Leadership And The New Normal

New Normal

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

There’s no shortage of recent commentary on how “the new normal” is impacting business. Here’s the thing — most of it flat misses the mark. It doesn’t take a great deal of insightfulness to recognize businesses are navigating a new level of economic uncertainty, political acrimony and consumer cautiousness. That said, the new normal isn’t to be feared; it should be embraced.

Does Size Really Matter

Does Size Really Matter?

Does Size Really Matter

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Does size really matter? Should you go big or go home, or does quality win out over quantity? The fascination business leaders have with size has always both intrigued yet perplexed me. Is empire building and the pursuit of category dominance a healthy thing, or the corporate equivalent of the road to Perdition? I’ll frame the debate – you decide.

Addiction Marketing

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Addiction Marketing” is a phrase I started using a few years back while waiting in line for my drink at Starbucks. I was observing the mass of people who seemed almost desperate for their daily (if not more frequent) fix of caffeine. It was at that moment I realized the real power of one of Starbucks key business drivers, if not their most critical business driver – Starbucks sells products that cater to peoples addictive tendencies. What Starbucks has done better than many other addictive marketers is that they also make it cool and trendy to succumb to your addiction. In today’s blog post I’ll examine addiction as a key success factor in business.

Brands have always catered to our emotions viewing them as associative triggers – the tactics I’m describing are clearly not new. That said, has this practice crossed the line when addictive tendencies are being exploited for profit? Is this just creative branding and intelligent marketing, or are we merely sheep being led to slaughter? My intent is not to make judgments or draw conclusions, but rather just to have you wrestle with the following question: Are you an addict, pusher, or both, and if so, how do you feel about it?

When I was in school economics professors would lecture on using supply and demand drivers to create a business advantage, business professors would evangelize the strengths of the recurring value and stability of consumable products, marketing professors would espouse the benefits of customer loyalty and relationship marketing, but nowhere do I recall being able to register for a business class on addiction. However if you think about “Addiction Marketing” you’ll quickly realize what the “media pushers” on Madison Avenue and the product development and marketing gurus in the corporate world have known for years - all people have their unique set of vulnerabilities, which when creatively and effectively exploited will lead to strong sales and powerful brands.

In thinking about this topic with respect to media coverage, I recall that a few years back the Indian government was attempting to force Coca Cola and Pepsi to divulge the formulas to their popular beverage products. One of the charges being levied in the Indian High Court was that Coke and Pepsi products were addictive and unhealthy, Hmmm…More recently there have been a number of energy drinks and dietary supplements that have been pulled from retail shelves because of health hazards posed by addictive consumption.

Examine the following representative list of successful businesses and/or industries and come to your own conclusions as to whether these businesses or industries prey on the addictions of consumers world-wide to generate their revenue:

Las Vegas - The tagline “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” caters to virtually every possible addiction under the sun…Sin City lives up to its reputation.

Tag Body Spray - Tag’s recent commercial campaign has taken the phrase “Sex Sells” to a whole new level. In these campaigns all an adolescent male needs to do is to spray himself with the Tag product and he finds himself instantly being attacked by hordes of attractive young women. If you have a teenage son, it would be a safe bet that Tag is his cologne of choice.

The Beer and Alcohol Industry - You will be hard pressed to find a beer or alcohol company that doesn’t portray consumption of their beverage as the key ingredient to a lifestyle of fast cars, beautiful women, successful careers, etc.

The Tobacco Industry - The tobacco industry has been publicly hammered for selling products that leverage the addictive effects of Nicotine, and even with all the known health hazards smokers face, in many instances the addictive nature of the product is greater than peoples ability to make a logical decision.

I don’t think anyone will dispute the examples noted in the above list as obviously preying on consumer’s addictive tendencies. However what about the more subtle side of the addiction business? Isn’t Starbucks using the same addictive business tactics as those industries listed above? What about other fast food outlets? What about companies in the luxury products sector? Companies that sell high end products and services cater to the elitist attitudes of this segment allowing consumers to make statements about their socioeconomic status based on the products they purchase. Is this not also catering to addictive tendencies?

Okay, now I’ll hit a little closer to home and turn the spotlight on myself. What about my company’s value proposition? We sell success… Is it not possible to look at success as being an addiction? How about the social networking industry? Are social networkers and bloggers addicted to the interaction, attention, etc. that the social media platform affords? While I could go on, I think my point has been made.

I’m certainly not implying that all consumers are addicts, nor am I implying that all companies are “pushers,” but I am pointing out that addiction marketing sells and that many companies use this as a strategic advantage. In fact, I believe the evidence is clear that a business can create a strong strategic advantage in sustainability if they find no ethical flaw in what I’ve coined as “Addiction Marketing”.

The bottom line is that I love to travel and watch movies and I don’t think it makes me an escapist. I have a penchant for Starbucks, venti caramel frappacinos in particular and I don’t think I’m a caffeine addict (perhaps a sugar addict), and I appreciate fine clothes & quality automobiles and I don’t believe that makes me a social elitist. However I have also come to realize that my perceived addictive tendencies are clearly attempting to be preyed upon by creative and intelligent marketing and product development efforts. I’ll leave you with the following questions to ponder:

  • What is the difference between pleasure and addiction?
  • Do you feel “Addiction Marketing” is ethical?
  • Does your company partake in addictive marketing strategies and tactics? And;
  • When was the last time you made a purchase based upon your addiction?

Thoughts?

