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You Do NOT Own Your Brand

Posted in Eric's Posts, Executive Insights
Overhead restaurant pic
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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Leave a comment Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

Apologies Make Good Business Sense

Posted in Executive Insights, Sheri's Posts

The recent apology by GM’s CEO to families of the faulty ignition switch victims got me thinking about apologies in business. Years ago, I had a boss who told me never to apologize in email (although she thought verbal apologies were acceptable). Business is different now.

In this age of mistrust, especially of big corporations, I think transparency and apologies can help build loyalty. Sincere apologies are something my client Hallmark Business Connections believes in. And it has the stats to back up their position from programs they’ve helped their customers create.

There are other examples of companies who have apologized for malfunctions, gaffes, misdirected strategies, etc., in recent years. Most high-profile apologies come from presidents and CEOs, and often much too late to make a difference, probably because apologies may be the hardest part of business transparency. Yet as this Forbes article points out – done sincerely, at the right time and with appropriate follow-up – apologies do strengthen customer relationships.

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Comments Off Posted on by Sheri Johnson

The Power of Three

Posted in Best Practices, Eric's Posts, Executive Insights, Tips and Tricks

We've always known that three is a magical number, particularly as a construct to help persuade people. Now we have scientific "proof" to confirm The Power of Three.

A recent study published in The Social Science Research Network, "When Three Charms, But Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings," relayed by The New York Times, confirms the well-accepted truism that when you add a fourth "sales" point, it weakens the credibility of the first three.

This tells us we should emphasize three accolades or positive points. If we use four, our "BS-O-METER" starts to go off, which is absolutely no surprise to all of us who help shape persuasive messaging. It confirms what we've all known all along:  three is a magic number.

For example, if you're making a persuasive presentation, provide exactly three reasons why. "I think we should go to the ABC restaurant to celebrate our kid's soccer season and thank the coaches, because it's close, inexpensive and fun."  If you added another positive attribute, such as the new "healthy meal options," the persuasive power of the first three reasons diminishes.

My friend Steve Liggett named his company Trilogy Communications back in the '90s. He celebrates March 3 each year (3/3) as Trilogy Day. Smart. And ahead of the curve.

Use "three" as a default

When making persuasive arguments, use three things as your base construct.   When asked a question, simply frame your "spontaneous" answer with a "past / present / future" answer - the power of three. "Thanks for asking, in the past, we used to ABC. Today, we DEF and as we look to the future, we're focused on GHI."   This works in virtually all "sales" situations.

More than 100 years ago Sears was credited with creating the modern array of "good / better / best" for all product offerings:  three price points for each product. This concept has permeated all levels of business and commerce. It's usually Gold / Silver / Bronze...when there's a "platinum" level, it's out of the norm, and always makes us question the value of the first three levels.

This is a time-tested construct. Product positioning and nomenclatures include such standards as, "snap, crackle and pop," and a zillion derivations. My mom always said, "when you get to three things, that's a list...write it down."

We see three in pop culture all the time. There were three stooges, three supremes and three base models of the Honda Accord. Religion takes it one step further by focusing us on "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirt," as well as a cornerstone Judaic quote from Rabbi Shmon be Gamliel, "The world is sustained by three things:  By justice, by truth and by peace." I'm sure we could all add a few items to that list, but once again, these sages settled on three – for a very good reason.

Three works. Always has; always will. It's simply how we're wired.

And now, we have science to support our gut.

So, go forth and use the power of three.

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Comments Off Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

Just the Right Word

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

Yes, I’m a “word nerd.”  Everywhere I go, I look at the words.  Specific words.  Oh, and the strategies behind the words.  I can’t help myself.

I run with a crowd who often share this affliction. ;)

People like me edit menus…assess signage….and look into descriptions to see the inner messaging.  While this condition has its challenges, I vastly prefer this to having been a carpet expert, where everywhere I went I would look straight down and say something like, “Wow….take a look at that 22-pound, double-tuft weave, poly/wool blend!”

I owe a lot of this imprinting to John Bremner, one of my very favorite professors at The University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications.   Today, the “Bremner Editing Center” serves as an ever present reminder of his passion for helping others develop their own writing and editing skills.

John Bremner

John Bremner

Photo Credit: University of Kansas William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications

From John Bremner’s book, HTK (Head To Come — instructions to the copy editor to summarize the story headline in just a few words), I gained immense appreciation for the utmost importance of individual word selection to convey specific information and tone.

However, we all know that all good things can be taken to an extreme.  I had a boss once who used to edit my drafts and would tell me “here’s a ‘happy’ to ‘glad’ change.”  They were never material changes.  He felt it was important to put his fingerprints on it.

C’mon, now.  If “happy” works, let it be.  Change for change sake is unproductive.  But additional word specificity is golden.

Knowing what words to change — and what to leave alone — is often the key question.

Determining whether or not a person was “involved” in the incident or “aware” of the incident drastically changes the entire meaning.

