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 


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.

A Great Vibe…Does Your Company Have One?

vibrationThe Houston Chronicle featured an article last year titled How to Identify and Fix Your Company’s Vibe. It’s a short, well-written article with some good advice for how to correct non-aligning perceptions and engage employees. It’ll take about 3 minutes to read it so what the heck, right? I’ll wait…

I want to take the concept of your company’s vibe a little further. Why? Because understanding your company’s vibe and being true to it will determine whether your company succeeds or fails. Or at least the degree to which you will succeed.

Back in 1977, one of Apple’s earliest investors, Mike Markulla composed what for me is probably the most elegant expression of a marketing and operating philosophy (a vibe!) I have ever seen…

apple marketing philsophyPay special attention to the term “impute” and its context. This is where your company’s vibe is born and raised. It means that every part of your organization and every customer interaction should be imbued with the same high sense of purpose.

In other words, if you’re proud of your core competencies (and you sure should be) then everything else you do should reflect that excellence.

According to this principle, it’s not OK to say “We’re good at managing money. We don’t need to worry about our website.” Or “people come here to work out, not to feel like they’re visiting a resort.”


Your customers and future customers want to experience you at your best – everywhere. All the time. Regardless of where that experience takes place.

guitar vibration

Think of a vibe, a vibration, as the rapid movement of a guitar string. Then imagine everyone and everything in your organization operating on the same frequency.

  • You’ve identified and corrected points of friction.
  • Your products, people and customer interactions are consistently great.
  • You solve problems quickly and gladly.
  • And you look, sound and behave in ways your customers expect and admire.

Now imagine how empowering this concept could be for running your business.

If you’re contemplating entering new markets or launching new products, you have to ask the questions, can we do this without losing our vibe? Can we have an even better vibe? What can we do to make sure our people are also experiencing the vibe?

Having a great vibe doesn’t necessarily mean you’re edgy or hip. It means there’s no dissonance, no disconnect between what you say, what you do and how you do it.

You’ve probably heard someone describe a shop or restaurant saying “that place has a great vibe”. These days, that’s a pretty profound recommendation. It implies a great product, great people and a great experience all coming together. It’s a place people talk about and return to. It could, and should, be your business.

The exact same principle applies to financial services and other professional services firms. Think about your vibe. Change it if you need to. Keep making it better. And most of all, make sure everyone in the organization is true to your vibe.


Would you say your company has a vibe? How relevant is this concept to your business? Do you think the terms “vibe” and “brand” are interchangeable in this context? What companies or businesses do you think have a great vibe?



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.


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.


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.

A Christmas Carol: Mr. Fezziwig’s Lessons for Management and Marketing

250px-Fezziwig_Ball-_Sol_EytingeCharles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a much-loved staple of the holiday season, and a personal favorite of mine from one of my favorite authors. Presented for the first time in 1843 to wide acclaim and commercial success, the short novel or one of its many adaptations still entertains millions all over the world over a wide variety of media.

It’s easy to see why. The story’s message of forgiveness, generosity, hope and redemption resonates with people of many backgrounds and traditions. To this day, it possesses life – and business – lessons that are every bit as relevant as they were in Victorian England.

You know the story. Ebenezer Scrooge (among the best names in English literature) is introduced as a bitter miser, insufferable skinflint and cruel, abusive employer. Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner who died seven Christmases ago, visits Scrooge as a tormented ghost to reveal the fate that awaits a terrified but recalcitrant Scrooge.

“I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and a hope of escaping my fate. A chance and a hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.”

What follows are visits by three “Spirits”: Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come. Each spirit guiding Scrooge through his own experiences and illuminating the experiences of the people whose lives Scrooge touches.

While in the company of the Spirit of Christmas past, Scrooge visits the workplace where he was apprenticed, Mr. Fezziwig’s warehouse, just in time for Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig’s annual Christmas party. What ensues is an evening of joy, laughter, feasting, music and dancing that awakens a long denied aspect of Scrooge’s personality.

As the evening wanes and Scrooge and his fellow apprentice are “pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig”, the spirit provokes Scrooge by saying:

“A small matter to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four, perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that”, said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking like his former, not his latter self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light of burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Upon making this exclamation, Scrooge reflects briefly and regretfully on the mistreatment suffered by his employee, Bob Cratchit, explaining to the inquiring ghost that, “I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now! That’s all.”

