21st Century Marketing – The Good Guys Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was all in addition to his day job.Teamwork

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

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

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

 

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

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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?

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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?

 

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

 

blog 082214 gif

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?