The Emotional Side of Marketing (Part 4 of 4)

September 9, 2015

Being different,taking risky,bold move for success in life - Concept vector graphic. The illustration shows orange fishes moving together in one direction while blue fish taking a risky different way

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” Coco Chanel


I recently was engaged by a well-established, top 200 contractor. They were great builders, but when they hired a firm to get the pulse of owners in the area, the results were surprising to them. All owners admitted that they thought that this company built great buildings, communicated well, and were technically excellent. They also stated that this company wasn’t as good with relationships, were difficult to work with at times, were not as fun to work with as their competitors, and the owners rarely heard from them between projects. They now are strategically focusing on the human side of this equation and teaching their employees basic emotional intelligence and relationship principles.

A couple of the top managers from this company awaited the return of one of their executives from a meeting with a potential client. When they asked him how it went, he replied, “We Brent Darnell’d ‘em”. In other words, he used all of the principles we talked about and applied them to this client meeting. He made it all about them and did not tout schedule, price, or quality. It went very well. They tell me that now BD doesn’t stand for business development. It stands for Brent Darnell. They have found out two very important things:

  1. Every company comes to the table with schedule, price, and quality. It is not really a competitive advantage. It is the price of entry.
  2. When you compete on price alone, you become a commodity, but if you create a positive experience for that client and really pay attention to your customer service, they are much more likely to choose you, even if you are not the lowest bidder.

This company is a believer. They implemented these concepts recently on a $45 million project that they were chasing. They were third on price, so they went into the presentation focusing on connecting with the selection committee. They must have done a pretty good job because they were awarded the project. Since then, they have created such close connections with the company that they have been awarded a total of almost $80 million worth of  work without bidding.

Explore how to create a positive emotional experience instead of a reliable transaction. Think about all of the ways that you can create these experiences. Tap into the intangible, emotional side of business to make your company stand out. Of course, your people will have to be trained on how to carry this initiative out. They must hone their empathy skills so that they can truly understand what is important to the project stakeholders. But once they start taking this concept and running with it, you will start to see miraculous changes internally and externally.

You will find that you are no longer competing on price alone because there are more criteria to choose from. Why do you think some owners choose on price alone? It’s because they think that you every contractor there will be the same pain in the ass as any other contractor. But what if they loved you? What if they couldn’t imagine their lives without you? That is another criterion, and the short list for those projects are very small.

So, if you want to differentiate yourself, if you want to make your competition irrelevant, then pay attention to the emotional side of marketing.


The Emotional Side of Marketing (Part 3 of 4)

September 2, 2015

Site office in field destroyed by the severe storm. Dark threatening clouds are looming in the sky.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

I’m going to give you two scenarios. These are actual scenarios from companies that I visited. I want you to decide which company you would rather do business with:

Scenario 1: I walk into the office. It is a stark place with grey walls. The receptionist doesn’t look up. She is busy.  I sit at a small coffee table on a small, uncomfortable couch. There is nothing on the table. I wait for a few minutes. Finally, the receptionist looks up and says in an exasperated way, “Can I help you?”

I say, “Yes. I’m here to see John.”

“Just a minute.” She calls John and says, “Someone is here to see you.” She turns back to me. “Have a seat.”

“Thanks,” I said, and sat back down.

After 10 minutes, John arrives. He shakes my hand and we walk down a grey hallway. When we pass people in the hall, they don’t look up, they don’t acknowledge my existence. We finally make our way to a grey, windowless conference room with Successories on the wall with sayings like “there is no I in team”.

“Do you want some coffee?” John asks.

“Yes please”.

“It’s down the hall in the kitchen.”

I walk down to the kitchen and grab a Styrofoam cup. I pour the coffee in the cup and reach for the sugar and “cream” canisters. I pour them into my cup, but the coffee is cold, so the “cream” clumps up in the cup. I pour it down the drain and head back to the conference room. When I arrive, John and I immediately begin the meeting.

Scenario 2: I walk into the office. When I enter, the receptionist walks from behind the desk, puts out her hand and says, “You must be Mr. Darnell. Welcome! Please have a seat and John will be with you shortly.”

I sit on a comfortable couch in a beautiful lobby adorned with artwork from local artists. On the table in front of me are magazines and a book filled with the history of this company. I thumbed through it and saw some beautiful projects while I listened to some very nice, classical music.

John enters and takes me down the hall toward the conference room. Everyone we meet looks me in the eye and says hello and welcomes me to their office.

We reach the conference room. It is filled with windows and more artwork. “Would you like some coffee?”, John asks. “Sure”, I say, “if it’s not too much trouble.”

Soon, two young people enter, each with a silver trays. On one tray is a silver coffee pot, a small, silver pitcher filled with real cream, and a silver sugar bowl filled with sugar cubes. John pours our coffee into real ceramic cups branded with their logo and adds the sugar and cream. The second tray is filled with Petit Fours, cookies, and small cakes. John then asks me about my travel to the office and my hotel accommodations. He tells me about some of the buildings in town that they have built or refurbished.  He offers me some tickets to their local symphony and lets me know several other wonderful things I can do while I am in town. He asks me how my business is going. After some time, we begin our meeting.

Which company would you rather do business with?

One other example is when I went to a field trailer.  I walked in and was ignored for five minutes.  Finally, someone said, “Hey, dumbass, you want to close that damn door?  We can’t heat all of South Georgia.”  Wow!  What a negative impression.  That guy had no idea who I was.  I could have been the owner’s representative for all he knew.

More importantly, what do people feel when they walk into your office or job-site trailer?  Do they feel warm and welcomed, taken care of, nurtured?  Or do they feel unsure and lost?  Everything in your work spaces create an emotional impression.  So, what impression are you creating as you read this blog?

One final thought:  Most people’s first impression of you and your company is your outgoing message.  Have someone call your phone right now.  Most of the time you will hear an electronic voice saying that the person at this number is not available.  I always call those twice because I think I’ve reached the wrong number.  If you want to experience the real horror, start calling the folks in your company and listen to their outgoing messages.  It’s pretty frightening.  It’s either an electronic voice or a boring, perfunctory, outgoing message.  Some are totally incomprehensible.  There is rarely a mention of a company much less some kind of mission or vision or emotional connection.  Why not make your outgoing message engaging and fun?  Why not create a message that mentions your company and creates a positive emotional response?  Since this is the first impression, make it count.

Stay tuned for our final Part 4 next week on The Emotional Side of Marketing!


The Emotional Side of Marketing Part 2 (of 4)

August 25, 2015

Hand elevates half of a sliced head with brain inside

“And of course, the brain is not responsible for any of the sensations at all. The correct view is that the seat and source of sensation is the region of the heart.”  Aristotle


There is a great book called Habit: The 95% of Behavior That Marketers Ignore by Neale Martin. Martin’s work is based on Daniel Kahneman’s work.  Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics by studying the neuroscience of how people buy stuff.  Both of these books further reinforces this concept that people buy based more on emotion, memory, and ease than any other factors. And yet, what do we do when we present for a project? We focus on our resume, the experience of our project teams, the site logistics, the schedule, and the budget. We say that we will build the project with good quality and safety. Blah, blah, blah. You and everyone else.

According to Martin, your customer is looking for shortcuts to good decisions.   There are two basic ways that the brain approaches thinking and decision making: Martin calls these two separate areas of the brain the habitual mind (System 1) and the executive mind (System 2). Think of a video of a baby laughing. Your response is from your habitual mind or subconscious. You don’t have to think about it. It’s an automatic response.

Now try to solve this in your head: 578 X 634 =

You are now engaging your executive mind (System 2) or the prefrontal cortex. And it’s hard. It takes effort. It takes energy. It takes glucose, a precious commodity for the brain.  You probably gave up pretty quickly with trying to solve that equation in your head.  The brain is pretty lazy.  When faced with this type of brain work, the brain usually reverts to some other state that involves less work.  That is one of the reasons some owner’s choose contractors on price alone.  It’s easy.  Low number wins.

On a personal level, think of mayonnaise. If you don’t like mayonnaise, think of peanut butter. What is your brand? Is it Kraft, Hellman’s, Dukes’, Miracle Whip, Blue Plate? Do you look at the price when you purchase it? If there was a mayonnaise beside your brand called Jerry’s Mayonnaise, and it was 50 cents cheaper, would you buy it? Of course not. That purchasing decision is based on emotion and memory. You probably grew up with that mayonnaise and maybe remember a wonderful home grown tomato sandwich slathered with the mayonnaise.

Our mantra for companies who embrace this work is that you must create a positive emotional experience instead of just a transaction. So what kind of emotional experiences are you creating in your offices and on your projects right this very minute? What do people feel when they walk into your office or the job-site trailer? What kind of emotional connections are you making with your outgoing messages? Most outgoing messages I listen to are pretty horrible. Some messages are an electronic voice that says the number. I always redial those thinking that I have reached a wrong number. Is your outgoing message transactional or connecting?  What kind of emotional connections are you and your folks making with project stakeholders as you read this blog?  Are they contentious?  Adversarial?  Filled with anger or other negative emotions?  Keep in mind that whatever emotional state they are currently in will affect their future decision to work with you and your company, whether they are consciously aware of it or not.

Stay tuned for a compelling story about The Tale of Two Offices next time in Part 3!

The Emotional Side of Marketing Part 1

August 19, 2015

Attractive builder is showing okay sign with happiness. He is smiling and looking forward with joy. Isolated on background and copy space in left side

“Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.” ― John Keats

One of the mantras in our programs concerns how people make buying decisions.  And this may surprise you, but most purchasing decisions are made using emotion, memory, and ease of the decision than anything other factors.  Note:  IT’S NOT PRICE!  The mantra is:  How do we create a positive emotional experience instead of just a transaction?

Are most of your project chases based on price alone? Have you cut your overhead and profit down to next to nothing and still find it hard to compete? Do you find it hard to differentiate your company in this highly commoditized market? Do you think that owners only look at price? If this is the case, then this chapter is vital for you and the future success of your company.

The first thing we must look at is how people make buying decisions. And although many contractors tell me that the buying decision is made on price alone, they are simply wrong. I know. Just keep reading.

At a recent AGC meeting, two large owners representatives (Disney and MD Anderson Cancer Center) were asked how they chose contractors. The contractors in the audience had their tablets and pens at the ready. They were going to find the magic formula, that one thing that would differentiate them from the competition. Was it fee below a certain percentage? Was it resume? Was it schedule compression?

To everyone’s shock and amazement, they both said that, “It was just a feeling that they had during the interview process.” They could tell which project teams would work well together and with them. They emphasized that if you are in that room for an interview, you were capable of building the project. So it really comes down to those intangibles of relationship and emotional connection.

The latest neuroscience bears this out. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize winning psychologist who studied why people buy stuff. And what he found out was a little shocking. Purchasing decisions, whether they are for products or services, are formed in our subconscious or System 1 mind. The System 2 mind is the cognitive part and has very little input into decision making.

More on those two systems in part 2!


On Death and Dying Part 2: The Gift of My Own Death

August 10, 2015

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”  ― Mark Twain

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” ― Mark Twain


When I was a 19 year old and a freshman at Georgia Tech, I had a near death experience.  The year was 1978.  I was at a fraternity party and walked through a very large plate-glass window (five feet by nine feet).  I was rushed to the hospital where the doctor told me that many people who do this recoil when they hit the glass and either cut off a limb or decapitate themselves.  I still had my head, but I was cut up pretty badly.  My face was deeply cut and you could see the ball and socket joint in my shoulder.  The doctors stitched me up and sent me home.  It made me rethink everything in my life.

Before that accident, I was extremely arrogant and condescending.  I made fun of others for their “shortcomings” even if it was something they had no control over such as their physical appearance or stutter or affectation.  After the accident, my empathy level went way up. I had much more compassion, probably because of a prominent scar on my face.  I was now the scar-faced guy.  The guy with the scar.  It made my hyper-aware of how people judge.  How I used to judge.  How I still judge if I don’t catch myself.  So, as a result of this experience, something changed dramatically within me.

Now for the second near death experience, which took place in February of 2015.  The day after a routine physical, I received a frantic call from my primary care physician.  He told me to go directly to the emergency room.  He said that all of my blood values were in the single digits.  I had very low red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  My wife and I drove to the emergency room and checked in. They asked me if I had any headaches, nose bleeds, fatigue?  I told them I did not, but now that they mentioned it, I did feel a little tired.  They said that with these numbers, I should be experiencing a massive brain hemorrhage and be near death.  It didn’t make sense that I was still conscious.  So they drew more blood and ran some more tests.

