Brand, Reputation, and Delusion

July 3, 2011

If you are working on growing your business, you can expect to hear talk about the importance of building a brand.  There are branding companies, branding consultants, branding experts, branding strategists, and so on and so on.  All of them want to help you grow your business by creating a brand presence in the mind of your current and future customers.

'I'm sorry, my reputation usually precedes me.' - An Andertoons Cartoon
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The ICK Factor

October 22, 2009

ICK - Incongruent Customer KnowledgeMillions of articles and blogs have been written on the topic of branding.  Google the word  ‘branding’ and you will get over 33 million hits! 

Unfortunately too often, businesses spend lots of money creating and protecting their marketing message and not enough time protecting the value of their brand. 

Too often we forget that there is a  difference between our marketing message and our brand.  Put simply, our marketing message is what we say about our company, product or services; but, the true measure of our brand is what OTHERS think about us when they hear our name.  So in a real sense, our true brand value is our company’s image as reflected by Customer Knowledge.    Customers form impressions of what our company truly is based on what we say – our marketing message – and what we do – our actions. When they do not match up you get ICK – Incongruent Customer Knowledge.

When what you do and what you say are congruent, customers believe in what you say  and you.  This adds to your company’s value.  At other times the message and actions are not congruent and no matter how much time and money you spend touting your product or service, your ICK factor is a BIG negative thus detracting from your company’s value.

Making Promises to employees, partners, customers, and investors.

Promises can take many forms.  They may reflect what the company does directly, or they may be the promises shared in the marketing message, the Annual Report, or  employee communications.  But however the message is delivered,  when you promise a specific result, people expect to get it.

+ Keeping the promise = a strong POSITIVE brand reaction.

– Breaking the promise = a weakened brand perspective – just ICK!

Did you know that Your Marketing Message itself can create a negative feeling of ICK and deplete your brand?

Here are a few examples of mistakes I see too often when I log on to Twitter:

  • Messages or Mentions offering to “Grow my Twitter” following from ‘experts’ who have less followers than I do.  (If the whole point of a quality following is to understand who you are talking to, you’d think they’d look.)
  • Branded corporate sites that only talk about their products and never share or engage with the community to add value.
  • People who send ‘conversational’ welcome messages via a DM but are not following you.  If you take the time to respond back – only to find that they are not following you – the message is highly incongruent.  Not only are you not really welcome – they can not even hear you!  Major ICK!

But incongruence and ICK are not unique to social media.

Very often we share statements of our company’s values on websites, in our annual report, or even in our advertising.  But do our actions reflect those values? 

Here is an example of a corporate statement by Halliburton Corporation.  Did you read it?  Sounds great!  Now read this article from ABC news: Victim: Gang-Rape Cover-Up by U.S., Halliburton/KBR (KBR Told Victim She Could Lose Her Job If She Sought Help After Being Raped, She Says.)  Do the actions of Halliburton/KBR match their words? 

Customer Service: The Hall of Shame

But it is not just Halliburton (the company everyone seems to love to hate these days) that falls into the ICK.  Check the marketing message of almost any company and you will find statements talking about how important their customers are and how well they serve them.  Yet, as you can see in the image at right, some well respected national brands have made the Customer Service Hall of Shame as reflected in this article from MSN Money.  Whether it’s due to internal processes, lack of resources, declining quality, or just a general lack of customer sensitivity, these are firms that need to really pay close attention to their ICK factor.

So how do you avoid ICK?

Avoiding ICK, should be the goal of any company that places any level of value on its brand.  Here are some basic common sense guides to follow:

  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. EVER.
  • Establish Corporate Values that are shared across your company and base your processes, decisions, and actions on keeping true to those values.
  • When you make a mistake – or something unexpected happens – and it will sooner or later- don’t place blame – just own up to it and FIX it.  Taking responsibility and working to fix the problem is a great way to minimize the ICK Factor when the unavoidable happens.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

ICK Factor, Incongruent Customer Knowledge (TM)  2009 – CorePurpose, Inc.

Copyright – Joan Koerber-Walker/CorePurpose, Inc. 2009

The Best Marketing Strategy Ever

October 10, 2009

AZ Ent logoA business owner asked me the other day, what was the best marketing strategy ever?  I did not have to think very long.  To me, the answer is Southwest Airlines in its early days.   In a day when Southwest was competing with industry giants to launch a new airline, they broke through and succeeded by demonstrating that they were the airline you wanted to fly by doing the following things.

  1. They offered an affordable and valuable service.
  2. They put their employees first and let them know it.  The Employees became their marketing ambassadors on EVERY flight and at every gate.
  3. They empowered their employees to do what ever it took to make the customer experience both safe and enjoyable.  The employees felt good about being part of Southwest and that spirit was contagious.
  4. They got people fired up about the service they were offering and encouraged them to tell a friend.  They mastered the art of the testimonial!

Combining silly slogans by peppy flight attendants with little things like birthday cards or free drink coupons, and ads that made you smile, Southwest integrated the customer experience into every step of what they did and how they marketed.  The rest, as they say, was entrepreneurial history. One friend told another – and they told someone else.  People chose to fly the fledgling airline to see what all the buzz was about.  They liked the experience, kept on flying, and kept on telling their friends.

I’ve been thinking about this – the creating of an experience  – a lot lately for two reasons. 

One is a company that I am hoping to become much more involved with.  They have an offering that will revolutionize their category in a way similar to what Southwest did to the airline industry.  As I look at what would be needed to do just that, I start to get really excited.  (You’ll have to stay tuned to learn more about this project….it’s a developing story.)

AZEC09_Logo-(2)But the other project, is one that I can tell you all about.  It’s the Fourth Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference or AZEC09.  For the last 4 years, I have worked with the team at OTEF (The Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship Foundation) to provide entrepreneurial training, support, and inspiration to at risk populations here in Arizona.  Programs have included helping women, who have faced huge challenges, start over and launch a new business.   Teens got a fresh start in their own entrepreneurial venture and now, through Blue Print for Survival, displaced workers are finding a new purpose through their own businesses.  The funding raised each year at AZEC09 makes this possible!

So, how could I apply what I have learned through the  years from studying Southwest make AZEC09 better?

See full size imageValuable and Affordable –  at $99 for early registration and $150 for the regular conference rate, it is probably one of the best full day conference values you can find.  And the learning you can gain is invaluable from both the speakers and the people you meet.

See full size imageOur team is first rate from our sponsors and community partners to our volunteers.  It is important that we make the experience as good for them as possible so that they will make the conference great for our guests.

See full size imageWe need to make sure that all of our team understands, this is not just another conference.  It is an opportunity to make a difference in our businesses AND our community all at the same time.

See full size imageAnd it’s time to get folks fired up and to do something different to make things more fun.  So I asked out great partners at the Phoenix Business Journal for help and they came through with  the perfect gift  to give away at different times throughout the day – I love presents!  Another friend has gotten into the spirit of this and is also helping to bring other surprises.  So now, on top of great speakers, the opportunity to connect with thought leaders, and some of the top exciting entrepreneurs around we have presents to.  How cool is that!

So all I needed was a few testimonials.  I went through the conference file and asked friends for permission to share their words with you.  Here are a few…

“Dollar for dollar the 2008 Arizona Entrepreneur’s Conference was the best money and time spent on any conference.  Period!  I’m expecting even more on Nov 12th 2009!”

   Eric Keosky-Smith  CEO, Co-Founder, Shwaag ™

“… this is the best educational and networking opportunity in the state…. It’s an opportunity to network with and learn from people who have achieved entrepreneurial successes in health care, digital media, sustainability and cloud computing PLUS lots of ideas shared by CEOs on the front lines who are making things work!. ”

   Pat Elliott, Western Marketing Group

See, the thing that makes testimonials from delighted customers the best marketing strategy ever is that what THEY say matters most.

So, I have a favor to ask.  If you have attended one of the last three Arizona Entrepreneurship Conferences, leave me a comment and share your experience. And if you are coming this year, tell me why so we can work on making sure you have the best experience ever!

I’ll be watching for your ideas!

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

P.S. Remember those great Sponsors and  Community Partners I mentioned.  Here is who they are:

The Business Journal Phoenix and Infusionsoft – who have generously stepped up EVERY year, as well as Mashable, Microsoft, Affordable Image, The Town of Gilbert, Metro Studios, Pour Masters, Gangplank, Stealthmode Partners, CorePurpose, Brent Spore, Chuck Reynolds, The Performance Magazine, and  The Social Media, PLUS our great friends and community partners at The Knight Center for Digital Media, EO, TiE-Arizona, and The Arizona Technology Council, Social Media Club Phoenix, The Phoenix Innovation Foundation, PodCampAZ.

One Twitter User’s Guide to House Cleaning

September 17, 2009

Is your Twitter account starting to look like the house of that little old man down the road who never weeds his yard and never throws anything out?

Is it full of clutter, empty boxes, things that are broken, or that you never use.

Do you still have people on your Christmas Card List that  sent you a card in 1995 and you have not heard from since?

Perhaps when you read this, you may think I have  taken a page from Oscar the Grouch, but there are times when you need to bite the bullet and Clean Your House.

For me, the whole point of Twitter is to build a community of people to exchange ideas with, keep in touch with, and engage in conversation.  If you follow one or more of my profiles on Twitter or follow my blogs you know that I believe that solid relationships – business or otherwise start with conversations.

If you are using Twitter for business, another important factor comes into play.  Understanding who you are talking to and trying to determine if they are even listening.

It’s like the newspaper.  They may have a million subscribers – but how many actually read it cover to cover every day.  For all you know your ad or letter to the editor is the happy pad for a new puppy, the bottom of the bird cage, or in a soggy pile at the bottom of the driveway.  If you do not take the time to understand who is actually reading the papers, your time and the money you money spent in putting your message there ends up where the paper eventually does – in the trash.

So a few months after starting to use Twitter, it was time to clean house. I set up a system for a clean up day once per month.  Here is what I do.

1.  Run my Twitter account through TwitChuck.  This free service will scan your follower base for known spammers and Chuck Them Out.  You can even WHACK them with a block if you are feeling particularly grouchy. (Pay attention when you do this – TwitChuck uses an algorithm and it is not perfect.  Look at the Avatars to see if you recognize real friends that may have gotten scooped up with the trash.)

2.  Run my Twitter account through Twitter Karma (another free service) and look at it with 2 different sorts:

First I sort by Only Following to see the people who are not interested in what I have to say.  These are people who I may have followed after a keyword search or who followed me and unfollowed later.  For what ever reason – my message is following on deaf ears.

Then I CHECK ALL using a convenient button, and then un check sources I want to follow anyway like news services or information sources that often do not follow back. Then another magic button – to unfollow – and they are gone.

I then wait a few minutes for the program to do its work and then do a sort again, this time looking at the last time tweeted.  Sorting this way I can see the people who are not there anymore.  Same process – check the boxes of anyone who has not been there for over 30 days and unfollow them.

After all – the lights may be on – but nobody’s home to visit with.

This is also a good time to do a quick scan of Avatars for folks with no clothes on, the same pic on multiple accounts – a BOT characteristic, or other disreputable folks you may not want to be associated with,

A FEW CAVEATS: 1) Twitter Karma works best with FireFox.  2)I have been told not to use this after you get to 8,000 friends as it can hang up. 3) When looking at last time Tweeted – pay attention to tweets that come up as a NEVER tweeted. Some of these are spammers – but others are people who protect your tweets.  Be careful not to WHACK your Great Aunt Sally.   She may cut you out of The Will.

Your first time can be painful

The first time you do a major cleaning, it can be a bit painful.  You just might find that you have quite a bit of clutter to throw away.  When you do, be prepared.   YOUR FOLLOWER COUNT WILL GO DOWN.  Many accounts will automatically unfollow you when you unfollow them.  So if this is important to you, please don’t call me screaming.

It also takes a little time at first; but after the first time, it goes much faster.  It only takes me about an hour total  to clean up all five of my accounts.

Plus – with a little daily dusting – BLOCKING spammers that send me DMs or @ replies, the process gets that much faster each month.

So what’s the ROI on cleaning house?

Remember my goal is sharing quality conversations with people.  Here are the benefits I have found…

  1. My twitter spam – that daily annoyance – has gone way down in my stream.
  2. When I talk to my publisher or marketing team, I can share with them our count of “ACTIVE Followers”.  They may not be listening all the time, but at least we know they are picking up the paper and MIGHT actually read   the message.
  3. My brand is less likely to be tarnished by porn or other garbage when others look at who I am following or who follows me – and PEOPLE do!

So if your goal is to engage in conversations that have value on Twitter – and to spend your time (which is money – don’t ever forget it) sharing your message with people who might actually listen and respond back, then it might be time to Clean Your House.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

The greatest message will have no impact…

September 15, 2009

The greatest message in the world will have no impact if no one is listening.  This is not exactly a new concept.  But if you forget it, you can get into BIG trouble.

You may have heard the famous riddle:j0438604[1]

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

While often attributed to Irish Philosopher George Berkeley, this is more likely a paraphrase of Berkeley’s writings from his musings in A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, that delved into knowledge and perception.

From Berkeley’s perspective,

“To be is to be perceived” .

In the language of the great philosophers if his day, the maxim was “Esse est percipi“.

In the language of today’s business we might say …

If you are not perceived to exist, you do not exist.

But what does this have to do with business and messaging?

Actually quite a bit.  Berkeley may have been writing in a time before any of our businesses where even a glimmer, but when you apply his words to the goal of growing a business, they are profound.

“If you have a great MESSAGE and no one is around to hear it – does your message matter?

The answer is Probably Not.  Too often I have seen companies fail.  It was not because they did not have a great product or service – they did.  They failed for the simple reason that the right audience NEVER GOT THE MESSAGE.  Since the message never reached the customer. employee, partner, or investor, the perception of value was not created – and the company did not get what they needed – more sales, more productive employees, better partnerships, or investment dollars.  Eventually, the companies failed to achieve their goals or in some cases disappeared completely.

In business, perception IS reality

Equally important is how your target audience perceives your message or business.  You may have the best service or widget in the  world, but if aren’t aware of it and perceive the value to THEM, you are just whistling into the wind.

So if Audience and Perception are that important …

Here are some tips for finding an audience and helping to shape perception.

  1. Know who your audience is. Unless you have universal product – EVERYONE is not your market.  Define them first!
  2. Understand where they hang out. This is the first rule of both messaging and networking.  If you are singing like a bird in an empty forest.  You will have very little impact.  No one will hear you. Use media – both social and traditional wisely.  Unless you have unlimited funds, look at the demographics of the audience BEFORE you invest your time and money there.
  3. Share a message that provides value to the listener. Do your homework on what your target audience is hoping to learn, to solve, to fix.  Build your message around how your product or service will do just that.
  4. Never forget – the perceptions AND words of others will always be more powerful than your own. You can spend millions and have your reputation destroyed when unhappy customers, employees, or partners raise their voice, just as your fame can be assured when enthusiastic customers, employees, or partners spread the word.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker