Life’s a pitch so why make it one. Grimly I witnessed this morning…

…in the Pershing Square Diner at GCT – a fabled place that’s coveted millions of pitches – 2 professional ladies were ‘presenting’ to a clearly disengaged 3rdlady – the prospect. The meeting was killed as soon as the lady pulled up the PPT on the iPad.

Pershing Square Restaurant, NYC
Pershing Square Restaurant, NYC

Beware, most people use presentations as prompts for themselves – it’s laziness! You’re in a popular restaurant and the client’s sitting back to the wall, distracted, facing inward to the hustle and bustle that makes her feel more disconnected and uncomfortable!

Patrons, puh-leaze, pick your table (turn up early), know their business, suggest how you plan to discuss it, have 3 key points to make, assume the position of a practitioner rather than a performer, and engage in conversation. Neat sketches welcome.

Key point, why bait the prospect for the big reveal – presentations build buyer resistance while a conversation dismantles it.

Missing Customers Lately? Try Going Back To Basics

It seems that a great confusion has arisen in the process of brands doing their branding these days. Allow me to sort this out. A brand, in itself, is not marketing—a brand is who you are. And marketing, in itself, is a means to an end; marketing and innovation exist to draw customers. Unfortunately, these distinctions seem to have blurred, or even switched places, in the minds of many companies. In their relentless drive to maximize shareholder value, many brands have left the customer out.Im certainly not the first one whos noticed this confusion. Jack (“Neutron Jack”) Welch of GE has pointed out that “shareholder value is a result, not a strategy. Your main constituencies are your employees, products and customers.” Welchs observation holds true regardless of whether the brand is business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C); in the end, its all about business-to-people (B2P, if youll indulge me). And so, these days, as we reap the grim harvest of imprudent lending amidst insider dealing, bankruptcy, accusations, claims and counterclaims—we can see that the misconduct of big brand names has changed the perceived value exchange of B2B brands. In the process, it has transformed the meaning and context of trust.

Look no further than the banking industry if you want an example. Historically, banks focused on acquiring, growing and


protecting their clients’ assets, and by lending money and making profit out of the assets under management. But, long about 2000, the value relationship between banks and clients abruptly changed. It switched to banks trading their own products at the expense of their clients. Seemingly overnight, the base of the compensation model shifted to how much money you could make by the volume of products sold, not the number of clients under management. The outcome, of course, is something we all know. As for B2C, the excitement has just begun given that Prop 37 will be raising the debate in CA this November on genetically modified food labeling (GMO).

Trust is a crucial ingredient of all brands and their reputations—but that contract of trust has been shattered. Stocks do not have a memory-recall button, but investors and customers do. That’s why fewer than half of all Americans have a favorable opinion of business today. Compounding the brand fatigue that has besmirched many B2B brands is the belief that customer-centricity can be achieved by companies entering B2C’s Temple of Mammon and bedecking themselves with happy logos, comforting language and stock photos of smiling people, all to lift them from their somnolence as staid corporations and market them as genuine, complete, crystalline and pure. (The irony, of course, is that many B2B brands are anything but sweet, friendly and pure.)my life's logos v.2

The financial breakdown has not only eroded consumer trust, but it’s also shifted where consumers place it. Our notion of trust has moved from trust in “the company” as such to trust in the people who run the company. Today, as brands refer to market share, profit share, revenue share, etc., theyre overlooking that what theyre truly competing for is share of trust. To succeed in this era of mistrust and cynicism, B2B brands will have to make several adjustments. First, they must identify who they truly are and why they are in business. This will provide a picture of their future, their organizational style and the direction they need to take. As Jim Collins writes, “All good-to-great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.”

The second priority is to understand that if customers dont believe in you, theyre not going to come. So, what messages are you delivering that they can believe in? Third, there is a brands culture. According to research by Bain & Co., the average company loses more than half its customers every four years. The two determinates of value creation in business are how tight the ship is run and the closeness of the relationship with the customer. Dont forget that it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to hold onto the one you already have. Retaining your customers can be achieved only by developing a culture that espouses shared responsibility, shared benefits and shared values.

