21st Century Marketing – The Good Guys Win

GenerosityAs a matter of principle, I have always subscribed to the notion that nice guys don’t have to finish last. In fact, they can and should finish first. This ideal has been challenged repeatedly throughout my career, but now that I’m running my own business I’ve come to the conclusion that helping the good guys be more successful is the best possible application of my time and talent.

Slate Magazine published an article titled “Nice Guys Finish First” by Seth Stevenson featuring the work of organizational psychologist and Wharton Professor, Adam Grant. Mr. Grant has published a book, “Give and Take” in which he identifies Givers (the good guys), Takers (aggressively self-serving) and Matchers (most of us).

Mr. Grant has observed that the Givers are abundantly generous with no expectation of reciprocity. They give expecting nothing in return. He also notes that the givers who protect their interests – who don’t allow themselves to be exploited – are likely to excel in organizations. In my experience (and ideal world) they also excel in business.

Givers, and the organizations they lead, are perfectly suited to modern marketing strategies. Because they focus on making the people around them better and more successful, their companies are more customer-focused. Because they place their customers’ interests above their own, Givers are better positioned to conduct the honest dialog that is so crucial to branding and marketing today.

David Packard once said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department”. I don’t think Mr. Packard was dissing the marketing department. He just understood that marketing is too big for any single person or group. Everyone has to be engaged in the important work of creating value and building a brand.

Marketing today is a very big picture indeed. And what gets me really excited about the work I’m doing these days is this: the people I’m working with think so too! They are good guys who care about their products and services. They care about their employees. And they REALLY care about their customers. That, to me, is what business and marketing is all about.

I have my own observations about the “good guys” I have worked with and watched over the years. These are women and men, founders, executives and managers who are never happier than when everyone around them is challenged and successful.

  • Good guys are never, ever done. Whether I’m working with the founder of a startup or an executive at a well-established firm, these leaders always want to do more and be better. They recognize that earning their customers trust and loyalty is an ongoing imperative, and they take that challenge very, very seriously.improvement image
  • Good guys want their people and companies to be the best. Most of the good guy leaders I have worked with have studied their competition enough to know if they have some catching up to do. But for the most part, they’re motivated by an unquenchable desire for self and organizational improvement.
  • Good guys stay sharp. These men and women are almost all voracious readers, and a lot of what they read is directly or indirectly related to their work. They read about marketing and leadership. They study evolving management practices. They’re fascinated by emerging technology and all the possibilities it promises for improved service and efficiency.Books images

I’m working with a founder now, Jack, who exemplifies these traits. Jack left the security of a full time gig at a major company about thirty years ago because he saw a void in the marketplace. At the time, the segment of the population he serves had a very poor menu of options. As a result, people were often forced to choose financial solutions that were inadequate to their circumstances.

Jack rushed to fill that void. Through self-directed education and hard work, he became a nationally recognized authority in a discipline he essentially created. He founded an organization for the practice and served as its first president.

Benefiting the industry at large, and by extension thousands of people he could never hope to serve, Jack also contributed to the development of an accredited professional training curriculum and designation. To top it all off, he lobbied at the state and federal level and served as an expert court witness to protect the interests of the people his business was built to serve.

This was all in addition to his day job.Teamwork

I spoke with some of Jack’s colleagues to get a broader perspective on the business. To each of these accomplished individuals, Jack was and is the embodiment of the firm’s culture, character and brand. He is the company’s most enthusiastic evangelist and its single largest revenue producer. Significantly, their high regard for Jack is only exceeded by Jack’s regard for them.

Mostly, Jack is passionate (an overused term I hesitate to use, but appropriate here) about the people he serves – a community whose lives his company is in a position to change in profound ways. Jack is a business “good guy”.

It’s a privilege (and a blast!) for me to work with Jack and business leaders like him. I benefit from their wisdom. Their zeal inspires and excites me. Together, we approach marketing from a big picture perspective, working to build brands and grow businesses around true stories that really matter. That’s a world where, I believe, good guys are destined to finish first.

 

Have you ever worked for or with good guys? How did their presence affect you and your organization? Do you agree with my premise – that modern marketing is well suited to supporting the success of good guys? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you. If you like this, or any of my articles I hope you’ll share them. Thanks as always for reading ~ Michael 

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Change Is Pain. Do Something About It.

change imageRic Edelman and his wife Jean started their wealth management business in 1986, with no clients, no assets and no staff. Today, they’re one of the nation’s largest financial advisory firms with $14 Billion in assets under management, 26,000 clients, 100 advisors and 38 offices.

With these impressive accomplishments over nearly thirty, sometimes-harrowing years in the financial markets, it’s safe to say that Ric is an expert in the wealth management business. That’s why a recent article by Ric in FA Magazine caught my attention.

In “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, Ric explains in convincing fashion that professionals in the wealth management and financial advisory business are facing a period of profound and rapid change. In the article, he offers three courses of action for advisors. Rather than repeat them here, I encourage you to read his excellent article. The point is that change is coming and the advisors who intend to survive must be ready to keep up.

This got me thinking about the phenomenon of change and the ways we humans deal with it. When an industry – or a business – is faced with the prospect of change, what can leaders do to ensure that their people and organizations are equipped to adapt.

We’ve all heard the expression “the only thing that’s permanent is change”, yet for most of us change is hard. In fact, according to neuroscientists, change is pain.

In “The Neuroscience of Leadership, Breakthroughs in brain research explain how to make organizational transformation succeed”, authors David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz offer an illuminating explanation for how our brains respond to change and some tactics for helping ourselves and our people deal with it more successfully.Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

What caught my eye in the research is the conclusion that leaders can mitigate the negative effects of change by changing the way they lead. This is accomplished in part by focusing not on past poor behavior, but on creating new behaviors guided by employees’ self insight.

Self insight, as I interpret it, is that aha moment each of us has when a concept, conviction or course of action forms in our mind, not necessarily because of what we were told or trained, but because it made sense for us in a certain place at a certain time.

Rock and Schwartz also observe that “Expectation Shapes Reality”, stating that “Cognitive scientists are finding that people’s mental maps, their theories, expectations, and attitudes, play a more central role in human perception than was previously understood.”

In other words, what we expect or how we feel about something – good or bad – has a defining effect on how we respond to the event. In this case, change.

Where does all this bring us?

  • Yet in “The Neuroscience of Leadership” we learn that Change is pain. That deviating from engrained practices and patterns actually triggers the same regions in the brain that process pain signals.
  • The negative effects of change can be alleviated by managing expectations and leading in ways that evoke self-insight among the people we lead, people whose contribution we rely on for our ongoing success. No more “my way or the highway”, if you know what I mean.

The sum of these circumstances is this: Change must happen and it’s going to be uncomfortable, if not painful. How we respond to these realities will, I believe, determine who wins and loses in today’s rapidly evolving business environment.

Companies who approach change as opportunity have the edge. These companies see change as the only way to remain valuable to changing customers and essential to the fulfillment of their mission. They engage all their people in the quest, and experience change as a shared challenge.Storyteller image

I approach this challenge as a communicator and a storyteller. Since we were kids, stories have had the power to demystify the unknown, define ideals, bring dreams to life and embolden us to overcome obstacles. The same things we want to accomplish together as we approach the painful business of change.

Through the power of story, companies have the opportunity to leverage change to their advantage: to transform their organizations, to make them more customer-centric, more efficient, more nimble, more competitive. Change isn’t the enemy, and complaining won’t make it go away. Change is the route you must take to realize the future you want to have.

Hero's Journey image

By framing the change in the context of a story you can set expectations and manage people in ways that brings out their best instead of triggering their fight-or-flight impulses.

My advice to advisors and their firms, to any business faced with change, is to be thoughtful about developing a story that explains and justifies the change. Why are you here? What got you here? Why do you matter? What would your customers be missing if you weren’t there for them, How are your customers changing? What must you do to continue to be an important part of your customers’ lives? Where are you going?

Your story should be personal, not corporate. It should honestly and openly communicate the struggles and victories along the way and gratefully acknowledge the contributions of individuals across your organization.

Mostly, your story must be believed, demonstrated and repeated. Over and over and over.

Through the power of story, you can transform change from an enemy into a demanding ally. You might also transform your company. Go get ‘em!

All About That Base: Build on Your Brand’s Foundation

Bass fiddleSimply stated, a company markets because it is looking to get from one place – its base – to another place.

They want to go from a position of low visibility to a position with higher visibility.

They have a reputation for doing one thing, and want to expand their audience’s perception to include other things.

Mostly, of course, they want to go from their current level of sales, revenues and profits to a level where they enjoy more of all these things, most certainly profits.

As with any journey, where you are at the start – your base – is an essential element when planning for your company’s growth.

But it’s far more complicated than just what you sell and how much you make. You need to take a long, hard look at how you do what you do and why it matters to the people you serve. That’s your “base”.

Is your company great at what it does? Is it the best quality? The cheapest? The most accessible? The most personal? The most creative?

Be critical. Think about the expertise, time and resources you bring to helping your customers achieve their objectives.

Can you honestly say your clients’ experience is superior to the experience they would have with another company in the same space?

Why? How do you achieve it? What policies and systems assure excellence?

systems image

I’m talking about the kind of sustainable, repeatable excellence that doesn’t rely solely on the skill and good judgment of a few key, conscientious people – people who may come and go?

Is your methodology and operating infrastructure capable of supporting growth without compromising your clients’ experience?

What do your customers say?

Customers graphic

Why, with all the choices out there do they choose and stay with you? What would they miss if you weren’t there? Why does it matter to them?

You know there are new companies with new products and technology out there vying for your clients’ attention. These companies are making big plans to seduce your current and future customers with advantages they’re sure you cannot deliver.

 

How can you leverage your core competencies – your base – with emerging systems or technology so you remain one step ahead of the shiny new things that threaten to distract customers from the value you know you bring?

 

What does your brand dictate? In my article “Inside Out – Building Better Brands”, I describe how your company has a brand, whether you set out to “brand” or not.

It’s how people feel about your company, the space your company occupies in their minds. To them, your brand is the product of all the things you’ve said and done. More than ever, it’s also the outcome of what your customers and critics have had to say about you. All the stuff you’ve sold and all the relationships you’ve built contribute to the brand. Your growth plans MUST honor it.

As you make plans to market and grow. As you consider adding new products or expanding into new markets, be all about that base: The vision. The set of passions, skills, capabilities and relationships that got the ball rolling in the first place.Understanding

By understanding your brand and the qualities that enliven your relationships, you can drive growth that excites your people and your customers. Just be you, only better.

Bigger will follow.

Grab Some Heir – Connecting with Your Clients’ Kids

teacher studentFinancial Advisors who want to provide stellar service, accelerate or resume growth and preserve assets under management can take steps now to develop win-win relationships with their clients’ heirs.

A lot of advisors face a similar dilemma. As their practices have matured and their clientele has grown, their clients have matured too. As their clients retire, entering the distribution phase of life, many advisors have found it much more difficult to grow their practices.

Assets under management go into a slow, steady decline but the time necessary to generate new business is occupied by existing clients.

The decline in assets is exacerbated by the common practice among growing advisors of referring their younger, less affluent investors to junior advisors or investment management platforms that are better suited to younger investors’ more modest circumstances.

