More of The Same…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Too much fun...Do today’s inaugural events resemble change or more of the same? Call me crazy, but while I wish President Obama all the best, I cannot for the life of me understand $175 million dollars being spent on his inauguration during this time of financial crisis. This is not change, but it is just more of the same on steroids…On election day I vowed to lend my support to the new administration for as long as it was earned. I stated that we all must now hope for great things from our new President, but we must also hold him accountable to uphold the standards of the office he holds and the country he represents. Not to be a party-pooper, but it’s time for my first accountability call…

My hope is that in the case of today’s celebration that one day does not make a trend. President Obama is clearly charismatic and affable. In fact, I even found myself starting to like him as I watched him interact with his family, the Bush family, the troops, volunteers and the like. I also understand that today’s historic event is deserving of celebration, and don’t begrudge him that. However, I believe the excesses of this inauguration are not in good form. At a time when our nation and its people are suffering from economic turmoil largely due to unprecedented financial excess, is this really the time to spend well more than 2 times what President’s Bush and Clinton combined spent on their inaugurations?

Wouldn’t it have been better form for President Obama to cut spending on his inauguration and lead by example? Wouldn’t it have been more inspiring if he had instructed the large list of corporate and financial donors to make contributions to charity and those in need in lieu of contributing to the inauguration gala?

I’m not going to belabor the point any further other than to say that I hope President Obama uses more wisdom and discretion in how he handles matters after the events of this inauguration day have passed…

It’s All About The Customer…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

It’s all about the customer…Sync the timing of the message with the needs of the market if you want to achieve advertising success. The above ad is simply brilliant…Hyundai gets an A+ for innovative marketing during tough times, and at the same time gains entry into my “Companies That Get It” category. While I enjoy creative advertising, what I truly love is a simple, relevant, authentic message that resonates with its intended market. When the going gets tough, smart companies listen to the needs of their customers. What Hyundai recognizes that other companies fail to grasp, is that putting the needs of their customers ahead of their own, is in fact in their best long-term interest. The sad news is that the big three US automakers have been caught asleep at the wheel again…

Blogging for M&A

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Blogging for M&AI think it’s fair to say that Blogging for M&A has arrived when two banks merging spawns a blog. I saw a tweet (code for twitter post) from Dan Schawbel about the new Wells Fargo – Wachovia Blog which is dedicated to topics directly related to the Wells Fargo / Wachovia merger, and I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to applaud the efforts of Wells Fargo on this initiative. This is the first blog that I’ve seen focused on a merger, and I think it sets a brilliant example of a creative way to transactionally leverage the use of the blogosphere. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts about blogging for M&A…

While many mergers and acquisitions don’t live up to the hype generated pre-closing, it is the post closing issues dealing with the integration of culture, business process, systems etc. that actually causes many M&A transactions to fail.  Put simply, unless you’re considering an acquisition based upon nothing more than intellectual property value or to exploit break-up value, strong consideration must be given to the recognition that there must be an excellent cultural and organizational “fit” in order for any acquisition to succeed. By “fit” I mean a similar set of values and practices regarding the actual running of an ongoing business: business ethics, work styles, work ethic, a vision for the future, perpetuation objectives, leadership styles, and so on.

I’ve often mused that any idiot can put together a deal, but it takes real leadership to keep the deal together over the long haul. The preceeding paragraph constitutes the soft-side of the M&A business that takes place once the investment bankers have left the table. When the transaction team passes the baton to the operating team is when the real work starts. So what does a blog have to do with this? Think about it…what I’m really talking about here is communication and expectation alignment. What better medium could there possibly be to facilitate this type of interaction than a well conceived blogging platform?

Bottom line…as a CEO Coach my hat’s off to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf for not only creating a tool to align expectations and disseminate important information to all stakeholders, but also for authoring the initial post on the blog. Job well done John…

A CEO Worthy of Following

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

“A CEO Worthy of Following” is something that many workers long for. If you want to become a truly great CEO, then apply your focus on maximizing shareholder value over maximizing your personal W-2 and see what happens. Oddly enough, the more you focus on making those around you successful, the more successful you will become. As a CEO Coach one of the questions that I often pose to my clients is: Why should anyone be led by you? If as a CEO you don’t have a very good answer to this question (other than because I’m the boss), you might want to watch the above video profiling the CEO of Japan Airlines. All great leaders are willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gain.   

The Innovation Song

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

The Innovation Song you ask? That’s right…The above video contains a song performed by a Stanford student which was submitted for his final project for a class entitled: “Innovation and Implementation in Complex Organizations.” The song was intended as a tribute to Gordon MacKenzie’s “Orbiting the Giant Hairball,” a book which puts forth some thoughts on how organizations can better address the issue of innovation. The video is superb, and nails the issues surrounding a lack of innovation better than many more detailed case studies which I have read over the years.  Many a CEO could benefit from downloading this song on their iPod. If this project didn’t get an “A” it should have…

The Counter-Intuitive CEO

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Great CEOs are counter-intuitive. They don’t subscribe to herd mentality, rather they use their contrarian instincts to exploit opportunities, to create advantage, to build strong leadership teams, to expand market share, and to increase brand equity. A global recession is nothing more than an excuse for poor leaders to assign blame for weak performance elsewhere. The counter-intuitive CEO (Great CEOs) sees an economic downturn as an opportunity to strengthen their organizations and to grow the enterprise. As 2009 draws to a close I want you to invest 10 minutes in watching the video above as it provides a strong validation for what I’ve been espousing to you for quite sometime in posts like: “Recession Proof Your Business” or “Beware the CFO” or “Young CEOs.” I wish you great success in 2009…   

Keeping Your Composure

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Great leaders understand the value of keeping their composure. The video above, while certainly entertaining, is also a prime example of what can happen when you lose your composure. As a CEO few things are as important as displaying a command presence and demonstrating the ability to maintain control no matter how dire the circumstances. I would recommend going back and reading a prior post entitled “Never Let Them See You Sweat.”

McDonald’s Plays Brand Offense

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

McDonald's Plays Brand OffenseIf you wonder what smart companies do to gain market share in down economies just look at McDonald’s…McDonald’s plays brand offense. McDonald’s understands that playing brand offense is exactly what it takes for businesses to thrive in a down economy. In fact, over the last year they have flawlessly executed an aggressive brand assault on Starbucks that has been nothing short of pure genius. In today’s post I’ll contrast the marketing brilliance of McDonald’s vs. the tentative approach of Starbucks…

Before we dive into today’s case study in brand management, I would recommend reading “Recession Proof Your Business” as a backdrop for today’s piece. This prior post provides further support to my position that smart companies play brand offense by increasing their marketing and advertising initiatives, while their more conservative competitors are busy managing risk. Let me be very clear that I am a strong believer in defending brand equity, it’s just that I believe the best way to protect brand equity is to increase it. From my perspective, if you’re not taking market share from your competition, then they are likely taking it from you…it’s just that simple.

If we were to roll back the clock a few years it would be difficult for most brand aficionados to see how the Golden Arches would pose any real threat to the king of retail coffee. After all, Starbucks is an upscale, premium priced, gourmet coffee outlet that caters to an affluent market based upon attitude and environment. Contrast this to McDonald’s who sells fast food at inexpensive price points. The only thing the two brands would have appeared to have in common was that they sold food through retail stores, and that would be about it. Well, somebody forgot to tell McDonald’s…

You see if you look past the Happy Meals and Dollar Menus you’ll find that the hallmarks the McDonald’s brand are built upon are value, speed, and efficiency. This is something Starbucks had obviously overlooked. While Starbucks was resting on their laurels, McDonald’s simply saw a the ability to create a line extension into the gourmet coffee business by bringing value, speed, and efficiency to Starbucks door-step. 

Where did Starbucks go wrong…The economy was slowing, consumers were growing weary of $4 dollar coffees that you have to wait in long lines for, Starbucks service wasn’t what it once was, and at the corporate level, Starbucks was tightening their belt, closing stores, and pulling back on the innovative marketing initiatives that created their category dominant position to begin with. Their business model had become static, and they were out of touch with the market. However Starbucks biggest mistake was not fighting back against the McDonald’s attack. As an old soldier I can assure you that you cannot win a battle you do not fight. While you might delude yourself into thinking you have won the fight by “picking your battles” and fighting on different fronts, full out assaults must be repelled or you’ll be overrun. This is exactly what happened to Starbucks.

Where did McDonald’s go right…they didn’t manage risk, they exploited an opportunity. They didn’t play defense, they played offense. They went on an all out full-frontal marketing and advertising blitz that included among other things placing billboards in close proximity to Starbucks clearly stating their value propositions. They told the consumer that they understood their needs better than Starbucks, and Starbucks didn’t fight back…McDonald’s applied their brand strengths to fill an unmet need in the market…gourmet coffee served faster, cheaper, and according to independent taste tests…better.

The lesson here are simple:

  1. As markets mature service providers must become efficient to prosper;
  2. Business models must remain fluid and adapt to the needs of the consumer.;
  3. Category dominant brands only remain so if they stay on offense;
  4. A true focus on customer centricity trumps trendy ambiance 11 times out of 10, and;
  5. In the food business, taste matters.

 McDonald’s…job well done.

Boosting Personal Productivity

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Boosting ProductivityHas the speed at which business is transacted in the 21st Century completely overwhelmed you? Now that we’re approaching the end of the year, have you been as productive as you’d hoped for? Do you find yourself flirting with disaster by constantly brushing up against deadlines? Are your work hours increasing without a corresponding increase in income or satisfaction? Do you wish you had more time in a day? Boosting personal productivity is virtually the only way for professionals to meet their earnings expectations, keep their sanity by maintaining a balanced life, and meet the ever increasing level of customer expectations. In today’s post I’ll provide some tips for how to manage your day instead of having your day manage you.

Let’s face it, productivity is the standard by which most of us are judged in the business world. Whether you like it or not, in most business environments your destiny is likely to come down to a “what have you done for me lately” type of evaluation. My question to you is this: Are you as productive as you think you are, or even as productive as you used to be, and would your co-workers agree with your assessment? In the text that follows I’ll share my thoughts about the things that adversely affect your ability to produce, as well as some of the key items that can leverage your ability to optimize productivity. 

Even though entrepreneurs and executives are typically bright, talented and motivated people known for being highly productive, studies have shown that most professionals, when objectively assessed, are found to view themselves as being more productive than they really are. This is even true with the classic over-achieving type “A” personalities. So, what separates the productive from the non-productive? In working with countless executives and entrepreneurs it has been my experience that those professionals who like to cover a lot of ground and consider themselves masters of multi-tasking are not nearly as productive as those who have an ability to focus (see previous post entitled “The Power of Focus“).

Okay, let’s examine an all too common scenario: A senior executive has 30 minutes before the beginning of a strategy meeting which he/she is facilitating, and as the executive begins to prepare his/her final thoughts they receive an e-mail from legal asking them to review the latest version of an important contract before they go into the meeting. As they begin to redline the contract the executive receives an IM from the CEO asking for their immediate attention on a key issue. As they start to respond to the CEO their assistant informs them that an important client is on the phone and needs to speak with them immediately. As the executive begins to take the phone call they glance out their window only to see a small line forming outside their office door, and just then their Blackberry goes-off with a 911 from their spouse…

The sad part about the aforementioned illustration is that for many executives this is standard operating procedure. The pressure to become a multi-tasking phenom is in my opinion at the root of a decline in executive productivity. Multi-tasking is choosing to deal with perceived “urgent” matters rather than focusing on truly “important” matters. My father once told me that “part-time efforts yield part-time results” and I have found that with rare exception his premise is correct.

Inbound telephone calls, voicemails, e-mails, instant messages, meetings, drive-bys (unscheduled interruptions), cell phones, social media interruptions, faxes, and any number of other items that compete for your attention will consume your day leaving you wondering where the time went. The reality is that more executives and entrepreneurs are overwhelmed by technology than actually demonstrate an understanding of how to leverage technology to their advantage. The key to boosting productivity can be found by taking the following four steps:

  1. Have a clearly articulated vision: It is absolutely critical to understand what you’re playing for…If you don’t have a well defined vision, then you won’t understand the mission. If you don’t understand the mission then you won’t develop a well conceived strategy. Without a strategy it is unlikely that you’ll set the proper goals, and without accurate goals your tactical execution will be flawed and inefficient. It is the constant alignment and realignment of your actions to your vision that allows you to focus efforts based upon the right prioritization. I often counsel clients that the first step toward failure is ambiguity, while clarity of vision is the first step toward success.
  2. Leverage Down: While you can be lucky, you cannot create sustainable success without understanding the principle of “highest and best use”. Your efforts should be focused on those activities that maximize the leveraging of your time and skill sets leading to the attainment of your goals. Any activities that don’t meet that definition should be delegated to management, staff or outsourced to contractors.
  3. Focus: I have written before on the power of focus. No other single trait leads to a certainty of execution like focus. Those of you who know me have probably personally experienced my “gut-check” strategy which I highly recommend to all my clients. For those of you not familiar this concept it is one of my key pillars of success and it goes like this…Every hour on the hour (no exceptions) I ask myself “Am I doing the most productive thing possible at this point in time pertaining to the achievement of my objectives?” I have been known to terminate meetings, conversations, phone calls etc. based upon conducting this gut check. It keeps me from losing focus and being distracted unless I choose to do so. When in doubt FOCUS!
  4. Order your world: In today’s business world it is impossible to be productive without a well thought out workflow process. You must take yourself out of reaction mode wherever and whenever possible, and focus (there’s that word again) on proactively addressing workflow. The following list is a high level overview of a suggested workflow process:
    • I am a huge believer in quality administrative support…If you are a senior executive operating without admin, or not effectively using admin, you are cheating yourself and your stakeholders. If you don’t value your time why should anyone else? Leverage Down!
    • Where possible strive for a paperless environment…Paper is little more than inefficient, costly, clutter that is distracting. Virtually anything you can do in hard copy you can accomplish digitally with greater speed and efficiency while lowering your cost and decreasing distractions. Copy, paste, redline and forward is much more preferable than print, photocopy, highlight, and FedEx…
    • Understand how and when to use the right communication channels. Don’t travel when a web conference can accomplish the same or better results. Don’t use the phone if e-mail is more appropriate, and don’t use e-mail if IM is a better solution. I prefer to drive communication rather than respond to it, and when I respond it is based on priorities and not based upon impulse. I tend to use e-mail as my first line of communication using macros and e-mail filtering to reduce the number of incoming e-mails to an acceptable level. I have created a standard file/folder structure and naming conventions and integrate my e-mail with my calendar and task list.

Bottom line…If you’ll adhere to the principles described above you’ll actually have time to get your work done and have a life. With virtually nothing to lose and everything to gain, why not give it a try?

Search Engine Marketing

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Search Engine MarketingSearch Engine Marketing has always played a critical role in managing the visibility of a company’s online brand. However with the Internet becoming what is arguably today’s dominant medium, Search Engine Marketing has also risen to become a key driver in a company’s overall brand strategy. Regrettably the maturity of the products and services that comprise search engine related disciplines come at a time when the industry has never been more complicated and difficult to navigate for the uninitiated. Even though businesses today have many more options with regard to how they execute their search engine initiatives, I find that many marketing executives struggle more today with their online marketing strategies than they did a few years ago. In today’s blog post I’ll share my opinions on the current state of the Search Engine Marketing Industry.

