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Three steps to setting business strategy

10 Mar

winning cover

I recently finished reading former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch’s book Winning. Although much has changed since the book was published in 2005, it still has some great insights.

Regarding strategy, Jack suggests we “ponder less and do more.” This was music to my ears. I don’t like getting bogged down in endless analysis without clear outcomes. Data has its value but too much can be stifling.

Here are Jack’s three steps on developing your strategy:

1. Come up with a big aha for your business — a smart, realistic, relatively fast way to gain sustainable competitive advantage. To find this “aha” try Jack’s “Five Slides” questions.

2. Put the right people in the right jobs to drive the big aha forward.

3. Relentlessly seek out the best practices to achieve your big aha, whether inside or out, adapt them and continually improve them.

Watch for follow-up posts on “The Five Slides.”

Toxic meetings and scratching your itches

25 Feb

by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

I just finished reading the book Rework. It was written by the guys at the company 37Signals. In case you hadn’t heard of them (which I hadn’t) 37signals created the project management software: basecamp.

The authors list a slew of traditional business practices like developing a marketing plan and using the term ASAP and then point out why they are idiotic.

I didn’t find a ton of new thinking but some good reminders for a manager like me who sometimes slips into Dilbert-esque business and leadership habits. Hopefully nobody on my team reads this and says: “sometimes?…try all the time O’Reilly.”

Anyway, here are 5 concepts that inspired me:

* People are waiting to do great work, they just need to be given the chance.

* When people have something to do at home, they get down to business at work. Another way of saying: Want to get something done? Find someone busy to do it.

* Meetings are toxic. They usually are about words and abstract concepts, not real things. If you must have a meeting, begin with a problem, end with a solution.

* The easiest way to create a great product is to make something YOU want to use. If you’re solving someone else’s problems, you’re stabbing in the dark for what they want.

* No time is no excuse. Instead of going to bed at 10, stay up till 11 and spend the time working on your dream.

My big action-item (oops, Dilbert-ian slip) was that first thing Monday morning, we’re going to change our on-hold voice from beating people over the head with commercials interspersed with our jingle to something that sounds more like the way a real person would talk to you.

How does this sound: “Hi, I’m sorry you’re on hold. Thanks for your patience.”

Solid marketing plans should start with these six questions

31 Dec

While celebrating Christmas in Nashville, I found this article in The Tennessean newspaper. It was written by David Bohan, founder of Bohan Advertising and Marketing and one of the most respected voices on the subject in Middle Tennessee. (Editor’s note: he’s also a fellow alumn of the University of Tennessee. Go Vols!)

The Bohan Clan starts by asking potential clients these six questions.

1. What are your challenges?

2. Where will your next year’s business come from? Do you have to take customers from competitors? Do you expect category growth? Will industry shifts work in your favor?

3. Whose behavior do we need to influence and why?

4. What do your customers think, feel and do now?

5. What do you want your customers to think, feel and do?

6. What information or experience do your customers need in order to move from Point A to Point B?

To answer question six requires an insight — an “aha”!

Bohan sites Carol Phillips, president of the Brand Amplitude consulting practice who suggests these guidelines to developing an insight your brand can support.

1. It is more about people than the brand.

2. It is more about the category of the product than the product intself.

3. It is founded in how people want to feel rather than what they think.

4. If focuses more on what is enduring than on what is new.

5. It stimulates new ideas and thinking.

A perfect example is the “Got Milk?” campaign. It was about the feeling you get when you are eating cookies and you wish you had something to drink.

Got marketing insights? Leave a comment!


How effective is your marketing?

30 Dec

Determine the effectiveness of your marketing with these 5 metrics.

1. Financial: How much revenue does an average customer add to the bottom line?

2. Competitiveness: What is your share of market? What is your share of voice?

3. Consumer behavior: What is your customer retention and acquisition percentage? What’s your penetration of the total number of customers available?

4. Consumer intermediate: What’s the awareness of your brand? How satisfied are your customers?

5.  Innovativeness: How many new products have your launched? What percentage of revenue do your new products generate?

Source: Marketing Management, Fall 2012, p30

Looking for other sources on the same subject? Marketing Metrics: 50+ Metrics Every Executive Should Master, Wharton School Publishing, 2006; Strategic Customer Service: Managing Customer Experience to Increase Word of Mouth, Brand Loyalty and Maximize Profits, AMACOM, 2009.

The C.R.U.X. of Branding

20 Sep

From my presentation on September 19 in Tampa Bay at the 2nd Annual Not-For-Profit Workshop

Before we dive into tips and tactics around branding, let’s start by defining branding since there is a lot of debate about what it is and why it’s important. Here’s my definition of branding: Building an emotional attachment to a business service or product.

Why is it important to build an emotional attachment? Because emotion is like an elephant.

Here’s what I mean by that.

In their book Switch authors Chip and Dan Heath use a metaphor to describe your mind. They say your mind has an emotional side and a practical side. The emotional side is like an elephant. The practical side is like the rider on the elephant. The rider can direct the elephant, but as you know, the elephant is much stronger and if it gets its way, it will overrule the rider.

We had a question submitted in advance about the difference between branding and marketing and which is more important to your not-for-profit.

My answer is that marketing is the rider. Branding is the elephant. The marketer’s job is to motivate the elephant then to direct the rider with targeted messaging,

Now, branding, like elephants, is big and complex. So, to help you wrap your arms around it well use the acronym, CRUX.

That’s right: C.R.U.X.

Let’s start with C.

C – Clarity

Effective branding starts with a clear vision of who you are, the people you serve and the service you provide. How important is this? Well 60 years after its launch, dozens of competitors in the field, Tide laundry detergent is one of the top sellers. Why? Because Tide is still about helping moms make it easier to make whites whiter. 

Do any of you sense there’s lack of clarity around your not-for-profit’s mission? Gather a team of your key leaders and conduct a S.W.O.T. Analysis. This is where you determine your organizations strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

One way to help ensure you have clarity internally and externally is with a tag line also known as a slogan. Some people call it a positioning statement. I like to refer to it as the brand promise.

Now there are generally two types of brand promises:

The first type is the voice of the business – Such as Got Milk? Or the New York Times’: All the news that’s fit to print.

The second type is the voice of the consumer – Like “I’m lovin’ it” which of course belongs to McDonald’s.

Here’s a trick question: What’s Burger King’s tag line? Who knows?! Do they have clarity of vision? I saw on their Web site they now have Italian Basil Chicken Wraps.  Perhaps they lack clarity of vision?

When you think about your brand promise, try using those two different filters to see what works best for you. If you’re looking for a book to help guide you through that process try: P.O.P. by Sam Horn

R – Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Who can finish this line: “Morgan and Morgan — for….the people.” Of course everyone in TampaBay knows this line because John Morgan has said it a million times on TV and radio.

That’s good marketing. You’re saying, “But I don’t have John Morgan’s budget!”

Who does?! Don’t worry, there are still ways you can repeat, repeat, repeat on a shoestring. Here are a few ideas:

  • First, become the go-to source for media on your topic. Reporters are just like the rest of us. They’re busy and they want to get their story written so become their go-to source on your subject. Give the reporter a call who covers your beat or the editor of the local section. (Sorry, you can’t buy them lunch of coffee). Know the beat they’re on, when their column generally appears in the paper, do not send files with large photos, try a catchy subject line. Ernest Hooper of the Tampa Bay Times says he gets dozens of email that say “Press Release” that he may open, when he gets one that says: “Hey Ernest open this!”, or “I Love you Ernest”, he will open it. If you have an event that you want to get in the Times’ calendar email it to: calendar@tampabay.comat least two weeks prior to the date. Be sure you include these things:
    • A contact number
    • Time, date, location and cost if any
    • Web site and phone numbers for publication
    • A bit about the event and other specifics, like does the festival have a car show, kids activities, arts and crafts.
  • The second thing you can do to increase repetition and awareness is to make sure you’re doing all the easy and obvious things: wear a professional looking name tag when you’re at meetings with your company’s name on it, change your email to, provide t-shirts or window clings as gifts or prizes to people who interact with you online, these things have a shelf-life and continue to brand. Of course social media: Mention your donors on Facebook or Twitter when they do something newsworthy so you can share it and have it shared by others.
  • The third suggestion is to find partners: You have a brand that for-profits, who have a budget, want to partner with. Find out who has similar interests and leverage each other’s databases.

Here are two examples:

* The Dali museum approached the Tampa Bay Times with the idea to promote preservation of their masterworks. We came up with a contest for people to send in photos of things they would like preserved in TampaBay. It was called treasures of your town. We got nearly two-hundred people to submit photos and with online voting, in paper ads and signage, there’s no telling how many additional impressions the Dali received.

* For the past 3 years the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts holds a 3-day sidewalk chalk festival in Hyde Park known as Chalk Walk. Last year we partnered with Ferman Automotive. Ferman parked one of their cars right on the berm by the sidewalk out front. They got infront of our audience and in tern, we got their support.

U – Understand your target audience

Knowing your target audience, inside and out, is critical to marketing success. Here are a few easy ways to understand your target audience that don’t cost a dime.

First, take a look at the kinds of cars you see most often in your parking lot or at your events. If they’re Lexuses, that tells you one thing. If they’re Mini-Van’s, that tells you another. Find out how far they drove to see you. Ask them how their weekend was and what they did. What’s the age range of the people you’re talking to? Do they communicate digitally or by phone?

Once you know the answers to these questions try creating a persona to bring it to life.

For we have three personas we market to: Pete and Marie, the yuppies with two-kids between the ages of 10 and 14 mid-to high household income always on the go, interested in things to do. Tb-tina* – the 29 year old who’s in the service industry and is always on the look out for drink deals and girls night out options, and Nelson the sophisticated traditional print reader who’s is retired but still active and is starting to get active online and even has a Facebook page to keep up with the grandkids.

When we market we think about how we can reach these audiences. We have photos of them and cheat sheets that describe their traits.

X – The X factor

The X – factor in branding is the element that makes you stand out from the crowd. The emotion that is inherent in your brand, the elephant that will carry that rider down the path.

For the American Cancer Society it’s the support they provide to loved ones struggling with the terrible disease. For the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts it’s the joy you have watching a performance or supporting a talented artist who’s trying to make ends meet or go to college.

To determine your X-Factor, start with an online survey like survey monkey the free online tool. Survey your internal and external stakeholders as well as the people you serve. Find out what they say makes you unique, compile the results, bounce them off a small group of decision makers, set your plan and execute.

Once you’ve got the C.R.U.X. down, you’ll have the foundation you need to create a brand that will last for generations.

11 Free or Cheap Branding Action Items

11. Conduct a S.W.O.T. analysis — gather a core team of key leaders and determine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

10. Create your brand promise – use the free site survey monkey to start honing in on what makes you unique.

9. Bring your target audience to life – Create the persona that will give you a name and a face to market to.

8. Conduct a brand inventory – figure out all the ways and places your name is mentioned from your Web site to your building, to collateral. Spread them all out on a table and determine if they’re consistent and impactful.

7. Create a brand experience – Let people interact with your brand, hold an open house, tour your facility, host an event (live or online!).

6. Solicit help from a university, ad agency or freelancer to create a professional, consistent look for your branding.

5. Get to know the media – Get help writing a press release. They work! And for a helpful service that will give your news some Google Juice, check out

4. Find some partners – Are there Lexuses parked in the parking lot at your event? Try forming a partnership with the local Lexus dealership to have cars parked on site at your next event. Tell them they’ll reach more “look alikes”

3. Get digital – build a database of all the people you come in contact with and ask if you can send them your free monthly email. Email marketing is one of the cheapest, most effective ways to market.

2. Stick with it – Once your team has determined your brand promise and your look – stick with it for at least 3 years, then survey to see if it is working!

1. Find the elephant and ride it – If there’s one thing that can overcome a small budget, small staff, no research team, just about any challenge and that’s a memorable, emotional appeal.


Does social media cause branding problems?

23 Jul

Part 2 of 2 blog post

In the previous post on my blog,, I referenced a thought-provoking article in the recent edition of Marketing Management, the magazine published by the American Marketing Association.

The article was written by Laura Ries, president of the Atlanta-based marketing consulting firm Ries&Ries (yes, she’s the daughter of legendary marketer Al Ries). In it, she makes a very good case for the importance of visuals in marketing and advertising. Without a single, consistent visual that conveys your brand promise (or as she calls it a “visual hammer”) you can’t nail your message into the emotional section of a consumer’s mind.

Examples of visual hammers include:Coors Light’s Silver Bullet, the Budweiser Clydesdales and the Aflac duck. When you see these images, words are not necessary to convey the brand message.

The reason Ries believes social media causes branding problems is that it’s a verbal rather than visual form of communication. Unfortunately, Ries does not go on to expand on why social media causes branding problems.

I agree that social media, if not done right, may cloud the message in the mind of the consumer which may not advance a company’s branding.

However, here are three examples where social media is helping to build the brand.

* McDonald’s – all I need to see are the golden arches in their Twitter feed and I either start thinking about one of their new fruit smoothies, or fries…usually fries

* USA Today – when they post breaking news using social media it reinforces that their brand is a source you can count on for important news

* Oprah – her Twitter feed reminds me to Live My Best Life, her Facebook page shows her in casual settings that makes me feel like a trusted friend

Social media is not the exclusive culprit for branding problems. We marketers have managed to dilute our message using all forms of media over the years.

Let me know your thoughts.

Follow me on Twitter @KDOreilly

The single question that can ensure marketing success

17 Jul
You've just said it all...

You’ve just said it all…

Part 1 of 2 part blog post

I’m not a big fan of trade magazines. I force myself to peruse one or two a week because I don’t want to miss the holy grail of marketing knowledge. So far, no grail. However, in the summer issue of Marketing Management, the magazine published by the American Marketing Association, I found a gem.

In the article “Why do you have 2 brains?” by Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, I realized something that subconsciously my brain knew since birth: Visuals dominate words.

A strong visual is effortless to digest mentally. In an ad, it will connect with the more powerful right side of the brain which is ruled by emotions. However, if the visual does not convey meaning or is not linked with a verbal concept it will fall flat.

Ries uses the analogy of the hammer and nail, I prefer the bat and the ball. The bat is the visual, the ball is the verbal. To hit a home run, both must work in tandem.

So here’s the big question that Ries poses that can ensure marketing success: “What single, memorable visual defines the essential nature of (your) brand?”

For Tropicana, the image of the straw stuck in an orange conveys fresh squeezed without saying a word. For Budweiser, it’s the Clydesdales. For Coors Light, it’s the silver train.

Because of the reliance on verbal rather than visual, Ries states that social media causes branding problems, rather than solves them.

Follow me on Twitter @KDOReilly or check back in a few days to find out why.

The training video that brought me to tears

9 Jul

If you want someone to do something, first he or she must feel something.

This is true in life as well as in marketing. When “Mean Joe” Greene tossed his football jersey to the kid in the locker room millions of people watching the commercial for Coke felt something and in turn became loyal Coke drinkers.

Touching an emotion in 30 seconds however is not an easy task. If it were, every commercial would be as good as the “Mean Joe” spot or “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”

Amazingly, Chik-fil-A managed to pack emotion into a communication vehicle that historically has been about as touchy-feely as trip to the D.O.T. — the corporate training video.

This video was shared by Dan Cathy, President and COO of Chik-fil-A at a Tampa Bay Marketing Association meeting in the Spring of 2012. Marketing and advertising people are unapologetically chatty, but when this video aired you could’ve heard a waffle fry drop.

