The Power of Personal Branding

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

With as much as 80% of a corporation’s net value being comprised of its brand equity it’s no wonder that almost 1.5 trillion dollars was spent in 2006 on corporate branding initiatives. While most CEOs readily understand the need to build brand equity at the corporate level or for products, services, intellectual property, etc., very few understand the substantial benefits that are created from increasing their personal brand equity. The simple fact is that many entrepreneurs and senior executives completely miss out on one of the most powerful branding strategies available in today’s market – the creation of their own personal brand. In today’s post I’ll discuss the power of personal branding.

When reading newspapers and periodicals, listening to media interviews on the radio, watching guest appearances on the TV and seeing who gets the speaking invitations you’ll notice that it is usually those professionals who have positioned themselves as innovators and thought leaders through a carefully managed, strategic personal branding campaign. These individuals may, or may not, have anything more to offer than their peers other than the fact that they knew how to brand themselves as subject matter experts.

Picture a very successful high profile company in your mind and you will likely find that their executives have not only established themselves as leaders inside their firms, but they are also perceived as industry heavy weights and power brokers to the external world. When a company’s senior executives are viewed as subject matter experts and leaders outside of the company it makes them more valuable to the company. It is a true win-win scenario in that the executive who knows how to manage his/her brand equity in turn increases the brand equity of the enterprise. Because the corporation benefits from the executives ability to brand themselves, they are willing to pay more for their services and work harder to retain their talent.

CEOs who run a global enterprise will encounter any number of operating challenges as a matter of routine. Risks, opportunities, challenges, and even corporate crisis can be addressed much more effectivey when the CEO’s personal brand has been created by design to add value to these endeavors. In today’s complex global economy a well crafted personal brand strategy is no longer a luxury, it’s a requirement.

Regardless of how you feel about the following list of individuals you must agree that they have done a remarkable job of building a personal brand which has often times resulted in the creation of modern day empires. Think of Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Sam Walton, Ted Turner, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and a whole host of others and you’ll quickly see just how powerful a strong personal brand can be. In fact spend some time browsing through the Forbes 400 and you find that you recognize far more names than not View a list of the Fortune 500 CEO’s and you’ll be surprised how many of their names have been converted into strong personal brands. Look at the Inc. 500 or Entrepreneur Hot 100 lists and you’ll see a number of strong personal brands in the making.

The reality is that most of us will probably never achieve the status of icons, nor do most of us really aspire to that end. However increasing your personal brand equity is good for adding value to your company’s brand, leveraging your earning power and improving your job security and/or marketability. Personal branding is far more than an ego-play; it is smart business. If you don’t know how to create a strong personal brand the following tips will start you in the right direction:

1. Make those around you successful. While some personal brands are built at the expense of others, or on the backs of others, the most highly regarded personal brands are built on the success they have created for others. Think “selfless” as opposed to “selfish.”

2. Hire a coach or mentor. This is something that many successful people struggle with as their pride can be barrier to seeking the wisdom and counsel of others. However this is one of the single best investments you can make in building a powerful, sustainable and respectable personal brand.

3. Invest in continuing education: Okay, so you already earn a significant income, run your own (or someone else’s) business and you’re busy - the realiy is that it is far easier to reach the C-suite than to remain there. You will only survive in the corner office if you continue to refine and advance your skill sets and competencies. Never sacrifice or forego learning because you think you don’t have time or worse because you think you already know it all.

4. Learn to work the media, or hire someone to do it for you. When it comes to the media you only have three choices: a.) you can try and remain invisible, but anonymity won’t help you build a brand; b.) you can be a target for the media and while controversy is not always a bad thing it causes more unnecessary brain damage than you will likely want to incur, or; c.) you can be a friend of the media and serve as a subject matter expert who is available as a resource for the media While the choice is yours, I’d personally recommend option C.

My advice is simple find a good coach or mentor and start building your personal brand strategy yesterday…you’ll be glad you did.

The Name Game: Part 3

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

This is the 3rd and final post in this series on naming. The fist post dealt with how to select a naming firm, the second post addressed the components that go into creating a great corporate name and this post will deal with other venues within the naming field.

