Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 Marketing Highlights of 2011


As 2011 draws to a close, it’s time for my top 10 marketing highlights list. What campaigns were great, and which were duds? What do YOU remember from the 2011 marketing reel? With a quick thanks to David Letterman, here’s my list:

Number 10:
After 25 years, Oprah Winfrey gave up her microphone as a talk show host and started her own television channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

Number 9:
A new voice for the Aflac Duck was discovered, just a normal guy – after the celebrity who had previously been the voice of the famous duck made an inappropriate comment on Twitter and was fired.

Number 8:
Chrysler unveiled a memorable tagline, “Imported from Detroit,” during the 2011 Super Bowl TV broadcast.

Number 7:
Google launched its version of a social networking site, Google+, to compete with Facebook.

Number 6:
As a result of the Royal Wedding in London, interest surged in all products “endorsed” by the British monarchy.

Number 5:
Starbucks launched its new logo without the words “Starbucks” and “coffee” at the beginning of 2011, but nearly a year later, the change still baffles the marketing world with its lack of direction.

Number 4:
Security breaches became much too common. Some of the companies who informed their customers about security breaches included Epsilon, Sony PlayStation, Lastpass.com, Northrop Grumman, and Dean Witter.

Number 3:
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, retired as CEO and passed away shortly thereafter. His legacy to the technology and marketing industries will be felt for many years to come.

Number 2:
When the Flip video camera appeared in 2007, it immediately gained a loyal following. It was a consumer-friendly mini camcorder that was easy to use and made everyone an instant videographer. But its adopted parent, Cisco, killed off the Flip due to the advances in smartphone video capabilities.

And, Number 1 on the 2011 Marketing Highlights List:
Coca-Cola changed the color of its classic red cans to white for the 2011 holiday season to focus attention on the plight of polar bears. But due to the huge uproar from customers, the company changed the cans back to red within a month.

Here’s to 2012 and another year of marketing highlights. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Time Magazine's 2011 Person of the Year: Good Choice or Bad Choice?

In the words of Time Magazine, the "Person of the Year" is bestowed by the editors on the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year."

Some years, U.S. Presidents have been chosen. Other years, celebrities were chosen. Other years, political activists were chosen. Some of the more unusual honorees include: The American Soldier, U.S. Scientists, Women of the U.S., The Endangered Earth, The Computer, Young People, and The Middle Class. Bill and Melinda Gates have been featured as well as leaders of corporate America.

Due to the number and intensity of protests seen around the world from the Middle East to Europe to the United States this past year, Time's editors chose to recognize 2011's Person or Persons of the Year as "The Protester." Was that the best choice they could have made? I don't think so. Time Magazine should have chosen Steve Jobs, who passed away during 2011.

The impact that Steve Jobs made on all of our lives is immeasurable - and it will continue to be felt for many years. He changed technology and how we interact. From the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad, we listen to music differently, use smartphones differently, and use tablets differently than we could ever have imagined. Jobs envisioned products before the public knew why we might have wanted them - and then he created them. Apple, Jobs' legacy, is driving the industry, setting trends, and helping people connect. Isn't that what affecting the news and our lives is all about?

As Steve Jobs said, "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them." Thanks for the tools, Steve.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Are there advantages in being #2 rather than being an industry leader?


Many corporate leaders aspire for their companies to become industry leaders. But there can only be one leader for each industry – or in marketing terms, there can only be one product, brand, or business that controls a category. Sure, there are exceptions, but more often than not, there is a big company setting the standard – and others follow.

There are countless reasons why companies would want to be known as industry leaders. Reasons range from setting industry prices to determining product specifications to clarifying standards for customer service. But in many industries, a large and powerful force has emerged as the #2 player who often keeps the industry leader on its toes in terms of new product development, pricing, and customer service – all in an attempt to chip away at the industry leader’s percentage of market share.

Here are some famous industry leaders followed by the #2 players in their industries:

  • Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi (soft drinks)
  • Hertz vs. Avis (rental car agencies)
  • iOS vs. Android (operating systems)
  • Google vs. Bing (search engines)
  • Ford vs. Chevy (trucks)
  • McDonald’s vs. Burger King (fast food hamburgers)
  • Duracell vs. Energizer (batteries)
  • Home Depot vs. Lowe’s (home improvement warehouses)
  • Ritz-Carlton vs. Fairmont (five-star hotels)
  • Mozilla Firefox vs. Microsoft Internet Explorer (web browsers)

However, something interesting has happened with many #2 companies. Many #2 companies have used their #2 status as a selling point and competitive advantage. The fact that they are #2 or the little guy (think, David vs. Goliath) resonates with consumers, customers, and prospective customers. Consider Avis and its tagline: “We're #2 – We Try Harder.” Avis may not be the biggest car rental agency, but its ads and theme stick out. Consider the Energizer Bunny – who doesn’t think of the pink bunny when a wireless mouse or keyboard needs new batteries? And while the golden arches of McDonald’s appear on almost every corner around the world, Burger King’s constant advertising and emphasis on bigger and cheaper hamburgers have developed a large following.

So the next time your leadership team asks, “Why can’t we be number one?” Explain that there are advantages to being #2. One advantage to being #2 is the ability to create unique product specifications and/or packaging since no one expects you to be different. Consider the recent uproar when Coke launched its main product in white cans versus classic red cans – there was such an outrage that the white cans were removed from store shelves within a month of their launch. Other advantages include the ability to tweak pricing, the ability to align or partner with totally unconventional companies or brands, and the ability to change packaging or advertising just to see how consumers react.

Without the responsibility of being the industry leader, you have more leeway to appeal to new customers. Depending on how creative your marketing initiatives are and how well they are implemented, you may develop a more brand loyal following than the leader in your industry.

Check out these great quotes about COMPETITION:

In the words of Sir Richard Branson, “We know that people in Australia love the idea of both Impulse and Virgin Blue getting up and adding a bit of competition, and it’s fun to be able to deliver it.”

In the words of Linus Torvalds, “I don’t try to be a threat to Microsoft, mainly because I don’t really see MS as competition. Especially not Windows – the goals of Linux and Windows are simply so different.”

In the words of Henry Ford, “Competition, whose motive is merely to compete, to drive some other fellow out, never carries very far...But when a business ceases to be creative, when it believes it has reached perfection and needs to do nothing but produce – no improvement, no development – it is done.”

In the words of Jacob Kindleberger, “Don't knock your competitors. By boosting others, you will boost yourself.”

