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Tear Down Those Walls

How difficult do you make it for people to do business with you?

Images Sometimes I sit in amazement and wonder what companies are thinking. They seem to do things that, if one didn't know better, one would think they are purposely setting up roadblocks to make it almost impossible to conduct business. I liken it to building walls around their rose gardens; they might have a beautiful company on the inside, but no one gets to see beyond the walls.

Let me share a quick story with you.

I am fortunate that as part of our consulting practice, I do a fair amount of corporate and association speaking. I am asked to present at annual meetings, sales meetings, industry events, etc. It is not my primary role, but it is a growing segment of the consulting work that we offer.

We are always looking for ways to grow our business, and therefore thought it might make sense to outsource some of the lead generation work in finding new speaking opportunities. While we do not have a desire to join a traditional speakers bureau, we did think it might make sense to hire an agency that helps market speakers directly to organizations.

One of the agencies that we found seemed to be a perfect fit. When I visited their website (boy, did it need a redesign), there was a web-form on the site that was called a Speakers Interview. If you can believe it, it asked 24 questions, and the questions were not yes/no; they were essay questions which required someone to type in the answers.

As if I have time for this!

So I sent the agency a nice email (I swear, I was sweet as honey), and suggested that I was a bit too busy to fill out all of their 24 questions, especially since I only type with two fingers, and one of my fingers is sore. I suggested that they call me and ask me the questions verbally over the phone, and I'd be happy to respond.

Keep in mind, they make their money off of speakers, like me. If I were to contract with them, I would be paying them.

So what do you think happened. They responded via email, saying that they only will speak to me when I have completely filled out the 24-question form, and if I did not want to fill out the form, I must not be a qualified speaker and therefore the form did the trick for them. It "weeded" me out!

Images-2 Guess what. They lost me. For good. I will never do business with this company, and they will never receive a dime from me. What can they possibly have gained from this attitude? How can they think this is good business? Who has provided them with this marketing advice? Crazy!!!

Images-1 What about you? Are you making it difficult for your prospects, your customers, your clients to do business with you? Is there a wall around your rose garden? What can you do within your own company to make it easier for people to contact you, to dialog with you, to do business with you?

To paraphrase one of our former presidents; "Marketers & Business Owners. TEAR DOWN THOSE WALLS!"

The Death of a Brand

What causes a brand to fail? Do brands simply have a limited life, and eventually, no matter how strong, they just die off? Or is it poor brand management, poor execution? Consider the facts of this famous brand.

Founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land.Sx70-2

Instant camera introduced in 1947, providing instant photos, that "you can see right now."

In 1977, sales surpass $1 Billion. ($2.9 Billion in today's dollars)

In 1978, the company employs 21,000 people.

In 1979, company reaches peak production of 7.3 million cameras per year.

In 1996, Polaroid is an early manufacturer of digital cameras, but they never catch on.

In 2008, 70 people are left on the payroll.

In 2009, the company is sold in a bankruptcy sale to a liquidation firm.

250px-Landcamera103 The Polaroid brand was known throughout the world. It was innovative. It owned instant photography. In fact, when Kodak entered the instant photography space, Polaroid sued, and won, forcing the much larger Kodak to retreat, and pay a $975 million fine. The patents that Polaroid owned were ironclad. It had no competition in the instant photo market.

How can a brand this strong, that owned its niche, that had name recognition in almost every industrialized country in the world, simply disappear? 

Think about this as you assess your position in the marketplace, whether the brand is one that you own, one that you manage, or the brand is YOU! Without proper management and execution, no matter how strong they might have been, brands can and will fail.

And people think it is okay to cut back on innovation and marketing....

The True Meaning of "Friending"

In these days of Social Media, don't be confused with the true meaning of the word "friend".

Those of you who know me, or read my blog regularly, know that I am a huge proponent of the tools that exist in Social Media. I think Facebook is great, Twitter is unique, and Linked-In is a Rolodex on steroids. They are all GREAT tools that help people connect with their friends, their prospects, their clients, their customers, and their everyday contacts.

But here's the thing. I'm worried that people are getting lazy with their relationship building, and that they think that all they need to do to build a relationship is to connect with someone electronically. I can't tell you how many people ask to connect with me via Linked-In, and then in the same breath ask me to recommend them. Why would I do this? Relationships need to be built over time, and the social media tools are simply that; they are tools to maintain relationships, not necessarily build them instantaneously. Trust in relationships is earned, not requested.

True Friendships

The same is true for friendships. Depending on your age, you have different types of friends. Some people still have great friends from high school, others have friends from college, and still others, if they have been in the workplace long enough, have friendships that have developed through business dealings. Whatever your category of friends, as you get older, and busier, and have more challenges in your life, maintaining friendships gets harder, more difficult. There is less time in your day, there are more pressures, more stress, and by the time you get home in the evening, you are tired and it is simply easier to take the time for yourself, and put off calling or writing friends for another day. 

In my opinion, people who think that writing a quip on someone's wall, or posting a 140 character tweet will replace the hard work of maintaining friendships will find that eventually the friendships will dissipate. Friendships require more cultivation.

With this is mind, I want to share a quick, personal story.

Losing a Friend

Brian McMullen I lost a friend this past week. Brian McMullen started out as a "work friend", but then over time, simply became a friend. Brian and I met when he took over the Managing Director position of a UK company with whom I had a partnership. He was 11 years my senior, and at the start of our relationship, there were a lot of contentious times. We both were stubborn, we had tense negotiations, we argued regularly, we were always disagreeing about money, and we each thought the other one was wrong more than right. But over time, our friendship grew, and it was based on two things; Trust and Respect. I always trusted Brian, and always respected him, and I like to think the same holds true for his feelings towards me.

About 7 years ago, Brian was diagnosed with cancer, He beat the odds, and lived through many surgeries, and numerous treatments. As time progressed, he finally left his role as Managing Director, retiring to a more comfortable life with his family. And even through he remained in the UK, and it wasn't always easy keeping the friendship going due to distance, busy schedules, etc., I always did my best to stay in touch with Brian, and see him at least once a year.

I was fortunate that I was able to see Brian on a recent trip to the UK, right before Christmas, 2008. We went to the pub, had a beer, and we laughed about the old times, and all of the arguments and disagreements that we had. We shared memories about the people with whom we had worked, and the trips that we had taken together. While neither one of us ever verbalized it, I think we both knew that it was going to be the last time that we saw one another. Brian's health was deteriorating, and it was just a matter of time. The opportunity to spend that last day with Brian, having a beer in his local pub, was more meaningful than I can ever properly explain. When I put my arm on his, and said good-bye one last time, I hope through my touch, he knew how much he had meant to me, and how much I appreciated his friendship. I also hope my friendship towards him helped ease his pain just a bit.

Work at Building Relationships

Here's my point. Maintaining friendships are hard. And in some ways, the maintenance is unnatural. You sometimes have to go out of your way to keep a friend, a friend. But please don't be fooled by the tools of Social Media. While it is great to say you have 450 friends on Facebook, or 1500 followers on Twitter, these people are not necessarily your friends. They might simply be nothing more than "mouse-click acquaintances". Don't get me wrong, they are great. They like you, they talk to you, they share stories with you, they share pictures with you, but I'm not certain you'd feel an emptiness if they "unfriend" you. They are, for lack of a better term, "social media friends."

Take some advice from a guy with some experience in life and in business. Work at maintaining your relationships. Fight to keep your friendships. It takes significant time, it takes a lot of effort, but it is all so worth it. Clicking on a button that says, "Be my Friend" is simply not enough. 

As for my friend Brian, who I am pleased to say was my friend for 15 years, I honor him by using our friendship as an example of what happens when you work at keeping the friendship. Build relationships; strong meaningful relationships. Your life, both business and personal, will be so much more fulfilling. And you will feel less empty, less lost, when you do as I do today, and say one last time...

Good-bye my friend.

Why Do We Think We Stink?

Why do we have such an obsession with smelly things in America?

Think about it...
  • We shampoo our hair, but it is not enough to have clean hair, it has to smell like an herbal forest.
  • We wear cologne (men) and perfume (women).
  • We want our deodorant or anti-perspirant to be extra-strong, work extra-long, and have a fresh-smelling scent.
  • We encourage our Gen Y males to wear body spray.
  • We use deodorant soap that infuses our skin with fresh ocean scents, or the smell of cocoa butter.
Images-1 And that's just for our personal self. This doesn't even address the obsession that America has with Febreeze. This brand did not exist 12 years ago, and today it is one of P&G's billion dollar brands. We Febreeze our furniture, our clothes, our pets, our cars, our shoes, our rugs, the air, and anything else that might have a hint of odor. (If this product had existed when I lived in the fraternity, I'm sure we would have used it instead of showering. We could have sprayed ourselves on the way to class).

Which brings us back to today. This obsession with our disdain for odors has resulted in a new product, and I can't decide if it is genius (I love innovative products) or a product that has gone one step too far.

Dutch Boy, a division of Sherwin Williams, has introduced Dutch Boy Refresh interior house paint. The Dutch Boy marketing people claim that the paint actually removes odors from a room. Developed in conjunction with the Arm & Hammer people, this paint is to be used in rooms that have a propensity to have an odor, and over time, the rooms will be fresher because the odors are pulled into the walls, and God only knows where they go once they are sucked into the walls. (They're baaaaackkkk)

In conjunction with the introduction of the product, Dutch Boy has launched a new website, My House Stinks. They have also initiated a contest asking people to submit their stinky room stories, and the winner of the contest will receive 50 gallons of paint, and $5000.

Here's my question. If you have a house that stinks, or a particular room in the house that stinks, don't you have bigger problems than simply a need for a new paint job? Maybe you need to hose down your spouse or your roommate. Possibly you might need to check under the bed for decomposing animal carcasses. Or you might try and look for that lost Subway sandwich that you misplaced six months ago. But I'm not certain that paint is the answer.

Haven't we simply taken our obsession with odors just a bit too far? Do we really need to paint our rooms with an odor-sucking finish, so that our Glade Apple Cinnamon candles, our Febreeze plug-in lavender & vanilla scented oils, and our personal product scents overtake the senses, and leave people with the feeling that they are sitting amidst a $200 floral bouquet?

I don't know. There is nothing wrong with a little smell now and then, is there? Gotta run. I need to get a pair of Odor-Eaters for my shoes.

Success is in the Details

Do you ever wonder why certain retailers succeed and other similar businesses fail?

Images Think about it. In comparing the successful and non-successful retailers, they basically carry the same merchandise and same brands as one another. They are located in similar strip-center shopping locations. Their pricing is similar. So what is the difference?

I think it is this. It is all about executing the "Attention to Details."

Personally, I have been in business for quite some time, and I am known to have my really strange business idiosyncrasies. I only allow black ink in our office. Highlighters have to be available at all desks. We use 1/3-cut file folders, and all of the A's have to be left tab, B's have to be center tab, etc. We have dedicated envelopes for dedicated projects. And a simple document that is prepared for a client might go through six revisions. Some people might think we are wasting time thinking of these things. I simply think we are focused on the details.

Messiness Indicates Failure

The other day, I walked into a Quizno's sandwich shop in Chicago. Honestly, it is going to be my last visit ever. The store had one employee, and he happened to be the owner. As I walked in, he was sitting out front at a table reading the newspaper. The floor had soiled napkins and crumbled straw wrappers under the tables. The tables were dirty. The glass in front of the preparation area has finger smudges. The potato chip area was not full. The cash register had food stuck to it. And the condiment area had horseradish sauce dripping off of the counter. It had to be one of the most unappetizing places that I have ever visited.

Now you have to know me. Most people would be disgusted, and either order their food and leave, or simply leave. But I'm more of a pain in the neck than that. Instead, I asked him how business was. When he mentioned that it was slow, I suggested that I was not surprised. I then pointed out all of the things that I thought were deficient in the store, as he stared at me incredulously. (I told you, I'm a pain in the neck).

Here is the good thing. Since they have to prepare the food in front of you at Quiznos, I watched carefully and made certain he didn't spit in my salad as retribution for my unsolicited advice. But he was definitely happy when I left.

How are Your Details?

Think about your business. How does your business look to your prospect and your customers? How does your business card look, your website, your Facebook page, your emails, your letterhead, your presentation materials? What do people see when they see your company materials? What do they see when they see you?

My suggestion is to take some time, and perform an "attention to detail" analysis. Companies that succeed, especially in today's environment, will succeed because they are paying attention to the details, and it is the details that make the difference!

Success is all about taking care of the details!

Oh Behave! on Facebook

It's the weekend. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy this video.

Very clever, well-edited, and funny piece on proper Facebook etiquette. 

Enjoy your weekend!

Wilkinson Sword Encourages Us to "Mow the Lawn"

(Warning! This might be a bit risque, so no one under 18 should read this....)

You might recall that in a previous post, I wrote an entry that discussed why brands need to take risks, and push the envelope a bit. I pointed out that if brands want to rise above the clutter, and have their products stand out from other similar products, they need to find a way to remain memorable. The brand needs to always work at being "top of mind" in the consumer's mind.

In the March 25th post, I discussed the Schick Quattro TrimStyle Razor for Women, with its bikini trimmer. I also included a video of the television commercial that was developed and produced to announce the product in the US. I thought then as I do now, the ad is well done, is clever in the way the brand communicates the benefits of the product, and creates an ad that can be discussed around the water cooler. Great execution.

But the British are so much more "cheeky" and clever than us Americans.

Images In the UK, this same product is under the Wilkinson Sword brand. (Schick does not exist in the UK). Take a look at the television commercial that has been produced for the product in the UK (The company has named the advertisement "Mow the Lawn"). For a country made up of people that we Americans think are so reserved, when it comes to things like this, they are so much bolder than we are. They tend to simply tell it like it is without getting hung up on moral standards. (By the way, the video is worth playing twice; there is a lot going on in a short period of time, and quite a few "symbols" are used, as well as some VERY CLEVER lyrics). It also should be noted that this video (and therefore the brand) has gone viral. It is now in the current top 10 of YouTube videos.

Enjoy the commercial. And remember, I don't produce these products and videos; I just write about them.

Simpler Times

Things are certainly different for kids today than they were when I was growing up. Today, kids have to decide if they want an X-box, a PlayStation3, or a Nintendo Wii to provide them with the Images-1 most realistic life experience. While they are playing their action game of choice, they tend to listen to an iPod, inevitably with a cell phone nearby just in case a text message comes through from a friend, and maybe a portable DVD player playing a movie in the background that they have seen at least ten previous times. 

They play with computerized games, listen to digitized music, watch digitally enhanced movies, waiting for electronic messages. Their lives revolve around fast-paced lifestyles honed through playing quick-reflex games, while multi-tasking with other computerized gear.

When I was a kid growing up, we played with a metal spring! With sharp edges! Somehow, it kept us amused.

Says a lot about the different generations...

Going Through the Motions

Business is difficult.

I’m not necessarily speaking of business during a down economy; I am speaking of business in general. It is not easy to be successful in business, and this is true whether you own a business, or are an employee within a business, or are a freelancer promoting yourself as a business. It has never been easy to achieve success, and in my opinion it has recently become exponentially more difficult.

That is why it pains me when I meet people who are simply “going through the motions.”

Allow me to interject here to all of the people with whom I work, whether they are co-workers or clients. This is not directed to you. I promise! You get enough of my direct comments on a daily basis to know what I am thinking, so the last thing I need to do is to tell you in a blog.

Man Sleeping at Computer But lately I have had the opportunity to observe people in business, whether they are CEOS of large companies (listen up GM, Macy’s, Starbucks, etc.), business owners of entrepreneurial start-ups, or company employees, who all seem to be just going through the motions. They aren’t lazy per se; they just seem to be doing the basics, and not trying to be overly exceptional. This lack of desire to be great, shows; it shows in their own business when their sales suffer, and if they are an employee, it shows in their personal advancement, or lack thereof.

Why, you might ask, am I taking the time to make this an issue?

The fact is, after having been in formalized business since I was 13 years old (it’s a long story, but trust me I was not part of any underage slave trade exploitation), I am finding that keeping up with everything, and staying on top of my personal game, has never been more difficult or more challenging.

I have to share with you, I find that it is not easy doing everything that is necessary to be able to reach and maintain certain levels of success. I remember when I thought it was hard to keep up with all the faxes that I received (I know, I know, I’m showing my age). And then it became difficult to stay on top of all of the emails in my in-box.

Today, in addition to my normal work as a consultant and a speaker, I attempt to keep up with the following on a regular basis:

  tr I try and post on my blog at least 3 days per week.

I p I post on Twitter at least 5 days per week.

I'I   I'm a contributor to RetailWire, and post at least 3 days per week.

 I I I maintain my status updates on Facebook, daily.

I I I maintain my relationships via Linked-In, daily.

Think about this. None of these things existed 5 years ago. And now they are a part of my daily routine, and the day is still only made up of 24 hours, and there are no more days in the week. It isn’t easy.

Add to this the fact that I read about 50 aggregated online newsletters on a daily basis, and am always reading a current book on business, marketing, or trends, and you get the picture. I have run out of time to sleep, and while I have always worked 6 days per week in my normal business, the 7th day is now spent primarily on personal development.

So what’s my point? (I realize that I’m rambling a bit).

Business is hard. Personal branding is hard. Keeping up on all of the communication is hard. Staying on top of the changing technology is hard. Staying abreast of new trends is hard. Reading all of the necessary books is hard. Striving for excellence is hard.

But in today’s fast paced, ever-changing business environment, do we really have any other choice? I’m not suggesting that I have any right to tell you how to live your life. But I can tell you this; it is not going to get any easier to achieve success in business, and the time that we need to spend perfecting ourselves, and working our craft will continue to be significant. Achieving the proper balance will be even more challenging.

Yet, there is an alternative. We can strive to be mediocre.

End of diatribe…



The Customers that Made Milwaukee Famous

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to take a short road trip. My wife and I decided to visit a friend in Milwaukee, and living in a northern suburb of Chicago (Evanston), the drive to Milwaukee is only 90 minutes. Not much of a road trip, but enough of one to notice differences in buying habits.

As part of our visit, we stopped at a couple of different supermarkets (I’m a real joy to have around on these trips, as I am always looking to venture off for a  store visit). They couldn’t have been more different, yet they tell a great story.

I had the opportunity to visit the Whole Foods in Milwaukee. This is the only Whole Foods in greater Milwaukee, an area that boasts 1.7 million citizens. (They have another store in Madison, 77 miles west of Milwaukee). You would think on the Saturday before Easter, the store would be busy. It wasn’t. In fact, it was dead.

It’s a nice store, beautiful shelving, subdued lighting, soothing music, but it just doesn’t seem right for the market. I make no disparaging remarks about people who live in Milwaukee, but they simply don’t seem to be Whole Foods people. In fact, not only are there rumors that this store might close, but one of the areas where they prepare fresh cooked foods has been completely shuttered, and is being used as a storage area.

IMG_0553 Now compare that with another store that I visited in Kenosha. There is an Employee-owned supermarket chain named Woodman’s Markets, based out of Janesville, WI. (You can’t get more middle-America than Janesville). They have 12 stores throughout Wisconsin and northwest Illinois, and if Whole Foods is pistachio almond gelato with a biscotti, Woodman’s is Vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup, and a ‘Nilla Wafer.

Woodman’s greets you with a lot of cakes and German kringles, when you walk through the front door, and the healthy eating goes downhill from there. The stores are massive, they’re cavernous, the lighting is fluorescent, the shelving is early warehouse, and the merchandise is stacked high at the end of every aisle (“Stack it high, Watch it fly”). And I swear they were playing a polka as background music, but I could be wrong.

Woodman’s has no loyalty card, no product demonstrations, no cooking classes, no nutritionist on staff, and they don’t take credit cards. Cash, Debit, or Food Stamps only.

But here’s my point. They know their market. The store was packed with people, purchasing large shopping carts of heart-clogging, carbohydrate-laden, staple items, and the aisles were completely full of Woodman’s employees restocking the shelves as quickly as people were putting the product in their carts. Recession? Maybe so. But people still have to eat, and Woodman’s knows that.

What’s the lesson?

If you have the right product, and the right service, at the right price, and you understand what your customer wants, you will have huge success. It honestly is as simple as this.

Woodman’s Markets are perfect for Wisconsin, and their 12 massive stores prove it. Whole Foods is struggling in Wisconsin, and their 2 stores are indicative of this.

Know your target market. Know where they live, where they shop, and what they want. And don’t sway off course. Simple business. Simple marketing.



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