blog-header

Archive

Kevin Smith

One of the best account planners in the business, Kevin is an Ad Guy who brings experience, passion and insight to every initiative. He first joined the firm in 1994, spent five years on Madison Avenue, then returned to Riggs Partners in 2004.
Find me on:

Recent Posts

posted by Kevin Smith Aug 31,2016 @ 02:29PM

Start by Thinking Like a Startup

easels.jpg

Established businesses don’t reach out to marketing communications firms like ours when things are fantastic. Typically, something has changed, and not for the better. We get called when sales have dropped, when the brand has become unclear or when past leaders have stepped aside to make way for someone new.

Beyond these conditions, established companies often have other things in common that contribute to lackluster performance. Many times, they lack a clear or a universally understood purpose that drives their organization. We define purpose as an understanding about the difference your enterprise is trying to make in the world.

Examples include:

Johnson and Johnson: To alleviate pain and suffering.

Charles Schwab: To be a relentless ally of the individual investor.

Whole Foods: To provide choices for nourishing the body, the community and the planet.

Without a shared sense of purpose in their organizations, businesses tend to be reactionary. Leaders tend to make decisions slowly. They spend their days, quarters and years trying to respond to shifts in the market, changes in customer or client demands, evolutions in the competitive landscape, and so on. The result is a lack of focus, and the desire to leave open every possible revenue opportunity, product and service line or geographic territory. Not surprisingly, none of these strategies perform adequately.

This dynamic is exacerbated by shifts in today’s business climate. Increasing competition, rising costs of goods and labor, changing customer needs – all are happening at an ever-quickening pace. The good news is that with effective counsel and a willingness to look at making some changes, established companies can become more competitive through a new commitment to their organizational health: taking the time to understand what drives them, what they are best at, and what it takes to get everyone on board with that mission. While it may be more difficult to make these types of strategic redirects in a more mature company, the organization is always made stronger by the effort.

Conversely, we see startup enterprises coming to the table with very intentional thinking as it relates to organizational health. Founders arrive with total clarity about their purpose as an organization, from HR considerations and behavioral expectations to product innovation and customer service. They use purpose as a strategic lens to guide decisions in many key areas.

Corporate Culture: Entrepreneurs understand that a strong culture begins with purpose. They also know that a company’s culture is vital to recruiting talent. Younger employees want more than a paycheck from their employers and demand their work accomplish something that makes them fulfilled.

Product Offering: Should the product line be niche? Appeal to multiple targets? Beyond the market data, effective startups are using organizational intent as a guidepost for making objective and decisive calls.

Sales: When purpose is foremost, so is the selling proposition. Further, expanding from one salesperson to a team is easier when everyone shares a common goal. Successful startups understand the power of a sales team that operates from the same playbook.

Pricing: Should the product be charged at a premium? Or should a certain feature be considered a value-add? Today’s new business leaders know if a price increase means you can better accomplish the mission, yes. If it goes against what the company stands for, no.

Corporate Social Responsibility: No longer a nice-to-do for large companies, startups recognize the importance of aligning their founding principles with work that can be done to support their communities. In mature organizations, CSR program decisions can also be made with the company’s core ideals in mind. For example, Johnson & Johnson provides drugs to underserved communities in the third world.

While startups don’t have the market cornered on building purpose-driven businesses, they are paying more and more attention to the new competitive realities of linking organizational health with business strategy and brand marketing. Firms like ours don’t create a brand’s image. Done well, our job is to reflect what is already there. So when you think about branding, don’t start by thinking about your logo or website. Begin by examining the impact your company wants to make for your employees, your customers and your community. Start by thinking like a startup.

This article originally appeared in the August 15-September 11 issue of Columbia Regional Business Report.

 

posted by Kevin Smith Jul 14,2016 @ 04:09PM

Loving Your Work

Our annual 24-hour pro bono marketing marathon, CreateAthon, is in the works again. We are receiving applications now for our nineteenth CreateAthon. While skills-based volunteerism existed fifteen years ago, it has been heartening to see it evolve from a concept embraced mostly by lawyers into a national business movement.

Part of that momentum is being driven by A Billion + Change, an organization leading efforts to expand the number of companies committed to skills-based and pro bono service. To date, they have engaged more than 5,000 companies of every size, industry and geography to donate over five billion dollars worth of services. The vision of A Billion + Change is to transform business culture so that all companies in America will respond to the needs of their communities.

The benefits of skills-based volunteerism are many: building morale, improving community relations and fostering leadership skills. Every year, I’m amazed at how staying up all night actually reenergizes our company. (After a recovery weekend, of course.) In fact, when I consider all that CreateAthon has meant to our business, it is difficult to imagine why one wouldn’t lend their skills to a cause. Yet I understand the excuses. “We’re too small.” “We don’t have time.” “What we do doesn’t translate well to volunteerism.”

