What is your Brand’s Core Strength?

What is the core strength of your brand?

Note: For the sake of this post I’ll use the term brand to mean product, service, company and brand as this exercise applies to all four elements.

Is the core strength of your brand the same for you as it is for your most loyal customers?
If No – Where do these strengths differ? Why do they differ?

What about new customers? Do they see the same core strength as your existing or most loyal customers?
If No – Where do these strengths differ? Why do they differ?

Finally, what about your partners?
If No – Where do these strengths differ? Why do they differ?

If you are able to answer yes to these three questions, you are significantly ahead of the game.

If you have any “no” answers, invest the time – immediately – to gather a representative from the marketing, sales and product teams to discuss the deviations. Uncover why these deviations are present and what can be done to address them. In many instances the “no” will be the result of nothing more than a messaging or positioning issue. However, in other instances, this deviation will be the result of a lack of internal understanding of your core strength or the inability of this core strength to resonate with your target market. If this occurs, it’s always best to remember that known issues are far easier to manage than unknown issues … and to start working through them as quickly (and thoroughly) as possible.

Once you’ve locked in the core strength of your brand – and confirmed it across your ecosystem – you can get right to work building out the key stories that will help educate (and hopefully entertain) existing and prospective customers.

Marketing is a Practice

Marketing is a practice.

Much like yoga or meditation are practices. Force does not make marketing better. In most cases force has the opposite impact on the quality and effectiveness of marketing.

Marketing gets a seriously bad rap because it’s fraught with time consuming exercises that don’t seem to go anywhere or deliver tangible value. The exercises that do end up going somewhere (somewhere people can see) typically end up in a redesign of the website, a change in a logo, the creation of a stock newsletter that rehashes low-value content or a refreshed presentation template – all of which deliver limited value in the grand scheme of things.

This is what makes marketing hard – continuous attempts to solve large problems while omitting the time and attention that needs to be paid to the everyday details. As marketing, your customers don’t live in a land of strategy or theory. They live in a land of practice and execution. Help them execute.

Instead of attacking these larger problems that have questionable ROIs and approach strategy more than practice, go back to the basics. Practice marketing. That’s right – Practice.

Practice being a marketer, not a marketing strategist – not a marketing concept artist. Do the work.

  • Get out of the office and listen to your customers. Address the issues they’re raising – not the way they’re raising them.
  • Get out of the office and listen to your partners.Address the issues they’re raising – not the way they’re raising them.
  • Use your product or service with a new customer. What are the two new things you learned?
  • Use your product or service with a long-term customer. What are the two new things you learned?
  • Talk to your sales team and listen to the stories they tell you. Address the issues they’re raising – not the way they’re raising them.
  • Go on a handful of sales calls with your sales team and see these stories in action.

When you’ve finished each of these exercises, note your learnings. Share these insights with your sales, marketing and product teams – being sure to note why they’re important.

If they’re truly ground shifting developments, share them with your executive or management team – again being sure to note why they’re important and why management should care / act.

Marketing is hard work. Progress is most often disguised as small gains that are very typically missed or overlooked.

Be patient.


Eating Your Own Content Dog Food

When was the last time you visited your website and read your product’s or service’s content?

I’m not talking about a quick skim to be sure the page loaded. I’m talking about a deep dive, grab a cup of tea or coffee and read what you’ve written – read what your prospects are reading?

Here are a few quick questions to ask (and answer) that can have a material impact on your site’s usability – and your conversion rates:

  1. Is this content still relevant?

  1. Does this content reflect the objectives of your product or service today?

    • Or, is this content reflective of where your product or service was?
  1. Is this content written in a way that your prospects can understand?

    • Or, is this content written in internal language that makes sense to you?
  1. Could someone copy and paste a description of your product or service from your site to send to a co-worker (someone who will help influence a buy decision or make a buy decision) and that co-worker would be immediately capable of asking second level questions?

The adage about eating your own dog food applies far too frequently to using one’s products and/or services. This also needs to apply to the consumption of your content – which is equally important.

Total Time: 20-25 minutes.  //  Frequency: Monthly


The 5 Customer Practice

A quick and extremely insightful exercise to improve customer satisfaction and keep your fingers on the pulse of your product’s or service’s value.

