Payless Shoes recently used branding to underscore the value of their shoes. Their clever marketing ploy reminds small business owners that branding imparts value. What value perceptions is your branding giving customers?
We often equate leadership qualities today with qualities that are actually antithetical to good leadership. The bluster, brashness, and bragging often associated with leadership point to weakness, not strength, when it comes to leaders.
What makes a leader?
Watching the coverage this week of former President Bush’s funeral, I was struck by several things.
President Bush exhibited a gracious approach to life. He understood the power of a simple thank-you. He understood the power of kindness. Not many leaders today, in business or in politics, understand this.
Secondly, his humility impressed me. All of his speeches formed humble pictures, many tributes to others. The elegance and grace of his words spoke to a time when American understood that political stance and divisive behavior moved aside post-election.
Lastly, his ability to connect with others, some of whom were former opponents, clearly spoke of leadership qualities.
I made a video discussing my impressions of these leadership characteristics and how business people may parlay them into qualities for success. Watch it below.
Business Leaders, Take Note
There are several lessons to be learned from this. CEOs and business leaders who understand the power of kindness and a gracious approach to their everyday interactions with their peers and subordinates tend to achieve better results than those who act dictatorially towards their staff.
Research bears this out. A study from the State University of New York at Binghamton demonstrates that leaders with a benevolent style tend to achieve stronger result than those with a dictatorial style. In other words, nice leaders finish first.
Are You Afraid to Be “Too Nice?”
I’ve heard that so often in my career – leaders saying they put on a mean mask to prevent others from thinking they are ‘too nice.’ They think that if subordinates view them as nice people, they will be viewed as weak and others take advantage of them.
St. Francis de Sales, a 17th century bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, wrote, “Nothing is as strong as gentleness, and nothing is as gentle as strength.” Be gentle, kind and firm, and you will achieve the best results. Consistent guidance, clear communication, and a kind approach to human relationships will always take you further than you anticipate.
Stopping workplace gossip may be impossible, but it should be among your priorities as a leader. Workplace gossip wastes time, ruins reputations, and generally does more harm than good.
I’ve written a new piece for Medium this week Gossip in the Workplace – Stop Before Someone Gets Hurt.
I know that it is human nature to gossip, to share, to communicate. But I also believe that gossip can be the root of many workplace evils. It certainly wastes time. It can ruin good people’s reputations and cause damage that takes a long time to get over.
As a Virtual VP, a manager who heals and energizes teams for companies worldwide, I know that gossip flourishes in a culture of fear. Excessive workplace gossip is often a sign of poor communications. Employees, starved for accurate, honest information, speculate and share their guesses (gossip) for validation and feedback with coworkers. The result? Gossip, a lot of incorrect guesses, and a corporate culture that thrives on rumor. When the rumor mill takes over and is the best source of information in a company, you’ve got an unhealthy company environment that should be fixed.
The Tyrant is one leadership style that casts a long shadow. I’ve worked hard to heal teams damaged by The Tyrant and have worked under them. Learn more about this leadership style and why it can be so hard to combat.
Pop up stores are here and they may be reinvigorating retail throughout the United States.
As a teenager in the 1980s, I spent an inordinate amount of time at the local shopping mall. Roosevelt Field Mall became my home away from home. My sister worked at Macy’s. She would drive to work, drop me off to roam the mall, then I’d meet her several hours later for the drive home.
Pop up stores back then were kiosks. Small, self-contained kiosks in the central aisle of the mall’s corridors. Some sold only items during peak gift-giving seasons: I remember the bonsai tree concession, another that sold crystal pendants during the pendant-wearing craze of the late 1980s. Another etched personalized messages, monograms and the like on silver picture frames, mugs, etc.
Each of these tiny stores focused exclusively on a single them. They differ from today’s pop up stores the way your grandfather’s Chevy differs from the Volt parked in your garage and recharging from the household current.