Scrooge’s elegant observation about the power of leaders to positively or negatively affect the lives of the people they employ is timeless. Further, it has profound implications for the experiences of our customers and prospects.

The true beauty in Fezziwig’s leadership, and the way it’s perceived by his employees and neighbors, is his sincerity and consistency. “…His power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Fezziwig’s leadership is born of high regard for the people he employs, and exhibited in ways too numerous to count. The Christmas party serves as a celebratory accent to relationships that are already rich and rewarding.


Employees who feel valued and respected are happier. They provide better service. They’re more creative and more productive. They work harder, bounce back better and support one another more vigorously.

As a result, your products and services are delivered more enthusiastically. Problems are solved more quickly and the “vibe” your prospects get when considering a relationship with your company is better. It doesn’t take a social scientist or research analyst to figure out how important this could be for your business.

The onus here doesn’t lie exclusively with employers and managers. This positive dynamic exists only when employees, like the young Scrooge, are industrious, competent, collaborative and have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them. They also need to understand and embrace what your company stands for (aka YOUR BRAND). These conditions should be met by most companies’ hiring and training procedures. If they don’t, then you are at a disadvantage out of the gate.

As leaders, we can use Mr. Fezziwig’s example to create an environment where we’re able to depend on the people who bring our brand promises to life.

By setting high expectations, providing the resources to meet those expectations and celebrating great outcomes, you can make your company a place where everybody – employees, neighbors, suppliers, customers and prospects – are all happier. With “words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up…”. You can can build a culture where “the happiness he is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

I’m publishing this week on Tuesday because my ordinary Thursday falls on Christmas day. If you like this or any other of my articles, I hope you will share them with friends and colleagues and consider following my blog. As always, your comments are invaluable to me as I plan for future contributions.

Please accept my best wishes for a warm and wonderful Christmas. I hope you are safe and warm, and surrounded by people and traditions you love. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at what I think 2015 might hold. I hope you’ll tune in.

Where have you been happiest at work? How did leadership contribute to your happiness? Can you think of a business you patronize where people are clearly happy? How does it affect your experience as a customer?

3 tips: Brighten Your Brand Through Strategic Giving

giftYour corporate brand is shaped by everything your company does. More and more, even the smallest details of your company’s behavior are now plainly visible to the people you serve and the people you want to serve.

Brands have always been defined by how a company’s public (customers, clients and prospects) feels about it. The difference for your company today is that you are no longer in the driver’s seat. When it comes to orchestrating the impressions that mold your audiences’ feelings about your company, you now have to share that influence with your customers.

If your company is interested in polishing its brand (and you should be), you should seek to build an authentic relationship with your public. To do that, you need to be acutely aware of how your public regards you. You also need to understand how members of your public can contribute – individually and collectively – to your brand’s positioning.

Beyond what you tell the marketplace with your advertising, websites, publications and through other “official” channels, how your public feels about your company can be profoundly influenced by your company’s behavior as a corporate citizen. For this reason, the causes and charities you give to should be considered as deliberately as any business strategy.

Listed below are three tips to help you develop a cohesive philanthropic strategy that aligns with your brand, communicates your values and integrates seamlessly with your other branding activities.

planGive with Purpose

It’s easy to approach philanthropy on an ad-hoc basis, merely reacting to requests from nonprofits and employees. Most companies get more requests for donations than they could ever possibly fund. So too often, the result is a lot of smaller gifts spread across a large swath of charitable causes and services with no intuitive link to your brand.

Instead, think about what you want to accomplish as a donor. What conditions in your community do you want to see improved, and how can you be a legitimate force for positive change?

I suggest identifying 3 or 4 areas where you want to focus your giving. At one financial services company where I was engaged, our overriding giving mission was to improve the prospects for financial self-reliance among people in the communities where we operated. For us, that meant focusing our gifts on education, particularly to improve financial literacy, and human services to support people and families in transition.

Please note that having a “giving mission” doesn’t preclude occasional gifts to nonprofits that don’t fit in the category(s) you’re focused on. Your budget should have room to support special requests and local or business-specific giving opportunities.

authorityLeverage Your Authority

As a donor and corporate citizen, your philanthropic activities should align with your company’s business mission and expertise – areas where you have a uniquely well-informed perspective on relevant issues and their solutions.

Nike provides a perfect example. The global athletic shoe and apparel company gives generously to fitness related programs all over the world. The connection between what the company does and the causes it supports is clear and common sense. Importantly, it also serves an important and widely recognized public health concern: improved health through improved fitness.

Your donations should honestly reflect your company’s wisdom and values. They should also avoid controversy. Unless you are known for taking bold stands on divisive issues, don’t consider causes that might inflame of alienate your public.

volunteersDon’t Just Write a Check

Get your employees and your customers involved. Support and incentivize your employees with paid volunteer time. Share good news about the accomplishments you are helping to fund and implement.

Getting your people involved with the causes your company cares about can make a big difference in their engagement. Employees who are invested in what your company stands for are much better brand ambassadors than employees who simply know what your company does. The same goes for customers.

Look for ways to partner with the nonprofits you support. Yoplait Yogurt has done an exceptional job in support of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Through philanthropy and cause related marketing, Yoplait has brought heightened awareness to a vitally important problem. At the same time, they have reinforced their brand positioning as a company dedicated to improved health for women and their families.

In this season of giving, I hope your company is in a position to give generously to the causes you and your constituents care about. By giving strategically, with purpose, intention and inclusion, you can really make a difference. The fact that doing so can also brighten your brand is, well, icing on the Christmas cake.

What companies do you admire or patronize because of their charitable activities? Are there certain companies who do a particularly good job of integrating their business and charitable activities? How does your company use its charitable activities to help distinguish itself in the marketplace?

My December To-Do List. Gettin’ Ready to Nail it in 2015!

Christmas lightsI probably chose the worst possible time of the year to launch my new business. Who on earth is even thinking about new marketing initiatives during the holidays? With year-end wrap ups looming, budgets, planning, vacations and so on, the odds that someone would actually make a decision to hire outside marketing help and put them to work are, roughly speaking, nil. Nada. Zipporino.

So I decided to make the most of what is likely to be some pretty serious downtime to make sure that when 2015 rolls around and people are more focused on business and marketing again, I’m ready and more able than ever to make a difference for them.

So, here is my December to-do list. It’s possible that some of the things I’m thinking about would be helpful to you too, either at work or just in general. If so, grab an egg nog, put on the Michael Buble’ and join me!


Get sharp on social media.

I have known for quite a while that marketers and their companies simply cannot ignore social media. One glaringly obvious reason is that OUR CUSTOMERS AND PROSPECTS ARE THERE. But of course there are tons of good reasons… better targeting, better user engagement, scalability, cost-efficient lead generation, increased sales, more profits.

Social Media as a category is a moving target. I have to be vigilant to remain relevant. You do too, because one way or another Social is good for your business.

I have bought or borrowed several books on the topic, like Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook”. I have joined a couple of meet-up groups that specialize in social media marketing, and I’m paying much more attention to what my daughters are doing, like NOT being on Facebook and spending more time on Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest and Tumblr. My goal by January 1 is to have a thorough grasp on the practical implications for all new media, for myself, my business and for my clients.

Write, Design, Develop and Launch a new website.

The website you are on right now, www.michaellmorrison.com, is really nothing more than a blog. For it to become a legitimate, business building asset for my consulting company, it needs to speak directly to the financial services company executives I want to help with messaging and solutions they care about. My marketing materials and proposals need to resonate too.

Here’s how serious I think this is… I even shot a video with the help of some old friends (and Emmy Award winners, I might add) when I was in Montana for Thanksgiving last week. Why? Video improves search and keeps visitors on your site longer. I’ll be using mine to help drive lead generation, because I need to know my site does more than just look good. You should know that too.

I intend to keep blogging about broader marketing, communications, and business & leadership issues, but starting in January, this site will have a much larger scope. If things go according to plan, it will also see a significant jump in traffic. All good things!


Hone my pitch.

I’m positioning Michael L Morrison Marketing as an outsourced Chief Marketing Officer, with competencies and relationships to solve any marketing and communications problem my clients might have. But I want to be sure this isn’t too broad for my prospects to process.

There are consultants out there with a narrow focus on one or two disciplines, like video production or media training. For companies with a very specific problem to solve, it’s easy to decide if these consultants fit the bill. These are just two of the many services my firm provides,

I personally think offering a one-stop-shop for all marketing and communications challenges is a good idea, particularly given my strategic, integrated approach – but I’m going to do some market research to see what kind of positioning and messaging really resonates with executives in the financial services biz.

