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?

 

 

Give Thanks. Grow Your Business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagination

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

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

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

Intention

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

Enthusiasm

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

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

Compassion

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

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

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

That’s got to be good for business.

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

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

 

 

 

 

Beer or Innovation? I’ll Take Both!

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

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

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

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

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

Packaging

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

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

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

Product

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

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

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

Positioning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Let Your Customers Love You!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise Your Customers

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

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

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

Be Open and Honest

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

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

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

Watch Your Front Line

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

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

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

Where’s the love?

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Three Ways to Help Investors in Scary Markets

downward-graph

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Create an official message for distribution by your advisors.

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

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

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

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

  • Host an online client call-in webinar conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Michael

 

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

Fun at Work? Abso-freakin’-lutely!

 

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

Wait…what? Really?

Abso-freakin’-lutely! Know why?

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

It’s fun. Really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it turned out that was pretty damn far.

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

Probably further.Football field

Definitely further.

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

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

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

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

Fun is not the object. People and relationships are.

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

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

It’s not about buying ice cream between floggings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

supplies

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

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

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

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

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

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

P    T    I

chicopee-office-1946

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?