Saturday, October 24, 2015

Be Inspired by the "Bill Gates Brand"

Thank to Bill Gates’ original mission of providing "a computer on every desk and in every home," he has become an important philanthropist with global impact. He founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose primary aims are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in the United States, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Based in Seattle, Washington, the Foundation is controlled by its three trustees: Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Already a trendsetter due to its support of a myriad of issues and significant funding provided around the world, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also a leader when for something truly unique in the nonprofit sector, when it comes to Foundations. The Gates Foundation has a visitor center. 

The Gates Foundation's Visitor Center is located in Seattle across the street from the Seattle Center, which is the home of the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum, and Pacific Science Center. Admission is free, and the hours are 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday. The Visitor Center presents an array of programs and community events, including family days, educator workshops, and student workshops.

Many nonprofits in the education and preservation sectors have visitor centers so that they can create positive and memorable experiences for their visitors. Where did you go the first time you visited your college or university? What about your favorite museum, presidential library, or national park? When you enter New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, California's Reagan or Nixon Presidential Libraries, or any of the official entrances to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, you encounter a large desk, a designated area, or a building with docents who will welcome visitors, provide maps, and even provide tours. But why would large corporate foundations that provide funds to these and countless other nonprofits need visitor centers?

What makes the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center different from other nonprofits' visitor centers? According to a description by Jim Dever of King 5, a Washington-based NBC affiliate, "If you're looking to explore the world and learn how to make a difference, you can start by exploring the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Visitor Center." Charlotte Beall, Gates Foundation Visitor Center senior manager, explained why the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center is one-of-a-kind, "This whole gallery is about the fact that we can't do this alone, and we need collaboration with others to be successful and solve some of these big problems [that the world faces]."

According to the FAQ page on the website, "The Gates Foundation built the Visitor Center to motivate and inspire people to take action – in their own unique ways – to improve the lives of others. Through displays, interactive exhibits, and programs, we work to spark conversation about global and local issues and highlight the important progress being made in Seattle and around the world. We designed the Visitor Center as a place where people can share ideas, explore their interests, and experience the power of optimism about the world’s future."

While the Gates family history and their efforts to improve the world are shared at the Visitor Center, visitors also realize, as the history unfolds, that the story is theirs too. For instance, one interactive computer program will tell you where your strengths lie and suggest ways that you can change the world on your own. According to the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center website, "Explore inventions like a life-saving mosquito net, an ingenious personal water filter, and a storage device that can keep vaccines cool for 30 days or more. Learn about the unprecedented effort to eradicate polio in our lifetime. Immerse yourself in debates about education, health and poverty – and decide your own priorities. Tell the world what YOUR FOUNDATION would do."

Perhaps, the reason why the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center works so well is because it makes philanthropy accessible for all visitors, no matter one’s ethnicity, socio-economic status, or political persuasion. For example, the Gates Foundation itself does not dig wells in Africa, but it may fund a local organization that does. At the Visitor Center, children see this "one world" concept come to life in the interactive stations located throughout, and they are able to build their own devices to help others. The Visitor Center works because visitors of all ages quickly become engaged, for example, upon entering and seeing the photo wall, visitors can add their own photos. And best of all, visitors can draw a picture of their own cause on the "Share Your Cause Tree."

While the initial concept for the visitor center may have been to promote the Gates Foundation's community involvement and philanthropic impact, at its core, it is a physical representation of the Bill Gates brand – just recall the initial Microsoft mission mentioned at the beginning of this post, and see the parallel with the tagline for the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center: "Arrive Curious. Leave Inspired."

How has Bill Gates or his brand inspired you?

For more about the Gates Foundation Visitor Center:

For more about the Gates Foundation:

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via

Monday, September 28, 2015

Have You Conducted A Brand Audit Lately?

While you may hope that your customers embrace your brand, the truth is, most consumers make purchases without even thinking about your brand. Of course, everyone recognizes the famous brand names, such as, Coca-Cola, Nike, Amazon, etc., but they aren’t your corner five and dime. They aren’t even most midsize businesses. So what can YOU do? You, as the business leader, marketing team, and yes, even the human resources team, must conduct a brand audit on a regular basis.

A brand audit “describes and evaluates the current state of a brand and its effectiveness in achieving a company’s business objectives. This assessment is the first step in brand strategy development and is used as a diagnostic tool for determining where the brand strengths lie and for identifying its potential vulnerabilities or shortcomings. It is the foundation on which the other steps depend,” as defined by Brandamplitude.

Here are my "Top 10" questions to include in your brand audit:

[1] Does your brand currently have a brand promise? If yes, what is it?
[2] What differentiates your product or service from the competition?
[3] How do you offer superior value to your customers?
[4] What words, phrases, or feelings come to mind when you think of your brand?
[5] Who are your brand’s current and future customers?
[6] What is the brand’s positioning statement?
[7] Where does the company fit among the competition?
[8] How is the brand perceived among the competition?
[9] How is the company perceived by employees?
[10] How would you like to see the company perceived?

There are many benefits from conducting a brand audit:

[1] Creating a consistent marketing message across all media.
[2] Strengthening your brand’s positioning vs. the competition.
[3] Improving the communication vehicles between customers and your brand.
[4] Clarifying the core attributes of the brand.
[5] Refocusing internal brand advocates (remember, all employees are brand ambassadors).

Above all, a brand audit allows you to evaluate your marketing strategy. Is it working? Does it need to be refined? Does everyone from the CEO on down to the marketing, public relations, website, IT, finance, and HR teams understand the nuances and key strengths of your brand?

Memorize these two timeless quotes as you re-energize your brand marketing efforts. “Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” from customer engagement expert Vala Afshar. And “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind,” from advertising guru Walter Landor.

Don't you think it’s time to learn exactly what customers are thinking about your brand?

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Floating Art Exhibit Awakens Interest in Philanthropy and Restores Brand Awareness to a Los Angeles Park

Near Downtown Los Angeles, there’s a park called MacArthur Park with an eight-acre lake. Built in the 1880’s, the park became a vacation destination surrounded by luxury hotels. In the early part of the 20th century, the MacArthur park area became known as the Champs-Élysées of Los Angeles. While not as large as one of Michigan’s Great Lakes, MacArthur Park’s lake recently became famous due to a unique floating art exhibit.

An estimated 2,500 vinyl colorful spheres were hand-painted by roughly 10,000 volunteers around the Los Angeles area and placed in the lake at MacArthur Park. Each inflatable sphere was hand-painted in floral or aquatic designs, and measured between four and six feet in diameter.

This unique art exhibition was orchestrated by the Los Angeles-based arts nonprofit Portraits of Hope, known for conceiving and developing one-of-a-kind motivational art projects. Portraits of Hope projects have transformed airplanes, buildings, and the New York City taxi fleet to blimps, tugboats, and NASCAR race cars. More than 800 hospitals, schools, after-school programs, and social service agencies have participated in Portraits of Hope projects and programmatic activities in addition to an array of adult community groups.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti attended the exhibit’s opening ceremony and remarked, “This project involves everything that’s good about Los Angeles…Great weather, open space, creativity, and social conscience.”

The founders of Portraits of Hope are brothers who were raised near MacArthur Park. One explained that the park was once a destination with its lake and paddle boats. The two brothers, Ed and Bernie Massey, wanted to revitalize the park and recreate its “Wow” factor. The “Spheres of MacArthur Park” will be on display for four weeks, and then, the spheres will be donated to local schools and hospitals.

The larger-than-life, multi-colored spheres were produced by volunteers from around Los Angeles – many of them schoolchildren and youth from the Braille Institute, Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, and the Shriners Hospital for Children, among others. In addition, a variety of businesses supplied all materials and transportation free of charge. Portraits of Hope co-founder Bernie Massey explained that the cost of the project would have been around $1.5 million if the community had not mobilized together.

There is no doubt that the art exhibit is colorful, memorable, and unique, but the most important take-away is that “through [children’s] participation, the youngsters learn about important social and community issues, the power of teamwork, and their ability to achieve.”

As a Los Angeles native, thanks to everyone who contributed to this amazing project because it truly gave MacArthur Park the Wow Factor and restored some much-needed brand awareness to MacArthur Park!

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.

Originally Posted on Nonprofit Quarterly. Reprinted with Permission.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Does Your Brand Stand Out?

Do your customers know what makes your brand stand apart from the rest of your industry, or in other words, what makes your brand stand out in a crowd? Often, marketing experts refer to this as your competitive advantage, competitive positioning, or even a positioning statement.

How often do you remind your customers about your competitive advantage? In order to remain top of mind with both your existing customers, repeat customers, and prospective customers, it’s a good idea to add what I call a "reminder component" to your overall marketing strategy.


