Thanks for Making a Dent in Our Universe

Our world lost a great man yesterday – Steve Jobs.

Jobs impacted my life in numerous ways through not only his great innovations and style, but also in his words.

Here’s my top 10 list of Steve Job quotes that have resonated with me over the years.

God bless you Steve and many thanks.  You’ll be missed.

Steve Jobs Top 10 Best Quotes

  1. “We’re here to put a dent in the universe, otherwise why else even be here?”
  2. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
  3. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
  4. “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity.  Simple can be harder than complex. You need to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple, but it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
  5. “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
  6. Remembering that you’re going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
  7. “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
  8. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
  9. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone elses life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
  10. We don’t get a chance to do that many things and every one should be really excellent because this is our life.”

…And, one more thing!

10+.    “You know a design is good when you want to lick it.” … And, “Design is not what it looks like.  Design is how it works.”

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Gateway Analytical – CSI of Pittsburgh

Congratulations to our super new client Gateway Analytical in Gibsonia, PA on its public grand opening this week. We’re proud to say we earned some well deserved publicity for the “CSI of Pittsburgh!”

A subsidiary of Pittsburgh’s ChemImage, Gateway Analytical provides advanced analytical testing for the forensics (police, FBI, etc.), materials science and pharma industries, and helps each to speed up their testing and reduce their costs.   The company offers services that relay vital information about product quality and investigate regulatory noncompliance issues-all things that are more relevant today and more important than ever before because of America’s growing concern regarding health and safety.  Plus, an increase in government regulation over the safety of consumer products will increase the need for testing laboratories such as Gateway Analytical.

Along with the ceremonial ribbon cutting led by PA Congressman Jason Altmire, the grand opening included guided tours of the new 3,000-square foot facility, and brief remarks from industry experts and community leaders, including representatives from PA State Senator Jane Orie’s Office – Ashley Sisca – and from PA House Majority Leader Mike Turzai’s Office, Mike Hritz.

Check out this awesome feature story (and video) for KDKA-TV by Rick Dayton.

Here’s more from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and the Pine-Richland Patch. More to come.

All of us at BrandMill were proud to part of Gateway Analytical’s special day and it’s history!

Photo: Dr. Ryan Priore, Jim McGlone, PA Congressman Jason Altmire, Dave Exline, Mike Hritz, Ashley Sisca, John Belechak and Dr. Oksana Olkhovyk

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You Need a Marketing Invention Factory

A little over a year ago, I toured the Fort Myers, FL winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford two of my favorite business heroes.

Edison and Ford’s fascinating friendship is a story of mutual admiration and a story of curiosity, experimentation, persistence, inventions, failures, achievements and brand legacies.

Both had little formal education – Edison left school at age 8 and Ford had about 3 years – however, both achieved great success through radical life improving innovations that we continue to enjoy to this day.

In my business engagements, regardless of brand size, I’m discouraged by the lack of courage and innovation by most brand leaders.  And, it’s sad.

It’s sad, because innovation can be achieved when you desire, demand and plan for it.

Both Edison and Ford believed in dreaming big and visualizing the impossible and making it possible.  The had invention factories and labs (at work and at their vacation homes) and they believed in open collaboration and getting things done – acting on things – and fast failing.

So, my question is, “Where’s your invention factory?”

“What’s your process and how do you plan for it?

Are you a trailblazer, an industry leader or a simple follower?

For some time, I’ve felt that Americans have lost their innovation edge and others do agree, but brands such as Apple and Starbucks offer hope and guideposts (just wish I saw more American manufacturing innovators).

Much like Edison and Ford who believed in collaborative innovation work, Starbucks’ modern spin is its highly successful “My Starbucks Idea” which is an online crowdsourcing initiative that enables its raving fans to offer new ideas for products, brand experiences and involvement improvements.

My Starbucks Idea is celebrating its 3rd anniversary this month – and it’s Starbucks 40th anniversary too (read about their four new products)!

MSI is an awesome crowdsourced innovation tool.  To date, it has generated (as of a few minutes ago) 107,450 ideas and launched 130 new ideas.  In addition, people get to view ideas in action and see which ones are under review have been reviewed are in the works, and have been launched and demonstrates that Starbucks is a listening and caring brand.

In fact, customer input on My Starbucks Idea led to the development of the Starbucks Card Mobile App for select BlackBerry smartphones last September and the “Give a Gift” feature – the 100th MSI.

I love the MSI concept and I’ll bet there is an crowdsourcing idea here worth exploring for you.

Think about ways to create your own invention or innovation factory be it online (Starbucks uses Salesforce.Com) or offline or a combination of both.

For example, you could simply start with having bi-weekly meetings with your staff to brainstorm innovative cost saving or revenue producing ideas.

However, if you don’t plan for ‘it,’ I guarantee you ‘it’ won’t happen for you!

P.S.: For more about Edison, check out Time Magazine’s feature, The Making of America: Thomas Edison. I found it ironic that there was a Starbucks banner ad when I first clicked on the link.

P.P.S: A great source of innovative companies to research and model is provided by Fast Company Magazine every year. Check out Fast Company’s 2011 Most Innovative Companies.

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Brand Building In a New York Minute

I’ve posted in the past about how important speed is to your business success and it’s never been more true in this always on 24/7 world we live in.

To see real speed up close and personal, visit New York City as I did last week. The Big Apple has a unique pace all its own and you sense it as soon your plane touches down at JFK.

On my flight, I read where the Empire State Building will mark its 80th anniversary in April, 2011. The 1453-foot, 102 floor icon – the world’s tallest skyscraper for 40 years – was an engineering miracle when it opened for business in April, 1931 and still rocks on today.

For a lesson in speed, check out the ESB story and you’ll discover that the building frame rose more than a story every day and no building like it has matched that rate of ascent to date. General contractors Starrett Brothers and Eken, the best skyline builders of the day, built the ESB in a record 11 months and it was a marvel of modern engineering – a 1453-foot, 103-story testament to the ingenuity of man. Again, this was 80 years ago!

The contractors, SB&E started with nothing but courage, determination, expertise and vision. They had no existing equipment or materials that would be match this huge never been done before task. Their success was achieved through pure will, insight, creative logistics and a super skilled and well managed labor force.

To build a better business in 2011, think of ways to improve the speed of your business and when you think you can’t go any faster think of the Empire State Building!

For a fascinating book to pump you up fast read Building the Empire State.

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10 Profitable Groupon Marketing Tips

I’ve been a fan of Groupon since one of our Pittsburgh restaurant clients launched the city’s first promotional campaign. And, I’ve become a bigger fan since other hospitality clients have achieved success and after discovering that Groupon founder Andrew Mason is a Pittsburgh (Mt. Lebanon) native – you go guy!

If you read the marketing trades you’ll find some complaints about the lack of profitability of using Groupon as a marketing tactic, but I’d bet that those complainers were not prepared to take advantage of the popular loss leader strategy.

Here are ten profitable Groupon marketing tips.

1. Say “NO” if you’re below. Below average that is. In short, you do not want to feature your brand in a Groupon campaign if you don’t “bring it.” That is, if you sell lousy food (even marginally or mediocre OK), have poor service etc., you do not want to do Groupon! If you do not “deliver the goods”, Grouponers may simply put you out of business earlier than you would normally through negative reviews online etc.!

2. Get buy-in to prevent crying. Far in advance of your scheduled launch, talk through the campaign pros/cons of Groupon with your staff. Get their buy-in early on and clearly explain why everyone needs to be engaged in this huge loss leader effort and why you’ll need all hands and minds on deck to flawlessly execute the campaign. Tell them, “what’s in it for them!”

3. Map your cap. Cap the total number of deals you provide to Grouponers. This creates urgency and protects margins since the offer deadlines are long. Plus, you need to make sure you can handle the traffic.  Sure you want to make short term money – you always do – but your eyes need to be on the prize of repeat business!

4. Don’t wreck your average check. Make sure your deal/offer does not match you average check/purchase to allow for upsell and add-on sales opportunities. And, a lower price tag protects you as well on total customer acquisition costs. Keep in mind that you’re earning around 1/4th of what you’d usually make in an average sale which means you’re losing 3/4ths on virtually every sale.

5. Don’t laugh – add staff. Trust me – make sure you add staff to handle increases in store traffic, phone calls and web hits during and after the sale. You’ll need it!

6. Right your Website. It’s highly likely that your Web site has never seen the kind of traffic it will see on your Groupon day. Make certain your brand’s value proposition is clear, meaningful and relevant throughout your Website and especially on your home page because it’s going to get pounded. And, fix your typos, broken links etc., – net, clean it up! Also, monitor your Groupon comments on your “game day” and answer questions there as well on your social media channels.

7. Up-sell, cross sell and do well. Train your customer facing personnel to up-sell and cross-sell and guide all Grouponers to more profitable add-ons. However, make sure you have lots of exciting ones to offer too.

8. Train to explain. Carefully review (and test their knowledge) your Groupon procedures and rules of the game with all team members so they in turn can explain the campaign to customers, friends and family. You need to do this crucial step to ensure viral communications and no surprised/unhappy customer experiences. Make certain everyone is happy to take Groupon customers and consider putting someone in charge to answer escalated questions and make on the spot decisions to satisfy customer concerns.

9. Retain and gain. Since Groupon does not give up its email database and/or the contact information of customers who take advantage of your offer, it’s critical you have a system (recording system and/or additional incentive for customers/staff) in place to capture valuable new customer contact information (e.g., email addresses, mailing addresses, cell phone numbers, birthdays etc.,). You’ll also want to track your success with regard to add-ons, average check/transaction, redemption rates,  repeat business and more to determine your success and key learnings should you do it again – consider a customer survey too!

10. Show how to WOW now. A ton of your Grouponers will be new customers (and might be bringing other new customers in with them) and may be unfamiliar with your unique value proposition, but you have a great – maybe once in a lifetime – opportunity to WOW them, make them repeat customers and spread your good word. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity. Be a servant leader and SERVE lights out!

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L.L. Bean’s Powerful Guarantee

Guaranteed. You have our word.

How much clearer can you get?

What a powerful customer service guarantee!

Here’s the body copy from L.L. Bean’s Website:

I’ve been a huge fan of L.L. Bean for years and became an even bigger fan last Friday.

L.L. Bean Field Coat Saddle

Last week, I was getting my favorite coat out of my closet for Fall – an original L.L. Bean Field Coat in Saddle – and making my plans to head to my alma mater Kent State’s homecoming.

Suddenly, I realized that I’ve been wearing this Field Coat (created in 1924) for nearly 15 years! I love it and there is still absolutely nothing wrong with it – it’s a terrific coat – but I’ve been wearing this jacket to homecoming every year!

I went through some old photos and proved it!

L.L. Bean Field Coat Stone

So, I went online and decided to get a new Stone Field Coat which is better than my old one and about the same price that I paid years ago! It’s a fantastic coat, but what amazes me about L.L. Bean is how they’ve stayed true to their roots and excelled as a private, family business.

If you’re trying hard to build your business the right way and need a little hope, grab a coffee and read L.L. Bean’s fascinating, refreshing story – their principles when they were small are the same as they are today when L.L. Bean remarked,

“I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out
and customer still satisfied.”

From my experiences, I’m not surprised that L.L. Bean was once again the first place winner (tops 3 of 5 years) selected by shoppers in the annual NRF Foundation/American Express® Customers’ Choice survey back in January.  According to shoppers, the top ten* retailers for customer service are:

  1. L.L.Bean
  2. Overstock.com
  3. Zappos.com
  4. Amazon.com
  5. QVC
  6. Coldwater Creek
  7. HSN
  8. Lands’ End
  9. JCPenney
  10. Kohl’s, and Nordstrom (tied)

I know it’s hard for small to medium sized businesses to sometimes wrap their heads around the successes and lessons to be learned from larger brands, but you can learn a ton from L.L. Bean’s commitment to customer service, satisfaction, quality, systems and innovation.

Go online and buy something from L.L. Bean or even better, call in an order and you’ll be WOWED!

I GUARANTEE IT!

P.S.: Here’s a great interview from L.L. Bean’s president Chris McCormick about L.L. Bean’s customer service secrets.

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New iPad Wine List Rocks

I got my new iPad back in May – a moment in time I’ll always refer to as my “Christmas in May” and am having a love affair with it.

Sure there are things about the iPad that I wished it had, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

When I started to play with the iPad, I started to think thought long and hard about how we can apply it to improve our client’s business.

We do a ton of hospitality marketing work and this past summer, one of our great clients, Kevin Joyce owner of The Carlton Restaurant in Pittsburgh had closed his restaurant for two months for a much needed remodel after 25 years in business.

Kevin called me to go over some new ideas to kick off the new restaurant with a bang –  especially since his reopening was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, August 18 – opening night of Pittsburgh’s new Consol Energy Center with a concert by Sir Paul McCartney.

One of my first thoughts, was what could we do to:

  1. Reaffirm the fact that The Carlton has the biggest and best wine lists (15+ year Wine Spectator Award winner) – Great Wine is a big USP for the restaurant
  2. Complement The Carlton’s new 450 bottle wine library – the restaurant’s soul
  3. Showcase the fact that The Carlton offers the best wine dinners in Pittsburgh

In a snap, we thought, “Create an iPad Wine List to replace The Carlton’s 45 page paper wine list.” Using an iPad wine list would create a “halo” effect of flawless contemporary execution of the Carlton’s 45 page paper wine list and separate them even more so from the pack of restaurants they compete against.