Every company should be constantly evaluating their messaging and positioning. Remember, it’s not what you have to say that matters, it’s what your customers and prospects are prepared to hear and act upon.

That’s my December. Of course I will also make time for fun holiday stuff. Our daughters and Jake (our older daughter’s fiancé) will all be here. We’re thrilled to have them close by whenever we can, so I’ll be sure to make plenty of time to enjoy their company. Maybe I can get them to walk me through Tumblr! Whatever your plans are, I hope you have a warm and rewarding holiday season and that 2015 is your best year yet!


What are your year-end plans? What are you expectations for 2015 and what are you doing now to make them a reality?




relationships imageThis is the last of three articles devoted to the topic of thankfulness. Gratitude, I have learned, is a powerful tool for enhancing our lives, health and overall well-being. People who are thankful are happier and less stressed. They are less susceptible to the fears and distractions of modern, every-day life. As a result, they can be more productive, more focused and more creative – characteristics business people value in themselves and their associates.

Last week, I invited you to share how you go about making gratitude a regular part of your day, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. The responses were uplifting, and – to me anyway – not at all surprising. Everyone who commented expressed gratitude for the people in their lives, family and friends.

My good friend Grant, whose wit and wisdom I missed for about 30 years until our paths recently re-crossed, commented “I’m thankful for all my friends—both old and new—who remind me every day how far I’ve come and how exciting the journey is yet to be.”

If we let them, our families and friends can be a deep well of support and encouragement, not to mention joyful companionship. Sure, the people we’re closest to can make us nuts, but they’re also the most forgiving. I’m talking about people whose hopes for you – and belief in you – often exceed even your own.

Years ago, my parents lived on a small lake in Lolo, Montana just down the Bitterroot Valley from Missoula. They had a neighbor, Bill, who was one of the funniest, most creative people I have ever had the pleasure to know. He was a gifted mimic with a particular talent for dialects. Bill and I would riff for hours on our fictitious adventures in WWII (pronounced dubya dubya eye eye), and their profound relevance to the challenges of the day – such as smoking fish… “they’re so hard to keep lit.” We were hilarious. Trust me.

One day, Bill took me to a sports complex in Missoula in his vintage Datsun 240Z. I don’t remember if we were there for a pickup game of softball or to watch his young daughter or son playing little league. What sticks with me about that day is what Bill said just before we got out of the car.

I don’t think I ever knew exactly what Bill did for a living. I know he was very highly educated, had a lovely wife, JoAnne, and that they had two small kids. I guess I’m unclear about his profession because it doesn’t align with our mutual, earnest pursuit of silliness. Looking back, I suppose it was his scientist’s rigor and attention to detail that helped make our nonsense so much fun.

You can imagine then, how surprised I was when just as we were about to hop out of the car, Bill asked me to hang on for a second. “Michael” he said, “I have something I want to tell you. You’re a young guy. You’re going to run into people and situations that’ll make you wonder if you’re on the right track, make you wonder if you’ll ever be a success or if you even deserve it, but I wanted you to know that no matter what, I believe in you. Just remember that, OK?”

That was more than thirty years ago and as I write about it, I can still feel myself sitting in the black vinyl seat of his Z car watching Bill speak in a way that was rare between us. Without his characteristically mischievous smirk, Bill was expressing confidence in me that I didn’t have myself. At the same time, he was challenging me. He knew I had grand aspirations and that I would certainly face discouragement. But with the words “I believe in you”, he was also saying that I deserved to have big plans. That I would be failing myself (and him) if I settled for less.

Bill was more emphatic and specific than most friends and family generally are, but most of us have had people in our lives who made, or continue to make, vital contributions to the way we see ourselves and our vision for the kind of person we want to be. It’s a striking and beautiful thing. My conversation with Bill is emblematic of all the positive relationships I have had with friends, colleagues and employers and customers throughout my life.

All of the things we make & sell, the stories we tell, songs we write and sing, the technology we develop, places we go, and buildings we build. Everything is for and about people. Relationships are everything.

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, 2014, I was blessed to be spending the holiday with my wife, Cathleen, two daughters Halley and Georgia Mae and Halley’s fiancé Jake. Cathleen and I are the guests of my mother in law Laura, and we spent the day with my wife’s sister, Caroline and her husband Fred and my niece and nephew Phoebe and Tobin. Cathleen’s brother John is baking the pumpkin pies. I can’t begin to describe how great it was for me after a couple of years’ absence to be back in this familiar, loving company, and how cool I think it is that our family’s circle has now expanded to include Jake.