To Blog or Not to Blog?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I think you’d be shocked at how many people still struggle with the “to blog or not to blog” dilemma. Most of you who have been following this blog know that I’ve been an a strong evangelist of social media, and perhaps even more so of blogging for several years now. So why is it that so many people still seem paralyzed when it comes to taking the plunge? Let’s look at the numbers…While the numbers vary depending on which source you believe, the total number of blogs on the Internet is generally thought to be in the range of 200 million blogs. By any category analysis or analytical standard blogging has obviously developed into a powerful communication medium. However the question remains, do the numbers in-and-of-themselves mean that blogging is right for everyone?

I have read many a commentary ranging from the negative – “is blogging dead?” to those who argue the opposite - “Blog or Die.” Moreover, since I author a Blog (you might be interested in reading a previous blog entitled “Why N2growth Blogs“) I must believe in blogging right? Not necessarily…If you’ve taken the time to review a random cross section of blogs on the Internet, I’m sure you’ll agree that the world would be better off without some of the content currently being published. That said, I also believe the world is indeed a better place as a result of some of the good content available via blogs. While I don’t think a business will perish if it does not blog, I wholeheartedly believe a business will clearly fail to maximize its full potential without leveraging the significant benefits that blogging affords to those who do choose to participate.

Jason Lee Miller authored a post entitled: “Blogging Hits a Crossroads” last year which I believe is probably even more relevant today than it was when it was first released. The premise of his piece is that the landscape of the Blogosphere is changing radically, and that as such many “A-Listers” have either quit, or are contemplating giving-up their blogging endeavors. Miller’s post is quick to point out that blogging is competitive, requires a great investment of time, subjects the blogger to the ire of those who have dissenting opinions, and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make money blogging. I concur with all of the aforementioned assertions, but must admit that I am far from quitting…In fact, I would say that blogging is just starting to get interesting.

What makes blogging so interesting is also precisely what makes it so annoying at times…the low barrier to entry. The simple fact is that anyone can blog, which explains the existence of the huge numbers of blogs I mentioned earlier. The noise in this space is simply deafening…As Miller so aptly stated in his post, “The good stuff lasts, the chaff separates from the wheat, the cream rises to the top, all that.” The dropping-off of a few “A-Listers” is of little consequence to me, or frankly to anyone else. The litmus test for blogging is, and always will be, does your blog add value, does it make a difference, and do people benefit from the opinions espoused?

Bloggers will continue to come and go…while some will be missed, many will not. Nevertheless the reality is this…blogs are not a tool for those looking to get rich quickly (that train left the station a long time ago), nor are they likely to transform insignificant thoughts into something other than what they are. What blogs do offer is a viable and robust platform to be leveraged by those that have a message worthy of communicating. Blogs can clearly be accretive, and will continue to add brand equity to those companies and individuals who grasp the value of social media and understand how to incorporate blogging into their social media efforts.

It should also be noted that while blogs can and certainly do take people that previously lived in relative obscurity and turn them into almost overnight sensations, the reality is that the higher-up in the org chart you tend to find yourself the more benefit there is to blogging. This is simply due to the fact that more people want to hear what a high profile CEO or entrepreneur has to say. Taking into account the above considerations, not everyone can or should blog. In this author’s humble opinion, blogging only makes sense if the following conditions can be met:

You Have Something To Say: I don’t have any particular affinity for useless musings. Time is a precious commodity these days and most people I know are looking for valuable information that they can put to work for some benefit. I’m also not a fan of going to a blog to read third party news, press or the re-blogging of someone else’s information published for no other reason then to boost their search engine rankings. There are plenty of legitimate news sites and other aggregators out there so if you can’t produce your own content you shouldn’t blog.

You Know How To Say It: Mark Twain I’m not, but for the most part I can put across a cogent thought. While there is no requirement that you be a Rhodes Scholar to blog, it does help if you can communicate well in written form. The worst thing you can do for your business is to lose credibility via poor communication and a lack of professionalism. Not everyone is a writer nor should they try to be.

You Have The Time To Say It: I generally produce 5 blog posts per week (one each business day) and it normally takes me an hour or two per post. I don’t simply link to another article or make trite comments, but author original content that I hope adds value, which in my opinion is mission critical. If you don’t have the time to make blogging a priority the effort will end in frustration for both you and your audience. Post frequency is an often debated topic, but how often you post isn’t as important as meeting whatever commitment you make, and doing so with quality content.

You Have Someone To Say It To: Make sure that there is a viable audience for your content. Whether the blog is a tool for internal communication to employees or an external channel to third parties you must have an audience to either receive or pass along value. If no one is reading your content, you might get some cathartic benefit from your efforts, but there may be better uses for your time.  

There Is Some Benefit Derived From What You Say: Back to value – whether the value is received or given (in a perfect world both) does not matter as long as value is created. A blog can serve educational, social, business, philanthropic, political or any number of other agendas so long as a clear value add is present. A simple cost/benefit or risk/reward analysis should indicate whether your effort will be of value to you, and even if it is not of value to you, it may be to others.

The bottom line is that the numbers do in fact speak for themselves. Blogging is much more than the latest trend and is here to stay. So as long as you can meet the criteria mentioned above blogging can be a tremendous platform from which to effectively communicate your message. If you’re still on the fence, I would request you try and answer the following question: If you can engage those with whom you conduct business, or otherwise desire to interact with in a meaningful and value added fashion why wouldn’t you do so?   

Thoughts?

