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Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
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Guest Bloggers
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I recently made a reservation for an appointment at an Apple Genius Bar. I had been away for a week and noticed my iPhone was running progressively slower as the week wore on. As I was preparing to return home, I decided it was time to have an Apple Genius take a look at it.

When the time of my appointment had arrived, I walked into the Apple store and was greeted by an Apple Genius. With an iPad in hand, he asked me about my iPhone and how he could help. He ran some diagnostics and concluded my iOS 7 operating software needed an upgrade. He backed up my iPhone and then proceeded with the upgrade. After a few moments, he came by to check on my progress.

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I told him the upgrade was complete and that I had decided to upgrade 11 of my apps while I was there, as well. He smiled and encouraged me to take as much time as I needed. When all of the upgrades were complete, I tested the iPhone and its normal speed had returned. I walked over to the Genius Bar technician who had helped me and asked what I owed him. He smiled and said, "Just a good handshake."

While these activities are considered fairly routine and could have been done by me at home, what made my tech support experience with Apple extraordinary is the fact that he never even mentioned it. The Genius simply wanted to help me. There were no excuses, no obstacles and no costs. Where other manufacturers might have provided me with a toll-free tech support number to call, Apple provided me with a personalized in-store tech support experience. Where other manufacturers would have insisted I complete these functions on my own, Apple did them for me. And where others might have asked for a credit card number to bill, Apple merely asked for a handshake.

My interaction with the Apple Genius Bar this week exceeded my expectations in so many ways that it served to deepen my connection with the brand and its technology. Deeper connections differentiate brands and allow them to retain me and other users as loyal customers.

Is the tech support experience your brand is providing like the one I received with Apple, where the extraordinary happens and customer connections are deepened with every interaction? Or, is it like those other experiences I mentioned where the opposite is true? If the answer is like those others, it may be time to think differently about your customer experience.

 

 

There is one day left to register (click here).  Here's the top 10 and a bonus reason why you should register right now and not miss this!

1.  Don't miss the best entrepreneur author and business speaker expected in dc this year,
2.  Unleash your why to inspire, align and resonate with your clients - catapult your growth
3.  Enjoy the great entertainment by business owner and EO member Jim Reznikoff's jazz group "The Rez experience"
4.  Win a chance to get coffee one-on-one WHY TIME with Ridgely before he leaves DC
5.  Get to see behind the scenes at the inspiring and fun Performing Arts Center, The Atlas
6.  Get to know one of the hottest growing DC neighborhoods: the hopping H Street corridor - before the streetcar comes online!
7.  One of the top 50 business books will be being handed out too!
8.  Get $100 worth of free tickets for you and a date to a performing art event in dc - or for you to handoff to your executive team!
9.  Lock in the steepest discount available for the next Ignition Shift event.
10. Join several DC entrepreneur and thought leaders of EO YPO VISTAGE and CEO groups who will be here
and...
11. Meet the handful of business owners flying their teams in from other cities just for this event - they are all growing extremely fast - learn their secrets!

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One of the clearest memories I have of my first summer job at a Howard Johnson's restaurant is of a poster in the service area, where the wait staff typically congregated when not serving customers. The quote on the poster read, "Our customers are the reason for our existence."

I'm sure this poster, or a similar version of it, found its way into a number of other restaurants at the time. It was, after all, nothing new and it was actually a simple way of reminding employees of the importance of serving customers in a way that was friendly and polite.

Although it's been a few years since I've waited tables, I've learned serving customers well entails more than providing friendly and polite service. Brands who serve customers extraordinarily well don't need simple reminders, either. You see, serving customers is in their DNA. It's instinctive and it happens naturally. Brands (and people) who serve others well have a genuine interest in helping others. In fact, I would make the argument that the desire to serve others is the foundation of a great customer experience.

In a few weeks, I will be departing for my third WorkCamp with the faith-based organization I belong to. There, I will manage a week-long service project where a team of high school youths will be making repairs and other improvements to the home of a resident who could use a helping hand or two. Although the working conditions may be less than ideal, none of us will complain. And the only pay we'll receive for our work that week will be the immense satisfaction that comes from knowing we made a difference by serving someone in need.

Many of the teens who participate in WorkCamp come back year after year, for as long as they are eligible. Why? Because serving others is in their DNA. They genuinely want to make a difference. They enjoy providing others with an uplifting and memorable experience.

Now, imagine these are the people serving your customers. What do you suppose your customers might say or write about their experience with your brand? 

For more on the importance of serving others, please see:
How a Chance Encounter Became a Magic Moment
Working Together to Accomplish the Extraordinary
Your Brand and the Community It Serves

As a business leader, you know how important it is to have alignment between your team, staff, and your vision. The alignment comes from truly understanding the "Why." And the challenge is to turn your vision into specific steps your team can take to discover, understand, and unleash the power of your why to make your business grow. You have to get your whole team rowing the boat in the same direction at the same time.

Simon Sinek (FaceBook) (TED presentation) talks about Learning your Why. How would you like to experience your own "Why" discovery?

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Next Wed, on June 18th (register here), one of the best entrepreneurial minds and authors, Ridgely Goldsborough, is joining us for a one night only IgnitionShift event with the tools, exercises, and direct coaching we guarantee will drive you and your executive team to:

a) Discover your "why" -- your passion for what you do and why you do it
b) Understand how your "why" can catapult your business forward in specific ways
c) Align your team and get the right people in the right seats based on their "why"
d) Connect on a powerful level with your clients and your marketplace

Join fellow high growth CEOs from Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), Young President's Organization (YPO), and other regional leaders - along with their executive teams - for this one time only experience.

* Learn how to dramatically stand out from your competition.

** Sponsors will be providing door prizes and give-aways. The first 50 guests to arrive will receive a special gift. **

Register for the event before it fills up! Grab space for you and your team today! Early bird rate ends tomorrow, June 11.

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IgnitionShift is my (along with fellow charter members) ongoing event series and educational platform for high-growth companies.

On June 1st, Timothy D. Sands took office as the 16th president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (more commonly known as Virginia Tech). In a recent discussion about faculty promotion and tenure, he spoke of the importance of patents and other signs of innovation and entrepreneurship. He cited these as "evidence of impact," which he defined as "how that work changes the marketplace, how it changes the technology, and how [it enables] people to do things they couldn't do before."

It's easy to see how this notion concerning "evidence of impact" can be applied to marketers. For example, if you've spent the last few years researching, developing and implementing your organization's new marketing strategy, what evidence of impact can you provide? How have you changed the marketplace? How have you changed the way technology is used in your industry? How are you enabling your customers to do things they couldn't do before? Are you inventing the future or are you just following everyone else?

The answers to these questions are potential game changers. They look beyond more traditional measures of sales and revenue growth, profitability and ROI. They are what differentiates market leaders from their competitors.

As I have said before, activity is interesting, results matter. It may be time to look at your results and what lies beyond them. What evidence of impact can you provide?

As a speaker, I have a very high bar before I recommend other speakers. Ridgely, without question, exceeds the bar. He's personal, insightful, warm, and an expert at what he does. I had the pleasure of being in Ridgely's program several months ago sponsored by Entrepreneur's Organization in Baltimore (Ridgely's bio is below).

We were able to get him to come to the Washington, DC area to present his "Unleash the Power of Your Why" on Wednesday, June 18, 4:30 to 8:30, in Washington, DC.

Join us for an entertaining and transformational workshop where you will:

- Discover your WHY in an interactive format—yes, you will learn the exact process you can apply at home and at the office
- Create WHY-based messaging for your marketing
- Learn how neuro-science drives behavior and how you can use that in your personal life as well as your business
- Use your WHY to build an inspired organization—a WHY-focused organization
- Know how your WHY can drive the culture of your company

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Click to register. The event is hosted by IgnitionShift. This is my (along with fellow charter members) ongoing event series and educational platform for high-growth companies.

 

altAbout Ridgely Goldsborough

Author and international speaker, Ridgely Goldsborough, known in the Latino market as Richeli, has spent the last 20 years as an expert in personal growth and development. Much like Napoleon Hill did in the early part of the last century, Ridgely has interviewed titans of business and industry in person, for his television show and on the radio. Based on the principles learned from these interviews and his own personal journey, Ridgely continues to write books and create audio and video programs to help us all on our journey to success.

In Business
- Started his first enterprise at the age of 16. In the past three decades, he has created 36 companies, with 400 employees in 35 countries.
- Founded, as the publisher, Network Marketing Lifestyles, the first ever four-color glossy magazine distributed on the newsstands for the industry of direct sales and multilevel marketing, in addition to three other magazines.
- Continues to develop various businesses in a diverse array of industries, with a passion for personal growth, particularly in the Latin market.

As a Writer
- Written nine books, including The Great Ones, The Power of Belief, Masters of Success, Skinny, Happy and Rich and four others.
- Shares his columns and inspirational articles, in English and Spanish, on over 30,000 websites.
- Created over 60 audio programs on personal and professional development.

As a Speaker
- In the last twenty years, Ridgely has given thousands of presentations on motivation, personal and professional development and business education, on five continents, in both English and Spanish.
- Conducted well over 100 interviews with titans of industry on the themes of success, prosperity and wealth accumulation.

Radio and Television
- Created 50+ inspirational and educational programs entitled A View From The Ridge that played on the radio across the Midwestern United States.
- Created his own television program, Modest To Millions based on interviews of successful business men and women who shared their keys to prosperity and wealth.

In Summary
If you are looking for a first class speaker with years of experience in both the English and Spanish markets, who entertains, motivates and educates all at the same time—and who is one of the world’s premiere experts in personal growth, prosperity and wealth accumulation, contact us today to book Ridgely for your next event!

Ridgely splits his time between Latin America and Pensacola, Florida, where he lives with his wife Kathy and their four children.

 

Brokerage firm E.F. Hutton was best known in the 1970's and '80s by the advertising tag line, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen." Their television commercials typically involved a conversation between two people. When one of them mentioned his broker was E.F. Hutton, the others around them would suddenly stop what they were doing and listen intently to the one who was talking.

If you are talking on social media, are people listening? Do you have "E.F. Hutton" credibility among your community of followers? Are you posting content on social media networks like Twitter and Facebook that people are acting on? How do you know?

One way to tell is by measuring your Klout. Klout is an online measure of your brand's social media influence. It measures influence based on your ability to drive action. The more influential you are, the higher your Klout score (as of June 2013, the average Klout score was 40).

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Why is online social media influence important?

As you may recall from the E.F. Hutton television commercials of 30 years ago, the market landscape included so many competing sources of financial advice that it was often difficult to break through the noise. The same is true of today's highly competitive content marketplace. Even if your content is amazing, it won't have an impact if no one is listening.

For other insights on Klout and how you can increase your brand's online influence, please see:
Why a Good Social Media Marketing Strategy Includes Content and Engagement
5 Insights for Marketing Your Brand On Social Media
Does Your Brand Have Klout?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My #FirstTweet

Everybody has to start somewhere.

I reached a few social media milestones last week and it got me thinking about my own start on Twitter. When did I send my first tweet? What did I say? Was anyone even listening?

Luckily for me, the good folks at Twitter recently launched a website, called 'first-tweets.com', that lets users search for their own (or others') first tweet. Turns out, my first tweet was sent on December 30, 2009 and it was a New Year's wish acknowledging the previous year and decade.

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Over 5,500 tweets and 3,900 followers later, I've come a long way. I guess someone was listening, after all. My active social media accounts now include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare, Snapchat, Klout and Kred. More importantly, my social network consists of thousands of followers, professional connections and friends who I've had the privilege of sharing some really great content with since December 2009.

These last four years have been a period of rapid growth for me and my personal brand. My Twitter community has grown at an annual rate of 46%. My online social influence, as you might expect, has also seen tremendous growth. Kred, a tool that measures social media influence, now ranks me in the top 5% of influential social media users in the Global Kred community (i.e., all of Twitter). 

It's been an exciting time for me and I've enjoyed the ride. If you're not on the social media bandwagon, why not climb aboard and join me for the rest of the ride? If the past is any indication, it's going to be a fast one!

For some of my earliest blogs on social media, please see:
Social Media – Are You Connected?
Are You Embracing Social Media?
Business Storytelling for Social Media
Make Your Personal Brand Stand Out in LinkedIn
• Extend Your Brand's Reach with Twitter

I've spent the majority of my professional career in technology sales, where I've worked with some of the best salespeople I have ever met. We sold premium telecommunications products and services in some tough markets. Our newly deregulated markets were characterized by intense competition from new entrants, a steady stream of emerging technologies, a changing distribution model, industry consolidation and continued governmental and investor oversight.

No doubt, we had our ups and downs. While there were some "lean" years (i.e., weak markets), our focus never waivered. We were a quarter-to-quarter business and our objective was to grow market share in a profitable way. And we were successful. When I left Avaya, we were the market leader in inbound contact center solutions and ranked among the top three in IP Telephony.

What powered our success?

Let me offer a few personal insights from my experience:

Create Value
As a senior account manager, my role was to create value for my client's business. More often than not, I did this by showing how the products and services I was selling could help my clients achieve one or more of their top business objectives. As an example, instead of positioning our contact center management solutions as a commoditized product that could be purchased at a discount, I focused on how I could help my clients improve their customer experience by achieving first-call resolution in a cost-effective way.

Advise and Consult
A key element of the consultative sales experience was to provide customers with new ideas for enabling their personal and professional success. Clients wanted ideas on how to avoid risk, save money, increase productivity and grow market share. Our conferencing and collaboration solutions allowed a client to accomplish all four of these goals, with reliable technology that enabled employees from around the globe to make real-time decisions on new customer acquisition strategies.

Offer Solutions
We live in a world where information is readily available and clients complete more than half of their buying experiences online before they even meet with a sales representative. Today's clients are more interested in best of breed, multi-vendor solutions than a single vendor platform. Collaborating with trusted partners and bringing them together on behalf of the client to form a seamless, interoperable solution to address a pressing business challenge helped to differentiate me as a problem-solver.

If there is a point to this story, it's that creating value, providing your customer with a consultative sales experience and collaborating with partners to offer solutions will help you grow your market share in a way that is profitable. In fact, some of my largest sales were for "business solutions" that carried higher price points (and margins) than what my competitors perceived as comparable offers.

For more on winning sales strategies and tactics, please see:
How Social Media Is Changing the Way We Sell
If You're Selling, Are You Showing or Telling?
If You're in Sales, Tell Me Something I Don't Know
What Makes Your Company Different?
"Refrigerator Rights" and Why Organizations Value Them

In my last post, you may recall my mentioning the findings of a recent e-commerce study by predictive analytics firm Custora.

 

It was largely a good news story for email.

 

Customer acquisition via email has quadrupled over the last four years. Email marketing is a growing trend in e-commerce and customers acquired through the email channel have a higher Customer Lifetime Value than those acquired through most other channels.

 

If your brand is looking to acquire new customers through the email channel, here are some tips for optimizing your e-commerce strategy:

1. Make it to the recipient's inbox.
In the sales world, this is the equivalent of "earning a seat at the table." Avoid spam triggers in your subject line. Target customer segments and buying patterns.

2. Get opened.
In a March 2013 Customer Experience Survey by Kentico, 48% of participants listed email as their preferred form of communication with a brand. Use a familiar, recognizable name in your return email address. Make sure your subject line is relevant to the needs and concerns of your target audience. Include an eye-catching image in the body of your email.

3. Give the recipient a compelling reason to act.
Create a call to action. Provide the recipient with 3-5 reasons to click through the link(s) in your email. Add social share buttons for increased click-through-rates (CTRs).

4. Make it easy to read from a mobile device.
Data shared by Litmus during Marketing Sherpa's 2014 Email Summit indicate that close to half of all emails are opened on a mobile device (i.e., smartphones and tablets). Use simple and short subject lines. Reduce copy to accommodate reduced screen real estate.

5. Invest equally in other elements of the customer's purchase journey.
Google research tells us 90% of consumers have mult-screen brand experiences. Provide your customers with a brand experience that is at once seamless and specific to the nature of the device they are using. Examine it from the mobile user's perspective. Optimize the entire path to purchase, from the landing page through the shopping cart.

Done right, email marketing can be one of the most valuable tools in your e-commerce strategy. What other ideas do you have for optimizing your strategy?

 

If you're like me, you unlikely suffer from email overload. Multiple email accounts (I have 4) across multiple devices (I have 5, including an iPad and an iPhone) and not enough hours in a day to actually read all of the emails I do receive. It would be easy to conclude from what I've just told you that email, as a marketing channel, is no longer an effective way to acquire and retain customers like me.

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Not so fast. 

As I was researching material for an upcoming guest lecture I'm going to be giving on digital marketing, I discovered evidence to suggest the opposite may be true. Here's why...

"...research shows old-fashioned email is still far more effective than social media in attracting customers to your business online."
     - Forbes, 'Why Email Is Still More Effective Than Social Media Marketing,' October, 1, 2013

"Email subscribers can also deliver something that traditional websites and social media struggle with: loyalty."
     - Adweek, 'Don't Count Out Email Newsletters,' April 15, 2014

A 2013 e-commerce study by predictive analytics firm Custora found that customer acquisition via email has quadrupled over the last 4 years. Email marketing is a growing trend in e-commerce, with increasing numbers of retailers building communities, collecting email addresses and converting email subscribers to customers. The study also found the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) from customers who arrive through the email channel is 12% higher than average.

If you're a marketer, be sure to include email in your marketing mix. And visit us again next week when I share some tips with you for optimizing your email marketing strategy.

I've spent a good portion of my sales and marketing career on the front lines of a handful of successful rebrands – post-divestiture AT&T in 1984, spin-off Lucent Technologies in 1996 and start-up Avaya in 2000.

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My job was to maintain our momentum in the market (i.e., achieving sales growth and profitability targets) while helping customers to understand the impact of the rebrands (e.g., new name, brand promise, values, message and image) on them. Customer feedback varied and opinions were strong, as you might expect when a brand whose heritage spans more than a century of innovation and reliability undergoes a change so significant it requires a corporate rebrand on three occasions during a 16-year period.

The key to my individual success – and the success of these rebrands – was an extraordinarily high level of employee engagement across the business. Employee videos and TV ads, like AT&T's futuristic "You Will" campaign in the early 90's, brought the new AT&T brand to life and gave us a glimpse into a future filled with the promise of innovation. They inspired us to believe in what was possible. The integration of the new Lucent brand into our onboarding and training processes helped transform us into passionate brand advocates and evangelists. And volunteering along with 250 other Avaya employees in community service projects like the cleanup and restoration of City Park in New Orleans, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, gave us a sense of purpose.

These rebrands succeeded because senior management had the foresight to engage us often and early. They shared ownership of the rebranding processes with us and made sure we were emotionally invested in their outcomes. In short, they "sold" us on the new brands so we could confidently and articulately "sell" them to our customers and the communities we served.

For more on the importance of employee engagement in your organization, please see:
How to Lead Change In Your Organization
One Team, One Goal
What Makes Your Company a Best Place to Work?

Howard Schultz, the Chairman and CEO of Starbuck's, once said "The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart."

I added a Pin that included this quote to the 'Brands I Love' board on my Pinterest account a few months ago. Since then, I've garnered 8 likes and over 50 repins.

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The Pin, which featured an inspirational message about life, provides us with a simple illustration of how branding often imitates life. As in life, we are drawn to brands that are sincere and authentic. Powerful and enduring brands, like people, are not simply imitators content to blend in with the crowd. They stand out. They differentiate themselves through innovation.

If you want to build a powerful and enduring brand, stop trying to find yourself. Start creating. And do it from the heart.

Since I was a little kid, I can remember fondly playing Monopoly over the years with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Every time. Every time there was a twist on the rules. If I was a gambling man, I would hazard a guess that I never followed Monopoloy's written rules.

When I learned that Hasbro is revitalizing the Monopoly brand through a clever social media campaign, I read with interest. Hasbro created a Facebook page where anyone can post and vote on their favorite "house rules." These are rules made up by individuals to suit personal styles of play. The top house rules will become part of the next official rules.

With "more than 6bn little green houses and 2.25bn red hotels 'constructed' since 1935" and "more than one billion people" playing the game, the giant in the board game industry is breathing new life into its product.

Leveraging social media and word-of-mouth is a brilliant idea. Social media is built for this kind of outreach. Here is the request, the call-to-action from Hasbro. It's simple, short, and spurs action.

We all know there are many ways to play Monopoly…and they’re not always according to the rule book. Here’s your chance to see your favorite house rule become a part of the Monopoly game! The top global house rules are up for debate over the next ten days.

State your case to Mr. Monopoly for why this house rule should be added!

As of time of publishing this blog post, the Monopoly Facebook page has over 11 million likes with nearly 21,000 people "talking about this." There are quite a few adamant fans, the purists, touting the joy of following the rules. And many, many more sharing their love of the game with a variety of house rules.

What creativity can you bring to a product or service that is perhaps lagging, peaking, or not meeting expectations?

 

Here are a few of my favorite comments:

I have helped Mr.Monopoly enough I bought 52 different monopoly boards over the years !! And I want the new 75 anniversary edition of {The Wizzard Of Oz}

I've occasionally deliberately chosen someone's favorite token just to disorient them and throw them off their game. (Ira's note:  does the token really matter that much?)

You are my #1 most favorite bored game from when I was little till now. Don't ever change. Love u

One other rule that we thought was a rule but it isn't (and should be) is that when you are in jail, you cannot collect any rent. Otherwise, there is too much incentive late in the game to stay in jail to avoid paying rent, while collecting it yourself.

Here are a few of my favorite house rules:

Land on go collect $400.00 instead of $200.00. But if you pass go but do not land on it just collect the usual $200.00 (Ira's note: I play this way)

Land on a train station, you may pay the owner of the station 50.00 to ride to the opposite station. If it is not owned you may ride for free. If you own the station you may ride for free. This helps players avoid Mayfair and or other hotel heavy sections of the board.

$500 dollars from the bank is placed in Free Parking after anyone lands on it.

If someone lands on a property you own, YOU must ask for the rent. Otherwise, no rent is owed once the dice are rolled again.

1) When owning both utilities, you could put one house on each to represent a power station, and then the rates went up to 15 or 20 times what was shown on the dice
2) A house got put on jail, representing the jailhouse, and increased the cost for getting out of jail to $100.
3) When you own all 4 railroads, you could put a single house each to represent a train station. This would double the cost of rent when you landed on it to $400 instead of $200

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Spring is here.

In my suburban neighborhood, homeowners are turning their thoughts toward their yards. Thatching, fertilizing, edging and Spring planting are all seasonal maintenance activities required for greener lawns, vibrant flower gardens and attractive landscapes. Anyone who has ever had a yard will tell you these results don't just happen; they require constant effort and regular upkeep.

Spring is also a great time to think about your professional network.

Our professional networks require regular upkeep, too. In the absence of regular nurturing, connections grow old and relationships fade away. Now is a great time to revitalize your network with some basic maintenance activities. Consider attending professional seminars, college alumni events and other business networking opportunities. Connect with new colleagues on LinkedIn, endorse or recommend existing connections on LinkedIn, reach out to old friends on Facebook, engage like-minded people on Twitter, start or comment on a discussion of professional interest in LinkedIn, volunteer in your community, and review your social networking profiles (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) to ensure your personal brand is fresh, consistent and relevant.

It's Spring. It's time to get out there and network.

About this time last year, I wrote a post on brands with low customer retention and the likely causes of it. I used a then-recent experience I had with my purchase of landscaping mulch to illustrate the importance of differentiation in selling a commoditized, low-interest product.

Earlier this year, I received a personalized email from my mulch supplier asking me to consider another purchase. The email included a chart that showed what I purchased last year and how much it would cost me to purchase the same quantity this year. It mentioned nothing about the scores of other mulch suppliers in my neighborhood or how their prices compared. Instead, it spoke to the things that mattered to me: a simple order process, easy payment terms, an early and convenient delivery.

I share this story because it is a telling example of how great branding and sales strategies intersect. Every great sales pitch begins with a clear and compelling brand promise…a brand promise that differentiates and communicates real value: "simple, easy, early and convenient." My mulch supplier’s brand promise is what makes their mulch special and worth paying more for.

Brands who lack differentiation and whose products are viewed as a commodity are forced to compete on price. Without the brand promise I just mentioned, the email I received from my mulch supplier might have included a chart that compared their price to those of one or more other suppliers (which would have invited me to shop around for a lower price). It might not have included information on last year’s purchase and how that equated to this year’s (which would have made it harder for me to make a buy decision). And it might have come from someone I didn’t know and trust (which would have decreased the likelihood of my opening and reading the email in the first place).

What makes you and your products different? How effective are your brand’s sales pitches against those of your competitors?

For more branding and sales insights, please see:
Great Brands Really Are…Different
If You’re Selling, Are You Showing or Telling?
If You’re In Sales, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
What Makes Your Company Different?
How to Tell the Difference Between Sales and Marketing

I attended a roundtable for senior marketing executives recently that featured a panel of social media thought leaders. The roundtable was appropriately titled, "Social Media Outlook 2014," and the keynote speaker and panelists shared their insights on the latest marketing and social media trends.

Among the insights that were shared...  
• The collaborative economy is not just buying and selling, it's sharing (@rohitbhargava).
• Brands must think of themselves as "H2H," rather than B2B or B2C (@LeighGeorge).

The panelists spent much of the early part of the discussion talking about Snapchat – the next big thing in social media marketing. Snapchat is a new way to share. As Snapchat will tell you, "It's about the moment, a connection between friends in the present, and not just a pretty picture."

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We learned from Leigh George, VP/Digital Strategist with Ogilvy Washington, that Snapchat provides a way for brands to share previews, behind-the-scenes stories and more intimate moments with their target audiences. A recent article in Ad Age talked about how brands like McDonald's, Taco Bell, HBO and Juicy Couture are reaching Millennials by connecting short-lived images and video clips to form and tell larger stories.

The economy is evolving and social media marketing is changing with it. Is your brand up to the challenge of storytelling in the collaborative economy?

I read a fascinating article in "Inc." magazine this week. The article, "The Real Test of a Great Brand," is authored by Erik Sherman and invites us to consider the importance of the employer-employee relationship in branding strategy.

He goes on to say that while the brand's relationship with customers is important, the more subtle relationship between a brand and its employees is equally important. I don't disagree.

In fact, you may remember a post I wrote in 2012 where I told readers the brand promise is for non-customers, too. Erik Sherman reminds us, "If you can't satisfy your employees, on whom the entire business rests and moves, how are you going to satisfy your customers?" Your employees, after all, are among a group of non-customers who have a close, ongoing relationship with your brand. What they think matters. They have the ability to influence your brand's reputation through online employer review sites like Glassdoor, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and word of mouth.

Your employees play a leading role in shaping your brand and its reputation. When the employer-employee relationship is strong, employees are invested in the success of the company and are passionate about promoting the brand to their friends, family members and customers. They take pride in delighting their customers. And they will say good things about your brand!

More and more, I find myself looking online for a glimpse into others' experiences with brands I am considering. If I were to search online, what would your employees tell me about your brand? Is it a brand they would recommend to others? More importantly, is it a great brand?

For more on the role of employees in shaping a great brand, please see:
Great Brands Really Are...Different
When Was the Last Time Your Employees Had Fun at Work?
100 Different Success Stories from Fortune Magazine
What Makes Your Company a "Best Place to Work"?
Brand Loyalty Begins at Home...With Your Employees

My wife and I recently ordered a surprise Valentine’s Day delivery of cookies for our son who is away at college. Not surprisinlgly, he told us the warm cookies he received were “great!” What did surprise me, however, was the amazing customer experience I had with Campus Cookies in spite of a heavy snowfall that threatened to delay their Valentine's Day deliveries.

 

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Customer experiences like the one I had with Campus Cookies don't just happen. Let's look at some of the elements that make them.

Solution: 
You need more than an outstanding product. You need a solution. For Valentine's Day, my wife and I wanted to do something special for my son who is away at college. We wanted to put a smile on his face. And because of the distance between us, we were looking for a way to deliver a personalized experience that did not require us to be there. We found a solution with Campus Cookies, a small business specializing in the delivery of warm, gourmet baked goods to college campuses like his.    

Communications: 
Your communications need to be personalized, timely and relevant. The first emails I received about my gift order on Valentine's Day were from the owner of Campus Cookies, Scott Davidson. He was writing to let me know that because of the heavy snow that had fallen, there was a possibility of a delayed delivery, even in spite of their best efforts. I continued to receive email and text updates on the status of my order throughout the afternoon. As the sun began to set, I received an email telling me my order had been scheduled for an evening delivery and the team would bake the cookies right before they were delivered. I received another email after that confirming my order had been completed.

Cost: 
Costs vary and positioning yourself as the low cost provider is not always the best approach. I can get chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies almost anywhere…and probably for less. What makes Campus Cookies special and worth paying more for is they are "baked with love and sent from the heart." The text message I received as the driver was heading out to deliver my gift order read, "Duane, Your order was prepared by Chandler, Erin, Chloe, Kevin, Caitlyn and Austin, and is now on the way to your recipient with our delivery driver, Alec." Awesome!

Convenience: 
Everything about the Campus Cookies experience is designed around customer convenience. Delivery times are scheduled in advance at the convenience of the recipient, so when the cookies arrive they taste like they just came out of the oven. They are delivered warm and with a smile. Orders can be placed anytime, anywhere and from any device. Communications are timely and relevant and are also accessible from any device.

If you look closely at each of these elements, you might notice a secret ingredient...people. Every great customer experience starts with people. While the CEO or owner is responsible for creating a culture that enables his or her employees to deliver an amazing customer experience, it's a team effort by people who are passionate about their business and who take pride in delighting their customers. Successful brands like Campus Cookies know relationships with their customers are important and go the extra mile to build and sustain those relationships.

How would your customers characterize your brand’s personality? Is it corporate, formal, standoffish and perhaps a little too impersonal? Or is it casual, friendly, engaging and human?  If you were to ask your customers to use pictures to describe your brand’s personality, which images would come to mind?

Your brand communications – direct mail, email, website, blog and social media posts, advertising, sales pitches, job ads, etc. – are all windows into your brand’s personality. Your personality is what sets your brand apart from others in your market or industry. It’s why people choose and remain with your brand.  It plays a role in how people perceive your brand and its reputation. And it’s a foundational element in building trust and a community of passionate brand advocates.

Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your brand communications. Is the content original, relevant, engaging and friendly? Is it from a recognizable person within your organization or a generic title or department? Do your blogs and social media posts include an image of a person’s face (with a smile, hopefully) or corporate logo? Are your communications one-way or interactive? Are your customers telling others about your brand and, if so, what are they saying?

For more on brand communications and personality, please see:
• Great Brands Really Are…Different
• Just Having Fun In My Lifetime
• How Human Is Your Brand?
• Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?
• Your Tone and Voice Are Your Brand

If you unfamiliar with Tripp and Tyler, they "are a sketch comedy duo most known for their hilarious and viral YouTube videos" (website link). Leadercast, a business leadership event and information company, "commissioned the comedy duo of Tripp & Tyler to create this hilarious take on a conference call in real life" (blog link).

I agree 1000% that the video (YouTube, A Conference Call in Real Life) is hilarous and captures the very real essence of bad telephone conference calls. Where the video becomes disconnected, and consequently the message, is at the ~3:30 minute mark. Once the conference call is over, the video transitions to Tripp talking about the Leadercast annual leadership event.

The video should transition and make it abundantly clear the connection between the good natured fun of mocking the conference call and the annual event, which Tripp has hosted for the past five years.

One sentence...just one sentence would have made it clear. I was confused. As such, I clicked on the Leadercast website link, and explored. Did I do what the Leadercast marketing team wanted me to do? Nope. It has to be more than just click a link. It has to be more than just going viral (5,246,688 views in ~3 weeks). It has to be about generating action, generating activity by your target audiences with the information provided--a call, a request, an email, signup, something.

Do you think video was effective?

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Social media is changing the way we sell.

As most of you know, I am an avid Twitter user (@duanebailey). Last week, I added a handful of new followers to my Twitter community. In a short time, one of those new connections decided to follow me back. In most cases, the engagement would have ended there. In fact, many of the direct messages I receive (and send) in acknowledgement of new followers are pre-set auto replies sent from apps like HootSuite.

This time would be different, though. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my new connection was busy doing her homework. She reviewed my Twitter bio, which includes a link to my LinkedIn profile. Once on my LinkedIn profile, she was able to see the companies I work for, what I do for them and what I have achieved.

And then, the following exchange occurred …

What just happened?

Aileen just made a cold call to someone who looked like a good prospect. The entire process – lead identification, qualification and engagement – occurred over social media. No phone call or voice message. No email. Just a simple, personalized and friendly interaction at a nominal cost.

And while she wasn’t able to close the sale this time, she did end our conversation on a positive note. I was so impressed with the way she handled this interaction I invited her to join my professional network by connecting with me on LinkedIn, as well. Who knows? We may yet have an opportunity to work together in the future.

I tweeted this quote by American humorist Will Rogers the other day: “People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.”

If you’re selling (and, if you really think about it, we’re all selling something), this quote speaks to what it takes to close the deal among an increasingly skeptical and informed buying audience. Most people I know say they don’t want to be “sold” on something; they want to see how a decision to buy is going to impact their lives, the lives of others around them or their business. They want to see proof that what you are telling them is going to happen. And they want to feel good about their decision to buy.

As you are crafting your sales strategy, look beyond the message (the “tell”) and focus on the proof (the “show”). Tell your story with endorsements, testimonials, facts and figures, and images and videos that let your customers see for themselves. Give them a reason to believe in you and what you are selling. Doing so just might make the difference between a hard sell and an easy one or a short and costly customer relationship versus a long and profitable one.

Sustainability marketing is fast becoming a business best practice.

With its focus on social justice, economic prosperity and environmental protection, sustainability is really all about addressing the needs of people, profits and planet. Sustainability marketing, when done right, is a holistic marketing strategy that enables a brand to do good things for people in the community, make a profit, save people money and reduce environmental footprints.

Yet some brands pursue sustainability strategies with a singular focus on the environment. Their marketing strategy is built around products that are green, a premium pricing strategy for green products, promotional events that bring people together in support of the environment and distribution channels that meet green certifications and standards equivalent to the brand's.

Green marketing is a niche strategy. Its appeal is limited to a targeted segment of the population consisting of active environmental stewards. Sustainability marketing is a broader strategy. With a more holistic focus on people, profits and planet, it is more likely to appeal to a wider, larger group. Millenials, as an example, will have enough buying power to become the largest U.S. consumer group by 2017. The millennial generation understands and values lifestyle choices that enable them to help others, save money and reduce their environmental footprint.

Brands that recognize the big picture and pursue a sustainability marketing strategy are likely to see larger growth opportunities than those that limit themselves to a smaller niche.

For more insights on sustainability marketing, please see:
• Sustainability Marketing: Driving Change with the Right Message
• How Doing One Good Thing Is Making a Difference
• Beyond Green: The Transformative Nature of Sustainability

While doing some searching on the Internet, I came across an article on public speaking. The speaker said early in every presentation, he tells people

“This presentation is for you. So don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions. In fact I encourage you to argue with me.  I’m here for you. In fact, I challenge you to throw me off.  That’s what makes this fun.”

While his intent is positive, how I could not DISAGREE more with most of what he said. Sentence by sentence, here are my comments and suggestions:
a) This presentation is for you
> I like it

b) “So” don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions.
> “So” is a filler word. It is one thing to say it and another to write it. Don’t include it in your writing. One thing to note, “so” is one of my filler words and I continue to work on removing it from my speaking

c) “don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions”
> “interrupt” is a negative word, 1,000%. It means to stop someone from doing what they were doing. No one likes to be interrupted.
> instead, say something like, “don’t hesitate to ask questions” or make it more positive by saying, “please ask questions at any time.”

d) In fact I encourage you to argue with me.
> Really, you want people to argue with you? In public? In front of everyone else in the room? In front of your superiors, colleagues, friends?
> I find this statement illogical. Can you think of any time in your personal or professional life you wanted to be sitting next to or standing next to two people arguing? People run from conflict…it’s human nature.
> Part of his audience are global professionals. There is a huge disconnect here as global audience members never ever, never ever, challenge the speaker.
> Make people feel good about interacting with you, the speaker. Perhaps something like, “if you have experiences different than what I am talking about, please share them. Different perspectives are helpful to everyone.”

e) I’m here for you
> It’s okay

f) In fact, I challenge you to throw me off.
> see comments under (d)

Here’s my suggestion for a revised introduction.

“This presentation is for you. Please ask questions at any time…don’t hesitate. If you have experiences different than what I am talking about, please share them. Different perspectives are helpful to everyone. Hearing from you is what makes this fun.”

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year 2014

Everyone at The Chief Storyteller® wishes you a warm, safe, and relaxing holiday season. Here's a little humor we shared years ago with our first holiday greeting card.

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My high school-aged son recently sold me on the idea of upgrading the OEM factory stereo system  in my Jeep Wrangler. It was time, he reasoned, for a more technologically advanced in-vehicle entertainment system.

So we went over to the local Best Buy to learn more about our options.  We quickly learned there were many choices available to us: Bluetooth and iPod/iPhone compatibility, CD player, Sirius XM radio, as well as larger and more powerful speakers for the overhead sound bar.  We spoke to the store’s Geek Squad technicians, who Best Buy subcontracts to provide in-store mobile electronics installation for their customers.  We left that day with a mountain of information to consider and a decision to simply think it over.

Two weeks later, at my son’s prompting, we returned to the store.  While we still had not made a decision on which components we would purchase, we started with the installation team to inquire about their availability. When they said they could do it that afternoon, we knew it was time to decide. Sensing our consternation over which components to buy, Rafil (who would be our installation technician) brought us into the store and helped us choose the right ones for our Jeep. As it turned out, Rafil was a previous Jeep owner and had performed similar work on his and other Jeeps. We could tell this guy loved working on Jeeps!

His advice was invaluable. His prior experience with Jeeps and his role as a technical expert helped us to perceive him as someone who cared more about setting us up with something that rocked and less about making a sale. The installation was flawless and his post-installation follow-up helped to familiarize us with the operation of our new in-vehicle entertainment system.

In short, our customer experience with Best Buy was amazing! What made it so was trust – our trust in Rafil’s expertise and integrity, our trust in the quality of Best Buy’s products and services, and our trust in Best Buy's brand reputation for customer satisfaction.

Trust…it’s the stuff of great customer experiences. What is your brand doing to earn your customers' trust?

A good friend of mine recently told me about an executive in his company who would nary utter a holiday greeting before leaving the office for the holiday break.  She would simply slip out the door when the time came to leave. No good bye. No holiday greeting. Not one word. This went on for three consecutive years before he started to realize perhaps she knew not what to say.

After all, he thought, the holidays mean different things to different people. Surely, in this age of political correctness, she did not wish to offend anyone. Fortunately, there is a holiday greeting that is as timeless as the ages and as universal as the world in which we live. Like most holiday greetings, it consists of two simple words: 

So before you leave the office for the holidays this year, be sure to spread some holiday cheer. Take a moment to say “thank you” to each and every one of your employees, your business partners, your vendors and your customers. Let them know how much you appreciate them…for their hard work, for their role in your success and for their loyalty. Your holiday greeting could be the two most meaningful words they’ve heard from you all year long.

Thank you.

I happened to catch a performance of "A Christmas Carol" the other night at The Little Theater of Alexandria.

While this year marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens' famous novella, I was struck by the profoundness of these words from Director Rebecca Patton regarding the evening's performance: "The more things change, the more they stay the same!"

The play began with people from Ebeneezer Scrooge's community milling about on a London street during the early Victorian era. They were talking about Mr. Scrooge, his cold and selfish ways, and his counting business. As the next scene unfolded in the office of Scrooge and Marley, it was apparent Mr. Scrooge was unaware of or could care less about what people were saying. What they were talking about, however, undoubtedly had an obvious impact on the reputation of Mr. Scrooge and his brand.

If this story were to unfold today, people would still be talking about these same things. What would change are the media over which these conversations are taking place. Sure, people would be talking in the streets. They would also be talking over social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and online review sites. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

When people talk on social media, their conversations are amplified. They have greater reach. And what they are saying has greater influence on brand reputations and purchase decisions than anything a brand might say on its own.

Yet there are brands who, like Mr. Scrooge, are seemingly unaware of or could care less about what people are saying about them on social media. They hold steadfast to the outdated maxims of traditional marketing (where communications are one-way and initiated by the brand) and are reticient to embrace the power of social media marketing (where conversations are two-way, interactive and engaging).

As we saw in "A Christmas Carol," it was not too late for Mr. Scrooge to change his ways. Perhaps this year, some of these brands will have an epiphany like Mr. Scrooge's – maybe from the 'ghosts of marketing past, present and future' – and will discover the power of social media marketing. It's not too late for them to change, either.

For more insights on marketing and leadership lessons we can draw from the holiday classics, please see:
•  Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
•  What Ebeneezer Scrooge Would Like Us to Know About Organizational Culture

 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Great Brands Really Are...Different

I was reading a book by Steve Yastrow this week entitled, “We: The Ideal Customer Relationship,” when I stumbled upon this insight…'we are defined not by the things that make us similar, but by the things that make us different.'

The great corporate, philanthropic and personal brands that come to mind are the ones that truly are different. What their brands stand for, how they communicate this at every point of contact with the people who interact with them and how they treat their customers and employees is authentically unique. Brands like CustomInk, REI, Zappos, Miriam’s Kitchen, ONE and maybe even your own personal brand offer an uncommon, personal and memorable experience.

How are they different? Here are some examples:
• They are good citizens who are committed to doing things that make a difference in the lives of people who are part of their brands and communities.
• They treat their customers and employees in a way that makes them feel trusted, valued and special.
• They use a variety of channels to communicate their value proposition and engage people in a way that is personal and human.

Yours can be a great brand, too. Just dare to be different.

For more insights on the things that make brands great, please see:
• How Human Is Your Brand?
• It's Time to Innovate
• The Power of Social Media in Brand Storytelling

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