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Customer Preferences Are Constantly Changing — You Can Either Listen or Get Left Behind

customer

Customer Preferences Are Constantly Changing — You Can Either Listen or Get Left Behind

Today’s consumers demand more from brands on every level. Millennials and Generation Zers have entered the driver’s seat with a combined $3 trillion in purchasing power, according to YPulse, and they have made their expectations clear.

Offering products at competitive prices is no longer enough — you must also provide a top-tier customer experience. That means creating open lines of communication with consumers, listening to their feedback, and offering products that anticipate their needs.

Customer experience becomes especially crucial during times of crisis, such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This experience is reflected in the values that consumers want companies to hold, such as a move toward more natural, sustainable materials and processes. Companies that empathize with consumers and show compassion by reflecting these values in their manufacturing and logistics can stand out from the pack.

General Motors Co., for example, created and filled a new C-suite position for sustainability earlier this year to show its values to manufacturing partners and customers. When the coronavirus began to spread throughout the country, the company started creating ventilators to help people suffering from the worst cases of COVID-19. This appeals to consumers, as 53% believe brands should get involved in social issues that don’t impact their businesses.

There are countless ways to interact with your audience and gather insights into their preferences, ranging from social media posts to online reviews and email surveys. However, a shockingly low number of companies engage in these beneficial activities. According to a 2019 HubSpot study, 42% of companies say they do not collect feedback from their customers.

Creating products and services without listening to customers is a risky move. A great example of a company making this mistake came in 1985, when Coca-Cola changed its formula for the first time in 99 years. The company had gradually lost market share to Pepsi, so its leaders tried to make a splash with New Coke, which tasted more like Pepsi. Coke’s loyal consumers were blindsided by the change, however. They loved the taste of classic Coca-Cola and refused to embrace the new offering. Sales plummeted, and Coca-Cola reverted to its tried-and-true formula a few months later.

Microsoft made a similar blunder in 2012 with the release of Windows 8. Fresh from the failure of Windows Vista, the company decided to change the look and feel of its operating system completely to resemble Apple’s user interface. The decision backfired. Windows 8 released to poor reviews, and fewer consumers adopted it than Windows Vista. Since then, Microsoft has returned to its traditional look. 

Companies like Coca-Cola and Microsoft can afford to make big mistakes. But for most small and midsize organizations, these missteps can have detrimental consequences.

Follow these tips to ensure your operation remains on par with customer preferences:

1. Leverage CRM technology.

Manually tracking customer feedback is a fool’s errand. There are simply too many simultaneous conversations occurring across a multitude of venues. Instead, companies should use customer relationship management (CRM) software to track their interactions with current and potential consumers and to aggregate customer insights into a centralized location.

I took this exact approach while at my previous company, Schmidt’s Naturals. I was able to read customer reviews and communicate with users more efficiently. This helped us discover that customers wanted a new form of our product, which we delivered.

Most CRM platforms offer mobile access, which has been shown to improve productivity and make it easier to maintain open communication with customers. In light of the ongoing pandemic, some CRM vendors have stepped up to help struggling businesses. For example, Salesforce has gone above and beyond by offering free solutions to help companies communicate with customers during these uncertain times.

2. Reply early and often.

According to HubSpot research, a majority of consumers expect companies to reply to their messages in 10 minutes or less. To meet this expectation, devote team members to monitor your CRM system and social media accounts for questions and comments — and respond to them quickly.

You’ll also want to pay attention to comments on your social media ads, which are easy to overlook. Even if a question seems like a no-brainer, answer it. Chances are, several other customers are wondering the same thing.

Artificial intelligence and chatbots can be useful in this area. Many companies use these technologies on their websites and social media pages to help them interact with consumers, answer simple questions, provide product recommendations, and even facilitate transactions.

Yelp has done this well during the pandemic by offering updated services that allow restaurants and businesses to communicate more easily with their customers. For example, Yelp has added banner alerts to each restaurant’s page to display relevant information in a prominent spot.

3. Make authentic connections.

According to Quick Sprout, consumers are less likely to shop around and more likely to recommend you to friends if they feel an authentic connection to your brand. Chatbots might be able to handle the bulk of your customer interactions, but that doesn’t mean you should become overly reliant on the technology. Research from Sitel Group suggests that 70% of consumers would rather interact with a real person than a chatbot, so you’ll want to balance your use of AI with an authentic human touch.

Zappos is a shining example of a company that interacts authentically with consumers online. The shoe retailer’s social media team routinely — and cheerfully — replies to the majority of comments it receives, with team members signing each message with their initials. Even as Zappos transitions employees to work from home, it’s still focused on “WOWing” customers, vendors, and employees. During trying times, brands must adhere to the core values that have always driven them.

