Which wine would your brand be? (Feel free to sample a lot just to be sure)

If your brand were a vegetable, what would it be?

I know, sometimes brand strategy questions can seem esoteric and ridiculous. I mean, really, what the heck does asparagus tell me about how I can make smarter marketing decisions and attract more customers, sales and word of mouth?

But creating a brand analogy for ourselves can often help us make smarter decisions for our business. (Tweet!)

The only 2 questions on which I really ever probe clients in this vein are “If your brand were a person, place or fictional character, what would it be and why?” and “You are the (BLANK) of your industry” which usually ends up being something car-related. For example, we’re the “Porsche of our industry: fast, sexy and super expensive” or “We’re the Jetta of our industry: Fun, reliable, approachable and not too flashy.”

These exercises can really help you make sense of how your brand “stacks up” in a potential customer’s mind. As I talk about in my book, Branding Basics, you want to be intentional about where people slot you in their mental file drawers. Creating such analogies can help you wrap your head around determining the right tone, visual style and even brand voice for your efforts.

So here’s a fun Slice of Adventure for you today:

Given my love for all things wine, think about “Which wine would your brand be and why?”

Is your brand a peppery, spicy Zinfandel? Are you a crisp, clean Sauvignon Blanc? A bold Cabernet Sauvignon that can take on any hearty dish or complex meat with ease? A more exotic, quirky and harder to find varietal: a gentler yet berry-filled Carménère? Or perhaps a complex, eclectic blend such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

Maybe your brand is a rustic and traditional Chianti. Or an effervescent, bubbly, and high-style Champagne!

And don’t forget winemaker brands, either: Are you a mass market Mondavi or Yellowtail or a more affluent Silver Oak? Perhaps you’re even an exclusive, rare, luxury Chateau Lafite.

If you have a good grasp on who you are in relation to your competition, you can make much smarter decisions about content, voice, pricing and visual style so you attract the right people with the right message at the right time.

Creating a “brand analogy” helps you walk, talk and look exactly how you want (Tweet this!)

So now it’s your turn: think about your brand voice, personality, style, target audience and price point and tell us in the Comments below, which wine are you?

14 Secrets to Selling $4 Million: How to Find Digital Success Using Old-Fashioned Values

I adore today’s guest post from Beth Marbach of Downtown Gal. She spent 12 years building a $4 million designer shoe resale business on eBay. Her story has everything: Scrappy moxie, digital prowess and a health dose of good old -fashioned values that catapulted her to success. Whether your business is online, in an office park or on Main Street, you will devour these 14 secrets which Beth was kind enough to share. Enjoy.

In 2001, I was an executive recruiter, and I wanted out. Desperately.

On the side, I started selling books, CDs and DVDs on eBay. With time I moved onto selling dog jackets. My profits on books were $4 to $6; my profits on canine apparel were $19 per jacket.

It was when I spotted a $49 pair of Coach Boots at DSW, which I bought and sold that very evening for $149 that my whole life changed. Twelve years later I had earned $4 million selling designer shoes online. The lessons I learned along the way were many. I honed relationship, business and marketing skills amongst many others.

Here are 14 such lessons I feel were some of the most critical to the success of my business.

1. Make Study Sheets

The success of my business was critically dependent on the monthly trips I took to various designer shoe outlets around the country. I made these trips to purchase shoes, but I also made them to solidify and grow relationships with store personnel.

See, my revenue was determined on the quantity and quality of shoes I could access, and as I could not be in all places at once, that access was greatly determined by the store personnel who thought to call or email me first (before any other reseller) when new inventory arrived.

To help support me in this, I made laminated spreadsheets which included basic information such as store names, phone numbers and addresses. These spreadsheets also included names of all store personnel (which I had met to date), and any information which would be helpful in both personal and work related conversations.  Prior to going into every store I studied these sheets and directed conservations accordingly.

2. Call Ahead

Spreadsheet studying and traveling across the country all prove to be futile if, when you arrive, your favorite sales person has the day off. To prevent this from happening I always called ahead to make sure when I arrived, they were waiting for me.

3. Know the Best Days of the Week to Shop

I was not a store’s average customer. I did not go in and purchase a few pairs of shoes. I went in and made purchases up to $10,000. To do this, I needed the undivided attention of store personnel which meant I needed to go on the slowest shopping days of the week – Monday and Tuesday. 

