Let Them Eat Cake

I often watch CNBC in hopes of a glimmer of stock market insight. Shows with names like "Squawk on the Street". Today on "Power Lunch" I got insight on ... cupcakes.  

Yes, cupcakes.

It seems as the economy erodes, a home baking boom is having growth spurts. People are forgetting their troubles with sweet treats that don't impact their pocketbook. 

Speaking of mergers, several trends converge here: not just pinching pennies but the entertaining and stay-at-home trends and the kids learning to cook trend. Our health concerns: if we make it ourselves, we know where it came from. And don't forget the waistline-watching trend: cupcakes are portion-controlled little luxuries. 

The updated kitchen trend allows the at-home-chef (another trend) to watch the celebrity chefs reality show trend. I thought chef meant professional cook? 

Apparently there's a growth spurt of high quality, bake-at-home mixes. Is watching "Leave It To Beaver" next as we don our aprons? 

Seriously, being a trend watcher is fun and profitable. I wonder if Warren Buffett is buying shares of Duncan Hines® next? We're bombarded by trends – online, on television, in our own lives. Which trend can you leverage now in your business?

Is Branding Dead?

My favorite quote from Steven Howard's "Corporate Image Management: A Marketing Discipline for the 21st Century." 

You Are A Brand
I don't know who you are.
I don't know your company.
I don't know what your company stands for.
I don't know your company's customers.
I don't know your company's record.
I don't know your company's reputation.
Now what is it you want to sell me?

I think this is the best argument for building your brand!

Please write a comment and follow me on Twitter!  


Starbucks Promise

Since Starbucks opened I have liked the company: their environments, promotion design, accessibility, coffee and fair practices. They are all about a positive experience and a respite in your hectic day.

Since my last few visits, I'm putting them on notice. Despite poetic signage about daybreak breakfasts, it was not a positive experience. 

The restroom mirror had a splash of gunk plastered on it and looked as though it had been there for a while. Don't their employees ever visit the restroom? I know it gets heavy use but cleanliness in a coffee shop is not a frill – it's basic. 

Branding is a promise, not just about advertising but every small detail of customer service.

I still like the staff service and love that everywhere I go they are never more than a few blocks away. Their brochures are cool and their drinks are hot. Is that enough? 

What's happened to their management? Am I the only one noticing?


The Economy Sucks. My Marketing Sings

I usually don't comment on the economy. I'm not an expert. And when it comes to stocks, I can't help but hear my dad whispering in my ear ... "hold it." That may not be advice that applies on the street today however I'm still holding on. If Warren Buffet's buying, I'm not selling. I hope it pans out.

But onto more immediate matters and those I have expertise in: marketing and branding. 

I'm seeing that companies (both small businesses and our clients) have a huge choice to make. Hunker down and worry – or move forward boldly. Hide – or forge into marketing and brand building as never before. I favor the latter. 

After 9/11, my design firm was hit hard. I restructured and never looked back. It was a good decision. My brand was somewhat known and it held up even when I moved from design to the broader spectrum of marketing, where I felt I could have greater impact.

The classic example of Coca Cola always comes up (not that I'm a soda drinker) but if CC were to lose all its production facilities, it could rebuild. If it lost all brand recognition, it would not survive.

It's ironic that many small companies bet the ranch on tangibles (office furniture, computers) without investing in their brands. They say they can't afford it.  

I'm all for infrastructure. The computers must work efficiently and the office must look good. That's basic. It's actually all part of your brand . . . employee satisfaction, efficiency and the customer experience. Your brand is infrastructure too – how the world views you, how they experience you.

Differentiate or Die
The truth is you can't afford not to invest in marketing. It's a lesson I learned in the many years of working with Fortune 500s. They spend big time on marketing as we know. You can't cross the street without being bombarded by marketing messages. And they get a huge return on investment.

I'm expanding my marketing right now and I know several of my clients will also. As a result, I'm confident we'll weather the storms. We'll be there when the ranks thin out. And when the upturn comes, we'll be in a great position to mine for gold.

I hope you plan to join me. Be visible. It's a great time for marketing!

Tell us how you plan to survive the economic winds of change.


NY Enterprise Report

Some of you may not know Rob Levin's excellent publication "The New York Enterprise Report." It is free to qualified small business owners and provides information, columns, articles and case studies in print and online formats.

I have been a contributor. To see my articles online go to:

Use the search for ReportLinks

The first article speaks to how your employees can build your brand and the second to how your employees pose risks and can take your business down.

Polar opposites: it wasn't exactly planned that way but now that I see them together ....

Welcoming your comments.


Calling All Association Executives

I will be speaking on Monday, September 29th at 12 noon at the New York Society of Association Executives (NYSAE). We will be discussing Web 2.0 and how nonprofit organizations can take advantage of the new online tools including social networking. 

For a description and to register, type this link in your browser:

Go to events and then to monthly luncheons. 

Hope to see you there!


Marketing During Hard Times

Just returned from a week at "The World's Greatest Marketing Seminar" in Los Angeles. What a wow! 

Incredible to see how top marketers are using technologies, new and old, to become wealthy. I'm personally excited by teleseminars, home shopping TV, membership sites, nonprofit and corporate partnerships, video, and combining SEO tools with your brand. I will be studying these techniques in depth with the masters so I can use in them my own business and channel them to my clients. This isn't MBA learning. It's today's frontier in business.

One finding that reinforces my mission is that entrepreneurs spend 25% of energy on products/services, 65% on operations and 10% on marketing. Not helpful when the going is tough. For a winning ticket, spend 25% on products/services, 10% on operations and 65% on marketing.  

The bottom line: show up for your business. Stay fresh. Find new systems to automate marketing and make marketing a daily habit.  


Practical Strategies for Managing Risk

Hi Everyone, 

I'm teaching a class at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in the Creative Enterprise Ownership Division, open to all. 

You are invited to join me.

4 sessions: October 15, 22,29, November 5
6:20 pm - 9:10 pm.  $135.

Practical Strategies for Managing Risk

Entrepreneurs face constant challenges ranging from competition, market trends, technology, finance and management to the political/economic landscape. To succeed, we need to adapt and grow, solve problems quickly, juggle multiple priorities, and satisfy customer demands. Explore ways to turn problems into opportunities through innovative approaches to launching and operating a business today. We examine the warning signs and learn fail-safe factors to help business thrive.

Visit FIT and search for CEO 029


Breville and I Mix It Up: What Can We Learn From A Blender?

For those who read my last posting (see the entry below), I did get my blender set up immediately due to urgent need. The instructions were simple and readable. No, I'm not being paid by Breville to say all this, honest. I'm just impressed by this innovative Australian company. The blender works great and I've had the best smoothies ever. But I couldn't toss the box because I love the marketing message printed on its side, so here it is.

Counter thinking.

Breville was founded on a simple philosophy.
Make products that people will use.
And enjoy using. Every day. If possible.
Don't make art.
Don't make showpieces.
Make things better.
Listen to what people say when they like them.
And what they say when they don't.
This thinking led to the first juicer to juice whole fruit.
The first espresso machine that extracted more
crema from every bean.
The first blender that turned ice, into, well, snow.
And an impressive collection of international design awards.
Over 70 years.
More than 200 products.
90 patents.
And a nagging feeling that we can still do better.
We call it Counter Thinking.

Don't you just love it? Real dialogue. Real products. Good design.
Wow! Can't we all use some of this in our business?

Bed, Bath & Beyond – Service With A Smile

My blender broke last week.

If you don't feel that's earth-shattering news, I completely understand. But let me explain. Some time ago my nutritionist, Dana Reed, recommended a protein shake. At first I resisted but now I'm completely addicted to the perfect shake every morning. So in my world a blender breakdown is a crisis. 

It wasn't long ago that I purchased this blender but apparently the appliance wasn't up to my daily smoothie drill and suffered from burnout. Heartbroken, I went to dispose of it (yes, I grow attached to shiny, inanimate objects) when I remembered I had purchased it at Bed, Bath & Beyond. 

I trotted down to BB&B, all set to complain about my appliance's short life span. I handed over my machine and the online printout showing the blender's price, noting I didn't have the receipt. No matter – with no questions asked, the customer service rep printed out a credit for $149.99 plus tax. Why would you shop anywhere else with phenomenal customer service like that? Yay! Why can't every store be like Bed, Bath & Beyond?

