Eighty percent of Court McGuire’s communication with clients is done either through Facebook or texting.

“Our clients kind of know how we communicate, because it’s not like it’s the fax, the typical phone call, the typical e-mail,” says McQuire, president of Boca Raton-based Green Advertising. “Nowadays it’s a text. It’s a Facebook message or it’s a privatized YouTube channel.”

By keeping Green Advertising on the pulse of the new media and marketing initiatives that resonate with today’s consumers, McQuire and Green’s founder and chairman, Phyllis Green, have both kept the firm relevant as well as grown the business to $42.5 million in revenue in 2010.

Smart Business spoke with Green and McGuire about how new media has changed the advertising industry and how it’s changing brand communication.

What are the advantages of advertising in today’s media environment?

McQuire: What’s happening is that interactive or online or social media has a new layer to it that traditional advertising and broadcast never had. It doesn’t play a passive role. It has to play as a participant.

To reach your very specific consumer will be a little bit more homework and a little bit more challenging, but the good news is you can do it better and more effectively and find out what kind of analytics and performance tracking we have in their consumption of that media.

Interactive has a very unique thing. It levels the playing field. So if you’re Joe Shmoe with a concept and a business or you’re a multimillion-dollar New York Madison Avenue company, you can compete head to head with paid search, with the big dogs.

What’s on the horizon for brand communication?

Green: Our clients used to say, ‘Oh we need a brochure.’ Now we’re telling them, ‘No, you don’t need a brochure. You need a video.’ That’s how people are consuming content. They are reading it less. They want to see it. They want to understand it better.

McQuire: Video in social media is huge. A lot of people just think, ‘Oh, it’s my status on Facebook,’ but people are so interested in videos that make them laugh or think or educate them. … We bust our butt on lots of video content, because that’s what’s really emerging as the best return on investment for brand communication.

What is the key to a successful online media strategy?

McQuire: It’s performance tracking. If you are doing interactive and you’re doing social media, and if you are even doing broadcast, you have to be able to performance track your media. Years ago it was much more difficult to do, but with the online component you know where [customers] are coming from, when they’re interested in buying, who they are, where they are located.

Court McQuire, president, Green Advertising

Should companies try a social media strategy on their own?

McQuire: It doesn’t take one person. It really takes a team. … Often I have that problem where it’s, ‘Eh, we don’t want to pay a social media retainer. We’re fine with just these fees for broadcast.’ And we have to say, ‘Well look, you’re going to create an orphan to your brand. We need to know that mommy and all of her kids have the same message and the same mission.’ So we really have to convince them that to take on social media, ‘Yes, we can make it affordable for you, but no, you can’t do it as well as we can.’

What advice would you give clients and firms in regards to advertising today?

McQuire: They have to embrace new media, emerging media. They have to embrace interactive advertising. They have to be very open to the idea that there’s not just one way to reach my market. Now there are many ways and I need to spend some time and understand it.

Green: The market tells you what’s happening and the economy tells you and clients tell you, and you have to be a good listener — keep your ear to the ground...In today’s competition, our vision is ‘We’re only as good as we are today.’ And everyone here has bought into that.

How to reach: Green Advertising, (561) 989-9550 or www.greenad.com

Published in Florida

To Pierre Noack, a brand is more than a logo or slogan or something by which customers can quickly remember your company in a sea of competitors.

It is your company’s personality. It is the definition of what your company stands for.

When Aerzen USA Corp. outgrew its leased office space in the Philadelphia market recently, Noack — Aerzen USA’s president — was among those who wanted to see the company’s new headquarters make a statement about the Aerzen brand.

“The question was what we wanted the building to represent,” Noack says. “How did we want it to embody the brand? Answering that question, we decided to build a green building, which has been LEED Gold certified, the first in Pennsylvania and one of the first manufacturing buildings in the United States.”

It was an example of Aerzen’s leadership putting its money where its branding mouth is, and doing so in a very tangible way. To set a tone like Noack has set at Aerzen USA, a maker of air and gas moving equipment, compressors, blowers and vacuum pumps, you have to start with your own beliefs and actions.

“It starts really with the head of the company, really to embody what the brand is supposed to be,” Noack says. “If you’re going to build a strong brand, first you have to start with yourself. You have to make sure that the brand you want the organization to embody is also matching the values that you have.”

Get on the ground

To build your brand, you have to know how your customers and would-be customers interpret the brand, and you have to know how the people at the customer interface point are projecting your brand. To gain an accurate picture, you have to stay connected to what is happening at ground level.

Noack relies on his sales force to develop close relationships with customers and often has his leadership team interact with salespeople to get a better idea of what is happening in the world of Aerzen’s customers.

It’s critical for Noack’s approach, because he’s driving Aerzen toward becoming a solutions-focused company. Rather than focus on pushing products, Noack wants his sales and operations staff to collaborate with customers to find the best possible solution for a given situation.

