Get Real! Brand Authenticity and You.

Today’s marketplace is a great place for brands and their advocates to exist. Traditionally, prior to the web, all a brand could do was to make their consumers “aware” of their brand was using advertising channels such as bill boards, transit, radio, TV and public relations. Once a consumer got wind of the brand that interested them, they would have to physically visit the bricks and mortar location for more information. Or they could look in their mail boxes for flyers, or their daily newspapers for inserts and printed ads etc. The entire buying cycle was initiated by the brand and reacted to by the buyer. Very straight forward and not very deep.

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In today’s marketplace the consumer has a limitless access to the brand’s environment. Brand’s can more easily form strong relationships with their customers. Some would say today’s digital environment makes loyalty tougher. I believe it to be easier, so long as you’re willing to engage customers with a genuine brand experience. If the brand chooses to try and manipulate the experience based on an unrealistic expectation, they will more likely be viewed as not being authentic. That authenticity is a hallmark of proper branding.

But if your brand strives to provide an authentic persona, it’s a great platform to engage customers. You’re able to feed them your expertise on many levels. This acceptance allows you the potential to charge more for your services. If you’re a services based brand this open environment allows you to properly exhibit your expertise and this draws customers to you. Your are perceived as the expert your brand touts you to be.

The bottom line is to embrace the opportunities the digital world is serving up. You make think that there’s no space for you to play or that it’s over your head. Toss those barriers aside and embrace the web. You will be shocked with the results of your efforts over time.

Now’s the Time to Step-up your Game – AGAIN!

9673439_s2015 is the year that you’re going to do things a little differently. The time is right to step up your game. Without gazing at the past too much, recognize that that was how you used to conduct business. That’s when all you’re best strategies delivered on making your brand better, more memorable amidst your stakeholders. Give yourself a well deserved pat on the back.

That said, the fastest way to step-up your game is to change-up your game. Start doing business differently that anyone in your industry. Break the norms, shake the bushes and start acting in a way that has the competition questioning your sanity. “Bob’s finally lost it.” they’ll say. “Where’s he coming from” they’ll add. Those are comments aimed at a person who keeps ‘em guessing. These are brands who are following not leading. They spend more time watching the other guy’s butt to the point they have to keep putting the brakes on for fear of (I think you’ve got the picture).

There’s one strategy that will absolutely change the game once again for your brand and that is positioning your brand. I would hazard to guess that well over 90% of companies have never effectively positioned their brands or even considered it. They’ve certainly applied pretty catchy slogans but they’ve never given positioning a second’s thought. Many, if not most think the slogan IS their positioning. A slogan inspires the brand culture while positioning makes your brand the only choice. It absolutely resonates in the mind of your stakeholders. Jack Trout and Al Ries call it, “the battle for your mind.” The perception of your brand in mind of your stakeholders is your positioning whether you enjoy it or not. This perception is key to making 2015 your best year to date.

You see it all around you all time – more of the same. I often wonder why businesses just carry on all the same practices without any strategy in place to help them leap ahead of everyone else. Great brands sometimes get there in spite of themselves, others use strategy to their benefit. We all know there’s no magic answer – there is only effort and a willingness to change-up how your do things. Not only does it keep the competition ay bay, but it also reinvigorates your entire brand culture. Brands people like to talk about are inspiring by just how different they really are. These are the brands who walk the talk. You see, hear and read about them in the media and social channels. These are the brands that are well known within their communities. They are known and spoke about. They are judged favorably and are the ones who seem to bounce back fastest from brand foibles. But don’t kid yourself, these brands are there through shear effort. They keep their eyes on the ball and watch for any opportunity to step-it-up.

What can you do for your brand this year. Make it something that gives the competition the cold sweats. Help them out with a case of Ban Rollon.

5 Best Resources To Learn A New Language

Perhaps you are looking into setting up offices in a different country – or hope to. Or, maybe you’re hoping to connect better with staff or customers from a particular region.

