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Monday, April 28, 2008

Acronyms in brand building...

by David Bookout

Word combinations reduced to letter sets. They're everywhere. There is even an AcronymGuide.com website that is dedicated to the definition of acronyms.

Here in Silicon Valley things like "Chemical Vapor Deposition" have become better known as "CVD", and on the internet we've turned "Internet Service Provider" into "ISP". Simple. But, are acronyms really good strategies for brand building?

Like most things, it depends. For companies like Kentucky Fried Chicken it has taken a lot of time and money to be able to use "KFC". In fact, over the years, international growth and the exclusive use of KFC had completely removed the iconic Colonel image from the companies packaging, and subsequently from the minds of consumers.

A literal name, like Kentucky Fried Chicken produces some real clarity relative to the offer the company is making. Conversely, an "empty vessel" like KFC needs to be filled with narratives and imagery that connects the desired audience to the offer quickly, clearly and connects with some fundamental concern.

For small to medium enterprise ( SME ) companies who can't spend the time and money required to move an "empty vessel" through the awareness, interest, trial sale, repeat sale continuum the use of acronyms is a waste. In addition these strategies run the risk of confusing their desired audience more than creating a clear, compelling image the audience can remember. This scenario "What was the name of that company honey? No, not the pool maintenance company, the one that did general contracting. Hmm, oh well, let's see what comes up on Google" is perhaps quite common. Opportunity lost!

Here are three simple keys for SME's to implement into effective brand building strategies:

First, stay away from acronyms. Instead, choose literal; company, product and service offer names where you can, while remembering that these will be the least expensive from a marketing budget perspective.

Second, if you must go the empty vessel route, consider developing positioning statements and taglines that could perhaps be more literal in the conveyance of the essence of the offer, and ride along with the name.

Third, in either event, stay connected to the emotional benefits that you think the desired audience will connect with easily, and utilize clear, concise, compelling imagery that supports the offer in the minds of the desired audience. For example, no matter how beautiful a desert image is, it should NOT be used in marketing imagery for contact lenses.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Words Matter...

by David Bookout

We define ourselves and our surroundings with words. We use words to coordinate, and collaborate with others.

Yet it's a wonder we get anything done, and often we can't.

Often I've illustrated the difficulty to clients and prospects by using the word "table" as an example. We all know the word. Five simple letters. Now picture your "table", and I'll bet there is NO WAY your visual picture is a Mission Oak dinning table for eight, sitting underneath a rustic, rust colored chandelier. Right? This is because our experiences and backgrounds are all completely different.

So, imagine my curiosity when I heard about "The Big Word Project" . This from their site "Paddy Donnelly and Lee Munroe, two Masters students from Northern Ireland, who are exploring what different words mean to different people. The project allows you to purchase a word from our list to represent your site. Your site will then represent this word in our list and when people click on it, they will be taken to your site. The project is aimed at changing definitions and creating a new tapestry of words, meaning altogether different things."


By my calculations, at this writing, these two entrepreneurial spirits have amassed about $23K selling words for $1 / letter. If you buy the word, you get to link your website to the word on their site, thereby redefining the meaning of that word.

For example, we bought these words:

Which stands for the importance of defining "who" you are for your customers, and desired audience.

Which stands for our strategy of providing low cost, effective tools so you can grow your enterprise.

Which stands for our commitment to the alignment of your essential strategies.

But as business owners, how do we work with words to communicate better with others?

First, slow down, and actually listen for the definitions, or "meaning" that others ascribe to the words they use.

Second, ask questions in an attempt to clarify, and share the same "vision" others have for the words they use.

Third, take ownership for the production of the interpretations we intend others to share. For example, if someone isn't understanding "what" we say the difficulty is in our ability to make what we say explicit to the listener.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Are Complaints Bad?...

by David Bookout

The thought came to me as I was standing in line for a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop.

An elderly woman was complaining to the young lady at the register about the strength of the coffee. The elder felt it was "too strong", and was compelled to make this quite clear. Next to the young lady at the register was a young man piloting the coffee maker, who attempted to join the conversation with a few seasoned tips on coffee grinding, brewing and their relative attributes to the strength of the end product.

The elder was having none of it. Each exchange from the young duo was met with the same simple rebuttal - "well, it shouldn't be so strong!"

But to me, an interesting twist was evolving. The elderly woman had placed herself in the one coffee shop, amongst three in the downtown block, generally known to have THE strongest coffee. Period. The shops whole positioning rests on the freshness and quality of the bean, meticulous roasting and brewing processes, and the collaborative experience of bringing this all together in a cup.

So, if the elderly woman wanted something else, why was she there?

With her back to me, I couldn't see the elder's face, but when she'd had enough of the "conversation", and turned to walk past, her look told volumes. A frozen grimace, etched into an overly tanned face by deep, deep wrinkles. In a way she reminded me of an angry version of Magda the elderly lady in "There's something about Mary". As mad Magda shuffled past me with her crossword puzzle and a cup of "too strong" coffee it struck me as ironic that she was attempting to complain about the shops core promise, which people drive out of their way to get.

From this perspective mad Magda wasn't complaining, she was simply an unsatisfiable attention seeker.

But in these days of customer as King and Queen what do businesses do with complaints?

Here are four basic rules for owners, executives and managers:

First, listen respectfully, and try to really understand what the person is talking about. It may be that what the person is offering is of incredible value relative to either a perceived offer, or offer you might be better off to make. If you find yourself thinking more about what your going to say next, refocus on listening.

Second, don't make excuses, or defend what ever happened. Instead apologize. Ensure that the person thinks they have been heard. Rebuttals, ever so slight as the word "but" discounts the contribution.

Third, don't offer, or promise any action that you aren't committed to, or aren't able to take on. This only destroys trust. A sincere apology is a completely acceptable end.

Fourth, consider the context of the complaint. Mad Magda's complaint was lodged at the shops core promise, which they were absolutely fulfilling on, she just didn't know better. If there isn't a promise, there can't be a complaint, and while it may sound strange, some customers, like mad Magda, are best found in the shops of your competitors.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Chaotic Structures and Success...

by David Bookout

The chaos theory, popularized by the movie Jurasic Park, is alive and well in some companies today.

To some, this is just fine. To others, like myself, this isn't a good thing, and I can't help but wonder if the proliferation of chaotic business structures has in some way been brought on by our quest for diversity, spontaneity, and the freedom of all people to do what they "want" whenever they want.

Our focus is to explore the value of a highly effective, efficient business structures over chaotic, potentially ineffective structures, and highlight things that you can do as an owner, executive, or manager within a small to medium enterprise ( SME ) to increase productivity and profitability, while still nurturing, and empowering your workforce.

( Shot while looking in the wrong direction )

Scenario C:

Strategic alignment is off. The company has a business strategy, no market strategy, no brand strategy, and a chaotic communication strategy. Overall awareness in the community is weak. Interest in the company's offers are low, and management doesn't have a clear vision of the next essential steps needed to increase sales on a broad scale.

A 7 step plan is developed to produce strategic alignment and implementation begins. The company secures a multi million dollar order that had been in the works for some time, and begins hiring.

Part of the strategic implementation plan calls for elevating the company's web presence and beginning to take online orders for products and services. A new site is built.

New hires, experienced in and accountable for other sectors of the business, begin to complain that they don't "like" the new website. Instead of focusing on improvements in their own functional areas they spend hours speculating about and designing a new web site design to present to the C.E.O.

Meanwhile the C.E.O., blinded by the company's recent success, and forgetful of the fact that he had missed his revenue projection promise to the board by more than 50%, decides to refocus his efforts on ultra large orders from rock star type clients. Despite the fact that the company has never received a single order from this type of client the C.E.O. plans to direct the others to take on his responsibilities, and overlooks the fact that these people will not have demonstrated success in their new roles either.

Upon presentation of the new web site plan to the C.E.O. he decides to share the plan with the V.P. of Marketing and declare his endorsement. Perhaps adding to his forgetfulness the C.E.O. doesn't include the fact that the company has not produced a return on the investment to build the current website. In their discussions the V.P. chooses to focus on gaps in functionality on the current site. The C.E.O. declares there aren't any and insists on imposing his "artistic" capabilities in "knowing" that the new site is the thing to do.

Concurrently, another functional leader, who seems to have extra time on their hands, has decided that there is a "distinct science" in direct mail campaigns and introduces a "friend" that specializes in this area to the C.E.O. The 7 part plan provided for the reduction of direct mail campaigns, and an increase in electronic mail campaigns to reduce operational costs, and conduct some market research in the process. Again, the C.E.O. forgets this, and instead confronts the Marketing V.P. with a "new plan".

Our next installment will focus on the effects of these behaviors.

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