Archive for September, 2011

Intangible, Perceived Value Illustrated

Friday, September 30th, 2011

If you’re not convinced that perception of intangible value drives consumer behavior, you must watch a wonderfully entertaining TED presentation by Roy Sutherland, a British advertising pro. Be sure to stay tuned to the end, when he shows an enlightening case study featuring a new ad campaign for Shreddies® cereal (a product found only in Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

The consumer research is especially entertaining as well as instructive about how we really make choices. It’s an example of
“priming” at its best! Watch the TED presentation here:

Whole Foods Tells the “Prime” Story

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

In residential real estate it’s called “staging,” in psychology it’s called “subliminal suggestion.” In retail, as branding guru Martin Lindstrom explains in another insightful piece in “Fast Company,” it’s called “priming.” Author of the recently published book Brandwashed, Lindstrom describes how Whole Foods, as one example, primes shoppers to perceive the foods on display as fresher (and, therefore, more nutritious) than they really are.

Learn how you’re being led to buy more than you planned–and to pay more for it–because of the perceptions you take with you as you stroll the aisles–perceptions that are subtly planted in your mind as you approach the store.  Tell us what you think after you read the entire article here:

Toms Shoes CEO on Importance of Stories

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Toms Shoes CEO Blake Mycoskie made my heart sing when he said in a recent interview, “I realized the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes, they tell our story. That’s one of my favorite lessons that I learned early on.”

Author of Start Something that Matters, Mycoskie talked with “Fast Company” about his dedication to giving back and discussed other social entrepreneurs who inspired him to create the model for his company. Since Toms was launched five years ago, the company has donated a pair of shoes for every pair it sells. Sales–and giveaways–so far each total one million pairs.

Mycoskie is following the same practice with his book–and then some. He’s donating a book to a needy child for every book that’s sold, and he’s donating 50% of his profits to funding other ventures, business or volunteer, with a social component. Read his inspiring story at:


Listen to Your Customers!

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Thoughtfully considering what you’ve heard from your customers is essential to gaining the greatest value from a market survey. It’s important to remember that not all comments may be valid; some people may not be aware of the constraints of running a business or your operation in particular vis a vis time, budget, staffing, industry standards, etc. Other individuals’ comments need to be weighed in light of the entirety of their answers, e.g.,  is this person extremely critical about everything, or focused on only one issue that s/he brings up in each answer, even when it’s irrelevant to the question or applies to no one else?

After conducting the market survey interviews for my client, I compiled the responses into a comprehensive report. Cautioning the executive team to keep the above points in mind, I assured them that the comments had been overwhelmingly positive–and I alerted them to a number of insightful suggestions that warranted serious consideration.

The executive team and I independently reviewed the findings, then met to compare notes. We easily reached consensus on the key data points and discussed ideas for using the information to drive the re-branding and the marketing activities for the coming year.

So far we’ve revised the business name so that the focus of the business is clear; and we’ve created a new tag line that distinguishes the business from its competitors by focusing on customer benefits. We’re now starting work on a new logo that will express the brand visually in a way that commands attention and engages the target market.

Know Your Customer!

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

When you’re aware that your brand story isn’t on target, the first thing you need to do is to step back, acknowledge that you may not know exactly what your customers think about you and your business–and start finding out what’s on their minds. The next step is often the hardest:  you need to pay attention to what they say, even if their comments may hurt!

The first step we took in the re-branding process for my new client was to conduct a market survey. I don’t mean a simple,  multiple choice e-mail survey that just skims the surface. I mean a survey that captures the qualitative information you need. To probe your customers’ minds, you need to give them the opportunity to express their thoughts via the medium they’re most comfortable with (snail mail, telephone, e-mail, texting, etc.). In my client’s case, a series of 15-30 minute telephone interviews, consisting of a set of open-ended questions, gathered the rich data that we were looking for. In the next post we’ll discuss what we did with the data.

How about you? Do you know what your customers are thinking about you and your business?

Is Your Brand Story on Target?

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

If your brand story isn’t resonating with your target audiences, you need to revisit how you’re telling it. In this challenging economy, you’ve got to be sure your message is speaking to the people you need to connect with, or all your marketing efforts will be for naught.

Realizing that her brand story was a central cause of declining market share, a new client recently asked me to help with the business’ messaging. The first issue was that the name of the business hadn’t been updated to reflect a significant change in its specialized services. Second, the logo didn’t communicate the brand story effectively; and third, the tag line was not distinctive enough to differentiate the business from a growing group of competitors.

It’s easy for a small business to overlook these basic elements when business is declining; there are so many things that need attention–particularly the need to arrest the drop in revenues–that it’s difficult to know what to do first. But it’s essential to get your priorities straight. If your messaging is missing your core audience,  any action you take isn’t going to be as effective as it can and should be.

In the next post I’ll describe the first step we took to correct the problem.


What Makes Steve Jobs Great

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Fast Company features a great article on what made Steve Jobs a great CEO. Author Cliff Kuang says Jobs is effective because he’s the consummate user of technology–not a designer or engineer or charismatic apostle. It’s an interesting perspective, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Check out the well-rounded review of Jobs’ career at

Jim Sinegal: Renowned CEO, Storytelling Leader

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Named one of the world’s “Top CEOs” by Forbes magazine,  Jim Sinegal is a renowned executive who’s also one of my storytelling heroes.  When I saw today’s headline announcing that he will turn over the reins as Costco’s CEO when he turns 76 on January 1, I was reminded of my conversations with him. One interview was for my book, Around the Corporate Campfire: How Great Leaders Use Stories to Inspire Success, and the other was for a Costco management video.

An intuitive storyteller, Sinegal relates his favorite examples of managers “caught doing things right” when he speaks at the company’s management training sessions. Responding to my question about why he’s dedicated to storytelling as a management communication tool, Sinegal said, “What else have we got besides stories? That’s what really hits home with people; it’s what brings meaning to the work we do… A picture is worth 1,000 words, and a story told appropriately is priceless.”

Down-to-earth and personable, the savvy businessman chats with new employees as he roams the store aisles, grabs lunch in the employee cafeteria or visits one of the company’s food stands for his favorite menu item, the $1.50 hot dog and coke.

His successor, Craig Jelinek, will “be an upgrade,” Sinegal jokes. Jelinek has been with the company since 1984, most recently as President and COO. He says the $1.50 price for the hot dog and coke combo is “a trademark of ours” and will not be changed. “We haven’t raised it in 26 years, and I don’t see us” doing it, Jelinek says.

Read the entire article that appeared in The Seattle Times: