Archive for June, 2012

Is Your Brand Hiding in Plain Sight?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

man-hiding-face1Recently I judged a brand personality competition for Newsweek/Daily Beast’s special issue on the top 100 Digital Brands, along with 4 other branding experts.  Beyond my vote, the editor asked for an answer to a hot button question for people who are just launching their brands. That might be you.

Does the Internet need more self-promotion? On the whole, does it serve a collective good? Here’s what I had to say to Newsweek/DailyBeast.

What I know is that many of the best personal brands haven’t yet surfaced on the web. Sure, there’s branding stars among us today. However, much like a frontrunner shooting out at the head of the pack in a horserace, most early entrants who shot up to the top of the branding consciousness will soon fade as the distance demands unending endurance. Perhaps like smart gamblers, today’s big personal brands will take their winnings off the table, and move on to something else (perhaps a Fiji island or a venture capital firm).

Why? Personal brands require a lot of personal time. After all, these folks are expressing themselves by creating content, developing relationships and leveraging their audience. Personal brands require a demanding mix of continuity in perspective along with fresh, new material.

Today’s thought leader will be tomorrow’s Wikipedia reference. Just like Justin Bieber is today’s tween-idol Donny Osmond.

That is the huge difference between corporate brands like Coke, my alma mater, Apple and Disneyland, and personal brands like Perez Hilton, Evan Williams and Daniel Tosh. If it weren’t true, then Sean Connery would still be James Bond. Even Matt Damon can’t stay with the Bourne franchise. People outgrow their current interests, their audiences and the work they set out to do.

That leaves plenty of room for you, if you don’t stay hiding in plain sight.

Take a look at the Digital 100 categories and figure out what you want to be.

Revolutionary

Opinionist

Navigator

Personality

Visionary

Evangelist

Angel

Innovator

Virologist

Builder

The best personal brands have yet to surface online. Be one.

Maybe next time, I’ll be nominating YOU.

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5 Tasks Every Successful Employee Masters

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

4325988676_yield3_xlargeNo matter what you do, you are going to be paid better if you take on these five additional tasks in your company. In addition, performing these tasks is akin to getting a work insurance policy, that is: play these five roles and guarantee your status as the most valuable member of your team.

1. Trainer

Learn something that you can teach other people. It could be a hard skill like creating WordPress blogs or a soft skill like writing thank you letters. It may or may not be directly connected to your job description, but having something that adds value – and gives you something special that you can teach other people – means you are capable of helping your organization grow in a way no one else can. Plus, if there was ever a most valuable player on a team, it’s the person who is capable of learning and helping others do the same.

2. Mentor

Assess what you do well, and find someone who could use guidance and encouragement from you. That might mean you reach outside your company to someone younger, perhaps someone seeking a job like yours. There are lots of interns, new college graduates, and older workers transitioning to new careers who could use a friendly ear, a strong shoulder and a pat on the back. Consider committing 30 minutes a week to mentor. It’s good career karma. It also makes you mature because you learn how to lead by influencing others’ growth, which may be the most important skill in business.

3. Accountability Partner

Set some stretch goals and share them with another person who also wants to manage their career trajectory. Do a mind-map to figure out how many steps there are on your career ladder, and what skills, education, experiences, and people you’ll need to access or acquire. Put dates to the milestones and decide what you’ll use to motivate and reward yourself. Then set up a regular accountability meeting every 2 weeks to keep yourself on track. If there were one single skill that matters more than any other in a volatile economy, it’s the ability to learn to manage and motivate yourself with a little help from someone who cares about your commitments.

4. Friend

Listen with compassion to people who confide in you. Be gentle and kind to someone who is having a tough time. Let a buddy vent while you take the information to the vault. Don’t gossip. Open your heart and see the best in people who are acting a little nuts, stubborn or stuck. Look them in the eye and let them know they matter. Avoid giving advice unless you’re asked. Go out of your way to include someone who is a little lonely or new in town. The greatest managers are people who know that people matter, and have practice making other people feel safe and appreciated.

5. Evangelist

Put in a good word for other people whenever you can. At any gathering or networking event, think about whom you could connect to someone you meet, for the benefit of both people.  Learn to speak positively about the attributes of someone you respect, and how to make introductions that set the tone for a positive match. Take the time to learn about other people – whether it’s someone you meet on a bus or your accountant. Then, tell other people about them. When you learn to advocate for others, you are just one step away from learning how to advocate for yourself.

When your personal brand involves playing these five roles in your business or career, you generate so much positive PR for yourself. You become a team player, a leader, and a positive-thinking, reliable, motivated and motivating employee.

No matter what you “do” to earn your paycheck, you’ll put yourself at the top of the list for promotions, special projects and pay raises. Plus, you’ll really like who you become.  And so will we. After all, we all prefer to work with people we like. Like you.

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Lose Your Manners, Lose Your Job

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

mailBecause the US post office is trying to stay alive amidst threats of major cuts from Congress, and with postage being so expensive even at bulk rates: I took advantage of USPS’ new EDDM program, in an effort to see if my company could be an even better corporate citizen.

EDDM allows you to help postal workers keep their jobs by doing their work. In other words, you print, sort and package your direct mail so it’s ready to deliver to each carrier’s route. All the post office “workers” need to do is put it in the right cubbyhole for each carrier. Other than being “verified” by a “supervisor” who takes your money for postage, it bypasses the “post office staff” pretty much. All you need is the mail-delivering post people on each route to put the mail in mailboxes.

The planning and execution on your end is harder than it sounds, involving a ridiculous mount of photocopies, rubber bands, and paper cuts on your intern’s hands. Sorry Mel.

Why?

We tried EDDM out locally for one client in Los Angeles, because I wanted to experience the process before we recommended to clients that they do this themselves, or to themselves.  We started out optimistically. The USPS TV commercials show a pleasant, fit, uniformed, cartoon postman and a happy soundtrack. Just print and package your mail, and a guy who looks a lot like the Maytag repairman practically dances as he delivers it.

As a person and a citizen, I’ve been worrying about Congress’ threat to layoff 150,000 postal workers. I had a notion that postal workers are earnest people trying to do a tedious job well in order to support their families and have the dignity of a good, civil service job.

Ha! Boy, was I wrong!

I invite you to visit the 90064 US post office on Sepulveda and Exposition in West Los Angeles. It’s probably operated similarly to one in your local area, so start there.

Rude! Mean! Lazy! Really, really fat! No one has washed their hair or uniform shirt in weeks, maybe months. We watched them THROW letters and parcels around the back like it was Frisbee golf. They spoke in some mutant kind of slang at each other. They stood around and talked about getting on disability. They were grumbling, mumbling, filthy people who could not read or add (at least so they said as they glazed over the forms – (that we downloaded from the USPS website).

Manners and impressions

Maybe I’m naïve but I was dumbstruck. Reality bites that TV commercial of the happy, helpful postman.

The post woman “helping” at the counter started at us as if we had landed in a space ship. “We don’t do that here,” she drawled as we showed up smiling with our neat little packets of mail and typed forms. “No one here can help you,” she scowled at us when we made our case for taking our mail. Four postal workers in an hour tried to avoid us. Closed the door on us. Made us stand in line three times.

Repeat this for three days in a row and you get the idea about what I think should happen at the post office.

On our last “visit” we just left the mail, neatly stacked with our check on top of it. The “supervisor” told us no one could do anything with it but if we insisted, she would stick in the back.

The next day, I called and was put on hold for 35 minutes. Then I called back. The person who answered snorted at me:

“You waited for 35 minutes? You should be nicer to us. That’s what you need to do.”

No, I am not going to romance the postal workers. Not going to bring them brownies. We started with smiles. We ended with :-O faces.

Yes, I have reported this. Yes, it’s not much different than the really, awful terrible no service we’re all getting everywhere.

Yes, if you lose your manners, you should lose your job.

Because here’s the thing. I vote with my money and I vote with my ballot. And, so should you. Let’s stop giving our business to any establishment or institution that doesn’t deliver on the fundamentals. Like manners.

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I’m Sorry I Can’t Help You

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

csrIKEA would be a master of the “I’m sorry …” approach to customer no-service. It’s tough to get it all wrong like IKEA does, but a global brand can only try.

Here are the five principles of really terrible, awful, no-good brand management.

#1: Produce a catalog and website that advertises products not in stock most of the time, with no way to order them online or by phone.

#2: Stock items in very small quantities in the retail stores so that from the moment the consumer checks stock online, it’s going to be gone when the consumer arrives to buy it.

#3: Don’t have a system for consumers to buy an item ahead of time and then pick it up.

#4: Program a voicemail system that takes several hours to negotiate until an actual live person says, “I’m sorry I can’t help you.”

#5: Produce a lot of marketing so as many consumers as possible can have this experience.

There are a lot of retail brands that try their best to be stellar examples of equally really terrible, awful, no-good brand management. This list would include, but isn’t limited to Time Warner Cable, Staples, Best Buy, CVS Pharmacy, Home Depot, VCA Animal Hospital franchises, Wells Fargo, Yelp and whatever is on your list.

Why does this matter to those of us who are engaged in intentional personal branding? Because these experiences inure you to what reasonable service really is – and how important it is for you to provide a positive, engaging and fruitful experience for each prospect, customer and referral source.

It’s a neuron thing

There is this natural human condition (actually it’s your brain’s mirror neurons) that steers you toward doing what you see done. For example, you watch a football player celebrate a touchdown and you raise your arms and dance around just like you made it into the end zone from your bar stool.

We experience this mimicry in our daily lives, given that reality television has set all time low standards for human performance. You can watch family members making disgusting, disrespectful comments to each other (Kardashians), drunk people going to the bathroom in places that aren’t the bathroom (Jersey Shore), and homely aging women pumping all kinds of goo into their lips and faces while scheming to skewer so-called friends (Housewives of Anywhere). If you’re not careful, your life will look a whole lot like theirs – because your brain is recording these responses to life events as reasonable.

In commerce, the truly really terrible, awful, no-good brand management that you experience everyday can make you think that you too can offer, “I’m sorry but I can’t help you” no-service and keep your job, your business and your clients.

Check yourself

If you are already slipping down that slope, you feel that the “I’m sorry” is a really courteous alternative to actually doing the job.

This is a little like a student I have in Global Marketing this semester. From her absences during the first three class meetings, it’s clear she somehow believes that the alternative to failing the course is not doing the work plus a whole litany of “I’m sorry because” lines: a death in the family in another country, roommate problems, lost computer, and “forgetting” to attach assignments to her emails.

Check again

If you feel the “I’m sorry” line wears really thin with each successive utterance, you are in the small fraction of people who will succeed in business, because you are maintaining reasonable standards of behavior. That’s the bar now: reasonable service, which can make you a millionaire. Exceptional service plus dogged perseverance could make you a billionaire.

So, thumbs down to all the brands that are bringing down the bar that leads to our giving and getting positive, engaging and fruitful experiences.

When you see that you make it tough on yourself by making it tough for us: you might have more to say than “I’m sorry.”

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