I thought of these excuses, and how each one applied to “Get Fit for Good,” an effort by Matt Potts, a college student and trainer at Fit Columbia. “Get Fit for Good” is a pay what you want, twice-weekly workout class with proceeds benefiting Innersole, a charity providing athletic shoes to children who are homeless or in need. It’s one guy spending an hour a week doing what he loves, helping people get fit, all the while raising money for kids. Matt reminds me that many times excuses are just that, and you can usually find a way to make pro bono work.

Most companies have charitable programs in place. From blood drives to fundraising and corporate giving, it’s always meaningful to give back. But there is a unique satisfaction in knowing that the skills that provide for your family can provide for someone in need as well. It reminds you of what drew you to your field, and provides a renewed sense of energy and purpose to the work at hand. If you love what you do, figure out how to give it away ­– for good.

posted by Kevin Smith Mar 23,2016 @ 05:29PM

Your Core Business is not Enough

If work seems more difficult than ever, you are not alone. So many businesses are at a breaking point. Culprits often include a vicious combination of technology, commoditization and sustainability. Competition’s newest cure is to refine your business model. The common truth when rethinking how to best compete is this: Whatever business you are in, your core business is not enough.

whiteboard-849803_1920.jpg

I’ve seen this new business reality drive mergers and acquisitions. It is also changing how companies approach human resources. And both of these shifts are occurring at an increasingly rapid rate. Here are three industries that are feeling the impact in dramatic ways.

The pulp and paper industry is being impacted by technology. A shift in demand is occurring from paper to packaging. The industry is consolidating and mergers and acquisitions abound. Selling papermaking equipment is not enough anymore. The leading players are educating their client’s workforce, servicing the equipment onsite and consulting on optimizing operational efficiency.

Construction services have been commoditized. A study of client with projects greater than $20,000,000 yielded the following insight: “Anybody can build a building.” Specialization used to win business. “Building a hospital? Nobody’s built more than we have” is no longer adequate. The construction companies that can help their clients plan more effectively before construction starts or operate more efficiently after the building has been built will be the winners in 2016 and beyond.

We all know the current economics of healthcare is unsustainable. Today’s hospitals were designed mostly for acute care. Doctors are trained in the science of treating disease. To meet the economic needs of the nation and to effectively care for an aging population, healthcare providers will have to be in the business of keeping people healthy not simply treating them when they are sick. Functional medicine pioneer Dr. Mark Hymen calls this a systems approach to medicine. Hospitals that adopt this philosophy will be in the business of connecting people with a healthier way of life. This is well beyond opening a community wellness center. It is a fundamental shift in mentality.

While some of these pivots are more dramatic than others, none will be easy. Mergers and acquisitions demand structural changes of organizations, cultural integration and strategic shifts in communication. Developing personnel and new product offerings can sometimes present an equally demanding task. If you are feeling overwhelmed you are far from the exception. 

The ideal place to start is by beginning a dialogue with your customers. I recommend scheduling a thirty-minute phone call with a half-dozen customers. Choose people you wish you could replicate as clients. Develop a list of questions that probe how they came to choose you. Try and uncover unmet needs, threats to their business success, and any frustrations they may have. Make the calls or hire someone outside your organization to make them for you.

In doing this, I believe the following will happen. First, you’ll be shocked at how willing people are to share their experience with you. They’ll be flattered you asked and feel valued as a customer. More importantly, you’ll likely be much better informed about how your business needs to evolve. This exercise offers clarity and valuable outside perspective. With clarity, operational and communications shifts are far more palatable.

posted by Kevin Smith Oct 28,2015 @ 08:00AM

How We Spend Money

1920s: We outspent ourselves.

1930s: Then we spent nothing.

1940s: We spent only when necessary.

1950s - 1980s: After that, we spent as instructed.

1990s - 2008: We outspent ourselves -- again.

2008 -  2010: Then we spent nothing.

It may have been a cycle, but it isn’t anymore. It’s not that “this time is different.” Every time has been different to a degree. I don’t believe we are in the midst of a modest recovery that will ultimately culminate in another glory decade or two.

I believe the next phase is: “We started caring how we spent.”

The number of brands connected to causes or giving back or being more sustainable is growing by the minute. That’s a trend. I hope it continues. But there is a broader and likely more permanent business context.

Companies that articulate and demonstrate a clear purpose are succeeding. Some might be charitable in nature, but this is not a prerequisite. Given pervasive marketing, given that we are all time-starved and attention-impaired, consumers are choosing to spend money with companies that demonstrate clarity.

Kick Starter announced last week that it will not sell or go public – ever. They are committed to helping fund creative projects, and see reporting to shareholders as a potential distraction to that end. Southwest has held true to its mission of democratizing the air, and stands by the slogan: “bags fly free.” Meanwhile, CVS made the decision to focus on its customers’ health and stop selling tobacco products. As I write this, several of our local network affiliates are providing uninterrupted coverage of Columbia’s tragic flood. They’ve decided to focus on their primary purpose as an affiliate – reporting local news.

This is not marketing, but purpose-based decision making. This is leadership. Clear business decisions driven by a company’s mission and core values. These decisions may at first seem counter intuitive, but they provide clarity both internally and externally. The outcome is loyalty and profit.

Our marketplace has never been more crowded and communication channels have never been more fragmented. Most marketing programs have become a scattershot of tactics. In this environment, purpose and the clarity it yields brings customers in the door and keeps them coming back.

A recent Gallup poll found that only 28 percent of employees strongly agree with the statement "I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors." The same poll found that when customers can see alignment between a company’s purpose and its behavior, they give it twice the share of wallet.

Given this dynamic, I am shocked at how few companies have a clear sense of purpose. Mission statements and core values abound, but they are most often anything substantive. If one of your company’s core values includes integrity, this most likely includes you. Basic honesty is not a core value. Being “best in class” or “providing excellence” is not a mission. A committee of employees assigned to work on the mission statement typically leads to general platitudes on which everyone can agree. Unfortunately, committees rarely offer organizational clarity or existential intent.

Ask instead: Why were we created? What would be lost if we were gone? You and your coworkers have to know why you show up each day, beyond making money. In doing so, I believe you’ll make a whole lot more of it. 

posted by Kevin Smith Sep 30,2015 @ 08:00AM

Technology and Your Business - Preparing for Major Changes

Our state and nation’s social problems are nothing new. Thankfully, government, nonprofits and social enterprises have been working to address all manner of public need for years. Their efforts have often been heroic and their scale has been vast. South Carolina now has more than 8,000 organizations committed to the complex societal concerns facing so many of our citizens.

Despite the involvement of so many well-intentioned people and organizations, many issues are getting worse instead of better. Unfortunately, I believe this trend is going to further accelerate, and in a way that will impact your business. Navigating the changes ahead will require an unprecedented sense of organizational purpose and clarity of communication.

The Backdrop

Household income has been basically flat for five decades. The gap between rich and poor has increased dramatically since the 1970s. Meanwhile, multi-generational poverty remains unchecked.

There are victories here and there, and businesses are doing what they can through grants, volunteerism and board service. What is about to be hugely relevant is technology’s impact on our state’s population.

Thus far, technological improvements have had the most substantial impact on those at the top of the economic pyramid. Corporations have been able to harness technology to improve efficiencies and their bottom lines. Take automated airport check-in for example. The airline saves money on personnel and bolsters their bottom-line. This change might not be good for the displaced airline’s employee, but it is good for the shareholder. Nevertheless, the impact is not yet far reaching.

The Reality

More wholesale change is coming. We’re only a few years from vehicles that drive us. What will that mean for the 3.5 million truck drivers in America? Robots will soon be stocking supermarket shelves in addition to checking out our groceries. Diners are using electronic kiosks to place orders at casual dining restaurants. Both blue and white-collar workers will be affected. There is now software drafting legal documents instead of lawyers.

In short order, many low and middle-income jobs are going to be eliminated, and the pace with which these technologies are approaching is quickening. The industrial revolution moved the laborer from the farm to the factory. The knowledge economy moved the worker from the factory to a desk. This time, some believe the next destination will be unemployment.

Former American treasury secretary, Larry Summers, noted that in the 1960s one in 20 men ages 25-54 was unemployed. In ten years, it could be one in seven. So unless you own a Bentley dealership, this is going to impact your business.

The Opportunity

Where there is chaos, there is opportunity. I believe that what will emerge is the creative economy.

In this economy, organizations that thrive will have two things in common:

  1. Purpose: They will have absolute clarity about why they exist and the impact they intend to have on the world around them.
  2. Positioning: They will be able to communicate clearly and succinctly the unmet need they fulfill and how they do so differently.

These concepts are not new, but they will be more essential than ever. Purpose and positioning demand that businesses assess the core business they are in, how they deliver their product or service, and the degree to which they fulfill an unmet need.

If you are in a commodity business that caters to the middle or lower-income customers, the impact will be more substantial. Evaluating your purpose and positioning will prove key to a sustainable business model. Those who identify and address newly unmet needs will lead the creative economy.

Nonprofits will see the need for their services increase while their donor base declines. This will demand more efficient back-office, service and delivery systems, likely leading to mergers. Increased competition for donors will require more intentional marketing and brand positioning. The best communicators will be the most sustainable organizations. In short, the nonprofits will learn to invest in themselves and behave more like for profit businesses.

While few would say they are eager for such changes, they are coming. Preparing your business earlier can only make the path ahead easier. It is time for each of us to up our game.

 

This post originally appeared as a column in Columbia Regional Business Report.

 

billion+_ebook

Flickr

By the numbers

youtube is 2nd largest search engine