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Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
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If I were to ask who your biggest competitor is, who would you say? Now think about your changing competitive landscape and where you would like your business to be in five years. Who will be your next big competitor? How will you compete?

The world is changing. Your customers are changing. The competitive advantage that made your business successful in the past may not be an effective source of differentiation tomorrow. Businesses that thrive over the long term understand their current competitors and how customers respond to them. They also seek to identify emerging competitors before they become a threat. Early identification of emerging competitors provides companies with an opportunity to modify their existing marketing strategies in ways that allow them to acquire and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage.

Astute marketers are always on the lookout for the next big competitor. What are you seeing when you look across the horizon? Are there any relative "unknowns" who might be threatening to disrupt your industry with powerful innovations? If so, how will you prepare to meet this challenge? Will you be ready?

I buy landscaping mulch every year. I’ve been buying it from the same local nonprofit now for several years…until this year, when they were unable to supply me. So I took my business elsewhere. Another “customer for life” gone forever.

Mulch is a commodity. I can get it anywhere at the same price. Regardless of where I purchase it, the product and the price are the same. Delivery to my driveway on the 3rd Saturday in March is free. And the one thing that bound me to my former supplier – the relationship I once had – had grown distant.

The decision to go elsewhere was an easy one.  It wasn’t hard to find another supplier. I wrote a check and walked across the street to my neighbor’s house to drop it off. On Saturday, while I was away, my order was delivered and stacked on the sidewalk beyond my driveway. My expectations were exceeded. In years past, my other supplier would stack the bags in my driveway, which required my having to move them to the sidewalk in order to access my garage.


Later that afternoon, as I went out and began moving the bags to the area of the yard where they would be emptied, my neighbor’s SUV pulled into the driveway. Five guys from the delivery crew – all friends of mine – got out and began moving the bags to the rear of the yard. We laughed and we joked. Although I wasn’t looking for help, they insisted. Again, my expectations were exceeded. I knew then I had found a new that I am hoping to stay with for years to come. 

I share this story because it highlights the importance of differentiation in selling a commoditized, low-interest product. Marketers who succeed in retaining customers for life are the ones who consistently deliver and who find unique ways to differentiate their customer experience.  Nurturing customer relationships and exceeding customer expectations are two of the best ways to accomplish this.

Think about your products and how they are positioned in the market. Are you just selling mulch?

For more on customer retention and ways to differentiate your customer experience, please see:
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• Anticipating Needs Is the Key to Customer Retention
• “You’re Going to Like the Way You Look…”

I remind people that networking is hard. It is like a big blind date for professionals. And you should expect lots of no's and few yes's. I always quote Richard Bolles in "What Color Is Your Parachute?"  "Think of every "no" as bringing you one step closer to a "yes."

During a recent "how to networking" program" I was asked one of the more frequent question, "How do I know if I should exit a conversation?"

Here are five sure-fire indicators that your conversation partner is ready to move on. He/she...

1. Stops asking questions. This is a direct way of letting you know. The awkwardness alone makes you cringe. Exit quickly.

2. Starts glancing around frequently. Many people do not realize they are doing this. This is not an absolute, more of an indicator as your conversation partner may be looking for a specific person.

3. Stops smiling. This is generally an unconscious way of displaying disinterest. It could also indicate the person is unsure of how to proceed or may need further explanation on something you just said.

4. Shifts weight from foot-to-foot or side-to-side. Another generally unconscious way of showing you disinterest. Most of the time this body language is clear, time to exit.

5. Introduces you to someone else. If you are introduced to someone else quickly, there are two reasons...a hand-off (read "get rid of you") or an in the moment referral. Based on the conversation thus far, it should be easy to know which reason.

In last week’s post, I spoke of the importance of providing a great customer experience across the various business processes that define your customers’ interactions with your brand.

I started with an assumption of customer dissatisfaction and the need to improve your customer experience in response to this feedback. I talked about the benefits of a great customer experience – increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins. And I left you with a challenge – how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand’s customer experience.

The idea of looking at all of the various business processes across an organization – digging deep into the complex sets of activities that comprise their respective processes, identifying root causes of breakdowns, implementing improvements and measuring the impact of your efforts – can be overwhelming. To simplify, try looking across the various processes for areas of commonality (e.g., are there one or two things that can be done better across all processes to achieve your desired results?). These areas of commonality are foundational elements. Addressing these foundational elements early on often yields the biggest gains.

One such foundational element is communication – who, what, when, where and how you are adding value to your interactions with customers – at every process during the customer experience.  Too often, organizations do great work and accomplish extraordinary things in service to their customers. Their customers just don’t know it because no one is communicating with them regarding expectations, status updates and resolution. As a result, your customers are left with an unsatisfactory customer experience that leaves them feeling unappreciated and undervalued.

In this sense, communication really is the foundation of a great customer experience. Finding ways to do it better across the various business processes that define your customer’s interaction with your brand will likely have the greatest impact on your customer experience.

I was at an all-day conference a few days ago. Each of the sessions was a panel. During the second session, one panelist said "That's a great question." Then it became a contagious virus. The second panelist said "That's a great question." And of course, the third panelist followed. Subsequently, EVERY single question was followed by "That's a great question" or something very close. The woman next to me leaned over and said, "I bet that's a great question" and we both laughed and cringed.

This prompted me to write the Tip of Week with the same title. I included the tip below...


Saying “That’s a great question,” detracts from your credibility, no matter what. If you are like some, you use it all the time hoping to make everyone feel positive about asking questions. In this case, no one feels special as it is used every time. And by the third or so time you use it, “great question” sounds disingenuous.

If you say it occasionally, then you alienate those that did not receive a “great question” response…immediately.

Instead, remain neutral throughout your time with your audience. Respond and acknowledge points without tipping the emotional balance.

Here are a few suggested responses after receiving a question:
- Thank you for your question
- Please (and gesture/point to the person encouraging him/her to begin talking)
- Thank you for asking that question
- Yes (and gesture/point to the person encouraging him/her to begin talking)

Your customers interact with your brand in a variety of ways. These interactions may include some or all of the following business processes: pre-sales, sales, support, billing, and customer service. The customer experience you provide at each and every one of these phases in the customer lifecycle forms an indelible impression of your brand and what it means to do business with you.

Now, suppose your customer feedback reveals dissatisfaction with the customer experience that occurs during a number of these business processes. How would you improve your brand’s overall customer experience? Where would you start?

Best practices suggest starting with the big picture. The big picture includes a vision of what success will look like if the business process improvement efforts achieve their desired results. It also includes the new skills and other tools your employees will need to succeed, as well as a clear and consistent communication of goals and milestone targets. Finally, it includes rewards – bonuses and other forms of recognition – for members of the business process improvement team when goals are met and exceeded.

Business process improvements that result in a great customer experience can be a source of competitive advantage for your brand. Brands that provide a positive customer experience enjoy increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins than their competitors.

Visit us next week for ideas on how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand's customer experience.

All marketers should have a resume that includes sales experience. 

I’ll admit, sales is hard work. It’s one of the toughest jobs in any organization. For those of us who have ever been paid on performance, it’s high risk - high reward. There are quotas to be achieved, customers to be served and forecast commitments to be honored. And yes, there are pay-impacting rewards for individual success and personal consequences for failure.

Sales is not a spectator sport. It teaches us to be accountable for results. It’s where we learn about customer wants and needs, how to achieve competitive advantage, the value of business storytelling and the difference between a well-intentioned marketing strategy and one that actually works. It’s where we learn interpersonal and communications skills that lead us to trust, respect and value the contributions of others.  

These are, after all, the skills that will drive success in marketing, too. 

For more on the dynamic relationship between sales and marketing, please see:
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• The Purpose of Marketing Is to Drive Sales
• How to Tell the Difference Between Sales and Marketing

I was at the gym the other day and couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between two C-level executives. The exchange went something like this:

   “How is that _____ working out for you?”

   “We think we’re paying too much so we’re looking for a better deal. I’m talking to a rep from a firm down in ______, who says she can get me a lower rate.”

   “Let me know when you find one. We may want to give it a try, too.”

As a seasoned salesperson and an experienced brand manager, alarm bells immediately sounded in my head. Wow, I thought, the incumbent salesperson has no idea his or her customer is out “looking for a better deal” and is about to leave. What makes customers get to this place?

Here are some observations:
 • On an individual basis, it would appear neither the incumbent salesperson nor the brand has successfully engaged this customer beyond the initial sale.
 • On a larger scale, the incumbent’s marketing team has failed to differentiate its product or service on anything other than price, effectively positioning it as a commodity and needlessly exposing it to price competition.
 • Finally, testimonials from other customers can be strong influencers. These C-level executives clearly value each other’s opinions and one of them is likely to influence the other’s future purchase decisions more so than any salesperson might be able to.

And here is what my experience tells me:
 • If you are not in front of your customers, somebody else is. The key to a successful engagement plan is regular and interactive communication...beyond the sale.
 • With few exceptions, selling on price alone is not a sustainable long-term strategy. Find ways to differentiate your product, service and brand. Make them worth paying more for. Give them a reason to stay. Customers whose only purchase criteria is lowest price will leave when they find a better deal.
 • Establish yourself as a thought leader and develop an integrated marketing strategy that allows you to join conversations your customers are having (those conversations aren’t just happening at the gym, by the way…they’re happening online in social media apps like Facebook and LinkedIn, in college classrooms and in other professional forums and events, as well).

For more on the relationship between customer engagement and loyalty, please see:
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• The Power of a Personal Connection
• All Customer Relationships Are Personal

Follow my logic to really appreciate why practice is an absolute to being successful. Let's use driving a car as our example.

For comparison, let's use the Automobile Manufacturer's average of 12,000. Think of the warranty offered as three years or 36,000 miles.

Thus, we can create an annual number of miles driven chart since age 25.

Age    # of Miles
25             60,000
30            120,000
35            180,000
40            240,000
45            300,000
50            360,000
55            420,000
60            480,000

If I were to ask anyone based on these numbers, "Are you an excellent driver," he/she would surely respond Yes. How about asking someone in their forties? Absolutely Yes.

Now, if I asked a 45 year old driver if he/she could beat an Indy 500 race car driver, the answer would be an unequivical "No." How come? The person drove three hunnnndreddd thousssanddd miles.

The reason is clear. Practice.

All too often people spend too little time practicing... practing a presentation, sharing a personal story for business impact, writing powerfully, responding to questions during an investor meeting, conducting an important board meeting, and so forth.

Next time, spend at least a little bit of time practicing. You'll never regret the time spent.

Everyone likes a success story.

I picked up a recent issue of Fortune magazine and found one hundred of them, under the story line, “100 Best Companies to Work For.” These stories were compiled on the basis of feedback obtained from what Fortune calls “the most extensive employee survey in corporate America.” The survey asks employees for their feedback on management credibility, job satisfaction and organizational culture.

Not surprisingly, each of the companies chosen for this honor has a unique story of what makes it a great place to work. The stories they tell evoke images of employee wellness, creativity, innovation, shared wealth, trust and respect, community service, passion, transparency and appreciation. Some of my favorites included stories about Wegmans, Recreational Equipment (REI), Men’s Wearhouse and Marriott International – all brands I frequent and ones I have highlighted in previous blogs.

Do you have a favorite success story from this list?

Click here to see the full list of this year’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Make Me Care

Today I was working with an executive client on her storytelling. Tanya wants to use more stories in her meetings, presentations, networking, etc.

As part of the first step of developing engaging business stories, we develop a story list.  This is simply a list of Tanya's favorite stories and a few notes beside each story title.

After sharing a variety of stories, I asked her to rank her favorite ones. When she identified her all-time favorite, I prompted Tanya to share it.

Nearly three minutes into telling it, I identified the "make me care" moment. 

During our discussions Tanya agreed that yes, this was the most important part...this was the business take-away. 

For you, two suggestions:

1) Shorten your business stories, generally to a max of two minutes. Three minutes if you are able to keep your audience's attention the entire time

2) Message/craft the words of your stories around your "make me care" concept. Be deliberate

I walked into the dry cleaners the other day to drop off a new dress shirt and a pair of slacks. I am a regular customer and, as you might expect, am frequently greeted by name when I walk in. By the time I had arrived at the counter, the assistant manager had already pulled up my account in their database.  He was able to retrieve my account without my having to provide my phone number (an impressive feat, given the large number of customer transactions they process in a given day). He also knew how I liked my shirts (lightly starched, on hangers) and didn’t have to ask me.

He must have sensed I was in a hurry because, when he discovered I was leaving new items that needed bar-coded labels (they use these to identify and keep track of their customers’ garments), he told me to go on ahead and he would take care of it. When I asked if I needed a receipt, he said, “No, I got it.”

I returned later that evening and, without a receipt, said I was there for a pick-up. The employee behind the counter quickly retrieved my shirt and slacks, I paid for the dry cleaning and was soon on my way.

I share this story about my customer experience with Crest Cleaners because it is a big part of why they have been able to retain me as a loyal customer for many years. The relationship we have built is one of familiarity – I could walk in, leave my dry cleaning on the counter without saying a word (if I really wanted to) and know it would be ready that night. It’s also a relationship of trust – after all, there aren’t too many places where I would feel comfortable leaving over $150 worth of clothes without a receipt or claim check. Most of all, it's convenient. It makes dry cleaning the easiest part of my day.

Are your employees making the extra effort to anticipate your customers' needs? It might mean the difference between customer retention and attrition for your business.  

For other insights on the important role people play in customer retention, please see:
• “Refrigerator Rights” and Why Organizations Value Them
• Be Different – Thank Your Customers
• Service Before Self: Why Strength of Character Compels Others to Do Business With You

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Are You a Manager or a Leader?

I stumbled upon a great read the other day, "Tribes", by international best-selling author Seth Godin. The book is a compendium of short articles on leadership. The basic premise is that anyone with a passion for something can create a movement. All it takes is a deliberate choice. A choice to lead.


