Willing to Fly the 737 Max? Boeing’s Missteps May Damage Their Brand

When a company is forced to navigate choppy waters, a single mistake can undermine a brand’s credibility and disheartened customers may take the opportunity to turn to competitors. Boeing is not the first company to fail when responding to a negative situation. However, keeping important information from the public and the FAA on two separate occasions definitely helped turn public perception against the company, especially as more details concerning the safety of flight crews and passengers come to light. How did Boeing stumble and could their chosen route of action influence their brand?

Boeing and the 737 Max

Boeing faces serious credibility problems after their response to two deadly crashes involving the 737 Max plane: the first occurring in Indonesia and the second happening en route to Nairobi. A misstep was made when only a partial picture was disclosed by Boeing after the Lion Air crash. After the second crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight, six weeks elapsed before Boeing finally related the underlying software issue to the public and to the FAA. As a result, Boeing faces an uphill battle when meeting with influential union members representing flight attendants. The head of the union, Sara Nelson, sharing that she does not feel confident in telling travelers and flight attendants to fly on the 737 Max until certain conditions are met.

Boeing is concerned about the mark left on their reputation as it faces multiple federal investigations and lawsuits. The company has focused its public relations strategy on passengers as it waits for the decision that will allow the Max to return to commercial service. Transparency and full accountability need to be improved in order to reassure the flying public and secure the support of pilots and flight attendants.

Lessons to Be Learned

There was a concerning lack of communication between airlines, pilots and regulators about the software issue that directly affected the operation of the 737 Max planes and the safety of its passengers. The company was not forthcoming with pilots about how the basic system and some automatic features operated. It was only after the Lion Air accident that regulators and some pilots were informed that the key cockpit warning light did not operate unless the airline had also purchased the angle of attack indicator.

When it comes to safety, getting all the details to your customers is paramount. Takeaways that reflect the need for honesty and transparency in a company include:

  1. Explain the reason for launch delays. Customers would rather experience a delay with the understanding that safety is a priority for a company.
  2. Share information as soon as possible. When one leg of a trip is delayed, and a passenger is forced to reschedule their plans, arrange for accommodations. To maintain goodwill, avoid waiting until the last possible moment to tell customers of an issue.
  3. Plan ahead to maintain integrity. With so much invested in attracting and cultivating long-term relationships with customers, a plan for potential issues needs to be in place so communication can be transparent when problems arise.

Think from your customers’ point of view. What would you, as a customer, need to know in order to mitigate any potential issues arising from a partner’s shortcomings? As an airline or pilot, wouldn’t you feel it a priority to know about any system updates or faulty systems that could compromise the safety of your passengers and crew?

Plan for Tough Situations

B2B and B2C companies need to be customer-centric and offer clarity when situations come up to allow for adjustments. This can help a company maintain a positive impression and protect their brand.

What do people say about you when you are not around? Whatever it is, that is your brand. After all, your brand identity is built by your actions and how you deliver, not on your stated values. The response or lack thereof to a serious situation is a reflection of a company’s core values and whether it deserves to be trusted — or not.

Categories BrandingTags , , ,

A “Giving” Approach Makes Email Campaigns More Effective

It is amazing to realize that, for the most part, those under 40 years old have never known a world without email. Today, it is hard for most of us to imagine life without it. It helps keep us connected with friends and family, we can easily share files and images, and now we can even legally sign documents digitally through email. Of course, it didn’t take marketers long to discover how cost-effective email can be in reaching potential customers. This, of course, led to an abundance of spam, negatively impacting the strategy. Consumers quickly learned to identify spam and instantly delete it or have it sent to a spam file unread. This caused some marketers to abandon the process. Others have reacted by adjusting to the marketplace and making adjustments to their strategies.

Why should marketers reexamine their email marketing tactics? First, consumers have made adjustments in how they treat marketing emails, so adjustments need to be made by marketers. Secondly, there are tremendous returns on investment when email campaigns are properly conducted. Recently, a survey by Direct Marketing Association and Demand Metric indicates that email marketing can have an ROI as much as four times higher than other marketing strategies, including social media. That is impressive and worth pursuing.

The key? Remembering that email is not a customer acquisition tool as much as it is a communication tool that can help build relationships. It is those relationships, then, that deliver consumers through the consideration, conversion and recommendation phases.

A Better Way to Engage Consumers

An article written by our CEO takes a deep dive into how to build stronger relationships and better engage consumers through email campaigns. Christine uses the old adage, “it is better to give than to receive,” in creating effective, high ROI email campaigns. She points out that while many marketers “talk” to consumers, it is far more effective to initiate a two-way conversation. This gives them more and better ways to come to you. These “better ways” may include offering valuable information, product-related tips and tricks, shareable discounts, or by inviting them to provide their thoughts, opinions and experiences on social media.

Some marketers have a reluctance to any approach that does not provide an instant ROI. Alemany’s approach, however, is based on the fact that it is far better to build loyal customers through email than to make a single, quick sale and having future emails sent to spam filters or instantly deleted. These are customers worth investing in. It also brings to mind another adage that can apply to email marketing; “patience is a virtue,” and “it is better to pass by a nickel to pick up a dollar.”

A “Giving” Mentality

Building a “giving” email marketing strategy starts with segmenting lists to refine your target to your audience. This not only leads to better customization, but recipients have a much better sense the email was destined for them and their needs. This helps build those powerful and eventually profitable relationships.

Once a list is segmented, build a content map to deliver the most valuable and relevant information to users. This could be in the form of infographics, a white paper or newsletter. An email marketing schedule should follow, usually based around special or significant occasions that may impact your subscribers or your products. These could include holidays, conventions and seminars, new product introductions and more.

Of course, ultimately, you will want to measure and monitor results. These “results” should include much more than just sales. It could include shares, subscribers, social media likes, responses to surveys and polls, and other forms of connection. Adjustments to campaigns should be made according to results.

Consumers want to do business with those they feel are knowledgeable and trustworthy. Building relationships through a giving approach is a powerful way to build those strong connections. It positions you as an approachable expert in your field and a natural, easy-to-make a choice when it comes time to make a buying decision. People still buy based on their own reasons, not reasons provided them by a marketer. Give them more of those reasons to do business with you, and they will respond.

Categories Digital, MarketingTags ,

What Marketers Need to Know to Reach Gen Z

Generation Z, those born from the mid-1990s through the 2000s, is about to become the largest generation, with an estimated $44 billion in purchasing power. According to Google, when you factor in the influence this generation has on parents and within household purchases, this purchasing power could be closer to $200 billion. As with any generation, what it takes to reach the newest shoppers is different from the strategies that worked with the previous generations, millennials in this case.

Gen Z’s defining characteristic: Fracture

While millennials were the bridge generation, possessing faint memories of a time before technology was everywhere, Gen Z is the first wholly digital native generation. As a rule, those in this group move quickly — which means they tend to be one step ahead of the brands that are trying to reach them. Brands that are still relying on blanket marketing campaigns or moving into influencer marketing may find these efforts wasted as Gen Z quickly finds new social spaces, new influencers and new online channels.

Even if blanket marketing methods may work for a while, in 10 to 15 years, brands will no longer be able to rely on those methods. As seen in the millennials first, Gen Z places a big priority on identity. Each member of the generation is a unique brand, something that should be unsurprising in a generation that’s grown up side-by-side with social media.

To reach this generation means setting aside the generic marketing campaigns, like the Super Bowl ads designed with mass appeal, and personalizing the message instead.

While this may seem daunting, consider that artificial intelligence, marketing clouds, and customer data platforms leverage the power of automation to get the personalized marketing messages that will be effective here.

Gen Z is surprisingly analogue

According to a study from Student Affinity Network UNiDAYS and Ad Age Studio 30, which looked at 23,000 college students in the United States, UK, Australia and New Zealand, Gen Z has a more complex relationship with technology than was previously supposed.

About 98% of Gen Zers own a smartphone, yet only 22% of survey respondents used it for online shopping. A Fluent Commerce survey found that roughly 25% of Gen Zers said they enjoyed browsing at brick-and-mortar stores. Direct-to-consumer brand Warby Parker actually backtracked into brick-and-mortar, opening close to 100 stores, when it realized that younger consumers placed a high value on the in-store experience.

Approximately 77% of survey respondents said they’d rather read a print book than an e-book, and 60% of Gen Zers either use streaming services on a television (instead of a laptop) or subscribe to cable television.

These analogue habits mean brands that have invested in digital only may be scrambling to reach young shoppers, who aren’t hanging out where companies thought they would. Consider that social media spending rose by 60% from 2016 to 2017, per Adweek. Web Strategies Inc. found that companies expect to allocate half their ad spend on digital campaigns by 2020. With such a significant investment in online advertising, and early findings indicating that Gen Z is markedly different from millennials, marketers must thoroughly evaluate fund allocation.

How to connect with (and convert) young consumers

Think of Gen Z not as one generation but as several small subgroups, each with its own characteristics.

  1. Vary messaging by target and channel.
    As you break your audience into subgroups, adjust your messaging accordingly. It should vary to engender the appropriate coversation in each channel that you leverage. For example, you should have different goals across social, email, in-app, podcasts, and TV – from engagement to transactional.
  2. Budget accordingly.
    Rather than evenly spreading your ad spend across every channel, focus on where your target audience hangs out. Visual social media is dominant among this generation, with Gen Zers enjoying YouTube and Snapchat over platforms such as Facebook, yet Gen Zers are also flocking to new platforms such as Houseparty, a group live chat app. Snapchat and Houseparty both have privacy in common, a value that’s important to Gen Zers.
  3. Stand for something.
    Young consumers want to know, like and trust a brand before they buy. Brands need to connect with them about more than the product. They need to develop a relationship and show that they are a good match, values-wise. Refine your message (if you haven’t already) for authenticity.
  4. Focus on them, not your company.
    Don’t forget about personalization. Remember, Gen Z has grown up with targeted advertisements through email and smartphone. People in this group expect all marketing to be personal in nature. In fact, 26% of Gen Zers told Google they expected retailers to take their preferences and shopping habits into account, for a more personalized shopping experience — a desire for just 22% of millennials and 11% of baby boomers. Consider why YouTube is so popular with Gen Zers: The video platform offers to give everyone a voice.
  5. Respect their privacy.
    Addressing privacy concerns is paramont with Generation Z given the widespread data breaches of current times. Less than 33% of Gen Zers feel comfortable sharing personal information with brands outside of purchase history and contact information. If they could feel confident their personal data was securely stored and protected – and not shared – this generation would feel comfortable sharing more.

Since these digital natives have grown up with online marketing, they’re perceptive to how it works. They know when they’re being advertised to, and they’re quick to skip ads and use ad blockers. The most adaptive brands keep pace with Gen Z with short, use messaging that put the customer first, and dovetail with the individuality and personalization craved by the youngest shoppers.

Categories Branding, MarketingTags , , ,

Is Your Brand Identity Hurting Your Market Share?

It has been said that every day, companies either gain market share or lose market share. When it is growing, there is more energy, enthusiasm and perhaps even a little sense of invincibility in an organization. When market share begins to wane, however, it creates a domino effect of problems. It can lead to finger-pointing, second-guessing and internal strife.

Consistently increasing market share takes diligence, creativity, and hard work. It also takes establishing and building a strong brand identity. But even that may not be enough if everyone is not on the same page in embracing that brand identity. After all, if your own team members either don’t understand or believe in your brand identity, how can you expect your customers to?

We’ve all experienced it. A solid, stable customer disappears because someone over-promised, under-delivered or failed to follow up. Often, a more senior member of the team will step in to do damage control. If they are successful at salvaging the relationship, it validates their position within the company. Perhaps, however, they just had a deeper understanding of your mission and brand identity.

If there is an internal disconnect with your brand identity, it is easy to see how customers and potential customers could experience that same confusion. Loss of market share is often the result.

An article published on SmartInsights and written by our CEO, Christine, addresses the dangers of this identity crisis and offers some examples of major companies who have gone through it. The article discusses how companies like Harley-Davidson, Apple, McDonald’s, and others have, or are working through, an identity crisis.

If market share is slipping, it may be time to pause, take stock and get creative. It could be time to reevaluate and sharpen your mission. It may be an opportunity for a rebrand.

The Importance of the Right Mission

New companies will often take days or weeks in developing a mission statement that describes their purpose and values. Once established, however, that mission may just become a series of words in a frame in the lobby. It is possible that your mission has become out of line with your market. That shift could be partly due to technology, the growing importance of convenience, or other trends.

Many organizations can benefit with a fresh look at their mission, starting with individual meetings with department heads. Using open-ended questions, these key people should be asked about how they view the mission of their department and how it differs from that of the organization. How do they perceive the role their department plays in the mind of consumers? What can or should they be doing to build more trust with customers and potential customers? You just may find a disconnect between departments that could create brand identity issues. You could discover your mission is outdated or not being communicated.

Market to Your Strengths

Once you reestablish your purpose and values by refocusing your mission statement, its time to build the foundation of your rebrand. By once again enlisting the assistance of your department heads, you should identify your strengths. This will often naturally lead to uncovering weaknesses that need to be managed. Some key clients may be asked to offer their input. What are the misperceptions people have about your organization and how did they get those misperceptions? Who are your competitors and how does the market perceive them? Encourage those involved to be straightforward and honest with their thoughts.

Marketing isn’t done in a void. You have to consider opportunities and threats but it is most frequently best to build your rebrand from your strengths. When Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded as KFC, it played to their strength: “chicken” while downplaying a weakness: “fried.” Since the official rebrand in 1991, KFC was more easily able to add menu items like hot wings, sandwiches, and grilled chicken.

Put Together Your Marketing Dream Team

Your marketing dream team could include a small group of creative people, those skilled in analytics and, of course, marketing. This is where outside professional assistance can be invaluable. This smaller team should work on what was discussed and discovered in revisiting your mission and strengths and weaknesses. They will want to include factors including competition and perceptions. Brainstorm how you want consumers to perceive you, how you can build more trust, and connect on a deeper level with them. Explore examples of other companies who have successfully rebranded. Discover how they looked at their organization from new angles and through fresh eyes.

Enlist the Help of Customers

Getting input from your best customers is an excellent idea on several levels. Asking their opinion is generally perceived as a sign of respect. They already value your product or service. It strengthens your bonds with them and they have a unique perspective from the “other side of the fence.” They will also likely become good ambassadors for your new brand.

Discuss the ideas your team has come up with, getting their feedback. This is also a good opportunity to do some “A-B” testing on multiple concepts.

Moving Forward

It would be a rare situation where an organization couldn’t benefit from taking the above steps, even if it confirms you are close to, or on, the right path. It can provide energy, clarity and bring team members and departments together. It can create powerful, positive results for an organization who is losing market share and has either lost or outgrown its identity.

Yes, every day companies are losing market share or gaining market share. If you are not growing, it may be time to move forward with a rebrand.

Categories Branding, StrategyTags ,

To Hire or to Outsource: Finding the Right Fit

A rapidly growing organization requires its employees to stretch beyond their job descriptions, addressing countless urgent needs as quickly as possible. Often, during these early stages, you do not have the time nor budget to build the robust team that you need. In this fast-paced environment, it makes sense to hire individuals who can be trusted to wear multiple hats and put out fires as they arise.

No matter how much drive and energy you have, there are only 24 hours in a day. It can be tempting to become accustomed to controlling every move within the business. While there is reassurance in knowing you have the final say, micromanaging every process in your organization is not a sustainable solution. There comes a point when trying to do everything yourself becomes detrimental and requires you to work twice as hard to hit your target growth rate.

Plus, adding marketing specialists to your team can boost ROI. Tasks ranging from copywriting and design to SEO and PPC require experience in both strategy and execution. While you could develop an in-house team to perform many of these marketing duties, some capabilities are stronger when they are outsourced to a group of specialists who can bring more to the table than a single individual.

Marketing results take time

Once your startup achieves a certain level of growth, you can round out the team with specialists who can expertly tackle specific needs. However, seeing tangible results from marketing programs is not always instantaneous. It can take weeks or months until you see the full benefit of new marketing programs. In the meantime, you may lose valuable time if you do not have experienced specialists on your team.

And by the time you realize your strategy is not working, your business will have lost valuable momentum. Unfortunately, developing in-house talent takes time as well. In situations where an internal resource is not in place, it is a good idea to reach out to third-party to bridge gaps.

If you have several positions to fill, the time and energy required to make the right hire can be time-consuming. In these circumstances, hiring an outside agency can create momentum, accelerate learning curves, and improve the efficacy of your resources. Working with a third-party gives you a reliable and experienced team, so you are not putting all of your faith in a single in-house hire to deliver the results you need.

Find the best option for your organization

Turn to an advisor who does not prefer one specialization or channel more than others. This outlook will provide objectivity that takes into account your target segment and your goals.

Imagine if you are considering hiring a social media manager. An impartial consultant will advise against hiring an in-house social media manager or paying top dollar to outsource to a social media agency if your customers do not spend a lot of time on social media. However, if most of your traffic is through organic search, then you stand to benefit by outsourcing your SEO needs. If you ask a social media agency for advice on whether you should outsource, they have a powerful incentive to ensure that you solicit their services.

Generally, unbiased advice will hinge on a few key factors:

A competitive analysis brings insights into your true level of differentiation from your competition as well how they successfully connect with your potential customers. The learnings gleaned from this analysis will help zero in on what your target is looking for in terms of messaging and how they want to interact with your offerings.
If there is a certain specialization that holds the key to differentiation and corporate identity, you should create a permanent position responsible for overseeing this area. Having internal capabilities allows you to maintain complete control over functions, and finding the right person to carry out a task means you can invest heavily in them.
The skill sets within your current team will play an important role when you are deciding what roles to outsource. If you have enough work to fill 40 hours each week, it might make sense to hire a full-time employee. Otherwise, you can have your employee manage one or more agencies who can fill in gaps until there is enough workload to justify a full-time hire.

Deciding whether or not to hire can be daunting, especially when you have a limited budget. Fortunately, TBGA can help answer your most crucial hiring questions. We have helped organizations large and small grapple with the same questions, and we can put you on a curated path toward successful growth. Take the first step and reach out today for a free consultation.

Categories Marketing, OperationsTags , , , ,

Are you maximizing the ROI of Your Marketing Spend?

Your organization quickly expanded as a result of the people you have hired, most notably the handful of employees who have worked alongside you since the beginning. Naturally, you feel a great deal of loyalty toward these employees. After all, you want to keep the people around that helped you bring the company to where it is today.

In the early stages of any business, you often have to find people who can do a little bit of everything. This is especially true for marketing. If you did not hire a person (or two, for that matter) with at least a base knowledge of how to engage consumers and build brand awareness, you could easily count yourself as one of the nine out of 10 startups that fail.

As your business grows, your marketing needs will inevitably become more and more specialized with each passing year. Every campaign must deliver greater insights, results, and returns. Otherwise, your products or services could easily fall off even the most loyal of your customers’ radars.

This is not to say that you should replace all of your generalists with specialists. When industries shift, as they often do, it will be your generalists – and their innate ability to pinpoint issues and adapt – who will enable your business to come out on top. Their broad knowledge and problem-solving can piece together the big picture for the rest of your organization, helping predict the best next move.

As a marketing leader, you must build an organization that can support a rapidly evolving landscape. You must balance developing in-house talent against partnering with external providers. With each hiring decision point, you should evaluate whether you are striking the delicate balance with your in-house team or if an external agency can fill any gaps in executing your marketing strategy.

Effectively Assess Your Needs

You do not need to have all of the answers — and even if you do, team shakeups can still feel uncomfortable. Often, it can be hard as an entrepreneur to know when to bring in a new perspective. Fortunately, you can turn to a consultant to assess your marketing team, map them against your goals, and provide an unbiased recommendation for what to do and how to get everyone on board. However, you must select an advisor that brings first-hand knowledge in aligning a marketing organization with corporate strategy to get a real return on investment.

While advice will vary from business to business, here are four steps to set yourself up for growth:

  1. Gain a brutal understanding of the competition.
    You may be surprised by how much is learned through a competitive analysis. In addition to positioning, you can uncover where the competition devotes most of its time and budget. This can signal which channels and outlets allow consumers to interact with brands similar to yours.
  2. Look at your customer.
    For example, say your target segment spends limited time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels. It would not be a good use of your resources to hire a social media specialist, then — or even an outside agency to work on your social messaging. If the reverse were true, we would encourage you to find a resource to handle these social media tasks.
  3. Address structural gaps.
    Map your staff’s collective skill set against to your future marketing needs. Dive into performance metrics and speak with your team to assess how to best allocate your bench strength. If necessary, you can bring in specialists and leverage your current generalists as strategic coordinators and project managers — the glue that holds everything together.
  4. Start planning.
    After assessing your needs, determine whether the projected workload warrants having a full-time hire or part-time support. Also, make a call on whether you want to develop the expertise on your team or lean on niche partners. It can take months to hire the right people or tap the right partner who can both fill in the gaps and fit within your culture so start moving.

Here is an example: With mobile phone penetration expected to hit nearly 83 percent by 2020, this channel will serve as the primary path to purchase for many customer segments. As you map the opportunity, you have to understand how consumer behavior differs across devices. This presents a golden opportunity to strengthen your team with expertise in mobile marketing. If you lack this expertise, your business likely will not see the same results for this marketing effort as competitors who are prepared. After you find skill gaps on your team, you must answer the following difficult questions: If you were to bring someone in to handle mobile marketing capabilities, would that person have enough work to fill up a 40-hour week? Or, would a better option be to hire a freelancer or agency to execute this task?

If a time comes when you need an unbiased opinion, you can rely on TBGA’s proven track record of improving marketing ROI and implementing time-tested solutions to get the most value out of your marketing spend. Get started, and reach out today for a free consultation.

Categories Marketing, Operations, StrategyTags , , , ,

Four Tough Pills to Swallow for Growth

You hired a strategic consultant to help make some much-needed changes in your company. Now, it is time to get the ball rolling.

While your head might be ready to make those adjustments, your heart might be throwing a bit of a tantrum. Constructive criticism can be difficult to digest when you feel protective of the teams and systems you have worked so hard to put in place. Even if the recommended changes are completely rational, some might surprise you while others insult you.

But after the initial sting, you will soon realize that being open to criticism makes you a stronger leader. Deep down, you know that you hired a consultant because your business is not reaching its full potential. In order to implement the changes that will encourage your business to grow and thrive, you need to open yourself up, listen, and really take part in tough conversations.

Find the Silver Lining

Let us take a look at some of the toughest pills that a strategic consultant might prescribe you and consider why (and how) you should swallow them with a smile.

  1. “You need to revamp your team.”
    Criticisms about your team can be the hardest ones to accept. You might love the members of your team like family. They have stuck with you through good times and bad and have helped you build your company from the ground up.

    But in many cases, personal attachments to team members can blind leaders from seeing the dysfunctions that are actually holding the company in a rut.

    It is important to look clearly at the skills and experience of your team members. Ask yourself, “Who do I need today to take my company to the next level?” Goodbyes are always hard, but it is better to say them now than after your business has collapsed.

  2. “You need to pivot your product strategy.”
    Many leaders founded their companies based on a great idea. Subsequently, they are so married to this idea that they avoid revising their product strategy when necessary.

    The saddest thing I have witnessed is when founders realize this strategy problem too late. For example, we once had a client come to us with Google-sized aspirations, but the company had been hemorrhaging cash for the past several quarters. Unfortunately, it was far too late to make the crucial changes in the product strategy.

    To avoid this dreadful situation, do not delay. Instead, complete the tough work now to ensure your business model is healthy.

  3. “You need to focus.”
    Many entrepreneurs have so many ideas on the drawing board that they struggle to properly execute any of them. The ideas might be phenomenal, but without focus, they will never graduate from the brainstorming stage into a living product. The office will forever be a maze of half-finished plans and good intentions — and frustrations for everyone.

    If your strategic consultant comes to you with this criticism, do not start backpedaling with excuses. Instead, go against your natural instincts and thank them.

    While being told to focus might make you initially feel constrained and less entrepreneurial, that discomfort will soon ease once you see what a little focus does to your chosen idea. Move forward by pinning down what this focus looks like for your company, and then keep tabs on new ideas and ventures so they do not go astray.

  4. “You need more structure.”
    Sometimes, observing how a company operates is like watching kids play soccer. Everyone is running for the ball, and no one is executing against a clearly defined role. The result is a messy game in which goals are random and someone is bound to get hurt.

    A lack of structure in a company can be just as damaging as a bad idea. When departments are not communicating or collaborating, everyone moves forward without a clear purpose.

    If this is the problem your team faces, there are many ways you can start bringing structure into your operations. From regular conversations between teammates to clear, shared documentation, adding structure helps team members stay accountable by giving them distinctly defined roles, priorities, and goals.

Know in your head — and heart — why you are inviting a strategic consultant into your company, and understand what your goals are for the process. If you really want to push your company to new heights, you need to be willing to embrace and find value in these tough conversations.

Categories Digital, Operations, StrategyTags , , , , , , ,

Rethinking What Diversity Means for Your Business

When does a company achieve the “diverse” badge of honor? Is it simply when the staff photos on its website no longer favor one gender over another? When the photos show a wide variety of races?

Too many business leaders hang their hats on this physical definition of diversity, seeing it as a checkbox that will earn them good PR; paint them as a progressive, open-minded company; and wow potential investors.

Instead of a checkbox, I encourage people to think about diversity outside the box. Besides gender and race, diversity also refers to different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. When your employees bring a variety of unique ideas and opinions to the table, you can learn so much more about your customers — and it is that intel that will help you stay ahead of the competition.

Diversity Is Not Just Skin Deep

When your perception of diversity is solely based on external characteristics, you miss out on its true power. In reality, diversity goes much deeper. Below the surface, people bring different backgrounds, values, and upbringings to the table that provide companies with unique, innovative problem-solving approaches and opinions that — when leveraged productively — make your company stronger, more creative, and more relevant.

The physical definition of diversity should be constantly in the back of your mind as you vet candidates, and your vetting process should be the same whether you are interviewing a man, a woman, a person of color, a younger person, an older person — the list goes on. But it should not necessarily be your top criterion when making hiring decisions.

Throughout the hiring process, your primary focus should be on skills, abilities, and how well the person will fit into the company culture. Hiring solely for physical diversity — checking that box — will not always give you the best person for the job. You also want to make sure that not everyone at your company is marching to the same drummer, so to speak. There should be conflicting opinions among your staff, and you want your team to collaboratively work through these conflicting opinions. It is when you have achieved this deeper level of diversity that creative solutions emerge that set companies apart.

It is like cooking a stew. If you keep adding salt and pepper as it cooks, the stew will not taste any better. But once you toss in the rosemary, thyme, basil, and paprika, the kitchen fills with glorious smells, and the stew ends up being delicious.

Three Attributes That Contribute to True Diversity

As you set out on your journey to foster true diversity in your company, challenge yourself when looking for the best candidates. Focus on these three characteristics to dig deep and find the perfect people for your team:

  1. Education

    So many companies we have worked with are jam-packed with people with impressive alma maters. In some cases, the entire leadership team went to the same university. While that might look great on paper, once you walk into a room with these company leaders, they are all on the same page and agree on what needs to be done. But if you take a step back and really examine the situation, they lack external perspectives and conflicting viewpoints, so they find themselves stuck in neutral with no clue how to jumpstart their growth.

    Of course, you want people with impressive educational accolades from Ivy League schools, but you also need balance. You need to also hire people who went to public schools and received a completely different (yet still valid and useful) education and overall academic experience. They will have fresh ways of looking at things, which is exactly what your company needs.

  2. Socioeconomic Background

    Before we dive into this characteristic, it is important to note that you should not ask job candidates about their household income when they were growing up, their current net worth, or other personal financial matters. However, you can read between the lines.

    Did they work while they were in college? Did they rely on scholarships? Do they travel a lot? Or have they never been on an airplane? The ideal makeup is a mix of people who grew up bootstrapping their way to where they are today, as well as people who did not have to. Having a healthy balance of varying socioeconomic backgrounds will yield a mixed bag of opinions, work styles, and problem-solving approaches.

  3. Values and Beliefs

    Again, before we dive into this one, remember that you cannot ask job candidates about their religious beliefs. However, you can analyze where they grew up and how they spend their free time. Do they volunteer? What are they passionate about? Did they grow up in a rural or urban area?

    There is no question that rural and urban communities in America hold tight to vastly different beliefs and values. In order for your company to become a household name across all communities, make sure you have all communities represented on your team.

    It might seem appealing to solely hire workaholics who pursue little to no passions and hobbies outside of work. However, people who have lives and passion projects outside of work will bring in a broad spectrum of interests, leading to innovative approaches, and ways of thinking.

While physical diversity is very important, it is not the end-all and be-all of company diversity. It goes far deeper below the surface. Hiring people from different backgrounds can help businesses thrive. It is time to rethink what diversity means for your business and how you can truly embrace it to your company’s advantage.

Categories Operations, StrategyTags , , , ,

Expanding Into the US? Here Is Your Guide to Thrive

You have reached a momentous decision: to expand your business into the U.S. market. Now is an exciting time to be venturing across the ocean. The U.S. economy shows promising signs, and the GDP growth rate is expected to hold strong at 2 to 3 percent this year.

Besides economic prosperity, the U.S. holds other charms for business owners. Its single prominent language and relatively relaxed data laws mean that expanding into North America can seem like a smooth sail when compared to venturing into Europe or other continents.

But to dive in headfirst without testing the water could be a costly mistake for your business’s bottom line and reputation. After all, the U.S. is a large and complex market, and a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy will soon fall short. You need a guide to help pioneer your business’s American adventure.

How to Transition Wisely Into the US Market

There are some adjustments that entrepreneurs must make to their marketing and growth strategies to ensure they can thrive in the U.S. market. Here are the top three I learned from my years of experience:

  1. Take time to understand the cultural landscape.
    The U.S. has a single prominent language, but it also has approximately 325 million people living on its soil. Each state has its own culture and subcultures. The differences between the groups that live there can be vast. So it is vital to understand this cultural landscape in all its diversity before introducing your product to the market.

    This includes adjusting the tone of marketing materials to an American audience’s sense of humor. There are certain things that might sound OK in Europe but can rub people the wrong way in the U.S. For example, a British customer might love an irreverent jab at his own expense, while an American customer could be offended.

    Even basic words and phrases can cause confusion. For example, a company trying to bring the British dessert sticky toffee pudding to the American market had to explain to many people that the “pudding” was not the cold custard that an American would expect.

    For a more successful approach, invest ample time in reading and researching, and then compile a set of words and phrases that sing the praises of your business without confusion.

  2. Build up a picture through target testing.
    In a market as huge as the U.S., you have to get specific about your buyer persona. This means getting close and personal with some actual Americans.

    Begin by determining where to test your product. You can focus on East Coast cosmopolitan hubs like Boston and New York, families in the Midwest, or health-conscious individuals in California. Whatever the case, test in smaller geographies before going big to make sure your product’s features and benefits are not getting lost in translation.

    If you do not know where you should be testing, that might mean you are not acquainted enough with your buyer persona. This can be resolved by acquiring some guidance to see how your product translates to a U.S. buyer.

  3. Get to know your competition.
    It is always wise to examine your competition when expanding or diversifying into new markets. It is especially important in a crowded and ever-changing market like the U.S. Do your homework before you make the leap by building a profile of your competition. Who are the big players? Who are the emerging challengers? And when compared to those companies, what differentiates your offering?

    When companies fail to assess their competition, the results can be disastrous. For example, a Japanese telecommunications company decided to enter the wireless market in the U.S. It tried to copy and paste the retail and distribution strategy that had worked in Japan onto the U.S. market. If it had looked at where its target customers were purchasing their phone plans, the company would have realized that a pure distribution strategy is not ideal for its growth.

You have your bags packed for a new frontier, but before you set off on this exciting adventure, take some time to translate your business into the best American version you can. In addition, having someone to show you the best path for your product and how to tell its story on this new stage can support this market transition in many ways. For help with your international expansion, do not hesitate to reach out to us for a one-hour consultation.

Categories Branding, StrategyTags , , , ,

How to Prepare Your Business Model for International Expansion

As an entrepreneur, you are in an exciting position. You have successfully grown and are ready to expand in the U.S. The new opportunity is a different environment — and one that should be approached with caution to maximize the chance of success.

Opportunity is intoxicating, and many entrepreneurs find themselves rushing headlong into a situation that they should have approached more thoughtfully. It is true that successfully tackling the U.S. market can quickly scale the revenue side of a business, but the operational side must be ready for the increased demand placed on it by the larger market.

Tweaking Your Business Model

When operations fail to keep pace with demand, businesses that once had great potential will struggle to maintain the market share gained after their reputation is tarnished and their credibility is lost. The good news is that entrepreneurs who are knowledgeable about the weaknesses of their business model will be able to not only increase revenue but also improve their overall business operations by entering the U.S. market.

To ensure the transition goes smoothly, keep these approaches top of mind:

  1. Remain Connected
    One of the hardest parts of running a global business is keeping everyone on the same page. When teams cannot work together properly, friction leads to finger-pointing. Generally, there is some validity to claims made on both sides, but a lack of context keeps people from developing a clearer understanding of the issues.

    Keeping different locations of a business tightly connected can strengthen communication and improve business models. Weekly meetings, especially using video conferencing, will ensure specific departments are not siloed from the overall business. If it makes sense, consider implementing a program in which employees or leadership members rotate into the U.S. office to help connect the team to the new market. This arrangement can provide valuable networking opportunities that help encourage continued growth. Stakeholders based in the U.S. should also travel to corporate headquarters to observe the business in its home country.

  2. Be Aware of Changing Differentiators
    Different geographical areas have varied competitive differentiators. To secure your company’s valuable differentiator, research the U.S. market before taking the leap. If your differentiators in your home country no longer set you apart from other companies in the U.S., you will need to find new differentiation to pursue. It is undoubtedly best to begin this process beforeyou make the move to your new location.

    A multinational corporation in Europe, for instance, may not be allowed to move a customer’s personally identifiable information across borders. As a result, a company with a solution that allows them to analyze data while keeping it in the country where it originated from is equipped to be successful because it has a leg up on the competition. On the other hand, most American companies would be less concerned about transporting customer data if their data and analytic tools are based within the U.S. What was a dominant differentiator in Europe has little to no advantage in the U.S. market, illustrating that the challenges of operating in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. have limited similarities.

  3. Understand Marketplace Success
    It is vital to understand the differences in how businesses approach the American market. It is understandably tempting to rely on the tactics that brought your business success in the first place, but there is no guarantee that this approach will translate to the new location and new customer base.

    In Asia, distribution is everything. Consumers purchase goods from retailers, so breaking into the retail market means a company has made it. On the other hand, in the U.S. market, awareness is the basis for business success. Getting a product onto retail store shelves does not mean that consumers will buy it — they need to know what it is.

One way to better position yourself for success in the U.S. market is to have someone on the ground who can help guide your decision-making based on his or her knowledge of the lay of the land. Getting help with your international expansion before you enter the market is critical because it can ensure a smooth transition and keep the costs associated with international moving operations to a minimum. To learn how we can help, do not hesitate to reach out to us for a consultation. Not only do we provide the strategies you need to ensure your business’s success, but we also help you implement them one step at a time.

Categories Branding, Operations, StrategyTags , , ,

Avoid These Pitfalls to Get the Most Out of Your Marketing Consultant

As a founder, you have spent years working long hours to make your company a reality. You know the ins and outs better than anyone else. While it is tempting to think you can gain amazing insights on your own by reading 800-word articles online, you will eventually need to turn to experts to augment knowledge gaps. Engaging a consultant with thorough knowledge of his or her expertise area can help you achieve results.

However, it can be hard to fully rely on your newly hired consultant. It is natural to feel like it will take at least several months to get him or her up to speed before you can trust any input and advice. However, a lengthy waiting period can prove to be a detrimental mistake.

Avoid these four pitfalls to get the most out of your consultant:

  1. Driving in the Slow Lane
    It is common for clients to spend some time debating recommended strategies. However, there are risks to keeping all available strategies on the table for an extended time. A competitor can beat you to the punch, or you can end up losing valuable time. In some cases, you might completely miss the boat on a marketing opportunity. At some point, though, you will have to trust your consultant’s recommendation.

    In one instance, a client went overboard. In the time it took the client to think over our suggestions, the competition got a ton of media coverage and made waves while our client was left in the dust. Three years later, the competitor enjoyed a phenomenal exit. In the meantime, our client was in the process of pivoting to a new market.

  2. Missing the Boat
    Be ready when an opportunity is knocking. Keep in mind that opportunities are rarely perfect, so take the ones that come along and use them to their full extent. Dismissing an opportunity because it is not perfect can sabotage your big break.

    For example, we had a client prepped for an opportunity to appear in The Wall Street Journal. With the opportunity in hand, the business leaders stalled and decided to pivot the direction of the story to something that they thought would be “something more interesting.” Against our advice, they refused to answer questions they considered uninteresting and demanded a “better” reporter. Following a few interactions with our client, the reporter moved on to a different story. We lost the feature article.

  3. Blind Trust
    You made the decision to hire your consultant so trust him or her. However, blind trust can be just as harmful as a lack of trust. There is nothing wrong with thinking things over, and it is critical to fully understand how to implement the strategy.

    Consultants use their expertise to provide recommendations that best aligns with the goals of your company. Your job is not to question the value of recommended strategies; it is to determine whether they are feasible to undertake with your company’s resources. You know your company best. Ask for data and qualitative backup for their recommendations, and stay in the loop.

  4. Jumping to Conclusions
    In a particularly memorable instance, a client was not hitting its numbers. The company quickly decided to replace its SEO agency. When the client transitioned, traffic began to plummet, and the downward trend only continued as the remaining individuals spent more time on fire drills and finding ways to look busy and valuable.

    Afterward, we were able to use data to illustrate that the failure came from the affiliate program. The client needed to reallocate resources, and it took three months for us to regain the SEO losses. Initially, the company balked at our advice because we had not yet gained an understanding of the intricacies of their marketing programs. What the client failed to realize, though, was how to pinpoint the necessary data to make metrics-based business decisions.

Do not doubt yourself. If you are confident in your hiring decision, then the consultant will have valuable input and advice on day one. The ideal hire should come with an impressive pedigree and demonstrate the ability to spearhead marketing strategies that drive results. With your combined knowledge, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you can achieve together.

For more insights on this subject and others, sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Categories Marketing, StrategyTags , , ,