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Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Brand Storytelling…In a Word Cloud

I had the privilege of delivering a guest lecture on personal branding at one of the local universities last week.  One of the key messages I tried to convey to the students of Professor Murphy’s marketing class was the importance of telling their brand story in a way that is meaningful and easily understood by their target audience.

Although a succinct, well-told story does help to increase the visibility of your brand,  its real purpose is to create a desire among the members of your target audience that gets them to say, “I want you.”

Here at The Chief Storyteller®, we’ve helped many of our clients harness the power of storytelling to more effectively and quickly accomplish their objectives. One of the communications elements we specialize in is your elevator speech (a succinct answer to “What Do You Do?”).  A good elevator speech will tell your brand story in a meaningful and easily understood way…in 30 seconds or less.

Word (or message) clouds like the one I created for my personal brand and shown above are a visual representation of your elevator speech. Key elements of my brand story (e.g., branding, strategy, sales, marketing, storyteller) are noticeably more prominent than some of the less celebrated ones (e.g., fitness, sustainability, outdoor, leader, explorer). Like a well-told elevator speech, a good word cloud will leave your target audience with a meaningful and easily understood impression of your personal 30 seconds or less.

As I told the marketing students, every one of us has a personal brand and word clouds are another good way of telling your brand’s story to drive the results you want.        

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Just Having Fun In My Lifetime

Your brand’s business return on social media isn’t always about return on investment (ROI). Sometimes, it’s more about the return on relationship (ROR) and how well it is engaging members, customers and other stakeholders.

During a recent visit to my gym, I tweeted that I was having “another great morning in my Lifetime.” What made this tweet fun was the play on the word, ‘Lifetime.’ I wasn’t really talking about my lifetime in the generic sense; I was specifically referring to the Lifetime Fitness brand of fitness centers – where I have been a member for the last 14 years.  I included a picture of the brand’s signature atrium in my tweet, along with a mention of Lifetime’s Twitter handle (@LifetimeFitness).


Within the hour and as I was working out, I received a direct message on my iPhone from @LifetimeFitness.  Picking up on the double entendre of my first tweet, the brand responded back with a playful tweet of its own: "@duanebailey Is there ever a bad one? ;) Thanks for the shout out, happy Friday!"

What just happened?

Aside from the personalized greetings I had received from various members of the staff that morning, Lifetime found yet another way to engage and acknowledge me – this time, over a digital medium like Twitter. It was a fun and memorable member experience.  And it’s the kind of interaction that continues to build and strengthen my relationship with the brand.

I was just having fun in my Lifetime.  While I did not purchase any additional products or services that day as a result of that exchange, it's one more reason I'm planning on maintaining my membership as a loyal Lifetime member for years to come.

Last week, I wrote about why I think sales people need to spend more time in front of their customers. I told the story of one of my former customers and how he taught me the importance of nurturing business relationships – the kind of relationships between a seller and a buyer where the salesperson genuinely cares about his customer's business and understands his needs.

If you really think about it, none of this should be surprising. Very few people I know are going to be “sold” by broadcast content from a faceless brand about how great the company and its products are. What people want is an opportunity to converse with another person. Someone who genuinely cares about them and what they think. Someone who will engage them in a two-way conversation.


And so it is with online branded content. When brands post and promote content over social media – a blog, an announcement, or even a photo – it should be done in a way that invites and rewards conversation. Start by revealing the people behind the brand. Speak in a friendly, conversational tone. Be brief and to the point. Include hashtags and a link to relevant and meaningful content. And respond in a timely and personalized manner when someone initiates a conversation with you.

Acknowledging your followers and their feedback is a great way for your brand to show it trusts and values their opinions.  Engaging them in an interactive conversation is the first step toward building mutual respect for one another and, quite possibly, a long and mutually beneficial relationship. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Power of the Human Touch in Sales

If your salespeople are not in front of your customers, who is?

Chances are one (or maybe more) of your competitors is. And the human touch your competitors are providing to your customers is differentiating their brand and building the kind of relationships that will result either in your losing the account or slashing your margins to save it from an unforeseen competitive threat.

The power of the human touch is most compelling in commoditized industries. A few years ago, I wrote about my experience selling telephones.  One of my largest and most loyal customers once told me and a group of my colleagues that our ability to differentiate our brand and to command a premium price resided within each of us.

You see, the things he valued most were neither the products we were offering (he perceived them to be the same as everyone else’s) nor the price we were selling them at (even when discounted, our prices were also perceived to be the same as everyone else’s). What he did value – and was willing to pay a premium for – was a relationship with someone who genuinely cared about and understood his business, was willing to take accountability for things that occasionally went wrong and who came to the table with solutions.