My experience with Search Engine Marketing predates many in the field. I have been active online since the days of ARPANET, co-founded what was at the time the largest web development company in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, served as Director of Internet Strategy for the world’s largest web-enablement, founded one of the top 50 Interactive Advertising Agencies in the United States prior to its sale, and our fastest growing practice area at N2growth is our social media practice. My purpose in providing the resume excerpt is not to self-promote, but simply to make the point that I have been actively involved in the industry from its conception, watched it struggle through its adolescence of the boom and bust, and am now watching it thrive again with a rapid proliferation of technology and marketing advances. While the Internet as a medium is far from being mature, it has most certainly evolved, and so have the methods for marketing your brand online.

This last year alone I attended a number of SEO/SEM/SMM conferences, and while the messages communicated at these events made it clear that the industry has shown remarkable growth, made tremendous advances in sophistication, and has increased in the diversity of product/service offerings currently available, I question whether things are getting better or worse for the lay person which accounts for the majority of consumers.

In talking regularly with many senior executives, marketing professionals and entrepreneurs one thing is clear…they are clearly not fluent in the area of search engine marketing. While these professionals understand the potential that search engine marketing affords for their businesses, they do not understand how to capitalize on it. In fact, many of the people I have spoken with are extremely frustrated at the amount of money they have invested in search initiatives without being able to develop an understanding of the medium, such that they have not yet been able to develop a consistent winning strategy in this space. 

The major problems that exist within the search industry are tied to the fact that this is still an embryonic, yet quickly evolving medium. There are only so many ways to promote your brand in more mature mediums like radio, print or television. Contrast this with the numerous options available with digital marketing, and you’ll quickly see the conundum that most businesses face. We regularly have clients ask if they should be on Facebook, Twitter, Lindedin or other social media networks, buy banner ads, purchase sponsorships, work on organic search engine optimization, use pay-per-click ads, focus on online PR, launch a blog, produce articles and/or white papers, create a Podcast, work on link building, start a video marketing campaign, promote webcasts, and the list could go on and on…You can see why so many organizations struggle online. 

The reality is that communication mediums in the early stages of their lifecycle spit out new opportunities faster than you can shake a stick at, and worse yet, this happens with a plethora of inexperienced vendors lined-up to cut their teeth on the advertiser’s nickel. There is rarely a week that passes when I don’t speak to a company who has a horror story to tell about a search marketing company who over-promised and under-delivered and by the time the advertiser figured out what was going-on they had spent thousands of dollars with little to show for it.

Another problem with the search industry is that Google currently controls most of the traffic. Combine Google’s dominant position with the fact that they will share little if any data with advertisers and that they can change the rules of the game at any time and it brings new meaning to the term “Flying Blind.” However the issue of transparency within the search industry is not limited to Google. Most of the search engines play their cards very close to the chest as they try and establish a leg up in the market. Until there is significant competitive pressure brought to bear on Google the odds are stacked against the advertiser. I met with a client last week that was spending 50% of their Pay-Per-Click budget on Yahoo and Bing because it was recommended to them by their search marketing firm. The problem was that given the advertiser’s product line and target market, Yahoo and Bing would produce virtually no return for them…This is a big problem.

The fact is that the Internet is the medium that can deliver the most velocity and biggest return on your marketing dollar. I also believe that this will continue to be the case as the dominance of the Internet medium will only continue to widen the gap over alternate mediums. Companies cannot afford not to allocate a substantial part of their advertising budget to online advertising, but until the medium matures it will behoove of them to make sure that they work with the best vendors who can keep up with the rapid pace of change in the industry.

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