Be Timely

So I’m standing in front of my house this weekend, watching the kids scooter around, when we’re suddenly accosted by various people passing out flyers. One gentleman asked me if he can share some information about a local candidate. I shuffled some papers around so I could grab the brochure. Once I had it, I noticed that another candidate’s flyer was tucked inside. There was no mention of a two-for-one from the guy. I just chuckled and turned away.

As I made my way inside, I looked at the tag-along and noticed that the date stamped on the back was 2006. I get the efficiency, since it was a re-election campaign. In fact, I almost applaud it. There’s only one (major) problem. A lot has changed in the last two years—far too much to just recycle what you’ve already done. By simply reusing your old stuff you are saying one of two things: either you are too out-of-touch to recognize that things have changed, or you haven’t done what you said you were going to do the first time, so you just say it again.

The same goes for any business. A consistent message is key. Beat it like a rented mule, especially if it is good and on target. But also recognize that as you produce, address issues and evolve, you move along and tackle the next set of problems.

I don’t, by any means, advocate that you should craft your message around the latest trends. Doing so would signal that you aren’t committed to who you really are. And if you’re not committed, why should anyone else be? Being timely and consistent with your message reinforces your brand. It shows your audience that you are focused on addressing the needs of your constituents (customers, consumers, employees, etc.).

Constant reinforcement of your message is necessary for solidifying your brand. Incorporating timely needs into that message is critical to building a long-term brand.

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Execution Matters

I was speaking recently with my CEO, and the conversation took a rather predictable turn. For the last several years, I have held firm to the belief that ideas, in and of themselves hold no value. The real value of an idea lies within your ability and willingness to execute.

And how you execute on an idea defines the success. In other words, excellent execution of a terrible idea can produce far superior outcomes than poor execution of a fantastic idea.

Sometimes, being able to guess how well you can execute proves elusive. The idea itself may be absolutely brilliant, so brilliant that you lose sight of how to execute. You get caught up in the rapture of the concept that you focus too little attention of really making it work.

At other times, people really just “phone in” the idea simply because it is easy to execute, and they don’t want to have to work that hard.

If we were talking in theatrical terms, these most likely would be considered comedies. The real tragedy, then, is having a terrific, game-changing idea and having no way of being able to execute on it. Maybe because you don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth or the basic ability to navigate regulatory waters. Whatever the reason, it is a great idea lost because you couldn’t make it work.

When you find yourself in that situation, and at some point you will, look around at who could help. Look for friends, family, associates, similar businesses that could partner with you to make your idea the revolutionary product it is capable of becoming.

Don’t just let it be another breakthrough that dies with that next round of drinks at the bar.

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The Challenge of Segmentation

Segmentation is a difficult thing to wrangle sometimes. When internet-based sales starting picking up steam ten years ago, people weren’t sure how to respond, though the thought process really shouldn’t have been much different than for catalog sales. The main difference is that the catalog was now online and accessible to anyone who was interested.

What the internet, and catalogs for that matter, gives you is another channel for selling to customers, even if the audience is different. Thus is the challenge of segmentation. The essential question is this: what do you offer to sell people, where and at what price? OK, maybe it’s three questions. Regardless, there are four basic ways to segment your offering:

  1. Selling the same brand, with the same features and pricing, through different channels—You offer the same thing online or in a catalog that you do at retail for the same price.
  2. Selling the same brand, with differing features and pricing, but through the same channel—Your retail offerings for the same brand are priced differently, based on the features.
  3. Selling the same brand, with differing features and/or pricing, through different channels—What you offer online is exclusive to the channel and different than what you sell at retail, even for the same brand and similar product.
  4. Selling the same product, with the same features, different pricing and brand names, through the same channels—You offer the same product with the same features and through the same channel (online or catalog or retail) but under different brand names.

What’s going to work best for you depends on the product you sell, the channels available to you and your customers and how effectively you can manage the process. A major concern will be how the channels (or brands from option 4) compete with each other and cannibalize sales. Sometimes, none of these options make sense as there is only one way to sell your particular product.

But make no assumptions. Explore the options. Do some tests. See what makes the most sense. And most importantly, sell to your customers where they are, at the price they expect to find and with the features and benefits that deliver on your brand promise.

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Find a Middle Ground

Many companies approach managing their brand in one of two ways. Some will take a conservative approach, wanting to stay true to the brand and not take too many, if any, risks. Others focus on shiny new objects, looking to use the latest and greatest or the next hot thing.

For a company’s long-term success, there needs to be a middle ground, a balance between staying true to the brand, while exploring new ways to communicate that consistent message. And the way to do that is to stay anchored while exploring. Yes, it sounds a bit contradictory or even oxymoronish (some might want to drop the oxy part).

But it works. Start by documenting, specifically, what your desired result is. Indentify how, what you are doing fits with the overall strategy. Write your central message, tone and key points on paper. Get agreement that it accurately reflects the brand.

Now, evaluate how you can use the shiny objects to achieve the desired results. If it’s not the right fit, don’t try to force it. You’ll just do more damage. Often, the really cool stuff isn’t going to work for your brand. And that is perfectly fine. If you really want to do something with it, make it a hobby. After you play with it for a while, you’ll either find an effective way to incorporate it, or you’ll see that it wouldn’t have worked in the first place.

Either way, you are staying true to the brand. And that is most important.

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Understanding What You Really Sell

I am working on a new project that started with one purpose but morphed into another because of one “little” question: What is it we are really selling? At first glance, the answer may be obvious, but as you dig deeper and talk with your customers, you’re likely to find there’s more to it than that.

Let’s take a straightforward example like Coca-Cola®. They sell beverages, right? Of course they do. But they also sell their name, image and distribution. What about Honda®? They sell automobiles, motor cycles, lawn equipment, just about anything that can have an engine. And they sell fuel efficiency, technology and reliability.

When you are positioning your brand, you have to understand how your customers view you. To them, you are selling so much more than your product. You’re also selling key things that go with it—that list could include innovation, service, business opportunities, education, self-esteem, fulfillment, joy, entertainment. The possibilities are endless. In reality, you have to focus on just a few and do them exceptionally well.

And make sure they line up with what your customers have come to expect and rely on from you, or you will find yourself in a major disconnect.

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Passion and Lessons Learned

On Monday, I wrote a piece focusing on what Apple is doing from a business perspective to out maneuver PCs. My intention was to stay out of the PC versus Mac debate. In fact, I wanted to take a neutral position. Instead, my statement that “neither one is truly better than the other” was taken as a personal affront to Mac lovers. To anyone I offended with that statement, please accept my apologies.

According to some that commented, there are mounds of research supporting the Mac OS X as far superior to Windows. Admittedly, I haven’t read it. In my direct experience using a Macbook, however, I wasn’t blown away. But again, that wasn’t the point of the post.

I did learn a few things, though. First, that one statement made that post the most widely read post I have ever had, and it all happened in one day. The main driver was the fact that people are so passionate about Macs that they ran to see who was writing that “foolish”ness and “bullshit”. We should all want our customers to be that passionate about our brands!

Second, when you make (what turns out to be) a controversial statement, readers miss the point you are trying to make (judging by the fact that no one actually commented on the intended point). And that leads me to a bit of a conundrum: is it better for more people to read my post, even if they miss the point, or is it better for fewer people to read it and get the point? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between. Which is a classic branding problem. You want to attract as many people as possible to your brand, but you also want them to get it, interact with it, become fans.

It’s finding that balance between volume and intense loyalty that makes a brand successful.

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Underdoing It at Overstock

I wonder if the good people at Overstock.com really have a message about who they are and what they represent. Their initial ads focused on a women sexually describing that it was all about “the O”.

Now, they apparently have some state of the art delivery system so that nothing gets between you and your purchase. But they don’t. They use the same as most others—UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.

So, what are they all about? What makes them important? Judging by their home page, it’s the index of items they sell and some special promotions. There’s no single identity for them.

And the identities they’ve tried to create don’t say anything accurate or important. There is no central message.

Look at your own brand through a consumer’s eyes. Does it make sense? Does it tell you what you need to know about the brand? Is it consistent with who you are? Is it all tied together to deliver the same message through multiple channels?

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