When Growth for Profit Hurts Your Brand

I’ve been a loyal WordPress proponent for a few years now and have had a great deal of success using it to generate attractive, professional-looking websites from blogs, to stand alone web pages, for myself as well as my clients.

I have created more than a dozen sites free using WordPress as the hosting service and have to say this was the best deal in town for people who could not afford to purchase a domain name, get a web hosting service and SSL security. I always found WordPress to be flexible and could add just about anything my clients needed through free Plugins and sophisticated Themes.

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Recently, WordPress made some changes to the free level of service I find restrictive and now presents an obstacle to providing my less affluent clients with a viable web presence. Due to these changes Plugins as well as Google analytics are not available unless you move up to a paid level of service (a minimum of $100 per year). I do understand the need for companies to make a profit, but this is a case where this change made the product worse, not better.

The only drawback before the change was, you did not have much flexibility in what your web’s URL or address was going to be and that’s significant if you want people to find your site. My clients who were on a very tight budget usually didn’t mind this constraint. So, unless you already have a domain and web hosting, in which case your provider likely offers WordPress free, with all the available options, you will have to move to a paid level of service to get the variety and flexibility once provided for free.

Don’t misunderstand, there still is a completely free option, but it is less flexible and more constrained than what you get with your own web hosting service or a paid level of service through WordPress.

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Link to WordPress:   WordPress

After writing this post, I realized WordPress has two websites. One is a dot com and the other a dot org. The WordPress.org site assumes you will download the code and upload your site to a website hosting service. You will still be offered a chance to pay WordPress to host it for you but this is the FREE option. Additionally, you CAN visit the WordPress.com site and by choosing a name for your site that is still available for free, get a free WordPress hosted site. This version has some limitations but otherwise a workable solution.

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Marketing Psychology 101

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If you went to college, you were formally introduced to Psychology, if you didn’t, you probably learned quite a bit about it in the school of hard knocks. Keeping it simple, psychology is the study of how humans interact and behave. That behavior is predicated on several factors but boils down to what motivates them and what doesn’t. There are a myriad of things that can influence someone’s actions and behavior. I will focus on just a couple of these as it relates to branding and marketing.

Halo Effect

The first notion is called the “halo effect” and has to do with biases the observer has to the subject or speaker. This means that you instinctively “like” some people and, therefore, rate them better than people for which you do not have the same affinity. As you might imagine, this is vital in presenting a product or idea to a prospective buyer or group of users. The more they like the presenter, the better the chances of accepting the product or idea.

Hawthorn Effect

The second idea has to do with how to capture the attention of your prospective customer. There was a study done in the 1920s and dubbed the “Hawthorn effect” where Western Electric was trying to determine how the effect of lighting could affect the productivity of production workers. Because there were observers constantly making notes, the worker’s productivity shot up, regardless of the illumination levels. When the observers were not present, after the study, productivity sank to new lows. Paying attention to the subjects makes a difference in what they will do and think about what you are trying to convey.

The Hawthorne effect (also referred to as the observer effect) is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. The original research at the Hawthorne Works in Cicero Illinois on lighting changes and work structure changes such as working hours and break times were originally interpreted by Elton Mayo and others to mean that paying attention to overall worker needs would improve productivity. Later interpretations such as that done by Landsberger suggested that the novelty of being research subjects and the increased attention from such could lead to temporary increases in workers’ productivity. This interpretation was dubbed “the Hawthorne effect.” *Wikipedia

Appeal

One of the more interesting basic premises of marketing and appealing to people is “how things look.” Are they aesthetically appealing, or not?

Numerous authors have provided lots of advice on how to approach people and convince them to go with your ideas, from Dale Carnegie (How to win friends and influence people) to Zig Zigler (See you at the top). Most of them focus on being mindful of pleasing people and not confronting them on your differences which has a lot to do with psychology and a people-friendly approach.

Integrity and Moral Values

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Finally, since it seems to have lost its appeal, I want to put in a good word for integrity and moral values. Those are easy terms to roll off the tongue, but not so easy to practice. Being patient with people and staying away from the temptation to be dishonest or misleading is an art on which many of us need brushing up. Too often people say what is expedient at the moment. It is human nature to avoid responsibility when something goes wrong or is done incorrectly. All the customer support folks have mastered the apologies and remorseful tones when called upon to respond to the mistakes. This does not excuse the mistakes nor does it change the behavior that all too often, caused them.

