How Customers Think When the Economy is Weak

Wondering what customers will be thinking as credit slows and the stock market jumps and falls like a crazy jumping bean? There are just three quick questions on your customer's minds.

1. What do I really care about? Does your product or service represent something people really feel strongly about? Does it offer capabilities beyond the competition? Is it something people get excited about? Do they think the design is amazing? Find out who will care about your product or service and market to these people.

2. What really matters? What kind of items are your customers shopping for? What matters to them right now? Are you customers concerned about giving back to the community? Are they concerned about the environment? Are they buying from you because you are an ethical company? Do they appreciate your quality customer service? Do they like your guarantee and warranty?

3. What's really unique? When money's tight, folks want the real thing. They want the computer that works, the piece of clothing that wears well and will last, and they want value for the money.

Marketing maverick Robyn Waters, former vice president of trend, design and product development at Target tells Tenneseean.com, "And those items will be the ones that everybody will rush in to buy, pay full price for and feel really good about the purchase."

"When we're in tough economic times, there's even more reason for innovation. Think of a brand as a love mark. If someone falls in love with a brand or a product even when times are tough, more than likely they'll build a relationship with it," Waters said.

Analysts predict this holiday shopping season could be one of the worst in recent history. In September, the Wall Street Journal reported on two grim predictions from Deloitte LLP and TNS Retail Forward Inc. These predictions were made before the most recent economic woes (including the bailout and subsequent stock market plunge) and consensus is that the harsh reality of what lies ahead for retailers could prove to be even worse than predictions.

Do companies panic? No. Now is the time for innovation. No matter what this week holds, panic is not the answer. Make a marketing plan (innovate!) and then execute the plan, one step at a time.

As the Stocks Fall, It’s All About the Love

So, what do you do with your marketing right now? If you say, cut back, that's the wrong answer. If you're watching the stock market, worrying about sales and expenses, you need to look at one thing only: your marketing. Time to get creative—it's time to make your customers fall in love with you.

Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands by Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts might be a book you need to read right now. Roberts posits that customers need an emotional attachment in order to continue buying your products and services. How do you create that emotional attachment?

Amazon.com writes, "In Lovemarks, advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts delves deep into what mysteries lie behind the long-term success and unwavering customer loyalty for a can of Coke or a pair of Levi's, ultimately concluding that Love is the answer, and without some emotional connection to a product, it will dry up like a generic raisin in the sun. Enter Lovemarks, the new marketing buzzword, which will likely be bandied about at board meetings as vigorously as The Tipping Point.

Despite the somewhat egocentric approach to taking us there (he is, after-all, a pretty smart guy), we arrive at Roberts's point beautifully, and see what he sees: ‘That human attention has become our principle currency.' And that, in these times, forming long-term emotionally charged relationships with customers is the only way to make a product weather the long haul."

Roberts' thesis, "That human attention has become our principle currency," is proving itself very true as consumers move large amounts of money from failing banks to credit unions, decide to save or move to another account their expendable income, and cut back on household expenditures overall. Consumers will, however, spend money on products and services they love. Find out how to get your customers to fall for you—hard—and learn what it means to be considered innovative.

Roberts has one more book on the subject—The Lovemarks Effect: Winning In the Consumer Revolution, which highlights practical applications of his thesis. Amazon.com writes, "In this follow-up book, . . . the people speak—consumers, owners, and marketers show the impact of Lovemarks on their lives, their businesses, and their aspirations. How consumers feel about you—their emotional connection to you—is what determines success now. The Lovemarks Effect offers instruction and inspiration about creating emotional connections and winning in a consumer-empowered future."


What are you waiting for? Check them out!

Five Quick Tips On How To Lead in a Crisis

1. Answer the question. Be honest, be insightful, and don't fudge around with talking points and rhetoric. Just answer. Truthfully, honestly, and to the best of your ability.

2. If you don't know everything, find out. Get some advisors that you trust, and study with them. Don't just walk around saying, "Well, I think this, but I'm not sure." Find out and be sure.