Customer preferences are always changing, and they fully expect the companies they support to keep up with them. This has never been truer than during a global crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. To innovate and stay relevant, you must continually check in with customers, monitor their online conversations, and offer a tailored experience that shows you’re listening.

Modern consumers don’t just buy products — they invest in brands. They care about purpose, transparency, and authenticity. If your company does not deliver those three essential elements, it will not survive.

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Michael Cammarata is the president and CEO of Neptune Wellness Solutions, an innovative wellness company based in Quebec offering high-quality, environmentally friendly, natural alternative products. He also co-founded Schmidt’s Naturals, a fast-growing wellness brand that was acquired by Unilever in 2017.

competitive

How to Develop Your Competitive Advantage in Global Markets

Executives are aware that activities related to managing knowledge at the individual level and the practices associated with knowledge management at the organizational level are handled at different points on the organizational chart. In order to create a sustainable competitive advantage, executives need to focus on the interactions among the facets of knowledge to minimize the possible limitations of managing all facets of the business units and components on an organizational chart.

Can Social Capital Create Effective Knowledge Management?

Executives across the globe have found that knowledge management is critical to business success. Knowledge, in of itself, is not enough to satisfy the vast array of changes in today’s organization. Therefore, knowledge management is only a necessary precursor to effectively managing knowledge within the organization. One tool for executives to improve organizational knowledge management and use it to lessen the gaps between success and possible failure is to adopt leadership and become a social architect. Executives can do this by using what is known in the academic realm as social capital.

Social capital, however, is different from human capital in that human capital focuses on individual behavior and knowledge while social capital emphasizes relationships and the assets created by these relationships. Leaders aggregate human capital into social capital so as to provide further information and opportunities for all members, and subsequently contribute to organizational knowledge management through developing relationships with subordinates that link follower’s individual interests to the organization’s collective-interests.

Executives want to know how social capital can be defined and used in organizations. At this point, you’re probably asking why Social capital is so important. Just as human resources is a huge component of organizations, social capital is the resource that keeps the culture together and builds upon the foundations that help organizations prosper. Social capital focuses on developing relationships to create valuable resources. Executives may not be as interested in social capital as much as scholars are but there is a kernel worth looking it in this theoretical framework for executives. For example, social capital enables executives to improve organizational knowledge management and help close the gap between success and possible failure.

Many executives would agree with John Girard, who sees knowledge management as an outcome of various factors such as leadership, interactions, and communications, formal policies and rules, and a climate inspiring innovation and creativity within organizations. Organizational knowledge cannot merely be described as the sum of individual knowledge, but as a systematic combination of knowledge based on social interactions shared among organizational members. Thus, executives need to see organizational knowledge as the knowledge that exists in the organization as a whole and use social capital to convert individual knowledge into a collective mind for their organization to close the performance gap and help organizations prosper. Therefore, firms need to consider a range of other factors such as social capital that is also reflective of their knowledge management performance.

Can Knowledge Management Processes Create A Sustainable Competitive Advantage?

Executives know that discontinuity exists at all levels of product and services and they do not want to find themselves caught off guard and become obsolete. To remain competitive, executives realize that they have to quickly create and share new ideas and knowledge to be more responsive to market changes. Importantly, knowledge held by organizational members is the most strategic resource for competitive advantage, and also through the way it is managed by executives. Executives can enhance knowledge accumulation which is associated with coaching and mentoring activities by sharing experiences gained by imitating, observing, and practicing. Executives can, in fact, help followers add meaningfulness to their work in ways enhancing a shared understanding among members to enhance engagement.

In the integration process, organizational knowledge is articulated into a formal language that represents official statements. Organizational knowledge is incorporated into formal language and subsequently becomes available to be shared within organizations. Executives have their internet technology departments to create a combination that reshapes existing organizational knowledge to more systematic and complex forms by, for example, using internal databases. Organizing knowledge using databases and archives can make knowledge available throughout the organization—–organized knowledge can be disseminated and searched by others. Most importantly, in knowledge integration, organizational knowledge is internalized through learning by doing which is more engaging. It is important to note that executives have found that shared mental models and technical know-how become valuable assets.

Organizational knowledge, which is reflected in moral and ethical standards and the degree of awareness about organizational visions and missions can in-turn be used in strategic decision making. Organizational knowledge can be, therefore, converted to create new knowledge that executives can view and implement immediately in managerial decision making. Applying knowledge aimed at providing better decision-making and work-related practices and creating new knowledge through innovation.

Finally, when executives agree to share knowledge with other organizations in the environment, studies have shown that that knowledge is often difficult to share externally. One reason is that other organizations have too much pride to accept knowledge or are apprehensive to expose themselves to the competition. Therefore, executives may lack the required capabilities to interact with other organizations.