A lot of focus and attention is brought to bear on the topic of corporate naming as this is the most visible high impact area of naming. However naming applies to products, services, projects, reports, books and publications, newsletters, microsites, blogs, intellectual property, business practices and a long list of other areas that often receive less attention.

Unlike corporate naming which receives everyone’s attention, the smaller naming genres are often left to individual brand managers or staff members operating with a singular focus or agenda outside of best practices and a global perspective. This focus at the granular level can sometimes have the opposite effect of what is being sought after. I have seen many a product or service name actually dilute brand value as opposed to increase it.

Every company should have a naming strategy and process that is consistent with corporate vision as a subcomponent of the overall brand strategy. Naming should have an integrated process across the enterprise to insure that an individual naming effort doesn’t detract from the overall brand strategy and dilute brand equity.

Brand guidelines need to specifically address naming conventions and protocols such that cross product and business compatibility, color pallets, phraseology, font style and sizes and other criteria are considered in the process. The keys to insuring a proper outcome across business units and product lines is having continuity, clarity and consistency in your naming conventions. Each new name created and implemented should add value to the overall brand by enhancing and strengthening the preexisting names.

Rather than pass naming down to the lowest common denominator I would suggest that most firms would be better served by elevating naming up the chain of command and involve an outside naming firm as well. The time spent giving naming the proper attention and focus will lead to a stronger brand and solid return on investment.

The Name Game: Part 2

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Today’s post is part two in a three part series on naming. Yesterday’s post contained advice on how to select a naming firm and today’s post will cover the elements that go into creating a great name.

Contrary to popular belief all of the great names have not already been taken. So, what are the components of a great name? While the answer varies a bit from industry to industry the following rules of thumb should be kept in mind:

1. Keep it short: Short names are more memorable, easier to design around, more suitable for domain names and e-mail extensions and possess a number of other advantages when contrasted with longer names. Another by-product of a short name is that it will likely be easier to spell.

2. Make it memorable: What good is a name that no one remembers? Your name should be distinctive and creative. Stop and think for a moment about names that you feel are great names and it is likely the catchy, memorable names that your brain will recall.

3. Your name should describe what you do: If your name is short, memorable and descriptive you have hit the naming trifecta. Most of all your name should not confuse the market about what you do. If you refer to the use of the name “Alfalfa” for a tax and financial planning firm described in yesterday’s post you’ll see what I mean. If you work for a company where you consistently have to explain who you are not then you may want to reevaluate your choice of name.

4. Your name should be Internet friendly: The domain name exactly resembling your name should be available so that you can maintain continuity in your branding. If you find that your name is either not available or that you have to shorten the name to make it work you may want to think twice. Additionally you should enter your domain name into all of the major search engines and if the return search count is too high it is a good indicator that you will have a difficult time securing high search engine rankings and that there may be confusion in the market with regard to your name.

5. Color Pallet: Make sure that the colors you choose work well across all mediums and that the color is memorable while still being appropriate within your industry. Have your naming firm provide you with several different color pallets to work from so that you can make sure you end-up with something that is credible, works across mediums and still has some “pop” to it.

6. Your name should be easy to design around: In a perfect world your name should consist of an integration of your name, logo and tagline into a single design concept. OK, I can’t resist a little shameless promotion Look at the top left-hand portion of this webpage at the N2growth logo I think you’ll agree that it is short, creative, memorable, internet friendly, associative, descriptive, relevant and contains an integrated design.

7. Your name should be conflict free: Step one is to do an internet search to see if others are openly conducting business using your name. Step two is to check with the municipalities in which you will be doing business to make sure that someone has not registered the name, step three is to search the database at the United States Patent Office (www.uspto.gov) and step 4 is to do a linguistics check to make sure that you will not be offending other cultures by your name selection. There is little sense in selecting a name that is going to be fraught with future legal battles.

If you make sure to follow the seven steps noted above it is likely that your name will be effective and have some staying power to boot.

The Name Game: Part 1

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The disciplines of branding and corporate identity have long been personal passions of mine, and nothing within this genre holds greater fascination for me than the practice of corporate naming. This post is the first in a three post series and will discuss whether corporate naming should be handled as an internal initiative, or whether it should be outsourced to a professional naming firm.

Done well, corporate naming can be one of the most powerful assets in a company’s branding arsenal. A great company name can support, energize and leverage your brand. The right name will also create strong competitive separation while at the same time establishing a bond of trust and loyalty with your target market(s).

Given the critical importance of selecting a great company name I’m always amazed at the haphazard approach that many organizations use in their methodology (or lack thereof) when creating a name. There are basically two paths a company can travel when creating a name…they can create it internally, or they can collaborate with a service provider. Both options are assessed below:

1. The Do it Yourself Approach: In all but the rarest of circumstances companies that attempt to develop a name internally usually do themselves a disservice.  Names should not be developed in a vacuum. I have seen pride of authorship create many a naming train wreck. Just because it is your idea doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good name.

Naming is a competency that spans mediums, cultures and geographies. Naming is equal parts art, science, linguistics, strategy, competitive positioning, research, business intelligence, marketing, branding, creative, intellectual property and above all else talent and experience. If you can’t honestly say that your company possesses all the aforementioned capabilities then you should not organically pursue naming.

Even if your organization possesses the aforementioned abilities you may still want to think twice when you consider the fact that companies like Disney, Coca Cola, Microsoft, Time Warner, ABC, MTV, Apple and many others outsource naming to experts. There is something to be said for third party objectivity.

What about cost you say? If you think you can’t afford a professional naming firm think about all the money you’ll spend down the road trying to breath life into a bad name, the future cost of a rebranding initiative, the legal fees you’ll spend defending an intellectual property infringement claim when it turns out that you’re using someone else’s name, or the fact that you can’t do business in foreign market because the name you’ve chosen happens to be an expletive. It just pays to get it right the first time. Following are just a few examples of naming intiatives gone wrong:

  • When the second-largest tourist office Japan began to penetrate English speaking markets, it was mortified at the high volumes of inquiries for unusual sex tours. The principals of KINKI Nippon Tourist quickly rebranded.
  • Another big mistake was made by a major food company which named its giant burrito a BURRADA. The common meaning of that word is “big mistake.”
  • Reebok, a major sports apparel company blew a launch of a running shoe for women named the INCUBUS. The dictionary refers to an incubus as “an evil spirit believed to descend upon and have sex with women while they sleep.”
  • When GM launched the Chevrolet BERETTA without getting permission from the Italian firearms manufacturer, it cost GM a half-million dollars to settle the lawsuit.
  • European shoemaker Umbro was hammered in the media as being “appallingly insensitive” for naming a running shoe ZYKLON, which happens to be the same name as the lethal gas used in Nazi concentration camps.
  • Mitsubishi’s SUV named the PAJERO was ridiculd by Spanish-speaking consumers. In Spanish, pajero means “one who masturbates.”

2. Select a Third Party Naming Expert: Your second option is to outsource naming. For all the reasons noted above the undisputed best practices approach to naming is to hire a third party expert. The tricky part associated with this method is determining what it is that actually constitutes an expert. For if you select the wrong firm all the negative aspects of the do it yourself approach referenced above will also apply here.

Let’s start by defining who does not qualify as a naming expert. While there are clearly exceptions to any rule of thumb, generally speaking graphic designers, printers, PR firms, logo shops and yes even many advertising agencies don’t qualify as naming experts. They may dabble in the practice, but you’ll find that it is rarely a competency.

Complicating matters even further is that many firms who profess a competency in naming are simply not very good at it Just for kicks and giggles let’s put some naming companies under the magnifying glass and see what they’ve done for themselves

The Avant-garde firms: Avant-garde is defined as way out or ahead of its time. Firms that fall into this category tend to confuse off the wall and ridiculous with being creative Trust me when I tell you there is a big difference. Point in case: The first thing that comes to mind when I see “A Hundred Monkeys” is what were these guys smoking when they came up with that name? A Hundred Monkeys is a naming firm that created the name “Alfalfa” for a tax and financial planning firm; Go figure Firms that try so hard to be cool at the expense of all the other critical factors that go into creating great names should be avoided.

The Completely Predictable and Boring Firms: Firms such as “The Naming Firm” clearly understand relevant association, but there is a certain lack of creativity in this name, don’t you think? Firms that have no sense of flair should be eliminated from the search as well. There is no need to make sacrifices when it comes to selecting the right name. It is possible to be relevant, associative, creative, memorable, and distinctive.

