Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lead and Then Get Out of the Way

Allow me to re-introduce Ron Thomas. Ron appeared on my blog and shared some leadership insights back in April 2011, so it’s time for a repeat appearance. Click here for the original post. Back in 2011, the world of social media was quite different. Facebook and Twitter were not as widespread as today, Instagram and Pinterest were not as popular, and we did not depend on our mobile devices in the same manner as we do today. That said, Ron and I met through social media (Twitter) and spoke by phone when he was based in New York. I witnessed his move to the Middle East for a company that found him via social media, and we stayed in touch across the miles. Ron's new role is CEO, Great Place to Work - Gulf Region, based in Dubai, and formerly, he was the CHRO for a defense contractor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Follow Ron on Twitter @ronald_thomas and read his posts on CEO.com  and TLNT.com. We recently discussed some timeless leadership tips, and highlights of our conversation follow.

QUESTION: When we first connected, you were based in New York City. You now work in the Middle East. What are some of the leadership and management differences you have encountered since working outside the USA?
RON THOMAS: The culture of doing business is different in the Middle East. It's more about building relationships than the hard charging way of getting it done. When in a meeting, you will spend a lot of time talking about things that have nothing to do with the business at hand. In the final stages, we will revert back to the topic and close it. If not, we will meet again after those points are cleared. The relationship side is important because it is about getting to know the actual person, not just about the business person.

QUESTION: When President Obama nominated Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair, he said, “Janet Yellen is a proven leader who knows how to build consensus…the kind of person who makes everybody around her better.” As a leadership expert, what three tips can you provide to create this type of leader? (Click here for my blog post referencing this quote.)
RON THOMAS: Such a powerful quote. To me, that means hire competent people and let them run it. This type of leader is not a manager but more of a coach. She coaches her team to greatness.
* If you hire them for a job, get out of the way and let them do it.
* Your role is to coach your people, not manage them. Managing is an old and fading concept of organizational dynamics.
* Look at the people you manage as peers. Forget about the dotted line concept. These are your partners. 

QUESTION: Every CEO/President has his or her own style for achieving success. But if that individual is not a people-person, how can he/she create a positive corporate culture? (For example, management by walking around won’t cut it in this scenario.)
RON THOMAS: I agree, MBWA works for the people person, but if that is not your style, the bottom line is fostering some type of collaboration with your team. Act more like a trusted advisor and leave the manager's title on the coat rack. Get to know your people, their wants, desires, career plans, family, etc. The more you know them as a person, the better you know them as an employee.

QUESTION: One of the things we both agree is necessary for all new employees to be successful is the implementation of an effective onboarding strategy. What are your four must-have tips to all businesses when it comes to creating effective onboarding strategies?

RON THOMAS: The most important question a new employee is asked on day one comes not from the organization. It comes from a new employee's significant other, friend, or family. That question comes at the end of day one throughout the end of the first week. How do you like your new job? The best way to ensure that the response is positive is to have an onboarding strategy.
* It's a celebration. This new arrival has “chosen” your company to say yes to her talent. Design your program around that celebration.
* Develop your plan into two parts: part 1 is the orientation into the organization, and part 2 is the orientation into their department.
* Follow up at the end of the first week and throughout the next 3-6 months.
* At the 6-month interval, bring back all the new employees hired during that time period for a “New Employee Luncheon."

QUESTION: One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from author and consultant Mark Herbert: “Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to trust and be trusted – and block and tackle for others.” What does this quote mean to you?

RON THOMAS: Lots of times people who are in charge of others tend to feel that they must show how smart they are. This is especially true with newer managers. NEVER EVER go down that road. The worst description that you want tagged to you is being or thinking you are the smartest person in the room. I call it SPIR syndrome. This type of attitude smothers your creative people for they know that whatever they do, you are over their shoulders showing them how “you would do it." If this is the case, why did you hire them in the first place? In order for your people to grow, you have to let them go out and run. Sometimes they will make mistakes, but if you hire right, they will, for the most part begin to develop their own style. And that is where the creativity and resourcefulness creep in.

My gratitude to Ron for sharing his thoughts from across the miles.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Social Media Conversation

I would like to introduce Keri Jaehnig to my blog. As a social media expert, Keri's quotes have appeared several times here in group posts when I've featured social media tips over the last several years. We met through social media, and while we're on different sides of the country, our regular communications are an example of the benefits of social media. 

