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A DIME A DOZEN

Avoiding the commoditization of your brand

By Nicole Hannel


"If you build it, he will come.” It’s these words that Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears in the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams.” The voice implores him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield, and in time, the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the Chicago White Sox team arrive to play ball.


When it comes to branding, we tend to think the same rule applies. Build it, and they will come. The right buyers from the right demographic. Those potential clients we’re looking to close. But here’s the thing – in today’s digital world, it’s easy for brands to get lost in the noise. Simply building one isn’t enough. In a time when information can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone, commoditization becomes the biggest risk to new and seasoned brands alike. It occurs when there is no perceived value of product or service apart from the next brand, and with the ability to make immediate comparisons between competitors, buyers are more cautious to jump at the first option. Kristin Keen, account director at Hinge, a marketing agency based in Reston, Va., believes the most significant driving force behind commoditization is a lack of differentiation. “As the pool of competition grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for brands to differentiate themselves,” she says. “Increased competition creates a buyer’s market, and greater choice puts more pressure on the need to compare apples to apples.”
With a wide pool of options available, buyers immediately look to compare product and price. David Reimherr, founder and CEO of Magnificent Marketing (www.magnificent.com) in Austin, Texas, insists that facing the risk of becoming a commoditized brand has been a pervasive and ongoing problem. “Unless you have a one-of-a-kind idea, everyone falls into the potential risk of becoming a commodity, especially with the online world.”
Unfortunately, those one-of-a-kind ideas seem fewer and far between these days, and most of us are working in a marketplace with enough competitors to go around. So, if great products and prices won’t necessarily save you, how does a brand avoid commoditization and stand out?
The first step, and you may have guessed it, is content. Nearly a decade ago, Reimherr came to this same conclusion, eventually finding that the power of content will attract the right audience. “I learned that if you’re able to develop a content plan, you start to become a trusted source. It’s about reciprocity.” Reimherr believes that if a brand delivers something relevant and valuable, buyers will lean forward. In other words, as he says, “I buy the first drink, you buy the second.” That kind of trust, however, isn’t established after the first attempt. It is built through consistency of effort.
If steady, value-added content is king then distribution certainly is queen. Just as having a basic logo does not define a brand, content won’t hit the mark if nobody gets a chance to digest it.
So, how do we create a relentless distribution engine?
Social media is a good start, but be aware that even among social avenues, brands offer different value for various industries. In the fashion world, for example, Reimherr says Snapchat and Instagram are leading the pack. They provide the perfect opportunity for consumers to connect directly with the products.
For the B2B world, Facebook and LinkedIn provide the perfect one-two punch. LinkedIn doesn’t have as much traffic, but the clicks are 10 times more valuable, and Facebook still provides the best targeting measures, with features like geography and even behavioral patterns. “But whatever you do, don’t push that boost button. It has to be done right,” Reimherr says.


INSIDE, OUT

As much as the distribution of content to the target market is critical, intentionally moving a brand away from the commoditization trend also requires a shift in the organization’s thinking. And that starts with the employees.
If one of her clients is experiencing commoditization, Hinge’s Keen says her first instinct is to analyze the people internally, because it’s easy for complacency to invade the day-to-day operations. In fact, employee perception of the brand is a powerful variable in overall differentiation.
Keen says many companies are surprised when they discover that not even the people within their organizations fully understand the value their brand offers. “You have a far bigger issue if they think the only value you offer is the delivery of a quality product or competitive pricing.”

What successful content marketing emphasizes in today’s world is that it’s not just about your product anymore. It’s about education, thought leadership, and authentic engagement between buyer and provider. If the people within your organization don’t know what you offer when it comes to those things, they aren’t properly representing your brand.

Keen believes that in order for employees to become brand ambassadors, it is critical to provide them with the proper skills, tools and resources. That includes what she calls a “positioning statement” – internal language that incorporates your key differentiators and represents the “DNA” of your brand, a concise and memorable elevator pitch, and a “messaging architecture” document consisting of common client objections and counterpoints that can be used as a framework for client dialogues and employee training. “Empower your employees by letting them know that the organization doesn’t exist without them. Internal buy-in is critical to the success of your external messaging.”
Another red flag is misalignment between internal and external messaging. This is why it’s critical to get everyone involved. Reimherr says to focus on the alignment of sales and marketing when it comes to internal tactics. “Marketing includes sales, so talk to your clients. What brought them to you in the first place? Once you have that information, go to the sales department. Get everyone together.”
Misalignment leads to staleness.
Is stagnation something you’re facing? Take another look at the inside. As for external messaging, Reimherr says we want our outside perception to match our inside reality. “If they’re aligned, it builds trust.”

