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Humility, Sweet Humility

Posted in Best Practices, Eric's Posts, Executive Insights, Morningstar Communications Updates

Especially now, humility is something all executives need – and an extra large helping at that.

Look at the news these days. So many stories focus on individuals who believe rules aren’t for them and they can do no wrong. Have they never heard of servant leadership?

At Morningstar Communications, we frequently help executives “craft and deliver” persuasive presentations. Some of these presentations are for sales opportunities, while others target internal or industry audiences.

These presentations share common ground by emphasizing that each leader has a story to tell. The goal of each presentation is to make sure recipients think what the leader wants them to think, and do what the leader wants them to do.

Each executive I have the pleasure of coaching is terrific. You don’t become a C-level executive without both the skill and will for excellence. However, very few top executives have received coaching on the fundamentals of how to create and deliver persuasive presentations. They know their stuff, but they don’t all know how to tell their story for maximum impact.

And even fewer embrace the power of humility.

Bob Marcusse, President and CEO at the Kansas City Area Development Council, gets it. Bob’s team at KCADC, one of our long-term clients, is responsible for the regional economic development activities for Kansas City. They build and promote its regional brand, as well as put a spotlight on talent recruitment and targeted industry clusters in order to help businesses move here or expand. Kansas City is characterized by the “aw shucks” Midwestern spirit. No one summarizes this sentiment better than Bob. He once said, “If Kansas City was on the shores of Lake Superior, we’d probably rebrand it as ‘Lake Pretty Good.’”

N2Growth Blog

I find the most confident C-level executives get this. Big time. They know they’ve got the goods and they’re self-confident enough not to let their ego get in their way.

These executives understand the “mirror vs. window” metaphor as it relates to praise or criticism and continuously incorporate it into their work.

Nobody likes an egomaniac. Nobody goes the extra mile for a person they don’t like or respect. Competency and leadership skills are now simply "entry fees" to become a great executive. In order to win the hearts and minds of the people who matter most, the very best executives incorporate authentic humility within their presentations. We all relate better to someone who is “like us” and humility helps bridge the chasm that often exists between top execs and the rest of the team.

There are proven presentation techniques to incorporate within persuasive presentations, including an appropriate use of self-effacing humor, acknowledging current events and particular body language and movements. As always, the key to effectively utilizing humility is authenticity: People will see right through a smokescreen, especially if it’s gratuitous or superficial.

But for those confident executives, embrace humility and you’ll get others to move mountains for you.

Onward and upward!

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Comments Off Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

The Changing Face of Marketing

Posted in Best Practices, Executive Insights, Online Marketing, Sheri's Posts

One of my favorite sources for business news, Harvard Business Review (HBR), ran an entire feature on the changing face of marketing in the August/September edition, “The New Basics of Marketing.” The lead to this special section says: “We can’t think of another discipline that has evolved so quickly. Tools and strategies that were cutting edge just a few years ago are fast becoming obsolete.” What are the big game changers? Digital, data and a focus on the total customer experience.

In the online edition, this week’s marketing story digs into the new rise of the CMO. It addresses the many C-suite titles that reflect businesses’ focus on the key relationship marketing plays in strengthening bonds between the company and its customers. Importantly, it highlights the need for marketing to connect with the entire organization and that everyone in the organization needs to market the business. This is something we see work incredibly well for our clients that make internal alignment a priority. In its recent study, HBR found companies with excellent marketing capabilities outperform their peers by 2-3x in revenue growth.

Adweek’s June 30 edition underscored the digital aspects of this sweeping change, citing their own survey indicating CMOs believe online media will account for three quarters of marketing budgets within five years and analytics skills will become a core competency. At the same time, it indicated only 1 percent of CMOs are responsible for digital innovation. The function primarily lies with the CEO (35%), CTOs (23%) and CIOs (22%), underscoring the point HBR makes about marketing permeating the business.

The key to success for today’s marketers is translating the wealth of knowledge from data into actionable insights. Insights to help position your company, products and services in a meaningful way for your customers. Insights that drive your content creation and delivery, so customers receive the information when and how they want it, whether the channel is digital or traditional. Insights to guide the creation of a satisfying – or better yet, delightful – customer experience regardless of the customer’s tenure with your brand.

Obviously, I’m oversimplifying here. There’s so much more that goes into creating a successful marketing program. In fact, I encourage all marketers to pick up the latest edition of HBR and dig into it.

