Boris sets a rumpled example

What’s Boris Johnson’s main appeal? Anti-slickness.

The new British prime minister is notorious for his undignified stunts and sloppy personal appearance. But in an age of presentation coaches and instant feedback, this isn’t necessarily a liability.

Marketing guru Don Peppers in Life’s A Pitch calls it de-slicking your production. The idea is that a sharp and faultless presentation can intimidate people and work against you. Don recommends injecting a note of humanity, for example by giving some of your pitchtime to an unpolished junior who will likely make a few harmless slip-ups.

SCRATCHING IT

A handsome and imposing manager I met early in my career recommended rubbing your backside on the way out of the room to show you’re just a person.

Boris Johnson metaphorically scratches his ass in public. It’s both funny and deplorable. But slick it ain’t, and that should work in his favor.

The lure that hides a hook

It’s a common marketing technique that also happens to be illegal. Bait-and-switch means that customers are drawn in with an alluring offer, then flicked over to an item that’s more profitable.

This is often done by denigrating the special deal once the customer is in the store. “It’s a nice vacuum cleaner, but we can’t include a guarantee.” Or “Frankly, you’re too classy for that suit.”

PAINFUL WITHDRAWAL

A sophisticated version works like this. You want cosmetic work done on your nose. The first consultation, including a diagnostic examination and X-rays, is very reasonably priced. You’re happy to go ahead.

Then you get the quote for the operation, which frankly looks outrageous. But by then, you know the doctor (who is a nice person) and paid for the preliminary work. You’re in the system.

Bait-and-switch is hard to prove, which is why vendors get away with it. In all cases, you have no obligation to complete the purchase. It’s painful to start again somewhere else – but can hurt more not to.

When your writing won’t work

Stuck with your content writing? If an article won’t flow, chances are that you’re suffering from a common problem, which is that you don’t have a clear picture in your head of whom you’re writing for.

The result is that you can’t think what to say or how to say it.

Stop and consider. Work out who your audience is and try to envisage a typical member of that audience. Start writing again.

This trick is usually effective. Vague sentences are replaced by precise, targeted phrases and everything seems to flow.

You can’t write for everybody. Try instead to write for somebody. The likely outcome is that it will be read with pleasure by many.

After the perm, it’s still a dog

The corner restaurant near this office has been through five tenants in recent years. Each spends money on a new name and new fitout, but these don’t stop the venture from failing.

We’ve had a Mexican, Turkish, contemporary, Asian, and one I can’t remember.

In each of the formats, there’s been nothing wrong with the food or service. But the floor size of the premises is enormous and would need a lot of diners in order to be profitable. Many of the tables are empty during the week. The two-highway exposure must also push up the rent.

BLIND FAITH

And this is on a high street that’s already overserviced with casual restaurants.

What startles me is the faith that each new operator has in a fresh concept, as if this will be the one to break through into profitability. A revamp is seen as the answer.

You can dress up these premises any way you like and the business fundamentals aren’t going to change much. A dog remains a dog, regardless of the color of its coat.

Use it to persuade a stranger

The phone is a great but forgotten business tool. It lets you chat informally with people and communicate warmth, while picking up the nuances of their speech.

The more I replace phone talk with email or text, the less cooperation I find. Despite the use of emojis, written words are coolly transactional and don’t convey the human touch.

You can’t sell as successfully by email as in person or by phone. Even when using the phone for that purpose, it’s best not to leave a voicemail asking for a return call. What works is to say, “sorry I missed you, will try again”.

Anything that shifts the onus onto the other person is likely to reduce your chance of success.

Text and email are wonderful for associates, friends and family. But when trying to persuade or convince a stranger, nothing beats the human face or voice.

A never ending story

West Side Story is playing again in my town. It’s a great musical with brilliant music, astonishing dancing, and a tragedy as old as Shakespeare.

The theme of ethnic conflict in the big city is just a relevant today as when the show was first staged in 1957.

The fight back then was partly about race and I suppose partly about religion, but at its core was the struggle for living space between recent immigrant arrivals and more established residents.

Behind the gang “rumble” – a fight over turf – was pressure on housing and jobs and community acceptance. So not much has changed.

MAGNIFIED CONFLICT

A knife fight under the highway might seem smalltime compared to today’s marketplace bombings and mosque massacres.

The old Upper West Side tenements of New York have gone too, replaced by the Lincoln Center and other artifacts of gentrification.

But on a world scale, the conflicts haven’t disappeared, and in fact have been magnified. The musical might aptly be reworked as Terror in the West or Meet You at the Mosque.

It’s a heartbreak that never seems to end.

The 21st century Howard Hughes

I looked at a couple of movies recently about the mid-20th-century entrepreneur Howard Hughes. These were The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and The Amazing Howard Hughes, with Tommy Lee Jones.

Both movies told interesting stories, the first focusing on Hughes’s early years, the later protraying his decline into eccentric old age.

What startled me was the similarity between him and our current rich visionary, Elon Musk.

Hughes made his pile selling drill parts during the Texas oil boom, then parlayed the cash into blockbuster movies, operating an airline (TWA) and making extravagant forays into aircraft design.

His six-engined Spruce Goose was at the time the largest aircraft ever built. It barely got off the ground and has been hangared ever since as an awkward reminder of Hughes’s overreach.

FATED TRAJECTORY? 

In a similar vein, Elon Musk got rich from the internet revolution, bought into the car company Tesla and has ambitions to be a space transport pioneer.

Both men had or are having trouble reining in their cashed-up dreams to keep pace with the reality of what they’re trying to achieve.

The Musk story is still unfolding, but how fascinating to see if the second half of the man’s life will mirror the fated trajectory of his forerunner.