The digital age requires us to think about the different ways of imparting knowledge that is digital and immersive. Gaming and the digital age have somehow become synonymous. Kevin Allen is telling people that a game can be a form of immersion of knowledge and a source of terrific experience. Kevin shares that when he creates a game, he looks at it from the point of view of a storyteller instead of being technician or digital expert. It is always a challenge for business owners to determine how to make their brands seem more innovative. Before advocating for women in marketing, Carla Johnson started her career as a marketer working for architects. This helped her learn that clients can get leverage through storytelling, and telling a great story can be a new benchmark for a new era of marketing.
We have Kevin Allen and Carla Johnson here. Kevin Allen is the Founder and CEO of EI Games, a company that creates award-winning online Emotional Intelligence and learning games for other companies in higher education. Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, entertaining speaker, and a prolific author. She’s very focused on innovation right now, so we are going to learn a lot about Emotional Intelligence, gaming, and innovation and so much more.
Listen to the podcast here:
Successful Game-Based Learning with Kevin Allen
I am here with Kevin Allen, who is recognized as one of the world’s most accomplished growth professionals. After a 30-year advertising career with Interpublic Group and McCann Ericson with highlights like the Priceless campaign for MasterCard and his role in Rudy Giuliani’s Mayoral quest. Kevin now consults for global companies like Google, Burberry, and Verizon and lectures at Columbia University, Harvard, Miami Ad School, Queen Mary University, and Regents University in London. He is the author of Wall Street Journal best seller The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way To Win Business & Create A Following and The Case Of The Missing Cutlery: A Leadership Course For The Rising Star, which has been featured on BBC Radio. He’s the founder of EI Games, creator of award-winning online Emotional Intelligence and development games. I’m really excited to have you here, Kevin.
Thank you very much. I’m honored, if you should ask.
I’m fascinated at what you do, especially the EI part. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Emotional Intelligence and you created a game. I got to know about this game.
I’d be delighted to tell you about it. It goes back. If you said, “Hello,” to Kevin at age five, he’ll cry. Kevin is the most sensitive kid in the world. I even remember relatives, when I’ll be sitting at the staircase listening downstairs and the person goes, “I really worry that he’ll be so sensitive.” Little did I know that sensitivity and empathy, which I thought in my early career was a profound setback and a weakness, because the archetype of leader was the person that ate all the nails for breakfast and swagger like John Wayne, I thought I am none of that. Who would’ve thought that later on, these attributes of human sensitivity and the ability to connect on the emotional level will actually be the greatest asset a leader and a person can have? It’s a thing that would come into its own. I celebrate Emotional Intelligence, not because I think it’s effective, but it defines what it means to be a leader.
I would have never realized that I had an interest in it until I got into college. I was looking for something to write my dissertation about. I want to see what helped improve sales performance. I had this really obnoxious teacher. I only had him for a week. I dropped him because he was so bad. It happened to be the course in which you decided what your dissertation topic might be. I talked to him one time on the phone, he was just this horrible guy, and I mentioned I was looking at sales performance. “You’re going to measure their Emotional Intelligence.” I thought, “I didn’t say that, but what is that?” I never even heard of it at that time. I immediately dropped him that day, but then I looked up Emotional Intelligence and the things that I learned because of this guy. I couldn’t even tell you what his name was but I don’t think he had much of it, but it’s such an important aspect. I became so fascinated because Daniel Goleman‘s book was popular at that time and it has since become very popular. How do you create a game and what do you do in this game? I’ve got to know.
I’d be happy to tell you. The genesis of it was I leave my career of 30 years. I’m in the most wonderful career a kid from the wrong side of the tracks would dream of having. I wrote my first book, which was all about how I was able to sell via the application of emotional intelligent techniques, which is understanding that people decide what their heart and not their head. Working with companies in business transformation and then training and wouldn’t you know, I find my shero, Angela Ahrendts, when she was running Burberry. She was incredible woman. You talk about a poster person for Emotional Intelligent leadership. To me, she’s it. I met her, she read the book, and she said, “This is a leadership book.” I said, “Really?” She said, “Yes and I want you to do a leadership program for my top 100 young people,” which I did. It was absolutely marvelous. At which point the challenge came, “You need to bottle this. It’s not only how you make Emotional Intelligence practical, which you do, but the other piece is how you make my people feel, and that’s the alchemy. There’s my challenge to you.” I didn’t know what to make of that, obviously it’s not just me going on video.