In the words of H. Gordon Selfridge, “Get the confidence of the public and you will have no difficulty in getting their patronage. Treat them as guests when they come and when they go, whether or not they buy.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Has your logo gone square?

There has been an unintended consequence of social media that has flown under the radar. With all the social media and networking sites popping up, companies and individuals have the option to add logos or photos to their profiles, also known as avatars. However, the only option for the large majority of sites is a small square.

But there is a problem. Most logos don't easily fit into a square. Can you imagine the Coca-Cola swirl inside of a square? And what about the entire word Google spelled out? These wouldn't fit into a square very easily without negatively impacting the core brand identity.

To solve this problem, some companies have created a square logo from the first initial of their name. Others have gone so far as to create a new logo that they launched as part of their overall social media initiatives. Others have tweaked their logos so that they fit into a square shape, but they may not be very easy to read. At the end of the day, you may ask, is all of this additional work worth the effort? The answer is a resounding YES.

With so much attention paid to social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Flickr, and countless peripheral and industry-specific sites), whatever appears in those little square logo boxes reinforces a company's or individual's brand. No one wants to see an egg profile in Twitter or a blank blue head shot profile in Facebook - these mean that someone just doesn't understand the world of social media.

So what did you consider when making your logo go square?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to Create a Customized Twitter Experience

So many folks talk about Facebook and Google+ that it's easy to lose sight of the other key social media site. I'm not talking about YouTube, LinkedIn, or Flickr. I'm talking about Twitter.

You may wonder why this distant social media cousin only gets media attention when a company's spokesperson posts something inappropriate (think back to the Aflac duck, Chrysler, and most recently, Ashton Kutcher). But for the millions of us who tweet on a daily basis, Twitter is a marketing vehicle that adds value.

If you want to improve your Twitter effectiveness, meet Twylah and some exciting things it can do:
  • Your Tweets are presented in a more user-friendly manner – and you can pin your preferred top categories.
  • Your Tweets have a longer lifespan than when just posted to the Twitter stream because they live on through SEO.
  • You own your traffic and content and can monetize that traffic – while this is still in the beta phase, see Bon Jovi’s page for a sneak peak.

Here are some Twylah pages for you to check out:

If you would like to sign up for Twylah, visit the site at http://www.twylah.com and click on “request invite.” You will hear back from Twylah shortly. When you do, please respond to the welcome email with questions or comments.

Friday, October 7, 2011

If attitude isn’t the key to quality customer service, what is?

Many companies train their employees to treat customers as important individuals or groups to be valued and respected. However, some companies don’t train their employees at all, and as a result, lose more customers than they gain. So what’s the secret? According to customer service expert Richard S. Gallagher, “Think far beyond attitude and treat customer service for what it is: a profession. One that has its own unique set of skills…It is a profession that puts us on the cutting edge of behavioral psychology in how to interact with other people.”

In his book, “Great Customer Connections: Simple Psychological Techniques That Guarantee Exceptional Service,” Gallagher shares his insights for creating successful customer experiences and completed transactions:

[1] Focus on the customer’s expectations (for example: “I certainly understand. Normally we can straighten this out right here on the phone.”)

[2] Give the customer options worded in his or her benefit (for example: “If you can send the request from our website, we can process it as soon as our computers are up. Would you like to do that, or would it be easier to call us back later?”)

[3] Anticipate the customer’s reaction (for example: “I wish there was a way that we could do this because I hate to see you have to call back again.”)

[4] Speak from the customer’s voice (for example: “It’s really frustrating when we can’t help people in a situation like this.”)

[5] The customer needs to feel as if the clerk is taking an interest in him and his needs

[6] A level of trust needs to be established between the clerk and the customer

[7] Ask for the customer’s name and welcome him warmly – and use the name often

[8] Lead with a benefit to the customer (for example, begin the interaction with “How can we help you today?”)

[9] Use a light touch (for example, if the person is a first-time customer, add a dose of humor and say, “I have just a few nosey questions to ask and then we’ll be glad to put you in touch with the right person.”)

[10] Keep focusing on benefits – before asking questions, explain, “We just need to gather some information from you to update our records, so that we can track your issue and make sure you are getting the assistance you need.”

Prior to becoming an author and speaker, Rich had a long tenure as a customer support executive. As director of customer support for a West Coast software startup, he helped lead its growth to become a major NASDAQ firm and later led another 24/7 call center operation to near-perfect customer satisfaction and near-zero turnover. He started his own training and development firm in the mid-1990s and has been featured in media outlets worldwide. Rich has personally trained over 15,000 people in a variety of industries – but with a common denominator, attention to customer service.

Does your company address customer service in a unique way? Chime in with your comments.

Visit Rich’s site: http://pointofcontactgroup.com

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How do you MOTIVATE your employees?

Consider this statement made by Lee Iacocca, the American businessman who is best known for reviving Ford and re-inventing Chrysler, “When I must criticize somebody, I do it orally; when I praise somebody, I put it in writing.”

Now ask yourself, when was the last time you recognized an employee for doing great work – not at a scheduled review – and put your comments in writing? You probably can’t remember the last time. Instead, supervisors spend a great deal of time criticizing employees for missing deadlines, making mistakes, or not performing according to undefined standards. But the problem is, most supervisors don’t take the time to train their employees to meet their expectations.

The secret to solving this conflict is training. Sharlyn J. Lauby wrote a primer for Motivating Employees, published by Infoline/ASTD Press. Sharlyn is president of ITM Group, Inc., and has held senior-level HR positions in the hospitality, transportation, entertainment, and business services industries. She has designed and implemented successful employee retention programs and was named one of the “2004 Heavy Hitters in Human Resources” by the South Florida Business Journal.

According to Sharlyn, “If you aren’t getting the motivational mileage that you should as a manager, you may be making one of the five management mistakes.” These mistakes are:
  1. Misplacing ownership: motivation doesn’t belong to the HR Department – employees find that informal recognition from their managers for a job well done means more to them than a formal company program.
  2. Misaligning incentives: don’t give all employees the same incentives – since each employee is unique, determine the unique motivators for each employee.
  3. Saving recognition: Since it’s inappropriate to save recognition for special occasions, recognize employee success when it happens.
  4. Playing favorites: Managers lose credibility when they play favorites or give recognition when it isn’t warranted.
  5. Misspeaking praise: The words “good job” are insufficient – always be specific so that employees know exactly what they did to earn recognition and praise.
There are numerous ways to show employees that they are appreciated and valued. Here are a few ideas to motivate your employees:
  1. Provide time off for attendance at professional industry conferences or seminars.
  2. Provide one-on-one time with company leader.
  3. Provide time off for family events during the holiday season.
  4. Give a subscription to an industry publication.
  5. Provide a starring role – or leading role – in an important project.
For more inspiring ideas to motivate your employees:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Color's Role in Brand Marketing

When creating a marketing plan for a product or service, there are key priorities to consider ranging from competitive strengths, positioning statement, tagline, logo, and comparison with the competition. So, even though research has shown that color increases memory, how high is color on the list?