Linda Niehm, professor of Apparel Events, and Hospitality at Iowa State University stated in a recent press release, “What we’re seeing is in part of a natural evolution of the retail cycle, and old formats are replaced with something more relevant.”
Retail is a dynamic industry. It is constantly evolving and changing. Stores evolved from single-category shops (the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker) to the grocery store and supermarket (with butcher and bakery counters along with thousands of other products) and the department store (which sold everything including candles in one convenient space.) The internet added pricing competition along with an intense focus on fresh new goods; if I can get a pair of jeans from Amazon at a lower price, why should I bother driving to the Gap in the mall to buy a pair?
Enter the pop-up store. These stores take over small retail spaces for short amounts of time – weeks, perhaps – with a themed experience. Vacant stores or unusual structures such as disused cargo containers are transformed into a retail space.
Niehm and colleague Ann Marie Fiore conducted a study in 2010 that indicated that retail consumers like novelty in their shopping experiences. The same old stores in the mall bore consumers; the novel experience of discovering a new brand, product category, or style in a pop-up store may invigorate the shopping experience and draw customers away from their computers to shop on the internet and back to physical retail spaces. Millennials especially are interested in brands that resonate with their values. They eschew large, traditional stores.
Brands are experimenting with pop-ups in unique ways. Bonobos khakis opened pop-up stores in the lobby of an office building and netted $250,000.
Technology offers another way for pop-ups to succeed. Although the small space prohibits stocking multiple colors or sizes, with the touch of a tablet, shopkeepers can order items from their online store to be sent to the consumer. No hassle, no additional steps for the customers, and an easy in-person shopping experience that lets them see and touch the items in person.
Are pop-ups right for you? They may be a passing fad, but anything that can reinvigorate retail offers additional methods for small business owners to sell more. It may be the right time for you to explore pop-ups for your retail business.
Do you ever think about how you can “pay it forward” in the business world?
This may not be an easy question, but I think it’s an important one to ask. So many business people are always looking for what they can get out of a deal that they forget to pay their debts forward.
“Paying it forward” means to do something kind for someone else without hope of recompense. It’s not like paying a debt, which returns kindness for kindness. Rather, it’s doing a kindness without any immediate pay off.
Last week, I was able to offer words of kindness and support to a fellow writer. Most writers struggle with self-doubt, and I am no exception. During those times when I’m ready to throw in the towel and apply to become a Wal-Mart greeter, friends in the writing community have stepped up to offer a kick in the pants or a shoulder to cry on, whichever seemed most needed at the time. Whether it’s someone to commiserate about a yucky assignment or someone to tell me to suck it up and get the job done, I know that I can count on that special group of friends to support me through good times or bad.
One of those friends needed someone to prop her up this past weekend, and I happened to be online when she was sharing how blue she felt about her current work. Her assignments lately had been boring; she felt as if no matter how much she wrote or how hard she worked, she wasn’t making enough money.
I encouraged her, and pushed her, and yes, put on my best New York business woman sense via some of my comments. I felt like I was being slightly harsh with her, but I also felt she needed it. Sometimes people need a kick in the pants more than they need a shoulder to cry on.
The next day after my little coaching session with her, she wrote to me, ecstatic. She’d written an article for a publication she’d long admired and sent it in before she had a chance to chicken out. They accepted it the very same day – and she made more money from that half hour of work than she had the entire day before.
I love this story because it reminds me every day to pay it forward — to encourage, inspire and motivate anyone and everyone I come into contact with. Will I get any immediate benefit out of it? No, but I do believe strongly that what goes around, comes around.
Helping a friend with coaching, giving my time to write an article for an animal charity, sharing a stranger’s great blog post…it all counts. It really does. We pay things forward, and in time, they return to us ten-fold.
A young friend of mine launched an Etsy business this month. I watched from a distance as she carefully photographed and listed her products. She celebrated her first sales…and then came hot on the heels of those first transactions, her very first return.