As an aside – I know I may be biased, but I think The Carlton i the best restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh and I thought that fact to be true long before I started working for them…anyway…

Instinctively back in May, we Googled “iPad wine list” and could not find any U.S. restaurant using iPads for menus, but we found a great story about an Australian restaurant that swapped out its menus for iPads.

Kevin and I must have been doing a “Vulcan Mind Meld” at the time, because when we called him, he said he saw the Aussie story  and was ready to rock.

Our iPad wine list is not as aggressive as the Aussie menu – we prefer to walk before we run with the wine list first then potentially move to the food menu – but I can tell you that the iPad has significantly improved The Carlton’s brand image of Pittsburgh’s premier dining and wine establishment and improved wine sales too – customers love it!

We’ll soon cut a brief video explaining how the wine list works, but know these things:

  1. The iPad can be used to help lift your business
  2. Look for products and/or service executions that create brand “halo” USPs
  3. It’s better to phase in technology improvements to your business to flawlessly execute and gain an immediate WOW from your customers before someone else comes along and steals your marketing thunder and you look like a market follower and/or a “me too” brand**
  4. Great clients make great marketing firms

**Note: In the time we started to work on and launch The Carlton’s iPad wine list, there have been major news articles about iPad wine lists in use at Central Park South Gate restaurant (7.2.10),  Bones in Atlanta (9.13.10), III Forks in Jacksonville (8.11.10), but hey The Carlton had the first iPad wine list in Pennsylvania! More news to come as we continue to improve our iPad wine list effort.

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Why Burger King Will Never Beat McDonald’s

John Belushi in Animal House Screams "Food Fight!"

As a former McDonald’s marketing guy, I pay attention to references of the so-called “burger wars” – as some people still call them – but please they’ve been over for years!

I ask you, “Is it really a war when the number one kid on the block – McDonald’s – continues to open up it’s marketing can of “whoop-ass” on just about any retailer that serves food and/or beverages and on average does it better, faster and cheaper than anyone else?”

The answer is, “No!”

What went wrong at Burger King, by Dan Mitchell in the September 3rd issue of Fortune caught by eye and he’s spot on in so many areas as to what’s wrong at BK.

However, I’d argue (and I’m proud to say without reservation) that the main reason Burger King will never beat McDonald’s, is that “Mia McFamlia” still walks founder Ray Kroc’s talk when he famously said, “We take the hamburger business more seriously than anyone else!”

McDonald’s personnel, owner/operators and partners have always worked together and have been in it to win it from day one. Sure, they got a little of track a few years back – who doesn’t after being so incredibly successful for so long – but Burger King has been off track for over 30 years!

McDonald’s recognized  awhile back with its “Plan to Win” initiative that to quote Pogo, “We have met the enemy and they is us!” So they got back to work and focused more on themselves and satisfying their guests changing needs. Bravo.

OK, so McDonald’s takes the burger biz more seriously than BK and others. You get it you say, but I know you want more substance.  OK…here’s 5 more reasons why Burger King will never beat McDonald’s.

  1. All of McDonald’s staffers, owner/operators and partners (or at least 99% of all of them) own stock in the brand and know that if the brand improves so does their financial situation. All of BK’s corporate behemoth owners (before and now) own other things.  McDonald’s is (practically) all McDonald’s.
  2. McDonald’s is just plain better – they’re more innovative, financially astute and they execute better.
  3. McDonald’s owns 100% (OK 90% plus) of the real estate the restaurants sit on which provides enormous cash flow and bankable assets
  4. McDonald’s owner/operators are part of the fabric of the communities in which they do their business, they’re involved in the communities, are operationally excellent and are not absentee landlords
  5. McDonald’s constantly reinvests in improving their restaurants, operations, staff and more.  BK is just now trying to get around to it

So, do you really think Burger King’s new owner, the Brazilian-backed private equity firm 3G Capital can ever beat McDonald’s? Neither do I.

BK is way behind in the pack.  They haven’t even been number two for a long time. And if you think the view never changes if you’re not the lead dog well…

P.S.: Here’s one more case in point about the lack of commitment by BK to challenge McDonald’s. About 15 years ago, I was part of a team organized to help put Burger King out of business in downtown Pittsburgh.  The BK franchisee was selling and we simply turned the heat up and got a great franchisee to take over some of our corporate restaurants. BK closed up all of their restaurants then and have never reopened in town to date. I know Pittsburgh isn’t the Big Apple or LA, but come on!

