Recent Newsletters

The Magic Behind Flawless Brand Execution

May 31st, 2013

I’ve loved watching really good magicians perform ever since I was a kid. David Blaine and Criss Angel are my favorite street magicians, while Penn & Teller, David Copperfield and Lance Burton are on the top of my list of live performers.

For many, many years I was in total and complete awe of anybody who could successfully pull off a magic trick. But then along came a series of rogue performers who violated the most sacred of the magicians top commandments – “thou shall not reveal the secret behind the trick (it ruins the mystery).”

Here’s an example (click on video, below).

What strikes me is the simplicity of that trick. Now I’m no magician, but I’ve always considered myself to be a rogue marketing and branding guy. And to prove it, I’m going to REVEAL the magic behind flawless brand execution.

The secret is (drumroll, please) – accountability!

Pretty simple, right?

Here are the four (simple) things you can do to increase accountability, bolster employee morale, improve customer satisfaction and as a result strengthen your brand execution:

1. Assign the responsibility of delivering to customers on a day-to-day basis the company’s brand promise by embedding that assignment into each and every job description.

2. Hold managers responsible for measuring and monitoring how well employees are delivering on the company’s brand promise.

3. Incorporate “living the company brand promise” into employee performance reviews.

4. Celebrate and compensate employees who consistently deliver on the company’s brand promise.

Many executives are under the illusion that flawless brand execution involves managing a sophisticated set of algorithms, when the real trick is to simply integrate your brand promise into every detail of your employees’ growth and customers’ experience.

Try it out for yourself. I think you’ll find that the results on your bottom line will be magical.

Obama Replaces Costly High-Speed Rail Plan With High-Speed Bus Plan

June 16th, 2011

How do stupid ideas survive to see the light of day in government and even in really well-managed companies? Review the spoof below produced by The Onion and then read on if you’d like to learn something new about how recommendations from teams that avoid internal conflict have the potential to jeopardize the success of your company:

Obama Replaces Costly High-Speed Rail Plan With High-Speed Bus Plan

Please know that the example, above, is not an attempt to make a political statement about the current administration. I’m using it as an example of what happens when well-intentioned members of a team lose track of their goals. Management professors refer to it as a “bureaucratic dysfunction”. In short, it’s where the highest value of a team is getting along and being “nice” to each other – all the time. Constructive conflict and confrontation is avoided at all costs; there is no place for fighting or arguing.

I’m not sure but I suspect the new product team at Colgate suffered from “Nice Team” syndrome when they launched Kitchen Entrees by Colgate. Most likely, their logic in introducing a line of frozen dinners was that consumers could eat a Colgate meal, and then brush their teeth with Colgate toothpaste. It was a complete bust!

And in the early nineties when Pepsi launched Crystal Pepsi, a clear, caffeine-free cola that didn’t taste or look like a cola (people didn’t even know what it tasted like except that it was bad) – well, it just seems that some important issues didn’t come to the surface during their team meetings. Two years later Pepsi pulled the product from shelves.

According to How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight (The absence of conflict is not harmony it’s apathy), in the Harvard Business Review, “Management teams whose members challenge one another’s thinking develop a more complete understanding of the choices, create a richer range of options and ultimately make the kind of decisions necessary in today’s competitive environments.”

Conflict can lead to new ideas. Conflict helps a team stay innovative. Believe it or not, conflict builds closeness among the members of a team. The benefits of conflict among team members brings new meaning to the saying, “nice guys finish last”. Maybe it’s time for you to examine “niceness” in your workplace.

Myth: The average unhappy customer will tell 10 people about the poor service he or she received.

April 7th, 2011

One of the top marketing research firms in the country, TARP, conducted a study for Coca-Cola in 1981 and found that a median of 10 people heard about a bad experience for a small ticket packaged good. Despite the fact that subsequent studies showed that the magnitude of word of mouth varied by product, price and industry (people would tell 16 people about a negative auto repair experience, for example) a rule of thumb evolved in marketing circles that an unhappy customer will tell 10 people about the poor service he or she received.

On July 6, 2009 Canadian musician David Carroll and his band, Sons of Maxwell, blew the lid off that rule by uploading a song onto YouTube that chronicled a real-life experience of how his $3,500 Taylor guitar was broken during a trip on United Airlines in 2008 (please click on video, below):

At the end of the first day the number of views totaled 150,000 and three days later on July 9, it had amassed 500,000 hits, 5 million by mid-August, and today (April 7, 2011) it has received 10,233,487 hits! So how is this incident related to Asset-Based Marketing? In my marketing approach we believe that one of a company’s three most important assets is its customers. Considering that it is five times as expensive to win a new customer as to keep a current customer … creating a corporate culture where employees are committed to continuously improving customer satisfaction simply makes good business sense.

From the baggage-handling crew throwing guitars on the tarmac to subjecting David Carroll to a nine month, fruitless claim process, it’s obvious that United’s corporate culture was anything but “Fly the Friendly Skies”. Corporate culture is what happens when management isn’t looking. Hopefully the managers at United have taken a look at David Carroll’s video and changed their ways by truly embracing a customer centric attitude; because as of today over 10 million YouTube visitors have been told “I should have flown with someone else or gone by car because United breaks guitars!”