The trick to selecting a great naming firm is to avoid the extremes represented by the firms mentioned above. There are two main factors to focus on when selecting a naming firm. The first is to find a firm who has a portfolio that is really good. Their work should reflect a variety of styles that demonstrate relevancy to the industry they were created for. This type of diversity of work history will give you a better chance of ending-up with a style that is compatible with what you are trying to accomplish. The second is to find a firm that is very collaborative. They should spend time getting to know your company, your industry, your competitive value propositions and your vision. Great naming firms achieve success based upon their ability to align their talent with the client’s vision.

Now that you are armed with what to look for in a naming firm, Part 2 of this series distributed in tomorrow’s post will discuss the elements contained in great names.

What Really Matters?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I must confess that I’m not a movie critic and I’ve never written a film review, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. I just returned from the movie theatre with my family where we watched Pixar Studio’s “Cars”. On the way to the movie I was giving some tongue in cheek grief to my wife about being dragged to an animated film (I’m normally more of an action film kind of guy) On the ride home I was thanking her for taking me along.

Without spoiling the plot for those who haven’t seen the film it is a light hearted and entertaining look at what can happen in life when your priorities become out of balance. The movie forces you to evaluate what’s important in life by looking at what can often be the “what have you done lately” shallow nature of business as contrasted with the depth and joy that comes from having meaningful relationships.

The movie demonstrates the inevitable sadness that occurs when you place your career above all things to the extent that it defines who you are. Conversely it shows the satisfaction and happiness that can be achieved when you have balance and perspective such that work is what you do, but clearly not who you are.

When coaching and mentoring executives and entrepreneurs the biggest challenge with most clients is having them align what’s truly important to them with how they actually live their lives. Attitude, performance, balance between work and family life, physical health and many other things that lead to success and happiness often come down to being honest with yourself about why you do what you do.

Do yourself a favor by going to see this movie. The entertainment value is high and it will cause you to perform what is likely a long overdue gut check How much is enough? Are you focused on the right things for the right reasons? Do you enjoy work? Do you think you’re successful? Are you giving your time and your efforts to the people and the activities that really matter? How do your family, friends and co-workers feel about you? How do you feel about you?

“Cars” was well worth the price of admission.

The Power of Focus

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Being out of focus will give you more than a headacheI am frequently asked what it takes to become more productive. My answer is simple Become very, very focused. Focus has always been a characteristic that has served me well. Focus results in aligned priorities, order, discipline, and productivity. That sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Then why is it so hard for executives and entrepreneurs to stay focused? There are two primary reasons that professionals cannot maintain their focus:

1. Successful people tend to be energetic, creative, intelligent, and have bias toward action. That combination of personality traits, combined with the pace at which business operates today, can cause even the best and brightest to lose focus and in turn lose productivity, and;

2. They lack a programmatic, disciplined approach to maintaining their focus. Like most good things in life, focus doesn’t usually happen by osmosis. It takes a systematic, process driven approach to maintain high levels of focus on a consistent long-term basis.

I have seen many productivity systems over the years, and for the most part, they all have something good to offer. However the complaint that I have with most of them is that they are too complicated, and they tend to look too far ahead. In this post I will share with you the four-pronged strategy that I have used to maintain my focus for the last 20 years:

1. Vision: You must always have a clear vision of what is important to you, and why you are doing what you’re doing. It is this clarity of vision that dictates purpose and priority. If you don’t know what you’re playing for, it is very difficult to compete…much less to win.

2. Tactical Business Plans: I like to keep things to the short strokes. I work off rolling 90 day tactical business plans based upon achieving objectives that move me closer to the fulfillment of my vision. When you consistently string together quarter over quarter progress, momentum is generated and great things happen.

3. Task Management: Every day for the last 20 years I have gone to work with an updated task list which contains priority items that I want to try and accomplish that day. While I wish I could tell you that I’m able to accomplish every item each day I can’t. But what I can tell you is that those who know me will testify that I accomplish more in a day than most believe possible. The tasks are developed based upon achieving the 90 plan which is based upon fulfilling the overarching vision. Simple, practical, efficent…just the way I like it.

4. Gut Checks: This is the big one…Many people half-heartedly use task lists, but the key to consistently crossing items off the list is conducting hourly gut checks. Every hour on the hour I ask myself the following question. Am I doing the most productive thing possible at this point in time? If my answer is yes, I press on. If my answer is no, I have a decision to make…I have been known to end meetings, phone calls, recalendar appointments, etc. solely based on the outcome of my gut check. It’s okay to spend time on items that don’t meet the gut check test, so long as you are aware that you’re doing it. It is the people that think they’re being productive when they are clearly not that have trouble.

This system has served me well for more than 20 years and I challenge you to put it to the test. I can guarantee you only one thing…If you don’t try it you may never know the power that focus can bring to bear on your life.

Which Search Engine Reigns Supreme? The Answer Might Surprise You.

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Just think about how many times a week you search for something on the Internet 10, 20, 50, 100+ times? Reflect back upon any major business decision you’ve made over the last few years and my guess is that you utilized the Internet at some point in time to verify, analyze, research, confirm, compare, or evaluate something in regard to every one of those major decisions. The bottom line is that the key to your Internet experience begins with the search engine you choose to use. It is therefore important to understand which search engine will provide you with the best results and in turn the largest boost in productivity.

The analysis of search engines that follows will be much more practical than technical. It will focus on the needs of business owners and executives in terms of which search engines deliver the best search results and not who has the best entertainment sections, coolest consumer applications or provides the best advertising platform. That being said I believe you will find it enlightening and something that you can put to use immediately.

With more than 2000 (and growing) search engines available on the Internet there is no shortage of search options to choose from. If you’re like most people I know you’ve selected a search engine of preference, but my question is this Was your selection based on any real research or was it a selection by default? Have you been sucked in by marketing hype or just fallen prey to a comfort zone of searching the same way that you always have?

Let’s take a look at the major search engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN, Netscape, AOL, Lycos, Ask.com, Alltheweb, Mamma, Dogpile and Open Directory. My guess is that most readers use one of these as their search engine of preference. When you look at the above referenced list I’m sure that your bias comes right to the surface with thoughts like Yahoo and MSN are consumer search engines vs. Google that is a true commercial search engine, or how can smaller search engines like Ask.com or Lycos compare with Google or Yahoo or finally for search snobs, why would I ever want to put up with the advertising and clutter of AOL or Yahoo when I can use Mamma, Dogpile or Open Directory?

While one can make arguments both for and against any of the aforementioned positions, in my opinion it all comes down to results and usability. As with most business people I know I was a die-hard Google fan for years. However along with a growing amount of professionals I have changed my opinion of late. In the text that follows I’ll tell you why, and back it up with solid logic.

For the sake of brevity I’m going to narrow my analysis to what I believe are the four search engines most often used by C-suite executives and entrepreneurs; Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask.com. Furthermore I will limit the analysis to an examination of the following four areas:

1. Returned Searches: If you open up four separate browser windows and type in the same term into the search box of each of the four search engines and compare the results you’ll find that Google will often times return two to three times the number of search results as do the other three search eninges. Yahoo will typically rank second with MSN and Ask.com returning approximately the same number of results. This is a pure quantitative analysis measuring only the volume of results that match your query. It has nothing to do with things like relevance or timeliness. However if you’re looking for sheer girth, Google is the clear winner.

2. Usability and Functionality: How easy is the search engine to navigate and what tools are provided to make your searches more productive? Ask.com is the clear winner here Not even close are any of the other search engines. The site is simple and uncluttered, but loaded with productivity tools to help you search more effectively. You can mouse over an icon and get a visual preview of a site before you go there, and there are numerous options to either narrow or expand your search. With each subsequent drill-down you can continue to expand and refine your search parameters with an intuitive search agent that anticipates your needs as a user. I would strongly suggest if you are not using Ask.com that you give it a test drive to see what I’m talking about here Brilliant!

