Why you are called to create something that matters

Do you want to create something that matters? A business that makes a difference? If you want to change the world with your work, click through for advice from someone who has!

Do you want to create something that matters?

That sort of seems like a trick question, right? Who says “I’d like to create work that’s superficial, boring, and disposable?”

Nobody, right?

But sometimes we’re reminded about the importance of putting good things into the world by … magazines in the grocery store checkout line.

There I was, three months after giving birth to my son and buying a few groceries in a rare respite outside of the house. As I waited in line, my eyes scanned across the magazine headlines screaming at me from the checkout stand:

“Hate Your Butt? 5 Secrets to A Body You’ll Love!”
“Miracle Cream Erases Wrinkles Forever!”
“How to Be Rich and Powerful…And Work Less Than Three Days A Week!”
“(CELEB) Tells All About Her Life, Loves and Drug Use in Hot New Autobiography Buy it Today!”

A wave of panic flooded over me as tears sprang to my eyes. Frustrated tears. Angry tears.

Was this the world my darling little boy has just entered? This is what he has to look forward to once he learns how to read? Yikes.

Maybe it was post-partum hormones but, really…no. Anyone who knows me knows I have hated hyperbolic marketing and trashy reality TV (worse, people who are famous just for acting like infants) for a while.

And the digital marketing world is no different: people promising riches, 6-figure incomes, and pretty much everything but an evil lair in your own mountain hideaway (although it’s probably out there).

Despairing, I surfed social media when I got home and just felt sicker. All the noise, empty claims, the “Buy This!” and “You Need That!” It seemed everyone was promising people – entrepreneurs and women especially – a pot of gold at the end of their own personal rainbow.

I’m all for optimism. But I’m also for truth and value. For putting in the hard work required to build something wonderful. And many people I know offer such value to their clients and customers every day. You just can’t always hear them above the din.

Then, I finally got it. It’s not about silencing the crazies. They will always be there, promising people the sun, moon and stars, and yes, they will find an audience to believe.

But the more of us who pledge to put something good out into the world, something decent, and thoughtful and true – the more the tide will rise and lift us all up. It’s not about stopping them. It’s about stepping up ourselves and ensuring the stories we tell are honest, the work we deliver is quality and, most importantly, the marketing we create has value and meaning.

We see examples everywhere, if we look hard enough. People like Marie Forleo, Alexandra Franzen, and Jay Baer market themselves and what they offer with integrity, hope, and meaning. These are the ones we should emulate. These are the people we should strive to become.

Make meaning. You owe it to this noisy world to create something amazing and market it truthfully. (Tweet this!)

Stuck in neutral? 4 ways to reboot your business and rekindle your fire

Ah, the first blushes of entrepreneurial love. The romance! The energy! But what happens when the passion fades and the reality of demanding customers/clients, overwhelming marketing options and painful tasks (QuickBooks, anyone?) creeps in? Suddenly, your business becomes a grind and you find yourself working harder for less reward, less return…and less joy. Your once appreciative and dreamy-eyed business starts angrily demanding more of your time and energy – but in return, rewards you with the wrong customers, a weak profit margin and just doesn’t take you salsa dancing or wine tasting anymore.

I’ve been where you are. I know what it feels like to have your business success lead you down the wrong path. How choices innocently pile up – each one seemingly rational – paving a perfect road to discontent.

So a few years ago, I took a step back. I sought the objective counsel of colleagues, a wise coach and a wondrous wordsmith and tweaked my business model and messaging – core brand elements. I started doing more of what I loved and ditched what wasn’t working. And you know what? My heart (and success) soared.

If your business (and heart) feel stuck in neutral, here are 4 ways to reboot  – and check out my big announcement at the end on how I can help…

