Tag Archives: Eric Morgenstern

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Building Your Brand, in Three Simple Quotes

Posted in Best Practices, Eric's Posts, Executive Insights, Morningstar Communications Updates
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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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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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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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Improving Your Persuasive Powers

Posted in Best Practices, Company Updates, Eric's Posts, Tips and Tricks

In Daniel Pink's new book, "To Sell is Human," he explains what he calls "Non-sales selling: persuading, convincing and influencing others to give up something they've got in exchange for what we've got." The role of today's executive has shifted from order-giver to "mover." Pink explains, "Moving other people to part with resources, whether something tangible like cash or intangible like effort or attention -- so that both get what they want."

I've spent a lifetime helping leaders present information in the most persuasive way. Whether we're developing a strategic messaging platform, orchestrating a four-channel content distribution approach or coaching executives one-on-one...the end-in-mind is almost always to get others to agree with your point-of-view.

After all, isn't that what leaders really do: get others to go along with them? Willingly and enthusiastically, whenever possible!

I'm honored to speak from 4:30 to 6 on Tuesday, February 25, to the Atrium group at the Downtown KC Central Exchange. I'll share a dozen proven strategies to enrich your power of persuasion.

Connecting on philosophical, strategic and tactical levels, these pearls range from How to Harness the Power of Three, the Macro / Micro technique, and my favorite suggestion to demonstrate team alignment when making team presentations -- "Steal the Punchline."

Here is a sneak peak at a couple of persuasive strategies you can begin using today.

Leveraging the Macro / Micro Approach

Macro / Micro is the most persuasive way (from the recipient's point-of-view, always!) to get someone to agree with you. Use this construct to frame your argument at the (macro) 30,000-foot level, then immediately provide one (micro) three-foot level example to ground your suggestion. Restate the macro, followed with, don't you agree?

micro macro 1
Credit: fixingtheeconomists.wordpress.com

So, here's how Macro / Micro plays out in the real world. Let's say you and a few other parents are responsible for finding the end-of-season place to celebrate your kid's soccer team season, and thank the coaches. You want to go to Red Robin. You would say something like, "I suggest we go to a place that doesn't mind if we have a bunch of crazy teenagers, with both alcoholic and fun non-alcoholic drinks for the kids, and that's nearby our final game. How about Red Robin...it has all three. Sound good?"

Some people need the philosophical framing. Some need the specifics. Kind of like the Myers-Briggs test: some are sensors; some are intuition-based. Do both. To get our way, we need to connect with everyone.

Just like sports, improving your persuasive skills requires both practice and patience. But when your plan and your delivery come together, you're going to get your way more often!

Do a Run-Through Before All Major Presentations

Another tip is one that we all already know, but often skip: perform a complete run-through in front of somebody who intimidates you before giving your actual presentation. I find most executives do what I call a "walk-through." They say, I'll start with the story about the three buckets, then I'll do an intro, ask for questions, and then review each slide." Nope. It's imperative that your confidence and enthusiasm be sky-high. Present a full run-through as a practice, complete with the constructive critique from a person whose opinion you greatly respect. This will help you polish your delivery and verify if you have any communication / connection glitches. And importantly, you'll have a feeling of confidence that will exude through your remarks. We all benefit from actually articulating all of the words -- at least one time -- before "showtime."

I have yet to see an executive do a worse job after a full run-through, but I've sure seen my share of stumbles and gaffes for those who just "wing it."

I've been told -- more than once -- that many of these suggestions are just "applied common sense." While that may be true, they work just the same.

Wanna get your way more often? Apply these techniques and the line forms right behind you!

Onward and upward!

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The Power of Three

Posted in Best Practices, Eric's Posts, Executive Insights, Tips and Tricks
Credit: icons.iconarchive.com

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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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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Many of the Truths We Cling to Depend Greatly on our Own Point-of-view

Posted in Best Practices, Eric's Posts, Integrated Marketing (IMC)


Obi-Wan explains the relationship between Luke and Darth Vader

“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point-of-view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

This statement has become a cornerstone of our approach to strategic integrated communications. Philosophers, theologians, and deep thinkers often believe there are absolute truths. I’m not so certain.