Here are five ways your brand can stand out in a crowd:

[1] Mission

Explain what your brand stands for. You may have a tagline, but it may not be as easy to remember or embrace as Nike’s “Just Do It,” or Apple’s “Think Different,” or AmericanExpress’ “Don’t Leave Home Without It.” A brand’s mission tells a story and creates an experience. Since it makes a customer into a brand loyal ambassador, don’t lose the opportunity to transform what might be a one-time buyer into a lifelong brand advocate or ambassador.

[2] Service

Provide customer service with every tool possible. In addition to a traditional call center, this may include a Twitter account with “your brand name cares” or “service” in the account name, for example, “XYZCares” or “XYZService” – so that you can react and reply in real time. This may also include a live chat option on your website. But take the time to analyze if a 24/7 online chat option is worthwhile. If you have international customers, the 24/7 component may be important.

[3] Delivery

If you’re an online or bricks-and-mortar brand, provide free delivery, or at a minimum, offer delivery options so that customers can choose how quickly they want their products to arrive. It’s always a good idea to exceed customer expectations, and as an example,’s products usually arrive ahead of their expected arrival date, which results in satisfied customers.

[4] Ingredients

If you’re a food or restaurant brand, consider the emphasis on healthy ingredients and trends toward organic ingredients. It’s always a good idea to list ingredients and explain where your item was grown. Some products cost more based on their ingredients, so if you charge more, your customers will want to know why.

[5] Manufacturing

If you’re a furniture or toy brand, explain where your item was built. Some products cost more based on their materials or weight, so if you charge more, your customers deserve to know why.

Do you have other favorite ways that a brand can stand out? Please chime in.

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tips to Promote Your Breakthrough Idea and STAND OUT!

Other than going on TV’s “Shark Tank” to pitch a product or service idea to Mark Cuban and friends, do you know how to promote that amazing idea you thought of in the middle of the night? Don’t just forget it. Read Dorie Clark’s new book, “Stand Out, How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.”

In today’s crowded market, it’s necessary to stand out. Whether you work in a small mom-and-pop restaurant, a midsize financial services firm, or a Fortune 1000 manufacturing business, every employee has something unique to offer – and should stand out.

Dorie Clark, a marketing and strategy consultant and adjunct business professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, offers countless tips in her new book. “Thought leadership is about solving real problems and making a difference in a way that creates value for yourself and for others. True thought leadership is a gift. It’s a willingness to be brave, open up, and share yourself. It’s a willingness to risk having your ideas shot down, because you genuinely believe they can help others.”

To become a thought leader, Dorie suggests you ask yourself:
* What are others overlooking?
* What are the assumptions underlying your field? Have they been tested? If so, have circumstances changed in the interim?
* What questions do newbies in your field often ask that get shot down or dismissed?
* What’s the conventional wisdom about how to do things “the right way” in your field? What if it were the opposite? What would that look like?
* What do most people in your field think would be impossible? Is it really, or is it just difficult?

To find your breakthrough idea and define your niche, Dories suggests you ask yourself:
* What personal experience have you had that’s changed your view of the world?
* What experiences have you had that others in your field most likely have not?
* How does that difference shape your view of your industry?
* What is the traditional background of influential players in your field? Is there a way to leverage being the opposite of this?
* What weakness can become your strength?

To learn how to adapt to a new situation, Dorie suggests you ask yourself:
* How have other industries solved this problem?
* Can these strategies be imported into your company or field, and what would that look like?
* What would be easy or hard to fit into the existing culture?
* How could you tweak the ideas so they become even more effective?

A memorable example was shared. In preparation for Tom Peters’ timeless treatise In Search of Excellence, he visited HP headquarters. He was surprised that he was not provided with a visitor’s badge, but instead, given access throughout the company. He saw that the president worked in a small cubicle rather than a huge corner office – a foreign concept during the 1980’s but typical today. But most importantly, Peters was introduced to the concept of “Managing by Walking Around (MBWA),” a business practice that has become standard operating procedure for effective presidents/CEOs today. The example was included to show that to stand out, people really need to think outside the box and not follow established rules.

And another example may spark you to action. Angela Lussier, a career coach, spent most of her time while working at a recruiting firm providing resume advice. Her bosses were upset that she spent too much time giving away free advice, so she quit her job to start her own career coaching company. With only $2,000 and no clients, she realized she had jumped ship before creating a business plan and raising necessary capital. First, she called college career centers and offered to provide free career tips, but none said yes. Then, she called nearly 30 libraries and offered career planning workshops. She was rejected by all of them until one said yes. Thanks to that one library, she booked 32 workshops over the next two months – and as a result, began a successful business doing what she has a passion to do.

To learn more about how to stand out, add Dorie to your "must follow" list on Twitter @dorieclark and visit her website.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What Happens When PR and Social Media Intersect?

I would like to introduce Jayme Soulati to my blog. Jayme is president of Soulati Media, Inc., and a message mapping master. She offers blended public relations marketing with content, social, digital, and internet marketing. Recently, she launched a podcast, The Heart of Marketing, on iTunes and Stitcher Radio, and since 2010, she’s been an award-winning blogger. She’s also a past president of the Publicity Club of Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @Soulati and on her website ( We recently talked about the intersection of social media and PR, and highlights of our conversation follow below.

QUESTION: As a social media strategist, how do you integrate social media into an overall marketing plan to create consistent messaging?
JAYME SOULATI: Social media marketing is hunkering down as just another tool. The excitement has dulled with the intense evolution of Facebook as a publicly-traded entity, monetization demands across the channels, and the expected demise of Google Plus. That’s not to say we can ignore social media! It needs to be included in the blended marketing plan as a method of amplifying messages consistently and sharing owned media. Regardless of how you’re pushing messages and where, it is critical that social media marketers use approved brand messages across all media for accuracy, clarity, and consistency.

QUESTION: What are the five ways PR can benefit from social media, and why?
JAYME SOULATI: As a seasoned PR professional, I understand the value of writing across media. You need to become a change artist as social media writing is an art form! Showcase writing talent with tweets. IMHO, tweets provide the toughest writing opportunity as the message gets portrayed succinctly.

Every PR person has to develop a personal brand. Back in the day, that was a buzz phrase, and today it remains important. Developing a professionally strong identity via social media is an opportunity – seize it!

Networking has always been the core of business and professional development. Do use social media to engage with others you’d like to meet, from whom you’d like to learn, and make the ask! Most of us are always interested in helping others in our profession.

Knowledge immersion can be overwhelming and social media provides astonishing opportunity to get free knowledge from the best sites. If there’s time to dive in deeply from the A-listers and the sites with specialty topics, seize it! More carpe diem!

Career advancement is probably the least used avenue in social media for PR peeps. It’s pretty rare that I get someone to nicely stalk me in social channels or ask my help looking for a position. I love that! People should be more aware of finding their peers because genuine connections can be made.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite social media platform, and why?
JAYME SOULATI: Twitter remains my favorite channel by far. I guess it’s the immediacy of the connectivity, the speed conversations occur, the global reach, and the ‘raderie I’ve built on this channel. It’s where I earned my social media mojo in early 2009, and it truly saved my life from a dismal relocation to a new city where I knew no one. Back in the day during the great recession, we partied on Twitter every night. It was a banterfest, and that’s where I made my earliest and deepest connections with peeps around the world. I relish the early days and miss them, too.

QUESTION: There was a post last year indicating that the most important word in marketing is relevance. How did that post impact your marketing? 

JAYME SOULATI: I’d argue that relevance is directly aligned with authenticity. If you present your brand authentically, you build trust. The relevance quotient goes up a notch when you realize that people are reading you, engaging with you, and sharing your content because you’re being smart and relevant.

People need to learn how to cut the clutter and differentiate. Relevance is learned behavior, and for folks to stand out in the social media circus, they need to continually innovate and change with the technology disruption. Pretty soon humans will be irrelevant; I’m seeing the signs all over from driverless cars to watches that pay your bills. We need to work hard at being authoritative so customers regard us as relevant.

QUESTION: Lastly, in today’s social era, it’s critical to create personal brands. You have branded yourself as a “message mapping master.” How do you describe this, and how do you use it as a tool to stand out?
JAYME SOULATI: When you reach the point in your professional development with a breadth of ticked-off accomplishments on the checklist, then it’s time to explore specialty services. People have a difficult time knowing how to open the door to work with an accomplished professional.

By rebranding as a message mapping master, I’ve been able to pinpoint a service most companies need. With the leadership team together, we hash out a huge free think about the company. Every detail is explored, and using the conversation as inspiration, I can craft a messaging suite that better clarifies the company’s services, products, people, mission, customers, and more. The simple and clarified messaging is used to write a website, case studies, social media, blogging, thought leadership, and more.

My gratitude to Jayme for sharing how her concept of “message mapping” can create more memorable brands when the worlds of PR and social media intersect.

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  and 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.