Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's Your Company's Most Valuable Resource? (Hint: It Isn't a 'What')

A lot of companies will talk about how important their employees are, but how many actually put it on a moving billboard?

That's pretty much what Crete Carrier of Lincoln, Neb., has done to recognize its drivers. Maybe you've seen the trailers being pulled down the highways. They say in big bold letters, "Our Most Valuable Resource Sits Here," with an arrow pointing to the cab.

When the Brandtenders team saw this on the road, we just had to take a picture.

It's a reminder to us all, no matter which industry we're in, to make sure we recognize and reward co-workers at all levels of our business. A recent study found that over 70 percent of high performers in organizations don't even know they're high performersbecause no one told them!

Sure, we might know how many people it takes to source a truck, load it, put it on the road and get to the destination in a timely, safe manner. But we also often take all those moving parts for granted because we're focused on the "it" (the product) more than the "who" (the people).

When we say "reward and recognize," our brains automatically go to money in some form, whether it's regular compensation or bonuses of some sort. But rewarding goes much further than that, and the little things that leaders do make all the difference for employees at every level.

More than your facilities, product or even trucks, your people are your brand. You need them engaged because everything they say and doin the office or out on the roadis a commercial for your company.

Not surprisingly, Crete Carrier walks (or drives) its talk. In fact, the company received the 2013 Nebraska American Legion Employer of Veterans Award for establishing an outstanding record of employing and retaining veterans. They seem to be doing a swell job of employing and retaining employees, and one of the major factors for the company's success is an ongoing commitment to its drivers and other employees.

This sets the benchmark for the rest of us. You may not have the time or resources to paint a moving billboard, but you sure can take a few minutes today to acknowledge those people who keep you in business.

This post was originally written by Dan Day for another company that values its employees, GW Transportation of Delano, MN.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Group-Off: Blame the Model Not the CEO

When you're a small business, the perception of your brand is everything.

So why would you risk that by discounting the value of what you provide?

That's the question Groupon and its shareholders must learn to answer if they want to halt the company's decline.

For a while, Groupon—or at least the media—could blame creative financial reporting or suggest that Andrew Mason wasn't the most mature CEO on the planet to explain the discounter's tumble.

With those excuses gone, the real reason behind Groupon's challenge is exposed: the company's business model doesn't benefit its customers.

he company offers consumers online discount coupons from local merchants. Participation from consumers has slowed somewhat since the company began offering these programs in 2008, but that shouldn't be the primary concern for Groupon.

ore importantly, Groupon has been around long enough that the results are in and its customers—small businesses—don’t like the double whammy they see: the math doesn't add up and the discounts do nothing to further the business.

ay you want to promote your $30 signature meal through Groupon. The offer goes online for 50 percent off, or $15. Groupon gets half of that ($7.50) plus a processing fee which can add up to 7 percent, leaving you with $6.98 to provide a $30 experience.

dd in additional staff, supplies and potential lost revenue from seats that may have been occupied by full fare-paying customers and you'll see a loss on each coupon that’s redeemed. Groupon manages the monetary transaction with the consumer and pays you after the promotion ends.

or the consumer, this may not be such a bad deal. View the online discounts, pick one that fits your needs and visit that establishment for cheap coffee, dry cleaning or yoga class. But why would a small business want in on the Groupon model?

ecause small business owners have a passion and particular skill for doing something they believe brings value to the marketplace. That expertise isn't necessarily in marketing, so getting customers in the door—at any cost—is appealing. There's a misperception among naturally optimistic entrepreneurs that people will return once they see you in action. In reality, a very small percentage actually does return when they come to you in the first place because of a discount.

other myth is that any promotion to your target market is good exposure, even to those who don't take advantage of a particular offer. Problem is, the visibility you gain is that of a discounter. Not the way to grow a brand.

hen Groupon becomes the connecting point between a brand and its consumers, the wrong message is sent: "Hey consumers, look at us. We're in business, and our services are worth half of what we originally priced them at."

iscount programs don't build consumer engagement or brand loyalty. Consumers don't see a value in the brands for which they are clipping online coupons, they see only the discount, a deal. They may build up an affinity to the Groupon brand, frequenting its site to jump from one bargain to the next, but that doesn't translate into any allegiance to your brand, the one footing the bill for the promotion.

discount has ever propelled a brand to greatness (think Apple, Disney or Harley-Davidson). That's not to say Steve Jobs didn't cut any deals when his business was considered small, but the idea of being a discounter was far from his mind at any time in his tenure at Apple.

It costs less for a business to retain existing customers than it does to attract new ones, and Groupon offers run the risk of hurting your brand by offending repeat customers—the best customers to have—who aren't receiving discounts all the time.

eople want value from a brand more than they want a discount. When Groupon figures out a way to provide shared value to all parties connected by its online promotional engine, better results will happen for the company and its customers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Giant Leap for a Brand

Neil Armstrong's journey to the moon launched my brand.

I'm not speaking of a product I invented or an organization I founded. I'm talking about my individual brand.

His actions caused me to build things, question things, even burn things in feeble attempts to light rockets I thought could help me explore the skies.

We tend to think of brands only in the corporate sense: companies, products, political parties and the marketing we apply to them to "build the brand."

But people have brands. People are brands. Think Harley and Davidson, Disney, Kroc and Jobs. Without those strong individual brands, there's no footprint for a corporate culture to stand in, to take shape and grow into something bigger, something better than what the founder could do on his own.

That culture becomes the brand, which when you cut away the systems, processes, and marketing spin is simply an extension of the founder's personality. It sometimes grows too big and moves too far away from the inspiration behind the company, so retooling and reorganizations take place to get back to what made it great.

The most famous astronaut not only had a great brand, he had the most powerful tagline of the 20th century: "That's one small step for (a) man. One giant leap for mankind."

As proof that your brand message doesn't always come across as you intend, but rather how the public interprets it, Mr. Armstrong says he put that "a" before "man" but it was undecipherable and most often scratched from history.

He accomplished what all brands aspire to do: get noticed, inspire and motivate us to take some action.

There's been a lot of discussion lately on whether corporations are people. Yes, corporations are people. Who else makes the decisionsgood or otherwiseto govern the organization?

When Mr. Armstrong touched the surface of the moon, I was nine and had no clue what a brand was. And the next few years to follow were about to shape who I became, to myself and to others.

To myself, I was an imaginative explorer who could go anywhere and do anything. My family was nothing but supportive, which I realize is an advantage not all of us have as we shape our brands during these formative years.

To go to the moon, I assumed you had to be really smart. So I began to read more, look through telescopes and pay attention in school (okay, at least in those classes I thought would get me to the moon the fastest).

As with corporate brands, the perception and reality can be different for personal brands.

I've spent the last couple of days thinking about Neil Armstrong by reflecting on his brand, and the impact it had on forming mine. I told members of my family this week that outside of them, Neil Armstrong had the biggest impact on the development of my brand. Maybe he shaped your brand as well.

That's the best tribute I can think of to a man who never sought to be a brand bigger than any of the rest of us.

I never made it to the moon, but thanks to Mr. Armstrong I've always felt I'm going even farther. In my business of helping organizations mold their public personas with the help of the strong individual brands working for them, I constantly get to witness the impact that the actions of one person can make on many others.

That was one small step for a man. And one giant leap for a small brand.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Net Promoter Cannot Score Without Employee Involvement

It's nice to hear customers say they'd recommend you to others, but it doesn’t mean they're any more engaged with you.

If your organization is one of the many employing Net Promoter Score (NPS) as an indicator of customer satisfaction, you’ve taken a step toward developing stronger customer relationships—and you still have some ground to cover.

NPS is based on the idea that by learning how likely customers are to recommend your company, you can segment them into “Promoters” (they really like you), “Passives” (they sort of like you) and “Detractors” (they don’t like you).

Understanding these segments allows you to categorize the positive and negative outcomes and determine ways to either replicate or correct them. It’s valuable only when you use this insight to change what you do, to create better outcomes in the future.

Even the Net Promoter Community cautions that “simply measuring your NPS does not lead to success. Companies must follow an associated discipline to actually drive improvements in customer loyalty and enable profitable growth.”

That “associated discipline” means making sure you are offering the right value at the right time to the right segments of customers.

The scores you get are a lot like a political poll. It’s valuable to understand current behaviors of humans in order to predict their future behaviors; however, like voters your customers’ situations and corresponding behaviors can change. What people say they'll do—and what they actually do—can be completely different things.

In other words, will they actually go vote—and vote for you—when they need what you provide, just because they said they would some time ago?

Communicating value is best done by employees who understand your brand message and are connected to customers who've determined it's time to buy. Educate employees on your brand message as the foundation for strengthening their every interaction with customers. Tell them what the customer-satisfaction data means to them and how it impacts their roles.

By making a positive difference in your customers’ lives, you will improve revenues. That kind of impact comes through the interactions your employees have with customers. A smart Net Promoter company develops “promoters” from within—at the point where employees can actually improve the lives of customers.

Dell has been using NPS for years, having gained sponsorship from the top: Michael Dell holds quarterly meetings with business areas to understand how they consistently satisfy customers. This is the corporate culture he’s created for Dell, knowing the culture ultimately becomes the brand. (True for every organization, by the way.)

The company has grown a vast champion network of employees who are aligned to the brand message, “tendering” that message—just like they would currency—to colleagues and customers every chance they get. Let's call those employees brandtenders.

Dell believes that in order to create engaged customers, it is crucial to help employees understand the difference they are making. Research firm The Temkin Group summed up a study of customer satisfaction and NPS this way: “Relationship trumps product."

Regardless of the measurement devices you use, here's how to get employees more involved in building sronger relationships with customers:

1. Help employees understand and become interested in your brand message—your  ‘story'. (Employees become more engaged when they understand your company’s core values.)

2. Train employees to communicate the brand message consistently, to each other and to customers. (Your internal culture ultimately becomes your external brand.)

3. Allow employees the freedom to represent the brand in their own styles. (You hired them for their strong individual brands, right?)

These actions will do more for your organization than give you higher numbers on a scorecard. They'll make a tangible, lasting difference for your customers, employees and company.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Team Sky Really Knows How to Pedal a Brand

Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the Tour de France.

It’s amazing that since the Tour began in 1903, no one from across the English Channel could pedal to victory in France.

Maybe not so amazing when you look closely at how Wiggins, his teammates and their leader took to the roads. A lot like strong companies take to their markets.

Great companies do three things well: Help people understand and become interested in its story—its brand; teach employees to communicate that brand message consistently; and allow employees some freedom to represent the brand in their own style.

Seems Team Sky does all three of these and quite well.

Let’s start with gaining commitment to the brand. Team Sky immediately differentiated itself by doing something unusual: affixed to the top bar of each bicycle—on a blue background matching the team’s colors and staring straight back at the rider—were these words:

“This is the line
The line between winning and losing
Between failure and success
Between good and great
Between dreaming and believing
Between convention and innovation
Between head and heart
It’s a fine line
It challenges everything we do
And we ride it every day”

This is the brand statement by which this organization’s culture is created. That culture, whether you’re pedaling a bicycle with eight other guys or working for a Fortune 500 company, ultimately becomes your brand.

Every time a Team Sky rider looks down—and that’s a lot when he pedals over 2,000 miles in three weeks—he is reminded of the brand for which he works. The employees of this organization truly understand what the brand is about.

Not to remain just words on carbon-fiber tubes—like the dusty mission statements hanging on cube walls everywhere—the message is reinforced by Team Principal Dave Brailsford during practice sessions, pre-race meetings on the team bus and in conversations with the riders during each stage (teams use radios to communicate with the their leaders who ride behind them in small colorful cars with extra bikes piled on top).

