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 email@example.com.
Most people know Cinnabon by its mini-bakeries in malls and airports where you can grab a cinnamon roll while hustling from one place to another. And for its first two decades of existence, that’s essentially what Cinnabon was — a fast-growing chain of franchised kiosks in high-traffic venues known for the cream cheese/butter/sugar-frosted treats.
But in the last few years Cinnabon has expanded its brand and its identity by selling new products through new channels. And that’s where it has become very complicated for Cole to manage all those products and distribution channels to make sure Cinnabon’s growing brand continues to function as a seamless, integrated whole.
“That’s definitely the key challenge I’ve faced — being successful at global multichannel brand management,” says Cole, who took the reins at Cinnabon after a 15-year stint with Hooters of America, where she served as vice president.
“The Cinnabon brand is not one-dimensional; it doesn’t play in just one channel or segment. And because we are truly a multichannel business, leading that brand across all those channels and making sure that the channels integrate with each other and feed the brand is by far the most important thing I do.”
Cinnabon — which has more than 900 franchises in 48 countries and is approaching $1 billion in annual consumer sales — has fed its growth in recent years by creating and marketing new products primarily through two new conduits: consumer packaged goods in grocery stores and licensed products sold via other outlets such as fast-food restaurants.
“Our main channel has always been and remains immediate-consumption food service — our franchise bakeries, our company’s face as most consumers would know it,” Cole says. “But we’re seeing significant growth in our newer channels, which are basically grocery retail — our consumer packaged goods division — and food-service licensing, where we develop products for other immediate-consumption restaurant locations.”
Getting those products and distribution channels to mesh well and feed off each other is Cole’s constant and never-ending quest.
Protect the brand
As any company expands its product offerings and increases the number of conduits through which people can obtain them, the complications of doing business multiply, usually a lot more quickly and dauntingly than anyone expects. Cole has learned this lesson firsthand at Cinnabon, and she has tackled the challenge head-on.
“There are inherent complexities when your brand or your products as consumers know them don’t live in just one space — when there’s no longer just one place that they can get them or just one way that they can get access to them,” Cole says.
Safeguarding and augmenting the value of the company’s brand is a key driving factor, and the most crucial consideration Cinnabon’s leadership team weighs is determining which new business opportunities to take on and which ones to let pass.
“My No. 1 leadership focus is to make sure the brand is protected and enhanced — at all times, by every initiative we undertake,” Cole says. “It’s all about the brand. It’s about managing the brand, leading the brand, making sure that any new initiatives are accretive to brand value.
“The essence of this approach is that inherent in any good brand there is equity. The brand carries with it a value that has been built over time, typically through its original channel — in our case, our franchise bakeries. And that equity must always be carefully protected and taken care of, first and foremost.”
Cole cites the recent introduction of Cinnabon’s International Delight Coffee Creamer, which is now available in grocery stores and other retail outlets around the U.S., as an illustrative example of the way the company creates a new business channel to enhance the value of its brand. Cinnabon’s leadership team first determined that expanding the company’s presence in the market for coffee-related products would be a good fit for Cinnabon.
“It’s a matter of understanding where your branded products have equity and where that value can readily translate into a new area,” Cole says. “For us, we feel that we own quality indulgence. It’s who we are. When people think of our brand, they think of over-the-top indulgence — warm aromas, warm flavors, warm textures. And when you’re crystal-clear about what attributes you own, that allows you to then extend those attributes into other products.
“We knew we wanted to be in the coffee family of products, because that’s all about warmth and comfort, and it goes well with cinnamon rolls and our flavors and our other products.”
Once Cinnabon’s executive team members decided they wanted to expand the company’s footprint in the coffee sector, they sought a suitable partner to help their company create and market a new retail coffee-related product.
“When we look for a group to partner with in any channel, we always look for best-in-class,” Cole says. “We do this because we have a premium brand — it may be a snack brand, but it’s a premium snack brand — so we feel we always need to be with premium partners that have brand awareness at least equal to ours. Two companies that have fit that type of requirement for us in the past are Kellogg’s and Pillsbury, to cite a couple of examples. In the coffee creamer space, we decided International Delight was the best fit.”
So Cinnabon teamed up with International Delight, whose coffee creamer products are distributed by WhiteWave Foods, and the companies together created a cinnamon-flavored coffee creamer that met their respective quality standards and their goals for introducing the jointly marketed, co-branded product.
“We had to be heavily involved in the R&D, because the flavors and the aroma have to be just right,” Cole says. “We can’t afford to have a product out there in the market that has a picture of our cinnamon roll on the label — a product that we’re that heavily invested in — and, you know, have it taste like Red Hots. The quality has to meet our standards. That’s hugely important to us. It would be too easy to just go and throw your name on things.”
Cinnabon’s R&D department and licensing group worked with International Delight to tweak and refine the cinnamon flavor of the creamer to ensure that it would meet Cinnabon’s customer’s expectations.
“The end result is this amazing, disturbingly delicious coffee creamer,” Cole says. “And, you know, that’s the bar that we always have to meet. When you open the bottle and smell it or when you pour it in your coffee and taste it, you have to have one of those eyes-roll-back-in-your-head moments. Like, ‘Wow, this is so good it’s almost inappropriate.’ That’s what we go for. And we won’t stop — we won’t release a product — until we get to that point.”
Cinnabon has had similar success partnering with other companies to license new products, including Pillsbury and Kellogg’s, as well as Burger King, through which it markets the Minibon, a smaller version of its signature cinnamon roll, and Taco Bell, through which it has licensed Taco Bell Cinnabon Delights — doughnut-hole-like balls filled with sweet cream cheese frosting and dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
Cinnabon has enjoyed success in recent years with these multichannel brand initiatives — new products introduced, financial growth, growth in the number of distribution points, synergies with the channels reinvesting in one another in varying combinations. Cole attributes the company’s recipe for success to a number of ingredients, chief among them the Cinnabon leadership team’s clear understanding of the company’s identity and its strengths and weaknesses.
“If there’s one piece of advice I would offer above all others, it’s that you’ve got to have clarity on the core of your brand and what makes it unique,” Cole says. “If you miss that, you’ll make mistakes, and it will be difficult to correct them later. You have to really get down to your core DNA. If you’re going to expand your brand into different channels beyond the channel you started in and where you had your early successes, you have to make sure you clearly understand what you’re about and what you’re not about.”
In the end, successfully managing a brand with multiple products marketed via multiple channels is a matter of constantly asking yourself whether each new opportunity is right for your company and, most importantly, being able to articulate convincingly why it is or isn’t a good fit.
“When tweaking your business model to grow in new ways, you, as the leader, have to keep your compass set on doing the right things for the right reasons,” Cole says. “That sounds simple, but it’s not. You can’t let yourself get distracted by tomorrow’s opportunities. You have to continually ask, ‘What are the right things to do for the brand?’ and ‘What are the right reasons for doing those things?’ — and make sure everyone is aligned around that. That’s how you keep the business pure; it’s how you keep integrity around the business and keep people’s hearts and minds focused on building the brand over time.”
How to reach: Cinnabon Inc., (888) 288-7655 or www.cinnabon.com
The Cole File
Born: Jacksonville, Fla.
Education: MBA, Georgia State University
What business leadership lessons did you learn during the time you were studying to get your MBA?
When I was getting my MBA, we were in the processing of selling my previous company, Hooters. So it was like getting two graduate degrees at once. I would go to class and learn a new financial modeling system, and then go and meet with investors and analysts and apply what I had learned.
What was your first job, and what business lessons did you learn from it?
I sold clothes in a mall when I was 15. I learned a lot about connecting with people in that job, and partnering — working with customers shoulder-to-shoulder instead of nose-to-nose.
Do you have a business philosophy that you use to guide you?
Do the right things for the right reasons. And, at all costs, do what you can to avoid being swayed away from that philosophy. Having someone at the top who’s always asking the question ‘Is this the right thing for the right reasons?’ can really help a company avoid risk and build a powerful culture.
What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?
I would say adaptability is No. 1. And then I think there’s this other intangible, and I don’t know if there’s a single word for it. It’s a combination of traits that results in a leader being able to make others believe.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Be thoughtfully bold. That speaks to respecting others and understanding your environment, but being willing to speak up and take chances. That advice came from a mentor that I had in the industry.
According to experts, 85 to 95 percent of new products launched each year are failures. But since companies regularly consider industry data, market intelligence and relevant expertise as part of the decision-making process, these high failure rates are not likely due to a lack of information.
Rather, they are due to defects in our internal mental processes — flaws in the way we gather and process information that often go unnoticed and unaddressed. Here are three that can unknowingly create a virtual “mind field” of risk for business decisions such as new product launches.
1. Influence of the boss: Determining the level of sufficiency based on the source
In business, there are specific results that our boss or other stakeholders desire, and we attach strong feelings to achieving them. For example, if our boss has a significant attachment to launching a new product, we may spend disproportionately more time seeking information that validates the boss’s view than searching for information that conflicts with the boss’s desire.
As a result, we unconsciously go about gathering information under the boss’s influence and create an environment for faulty decisions. We end up living with the unrealistic but confident sense that we have figured out the way things are and that we have done that objectively. And if decisions do not go well, we find comfort that we can always blame our boss later.
2. Snap-judgment defense: The tendency to unreasonably defend decisions made solely on snap judgments
Due to the hard-wired threat response in our brain, we make rapid judgments about what is happening, which allows us to quickly determine what information is most relevant and then take speedy action. This is helpful when the threat is physical and we must act without delay.
But in business, we often find it easy to lose track of how quickly we are judging a situation or how much we’ve explained away.
Since we associate leadership with decisiveness, being decisive becomes a self-driven attribute causing us to focus solely on explaining and defending our snap judgment. Our logic circuits shut down and we are unable to objectively consider points of view that conflict with our own.
3. Shooting the critics: The tendency to marginalize people who disagree with us
Leaders know that any decision they make is subject to their judgment being questioned. And whether they’re fully aware of it or not, they’re really not in the market to have their decisions, beliefs and choices questioned.
Whether we are team leaders or CEOs, we subconsciously develop the tendency to marginalize people who disagree with us. When this happens, people stop telling the truth. They avoid rocking the boat and just quietly stay out of the line of fire.
The solution to this problem requires the courage to challenge our own thoughts. When these flaws in thinking are deeply entrenched, companies are at significant risk of being displaced by competitors, new technology and novel business models. By pausing to look for these cognitive defects, leaders can make better decisions, avoid problems, reduce risk, improve outcomes and never have to lament, “What was I thinking when I made that decision?”
Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is a consultant, the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” and the owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. For more information, visit www.curecorporatestupidity.com.
When I meet with business-to-business and professional service clients to discuss their marketing strategies, one comment that consistently arises is “No one buys professional services through the Web.”
While that may be true — you don’t typically buy an accountant online as you would a product through e-commerce — how your brand is perceived most definitely will impact a prospect’s buying decision.
Decisions to work with professional service firms don’t happen overnight. They take time. And because of this, any B2B organization must ensure it is “seen” in the strongest possible light before the sale actually occurs.
In fact, it’s just as important to not lose prospective customers because your organization is perceived as weak or subpar as it is to convert a prospect into a client.
The simple truth is that you never know at any given time who is researching your brand and through what channel. Having a consistent brand message, whether they’re looking to engage you now or somewhere down the road, helps you to not lose them before they need your solutions.
To accomplish this, you must get your brand messaging across in a consistent manner across multiple channels.
So how do you that?
First, a solid marketing strategy must include a website that clearly articulates the brand message and value proposition of your services — and it has to be on the home page.
It also should include supporting content that allows a prospective customer to quickly understand who you are, what you do and why you’re different.
For example, let’s say you’re an accounting firm. Being able to articulate why you are the best at providing risk management solutions for clients can help you differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
Providing and highlighting content that explains your service, along with case studies and client examples that include measurable results, is a smart move. It allows prospects and site visitors to get a feel of what it would be like to work with you.
Additionally, your website should offer prospective clients an easy way to contact you — either through a phone number or a simple contact form that includes a name, email address, phone number and short explanation of the prospect’s business problem.
Beyond your website, other channels to consider include social media, which includes LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In these social media channels, you need more than just simple company pages. Instead, you should offer visitors relevant and current content that consistently supports the brand message and your organization’s value proposition, along with company information and executive profiles. And it’s extremely important to continually be “active.”
Using the same accounting firm as an example, it could utilize consistent content around recent changes to government policies, updates on recent business wins or sharing a solution that helped one of its clients overcome a business challenge across all social media channels.
And when that information isn’t timely, something as simple as new hire announcements or employee promotions will show visitors and followers that there is activity within your brand — and your organization. It makes you “active,” which makes you more attractive to prospects.
Other channels to think about include mobile or tablet experiences, print marketing and event sponsorship. Every channel you can imagine should be used to express your organization’s brand message because there are always people watching.
So while your clients may not choose or buy their professional services online, they will evaluate your brand even prior to consideration. And while it’s impossible to measure what clients you may lose by not having this strategy in place, it is clear that a solid marketing strategy of this type can save you from losing consideration — even when you don’t know you’re being considered.
David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.
According to The Business Dictionary, attitude is: “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli).”
The words that jump out as important in this definition are:
- Positively or negatively
In light of this, we can say that when we respond to things with a positive attitude, that response influences positive action in us and others. We can also say that the opposite is true.
We could end this article right now by simply saying – As a leader, manager or executive in business; do the former and not the latter. But if you are like me, I bet that you could use some “how to” examples and tips.
Here they are, six tips for having a positive attitude in business:
1. Keep an open mind. Always be open to the possibility that a life change you have refused to consider might be the key to transforming your life for the better.
This type of attitude impresses your colleagues. Why? Because most of them have been faced with the same challenge and chose to not change. Their attitude towards the change has been clouded with self-doubt and lack of courage.
When you are willing to keep an open mind, you are responding positively to the challenge of a life change that has the possibility of a great reward.
Be different than those around you. Be open.
2. Be proactive, not reactive. A reactive individual is at the mercy of change. A proactive individual sees change as a part of the process and takes action to make the best of it.
Having a proactive attitude requires work. You must be able to think ahead and anticipate. It involves being involved.
In business (and life) you cannot simply sit back and let things just happen as they will. In truth, you could, but that attitude is a negative response that influences negative action, namely, reaction.
Do a little mental work beforehand. Get in the game and be proactive.
3. Go with the flow. Present an easy, casual and friendly attitude that shows your flexibility, yet at the same time portrays your persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity.
This is not the negative “sit back and let things happen” attitude described above. Persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity is what sets it apart.
Having an attitude that is easy and casual, without stepping outside the bounds of proper etiquette and being friendly, is some of the best advice I can give to leaders in business.
Be persistent while going with the flow.
4. Think big. If you think small, you will achieve something small. If you think big, then you are more likely to achieve a goal that is beyond your wildest dreams.
When we allow ourselves to have an attitude that pushes boundaries and explores possibilities, we draw in people who have the same attitude. In other words, by thinking big we find big thinkers.
Want to have a team full of big thinkers? Want to have meetings where ideas are shared and positive plans are made? Want to grow leaders out of your team and promote them to new heights in their career? It all starts with your big-thinking, boundary-pushing, dream-inspiring attitude.
Go ahead – think big.
5. Be persuasive, not manipulative. Use your persuasive talents to persuade others of your worth. Don’t use it to convince someone that others are worth less than you.
Have you ever had a manipulative boss? Have you ever had a persuasive boss?
6. Enter action with boldness. When you do something, do it boldly and with confidence so that you make your mark. Wimping out is more likely to leave you stuck in the same old pattern and immune to positive change.
In the end it’s all about getting things done – with a positive attitude. As leaders, we need to be able to move and work with a certain sense of boldness. A boldness that inspires us and those around us to reach for new horizons in all we do.
It’s obvious, action is better than no action – but bold action that leaves a mark is what we should be doing in our life and business.
Do something and do it with a bold attitude.
Attitude really is everything in business. It is the force that empowers us to respond positively to the challenges we face on a daily basis. It allows us to enjoy what we do as we do it. It builds us and our teams.
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 helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Should hard-nosed, thick-skinned, ice-water-running-through-their-veins executives who live and die by facts and profit and loss statements believe in things they can’t totally understand and certainly can’t explain?
We have all been there. At various times, for virtually inexplicable reasons, an undertaking that has been struggling suddenly takes a 180-degree turn and begins an upward trajectory. There was no indication from the numbers, substantively nothing extraordinary was changed, but all of a sudden, it’s as if the sun, moon and stars all aligned and you are heading toward Fat City.
Of course, we’ve all experienced the converse, when everything seems to be jelling and all of a sudden out of the blue your project takes a nosedive, plummeting to earth faster than the fastest falling star — or the stock market crash of 2008.
Even though you fancy yourself as tough as nails, you must hope against hope, experiment with unusual fixes, devise out-of-the-box solutions — do just about anything, including making promises to a higher power, along the lines of, “Let me get through this, and I’ll never ______ again.” (You fill in the blank as it is best kept between you and the great power in which you believe.)
Don’t get me wrong I don’t really believe in the good fairy or the ability to make everything better with the wave of wand, but I do very much believe what the famous New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
There is “magic” when some inexplicable ingredient kicks in that enables the best leaders to continuously generate “what if I try this” scenarios and then, out of nowhere, one of those ideas turns sure defeat into a salvageable success. Is this skill and intelligence at play? To a certain extent, yes, but there is more to it than that. The only thing I believe about unadulterated pure luck is the explanation from that overused phrase, “The harder one works, the luckier he or she gets.” The real answer more likely is a combination of knowing how to run a business: using your head, your heart and your gut to tackle a dilemma, recognizing that on any given day one of these faculties will get you through a difficult issue. On a great day when all three kick in, it’s almost as if it were magic, and you start hearing sounds that become music to your ears as the needed solution suddenly emerges.
In reality, the “magic” is having faith in the people with whom you work, maintaining a strong belief that for most of the seemingly insurmountable questions there are answers, trusting that good things do happen to good people, and knowing that every once in a while the good guys do win. This doesn’t mean becoming a naive Pollyanna. Instead, it all gets down to not throwing in the towel until you have exhausted all possibilities and logically and systematically explored all the alternatives, some of which may be very nontraditional.
This approach is also a direct reflection of positive thinking and mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and ignoring all other distractions. In essence, some psychological studies have shown that when one is committed to success and has the discipline not to let the mind travel down a negative path, the brain can focus on producing unique solutions. Using positive psychology techniques can result in intense absorption that can lead to coming up with unlikely fixes. Some shrinks call this increasing mental flow. I call it a little bit of magic.
My simpler explanation for this phenomenon, which I’ve written about many times, is that success is achieved when you combine preparation, persistence with a bit of perspiration, along with a few ingredients that can’t always be explained, including having a little faith.
My advice is don’t always worry about your image of being a buttoned-up, corporate type. Instead, when the going gets particularly tough, it’s OK to become a Dorothy, as in the “Wizard of Oz,” click your heels twice and quickly repeat to yourself, “I believe, I believe.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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.
Effective content strategies empower you to get the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right timeWritten by Dustin S. Klein
Everybody’s telling you that you need a content strategy, but what exactly is content strategy?
An effective content strategy coordinates all of your organization’s messaging — internally and externally — and gets the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right time.
When it works, people are motivated to interact more with your company. You attract new prospects. And you increase opportunities to secure new clients and expand existing business relationships.
Your content may consist of feature stories, press releases, videos, Web content, blog posts, books, whitepapers and even case studies. Essentially, it is everything and anything that discusses your business, professional expertise and ability to solve clients’ problems. It includes news about your organization and human-interest stories that feature your employees.
You can deliver your content through traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio or television), a corporate website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, e-book, TV show, movie or social media. It is quite literally every single way you digest information online, offline and on the go.
Any content strategy starts with understanding your audience. Learn who that audience is, what different groups are in it and what messaging resonates most with each group.
Every audience comprises two unique segments — those who support you, such as vendors, investors or employees, and those who use your services, including clients and engaged prospects.
It’s also important to take a hard look at this list and ask, “Who is missing from this picture?” By doing so, you may identify new prospect streams to target that you previously had overlooked.
Next, identify your key messages. What is it that you want people to know about your organization and why?
Start at the most macro level so that your brand message becomes part of the content — the part everyone receives. Then get into the specifics. As you do this, you create a series of customized messages for each specific group in your audience.
Third, recognize that not everyone digests information the same way. Learn the best channel or channels to use for each group. Some like to read it — in print or online. Others prefer to watch or listen to it — live in-person or through a mobile video. And still others prefer their information delivered in 140 characters or less.
What works for your website visitors doesn’t necessarily resonate face-to-face with people at a trade show or conference. And print ad messaging may not be aimed at the same people who devour industry whitepapers or read thought leadership articles in trade publications.
The actual format of the content won’t matter as long as it provides the “why” people should care about your organization, frequent your establishment, buy your products or services, or use your solutions. If you accurately match message with audience and channel, you’ll do just fine.
Effective content strategy can quickly become a powerful tool in moving your business forward. Treat it as you would any highly critical strategic business initiative.
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7026.
When the economy dips into a recession, companies have two basic responses: hunker down to weather the storm or be aggressive by attacking weakness in competitors and opportunities in the market. I have always preferred the latter approach.
During the past two years, our company made several important acquisitions and recruited top talent to forge a new business that positions us as a leading provider of a full range of marketing services for clients ranging from manufacturers and professional service firms to nonprofits and consumer products companies. I am pleased to announce the official launch of SBN Interactive, our content-driven interactive marketing firm.
SBN Interactive is the culmination of months of planning and hard work. It combines our long-standing expertise in creating award-winning content with our intimate knowledge of the latest marketing trends and tools. More importantly, it allows us to leverage our expertise in offline and online marketing to drive measurable business results for our clients across the full range of marketing channels: Web, mobile, video, social and print.
Today, customers move seamlessly across online and offline channels and expect the experience to be consistent, connected and available when they want it and how they want it. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that businesses need to deliver a consistent brand across the spectrum of marketing channels that their customers use. Some prefer print, others video, still others social media. Regardless, marketers need to present the right message to the right customer through the right channel.
Our team of interactive marketing strategists, content strategists, content creators, designers, developers, optimization experts and technologists understand and embrace this. They collaborate to develop strategies and solutions that meet the specific business goals of our clients. From custom magazines and website content optimization to social media strategies and fully outsourced marketing services, they have the expertise — and dozens of proven tactics — to help move the needle for a business.
At the heart of everything we do is our core competency: content. Content drives differentiation, and there are few organizations that exist or are organized in a way to efficiently deliver relevant content in the context of the connected world we live in. But we, at Smart Business, live and breathe content on a daily basis.
We have spent more than two decades working with and writing about some of the most successful business people in America, from iconic business builders like Wayne Huizenga and Les Wexner to maverick billionaires like Ted Turner and Mark Cuban. Now, we are putting those same skills — and many more we have developed over the years — to work for other companies.
We will still continue to bring you management insight, advice and strategy from the best and brightest business minds in the pages of Smart Business. However, thanks to SBN Interactive, we now have a more direct way to help businesses like yours meet their goals and prosper.
I invite you to learn more about SBN Interactive by visiting our website at www.sbninteractive.com or by contacting me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7034.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Four years ago, PBD Worldwide was on a roll, tearing through its eighth consecutive year of hand-over-fist growth. Then, in the second half of 2008, a hard one-two combination knocked down the Atlanta-based storage and distribution company.
The first blow that staggered PBD was the recession. The broad downturn rocked all the market sectors in which the company does business, forcing customers of all stripes to pull on their reins and cut their budgets.
Second, and more ominously, PBD’s core business — distributing books and other printed educational material — began to shrink noticeably. Customers that had been dipping their toe into digital media started jumping in with both feet. The shift cut into PBD’s core revenue dramatically.
“In 2008, we had our best year ever,” says Scott Dockter, president and CEO. “We’d had eight straight years of double-digit growth. A phenomenal amount of new clients had come on board. Our Chicago distribution center had opened the year before, and it was growing fast. We had a lot of good things going on.”
PBD’s leaders were aware that the print-based book business’s best days were behind it and that digital media was the wave of the future. But they weren’t as prepared as they wish they’d been for the speed and impact with which that wave would hit.
“The thing that had been lurking before the economy took its turn was that our company was very dependent on books — in particular educational material — to achieve that growth,” Dockter says. “There were a couple of groups who were starting to talk about moving to a digital opportunity, and they were looking to change their program.”
PBD had originally stood for Professional Book Distributors. The company changed the name in the late ’90s because it was starting to diversify its product.
“But we hadn’t really diversified all that much,” Dockter says. “Then, in late 2008, we started to see our core business effectively disappear due to some changes some of our clients were making in their business models.”
Those changes involved a couple of shifts that were happening simultaneously: Schools were buying fewer books, and some of PBD’s major clients were being acquired by companies with new and different ways of looking at the business.
PBD had a division, the Georgia Schoolbook Depository, which shipped books to schools mainly in the state of Georgia for grades K through 12.
“We also had a nice contract going with Harcourt — we were doing all their distribution throughout the Southeast,” Dockter says. “Then a couple of things happened. No. 1, Harcourt was purchased by Houghton Mifflin, and No. 2, schools quit buying books. Their budgets effectively changed overnight. A lot of this was economy-driven.”
Suddenly, PBD was facing some core changes that, while it had been aware they were coming, it was not fully prepared.
“Frankly, when you’re going through a long period of double-digit growth, you think you’ve got it all figured out, and you don’t worry so much about what may be coming,” he says.
The long string of robust growth turned to double-digit contraction in the blink of an eye. Between 2008 and 2009, PBD’s revenue dropped 10 percent. It was time for the company to get serious about diversifying its business base.
Broaden the base
By 2008, PBD had built itself into a $50 million-a-year business with five distribution centers around the country. At its peak, the company employed more than 500 people. PBD attained this growth mainly by distributing books and other printed material using a traditional distribution model: pick, pack and ship.
But with the sharp business downturn that PBD experienced between 2008 and 2009, Dockter and his leadership team realized that the company needed to branch into new areas to broaden its base — to put its eggs into more baskets so it wouldn’t be as vulnerable to market downturns in the future.
After looking at what they do well, Dockter and his team talked about applying those revelations to other related businesses.
“We said, ‘We’re good at inventorying items. We’re good at taking orders. We’re good at building e-commerce. We’re good at integrating all of that. So what else can we distribute?’” he says. “It sounds simple, but when you’ve been doing books for 30-plus years, you’re pretty much siloed in. Prospects are out there thinking, ‘Well, they’re really good at book distribution, but I can’t see my product in there.’”
One of the first areas that PBD expanded into was distributing protective cases for handheld electronic devices.
“We got a new client that was really growing their business,” Dockter says. “They had a product that was related to iPhones and BlackBerrys. That was a great diversification for us. It gave us a chance to show outside groups that we could distribute practically anything — anything that could go in a box — that became our mantra.”
PBD’s new philosophy also encompassed a move into an area that — in light of the overall trend of print dying off and digital media booming — seems counterintuitive: printing and mailing acknowledgments of donations for nonprofit organizations.
“We have a lot of not-for-profit clients, and when they receive donations, the IRS requires that they send out a printed acknowledgment,” Dockter says. “There were a lot of printing companies going out of business, so we saw this as an opportunity. It was a chance for us to basically extend our markets within our current client base.”
It was a wise move. PBD’s printing and mailing service, bolstered by the 2012 acquisition of a similar company that was looking to get out of the business, has grown exponentially since PBD began offering the service in 2008.
“It was a natural fit for us,” Dockter says. “We just had to get the right equipment and the right people in place that knew what they were doing. And lo and behold, [last] year, we had a company that went out of business that we absorbed. So now the revenue we’re getting from that part of our business is 300 times what it was in ’08-’09 when we started it.”
PBD has diversified into other areas as well. Among the operations that are bringing in substantial new revenue are electronic distribution, consumer products, gift catalog items and logo promotional items, such as clothing and pins to be distributed at conferences.
“We’re excited about all of these new lines, because they all have a tremendous amount of capacity to grow,” Dockter says. “Plus it gives us more sales points, both within the current organizations that we work with and with prospects.”
As the economy has fitfully rebounded from the recession, all of this diversification and spreading into new markets has begun to pay off for PBD, according to Dockter.
“The economy has gotten a little bit better, and as a result, some of our sales are coming back naturally,” he says. “Our clients are putting more money into their marketing and into new product.
“These newer services we’ve expanded into have really helped us to right our revenue ship. We now have a better array of services to offer and a wider range of products. That’s allowing us to win new business at a better clip. And it’s helping offset the decline in what was our traditional core business — pick, pack and ship fulfillment.”
Dockter says he’s learned a lot from guiding PBD through this ordeal, and he and the company will be better prepared the next time they face a similar set of circumstances.
“One of the key things I learned, from a leadership standpoint, is that you can’t let yourself get too comfortable when things are going well,” he says. “You have to always be challenging yourself and your team with some what-ifs.
“When we were flying high, we weren’t challenging ourselves as hard, because we felt great about what we were doing. But there were some signs that we missed. So even when things are going well, you have to make sure you’re challenging yourself on things that might not go well going forward. Sometimes it’s hard to force yourself to think in that mode when you’re hitting on all cylinders.”
Dockter also says he believes that when PBD runs into a similar challenge in the future, he and his team will recognize the signs of impending change and react more quickly to counteract them.
“Of course, as a leader, you want to show confidence — you want to exude confidence — but you’ve got to be careful not to lose sight of the changes that can happen,” he says. “We knew certain things could happen, but we didn’t want to admit it while everything was going well.
“And, of course, the most important thing is when you do get to that place — when those changes are starting to happen — how do you react? You’ve got a couple different ways you can do that. I think we were slow. You’ve got to be fast. That doesn’t necessarily mean working harder. It means putting your strategy in place as quickly as possible, and then executing it, decisively.” ?
How to reach: PBD Worldwide, (770) 442-8633 or www.pbd.com
The Dockter File
President and CEO
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Virginia
Looking back over your years in school, can you pinpoint a business leadership lesson you learned that you use today?
I played tennis at the University of Virginia. A big part of doing that was creating leadership within my team, especially in the small-team environment. And the work balance was important from a time-management standpoint.
What was first job, and what important business lessons did you learn from it?
I had two jobs that were tied together — delivering newspapers and cutting lawns. The premise was to be able to earn my own money that I could spend the way I wanted to, and to do it without anybody telling me what to do. I learned a lot about responsibility from doing this. And I learned that figuring out how to create an avenue to make money can be a lot of fun.
Do you have a main business philosophy that you use to guide you?
Communicate as often as possible in a face-to-face mode with both your clients and your employees. Our company has a no-email policy on Fridays. We’ve had it for six years. The idea is to communicate at the highest level and to build relationships in order to get things done. When you communicate in that mode, you tend to create partnerships and true teamwork. That’s something we feel strongly about.
What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?
You need to be trustworthy. Your customers need to trust you, and your employees need to trust you. It comes down to this: Do you look them straight in the eye? And do they look back at you straight in the eye? When you’re able to create that bond, that means you’re truly a trusted partner and leader.
The old management adage “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is probably more apropos in today’s workplace than ever before. At a time when customers, board members, partners and other key stakeholders expect and demand quantifiable results, senior leaders are required to set measurable goals that aim high but, at the same time, are executable because they are backed by realistic, understandable strategies and tactics.
Although goal setting for most organizations is an ongoing process, the start of the new year — and for many, the start of the budgeting cycle — presents most organizations with a key opportunity to take a step back, examine what has worked and recalibrate the areas that need adjustment.
Transcend the boardroom
One of the key tenets in CorFire’s planning process is to think of goal setting as a team sport. In other words, involve key members of the organization to brainstorm and set long-term, short-term and immediate goals.
While one person within a department may have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that these goals are met, securing buy-in from multiple team members helps create an atmosphere in which people are informed, engaged and passionate about doing their respective part to make sure goals are achieved.
More recently, this beyond-the-boardroom approach at CorFire has expanded to include partners and customers. While not specifically asking for their specific ideas on what our company’s goals should be, CorFire wants partners and customers to be an integral part of our broader community and, as such, to participate in ongoing discussions about what we are doing right and areas in which we can improve.
This feedback helps us set goals that are meaningful to internal and external audiences. It also leads to stronger connections across vertical markets, thus helping the company achieve success.
Execute the plan
Once a clear plan is in place, organizations may want to aim big while starting small. A “begin with the basics” approach is often better from a strategic standpoint than a full-blown launch.
For example, when our customers are executing a mobile payment rollout, we recommend they start with basic technology with which their customers are familiar. In some cases, we recommend that these customers start out at a few locations, rather than many, to see what needs resetting.
Another key for setting measurable goals is to expect and plan for potential obstacles. Organizations may overlook this step or forego it because of concerns that it could show their goals are too lofty and thus set them back a few steps. In reality, this broader, realistic view of goal setting and execution gives everybody in the organization the latitude to view bumps in the road as navigable rather than insurmountable roadblocks.
Lastly, we look forward to a year in which we set and meet goals, but, as important, we celebrate these goals. For CorFire, this ongoing recognition of meeting goals in this exciting time in the mobile commerce arena will help us continue moving the needle in our space and give us the desire to set the bar higher in subsequent years. ?
Sang Yook is chief strategy officer of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA. You can reach him at (770) 670-4700.