Triumphantly, I sped to the blender section. Now, what to buy? Common sense dictated not the same brand – although I was fond of its stainless steel look. Why hadn't I read the reviews?

I had a well-known brand in my cart when I noticed the Breville. Its simple, solid design seduced me. After all, I'm a designer at heart (before I became a marketer, I owned a graphic design firm). The Breville was impressive – not just the appliance – but the packaging too. Of course, it was the priciest one $199.99. Isn't that the price of a washing machine in the suburbs? I'm so high maintenance. 

I commandeered a salesperson to explain the different machines' features. I was in love. Needless to say, the Breville and I went home together. I also bought a Breville immersion blender for all the soups I will make. Besides I had 20% off BB&B coupons. Shopping is fun! Now the part I hate most – set up. 

PS: What can a small business owner learn from this story? Here's the golden nugget. I will patronize the business that makes my life easy. I will buy from the people who give me added value, not just coupons (they were a nice bonus) but more important, unconditional guarantees. BB&B reduced the risk of buying – and I bought twice as much. 

They showed me that they value me as a customer. They are not just transactional – for the moment. They are supportive of the relationship. This is a long-term strategy. 

They were also "nice". Wouldn't your rather do business with people who are "nice"? That's good customer service. And it's rare today so people who apply these rules stand apart. Ask yourself, how can I make my clients' transactions more comfortable? How can I reduce their risk so they are more likely to buy? Think about what's in it for them and then add more. Create an irresistible offer and watch how people respond.


Tame the Office Beast

Lately many of my clients confide they are too overwhelmed by clutter to even think about marketing. Think of the business lost, if marketing won't fit into your daily work life.

I'm told executives lose an hour a day looking for lost items – that's a shocking 250 hours a year. Wouldn't those hours go a long way toward new business development? How would your business thrive?

Stop reading if you're perfectly organized ...
Otherwise, it makes sense to set up some basic office systems. Here are some ideas for starters.

Time Management
A computer calendar makes it simple to schedule recurring events (the gym, monthly networking meetings), as well as follow ups for important prospects.

Next, slot in the big rocks (time-eating meetings, work projects, personal business). What's great about the computer calendar is you can view the week's landscape. And you can slice in errands as you schedule travel to various parts of town. 

Designating in-the-office and on-the-go days is helpful, as well as project work days and client days. Fill in smaller slots with phone calls and admin tasks. Schedule a half hour for lunch every day to actually take a break (how novel). 

A computer calendar helps you log important due dates (estimated taxes) and holidays (so you actually take a day off like other people). One half day for planning each week goes a long way toward eliminating those awful days putting out fires. (What will you actually do when there's no drama?)

The Dreaded To Do List
You all have a Master List (a running list of all projects and tasks) and a prioritized daily To Do List, right? Try working on only one to three major projects each day, scheduling larger chunks of uninterrupted time (I did say uninterrupted time). Greater focus really pays off in knocking out those longer projects. It's more reality-based so you'll feel accomplished, not frustrated, as you check items off. 

Clutter Busting 
If you create a regular time slot to take care of papers, mail, email, and other routine  tasks, they don't pile up so you can actually use your holidays and weekends for relaxation and fun (what a concept). I limit these sessions to one to two hours daily, although when things pile up, it may be worthwhile to schedule a catch-up day.

Those Nasty Financial Chores
I schedule a half-day per month for my bookkeeper who pays my business and personal bills, does tax preparation and reconciles bank statements. It's so worth it. It would take me a full day (she's more efficient than I) and tax preparation is a breeze as it's all done in Quickbooks. We're switching to online bill payment. I use the time she's in my office to do all those annoying administrative tasks and calls. All my bills arrive at the beginning of the month so we never pay late. Credit card companies will gladly move your due dates. 

Tickle Me
I've set up an everyday file sorter (sometimes called a tickler file) with days of the month and months of the year (purchased at an office supply store). Great for event notices and time based tasks. I add a note on my calendar for safety.  

Put A Little Color into Your Life
I create color-coded hot files for active projects. Particularly good for you right-brain creative types but left-brainers like these, too. Green folders for financial, blue for personal, red for marketing, and purple for NYU teaching. So much nicer than piles of papers everywhere, and folders are less likely to be lost. Oh, don't forget to label the folders with specific project names. I'm just saying ...

We coach and train on Time Management, Work Process and we've added hands-on Professional Organizing to our services. Now marketing fits in daily and it's a happier world, one business at a time.


What's an Unconference?

A quick word to let you know about Podcamp NYC 2.0, the second annual unconference all about podcasting, taking place in Brooklyn on Friday, April 25th and April 26th. I will be speaking – so stay tuned for more details. But – what exactly is an unconference?

Podcamp is an unconference because the participants call the shots. Attendance is free and any attendee can decide to be a featured speaker. I will be speaking there and hope to see you. You can share your innovative ideas providing value to the audience and visibility to you. Or you can simply attend to listen and learn about podcasting. Be there. 


Success Factors for a Retail Launch

When consulting with an entrepreneur opening a retail shop, I began outlining critical success factors. Many of the strategies here also translate when operating non-retail companies too.

Store Design
• First impressions are extremely important. Is the look and feel upscale or down-home, modern or rustic? Is it inviting, neat and clean. This is especially critical when handling food. Is your shop clutter free, allowing easy passage through the aisles?

• Outdoor signage must be visible from a distance. Does in-store signage direct customers so they can easily find their way around? Are prices clearly visible? You don’t want sales staff constantly interrupted when they are problem solving for customers.

• Make sure the point-of-purchase displays help sell your products tastefully? Do they support the store environment or add to the clutter?

• Create a guest book or a box with preprinted cards so visitors can sign up to be notified of special promotions or events.

• Synergy among partners is essential. It's important that partners divide the work where each takes on an independent role according to their expertise. An example of divisions might be product/vendor dealer, finance/business development director, retail floor/staff manager.

• Align work practices, retail processes, and inventory control through proven systems and software.

• Train your team so everyone is doing things the same way. A staff going in different directions is disruptive to your business and your customers.

• Private label and own-brand merchandise are becoming a greater part of market share. Look for new product opportunities.

Brand Experience
• Create a positive brand experience every time your customer walks in the door.

• Invent a memorable name and an eye-catching brand personality.

• Develop a consistent brand look so all materials (signage, stationery, business card, and promotion) tie together via color, logo, images, typography and style.

• Opening party: Wait until all kinks are ironed out and you have proper lead-time to promote the event. Invite influentials, business leaders, media, friends and family. It’s not just who shows up that is important – but how they spread positive word of mouth to the community.

• Take pictures and videotape testimonials to show later in a store video loop.

• Hold periodic store events. Sponsor charity events. Post them on a news box on your home page.

• Get to know the local media. Send them new products and stories.

Marketing & Promotion
• Sourcing and pricing products are most critical. Monitor customer feedback; your customers will tell you what they want.
Collaborate with suppliers. Correct course as you go.

• Marketing is an ongoing process. Outreach never stops. It’s essential to success in the marketplace.

• Know your ideal client and your target markets. Focus on catering products and services to them.

• Research your competition so you can distinguish yourself. Developing a sustainable competitive advantage is the single most important marketing consideration.

• Get clear about your key messages. What are the most important things you want everyone to know about you?

• Leverage referral sources and influentials: cultivate people with authority and expertise in your industry and community, who can direct others to you.

• Use a mix of marketing media campaigns to reach your customers and develop visibility: flyers, direct mail postcards, catalogs, and special promotions to name a few.

• Create an interactive web site to encourage community. An online presence is most effective in tandem with a store (bricks and clicks).

• Become active in forums, blogs, write articles and white papers, and create a newsletter to encourage viral marketing.

• Create your own blog and sell sponsored links to vendors to cover costs of marketing expenses.

• Get close to your customers. Create a reminders program where customers inform you of important birthdays and anniversaries. Send them a postcard in advance so it’s easy for them to remember to buy from you.

Customer Service
• Sales staff are your brand ambassadors. Are they friendly and helpful or snooty and intimidating? Do they know how to cross sell and up sell gracefully, without pressure.

• Repeat business is your lifeline. It’s eight times more costly to get a new customer than to retain a current one. How are you encouraging customer retention?

Being strategic can make the difference between radical success and supreme failure. Opening and operating a retail store is not just a venture, it’s an adventure. Make it a fruitful one. Here’s to your success.