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Five Leadership Positioning Strategies: What Kind of “Leader” is Your Business?

30 Nov

Everyone wants to buy from a leader. You want to buy from companies that give you confidence that when you lay down your money, to know that you’re doing right by yourself, your family or your business.

So if everyone wants to buy from a leader, every business wants to be a leader. So what kind of leader is your company? What kind of leader should you be? The answer can go a long way toward focusing your public relations and marketing efforts in the right direction.

Consider these five leadership styles:

1. The Visionary Leader: The company that looks ahead. Keeps the customers at the state of the art, and guides them to the future. Visionary leaders think beyond their own product, shape industries, and tell us which way the world is headed.

2. The Market Leader: The one that dominates market share because they sell the most. They are the leader because they make good products, sell them well, and at some point “everyone else” buys their stuff, so it’s a safe choice. Not the flashiest or the coolest, but solid and reliable. Many Market Leaders  are content to continue as Market Leaders; others look to extend themselves into the role of visionary.

3. The Technology Leader: The geeks and the nerds.  The ones who get known for making the best products, with the most elegant feature sets or innovative designs. As leaders, the team’s experts explain technology and advocate for better solutions. They quickly integrate ‘what’s next’. They position their team as the smartest guys in the room who can solve their customers’ problems with their smart thinking.

4. The Best Practices Leader: These are the process experts. They know what’s going on in the customer’s world, and are always thinking about how to solve problems and make things better. They’re team has typically been there, done that, and can send you a whitepaper on how to implement best practices that enable customers to lower costs and improve speed and efficiency.  The Best Practices Leader wants to sell their solution, of course, but doesn’t mind sharing their broader knowledge of how to do things right.

5. The Customer Service Leader: These are the customer advocates. They are there for their customers. They differentiate on service – fast response, easy to reach, easy to do business. Go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. It’s a positioning that works in industries where most products are largely the same – what the customer needs is to know that their vendor will take good care of them.

Every company uses different styles, often more than one at once.  Choosing a primary leadership positioning style focuses public relations and marketing strategy. The key is to choose a strategy that fits, that amplifies the existing products, brand, and company culture.

For further discussion:

• Agree or disagree with these leadership positioning types?

• What other categories would you add?

• What style does your company use?

• What well-known companies would you attach to each of these leadership positioning styles?

A breakfast story about professionalism, parenting and keeping an open mind

8 Apr

I woke with dry, teary eyes and greeted the morning pollen dust with elephantine sneezes.  It was the first day back to school for the kids after the long break.   Time to make the lunches.  I cream-cheese and bag two bagels, and add two apple sauces for kids one and three, then pack up a yogurt and grapes for kid two, who doesn’t like bread in his lunch.  I poured three bowls of cereal, and, satisfied, rub my eyes.

Kid three, running late, on his way down the stairs, is hoping there’s a bagel for his breakfast. No, say I, there’s a bagel in your lunch.  How about some cereal for breakfast?  No, says he, how ’bout we “exchange” the bagel in lunch for something else.  My wife says to give him the bagel. I whine, feeling beset on all sides, emotional momentum halted on the way to the shower: “But I was DONE!”

Being “done” is a relative thing. Early in my public relations agency career I was in charge of assembling 50 press kits — a blizzard of paper to be stuffed into folders and shipped to a trade show in Hannover, Germany.  Or was it “Hanover”?  A good hour of angst led to the conclusion that while there are multiple acceptable ways to refer to the city in northern Germany, the datelines on the press releases were  wrong. Holding a standard of professionalism against the noble sacrifice of the trees, I tossed the the press kit and reprinted every page, forever proud that I did right by the client, my own standards and those of my agency.

This morning, we gave kid three his bagel and cleverly repackaged his cereal as “lunch”.  And it struck me that I should make myself some breakfast, a big cup of coffee and an allergy pill, and face the day with a little more of an open mind.

“The Big Short”: A Book Review

7 Apr

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, is a heckuva read, with passionate and clever-but-flawed heroes, greedy villains, historical scope and ultimate tragedy of an epic movie. If you’re looking for an intense, focused morality play on the financial crisis circa 2005-2009, start here.

Subtitled “Inside the Doomsday Machine”, Lewis follows traders who — whether through their own quirks, iconoclasm, oddity or Aspberger’s-fueled hyper-focus — saw it coming and put their money where their brains were, placing hundreds of millions of dollars in bets against the subprime mortgage market.  And they kept with those ‘shorts’ despite the disdain of an entire industry, angry investors, and their own feeling that they must be missing something — that all of these smart guys in charge of big investment couldn’t possibly be missing what they saw so clearly.