  1. What do you hate doing? STOP IT! If your business offerings have kept piling on so you can simply cater to every single need under the sun, you need to take stock and simplify your business model. What activities bring you the most joy? Do you love teaching and strategic planning but hate detailed tactics? Then start doing more workshops or retainer projects  and don’t offer hourly project work. Do you love doing massage and energy work but hate giving facials? Then cut down your services list. This also translates into how you talk about yourself (i.e., maybe you’re no longer a “full-service spa” but a “body care studio”)
  2. Play with pricing or packaging to attract the right customers/clients: You may find that the people you are attracting pay little but demand a lot, offering little profit margin in the end. How about adding more value/quality to your offerings and increasing your prices to deter more budget-conscious folks and attract a more affluent market? Or offer a tiered set of products or services to give more cost-conscious folks a self-service option, while freeing up your time for deeper, higher-value work that you adore.
  3. Revisit your messaging: Take a good, hard look at your web copy, company descriptor or even job title. Are you saying you do everything for anybody? Are you too vague and not focused on clear, crisp benefits? Does it sound boring, even to you? This could either a) be attracting the wrong type of work or b) confusing the prospective people that you really want. Remember, when you try to create a brand that is all things to all people, you end up being nothing to no one. Detail out your ideal customer or client and only focus on content, services or products – and the appropriate messaging – to attract those people. Don’t worry about pleasing (or offending) anyone else but that target. Trust me, they’ll be fine without you.
  4. Audit your visual brand: OK, this one may require an investment to make some changes. Based on the people you really, really want to attract and the kind of work you really, really want to be doing, is your visual branding way off base? Do you need to modernize your colors, select bolder fonts or change out your imagery to better appeal to those people? I once consulted with someone trying to attract high-powered Alpha-male executives – and yet her website was all pastel colors and flowery script fonts. She was beating her head against the wall and wondering why those powerful male executives were not hiring her. She needed to update her look and feel to match her new offerings and target clients. Side benefit? Updating your visual look and feel might also get your heart racing with pride again about your business and give you a new opportunity for some word of mouth buzz.

With these tips, you can shift out of neutral and into overdrive again. In a good way, of course. Don’t drive yourself crazy. OK, I’ll stop with the driving metaphors….

Photo credit: Vincent O’Keeffe, Flickr

Has business boredom ever happened to you? What actions do you recommend to reignite your business – or your own personal passion? We’d love to hear so please leave a Comment below. Your wise words could help someone else!


Five life (and work) lessons I learned from my dog

Yes, I’ve become that person: a dog owner. I live for little Eddie, who we adopted from the shelter on a rainy January day in 2008. We had wanted a dog for so long and really wanted a Lab, but but wished those dogs could be a bit smaller. And, lo and behold, that day at the shelter we were shown a shy, skittish Black lab mix, about a year old and only 35 lbs., fully grown. I think we conjured him into being.

Havign a dog has really impacted the way I approach my work. Since I work from home, I walk him every morning after breakfast. I love having this little luxury in my life. And now I can actually relate to women who struggle with going back to work and leaving their baby at home. Yes, I know – he’s a dog. But he’s our baby. Of course, we don’t overspoil him, as we’re huge disciples of The Dog Whisperer so we practice “exercise, discipline, then affection” in that all-important order. Except for one guilty excess: letting him curl up on the couch with the rest of “the pack.” He’s just so damn cute, I can’t resist.

My walks with him have taken on new meaning after my health crisis in 2008. When I first got home after my brain aneurysm, I was weak, frail and had major vision issues. So for me, the goal was “to be able to walk Eddie again on my own.” And I reached that goal. No “I want to visit the Pyramids” or “I have to see the world” near-death comeback goals for me. The whole ordeal actually made me want to get back to the simple pleasures of life…and walking the dog by the lovely little canal near our house was one of them.

As I walk Eddie, I realize how much he has taught me on these little 30 minute soul-satisfying getaways. Lessons I apparently needed to learn after my high-stress, high blood pressure, non-stop, overcommitted, active lifestyle put me in the hospital in the first place:

