Friday, September 28, 2007

The Scariness of Taking Chances

(or, Better the Devil You Know than the One You Don't)

So many "wanna be" entrepreneurs I talk to have a real drive and longingness to leave the cubicle confines and strike out on their own. But, within 2 minutes of sitting down with them, I can pinpoint with 99% accuracy whether they'll put a stake in the ground and be a raging success or never get off square one.

WHY don't they leave? Here's the top three reasons:

1. STATUS-- I don't care if you detest every day you enter the office. If your business card says "Jane Doe, Vice President of Business Development, IBM" you carry a lot of weight in our society. Try explaining to your mother why you would give up a six-figure salary with a well-known company to try your hand at starting a faux-finish painting business. It may feed your soul, but will it impress your neighbors?

2. ROUTINE-- You may have a comfortable routine that includes a stop at your favorite cafe to get a latte in the morning, or a workout in the gym next to your office at lunchtime. Even if you work long hours, your body is accustomed to a familiar routine and will resist any change, regardless if it is good for you or not. If you are married with kids, you may have a carefully choreographed dance between you and your spouse for who gets the kids ready, drops them at school, drives them to various activities or gets them ready for bed. When you start your business, you will not have a predictable schedule and this can wreak havoc on your family life.

3. RECOGNITION FOR YOUR EXPERTISE-- If you have been working for a good number of years in a corporate setting, most likely you have developed some great skills and have a breadth of experience in your field. Peers recognize your expertise, and even partners and vendors acknowledge that you know what you are talking about. If you were to chuck all this for a new, untried venture, you would put yourself back to a beginner stage where you feel incompetent in what you are doing. A few people enjoy this feeling. Most people hate it.

Like the lyrics in Celine Dion's new song, "Taking Chances"

But what do you say to taking chances,
What do you say to jumping off the edge?
Never knowing if there’s solid ground below
A hand to hold,
Or hell to pay,
What do you say?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

No More Blues!

Sorry, folks. I just realized that every topic this week has had a negative and/or "blues-y" slant. NO MORE!

I had the most amazing meeting yesterday with a woman that I truly admire and respect. She has been an executive life coach for over a decade and has done very well for herself. However, as she has grown her practice over the years, she's found herself trying to conform to the corporate, stiff structure of training leadership, ethics, and goals. It just hasn't been her.

I've been mulling her brand in my mind for months; what she has meant to me and how special I know she has been to others she has coached. I kept coming back to the same word... "MAMA." She is Mama Judy. She gives love and nurturing and milk and cookies for the soul. She can build an empire on this position. No one else has it. Dr. Phil is "DADDY" and I look forward to helping Miss Judy become the nation's Mama.

This morning the first phone call I received was from her... thanking me for being a shining light to her, revealing her true destiny/business calling, and valuing her relationship with me and respect for me. Wow... does life get any better?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Business Branding and the Budget Blues

Branding is as important in business markets as in consumer markets. Business buyers, however, look for a different set of brand values. They ask what a product or service can do for their business.

If your budget is limited, product message are more likely to generate short-term revenue. That could increase your marketing budget over time through new customer acquisition. However, it would be wrong to neglect brand-building messages completely. You would be sacrificing long-term business development and customer retention.

Traditionally, branding has been seen as a consumer marketing discipline. Business marketing was seen as different; buyers were assumed to be rational and decisions were believed to depend primarily on price and performance. However, research has shown that business purchase decisions are more complex, and companies base their decisions on a variety of factors. Business-to-business companies ignore branding at their peril.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Blue Chip Blues

The biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs is hiring and retaining great people, and it’s only going to get worse as the boomers retire and there aren’t enough qualified people around to fill their shoes.

Okay, you knew that already. But my experience suggests something you might not know: it takes a special breed of employee to thrive in an entrepreneurial environment. It’s a fact of business life that most employees fare better in—if not prefer—the confines of the corporation. In a large environment, reporting hierarchies and duplication of roles mean that staff can make meaningful contributions to the company’s success when working within the limits of detailed job descriptions, constant managerial oversight and endless bureaucracy.

That’s not the case at entrepreneurial firms, typically startup or fast-growing enterprises whose hallmarks are a lack of structure, a shortage of human and financial resources, and frequent changes in direction. What these firms need are staff who can succeed despite the turbulence of the entrepreneurial environment. Many business owners figure this out the hard way, only after hiring and firing corporate types who can’t get with the program.

The qualities you want:

1. Resourcefulness. Entrepreneurs rarely have the infrastructure, resources or information needed to achieve their goals. They need employees who can make do with what they have.

2. Take-charge attitude. Entrepreneurs running fast-growth companies must delegate to their employees—often junior people—but can’t do much hand-holding after that. Thus, the ideal employees are self-starters.

3. Unending energy. Entrepreneurial firms cannot afford to have a 9-to-5 culture. Their ideal employee has loads of enthusiasm and energy and consistently generates better than expected output.

4. Growth potential. Entrepreneurial companies are like a human-resources vacuum—there are always leadership roles to fill. The best staff are willing to accept higher levels of responsibility than one might expect from someone with their position, title, experience level or salary.

5. Multi-tasking ability. Fast growth means few entrepreneurial enterprises can afford to pigeonhole employees in narrow job descriptions. They have the ability to perform multiple roles.

Unlike big companies, entrepreneurial businesses can provide opportunities for employees to improve their leadership abilities, exercise their creativity and manage themselves. Sell those opportunities to prospective employees, and they’ll take a shine to your company.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Customer Disservice...

... Because we're not satisfied until you're not satisfied.

Wait... no, that didn't come out right, right? Or, did it??
Who's job is it to make sure that all the amazing spin/story/survey claims that Marketing makes are true? Do customers want to know the truth, really??

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ready... FIRE! Aim...

Ahhh... contemplation constipation. I see it all the time. Entrepreneurs who just can't make a solid decision, put a stake in the ground, and pull the trigger.

I do believe one of the most (if not THE most) important trait a business founder can have is decisiveness. AVOID BEING A PERFECTIONIST.

In the Malaysian culture, only the gods are considered capable of producing anything perfect. Whenever something is made, a flaw is left on purpose so the gods will not be offended. Yes, some things need to be closer to perfect than others, but perfectionism (paying unnecessary attention to detail) can be a form of procrastination.

Get on with it! The world needs your genius turned into a solution. Here... I'll take the safety off for you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Profit from Scarcity

from Harvard Business School professor, John Quelch:

Marketers are trained to match supply to demand. Everything that consumers need should be available at the right time in the right place at the right price. Coca-Cola's mantra always has been to be within an arm's reach of desire. To be out of stock is to lose a sale or, worse, to lose a sale to a competitor.

But marketers also understand that, by using the illusion of scarcity, they can accelerate demand. This false scarcity encourages us to buy sooner and perhaps to buy more than normal.

We saw two excellent examples of this effect this summer with the launches of the iPhone and the seventh Harry Potter book. In both cases, the pre-launch publicity was designed not only to fuel demand but also to create the illusion that supplies would be limited. In fact, there were very few supply shortages. In both cases, the marketers anticipated demand levels pretty well.

As the mountains of press coverage and strong opening day sales attest, the scarcity illusion strategy paid off for Apple and Potter's publishing company. It wasn't just direct sales of these two products that benefited from the scarcity illusion, however: The heavy crowds drove sales of related products in Apple stores and bookstores during a relatively slow sales month.

But there are risks to using false scarcity as a strategy. First, hype invites heightened scrutiny: Common first-version shortcomings of the iPhone fueled negative reviews that were then amplified by the blogosphere. Second, some consumers, frustrated by waiting in line, may have given up or switched to other alternatives.

Creating the illusion of scarcity can be a smart marketing strategy. And even if you're in the unfortunate position of experiencing very real scarcity, there are tactics you can employ to minimize the brand damage and even profit from the error.

What's your scarcity story? Has your company been caught flatfooted in a scarcity situation or has it successfully manufactured the illusion of scarcity to accelerate demand?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Because CEOs know their business, but...

... they usually don't know how to brand it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Marketplace and Marketing in the 21st Century

Are you still doing business like you're in the Industrial Era? Please join the Information Age immediately.

THEN-- Certainty, quiet times
NOW-- Ambiguity, crazy times

THEN-- We deliver good, reliable products that work for the client
NOW-- We create awesome experiences leaving an unforgettable memory.

THEN-- Procedure-driven / product oriented
NOW-- Client-centric experience

THEN-- Satisfies a need, "I'm glad I bought it."
NOW-- Fulfills a dream: "I want more!"

THEN-- Advertisement, commercials
NOW-- Word of mouth, referrals

THEN-- Analyze data and present facts / figures
NOW-- Tell a story and engage the heart

THEN-- Product design is efficient, complex, and clumsy
NOW-- Product design is elegant, simple, and graceful

THEN-- Competition, rivalry, race
NOW-- Collaboration, friendship, teamwork

Friday, September 7, 2007

Move along... There's nothing to see here (OR, Why your company doesn't deserve press)

Here are the common characteristics of why you're not making any news.

1. Product too hard (or boring) to explain: For most business press reporters, if they can’t quickly understand what the product is, they assume that their readers aren’t going to understand it or care either. If your company is bad at succinctly describing what business you're in, your current appeal as a business press story is approximately zero.

2. Same tired story as every other competitor you have has pitched to the media: There are certain story angles that have been exploited to such an extent that anything that bears a resemblance to them will be promptly dismissed by the weary business press reporter. From "rockstar executives" to "disruptive technologies" - there is a very long list of cliches / associations that do your chances way more harm than good when you bring them "out of the box" in a "Web 2.0" kinda way. ugh.

3. Spokesperson just doesn't have "it": Few companies have magnetic personalities speaking on their behalf. Great storytelling ability, sincerity and sense of humor are among the characteristics that I’ve seen that seem to separate the really good spokespersons from the other 99.99%. People often don’t realize that whether or not the reporter actually likes the person they’re speaking with may be the single greatest determining factor in whether the story gets written or not. But when the spokesperson has “it,” the odds of being covered by business press increase exponentially.

4. Lack of credibility: There are certainly exceptions, but most reporters are not willing to stake their personal reputation on a glowing article about a company unless there is solid evidence that it is headed in a positive direction. Most businesses (and senior management teams) don’t realize the amount of triage that goes on within business publications in terms of allocating the relatively scarce print space (the amount of selling that many business press reporters have to do internally to get their ideas signed off on … the number of stories that make it far into the eval process, but ultimately die on the gurney, etc.). Getting conned by an undeserving company and writing an undeserved piece about that company is especially damning to a business press reporter’s reputation.

So, make sure that your C-level team understands that while yes, your company is amazing, it may not be the next biggest thing since Berkshire Hathaway.

"Sorry, bud, your lips move, but I can't hear what you're saying."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A definition of MARKETING that makes sense...

You see a gorgeous woman at a party. You go up to her and say, "I'm a fantastic guy." That's DIRECT MARKETING.

You see a gorgeous woman at a party. You go up to her and give her your web site address. The next day she visits the site and reads, "Hi, I'm a fantastic guy." That's INTERNET MARKETING.

You're at a party with a bunch of friends and you see a gorgeous woman. One of your friends goes up to her and pointing at you says, "He's a fantastic guy." That's ADVERTISING.

You're at a party and you see a gorgeous woman. You get up, straighten your tie, walk up to her and pour her a drink. You open the door for her, pick up her bag after she drops it, offer her a ride, and then say, "By the way, I'm a fantastic guy." That's PUBLIC RELATIONS.

You're at a party and you see a gorgeous woman. She walks up to you and says, "I hear you're a fantastic guy." That's BRAND RECOGNITION.

courtesy of Simon Vetter

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Don't Promote... POSITION!

The most important ingredient in a thriving business is passion. Passion for your brand... to find your niche and create your work around it. It's not the promotions, the hooplah, the noise. It's the position, the core, the brand.

Here are five insights on discovering your niche and focusing all your energy on those unique strengths:

1. Recognize who you (your company) are and who you are not. this takes a lot of self-reflection and self-acceptance.
2. Constantly ask yourself, how can I look at at this differently? Make a habit of playing "devil's advocate" with yourself. Force yourself to make a viable argument for the opposite side of the coin.
3. Develop creativity. Diverge before you converge.
4. Listen to and learn from many people.
5. Find the things in life that really excite you, that make you feel passionate. Your passion will give you energy and fuel your life.

The toughest job of a company is to define the "work." Expertise is not self-evident... define your niche and grab a bullhorn.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Start Spreading the News

Yes, electronic newsletters are in abundance, and many people feel that the field is too crowded. But, there's a reason for the hooplah (and it's the same reason that Burger King builds stores across the street from McDonald's-- people nearby are buying hamburgers!)

People like to read specific, brief newletters that bring value to their particular interests and professions. The newsletter should be a single screen on the computer, or a two-to-four page (four-color) hard copy mailing. It should be a non-promotional piece, with your copyright and contact information prominently displayed. If it is quick and easy to read, you have a much better chance of your audience taking the time to go through it and relating this value to you and your company.

After the newsletter content and tools have been finalized, you should review the messaging used to subtly answer prospect and customer questions like:
1. What does your company do?
2. What products and services do you offer?
3. Why should I do business with your company?
4. Tell me about your new products or services, etc.

Again, SUBTLY is the key word here. A newsletter implies "news," so make sure that yours is commenting on all the wonderful happenings in your industry, how they affect your company, and how they should be impacting your customers in a positive way.