SJs Blog Photo
Comments Off Posted on by Sheri Johnson

Building Your Brand, in Three Simple Quotes

Posted in Best Practices, Eric's Posts, Executive Insights, Morningstar Communications Updates
quotes about power 210589 2

I have several upcoming speaking engagements (University of Kansas, Society for Marketing Professional Services and The KC Chamber, to name a few) all focused on brand building. Brand building isn’t really that hard to do, but it takes commitment, time, strategic discipline, message clarity and multi-channel integration. After practicing public relations and strategic integrated communications for nearly 40 years, I often find that Mark Twain got it right when he said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

In today’s world, I believe you can insert “blog post” or “email” or “speech” where Twain said “letter.” It is in that spirit I share three simple yet profound quotes that, at their core, are the three fundamental elements of brand building.

“Do good, and get caught.”

We all know what happens when we do bad… We tend to get caught. How can you always get “caught” doing the right thing? There’s an art to it, and a fine line to never cross. “Oh, well, the ONLY reason ABC did that was to win points.” Avoid that by being authentic. Truly help people without an expectation of a direct payback. Be genuine about your passion to help repair the world, an organization or a person.

We all know the phrase, “Your reputation precedes you.” We visit an organization’s website and conduct a search before we meet in-person. Your LinkedIn profile is often a top search result when you Google your own name. If you’re a good person, your authentic reputation works for you. And if you’re a bad person, you not only need to leave town, you probably need to leave the planet. We live in a small, interconnected world today.

Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Do the right thing, authentically and for the right reasons. And get caught. ;)

“You can’t build your reputation on what you’re going to do.”

This is the only quote I have posted in my office. It reminds me — every day — that what we do TODAY makes TOMORROW happen. It’s the cumulative impact of all your deeds that truly define you.

I wish every elected official truly understood that your reputation is formed in your rearview window. Your actions — not your promises — define your reputation.

In America, we “vote” with our feet and our wallets. Not our mouths. So show up. Do something great for all the right reasons. And your reputation will surely follow.

“The best answer is ‘E', all of the above.”

I’m often asked, “So, should we advertise, get publicity, incorporate the info into an upcoming speech, send an email, post via social networks, or simply make targeted phone calls?”

The best answer, is almost always, “’E’, all of the above.” It’s not about you or me. It’s about how people want to get information in today’s world. Pew Research regularly provides updates on the fast changes underway in how people acquire information. Just think about today’s evening newscast. Some people watch it live when it’s broadcast. Some record it to watch later. Still, others go to the station’s website to see the story. And other people only see it if someone in their social network flags it for them.

Here’s another way to think of this: Sally reads the daily paper when it’s delivered to her driveway. Jimmy reads it online. Amanda sees the social link and clicks through. And Peter hears the excerpt on the local NPR station.

When determining which media “channels” to use to disseminate your story, you’ll miss part of your audience if you don’t use them all. Remember, it’s all about “recipient-oriented communications” which essentially mandates it’s what they need to hear, not what you want to say.

My parting advice for this post is what we often refer to as the “Hippocratic Oath” of marketing: Do no harm to the brand. As long as you work every day to do the right thing as you build and strengthen your brand, you will be successful over time.

Onward and upward!!!

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1 Comment Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

Five Keys to Success For Content Marketing

Posted in Best Practices, Executive Insights, Integrated Marketing (IMC), Online Marketing, Sheri's Posts

With content marketing, B2B companies have a tremendous opportunity to position themselves as thought leaders, develop more qualified leads, and ultimately drive sales and increase revenue - especially because only 16 percent of B2B companies currently use content marketing strategies, according to AdAge.

For B2B businesses just starting to think about how content marketing might work for them, here are five tips to get you started:

1. Ensure crystal clear positioning. Buyers today start their searches online, and the only way to make the consideration set is through clarity about your company and your brand.

2. Build a strong list of prospects. Ideally, your prospect list includes more than 3,000 contacts. An effective content marketing program will segment, draw in and help qualify these prospects into solid leads for your sales team.

3. Constantly create content. Regularly update your website with fresh content you create. Blogging is a great way to achieve this, but don’t overlook other opportunities to add fresh information for prospective buyers, and make sure it’s optimized for search engines.

4. Integrate your website, CRM and marketing automation program. The only way to measure success – tracking and qualifying prospects as they funnel through your system – is to integrate your technology. This helps you customize campaigns, see which contacts interacted with your campaigns, and maintain an accurate history of every touchpoint, so you and your sales team know what is working.

5. Focus on measurement. Constantly improve your content marketing efforts by measuring success. From progressive profiling to lead scoring, you’ll gain a wealth of information on what works, and what ultimately drives purchasing decisions.

With a strategic and well-thought-out approach, B2B companies can begin to take advantage of the powerful results content marketing offers, something consumer companies have successfully leveraged for the last couple of years. Why wait?

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Comments Off Posted on by Sheri Johnson

Nobody Wants to Read Your Email Novel, Says Mashable

Posted in Executive Insights, Susan's Posts, Tips and Tricks

Mashable recently posted an article titled, “Every Email Should Be 5 Sentences or Under. Trust us.”

