21st Century Marketing – The Good Guys Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was all in addition to his day job.Teamwork

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

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

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

 

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

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Change Is Pain. Do Something About It.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where does all this bring us?

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

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

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

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

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

Hero's Journey image

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

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

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

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

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

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?

 

 

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

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

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

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

George's purpose

Serve something bigger than yourself

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

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

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

George and staff

Respect your team and your customers

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

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

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

 

George Bailey in despair

Lean on your supporters

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

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

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

George's community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghost_of_Christmas_Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Part III, RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Thanks. Grow Your Business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…………………………………………………………………………..

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

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

Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advert

John Lewis’ 2014 Christmas advert

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

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.

 

 

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.

Crazy Socks and The Importance of Channeling your “Kidself”

crazy socks

 

I know you’re going to think this is a little weird, but for years I wore crazy socks along with my conventional corporate attire. There I was with my button-up dress shirt, tie and jacket, and just peeking out from beneath the cuff of my conservative dress slacks, there it was. Craziness.

Even when my company went business-casual, my socks were freaky enough to stand out. Bright neon green. Palm trees. Frogs. Architecture. Some were color-blind argyles. Others had decidedly eccentric holiday themes. I was stylin’!

I am otherwise a pretty decent dresser, (“snappy” according to one coworker. I’m still trying to convince myself that he knew what he was talking about but he probably just had really low standards. He was a straight guy after all). In any case, you get the picture. When it comes to dressing, I’d say I get a pretty solid B. But what do I know.

You may be wondering why I would want to wear crazy socks in a corporate environment. To place my career in jeopardy? To call attention to myself? Not at all. People never even noticed them.

I take that back. Our General Counsel often did, even going so far as to point them out to visiting guests. I think he was jealous. Lawyers.

For me, these goofy socks were a reminder that an important part of me, my “kidself”, needed to be present and active in my grown up world.

Because I work in marketing and communications, listening to my kidself is especially important to me.

In my kidself mindset, I find I am more imaginative. I have a bigger vision for what’s possible and I can see more easily how great ideas from other companies and industries can be made to work in my own.

But what if you are in information technology, accounting or ops? Can paying attention to your kidself help you too? I think so. Here’s why.

Openness. When you were a kid, nothing was off the table. I used to love listening to my daughters play when they were really little. They would have assumed some imaginative persona when one of them would say to the other “How ’bout?” followed by some outlandish circumstance. “How ‘bout you’re being chased by a great white shark in a jeep and your leg is in a cast?” or “How ‘bout Louise (our dog) is the king and you have to steal his brownies to save the princess?” There was never a “how ‘bout” that the other didn’t immediately take on. Anything and everything was worth trying.

In your kidself frame of mind, you are less likely to dismiss new ideas simply because they are unfamiliar or don’t conform to the dreaded way-you-have-always-done-it.

Creative Problem Solving. I’m painfully aware that in the grown up world problems and the ways we solve or don’t solve them can have grave consequences. That’s why so many of us dread them. On the other hand your kidself sees a problem not as a threat or an inconvenience, but as a puzzle. Watch a kid play with Legos sometime and you’ll see what I mean.  children-playing-at-home-thumb20446258

By listening to your kidself, you can approach the problem inventively, get help when you need it, and consider out of the box solutions you would never come up with when you’re stressed, afraid or bored.

Better Community. This might be the most important point of all.

When I say community, I mean the way we encourage and enable one another at work, or don’t. This is a big deal. The people we work with, their attitudes and willingness to give and take represent a huge part of our professional experiences. Tapping into your kidself can make your work better and make it better for the people around you.

Or not.

grumpy gif

I had a colleague who was a wonderfully capable technologist. He was a valuable asset and team member. He was also an Eeyore.

If you were a fan of Winnie the Pooh books or movies, you are probably familiar with Eeyore. He was the dour, relentlessly pessimistic donkey who saw only the negative side of things. Eeyore dreaded the future. To him, life is nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen.

We have all worked with or known an Eeyore. They are fun suckers. Worse, they make an already very demanding workplace experience harder. In my experience, Eeyores are often bureaucratic and inflexible. Too preoccupied with process and protocol to innovate or engage.

Well, I encountered this same colleague at a company social event and found him completely transformed! When we met, his usually downcast eyes met mine with a warm smile. He was animated and communicative. I even learned he was a musician and active in the arts. Who was this guy and what had he done with Eeyore?

Away from the pressures at work, he was channeling his kidself, an enthusiastic, attentive and positive person I actually enjoyed being with. Imagine how much more pleasant workdays might have been for him and the people around him if he had allowed even a glimmer of that positive, creative energy to emerge at work.

I don’t want you to think I am being critical. Working in information technology and systems admin (for example) sucks most the time. Day after day you’re working with impatient people, jumping from fire to fire. The risks and responsibilities are enormous and the hours are long. Hell, sometimes it just feels easier just put your head down. But if only for your own sake, you shouldn’t.

Think about your kidself. Pay attention to it. Be intentional about making her or him a part of your life and your work. And if you need help remembering your intention, put on some crazy socks. You’ll be glad you did.

How do you make your kidself a part of your work life? Have you had colleagues who you felt were in touch with their kidself? How did it affect their performance and the company?

 

If you enjoyed this article, I hope you will share it with friends and colleagues. More and more people are reading so I’m encouraged that at least a few of you are getting something valuable here. Your comments are a great way to extend the conversation. I encourage you to get involved and look forward to hearing from you – Michael

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

Moon image

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

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

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

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

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

This means choosing a path that others don’t

Figuring out how to do things you have never done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Extracurricular Activities – Burnishing Your Brand

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

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

Group Hug

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

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

I got the part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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?