“Our salespeople have close relationships with our customers, and it’s the same on the service side,” Noack says. “It’s a part of the people we hire, because our approach is not to so much impose our brand on other people and organizations, but to produce value. But that approach only works when you listen to customers. You have to seek opportunities to collaborate with customers and find solutions to their problems.”

To continually drive home to employees that solutions will remain an integral part of the company’s brand, Noack gets many of his people involved in creating solutions for customers.

“For example, a plant operator recently called and asked us if we made a machine that would perform a specific task,” he says. “We said, ‘Maybe we can do something, let’s talk about it. What do you need?’ We had some conversations about what they were looking to do, what they were looking to accomplish, and in the end, we worked with them on developing a solution that would work, based on what they were trying to do.”

Explore different strategies

In the modern business world, you have a many different avenues through which you can strengthen your brand. Building relationships on a personal level is still the most effective means. But you need to be able to utilize multiple avenues to develop and maintain your brand.

For Aerzen, that is where Ralph Wilton comes in. Wilton is the marketing manager on Noack’s team, and is in charge of building the company’s brand through a wide variety of avenues. Chief among them is the company’s website, which has become foundational to the branding strategy.

“Basically, for us, the online focus is really the core of our marketing program,” Wilton says. “That is where we have the most horsepower, the most attention. It all revolves around our website, which we try to constantly monitor, and keep fresh and updated. That is the face of our brand and our message to the world.”

In all of Aerzen’s online and offline activities, Wilton’s goal is to drive traffic back to the website and make the company’s brand synonymous with a resource-laden Internet presence. Providing readily available information on product specifications and corporate news helps enhance the brand by keeping customers knowledgeable about the company, what it produces and what it stands for.

“What I’ve found is that companies that provide information readily and make it a proactive approach, those are the companies that win, versus companies that try to hide stuff, where you have to call and jump through hoops to get things. That really doesn’t work so much anymore. We want to provide for them to get them what they need. If it’s a complex sale or engineered product solution, they’ll have to call somebody eventually anyways and talk about their situation. So we want to give them enough on the site to be effective and get them to that point.”

Branding and marketing with a focused purpose is a new frontier for Aerzen. The company used to work with what Wilton calls a “spray and pray” approach, relying on casting seeds to the wind, hoping that at least a few would take root with customers.

“We’d just launch in many different areas,” Wilton says. “Now we have several industry verticals that we target specifically. We want our customers to know who we are very intimately, so we do still have offline approaches like print advertising, trade shows and things like that. But now we combine it with the very robust online approach. We’re not going after everything out there that we think might be a sales lead. I think even if we had a lot of money to approach everything, we’d still take our current route because it’s far more effective.”

Whether your market differentiator is value or service, bulk sales or specialized solutions, the culture surrounding your brand will start with you and your leadership team.

Though terminology like “living the brand” might seem like something of a cliché, the concept still rings true, and it’s still critical to building a successful branding and marketing culture.

“This is a long-term, never-ending endeavor, and it is a commitment that the management team makes to keep building it, every day to live the brand and communicate it through your actions,” Noack says. “Through what you communicate, especially in times of crisis, in times of difficulties and challenges, that is when employees observe you the most and get the most out of your messages. It is driving it by example, constantly reminding everyone of our task to build that brand. You have to communicate that you don’t just fulfill the need we have today, that we all have the potential to build this vessel for the brand, for the personality of the organization.”

How to reach: Aerzen USA Corp., (610) 380-0244 or www.aerzenusa.com

The Aerzen zone

Thoughts on business leadership from President Pierre Noack and Marketing Manager Ralph Wilton of Aerzen USA Corp.

Wilton on finding the best customer service representatives:

There are what we call the touch points. The people who interact with the customer are the living, breathing people of the brand. So if you have a person who is very upbeat and caring, you are going to have a very good brand experience. We have all be in situations where we’ve seen the marketing material, we’ve gotten the feature benefits stuff, we go into a place to buy something, and we’re met by someone who is inept, doesn’t care or has a bad attitude. We might buy in spite of it, but we don’t come back.

Noack on points of customer contact:

We are trying to multiply points of contact. We have project managers, engineers, production planning and so on. We really encourage all of these people to have contact with our customers so there are as many touch points as possible between our customers and us. This way, we build resilience in the experience of the brand, because it is not tied to a single point of contact and it is built into the relationship.

Noack on being a solutions-driven company:

It’s not all about trying to sell, but as businesspeople, we are always there for others, whether it be buyers, people using our equipment, systems, it’s always for others. We have to think about them rather than us, and that’s the reality of it. It’s not real to think that building a brand and pushing it onto people is going to work. The other way around is true and much more rewarding. It takes some courage to get there. It’s not the traditional way of doing things, unfortunately.

Published in Philadelphia

Driving market impact doesn’t happen by accident. Quite the contrary. Leading companies attribute market strategy as the reason they are in the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 position in the marketplace. As CEOs, we know that the only constant we can rely on is that the marketplace will continue to shift, so that means our market strategy needs to shift, too. This is easier said than done when faced with the day-to-day minutia of running a business, but driving market impact is in fact one of our top responsibilities.

Create a strategic marketing foundation

These days more than ever, the marketplace is cluttered with choices. Your chosen strategic position is your company’s brand foundation. So to drive market strategy, you need to know what it takes to do better than average in your industry and know the sustaining sources of competitive advantage. You also need to know how to be a better than average player and know the maneuvers that will get you to the end goal. Industry leaders regularly analyze their market position and keep the company’s competitive advantages focused, clear and sustainable. On the athletic stage, coaches seek out similar advantages in hopes of leading their teams to national championships.

If you read between the lines, you can probably already see that a company will emerge with a huge market advantage if a brand foundation exists. Now take that advantage and create a well-defined, well-executed brand message backed by a strategic marketing plan. When done effectively, this should enable you to penetrate the industry and put you one step closer to market domination.

Throughout a given year, I meet and consult with numerous business leaders. Many of these leaders have a good understanding of the industries they are trying to penetrate, the main competitors and the needs of the market. So they are better than average at understanding the game. Their inability to reach market domination resides in their ability to be a good player. They may have product superiority, but they are seriously brand or marketing handicapped. Sometimes this is a result of a lack of brand clarity, a lack of strategy, a lack of execution and/or a lack of a dedicated marketing budget. All of these are required to achieve and sustain a lead position.

Diversify your plan of attack

It is often said that variety is the spice of life, and you need some variety in your marketing approach. But be careful to make sure that you are in fact making an impact with your marketing spend and not spreading your budget too thin by not being effective in any of your collective efforts. Today, there are more choices in the marketplace to reach customers and it continues to multiply daily. The smaller the marketing budget, the more need to pare down the number of marketing options to those that most effectively and efficiently reach the target audience. In theory, it is better to do one thing well than to do three things mediocre and never reach a level of meaningful market penetration.

The communication choices have grown, but the same marketing science of reach and frequency applies. The biggest difference might be that with the birth of social media, you need to listen and participate differently than more traditional ways of the past. Social media doesn’t replace traditional media, at least not yet. But its presence has changed the game. It’s still important to reach your target audience, just through a different mix of mediums and you still need to touch your audience enough times so that your message is being penetrated and heard. You also need to make sure your marketing program is reaching all of the audiences you need to achieve your goals — new customer acquisition, retention and growth of current customer revenue, and generating overall industry awareness of your brand.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 20-year old brand development and strategic marketing firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 25 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or kborth@greencrest.com, or for more information www.greencrest.com.

Published in Columbus

Bryan Ward, founder and CEO of Giant Ideas, knows there are many important aspects of developing a business. An often overlooked, yet vitally important aspect is the branding of your business. The full-service advertising agency helps develop and drive brand awareness for its clients.

“It’s about creating a connection between a product or service and a brand and creating that connection in people’s minds so it’s something they can remember easily,” Ward says.

With a corporate identity focused around Easter Island iconography, Giant Ideas has a name and logo people don’t forget. Ward’s branding tactics have made his agency one of the best in the area at what they do and led to 2009 revenue just shy of $10 million.

Smart Business spoke to Ward about how to develop a brand and why it is an important business aspect.

Define your brand. One thing that people often don’t seem to realize about a brand and it’s often a misunderstood word and misused many times … is that they already have one, there’s no creation of a brand. You can push it in a different direction, but you already have one. We all have a brand. It’s how people see us. It’s the way we dress, the type of car we drive, the way we speak. Everything that we do goes into building our own personal brand and the same thing is true for a company or a product or service. The way that the phones are answered, the way the employees treat people, the way employees dress. All of that is part of a brand.

You have to ask yourself, ‘Is that brand doing anything to help my company excel its product and services, or is the brand helping my product reach new customers? Am I utilizing it in the best way possible or not?’ If not, then something needs to be done to fix that.

From a CEO’s perspective, where do you want your company to be … two years from now, five years from now? You then backtrack from that goal. CEOs spend a tremendous amount of effort and time on supply chain logistics and all these other business processes that are important to get there and often overlooked is the brand marketing execution communication side of things. It’s part of that stream of business and is just as important as the others. Getting products from point A to point Z is important but also how is your brand working for you and how best can it do that job. Maximizing the amount of added benefit and added value that brand is bringing to that chain is just as important as the others.

Establish brand awareness. You have to clearly establish why you are who you are and why that matters to the consumer or the customer and why they should pay attention to you. We all have competition and you have to stand out from the crowd because it is a very competitive market.

A new brand has nothing. There’s zero name recognition, zero brand recognition, zero information in the consumer’s or customer’s mind about that. It’s a great time, too, because you have an opportunity to drive that story, to be in control of that story for a long time. The sooner and better that you can do that and establish what that story is going to be and drive that conversation yourself, the better off you’re going to be.

Drive your brand. You have to talk to customers, talk to employees and really get a sense of what is going on. You need to also have an understanding of the market. What are the other competitors in the space doing? How are they branding themselves? What tools are they using? All of that goes into building a picture of where your brand needs to be and where its optimal space is going to be. Once you start down this path you start to see common threads. It almost becomes self-evident at a point where your brand is going to live and what tools it needs to survive and flourish.

I can’t tell you the number of clients, the number of businesses that I talk to who had bad experiences in the past with branding. It is just as important as any other aspect of your business and it needs to be given the same attention and care and expertise that you would give to any other part of your business. If you don’t do due diligence when you have the opportunity it won’t serve you well in years to come and you will regret having gone in that direction.

HOW TO REACH: Giant Ideas, (412) 566-5756, or www.giantideas.com

Published in Pittsburgh

David LaBonte came up with the concept of his book, “Shiny Objects Marketing,” several years ago while listening to a speaker drone on about a complex marketing theory.

“I thought, ‘Come on! It’s simpler than that,” says LaBonte, president of AdMatrix, an Orange County-based marketing firm. “Make your brand a shiny object, and you’ll sell truckloads.”

In the book, LaBonte explains how to make any product, service or brand irresistible and how to generate the urge for customers to grab it and not let go.

LaBonte gave Smart Business a peek at his five secrets for attracting customers by making your brand a shiny object.

1. Grab their attention. Catching the eye of your customer is the most obvious of the shiny object facets. But we are not merely concerned about creating a casual distraction. The operative question for this facet is: What will cause your customers to stop dead in their tracks and take notice of what you are selling?

To accomplish this facet, you must present the shiny object in its best light. This requires excellent design, constant attention, appearances where your customers will see it and a clear, concise message.

2. Create a driving curiosity. The second facet is to hold a person’s attention long enough to deliver the rest of the shiny object. The overriding question is: What will make your prospects want to invest their time and efforts to take a closer look?

Some time-proven techniques to accomplish this are to ask a probing question, make an alluring promise, give a brief peek into your product, make a provocative statement, issue a dare or challenge, use humor, display some forbidden fruit, or tap in to a fear factor.

3. Stimulate an irrepressible urge to touch. The third shiny object facet should inspire the customer to take action in order to draw them deeper. The driving question for this facet is: How do you get your prospects to reach out and try your product?

Some ways to make this happen include: making an offer, distributing samples, providing a demo, holding a seminar or giving a free trial.

4. Activate emotion. The fourth shiny object facet is all about getting people to experience your brand, product or service — not just to try it. The driving question is: Which emotions, evoked by interaction with my product, will lead to a sale?

Every purchase, no matter how technical or rational it may seem, has an emotional factor. I have successfully marketed semiconductors, electronic test equipment, property management services, title insurance and a host of other products that might seem to have no bearing on emotions. Yet, these companies were all successful in their marketing efforts because they discovered the right emotional button that connected their prospects’ view of a shiny object to their product.

5. Demand ownership. The fifth shiny object facet is not just to sell your product but also to create such a strong relationship between your product and your customer that the customer literally demands ownership. The driving question here is: What will make your prospects want to grab your product and not let go?

Some time-proven methods to engender this demand for ownership include the following:

  • Consistently meet or exceed the promise of your product or service
  • Create a sense of immediacy
  • Instill comfortable familiarity — make it emotionally difficult to leave your product
  • Provide uncommon courtesy
  • Sweat the small stuff

David LaBonte is a seasoned marketing professional with more than 30 years of experience. President of AdMatrix, an Orange-based marketing/advertising agency, LaBonte teaches marketing techniques to clients nationally. LaBonte conducts “Shiny Objects Marketing” workshops to help companies implement the concept of his book. Learn more at www.shinyobjectsmarketing.com.

Published in Orange County

They were planning to close at 9 a.m. that first day.

Dan DiZio had just co-founded a small pretzel bakery with his former college roommate. He had been a stockbroker; his roommate was a psychological counselor. They had tired of the daily 9-to-5 grind and decided to pool their resources and get into the pretzel business.

They had designs on being a two-man wholesale outfit, spending their early mornings twisting and baking the pretzels, selling them in large quantities during the morning hours and knocking off for the day before most people had made their lunch plans.

“We weren’t set up for retail,” DiZio says. “We didn’t even have a cash register. We rented a retail space only because the rent was cheaper than a warehouse would have been.”

But somehow, on that first day, they became a retail outfit. A line of customers formed at the door of their little storefront bakery and didn’t dissipate until late in the afternoon. In the span of one day back in 1998, the seeds of the company that became Philly Pretzel Factory were planted. And DiZio was thrust into a world of change management and rapid growth.

“I went on to open up eight more stores through 2004,” he says. “In 2005, we started franchising, that became popular, and in 2006 and ’07, it really started to take off. We opened 50 stores in ’07, 46 in ’08, so it jumped from a numbers standpoint very quickly. We were opening about a store a week at that point.”

Now, the company has 120 corporate and franchised locations, employing 1,500. It’s a meteoric rise, considering DiZio didn’t have much of a business plan at the outset.

“We didn’t have a typical structured plan,” Says DiZio, the company’s president. “We were flying by the seat of our pants.”