This idea looked great at the time. The advisor recognized that her more affluent clients had more complex requirements, so she chose to focus her time, attention and talent where it was most needed. Longer term, though, the outcome is a book of business that is heavily weighted with investors from the same wealth accumulating generation.

So what can you do?professor image

The most obvious answer is, of course, to establish a relationship with your clients’ kids and grandkids. Do this, and you have the next generation or two already predisposed to choose you as their advisor when the time comes for them to start investing on their own.

 

But wait. Didn’t I just say that it’s hard for an advisor to serve their older, wealthier clients and bring on younger, less affluent clients?

Yeah, I did. But in the case of investors and their heirs, there are ways to solve this time crunch and keep every generation happy. Here’s how…

Work with your client to engage their children early, when they’re still in primary or secondary school. Encourage your client to include them at your next review. Spend some time telling the kids why mom and dad invest. Show them how you work with mom and dad to help them achieve their financial goals.

Don’t get into the details. Just introduce them to the importance of planning, diversification and discipline. Show them how you help their mom and dad. They’ll see you as an important part of their parents’ lives and you’ll win a place of high regard in their (and their parents’) minds.

Work with your client to set the kids up with a small fund account (diversification). Get them used to seeing their statements and your regular client communications.

suppliesWhen they’re ready to start investing for real, let them know that you will be asking a colleague to help with their account for now, but you’ll always be on hand to answer questions.

Keep them on your mailing list. When the time comes, let them know that you are ready to serve them as you have their mom and dad.

Work with your client to engage, educate and prepare their young adult heirs

By the time they complete their educations, start work and are making their own investments, possibly with someone else, heirs are probably pretty curious about their parents’ finances and wonder what the implications for them will be.

Now is the perfect time to arrange for a family meeting. In this setting, you can educate the entire group about the plan to help with your clients’ retirement and estate. Discuss the clients’ Investment Policy. Show how the their financial plan and investment portfolio support the policy.

Young ProfessionalsFeel free to include the clients’ estate attorney and other trusted partners in the discussion. At D.A. Davidson, our trust company published a workbook titled “What My Family Should Know”, an invaluable instrument for discussing and recording important family matters like the whereabouts of assets and insurance, and the clients’ end of life wishes.

The key here is to be a participant in the process. Don’t just send the workbook to your clients. By organizing the discussion, you establish authority and credibility with the heirs. Let them see the wisdom and expertise you bring to their parents’ financial plan and its execution.

At this stage in the heirs’ lives, they probably don’t yet meet your account threshold. Make a decision about whether you have the capacity to add the relationship to your existing workload. If not, refer the heir to a less labor intensive platform. Again, keep them on your mailing list. Offer to be a resource whenever they have questions.

Work with your client to recruit the assistance and support of their mature heirs

Clients who have entered retirement may have children who are well into their saving and investing years. If these heirs are not investing with you, then attracting them will be difficult.

parents and grandparents

It makes sense. You know first hand how powerful the bond of trust is between an advisor and a client. Still, tens of thousands of investors a year switch advisors. An older heir might very well choose the advisor who served her parents so well!

As above, meet with your client and the heirs to discuss their plan and investments, then broaden the conversation to include roles and responsibilities – living will requests, executors, trustees, beneficiaries and more. Demonstrate your command of the client’s financial plan and your commitment to contributing to your client’s well-being, and the ongoing well-being of her family.

Want to win your clients’ kids’ business? Include your client’s family in the conversation from the outset. By encouraging their involvement, you open critical lines of communication and provide a valuable education.

In a business based on relationships and trust, this strategy is sure to pay dividends.

How do you connect with your clients’ children? Do you consider the next generation in your business development activities? What systems or resources does your firm or custodian provide to help you manage relationships with heirs? If you choose to include beginner investors in your client base, how do you manage the time? 

 

Thanks as always for visiting my site. If you like this or any of my other articles, please share it. Your comments are a valuable resource for me. Let me know what you’re thinking. I want this site to be valuable to you ~ Michael 

 

 

What You Say and How You Say It. The Secrets to Growing Your Wealth Management Business

megaphoneAdvisors and firms with a thoughtful, deliberate approach to their message and image stand a better chance of winning new clients.

In “Why Advisors Fail to Close Prospects”, an article published in December, 2014 in RIA Biz, a financial industry publication, Financial Advisors were asked to list the reasons they failed to secure relationships with prospective clients.

Fourteen issues were identified by the advisors. The following five were noted as standouts (paraphrased here), along with some advice for how to overcome each “marketing bugaboo”.

A Poorly differentiated offering

At the risk of oversimplifying a very complex set of challenges, I would distill this list even further, down to just two overriding considerations…

Message and Image… What you say and how you say it.

What you say is driven by your firms’ policies and practices for transparency, and an intention to educate and inform your clients and prospects using plain, comprehensible language.

What you say should reflect your investment management acumen and a desire to understand your audience. It should respect their intelligence, and assume that too much information is always better than too little. Investors know there are risks. Make sure they have a firm grasp on the risks that are peculiar to their circumstances and investments.

What you say should help your prospects understand and value your commitment to excellence and continual improvement. They should also know you (or your firm) will be there for them when they need you.

What you say should make your fees (and/or commissions) completely understandable and justified. Remember, price is only an issue if there is a perceived lack of value. If your prospect doesn’t believe you are worth what you’re charging, then maybe you’re not the right advisor for them.

Understanding

How You Say It is the outcome of your firm’s strategies for marketing, communications, training and the client experience.

How you say it is consistent. It’s shared by everyone in your organization because it reflects your values and a collective belief in the firm’s mission.