  1. Search through your help desk or CRM app for the past 30 days to identify the most consistently reported issue with your product or service.

  1. Note five (5) customers who contacted you about the issue. Note their contact information including company and title.

    • If there are multiple customers to choose from, select from different companies, titles and geographies to get as wide a cross section as possible.
  1. Call each of the these five (5) customers and speak with them about the issue for 5-10 minutes. Specifically ask them:

    • How they came about the issue?
    • How were they able to resolve and/or work around the issue before calling support?
    • How do they feel about the issue now that it has been resolved?
    • How do they feel about the product or service? How do they feel about your company?
    • Is there anything else they feel you should know about your product or service.
    • Thank them for their time.
  1. Share your call notes with your product manager or client relationship manager and the support team.

    • This should be a simple standup meeting with the sole objective of bringing all key parties to the same page relative to your customer’s satisfaction with your product or service.
    • Any additional discussions, meetings, product or project requirements, etc. can be defined in break-out sessions with smaller, more focused teams.

In the course of these conversations you’re going to accomplish many things including, but not limited to:

  • Developing a direct understanding of your customer’s most pressing issues – in their words;

  • Developing trust with your customers that they should be confident in calling support with issues. Your customers now know someone (multiple people, really) are paying very close attention to how well their products and/or services work;

  • Improving lines of communication with your most important assets – your customers;

Practice Total Time: 60 – 75 minutes.  //  Frequency: Monthly

Successful Products & Services Do One Thing

What have you learned today?

Me? A successful product or service does one thing.

Asking my son’s a similar question after their first day of school on Wednesday, I felt it might be appropriate to begin asking this of myself – and to note the answers. Perhaps just for posterity … Perhaps because they will make more sense over time … Perhaps, well, just because.

So, what did I learn?

I learned that a successful product or service does one thing. That’s it. Just one thing.

This isn’t a net new learning. Rather, this is knowledge that has been continually reinforced on a daily basis. For a number of reasons – yesterday was a really strong and positive reinforcement of this lesson.

What makes the web and ultimately mobile so unique is that the ability to connect dozens (or hundreds) of “just one thing” products is easily within our grasp. This enables the “best of the best” to serve their role while ancillary noise can be eliminated.

The ability to use APIs, plugins, etc. to connect these focused products is one of the most powerful aspects of the web and mobile today. The simple example of this is login – use your FB or Google login to access other services. This empowers the product team to “skip” the login and authentication step and focus their efforts on the core feature of the product or service … what will make it “must use” again and again.

In theory, this model of API-based application design should create significantly stronger applications as the ability to focus on core capabilities is unimpeded. In practice, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sitting on my desktop right now are (literally) hundreds of screenshots for a client’s project. Each image illustrates just one of a dizzying number of states the platform will present to and manage for customers. The depth and complexity of the features and functions is astounding. The time, attention to detail, everything that has gone into this platform has focused on addressing every conceivable state the customer may encounter. Very few I’s are left undotted or T’s uncrossed.

The depth of functionality is quite literally exhaustive.

As I’m working through the details on this complex product, I reflected back on the almost dozen products that I’ve helped clients launch this year … and they all have one thing in common – Incredible complexity.

Obviously this isn’t a unique state.

I tend to be introspective in these areas so I had to stop myself and ask a very difficult question, “Am I the cause of this complexity?”

This type of introspection isn’t easy – and it wasn’t easy this time.

Looking back at where each of this year’s projects began (at concept) and ended (at launch), it was clear that the complexity of vision and execution arrived before I did. Thankfully, the end product / service has become significantly more concise at launch than at concept.

This should hold true, I guess. We’ve all heard the axiom, “I’m sorry I have written such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” We’ve also all been faced with the prospect of doing something simple and ending up with pages and pages of stuff. Being precise and focused takes a considerable amount of time – time that most early stage organizations (and products) don’t have the luxury of wasting.

Instead of investing time in more, invest the same amount of time in less – if not in significantly less. The rewards of less will far outweigh the benefits of more – in the eyes of your customers, partners, employees and investors / shareholders.

… and now back to the product pruning shears …