More than anything, Thanksgiving is for me a celebration of relationships. My relationship with God, with the people who are nearest and most influential in my life, and with the many people who are continually entering and changing my life. Thanksgiving is a time for reveling in the quirks and eccentricities we ALL have, and for learning to love our differences.

As I conclude this treatise on gratitude, I’m thinking about all the people who have loved, guided, mentored, challenged, supported and encouraged me all along the way. My relationships with these people, now and in the future, are the most precious things I will have in this life, and I am – now, forever and always – grateful.

How are relationships important to you personally and professionally? Where have you worked or done business where relationships are a clear priority? How do they demonstrate their commitment to building and nurturing relationships?

Give Thanks. Grow Your Business.

ThanksThis is the second of three articles leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday focusing on cultivating gratitude as a proven technique for improving your mental, emotional, and physical health – with real life implications for your business.

As a businessperson, I can be as pragmatic and analytical as anyone, but for me the human dimension has always been infinitely more interesting and rewarding than the technical or statistical.

I fully understand and appreciate the necessity of a healthy, well-managed balance sheet, of continually studying work processes, cash flows and optimizing for efficiencies and outcomes. I get that tracking and managing technical competencies and measurable outputs are essential to running a successful company.

I also maintain that these are the structural underpinnings to the real business of business – people.

Peter Drucker once wrote “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Customers, I hope we can all agree, are people – people with families, passions, dreams and frustrations. You and your company exist to help these people solve a problem or realize an aspiration. How well you connect with people to make them aware of your company, attract their interest, make a sale and maintain a relationship depends entirely upon your – and your company’s – capabilities as a marketer.

These capabilities are, in turn, directly related to the imagination, intention, enthusiasm and compassion you bring to the relationship. Qualities that are all enhanced, personally and institutionally, by being grateful. Here’s how…


A 2012 Forbes Magazine article titled “Employee Brain on Stress Can Quash Creativity And Competitive Edge” by Judy Martin, reports that “with more than forty percent of American workers reporting chronic workplace stress, the long-term impact of stress and its influence on the human creative condition and business can be detrimental, says Rick Hanson PhD,  a California-based neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.”

Research, much of it conducted by psychologist and leading gratitude expert Robert Emmons, has shown that people who feel gratitude are happier, report more life satisfaction, and also report less stress.

The conclusion is easy to draw. If you are grateful, you are probably less stressed. If you are less stressed, you are probably more creative. If you are more creative, you can solve problems and innovate more effectively. Pretty straightforward, huh?


Gratitude acknowledges the vital role that others, including our employees, suppliers and customers have played in the good things we experience in our lives and in our business. This simple act de-emphasizes the individual’s and the company’s internal focus (obsession), and places it where it belongs – on the people you serve and the people who help make it possible.


Just as gratitude can help alleviate stress, it contributes to better health and feelings of well-being. A 2011 Harvard Medical School publication titled “In Praise of Gratitude” reports that “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Whether you are the CEO or just joined the mailroom staff, you will approach life and work with more energy, optimism and enthusiasm if you are happier and healthier. How you lead, how you collaborate and how you serve are all directly related to your enthusiasm.


When we are freed from the negative affects of the flight-or-fight instinct triggered by stress and we become more generous about acknowledging the contributions of others to our own well-being, it’s easier to be more accepting, less judgmental and more eager to please.

Companies and employees who are open enough to recognize the challenges faced by their colleagues and customers are less apt to resort to “it’s not my job” behavior. Tell me honestly, as a customer aren’t you happier when the company and the person serving you is genuinely interested in you, solving your problem of helping fulfill your aspiration?

If Mr. Drucker was correct, and I believe he was, the purpose of business is to create a customer. Then, at all levels in an organization, and at all times through the development and execution of business strategies, people are the object of all your intentions. A deliberate and ongoing practice of gratitude makes people – leaders, managers, and employees – happier, healthier, more creative and more helpful.

That’s got to be good for business.

I am extremely grateful for the readers who take a few minutes out of their crazy-busy weeks to visit this site. I’m also grateful to my wife, Cathleen, my daughters Halley and Georgia Mae and to many friends and colleagues for their support as I launch my new business, Michael L Morrison Marketing. I am truly blessed. Thank you all.