While color allows for a product’s or service’s brand to stand out from the competition, how do you decide what color is the best choice? Sure, you may prefer blue or red, but if the product is orange juice, clearly orange, yellow, or green might be a better choice. You need to decide which color best expresses the attributes of the brand as well as which color best reflects your brand’s message.

The color of blue relays integrity, responsibility, intelligence, reliability, truth, and honesty. Light hues of blue convey peace, softness, and healing. Dark hues of blue convey stability, security, and expertise. Blue often communicates feelings of respect, honesty, and confidence. Some well-known logos featuring blue include: IBM, Ford, Citibank, VISA, Tiffany, Skype, General Motors, jetBlue, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Walmart, Nokia, Facebook, Twitter, and BlueCross/BlueShield.

The color of green brings to mind environment, growth, re-birth, spring, and luck. Green often communicates feelings of relaxation, renewal, revival, freshness, and optimism. Some well-known logos featuring green include: Garnier Fructis hair care products, American Express, Starbucks, Green Giant vegetables, Whole Foods Market, Subway, Aer Lingus, L.L. Bean, Tropicana Orange Juice, and National Car Rental.

The color of red brings to mind love, action, courage, determination and can also represent danger. Red often communicates feelings of boldness, passion, energy – and grabs attention. Some well-known logos featuring red include: Coca-Cola, Red Cross, Bank of America, Target, Verizon, Toyota, YouTube, McAfee, Marriott Hotels, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Lego, and Levi’s.

The color of purple brings to mind royalty, luxury, magic, mysticism, and inspiration. Purple often communicates feelings of luxury, spirituality, and authority. Some well-known logos featuring purple include: Yahoo!, FedEx, FedEx Ground, Los Angeles Lakers, WeddingChannel.com, Cadbury Chocolates, and Hawaiian Airlines.

The color of pink brings to mind youthful exuberance, fun, excitement. Pink often communicates feelings of vibrancy and friendship. Some well-known logos featuring pink include: Victoria’s Secret, Flirt dresses by Maggie Sottero, Pepto-Bismol, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and Mary Kay Cosmetics.

The color of orange brings to mind heat, competition, and productivity. Orange often communicates feelings of strength, determination, vitality, and energy. Some well-known logos featuring orange include: Simply Orange Juice Company, Nickelodeon, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Mozilla Firefox Internet browser, Amazon.com, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Tide laundry detergent, and The Home Depot.

The color of yellow brings to mind energy, sunshine, warmth, light, happiness, creativity, vision, and warning. Yellow often communicates feelings of creativity, optimism, warmth, vision, and happiness. Some well-known logos featuring yellow include: Hertz, Goodyear tires, Pennzoil, National Geographic, Ikea, Best Buy, Ferrari, Shell Oil, Yellow Pages, McDonald’s, Subway, Denny’s Restaurants, and In-N-Out Burger – as well as thousands of taxi cabs on streets throughout New York City. Since the eye sees yellow before any other color, there is no question why those cabs are yellow.

The color of brown brings to mind rustic, earthy, and warm. Brown often communicates feelings of romanticism and durability. Some well-known logos featuring brown include: UPS, Gloria Jean’s Coffees, and Louis Vuitton handbags/attire/jewelry.

Black brings to mind expensive products and has been known as “the absence of color” or “all colors.” It communicates feelings of power, drama, and sophistication.

White brings to mind simplicity, cleanliness, and purity – and often catches the eye when it is used to highlight words or image outlines. It is used in hospitals and for health-related items and also for bridal gowns.

Research conducted by Xerox Corporation and International Communications Research from February to March 2003, found:
  • 92% = Believe color presents an image of impressive quality.
  • 90% = Believe color can assist in attracting new customers.
  • 90% = Believe customers remember ads better when color is used.
  • 81% = Believe color gives them a competitive edge.

So when selecting your brand’s color or colors, ask these key questions:
  1. What color truly represents your brand’s personality?
  2. What color suits the characteristics of your product or service?
  3. What colors do your competitors use?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Social Media Has Changed the Hiring Process & Other Timeless Hiring Tips

Please welcome Alison Green to my Blog. Allison Green is the talented voice behind the popular “Ask a Manager” Blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. Also, she writes a weekly column on career and management issues for U.S. News & World Report’s website and is the co-author of “Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader’s Guide to Getting Results” (second edition to be published by Jossey Bass in the spring of 2012). Alison’s career advice has been featured in The Washington Post, The Wall St. Journal, ABCnews.com, Fox Business News, Men’s Health, and on NPR’s Marketplace Money. Check out her Blog, follow on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook. I had the honor of interviewing Alison recently, and I would like to share the highlights.

How has social media impacted hiring – the good ways and the bad ways?

ALISON GREEN: On the candidate side, due to sites like LinkedIn, it’s easier than ever to figure out who in your network might be connected to an employer or field that you’re interested in – which is a huge benefit that I suspect most people aren’t taking enough advantage of. Twitter and other forms of social media make it really easy to build relationships with people you might want in your network – what used to require going to tons of networking events and conferences (which was sometimes impossible) can now be done from your home office or living room couch. On the employer side, social media has made it easier to get a more complete picture of a candidate: if he/she has a digital footprint/an online presence, what he/she is writing about, how he/she portrays himself/herself online, what is the person interested in, etc. Of course, this can be both good and bad. Employers can now find out less-than-flattering things about candidates that they previously would not have uncovered (and which, frankly, might not actually have any bearing on a person’s ability to do the job).

What are the most important questions an EMPLOYER should ask a candidate during an interview?

ALISON GREEN: Really dig into past experiences. Too many interviewers ask surface-level questions about past jobs and then move right on to the next question on their list. It’s far more useful to focus on a few key pieces from the candidate’s past and really spend quality time probing to get beneath the surface. So instead of just asking about a particular project and then moving on, the interviewer should follow up and follow up and then follow up some more. For example, “What was the biggest challenge there? How did you approach that? What happened? How did you deal with that? Then what happened?” You can learn a great deal of valuable information about how the candidate really operates, and it can separate a good on-paper candidate from a great in-practice candidate. I’m also a huge fan of asking what kind of feedback candidates have received from their previous managers. This can tell a lot in terms of the substance of the response itself and also how candid candidates are when answering. If people have been lucky and received constructive feedback about things they could have done differently, how have they processed the feedback and what improvements/changes did they make?

What are the most important questions a CANDIDATE should ask an employer during an interview?

ALISON GREEN: Ask about what’s going to be most important to achieve in the role during the first year and how the new employee’s performance will be measured. This provides a good picture of what the new employee will be expected to do and what success will look like, but it also shows how clear the employer is on what he/she is looking for. Another great question is, “What obstacles do you think the person in this position will face?” You might hear about the impossible coworker, the difficult bureaucracy, or the uncooperative vendor. Even better, you may hear about an aspect of the position that you might not have otherwise heard about. And conveniently, while these questions are about learning things that will help decide if this is the right fit, they also happen to be great questions that will impress a hiring manager, because they make it clear that you're thinking rigorously about the role.

Since employers are not hiring candidates for their weaknesses, and candidates may not always be honest about this question, what is the value of asking "What are your weaknesses?"

ALISON GREEN: The question itself has become so cliché – as have candidates’ answers to it – that it’s basically useless now. That said, as a hiring manager, I AM interested in figuring out what the candidate’s weaker points are, because I want to make sure that those weaknesses aren’t going to be fatal for this particular position. And I want as full a picture as possible about the person I'm hiring. But, often, you can get to that information by conducting a rigorous interview and a thorough reference check. However, there are creative ways of talking about weaker spots during an interview. For example, the question I mentioned earlier about feedback from previous managers can address this issue, and it’s interesting to see how insightful people are about their own weak spots – as well as how open they are about talking about them. In fact, I’ve always found that the stronger the candidate, the more able he/she is to provide a thoughtful and accurate perspective on his/her own weaker points.

How do you differentiate managers and leaders?

ALISON GREEN: When I was telling someone recently that I consult on management but not leadership, I defined the difference as “I don’t teach anyone how to inspire anyone.” I was half joking, but that’s pretty much it. I think of management as setting goals, monitoring progress against those goals and holding people accountable to them, building a strong team (which means hiring as well as being willing to fire when necessary), building a culture around high performance, etc. It’s the day-to-day business of getting things done. But I think of leadership as creating a vision and motivating other people to work toward that vision.

Since HR and Marketing Departments share a common goal of having successful employees who also need to be brand advocates, how can the two departments work together harmoniously? 

ALISON GREEN: Marketing can teach HR a lot about remembering who their audience is. HR sometimes gets so caught up in internal processes that they forget to assess what they're putting out with the eye of an outsider. So then you get deadly dull job postings that are full of jargon and bureaucratic references, instead of really describing the work and what should attract the ideal candidate to the role. A little bit of marketing’s focus on the audience and the fundamental goal wouldn't hurt!

Image Credit: Thanks to Scott Hampson for use of his comic with this post. Check out his work at http://www.agent-x.com.au/comic/your-true-profile/.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Secrets of Employee Engagement


Please welcome Doug Brown to my Blog. Doug Brown is President of Engaged2Perform in Ontario, Canada. For the past 30 years, Doug has served in roles covering the gamut from supervisor to president and has overseen production, quality control, sales and marketing, administration, and distribution and fulfillment. Engaged2Perform is an employee engagement firm that helps growing companies to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and motivate employees to achieve corporate goals. It is a network of affiliated partners in Human Resources, Organizational Development, Strategic Planning, Leadership Coaching and Training, Communications, Business Consulting, and Health and Wellness. Engaged2Perform has improved overall efficiency of its clients' employees by an average of 30% by providing strategic tools and services to engage people, so it is no surprise that the company's tagline is “People, Passion, and Profit.”

I recently had the opportunity to interview Doug about employee engagement and would like to share the highlights.

Business jargon is full of long words with lots of syllables. Some are easy to understand, while others seem to be out of Mary Poppins. How would you best explain “employee engagement?”
DOUG BROWN: I would explain it as a strong emotional connection between the employee and the organization that fuels employee motivation, pride, enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to supporting an employee’s company. This translates into meaningful action items that drive performance and productivity and contribute to the success of the company. The “meaningful action” I refer to includes advocating for the company; willingness to grow, improve, interact, communicate, and connect with peers and colleagues; and become involved with ideas and suggestions to find new efficiencies to improve the company.

Why are there so many titles for HR members of the C-suite: Chief Potential Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Happy Officer, and Chief Engagement Officer?
DOUG BROWN: I suspect this is due to an organization’s trying to put a new spin and focus on the same issues and problems. This may be done to help change the mindset of people and avoid some of the rhetoric (such as, “our people are our greatest strength and asset”), but this is lost down the levels of the workforce. But, in a competitive market where success is defined by small margins, leaders are beginning to understand motivation and engagement and the fact that people may be the key to their business’ success. Programs centered on basic people principles are the key: principles that for several reasons have been lost or strained over time – due to downsizing, restructuring, advances in communication, etc. These basic principles are treating people with respect and courtesy, valuing their ideas and contributions, supporting them in their roles and responsibilities, and finding ways to inspire and reward them.

What are the five best strategies for effective new employee onboarding?
DOUG BROWN: Here are my best strategies:
  1. Recognition: Show appreciation of employee effort and accomplishment.
  2. Communication: Help them understand their role and responsibilities clearly.
  3. Listen: Allow them to ask questions and provide their thoughts and ideas on how aspects of the job could be improved.
  4. Treat Employees as People: Understand what makes them tick in a personal and individual way; what interests them, motivates them, and inspires them beyond the paycheck and their desire to be with the company.
  5. Help Employees Fit In: Employees need to feel that they belong, that their contributions are valued by the leadership team, and that they have become assimilated into the company’s culture.

What are the five best ways to create a successful corporate culture?
DOUG BROWN: Here are my best ways:
  1. Understand the issues that employees deal with and are concerned about.
  2. Strategize on how you can provide an environment that is meaningful for employees and will enable them to accomplish their best work. Leadership teams need to ask: What do the employees need to optimize their performance? Some programs can be applied across the workforce, while others need an individual focus.
  3. Train managers on how to interact, communicate, and connect with employees in ways that will help them engage. This is a critical link.
  4. Implement the proper tools and services that support the process.
  5. Take time to read and understand the research surrounding engagement, what the benefits are, what the key drivers are – this must be done from the top leadership down.

Some final comments from Doug: “Every company has several groups that they need to keep happy. This includes shareholders, employees, management, customers, suppliers, etc. Employee engagement has important implications for all of these groups as well as on a company’s brand. To ensure that you meet the commitments and expectations of all groups, you must have employees who are engaged and enthusiastic about their work, have the right training, the right tools and information, and the authority to take action. Don’t forget: Gallup research has shown that engaged employees are more productive and profitable, create stronger customer relationships, and remain with their companies longer than less engaged employees.”

What kind of employees would you like for your company?

Become a Fan on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dougkbrown 

Read “The Impact of Engaged Employees” by Doug Brown: http://bit.ly/pjVDmd

Image Credit: People Insight: http://www.peopleinsight.co.uk

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Do You Know How to Complain Effectively?

As consumers, we have one thing in common: we all complain. We complain about minor skirmishes and also major upsets – ranging from the weather’s too cold or too hot, the movie was terrible, that driver just cut me off, and the item that just arrived in the mail was defective. Some of us become animated when complaining, while others remain calm. At one time or another though, most of us have spoken a bit too loudly while on a phone call with a customer service agent. However, according to Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of The Squeaky Wheel, Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem, there’s a correct way to complain.

“We have a complaining psychology,” Winch explained. “We believe that to complain to a company will take so much time and effort that it won’t be worth it. So 95% of us actually won’t complain at all when we have a problem. We’ll just go to the competition. Also, we’re afraid of the confrontation. We think it’s going to be nasty and time-consuming. [But] our complaints can be practical, emotional, and psychological tools that we use to better our lives. They can help us gain resolutions to meaningful problems. They can improve our moods, our self-esteem, and our general outlook on life. They can better and deepen our relationships. However, as many sharp tools do, complaints can cut both ways when used incorrectly. When we complain excessively or, in some cases, too little, we can end up getting more cuts, nicks, and scratches than we do benefits.”

As a result of Winch’s psychology background, he provided insight into the dynamics of complaining on a personal level, couples level, professional level, and consumer level. He shared numerous anecdotes to demonstrate good and bad methods for complaining. My favorites were Winch’s personal story about how he successfully dealt with loud noise in New York City, and how one customer disputed unfair pricing at the retail giant Marks & Spencer in England.

Winch explained the history of the toll-free 1-800 number and the reason that so many call centers don’t function in a productive manner. If more of us understood that most call center employees burn out and leave their jobs in less than two years, we might be friendlier when we call to complain.

Winch introduced the ingredients for a delicious squeak, or in other words, the complaint sandwich:
  • Top slice of bread is the ear-opener: this statement (or paragraph if a written letter or email) should mention something positive about the situation.
  • Middle section of the sandwich is the meat section: this is the actual request for action – the tone should sound more like a request for a favor instead of a complaint or demand.
  • Final slice of bread is the digestive: the final statements or paragraph should make it more difficult for the recipient to dismiss the complaint immediately and also increases the reader’s motivation to help – the wording could be “I would appreciate…I would be happy…I hope to hear from you soon for any assistance you can offer.”

Above all, complaints are a gift for a business. They serve as free feedback, an opportunity to take action and make improvements. If the complaining consumer’s issue is resolved to his or her satisfaction – or if the expectations are exceeded, then he or she will become a lifetime customer and will tell friends and family how well the issue was resolved. And the story will be repeated again and again. Smart businesses know that customers who have a negative experience that is fixed become more loyal customers than if they’d been satisfied with their experience in the first place.

“Each time we visit a store, have a meal in a restaurant, take a bus or taxicab, or interact with a service provider, we have the option of letting them know what we thought about their product or service. Of course, most of our daily experiences are not worthy of comment as they fall somewhere in the “adequate” range. But when we encounter extremes in either direction, we have the perfect opportunity to take a quick dip in the waters of community activism.”

So how does your business deal with complaints? Is there a complaint resolution department? How quickly do you respond? And for those of you who represent the 5% who complain, how often do you get the results you desire? Please chime in.

For more information: http://www.guywinch.com

Follow Guy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/guywinch

Become a fan on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thesqueakywheel

Watch Guy talk about the book on YouTube: http://youtu.be/2TgoDCX0uLs

Check out The Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychology Today:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who determines the culture and voice of your blog?

These days, companies and individuals include blogs as part of their marketing arsenal and social media outreach to promote their product or service and/or to build buzz about a corporate, non-profit, or personal brand. While some blogs have several writers or bloggers, others feature only one. So who determines the culture and voice of a blog?

If you are promoting a product or service in the B2B (business-to-business) arena, you probably use industry-specific lingo that your target audience understands and often uses. But if you are promoting something in the B2C (business-to-consumer) arena, you probably use informal language, brief sentences, and one-topic paragraphs in order to capture and keep readers’ interest.

Your blogger or bloggers most often determine the voice of your blog, so would a company president be the main writer? Or would the marketing or public relations departments take responsibility for writing the posts? Or would the IT or HR departments chime in with ideas?

Once your company or non-profit determines who will write the posts, here are some things to keep in mind for successful blogging:
  • Create a schedule that includes topics and timing for posting (daily vs. weekly).
  • Monitor word count so that you avoid discrepancies between a 250-word post and a 2,000-word post.
  • Choose graphics that align with the subject matter of each post.
  • Ask readers for opinions.
  • Proofread the posts several times before you publish.

In the words of Brian Clark, CEO of Copyblogger Media and founder of Copyblogger.com, “Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Who do you represent: your company or your individual brand?

When we go to work everyday, we don certain attire to achieve a certain look as we become representatives of our company. Some companies have actual uniforms: McDonald’s, service departments within car dealerships, the US Post Office, and many, many more. Professional service firms, such as, accounting firms, law firms, and even banks, have an “unwritten” uniform that features a suit and tie for men and dresses or suits for women. However, do we represent our employer or our own unique brand?

Consider Zappos and the culture that Tony Hsieh has created: all employees strive to create an exceptional experience for customers. Zappos employees will even go above and beyond for potential customers even if the company doesn’t sell a desired product. Consider Southwest Airlines: while it is known as a low cost, no frills airline, the company’s employees understand that they are in “the customer service business and just happen to provide airline transportation,” and most customers encounter a positive experience in their interactions with Southwest.

Southwest Airlines President Emeritus Colleen Barrett explained, “Employees feel like owners because they are owners…How can you expect people to have passion and excitement for what they do if they’re not owners? We give employees the opportunity to criticize and question us. Southwest doesn't often need to conduct surveys or hire consultants to determine what we are doing wrong or well. The employees tell us face-to-face year-round. We're transparent and we're all-inclusive in telling employees what’s happening. Another thing that’s unique about Southwest is its sense of humor. We use words that corporate America doesn’t. Our stock exchange symbol is LUV. We give employees a lot of freedom. We don’t want them to be cookie-cutter copies of each other. When most people go to work, they take off their personal demeanor. Then they go home and act like themselves again. We hire people for their individuality, and we want to share that with the passengers. We test for a sense of humor. We want them to laugh. We watch their interactions with others outside of the formal interview. You can train anyone to move a bag from one place to another. A team mentality is what we're looking for.”

It’s clear that Southwest and Zappos employees represent their brands while on the clock – and it’s easy to see why. But while many of us are representations of our companies and extensions of our brands during business hours, what happens at the close of business? At that point, you represent yourself – your unique strengths, expertise, education, and experience. Your unique brand must be maintained so that you can give 110% each and every day.

Remember, it is due to your having your unique brand that you were hired in the first place, so here are five tips to nurture your individual brand:

[1] Write a mission statement and action plan to clarify your professional goals and list your key strengths

[2] Keep your digital footprint current – create a detailed profile on LinkedIn and update it regularly with project highlights, create a blog, participate in conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+

[3] Attend continuing education courses in your specialty area, either from experts within your business or elsewhere

[4] Request to participate in cross-departmental meetings at your business in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how all departments work together – and as a result, volunteer for new projects outside of your comfort zone

[5] Share your expertise with others by speaking to chambers of commerce, panel discussions, local businesses, friends’ companies, etc. – and also join professional organizations

In the words of Tom Peters, “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. [You have] to be the CEO of Me Inc. You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times. Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors – or your colleagues. What have you done lately – this week – to make yourself stand out?”

To read more, check out Tom Peters’ article, “The Brand Called You,” in Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/10/brandyou.html). While the article was written in 1997, it is just as current as if it were written today.

So remember, while you represent your company during business hours, you ALWAYS represent your individual brand!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

140 Characters CAN Impact Your Business!

Those of us who spend a great amount of our day tangled in the social web sometimes forget what makes each site unique. So it’s a good idea to revisit the attributes of each site on a regular basis to remind ourselves how each can provide the best value for our time and business. Mark W. Schaefer does a great job of reminding us how Twitter can make an impact in 140 characters in his book, The Tao of Twitter. While it may have been written as an introduction to Twitter, it is a good read for those who have been in the Twitterverse for awhile – because we can see our own experiences in Mark’s stories.

Twitter, a micro-blogging site whereby users comment in 140 characters or less, has been in the news since it launched in 2006, but it really made its presence known in the mainstream media when the site experienced significant outages during August 2009 – and NBC news anchor Brian Williams discussed the outage on his Nightly News television broadcast.

As Mark writes, “There is a Tao to Twitter, a majestic random synergy that holds the potential to impact your life daily…if you know what you’re doing. [But] most people don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t grasp the Tao: a way or path or principle.”

Mark shares a myriad of memorable examples that prove how, without a doubt, Twitter can help your business to:

[1] Attract new audiences and potential customers, partners, and suppliers

[2] Follow news on your industry, market, competitors, and customers

[3] Stay on top of the latest research, opinions, insights, and competitive intelligence

[4] Strengthen new and existing customer relationships

[5] Open up low-cost marketing opportunities

Here are Mark’s questions and suggestions to make Twitter part of your marketing strategy and a competitive advantage for your business:

[1] Who are my target customers?

[2] Do they fall into distinct segments with different needs or interests?

[3] What are their goals as they relate to my business?

[4] What kind of information are my customers generally interested in?

[5] Who on Twitter regularly tweets this kind of information? Competitors? No one?

[6] What Twitter resources can be valuable to this (or each) customer segment?

[7] Use Twitter’s search function to perform real-time searches about your industry

[8] Offer helpful links and headlines that drive traffic to your main website

[9] Improve customer service by participating in conversations about your product/service

[10] Offer special deals, contests, and promotions on Twitter

[11] Showcase testimonial tweets as “favorites”

[12] Participate in or sponsor a chat or tweet-up based on your industry or niche

[13] Reinforce your brand with consistency (tagline, description, Twitter background, “voice” of your tweets, etc.)

As for the amount of time you should spend on Twitter, there is no easy answer. Only you can determine what works for your business. For newbies, try to spend 20 minutes a day – read, share, and learn from others. For those who have been part of the Twitterverse for a long time, Mark proposes that we take the Twitter 20-minute challenge – I had to laugh with his statement that “it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole” and read link after link. How many times have we all lost track of time?

Since Twitter’s “gold” can be described as “content,” Mark eloquently explains, “Content is the currency of the social web and sharing that content is the catalyst to new relationships and business benefits.” Twitter users fall into these categories: lead generator, customer satisfier, product development engine, problem-solver, lead for joint brainstorming session, storyteller, teacher – and you can probably think of many more.

For those who require visual explanations, Mark offers this description, “Think of the social web as a dinner party. If somebody only talks about themselves, their business and how great they are, you’re going to get away fast! But if a person shows genuine interest in you, and offers help without regard for their own personal benefit, you will like that person and connect with them.”

In a 2009 Time magazine essay, technology author Steven Johnson described the basic mechanics of Twitter, “As a social network, Twitter revolves around the principle of followers. When you choose to follow another Twitter user, that user’s tweets appear on your main Twitter page. If you follow 20 people, you’ll see a mix of tweets scrolling down the page: interesting new links, music recommendations, even musings on the future of education.”

When Johnson attended an event, he noticed that attendees in the same room were tweeting, but within 30 minutes, members of the Twitterverse who were not in attendance had joined the stream. “Injecting Twitter into that conversation fundamentally changed the rules of engagement. It added a second layer of discussion and brought a wider audience into what would have been a private exchange. And it gave the event an afterlife on the web. Yes, it was built entirely out of 140-character messages, but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles.”

Over the last two-plus years, I have watched the pebbles of the Twitter suspension bridge and benefitted from Twitter: I have received invitations to write guest blog posts and to appear on radio shows. I have set up prospective business meetings that resulted in new business and also made new friends and business connections from all around the world – people I would never have had the opportunity to meet without Twitter – and all this resulting from 140 character messages. And, I admit, also by enduring the fail whale every now and then.

More about the book: http://www.thetaooftwitter.com

Follow Mark on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/markwschaefer

Monday, August 1, 2011

Do you know how to stand out from the crowd?

