Taking Risks and Dancing with Fear

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Conventional wisdom tells us that decision making should be based on rational thinking, but we’re also advised to listen to our gut feeling.

While I’ve always had good instincts and my gut has yet to disappoint me, there’s another kind of not-so-rational feeling that is much harder to keep in check. I’ve noticed that people sometimes justify fear-based decisions with excuses like “I just wasn’t feeling it” or “my gut is telling me not to do this”

Your gut is a good instinct and you should trust it. But fear is an entirely different beast. The ability to tell those two apart is critical, and it is something that I’ve been trying to master over the years.

All sorts of fears keep people back. Fear of public speaking, fear of failing, fear of not being good enough, of being laughed at, of being disappointed or embarrassed, just to name a few.

Great business leaders like Sheryl Sandberg or Ed Catmull have publicly admitted to sometimes feeling like a fraud, which proves that even the most confident and successful people have their own insecurities. To say we fear nothing is to lie to ourselves and, worse, to rob us of a great opportunity.

Some people talk about overcoming our fears, implying the ultimate goal is to avoid being afraid. That is the worst thing we can do: avoiding fear means we are getting comfortable… Read more

8 Things I’ve Learned About Working for CEOs

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For most of my career, I have either worked for myself or for a CEO. I have worked for the CEO of a big multinational, a medium-sized company co-founder & CEO, and I’ve been a startup CEO’s number two.

While everyone in the business world has a boss, reporting directly to a CEO is a completely different experience than reporting to a middle manager or even other C-Suite executives.

Yes, CEOs are people like everyone else with different personalities and leadership styles but they do tend to share a few traits like being great visionaries, having insanely busy schedules and being really good at reading people, just to name a few.

All this makes for a great learning experience and I thought I’d share some of the hard lessons I’ve learned so far.

1. Respect his time

I still remember the awkward silence during my first meeting with a big company CEO. I had only met him twice during the interview process and I was hired to start a new department so I was pretty much clueless about the whole process. I sat down waiting for him to start the conversation and he just silently stared at me, until I decided to wing it and started asking questions.

Coming from a startup, I was used to discussing everything with my CEO all the time but I quickly realized that he was never going to set a meeting agenda. It was MY job to run the show on those weekly meetings and make the most out of the short face time we had.

The same goes for email. Ever complained about how unmanageable your email gets? Just imagine a CEO’s inbox. Write the shortest emails you can and don’t always expect a reply. Most of the times all I got back was a single word: OK.

2. Never go to a CEO with a problem

Instead, go with a solution. Unless shit is about to hit the fan, chances are the problem you’re facing is not really a problem so you need to figure a way out before going to your CEO.

This is a great way to keep him informed and to have him approve YOUR way of doing things. If you need guidance, come up with alternative solutions and ask his opinion, but as a rule you should not expect the CEO to give you the answer to an open-ended question.

3. Don’t be afraid to disagree with your CEO

CEOs are extremely smart people, but they also value honesty and are usually pretty open to being challenged. If you are certain of something, stand your ground and be persistent but you better have data to back it up or they will rip you apart. Read More…

How can bookstores compete with amazon?

Kinokuniya Book World – Dubai Mall (photo by Time Out Dubai)

Let me start off by stating that I am a learning junky so, naturally, reading is one of my favorite hobbies. But because I’m also a very sociable person, I don’t like libraries. I like to read at the cafe with my headphones on, where I can lose myself in my ideas and pause for people watching or talk to someone.

Consequently, a bookstore feels like a playground to me.

But not just any kind of bookstore. It needs to have a good selection of books that interest me (I browse mostly the business section) but more than that, it needs to be a comfortable place. When all I want is to quickly buy a book, I order from  amazon.

Back when I was living in Europe, Fnac was my place of choice. It has tons of books and a café inside the store. Anyone is allowed to read books as they please – the store’s reading spaces with comfy couches and good lighting invite customers to do so. Readers can even do it while enjoying their coffee and then walk away without buying anything.

When I moved to Dubai I was introduced to a whole new level of NERDY awesomeness that goes by the name of Kinokuniya Book World. It’s a japanese book store so HUGE it could fit 5 Fnacs inside of it. I’m guessing it’s called Book World because it’s the size of the World and the oceans are made of books.

This store is located in the Dubai Mall, which is in my neighborhood… Walking Distance! I’ve spent countless afternoons there, browsing, reading or working on my MacBook while enjoying the beautiful Burj Khalifa view from their Japanese-themed cafe.

This store is no joke: 68.000 sqft! You will find books on everything and anything in there, the same way you would find them in amazon’s warehouse. It beats the crap out of Fnac in terms of book selection.

The problem is, it lacks the customer experience Fnac has been so cleverly providing for more than 50 years. Continue reading

The Brand Leaders in the Middle East

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Since I moved from Lisbon to Dubai, I’ve been observing the cultural differences between the 2 cities and learning how those differences are reflected in marketing practices on this side of the globe.

So, earlier this week, when I was invited to attend the launch of The Brand Leaders (by Young Network), I couldn’t pass on the chance to hear first hand from top professionals here in Dubai what was their take on the Future of Marketing in the Middle East.

I’ve gone through all the video testimonies (watch here), talked to a few people and rounded up a few conclusions that I’d like to share with you.

Continue reading

Is all marketing bullshit?

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It is certainly not, otherwise I would have chosen a different career.

There are amazing products out there, tons of really cool brands, some clever tag lines and some brilliant ad campaigns.

But let’s face it, we are exposed to thousands of ad messages everyday and most of them just carry the distinct smell of crap.  Continue reading

How long will Dubai Mall keep its crown?

An observer’s perspective on the challenges faced by the biggest mall in the World

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Back in 2008, I wrote an article about the biggest mall in the Iberian Peninsula, Lisbon’s Dolce Vita Tejo, stealing the title from its previous holder, Colombo Shopping, also in Lisbon.

At the time, I was working at Sonae Sierra, owner of Colombo. I remember everyone at the office talking about Dolce Vita opening just a mere 6km away from our champion performer, so I rushed to check it out and dismissed any worries.

Although Dolce Vita had a lot going on for it, including a well-balanced retail mix with a few new store concepts, the location itself was a disaster – in the middle of nowhere except for the poorest neighborhoods in the city.  Plus, its marketing concept was about being the “biggest”, while Colombo was “the place of everything”, a much better strategy.

I went on to work in different fields but I’ve kept an eye on the Shopping Center Industry. Now, having moved to Dubai, it’s nearly impossible not to. Especially when you live Downtown, across from Dubai Mall, the World’s biggest shopping center (at least for now!).

It feels like a déjà-vu: last year Dubai announced plans to build the biggest shopping center, again! The appropriately named Mall of the World (MoW) is going to be located very near the current size champion.

What does this mean for Dubai Mall?
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The Future of Marketing

Four years ago I was invited to discuss the future of Marketing in 60 seconds for an initiative called The Brand Leaders. As I thought about it, I wrote this article that I now share with you because it seems to apply more than ever. Please note this isn’t some attempt at futurology, these are just my thoughts.

When asked to think about the future of Marketing, the word that almost instantly came to my mind was technology and all its ramifications: social media, smartphones, tablets, Big data and convergence, just to name a few. It wasn’t long ago that we were targeting whole market segments, but today technology allows us to pinpoint our target audience to the extent where we almost plan our strategies to segments of one. It’s customization taken to the extreme (no news here!).

However, we are an extremely egotistic society going through an economic crisis that has caused a shift in personal values. People want to stand out from the pack but, at the same time, they feel the need to be part of something. Something bigger than themselves.

The crisis ends up working as a filter; it is literally the survival of the fittest. In this social landscape, brands have to become relevant to people’s lives, or they will eventually fail. At the same time, big companies need to become agile and decrease their response time to new market challenges. In other words, speed up the decision process (a logical consequence of the technological world).

Marketing professionals need to be more flexible.

How? Well, for starters, cut the bullshit. If I have to hear one more radio commercial about how a bank’s personalized services make their clients feel special, I think I’m gonna puke.

Trust your instincts. Get more in touch with your human side (I have been purposely writing people instead of customers).  In the midst of all kinds of trends, technologies, techniques and new theories that pop up every month, the marketer may feel a bit lost. Keep it simple. Gut feeling. Back to basics.

People will focus less and less on having things and more on being something, on living. They will probably buy fewer products but look for more experiences and events that will allow them to make memories and forge emotional bonds.

I think tribal strategies will have a good outcome because tribes facilitate the expression of individuality while including people in a group that shares the same values, references and lifestyle.

For example (and I don’t want to make the mistake of generalizing my personal experience), I can’t separate my lifestyle and some of my buying behavior from the Hip Hop culture.  Being a part of this culture means flying to Paris just for a Wu Tang Clan concert. And doing it alone without hesitation because as the Dilated Peoples (another rap group) say, “I got worldwide family all over the earth”. I knew I would be in the middle of hundreds of people whom I had never met before but share the same purpose. Therefore, a brand that understands that the Hip Hop culture is a reference matrix for myself and thousands like me, and conquers that territory, it stays rooted in the tribe’s identity.

Finally, it should be a part of every brand strategy to reward its most loyal customers and make them brand advocates: active promotion (and selling!) agents. But, please: enough with the crappy loyalty programs based on rewards with no real value.

If marketing professionals were able to identify their best followers, the ones to whom the brand is a lovemark, through them, it would be possible to increase not only market share but also the loyalty index.

After all, people in love like to shout it out to the world, and the best advertising is still word-of-mouth.

Rute Silva Brito

PS. I wrote this article when I was working in Europe. Since then, I have moved to the Middle East where the reality is very different, particularly here in Dubai. Many people have a lot of money to spend, don’t make rational buying decisions and sometimes buy stuff just for show. But the underlying principles still apply if a brand plans to aim for long-term success.