Leadership Sometimes Means Showing You’re Human

Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, has seen her share of tough times. She took on the CEO mantle as one of the first female company leaders in the auto industry, only to get slapped with a faulty auto ignition switch recall.

Barra had already done her time in the trenches while going through the GM bankruptcy in 2009. However, when Barra faced down her first big CEO challenge with an ignition switch that was being attributed with killing consumers, she did something no one expected – she apologized.

The Road That Leads to Trust

Barra’s apology rang the auto industry like a deep bell of the apocalypse. Everyone heard it, everyone saw it on TV, and everyone was in shock. Her apology wasn’t the end of the matter, of course. She had to go through multiple congressional hearings, fire managers and engineers she had known and trusted for years, and put the reins on employees to turn the company around. But her leadership was and continues to be rooted in a basic, inherent level of decency to do the right thing. To this day, Barra’s choice to take the harder road has been remembered as well as solidified her as GM’s CEO for a good number of years to come.

Company leaders only get a few opportunities to define themselves and lead the company through a major challenge. After that the die is cast with regards to overall confidence in the leader’s capabilities. Those who succeed gain the invaluable loyalty of staff and supporters through far more challenges in the future because trust is solidified. Those who fail usually see their support begin to erode and, after a few years, have to start planning an exit unless they produce some major new revenues or get lucky.

The Humanness Factor

The success of a leader, as Barra’s example has shown, is rooted in humanness, the ability to come across as a real person. CEOs and leaders often get a bad rap for being distanced from the working floor and aloof from the problems of the average person. Their higher salaries and compensation don’t help matters either. Barra’s apology, however, shows how a CEO can cross such perception barriers and be the right person for the job when it counts. When people need to see someone take responsibility to move things in the right direction they look to a known leader commodity. If that person fails at that moment to be decisive, people then begin to fall away and worry about their personal stake. That can drive away extremely important people assets and potentially kill a company.

Granted, the first thing an attorney will advise is to admit nothing, and tow the party line. However, as Barra has shown, society does forgive serious mistakes if they can trust those in charge.

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April Fools’ Day and the Art of Humor Marketing

Did you enjoy some April Fools’ Day marketing jokes this year? Make no mistake about it: coming from a business, April Fools’ Day jokes are every bit as much an art as they are a science. It’s an opportunity to inject a breath of fresh air into your marketing efforts, as the day is one that has quickly become synonymous with pranks and practical jokes. If you do it properly, adding humor to your marketing campaigns can also be an excellent conversation starter – it’s a unique way to add new members to your audience and engage with existing ones at the same time. As with most modern day marketing, however, it’s often best to learn from example.

April Fools’ Day, 2017: The Good

The clear winner of April Fools Day 2017 has to be Netflix, who released the elaborate prank “Netflix Live.” Capitalizing on the wave of live streaming video spearheaded by services like Facebook, “Netflix Live” was supposedly a 24-hour live video feed of actor Will Arnett watching a different live video feed and commenting on whatever he saw, including people in an office using a microwave, an empty supply closet, and more.

“Netflix Live” had all the markings of a classic (and successful) April Fools’ prank. It was timely because live video online is getting more popular all the time. It also honed right in on what Netflix’s audience would find funny. “Arrested Development,” the comedy classic in which Will Arnett stars, is one of the most popular shows on the platform.

  • Rule of Thumb: if you’re going to play around on April Fools’ Day or with humor marketing, know your audience.

The Bad

Again: the best April Fools’ Day jokes are born from surprise. If your audience can see the joke coming a mile away, you probably shouldn’t be making it. Or at least, you should try a little harder. This is a lesson that Google just spent several thousand dollars learning by way of the Google Gnome, an Amazon Alexa-like device you can talk to that takes the form of a lawn gnome that is connected to the internet.

This isn’t a particularly bad joke in that it’s offensive, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is it immediately obvious that it’s a joke from the moment you read the title, but the accompanying video is little more than the same basic joke (“a Google Gnome would be worthless to everyone”) over and over again. It’s a lot of effort for almost no payoff, especially considering the Gnome is a product few in Google’s own audience would actually want to buy.

  • Rule of Thumb: Remember what April Fools’ Day and humor marketing is all about. It’s not supposed to be a day of obvious jokes. Theoretically, people shouldn’t fall for your prank for at least a couple of minutes.

When executed properly, humor marketing can check a few different boxes all at once. For starters, it’s fun – it’s a great opportunity to pull back the curtain of your business and put a little bit of its personality on display. A well-executed humor campaign is also the perfect way to get people talking and generate new levels of awareness at the same time.

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How to Take the Lessons Learned in Online Marketing and Apply Them to the World of Print

Print marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Over the last few years, people are coming to the realization that digital and print isn’t an “either/or” scenario. Many use one to supplement and compliment the other to great effect. Despite this, people still tend to think of them as two different mediums, thinking you have different rules that you use online than those that you follow in print.

Because online marketing has become so prominent, it has taught us some very valuable lessons. One of which is that those lessons aren’t reserved only for the digital market. You can apply those lessons to your print collateral and come out all the better for it.

Marketing Is About Intimacy

Perhaps the biggest lesson that various digital and online marketing channels have taught us is that at the end of the day, you’re not trying to “sell” to someone at all. You’re trying to connect with them. The best marketing reaches out to customers and prospects in an intimate way that establishes the type of bond that turns prospective customers into buyers, and buyers into loyal advocates.

On the internet, this often takes the form of various social media and related techniques – after all, what could be more intimate than contacting someone on a small device that they carry around with them all day? The key takeaway, however, is that you DO have a way to maintain this intimacy in the world of print marketing, too.

According to a study conducted by the United States Postal Service, sixty-nine percent of people who responded said that they felt direct mail was more personal than internet mail. Emails may be great and efficient, but an actual letter (or in the case of a marketer, a flyer or brochure) is something tangible. They can hold it in their hands, pin it up on the refrigerator and share it with their friends and loved ones.

Optimizing Print Campaigns Through a Digital Lens

So how do you take full advantage of this fact and build the type of intimacy and emotional connection you can online? Simple. Take the rules that the internet forced marketers to adopt and apply them back into your print campaign.

Don’t just tell the story of a product or service, tell the story of your entire organization. Bring people into the fold and let them see who you are, what you’re all about, and why you do what you do. According to Millward Brown, physical materials forge a stronger connection inside the human brain than digital media ever can.

You can also take the valuable data you’re gathering about your audience from the digital world and apply that back into your print collateral. Marketing has gotten hyper-specific. By using various software, you now know precisely what type of white paper, blog post, or video to send to someone at just the right point in the customer journey to help nurture that lead and guide them through to the desired outcome. Taking that one step further, you can also use the same insights to know exactly what type of flyer someone needs to receive in the mail, or take a successful visual element from social media and transform it into your next poster.

Print media is a format that people are naturally wired to engage with. If you can provide them with materials that are worth engaging with, similar to and combined with what digital agencies have been doing over the last few years, you’re in an incredibly powerful position as a result.

It’s Okay to go Niche: How One Unusual Brand is Turning Trash into Specialty Surf Bags

Sometimes, we stumble across an answer to a problem that we did not know existed. Alec and Aric Avedissian are solving two problems at once with their business Rareform. Rareform’s customers get durable, one-of-a-kind surfbags while the company helps reroute some of the thousands of pounds of billboard material that is discarded in the U.S. every day.

The average billboard goes up for four to eight weeks, then is discarded. While there are no firm figures on how many billboards exist in the United States, the number is high. The Los Angeles area alone is host to over 6,000 boards. Since billboard material does not decompose, that is a lot of waste.

Inspiration in the Strangest Place

Avedissian stumbled on the idea of surfbags from billboard vinyl after spending time volunteering with a fishing cooperative in El Salvador. While there, he saw people using discarded billboards to make roofing. The sight was a revelation. He’d previously never considered the material and had thought that billboards were made from paper. The discovery that this durable material was being discarded every week spurred his innovative idea.

While the bags offered a durable product at a reasonable price, the company was having a hard time finding their footing. They’d had $1.1 million in sales over three years, but saw that sales were slipping. Had they reached saturation? They decided to go on Shark Tank to see if they could find the funds that would bring them growth. Two out of the three judges did not bite; they were concerned not just with the falling sales, but with the complexity of the concept of Rareform’s product. However, Kevin O’Leary was not dissuaded and made an offer. And, it turned out that the best benefit for the product was appearing on the show.

Before their Shark Tank appearance, Rareform would recycle anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of vinyl each month. With the added visibility provided by the show, they’ve increased their monthly recycling to 50,000 pounds.

When It’s Okay to Go Niche

Surfbags are already a niche item, appealing only to the approximately 23 million surfers worldwide. By adding the factor of the recycled bags and their one-of-a-kind nature, they become even more niche. However, faith in their product and a willingness to seek out new opportunities to get their wares in front of the audience worked out.

Small businesses should never shy away from a niche product as long as it has a few things going for it. The questions you should ask:

  • Is there an audience? Rareform built their early success with the help of dedicated hobbyists.
  • Do you have a platform that can get you attention? Their appearance on Shark Tank was just what was needed.
  • Do you have reasons for making your product the way you do? Rareform’s founders said they were committed to the cause of recycling. While this was a turn-off for some investors, it is what makes their product appealing and unique.

In today’s highly connected world, there is room for every well-made product, even if your audience is small. By focusing on what you bring to the table, you can find your audience and build success for your brand.

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The Best Marketing Solves a Problem

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, right? Unfortunately, not always. After learning about some of the poor working conditions and high levels of violence associated with most diamonds on the market, many girls (and guys) have decided that a conventional diamond is not the ideal expression of their love. While some have turned to vintage pieces or alternate stones, one Los Angeles entrepreneur has provided a third option: high-quality jewels grown in a lab instead of under the ground.

Vanessa Stofenmacher did not know much about the jewelry business when she started VOW, her line of engagement, wedding, and promise rings. To cope with the limitations of current diamond-tracking laws, she opted to have the stones for her jewelry line made by Diamond Foundry, a laboratory that makes diamonds in California.

In her market research, she found that women in their twenties were likely to be concerned about the source of their diamonds. They typically did not mind wearing lab-grown stones as long as they looked as good as natural ones. This research made her line a success; the company, beginning with $8,000 in seed money, was valued at $3 million in 2016.

Don’t Be Afraid to Live Your Values

Many of us feel that, in business, our personal convictions should stop outside the doors. However, if we do not create products and marketing campaigns that align with our own values, the chances are good that they will not hit the mark with anyone else.

By choosing a product that she felt strongly about, Stofenmacher found the characteristic that makes her product line different from every other one out there.

Millennials, in particular, are happy to do business with companies that take an ethical stand. By doing something about your beliefs, you can increase connection and engagement.

Think Like Your Customer

The other thing that Stofenmacher did right was seizing an idea that had been troubling many people in the market for diamond rings.
Is there an issue in your industry that you are in a position to address? It does not have to be an ethical concern. It can be a common pain point, such as:

the amount of waste currently associated with a product.
the inconvenience of current ordering practices.
a lack of educational materials about your product and others like it.
an area where prices are out of line with consumer expectations.

By looking at what your customer cares about most, you can increase the chances of creating a product and a marketing campaign that will resonate with them.

Listen to Your Customers

How can you find out what people want? Just listen. Stofenmacher learned about the desire for ethical lab-grown stones by perusing Instagram. You can set up social listening on platforms that include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see what people are talking about in your industry. Many brands also use customer surveys in front of gated content to learn more.

Over time, you will find that your customers respond best when you directly address an unmet need. The marketing campaigns based on this concept will get higher levels of engagement, a better conversion rate, and will help you build long-lasting relationships that are good for you and your customers.

 

To Grow or Not to Grow; That is the Question

Booster Juice started off in 1999 as a one-store operation with a lot of questions about whether it would burn out as a fad. Their product was a juice smoothie (a fruit, vegetable, or plant-based drink shake). However, by 2016, Booster Juice had over 330 stores across Canada, and they are now looking at entering the U.S. market for even more expansion. How did this company go from one small outfit to a mega corporation franchise, and what did Booster Juice’s management do right to maintain growth successfully?

Dale Wishewan, Booster Juice’s owner, was a mechanical engineer by training, being naturally geared to decisions based on analysis. However, he also realized that just running a business by not taking any risks or having the cash on hand to pay for those risks, was never going to produce fast, exponential growth.

A Path for Growth

So, Wishewan settled early on franchising. The franchise decentralization of daily work and keeping an eye on the big picture kept Wishewan and Booster Juice on track. However, the fact that the daily store management was placed with franchisees who had “skin in the game” also meant that Wishewan didn’t have to worry about the loss of loyalty or control.

The above said, Wishewan still avoided high risk markets, especially overseas like China or South America. While these emerging market venues seemed to offer faster growth, the risk level was higher with control issues. Distance and language also presented major management hurdles as well. So, Wishewan wisely turned down those markets to continue growing in Canada alone. It was a smart decision proven by Booster Juice’s metrics and profit figures.

It’s All About the Plan

Scaling up is as much about planning and strategy as it is understanding one’s current capability and cash flow. There is no one aspect of business an owner or manager focuses on; it’s a multi-faceted challenge to meet the increased sales demand promptly and plan logistics correctly while not ending up going bankrupt in the process. As was seen in the above franchise example, not every opportunity was pursued. The business owners had to do some hard research and probability testing to determine which markets were their best choices for solid growth versus high risk and potential failure. By doing so, they avoided common mistakes in fast growth, such as over-commitment and unreasonable sales targets in the process.

Have an Objective Perspective

Exponential expansion can seem alluring, even addictive. After all, with accrual accounting, things can look pretty rosy for a business once projected sales are included in the numbers, and they’re boosting the revenue side of the accounting reports. However, cash is the killer that brings back reality like a bucket of cold water in the face. When payroll, supplies, liabilities, loans and leveraging can’t be paid timely because the projected sales haven’t materialized yet, a company can fold very quickly, even within a thirty to forty-five day time cycle, just from lack of cash. Ideally, a business should have sufficient resources to take on extra growth, but that’s not how real business works. Risk and taking logistical bets are common which makes planning wisely crucial to not betting the farm on “maybe” revenue.

Wishewan and Booster Juice provide a clear example of why, even with positive growth, a business owner or leader has to judge ventures carefully before jumping in. Sometimes some revenue opportunities do need to be passed up to stay successful overall.

 

The Major Qualities That Separate B2B and B2C Marketing Collateral

When it comes to any marketing, the importance of taking the time to understand your audience cannot be overstated enough. Marketing is all about communication, and how can you expect to properly open up a conversation with someone if you don’t bother to learn the same language? This is especially true regarding both B2B and B2C marketing collateral, which aren’t as different as you might think. You can approach things from similar angles and even use both channels as a way to convey the same message but, at the end of the day, the major qualities that separate one group from the next comes down to your understanding of your audience.

Marketing Can Be More Emotional

B2B or “business-to-business” marketing is all about solving problems. You have a product or service, your customer has a problem, and only you can solve it. Therefore, your marketing becomes all about showing in the most logical, rational way possible how you can help your customer accomplish that goal in a way that meets their needs and falls within the budget they have to work with.

B2C or “business-to-customer,” on the other hand, is intended to side-step the rational side of it all and play more to a person’s emotions. Your end goal is less “here is how my company can make your job easier” and more “here is how my company can make your life better.

B2B Markets Are Typically

Concerning sheer market size, when you’re going after a B2B audience you’re usually talking about a much smaller group of people. It’s much more of a niche audience, which lets you laser-focus your messaging on core pain points without worrying about alienating people who can’t relate to them.

Because B2C markets are much, much larger, your messaging will tend to be a little broader at the same time. Instead of focusing on how to make your product or service appealing to a few thousand people, you could be trying to go after as many as a million or more with one sleek, sophisticated message. This will also change everything from the language you use to the type of materials you put out there.

Your Goals Are the Same. Your Tools Are Different.

As stated, your ultimate goals in both B2B and B2C situations are often very similar. It’s how you achieve those goals that will vary wildly. Case in point: both B2B and B2C customers are much more likely to make a sale if you can establish yourself as an authority in a topic area.

B2C customers like their marketing collateral short and snappy, so real estate is at a premium. You have to get in and get out, all while still showing off how much you know in the process. With B2B customers, you can take your time. You can use more lengthy, highly detailed content that is filled with technical jargon not because the audience is more sophisticated, but because they’re looking for the same thing in a totally different way.

While it’s true that B2B and B2C marketing collateral can often look completely different from one another, they’re not as distant as you might think. The “what” and the “why” of marketing never changes, regardless of what you’re trying to sell and who you’re trying to sell it to. It is the “how” of it all that will play an important role in the types of decisions you make moving forward.