I get very few comments on this blog, so I’m making a special request this week in preparation for my Thanksgiving Day post next week. Please share what you are thankful for and what, if anything, you do to make gratitude a regular part of your life. I look forward to hearing from you. – Michael





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.


  • 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?


Extracurricular Activities – Burnishing Your Brand

Wrapping up this week’s examination of Back-to-School season and the opportunities for renewal this time of year presents for businesses and their brands, let’s conclude with what for many are the defining experiences of academic life: Extracurricular activities.

Athletics, music, theatre, dance, technology, science…even chess, the passions and relationships we chose outside the classroom all had an enormous impact on our community, our satisfaction as students, our sense of self and on our reputations. The lessons we learned in these environments were often more valuable than anything taught in the classroom. It is in this context that many people finally figure out who they are, or want to be.

Group Hug

For me, it was theatre. Not being a particularly talented athlete, all of my forays into team or individual sports were frustrating if not disastrous. As a little kid, I had seen a few children’s theatre productions, and I still remember how enthralled I was seeing real people be something and someone they were not. It was magical to me then, and to this day a great play or movie still energizes and inspires me.

I was always a big fan of popular music and I knew I could keep a tune because I sang along with the radio constantly. In high school, I took choir but blended in with all the other baritones. I was destined for anonymity until auditions for “Carousel” were held during my junior year. Standing in front of an audience for the first time, I trembled as the choir director, orchestra director, drama teacher and my peers listened as I sang “If I Loved You”, the beautiful Rogers and Hammerstein ballad sung by the lead, Billy Bigelow.

I got the part.

I was told after the fact that my choir teacher said, “who is this guy and where has he been?” It was a good day. That was my first experience in a discipline that continues to inform who I am as a person and businessperson: a storyteller and communicator with a strong sensitivity for audiences, a good listener, a patient leader.

In business, the things we and our companies do outside the everyday also help define us. These activities do not directly reflect our capabilities, products or services – yet our customers and employees care about them. Importantly, they can also be a source of inspiration that energizes and strengthens your organization.

Considering your brand’s extracurricular activities, I want to focus on three areas Advocacy, Activism and Philanthropy, which often overlap.

Advocacy – Every company has at least three key constituencies: its customers (and prospects), its employees and its shareholders or partners. The people who populate these groups are, of course, interested in your business (the products you make and services you offer), but as a group they have other needs, interests and issues. You and your company are in a position to advocate for one or more of these groups by devoting time and resources to helping overcome common challenges faced by these groups.

For example, in the wealth management industry, it’s pretty safe to assume that people are interested in growing and preserving wealth. Advocating for this group can be achieved by supporting programs that promote strategies for reducing expenses or improving financial literacy.

For employees, advocacy may be wellness programs or retirement counseling.

For shareholders and partners, advocacy may come in the form of activism (below). What’s important here is the idea that you and your company care about something not because it has an immediate impact on the top line, but because it is important to the people you care about.

Activism – The interests of our persons, companies, communities and customers are affected (sometimes deeply) by government policies. We’re blessed to do business in a democratic republic. As citizens, we have a responsibility to understand and act upon policies that threaten to harm our ability to operate profitably, and to advocate for our customers (see above) when their interests are threatened. Through direct participation in the legislative process, and your influence among constituents, your positions can make a profound impact on your reputation and solve real world problems.

Philanthropy – Sometimes referred to as simply Corporate Giving, or more broadly Ethical Corporate Social Responsibility, how you give can have a huge impact on the way your firm is perceived. Large companies often have foundations with professional staffs, endowments and missions to guide their operations, but even small companies can be strategic about giving, both to make a difference and to accrue reputational benefits. I recommend having a formal giving policy that reflects your individual or collective values, and exploring methods to engage employees or customers in the effort. This is another very big topic I will address in a future post.


Which company’s extracurricular activities are you most aware of? How do you feel about the company as a result? Are there companies who you believe should do more?






Looking Good, or The Art of the First Impression

macklemore-dancing-in-the-thrift-shop1Following this week’s Back to School theme, I think we have to start with wardrobe. Now, as the father of two exceptionally talented, smart and accomplished daughters, my personal experience suggests that the intricacies of image at back to school time were much more important to them than I remember them ever being with me or my friends. But, although we guys were not at all interested in our “outfits”, it’s fair to say we were very interested in having a “look” that said something about us.