It takes quite a bit of effort to build customer loyalty and customer satisfaction, sometimes several years of diligent work. It takes just a couple of mistakes to undo all the good work that went before. Just ask Volkswagen, Enron, 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, British Petroleum, Merck, Ford Motor Company/Firestone, Aventis, Toyota, Union Carbide, Exxon and many, many others.

The One Constant – Change

I was in church last Sunday and realized I haven’t been in quite some time, at least not to my home church. I might not have realized it, were it not for the fact many of the congregation responses in the Mass have changed, ever so slightly. Whoever thought the responses needed fixing, probably weren’t trying to alienate those of us who have not attended regularly in some time. I felt I did not belong, and that probably wasn’t their intent. The changes, while likely based on sound reasoning, really do not add anything to the Mass. They are more a distraction from what was familiar and what I’m used to. It isn’t like 60 years ago, when the ecumenical council under Pope John the 23rd, changed the Mass into the local native language from Latin. That caused an uproar from many who felt the change diluted the mystery of the ritual.

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The most obvious changes are the free-wheeling changes companies now make to their names, logos, and branding. I learned a long time ago this was taboo. If you don’t really have any brand awareness in the consumer’s mind, it doesn’t matter. If you do, however, it is not recommended. The millennials never learned this unbreakable law. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, changes the logo on a whim. Google, gives their logo the same treatment. Sometimes it is necessary, but often it’s spurred by boredom with the familiar.

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The two examples of staying with the same brands I can think of are Wells Fargo Bank and Jolly Green Giant. Both companies have to fight to keep from changing what is widely known by their customers. They have invested in those brand identities, even if they might seem outdated.  The San Francisco Forty Niners tried changing their logo not long ago and the fans revolted, even after they had purchased new helmets for the players with the new “modern” logo. So this is one of those “dead marketing ideas,” that is alive and well and you would be well advised to heed this one.

Have you ever experienced “change” for change sake and didn’t feel comfortable with it like my church experience? Have you tired of your brand identity and desperately wanted to change it?

I recall a time when computer maker Packard Bell relished in knowing that half its customers thought they had bought Hewlett-Packard equipment. Packard Bell was a Dutch company that was bought and sold by a packard-bell-logovariety of manufacturers and is now owned by Acer who also bought Gateway Computers.

So while I remember the Mass in Latin since I had to say it as an altar boy, I can’t say I miss it all that much; although there are people who do, including Mel Gibson’s father.

Corporations should consider the ramifications on the customers when they are thinking of “improving” how they brand themselves. The Catholic church might take a long look at some of the “new” responses and ask themselves, “What did we fix?”

Solving Problems Thinking Outside the Box

Thinking outside the box isn’t as unique as you might assume. All sorts of people do things all the time, that are outside the normal limits they are supposed to follow. That’s a shame, but what’s worse is they don’t apply their ability to think outside the box to solve problems. That’s the rare version of outside the box thinking.

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I can recall two specific times thinking outside the box enabled me to achieve results beyond anyone’s expectations. The first occurred in 1981 when one of the software authors I worked with at Digital Marketing, invented a box that would run business software on an Atari game computer. A group of us wanted to manufacture the box and sell it to Atari owners and broaden our distribution of business software by roughly 20,000 users. Everyone loved the idea including Dave Gangola who had constructed the gizmo in his garage.

Thinking outside the box, I suggested we contact Don Kingsborough who was, at the time, responsible for Atari’s marketing.  Kingsborough also introduced a talking teddy bear named Teddy Ruxpin and built a giant marketing firm around it. Everyone liked the idea and we proceeded to contact Atari to setup10170-Atari-800 a meeting to discuss our proposal. In this process, we found out that Atari was attempting to construct the very same device Dave had invented all by himself and the project was code-named “Sweet Pea.”

In exchange for $250,000, and with the help of Peter Moss, who had come to us from Charles Schwab, Bob Baker and I met with Atari several times and negotiated a contract to provide the schematic design, manufacturing rights for 20,000 units, and 5 prototypes in time for the Comdex trade show in Chicago that year. I met Nolan Bushnell and Alan Alda, who was Atari’s official spokesman.

We were higher than a kite that winter but ran into a bit of reality when the low-end of the computer market fell apart. We spun off two companies, Add-On Computers and Add-On Software with the proceeds from Atari but our trip on cloud 9 was short-lived. Nonetheless, outside the box thinking produced a giant leap from thinking we would manufacture these boxes ourselves and try to sell them one at a time.

The second outside the box thinking, had to do with saving lots of money in inventory when I worked for Al Pease at Independent Business Systems in Livermore, California. IBS was a manufacturer of multi-user computer systems, which came in two basic flavors. One ran a proprietary  operating system based on UCSD Pascal, and the other on a niche operating system called Turbo-DOS. Both flavors came in a variety of configurations based on the size of the hard drive(s) requiring the stocking of multiple hard drives for all the supported configurations. One day, it occurred to me that by using a variety of hard disk controllers, we could use fewer hard drives and supply the same configurations in our price list. Al told me, “You earned your paycheck this month,” when I shared my bright idea. The reduction in inventory was significant and gave us the feeling we were fleet of foot, when it came to computer manufacturing.

Management 101

Management is a collection of theories and approaches to getting people to accomplish a goal or mission. This is a subjective practice and nobody has THE right answer to what makes good management. There are several components to it worthy of consideration and a few notes from my personal experience that may give you a better platform upon which to view the subject.

Before I ever took the time to study the subject, I had the opportunity to supervise other individuals and try to get particular tasks accomplished. I learned, early on that being the boss does not mean bossing people around, because people are reluctant to do what you want them to, even if they know it is necessary. So my early lessons of management had as much to do with psychology as it did to getting the job done.

In the Army, everyone has a station or rank in the hierarchy, and as you ascend in rank, you are given more responsibility and authority. One day when I was tasked to rearrange the furniture in the office, I instructed a subordinate to move a filing cabinet from one location to another and he refused. Things got a bit heated and the instruction became an “order” and he still did nothing, so I moved the cabinet myself. This was a lesson in realizing I knew nothing about management, or leadership, for that matter.

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I spent several years in college and as part of my degree in Business Administration, took several classes in management. I found out about theory X (authoritarian),  theory Y (passive) and more psychology that tried to explain how different workers were motivated to get the job done. That was all well and good, but it was book learning. In order to really understand the subject, I had to rise to the level of manager and work on the different approaches to getting the workers to work.

What I found was, it is too easy to detect when something was not right or not done, and most people react negatively to being reprimanded for missing something or forgetting to do something. The truth is, if you want the workers to do a good job, you must notice when they do something right, and compliment them for it. Honey will get you more loyalty than vinegar all the time. So I purposely focused on complimenting the people I worked with for everything I could find they did correctly, a job well done.603maslow

The two most influential men in the 20th century whose effect on management was profound were not Steve Jobs and Bill Gates but were Abraham Maslow and Edwards Deming. If you’ve never heard of them, you should look them up. I have provided links to reference at the end of this article.

Maslow, a psychologist,  created a hierarchy of needs model to describe how humans are motivated and that they will concentrate on one level until those needs are met before moving up to the next level. If you want to motivate people you will need to understand Maslow’s hierarchy.

W. Edwards Deming, an engineer by training, developed a system that became known as Total Quality Control (TQC), in which he focused on the customer’s needs and producing quality products. Deming was extremely popular in Japan after the second world war and was responsible for turning the phrase “made in Japan” into something sought after. He was directly responsible for the Japanese auto and electronics industries influence in the United States.

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I’ve had the great pleasure of working for some of the best managers on the planet. I’ve also had a couple of doozies, too. The best manager I ever had did not believe in discipline whatsoever. He was more than fair, always gave the employee the benefit of the doubt, overlooked bad behavior without condoning it, and showered his best employees with abundant praise. I would not have thought it would be a good way to manage before I had a professional relationship with him, but I really did appreciate what he was able to accomplish with his hands-off method.  I don’t think I have the patience to emulate his management style, but I admire it greatly.