That last one is critical. Understand that people and businesses live their lives in the future not the present. Whilst many B2B brands have attempted to shift from being functionally oriented to emotionally oriented brands, the real leap is in being values centric brands. It is no longer enough for B2B brands to define themselves in terms of what they are; they must make a commitment—environmentally and socially—about who they want to be.


The current mind-set misguidedly encases itself in the moment; it forgets the prosperity of the past and, worse, ignores our ability to shape the future. John Maynard Keynes identified sinking confidence and pessimism as causal to sustaining and deepening economic recessions. The psychology of investors and ordinary consumers is in many respects more critical than what might be described as “objective economic conditions.”

The time is now for influential companies to gather and take on the responsibility of advancing the common good as an antidote to the debilitating fear that will assuredly delay economic recovery. Finance might be the brains of corporations, but brands are the heart.

6 Ways To Encourage Your Office To Tap Growth Fast

New growth is achieved by being different and heroic, but with big corporations hording their cash and banks refusing to loan small businesses much needed finance, the US has more than a fiscal cliff on its hands – it has growth crisis that threatens to stifle the very core of America’s economy: small business owners.

Within any entrepreneur’s purview all manner of initiatives and schemes exist to boost business growth. Sadly most can’t through lack of time and resources. The vital ingredient to pursuing opportunity without regard to resources currently held lies in creating affordable actions and simple communications that generate new business opportunities with warm contacts. To help beat the bushes there are eight practical initiatives you can apply to drum up your staff’s involvement, rapidly creating a simple program of actions that can kick-start a river flow of opportunities.

Value creation is determined by how tightly your business is run and the quality of your customer relationships – retaining 5% of your customers can add 25% to the bottom line. Satisfied clients and suppliers are a great place to start by simply asking who in their company/market you might be able to help. This is an effective way for your client servicing teams to engage their clients and vendors to generate opportunities, whether it’s inviting the client to discuss this with your CEO through to the power of proactive proposal writing by the team that provides the most immediate impact.

How did you feel the last time you received a genuine hand written note? Send notes to a handful of influential people either at a client’s business or a prospect you know. It’s amazing how effective it can be to trigger “why should I care?” from the client. Yes, it’s laborious and your handwriting better be in reasonable shape, but the approach works, especially if you make sure the approach is promising lots for them, not you!

Business often suffers when you’re unaware of your brand’s standing because your client quite literally doesn’t believe that you can do what you say you can do. Therefore, more often than not, we need to give to get for an opportunity to meet with a prospect. To demonstrate your diverse grasp of the category consider emailing an article or some recent research from a related field that shares an invaluable perspective on the client’s business (including clients you haven’t talked to in years) with an outline of the actionable insights you wish to share that will benefit the client in multiple.

multiple job offers

Don’t be frightened by Possibility, She makes a great mistress. Write a provocative byline with a strong POV and send it to the editor of a magazine, paper or blog your customers and competitors read. You might get lucky and its published or at least they’re open to hearing more about you. If all fails you now have a strong POV to present, tout in a sales letter, host on your web site and use as part of an office wide social media outreach campaign for the company.

It’s not actually who you know, as the saying goes, it’s how you use who you know. Encourage the office to identify 25+ people – commercially important to your business – invite them to an informal group discussion (8-16 attendees) on a hot topic at a salubrious location for breakfast or after work. Aside shared insights, the goal is to make an appointment with each attendee post event, and approach those who did not attend using the outputs from the discussion as a lever for opening a conversation.

Consider having the team send a thank you gift (as simple as a good book) to a few people who referred you or gave a reference for you. It might have been some time back, but the act of recognition is rarely refused and showing appreciation inevitably leads to a follow up opportunity where new ideas you have prepared can be discussed. Remember, nine times out of ten, people will answer back when spoken to.

