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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.

 

posted by Teresa Coles Aug 01,2016 @ 03:03PM

Believable Brands Believe in Something

Your business is doing just fine. Profits are more or less steady. Customers appear to be satisfied. Employees are not complaining, at least openly. Sales and marketing teams have all the busy work they need.

You’re holding steady. Or are you?

If this sounds like your organization, the unfortunate reality is that you’re losing ground every day. What may appear to be a healthy status quo is nothing more than a cry for movement out of the ordinary, into a space that is ripe with meaning and impact for all parties involved. One where success is fueled by a brand strategy and product/service experience that is a complete and uncompromised reflection of your company’s belief system.

Call it Corporate Culture. Organizational Health. Understanding Your Why. What matters most is that your company or organization must have a point of view that sets you apart externally and inspires you internally. To effectively harness this strategy is to connect your company’s belief system — what it stands for — to a brand that is imminently believable in the marketplace.

Evidence is mounting every day to support the importance of building purpose-driven organizations and brands, and it starts from the inside. Consider the prevailing mindset of today’s employees as it relates to understanding what their companies are all about, beyond their day-to-day job functions:

  • 56% say their company’s purpose is not clearly conveyed to all employees
  • 68% don’t think businesses do enough to instill a sense of meaningful purpose in their work culture
  • 81% consider a company’s corporate social responsibility practices when deciding where to work

On the flip side, data indicates that employees are much more likely to be engaged with a company, act as brand advocates and stay longer with a company that openly and consistently leads with a strong sense of purpose. When team members cultivate a shared belief system, the odds of accomplishing more meaningful and productive work grows exponentially.

The profile among consumers as it relates to a company’s purpose is equally compelling: 

  • 71% would help a brand promote their product or services if there is a good cause behind them
  • 91% of consumers would switch brands if a different brand of similar price and quality supported a good cause
  • 90% would boycott if they learned of a company’s irresponsible business practices; 55% have done so in the past 12 months

Like employees, the connectivity and control that exists among consumers gives them a front-row seat to the character and practices of an organization. Given their finger is on the proverbial button of influence, it’s easy to see the strategic advantage of building connections between consumers and brands that stand for something larger that the specific product or service. This kind of goodwill is pivotal in helping brands withstand the temporary setbacks that may result from issues associated with product or service dissatisfaction.

Where and how does purpose show up in brand marketing? Take a look around, and it’s easy to see leading brands that are calling both internal and external audiences to arms through shared beliefs.

Of note is the #LikeAGirl campaign from Always, which debuted in 2014. As a company whose purpose is to empower and instill confidence in pubescent girls, the Always brand created a movement designed to keep girls in sports, noting that 50% typically drop out at the onset of puberty due to a plummet in their confidence. The brand dispelled the myths associated with “like a girl,” turning the language on its side to reflect the spirit, skill and confidence that exists in young female athletes.
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Calling on your company’s belief system as a strategic differentiator is by no means a soft or nice-to-do strategy reserved for the Fortune 500 set. Leading a company through a shared sense of purpose can benefit organizations of any size, from improved team dynamics and accelerated product innovation to market-altering customer service experiences. Align this kind of inspired performance with an external brand that reflects the ideals of your company, and you’ll find yourself with customers who are ready to believe in you. That’s a one-way ticket out of the status quo.

*This article originally appeared in the July 18-August 16 issue of Columbia Regional Business Report.

 Sources:
Edelman GoodPurpose Study
Havas Media “Meaningful Brands” Global Report
Deloitte Core Beliefs and Culture Survey
Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study

posted by Will Weatherly Jul 21,2016 @ 12:51PM

Businesses Are Just People Too

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For nearly a year, social media mogul and notorious speaker Gary Vaynerchuk has been honing a message. Infamous in marketing circles for his long history of brash, profane, egotistical-at-first-listen presentations near the cross streets of culture and marketing, Gary’s newest barb is as pointed as always. But now, alongside the release of his new book, he’s jabbing it at individuals not industries.

His point?


Self-awareness.

In his words…

 

“There is something that is rarely talked about in the business world and I want to start building more attention for it.
 
That thing is self-awareness…
 
… Self-awareness allows people to recognize what things they do best so they can then go hard on those aspects of their life. It also helps you accept your weaknesses.What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. I want people to learn to be at peace with themselves, to understand what they can offer, because everyone’s got something. The key, however, is learning how to find it.
 
Self-awareness can help you do that.
 
Self-awareness is being able to accept your weaknesses while focusing all of your attention on your strengths. The moment you decide to accept your shortcomings and bet entirely on your strengths, things will change. Trust me.”

 

Now, with this idea, Gary openly aims to poke holes in the mythology of entrepreneurism that’s being inflated by the business community, its incubators, accelerators, and startup weekends.

But that’s not what’s interesting to me.

 

What’s interesting are the implications for business.

See, I’ve come to believe businesses are just people too.

Businesses have life in them. When they’re young, they need nourishment and protection to grow. They need relationships with people that love them, who are willing to buy. They need unique parts of themselves to get along with each other, teams to keep things functioning and life flowing. These are all essential to survival.

But what if a business wants to do more than survive?

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What if a business wants to achieve as much as possible? To contribute something incredible to the world, something special, something unique, something only that business has the physical and conscious makeup to create?

 

What might it take to self-actualize such a thing?

Maybe first, it would take esteem.

Maybe first, it would take self-awareness.

The concrete, confident knowlege of what that business does best. To have crystal clarity on its strengths. To embrace its flaws and own its weaknesses. To see vividly into its blind spots. To regularly reflect inward. To understand when, where, and why its elements are not aligned.

If that’s what it took, how might a business get such self-awareness?

Dig around “GaryVee” long enough and you’ll find his best piece of advice for people is to… ask.

So, maybe that's good advice for business too. 

 

Ask who?

Ask the people who love you. 

Ask every part of yourself. 

Ask some strangers.

Triangulate.

 

 

posted by Michael Powelson Jun 13,2016 @ 09:24AM

Boxed in? The stakes of commercial activism in local business

As I type this, the internet radio says they’re burying Muhammad Ali.

For twenty years, some of the fiercest men on earth failed to put Ali on the ground, and now a handful of heartsick ones will put him in it. Time is, indeed, the conqueror.

It’s been decades since time and illness scored their first victory over the former heavyweight. Parkinson’s disease, doing what opponents, critics and even the United States government could not, silenced him in the mid nineties. And this is perhaps the larger shame. After all, so much has been made of the fighter’s verbal brilliance, his unique ability to speak truth to power and an unflinching will when his principles demanded great risk.

Call it another crown in time’s trophy case: the ironic twist that all the things which made Ali a pariah in the mid sixties — the unapologetic autonomy, social activism and conscientious objection — are precisely the reasons he’s now one of the most inspirational sports figures in history.

But it’s not the sporting, or even the cultural context of these triumphs that interests me here. It’s the professional one. You see, in 1966, Muhammad Ali wasn’t just a prizefighter or folk hero. He was also a business. Big business.

 

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Behind the championship belts and mesmerizing interviews, there was an enterprise. It employed people. It supported families. It provided a living that soared beyond the wildest expectations of a black man from the Jim Crow south who barely graduated high school.

And yet Ali proved willing to lose it all for his convictions.

In response to the Justice Department denying his conscientious objector status and sentencing him to five years in prison, Ali said, “I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars…So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

I can not think of a contemporary parallel.

Yes, we live in an age of greater corporate social responsibility. Today, firms all around the world, including my own, believe it’s imperative to do good in addition to doing well. And this is clearly a positive evolution in what it means to be a decent business. But risking everything it is not.

Yes, Target, Starbucks, General Mills and many other national brands have enacted internal policies or consumer facing communications to promote a more charitable, tolerant and just society. Some have even faced resistance from the fringes of their customer bases. Still, I’m doubtful that any such actions were taken before cost/benefit analyses and public opinion polling showed the reward outweighed the risk.

Please don’t mistake this for criticism. I don’t believe good works are any less good when they also happen to be good business. I’m simply curious about the times they’re not. What do smaller organizations in markets like ours do when they feel compelled to right a perceived wrong, but lack the scale to weather a backlash?

Recent history has offered no shortage of cultural flashpoints. Flags. Bathrooms. Background checks and marriage licenses.

What business are these of our businesses? And, regardless of your stance on any of them, where is the actionable tipping point for you? When does something become important enough to risk everything?

I like to think I have an answer, but I’d be lying if I told you I was one hundred percent certain.

What I am certain of, however, is the hope that you and I and every other businessperson never have to find out. That we’ve learned to respect one another and work together to find equitable solutions to the differences we face. I hope no one reading this is ever forced to risk everything for the ability to live with themselves afterward.

But I also hope that those who were, and did — “The Greatest” among us you might say — are forever championed.

Time the conqueror be damned.

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This piece first appeared in the June 13th edition of the Columbia Regional Business Review

posted by Julie Turner Jun 08,2016 @ 10:17AM

Why Advertising isn't Dead

I’ve worked in this industry for 28 years. In a business that thrives on what happens five minutes from now, there are times I feel like a relic. Especially when I see alarmist predictions about the demise of this crazy business that I love.

I can remember almost the very moment I fell in love with advertising. As the managing editor for the now-defunct student newspaper at my high school, The Viking Shield, advertising was my responsibility. In addition to writing stories for the paper, I had to ensure the right ads made it into the right issues, create ads that didn’t exist, and then put the paid-for foundation together for the editorial. I could create my own Absolut vodka-style campaigns with a smaller palette of yogurt stores, card shops and pizza restaurants. At 16 years old, I was already all in to my future.

 

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Then

 

I could sit here and let you think it was that easy. That my work on the high school paper led me to where I am today: writing for clients. But it wasn’t simple. Nor was it easy. So much happened in the middle. I started as a designer, became an art director, and even enjoyed stints in the paper industry and as a nonprofit marketing director before finally settling into the life of a word wrangler. Fun fact, I have worked almost everywhere I worked, twice.

What’s been central in these 28 years is not the art directing or writing; it’s the ideating. What I love most is the brainstorming. When I was 16, it was creating a small space ad campaign to honor the sponsor of our journalism lab: Pepsi. Then studying at USC and later working in the business, it meant coming up with varied concepts for campaigns that clients would use in the holy trinity of pre-Internet media: TV, print and direct mail. Idea after idea. Bought and sold. Every now and then one of those ideas would bloom into a huge success. I have to say, it’s been a great way to earn a living.

But the real beauty of what we do is often confined to the brainstorming sessions. Of course the output of brainstorming was reliably good — a kernel of a campaign concept that we could thresh into something bigger. But the fifty or hundred other ideas we dreamed up had bountiful possibility, too. Even better, I’d say because they were a little more out of the media-driven box. For every kernel created, there were also a few great ideas custom-tailored to support it.

Things that weren’t in the budget. Things we weren’t asked to do. Things that were never presented to the client. Little things, big things. Things the client could do, things their customers could wear. Things that had the real potential to make a mark in our media-cluttered world.

 

Yes, the three-headed print campaign king has been toppled and for some time. But the new king isn’t the latest CMS platform or even a keyword. It’s bigger than character counts and Snapchat.

At least for the next five minutes in marketing history, what’s king is the interesting extra ideas that for years were idled on the sidelines. The strategic anthems built to rally empassioned people together. The funny t-shirt that boosts brand recall and spreads the gospel. The targeted event that puts a product in exactly the right place and time for sonic impact. The “wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-we-could”s.

 

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Now
 
I, for one, am happy the other ideas are finally getting their era in the sun. And, even though I am squarely from the Spraymount and press type generation, I believe I have a lot more ideas in me.

Yes, the industry is different, but the work that goes into even the newest fangled digital campaign is decidedly old school. It’s built on an idea. And as long as there are people like me — and hopefully you too — there will always be ideas.

When the ideas are gone, that’s when we’ll really be in trouble.

 

So with my 28 years of experience I’m going to tell everyone to just settle down and relax. Advertising isn’t dead. It will exist as long as there is commerce. And as for us being relics? That’s not true either. If you’re a dreamer or a thinker, there’s business to be had.

 

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By the numbers

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