3. Relevant Searches: Are you looking for quality, quantity or both? How many of you will actually go more than a page or two deep into the returned search results anyway? If you’re like me you want the most relevant and current information possible. MSN probably provides the most currently updated information of all the major search engines updating daily. Therefore if you’re looking for the most current content MSN wins hands down. However Yahoo and Ask.com follow MSN so closely that the difference is negligible. The odd engine out here is Google. One of the reasons that they dominate in the quantity of returned searches is that many of Google’s returned searches are not relevant. It is not uncommon to see returned searches in the top 10 results on Google that are 5 to 10 years old. I find this personally annoying and most often useless. If I want to search for dated information I use parameters to accomplish this, but I don’t want outdated information in my general searches.

4. Popularity: In my opinion while this parameter is worthy of note, it is only really beneficial if you are an advertiser and doesn’t bear tremendous weight in terms of search relevance. That being said if you’re choosing a search engine based upon popularity Yahoo, Google and MSN rank 1, 2 and 3 respectively out of all the sites on the Internet in terms of popularity. While Ask.com ranks in the top 500 at 127 it is clearly a lesser known brand, but a good indicator of its improving popularity is that it has climbed 35 spots in the last 3 months alone.

OK, so what are you supposed to conclude from all this hyperbole? First that I have abandoned Google for Ask.com I know this must sound like heresy to some but I am not alone. Many of my peers and colleagues have drawn similar conclusions and have left Google as well. Google is so focused on conquering the world (generally something I’m in favor of) that it has taken its eye off of search. If I want to use Google Earth I’ll go there for that particular application, but if good solid search tools and relevance are driving my decisioning Google has lost my business.

In this author’s opinion Ask.com is best in class, followed by MSN, Yahoo and Google has fallen in the cellar. Ask.com is growing its business by focusing on the competency of search while Google is growing its business at the expense of search. Both models work, but when I’m looking for search productivity Ask.com is the clear winner.

How to Capitalize on a Strong Brand

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

OK, so you’ve made all the right moves and built a strong, recognized brand Now what? Don’t make the mistake of many companies who rely on existing brand recognition to carry them forward. Rather take your recognized brand equity and leverage it into new strategic partners, broader and deeper customer relationships and new products and services. The fastest path from brand recognition to brand dominance is to continue to advance your brand by venturing or partnering with other companies who can help you increase revenue and customer satisfaction with short time to market considerations.

Once you establish a solid distribution channel with a loyal customer base the best thing that can be done is to use the already existing distribution channel to drive new products or services to your existing customers. Why expand existing relationships vs. secure new ones? Following are the two biggest reasons why leveraging existing customers makes more sense:

1. A lower cost of acquisition: It is much less expensive to sell to existing customers than to develop new business. You already have identified them and established credibility with them. This level of recognition will dramatically shorten your selling cycle when contrasted to the cost and time frame associated with securing new customers.

2. Deepening customer relationships creates competitive barriers to entry: I recently audited a marketing class at my daughter’s university and during the class it was mentioned that existing customers “pay, stay, and refer” which I thought was very well said. The more touch points and positive experiences that a customer can have with your company the less likely it is for a competitor to take them away.

It is not as difficult as you may think to create line extensions. You don’t necessarily have to create a new product or service offering on your own as you can always utilize strategic partners or joint ventures to shorten your cycle time. The good news is that with a recognized brand it is much easier to create these relationships than if you have a brand in stealth mode or a brand in decline.

Consider Starbucks A brand at the top of its game, but yet the company is not resting on its laurels. Starbucks recently announced (June 1st) the hiring of Alan Mintz as its new vice president of content development for its entertainment division. Mintz a former entertainment attorney and music executive (and I presume a big coffee drinker) is charged with creating exclusive content agreements in the music and film business so that Starbucks can sell additional product to its existing customer base. Starbucks has already inked exclusive content deals with popular artists such as Bob Dylan and Alanis Morissette and recently entered the movie business, working with Lionsgate Entertainment Corp. to promote the film “Akeelah and the Bee.”

Further examination of Starbucks strategy shows that they are very tuned-in to their customer base. By understanding segmentation, reach, pricing, demographics and other key metrics Starbucks was able to leverage the strength of their brand into other business relationships that spawned the creation of additional products and services.

All it takes to create a solid venture around the concept of line extensions for your company is mirror the above example set by Starbucks. Take the time to really understand your customer base. If you are in touch with their needs and desires it will be easy to find a partner who can help you add new products or services which in turn will increase customer satisfaction as well as your brand equity.

How to Win the War for Talent

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Due to numerous requests I have agreed to post a reprint of an article that I previously authored in which I describe the undeniable value of talent in the workplace. Here you go…

I am often asked to write or speak on the issues surrounding recruiting and retaining talent. However most of what I end-up writing about are all the phases of the talent management lifecycle that come after the recruiting phase, and that lead to an organization’s ability to successfully develop and retain their talent. While the struggle to acquire top talent is certainly not a new problem in business, the ever increasing competitive landscape, as well as increasing customer demands is making the “talent factor” a defining point in a company’s ability to generate sustainable growth in revenues, profit and brand equity.

When asked if I can identify the one attribute most responsible for a company’s success. One plausible answer might be the quality of a company’s leadership. Another likely answer would be the quality of a company’s product or service. However both of the aforementioned options (as well as just about any other answer you could come up with) would be a natural outcome of the correct answer…Quite simply put, the quality of a company’s talent is the single biggest competitive value proposition a business possesses.

Quality human capital is a catalytic asset that can be effectively leveraged across the enterprise to generate creativity, collaboration, momentum, velocity, client loyalty, a dynamic corporate culture, and virtually every other positive influencing force in the corporate universe.  It is quality talent that designs sound business practices, creates great strategic plans, understands the value of innovation, overcomes obstacles, breaks down barriers, creates growth, and builds a lasting brand.

Now that we have defined the value of talent, let’s delve into gaining an understanding of how to attract it, grow it, and retain it. The answer rests in a settling for nothing less than a total and complete commitment to quality from the top down; no exceptions. There is truth in the old axiom that “quality begets quality.”

Winning the war for talent begins with a company’s commitment to quality leadership. Quality executive leadership will attract quality management, and quality management will in turn attract quality staff. Quality talent will produce quality process and work product, which will in turn attract quality clients, investors, partners, vendors and suppliers. This quality driven value chain will produce a quality corporate culture, and a lasting brand known for, you guessed it, its association to quality.

Quality is not a characteristic well served by fractionalized application. If you have a best in class compensation plan, but a low quality product offering, you won’t attract quality clients or quality talent. Rather you’ll just attract mercenary employees looking to exploit a compensation plan, and who will disappoint clients that will in turn seek solace from your competitors. The golden rule is never sacrifice quality, at any level, or for any reason.

The bottom line is that a commitment to quality will position an organization such that they will have little trouble competing in the war for talent. If everything about your organization is built on the foundation of quality, your culture will largely sell itself. My position is that someone should want to work for you more than you want them to. If you are spending too much time selling your company, it means that you are either not speaking to the right individual, or the individual you’re speaking to doesn’t clearly understand the qualitative aspects of your organization. It is not uncommon for a company built on a foundation of quality to hear things like; “I didn’t think so-and-so was recruitable”, or “I didn’t think so-and-so would ever work for someone else again” or my personal favorite, “They must have paid a fortune to hire so-and-so”. 

Unfortunately, recruiting talent is only part of the equation. Once you recruit a talented individual you won’t keep them for long unless you properly train, motivate and mentor them. Proper assimilation of talent creates a bond of trust between the employee and the company creating a sense of loyalty that is not easily broken. Assuming that you have created a company built on a foundation of quality that will attract top talent, adhering to the following 5 best practices will help you motivate and retain your talent:

1. Recruiting: Develop and use a solid process in your recruiting efforts that begins with a values based approach to hiring. This doesn’t just mean hire a top producer, but rather hire a quality individual that is a person of integrity and character. A new hire should be someone that has invested in themselves, made good career decisions, understands why they want to be a part of your organization, is an excellent communicator and a team player. Don’t hire quickly based on gut feel, but rather take time in the interviewing process to let the prospective new hire get a feel for your culture and your company. Never oversell the company, in fact, disclose all the problems and weaknesses of the organization so that the new hire can make a good decision that won’t be later unwound by inconsistent messaging or practices.

2. Training: Proper assimilation of a new employee during a transition to a new company is critical. In order to create a homogeneous culture, and to have a continuity of messaging (both internally and externally) everyone, regardless of experience, needs to go through the same training process. Furthermore training and continuing education programs need to be available to encourage and stimulate professional growth, and to keep an organization from falling prey to obsolescence. All new hires should have clearly defined career options, as well as a career path with requirements and expectations being understood.