How you say it is enhanced and extended by a terrific website that offers a great user experience, engages your visitors and works great on desktops, tablets and smart phones.

How you say it holds your marketing to a high standard for content that is smart, accessible, elegant, and professional.

How you say it honors your commitment to your community by calling attention to your corporate citizenship, investor advocacy and professional thought leadership.

How you say it recognizes the way people feel when they call your office, drop by for a visit or get their statements in the mail or online. It should shout that you are always looking for ways to help.

service

Being intentional about what you say and how you say it will help win you new business, but it’s no small job. It requires soul-searching, hard decisions and a relentless pursuit of improvement. But in the end, differentiating yourself in the marketplace, enlightening your clients and prospects, and confidently defending your fees is the best path to growth and success.

How does your practice or firm differentiate itself in the marketplace? What firm’s or practice do you think do an exceptional job? How have you overcome questions about credibility in the past?

Thanks as always for your interest in this article. If you like it, please share it. If there are topics you would like to see me address, please let me know. I love hearing from you.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Three Business Lessons from George Bailey

It's a wonderful life titleFrank Capra’s 1946 movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday staple and moving testimony to the power of a single person and idea. It is an unapologetically sentimental look at the life of an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.

Because of its sentimentality and its annual presence in the crowded schedule of holiday entertainments, it’s easy to overlook some practical, important lessons the movie has to teach us about business and life.

So, as you pack away all of the trappings of the holiday season for another year, let’s take another quick look at George Bailey to see how we can learn from his experiences to be more successful, more relevant, more peaceful and, frankly, happier… how we too can have a Wonderful Life, in 2015 and beyond.

George's purpose

Serve something bigger than yourself

For George, the Building and Loan established by his father and his uncle was often a burden. As a career, it fell far short of George’s grand personal ambitions. Nevertheless, when repeatedly forced by circumstance to remain at the helm of the struggling business, George was tirelessly dedicated to the Building and Loan’s mission: helping people no one else would lend to own their own homes.

Defending the memory of his deceased father and the Building and Loan to his competitor and nemesis, bank owner Mr. Potter, George understood that the people he and his business served did “most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

You and your company have a mission too, and like the Building and Loan your mission is bigger and more important than might be immediately apparent. Know your mission. Talk about it. Internalize it throughout your organization. A mission asks the question “Why is the world a better place with you in it?” It is a powerful and empowering force.

George and staff

Respect your team and your customers

In the movie, George repeatedly places the interests of his customers and colleagues ahead of his own. Leaving the church on his wedding day with his bride Mary, George sees that there is something wrong at the bank and the Building and Loan. He’s tempted to continue on, but jumps out of the car and hurries to the business to try to calm his anxious depositors. Finally, he resorts to spending his own money to take care of his customers and keep the business afloat.

At a pivotal point in the movie, a substantial sum is misplaced by George’s absent minded uncle Billy, placing George and the Building and Loan at grave risk. And although he’s furious with Billy, George does not accuse him when seeking assistance from the villainous Mr. Potter. George protects his uncle, as he would any employee by publicly taking responsibility for the misplaced funds.

Your customers’ experiences with your company are a direct reflection of the way you and your company treat your associates. Treat your people with respect, give them the information and resources they need, and encourage them to go above and beyond for your customers. Amazing things will happen.

 

George Bailey in despair

Lean on your supporters

When he experiences a potentially devastating personal crisis, it never occurs to George that the good work he has done throughout his life has earned him the admiration of friends, family and customers.

Feeling absolutely alone in his despair, George contemplates ending his life when a guardian angel, Clarence, helps George understand the significance of his life by showing him a world where he never existed. It is, of course, a much darker world. Through this experience, George is allowed to see how impactful his life has been.

His belief in himself and his contributions restored, George returns home to his family not knowing what the future will hold. Shortly after arriving, George is overwhelmed by the love and support of his community of friends and customers, and grateful to Clarence (who has finally earned his wings).

George's community

In the conduct of our businesses and our careers, we all have the opportunity to make the world a better place for the people we work with and the people we serve. When problems, opportunities or challenges arise, look to your colleagues and customers for advice and direction. Don’t wait ’til you’re in crisis. Open up lines of communication. Ask for feedback. Demonstrate your eagerness to include your people in the conversation that drives your growth.

How does your company express its mission? What policies and practices exist to help people feel engaged and important? What systems do you have in place to listen to and respond to the concerns of employees and customers? Can you think of a time when you benefited from the support of an associate or customer just because of the quality of your relationship?

As we begin 2015, I wish you and yours a best-ever new year. I’m grateful for your interest in these posts and for your comments. As always, if you liked this or any other of my articles, I hope you’ll share them. I’m shooting for a much larger audience by the time 2016 rolls around.

Beer or Innovation? I’ll Take Both!

Rainier bottlesEven the oldest, most straightforward business models are capable of innovation. Your company may never be revolutionary like Apple or become a category buster like Starbucks. But if you innovate by making small, often simple, changes you can alter the way your customers and prospects think about you and your products. No matter how staid or commoditized your business is, follow the three tips at the conclusion of today’s post and you will become an innovator, with all of the attention and revived interest that innovation creates.

I love beer. Leonard and Darlene, my mom and dad, owned a bar and adjacent pizza place when my sister, Susie, and I were kids. Some of my earliest, most vivid memories are of the people and patrons whose joie d’ vivre convinced me that the business of conviviality, in this case beer and places to drink it, was a worthy pursuit.

Though my memories of those days are fond ones, the work itself was grueling for my folks, so when my dad was recruited by the Rainier Brewing Company to run their sales operation for the state of Montana, he happily sold the business and began a long and extraordinarily successful career as the “Rainier Rep” in a territory that eventually extended well beyond Montana’s borders.

