Secrets to my success

Throughout my career, I have worked hard, gotten lucky, and been blessed on many occasions. I have worked for large and small companies, had both wonderful and horrible bosses, and managed some pretty incredible people. No matter the circumstances, industry, work environment, or financial position, there are three guiding principles I have developed that have served me well. Call them secrets to my success, undeniable truths of the working world, or common sense; either way, I live by these principles every day, and you can benefit from them, too.

  1. Document everything. You have absolutely no idea how many times I’ve save my own keister by making sure I have everything in writing. So many of our colleagues rely on in-person conversations and phone calls to get the job done. I do the same thing, but I always follow up “offline” conversations with “online” documentation of the conversations. The best way to capture the information is by sending an email with the conversation highlights. Not only is it “on the record,” but it’s also time stamped. As we’ve discussed before, adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it, so sometimes when the pressure is on some people like to throw others under the bus. If you happen to be the unlucky recipient of that behavior, you can get in a lot of trouble if you can’t back up what you know is correct. Document, document, document.
  2. Assume nothing. Never assume your colleagues instinctually understand what you’re saying. Also never assume they have the same level of knowledge on a subject as you do. Don’t be afraid to “take it from the top” and give your coworkers full context on a subject, project, or initiative. Most people love the recap, even if they’ve been involved from the beginning, and it helps to level-set the expectation of those who may be coming late into the conversation. You can give a full recap in just a few minutes, and it helps to make you look like the thought leader. The downstream benefits are infinitely higher than the minor effort required on the front end.
  3. Think like a lawyer. This goes hand-in-hand with the “document everything” axiom. I’ve worked for several companies that are either highly regulated and/or have undergone intense government scrutiny. These experiences have given me a very unique perspective on how to act, react, respond, and communicate. The casual email or IM you send to your pal in accounting may very well turn up in your HR file in the future, through no fault of your own. The phone call you fielded from a reporter, where you provided some informal comments you assumed were off the record (remember to assume nothing) can end up on the home page of Fox News the very next day. Talking trash about your boss to a trusted colleague could be accidentally overheard by someone else and cost you your job. WWLD: What Would Legal Do?

These sound simple enough, but you’ll find they are actually quite difficult to incorporate into your everyday working life. Take the time and effort, and you will not be sorry. You can trust me on this. (This is the only time I will encourage you to ignore the “assume nothing” axiom.)

October 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

Why I am dropping Bank of America

We spoke last week about Netflix’s disastrous decision to raise service fees so they could put the needs of their stockholders over the needs of their customers. History will prove this was a dramatic turning point for an industry-leading, well-regarded company with brand loyalty that rivaled Apple.

Bank of America has decided to take a similar swan dive with their customers by charging a $5 monthly fee when B of A customers use their debit card. Seriously?  The same company that gladly accepted $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money in 2009 has decided to reward millions of those people by making them pay to access their own money. Like Netflix, there is an assumption that people will still continue to use the service at the same rate, only now the company will be able to collect fees from the activity. Spoiler Alert: not only will millions of B of A customers no longer use their ATMs, but millions more will also decide to take their hard-earned money elsewhere. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize that’s exactly what is going to happen.

I have been a Bank of America customer for almost 20 years, but that will soon come to an end. Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. When the chips are down and a company decides to punish the very customers who gave them success, they no longer deserve my loyalty or my money.

Close your eyes and listen carefully… do you hear that? That’s the giant sucking sound of millions of customers walking away.

October 3, 2011 at 8:13 am Leave a comment

Raising fees will decrease revenue, not raise it

For those of you familiar with this column, you know I’m not the brightest guy in the world. However, I have learned a few things along the way. One lesson in particular that stuck in my head was the understanding that increasing the cost of an activity will decrease the number of people engaged in that activity. Another thing I’ve learned is that when you piss off people, it’s really hard to unpiss them. Who’s learned this lately? Our friends at Netflix.

Most of you know that Netflix recently raised their rates as much as 60% on their customers, all with the intention of providing a better experience and improved service. I’m not really sure how you can reward your loyal customers by raising prices, but perhaps the folks at Netflix are just smarter than I am. Then again, perhaps they are not. As a consequence of their careless decision to punish their customers, they have also managed to piss them off. The results are accordingly predictable:

  • Since announcing the price increase, Netflix has lost or will lose as many as 2 million customers.
  • Although the price hike was intended to accommodate the needs of its shareholders, who demanded higher stock prices, Netflix stock has dropped 50% over the past month and 65% since it’s all-time high in mid-July.
  • The rosiest estimate shows that Netflix’s profit increase as a result of the price increase will be… exactly zero.
  • At the same time, Netflix has been eviscerated in the press and by its customer base. Almost all goodwill and loyalty has forever evaporated, and its competitors are salivating at the chance to topple the big dog.

That’s a lot of bad things for absolutely no payoff. I’m sure if executive management had the chance to do it again, they would have reconsidered such a fatal decision, but unfortunately it’s too late. You can’t unring a bell, put the toothpaste back in the tube, or unpiss off your customers.

Take care of your customers, or they will take care of you, one way or the other.

September 29, 2011 at 9:09 pm Leave a comment

Which messages will resonate best with your customers?

ear trumpet

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that marketing is a lot harder than many people give it credit for. Doing good marketing is even harder. So take my advice when I say this: the message you convey to your audience is a) vitally important, b) very difficult to target, and c) extremely challenging to get right. If you don’t understand a), b), and c), you’ll be relegated to d) crappy sales, poor marketing materials, and unrealized potential. Is there any hope?

Of course there is. C’mon… you know I’m an optimist…

Like everything else, messaging takes a solid plan and good execution. If you have a lot of different customer-facing teams in your organization, you want to make sure everyone is saying the same thing, and in the same way. Your best bet is to create a Core Messaging Platform, a systematic, strategic document that accomplishes several important tasks:

  1. Centralizes your messaging in one location so that everyone in your company is literally on the same page.
  2. Defines, shapes and drives all of the outbound communication for your products and services.
  3. Consists of a series of overarching messages, high-level/benefit-based core messages, and supporting messages that elaborate on key ideas.

If you take the time and effort to create this “one-stop shop” for your messaging needs, you’ll be amazed at how much easier and more effective your communication efforts are.

October 6, 2009 at 8:44 pm Leave a comment

SWOT your competition

dead_flyHow well do you know your competition? I’m not talking about whether you have a laundry list of your competitors, but rather if you have real insight into who they are and what they do well. I’ll bet your answer is, “I have a pretty good idea, but I’d like to know more.” Good answer.

There are a million different ways to conduct a competitive analysis, but instead of focusing on the nitty-gritty details I’d like to give you some advice from the 35,000 foot level…

  • SWOT your competitors – no, I’m not advocating violence. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Analyze them, and yourself. You’ll gain remarkable insight into how you match up. You may find that you aren’t focused in the right areas, or there’s an oversaturation in a market or, if you’re lucky, that there’s an untapped area of the market just waiting to be cultivated.
  • Focus on your strengths and differentiators – once you have an understanding of what you and your competitors do, you can more accurately refine your strategy to maximize your strengths while exploiting the other guy’s weaknesses.
  • Good understanding = short cycles – a solid competitive understanding is essential for moving quickly and staying ahead. When it comes to business, you’re either ahead or you’re behind. In the immortal words of Ricky Bobby, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.

You get the idea. A SWOT analysis is one of the big secrets to unlocking your company’s true potential. Like most marketing activities, they aren’t easy, but they are definitely worthwhile. If you need help, contact me and we can come up with a solid strategy.

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October 4, 2009 at 7:51 pm Leave a comment

All news is not good news

Have you heard of the expression “all news is good news”? In a nutshell, it’s a school of thought about promotion contending that, no matter what is written about you, as long as you’re being written about, it’s a good thing. Is this true?

Not even close.

In the old days (like 10 years ago), this may have been a more accurate adage, considering that most people still got their news from traditional sources like newspapers, radio, and TV. Today, with the bewildering amount of information choices, everybody has a voice, and everyone is their own network. Heck, even a chucklehead like me can have a forum and an audience for all of my mundane thoughts.

With all of these sources, it’s easy for a company to get a lot of bad press, especially if they create a poor product or don’t utilize marketing/PR. A popular blog can influence a devoted follower, who happens to be the director of a TV show, who suddenly pumps it out to millions of people. Problem is, a huge portion of the new media sources are unreliable, biased, and potentially untrue. If someone’s got an axe to grind against you, they can’t generate a lot of ink, but none of it may be good. That’s a problem. Another pitfall occurs if you try to control the message by either generating your own content and creating a corporate shill, or by moderating others on your company blog. People don’t like the idea of having their thoughts policed, and will inevitably lash out against you and your company.

So what can you do to a) get good ink, and b) avoid bad ink? Answer: not much. Just kidding. You can keep the good ahead of the bad by treating your constituents right: produce a quality product, engage in honorable business practices, provide a quality experience, maintain your professionalism, and constantly dazzle your customers. You can also build and maintain friendly relations with people in the press and blogosphere, creating allies that are willing to say good things about you.

If you like my advice, feel free to spread the good word with one of the bookmarks below. Spread the love, spread the love.

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August 20, 2009 at 10:12 pm Leave a comment

Keep it short, stupid

Regardless of your politics, almost everyone can agree on one thing about President Obama:

He likes to talk. A lot.

We’re currently in the throes of a contentious health care debate. Vociferous town hall meetings, angry Congressman, and new details about the bill are being bled out every day. Obama is trying to assuage concerns about a “public option” by running his own town halls. Unfortunately for him, every time he talks about it, support drops lower and lower. Why?

Instead of focusing on 3-5 main messages that ordinary people can understand, he’s digging deep and talking about arcane elements of the bill that no one, including Congress, understands. Obama has forgotten the cardinal rule of messaging: Keep It Short, Stupid. As long as the message is different every day, and focusing on overly complex issues, he’ll never get traction. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to determine the three most important points, and hammer those suckers home. Stick to one game plan, and don’t let the day-to-day headlines sway you from the goal of selling those key messages.

Bill Shakespeare wrote, “brevity is the soul of wit.” It’s also the soul of a good marketing campaign.

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August 19, 2009 at 11:01 pm Leave a comment

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