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!

Wealth Management Marketing: Quick Fixes to Keep You in the Game

marketing imageI met with a former colleague the other day to discuss his wealth management firm’s marketing message and capabilities. The firm has experienced strong, steady growth since its inception, largely due to the hard work and strong reputations of its partners and some smart acquisitions. But now that the partners are approaching retirement and a new generation of advisors has been tasked with maintaining the firm’s growth trajectory, their marketing deficiencies have become a problem.

The tricky part is convincing the partners that the firm needs to invest in marketing today when it never had to before. They built a successful firm and careers without any kind of strategic marketing. Why should they start doing it now?

Here’s why…


Your competition is – The financial services industry was late to this party, but it’s now common to see even small firms with clearly defined brands, great websites, slick user experiences and high visibility in multiple media. These companies tell great stories that illuminate and engage their audiences.


It’s crowded out there – The advisor community has experienced some consolidation and the pace of retirements will soon be picking up, but anyway you look at it there are a lot of companies and advisors all competing for the same clients. Anything that gives your advisors an edge – makes them more memorable or more credible – can make all the difference.


Who you are is just as important as what you do – Unless you really do have a one-of-a-kind planning or investment strategy, the surest way to win new business is by expressing your firm’s unique sense of purpose, the qualities that define your character. You’re working to win the trust of investors, a challenge that demands a real conversation about real people’s hopes and fears. You have to show them you understand. You care.Introspection image

You have to get – and hold – people’s attention – There has never been more competition for your audience’s eyes and ears. Getting through to them when and where you stand a chance of making an impression is hard. You need a plan, a message, a style and a system for making adjustments to capitalize on wins and correct underperformance.Attention

The senior members of your firm may agree intellectually to all of these arguments,


They still find it difficult to make the investment.

If that’s the case for your firm, here are a few relatively quick, easy and affordable steps you can take right now to keep your firm and advisors in the game. These are no replacement for a strategic, integrated marketing plan, but it’s a start that could whet your firm’s execs for more.

mission_statement image

Develop a mission statement – Or better yet, a Vision – Mission – Values statement. This is a helpful exercise anyway and it provides you with content you can use for a variety of purposes. Click here for a great guide from BPlans with instructions for how to compose a strong mission statement.

Work image

Use it – Put your mission statement on your website and on your corporate and product brochures. If you really like it, put it on the back of your business cards. Heck, if you really really like it, make it the foundation for your company’s operating and growth strategies!

Develop or update your collateral – Investors want something from you to either familiarize themselves with you before a face to face meeting, or to remember you after a meeting. You have to have something and it has to look good. Check with a local advertising agency to see if they will quote you a price for copywriting based on your mission statement and a few interviews with the relevant subject matter experts and principals. The same firm can also bid on the design, but agency fees can climb fast. Check with graphic design students at a nearby college or university to help reduce costs.brochure03

Fix your website – Take a look at your website. Compare it to the sites of other wealth management firms, especially your most worrisome competitors. Chances are pretty good that you’re going to see some sites that look and work WAY better than yours. Make note of the content, style, and functionality you like most, then check with your web developer/designer to see kinds of changes you can make now to improve the look, content and user experience on your site without getting into the big bucks.website fix image

If you decide you need a new site entirely, WordPress, SquareSpace and others have excellent web development and content management platforms with a ton of terrific bells and whistles. Your developer probably has a preference and can tell you more about them, including how your staff can manage the content to help keep your site fresh and relevant.

bandaid image

These steps represent a quick fix, and will not be as effective in the long run as a strategic marketing initiative. But for firms with tight budgets and growth plans, even these adjustments can make a big difference for advisors competing to win new business.

Good luck!

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?



Want More Out of Life and Work? Practice This Miraculous Technique!

gratitude7Sometimes, the best marketing is no marketing at all. Sometimes heartfelt gestures of gratitude engender respect and a deeper connection by reminding ourselves, our customers and our neighbors that we are all in this together.

Be sure to check out the videos at the bottom of this article.

In a couple of weeks here in the United States, we’ll observe Thanksgiving Day – a day first observed in 1789 according to a proclamation by our first president, George Washington. The Thanksgiving holiday we continue to celebrate was established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and made into law by Congress in 1941.

Thanksgiving, the act of giving thanks – of being grateful – is a profound act. In an article titled “Why Gratitude Is Good”, Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components.