I have enjoyed some of the best employees on the planet too. I’ve also had some I didn’t think too highly of as well. One of the people I was lucky to have was a young man who, as I would describe him, “ran through walls.” Another was someone I wanted to be like, he was a model citizen and set an outstanding example. With employees like these, management is easy.

Management is tough when you have to let someone go or correct behavior that is unacceptable and there can be many reasons for the behavior, but as a manager, you will have to deal with the good and the bad.

Simply Psychology Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs

Sky Mark W. Edwards Deming and Total Quality control

Marketing 101

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My first lessons in marketing came as the result of playing in a band. I was fortunate enough to play while I was still in high school and continued after I entered the Army in 1967. I played for about a year in a country band with my first experience playing at the Crystal Palace in Tombstone, Arizona. After that, I gravitated into a horn band made of members of the 36th Army band stationed with me, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. We played quite a bit, usually on the weekends, and were very popular at the NCO, Enlisted Men’s, and Officer’s clubs. We also ventured out into the civilian community and played in Sierra Vista, Tucson, Bisbee, and other small venues throughout the area.

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When I got out of the Army and went back to school, I started my own band. We practiced almost every day and played at our share of local venues in Concord, California. This is where I really got my first lesson in marketing. Some of my bandmates were focused on creating original material. They wanted to write their own songs, get discovered, and sign a recording contract because that was their picture of “making it” in the music business. Having already enjoyed some small success, I just wanted to get opportunities to play and earn a little extra money. Since I was the leader of the band, I had to “market” the band whose name was Parts and Labor and find those opportunities to play for pay.

And the first lesson is this: “you can play what you want, or play what the people want, but if you want to get paid, you have to play what the people want.”

A couple of the younger band members were not happy with this, but they didn’t want to write off playing for pay, so we compromised a bit and did some original material also. That was my lesson in band management, making sure everybody got some satisfaction out of the results and bought into being a member of the group.

At every place we played, I was sensitive to what the owner and the crowd wanted to hear and did not want to hear. This sensitivity carried over to my own consulting business. You can generate the best darn marketing program in the world, but if your customer doesn’t like it, you lose. That is one of the reasons I always got charged up and excited when I presented the results to clients because I knew I had to “sell” them on the plan and the results would sell them on how effective it was.

Some of the Pitfalls of Nepotism

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By definition, nepotism is the practice of working with or for family members and friends. If your family owns a business. it is a benefit to family members who want a job. They do not have to go through the steps to find an opportunity, apply, interview and get hired.

I have worked for, and with, more than 5 different companies that were family owned and the first thing I would say to someone who is not a member of the family is, you need to be aware of a few important differences about family-owned businesses.

The first is, there are roles in any family. Your father and mother have a significant role, and the first-born and youngest have their roles, as do the middle children, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and friends of all the above. Even though they may try to hide these roles, they don’t disappear, especially when things get testy or chaotic. Because of this, missteps by the relatives are more likely to be apparent, easily recognized, and can negatively influence your work life.

Let me give you an example.

One of the companies I worked for consisted of two married couples and one sister of one of the wives as well as a dozen unrelated civilians. Both the husbands were having affairs with two of the civilian employees right under their spouse’s noses. The wives knew it was going on and you can imagine it created an unpleasant work environment for them as well as the unrelated civilians. Both the women involved in the affairs should have known better, but it did not influence their decision to cross the line, so to speak.

Keep the Company Pen Out of the Company Ink.

Business people of all shapes and sizes have affairs with other employees, customers or married friends, but when it happens in a nepotistic situation, it is magnified and uncomfortable for almost everyone. I know of no business that condones or allows their employees to have relationships with other employees that have nothing to do with their jobs or the business.

The Boss is Always Right.

The family-run businesses I worked for all had a separate set of rules for the family members and the worker bees. The patriarch (remember the father role), usually conducted himself like the rules, whatever they were, did not apply to him. One of the owners I worked for often spent his days down the street playing coin-operated video games and left running the business to me. Another owner took many vacations and left the business to run itself. He cared deeply about his family but did not understand the principles necessary to run a successful business and the IRS locked it up for failure to pay payroll taxes and everyone was out of a job.

Do as I Say Not as I Do.

To demonstrate how messed up nepotism organization’s can be, I had one owner tell me I spent too much time in the bathroom when I had to go. That would be warranted if I went there a lot, but this was a case of the owner was lactose intolerant and was very quick for his bathroom visits. Those of us who were not had to be more patient during our morning constitution. But really, telling employees how long their bathroom visits should be? Maybe your father tells you that, but your boss shouldn’t.

One of my most successful clients is also a family owned business and they have their moments too, despite their success. The brothers who manage the company, are still fighting like they did when they were teenagers. Their children, the cousins, have to choose sides among their uncles in order to navigate their day-to-day work. Familiarity breeds contempt, and who are you more familiar with than your family? The respect you would automatically give a boss or co-worker is colored by family connections and it affects the other employees too.

Tunnels, Logos and Redundancy

tdy036I was the field support manager at Multisonics, Inc., in the mid-seventies when the company hired Donald E. Yost, a retired engineer/operations manager from Fairchild Semiconductor. Don was a colorful fellow and brought in to referee the fighting between our VP of engineering and VP of sales. Don conducted many informative meetings over a year and a half, among the staff at Multisonics, and I was privileged to attend many of them.

One day we were squabbling about some aspect of the development of our System 220  traffic control system, and he told us this story.

He said, “In the west,when we want to build a tunnel through a mountain, we get all the high-tech gear we can lay our hands on. We aim a laser at the mountain and start digging with the best earth moving and tunneling equipment in the world. After several months, we have a perfectly straight tunnel through the mountain, mission accomplished. In china, they have an abundance of people and not the best technology, so they do it differently. They get a large group of people on one side of the mountain, and another group on the other and they dig for months and months. If they meet in the middle, they have a tunnel, if they don’t, they have two.”

This sage advice remained with me and I have put it to use on several occasions. Once, I used it when I needed to change the logo of Computer Aided Management, the authors of ViewPoint, a PC-based project management software product. The change was necessary since the company’s logo consisted of three letters, CAM in a stenciled lettering font. Someone in the media at the time pointed out that it looked warlike and reminded them of Cambodia.

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The project to get a new logo was already underway through a design firm in Sausalito, California when I was hired at CAM. So I inherited their design effort but was not impressed with the way they treated me, their progress, or the design, so I proceeded to commission another design firm to produce a logo as well. The new company was very responsive, took the time necessary to dig into our business and our product, and produced a killer design using a symbol we used in the product. The first company’s effort looked like a poor rendition of a computer mouse, the second, like a 3-D brushed aluminum, very modern symbol, just what the company needed.


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This idea came to me again, when another client who was interested in having me produce a radio advertisement, asked, “What if I don’t like it?” I replied, “I will do two, and you can choose the one you want.” I went away, wrote the copy for the two ads, hired a celebrity impersonator, rented time in a recording studio and produced two ads. When I demonstrated the ads to the client he told me he liked them both, and so he paid for both of them.

How Big Organizations Solve Big Problems

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The other day I was comparing notes with my friend Hal Miller who recently left Verizon for greener pastures and he was describing how the company makes all the decisions for the sales teams. They move individuals around to different managers and assign customers to salespeople randomly, and it reminded me of two things.

One is the way very large organizations who survive over the years develop systemic problems. You’ve no doubt heard about the Veterans Administration or other government institutions who have problems getting much right, and the other is how HP handled that problem so it never became a systemic crisis.

Interestingly enough, change is the key, but random changes that interfere with a team’s chemistry is not a good way to go. At Hewlett-Packard, everyone has to change their position on the floor where they work. AbouHP1t every three years or so, we would be reorganized, but all we did was take everything we had and move as little as 3 feet north and 3 feet west. Lots of people were involved in making these move changes, and I noticed it did break up the monotony of our work. A big/little change like this is less disruptive to team chemistry, but it has the desired effect.

Extra large organizations try to fix problems through reorganization as well as change management. Too many of the policy changes forced on employees are tiresome, bothersome and don’t achieve the desired results. Moving departments from one office building to another can make enough of a change to get the employees engaged again. We all have management changes that happen because people are promoted or lost through attrition. That’s the only time we should have to adjust to a new manager. When we move to a new group or are promoted, we often find ourselves reporting to a new manager and that’s fine, and the way the system is supposed to work.