Amid a compelling business yarn, Lewis’ real contribution was to find a way to help us almost understand the financial instruments cited as the proximal cause of the system’s downfall — credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations. He educates the reader with careful, dramatic repetition of how these instruments were variously made so esoteric and complex that they hid vast risk both from buyers, their backers — like AIG, who apparently had no idea that they were essentially on the hook for the failure of mortgages that were increasingly likely to fail — and the sellers themselves, who, when AIG stopped backing the these insurance polices on subprime mortgages apparently started backing them themselves. Or something like that.

In the end, The Big Short is a tragedy. The hubris of the great financial firms brings them down, but “down” is a relative term given the wealth and comfort of those at the top. T’he “winners” Lewis follows, like Dr. Michael Burry, find themselves unloved and disregarded for being stubbornly right from the start; or like hedge fund manager Steve Eisman who made a lot of money only to be confronted with the devastation of the colleagues in the subprime bond market he’d bet against.

The Big Short is a bit of living history…it’s not over yet. It’s a story for anyone who enjoys a good business yarn, wants to understand what happened behind all the politics of the financial collapse, or wants to know what it takes (and the price) to stick to your (well-researched) convictions when all the world is against you.

What Should I Do Today?

8 Mar

I’m reading Amber Naslund’s post on how to do ‘hard work‘ as I try to decide how to start two quite distinct proposals while it’s still morning.  Worth reading if you need a little inspiration and a reminder to get focused, get to work and push the results beyond simply what’s expected (incidentally, it’s also worth a click for the photo of Spider-Man ambling along the sidewalk with his duffel).

This has me thinking once again about one of my favorite client questions on managing communications in a world where there are just too many ways to reach customers — how do I find the time to do social media when I barely have the resources to get the basics done?  The answer, of course, is to rethink “the basics.” But how do you do that?

One of my maxims for clients thinking about establishing their social media and online presence is to re-cast their thinking from “what I have to get done today” — the newsletter, the brochure, the article, the trade show booth, the website redesign — to “what’s going on out there today, what do I have to say about it, and how can I help?”  These questions are likely to lead you toward your audience via communications media and tools that are much more immediate and direct.

For example, the corporate communications to-do list might include:

* Each week, review company news, topics and themes with corporate, marketing, sales and service: what do you want to say today?  Where should we say it?

* Scan industry news, blogs and social chatter — how can we be relevant? What can we learn from customers and influencers today?

* Determine whether and how to respond to social chatter, blog posts, news articles. Respond or elevate where needed.

* Post your news on your website or blog, and on networks where customers and influencers can find and follow.

* Meet with internal stakeholders to ensure in-depth awareness and understanding of what’s happening inside the business. Adjust the message. Take time to review the strategy. What are the tools, media and materials you need to make the message work?

Do all this along with creating corporate presentations, participating in meetings, handling ad hoc high-priority executive requests, communicating across the team, juggling deadlines and actually writing and producing the stories your organization has to tell.

(Are there enough hours in the day?)

If we keep asking questions, the answers should become clear — what works? what doesn’t? what does the customer need? what moves the needle? what are we doing because we’ve always done it?

If you could start over, what would you keep? What would you drop?

An Avatar for Real Marketing

21 Dec

The reviews of James Cameron’s Avatar were written before the movie premiered:  Visually stunning, weak/derivative/borderline offensive story. I saw it over the weekend; my Twitter-friendly review:  “Dances With Wolves meets The Lion King.” Maybe throw in a little Lord of the Rings. Is it a good movie? Sure. And if I were 13, I’d have been blown away.

But the more I think about it, the less impressed I am. When you’re making and selling a movie, that’s OK. Strip away the art (you can’t, I know, but stay with me for a minute), and you’re selling a 1.5-3-hour experience.  If you can get people to the door, it needs to impress folks enough to get them to tell their friends so that they walk through that door or buy that DVD.

As a communicator and marketer, “looks pretty but dumb story” is just wrong. It doesn’t work for brands and it doesn’t work for reputations.  What works?  Smart stories about what you do to make yourselves valued.  Real stories about the good you do, told by the people and businesses who benefited.  Long-term commitment to your customer’s cause.

“Looks pretty” is just a short-cut unless the organization has a strong brand story to tell at its core.  If you have that story, and know how to tell it…well, then you can move people.

6 Essential Public Relations Projects for Corporate Communications and Marketing

17 Nov

Rumor has it that the economic recovery has begun, so it’s time for another edition of “Invest in the Upswing”.  I know, I know –when a marketer tells you to start marketing more, hold onto your wallet.

On the other hand, who in corporate communications and marketing doesn’t want to raise the bar in PR and marketing? Perhaps more urgently, who doesn’t want to have an answer when an executive reads an in-flight magazine article about ‘the next big thing’…and wonders what you’re doing about it?

So here’s my list of 6 essential PR projects for corporate communications and marketing. If you have time, put them on your list; if you don’t, this is what I do, and I’m happy to help.

  1. Make web analytics part of your PR and marketing ROI reporting. I recently spoke to an industry association and asked the group, “who here watches web traffic stats?” Not a single hand went up.  This may be the single biggest missed opportunity for PR and marketing professionals. Track communications activity to web traffic and you’ve started a link in the chain toward sales leads, sales and truly meaningful ROI measures.   (Or, you’ll find out that your programs aren’t working – and change your strategy).
  2. Start a Competitive Intelligence Report. What are people saying about you and the competition in the media? On blogs and comments? On Twitter? On industry forums?  Set up a daily monitoring and a daily or weekly digest – less if there’s not much out there.  Share it online with the people who need to know.  For free, I’d start with Google Reader and news alerts, or set up a custom, shareable homepage with feeds from multiple sources.  Or you can pay folks like Radian6 for all the bells and whistles.
  3. Establish a Social Media Policy. Two reasons.  First, you need to protect company interests.  Second, you’re missing an opportunity to unleash your employees into their own networks to get the word out about what you do.  More thoughts on this here.
  4. Meet the Media. Get on the phone or on a plane and get to know better the folks who buy ink (and pixels) by the barrel. Traditional media relations is far from dead – even if you don’t care if your company sees print, media coverage gets you an online audience, contributes to SEO, and gives you a link to share with personal and sales contacts, on the corporate website and blog, and across social networks – all of which deepens awareness and relationships.
  5. Add Sharing to Your Website. You put the time into writing, formatting and designing web content.  Don’t you want people to share it? Don’t you want RSS users to get your updates in their reader? Or offer email and text alerts? Don’t you want to make it easy for bloggers to bookmark, vote up or share your news releases, video, customer story, new promotion or photo essay?  Here’s a list to get you started…add: RSS, Digg, ShareThis.
  6. Be the Media. Once you’ve added sharing, you need something to share. “Be the media” means building awareness, interest, loyalty and word-of-mouth (or pixel) by creating content online that people want to read, view and share. It means “pulling” people to you via strategies that connect what you put online with the people you want to reach.  And it means thinking every day about what you want your “audience to do” and how you can help get them there.  More thoughts on this here.

As always, we never do these things just to do them  — we do them because they move our organizations toward their goals.

Have more? What’s on your list? As always, I’m here to help

Journalism, Dresses and Augmented Reality

22 Sep

Each work day for me starts with a skim of what’s been sucked into my Google Reader.  Here’s where I stopped skimming and started reading this morning. Enjoy!

Kevin Hillstrom’s “Glieber’s Dresses” Series. Iconoclastic direct marketing guru Kevin Hillstrom has sucked me in with his ongoing story of the tribulations of the executive team of a fictional old-line cataloger trying to make their way in a marketing and merchandising world that threatens to pass them by — if it hasn’t already. What I love about Hillstrom’s series is the way he’s able to gently (or not so gently) poke fun at executive foibles and the blinders we often wear based on our roles and experiences, and the line you have to walk as a consultant. But more that that, Hillstrom uses the dialog as a way to highlight just how challenging it is to change…and a path toward how to focus in on what’s most important.

This week: Gliebers Dresses’ other consultant makes fun of them at a big conference.

Saving Journalism from the Bottom Up, from The Same Rowdy Crowd. As the StarTribune newspaper of the Twin Cities emerges from bankruptcy, former journalist and current communications savant Bruce Benidt issues a call for ideas on saving the newspaper industry.  His point: Let’s get a bunch of smart, original thinkers together, create highly local communities of information and commerce around the civic life of our community, and re-build a model that will support the professional journalism we need from there.  Is there a community organizer out there who can help Bruce make this happen?

Augmented Reality — Early, But Worth Watching, by Jeremiah Owyang. I’m fascinated by the bright shiny toy of “augmented reality” — using video to add data to your real-world experience — walking down the street, reading a book or doing a video conference. Owyang, newly minted consultant with the Altimeter Group, offers three videos that illustrate some of the ways innovators are trying out the technology.  Too early to say on whether it will catch on, but worth watching…and pretty cool.

Jeff Jarvis at The Buzz Machine. I read Prof. Jeff Jarvis and I get pissed off.  His writing style echoes his title — it hums and stings and screeches like an industrial lathe. But I respect the heck out of what he’s doing — if poking smart people in news media prods them to create something new and sustainable, I’m all for it.  Today’s post discusses the difference between paying for information and paying for “content”…and says that news media publishers “flatter themselves” if they think they’re in the information business.  They have always been, he says, in the business of selling format over content. So what will the next winning format be?

“When you see something that’s taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn’t have before, you’re probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that’s merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you’re probably looking at a loser.”

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