Month: March 2018

Break the Rules; It’s Okay as a Market Disruptor

Man Gardening

Who are the folks who really define a market these days? It’s definitely not those companies who follow the market rules and play nice with everyone. More often than not, the key players and new leaders of the pack are the ones who are writing their own rules on how to operate, sell, and grow – the market disruptors.

Being a disruptor is not to be confused with being an anarchist. Unlike the political zealot, the disruptor is not fixated on tearing things down. Instead, this is a company that wants to redesign the stage to work in its favor, not the existing market.

More Than Traditional

Take the example of Growup Urban Farms. In the food business, the idea is to produce food or distribute food products from producers. This assumes that one is either a traditional manufacturer as a grower or making a profit on someone else’s work either growing plants in soil or raising animals on a farm. But what happens when someone decides to create food in an unorthodox method that doesn’t require the traditional resources of soil and land? That’s the case with Growup Urban Farms.

A Company Redefined

The company has found a way to mass market food production of vegetables and fish without the large land outlay or ocean harvesting. While the traditional model requires a rural setting, the disruptive aspect of Growup is that it can literally be operated in the most urban of settings, using physical stacking and space efficiency inside artificial walls and city streets. Their product is natural but created in warehouses. It uses natural methods of growth but there is no soil, ocean or land consumption involved.

The founders of the company, Kate Hudson and Tom Webster, have redefined what it is to be a modern farmer. And that has the potential to redefine how food is produced and where. The old rules don’t apply anymore that farms must be rural and need soil, or that fish can only be harvested from ocean stock. Growup disrupts the food market and not just with its cost model. The company also redefines placement of farm fresh food, eliminating the need for long-distance transportation into cities. Instead, the farm is literally in the city just blocks from the businesses it feeds with the product.

Go Where No One Else Does

The idea of being a market disruptor is not some trendy new 21st-century concept; every major market inventor or new breakout leader was essentially following the path of a disruptor by going down a path nobody else was considering at the time. Whether it was Nikola Tesla or Google’s founders, every breakout has been driven by a unique prospect that seemed rogue or maverick to the mainstream.

So if you want your company to get beyond just surviving and breaking even, then you have to find that spot that differentiates everything about you. Don’t follow existing models, create a new one that has its own rules for success.

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Five Ways to Provide Mind-Blowing Customer Service

Guests getting key card in hotel

Did you know that surprising and delighting your customers is something that starts before they are truly aware of your business and brand? Each interaction throughout the customer lifecycle is an opportunity to provide mind-blowing customer service that people simply must share with their friends. Creating true advocates for your business should be your goal, and that only happens when customers are over-the-top excited about your product and service offerings. How do you inspire that type of loyalty in what can be a fickle audience? These tips will get you started down the path to lifelong devotion from your fans.

1. Treat Employees Like Gold

Your most important asset when it comes to ensuring long-term customer loyalty is closer than you may realize — your staff! When your employees are empowered to react quickly to negative situations and provide proactive support to ward off challenges, your customers will feel the difference. Employees who feel as though they’re simply showing up to punch a clock are lacking something, and that will show up in their interactions with customers. Employees who are regularly rewarded for going above and beyond expectations will continue that trend.

2. Foster a Culture of Possibilities

When you foster a culture of possibilities for your staff, they will be much more likely to take exceptional care of your customers. Why? Because employees take more ownership, and “your” customers become “their” customers . . . and friends. Good customer service is expected (and even demanded) by today’s customers. Going the next step to completely blowing your customers’ mind takes extra effort to provide unexpected benefits. This could mean providing free custom proofs to clients, adding in 10% overages “just because” or delivering earlier than expected. On time and on budget are expectations — you have to raise the bar to blow their minds.

3. Create an Easy Button

There will always be customers who are looking for the fastest and cheapest items. However, the customers you really want to cultivate are those who are willing to pay a premium for truly exceptional service and delivery times. The majority of people in America today have severely limited time, and when you’re able to show customers that you respect their needs and move quickly, they will be surprised and delighted. Optimize each process, remove unnecessary clicks from your website and apps and generally think through the user experience at every turn.

4. Focus on What’s Important

Customer-facing organizations are often looking for ways to reduce the amount of time required to interact with the public on each transaction. While this can result in efficiency for customers and staff alike, it can also cause a measure of frustration when poorly implemented. Forget the long list of meaningless metrics that don’t impact service levels or profitability. Look for measurements that directly impact customer satisfaction such as the number of calls required to resolve a return, for instance.

5. Stand Out from the Crowd

Are your competitors sending out postcards? Take their concept and go bigger: send a unique mailer that is truly attention-grabbing. There are rumors going around that “direct mail is dead”, but nothing could be further from the truth! As fewer competitors rely on print, customers are more likely to be engaged with the unique and interesting pieces that do hit their mailboxes. Have fun with your promotions and your customers will reward you richly.

The reality for businesses today is that customer retention is much less expensive than attempting to find and recruit new customers. Sure, you’re always on the lookout for new customers, but shouldn’t you also look for ways to create an over-the-top excellent service culture that keeps people returning for more?

Why Establishing Your Brand as an Authority is a Top Goal

Brand

With every piece of marketing collateral you create, you’re essentially trying to accomplish two key goals. Yes, you’re always trying to inform members of your audience about the products or services that you offer – or the ones that you’re about to launch. But at the same time, you need to do something much more powerful. Something that, if executed correctly, can help guarantee that yours is a brand with the ability to stand the test of time.

You need to establish your brand as an authority – not just in the context of what you have to offer, but within the larger sense of the industry that you’re operating in. If this isn’t already one of your top goals, it should be for a number of essential reasons.

The Power of Brand Authority

To better understand the importance of brand authority, consider the following two statistics. According to one study, 45% of your brand’s image (meaning what people think and feel when they encounter it) can ultimately be attributed to both what you say and how you say it. More importantly, the same study revealed that 54% of people don’t trust brands at all.

The most critical thing to understand about this is that brand authority is not something that you can give yourself. The majority of people who don’t trust brands don’t do so because the brands told them not to – it’s because those brands failed to live up to their promises one too many times. It’s because they didn’t have anything to offer beyond a sales pitch. It’s because those brands weren’t able to connect with their audience in an emotional, raw, and ultimately genuine way.

Because those brands failed to understand that brand authority really has to do with your larger reputation – it’s that kernel of trust that you don’t give yourself, but that others give to you.

It’s also not something that you’re going to be able to build in a day. It’s less the product of one major move and more about a series of smaller ones. It’s something that grows slowly, every time you choose to partner with a charity on community outreach or make your presence known at some type of local event. It’s something that grows inside your audience every time they see a piece of collateral that isn’t just a product spec sheet, but that offers true insight and information in a way that helps them even if they don’t make a sale.

When built properly over time, it’s also something that makes it easier than ever to not only keep the customers you already have satisfied but to bring new ones into the fold as well. This will invariably translate into a sense of “when the time comes and I do choose to make a purchase with this particular brand, I can rest easy knowing that it is money well spent.”

In the End

Ultimately, establishing your brand as an authority should be a top goal because it allows you to become more than just the products you sell or the services you provide. When your customers have a question, they come to you for the answer. When they want to learn more about a related topic, their first thought is to go to you for the education they seek. When you do launch a new product or service, they’re interested in what you have to offer because there is a level of trust that exists between you that they don’t have in other relationships.

This is why brand authority is so important – because it lets you become more than “just another company” and provides you with a level of authenticity that can take a standard audience and turn them into a loyal army of passionate advocates before you know it.

The Magic of Dialogue

People Talking

Who doesn’t love a great conversation? There’s something compelling about swapping stories, sharing hurts, and multiplying joys as we connect together each day. Companies are finding the catalyst to true connection often comes through listening.

Marketing and editorial strategists Michelle Horowitz and Kendall Meade believed so strongly in conversation that they launched an entire online platform called InTELLects to grow real-life interactions that promote conversation, creativity, and community:

“I’m energized by making connections and asking people deeper questions,” says Michelle. “It’s how I learn, and it’s how I grow.”

InTELLects features notable leaders, thinkers, and change agents, building a community of mentors and offering users the chance to ask questions – any questions – to grow the collective conversation. The co-founders believe authentic discussions pave pathways to clarity, grow existing communities, and instigate this new universal truth: “ask, and you shall succeed.” InTELLects is promoting a paradigm shift that’s moving companies away from “shoving a sales pitch” and toward authentic customer engagement.

The Critical Surfing “Slow Down”

In today’s complex ecosystem, marketers are realizing that consumer engagement (or return on EXPERIENCE) is a long-term, holistic measure of a customer’s encounter with a brand. Engagement includes any action a customer takes to connect with a company: downloading an app, participating in a forum, or referring products to friends. Engagement brings significantly greater return than website traffic, as researchers report that attention span in “surfing” is typically less than nine seconds per page.

How can we slow people down? Horowitz says asking questions is a wonderful place to start.

“True engagement stems from building a place where people can honestly learn, share, and engage,” she said. InTELLects believes that real conversations transcend the noise and forge emotional connections.

Through digital channels, today’s entrepreneurs have powerful tools to create highly personalized relationships. While community forums have been around for ages, expanding social networks like LinkedIn Groups and Google+ Communities offer a chance to connect with customers and ask questions that can build emotional connections that last. Recent data shows that 68 percent of audiences spent more than 15 percent of their time reading the comments section of a story – revealing the allure of dialogue to build powerful community connection.

Growing the Conversation

As you seek to build your own “conversational opportunities,” here are a few questions to consider:

1. What does your target audience connect with?

2. What questions do they have about your product?

3. What is their favorite feature of your business?

4. Where can you proactively predict what they want to stay ahead of the design curve?

5. What educational or training gaps could your company offer on their behalf?

6. What are some practical questions you could pose to gain insights in these areas?

Need ideas to get you started? Grab your team and brainstorm how you might:

  • Host a contest
  • Promote customer achievements on your own social media page
  • Allow your VIP customers to co-create content
  • Host webinars or events
  • Make someone your “brand ambassador” for the month
  • Allow users to have fun, like the Reddit community did in its season-long Fat Tire experience

As technology barrels ahead, one of our own goals is to keep people at the forefront. Whether it’s online forums, beautifully handcrafted printing, or just the face-to-face interactions we have with you every day, we believe nothing trumps relationships. We enjoy hearing about your own questions and ideas, and we look forward to serving you this year. Let’s keep talking!

 

Women Leadership Matters in Business

Women Leaders

There are plenty of lists in business and the news. However, they frequently only represent one half of the human race with men. The fact is, women can be just as tremendous as business leaders, and they are showing their capability daily. Here are five women we all can take a lesson from in how they function and perform as leaders and would provide great case studies if the higher education system would recognize them:

1. Mary Barra

General Motors has been in the heat of regulatory and litigious battle over faulty car ignitions that were known by its management to exist but were allegedly tolerated for cost savings. However, it has been Mary Barra who has been at the helm of the company leading it back on the correct path. And Barra is no stranger to the car world. She worked her way up from the bottom through engineering and then through administrative management as an insider. She is the most powerful American car company CEO yet most American drivers know nothing about her.

2. Ginni Rometti

If your name is on a government file somewhere, there’s a good chance Rometti’s company product has touched it. As the CEO of IBM, Rometti’s products and services have the widest reach and are used worldwide. Ginni Rometti was also an insider, starting with IBM as a system engineer in 1981 and then working upward into management. Today, her decisions impact every big company and government that relies on large database systems and related hardware, but many in the tech field would be hard-pressed to remember her name on a test.

3. Meg Whitman

Probably one of the most recognizable of women business leaders due to her run for Governor of California in 2010, Whitman today is the in-charge CEO of HPE (formerly Hewlett-Packard). Whitman first gained fame as hard-charging CEO of eBay, launching its massive growth in the 2000s, but she was already on the executive track well before. Although she resigned in February 2018, Whitman continues to redefine her role as one of the longest-lasting CEO role models for women in business. And many wonder what Whitman’s next step will be in 2018 as the leader has reincarnated herself multiple times.

4. Marillyn Hewson

Another insider who worked her way up the ranks, Hewson started with Lockheed-Martin in 1983. In her earlier executive capacity, Hewson has held key roles in operational leadership in a company that competes with the biggest brass for top aviation contracts from the government, military, and industry. Since 2015, she has been aggressive on the military market, reading the tea leaves for a resurgence in military spending. Her strategy was correct, especially after the latest Presidential election results. Most would not expect to see Hewson next to generals in photo ops, but she is the face of Lockheed-Martin on Capitol Hill.

5. Debra Crew

When people think of a cigarette company CEO, they visualize an older man with thinning hair and a cigar. They don’t think of Debra Crew. Yet this CEO has cut her teeth in PepsiCo, Dreyers, and as a veteran intelligence officer prior to her executive days. Crew’s challenge is huge, making a company work in a world where smoking seems to be a dying market. And since her start as CEO the company has grown in capitalized market value by 16 percent.

These five women are not models, actresses, or famous wives. They are battle-hardened CEOs worth their title and with billions in market investment at their fingertips.

7 Reasons Why Data is Important for Your Business

Instant Data

In 1854, the idea of clean sanitation in London was generally non-existent in the urban setting. There was no such thing as running water; average people had to get their water supply daily from a local street hand pump. As a result, pests and disease spread quickly, which was the case with a cholera outbreak in London’s Soho district at the time.