“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

For me as an individual, gratitude means enthusiastically acknowledging my Creator as the author of all good things. It also means contemplating the gifts I have received and the lessons I have learned from people who have shaped my life and colored my journey.

As a marketing professional, I believe gratitude is best expressed in the ways we think about, interact with, and serve our customers. If gratitude is, as Mr. Emmons suggests, an “acknowledgement that other people…gave us many gifts to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” Then companies who embrace gratitude have a powerful incentive to “pay it forward”, to deliver superior products and experiences.

If a company honestly and deliberately internalizes the conviction that the goodness it has experienced is the result of gifts from others – its customers, its employees, shareholders and partners – how do you suppose it would affect the way the company communicates with and serves those same people?

Personally and professionally, an Attitude of Gratitude is for me the best way to approach business and the business of life. As we approach this season of thanks, my best wish for you is gratefulness that lasts all year long.


Speaking of the season of thanks…today, I was exposed for the first time to what has become a holiday tradition in Great Britain, television commercials (adverts there) by UK retailers John Lewis and Sainsbury’s.

For 2014, these companies have created very different stories, but each evokes shared experiences of love and brotherliness that reflect the good will of the season. For me at least, these wonderfully well-produced commercials remind me of all I have to be thankful for. Enjoy.

Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advert

John Lewis’ 2014 Christmas advert

Do you do business with a company that really seems to be thankful for your business? How does that affect your experience? How does your company express gratitude? 

Three Ways to Help Investors in Scary Markets



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!




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.

Fun at Work? Abso-freakin’-lutely!


Fun at Work imageImagine this. You’re on your way to work and you’re actually, honestly excited about it.

Wait…what? Really?

Abso-freakin’-lutely! Know why?

  • You’re working with people you trust and who trust you.
  • You’re busting your butt, and you know everyone else is, too.
  • Your boss has given you a crystal clear vision for where you’re headed.
  • She has coached you when you needed redirecting and
  • Encouraged you when you fell short.
  • You have what you need to do your job.
  • You feel safe enough to make mistakes and
  • Your company takes the time to acknowledge accomplishments all along the way.

It’s fun. Really.

Google is famous for operating a fun workplace. Sure, they spend big on employee perks, but these perks are not the source of the fun. What the perks do, whether it’s free meals, childcare, or concierge services, is free up employees to do the things that Google values most: imagine, collaborate, innovate, create and produce.

Google demonstrates its respect for its employees every day by allowing them to customize their workplace experiences so they can be at the very top of their games.

Fun at work has gotten a lot of attention, and it’s often easy for business leaders to think that fun is something you buy (an espresso machine!) or add on (lap pool?). It’s not. Fun is the outcome of policies and behavior that honor the people we employ, and unties the binds that keep them from being the rock stars they want to be!

Although it would be totally cool, you don’t need to add a water slide and margarita machines to promote fun at your company. There are small steps you can take right now to foster an environment where people aspire to great things and have the fearlessness to try.waterslide

If you make an honest, good faith effort, you can make work more fun for yourself and for your employees. And more fun means higher productivity, better retention, easier recruiting. Do I really need to sell you on this?

The best kind of fun is found in activities that take us out of ourselves and away from our fears and preoccupations. When you’re having fun, you’re in the moment. Focused. Even faced with tight deadlines, high productivity requirements and relentless resource constraints, it’s possible to have fun. In fact, it’s imperative.

Once, while working at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Bigfork, Montana, a few of my friends (actors and technicians from the Playhouse) and I walked up the old dirt road along the Swan River just outside of town. It was a blisteringly hot day in late summer and, because we worked at night and had nothing to do except play (those were the days), we were looking for an adventure that might also cool us off.

Now, of course we could have just walked the short ten minutes to Flathead Lake, but where’s the thrill in that? One of the more daring nut jobs from the group remembered a series of pools in the river that were deep enough to jump into, even from the cliffs (CLIFFS!) that towered well above the river. You just had to be sure you jumped far enough.

Well, it turned out that was pretty damn far.

I stood at the edge of the cliff looking down at the glacier-fed water rushing into a series of four or five pools that looked pretty deep. Probably deep enough, but to get from where I stood to where the first pool was required not only a considerable vertical drop, but a horizontal span that looked to me at the time to be about the length of a football field.

Probably further.Football field

Definitely further.

I couldn’t help but get a little shaky about it. OK, really shaky.

I’m not gonna lie – that first jump was terrifying. It was also thrilling. It was an amazing, fun day. I have had similarly exhilarating, fun experiences at work and I can tell you that I (and the people around me) were all better off for it. So was our employer.

I’m fascinated by the neuroscience of fun. Our brains work better when we are having fun. We’re more creative and energetic, even harder working.

It’s puzzling to me that companies don’t try harder to tap the potential in a happier workforce, but if more fun sounds like it’s worth a shot, then consider the following…

Fun is not the object. People and relationships are.

When I jumped like a madman into the Swan River, I was with people I trusted. The sense of competition between us was healthy and constructive because it nudged us all to push the borders of our comfort zones. Most importantly, we all knew that if we failed, although we may have experienced extreme bodily harm, we were still loved. Coincidentally, the same dynamic applied to our work together at the Playhouse.

  • We knew our objective (overcoming the distance between the cliff and the swimming hole),
  • We had the resources we needed to achieve it (knew where to go and had the physical ability to make the leap), and
  • We allowed every one to approach the challenge in his or her own way (with a little good-natured ribbing).
  • We were in it together. The day was better, more fun, more memorable and more stimulating because it was shared.

It’s not about buying ice cream between floggings.

Creating an environment that promotes fun doesn’t mean you have to break the bank throwing parties or providing perks. And it sure as hell doesn’t (in fact, shouldn’t) have to wait for the annual Christmas party.

Leadership can promote fun at any time by having a little fun themselves. Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder and one time CEO of Southwest Airlines, was known to greet passengers in an Elvis costume.

Herb created a culture that celebrated individuality, even eccentricity, while building the most successful airline in the history of the industry. It’s important to note that Herb was genuinely interested in, and respectful of, his employees and his fun was never at someone else’s expense. They felt safe to have fun and be crazy while they were working hard and recreating the experience of flying.

Fun should be part of fulfilling your company’s mission.

Achievement is fun. Remember how jazzed you felt when you aced that Chemistry test or finished your first 10-K? How about the time when your team at work successfully launched a new product or website? Setting goals and then achieving them is exhilarating. This is especially true when the experience is shared with others. This is where you get the real whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its parts mojo going!

Companies that are clear about their goals and excited about empowering people to get creative about accomplishing them can experience surprisingly great things. By encouraging people to contribute, regardless of their tenure or position, celebrating achievement all along the way, and taking the time to relax and appreciate the precious resource your people are, any place can be a fun place to work.

Do you have fun at work? Which companies impress you as offering a fun experience for their employees and customers? What can you do to make work more fun for yourself and the people around you?

If you like this article, please share it. Follow me for updates each time I publish.









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?






Clubs, Cliques & Community – Companies are known by the company they keep

The concept I am exploring with this week’s unusually ambitious schedule of daily postings is this: Just as the beginning of each new school year gives students the chance to, in effect, reinvent themselves – this annual season of self evaluation and self improvement can also apply to businesses and their brands.

A lot of the preparation for a new school year is naturally very deliberate. What you’ll wear, for instance, and the supplies you’ll buy. But another very powerful influence on our school experience may be given decidedly less thought. Our connections, the people we gather with, love, emulate, admire, and maybe even fear. As much as anything (probably more) the world (our customers, employers and employees) makes decisions about us based on the people and groups we surround ourselves with and the way we treat – and are treated by – those groups.

Flamingos gifThink about it. In school, were you a jock? A nerd? A stoner? A Goth? Were you popular or excluded? As individuals, of course, where we’re accepted is often subject to circumstances and biases outside our control. Even so, by deliberately changing the groups where we lead, follow or just hang out, we can change the way we’re perceived and treated.

For businesses and their brands, I think this concept of affiliation demands a more conscious conversation about your company’s relationship with each of the following four essential groups:

Your employees – Employee engagement gets a lot of attention these days, and it should. Employees who believe in your company and its mission can do more to promote excellence and innovation if they feel safe and appreciated. Empowered with your firm’s vision, they can act as brand ambassadors, recruiters and salespeople. An engaged workforce is more productive, less susceptible to turnover and generates more revenue and earnings. Of course, really engaging your workforce means a lot more than just memorizing names and sending birthday cards. It calls for a disciplined, multifaceted approach to management and sets high expectations for leaders from the CEO down. An interesting study about this topic was published by the Harvard Business Review this summer and can be read at   http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/your-bosss-work-life-balance-matters-as-much-as-your-own/

Your competitors – You probably already monitor your competition for their products and pricing. You check their adverting, social media and media coverage. When you’re honest with yourself, though, you may have to admit that there isn’t much of a difference between you and them. If that’s the case, then I challenge you to think bigger and with more determination. Think about companies outside your industry that are doing exciting things to differentiate and grow their businesses. Make a decision to be different, better in a way that matters to your customers. Then, make the hard choices and do the work so that difference is real, not just hype.

