The most important job any business owner has

September 6, 2012

You know…sometimes we make things so much more complicated than they need to be.  Do you want to own or work for a company with longevity, a strong reputation and customers who are your best advertising?

Then follow this advice from The Little Blue Book of Advertising.  But I warn you…the simplicity of the advice is also what makes it so stinking difficult.

“Taking care of your brand (building it, managing it, protecting it, and yes, if necessary, reviving it) is the single most important job you’ve got. Whether you’re the president of the company, the EVP of marketing, or the newest employee in the advertising agency’s design department.

Your brand will last longer than any of your jobs. It’s even likely to last longer than your company. So taking care of your brand is also a smart career move–if you take care of your brand, it’ll take care of you. No one ever made the cover of Forbes magazine by getting a raise. But the covers and pages of the business press are filled with people who championed a great brand.

What’s the easiest way to take care of your brand? Take care of your customer. Know who she is. What he wants. How she uses–and thinks about–your product, service, brand.

It’s that simple. And that hard.”

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Why do the hard work of building a brand?

August 20, 2012

Let’s assume the following is true:

All pretty good reasons for creating a brand. But building a brand is hard work.  It’s expensive, in terms of time, focus and even money. It requires the attention of your entire company — from the part-time janitor to the CEO and everyone in between.

Is it worth it?

Check out this post over at the Brand Establishment.  They make a pretty compelling argument that along with the benefits I listed above…a brand’s ROI includes:

  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Minimized negative effects of a crisis
  • Better marketing and co-branding partners

I’m not saying it will be easy to build a brand.  But, when done right — it’s a game changer.   And that should be worth the effort and the risk.

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Why your brand is dead in the water

August 14, 2012

Here’s how most brand evolve.  The organization’s leadership huddles up at a corporate retreat (or if it’s a start-up, around the kitchen table) and decide on a tagline and maybe a logo.

The tagline becomes the battle cry of the brand and they’re off to the races.

Or worse yet…the organization hires an agency who claims to “do branding” and after a little deliberation, the ads have the new tagline and logo and voila, the brand is launched.

Fast forward 6 months or maybe a year.  The tagline and the brand are limping along.  No one really uses them anymore.  And if they do, they think of it as the “theme of the month” and assume it will just go away over time.  And it does.

There are many reasons why a brand fails….but the biggest one in my opinion is that the employees are not properly engaged and connected to the brand.  Without a huge investment of time, energy and some money — the brand remains a superficial cloak that can easily be pulled off or shrugged off when it gets to be a challenge.

Your employees are the key to a brand’s long term success.  It’s that simple.

When we are asked to develop a brand for a client, we require the step we have dubbed “seeding the brand” which is the whole idea of introducing the brand promise to the employees and letting them take ownership of it — deciding how to deliver the promise, how to remove the barriers to keeping the promise and how to keep the brand alive inside the organization.

If a client won’t agree to implementing that stage of the process, we won’t do their brand work.  No ifs, ands or buts. Why? Because it won’t work without that step. And I don’t believe we should take their money if we can’t deliver success.

Discovering and then building a brand takes a village.  And you have to start by including your own villagers.

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Can packaging help you sell in a new way?

March 27, 2012

How we package our products and services often communicates more than we think.

Sometimes — a fresh look at packaging can introduce you to a new buyer, make you more attractive to prospects you’ve known for awhile or reinforce a buying decision for your current customers.

I was in Walgreens the other day and a end cap display caught my attention.  They were little boxes of pills but rather than being named/described as some generic brand — they were packaged according to why you might use them.

  • “Help, I have the sniffles.”
  • “Help, I have an achy body.”
  • “Help, I can’t sleep.”
  • “Help, I have a headache.”

I thought it was a brilliant strategy.  Rather than get into a brand war with the category leader, why not just re-define how the category is packaged and go right at the consumer’s need.  I’ll be curious to see how this new line sells.

We had a bit of the same problem at McLellan Marketing Group.  Everyone assumed that we could only work with large clients with really big annual budgets.  While we love those kinds of clients — we also love working with entrepreneurs and small businesses.

But how do we communicate that to the marketplace?   We repackaged ourselves.

We knew that this group of potential buyers had very unique concerns about working with an agency:

  • I won’t know how much it’s going to cost
  • I don’t have a big enough budget
  • I don’t know what I’d be buying

And we repackaged ourselves to eliminate those worries.  We literally created packages — with a pre-determined monthly fee.  Think of these packages as the garanimals of marketing.

The buyers can pick and choose from the menus and with our help, create a custom package that fits their business’ needs.

(You can download a PDF of the MMG packages for easier reading by clicking here)

But they have 100% control over the cost (because they decide which monthly fee they want to pay) and they can see all they get for their small budget and they know exactly what they’re going to get.

This packaging strategy has brought us a whole different category of clients — who are enjoying agency expertise at a price they can afford (and control!).

How could you re-package yourself or a particular product or service to either overcome buying hesitation, to introduce yourself to a whole new audience or to do an end run around the category leader?



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THE best customer service tip ever

August 31, 2011

… stellar customer service = pinky swearing

I’m going to tell you THE secret to incredible customer service, customer retention and word of mouth referrals.

It’s quite complicated so you’ll want to print off this post and hang it somewhere where you can refer to it every day.

If you’ve got music playing or some other distraction around you — turn it off/put it away so you can fully concentrate on the concept I am about to unveil before your very eyes.


Pinky Swear.

When we were kids, if you pinky swore — that was a blood oath, a die or do it sort of thing.  There were no asterisks, exceptions, small type or exclusions.  It was a pinky swear. Enough said.

If you want your customers to rave about you and to come back time and time again — pinky swear.

If you are so old that you don’t remember pinky swearing — let me translate it for you.

Do what you say you’re going to do.  Every time.  No exceptions.

Go forth….and pinky swear.  Your customers will love you for it.


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Where does your brand live?

August 30, 2011

…How does your brand come alive?

When we talk about a company’s brand, in most cases people’s minds jump immediately to their logo.  No argument – a logo is a vital element of how you communicate it.  It is the visual representation of who and what you are.  But your logo is just the beginning of it.

Others might point to your tagline and suggest that’s where your brand lives.  Again, it’s an important communication tool for telling people what your company is all about.  But where both your logo and your tagline fall short is that they’re one-way communications.  You are showing or telling, but your audience is not actually experiencing your brand.

Brands really come to life when an experience confirms or amplifies the promise that your logo and/or tagline might offer.  Here are some key spots that you might not think about from a brand point of view.  But, they’re places where you can truly bring it to life for your employees, customers and vendors.

Your office/work space: You know what they say about first impressions.  One spot where many first impressions are created is when someone comes to see you for the first time.  Whether you have a retail space, office space or work virtually through an extranet —  how it first appears to your audience will stick for a long time.

  • Does it feel very corporate and official?
  • Is it welcoming and kind of funky?
  • Could it be called cluttered or filled with interesting items?
  • How about neat, with everything in its place?

All of that speaks to your brand and what matters to you.

Your “first day at work” experience: Never forget, your most active and important advocates are your employees.  And for them, there are few days more memorable than their first day at work.  What is that day like for them?

  • Are they assigned a buddy who helps them get oriented to your workplace, the people and the procedures?
  • Is there a small gift (maybe a hat with your company logo on it) waiting for them at their new desk?
  • Do some of their teammates take them out to lunch?
  • Are they given training or is it a baptism by fire?
  • Is everything ready for their arrival or are you scrambling to get paperwork and supplies to them?

Think how many people are going to ask them “how was your first day?”  From a brand perspective, what do you want their answer to be?

Your “return” policy: Even if you are a corporate lawyer, you have your own version of a return policy.  How do you handle an unhappy client?  What do you have in place to avoid making them unhappy in the first place?

  • Do you have a guarantee tied to your pricing or billing?
  • Do you have a confidential way for them to register a complaint?
  • Do you offer refunds without restrictions, boundaries or tiny type?
  • Do you have an apology gift or letter that is ready to go in the case of a hiccup?

Remember that an unhappy customer is likely to tell more than twenty people why they’re unhappy.  Do you have policies and procedures in place so that your brand comes out smelling like a rose when those stories get told?

Just like everything in else in life – we can talk all we want, but it is our actions that really tell the story.  How you wrap your brand around key experiences like those first impressions, the first day of work and when things go wrong will go much further in terms of creating a lasting brand.

So where do you think your brand is most alive and vibrant?


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Are you sure it’s what they want?

August 11, 2011

…Give your customer choices they actually care about

One of the buzzwords that continues to bounce around the marketing world is “value add.”  I have no issue with providing more value to your customers.  In fact, I think it’s a dandy idea.  But I think you can also stub your toe when you do it in a vacuum.

As you know, I fly a lot (visiting clients, speaking at conferences, etc) and I always fly United.  Like most of you who travel a fair amount, I have traded choice of airline for airline perks.

For the most part, I love United and the benefits I get as one of their frequent fliers.  But it also gives me an opportunity to see many a marketing attempt go awry.

What your customers want, in terms of value add, is real value, not value for show.  Let me show you a few examples (at United’s expense):

Real value: The Red Carpet Clubs — very cool spaces with plenty of free wifi, soda, snacks, really comfy chairs and best of all,  customer service reps who  will take as much time as you need to help sort out a messed up ticket or change in plans.  (Value added — comfort and great service)

Value just for show: Unlimited upgrades for their upper tier customers.  Except…. in many cases, they don’t upgrade your companion if you’re flying with someone else.  So really — it’s just mean teasing.  “Oh, we wanted to upgrade you but your kid/spouse/buddy will have to fly coach.”  Who wants to be that jerk?  Which means I only get to use the upgrades I’m offered if I am flying alone. (You’re pretending to give me a value and then taking it away)

Real value: Letting frequent fliers board the plane first, meaning there’s always overhead storage space available.  (Value added — convenience and comfort)

Value just for show: The ridiculous red carpet line (complete with a scrap of red carpet that you have to cross) that only makes the casual traveler feel like they don’t matter and the frequent flier feel conspicuous.  (You’re using me to advertise your perks)

Notice how the real value happens when a company selflessly worries about what matters to their customers.  But the value just for show is when the company decides, without asking their customers or walking a mile in their shoes.  Then the “value add” looks self serving and may actually diminish the experience for your best customers.

So as you contemplate how you can appreciate your customers and reward them for their business — be sure the value add is genuine AND actually valued.



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Can your brand co-exist with your company’s brand?

July 28, 2011

…How do you balance your personal & company brand?

Earlier this week, we explored the idea of how your personal brand influences and sometimes becomes your company’s brand.  If you are an author, solo consultant or solopreneur that can actually work to your advantage, as we discussed.

On the flip side, if you’ve got an entire organization behind you (whether it’s 4 employees or 400) then having a very prominent brand can be problematic.


Because you get into the sticky situation of people wanting to hire YOU not your firm.  Which means your company can only grow to the peak of your own capacity.   And potential customers will be disappointed if they get assigned to one of your co-workers rather than being excited to be connected with an organization as smart as yours.

So how do you combat that?  You certainly don’t want to douse your own brand and when pointed in the right direction, your brand’s reach can extend to serve your entire company.  But how do you make sure your personal brand doesn’t overshadow the entire team?

Only the best: If you’re in the position to influence or control the hiring, you’re going to have to guard against settling.  You will need strong individuals who perform at the top of their game every day.  They also have to be ready to stand in tide of your brand and hold their own.   Be candid about the situation and help them define and build their own brands that compliment yours and the company’s.

You’re also going to have to recruit people who are committed to always bettering themselves: And part of your role is going to need to be coach/mentor.  We give a lot of lip service to the idea of hiring people who are smarter than ourselves, but you’re really going to have to walk that out.  How can you truly motivate and support them getting even better?

Celebrate your team: Get out of the spotlight when you can.  If you can turn it to one of your teammates, all the better.  You’re the team’s biggest and most vocal cheerleader.  Do it internally and do it with clients and prospects.    Encourage them to take leadership positions in the community, especially in areas where you have not already been.  Let them carve out their own path and be on the sidelines applauding the entire time.

Think differently about your products/services: Odds are your strong personal brand was borne out of you being very good at something.  And you probably built your company around that core competency, as well you should.