Imagine All The People

December 17th, 2009

This is the season where we can take extra time to reflect upon the past year, and make plans for the next 12 months (or longer). While your business has most likely gone through the 2010 planning process by now, it’s never too late to dream about the ideal picture of how your business will feel and look in the future.

Some people’s thinking process goes from considering all the small details until the big picture reveals itself (sequential) while others prefer to begin their planning process by starting with the big picture and then identifying all the details that will make the plan a success (global).

Personally, I prefer to start with the big picture and work my way backwards. And when I say big, I’m talking really, really big. And when I say ideal picture, I’m talking … well, you get the idea. So over the next few weeks, I’m going to ignore news stories about the wars in Iran and Afghanistan, and our high unemployment rates, and the teetering economy. Instead, I’m going to imagine that my business could potentially exist in a time where people across the world recognize our connection and interdependence to one another and we begin to live as one.

I invite you to join me by dropping everything you’re doing at this moment and click on the video, below.

Whether you’re a sequential thinker or a global thinker the video had to touch your heart, which is where you should be as you make plans for the future. So, there are a couple of take-aways from this blog entry: (1) Viewing your business from an “ideal” perspective (no need for greed or hunger a brotherhood of man) just might shake your brain up to where you will be able to create some completely new and innovative ideas related to your business strategies and tactics. (2) By imagining the way things could be and by taking responsibility for your effects in the world maybe in some small way you’ll not only improve the results that you see in your business, but you’ll make the world a better place for all of us.

When it comes to business planning, you might say I’m a dreamer, but I hope I’m not the only one.

I like to reminisce with people I don’t know

October 22nd, 2009

The comedian Steven Wright has built a strong brand for himself. One of the primary goals of branding is to not only position your product or company as a solution to a prospect or customer’s need, but it should be the one and only solution. And when it comes to absurd, observational, warped, one-liner stand-up comedy delivered in a distinct, bored monotone, Steven Wright is the one and only. See for yourself (click on the video, below):

In my opinion, Wright’s biggest strength is his brand promise because it meets the four (4) tough requirements all strong brands must measure up to:

A strong brand promise must be true and believable. If you’ve ever seen one of his performances I think you’ll agree that Wright is everything he’s billed to be. He has not veered one iota from his unique, deadpan stand-up comedy style since he first stepped on stage back in the 80’s. Even his website is consistent with his stage style where he provides a list of books written by him (available nowhere) including Phyllis and Her Eyelids – The story of a man living in a parallel universe who is arrested for inventing hockey.

A strong brand promise must be proprietary. All branding experts will admit that this requirement is by far the most difficult to achieve because technology allows competitors to quickly copy new and innovative product attributes. To date, nobody that I am aware of has successfully copied Steven Wright’s unique stand-up style.

A strong brand promise must be sustainable over time. Wright has weathered the ups and downs of the comedy circuit for over 30 years (which I’m guessing is the equivalent of 170 years in any other industry).

A strong brand promise must be relevant to the target audience. Like many comedians Wright got his start on college campuses and working small clubs. I read a recent interview where he said he’s noticing that people in his audience are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. So he’s decided to remain relevant to those fans, but he’s also going to do some specials and small clubs to become known (relevant) to a younger audience. Smart guy!

Does your brand promise measure up to the standards, above? If not, give me a call. I have an answering machine in my car. It says, I’m home now, but leave a message and I’ll call when I’m out.

A Reminder: Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something

August 8th, 2009

Re-read that headline and then ask yourself, “Can I handle the truth?”  Because the fact is, everybody (Vice Presidents, Operations Managers, HR Directors, IT people, Customer Service Representatives, Marketing people, Accounting people, Receptionists … everybody) can stay at home until somebody makes a sale.

Read the rest of this entry »

Awareness Test

June 17th, 2009

Focusing on the financial numbers related to increasing revenue, cutting expenses and improving the bottom line are important metrics related to running a successful business. But as an owner, executive or manager have you ever felt that you might be missing something? Hey, I’m the first to admit that when I was running Porter & Associates the first report that I would review each and every morning was the number of hours we billed the previous day. And at the end of each month I’d quickly turn to the page in my report that showed the month’s income (after payroll and indirect expenses). Then, I’d jump to the page that listed the agency’s current assets and current liabilities. If only the video, below, had been available back then!

So how is lack of awareness affecting your ability to effectively run your department or business? In large part, awareness is a function of where an individual places his/her attention or focus. For example, not too long ago my wife and I purchased a Toyota RAV4. Frankly, before Susan made the suggestion I’d never noticed them on the road; but guess what happened the moment she mentioned the name? And now, as we drive our shiny new car around town, I swear I can eye-ball a RAV4 that’s 20 blocks away! But because I’m so focused, I’m really not looking for anything else; therefore I’m missing a lot of all the other stuff that’s happening on the streets (on the outside chance my insurance agent is reading this, I’ve had no accidents so far).

So, for example, if your company’s differentiation strategy is to be “customer centric”, and if you’re only using the information provided in financial statements as a metric of how well you are achieving that goal – what can you do to ensure that you don’t miss something you’re not looking for?