Your existing customers – In school, these were your best friends. People who were with you through thick and thin. They had your back and you had theirs. You cared about what they thought and went out of your way to help them out. In business, existing customers are gold. You owe it to them to make their experience with your company as rewarding and personal as your resources will permit. Today, that means personalization and segmentation, communicating in a way that acknowledges customers’ individuality. It means honoring your best customers with membership on advisory boards and in loyalty programs. A retained customer is your cheapest source of revenue and your best advocate. Engage your entire company in the business of making clients’ experiences a success.

Your desired customers – Earlier, I mentioned that by consciously changing the groups a student chooses, she can change the way she is perceived. In other words, change her “brand”. Your company can do the same. As you conduct your business analysis and strategic planning, ask yourself if there is a segment of the market that you should have a bigger share of. If so, what has prevented you from seizing that share? What changes do you need to make to compete successfully for this business? Whether it’s people, technology or infrastructure (yesterday’s post), are your investments likely to generate an attractive return? If, on the other hand, you are already in your sweet spot customer-wise, this is a great time to review and refine your marketing and sales/ business development function. Technology is making changes to this discipline at a dizzying pace. You can’t afford to fall behind.

By consciously and deliberately addressing the needs and expectations of each of these groups, your company will enjoy the good will of all and the many reputational and financial benefits that come with it.

Have you ever worked for a company that did an exceptionally good job of considering and serving any of the groups mentioned above?  



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?


Turn Employees into Brand Ambassadors


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I’m a marketer, yes, but I am also hung up on the client experience. I guess I have always been obsessed with walking the talk. You know… meaning what you say. Saying what you mean. Being truthful. Being open.

Fortunately, it turns out that markets reward these behaviors in the form of more, and more loyal, customers. So, for example, when I am working on a campaign strategy to introduce a new product, I really care about the performance of that product. After all, my (company’s) word is my (company’s) bond. There is a lot at stake.

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s not just about the product or service. It’s about the infrastructure and the people that deliver and support it. Think about it. Whether you are dining out, buying a car, choosing a financial advisor…you name it, your experience extends well beyond what you bought. In my book, people are the key.

Well-intentioned, well-trained people make so-so products good and great products even better. By paying attention to the three principles below, companies can enhance the probability of success while preserving and polishing the brand.


Make sure everyone in your organization knows she or he is in the customer service business.

It doesn’t matter if they are customer facing. Everyone is involved in activities built around one thing – delivering something customers want and keeping them happy with it. In this kind of environment, “that’s not my job” is heresy. Everyone owns the success of the customer’s experience.

Give Power to the People

Your company’s mission, vision and values should be forefront in your employee orientations. They should be reiterated and demonstrated frequently by all levels of management. When behavior doesn’t align with the company’s values, everyone should feel safe pointing it out using forums you provide and publicize. Don’t just tell your employees what. Tell them why. Share success. Analyze failure. Truly be all in it, together.

Praise with Purpose

It turns out there is a lot of science around praise and recognition. To optimize the effect, the experts say, you need to be precise with the praise. Instead of simply saying “good job”, you can promote right behavior by saying “Thanks, Rachel and Dan, because you stayed late to finish the clients’ paperwork, they were able to complete the transaction on schedule. I know the clients were happy, and we are grateful for your teamwork and initiative.” Be specific.

Celebrate Strategically

Company events and honors are a great way to energize and inform your people. As with praise, use the occasion to specifically describe the qualities, attitudes, behaviors and outcomes you want to promote. Make it crystal clear what the company cares most about and be sure it aligns perfectly with your values. If that’s not the case, then you have a lot more work to do.

It’s a big topic, but by consciously including your entire workforce in the customer service business and celebrating excellence you are building an army of brand ambassadors. Imagine the impact that will have on your business.

Where are you most impressed with the treatment you receive as a customer? How has poor service affected your impression of an otherwise good brand?