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Photo Credit © Depositphotos.com/Mishchenko

Whatever your reasons may be, learning a different language has many benefits for entrepreneurs. Besides business benefits, bilingualism is also good for your mental health.

Studies have shown that bilingualism delays the onset of dementia. People who speak more than one language also process information more easily. Convinced and want to get started? Here are 5 places you can learn a new language for free, or brush up on a language you learned in your youth.

DuoLingo – uses game strategy to help you learn and challenge yourself.

Livemocha – community based learning with native speakers, teachers, language experts and fellow language learners.

Word2Word – this site has an amazing number of links to different language resources. The variety of languages is also quite large.

Busuu – also community based learning. They also have mobile apps you can install to learn on the go.

LearnALanguage – Offers a several language options with interactive lessons.

Hey! Did You Know That The CEO Of That Mega-Brand Was Born Here?

How many times have you heard that one or similar stories to it? Such and such a rock star, movie actress or mega-mind was born here, they attended university or did their internship here. As if to say being from here had a role in that success. The real truth is every community across our fair planet has their share of rock stars. What all these individuals have in common is not so much that they’re from here but that they looked outside of here to realize their dreams and goals.

Most home-town business people and other talents and skill sets for that matter build their futures close to where they were born. Local stars and celebrities. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all, but what is worth noting is those “star” individuals that dream beyond their noses. They are the ones with global aspirations. The local tool shop with global locations to supply a world market, local fitness clubs that franchise and branch out across the country and consultants who market globally to share their expertise. These are the people who recognize opportunities in risk by looking to unfamiliar territories and seeking to engage and profit from them.

Municipal brands (I think) are missing out on a great opportunity, one that is right under their collective noses. Most of them (that I watch) spend a great deal of resources and energy drawing the brilliant minds inward rather than retaining what they already have here. There is very little effort and resources encouraging home grown businesses to stay put and headquarter their resources at home. Our towns and cities try very hard to lure business and industry to them. They use corporate welfare to entice them, while putting the burden back on what businesses choose to stay at home. The sad fact is most “stars” recognize early on that their best opportunity lies away. In many cases taking valuable jobs with them.

Distant opportunities slowly suck the life out of many business communities who fail to witness the growing talents at home and do nothing to encourage their success until it’s too late. These true entrepreneurs are our youngest and brightest minds. As they leave the void is filled with businesses who are afraid to look globally, They prefer to follow rather than lead. They do not look to distant horizons but prefer to be big fish in small ponds.

The best this scenario can produce is events that bring these stars in life back to do a keynote and have all the local leaders anguish over what could have been. It’s time they stopped gushing, and started to adopting long-term strategies that not only encourage outside investment but inside as well.

9 Things You Should Know When Dealing With Difficult People

Most of us would rather avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is not free of it. We have to be dealing with difficult people and situations in our business from time to time.

9 Steps for Dealing With a Difficult Customer

Here’s the good news. In some ways, handling demanding people is a little easier online because that person isn’t in your face. You also have the luxury of time and to respond on your terms. Try these techniques the next time you encounter a troll, an upset customer or someone who is just plain rude.

When Dealing With Difficult People, Keep Calm

This is always so much easier said than done in the heat of the moment. However, as mature adults, we simply must learn to contain the natural anger and hurt.

For me, staying detached helps. I pretend like I’m a customer service rep just doing his job. Often, I even introduce or sign off with a different name (that has other benefits too). This way, I’m forced to be calmer – after all, if I were a rep who wants to keep his job, I should be nice.

Don’t Sweep Them Under The Rug

It is awfully tempting to close your eyes and pretend things never happened. However, when people misbehave on your turf, such as your blog, your forum, your Facebook group or page, your help desk, it’ll only hurt in the long run to let things slide.

Resentment among members will seep into the community. Those following you will notice the lack of leadership. And, if it’s a customer issue, you’ll probably lose them for good. It’s hard but you should always acknowledge the offender.

Respond Later – But Not Too Late

Just because you must respond doesn’t mean you should jump right to it. Try not to get roped into a match in the heat of the moment. Let a comment stand 15 – 30 minutes or even an hour or two. It’ll be OK. You’ll probably have a clearer head by then. You might also have given the other person some time to chill out.

Ask Your Trusted Peers For Input

There are two scenarios when to use this. First, when you are stumped at how to respond to a particular issue. Two, when you want to validate your response is the best possible one you can give.

Almost always, I find others will give, or remind me of a different perspective. This usually leads to a clearer, better thought out reaction that seeks to reconcile rather than alienate.

Give The Benefit of The Doubt

We all have bad days where one bad thing seems to lead into another. Whether we realize it or not, we offload this negative energy onto others. Perhaps that’s what’s happening to this person.

Resist The Urge To Defend

Sometimes, no matter how you say it, explaining yourself always comes off as defensive. This could infuriate people even more, sending the situation spiraling in a direction you don’t want.

That’s not to say you admit defeat or apologize for what you believe in. Instead, saying something simple like this could diffuse the situation quickly. “I can see how that would be upsetting. Thank you for voicing your opinion.”

Be Polite

Whenever my children cry about who did/said something bad to them first, I’ll respond with, “Yes, that wasn’t nice but you don’t have to return the favor.”

By returning rudeness with politeness, we break the cycle. The buck stops with you.

Sift Through For Real Nuggets

Unless it’s a personal attack, underneath all the tough words, there could be truth. This person might be pointing out something you overlooked. They might be showing you a different way and point of view. It’s hard to read but after time has passed, try to ascertain if there is something you can learn from it. It’s OK to feel a little upset again but don’t let that take over. Focus on what you can learn and you’ll see it.

Cut Them Loose

No matter what you try, some people may be beyond helping. Limit your time with them. Get someone else to assist them. Try to have short conversations or those that steer clear of hot button topics. If you really cannot be around them, cut them loose completely.

It’s never easy dealing with difficult people. Give yourself permission to feel hurt, to even get upset. You can’t win over everyone, but if you stay classy, you’ll always come out a winner, no matter what the immediate results are.

Is Your Brand Living Someone Else’s Life?

A brand is essentially the reputation of any company. In the day-to-day operating of a company, it’s confronted by a plethora of challenges. It takes a particular sort of person to grow a company while hurtling these obstacles. Brands that I admire are typically ones that are leaders in their category. There are the obvious ones that catch the global eye. Companies like Apple, Google and Virgin. But locally there are also companies whose brand shines. They are on the front lines and manage to lead in their own ways. Their positioning differentiates them and that difference rewards them.

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Then of curse there are the other companies. They’re the ones living some other brands life. These are the obvious brands that rely on analyze what the leaders are doing and mimic them. They believe that since Nike uses a swoosh, then dah, if they use one too they will become as successful as them. This of course is quite a stretch. But you see it every day.

How many hamburger joints follow the McDonald’s model? I’m surprised they don’t adopt a clown of their own. Notice how all auto dealers look exactly the same. Grocery stores also follow each other.

Where someone dares to break the mold and forge out with a brand that screams leader, the public usually rewards them. The norm is broken and they rise to the top. iTunes changed the way music was sold. Amazon revolutionized book distribution. Whole Foods showed traditional grocery a thing or two. Richard Branson and Virgin break boundaries all the time. He seems to take normalcy as a personal challenge. Steve Jobs as well.

In my own community, I see companies copying other companies all the time. I recognize that a major cause is a complete lack of confidence. The desire to BE an entrepreneur but not the where with all to actually behave like one. They all have this wait and see philosophy. Odd, the thing is they’re not waiting for themselves – they’re waiting for you. You take the risks on an idea, if you have some success they’re quick to swoop in and copy you.

I had a leading window and door manufacturer who did a fabulous job retailing his product. He was flustered by the fact that once his flyers went out, the leading competitor would mimic everything he did. As a credit to his sense of humour, he grew so tired of this that a week before his flyer ran he’d send the owner of that company a heads up as what he would be offering. It gave him the last laugh.

All laughing aside it spoke to the lack of confidence that manufacturer suffered from. It made his brand an also ran. His company name should have been called “Me Too!.” You can look exactly like any company you wish. You can behave like any company but your can never BE that company. The cultures are different and the leadership is different. A brand has to be authentic to be successful. If you’re copying then there’s nothing authentic about your brand and it’s not fooling anyone. It’s the reason Apple outsells anyone else even with a substantially more expensive product. The other-lifer’s – THEY’RE NOT APPLE. THEY’RE NOT AMAZON OR GOOGLE.

You are you. It’s that simple. To be great your brand has to lead not follow. If you follow someone else you are by definition already behind. Following doesn’t put you out front. Living someone else’s life pays homage to the original. Makes sense when you think about it.

Brand Strategically: How To Tell When Your Graphic Designer Doesn’t “Get” Branding

Brand Strategically-060514There’s a great deal of discussion these days in regard to branding and re-branding. Typically branding is seen to be the domain of the big players in the marketplace. But what was formerly thought to be only available to them is now available to the rest of us – small and medium size enterprises (SME’s) who wish to use strategy to win. They are intrigued that they can absolutely succeed through taking a leadership position. SME’s turn to graphic designers to facilitate their “branding.”

It’s this writer’s opinion that a good percentage of graphic designers see branding or re-branding as nothing more than changing the logo and marketing materials – visual solution. The reasons SME’s have for needing branding typically have very little to do with visuals per se. Many are searching for a solution to flat sales, low moral, changing culture, up-dating of positioning, expansion , succession and any number of business issues. If you’re looking to have branding done properly, I’d recommend working with a firm that has a proven branding process that strategically looks at your brand and can develop strategies that position it as the leader in its category. If the graphic designers you’re speaking to only mention logo and marketing materials – hike up your britches and run like hell.

Avoiding these designers is imperative because they simply don’t “get” branding. They think it’s too complicated and frankly don’t have the confidence and expertise to deliver the real article so they deliver what they do have confidence in – a visual solution only. The unqualified designer will view a strategic, process-driven approach as counter-intuitive. I’m guessing it won’t to you when you understand that strategy is what the visual solution is based on. An experienced branding expert will deliver a strategic and visual solution together as an overall deliverable. Experiencing this properly allows you the customer to appreciate the value delivered. When delivered to your branding team, a qualified designer now becomes an integral strategic partner to your business. They will be able to assist you in not only developing a leading brand but also assist and facilitate launching it effectively.

Look for and demand that a branding process be utilized. A branding process allows everyone on your team to easily understand what is taking place. Your Team may not be used to things like branding, design and strategic brainstorming. A process allows everyone to see the deliverables as they emerge. They get that something comes next and over time builds into something very powerful and motivating. If you as an SME have experience in things like compliances, ISO and industry standards then a branding process with its validation components will make perfect sense to you with you.

As with anything an SME does to improve their business, it’s important to get it right the first time. Branding is no different. If you find it daunting to walk yourself through it, then it will benefit you to bring in qualified assistance. I’ve been branding companies for a while now and every time i facilitate the process with a business’s branding team, establishing a dominate position in their category has more impact than a slogan or a new logo. It reaches deep into the culture of the company and reflects the core values in it boldness. If branding is something you’re investigating but would enjoy some research in the matter, I’d recommend the book, “Blue Ocean Strategy” to help understand why positioning is the key deliverable from any certified branding expert.

For more information on how designers can work with a branding process, or for designers wanting to up their game and deliver a genuine branding experience, check out these two comprehensive brand training programs: “How to Talk About Branding,” and the Brand Academy Certification Workshop.
Designers should also catch the no-cost webinar, “How to Make $20,000 to $50,000 on Your Next Branding Project“.