Customer satisfaction is, and always will be, the ultimate purpose of any business. Reimagining your service apart from your competitors creatively can be game-changing. Author of Slingshot, and expert at making yourself magnetic to your customers, Gabor George Burt, goes back to where it all began, the curiosity and creativity of a child. He explains how applying creativity systematically in setting your brand apart can give leaps and bounds of success. Gabor relates this to keeping your customers infatuated with your product/service and how you can make this happen for your company.
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How To Slingshot From Invisible To Irresistible With Gabor George Burt
Our guest on The Successful Pitch is Gabor George Burt, who is the author of Slingshot. He has been instrumental in blue ocean strategies and is an expert at innovation and reimagining how to make yourself magnetic to your customers. He talks about the importance of keeping the infatuation that customers have when they start working with you or trying your product. He said, “Standing still is not an option. Creativity is the most important leadership skill but people have trouble figuring out how to identify it and use it.” He’s going to show us how in this episode.
I have a special guest. His name is Gabor George Burt. Gabor has a fascinating background and has been seen by many people in the world as an innovation expert. We have the pleasure of having a friendship and met through our mutual friend, Sameer Somal. I always like to give a shout-out to people who introduced me to great people. One of the things that Gabor is known for is his expertise as a global authority on reimagining boundaries. He’s the author of the book, Slingshot. He has the ability to speak around the world on innovation, creativity, and strategy, where he helps both individuals and organizations overstep these perceived limitations and carve out some successful growth strategies.
He is a leading expert on Blue Ocean Strategy and has contributed a case study material to that book. His new book, Slingshot takes off where that one’s ends. In other words, people have an understanding that there’s a need for a different way of thinking, but Gabor helps people figure out ways to start implementing that. He’s listed on that top list of Top Visionaries on numerous prominent appearances. He gave the opening presentation at the World Marketing Forum and was the architect and host of the Forum for Partnership in America. Gabor, welcome to the show.
Thank you, John. It’s so good to be with you.Standing still is no longer an option. Click To Tweet
I’m always interested to hear people’s stories of origin. We see you being a global citizen and in cutting edge of innovation. I can only imagine what your childhood was like. Were you the kind of child that took apart the vacuum cleaner and try to figure out how it worked? You can take us back as far as you want when you decided you wanted to study one thing versus another in school. Wherever you want to start.
Thank you for asking. One of the things that I say when I’m asked about my background is to mention an intriguing fact. For a brief moment in time, I was once the youngest person on earth. If you think about it, that’s also true for you and for anyone. It’s an interesting insight because one of the core principles at the heart of my whole platform is this notion that all of us have this inner child that’s full of curiosity, adventure and wanting to do new things. We get disconnected as we grow older and that’s a real shame. One of the things I then ask is, “What evidence do you have that you were once a child and the youngest person on earth?” I’m thinking in the right direction.
I was born in Budapest, Hungary, hence my name. I was born during a period of communism, although as a child that was not as apparent in terms of what that meant. I was uprooted at age twelve and brought to America because my stepfather is American. As you can imagine, that’s a huge shift in everything in terms of the environment and culture. I didn’t speak a word of English. I’m Hungarian. I was studying Russian and French. That had a huge impact on my worldview and life philosophy. It’s always asking questions and looking at things almost from an external perspective and saying, “What if?” “Why does this have to work this way?” That’s the trajectory that I’ve been on.
Besides business, I studied psychology because I’ve always been interested in what motivates people. After having spent some time on Wall Street, I went back to business school after college. When I finished, coincidentally was when the Iron Curtain was coming down in Eastern Central Europe. I was invited to go back with Citibank and be part of the first Western-type banking in that whole region. I lived through that whole decade of the ‘90s, which to me is one of the most fascinating times in human history when a whole region transformed culturally, socially, economically and politically, in a mostly peaceful way.
I left the bank, after a short while and started my own business. I launched and ran a financial software company all the way until my favorite professor from business school, called me one day and said he finished the research to this new management and leadership concept. He thinks it will have a big appeal and invited me to be one of the first people to join him. That became the Blue Ocean Strategy, which of course went on to become the most influential leadership management concept of the new millennium.
It immediately appealed to me because Blue Ocean is all about reimagining what you do and finding new market spaces of irresistible customer value. I transitioned myself out of the business that I founded. For over ten years, I was one of the top blue oceanographers around the world. Based on my work with that, I was fascinated by the idea that everybody loves the notion of a blue ocean and wants to create one for their own business. In practice, few companies were ever able to do that and I wanted to find out why.
I arrived at the fact that everybody saw Blue Ocean as disruptive meaning leaving behind what you already know and are comfortable doing. Secondly, that no one was good at engaging their natural creativity, which is the fuel that you need in order to reimagine what you’re doing and find Blue Ocean. That was the impetus for me to set out and create my own framework, the Slingshot Framework, which is the practical application of Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s my journey.
That’s quite a journey. I love the what-if in your mindset and getting to do that what if implementation in Budapest and imagining what life would be like to introduce all that software and banking into the world. You mentioned that you’ve contributed some case study materials to Blue Ocean? Can you tell us about one of those?You were once the youngest person on earth. Click To Tweet
There was one particular one. If you have read or will read the Blue Ocean Strategy book, it’s full of some great examples, but all of them are about either big companies or companies in well-developed markets like the US market or Europe. I thought that in order to make it universally appealing, it should also have a story about a startup from a developing up and upcoming part of the world. Naturally, I went back to Eastern Europe and found the story of a startup, a bus company called NABI, North American Bus Industries, which, in a short time, broke into the US municipal bus market. It was an already saturated and competitive industry and the way they approached it was absolutely a Blue Ocean. That was my contribution, the case study, which you can read about in the book.
What do you typically get hired to do with companies that want to have you come in and be a keynote speaker? What is a typical topic and your ideal audience?
It’s undeniable that there is an absolute transformation going on in business now. People talk about the VUCA world, which is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Adversity. It’s this perfect cocktail and storm of difficult conditions. What that means is that for any organization, standing still is not an option. You’re either moving forward, one of the future shapers and actively configuring the direction of your market space or you get left behind. You’re the ones that become a casualty and at best you’re trying to react to all the change around you.
What I get asked to do in my talks, engagements and work with companies and organizations around the world is to help them be one of the former groups. It’s to be one of the future shapers. I do that by going in and challenging their thinking with the assumption that every single leadership team and company no matter how successful still operates within what I call self-imposed mental boundaries. I expose those boundaries and I take them beyond. The best way I can summarize that is there’s a wonderful old Southern expression that says, “You can’t see the label if you’re inside the jar.” That’s what I do. Every company is somehow confined within a jar because they accept certain assumptions, traditions, limitations that are artificial. What I do is that I come in and I expose those boundaries. I show them the label and help them get outside the jar.
What I’d like to do now is have you walk us through how we can start reimagining the boundaries that we’ve either put on ourselves self-imposed or that we come across in situations. There’s a five-step process. The first one is the one that intrigues me, which is this concept of the infatuation interval. You have a wonderful story that you wrote about your son and his trains. Would you share that story as the introduction to an infatuation interval?
There are two major components of what I do. First is this notion of exposing everyone to this incredible resource which is our creativity organization-wide or individually. Survey after survey shows that in fact, creativity is the most important leadership skill now. That’s the one that CEOs put on the top of their list yet, they also then go on to say that they fell ill-equipped in terms of understanding its power and harnessing and nurturing creativity in their organization. One of the first things I do is to bring them to understand that creativity is something that’s dormant and we can reconnect and systematically apply.
For example, I tell the story of three tourists walking in Africa on a Safari in the Serengeti. All of a sudden, an angry and ferocious lion jumps out in front of them. It’s baring its teeth and groundling. Its intentions are clear. It’s hungry and the three tourists act differently. The first one is absolutely terrified, frozen in fear and is unable to move at all. The second one immediately starts to take off any extra garment and equipment, the vest, water bottle and the backpack. The third one is calmly assessing the situation with his hands in his pocket. After a while, the first tourist turned to the second one and says, “What are you doing?” The second one says, “I want to run as fast as I can.” The first one says, “You’re crazy. You’re never going to outrun the lion.” The second one says, “It’s not the lion that I have to outrun.” The third tourist after a few more seconds takes out a lighter from his pocket, lights it and scares away the lion.
This is representative of the difference in mentality that companies have now. The first one is absolutely unaware of all the changes, all the VUCA world dynamics and is oblivious and will not be able to react. That has happened to famous companies like Kodak, Research in Motion or most to Thomas Cook, the travel company. The second one is a little bit better. His view is only about survival, “As long as I can outrun one of the others, I am still alive and that’s okay.” It’s the third one that engages his creative abilities, looks at the situation, doesn’t accept it’s supposed to be the outcome or its finality and does something unexpected and puts himself in control. That’s the first thing.Creativity is the most important leadership quality. Click To Tweet
The second is once the creativity of a leadership team is re-engaged or it was reawaken, it’s how to channel that and to apply it systematically. There is a definite process that I use and the heart of that is this notion that what every single company needs to focus on is the customer experience. What do you deliver? That goes across from the sales process, marketing, all the way to delivery and the maintenance of that relationship. That’s why that whole spectrum is critical. How do you achieve optimal customer experience across all those different phases? This is where the concept of customer infatuation comes in.
My premise is that any received service or product creates a flood of emotional response on the part of the target audience but that response by nature is fleeting. It only lasts for a certain interval of time, a temporary period because, after a while, the customers will take whatever you gave them that they were excited about as the new normal as the status quo and they will no longer be excited by it. What perfectly captures this cyclicality is the idea of infatuation. What I talked about is you can see this cycle in fast motion with children because children always get fascinated about the next toy.
In my case, my son Max was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and all the different trains in the collection. Fascinatingly, as soon as he got the next train that he had to have, which could have been Percy or some of the other Thomas friends. Within minutes, he would go back to the catalog and now select the next one that he had to have and couldn’t live without. It’s that cyclicality that you can capture and understanding that is the absolutes engine for any company to keep their customers emotionally close to them throughout that whole relationship from sales and marketing all the way to ongoing maintenance of a relationship.
It sounds like it’s crucial for everyone whether you’re a one-person operation or big company, let’s say like Starbucks to keep coming up with something new to get your customer infatuated with the new version of whatever it is like Starbucks, for example. At certain times of the year, it has a special limited edition pumpkin spice for Halloween or what have you. That’s their way of doing that. Is that what you’re talking about?All of us have this inner child that's full of curiosity, adventure, and wanting to do new things, but we get disconnected as we grow older. Click To Tweet
Yes and some companies get this naturally and some stumble on it and do it from time to time. My whole point is this should be and can be done systematically. In fact, what I even talked about is that the initial period of elation when you get something that you’re excited about. It could be your new iPhone or a new flavor at Starbucks. That is when you enter what I call the infatuation interval. When you’re charged up, you’re emotionally connected and you’re almost blind to any of the shortcomings of the new offering.
As you gradually start to get used to that innovation, your emotional state starts to decline and you start to gradually notice things that you want to have even better, faster, more customized and fun. At one point, you transition into what I call the entitlement period, where you are no longer emotionally charged up and demand new features and new things that you can get excited about. What companies need to understand is, if they allow their customers to transfer from the infatuation interval to the entitlement period, that’s where they enter the danger zone of losing those customers who may migrate to other suppliers. The exciting part of this is that you can measure the infatuation interval of your customers and what I call the infatuation interval index.
There is now this capability using social media and big data in knowing exactly what emotional connectivity your customers are feeling to you. That’s measurable for any phase of your relationship. It could be for your sales process or marketing efforts. That’s the exciting part of the new frontier that if companies understand that they could be one of the future shapers and optimize the ongoing customer experience, there are no limits to how relevant and how magnetic they can become to their customers.
I see your Slingshot being able to solve two big problems in the world that I see happening. For people who are in sales, let’s face it, we’re all in sales. We’re selling ourselves to get hired, promoted, get our idea of committed or to sell a product or service. You’re in this process and clients are infatuated with, “This sounds great. We can’t wait to share this with my boss. Send us a proposal.” You’re like, “This is going to happen.” You’re all excited and all of a sudden, the infatuation wears off or they’re not returning phone calls.
You can relate it to almost dating sometimes, “What happened here?” Somebody gets a new customer and they go, “This is great. Look at all these new customers.” You start looking under the hood and you say, “We’re only retaining 30% of the people who come here to have a meal. Nobody’s coming back.” They were so infatuated. Do they settle on us or were they infatuated with our donut or whatever it was and now they don’t like it? How did we lose that magnetism?
This concept of reimagining how to be magnetic to a customer using your infatuation index is solving so many problems of somebody who went away and their interest when it faded. We didn’t know it was starting to fade and we certainly don’t know how to get it back. You’re solving the awareness problem and we know that’s half of any problem is being aware of what it is. The solution part of it is I’m guessing you have a whole strategy on how to win people back if you have in fact lost the initial infatuation.
Those are great observations and summaries of this entire space that I am promoting. John, you and I both give talks and you talk about the power of storytelling. You talked about getting salespeople from invisible to irresistible. That to me is an excellent complement to both of those topics to what I am talking about. I started our conversation by saying something that probably caught your attention or would catch anyone’s attention which is, “Here’s a fun fact. I was the youngest person on earth.” “That’s interesting that now you have my attention.” As a speaker, what do you do? With that attention span and positive charge, you’ve got to start any relationship but be it on stage or you’re talking to a prospective client or customer on a high note to get their attention. Also, to get their emotional connectivity. How long will that give you?
If I then go into my speech on stage and the next few minutes is boring, I’m not infatuating you. At what point will I lose your attention? That’s the same process in sales, marketing and providing a product throughout that whole process. It’s a real concept and it’s in relationships as well. As long as we are emotionally connecting with our target audience, we have their attention and we have a good chance in the business of winning their business. As soon as that fades, we are letting them go. Our golden opportunity is to keep them re-infatuated and understanding that there’s no such thing as a perfectly or continuously satisfied customer. That doesn’t exist, but we can invent a new way to keep them charged up and do that over and over again. That’s a wonderful platform for innovation and always reimagining boundaries.Creativity is something that's just dormant that we can reconnect and then systematically apply. Click To Tweet
We have decided to team up on this because I believe that infatuation is a kissing cousin of irresistible and creating a master class for companies who want to reimagine how to become magnetic to their ideal customers. One of the things we’re going to be talking about in the master class is how to turn customer pain points into points of infatuation. Do you have a story or an example that you want to tantalize someone with and want them to learn more about how that would work?
One quick and easy example is from the airline industry. We can all agree that airline travel is full of pain points where we feel frustrated, discomfort and disconnect from the airline and in our experience. We can also agree that the middle seat is the worst seat on an airplane. If you ever get the middle seat, you feel that that you are the sucker and you’re not going to a good flight. That’s a classic pain point. Spirit Airlines announced they were going to reconfigure their seating. What they’re going to do is make the middle seat the widest. Imagine that transformation from a point of pain to a point of infatuation and smartly and psychologically, they only increased the size of the middle seat by a single inch. That’s enough to make it so that in the traveler’s mind, they need to desire the middle seat because it’s the widest.
You’re taking what was before a pain point, you’re only not removing it or saying, “From now on, we’re no longer offering a middle seat because everybody hates it.” That’s impossible but you’re forming it into a point of infatuation where it now becomes the most desired seat on a plane. The other example, which is a fun one, I like to tell is, if you remember Nintendo’s Wii and it’s profound in the gaming industry. Basically, before Nintendo’s Wii that came out in 2006, the gaming industry was limited to 5% of the population, which was antisocial teenage boys. Everything in that space tries to compete with one another. Along comes Nintendo using Blue Ocean Strategy and says, “We’re going to let you fight over that 5% of the market. We’re going after the 95% who never had an interest in video games.”
Why? What was the key pain point? The answer was simple. People didn’t want to spend hours in front of a screen passively sitting. What did Nintendo do? They introduced the motion sensor and combined what everybody before thought was two separate things active playing with passive playing. By doing this, they transform the biggest pain point of non-customers into the biggest attraction and infatuation. All of a sudden, I can play golf, do skiing, and play tennis in my TV room. It was this innovation that transformed the entire gaming industry.
The story I tell is that a year into this to show the power of this infatuation, there was a story out of Florida where undercover police agents raided the house of someone suspected to be a drug dealer. The surveillance videos in the house, unbeknownst to the policeman who entered, captured what they were doing. It shows the raiding team members coming into the living room and seeing a Nintendo Wii bowling on the screen that was left on. They were so infatuated by this game that they couldn’t resist. They started playing. They started bowling and getting excited by their results, forgetting all about this important clandestine mission that they were on. My point is that you can’t blame the officers. They were irresistibly still caught in the infatuation interval of the Wii that was created. That’s a great way of visually illustrating that magnetic power that you can create for your own products and services.
I love that analogy of Nintendo and Wii because when I was working with the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas a few years ago when they were launching and coming up with their marketing and advertising, I said to them, “Who’s your competitor? Is it Bellagio?” They go, “No. We’re going after people who hate to come to Vegas.” I went, “Now that is a clever way to target people and a whole different way. It’s about art. It’s about this and that.” It’s not staying in that same competitive set. Now, there’s something called Vegas fatigue, where people aren’t going as much as they want. What Vegas decided that they need to do is create something completely new that’s only found in Vegas. That’s a new tagline.
They partnered with Madison Square Garden to create a sphere. It will be completely immersive that’ll be unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced in concerts and lots of product shows. When companies need our experience and exposure to other brands that are using this innovation, irresistibility and how to create customer magnetism, where’s the best way for people to find you? I know you have your own website as well as a site for the Slingshot. If you don’t mind sharing that.
I am much looking forward to you and I collaborating and launching this masterclass, which will be not just combining our expertise but you and I being on stage together, ad-libbing and injecting stories. We’re delivering not just content but an experience and immersing our audience in these stories as well. That’s a great combination and it’s so important because both you and I understand that it’s all about getting people’s affection. If you get people’s affection, you have their attention. If you have their attention, that means you matter to them and if you matter to them, then you can stay relevant and that’s where the game is played.What every single company needs to focus on is the customer experience. Click To Tweet
I sometimes ask my clients, “If you asked your customers, would they say that you’re one of their favorite brands within the space that you operate in?” They may say, “Yeah, I’m in the top five or maybe I’m in number one.” I say, “How about if you ask them are you their favorite brand across all possible company in this space?” If you’re not, then why not? That should be your mission and your goal. It’s the same way that you said about Vegas. That’s a great example. This is not about competing for other hotels on the strip. This is about making Vegas relevant and matter and putting you as the curator and purveyor of that. I love that. In terms of finding me, if people google me, I have a website and LinkedIn, I’m pretty active on them. Hopefully when you and I start doing our thing together and we’ll have our own website or ways of finding that as well.
That’s GaborGeorgeBurt.com. The book again is called Slingshot: Re-imagine Your Business, Re-Imagine Your Life. Thank you so much for sharing your creativity. Everyone I know is already infatuated with you learning what you’ve already shared.
Thank you, John. You’re a pleasure to talk with and I look forward to us doing things together.
- Sameer Somal
- Blue Ocean Strategy – Book
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- World Marketing Forum
- LinkedIn – Gabor George Burt
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