Friday, June 22, 2012

Do You Own Your Niche?

In general, company presidents or CEOs believe that their businesses are worthy of being industry leaders or trend-setters. But in reality, the majority of businesses are simply members of the pack. It is very rare when a company surpasses its competition and owns its industry or niche, but when this happens, the business is such an incredible stand-out that both the business press and mainstream press take notice. Consider all the attention garnered by Facebook, Apple, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc. So how do you own your niche?

In Stephanie Chandler’s book, “Own Your Niche – Hype-Free Internet Marketing Tactics to Establish Authority in Your Field and Promote Your Service-Based Business,” tactics are presented for creating and owning a niche in a service-based arena. However, many of the useful and easy-to-implement tactics can be applied to both product and service environments.

As you develop your business, consider these questions:

[1] Do you offer services that generate rave reviews? If not, how could you improve your customer experience?

[2] What is unique about your business versus the competition?

[3] What do you want your business to be known for?

[4] What values do you hold in high importance?

[5] Could your values or belief system become part of your brand positioning?

Some of the important tactics detailed in the book include:

[1] How to identify and connect with your target audience.

[2] How to build an effective blog and an eBook to promote your business.

[3] How to distribute content that demonstrates your expertise in your industry.

[4] How to handle your own PR and get media to come to you.

[5] How to generate exposure with proven offline methods including professional speaking, direct mail campaigns, and publishing.

In the words of Stephanie Chandler, “It’s important to make sure you don’t cast the net too broad, but instead narrow it down to a niche that’s small enough so that you can stand out and large enough that you can earn a living. You can also evaluate potential industries to see what kind of competition is out there.”

So what are you waiting for? Start now, and you just may own your niche!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Dallas TV Show Re-Launches Its Brand

In TV land, many shows are recycled, re-issued, and re-made. That's just show biz, as the expression goes. But while some shows attempt a second life, most fail because viewers miss the original stars or original story lines. But this summer, one of TV's most popular shows makes a comeback. Run the familiar music: Dallas has returned.

As one of television’s longest-running shows from 1978 to 1991, Dallas was a trendsetter and captured viewers’ attention. The drama between oil baron J.R. Ewing and his ex-wife Sue Ellen was tumultuous, the drama between JR and his brother Bobby was full of competitive angst, and the drama between JR and everyone else was combative. All of these relationships, combined with all the ruthless conniving, created entertaining television.

Who hasn't experienced drama in his or her life? Part of the appeal of Dallas was that everyone could identify with one or more characters on the show.

As millions of other fans, I will always remember the shower scene in May 1986, when Bobby exited the shower. Since his character had died at the end of the previous season, the shower scene brought him back to life and literally erased most events from season nine (1985-1986). This deception was so cleverly orchestrated by the show's producers, director, and actors, that it will never be able to be repeated on television again. Viewers are much savvier today.

The new version of Dallas airs on TNT on Wednesday nights and features three of the original characters portrayed by the original actors, so J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby (Patrick Duffy), and Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) will be part of the action. It’s hard to predict if this version will be as successful as the original, but there is no doubt that these familiar actors will resurrect their drama.

So what can we learn about marketing and branding from the return of Dallas? First, how many shows would garner excitement if they re-appeared many years after their final episode? Second, how many shows actually became a brand that promoted a way of life and a state? And finally, ask yourself, what if your business went on a 20-year hiatus? Would your customers, vendors, partners, and other supporters embrace you as fondly as the fans of Dallas? If not, think how you can improve your service or product today – just in case.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Do You Know What Strategy Is?

There is a significant link between leadership and strategy, but according to Cynthia A. Montgomery, the link has been broken. “Specialists help managers analyze their industries and position their businesses for competitive advantage…[but] strategy is confined to an annual planning process…What’s been forgotten is that strategy is not a destination or a solution. It’s a journey. It needs continuous, not intermittent, leadership. It needs a strategist.”

In Montgomery’s new book entitled, “The Strategist – Be the Leader Your Business Needs,” readers are urged to embrace the role of strategist and confront the most compelling questions at the heart of their businesses. The key tool is awareness by the top leader or strategist. “The strategist is the one who bears the responsibility for setting a firm’s course and making the choices day after day that continuously refine that course. That is why strategy and leadership must be REUNITED at the highest level of an organization.”

At its core, strategy is about serving an unmet need. But how do you do this? Montgomery answers this question with engaging examples from IKEA, Apple, and Gucci, and also poses difficult questions: If your company disappeared today, would the world be dramatically different in the days ahead? Would your customers miss your product or service? If your customers wouldn’t miss you when you’re gone, how much do they really need you NOW? If you don’t possess this uniqueness, then you’re missing a strategy.

Strategy begins with a clear business purpose. Consider these statements and see if you can name the companies:

[1] To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

[2] This company is built upon finding ways to do online search better and faster in an increasing number of new places and in ever more efficient ways.

[3] This company is the only manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles worldwide that concentrates entirely on premium standards and outstanding quality for all its brands and across all relevant segments.

Did you identify Nike, Google, and BMW? These companies have a niche, a place in their market, and a clearly-defined purpose that resonates among their customers and the public at large. (Of course, marketing plays a role, but that’s a separate blog post.) From there, they can build an organization – a system of advantage – that enables them to deliver on that purpose. Together, that’s a company’s strategy.

Does your company have a strategy statement that explains your purpose, means of competition, and unique advantages? If not, answer these questions:

[1] Who do we serve?

[2] What products or services do we provide?

[3] What do we do that’s different or better?

[4] What enables us to do that?

As another challenge, ask yourself, what companies in the news today do you see suffering because they lack a strategist leader? Please chime in.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Are you a dreadful boss or a great boss?

The debate about differences between leaders and managers will endure for eternity, but there is no debate about the importance of quality supervision. The fact is, many of us supervise others, whether or not the term “boss” appears in our official job title. Sometimes, we wish a cheat sheet existed to remind us how to be great bosses. Well, look no further.

If you want to make sure you avoid the moniker of being a horrible, terrible, dreadful, or jerk boss, here are my 10 Commandments to avoid:

[1] Do not yell at employees or slam your fist so hard on a desk that items roll onto the floor, the monitor falls over, and you lose all feeling in your hand – keep your anger and feelings under control at all times

[2] Do not be jealous of your employees’ accomplishments, degrees, or certificates – accept the fact that you are only as skilled as the combined capabilities of your team, and you will never be respected if you don’t respect your employees – it’s the people in your department or on your team that make you a success

[3] Do not belittle your employees, tell lies about your employees, or share gossip about your employees – this has the potential to result in a lawsuit and possibly even get you fired, not to mention how awful your employees will feel once they get wind of your comments

[4] Do not take ownership of your employees’ work as your own

[5] Do not blame your employees if a major mistake happens, instead, calmly explain to your employees why there is a problem and work together to resolve it – make sure that you are calm before speaking with employees because an overly belligerent conduct could be interpreted as toxic and could lead to a lawsuit

[6] Do not take projects away from your employees without any explanation

[7] Do not intentionally create conflict between teams/departments/people

[8] Do not arrive late and leave early on a routine basis – you should be setting an example for your employees to follow with punctual attendance

[9] Do not slam your office door shut every time you go into your office – this tells employees that you are unapproachable

[10] Do not tell your employees to “lower their expectations” – this is completely ridiculous because you want them to do their best work for the company and themselves, and if you actually say this to them, they will question your agenda

But if you want to be known as a great boss, someone who inspires excellent work, loyal employees, and innovative results, then here are my 10 Commandments:

[1] Be an advocate and champion for your employees – recognize them when they complete tasks and promote them when possible, and above all, speak on their behalf when in the presence of others

[2] Create mentorship opportunities between departments so that employees can learn about different aspects of the business – this will allow employees to better understand how their specialty area fits into the success of the entire business

[3] Give your employees the tools to do their jobs – if they need special software or equipment, provide these tools on day one, and above all, don’t tell them, “Figure it out, I don’t have time”

[4] Explain how you want your employees to communicate with you – let your employees know if you prefer emails or voice messages and let them know if you will respond and a reasonable timeframe – otherwise, your employees will be in a constant state of flux

[5] Create an environment where employees feel empowered to take on more responsibility

[6] Create an environment where employees feel comfortable to ask questions

[7] Invite employees at all levels to participate in brainstorming sessions

[8] Ignore your individual pride and focus on the total success of your employees or team or overall business – make sure to have written goals for each employee and routinely check-in with employees as to their status on projects

[9] In the words of management consultant Peter Bregman, “Failure is inevitable, useful, and educational. Just don’t give up” – give employees instructions and an open slate so that they know they are allowed to suggest new ideas – amazing things happen when employees are not boxed in to “doing things the same way we’ve always done them”

[10] Thank your employees when they finish a project and offer other compliments during projects – and whenever possible, give small tokens of appreciation for a job well done, perhaps, an unexpected afternoon off, two movie tickets, an opportunity to volunteer in the community, etc.

What would you add to either list?

Image Credit: Thanks to Ted Goff for use of his cartoon with this post. Check out his work at

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Does your business know HOW to provide uncommon service?

Is service a buzz word tossed around your C-suite like a Nerf football? Or is service something that your business values? If you value service, do all of your employees know how to provide uncommon service? Do you provide training on a regular basis so that your employees know what is expected of them when it comes to providing uncommon service?

In a new book by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, “Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business,” an unusual business model is presented: “Companies must be bad at something in order to be great – companies must choose strategic ways to underperform while fueling a winning service advantage.” Are you willing to make this type of a sacrifice in order to win happy customers who become brand evangelists?

As Frei and Morriss explain, “Here’s what we learned: uncommon service is not born from attitude and effort, but from design choices made in the very blueprints of a business model. It’s easy to throw service into a mission statement and periodically do whatever it takes to make a customer happy. What’s hard is designing a service model that allows average employees, not just the exceptional ones, to produce service excellence as an everyday routine.”

According to Frei and Morriss, there are four service truths that act as the foundation for delivering uncommon service:

[1] You can’t be good at everything: How do customers define excellence in your product or service offering?

[2] Someone has to pay for it: How will you get paid for delivering excellence?

[3] It’s not your employees’ fault: How will you prepare your employees to deliver excellence each and every day?

[4] You must manage your customers: How will you get your customers to behave in ways that improve their service experience – without disrupting anyone else’s?

With examples from famous companies and lesser known companies, Frei and Morriss showcase how this challenging business model can propel service into the stratosphere of happy customers. Companies including Apple, Amazon, Southwest Airlines, BBBK, Zappos, JetBlue, and IKEA are some that provide proof that this model works.

Consider Southwest Airlines: The airline’s advantage is low fares. This means that all employees need to pick up the slack and do everything necessary to turn planes around safely and quickly – so no fancy meals, no ambassador class or other special VIP section on the plane for frequent fliers. Everyone is the same on Southwest Airlines, and this suits its customers just fine.

Consider IKEA: you can walk around the store as if it were an amusement park and also spend time at the restaurant. Kids can play in a child-friendly play area with supervision. The company sells build-it-yourself furniture but also creates a unique purchasing experience. But it doesn’t sell furniture that will last a lifetime.

Have you deduced what stands at the core of providing uncommon service? If you were thinking culture, then you’re correct. If you create a culture that centers around the four service truths, your business will excel in ways you never dreamed possible.

Again, in the words of Frei and Morriss, “Culture guides discretionary behavior and picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn't in the room, which is of course most of the time.”

To learn more, visit:

Watch “How Starbucks Trains Customers to Behave” on YouTube:

Follow Anne Morriss on Twitter:

Read more about culture on the Harvard Business Review Blog:

Have you experienced uncommon service? Participate in the survey. Take yourself back to a great service encounter and try to remember what choices you made, what choices the company made, and how you felt along the way.