Please welcome Walethia Aquil to my Blog. Walethia Aquil, coach, author, speaker, and entrepreneur, is the founder of Grace and Charm, a consulting company that features 30 unique training programs to improve organizational and personal behavior, business and social graces, and effective team building. Grace and Charm’s mission is to help “entrepreneurs move from invisible to impeccable,” and the company provides executives, entrepreneurs, public figures, and individuals with the skills, training, and resources to ensure that their image does not distract from their productiveness. Walethia worked at General Motors prior to starting her own company, is an inspiration to countless non-profits, and also hosts the “Success with Grace and Charm” radio show on BlogTalkRadio every Tuesday at 2pm EST.

Question: What is the history behind your company?

WALETHIA AQUIL: When I was growing up, my family did not have a lot of resources, and I was terribly shy and insecure as a child and as a young adult. Late in life, I realized that my shyness and insecurities were hampering my professional and social development. In my youth, after my first school dance, I walked into a restaurant and sat down at a table with silverware and china, and I knew I was out of my element. I made a decision then and there that I would never feel embarrassed again. If I struggled with social skills and self-esteem, I knew others did as well. Today, because the market is overcrowded and highly competitive, no one will tell you why you didn’t get a promotion, why you were unable to close a deal, or why you’re not invited to social events. This is how Grace and Charm started, as a result of my own experiences.

Question: What does your tagline mean to you: “Become More Charming, Persuasive and Memorable?”

WALETHIA AQUIL: In today’s competitive market, it is very important to stand out. Your image, your etiquette, your communication and interpersonal skills play a major role in the amount of money you earn, who comprises your circle of influence, the quality of your relationships, and the opportunities that are open to you. Also, your ability to get along with others is just as important as having technical and professional skills because 85% of success in business and social relationships is based on your “people skills.” So, having a polished image is vital to your success. A potential customer or client will, within seconds, determine if you are trustworthy. So, when you look polished and professional from head to toe, your credibility is undeniable and trust in you increases.

Question: What are the results of developing one's social skills?

WALETHIA AQUIL: Developing your social skills will increase your earning potential by opening doors of opportunity, enhancing your relationships, attracting better and higher paying customers or clients, increasing your self-esteem, and positioning you to attain power and influence. It is more important than ever before to build relationships, and the quickest and most effective way is to create what I call, “Relationship Currency.” To explain it simply, relationship currency is a resource – giving to others. Relationship currency can catapult your business or career to the next level because others will see you as approachable. The result will yield a more extensive network. The development of one’s social skills will change a person’s mindset from “what’s in it for me” to “how can I serve others and add value.”

Question: Some men may disagree with your business model, so how do you convince men (as well as some women) about the value of what you teach?

WALETHIA AQUIL: This is a very good question. Success in any industry relies on relationships, whether with co-workers, clients, suppliers, or investors. When you’re well-mannered and courteous in dealing with others, you create engaging, productive, and long-term business relationships. As such, it is important to learn not just the technical side of a business, but how to conduct oneself in the company of others. It has been my experience that the men and women who seek my services understand the benefits of having superior social skills and a polished image.

Question: What is the best way to overcome anxiety created by giving presentations?

WALETHIA AQUIL: Well, I always have butterflies when I’m preparing to speak. But as Mark Twain said, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” So, my secrets would have to be preparation, preparation, and more preparation. Acknowledge fear because it is normal. Dress comfortably – but I suggest dressing a level above the audience because you are the authority, the star, the speaker. Arrive early so that you can become familiar with the environment and any technical equipment that will be part of the presentation. Know your audience: who are they, what is their knowledge of your topic, how many will be in attendance, etc. If it is appropriate, greet members of the audience and introduce yourself as they enter the room. During your presentation, make eye contact with your new friends – this will ease the butterflies. Most importantly, smile and have fun.

Question: What is the best preparation for a networking event, and how do you recommend someone should “work the room?”

WALETHIA AQUIL: The best advice I can offer is to move outside your comfort zone. The best network and the most effective network is one that is diverse. Here are three tips that will help a person gain control of a room and command the attention of others:

[1] Smile and make eye contact – successful and confident people make direct eye contact, and a smile breaks down barriers.

[2] Have an attitude of gratefulness – when you are grateful, you radiate positive energy, and people are drawn to those who are positive.

[3] Abide by the three-second rule – acknowledge someone you don’t know, and within three seconds walk over and introduce yourself.

Become a Fan on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/graceandcharm

Read more on the Blog: http://graceandcharmblog.com/blog

Listen to Walethia on BlogTalkRadio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/graceandcharm

Friday, July 22, 2011

Did Google+ Click the Over-Saturation Social Media Button?

By now, everyone has heard the buzz about Google's entry into social media. Known as Google+ or Google Plus, this new social media platform has been available by invitation only (or in tech-speak, to those who have access to go behind the "digital velvet rope") but has attracted widespread attention from the mainstream media as well as by technophiles. As one reporter wrote, Google+ is like arriving at a party hours before it is scheduled to start but no one else has arrived. Thanks to Google, have we reached the over-saturation point in social media, or do Facebook and Twitter need to be worried?

Here are the features of Google+:

  • Groups named as "circles" can be created consisting of specific people so that you can share content only with family or only with school pals or only with co-workers because in the words of Google CEO Larry Page, "in real life, we share different things with different people"
  • On the main page named the "stream," posts can be viewed by everyone or only by members of the circles that have been created
  • Places where groups of ten or less people meet to chat are called "hangouts"
  • News can be found based on any number of topics – in what Google+ refers to as "sparks"
  • Video and voice chats can be held with specific people in circles – some have said that this capability is even better than Skype
  • The sites that you indicate you like (+1) can also be included as part of the Google+ profile – these are the sites that, according to Google, "you like, agree with, or want to recommend to others"
  • Privacy settings are more user-friendly than other sites, for instance, anything on the profile can be set for public viewing or private viewing (e.g., who appears in circles, posts, about, photos, videos, +1’s)

There may be some very unique uses for Google+ that are not appropriate for Twitter or Facebook. For instance, tech super stores (Best Buy, Apple, Dell, etc.) could use hangouts or circles to address customer service issues. Businesses with a large number of telecommuters or international teams could use circles for brainstorming in more than 140 characters. While there are some things that can be stated easily in less than 140 characters, it’s sometimes necessary for making a long story even longer, and Twitter is not the place. College courses may use circles or hangouts for course discussion or exam preparation.