Great Leaders Leverage Great Messaging

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

It's The Message Stupid...
Great leaders understand the power, influence, and leverage created by great messaging. Do you ever find yourself sitting back and marveling at those leaders who always seem to have the right thing to say? Contrast this with the feelings you have when you hear an awful sound-bite that makes a leader look either uninformed or unintelligent. The difference between the two aforementioned examples is that great leaders have mastered the art of finding the right message regardless of the medium, market, or constituency being addressed. In today’s post I’ll share some of the messaging secrets used by the best leaders…

So why is great messaging so important? In the business world, as a chief executive officer or entrepreneur, corporate messaging is the key to both your personal and professional positioning strategy. A leader’s message has a direct impact on their personal and corporate brand equity, how they manage a crisis, marketing initiatives, investor relations, press and public relations, team building and employee engagement, and virtually any other mission critical area of chief executive responsibility.

Sadly, the reality is messaging is so impactful that it will often times have a greater impact on your career than your performance. I have witnessed on numerous occasions CEOs with average, or even sub-par performance histories fare well because they possessed great messaging skills. Let me be clear that I’m not talking about form over substance here…They simply understood how to message their shortcomings and flaws, while engendering confidence around their planning for corrective measures to critical spheres of influence. By contrast, I have also watched CEOs with excellent performance histories not do so well because they did not possess the messaging skills necessary to keep stakeholders engaged. Simply put, the savvy and sophistication of your messaging will have a direct impact on the sustainability of your tenure as a chief executive.    

CEOs who become recognized as great leaders are prepared, articulate, consistent, and crisp in their messaging. They speak with authority, clarity, and certitude. Their messaging engenders confidence and serves to inspire and unify. Perhaps most importantly, a great leader’s message is never in conflict with their values. They will not compromise their core beliefs simply to manipulate the outcome of a specific situation. They rest in the comfort that doing and saying the right things will ultimately put them in a favorable position, and if not, they are comfortable in assuming any negative consequences that may come as a result of right thinking and decisioning.

When it comes to the construction of messaging, I have found that people will tend to fall into one of the four following groups.

  1. The Medium “is” the Message: People that fall into this camp believe that the medium will do the work for them…They believe in the reach and power of the medium to overcome any flaws in the message. This view of messaging constitutes a numbers based approach where the business logic states that if you reach enough people with the message some acceptable percentage of the people reached will embrace the message.
  2. The Market “is” the Message: This view of messaging values the target audience above all else. The message is so targeted and niche specific that it is sometimes almost unintelligible to those who fall outside of the intended target market. 
  3. The Message “is” the Message: This group believes that content is king…The emphasis here is that if the message is creative enough, or valuable enough, nothing else matters. This view of messaging is all about the teaser, the hook, the calls to action, the design, the concept, etc.
  4. The Messenger “is” the Message: This is the branded approach to messaging…If the person delivering the message has enough credibility and influence, nothing else matters. This iconic, ego-centric approach to messaging places a high premium on the spokesperson. 

My view of the aforementioned four theories is that their sum total value is greater than their independent stand alone value. Other than in matters of character and principle, I don’t tend to be an absolutist…Over the years, and especially in the genres of marketing, branding, positioning, and messaging, I believe a collaborative and cross-disciplined approach to be the key to success…While content can create credibility, credibility can also enhance the view of content. Furthermore, the best content or spokesperson in the world communicating to the wrong audience, with the wrong message, or through the wrong medium is likely to miss the mark. It takes a blending of approach to craft the right message and this will not happen when operating in a vacuum. Following are a few final thoughts for your consideration when crafting your message:

  1. It Must Be the Truth: The truth always comes out in the end…If your message won’t pass public scrutiny over time, then you have the wrong message.  
  2. Use a Multiple Medium Approach: Long gone are the days of one size fits all mediums…the best messaging campaigns take place across mediums creating multiple touch points to various constituencies and demographics. 
  3. Know Your Talking Points: Don’t allow the message to get lost in the medium. Remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. You must be consistent and convicted in your opinions and your positions. Be clear, concise and don’t compromise on key points.
  4. Know Your Audience: All messages should be tailored to the audience being addressed. This does not mean you should compromise your position, rather it means your message needs to relevant, timely, and of significance. While your talking points need to remain the same, they also need to address the concerns and areas of interest of those being communicated to.  
  5. Don’t Forget Your Critics: The tendency is to believe that your audience is comprised of friends and allies. You need to assume that every message given will find its way into the hands of your worst critics, and furthermore, that they will attempt to use your message against you.

So, what are your thoughts on the value of great messaging as it relates to leadership?

20 Reasons Websites Fail

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

For years now I have consistently received inquiries from CEOs who wonder why their web initiatives are falling short of reaching their objectives. Because most of these inquiries come from executives suffering from web maladies of a similar nature, I decided to put forth a list of what I consider to be the 20 most common website mistakes hindering success on the Internet. The sad part about the following list is that none of these typical mistakes are difficult to remedy, yet most offenders simply fail to correct the issues and wonder why their Internet presence isn’t producing the desired results… 

Without further adieu - 20 Reasons Websites Fail (in no particular order):

