Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 10 Business Books of 2009

It’s that time of year when there are lists for everything. I guess it has something to do with the infamous “nice” list created by the guy who dresses in red, travels with reindeer, and lives in the North Pole. Since I call the business world home, the following is my list of the top ten business books for 2009 – all have great messages to share.

Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up
By John Baldoni, Leadership author/speaker and Harvard Business Publishing columnist

How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life
By Joanna Barsh, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company and Leader of the McKinsey Centered Leadership Project

How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In
By Jim Collins, Co-Author of the bestselling classic, Built to Last, which has been translated into 29 languages, and teacher to senior executives and CEO’s

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience
By Carmine Gallo, BusinessWeek writer and communication coach for admired brands

Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking
By Andy Sernovitz, professor and creator of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association

Googled: The End of the World As We Know It
By Ken Auletta, writer for The New Yorker Magazine and author of 11 books

Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business
By Erik Qualman, Global VP of Online Marketing for EF Education in Switzerland

The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach New Audiences, and Sell More Stuff
By Clara Shih, author, blogger, and entrepreneur

Twitter Power: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time
By Joel Comm, NY Times author and social media expert and

Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers
By Bridget Brennan, CEO of Female Factor and speaker

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Few Words on Branding

These days, the topic on many people’s minds is brands: product brands, service brands, and as a result of social media, personal brands. Everyone has joined the conversation that traditional brand marketers have been having for years. So, the question is, what is a brand and how can it affect business?

David A. Aaker, brand expert and UC-Berkeley professor, shared an excellent explanation in his 1991 book, Managing Brand Equity:

“A product is something that is made in a factory; a brand is something that is bought by a customer. A product can be copied by a competitor; a brand is unique. A product can be quickly outdated; a successful brand is timeless.”

To put it simply, a brand centers on an experience – something so incredibly unique and memorable that it cannot be duplicated by another product or service. A customer has a positive experience and wants to repeat it. Reasons for this positive experience may include customer service, product quality, or ease of purchase. Some examples may be as small as a particular brand of toothpaste or beer to something more substantial as a retail store or automobile.

So, how does this apply to a personal brand? The other half of the brand equation is a corporate identity, or for an individual, an individual identity. This includes differentiation, perceived quality and value, the creation of positive attitudes and feelings, and strong associations. So, when you set up a LinkedIn account and begin building a personal brand, apply the elements that yield memorable and long-lasting product and service brands – and you will be on your way to becoming a memorable brand yourself.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Planning to Shop on Cyber Monday? Be Very, Very Careful!

While the economy continues to suffer, many Americans will still visit shopping malls across the country the day after Thanksgiving, also known as the busiest shopping day of the year or Black Friday. But for those of you who wait for Cyber Monday, the busiest ONLINE shopping day of the year, you need to be aware that cyber criminals are waiting for you.

According to market researchers with comScore Networks, approximately 58% of workers do most of their online shopping while at work. This can create a number of problems. This web activity can increase bandwidth consumption, can result in a loss of productivity, and can lead to increased spam and phishing attacks. But, despite these risks, most companies do nothing to stop online shopping during work hours. A recent survey conducted by St. Bernard found that 76% of companies do NOT block their employees’ Internet access to online shopping sites during work hours.

If companies do not have policies against their employees using work computers for online commerce, be aware that IT departments may still be on alert. Cyber criminals are creating fake ecommerce sites with the hope that visitors share their credit card information, and surfers may encounter malicious links near the top of search results when searching for popular products.

A solution might be to have one designated PC for employees to use, but have you ever received the following email from your CEO at 9am on the Monday after Thanksgiving?

“Dear employees, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. To thank you for your great work all year long, we have designated one computer in the lunch room for your Cyber Monday shopping. Please be considerate of your fellow employees and only shop for 15 minutes. Thank you.”

Probably not.

While Cyber Monday marks the busiest time of the year for consumers, retailers, and cyber criminals, the best solution is to surf ecommerce sites from home, use effective virus protection and firewall (hardware, software, or both), only visit reputable websites, and only share credit card information on encrypted sites. Sometimes, a product’s price is so enticing that we can easily forget these simple rules – until it’s too late – and our credit card information has been stolen. Happy and safe shopping!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Marriage of LinkedIn and Twitter – Is a Divorce Possible?

By now, the fact that LinkedIn and Twitter partnered to provide cross-posts is old news. Reuters broke the story on November 9. But, there is something that has not been openly discussed. Everyone may be excited about the new capability to cross-post 140-character updates through LinkedIn to Twitter and vice-versa, but what has been unspoken is the most basic tenet of marketing – that invaluable lesson about “knowing your audience.”