In those days, the Rainier Brewery was a prominent fixture on the Seattle skyline, perched right next to I-5 between downtown and the airport. At its peak, brewing and bottling took place 24 hours a day to feed the demand for the Northwest’s (certainly Montana’s) favorite beer. Even more remarkable than their iconic physical plant was the relentless energy they devoted to keeping the brand, like the product, “Mountain Fresh”.

Rainier experimented constantly with its product, packaging and positioning – ultimately leading to its becoming the biggest selling beer in the region, quite a feat in the Bud and Miller dominated days long before the explosion in craft brewing. Many of the strategies they employed are adaptable to all businesses. With a little imagination and the willingness to make the effort, any business can innovate. Here’s how…

Packaging

We all get used to thinking about our companies and the products or services we sell in a fixed way. After all, our customers aren’t asking us to change the way we present our wares. They have a need. We have a solution. It’s as simple as that.

But is it? At Rainier then, and other breweries today, they are constantly working on new packaging designed to intrigue and persuade customers. Maybe it’s a can that signals when its contents are cold enough or a 30-pack that consumers assume is a better value. At Rainier, they developed a truly unique bottle shape (pictured at top) unlike anything else on the market – then or now.

How can other businesses “repackage”? Let’s say you have a professional services company, maybe a law firm, and your practice has a specialty in business start-ups. You can bundle the competencies and services that apply to most start-up engagements in a way that conveys specialized authority, and makes it possible to target your marketing with new, more relevant and compelling messaging.

Product

Starbucks busted an age-old category wide open by delivering quality, accessibility and consistency with both its products and the customer experience. They’re also developing new products all the time. Whether it’s a new line of food, the addition of wine and beer in select locations, prepackaged beverages for retail distribution, or instant coffee.

At Rainier, they offered side brands like Rainier Ale, and at one point they even experimented with an alteration to the basic formula, developing their “Light, Light Light, and Not So Light” brews (pictured at top). This was pretty revolutionary at the time. Today’s craft brewers have embraced what is really an ancient brewing tradition, offering a variety of products to suit the season and a wide variety of tastes and moods. Even the mass brewers now recognize that new products, or spin offs of existing products are a potent way to drive sales and revenue growth.

If you provide financial, accounting or legal services, you might begin by thinking of your product as the clients’ experience. Unless you can or will do something your competitors don’t, then the only thing that distinguishes your company is the ease and satisfaction your customers experience in their interactions with you. If you can develop a whole new competency, great. If that’s probably not in your future, think about ways to make your company and its services more accessible, valuable and indispensable to your customers.

Positioning

Rainier did something back in the 70s that made it stand out in a really crowded and competitive marketplace. It became the fun, funny brand. With brilliant advertising across multiple media and a cohesive event and sponsorship strategy, Rainier achieved brand awareness that survives to this day.

The first two videos here feature hilarious musical treatments of the Rainier brand. The first is a wonderfully odd piano and whistling recital (check out the name on the piano) and the second is a take off on the old Lawrence Welk Show. Look close and you can see my dad, the dark-haired guy with the bushy mustache on the far right of the screen blowing the bass beer bottles. Way to rock it, Len!

It probably doesn’t make sense for you to position your business as fun or funny, but you can influence the way your customers and market thinks about you, especially as it relates to your competition.

Again, start with your customers. Understand why they trade with you and the problems they face. Explore ways to position your company as the one with a unique appreciation for your customers’ struggles and ambitions and be ready to change the positioning as your customers or business evolves.

Rainer Beer knew that good times and good beer went hand in hand. By positioning themselves as creators of good times, they earned a special kind of consideration from beer drinkers and became a best seller despite powerful and unrelenting competition. What positioning makes you the best, most relevant choice?

What companies do you admire for their innovation? Are there any companies in traditional businesses whose innovations have surprised or impressed you? What can you and your company do to reframe or refresh your company in the minds of your market?

Thanks as always for reading. If you made it all the way to the end, I really appreciate your patience with my long form content. It’s not the fashion, I know, but I hope you hang in there because you feel like you’re getting something out of my weekly observations, ideas and suggestions. If so, please like, comment, share and keep tuning in.

 

 

Let Your Customers Love You!

Nobodyvintage_heart_1 does business with a company because they expect to be disappointed. How ever you managed to win a customer’s business – your reputation, a product or promotion, a referral or just plain old convenience – that customer is predisposed to like your company. Get that first interaction right, and they might even end up loving you.

What a gift! Before you even try to answer a question, take an order, propose a solution or solve a problem, the customer is on your side. In the beginning, you have a big leg up.

Way (way, way) back when I was making a meager living as an actor, I remember reading a book by a celebrated acting coach. He suggested coping with stage fright by reminding yourself that the audience is already rooting for you. If the actors do their jobs well, the guests who expected to be entertained will be delighted. They’ll forget how expensive the tickets were and they’ll tell all their friends.

The same dynamic applies to you and your business whether you’re selling groceries, offering financial advice, or replacing windshields. Your customers want and expect to like you. They want to be happy with their experience. All you have to do is not let them down. Surprise them by doing more than that, by really knocking their socks off, and you’ll be on your way to building a base of raving fans.

There’s more good news. Knockout early impressions create a bank of goodwill you can draw on when problems arise. The restaurant business provides a perfect example. If the food and service is excellent the first time you visit, you’ll be much more likely to forgive a disappointing experience down the road.