  1. Not Having One: If you’re a proud hold-out continuing to dwell in the offline world, WAKE UP! Not having an Internet presence is akin to not being open for business. Don’t think for a moment that you can outlast progress and advances in technology, and somehow end-up coming out ahead of the game…It won’t work. 
  2. Being a One-Trick Pony: Almost as bad as having no Internet presence is confusing a single website for a web presence. Do me a favor and imagine a spider “web” – intricate, concentric strands carefully woven together to create the perfect “net.” To develop visibility, presence and influence you must use multiple sites, platforms and networks that work in collaboration with one another to create a digital “web.” It is not uncommon for a successful Internet presence these days to include ten, twenty, fifty or even hundreds of digital connection points. What you have to remember is the importance of engaging your customers where they are, and in today’s world they’re literally everywhere.  
  3. No Leadership: You’d be surprised at how many times a company’s Internet presence is still the number one corporate “hot potato” with either nobody in charge, or the wrong person in charge. Without leadership, vision and executive involvement, your web presence will be destined for failure. Hint: your web initiatives must be in alignment with, and serve as a key driver of your business objectives.
  4. No Aesthetics: While I’m not advocating form over substance, let me be very clear – design matters. Now comes the tricky part…what you think passes for great design isn’t as important as what your audience thinks. So, how do you know what passes for good design? Be open minded, seek advice, then listen. I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion great content that doesn’t get viewed because people can’t get past horrible design. I’ve also witnessed good content deemed less than credible because the design is clearly not credible. I’ll say it again – design matters.
  5. No Metrics: Nowhere is the axiom “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” more appropriate than as applied to the corporate Internet presence. If you don’t have a detailed analytics program measuring key metrics then you cannot even begin to hope to understand what’s working, and what’s not working…No metrics – no success.
  6. No Visibility: If you have a great website, but it can’t be found - you lose…If you don’t have page one visibility (either paid, organic, or preferably both) on major search engines under relevant search terms, then you’ve wasted whatever investment you’ve made into the creation of your website. No visibility, equals no traffic, equals questionable sustainability in today’s world.  Hint: think mobile – if you’re website isn’t mobile friendly you’re already behind the curve.
  7. No Phone Number: If you really want to frustrate your clients and prospects try not publishing a contact phone number. Let me put it another way…if you want to send your clients and prospects directly to your competition just withhold your phone number from them. Smart companies provide multiple channels through which they can be contacted. If someone on your leadership team believes it’s more cost effective to play hide the pea with your phone number, then I would suggest that person doesn’t belong on your leadership team.
  8. No Social Acumen: Being anti-social in today’s market is the proverbial kiss of death. A website without a voice doesn’t doesn’t engender much confidence. Numerous studies have shown that visitors have a better opinion of companies who maintain an active blog, and actively engage in social networking. If your company doesn’t blog, tweet, and participate in other social networking platforms, then you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to engage with your customers, prospects and other stakeholders.   
  9. No Opt-in List: Give your website visitors the option of opting-in to receive information and updates. This is the fastest way to identify those interested in what you do. There are few things as valuable for direct marketing purposes as having a large, targeted e-mail list, and nowhere can you build a better list faster than mining for subscribers on your website.
  10. No Executive Bios: People don’t do business with companies, they do business with people. If I can’t read-up on the team behind the brand, then I don’t know who I’m doing business with. If I don’t know who I’m doing business with, I won’t do business…
  11. Forced Registrations: If you force visitors to register prior to giving them access to your information, your losing valuable opportunities. Forced registrations out of the gate send website visitors away in droves. If your idea is to better qualify prospects by shielding access to your content behind a registration form then you are misguided in your thinking. Grant access to your information first, and people will gladly register to be provided full details of your offering. You need to earn the right to qualify a prospect or to mine for data by earning trust and communicating value. This cannot be done by starting with a forced registration. Engage first – sell later.
  12. Static Content: If the content on your website is ostensibly the same as it was 6 months ago, then you’re messaging that you either have a static organization void of innovation, or that you simply don’t care enough about your website to update it with fresh content…in either case you lose.
  13. Poor Quality Content: Content is still and forever will be king…If your website contains content that doesn’t add value to, and doesn’t properly address the needs of key constituencies, your website will not be successful. If you must pick between quantity of content and quality of content, choose the latter and not the former. However keep in mind that a combination of the two will afford you the most significant benefits. Hint- don’t create content for you – create it for your audience.
  14. Pop-ups: Today’s Internet is open, collaborative and consumer driven. Just like the topic of forced registrations mentioned above, attempting to control browsing habits through the imposition of unwanted interruption based applications is offensive to the majority of Internet users. If users want to be surveyed, polled, updated, etc., then they’ll subscribe to your opt-in list giving you their permission to query them.   
  15. Poor Linking/Navigation: If you make visitors work too hard to find the information they’re seeking, you’ll lose them altogether as they’ll leave your site for more fertile ground. Navigation needs to be simple, intuitive, and functional. When you examine your analytics and notice that visitors leave your site after viewing only one or two pages, a likely cause is poor navigational architecture. 
  16. No E-Commerce: Make it easy for your customers and prospects to buy from you. Don’t force them to order a catalogue, talk to a sales rep, visit a retail location, or to participate in other multi-step processes. Every web presence should have the ability to sell something. A website is capable of selling products, services, knowledge, information, subscriptions, advertising, and a virtually anything your mind can imagine. Make sure your website is e-commerce enabled.
  17. Bad Multimedia: When I land on a website I don’t want to be assulted by cheesey music, bad video, or maybe the worst offense of all – total multimedia as a feigned substitute for a lack of content. Let visitors select multimedia elements of interest, but don’t force your presentations on them.
  18. No Community: If your Internet presence creates a destination, but not a community you’re missing a key part of the puzzle. There is a big difference between creating a desire to arrive and the desire to stay and then to comeback again and again. To create a community is to create trust, a sense of belonging, the feeling that people have a voice, and that you listen. A strong community is also social proof that you have something valid to offer. Miss this point and you miss big time. 
  19. No Fun: Part of creating community is having a sense of humor and adding a bit of entertainment value. If you think your brand is too high-brow or too institutional to have fun – think again. Stodgy, stagnant, and elitist is just another way of saying you’re boring. Boring brands equal bad brands.
  20. No References: If you don’t provide references and testimonials you are simply creating an unnecessary barrier to success. Don’t tell people you’re good at what you do, let your work, and more particularly your clients tell them on your behalf. Nothing speaks to professional credibility like affirming voices – especially influential ones.

So, what did I miss? As always, I welcome your comments below…

Social Media Influence

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Social Media InfluenceSocial media influence; the harsh reality is that you either have it or you don’t. I’m going to tell you the cold hard truth about social media…what you need to know that most people won’t tell you. While anyone can have a social media presence, not everyone possesses social media influence. It’s clear to those in the know that social media is a universe of the haves and have nots. It’s the difference between relevance and irrelevance, visibility and anonymity. You might have something to say, but without influence, nobody will be listening. Put simply, having a social media presence without influence is little more than an exercise in frivolity. In today’s post I’ll share some thoughts on the importance of social media influence in the building of personal and corporate brand equity.  

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to address social media critics and the naysayers by answering the questions: Does social media work? Is social media right for business? Can you generate an increase in revenue and brand equity with social media? How does social media compare with other mediums? If you’re still asking these questions WAKE-UP – get your head out of the sand, and stop broadcasting your ignorance. Validating proof of concept around social media ROI is a discussion that may have had a bit of relevance 24 months ago, but unless you’ve been stranded on a desert island for the last couple of years you know that numerous case studies abound which validate social media beyond any reasonable doubt.

If you think you don’t have time to Tweet or Blog, the reality is that you don’t have time not to. Here’s the bottom line: How can you possibly justify not communicating with your key constituents, stakeholders, and influencers in an environment of their choosing, where they are actively having conversations in real time? News Flash: you can’t. That said, if you’re still a social media basher, watch the following video we put together and judge for yourself:

 

Okay, it should be clear after watching our video that social media can produce huge ROI, but here’s the real story line: only if you know what you’re doing. The one thing that each of the personal and corporate brands profiled in the video all had in common is that they leveraged social media influence to accomplish their objectives. If you choose to dive into the social media world without a strategy, without understanding how to create social media influence, you will not be pleased with your results. Like anything in life, if you’re going to do something, you’re better off to do it right or not to do it at all.

There’s nary a week that passes where I don’t have a conversation with somebody who proudly proclaims that they created a Twitter page, to which I usually respond; “that’s great, but why?” Don’t get me wrong, recognizing the value of participating in the most powerful medium on the planet by getting in the game is a good thing, but it’s an even better thing when coupled with a plan. Let me say this as clearly as I can…a ready, fire, aim approach will rarely find the target.

For all you well intended ad agencies, consultants, marketing managers, brand managers, entrepreneurs, and professionals ready to dip your toe, or your clients toe in the water that is social media, keep in mind that it does no good whatsoever to have a blog that only has one published post in the last 6 months, a Twitter page with 4 followers, a LinkedIn profile with 18 connections, a Facebook account with 7 friends, etc. It’s like flashing a neon sign that says I’m irrelevant and nobody cares. It won’t do anything to help you, it will only hurt you. In today’s world no one wants to do business with a company that’s not connected, has no influence, isn’t engaged, and that doesn’t get it.

While having little or no online following can easily brand you as being without influence, having legions of followers solely for the sake of amassing large numbers doesn’t necessarily mean you have any real influence either. Anybody can amass tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of followers just by following as many people as they can and waiting for them to reciprocate. The important thing to understand is whether or not anything of substance or value underpins the numbers? Think about it for a moment…almost nothing can hurt a brand faster than constantly messaging irrelevance to a large constituency. Not a good move… 

Who you choose to follow on Twitter, which blogs you read and comment on, who you add as a friend to your Facebook account, or which invitations you accept on LinkedIn speaks volumes about what you’re attempting to accomplish online. Like most things, building and maintaining your social media footprint should be engineered by design, but the truth is that most people allow it to be constructed by default. In a perfect world you would build relationships with the largest possible universe of targeted constituents where you can productively engage and contribute.  Just as you don’t want to add to the noise, nor do you want to remain part of the silence. Having a relevant, highly engaged social media following means you have influence and can create action. Here’s a simple formula to ponder as you create your social media framework:

Social Media Influence = engagement+relevancy+knowledge+trust+presence+value+time

So, how do you start to build social media influence? The best way is to start off on the right foot by not tainting your brand or reputation.  Don’t begin by trying to sell something, but rather by listening, engaging in conversations, building trust, and adding value. Contribute knowledge and information to the constituencies that you want to build influence with. Become a part of them as opposed to a vendor to them…This is a difficult concept for old-school marketers to get their arms around, but a critical one nonetheless. I would strongly suggest reading two previous posts: “Shut-up and Listen” and “Stop Selling and Add Value” as support for these positions.  Following are a few tips to help you build influence online:

  1. Have a Strategy - If you want to create success and influence using social media you better have a plan. This sounds reasonable enough, but here’s where it gets a bit tougher – the plan isn’t about you. To be successful in creating social media influence your efforts need to be centered around others. It’s not how well you sell, it’s about how well you listen, add value and build meaningful relationships. Remember that connections are not the same thing as relationships, but that connections can develop into relationships with the proper effort on your part. 
  2. Commitment-  While technology is a natural accelerant helping to catalyze new opportunities and extend relationships, creating trust and influence will still take time. While there are exceptions to every rule, don’t expect overnight success. Regardless of the medium, you’ll rarely find influential people who don’t recognize the value of staying the course.  
  3. Don’t breach trust- you work far too hard to create a trust bond with your followers, so don’t blow it by not following through on your commitments. I would also suggest resisting the temptation to have all your communications be self-serving. Do this and you’ll be viewed as just another sales broadcast. When you do sell, do it properly, and for the right reasons.
  4. Don’t be a jerk, hater or taker - People don’t want to hear from those they don’t like. If you want to build lasting social media influence you must be seen as valuable resource and not a taker of other’s time, resources or ideas. Take a sincere interest in others – help them become successful – give more than you take.
  5. Have command over your subject matter – If you don’t know what you’re talking about, remain silent. Voicing your opinion isn’t nearly as important as helping someone else refine their thinking with wise counsel. The easy rule is to stay out of conversations where you don’t add value.
  6. Listen and respond- If you’re forcing an agenda rather than responding to the needs of your followers you’ll lose any chance at creating influence. Remember that most people will go to great lengths to help someone who has been of assistance to them.   
  7. Publish quality content that adds value – what you produce in terms of content will be become synonymous with your online reputation. It will either serve you well, or be your undoing. Frequency is important but only to the extent that qualitative considerations are not sacrificed.

As I’ve espoused before, I’m not a huge fan of one-size-fits-all strategies, and this opinion holds true in regard to building your network as well. Despite countless opinions to the contrary, I’ve come to the conclusion that while no single “right” methodology exists for building your online network, I regularly observe many “wrong” approaches…

The conclusion here should be obvious - you’ll be successful in creating real social media influence when you take the time to seek out wise counsel, and implement an authentic approach to a well crafted social media strategy. If you don’t, while you might not fail, you certainly won’t maximize the potential that exists for you. I would love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve put forth above – Please leave a comment and let me know whether you agree, disagree, or have a different take altogether…

How to Build a Brand

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

How to Build a BrandAssuming that you have deep pockets, a talented staff, and a lot of patience, growing a recognized brand isn’t difficult…spend heavily across all mediums with consistent, creative, on message advertising while simultaneously conducting aggressive public relations and social media campaigns. Avoid controversy, maintain a high likeability factor, consistently and proactively engage your customers, be a business of character that engenders trust and confidence with your target market(s), produce a quality product or service at a competitive price point, and provide great customer service. The preceding description paints the perfect illustration of why branding is one of my favorite topics…It is complex. Unless you are a very large enterprise it is unlikely that you have the time, money, staffing, or external professional relationships to execute a brand management strategy such as the one outlined above. In today’s post I’ll share 8 tips for common sense branding that entities of any size can put into practice…

So what’s the best way to build a brand if you’re not a Fortune 500 company? Be very, very smart. Unfortunately I’m not kidding - if your business isn’t one of the deep pocketed companies capable of executing a strategy like the one mentioned above, then you must understand how to cost effectively appropriate and deploy your resources & talent in a manner that still produces results. The simple truth of the matter is that building brand equity with limited resources is one of the most difficult things to accomplish in the business world.

The following 8 items constitute the basic tenants of branding, which if incorporated into your brand management strategy will help build a solid brand regardless of the size of your company or your ad budget:

1. Treat your brand as an asset not an afterthought: If building brand equity is not a key strategic focus for your executive team don’t be surprised if your brand remains in stealth mode. If branding is not someone’s full-time responsibility then your brand will suffer from the part-time results that the part-time efforts yield.

2. Keep your word: Living up to expectations (brand promise) is critical if you want to keep your brand from going into free-fall. If you can only do one thing is business, I would strongly suggest that it be to keep your commitments and honor your promises. In absence of any other action this will keep your brand on solid footing, and in combination with the other items mentioned here will propel your brand equity with maximum velocity. 

3. Never sacrifice quality: Your products, services, leadership, management, culture, customer service, communication, etc. must all reflect high standards of quality. Quality equals value in the eyes of the consumer, and as a result often corresponds into justifying price premiums.

4. Focus on the customer: Make sure you understand the needs and desires of you customers/clients and do everything possible to satisfy them. If customer centricity is nothing more than a buzzword, and not a core value reflected in your business practices, creating growth in brand equity will be a challenge. Put the customer first in all decisions and good things will happen.

5. Understand the competition: Creating competitive separation is a must. Without strong and clearly recognized competitive value propositions you will be forced into the commodity market of competing on price points alone.

6.  Broadcast vs. Social: It is also critical to understand the difference between broadcast and social media.  The world has changed, and if you haven’t adjusted your messaging, positioning, communications, and engagement strategies accordingly, your brand will suffer. If you don’t have a big advertising budget, and even if you do, social media provides a significant opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations and interactions with your customers that broadcast media simply cannot produce. If you don’t have the luxury of being able to spend across mediums, select the medium that will give the most frequency, reach, viral shelf-life & engagement and build from there. Put simply, if you’re going to spend your time and money do it where you get the biggest bang for the buck.

7. Be consistent: Consistency in all things throughout the value chain is critical. Continuity should flow from values to vision, mission to strategy, and objectives to tactics to process. Mixed messaging or practices has killed many a brand.

8. Innovate: Your brand will have at best a limited shelf life if a culture of innovation doesn’t pervade your business. Even category dominant brands can fall into rapid decline as obsolescence sets in. Don’t fall into the trap of resting on laurels and assuming that a great product or niche market will endure the test of time without constant attention to the shifting needs of a fluid marketplace.