3. Don't use fancy words. Employees don't care about corporate policy or return on investment. They want to know if they still have a job. They want to know if you think they're doing a good job or not. They want to know if you care about your company, your employees, and the well-being of everyone who contributes to your business. Just say what you need to say.

4. Be approachable. Don't sit in your office and avoid people. Join your employees in the lunch room, challenge the stressed out sales team to a game of basketball, buy everyone movie popcorn, and above all, smile, shake hands, and look people in the eye when you're talking to them.

5. Keep looking forward. Address the crisis, deal with the issues, but remember it can't last forever. Things will get better. If you stay hopeful, your team stays hopeful. Hope is a very overused word, but at its core is the idea that no matter how bad it gets, everyone is in this together (disagreeing or not) and everyone is willing to work hard and to go above and beyond, as long as the boss points the way and believes that it's doable.

No matter what the crisis, employees and businesses need leaders, especially this year, right now, in the middle of this crisis. Please lead, we need you to.

How to Better Manage Your Writing Part 2

Engy

So previously we talked about how to approach a writing assignment. Our overall goal is to better manage your writing time effectively (and to better manage the anxiety that comes from writing).

Now that we've got a "quick and dirty draft," and we've taken a break (hopefully long enough to get some distance, but not too long so that we have to remember what we were writing), we'll venture onto revising. Kenneth W. Davis writes that the first part of writing is to "remind yourself that you're a writer, that writing can be managed, and that it's largely a matter of managing time." Thus, our first step in part 2 is reminding ourselves of just that.

1. Remind yourself again what you're writing and who you're writing to. A quick perusal of your key goals and your key points is helpful as you return from your break to revise your first effort. Just scan your collected information quickly and then turn to that first draft.

2. Davis calls it "locating your turns." This is a term used to describe the idea of finding your opening, your middle, and your end. Or, your introduction, your points, and your summary. Jot a few ideas down on a separate piece of paper. Just 1,2,3 in a row: this is the problem I see, this is my solution, and this is what I think our next action should be. Or when crafting policy: this is our company's standard, this is what's allowed and not allowed, and these are the results if that policy is not followed. See what I mean? Keep it clear in your head right now.

3. Now, let's read that first draft. Just go slow and circle what you like—a sentence or two where you made a good point, an opening line you like, even a paragraph that looks okay. Now put question marks by places that you may have drifted off-point (don't worry, we all do it). Set that paper aside. Now take your list of three items (intro, points, summary page or whatever) and compare. Did you make room for each of these points? Did you stick to these three core issues? If not, that's the extra that needs to come out. Go ahead and cross out the parts that don't belong.

4. Revision. I have a surprise for you. You've been revising already. Even before you knew you were. Cool, right? We're now going to either start on a fresh page or computer screen with only the parts of your first draft that you need to keep. All extraneous material should be long gone. Now, you can go in and add sentences. Just here and there. That first part may need two more facts. Add them. That summary paragraph needs to mention this one thing. Put it in. See what I mean?

5. Run a spell check now. Then print off a copy and read it aloud, pencil or pen handy. Once you've caught all the errors, hand it off to a colleague or an assistant to review. Input any feedback they find and then, close your office door (if you've got one), sit down, and think about what you just wrote. Evaluate it in your mind or evaluate it on the page. Is this what you wanted (and needed) to write? Does it make the points you wanted to make? Do you think there's anything else you would like to add?

Voila. That's a pared-down ten-step process to managing your writing. Wasn't that hard, was it? Was it easier? I hope so.

Teamwork is Still the Sign of a Great Leader

Business books, for business leaders (specifically CEOs) who are looking to solidify their team's effectiveness using insightfulness and teamwork, are available by the dozens. CEOs complain about the large number of business books they must slog through just to keep up. It's not just business leaders who read these books, however. A few years ago, NFL coaches and players began to wise up to the wisdom of business leadership books. There were things they could learn from these books too.

In 2005, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni, a consultant who writes books that teach valuable leadership lessons, became the "must read" book in the NFL, passed around to coach after coach, helping them to assess their team's effectiveness. The story, according to Publishers Weekly, is "the fable of a woman who, as CEO of a struggling Silicon Valley firm, took control of a dysfunctional executive committee and helped its members succeed as a team. Story time over, Lencioni offers explicit instructions for overcoming the human behavioral tendencies that he says corrupt teams (absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results). Succinct yet sympathetic, this guide will be a boon for those struggling with the inherent difficulties of leading a group."

Also in 2005, USAToday.com reported that "Lencioni says he is stunned his book is becoming a must-read for NFL head coaches. But its enthusiasts include:

  • San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan, whose wife, Kathy, read it first and gave it to him.
  • Oakland Raiders coach Norv Turner, who thinks his copy came by way of his brother-in-law, but he's not sure.
  • San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was given the book by Rolf Benirschke, the third-most-accurate kicker in NFL history. Benirschke, now retired, has passed out about 60 copies around the league.
  • Miami Dolphins rookie coach Nick Saban, who read the book in preparation for his transition from the college game at Louisiana State.
  • Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel, who has used it to coordinate his talent scouts, loners who must come together as a team to somehow narrow the 300 best college players down to a handful of draftees.
  • Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who has distributed 20-plus copies to assistant coaches and players and keeps a four-color printout of the book's pyramid on his desk to remind him of the five dysfunctions that can cripple a team."
Since Lencioni's book, coaches and players have made it a habit to read other books on leadership and management success, including Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Jim Collins' Good to Great, Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese?, and many others.
Are there any leadership books you can think of that would translate well in the sports environment?

 

How to Better Manage Your Writing Part 1

Probably the most hated task of all when running a business: learning to write effectively to your employees and to your clients/customers. People dread it, they postpone it, they don't do it. So how can you, a busy executive, learn to manage your writing so that it gets done?

Read on.

1. Relax. Writing is not rocket science and it really won't hurt. If you can hush your inner critic (sometimes just saying the word "hush" to yourself works) and focus on the accomplishment you want to make with this piece of writing, that's the first step.

2. Spotlight who you're writing to. Is this a memo for your employees? Is this a marketing message for your clients? Is this a policy piece about employee dress codes? Make sure you narrow it down. If you're trying to write all of these at once, stop, jot notes on each topic, and then focus on one piece at a time.

3. Gather your information. What is the new employee dress code? Did you and your HR director hammer out those specifics? Make sure you have that nearby as you write. If you're offering a discount to your clients this month, brainstorm a bit—how will that discount help them be successful? If you need to write a state of the company address, highlight several successes from the past year and have them handy.

4. Write a "quick and dirty draft" without any editing or hand-wringing. Don't doubt your words or sit and wonder if you need a comma there or not. Just free-write, let it out, empty your head of everything you have a need to say. Quickly. It is messy, unkempt, and hopeless, but you have got to get it out of your head.

5. Now take a break. Walk away, do something else, let yourself eat cookies, whatever. Become the executive again, ignore the writing, and put it in a file folder, out of sight. Make a few calls, sell some services or products, whatever you do best, fill up your "feel-good" tank. And pat yourself on the back. You just wrote something. True, it's not done, it's a mess, and you have no idea if your staff really needs to know about your toothache, but for now, it's on a page and out of your head. Don't you feel better?

Next up, we'll do a revise and then step back and take stock on creating a process for the next writing project and the next and the next. You're well on your way!

5 Tips to Improve Presentation Communication

When it comes to communicating through a webinar, it's important to remember that when one of your senses is numbed, the others become more aware. When you can't see someone's face while they are speaking, your body's natural inclination is that the other senses become more heightened and aware. So when you take away the face to face aspect of things, your brain begins to attach more to what is being said rather than just how you look.

So when it comes to presentations where people can only hear your voice and see a carefully crafted slide presentation, what are some things that you can do to ensure that your communication skills (and not just your keen knack for slide design) are noticed? Preparation is the heart and soul of any good presentation. Here are some helpful hints that will help create long lasting presentations that are not only informative but can help you keep your participants' attention.

  1. Anticipate Questions:The core of any good communicator is to provide information with a confident voice. There is no crystal ball that's going to tell you what your participants might ask, but you can anticipate certain questions. For example, if you're hosting a call regarding revenue growth or decline, it's a pretty good guess that someone might ask about numbers for a particular location. Have those numbers ready on a print out or up on the computer so that you don't have to keep that question on hold. Being prepared is the cornerstone of a good presentation.
  2. Brainstorm:Brainstorming is pivotal to any presentation, and building slides should not be the only brainstorming process. When you use the slides to brainstorm your ideas, the presentation often comes out looking messy or disorganized. Grab a legal pad and take notes. Define who your audience is, what idea are you trying to convey with this conference, and so forth. Get that down on paper and it will help to keep your flow moving smoothly and will allow you to have a confident and organized presentation.
  3. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.According to Nancy Duarte, author of slide:ology: The Art of Science Creating Great Presentations, this is key to any good presentation. You should always rehearse in front of a group that is familiar with the content as well as a group that is not. The reason for this is that the group who is unfamiliar with the presentation content is going to be more likely to pick up on any confusing phrases or terminology. The group who works with the content of the presentation is going to understand everything you are saying, so they are more likely to pick up on errors in the slide presentation itself, rather than the content. Always ask for feedback and find out what people were connecting with, ask what was easy to understand, what wasn't, and make sure those responses are turned to your audience. Nancy says "rehearse until you've NAILED it".
  4. Group presentations should be group developmentsGuest speakers and different departmental members can be valued contributors to any conference. When inviting other people to present on a conference it's important that everyone has a couple of brainstorming sessions together. It helps the flow of ideas moving smoothly. If everyone can put their opinions on how the presentation should move and change, then it will not only sound better, but it will look better too. Color schemes on the slide shows should be the same with each speaker. By doing this, you will ensure that your presentation looks uniform and professional.
  5. Slide text should only be used to keep everyone on task and not as a script.
    Presenters should never read verbatim from slide text. Not only would it look as though you were unprepared, it would be boring. No one wants to just be droned on to from direct readings on a page or slide. The text on the slides should be used more as headers, directing the participants from topic to topic. Keep your audience engaged by using the slides as the visual element of a great presentation and don’t rely on them to provide the substance.

Post-Bailout Business Survival Tips

As the past few weeks have brought news of bank after bank failing, stock market yo-yo, and political gridlock, a lot of businesses are feeling the pinch. This election will be over soon, and hopefully, life will return to normalcy. Until then, however, a few ideas to keep your company moving forward, regardless of news headlines.

1. Keep marketing. No matter what happens, your marketing is your focus. It has to be. Marketing is your business and even though it seems foolish to spend precious funds on it, you should be spending some money on it. You can cut some things (think scalpel, not hatchet) from your marketing budget, but continue to make it a priority.

2. Communicate your long-term strategies—and your short-term strategies—to your employees. Keep everyone in the loop. Anxiety is high enough as it is. Don't hold ultra-secret meetings closed to lesser employees. Bring everyone in and talk about the tough economy, the uneasiness over the Wall Street bailout, and how it will shake out for your company (and each of those employees) and don't be afraid to use your real words. Be reassuring, be hopeful, be cautious, be open.

3. Don't drop your customer service focus. Your customers are feeling the pinch just like you and they need reassurance that the business world is doing all right. So, lay out the red carpet. Offer an impromptu sale when someone orders more than you expected. Listen to their concerns and make sure you act on them. In days like this, a little customer service goes a long way, believe me.

4. Cut costs where you can. Offer employees the chance to work from home if they are able, institute a spending freeze on extraneous expenses, such as business travel (think teleconference), fancy office machines and tools (put the purchase off for next year, unless you absolutely need the write-off), restructure for a week or two to get a difficult project out the door rather than hire on more freelance help, and so on.

5. Plan for better days. Nothing helps current gloom and doom by thinking ahead to better times. There will be better times. Have a brainstorming meeting. Create fancy flyers that you can hang around the office ("Plan Our Next Decade: 2010 and Beyond") and dream big. It will be fun, take the stress off for a while, and may result in some great ideas you can implement right now.

Just a few ideas for today as we wait to see how everything shakes out. We've been through worse and I'm hopeful things will be better. So plan for it!