  1. Live in the moment: Dogs are all about this. They can’t remember one minute from the next. When I’m walking and a thousand to-do items are swirling through my head as I charge onward, Eddie will stop short and pull me back to the present to stop and sniff a flower or a shrub. Doesn’t matter if we’ve passed it a million times; he finds something new in it. It’s a good reminder to just be in the moment and enjoy the precious 30 minutes outside with him, look around, get out of my head, breathe, and relax.
  2. There can be beauty in crap – just depends on your perspective: As we trot through the college campus right by my house, cherry blossoms blooming, the spring air thawing winter’s chill, I’m assaulted with the smells of newly laid manure in the plantbeds and lawns. It’s nasty. Eddie, however, acts like a tween girl at a Miley Cyrus concert. He leaps up and down, tries to romp through the grass as far as his leash will go and pretty much goes nuts. To him, it’s like catnip (dognip?). So I realize one man’s trash is another dog’s treasure, so to speak. And it reminds me that from this foul stench, bright green grass, gorgeous tulips, azaleas, and daffodils are blooming nicely for us to enjoy.
  3. Forgive and forget: When we come home and Eddie does not come bounding down the stairs to greet us, we know he’s been up to something. So we trudge upstairs to see what horror awaits. Usually it’s that he’s dug something from the recycling bag and torn it to shreds. He cowers before we’ve even said anything (which my husband recently said kind of made him respect the little guy). So we do the “Bad Dog!” routine and Time Out. And after 15 minutes, he’s back licking our hands or sitting in front of us expectantly, tail wagging. All is forgotten. So we must forget as well. I’ve never been good at quickly overcoming things when someone hurts or disappoints me, but he makes me realize that you have to move on if you love each other.
  4. Find joy in the simple things: Taking Eddie to the dog park and letting him run free, chasing the ball, as he greets other dogs gives me more pleasure than I ever would have thought possible. I love that he can run around, off leash, and get his exercise. He’s so joyful, it’s unreal. Doesn’t matter how many times we throw that ball: his ears perk up, his tail wags excessively, you hear the “pant, pant” of his tongue, and he eagerly awaits the ball throw. I can’t remember the last time I felt as much joy about something so simple. And then I think: in this moment, my joy comes from watching his joy. Even when he is just laying on the coach, you can look at him. He’ll stare back in complete stillness – but his tail will start wagging like crazy. All because he is basking in your attention. Or while on the coach, he flips over on his back, splaying his legs and nether regions to the world and just lays there, paws in mid-air. And he’ll just look at you, upside down, with an expression of, “What?” on his face. This makes me laugh each and every time. Never gets old. Talk about a recession-proof pleasure.
  5. Put someone else first: I’ve never really had to take care of anyone else in my life. I’m the youngest in my family. Yes, I babysat as a kid and have nieces and nephews, but it’s not the same. We don’t know if we will have kids someday, so for us, Eddie is new territory. Now, we’re forced to plan ahead. That word was never really in our vocab before. We have to make sure he gets walked and fed, and we have to make arrangements when we go out of town. Sometimes, we’ll be out in the evening, and we actually feel bad about leaving him alone . I may even sacrifice some little pleasures for myself to make sure Eddie’s still gets his high quality food, treats or a new toy. Where I used to spend that pointless money on myself, now I spend it on him – all because I see how much joy he gets from things (see #4). Maybe it’s all in my head, but I don’t care. It feels good to do something that makes your dog happy – even if he won’t remember it in 5 minutes.

Having a dog is wonderful. Not only did he help during my health recovery but having him teaches me so much about appreciating the present – and even about healthier ways to approach my work and my business. I don’t really much mind becoming “that” person, after all.

What has inspired you to approach your life or your business differently? Do you have a pet who adds to your life? Please share in the Comments.

What is the You Economy? A chat with Tara Gentile (take the survey)

Welcome to the You Economy. PS, if you’re a “creative entrepreneur” you’re already part of the movement.

At Red Slice, one of my values is that creativity and cash flow are not mutually exclusive. We’re seeing it all around us in the New Economy: people building brands based on a social mission; billionaires supporting philanthropy and profits at the same time – and thousands of small businesses and “solopreneurs” creating positive change, healthy businesses and meaningful lives.

Tara Gentile is a crusader in this mission – with a different slant. She’s a writer, speaker and business coach leading what she terms the You Economy. What does that mean? “I’m redefining the whole business paradigm as the exchange of commerce, experience, and meaning so that my clients can earn more while making their customers’ lives richer.”

See? Passion, profits and doing good can all co-exist. Tara is living proof: “I’m an aspiring theologian turned business thinker. I’m the daughter of a creative entrepreneur – though she didn’t realize it at the time – and the mother of a daughter I can’t imagine will be anything but!”

Tara’s the author of The Art of Earning – a guide to rewriting your personal money story for the New Economy.  And if you’re a small business or solopreneur, help her spread the word about the power of microbusiness by completing the $100 Million Microbusiness Survey.

