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Archive for November, 2008

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So, I have this client. Great little company. Enthusiastic owner. The most engaged, talented, fun staff you’ll ever meet. A great market presence. Good numbers. Good prospects. A bright future ahead. Seriously. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re definitely better than average.

Anyway. This morning, I walk into the big guy’s office, and he’s having a conversation with one of his managers about a problem he’s having. One of his promotions isn’t working. It isn’t bringing in the volume of customers he expected. He’s frowning. He’s shaking his head. He leans back in his chair and sighs. “I’m at a loss with this one,” he says.

So… I throw an idea at him. Just… you know, my usual speak-before-you-think type deal. Total improv. And, luckily, for once, it turns out to be pure genius. (Whew.)

Since he usually has a tough time digesting new ideas, I really expect him to give me that look that says “how can I politely tell this guy to shut up and go bother someone else,” but instead, the look is more akin to a shocked stare, and maybe for the first time since I’ve known him, the expression on his face is starting to look a lot like he’s thinking something like “damn, that’s actually a really good idea.”

Ironically, he says to me “Damn, that’s actually a really good idea!”

Somebody pinch me.

Without getting into details, the solution involves inspiring his customers to earn good karma points by trading in something old that they aren’t using anymore for something new that they will use.

Yeah. I know. It isn’t rocket science… but as simple as it is, it’s never been done in this market, and it will work. There is absolutely no way that it won’t. By its very nature, the industry that the client is in lends itself to this so well that it’s amazing no one ever thought of doing this in Greenville until now.

They simply bring in their old product, buy a new one, and get 30% off. The old product will then be sent to non-profits and charities that help underpriviledged athletes, soldiers, and the homeless. Clean out your closet or garage, save some major cash on your next purchase, and earn good karma points by helping somebody out.

It’s painless, fast, fun, and rewarding both financially and spiritually. It’s a no-brainer. Even if only 5% of the client’s customers decide to participate, the campaign will be a success, but we expect well over 30% right from the start.

Incidentally, word-of-mouth will play a big part in spreading the good word, so we’ll be monitoring that, which should be interesting.

On the client’s side, the financial benefits are clear, but there’s also this: From a PR standpoint, this is a newsworthy program, so they can expect to get some great exposure out of it. Positive exposure. Probably for years to come. This is the kind of program that can help them bring other local and regional organizations together to help.

It will also make shopping at his stores more than just a shopping experience. We’re talking about strengthening a community which is already enjoying a deepening sense of purpose.

What we’re talking about here is a movement. A small and very targeted movement, sure, but a movement nonetheless, with extraordinary potential for growth.

Perhaps the most rewarding thing to come out of our meeting wasn’t so much that the client loved the idea and that we’re going to be doing something very cool for people who could use our help and that the business will be strengthened as a result. Those are all great, and it’s why I get paid the big bucks, but there’s more. Once we hashed out the basis for a plan, the client looked at me and said “you know, I’ve always wanted to do something like this. After all these years, I’m finally going to get to do it.”

I didn’t get all choked up, but I wasn’t far from it.

Whenever you can get a business owner to suddenly feel engaged in his business the way he used to be when he first started, you know you’ve done your job. To see the excitement in his eye and to hear the emotion in his voice when he said that was more rewarding than everything else.

If only every meeting could be that way… Wow. Wouldn’t that be great.

Every company can find its salvation in good-karma projects. Every organization can inspire its members, clients and customers to see them as more than a business if they step up and become more than just a business.

You already know the ABC of selling: “Always Be Closing.” There’s nothing wrong with that… but I think that we can probably retire that one and replace it with a simpler, less formulaic, and infinitely more effective and rewarding little motto:

Always Be Inspiring.

I’ve never, ever, ever seen it fail.

Have a great Thursday, everyone.

PS: Let’s see if I made it with no typos in the title and no math snafus today. 😀

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olivier-blanchard

100 90 years ago today, the German Empire unconditionally surrendered to France and her allies in a small train car near the French town of Compiegne.

WWI, dubbed the war to end all wars, was finally over. Human cost: 40 million casualties and 20 million dead.

Twenty million. To give you a sense of scale, if you live in the South, that’s equal to the populations of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama combined. If you’re up North, that’s equal to the total population of New York City today. If you’re out West, that’s about 2/3 the population of the entire state of California. Serious numbers.

Nowadays, people in the United States observe this special day simply as “Rememberance Day” or “Veterans’ Day,” but those of us who still remember stories from grandparents who fought in WWI – people like my grandfather, who enlisted in the Dragoons at the tender age of 16, – November 11th means a little bit more. You probably won’t see a whole lot of greeting cards dedicated to November 11th. Most people won’t observe a moment of silence during their busy day to remember and honor the fallen. But if you can, take a moment today to give some thought to the last 100 90 years. To the distance we’ve traveled since that cold November morning when the entire world truly believed that they would not see another war in their lifetimes. That perhaps their children and their children would never see war again. I wish we could have proven them right.

I wonder what the people of that time would think if they could get a glimpse of how much the world can change in just a century: Television. The internet. Smart phones. Precision-guided bombs. Crocs. Rap. SUVs. Video Games. Starbucks. Microwave ovens. Laser hair removal. Vintage T-shirts. Heelys. The NFL. Fast food. Diet food. Snack food. Energy food. Dog food. Viagra. Breast implants. Credit cards. Iraq. Wall Street. Medecins Sans Frontieres. The United Nations. Bullet trains. Ramen noodles. Heathrow Airport. WordPress. Microsoft. CNN. Twitter.

I wonder if they would would grin at the progress we’ve made, or cringe at the sight of some of the mistakes we continue to make every day. Probably a little of both.

Days like today help us make time to think about continuity. They help us make time to think about the sacrifice that men and women made for future generations. They wanted a better life for us all. They wanted to build a better world. A world, I imagine, of prosperity, peace and good will. Days like this help us make time to consider our role in that endeavor. In that legacy. 100 90 years later, what specifically am I doing to make this world better? What’s my contribution? How do I measure up against the expectations of our forefathers? How do we all measure up?

It’s humbling to look back at history and connect the dots.

So today, I want to ask you a few simple questions: If you run a company, what’s your contribution to the world today? Do you create jobs? Do you create opportunity? Do you improve people’s lives in some way? Is your legacy balance sheet in the positive? If not, shouldn’t it be?

Today might be a great day to take a few moments to think about the role you play in the world. The role your company plays in the world.

Today might be a great day to ask yourself what you could do better.

To the countless Americans, Brits, Canadians, and other volunteers from around the world who helped France defeat Germany not once but twice in my grandfather’s lifetime, I salute you. I probably wouldn’t be here today had it not been for your sacrifice.

Even if you’ve never met a WWI veteran, even if no one in your family fought in The Great War, remember these folks today and every November 11 from now on. You’ll be better for it. 😉

Have a great Veterans’ Day, everyone.

Pictured above: Captain Olivier Blanchard in 1935, still in the French Cavalry, stationed somewhere in North Africa. He would go on to fight in the second world war… and survive again. (The Germans just couldn’t kill that man, no matter how hard they tried.) He died of natural causes at the age of 89, leaving behind a wife, a son, and grandson named after him – who would later move to the United States, start a family of his own and launch a blog about silly things like marketing, business development and building remarkable brands. Go figure. I rarely remember my grandfather on his birthday, but I always remember him on Armistice Day.

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Why people and businesses choose to settle for average, I’ll never understand. Average products, average websites, average copy, average photography, average entertainment, average flavor, average executives… The list is long. The point is, if you look around, you’ll notice that average is the fat middle bulge in the bell curve. Average is the norm. Both the volume and frequency of “average” dwarf the precious few “remarkable” who work every day to raise the bar and set new standards of excellence for us all.

Think about your favorite companies to do business with. Your favorite restaurants. Your favorite movies. Your favorite products. Your favorite hairdresser or fashion designer or coffee shop. Think about how they stand out from their competitors.

Fact: Your favorite (insert product or service here) does whatever it does better than its competitors. stands out in some unique way: Better taste. Better experience. Better value. Better fit. Better… something. At some point, someone decided to do something different. Someone decided to commit to branching off and doing something unique, and that decision resulted in a notable improvement

You don’t build anything worthwhile by copying other people. Yeah, sure, it may seem like the safe thing to do, but it isn’t.

Bleh.

Welcome to the fabulous world of the “also in”.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the “why bother”.

Okay, sure, not every product needs to be extraordinary. Not every product needs to be unique. I guess you could set out to publish a magazine that’s a lot like Newsweek or Men’s Health or Fast Company… only more “average”. You could set out to produce a movie that’s a lot like Titanic or Sling Blade or Gladiator, but… you know… more “average”. You could set out to copy Subway or Jersey Mike’s or Quizno’s and make a subway sandwich, but… just a little bit more bland. A little bit less special. A little bit cheaper too, while you’re at it. I guess that would be swell.

To make up for the blandness, you could always pay an ad agency to try and pick up the slack for you and miraculously come up with a brilliant viral campaign that may or may not have people flocking to your stores.

Yep, you could do that.

I guess you could wake up one morning and decide that your work, the fruit of your labors, could be just… um… average. No more, no less. As long as your business makes money, who cares, right?

Forget the great American novel. Forget the Chrystler Building. Forget the iPod. Forget the Canon EOS 1D. Release your movies straight to video and your books directly to the bargain house. Tell your kids to shoot for a C+. It’s okay. Average is good enough.

Instead of designing your own products, find cheaper ones already being manufactured by someone else and pass them off as your own. Hope that no one will notice. As long as the profits are good, why not? Yep, I guess you could convince yourself that it’s okay to go that route.

It isn’t like you need to actually think about where your company is going. It isn’t like you need to give any thought to the relationship you have with your customers. What role you play in their world. Instead, you can just watch what your competitors are doing, and copy their every move. You can keep cutting corners. You can keep telling yourself that’s the safe thing to do. The smart thing to do.

You can keep telling yourself that if you make your products cheaper, you will sell more of them. After all, that’s how your competitors are stealing your customers, isn’t it?

Or is it better design?

Or is it because their stores have red walls?

I forget.

Why be relevant, after all? Why be relevant when you can just play it safe and follow the leaders?

Hmmm.

Is that what we learned to do in business school? Is that what we learned about in History class? In English comp.? Is that the lesson we’ve learned from watching millions of hours of sports on TV? Succeed by waiting to see what someone else will do to see if it’s safe to try it too?

Really?

Is that what a a CEO or a CMO is paid to do?

You don’t have to answer that.

Not if you don’t want to.

Instead, think fast and tell me how many skyscrapers there are in New York City.

(For the sake of expediency, let’s just say that there are LOTS.)

How many of those skyscrapers can you actually name?

Only a handfull?

Why is that?

Of the thousands of companies you’ll encounter in your lifetime, how many will you actually remember as being worthy of mention? Of having been a pleasure to deal with? A few dozen at most?

Why is that?

Of the tens of thousands of people you will meet in your lifetime, how many will you end up being truly impressed by? How many will you come to count as friends?

Again, why is that?

What does that tell you about average?

What does that tell you about the value of average?

Consider a few names: Starbucks. Target. BMW. Apple. Pixar. Ben & Jerry. Kenneth Cole. Nike.

What is it about these brands that makes them so special?

Is it their ability to crunch numbers? Nope.

is it their ability to copy the guys who came before them? (Um… who would that be?)

Are their products the best in the world? Again, no.

Reality check: Most of your local coffee bars make much better coffee than Starbucks. Target’s clothes are no better than old Navy’s. BMW arguably isn’t Porsche. Apple is nowhere near Microsoft’s sales. Pixar doesn’t always hit the mark. Haagen-Dazs makes the best Rum Raisin ice cream and Mayfield is pretty awesome too. DKNY, Express Men and Banana Republic give Kenneth Cole a run for his money. Most serious runners wear Mizuno, Asics or new Balance on their feet, not Nike.

So what is it?

Is it their ability to stand out? Sure, but that’s only a symptom of their success.

What’s key is their ability to a) create something special that their customers won’t be able to find anywhere else, and b) do it over and over again.

That’s the promise of these brands.

When you buy me, I promise that…

You will look hip.

You will sleep better.

You will save time.

You will smell fantastic.

Your cold symptoms will vanish.

You won’t have to worry about quality.

Without a promise, a brand isn’t a brand. It’s just a mark.

There is no such thing as an “also in” brand.

Okay, now that you’ve read it, say it.

Really. Say it outloud:

“There is no such thing as an also in brand.”

Very good.

When you’re an “also in,” what is your promise? What is your purpose?

“We’re kind of like Subway.”

“We’re kind of like Power Bar.”

“We’re kind of like CNN.”

Think about it.

I don’t care if you’re a mechanic or a graphic designer, a chain of dry-cleaners or a rental car service. If you aren’t there for a reason (other than just making money), you’re doomed. It may not be today or tomorrow or next week, but someone with a purpose will come along to eat you up. A real brand. A real business.

It’s just a matter of time.

If you’re going to be a mechanic, be the best damn mechanic in your zip code. Or the most honest. Or the friendliest.

If you’re going to design logos and layouts for clients, be the edgiest in your field. Or the fastest. Or the most pleasant to work with.

If you’re going to open up a dry-cleaning business, either offer the best quality pressing or the fastest turnaround. Make drop-offs and pickups velvet-smooth. Make your customers want to come back and recommend you to their friends.

I could talk to you about the role that pride plays in building a brand, but I’ll save that for another day.

The point is that being an “also in” company doesn’t cut it. Not if you want to grow. Not if you want your company to go anywhere.

Not if you want to survive, especially in this economy.

Copying other companies isn’t a strategy, it’s a death sentence.

Word to the wise: Don’t be a follower. There’s no safety in being second.

Welcome to a whole new week. 😉

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Roger Waters crowd

Pete Quily just saved me a few hours of work by publishing a fantastic Presidential Election/social media scorecard that outlines how the Obama campaign took advantage of social media and the internet to supercharge his grassroots movement all the way to victory. Remember the jokes about his having been a “community organizer?” It appears that the ability to create, organize and engage communities is a pretty useful skill after all. Combine it with social media, and you can work some serious magic – both in the political world AND the business world. If the Obama campaign’s success with social media strategies don’t convince CEOs and CMOs across the US that this “search”, Facebook and Twitter stuff is serious business, I don’t know what will.

Here are the numbers:

Barack Obama Vs. John McCain Search Engine and Social Media Showdown

Internet Presence
Barack Obama
John McCain
% Difference
Leading
Google Pagerank
8
8
0
Pages in Google’s Index
1,820,000
30,700
5828
Obama
Links to Website
in Yahoo – Pages
643,416
513,665
25
Obama
Links to Website
in Yahoo – Inlinks
255,334
165,296
54
Obama

Search Engine Results for Candidates Names in Quotes & Social Media Presence

Google
56,200,000
42,800,000
31
Obama
Google News
136,000
371,620
173
McCain
Google Blog
4,633,997
3,094,453
50
Obama
Technorati
412,219
313,497
31
Obama
WordPress.com
19,692
14,468
36
Obama
Google Image
24,200,000
8,620,000
181
Obama
Flickr
73,076
15,168
382
Obama
Flickr Photostream* 50,218 No Profile 50,218
Obama
Flickr Contacts* 7,148 No Profile 7,148
Obama
Google Video
136,000
89,800
51
Obama
Youtube
358,000
191,000
87
Obama
Youtube Videos Posted*
1,819
330
451
Obama
Youtube Subscribers*
117,873
none listed
117,873
Obama
Youtube Friends*
25,226
none listed
25,226
Obama
Facebook
567,000
18,700
2932
Obama
Facebook Supporters*
2,444,384
627,459
290
Obama
Facebook Wall Posts*
495,320
132,802
273
Obama
Facebook Notes*
1,669
125
1235
Obama
MySpace
859,000
319,000
169
Obama
MySpace Friends*
844,781
219,463
285
Obama
MySpace Comments*
147,630
none listed
147,630
Obama
Twitter
506,000
44,800
1129
Obama
Twitter Followers*
121,314
4,911
2470
Obama
Twitter Updates*
262
25
1048
Obama
Friend Feed
34,300
27,400
25
Obama

The statistic that should sum it all up: John McCain’s social network page has only 3 suggested sites, Obama’s suggests 16. One side understood how to seed social media channels to foster grass roots movements while the other had absolutely no idea what to do with social media beyond the obvious (using YouTube as a broadcast channel, and probing the value of Facebook/MySpace communities).

The Twitter Factor

Take a look at the Twitter numbers (in blue): Only 25 updates for @JohnMcCain vs. 262 updates for @BarackObama.

Less than 5,000 followers for John McCain vs. 121,300 followers for Barack Obama.

Boiled down to the basics: 10x more updates for Obama = almost 25x more followers for Obama.

Note: John McCain’s social networking site sadly makes zero reference to Twitter. Missed opportunity? Probably: One of the most notable effects of the McCain campaigns lack of focus on Twitter was obvious during the final few weeks of the campaign: A significant pro-Obama bias which left many McCain supporters alienated on the exploding live micro-blogging service. Instead of feeding John McCain’s social-media savvy army of supporters on Twitter, his campaign left them with little to do but huddle together and stand fast against a deluge of pro-Obama chatter. Imagine what YOU could do with 5,000 organized followers/customer/fans rooting for you on Twitter. Not understanding the value of these channels most certainly cost the McCain campaign dearly in the final weeks of leading to the Nov. 4 elections.

Why should anyone care about Twitter? One word: Numbers. According to stats provided by compete.com last month, Twitter’s year-over-year growth clocked at 573% in September 2008 vs. Facebook’s very respectable 84% YoY growth and MySpace’s negative 15% YoY growth. (Yep, MySpace’s unique visits are apparently shrinking.) Twitter’s growth is staggering.

At this rate, it may take less than 3 years for Twitter’s estimated 2.5 million* visitors to reach Facebook’s current 100 million* mark. When you consider that presidential elections can be won or lost by just a few thousand votes, it doesn’t take a social media expert to understand the extent to which Twitter WILL play a vital role in the 2012 presidential race.

* Worldwide numbers. Not US numbers. It is estimated that approximately 40% of Twitter users are in the United States.

Below: Twitter demographics (usage by age and gender). If you’re a student looking for a cool project involving social media, overlay this data with voter demographics and see what you find out.

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To understand the full extent of the Obama campaign’s digital and social media strategies in these historic elections click here: Blue State Digital’s case study on the Obama online campaign is pretty comprehensive. (Political science, communications and marketing students will be studying this for years to come.)

Read Pete’s full post here. Great stuff.

Have a great Friday, everyone! 🙂

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doug-benc-getty-images-b

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on adopting a leadership attitude. (If you can’t see the above image on your RSS reader, click here. The picture pretty much IS the post.)

Okay, so… Check out the two boxers in the image. Which one do you want to be? Which one are you most acting like today?

Be honest now.

I know that everyone wants to be the guy on the right… but are you actually acting like the guy on the right? Are you thinking like the guy on the right? Are you running your business like the guy on the right? Have you connected the dots between the image and the words?

I received a lot of emails, tweets and comments about this yesterday, many from business owners who were a little stressed out by the outcome of the presidential elections, so I think it is important for everyone to take a deep breath and take inventory of what is and what isn’t: Fear of what may come – any kind of fear for that matter – is not something business leaders can afford to fall prey to, especially now. Fear is distracting. Fear distorts reality. Fear immobilizes. Fear is the enemy of progress, innovation and growth. Fear is the enemy of success. Your success. Don’t let fear, especially fear of the unknown creep into your brain. Just don’t.

Repeat after me: “Fear, go away! Go on now, shoo!” 😀

When in doubt or cornered, focus on what you can control. Focus on what you know. Focus on what you can see and affect NOW: Bringing more value to your customers. Increasing traffic to your website or stores. Improving customer service. Improving employee morale. Building strong user communities. Finding better ways to engage with your customers, boost customer loyalty, and build the foundations of a stronger brand. There are ways you can cut costs without cutting corners. There are ways to cut costs and keep all of your staff employed. There are ways to cut costs and actually grow your business. Find them. Every problem facing your business today is either an opportunity for you to leap ahead tomorrow, or an excuse to fail. Do not let your fears and worries distract you. (And if you have to stop listening to talk radio for a few days, by all means, do.)

Keep your focus. Feed your confidence. Dare to be bold. Take all of the things that have made you successful until now and use them: All of your strengths. All of your skills. All of your knowledge. Making your business successful in the coming year is going to require the kind of commitment, focus and courage that turns ordinary people into champions, soldiers into heroes, and managers into leaders. This is your challenge, and as long as you truly embrace it, you will not fall short. I promise you.

None of us can afford to be distracted by negative thoughts about what may or may not happen a year from now. Be in this moment. Work in this moment. Kick ass in this moment. Then let this moment stretch into the hours, days, weeks and months ahead until either a) the economy is healthy again, or b) you’ve realized that the economy doesn’t matter because you are not at its mercy.

Look up at the boxers one last time. The choice you are facing is simple: Be the guy on the right side of the image, and you’ll do great. Be the distracted guy on the left, and you won’t. The choice is 100% yours: Stay focused.

Have a GREAT day, everyone!

Incidentally, for those of you who inquired over the years as to when the brandbuilder would finally become more than a blog, guess what: With so many small businesses reaching out these last few months, the time has finally come for me to roll up my sleeves and help companies build better futures for themselves full time. More details on the what, how and when very soon, but yeah, I am VERY excited.

My name is Olivier Blanchard, and I approve this message.

Original photo: Doug Benc/Getty Images

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