THE EMOTION FACTOR

While trust may be the real antidote to becoming just another one in the crowd, it is not easy to build. Clearly, brand loyalty — a marketer’s definition of trust — is a delicate asset. It taps in to emotion, and in today’s landscape of ROI and analytics, that’s not something most marketers want to talk about.
Data provides relevant insight, but Reimherr believes that buying decisions are mostly emotional and that emotional connection needs to be a high priority on the branding executive’s list. “Ninety percent of the process is emotional connection,” he says, “And then you tie that in to meet the buyer’s needs rather than discount them.”
One way to do that is to be transparent about your underlying passions and causes. Buyers, particularly in the Millennial generation, don’t want “brands,” they want real. They want behind-the-scenes. “For example, if you’re a spiritual company,” Reimherr offers, “Throw it out there. You’ll catch the right people.”
That kind of transparency not only fosters the type of brand loyalty that keeps customers coming back, but it also has the potential to create long-term ambassadors. And that’s what every brand should strive for – customers who advocate on their behalf. Those kinds of authentic relationships are the ones that differentiate companies from the noise and keep brands up-to-date with the ebbs and flows of a dynamic market.
Most importantly, to avoid commoditization, you must deliver on your promises. Unfortunately, that simple tip gets forgotten more often than not. The basis for trust, loyalty and authentic connection rests in your fundamental ability to stick to your word.
We need to start asking ourselves if our brands have more to offer than just a great product. Do we deliver what we say when we say it? Or are our brands just a dime a dozen?


Beat the Clock

Tips for better managing your time

By Jackie Gaines


Time. Ask today’s professionals what they could use more of, and you'll most likely get that answer in every instance. In the frantic pace of the digital age, where customer to-do lists play out like a game of “Beat the Clock,” time is something everyone seems to be short on now.


Remember when we thought technology would help create more leisure time? Here’s the challenge – Figure out how to make the most of your waking moments, and things may be far more productive.


Following are tips you can use to keep your customers and your employees on track:

CHOOSE HUMAN CONNECTION OVER TECHNOLOGY

While technology has improved our lives, it comes with its own set of problems. Sure, texts and emails are convenient, but they create room for confusion and miscommunication. Whenever possible, go face-to-face to get your message across clearly.

SET ACHIEVABLE GOALS EACH DAY

Even the most thoughtfully constructed to-do list is useless if it’s too ambitious. What's the point of writing down unachievable tasks? Make your daily goals small enough that you can actually get them done. Remember that you can always do more if you have the time.

GIVE MULTITASKING THE AX

There are times when multitasking can be ineffective and counterproductive. People work best when they give focused attention to the task at hand. If the task is important enough, work it and give yourself permission to forget about other priorities until it is done.

LISTEN UP!

Active listening consists of being present and engaged when communicating with another person. But it's not as easy as it sounds. It's common to forget to listen after you speak your thoughts, and you often lose important info as a result. When you’re talking with a coworker, manager or anyone else, be sure you turn off that pesky inner monologue and focus when it is the other person's turn to speak.

DON'T BE A SHEEP

While maintaining the status quo often is a good thing, there may come a time when it’s advisable to stop following the herd and innovate in the name of productivity. If you can envision a way to work smarter and better, you may just create new best practices that inspire others to save time and increase quality.

STOP SHUFFLING PAPERS

Most of us waste a lot of time shuffling papers from one pile to another. Chances are that your plate is full of things you don't know what to do with. Stop this maddening cycle by touching each sheet of paper just once and figure out the appropriate action. Put it in a to-do pile so you can deal with it immediately.

STOP OWNING OTHER PEOPLE'S STUFF

How often do you hear yourself saying, "Never mind, I'll do it myself"? More often than you'd like, right? The solution is to hold others accountable for their responsibilities. That means everybody. Let "never mind..." be the exception instead of the rule.

LEARN TO DELEGATE

Learn to know when to let someone else handle a task. It can be hard to relinquish control, but it’s also necessary to delegate, especially if you're in a leadership position. Remember that delegating is not admitting you can't handle your responsibilities – not at all. Rather, it's about maximizing the potential of your entire workforce.

