I have recently come to the difficult realization that it is easier to talk about spending the money and time necessary to initiate and follow through with good marketing than it is to do it when it is your money.  As a marketer, I have counted it as my job to educate others that marketing isn’t an expense but an investment. Now that the shoe is on the other foot and the bills come directly out of my pocket, I have to reflect back on those lessons I taught and stop dwelling on what it costs me today. It’s a tough pill to swallow but one I need to take seriously and make sure I don’t get sucked into the trap from which I used to attempt to extricate others. We’ll see how well I like the saying “where the rubber meets the road” in the next few months. 😉

My experiences with employee training programs run the gamut from no training to elaborate, multi-week programs. Regardless of the type of training offered, one thing I have found in common is the lack of any formal outline of what the training covers or what is expected. Employees are either thrown in the mix and expected to learn as they go, all the while being subject to feelings of inadequacies and fearful they will make some major mistake, or they wait around between modules/sessions/lessons wasting time before they are told what is next.

Either scenario is frustrating to employees and reflects on the company as a careless attitude about their employees. This serves to undermine the effectiveness of the training and of employees who believe the company doesn’t really care. Waste of time and money.

Part of your training program should be an outline of the training you expect each employee in every position to accomplish, even if it simply says “There will be no training offered for this position so you’ll be learning as you go.” It should include an order in which things should be done if appropriate for the position. It should also give a range of time in which the employee will hopefully pass each phase. If there are costs to the employee for training classes or materials or if the employee will be reimbursed for outside training, each cost should be enumerated and the employee should not to need to ask any questions about what the costs to him/her will be.

If you do it right, each employee should know exactly what training he/she still lacks at any time in the process and what expenses are involved. There are certainly time commitments involved in defining and creating an outline for every position but once it is done, you will save your employees and yourself a lot of time and energy and your employees will be more successful and engaged in their work.

Such simple joy. Pure enthusiasm. All for the sake of a Thomas The Tank toy or a Curious George movie. If only I could bottle it up and sell in on the street corner – a person could make a fortune. To top it off, there were no pretenses, no disguising or veiling oneself  to meet others’ approval. As adults, we have become deft at deception – fitting ourselves into the little molds created by our perception of others perceptions. Notice any irony in that?

A book I once read, “Primal Leadership”, skillfully promotes that it behooves us to become more transparent to others; to stop building facades and walls of mirrors around ourselves. In reality, what they are talking about is true integrity. We should live by principles and by so doing, have no need for the smoke and mirrors acts in which we so commonly engage.

The worst thing about writing this diatribe is that I am probably more guilty of this than any reader that happens by. It’s like the scam artist that got all upset at the guy who led him on for weeks as if he was falling for the scam only to turn the tables on him. “You wasted all my precious time you *&%$#**@!”

Unfortunately, marketing is rampant with smoke and mirrors – it’s all about looking better than we really are. What a shame that we can’t use less “Photoshop” public images and branding and be more genuine. Transparency would mean something and we could realize true loyalty and sleep better at night. It’s time to act in a way that allows us to say like Popeye, “I yam what I yam” and know that our revenues are truly earned honestly and transparently. That would be branding at its best.

Now that the political races are over, I want to add some dialogue concerning the advertising that was run during the campaigns. There is not a single person I know that was not completely disgusted with the inundation of negative ads on both sides. And, to make matters worse, pretty much all of the ads included out-of-context information and half-truths. Have we degraded so much to the point where the truth no longer matters to us?

I am quite familiar with the statistics of ad effectiveness in political campaigns and that the evidence supports the attacking, negative ads. However, I wonder if the rise of social media and the availability of information may be just what is needed to change the game. By planting the right seeds in the right places, it seems a candidate should be able to promote the discussion of his/her ideas among the people and if honesty were always employed, it would be easy for fact-checking services to provide support to the candidate’s agenda.

What if a candidate decided to be daring and courageous enough to make a commitment to not run any negative ads but instead to run positive ads supporting her/his own campaign and stand on the ideals and principles (s)he believes in and supports? What if that candidate created a strategic, detailed plan of what the voters could expect after the election and released it at the very beginning and stuck with it? What if the candidate responded to the opposition’s claims humbly acknowledging mistakes and calmly correcting what had been portrayed incorrectly, only to return quickly to the meat of his/her plan?

I know it would take tremendous tenacity and integrity to stick it out as the polling continued to show the other candidate gaining ground with all the negativity but eventually, people would begin to see the real difference between the candidates and the pendulum would swing the other way. I have to believe that as human beings, we have not digressed so far that it wouldn’t be noticed and become a reason for people to begin to switch their loyalties.

As a marketer, I believe in the power of branding, why not a personal brand that portrays such confidence in that person’s integrity and agenda for accomplishing good that negativity isn’t necessary? What do you think, is it possible for a political candidate to win by being honest and full of integrity and by focusing on the plan and refraining from negative attack ads?

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!” (Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg) When it comes to business, if your employees aren’t willingly living up to Horton’s standards, you are losing money that should be going to the bottom line.

It is evident that many businesses just don’t get it. I regularly hear of poor service and bad excuses for the continuation of that mentality. For instance, my daughter Yelhsa recently had another experience at our local McDlanod’s fast-food joint (names have been changed to protect the innocent) where her order was just wrong. According to her account, this establishment gets her order wrong at least 75% of the time. A plain hamburger, nothing on it, just meat and bun. Seems pretty simple but it really takes people living up to Horton’s standards.

The excuse put out by the industry is that they are hiring teens and others at minimum wage with loads of turnover. Lame. Lazy. The basic formula for getting these minimum wage employees to show Horton’s kind of dedication is to care about the employees and show them that you care. This includes hiring right, training, incentives (not random “Employee of the Month” awards), perhaps a little better pay, and lots of praise for doing the right things. I know, it will “cost” more but only in the short term. It will pay off in the long term. Customers will visit more frequently, bring more of their friends, you’ll attract better employees and keep them longer, reducing the amount of mistakes, etc. All these things add to the bottom line.

It all boils down to having your eye on future results not just current profits. It’s a change of mentality in a world that wants us to be so focused on today but if you can do it, people will notice and reward you with their business.

To conclude this series on first impressions, I offer two more locations for your consideration. One is your website. The web has definitely come of age and I think we can all agree that a large percentage of people are going to look at your web presence as they consider doing business with you. Many of those will look your company up online before they do anything else. It is imperative that they encounter a professional site that loads quickly, is easily navigated, and presents relevant information, regardless of whether they are a potential customer, investor, employee, vendor, or other business partner.

Finally, while related to your website, you should still consider it separate and that place is your social media presence. People want to know if you are up-to-date and if you know how to interact with them on social sites. Do your homework and take the time to get it right. Don’t over-post and make sure your content is relevant. Insomuch as possible, put a little effort into dressing up the site so that it fits your branding and speaks to the purpose for using that particular site.

To continue the subject of first impressions, another place for you to consider is the phone. When somebody calls in, how are they greeted, by a real person or an automated system? My personal preference would be to have a live voice, however, if you decide on an automated system, be sure to listen to it from the perspective of every possible type of caller and confirm you get each pointed to the best person to help. Be concise in your directions and verify that one option is to reach a live person.

For those callers who end up on hold, provide a professional-sounding hold program. This should be some easy-listening music, interspersed with information about your company. Do not use a local radio station – you never know what might be said by a DJ or if the music might be questionable to the caller. There are lots of companies that create hold programs and at a very reasonable price. You never know who might be listening and what kind of financial impact they could have should they decide to become involved with your company.

They say that first impressions are everything and yet how many businesses lose perfect opportunities to provide a positive first experience? There are at least four “first impression” places traditional companies must get right or risk driving people away.

The first is your physical space, whether that is a store, office or warehouse. Here are some questions to consider for getting it right. When a customer, potential employee, vendor, business partner arrives at your place of business, is it easy to tell if he/she is in the right place? Do things look trashy and/or outdated? Is it obvious which door is the main entrance? Do they know where to park and are those spaces open and near the door? Each of these are examples of first impressions you are going to make.

This can be compounded when they enter the door and have no idea what to do next or where to go if there is no receptionist or other employee with a desk or workstation right inside the door. If the amount of traffic coming through the door does not seem to warrant a full-time employee who just greets people, then give that person some additional work that can be done along with greeting people. Have that person also answer and direct phone calls, file stuff, fill in spreadsheet info, set appointments for the executive team, etc. This person should be warm and friendly – somebody who can readily interact with those coming in the door. If that person needs to be gone from the desk at times, put some kind of buzzer or bell for people to ring with a sign indicating they should do so if nobody is at the desk. Your business comes across as uncaring if somebody has to wait around until they are finally noticed by somebody walking by or if they have to intrude on somebody in an office down the hall.

Do Unto Others

Posted: October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized
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We teach our kids to observe basic rules of civility and yet we see and applaud examples of incivility in our world. One case might be in a debate. Interruption and name-calling are called aggressive offense. In marketing, it might be comparative ads that show the competition in a negative light, even exaggerating that which is different to make things worse than they really are. No matter how you slice it, the result goes against the grain of what we try to instill as values in the rising generation.

Casting aspersions on the competition shows desperation and a lack of creativity. If you are truly a leader in your space, you should be able to show the benefits of your product/service in such a way as to convince your customer base without having to turn to near falsehoods about your competition.

Disseminating negative information about competitors is especially rampant in political ads and I think if one camp decided to completely focus on the good things of their own candidate, it would take the American people by surprise and would generate a very positive response. It would obviously take some time for people to catch on but once they did, I believe it would be a turning point for political ads – and a good one at that.

In the end, it really is about the character of our company or organization. Is it any wonder that young people end up cynical when they are bombarded by conflicting messages? Parents teach them to be kind and society teaches them that anything goes. Shame on us as marketers if we are involved in the latter teaching.

Staying Open to Change

Posted: October 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
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It is interesting to me how often we let our past prejudices guide our actions today, even if those old notions or beliefs are flawed. I think it is critical to obtaining true success in business to always be looking for those false assumptions and being open to change the way we do things.

For Wendy’s, that recently included a change to their logo, the first change since 1983. When I first saw it, I wondered how the change might diminish the power of the “old-fashioned hamburgers” that is so central to Wendy’s image. Upon further scrutiny, I found the logo to be a good blend of the “old-fashioned” and the modern. What is your take on it?