RS: Tara, welcome! Please tell us about what your do for entrepreneurs and what you see as the biggest barrier to small business success.
TG: I enable people to discover what is really valuable about what they do. We most often get into business for ourselves but our self-interested motivations don’t cut it when it comes to really developing a business that works! It’s all about seeing things through the customer’s eyes. That takes some experimentation, insight, and confidence. It’s also takes getting out of your own head and into someone else’s.

The biggest barrier to success for small business owners is themselves! Business owners get so caught up in doing things “right” that they forget to do what works best for themselves and their customers. I find there is still an immense amount of fear in doing business, as well. Fear keeps you from clearing your schedule to work on your latest & greatest idea, it keeps you from trying something new to engage your customers in a new way, it keeps you from offering the product or service that will make your business go from surviving to thriving.

RS: What is the $100 million microbusiness survey and how did it come about? What do you hope to achieve or find out?
TG: The $100 Million Microbusiness Survey is an attempt to gather data on $100 million of economic activity by microbusiness owners. Because we tend to measure our business production in terms of “salaries” and not revenue that’s streaming into the economy, we sell ourselves short.
In 2009, 95.5% of US businesses were microbusinesses. In 2008, $265 BILLION of net income was achieved through sole proprietor businesses in the United States. In 2009, $837 BILLION worth of sales were generated by non-employer businesses in the United States. Yet, we know very little about these kind of businesses.

My goal with the survey is to better understand who these business owners are, what difficulties they face, and maybe – just maybe – how we can help them to achieve their dreams through media awareness & government policy.

RS: Great stuff! PS, everyone with a microbusiness reading this should take the survey now and let their voice be heard. In your opinion, what is the future of small business success in this country – or even worldwide? Any juicy trends or predictions to share?
TG: The future of business in the United States – and around the globe – is small business. More specifically, the future is microbusiness. My “juicy trend” might seem like a downer but really it’s quite optimistic: the jobs aren’t coming back. Our economic production will continue to grow through technology, not human resources. If we want people to be earning real money in fulfilling ways, we need to plug them into real businesses.

Those businesses may represent ways in which they would have been employed in the past (think freelancers earning more with greater flexibility) or they could be in new fields, serving people in new ways. Government needs to make it much easier for us to take agency over our livelihoods. We need health solutions that work, tax solutions that work, child care solutions that work, investment solutions that work.  And we need it now. We, the microbusiness owners, will pull us out of this downward spiral. We are the New Economy.

Connect with Tara Gentile on Twitter or Facebook. And please take and share the $100 Million Microbusiness Survey today.

Have you built a business that may not have existed 50 or even 25 years ago? Does your business enable flexibility and creativity in your own life? Please share in the Comments below!

What do others see in your brand?

Wow! A writer for Gnosis Arts Microtank assessed the Red Slice brand recently in a very complimentary piece called The Science of Branding. You should check out all parts of this series, as it’s very interesting in terms of how branding works in the human brain. This Part 2 talks about 6 modern branding approaches:

  • individual branding
  • attitude branding
  • emotional branding
  • iconic branding
  • no-brand branding
  • mindshare branding.

How do others interpret your brand? Is it the image you want them to have or not? Brand lives in the minds of customers and all we can do is try to influence that perception visually, verbally and experientially – across everything they do. But they have the final say. Someone I worked with recently has a very feminine logo and website look and feel, and I was shocked to find out that ideally, she’d like to work with executive males. Talk about delivering the wrong message to the wrong audience! Her ideal clients may have visited her site only to be turned away by what what they saw, or to decide that she wasn’t for them.

Red Slice was listed as an example of both emotional and iconic branding. The writer of the article got it right when he talked about me going for that emotional connection with Red Slice. He correctly interpreted the red apple standing out from the sea of green apples as something to be desired (differentiation). I help clients create a brand and messaging that will stand out from the crowd, connect with customers and delight them. Working with my design team at Karo on this site, I wanted to convey “fresh, juicy, irresistible” and the writer assessed this accurately based on the imagery of all the different pages. However, he also saw some “sexiness” and “forbidden fruit” in some of the imagery and experience that I never saw before. Being so close to my own brand, I had not seen this and it was unintentional. But  that aspect of “attracting” your audience still works for my business, in my opinion. Businesses want brands that people can’t resist and that they talk about. While I don’t believe a “sexy” brand is the answer for every client, I do try to find some aspect of sizzle in what they do for their target audience!

They also talked about the importance of this consistent experience carrying over to my well-designed Facebook page. That was, again, by design. You want to convey the same brand message in everything you do. Thanks to Socialbees for a great job translating my brand and design to Facebook. Love them.

It’s worth it to get some objective opinions about your branding and what it is saying. But do this carefully, as to many opinions can really muddy the waters. You want to make sure you are asking people who are close to your target audience or who know how to give objective brand opinions. As I mention in my book, asking your 21 year-old nephew what he think of a your brand, which is designed to appeal to 50+ year old women might not yield the best insights for you. Miley Cyrus is a branding phenom for her target demo, but I can’t stand her. And I’m not supposed to – she’s not meant for me.

Seek out an objective brand audit from a prospective target customer, a loyal current customer, a trusted partner or a branding expert. You may be surprised that you are saying something you don’t mean to say – or not saying something that you think is coming through loudly and clearly.

Battle of the Eco-Markets: Whole Foods vs. Metropolitan Market

Guest post from Red Slice intern Suzi An

I am a Whole Foods fiend. I shop there every week, I read their blog on a daily basis, and I tweet about them constantly. In fact, Whole Foods is the reason I am going to a University; I wrote my college essay on Whole Foods. Now, I live in Queen Anne where two Metropolitan Markets exist. I tried to do the whole Met Market thing but I could not break away from my Whole Foods. Aesthetically, the Met Market’s exterior is pleasing. I am greeted by bundles of different colored flowers and stacks of in-season melons. But once I walk inside, I see minimal selections of everything from dairy to bread and I’m greeted with the smell of grease from the deli. I walk over to the produce section and I see small apples for over $2 a pound and vegetables that do not look so bright. I peruse the aisles and find that I could find the majority of their products at QFC (which is closer to where I live than Met Market). Where is the exciting marketplace that their mission promises? Everything looks generic and bland to me. The florescent lights blare down on my face and I know I do not look good in this light! I was led to believe that Met Market is a supporter of our local farmers but instead they focus on world-class products, which explains the higher prices. My experience at Met Market has been a bit depressing and underwhelming. Then I start checking out and I regret everything I just purchased. With maybe about eight or nine items, my total cost is around $80. I feel like for the amount of money I paid, I should have received much more.

Contrast this with my experiences at Whole Foods which make me feel like a better person. The minute I walk into any Whole Foods, I’m met with the smell of fantastic foods that are being prepared for customers. I walk through the pastry aisles and see a wide array of choices that I usually skip over it because it does get overwhelming from time to time. I then walk through the produce and fruit section where there are great looking colorful carrots on display among asparagus, kale, and swiss chard. The arugula looks amazingly fresh and crisp and I can smell the bananas and pineapple drifting toward me. I then walk to the bulk aisle but get distracted by the seafood section. The fillets of fish are glimmering and look so moist. The fishmongers are attractive and give you a smile as they shout out if you need any help. I weave in and out of the middle aisles until I finally backtrack and head towards the meat department. My mouth begins to water. All the different meats are carefully displayed and my attention goes to the rack of lamb. It sits there so deliciously that my mind wanders into the land of cooking possibilities. After I am done with my shopping escapade, I wobble towards the check out lines with my heavy groceries. My total comes out to be around $70.

Let’s reflect back on this for a moment: I bought fair trade bananas, organic, local, and GMO-free produce and fruits, preservative free products, and hormone-free, antibiotic-free, meats, along with many other snacks. Not to mention there was a fantastic sale on their pretzels and yogurt. I basically bought a good week and a half worth of groceries for less than what I had spent at Met Market, where I experienced lame service (except for the fishmonger, he was very nice) and a generic shopping experience. If I’m going to spend that much money at Met Market, I expect something more than just an average grocery market.

I appreciate the effort Whole Foods puts in to connecting with their customers and making them feel like how they shop makes a difference . I love the fact that every time I tweet about them, I receive a response. I love how the staff actually gives you recommendations and thanks you for bringing in your own bags while you are bagging your own groceries. You may say I’m obsessed, but the experience I receive at Whole Foods will make me a lifetime consumer  – and loyal raving fan.

