I am CEO

Author Shares on Customers Experience as a Competitive Advantage

Full Episode from I AM CEO Podcast - IAM1970

This episode of the “I Am CEO” podcast features a special guest, Allen Adamson. The host, Gresham Harkless, introduces Allen as a branding expert and discusses his latest book, “Seeing the How: Achieving Market Advantage by Transforming the Stuff We Do, Not the Stuff We Buy.”

They also talk about the importance of focusing on a few things that can be done extraordinarily well, rather than trying to do everything averagely. Allen shares insights on solving non-linear business problems and the significance of understanding the consumer's perspective.

They also discuss the importance of surrounding oneself with a diverse team and being comfortable with uncertainty as a CEO.

In conclusion:

The conversation between Gresham Harkless and Allen Adamson provides valuable insights into the world of branding and the power of experience transformation.

By understanding the needs of consumers, focusing on key differentiating factors, and embracing uncertainty, businesses can positively impact their bottom line and achieve long-term success. Adamson's expertise and advice serve as a guiding light in a world where change is constant and the customer experience reigns supreme.

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Full Interview:


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Intro 00:00

Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of. This is the I Am CEO Podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:28

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I Am CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Allen Adamson and Allen, super excited to have you on the show.

Allen Adamson 00:37

Gresh, thanks for inviting me. I'm looking forward to talking.

Gresham Harkless 00:40

Yeah, it's definitely to invite really awesome people and Allen's doing so many phenomenal things. So I wanted to read a little bit more about him. So you can hear about some of those awesome things that he's doing.

Allen is a noted industry expert in all disciplines of branding. He is a Co-founder and Managing Partner at elite marketing collective, Metaforce. Allen's newest book, Seeing the How Achieving Market Advantage by Transforming the Stuff We Do, Not the Stuff We Buy, focuses on the consumer experience as a competitive advantage and how this change in perspective has allowed companies to achieve dramatic growth and categorical leadership.

This book's driving idea was sparked by Allen's recognition that experience transformation has been fast, outpacing product transformation as a winning and sustainable marketing strategy.

His previous book, Brand Simple, Brand Digital, The Edge 50 tips from Brands that Lead and Shift Ahead, are used as textbooks and higher education business programs across the country.

And Allen has loads and loads of experience and knowledge. And you'll hear a lot about this from branding. He's worked at brands such as Ogilvy, Unilever, and he's also an agile professor as well, too. So I truly appreciate him paying things forward as he's going to do today.

And of course, I love more than anything else, the concept in his book, I think it's so transformational in terms of understanding what experience disruption is and how that could really benefit us as CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners.

So Allen, thank you so much again for being on the show. Are you ready to speak to the I Am CEO community?

Allen Adamson 02:06

Yeah. With that introduction, I should probably just end it right here.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 02:10

There you go. No, you just dropped the mic from here. So, to kick everything off, I wanted to rewind the clock a little bit, and hear a little bit more on how you got started, what I call your CEO story.

Allen Adamson 02:19

Yeah, I want, I was going to be a filmmaker. I liked doing photography and film. Which is about telling stories but I realized that to succeed, you, as in many things, you have to be very talented and you also have to be lucky but you typically, in the film business, creative businesses, you have to starve for a few years, so, but what I liked about it when you think about movies, especially, I've never gotten into it this way, you can put the same actor and the same screenwriter and the same Cast in one movie and it's a big hit and you put them together again and it's going to fail.

And so that got me interested in a notion that lots of business problems, you just can't, somebody say, Gresh, what do you want? You say, I want a blue shirt and I give you a blue shirt and you go, not really. And so it's not a linear business. Just can't ask the customer what they want. You have to think for them a bit and be really good at observation and have a little bit of, if you remember the old TV show, Seinfeld, a little bit of Jerry's font. You ever wonder why Gresh wears white shirts? Yeah, but you have to think about that because brands and businesses are solving people's problems.

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And if you ask them what problem they have, I'm good, I'm fine. So, yeah, so that got me started in this journey of trying to solve what I call Non-linear problems. Problems where you can add up and say 62 percent of people want white shirts, so I'm going to make a white shirt, and then you find out there are 20 white shirts on the rack, and you can't tell the difference in one white shirt from the other.

So, I like thinking about how to solve problems that you just can't add up and Oh, it's 52 here and 48 here. So that's so and So.

Gresham Harkless 03:57

Nice. I absolutely love that. And I think sometimes people can miss because they're not really thinking about them and they're not necessarily one plus one equals two, which is, I think what you were getting at.

So what I wanted to do was drill down a little bit more here, how you work with your clients and also here to get a little bit of a more of a peek into your book and what you're talking about there.

Allen Adamson 04:14

Terrific. So, one of the things that people get in the habit of doing like The beginning of our conversation is they try to do a lot of things. Oh, I got a website and I have a nice picture of myself on a website and I have some nice points as to why you should, work with me.

And then I have a nice way of presenting. They think there's a check the box. I do rule of this. In the world we live in today very much social media, or word of mouth, or word of eye, which you see online, with Instagram or whatever drives, and no one shares ordinary. No one's going to say it was an ordinary website, Griff had a nice white shirt on yeah Grash had a nice white shirt on, sorry.

And, you have to do a few things. Extraordinarily well, rather than do 10 things. Just okay. So if you're in business, think about what you're doing and you have to do everything averagely, but pick a few things that you can do to get people to go. Wow. That's different. One or two, you're better off doing one or two things great than trying to do everything very good.

You have to do something more than the customer expects. Otherwise, no one's going to tell you, I bought a new, I went to a new coffee place down the street and it was just okay.

Gresham Harkless 05:34

Yeah, that makes so much sense. Yeah, nobody, that doesn't make the den or make the impact as much as it could.

And, and, so I guess when you were sitting down and you work with your clients and in your agency and your firm, you, you are definitely like having those conversations on, like, how to not just, paint a picture of what it is that you, but how to really accelerate and showcase that as much as possible and the experience that they have for clients.

Allen Adamson 05:56

Yeah, there's 2 we map out. How do you get business, do something to network, you get a meeting, you talk about what you can do, you write a proposal, you give a product, find the points of touch that you have and then say, all right, these are the very, how, which point of touch could I do somewhat different?

Could I deliver the product? Could I let them try it for, but try to don't try to change everything, but try to pick a few points of touch. And the other thing we do is that. When I ask people, what are you good at? Most people say the same thing. I'm good at a lot of things.

I'm good at this. I'm good at that. Yeah. Or can you do that too? And oh, yeah, I can do that too. But to get things done, you don't want a general contractor doing everything in the house.

So part of what we try to do is say, look, once you determine where you want to win, we try, we pick a team that has a few experts, because if you're good at everything, you're going to be average at everything.

Gresham Harkless 06:47

That's so powerful.

Allen Adamson 06:48

Focus on what you're good at as a leader to talk. I was a better creative thinker. Not so great with here are the 12 steps you need to do to get from this great idea to something happening. So I, you need to be self aware. I tended to surround myself with people that were good at the things that, or great at the things, that I was just okay at.

And If I think about the things that helped me succeed most, it was putting together teams or having a team around me that allowed me to focus on my strengths, but surrounded it because no one wins in business with a, I got a great idea for an ice cream, you have to get all the way from.

Gresham Harkless 07:32

Yeah, that's so powerful.

Allen Adamson 07:33

And the key part of the book was always that when I started in marketing and business, it was very product-focused. They gave you, here's a new pen, now go tell people they have to buy it. And you're just looking at the product and saying it's black and it feels good.

There are many ways you can make this pen differently, but ultimately. If you can zoom out and say, how are people going to use this pen? Are some going to want to mark boxes with it? Are some going to want to drop it? Figure out how it fits in someone's life and then figure out how to talk about the pen.

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Gresham Harkless 08:03

I absolutely love it. Do you feel like that's part of your secret sauce. The thing that you feel like either makes, your organization yourself or a combination of both unique.

Is it that ability to be able to take a step back and understand that, understand that it's really about that experience and be able to get that out of, the clients that you work with.

Allen Adamson 08:21

Yeah, I think part of it is having what I like to talk fresh eyes. When you go to a people working in a beer company, they're all experts on beer.

Oh, this is what it takes, but they've been in the beer business for a long time. And sometimes you need a bit of that. Do you ever think about doing it this way? No, this is the way we do it. So part of it is fresh eyes. Part of it is, pushing the team to, yes, these are all true things.

The customer said they want white shirts, on Tuesday delivered to their door, but let's figure out which one can you really do well. And maybe there's a new point of touch that no one else is talking about that doesn't seem. Important.

Gresham Harkless 08:59

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. I wanted to switch gears a little bit, and I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So it could be like an app, a book or a habit that you have or something from your book, but what do you feel like something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Allen Adamson 09:12

Yeah. It's understanding how you get organized and focusing when you can focus.

So for me, I tend to be better in the morning in terms of focus. And better in the afternoon in terms of talking. And so I try to get my reading done when I first get into my desk in the morning from 8 to 10. And I try not to schedule any really long meetings from 2 to 4 because I know if I'm in a conference room, So, get to know where your personal strengths are, and try to stack the deck, to give you that chance, is one easy one.

Gresham Harkless 09:46

Yeah, that's so powerful.

Allen Adamson 09:48

Homework matters. So don't ever do a meeting where you haven't rehearsed it. Even if you have to talk into your phone and do a dry run, the more you practice it, you don't want to make your most important meeting, something you wing as you're driving into the office, going to work.

Gresham Harkless 10:04

Yeah. So you might've touched on this, but what would you consider to be what I call a CEO nugget? So it's a little bit more word of wisdom or a piece of advice. And I usually say it might be something, if you were to hop into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

Allen Adamson 10:16

It's don't be afraid to be wrong. If you're too nervous and say I can't say this because it's too crazy an idea or people may think, I'm not really good, successful business always involves risk. And you have to be, if you're playing it safe the whole time maybe I'll do this and maybe they will like this or what's the worst? You were wrong. And you have to be comfortable being wrong, because if you don't have a clear point of view, then it's hard to be a great leader if you don't have a People might say, you're wrong, Allen, but I'll say, I think we need to do A B and C, and here's why. What do you guys think?