Learning in organizations is the ultimate outcome of knowledge reconfiguration by which organizational knowledge is created and acquired by connecting knowledge with other companies that want to share successes and failures. This leads to converting acquired knowledge into organizational processes and activities to improve processes that contribute to success. Executives can now see that a company’s capability to manage organizational knowledge is the most crucial factor in a sustainable competitive advantage. This core-competitive advantage relies within and among people. Figure 1 illustrates how social capital can create knowledge management and competitive advantage for companies.

Figure 1: Social Capital, Knowledge Management and Competitive Advantage

In Conclusion

Executives began to listen and respond to the plethora of information in the form of articles, books, and models attempting to provide social capital to help impact knowledge management and organizational competitiveness. This article articulates a different approach and introduces a new and dynamic perspective of social capital by showing how executives can create social capital as collective actions, meaning that organizational knowledge is power and can be used as an asset when competing with rivals.

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Mostafa Sayyadi works with senior business leaders to effectively develop innovation in companies and helps companies—from start-ups to the Fortune 100—succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders. He is a business book author and a long-time contributor to business publications and his work has been featured in top-flight business publications.

References

Girard, J.P. (2006). Where is the knowledge we have lost in managers?. Journal of Knowledge Management, 10(6), 22 – 38.

10 Tips to Manage Labor More Effectively in Your Supply Chain Logistics

The productivity of the supply chain logistics you’re running is at the hearts of the workforce working for you. With improved productivity, the company stands to make more revenue and profits because the entire workforce will be wisely using their work hours.

As the business owner or the operations in-charge, how can you improve productivity within your workforce? Here are 10 tips to manage labor more effectively in your supply chain logistics business.

Train the workforce

Training the workforce you have employed will help them know exactly how to do the tasks assigned and won’t spend much time trying to figure it out. Above that, employees will be more engaged in the jobs they do if they see that the employer cares about them.

If you care about the employees working for you, that can be manifest by developing their skills through organizing and investing in their training. Collect data about the company you are running and arrange training based on the critical factors that keep the business running.

Understanding all employees

To manage the workforce better, you need to understand them more and that will enable you to care for their individual needs. If you know their skills and abilities and assign them tasks that will make them function at their best potential, they will be more confident and be more productive.

That can be achieved by open communication between you and each employee. Instead of staying in the office all day every day, you can consider going to the common area during lunchtime to communicate with employees.

Gauge the performance

To manage your workforce more efficiently, you need to track their work performance and determine if they are working to their full potential. You can do so by figuring out the customer satisfaction rate. If customers are satisfied with the service, it might mean that everything is still under control.

Don’t wait until there is a complaint that comes to you but rather ask for each customer’s opinion about the service they got. Using a review system like that will help you know exactly how customers feel about the performance of the workforce you’ve employed.

Integrating technology in operations

Another way to empower employees is by offering them all the resources necessary to accomplish their daily tasks. That can be fulfilled by integrating technological systems that will assist them to do their tasks more efficiently.

For example, you can use wearable technology to help with scanning packed boxes and determining what is inside them. If the work of employees is lighter, they will be happier to come to work and that will result in increased productivity. Another measure you can take is automating some of the tasks that were burdening the workforce.

Practically assist employees to be more productive

Some employees are destined to be great leaders in the industry you are in and caging them by not giving them development opportunities can be harmful. The workforce you have deserves to grow and show leadership skills in the teams they are working in.

Instead of hiring managers when the need arises, groom the employees you have right now to be able to fill that role when that opportunity comes. The employees will also be motivated at this and will start putting in some more effort when doing their work. The same applies to you as well.

If you are the head of the operations or an employee in supply chain logistics, and you don’t feel productive in the place you work in, look for a new job that can cater to your needs. Go through top resume reviews and ivory research to get the best resume, LinkedIn profile and cover letter designed.

Observe and report

You probably know the way you would like certain tasks to be carried out for optimum productivity, but the question is how do you implement it?

The most important thing is to understand where you are in relation to that goal you have set for yourself. That can be accomplished by observing the employees and seeing how they do things and determine where they can improve. Once you have done so, you can come up with a plan of action on how to incorporate those ideas you have.

Periodical motivational meetings

Everybody needs some motivation once in a while and you as an employer can arrange meetings with the entire staff. Those meetings will discuss the milestones and goals you have accomplished as a whole.

You can also include a snapshot of the work that is still upcoming and express that you believe in the entire team you work with. The motivation will help employees see what they are doing is truly worthwhile and that their efforts are appreciated.