If, on the other hand, you get bad food or your waiter decides to take a vacation to the Maldives before taking your order, and again before bringing you the check, there’s a very real chance you will never go back. Not only that, you’ll be telling all your friends and family about what a crummy joint it was. And, as we all know, negative reviews travel much faster and farther than positive ones, especially today with Urban Spoon, Yelp and social media all at our fingertips.

Customers give you a wonderful opportunity to win their trust and admiration. Your job as a business owner, manager or employee is not to blow it. Here are three principles you and your company can adopt to make your customers’ experiences exceptional.

Surprise Your Customers

The veterinary hospital where we take our dog, Alice, has a great staff of friendly professionals who go out of their way to greet and connect with their customers and their pets. The building is immaculate. The staff treats us as if Alice was the smartest most lovable and attractive dog they have ever seen. Their prices are competitive with the market, often better.

Surprised? We were blown away on our first visit and that experience has redefined the category in our minds. We enthusiastically recommend the place and, for as long as they continue to operate this way (and a little while after) we’ll be going back.

Some businesses attract customers and close sales by making extravagant claims about performance, product, price or service. Don’t be that company. If there is more than a random chance that your customer’s experience will fall short of your hyperbole, the consequences can be serious. Either modify your operations or your messaging. “Under Promise and Over Deliver” will always be good advice. Do it whenever you can.

Be Open and Honest

Years ago, I worked for a company that experienced a cyber attack. From the moment we became aware of the event, our chief objective was to share as much information as we could with all of the customers who were affected and to do all possible to shield them from risk.

In the span of a few days, we built, staffed and trained an emergency call center so we could deal directly and personally with concerned customers. Naturally, customers weren’t happy about the news, but our transparency and aggressive response to the problem soothed their concerns. What could have been very damaging to the business ended up being an opportunity for us to demonstrate the company’s commitment to, and genuine concern for, its clients.

In business, there will always be times when you’ll need to deliver information to customers that they don’t want to hear. Resist the urge to “spin” the message. Sure, you expose yourself to criticism, but the long-term benefits more than compensate for the pain.

Watch Your Front Line

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. Competition is intense. The only way you can grow and keep business is to make all your customer interactions a success.

What distinguishes customer-centric companies like Zappo’s and Nordstrom is a disciplined, deliberate focus on every customer touch point in the organization. It doesn’t matter how skillful and attentive a sales person is if the people in charge of the delivery, installation or implementation are indifferent or – heaven forbid – hostile.

You need to pay attention to how phones are answered, how walk-ins are greeted, how (and if) you’re interacting in social media. No matter where and when a customer touches your company, you need a plan to make every interaction a success.

Where’s the love?

Seize the opportunity your customers grant you the first time they do business and you’ll have a lot to look forward to. Add a few extra flourishes, quick and earnest problem solving, focus on the details and you can be among the few whose customers proudly proclaim “I love (your name here)! They’re the best!”

What companies do you love? Are there companies in typically unlovable industries that have surprised you by going above and beyond? What changes can your company make right now to upgrade your customers’ experience?

Thanks as always for reading. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. If you enjoyed this or any of my articles, I hope you will share them. See you next week!

 

 

 

 

 

Three Ways to Help Investors in Scary Markets

downward-graph

 

Equity investors, for the most part, have had a nice time since the market recovery began following the ’08 – ’09 collapse. In the five years since, the losses they experienced during the crisis and its aftermath have recovered and investors have delightedly watched as the major indexes have all entered record territory.

That is until recently. Since its peak a little less than a month ago, the S & P 500 Index is down nearly 7% as of this writing. After a rally of several years, you might think that investors would be philosophical about the downturn, right? I mean market adjustments are commonplace throughout history. What goes up must come down.

Well, you’d be right… and you’d be wrong.

Investors may, and many certainly do, understand that this downturn like all the downturns that preceded it will end, and the long-term upward trend will resume. To these folks (and many industry pundits) downturns are merely a buying opportunity.

This makes perfect sense to me intellectually, and generally I don’t get at all uneasy about market swings. But for some reason (maybe the headlines!), this particular downturn has gotten my attention. I’m betting that there are a lot of investors like me who for whatever reason find this disruption unsettling.

This is a golden opportunity for financial advisors and their firms to provide great service, assure their clients, build loyalty and drive new business relationships.

Of the many tactics available to advisors and their firms, I have identified three easy-to-execute activities that use most firms’ existing resources. Just as important, they empower individual advisors with the tools they need to make that all-important personal connection.

  • Create an official message for distribution by your advisors.

Many firms already have a market strategist or research department that is preparing daily or weekly updates. The same author(s) can refer to this stream of content to affirm their longer-term view, acknowledge the concerns that even a short-term downturn can provoke, and remind investors that – when it comes to the markets – the worst response is an emotional response.

This timely message should be made available as quickly as possible to advisors, while the issue is hot. It should be distributed electronically or on paper as widely as possible. Don’t worry about trying to guess who needs it and who doesn’t. You have nothing to lose by sharing your wisdom with everyone.

Busy advisors should be given the language they’ll need in their email or letter enclosure. Something like:

“Dear (be sure to personalize using your CRM and mail merge function), I have been receiving a lot of call from clients with questions about recent market volatility. (My firm’s) research department has just published a position paper exploring this trend and providing some long-term perspective I hope you will find valuable. As always, I encourage and welcome your call. If you find the attached/enclosed helpful, please share it. Your friends, neighbors and colleagues are welcome to call me as well.”

  • Host an online client call-in webinar conference

Adapt the theme and content in the official message for a 1-hour webinar and offer to entertain client questions. There are several online platforms for this type of application. If you don’t already have one in your digital arsenal, look into GoToWebinar.com or any of its competitors.