Each rider knows his place in the organization and what his contributions are at certain points in the race. This became most apparent as “second lieutenant” Chris Froome, considered by many to be the best rider in this year’s tour, slowed several times on the mountain passes to allow Wiggins to catch up and save energy by drafting on Froome’s back wheel. You could literally feel Froome “dragging” the eventual winner up the mountainside.

How does such conformity to the team allow for individual expression and success? Team Sky catapulted itself to an almost too-easy victory because of specific individual contributions by each rider somewhere along the way:

Froome, the faithful domestique, carried his captain through the roughest terrain; Mark Cavendish, the sprinter, was allowed to break away from the pack at the last few meters of a stage, winning two of them (including the final one on the Champs-Elysées); and Edvald Boasson Hagen is a rare talent who is relied upon to both climb and sprint, depending on where the team needs him most.

Each was afforded the flexibility to showcase his individual talent and style during the race. Still, Team Sky determined beforehand that Wiggins had the best chance among its members to win the tour, so when it came time to concentrate on who would wear the yellow jersey for leading the overall standings, each rider rode that “fine line” to put Wiggins up front.

Sure enough, there he stood atop the podium after the Sunday’s last stage, sideburns growing to his chin, fresh off grumbling about stupid questions from the media, and ending his victory speech with “Don’t get too drunk.” A real character. A brand unto himself.

Froome came in a little over three minutes behind Wiggins in the overall standings, resulting in a rare occurrence: two riders from the same team finishing the tour in first and second places. The team placed second in the overall team standings.

Team Sky’s leaders know that a group of strong individual contributors rallying around a single brand leads to success and reward for both the individuals and the organization.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Would You Do Business with Roger Sterling?

Are you a small firm with no sales team, considering hiring someone to acquire new business?

Don’t. Until you consider this: You might be surrounded by business developers, disguised as employees.

Your instinct says, “Employees weren’t hired to sell,” or “Employees don’t have the expertise to sell.”

Sure, you can spend time and money hiring a go-getter who is smooth on the phone and keeps a positive attitude despite hearing “no” 20 times a day. But when she finds someone interested in your services, can she represent your culture—your brand—or is it apparent to prospects that she’s merely shepherding them through your sales process?

Clients today don’t need Roger Sterling from Mad Men. They need people who understand their needs and can make things happen. They need to see value, right out of the gate.

You’ve invested a lot to recruit, hire and cultivate strong people. Before throwing one dollar toward hiring additional personnel for the sole purpose of acquisition, consider leveraging the marketing power lying dormant amongst your ranks.

Employees have countless “Moments of Impression” with clients and prospects. What are they? How do you maximize each and every one, to drive leads, referrals and growth within existing clients?

Employees are the only ones who can truly represent your culture—your brand—by developing the relationships that become the strongest link from your brand to potential new clients.

If you didn’t hire employees to help you build the brand, what did you hire them for?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to Sink a Brand

The captain of the Costa Concordia has certainly tarnished his reputationhis brand.

He's also extremely weakened our perception of the brands he works for: Carnival Corp. and its Italian unit, Costa Crociere SpA. Even though it's very possible no other captain in the fleet will make this kind of mistake, it doesn't matter.

All the advertising, branding and marketing you do is at the mercy of your employees. Even if the people who work with you don't have the ability to completely sink your brand, they surely can put holes in its hull.

Captain Schettino didn't set out to damage either the ship or the image portrayed by the logos adorning it. Your employees want to do good, mainly because contributing to the company Brand (notice the BIG "B") in meaningful ways helps to build their own personal brands (with a little "b").

(Don't let the caps and lowercase fool you into thinking one's more crucial than the other; they're equal when it comes to gaining market share.)

Only when one brand puts itself above the other does the water start to seep in. Say, for example, the brand decides to flex some muscle by showing off for a retiring team member or cute eastern European woman, disregarding what's best for the Brand. Bad things can happen.

But let's not pick solely on the little "b". It works the other way, too.

The genesis of Brand is derived from executive vision, but ultimately becomes what employees make of it. All too often, Brand runs itself aground by, say, making claims to the marketplace that can't be delivered on, or treating employees like, well, employees and not the important "Brandtenders" they are.