This piece not only caught my eye, but also captivated my attention, stating, “There’s probably not a professional in America who doesn’t feel like email is taking over his or her life, and who hasn’t spent the better part of an hour crafting an important message.” Sounds familiar. I can relate to this, who can’t?

“No more details are needed that exceed 5 sentences,” the article states. As a detail-conscious person, and a bit of a social butterfly, I’ll admit my emails can get quite lengthy. But who doesn’t want all the details? According to Mashable, I should reconsider and possibly reclassify which details are necessary because, “nobody reads an email that is written like a novel.” All right, I can get on board with that. It makes sense.

Typing on Keyboard

According to Mashable, we can commit to writing shorter emails, but the trick is really sticking to the goal of five sentences. Well-known author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki explains, “Less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time.” There is even a website built to help:, which encourages people to keep it short and to the point.

Personally, I’m willing to give it a shot – but my 5 sentences will have to pay heed to a polite opening line (Surely, “Hi, how are things going?,” doesn’t count for one of my very important 5?) and leave room for some short bullet points as necessary. What are your thoughts? Are you interested in trying this exercise to turn out more efficient emails? Do you welcome more concise emails or do you have concerns about the brevity this encourages? Sound off on

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Comments Off Posted on by Susan Hinds

Growing Your Business Through Content Marketing

Posted in Best Practices, Executive Insights, Integrated Marketing (IMC), Tricia's Posts

My colleague, Hannah Babcock, recently posted an interesting article on marketing automation to the Morningstar Communications Facebook page. AdAge reported only 16 percent of North American b-to-b companies use marketing automation technology, according to a new study by SiriusDecisions. That means there are plenty of opportunities for b-to-b companies to grow in this space.

Marketing automation technology is a key ingredient in a robust content marketing program, which has become increasingly important as the b-to-b buyer journey continues to change, as illustrated in the following HubSpot graphic.

Source: HubSpot

In order to meet the changing needs of b-to-b customers, we’ve found successful companies call upon the following strategies:

• Enhance their traditional marketing and sales
• Create a more robust digital solution
• Adapt a revenue marketing strategy

Use of digital marketing ingrains measurement into your process, allowing you to measure clicks, score leads and take leads through the marketing funnel for the hand off to sales. Revenue marketing leverages content from all channels in the four-channel media model and aligns sales and marketing to fuel growth.

Combined with content, content and more content (at least 3,000 words a month to be exact) these three strategies will help you talk to your customer where, when and how they need in order to move them through the b-to-b sales funnel and ultimately grow your business.

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Comments Off Posted on by Tricia McKim

Opportunity or Interruption?

Posted in Eric's Posts, Executive Insights

When there's a knock on the door, is it an opportunity or an interruption? We're all faced with this question at some point, some of us more often then others. You receive a new biz call, have a new project cross your plate, hear from a recruiter about a job opportunity, or are asked to sit on a board or volunteer. All of these things can be seen as either an opportunity or an interruption based on your goals and current activities. The struggle is often in determining where the "knock" falls.

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Is this an opportunity or an interruption at the door?

Sometimes, only time will tell if a knock on your door is an opportunity or interruption. I've found the following story illustrates this point best.

In olden days, a wife died in childbirth. 15 years later, the dad and orphan son now spend all of their days together, barely eeking out a living by farming.

One day, across the fence, the dad's neighbor laments to the single father: “How sad for your son to grow up all alone." The Dad replied, "Could be a good thing, could be a bad thing...only time will tell."

Soon, a solitary horse appeared, and immediately befriended the boy. The neighbor said, “What a wonderful playmate for your son. The horse helps him with the chores, and they are fast friends. Isn't this a terrific thing?” The Dad replied, again, "Could be a good thing, could be a bad thing...only time will tell."

Several months later, while riding the horse, a snake startled the horse, throwing the boy off and fracturing his leg. The neighbor said, “How tragic. Now your boy will be a cripple the rest of his life." And, as you now expect, the dad replied, “Could be a good thing, could be a bad thing...only time will tell."

That next Spring, the King's army was canvassing the country, rounding up all of the able-bodied men to go off to war. The neighbor said, “How fortunate that your boy wasn't selected due to his bad leg." And, one more time, the Dad said, "could be a good thing, could be a bad thing...only time will tell."

The moral of this tale is simple: We don't always know -- in the moment -- just exactly how to put current events in context.

But over time, we gain clarity.

Decisions in real-time

However, we don't always have the luxury of time. The pace of today's world mandates we make quick decisions.

Various sources report the average person makes between 3,000 and 25,000 “decisions” each day. Some are mundane (where to sit in the restaurant). Some are essential. The challenge for all of us is to put each decision in the context of the myriad of other options and responsibilities we face each day.

