What makes these siblings freakishly unique.

Do you know what makes you unique? As an advertising professional I am always looking for the things that make brands and people stand out. In marketing, we call this a Unique Selling Proposition. A USP helps a brand, product or service stand apart from the competition in a meaningfully way. At The Weaponry, we help our clients discover and amplify their USP. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times we have to dig. Sometimes we dig to China.

I love discovering the USP in humans too. Everyone is special in his or her own way.  I remember being told this many times in my preschool and elementary school days. I believed it. While other kids may have had to do some soul-searching or head scratching to discover what made them special, I knew.

I am one of four children of Robert and Jill (Sprau) Albrecht. My parents got married 4 days before the 1960’s expired. They had my older sister, Heather, 17 months after that. Two years later they had their next child. Their first and only son. Me. Now, when I say I was born two years later, I mean it. My older sister and I have the same birthday.

My parents then slowed their roll, and waited almost 3 years to have my younger sister, Alison. Two years after that, our family caboose arrived. We named my baby sister, Donielle. (note to SpellCheck, AutoCorrect and Starbucks baristas: it is Donielle, with an ‘o’)

To recap: my older sister, Heather, and I have the same birthday, 2 years apart.  My two younger sisters, Alison and Donielle, have the same birthday, 2 years apart. Heather and I were born May 25th. Alison and Donielle were born May 22nd.  Which means my parents had 4 kids, on two days, just 3 days apart.

That’s pretty unique.

When telling new friends about our birthdays my parents would always conclude the story with:

…So we always say, “No more vacations in August!”

This always generated a huge laugh from the adults in the room. I’m a quick study. So when I would meet a new friend and tell them my origin story, I would always end it just like my parents did. I remember being at a sleepover and telling my friend’s parents this story, with the standard Albrecht-Family punchline. But as a 7-year old, I didn’t get big laughter. I made parents’ jaws drop. I got a look that even a 7-year-old could read as, ‘That is NOT an appropriate things to say. You won’t be playing with our Johnny again.’

But I had no idea what I was saying.  In fact, it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I ever bothered to count back the 9 months from May to get some insight on the baby-making. And there it was. August. My parents made me and my 3 sisters in August. Apparently, while on vacation. Which is gross. And TMI. That’s why it wasn’t a cool thing for a 7-year old to say. Suddenly, all those horrified reactions made sense.  They thought I knew something that clearly I did not.

My family’s unique birthday story has always made me feel special. I now recognize that there are a handful of other things that make me special too. I can make a loud popping sound with my jaw. I may have the flattest feet on earth. I can make a pun out of any word you throw my way. But my birthday story always makes me feel like I was special from day 1. If you are giving birth to a business, brand, product or service, be sure to create it to be special from the start.  Then you’ll have as much fun telling your story as I have telling mine.

Today kicks off the Albrecht Family Birthweek. The biggest week of the year in the Albrecht family. Happy birthday today to my sisters Alison and Donielle, who are both in Houston. Happy be-earlied birthday to my sister Heather in Saint Paul.  I love all 3 of you more than footy pajamas, ice cream in a can and roller coasters. You make me proud to be your only bro. And you make me thankful for vacations in August.

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A strange encounter at the Piggly Wiggly.

One of the great things about owning your own advertising agency is that you get to decide the rules of operation. I believe businesses should allow team members to construct their work and life schedules into one harmonious whole. I like to get started early each day, and work late. So sometimes I take a little time in the middle of the day for myself. Leading up to the OSCARS my wife and I went to several morning movies at the local Marcus Theater which has $5 movies on Tuesday.  This isn’t work-life balance. It’s work-life integration.

On a recent Friday I fit in a workout over my lunch hour.  Then I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple of things my wife requested. No big deal. After a quick lap around the store I had the 5 things I came for, and I got in line to check out.

This is where it gets interesting.

That’s when Matilda sidled up next to me. She was somewhere north of 75 years old. She rolled up slowly, leaning hard on her cart, as if it was the only thing that prevented her from lying face down on the floor. She rolled really close to me and spoke:

“Can I tell you something? I have 9 kids. 27 grandkids. And 10 great grandkids. There are 11 lawyers in the family. My husband does a lot of research. A lot… And he’ll tell you that the brand of ice cream you have in your cart is the most likely to give you Salmonella!’

I smiled at her and replied enthusiastically, “I know! That’s why I chose this brand!’

Matilda, surprised and somewhat confused by my response continued.

‘The next-worst brand for Salmonella is (BRAND CONCEALED TO PROTECT ITS WELL-EARNED BRAND REPUTATION FROM MATILDA).

Again, I eagerly replied, “I know! That’s the one I am going to try next! I haven’t had Salmonella yet! You only live once, and I want to experience all I can!’

Matilda: (Now snapping at me)  ‘You are just like my son who has been in the hospital for 11 months battling his heroin addiction!’

Hmmm. This was an interesting response. Contemplating that this all started with my brand of vanilla frozen yogurt, I thought that the heroin parallel was a bit of a stretch.

But Matilda wasn’t done.

‘Listen pal! I’ve done more crazy stuff in my life than you ever will! (Um, like confronting me in the grocery store over my choice of frozen yogurt?) I’ve taught over 500 people to water ski!’

At this point I was taking the cashier’s Paper or Plastic quiz.  But Matilda was rolling.  As I quickly finished my transaction and walked towards the exit with my plastic bag of frozen salmonella treats, Matilda shouted at me,

“How many emergency landings have YOU made in an airplane!?!”

I turned around, still smiling, and asked, “As a pilot or passenger?’

Then she scowled at me, lifted her arthritic hand, and raised 2 fingers. I’m assuming this meant. “Peace out Salmonella-Heroin Boy!’ Or maybe it meant ‘I’ve had 2 emergency plane landings! One every 37 years or so.’ Suddenly the sliding glass doors closed between us like the curtain at the end of a play. The matinee was over.

The reason I share this story is because I had to tell someone. It was just too surprisingly random to keep to myself. If you have a flexible workday schedule, you may encounter some interesting people who are running their errands while you are normally at work.  So if you want a little bit more entertainment, go to the grocery store in the middle of the day, throw some vanilla frozen yogurt in your cart and see who wants to chat.

Making connections: 3 things I do to make total strangers laugh.

I wish the world was funnier. Funny is one of the most precious commodities. If they traded funny on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange I am certain it would make people forget all about wheat, hogs and butter. I know of nothing that draws two strangers together faster than funny. Except maybe blackholes.

I am a naturally happy person. But sometimes I wish I knew more funny people who entertained me and made me laugh. I’m willing to bet that your life would be even more enjoyable if you knew more people that made you laugh more often too.

The workplace is the perfect place to get a good laugh. It provides a never-ending mix of new, odd and surprising situations. In fact, I want my ad agency, The Weaponry, to be the world’s funniest place to work. Meetings should be funny. Lunchtime should be funny.  The holiday party should be funny. I want to make this a place where we can laugh at ourselves, at the things we don’t know, at our mistakes and at the predicaments we find ourselves in. Finding the humor in our shared experiences helps us bond. And it helps us through the challenges and setbacks that naturally come with hard work.

I’m considering a policy that says that if you can make me laugh you get hired. The rest we can train.  Heck, maybe we can train the funny too. I’ve tested a lot of funny things over the course of my career. Not all of it hit the mark. But I have never been deterred.  I keep what works and tweak what doesn’t.

To that end, here are a few things that I like to do or say that are proven to make even total strangers laugh.

The Unpleasantry: It is common (and polite) in our culture to end an interaction by saying, “Have a good day.’ or “Have a great weekend!’ or ‘Have a good night!’ The expected reply is to simply repeat what the other person says. Or to say ‘Thank you.’ Or ‘You too.’ I prefer to say, “Don’t tell me what to do!’ That always get’s a laugh.

The Fritz Astaire: You know that moment when two people are about to run into each other, then both try to step out of the way, but they actually step in the same direction, so they end up taking awkward steps and getting nowhere?  I love it when that happens! It gives me a chance to say, ‘Thanks for the dance.’  That always gets a laugh.  Or I get punched in the eye by my new dance partner’s significant other.

The Family Connection: You ever notice how people introduce themselves by inserting, ‘My name is (NAME) by the way.’?  This is one of my favorite things.  I love to respond to this introduction by asking, ‘Are you related to any other Bytheways?’ It usually takes a moment. But laughter eventually follows.  Of course, I don’t distingusih between people laughing at me and people laughing with me.

I encourage you to find your own ways to make the world a funnier place. And if you find yourself with some really good material, please try it out on me. If you have skills that apply to advertising, all the better. The Weaponry is always looking for talented and funny people to akwardly run into in the hallway. Have a great day, Bytheway!

An easy way to make a memorable impression in the next hour.

 

I’m starting a new series called, “What are you doing with your blank?” I will pick a different blank for each post. You’re probably wondering, ‘What the blank is a blank?’ Blanks are the thousands of things in our lives that we could each make more interesting and distinct with a tiny bit of effort. Just ask athletes Ocho Cinco and Metta World Peace.

Today’s blank is: voicemail message. (So the question is ‘What are you doing with your voicemail message?’) Your voicemail message impacts your personal brand or your business (and probably both) whether you make an effort or not. Yet most people completely ignore these valuable messages. If you have chosen the default setting on your phone, you are hanging up on the opportunity to make a strong, favorable brand impression.

I’ve been having fun with my voicemail messages since they were called answering machine messages. Maybe too much fun. When I was in college, my roommates and I were recording an enthusiastic voicemail message at 4:00am, when Police Officer Buzzkill banged on our door to tell us they had received noise complaints ‘down at the Cop Shop.’

At The Perfect Agency Project we believe there is great value in unique, memorable or funny voicemail messages. Partially because they are so surprising. Our voicemail expectation are so low that it is easier to jump over the voicemail message bar than to limbo under it.

Last night I got a text from Monica Baer, a former coworker of mine from Cramer Krasselt.  The text read:

Hey, I’m going to call your vm so my kids can hear it :). Don’t pick up.

Does that happen to you?  Probably not. Could it?  Absolutely. Offer a message that will put a smile on your caller’s face. Make them feel important, give them a great quote, a piece of trivia or useful information. If you do, they’ll be happy they called.  Maybe they will even be a little disappointed when they get you instead of your interesting recording.

A memorable voicemail message is also free. It costs no more to create a great, value-adding, entertaining message than to leave no message at all. You can also update messages to match the weather, holidays or major events. You can tout business awards and successes. You could even use your voicemail message to tell callers about an interesting blog post you read about voicemail messages.

I often offer a voicemail promotion, offering a faster call back if the caller performers a specific request, like yodeling. I’ve asked callers to sing their voicemail messages. Think,  The Voice: Voicemail Edition.

Don’t be afraid to try. The great thing about unique voicemail messages is that they can be changed at any point. So try different messages and learn what works well for you and your brand. Just keep it relatively brief.

If you would like to hear my voicemail message give me a call. You can always text me first to tell me you want to hear my VM, so I know not to pick up. My number is 614-256-2850. Don’t be afraid to say hi. I look forward to your message.