Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's Time to Embrace Your Brand

As we near the end of 2013, many companies will do what they did 12 months earlier: reflect on their brand with resolves to update it. But instead of emphasizing how others outside your organization perceive your brand, you should focus on how owners, managers and employees view the brand's relevance. They are the ones who must embody it before anyone else will.

Put it another way. Stop making resolutions about your brand as something akin to a product or service's feature set. Your brand is as complex as you and your organization. It is changing, moody, fun, sad, smart and, sometimes, silly. In other times, it's a humanizing entity that should be as genuine in its promise and values as the people who work for the company.

Embracing your brand in such a fashion is a much more comprehensive, yet vital, exercise that will yield better results for your company in terms of increased productivity and business opportunities. While the formation of a credible brand can be done in several ways, here are four key things to consider when doing so regardless of the process you undertake:

Publicly agree to your corporate values. Meaningful brands are built on certain unwavering principles by which a company operates. They transcend product or service lines, and serve as binding guidelines as to how you go about taking care of your customers and team members. Organizations most certainly change their offerings over their lifetime, but their principles shouldn't.

Equally as prevalent is the fact that many companies don't have these values written down anywhere. They are often implied or expressed through its day-to-day operations, but that's it. If you don't have these principles publicly declared, do so while also making sure that your entire team is on board with them. 

How To Make Restructuring Work for Your Company

There are three critical hurdles or challenges that management faces in any restructuring program:

1. Design. What type of restructuring is appropriate for dealing with the specific challenge, problem, or opportunity that the company faces?

2. Execution. How should the restructuring process be managed and the many barriers to restructuring overcome so that as much value is created as possible?

3. Marketing. How should the restructuring be explained and portrayed to investors so that value created inside the company is fully credited to its stock price?

Failure to address any one of these challenges can cause the restructuring to fail.

Having a Business Purpose

Restructuring is more likely to be successful when managers first understand the fundamental business/strategic problem or opportunity that their company faces. At Humana Inc., which jointly operated a hospital business and a health insurance business, management decided to split the businesses apart through a corporate spin-off because it realized the businesses were strategically incompatible—the customers of one business were competitors with the other. Alternative restructuring options that were considered, including issuing tracking stock, doing a leveraged buyout, or repurchasing shares, would not have solved this underlying business problem.

Chase Manhattan Bank and Chemical Bank used their merger as an opportunity to both reduce operating costs and achieve an important strategic objective. Combining the two banks created opportunities to eliminate overlaps in such areas as back-office staff, branch offices, and computing infrastructure. Management of both banks also believed that larger and more diversified financial institutions would increasingly have a comparative advantage in attracting new business from corporate and retail customers. The merger was therefore also viewed as a vehicle for increasing top-line revenue growth. Internal cost cutting alone would not have enabled either bank to achieve this second goal.

5 Simple Ways to Get Your Customers to Listen to You

If you're in business, chances are you're trying to get someone – a customer or prospective client – to do something, whether it's call you, visit your website, or try your product. But in a crowded marketplace, how do you distinguish yourself from the competition?

1. Cut out what's not important.

It's important to make every sentence as clear and efficient as possible, Haley says. "If you can omit a word, a sentence or a paragraph that's not key to helping someone understand something, do it," Haley says. For example, if you sell lawnmowers and you're trying to explain why your lawnmower is better than the other lawnmowers on the market, the customer probably doesn't want to hear about the company's history.

"Don't presume the audience has any interest in what your message is," Haley says. Business owners are consumed with their business, but forget that for customers, their interaction with you is just a small part of their day. They want help, not necessarily the history of the product, Haley says.

2. Explain things before you name things.

If you work in a field with special terminology or jargon, be sure to explain the term and concept before using it over and over because people may not know what they mean. For example, if you own an insurance company, customers have heard of copays and deductibles, but may not know the difference between the two or what they mean. By explaining that a deductible is money that a customer pays before the insurance policy kicks in, you ensure everyone's on the same page.

3. When possible, use metaphors.

Haley says using metaphors can help explain complicated concepts to consumers. For example, if you're selling a complicated suite of business software tools, you could compare the solution to a busy restaurant, where the head chef efficiently directs her staff while keeping diners happy.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to Develop a Successful Small Business Marketing Strategy

1. Decide on your overall business priorities.

Marketing strategy planning is dictated by your organization’s top goals. A small business marketing consultant begins by asking what his or her client wants to achieve. Similarly, as a small business captain, you must first set the direction that your crew should sail. Your goals should be realistic and measurable.

2. Set specific marketing goals.

Once you’ve determined your chief priorities for the year, you can outline specific marketing goals to help you meet those larger targets. Again, your marketing goals should be quantifiable; for instance, you might track marketing investment vs. marketing returns (ROI). In general, a marketingteam should be held responsible for the top line sales figures, not overall profit. (Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t cut your marketing department’s budget if they’re not bringing in a good ROI.)

3. Define how your goals will be achieved.

This step requires marketing expertise and strong imaginations. Depending on the size of your firm, the entire company may be pulled out for a yearly retreat to brainstorm strategic marketing techniques. Or you may leave this task up to your marketing department; the bottom line is that you must have a clear plan of attack for how your marketing aspirations can be attained.

4. Establish a specific marketing budget.

Once you’ve established the “big picture” questions of what you want to achieve, how your marketing department can contribute, and how you’ll meet your marketing goals, it’s time to drill down to specifics. Outlining a detailed marketing budget is a first step.

5. Set timelines and assign responsibilities.

In addition to establishing a budget, you’ll need to assign responsibilities and set timelines for your strategic marketing goals.


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Five Tips for Managing Your To-Do List

Is your to-do list long enough to wallpaper your office?

If you're like most entrepreneurs, you have a lengthy to-do list that never seems doable—no matter how many hours you work. But there's a reason you're not ticking off items, or maximizing results when you do. You've likely organized your task list by deadlines, and you're cranking away on the most pressing items first. A better, smarter approach is to prioritize your list by what matters most.

As such, there are only two types of tasks that should really matter to entrepreneurs. The first can broadly be described as "whatever makes money in the near future," such as writing proposals, returning prospect calls, and calling your credit card company to negotiate a better interest rate. The second is "whatever will make customers happy."

People feel compelled to finish tasks just because they are on the to-do list, especially if a deadline looms. But what good is crossing off an item on your to-do list if it doesn't make you money or thrill your customers?

A consistent flow of cash is the lifeblood of your business. If you can make money in the next 30 days by knocking off an item on your list, then make that item a priority. Same goes for any task that will win you ecstatic customers, who might reward you with repeat business or rave about you to potential customers. Everything else? Not so much.

Here's how to turn your to-do list into a productive, money-making machine:

1. Maintain a paper task list. As much as you love your fancy productivity software, keeping your to-do list on a computer can cause you to go off on a tangent or get caught up in color-coding or grouping tasks.