A number of years ago, a friend of mine owned a small and successful neighborhood gym, long before the big chains got into the business. In the beginning, he was extremely excited. He poured his heart and soul into the operation. We used to talk about how much potential the business had, the cool clients, the trainers, the community activities — all of it.

 

Waning enthusiasm

Six years later, his tone changed. Words and phrases like “boring” and “same old, same old” were now part of his everyday lexicon. He lost some clients, whom he labeled as “complainers,” and decided he was better off without them. I’m sure you can predict the outcome: He sold the business for a fraction of what it had been worth during its heyday.

Soon after the sale, the new owners ramped up the business, grew their client base, expanded to other locations and took the business to the next level. My friend watched from the sidelines. “I could have done that,” he said. And he could have.

Just after selling the gym, during one of our late-night brainstorming sessions, my friend asked me what I thought the new owners would do to give the business a facelift. I asked him, “What do you think they will do?” He was the fitness expert, after all. What would he do if he were starting again? Shockingly, my friend immediately reeled off a list of exciting and brilliant ideas that he would execute.

The lesson I learned that night was what I now call the innovator’s plateau. Each of us begins an endeavor buzzing with energy and full of ideas. We get up and go to work each day excited about seeing our vision materialize. Yet after a certain number of years, things settle. We grow accustomed to the people we see every day and notice their idiosyncrasies. We develop routines that aren’t stimulating. We tread water. We’re bored. We’re beaten.

 

Avoiding the plateau

So how does one avoid the innovator’s plateau? Simple. Pay attention. Take your emotional temperature every year. Ask yourself hard questions. Have you peaked emotionally? Why are you bored? Is this really as good as it gets, or are you unwilling to take new risks, financially, energetically, emotionally?

Is someone out there doing a better job? If your board fired the current executives and brought in a new management team, what would they do to fix and build the business? What would your customers ask for if you dared to ask them?

One of the best books I’ve read is written by Andy Grove, the retired CEO of Intel. In 1996, Grove wrote, “Only the Paranoid Survive.” This axiom had a profound impact on me as I was growing my business, and it still does today. So if you find yourself getting bored, consider it an alarm bell. Wake up and innovate. See your business in a new way. And remember what your mother said: “If you’re bored, it’s because you’re boring,” so go out and push the envelope. ?

 

Terry Cunningham is president and general manager of EVault Inc., a Seagate Company. He founded Crystal Services, which was purchased by Seagate in 1994 and integrated into the company’s software division, which then became Seagate Software. He has also served as president and COO of Veritas Software and founded, built and led two other successful software companies.

Published in Columnist
Sunday, 31 March 2013 20:00

DeLores Pressley: Advocate tenacity

I enjoy the value of a good word. “Tenacious” is a good word. It’s defined as: “persistent in maintaining, adhering to or seeking something valued or desired.”

As we look at the subject of increasing effectiveness, I believe we must start with this characteristic as our jumping-off point.

If increasing your effectiveness in the workplace is something that you desire and value, then you must tenaciously seek it on a daily basis. You must become a tenacious advocate for the measure of effectiveness that you desire.

With this foundation in mind, let us look at five surefire ways to increase your effectiveness in the workplace.

1. Take a personal inventory.

Note: At this point, I assume that you have goals and plans in place for yourself, your team, your department, etc.

At least once a week, ask yourself, “How am I doing?” and “Am I any closer to my goal?”

Assess which situations have held you back in some way. Before proceeding any further, take the time to resolve these situations.

In order to increase your effectiveness, you cannot move forward with baggage that hinders your progress. People, systems, techniques and the like must be evaluated along the way.

An open and honest personal inventory is a surefire way to increase your effectiveness.

2. Get organized.

Increasing your effectiveness means change, and change is very traumatic for individuals who are not organized in the first place. Organizing your work is key to your ability to do things better, faster and more smoothly.

Do you have a timeline for your goals? Do you have specific action plans to reach those goals? Do you take the time to make a to-do list on a daily basis? Have you cleared your office, workspace and life of clutter?

Getting organized is another surefire way to increase your effectiveness in the workplace.

3. Keep a daily journal.

Keeping a journal of the day’s events and accomplishments is a healthy way to clarify your goals and also think things through so you make good decisions.

Journaling your day also allows you to see the tasks and areas of your work where you spend the majority of your time. In order to increase your effectiveness, you must discover these areas and tasks and evaluate whether they are leading you closer to your goals.

It may seem tedious, but making a note of everything you do and how much time you spend is a great way to increase effectiveness. Do this throughout your day so nothing gets left out.

4. Work with the go-getters.

In any changing situation, it is to your advantage to build a small team of allies that you can rely on and trust to do specified tasks or functions.

These people are your “go-getters” — they are self-motivated, disciplined and enthusiastic about their work. Connect with these people regularly in order to build a support system around your goals. Allow their effectiveness to enhance yours.

Powerful change happens when motivated people work together toward common goals.

5. Become obsessed with possibilities.

Protecting a familiar routine that you would rather not change is a surefire way to stunt and, ultimately, decrease your effectiveness. Simply doing things a certain way because “we’ve always done them that way” will hinder creativity and deflate motivation.

Always be willing to think of the possibilities that lie ahead. Consider new techniques and strategies that bolster excitement within your team. Evaluate (there’s that word again) everything in order to achieve success. ?

DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at info@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Published in Cleveland

What is economic freedom? It’s the ability to decide how to produce, sell and consume without unnecessary government interference. Economic freedom powers prosperity and is the key to greater opportunity, more jobs and a better quality of life for all Ohioans.

Since 1893, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce has been aggressively championing free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth for the benefit of all Ohioans. Our united voice in the state’s legislative matters speaks for the thousands of individual businesses that we represent, thus strengthening the business climate in Ohio.

At the beginning of each new General Assembly, the Ohio Chamber crafts a legislative agenda. These are the goals that our governmental affairs team will strive to achieve in the next two years. These goals help us to fulfill our mission of improving our state for the benefit of all Ohioans.

With an unwavering focus on improving Ohio’s economy and a thorough understanding of the need for public policy supporting business growth and job creation, policymakers tackled many long-ignored problems in state government during 2011-12. And the result has been an improving business climate, a healthier economy and fewer unemployed Ohioans.

Now, we must build upon this positive momentum to further boost Ohio’s economic recovery. More still needs to be done to enhance the ability of Ohio businesses to compete, and we must not allow the state government to return to the old ways of doing business.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s 2013-14 public policy priorities reflect an emphasis on these goals, and all our priorities serve to advance the important objective of fostering economic freedom. We are committed to working with lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich’s administration during the 130th Ohio General Assembly to achieve an enduring economic renewal through the following:

 

Affordable energy

Maximize the economic potential of Ohio’s domestic energy resources and cultivate a diverse portfolio of energy sources and technologies.

 

Business costs

Unleash the job-creating potential of Ohio employers by reducing the cost and complexity of doing business in the state.

 

Government mandates

Provide businesses with the freedom and flexibility to operate and innovate without intrusive government mandates.

 

Government red tape

Maximize regulatory benefits in the most cost-effective manner.

 

Legal environment

Enhance and protect a fair and predictable civil justice system with common-sense reforms that control litigation costs and eliminate lawsuit abuse.

 

State constitutional reform

Modernize Ohio’s system of government and safeguard the Ohio Constitution from abuse by special interests.

Tax climate

Foster a more competitive tax system that encourages business investment, expansion and location.

 

Transforming government

Improve government efficiency, effectiveness and accountability to achieve better results at a lower cost to taxpayers.

 

Workforce excellence

Strengthen the link between education and workforce development programs and the skills needed by employers in today’s competitive, mobile and high-tech economy.

