Archive for September, 2011

Making Small Talk

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

office_crew_talks_super_bowl_5The top three fatal errors you can make as a leader are:

  1. Failing to leverage your market position
  2. Negotiating with irrational forces
  3. Not articulating your vision with vigor

This “don’t” checklist works for business, consumer and personal brands. The deadly dangerous part is this: you have to be right with all three rules if you want to succeed in your category. Do one wrong and your headed for #epicfail or a descent to 99¢ Only Stores (or whatever your version of marketing Hades is).

You may recall this paragraph from a prior post of mine. I dissected the Republican presidential candidates on their bizarre embrace of death as a vote-getting strategy.

Death remains a bizarre platform because conservative Republicans /Tea Partiers like to tout their “pro-life” agenda, which seems only to cover women who are pregnant, and not when they (or anyone else) is not.

Republican debate audiences get weirder and weirder in their outbursts. A few weeks ago they were applauding for death to anyone who cannot afford health insurance. This last week in Florida, the audience booed a solider serving in Iraq – a man who is sacrificing his safety to ensure our freedom. The sticking point is that he is gay. As of last week he can be gay in the military. Actually he was gay before the DADT rule changed, but he would have lost his right to serve had he not waited before he sent in his video question to the candidates.

Candidate Rick Santorum addressed the audience with an ”abstinence for all” rule. “There should be no sex in the military,” he pronounced. Once again, the anti-life theme: no sex, no babies. At least they are consistent. (By the way, if you don’t know Santorum, just Google him.)

The Democratic Party is even weirder. US President Obama insists on not leading the nation. He compromises until he is so bendy, he could star in Cirque de Soleil. His is reaching so far, that he is now promoting a job plan that was fundamentally the Republican agenda until he took it, and now they reject it!

Why is this first son (as nearly all US Presidents are) so taken with hand-me-downs? Has he had a speech where he hasn’t credited Republicans with half or more of the ideas he propounds?

This couldn’t be bipartisanship – that’s when the two sides work together. Leaders have to learn when irrational forces – like speculation, such as the mob fever that caused the tech boom bust or the mortgage for all turned foreclosure for many – is simply not a sustainable trajectory.

Yet President Obama seems bent on self-congratulations that while ineffective, he has been wildly reaching across the chasm to the people who have said – out loud –that they will do anything to take down his presidency. This is not a handshake across the aisle; this is a free fall into the abyss.

Why did he fail to leverage his political capital and instead play so long a delay game, that he gave the Tea Party its grand entrance in the congressional elections two years after he won his job?

And, why does the president only use the bully pulpit and call for our attention and action, when the airwaves and our brains have been stocked full of whatever the Republicans have propounded?

For example, last week Republican Michele Bachmann came out against ALL taxes! Now that’s both completely irrational and very compelling! Even the third of the country that is so impoverished they can’t buy food much less pay taxes swoon when they hear there is a magical pot of gold that will pay for roads, schools, police, firefighters and the salaries of congressional representatives – like Michele Bachmann!

We had to wait for Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban to say that as billionaires they want to pay more taxes? That’s what President Obama waited for before he recommended that secretaries pay a lower tax rate than their hedge fund bosses?

Leaders must seize the day, everyday. They don’t have time for small talk about big problems. They don’t suffer fools.

It’s time to shout or get out.

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Day of the Dead

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

ripThe top three fatal mistakes you can make in marketing are:

  1. Underrating your competition (and failing to create a competitive advantage)
  2. Misunderstanding what your target market (audience) will buy and why
  3. Failing to repeatedly deliver a crisp, clear, consistent and compelling message

This “don’t” checklist works for business, consumer and personal brands. The deadly dangerous part is this: you have to be right with all three rules if you want to win your category. Do one wrong and you’re headed for #epicfail or a descent to Dollar Tree (or whatever your version of marketing Hades is).

As the US presidential race kicks into high gear, consider how death itself became the central and winning branding element for the Republican and Tea Parties. This is true for candidates’ personal brands and collectively the parties’ brands.

