Effective Leadership: How to Optimize the Decision Making Process

by James D. Roumeliotis

Maze and Businessman

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Face it! Like it or not you are defined by the decisions you make. Think of successful organizations and the people responsible for guiding their authority and well-being. Often, high performance is the result of an executive choosing the right move at the right time. It’s not purely a lucky streak. Corporate strategy is not “Black Jack” nor 5-card stud poker.

Decision-making is a complex activity and at times a long process. Your ability to identify and excel in your decision-making tasks will greatly increase the chances that the choices you make will have a strong and positive impact on your organization. Why take any additional risks when you know instinctively that this is the case to sound growth and prosperity?

Where to begin in contemplation

Your first step is to understand the external and internal factors that affect decision-making, from aspects of the organizational environment to your personal decision-making preferences. While you aren’t always able to control these influences, recognizing and identifying these factors will enable you to take them into consideration as you strive to achieve the best decision outcome.

Reality check

Every day you make sense of what goes on around you by interpreting what you see and hear, taking into account your past experiences, values, needs, attitudes, and goals. Even your understanding of what another person says is only an estimate, as you can never completely share the viewpoint of someone else concerning the world.

Given the increasing complexity of organizational life, along with the quantity of information that must be processed, it is no wonder executives too often experience stress as they strive to balance agendas and please many of their people.

It can happen that you put a lot of time and effort into a decision study or a formal analysis, only to be disappointed in the results. When this happens, you need to re-evaluate both the information that went into the analysis including your expectations.

On the one hand, no process is any better than the information that goes into it and when you get a result that your experience suggests may be flawed or biased, this is a strong indication to probe.

On the other hand, it’s extremely tempting to tinker with the data until you receive a result that you’re happier with ─ but this is a form of deception that can lead to an adverse outcome. In this case, it helps to remind yourself to maintain a high standard of accuracy and objectivity and to seek a reality check from someone whose judgment you respect and who’s not personally involved in the decision.

The decisions you make are only as good as the process you use to make them. Asking yourself the following questions will help you to assess whether or not you are on the right track:

  1. Have I done adequate research and gathered all of the appropriate information for the subject matter at hand?
  2. Have I considered all of the stakeholders and their probable responses to various decision outcomes?
  3. Have I been honest in assessing my own decision making style and taken that into account?
  4. Have I recognized and acknowledged my personal agendas and bias?
  5. Have I considered the various options available to me in selecting the most appropriate decision making method?
  6. Have I solicited the advice and assistance that was required?
  7. Am I prepared to be accountable for the consequences of the decisions I make?

You have the responsibility for making decisions that deeply affect your employees’ performance, morale and your organization’s future. You cannot afford to rely on personal preferences or hunches alone.

Now that you are familiar with some practical, yet highly effective approaches offered here, your challenge is to develop a positive future possible through the decisions that you make today.

Business man confused with his good and bad conscience

Business man confused with his good and bad conscience

Bottom line

Your decisions are only as good as the information you use to make them. The cliché “Garbage in, garbage out” applies here. Your ability to recognize bias and evaluate the reliability and validity of the information you gather can make a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of your decisions.

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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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Shady and Dysfunctional Enterprises: Deceit, Greed and Short-sightedness in the Name of Profit and Market Share

By James D. Roumeliotis

Dysfunctional Company Hierarchy

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Businesses of all sizes normally develop various pain points. A seasoned entrepreneur has actually made a list of 100. In the end, pain is a motivator for action to turn things around. However, the key is in how to tackle each one and in a timely manner. Better yet, how many of them are ever anticipated — and as a consequence solutions readily available? What is not anticipated are repercussions from poor decisions made or deceit deliberately caused with or without knowledge from company authorities. As a result, denial sets in from the top with accountability being dismissed.

Needless to say, chaos reigns within organizations which for many results in bleak outcomes. Within, there is a lack of communication, trust, transparency and loyalty. Not a sincere and astute way to operate a business.

By all appearances, there are plenty of executives who are simply results driven at the expense of their customers, employees as well as with their vendor relationships. Remarkably, most of those companies are publicly traded.

Corporations lack trust from consumers

A survey conducted by JUST Capital’s of more than 40,000 U.S. participants and groups indicates that the nation’s largest corporations are “going in the wrong direction.”

Overall, only 41 percent of all Americans trust corporations “somewhat” or “a great deal,” while 50 percent of more conservative Americans trust corporations.

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Source: http://justcapital.com/research

The cause of distrust among consumers can be rationalized due to corporations misleading the public as a whole, as well as their shareholders. Deliberate misleading information by food producers in regards to nutritional benefits and nickel-and-diming by airlines, hotels and banks are causes for frustration, suspicion and loathing.

Sectors notorious for constant price gouging coupled with despicable service include, but not limited to, a select number of pharmaceutical brands, banking/financial services, cellphone service providers, cable companies and airlines. Too add salt to injury, in the U.S. and Canada, pointless aggressive lobbying efforts by various industries yield their influence by means of generous contributions to political parties. They are also infamous for spending a ludicrous amount of money producing sly ads and propaganda which go against consumer wishes. Consider the soda lobbyists who, according to a NY Times article, “made campaign contributions to local politicians and staged rallies, with help from allies like the Teamsters union and local bottling companies. To burnish its image, the industry donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.” Sadly for consumers and the city of Philadelphia, the tactics worked. Similar outcomes occurred in New York City and San Francisco. In the end, the soda industry’s rubbish of an astonishingly high calibre, comes as it does from the same producers of fatty chips to the pre-diabetic, semi-literate masses. Ornate language and ostentatious preening cannot mask the shameful practice of marketing for the kind pre-fabricated, chemically-calibrated food products that are making its mainstream market obese, thus unhealthy.

In certain types of large scale B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted to forego ethics in favor of making the deal. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are either uncovered by authorities, as well as not conceived with trust or respect.

Then there are the occasional devious companies that will do what it takes in the name of revenue and profit ─ disregarding authorities, customers and everyone who takes their trust for granted. Volkswagen’s blatant rigging of emissions tests with over 11 million of its diesel cars sold globally, 482,000 of which are VW and Audi brand cars in the U.S., is an ideal case in point. As a result of its mischievousness, the company known for its hard core corporate culture caused a great deal of damage to the environment. Their supposed clean diesel models have been spewing up to 40 times more smog-causing nitrogen oxide pollution. The recall is one example of a deliberate act gone terribly awry for a brand which wholeheartedly masterminded it with self-admission. Rather than sacking the CEO Martin Winterkorn, under whose watch this scandal occurred, and depriving him of his golden parachute, the supervisory board allowed the septuagenarian, Mr. Winterkom, to conveniently step down and take home a lucrative compensation package.

<For suggestions on how VW’s new leadership should tackle their mess, contact this author for his pragmatic and practical approach.>

Corporate governance or lack thereof

The term “Best practices” is not merely words but deeds. What is required is an efficient implementation of strategies, quality controls and delivering more than lip-service. Evidently, it is not easy, otherwise, many more businesses would be performing admirably.

To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is where procedural decisions are shaped and executed. One would think and expect an entity’s leadership to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth. Conversely, there is a constant search for the “ideal” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.

In the end, leadership ought to foresee and prevent any potential scandals, apply checks in balances, inspect what is expected, keep corporate structure layers to a minimum, and keep communication channels open.

Customers first, employees second — investors third

In the ivory towers of public corporations, the CEO and board of directors have been programmed to put their stakeholders best interests above all else. Their mission is to do what it reasonably takes to deliver quarterly results ─ in other words, to focus on the short term rather than sow the seeds and do what is most beneficial for the future direction of the company ─ despite any short term pains. Savvy and considerate top management know better that customers and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  The main principle is that if employees have a positive attitude, are passionate, well trained and competent, results will be reflected through positive customer experiences resulting in brand loyalty. Ultimately, the shareholders will reap the benefits through stock performance and generous dividend distributions.

Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Chinese Internet-based businesses, made a public statement which may have surprised the investment community. He publicly stated that, “Our customers come first, our employees second, and our shareholders third.”  The highly regarded membership-only warehouse club COSTCO performs actions consistent with one’s claims as they too follow Jack Ma’s mantra. The impressive financial results year after year speak volumes as they retain the best intentions of their employees and customers.

It took Amazon quite long to finally earn a profit since its inception. Founder Jeff Bezos and his senior executive team dug in their heels despite outcries from many of their shareholders for continuously making large capital investments with no profits in sight. For a while, plenty of cash was spent for IT related infrastructure including Cloud computing and everything related to giving the company an edge over the competition. Customer service and the customer experience have been priority no. 1. In the end, shareholders who lingered learned that patience with their investment in Amazon is a virtue in the long run.

The attitude of the individuals in the boardroom had better be that if investors are impatient and eager for quick monetary results, they can take their money and invest it elsewhere.

Advice for start-ups: ‘Steady as she goes’

A well-oiled operation should consistently head steadily on its current course regardless of any obstacles that get in its way.

Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that nearly six out of 10 businesses shut down within the first four years of operation.

To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Mark Zuckerberg. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges on a daily basis to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:

  • Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
  • No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
  • Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
  • Absence of or very little communication among staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
  • No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
  • Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
  • Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
  • Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
  • Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
  • No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
  • A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
  • Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
  • Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
  • Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
  • High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
  • Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo
  • No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
  • The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
  • Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
  • Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/undercapitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
  • Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
  • Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
  • Lack or very little employee training & development.
  • Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
  • Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

In the final analysis

In large corporations, the Boards should be held more accountable by paying closer attention to the behavior and actions in the C-suite ‒ thus reacting before things go awry.

The top executive’s job is to operate a business that adds value by means of the goods and services it provides to customers.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities undermine that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives or chasing short-term selfish objectives in search of rapid market share, profits and self-interests before people. Monsanto’s executive conduct would make for a marvelous case study in this regard.

According to marketing maven Seth Godin, “It’s the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it’s the long-term commitment that pays off.”

Wish list of best practices should include but not limited to:

  • avoid potential scandals;
  • apply checks in balances in place;
  • inspect what is expected;
  • trust but verify;
  • retain corporate structure layers to a minimum, and
  • keep communication channels open.

In the end, what you manage and how you manage it is what you get — methodical, sustained growth with patience and lack of greed.

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Giftvertising — a Brilliant Trend and Unconventional Marketing Tactic

by James D. Roumeliotis

WestJet's Christmas Miracle 2013 - Hamilton Airport, Ontario, Canada

WestJet’s Christmas Miracle 2013 – Hamilton Airport, Ontario, Canada

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Sadly, every day we are inundated with a slew of advertising messages almost everywhere we turn. There seems no escape.

A new study of media usage and ad exposure by Media Dynamics, Inc. reveals that a typical adult’s daily media consumption has grown from 5.2 hours in 1945 to 9.8 hours (or 590 minutes) currently.

Companies that wish to cut through the advertising clutter and stand-out are constantly utilizing unconventional and bold tactics through creative and methodical strategies. Through Giftvertising ‒ or gift giving captured on a video for advertising purposes, a brand develops memorable organized events with elements of surprise, while concurrently filming the reactions. The filmed message conveyed is one of generosity and caring to enhance customer perception.

Guerrilla marketing in video format

“Guerrilla” Marketing, a term was coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 with his initial book entitled ‘Guerrilla Advertising’, is regarded as a bold, unconventional and low budget marketing/advertising strategy with effective results. In marketing, the element of surprise is a crucial method in breaking through a plethora of traditional advertising media. ‘Giftvertising’, an advertising trend, where marketers surprise their customers with free gifts, is akin to “Guerrilla” advertising in an online video format. Its aim is to create a highly entertaining and emotional bond with its customers and viewers. Furthermore, the scene filmed on video is anticipated to create buzz thus go viral on social media.

The advertising industry is constantly under pressure, by its demanding accounts, to create elaborate experiences for their targeted audiences. Ingenious campaigns are expected to break through the clutter, whilst differentiating a brand and improving its image which elevates its perception as trendy and customer driven. To be noticeably effective, the campaign required a public relations strategy approach, as well as be distinguished as authentic and purposeful by its viewing audience if it is to go viral.

Within the last few years, several brands experimented by launching their share of emotional based Giftvertising videos including WestJet Airlines which started it all with its “WestJet Christmas Miracle” − followed by others including TD Bank with its “Automated Thanking Machine”, Air Canada’s “Gift of Home for the Holidays” and MasterCard’s “Priceless Surprises.”

Case Study: WestJet

If there is a contemporary brand which inspired other Giftvertising campaigns which followed, it is none other than Canadian carrier WestJet Airlines Ltd. In December 2013, in time for the Christmas holiday season, it became one of the most watched viral videos over the Internet with over 40 million YouTube views (and counting). Additionally, it received numerous press mentions around the world. Consequently, other companies launched their own videos yearning similar results.

A year later in 2014, WestJet put out another remarkable Christmas video. This time it was set in the Dominican Republic. However, it did not reward its customers but instead it gave back to a small town in that country the airline flies to. Both videos average 5’30” each – an ideal amount of time to communicate the occasion without getting carried away.

Not surprisingly, both Giftvertising campaigns had a positive impact. They dramatically increased WestJet’s website visits along with bookings compared to the same month the previous years. All told, the company’s revenue soared by more than 80%.

All things considered

It takes unconventional marketing wisdom with bold tactics, along with a demonstration of genuine admiration and care for the customer, to produce emotional and memorable occasions including utter joy displayed by company employees. All this can have a profound effect on the millions of viewers. If it succeeds in its intended purpose, the publicity it generates on social media will be well worth the investment.

Giftvertising, undoubtedly, establishes a strong emotional bond between the brand and its customers just as it conveys a strong emotional impression boosting its positive image of a company one should certainly consider doing business with.

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The Authentic Brand: A Precious Asset Developed Through Transparency, Customer Experience and Ultimately, Loyalty

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Honest by ad. A pioneering company launched in January 2012. The company is unique in communicating about the supply chain of its products and pricing.

Honest By ad. A pioneering company launched in January 2012. The company is unique in communicating about the supply chain of its products and pricing.

Trust is a hard thing to come by these days whether between people or between people and brands. When the founders of a start-up build a brand from the ground-up or the executives of an established one are in modus operandi mode, taking a cautious approach to their brand image, in both scenarios, ought to be part of growing and preserving the business with a constant eye on the future.

Sadly, nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is advertising, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. With some brands, it is the tiny print in disclosure statements which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. The majority of consumers do not read small footnotes. Think of the worst offenders of this practice: the cellular phone/telecommunication providers, insurance companies, credit card providers, as well as the automobile manufacturer promotional offers and pharmaceutical advertisements – to name a few.

Deception concealed as sincerity: How to chip away at your brand

The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster.

In the 2015 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient®, published the reputations of the 100 most visible companies among the U.S. general public. What appears on the top five, among other notable brands as consumers perceive them, are Wegmans Food Markets, Amazon, Samsung, Costco and Johnson & Johnson respectively.

Consumers have high and explicit expectations from brands, thus anticipate what the brand promises via its marketing material and/or what is stated on the product packaging. What a brand actually delivers and how it behaves in the process is what consumers get to feel.

A brand which utilizes short-term sales and marketing tactics for quick short-term gain fails financially in the long-term by acting in an ethical way. As marketing maven Seth Godin rightfully proclaims, “In virtually every industry, the most trusted brand is the most profitable.” As with our personal lives, trust with branding is based on what one does, not what one says.

Boosting sales and market share via misleading and deceptive tactics

According to a 2013 Harris Poll, regarding the most and least trusted industries, the advertising industry was near the bottom of the list when rated up against many other business sectors. