March 8th – Proofreading Day

Have you ever heard that March 8th is Proofreading Day? I haven’t.

Now you may wonder why, for heaven’s sake, is this worth mentioning. For me it was obvious. Many of us write on a daily basis. We write emails, quotes, proposals, website copy, marketing material, books, news articles, guides, instructions, the list is endless. And each of these written pieces tells a story about us. No, I’m not referring to the content, I’m referring to typos, punctuation, and grammar. They tell stories, too.

I always look at a written piece like an extended business card. It doesn’t matter if it is a quick email, a newsletter, proposal, or anything else for that matter. It leaves the recipient with an impression of us and our business. And we want this impression to be a good one. So, next time before you hit the “send button,” have a final look and make sure you eliminate typos, etc.

That’s why Proofreading Day is worth mentioning.

And for those of you who have known this as a different holiday, happy International Women’s Day.

Stop Using Filler Words

I’m sure you’ve heard them in speeches, presentations, and conversations: filler words, words like “um, ah, so, like”. Some people use them infrequently, but others seem to start or end almost every sentence with one. If you fall into the first category, don’t worry. It won’t distract from your message and is most likely to be perceived as being considerate. If, however, you use them repetitively, it may diminish your credibility as mentioned in the Forbes article “Four Ways to Stop Saying ‘Um’ And Other Filler Words.” And losing the attention, even worse, losing credibility, is definitely something we don’t want to happen, either in personal conversations or, especially, in a business setting.

The tricky part is that we don’t even know that we are using these words, we say them unconsciously. So how can we get rid of them if we don’t know? 

As with all changes, the first step is awareness. Awareness of knowing if we use filler words and, if so, if we use them (too) often?

I learned about my “ahs” and “ums” after I had joined Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a place where one can … “practice public speaking skills, improve communication and build leadership skills.” I didn’t join because I wanted to get rid of the use of filler words (as I said, I wasn’t aware of using them either), but part of their program is, among other things, paying attention and eliminating them.  

You don’t need to become a member of Toastmasters or any other organization. A family member or friend can help you find out as well. I recently told my husband that he has a “favorite” word and, like everybody else, he wasn’t aware of it. If asking someone makes you feel uncomfortable, use a recording device, record yourself and listen to the recording afterward, a suggestion made by Rezvani and Hedges, the authors of the Forbes article mentioned above.

Now that you know, you can do something about it, if needed.

Start by finding out when you tend to use filler words. Do you use them only in certain situations, or have they become a habit which you add at the beginning or end of a sentence?

In my Toastmasters club we noticed that many of us use filler words when we don’t know how to transition from one part of our speech to the next. Instead of being quiet and taking a moment to gather our thoughts, we sprinkle in a little filler word. If this sounds like you, you could pre-plan for such transitions with phrases like: “Let’s move on to…” or “Another important consideration is…” or “Let’s transition to talking about….,” a recommendation made by Hedges and Rezvani. 

But being silent for a couple of seconds would work equally well, if not better. It’ll allow your counterpart or your audience to digest what you’ve said, especially if you talk or present something they are not familiar with.

Olivia Mitchell, a presentation trainer, recommends “chunking” your information. “Chunking is talking in short chunks of words with breaks in between the chunks.” Her reasoning is that instead of focusing on something you don’t want to do, you rather direct your thoughts to something you want to do. Also, by chunking you fall into a rhythm: burst of words – break – burst of words -break, and by doing so you eliminate your “um’s” or whichever other word you may use.

Preparation also plays a big role when it comes to giving a presentation, facing a difficult conversation, or preparing for an important meeting. Organizing our thoughts beforehand makes us less likely to ramble on and use filler words to bridge the gaps between thoughts.

As so often in life, many paths lead to Rome. So do methods or ways to eliminate bad habits or, as in our case, filler words. I learned to pay attention to filler words after I joined Toastmasters. Mitchell suggests chunking, quite a different approach.

If you also use filler words a little bit too often, try and find out which approach works best for you. If you know another way or method to get rid of these little buggers, share it in the comments below. 

To fewer “ums” and “ahs” and to better communication. See you next time,

Principle 12 and 12.5 – Big Goals and Bold Actions & Choose Your Brand

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

We reached the home stretch, the last two chapters, or Principles for that matter, of the book. They are about energy and where companies with Sticky Brands get their energy from. What is necessary to break through revenue plateaus. That Sticky Brands don’t accept the status quo. And last but not least, some words of encouragement and advice. 

According to Miller, companies with Sticky Brands generate energy and motivation by setting big goals, goals that are guided by their purpose and values, what he calls aspirational goals. “When a goal is just about a number, it lacks the human element to drive action.” (page 181) People can engage with aspirational goals because they have meaning, they are tangible, and they lead to a different kind of behavior. They tend to foster confidence, resulting in proactive and more action-oriented behavior. “With the right goals you can shift your brand from being average to sticky.” (page 176) Miller gives a great example and I would be amiss not to mention it. It’s Steve Jobs’s pitch to convince John Sculley from Pepsi-Cola to join Apple: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” (page 176) You may not want to change the world, but the question remains: […] how is your company going to make a dent in the universe?” (page 176) What is your big goal that kicks your team into gear and keeps them so engaged that your customers will notice? 

