Friday, August 16, 2013

What Story Does Your Brand Tell?

In today’s competitive marketplace, a compelling story is critical for your brand to remain front and center with customers and prospective customers. If your business does not create a compelling story that connects with prospective and existing customers or strikes a nerve, your business will not last very long.

What brand stories immediately come to mind? Here are some.

[1] You know him as Mark, Mark Z, or simply as Zuck. But we all suspect that we know the story (thanks to the movie, The Social Network). Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard so that he could dedicate himself 24/7 to the creation of a networking website. The website now known as Facebook has revolutionized how we connect with friends, family, and others – and has become an international phenomenon with over 1 billion users. According to ZDNet, users log in for 12 and-a-half minutes every day. And according to ComScore, U.S. desktop users spend 6 hours a month on Facebook, while mobile users spend an average of 11 hours on the site.

[2] Most people attribute the automobile to Henry Ford. But in actuality, he developed and manufactured the first auto that many middle-class Americans could afford. He was also instrumental in the development of the assembly line and a franchise system of dealerships throughout the United States and on six continents. One famous statement of his was, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Thank goodness, the Ford vehicles started the auto industry, or we’d all be riding horses.

[3] While Susan Komen for the Cure has been in the news recently, the main reason that the charity was created is a compelling story. The founder (Nancy G. Brinker) launched the charity to honor the memory of her sister (Susan G. Komen) who died of breast cancer and to raise money to eliminate the disease. Despite all the current negative press, the color pink will forever represent that charity and breast cancer awareness.

[4] While the publishing industry is undergoing a transition from print to digital, there is one newspaper that embodies its city, The New York Times. While you may not know the newspaper began in the mid-1800’s, there is no doubt that you have heard of The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, Art and Theater, Op-Ed section, and the Opinion section. Whenever someone wants to be heard, he or she comments in The New York Times. The newspaper’s motto was “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” but on its website, the motto was changed to, “All the News That’s Fit to Click.”

[5] According to Southwest Airlines Chairman/President and CEO Gary Kelly, “Southwest was conceived on a cocktail napkin when San Antonio businessman Rollin King and his attorney, Herb Kelleher, met at the St. Anthony Club and etched out what would become the “Texas Triangle,” charting a path for low-fare travel between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. The vision was simple: offer business people a faster, more efficient way to travel at a lower cost and do it with warm, personable service and a smile.” Kelleher knew that in order for his employees to do a good job, they had to have fun. So Southwest allowed flight attendants to wear shorts instead of uncomfortable uniforms and tell silly jokes to passengers over the intercom. The airline continues to provide peanuts, soft drinks, and juice – when competitors charge or don’t offer any food or drinks. Southwest also invites passengers to travel with their baggage without charging, because according to their ads, “Bags fly free.”

So, as you contemplate the importance of storytelling for your brand, consider these questions. How do you decide on a compelling story? What elements do you include and which do you leave out? What is an appropriate length for your story? Do you feature a person (for example, your founder) in your story? But above all, what is the key take-away from your brand’s story, and is it easy to grasp or embrace?

If you cannot easily answer these questions, you need to go back to the brand drawing board and rewrite your brand story, or you’re going to lose customers. What
s YOUR favorite brand story?

Image Credit: Thanks to Tom Fishburne for use of his cartoon with this post. Tom is the Founder and CEO of Marketoon Studios, a content marketing studio that helps businesses reach their audiences with cartoons. Check out his work at

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Monday, August 5, 2013

25 Employee Engagement Tips to Improve Your Workplace

There are many statistics about employee engagement, but the most important fact that no one will deny is that employee productivity is tied to profits. When employees are disengaged and unproductive, there are fewer sales. By contrast, when employees surpass quotas with high productivity, sales rise. Therefore, productivity results in happier employees who remain with their companies longer, which in turn, results in satisfied customers. So, what does your business do to promote employee engagement?

Have you ever seen an engaged employee? Do you know what one looks like? According to Wikipedia, “an engaged employee is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work and will act in a way that furthers an organization’s interests.”

However, a recent jobs report from Gallup found that:
[1] 70% of workers hate their jobs or are disengaged.
[2] Bad managers were the biggest cause of the high percentage of disengaged workers.
[3] When employees work remotely, they’re more engaged and productive.

As a result of those staggering statistics, I asked 25 of my favorite leadership and employee engagement experts to answer the question, “What one tip would you give to employers to promote employee engagement?” Here are their insightful tips.

John Baldoni (@JohnBaldoni): Connect the dots. Managers do their employers well by linking the work they do with the vision and mission of the organization. When employees know that what they do matters to the organization, they feel that they are making a contribution.

Shep Hyken (@Hyken): Want engaged employees? Create a FUN experience. FUN is an acronym for Fulfillment, Uniqueness, and Next. Employees want to be fulfilled; so treat them right and make them feel appreciated. Exploit them for their unique talents; what they’re good at and what they can offer that others might not. And get them excited about what’s next; the next project, the next new product, or even the next day.

Bob Kelleher (@BobKelleher): Here are my three tips: 1) Develop and brand a captivating Employer Value Proposition (why do people work here?) that galvanizes all employees from C-suite to new hires; 2) Make sure there is a focus on purpose, which is key to capturing your employees’ hearts and heads; and 3) Eliminate all perceived “caste” systems like executive parking spots, executive perk of flying business or first class, etc. – anything that says “We are better than you” or “Us vs. Them.”

Ronald Thomas (@ronald_thomas): Manage your workforce by walking around. In order to build trust, leaders must connect with their workforce. That means getting out of the offices and conference rooms and walking the floor. Stop by employees’ cubicles, take a seat, and see what they’re working on. Trust between workers and organizations has been broken, and the connection must be repaired.

Steve Curtin (@enthused): Be intentional about learning the names, hobbies and interests of your employees. When you see them at work, greet them by name and, as time permits, inquire about their hobbies and interests. When employees believe you care about them as people with lives, histories, families, and dreams, rather than just as full-time employees who occupy job roles that enable production, their commitment, job satisfaction, pride, and willingness to expend discretionary effort will soar.

Eric Jacobson (@EricKCExaminer): Discover each employee’s passion and provide him or her with an opportunity to experience that passion at work. For example, some people like to blog. Others enjoy taking photos. Many take pleasure in volunteering for the community. Too often, each person’s daily job responsibilities don’t allow time for these passions. So, identify and create ways to engage the blogger, photographer, community service leader, etc.

Leigh Branham (@ReEngageBook): Listen to your employees with every intention of responding with meaningful actions. This typically means conducting an employee engagement survey and taking PROMPT action on the issues surfaced that are most likely to: 1) increase general workforce engagement (or decrease disengagement); and 2) result in increased discretionary effort among employees considered most critical to achieving key business objectives. It’s shocking and depressing how many companies just conduct the survey to see what their score is without following up with actions to change the culture or improve management practices.

Rory Trotter (@RoryCTrotterJR): The single most effective way to promote employee engagement is to have managers sit down with their direct reports and discuss what the direct reports want out of their careers. Every employee should have a career development plan. This way, if employees feel that their efforts at work are as much of an investment in the company’s future as their own, they will dedicate their energy to the company, which aligns with high performance.

Bruce Temkin (@btemkin): Share the mission. Employees want to affiliate with organizations that have a sense of purpose, so make sure they understand the mission and continually reinforce how their actions support that mission.

Doug Dickerson (@managemntmoment): My advice to leaders is to set the example. Don’t promote engagement and leave it to others to implement. If you want your employees to be engaged, then you must show them how.

Cynthia Trivella (@CyndyTrivella): Never stop communicating. If you don’t have an organized and scheduled communications tool in place, create one. Often, leadership teams fail to get the buy-in and support they need from their employees. But more often than not, people will step up and participate if given the chance, but they first need to understand the goals of the organization.

Terri Scandura (@terriscandura): To increase employee engagement, leaders should develop exchange relationships with all followers on their teams.

Rebecca Bales (@LuminaLearning and @RebeccaLBales): According to recent Gallup findings, “When managers focus on their employees’ strengths, they can practically eliminate workplace disengagement.” This is huge because we know that people need to feel valued and that they make a difference. To leaders everywhere, prove that people make a difference in your business.

Adrian Swinscoe (@adrianswinscoe): I think it was Marcus Buckingham who first said, “People join companies and leave managers.” Therefore, my tip to employers who want to promote employee engagement is to invest in training for managers at all levels.

Lyn Boyer (@Lyn_Boyer): Employees must be challenged, and they must feel trusted, but they are only fully engaged when they have enjoyable relationships with supervisors and colleagues. Therefore, when employers build and promote workplace relationships, they enhance employee engagement.

Steve J. Gill (@sjgill): From the outset, tell new employees how their jobs contribute to the success of the organization. Keep reminding them of this and praise them frequently for contributing to the success of the organization. This applies to frontline employees as well as senior executives.

Mike Henry, Sr. (@mikehenrysr): Employers should help employees to create the best job possible for employees. This is a true partnership because an employee’s best job makes the employee happy, and a happy employee is also a great employee.

William Powell (LeadrshpAdvisor): Understand which emotions will create the type of engagement that your organization needs to achieve its goals. Whatever those emotions are, develop an appropriate culture featuring those emotions.

Sharlyn Lauby (@sharlyn_lauby): Create a feedback mechanism. It can be an employee survey, a town hall gathering, or dedicated one-on-one meetings. Find a method of sharing information and obtaining feedback. Then use the information to improve the workplace.

Louis Efron (@LouisEfron): Make every job the most important job at your company.

Scott McKain (@ScottMcKain): Employers should ask each employee: “If we could change ONE THING about how you do your job in order to make it easier for you to be more productive, what would you suggest?” And a corollary is: “If we could change ONE THING about your job to make it more enjoyable for you to become more engaged and productive, what would you suggest?” The employee must prioritize, and discussion is stimulated. If the question were, “What would you change?” and the employer doesn’t make the change, then the employee thinks that the organization doesn’t listen.

Doug Brown (@DougKBrown1): Since investing in engagement pays sound dividends and generates bottom line profits, a successful strategy is to develop leaders who understand the benefits of employee engagement and have the skills to inspire and motivate performance.

Stephen Baird, Esq. (@DuetsBlog and @WinthropMPLS): Lead by example.

Michelle Braden (@CoachingLeaders): Here are my three tips: 1) Engaged employees begin with authentic and engaged leaders; 2) Engaged employees are ones that take ownership of their work, which means that the leader has to give the opportunity and create a culture of taking ownership; and 3) Engaged employees enjoy and have the talents in what they do, so leaders have to make sure they have the right people in the right places – using their strengths rather than trying to make people something they are not.

Erika Andersen (@erikaandersen), author and leadership expert, wrote about employee engagement in a recent post for Forbes. “If a company’s focus is ‘How can we give our customers what they want,’ then that company needs great employees. To come up with the ideas, to make the great products, to interact with the customers. Employees aren’t a begrudged necessity in that kind of company – they’re what makes it possible. And if my company feels like that about me, and treats me that way, then I’m most likely to feel that way about my company and treat my company that way. VoilĂ : engagement. AND productivity, reduced turnover, attracting top talent. AND delighted customers, great products and services, big profits.”

For more inspiration on this topic, visit my Employee Engagement Board on Pinterest: 

Take the Employee Engagement Universal Driver Survey from Leigh Branham:

Read Erika Andersen’s post on Forbes:

Image Credit: Thanks to Steve Curtin for the use of his image with this post. Read Steve’s Blog:

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Customer Insights: How Does Your Business Share Them?

These days, it seems as if everyone is talking about customer data. There’s big data, business intelligence, and mobile data. But with all of these sprouting warehouses of data, how much time do businesses spend to gather, share, and understand their customer data?

What exactly is big data? According to Forrester Research, “Big Data is the frontier of a company’s ability to store, process and access (SPA) all the data it needs to operate effectively, make decisions, reduce risks, and serve customers.”

In plain English, “Big data is not about the size of the data, it’s about the value within the data,” as described by Dave Wellman (@dwellman on Twitter).

In the B2B arena, most businesses use large-scale software systems, such as, SalesForce or customized CRM systems, to capture leads and maintain customer details. Several departments are involved in the data-gathering process because there are multiple customer touch points: contact centers and customer service, sales, and marketing departments. As a result, many departments are responsible for entering and updating customer records.

But how many businesses actually maintain organized procedures for storing and accessing data? How often are the records updated? How often are the records purged if a customer goes out of business? What are the basics when it comes to entering names, addresses, and common business abbreviations or terms including Inc., LLC, etc.? Bottom line, how many businesses discuss how to enter information into their customer databases as part of new employee onboarding?

While customer data is critical for business success, no leadership team should endorse “spying” on its marketing department when it comes to obtaining, storing, and understanding customer insights. This data should be easily accessible to all members of a leadership team, and it should be easily digestible by all – whether one is a member of the finance team, the personnel team, or the manufacturing team. The data should be frequently shared by a member of the sales or marketing team – and even better, by members of both specialty areas – to the entire leadership team.

When this happens, everyone can learn which products or services yield the most sales and the least sales, which result in the most problems and how the problems were handled, and where attention should be paid to make improvements.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Image Credit: Thanks to IBM for providing the image that served as inspiration for this post.