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Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
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Guest Bloggers
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If the measure of one’s commitment to protecting the environment is the number of cars taken off the road as a direct result of an action, this year’s record-breaking turnout of participants in the Washington, D.C. region’s Bike to Work Day is tangible proof of the region’s growing concern for the environment. On a recent Spring day in mid-May, over 14,500 registered riders made a difference by taking their cars off the road for at least one day.

Of course, like so many other causes, events like this would not be possible were it not for the generous support of like-minded corporate and not-for-profit sponsors like Whole Foods Market, Marriott, ICF International, AAA, Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).

Working together with their local communities, these organizations are leading the way by telling a story we can believe in. It’s an authentic story about sustainability and how individuals can come together to make a difference. It’s also a story about a healthy and safe alternative to driving alone in your car…and about learning to enjoy the ride, as I and thousands of others did. One bike at a time, their participation in this year's Bike to Work Day provides us with a glimpse of the causes they and the people in their communities care most about -- sustainability, health and fitness, fun, etc.

How are you and your organization making a difference in your community? Are the stories being told reflective of your personal and organizational values? 

I am a huge fan of audio books. On the plane, in the car, and on the subway I am catching up on my favorite business books and for pleasure books. A colleague introduced me to John Scalzi, who is primarily a sci-fi writer. As I do every time with new authors, I read reviews on Amazon, biographies on Wikipedia and Amazon, and ask the referrering person more about style and substance.

Reading John's bio on Amazon really piqued my interest. Reading the bio shows me he's a bit wry, funny, well-liked (he's won several awards), and has an interesting call-to-action at the end.

John Scalzi writes books, which, considering where you're reading this, makes perfect sense. He's best known for writing science fiction, for which he won the John W. Campbell Award (2006) and has been nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel (2006, 2008, 2009). He also writes non-fiction, on subjects ranging from personal finance to astronomy to film, and was the Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series. He enjoys pie, as should all right thinking people. You can get to his blog by typing the word "Whatever" into Google. No, seriously, try it.

I indeed typed "Whatever" into Google and John's blog came up first. I'm convinced. Now I have to figure out which book to read first.

Moral of the story:  If you have a personal bio on your website, LinkedIn profile, speaker one sheet, etc., have you considered, seriously considered changing it? Most bios are factual and chronological splashed at the end with the "Ira's married to the love of his life, has a wonderful daughter, and enjoys photography in his spare time." When I thought conservative was better, I didn't stand out. Today, my bio helps me more memorable and more engaging. My bio gives people reasons and opportunities to talk with me more about my background.

Try changing your bio....even if it is just a little.

Postscript 1:  I just looked at his LinkedIn page and this is his first sentence in his Summary:  "I write. I edit. I get paid. I fight crime! I lied about that last one."

Postscript 2:  Some people asked that I include my bio. The bio is available as a PDF on The Chief Storyteller website, is included with my speaking engagements, has a variation on social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, is included in proposals, and the list goes on. People always ask me about something in the bio.

“Think deliberately.” The mantra of a person who has made improving communications his life’s work.

It all began some 30 years ago, at a high school science fair. Ira had presented his computer program on the heart and the circulatory system. One by one, the prizes were announced...third...second...first place. After nearly 100 hours of programming evenings and weekends, he slumped his shoulders and thought to himself, “I lost.” Then...Ira heard the chairwoman announce, “We are awarding the grand prize to a young man who could sell me my own pair of shoes!” And his name was called.

For more than 26 years nationally and internationally, Ira has been building his communication skills into a well-honed set of precision instruments. Within minutes, he will fundamentally change the way you communicate.

His most pivotal experience was serving as a public affairs officer in the United States Army Medical Service Corps. Trained in giving and preparing presentations for military and civilian executives, he gained invaluable insights into messaging, communications, and storytelling.

Living on both coasts, Ira has held various leadership roles in marketing and product management. After earning his MBA from the University of Maryland in 2000, Ira entered into the world of leading edge technology. It was while working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley he began to adapt his skills for use with the new, technology-driven tools today’s professionals have come to rely on.

And like all good communicators, Ira loves the stage. He performed improvisational humor professionally with ComedySportz in a career spanning 12 years and more than 1,000 shows. While performing, Ira had this epiphany: “improv mirrors life.” Life experiences stem from random and planned connections with people, and it is these experiences that help us to bond quickly with audiences.

Ira is an active blogger and writer, was a guest columnist for the Washington Business Journal, and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland. He helped the a US government contracting firm win a $94 million multi-year project; Altum develop a proposal that had a 100% success rate in going to the final decision round; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) secure funding for the National Youth Fitness Survey.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Overcoming Marketing Myopia

I recently posed the question, “How do you really know what your customers want?” I offered a simple answer by suggesting the way to truly understanding what your customers want is through continual engagement with them.

I’m going to take that a step further today by offering another suggestion – the formation of a customer advisory council. A customer advisory council is a group of customers (and non-customers, too) who meet on a regular basis with representatives of your brand. Each of them would be paid a nominal sum for their participation and their purpose would be to serve as an external sounding board for your marketing team. Their candid feedback would be used to inform current and future marketing strategies and campaigns, with the intent of improving customer acquisition and retention rates.

The real benefit of a customer advisory council is that it allows you to define your brand, your products and your offers from the perspective of your customers and prospects. Too many brands make the mistake of defining these elements from their own internal perspective, based on the company’s needs and wants. This flawed, internally-focused approach was the subject of a 1960 Harvard Business Review article, “Marketing Myopia,” by Theodore Levitt.

The next time you encounter repeated customer objections to one or more elements of your marketing strategy, resist the urge to overcome them simply by offering more and clever rebuttals that merely aim to justify the needs and wants of your company. Instead, focus on why your customers are raising those objections in the first place.  Place yourself in your customer’s shoes and try to understand how their needs and wants are causing them to perceive your brand, your products and your offers.

Ask your customer advisory council for help in seeing the long-term picture from an outward looking perspective. Their insights, and your willingness to act on them, could mean the difference between a great marketing strategy and a mediocre one.

If I were to ask, “What Makes Your Company Different?” how would your employees answer? How would your customers answer? Would their responses be the same?

This question is at the heart of your company’s marketing strategy. As noted author and Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter notes in Competitive Strategy (The Free Press, 1980), “differentiation…creates layers of insulation against competitive warfare because buyers have preferences and loyalties to particular sellers.” When companies lack differentiation and a product or service is viewed as a commodity, “choice by the buyer is largely based on price and service, and pressures for intense price and service competition result.”

So, what makes your company different? Is it price, service or something truly unique and innovative? Now may be a good time to re-engage your employees and customers to see what they have to say.

For more on marketing strategy, please see:
• Low Customer Retention? Maybe You’re Just Selling Mulch
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate

LinkedIn looks to be launching a major game changer in social media. I have not used it nor seen a demo. My opinion is based on the press coverage, release announcement, and screen shots. Google was very successful in creating hyper buzz with limited gmail email accounts. LinkedIn seem to be doing the same with a waitlist (see the bottom). We will see...

Here is the information from the blog post announcing the new, LinkedIn Contacts.


Have you ever wished for a personal assistant who reminds you when your colleagues are celebrating new jobs or birthdays? Or have you wanted to quickly pull up the last conversations you had with people before you head out to meet them?

Today we’re proud to announce the launch of LinkedIn Contacts, a smarter way to stay in touch with your most important relationships. With this new product, we bring all your contacts from your address books, email accounts, and calendars together with the power of your LinkedIn network. Contacts is available both on as well as a brand new app for iPhone. Over the coming weeks, we’ll start sending invitations to try LinkedIn Contacts to a limited number of members in the United States.

With the new LinkedIn Contacts experience, we’ve introduced features in three areas:

Bring all your contacts to one place

LinkedIn Contacts brings together all your address books, emails, and calendars, and keeps them up to date in one place. From these sources, we’ll automatically pull in the details of your past conversations and meetings, and bring these details directly onto your contact’s profile.

Never miss an opportunity to say hello

Get alerted on job changes and birthdays in your network, a perfect opportunity to stay in touch. Also, you can set reminders and add notes about the important people in your life.

Take it on your mobile device

Stay connected on the go. LinkedIn Contacts is available as a standalone app for iPhone, so you can stay in touch with your contacts wherever you work.

If you’d like to learn more or be one of the first to check out this new experience, visit to join our waitlist.

I have been a mentor and traveler with CRDF Global for many years. CRDF/Department of State have brought together (and continue to do so) some of the brightest minds from around the world in global innovation and entrepreneurship. If you are near the DC area, the event is on the GW Campus. Otherwise, enjoy the live streaming webinar. Register here.

Here are the details and links.

The Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Initiative, a partnership led by CRDF Global and the U.S. Department of State, invites you to join us for a lunchtime panel discussion on global innovation and technology entrepreneurship. This luncheon will provide an opportunity to celebrate successes achieved by entrepreneurs from emerging economies and hear from speakers who work to enhance entrepreneurial communities around the globe. Participants will learn about innovation and entrepreneurship and how diaspora groups can take these tools to help bridge communities and create new opportunities. Register here.

Event Agenda

12:30-1:00pm       Registration and lunch

1:00-2:00pm         GIST panel discussion

2:00-3:00pm         DC-based live Q&A period and networking

How to get involved?

Join our 159K+ Facebook Community:


Shari Loessberg, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan. LinkedIn
Shari is a seasoned entrepreneur in the US and emerging markets. She has lived five years in Moscow building leading Russian equity house. Shari has been at MIT Sloan for ten years, teaching about US venture capital investment and emerging market entrepreneurship. She also  consults on domestic and international startup issues. Her specialties are in emerging market entrepreneurship and investment, US venture capital investment, strategy and negotiation in funding US high-tech startups, domestic and international corporate governance and Russian capital markets.





Catherine Cook, Founder of Meet Me. LinkedIn
Catherine Cook graduated from Georgetown University (B’11), where she majored in OPIM and marketing. Catherine has been reported on extensively by CNBC, MTV, ABC News, Fox News, CosmoGIRL, BusinessWeek, the San Francisco Chronicle and CBS. She has spoken at a number of high profile conferences, including the Foursquare conference, and spoken at events at Princeton University, Boston College, and Georgetown University.





Wissam "Will" Yafi, Founder & CEO of TidWit Inc. LinkedIn
Wissam "Will" Yafi is the founder of TidWiT Inc. For the past 10 years, together with his team he has been responsible for launching worldwide e-learning and ICT initiatives to non-profits, high tech firms, and government organizations. With more than 20 years in the industry, Wissam often shares his experiences through workshops and planning sessions all over North America, Europe, LATAM, Asia, and Africa. Wissam and his team have successfully delivered hundreds of online courses using TidWiT's recognized Social Learning platform. Wissam balances work with community orientated activities such as training youth on entrepreneurship and technology and helping developing countries on incubation and ICT initiatives. His volunteer work earned Wissam recognition with VEGA in the US. Wissam is a published author of two books and is a regular contributor to several global media outlets.


GIST Moderator:

Ovidiu (Ovi) Bujorean, Sr. Manager of GIST Initiative.
Ovidiu Bujorean manages and directs the GIST Initiative. Mr. Bujorean is a professional speaker on topics such as professional networking, innovation and entrepreneurship and partnerships building. Previously, Mr. Bujorean was the Senior Associate at Rudyard Partners, a private equity firm focused on investing in consumer technologies. Mr. Bujorean serves as Chairman of the Board of Advisors of AIESEC DC and Vice-Chairman of MIT  Enterprise Forum of Washington DC. He founded LEADERS, an organization that impacted the lives of approximately 10000 young leaders and entrepreneurs in Romania and Southern-Eastern Europe and is a graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management (MBA) and Harvard’s Kennedy School (MPA).




Register here.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Branding Lessons from Social Media

I celebrated a personal milestone this week when I reached the 3,000 follower mark on Twitter. Later that day, a friend and I were having lunch when he asked me to tell him about my success. Without hesitation, I gave him this simple explanation. It's all about branding. 

My experience with social media has provided me with some powerful insights. One of those insights is that developing an engaging presence on social media is a lot like building a brand. I started by defining my brand, a promise and an audience. The next step was to deliver on it. Consistently and regularly.



Let me share with you ten branding lessons I've gained from my experience with social media over the last four years:
1. Be yourself.
       Your friends and followers will like you for the person you are, not the person who you think they want you to be.
2. Always be true to yourself.
       Actions speak louder than words. Your followers will see through actions that are inconsistent with your identity.
3. Make it about them.
       Share content your followers will find helpful, valuable or meaningful.
4. Engage them.
       Embrace the notion that you are managing relationships with people, not selling something to them.
5. Be present where they are.
       Establish a consistent presence across multiple social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, weekly blog, etc.).
6. Avoid unexplained absences for extended periods of time.
       Stay active and let your friends and followers know when you decide to take a break (or pre-schedule your posts).
7. Listen to your followers.
       Your followers are smart. Listen and learn from them. Share their content. Exchange ideas with them.
8. Know that real engagement is more than just the number of followers you have.
       Large numbers aren't everything. It's how you well you engage that matters. Kred (shown above) and Klout provide some measure of engagement in areas like reach, amplification, network and influence. 
9. Never buy friends and followers.
       Followers who are bought tend to be less engaged and are far less likely to stick around.
10. Respect and value your friends.
       When it comes right down to it, they are the reason for your presence (and success) on social media.


For more insights on brand building and social media, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• How Social Media Is Making an Impact on Marketing
• Why Social Media Should Be Part of Your Marketing Communications
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand on Social Media
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships

How do you really know what your customers want?

One of the most common answers I hear is, “Because they told us….” Yet, for me anyway, this answer only invites more questions. Who? When? What did they tell you? How did they tell you? Was it an interactive conversation? Are you sure you really understood what they were telling you? Have their wants changed?

If understanding what your customers want is the foundation of your marketing strategy, listening to customers is going to require more than a one-time investment in classic market research tools like focus groups and customer surveys. 

The markets in which you compete are evolving. Customer preferences and wants are continually changing. New competitors are emerging. The one constant is your customers are talking. The key to truly understanding what they want is continual engagement – through social media, one-on-one interactions, public forums and even sales calls. Getting in front of customers and engaging them in conversations should be a required part of every marketer’s job – from the CMO down to the marketing specialist.

Your customers are still talking. When was the last time you listened?

Earth Day is Monday, April 22.

Since it was first celebrated here in the U.S. in 1970, it has become an international movement for promoting the planet and a sustainable future. It is now observed in 192 countries across colleges and universities, secondary schools, local communities and a growing number of brands.

If you’re a marketer like me and believe sustainability is about more than simply promoting green products and behaviors, you’ll appreciate brands whose approaches to sustainability marketing include calls to action that champion economic prosperity, social justice and environmental protection.

A brand that is making a difference in these three areas is One, whose tag line is “do one good thing™.” The story of One began in the U.K. with an awareness of a single need – that something needed to be done about the one billion people in the world who lacked access to safe drinking water – and an idea – to create a brand of bottled water where all the profits were given to charity.

While it may seem counterintuitive that a brand concerned with world water issues is selling bottled water, the explanation One provides on its website is what makes its sustainability marketing effort so innovative and unique: “We are not saying buy our water INSTEAD of using tap water; we are saying IF you are going to buy bottled water, buy One and make a difference at the same time.”

The story of One is still being written. Since May 2005, One has raised over $7.8 million for clean water supply projects in countries where the need is greatest (i.e., where over 40% of the population lives in extreme poverty). Thanks to the efforts of One, over 1.5 million people now have access to clean drinking water and, instead of walking great distances to get water, children are now going to school. One bottles are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), use less plastic than the typical water bottle and are 50% lighter than the average soda bottle.

So the next time you reach for bottled water, think of One and the difference it is making in the global economy, the lives of people in some of the poorest countries in the world and the environment we call home. 

When you think of products whose selling propositions are built around the promise of sustainability, which products come to mind? Green ones? Blue ones? How about gray ones?

If you said green ones, you might be right. Well, sort of. There is certainly no shortage of “green” products on the market today. Brands across many categories have added a green component to their products in an effort to appeal to one or more market niches, increase sales and demonstrate their commitment to the environment. Green products, as a whole, are largely considered alternatives to mainstream products and are often pricier. A common theme among green marketers is to ask consumers to make a positive change in one aspect of their consumption behavior, while permitting them to maintain the status quo with others.

Sustainability takes this call to action one step further. Sustainability is transformative. It seeks to reform the way we produce, consume and dispose of mainstream products.  Upstart brands like method®, the maker of non-toxic biodegradable home and personal care products, market goods that are designed to reduce health risks, waste and water pollution. Their products are priced comparably to others in their category, sold in aesthetically-pleasing recyclable packaging and available through mainstream and specialty retailers alike (e.g., Target, Whole Foods, etc.).


For method®, sustainability includes a focus on health, community and environmental impacts. Products like its naturally-derived, 2-in-1 dish and hand soap come packaged in a gray bottle made with recycled ocean plastic. Each bottle includes a blue tag around its neck with a short story of how method® is seeking to change the way we view the impact our consumption and disposal habits are having on our environment:

 "it's estimated that several million tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans every year, polluting the environment and hurting our marine populations...we're on a mission to change that. that's why the ocean plastic used to make the bottle you're holding was collected by us, method employees. we know we can't return the ocean to it's pristine condition, but we can raise awareness of the importance of reusing the plastic that's already here. that's something. [and] that's why I'm gray."

The next time you think of sustainability, don’t just think “green.” Think about the gray bottle atop your kitchen sink and the transformative nature of what it represents. Now that's something.

For other insights on sustainability and green marketing, please see:
• Simple Sells When Going Green
• A FRESH Approach to Going Green
• Maximum Fun Meets Minimal Impact

One of our blog readers emailed me to let me know that Matt of "Where the Hell is Matt?" fame had a new video. I posted a blog in August of 2006 sharing a bit of background on Matt. This was before his three other videos and as it calls it, his "not-entirely-un-famous" status.

Once you read the About Matt page, you will really appreciate the storytelling behind his videos. The accompanying music in the 2012 video is fantastic. I even "Bought" the video from his home page despite being able to find it on the Internet. Why? Because Matt started out and I still think through today, to be genuinely selfless. He is honest, his videos reflect this, and the worldwide enjoyment is testament to his beliefs. With all of the messaging and organizations touting story this and story that, I truly believe the absolute genuine stories will be the ones that stand out.

Here is an excerpt from his About page:

He mostly just danced in front of iconic landmarks, but along the way he went to a country called Rwanda, and since there aren't any landmarks in Rwanda that you'd want to dance in front of, instead he just went to a small village and danced with a bunch of kids. The kids joined him immediately and without hesitation. That ended up being the best thing that happened to him on the trip. The kids taught him that people are a whole lot more interesting than old landmarks and monuments.

Matt went back to Stride and told them he did it all wrong and they needed to send him around the planet again. They said, "Okay," and in 2008 he put out another video that showed thousands of people laughing, smiling, and goofing around together. It took him five years and three tries, but he finally got it right that time. 

Where the Hell is Matt 2005 video    ~3,000,000 views

Where the Hell is Matt 2006 video   ~18,300,000 views

Where the Hell is Matt 2008 video    ~45,500,000 views

Where the Hell is Matt 2012 video    ~9,700.000 views

If I were to ask who your biggest competitor is, who would you say? Now think about your changing competitive landscape and where you would like your business to be in five years. Who will be your next big competitor? How will you compete?

The world is changing. Your customers are changing. The competitive advantage that made your business successful in the past may not be an effective source of differentiation tomorrow. Businesses that thrive over the long term understand their current competitors and how customers respond to them. They also seek to identify emerging competitors before they become a threat. Early identification of emerging competitors provides companies with an opportunity to modify their existing marketing strategies in ways that allow them to acquire and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage.

Astute marketers are always on the lookout for the next big competitor. What are you seeing when you look across the horizon? Are there any relative "unknowns" who might be threatening to disrupt your industry with powerful innovations? If so, how will you prepare to meet this challenge? Will you be ready?

Recently I purchased an item from the online Disney Store. A few days after delivery the email pictured below, arrived.

Here is the text of the email:


How can we make it even better?

We want to hear all those thoughts flying around about how we can make your experience the best ever. Please fill out a brief survey - it will help us make sure that your experience was everything you wished for.
It will only take a few minutes of your time and no one will see your answers but us.

Thank you for your purchase. And thank you for letting us know what you think!

It about 80 words or ~15 seconds to skim/read Disney gets across a) They care; b) My time is valuable; and c) Brand consistency. On the bottom of the email, you can see all of the social media links, sign-up for the newsletter, and event alerts. Very well done.

I buy landscaping mulch every year. I’ve been buying it from the same local nonprofit now for several years…until this year, when they were unable to supply me. So I took my business elsewhere. Another “customer for life” gone forever.

Mulch is a commodity. I can get it anywhere at the same price. Regardless of where I purchase it, the product and the price are the same. Delivery to my driveway on the 3rd Saturday in March is free. And the one thing that bound me to my former supplier – the relationship I once had – had grown distant.

The decision to go elsewhere was an easy one.  It wasn’t hard to find another supplier. I wrote a check and walked across the street to my neighbor’s house to drop it off. On Saturday, while I was away, my order was delivered and stacked on the sidewalk beyond my driveway. My expectations were exceeded. In years past, my other supplier would stack the bags in my driveway, which required my having to move them to the sidewalk in order to access my garage.


Later that afternoon, as I went out and began moving the bags to the area of the yard where they would be emptied, my neighbor’s SUV pulled into the driveway. Five guys from the delivery crew – all friends of mine – got out and began moving the bags to the rear of the yard. We laughed and we joked. Although I wasn’t looking for help, they insisted. Again, my expectations were exceeded. I knew then I had found a new that I am hoping to stay with for years to come. 

I share this story because it highlights the importance of differentiation in selling a commoditized, low-interest product. Marketers who succeed in retaining customers for life are the ones who consistently deliver and who find unique ways to differentiate their customer experience.  Nurturing customer relationships and exceeding customer expectations are two of the best ways to accomplish this.

Think about your products and how they are positioned in the market. Are you just selling mulch?

For more on customer retention and ways to differentiate your customer experience, please see:
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• Anticipating Needs Is the Key to Customer Retention
• “You’re Going to Like the Way You Look…”

I remind people that networking is hard. It is like a big blind date for professionals. And you should expect lots of no's and few yes's. I always quote Richard Bolles in "What Color Is Your Parachute?"  "Think of every "no" as bringing you one step closer to a "yes."

During a recent "how to networking" program" I was asked one of the more frequent question, "How do I know if I should exit a conversation?"

Here are five sure-fire indicators that your conversation partner is ready to move on. He/she...

1. Stops asking questions. This is a direct way of letting you know. The awkwardness alone makes you cringe. Exit quickly.

2. Starts glancing around frequently. Many people do not realize they are doing this. This is not an absolute, more of an indicator as your conversation partner may be looking for a specific person.

3. Stops smiling. This is generally an unconscious way of displaying disinterest. It could also indicate the person is unsure of how to proceed or may need further explanation on something you just said.

4. Shifts weight from foot-to-foot or side-to-side. Another generally unconscious way of showing you disinterest. Most of the time this body language is clear, time to exit.

5. Introduces you to someone else. If you are introduced to someone else quickly, there are two reasons...a hand-off (read "get rid of you") or an in the moment referral. Based on the conversation thus far, it should be easy to know which reason.

I was at an all-day conference a few days ago. Each of the sessions was a panel. During the second session, one panelist said "That's a great question." Then it became a contagious virus. The second panelist said "That's a great question." And of course, the third panelist followed. Subsequently, EVERY single question was followed by "That's a great question" or something very close. The woman next to me leaned over and said, "I bet that's a great question" and we both laughed and cringed.

This prompted me to write the Tip of Week with the same title. I included the tip below...


Saying “That’s a great question,” detracts from your credibility, no matter what. If you are like some, you use it all the time hoping to make everyone feel positive about asking questions. In this case, no one feels special as it is used every time. And by the third or so time you use it, “great question” sounds disingenuous.

If you say it occasionally, then you alienate those that did not receive a “great question” response…immediately.

Instead, remain neutral throughout your time with your audience. Respond and acknowledge points without tipping the emotional balance.

Here are a few suggested responses after receiving a question:
- Thank you for your question
- Please (and gesture/point to the person encouraging him/her to begin talking)
- Thank you for asking that question
- Yes (and gesture/point to the person encouraging him/her to begin talking)

Your customers interact with your brand in a variety of ways. These interactions may include some or all of the following business processes: pre-sales, sales, support, billing, and customer service. The customer experience you provide at each and every one of these phases in the customer lifecycle forms an indelible impression of your brand and what it means to do business with you.

Now, suppose your customer feedback reveals dissatisfaction with the customer experience that occurs during a number of these business processes. How would you improve your brand’s overall customer experience? Where would you start?

Best practices suggest starting with the big picture. The big picture includes a vision of what success will look like if the business process improvement efforts achieve their desired results. It also includes the new skills and other tools your employees will need to succeed, as well as a clear and consistent communication of goals and milestone targets. Finally, it includes rewards – bonuses and other forms of recognition – for members of the business process improvement team when goals are met and exceeded.

Business process improvements that result in a great customer experience can be a source of competitive advantage for your brand. Brands that provide a positive customer experience enjoy increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins than their competitors.

Visit us next week for ideas on how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand's customer experience.

I'm a big fan of Acai juice--healthy and delicious. As the Bolthouse brand was on sale, I tried a bottle. Not until I was ready to recycle the empty bottle did I read the "about us" message/story on the side.

After 95 years
of working the land,
one lesson rises to the top:
the best beverages come
from the best ingredients.
Crisp veggies, ripe fruit.
Delicious dairy.
All blended together to
make great-tasting juices,
smoothies and protein shakes.
Goodness in, goodness out.

It is a great message, shared succinctly in 42 words.

Two sugestions:  1) Include your slogan on the bottle, "A Force of Nature" and 2) Consider moving "Goodness in, Goodness out" closer to the top. Too often people leave the clincher sentence to the end. Instead, move it to the beginning.

All marketers should have a resume that includes sales experience. 

I’ll admit, sales is hard work. It’s one of the toughest jobs in any organization. For those of us who have ever been paid on performance, it’s high risk - high reward. There are quotas to be achieved, customers to be served and forecast commitments to be honored. And yes, there are pay-impacting rewards for individual success and personal consequences for failure.

Sales is not a spectator sport. It teaches us to be accountable for results. It’s where we learn about customer wants and needs, how to achieve competitive advantage, the value of business storytelling and the difference between a well-intentioned marketing strategy and one that actually works. It’s where we learn interpersonal and communications skills that lead us to trust, respect and value the contributions of others.  

These are, after all, the skills that will drive success in marketing, too. 

For more on the dynamic relationship between sales and marketing, please see:
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• The Purpose of Marketing Is to Drive Sales
• How to Tell the Difference Between Sales and Marketing

I was at the gym the other day and couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between two C-level executives. The exchange went something like this:

   “How is that _____ working out for you?”

   “We think we’re paying too much so we’re looking for a better deal. I’m talking to a rep from a firm down in ______, who says she can get me a lower rate.”

   “Let me know when you find one. We may want to give it a try, too.”

As a seasoned salesperson and an experienced brand manager, alarm bells immediately sounded in my head. Wow, I thought, the incumbent salesperson has no idea his or her customer is out “looking for a better deal” and is about to leave. What makes customers get to this place?

Here are some observations:
 • On an individual basis, it would appear neither the incumbent salesperson nor the brand has successfully engaged this customer beyond the initial sale.
 • On a larger scale, the incumbent’s marketing team has failed to differentiate its product or service on anything other than price, effectively positioning it as a commodity and needlessly exposing it to price competition.
 • Finally, testimonials from other customers can be strong influencers. These C-level executives clearly value each other’s opinions and one of them is likely to influence the other’s future purchase decisions more so than any salesperson might be able to.

And here is what my experience tells me:
 • If you are not in front of your customers, somebody else is. The key to a successful engagement plan is regular and interactive communication...beyond the sale.
 • With few exceptions, selling on price alone is not a sustainable long-term strategy. Find ways to differentiate your product, service and brand. Make them worth paying more for. Give them a reason to stay. Customers whose only purchase criteria is lowest price will leave when they find a better deal.
 • Establish yourself as a thought leader and develop an integrated marketing strategy that allows you to join conversations your customers are having (those conversations aren’t just happening at the gym, by the way…they’re happening online in social media apps like Facebook and LinkedIn, in college classrooms and in other professional forums and events, as well).

For more on the relationship between customer engagement and loyalty, please see:
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• The Power of a Personal Connection
• All Customer Relationships Are Personal

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Make Me Care

Today I was working with an executive client on her storytelling. Tanya wants to use more stories in her meetings, presentations, networking, etc.

As part of the first step of developing engaging business stories, we develop a story list.  This is simply a list of Tanya's favorite stories and a few notes beside each story title.

After sharing a variety of stories, I asked her to rank her favorite ones. When she identified her all-time favorite, I prompted Tanya to share it.

Nearly three minutes into telling it, I identified the "make me care" moment. 

During our discussions Tanya agreed that yes, this was the most important part...this was the business take-away. 

For you, two suggestions:

1) Shorten your business stories, generally to a max of two minutes. Three minutes if you are able to keep your audience's attention the entire time

2) Message/craft the words of your stories around your "make me care" concept. Be deliberate

I walked into the dry cleaners the other day to drop off a new dress shirt and a pair of slacks. I am a regular customer and, as you might expect, am frequently greeted by name when I walk in. By the time I had arrived at the counter, the assistant manager had already pulled up my account in their database.  He was able to retrieve my account without my having to provide my phone number (an impressive feat, given the large number of customer transactions they process in a given day). He also knew how I liked my shirts (lightly starched, on hangers) and didn’t have to ask me.

He must have sensed I was in a hurry because, when he discovered I was leaving new items that needed bar-coded labels (they use these to identify and keep track of their customers’ garments), he told me to go on ahead and he would take care of it. When I asked if I needed a receipt, he said, “No, I got it.”

I returned later that evening and, without a receipt, said I was there for a pick-up. The employee behind the counter quickly retrieved my shirt and slacks, I paid for the dry cleaning and was soon on my way.

I share this story about my customer experience with Crest Cleaners because it is a big part of why they have been able to retain me as a loyal customer for many years. The relationship we have built is one of familiarity – I could walk in, leave my dry cleaning on the counter without saying a word (if I really wanted to) and know it would be ready that night. It’s also a relationship of trust – after all, there aren’t too many places where I would feel comfortable leaving over $150 worth of clothes without a receipt or claim check. Most of all, it's convenient. It makes dry cleaning the easiest part of my day.

Are your employees making the extra effort to anticipate your customers' needs? It might mean the difference between customer retention and attrition for your business.  

For other insights on the important role people play in customer retention, please see:
• “Refrigerator Rights” and Why Organizations Value Them
• Be Different – Thank Your Customers
• Service Before Self: Why Strength of Character Compels Others to Do Business With You

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Are You a Manager or a Leader?

I stumbled upon a great read the other day, "Tribes", by international best-selling author Seth Godin. The book is a compendium of short articles on leadership. The basic premise is that anyone with a passion for something can create a movement. All it takes is a deliberate choice. A choice to lead.


With experience as both a manager and a leader in a variety of not-for-profit and corporate organizations, I found this book fascinating. It spoke to the not so subtle differences between a manager and a leader.  As described in the book, managers are process-oriented, reactive, defenders of the status quo, predictable, focused on employees and their assignments, and often stuck "playing today's game by yesterday's rules." Leaders are visionary, proactive, agents of change, inspiring, skilled in attracting  followers, trusting, forward-looking and passionate. 

My experience tells me that organizations that grow and thrive (i.e., as measured by sustained growth in members, member engagement, revenues or profitability) are led by leaders.  Leaders use their passion and ideas to build communities of followers, or tribes. They recognize the world is changing and they respond with innovation. They lead with fresh ideas and they empower others to take risks and make good decisions. By trusting and respecting others, they accomplish the extraordinary and they move you forward. 

What do you think? Are you a manager or a leader? The choice to lead is yours.

For more on leadership and its impact on an organization, please see:
• What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
• What Makes Your Company a “Best Place to Work?”
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation – Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking


Brand repositioning, or rebranding, is a process typically undertaken by organizations whose role in the marketplace has evolved over time. Its purpose is to change perceptions – both internally and externally.  Internally, processes are improved and employees are united under a consistent message, or brand promise.  Externally, the brand’s delivery of its new brand promise provides customers with a stronger sense of who the brand is and what it stands for.

Organizations who undertake a rebranding do so with the intent of building brand equity, increasing customer acquisitions, improving customer retention, strengthening customer loyalty/advocacy and increasing profitability.

If your organization’s role in the marketplace has evolved and you are looking to improve its performance across these metrics, then perhaps its time to consider a brand repositioning. Here are five tips for a successful makeover:

• Start with a plan that includes targeted milestones and an expected ROI
       A specific schedule of who will achieve what by when, along with the expected incremental sales increase for every dollar spent on the rebranding, will ensure timely, actionable and measurable results. 
• Test your rebranding recommendations on a small subset of your target audience
       The stakes of any rebranding effort are simply too high for anyone to ignore the need for testing. The impact of any repositioning recommendation should be measured among sample test and control groups before full-scale activation. Declining sales after recent rebranding efforts by brands like JC Penney and Tropicana underscore the importance of testing.
• Listen to your customers and non-customers
       Organizations who listen only to their best customers learn why those customers stay with them and nothing about why disgruntled customers leave, or why those who are not current customers might be difficult to acquire. 
• Leverage the experience and knowledge of your employees
       Marketers who lack cross-functional experience (e.g., sales, operations, customer service, etc.) or institutional knowledge (e.g., company, industry, markets, etc.) will find it difficult to make informed rebranding decisions and are less likely to obtain lasting organizational buy-in for the rebranding effort.
• Avoid the temptation to start over
       Organizations who have met with success in the past have obviously done some things right. Successful rebranding efforts build on prior achievements and the agencies whose creative talents fueled their progress, instead of discarding them.

For more insights on branding and brand repositioning, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• Your Brand Promise Is for Non-Customers, Too
• The Brand Promise of a Summer Swim School

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brand Building Through Social Media

I decided to rebrand myself in January 2010.  I started tweeting. I did a major refresh on my LinkedIn profile. In the months and years since, I opened a Facebook account and created a Facebook Page. I also opened accounts in Foursquare and Pinterest. And I even started measuring my online influence in Kred and Klout.

Three years later, I’ve accumulated an array of quantifiable successes many small business marketers would be proud of:
• Over 2,700 Twitter followers and growing (see chart below), some of whom have been with me from the start
• Over 400 connections in LinkedIn, a cadre of loyal professional connections from before and after my brand refresh
• Over 50 friends and family connections on Facebook, some of whom go back to my undergraduate college days at Fairfield
• A Kred influence score of 664 (out of 1,000) and an outreach level score of 6 (out of 10)
• A Klout score of 52 (out of 100)
• Top positions on Google Page 1 search results


Much of the success I have had in building my brand can be attributed to a deliberate adherence to the business storytelling and communications mantras we espouse here at The Chief Storyteller®.  The following are among my personal favorites:
• People are at the heart of every great story
• Social communities are built on personal and business stories
• It’s all about them
• People crave connections
• Content is king

If you are looking to build a brand – personal or business – remember these mantras and be sure to keep it social. After all, brand building is really about people, the stories you share and the connections you make.

For more on my own brand building experience with social media, please see:
• Social Media – Are You Connected?
• Are You Embracing Social Media?
• Social Media Playground Rules – Are You a Giver or a Taker?
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand in Social Media

For the past two years (2011 and 2012), I shared my top 50 business storytelling and communications mantras. As I plan for 2013, I always look to my list to light a small fire of inspiration.

As you look through this list, see what applies to your life or what you want to apply. Write your own list of mantras. Whatever you do, make a list (short or long) of your goals and aspirations. Every so often read, revise, and contemplate...

Here are the mantras at The Chief Storyteller. Think about this list and how it can help prompt new and fresh approaches to making your personal and organizational communications unforgettable. We would love to hear your mantras...please leave them in the comments.

Personal Storytelling & Communications
01.    People are at the heart of every great story.
02.    Stories are how people remember you.
03.    Use humor if you want to.
04.    Write in your authentic voice.
05.    Write and speak conversationally.
06.    Write emails as if they will be read on a smart phone.
07.    Tell more personal stories with relevant business messages

Brand/Organizational Storytelling
08.    Promise a better tomorrow.
09.    Know your elevator speech / elevator pitch / mission statement (core business story).
10.    Ensure your core business story is unified throughout all communication materials.
11.    Your brand story is everything.
12.    Success stories are key to differentiation.
13.    Social communities are built on personal and business stories.
14.    Deliver on the expected experience.

15.    It’s all about them.
16.    Relationships matter.
17.    Business stories are the engine of relationships and relationships are the engine of continued success.
18.    Credibility is more important than expertise in the beginning of relationships.
19.    Send hand-written thank you notes, especially job hunters.
20.    Active listening is key to building great relationships.
21.    Treat everyone like a CEO.
22.    Stop listening to your Mother. Talk to strangers at networking events.
23.    It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
24.    Treat every client like your best client.
25.    Be a deliberate networker.
26.    Be a people bridge and make referrals.
27.    Be a mentor.
28.    People crave connection.
29.    First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions:  offer a warm smile, firm handshake, and good eye contact.

30.    Write to the 10th grade level.
31    Content is king.
32.    (Good) blog and article content matters the most.
33.    Strive for “interest” questions. Avoid “understanding” questions.
34.    Content first. Design second.
35.    Always have a second person read your content before publishing.
36.    Design your website for your target audiences (not your staff).
37.    Inspire Action:  facts do not persuade and inspire, people do.
38.    Audiences are hungry for original thought-provoking content.
39.    Get yourself known (e.g., LinkedIn questions and answers, post to SlideShare, and Tweet good information).
40.    Speak in headlines.
41.    Maintain a detailed Ideal Target Profile for your key target audiences.

Personal Development
42.    But is the worst word in the English language (and many other languages).
43.    Words really, really matter.
44.    Have positive self-talk conversations.
45.    Change is a choice.
46.    Create your own success momentum.
47.    Be a student everyday.
48.    Be a whole body communicator.
49.    Avoid fillers (um, ah, like, you know)
50.   Be a deliberate communicator

 “I guarantee it.”

Sound familiar? If you’re like me, you’ve seen and heard Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer close countless TV ads with this simple promise. It’s a promise that elevates customer satisfaction to the highest priority, allowing customers who are not completely happy with the fit, quality or fabric of any item to return their purchase within 90 days.

Many brands talk about their commitment to customer satisfaction. Others talk about how easy it is to make decisions you can feel good about when doing business with them. Few brands, however, actually deliver. Men's Wearhouse is one brand that does. What makes them unique is their ability to provide a flawless, solution-based customer experience.

I recently walked into a Men’s Wearhouse store with the intent of buying a single suit. I was greeted immediately and paired with Jenny, one of their style experts.  I told her what I was looking for – a suit with a more modern look – and she brought out several different suits for me to try on.  By the time I met with the tailor, I had decided to buy two suits.

As I was being fitted, Jenny brought over several pairs of shoes to try on. The styles and colors she selected were ones that would complement my new suits. She then walked me over to a table, where she had laid out the suits I had just purchased. Nested within the suits were several different shirt and tie combinations, along with belts to match the shoes.  I also left the store with two new pairs of shoes, along with the intent to purchase some of the remaining items in the near future.

While I had entered the store looking to buy a product (i.e., a suit), Jenny made the extra effort to ensure my satisfaction with the product by offering me a complete solution (i.e., a modern look).  For the brand, this translates into higher sales and stronger customer loyalty. For me, this means I am going to like the way I look. Guaranteed.

I was at a gathering hosted by some friends recently, which was followed by a meal at a local restaurant. I sat at a table with several others from the gathering, some of whom I was meeting for the first time. Moments after the meal began, the man across from me asked about the license plate frame on the back of my car, which proudly proclaimed my status as a Fairfield University alumnus.

I soon discovered he was retired - a Professor Emeritus - from Fairfield University and that he had taught Accounting classes when I was a student there, up until a few years ago.

The couple sitting next to him and his wife then mentioned they had a niece and nephew who had earned degrees from Fairfield and asked if I knew them - it turns out I knew the niece, who like me, was a Marketing major and one year ahead of me.

Soon, people around us were talking about Fairfield University and how much they loved the university brand! Although the school was miles away from where we were eating lunch that day, it seemed almost serendipitous that so many people with connections to the University had somehow come together and had become fast friends.

Small world, I thought. Then I realized the power of branding and how inexpensive promotional items like license plate frames, window clings, bumper stickers, car sign magnets, etc. can bring people together by generating conversation around a brand. Items like these are a great way to reward customers for their affiliation with your brand...and to bring brand loyalists together.

People like talking about brands they love.  What is your brand doing to bring them together?

Every brand has a story to tell. The goal of the story is to drive deeper engagement with your customers. How well the story is told can often make the difference between fleeting and lasting customer engagement.  In the online marketing world, brands tell their story by the content they post.

Brands who fill their web and social media pages with an abundance of stories about themselves are telling customers their needs and wants don’t matter. Brands whose content includes sales pitches for discounted products and promotional giveaways are conceding their products are – well, the same as everyone else’s.  And brands whose only goal is simply to get people to like them on Facebook appear shallow and directionless. These stories invite fleeting customer engagement and do little, if anything, to improve a brand’s customer retention rates.

On the other hand, brands who focus more on interacting with their customers online and in communities where they live are showing customers they genuinely care about them. Brands who share information on how their products can be used to fill a real or perceived need prove their products are unique and worth paying a premium for.  And brands who reward all new and existing users with incentives (e.g., exclusive content, coupons/rebates, eligibility to enter a promotion, donations to a charity based on the number of page Likes, etc.) for Liking their Page are providing something of value to their fans. These are the stories that drive lasting engagement and higher customer retention.

If content is the new currency for brand storytelling in 2013, what kind of story is your brand telling? Is it driving the customer engagement and retention results you are looking for?

For examples of brands who excel in customer engagement, please see:
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• Why @yurbuds is an #awesome social brand!

All I really wanted for Christmas this year was a new pair of running shoes. So, on Small Business Saturday, I went to Pacers – Metro Washington’s “local running joint for running gear, races, and training.”

My recent visit to the Fairfax store – located in the center of town – was not my first. I had been there many times before for Pacers-sponsored events like high school spike nights and Tuesday night fun runs. My family and I had purchased running gear there before and had become loyal customers. 

The sense of community at Pacers is evident from the moment you enter the store. Customers are greeted warmly by members of the staff, who share an obvious enthusiasm for running.  Staff members provide an extraordinary level of attentive and personal service to each customer, sharing expert advice and evaluating running styles. Customers can try on as many pairs of shoes as they like. The layout of the small store includes an aisle long enough for customers to try their shoes...and sometimes interact with other customers as they are deciding on which pair to buy.

The Pacers community extends beyond the retail store to Facebook and Twitter, with communities of close to 5,000 fans and over 3,800 followers, respectively. Online, Pacers engages customers with news of special promotions, new products, event registrations, event photos and results, as well as invitations to participate in Pacers-sponsored community service activities. The enthusiasm their communities feel for this brand is evident from the online conversations that are occurring…and it’s what differentiates Pacers from other retailers.

Is it any wonder, then, when I had finally decided which shoe to buy that day, the last question I asked was, “How much does this pair cost?”

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