To get from a two-man operation to 120 locations, DiZio needed to formulate a business plan that gave future employees and franchisees rigid foundational principles, which still allowing room for flexibility as the company grew. And he needed to find the right people to facilitate growth — people who could help Philly Pretzel Factory broach new markets.

Build a framework

To formulate a growth strategy, you first need to set the ground rules for your business: who you want to serve, how you are going to serve them and what you are going to serve them.

Early in the life cycle of Philly Pretzel Factory — the brand name of Soft Pretzel Franchise Systems Inc. — DiZio decided he wanted to focus on customers who bought in volume. DiZio’s target consumer isn’t an individual walking in off the street for a bite to eat. He wanted to target people who are buying for large social gatherings, community sporting events and office parties, and spread the footprint of his business based on where those people congregate. City street corners were out, office parks and suburban neighborhoods were in.

“We decided that we were looking for family-type communities where there are a lot of sporting events, a lot of salespeople,” he says. “It comes back to picking the right target and having a product that follows that target.”

To aid in targeting the right markets and, in turn, the right franchisee candidates, DiZio and his staff use software to conduct studies that analyze demographics and purchasing trends. But he says it’s a folly to rely solely on computer data to plot your growth strategy.

DiZio and his team visit potential markets, experiencing them with their own eyes and ears. He says it offers a type of insight that is difficult to quantify but extremely critical in the process of deciding whether a given market is ripe for expansion.

“We drive the markets, look at the locations, look at the area, look at the schools, then really take it back to the office and look at our research in more detail,” DiZio says. “It’s not just on a screen or a piece of paper. It’s something intangible that you can’t really touch. You kind of feel the energy, you get a sense of a neighborhood and the way it is. It’s kind of like how Ray Kroc would go out and look for places to put a new McDonald’s. He was looking for church steeples. He wanted to put his restaurants where there were churches. But regardless of how it happens, you have to get out and feel if it’s the right location. For us, taking the word of a computer or demographic numbers wouldn’t be enough.”

Ultimately, DiZio says you need to keep your growth strategy as simple as you can. That doesn’t mean you completely avoid or fail to address complicated issues, but you should build your growth strategy around some central principles that never waver. The best bet is to figure out what it is you do best as an organization, and figuring out ways to leverage that strength.

“We wanted to keep it simple, and that was our philosophy and belief,” DiZio says. “We still have that philosophy of doing what we do best, but really trying not to do everything best. Everything else trickles down from that. There are always these great new products our there that we could come up with, but it would complicate the business model and we don’t want to do that. So we have to continue to follow those core beliefs of keeping it simple.”

Stay mobile

Your growth equation will never be complete if you simply rely on acquiring new geographical areas. You also need to take a look at what you’re offering and if there are better ways to offer more value to your customers.

Though you might strive to stay devoted to your core product or service offering, a new opportunity can get your company’s foot through some very important doors. It’s something DiZio learned firsthand when some of his franchisees began pressuring him to broaden the menu at Philly Pretzel Factory.

“A few years ago, our product mix was pretzels and soda,” DiZio says. “That was the entire menu. There was no other version, just pretzels out of the oven. But as we moved along, I started to get feedback from franchisees who wanted to bring new ideas to the table, like sandwich pretzels. I shot them down for a long time, because I didn’t like the idea of sandwich pretzels, and I couldn’t envision each store making these sandwich pretzels and keeping them consistent.”

Some dialogue between DiZio and the franchisees resulted in a middle ground that took the sandwich pretzel concept and simplified it, making it a better fit for DiZio’s business model. The sandwich idea paved the way for party trays, opening up a new and highly successful element of DiZio’s business.

“That whole idea is what created a lunch business for us, and it has been a key to success for us,” he says. “That’s why, as a leader, you have to be able to make decisions quickly, but you also have to be flexible enough to make a decision to try something new. You can’t be so rigid that you can’t try something.”

By DiZio’s own admission, he sometimes misses on an idea from down the ladder that turns out to be a hit in the end. It has taught him to listen to the employees and franchisees under the Philly Pretzel Factory umbrella and give them latitude to try new things when appropriate.

Some ideas, like menu choices, can’t be planned and executed on a store level. Any business needs to have consistent standards and product offerings to customers. But DiZio puts a great deal of marketing in the hands of his franchisees and store operators.

Marketing is one area where he wants to see his store-level people try new things and report back on the success or failure of the idea.

“We want them to run with their ideas, because we learn from those and share those ideas with other franchisees,” he says. “We have round-table discussions where we talk about what has worked for various franchisees. Obviously, every idea won’t work for every franchisee due to differences in the markets. But if it does, we’ll take it and run with it.”

DiZio focuses on the importance of intimacy with a narrowly focused group of customers. Though a given location might attract youth soccer parents buying pretzels for a tournament that is miles away, each store is really focused on building a customer base within a five-mile radius.

“You want to build a presence in a given market if you’re going to enter it,” DiZio says. “It doesn’t really do any good to only have one store in a market. You’d think if you put more locations in a market, they’d take away from each other. But then you realize that the more locations you have in a market, the more business they all do. It’s the effect of brand recognition.”

Bring along others

To grow your company, you need people who can help grow it. You need brainpower that you can leverage.

DiZio states it simply: He wants people who are better than he is.

“I’m looking for people to be better than me, especially in their field,” he says. “I want them to be much better than me. Do I try to shape their thoughts a bit? I probably do, but after a while, I want them to run with their ideas, shape them, share them and keep them on the right path of where the company is headed. As long as they stay within our guidelines, we try to have fun with the concept. It’s a fun business — it’s pretzels, and we try to play that up.”

But if you want fun in your culture, you have to be serious about finding people who want to have fun. You need to find people who are a good personality match for your company. In the recruitment process, DiZio does what a lot of company leaders do. He brings franchisee and management candidates in for multiple rounds of interviews with executives from various areas of the company.

But he and his staff don’t do a lot of talking. They ask questions and do a lot of listening.

“We sit back and listen maybe 90 percent of the time in an interview,” he says. “We’ll ask questions and let them elaborate to the best of their ability. It goes back to the idea that as the CEO, you want people who are smarter than you.”

By asking initial questions, sitting back and listening, DiZio gets a gauge on how passionate a candidate is for his company’s mission and products. If DiZio doesn’t get a good feel for the person’s excitement, chances are it’s not a good match.

“We ask them what excites them about our brand and our products,” he says. “A lot of our franchisees were customers and already love the brand and the product. But some might not be familiar with it. Maybe they grew up in California, moved here and don’t have a feel for our brand. But if they don’t have that passion for what we do, it’s really hard for us to connect with them. You can definitely sense during the interview process how excited they are about what you do.”

How to reach: Philly Pretzel Factory, (800) 679-4221 or www.phillysoftpretzelfactory.com

The DiZio file

Born: Philadelphia

Education: Bachelor’s degree in management and finance, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

First job: I began selling pretzels on a street corner when I was 11. Now I’m 39, and I’ve been selling pretzels for all but two of those years when I was a stockbroker.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Startup money is so valuable, so don’t waste it. We wasted a lot at first and ultimately had to end up redoing a lot of the work. So really watch those dollars and know where the money is going.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

You have to understand your product and know the business. You need to be able to relay your thoughts and passion to others, and train them.

What is your definition of success?

Success to me is going to work and doing something I love. I think people go on vacation to escape their lives, but I love where I am. I love watching where we grow, and watching our stores grow.

Published in Philadelphia

When comparing weekend activities recently, a friend of mine proudly reported that the highlight of her Sunday was the two hours she spent at a Sephora store trying out different cosmetics and creams.

Spending that much time at any store may seem like an excess, until you realize there is some science behind it, and my friend was simply reacting exactly as shopping researchers had planned.

Ever since women were called the emerging market, marketers have been busy boning up on biology, anthropology and psychology to better understand this target. They realized that women are gatherers versus hunters — they like to explore, take their time and discover new things for themselves or their loved ones. Businesses that have done their homework are redesigning their stores, products, packaging, brand promises and business operations to appeal more to women.

Although some retailers have figured out, others still don’t “get” women. By not appealing to this consumer base, these businesses miss out on capturing a larger share of their consumer base. Women account for 83 percent of all consumer purchases, according to an A.T. Kearney report, and Goldman Sachs analysts estimate that wealth in the hands of women around the globe will increase by $5 trillion between 2008 and 2013. The increasing economic influence of women is expected to continue as they outpace men in college graduation rates, which can lead to higher income levels. This all adds up to major opportunities to rethink and revamp current businesses. So, why isn’t it happening?

Without a doubt, one key factor is simply the organizational inertia that comes with any kind of major change. Another factor may be stereotypes about selling to women and that you just have to “shrink and pink” it — make it smaller and a cute color. But there’s something more fundamental going on.

First, marketers’ views are shortsighted. They measure market size based on assumptions of today rather than incorporating possibilities that the market could be larger than we expected. Think of 3M’s Post-it Notes. When they were introduced, who anticipated that women would use them so much and want them in different colors and shapes, with funny sayings and designs, with a little bit of personality?

Second, the way companies think about innovation needs to shift. We need fewer “incremental” projects and more new projects that incorporate ethnographic and observational techniques and that borrow insights from parallel industries from around the globe. I recently visited a company in Shanghai that is designing a kitchen based on what it learned from hundreds of hours of observing Chinese women cook. It has a new organizational setup, new safety features, cabinets that swivel and a built-in stepstool to reach high places. I have no doubt some of the features will become common around the world in the course of a few years.

Finally, companies need to bring in more perspectives from a variety of disciplines. Too many people in business were trained only in business. We need to bring in more breadth of experience from people trained not only in traditional marketing, finance and R&D but also in psychology, anthropology, biology, history and sociology. They can bring in the insights that the businesspeople might miss. While marketing personal care products to women, I was involved in a team that studied biology, anthropology and hundreds of years of women’s history in various societies. We also conducted interviews with bikini waxers, pole dancers, personal trainers, plastic surgeons, models, fashion designers, lingerie store owners and medical doctors. These perspectives were incorporated into innovation and communication platforms, and the result was a changed business that yielded double-digit growth in a previously stagnant category.