It was my partner, Carl, who’s an artist. We were literally driving around one afternoon and he said, “We should make a game.” That’s a great idea, but how on earth do we do that? We were living in London at the time and we contacted a company and just began the process of figuring out how to write one of these things. I’m an ad man, so I didn’t approach it from the point of view of being a technician or a digital expert, I approached it from the point of view of being a storyteller. To me a game was actually the immersion in an incredible storyline of which instead of reading it or having a teacher tell you it, you’re actually in it, and so that’s what we did. Funny enough the company that we worked with, they did a nice initial concept, but I said to Carl, “We can do better.” We ended up deciding that we would write and art direct the entire game and they would help us with the coding and the technical background, and the Planet Jockey Emotional Intelligent Leadership Games was born.
Essentially, it places the user in the position of being the chief executive officer of a troubled company, Planet Jockey. Your job is to turn around the company and making it more customer-centric. In doing so, you will be faced with 35 challenges in five different levels. Those challenges are the things that I faced in my 30 years, ranging everywhere from the simple idea of how many people should you have in the meeting, all the way to your vice chairman has said, “Don’t tell anybody about the rumor on the street,” and should you agree and listened to that or be transparent. It was everything in between and it twists and turns as the enemy that does really bad stuff. It’s now in use at some wonderful companies and in the use of universities. Harvard and Duke University are using them in conjunction with their classes so it’s been a wonderful experience.
You have been called the Modern-Day Madman, you’ve been called the billion-dollar man, you have quite a lot of titles. I can see why you would be really good at writing something like this. It reminds me of a simulation that I worked with when I was the MBA program chair at the Forbes School of Business. It was more of the financial stuff, looking at the numbers, and that’s what I see a lot in the simulations now. Do you have any numbers associated with yours? Are they going to lose the business if they don’t make the right choices?
They do. We learned a lot about gamification. I spent almost four years writing it. In fact, I’m writing a third book called Successful Game-Based Learning with Dr. Michael Sutton, who is a renowned expert in gamification. We’re going to be publishing later this year. One of the first things I learned is that a game is an immersion and most importantly, people have different mindsets when they come to game, but there are a lot of myths. There are a lot of myths which is that everybody comes to the idea of the game in order to compete, but actually only a small fraction of the people who are involved in game compete. They just want to have a terrific experience. This notion of Angela’s challenge of how you make people feel, I want to make sure that people feel great. Even when they don’t get the question right, there’s a little mentor built in the game who helps in each question, explaining in a thoughtful and kind-hearted way why this is the emotional intelligent approach.
We know that there’s an awful lot of teaching going on these days, but some would argue not a whole lot of learning. The idea of a lecture rooms is 5,000 years old. The digital age requires us to think about different ways of imparting knowledge that is digital and that is immersive. What happens during the game is that for every correct answer people make, they win what’s called buoyancy points, which is based on the theory I have of Emotional Intelligence, namely you float by virtue of making an emotional connection with your people and taking them on an exciting journey, they believe you are worthy and therefore support you. As you win a buoyancy points, you slowly reach five different levels of turning the company around. If you score well, you will reach the five points of where you would achieve a successful turnaround, and so there are several different levels. We have a bunch of other games. We got a pitch game, we got a business ethics game, and now we just released an entrepreneurship game, so there are a lot of things going on.
I’m working on some things with my book about curiosity and what looking at some of the things that you could do to develop that. We may have to talk about that. Emotional Intelligence is hard to measure.
It most certainly is. We’re working with universities like Arizona State, which is one of our closest relationships. I have a chance to come there often. I spoke recently also at the University of Arizona, so I’m in Arizona fairly frequently of late. There’s a general feeling based upon the work that they’re seeing is that there’s a good correlation between the game and general tests in Emotional Intelligence, which is terrific. They’re best used in a blended learning setting where they might be an addition to a classroom. Curiosity is fascinating because it’s active. Someone who is an entrepreneur or change agent or someone who leads an innovation by definition is a curious soul.
What’s interesting is that you and I are both interested in the soft skills that I think are the glue that holds everything together. You can take a business course or accounting or whatever but without that glue, it doesn’t do you any good.