Implement Warehouse Management Systems

You can implement a warehouse management system to oversee the tasks done at your workplace and try to optimize them. All the tasks that are optimized by these systems will help you cut down costs and have a more productive and engaged workforce.

Unlike humans, these systems primarily care about carrying out tasks efficiently. In that way, it can be a good balance between generating revenue and managing the workforce better.

Instill effective labor management systems to managers

Managers are the tip of the spear in the workforce. They have to report to the big bosses and still deal with the employees under them. Because of that, it is very important to speak to managers and train them on how to manage employees better.

They know the individual employees better and they should be tasked with the work of encouraging employees on the effort they are putting in the company. Managers should also be able to spot underperforming individuals and help them improve.

Incite professional competition

Professional competition is a great way to keep your employees on their toes. By having leaderboards on the work that the teams produce weekly or monthly, more workers will be keen on getting more done.

Also, you can have an employee of the month award and other rewards for workers that outperform and always show great work ethic. The awards don’t have to be expensive, simple things like recognition can do really well.

The bottom line

You can manage your workforce more effectively in the supply chain business by implementing warehouse management systems and integrating technologies in the daily operations of the business. Also, focus more on individual performance and then motivate and encourage based on that and help employees improve in their respective jobs they do.

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This guest post is contributed by Kurt Walker who is a blogger and college paper writer. In the course of his studies he developed an interest in innovative technology and likes to keep business owners informed about the latest technology to use to transform their operations. He writes for companies such as Edu BirdieXpertWriters and uk.bestessays.com on various academic and business topics.

disruption

He Disrupted The Travel Industry; Now He Advises Others On Surviving Disruption

When Terry Jones began his business career as a travel agent 50 years ago, he booked his first reservation by telegram, making him feel as if he had time traveled to the Old West.

“My boss was a Luddite who refused to consider upgrading even to a teletype machine, which were in widespread use at the time,” Jones says.

It was a humble beginning for a man who would someday use technology to disrupt the entire travel industry and, as founder of Travelocity.com and co-founder of Kayak.com, dramatically change how we make travel plans.

These days, Jones talks a lot about disruption, not only as it applied to what he did with online travel booking, but also how all companies are at risk of being disrupted right out of business if they don’t adapt to changing times and changing technology.

Jones shares his thoughts on the subject in his new book Disruption OFF: The Technological Disruption Coming for Your Company and What to Do About It (www.tbjones.com).

That subtitle might make “disruption” sound foreboding – and rightly so – but Jones says within every disruption exists a silver lining of opportunity.

“You call it disruption, I call it innovation,” he says.

In other words, those competitors who upend the business landscape do so by being innovators and risk-takers, something that becomes anathema for too many large corporations that choose caution overexposing themselves to potential loss.

But caution, Jones says, can be the riskiest business move of all.

“You may be afraid to disrupt your organization because you’re afraid it will fail,” he says. “The irony is, your organization will fail if you do not disrupt it.”

Indeed, there exists a mounting casualty rate of once profitable companies that saw their market share dwindle as daring, savvy and previously unheard of competitors emerged to claim their thrones.

Blockbuster, Kodak, Radio Shack and Borders are among those that fell prey to changing times and advancing technology over the last decade. Blockbuster famously turned down an opportunity to buy a small, niche business that rented DVDs to customers by mail. Blockbuster executives failed to recognize the seemingly insignificant Netflix as a disrupter in-waiting.

“It’s unlikely your largest competitors will be your undoing,” Jones says. “The problem is those 5,000 to 6,000 new startups per year that are attacking the traditional world. You need to put their ideas to work and become a disrupter yourself.”

Not every corporate juggernaut ends up tossed on the business ash heap, though.

“There are a surprising number of 100-year-old companies out there,” Jones says. “And most of the ones I’ve talked to seem to have mastered the ability to shed their old skin and renew themselves when required, often quite painfully.”

One that gets a mention in Jones’ book is American Express, founded in 1850 not as a financial services company but as an express shipping business. For more than a century and a half, the company has proven itself open to change and innovation, and it boasts on its website that it has developed many new digital tools and continues to enhance its digital offerings.

“Your company may currently be strong and it may be run by intelligent executives,” Jones says. “But the question is: Are you adaptable enough to change? Even more importantly, are you proactively preparing for change? If so, you and your company are more likely to survive and maybe even thrive.”