3. Leadership: It is important to mentor not manage, and to lead rather than govern. Everyone within an organization should be assigned a mentor who can coach, troubleshoot, inspire, motivate and lead an employee to achieve success. Clear lines of communication throughout the enterprise will prevent miscommunication from creating unnecessary problems. Poor performance is indicative of poor leadership. If you have continuous performance problems that cannot be corrected, then what you really have is a leadership problem.

4. Support: Retention is largely an issue of building a platform and culture that positions your employees for success. If your employees do not have the toolsets, administrative, marketing, and leadership support necessary to successfully thrive in their individual role, then you have set them up to fail and you won’t be successful in your efforts to retain staff. A collaborative environment thrives on information sharing, business intelligence and knowledge management. If the platform isn’t in place that supports these types of initiatives, then employees will look for other employers that will.

5. Recognition: Recognition can and should come in many varieties. Everything from fixed and variable compensation, environment, advancement/promotion, perquisites, ownership/participation, internal and external awards, and exposure to a simple thank you can be key elements in the retention of employees. If your culture doesn’t reward your employees for their contributions, they will again seek other employers who will.

To identify, recruit, motivate, deploy, develop and retain quality talent is not complex, but it is difficult in that it requires a significant commitment of time, money, energy and effort. It has been my experience that for many executives it is easier to complain about their current situation than to take the necessary steps to create the proper environment and culture. For those companies that are willing to make the commitment to quality, you’ll find no better return on investment than a thriving corporate culture comprised of talented, productive and loyal employees.

The Power of Instant Messaging

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

If you think Instant Messaging (IM) is just for teenagers you may want to reconsider that thought I have been using IM as a business tool since it was first released in 1996. As the technology has improved and more people have gone online IM has just become a bigger part of my communications platform. With what is estimated at more than 150 million people using IM today it has come a long way in the last 10 years. For those that don’t have any exposure to instant messaging I’ll start with a brief description of the technology, its applications and corresponding benefits:

The Technology: IM uses standard internet protocol to allow two or more people to communicate in real-time. Unlike e-mail which has to go through a send and receive process IM has no latency due to the use of “presence technology” that allows the user to see when members of their contact list are online. Icons displayed on the contact list also indicate who is online but not available for instant messaging, and whether or not the contact is using a mobile device. IM is generally classified as “groupware” or as  a “collaborative communication toolset” which speaks to the collaborative nature of the application. The leading IM providers are AOL, Google, MSN, Yahoo, Skype (my personal choice) and ICQ. Most IM services are also free of charge.

Applications and Benefits: In this author’s humble opinion the benefits of IM are almost too many to list, so for the sake of brevity I’ve included my favorite three uses and benefits of IM below:

1. Creating Work Groups: I have my contact list grouped by functions which include clients, project teams, departments, vendors, suppliers and any other collaborative mix of people that I want to communicate with (yes my friends and family too). As mentioned above, I can see when these people are online and accepting messages and can communicate with them instantly You really don’t have to send an e-mail copying all the necessary parties and hope that it gets read as opposed to deleted, ignored, misread or sent to the junk e-mail folder by mistake No time delays and no voicemail. Just instant access it’s a beautiful thing.

2. Conference Calls: One of my favorite features My IM provider (Skype I should be receiving an endorsement for this) also comes with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) which allows you to use your computer as a telephone to conduct conference calls. I can call anywhere in the world for free using the Internet and avoid long distance charges. Have you ever been part of a conference call where someone was headed in the wrong direction and you wished you could just slip them a note? Well with IM you can You can conduct private chats simultaneously with different parties on the call giving advice, making confidential comments, strategizing about the best approach etc.

3. Document Transfer: One of the great things about IM is that you can use it to push out word docs, spreadsheets, pictures, video, and websites. You can use this feature during an individual chat, a conference call or just for document transfer purposes as IM can transfer much larger file sizes than you would normally transfer as an attachment to an e-mail.

The bottom line of this post is that if you’re not using IM as a productivity tool you should be. It will increase your access to key contacts, give you broader visibility and boost your overall efficiency. Want to talk? Skype me at N2growth.