Let’s say you are the best cupcake maker in the world.  Your cupcakes make grown men weep.   And maybe there’s no way any of your very able bakers are going to be able to duplicate your cupcakes.  That’s okay….you keep making the cupcakes.  And if you want — your business can only sell cupcakes.  But that means you have to always be in the kitchen.  And your team can’t grow and enjoy basking in their own light.

Why not examine both what your customers need and where you team has some unique talents.  Perhaps there are some complimentary offerings that they could own.  Maybe one of your staff makes killer expresso or quiches.

Even within a niched company like a law firm specializing in taxes, there are nuances or levels that are worth exploring.    Help them find their own niche that can flourish alongside yours.

In the end, it’s a balancing act.

Every company would like to have a charismatic leader who is well known and well respected.  So you don’t want to do anything to diminish that.  But you do want to elevate the rest of your crew so that all of you can build a company that exists and succeeds beyond your own sphere of influence and your 24 hours in a day.

For those of you who have a strong presence or brand — how do you create the balance for your organization?


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Am I the brand?

July 26, 2011

…Is who I am as a person my company’s brand?

For many small business owners and solopreneurs, when people think of their business, their mind immediately goes to the person and that person’s attributes become the attributes assigned to the business as well.

If you are truly a consultant or solopreneur, that’s probably okay as long as you infuse those attributes with a strong elevator speech or key phrase.  You don’t want to just be known as Bob the straight shooter.  But it might be just fine to be known as Bob, the straight shooter who helps you cut reduce your health care costs.

So how do you purposefully weave your personal brand (how people think of you the person) with what it is you do?  Here are a few ideas:

Write, write, write: Whether its a blog, a column or articles you submit to online ezines, you want to link your name to your area of expertise.  The key to this strategy is you have to maintain a laser like focus.  If you’re the bomb when it comes to eliminating bedbugs, then stay on topic.  Teach me what a bedbug is, why I don’t want them in my home, how hotels and colleges have to deal with the problem and how specially trained dogs can detect bedbugs.   Write profusely and keep your focus narrow.

Speak: Offer to speak at industry conferences, do break out sessions for your local association or college.  Be the person who is so knowledgeable that not only are they good at what they do but they can make it accessible and interesting to an audience.

Say no: If you’re the best wedding gown designer on the east coast, when someone asks you to design their new restaurant’s uniforms, you need to politely decline.  Even if you’d love to have the money and the job would be a cake walk.  The best heart surgeons don’t repair broken bones.  Even though they could.

Be purposeful: It’s not enough to be known for your subject matter expertise.  If you want to be known for being accessible or for being expedient or funny or whatever — think how you can weave those attributes into your daily work. Some of it will come naturally.  If you are funny, it stands to reason that working with you, people would see and appreciate your humor.  But how could you spotlight even more?  Think of your client touch points.  How could you be sure to include a dash of your humor into your invoices, voicemail and website?

I think it’s pretty tough when you’re a one man band to not have your personality color your company’s brand.  After all, when they hire your accounting firm, if you are the accounting firm — they’re going to get to know you and be exposed to who you are as a person.

Rather than fight to separate who you are from what you do — carefully mesh them together to strengthen the argument of why they should hire you over a competitor.

Whether you’re in a company of one or one thousand — people hire people.  Why not use that to your advantage?


Hat tip to Jane Chin for asking the question that triggered this post.


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If you look just like your competition…

July 21, 2011

…Windows version of the Genius Bar

…then how will I know it’s you?

I was at the Mall of America earlier this month and came upon a Microsoft Windows store.  I’d never seen one before, so we wandered in.  And it wasn’t a Microsoft Windows store.

It was an Apple Store with Microsoft products in it!

Right down to the Genius Bar — they’d copied everything.  That’s hardly the way to build your brand.  In fairness…they did have the hardwood floors and the stools.  So that’s a little different.

But other than that — you name a feature of the Apple Store — and it was there.  (minus the cool products of course…they don’t sell Mac stuff!)

I’d contend that if you don’t have a better sense of who you are and how both you and your customers are different — you have some brand homework to do.  Before you open up shop.

Oh look, people playing with tablets and laptops



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