But, the big question yet to be answered is, how will Facebook and Google+ co-exist? Since Google+ has not yet launched to the public or been opened to brands, there is no easy answer. Google+ may be intriguing for the points stated above, but there will always be a loyal Facebook following. And while many Facebook users may dislike lists, the constantly-changing interface, and lack of attention when it comes to privacy, there is still much that appeals to over 500 million active users.

One thing to note, if you already had a Google Profile in the pre-Google+ days, that page automatically appears as part of your Google+ page. Again, in the pre-Google+ environment, the key reason for having a Google Profile was to make sure that you appeared in Google searches for your name and also to create a page where you could control content about you – that Google found.

So, if you have not joined the Google+ party and are on the fence, answer these five questions. Your answers will make the decision for you. But, if you decide to join Google+, visit my page at http://gplus.to/debbielaskeymba:

  • Do you have time to allocate to another social media site?
  • What are your objectives as you build your presence on Google+?
  • How does Google+ fit into your annual marketing plan and overall social media strategy?
  • Are your customers and competitors already on Google+?
  • How will you measure your success on Google+?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Want to be nicknamed Strategy Guru?


Do you know how strategy and tactics differ? How many times have you heard someone talk about strategy without providing any substance? According to business expert Erika Andersen, “When people say apple or sunlight, there’s generally a shared definition. But people have no common definition for strategy.” In her book, Being Strategic: Plan for Success, Out-Think Your Competitors, Stay Ahead of Change, Andersen explains the differences between discussing strategy, defining strategy, and actually being strategic – so your business benefits.

The core of strategy, according to Andersen, is a journey with four parts.
[1] What Is? – an exploration of the current situation and how it came to be
[2] What’s the Hope? – The hoped-for future: clearly defined, realistic, and aspirational
[3] What’s in the Way? – an understanding of what’s blocking movement from “what is” to “hoped-for future”
[4] What’s the Path? – the plan to overcome obstacles and achieve hoped-for future

Perhaps the reason that so many people don’t like discussing or working on strategies is because they don’t like to focus on what isn’t working. But isn’t success better than lack of success? By focusing on the four-part journey described by Andersen, the process for creating strategies and tactics is easy. At the end of every chapter, Andersen provides worksheets to analyze your individual business situations and put her theories into practice. But let’s never forget the importance of collaboration with other employees, alignment with other business units, and adherence to project budgets and timing.

Here’s a refresher for key business success terms:
* Mission: why we exist, our unique purpose as an organization
* Vision: what we would look like if we were more fully achieving that purpose: our hoped-for future as a company, fulfilling our mission
* Obstacles: what might make it difficult for us to be the company we envision, achieving our purpose
* Strategy: core directional choices toward becoming the company we envision
* Tactics: specific actions that will best implement those strategies

If you want to be nicknamed the “Strategy Guru” in your office, then learn these easy-to-follow steps for strategic planning and action:
[1] Be clear about the problem you’re trying to solve
[2] Figure out where you’re starting from
[3] Imagine your “castle on the hill” – your ultimate goal
[4] Identify the “trolls under the bridge” – the obstacles in your path
[5] Outline the path to the “castle” – your core strategies and the tactics for implementing the strategies
[6] Re-evaluate your strategy and tactics as conditions change

Visit Erika’s website: http://erikaandersen.com

Follow Erika on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/erikaandersen

Become a fan on Facebook:

Subscribe to Erika’s Channel on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/erika1952
Visit Erika’s company, Proteus-International: http://www.proteus-international.com

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Read This Carefully: Your Competitive Advantage Is What You Give Away Free

Answer the question at the end of this post – and you could win a free copy of Launch!

In today’s highly competitive and technology-driven marketplace, leaders wonder how their businesses can stand out. On a daily basis, leaders ask their sales and marketing teams to sell and promote products and services, they ask their R&D teams to develop the latest and greatest products, they ask their finance teams to accomplish more with fewer employees and smaller budgets, and they ask their IT teams to develop systems and infrastructure to handle business objectives with smaller budgets. So, it’s not surprising that customer focus can, and does, easily get lost. But thanks to Mike Stelzner’s latest book, Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition, the secret for standing out is easy.

Mike’s book describes the secret as the “other people” component. What he means by this term is that other people who are experts bring their insights to YOUR audience. “It’s a great way to develop relationships with people, an outstanding way to provide really interesting insights for your audience, and it’s another form of content that is written with perspectives and opinions other than your own.”

What makes this content different than everything else on your corporate website is that it is “minus marketing messages.” According to Mike, most businesses surround the content on their websites with advertising – this can include testimonials, collateral, media news, etc. Instead, Mike suggests, provide “other people” content:

  • Comprehensive how-to articles.
  • Expert interviews.
  • Reviews of books, products, and websites.
  • Case studies.
  • News stories.
  • Contrarian stories.
  • Reports based on surveys – infrequently.
  • Top 10 contests – infrequently.
  • White papers – infrequently.
  • Micro events (webinars, social media events, video broadcasts) – infrequently.

When you focus your content on helping people to solve their problems, your company will experience growth. Visitors will check out your site even if they don’t want to purchase your product or service now, but they will remember you for the value you provide. Your company’s focus shifts from “What can we sell you?” to “How can we help you?” Soon, people think of your company and your website as THE PLACE to go for help. Who wouldn’t want an increase in web traffic?

Here are the reasons that “other people” content is so important:

  • People will become return visitors to your site to check out the latest content.
  • People will recommend your content to others.
  • People will reach out to you – unsolicited – to provide feedback and offer content.
  • You will be received as an authoritative source.
  • You will inspire deep loyalty.
  • Experts will want to work with you.
  • When you decide to decide to sell something, readers will buy – because you will have proven yourself as trustworthy and knowledgeable.

According to Mike, “The result: You no longer need to sell! Instead, you demonstrate your expertise by the content you produce, the ideas you showcase, the stories you share, and the people you attract…You can become the center of your industry, niche, or local market. And when that happens, you’re launched on an unstoppable trajectory that will take you places you never imagined possible…Everyone wants access to great insight and great people, before they want great products and services. When outstanding content is coupled with great people and decoupled from marketing messages, your business can quickly attract a larger base, more partnership opportunities, and significantly more sales.”

Want a free copy of the book, Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition? The person who submits the most creative response to the following question in 100 words or less will win a free copy: Mike talks about creating an “idea vault” for finding ideas for blog posts and interviews. Where do you find content for YOUR idea vault? Chime in below in the comments section with your response – and be sure to include your name and email address.

Visit this site for a free chapter of the book: www.elevationprinciple.com

Follow Mike on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Mike_Stelzner