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Marketing 3.0 – Kotler’s New Values Based Model

Since graduating from college, I voraciously read a new marketing book every 10 days and in my library you’ll find several books by the father of modern day marketing Philip Kotler.

What I love about the guy is that even though his book Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation and Control, 13th ed., is the most widely used marketing book in graduate business schools worldwide he never rests on his success and still innovates and tinkers with his marketing theories and models of how marketing works.

I’m a big Philp Kotler fan.

Now, here comes Kotler again with his latest creation (co-written with Hermawan Kartajaya), Marketing 3.0: From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit.

The central theme of the book is based on the simple values-based (not value) matrix above which demonstrates how marketing today has shifted from Product-Centric (Rational Marketing – 1.0 era – e.g., Volvo = safety), to Customer-Centric (Emotional Marketing – 2.0 era) to today’s Human-Centric (Spiritual Marketing – 3.0 era ).

Marketing 1.0 and 2.0 were about how a brands products and services would serve its customers.  Marketing 3.0 is about how a Brand connect with the human spirit of its customers who desire that they assume their fair share of social responsibility for issues that concern everyone (e.g., environment, hunger, poverty, human rights, health and well being etc.).

Brands that behave and conduct themselves properly with regard to the environment, general community at large and create real meaningful demonstrable value that aligns with the social good will be welcome and respected.  The media will promote caring companies which will influence buying behaviors.

Kotler posits that most marketers are stuck in the past. His new model for marketing treats customers not just as consumers, but as complex, multi-dimensional human beings – customers with complex human spirits who are active, engaged, anxious, informed, creative and have the ability to easily connect with others.

Marketing 3.0 addresses the complexity of the human spirit and S.C. Johnson is just one of the many brands Kotler cites as those who are creating products, services, and company cultures that lead, inspire, and reflect the values of their customers.

This recently released book is on my shopping list. I sure wish brands like BP will read it and embrace its philosophy – make sure you do!

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How Do You Wow

In 20 days at noon, on July 2, 182½ days of the year will have elapsed and 182½ will remain before Jan 1, 2011.

Now is a great time to take a hard look at your marketing systems to see what’s working, what’s not working, what needs to be improved and what needs to scrapped.

That’s exactly what my team and I are doing.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve picked up a few significant pieces of business (believe me, I’m not complaining – we’re blessed) that have required us to more carefully analyze our systems and processes, clients, staffing, quality of work and more.

One of the “more” things we’re reviewing is what has led to our success and how we can refine our systems to not only do a better job for our brand, but also a better job for our clients.

It’s so easy to get caught up in busy work and daily tasks thinking you’re accomplishing things, but at the end of the day you find yourself majoring in minor things without focusing on game changing work along with better planning and performance based processes. Bottom line – you need to block out your time with high value activities!

Our fixed costs, staff and management hierarchy are low, small and flat by design, but with this sudden influx of new business we’re still working hard to clean up our act before considering adding new staff, equipment and even more business.

Here’s a list of our 20 questions to improve our business focus. The list is not necessarily in order and/or exhaustive, but all apply to People, Resources, Innovation, Marketing, Operations and Finance:

  1. How can we improve upon keeping our promises
  2. How do we make our company a more fun and enjoyable place to work
  3. How can we attract high quality people who are proud to work with us
  4. Does everyone have the tools and experience they need to be successful
  5. How do we make our unique selling proposition more unique, meaningful and easier to demonstrate and communicate
  6. How can we reduce costs without impacting our performance
  7. What kinds of clients/industries should we target
  8. What clients should we keep
  9. What clients should we fire
  10. What should be on our “to don’t” list
  11. What are the three key things we can do to improve our client’s business
  12. How can we speed up our efforts to quickly build our client’s business
  13. How can we more effectively surprise and delight our clients
  14. How do we create happier clients willing to provide glowing testimonials
  15. What products and services should we stop offering and/or improve upon
  16. What new products and services (or enhancements) should we be offering
  17. How can we improve cash flow, collections and profitablity
  18. What processes can we automate and systematize to improve performance
  19. How can we better measure every sales action, marketing channel and map every touch point to determine our cost per lead, sales potential and length to close
  20. What are we missing or failing to do with regard to people, resources, innovation, marketing, operations or finance to more profitably build a better business for ourselves and for our clients – what’s holding us back

So there you go – 20 questions to ask yourself over 20 days – one a day!

However, throughout your 20 day journey, here’s the thing to keep in mind.

Net – the big question we’re working on if you boil all 20 questions down into one is simply, “HOW DO WE WOW!”

We’re working on it and know it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but how do you wow?

I’m interested in knowing.

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