As the voice for business in Ohio and the state’s most diverse business advocacy group, the Ohio Chamber has several information outlets. Follow the Ohio Chamber of Commerce on Facebook (search Ohio Chamber), Twitter @OhioChamber and on the Web at www.ohiochamber.com. The Chamber’s blog “Talking Policy” reports on legislative and regulatory issues that impact Ohio’s business community. The “Ohio Pro-Biz Politics” blog follows Ohio’s political happenings. ?

 

Keith Lake is the vice president of government affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. He oversees the day-to-day operations of the Ohio Chamber’s legislative advocacy program, directs the activities of the lobbying team, follows health care legislation and oversees the political and grassroots programs. Lake is also the principal contact for members of the Ohio House and Senate. He can be reached at klake@ohiochamber.com or (614) 228-4201.

Published in Akron/Canton

No matter what your business is, you need a quality system in place that ensures consistent, always striving for perfect results. Rather than just trying to inspect each product when it is completed, the better solution is to build upfront quality controls and assurances into the system and products. The discipline will benefit your business and your customers. When quality is a guiding principle, everybody wins and nobody has to compromise.

Clark-Reliance has adopted the ISO 9001 system from the International Organization for Standardization, the worldwide “gold” standard for quality. Other systems can also be used very effectively. In our product manufacturing, for example, we also adhere to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ internationally recognized industrial and manufacturing codes and standards for public safety.

One of the benefits of ISO standards is they aim to harmonize various industry and national standards to facilitate interoperability among products worldwide. There are a number of ways quality management systems, such as ISO standards, can benefit a business.

What is a quality management system?

ISO 9001 is based on the principle that a company will deliver quality products and services on a continuous basis if employees follow process instructions carefully and accurately. The standards call for documenting all steps required for a successful operation and implementing automated checkpoints.

When any of the feedback mechanisms flag an error, employees find the cause of the deviation, and the process instructions may be tightened or the operator retrained, if necessary.

The system ties together every part of the organization and its procedures from the time an order is taken to the time the product is built and delivered. In addition to assuring product quality, this system also allows manufacturers and customers to track the origin of materials used in production.

Management needs to be on board

With ISO 9001, all layers of leadership within the organization must fully endorse quality management. Each year, leadership should integrate quality objectives into the annual corporate goals. Then, the team can examine how to achieve those targets and what staff and equipment should be committed to support implementation.

Importance of certification

To be aligned with a system such as ISO 9001, you first need to contact an accreditation agency, which will then put you in touch with an auditing firm. The auditors come on-site for a few days to evaluate the organization’s compliance with ISO 9001 quality principles. When auditors identify shortcomings, major problems must be addressed before certification is granted and minor ones receive a one-year grace period.

To maintain compliance, certification must be renewed every three years. Even if a business is not successful in its certification audit, simply going through the evaluation and reviewing the findings can help significantly improve business discipline and adherence to quality processes and procedures.

Impact

Research continues to show that businesses that adopt a quality system, such as ISO 9001, are able to grow sales faster and retain customers better than they could otherwise or have done previously.

Whatever quality system or standards you adopt, a formalized process is necessary for your company. The more procedures and metrics you have in place, the more likely you are to be successful. As an organization, you become more “teachable,” and eventually, the processes and procedures become naturally integrated into the fabric of the business. ?

 

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation, and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Published in Cleveland

When bluesman Eddie Boyd wrote “Five Long Years” in 1952, he was spinning the tale of misery about a factory worker. The fellow had spent five years slaving away at a factory and giving his hard-earned paycheck to his girlfriend every Friday. And then, she dumped him. Left with nothing to show for his efforts but an empty wallet, Boyd’s protagonist wails, “If you’ve ever been mistreated, you know just what I’m talking about.”

If your organization survived the turmoil that was the Great Recession of 2008, five years doesn’t seem that long ago in the past, does it? But the lasting effects of all that happened that miserable year — and how it’s changed how we look at nearly everything today — deserve repetition of Boyd’s famous phrase, “You know what I’m talking about.”

Sixty-odd months ago were dark times for everyone — not just those of us in business — and we all felt a bit mistreated. The U.S. economy was in a severe tailspin, the stock market was bleeding, and the housing market was crumbling. Companies and people everywhere were hurting — badly. From coast to coast, manufacturers were reeling, jobs were disappearing at a pace few had seen in their lifetimes, and the financial sector — the foundation of the economy — was in ruins.

Think about what your organization looked like five years ago and what you were going through as the first quarter of 2008 was coming to a close. Were you concerned your organization wasn’t going to survive into 2009?

Now fast-forward to today: It sure seems a heck of a lot better, doesn’t it? And it would be a safe bet to say that your organization doesn’t look anything like the one you presided over in 2008.

Admittedly, business is tougher than it was pre-recession. Never mind that the Dow recently experienced its greatest win streak since 1996 and reached record levels; there remains a lingering trepidation among many of us because things feel, well, somewhat different.

That’s because everything has undergone a significant transformation — nothing looks or feels the same as it did in 2008. And it’s not just because of technological advancements, though the speed at which that continues to evolve is frightening.

The month of April welcomes spring (well, the equinox really happened March 20), and as the season of transformation, we invite you to join Smart Business to celebrate three transformational events.

First, join us April 10 for our annual Perspectives: Women Who Excel conference, where we’ll present an insightful round table focused on “Breaking Through Barriers” and the changing face of women executives in today’s workplace.

Next, we invite you to take our annual SBN/ERC Workplace Practices Survey, which, each year, takes the pulse of HR issues across Northeast Ohio companies. We’ve been tracking changes in workplace practices for more than a decade with our partners over at ERC, and we expect to see even more transformation this year.

And finally, nominate yourself or a company you know that has undergone significant transformation for an award at our 15th annual Innovation in Business Awards. This year’s conference will be held in September, and beyond recognizing organizations for their ability to transform and reposition themselves to compete in a global economy, we’ll present a discussion on the challenges of change and hear from business leaders who have faced the music.

In the end, Boyd’s song spoke of misery. But in reality, singing about suffering is cathartic. Airing out the problems of the past is cleansing, especially when you clear the way for a brighter future.

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 14 March 2013 11:56

Is email still a viable tactic in 2013?

While email marketing has received plenty of media coverage over the years, the topic continues to come up with clients as they prioritize marketing activities for 2013 and beyond.

In the past

Email marketing was the first social media tool. It was the first channel that allowed a message from one person or company to reach a mass audience while still being personalized in the delivery.

By 2009, the prediction of the year was that email marketing was dead because of social media.

Well, email marketing continues to be a viable and very productive marketing tactic. It also continues to outperform other channels in generating a return. According to the Direct Marketing Association:

Email generates $39.40 for every dollar spent.

Search generates $22.38 for every dollar spent.

Display generates $19.71 for every dollar spent.

Social generates $12.90 for every dollar spent.

So what makes email marketing still relevant today?

There are only two ways to directly and uniquely contact a person to initiate a one-on-one conversation: by email and by cell phone. While some might argue that social channels enable engagement, social continues to be a “group discussion” and not a direct conversation. This means that an email address and a cell phone number are the doorway to direct communication with an individual — a prized asset!

How are companies using email?

  • Email newsletters — Email newsletters are the backbone of any email marketing program. What makes email newsletters work today is a dedication to developing content that is truly different, meaningful and succinct that your readers (customers and prospects alike) can quickly read and apply to their business. This is not the generic newsletter of the past containing 10 articles. This is a thoughtfully written educational piece that provides value to the reader.

  • Triggered email campaigns — While the usage of email newsletters has dropped slightly in the last two years, there is a rise in the use of targeted and segmented emails. Sending content (emails) to people that speaks to their stage in the buying process significantly increases open rates while also increasing the positioning of your brand as a value-added partner. These are opt-in emails that are time triggered to an event whether that is a subscription date or a recent purchase.

  • Email updates in social media — All social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter to YouTube use email as a fundamental backbone of their infrastructure. By actively participating in social networks, you increase the chance of your content being featured in a social update email generated by the social platforms. This can range from general updates about your company to your individual employees being featured as subject-matter experts within the social email.

  • Email and social together — Content creates conversation and conversation creates content. Social media and email marketing, when used together, are a powerful combination that engages your audience. For example, if you post a question to a social channel that generates responses from your community, these responses can then be turned into content for an email newsletter or blog. Similarly, interesting and powerful content sent via email can ask people to comment or share their opinion thus serving as the conversation initiator on a social channel.

The landscape for email marketing continues to evolve. Email stands to experience another transition this year as trends point to email readership on mobile devices to surpass the 50 percent mark by the end of 2013. The questions to ask yourself are: How do your emails look on mobile? How will your company leverage the oldest social tool for conversation and content?

Kristy Amy is the director of digital strategy for Smart Business Network. Reach her at kamy@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7011.

Published in National

Decent bosses typically try to lead by example. As a leader, you must model appropriate behavior to promote the greater good and to send a constant message with teeth in it.

The French term “esprit de corps” is used to express a sense of unity, common interest and purpose, as developed among associates in a task, cause or enterprise. Sports teams and the military adopt the sometimes-overused cliché, “One for all and all for one.” “Semper Fi” is the Marine Corps’ motto for “always faithful.” We commonly hear, “We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”

However, the real test of team-building and motivational sayings is that they are good only when they move from an HR/PR catchphrase to a way of doing business — every day.

As soon as you put two or more people in the same room, a whole new set of factors comes into play, including jealousy, illogical pettiness and one-upmanship, all of which can lead to conflicts that obstruct the goals at hand. Certainly, much of this is caused by runaway egos. Perhaps a little bit of it is biological, but most of it is fueled by poor leadership. Everyone has his or her own objective and it’s the boss’s responsibility to know how to funnel diverse personal goals in order to keep everyone on track. This prevents employees from straying from the target and helps avoid major derailments. Essentially, it all gets down to the boss leading by example with a firm hand, understanding people’s motives and a lot of practicing “Do as I say and as I really do myself.”

Communicating by one’s actions can be very powerful. A good method to set the right tone is stepping in and lending a hand, sometimes in unexpected and dramatic ways. This shows the team that you govern yourself as you expect each of them to govern their own behavior. In my enterprises, I constantly tell my colleagues that the title following each person’s name boils down to these three critical words: “Whatever it takes.” Certainly, I bestow prefixes to this one-size-fits-all, three-word title, such as vice president or manager, but I consider these as window dressing only.

After speeches, when I explain this universal job description, I always get questions from the audience about how I communicate this concept. I follow with a real-life experience that played out in the first few months after I started OfficeMax. As a new company, we had precious, little money, never enough time and only so much energy, which we preserved as our most valuable assets in order to be able to continually fight another day.

In those early days, too frequently, I would see what looked like a plumber come into the office, go into the restroom and emerge a few minutes later presenting what I surmised to be a bill to our controller. I knew whatever he was doing was costing us money and probably not building value. The third time he showed up, in as many weeks, I immediately followed him into the restroom (much to his shock and consternation). I asked him what in the world kept bringing him back. He then proceeded to remove the john’s lid and give me a tutorial on how to bend the float ball for it to function properly. That was the last time anyone ever saw this earnest workman on our premises. Instead, after making known my newly acquired skill, whenever the toilet stopped working, I became the go-to guy.

This became an object lesson to my team about how to save money. At that time, 50 bucks a pop was a fortune to us. It got down to people knowing that all of us in this nascent start-up were expected to live up to their real, three-word title. This was our version of how to build esprit de corps. Others began boastfully relaying their own unique “whatever it takes” actions, and it became our way of doing business.

The lesson I learned in those early days was that it wasn’t always what I said that was important but rather what I did that made an indelible impression. A leader’s actions, with emphasis on the occasionally unorthodox to make them memorable, are the ingredients that contribute to molding a company’s culture.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

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Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.

Published in Akron/Canton

When sales and marketing departments get together to position a product, new or existing, in the marketplace, it is often a challenge to get both parties to agree on what should be a product’s messaging.

While both parties bring great ideas to the table and a business case can often be made for why their ideas should be given importance, there are a few things that should always be considered as a part of a product’s key message — and some that should never be a part of that message.

 

WII-FM

They often say that a customer’s favorite radio station is WII-FM — “What’s in it for me?” When it comes to technology, this is doubly important, especially as more individuals get involved with the buy cycle.

A salesperson no longer speaks to a room full of tech experts and a few executives that must sign off on the sale. Today, the salesperson may be speaking to business users prior to ever coming in contact with the information technology side of a company.

These users might not know what the brand new development you’ve implemented behind the scenes of your product means. They won’t care if it’s built on the latest and greatest platform. Instead, they want to know what your product being built on the latest and greatest platform means to them.

In this instance, case studies and customer success stories are of tantamount importance. A salesperson needs to have these pieces with key messaging about how the product has helped other similar businesses and how it could potentially help theirs.

 

Features and functions

But just because a salesperson might be speaking to more people in a company during a sale doesn’t mean they can only focus on the aspirational nature of their product. There will still be people involved in the technical side of a company who need to know whether or not your product can integrate with the systems they currently have in place.

These individuals will be seeking information about the features and functions of your product. They will want to see those latest and greatest improvements and innovations in your product. But they are heavy investors in WII-FM.

They are seeking the same answers to “What’s in it for me?” but with a different focus on how a product will benefit them.

Because of this dual focus on needing to know the technical aspects of a product but also seeking to meet personal and business goals, these features and functions cannot be the main focus of a product’s messaging. It, like case studies and success stories, needs to be a piece of the message of a product when it is taken to market.

 

Price is never a feature

One thing that should obviously be included in discussions during a sales cycle but should never be considered part of the WII-FM or features and functions is price. Both sales and marketing often want to focus on the price as a benefit of a product. It is frequently seen as a cost benefit that the purchasing company would be receiving the great software, the great support and the huge benefits to their company and selves for the “small price” charged.

This is why the key message of any product, new or existing, in the marketplace needs to be value — the value you bring to a company, the value you bring to a customer, the value you bring to their existing systems. If you convince them that you’re the most valuable offering in the marketplace then price is not an issue. Every product message needs to further the value of that product in the marketplace.

 

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. http://tomnies.cincom.com/about.

Published in Columnist

American society is intrigued by image. Consider this related word: imagine. Disney is all about the customer experience, emotionally and magically transporting guests to another time or place. Speaking of place — some of the best image marketing campaigns have been tied to geographic areas. Remember “I Love New York,” “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” and “Virginia is for Lovers”?

Image is often associated with entertainment, fashion and technology markets, but all companies have a singular corporate personality that differentiates them from their rivals. Corporate image is the reputation of an organization viewed by its various stakeholders — investors, employees, customers, business partners, communities and other entities. The communication challenge? To manage and enhance your firm’s identity over time.

 

Components of an image

A perceived image is based on two components:

1. What the company does and says

2. What the customers/market say about the organization (Hint: This is more important.)

Companies must manage a strong integrated marketing communications program consisting of advertising, selling, sales promotion, online, social media and public relations activities. This includes customer-generated content such as Facebook posts, tweets, blogs and online communities, which can dramatically impact organizational performance.

Case in point: the YouTube viral video “United Breaks Guitars” about airline baggage mishandling has been viewed more than 12 million times to date.

Even if your company is not a global giant, image research still provides a practical guide for promotional strategy.

Let’s assume that you recently opened a trendy sports bar and café. You can assess your corporate image in the local community via a simple two-dimensional plot of customer perception. Examine familiarity and favorability scales for your firm and your direct competitors — other casual dining establishments — within your primary trade area. Next, collect data about indirect competitors such as casinos, clubs, hotels and sports sites.

A competitive edge counts

Differentiation means having a competitive edge. This advantage can be real, as in higher quality product, faster service or best price, or perceived. Take Air Around the Clock, a South Florida air conditioning and appliance service contractor. The company is differentiated based on quality of service that includes night and weekend emergency repairs, a preferred customer program, a fleet of more than 90 trucks and a “fix it right the first time” philosophy.

Then you have Amazon, Apple, Ben & Jerry’s, Best Buy, Google, Harley-Davidson, IKEA, Whole Foods and Zappos, which are often cited as “cool” companies. Many consumers aspire to have the latest and greatest and want to purchase cool products. But brand coolness is a multidimensional construct consisting of uniqueness, excitement, innovation, authenticity and self-concept reinforcement.

Coolness is also impacted by age, group influence, lifestyle, media and technology. So business leaders need to realize that coolness or “being hip” is an elusive attribute that is based around overall image but also requires that the other value proposition ingredients — service, quality and price — are satisfactory to superior.

Questions to ask

Consider these queries as you revisit your 2013 marketing communications strategy.

? How important is image in your value proposition?

? Should it be even more important?

? Does your image clearly resonate with your target market?

? How can you get your customers and the market to share more positive messages about your company?

? What is your main point of differentiation from your competitors?

? Should coolness be a major or minor part of your IMC strategy?

? How can you best tell your business story to communicate value? ?

Art Weinstein, Ph.D., is chair and professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University and author of “Superior Customer Value — Strategies for Winning and Retaining Customers.” Visit his website at www.artweinstein.com, or reach him at art@huizenga.nova.edu or (954) 262-5097.

 

Published in Florida

Steve Jobs was the master of spotting trends and the opportunities that go with them. He was so good at it that he could see trends when they were still in their infancy. This allowed him to create products that kept his company at the front of the waves of change and ultimately drove massive profits and stock growth for Apple.

While not many people possess the uncanny sixth sense that Jobs had, it’s important to spend time studying your industry and what’s happening at various levels, from customers to suppliers to competitors.

You need to recognize when the trend is pushing positive growth and when it’s not. The additional challenge is to know the difference between a trend and a fad. A trend is more long-lived and drives a lot of long-term opportunity, while a fad tends to burn out quickly. This isn’t to say that trends last forever, because they don’t. An important part of studying trends is to know when to jump off the wagon and find the next opportunity, because if you ride a trend too far, you may find yourself in a rapidly declining industry or an area of waning interest.

For example, Y2K was a fad. For those who don’t remember, the Y2K boom was caused by old computers that only saw years as two digits instead of four, and widespread computer issues were predicted if systems weren’t upgraded. A giant boom in computer consulting and sales resulted from this issue, but it was short-lived. The moment 2000 rolled around, the need for Y2K upgrades dried up.

The dot-com boom, which was partly fueled by Y2K, was a trend. For a number of years, a ridiculous amount of money was being thrown at any project that contained the word “Internet,” regardless of its business model or competitive factors. While it was active, there were plenty of online growth opportunities for businesses to take advantage of.

Those who recognized the trend were able to capitalize on it, and more importantly, those who recognized the end of the trend were able to cash out before it went bust. Not every trend will be as big as the dot-com boom, and depending on your industry, they may not be so obvious.

Finding and recognizing trends starts with studying your industry. You need to stay in tune with what’s happening with competitors and constantly read about not only your industry but related ones as well. Talk to suppliers and vendors to get their opinions as to what direction your markets may be headed. But the most important thing may be to have an open mind. Don’t assume that because something hasn’t changed for 20 years that it isn’t ever going to change.

With an open mind, you are more likely to recognize an emerging trend before everyone else has rushed to capitalize on it, putting you ahead of the curve. Once you are exploiting a trend, you have to be equally diligent to know when it’s going to end, and that’s done in a similar fashion to identifying it in the first place: Stay plugged in to your industry.

These are exciting times and change is all around us. Look for the hidden clues that can lead you to the next big opportunity, and never stop challenging your own beliefs. The CEOs who do the best over time are the ones who don’t accept the status quo.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Published in Akron/Canton