It’s Easy To Do Nothing…

I have written in the past about how satisfying it is to do something new. To go out and create your destiny. What may have been mentioned in between the lines is how difficult that type of activity can be. It's easy to do nothing and watch life roll by.

Case in point, my latest adventure is rewiring my 1956 Ford Fairlane. Let it be known, I have never, ever wired, or even thought I about wiring a car. An entire car.

After three months of soldering terminals, following the wiring diagram, getting help from friends, and reading the instructions, I was ready to put the car back together. Heck, even taking the gauge pod off the dash was a challenge! We tested all the circuits fixed a few minor grounding issues and ready to put the final assembly back on. The light switch on the dash, just above the key switch has been in and out a couple of times during this procedure. I was getting pretty good at using the needle nose pliers in place of a special tool to install the light switch bezel.

It was all in, and before I bolted the gauge pod in, one final test to make sure the connections are live. I plug in the positive cable on the battery in the trunk, go to the key switch, turn the key and I see a spark under the dash. Hmm. I thought, I pull the dash panel out and inspect, nothing, turn the key again and the dash lights go on. YEAH!

Then I heard the pop, sizzle, and screech as the cabin filled with white smoke!

I ran to the trunk turned off the battery, grabbed the fire extinguisher, stood at the ready as the smoke clears, I realize there was no fire.

Whew! But what happened?

I have to say, it was pretty exciting to know that this months long project was finally over and I can get back in and mash down on the right pedal. My emotional state ran from excitement and joy to utter disappointment, anger, fear and depression. All I could think was about all this work I have done and now back to square one. I told my wife that I can easily go from anger, upset to being grateful and proud that I did the right thing in a time of panic to turn off the power source. It is easy to be angry and upset, but that can lead you down a spiral that would be difficult to come out of. I must, MUST stay in the grateful and proud space in my mind.

This my friends, is the lesson in this long story. A lesson on why, exactly WHY we do things we have never done before, to see things differently, to allow our minds to go into a creative space. A space that allows us to solve problems before they arrive, and have the knowledge to take care of the problem in the event it happens. Sure it's difficult, but we are not leaves in the stream. We are mighty oaks. Oaks that can withstand these emotional tidal waves. To know in an instant what is best to do. We learn from these instances not only about the task at hand, but how we react. How we respond. This is how we learn to act under pressure. How we solve complex issues and if we can't foresee a problem, at least we will have a contingency plan.

What near catastrophic thing have you encountered? How has that event prepared you for unforeseen circumstances?

Oh, so what happened? Apparently the carrier for the light switch was just touching the Ignition terminal on the key switch, shorting it out and causing a ton of power to go through the 10awg Ignition wire from the starter solenoid to the key switch. Fortunately, the casing on the Ron Francis Wiring and the quick action to kill the power saved from a total melt down.

Let The Kid Do It


I am still in shock and awe.

It was a couple of years ago on Easter weekend, when my Nephew Marcus told me that his school doesn't have a woodshop, metalshop or even auto shop! How can this be true. Apparently the local school districts have replaced the shop classes with computer labs. The kids are editing video for Christ's sake! So, I said, well, let's make a video together. Little did he know, we were going to record him working in the garage turning some wrenches.

Needless to say, he took to it so much he didn't want to do the video. Here's an article from the day in the garage.

So I ask each and every one of you. Bring that kid into the garage. Uncles, listen up! When your niece or nephew come over for a holiday, get them in the garage. Throw a hammer or wrench in their hands. Do some fix-it job in the house, or on the car, bike, bicycle, anything. I am sure there is a project or two in there.

You will have the time of your life and they will have a life time of learning.

Watch for Blacktop Magazine as we focus on ways the automotive industry is creating programs specifically designed to fuel the passion of the younger generation. Through scholarships, programs like "Hot Rodders of Tomorrow" and more.

“I’m Here For Me!” – Huh???


Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on September 13, 2016

Is this your mantra? Most likely not. Who want's to hear that you are there only for yourself?

Many times we will hear the term; "I'm here for you." Which is a kind sentiment. However, in business, you should be here for you first. Not in a greedy winner-take-all way, but in a helpful, collaborative manner.

The fact is, your clients, customers and colleagues NEED YOU in the game.

You are an essential role in elevating the project, when you create value, build on quality and offer an important service or product. It is imperative to maintain the high-quality and standards that your clients, customers and colleagues expect from you. The ME in that statement above is your brand. It is how you are recognized, talked about, perceived and expected.

There are times when I get caught up in the day-to-day, that my responsibility to my own brand gets lost. I create visual clues for me to help keep me on track. Around my desk I have designs that I am proud of, I have pictures of family and outings that make all this work so rewarding. And, when I need a big boost, I refer back to my Strategic Marketing Map to help me see my brand evolve.

What do you rely on when you need a boost of brand energy? Share it below.

3 Ways To Win BIG At Your Next Trade Show


Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse, August 30, 2016

I have been involved with the trade show industry for a while now. What I have found that most trade shows are "sensory overload". In a sea of like-minded manufacturers and distributors jam packed in a convention center, it is very difficult to find the right buyer and equally as difficult for them to find you. 

Most people, new to the Trade Show World think that the promoter does all the work to get the right buyers to the show. Sure, they market it the best they can, but they cannot directly target buyers for your goods. That is up to you and it must start months before the show and months after the show.

Here are my take-aways for a successful Trade Show Launch.

There are a couple of things to look at before you pack up and head to the trade show arena. Unique Value Proposition, Current Customer List, Editorial Contacts. 

Before the show contact your buyers and tell them about the show and what you will be sharing. Be sure to include what separates you from any competitors that may be at the event. Invite them to take a pre-view of your new product before the show. A great call to action would be a discount on orders taken before the show. Use the show to set up meetings with the buyers in a way to get more acquainted. Ask your buyer for any referrals to others in the industry who they think may be looking for this solution to their problems.

You will also want to prepare a press release and send it out to the editorial community and media. The press release will include your perfect solution to the buyers problems, include your booth number and other contact information on the press release.

Take a look at our Strategic Marketing Map to help define your Unique Value Proposition

This is a great time for you to see what is going on in the industry. Look for the beginnings of trends. Look for trends happening in particular verticals and determine if they would be a good fit for your business model.

Capturing leads. Have a system in place that is simple and easy to use to qualify contacts you meet at the show. A series of notecards, 

The show is also a great place to have your sales materials all ready and easily accessible. Allow your buyers or potential buyers an easy way to get information and make an order. Know this, you most likely won't get a $100,000 order at the show. The buyers will bring information back and share it with their team to make an informed decision. Give them the tools to make it an easy decision to choose your company.

Whew! That was a crazy event. Sensory overload. Lots of great contacts. Now what? Start calling. Start quickly. Give no more than a week to allow your contacts to get back to the office and settle things out. Start off by sending a thank you card for stopping by the booth. Follow up a couple days later with a phone call. Look to your show notes on what they specifically were interested in and follow-up on those items. This is a time to "date before you get married". Be sure to focus on how you are solving their problem.

Review analytics. Were you able to capture any data from the event? Amount of people scanning at your booth, visitor count, etc. We have helped clients capture web traffic with big QR codes on our booth graphics as passers by scanning the code to a specific landing page. Interview staff and get their take on what they see as new trends.

When Competitors become Collaborators – Part II


Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse, August 23, 2016

Tuesdays with Tony continues the dialog of how competitors work together to make each other great.

Here is another example from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Aby Raisman and Simone Biles competed against each other on the floor exercise final. They were seen holding hands and giving each other pep talks. Two competitors helping each other out by backing each other up. They went on to win Gold and Silver medals for their performances. Could this be the sign of a competitive advantage. Work closely in helping your nearest "competitor" so you both can dominate?

Am I crazy to think this can happen in today's business world?

There are more examples, also from women in the Olympics. This one happened when New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin and USA's Abbey D'Agostino were praised for their sporting behavior after falling to the track during their 5,000M heat race. The two have never met before and yet they helped each other up and finished the race together. They said they both know what it takes to make it to the Olympics and that finishing the race, no matter how much time they lost, or pain they were in, was imperative.

Because of their great sportsmanship the athletes were granted places in the final. D'Agostino was too injured to race in the final. Both ladies were awarded the International Fair Play Committee Award. Only 17 such awards were ever given at the Olympics.

Such Beauty. 

 Are you a collaborator? Do you appreciate collaborative efforts? Then we are the right fit for your team. If you have a winner-takes-all mentality, then keep looking.

When Competitors become Collaborators – Part 1


Originally Published on LinkedIn Pulse August 9, 2016

Inspired by the Olympic competition and looking back at the Motorcycle Cannonball Run (photo above), I have found two different types of competitors. Those that will win-at-all-costs, and those who collaborate and work together to win. Same as in my day-to-day professional dealings with employers, clients and colleagues.

The competitors that win at all costs will look you in the eye and tell you one thing, only to get information so they can beat you in the next turn. The collaborative winners see the race a bit differently. You win, we all win. You can see it in the Olympics clearly. The bicycle road racers draft each other to get ahead of a pack, swimmers will navigate to the edge of their lane next to the person ahead of them. 

Take a look at how Blacktop Branding collaborates, with you, to succeed with dynamic design and strategic marketing.

For the competitors who enjoy the race, it's not about winning at the mark, but winning in the competition. They are the ones who will help an opponent when they are down. I remember like it was yesterday when I first heard of such a competitor. It was at the 2010 Motorcycle Cannonball Run. Here are 45 Pre-1915 motorcycles running across the country from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to the Santa Monica Pier, west of Los Angeles, CA. Along the long route and 16 days, sure there were breakdowns. These are 100 year old vehicles for heavens sake. 

At each instance of a breakdown, many of the other racers would stop to help. A pact to have each competitor complete the grueling race, or at least hop the bike on a cycle sidecar to complete the race. I was there at the pier watching these historic racers in this inaugural modern version of the race. It was inspiring. It wasn't about the winner, but the competition. Each one, like the Olympians, are winners to even compete in such an event.

What is the benefit of being a collaborative competitor?

As a winner-takes-all competitor, the benefit is you win big and you did it yourself. You strategized, and manipulated the competition to best them. There is pride in that. What I have found is, there is also loneliness. The only people around you are subservient and do not share in your win. They are pawns and they know it. However, the collaborator, they share and are grateful for those who help, because they help too. I find more pride in that kind of winning. Not necessarily teamwork, but collaboration. Each person who helps others succeed, are succeeding on their own terms. More wholly. Still competitors, and always winners.

Are you a collaborator? Do you appreciate collaborative efforts? Then we are the right fit. If you have a winner-takes-all mentality, keep moving, you will find a pawn out there somewhere.

3 Ways to Make Your Company “Olympic Gold”


Originally Published on LinkedIn Pulse August 2, 2016. 

When it comes to sports, I watch for the great plays. I don't follow any particular team and cannot name any particular player. For that reason, I really like watching the Olympics. I like watching the Olympics for the stories of the athletes, their challenges and their triumphs. It humanizes their extraordinary feats.

For the most part the players are not professionals. They are everyday people like you and me. They have a drive and a focus to participate in the Olympics. They may forego lucrative professional offers so they can compete on an international stage. The Olympics are special because they come around every 4 years. There is a lot of planning and strategy that goes into playing in the Olympics.

This leads me to my advice on how to make your company "Olympic Gold". I have found three elements that "gold" companies share; Specialty, Story and Scale.

Did you know Blacktop Branding's Strategic Marketing Map can help you find your gold? Take a look at it here.

Specialty – What makes your company special? What is your "Unique Value Proposition"? How do you separate yourself from your competitors. The more unique, the more value you can provide for your customers and clients. Sometimes it takes an outside source to help you find your unique qualities.

Story – A good story has three elements, character, challenge and solutions. What's your story? A story will bring out an emotional or spiritual response to your prospects and turn them into customers. For decades, studies have found that the main part of our purchase process relies heavily on an emotional connection.

Scale – The Olympics started as a local festival. It grew to include people from neighboring tribes and eventually global competitors. How is or how can your company scale up? With scale comes value. How does your business find new markets? Which other silo's can you serve? What different services can you offer with your skillset? You may soon find that your market has been limited by your own reluctance to ask these questions.

I am here to help you ask and answer questions like these to take you to "Olympic Gold"! Let's share your story. 

Breaking Through Writers Block

breaking-blocksFor many of us Writers Block can be a devastating state of affairs. We sit and look at a blank screen or sheet of paper. We procrastinate. Check our messages. Cruise social media. Trying to find a spark somewhere.

The spark never comes. Or maybe it has and we just didn't see it because we are so stressed on what we need to do. Aha! That is the key there. You are stressed. When under stress our thinking  becomes narrowed. It's all black and white. No grey area. Either this way or that.

Did you know I offer Creative Thinking Workshops? Ideal for a group of 10-20 attendees. Click Here to Learn More!

Here is what I have learned from research and practice when I suffer from Writers Block:

  1. I do nothing. Yep, I acknowledge that I am in a block and do nothing. It's kinda like being caught in a rip-tide. You struggle and still get pushed out to sea. If you relax, then swim parallel to the shoreline, you will get out of the tide. Doing nothing gives you the opportunity to clear your mind of the stress you are under.
  2. Now I write. But I don't write for the assignment. I write my thoughts, what is happening in my head. The writing usually turns to the challenge at hand. So I keep writing, I am writing idea snippets. Nothing with structure. Just write. At this point I am brainstorming. No judgement of good idea or bad, just ideas.

Then, all of a sudden…

It happens. One of those snippets gives me an AHA! moment and I realize. This is where I will start, this is a great set-up for the hook at the end, this is what will engage the reader. I scurry to continue writing and writing and sooner rather than later, I have a finished manuscript. Sure editing will be required.

Have you ever noticed that writers block usually happens in STARTING a project. I don't recall getting blocked when it comes to editing.

The challenge is, we think we have to start at the beginning. We stress ourselves out to make it right the first time. But that is not necessarily the case. For example. This paragraph was initially written as the third paragraph. However, it fits better here.

I am sure this practice will help and if you are ever in trouble and need a creative spark, give me a ring. I would be happy to add fuel to your fire. 

  • Illustration from and old AC Spark Plugs advertisement.

Greatest Year in Automotive Design


I just finished listening to Kelly McEvers interview of David Hepworth about his bookNever a Dull Moment, 1971 The Year that Rock Exploded. Hepworth backed up his hypothesis that 1971 was the best year in rock and roll because in 1971 there were more musicians in their peak creative time (thank the baby boomer generation). The musicians were also not over produced. They would go in the recording studio and lay it down in only a couple of takes. David Bowie recorded 1 song short of three albums in 1971. Led Zepplin' fourth album, didn't even have the name of the band, album or record label on it. Only a photo of a guy carrying sticks! Fascinating.

Who would think? Well, it got me thinking about the relationship of music with the automobile. What is the best year in American automotive design? A contentious question for sure. 

There were key periods:

  • 1915 – Invention of the assembly line
  • 1932 – Ford introduces the V-8 – the quintessential hot rod.
  • 1940-41 – Height of streamline design.
  • 1950 – Fords and Mercury's built for customizers
  • 1955 – Chevrolet introduces the small block V-8
  • 1959 – Harley Earle bids adieu from GM with the biggest fins ever!
  • 1960's – The space race is on!

What about 1971 in American automotive design? Bigger is better? The muscle car was at it's peak with big block motors, wide bodies and longer wheelbases. All this just before the oil embargo and gas prices soar.

Here is where we see the difference between the musical artists and their automotive brethren. Maybe it is due to the systems in place for automotive design, because, 1971 is not recognized as a creative force.

Like all this talk about design? Take a look at our creative process

For the music industry, the creativity is measured with the artist. Without a huge machine behind them, they are much more willing to take chances and release statements of art. Whereas in the auto industry there are committees and shareholders that need their risk assured. So change is slow.

Marry the two, and It will not be until 1976 when Johnny Cash releases his automotive classic "One Piece at a Time."

Photo: Johnny Cash's "One Piece At A Time" Cadillac, Photographer: Unknown

Keith from my LinkedIn page commented, "Remember when cars didn't all look the same?" – 

My reply: YES! Sorry to say automotive designers (many coming from the same school) are all working under the common wind tunnel constraints. Either that or they are chained to copy "what has worked". This is a challenge that the auto makers most likely didn't think of, so now they only thing they can market is their badge and marque. Tesla, and many of the exotic super-car builders are the only ones with the guts to change the status quo.

“Thank Goodness”


I heard the term listening to a report from a group of hurricane survivors who locked themselves in a walk-in cooler at a restaurant in the midwest. The right situation to Thank God, but the young lady said: "Thank goodness we are all alive."

Thank Goodness.

I like this term. Not that I am against God by any means. I am pro goodness. Goodness is something we all can achieve. I have been thinking a lot about goodness lately. I guess it is because of all the hateful rhetoric we see on the news and social media. The country is so divided. What we all have in common is goodness. Can't we all just look for the goodness within and share more of that?

Recently on my Facebook news feed there have been a great number of hateful, wrong and down-right disrespectful posts by "friends". So I decided to do some "un-following". My announcement on this was quite simple and it led to a lot of support and a couple of people got angry too. 

I use social media to stay up on current events both internationally and within my small network of "real" friends and family. These updates help me to craft my marketing for clients in a relevant way. My assumptions were proven correct that out of my 1,500 friends on my personal page, I only see a small portion of their posts. By eliminating (by unfollowing, not by blocking) the negative hateful posts, my feed is much brighter and positive. I am seeing people who have been friends but lost in the bombardment of armchair politicians. I am seeing what people are DOING rather than ranting. And it's made my life greater.

This small difference in my social media use has big benefits. The positivity has helped me stay focused, see the future better and generate more valuable ideas.

Photo: Lindy Sue with Don Chamber's '55 Chevy Nomad at Car Crazy, Inc. in Orange, CA