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Twenty-four years ago, I attended a Rotary Club luncheon where my congressman was the featured speaker. He had just returned from an overseas congressional visit to Eastern Europe and he took the occasion to remind us of the importance of family relationships here in America. He closed with a few prophetic words from the Harry Chapin folk rock song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” about finding time for others, despite the hectic pressures of daily life.

The song is a first-person narrative and is a story about a dad who is too busy to find time for his son.  As a boy, the son talks about growing up to be like his dad. It's only after his son is all grown up does his dad realize what has happened. His son has grown up just like him – too busy and unable to find the time for those closest to him.      

Although I would not become a parent until eight years after first hearing this story, his closing words would remain with me and later guide me in my relationships with my own sons.  Over the course of their young lives, we have done many things, shared countless experiences and gone to many places together – including the recent Marine Corps Marathon 10K race my oldest son and I competed in together.


And now, as he and I enjoy his final year at home before going off to college, it occurs to me how right  my congressman was. Spending time with my sons and interacting with them over the years has brought us closer together. For now, anyway, it seems the prophecy of the song has been fulfilled: “He’d grown up just like me, my boy was just like me.”

I share this story because it speaks to the importance of relationships in business, as well. As we say here at The Chief Storyteller®, great relationships are the engine of continued success. They are formed when two people decide to invest the time to interact with one another, not when one person person merely speaks to another in a one-way conversation. This is particularly evident in social media, where many brands mistakenly believe the way to cultivate relationships with their customers is to produce a steady stream of one-way pronouncements. Brands who use social media to truly engage and interact with their customers ultimately enjoy stronger relationships by sharing common interests.   

What relationships are you (or your brand) most proud of?

I'm a big fan of Dan Pink...While his article is about's really about words and messaging.

Here's the beginning:

This year’s presidential race has now come down to ten days and two people. But like many exercises in persuading, influencing, and otherwise moving others, it has also come down to two words – one for President Barack Obama, another for Governor Mitt Romney.

Which word prevails may determine which man takes the oath of office three months from now – and therein lies a lesson for your own work.

A few years ago, British advertising pioneer Maurice Saatchi conceived the idea of “one-word equity.” His notion was that today -- when all of us feel blasted by a daily fire hose of text, images, and ideas from our computers, phones, and social networks -- the only way to be heard is to push succinctness to it limit.

“What I am describing here is a new business model for marketing, appropriate to the digital age,” Saatchi wrote. “In this model, companies compete for global ownership of one word in the public mind.”

And what goes for companies goes equally for political candidates.

Dan continue discussing President Obama's word of "Forward" and Governor Romney's words of "Believe in America."

If you are a fan of words, content, meaning, and messaging, you'll enjoy Dan's musings.


As I was scrolling through our library of insightful tip guides the other day, I came across one of my favorites from The Chief Storyteller®: “'What Do You Do?' How to Design and Deliver a Compelling Elevator Speech (Tips 1-10)."

The tip guide starts with a common assumption about elevator speeches – that they are a useful tool for answering the question, “What do you do?” during professional networking events. In reality, your elevator speech is much more.  It is your core business story – your brand story, if you will.

Think of your elevator speech as a 30-second infomercial. It should quickly and compellingly convey the attributes of your brand in a way that resonates with your target audience. All of your marketing and communications collateral should stem from a single core elevator speech.  Examples include:
• Your ‘About Us’ statement – on your website, in press releases and presentations
• Your social media profiles
• Your sales scripts
• Your exhibits booth signage
• Your recruiting messages
• And, of course, the 30-second answer each and every one of your employees gives when answering the question, “What do you do?”    

Why is having an elevator speech for your brand important?

In today’s world of increasing collaboration and business networking, your employees and associates encounter many opportunities to tell others about their job and your organization, sometimes by chance or by design. In my experience, these opportunities almost always begin with the question, “What do you do?” A well-crafted brand story can lead to more sales, more clients and other top line business results.

Click on “What Do You Do?" How to Design and Deliver a Compelling Elevator Speech to download your free copy of this tip guide. Act now! Offer expires October 31, 2012. (Sorry, this offer has expired)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

When You Listen, What Do You Hear?

I went for a run the other day. It was a warm, sunny day so I decided to run along the roads near the gym where I work out. I left my iPod in my locker because I knew it would be safer to listen for the sound of approaching cars and trucks while navigating around the traffic I was likely to encounter. Then something amazing happened.

I started listening.

I encountered a stretch of road where there was no traffic. There I was, just a single runner making his way along a quiet road surrounded by an open field on one side and an untouched forest on the other.  Suddenly, it was quiet. So I started listening. I could hear the crickets chirping in the woods near the road. I could hear the birds singing. And I could hear the rhythmic sound of my running shoes hitting the pavement.

I never noticed the sound of my steps before. The steady beat became a motivational message of sorts. I enjoyed the sound so much I didn’t want it to end.

I started wondering how many other sounds and messages I had never heard before. I had been in countless meetings at work, lectures at school and conversations with others.  What did I miss?   

Here at The Chief Storyteller®, we focus on helping you and others like you tell your business stories. How those stories are perceived, however, often starts with how well you and your audience are listening.

When you listen to a story, what do you hear?

For more insights on listening and audience engagement, please see:
• Mobile Devices in Meetings – Rudeness or Engagement?
• How Engaged Are Your Meeting Participants?
• 10 Content Planning Questions for Getting Conference Attendees to Choose the Ballroom Over the Pool

Yahoo recently published an article, "Body Language Signs to Watch During the Debates." 

This particular paragraph sums it all up nicely:

"The mistakes the presidential candidates have made over the years are numerous. Poor body language has been a common blunder. As much as candidates focus on perfecting the substance of what they say before the cameras, a large number of Americans are really most interested to see how they say it," CNN contributor and history professor Julian Zelizer wrote for CNN.

The article goes in depth on various body language tendencies of both candidates. And the article ends with a brief discussion of six non verbal cues:

1. An itchy nose

2. Hands in pockets

3. Crossed arms

4. Touching the neck

5. Finger pointing

6. Frequent eye blinking

A friend of mine was recently called out for entering something into his iPhone during a meeting. What do you think? Does using your mobile device during a meeting constitute rude behavior? Or is it a way for you to further engage the speaker?

While recognizing there are no absolutes here, I’m going to take the position that audience members who use mobile devices during presentations by others are, generally speaking, more engaged than those who do not. My experience tells me that people who use mobile devices tend to be more tech-enabled and connected than their less social-savvy counterparts.

As an example, I recently delivered a presentation on brand advocacy and personal branding to a graduate-level social media marketing class at The George Washington University here in Washington, DC.  As I stood before the students, I could see a number of them were using their mobile devices – smartphones, tablets and laptops.

When I looked at Twitter afterward, I noticed a number of them were talking about the insights I had shared with them. Several more of them had decided to follow me. I spent part of my ride home on the Metro interacting with and further engaging them. 

How I came to perceive students who were using their mobile devices while I was speaking – rude or engaged – is attributable to my own comfort level with Twitter. Had it not been for that, it would have been easy for me to assume they were just being rude.  Having the ability to interact with my audience on Twitter allowed me to realize how fully engaged they were…and how they were helping me promote my personal brand.


According to the State of Social Media Marketing Survey conducted by Awareness, Inc. in July 2012, 462 marketers across a wide variety of industries rated the top four business objectives for social media marketing as:
 • Better customer engagement (78%)
 • Revenue generation (51%)
 • Better customer experience (47%)
 • Increased thought leadership (41%)

These same marketers also listed the top social media marketing platforms as:
 • Facebook (89%)
 • Twitter (84%)
 • LinkedIn (77%)
 • YouTube (71%)
 • Blogs (61%)

If you're like me, you'll connect the dots fairly quickly. Businesses looking to engage customers, grow revenues, improve their customer experience and position themselves as thought leaders within their industries ought to have an engaging presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. An engaging presence starts with a good brand story.

What is your brand story? Are you telling it on social media?

I downloaded the new Twitter app for iPad (and iPhone) last week.

As a brand manager, one of the newest features I am most excited about is the header photo users can now add to their profile. While allowing me to keep the profile image I’ve been using to brand myself across all of my social media platforms, Twitter has expanded the branding experience by providing me with the ability to display another image that appears consistently above my Tweets on Apple devices, mobile apps and In a word, this is awesome!


Now, when you encounter me on Twitter, the branding experience I provide is richer, more colorful and more memorable. Everything I do, say, write and show stems from my personal brand’s elevator statement – which is my Twitter bio.

As you view my Twitter profile, I hope you will perceive me as someone who is:
• A recognized leader in marketing and sales
• On the leading edge of social media and mobile communications technology
• Fit and active
• Passionate about the outdoors and who enjoys nature
• Not afraid to make a decision, take risks and explore new things

What kind of personal branding experience does your Twitter profile offer? Have you added a header photo to your profile yet?

For more insights on branding and social media, please see:
• Why Social Media Should Be Part of Your Marketing Communications
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand in Social Media
• Is Your Brand Social?

What does customer loyalty look like for your brand? If you saw it, would you recognize it?

I recently returned from the 2012 Laurel Highlands Jeep Jamboree in Pennsylvania, an event my son and I attended as guests of the Jeep brand. As some of you may know, I have been a loyal Jeep customer since October 2001.

Jeep Jamborees are off-road adventures with a tradition dating back to 1953.  On thirty-one weekends throughout the year across the United States, they bring together legions of Jeep owners, their Jeep 4x4 vehicles and the outdoors for two full days of trail riding.

As I spent time interacting with other "Jeepers," trail guides and Jeep Jamboree officials during the weekend, it became obvious to me the Jamboree was more than just another weekend off-road adventure.  The people who attended are easily among the most passionate and knowledgeable advocates of any brand I have ever met. In total, they comprise an image of extraordinary loyalty – to the Jeep brand and to each other. Below, some of the 121 Jeeps and 197 participants from the Laurel Highlands event await the start of their Jeep Jamboree experience.   

What does customer loyalty look like for your brand?

How would you characterize the culture of your organization? Is it consistent with how you want your customers, members and other stakeholders to perceive your brand?

To help you consider these questions, let’s consider these conversation starters:
• How well can your employees articulate your core message (i.e., their succinct answer to “What do you do?”).
• Are your employees passionate about your business? Do they like coming to work each day?
• Is your organization one where you celebrate your employees? Do you recognize, value and appreciate them?
• Do you encourage your employees to take risks, innovate and try new things?
• Do your employees treat one another with courtesy, integrity and respect? Are your suppliers treated the same way?

Your answers to these questions help to describe your organizational culture. More importantly, they provide customers, members and other stakeholders with a window in which to preview their experience with your organization.

If I were to look through that window, what story is your organizational culture telling me? Is it one I would like to be a part of?

For other insights on organizational culture, please see:
• Employee Retention: People Leave Managers, Not Companies
• What Makes Your Company a “Best Place to Work?”
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation - Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Your Tone and Voice Are Your Brand

Your tone and voice – the ones belonging to you and your employees – are your brand.

What tone and voice do your employees use to communicate with one another? It is the same voice – words and phrases – they will use when speaking to your customers. It is the same tone -- how they say what they say -- that will become the personality of your brand.  You and your employees are your brand.

One of the biggest challenges facing any brand today, particularly in the world of social media, is finding and articulating a proper tone and voice – one that is genuine, unique and compatible with your target audience. The power of social media is such that people will see through and expose brands who pretend to be something they are not. If you put on a mask, people will see through it.

How, then, should you address this challenge? For starters, choosing the right tone and voice is more than just an exercise in window dressing. Every message you share verbally, in print and online should look and feel as if it came from a single source. Your tone and voice should be consistent throughout. And it needs to be the right tone and voice.

Engage your employees by spending time with them. Look across the organization for people who are good in front of customers (hint: you may need to look beyond the sales and marketing department). Identify those who can speak and write conversationally in a way that is genuine, unique and compatible with your target audience.  Look for people who are social, authentic and transparent – people who your customers will trust. These are the people who should be articulating the tone and voice of your brand.

After all, when it comes to tone and voice, you and your employees are your brand.

While Nike didn't advertise on official Olympics' television, Nike was busy launching a variety of advertisements that were Olympic-styled. And they were effective.

One in particular titled "Jogger," stars 12-year old Nathan Sorrell. Nathan is from London, Ohio. During the video Nathan can be seen jogging. What you don't see in the beginning is that Nathan is 5-foot-3 and he is overweight...200 pounds. In fact, in an interview he shared that he threw up while shooting the video.

Published on July 31, that's just 28 days ago, the video on just the Nike YouTube page, has amassed 1,254,539 views.

Here's why it works...and think about what you can do in your advertising and messaging to connect to your audience's heart and mind.

- Journey Story. Nearly everyone is concerned about our weight. And we can empathize with the star. Nathan is an average, kid next store. Not a pro athlete...not an athlete at all. In fact, this might even be a David and Goliath metaphor. Where Nathan is battling his weight and is determined to beat it.

- Intriguing.  It starts off in such a way that you are intrigued. You are not quite sure what you are viewing. You can tell someone is have to watch to figure it out.

- Voice Over.  The voice over is full of great messages and is narrated by a powerful voice

- Short.  It's 1:09. 

- Generates Action. Makes you think. If Nathan can do it, so can I. It's the archetypal Nike message. It's on message. On brand. On emotion (my phrase). Tweets, articles, interviews, parodies, blog posts, and more keep appearing. People are responding in words and with action. That's what advertising is supposed to do.


- Nike Commercial

- Interview on ABC News

When it comes to online conversations about your brand, marketers will fall into one of these two categories – those who see the glass as either half empty or those who see it as half full. The "half empty" are the people who monitor online mentions for brand antagonists while the "half full" are those who mine online conversations for brand advocates – regular folks like you and me who are passionate about your brand, who had a great experience with it and who want to share it with others.

While the “half empty” crowd will focus its efforts on controlling or suppressing what others say about your brand, the “half full” group will allow people to say what they want, when they want and where they want (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, blogs, etc.). While there is an obvious risk to letting others tell your brand’s story, I believe people who are trusted and otherwise empowered to speak on your behalf will generally want to support you and your brand. 

I know from my own sales experience people buy from people they know, like and trust. Brand advocates, because they are people who are known, liked and trusted by others within their social communities, have the ability to positively influence your brand’s reputation, increase name recognition and awareness and, ultimately, drive sales and customer loyalty. Their followers want to hear the stories they tell of how your products and services impacted their lives.

What kind of marketer are you? Is your glass half empty or half full? Is your brand harnessing the power of social media to identify brand advocates who can tell your story?

Is your association, business or government agency using social media as part of its marketing communications mix? If not, it may be time to consider social media as an additional element of your overall integrated marketing communications strategy.

An integrated marketing communications strategy uses a mix of different media – social and traditional – to help create a customer experience that is consistent with the tone, voice and character of your brand. The mix your association, business or government agency ultimately decides to use, of course, should depend on the preferences of your target audience.

In my experience with both social and traditional media, more traditional tools like direct mail, email and telephone tend to be more effective when the brand initiates the conversation. Traditional media like these allow for privacy, personalization and greater content sharing. They are tools with a proven track record of success in driving contributions, sales and other results-driven metrics.

Social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are public forums where anyone can initiate the conversation.  These forums are places where members, customers and users can share experiences (good and bad), vent their frustrations or otherwise engage communities of like-minded followers. Aside from the relationship-building opportunities afforded to brands who engage their audiences by responding, these channels provide brands with a higher level of brand recognition and awareness.

For more insights on branding and social media, please see:
• Klout Perks: Building Brand Awareness One Influencer at a Time
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand in Social Media
• Is Your Brand Social?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Brand Reasons to Believe…Or Leave

Last week, I wrote about the brand promise of a summer swim school, where the brand promise, or positioning statement, was “Teaching the confidence that inspires moments of triumph.” I also mentioned how important it was for the brand promise to be believable (i.e., the evidence you provide to your customers that you can deliver on your promise).

Before you make a brand promise, be sure you can identify at least 3 true and credible reasons to believe. Also called brand proof points, these reasons to believe should be based on fact and are a key element of the brand positioning statement.

Your reasons to believe can include a statement of quantifiable and verifiable results (e.g., "75% of our students go on to swim competitively in summer leagues"), effective images (e.g., photos of actual students competing in or winning events), evidence of past success (e.g., a display of trophies and awards earned by your instructors, as well as current and former students) or testimonials (e.g., “…gave me the confidence I needed to improve my time enough for a first place finish!”).  

Brands that do this well provide their customers with true and credible reasons to believe.  The proof points they provide are the basis for customer decisions regarding initial purchases and continued loyalty to a brand. On the other hand, brands who fail to provide such proof points are effectively providing their customers with…you guessed it…reasons to leave.

Teaching the confidence that inspires moments of triumph.

The Summer Olympics are underway and the United States has already produced its share of Olympic champions, some of whom hail from our local area. The regional swim leagues have just completed their divisional meets and my local team, the Sharks, has just been crowned division champions. It’s an exciting time to be a young swimmer here at home…with the hopes and aspirations of maybe one day becoming the next Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin or Katie Ledecky.

For many of us whose children aspire to victory in the water, we turn to the cadre of competitive swimmers who serve as summer lifeguards at our pools. Like our country’s Olympic champions, their role model behavior inspires our kids. As parents, we believe they can get our kids to the next level.

If this were your business and these lifeguards were your employees, what expectation would you create for them? What words would you use to describe what your brand promises to do every day for every kid who comes for a swim lesson? This is your brand promise and, if you asked me, this is what I would suggest:

Teaching the confidence that inspires moments of triumph.

A brand promise, also called a positioning statement, is an internal statement. The best brand promises are short (6-9 words in length), inspiring (they speak to the highest aspiration you have for every customer), believable (it’s clear to your customers you can deliver), and compelling (what you are promising is something your customers want and are willing to pay for). The brand promise, while never spoken to your customers, is ultimately how your customers will experience your brand.

Coincidentally, it is usually the statement from which your tagline is based. And for those of you who might be wondering what tagline I might recommend, I’ll tell you:

Confidence. Inspiration. Triumph.

Take a look at this sunrise, as seen from the balcony of my oceanfront hotel in Virginia Beach. Along the boardwalk that stretches some 40 street blocks, there are literally dozens of oceanfront hotels with rooms overlooking the beach. This image, and the vacation experience of taking in a sunrise over the Atlantic, could have been captured at any one of them.


So if you are the hotel or brand manager of one of these properties along the boardwalk, how do you differentiate your hotel? How do you create guest preference for your hotel and brand?

Virtually all of the hotels offer the following: direct access to the beach, a pool and fitness center, free parking, a relaxed atmosphere where guests can stroll about the property in beach attire, a warm and friendly staff as well as a variety of restaurants and shopping within walking distance. As a testament to the marketing prowess of these hotels, none of them appears to be competing on price – there were no “guaranteed savings,” “lowest prices on the beach” or “cheap rooms” claims.

Instead, hotels like the Residence Inn by Marriott have identified a niche with a unique need and now create memorable vacation experiences by targeting families like mine who want to vacation with their pets. This hotel offers the usual amenities found at other hotels. What makes this one unique – and worth paying a premium for – is a vacation experience that truly includes all of the comforts of home, including the greetings we got from our dog when we returned from the beach each day.

As the only pet-friendly extended stay oceanfront hotel in Virginia Beach, the Residence Inn by Marriott has succeeded in creating a memorable vacation experience that differentiates. These are the kind of experiences, and the memories they make, that ensure my continued loyalty to the Marriott brand.

For more on how brands are delivering memorable customer travel experiences, see:
• How One Brand Delivered the Unexpected to Create an Unforgettable Customer Experience
• The Key to an Unforgettable Vacation Experience
• My Summer Vacation Experience – A Brilliantly Executed Market Segmentation Strategy

When it comes to marketing, there are many things our political leaders do well that can be applied to business. One of the best examples is how some of our political leaders establish a personal connection with their constituents.

My son and I were recently invited to have coffee with one of the U.S. Senators from our state.  Up until the moment we met, our impressions of him and the institution he was a part of were formed largely on the basis of what we heard, saw or read in print, online or on television/radio. Our perception, although favorable, was largely based on others’ opinions and potentially subject to future influence.

It was only after we had met and heard him speak were we able to develop a true sense of who he was and what he stood for. He told us about his background, why he had entered politics and what he hoped to accomplish. He asked us about our backgrounds and the things that brought us together. He introduced us to his staff and invited us to tour the place where he worked – the U.S. Capitol. It was an unscripted moment, a conversation between a politician and his constituents.

We left our meeting with a connection that was deeper and more personal than any we could have gained from reading a press release, watching an ad or listening to a debate or interview.  It’s a connection strong enough to ensure our continued loyalty, even in the next election.

Now think about your business and the way in which your CEO, CMO and other executives interact with their customers. Are they making an effort to build personal connections with their constituents or are they relying on customers to form their own perceptions of your brand by what they hear, see or read in print, online or on television/radio?

I've known Frans Johansson (author of The Medici Effect) for a number of years. His book is an excellent read in innovation and creativity (read my review here). I saw his Tweet and read it with great interest.

Frans idea of connecting with his readers, fans, clients, etc. is brilliant. I'm trying to figure out a way to do it myself and make it seem like it was my idea (smile). Here's Frans' blog post in its entirety.


Over the past few years I’ve received many emails, tweets, and Facebook messages about the impact of The Medici Effect on people’s lives. I read each email, and I am truly touched by all of them. Now I want to be able to connect with you on a more regular basis.

Starting this week, I am kicking off what I’m calling “Intersections with Frans” — that is, you can schedule 20 minutes, first come first serve, to chat with me — via phone, Skype, or if you’re in New York City, in person at our office. Given my travel schedule, I’ll send out a note every Monday morning about my availability for the week.

The purpose of these calls is to simply connect. As you know, I strongly believe that the best ideas happen when people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives intersect. So, let’s “intersection hunt” together! We can talk about anything:

- A burning idea of yours
- Writing-
- Lord of the Rings
- The Medici Effect
- My upcoming book The Click Moment
- Why Twin Peaks is one of the greatest television shows of all time
- Intersectional Thinking
- Entrepreneurship
- Anything else you can really think of

I’ve been invited to participate in an Eagle Scout Court of Honor this weekend to help honor three young men from the Boy Scout Troop I used to serve.  I was told by one of the dads that, as one of their adult leaders, I had a significant influence on their Scouting careers.

While I may never know exactly how or to what degree I was able to influence these young men, I do know this kind of impact occurs only when an organization’s leaders make themselves accessible to those they serve – their “customers.” Leaders who engage their customers tend to know and understand them. This leads to closer relationships and, in turn, a higher customer retention rate and greater customer loyalty.

For me, it’s an honor to be called back to share in what is surely going to be a special day in the lives of my former “customers.” How well do your customers know you? Is it well enough to invite you back into their lives some day, even when your customer relationship with them is over? 

At lunch today with a colleague and friend, Bob and I talked about a variety of professional and personal topics. Being that we have known each for a while, some of the personal topics, were, well...definitely personal. I laughed so hard at one little story that a good number of people around us stopped their conversations to look. I shrank a little in my seat to avoid being noticed (doubt it).

One thing I thought to share was the concept of "Planned Randomness." It came out of our discussion about networking at the right events. The only way to know if an organization's event is right for you is to do your homework.

- Ask friends and colleagues
- Do an Internet search on the organization's name
- Examine the website. Are the benefits clearly explained?
- Review the LinkedIn profile. Determine if this is the organization you want to be associated with
- Look at the the Facebook pages. Are there a lot of followers and activity on the site?
- Read the Tweets. Are these the types of messages you like?
- Do research on key members. Are these the types of people you would like to network with and building relationships with?

Now that you know the event is right for you, you can make serendipity happen. You'll be at the right event with the right people sharing and learning. This is how I met Bob some three years ago...

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
 ~ George Burns


I’m always fascinated by how people around me react when the unexpected happens, particularly when the outcome is less than desired. At home, in the community or on the job, the degree to which we assume responsibility for our actions and the resulting outcomes is often a sign of how strong a leader we are.

Consider these scenarios:
• You’ve borrowed a friend’s car and one of your passengers accidentally damages one of the seats.
• You commit to volunteering at an event and, because of heavy traffic, you show up late.
• You’re managing a project and one of your team members misses an important deadline.

Would you accept responsibility for any of these outcomes? Or would you blame the outcome on your passenger, the traffic or your team member?

Strong leaders take responsibility for their own actions and those of others under their supervision.  They accept responsibility for taking actions to mitigate the impact of outside events, like heavy traffic, on their outcomes. And they avoid deflecting blame on someone else.

Are you a strong leader? Or a snowflake in an avalanche?

I just returned from a week-long WorkCamp, where I served as a contractor supporting high school students and their adult crew leaders who had volunteered their time to serve the needy in our community. WorkCamp is held each year by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia where teen volunteers help others by performing needed home repair and improvement services, like replacing weathered siding, painting homes, fixing roofs and replacing gutters, building wheelchair ramps, replacing drywall and flooring, installing new bathrooms and building play sets.

With the exception of the contractors, the teens and their adult crew leaders arrive at WorkCamp unaware of their project or the tasks that await them. They are assigned to a crew consisting of five to six people they have never met. The team training they attend on their first day at camp allows them to build the relationships and learn the skills they will need to work with their residents and contractor in completing their project.

This is no ordinary camp experience. This camp is about something much deeper than completing the task at hand – it’s about the relationships they form with each other, with the residents they serve, with their crew leader and with their contractor. It’s also an opportunity for them to strengthen and enrich their faith. It’s an organization where others are served not because of who they are; they are served because of who we are.

The story of my crew, like those of the other ninety or so other crews at WorkCamp last week, began with a belief that by working together in the service of others we could accomplish the extraordinary.  To the residents we served, the work we completed was much more than the needed home repairs and improvements they requested – it was protection from harsh weather conditions, a safe and secure home, hope for the future, a restored faith in America’s youth, a warm and caring friendship, the freedom to leave their homes, or the chance for a little boy or girl to be a kid again.

Now think of your not-for-profit organization, government agency or corporate entity. How well are your volunteers and employees working together to accomplish the extraordinary? Does how you serve your constituents say more about who they are or who you are?

For more on the impact volunteering can have on your community or brand, please see:
• How Volunteers and Community Managers Serve Brands, Too
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others


I read recently the factor with the greatest impact on employee retention is the employee’s relationship with his or her boss. This conclusion is documented in the book, “First, Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently.” The authors of this book based their finding on in-depth interviews of over 80,000 managers in over 400 companies. And yes, they concluded, “people leave managers, not companies.”

If this is so obvious, why then do some organizations seem oblivious to the impact their managers might be having on employee retention? Some might argue it’s easier to turn a blind eye. Others might suggest that there are no bad bosses, only employees who are difficult to manage.  I’m going to suggest another reason – a lack of management training and possibly awareness.

Here are four signs your managers may be having an adverse impact on your organization’s employee retention rate, along with some ideas for improving their leadership behaviors:
• Managers who fail to interact with their employees.
     At the most basic level, your managers should be going out of their way to greet their people at the start and end of each day.  When it comes to leadership, these simple acts of courtesy are table stakes.
• Managers who manage work, not people.
     Less experienced managers are often overwhlemed by their own tasks as individual contributors, especially those who have a tendency toward  micromanaging the work of others. Managers achieve greater gains in employee productivity and morale by investing more time interacting with and otherwise engaging their teams. Encourage your managers to view their work as a team effort.
• Managers who fail to delegate responsibilities.
     Managers who mentor their employees to accept more challenging responsibilities almost always find it easier to delegate, mainly because they’ve allowed themselves to trust in the abilities of their employees. Employees, in turn, work harder to maintain that trust and find their work more satisfying.
• Managers who are openly critical of others in the organization.
     Conversations about ideas on how to improve the organization and its results are more inspiring to your employees than criticisms of others in the organization. Employees want a work environment they can feel good about. Encourage your managers to set a positive tone and example.

One of the reasons I’ll drive out of my way to shop at Lowe’s is the customer experience I have while I’m in the store. For me, Lowe's has become the neighborhood hardware store, where the associate behind the commercial sales counter really does know my name. The customer experience he and his fellow associates provide is friendly, positive and inspiring. 

The Brand Manager in me is especially attuned to the ways in which brands like Lowe's deliver their customer experiences. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a variety of approaches, including the use of “mystery shoppers”, catchy slogans (e.g., “People Pleasing People,” “Easy to do Business With,” etc.), Process Quality Management and Improvement methodologies, customer outreach and appreciation days, and exercises in mapping and analyzing the customer journey.

While each of these approaches can certainly help a brand deliver an improved customer experience, the brands who excel at delivering a superior customer experience know the return on these investments is dependent upon one critical success factor – the degree of ownership your employees assume in delivering the experience. You can have the most engaging “mystery shoppers,” the catchiest slogan, the highest-quality and most customer-focused processes and, unless your employees take full ownership in all aspects of its delivery, your customer experience will fall short of your customers’ expectations.    

Experience Lowe’s.  Find out what it’s like to “build something together” with the folks at your neighborhood hardware store. Then ask yourself what actions you can take to ensure your employees are taking full ownership of delivering your brand’s customer experience.

I recently wrote about summer lifeguards, and the various roles they play in shaping your summertime experience around the water. Whether you’re at the beach, the pool or water park, the lifeguards you encounter are just one group of employees who help define your overall “customer” experience. The other employees you encounter – wait staff, beach attendants, parking attendants, cleaning staff – all have as much influence over your customer experience.

So, the question is…when it comes to your customer experience around the water, which of these employees matters most? The short answer is they all matter. Each and every employee you encounter, from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, has the ability to define your customer experience. Typically, it’s the ones who do something extraordinarily good or bad during your visit that causes them to stand out. Or, maybe it’s the person who greeted you when you arrived. Or it’s the last person you interact with before leaving.

If you’re looking to improve your organization’s customer experience, make sure your employees know how important they are. If just one of them is having an off day, chances are the interaction that one employee provides will do more to define your customer’s experience with your brand than the sum total of all the other interactions your customer has with your staff.

Join NBPCI and The Chief Storyteller for a roll-up-your-sleeves workshop to make your three most important documents unforgettable to prospective government clients. They are your elevator speech, capability statement, and capability presentation. Turn your Big 3 into memorable, powerful packages inspiring prospects to say, “We need you.” 

The event is Tue, June 12, 7:30 - 10:30, The Tower Club, 8000 Towers Crescent Drive, #1700, Vienna, VA 22182.

Detailed information is below...

The Big 3:  How to Grow Your Revenue with a Compelling Elevator Speech, Capabilities Statement, and Capabilities Presentation

Learn how to develop high impact messages with supporting talking points, content, and win themes through easy-to-follow processes. Your program is rich with practical ideas and thought-provoking exercises you can implement immediately.

Bring hardcopies of your Big 3 documents and your laptop, as you’ll be making changes to your documents during the program.

* Special Offer:  For 30 days following the workshop, you are eligible for a free review of one of your Big 3 documents. Each review includes personalized suggestions.

Benefits of Attending
- Learn a powerful, internationally-taught process for developing compelling and engaging sales messages
- Make changes in real-time to each of your core sales tools
- Be inspired with proven, fresh ideas to convert prospects into clients

Your Program Includes:
- 30-page workbook filled with exercises, examples, how-to’s, processes, and templates
- Three, multi-page tip guides
- Free access to over 700 thought-provoking articles, ideas, and tips
- Copy of the presentation in PDF
- A 3-hour hands-on workshop, along with a specific action plan for improving your Big 3

We have secured a special rate just for friends of the The Chief Storyteller. Register today.

About Your Presenter, Ira Koretsky, The Chief Storyteller ®
Ira has been helping companies like yours develop strategic messaging and content management frameworks for over 23 years. He knows how to help you turn your Big 3 into documents getting prospects to say, “We need you.” Ira has delighted audiences around the world turning business stories into revenue. He is a sought-after speaker, consultant, columnist, and trainer. Be inspired with his mantra, “Think deliberately and differently.” Stay engaged with insightful exercises and actionable ideas you can implement immediately.
The Chief Storyteller helped IntelliDyne win a $94 million contract with the Federal government, TCIG quadruple its contracting revenue in six months, professionals at the EPA develop clear and compelling mission statements, and the CDC develop a complete outreach program for an important community health initiative.

Complete biography chiefstoryteller_pdf

“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence”
        The Sound of Silence
         Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel, 1964)


Do the lyrics to this popular song describe your brand’s online presence and its relationship with your customers? Is your brand talking to thousands without speaking? Is it hearing without listening? If it is, the focus of your brand’s communications needs to shift from “you” to “them” because, in an online world where transparency and engagement are increasingly relevant, all customer relationships are personal.

There is nothing new or magic to building mutually satisfying, long-term customer relationships. Think about the personal relationships you have with others.  The relationships that continue to thrive over many years are built on trust and intimacy.  Where talking implies a one-way conversation about you, speaking implies an exchange of views. Where hearing implies an awareness of what was said, listening implies an understanding.

If the goal of your brand’s online communications is simply to sell your brand or your products, then all you’re really doing is talking. While your customers may hear you, over time they will stop listening to what you have to say.  They will stop buying from you and, more importantly, they will end their relationship with your brand.

Start speaking with your customers. Look for ways to engage them – over the phone, on social media or face-to-face. Being in front of customers isn’t just for sales, it’s a requirement for anyone in marketing who truly wants to understand their customers. Start listening to your customers and what they have to say about your brand and its products. Develop a deeper understanding of what people are saying about your brand and why, along with a sense of who your strongest advocates are.

Because when it comes to people, all relationships are personal.

I received my Klout perk in the mail the other day – an envelope filled with ten samples of Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea mix. Lipton describes it as “a refreshingly new tea experience.”

As an influencer, I get first access to the perks that are awarded to me. Brands like Lipton who award Klout perks encourage me to share them with my friends and followers.  If I decide to talk about the perk, Klout asks that I disclose the fact that I received a sample and that I am neither obligated nor receive any benefit for talking about it. My relationship with the brand is completely transparent and I am in complete control of the feedback I provide.

Some traditional marketers might see this as a risky strategy. After all, what does Lipton really know about me? Sure, my Klout score indicates I am an influencer. My influence extends to topics like brand management, crossfit, relationships, health, branding and social media.  What Lipton doesn’t know is what, if anything, I might say about this “refreshingly new tea experience.”

As a social media marketer, I see it as a brilliant strategy for building brand awareness for this new product. The opinions I and other consumers like me share are sincere, genuine and unfiltered. Customer testimonials like ours establish credibility and may even get others in our network to try this “refreshingly new tea experience.” 

From which perspective do you view Klout perks? Write me back to let me know or to find out what I thought of Lipton's Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea mix.

Sales people, from the dawn of time (okay, I'm exaggerating), have received a bad wrap. The best way to sum it up is "used car salesman." Nothing ticks people off more than disengenous sale people who focus on the sale at the expense of the person.It's unfortunate that a few bad apples have spoiled the barrel.

Well, today I received an email from such a person. Here's the original followed by some commentary.  What do you think?


I just tried to call you this AM and I thought an email might be easier for you to respond to. Did you know that last week Maryland became the first state to enact a password privacy protection bill going into effect October 2012?  What does this mean to you and to the hundreds of other government contracts here in Maryland? More Compliance!

How do you manage your business and employees day-to-day when increasing levels of compliance are being requested by the State, OFCCP, DOL, DCAA, IRS, etc?  

Resources such as people and technology can help you manage these complicated pieces of your business and Automatic Data Processing with offices in Rockville can potentially assist you.

Please feel free to extend an invitation to me to visit your office; I would be more than happy to share with you some success stories. I have some time this week before the holiday weekend so please contact me with a good time.  


William LastName
(###) ### - ####


Comments and Suggestions follow:

> Why is my name capitalized? In email William, this is called shouting. Also, where is the punctuation?

I just tried to call you this AM
> Here's the part that really rubbed me the wrong way. No you didn't William. And I know and you know this is manipulative and untrue. Instead, get right to the point which starts with "Did you know."

I thought an email might be easier for you to respond to.
> Bad grammar. And you're presuming you know what is best for me.

Did you know that last week Maryland became the first state to enact a password privacy protection bill going into effect October 2012?  What does this mean to you and to the hundreds of other government contracts here in Maryland? More Compliance!
> Several misspellings/grammar mistakes. Also, did you mean "contractors" vice "contracts?"

Resources such as people and technology can help you manage these complicated pieces of your business and Automatic Data Processing with offices in Rockville can potentially assist you.
> Make "can potentially assist you" active. Improve readability by shortening/rewriting

Please feel free to extend an invitation to me to visit your office
> Passive request...again, convince me you're worth my time.

I would be more than happy to share with you some success stories.
> You missed a huge opportunity here to Wow me with a short success story.

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