People are a brand’s greatest asset and to lead a team you first need to be in the team; when a business shares a deep and broad connection with its employees, they go above and beyond what’s expected of them. When employees are excited and focused, servicing customers who are satisfied, the business runs well. These initiatives are simple to accomplish and if engaged with enthusiasm they will entice the office to be involved to pool their knowledge and get them vested in the success of the business. The difficult part is follow-through.

Nothing in the world takes the place of persistence and determination. Build momentum by creating a low cost competitive initiative that is team based using all of these actions to rapidly promote the business. If you have the benefit of a new business professional representing your company the task becomes a lot easier to orchestrate, especially the art of following up. While being fully prepared for delays the key is to have fun with the program by coordinating it enthusiastically versus efficiently, and with regular office alerts on progress, impact will be felt within weeks. The future favors the bold.
Let’s grow.

Irreverent Names: Big Ass Fans – a POV

Nice wrap by Steve Rifkin, brand adviser and naming expert. In my mind, with the market in a moribund state and accusations traditional marketing is dead, naming becomes even more central to the stand out proposition:

Big Ass Fans is a new national advertiser. They sell the world’s most efficient ceiling fans, in diameters from 5 to 24 feet. The company started life as the High Volume Low Speed Fan Company, before adopting an irreverent new moniker. (The company claims it changed names after repeatedly hearing customers say, “Man, that’s a big-ass fan.”)

Christian Dior went against the grain of romantic, flowery perfume names with its Poison brand.

A Louisiana pharmacist concocted a soothing diaper rash balm that worked so well, local athletes started using it. He called it Butt Paste. Now you can buy it at Wal-Mart.

Redneck Bank, based in Mustang, Oklahoma, is the online banking division of Bank of the Wichitas. (As the first line of their website says, “Yep, we’re a real bank.”)

When you pick an irreverent, outlandish name for your brand, is it a desperate way to call attention to yourself? A clever way to differentiate yourself? A tactic only for a fringe brand?  Or something else?

We went to our panel of experts for their points of view, and they cautioned that this approach is by no means for everyone.

  • JACK TROUT, renowned marketing strategist, best-selling author and founder of a consulting firm with partner offices in 25 countries:

    “We are indeed in an era of crazy names that people are using as a way to attract attention. The reason is that in category after category, more and more names are born as categories divide. (It’s the Immutable Law of Division.) Successful brands such as Google, Smucker’s and Roach Motel have encouraged others to get a little crazy as a way to be more memorable. But beware, your product has to have a good story behind it, not just an attention-getting name. (With Roach Motel, the roaches check in but they don’t check out.)”

  • FRASER SEITEL, public relations expert, consultant, frequent TV talking head and co-author of Rethinking Reputation:

    “Edgy product names are neither for the squeamish nor the solidly entrenched. The reputation of a well-known company is too dear to risk with a name that evokes controversy. But for a little guerrilla marketer mixing it up with the big boys and little to lose, bring it on.”

  • ERIN McKEAN, lexicographer, founder and CEO of the online dictionary Wordnik, formerly the principal editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary:

    “Irreverent names only work if they are authentic, and have a real origin story. Otherwise they can seem out-of-touch and desperate (like Poochie, the cartoon dog ‘with an attitude,’ from the episode of The Simpsons where the producers of ‘Itchy and Scratchy”’ decide the show needs an ‘update’). I think it’s harder for a big multinational to come up with an irreverent name — they work best for mom & pop or small operators who can show a direct involvement with the story of the name.”

  • DEAN CRUTCHFIELD, independent branding guru, former executive for global brand consultancies within WPP and Omnicom, and columnist:

    “In our era of reality TV, there’s plenty of bandwidth for evocative brand name strategies, especially if it literally speaks to a company’s central premise. The best names communicate who, what, why or an attitude. They’re a cornerstone of a brand — so any which way, but stand out! As long as it’s sustainable.”

  • CAROL MOOG, PhD in psychology, and president of Creative Focus, an advertising consulting firm:

    “These are the times for the so-called irreverent product name. Consider the criterion for going viral: being as wild and crazy as humanly possible. Consider the benefit of going viral: priceless. Consider the power of going viral: unstoppable. Nobody wants to admit that they’re not able to handle the in-your-face brand that is willing/wishing to go viral. (Nobody wants to admit to being that old.) Go ahead. Start with and never forget to engage and convey a sense of humor. Then create the best story to rationalize the most outrageous name for your most excellent product. And by all means — by all means — infect your consumers with an unquenchable thirst for your irreverent brand.”


Disney stole Ted Turner’s “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way” line. Here’s my POV broadcast on Nightly Business Report

Disney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was it bird, was it a plane, was it a government body, no, last week’s super hero was Disney’s CEO, Bob Igor, stealing Ted Turner’s line, “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way” with the announcement that the Disney network will slim down access to brands deemed unhealthy and become the world’s brand champion for healthy kids – along with a “Mickey Mark” that endorses appropriate products.

What more could an investor and a mum share in common than Disney (NYSE:DIS), a game changing brand we all trust, with channels free of unhealthy product advertising, garnishing world applause, increased ratings and a Mickey Mark that provides mum the short-cut to decide if a product is a good choice for her children whether on 4-screens or down the aisle.

Disney’s ability to focus on efficiencies that can create and capture demand make any competition irrelevant from being able to usurp Disney’s lead due to its arsenal of assets for ‘healthy kids’ brand endorsement deals. Creating a new revenue stream for Disney and a new business model by taking an ethical stance whilst being a boon for business – and not just Disney’s – in the $2.5 Trillion combined media and CPG categories.

By cracking the world’s toughest brief: making it easy for mum, Disney has unleashed a game changer, taking a page right out of the book, Blue Ocean Strategy (by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne). Disney has set its sights on creating a giant footprint in a fiercely contested health category. Mum neither knows what to give her children or what to allow them to innocently watch; she is confused by the endless cacophony of messages and icons embedded in a frivolous sea of promotions on screen and down the aisles filled with their gleaming category cues.

Image representing The Walt Disney Company as ...
Image via CrunchBase

Disney’s Big Idea is made more brilliant by the limited impact on their return on capital employed (ROCE) as the bulk of the new investment effort will no doubt be shared with brand partners and from marketing and licensing deals. Alongside the ‘Mickey Mark’ strategy that will eventually offer up its advertisers, the inevitable foray down the grocery aisle with their own Disney portfolios and licensing with those brands Disney endorses as ‘healthy’.

In an industry that thrives on exciting customers with new products, innovation
is key and Disney’s treasure chest represents a gargantuan brand and licensing opportunity for targeted health & wellness programs. Many pundits currently eye greater value in splitting up CPG companies like P&G and PepsiCo. As for media, finding growth past the election and the Olympics is foreseen as tough and networks are in flux. Just last week during Dish Network’s announcement of its new ad-skipping device, CEO, Charlie Ergon, was vocal about the need for better advertising strategies from the networks whilst warning that Internet video threatens the pay-tv ecosystem.

Let’s face it if you don’t like change, you’ll enjoy irrelevance even less. The last time a business reinvented more than one industry simultaneously was Apple – and they had a big idea also. The ‘shock and awe’ of this audacious move by Disney has mammoth implications for all media players, especially Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, who will have to lead a path or follow suit – Disney has ‘the con’ as they say in the movies.

Growth begets growth and major brand and media owners are going to be forced to be good at what they do and take an holistic view of the customer and create new methods of engagement and seamless experience that can give customers what they want with the products and services they offer. So after a week or two of navel gazing, they need to look to Disney’s initiative and aim to create either new products for licensing, bundled portfolios of existing ‘good for you’ products for Disney endorsement strategies or review what they have in their portfolio that could be modified to satisfy the stringent criteria of Disney (NYSE:DIS): acting as an industry seal of approval.