St Germain: The Virgin America of liqueurs?

Guest post by Red Slice intern, Suzi An

How often do you hear about Elderflower liqueur? I’m not sure I knew what Elderflower was until last week. Which is unfortunate because that’s from what St. Germain is made. My first experience with fancy liqueur was at the beginning of the year when a bartender at Via Tribunali placed a small glass of something in front of me.

“What is that?” I ask.

“It’s St. Germain,” says Andrew.

I dunk my nose just below the rim of the glass and began to sniff.

“Why does it smell like lychee?” At this point, I’m confused but intrigued by the sweet smelling liqueur.

It wasn’t until last month that our paths crossed once again. But this time, I saw the actual bottle. Have you seen this thing? It is possibly the most elegant bottle of alcohol I have ever seen. It’s a tall, heavy glass bottle with six sides and a color scheme of navy blue, gold, and if you look closely, light turquoise. Even the cap is elegant and refined. I then proceeded to read the little booklet that was attached to its neck that relayed the story of St. Germain. Think about a French man riding his bicycle in the Alps to gather the delicate flower by hand. He then rides his bicycle down to the local market. There are only 40 to 50 of these men who make it possible for the rare liqueur to be made in a given year; hence why St. Germain is rare and a bit pricey. I flip the page and that’s when the sassiness began:

To put this into context, we can safely say that no men, bohémien or otherwise, will be wandering the hillsides of Poland this spring gathering wild potatoes for your vodka. Likewise, we know of no Bavarians planning to scour the German countryside in search of exotic native hops and barley for your beer.” I love that they are so confident in their brand because they know it takes much effort to make such a rare liqueur. Furthermore, they are proud of their brand because of the craftsmanship aspect of it. You can tell by their word choice. Again, brand communicated verbally is just as important as anything visual.

Neither passionfruit nor pear, grapefruit nor lemon, the sublime taste of St. Germain hints at each of these and yet none of them exactly. It is a flavor as subtle and delicate as it is captivating. A little like asking a humminghbird to describe the flavor of its favorite nectar. Très curieux indeed, n’est-ce pas?” Very curious, indeed, is it not?

Very curious. Beyond curious. I’m fascinated. The reason why I say St. Germain is the Virgin America of liqueurs is because of the sassiness and the experience they promise. Virgin America flies to limited places, St. Germain has limited quantities of their liqueur. Virgin America promises to make flying fun, St. Germain promises to make you feel sassy and sophisticated. Virgin America’s tone is that of St. Germain. Both are fun and snippy.

In the same booklet, there are pages of recipes that contain even more fun little surprises than the brand story. For example, at the end of the directions for the Sangria Flora, it says, “Serve in an iced-filled glass, then telephone your physician and regale him with stories of your exemplary fruit consumption.” I chuckled as I read that. As I closed the little booklet, it was as if a whimsical soirée had come to an end. I wanted to go back and read through the whole thing like a party I just didn’t want to leave. I wanted to feel like I was enjoying a warm summer night eating delicious French food with my closest friends, as we dine by the dim lights hanging from the trees around us. My experience with St. Germain is not about the liqueur; it’s about the brand, the story of how it came to be, the way it interacts with me, and the way the brand makes me feel. I don’t think I could say that about any other alcohol brand.

What you can learn from Virgin America

OK, I have a major brand crush on Virgin America. Huge. I swoon when I see their logo at the airport, thrill when I’m able to fly them on quick trips down to San Francisco, and dream about hanging with Richard Branson over cocktails sometime. I talk about them a lot in my new book, Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget.

There’s a lot you can learn about branding effectively from Virgin America (and Virgin in general for that matter.) And these are lessons you can apply to your own business, regardless of your size or budget. You may not be as big as they are, but you sure as heck can practice these principles to better connect with customers and stand out from the competition.

1) Keep your mission simple, concise and relevant: “Make flying fun again.” Boom. That says it all. And every decisions they make, big or small, is tested against this simple mantra. How inspiring is this for employees? How deliciously irresistible is this to frustrated and road-weary travelers? How different from the other airlines who tout generic, irrelevant platitudes like “best customer service” or “biggest value”? This mission has meaning and even just the wording tells you a little bit about their personality and the type of customer they want to attract. They are not just after those who can afford first-class or private jets who may not share the same flying frustrations as the rest of us. They are FOR the rest of us! Their mission is crisp, clean but still specific enough to their actual products and services. Is your mission something you can actually act on that will guide all of your decisions, or is it some lofty, esoteric statement that is not relevant to customers or employees?

