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!

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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…

competition

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.

CROWDS

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,

BUT,

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.”

Wrong.

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?

 

 

Grab Some Heir – Connecting with Your Clients’ Kids

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

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

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

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

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

So what can you do?professor image

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

parents and grandparents

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

A Poorly differentiated offering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George's purpose

Serve something bigger than yourself

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

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

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

George and staff

Respect your team and your customers

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

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

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

 

George Bailey in despair

Lean on your supporters

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

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

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

George's community

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

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

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

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!

to-do-list

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?

 

 

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…

Imagination

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?

Intention

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.

Enthusiasm

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.

Compassion

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

 

 

 

 

Beer or Innovation? I’ll Take Both!

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

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

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

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

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

Packaging

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

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

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

Product

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

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

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

Positioning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Let Your Customers Love You!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise Your Customers

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

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

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

Be Open and Honest

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

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

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

Watch Your Front Line

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

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

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

Where’s the love?

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Three Ways to Help Investors in Scary Markets

downward-graph

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Create an official message for distribution by your advisors.

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

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

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

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

  • Host an online client call-in webinar conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Michael

 

Passion, Schmassion. You Do What You Hafta Do

I’m sure you have heard the Confucian quote

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

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

Bull.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Have a Big, Bold vision

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

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

Be Proud

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

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

Find Ways to Celebrate

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

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

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

The Curse of Knowledge… Can you escape it?

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

Example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to escape the Curse of Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Moon image

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

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

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

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

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

This means choosing a path that others don’t

Figuring out how to do things you have never done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Great New Stuff: The Gear You Need for Your Brand’s Back-to-School

Back to school season has always been a time for checking out the newest, coolest stuff. Stuff to take notes, do homework, complete lab work, conduct research, compose presentations and papers, solve problems, communicate and recreate.

supplies

When I was a student (at school anyway. I’d like to think of myself as a lifelong student), the choices were a little less exciting technologically (what I could have accomplished with an iPad!) Nevertheless, the new gear I got for every new school year got me excited about the year ahead and gave me the leg up I needed to keep pace with even the most ambitious class schedule. HP Calculators rock!

Two posts ago, I suggested that the end of summer and the resumption of a more rhythmic, structured existence is a perfect time for companies to go “back to school” themselves. Just as each new school year gives students a fresh start, companies too have an opportunity to reinvent themselves, or parts of themselves, to be more attractive and relevant to their customers and prospects.

When you have taken the time to objectively assess how your company looks and how well you are engaging your customers, as described in my post titled “Looking Good, or the Art of the First Impression”, the next step is to get the gear you’ll need to execute against the changes you have identified.

Depending on your conclusions, your shopping list could be a long one. The range of possibilities includes everything from complete rebranding along with everything that accompanies it (signage, collateral, advertising, digital) to more modest changes like frontline training to enhance the customer experience. But remember, don’t be discouraged if the list is too long. Make priorities and do what you can. Anything. Incremental improvements are better than no improvements at all.

At school, everyone needs the same supplies with some exceptions for certain specialized studies, but even then everyone in a particular specialty has the same tools. To a certain extent this also applies in business. Your best competitors are an excellent reference for the stuff you’ll need.

As you might imagine, it’s difficult to guess what any company’s back-to-school list will include, but there are a few items that I believe every firm needs to think about to remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.

P    T    I

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People: In business, some of the “stuff” you’ll need may also be competencies you lack and the strategic hires you need to make to enhance your capabilities or broaden services. Today, that means technologists and leadership that is skilled at inspiring and empowering a customer centered enterprise.

Technology: You don’t need me to tell you that technology touches nearly every industry and consumer. At the very least, you should update your website so you and your people can be proud about what it says about you. It must be optimized for mobile devices and have enough dynamic content to provide a worthwhile user experience and search performance. This is a huge topic I’ll be addressing in much greater depth for future blogs.

Infrastructure: I have talked a lot about making improvements and adjustments to the impressions your company makes on its customers and prospects, but of course it goes much deeper than that. The most engaging web user experience on earth will not compensate for delayed deliveries, dropped calls, shabby offices or poor service. Make sure your systems are all functioning smoothly to help you keep your promises.

What investments has your company made or does it plan to make to be more competitive and customer friendly? Which companies deliver a brand and customer experience you admire?

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?

 

 

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?