Here are just a few of dozens of examples that are teachable moments for us (and the Democratic Party, which we take on next week).

1. Death is a competitive advantage

When leading Republican candidate for president Rick Perry touts Texas’ executioners as being the most prolific in the land, he clearly beats the competition. Texas leads the nation in killing death row prisoners by a landslide. It alone is responsible for 38% of all executions in the US. Texas governor Perry leads in the national polls.

2. Death connects positively to the target audience

Ron Paul, the leading vote getter in the California Republican straw poll, won it by a landside with a whopping 45% of the vote. In fact, Ron Paul is a medical doctor, but he promotes a strict interpretation of personal responsibility even in the face of someone he cherishes dying of a treatable illness. His campaign manager Kent Snyder just died of pneumonia because Snyder was unable to afford medical insurance on his salary, and the Ron Paul campaign wouldn’t provide it.

Paul is now famous for promoting death from illness or accident as a “personal freedom.” At the televised Ronald Reagan library debate, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Paul, “What should we do if a thirty year old man gets a life-threatening illness and doesn’t have health insurance?” Paul replied: “Freedom is all about taking your own risk.” Blitzer then asked, “Should society let him die?”  The studio audience yelled “yeah” and applauded.

3. Death as a crisp, clear, and consistent message

Running strong with governors and other key endorsers, Republican candidate Mitt Romney put death in the crosshairs two ways. He proposes an increase in the military budget for war and defense, paid for by decreasing the budget for Medicare and Social Security, the safety nets that many seniors need to survive in their declining years.

Romney stays on message. Even though:

1. Fifty-four four- and three-star generals and flag officers sent a letter to Congress in support of a $58 billion budget “for civilian tools of international development and diplomacy.” There was not support for more military spending from these experts.

2. The Economist reports the US already accounts for 60% of all global spending on military. By contrast China ranks second in the world’s biggest defense budgets, spending just $76 billion compared to $693 billion in the US budget.

Death takes a holiday

Perhaps if the Republican and Tea Parties take the executive branch in the next elections, we will celebrate the Mexican holiday: Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.

Don’t dilute the message

Of course, we first heard these parties test the use of death as a way to rouse voters against healthcare coverage. Republican-Tea Party stars Michele Bachman and Sarah Palin first attacked the administration’s insurance plan because they said it contained “death panels” in its charter. They purported that the bill included a provision that doctors tell grandma she isn’t entitled to healthcare and therefore would be left to die.

No slinging around those death panels threats now. Why? Because death turned out to be the winning issue with voters, even those who are living in their cars, waiting in food pantry lines and lining up for MASH-style medical care in major cities across the country. These impoverished people, along with the middle-class and wealth-class, seem convinced that death is the answer to life’s current economic problems.

Marketers aren’t ethicists. We are superb at:

  1. Positioning against competition
  2. Leveraging what drives consumers to buy, and
  3. Crafting messages that consistently and relentlessly drive a sustainable, persuasive campaign

Right now, the Republican Party and the Tea Party are doing a superb job. They seem to know what the Democratic Party doesn’t. The brand death sells big today in America, and there’s lots of ways to incorporate it into policy statements.

Next week: what can we learn from the flailing Democratic Party!

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Follow the Bouncing Ball

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

57013434_640If you’ve job hopped a lot, you’re in really good company. The average person changes jobs 11 times within 32 years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hence, your average tenure at one workplace will be slightly below three years, as reported by economist Chuck Pierret who has followed 10,000 workers since 1979.

So much for the gold watch or golden parachute! Because you will frequently bounce from one job to another, you’re more likely to win an Olympic gold medal than vest in a company’s pension plan.  You have heard this before. You are “You, Inc.” You alone have the responsibility to prepare yourself for your future. And, it will be a bumpy ride.

You’re going to need personal resilience and strong relationships to help you between jobs, more than any other skills or abilities that can land you a job.

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the capacity to cope with traumatic and stressful events in life. This includes the ability to feel the pain of loss, and not curl up and want to die. Almost all change is loss at some level, so resilience is a life skill.

Supportive relationships are key to resilience. Meaningful, trusted friendships are something to build now, before anything happens. If you only reach out to us when you hit bottom and the pizza boxes are blocking the door, we might not work very hard to come in and console you. And, 500 virtual Facebook friends won’t do you much good. You need real friends. If you can’t remember, friends are people you see or speak to, share experiences with and meet for a meal.

Resilience also means you can manage strong feelings and resist impulses. When you feel wronged, it’s okay to indulge a revenge fantasy. It’s not okay to act on that fantasy. You may have sacrificed your personal life, worked long hours, or gone to extraordinary lengths to keep a project or client on track. That doesn’t mean you can throw any of that in the face of the person who’s letting you go. Reframe your dedication or contribution as simply those which you needed to do in order to keep the job as long as you did.

You also need to maintain a positive view of yourself, despite what’s happening on the job, or off it. Only a calm mind allows you to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out. Control your self-talk. Speak to yourself in encouraging words. Celebrate small triumphs on the way back up.

The great thing about expecting endings is that you can prepare for them. All great business leaders start with the end in mind. From the onset, they ponder various ways they might exit their going concerns: sell, franchise, move online, move offshore, and so on.

Lance Armstrong starts every race with the end in mind. He doesn’t get on his bike and wonder where the finish line is. He doesn’t hope the race will never end.

Choose an icon you like – maybe a big red bouncing ball or a sleek yellow road bike. Keep it where you can see it. You just might need a reminder of what you are likely to face, so you can prepare and succeed.

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The Unhappy Tax

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

unhappybusinessAre you one of the unhappy employees costing the US economy $300 billion in lost productivity each year?

Workers are producing less quantity and producing less quality since the onset of the new American depression, a mental health epidemic whose onset is now tracked to January 2008 by both Gallop and Harvard researchers.

Employees sit woodenly at their desks, listlessly stand behind store counters and artfully dodge ringing phones at a call center, because they aren’t emotionally engaged in their company’s survival. That’s per a 2010 study by James K. Harter. In other words, a significant number of workers are cheating the time clock by doing little more than showing up. They also do a good job of not showing up. Absences, sick days, and other leave time are consistent problems.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which tracks 1,000 people of all ages and various pay grades, employees report feeling angry, frustrated, and otherwise unmotivated.

No wonder Labor Day is celebrated with a day off.

While the usual suspects, such as teens and seniors working for survival wages at fast food and other “service” jobs are angry, they are joined by an unlikely segment of the workforce.

So-called knowledge workers: engineers, scientists, and senior managers also report feeling disgust, disdain and frustration with their employers, according to researchers and authors of The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business school and Steven Kramer.

Reviewing 64,000 specific workday events among 238 professionals in seven companies, Amabile and Kramer pinpointed the single greatest determinant of depressed workers, and perhaps the depressed economy.

The issue is “not making progress” on meaningful work. That inability to take projects and move them forward is the single most defeating, mind-numbing and perhaps heartbreaking experience on the job.

Turns out it’s not salary, bonuses, promotions, titles or any of the wage, benefits or perquisites that raise the spirits and work ethic of the American worker. It’s the access to tools and systems – and freedom from the hassles and other impediments to progress – that empower employees and set free their desire to create or produce.

So here’s what you can do. The next time you’re having a difficult time going to work or staying at your job, think about your happiness. Identify the best project you have and make a case to your supervisor or colleagues for what it means to the bottom line. Then, ask for what you need – or be resourceful and find what you need.

When you understand that you get ahead by doing great work, and you focus on creating the pathway to doing it, you get more than a checkmark on your to-do list. You get back your pride, well-being and maybe even your smile.

If it’s good for you and good for your company, thanks. You’re doing good for the whole economy and that’s good for all of us.

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