Regardless of your feelings about Chik-fil-A’s corporate philosophies with regard to social issues, you have to applaud them for recognizing the importance of adding emotion to an element of their training. Clearly the subject of this video, empathy for customers, is very important to them.

What are you working on that’s important to you? Convincing your boss to embrace your proposal? Encouraging your kids to study? Whatever it may be, do it with emotion if you want to set them in motion. 

Interested in learning more about Chik-fil-A’s philosophies and history, read: Eat Mor Chicken, Inspire More People by founder S. Truett Cathy. Interested in more marketing chatter? Follow me on Twitter @KDOReilly

Tang Smoke and other names that POP!

6 Jul


I love bizarre band names. Tang Smoke, Low Hanging Fruit, Half Man Half Biscuit — the wackier the better.

Unfortunately if you’re a marketer, you can’t always go with the “Wackier the Better” plan if you’re developing a name for a product or tag line.

Sam Horn, author of the book POP! (an acronym which stands for Purposeful, Original and Pithy) provides some great suggestions on how to arrive at the “perfect pitch, title and tagline for anything.” She has many effective techniques in her book but the foundation is most often based around her W9 Form and Core Words.

The W9 form is made up of nine “W” questions you need to ask yourself to get started:

W1: What am I offering?

W2: What problem does my idea or offering solve?

W3: Why is it worth trying and buying?

W4: Who is my target audience?

W5: Who am I and what are my credentials?

W6: Who are my competitors and how am I different from them?

W7: What resistance or objections will people have to this?

W8: What is the purpose of the pitch?

W9: When, where and how do I want people to take action?

Answering these questions will help accomplish the first “P” in POP! — Purposeful.

To help with the “O” and the other “P” try writing down your list of “core words.” These are words or “descriptive phrases that articulate the essence of your offering.” For example, if you’re a BBQ restaurant you might choose core words and phrases such as: meaty, fall-off-the-bone, slow-smoked, family recipe, award-winning or dry rub. Then, look for ways to twist, update, rhyme or combine your core words into a POP!-worthy name or slogan.

Another naming strategy to keep in mind caters more to how most people search for products or services — online. If you’re marketing a Web site, you may be better off naming your site how people would search for it online. This strategy will help you index higher on the search engines. For example if you’re all about things to do in Tampa Bay, resist the temptation to go for clever and go with: which is what the team at the Tampa Bay Times did with good results.

If it seems like all the good names are gone, you could coin your own like Google or Verizon, however be prepared to put a lot of money behind it to plant it in the consumers mind, or create the world’s most dominant online search tool.

Search Tool…now there’s a decent band name. 

For more marketing chatter and a place to trade wacky band names, real and imagined, follow me on Twitter @kdoreilly

Reflecting on Mirror Neurons

4 Jul


Here’s a cool picture taken at Luray Caverns in Luray, VA. It appears to be an identical set of stalagmites (trying with all their might to get to the ceiling) and stalactites (hanging on tight from above). In reality, it’s a set of stalactites and their reflection in a perfectly still pool of water.

The reflection reminded me of a marketing insight I recently picked up from branding guru, Martin Lindstrom.

In his book Buyology, Lindstrom explains the concept of mirror neurons in the brain and how they may influence our behavior. In short, the theory is that mirror neurons fire in your brain when you yawn simply because you’ve seen another person yawn: even though you’re not the least bit tired. Or, when you watch an exciting car chase in a movie and you end up driving like a mad man on your way home — I confess I’ve mirrored this behavior and luckily have lived to tell about it.

So, if you’re trying to influence behavior, show someone in your target audience consuming your product and you just might fire the mirror neurons in their brain to do the same thing. This seems like an obvious move, but for some reason we marketers sometimes go with the more obtuse choices for visuals.

The mirror neurons theory has its doubters but I think there’s truth to it — they did outlaw showing people smoking and drinking alcohol in TV commercials for a reason.

Follow me on Twitter @kdoreilly for more marketing chatter