Category Archives: 1

10 Pitfalls of Start-ups: How to Succeed Through the Initial Three Years and Beyond

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman Taking the Plunge

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Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, you conduct thorough research, plan meticulously, execute strategy flawlessly ‒ but over time, you barely survive, or worst yet, fail altogether. What gives?

According to statistics, as the latest available numbers from the two U.S. government statistical agencies responsible for providing data about new businesses illustrate, The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five years after new establishments were founded (1995, 2000 and 2005 respectively), 50%, 49 and 47 percent of them (correspondingly) were still in operation.

Merely reading a business book, this article, or attending a well-regarded entrepreneurship course/program is no guarantee of success in increasing one’s odds of business success. It takes diligent implementation of a viable business plan, focus, determination, consistent and well thought out action, as well as an obsession with the customer, amongst other traits and approaches. Management of a business is not a science, it’s a practice.

SME/SMB business owners optimistic despite odds of failure

A new, independent survey has found that small and mid-size business owners share several distinct attributes that help them live their passions while adapting to the shifting economic landscape.

Commissioned by Deluxe Corp. a publicly traded company and leading provider of marketing services and business products for small businesses and financial institutions, the study surveyed more than 1,000 SMB owners around the U.S. The results showed 86 percent of the respondents believe they can do anything they set their minds to, with 77 percent also stating they would rather learn from failure instead of never trying at all.

Based on the results, it’s no wonder entrepreneurs are known as risk averse and tenacious ‒ or as some would light-heartedly state, “We’re going to succeed because they’re crazy enough to think they can.”

Pitfalls of business failure

On the whole, businesses fail due to its owners’ lack of fundamental business knowledge. Needless to say, failed businesses did not operate the same way as those that succeed. The following are oversights and inaction responsible for their demise.

  • For starters, it’s going into business for the wrong reasons. If the only reasons an aspiring business person desires self-employment is making money and selling a product he/she is in love with, stick to a regular job and conduct business on the sidelines or as a hobby. Making money should not be the sole end goal. Simon Sinek, an accomplished author and adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world, in his popular talks worldwide, including TED, compellingly emphasizes the following:

Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?  Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.”

  •  The business is undercapitalized: a business with too much debt and a cash flow that doesn’t support it ‒ as a result of overestimated revenues and cash flow with underestimated expenses/cost of business.
  • Lacking business development – sales, the lifeblood of any business. Emphasis mainly on product rather than actually shipping quantity to its target market.
  • No USP/differentiation: another me too product, price sensitive, commoditized, and failure to communicate it in a captivating way.
  • Not focused on a particular market. Confused, and as a result, applying a gunshot approach. Unclear of its business model.
  • Poor execution of business and marketing plan. Lack of clear focus and direction. Moreover, inability to adapt to a changing environment, as well as anticipate future trends and plan for them – market phasing out unwanted items or services.
  • Poor operational management. It can be one or a combination of motives including lack of discipline, internal bickering between partners, owner arrogance, stubbornness, a closed mindset, and/or a lack of work ethic which causes complacency. Many start-ups have a carefree attitude to promote efficiency in the workplace, often needed to get their business off of the ground and persevering long afterwards.
  • Business expansions that are poorly planned and not appropriately financed. Although this growth is normally viewed as a positive development, its timing, execution tactics, and inadequate funding to sustain profitable growth stifle proper business progress.
  •  Failing to control costs – negligent fiscal management.
  • Creating dissatisfied customers: Not in touch with them along with a lack of a customer centric policy and fervent implementation with constant monitoring. Many businesses, small and large alike, offer lip service as they continue to disappoint their customers. It is a fact that the cost of acquiring a new customer is five times the cost of keeping an existing one.

Maze and Businessman

7 principles for business success: Avoid being a failed business statistic

If an entrepreneur is resolute enough to increase the chances of triumph from the outset, he/she should consider several key principles. These seven beliefs have been forged through my personal experiences, those of others I have either researched/interviewed and/or advised, as well as based on long-term practice and common sense seasoned with a touch of academia.

1)    A Viable Product or Service with the Right Business Model and a Passionate Person Behind it

It should fulfill a need, offer a benefit, be innovative and differentiate itself. It’s also imperative that the entrepreneur is passionate about the product/service, empowers his/her staff, as well as practices/conveys business ethics. To excel in the business, the entrepreneur must have the right mindset and attitude. This includes drive, perseverance, tenacity, and an undying belief in himself/herself and the value he/she adds.

2)    Adequate Capital

Critical and can vary depending on the size of the undertaking. Start your capital search with a good business plan that shows investors and lenders your company’s potential. Expect to realistically invest about 30% of your own money based on the total value of the project. Last but not least, cash-flow is the lifeblood of your business if you’re going to sustain the operation financially.

3)    Marketing, Sales and Customer Driven

Advertise, publicize, differentiate, ‒ and be compelling, as well as memorable with your messages. Deliver on those promises and constantly remain customer focused. Sales, on the other hand, is part of the marketing function.  It includes business development and account management. Sales is crucial to business because it is the bottom line, whereas marketing is about getting a product known and the customer keeps your business alive.

4)    People

Don’t simply HIRE well educated and experienced people but most importantly MOTIVATED, dedicated, coachable and with interpersonal skills. Moreover, make certain that the people you hire fit-in with your corporate culture.

5)    Systems and Structure in Place

Every business requires a disciplined way of conducting itself. This way everyone is on the same page. Consider publishing an “operations manual” and continuously enforce its procedures.  However, at the same time, it should include an element of flexibility to avert stifling the organization. Without any structure, the chances of failure increases.

6)    Strict Internal Financial Controls and Adequate Cash Flow

Finances should be closely supervised, borrowing wisely and avoiding overspending. Watch your financial ratios and yields (where applicable). The success of your business is, in many ways, measured by the bottom line. Even if you hired a full-time accountant, you would still need to have a
fundamental knowledge of accounting, how it works, and how to apply its basic principles in order to run a flourishing business. Once again, “cash flow” Cash flow is of vital importance to the health of a business. One saying is: “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity, but cash is king”.

7)    Continuous Improvement, Innovation and Sustained Growth

This is by no means a one-time event but rather an on-going process. Innovation encompasses offering distinguished and improved solutions which meet or exceed market requirements and expectations from your customers ‒ whether offering a desirable product or upgrading a service experience.

Keep in consideration ‒ govern oneself accordingly

Entrepreneurs, and inventors alike, may be quite well versed with the products and/or services offered, but not necessarily with running their business including a bucket list of daily administrative tasks. Most notably, sales, marketing and finance/accounting undertakings. This is where honest consideration should be given in either bringing in a partner to complement the entrepreneur’s weaknesses or an external adviser and/or mentor to guide him/her. A sounding board should not be dismissed as an advantage solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Prior to drafting a business plan as the roadmap, which assists one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, plotting a business model should be considered as a prelude to the business plan.  The idiom “putting the cart before the horse” clearly reminds us of this erroneous and common approach ‒ in this case, the business plan preceding the business model or lack thereof. The business model includes the components and functions of the business, as well as the revenues it generates and the expenses it incurs. It is part of the business strategy.

Typically, small businesses with inept ownership usually fail in the first year or two, but even companies in their growth stage can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6 out of 10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients. Marketing maven and renowned author, Seth Godin, succinctly puts it this way:

Many entrepreneurs use an innovation to make an impact, but the hard part, the part that we’re rewarded for, is engaging with the user, the audience, the market. Bringing something to people who didn’t think they wanted it, know about it or initially welcome it, and make a difference.”

In the end, small businesses are started and managed by entrepreneurs, who with all their best intentions, are highly motivated but typically lack training in standard business practices. Thus, entrepreneurs with little more than a great idea, limited funds and a lack of management/operations skills and experience are prone to failure without the resources that can sustain and help grow their business.

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The Global Mindset: Entrepreneurship Beyond Borders

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By James D. Roumeliotis

With globalization prevalent at an unprecedented rate, we are witnessing a growing number of entrepreneurs entering foreign markets with products or outsourcing manufacturing. Taking their small- or medium-sized businesses globally with different and unfamiliar customs and regulations can hamper success. Overcoming these challenges requires a mind shift through a good command of foreign cultures, values, and a sound strategy by the entrepreneur. Moreover, the same knowledge can create diversity awareness by embracing and respecting multiple cultures within the organization.

Global Citizen

The capitalist as a global citizen

Along with knowledge of all fundamentals of running a business, the “global” entrepreneur systematically seeks out and conducts new and innovative business activities across national borders. Diversity of thought and culture is needed to handle global business matters most efficiently. Undoubtedly, those best prepared have an international background having lived abroad and/or studied international business. Given that not everyone has had this opportunity, there is no reason that an entrepreneur can’t get self educated and think, as well as act globally. Rather than just focus on local home issues, global horizons can be released by immersing oneself to foreign news sources (both political and business related), as well as carrying out research and obtaining information to guide toward the best decisions. Learning another language, culture, and physically exploring the countries of interest, can’t help but develop a global mindset, motivate to evaluate foreign strategy, and ultimately allow seeing things from a different perspective.

For global research purposes, resources and services at one’s knowledge base include:

1) Go online and investigate how the Internet functions in this country; key sites; key offerings; style; information dissemination

2) Examine local media; i.e. news sources online and off line, business publications. Some publications are in English. Many are not. Don’t hesitate to use Google’s “translate this page” application.

3) Multicultural training can’t hurt. Contact either educational institutions or management consultancies, who can help you prepare the necessary groundwork

4) Most countries have governmental export organizations, which provide support. In the USA contact: USCS; In Canada contact the EDC; in the United Kingdom contact the UKTI.

Most countries have “trade missions” – an overseas program for local businesses that want to explore and pursue export opportunities by meeting directly with potential clients in specified foreign markets.

In addition to cultural awareness aspect, it can be useful to find reliable local partners, who are already established and understand the country’s market you wish to target. Certain countries will not let you enter without a “local” partner. Do yourself a great favor and inform yourself on how this can work to your advantage.

Trying to contact local distributors, sales agents or licensees may not be possible without the proper introductions. Therefore, do your homework. Exploiting an existing customer base in a partnership arrangement can be very advantageous.

Payment terms and guarantees are another issue that can be dealt with through the guidance of various government export programs.

Guy Laliberte

From local and humble beginnings to the international stage

What most people don’t realize are the humble beginnings of most local firms before their recognition on the international stage.

Take for example the French-Canadian entrepreneur Guy Laliberte, and co-founder of the internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil. He had his humble beginnings as a street performer in Montreal where he used to entertain small audiences alfresco with his stilt-walking and fire-eating acts.

In 1984, despite his limited command of the English language and unfamiliarity with the global scene, Laliberte had a vision to create and eventually export an upscale alternative to the traditional circus. His original plan was intended to be just a one-year project.

Cirque du Soleil was scheduled to perform in eleven towns in the Canadian Francophone province of Quebec over the course of thirteen weeks. After its inaugural show across Canada with a cast of 70 to 100 performers, the Cirque unveiled its first show outside Canada in 1987. It took place in Los Angeles with great fanfare.

The stakes were high. As Laliberte recalls:

“I bet everything on one night. If we failed, there was no cash for gas to come home.”

Beyond his wildest dreams, the applause rumpled across the States like thunder.
Over the years, he continued to learn and adapt to various market conditions. With an astute understanding of branding his circus grew.

Its success is a manifestation of imagination and hard work. What differentiates Cirque from its predecessors are unique shows fueled by emotion. Today, there are 19 shows in over 271 cities on every continent except Antarctica. The shows employ approximately 4,000 people from over 40 countries and generate an estimated annual revenue exceeding $810m.

What I also admire about Guy is that he is more than just an entrepreneur. He is also a philanthropist, space tourist and professional poker player with an estimated net worth of $1.36bn according to Forbes World’s Richest (as of 9/2/17). In 2015 he sold a 90% stake to U.S. private equity firm TPG Capital and Chinese investment group Fosun, valuing the firm at $1.5bn.

The Global Mindset: Entrepreneurship Beyond Borders

My final take

Although international business is fraught with challenges, strategic planning coupled to measured risk taking pays big dividends. However, you cannot rest on your laurels. Political and economic trends shift with the wind. Sailing with the wind allows an entrepreneur to feel the pulse of trends while at the same time giving the individual a template for personal growth.

Secondly, unlike previous generations, the internet provides countless opportunities to reach out and broaden target audiences in a way that was not possible.

Governmental agencies, in most major developed countries, through collaboration with their foreign attaches, are prepared to help intrepid business people by providing entrepreneurs with technical support and resources.

If foreign expansion is on your agenda, study those firms who have made the leap successfully.

The example of the Cirque du Soleil brilliantly demonstrates how it
is possible to stake out your corner. Logistically, Cirque also understood that success needed to collaborate with locals and to deliver entertainment in a focused way which transcends culture and language.

I attribute this success as well as others to a keen appreciation of EQ rather than IQ. After all, having a global mindset implies cultural intelligence coupled to traditional business practices.

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Adding Personality to a Dull Product Through Clever and Humorous Ads

By James D. Roumeliotis

Poo Pourri Ad Image

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Let’s be candid: not many of us pay much attention to advertising for life insurance, bathroom tissue or medical devices. What’s there to be excited about? Adding a dose of personality with humor may create attention for those types of products which we would not otherwise have given them much attention — especially among a plethora of advertising. This also applies to generic products such as soap and bottled water.

Not every product or service brand is stimulating

Not every brand is as exciting such as Victoria Secret, Porsche or Apple. Many brands, it turns out, are simply staid, generic or both. However, the creative ones have put much thought into developing content which captures attention. This would come in a form of either:

– a humorous type ad;

– an emotional style ad which results in becoming remarkable and memorable; or,

– embodies a certain lifestyle which most in the target market would be able to relate to as their own;

– it turns out good enough that many of us would share the advertisements with others (as I am doing in this article).

Cases in point worth noting: clever ad campaigns

Below are examples of products and services which can stir emotions – whether arousing, dramatic or amusing.

Zyppah (snoring device)

Zyppah (“Happy Z” spelled backwards) is an oral sleeping device which claims to eliminate snoring. It doesn’t sound or look like a sensuous device, so the brand decided to develop a clever advertising campaign by creating a character – a spokesperson of sorts with a thick New York City accent, named “Jimmy.” The results can be watched and heard below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZBiPxn-haA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWHIkX7_mHY

Poo-Pourri (a fragrance brand that develops and markets deodorizing toilet sprays)

 Suzy Batiz had an obsession with getting rid of “poop odor” to the brink that for nine months she relentlessly worked on developing an oil-based spray you put on the surface of toilet water before you go. It worked! Her claim is that her product, named Poo-Pourri, has a unique oil which “…creates a layer, and whenever the poo goes in, it actually encapsulates it, it sort of ‘wraps’ the odor.” Truth be told, bathroom products are not the most thrilling to market, let alone such a spray to diminish poo smell – or so you thought. By taking a taboo subject and adding humour and surprise, Suzy Batiz and her marketing creatives, decided to add a dose of bliss to the video ad by featuring an elegant, well-dressed woman with a British accent and revealing her grief of trying to disguise unpleasant bathroom aromas. The ‘Girls Don’t Poop’ initial ad campaign quickly went viral gathering over 6 million views and 278,000 shares in its first week. Here is the video link: https://youtu.be/ZKLnhuzh9uY

Big Lou/Term Provider (life insurance broker)

Life insurance, for many, is a morbid product which needs to be sold rather than bought by most on – and if so, on their own initiative. Therefore, how does a prominent term life insurance brokerage firm start a conversation and promote its intangible products which only beneficiaries can eventually claim its proceeds? Term Provider, the actual name of a term life provider decided to add a pun by branding it with a catchy name – Big Lou – as if its owner is obese and nicknamed Lou is in Louis. We are not certain if the founder/owner of this agency is actually overweight as he claims, as we do not get to see him in his ads. His ads, link below, are for the most part, aired on CNN satellite (think Sirius XM) radio.

https://biglou.com/commercials/

Eyelab (Optometry examination facility in South Africa)

This ad campaign was created in a form of print advertisement by Canvas in South Africa for Eyelab, to promote its professional services. The one below insinuates that this attractive lady needs to have her eyes examined since she appears to have chosen an incompatible and geeky looking man as her mate. In reality, her choice can be quite subjective and a personal choice of hers without any of us being too judgemental. Needless to say, it is eye examination promotional content with a different twist.

http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print/eyelab_couple_1

Optometrist Funny Ad

Bling H2O (luxurious) water

How about branding water and putting the world’s most expensive price tag on it predominantly by visual appeal and perception? That’s just what its founder and president, Kevin G. Boyd, did for Bling H2O which he labels it as “luxury” and charges about $44 per bottle. He has accomplished this through a clever marketing strategy such as:

– focusing on distribution of limited editions;

– creating a fancy glass water bottle to add cachet;

– conveying a glamorous story with his marketing messages;

– has celebrities sipping his water and as a result, gaining massive publicity.

AAA

Virgin America and Air New Zealand (airline safety instruction videos)

In less than two weeks following its release online, Virgin America managed to get almost 6 million people to watch their safety video without even stepping foot on the plane.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg

Air New Zealand created something a little different and entertaining for their safety instructional video by celebrating the third and final film in The Hobbit Trilogy – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOw44VFNk8Y

In the final analysis

Although many products or services such as bottled water, insurance and banking services are not exciting on their own, it doesn’t mean they should remain dull. They still do have the potential to be branded with charm, emotion, sex appeal, or yet attributed to a certain lifestyle. A good sense of humor also comes a long way – provided that creative campaigns can be produced with unique and passionate content worth talking about and sharing.

Positioning the brand is another way to differentiate any generic product. It’s what you create in your target customer’s mind, along with the benefits you want him or her to think of when he or she thinks of your brand.

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What Constitutes an Authentic Customer Experience and Which Brands Are Role Models?

By James D. Roumeliotis (with content/survey by Ian Golding)

Customer Loyalty Service Support Care Trust Business Concept

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As a big proponent and practitioner of the total customer experience, I often cringe when I and many others endure displeasure when transacting with established brands. The companies in question happen to possess deep pockets which constantly communicate about how wonderful they are doing business with. In actuality, they fail miserably in delivering on those messages. The blame goes to their frugality and/or complacency along with their dysfunctional business practices.

Building emotions into the brand’s DNA

According to Derrick Daye, partner at The Blake Project, in his intriguing article,Igniting Brand Growth Via Emotional Connectionshe states that research shows that, on average, 50% of purchase decisions are based on emotion and that a ‘Right Space’ – the core emotions a brand seeks, is what its customers should feel across every single interaction/touch point with which they encounter.  He further states that “Marketers that understand this and that harness the power of emotions are today’s true brand builders and are uncovering new opportunities for growth faster than their competitors.” A case in point used is with Apple. The brand utilizes four emotions that drive customers to loyalty. They are delight, surprise, connection and love. This video displays how Apple succeeds at accomplishing this.

Survey says

In January 2015, Ian Golding, a Certified Customer Experience Professional and Customer Experience Specialist based in the U.K., conducted an independent survey of people across the world to find out who their number one Customer Experience brands are and most importantly what makes them top of mind for this purpose. Below he reveals the findings of the research. It is fair to note that much of this material was derived from Ian Golding with his permission.

top-10-brands-customer-experience

The right customer experience is commercially rewarding

The sheer mention of ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Customer Centricity’, is still often greeted with a rolling of the eyes by those who are more focused on sales targets, operational efficiency and tasks. The irony though is that the former makes the latter much more successful. Also, it’s no coincidence that each of the top 10 brands has recent performance milestones to be proud of:

  • Amazon Q4 14, net sales increased by 15% over Q4 13
  • Apple 39.9% profit per product (3 months to end Dec 14)
  • First Direct Moneywise “Most Trusted” and Which? Best Banking Brand
  • John Lewis profit before tax up 12% in 2014 vs 2013
  • Disney Earnings per share up 27% in year to Dec 2014
  • Air New Zealand Earnings before taxation up 20% in H1 15 vs H1 14
  • Mercedes Revenue increased 12% from 2013 to 2014
  • Starbucks Revenue rise 13% in Q1 FY15
  • BMW 7% increase in vehicle sales in Jan 15 vs Jan 14
  • Boden Shipping 12,500 parcels each day

Is it just a coincidence that the brands you are saying are the best at Customer Experience all seem to be faring well on the commercial front? It appears as though all of the brands that are ‘great’ at Customer Experience share common characteristics

These organizations have common characteristics

I wanted to know what it is that your favorite brands do to make them your #1 at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I asked for up to three reasons from each respondent and received 575 comments. Following verbatim analysis, 13 categories were identified, each distinct but interlinked. They were, as follows (with the percentage frequency they appeared):

  • Corporate attitude 15.9
  • They’re easy to do business with 14.9
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem 11.4
  • The attitude of their people 9.4
  • Personalization 8.0
  • The product or service 8.0
  • They’re consistent 7.5
  • The way it makes me feel 6.3
  • The way they treat me 5.1
  • They’re reliable 4.4
  • They do what they promise 4.2
  • They’re quick 2.6
  • The technical knowledge of their people 2.3

We will look in more detail at what we mean by each of these in a moment but to view at any one in isolation would risk limiting what is being achieved by these organisations. This diagram shows how interdependent each area is in aligning with the corporate attitude and ultimately organizational goals and the very purpose for why the business exists:

characteristics-of-customer-experience-brands-by-j-golding

Focusing on these attributes is what moves companies from fighting a rear-guard action to fix issues of their own making to creating a compelling a sustainable brand for the future. It also means that customers are increasingly exposed to better experiences as they go about their daily lives and that’s important because it keeps nudging the bar of expectations higher. This is why the brands that do these things are ones that people consider to be the very best at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. Digging deeper into each of the 13 areas we can build a picture of how the companies who get it right control the way they do business.

  1. Corporate attitude

It’s another way to describe organizational culture and it underpins everything that happens to or with a customer. More specifically, in the words of those who responded to the research, companies who have the right attitude:

  • Put people before profits and non-human automation;
  • Know they’ll make more money in the long-run with this approach;
  • Test all experiences thoroughly (to eliminate unintended consequences);
  • Listen and demonstrate they understand their customer;
  • Pay serious attention to detail;
  • Empower their staff to makes decisions and act straightaway;
  • Stay true to their values, admit when things go wrong and fix them;
  • Ensure their staff are fully trained and informed;
  • Recruit for attitude and alignment to brand values.

They also said: “…they treat each customer as we would a guest in our home” and “…they balance customer obsession, operational excellence and financial rigor.”  Almost every other category is a sub-category of this one. It shows how important the right culture is.

  1. They’re easy to do business with

It’s obvious to say a company should be easy to do business with and yet that’s not always the case. What respondents meant by “easy” included:

  • There are no barriers in the way for doing what a customer needs to;
  • It’s simple to get information, purchase and use the product;
  • Needs are anticipated and catered for;
  • Customers don’t need to repeat information;
  • They can switch from one channel to another with no impact on progress;
  • Products can be returned or fixed with minimum effort on the part of the customer;
  • They are available when and where customers want; they can be reached without waiting and won’t limit the hours of their support functions to office hours if customers are still using their products and services all day every day;
  • They are proactive in taking responsibility, for example: Finding products at other stores and having them delivered;
  • Customers have no objection to self-service because it has been well thought through;
  • Information is presented in a timely, clear and relevant way.
  1.  Helpful and understanding when I’ve got a question

Being easy to deal with is critical when a customer needs help or simply has a question. On the assumption that good companies do respond (a recent Eptica survey found more than 50% of online inquiries go unanswered), helpful companies are ones who:

  • Listen to understand before acting;
  • Give a customer the feeling that they are trusted and respected;
  • Will provide an answer and additional, relevant help;
  • Provide certainty and manage expectations about what will happen next and at each stage;
  • Empower employees to make decisions;
  • Resolve issues first time and quickly;
  • Have employees who are happy to give their names and direct contact numbers;
  • Pre-empt problems and solve them before customers are aware;
  • Fix customers’ mistakes without blame or making them feel awkward;
  • Follow-up afterwards to check everything was sorted and is still as it should be;
  • are not afraid to apologize when they get it wrong.
  1.  Attitude of the people

Individual employees who are interacting with customers become a proxy for the brand. If they demonstrate the wrong behaviors the damage can be hugely expensive but getting them right does not cost a huge amount of money. Most often a function of the corporate attitude, the most appreciated characteristics are:

  • Being courteous and friendly;
  • A positive, “I’ll sort it” attitude;
  • They are good at listening;
  • It’s obvious they care about, and are proud of, the product/service;
  • They are professional and not pushy;
  • They are helpful and proactive;
  • They are genuine and humble;
  • They smile;
  • Hey are engaging and interested in the customer;
  • They have personality, not a corporate script;
  • They are patient;
  • They show respect for their fellow colleagues.
  1. Personalization

We are all individuals and like to be treated as such. Having “big data” was seen as the answer but as these companies demonstrate, it’s not only more important to have the right data and do the right things with it, but it’s also linked again to corporate attitude. Those who get the personalization right:

  • Understand, anticipate and are proactive;
  • Keep customers informed with relevant information;
  • Shows they listen and act, not just collect feedback;
  • Create a relaxed environment because a customer’s needs fits neatly into what they are offering;
  • Create a feeling of respect, that they care and have “taken the time to know me, to make things easier for me”;
  • Make it feel like dealing with a person where there’s a connection, not just a transaction;
  • Allow their customers to control the degree of personalization in terms of frequency and content;
  • Remain flexible and adaptive to the circumstances, not scripted.
  1. The product or service itself

Making it easy, personal and rewarding will be wasted effort if the core product or service doesn’t live up to expectation. At the end of the day, your business must have something of value to the customer to sell! When it comes to products and services, the #1 Customer Experience brands are those who:

  • The right mix of choice, relevance, quality and innovation;
  • Well designed, so it is easy to get it to do what it’s supposed to;
  • Quality is complemented by relevant innovation, not technical innovation for the sake of it;
  • Obsessive about the detail;
  • Paying as much attention to secondary products, such as food on airlines;
  • Good at turning necessary evils into compelling attributes – Air New Zealand’s legendary on-board safety briefings, for example;
  • Adept at keeping up with, ahead of and shaping basic expectations.
  1. Consistency

As customers we like certainty and predictability. It means that the decisions we make carry less risk because we can confidently trust the outcomes. It also demonstrates stability of, and a shared understanding of, strategy. For our respondents, consistency is about experiences that:

  • Look and feel the same;
  • Can continue easily wherever, whenever and however;
  • Match or build on the positive expectations created last time;
  • Have continuity in not only what happens but how it happens; tone of voice, quality, different locations, store or franchise, people and processes, performance;
  • Provide the same reliable answers to the same questions;
  • Integrate with other services.
  1. The way it makes me feel

Emotions are a function of how good the other two cornerstones of Customer Experience – function and accessibility – are. How they were made to feel, whether intentional or not, is what people remember. Being the personal consequence of most if not all the issues covered here, it is what drives our behavior about whether or not we will do the same next time and tell others to do the same. If people think they are part of something special, connected to a company that lives by like-minded values, they will FEEL special. And as human beings, we appreciate that. Survey respondents cited a number of great examples:

  • “Get on an Air New Zealand flight anywhere in the world it already feels like you’re home”;
  • “The packaging increases the anticipation when opening a new product” (Apple);
  • “Interactions with employees don’t feel like processes out of an operating manual”;
  • “There is (the perception of) a genuine relationship; it’s not just about them selling every time they are in touch”;
  • “They make me feel as if I’m their only customer” (Land Rover).
  1. The way they treat me

At the root of how we feel and therefore behave is often down to how we are treated. Good and great companies have experiences that:

  • Demonstrate respect;
  • Show an empathy with customer needs;
  • Don’t do things like asking a customer to repeat information if handed from one colleague to another;
  • Keep customers posted on feedback they’ve given;
  • Recognize their customers both by staff individually in-store and organizationally;
  • Have a consistency of treatment even when not spending money in-store;
  • Create relevant retail environments so that customers feel they are treated as if they are somewhere special;
  • Develop meaningful loyalty programs that acknowledge past purchases and reward future ones;
  • Are not patronizing in tone.
  1. They’re reliable

Not surprisingly, reliability is cited as a key attribute. Although we simply expect things to work as they did last time or as it was promised, we probably won’t get too excited if that is the case. However, the consequences of it not happening will result in additional time, effort, inconvenience and sometimes cost to the customer; not what a brand would want to be blamed for. There are some markets where the mere hint of a lack of reliability in its truest sense has serious consequences for a brand. More generally, reliable customer experiences are ones that:

  • Give confidence and a level of trust that what we ask for when we buy is what we get – there are no nasty surprises;
  • Understand that they are key to repeat purchases and advocacy. No-one will put his or her own reputation on the line to recommended any brand product or service that is unreliable.
  1. They do what they promise

Again, this is a character trait we appreciate in friends, family and colleagues and it’s no different when dealing with a business. It can be seen as a subset of “the way they treat me” but it is also critical at a strategic level too; the brand is what people say it does and so that has to be consistent with what it’s promising, just as its employees need to keep their own promises to customers too. There’s a real financial benefit here too where unnecessary and costly rework can be avoided. How many enquiries coming into the business are because “You said you’d get someone to call back”, “You said you’d send me a copy of that statement” or “Where’s my fridge, I’ve had to take the whole day off work and there’s still no sign of it.” Customer experiences that do what they promise:

  • Live up to the expectations they set;
  • Have employees that do what they say they will do;
  • Do it all consistently;
  • Fix it quick if they fail;
  • Are good at managing expectations.
  1. Timely

As customers, time (alongside money) is a commodity we trade with. A company who appreciates the finite and precious nature of it will create a distinct advantage. In today’s everything-everywhere-now life it’s not surprising that speed is an issue. Expectations are rising all the time where customers interacting with other brands see what can be done. Timely customer experiences are ones that:

  • Move at the right speed for customers;
  • Show respect by having have good reaction times once a customer has initiated part one of a two-way activity;
  • Manage expectations, so if it’s not “quick” as defined by customers there are also, no disappointing surprises;
  • Are not just focused on speed of delivery but are quick to answer the phone, flexibility to find ways around rules and respond to questions.
  1. People knowledge

Having people who are technically competent with their product knowledge is another character of top brands. Companies that possess employees like this have an invaluable asset who are:

  • Able to translate the concerns and questions;
  • Able to articulate complex issues in simple language;
  • Are not patronizing;
  • are proud that their knowledge can help someone else.

In Closing: Be your Chief Customer Officer

Through my personal research and experience ─ and those of the authors credited above, one arrives at the conclusion that Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

Stellar customer experience is not only reserved for the big brands. It can exist with businesses of all sizes and stages. It is about a mindset ─ the right attitude and culture within the organization where everyone is customer centric which matters more than solely the bottom line.

As a final point, the leadership of the brand, whether with a title of president, managing director or CEO (C-suite), he or she should be the “chief customer officer.” According to a survey that The Economist Intelligence Unit recently conducted of how global companies manage their customer experience programs, 58% of companies that are much more profitable than their competitors report that the CEO is in charge of customer experience management. Indeed, the commander-in-chief of the company is the one who sets the tone and culture for the organization. If the CEO of a publicly traded company focuses on quarterly profits to satisfy its shareholders’ demands at the expense of being customer centric, everyone else below him or her will do what it takes to fulfill their boss’s expectations and requirements. It is quite a regrettable situation which occurs often with many public corporations.

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20 Steps to Launching a Food Company: Lessons from a Start-up in the Gluten-free Sector

by James D. Roumeliotis

plethora-of-same-old-big-food-brands-on-shelves

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For those who are considering venturing into the recession proof food production sector, though previous experience in that domain would be a valuable asset, if you have the passion, discipline, adequate funds, a viable product, and a high caliber team (with individuals that bring sales, marketing and finance expertise along with CPG know-how), your rate of success will undoubtedly increase. However, in practice there are no guarantees of triumph regardless of your resources. Blame is not entirely on the entrepreneur but rather on circumstances beyond one’s control. As such, there is a way to increase positive outcomes throughout the start-up journey by being prepared and anticipating potential hurdles in advance. This entails implementing a feasible strategy, remaining resilient along the way and applying a practical step-by-step process as the one outlined in this article. Consider it as your guide which was developed as a result of painstaking experiences during 18 months which ultimately led to launching a gluten-free and health snack from the ground-up.

What it takes to make it to market

  1. Food product or beverage idea, viability and development: How unique will your product idea be? Which food category is it supposed to fall under (snack, poultry, dry snack, frozen etc.)? What will be unique about it? Will it possess sales potential ─ especially repeat sales? Initial sales are fine but repeat orders are more important.
  2. Market research and competition: Like in every type of business and industry, conducting market research and your in-depth information about your competition is imperative in deciding if your potential product is good enough to compete with existing products. How will it be sold? Pricing etc. (marketing mix).
  3. Testing/Sampling and feedback: Before you invest in purchasing ingredients, packaging and other items in bulk, it is highly advisable that you determine if your food product will have appeal in the marketplace. That said, feedback from focus groups can not be underscored.
  4. Co-packer/contract manufacturer or kitchen space leasing: To produce your product you may want to find and negotiate with a facility where it will be produced in small or large batches – either with your own team or one provided to you. Co-packers/contract manufacturers normally charge per hour of production (with a minimum daily run) or a fee per packaged finished product. Along with their own in-house brand, they have the extra capacity to accommodate private label contracts.
  5. Product costs and potential earnings: Have someone with accounting and costing experience do this on a spreadsheet. Know your costs and margins ahead of time, as well as what you can potentially sell it wholesale and/or direct to the consumer ─ keeping in mind there are intermediaries involved such as food brokers and/or distributors.
  6. Ingredient sourcing: Contact potential suppliers of ingredients. Shop around especially for the best deal, supply capabilities, for quality certifications, and credit terms. Make certain you always have two or three suppliers as a back-up. Ask for specifications of each ingredient.
  7. Product formulation testing and sampling: This is most certainly not a one-time event but an on-going process. Do not be surprised if it can take as many as 50 or more trials before the formula has been refined. Refrain from haste in launching your product until the flavor profile and texture you are trying to achieve are above board. Your brand and brand new reputation are at stake.
  8. Scaling from the kitchen and lab to mass production: Small batches in the kitchen will not yield the same results when going into full scale production. The formula will almost certainly require several tweaks made progressively during the production process to produce similar texture and flavor.
  9. Funding requirements and sources: Based on what it will cost you to bring the product to market (with a reserve for unforeseen expenses), including constant operating expenses and perhaps a reasonable salary, determine how much you will need less your own funds (dubbed “bootstrapping”). The balance can be sought from either private investors and/or friends and family. Banks are reluctant to lend to start-ups as they would rather wait several months for your business to show some traction.
  10. Market – Retail, institutional or both: Establish where you will be pitching and selling your product. Keep in consideration that by going retail, you ought to invest additional funds in branding, packaging, instore sampling, promotional activities and perhaps shelf/slotting fees by major supermarkets. Start locally and slowly expand outside your area, state/province and eventually beyond your country borders.
  11. Channels of distribution: If you will be dealing with retailers, it is not always possible to go direct as they prefer you do so indirectly via distributors they deal with (a matter of streamlining inventory and invoicing). Distributors can tag anywhere from 30” to 40% margins above what you wholesale the product for. Retailers will tack on an additional 30% to 45% by the time it is sold to the consumer. If you are seeking to outsource your sales activities, consider doing so by hiring a food broker or two who have great contacts in the retail and institutional food sector, thus open many doors for potential purchase orders. Typically, they earn 5% to 6% of sales made under their account.
  12. Marketing and branding strategies: In the business world, it goes without saying that marketing and branding activities are crucial in developing awareness for the product. The new normal is more emphasis on digital/social media, experiential marketing, cause marketing and guerrilla/grassroots marketing among other tactics. Going retail takes long to establish brand recognition which is a costly affair.
  13. Business model and business plan: A business model describes how and where you wish to operate your business, as well as how you plan to generate revenue and profit, whereas the business plan is a comprehensive document which states your businesses’ operational, marketing and financial goals and how it intends to meet them. It is like your company’s road-map. The business model you create is detailed in the business plan. Therefore, the business model comes before the business plan akin to the horse before the cart. Both are essential.
  14. Company name and formation, as well as product liability insurance coverage: There is no legitimate business without forming a company – an incorporation (limited liability) in favor of a sole proprietorship or general partnership (merely a registration). Additionally, do not take any risks in case there is a recall and/or someone gets ill caused by your product. Anything can go wrong from the supply chain to the product getting processed at the plant – regardless of the safety measures in place. Top food brands have not been immune either.
  15. Brand name trademark: Take the cautious path of protecting your company name and brand (including the logo). In the end, you will have invested an adequate amount of time and money, therefore, make certain you protect the intangible assets you are creating, otherwise, it may cost you plenty more to defend it in the future.
  16. Food safety issues, nutritional declarations and labeling requirements: This is a vital responsibility and requirement from the FDA (U.S.), CFIA (Canada) and in the European Union it is Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 . Legislation with those governmental agencies includes what should be declared as ingredients on the packaging, as well as on the compulsory nutritional label (format varies from country to country).
  17. Packaging design, formats, POPs and UPC bar codes: The expression, “You eat with your eyes” applies quite well when it comes to food packaging – especially if you want your product to stand-out. A colorful, yet minimalist clean design on a quality package speaks volumes and can command a premium retail price. It is what is know as “perceived value.” Consider creating a POP display which will further expose your product, accentuate it, as well as possibly avoid paying slotting fees. Bear in mind that every product item, called a SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) requires its own bar code called a UPC (Universal Product Code). You can register and obtain this for an annual modest fee at gs1.org (or www.gs1ca.org in Canada).
  18. Going to market, in-store sampling and other activities: Launching a product for sale requires careful planning and timing. This should be well coordinated with your team and the food broker and/or distributor (or retailer directly). To introduce the unfamiliar product/brand to the consumer, where he or she shops, it is highly recommended that sampling be conducted in-store. There may be a cost associated with this if a third-party marketing company, specializing at this, is hired.
  19. On-going refinements and customer feedback: Once a product arrives on retail shelves, there is no reason to get complacent. A product’s flavor profile should be enhanced based on customer feedback which should be encouraged by making it easy for him or her to communicate with you (email, social media and perhaps a toll-free number on the packaging).
  20. Continuous research and development for new products – in-house production consideration: Progress and category success require constant innovation, refinements and tactics ─ whether it is with existing products or launching new ones.

Everyone needs to eat to survive

Starting a business is a challenge with statistically high failure rates during the initial five years ─ let alone starting a food production business. Statistics on this sector show promising growth.  However, the food sector, especially in the health category, has tremendous opportunity for brands which offer snacks, ready to eat or easy to prepare meals which are tasty, allergen-free and with all natural ingredients – especially plant based.

The biggest challenges in the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) sector are the need for a large sum of capital (most notably if you plan on opening your own facility), a focus on research & development, scaling the product from the kitchen to manufacturing, as well as executing a plan for going to market. It is also an industry with government safety regulation requirements which the food entrepreneur should be quite familiar with and comply without compromise.

Despite the industry’s inherent challenges, it is still worth considering this route as there is plenty of room to increase one’s prosperity while also benefiting the consumer with nourishment. Although there is complexity involved, it is recommended that one starts small, hires a contract manufacturer for production. The moment sales begin to increase dramatically along with cash flow, a that juncture, in-house manufacturing may be a viable option.

As for risks, choose to take the “calculated” type as in “planned with forethought.” Anticipate problems and be prepared with viable solutions. Finally, watch those margins carefully.

______________

According to Mintel, a research firm, these are the food market categories.

  • Baby food market
  • Breakfast cereals market
  • Dairy market
  • Fruit and vegetables market
  • Meat and egg products market
  • Pet food market
  • Savory spreads market
  • Snacks market
  • Bakery market
  • Chocolate confectionery market
  • Desserts and ice cream market
  • Meals and meal centers market
  • Processed fish market
  • Sauces and seasonings market
  • Side dishes market
  • Soup market
  • Sugar and gum confectionery market
  • Sweet spreads market
  • Sweeteners and sugar market

I would also add:

  • Specialty-Gourmet
  • Gluten-free
  • Health food
  • Vegan
  • Paleo
  • Artisan
  • Meals-to-go

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This Blog’s Top 10 Most Read Articles of 2016

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Once again, the ten most read/popular articles have been rounded-up — this time for 2016.

Thank you for your readership and much success to you this year.

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#1 Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity
#2 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion
#3 Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly
#4 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible
#5 Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty
#6 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions
#7 Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All
#8 Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic
#9 The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent
#10 Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation
Which is/are your most favourable?

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THE SEVEN KEY PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS in slides – A Personal Belief Through 38 Years of Practical Experience

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Three Things Businesses Can Learn from the Late Prince, The Artist

by James D. Roumeliotis

Prince Logo

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Prior to his sudden demise, I always had quite the fondness and following for Prince, “The Artist.” Ever since I discovered his music in the late 70s, what never seize to amaze me since was his eclectic work (comprised of dance, funk and rock tunes), vocal range and the method in which he always managed to integrate it all seamlessly during his formidable stage presence.

However, what many may not have been aware of was his show business acumen. Prince built and sustained his personal brand along with the resources he exploited which comprised of his musical entertainment enterprise.

What I have learned from this beloved and prematurely departed artist are three lessons which any business can use as a takeaway for implementation. They are as follows:

1) Stray from the ordinary and remain relentlessly competitive

“The Artist” was widely acclaimed by his fans, the media and fellow musicians as one of the most influential and creative musicians of his generation. He seemingly left behind an impressive music legacy. Unlike most artists, Prince was a prolific songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sang in a variety of vocals, produced his work, as well as displayed dance and theatrical antics on stage. Must we forget that he was also an actor ─ most notably in “Purple Rain” along with performances in four other movies including on television. Moreover, he wrote songs for and produced work for other musical acts including some he impacted and/or for whom he acted as their mentor and coach.

Prince also knew how to outdo his competition by standing out with his artistic performances including the eccentric outfits he sported along with his leaping dance acts he displayed with his platform shoes ─ as he only stood at 5’2”/1.58m. Some of his singles, which eventually turned into big hits, were purposely targeted at some of his rivals.

An exemplary display of Prince’s unique and memorable performance was a video, recorded at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The illustrious artists playing the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” include George Harrison’s son Dhani, along with old band-mates and collaborators Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Steve Winwood. However, most striking among this band, who stood slightly apart from the rest while they played ordinarily, was Prince. Despite his small frame and wearing a dark suit with a red shirt, a matching derby hat, and staying on the sidelines for the first 3:27 minutes or so (in the YouTube recorded video), he suddenly steals the show with his passionate guitar solo. As the song ends, Prince abruptly takes off his guitar, tosses it in the air and then disappears off stage. That was probably the most memorable part of the video from my perspective. Many more who watched it share the same sentiment.

2) Branding, image and reputation are your equity

As with traditional businesses, Prince had created a personal persona – where the brand and performer were synonymous. He created a logo dubbed the “The love symbol” ─ one that blended the symbols for male and female which was instantly recognizable. It was also the shape of his customized guitars. Prince even owned a signature color in the mind of his followers – purple. His occasional provocative lyrics, seductive singing, dramatic performances and distinctive album covers all depicted a unique style as an icon and as a showman of his personal brand.

As one Twitterer remarked in his Tweet following Prince’s death,Prince built a brand around his music and his genius before content marketing and personal branding became a thing.” Another stated, “Like Bowie, Prince reminded us that it’s not just OK to be weird—it’s cool to be weird.”

The moral of this narrative is that as a business, follow what Prince did ─ by working on building your brand image consistently, by establishing unique features with your products/services that distinguish them from the competition, and by being true to yourself, as well as by what you truly stand for.

3) Become vertically integrated

Prince was more than an artist, he was one who only entrusted himself with songwriting, arranging, producing, naturally performing his own music, as well as distributing it through his own label (NPG Records and Paisley Park Records before it). To do so, he built a $10 million state-of-the-art complex in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota which he named Paisley Park Studios. That said, he became his own vertically integrated corporation. This was, after all, a multi-talented musical artist who believed in taking control of his own destiny and in return, earning the maximum revenue and profits rather than giving much of it away – most notably to a record label. He considered the role of record labels exploitation and slavery. He was a fierce advocate for artist rights and independence and in he had standoff with Warner Bros., his label at the time. In protest, Prince removed his name from his album releases and changed his name to a symbol. He also styled himself as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Furthermore, during a legal battle with Warner Bros., he scrawled the word “Slave” on his face during his appearances and performances.

The significance with this illustration is that a business with adequate capital, resources and expertise ought to consider amalgamating most or all of the processes under its own umbrella. A such, quality control and improved profits are now controlled by the business itself.

Paisley Park Studio

Paisley Park Studios

A final point of intrigue

On a noteworthy footnote, in his 37 years as an artist ─ and unlike many with his fame, he kept himself out of the negative spotlight. He never plagiarized a fellow artist’s work, never had to hire a ghost writer, and neither involved in a scandal which would drag him to the courts. In the end, he was capable of playing more or less 20 instruments admirably and having earned 19 Platinum albums, 6 gold albums, along with a double diamond record for his Purple Rain album which sold 21 million copies. Impressive for a personal brand to say the least.

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Catering to a “Luxury Lifestyle”: Definition and Execution

by James D. Roumeliotis

Yacht Lifestyle Shot from the Air

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A “luxury lifestyle” denotes a way of life which is pleasantly enhanced through well crafted products and exceptional services. These include dining at the best restaurants, lounging in the finest hotels, dressing in premium and bespoke clothing, wearing jewellery/watches produced in limited quantities, possessing and driving the most extravagant cars, traveling to exotic destinations, and playing with the most sophisticated tech products – amongst others. Needless to say, those consumers are connoisseurs of the finest products and services money can afford them.

According to a white paper and survey, conducted by the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Co., it indicates that there is no widely accepted definition of “luxury lifestyle.” It goes on to say that Attendees of the 2012 Financial Times Business of Luxury Summit suggested the following definitions: “a way of living,” a set of “attitudes and values,” or specific “consumption habits.”  Consumers interviewed in London, Milan, Munich, and Paris gave equally diverse definitions. Some offered a broad perspective (“a way of being, dressing, behaving” that “sets you apart from the rest”); others referred to particular products, brands, and experiences (“staying at nice hotels”); still others took a cynical view (“it’s just brand names, that’s all” or “it’s marketing”). Its interviews with senior executives from luxury- goods companies such as Harry Winston, Hermès, and Roberto Cavalli yielded yet another varied set of definitions, including “embodying the lifestyle of an iconic designer” and “offering a holistic brand experience.” Although they all defined the phrase differently, 70 percent of the executives they interviewed said they regard their brands as luxury-lifestyle brands.

A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote more than a product with key benefits and attributes. However, lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life.” It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand. Take Versace, for example, which besides its fashion apparel and accessories also has hotels, home furnishing/décor, linens, beauty and more. Giorgio Armani also has his eponymous name on hotels, furniture, fashion, jeans and beauty. From these two fashion icons, we can certainly surmise that they have a legitimate claim as “luxury lifestyle” purveyors.

Developing the luxury standard of living through desirable customer experiences

Lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life”. it is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand. think of Ralph Lauren and you can readily see it is not about the clothes. it becomes an attachment such as the sports car brand Porsche to an exclusive club in which you can be a member through emotional identification through use of the products in question. Smart companies understand these principles and look to keep the customer engaged. By doing so, they clearly forge the sort of long term relationships, which become the envy of their designated sector.

The “Total Customer Experience” is the sum total of the interactions that a customer has with a company’s products, people, and processes. It goes from the moment when customers see an ad to the moment when they accept delivery of a product and beyond.

The experiences customers go through with a purveyor of luxury determine the ultimate perception of its brand and image. Customer experiences also spread the word (offline/online) to others (friends, relatives etc.) about your brand. That said, each customer contact (“touch points”) should be handled with the utmost care to ensure that the total brand experience a person has is constant.

Lifestyle brands develop emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal examples are the diehard brand enthusiasts and early adopters who must get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market such as BMW, Armani, W Hotels, Louis Vuitton and Rolex ‒ just to name a few. These have given way to consumers to buy products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol.

The luxury lifestyle in the services domain

In the category of “services”, the luxury lifestyle is all about execution in delivering an exceptional experience with pizzazz to the discerning ─ whether it is a bespoke travel excursion in an exotic place, producing an exceptional dining experience or organizing an over-the-top event, each one ought to create a pleasant memory which would want to be repeated.

A successful service related luxury lifestyle exists when the following take place.

– Delivered with passion
– Exclusivity
– Discretion
– Exceeding expectations
– Seamless
– Refined
– Posh
– With attention to detail

Consider American Express − most notably for its “by invitation only” Black/Centurion card. For hotels, worthwhile mentions are the Hotel Plaza Athenée, the Four Seasons (including its private jet tours), the Ritz Carlton, and boutique hotels Hotel du Cap and Hotel de Crillon to name a few prominent ones. They splurge and provide the perfect luxury experience with outstanding service, exclusivity, and pedigree.

Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni Travel, Orient-Express and Cunard Line. Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include fractional jet ownership such as NetJets and FlexJet, as well as global concierge services such as Quintessentially.

In the final analysis

Whether offering a product or service, it is how a luxury brand delivers an experience that distinguishes it and makes it stand-out from the mainstream. In essence, it’s a holistic approach.

Luxury lifestyle brand offerings should be constantly refreshed, giving discerning customers a reason to repeatedly do business with the brand. Tiffany & Co., decided to undergo “investing in the theater of shopping in its stores”, as its CEO Frederic Cumenal implied as regards to the renovations of its largest store ever which it opened in China.

Selling a distinct lifestyle is what discerning clients crave and gladly relate to. Organizing exclusive by-invitation-only events should be considered. Exclusive events make one feel notable. For example, Italian sports automaker Maserati invited a select number of brand loyalists to a new experience in Europe that gave them the opportunity to sail on-board the 70 ft./21,3 m Maserati sailboat. In addition, they drove models in its current range including the new Maserati Gran Turismo Sport model.

In the end, living the luxury life is irresistible to many from every range of background and nationality. The temptation includes the aspirational affluent.

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Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Marketing Tactics: Spending Less and Generating More Exposure & Revenues

by James D. Roumeliotis

Hexagon Honey Packaging

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When it comes to marketing food products, known in industry jargon as “Consumer Packaged Goods (using the acronym “CPG”), it takes more than mere advertising. Any brand with a deep advertising budget can do so. However, the skill is in knowing how to best utilize a limited budget for maximum effectiveness. Surprisingly, many smaller brands seem to be running circles around their much bigger brand counterparts with greater resources. The key differentiator is in the strategy and implementation including the ideal target market, brand positioning and specific media sought.

Guerrilla marketing: Getting noticed on a shoestring budget

Persuading consumers to consider your product on their shopping list takes time and an ample marketing budget. However, getting consumers to take notice of your product can be swift if a combination of Guerrilla/unconventional marketing tactics are used in conjunction with unique packaging design.

The term “Guerrilla marketing” refers to an unconventional and bold approach for a business to promote its products and/or services in ways that capture the attention of potential customers. They are creative, memorable, attract people’s attention (some may be controversial) and require a limited budget which makes it ideal for small to mid size businesses. “Guerrilla marketing” was originally coined in 1983 by Jay Conrad Levinson who also wrote the book “Guerrilla Advertising” with subsequent editions and derivatives which followed.

In keeping with the CPG theme, Nestle’s Kit Kat candy bar brand utilized Guerrilla marketing by placing creative candy-themed benches across large cities as the image below depicts.

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Today, if a brand, especially a new arrival on the market, wants to stand-out in a crowded marketplace, it ought to consider the following means and tactics.

Online/digital Content marketing: This is absolutely the medium/platform which should not be overlooked. Even large brands are placing more emphasis with digital in their integrated marketing strategy. Content is released frequently but in small doses utilizing Twitter, blogs, Linkedin etc. along with stunning lifestyle images and video with must view material (Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo to name the most prominent digital venues).

Public Relations: As this is earned media, what is stated about a brand from a third party is considered trustworthy. Creating buzz through the media, including the use of press releases, is an inexpensive way to earn publicity in lieu of traditional advertising spend.

Alliances – associations – sponsorships: These are additional considerations to boost exposure which turns-out to be a win-win for both parties (sponsor and sponsored party/ beneficiary).

Storytelling: A brand should include storytelling which places an emphasis on the brand’s heritage, the reason for being and why it is offering such a product or products. It is more than content and a narrative, it is a picture made up of feelings, facts and interpretations.

Food packaging: Eating with our eyes

The value added in design, craftsmanship, branding and overall quality can elevate a product into an epicurean delight. Clever and innovative design significantly increases sales and improves brand performance. In addition, it can do plenty of silent marketing. Consider Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar brand, whose distinctive yellow triangular packaging and equally shaped product inside is instantly recognizable. It undoubtedly portrays a premium product yet offers a good value for the price. The brand’s marketing spend is much less than its competitors, though its sales and profits are known to be exceptional in its category.

There are many ways of seeing the value of design. For instance, you can measure sales and relative value as an output of changes in design. Design can also improve your standing among rivals and give you a competitive advantage. The Design Council published a report where facts and statistics concerning the value of design are highlighted. One interesting statistic is that design conscious businesses can expect a return on their internal design investments as high as 125%. That’s quite an impressive return compared to other types of investments made in a business.

What may be obvious is that if you have high quality design, you do not need to compete with your competitors on price. If the design of a product packaging has a “wow” factor to make it stand-out on the shelf, then consumers will choose it even if the price is slightly above the competing products. If the product inside is as good as its packaging, customers will enjoy what you have to offer and continue to be loyal to your brand. That is the result of offering something unique and of a higher standard.

Lifestyle marketing: Non-traditional methods to reach modern consumers

Generally speaking, a brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based solely on features, benefits and cost. A study from the Kellogg School of Management revealed that brands serve as a means of self-expression along with the limitations of expressing a consumer’s identity through brands. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Two CPG brands which have joined the lifestyle bandwagon and spending more money and resources away from traditional marketing are Oreo and Red Bull. The former has created one article and image on the pulse of pop culture per day for 100 days with not much revealed of what would come next. Red Bull which spends a staggering 30% of its revenue in marketing and sponsorship events, has also launched a magazine with over five million subscribers, including a record label and two film studios to produce its lifestyle and experiential material.

Healthy eating and acquiring new tastes are modern day trends which can’t be ignored by CPG marketers. Smaller portions are also a recent trend which equate to less calories for consumption along with much focus on natural and non-GMO ingredients.

Creating new categories and uncontested market space

Instead of competing head-on in the same product category, as the majority of brands are accustomed to, consider creating an entirely new class which will be in an uncontested marketplace. This approach is known as Blue Ocean Strategy®. It was developed by two professors at INSEAD, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne who are also co-authors of Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant (Harvard Business Review Press). As they put it, they observed that companies tend to engage in head-to-head competition in search of sustained profitable growth. Yet in today’s overcrowded industries competing head-on results in nothing but a bloody “red ocean” (as in cutthroat competition turns the ocean bloody red) of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool. Lasting success increasingly comes, not from battling competitors, but from creating “blue oceans” of untapped new market spaces ripe for growth.