I agree. I remember this notion of hard skills and soft skills, an interesting set of terminology and I haven’t come up with better terminology. When I was at McCann Ericson Advertising, there was a term called below the line. It’s used to describe anyone who is doing communications that was non-TV. The thing that I immediately realized was what a pejorative description that was. Similarly, when I confront this notion in companies say, “That’s all fine, but that’s a soft skill.” It’s clear to 21st century companies that A) Customer centricity is going to be the difference between winning and losing, and B) Emotional Intelligence is the skill that drives customer centricity. If you don’t have one, you don’t have the other. Even in the game, we say that there’s not a right or wrong answer per se because Emotional Intelligence is situational, but there is an optimal approach to that situation. I was looking at some stuff published Rutgers University, it has a fabulous Emotional Intelligence unit, and they’ve got some real stuff. For example, Emotional Intelligence selling techniques outperform by a factor of five, so there’s a lot of increasing statistics that show this stuff works.
I worked for AstraZeneca and fifteen years in pharmaceuticals, but before that I was four or five years in their Ad Camp Division. This was in the early ‘80s and I remember they would rate us on our concern for impact, which is how much we cared how we came across to others. You think about that now but back then nobody was really doing that and I think of them as being ahead of the time. A lot of these Emotional Intelligence tests are very fascinating because they’re self-assessments. I’m certified to give the EQ-I from Bar On and I look at MSCEIT and a few of them when I was doing my dissertation but all of them are self-assessment. Do you think you’re getting a really accurate depiction? I know they build in all these factors to try and catch you, but how accurate do you think they are?
Certainly the testing that I’ve come across is pretty powerful stuff and from what I can see, judging from the types of the dozens of companies that we have worked with as well as the feedback we get on campus is these are pretty good gauges of Emotional Intelligence, and in the case of the game, the degree to which people are actually applying methods of Emotional Intelligence, so there are two things. There’s also a measure of aptitude, but in the case of the game, what we’re really demonstrating are the application. One thing is to be self-aware, the other is, here’s a situation of a resistor. How will you handle it? Will you fire them, or will help to understand the emotions surrounding why they resist? There is a pivot that’s an opportunity for all of us who embrace the subject of Emotional Intelligence, which is the question that was posed to me which is, “I get it. I believe in it. It’s marvelous. The question is, how do you do it on a daily, practical basis?” “I’m going to be self-aware today.” How does one do that? Whether it’s something I was instructing or do instruct in the game, the idea is how do you do this on a practical level.
For example, there is the resisting. There is a model we have within the game called The Four Faces of Change: catalysts, observers, followers and resistors; the four people that you encounter when you take an organization on a journey and doing something new. There are some practical applications of how do you find the catalyst that helps you motivate when you’re confronted with a resistor? How do you deal with that? Even goal setting. Most companies will set goals, grow the company 5% or acquire XYZ. From an Emotional Intelligence perspective, they are simply measures of a much bigger, more emotive, what I call real ambition, based on what I call We Will statement. What amazing things are you creating that didn’t exist before such that it’s what I call the 6:00 conversation? Someone bursts through the door, tell your significant other, “Guess what we are doing?”
I love your notion of curiosity because Emotional Intelligence means they were unleashing or childlike sense of human connection, wonder and possibility. “Wouldn’t it be great if,” and that’s what I’m counting on is for people to follow me. For goodness sake, whether it was the collapse of McCann back in the 90s or the Interpublic, the turnarounds I was involved in were all seemingly impossible to solve and yet when you approach things from an Emotional Intelligence perspective, you’re galvanizing people to believe that something extraordinary is possible. That takes a leap of faith and a sense that you’re appealing to people’s higher sense of possibility, not the least of which is tapping into value system.
What’s it’s interesting to me about both Emotional Intelligence and curiosity is that the people who really need to work on it probably aren’t the ones that are buying the books about it. Sometimes some of these things are helpful if we get to the leaders to get them to filter it down. Don’t you think?
I do. One time a friend of mine gave me a quote about therapy that said therapy is for people who need to learn how to deal with people who should be in therapy. I agree with that principle. It generally applies. I remember one of my great mad man boss. His name was Mike. It was in days we’re pitching in and we would come back from an opportunity and it will go around the table. Mike knew that I had something and he turn to me, “Kevin, what do you think?”I said, “I think they’re frightened. Next meeting, we need to reassure them,” and the whole table would groan, “Oh god.” Mike will say, “I don’t understand this kid anymore than you do, but he wins. So shut up.” The point is that bringing Emotional Intelligence into a place like McCann or any of these organizations that I was a part of was helping them to understand the practical implications. When they started to see that we were winning, my units are having a higher than average performance. I think the management started thinking, “What is he doing? What’s his thing that he’s applying?”