The world goes on and on, and we all must find ways to determine if each knock is an interruption or an opportunity. I wish you good luck in choosing!

Onward and upward.

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Comments Off Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

Building Audience Personas

Posted in Executive Insights, Integrated Marketing (IMC), Tricia's Posts

In his book, “[What’s the Future] of Business? Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences,” author Brian Solis states:

“Without understanding what matters to customers and why, without learning their behavior or decision-making cycles, and without empathy, we cannot create a meaningful and engaging customer experience.”

In order to move customers to action, we as communicators need to get inside their minds and hearts, and speak to them in a language that resonates. I’ve found building audience personas is an effective strategy for gaining audience insights, gleaning what’s important to them and guiding key message development.

So, what's included in an effective audience persona? At Morningstar Communications, we look at a mix of factors:

       • Demographics
       • Work life and responsibilities
       • What’s important to the individual
       • How he or she perceives the organization

By filling in the answers to these factors, and pairing them with information gleaned straight from those who matter most to the business, we gain the information needed to create impactful personas that guide our messaging and strategy.

Interested in learning more? On May 15, KC PR consultant and former Morningstarian Matt Tidwell, APR, and myself will present on strategic planning and building audience personas at KC/IABC's professional development luncheon. Join us as we dive further into personas and their role in key messaging and execution.

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Comments Off Posted on by Tricia McKim

The Case for Culture

Posted in Best Practices, Executive Insights, Sheri's Posts

Several of our clients are focused on improving their corporate culture right now. It’s something that deserves more attention, because the right culture can become a competitive differentiator in today’s world.

Our client, Hallmark Business Connections, works with leading companies to create a culture of enrichment in their corporations. The team there believes that and enriched work culture, where the values and goals of the company align with that of the individual, makes for a more successful business. And statistics prove it.

One of the keys to creating a culture that benefits the employee and the business is ensuring associates understand the vision and goals of the organization, and know how their work rolls up into the bigger picture. I think organizations sometimes struggle with this. They need to not only define its vision and goals, but also communicate them in such a way that they are relevant and embraced by the team. I recently found a great PowerPoint from Netflix via Harvard Business Review that provides an impressive example of how to crystalize this for employees.

A critical point in the Netflix presentation focuses on finding and keeping the right talent, and ensuring they are empowered to do their jobs. Empowered employees are happier, more productive and more engaged. Because they like their job, they treat customers and clients better, which ends up creating a more positive brand experience. In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, organizations with engaged employees and customers experienced a 240 percent increase in performance-related business outcomes compared to those with disengaged audiences. So ask yourself: Does your culture work?

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Comments Off Posted on by Sheri Johnson

You Do NOT Own Your Brand

Posted in Eric's Posts, Executive Insights
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How was the service?
Two co-workers go to the same nice restaurant on the same evening. They order the same meal from the same waiter. All identical, except their perceptions. When asked, "How was the service?" Mary replied: "I felt like a queen. The service was exceptional. They whisked my salad plate away when I didn't even notice, and refilled my water glass all of the time. She even refolded my napkin when I got up to use the restroom!"   

Now, listen to Sally: "The service was oppressive. I barely finished my salad when they rushed the plate away. They had the audacity to refill my water glass while I was still holding it. And frankly, I don't want anyone else touching my napkin after I begin to use it."

Who's right? Obviously, they both are. We don't own our brands: our brands are "owned" by the people who matter most to us. Perception is reality. If "they" think you provided excellent service, you did. If "they" think it's over-the-top and way too much, well, then you're not really providing excellent service to that person.

Your brand truly lives in the six inches between the ears of the people who matter most to you. What they think and say, is, in fact, your actual brand.

I smile when someone describes themselves as THE brand manager for an organization. Nope. Once again, its all about "recipient-oriented communications." Its all about what they think, not just what we want them to think.

An organization's brand is built through the totality of each person's experience. Every "touchpoint" (to cite brand speak) or interaction builds towards an inevitable conclusion: "When I think of ABC, here's what I think."

It's that simple. It's also that hard to "manage."

People vote in America with their feet and their wallets. It's actions -- not talk -- that truly defines us. We may consider ourselves charitable, but when you add it all up, does the reality mesh with your perception? Or, we may think to ourselves that we don't eat out very often, that is until you look back and you had lunch or dinner at a restaurant "only" 17 times last month.

Do you really believe a voice recording that says, "...thanks for continuing to wait for the next available person. Your business is very important to us..."?  Especially when you've been on hold for 10 minutes?

When we think about a company or organization, we recall our own personal experiences to form our opinion. Yes, each one of us has absolute power to define an organization's brand. In addition to all of the best proactive and strategic integrated marketing and communications initiatives, focus on each person's actual experience, and you'll truly become a brand manager.

Onward and upward!

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Comments Off Posted on by Eric Morgenstern
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