Brand Awareness: Becoming Another Kleenex

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In today’s world of marketing, if you are not marketing online, you are missing a very big boat. Marketing is now a science with logistics and parameters that were largely unheard of just a few years ago. However, that is not the case with the notion of brand awareness. The auto industry was probably the biggest contributor to the idea that brand loyalty could be utilized to sell more products. That industry is over 120 years old, and brand awareness became a fashionable tool in marketing automobiles by the early 1900s.

Brand awareness, of course, is the extent to which a name, label, logo, catch phrase, jingle, or another identifier that is associated with a brand, a specific product, or a company is easily recognized by customers. Brand awareness may be old news, but the Internet has taken the concept to new heights, becoming far more measurable and quantifiable as part of an overall marketing strategy.

There are many examples of successful brand awareness implementation. It has always been primarily produced by effective advertising. The most dramatically successful advertising campaign is the one where your product becomes synonymous with the product category. For many years now, a facial tissue has been called a Kleenex regardless of what actual brand was used. This is the same result we see when some people refer to any sport-utility vehicle as a Jeep and any cola drink as a Coke.

The objective in advertising or any brand awareness marketing endeavor is not simply to get your product name or image in front of the consumer. It is to get the image into the mind of that consumer, so when the buying customer wants a product, he or she wants your product before that of any competitors. Repetitious advertising creates a memory trace that remains and is reinforced with every additional occurrence. Think of mayonnaise, hot dogs, ketchup, beer, and coffee. The odds are pretty good that in each case you thought of a specific brand. It is no coincidence that the biggest selling brands are also among those most heavily advertised in various media.

While a successful advertising campaign can create solid brand awareness, a limiting or cessation of advertising can erase the gains in a remarkably short time. Forty years ago, a steel wool soap pad was known as a Brillo Pad. Today, SOS brand is the big seller. Brillo sometimes doesn’t even get any shelf space, and we must ask when was the last time you saw an ad for Brillo scouring pads? The manufacturer failed to maintain the brand awareness level they had established. A massive advertising campaign by the manufacturers of SOS soap pads was the driving force that changed the landscape.

Advertising remains key to this process, and today the most critical medium for reaching the customer is the Internet. No other medium offers such widespread advantages in both reach and monitoring capacity. With the Internet, you can track how many times your ad has been viewed and how many times it has been clicked on.

Furthermore, social media and blogging have opened up new avenues for tracking your brand’s impact. Programs exist that can tell you how many times your brand has been searched for by a search engine. Others can reveal how many times it has been mentioned in a blog anywhere on the World Wide Web. These “mentions” can be even more critical to brand awareness than page views or clicks because each one may represent an impartial testimony to your product. Even negative discussion tends to reinforce brand awareness. The old saying applies: There is no such thing as bad publicity.

Establish it, reinforce it, and nurture it. Brand awareness can make the difference for you in becoming another brand like Kleenex.

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Remaining Competitive in Business by Attracting Top Talent to Your Organization

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Make no mistake about it: one of the biggest keys that you have regarding remaining competitive in a crowded marketplace isn’t the work that you’re doing, per say. It’s the people who are doing the work in the first place. By attracting top tier talent to your business, you affect the entire enterprise from the top down in a number of positive ways. Thankfully, actually getting the attention of these mythical “perfect” employees is a lot easier than you might think – provided that you keep a few things in mind.

Attracting Talent is One Thing – Keeping Them is Another

Many people believe that attracting top talent to a business is something akin to a sports draft. So long as you throw as much money at a person as possible, they’ll definitely come to work for you, right?

Maybe.

Getting a hugely talented person to work for you is really quite easy. Getting them to stick around is easier said than done. Studies have shown that people are willing to switch jobs not because they’ll make more money in a new position, but because they’ll be happier. According to a report published in the New York Times, when a person’s household income exceeds $75,000 per year, it really does nothing to improve the overall level of satisfaction that they feel. They don’t lead happier, more enjoyable or less stressful lives – at least not as far as money is concerned.

What this means is that if you’re offering a top tier employee $85,000 per year in an environment that they’ll ultimately not fit into versus a competitor who is offering $75,000 per year in a place that they would love to work in, that $10,000 ultimately doesn’t buy you as much leeway as you might think – if it buys you any at all.

Essentially, if you want to remain competitive by attracting top talent to your organization, you have to create the type of organization that top talent actually wants to work for. This means that your company culture needs to be welcoming and enjoyable. Your leadership needs to be more than just people high on the totem pole with fancy job titles – they need to be people worth following. The work that you’re doing needs to be something worth pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into. Whether this means continually rewarding employees for hitting certain productivity goals, profit sharing, a second-to-none benefits package or something else entirely remains to be seen – the answer will vary on a case-by-case basis.