Keri is the Founder and CMO of Idea Girl Media, a Social Media Marketing Agency that works with business brands, public figures, and nonprofits to achieve social media success and positive online reputations. She has received a commendation for Outstanding Attainment in Social Media from the Senate of the State of Ohio and is also featured on Social Media Today, SteamFeed, Search Engine People, AOL Small Business, Forbes, and Business Insider. We recently talked about the state of social media and changes for 2015, and highlights of our conversation follow.

QUESTION: In today’s era of immediacy, all businesses need a digital footprint to reach the largest audience. As a result, what three things do you consider critical as part of a social media marketing strategy?
KERI JAEHNIG: The footprint must come first before the social media: The top three things should be: quality, consistent branding; a well designed, mobile responsive website; and a blog offering at least some brand content that serves as the hub of social media. Once these elements are established as the foundation, brands can begin social media with success. Also, I recommend using a variety of content to share on social channels: images, audio, video, links, and text.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite social platform, and why?
KERI JAEHNIG: Each social platform serves a different purpose to achieve a separate and unique goal. So I like a select few for different reasons. But if you make me choose one, right now I would choose Instagram because it's fun and always with us. It began, and has stayed, a mobile platform. So, because we always have our mobile phones, it's always accessible in our pockets or purses. Instagram is also easy and has cool features! The filters and apps to make cool graphics make even the worst photographer (myself) look like a semi-pro.

Also consider that people absorb and react more quickly to images than to other forms of media, and it is almost destined to be uber-successful. You can very easily syndicate photos to other popular social networks, which I love. And, hashtags are the key to connections. Posts are not limited to amount of text, and you can use up to 30 hashtags per post. In short, having a presence on Instagram is almost a recipe for sure success!

QUESTION: Many CEO’s and leadership teams question how to track ROI when the topic of social media is raised and marketing teams pitch moving forward with the implementation of a social media marketing strategy. What social metrics do you measure - why, and how often?
KERI JAEHNIG: I'm afraid I'm not going to make some CEOs very happy here. Tracking reach, clicks, and shares is a good idea to know what your audience reacts to - and where website traffic is coming from. But a good social media manager knows when things aren't going well - so they adjust. That same good social media manager will also be tracking results and trends ALL THE TIME. Some all day, some once a day, some once a week, and then totaling when reports are due.

The bottom line is....the bottom line:
* Are more people served?
* Are there less service failures?
* Are there more products or services sold?
* Are there more subscriptions or downloads?
* Were there cost savings?

All will be indicators of success. None of those will come immediately. "Traction" takes time, and that time is different for each brand, as well as each strategy for each brand.

QUESTION: Many people remember the famous OREO tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl. With that in mind, what's your favorite social campaign?
KERI JAEHNIG: OREO did a great job with a strategy using new techniques. They nailed it partly because the formula had not been done yet. That same approach today may or may not be as successful mainly because we've all set it with that campaign. Hashtags are now mainstream. Many of us make our own YouTube videos. So, they were good at using technology AND timing with lovely color and tune. Bravo!

Do I have a favorite social campaign? No. But an organization that did well spreading its message through social channels was The ALS Association with The Bucket Challenge. Whether or not they reached their fundraising goals, that message traveled far and wide! They earn bonus points for getting celebrities involved who committed to actually doing it. Other memorable campaigns: Old Spice, Go Granny, and the Budweiser puppies. Those were mainly advertising, but they all "went viral" via social media.

QUESTION: Blogs are easy and inexpensive marketing tools to promote experts and expertise. What five ways do you recommend generating content on a regular basis?
KERI JAEHNIG: They key word is regular, or consistent. Creating good blog content on a regular basis can be challenging for entrepreneurs. Medium-sized businesses and larger brands with designated employees and teams to do this have an advantage. Following an editorial calendar is also key.

Here are some ideas for generating content - there are surely more options, but these may be the easiest for busy teams to execute.
* Feature a few writers from your team so no one person is responsible for all content.
* Answer questions from your customers and clients.
* Accept guest posts from respected professionals in niches complimentary to yours.
* Embed videos, infographics, or SlideShare presentations in blog posts for variety and to re-purpose good content.
* Feature collaborative posts, i.e., accept answers to important industry questions from several team members or industry professionals. These are often bookmarked as resources for readers.

QUESTION: Pundits recommend that you should add one new social platform each year. Which one will you add to your marketing arsenal this year, and why?
KERI JAEHNIG: My first question is: Who is recommending this for every business or entrepreneur? There is no "one size fits all" strategy, and to assume every organization should be building by one social platform each year is a bit presumptuous. Of course, if you've started with Facebook, your next steps might include Twitter or Google+. Maybe a Company LinkedIn Page, depending on your industry. Or you might consider if YouTube is a good fit. It all depends on what is most fitting for your business niche, and what platform could deliver the desired result. It ALL boils down to: Where does your target market hang out online, and when?

I maintain a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and Quora. For a few of those, I have a personal and business account. When the new Ello and Tsu platforms were introduced, I created profiles to experiment and become familiar. I felt it was my responsibility to know and see where they would go. 

Will I be adding another social platform this year? Absolutely not! Because more consistent blogging is the best answer for me and my business, knowing what I know about changes that are coming. I suspect the same is true for many: they should be blogging more consistently. But if a miracle occurred, and I magically had eight more hours in every day, I would be compelled to experiment with podcasting.

Learn more on Keri's website and follow her regularly on Twitter @ideagirlmedia and @kerijeahnig.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Top 10 Brand Tips for 2015

Early last year, I presented some brand tips for 2014. As the new year begins, it's a good time to analyze your branding strategies so that you can reach the largest audience possible, stand out from the competition, and create the most buzz.

Brand Tip #1:
Be mobile accessible. Does your website look good on mobile devices? Does it scale appropriately? If not, spend the time to make sure your site looks good and is easily accessible from smartphones and tablets. Many people access the Internet while on the go, so you don't want to lose customers or prospective customers because your site looks like it was designed during the last century. This goes for making emails mobile accessible too.

Brand Tip #2:
Does your brand store data in the cloud? With all the data breaches in the mainstream news, make sure to spend the time to protect your customer data. Just because you store data in the cloud does not mean your data is safe. Implement complex password practices for all employees who will access your data, which means that all passwords should be at least 10 characters in length and integrate lower case letters, upper case letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid passwords of "12345678" and "password" like the plague.

Brand Tip #3:
On this same note, think about security from your customers' point of view. If your brand has suffered a data breach, implement procedures to alert customers and the mainstream media immediately. Don't wait for someone in the media to tell your story - your brand and business may not survive the negative publicity.

Brand Tip #4:
While the Internet of Things is a hot topic, not every industry and brand are affected. Your brand may have nothing to do with an app that can remotely control a refrigerator, but there may be some unique ways to integrate the Internet of Things into your marketing strategies. The theme here is: Think outside the box.

Brand Tip #5:
How often do you request feedback from customers? Do you send electronic surveys? Do you thank customers for completing the surveys? And what do you do once you receive the feedback? As with any other part of your overall marketing strategy, have a strategy from start to finish for the feedback project.

Brand Tip #6:
Don't let the number one brand in your industry scare you. Remember the famous tagline from Avis, "We're #2, We Try Harder?" Sometimes, brands that aren't industry leaders turn out to be the trendsetters. Apple was a small company when it ran its famous 1984 Super Bowl ad.

Brand Tip #7:
While the concept of customer experience marketing is not new, the implementation of providing consistency across multiple touchpoints may be new for your brand. How often does someone within your company call the toll-free number, visit a retail store, make an online purchase, participate in an online chat - all with the intention of checking out the consistency of the customer experience? If these situations don't happen on a regular basis, there's work to be done because you don't want to provide different experiences and confuse your customers.

Brand Tip #8:
What social media platform are you most comfortable using? During 2015, try reaching a new audience with a new social site. You may be surprised by the results.

Brand Tip #9:
This tip is timeless: Since all employees are ambassadors for your brand, train employees on a regular basis so that they can talk about your brand when out in the community and interacting at industry events, etc.

Brand Tip #10:
This tip is also timeless and is the core of branding: Implement consistency. No matter what marketing tool you use - printed collateral, websites, emails, advertisements, brochures, annual reports, flyers, presentation templates, business cards, stationery, folders, tradeshow booths, or social media - make sure your brand identity (logo, tagline, and color palette) is CONSISTENT!

What do you think will appear on my list of branding tips for 2016? Check back next January.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Leadership Insights from the Nonprofit Sector

I would like to introduce Scott Bowling, Psy.D., to my blog. Since 1999, Scott has been President and CEO of the Exceptional Children's Foundation (ECF), a nonprofit based in Culver City (California) with 15 service sites throughout Los Angeles County. ECF provides services for young children, students, and adults with special needs. Scott leads a staff of over 350 employees, a budget of $25 million, and for the last year, I’m honored to say I've been a member of Scott's team as Marketing Director. Recently, Scott and I discussed leadership, and highlights from our conversation follow.

QUESTION: How is the process of leading different when leading a nonprofit versus a for-profit business?
SCOTT BOWLING: The leadership process and principles applied to nonprofit vs. for-profit businesses are more alike than dissimilar. The employees of any business must be prioritized as the organization's greatest asset. Motivating staff to the mission of the business and ensuring each employee understands his/her role and value to achieving desired outcomes are paramount. Acknowledging performance excellence while keeping everyone invested in the company's direction is what achieves the best (mission and financial) results.

QUESTION: What three qualities are most important for employees to be successful in the nonprofit sector?
SCOTT BOWLING: I believe in these three: shared company values, communication flow, and positive attitude/energy. 

QUESTION: How can a President/CEO set the direction for his/her company's or nonprofit's culture?
SCOTT BOWLING: The CEO sets the tone for the company's day-to-day operations and therefore creates its culture through consistency of actions, applied policy, and communications. S/He must live and breathe the company's values (integrity, service excellence, fiscal responsibility, people first, for instance), and attract and retain the human resources (staff) who share these values and facilitate the tone (culture) established by the CEO.

QUESTION: In the nonprofit sector, employees wear many hats, so how can an individual gain respect without a leadership title?
SCOTT BOWLING: Respect is earned by individuals with and without a leadership title. When individuals maintain a positive attitude, perform duties with consistent quality, and can be relied upon to reflect the company's values, trust and respect will follow.

QUESTION: How can a leader inspire his/her employees to become brand ambassadors?
SCOTT BOWLING: Once a clear branding plan is established and communicated, follow the plan – consistently. Branding is seen in the way leaders dress, how s/he speaks to others inside and outside the business, the messages sent in writing and orally (how s/he represents the company), and in actions taken.

With Scott Bowling at ECF Event.
QUESTION: One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from author and consultant Mark Herbert: “Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to trust and be trusted – and block and tackle for others.” What does this quote mean to you?
SCOTT BOWLING: It means that everyone has the opportunity to lead. Seize the opportunities that inevitably become available to demonstrate your belief in the whole, and those who comprise the oneness of the company. Defend what's right (through consistent actions and words), and stand firm in the values that advance the company forward.

My thanks to Scott Bowling for sharing his leadership insights. Learn more about ECF at www.ECF.net and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ConnectwithECF.

Image Credit (Leadership): Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Marketing Highlights from 2014

With 2014 history, it’s time for my “Top 10” marketing highlights list. What campaigns were great? Which were duds? What stood out as marketing innovation, and what will go down in history that can rival Apple’s 1984 TV ad? What do YOU remember from the 2014 marketing reel?

With a quick nod to David Letterman for the format, here’s my list:

Number 10:
Budweiser's Super Bowl ad with a puppy and a Clydesdale horse tugged at the heartstrings as only a Budweiser ad can.

Number 9:
While the Sochi Olympics took place in February, the biggest story was that Bob Costas, the legendary broadcaster for the event, suffered from an eye infection.

Number 8:
In typical Apple fashion, the release of the next iteration of the iPhone (the iPhone 6 and 6s), was unveiled to long lines and much anticipation.

Number 7:
Manhattanhenge took over New York City. Twice during the summer of 2014, the Manhattan sunset illuminated both the north and south sides of every cross street. For two days, half the sun sat above and below the horizon, thus creating a sort of Stonehenge effect.

Number 6:
Instagram stood out as the social media platform for the most fun and the most engagement. Sorry to Facebook and Twitter.

Number 5:
Pizza Hut redesigned its logo: the roof was history, and in its place was a red and white pizza.

Number 4:
Lego launched its Science Line "Research Institute Set" for girls, the first female offering to feature women in a professional setting rather than partying. The set consisted of a female paleontologist, female astronomer, and female chemist - although it was a limited edition and sold out within days.

Number 3:
SeaWorld continued its damage control due to the 2013 film, "Blackfish," about how it captured and treats Killer Whales.

Number 2:
Data breaches became too common, as evidenced by breaches announced by Target, Staples, AT&T, Albertson's, The Home Depot, and Apple's iCloud.

And Number 1 on the 2014 Marketing Highlights List:
As a result of a security hack and possible threats to viewers' safety, Sony Pictures pulled the distribution of its film "The Interview" from major movie theater chains. While the company eventually released the film through small and independent theaters and via online outlets, the issue of free speech became a bigger issue than the hack. People who had not planned to view the film added it to their "must-view" list to support free speech.

What would you add to this list? Here’s to 2015 and another year of marketing highlights. Happy New Year!

Image Credit: Krishna Arts via FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Continuity of Leadership

Today, too few businesses plan for change - especially what will happen when the person at the top, the CEO or President, moves on or retires. So, the businesses that do plan provide the inspiration for many others. A nonprofit that believes in planning is the Special Olympics of Southern California (SOSC).

In a book produced by the SOSC entitled, "The Continuity of Leadership," President/CEO Bill Shumard provides his insights about leadership and why all organizations must have a continuity plan. The reason is simple: when leaders change, cultures change, and as a result, organizations change. This much change is definitely not in the best interest of any organization.

The secret for Shumard's success can be found in his mantra: "Everyone is a leader." This type of leadership belief builds a culture of project ownership, teamwork, and people development. At the end of the day, team members want to work together, which results in high quality work and positive morale. Employees go above and beyond, not because they are thinking about their paychecks, but because they all believe in the cause.

Enjoy these other inspirational leadership quotes from the book:

"Communicate as a person, not a boss - have a conversation." - Anne Sweeney, Disney/ABC Television

"Leaders and leadership teams working together will run a business more effectively than a hierarchical, command structure." - Marvin Bower, McKinsey & Co.

"It doesn't matter if you have a perfect product, production plan and marketing pitch; you'll still need the right people to lead and implement those plans." - Bill Gates, Microsoft

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Reminder for All E-Commerce Sites During the Holiday Shopping Season

With the online holiday shopping season upon us, here's an important reminder for all E-Commerce sites.

While online surfing recently, I wanted to make a purchase for a family member and was using a site I had not previously used. I entered the product details and conducted a search, found the desired item, and then continued to maneuver around the site to enter my name, address, and credit card details.

As I was just about to click “place order,” something surprising happened. The entire site went down and a message popped up on my screen, “This site has gone down for maintenance. Try again later.”

I understand that unexpected situations happen, so I was happy (truth be told, happy is not the correct description) to give the benefit of the doubt to this site’s company. But if regularly-scheduled maintenance had been planned, don’t you think there should have been a message on the homepage indicating the times that the site would be down and inoperable? If such a message had been visible on the homepage or, even better, along the top of all pages, I would have been in a position to either chose to enter my data with lightning speed or chose to return the next day.

I shook my head once the site went down, because I wasn’t sure if my data had, in fact, been entered and the order had been processed. So, the next morning, I called the company – and after going through a series of numerous prompts, I spoke with a live person and provided the order number on my print out (I had printed out the web page where I was when the site went down the previous evening).

The lady could not locate the order number, and she went on to explain that due to the fact that the site had gone down the previous evening, my order had not been completed. I asked her if the site was back up, and she said yes. I waited a few seconds before saying anything, because I was curious what she might do to leave me with a positive impression of her company. When it was obvious that she was ready to end the call, I told her that I would visit the site to complete my transaction.

What do you think she said in response? I expected her to say something along the lines of “We’re sorry that the site went down during your transaction. This happens rarely, but we appreciate you business and if there’s anything I can do to facilitate your transaction, please let me know.” Or what about this, “Can I take your order over the phone to make your day go smoother?” But she said NOTHING. In fact, she disconnected the call.

It’s a shame that the customer service rep I spoke with had never been trained by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, whose classic advice can lead to memorable, positive, and repeat customer experiences: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every aspect of the customer experience better.”

If your business depends on successful online transactions this holiday season, don't ever lose sight of the importance of creating positive customer experiences.

Image Credit: Renjith Krishnan via FreeDigitalPhotos.net.