She was devastated. She took to social media to share her disgust with the person who didn’t read her listing. The customer thought they were purchasing one type of item, when in fact she did not sell that item.
I don’t know what the final outcome was of that transaction, but knowing my honest young friend, I suspected she eventually refunded the customer’s money and moved on. However, a few things stood out for me in the story, and I thought I’d take a moment to share my perspective on customer service, particularly in an ecommerce or retail environment.
(A note from me first: I worked in retail, in the trenches so to speak, for two years. I ran a successful ecommerce business for over a decade. I managed marketing for an upscale retail store. I have a peculiar love of retail. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It’s my thing. What can I say?)
- The customer may not always be right, but should always be treated as if THEY believe they are right. In other words, you may have done nothing wrong. You may have provided the exact service they requested. You may have listed the product clearly on your Etsy store. But if they are unhappy, they are unhappy. That is the fact you must deal with – their unhappiness. Try to make them happy, even if they are not right.
- Issuing returns should be rare. If you find you are constantly issuing returns, it’s time to check your marketing. There’s a gap somewhere between customer expectations and what you are offering.
- NEVER take your frustrations out on social media. The second you start posting about your customers in any way, the second someone, somewhere, is going to read those comments. I don’t care if you set your privacy status to super-duper lock down mode. Word will get out that you talk trash about customers, and they won’t shop with you anymore. Don’t do it. Just walk away from your computer before you share something you’ll regret.
- You know the old chestnut about how you get 80% of your business from 20% of your customers? It’s pretty accurate. If your customers aren’t repeat customers because what you sell isn’t conducive to repeat business, they tell others about their experience, and that brings more business to you. Be always on your guard against poor customer service. It can kill your business faster than you think.
Good customer service is often what sets apart similar products. People choose to do business with companies that treat them like valued customers, not like an annoyance. If you have any unhappy customer, accept graciously their feedback, take what you can and leave the rest.
Stock photos for business websites are boring. I don’t care which website you’re looking at; most feature one or more of the following
- People in gray or black business attire around a conference table
- Hands at a keyboard/calculator
- Office buildings
- Binary code to make you think of “high tech”
- Two people shaking hands
Did I leave anything out?
Looking at this list, I notice one thing: a lack. A lack of zest, of creativity, of energy, of daring!
Unless your business is super conservative – and there are few of those left in this world – these photos are boring, clichéd, and (shudder) safe. So safe they blend into the woodwork like beige-painted walls.
Let’s not play it safe, shall we? Let’s be daring. Let’s talk like pirates. Let’s be bold, free, and most importantly – ourselves when it comes to images for our business websites!
Branding Through Images
Branding is more than the logo and colors chosen for your business. Branding actually consists of the spaces in between the tangible, the feelings and emotions evoked by a business. Diving deeply into your business through the feedback from your customers is the surest way I know to find your true brand image. Often what you believe is your brand isn’t your brand, but someone else’s ideas about your brand.
We carry with us the images of all of the things we have encountered throughout our lives, and this colors our perception of “what a business should look like.” Most of us are numb to the images we see daily around us. The billboards, the websites, the signs. We are used to what others think a bakery should look like, or a pet grooming service, or a marketing agency.
My own business suffered from this for years. I had vowed a long time ago not to resort to the old-typewriter look on my website. Too many copywriters, marketing writers and freelance writers use the typewriter as a metaphor for writing. But truly, how many companies hiring us these days even remember what a typewriter was, never mind realize it’s a symbol of a writer? The only industry still clinging to its ancient symbolic roots like this is the caduceus in medicine or the draft horses on the teamsters union sign.
Computer keyboards are, alas, a typical stand-in to demonstrate our finesse as writers, but does this truly exemplify what we do? I am no more a typist than I am a red-pen artist; I write and I edit, I create and I craft, I define and I refine.
But how do you visually express create, craft, define, refine?
