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posted by Kevin Smith Apr 19,2017 @ 04:19PM

The Greed Trap

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The most revolutionary products fulfill a previously unmet need. I recall my first iPod. I never considered that every cassette, album and CD I had ever owned might fit in my pocket. With the iPod came the end of a lifelong search for the ideal music storage vehicle. 

Once they breakthrough, great products work to maintain their established beachhead. That means refining or evolving their products or services to continue to solve people's problems. In the best instances, these are problems people didn't even know they had.

In my case, now that I had all my music in my pocket, why not add my calendar, address book and phone to the mix. This kind of focus endears brands to us and forms tribes of loyalists. This is the path to category leadership, and with it comes imitators.

Next comes a crucial intersection:

  1. Take the difficult route: Continue to solve different but related problems. Limit profits by budgeting for major investments in top talent, research and development and the launch of new product lines.
  2. Go mass: Sacrifice the affinity of your base by making your product or service more affordable, thereby growing your audience.
  3. Take advantage of new revenue streams: Allow your product or service to become a means to other passive income. This typically involves taking advantage of your customers' needs or weaknesses instead of continuing problem solve for them.

Very few companies choose option A. It's not just because it is difficult; the allure of ever expanding profits is just too great. Businesses become so obsessed with growth that they cause their own undoing. I call this the greed trap.

The proliferation of social networks, constant texts and email notifications has tethered us to our cell phones. Data plans, streaming content and constant communications have lead to an "always-on" lifestyle. Adults and children alike have a growing compulsion for screen time. Being away from our phones causes separation anxiety. We are addicted – and the resulting behavior is pretty ugly.

In the 1950s and 60s people walked around smoking. There were ashtrays everywhere: on elevators, in cars, in hotel lobbies, bars and restaurants. Instead of smoking, what do you see people doing in these same places today? The smartphone industry isn't solving problems anymore; it's creating them.

The greed trap is a failure to think strategically and act responsibly. It happens when companies and their leaders stop thinking about their clients and focus on themselves. Eventually, the result is backlash. We're just beginning to see this with cell phones, and I predict a serious increase of it in the future.

Here are three questions you might consider when planning for your organization:

  1. What problem does our company solve for its clients?
  2. How would our customers be impacted if your organization closed its doors?
  3. What common customer issues in our space remain unsolved?

Asking yourself, your colleagues and your customers questions like these are the key to sustainable growth and customer retention. Take the time to answer them and your next step will be profitable for both you and your customer.

posted by Cathy Monetti Mar 15,2017 @ 04:45PM

Connectivity. And Uber.

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I RECENTLY TOOK my first Uber ride.

I know, I know, this is an embarassing admission. But there it is, and here is why I mention it at all.

I am fascinated by the Uber experience and the statement the phenomenon makes, not just about our culture, but about connectivity.

 ~~~

IT WAS OUR FIRST NIGHT in San Diego and we had just made dinner reservations. The weather was awful (yes, we brought rain to Southern California), so even though the restaurant was not more than a mile away, walking was out. That's when my daughter suggested we consider Uber. We had a rental car, so it took a little convincing to decide to leave it parked in front of the house and to summon "a local" to drive us up the hill to Bull & Grain. But that's just what we did.

The car arrived in mere moments, and the three of us climbed in. Eliza quickly struck up the conversation that was repeated with every subsequent Uber driver: How long have you been driving? What made you decide to do it? How do you like the work? I was fascinated by each and every one of these exchanges. They were personal (albeit short) commentaries about life and its twists and turns: It was the first night with Uber for one admittedly anxious woman, a school teacher with young children at home. Another was a longtime driver who happened to be a jazz musician with great artist recommendations (Anita O'Day) and a strong suggestion we rearrange our intenerary to include a visit to Cabrillo (we did) and the museums at Balboa Park (we didn't but wish we had).

 ~~~

UBER IS HOT, there's no doubt about that, with some experts putting the private company's value in the $60 billion range. (Billion.) While this evaluation is a rather hotly debated topic, there's no denying "mobile moment" appeal on which the concept is based. Hailing a ride requires the push of a button. Cars are (generally) close by. Fares are established up front, and because the bill is paid automatically and electronically, no cash changes hands. That means there's no worry over being ripped off by a circuitous route driver, and there's no fretting over a tip. (I can't overly state the value of this part of the model.)

And there is the fact your driver is not a distant, impersonal professional but a "regular" person who has a particular set of circumstances that brings him/her to Uber driving in the first place. The whole experience feels more pedestrian, somehow, like these people are your neighbors--human beings with complicated lives and jobs and families, challenges and charms, flaws, dreams and failures. You might be strangers in a car, but there is also between you a sweet window for connection, somehow, a quiet understanding you are just people going about life and doing it the best you can.

 ~~~

THIS CONNECTIVITY is a very real part of Uber's appeal, that's what I think, and it's the point I want to make. It's an acknowledgement, however understated, that we are all in this together, that whether you're the one giving the lift or the one paying the fare, both sides of the Uber equation are actually doing something good, something that helps a brother out.

It's a pretty compelling business benefit, I have to say, even if it's a quiet one.

posted by Teresa Coles Dec 01,2016 @ 03:10PM

Gain the secret weapon to building successful brands

Now that I have your attention, here’s a pop quiz. Pick one:
The most successful organizations — and their subsequent brands — are those that:

  • Have a multi-million dollar marketing budget
  • Have a culture that is synonymous with their brand promise
  • Have a diversified portfolio of products and services.

If you picked #1 or #3, let me know how that works out for you. While #1 is reserved for the Cokes and Targets of the world, many business leaders are disciples of #3 and are convinced that their success is dependent on diversification (also known as “we specialize in everything”).

If you picked #2, you’re a step ahead. Whether you’re an international retailer, a regional manufacturing operation, or a professional services firm down the street, your brand will only achieve its potential when everyone in your organization is part of a culture that is fully aligned with your external brand promise. That’s the mark of a healthy, leaderly and responsible brand.

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Back in the day, this was referred to as “building brands from the inside out.” While this concept still rings true, its executional requirements have evolved significantly. In the past, it was good enough for business leaders to talk about the fact that the company needed to deliver a customer experience that was “on brand.” In some cases, they went so far as to provide customer service training to teach employees specific service standards.

Fast forward to a day in which consumers’ knowledge, expectations and control are growing by the moment. This begets an environment in which the internal flaws and service shortcomings of an organization can pop to the surface at any time, exposing a gap between inner organizational reality and the external brand promise.

Moreover, we know for a fact today that employees are more and more discerning in their choice of employers and in their expectations surrounding that experience. They need to know what the company stands for. What it is setting out to do in the world. And what their place in that mission looks like. This is culture building, which is the direct route to operational excellence and a brand that is truly believable.

Look around, and you can see the direct connection between well-defined cultures and their highly distinctive brands: Apple vs. Dell. Southwest Airlines vs. United. BMW vs. Cadillac. These are organizations that understand the power of aligning culture, business strategy, and external brand marketing. They are not three linear business tactics. They are one collective strategy.

The good news is that entrepreneurs get this and are building businesses from the ground up based on this trifecta. But how do leaders in established organizations harness this imperative when there are so many competing initiatives going on in the organization?

Start with a vision.

This is not the benign statement at the top of a document in a matted frame. This is real vision, as defined by leadership and reinforced every day in language, tone and demeanor. It’s the Northern Star of the organization, and the CEO is the flag bearer.

Establish brand values.

These are not words like “integrity” or “commitment” or “quality” that sit right underneath the vision and mission statements on the aforementioned document. These are actionable, teachable and distinctive behavioral standards that let employees know what their brand stands for and what it’s striving to become. Employees need to understand how this journey benefits them and what their direct responsibility is in contributing to the organization’s vision.

Connect brand values to the business strategy.

Successful companies use these shared brand values to power its business operations, enhance innovation and set the business apart from competitors. It stands to reason that if everyone in the organization is united by and held accountable to actionable brand values, operational effectiveness is sure to follow.

Execute brand marketing that demonstrates all of the above.

When a company’s organizational health and business strategy are in complete alignment, a resounding brand promise can ensue. This promise can be easily internalized by staffers, because they understand it’s a reflection of them, the culture they’re part of, and the business strategy they help to execute every day.

*This post was originally published on Columbia Regional Business Report

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 19,2016 @ 05:14PM

On Riggs. CreateAthon. And more than a little grace.

Twenty-nine years ago today Cathy Rigg said enough. Enough to mediocre thinking. Enough to creative short cuts. She left her job on a Friday, bought a Mac SE with money from her grandmother, and opened up C.C. Riggs on Black Monday, October 19, 1987.

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What a little vision and a lot of believin' looks like

There were a million reasons why this company would fail.

And yet, here we are.

Nineteen years ago, she and I wondered if there might be something more for our company. A higher calling, if you will. So we came up with the notion of pulling an all-nighter to help nonprofits that couldn’t afford professional marketing.

There were a million reasons why this idea would fail.

And yet, here we are.

So what matters in all of this? What have these markers in our collective history taught us about our work, our lives and each other?

Consider it all joy.

On this birthday of Riggs and the eve of CreateAthon 19, I’m mindful of the cords of grace that have bound us over the years. The unspoken covenant that held us together when we just didn’t think we could do One More Thing. The willingness to listen generously to each other’s point of view in order to solve the unsolvable. The abiding sense of teamwork that pulled us out of chaotic seasons and returned us to a place of peace.

I'm grateful for every one of these challenges and foibles. They are testament to both our humanity and to what can be accomplished when we uphold each other in pursuit of something that’s bigger than any one of us.

Riggs Partners hasn’t been in business for 29 years because we’re smarter than anyone else in marketing. CreateAthon hasn’t delivered more than $24 million in pro bono service because we came up with the idea first.

It happened because we had faith in each other. And we knew that by standing as one, there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish – even if it wasn’t always perfect along the way.

Tomorrow morning, CreateAthoners will walk into the WECO building and breathe air that is electric, inspiring and humbling. We will bear witness to our very best selves. And we will see that as much as our CreateAthon clients may benefit from our gifts, the joy we receive will be tenfold.

That, my friends, is more than enough to say grace over.

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

Start by Thinking Like a Startup

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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.

 

 

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