I remember being in a seminar that I was giving for one of the top digital companies in the world, director level, and I’m instructing in Emotional Intelligence and selling. I look at my corner of my eye and I could just tell this gentleman is just not with me. I stopped and I said, “If you don’t mind my asking, you’re not buying this, are you?” He said, “No, it’s not a question that I’m not buying. It’s just a question I think that there are people that do this and then there are left brain people like me that we just do our analytics thing and never the trains shall meet.” It’s very interesting. I said, “Here’s my question to you. Do you think you are empathetic? Do you think you have a capacity for empathy?” He said, “Yeah, I guess I do.” I said, “Then you are emotionally intelligent,” and everybody laughed. At the break, one of the directors came up to me. She said, “I have to tell you. I got a phone call tomorrow with a prospect and I’m going to get my head in. They are just furious with me. Do you have any tips?” I said, “I’ll tell you what. Let’s do one better. Let’s give it to the group.” We went back to the group and then she explained her situation and what’s happening, who do you suppose of all people who had the most thoughtful ideas on how she should approach this disgruntled client, but the gentleman who self-assessed as being not emotionally intelligent.
It was exquisite to watch. I said, “Let’s dissect this. Sir, you’ve suggested that perhaps she pick up the phone and call ahead of time to express her regret outside of the formal proceedings.” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Do you not think that that was an emotional intelligent approach to the situation?” All of a sudden he started to smile. It’s true that there are those of us who have a more attuned emotional sensitivity, which I know I’m one of those people, but everybody has that ability and maybe it’s just a question of some have to exercise the muscles more than others.
Like a Steve Jobs. How would you have liked to train him?
I was asked about this subject when I did my radio broadcast. Clearly, he’s like people who care deeply, which means these are people who have the capacity for compassion. I’ve never worked for him directly, so I can’t be a good judge, but what I will say is that we mustn’t construe that Emotional Intelligence is Kumbaya. Angela Ahrendts is a woman who sets a very high standard, working for her is no mean feat. The question is whether people are dealt with harshly or whether they are made to feel that they are unworthy. Those are different things altogether, but since I never worked for this person, I shall not know.
One of these value systems even in my own little company is uncompromising standard. You might say, “Wait a minute. Isn’t Emotional Intelligence a value system?” Sure it is because it doesn’t mean that if you’re being empathetic and you’re connecting with people in an emotional level and establishing your motive goal for the company that you are still not going to establish metrics for measuring whether you’re going to get there or not or whether an unconverted resistor, no matter after many weeks of trying should be fired. There are still standards. I’m fascinated by that subject because clearly there were literally hundreds if not thousands of people that were mobilized by this extraordinary man. My response is this. Can you imagine what would have been possible if there was some level of increased Emotional Intelligence sensitivity to an already innate genius?
It’s a good way to respond to it and I’ve discussed that in a lot of my courses with my students because you just don’t know what else he could have accomplished. It’s hard to believe he could accomplish much more, but he probably could have. You mentioned your company and I want you to be able to share where people can reach you, because you’ve got these books and you got all this work and a lot of people are really fascinated. This went by way too fast for me.
The best way to do it would be the simplest email, even though we’d have two different companies. Kevin@EIGames.Com is the easiest way to reach me. They can go to the site to look at EI Games and see what we’re up to. There’s a variety of explanations of what we do and how we do it. That’s probably the best way to get a hold of me.
If they want your books?
I’m excited to read it and this was so much fun, Kevin. Thank you for being on the show. I really enjoyed it.
It’s a great pleasure. Finding kindred spirits is always a joy and you got me curious about curiosity so I would be spending more time thinking about that. Thank you so much for having me.
You are welcome.
Women In Marketing with Carla Johnson
I am here with Carla Johnson, who is a world-renowned storyteller, entertaining speaker and a prolific author. Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands hasn’t gone unnoticed. The latest of her seven books, Experiences, set the benchmark for a new era in marketing. Named one of the top 50 women in marketing and the incoming chair of the ANA Business Marketing Association, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. It’s really nice to have you here Carla.
Thank you. I’m delighted to be here today.
I loved your CM World 2016 YouTube video. I got glued to that thing going, “I want to know what’s happening at Molson Coors.” It was so great. I hadn’t heard that story and I’ve taught more than a thousand business courses and we talk about so many case studies, but I hadn’t heard that. Before we get into that, I want to find out more about you. You really know your marketing background, and I’m curious how you got to be at this point in your career.