My customers tell me they love working with me for the solid, dependable experience I bring to the encounter, the warmth of our working relationships, the feeling that I “get” their business and am able to express what’s in their hearts and minds about their own work. How do you express that visually?
Storytelling Includes Metaphors. So Should Can Your Brand Images.
Storytellers often use metaphors to express feelings. When metaphors become clichéd, they are boring and detract from the writing.
Visual storytellers or web designers must reach for metaphors, too. It’s easy to fall back on boring and clichéd visual metaphors such as hands hovering over a keyboard or concerned people seated around a conference table. Visual and verbal metaphors remain part of the common consciousness because they work, at least on the superficial level.
To truly stand out, however, you must dig deeply for your next metaphor. Your visual images should convey your brand attributes in ways that feel right for your business. My own brand visual includes references to nature; I am at home in nature, whether walking the woodland trails near my home or tending to my garden. It is in nature that I am myself, and in nature that I am most creative, so in nature do I place my business.
The metaphors I’ve chosen echo what clients say and what our company name reflects: oak, a solid wood, one of the strongest, symbol of the great Norse gods and of strength, durability, and power.
As you choose images for your website, consider your brand attributes.
Creativity? Reach for the creative. Think big! Black and white with splashes of color, interesting angles, close-ups or panoramas. Give your audience the unexpected, the jarring, the unique.
Attention to detail is your brand attribute? Think tiny, intricate photos of the weave of cloth, of frost on a windowpane, or cells in a leaf. All of these are available as stock photos you can license.
Professional? Ditch the men in business suits, please. Consider abstract prints, artistic swirls, or something fun. Consider unusual images that reflect your bright shining personality, not the personality of Big Corporate Culture.
Choosing and defining your brand takes time. Once you’ve figured it out, however, you’re well on your way to avoiding the stock photos for business websites that make you sleep syndrome. Be the wake-up call for your industry. Be the leader.
© Jeanne Grunert/Seven Oaks Consulting. Jeanne Grunert, also known as ‘the marketing writer’, is a veteran writer, editor, and content marketer. She is the president of Seven Oaks Consulting and can be reached via her website, www.marketing-writer.com
The image accompanying this post is not boring stock photography. It’s boring nature photography taken by yours truly.
It pays to be nice, at least according to a new study from Binghamton University, State University of New York.
In the study, researchers examined the leadership styles and results achieved by 1,000 members of the Taiwanese military and 200 people in corporate America.
Leaders who emphasized human relationships, empathy, and consideration for the well-being of others achieved better job performance than those who took an authoritarian, performance-only driven approach.
This is welcome news for those of us seeking to bring greater compassion and empathy into the workplace. We’ve all had those bosses from hell like the editor in the Devil Wears Prada, memorably played by Meryl Streep, who don’t seem to care if we get a bathroom break, a weekend off, or a second to eat lunch.
Those bosses – the ones who don’t give a darn about their workers but only care about the results – finish last. The ones who care whether their employees have what they need to do their jobs well finish first.
It’s like we’ve told you so all along….
Read my piece on Medium with more information on this intriguing study: Leaders Who Demonstrate Compassion and Empathy Get Better Workplace Results.
We’ve all experienced awful service. We’ve all experienced good service.
As business people, we all know – or should know- the value of excellent customer service.
How valuable is good customer service? If you improve service by just 5%, according to Bain & Company, profits can increase 25 to 90%.
So with just a little effort, training, and better hiring practices, you may be able to increase profits. Who wouldn’t want that?
In this article written for Medium, I share not just the facts about why good customer service matters, but how to achieve it without spending a fortunate on fancy loyalty programs, punch cards, free gift with purchase items and so on.
Enacting a strong customer service policy isn’t expensive, but it’s not easy. It takes thought, effort, and consistency. When it’s done well, however, it can reduce customer attrition (churn) and boost profits.
Again, I ask: Who wouldn’t want that?
Read the full article here: The Customer Pays Your Salary – Why Excellent Customer Service Is Vital for Client Retention