Every interaction a salesperson has with his or her customers is an opportunity to differentiate your brand and to build strong and profitable relationships.  How often are your salespeople in front of their customers?

For more on the power of the human touch in sales, please see:
• Low Customer Retention? Maybe You’re Just Selling Mulch
• May I Help You?
• Sales Is Not a Spectator Sport

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How Human Is Your Brand?

Relationships between two people are important. Always have been and always will be. Social media has not changed that; all that’s really changed is how people communicate with one another in the course of building and sustaining those relationships.

What’s also changed is the way brands communicate with their customers. Customers are eschewing one-way broadcast communications from brands in favor of two-way conversations. And those conversations are no longer between customers and a brand. They’re between customers and the people who represent those brands. Brands who want to create long and meaningful relationships with their customers need to show their human side.

Your brand’s human side (i.e., its personality) is a mirror image of the people who bring your brand to life across social media – your community managers. Community managers are the face of your brand – they create relationships within the communities they serve.

It’s important to choose your community managers wisely. For starters, community managers should be people who can represent your brand intelligently and who know their way around social media. They should be people who’ve mastered the art of engaging with and influencing others (as demonstrated by their Klout or Kred scores). And because social media is so transparent, the ideal community managers should authentically possess and demonstrate these personality traits:
• Warm
• Friendly
• Helpful
• Caring
• Compassionate
• Honest
• Funny
• Responsive
• Nimble

Can you think of any others you might want to add to the list? If so, please reply back and let me know.

For more on the human side of branding and social media, please see:
• Why a Good Social Media Strategy Includes Content and Engagement
• How Volunteers and Community Managers Serve Brands, Too
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships

Peter Drucker, hailed by many as “the father of modern management,” saw marketing as “the whole business seen from the customer’s point of view.” It’s a simple definition with a clear focus on a single stakeholder – the customer and his or her perspective.

Marketers looking to integrate sustainability into their brands might find this definition useful. Sustainability marketing, when viewed in this context, is the formation of long-term customer relationships that help promote social justice, economic growth and environmental protection. With the right message, authentic and honest brands can become powerful motivators in driving change from conventional consumer purchasing and consumption behaviors to choices that are more sustainable.


A recent study by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) estimates more than 60% of mainstream Americans have some interest in and are willing to consider sustainable choices. What, exactly, are their points of view? Is there a "right" message for motivating consumers in this target group to act?

Let's start with saving the planet. Or the "go green" call to action. The message here, albeit a somewhat dire one, might focus on the need to protect the environment from some catastrophic event like global warming; e.g., how customers can achieve a lower carbon footprint by consuming products that are less reliant on fossil fuels. A message like this would have limited appeal, resonating in particular with green consumers who would be willing to pay a premium for an environmentally-friendly product in order to save the planet.

Now let's talk about saving money and conserving resources. This message of giving something up in exchange for something in return might focus on financial considerations and the need to consume less; e.g., how using public transportation or driving a car that costs less at the pump and emits fewer harmful gases can help people save money while preserving the environment. A message like this might appeal to consumers who care more about getting a better deal (i.e., the lowest price) than saving the environment.

Let's finish with promoting health and wellness. This message of warmth and caring might focus on the personal benefits of a product to consumers and their loved ones; e.g., how the use of non-toxic household cleaning and personal care products will lead to healthier skin and fewer toxins in the environment or the role organic foods can play in nourishing a family and the planet. Health and wellness messages appeal to consumers who value lifestyles of health and sustainability (LOHAS) and are at the heart of what many of us place the greatest value on – the well-being of ourselves, our families and our environment.   

For this reason, brands who wish to be leaders in sustainability marketing would do well to focus their message on promoting health and wellness. Of the three messaging examples I’ve mentioned above (e.g., save the planet, save money/conserve resources, promote health and wellness), the third is most likely to have the broadest appeal among the segment of mainstream consumers who might be willing to consider a sustainable purchase. Why? Because it positions sustainable products as better choices for them, their families and the environment. Brands who show customers they genuinely care about them are better able to build meaningful and lasting relationships with their customers while promoting more sustainable purchase and consumption choices.


For more on sustainability marketing and customer relationships, please see:
• How Doing One Good Thing Is Making a Difference
• Beyond Green: The Transformative Nature of Sustainability
• All Customer Relationships Are Personal

I have come to learn and be a fan of The American Freedom Foundation several years ago.Its "mission is to honor the men and women of America’s armed forces, raise awareness for their service and sacrifice and raise money for organizations that serve and support our Veterans, active duty military and their families." AFF has partnered with AUSA to hold a Warriors to the Workforce event at its annual convention in the Washingont, DC area Oct 21 to Oct 23.

Guy Timberlake, CEO, of The American Small Business Coalition, (I'm a member) connected me to AFF. I'll be presenting on 10/23 a program on the importance of your personal "Tell me about yourself" story and business storytelling in general.

The event is free of charge.


 American Freedom Foundation’s Warriors to the Workforce
Hiring Event at AUSA Announces Workshop Sessions  

12 Workshop sessions will take place at October 21 – 23 to provide resources and information for veterans and transitioning military 

The Warriors to The Workforce Hiring Event presented by SourceAmerica™ during the 2013 AUSA Annual Meeting & Exposition at the Washington DC Convention Center on October 21 – 23, 2013 will include workshops featuring some of the top speakers in the country providing resources and information for veterans and transitioning military.   

Presentations will include topics such as mental readiness, confidence building, networking and presentation skills, resume writing, interviewing techniques, job searching, career planning through goal setting, translating military skills and training into civilian life and corporate experience, among others.

In addition to these transition workshops, veterans will have the opportunity to meet with some of the country’s largest and most veteran friendly employers including ADS, Inc., Aerotek, ATK, Inc. BAE Systems, Ball Aerospace, Calibre, Camber, CSC, EMCOR, ESRI, First Command, Fluor, General Dynamics Information Technology, Geneva Software, HP, Kaplan, Kelly Services, L-­?3 National Security Solutions, Lockheed Martin, Marriott International, Navy Federal Credit Union, Northrop Grumman, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, SAIC, SourceAmerica, Troops Into Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Verizon, Vets Group and Veterans Administration.

I’m a sales guy and I’m going to spend the day tomorrow making cold calls. If I were to send an email or place a telephone call to a C-level in your company, how would he or she respond? Would he or she even respond?

The answers to those questions will tell me a great deal about the leadership of your company and how they view their relationships with other people. What some people fail to realize is that my cold call is also an opportunity for customer engagement. The question, then, is a matter of if and how they will embrace it.

Here’s why.

While I may be a salesperson, I am also a customer. And an influential voice on social media, within my community, among my friends and family, etc. My cold call is an invitation to engage me, nothing more. A polite, timely and thoughtful response will go a long way into making me feel good about your company, its people and the products and services it offers…even if there’s no possibility of a sale for me. It might even inspire me to tell others how great your company is and encourage them to buy from you.

As an example, a close friend recently sent an email to a consumer goods company. While it contained an intriguing subject line and a well-crafted message, it was a cold call. Within minutes, the CEO responded with a personal message indicating there was no possibility of my friend’s making a sale to him in the near future. He did, however, ask for my friend’s address so he could send him some free samples. The samples were overnighted and my friend received them the next day. That simple engagement…and the experience that followed…resulted in the acquisition of at least one new customer and positive word of mouth for the consumer goods company.

Contrast that to receiving nothing in response, or even a canned “no sale” response from one of the C-level’s lower ranking employees. It conjures up images of a leadership team that believes engaging with people they don’t already know is beneath them and of no value to the company. Worse yet, saying nothing or responding in this way is not likely to generate favorable word-of-mouth for the company, let alone acquire new customers.

The next time you receive a cold call, embrace it as an opportunity to engage a potential new customer. You might be glad you did!

I still remember the feeling I had when my parents dropped me off at college for the first time. We said our goodbyes outside my dorm and then they were off. I was alone. It was a little scary, I’ll admit. 

As I walked back into my dorm, it hit me. This was my time. A chance to build something new. It was a chance to carve out a niche for myself in this unfamiliar territory I knew as college. It was a time for friends, new relationships and new communities.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize college dorm life offers many lessons in customer relationship management. The dorm is analogous to the office, the people you encounter are your colleagues and customers, and the world around you is your market.

Here are five lessons I learned about customer relationship management in my college dorm:
 - The best ideas are hatched in an environment of open doors and spirited collaboration, where residents trust and respect the people they live and work with
 - There is no pride of authorship…none of us, not even our best friends and professors, has all the answers
 - The markets where your ideas are implemented and tested…the classroom, the campus and the local community…are diverse and unfailingly candid
 - Your best memories involve people, not books or exams, and are borne of open doors and authentic transparency…the relationships you build in college will last you a lifetime
 - It takes four years to build a reputation and a fleeting moment of selfishness or foolishness to destroy it…operate with integrity always and treat the people you encounter the way you would want to be treated

If you’re in the business of serving customers, think back to your own college dorm life experience. What lessons can you apply to your customer relationship management efforts?

When it comes to business planning and strategy, I’ve noticed there are two types of people – those who believe they can and those who believe they cannot. The folks in the first group will generate a slew of ideas for making dreams come true, while those in the second group will offer only excuses for why the possible is really impossible.

One of the lessons I learned as a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America is that the key to personal and organizational growth is empowerment. Empowering others gives them the freedom to try new things, to take risks and to learn (and grow) from their mistakes. Empowerment is allowing others to bring a “can-do” attitude to the challenges and opportunities they encounter. It is a sharing of decision-making authority and it drives accountability at all levels of an organization. And it encourages creative thinking and innovation, both prerequisites for growth.

This “can-do” attitude is one of the attributes I see consistently in entrepreneurs. Many of them start with a dream and an idea. One idea becomes several and as they implement their ideas, they take some risks. Not every idea is a home run and they learn from their mistakes. And this is how they grow their businesses and realize what, for many of them, has been a lifelong dream. As an example, I recently wrote about the story of Knockaround™ sunglasses and the role founder Adam “Ace” Moyer’s “can-do” attitude played in the growth of his business.

Which do your business planning and strategy discussions include more of: ideas for making dreams come true or excuses for why the possible is impossible?


This morning I was driving my daughter to school. Out of nowhere she says, "Why is that man not smiling?" I look around car to car to car without seeing any man scowling. As such I said to my four year-old, "what man?" And she pointed right in front of my car and said, "the man on the car."

It then hit me. I am bombarded with images every day. The bad ones pass me by. This is a great example of a bad advertisement. I grabbed my handy smart phone and took the picture below.

Changing the name of the agent, website, and telephone number, can you see the man's face?  I wouldn't say he is grumpy or scowling. I also wouldn't say he is happy either. To me, in the world of customer service, a smile means everything, whether in person or on the phone.

Ensure you provide appropriate guidance, advice, and coaching to your sales/service/outreach teams to ensure your target audiences don't say the equivalent of "Daddy. Why is that man not smiling?"


I was at a meeting recently where one of the participants emphatically declared that social media was all about creating great content. Period. An “if you post it, they will come” approach to building a presence across the digital marketplace, if you will.

As an experienced business storyteller and social media professional, I would have to disagree. Sure, content is important. Engaging others is equally, if not more important. Social media is not a one-way communication. It is not a conversation between a brand and a person. It is an interactive dialogue between two people who share a common interest. It is a forum for engaging others with compelling images, personalized stories and the exchange of information.


To help you understand how well you are engaging others across your social networks, consider using an application like Klout. Since it was updated in September 2012 to include a new feature called Klout Moments, I have been using it to help identify my own social media posts that have generated action (e.g., likes, RT’s, favorites, etc.) from the people in my networks. Klout Moments is a measure of influence and it tells me how the content I am posting is engaging the people I care about.

So, as you build or modify your brand's social media strategy, be sure to include an equal focus on content and engagement. After all, when it comes to social media and the impact of these two elements on your strategy, it is an "and" conversation.


For more insights on social media branding and the relationship between content and engagement, please see:
• How to Measure Your Brand’s Storytelling Effectiveness in Social Media
• Branding Lessons from Social Media
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• Content is the New Currency for Brand Storytelling in 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One Team, One Goal

I was at the gym the other day when I saw a t-shirt with this quote on it: “One team, one goal.” While it apparently was the motto that had been adopted by a group of employees at a local business, it could (and should) be the motto that guides almost any team or group.

“One team, one goal” speaks to the culture of an organization. It’s an attitude and it starts at the top. Without exception, every successful organization I have ever been a part of has embraced this attitude. Team members rally around each other and maintain a laser focus on a singular goal. If one member succeeds, they all do. Leaders reward and recognize efforts that encourage sharing, create a sense of community, resolve conflict and foster other collaborative behaviors that create a unified and energized culture. And results follow.

How would you characterize your organization? Are your team members unified around a single goal? Or is everyone out for themselves? What are your results telling you?

The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association, LHRA, is on of the preeminent organizations representing the business interests of Latino hotel owners, operators and developers. Internationally, members own and operate hotels representing more than 20,000 rooms, employing over 15,000 individuals, and whose assets are valued at more than $2 billion.

Over 300 people from the US, Mexico, Central and South America will be attend. Members are influential, decision-making executives.

If you are in the hotel or restaurant industry, join me and hundreds of professionals from around the world.  I will be delivering Thursday morning's keynote, "Get Funded: Design and Deliver the Perfect Investor Pitch."

Top 5 Reasons to Attend

1. Forecasting. We cannot predict the weather in Florida, but our expert speakers and panelists can make educated predictions on how they think hotels and restaurants will preform in 2014!

2. Education. Two action packed days of presentations and panels focusing on industry trends that will help attendees boost their performance.

3. Networking with colleagues. Mix with other successful hospitality business professionals at our unique receptions and breaks.Last year we had a chefs competition to close the event...this year savory dishes will kick it off!

4. Legacy Building. Join LHRA as they hosts this year's Battle of the Brands - High Stakes Golf Tournament to support Latino students seeking careers in the hospitality industry! Compete in this stimulating golf tournament and help us raise money for student scholarships!!!

5. Industry Recognition. Meet owners, operators, developers and industry suppliers who have proven themselves worthy of LHRA recognition at this year's Estrella Awards!


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

It’s Time to Innovate

Are you starting a new business? Building a brand? Seeking to turn around a declining brand? Then innovate.


Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Innovation is what makes you, your culture, your value proposition, your products and services, your customer experience and everything else about your brand unique. It’s what makes you memorable. It’s your source of competitive advantage.

Instead of following someone else’s best practices, take the lead. Create the future. Write your own best practices. Take some risks. Innovate.

For more on the impact of innovation on your branding strategy, please see:
• How Innovation Drives Sustained Growth for Your Brand
• What Makes Your Company Different?
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation - Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking

I dropped my eldest son off at college earlier this week. He is an incoming freshman at Virginia Tech, a nationally ranked university with a main campus that includes more than 125 buildings, 2,600 acres and 31,000 students. As you can imagine, Virginia Tech is a big place. At first glance, this might seem like a place where newcomers might easily feel disconnected and unengaged.

From a branding perspective, one of the things Virginia Tech excels at is welcoming new members to its brand community – in this case, new students and their parents. During Freshman Orientation, my son and every other new student received a maroon t-shirt with the following question and answer exchange printed on it: “What's a Hokie? I am.” With that simple declaration, they joined existing members of the Hokie community and became the newest faces of Virginia Tech.

On move-in day, we were greeted curbside as we pulled our loaded minivan up to my son’s dormitory. We were met by several student volunteers, or Hokie helpers, who we recognized by the blue shirts they were wearing (a Virginia Tech move-in day tradition for incoming freshman). Starting with Eli, they welcomed us to Virginia Tech and introduced themselves by name. They took a few moments to learn more about each member of my family before loading my son’s belongings into a cart and transporting them to his dorm. My youngest son and I waited with the van. Eli returned a few moments later to let us know my son’s belongings had been safely delivered to his room and that my son would be back in a few moments with a parking pass.

To us, Eli and the other Hokie helpers who greeted us that day are the faces we call to mind when we think of Virginia Tech. They are the human side of the Hokie brand. From the moment we arrived, they helped us feel welcome in this new and very large community. As a result, my family and I are proud to say we are all members of the Hokie family now…as parents, a legacy and, of course, a Hokie.

How does your brand welcome new members to its community? Is your brand providing the kind of memorable experience that allows its newest members to easily connect and engage with the people who represent your brand?

When most of us choose one brand over another, we do so with an expectation. An expectation that the product or service will fulfill a promise made by the brand. What happens, though, when the promise isn’t kept?

This is where the resolution portion of your brand’s customer experience can help. Brands that provide disappointed or inconvenienced customers with an overwhelmingly positive resolution experience are able to recover quickly and restore the trust that may have been lost.

As many of you know, I own a Jeep Wrangler. One of the things I have learned about Jeep Wranglers over the years is that the windshields are particularly prone to cracks and chips caused by small rocks and other road debris. When my windshield needs replacing, I turn to Safelite AutoGlass®. Each time, I receive a professionally installed OEM windshield that is every bit as good as the original (i.e., the brand promise).

Recently, however, the rearview mirror that was attached to my windshield fell off (a not-so-uncommon problem, I discovered, in places like Las Vegas, where it is really hot).  So I called Safelite AutoGlass® and scheduled a repair.  The customer resolution experience was flawless – minimal effort was required on my part (they came to my home), the mobile technician was professional and knowledgeable, the repair was completed promptly and it was covered under warranty (I paid nothing for the repair).

My windshield is once again every bit as good as the original.  So, of course, I would trust them again with the replacement of any future windshields...on any of my cars. And, yes, I would recommend them to a friend or colleague.

Think about your customers and the times where your brand may have fallen short on delivering its promise. How would they rate your resolution experience?

For more insights on what makes a great customer experience, please see:
• All Great Customer Experiences Begin with a Smile
• Communication Is the Foundation of a Great Customer Experience
• Anticipating Needs Is the Key to Customer Retention

What if you could gather hundreds of your targeted prospects and customers in one place on a single night? What if you had a shared interest in something that would bring them together? How would you use that to build a loyal community of customers?


On Saturday night, Pacers Running Stores gathered over 1800 runners and volunteers for the Crystal City Twilighter 5K. This annual event is organized by Pacers and is aptly billed the area's favorite summer twilight race. With a flat and fast course, a lively post-race party and a chance for me to meet up with my family at the Good Stuff Eatery afterward, the evening did not disappoint.  It was an amazing and unforgettable experience, from start to finish.

Pacers races offer “fabulously fun courses, great swag, and an incredible group of runners.” Every customer touch point – including online registration, packet pickup, bag check, the start, the race itself, the finish and the post-race party – are true to that promise. The paid staff and volunteers go out of their way to make the events fun, the stuff we all get (SWAG) is awesome and the participants are united by their shared passion for running.

It’s also an opportunity for these runners – many of them Pacers customers and prospects – to benefit from the expertise the Pacers staff can provide when purchasing new running gear, apparel and accessories.  My own enthusiasm for Pacers running events has spilled over into the brand and I am proud to count myself a member of the loyal community of Pacers customers.

I can hardly wait until next year's Crystal City Twilighter! How about you?

For related posts on my passion for running and its relationship to branding and customer communities, please see:
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
• Why Personal Relationships Are Important In Personal and Business Life
• A Trail Run and a Harmonious Customer Experience

A picture really does tell the story of a thousand words. Which story, though? From whose perspective? Depending on the storyteller, the same picture can be used to tell different stories. These stories, and how well they resonate with us, are often what determine whether or not we engage with the storyteller.

Consider the picture shown here.  It appeared on Instagram recently and was posted by a college graduate on the morning of her commencement. The picture was accompanied by a very short story – one that poignantly described that moment and the emotions she felt as her college experience was about to draw to a close. The caption read, “This day came to our party uninvited and unwanted….” This image, and the words below it, reminded me of the emotions I felt on my own graduation day.   

You might notice there are about a dozen or so others in the picture. What stories do you suppose they might tell about that same moment in time? Here are some of my guesses:
     • “And so it begins…a new day and the dawn of our future.”
     • “The good old days came to an end today.”
     • “The light of our friendship burns bright and will never be extinguished.”
     • “So long to sleepless nights and all-night cramming…”
     • “We made it!”
Can you think of any you might want to add to this list?

Everyone has his or her own story to tell, each of which leaves us with some insight into their personality, values, history and aspirations for the future. Some of them will tell their stories, others may simply choose to remain silent.

Now imagine the beach as a competitive landscape. Dotted among the landscape is your brand and a dozen or so of your competitors. Everyone is facing the same opportunities, challenges and uncertainties. Your competitors are telling their stories on social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and blog posts). Your brand, on the other hand, chooses to stay silent. Instead, you let others tell your story for you. Or you let them guess.

Either way, what is your silence saying about you and your brand? What influence are your competitors' stories having on your prospects and customers? How are people perceiving your brand and the relevance of it to their lives? Perhaps it's time to engage your prospects and customers on social media.

I just received this LinkedIn note soliciting my attention and business. I thought to share it as it is an excellent example of what not to do...Following the note, I shared some thoughts and suggestions.

Hi Ira,

How are you today? I just came across your profile and thought I would reach out real quick and see if you would like to connect further here on LinkedIn.

I don’t usually reach out like this, but thought you may be a good candidate for my advanced leadership certification program and wanted to personally invite you to take a look at it.

If you are interested in learning more, let me know and I will introduce you to the right person on my team who can provide you with more information.

Here is a link with more info in the meantime:

Keep up the good work.

Your friend,

FirstName LastName


Here I share my impressions and offer some suggestions. My comments are preceeded by "Ira>"

How are you today? I just came across your profile
Ira> You are selling me a product/service. I automatically have my “cautionary antennae” up. When you use such a phrase, it sounds as if you casually, by accident found my profile. Since you are obviously selling me something. I really question the sincerity of the phrase, “just came across"

I don’t usually reach out like this
Ira> Anyone and I mean anyone, who uses a phrase like this, loses all credibility. Delete the phrase all together. Just start with “Based on your experience and profile, I think you might be a good candidate for [blank]"

wanted to personally invite you to take a look at it.
Ira> Messaging disconnect. You are personally inviting me to connect. In reality, you are going to connect me to someone else on your team. To me, if you are the face/name behind the brand and you reach out, you become my point of contact. You are not simply an inside sales person making and asking for an appointment. The relationship starts with you. This phrase further works against the credibility of the sender.

Keep up the good work.
Ira> Another throw away comment. You and I have never met. Leave it out.

Your friend,
Ira> Another throw away comment. Friendships take time, they don’t come in the form of an unsolicited commercial email, which is the legal term for spam. Perhaps this is a code word?


Moral of the story:  If you are going to send an unsolicited sale emails, irrespective of the medium:
-  Do your homework
-  Use relevant language that will absolutely resonate with your target audiences
-  Avoid clichés and throw away phrases
-  Excite my mind, pique my interest quickly
-  Share with me one or two benefits. Tell me why I should become invested in you
-  Respect your audience's time. Send well-written notes

Let’s pretend for a moment you’re in the business of selling transportation to college students. What, do you suppose, is most important to them: price, time, convenience, comfort or safety?

After you conduct your market research, you determine what matters most to your target audience is time. So you develop a value proposition and service offering that guarantees a five-hour bus ride from the student’s college to his or her hometown. Your business begins to grow.

A few months go by and somebody else comes along offering students a faster ride home (time) with door-to-door service (convenience), an impeccable safety record (safety) and extra legroom (comfort) at a comparable fare (price).  Your business begins to decline.

What just happened? While you were building a business by offering customers what they told you they wanted, someone else came along and, with a little innovation, came up with an improved business model. By replacing buses with cars, your competitor found a way to provide your customers with better and faster service at the same price.

The moral of the story is this: it’s not enough to simply ask your customers what they want and then give it to them. Brands that enjoy sustained growth are continually innovating and finding new ways to serve their customers. Sometimes, that means providing your customers with something they will value before they even ask for it.

For more on branding and innovation, please see:
• What Makes Your Company Different?
• Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?
• Are You Ready for the Next Big Competitor?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Collaboration Is the Way Forward

Nobel Laureate and Physicist Kenneth G. Wilson once said “the hardest problems of pure and applied science can only be solved by the open collaboration of the world-wide scientific community.” If you’re like me and think there is an element of science (as well as art) to business, then I suppose the same can be said about the challenges your business may be facing.

Falling profit margins, increasing customer attrition rates, a slowdown in the rate in which new customers are acquired, an erosion of investor confidence and even a lack of brand awareness are all typical problems many businesses face.  I know from my own experience leading sales teams in a Fortune 500 company, along with my recent roles as a project manager in two week-long volunteer service projects, the best ideas for solving problems often come from the very team members tasked with figuring them out. In fact, I‘m certain I have never met a team leader who actually has all the answers.

If your business is facing some tough challenges and not seeing the results you desire, it may be time for some open collaboration with the people in your community – your employees, your customers, your business partners and even your shareholders. Collaboration is the key to solving some of your hardest problems...and the way forward.

This week, for the second year in a row, I am volunteering as a contractor and will be joining several hundred youth and adults from my faith-based community to perform home improvement work in the homes of needy people living in an economically depressed area. The 140 or so projects we will complete include painting, roofing repairs, deck and wheelchair ramp construction, window replacement, kitchen and bathroom enhancements and even the construction of a new home (in partnership with Habitat for Humanity).

This program, which is called WorkCamp, brings people together from many different walks of life. Participants are assigned to crews of 5-7, with each participant responsible for a specific role regarding the crew’s assigned project. One of the amazing things about work camp is seeing how people who have never met can come together to accomplish the extraordinary within a few short days.

As a contractor, my role is to manage our project to completion. While the goal is to finish on-time and within budget, equal if not more attention is given to the experience our youth and adult leaders will encounter during WorkCamp. This is, after all, a hands-on experience where everyone has an opportunity to learn about social justice, teamwork and home improvement. It’s a chance for all of us to touch the lives of the people we serve.

It’s also an opportunity for me to hone my leadership skills in areas like planning, project management, delegation and collaboration. And, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, it’s an opportunity for me to take some risks by moving outside my comfort zone and taking on projects that challenge me.

Together, my crew and I will share our time and talents to make a difference and, in the eyes of the people we serve, we will accomplish the extraordinary.       

For more on servant leadership and how it can improve your ability to accomplish the extraordinary, please see:
• Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others

My oldest son graduated from Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia the other day. For many of his classmates, it was an occasion marked by feelings of intense pride, quiet anticipation and hope. So it was fitting to mark the end of their high school years and the beginning of the rest of their young lives with a commencement address by Class of 2000 Oakton High School alumnus and entrepreneur Adam “Ace” Moyer, Founder and CEO of Knockaround™.

Ace’s message to the graduates was simple. If you have an idea, follow your dreams. No experience is necessary. With the support and encouragement of family and friends, you’ll figure it out.  Sure, the good will come with the bad and there may be times when difficult decisions have to be made. In the end, he told the graduating class of 2013, don’t be afraid to take risks. It will be worth it.

For Ace, his company started in 2005 with the idea of providing customers with classically styled sunglasses in many colors at an affordable price. Knockaround™ sunglasses were designed to take abuse and, as the thinking went, the people who owned them wouldn't mind abusing them because they didn’t cost much in the first place. That idea has since grown to include new models and color choices, limited edition and custom-designed sunglasses, apparel and accessories.

So follow your dreams and, as they say at Knockaround™, “keep looking at the bright side.” 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Today is the third year people can say to me, "Happy Father's Day." As an older parent, having children makes you (I believe) more acutely aware of your personal and family life. For me, it also makes me think of how grateful I am for my good friends, trusted colleagues, and loyal clients.

What positive things does it make you think of?

In an instant, I can always tell what my experience is going to be with a brand, company or organization I am interacting with for the first time. In most cases, I can see it. Where I cannot see it, I can hear it. And regardless of whether I can see or hear it, I can almost always feel it. In a word, it’s a smile.

A smile is contagious. It starts with your employees and how they greet one another at the beginning of their work day. It extends to how they greet your customers at every touch point in their experience with your brand, company or organization. You don’t need a magnifying glass to observe it. And you won’t see it measured on any report. You will, however, know it when you see it.

So the next time someone asks you to look into improving your customer experience, start where it matters…at the beginning. How are your employees greeting one another? How often do they smile when they are at work? Can you see the smiles on their faces? Or hear them in their voices? Or feel them by their presence?

Remember, all great customer experiences begin with a smile.

I read an article by best-selling author and syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay (“Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive”) in the Washington Business Journal the other day where he cited research that shows “buyers are not reaching out to contact salespeople and sales organizations until they’re 60-70 percent along in the decision process.”

The simple truth is customers are doing their homework. They are going online and researching the answers to their needs and problems. They are forming opinions on who they think can best help them. Then they are reaching out to sellers for the one thing they cannot get online – a better price.

This is where the value of preparation comes into play. In today’s selling environment, salespeople need to provide value by telling buyers something they don’t already know…answers to questions like:
• What makes you and your products different?
• How can you and your products help me?
• How do you know you can help me?

The sellers who can answer these questions with thoughtful and relevant responses are the ones who are most likely to make the sale, often commanding a price premium even in today’s market. Those who cannot are the ones who will most often find themselves responding to RFPs and attempting to sell highly commoditized products at the lowest price.


I received this advertisment from Flickr. I like the content, style, layout, and message.

I would prefer to see a smiling person(s) instead of a flower. The message, in bold white letters, is "Smile." If the folks at Flickr really want to use a flower (assuming a connection to Spring), then use smiling people holding flowers or running in a field.

Your photography and imagery should always match the picture. Otherwise you run the risk of creating messaging disconnects. Messaging disconnects reduce click-throughs, success of call-to-action buttons, signups, purchases, and so forth.


In a few weeks, I will attend my 30th college reunion at Fairfield University. It’s hard to believe so many years have gone by since I received my undergraduate degree in Marketing and said goodbye to the place that had been home for four great years.

As I scanned photos of this year’s commencement activities on the University’s Facebook and Instagram pages the other day, it was easy to take myself back in time. I remember thinking on graduation day I had made it. I did it. I had become one of my family's first-generation college graduates. I had no idea what the future would hold. All I had at that point were fond memories, lessons learned from my undergraduate studies and the promise of an uncertain future.

Thirty years later, the feeling I had on graduation day remains with me. I did it.  Along with my wife, I have since raised a family, earned an MBA, built two successful careers in business, given back to my community in countless ways and have reconnected to many of my college friends and the place I once called home.

I’ve applied many of the lessons I learned at Fairfield over the last thirty years. Of these, I think the most important is this – in everything you do, always remember to make it about “them.” The people who tend to be the most successful in life are the best listeners. They are sincere, open, honest and responsive to others. They are team players and treat others the way they would like to be treated.  They respect the people in their lives and spend time getting to know, understand and appreciate them.

As I look back now and think about it, this is probably the one big lesson the Jesuit Fathers and my other college professors hoped I would take away from my undergraduate experience. You see, making it about “them” is not only the foundation of great marketing, it’s a big part of the Jesuit commitment to service and social justice.

Irrespective of your accomplishments or years of experience, everyone should personalize a LinkedIn request.

Here is a great example. Yesterday I received this request from a recent graduate. It was to the point, personalized, and short.

I gladly and quickly accepted.

If you can help Jimeisha, please reach out, especially if you in the Wash, DC area. She is seeking opportunities in disability services, education, outreach programs,and health care.

Jimeisha's profile:

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