To tightly control attendance and minimize compliance hassles, clients should register in advance for the event and be instructed to submit their questions in writing any time from registration through the actual webinar. The webinar moderator can then filter and sort the questions to make sure the most common questions are answered, and any client-specific issues can be dealt with offline by the appropriate advisor or department.

Set a date and time for the webinar and promote it on your website and through your advisors no more than 7 days in advance. Remember, this is a hot topic issue. You need to act while it’s top-of-mind with your clients. The promotion itself has value because it communicates your willingness and ability to react promptly to client concerns and market conditions.

Prepare a short 5 to 7-page slide presentation with an attractive cover containing the title of the presentation and the presenter’s name, title and preferably a photo. The presentation should contain graphics that illustrate the talking points, not text.

An event moderator should introduce herself, thank the attendees and welcome them to the event by title. She should then give a fairly formal introduction of the presenter to set the stage for the content that will follow.

The presentation itself must be well prepared and well rehearsed. The transition from the moderator to the presenter must be seamless and the presentation should be delivered with a friendly, yet concise and authoritative voice. Client questions gathered in advance of the event should be printed on a slide as prompts for the presenter’s response.

As appropriate, the presenter should engage relevant subject matter experts to prepare responses to questions.

Be sure to record the webinar. If your content and client interaction meet compliance requirements for public distribution, encourage your attendees to come back and share the recorded events.

  • Post the compliance-approved message and recorded webinar prominently to your website where they are most likely to be seen – your homepage and client login page.

Promote the link on social media. Depending on its continued relevance, mention it in other communications such as e-delivery notifications and client newsletters. If you’re particularly pleased with the message, consider adapting it to a press release or submitting to business or trade publications.

The beauty of this methodology is its limitless utility. There will be other market downturns and other periods of “irrational exuberance”. With the personnel, procedures and technology in place, you can regularly provide meaningful, high-profile answers to your clients’ most pressing concerns while nurturing relationships and creating opportunities for your brand and your business.

Do you think the financial services industry does a good job of connecting with its customers? Are there some companies that do it better than others?

Please like or share this article if it was interesting to you. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged. Thanks for reading!

 

Michael

 

Passion, Schmassion. You Do What You Hafta Do

I’m sure you have heard the Confucian quote

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Every day, you and I are subject to a fairly constant stream of stories about how visionary entrepreneurs and fearless professionals have found success by pursuing their passions and encouraging us to do the same.

Bull.

I often think about the experiences of the people who touch my life over the course of an ordinary day. You know, the young man who poured my coffee at Stumptown Coffee Roasters yesterday morning, the three guys who for the last four days have been laboring in the hot sun to install a new patio at my neighbor’s house, the woman at the pet food store, our financial advisor, the guys who collect our garbage and recycling, my dermatologist. Are these folks passionate about their work? Probably not.

And if they are, do they approach their jobs with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm they bring to the things they really are passionate about? Their families? Their faith? Their hobbies? Well… maybe.

But that’s OK. Really. The simple fact is that the vast majority of us do work we have to do so we can live the lives we want to live. The trick is finding the passion in whatever you’re doing.

If your experiences have been anything like mine, at various times in your career you have struggled, compromised, gotten frustrated, been under-used, overworked and overlooked, and every now and then…knocked it out of the park.

At the same time, you’ve met amazing, wonderful, smart, funny and generous people. Been mentored in countless ways how to – and how not to – manage a project or staff and run a business. You’ve taken on challenges that made you work harder than you thought you could and gotten smarter and more resilient because of it. Pretty great, amazing stuff.

The Papa Murphy’s take-n-bake pizza place in our neighborhood is very, very busy. On weekend evenings, they might have four or five people squeezed in at the assembly line with two or three people doing prep work in the back. Others are scurrying to answer the phones, serve walk-ins and work the drive through. It’s nuts.pizza_hd_picture_6_167274

 

In the midst of this bedlam, the entire staff remains unflappably friendly and courteous. They answer the phones quickly and warmly. They greet each walk-in with an honest, welcoming smile. And they are all equipped to help customers with helpful tips and advice. It’s obvious that everyone respects her coworker and, believe it or not, actually enjoys the work, even if they’re not passionate about it. We love it, and we keep going back (thus this article in a “marketing” blog).

My wife and I are so impressed by the place and its team, we have actually had conversations about it. Many of our experiences at fine restaurants and resorts – as well as with other merchants and professional service providers – don’t measure up to the standard this small take-n-bake pizza branch sets.

The good work, happy people and great customer experiences at my neighborhood pizza place have a few lessons for both employers and employees who are interested in finding something to be passionate about.

Have a Big, Bold vision

People aren’t motivated by the work, they’re motivated by the product of the work.

Management has to have a vision and must share it. It’s not about pizza. It’s about taking a load off a busy mom or dad so they can spend more time with their kids. It’s about fun and nourishment. It’s about believing in the product and having respect for the customers who choose it. It’s also about respect for your coworkers and vendors. Make the vision as big and bold as it deserves to be. Then share it, share it, share it. Make it your mantra. Believe it and your people will believe it.

Be Proud

If you’re doing a job, it’s a job that needs doing.

The people you serve, whether they’re aware of you or not, are depending on you. Your coworkers are also depending on you, not only to carry your share of the load, but to be a responsible member of the workplace community. Be friendly and supportive. Take pride in your contribution and always look for ways to improve. I learned lessons dumping garbage at Sears in Spokane, Washington when I was in high school that serve me to this very day.

Find Ways to Celebrate

You don’t need me to tell you that work can be a grind, but it’s amazing how even the smallest celebration can pull people out of the stress of their workday.