Word specificity comes into play when we define that ubiquitous word, “brand.” We focus on the strategy and the words.  Sure, “look and feel” matter a lot, but its not the closer.   Early in my career for nearly five years I served as Manager of Public Information at Hallmark Cards (still a client, still an amazing company filled with terrific, bright people).  I learned (from a gazillion dollars of consumer research) that all of us pick up a card because of how it looks, and either buy it or put it back because of what it says.

It’s all about the exact, specific words. Precise and purposeful.   Exactly the right word.

Be specific precise particular intentional with your word choice.  Every.  Single. Time.

Mark Twain once said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”  In today’s world, I’m sure he would have included blog posts, emails and reports.

All writing is not created equal.  Focus on just the right words, and you’ll move people to the change in behavior or attitude that you seek.

Onward and upward.

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Comments Off Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

Laying the Foundation for a Successful IMC Program

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

My husband and I closed on our new house last week. After several years of talk and a full year of active real estate shopping, we finally found “the one.” As we now work tenaciously to make it our own, I’m struck by the similarities between this project and the strategic communications programs I work on for new clients. Sounds like a long shot from the surface, I know, but as I was cutting in the walls last night so we could get up that first coat of paint, the pieces fell together.

Typically when we start working with a new client, there is a pent-up need for marketing and communications. Businesses turn to us when they have an opportunity or challenge, and our team is eager to help. As is the case with our new home, there are many ideas and projects bubbling on the surface. It’s natural to want to move full-steam ahead into execution when the paperwork is finally signed. But I’ve found in my work and home life that having a plan, and a little patience (which is truly the hardest thing!), pays off greatly in the end.

Morningstar Communications Future Visioning™ process is one of the best ways I’ve found to steer this initial communications plan. It guides where we’re going and what goals we will accomplish. At the end of the five-step process we have a comprehensive integrated marketing and communications program to serve as our playbook. While we haven’t gone into that detail on the house, having an end-in-mind for what the house will look and feel like when we move in has gone a long way in smoothing the decision making process. By understanding what changes will have the most impact while considering our timeline and budget, we’re on the path for a successful project. However, even with a plan in place, I still want to see action and so do our clients.

To satisfy the urge to get started and see results, we always look for quick wins. What low-hanging fruit can quickly and easily make an impact? In the house, we changed out a chandelier above the kitchen island. What a difference one light can make. For clients, there may be an upcoming presentation for which we can provide coaching, or a new product launch where media relations is appropriate. The key is finding those seemingly small wins that make big impacts as they propel us toward our end-goal.

The first three days in the house were all about laying the foundation for a great end result. We spent our time cleaning baseboards, patching walls and selecting materials. Foundational work is often tedious and can take some heavy lifting, but on the surface it doesn’t always look like much got done. However, this work is critical to the success of the project. Likewise, in a client engagement we first work to lay the foundation. We build media lists, create key messages, develop processes for reporting, etc., so that when it comes time to execute the building blocks are all in place. From there projects start rolling and results become visible.

I love working with our new and established clients to help them grow. This house is equally addicting. I’m looking forward to seeing great results both at home and at work in the days, weeks and years ahead.

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Comments Off Posted on by Tricia McKim

Creating A Lasting Customer Experience

Posted in Executive Insights, Sheri's Posts

I had knee surgery a few weeks ago and have been bemoaning the fact I’m on crutches for six weeks. Not exactly my style to go slow and be forced into asking for help. I’m forever thankful to my family, colleagues and friends for their extra kindness, tremendous help, and willingness to listen to me complain. I even got a little lift from a company I never heard of before.

Of course, I couldn’t go through six weeks on plain, gray crutches. One of the first things I did was Google search “crutch accessories.” That’s when I found CastCoverz. I immediately ordered crutch pads and a handy crutch pocket for carrying things — all in a very fashionable zebra stripe pattern. My customer experience was seamless from the start. The simple website, host of options and easy ordering were great. The guarantee to receive my crutch bling within two business days? Even better.

That customer experience was heightened further when I received this handwritten note with my zebra crutch embellishments:SJ blog

And my experience continued to improve. I received countless compliments on my cool crutches, sparking some fun conversations with friends, other patients and medical providers I’ve seen, and even complete strangers. Way more fun than weeks of pitying looks!

Because of this lasting, engaging customer experience CastCoverz delivered, I’m a true advocate. The company provided me with an incredibly positive, emotional experience when I needed it. Just the kind of enriching experience our client, Hallmark Business Connections believes will help businesses succeed over the long term.

Have you ever had a customer experience you’d rave about? What kicked it over the top for you?

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Comments Off Posted on by Sheri Johnson

The Three Clarities

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

Every business leader yearns to have everyone on their team row in the same direction.  Alignment is a holy grail for executives.

The answer, quite simply, is The Three Clarities.

I had the privilege of providing strategic communications for Marion Laboratories throughout the 1980s and early ’90s.  Its success and subsequent sale ultimately led to Mr. K and his family buying the KC Royals, establishing the Kauffman Foundation, and building the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.  They also spun off dozens of successful businesses, and planted seeds (the Uncommon company was their credo) with hundreds more.  It was a great ride, and I learned a lot.

They experienced tremendous growth.  They were a Wall Street darling.   And they never stopped growing right through their acquisition by Merrill Dow in 1989.

Fred Lyons, its CEO, was often asked how he kept such a dynamic and growing organization aligned.  Ensuring everyone is working together is a continual challenge for all leaders.  Fred often referenced the “Three Clarities” as his key.  I’ve always kept them in mind, and am happy to share his simple and brilliant approach with you now.

The three key clarities are the answers to these profound questions:

•  Where are we going?

•  What is my responsibility, specifically?

•  How is score kept?

Yes, it’s really that simple.  For example, lets say your team is taking a road trip.   Here’s how it would work:  We’re going to Minneapolis (direction).  You are in charge of lunches on the road (responsibility).   If we arrive with full stomachs, that’s success (score).   This approach applies to all people, in all organizations.

As we all know where we are going, what’s our specific role and how will my success be judged — with those three key questions answered — I’ve seen teams accomplish amazing things.

If you’re the leader, be sure your team knows all three.  If you’re working for someone, ask.  With those three clarities fully understood, alignment and manageable growth are sure to follow.

Onward and upward. 

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Comments Off Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

Longevity = Professional + Personal Wins

Posted in Executive Insights, Tricia's Posts

It’s hard to believe nearly a decade has passed since I began my journey at Morningstar Communications. Those first years I learned the ins and outs of public relations and account management. Like a sponge I soaked up knowledge from my teammates and mentors. There were successes and failures. Without both I wouldn’t know what I know today. And while many of my colleagues moved on to new challenges at different companies, I found new challenges within our company.

Asking for what I wanted in my professional career helped me gain these experiences. From taking lead on accounts to management experience to participating in the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Centurions Leadership Program, I’m lucky to work for a company that gave and still gives me opportunities to grow and supports me in these endeavors.

Along the way I formed friendships with colleagues, professional contacts and clients. This past June, as I looked at the current and ex-Morningstarians sitting around tables at my wedding, it hit home how much this group of people has impacted my life. Some of my fondest memories throughout the years involve these individuals. I would go above and beyond to help all of them, and I know they’d do the same for me.

As I look toward the future I’m excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. As a firm believer in lifelong learning I look forward to continually growing my skills and helping my colleagues experience the same sense of value and growth opportunity I’ve enjoyed.

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1 Comment Posted on by Tricia McKim

A hole in the theory.

Posted in Eric's Posts, Executive Insights

Mass market beer consumers have proven they don’t have the most discriminating taste. But I think they’re smarter than this.

The current campaigns from Miller and Coors tout – wait for it – another hole in the can. Really? The product pours better. Period. Unless you’re in a beer chugging contest, is this really a better beer experience?

Miller says, “everything flows more smoothly…” with a punch top can that features two, not one, air holes.

Coors touts “the world’s most refreshing can” with two holes.

We all know that we buy more than just the pure product: It’s all about the entire “User Experience.” Customers must feel an emotional draw for products and services to create brand preference. This is true for consumer products, and for B-to-B marketers. There are legions of consultants and experts all focused on improving the user experience.

Take a quick look at how Wikipedia defines User Experience: User experience (UX) involves a person’s emotions about using a particular productsystem or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature because it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances and new innovations.

But adding another hole in the beer can?  (BTW, it’s not that hard for anyone to make another hole. It is, after all, an aluminum can!)

So are beer buyers enticed by the new packaging? And is that (obviously!) the only thing these marketers have left to discuss?

This all seems pretty silly to me. It reminds me of the kid who rips off the gift wrap and then tosses the toy aside so he can play with the empty box.

These beer makers are talking about their new packages while saying absolutely nothing about their product. Literally, this is the old joke about putting “old wine in a new bottle.” Except that now “the bottle” has an extra hole.

Another hole. That’s it.

We all need to know what we’re really selling, and know how to package and sell your products and services in a truly meaningful manner. Or all you’ll be left with is a hole in your approach.

Onward and upward.

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Comments Off Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

Tools to Help You Kick-start Your Next Blog Post

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

We create content for our clients on daily basis. We write blog posts, webinar scripts, tweets, byline articles, presentations, podcasts, e-books and more. As a result, when it comes to determining a topic for our Morningstar Communications blog, I feel tapped out. Especially when so much content exists out there on strategic marketing, effective content marketing programs, public relations, revenue marketing, etc. I sometimes wonder what I can possibly add to the conversation.

Today was just such a day. So, I started by clicking on a link on my iGoogle page (yes, I know it’s going away, but I still like it and plan to use it to the bitter end) to an article from TopRank. Because it’s been a long day, I decided to take advantage of the very first tip: curate.

After conducting a few additional searches, I uncovered other great thought-starter resources and tools to challenge your writing process, including this ultimate blog challenge and this advice on how to turn a single idea into a wealth of content.

It’s true, content is king. And original content can be even more compelling. But sometimes, just helping people find resources at their fingertips fits the bill.

How do you come up with blog topics and content? Give me your ideas and maybe for my next post I’ll be able to use another one of Lee Odden’s tips: explode comments. Thanks in advance for your help!

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Comments Off Posted on by Sheri Johnson
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