Never Say Never

 

When I started my solopreneurship a few years ago, my goal was to take the skills and experiences I’ve garnered from  a successful and diverse marketing career, and use those skills to solve my clients problems.

The pause from corporate marketing responsibilities also gave me a chance to learn new ways of marketing that have appeared in the last decade and discover fresh thinking from marketing luminaries through internet publishing and social media.

I’ve so enjoyed the flexibility and variety from my own marketing consulting practice that I said that I’d never go back to full-time work, unless…the perfect opportunity came my way. My husband challenged me as to what that opportunity would be.  I said I didn’t know and couldn’t even envision what it might be or whether it would ever come along.

It did.

Beginning yesterday, I’m working with a start-up in the natural foods industry as employee #4.  Fortunately (for me and the company) I recommended a trusted, former colleague as employee #5, which will make this experience a bit easier.

Those of you who have taken a business idea from initial concept to the customer will know how daunting this task this will be.  To start with no infrastructure, no momentum and no product awareness takes every bit of experience, skills, smarts and brute strength that a start-up team can muster.

Having been in this situation before, I know that I won’t be able to maintain many of my personal nor my own business activities.  My decision to moth-ball Sage Advice Marketing Consulting was a difficult one, but a step I need to take to maintain my sanity. This includes putting my blog on hold.

As my brother once said about our family “we are writers.”  My early career was so busy that I never got around to publishing as much as I had hoped.  With the advent of blogging, I’ve enjoyed using this space to have “a conversation about strategic marketing & brand equity with an occasional dose of random thoughts,” as I tagged my Fertile Ground posts.

I’ve become a better writer and an even better editor, over the last two years of blogging.  My husband kept telling me to quit because he believed I never got clients as a result of writing about marketing.  I didn’t.  My intention was to have an outlet for putting ideas down in written form, while maintaining some work discipline.  The result was successfully publishing twice a week since March 9, 2010, missing only two postings: one that was my fault, one that was a technical glitch.

Rain, shine or vacations, I’ve kept my own promise to stick with the publishing regimen.   The silver-lining of “writer’s-block” moments led me to great blogs like Copyblogger,  The Art of Non-Conformity, Tim Berry and Seth Godin, among others, for marketing and writing inspiration.

Even though I know it’s vital to put my business in a passive state, I won’t be removing my website from the internet.

Why?

Because my motto has been “never say never.”  I may be back at this cyber address, having a conversation with you again in the future. You never know…

 

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Sage Marketing Quote

If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing.  If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.

–Guy Kawaski

Forner Chief Evangelist, Apple and Co-Founder, Alltop.com

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Face Time vs. Productivity

An article by Tony Schwartz in the “Harvard Business Review” Daily Alert last week titled “Reward Value, Not Face Time” struck a cord with me about the “how” of working these days.

When the recession forced cost cuts, lots of companies allowed staffers to work from home offices.  Part of this was to allow individual flexibility, but much of it was to save office costs for the company.  Now that hiring is starting to pick up, I’m hearing many people say that companies want them physically back in the fold.

Why?

Undeniably, there are certainly times to come together as work teams. Much of the time people are far more productive and far happier working in their own space with a more flexible schedule.

Technology has allowed allows us to access all business information in a cloud, re-route phone calls (with no long distance charges anymore) to anywhere in the country or have video conferences from our computers at no charge.  Not commuting saves work time and fuel–which has sky-rocketed in cost lately, in case anyone hasn’t noticed!

I have two clients whose CEOs live in international locations.  I’ve never personally met anyone from one company and only meet occasionally with the CEO from the second company.  I’ve been able to produce great work and exceeded my clients expectations–despite no physical presence.

On the other hand, I just heard about a friend’s husband who interviewed at a regional office for a company who had security cameras in the offices to keep track of workers’ attendance and monitor their daily activities.   How do employees at this firm overcome this extreme lack of trust and stay motivated to produce good work?

Rewarding workers for being in the office is old thinking.  Old thinking filters out the innovative thinkers.   The company is then left with workers who feel entitled to get paid for their physical presence rather than what they produce for a business.

If a company isn’t treating team members as adults with clearly-defined responsibilities and deliverables, then they’ve hired the wrong people–as top managers, a.k.a. spymasters.

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Sage Marketing Quote

Before you create any more “great content,” figure out how you are going to market it first.

–Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett, authors

“Get Content Get Customers”

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Success Can Kill a Brand

 

This weekend I attended a conference that I’ve attended for 10 out of the 12 years that it’s been held.  Part of its attraction is the high quality of instruction from experts brought in from all over the world; part is strictly social.  Yet, this small conference that started with about 50 people has now grown and been capped at about 800 attendees, and starting to lose its luster.

The organizers wanted to challenge the “big events” in this category, so they paid well for the best instructors, promoted philanthropy during the conference and made sharing and social time the priorities.  Word spread, and the event became the gold standard in the industry.

In the beginning…only 12 years ago, we sent our entries in by mail.  As the numbers of attendees increased, the organizers switched to state-of-the-art conference software.  But with demand soaring, the software crashed several years in a row.  Apparently, no other conference in the U.S. experiences nearly all its attendees trying to go online and out-maneuver their colleagues for the best instructors and time slots–all on the first morning that registration opens.

The software problem was solved only to have the venue max out at full capacity.  So the event was moved to a larger city, a second schedule of mini-classes was added on top of the daily schedule, and the small (5 local vendors) marketplace was enlarged to a ballroom-sized space in the new hotel.  Demand surged.

Since the local organizers never anticipated attendees flying in from all over the world to experience this wonderfully inspiring event, they decided to cap the attendance and not move to an even larger venue.  The thinking went that the cache of attending would be preserved, the logistics would remain manageable and everyone would be happy.  Not so.

Grumblings started a few years ago and are rising to a more vocal level this year.  I noticed this year that fewer local people are attending. Those flying in for the conference are questioning whether it’s worth the time and money traveling only to get one or two classes during the weekend. Even with a cap, the organizers can’t control whether 100 people manage to register for 8  half-day classes or 800 people are only able to grab one class.  And then there is a lodging issue.  With only two hotels within walking distance, attendees who spend too much time registering find that the hotel blocks have already sold out.

What’s a brand to do?  The organizers have few extra hours and absolutely no space to add more offerings.  They’ve even stopped announcing the registration time on opening day to try and be more egalitarian and leave it to luck if registrants are on their internet devices at exactly the right time to get a spot.

Should they move to a bigger venue? Hire more instructors? Use a lottery system–and if so, how many classes would people be allowed?

Meantime, the brand is tarnishing because those who do attend aren’t getting the experience they had in the past, or hope to have based on word-of-mouth.

What would you do if your success was killing your brand?

 

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Sage Marketing Quote

Think about what a user is going to type.

–Matt Cutts, Google

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When Is Marketing In Charge of Your Brand?

How is your business or category structured?  Is management in charge of goals and strategy, operations in charge of products, sales in charge of distribution and marketing on the back end–responsible for selling the brand to consumers based on all the decisions made by other departments?

I was talking with someone in an industry that I know very little about and he described how all his competitors in this industry separated marketing from pricing, advertising, social media, and all the aspects of B2C marketing that I’m used to handling as a marketer.  When I started thinking about how this silo structure creates a straight-jacket for effectively marketing a product or service, I realized why this industry, like so many, was not only unimaginative, but actually sabotaging itself.

In many industries, the 4Ps of Marketing are broken up into various areas, with responsibility for three of those “Ps” residing in other departments. Here’s the traditional structure for each and why Marketing needs to be a part of all decisions affecting the marketing and branding of products.

Price     Traditionally Decided by Management

Counterpoint for including Marketing:

After quite a few months on the market, a dietary supplement company finally realized that their products were packaged in such large bottles, that the cost was not only prohibitive for customers, but new triers would never commit to a purchase of family-sized packaging and pricing.   Researching and establishing the true target market first, would have led to the realization that young families were not going to buy the product, instead its benefits and form held appeal for a more senior audience. Appealing to the true target audience, instead of the one the company wanted to appeal to, would have allowed the brand to maintain a premium price in a much smaller package.

Product   Traditionally Decided by Operations

Counterpoint for including Marketing:

Have you ever seen a product that was so highly engineered that it was state-of-the-art, but didn’t solve anyone’s problem?  I sat next to a budding entrepreneur at a seminar.  He was working on his spreadsheets during an entire session.  When I asked what product he had, he replied that his new company was going to put Emergen-C® out of business. (Emergen-C is a fizzy vitamin powder that purportedly confers immunity and cures hang-overs)  This young president told me that they were sourcing better ingredients, had better packaging, called each flavor by a “new age” name and obviously would sell at a higher price. My response of “no one wants a better mousetrap, instead they want something different,” didn’t sit well with this former VC analyst.  As predicted, the venture failed.

Placement   Traditionally Decided by Sales

Counterpoint for including Marketing:

Another entrepreneur asked me for marketing help with his line of fair-trade, organic-fiber, helping-indigent-craftsmen-preserve-their-trade, yadda, yadda great product.  He had numerous eco-friendly superlatives for this brand, so he decided to save money by distributing only through his own website.  I’m no fashionista, but I understand that most women shop for fashion accessories at retail, in magazines or after hearing about a brand through word-of-mouth.  Expecting customers to somehow find the “build-it-and-they-will-come,” non-traditional sales outlet, didn’t consider the target audience and her habits.

Promotion   Traditionally the Responsibility of Marketing

When I worked for White Wave Foods, our flagship product, Silk Soymilk, was still not a mainstream product.  In fact, one of our strongest marketing tactics was sampling.  Yet we couldn’t give away our smallest carton.  A quart of what people perceived was watery bean juice wasn’t acceptable–even if it were free.  So we sampled in tiny cups or half-pints to overcome what we called “the yuck factor.”  Until we did this, no amount of discounting at the shelf by sales, price adjusting by management or tinkering with the formula by operations moved the product off the shelf.  Again, it was understanding the consumer barriers and breaking through them that propelled Silk to success

Whether you use the 4Ps or 5,6, or 7Ps of Marketing, the 4Es, the 4Cs or whatever system you use for your brand, it’s clear why Marketing involvement in all areas of the product and brand have stood the test of time–and it’s not because  the responsibilities involved in each area have been unbundled and delegated to other company silos.

 

 

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Sage Marketing Quote

More contact means more sharing of information, gossiping, exchanging, engaging–in short, more word-of-mouth.

–Gary Vaynerchuk

author, The Thank You Economy

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Change is Inevitable, Success is Optional

This headline was one of the quotes in a new book I’ve been reading called: “Climate Capitalism,” by L.Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen.  The read is alternately terrifying in its predictions and hopeful that efficiency, renewable energy and other new clean-tech innovations can save not only the planet–but our economic system in the process.

On the jacket cover, the first few lines of copy tell it all: “Believe in climate change. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter.  But you’d better understand this: the best route to rebuilding our economy, our cities, and our job markets, as well as assuring national security, is doing precisely what you would do if you were scared to death about climate change.”

With all the talk about recycling our trash, using CFLs instead of conventional lightbulbs and seeing more and more wind farms, I–like many others–have been lulled into thinking that we’re on the way to solving some of our environmental issues.  As this book points out, we are innovating our way out of danger thanks to many start-up alternative energy companies, but our government is way behind the rest of the world.

China is now the world’s largest consumer of wind energy (surpassing the U.S. in 2009). Cuba, who was 57% reliant on foreign oil, pesticides and food imports, shifted its entire food system to organic agriculture in 1990 out of necessity when Soviet oil dried up after the fall of the Soviet Union. Scotland, whose first minister announced in 2007 that Scotland would move to 100% renewable energy, is now testing a technology to harness tidal and wave energy with “wave farms.”  The dominant solar country in the world is…Germany, despite it’s cold, grey northern latitude.  These forward-thinking examples go on and on, while our special interest groups try to lobby and legislate subsidies to maintain business as usual.

Business isn’t usual anymore, in case there’s anyone in America today who hasn’t been harshly affected by the new normal.

If our government is in a quagmire, then cities, states and businesses need to lead the charge.  But isn’t being “green” just for businesses with big, profitable businesses who want to be seen as do-gooders?

No. By eliminating the waste that comes from oil and coal, businesses actually gain brand equity.  This was demonstrated in a study by “those wild-eyed environmentalists” (direct quote from the book) at Goldman Sachs.  The results of this study showed that business leaders in environmental, social and good governance outperformed the MSCI world index or stocks by 25% since ’05.

Walmart, the largest retailer in the world (if it were a country, it would be #20 largest), has 60-90,000 suppliers worldwide that have been put on notice they they will have to comply with the companies aggressive goals to build a more environmental and socially responsible global supply chain. How aggressive? By 2015 Walmart intends to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain–not necessarily within the company’s purview, but emissions by their suppliers.  And just wait until they introduce their innovations to long-haul trucking that they’re developing with GM, Cumins Diesel, Peterbilt and others working together on hybrid trucks.  It’s all about the bottom line–oh, and the environment, too.

The quote that I used as my headline comes from the motto of the Mason Dixon Farm in Gettysburg, PA.  The farm is a dairy operation that uses “cow power” from manure to make the farm energy self-sufficient.  Ninth generation family farmers, the Waybrights have found that climate protection activities are more profitable than conventional farming.  If farmers can make the change to using renewable energy and making more money, what are the rest of us waiting for?

The first companies to become carbon-neutral have captured first-mover and marketing advantages.  What about those of us who are cash-strapped, small businesses, struggling to get by in this economy ? Here’s another great quote in the book from Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Farms: “Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference has never been in bed with a mosquito.”

Aren’t we hearing about more and more renewable and clean tech companies having problems?  Sure.  Aren’t we hearing about even more conventional companies going out of business?  Not all enterprises will succeed.  But as Clint Eastwood said in the “Imported from Detroit” SuperBowl commercial: “…we’ve rallied around what was right and acted as one…It’s half-time America.”

While “Climate Capitalism” isn’t an easy read, with lots of statistics loosely woven together with anecdotes (particularly at the beginning of the book), it’s a real eye-opener for anyone who plans to stay alive on this planet for more than a few years.

Climate change isn’t for tree-huggers or Al Gore anymore.  It’s about survival.  And it can be our next leap forward in capitalism and economic recovery.

 

“Climate Capitalism”  © 2011 L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, Published by  Hill and Wang

Photo: Wave farm technology

 

 

 

 

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Sage Marketing Quote

Give them quality.  That’s the best kind of advertising.

–Milton Hershey

Founder, The Hershey Chocolate Company

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