My wife and I waited for four hours for the results.  Did I need to call anyone?  Were there any unresolved issues?  No.  Not really.  My mom, who had dementia, would not understand a call to her, but there were no unresolved issues with her that needed to be addressed.  I had good life insurance for my wife and we had nothing to resolve.  I was good to go.  I was ready to leave the earth if that was the plan.  I contacted my brothers and my close friends and told them via text.  They offered up prayers and support.  My wife and I and my entire support system prayed for a miracle.

At the end of the four hour wait, the doctor came in and told me that my blood test was textbook normal and that I could go home.  It made me think.  Did a miracle just take place?  Was I somehow healed of this horrible blood disorder?  I’m not sure.  They called it a lab error.  In any case, I was given a great gift.  I saw my own death without the consequence of my own death.  I was reassured and content with my life.  There were no major things to resolve and I have lived a good life.  It did make me think about trying to worry a little less and work a little less and enjoy life a little bit more. I don’t like to offer advice to anyone, but I hope you won’t wait for your near death experience to re-examine your life and see if you want to make any changes.


On Death and Dying

July 9, 2015

Friends & Family Photo24 copy

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” ― Shannon L. Alder


This is my mom with two of my brothers.  That’s me on her lap.  Mom is dying.  We’re not sure when this will happen exactly, but the decline is accelerating.  I know that sounds really sad.  And there is sadness when some someone you love leaves this earth.  But there is also a sense of celebration.  Mom has been suffering from Dementia/Alzheimer’s the past few years and she has gradually left us over time.  A decade ago, mom was vibrant and alive.  She was loud and brash and bigger than life. She loved life, and yet she was a paradox. She could be difficult and angry and she could also be extremely warm and funny.  She never met a stranger.   She was and is loved by many. The Dementia has softened her, weathered her, and made her quiet and content.  Now that her time is near, she is gentle and easy, not in any pain.  She professes to be happy and she professes love.  She still lights up whenever me or my brothers walk into the room.  She knows us.  She knows that we love her and she knows that she loves us.

I had a realization that although this is very sad for us, there is reason to rejoice.  She will transition into what we all believe to be a better place where she will be coherent and free and connected with those who have gone before her.  We are asking all who knew her to think of a time when she made them laugh.  Think of one of the many jokes that she told so well.  Tootie Green comes to mind, or when she would sing, “She’s got freckles on her but she is pretty”.  Think of a time when she opened her house to you and let you stay without question or judgment.  Think of the time that she served a wonderful meal.  Think of how she decorated her house for every holiday. Think of her at work having fun and creating a sense of play.  Think of her as she was in your mind, share a story about her, and send those positive thoughts her way as she transitions into the next wonderful place.


What Do the Top 400 Contractors Know that You Don’t Know?

July 2, 2015

Business Man and giant Pointing Hand

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Henry Ford


I just reviewed the latest Top 400 Contractors in Engineering News Record and found out that I have worked with 11 of the top 50 contractors.  I’m pretty proud of that fact.  I’ve worked with some amazing companies.  I think these successful contractors have figured out something that other contractors have not figured out.  It boils down to a three main things:

1.  They Embrace Technology: These companies have seen the future and try to remain on the cutting edge of technology.  There are amazing things afoot and if you are just now starting to think about technology and your business, you are WAY behind.

2.  Know that Collaboration is the Key to the Future:  Even construction owners are beginning to realize that collaboration is really the way to go.  They are starting to drive these processes.  Design/Build, Design Assist, Lean, IPD, ILPD are all project delivery models that are here to stay.  We are figuring out how to execute them in the best possible way, but in time, these delivery methods will be the norm.  It will just be how we do business.  There will still be room for Design/Bid/Build models, but they will be fewer and fewer as time goes by.  Collaboration is the future for the industry.

3.  Focus on People:  These companies know to do their best to provide to their people everything they need to be successful.  They give their people the resources to improve themselves and their lives, to cultivate mastery in all areas of their lives that are important to them both professionally and personally.  These companies know that they must exhibit a true sense of caring toward their employees, to embrace them as human beings and to provide for them and nurture them as best they can.  They know that diversity and inclusion are vital to the future of the industry.  By including everyone in this future, they are ensuring that this industry can be sustained.  They also know that diversity makes for a stronger company with better ideas and more innovative ways of doing business.

For those of you who are interested in thriving, take a look at these three things.  The train is leaving the station.  Will you be on it?  Let me know what you think!




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