In risk there is opportunity and Disney has masterfully leapfrogged an entire category to become the voice of health and wellness for kids around the world. By simply staying on brand, this win-win business strategy alone reinvents Disney’s franchise as it broadens its ‘Masterbrand’ role beyond the boundaries of entertainment, products and hospitality services. There will be a progression and it might be sluggish, but done well, it’s hugely likely that publicity and demand will create a successful pull through strategy. Ultimately this is a ‘show me’ industry that survives by exciting customers with new products. Now the magic’s started, it’s show time folks.

How to save Occupy Wall Street

The ‘return of our capital’ for the 99% might be the greater principle over ‘return on my capital’, but we face a quandary if taken too far: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Winston Churchill

The success and rapid ascension to the world stage of the Occupy Wall Street movement has forced the enterprise to realize it is a brand that needs investment and funding is paramount; so much so they could no longer be functioning within a month! But is their something more fundamentally wrong with “Occupy Wall Street” that if strategically corrected could boost their sustainable appeal and help provide the movement momentum and much needed funding?

Plato wisely said, “Necessity, is the Mother of invention” therefore, words before “but” are redundant. Skeptics and ehadists belie capitalism has deliberately created a disproportionate deluge and in its wake it punishes, intoxicates and behaves like a despot in the world’s markets, radically debilitating infrastructure and diminishing local economies both to work and provide for themselves and forcing upon all an ever-increasing sense of imperceptible vulnerability.

Capitalism is like a sow with nine teats and 15 babies: crisis is the price of capitalism, that’s the core of the problem. And what created it needs to be fundamentally improved. That we agree. OWS has a role, but it will be a vague memory without cash. Many current interpretations of OWS, (like some of their perceptions of capitalism) are malicious, mischievous, and ill informed. Demonstrably OWS brought people together and out of our frustration, sense of injustice and hope they helped start a world wide movement. That’s OWS: a platform for change. That’s truly great, but getting $50 out of someone is a lot harder.

Without a brand reinvention and clarity of purpose I cannot see OWS playing the role it deserves to play. To build trust, OWS need to reinvent themselves including changing their name. Entrepreneurial lore states that a new ‘brand’ may have 3-4 strategic revisions before it finds it’s rightful place. Occupy Wall Street carries with it an excessive amount of uneasiness if looked at literally by the public. Every inch of media has exposed OWS in a revolutionary light and edged it out on the fray: a brand declines when it’s no longer sublime. To come to the center, OWS need to shift OWS and therefore, OWS need to review their brands architecture that has spawned across cities and countries and seek to find a ‘public facing’ solution that suits the needs of a sustainable fund raising  ‘brand’ i.e., wake up running.

Lessons From The Best Interaction Designs Of 2011

Interface is the key touchpoint for many brands:

  • Don’t look for breakthroughs
  • Embrace the mundane
  • Don’t buy into the hype
  • Look past the screen
  • Video is the only shortcut

Penn State: Crisis Begs a Bold Response

In this disconsolate period, Penn State needs to respond boldly and with precision. Marshaling a crisis team and a response plan are critical, including weighing the need for autonomy over the preferred unified leadership approach because “the manual” is not going to help the Dean and his cabal. The web crawlers are in frenzy over this story that has T1 pipes rattling with all the feeds. Therefore, decentralized decision-making is best for the voracious appetite of the media blogosphere. The problem isn’t resources; it’s about managing the crisis with a can-do culture and strong values of trust and no lengthy procedures that unified leadership can inflict.