2) Little things mean a lot: They extend their brand into everything from their color scheme that extends to the ticket counters and the airplane cabin to the cheeky wording of their standard airport signs (“While impressive, if your bag is bigger than 24” X 16” X 10”, it must be checked”) to their clever in-flight safety video. Rather than a stiff actor giving me the same instructions we’ve started to tune out on every other flight, Virgin America shows a stylized animated video with all sorts of crazy characters – even a bull calmly reading a magazine next to an anxious bullfighter. The company’s sassy, humorous tone carries over to the script as well: “For the 0.0001% of you who’ve never operated a seat belt before, here’s how it works.” These are simple things (and stuff they need to spend money on to produce anyway), but Virgin makes the most of every single solitary customer touchpoint in order to convey their brand and make their target customers fall in love with them. What opportunities are you wasting to really surprise and delight your target audience? Perhaps well-worded email opt-out policies (If you’d like to unsubscribe, we’d really miss you!) or a memorable voicemail message (We’re out helping our clients be superheroes today) or even a branded email signature can really make a difference. Such hidden delights will surprise and enchant and get people telling others about you, like I’m doing here. Just ensure that these flourishes match who you really are in your DNA and what your brand is all about. If your brand audience is more conservative and formal than playful and snarky, then don’t try to go there.

3) Deliver on your promise: Virgin America directs all its brand efforts on convincing me they will make flying fun again. But if I didn’t experience their confident and polished employees, rapid check-in kiosk process, glorious discount prices, or the private TV’s at every seat that also allow me to order food at any time with my credit card – not just when they decide I should eat – then we’d have a problem. They would not be delivering on their mission and would then suffer from a brand identity crisis. Are you living up to what you are promising to customers? If you say customer care is your number one priority, do I get rapid response to my support issues and easy access to a live person? If your colors and website are all slick, modern and progressive but you only offer the same-old, same-old, what am I to think? It’s worse to go out there and talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk – worse than not promising it in the first place. Don’t just slap a coat of brand paint on your business. Make a promise and ensure your operations, employees, and customer experiences are set up to deliver on it.

What are your favorite TV shows subliminally telling you to do?

We all know about product placement as a way to cut through the ad clutter and still enable content providers to attract marketers. This is when they embed the product into the actual show, like Coke strategically placing branded cups at the judges’ table on American Idol or Cisco’s video conferencing equipment playing a crucial storyline role on CSI.  The other day, I even saw one of the most blatant (and frankly, tacky) ones on Bones: two female characters are driving along and the passenger says to the driver, “Do you have kids?” The driver says no, and the passenger asks her why she has a Minivan. The driver says, (paraphrasing) “Oh, I love my Sienna. First of all, I’m an artist so there’s room for all my stuff. And I don’t even have to struggle with parallel parking anymore, which I hate.” I’m sure the show’s writers cringed and felt like they needed a shower to wipe the cheesiness off of them after writing those lines.

But I’m okay with product placement if it allows us to enjoy good content without having to pay a lot for it. Subsidizing content development with advertising  is a better alternative to me – I always find it funny that people want something for nothing in this world. And seriously, product placement goes way back: remember, “soap operas” are so named because of the early days when soap and detergent companies would sponsor them.

But the newest thing is “behavior placement:’” sending softer messages through TV content so that advertisers can then have a more receptive audience to their message. This WSJ article talks about how NBC Universal plans a week of programming across their networks that emphasizes healthy eating and exercise or environmental responsibility and the shows’ storylines address this behavior in some way. For example, “The Office” had a storyline about Dwight being a “Recyclops” superhero as he humorously and overzealously encouraged the office to recycle.  A Telemundo show had a character whose job was to recruit people for the Census – an important message to the Latino community, which is usually undercounted. And “Top Chef” promoted buying locally grown foods by having competing chefs prepare a meal using only organic and local produce and ingredients. Some behavior placements are more subtle, as when a plotline on NBC’s new show, “Trauma” involved someone reporting an emergency from their hybrid vehicle or when Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker” featured a client who owned an eco-friendly clothing line.