The audiences and uses of LinkedIn and Twitter are different, so why would someone want to connect the two? Most LinkedIn users provide a wealth of information to build their personal brands (aka, their professional identity) with the goal of building business contacts: their name, location, photo, expertise, current and previous jobs, job duties, education, contacts, group affiliations, links to portfolios, links to presentations, links to blogs, etc. A LinkedIn user must provide specific details in order to establish an account. By contrast, Twitter users do not need to show their photos, professional backgrounds, telephone numbers, websites, or even use a real name. Twitter exists and succeeds as a micro-blog where users discuss areas of specialty, opinions, news, and initiate and engage in conversations – all in 140-characters or less.

Representatives for both LinkedIn and Twitter stated that an immediate benefit will be for users of both social media sites to increase their audiences for Tweets and LinkedIn updates. But, without the unique audience component built into each social media site, there will be an overwhelming amount of information posted to both sites that will cause information overload. The entire purpose of creating and capitalizing on social media conversations will be impaired. So, my question is, how long until LinkedIn and Twitter divorce?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Should You Blog?

Blogs have been around since the early 1990’s, but should you have one?

According to Wikipedia, a blog is a type of website that is usually maintained by an individual or individuals with regular entries of commentary, event descriptions, graphics, or video. Entries are often displayed in reverse-chronological order, and unlike corporate websites, visitors can post their comments in an interactive format. The community of blogs is referred to as the “blogosphere,” and as of December 2007, the blog search engine Technorati tracked more than 112 million blogs.

There are three types of blogs:
• Corporate blogs – created by companies for marketing or brand-building purposes
• Personal blogs – created by individuals as a forum for expression
• Genre blogs – created for any topic (examples include travel blogs, education blogs, music blogs, book club blogs, animal blogs, etc.)

Over the years, Blogs have become more mainstream:
• By 2004, politicians, news outlets, and political consultants used blogs to express opinions and increase outreach (for example, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark)
• In 2004, blog posts were instrumental in the Dan Rather “Rathergate” scandal that led to his resignation as anchor of the CBS Evening News
• In 2008, Israel established an official government blog, and questions and answers from a world-wide press conference were posted on the blog

What could a Blog do for your business?
• Build a two-way relationship with customers
• Build brand awareness
• Promote your company’s products or services
• Provide a forum for customers to provide feedback about products or services and/or make recommendations for improvement
• Keep a pulse on your industry in real-time – if your company needs to act, it can do so quickly
• Increase traffic to corporate website – improve search engine optimization campaigns
• Showcase your company’s expertise to a large audience

Once you set up a Blog, find your voice. If you are an individual, write as you speak. If a company, determine your company’s voice and make sure that the senior management team approves. Second, develop a timeline for updating your Blog. Daily may be too much work – weekly or monthly may be better options. Third, create a strategy for content. Decide on key themes or topics. Future topics will be derived from visitor feedback, and research industry-specific venues for additional ideas. Now, start blogging!

The "Top 10" Types of Interviews

With the national unemployment rate hovering at 10%, many Americans have a new job: job-searching. As part of the search process, they need to survive the job interview. To assist applicants as they navigate the job-search waters, here is a list of the top 10 types of interviews. Armed with an understanding of the top 10 types of interviews, applicants can quickly identify the type of interview they find themselves in and how to move forward.

“Over or Under”
In this type of interview, the applicant is either over-qualified or under-qualified. This occurs because the applicant did not read the original ad thoroughly or because the employer changed the parameters of the job without informing the applicant. I once had an interview with a manufacturer and was told by the President, “Since we never attract applicants of your caliber, we just wanted to meet you.”

“Someone Else”
Within the first few moments of the interview, the interviewer explains that the position would best be filled by someone with a different college degree, by someone with different industry experience, or some other ridiculous excuse. The real truth may be that the interviewer plans to hire a distant relative or friend, so he/she tries to highlight the applicant’s shortcomings in an effort to dissuade the applicant from pursuing the position.

“No One Will Be Hired”
During this type of interview or set of interviews, the applicant has so many interviews with one company that he/she doubts anyone will ever be hired. Despite several interviews with a company over several months, I was eventually told that the company had instituted a hiring freeze.

“Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth”
At this type of interview, the applicant meets with so many people at the first, second, or third interview, that the objective of determining the most qualified applicant takes a back seat to the probability of creating personality conflicts. This can also happen at a panel-style interview when an applicant sits at a conference table surrounded by a firing squad or 10, I mean 10 interviewers.

“Pad the HR Files”
While some leaders in the human resources/personnel/human capital industry are demonstrating their worth at the C-level roundtable, many HR professionals are still unsure how to interview, develop talent, and improve employee morale. This type of interview exists solely to attract highly qualified applicants with no intent to hire them, but instead, to make the HR Department look good.

“The Filter”
During this type of interview, an applicant meets with members of a company’s human resources department. This is always the first interview with a company, and the objective is to determine if the applicant is a breathing human being, appears at the interview fully clothed, does not show up with his/her parents, and is not a convicted felon. Other than those criteria, the HR folks have no specifics about the job in question. So when the applicant asks questions, the HR person’s response is always, “I don’t know.”

“The Applicant Must Be Lying”
This type of interview is difficult because the possibility exists that a ridiculous comment made by an interviewer may actually test the applicant and his/her response. At one interview, the interviewer reviewed my portfolio and when he saw a paper with my name on it, he asked, “Did you write this?”

“The Interviewer Does Not Know How to Interview”
No matter what is discussed during this type of interview, the interviewer will not or cannot pay attention. He/she will either look out windows, fiddle with a pen, use the telephone, send emails or text messages, draw, etc.

In this type of interview, the applicant has no recourse. While there may be illegal questions that cannot be asked during interviews, how many people actually leave an interview because someone asked “Are you married?” and then walk to a lawyer’s office, hire a lawyer, and then sue the company? This just doesn’t happen. This type of interview happens as a result of interviewers’ prejudices (gender, ethnicity, education, etc.) as opposed to an applicant’s ability or inability to perform the described job duties.

“We Cannot Hire You Because We Are Stupid”
This type of interview is, perhaps, the worst scenario. On paper, the position looks interesting, and the company looks interesting. However, once the interview begins, everything reeks of the Titanic. During an interview with a software company, I once asked a President where he saw the company in five years, and his response was “I don’t know.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

In Current Economy, Don’t Forget to Give Back

With 1 out of 10 Americans unemployed, many of us have extra time on our hands. In between sending resumes and networking, the question arises, what should we do with our extra time? The answer is simple and a win-win for everyone: contribute to your local community and become a volunteer.

In our youth, we may have learned about volunteerism by selling Girl Scout cookies or helping out at a food shelter. But, as adults, we can easily become overwhelmed with family and work responsibilities. However, the current economy has provided us with an opportunity to become re-acquainted with our local communities and, at the same time, make a positive impact on someone else’s life.

How do you find non-profits? One online resource,, asks for your zip code and then lists countless non-profits that need assistance for single events as well as long-term projects. You can also search by specific areas of interest, such as, mentoring, literacy, animals, environment, disabilities, music, art, etc. You can then contact the non-profits directly. Another online resource,, acts as a liaison between non-profits and individuals to raise the standard of leadership on non-profit Boards. Another site,, was developed by President Obama, who said earlier this summer, “I’m calling on all of you to make volunteerism and community service part of your daily life and the life of this nation…We need individuals, community organizations, corporations, foundations, and our government to be part of this effort.” These sites are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you start searching, you will find many, many more.

So, whatever your interest, whatever your time commitment, there is no doubt that you will gain satisfaction by knowing that you have helped others. And who knows? The non-profit may even offer you a paying job once you demonstrate your capabilities.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Balloon Boy Hoax or Publicity Stunt?

By now, everyone knows that initial suspicions proved accurate – that the Colorado family was not truthful about the fate of their son and the silver balloon.

We watched the television coverage last week and hoped that nothing tragic would happen to the little boy. We were mesmerized by one man’s creativity to develop a unique balloon, but at the same time, we were horrified about the tragic event that seemed destined to happen from that same balloon. Then suddenly, we heard the announcement that sounded too good to be true: the boy was safe – he had been found at home and had never been in the balloon.

As we breathed a collective sigh of relief, something sinister was unfolding. But, was it really something sinister? The media provided immediate coverage of this so-called “breaking news” story. It was the media that planted the seed about a hoax. And it was Wolf Blitzer’s interview that led to the boy’s statement: “we did this for a show.” So, the media definitely contributed to the publicity factor. But, we also learned that the father had called the FAA before he even called 9-1-1 – why would he have the phone number for the FAA – how many of us have that number?

If the Colorado family staged this entire event to gain publicity, they made a mistake. They are not Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, or other young Hollywood actresses who, for whatever crazy reason, receive countless chances at redemption. If the Colorado family wanted 15 minutes of fame, they should have helped their three sons do something special for disabled children in their area. Publicity should not be used for staged stunts – it should be a positive tool.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

“Wassup” with Ads in Current Economy?