Blue Ocean Strategy Chart

An intriguing case study which puts the above strategy in perspective is Australia’s Casella Wines. In 2001, it entered the overcrowded and highly competitive wine industry in the U.S. with its Yellow Tail brand. By the end of 2005, it had reached sales with 25 million cases ─ achieved on a limited marketing budget. This triumph placed Yellow Tail in the category of the overall bestselling 750ml (25.4 U.S. fl. oz.) red wine, outstripping Californian, Italian and French wine brands. It accomplished this by applying the Blue Ocean strategy framework. Consequently, Casella Wines’ Yellow Tail brand targeted the beer and ready-to-drink cocktails in the U.S. market and created Yellow Tail to be easy drinking, an informal selection, fun and an adventure ─ in essence, an uncomplicated, fruity wine structure that was instantly appealing to the mass of alcohol drinkers.

A category which should not be ignored are Millennials (aka Generation Y). They are projected to spend $65 billion on consumer packaged goods (CPG) over the next decade, yet there are many misconceptions and challenges in reaching these shoppers, according to a white paper by WPP’s Geometry Global. Millennials are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. They are known to be quite sophisticated, technology wise, unaffected by most traditional marketing and sales pitches. As a result, CPG companies should adjust and innovate to stay digitally connected with the Millennial consumer.

Sensorial branding: Exploiting the senses

In keeping with the spirit of the five senses, you can exploit them entirely to create a favorable experience in synergy, for guests and clients alike. Below are some of the most important factors:

SIGHT – choice of packaging, its design along with its images, the font type and colors. Add to that a stand-alone point of purchase (POP) display.

TOUCH – the feel and ergonomic design of the packaging. This is how the consumer interacts with it. Plenty of emphasis should be placed on this when designing the package.

TASTE – finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter. Food product samples ought to be available as consumers would prefer to try a product they are exposed to for the first time. Presentation is equally important which has an impact on the overall image of the setting.

SMELL – it is all about the smell of the product. This sense is closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something like computer controlled scent machines to entice. Sensory technology can be very influential down an aisle. Case in point: a French bakery café can deliberately use ventilation to deliberately spread the smell of roasted coffee and baked items sold to induce clients to make or increase their purchases. A company which is known to furnish such state-of-the art equipment is Scent Air Technology.

By integrating the brand-building strategies to appeal to all, or most of the senses, sales have actually increased.

At the end of the day

Marketing done well can improve your brand’s awareness, lead to more sales, word-of-mouth, as well as gain client loyalty.

Using clever marketing approaches which do not cost a fortune, along with innovative and attractive packaging, can lead to impressive sales. However, to develop repeat purchases (think “sell-through” at the retail level), the product itself should taste good and produced with quality ingredients.

Stay in touch with your customers via social media interactions and occasional email newsletters and a blog. Do what you can to improve the lives of these people with valuable advice and special offers. The product should exude that it occupies a part in a pleasant lifestyle.

Remain true to what is making your CPG brand a success and refuse to become complacent. Keep refining, innovating, never mislead (through false benefit claims and nutritional information) and engage constantly with your loyal clients. These activities are not deemed a onetime event but rather an on-going process.

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The Top 10 Most Read Articles in this Blog for 2015

by James D. Roumeliotis

Top 10 Articles for 2015

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As in every year, I have once again rounded up the ten most read/popular articles — this time for  2015. The following ten captured the most attention by numbers and from 154 countries in all. See them all below in descending order.  Your views are always encouraged including subject matter you think I should be covering more of.

THANK YOU for your readership and I look forward to feeding your mind with much more business practical food for thought this year which can be applied for timely results.

1 Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

2 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

3 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

4 Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

5 Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

6 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

7 The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent

8 Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

9 Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

10 Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

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The Formidable Company: How to make your business highly competitive

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Going against your competition — especially a large and established one is not a wise approach. Being nimble, positioning your product to a new and uncontested target market, and offering a delightful experience (rather than focusing on price alone) are the tactics to apply in avoiding competition.

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Creating Purchase Desire by Means of Alluring Product and Package Design

by James D. Roumeliotis with contribution by Thomas C. Mylonas (Creative Entrepreneur & CEO of Dot Kite Design-Branding)

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Fancy Food Packaging Design

Packaging for renowned chef Enrique Olvera by Ponxo Design (Mexico/Spain)

Beauty and design in all things is artistic, engaging, stimulating and creates a sense of comfort. It’s also a very personal thing. Creativity is beauty in art form. It starts from nothing, utilizes mind exploitation, imagination then something awe inspiring is produced which stimulates the mind and senses. Apple comes to mind, first and foremost as it has successfully created not merely electronic entertainment consumer merchandise, but products of desire which are visually appealing, user friendly and ergonomically designed through a minimalistic approach. Tesla Motors has not only created an environmentally friendly car but taken the mundane automobile to greater heights in design, functionality and gratification with the driving experience.

Done well, minimalism is highly nuanced and widely engaging as it’s a catalytic blend of functional essence and aesthetic elegance. Equally impressive in the design aspect was putting plenty of thought into getting its packaging right. The shape, details and texture of each package is just perfect and a unique work of art in its own right. It is quite evident that Apple and Tesla, amongst others, went above and beyond to get the overall product experience above and beyond customer expectations.

Innovation perception

What is design? In the simplest form, it is creating an aesthetically appealing and functional solution to a problem. Innovation has the same concept without necessarily having the creative appeal. Problems that design and innovation resolve vary from a product or service that functions poorly to not having enough market share. In that case, you innovate and design a new solution. Design and innovation are related at another level. If your company is designed in the right way, then it will stimulate innovation. This can be done by designing your processes so that:

  • Employees have the time to work on their own projects;
  • People are motivated to generate new ideas;
  • Others outside of the company can contribute (outsourcing);
  • You have time to listen to new ideas;
  • Experimentation and risks may be taken.

Investing time and money into new ideas may be the most difficult barrier to generating tangible solutions that can be executed. This is because most companies are averse to taking risks, especially large companies. However, once the processes in a company are designed so that new ideas can be followed up on, more ideas will follow.

Even though design is not so easily categorized, there are two main types of innovation; radical and incremental. One can also say that a new design is radical or incremental. An incremental innovation is basically an adjustment to an existing product or process while a radical innovation shakes up the entire product or process so that you will have something distinctive.

You cannot say that one form of innovation is better than another. It all depends on the market and how you communicate your new design. So, will a new design or innovation have a positive impact on your bottom line? No one will know from beforehand, but the most innovative and design conscious companies are doing well, even during an economic downturn.

Clever design significantly increases sales and improves brand performance

There are many ways of seeing the value of design. For instance, you can measure sales and relative value as an output of changes in design. Design can also improve your standing amongst rivals and give you a competitive advantage. The Design Council published a report where facts and statistics concerning the value of design are highlighted. One interesting statistic is that design conscious businesses can expect a return on their internal design investments as high as 125%. That’s quite an impressive return compared to other types of investments made in a business.

What may be obvious is that if you have high quality design, you do not need to compete with your competitors on price. If you design your product and/or service well, then customers will enjoy what you have to offer and continue to be loyal to your company – even if the price is higher than the nearest competitor. That’s because you offer something unique and of a higher standard/value.

If you would like to increase your market share, then being a design savvy business is a wise option. Businesses that did so increased their market share by 6.3% through design. This could be due to several factors, such as those mentioned above concerning the increased value of the product or the notion that you will set yourself apart from the competition.

Furthermore, companies that grow rapidly are almost six times more likely to see design as an integral part of their business compared to those companies that remained static. The effects of design are hard to see, but these hard facts prove the value of design.

Cutting into consumer indecision amongst the competition

When you head to the grocery store to pick up a product such as cereal, do you purchase the same one each and every time or, like many consumers, are you comparing and contemplating about which one to grab?

When presented with a large range of choices to fulfill a need, it is in human nature to become confused, thus the inability to quickly make a choice. When we spend too much time comparing the plethora of options we are presented with, the functional differences between each of them soon become blurry. Once the functional differences lose importance, the peripheral aspects take precedence. This means that whichever product’s ad, spokesperson, or packaging color stands out favorably in our minds will most likely influence our product purchase.

What does this signify for those responsible for branding and communications for such low-involvement products? The peripheral aspects must stand out for products in categories where the number of substitutes is vast enough to cause customer confusion close to the point of purchase. Axe, a brand of male grooming products owned by the British-Dutch company Unilever is a good example of this. Their marketing messages are well known and hold a great amount of recall. They are likely to be quite popular in the deodorant and body spray isle where men are faced with more brands than they can count. The functional superiority or inferiority takes a back seat in such a situation.

Those factors differ for high-involvement goods, such as in cars, watches and so on, where the customer is not likely to make a grab-and-go purchase. In these cases, functionality, brand values and associations begin to play a key role.

Product Industrial Design

Form and function

Product designers work on new products with two aspects in mind: functionality and aesthetics. Through their work, designers connect the industry with consumers by translating a concept into something that adds extra value to consumers.

A competent design team should have an excellent understanding of people, culture, and societies. This knowledge is applied to its deep knowledge about design and includes, but is not limited to:

– Materials
– Components
– Production techniques
– Practical experience
– Financial insight

In this way, products are developed that not only have an appealing design and bring out emotion, but are also practical and of high quality. The products will have the right combination of feel, detailing and ease of usage. Pricing will then determine the value equation. Here are sample ingenious packaging designs in the consumer goods sector http://bit.ly/1clAHSN.

Creative packaging leads to increased sales

Packaging is as important as product itself. The main objective of packaging design is attracting a buyer’s attention to the product. Along with making the product look amazing, it should prompt and influence the customer into buying the actual product as looks do matter. No matter how good the product is, if the packaging is dull and inferior looking it may compromise sales of its contents. Consequently, modern, creative and clever packaging design plays a major role in inspiring and selling any product. Packaging design should include labeling which expresses and communicates key information to the end-user such as benefits, product information, usage directions and perhaps a story.

Some consumer product companies are using a more educated market approach. For instance, to stand-out on the crowded supermarket shelves they introduce art in the printing of their packages and/or labels inviting the consumer to reach-out for the product to learn more about it.

A case in point, after more than two decades in the limelight, California’s Kenwood Vineyards‘ highly-acclaimed Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon reigns as a premier marriage of fine art and fine wine. The combination of the fine art of wine-making with the work of contemporary artists creates an elegant, easily identifiable package, while promoting beautiful artwork at the same time. Other brilliantly designed wine bottles can be viewed at this link: http://bzfd.it/1AubMIH

Saddlers Creek Naked Wines minimalist design

Saddlers Creek Naked Wines minimalist design

Food and water product branding via brilliant packaging

Taking bottled water to a whole different level for uniqueness and attractiveness requires broad imagination and creativity if one is to turn an essential daily commodity to a product with a premium or luxury cache. The most common approaches to differentiating water that the marketing professionals apply are:

  • Fancy bottle and label packaging – shape/color/functionality
  • Source and story telling
  • Health qualities – promote fitness
  • Flavor enhancements – better tasting than plain drinking water
  • Ways to drink – creating a certain lifestyle
  • Adding unusual and compact/practical sizes
  • Limited price offers or bundling with other products
  • Solid and extensive distribution channel with retailers and institutional clients
  • Sponsorships for additional exposure and significant opportunities for distinct marketing

Here are several eye catching designs – some of which you may mistaken for premium vodka http://bit.ly/1HwA01J.

How about branding water and putting the world’s most expensive price tag on it predominantly by visual appeal and perception? That’s just what its founder and president, Kevin G. Boyd, did for Bling H2O which he labels it as “luxury” and charges about $44 per bottle. He has accomplished this through a clever marketing strategy such as:

– focusing on distribution of limited editions;

– creating a fancy glass water bottle to add cachet;

– conveying a glamorous story with his marketing messages;

– has celebrities sipping his water and as a result, gaining massive publicity.

Bling H20 bottle design (Image processed by Code Carvings Piczard)

Bling H20 bottle design
(Image processed by Code Carvings Piczard)

If that weren’t enough, Kevin Boyd introduced the Dubai Collection’s “The Ten Thousand” with a price tag of $2,600 per bottle. This item has over 10,000 hand applied Swarovski Crystals with each bottle custom made to order, numbered and comes with a pair of white handling gloves and an attractive case. There appears to be a market for it – albeit a very small one.

In food packaging, unique examples of standout and alluring packaging design with storytelling can be found with the following products:

Stylish yet environmentally friendly

With the rise of consumer protests and a heightened concern for the environment, many modern companies are responding these days by making every effort to produce both “green” products and packaging that is biodegradable or, at the least, recyclable. This includes the reduction of the size of its packaging and demonstrates eco-friendliness which can bolster their image and attract additional new clients – especially those who are environmentally sensitive.

“While eco-friendly packaging is a recent phenomenon, it is already a large and rapidly growing trend,” observes Susan Selke, Ph.D., acting and associate director of the School of Packaging at Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Some of the companies with well-publicized use of sustainable product materials and packaging are Nike, Starbucks, Estee Lauder, Unilever, Dell and Hewlett-Packard to name a few.

The way forward in product and packaging design

The approach to creativity is the way an artist might stand before a new canvas, on which a beautiful painting can be crafted. Staffs who work in a creative environment should be given plenty of leeway to utilize their full potential – the freedom to flourish. Not doing so limits their artistic talent and deprives the company from taking a leap at the competition.

By having a good understanding about materials, production techniques and manufacturers, striking designs can be created that assure loyal partnerships between consumers and manufacturers. This saves marketing costs in the short term and creates more stability in the long term.

The primary goal of packaging design is to entice customers’ attention. For this purpose, package designs cannot simply inform the customers, but also provoke feelings and communicate emotions. An effective packaging looks attractive, impresses with its creativity and not simply appealing to have on the shelf. As a result, it stands out in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Design for Customers not Brands Quote

Product and packaging design should also clearly communicate a company’s brand identity. As such, the brand team should be asking: What is our product? What is its unique selling proposition (USP)? Who is our primary target client? What is our company’s mission and vision? Accordingly, the product and packaging design ought to be consistent with the brand identity, as they will help determine the size, shape, colors and materials used with the product and packaging.

Amongst other impressive statistics, stocks of design-led firms outperformed the FTSE 100 by 200%! That should be compelling enough to make product designs consumer appealing, along with practicality and quality built-in to them, precedence. If a manufacturer is to create and produce new products, as well as re-design/revitalize existing ones, why not put some creativeness into it, like industrial designer Philippe Starck, who turns mundane items into objects of desire or Apple who took personal electronic devices to an extraordinary level. It is the “wow” factor accompanied by emotionality in branding.

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Brand Refresh: Re-branding Through a Meaningful Transformation

By James D. Roumeliotis

Rebrand Image

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 When a brand reaches a stalemate, management is to blame for neglecting constant evolving market trends, competitive pressures and ignoring customer feedback. If sales turnout to be lackluster for several quarters, it may be time to consider a re-branding strategy and implementation. Investing and continuously reinvesting in a brand’s nuance will earn and retain consumer loyalty. However, it is not adequate to merely change the look of the logo through an image makeover. The promise it conveys must be delivered each and every time – irrespective if selling a product or service. The advice offered herein concerns a fatigued brand and its product(s). As for a damaged brand, due to a company crisis, it is a subject on its own not reviewed in this article.

Complacency breeds mediocrity

In business, as with any other endeavor, progress is an ongoing process. Nothing should be taken for granted. Undoubtedly, the most profitable and enduring companies achieve their longevity and lengthy track record of success by constantly reinventing themselves. Once a brand is launched, it requires constant nurturing if it is to remain relevant, as well as customer engaged. This includes seeing opportunities and acting upon them in a timely and focused manner. Moreover, being aware of making adjustments according to ever changing trends in the marketplace, as well as through customer feedback, is paramount. The tools in a company’s chest is marketing research which uncovers needed information for a thorough understanding of its target market including perceptions its customers have for the brand. As a result, its knowledge will be updated with regards to consumer preferences and expectations. Following this, a short-term and mid-term approach should be implemented.

Customer centric vs product centric

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished via “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

Building and sustaining a brand necessitates continuous enhancements by means of innovation and customer centricity. The marketplace is also evolving and the consumer is more savvy, thanks to the internet. Add to that competitive and price pressures. In addition, there is a massive shift in purchasing behavior of the younger target groups most notably the Millennials, who unlike their parents, are very particular in their tastes and purchasing habits. This is due in part to an expanding world of choices and options for just about everything they ever need or want. Thus, new market realities should be contemplated when re-establishing a brand.

Branding in essence is the heart and soul of the business. It sets a business’s products and/or services apart from the competition. This is particularly true in certain sectors where price is the only differentiator, though competing merely on price is a dead end game as your product falls into a commoditized category. The only firms which can win at this game are those in high volumes and low margins. Needless to say, it is much better to target a niche market, especially in the premium category, where there is less competition and margins are higher.

Examples of brands which overhauled their brand to a higher level, reflect on the following:

Hyundai: From dull automobiles and inferior quality they transformed to developing striking designs, improved quality and sold at attractive prices. Taking their brand one step further, they added a halo effect by creating a premium category, in Genesis and Equus, to rival the well-established and pricier German competitors such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi models.

Apple: This strong brand began as a premium personal computer company with its first product, the Lisa, in the early 1980s. Much later, it introduced new and sought after categories in consumer electronics including the renowned iPhone. Fast forward to today, by hiring two former luxury domain senior executives and with the introduction of the Apple Watch, including an 18-Karat gold version (named Edition), the brand appears to be implementing a luxury strategy. Since perception and brand image is important in luxury distribution, Apple is considering opening separate stand-alone watch boutiques.

IBM: This brand went from computer manufacturing to IT consulting services. The company had to make a painful choice: innovate or die. It made the bold decision to abandon the core of its business model – selling low-margin personal computers, supercomputers and other computer hardware to a completely new focus – providing IT expertise and computing services to businesses. The business model revamp paid off. A few years in and IBM had acquired a significant number of companies in the IT services sector to dominate it with high margins.

To revamp a brand, consider carrying-out the following enhancements with purpose:

  • Add an element of sensuality and desire: Read article
  • Enhanced, appealing and easily recognizable identity: The logo, communication style, color scheme and any other visual elements of the company. Perception by its target market is key. Brand identity (company created and how it wants to be perceived) and brand image (what the consumers actually perceive) should be in sync.
  • Improved product and service: It is not simply adequate to reinvigorate a brand without refining the company’s products and services which should also make a positive difference. Read article
  • Compelling USP: The unique selling proposition should be meaningful and convincing if it is to be convey differentiation for the brand along with its products and services.
  • Storytelling: Brands build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. For example, luxury brands boast their pedigree.
  • Lifestyle brand: Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone. Read article
  • Prestige or premium category: Move away from a commoditized product to a prestige and premium category if you want to differentiate as well as charge a premium price which in turn improve margins. Doing so should justify the “prestige” and “premium” labels through high-quality workmanship and materials along with benefits which trump its competitors. Adding a story behind it increases justifies the price increase. The brand may also be considered “mass luxury” or “masstige” (“prestige for the masses” and defined as “premium but attainable” by the masses.). Lacoste apparel is a fitting example.
  • Social media and PR savvy: Engaging with your target audience – this is conducted through social media and requesting Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.
  • Make it fun and effortless to do business with you: Make each touch point a pleasant and graceful experience. Hire for attitude and train for high standard of customer services including thorough product knowledge and a no pressure consultative selling approach. Read article

To add to the above, it is imperative to include a management team and subordinates who buy into, as well as apply the above-mentioned elements.

Rebranding Image 2

Image is perception – repositioning time

A brand should be sensitive to its image and equally mindful about what its perceived strengths and weaknesses are as compared to its competition. A SWOT analysis helps uncover these.

There are a good number of factors to recognize in regards to what can erode a brand. According to The Blake Project’s Brand Strategy Insider newsletter, an article entitled “60 Signs Your Brand is Dying”, it describes: “What kills a brand, more often than not, is what it lacks rather than what it does: conviction; energy; value; humility; cash; discipline; imagination; focus…” along with a list of 60 reasons a brand is dying. We witness this with the downfall of the Blackberry brand of smartphones. The executives at the company were so arrogant, that they did not initially see yet later ignored the disruption Apple and the now ubiquitous Android platform would bring to the smartphone market. As a result of Blackberry’s lack of a long-term strategy to outmanoeuvre its competitors, it hastily introduced new products which still left the brand two steps behind Apple and Google with its licensed Android.

The takeaway

The brand is the personality, as well as an (intangible) asset of the business since it possesses equity which in turn is its value and goodwill from a consumer perspective. The more valuable it is, the more can be charged for the product and/or service. The foundation of the brand is/are its product(s) and/or service(s), followed by the total customer experience ‒ which includes customer service. Thus, building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings.

A brand ought to undergo rejuvenation and in some cases, a fundamental change if it is to be relevant with its intended audience. To do so requires a systematic understanding of its typical customer profile, its wants, desires and the changing marketplace. This is done through a market analysis – the results of which will be taken in consideration for a new/updated and creative strategy with efficient implementation. If the brand has become stale, which is usually revealed through a steady decline in sales and discouraging customer feedback, it is a strong indication that its products and/or sales ought to be improved and re-launched.

In the end, can you frankly answer the following?

– What do you aspire your brand to stand and be relevant in the mind of your target market?

– What is your unique selling proposition?

– What is your raison d’etre? (Watch this immensely popular TED video by Simon Sinek)

– Are you admired?

– What are you doing to align your goals, objectives and to remain a compelling brand in your market?

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Branding Essentials for Small Enterprises

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Small Business Branding

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Entrepreneurs may possess an abundance of passion for their small enterprise, but when it comes to promotion, value proposition, and building a brand their enthusiasm wanes. Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings.

No matter how small your venture may be, branding is essential. Branding is more than sticking a logo on a letterhead or business card.

Branding is the DNA of what you sell or do. Considering clients want to bond with a brand, you owe it to yourself to generate a story line. Buying today is so much more than a question of need. It is a question of relationship.

It is a given fact that a small enterprise will not have the budget or resources to implement a high powered show, outsource to an award winning agency or hire a PR/Marketing team to handle the ins and outs of this side of the business. However, what you do have or should have is creativity, innovative thinking, a sound understanding of your market, sweat equity and chutzpah.

Getting to grips with the differentials

The terms marketing and branding are often used interchangeably. This is a mistake in understanding. They are in fact two different concepts and should be understood as such.

Marketing is defined by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) as: “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”.

Marketing provides strategic support to the sales function, by locating and nurturing qualified leads in order to reduce the cost of sale and shorten the sales cycle. To accomplish this, marketers use a variety of techniques, such as advertising, market research, and logo design.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as:
“A name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

A brand is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. Any viable small business must embrace branding, have a clear sense of identity and value proposition. Many start-ups typically make a cardinal mistake by thinking that they are just selling products or services. The organization of the firm may be sound, but a strong grounding in branding will make your venture a pure success story.

Branding in essence is the heart and soul of your venture. It sets your products or services apart from the competition. This is particularly true in certain sectors where price is the only differentiator. Competing just on price is a dead end game. The only firms who can win at this deal in high volumes and low margins. Small businesses cannot compete here. Service and experience therefore, should be added to the column of differentiators.

For example, local or neighborhood businesses which sell products with a reputable identity and favorable customer perception will invariably sell more and can command a better prices. Take the case of La Vie Claire in France. The franchise model has made these shops institutions in targeted neighborhoods. Most products are branded with the name of the store. Other brands are small or unknown. Sales at individual point of sales hinge on the service and advice of the resident manager. Given the price points of organic food, cosmetics, vitamins, mineral supplements clients seek a value added proposition to shop here on a regular basis. The key component is reliability, friendliness, and good products, which are fresh.

What is Branding - Green Board

Consider the following keys:

1) Begin by defining your brand
Their is a small mens clothing boutique in the ninth arrondissement in Paris. The name is Husbands. It is off a main shopping street, but you would need a reference to know it exists. The brand ID is classic English tailoring ready-to-wear with a rock ‘n roll attitude. Fabrics are top notch and there are subtle detailing common to bespoke. Prices are moderate. However, if you are a new comer to the store, the first question you would ask yourself is: What is the unique selling proposition?

The owner of this store, will be happy to oblige you by talking to you about his passion and why the clothes are good value for money. However, is Husbands a brand? To the client, the answer is no. The story line of the brand and the store should be clear without an explanation.

2) Positioning
What do you want your brand to represent? Examine text book examples of brands that work. Don’t copy. Just learn the lessons and apply them to your brand in the making. A good case here is Hackett. When Jeremy Hackett first started out on the wrong end of the Kings Road, he understood that his brand had to embody something. In his case it was the essential British kit. Everything about the original concept captured the elegance of British tailoring without copying Savile Row. The store was old school for a new generation. The moment the press talked about his venture, the shop was off to the races.

The concept of Hackett was clearly defined from the beginning. Everything and I mean every detail was bonded into the brand and the DNA was solid and clear in any client who visited the premises.

3) Visual Identity
Neglect this point at your own risk. Color, lighting, furnishings, logo, bags, and so forth must speak with one unified voice. If the voice is mixed or unclear, your brand is dead in the water. Online presence must support the bricks and mortar entity. If you just sell online, fine. Just make sure their is one storyline, coherent, defining, and engaging. If it is, clients will act as ombudsmen. If it isn’t, you won’t make a single sale.

Take the case of Atelier de l’Armee based in Amsterdam. The strength of the brand ID is workwear, vintage, military. The concept revolves around craftsmanship with a contemporary voice of high quality and style.

4) Articulate your messaging
Ensure coherent communications online and offline. Three brands come to mind worthy of your attention: Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, and DKNY. Each of these brands encapsulates a unique and distinctive vision. The products become the props to their fantasy worlds. The message delivery is always on target because they have been thought through with precision. Which ever value proposition you entertain, you must admit that the ID is engaging and speaks with its clients as valued partners not at them.

Advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management are only the tools of the trade. The right messaging spearheads each component in a contiguous manner, which everyone finds engaging and wants to be part of. Does your brand accomplish this? If not, better go back to the story board.

5) Obsession
Often I have this discussion with colleagues and clients. It is about generating an obsession. Almost sounds like a perfume brand. Successfully generating obsession is the best sort of brand loyalty. Clients are enchanted and as mentioned before on this blog constitute a magic kingdom.

A year ago, Entrepreneur magazine had published an article by author Paula Andruss titled “The Secrets of 7 Successful Brands.” In it, she wrote that regardless how long ago those brands were launched, they all share one thing in common: They have figured out how to work their way into customers’ hearts, minds and wallets. Companies include online eye-wear retailer Warby Parker, TED and Pinterest, amongst others.

Funny Law Firm Name

Branding for the private/professional practice

To develop a following requires a brand, and it doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, dentist, an accountant, or an attorney. All self-employed professionals should include it on their wish list. Your personal “brand” is what comes to mind when your “clients” are deciding whether to see you for the first or not.

Your credentials have much to do with your image in the consumer’s mind, so does your office ambiance and the courtesy (or lack of) offered the minute your staff greet the patient/client at the front desk. You may also be the doctor with bad breath or architect who is frequently late for appointments.

When branding your own private practice, you have the ability to carefully create a brand position that will appeal to your market and make your profession more successful through broader, or in some cases, very specific appeal. However, brand development requires time, energy, as well as a reasonable budget.

Personal brand positioning is the activity of creating an identity with a distinctive value in the target customer’s mind. For instance, when we think of an accomplished defense attorney, the first ones that spring to mind are those who have a reputation for having a high rate of litigation success – or cardiologists who are identified as utterly competent in curing most heart diseases and extending their patients’ life span. Essentially that is the position they occupy in your mind whenever you think of them.

Putting it all together

Branding significantly increases the overall value of brand equity. It’s proven that the brand value is ten times more than the physical assets of the company. It is more like investing in goodwill and this is priceless.

For a certain small businesses, the notion of marketing and branding remains unfamiliar territory. New business school grads however should approach this subject with eyes wide open. You can be a small fashion brand, boutique or even restaurant. Just examine the original Dean & Deluca, the gourmet food emporium, when it was located on Prince Street in SoHo, New York. The concept and vibe was pure branding genius.

Whatever path you choose, choose wisely. Create a brand with purpose. Give your audience a value proposition. Make them want to be part of your success story. Align your goals with an experience and the clients will come in droves.

Bonding with your audience also requires that you monitor the client’s behavior and the brand’s online reputation. Reputations can be fostered with either free or pay-for-service online tools such Google Alerts and Reputation.com. It is often advisable to conducting research among both your customers and employees. Timeframes can vary depending on your activity. Classic measurements take place either twice a year or annually.

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The Sensuous Brand: How to create allure with products and user experience

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Why are visually appealing products rare which make purchasing it a delight and worth talking about? Common sense dictates that product design should be attractive – perhaps possess sex appeal if the brand behind its product(s) seeks to make a sales impact. Although beauty is subjective, there are common standards of attractive packaging, which are smart and demonstrate the intrinsic value of the product’s attributes.

However, many will agree that smart design looks timeless, expresses character and is visually seductive.

Barring lingerie labels such Victoria’s Secret or Agent Provocateur – which in and of themselves will ooze with sexiness, most other brands and their products from non-seductive sectors can still create and possess a sense of styling along with desire.

A brand that caters to all the senses, begins with an appealing brand identity, followed by creative industrial design of its products  – which are complemented with a positive customer experience in every touch point.

Design - Seductive with QUOTE

Artfully articulating what your brand and offering represent

Adding personality to objects and human interaction are quintessential to customer envy and desire.

There are brands that design and churn sensuous looking products. However, there is one that most will agree is top of mind for the refined consumer electronics market –- Apple. It’s all about the appealing logo, the attractively designed and “feel good” products, the alluring packaging, the intriguing ads, and the overall positive customer experience at their retail level, Needless to say, it’s a contemporary brand that undoubtedly gets it. It’s no wonder it created a strong following, or as marketing maven Seth Godin would describe as a “tribe.”

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying into the brand repeatedly and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s image and reputation.

Product design is key to a great brand. Design is the elemental differentiator with competitors. Allure builds the emotional bond and turns owners into enthusiasts.

“It’s all about integrating design and brand,” says Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet Studio.

We need to cease thinking of them as different disciplines. The essence of the Apple brand comes through its design. Take the logo off a BMW and you still know it’s a BMW.”

Design also needs to be part of the strategic plan from the start, embraced by the CEO and across the Board.

A brand is not your logo or ID system,” says Robert Brunner, founder of the design shop Ammunition and author of ‘Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company.’

It’s a gut feeling people have about you. When two or more people have the same feeling, you have a brand. You get that feeling via smart design, which creates the experiences people have with the brand. Everything you do creates the brand experience; ergo design is your brand.

Skyy Vodka - Sexy Brand

Much more than just a vodka

The holistic approach to customer attraction and retention

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Creativity, quality, storytelling and above all, customer experience

Standard products and mundane user experiences don’t offer compelling reasons for consumers to do business with certain brands. If a business can’t articulate its USP (unique selling proposition) ‒ as to why anyone should do business with your brand, your product and/or service merely becomes a “commodity” whose price will be the sole determinant in any transaction.  Being formidable and considered top of mind in your B2C sector requires a philosophy – a certain culture which will develop a following by consumers who share your values.

Quality materials, assembly and final product look increase a company’s competitiveness. The quality of a product may be defined as “its ability to fulfil the customer’s needs and expectations”. If the characteristics and specifications of a brand’s product line are equal or superior to its competitors, along with a fair price-value equation, the brand will turn out to be a preferred choice.

Storytelling, on the other hand, builds relationships by the stories that are well told. Stories add personality and authenticity to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands tend to boast their pedigree since their discerning clientele desire a deeper level of involvement and understanding of the history and heritage of the brand when it comes to their luxury purchase. This is referred to as “experiential luxury.”

It is essential that the sales professional be product proficient and adept at assisting and guiding the client to the purchase making use of flattery, romance and showmanship. To illustrate, when selling a niche automobile such as a Porsche, the sales consultant can talk about racetracks, describe road-holding capabilities, build-up a fascinating story – after which time he/she can bring-up reliability and the technical details which confirm to the discerning client what he/she is already aware of.

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with it. They become brand loyalists and advocates – purchasing the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.

Be first, different & daring – above all, visually stimulating

Plan and execute flawlessly the following to differentiate and develop into, as well as remain an enviable brand through artistic design and function:

–       The brand logo and company presentations should possess flair, consistency and be memorable;

–       Focus on a specific target audience/niche market rather than divert to several markets or the general population;

–       Innovative and “feel good” product design (both visually and tactile): Get inspired by designs from Philippe Starck, Pininfarina, Porsche Design and Bang & Olufsen. Architecture by Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid  Automobile design trends by Audi, Tesla, and in the last few years, Hyundai with its entire model makeup. Kohler Group doesn’t simply design functional bathroom and kitchen sinks and faucets, but rather bold designs and technology to an otherwise lackluster plumbing product sector.

Perhaps product customization and personalization should be available as an additional offering.

Smartphones have recently began to make a fashion statement to differentiate themselves and make them more appealing by offering new jazzy textures and color choices not available with previous models ‒ other than in the ubiquitous black or white. For example, Motorola began to offer its Moto X smartphone in a large number of color variations. Not to be outdone, Sony, Samsung and others have also entered the new trend to increase product appeal with color options of their own.

–       As for service related domains, place emphasis on employee attitude/personality, empowerment, constant training, effortless accessibility for your clients, flexibility when solving issues and presentations with style, as well as finesse. Each and every customer should be treated with personal care – a sign of individuality;

–       The Total Customer Experience: Be easy to do business with – accessible – at every stage of a transaction from initial contact/pre-sale, during the sale and post-sale (follow-through and customer service). Zappos, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton Hotels and American Express (to name some of the finest examples) are renowned for their obsession with customer service and total customer experience;

–       Soothing sounds and striking visuals: Consider sound branding complimented with refined standout visuals (audio, images and video). Surround your brand and its products/services with fashion, beauty, design and attractive models – without any marks of tackiness;

–       Packaging design should be visually appealing, distinctive, tastefully decorated, and equally inviting to open.

–       Sponsor, collaborate and/or associate with a fashion related brand and/or the arts. Both brands can benefit from combined exposure (PR and advertising). Luxury goods brands such as Versace, Bulgari and Fendi are teaming up with property developers to offer upscale designer hotels. Their trademark at hotel properties, in a select number of affluent cities worldwide, offers their loyal clients something new to get excited about.  It’s a collaboration which celebrates a shared fondness in design and luxury experiences.

–       Create and own a captivating name and category for your product or product line. Luxottica, is the world’s largest eyewear company, controlling over 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands (eye glasses and prescription frames) including Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses, along with Chanel, Prada and many other designer labels. It re-invented eyewear which were once considered a “medical device” and developed them into a fashion statement. They no longer label their products as “glasses” but as “eyewear” and “face jewellery” (for a lack of a better term/descriptive);

–       Marketing collateral and ads should be: (i) slick, (ii) minimalistic, (iii) emotional, (iv) portray a lifestyle, and (v) apply the “less is more” mantra. Arouse curiosity. Effective marketing campaigns should also include elements of: Imagination, Mystery and Memory;

–       Be a visionary and innovate – anticipate what your sector will look like in 3-5 years and begin to plant the seeds/strategize in a timely manner. Avoid complacency. Blackberry is an excellent case study exemplifying what they should have done a few years ago to remain relevant amongst iPhone and the Android platform smartphones.

Lessons from luxury brands: creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market including prominent brands such as BMW (ultimate driving experience), W Hotels (avant garde designer hotels for a younger audience, along with whatever you want, whenever you want it, as long as it’s not illegal), Louis Vuitton (prestige and opulence), Rolex (representing the pinnacle of achievement; fulfilling and perfection in one’s life) and Aston Martin (power, beauty, soul and heritage). Those brands have given way to consumers to buy their products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol. Abercrombie & Fitch has created a lifestyle based on a preppy, young Ivy League lifestyle. Their retail stores evoke this lifestyle through an upscale environment, physically attractive models, along with spicy ads featuring young people living the A&F lifestyle.

Hermes Equestrian Fashion Photo

Hermes gets it right with its sensuous ad campaigns

The final take: Elegant & intelligent design

Beauty and design in all things is artistic, engaging, stimulating and creates a sense of comfort. It’s also a very personal thing. Creativity is beauty in art form. It starts from nothing, utilizes mind exploitation, imagination then something awe inspiring is produced which stimulates the mind and senses. The approach to creativity is the way an artist might stand before a new canvas, on which a beautiful painting can be crafted. Staff who work in a creative environment should be given plenty of leeway to utilize their full potential – the freedom to flourish. Not doing so limits their artistic talent and deprives the company from taking a leap at the competition. Apple has successfully unleashed the talent from their product engineers by creating a non-stifling work environment. As for architects and industrial designers, they should definitely possess the talent and imagination to create and turn extraordinary drawings into reality.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. When Apple releases a new consumer electronic device, people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This is a result of Apple constantly building an emotional attachment to its products by managing the total user experience.

“Total customer experience” is not an option but rather compulsory as part of an alluring brand. It takes savvy planning, execution and perpetual refinements to stand above the crowd. It’s how you get noticed and remain relevant. Luxury brand desirability is driven by standout design, craftsmanship, as well as what is felt.

It takes vision, creativity and intuition, along with unflagging discipline and a sense of style, to keep a consumer focused company relevant and its products on everyone’s must-have lists. No brand should be complacent.

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ME, Inc. : The Impact of Personal Branding in Strategic Marketing

by James D. RoumeliotisComplimentary topic from the book “Entrepreneurial Essentials: Unconventional Business Wisdom & Bold Tactics

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I had a striking and might I dare say, haunting thought that continues to stick with me. Twelve years ago, I met a girlfriend through a dating site. Yes, I know this is not unusual. However, she once remarked that I marketed myself online like I was a (human) “product.” Through that pleasant conversation, I wasn’t certain if this was to be construed as a compliment or a criticism. Although my intent was not deliberate, I now understood the power of personal branding.

Today, personal branding is ubiquitous and an essential part of professional and non-professional activism. It isn’t different from product branding and relies on the same critical and analytical eye and criteria to float the “product” in the market. The only difference is that the product in question is “you.”

For example, if you are in the job market, the commodity you are selling is “you”. This also applies if you are seeking a promotion within your organization or whether you’re selling/categorizing yourself as the ideal independent consultant or political candidate respectively. The motives can be one or several.

The Brand Called “(Place your full name here)”
No matter what your name is or who you are, you are engaged in selling an image you wish to portray to a targeted audience. Joe McGinnis in his cutting edge book “The Selling of the President” showed how this could be done effectively. The book focuses on how Richard Nixon was able to “sell” his profile to the American public in 1968.

As individuals, celebrities have pretty much mastered the art of turning themselves into powerful, eye-catching and memorable personal brands. Think Paris Hilton, Madonna, George Clooney, and Donald Trump. Even President Barack Obama, during his campaigns, demonstrated how to take an unknown quantity and build a persuasive persona.

What Can We Learn from Them?
To start with, it’s not a one-off event but rather an on-going process.  Companies constantly bombard us with messages and adverts for precisely this reason. To keep us reminded of their brand and thus reinforce their brand  equity.

Keeping it genuine and delivering on promises is an equally important factor to consider. Your attitude and actions, from start to finish with any task you perform, sets the tone for the type of individual you are and what others can expect from you.

Create a Brand Statement and a Value Proposition
Marketers, most notably, product brand managers, create messages about their products or services that encourage us to buy. Those messages tell us attributes about the product and the benefits to us as consumers if we purchase their products/services. Likewise, as a personal brand, you need to develop at least one message about yourself that tells your target market what you bring to the table, the benefits they receive from doing business with you, as well as what attracts them to you.

Your value proposition is all about your competitiveness and should spell-out the strengths that surpass your competition. To put your brand to work for you in your job search, you’ll need to pull together all the pieces that make up your value proposition in the marketplace. A vibrant personal brand statement makes it that much easier for those assessing you to get an indication of what you bring to the organization.

Effective Communication Enhances your Brand
Whether you’re a CEO, manager, consultant, entrepreneur, business owner, professional or even a job seeker, you should have the ability to persuade through your written and verbal messages. This includes giving effective interviews. Effective presentation skills will not only help you sell your ideas and products, but it will elevate your personal brand.

Management guru, Peter Drucker once stated, “As you move one step up from the bottom, your effectiveness depends on your ability to reach others through the spoken and written word.” This effective quotation not only tells it as it is, it also tells us a lot about Peter Drucker as an effective management expert
and communicator.

Character vs . Reputation
Reputation is what people say or think about you. That’s your personal brand and should be well-preserved. Character, on the other hand, is what you really are. It is crucial that you understand the distinction. It is said that character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. Always deliver on what you promise and if you look after your character, your reputation will look after itself.

What does Personal Branding Entail?
For personal branding to be effective, it requires managing perceptions
effectively. This encompasses several characteristics including:

– Be Unique and Remarkable in what you do by differentiating yourself from the mainstream. In today’s crowded and competitive world, we need that extra something that sets-us apart. Be distinctive, daring and acquire a competitive edge. After all, it’s a “dog-eat-dog” environment and survival of the fittest. No
matter what you do, you don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.

– Grooming and Clothes: — They are the packaging of your total image. The way you dress and groom says a great deal about you — whether you’re doing so out of necessity or doing it with flair, one can usually distinguish the difference. Watching your appearance also makes you feel good about yourself.

– Etiquette: — It forms a part of human interaction skills, is a strong indication of a refined person and proper upbringing. It should be applied in everyday life in a civilized society. In addition, Respect is esteem of a person, a personal quality and ability to demonstrate it to others through deeds.

Social Networking: Is it going to be Facebook, LinkedIn or Both ?
LinkedIn is the number one professional network, whereas, Facebook is presently the largest personal network with over 1 billion active users worldwide. Each has its unique purpose. Whether you’re a job seeker, consultant, and entrepreneur or happily employed, LinkedIn can be an incredible asset for your career or business. You can connect to over 300 million professionals in over 200 countries around the world. This is a cyber venue where a polished profile with a professional looking photo and error free text should be the only acceptable standard. It’s a portrait of you and your brand. It’s also where you will be importing your contacts and growing your network through new connections. In contrast to LinkedIn, Facebook is geared more toward socializing purposes with friends, relatives and acquaintances.

Many  companies are also taking serious notice whose idea is to engage with
present and prospective clients. It’s equally important that you are prudent and selective with the type of content and photos you place on your page as anyone can come upon it through searches. The message your page conveys will either be positive or unfavorable to your image. Frequent verification and updates on both social networks is recommended. Otherwise, your profiles become stale and unattractive.

Blogging
Another powerful marketing tool to consider is a blog. Writing articles for your own blog and for others will earn you consideration as a respected expert in your industry and subject matter, which, taken together, will create more credibility for you and increase your presence on the Internet.

Personal Branding - Image  - Balls Background

In the Final Analysis
Regardless of the business you’re in or message you’re trying to depict to your audience, if you’re going to successfully shape your brand, you need to start by knowing who you genuinely are, then form the image you want to present, and subsequently, behave the part consistently.

Everyone, it seems, has a personal brand, but most people are not aware of this and as a result do not manage it strategically, consistently, and effectively. As your own “brand,” you are the head of “Me Inc.”

How does it feel to be the CEO of your own brand and life?

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30 minute COMPLIMENTARY phone consultation on YOUR personal branding. Kindly contact James  jdrATaffluencemarketingDOTca  to set an appointment.

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The Merits of an Advisory Board : Transforming your SME Forward

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Education Management: Paradigm Shift Through Broad-mindedness and Design Thinking

A viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

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Traditional Classroom

Change is everywhere and whether it’s our hometown or in our daily activities, adjustment and fine tuning is inevitable. The challenge to traditional education should be no exception and applies to all levels – whether it’s the elementary school, the vocational center or the college. Cookie cutter thinking ought to be replaced with personalization, customization, as well as design thinking.

Evolution in technological advancements, increased stress levels and different attitudes and values from students, as compared to their parents, have all influenced and changed how education is achieved today. Instead, students continue to be told what to learn, how to behave, how and when to learn it, and then are evaluated in ways that may not reflect the diverse intelligences that exist in every student population.

From Standardized Schools to Personalized Learning

Most will agree that education should be perpetual. Since we ought to continuously hone our academic skills along with applied skills, learning at all academic institutions, including workshops and seminars, should cause students to enjoy rather than endure the sessions.

The profile of our learners has changed over time. Today, they are digitally wired including Web 2.0+, video games, and carrying their tablets and/or smart-phones everywhere they go. While many educators today bemoan that these learners are difficult to engage, game designers on the other hand are successful at attracting a plethora of loyalists. It’s a dilemma for educators who still grapple with getting students to master something that is time consuming and challenging, as well as derive pleasure from it.

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, an outspoken critic of the existing educational model, challenges the way we’re educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. He strongly encourages moving away from the industrial method by reforming it and personalizing it to the people we’re teaching. In the follow-up to his fabled 2006 TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning – creating conditions where students’ natural talents can flourish.

John Rassias, the William R. Kenan Professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, U.S.A., and developer of the innovative and highly effective approach to teaching languages, known as the Rassias Method® or the Dartmouth Intensive Language Model, claims that unlike the conventional way, his technique is widely successful because it aims to:

“…make the participant feel comfortable and natural with the language in a short period of time” involving “teaching procedures and dramatic techniques which seek to eliminate inhibitions and create an atmosphere of free expression from the very first day of class.”

Prof. Rassias has written several books and is the subject of more than 400 articles in regional, national and the international press. At his talks he preaches the importance of teaching heart-to-heart. Since his approach has been utilized by all language departments at Dartmouth College (including Chinese, French, German, Modern Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish), the number of foreign language majors has steadily increased. This statistic stands out as a startling reversal of the national trend in recent years of declining enrollments in foreign language courses. Teachers in other colleges introducing the Rassias Method report similar renewals of interest.

Design Thinking – the Next Competitive Advantage

Classrooms and schools across the world are facing design challenges every single day, from teacher feedback systems to daily schedules. The challenges educators are confronted with are real, complex, and varied. As such, they require new perspectives, new tools, and new approaches. Design Thinking from Ideo, the company that conceived the idea, is one such method. Ideo is an international design firm and innovation consultancy founded in Palo Alto, California.

The following graphic was developed by Design Thinking for Educators to explain the process of design thinking:

What are some ways we are seeing the application of design thinking within education? According to Ideo’s CEO & President, Tim Brown:

“We’re seeing people use design thinking to create change at multiple levels—from national education reform to individual classroom needs. Teachers find it to be an engaging pedagogical approach, because in order to create new solutions, you cannot help but learn about people and their interests, about business or math or science or engineering. Plus, while students are learning the specific knowledge set required to develop a relevant and buildable solution, they’re also developing highly valuable skills such as empathy, the ability to collaborate, to deal with ambiguity, and of course, to create.”

He further elaborates:

We’re also seeing teachers use design thinking to redesign the curriculum around experiences that engage students, and shift their physical classrooms based on feedback from students. We’re seeing school leaders engage faculty to develop a shared philosophy on teaching and learning; district administration using design to re-imagine tools they create to help teachers be successful. We’re even seeing community volunteer groups engage in a process to help redesign schools that are less successful within their state system. Each of these stories alone is not the answer to whole-scale education reform—but if you multiply these activities by three million teachers across this country, and magnify that by the organizations that are creating new, human-centered tools and services to support our students—it can add up to a big impact on the system.”

A working design thinking example of the above is Michael Schurr, a 2nd grade teacher in New York. He realized that he never asked his students what would make them comfortable in the classroom. He decided to talk directly with his students to figure out the best design for their environment.

Based on his students’ input, he was able to redesign his classroom to better address the needs and desires of his students. He lowered the bulletin boards so that his students could actually see the content he’d spent hours assembling, and created a more comfortable semi-private space for the students to study by rethinking the student cubbyhole space. His students are more engaged, and move more fluidly in the classroom space. Now Michael consistently engages his students in helping him more effectively shape their learning experience. Essentially, Michael is using design to re-imagine his classroom through the lens of his students’ needs.

The Unconventional MBA Program: Where Art, Science and Craft Meet

Unlike the traditional case-study approach, one truly global MBA program has been redefined and totally revamped. Class sessions involve everyone, with a 50-50 rule that gives participating managers half of all class time to spend in conversation with colleagues, learning from one another’s insights and suggestions. This breaks away from traditional lecture formats where only the professor is considered the expert in the room. The unique 50-50 rule ensures that the focus remains on experience, nurturing discussions that often become much more intensive and educational than an average case study, simply because participants have an interest in helping their colleagues resolve their business issue at hand. Welcome to The International Masters in Practicing Management (IMPM) – a real alternative to the mainstream of MBAs.

It is designed for highly experienced managers and entrepreneurs, enabling them to refine their leadership skills and make a lasting impact on their organization. Its design and processes were inspired by the lifelong study of managerial practice by Professor Henry Mintzberg, the Canadian management authority, who has taught on the IMPM since its foundation.

The program focuses on five modules designed around managerial mind sets rather than functional silos. Each module lasts approximately ten days and is delivered in a different country such as the U.K., Canada, India, China and Brazil.

Participants move between concept based training and their real life experiences, and also benefit from peer to peer learning, with observation, visits, and feedback.

Over 50 leading companies and organizations from around the world have sent staff to participate.

Disruptive Innovation in the Higher Education Industry – Free University Online Courses

In the last few years, we have begun to witness the accessibility for all with free online courses/modules with the platform known as massive open online course or “MOOC”. Udacity, Coursera, EdX and Academic Earth are the most popular well funded providers that connect students to the world’s top universities and scholars.  Their aim is to provide everyone with the opportunity to earn a world-class education whether looking to advance a career or take courses of interest.

According to Wikipedia, a massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aiming at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and teacher assistants.

Salman Khan, a 36-year-old former hedge fund analyst, founded what’s considered the classroom revolution. It is revered by many including Bill Gates who called Khan “The world’s favorite teacher.”  Today, the Khan Academy, which Khan himself established as a result of tutoring his niece and nephew, now has 3,400 short video tutorials, most of which Khan made himself along with 10 million students.

Team Dynamics – Workshop Approach to Learning

For many, lectures, workshops or seminars can be weary – certainly not an enjoyable experience to endure.  Even if you’re not the funniest or most entertaining speaker/presenter around, you can prepare your content so that it resonates with your audience. To be in that position requires speakers and facilitators to design their talks, seminars or workshops geared for even those with brief attention spans.

When it comes to bringing engaging and provocative business workshops, Team Business is a good case in point. The programs were developed in South Africa in the mid nineties. Over the years, the educational organization has expanded overseas and teaches senior high school students, college/university students, as well as company management level staff about entrepreneurship and team dynamics via hands on, interactive entertaining simulations (unlike computer-based) in 3–6 hour sessions. The program learning outcomes include business and financial literacy, team dynamics lessons and the importance of face-to-face communication.

Workshops have been conducted at mid-size to large corporations, as well as at Ivy League schools such as Wharton, Tuck and Georgetown. Team Business also works with International Business Schools in Europe. In all our business simulation workshops, teams run their own companies in competition with other teams. Competition breeds creativity and their level of success is based on the business decisions they make and on how well team members lead and interact with each other. Time pressures and a dynamic environment bring hidden individual traits to the surface where behavioral models can be examined in a safe and constructive way.

When conducting workshops and seminars the following ought to be considered.

–       The average attention span is between 45 minutes to an hour;

–       Use storytelling without exaggerating. Most enjoy listening to other people’s experiences;

–       Utilize stimulating multimedia presentations such as engaging slides (mainly with images like a storyboard), videos, demonstrations, several examples of practical concept implementation, and more.

–       Rather than creating standard slides with the default MS Power Point Presentation software, get bold using cloud based alternatives such as Prezi; Do away with excess bullet points, dreary graphs, cheesy colors, and other overwhelming visual distractions. Apply the KISS method when creating slides;

–       Presentations should be personalized by making them specifically relevant to the audience being addressed;

–       To further engage with the audience, handouts and/or worksheets should be given which also prevent attendees from having to take notes when, instead, should be paying their undivided attention to the presenter and his/her visual material;

–       Consider group discussions which will give the audience a chance to better understand the workshop and delve into areas the presentation may not have covered.

–       The speaker should be animated with his/her voice and enthusiasm resonating across the audience.

Coaching Ourselves – a Unique Take on Ongoing Corporate Training

Coaching Ourselves is an organization which was born out of its founder’s frustration searching for a way to help his management team work through the difficult challenges resulting from the dot com crash at the time. It brings management development directly into the workplace where groups of managers get together for 90 minute meetings, with or without a facilitator, to talk about work, guided by one of over 70 Coaching Ourselves management topics.  The chosen topics stimulate and guide discussion. This enables reflection, collaborative learning, team bonding, and management development.

Coaching Ourselves works with over 40 world renowned management and business thinkers to develop the topics including David Ulrich, Michael Beer, Marshall Goldsmith and Henry Mintzberg covering a wide range of managerial concepts and competencies and available in six languages. They are licensed to organizations for use in programs and initiatives aimed at all levels of management. Its mission is to help as many managers as possible to improve their practice of management.

The Abstract – Looking Beyond the Ineffective Status Quo

Like most events in our life, there is continuous progress whether evolutionary or revolutionary. Moreover, there are practical changes which improve the way we go about doing things and designing objects to enhance our lives – think technology. The education system should not be immune to progress. Complacency breeds mediocrity.

To move forward with vital changes/improvements begins with a positive attitude, an open mindset, fortitude and empowering those that look to us for nurturing and leadership. Education ministries and school administrators ought to cut down on their bloated and stifling bureaucracy  by permitting forward thinkers to tinker with and reform the antiquated public school/educational model. There must be no mixing of politics and education. Instead, teachers should be accountable for improving the system as it’s their call and area of professional expertise ‒ along with continuous honing of their knowledge/skills.

Schools which are highly regarded by students and peers are those that have strong leadership/headmasters with a vision which creates a vibrant culture. This includes teachers who constantly update their professional skills, plan effective lessons, are enthusiastic and creative. Moreover, well-functioning and forward thinking schools deliver a broad and flexible curriculum. Extra subjects, such as foreign languages and/or vocational courses are taught alongside the usual subjects. No cookie cutter approach or subject matter.  Successful schools also consider the needs of each individual student.

Finland’s educational system is renowned as consistently at the very top of global educational rankings because it takes an unconventional, yet practical approach along with a first rate structure of the system. In addition, its teachers are highly trained and well compensated, their students are not tested until they reach their teens, there isn’t much homework – and surprisingly, there are no private schools in that country.

Purging of and replacing the status quo requires forward and design thinking, as well as actual implementation in the classroom of the following:

–       Re-designing the classroom setting/ambiance;

–       Encouraging creativity with students through empowerment – it’s not the same as giving away control of the classroom but rather helping students take control of their own education;

–       Making learning/subject matter stimulating, empathetic, and engaging.

There’s an old Chinese proverb: “If you are planning for one year plant grain, for ten years plant trees, but for 100 years educate the people.” Let’s not get left behind! Time to think about the future, as well as time to teach children to think and not just remember. Since we can’t change government behavior overnight, the least we can do is make a difference by focusing on the variables that we can control to the best of our ability along with resources readily available.

Finally, we have to eliminate the corporate mentality from education, where students are seen as a ‘product’ and parents as ‘customers’. There is no reason why public schools can’t be at the same caliber as private schools. Are inept or discouraged administrators to blame – or perhaps a failed existing structure which is out of touch? As demonstrated by MOOC, education doesn’t need to be a privilege but rather a right with equal access anywhere for all who possess the appetite to learn. Isn’t that what true democratization of education is about?

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