With experience as both a manager and a leader in a variety of not-for-profit and corporate organizations, I found this book fascinating. It spoke to the not so subtle differences between a manager and a leader.  As described in the book, managers are process-oriented, reactive, defenders of the status quo, predictable, focused on employees and their assignments, and often stuck "playing today's game by yesterday's rules." Leaders are visionary, proactive, agents of change, inspiring, skilled in attracting  followers, trusting, forward-looking and passionate. 

My experience tells me that organizations that grow and thrive (i.e., as measured by sustained growth in members, member engagement, revenues or profitability) are led by leaders.  Leaders use their passion and ideas to build communities of followers, or tribes. They recognize the world is changing and they respond with innovation. They lead with fresh ideas and they empower others to take risks and make good decisions. By trusting and respecting others, they accomplish the extraordinary and they move you forward. 

What do you think? Are you a manager or a leader? The choice to lead is yours.

For more on leadership and its impact on an organization, please see:
• What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
• What Makes Your Company a “Best Place to Work?”
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation – Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking


Brand repositioning, or rebranding, is a process typically undertaken by organizations whose role in the marketplace has evolved over time. Its purpose is to change perceptions – both internally and externally.  Internally, processes are improved and employees are united under a consistent message, or brand promise.  Externally, the brand’s delivery of its new brand promise provides customers with a stronger sense of who the brand is and what it stands for.

Organizations who undertake a rebranding do so with the intent of building brand equity, increasing customer acquisitions, improving customer retention, strengthening customer loyalty/advocacy and increasing profitability.

If your organization’s role in the marketplace has evolved and you are looking to improve its performance across these metrics, then perhaps its time to consider a brand repositioning. Here are five tips for a successful makeover:

• Start with a plan that includes targeted milestones and an expected ROI
       A specific schedule of who will achieve what by when, along with the expected incremental sales increase for every dollar spent on the rebranding, will ensure timely, actionable and measurable results. 
• Test your rebranding recommendations on a small subset of your target audience
       The stakes of any rebranding effort are simply too high for anyone to ignore the need for testing. The impact of any repositioning recommendation should be measured among sample test and control groups before full-scale activation. Declining sales after recent rebranding efforts by brands like JC Penney and Tropicana underscore the importance of testing.
• Listen to your customers and non-customers
       Organizations who listen only to their best customers learn why those customers stay with them and nothing about why disgruntled customers leave, or why those who are not current customers might be difficult to acquire. 
• Leverage the experience and knowledge of your employees
       Marketers who lack cross-functional experience (e.g., sales, operations, customer service, etc.) or institutional knowledge (e.g., company, industry, markets, etc.) will find it difficult to make informed rebranding decisions and are less likely to obtain lasting organizational buy-in for the rebranding effort.
• Avoid the temptation to start over
       Organizations who have met with success in the past have obviously done some things right. Successful rebranding efforts build on prior achievements and the agencies whose creative talents fueled their progress, instead of discarding them.

For more insights on branding and brand repositioning, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• Your Brand Promise Is for Non-Customers, Too
• The Brand Promise of a Summer Swim School

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brand Building Through Social Media

I decided to rebrand myself in January 2010.  I started tweeting. I did a major refresh on my LinkedIn profile. In the months and years since, I opened a Facebook account and created a Facebook Page. I also opened accounts in Foursquare and Pinterest. And I even started measuring my online influence in Kred and Klout.

Three years later, I’ve accumulated an array of quantifiable successes many small business marketers would be proud of:
• Over 2,700 Twitter followers and growing (see chart below), some of whom have been with me from the start
• Over 400 connections in LinkedIn, a cadre of loyal professional connections from before and after my brand refresh
• Over 50 friends and family connections on Facebook, some of whom go back to my undergraduate college days at Fairfield
• A Kred influence score of 664 (out of 1,000) and an outreach level score of 6 (out of 10)
• A Klout score of 52 (out of 100)
• Top positions on Google Page 1 search results


Much of the success I have had in building my brand can be attributed to a deliberate adherence to the business storytelling and communications mantras we espouse here at The Chief Storyteller®.  The following are among my personal favorites:
• People are at the heart of every great story
• Social communities are built on personal and business stories
• It’s all about them
• People crave connections
• Content is king

If you are looking to build a brand – personal or business – remember these mantras and be sure to keep it social. After all, brand building is really about people, the stories you share and the connections you make.

For more on my own brand building experience with social media, please see:
• Social Media – Are You Connected?
• Are You Embracing Social Media?
• Social Media Playground Rules – Are You a Giver or a Taker?
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand in Social Media

For the past two years (2011 and 2012), I shared my top 50 business storytelling and communications mantras. As I plan for 2013, I always look to my list to light a small fire of inspiration.

As you look through this list, see what applies to your life or what you want to apply. Write your own list of mantras. Whatever you do, make a list (short or long) of your goals and aspirations. Every so often read, revise, and contemplate...

Here are the mantras at The Chief Storyteller. Think about this list and how it can help prompt new and fresh approaches to making your personal and organizational communications unforgettable. We would love to hear your mantras...please leave them in the comments.

Personal Storytelling & Communications
01.    People are at the heart of every great story.
02.    Stories are how people remember you.
03.    Use humor if you want to.
04.    Write in your authentic voice.
05.    Write and speak conversationally.
06.    Write emails as if they will be read on a smart phone.
07.    Tell more personal stories with relevant business messages

Brand/Organizational Storytelling
08.    Promise a better tomorrow.
09.    Know your elevator speech / elevator pitch / mission statement (core business story).
10.    Ensure your core business story is unified throughout all communication materials.
11.    Your brand story is everything.
12.    Success stories are key to differentiation.
13.    Social communities are built on personal and business stories.
14.    Deliver on the expected experience.

15.    It’s all about them.
16.    Relationships matter.
17.    Business stories are the engine of relationships and relationships are the engine of continued success.
18.    Credibility is more important than expertise in the beginning of relationships.
19.    Send hand-written thank you notes, especially job hunters.
20.    Active listening is key to building great relationships.
21.    Treat everyone like a CEO.
22.    Stop listening to your Mother. Talk to strangers at networking events.
23.    It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
24.    Treat every client like your best client.
25.    Be a deliberate networker.
26.    Be a people bridge and make referrals.
27.    Be a mentor.
28.    People crave connection.
29.    First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions:  offer a warm smile, firm handshake, and good eye contact.

30.    Write to the 10th grade level.
31    Content is king.
32.    (Good) blog and article content matters the most.
33.    Strive for “interest” questions. Avoid “understanding” questions.
34.    Content first. Design second.
35.    Always have a second person read your content before publishing.
36.    Design your website for your target audiences (not your staff).
37.    Inspire Action:  facts do not persuade and inspire, people do.
38.    Audiences are hungry for original thought-provoking content.
39.    Get yourself known (e.g., LinkedIn questions and answers, post to SlideShare, and Tweet good information).
40.    Speak in headlines.
41.    Maintain a detailed Ideal Target Profile for your key target audiences.

Personal Development
42.    But is the worst word in the English language (and many other languages).
43.    Words really, really matter.
44.    Have positive self-talk conversations.
45.    Change is a choice.
46.    Create your own success momentum.
47.    Be a student everyday.
48.    Be a whole body communicator.
49.    Avoid fillers (um, ah, like, you know)
50.   Be a deliberate communicator

 “I guarantee it.”

Sound familiar? If you’re like me, you’ve seen and heard Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer close countless TV ads with this simple promise. It’s a promise that elevates customer satisfaction to the highest priority, allowing customers who are not completely happy with the fit, quality or fabric of any item to return their purchase within 90 days.

Many brands talk about their commitment to customer satisfaction. Others talk about how easy it is to make decisions you can feel good about when doing business with them. Few brands, however, actually deliver. Men's Wearhouse is one brand that does. What makes them unique is their ability to provide a flawless, solution-based customer experience.

I recently walked into a Men’s Wearhouse store with the intent of buying a single suit. I was greeted immediately and paired with Jenny, one of their style experts.  I told her what I was looking for – a suit with a more modern look – and she brought out several different suits for me to try on.  By the time I met with the tailor, I had decided to buy two suits.

As I was being fitted, Jenny brought over several pairs of shoes to try on. The styles and colors she selected were ones that would complement my new suits. She then walked me over to a table, where she had laid out the suits I had just purchased. Nested within the suits were several different shirt and tie combinations, along with belts to match the shoes.  I also left the store with two new pairs of shoes, along with the intent to purchase some of the remaining items in the near future.

While I had entered the store looking to buy a product (i.e., a suit), Jenny made the extra effort to ensure my satisfaction with the product by offering me a complete solution (i.e., a modern look).  For the brand, this translates into higher sales and stronger customer loyalty. For me, this means I am going to like the way I look. Guaranteed.

I was at a gathering hosted by some friends recently, which was followed by a meal at a local restaurant. I sat at a table with several others from the gathering, some of whom I was meeting for the first time. Moments after the meal began, the man across from me asked about the license plate frame on the back of my car, which proudly proclaimed my status as a Fairfield University alumnus.

I soon discovered he was retired - a Professor Emeritus - from Fairfield University and that he had taught Accounting classes when I was a student there, up until a few years ago.

The couple sitting next to him and his wife then mentioned they had a niece and nephew who had earned degrees from Fairfield and asked if I knew them - it turns out I knew the niece, who like me, was a Marketing major and one year ahead of me.

Soon, people around us were talking about Fairfield University and how much they loved the university brand! Although the school was miles away from where we were eating lunch that day, it seemed almost serendipitous that so many people with connections to the University had somehow come together and had become fast friends.

Small world, I thought. Then I realized the power of branding and how inexpensive promotional items like license plate frames, window clings, bumper stickers, car sign magnets, etc. can bring people together by generating conversation around a brand. Items like these are a great way to reward customers for their affiliation with your brand...and to bring brand loyalists together.

People like talking about brands they love.  What is your brand doing to bring them together?

Every brand has a story to tell. The goal of the story is to drive deeper engagement with your customers. How well the story is told can often make the difference between fleeting and lasting customer engagement.  In the online marketing world, brands tell their story by the content they post.

Brands who fill their web and social media pages with an abundance of stories about themselves are telling customers their needs and wants don’t matter. Brands whose content includes sales pitches for discounted products and promotional giveaways are conceding their products are – well, the same as everyone else’s.  And brands whose only goal is simply to get people to like them on Facebook appear shallow and directionless. These stories invite fleeting customer engagement and do little, if anything, to improve a brand’s customer retention rates.

On the other hand, brands who focus more on interacting with their customers online and in communities where they live are showing customers they genuinely care about them. Brands who share information on how their products can be used to fill a real or perceived need prove their products are unique and worth paying a premium for.  And brands who reward all new and existing users with incentives (e.g., exclusive content, coupons/rebates, eligibility to enter a promotion, donations to a charity based on the number of page Likes, etc.) for Liking their Page are providing something of value to their fans. These are the stories that drive lasting engagement and higher customer retention.

If content is the new currency for brand storytelling in 2013, what kind of story is your brand telling? Is it driving the customer engagement and retention results you are looking for?

For examples of brands who excel in customer engagement, please see:
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• Why @yurbuds is an #awesome social brand!

In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the story opens on a dark and bleak Christmas Eve, at the counting office of Scrooge and his deceased partner, Jacob Marley. Ebenezer Scrooge is introduced as a lonely and miserly old man who lacks kindness, generosity and compassion for others. He balks at giving his overworked employee, Bob Cratchit, paid time off for Christmas Day. While it’s easy for the reader to see how unhealthy this culture might be to an organization, it is not readily apparent to Mr. Scrooge.

As the story unfolds, Scrooge receives visits from four ghosts – Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future – who accompany him to various scenes from his life. In each scene, he is allowed to step back and observe his actions and the impact they have on others. Only after glimpsing a preview of his own woeful legacy and dark fate does Scrooge decide to transform his life, embracing kindness, generosity and compassion.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of delivering your brand promise to non-customers. In many ways, I was speaking about the relationship between your brand promise and your organizational culture. Organizations, for example, who claim to value and appreciate their customers must first value and appreciate their employees.  As Ebenezer Scrooge discovered, for those who may have lost sight of this reality, it’s never too late to change.  We simply need to step back and take a look at how our actions are impacting those around us. We then need to ask if they are consistent with the way in which we want others to perceive us.

Now take a step back. Think about your organization and its culture. How would you describe it? More importantly, how would your employees describe it? Is it consistent with your brand promise? If not, what actions can you take to change it in the new year?

All I really wanted for Christmas this year was a new pair of running shoes. So, on Small Business Saturday, I went to Pacers – Metro Washington’s “local running joint for running gear, races, and training.”

My recent visit to the Fairfax store – located in the center of town – was not my first. I had been there many times before for Pacers-sponsored events like high school spike nights and Tuesday night fun runs. My family and I had purchased running gear there before and had become loyal customers. 

The sense of community at Pacers is evident from the moment you enter the store. Customers are greeted warmly by members of the staff, who share an obvious enthusiasm for running.  Staff members provide an extraordinary level of attentive and personal service to each customer, sharing expert advice and evaluating running styles. Customers can try on as many pairs of shoes as they like. The layout of the small store includes an aisle long enough for customers to try their shoes...and sometimes interact with other customers as they are deciding on which pair to buy.

The Pacers community extends beyond the retail store to Facebook and Twitter, with communities of close to 5,000 fans and over 3,800 followers, respectively. Online, Pacers engages customers with news of special promotions, new products, event registrations, event photos and results, as well as invitations to participate in Pacers-sponsored community service activities. The enthusiasm their communities feel for this brand is evident from the online conversations that are occurring…and it’s what differentiates Pacers from other retailers.

Is it any wonder, then, when I had finally decided which shoe to buy that day, the last question I asked was, “How much does this pair cost?”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

‘Tis the Season for Giving Back

The holidays are upon us and this season of goodwill is a wonderful opportunity for organizations of all types to make a difference in the communities they serve.

One of the best ways we can make a difference in the lives of others is to volunteer.  Volunteering with others in community service is a great way to build relationships, help the less fortunate and improve your reputation. It's an opportunity for organizations who say they care about a cause or group of people to put their words into actions. Giving back is not only a way to make a difference, it's a way to differentiate your brand. 

In her poem, "Life’s Mirror," Madeline Bridges speaks eloquently of this relationship between giving back and receiving when she writes, “Then give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.”

Make this the holiday season where you give your very best.

For more thoughts on how organizations can serve others, please see:
• Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Imagine Your Story in Pictures

Imagine we are meeting for the first time. To get to know you better, I ask you to tell your story. You can probably think of a thousand words that would give me an idea of who you are and what you are about, right?

Now imagine I ask you to show me your story – with rich visual images and few, if any, words. Which pictures would you use? How would you arrange them? What would you want them to show about you, your organization or your brand?

One of the easiest tools for doing this is Pinterest – the social sharing site that allows you to tell your story with pictures. In its simplest form, Pinterest is an online pin board where members have the ability to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their boards and then share them with others via social networking.

To see how Pinterest can be used to show (and tell) your story, consider the example of my Pinterest page. These words – “Find your ‘True North.’ Award-winning marketing and sales leader, social media pro, fitness enthusiast and outdoor explorer who will move you forward” – appear in the "About" section of my page and tell my story. My profile picture and those in the boards below it – Fun and Fit, Brands I Love, Places to Go and Nature – provide you with a visual image of me and my story.  


Now...imagine your story in pictures.

For other insights on using visual images for business storytelling and branding, please see:
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever
• Using Images to Compel People to Action

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Powerball Fever Sweeps the Nation

So did you? I did. Normally, I feel sort of guilty, just a little. I'll buy 1 to 5 tickets, even if its triple digit millions. I never win and never expect to win. It's a guilty, light-hearted fun distraction.

For some reason, I bought a bunch this time. Not exactly sure. Is $550 million really that much more than $325 million (last big jackpot). Not in fantasy currency. Isn't human behavior fascinating?

The lottery organization didn't even have to advertise per's all built into the numbers. The numbers do all of the advertising. There are three hour or more hour-long lines in some areas.

Here's an excerpt from a Yahoo article that includes a fun video to watch:

The allure of the record $550 million Powerball jackpot has led to long lines across the nation at local mini-marts and gas stations, with Americans hoping their champagne and caviar dreams become a reality when the numbers are drawn tonight.

The jackpot was boosted Tuesday from $425 million to the now historic $550 million sum, which is expected to get sweeter as millions of Americans rush to the store for their last chance to purchase a ticket and become a multi-millionaire overnight.

Powerball officials tell ABC News they expect to sell more than 105,000 tickets every minute before the drawing. When the dust settles, more than 189 million tickets would have been sold for the half a billion-dollar jackpot. That's more than double the number sold for Saturday's $325 jackpot that nobody won.


When it comes to customer experience, sometimes the most unforgettable moments come from chance encounters. How your employees respond in that instant is often the difference between magic and mediocre.

Earlier this month, I was volunteering as a course marshal at the Girls on the Run® (GOTR®) 5K race in my community. GOTR® is an international organization whose “mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” The program runs for several weeks and concludes with a celebratory 5K running event for each participant and their buddy runner.

As one of several volunteer course marshals, I was positioned at an intersection approximately one mile from the finish. My job was to help ensure the safety of the thousands of runners who would run by me that day, keeping them on course and cheering them on. All of that changed in an instant when one participant’s buddy runner, who was her mom, emerged from the sea of runners before me to tell me she was unable to finish the race. She asked if I could find another buddy runner who could finish the race with her young daughter, whose eyes began to tear up as I called for medical assistance.

Instantly, I knew what I had to do. I asked the runner and her mom if I could be her daughter’s buddy for the remainder of the race.  They both smiled. When we got to the finish line, her mom was there waiting for us. It was an emotional moment for them – her young daughter had just finished her first 5K race, after weeks of preparation and against what surely seemed an insurmountable obstacle moments earlier. It was, as she told me, an unforgettable moment.

To them and at that moment, even as a volunteer course marshal, I was the GOTR® brand. The experience I provided to them in their time of need – which was to go the extra mile on their behalf, literally – helped to turn a chance encounter into a magic moment.

Are your employees going the extra mile for your customers? Is your customer experience filled with magic moments?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Time to Give Thanks

This is the time of year when Americans typically gather with families and friends to give thanks – for each other, for successes achieved and for challenges overcome. More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is a time for reflecting on how the efforts of others have enriched our lives.

It’s a fitting time of year, then, to remind our employees just how much we appreciate and respect them – for making the commitment to be a part of our organization, the experience they bring to the table, the ideas they share and the efforts they make in support of our success.

When I was growing up, my dad would bring a turkey home from work every year. It was a simple and thoughtful gesture from his employer – a small factory in Connecticut – that acknowledged employees and their families for the sacrifices they had made in support of the company. And, yet, the impact of this gesture extended well beyond the dinner table on Thanksgiving the factory floor on the following Monday and beyond, where it was rewarded with continuing company loyalty, higher productivity and an unwavering commitment to quality.

As your employees leave your workplace for the Thanksgiving holiday this week, remember to thank them. You don’t need a turkey to give thanks; all you need are two simple words spoken from the heart – “thank you.”   

Today I delivered my "Presenting with Confidence" workshop to a lively and engaging audience.

At the end of the presentation, Judith (name changed) came up to me and we chatted about a variety of subjects. Then she politely asked if she could make a suggestion. "Of course" I responded. She suggested moving the "Story of a Sign" video from the middle to the beginning. "It's very moving and powerful" (or something similar).

Internally I cringed. She was right. I whispered to her, "Can I tell you a secret? I needed a change. It's one of my all time favorites...I have been using that video as the start to more than 50 presentations...I wanted to do something different...for me."

Then she dropped the hammer on my toes. She smiled and said something to the effect, "isn't one of your messages, it's all about the audience?" I laughed out loud. Again, I knew she was right.

My learning lesson for today...listen to the audience.

Friday's presentation on the Capabilities Clinic WILL start with Story of a Sign! Thank you Judith for the much-needed and gentle kick in the ...

Join NBPCI and The Chief Storyteller for the Nov16th Compelling Capabilities Statement Clinic.

It is *Free* for registered attendees of the NBPCI Executive Breakfast Event with Teresa Lewis.

Please visit our other website page with all of the details.

If you are like me and subscribe to the notion that your brand is whatever people perceive it to be, then the importance of delivering your brand promise applies to non-customers, too.  Organizations that focus all of their branding efforts solely on “customers” are likely to fail. Here’s why.

Astute marketers know that brands interact with, and have the potential to influence, groups of people other than customers – employees, job applicants, vendors,  investors and members of the community, to name a few.  The interaction becomes more personal when there is an overlapping relationship with a brand among any of these groups (e.g., employees who are customers, job applicants who are customers, etc.).

Let’s assume for a moment your brand promise is to make people feel valued.  Customers who receive personalized thank you notes, who are rewarded with exclusive offers and who are affirmed with opportunities to provide feedback in periodic surveys will feel your brand promise has been delivered.  On the other hand, employees who receive no affirmation from the boss, job applicants who hear nothing back, vendors who do not receive return phone calls and community members who are not engaged by your brand will feel you have failed to deliver your brand promise.

For your brand, the consequences of ignoring this second group – the non-customers – may be significant. The voices of those who feel ignored by the brand will ring louder than those who feel valued in blogs, across social media, in online reviews and through word of mouth. They will undermine your credibility by telling others your brand cannot be trusted.  Instead of advocating for your brand, they will assail it. Your brand’s reputation will suffer.

For more insights on the relationship between brand promise and organizational culture, please see:
• What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
• Your Tone and Voice Are Your Brand
• The Positive Impact of Social Media and Brand Advocates on Business Storytelling

I stopped in my local Starbuck’s the other day. I had been up late the night before and was staring at a full day of work at the office. I needed something that would boost my energy level and brighten my day.

I took my place in line, along with everyone else that morning. When I got to the counter, I found exactly what I was looking for. I was greeted with a huge smile and a sincere-sounding, “How are you today? What can I get for you?”  I paid $2.05 for my grande-sized coffee and left.

I could have gotten a cup of coffee at any number of places on the way into work. I could have picked a place where the lines were shorter. And, I could have gone somewhere else and paid a little less. What made me choose this particular Starbuck's was my expectation of the experience I would have when visiting the store.  In short, I knew they would make me feel great.

Long after I had finished my coffee, I was still thinking about the customer experience I had at Starbuck’s that day. Sure, the coffee was good. The experience, however, was outstanding.  Although I left the store with a cup of coffee in hand, I went (and will return) for the experience.

If your retail business is selling a commodity at a premium price, consider looking at your customer experience as a way of differentiating and creating preference for your brand. The simple idea of making customers feel good about their experience with your brand does not require large investments of time or money in market research. All that is required is a genuine and sincere desire to help people and to make them feel great about themselves when they experience your brand.

As the famous poet, Maya Angelou, once said, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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