Focus In on the Problem

At first, no one could quite figure how cholera was infecting people, and the common thought blamed vapors or people’s breathing. John Snow, a doctor already well established in London circles and practice, focused on a hypothesis that cholera was spread by shared water. However, many of the other doctors and officials thought a water-borne disease idea was a silly concept.

Because the authorities at the time needed convincing with greater evidence and the local cholera epidemic was spreading and killing more and more, Snow devised the idea of taking already known data and combining it with a local map. He already knew from public health records who had become sick with cholera and died as well as their home addresses. Snow mapped their locations in relation to local water supplies.

Interpret the Results

By creating the spatial relationship, Snow was objectively able to display that the cluster of cholera infections in 1854 was within close proximity to one water source – the Broad Street Water Pump. Using this information, Snow then convinced the local city authorities to remove the pump handle, making it inoperative. With the source gone, the cholera infections soon died down, and Snow’s hypothesis was supported.

Business Lessons You Can Glean

So how does John Snow’s smart use of existing data teach us valuable lessons about managing a business? There are 7 gems to glean from his example:

  1. Business data is all around us and can be used for far more than just one purpose if we open our eyes to see how it can be used.
  2. Data behaves in trends and patterns which, frequently, can help make solid business predictions about what is to come.
  3. A company needs both access to its data regularly as well as the right tools to make the information valuable and useful. Too often businesses have one or the other but miss their opportunities because no one has connected the dots so to speak.
  4. Staff need to be trained to think outside the box. The reason Snow was successful was due to the fact that he didn’t follow traditional convention. He asked “why.”
  5. Management has to be willing to listen to alternative options based on good data. London city authorities were locked up in old-fashioned ideas about cholera until Snow showed them obvious connections of disease spread.
  6. Data comes in lots of different shapes and forms. Standardization is key to allowing useful data to be pulled across different operations. Snow had to combine public death records, maps, stories, and authority information in one combined grid to make it useful.
  7. Keep it simple, stupid. Snow didn’t transform his data into an archaic medical thesis. He produced useful information on a simply everyday map that everyone could understand quickly and easily.

Existing business data can be a gold mine for marketing and business strategy if companies are willing to actively take advantage of what they have. That requires an open mind, good skillsets in data interpretation, and a management team that can act quickly on opportunities as they become apparent.

How to Lead by Example

Lead by Example

As a leader, the people you supervise watch your every move. To gain their confidence and trust you must provide an example they will want to follow. You could lead via a system of punishments and coercion, of course, if accelerating turnover is your hobby. But motivating them positively is a much better way to go.

To that end, here are 6 examples you can use to become the type of leader that people want to follow.

1. Do not think of them as workers only.

It’s important to keep in mind that the people working under you have bills to pay, troubles to cope with, and possibly a personal tragedy or two in their lives. Approach them with respect and be kind, knowing that they may be going through hard times.

2. Take the time to make them feel special.

It may seem corny, but try keeping notes on the people working under you, just one fact about each of them. It could be something you overhear in the hallway- perhaps a hobby, a favorite musician, a peculiar interest. You can use this information at opportune times to let them you take a real interest in them.

3. Listen to emotions.

This can be hard for some, but with effort, even the most stoic of us can discern emotions. Listen to what employees say and take a moment to mentally tag their statements with an emotion. Just say to yourself, ‘Mark feels frustrated,’ or ‘Sally is disappointed.’ Even if the emotion is irrelevant to the situation, just take a moment to recognize it without judgment. Make a habit of this and in a short amount of time you will begin to behave in a more empathetic way, and they are certain to pick up on that.

4. Don’t fight every battle.

For diligent, hardworking, and logical people, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to right every wrong. But there’s a fine line between being a problem solver, and being belligerent. Remember, your internal resources are limited, as are those of the people around you. Trying to squash every small discrepancy will drain your resolve, and it will squash morale.

5. Always let them save face.

‘Praise in public and censure in private’ is the golden rule of leadership. When someone has made a mistake and you must have a word with them, help them avoid the scrutiny of their coworkers. Don’t force them to take the walk of shame into your office after announcing over the P.A. that they are being summoned. They will appreciate it immensely.

6. Display solidarity

Your job is important, and no one would expect you to get into the trenches every day- however, there’s no better way to establish respect and to understand the day-to-day realities of the work your employees do than to occasionally step into their role. It’s not enough to have done it before. You must demonstrate the willingness to do it again. Remember, this isn’t your chance to show them up by outdoing them. It’s a way to develop solidarity and to understand the challenges they face each and every day.

Some of these tips may sound overly soft-handed. But if you apply a little imagination and find a way to maintain your proper station and dignity while following these guidelines, you can transform yourself from a competent manager into an inspiring leader.