With such a motivated team you will inevitably grow, and so will your revenue. And that’s great. But many companies reach a certain revenue plateau and get stuck there. Miller explains why. Your team, your systems, and your approach need to change. What brought you to the current revenue level won’t be enough to get you to the next one. The most important step is, you guessed it, to determine your next big goal, a goal that has an immediate and tangible impact on your business. And then it’s all about building the infrastructure, designing the systems, and training your team to make it happen. It takes vigilance and continuous evaluation to understand what is needed, what has to change, what can be done better.  

A great tool mentioned by Miller in this chapter is the SMART method. It’s an acronym and stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound. He uses some examples from the book to explain all five points. I found a great explanation on the Mind Tools website that goes into a lot of detail and explores it in a more general way. What I found very helpful on this website is the expansion of the acronym to SMARTER, the E and R standing for Evaluated and Reviewed. These two additions, Evaluate and Review, are emphasized by Miller throughout his book as being crucial. There are plenty of examples and word variations that may work better for your purposes, so feel free to choose the words that resonate with you. After all, “Big Goals [or goals in general] are only valuable if they drive action.” 

Have you ever heard the saying: “If it ain’t broke, break it!” Usually it’s the opposite, but in the context of Sticky Brands it makes a lot more sense this way. According to Miller “the status quo is the enemy of a Sticky Brand.” (page 187) Because accepting the status quo would mean staying where you are, not asking what the next step will be. But that’s not how businesses strive anymore. Who would have thought at the beginning of 2020 that the world would change so drastically? How many businesses needed to pivot to keep their doors open? It only underlines what Miller says about his own experience. He had taken over the family business and struggled tremendously. More than once he asked himself if it was such a great idea to leave his lucrative corporate job. His breakthrough came because he changed direction and did something new. He had to learn that “What had worked for them (his parents) in the past was no longer applicable.” (page 191). It also led to the 12.5 Principles that we “discussed” over the past 12 weeks. 

Wherever you are in your business endeavor, I’m sure you can find inspiration in Sticky Branding. Maybe you became curious and bought the book. I highly recommend it. I read it twice in short order to write my blog, and each time different aspects stood out. Here are some of my takeaways and likes:  

  • First of all, it’s an easy read. 
  • Clarity regarding purpose, goals, values…, you name it. Easy, right? Not necessarily. We are entrepreneurs for a reason, we have lots of ideas. Narrowing them down can be hard. But if we don’t, we run the risk of losing focus.  
  • And since I’m talking about focus: the author’s reminder of focusing on one aspect at a time. Too often we underestimate the amount of time and/or work it takes to finish a project. We take on far too much, resulting in burnout, feeling overwhelmed, and/or not making progress. 
  • The examples illustrating his thoughts and points. 
  • The Exercises at the end of each Principle, serving as starting points to get my creative juices flowing. 

Even if you don’t aim to create your own Sticky Brand you’ll find a lot of thought-provoking questions and ideas, many of which won’t cost you a dime. 

If you got hooked and decided a Sticky Brand is what you want to create, you have a great companion with lots of encouragement along the way. Just keep the book handy. “Growing a Sticky Brand is a way of life.” 

And now it is your turn. What was your favorite Principle of the book? What inspired you to make some changes in your business? As always, comments are welcome! 

See you next time,

Principle 11 – Proud to Serve

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

We almost made it. So, stick with me (pun intended), and we’ll pull it all together in the last part of the book. In Principle 11 we find the following headlines:

The first part of Principle 11 talks about: “Be brilliant at the basics” (page 164). It’s the not so glamorous, often invisible work that’s done behind the scenes. Think of a theatre production. Everyone working on a production has only one goal: creating a magical experience for the audience. But what we see on stage is only a minor part of the work that goes into it. Many hands are needed. Someone designing the costumes; someone building the stage set; someone ensuring that the restrooms are clean; someone cleaning the auditorium, …. 

Sticky Brands pay attention to everything, even the work behind the scenes. They know and take pride in the most mundane things. Every moment counts towards a great experience.  

Just imagine you had to use the bathroom in the theatre, and it was filthy? OK, the performance may have been wonderful, but, I for one, wouldn’t forget my unpleasant restroom visit. 

“Sticky Brands sweat the little things.” (page 164) Even if it means cleaning the bathroom. Miller attaches this commitment and attitude to a clear purpose. “Their attention to detail is absolute, and it radiates through their products, services, hiring practices, operations, marketing, and every customer touch point.” We talked about this and the impact on company culture and employees in the previous two blogs. The focus here is more on the inner and “technical” workings of the company. Purpose fosters enthusiasm and the desire to constantly improve to better serve clients. The attitude of employees is more that of an artisan than that of a factory worker. They continuously ask the question “How can we be just a little bit better?” 

I’d like to start the second point “Good is not enough” with a question: When do you brag about something? I can’t talk for you, but I brag about products or services after something unusual has happened. 

Do you remember my blog about buying my Mini Cooper? I still remember talking with the sales rep about details of my car and later on sitting in the dealership going over the paperwork. Buying my Mini was a fun experience and out of the ordinary. That’s why good enough won’t work for Sticky Brands. They want to be excellent or, as many feedback forms state it, “exceed expectation. This Mini dealership certainly did. […] “you have to give your customers a reason to seek you out and choose your brand first.” And that includes sweating the little things as well. 

What can you do to make your customers remember you? Pick criteria that align with your purpose and that make you unique to your customers. This way it’s not just marketing, it’s who you really are. 

The next point is, if you “love your customers, they’ll love you back.” Meaning, if you give your customers your full attention they’ll notice. Miller uses an experience he had during an interview with Muldoon’s president Jimmy Muldoon. A long-time customer had a minor complaint. This is how Miller describes the situation: […] the whole tone of the company shifted on the spot. […] the office was under DEFCON 2.” (page 169) The Muldoon team pulled all information they had about this customer, talked with the service manager, called the customer service rep and attended to the customer’s concerns with the “utmost care.” (page 170)  

Complaints are opportunities for improvement. […] In our business, our current customers come first […] and we make sure they are satisfied.” (page 170) 

And it’s not just lip service. At the Family Business Forum in April 2013 Miller heard it first-hand. A presenter, the CEO of a large retailer of designer men’s wear in Canada, praised Muldoon’s Coffee, their quality coffee and service. He, the CEO, hadn’t intended to talk about Muldoon’s. His presentation was about successful family-owned businesses. Muldoon’s just happened to have presented earlier that day, and the CEO happened to have first-hand experience with Muldoons. So he used them as an example. 

And this leads us to the next point “listen and respond.” It’s your customers who will tell you what they like or what they want. You just have to listen. It’s the perfect feedback loop and the best opportunity to learn about your customers’ needs and/or concerns. Understanding their point of view gives you valuable insights for product or service improvements. I mentioned “Muldoon’s complaint” already. Miller cites another example, the CEO of FeedBlitz who said: […] “out-servicing our clients and out-listening our competitors” is “the only way we can compete successfully against free services like Google.” (page 171) FeedBlitz’ CEO even shared that when the company was struggling with three equally viable strategic decisions they found the answer on the exhibit floor by … you guessed it, talking with their customers. 

The last part of Principle 11 is about being seen as an expert in your field. I’m sure you know that this will take time and practice. Miller compares it to a craftsman and calls it the craftsman mindset.  

Do you know Malcolm Gladwell and his book “Outliers”? He refers to research done by Andres Ericsson, researcher and professor of psychology at the Florida State University. According to his research it’ll take about 10,000 hours to reach mastery through deliberate practice. It also explains that deliberate practice […] entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well – or even at all.” (page 173) 

I believe Miller emphasizes this point because “Becoming an expert is a hard and difficult road, but the process is also extremely fulfilling – it’s a source of pride.” (page 175) It takes a long-term commitment, as mentioned before approximately 10,000 hours, for your team to learn. “Do you have the purpose and pride to push your team to develop their skills and capabilities to consistently improve and serve your customers? Is your work a source of pride?” (page 175) Because if you only do it for the money, it won’t work. 

Now over to you. Are you proud to serve your customers? What are you doing to sweat the basics, be better than good, show love for your customers, listen to them and have a craftsman’s mindset? 

Let me know in the comments below.

Principle 10-Part 2: Branding from the Inside Out

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding by Jeremy Miller

Let’s continue our adventure about “Branding from the Inside Out” and see how values influence your team members or employees. If you missed Part 1 about how to find your company’s values, just go back and read up on it.

Have you ever talked with a customer service rep and you knew from the start they couldn’t have cared less about you and your problem? And on another occasion, have you spoken with one who gave you the feeling of understanding and caring, was really nice and patient, and, yes, solved your problem? Of course, you did. That’s what the next sentence means: “A happy employee brings your brand to life.” (page 155) It doesn’t matter if you have one or one hundred employees, each one of them represents your company and your brand. Each one plays an integral part in the way your company is perceived and thus in your company’s success.

Miller writes, and I feel it’s a no-brainer, that how you treat your team members or employees impacts how they will perform. How do you interact with each other, how do you make decisions, how much freedom does everyone have, how much do you care and show empathy, and much more… Happy employees make happy colleagues which in turn leads to happy customers.

Creating a supportive environment and culture take effort and nurturing.

Based on my own experience, communication is one of the most important building blocks. As simple as it may sound, its impact is often underestimated. Conversations are not created equal. Some are fun and easy, but others can be difficult. Especially difficult conversations take trust and openness to be successful for everyone involved. But that’s a topic for another time. Staying connected and being part of the team is important, especially in times like now. What can you do or what can your team do to stay connected? Here are a couple of suggestions that, thanks to today’s technology, help us. Have a “daily team huddle to catch up and discuss projects” (page 156). Have a virtual coffee break with your colleague to discuss a problem or bounce off some ideas. Meet for a beer, glass of wine, or, if you prefer non-alcoholic beverages, some juice on Friday and end the week on a fun note. If you can, take a walk together and talk. It is (always) the little things that make the (big) difference. They show that you care about your colleagues, team members, or employees and consider them valuable and your greatest asset.

