I was talking to a friend in Vegas this past weekend who was trying to sell his house. "It's been appraised at $350,000," he said, "but all the offers I'm getting are less than 320. It's total bullshit."
He was frustrated.
I visited with another friend recently who's a professional cellist and has spent the last ten years playing in symphonies and shows around the U.S. He was talking about his frustrations landing a gig these days:
"I know I'm a much better player than the girl they just hired, but for some reason they still went with her over me," he vented.
Just yesterday, I was talking to a wine supplier who was trying to get me to help promote one of his French regional producers and was running out of ideas. "I can't figure it out," he grumbled with a bit of anger. "This is one of the best wines I've ever sold, and I can't seem to get any momentum going. The wine should be flying off the shelves, but I might have to close it out just to get my money back!"
All three examples above constitute a phenomenon that happens daily in the world of capitalism: the difference between perceived value and actual value. The variance between the price on paper and what people are actually willing to pay. The chasm that sometimes exists between actual quality and human desire.
Do you know how many talented actors probably lost roles to Keanu Reeves simply because he was better looking? Probably dozens. It's not always about talent. I know plenty of people with PhDs who make far less money than some of my friends who were high school dropouts.
In reality, the most qualified, talented, skilled, and educated candidates don't always get the job, the best wines and whiskies don't always sell for what they're worth, and ultimate value is often determined by emotion rather than fact.
The difference maker in almost all of these situations is marketing. If you have a story or a characteristic that stands out beyond the crowd it can make all the difference. When I talk to distributors, distillers, and sales reps today, I'm emphasizing this necessity more and more. It's no longer enough to be good. It's no longer enough to have the best product. You need more. You have to give people a reason to put down their iPhone and offer you ten seconds of their ADHD-riddled attention spans.
"But I shouldn't have to do that," my cellist friend replied when I gave him a similar response.
Again, that's the difference between what should be and what is. We're not dealing with what ought to be the case in today's business reality.
I did an interview for a magazine a while back in which they asked me what I thought was next for the spirits industry. Rum? Mezcal?
My answer? WORK. Work is what's coming. Not winter, but work. We're all going to have to work ten times as hard just to make the same amount of money we made last year. Just to stay afloat! With competition fiercer than ever and more products flooding the market every day, you're going to have to find a way to stand out in that never-ending sea of booze.
But how do you get people to choose your bottle, to drink your whisky, to listen to what you have to say?
Unfortunately, there's no one answer anymore. Back in the day you could run a TV ad and 25 million people would see it. Today, you're lucky if ten people click your paid banner on ESPN.com.
Marketing in the new millennium is incredibly difficult because of how fractured our focus is as a society. Yet, I'm fascinated by the challenges it presents and the ever-increasing obstacles it puts in our path.