Man, do I sit around a lot of conference tables. Between client meetings, new business presentations, community boards, strategic retreats, and non-profit groups, it feels like the corporate conference table is becoming my natural environment. Every table — and every meeting — is unique. But there are some similarities between the different groups regardless of their intent or purpose. Take clothes, for example. In almost every board meeting I sit in on, the men are in gray or navy suits, white or blue shirts, and mostly conservative ties. The women are either dressed in head-to-toe black or wear black skirts or pants with brightly colored short, fitted blazers. Red, teal, and fuchsia seem to be the hues of this season.
Another similarity is the lunches served. Just a few years ago, the conference tables used to be set with roast beef and tuna sandwiches on baguettes. Now, turkey on wheat, veggie sandwiches with mozzarella, and Caesar salads seem to be the norm. And yes, most of the men push the croutons to the sides of their plates but happily eat the sandwich bread. Go figure.
Technology, too, has changed. Years ago, most attendees took notes by hand in complicated binders, using systems such as Filofax to capture pertinent information. A few years ago, laptops made an appearance and after a few years the laptops and netbooks had caught up with the leather bound folders and notebooks. And then, two years ago or so, iPads started to show up in front of more and more board members and now seem to be replacing the laptops. Needless to say, anyone who read my post “You Must Be Present To Win,” already knows that people furtively thumb-typing onto smartphones are ubiquitous at every meeting. Whether or not they’re taking notes is a different question.
But because I’m a communications guy, the thing that interests me the most is to pay attention to the words the people around the table use. More specifically, I’m curious to know what terms — brands, personalities, and subjects — have entered the public lexicon. That is, what ideas are timely and fascinating enough that people talk about them wherever I go. And because I travel so much and sit at conference tables around the country and around the world, I’m also curious to see if the subjects discussed are consistent across different locations. (News flash: they are).
So what have I heard lately? Well, at the time of this writing, the NCAA championships were getting closer and closer so “North Carolina” popped up a lot, replacing Jeremy Lin puns such as “Linsanity,” and “Linsomnia.” Now I’m not much of a sports fan, but even I know what they’re talking about.
Another term that’s been popping up lately is “KONY” and “KONY 2012.” For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Joseph Kony is the Ugandan war criminal who is becoming more and more well-known thanks to the YouTube video (with 85 million views) that seeks to make Kony popular enough that the US government will help pursue and arrest him.
“Apple” is a word I hear in every meeting I attend. All marketing departments want to market like Apple. All designers want to design like Apple. All companies want to earn profits like Apple. And all presenters want to present like Apple. Forget that they’re not willing to commit and invest in excellence like Apple, that’s beyond the point. Everyone wants to be Apple. Apple — ‘nuff said.
“Mobile” is another buzzword people around conference tables like to talk about. Everyone knows that as we enter the “post-PC” era the future is in mobile. But nobody knows what to do about it.
Of course, “social media” is another term that everyone bandies about and wants to get involved with. But it’s a lot like the old line explaining irony: Those who get it, get it anyway. Those who don’t, never will.
The TV shows people talk most about are Modern Family and The Voice. The news story is The New York Times editorial from Greg Smith, the guy who quit Goldman Sachs and wrote about it (although no one remembers his name). The diet is paleo. The political sentiment is “stop paying.”
Granted, these are non-scientific survey results I compiled based on what I overhear at the meetings I attend. There is no control group and the metrics are probably compromised by my own pro or con biases. According to my friend Randy Gage, these are self-hating “mind viruses” created to control the drooling masses and keep them happily (or unhappily) spending their money with stores, companies, and religions.
But from a branding point of view, the obvious question is how do these words and terms get so popular? How do they get enough people talking about them that they achieve what Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point?
Whether you believe these concepts have been injected into our consciousness through strategic and Machiavellian means or that these buzz words are just coincidentally on everyone’s tongues, the key point is that they are out there. And because one of the key branding tenets is awareness, being talked about is one of the first steps to success.