HAVE SOME FUN

It's important to remember that stressed-out people aren't all that productive. You must learn to relax and schedule "recharge time." It helps prevent burnout. Be sure to try and make work fun. Find ways to infuse a little light-hearted play into your workday.

Remember that you have two choices when trying to manage your time. You can either let your priorities and obligations run your life, or you can take charge of your minutes and let them work for you to achieve your goals in a timely manner. While you won't ever succeed long-term by racing the clock, you can drop your bad habits, improve ineffective practices, and kick stress to the curb so that your whole life improves.

Jackie Gaines is a high-performing senior executive with a progressive career encompassing more than 38 years of sustained leadership and accomplishments. She also is the author of several books, including “Wait a Hot Minute! How to Manage Your Life with the Minutes You Have,” and “Destination Infinity: Reflections and Career Lessons from a Road Warrior.”


Less is More

Why leveraging yourself is better than replicating yourself.

By Michael J. Pallerino


If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. How many times have you found yourself saying this? Or, better yet, if you don’t do it, it just won’t get done correctly. What’s the sense of having somebody do something over and over again when you can just do it yourself in one shot?


These are some of the things that many leaders find themselves muttering under their breath about over and over again. These are the things that drive even the most positive, inspirational managers crazy. It’s okay to admit it. There was a time when that old saying – surround yourself with those who can do what you cannot – meant something.
But things have changed today. In a time when companies have learned to do more with less, the natural arc of leadership has followed suit. Today, we are in the age of personal branding – a path that even the best leaders are taking. In fact, leadership experts like Terry Barber say that personal brand identification and brand building has become the true differentiator for leaders today.
“Becoming disciplined in uncovering your unique brand helps an organization know exactly where and how to utilize you,” says Barber, CEO of Performance Inspired and the executive chairman of JUBI Inc. “Do not get caught in the trap of being the ‘utility’ player. Be specific about your brand and build on it. The example of some personal brands today include innovator, connector, problem-solver and coach.”
Barber, who travels the country spreading the gospel on creating inspiring workplace culture, is the architect for the research on America’s Most Inspiring Companies, which is published annually by Forbes. His workshop on the “Science of Inspiration” for igniting customer and employee engagement has been experienced by thousands of participants around the world.
“Leaders are not afraid to leverage their failures,” says Barber, who also is the author of “Kulture Klash: An Allegory, Changing the Culture in the Corporate Workplace.” “It is not enough to simply throw up your hands with, ‘Nobody is perfect.’
Be open about sharing how you’ve learned from your mistakes and are better, smarter for it. The notion that subordinates will be turned off by your shortcomings is a sign of insecurity. It is better to rent a ‘thinker’ and to hire a doer. Be careful thinking that you are more valuable as a perceived expert. [Companies] don’t want ‘experts.’ They want people who can execute with excellence.”

“In the past we have hired people from within our respective industries, from competitors, etc., believing they would bring a book of business with them that would get them off to a fast start. I’m not sure that works anymore.” – Bill Blair, Division Manager, Athens Paper

To leadership experts like Barber, everyone’s branding story should begin with that moment in time when he is able to finally connect the “what” of his job to the “why” of his work. Barber remembers asking a CEO he was coaching what kind of things she received a high degree of satisfaction from.
Her response began a journey to redefining her personal brand. The CEO said she liked to help people see everything that is possible, stating she enjoyed encountering and helping to solve big problems. “I have a gift for seeing right through the problem to the opportunity at hand,” she told Barber.
Barber asked if her title should be Chief Possibilities Officer versus a CEO. The next day, the CEO incorporated the title into her signature. “Over time, it became an affectionate title that she took pride in and made it a part of her introductions when she met customers or made speeches,” Barber says. “As with the personal brand in all of us, she simply needed someone to call it out in her.”

DEFINING YOUR BRAND

With all the talk of personal branding being bantered around today, David Waits believes that every leader should remember that, first and foremost, your brand is a promise of consistent quality. There is nothing more paramount in today’s workplace.
As the senior principal of Waits Consulting, he travels the world helping create organizational environments that facilitate rapid growth, innovative development and on-going profitability. His impressive client list includes the U.S. Department of the Interior, Wal-Mart, Lexus, University of Notre Dame, Major League Baseball, Walt Disney World and Quest Diagnostics, among numerous others.
In every situation, the globally recognized thought leader in leadership development and strategy implementation tells his clients this: When someone has a challenge, problem or opportunity that fits the value and skill set you provide, you want that person to think of you first. “A strong personal brand equates to high top-of-the-mind awareness and gives you the advantage of quickly cutting through the competitive challenges and moving to the top. If you don’t know your own brand, you have to immediately set out on a discovery journey.”

Waits recommends asking your team two questions:

• How have you benefited from the work I do?

• When that is accomplished, how does that help you?


Once you receive their feedback, probe their answers with follow-up questions that allow you to dig deeper. Armed with this input, you can create clear messaging that accurately and succinctly articulates the value and consistency you bring. “Don’t be afraid to professionally toot your own horn,” Waits says. “People are drawn to the bugle that is well played.” “Gnothi seauton.” That is the ancient Greek aphorism, which translated means, “Know thyself.” Knowing what you are not good at helps you know what you are good at.

Bestselling author, speaker and accelerator Anne C. Graham is the creator of the P.R.O.F.I+T Roadmap. She also is the founder of managing consultant firm, The Legendary Value Institute.


The Winning Hand

Seven easy tips to sell more

By Linda Bishop


Sometimes, reaching the next level of success is easier than you think. All you need is to tweak a tactic, make a small adjustment or try a new approach. Small actions can have a big impact, so find a tip that fits and start using it in the next 24 hours. Here are seven tips that can help get you going:


No. 1 – Expect to be busy

Is this situation familiar to you? You make a call on a prospect. It goes well, but there isn’t any immediate need you can fulfill. The prospect says, “I’m glad we met. Stay in touch.” You nod, smile and agree. The next day, you’re buried under an avalanche of new projects. Before you know it, six weeks have passed and you haven’t done a darn thing to stay in contact with the prospect. When you finally get around to calling, the promising lead doesn’t immediately return your call. You can’t help but wonder if a lack of follow-up cost you a new sale.

Instead of assuming you’ll have time to follow up, plan three follow- up steps right after you leave the meeting. Decide when to send a PDF of a case study in an email, drop a sample in the mail, and ask for another meeting. Set up reminders in your calendar. When a reminder pops up, add the follow-up item to your daily to-do list. Even if you’re busy, do it to get new clients.

No. 2 – Don’t ignore the clock

Joe Straka, president of Priority Press, says, “Time kills all deals.” He’s right. Someone can be interested in buying from you today, but when too much time passes without forward movement, people start to question, wonder and reconsider. When a buyer says, “We are going to buy,” but can’t close the order today, beware. If too much time passes, he may decide never to buy at all.

No. 3 – Be fun to deal with

Never forget that customers who buy from you are shopping. Sometimes it’s fun to shop, and other times it’s miserable. What are you doing to make your customer’s purchasing experience enjoyable, interesting and fun? Do you talk about topics that interest them? Use show and tell techniques to engage them? Bring donuts? Fun helps you sell, so don’t underestimate it.

No. 4 – Identify all the barriers

There always are obstacles in every sales cycle. Start identifying barriers in the first call. Write them down on a list. Develop a plan to overcome them. After every meeting, review the list. Assess whether you’re gaining ground or if you need a new plan.

No. 5 – Set an objective for every call

Every time you’re face-to-face or on the phone with a client for a planned meeting, you should have a clear objective. What do you want to accomplish? How will accomplishing the objective help you move forward in the sales cycle? Clarity of purpose has power for creating new sales.

No. 6 – Improve your motivational writing skills to get more meetings

Email is the No. 1 way we communicate in business today. The majority of our requests to meet are sent via this channel. In order to get meetings, you must present the benefits of the meeting so that your customer is motivated to meet you.

No. 7 – To improve your email writing skills, try this five-minute exercise

Select an email written to request a meeting where the person either didn’t respond or declined your request. Print out the email. Grab a highlighter. Highlight everything in the email talking about the benefit of meeting with you. Find a way to improve the “What’s in it for me” factor for your intended recipient.

Buyers skim emails. They will not invest mental energy in decoding information statements to identify benefits. They care about benefits. They do not care about interpreting information to decide if there is a compelling reason to meet with a salesperson.

Bestselling author, speaker and accelerator Anne C. Graham is the creator of the P.R.O.F.I+T Roadmap. She also is the founder of managing consultant firm, The Legendary Value Institute.


All Ears!

How to get your client's attention

By Anne Graham


Just recently I spoke with the CEO of a very successful business who wanted to expand into new geographies. Her firm has a solid presence in her local market and a great website, yet she’d been talked into doing a costly “rebranding” exercise by a marketing firm that's helping advertise and promote her business in the new target markets.


As a veteran of receiving these kinds of pitches, I cringed. Most rebranding efforts rely on the outdated approaches of using traditional psychographics and demographics – i.e., “managers over 35 responsible for benefits programs in their workplace” to develop brand strategy. That’s an ineffective strategy. It's too generic and just not finely-tuned enough to cope with today’s short attention spans and social media opportunities to tightly target ideal customers. What they really need to turbocharge their branding is the “Dog Whistle” – the marketing message that causes their ideal customers’ ears to perk up immediately. Conventional copywriting doesn’t ever surface and leverage the dog whistle, or what Seth Godin calls the "Purple Cow." Instead, a bland regurgitation of conventional features and benefits usually results in your business sounding like every other one of your competitors – the same and undifferentiated.

TURNING UP THE CHURN RATE

I stumbled on a great shortcut for helping clients identify their dog whistle, which has impressive spin-off benefits for every organization. I was consulting for a membership-based organization that had a horrendous churn rate. For every new member they brought on board, one left. They were running out of new prospects and their financial situation was precarious at best. Their first thought was to drop the price of membership, but you already know how destructive that can be – look what happens with cell phone companies when new customers get a better deal than existing customers.Instead, I recommended two strategies – talk to members who’d left, and to talk to members who had stayed. And before developing any new tactics, understand the difference between the two. Surprise. They found that members who left didn't bolt because of price. They loved being part of the organization, but left because they couldn’t justify the price to those above them who had to sign off on the fairly sizable membership fee. It was an issue with the way they were communicating their value proposition. Members who stayed had a different story. They’d received so much tangible benefit from the new connections and training they’d received as part of their membership that renewing was a nobrainer. They saw the value-add and were happy to pay for it.

SUCCESS STRATEGIES DELIVERED •
TAKE-IT-TO-THE-BANK RESULTS

Their next move was crystal-clear. They attached hard-value testimonials from long-term members to a letter and invoice inviting lapsed members to return. More than 50 percent of the lapsed members came back within 30 days – a huge boost to revenues and profits. The magic was they gave the lapsed members the Dog Whistle to take to the decision makers that made them sit up, take notice, and then sign off on the renewal. It only got better. By including the Dog Whistle with every renewal invoice, they turned the tide on churn. Their member retention rate went from 50- 50 to an astonishing 94 percent, within one year. And then they added the icing on the cake, not by re-branding, but by completely revamping their marketing materials with the new value proposition that spoke to the hard and soft benefits of becoming a member. When they took their exciting new message to the marketplace, they successfully converted one in three sales conversations into a new member, where previously their hit rate had been one in 100. The outreach and sales conversion process became much more efficient and effective because the Dog Whistle resonated with new prospects who were ideal members, and made them prick up their ears and engage with the organization. Revenues and profitability skyrocketed from all the new memberships and renewals, and theyended up on solid and sustainable financial ground for the first time in years.

ACTION PLAN

Something as simple as testimonials may or may not be the only component of leveraging your Dog Whistle, but the process of identifying the differences between lost and loyal customers always is the first step in surfacing what core messages your brand really stands for. Don’t settle for an expensive conventional rebranding exercise. Instead, refresh your brand with a powerful Dog Whistle that draws your ideal clients to you, and then deliver the value proposition that keeps them loving your business and happy to pay for the privilege of doing business with you.

YOUR 5-STEP DOG WHISTLE APPROACH

  1. Retain your most profitable customers. Every customer wants to feel special, but it’s especially important to take extra care of the ones keeping you in business with a client retention strategy.
  2. Ramp up your marginally profitable customers to build customer satisfaction, value and retention. How often do you feel that business is going to your competitors should be coming to you because you don’t have a strong retention strategy in place?
  3. Restore your unprofitable customers to break even or better. Some of your customers are costing you more than they’re worth, but you don’t have an effective way to deal with it other than firing them, which creates customer churn.
  4. Regain your lost customers. Almost every organization dreads reaching out to lost customers, because they’re either afraid of the complaints or issues they’ll find, or because they don’t have a good answer to the "It was price” excuse.
  5. Reactivate your inactive customers. Improving retention is about being proactive. Do you have people in your database that you never hear from? The answer isn't sending more emails, newsletters and junk mail. It's about using your Dog Whistle to wake them up.

Bestselling author, speaker and accelerator Anne C. Graham is the creator of the P.R.O.F.I+T Roadmap. She also is the founder of managing consultant firm, The Legendary Value Institute.




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