you added value.

We live in a value based world.

But this value thing is too often approached selfishly.  We bring what we perceive as value to the table.  Tools are valuable because we want them to be, but do we think about the learning curve that clients don’t want to have to deal with?  Unique solutions are valuable because they offer a unique alignment with what the client needs, but do we think about the time it takes that client to pitch a new solution to her management?

Value is selfish on our part.  We want so badly to be valuable because then what we are doing is more than just a job.  If we bring more value than someone else then we must be worth more (as employees and businesses).  But that isn’t always true.  From a client’s perspective value is what makes their life easier – it’s something selfish to them.

This brings about the idea of selfishness.  If value is selfish to our clients why aren’t we becoming selfless in response?  Because it isn’t possible.  Our solutions and processes must be built around the general case which means they can never be completely self-serving to a client.  We will always struggle to deliver exactly what a client wants (especially because what most clients want and need is different).

This leaves Marketing’s value gap.  We will never be able to give a client exactly what they selfishly want so do we try to come as close as possible or try to educate them to want our value proposition.  Most of us go for education…..but is that the right solution?

10 Top Posts from the Past Year

I was trolling through the summaries of my most viewed posts from the last 365 days and felt a little nostalgic.  So here, for your pleasure is the list:

  1. How not to please your customers….Dilbert kills RSS support.  Dilbert, the source of a million office jokes, becomes one of its own by irritating fans and removing a simple way of viewing the daily comic.
  2. Why global #workplace standards will never take off.  Are global standards actually ever going to come about?  The industry has been talking about them for over a decade.  My guess is no.
  3. #CRE Videos – doing video right is hard.  Apparently the world loves video.  I need to see if I can better understand this trend….
  4. 5 Easy Steps to Becoming a CRE Geek Without Losing Your Street Cred.  Geeks meet Street Cred?  I think I captured some inner feelings from many in CRE out there.
  5. Staged headshots and trying too hard.  Quit trying so hard, world.  A picture says a thousand words….sometimes they aren’t good words.
  6. Management is dead. Long live innovation.  In an era where companies are changing, turnover is high and data rules, how will decisions be made to drive long-term growth?
  7. Effective CRE comes down to imagination – a reply to @dukelong.  This one is simple.  Follow Duke Long.  Twitter, blog, whatever.  I only agree with about 50% of what he says or writes but he always has his fingers on the pulse of CRE.
  8. You should be angry today.  Revelations about the NSA are still arriving on a regular basis.  I am still angry over it but am hopeful as signs slowly spring up showing that Washington may act (finally) to fix the problems (some of them).  Privacy does matter.
  9. Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX and Ingenious Design.  Another simple one – Elon Musk is shaping the future.  We’ll see if he can deliver on it but either way his ideas will drive the next generation of American innovation.
  10. Thinking to the future. Where is #CRE going in the next 3 years? – #CREFuture.  Everyone wants to know the future.  My guess is as good as yours.

The Problem with #CRE News and Information.

There is a very small audience seeking continual real estate information about a market.  Most businesses could care less about the market dynamics of Atlanta or Indianapolis or New York or Boise other than the 18 months when they find themselves in the market every 5 years.  Most of the time they could care less.  The social media marketing that you are doing is not reaching the audience you think it is.

If you do most of your work in a local market and you are leveraging social media for your marketing, you are turning over your paying readership every single year (other than those interested for purely fun reasons).  Essentially you are writing for your peers, competitors and those who happen to be in the market at the moment.  This is fine but most people that write regularly don’t actually realize that this is the case.  They’ve never thought about it!

In all likelihood that wonderful, insightful and engaging post you wrote last July was never seen by a single potential client because it came out at the wrong time!

CRE is such a specific industry that most operating groups in companies don’t have to think about regularly.  Your typical small to medium sized business may not even have a full-time real estate person on staff.  They deal with real estate on an as needed basis.  They aren’t reading what you are trying to tell them because what you are saying has no bearing on their needs other than when it’s time to re-up their lease.

Audience size will drive how much you should listen to the user.

The Globe and Mail ran an article about the downfall of RIM.  Part of the article was about the hubris of RIM engineers and how they thought they knew better than their customers on the future of phones.

“The problem wasn’t that we stopped listening to customers,” said one former RIM insider. “We believed we knew better what customers needed long term than they did. Consumers would say, ‘I want a faster browser.’ We might say, ‘You might think you want a faster browser, but you don’t want to pay overage on your bill.’ ‘Well, I want a super big very responsive touchscreen.’ ‘Well, you might think you want that, but you don’t want your phone to die at 2 p.m.’ “We would say, ‘We know better, and they’ll eventually figure it out.’ ”

The thing is up until 5 years ago the RIM engineers were fully justified in thinking this way.  They had proven it and backed it up by delivering market leading devices that performed better than anything to that point.

But over time markets move and audience’s desires change.  That’s the important part of understanding design directions – you have to change direction at some point.  Maybe not today or tomorrow but at some point.  Say what you will about it, but iOS 7 from Apple is their response to the need to change direction.  RIM never made this design shift.

Whatever system or product you are building you need to understand the inflection points of your audience and market.  A start-up has a very different market and customer base than an established player.  And successful companies eventually have to make that mental leap.

But at the same time, start-ups may feel like they become established before they actually have and they lose their edge and get passed before they actually hit the point of establishment.  Or they become established and keep innovating and changing enough to drive up their customer’s frustrations.

Ultimately you need to know where you fall in the continuum of the market and constantly be evaluating that standing.  Market leaders sometimes need to switch back into start-up mentality (like RIM, MySpace, AOL, Yahoo and many others) or they will fall away and die their enterprise death.