The Window Can Be Dangerous

People want to know. Maybe not everything, but most things. There is still some bliss associated with ignorance, particularly for those messier details. So, companies are putting more of themselves “in the window”, showing the world how they function and what they actually do.

When you put yourself there, honesty and openness rule the day. With that honesty, innocent mistakes can be forgiven. Companies that insist on the constant spin that everything is perfect need only one thread to see it all unravel. Simply look to the individuals and organizations that quickly find themselves cowering in disgrace.

At the same time, having that type of transparency, especially for a company that has been around for a while, requires that you have your act together. Let me offer a personal example.

Traveling home from a business trip last week, I stopped at a familiar vendor (they have stores across the country with a good reputation) to grab a sandwich for the flight. I placed my order and could watch the staff just to the side making the sandwiches and wraps. The line of people waiting for their food grew, yet the workers showed absolutely no sense of urgency. They also looked as though they didn’t really know how to make what they were selling. They ran out of most types of bread, even though that is their specialty. And they fulfilled the orders out of sequence.

All of this is happening before 6 PM on a Friday in one of the country’s busiest airports.

There were other problems as well: inconsistency in calling out the finished order to patrons; other staff not stepping in to help; a manager trying to decide with another manager which one would stay and which would go to the other location in the terminal. And yes, everything took place in plain sight.

Take a lesson. Get your processes and procedures in place. Train your staff to be customer-centric. Create a sense of urgency in fulfilling customer needs. Then, put it in the window for all to see.

Oh, and if you’re worried about your competitors stealing your ideas, fear not. Out-execute them, and you’ll stay ahead of the game.

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Both Sides of Your Noggin

True success in brand management requires you to use both sides of your brain, often moving imperceptively from hard number analysis to creative conceptualization and everywhere in between. That’s because you must understand every aspect of your business, how all the pieces fit together and function as a whole.

It takes recognizing which investments will have a positive return versus those that are “really cool” with no payback. It’s seeing what is creative for creativity’s sake compared to what’s creative because it does exactly what you need it to do in a more effective (and preferably efficient) way.

It’s the ability to predict what the market expects next and how your competitors will respond to your moves. It’s establishing the long-range strategy, while managing the day-to-day execution.

In essence, when you are managing a brand, you are running a business. And if you find yourself lacking in a particular area, take the steps necessary to surround yourself with a team that complements your skill set.

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Business Opportunities Abound

Yesterday, on my Fix It or Go! blog, I wrote this post about the controversial enforcement of an existing teenage curfew at a local mall. After lamenting some of the unfortunate reactions by teens, I offered suggestions for what they could have done differently, such as:

  • Work with the mall to create a Teen Zone, an area dedicated to them
  • Negotiate for a later time in the day for the curfew
  • Implement a fee-based special identification card that allows them in to the mall outside of the curfew and without a chaperone, as long as they follow the rules, with the fees going to support additional security
  • Put together a business plan for a venue that caters directly to them

A big reason why the problem existed in the first place is that there aren’t enough places around specifically for teens. There is an enormous opportunity here for entrepreneurs. The key, though, will be safety. As long as it is fun and safe, whatever new venture develops will succeed.

And this is but one instance. Take a look around you. What are the complaints? What is at the root of those complaints? What are the unmet needs?

Those are your opportunities. Now, find the right partners (preferably someone from the group you hope to serve) and get to work before someone else beats you to it.

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Do Enough to Do It Well

There are things we all do well. We may be exceptional at some of them. At the same time, there are a number of things we don’t do well or at all. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have the talent. Or we don’t do it enough to develop the skills. Or maybe we haven’t tried it at all, so we don’t know how good (or bad) we might be. Regardless, unless you have some sort of freakish natural ability, you won’t develop the necessary skill to be successful at whatever it is you do or want to do until you hit a threshold of activity.

A study by heart surgeons from Johns Hopkins supports this notion. They found that the greatest success rates among heart transplant recipients were from centers performing 14 or more heart transplants per year. That is the apparent threshold, and the surgeons are recommending it as the minimum for any heart transplant center to receive the requisite designation.

This same concept applies to business as well. If you already compete in a market segment, yet you have not achieved sufficient volume for improving your skills or efficiencies, then look to what your competitors are doing better than you at attracting that business.

Suppose a segment is new for you or you consistently underperform. You can seek out additional training. There may be an expert in the field that is willing to come work for you on a permanent, semi-permanent or even temporary basis to advise, teach or recruit. Maybe you can identify a mentor to guide you.

If you have exhausted all the possibilities for improvement, or aren’t willing to make the investment, then the only reasonable thing to do is exit the segment and develop your expertise elsewhere. Something you can do well, manage properly, reach a threshold of activity and grow your business.

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Get It Straight

I’ve been working with a group that is exploring an extension of their existing business. When we first started together, they were excited about the prospects and anxious to move forward. The only problem was they weren’t sure what steps to take. In fact, they wanted to start selling before having something to sell.

When planning a new product or introduction into a new market, your plan must include:

  • Figuring out what the actual product or service is that you are selling
  • Making a rough estimate of the price
  • Deciding how you intend to distribute the goods or services
  • Defining what the benefits are to working with you
  • Establishing what it will mean to the customers, especially if they have to change practices
  • Finding which intermediaries you need to make it work
  • Investigating the regulatory hoops you will have to jump through
  • If you are going to use endorsers:
    • Who are they?
    • Where are they?
    • How will they deliver the message?
    • How influential are they?
  • Having the right people on board in your organization, including your board (if you have one)

We had the answers to many of these items, but not all. We had to take a step back, re-evaluate the situation, get things organized and conduct some additional due diligence before moving forward. In this case, it is the right way to proceed. Because when it comes time to sell, they’ll be ready.

Addressing the above items brings credibility to you, your brand and the products or services you will deliver. Take them seriously. Remember, if you want customers to invest in your product or service, you need to make an investment yourself. And you need a plan.

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