As opposed to I was thinking about A, but B could be a good idea too, and maybe C is alright, but let's talk about it. You'll get people saying, I don't know.

Gresham Harkless 11:04

Yeah, absolutely. And I think especially we talked a little bit about leadership earlier. I feel like that attracts people as far as like leadership and somebody saying that, hey, we're gonna do, and if you get to, the road and you realize that a maybe isn't right, you pivot, but you make a strong pivot.

You don't say I think we should do this. We should keep going. I think that also is a really strong leadership trade as well.

Allen Adamson 11:24

Just be comfortable, if you always don't want to have people, and the other thing is, have people around you that are comfortable saying, disagreeing with you. Never surround yourself with a bunch of people that say, Gresh, you're great.

Yeah, let's do that. Let's run off the lake, I know it's 12 degrees outside, and, but, let's go do it. Because I want to be a real team player. You need people around you say thank you for sharing that idea, but here's why I don't think it's right. Then I have to call you. Bad names, but they have to be comfortable saying.

I disagree with that. And let me tell you why. Because diversity of thinking gets ideas better. And if everyone says, Oh yeah, that's the right way to go. Many, many things in life go wrong. If you have everyone coming from the same background, drinking the same Kool Aid, saying the same thing. And then, of course, when the car goes off the cliff, people said, I could have told you the road was going to end there.

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You didn't ask me. I thought you knew that.

Gresham Harkless 12:18

Yeah, absolutely. And there's much that comes from iron sharpening iron when you're able to lean into that. And I absolutely, appreciate that part where, you start to surround yourself. Like you talked about having those multifaceted talent is where my talent is not your talent, but also having those different perspectives.

Allen Adamson 12:32

Really important marketing. Don't hire people that came from the same school you went to, the same neighborhood, dress the same as you. Try to bridge it, put a team around you that look at the world a little differently, because part of success is having, a wide-angle lens or peripheral vision.

Because, you need to see what's going on and if everyone went to the same school, drinks the same beer, hangs at the same bar, does dresses, you're gonna get one, you're gonna get a little bit of tunnel vision, which is not good when you're trying to lead an organization to do new things.

Gresham Harkless 13:04

Absolutely. Anytime you're talking about innovation and disruption, you definitely need those kinds of disparate thoughts because it allows that iron to sharpen and you allows you to as a leader and as an organization to get so much better.

So now I wanted to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO.

And we're hoping to have different quote and quote CEOs on the show. So Allen, which is being a CEO means to you.

Allen Adamson 13:26

It means enjoying trying things you've never done before, because the only thing for sure in business is everything changes every day. Murphy's law happens and what you thought was going to happen in the day, you walk in and all of a sudden three people quit.

The water pipe breaks, something's, and so you just have to be comfortable with uncertainty in your life, and not get, and enjoy it. If you hate it, if you hate knowing exactly what you need to do every day, not knowing but you want to know at nine o'clock, I'm going to read my emails at 11 o'clock, I'm going to go to a meeting at 12 o'clock, I'm going to go to….. that's not the life.

There are many jobs like that, but. Usually the CEO, I go in and I think I was moving three things and a client would call and Oh, you have to be ready for constant fire.

Gresham Harkless 14:15

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And, the saying is be comfortable being uncomfortable. And a lot of times because change always happens. I think we see that in business, but we also see that in life as a whole. As much as we think everything is going to be scripted and go as is about three or so years ago, we saw that there was something that completely changed everybody's life business plan.

Allen Adamson 14:34

I'm going to work from home starting Tuesday and I'll have to learn how to use my video conferencing feature on the computer. I never really paid attention to.

Gresham Harkless 14:42

Exactly. Are there be a lot of zoom millionaires? I tell you that Well, Allen, truly

appreciate that definition. Of course, I appreciate your time even more. So what I want to do now was pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional you can let our readers and listeners know.

And of course, how best they can get ahold of you, get a copy of your books and find about all the awesome things your team are working on.

Allen Adamson 15:03

No, I think we covered everything. They can get a hold of me by their search engines, and AI will make it easier to look me up, either Allen Adamson or allenadamson@metaforce.com.

And my books are available in something called a bookstore, which used to exist in many neighborhoods. But also you can double-click on many sites. So it's been a pleasure chatting with you.

Gresham Harkless 15:25

Yeah, it's been absolutely awesome. And to make it even easier, we're gonna have links below so you can click that link.

You can visit the virtual bookstore called Amazon as well too. So you can definitely get a copy of your books and all the awesome things too. So Allen, truly appreciate you so much. Love all the impact that you have. I love especially you talking about like, how important it is. It's get away from the product and think more about the experience and how we can make a huge impact there because we all have those experiences and we all can make an impact in such a great way.

So thank you so much, my friend. And I hope you have a phenomenal day.

Allen Adamson 15:55

You too. Thanks for inviting me.

Outro 15:57

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO podcast powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co. I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google podcast, and everywhere you listen to podcasts, subscribe and leave us a five-star rating.

This has been the I AM CEO podcast with Gresham Harless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


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