There have been recent reports in business pubs that ads are missing the mark. Microsoft had used Jerry Seinfeld and young kids in its ads, but the company is disappointed with those ads and will soon spend a ton of money to create new campaigns. Another company in the news, Cadillac, will also allocate a large budget toward advertising and is searching for a new agency. So, as the question is, “wassup” with ads?

First and foremost, consumers demand creativity in ads. Apple’s TV ads have taken a simple concept of Apple vs. Microsoft and carried that theme throughout countless scenarios with actors expertly portraying Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as they highlight basic differences between PC’s and Mac’s. The spots are clever and funny – and more importantly, memorable.

To repeat, the elements of good ads are creativity, cleverness, and humor – these elements allow an ad to become memorable. If you remember the ad, you will probably remember the product or service being promoted. And, if you remember the product or service, you may buy it. The most memorable ad I recall was a billboard in San Francisco for J&B scotch: “Ingle Ells, Ingle Ells. The holidays aren’t the same with J&B.” And, remember when everyone was asking “Wassup?” after the 2001 Super Bowl? How many times did you repeat that phrase? Budweiser is legendary as a result of its memorable Super Bowl television ads featuring a number of unique characters including Clydesdale horses, Dalmatians, and talking frogs.

The same creativity demonstrated in TV ads must be applied toward all forms of advertising (online, print, billboards, direct mail, etc.) – because consumers deserve creative ads to enhance and energize the brand-buying experience during these challenging economic times.

Friday, October 9, 2009

GM Hired a Woman to Lead US Sales – Yes, a Woman

General Motors surprised me this morning when I heard the news. While we’re all hoping that GM energizes its car and truck lines during the next couple of years and again becomes a viable competitor and significant contributor to the economic turnaround, I could hardly believe the news. I found it hard to believe that a company the size of General Motors had considered its decision-making customers.

GM hired a woman to become the new Vice President of Sales in the United States, which means that a WOMAN will now make decisions that will impact GM’s large dealer network. While woman have made great strides in many other industries, the auto industry has remained strongly a male industry. The reason that I find GM’s move so extraordinary and impressive is that GM listened to the market. How often have we heard media reports that 50% of new and used auto purchases are made by women or are influenced by women within couples? I have also seen that percentage as high as 80% (

GM considered its customer base and key decision makers and made its decision as a result. This appointment of a woman not only makes sense from a marketing perspective, but it is also good business. So, Susan Docherty, with experience with Buick-Pontiac-GMC and Hummer, I wish you much success.

Before you jump into social media, ask who speaks for you?

The topic on everyone’s mind these days is social media this and social media that. But, even before you get started and promote your company in this new online environment and create customized conversations with your customers and other stakeholders, you must consider who can “speak” on behalf of your company.

Do you know who is responsible for entering your company’s details on LinkedIn? Think about it. At this very moment, a member of your IT department is spending time that should be allocated toward infrastructure improvements on the LinkedIn site adding company information – information that might be confidential, or at the very least, not appropriate for worldwide distribution. Do you want the number of employees stated as well as which employees were terminated and which were promoted? Do you want your website included? What is the one sentence that best states your competitive positioning? Do you want all senior management names and titles listed? Should the CEO, COO, CMO, VP of Human Resources, or the marketing department be involved in making these decisions? And what’s more, how does a member of the IT department know the answers to these marketing questions?

Those were just some basic questions for LinkedIn – there are more in-depth questions that apply to the other social media marketing sites. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and several other sites provide a unique opportunity to build relationships with your customers – previously, one message was sufficient to promote a product or service. Today, customers are more brand-savvy and eager to learn how a particular product or service is a close fit with his/her preferences and needs. Welcome to marketing for the 21st century! Sorry if any offense is taken by the IT folks, but the marketing teams are the ones to lead the defense and implement social media strategies. However, the tech people do have a place in the social media realm. When employees start accessing Twitter, Facebook, etc., from their office computers, they open up company networks to viruses and other malware. Therefore, companies need to create and carefully monitor employee usage of these sites – or institute a policy to not access them during company time.

Marketing teams should be studying the nuances of each social media site (for example, Twitter has a 140-character limit for all messages, Facebook creates specialized content for “fans,” and LinkedIn provides people to connect through specialized “groups”) and then create unique campaigns to take advantage of the opportunities to reach existing and new customers.

In order to successfully utilize the new social media tool as part of a complete, and many are now calling it a “traditional” marketing strategy, senior leadership should involve all levels of a company. But either one person or a department needs to be in charge of creating and executing the company’s policy. Otherwise, your company’s genuine message will get shut out by all the clutter.