Your caring is the building block for their commitment and attitude. Didn’t I say happy employees make for happy customers? Each and every team member, colleague, or employee is an ambassador of your company and brand. Miller writes: “Your people shape your brand.” (page 159) They can be your greatest differentiator when it comes to your competition. Competing on price is never a good marketing strategy and, in some cases, extremely difficult when we think about commodity products. So where do you gain leverage over your competition? By making sure your team or employees create the difference. After all, people buy from people. Emotions are involved.

Above I mentioned two versions of a customer interaction. Miller writes about one in his book. It’s about a company that sells truck parts. In celebration of their 40th anniversary the team came up with the idea of organizing a relay race over 200 miles to the company’s headquarters supporting their philosophy that having a healthy mind and a healthy body is important. Two things happened: “It (the relay race) invigorated the passion, respect, and camaraderie of the team” (page 159) through their collective training, and it mobilized locals to participate. That in return led to a major buzz in the communities along the relay race so that local newspapers, trade magazines and the local radio station featured it. “The more active your employees are in their community, the more relationships they will form.” (page 159) And as we’ve discussed in a previous chapter, people prefer to buy from people they know and trust.

To conclude Principle 10 “Branding from the Inside Out” let’s circle back to Part 1, my previous blog, and bring it together. Purpose, values, and company culture, are the backbone of every business big or small. They define who you are, how you deal with your people, team members, employees, and consequently with your customers. They set the tone in everything you do. The clearer you are about them, the more consciously you can use them to your advantage.

I hope this blog triggered your thinking about these more subtle Sticky Brand ingredients. What’s your company’s purpose? What are your values? What’s your company culture? And most importantly, how do you use them to your advantage?

Let me know in the comments below.

See you next week,

Principle 10-Part 1: Branding from the Inside Out

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding by Jeremy Miller

Sticky Brands have something special about them. You can feel it when you engage with them or when you buy from them. And that something are their people, their values and their culture.

Miller cites Jim Collins, author of the book “Good to Great,” who provides the perfect lead-in to this principle: “Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.” (page 151)

He is not talking about extraordinarily talented or smart people; he is talking about people who are a great fit for your company or team. He is thinking of people who feel a connection with your company and go above and beyond in doing their job.

It doesn’t really matter how big your team or your company is. I believe we can apply this idea to even the smallest of companies and teams because each employee or team member represents your company and your brand to the outside world.

What does it take to get that kind of commitment, focus and enthusiasm (and that includes you, too)? It takes a clear definition of your purpose combined with well-defined values tied to the freedom to live and practice both.   

Sticky Brands combine all three. Employees “know who they are, why they exist, and who they serve.” (page 152).  And it shows. Their customers feel their confidence and commitment because all decisions are based on their purpose as well as on their values. These are their guiding principles ensuring that they stay on track and true to who they are.

It’s not enough to pay only lip service to purpose and core values. Both have to be lived and nurtured on a daily basis. They should serve as your company’s backbone. If they fail to do so, the consequences can be dire. A very sad example is Enron and its bankruptcy in 2001 that cost many people their jobs and, to make matters worse, their retirement savings.

Based on their annual report of 2000 page 29 Enron’s core values were:

We have an obligation to communicate.

We treat others as we would like to be treated.

We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.

We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do.

These core values sound great and may have been written with good intentions, but they lack specificity and were clearly meaningless to Enron’s leadership who tried to disguise major losses through fraudulent accounting methods causing their stocks to plummet and ultimately leading to their bankruptcy.

But let’s not stop here. Let’s now see what a good example of core values can look like. Miller used an outdoor adventure park called WildPlay as an example.

  • Evolve the human – Because life is not lived to fullness in a comfort zone, we exist to challenge people to evolve beyond their self-perceived limits.
  • Nurture the pride – We lead our mission through best-of-breed practices where no one gets hurt. Passionate about growth, we put first things first. We believe that humour is intelligent and underpins our focus on fun. Completionists, we are resourceful problem solvers, dependably driving results and we know when to let go. We are bravely vulnerable in our curiosity and creativity. Our inclusive family works as a creative and loyal team where empathy is a given. We challenge each other directly and never compromise our integrity. We seek awesomeness.
  • Taste the dirt – If you don’t know Mother Earth, you won’t take care of her. In our circle of influence, we grow the next generation of caretakers by establishing a sense of kinship with natural spaces. We stretch to take care of the environment in realistic ways that are achievable. Get dirty and remember the smells while you make a difference. Nothing is more primal than the elements.
  • Share the fruit – The labour of our business should result in an obvious and tangible benefit to our team and to our neighbors. We foster skills growth, as mentors to fellow WildPlayers and encourage each to adventure and grow. Our evangelists link us to our communities, on and off our dirt. We have a clear social purpose that we can fulfill, and through giving and participation, we show our commitment to that.
  • Brand Promise – We release your original human and change the course of your life through the thrill and challenge of adventure! We make it easy to decide to “Take the leap” and to have a fun and unique visit. We deliver “awesomeness” at every step along your journey with us.

Don’t you agree that these core values are far more specific and closely relate to what WildPlay is doing? I’m pretty sure that if you had asked an Enron employee, they may not even have known what their company’s core values were. But I can easily imagine that WildPlay employees know exactly what theirs are.

Miller has a great idea on how to find your company’s values. I suggest trying it out if you have problems finding yours. Instead of asking what you are, why not flip the question on its head and ask instead what you are not. Ask each team member to write seven sentences “We are not…” (page 162) preferably on a sticky note or index card and put them on a wall. In case you are a solopreneur, you can do it, as well. Either by yourself, but where is the fun in that, or with someone you believe can help you. Group the notes or cards that show similarities and focus on the columns that are the longest. Now it’s time to flip the script again. Use the negative statements and create positive ones. Use words that are meaningful to you and your team members.

I’ll give you some time to work on that and will see you next week for Part 2 of Principle 10. Until then, have fun and let me know how it went.


Principle 9: Pick Your Priorities

Book discussion
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

In my last blog about Sticky Branding, Principle 8 – “Being Everywhere,” I briefly talked about focus while building and growing your brand community. In this blog we will look more closely at how to do it effectively.  

I like Miller’s analogy for introducing this chapter: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at time.” (page 136) This analogy gives a realistic picture of what to expect when creating a Sticky Brand. “Growing a Sticky Brand is a process. It takes an enormous amount of time, resources and work to grow your company’s brand, so it stands out above the herd and has a sustainable competitive advantage. You’re not going to do that in 90 or 180 days.” (page 136) It’s a continuous process and to keep it manageable, you need to break your branding activities into topics and focus on one topic at a time. I couldn’t agree more: “There are always hundreds of things you should be doing, but what must you do?” Miller suggests using “The 3 Vs” (page 136): Volume, Velocity, and Value to determine your focus.

  • Volume focuses on increasing customer demand and generating sales leads.
  • Velocity focuses on improving your closing rate.
  • Value focuses on price sensitivity and perceived value.

Volume solely focuses on finding new customers and growing sales. If you’re starting out or have repositioned your business, this will most likely be your focus area. You want your phone to ring. In order to make that happen you need prospective customers to know about you, your brand, and the problem you’re solving. Your ultimate goal is to have customers calling you instead of having to reach out to them. You build your brand community because you want to reach the point where your brand is doing “…the heavy lifting” for you. (page 138)

This means your focus will be on making new connections, building new relationships, and creating brand awareness. Evaluating the effectiveness of your efforts is relatively easy. You can track inquiries per day, per week, or per month. The simpler your tracking system, the better. You want to learn what worked and what didn’t. Which marketing activity brought in new leads and which ones were dead fish in the water. This information helps you adjust your course of action. Keep in mind that most of the time a combination of marketing activities is the driver of increased sales. Don’t fall into the trap of looking at them in isolation. Rather, look at all your activities related to an event, a conference, you name it.

Velocity aims at making the buying process easier, faster, and more efficient for your customer. As a company you focus on this area to optimize your business or brand. According to Miller each customer goes through three phases before buying.

It starts with Awareness. How do your customers realize they have a need of your product or service? What stimuli, situation or event trigger the process of looking for a solution?

In the next phase – Assessment – they consider their options. What products are on the market? Are there new ways to solve their problem? What are the costs? This is when they research your company and reach out to you to get more information. It’s a critical step because they may or may not move forward based on what they learn in this phase. They may find your product or service too expensive or just not right for them.

The actual Purchasephase threebegins after your customers make a commitment and decide to buy. This is when the actual sales process begins: negotiating, discussing, and defining contract terms, etc.

Looking at these three phases there is always room for improvement. What can you do to make it as easy as possible for your customers to move through them? What triggers their need? What information do they need to move from awareness to assessment? What information is important when researching their options? What keywords or key phrases are they searching for online? What concerns should you address in a conversation? How can you simplify the sales process?

In each of these phases you have the opportunity to win or lose your prospective customer. That’s why it is so important to make it as easy as possible for them. You can use customer feedback to gather information that will help you improve and ensure the best possible experience.

Last but not least is Value. Typical examples for perceived value and the willingness to pay a higher price are Apple, Tesla, or even your neighborhood electrician or plumber who charges more but does such excellent work that you don’t even look for alternatives. Miller uses the following analogy to describe the benefit: “It keeps your competition at bay like a moat around a castle,…” (page 142)

Let’s take Apple as an example and dig a little deeper. Apple is famous for its “Genius Bar” and tech support, the beautiful design of their products (and no, I’m not an Apple user), and the community they built. People line up in front of stores the moment a new product is released. Customers have a strong affinity toward Apple, they are loyal customers, and they don’t mind paying a premium price. Despite the fact that there are equally well designed and cheaper products on the market, Apple customers return and buy Apple products. “By prioritizing the value of your brand, you are choosing to grow a recognized brand and become the category leader.” (page 143) This example illustrates clearly what it means to increase the perceived value of your service or product.

For the Value category customer retention and higher profit margins are two relevant data points to measure. But depending on your product or service you may add other data points.

Nowadays, collecting data is simple but not necessarily always helpful. Keep it simple when deciding what data to collect and how to collect it. I love the example Miller mentioned. He had heard it at a conference. Here it goes: ”My dad could spot a budgeting problem or a turn in the economy before our accountants did, based on his daily inspections.” He would walk through his company every afternoon. If there was a truck in every loading bay it meant the business was doing well. Empty loading bays meant “tough times were coming.” (page 145)

It’s time to circle back to the headline of this chapter: Pick your Priorities. We’d all like to grow our business, make it easier for our customers and be the market leader. Since improving any of the three Vs means a lot of work, Miller recommends focusing on one V at a time. Ask the questions “What’s holding your business back at the moment? […] What does your business need to focus on…?” (page 148) What areas of your business are struggling and need your 

attention in order to grow? If you have determined the area that needs fixing, set a goal, make a plan, allocate resources, and focus on this goal for the next half year. Review your progress regularly to make sure you are still on track. If you make an unexpected discovery along the way, adjust your course.

Over to you now. What area of your business needs attention? What do you need to fix or improve to take the next step? Let me know in the comments below.

See you next week,

Principle 8: Be Everywhere

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

“Sticky Brands just seem to be everywhere. They have a buzz about them that’s usually the domain of much larger companies.” But “unlike the big guys, they don’t spend outrageous amounts of money on marketing and advertising. They stand out by growing their community.” (page 121) 

This concept isn’t new. In fact, Seth Godin wrote a book called “Tribes” in 2008 about community building. It is the internet that made and makes community building so much easier these days. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and let’s take a closer look at how Miller does community building. 

Let’s start with the fundamentals. According to Miller there are three layers of relationships:

Layer 1 is your Inner Circle. The Inner Circle is made up of people you have a deep relationship with, such as friends and family. Most people have between 10 and 30 such connections. 

Layer 2 are your Personal Connections. They are your casual friends, acquaintances, colleagues, prospects, clients, etc. whom you meet or see on a regular basis at industry events, conferences, maybe for lunch or coffee. 

Maintaining your connection with your Inner Circle and your Personal Connections takes time and effort. In other words, time is the limiting factor for how many close friends and personal connections you (or anyone else, for that matter) can have.  

That’s why the third layer, the Community, is where “things start to get interesting” (page 122) because it eliminates the cap of how many people you can connect with. Others do it for you. They bring their friends and personal connections to your community if they find your blog, social media post, newsletter, you name it, interesting and relevant. It’s up to you to show off your company’s uniqueness by sharing your values, your opinions, and your vision. If we add consistency to the mix, we create the perfect opportunity to build credibility and relationships and, in doing so, support our business.   

Do you remember the Lower 90% from the previous chapter? This is where your community building is kicking in. It allows you to develop a relationship with prospective customers before they need your product or service. Even community members who will never buy from you are important, because they may spread the word about you and your company or recommend you to friends and family. Whereas traditional marketing and advertising is limited by resources, building a community, especially with the help of the internet, is boundless.  

Let’s add some numbers to the game of community building. According to Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody” and “Cognitive Surplus,” 90 percent of your audience will be “lurkers,” members who don’t participate but listen or read. Only one percent will engage and post comments, forward your articles or invite new members into the community. The remaining nine percent are curators, members who share your content through their social media platforms. To keep a conversation going and make your community interesting you need at least 10 active members. If you do the math, you’ll come to the conclusion that you’ll need an audience of at least 1000 members.

A daunting number when you start out. So, where do you find the first 1000 members? Miller says, “The first thousand members of your community come from your Personal Connections.” (page 128) They join your community […] ”because they like you, trust you, and want to support you.” (page 128) You’ll get them on board by asking them to join. 

The LinkedIn Group of Sticky Brands started small, “five people to be exact” (page 128) and grew over time because Jeremy Miller and his team put time and effort into it. “We made a point of being active networkers – both online and offline.” (page 128) 

Building your own brand community isn’t the only way to be “everywhere.” You can support or sponsor existing ones instead. You could reach out to industry organizations, be active in your hometown, exhibit or sponsor an event at a conference. Whatever floats your boat. The key is to find the right group(s), organization(s), or event(s) that share your company’s values and interests. There are a million opportunities.

A word of caution though. Keep in mind that, especially in the beginning, building your community takes time and effort. Focus on what you can do well and what promises the biggest impact on your business. Experiment with various approaches and check what worked and what didn’t. Expand on what was received well and change course if the result isn’t satisfactory.

There is one point, Miller emphasizes: Don’t mistake your community for a lead generating platform. Miller writes that “There is a fundamental difference between marketing and community building. Marketing is all about your company and your brand.” […] “Community building has the opposite focus: it’s not about you, it’s about everyone else.” Page 131) […] “You don’t own the community. You are a member of it.” (page 132)

I partly agree. I’m a member of a couple of groups, and most of what is shared in these groups is information, best practices, helpful tips, books etc. But a minor portion of it is about new courses, services, and products. It’s done in a manner that I find not intrusive; it feels like sharing relevant information. My point being, it is up to you where you draw the line and how you do it. “People see right through marketing-driven communities and avoid them.” (page 132) Remember, your goal is building a community by developing, nurturing, and scaling relationships. You want your members to interact with you and your brand, grow your network, and tell their friends when they need your services or product. The best way to achieve this is by being generous and sharing helpful information. 

Now it’s time for you to build and grow your community. Here is a modified To-Do-List from the book. To get started:

  • Make a list of who you know and who you can invite to your community.
  • Write personalized invitations and be specific in what you want the recipient to do.
  • If you have exhausted your network, think outside the box about how to market your group to other networks.
  • Ask your community for help. Who do they know and invite to join?

And ensure that you are:

  • present: start conversations with your members and interact with them.
  • opinionated: show your personality, share your point of view, how you solve problems, and what you believe in.
  • generous: be proactive, help others make progress and be heard.
  • “everywhere”: to be more precise, be where your customers are and where you have the greatest impact.  

Let me know in the comments below how it is going for you. How do you approach the topic of community building? What is your experience in starting and growing a community? What stumbling blocks did you encounter? What is your best practice advice?

See you next week!

Principle 7: First Call Advantage

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

I’m back! The past couple of weeks were a tour de force, but I’m happy to report that we are in our new home. We packed and emptied a lot of boxes. There is still much to be done, but each day more and more boxes disappear, and our new home looks better and better.

So, let’s get back to where we left off: Principle 7 of Jeremy Miller’s book Sticky Branding or First Call Advantage.

Before we dive into Principle 7, let’s allow for the next sentences to sink in for a moment: “The best time to initiate a client relationship is three years before your services are needed.” “When you connect and build relationships with your customers before they need you, they will seek you out when they are ready to buy.” (page 109) This is what Miller calls building a “First Call Advantage.” Why is this time so crucial in the buying process? Because one of the key building blocks in the buying process is trust, and trust takes time to build.

Let’s step back for a moment and have a look at how Miller categorizes customers and the various actions related to each category. I adopted his graph of the 3% Rule below. He distinguishes between five customer types:

Of the Top 10%

  1. 3% of your market segment are Active Buyers: these companies have a need, they made a commitment to change, they’re actively shopping for solutions.
  2. 7% of your market segment Intend to Change: this category needs your service or product, but they are not actively looking for a solution yet.

The remaining Lower 90% are companies that

  1. have a Needor problem your company can solve, but they’re not ready to act on it yet (approx. 30%).
  2. have a Need and may benefit from your product or service, possibly at some point in the future (approx. 30%).
  3. are simply not interested in your company at all (30%).

The top 10% are your sales leads. It is your window of opportunity to make a sale now. Best case scenario: these companies know you already and feel comfortable doing business with you. If they don’t know you, your best option is to put yourself in their “Path of Search.” (page 112) Where do your customers find you? What channels do they use to search for purchase information? Do they find you on Google? Do you attend networking events for xyz? Are you exhibiting at trade shows? The long and short of it is: You have to stand out and make sure to be highly visible. You have to be where your customers are searching for services or products you offer. Even a well-timed and well-done cold call may lead to a sale.

According to Miller the Lower 90% are where the magic happens, where you build that “First Call Advantage.” It is the time during which Sticky Brands are extremely active. They go out of their way to build a relationship with their prospective customer and in doing so become their customer’s first choice when they are ready to buy. The sky’s the limit for your imagination. What can you do to stay front and center with your customers? Do you acknowledge birthdays with a birthday card? Do you share relevant information with them in a blog, podcast, newsletter? Do you surprise them with a small gift? Do you inform them about new developments in your industry?

Here is an example from the book:

ProVision IT is a staffing company for IT professionals. They publish a short monthly report on where IT jobs are available. In the winter of 2014 they used the headline “Hiring Freeze” and continued “the long cold winter was great for winter sports, but it has taken its toll on the hiring process…” (page 117) In their newsletter they provided insights into what havoc the cold Ontario winter had wreaked in terms of hiring new staff; many missed interview appointments due to inclement weather or sickness. It was important information for their audience and led to a spike in their readership.

It is easier than ever to nurture your customer relationships as long as you play to your strengths. You can reach your customers through social media channels, with podcasts, vidcasts, speaking at events, sending a newsletter, making infographics… again, the sky’s the limit. “There are endless ways to engage your lower 90 percent of your market, and countless vehicles for creating and distributing content.” (page 119) Content that will establish you as the perfect solution for prospective customers and keep you in mind with current customers. Miller goes as far as to say you’ll create “competitive immunity” because humans are creatures of habit. As long as we are happy with the product, as long as we like the service we receive, and as long as we like the company we are buying from, we don’t tend to look for alternatives. 

Now it’s time to get to work. What can you do to stay top of mind with your current customers, and how can you build a relationship with prospective customers? What channels are the right ones for you and your company?