As NBC Universal coordinates these themes across their shows during certain time periods (like Green Week), they are then able to attract advertisers who benefit from those behaviors. For example, Soy Joy, a health food manufacturer, or carmakers pushing Hybrids. They can even offer special ads with characters from the shows, as Kenneth the page from “30 Rock” did for Pepsi’s Sun Chips brand who had just launched a compostable bag: they produced a skit with him that will run during a commercial break.

The networks know they can’t be too pushy or preachy or they risk alienating their audience. And if the behavior makes sense in context and maintains the show’s flow and integrity, that is cool with me. “The Office” producers say they had been thinking about doing this with Dwight’s character even before the network came to them and ordered “an environmental storyline.”  But what are your thoughts? Would you rather pay more for programming development devoid of such tactics? Or are you fine with a few ad messages here and there if it results in quality programming at a decent price for you?

C’mon baby, light my (entrepreneurial) fire

How’s your cashflow and your mojo? Does your vision match your reality? Does your brand match your soul?

Danielle LaPorte can help you answer these tough but important questions so you can make your business dream a reality. I’ve loved her brazen and authentic style ever since we first met a few years ago on a client project. I’m thrilled to talk to her in today’s Ask the Expert about her new digital experience for entrepreneurs: The Fire Starter Sessions. As she says in her witty and wonderful way: “It’s an e-book meets video transmission of acumen and love.” Whether you’re in the early idea phase or a well-established rut, Danielle wants to light a fire under your….aspirations.

THE FIRE STARTER SESSIONS is: Worksheets that help you draw conclusions, quick videos with motivational punch, connections to current thinkers, practical smarts, and frank wisdom — THE FIRE STARTER SESSIONS is packed with inspiration that you will put to use. Danielle has worked with 462+ entrepreneurs in her 1-on-1 Fire Starter consults. For CEOs, coaches, artists, retailers, bestselling authors — from site design to big dreams — Danielle’s strategies combine passion with pragmatism to get to fulfillment and cash. And she’s also got nuggets from A-list marketing strategists, pro-bloggers, experts and creativity coaches.

RS: Hi Danielle. Tell us a bit about you and what White Hot Truth can do for business owners?

DL: I’m part strategist, part philosopher. Someone once said I’m a cross between Deepak Chopra and Janis Joplin. Kinda fits. I write about self realization, and I jam with entrepreneurs in my 1-on-1 "Fire Starter Sessions". And after working with hundreds of entrepreneurs to help them rock their careers, I decided to launch "The Fire Starter Sessions" as an online program.

RS: What is this deliciously explosive online experience all about and who is it meant for?

DL: If you’ve got the entrepreneurial spirit – this is for you. You: are likely sitting on an empire of content, product, services, and prosperity that needs a spark — or blow torch — to take you to the next level. You: want to rock your revenue streams and do meaningful things in the world.

RS:What one big mistake do you see entrepreneurs making over and over again that stymies their success?

DL: They take for granted how much they really have to offer. So many people are experts, tribe leaders, teachers – swimming in their own knowledge. A lot of what I do is about showing them the value and potential of their natural strengths and experience.

RS: The White Hot Truth brand is especially authentic and attractive. What intentional decisions did you make about your brand early on and can you give us an example or two of how you live it out in practice?

DL: "Especially authentic and attractive?" Why, thank you (insert batting eyelashes.) When I went solo to start White Hot Truth I vowed that I would never dummy down, I would never shrink from my spiritual or intellectual power, I would only put out material that I felt was useful. So far, so good.
Even though I’d been "blogging" for a long time, when I launched White Hot Truth it took me about three months to find my truest voice. I thought I might write about style…but, nope. Relationships… nada. I let myself feel what I really WANTED to talk about, not what I thought would sell. And that’s made all the difference to not only deepening my creativity and quality of work, but the quality of people who are shown up for it.
Passion has a way of doing that.


DIGITAL FIRE STARTER SESSIONS…a digital experience for people with the entrepreneurial spirit.

Pre-ordering opens April 7 with a special sneak peek chapter. Worldwide release is May 12. The program is $150, with $5 from every purchase going to The Acumen Fund or WomenforWomen.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Danielle sparking up The Fire.