One of the most beneficial things that I’ve ever done as a marketer is that I started my career working for architects. When I started my college studies, I studied electrical engineering for a couple of years because I come from a family of very left brain science people, military, regular engineers, software engineers, attorneys, and people like that. I’m the youngest of five and it just seemed normal for me to follow that engineering, left-brained path of study. I got to college and I realized there’s a big difference between what you’re good at and what you’d like to do. I’m very right-brained and when it came time to look at, “Do I really want to finish this as a course of study? Is this how I want to spend my career?” It wasn’t. I ended up with a master’s in history, but along the way, I started my career then in marketing. I’ve always loved to write, and knowing the technical side of things from engineering classes and the history part really brought out the storyteller in me. It was a really nice way to begin to work in an industry that I think I wouldn’t have paid attention to otherwise. What I loved about this early part of my career in working with architects is learning the whole design process. The group that I worked with in particular focused on children’s hospitals. When they would go to work with a client, what they would look at is how will this come about. What will be the reality from the eyes of a child? Even that, looking at healthcare from the eyes of a child is a whole different world. Things that you can explain to an adult that makes sense don’t make sense to a young person.
Watching them as they went through this process and thinking for a kid who doesn’t really know what’s going on and haven’t had a track record of good experiences with the hospital, this can be a really scary experience. Instead of looking at what can we do clinically to make sure people feel trust coming in here, it was very much about how can we make these children feel at home and relaxed and comfortable and at ease. Looking at what’s the emotional experience that we want to have delivered as the ultimate part of the experience and then how does that come about in what you designed in a physical experience and then backing everything up to where you start to do your work, that was really how I always looked at marketing. Then when I moved from architecture into Telecomm, that was my next area for a few years, it was a very different world and that it was very product focused. I saw that there was this huge opportunity for marketers to really focus much more on the experience that we’re delivering and not just the experience of how nice does the email look, how great is the brochure, what are the colors that were used in a trade show, but a truly holistic approach to the experience that you deliver as a brand all the way through. That’s really been the foundation of what mattered to me so much as a marketer, and really as a business person too.
I wrote a brand publishing course before as part of my work when I was the MBA program chair at the Forbes School of Business and it was based on dealing with all the issues that CMOs have to face when they’re marketing. A lot of it is trying to reach people in a way they want to be reached, this personal level but at scale, which becomes really complicated. I was fascinated by your storytelling ability because that seems such a big factor in how we reach people. That’s why a lot of people like The Serial Podcast because she’s telling the story and weaving it. Everybody wants to hear this great story. How do you tell stories? What do you tell? How do you help people learn to be better storytellers?
When we talk about storytelling, what I want people to know is if it’s a great story, people have as much time in the world. When we think about the experience we deliver when it comes to storytelling, people don’t have time for a 30-second interruption, but they’ll drop everything for a really amazing three-minute experience, and every experience is based on a really fabulous story. There is a difference between a story and an experience, but an experience is how much you draw in your customer. There is American Girl, it tells an amazing story as a company and what it does to connect young people to dolls that they sell, but you can actually go into a store and be in and amongst the entire experience. Also, what is that like when you are online, what is it like when something happens to the doll that you bought and you want it repaired? What is that holistic story and that holistic experience that is coming out because of that story? When you hear the goldfish analogy, that you have the attention span is less than a goldfish, first of all, nobody has ever actually measured the attention span of a goldfish. It’s a big myth that’s perpetuated.
The other thing is if you’re giving people an amazing story, they have all the attention in the world because that’s why we see people who will binge-watch Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Good Place, and things like that is because it’s an amazing story that they love so they’ll skip everything else and there’ll be a part of your story. What most brands don’t understand is that they’re confusing trying to sell with telling a great story, and that’s where most people don’t realize what to do with storytelling. The first thing that you have to do is create a character and give context for who it is that you’re talking about. Then you need to be able to generate emotion and empathy for that person. Then from a brand perspective, there does come a point where you have to have evidence about what it is that you’re wanting to share. Because if you look at a sales funnel particularly for a CMO, there is going to be that point at the bottom of the funnel where people need the evidence to validate their decisions and to justify things. Particularly in B2B, when there’s so many people involved in the purchase process, then it’s a long sales cycle. It’s 18to 24 months. That’s when you need the evidence to justify that story and help people say, “Yes, this is where we should invest our money.”
I’m writing a book on curiosity and what makes people buy in and be drawn into checking out more things and just exploring in general and having a great story can make somebody’s curious. I was very curious about your story about the Molson Coors thing because it was so unique to me. I like the way you tell stories, at least that particular one as I heard you say it. You don’t make it be about a lot of fluff, you just make it be about the story because the story was compelling as it is. I was wondering if you wanted to share what they did with that?
I’m in Denver, Colorado. Molson Coors is a company in my own backyard and their head of executive communication and employee communications is a good friend of mine, so I did get a hat tip about what was going on. It was fascinating to watch their approach to this process. It’s been a year and a half, almost two years in the making what they’ve been able to do. When my friend, Jill Hollingsworth, started to work at Molson Coors, it was at a time when Coors had just bought Molson, which is a Canadian brewing company and Coors is a US-based brewing company. They looked at how they would blend two very different cultures, and it’s an approach to how they do the work that they do, how they market themselves, and a tremendous amount of things. What Jill and her team looked at is, “How do we tell this story in a way that honors both of the culture, yet brings it together into one that both groups of people, both communities and cultures say, ‘This is who I am going forward.’?”
One of the most amazing things that they did that helped it be so successful is that they created this brand guideline called Our Brew, where it goes in and actually defines, “This is who we are as a company, this is what we believe in, this is what we stand for, and here’s how we exemplify that as a brand. Here’s how we represent it.” Many times as companies, there are a lot of people who have gone through merger and acquisition whether you are a part of the employee base or if you’re in that communication role as you go through the process. It’s very efficient, not always very efficient, but the intention is to make it efficient and bring things together and then it’s done.
The beauty of what Coors did is that they created a voice that was realistic to not just the beer industry but to the people who worked there. That is one of the things that emotionally connected to these very different groups of people to this new brand. Our Brew is what they called the guidelines, and they shared it with everybody. They taught people what it means to talking to in the Our Brew voice and they showed them examples of what it looks like. Employees were being trained on it, but then they started to see internal communications that exemplified it so they thought it wasn’t just something that was going to be dictated, it was something that they actually reinforce. At a certain point when they started out, they had an editorial group that would review the content that went out to all employees and it had to be what they called pub talk approved. They said, “Really the voice of us as a beer company is no different than if you were getting together at a pub and you were sitting down and having a beer with somebody else.”
You compare that to how most companies talk to their employees and it’s completely different. As corporate people, we use synthesize and optimize and all of these words that you would never say to a friend in a bar. That makes it feel so human and so real and that helps people really get a hold of it and say, ‘This is who I am. This company sounds like me.” They continue to go through and were very transparent about how they communicated with employees all around the world and how they measured business objectives. They were very communicative, both the CEO and the CFO, about what was going on with the company and that made employees really have a vested interest in what was going on because they felt trusted. For a while they had an internal video station called Brew Tube instead of YouTube, where they would have these regular updates. The employees really felt invested. When they had a new CEO come to Denver a few years ago, he was from Europe, and he would go around to the bars in the Denver and Golden, Colorado area and visit. He said, “We should be the beer that’s on tap everywhere because this is our home territory and where we all started.” He saw that that actually wasn’t the case.
What they did is they launched a program that initially was just going to be over the summer. What it did was it gave all the employees in Denver a $35 a month allowance. They encouraged the employees that if they were at a liquor store or if they were at a restaurant or a bar or pub or something, and they saw somebody else drinking another brand of beer at a table, they could go up and say, “Have you ever tried a Blue Moon or a Coors light?” If no, they could buy them a round. If they saw somebody at a liquor store getting a different craft beer, they could say, “Have you ever tried this? If not, let me buy you a six pack and see what you think of it,” or if you buy it to take to a community barbecue or your neighbor’s barbecue. What they did is they empower the people to actually represent a brand and say, “This is who I work for and this is what I believe in the product that we’re selling. I want you to share it too, and just let me know what you think.” Employees loved it and they would take pictures and come back to the company, come back to the office, and they would share them on Yammer.
It was so interesting to see the response of the employees because one, it really activated their pride in the company. The people who work for Molson Coors are so proud of the product that they deliver, but it also helped some people come out of their shell. Some of the people who had the most fun with this are the accountants. You think about somebody who works in accounting for a company, you look at them and it’s like, “Can you process my invoice?” “I didn’t get paid, I have to go talk to them and they’re going to tell me I can’t get the money.” All of a sudden they could be the rock stars and be the fun people at a party or at a bar. It’s been fabulous to watch the employee engagement with that and it was taken on by employees to such a degree that they have extended it. It’s not limited to a month. You have this amount of money per year because they realized that sometimes in the summer you’re more likely to socialize and go out and do things and maybe not so much in spring or fall. It’s definitely a program that has helped them activate their story by the people who live it and deliver it and believe it the most, and those are employees.
They’ve really increased engagement and trust. Their engagement when you spoke was about 86%.
Their employee engagement level is actually considered world class.
We hear that it’s usually in the 30% range and that’s a huge difference. Engagement is such a big thing, everybody’s talking about engagement and everybody’s talking about innovation too. I want to talk to you about why you think it’s on everybody’s radar?
Innovation is a word that we hear all the time. It gets diluted to a certain degree because people talk about, “It needs to be innovative,” and I don’t think we really understand what that is. I look at this as being two different kinds of companies. There are companies that innovate and those are the companies that focus on the products and the services that they sell. It’s the 2.0 product, the 3.0 product, what’s something different that’s coming out? Then there are also companies that are truly innovative and they are looking at innovation from a much different perspective.
In the first example with a company that innovates, they generally have a specific group of employees who are charged with innovation. They’re looked at as the rock stars. They have the stand-up desks, they have the cool computers, they are PhDs in something or maybe anthropologists and whatever it them. It feels like they’re the golden child group to everybody else within an organization. If you talk to somebody in accounting and that type of company or maybe IT or an administrative assistant and you talk to them about innovation, they say “That’s not my job. That’s those people over there,” or they say “I’m not really smart enough because I don’t have a PhD. I don’t know about design or all these different things,” and they think that they can’t.
If you look at the companies that are innovative, they realize that it’s really a democracy of ideas and where they come from that makes them so powerful. That’s a company like Google and Amazon. They’re companies that we always get excited and really anticipate really great, amazing things coming around the corner. They understand that innovation is much bigger than a product and service that you sell, but it’s an entire culture, it’s a mindset, and it really empowers everybody to be better at what they do at whatever level and whatever contact that they have with a customer, with another employee, or anything like that. You saw that with the Molson Coors example. People get really creative and innovative with how they spent that expense money to express what they believe about the brand.
It’s very challenging for people to determine how to make their brands seem more innovative. What are characteristics you think of brands that are innovative? We’ve talked about Molson. Any others that you want to share?
Some of the biggest things in what innovation can really look like in a brand is how easy are they to do business with. I’ve worked with companies who want to talk about how innovative their projects are, but their customers want to pull their hair out when they do business with them because the systems are so complicated. The Whirlpool example was about them talking about celebrating the 125 years of pride and performance in the company, and yet here’s this poor couple who bought this microwave with the gold level of service if anything should go wrong and at every turn it just got worse and worse. They paid over $200 for the microwave, and then when it broke within the first year and they had people come out and try and fix it, it didn’t work. They said, “Let’s just face it. We bought a lemon.”
There was a great opportunity for Whirlpool to deliver an amazing experience and just take care of it. Instead they said, “No, you have to wait until the first year warranty is up, and then that’s when your extended gold level service kicks in and then you have to pay us to take the microwave away,” and it just kept getting worse and worse. You see in that case that’s something that they did that they thought sounded great, but it wasn’t anything that was truly innovative because all the people at those touch points, if you look at it from a customer experience perspective, weren’t doing anything that was innovative. If anything, they were moving the perception of the company back 25 to 30 years instead of saying, “Here are people who have ideas about how to make that important critical touchpoint with a customer when something goes wrong, and here’s a way to handle it that’s new and different that would really make them turn around and be a huge fan for us as a customer.”
That’s such a great example. You probably have so many more in your book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. I’m curious, “The 7th” what do you mean by that?
The 7th Era. That was a book that I co-wrote with Robert Rose that came out about three years ago. It’s looking at how has marketing evolved over all these years. Marketing as we think of it in a common day function started around 1850. That was the first time when we saw that companies had some excess products and they said, “Maybe we can do something with that.” They called it the trade ear. It got to the point where companies said “We can produce products that are really specific and talk about them.” That moved them into the production era and that was the early part of the 1900s, up until the 1920s when we saw a lot of the industrial revolution coming from Europe to the States. After the depression and into around the World War II era, it was a sales era, and it was when companies saw, “We need to actually get more professional about how we sell and put some process in place.” That’s when Dale Carnegie wrote his famous book that we still look at now as a business resource, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
It was after World War II and into the mid-‘60swhere we got into that marketing department era. You think of that as the mad men era where it was agencies on Madison Avenue and it was all about how could you make marketing a formalized function within a company. When we go to college and learn about the four Ps of marketing, that actually makes up the first four Ps: product, place, price and promotion. In the ‘60s and into about the middle of the ’90s, we had that marketing company era. The thing that people think of the most out of this era is that Apple SuperBowl commercial from 1984 where they launched the Macintosh. It’s where we started to look at companies as a brand and market companies rather than just the products that they sell. In the ‘90s and early 2000s, we had CRM, one to one relationships, and personalization, so it was about building that relationship, but in the last three, four, five years, it’s been about what experience can a brand deliver. I was reading a post about Richard Branson and the Virgin experience, and he is just a genius at understanding that how people look at companies these days, the experience is actually more valuable than what it is that a company sells in the first place.