  • Catch people doing something right and thank them personally and publicly.
  • Be clear about goals and get loud when they’re reached, really loud when they’re exceeded.
  • When you finish a particularly challenging day or project, thank the whole team. Be specific about the standout contributions from you star players. They deserve it, and it helps your bench players set their aspirations.

If you are among the fortunate few who loves your work so much it doesn’t even seem like work, I am thrilled for you. I would love for you to share your experience in comments. For those of us who find the passion where we can, I’d love to know more about how you bring your best every day, even when it really feels like work. Either way, you’re getting it done.

The Curse of Knowledge… Can you escape it?

Fortune-teller-2Most everyone involved in creating and selling a product or service is probably familiar with the distinctions between features and benefits.

Example:

  • Features = 20-Volt Cordless Compact Drill features a slim and ergonomic handle to provide an excellent balance and superb control during use. This tool delivers variable speeds of 0 – 600 RPM and 0 – 2,000 RPM for a range of drilling applications, and a compact and lightweight design. 2 fast-charging, lithium-ion batteries are included along with a charger, kit box, belt hook and on-board bit holder.
  • Benefits = A hole.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. From the list of features, I can infer additional value added benefits.

These might be that, while I am drilling my hole or holes, I will experience less fatigue because of the lightweight design and ergonomic handle.

I might also be able to get more done because I won’t have to switch tools to work in tight areas and I’ll have two fast-charging batteries to keep me powered up and untethered to a fixed power source.

The thing is, most people won’t take the time and effort to make these inferences. Your competitor, the one who connects the dots and communicates the benefits, gets the sale.

The people who create and launch products and services often get caught up in the design, development and technical specifications of “their babies”.

This is only natural. After all, you poured your heart and souls into the project. You know exactly how innovative, sophisticated and complex the outcome is and you can’t wait to share all the bright, shiny details that distinguish your accomplishment. You have fallen victim to…(here’s where the dramatic, three-chord progression should go) The Curse of Knowledge!

Know what? Most people don’t care about the details.

Know why it’s a curse? Because the details don’t have an immediate, intuitive impact on the customers’ experience and don’t influence their decision to buy.

That doesn’t mean the details aren’t important. They reinforce the decision. They should wait quietly in the background until deeper customer inspection is prompted by a convincing appeal to the customer’s most pressing interests and emotions.

How to escape the Curse of Knowledge

Put most simply, you escape the curse by succinctly answering the question, “will this solve my problem?”.

How? By following these relatively simple but indispensable principles and processes.

Research – Don’t freak out here. You don’t need to go crazy spending big bucks on market research firms and consultants.

It may be as simple as gathering a few customers and prospects together and asking them to listen to your pitch or try the product.

  • Buy them dinner or drinks & snacks.
  • Keep it short, tight and focused. Their time and input is precious.
  • Tell them they are exactly the kind of people your product or service was created to help.
  • Ask them to be brutally honest.
  • Listen. Let them tell you how they feel, if they think using it will benefit them and whether it is something they would like to own or use.
  • Use that information and language to frame the product when you go to market.

Adapt – When you’re out there selling, pay close attention to what’s working and what isn’t. In the real world, people don’t always behave the way they do in focus groups. Tweak. Adjust. Reframe. Keep listening.

Advocate – In my role as the head of marketing for financial services firms, advocating for the customer was among my most important contributions.

I spent a lot of time scouring the media and doing research to understand customer trends and concerns. I had the visibility and credibility to influence anything affecting the customer (which is just about everything). Someone in your company should have the mandate to challenge assumptions about what customers value.

Should you take pride in the thousands of details and all the expertise that go into the products and services you create? Absolutely.

But if you always remember that value is in the eye of the customer, you can escape the Curse of Knowledge.

Have you ever bought a product or service that worked better or worse than you expected? Can you think of some companies who do a great job making their products or services come to life in your imagination?

 

Thanks very much for reading. If you liked this article, I hope you will share it with your friends and colleagues. You can also follow this website for a notification every time I publish. For information about consulting engagements and public appearances, please contact me directly.

We Do These Things Not Because They Are Easy But Because They Are Hard

Moon image

In a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, President John F Kennedy roused support for America’s mission to the moon with a stirring speech that celebrated the determination of American innovators and adventurers to “Climb the Highest Mountain”. The speech cited a litany of accomplishments made possible by a shining vision and unrelenting hard work. I encourage you to read it, but have excerpted a small portion here.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things (accomplishments and aspirations), not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

I don’t recall ever having heard this speech or the quote before, then recently I heard it twice: Once, while visiting the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon and again in the introduction to a new Brad Paisley song, “American Flag on the Moon”.

The sentiment “We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard” resonates with me.

It acknowledges that real growth is the outcome of vision and struggle.

This means choosing a path that others don’t

Figuring out how to do things you have never done

Committing to doing them as well as they can possibly be done.

The quote also recognizes that high achievement is a challenge compelled by a desire to win.

It’s the same in business. How often are conversations about marketing and business strategy dominated by “What does (competitor’s name here) do?” or “That’s the way we have always done it.”

I agree that these are legitimate observations and material to the discussion, but they are easy to ask, easy to answer and they don’t go far enough.

Questions should challenge leadership to envision a product, service and/or client experience that changes everything, a vision that makes us better than we have ever been and superior to our competition. This kind of vision inspires employees. And, properly executed, it delights and attracts customers.

Here’s the thing…executing a new vision, even if it’s not radical, is hard. Really hard.

It means that old ways of doing things may have to go. It takes commitment, resources and determination. People need to be trained and leadership needs to evangelize.

This ain’t business as usual. But the pursuit of this vision is powerful because, as President Kennedy’s speech assures us, “that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”.

What companies do you believe consistently raise the bar for themselves and their competition? How have you or your company raised the bar for yourselves?