Do You Have An Internet Strategy?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Do you have an Internet Strategy?What drives your internet strategy? I’m always amazed that in today’s digital world where web based technologies reign supreme, at the number of companies that still don’t get it…It is not at all uncommon for me to find corporate internet strategies that are at best cobbled together if they exist at all. It is as if digital marketing and branding initiatives are the corporate version of the “hot potato,” such that everyone wants to have their say, but no one wants to take responsibility. Rarely do I come across corporate internet strategies that are aligned with the core business strategy. In an earlier post entitled “Who’s In Charge of Your Internet Strategy” (dated but relevant), I address many of the typical mistakes made with regard to the management of corporate internet initiatives, but in today’s post I’ll focus on the benefits derived by engineering a well conceived internet strategy. 

Is your internet strategy engineered by design, or has it just evolved over time by default? There are few assets that can be leveraged across the enterprise as effectively as a company’s web assets. Furthermore, your company’s brand credibility is often judged by the quality and consistency of a user’s online interaction and experience, so why would you want to put anything other than your best foot forward? Rather than complain about your online initiatives I would suggest you correct performance gaps by taking a step back and revisiting your overall internet strategy to insure that it is properly aligned with your core business strategy. 

Rule number one when developing your internet strategy is that it must be inclusive and not exclusive. Your corporate web presence should not be driven by IT, marketing or sales to the exclusion of one another, but rather it should be developed collaboratively in order to unite all departments to deliver real business value across the enterprise. A company’s digital strategy should balance ROI and contribution to the bottom line with growth-oriented business and IT initiatives.

As part of the cohesive and collaborative approach mentioned above, it is important to once and for all understand that your corporate website is where things begin, and not where they end. Believing that a corporate website can function as a single, stand-alone asset shows a complete lack of understanding of how to leverage the internet. Your corporate website needs to rest at the center of a spoke and hub architecture that includes, blogs, wikis, profiles and groups on social networking communities (Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), a network of related product/service/group microsites, article and video marketing, internet radio, TV, and PR, and the list goes on…The internet is a constantly evolving space and has changed radically from the early dot-com days.

A solid internet strategy is born out of both analytical and practical considerations with the internet strategy simply being a tactical extension of core business strategy. A well conceived digital strategy will be deeply based on customer, competitor, industry and constituent research used to identify and prioritize key business opportunities for internet channels.  It will guide you towards the identification of new opportunities for increased revenue or cost savings by applying rigorous analysis of customer behavior, needs and financial value. The strategy should define associated costs and expected return as well as put forth metrics-driven implementation roadmaps.

It is also important that your internet strategy create multi-channel integration which serves to combine business and technology assessment, requirements development, and implementation. It is essential to evaluate and clarify channel strategies for effectiveness and profitability, as well as assessing areas of vulnerability and opportunity. A well designed internet strategy will also accelerate go to market time-frames and add to customer lifecycle value. With constantly evolving technology, and a better understanding of consumer behavior, barriers to adoption are falling at rapid rates. The proper strategy will leverage these trends to build strong sales funnels and increase conversion ratios. By building in strong up-sell/cross-sell mechanisms, and effective customer self-service options, margins should increase due to an increase in average order size with a lower cost of fulfillment.

Internally, the implementation of a well defined internet strategy will increase operating efficiencies by automating business process, stimulating innovation and collaboration, increasing the effectiveness of communication, and shortening production cycles. Virtually any application that was once administered through desktop solutions can now be addressed through web based solutions at lower costs with greater efficiency and scalability. Externally, the internet must align and propagate your brand promise and message in a way that works cross platform and medium to increase revenue and brand equity by reaching all constituencies in the manner in which the prefer to be communicated with. 

Bottom line…the internet is only as powerful as your ability to understand and harness its strength to your advantage.  

Are You Culturally Savvy?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Are you culturally savvy?What do I mean by “culturally savvy“? I am not addressing the topic of being politically correct, rather I want you to focus on the importance of simply being cognizant that there is a larger cultural impact on how business is conducted today than ever before. Cultural differences often exist within the same companies…they certainly exist between different companies. Without question there are different cultural business practices in different cities or regions within an individual country. These differences are almost exponentially complicated when you start doing business on a global basis. For purposes of this post we will address how to best blend and manage your internal cultural characteristics with those of your vendors, partners, suppliers, customers and investors who may be located in foreign countries.

The impacts of globalization are being felt by all of us at some level whether we realize it or not. Moreover, it is likely that businesses that once would never have had to deal with global concerns most certainly will as time marches forward. Every culture has their own unique way of functioning, and if you want to remain competitive in today’s market you will need to develop a cultural sensitivity and maturity to your business approach that may not presently exist.

I have been doing business internationally since the mid 80′s. I have traveled to 26 different countries and have done business in Canada, Central and South America, the Mid-East, Europe, India, and Asia. What I have learned in my travels and experiences is being culturally savvy can not only shorten your initial time to market, but also help insure that entry into a foreign market is profitable and sustainable. Learning the language (or at least some common pleasantries), customs, values, and usual and customary business practices are a must for not embarrassing yourself or your company. False starts in a new country can be very costly and often times there a no second chances…

While the basics of cultural awareness mentioned above will get you in the door, it is becoming culturally savvy that will keep you there. I liken international business to acquiring a new company. It is rarely the acquisition that is a problem, rather it is the post acquisition integration issues, many of which are cultural, that often determine the long-term viability of an acquisition. Similarly, it has been estimated that the mortality rate of international joint ventures exceeds 50% within a three year period of time. It is rarely technical competency that is responsible for the high failure rate noted above, rather the reason most often noted for the dissolution of ventures are the problems surrounding the inability to manage and deal with cultural constraints, barriers, and conflicts.

What works in one culture often times simply does not work in other cultures. In fact, many times what works within one country can deeply offend someone from another country. Let me give you an example of how even innocent things can spiral out of control when you’re on foreign soil. Regardless of what you think about Richard Gere’s acting ability, political beliefs, or religious views there is much that can be learned by peeling back the layers on the unwitting and very public faux pas he made a while back in India. Mr. Gere who has long been a strong supporter of the Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese cultures essesntially unwound years work during a public appearance in India in what I’m sure he believed was nothing more than an innocent gesture of public affection. However his cultural perception of an innocence actually insulted much of the Indian public, and in such sever fashion that he had to be rushed out of the country for his own safety and to avoid potential legal consequences. The bottom line is that it pays to do your homework well in advance of doing business abroad. While the incident was later resolved, it should have never occured to begin with.

The most effective way in which to insure your success abroad requires a blending of two key components. The first is selecting the right “in country” partners and advisors. These should be locals who know the ropes from a political, regulatory, legal, tax, and cultural perspective. The local partners should already have a solid network in place that will help you hit the ground running. A common mistake is to just open an office, staff it up, and expect to get the same results that you would by opening a branch office domestically. This rarely works, and in fact can be very costly on a number of different levels.

The second component needed to be successful abroad is to hire a consultant to advise and train your domestic staff on the finer points of cross-cultural integration and interaction. You may select the perfect set of foreign partners and advisors, but if your domestic staff doesn’t understand how to communicate and do business with them on a culturally acceptable basis the venture will be very short lived.

To conduct business successfully in today’s international marketplace requires a commitment to global team building in a multicultural environment. This in turn requires that both you and your organization become culturally savvy. 

Direct Marketing via Twitter

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The Power of TwitterLooking for a way to enhance your direct marketing initiatives? Look no further than Twitter. Why is Twitter so hot? Why is it the fastest growing microblogging/social media platform on the planet? Because it produces real value, and it does so very quickly. Twitter is arguably the best and most powerful direct marketing tool to come along since email assuming two things: 1,) you understand how to use it, and; 2.) that you do in fact actually use it. In today’s post I’ll provide a few thoughts on how to leverage Twitter without going into the technical aspects (there is already plenty of information in circulation on that).

First off, I want to address the snobs and elitists who largely comprise the small group of Twitter naysayers still in existence…Your competition is likely already Tweeting, so why aren’t you? Each time I hear someone dismiss the use of Twitter as being a “waste of time,” or only for those that “don’t have anything better to do,” I chuckle at their naivete and/or apathetic approach. These too cool for school types are simply missing out on a tremendous opportunity, because it is easier for them to mock something they don’t understand than it is to learn how to leverage a new toolset. All I have to say is what a shame…If you fall into this camp I would suggest you do a reality check and get in the game. 

Next, I want to provide you with some validation of proof of concept. I have sold books and webcasts, have added subscribers to my blog, and have even secured new clients through the use of Twitter. Now keep in mind that I’m not an uber-user of Twitter. I don’t have a large follower base, I don’t spend all day on Twitter, I just participate in the dialogue taking place and nothing more…On a light day I probably only spend about 10 minutes on Twitter, and on a heavy day for me about 30 minutes and that’s it…

Want more validation of Twitters direct marketing capability? While Twitter is simply another channel of communication that extends my reach, and supports my other mediums, there are those who now make their entire living by leveraging the power of Twitter. Other examples of those that have monetized their Twitter followers are Dell Computer, who has traced more than $3 million in revenue directly to Twitter, United Airlines broadcasts “Twares” offering special fares on Twitter, Mariah Carey launched her new album on Twitter, in part due to his influence on Twitter Chris Brogan’s new book “Trust Agents” hit the New York Times Best Seller List,  well more than half of the Fortune 100 (and growing) are represented on Twitter, various charities and political causes raise funds on Twitter and the list could go on…While the list of what makes Twitter so special could be almost endless, I find the following 5 attributes most valuable:

  1. Twitter is fast and easy: Twitter rewards the articulate, and thrives on brevity and efficiency. Because you’re messages are limited to only 140 characters, the boring and verbose need not participate.
  2. Twitter is a real time pipeline to your followers: Twitter is instant, real-time communication. Just hit the update button and your message is instantly viewed by those who follow you on Twitter.
  3. Twitter is viral: If your message, your brand, your humor or wit, your offerings, etc., appeals to others they will spread it to their followers, and so on, and so on. I have watched a single message that was well accepted by Twitter users take someone from relative obscurity to a place of prominence overnight.   
  4. Google loves Twitter: Most people’s Twitter profile is indexed on page one of Google, and Google also indexes individual messages adding further leverage to the power of Twitter.
  5. Twitter builds your sphere of influence: You can not only find people of influence (CEOs, authors, politicians, the media, various pundits, celebrities, etc.) on Twitter, but you can easily open a dialogue with them. This is simply not possible in most other mediums, and where it is possible it is certainly not very easy.

My suggestion is this…become a Twitter user today. Don’t over analyze, and don’t wait…do it now. Once you’re live on Twitter, follow me @mikemyatt and be sure and let me know how it goes…

Business Process Meets Advertising

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 
The Landscape Is Changing
Business process meets advertising…it’s about time. I have often been critical of the advertising industry for not adapting to the consumer driven world of social media, and the cross platform nature of what today’s mediums offer. In “Ad Agencies Just Don’t Get It” I criticize their inability to differentiate media buying from branding due to huge conflicts of interest. I was shocked to stumble upon some of the best commentary on the advertising and media space that I’ve read in quite some time being generated by IBM. Will technology consultancies overtake traditional ad agencies at their own game? If IBM’s work is indicative of things to come, traditional ad agencies should be very, very concerned…  

Page 1 of 212