It’s interesting, they’ve replaced the four P’s now with the four E’s, and experience is number one. It is interesting of how important experience has become. Your book is super timely in that respect. I’m glad we got a chance to talk about that. I was interested in the different titles of your book and now that you’ve told me, it made sense that you wrote Advice from The Top, but then I saw Union Pacific and Omaha Union Station, it makes sense now that you tell me about your history background.
My first book was my master’s thesis in college and it came from that history and architecture place. It was called Union Pacific and Omaha Union Station. It was about the influence of the railroad stations that Union Pacific stations in Omaha as people built the great western United States. That’s for me and my book writing part of my career. I had done a lot of work for Western Union when I first started my company and it was the time when they were separating from their parent company and really going to come out on their own. Interestingly enough, nobody had ever documented their history. When we talk about a brand story, they have an amazing brand story of how they have always been about connecting people, and you can see that throughout their history with the products that they would launch and what was successful and what wasn’t successful.
We see this with brands today. When they veer too much from that story that really is true to the heart of who they are as a company, they struggle with success and a lot of times they fail with it, and it’s because they don’t understand what their true story is and that is the core of everything they do. When they stray from it, it diffuses people’s perception of who they are. If you look at like the difference between Apple and all the different things that they have gone into, and then you look at Dell, Dell tried to go into music players too but that wasn’t the story that people believe about them because it was too different. You don’t buy a lot of music players from Dell these days.
No you don’t, but I am actually looking at a Dell computer.
They’re great for computers because that’s what you know them about, but the story they tell is about computers and technology. It’s not about thinking differently like Apple tells their story.
I got an Apple to my right and a Dell in front of me, so we got all bases covered. This has been so interesting. This is so much fun having you on the show, Carla. Can you share how people can find out more, get your books and reach you?
My company website is TypeACommunications.com. That will have a lot of background information and lists of all the books I’ve written so far. You’ll see a book on the author section called The Innovation Factory. That’s the new book that I’m working on that will come out. I’m on Twitter, @CarlaJohnson. On LinkedIn, I’m just Linkedin.Com/in/CarlaJohnson. I love the different ways that people can connect with me.
This has been so much fun. Thank you so much for being on the show.
I’m delighted to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
Thank you so much to Kevin and to Carla. What a great show and we have so many past episodes that are so wonderful. I hope you check them out. Please go to Dr.DianeHamilton.com to find out more there.
About Kevin Allen
Kevin Allen is Founder & CEO of EI Games LLC, creator of award-winning online Emotional Intelligence learning games for companies and higher education, and business development company re:kap Inc., counting Google, Cisco, Burberry, Expedia and Rovio’s Angry Birds among its global clients. He is recognized as one of the world’s most accomplished business growth professionals and expert on emotional intelligence and its practical application in the workplace. After a highly successful 30-year advertising career atop global industry giants The Interpublic Group and McCann Ericson, with highlights like the “Priceless” campaign for MasterCard, Kevin now consults and develops learning programs for global companies and lectures at Columbia University, Harvard, Miami Ad School, Queen Mary University and Regents University London. He is author of Wall Street Journal bestseller The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following, and The Case of the Missing Cutlery: A Leadership Course for the Rising Star, which has been featured on BBC Radio.
About Carla Johnson
Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author. Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands hasn’t gone unnoticed and the latest of her seven books, Experiences, sets the benchmark for a new era in marketing. Named one of the top 50 women in marketing and the incoming chair of the ANA’s Business Marketing Association, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.
- Kevin Allen
- The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way To Win Business & Create A Following
- The Case Of The Missing Cutlery: A Leadership Course For The Rising Star
- EI Games
- Daniel Goleman
- Planet Jockey Emotional Intelligent Leadership Games
- The Case of the Missing Cutlery04
- Carla Johnson
- Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing
- Advice from The Top
- Union Pacific and Omaha Union Station
- CM World 2016
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
- The Serial Podcast
- Molson Coors
- @CarlaJohnson Twitter