The underlying point is crystal clear, though, – picture the employee you want to attract and make sure that your business is a place where that person might want to work. You essentially do the same thing with your marketing campaigns and buyer personas, so when you start to think of it in those terms it really isn’t that hard at all.

The Snake Eating Its Tail

At that point, attracting top talent to your organization becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. By going out of your way to create the type of company culture and environment that top-tier talent want to work for, you’re in turn creating a better business and ultimately a better product at the exact same time. The competitive advantage that you’ve gained and the quality of the work that you’re turning out then go a long way towards attracting even more hugely talented people to your business, which essentially starts the process all over again.

Making this one decision to shift your focus towards creating the type of business that people can’t help but want to work for creates a snowball effect of positive results for nearly everybody involved. Talented people flock to your organization and don’t even dream of looking anywhere else for a job. Customers become more than satisfied with the work you’re producing as your employees are putting their heart and soul into everything that you do. This, in turn, feeds back into your business by way of increased revenue and profits, creating a situation where literally everyone wins. Doesn’t that sound like the type of environment you’d like to create for yourself?

The Importance of Making Sure That Your Employees Actually Like Each Other

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Make no mistake about it: a business is more important than any one person. A successful business is truly the sum of its parts. It’s a collection of people all working together to form a cohesive whole, helping the business as an entity move forward into the future and accomplish the goals that it has outlined for itself at the same time. Finding the right people to fill the right positions is one important step towards achieving this environment, but it is exactly that – one part. An element that is just as important (but one that far too many business owners fail to pay attention to until it’s far too late) comes from the idea that your employees also have to actually enjoy working with one another if your business is going to succeed the way you want it to.

The Business Consequences of Employees That Don’t Like Each Other

When your employees don’t like one another, it creates a situation where they become disengaged from their environment. This is true regardless of the type of industry that you’re operating in. When employee engagement suffers, nearly every other aspect of your enterprise will as well. Productivity begins to decline. The high level of customer service that you’ve become known for disappears. The individual goals of team members are no longer aligned with the larger corporate goals of your business.

In essence, the entire machine begins to break down. Think of your employees as the engine on a car. Each element is important in its own right, but they’re all working together to act as the force that propels the car forward. When they stop working together, the car doesn’t move – which is exactly what can happen if your employees don’t like each other and if this trend shows no signs of reversing itself anytime soon.

Ways to Improve Employee Relations

Team building exercises like business retreats aren’t just a great way to make sure that you’re working with a team of high-quality employees – it’s also a great opportunity to guarantee that these are high-quality people at the exact same time. Hosting regular events after work with the express intention of increasing relations and improving morale is the type of decision that will pay dividends for years to come.

Employees will begin to get more comfortable with one another and will develop the type of rapport that your business will thrive on. It creates the type of business where employees don’t just take pride in their own work, but in the work of everyone else, too. People want to see each other succeed, making them truly invested in the process. This creates the type of situation where the larger idea of your business benefits as a result.

These are just a few of the reasons why it is so important to make sure that your employees actually like each other. A (cheesy) old saying tells us that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’” – in the world of business, this is very much true. Employees that like each other not only as companions but as people are more willing to help each other when times get tough. They don’t just think about themselves – they think about themselves in the context of a much larger whole. They think about success less in terms of their own careers and more in terms of your business. Talented employees who don’t like the environment that they’re in because of their co-workers essentially accomplish the exact opposite.

Judging a Book by its’ Cover – How People Choose Products Based on Packaging

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Kids and cats seem to have this well figured out. We’ve all seen or experienced first-hand the joy that kids and cats take in taking an “ordinary box” and making that product packaging into the most exciting plaything of all time. What they are instinctively telling us, without truly understanding for themselves, is this: if the packaging sparks the imagination, it almost doesn’t matter what’s inside.

While they may be appreciating the packaging more after the fact, this axiom still holds true when we are making our purchasing decisions. No, we’re not likely looking for packaging we can turn into a rocket ship, but we are looking for something that reflects our values and distinguishes itself from the rest of the products out there. So, what does that mean for those of us who are trying desperately to gain the attention and love of consumers? Well, it means you need to know a few key things about who your consumer is and what they value. Let’s break it down.

People want to buy things that reflect and confirm how they see themselves in the world. How do you as a producer know what that means? Well, you might do a lot of research, or you might already know who your demographic is because they are you! For this example, let’s assume the latter. You are a 32-year-old, college-educated female living in Northern California who is passionate about organic farming, conservation, and veganism. You’ve designed a line of shoes using recycled materials that are vegan-friendly.

Are you going to shove these walking works of art into a plain brown cardboard box with a line drawing of the shoes and a white label showing the color and size like every other shoe out there? No, of course not!

You’ll likely package the shoes in an attractive, reusable bag with your logo and an image of someone wearing your shoes prominently displayed in colors of greens and browns to evoke feelings of calm and earthiness. You’ll tell a story right on the bag about how you came upon your idea for these shoes and your vision for your company and the world. You’ll let people know that the shoes and the bag are handmade in a certified Fair Labor facility powered solely by the wind and the sun, using sustainable methods and responsibly-sourced materials that are animal-friendly. You’ll even tell them that the ink used to print the bag and tags is made from vegetable products and not fossil fuels. Basically, you’ll appeal to the sensibilities of your ideal buyer who shares your values.

When that person chooses your product, it’s because it confirms their beliefs in themselves, that they are passionate about protecting the environment and they despise oppressive and exploitative labor. Not only will the shoes become a part of their identity, but so will the bag that they will use every day to carry their groceries and other items. They will take pride in knowing that they did not place another shoebox and extraneous paper products into the great landfills of the world.

This bag among the sea of sameness will be what gets your customers’ attention. The story you tell on that packaging will make them love your product. Don’t let your packaging be an afterthought, make it an integral part of your product.

Get Your Business Headed in the Right Direction in 2016

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The new year is a time of many things. Oftentimes, people look at it as a way to get a “fresh start” in their personal lives and work towards the goals they may have lost sight of in the previous year. The same concept can hold true for the world of business, but only if you approach things from the right angle. There are a number of important steps that you should take at the beginning of a new year to make sure that your business is headed in the right direction – both literally and figuratively.

Identify Where the Goal Posts are in the First Place

One of the most important steps to take at the start of any new year involves developing a plan for the days, weeks, and months ahead. Simply put, January is the perfect time to start developing both a short-term and a long-term strategy to identify where you see your company going and, more importantly, how it’s going to get there. During this period, it is always important to develop a list of priorities for you to hit along the way. You’ll also have to assess your own sense of accountability and put a process in place to manage these priorities as time marches on.

Reassess Your View of Your Own Organization

Another key step to take at the start of a new year involves taking a long, hard look at your company as it stands today and compare it both to where you started and where you hope to end up. Businesses change as they mature – this isn’t something that you can avoid. The key is that you should always be changing in a positive way. Where do you stand on January 1 in relation to your goals compared to where you stood in December of the previous year? What are the strengths of your business and how have they changed over time? What are your current weaknesses as they relate to your ultimate strategy and what can you do to turn them into positive attributes in the short-term? This allows you to create a realistic picture of your business as a whole, and more importantly, create a realistic view of the future.

Who Are Your Current Leaders?

In the world of business, leaders aren’t necessarily created – they’re born. If you take a natural leader and drop them into an unfamiliar environment, they will eventually rise to the top. They can’t help it. One of the great opportunities that the new year presents involves looking within and identifying the people who may have proven themselves to be exactly this type of leader during the last year. Key leadership, in relation to these individuals, is of paramount importance when it comes to both creating the type of company culture that you need and setting the tone for the priorities that you will attempt to seize in the next year and beyond. A leader isn’t an asset if you don’t know that they’re there in the first place, so always look for those who have proven themselves to help align your organization with your own strategy and gain valuable insight into the steps you should be taking moving forward.

These are just a few of the important steps that you should be taking at the start of a new year to get your business headed in the right direction. Waning from the intended path is natural, particularly as a company reaches maturity. The new year represents an excellent opportunity to take stock of how far you’ve come and to make sure that you’re still headed in the direction that you hoped you would be when you got into this business in the first place.

Sensitivity to People’s Needs

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Doing business involves a product or service and a buyer and seller. In large part, it also involves the formation of relationships. The fact that some of them are quite temporary does not diminish the importance of these buyer-seller relationships. The objective, of course, is to limit the number of temporary relationships and increase those that are ongoing. Repeat customers are intrinsically valuable for the success of a business.

Naturally, these relationships should be as positive as possible. To do this effectively, you need to be sensitive to the needs and desires of the individual. Never forget that your customers are, first and foremost, individuals with personal needs.

In years past, some companies dealt only sporadically, if at all, with this issue, trusting fully in their products to supply what the customer needed. But, the relative success and failure of many such businesses have proven this outmoded attitude to be counter-productive.

Indeed, an entire industry has grown up around the concept of customer relationship management (CRM). Today, software is available from many sources. This software can make it far easier to manage all customer contacts, enhancing the relationship to the utmost, producing greater sales through better communication. However, it still comes down to the one-on-one relationship and your awareness in general, as well as specific customer needs.

Customer Satisfaction

As has always been the case, a successful appreciation for the needs of your customers is driven by sensitivity–treating people as people rather than simply as customers. Since a business’ customer contacts are most frequently engaged in by employees rather than management, a company’s employees and their training are of paramount importance in achieving better customer interaction.

A company is in a far better position for growth when its employees are made aware that their overall performance will be judged by their customer interaction–the levels of satisfaction those clients have achieved. After all, customer satisfaction is the most effective means of achieving customer retention, a far more efficient way to increase sales than continually reaching out only for new customers.

One key element in developing satisfied customers is to ensure that they deal with satisfied employees who present a positive picture of the company. A satisfied employee is a valuable tool. This is especially true when your employees are dealing with customer complaints. When a customer is most upset about something is when your employee’s “soft skills” are the most critical. Soft skills involve the ability to address customer complaints with politeness and de-escalation of the client’s emotional responses.

This brings to mind the movie, The Negotiator, where Samuel L. Jackson’s character tells another negotiator, “Never say ‘no’ to a hostage taker.” He then tricks the other guy into saying no several times, each time castigating him for his ineptitude. As humorous as this scene is, it also highlights the importance of a skillful use of words and an awareness for the needs of your counterpart in conversation. While your employee is not going to cause someone’s death, she just might cause a lost sale. Making certain that every client conversation concludes with a positive perception can result not only in short term sales but also in a greater number of positive stories being shared among new potential customers.

With businesses becoming ever more international in scope, many organizations are increasingly investing in staff training to enhance cultural sensitivity. Cultural, political, religious, and linguistic differences do exist as potential barriers, and learning to navigate this new international landscape is an important ingredient for future growth.

Never underestimate the power of positive relationships. Sensitivity to customer needs is key to a better public perception of your business.

Data Security in 2016 and Beyond: What Your Business NEEDS To Be Prepared For

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We now live in an era where the vast majority of our personal and professional lives are playing out on the Internet. This is particularly true in terms of business, where cloud-based collaboration tools and hosting providers make it easier than ever to access our mission-critical documents from any location on the planet provided you have an active Web connection at the time. Because of the increased amount of faith that we’re putting into the digital realm, data security is of the utmost importance. There are a few key issues regarding data security that your business NEEDS to be prepared for moving forward.

Passwords are Going Away

Simple passwords have long been considered by experts to be woefully inadequate as far as actual data security. This is especially true now that everything from bank account statements to medical records are being stored electronically. All it would take is someone with a little knowledge and the right hardware to guess even the most stringent of passwords, which is why the practice is poised to go away for good sooner rather than later. Many businesses are turning towards other options, like SSH-key authentication, which uses a security key in conjunction with encryption to increase the safety of information stored digitally.

With SSH-key authentication, all data is essentially scrambled via encryption algorithms both in transit and at rest. In order to “decode” that information and gain access to the data inside, a computer needs the appropriate SSH verification key. Without that key, even someone who had the password for an account would essentially find all of the data unreadable, which is why this is one security trend that is increasing in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Security as a Service

One of the main obstacles regarding maintaining security in the digital world has to do with the massive effort required on behalf of business owners. Maintaining security patches, upgrading and monitoring network-based security hardware and more can be a full-time job for an IT employee – if you have an IT employee to begin with. Instead of constantly engaging in the uphill battle of trying to maintain security on their own, many businesses are turning towards third-party security as a service for this very reason.

Under this type of situation, you would pay a third-party company to take over complete control of your network security infrastructure. They would be responsible for auditing, disaster recovery, real-time detection, maintaining security patches and more – giving you complete peace of mind as a business owner knowing that A) you are as protected as you can be against cyber threats and B) you don’t have to devote a huge amount of time, money, and energy in order to get to that place.

Device Policies

Allowing employees to bring their own devices to work is increasingly common, but it is not without its disadvantages. If an employee accesses mission-critical information on their personal iPhone and then that device is stolen from them, the data they were accessing is potentially compromised. This is one of the many reasons why businesses are enacting strict device enforcement policies governing what types of personal devices can be used at work, what information can be accessed on them and what happens to that device if an employee suddenly becomes an ex-employee for whatever reason.

These are just a few of the important factors to consider about data security in 2016 and beyond. The Internet and technology, in general, brings with it a host of different benefits for businesses that can’t be ignored, but there is a seedy underbelly to the proceedings as well if you’re not careful. The key to cyber safety involves knowing what type of battle you’re engaging with and making smart, actionable decisions in a proactive way.