4. Inexpensive Branding Can Work

My branding did not come from a high priced design shop but from a few hours of my husband’s time with Photoshop. Likewise, my business name was not derived from expensive brainstorming sessions but was simply borrowed from what was, during my single days, my Match.com handle – Downtowngal. (Editor note: See? Told you building an irresistible brand on any budget was possible!)

5. Hire Effectively by Hiring Creatively

Having 100s of pairs of shoes to photograph, inventory and ship required assistance. I hired super smart high school gals, paid them more than the mall and kept them happy by letting them listen to whatever music they wanted.

6. Consider Office Space Very Carefully

Storing 100s of pairs of shoes in a basement and working for 12 years alongside them might seem less than ideal, but doing so saved me $1000s of dollars annually (or 10s of 1000s of dollars over 12 years).

7. Know there is More than One Way to Get Supplies (and Just about Anything Else You Need)

The price of shipping supplies was always a challenge. As a cost savings work around, I utilized the clean (and in good condition) shipping boxes from my local grocery store and daycare center. I then invested 2 cents per branded sticker and placed one on every box I shipped.

8. Become an Expert

95% of what I sold was shoes, and within that I focused on a small handful of designer brands. Developing my niche allowed me to use my time effectively (which was very important when you have two little kids), provided me focus on the key relationships to develop and provided me the ability to increase revenue in ways that would not be feasible had I attempted a broad product line. (Oh, and it greatly reduced daily insanity, so there is that too.)

9. Please Your Accountant

With the enormous number of fraudulent designer shoes in the marketplace, it was critical for me to keep all receipts in the case the legitimacy of my inventory ever came into question. More often than you might imagine customers asked for proof that shoes they purchased from me were legitimate. It was always good to have that validation readily available.

Keeping all receipts also helped quarterly taxes go quicker, ensured I received maximum tax benefits and made my accountant quite happy. (Happy accountant = Happy business.)

10. Categorize Your Customers

Keeping detailed records on my customers including their gender, designer preference and shoe size allowed me to easily contact people when I received shipments in which they might have interest. Sometimes I could even sell shoes to them before I had to take the time and expense to put them on eBay.

11. Consider Online and Offline Inventory Acquisition Options

The majority of the shoes I purchased were from brick and mortar stores; however there were times where I could buy shoes directly off their website. To make this process efficient, I bookmarked 20 stores, which I knew carried the designer shoes I desired. Every morning I would go through these links, purchase desirable footwear and have it shipped directly to my house.

12. Be Nice to Everyone. No Exceptions.

The sales folks at the designer outlet stores were underpaid, overworked and rarely appreciated. I found the simple act of bringing a goodie along – calling and taking coffee orders before I arrived, buying nice chocolate as gifts or bringing in a fruit basket significantly differentiated me from other resellers who, I might add, were frequently downright ruthless to store personnel.

Who wants to call a jerk to give them the heads up that new inventory has arrived?

No one.

Who wants to call the woman who is nice to them every time she sees them, brings them coffee and gets to know them so well she is invited to their wedding?

Well, that is how I built my business. It is also how I made an enormous number of wonderful friends.

13. Thank People the Old Fashioned Way

When I was growing up my parents made me send handwritten thank you notes when someone extended kindness towards me. When I received a shipment from a reseller who thought to call me first, I did the same. Within that note I included a $25 Starbucks gift card. For one quick note and a small gift of coffee, I was always one of the first resellers they called.

14. And Keep Thanking Them. All of Them.

I certainly wouldn’t have a business without the designer outlet personnel I befriended over the years, but I also wouldn’t have a business if it weren’t for the UPS drivers, the folks at the post office, my staff and of course, my customers. Christmas time at DowntownGal Shoes meant it was “thank you” time.

To my UPS drivers and post office friends I gave wonderful holiday cakes and popcorn tins, the gals I worked with could pick any pair of shoes they wanted, and the sales associates at the designer outlets would receive a  Starbucks gift certificate (with a higher value than the normal $25 cards I gave throughout the year), a card and a photo of my family. And regardless of what time of year it was, I included a free shoe shine kit for my customers with every purchase.

In the end, I found that although we live in a society that drives very hard towards the big things; it is, in fact, the little things that guarantee we get there.

About the author: To learn more about Beth Marbach, and her 12 year saga selling $4 million dollar of designer shoes on eBay go to: http://downtowngal.com/

Photo credit:  geishaboy500

Your Call to Action: Which ONE tip will you put into practice to boost your business this week? Please share in the Comments below!

12 things you will never regret saying in business

We all have had that moment when our mouth moves 3 milliseconds faster than our brain. Often, the heart has bypassed the brain’s filter completely and as you say something, you can almost literally see the words flying out of your mouth in slow motion but can’t stop them and stuff them back in.

As a fiesty redhead, this has happened to me way more times than I care to admit. With age and experience, I can honestly say it’s getting better. But tell that to the sassy 8 year-old who walked out of a TV commercial audition for a new snack cracker only to exclaim loudly to my brother, “God, those were soooooooooo gross!” – with the casting agent and client walking right behind me sporting  nervous smiles and shocked expressions. Yeah, not one of my finer. more tactful moments.

But I came to a realization in recent years that there are just some things you will never regret saying in business. You will never want to take them back and, however uncomfortable it may feel at the time to say some of these things, the regret would be in not saying them:

  1. You’re right. This seems like a great idea and offer. Let me think it over before giving you my answer, ok?
  2. I adore working with you, too! Let’s just make this official and put it in writing, so I’m sure I can deliver exactly what you’re expecting and we’re on the same page.  Protects you and me.
  3. I’m sorry. How can I make it right?
  4. That’s a really good way for us to go. Or, another option we may want to consider is….
  5. It would help me serve you better and ensure I’m delivering on my end if you overcommunicate rather than undercommunicate. I don’t mind multiple emails or calls if it means we can be successful.
  6. Let’s set up a weekly status call for this project. Sometimes, voice is easier than going back and forth on email.
  7. I would love to help you with this project but I am just too overcommitted right now and would not be able to give it the attention and care it deserves. Here are 3 other people who may be able to help you out.
  8. Please
  9. Thank you
  10. You’re welcome
  11. How can I support you in your efforts?
  12. Great job!

Photo credit: dno1967b on Flickr

Want even less regrets? If you’re in Seattle on April 23, please join me for a special workshop with the Puget Sound Business Journal: Building a Buzz-worthy Brand on Any Budget, 9-11 am. Click here for details (hurry, space is limited!)

Your turn: I know you’re dying to share your own bit of hard-earned wisdom with us, so please tell us below what phrase you have never regretted saying when doing business.  Or is there a deadly phrase you have regretted saying that led to bad consequences? Please share in the Comments below!

4 powerful business lessons from James Bond and Skyfall

James Bond…entrepreneurial guru?

I recently saw Skyfall,, the latest installment in the Bond franchise and it was incredible. Not normally a Bond fan, I loved Casino Royale, wiped the awful Quantum of Solace from my memory, but thoroughly enjoyed this latest turn. The characters were complex and flawed, the performances brilliant, the pace lively and Daniel Craig does wonders for an expensive suit. I left the theatre like I’d just gotten off a roller coaster. My husband – a native Scotsman – even dared admit, “I have to say that Daniel Craig can now be crowned the best Bond, even better than Connery.” Blasphemy! But very true.

That said, our favorite Secret Agent can also teach us some powerful business lessons. So strap on your Rolex submariner, put on your X-ray sunglasses and climb inside your tricked-out Aston Martin as we review Bond’s best advice:

  1. Stick to the basics: We’ve grown accustomed to Q loading Bond up with spectacular gadgets before each mission. In Skyfall, we watch with delight as Bond confronts his age by meeting the newest Q, a young techie hipster that wouldn’t look out of place at Apple’s Genius Bar.  One assumes Bond will get some sort of iPod mets Kinect device or some Google-developed driverless car. But no: Q simply hands Bond a Walther PPK, which is a small automatic pistol, and a  tiny tracking radio. Even Bond is surprised but it turns out that’s all he needs when in a pinch and Q mocks him by saying something like, “What? Were you expecting another exploding pen?” In our age of the next new shiny object coming out every 5 minutes, it’s easy for entrepreneurs and business owners to forget the basics and get lost in the glitz. But often, it’s the old, simple secrets that make the best weapons for your business success: building your brand strategy before throwing away money on tactics, delighting customers, collaborating in person over coffee, providing quality products/services, delivering what you promise.
  2. There’s always a way through: Many scenes in Skyfall leave viewers thinking, “Oh, he’ll never find a way out of this one!” And then, of course, Bond continues to chase the bad guy onto a moving train, escape an island run by a madman and outsmart an evil mastermind and all his henchmen with just his wits, resourcefulness and resolve. No matter how bleak it seems, no matter how much you think you’d stop running or surrender, Bond shows us that ingenuity can help you see every problem in a fresh way. If you are facing business challenges, step back and look at the issue from another angle. If sales are down, should you offer a new product or service, or adjust your prices? If no one is reading your blog, can you clarify your brand value or find other avenues to promote each post? If prospects don’t know who you are, can you partner with someone else for more exposure? There’s a million ways to look at a problem and a million levers you can pull before you throw in the towel.
  3. Stay calm under pressure: There’s an awesomely sexy scene in Skyfall where Bond crashes into the passenger car of a speeding train. As the surprised onlookers gawk, he maintains his balance, straightens up, adjusts the cuffs on his impeccable suit and proceeds to walk through the train car calmly as he continues chasing his man. That’s grace under pressure.  When things hurtle out of control, customers demand attention and you are juggling 637 things at once, how do you respond? Do you handle everything calmly and get the job done, or do you freak out or run and hide? It’s up to you to tame the chaos and say no to things that prove distracting.
  4. Control the conversation: Towards the film’s climax, Bond realizes he’s constantly one step behind his nemesis. Bond is reacting to, rather than controlling, the conversation. He sets a trap and then lures the baddie to his turf where he can now proactively make the moves he wants to make and keep his enemy off-balance, rather than vice versa. Sometimes, in business, we react to the everyday fires and demands that others are making on us, rather than keeping our eye on the ball and charting a clear course to our mission. We end up slaves to a to-do list, rather than making time to achieve our long-term vision. We need boundaries: not checking email every second, or making sure people know we only return phone calls between 3 and 4 pm, or whatever system works for you. Get your strategy sorted first and work towards that before you let the seemingly urgent but ultimately less important demands on your time take over. Change the conversation to the one you want to have.

Any other business lessons that Bond (or other movie heroes) have taught you? Please share in the Comments below and get some link love back to your site!

Follow your dream: Four entrepreneurial lessons from a radio engineer turned winemaker

Back in August, my husband and I stumbled upon a small microwinery and tasting room in downtown Healdsburg, Calfornia, Garagiste, which is a joint venture for two wineries, Cartograph and Stark. Thinking we’d just grab a quick taste and leave, we ended up enchanted by Alan Baker, Cartograph’s wine maker and owner.

Alan’s entrepreneurial story is fabulous: He’s a public radio engineer, turned blogger/podcaster, turned winemaker. With Cartograph, he produces ultra-premium Pinot Noir sourced from grapes from the best Northern California coastal vineyards. (PS, great holiday gift idea!)  His mission is to produce wines that are true to the vineyard and vintage from which they come.

As we sat and sipped, we loved the gothic, high-end feel of the stone gray tasting room and the interaction we had with the man who’d lovingly made the wines we were enjoying. We got to talking about how he loved that wine is such an experiential brand, and for that reason, so much care was taken in architecting and decorating the tasting room. Most wine lovers know that the joy is found in the experience of wine – and that can manifest whether you are spending $20 or $200 a bottle. It’s not about price: it’s about taste and experience.

But Alan is not just savvy about branding, he has a powerful entrepreneurial story, ripe with juicy lessons about planning, moxie, and following your dream – no matter how far down the bottom of the ladder you may need to start.

THIS IS A TWO PART INTERVIEW. In Part One, Alan shares how he got started in an industry he knew little about and parlayed a loyal audience into backers for his dream. In Part Two, Alan shares important lessons on crafting an experiential brand.

Here is Part One of Alan’s story with four lessons you can take to heart in your own ventures:


1. Opportunity will knock – if you build your house in the right place (Tweet!)

My passion for great wine started with a simple $13 bottle of Riesling from Alsace. I was fascinated that such a simple thing as a pale colored glass of wine could be so incredibly complex and engaging. My obsession with learning everything I could about the wines of the world eventually led me to decide I needed to at least try to find a way to make wine the focus of my day rather than an off-hours pursuit. After years of interviewing maverick American composers like Meredith Monk and Philip Glass for my radio work, I knew that finding the right path is often a process that brings a lot of uncertainty and risk into life. They instilled in me the belief that if you focus on what you love and do best while putting yourself into a position where opportunities may present themselves, you’re sure to find creative energy and success.

2. Work with what you’ve got (Tweet!)

Once I’d decided to strike out for California from my Minnesota home, I needed a scheme to get experience. I knew I loved wine, but I wasn’t confident I would love the wine “business.” I feared that I’d end up like the cake lover who opens a bakery only to realize they hate getting up at 2 a.m. every day. So rather than spend my life savings on a degree at UC Davis, I decided to do what I already knew how to do: produce radio. I’d use my production skills to investigate where I might fit in the wine business. The plan was simple and, necessarily, vague. I would write a blog and produce an audio podcast to document my adventures as I explored the wine industry – a well-developed industry I knew very little about.

I told all my friends and family about the idea repeatedly to force myself out of my safe public radio job and into the unknown. My pitch to wineries was that if they gave me part-time work, they’d get publicity from the podcast. There was really no other reason for them to pay me to do work they could get done faster with experienced help, so the podcast was my foot in the door.

In the fall of 2005, National Public Radio picked up the podcast for their alt.npr series. This affiliation grew the audience for my content quickly and enabled me to pretty much call anybody up and schedule an interview. I used the podcast as a way to investigate all aspects of the industry from grape growers to marketing pros and wine makers I respected to see where I might fit in the wine business. I turns out that I write way too slowly to ever make a buck off the writing, so that was out. Growing grapes is a very labor-intensive activity and unless you own that chunk of dirt, it’s not a thing a 40-year-old dude is going to get by on when he has a wine budget to think about. It had also become clear that while NPR did like the content, there wasn’t a market for wine-focused media that was going to start paying the bills. So I was burning through my savings and starting to feel the pressure that comes with not knowing what’s next. However, once I got into the winery working as a cellar rat with Unti and Peterson wineries in Dry Creek Valley, I found what I’d been looking for. The winemaking process is fascinating and I fell in love with every backbreaking chore and nerdy technical detail.

3. Get creative: Leverage your community (Tweet!)

With the bank account shrinking I focused on how I might stick around to work another vintage. Plan B: move to San Francisco to do tech consulting to stash some money for the 2006 harvest. Grapes are not cheap, nor is paying for winery space to make wine. I scored some nice consulting contracts but quickly realized that I was only treading water. SF is a very expensive town and I would never save enough money to make wine. Also, I was just doing the same work as before, albeit in a very pretty city. I had a few months of living expenses left and figured I had one shot at leveraging all the work I had been doing writing the blog and producing the podcast. So after finding a very innovative winery in San Francisco called Crushpad where I could make wine, I sent out a pitch to my blog readers and podcast listeners; If they would pay in advance for a case of wine they could come help me make my first commercial wine and we’d document the whole process with a video podcast. To my great relief I sold 65 of 100 cases of wine as futures, giving me the cash to buy grapes and pay Crushpad. The archive of this project is still online.

My brand was named after the blog. Cellar Rat Cellars. Throughout this project, I was using Crushpad’s virtual winemaking website called Crushnet to manage my group of people helping with the wine. People as far away as Puerto Rico were participating, so having a tool to manage this virtual group was a necessity. After the winemaking was concluded, I was hired by Crushpad to develop Crushnet and grow the virtual community of winemakers. It was at Crushpad working on hundreds of fermentations a year where I got most of my hands-on winemaking experience and set me up to strike out on my own to launch Cartograph with my partner Serena Lourie in 2009.

4. Get friendly with uncertainty while keeping you eye on your vision (Tweet!)

I think it’s essential in any entrepreneurial operation to use the tools at hand to continually move towards a goal, even when the route is completely unknown at the start of the journey. There is always a way to use your existing skills to open new doors but you have to be willing to live with a lot of uncertainty and always be looking at alternate ways to solve a problem. Had you asked me 12 months into the events above if it was worth it, I might have said no but another six months, and a couple more forced left turns, and I was being paid well as a technologist in a ground-breaking winery. From where I sat in Minnesota I honestly couldn’t have dreamt up a better outcome.

The “persistence of vision” mantra I’d been hearing from those composers I so admired really does work.

Join us for Part Two of this interview, when Alan talks about his brand vision for Cartograph and how he brought it to life.

Connect with Cartograph Wines: www.cartographwines.com ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

What A Ha! insight did you get from Alan’s story? How does it apply to your own entrepreneurial or project journey? Please share in the Comments below and get some link love back to you site!

Why I kicked my Bucket List

This is an excerpt from my new book, Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life (2012, Avail in Kindle and Paperback). I invite you to apply this to your life…and your business. Enjoy!

It seems “bucket lists” are all the rage these days, and the trend cropped up even more in the year following my aneurysm. Coincidence?

I’m not sure if this term had been around for a while or debuted with the Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman film of the same title. Regardless, it kind of irks me that it is swirling around everywhere, like shallow buzz about the latest hot handbag or must-have designer. While I love self-help and motivational goal-setting as much as the next gal (yes, I read Eckhart Tolle, so back off), I’m always leery when it takes the form of a blind fad. Shouldn’t those themes be much more consistent and ongoing throughout our lives?

As the one-year anniversary of my brain hemorrhage passed, I was still trying to figure out what it all meant―and if it really meant anything anyway. Successfully distancing myself from the immediate recovery of the event―which was all about getting back to daily living―I entered this second phase of more thoughtful contemplation around the whole thing. Why did I survive? Why is my recovery going so much more miraculously than someone who has three children relying on her? If it was not “my time” yet, than what the heck is it I was meant to do here? What am I not finished with?

Small questions these are not.

Answers abound. Paul, who truly understands how lucky we are but is not a spiritual guy, will tell you, “This happened due to the genetics of a combination of weak vessels and high blood pressure that runs in the family. You are okay now because we got you to the hospital in time and the doctors were amazingly skilled. End of story.”

Or maybe it’s just as simple as what a sassy old friend of mine said when we met up for dinner after not seeing each other in person for over ten years. She had followed my story and progress through our online journal and social media updates and was dying to catch up with me. Her playful theory?  “Maybe you are still here so that on this night, in this city, we could catch up over dinner and you can entertain and inspire me.” I kind of like that answer.

Which brings me back to bucket lists. I feel in today’s renaissance of enlightenment, we are just putting too much darn pressure on ourselves to “live our best life.” I am all about going after what you want, not waiting, and experiencing all you can experience. But in my life, the adventures have happened pretty organically.

Sure, goals are great things. But when they start to consume you, to make you feel like you are less of a person if you don’t accomplish them, that’s where I have a problem. Tweet this!

My recovery was all about being gentle with myself, setting realistic goals, and not overwhelming myself with too much. I think this is a good way to live, brain injury or not. So rather than some of the more lofty bucket lists out there that seem to taunt and stress many of us―and make us feel like we are not doing, being, or seeing enough―mine became a simple bucket list:

  1. Ensure you have at least one person in your life who understands you, accepts you for who you are and who makes you laugh. Just one will do. It could be a lover, parent, sibling or friend. If you don’t have someone like this in your life, make it your mission to find him or her.
  2. Spend at least one night of your life falling asleep to, and waking up to, the ocean. Wherever that might be.
  3. Next time you are on a plane, bus or train with a rambunctious toddler or fussy baby, try to make the child smile. Just once. See how it makes you feel.
  4. Call one long-distance friend a week. Not email. Phone. If you can’t call, write a handwritten note.
  5. Adopt a pet once in your life and give it a happy, loving home.
  6. Say thank you to every bus driver or cabbie when you get off the bus or out of the cab. You never know how much that might turn around a bad day for them.
  7. Once a day, ask one clerk, be it barista or cashier, “How are you doing today?”
  8. Have one dinner outside on a warm summer night with friends, wine, candles and great conversation.
  9. Each time you talk to a family member or a close friend, say “I love you” at the end of the conversation. You never know if it might be the last time.
  10. Every year, make one trip to a place you’ve never been or somewhere out of your comfort zone. This could be another city in your own country, a foreign country, or it could be based on accommodations: if you are a hotel person, go camping. Try it for perspective.

My injury forced me to slow down and focus on the moment. It was not just a Hallmark card platitude, but a necessity. My goals became much less lofty but much sweeter.

What’s on your Bucket List, for your life or your work? Please share in the Comments!

How to spring clean your brand, business (& life)

It’s that time of year again, when the trees bud, the air warms (at least if you’re not in Seattle) and we start to shed our winter cloaks in lieu of open-toed shoes and lighter fabrics. Freeing ourselves from the unwanted weight of heavy parkas and wool mittens feels pretty darn good.
And with that, we also crave shedding some of the crap in our lives with a healthy dose of spring cleaning.

Removing the clutter and streamlining our lives applies equally to our businesses and brands. When we’re lighter and unencumbered, we can better focus and stop clogging our time, brains and business with the things that don’t matter. So here’s a handy guide to how to perform such much needed spring cleaning on your business – but these can equally apply to your life:

Conduct an Audit
What really needs to stay or go? Has your menu of offerings turned into an endless buffet that only serves to confuse customers and distract your focus? Review your current business offerings and keep the ones making you money, while removing the deadwood of those that don’t. Why waste your time and your prospects’ attention on products or offerings that just take up space?

This audit can also apply to your brand. Which messages no longer serve your or your customer’s purpose? Does your website look stale and dated? Has your brand evolved beyond what your materials are currently saying about it? Set aside time and review everything your customers see with a keen eye, and get objective advice on how to clarify, update or tighten up your brand look, feel, message and differentiation.

Review your Partnerships
Sometimes we form business partnerships when it makes perfect sense but things change. Review your best referral sources, from where website traffic comes and perhaps even your affiliate partners. Run the numbers and the time spent and see if you’re getting the most out of these relationships. If there are relationships worth keeping, spend more attention making them really work for you. If they are not fruitful, release the deadwood and clear your mind, budget and schedule. You want to focus on fewer, more meaningful and higher quality partnerships that build you up, instead of sap your strength. PS: This exercise applies to networking groups and social media networks as well.

Clear the Clutter
Is your file system a disaster? Does your inbox overflow? Do you still have digital files from years ago that serve no purpose but to eat up storage space? Take a day to streamline and organize your systems to help make you more efficient in running your business. Consult with a personal organizer if you have trouble letting go. And speaking of systems, take a look at your business procedures and see where you can increase efficiency. Does billing clients take way too long? Do you spend too much time creating that monthly newsletter or managing your calendar? Document the tasks that are not a good use of your time and hire a virtual assistant or consult with an operations expert on how to manage your business better so you can spend more time being brilliant.

What “deadwood” is your business carrying around? What one thing will you do this spring to make your brand clearer, your load lighter and your business more efficient? Please share in the Comments.

How to Parlay Your Personal Brand into Your Business Brand

This is the number one brand challenge I hear from small business owners. “But so much of my business is tied up in my own personal reputation and who I am. How do I ensure the company builds its own brand, independent of me, so I can expand?”

Take a tip from Warren Buffett, who announced his heir for Berkshire Hathaway as an unknown 39-year old named Todd Combs. He is quoted in the WSJ as saying, ‘He is a 100% fit for our culture. I can define the culture as long as I am here. but we want a culture that is so embedded that it doesn’t get tested when the founder of it isn’t around.”

A culture that is embedded. Ah, Warren: a financial and branding genius.

Companies do this all the time, so it’s not as hard as you think. The company brand reflects the values and philosophy of the founders, but in a way that applies to the corporate entity. See Disney, Nordstrom, McDonald’s, Facebook, Microsoft, Nike, Wendy’s. Many of these companies end up with very strong brand stories about their founders’ passion and values and serve to further attract customers.

Here are some tips on how to inject your personal brand into the DNA of your business so that it lives on even if you are not at the helm:

1) Depersonalize: The biggest thing about personal brands are the values and attributes that the founder shows as a human being. Take those and make those the values and attributes of the company as a whole and how you do business. If your own reputation and image is based on honesty, integrity and straight talk, then bake those attributes into your company’s standard operation procedures, policies and visual identity and make sure they live somewhere that the entire company can see. Turn what you are known for into what your company is known for. I also call this “operationalizing your brand.” If people come to you because you are the type of gal who always returns calls the same day, then make that a company policy that any call is returned within 24 hours, no matter who received the call.

2) Document: You can’t measure and manage to something that is just inside people’s heads or inherent in only your own personal actions. How is that repeatable? Once you develop your values, mission, and the brand attributes for which you want to be known, write them down. Revisit this brand playbook periodically – it may need to evolve as you grow. This playbook can then start to inform all of your brand communications: visual, verbal and experiential. This is the whole premise by which I consult with my clients and why I wrote my book. Ya gotta WRITE IT DOWN if you want to standardize it.

3) Hire Right: Warren Buffett and others understand that brand informs culture, and culture informs how you hire and who you hire. Do you recruit people intentionally who understand and embrace your brand? (Hint: if it is not documented anywhere per #2 above, that’s your first problem) Or do you just hire the marquee names and checklist of skills on their resume? I recently heard a recruiter talk about how they hire by the Iceberg principle. Meaning, above the waterline, you look for the right skills and resume from a candidate. But it’s the skills below the surface – if the person embodies your brand, culture and values – that matter even more to success and longevity of the company. She said more often than not, the problems occur because of misalignment on these “below the water” soft skills and attitudes. If you have personal values and a reputation that is the number one reason people do business with your company, then you’d better make damn sure you’re hiring people who reflect that same work ethic and brand. See Mr. Buffett’s quote above. Use your brand strategy to guide hiring decisions – not just to decide upon your colors or packaging.

Photo credit: Brooke Lark, Unsplash

The brand strategy “recipe” plus thoughts on the personal branding gold rush

Two juicy audio nuggets for you, loyal readers. One is a great interview with Amber Singleton Riviere of Upstart Smart Radio (a fab resource for entrepreneurs) on what exactly is included in a brand strategy. We also discuss the all-important difference between a brand strategy and brand and marketing tactics.

The second is our frank audio discussion on the new personal branding gold rush. Seems more and more people are building businesses out of their personal brands. We also talk about things like transparency, niche communities, self-expression, and the importance of authenticity and value.

2010 Advertising Trends

Guest blog by Red Slice intern, Suzi An

The advertising environment in 2009 was dark and gloomy due to the budget cuts, causing the industry to face a new reality and evolve. Mainly, businesses and brands hopped on the social network and consumer-generated media bandwagons to create more personal interactions with customers. Ultimately, this brought customers closer to a product or brand, just as marketers had hoped.

So how are businesses (and traditional marketing and ad agencies) expanding to reach all audiences and adapt to the changing world in which their customers live?

  1. Optimizing media convergence: As companies reduce their budgets in TV, radio and print, they will put more money and efforts into the online community where the metrics can be measured. To accurately measure activity and link online ads to offline purchasing is crucial in today’s marketplace. In addition, the increase in online shopping has many “old school” companies finally looking to advertise online. In order to deliver a better return on investment, companies will need to close the skill gap – or start hiring really smart people who get it – to more appropriately understand and harness the power of this media convergence.
  2. Adapting to smart phones: It seems that smart phones are slowly taking over the world. Almost everywhere we look, someone is jiggling around on his or her fancy sleek phone. So it’s more important than ever to understand in what direction media is headed and what customers are using in order to stay ahead of the game. If mobile media is where everything is occurring, then that’s where the industry needs to be. Meaning, advertising companies will customize campaigns to cater to smart phone media in a more innovative and creative way.
  3. Cross-media ad campaigns: In addition to mobile advertising, we see media shifting into new territories such as online and offline video games. In Grand Theft Auto, you may drive past a billboard for McDonalds or some other giant company brand. Because the video gaming community has seen rockstar growth, companies understand that this is a successful and innovative way to promote interactive branding campaigns across screens.
  4. Social media: Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t get away from social media. It’s taking over how we interact with anything and everything. This platform will provide a new sales channel for establishing brand and product awareness, taking campaigns further away from traditional advertising and text-based ads. Many of the rules are being made up as we go along, but tons has been written about the proper etiquette for “selling” in social media – and what communities will and will not accept.
  5. Valuable and innovative ads: Because this generation of consumers is always looking for something new and lives in a world of constant connection, companies are looking for more creative advertising and content for the online community. This is why we have seen an increase in viral ad campaigns.

What will the next year bring us in advertising? Please add your thoughts in the Comments.

Source: http://www.gourmetads.com/blog/2010-advertising-trends

Source: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/talking-back-top-five-advertising-trends/