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To Build A Brand, Ask "Where's The Party?"

Photo by The Next Web via Flickr

Seriously, yes. If you want to build a great brand, it's all about connecting people - in a way that's engaging and fun. Hopefully it's also meaningful - the Woodstock of its generation.

The Relationship-Based Enterprise by Roy McKenzie explains in a methodical way how to do this, although McKenzie thinks in terms of "CRM" - customer relationship management. He explains that businesses add value internally and externally by finding and serving customers in a disciplined way. This is the exact same thing as marketing.

Note that CRM is not about providing goods or services. Which is usually what people think of as the point of a business. I am here to tell you that anyone can do that.

According to McKenzie you build a relationship-based enterprise in three steps:
  1. Find the customers.
  2. Engage them in a relationship.
  3. Manage the relationship consistently.

Integrate what McKenzie says with the advice of Art Kleiner, who tells you that the unit of any organization is the decision. Accordingly your job, if you want to influence those decisions, is to build the kind of relationships that will affect the decisions of the "core group" of decision-makers.

In your career you can use this advice as well. I recently read an incredible post by my favorite blogger and career counselor Penelope Trunk: "New Strategies To Get A New Job." All of them except one (innovation) came down to likability and connecting with others.

And even innovation is about selling your ideas, not just generating them.

Trunk gives you free branding advice not just for your career but for your company when she states: "Personality is how you decommodify a commodity."

Exactly! Exactly! What is branding but the addition of the perception of value? If you are not branded you are merely the vendor of something that anyone can buy, anywhere, for cost plus whatever margin the vendor can get away (e.g. due to factors like scarcity.)

To get a job or build a business you have to have emotional intelligence. You have to have a likable personality. These are givens.

Yet they're still not enough. As Trunk notes, to add value today you have to do one more thing: build a community. Ideally, around a relevant idea, or your community is no more compelling than anyone else's.

In other words, to build an amazing brand, personal or organizational, you can't just have good ideas. You can't just connect with other people. You have to connect other people with each other. Through an idea that you are selling that is outside yourself.

Meaning the conversation is so important that it continues even when you're outside the room. And it's always tied back to your name.

Think about it - have a good day everyone - and good luck!

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Learning to Succeed In A New Job


Thanks to everyone who gave me advice on this. What follows is a combination of their tips and some things that I have observed. Hope it's helpful to you as well:

I. Personality
  • Humble
  • Nice
  • Positive
  • Team player
  • Authentic
  • Diplomatic
  • Talk judiciously
  • Curious
II. Community
  • Commit to adding more value than you subtract
  • Use Myers-Briggs to understand how people and groups think/operate
  • Pretend you’re an anthropologist
  • Don’t hesitate to use astrology to better understand personality type
  • Learn the unwritten rules - remember, little things are big
  • Reach out to introduce yourself; meet someone new each day
  • Learn about the communities that exist, not just the individuals
  • Study how people communicate with one another
  • Learn the rituals and traditions
  • Learn the acronyms, history, and subject matter
  • Shared office food, coffee breaks, and lunches are icebreakers
III. Image
  • Be thoughtful about the first impression you make
  • Clothing
  • Cosmetics/grooming
  • Office decor
  • Mannerisms, body language
  • Tone of voice
  • Smiling or not smiling (depends where you are)
  • Time to get in shape
IV. Workstyle
  • Everything you do is oriented to enhancing the image of your supervisor
  • Learn expectations, adjust continually, and conform to those through CRM: Who is your CUSTOMER (or customers)? Engage in continuing conversations - what do they want from the RELATIONSHIP? How will you MANAGE it? - see The Relationship-Based Enterprise)
  • Think marathon not sprint - work/life balance is critical
  • Stay in your lane - but learn what it really is - it is likely different than you think
V. Health
  • Locate sources of support externally
  • Network internally and find mentors who are generous enough to be supportive
  • Get out from your desk space - walk and exercise
  • Eat well, and thoughtfully 
Above all the most important thing to me is spiritual well-being. Serve your Creator and be grateful for everything.

Good luck!

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Does Your Brand Leave People Asking, "So What?"

Photo by John Morgan via Flickr

If you want to know what the #1 mistake people make in communication is, I will tell you right now.

They tell you the WHAT instead of the WHY.

I can pay a writer $50 an hour to write something about what a business does, sells, etc. What its goals and objectives are. Do you know what?

Nobody is going to read it unless they have to.

This is because (and what I am telling you is not original) the human brain works like a picture frame. If you give me a collection of WHAT, I need a frame around it to tell me WHY? Why? In what context are you telling me this? Why should I care?

In short if you want people to pay attention to you, let alone value your vision, you need to provide a vision. You need to answer the question, why? Or put another way,

"So what?"

Without fail, there is always a "so what?" Otherwise the people running the organization would be out doing something else. The employees would not be engaged in it, Blackberrying in on the weekend. And customers may even go elsewhere.

In my view when organizations don't talk about the "so what" it has something to do with differing views of what the "so what" is. For example, to me the Starbucks brand has to do with community. To investors it has to do with making money. The company does things that cover both bases:
  • On the one hand they sell Ethos water; promote fair-trade coffee; $5 bracelets they donate to help put Americans back to work; they offer in-store space to people who aren't really buying anything; they give you a cup of coffee for $1.50, if you want to be very basic. 
  • On the other hand they sell things that don't promote community at all, because you're using them outside the store. There is Starbucks food that you buy at the grocery store (e.g. ice cream); there is VIA, the instant coffee that you make anywhere you want; and yesterday I saw on CNN that they are even going to sell a Starbucks-branded single serve brew machine, presumably to compete with Keurig.
Obviously everybody has to make money in order to perpetuate the organization which hosts the brand. So if Starbucks were smart, they would create a narrative out of this necessity. But unfortunately they do not. Rather we are left to invent the narrative for ourselves. To decide in our own heads what the "so what" is.

Is Howard Schultz for real? Is he really about doing good things in the world, and the money is just a necessity? I saw him on TV, talking about putting Americans back to work - I think so.

But running an organization well means communicating the brand vision overtly. Tell people what the "So what" is. Tell them over and over again. Show them in your actions. Explain the connections between the seemingly discrepant things that you do.

More importantly, when there is discord within the organization about the "So what" - that is something to be discussed openly internally until some kind of agreement can be reached.

From a communication perspective the worst thing of all is to not say anything about what you are doing. The second worst thing is to focus only on operations. Better is to say what your vision is - even if you can't keep to it all the time. Even if it is fractured. Even if people disagree.

In the world of image presentation, what you want is to get people talking. Have them say the same thing about you that you say about yourself. And at all times find your discussion to be credible.

Transparency doesn't always make you look unified, or perfect. But if you do it well, it gets across the "So what?" And "So what?" is what keeps the customer interested - buying - and eager to promote the cause you've begun.

Whether it's Starbucks, or Google, or Facebook, or Coca-Cola, what people want is more than just a product. They want you to give them something to believe in, and something that enables them to give back as well.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Is Academic Thinking Blocking Your Brand?

fairness sticks: tongue depressors as math engagement tool
Image by WoodleyWonderworks via Flickr

In grade school the teacher tells you how many words should be in the essay.

In college they give you a syllabus for the class listing showing required and recommended reading. Tons.

In grad school you do the master’s thesis or dissertation. The more academic references the better it looks.

The real world doesn’t operate by word count, unless you are a writer being paid by the word.

You may disagree vehemently because you have been trained to think in terms of process not progress. This is especially true if you work for an organization – particularly in government - rather than as an entrepreneur.

On the job you are normally:

· Paid by the hour instead of the output (the approving “Go home already…you work too hard.”)

· Rewarded for volume of work (e.g. number of pageviews of your article) rather than results (conversion from awareness to sales and then continuing business)

· Encouraged to conform to cultural rules rather than charge ahead with box-busting innovation (“I wouldn’t say that at the meeting…you know how it goes around here.”)

Despite the above if you want to advance your career and your brand it pays to think like a business owner. Not like someone who is paid an hourly wage. Owners are invested in the organization and they look for only one thing – results.

You must look at your work as if you owned it, even if at the moment you do not.

To an owner, how much you worked – a lot or a little – to achieve the result doesn’t matter at all.

Meaning: If your idea saves them a million dollars, the fact that you wrote it on a napkin over coffee doesn’t make it any less valuable.

How do you know if you are shooting yourself in the foot, holding back your progress by thinking in an excessively process-driven way?

· You have trouble understanding how your work adds financial value to the organization, instead telling yourself “they just want me around.”

· You wait for someone to tell you what to do instead of proactively looking for ways to solve problems.

· When asked to describe your work, you have trouble coming up with exactly what it is that you do…because at the end of the day you are filling time.

· You don’t read the published strategies of your organization nor are you aware of the conversations inside and outside it that may affect your future.

· You aren’t engaged in any work-related reading, training or networking.

If you want to attain and retain the value you offer as an employee, think like an owner. Start asking difficult questions about yourself and and the work you do.

If you don’t like the answers, then get busy. It is true when they say: “You are the CEO of your own career.”

Good luck!

H&M and the Ethics of "Disposable Marketing"

On the eternal quest for the perfect pair of long-legged black flared pants, it seems I never have enough.

I have gone through hundreds of pairs of pants so far and yet still - dissatisfied.

Black pants are the first thing I look for in any clothing store.

One time in 1989 I worked as a temp for a female executive at a bank in New York. She said to me (noting my penchant for disposable fashion):

"Better to have three good outfits than three hundred that are not good enough."

Wincing at her cold-eyed, frank assessment I wondered, "Is she right?"

And then I thought, "She can't be. No!" Because then I would have no reason to go to the mall. Or (in later years) to H&M, or Zara, or any of the countless stores that sell disposable fashion.

The same rule goes for makeup, at least with me. How many tubes of red lipstick can you buy? And yet every time I walk into CVS, there go my eyeballs. Straight to the makeup display.

Disposable consumer goods seem wasteful, in a way. And yet if you're a marketer you need for people to buy more of what you sell, or you risk leaving potential profits on the table.

Let's talk first about the ways to encourage "disposable thinking." Then to some directions for sustainable thinking.

To me, here are the basic equations people make when deciding whether goods are more "permanent" or more "disposable":

1. Cost-convenience equation: As with paper plates - easier to buy and throw away than use and wash.

2. Social status equation: If wearing the same outfit over and over will make you look bad to others, you'll buy different outfits even though the ones you have look and fit just fine.

3. Social inclusion equation: Buying new things gives you something to talk about with other people.

4. Boredom equation: Buying things gives you something to do; changing your look stimulates the brain and gives you something to look forward to.

5. Functionality equation: A record may work well, but a CD works better, and an iPod works even better than that.

Looking at the above I recognize that it sounds like promoting wastefulness and we have a responsibility to be ethical when it comes to marketing even if we aren't technically required to do what we know is right.

We ought to think this way if only to spare our reputations. Ideally we would think about the lives of those who suffer from our carelessness and tendency to be exploitive.

Anyway, some thoughts -

1. Support the community: 

* Provide a discount for people to trade in their old goods (like Patagonia).

* Provide a dropoff point for people to donate goods they have never used (example: a grocery store can place a box upfront for sealed food items.)

* Provide a dropoff point to donate goods they have used, but that can be sold for the benefit of the community (e.g. Zips cleaners has a dropoff point at Goodwill)

2. Support the worker: 

* Pay workers a fair wage to produce these goods. 

* Provide workers with free or substantially discounted goods if they are producing them.

3. Support the environment:

* Produce disposable goods out of materials that are easily recyclable.

* Produce disposable goods in factories that are "clean" and don't give off pollution.

* When items can't be produced sustainably, encourage people to wean themselves off of them - don't perpetuate disaster.

I would be interested in any information regarding practices on the above, so please comment and share your knowledge, research and feedback.

Good luck!