When you need to be impactful, strong and rapid to entice massive support from the public, hide nothing and tell all is the key lesson. “It’s not about the why it’s about the moment and what you do in that moment” Gandalf (played by Sir Ian Mckellan) wisely imbued on Frodo Baggins who was panicking over the looming catastrophe, and his role in “Lord of The Rings” where the key lesson of leadership is about holding other people’s fears. Joe Paterno had shepherded those fears for over 40 years. Now his reputation is shattered, US media is rabid, Penn State’s in tatters, the state’s in rage, communities are split, families bicker and 18 children have been abused. And the unconscionable public displays and statements of defiance and reluctance we’re witnessing from the likes of Sandusky belie what must be an invidious reminder of a widening sense of despair and desperation.

Decontaminating the Penn State brand from a situation that’s base, low, ominous, nasty, and pernicious – what can mitigate the circumstances and reinvent Penn State’s brand? So pervasively huge is the scandal that reinvention is the only path for Penn State and the firing of President Graham Spanier was a wise beginning, but the deference must be bold.

Brands decline when they’re no longer sublime. Therefore, in a crisis that deracinates your heritage, it’s essential to know what makes you special, wrap up the past and blast in to the present: People often don’t know what they want until you show it to them. To be important, the response from Penn State should not aim to change the world. Many pundits are tethered to an old regime (if it bleeds if leads) and can’t innovate rapidly onto an associated story that’s positive– Penn State is unique and no one should be able to take away what they have achieved and, more important, what they can achieve.

The Penn State brand has relied on its authenticity. Now that’s been scuttled there’s a need for a flash incarceration of publicly shown material, references and photographs of Sandusky and his cadre. Call it synaptic pruning to make the blast radius less encircling on campus. The successful legacy of the team makes that extremely difficult. However, people are more likely to change behavior in response to swift and certain actions rather than waiting for severe ones that likely won’t be peremptory.

In Penn State’s advantage, brands who immediately admit they’re not invincible tend to fall lighter or not lose their reputation so dramatically. Therefore, the Penn State brand is compelled to distance itself from Paterno and begin to reinvent itself by boldly stating it’s doing so. This does mean killing a powerful part of the story of Penn State’s heritage and what has made the brand so special, but it must happen now (at great expense if need be). The momentum of the initiative, helped by the campus, will aim to help people feel more on top of a worsening situation of morality.

A glorious past of winning has enabled Penn State to have successfully created an authentic community that has played an anchor role in Penn State’s recognition nationwide. Now they must celebrate the team, the individuals, the students and the fans. Penn State needs to reinvent that legacy and the ties that are entwined. The need for distance should spur many organizational management decisions and brand strategies that will aim to transition the “Paterno” affair away from the Penn State brand. This is relatively easy if applied ruthlessly, and rest assured, brands can change their approach, leaders, workers, and products and perform better as long as the core idea of who the brand is remains relevant.

Dragged into a war Penn State did not create, its history needs an injection of tomorrow and that needs to happen today to ratify who they are and what they believe longer term. The sense of integrity that encircled Joe Paterno must be cut away and kept alive with added depth, credibility and magic in the Penn State halo. This is a sinister moment for Penn State to be ambitious, a moment where we will see what they’re made of; leadership is not about making friends, besides nothing but cold contempt is required for those involved in this horror story.

To stay alive it is hard for established brands to reinvent while they remain true to their vision. Look at the past and see the future. Victory conditions do not need to be unachievable. Penn State needs to turn the hard into the possible with an ambitious, audacious “public” program to find the compass for bold new growth and reinvention with the help from as many as he can muster. Hopefully he has instructed already set up a special crisis group that has no ties or involvement with the case and it’s “no comment” rules, i.e., their focus is solely on the publicized efforts of Penn State’s reinvention symbolized by an entirely revitalized brand identity and communications system that catapults the new Penn State movement for every part of the journey, including the team shirts.

It’s not all vituperative; Penn State needs a “hail Mary pass” to find their True North that will grow new, bold and exciting ways to entice the people back into a “Penn State” way without all the morass of information and chatter. It’s easy to lose sight of strategy: Joe Paterno must be jettisoned and Penn State needs to choose a lane: recalcitrance or reinvention. Let’s play ball.


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