It’s funny, really. How many new people does any new student see at the beginning of a new school year? Yet, each year students obsess about that all-important first impression. (Note: I am aware that this preoccupation generally lasts through high school only. Post secondary school attire seems to be designed to discourage attraction from any but the most determined.)

I think there is a lesson here and it’s pretty cool. In a very real way, and in direct contradiction to the axiom, we DO get more than one chance to make a first impression.

This applies in business and marketing too. The opportunity for students to reinvent themselves at the beginning of a new school year is there for us too. But, like students, the opportunity must be pursued strategically (what do you want the new look to say about you, and why), and deliberately.

I should elaborate here by saying that when I talk about the way a company or business “looks”, I’m really talking about all of the ways it makes an impression. The principles are the same, whether you have a great new storefront, a refreshed website or all of the many ways a client and prospect experiences your company.

Here are three practices that can help people and their practices, businesses or companies decide whether it’s time for a new look, and if so, how to use the opportunity to the greatest advantage.

bob-landry-dorothy-mcguire-gazing-into-mirror-hands-at-throat-on-staircase-in-scene-from-spiral-staircaseTake a good long look at yourself…

As part of your annual planning and budgeting discipline, ask yourself if you are looking as good as you should. How long has it been since you made a change? How do you compare to your competitors? What do business trends tell you about parts of your company that may no longer be resonating the way they once did. Try to put yourself in your customers’ and clients’ shoes and engage as many stakeholders as you can. You’ll get some great ideas from unexpected places.

Talk to your customers…

If you have the resources, you should also ask your customers what they think. Only be specific. Don’t ask “How was your experience with our Help Desk?” No one is going to give you the kind of critical feedback you really need unless they know precisely what you’re looking for. Instead, try “Our help desk has a mission to resolve client issues completely during the initial call, and within 24-hours if an immediate resolution is not possible. Did we meet these goals during your last call? Is there something more we could do to make your experience better?” You get the picture. Wherever your clients touch your company, figure out a way to ask the customer if it makes them happy. Ask. Don’t assume.

Alright already. Make the changes…

Back to my daughters… both have a very well-defined style, however any resemblance ends there. My older daughter’s self expression in clothing can best be described as thrift-and-hardware store chic. She is the only woman I have ever known who can pull off shorts and (I swear) crab boots.

My younger daughter on the other hand has high fashion sense. Throughout high school she had an uncanny eye for fabric and color that was unique, attention-getting and trend setting.

The point is, they are both true to themselves and unapologetic about expressing it. You and your business should do the same. Ask yourself who you are and what you stand for. Then make sure your identity is authentically expressed by the way you “look”.

As an individual or business leader, have you ever made a big change in the way you looked? What was the result? What lessons would you share?



Back to School Time…For Your Brand

school-profit-47Among the transitions we experience each year, the end of summer seems to me to be the most pronounced. It makes sense, really. Since we were kids, the end of summer and the beginning of school has signaled a new beginning, or at least a chance at one.

I remember going to the store with my mom and little sister and actually being excited about three-ring binders, college-ruled paper, no. 2 pencils and a package of ball point pens, all of which were completely free of teeth marks (however briefly).

I labored over the design and color of folders and tried to decide which NFL team had won my inestimably valuable endorsement for the coming season (in Montana there are no local teams, so allegiances were either inherited or up for grabs).

We worked out who would be walking with who, where we would meet after school. Even made plans for the games and dances we knew school would usher in. Setting the right tone and making the right impressions were critical.

It was a time when we could resolve to repeat our successes, to be better at the things we did well; and to apply the lessons learned from past failures to rise above or minimize our inadequacies.

Honestly, compared to the critical life decisions we made in early September, New Year’s resolutions seemed pale.

This is true today too and just as applicable in business. As the distractions of summer once again give way to the earnest pursuit of our plans, there is no better time than right now to size up your company, your performance and your brand.

I’ll be posting every day this week, focusing each day on an activity that aligns with Back-to-School season:

  • Defining and achieving your look – The style that reflects your firm inside and out
  • Supplies and materials – Do you have the people and systems you’ll need?
  • Clubs, cliques and communities – We’re known by the company we keep. How does that play in to your business strategies?
  • After school & extracurricular – The best lessons are often learned outside the classroom, or the boardroom. How do you institutionalize innovation?

What are your most vivid recollections of back to school? How could this annual “season of reinvention” be valuable to you or your company today?