As always, let me know in the comments below.

Principle 6: “That’s Interesting, Tell Me More.”

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

We reached Principle 6 of Miller’s book “Sticky Branding” called “That’s Interesting. Tell Me More.” The words every small business owner loves to hear, but, according to Miller, pose one of the greatest obstacles in the sales process. I couldn’t agree more. Indifference is our enemy. This is partly due to the overwhelming amount of information in the marketplace, but partly because […] customers will primarily choose what they already know.” […] They select options they are already comfortable with.” (page 94) So the big question now is: how do we get not-yet-buyers to know us and, ultimately, feel comfortable doing business with us? The short answer is: by engaging them, by standing out, and by giving them a good reason to stick with us.

To better understand what this could look like, let’s take one of Miller’s examples: Muldoon’s Coffee . I find it’s a brilliant example. Let’s go. 

Muldoon’s coffee is a coffee roastery and corporate coffee service, delivering high quality coffee with an environmentally friendly brewing system. In the early 2000s they noticed a tremendous growth in specialty coffee houses such as Starbucks. Muldoon’s conclusion: people crave a good cup of coffee. Taking this a step further, they noticed that many professionals left their offices just to buy a good cup of coffee. Further research revealed that each employee spends approximately 125 hours per year buying their good cup of coffee from a coffee place vs. drinking the coffee in their office. Armed with this insight, Muldoon’s developed a single-serve environmentally friendly brewing system and coffee pouches.

Now let’s see how they translated this into a storyline that would attract and also engage their prospective customers. Instead of bragging about their coffee, they chose to talk about the “corporate productivity drain,” and that “6% of [business] payroll is walking out of the door for coffee” (page 97), and they then posed the question “Why go out for coffee?” These phrases struck a nerve with business owners and employees alike and created a water-cooler moment. For the latter to lament about their office coffee and for business owners to question whether it’s worth losing employee productivity and money over a cup of coffee. A situation that could easily be fixed with Muldoon’s environmentally friendly brewing system. 

The point I’m trying to make is that the “conversation” Muldoon’s started wasn’t about their coffee, but related to coffee and coffee breaks. It resonated with their prospective customers and allowed for a conversation. Do you remember the headline of this blog? “That’s Interesting. Tell Me More.” With a conversation you draw your prospective customer in. You give them something to talk about. You let them know that you understand them and their problems. And along the way they get to know you. What kind of product or service do you sell? What is important to your customers? What conversation could you start to convince prospective customers? 

Miller distinguishes between three elements that are equally important to start and keep this conversation going. You need: 

  1. A topic that you know well and that draws from your company’s core skills and assets. (Expertise) 
  2. A topic you’re passionate about and can take a stance on. (Strong Opinion)
  3. A topic that resonates with your market and encourages others to participate. (Point of Sharing) 

Here is how Muldoon’s are doing it. They exploit the fact that many office coffee makers brew inferior coffee and, in doing so, show that they understand their market and pain point of their prospective customers; employees who leave the office to get a good cup of coffee and business owners who lose employee productivity and money because of it. 

Based on their research and insights they take a strong stance and use it to their advantage. Why leave the office to get a good cup of coffee… if we have a great solution for you. But they don’t say it, they only imply it. 

And if that wouldn’t convince a prospective customer or business owner, Muldoon’s add that their brewing system is environmentally friendly. A value and world view many can relate to. “Shared values are broad topics and usually revolve around the environment, religion, equality, human rights, or preventing poverty. […] People not only love to talk about their values, they like to work with others to act on them.” (page 103)

Muldoon’s pulls all three elements together beautifully. They show their expertise and understanding for their customers, they are passionate about it and did research that could lead to a win-win-situation for both employees and business owners, and their topics resonated with their audience. Talking or, better, lamenting about the poor taste of coffee in the office kitchen is a water-cooler moment. 

There is another example in the book worth mentioning. It’s about a three-minute video titled “Real Beauty Sketches” that was created by Dove in 2013. It is about how women perceive themselves vs. how others see them. The first day, an FBI-trained forensic sketch artist draws pictures of women based on their self-perception and description, the second day the forensic sketch artist creates a drawing of the same women described by a stranger. Referring back to the three elements described above, this video fulfilled all three. It was bold, defying the common beauty paradigm and used normal women for a beauty campaign instead of models. In an homage to women and every woman’s beauty, Dove took a stance by putting this message into pictures. And the fact that it was viewed over thirty million times and shared over 660,000 times is a clear indicator that it resonated with their audience and was worth sharing and talking about.    

On a little side note: If you need a little boost–and who doesn’t right now?–watch the video LINK. I hope it will make you pause for a moment and consider how you look at your reflection in the mirror and how someone else may see you. Look at the women in the video and their reaction. I feel it speaks volumes. 

After this little detour, let’s get back and wrap this principle up. Do you have other suggestions on how to overcome the indifference trap? What are you doing to persuade prospective clients to become customers? How do you get them to listen? 

I can’t wait to read about your suggestions and thoughts in the comments below. 

Talk to you next week.