Steve Yastrow and I quickly discovered we're kindred spirits. Both passionate about sales, marketing, brand building and what drives decision-makers...to decide! Plus, we're fans and students of comedy, the improvisational comedic process and the hard work required to be funny! As well as, how "improv" can improve your results!
We're also "neighbors." Our homes and offices are only a few miles apart. Yet there's one key distinction. I own guitars. Steve knows how to play 'em! He's a talented musician. I play a wicked kazoo!
Steve is also the author of Brand Harmony, We: The Ideal Customer Relationship and Ditch the Pitch.
The following are edited excerpts from our conversations and a really fun breakfast.
Jeff Blackman: You say, "Your brand is what your customers think you are." So what's the best ways to influence their thinking?
Steve Yastrow: To influence customers' thinking, you first need to recognize how customers form brand impressions. As customers have interactions with a product, service, or a company, those interactions blend in the customer's mind into one composite impression.
If the way those interactions blend tells one, cumulative story, it's easier for the customer to understand what the "product" can do for them. If these interactions conflict, the customer will either be confused or ignore the message.
I call this "brand harmony" and it recognizes every customer interaction is a marketing interaction.
JB: Is branding just about image, identity and reputation? Or does it go deeper? And if so, how?
SY: Branding goes much deeper. When a customer has rich, motivating beliefs about a product or company, those beliefs will encourage the customer to be more involved with that product or company. The goal of branding is to help customers form these powerful beliefs, which leads them to act in ways that drive business results for the company behind the brand.
Branding is about finding the "why" of your business. As in, "Why would people say they can't live without us?" Or, "Why do people love doing business with us?"
Customers are convinced they have many choices. No matter what you sell, customers think they can get it elsewhere. And customers think, they themselves, are unique.
So if you want customers to think you're different, stop telling them. Instead, show them you know what makes them different.
JB: How does one then create rich, detailed pictures of their product or service, in their customer's mind?
SY: By creating an experience of brand harmony with every customer touch point to deliver one clear, compelling, differentiated story. It's critical a customer sees what the product can do for them. Too much marketing or sales communication is about "here's who we are and here's what we do." Mass marketing is so much less effective in this age of the empowered customer.
JB: What trends have driven today's customer's or client's influence and buying power?
SY: I see three: 1) Our contemporary focus on self-reliance, 2) product proliferation, and 3) access to information.
We live in an age where savvy customers feel very self-reliant, believing they have the power to make choices for themselves. They don't believe they "have" to do business with anybody.
Second, customers face a vast number of options for nearly every purchase decision. Our marketplace is the opposite of the Soviet bread lines of the 1960s. Instead of waiting in line for hours for whatever product is available, we have thousands of products available. Immediately. At our fingertips.
And we have frictionless access to seemingly infinite information about things we might purchase. It has become really tough for a company to fake out a customer.
All of this adds up to a major shift in power from sellers to buyers.
JB: Why should business pros and salespeople, "ditch the pitch?"
SY: Nobody wants to hear a sales pitch. If we want to engage, interest and persuade others, we need to ditch the pitch and create conversations that really matter. To do this, we must abandon any preconceived notions of how a conversation could go and improvise the right conversation for this customer at this moment.
I stress, "think input before output." If a salesperson develops a natural habit to listen and observe before speaking, (to think input before output), they'll gather information to help them create fresh, spontaneous conversations that'll engage customers.
JB: What lessons from improv comedy are applicable to business?
SY: Improvisers are trained to pay close attention to their environment and then create a unique experience that's perfectly tailored to work in that environment. That ability, which I believe anyone can learn, has vast implications in business.
Every workday is different. And every situation is unique. The ability to improvise through complex, unique business situations is critical to success in our changing world.
JB: Yet improvisation doesn't negate the significance of knowing how to improvise. Which means practice and preparation are still crucial to the improv process?
SY: Exactly! To effectively improvise, you should first master six key habits:
1. Think Input Before Output
2. Size Up the Scene
3. Create a Series of "Yeses"
4. Explore and Heighten
5. Focus the Conversation On the Customer
6. Don't Rush the Story
These habits and techniques can then be applied to just about every persuasive business opportunity or situation.
For more ways to persuade and profit, please head to yastrow.com