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Terry Jones (www.tbjones.com), founder of Travelocity.com and founding chairman of Kayak.com, is author of the new book Disruption OFF: The Technological Disruption Coming for Your Company and What to Do About It. For the last 15 years he’s been speaking and consulting with companies on innovation and disruption. Jones began his career as a travel agent, jumped to two startups and then spent 20 years at American Airlines, serving in a variety of management positions including Chief Information Officer. While at American he led the team that created Travelocity.com, served as CEO for six years, and took the company public. After Travelocity he served as Chairman of Kayak for seven years until it was sold to Priceline for $1.8 billion.

training

5 Ways To Improve Your Training and Achieve Measurable Business Results

U.S. companies spend billions of dollars a year on training, but how many of those businesses are seeing positive, measurable results from such a large investment in their employees?

Not enough of them, studies and experts say. One study on workplace training reported that 43 percent of employees found their training to be ineffective.

“I doubt that many employees would rate their training as engaging, rigorous, or highly effective,” says Dr. Jim Guilkey (http://www.jimguilkey.com), author of M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage — What All Executives Need To Know. “For most trainees and trainers alike, job-required education is viewed as a necessary evil.”

So how can companies train their employees better and from that training produce outcomes that grow the business? Dr. Guilkey says it comes down to employing effective instructional design methodologies rather than traditional models.

“Traditional training often doesn’t work for companies today in competitive marketplace environments where growth is essential to survival,” he says. “The training is usually developed and delivered by subject-matter experts who have little or no knowledge of instructional design. Assessments test rote memorization rather than the ability to apply specific knowledge in authentic situations.”

Dr. Guilkey suggests some new learning solutions and why he thinks they’re more effective than traditional training methods:

Problem-based. “Problem-based learning involves a strategic approach of structuring the learning process within authentic, challenging, and multidisciplinary problems the learner must address,” Guilkey says. “This results in higher levels of learning than content-based, traditional training, which teaches content with little or no application to authentic, real-world problems.”

Continuous learning. “As opposed to singular-event learning, continuous learning is an ongoing process that allows learners time in the field to assimilate and apply new knowledge before learning more advanced concepts,” Guilkey says.

Collaborative learning. A variety of interactions between peers, mentors, and facilitators fills in gaps, answers more questions, and reinforces the learning process. “This differs from the traditional method in which the learning is limited by focusing on the lecturer — a one-way transmission of content,” Guilkey says.

Multidisciplinary. The traditional approach focuses on singular concepts presented in a linear fashion, whereas the multidisciplinary approach “requires participants to combine and correlate learning across concepts and use real-life scenarios,” Guilkey says.

Testing for application of knowledge. Guilkey thinks assessment should be based on the performance of a strategic task, in which learners apply their skills and knowledge, rather than the traditional style of testing for rote memorization. “There’s a huge difference between being able to recall pieces of information and having a performance-based measurement to put all the pieces together,” Guilkey says.

“Many company leaders are unclear on the actual skills and knowledge of their employees and whether they are providing a competitive advantage,” Guilkey says. “You’ll never create a competitive advantage using traditional training methods.”

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Jim Guilkey, PhD (http://www.jimguilkey.com) is the author of M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage — What All Executives Need To Know. He is the president of S4 NetQuest and a nationally recognized expert in instructional design and learning strategy, with extensive experience in leading the design, development, and implementation of innovative, highly effective learning solutions. Under his leadership, S4 NetQuest has transformed the learning programs for numerous corporations, including Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Merck, Nationwide, Chase Bank, BMW, Cardinal Health, Domino’s, GE Medical, Kaiser Permanente, Yum! Brands, and others. Guilkey is a frequent speaker at national conferences and corporate training meetings. Before co-founding S4 NetQuest, Guilkey served as the assistant director of flight education at The Ohio State University. He received a BS in aviation and an MA and PhD in instructional design and technology from Ohio State.

Eleven Big Brand Mistakes Companies Regularly Make

Whether or not you realize it, brand is tremendously important to every aspect of your business. A well-crafted and well-executed brand strategy can cut through the noise of a million messages, articulate your promise to the customer, set you apart from the competition, scale your business, and establish yourself as a leader in the space.

Problem is, most leaders underestimate and neglect their brand. Even those who think they know brand inside and out often have big misconceptions or serious flaws in their strategy—and in this case, what they don’t know can hurt them.  

Misunderstanding brand leads to costly mistakes. Only by recognizing common missteps and avoiding them can you fully realize the power of a strong brand and put your business ahead of the competition.

Brand should be a company’s North Star. It should guide every decision you make. Forging an ironclad brand lets you occupy the single best position in the hearts and minds of your customers. When you pinpoint this optimal position, you’ll be able to create value, maximize scale, and lead with purpose.

On the other hand, a poorly crafted and executed brand position can seriously cost you. Read on for a list of mistakes that too many companies regularly make:

MISTAKE #1: You don’t claim your brand position at all. Instead you let the market do it for you. Position happens whether or not you are driving it. If you allow yourself to be positioned by the market, it most likely will not be your optimal brand position for growth. So, the number-one mistake is to underestimate the importance of brand positioning by not intentionally claiming your brand position at all.

Don’t be an accidental brand. It’s too important. A business’s brand can either unleash your competitive advantage or thwart it.

MISTAKE #2: You delay on brand strategy. Ironclad brand strategy is not just for established businesses with traction. It is also for start-ups. The sooner you have a brand strategy, the sooner you’ll have both your North Star and your rudder. Know your purpose now—you can always revisit it later as your product gains market fit and momentum. As with any business, you will refine your direction as you learn more about your customer, the competitive space, and your own strengths as a business.

MISTAKE #3: You focus on the category benefit of your product. Assuming you do participate in careful brand positioning, the most common business pitfall is choosing a positioning idea that is not ownable and differentiated. Many businesses pin their brands on a category benefit or “table stakes”: a benefit that is not only not unique to the market, but is a must-have for anyone in the space.

If you sell a pancake mix (and your brand isn’t dominant), it’s vital to avoid relying on table stakes like “comfort food on Sunday mornings.” Instead, you have to focus on something that only you bring to the pancake experience. Identify the things you are particularly good at (maybe your mix is healthier than the others, or you deliver a traditional Swedish-style pancake). Then isolate which of these are unique in the market. Finally, determine which of these resonates with your target audience.

MISTAKE #4: You don’t recognize the vastness of brand. Lots of people misunderstand brand because a lot of different components and tactics make up brand. It includes things like logos, advertising, TV and social media, the product itself, customer experience, tagline, SEO, font, your business’s personality, and even the color of your employees’ uniforms. But none of these are, by themselves, brand. Brand is the interconnected web of what your business means and how you deliver that meaning, all made possible by your special position in your customer’s universe. 

To conflate brand with one of its many manifestations is to miss its power.

MISTAKE #5: You don’t choose a focus. Brand strategy includes choosing what you are NOT going to focus on (even though it is scary). By choosing what falls inside your brand purpose, you are also choosing what falls out of it. Focus is how you win. You must muster the courage and effort to undertake this heavy-lifting strategic work.

Choose to stand for something—one thing. In choosing your “yes,” you necessarily choose many “noes.” Shining the light on one thing darkens what lies outside that beam.

MISTAKE #6: You fail to get the customer’s attention. A customer can engage with your business only when she knows it exists. That means you must make it easy for them to notice you. The solution isn’t to shout loudly (and most lack the marketing budget to shout loudly enough). The solution instead is to speak with bracing clarity, which most businesses fail to do. Be crystal clear about what your business is and why that matters to customers.

A storefront near my office failed to get my attention. Its windows featured women clad in fleece tunics, and the signage was vague and New Age-y with an obscure tagline. I assumed that this business sold crystals and incense, so I was surprised to learn it was a Pilates studio. I practice Pilates and am in the middle of this business’s target customer profile. But this Pilates studio failed to make their business easy for me to see, so I did not see it. I did not become a customer because they did not make it easy for me to do so.

MISTAKE #7: You forget to consider the customer’s frame of reference. A frame of reference is that thing your customer would be using if your product or service didn’t exist. It’s what they would buy instead of your offering. Businesses tend to think about their frame of reference from the business’s perspective, instead of from the customer’s perspective. This is a huge missed opportunity.

It’s easy to know your most persistent direct competitors. But remember that your target is evaluating your offering in the context of other competitive options—both direct competitors and more elusive ‘substitutes.’ Therefore, it’s important to consider your brand positioning with respect to all other options your customer might choose, including direct competitors, indirect competitors, and options completely outside of your space. 

When it came out in 1975, Atari sold zero units at a toy industry trade show because it was priced at $79, an astronomical price point for the frame of reference of “toys.” It wasn’t until they contacted Sears, which sold a very successful home pinball machine for $200, that they sold 175,000 units by the end of the year. By distributing their console as a home sporting good, they were in a useful context for the customer—and they had a compelling price point.

MISTAKE #8: Your brand doesn’t have “teeth.” Your brand strategy must be demonstrably true. It must have the power to make people believe it, trust it, and follow it because it offers compelling proof that it will live up to its promise—in other words, it has teeth. Those teeth can be an attribute, a feature, a fact, a guarantee, an ingredient—any special thing the brand offers and follows through with that provides its promise. The less debatable, the better.

Look at Zappos, a brand that represents best-in-class customer service. That is no squishy promise, because specifics back it up. For example, Zappos displays its phone number on every page of its website. And when you call it, a live person answers and seems genuinely glad you called. The Zappos promise of customer service has teeth.

MISTAKE #9: You fail to narrow down your target customer. Your target customers are the people you want to attract more of. They are the people you are most able to delight because of your distinctive strengths. Most businesses characterize them in a superficial way and end up describing little of their inner world. Instead, characterize your target customer as a subtle and empathetic picture of how they view themselves. Remember that identifying your target customer does not eliminate your larger addressable market!

Picture your customers as sprinkled across a dartboard. The full dartboard is your addressable market. You sell to the whole dartboard. The bull’s-eye is your target, the customers you must aim to please the most. The target customers in the middle will ideally influence the customers on the outer circles of the dartboard.

MISTAKE #10: You wind up too low or too high on the benefit ladder. A benefit ladder spells out the layers of your benefits from product features and specifications at the bottom, to functional benefits in the middle, to emotional benefits at the top. Savvy leaders choose to shine the spotlight on the rung of the ladder that is as high as their customer currently permits them to go, but no higher. The higher the better, until it is too high. The common errors here are choosing emphasis on the ladder that is either too low (features and product attributes) or too high (the intangible, ethereal benefits).

If you are too low on the ladder, features will not create high enough value for your customer that she will be moved to buy and pay meaningfully for your offering. When your focus is too high on the ladder, you are not providing accessible scaffolding for the customer to believe your promise. The linchpin of a ladder is its middle. The middle is low enough to be accessible to the customer—sharp-edged, believable, rationally easy-to-grasp. Focusing on the ladder’s middle enables you to deliver substantial value, gain a sizeable and defensible position, and appeal to emotions.

MISTAKE #11: You try to reach all customers with one-size-fits-all messaging. There are five stages of a customer’s journey with your brand: Unaware, Aware, Consider, Purchase, and Loyal. Your goal should be to craft a messaging hierarchy for customers at every stage of the journey. Unfortunately, many people are tempted to develop a sentence or paragraph so great that it will serve all your purposes—all stages of the journey. Resist the temptation. There is no one magic message that will advance all customers at all journey stages.

Further, it’s a mistake to conflate stages of the journey, either coming on too strong too soon (conflating the Aware or Consider stage with the Purchase stage) or bragging about your product features to someone not yet liking the promise (conflating the Consider or Purchase stage with the Loyal stage). Take your fences one at a time.

It’s never too late to brush up on brand and start making better choices for your business. Don’t let past mistakes derail your future success. Even if you recognize yourself or your product or service in every common mistake, you can still turn things around by making changes that will help you thrive starting today.

About the Author:

Lindsay Pedersen is the author of Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She is a brand strategist, board advisor, coach, speaker, and teacher known for her scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She developed the Ironclad Method for value-creating brands while working with billion-dollar businesses like Starbucks, Clorox, Zulily, T-Mobile, and IMDb, as well as many burgeoning start-ups. Lindsay lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.

For more information, please visit www.ironcladbrandstrategy.com.

About the Book:

Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide (Lioncrest Publishing, April 2019, ISBN: 978-1-544-51386-7, $27.99) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.

business

4 Tips For Steering Your Business Through Tough Times

Good times come with this certainty: They never last.

For businesses, that means formidable challenges (a weak economy, new competition, a sea change in the marketplace) are always just around the corner, and unprepared business leaders face the potential for disaster.

“You don’t have the luxury of resting on your laurels,” says Alyssa Rapp (www.alyssarapp.com), CEO of Surgical Solutions and author of Leadership & Life Hacks: Insights from a Mom, Wife, Entrepreneur & Executive.

“You have to keep battling, innovating, out-innovating, and outworking your competition.”

She knows something about that. From 2005 to 2015, Rapp served as the founder and CEO of Bottlenotes Inc., charting a course for the company through the turbulent years of the Great Recession. During her time at Bottlenotes, Rapp was named one of Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” coolest entrepreneurs in the U.S. Starting in 2015, she served as the managing partner at AJR Ventures, which advised privately-held companies and private equity firms on their digital-marketing strategies.

Rapp offers four tips for helping business leaders meet the toughest of times with a resolute attitude:

Acknowledge fear, and move through it. Fear gets a bad rap, but it’s there for a reason: to protect you from something. “Just like standing on a balance beam is scary because your life or limbs are at risk, so, too, is making business decisions that carry huge risks,” says Rapp, a former competitive gymnast who knows something about balance beams. Your job is to acknowledge the fear – to take note of its presence – and then push through it. “Fear is a normal human response,” she says. “The trick is in not letting it dominate your psyche.”

Commit to finishing what you start. You have to commit before you even begin. “If you start anything knowing you probably won’t succeed, then you won’t,” Rapp says. “You’re setting yourself up for failure. You must show up with full commitment, having faith, true grit, and belief in yourself.”

Know that all great ideas start with ‘what if.’ Never be afraid to ask what if, over and over, until you find a solution, Rapp says. She points out that most of the best entrepreneurial innovation in the United States over the past 20 years has been born out of Silicon Valley, precisely because of the constant willingness to ask and re-ask this simple question. “Some people’s responses to challenges or obstacles are to stop asking questions,” Rapp says. “If you want to solve a problem, you have to open yourself up to the possibility that change is inevitable, and reframing the problem will present an otherwise undiscovered solution.”

Remember that you have to be present to win. You can’t win a race if you’re not competing. “So before you do anything else – before you commit to finishing what you start, before you acknowledge your fear and move through it – you have to show up,” Rapp says. “Remember that saying that 80 percent of success is showing up? There’s truth to that because showing up matters.”

It’s inevitable that, regardless of how well you think you’ve planned, life will throw you curveballs, Rapp says.

“They will come at you in every area, every industry, every walk of life,” she says. “I’ve faced them as a mom, wife, entrepreneur, executive, friend – you name it. But I don’t run from them. I’ve learned to apply my brother’s advice: ‘The only way out is through.’ The truth is, I love curveballs because each one comes with a question: What are you going to do about it?”

_______________________________________________________

Alyssa Rapp (www.alyssarapp.com), author of Leadership & Life Hacks: Insights from a Mom, Wife, Entrepreneur & Executive, has been CEO of Surgical Solutions since 2018. Previously, from 2015 to 2017, she advised startups and private equity-backed companies through AJR Ventures. Prior to that, Rapp ran an e-commerce business called Bottlenotes. She has been named one of Crain’s Chicago’s “Notable Women in Health Care.” Rapp also teaches at Stanford Business School and has recently been named Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Booth Business School.

5 Reasons Businesses Should Bare Their Souls To Customers

We live in the information age — aptly named because we have unprecedented access to information through many platforms. Researchers estimate that between television, radio, the internet, email and social media, the average person receives the equivalent of 174 newspapers worth of data every day. That means consumers have a lot to sort through and choose from when shopping for virtually any type of product. And studies show they demand more transparency from companies to help them make an informed decision. 

“This is especially critical in digital marketing,” says Jonathan Musgrave, owner and chief digital marketer for Steep Digital Marketing (www.steepdigital.com). “With information so abundant and readily available, companies are becoming increasingly transparent in an effort to engage the potential customer. They’re inviting potential customers into their world rather than talking at them.” Musgrave offers five ways that being transparent in digital marketing can win over customers:

Builds trust. “You deserve more than someone playing games with you and withholding information,” Musgrave says, whose digital marketing agency specializes in seminar advertising, lead generation and marketing automation for financial advisors. “The consumer expects and is entitled to know exactly what they’re signing up for. The financial advisors my firm works with, for example, tell us that they build such good rapport with their seminar attendees before the event occurs because of the way they’re featured on the event landing page. There’s a lot of ‘gotcha marketing’ going on in the world today, and no one likes to feel like they got fooled.”

Develops loyalty. Surveys show that the vast majority of consumers will be loyal to a brand that practices transparency. “Brands now have the enhanced opportunity to show their personalities and values due to the internet and social media,” Musgrave says. “So consumers expect to know more about companies than ever before. And if you give them transparency, they’re willing to pay extra for it.”

Shows authenticity. “To do digital marketing right,” Musgrave says, “companies need to take a deep dive into who they are, where they’ve been — warts and all — and show a vulnerability that potential customers can relate to. People can see themselves in what you truthfully present. The whole objective is to create a human interaction, and being authentic in this way is one of the most powerful things you can do.”

Pairs a great offer with great value. “Regardless of what you’re selling, there is some ulterior factor we’re using as an advertising carrot,” Musgrave says. “An example would be a time-share presentation; get a free cruise if you sit down and listen to them talk about some product they’re trying to sell you. But the carrot blinds you from the actual intent of the event. In order to be transparent and build good trust, the offer has to be paired with value.”

Increases efficiency. “Becoming more transparent through digital marketing can greatly improve a business’ efficiency by spending less time talking around product limitations and sidestepping customers’ concerns,” Musgrave says. “By not embellishing your results, you save time for more productive work.”

“Giving consumers access to all the information they need to know without masking your intentions is a proven way to build better relationships through digital marketing,” Musgrave says. 

Jonathan Musgrave is the owner and chief digital marketer for Steep Digital Marketing (www.steepdigital.com), which he founded in 2017. Musgrave got his start in the direct mail business, using his communication skills to craft powerful marketing messages that reached more than 1,000,000 households each month. He’s started his own wholesaling company that brought digital marketing tools to the financial advisor space for the first time in 2013 that were responsible for doubling sales for three consecutive years.