  • Is the seven-year-old orphan boy who steals a loaf of bread to feed his hungry little sister truly a thief?
  • Can the same person be a freedom fighter to some but a terrorist to others?
  • Is she a hero or a hacker?
  • Did you simply give a hug or is that harassment?

Over the years I’ve learned that the “truth” often depends on your point-of-view. This is why Morningstar Communications is so insistent on creating customized recipient-oriented communications for our clients.

It comes down to one very simple fact: It’s not what you want to say. It’s what they need to hear.  Always.

Recipient-oriented communications

In most things in life, the idea that one-size fits all is rarely true. We all know this intuitively. One area this is painstakingly true is communications. If you’re talking about the ABC thing, how an employee, a customer, or an investor sees that same thing will color their unique point-of-view.

  • Did Darth Vader really kill Luke’s father, or did he (warning: plot reveal!) evolve and really still is Luke’s dad?

As you can see, what’s viewed as good news to some may be viewed as bad news by others. So, that ABC thing always remains the very same thing… or does it?

The key to crafting solid communications is really this simple: identify the best way for the recipient to receive the information, not the best way to send it.

It’s football season and my KC Chiefs are off to an amazing start. So, it’s time for a gridiron analogy: Are your communication passes complete or incomplete?

  • When a beautiful, 50-yard pass streaks down the sidelines just out of reach of the receiver…yup, that’s called an incomplete pass.
  • And when the quarterback flips the ball to the fullback for a one-yard gain just as he’s being sacked…yup, that’s called a completed pass.

The best way to assess the effectiveness of your communications:  did the recipient catch the message. Your message was received or it wasn’t – incomplete or complete, the prettiness of the pass really doesn’t matter. Customize your communications based on the receiver / recipients EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Whether you believe in the force or not, Obi-Wan is spot on regarding recipient-oriented communications.  Embrace this concept or accept that a lot of your passes will fall incomplete.

Onward and upward. Oh, and may the force be with you.

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Morningstar Communications Team Steps Up to the Challenge

Posted in Morningstar Communications Updates, Susan's Posts

This summer, many of us found inspiration in the actions of our fearless leader, Eric Morgenstern, when he was awarded the overall winner of the Kansas City Chamber’s Not So Big KC Challenge. Eric recorded the most significant overall improvement out of almost 30 participants in the challenge, and in return, he prompted a new awareness and inspired a challenge for his employees: Let’s do this together!

Eric's dog Raia spends her days at the Morningstar Communications office encouraging Eric and others to take regular steps to increase daily activity.

Eric’s dog Raia spends her days at the Morningstar Communications office encouraging Eric and others to take regular steps to increase daily activity.

This week, the Morningstar team officially accepted the challenge with 100 percent participation! Together, we’re moving forward with our Lucky 7 Challenge, a wellness campaign that encourages participants to establish an exercise habit and incorporate variety into fitness routines. Throughout the next seven months, our team will rise to the goal of reaching an average of 70,000 steps per week using our very own Fitbits, courtesy of Morningstar Communications.  We owe a huge thanks to Eric for the original motivation, and our client Hallmark Business Connections’ wellness engagement team for its help guiding our wellness program with a strategic game plan, a solid engagement strategy and motivational incentives to increase our likelihood of success.

Fitbit One device  Photo courtesy of Fitbit.com

Fitbit One device
Photo courtesy of Fitbit.com

We’ve only just begun, and the team is already finding new ways to take additional steps. You might see a few of us doing a lap around the building or opting to use the restroom that exists up two flights of stairs. If you have other insightful ways to get your steps in, we’d love to hear about them on our Facebook page! Let us know how you get to steppin’ each day.

Overall, this challenge is a guaranteed win for everyone as all team members walk away with an established habit of regular exercise and plenty of social support to continue a healthier lifestyle well beyond the challenge. Keep an eye on our progress on Facebook.

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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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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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