Based upon my experience, in addition to the reports you currently review, you should expand your perspective and awareness by analyzing the company’s return on its most important assets: Return-On-Customer (customer share-of-wallet, customer loyalty, customer complaints); Return-On-Employee (employee say/do ratio, employee engagement, employee turn-over); Return-On-Vendor (vendor say/do ratio, vendor survey); and Return-On-Brand (premium pricing, culture audit, marketing research).

Like the moon walking bear, it’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for … unless you shift your attention. What customer centric metrics should your company pay attention to?

Is Everyone Singing The Same Tune Within Your Company?

May 6th, 2009

As you watch the Playing For Change video, below, consider the beauty and power of the voices of each individual and then notice how magnificent each voice sounds when it blends with all the others.

For me, the video not only reaffirms my belief that given the opportunity, all people want to be part of something larger than they could create individually, but it also demonstrates how we can accomplish a lot more working together than apart. One of the reasons why it is so inspiring to me is that my wish is that the Asset-Based Integrative Process™ that I developed for businesses might, in its own way, help bring all areas of an organization together transforming it from small groups and individuals to one unified force.

Another aspect of the video that may not be apparent is the fact that bringing this video to life required an enormous effort in leadership and courage. It required the creation of a vision, steadfastly holding that vision, effectively sharing that vision with like-minded individuals and encouraging them to participate … and finally editing until the finished product was just right.

How might all of this apply to your company? As a leader are you doing all that is possible to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people so everyone within your organization speaks in a united voice? Have you collaborated with your employees, customers, and vendors to create a clear vision, clear corporate values and a clear brand promise that everyone is passionate about? If not, remember “Stand by me” and how the single voice of Roger Ridley combined with a vision and the collaborative voices of over 35 musicians transformed Playing For Change from a small group of individuals to a global movement for peace and understanding.

Everything I Needed to Know About Creating a Competitive Advantage in the Marketplace I Learned From an Elephant and a Dog

April 17th, 2009

Differentiating your company from your competitors and creating a competitive advantage requires that everyone within your organization is in sync and in agreement to uphold your brand promise (value proposition). To transform a brand promise from something employees merely talk about into something that occurs in each and every customer experience will require your marketing department to make new friends within your organization … specifically within the human resources department.

As you know, in the normal course of business marketing people tend to hangout with sales people, finance and accounting people tend to hangout with operations people, and IT people pretty much hangout by themselves. In an asset-based, integrative approach to business and marketing planning, responsibility for actively “living” the company’s value proposition is decentralized and should reside within the standards and tactical work for every position description. All of which means that as odd at it might appear, your marketing and HR departments need to become as inseparable as Tara and Bella.

For example, if your brand promise is to be “your trusted local healthcare resource”, 100% of your position descriptions should contain specific responsibilities and standards related to creating trusting relationships (consistent brand experiences) and specific actions every executive, manager and employee will do toward increasing their knowledge and value as a healthcare resource. As you can imagine, successfully incorporating those items into position descriptions and effectively communicating these changes to employees will require collaboration, cooperation and creation of a deep bond between HR and marketing.

So encourage the people within your HR and marketing departments to look past what might appear to be their immense differences, and search out new and different ways they can work together toward strengthening your brand and your brand promise. And if the going gets tough simply watch this video again. Like the man said – if Tara and Bella harbor no fears or secrets of one another, what’s our excuse?

Watch for my new book, BUSINESS LESSONS FROM NATURE, available soon on-line and in book stores nationwide!

Business Lessons From Old Man Winter

March 19th, 2009

Today is the last day of winter but before it exits lets take a minute to explore whether we can learn anything from all of the ice and snow (click on video, below):

What makes this Swedish commercial so hilarious is that all of us have experienced situations where we have made inaccurate assumptions about a situation. Will Rogers probably said it best – “It isn’t what we don’t know that gets us into trouble; it’s what we know that isn’t so.”

A common assumption made by many business leaders is that “little” things such as new employee orientation and company celebrations are aligned and integrated with the organization’s brand. For example, despite my knowing that first impressions create lasting impressions, for many years I didn’t examine the way we brought new employees on-board at Porter & Associates. Why? Because I thought I knew it was being done in a manner that was consistent with our brand. Wrong!

One of our core brand values was to have fun at work because in the ad agency business tight deadlines and client expectations create a “pressure cooker” effect … and nobody creates their best work when they’re feeling pressured and stressed out. As a result we created all kinds of fun games and events to bolster morale and lift spirits. However, our on-boarding process was anything but fun. So we changed it.

Rather than, first thing, having a new employee sit down with our HR Director to review health insurance coverage and 401(K) details, when the new hire showed up for their first day of work all of us greeted him or her in the lobby and escorted them to a party thrown in their honor! After an hour of laughs, story telling and acknowledging the value the “new person” was bringing to the agency, the session and interaction with HR was not only more energetic but it was more meaningful.

It’s what we know that isn’t so that gets us into trouble. How does that statement apply to what you know about your brand, your customers, your employees-vendors and your business?