As a professional, I am aware of the pockets of advances in marketing to women, but, as a consumer, I haven’t seen enough. Until businesses understand both the potential of the growing purchasing power of women as well how women are wired, they will not make the changes they need to make to capture it, and somebody else will get the girl.

Robin Moriarty, Ph.D., is the managing director of Kimberly-Clark — Hong Kong, an expert in marketing to women and a former Atlanta resident. She is a frequent lecturer, and previously worked at Bell South and taught at Emory University and Georgia Tech.

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 06 April 2011 14:07

Protect your reputation

As I was formulating some thoughts around this topic, this tweet appeared from @DrWayneWDyer: “Your reputation is in the hands of others,” reads the tweet. “The only thing you can control is your character.” It succinctly summarizes the message I want to share with you with regard to managing company reputation.

Managing reputation begins with top leadership and is rooted in your organization’s core values and corporate governance. It is reinforced in your financial performance, corporate offices, employee relations, and customer service guidelines and policies. It is reflected in the quality of your products and services. It is expressed through your company’s social responsibility, vendor and distributor relations, and media relations.

While a corporate image can be created, a corporate reputation is earned. As CEOs, we need to treat our corporate reputation as one of our most valuable assets and protect it at all costs. Protecting corporate reputation is a proactive position rather than a reactive one. It is in reacting to a situation that we can inadvertently cover up truths, make statements we’d love to take back and make poor decisions. 

Proactively managing reputation pays off

At Greencrest, we established our core values more than a decade ago as a group exercise — getting input and consensus from all employees. In the end, the core values mirrored my own personal beliefs and defined the performance and operational tenets of our company. Because they were a part of our roots, they are relevant today and continue to be our guiding principles. They are painted on our wall and greet employees every day.

By identifying company core values, as leaders we can begin to put structure around all other policies. How are your core values reflected in your corporate governance? What about your employment and customer service policies? Corporate image is formed from internal and external communications. It is formed through the quality of products and services, our own behavior and attitudes. It is also influenced by our employees and the experience others have when interacting with us and our company and our physical offices. It can also be shaped by the company’s financial practices and our community and social responsibility.

As leaders, we must continually reinforce the company’s core values and policies and make sure our key staff represent and reinforce them, too. I have found that it is easy to become soft, too forgiving and accepting of the status quo. We become too busy to deal with important disciplinary matters or absent from managing direct reports for whatever reason. But as a company, we are at our best when we enforce our core values.

Don’t forget to plan for the unexpected

As CEOs, it is also our responsibility to manage the unexpected. My industry labels this as “crisis communications.” Organizations can successfully plan how to respond to worst-case scenarios, and in doing so, make us CEOs less “reactive” to situations where personal emotions and immediate response don’t allow us to think as clearly and rationally as we normally do. 

I have successfully counseled numerous companies through crisis situations — everything from hiring illegal immigrants to negativity around organized labor contract negotiations to unfavorable actions of key executives to job-related deaths and injuries. But when the emotional impact of false statements made about my own company took me by surprise, I hired an outside public relations consultant to coach me and to manage our internal and external communications. It was well worth the expense.

Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.” This couldn’t be more relevant today, especially in the wake of the social media revolution. Those five minutes are more like seconds. So, if you’re not managing your company’s online reputation, you need to be doing that, too.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 20-year-old brand development and strategic marketing firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or kborth@greencrest.com, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

Published in Columbus

Just as every action sparks a reaction, I can clearly remember the moment that spurred our decision to add a new brand and expand our company. Or, perhaps I should say that we recognized the undeniable need for change, and adding a new brand was the ultimate solution.

In another instance, adding an additional service line was the right answer.

How might your need for change bring you to one of these conclusions? In my experience, there are some key points to consider.

• What are the synergies? Consider whether the new service or brand will complement your core business or detract from it.

• How well can you support it operationally/administratively? Carefully consider the additional time and manpower this new service would require.

• How will it impact the branding or industry positioning of your core business? This is where marketing comes into play and, in my opinion, can play a large part in determining whether you expand your existing service offering or add a new brand.

• What is the long-term viability of the service or brand — is it sustainable? Are you dealing with something that is hot today but could become a passing fad?

• Is there a market for the product or service? An amount of new R&D will be required.

• What will your point of differential be? Again, is it different enough to warrant a new brand or will it better serve as a complement to your current service offering?

• If acquiring a business, how does it fit culturally? If the addition may compromise your culture, you may want to reassess.

After years of explosive growth within our DUCTZ air duct cleaning franchise, we saw revenue begin to level off in specific markets, particularly when the recession hit. We identified a synergistic service in kitchen hood cleaning, which fit many criteria including technical expertise and administrative support.

However, adding the new service would present a challenge in positioning, as the customer base was exclusively commercial and geared toward fire prevention, whereas DUCTZ services commercial and residential focused on indoor air quality. We decided to launch HOODZ as a separate brand, giving franchisees the option to represent both brands. HOODZ actually lent itself to the existing marketing treatment of DUCTZ and, although complementary, it was different enough to warrant its own brand.

We revisited the DUCTZ service offerings to establish a comprehensive solution for our customers. Because a significant benefit of duct cleaning is improved indoor air quality, we sought other services that would do the same.

We found that, second to ductwork, carpet and upholstery cleaning greatly improves indoor air quality. Carpet cleaning alone is a competitive field so it wouldn’t have made sense to launch a new brand, plus we needed to establish a point of differentiation. As the nation’s largest indoor air quality company, we added the service as the DUCTZ Total Care offering, adopting the marketing position, “Improving indoor air quality from the ground up.”

Once you’ve gone through a similar checklist and process and identified parallels and strategic marketing initiatives, ask yourself one more thing, ‘Is it going to be strategic?’ In this case, I would define strategic as accomplishing at least one of the following: increasing your customer base, increasing value-added services to your existing customer base or increasing purchasing frequency from your existing customer base.

John Rotche is the president of Ann Arbor-based BELFOR Franchise Group Inc., a multiconcept franchise system. The company’s two franchise concepts, DUCTZ and HOODZ, center on the compliance and proper maintenance of commercial kitchen hoods and residential and commercial air duct, carpet and upholstery cleaning services. For more information, visit www.belforfranchisegroup.com.

Published in Detroit

The way to build an online strategy is to forget about your online strategy for a second.

Carmen DeLeo, the general manager of CDM Electronics Inc., made that his first step when he and his team were trying to formulate the best way to build a presence on the Internet for the $20 million logistics and software company, headquartered in Turnersville, N.J.

“We put ourselves in the position of engineers and technical buyers — our main customers,” DeLeo says. “They’re the ones who are going to fit the profile for us. We thought about the things they would come to us for — specification of part numbers, drawings and so forth. So we started to decide what our customers needed, and let’s try to get as much information on the site as we can, and we can make it a 24/7 part of our customer service.”

Once you have identified what your customers need, you have to develop your site to meet those needs. DeLeo and his team partnered with outside firms, including business IT support company ThomasNet, to start the development process.

“They educated us on things like (search engine optimization) and other terms we weren’t familiar with. In addition to that, we spent a lot of time online, just playing around and experimenting,” DeLeo says. “We spent a lot of time just reading and stumbling upon different websites, seeing what some other companies were doing. We looked outside our industry, because there weren’t a whole lot of people in our industry doing this yet.”

Above all else, DeLeo says the quality of your site content should rule your decisions about how you market your business online. It’s great to have an eye-catching sight with attractive graphics and sound, but if the substance isn’t there to back up the style, you’ll never be able to leverage your site to help grow your business.

“If you supply the site with as much content as possible, it is only going to help serve your customers,” DeLeo says. “We’re still very early in this era. The computers that are doing the rankings of your website’s value to customers are still very rudimentary. At sites like Google, it is obvious humans don’t review the results. But they still do a remarkable job of returning what is relevant. Even having an ugly site with content is still better than a website without an adequate amount of content. If all you have is an address and a little bit about the company, it’s not going to do you much good.”

Regardless of whether you use internal resources to build your online presence or acquire outside help, you need to partner with people who will engage you in a dialogue. You need to bring different perspectives to the table to get the right look and the right content onto your site.

“You need development people who understand the real goal,” DeLeo says. “Sometimes, we don’t ask for what we want all the time, or there might be a better solution out there. That type of communication has to be the key, so when you’re selecting vendors for this service, you want people who you know you can communicate with. Experience is the number one thing with regard to that.”

How to reach: CDM Electronics Inc., (856) 740-1200 or www.cdmtech.com

Take sales online

By Brooke Bates

You already know how to make your website more effective, if you ask Linda Rigano. You’re already doing it offline.

“A good Web strategy starts with … creating a Web experience that replicates the company’s sales process,” says the executive director of strategic services at Thomas Industrial Network, which connects buyers and sellers through offerings like the sourcing site

ThomasNet.com and a Web solutions group that improves website performance.

ThomasNet’s VSET strategy breaks that down:

• Verify. “The first step in the process is that a buyer wants to verify that you make what they (want),” Rigano says. “(If) I’m looking for a container and I see a big picture of the facility, I see a mission statement, but I don’t see a lot about containers, am I going to spend time there? No.”

• Search and evaluate. “That might be questions they’re asking that customer service person on the phone; it’ll be questions that customer service person is asking back: How many, what’s the material, what’s the size, what’s the quantity?”

• Take action. “This is what you want to do when you get off of the phone with somebody. Is customer service preparing a quotation? Are they sending more information? Are they taking an order? … It’s all about making it easier for that buyer to do business with you.”

How to reach: Thomas Industrial Network, (866) 585-1191 or www.thomasnet.com

Published in Philadelphia
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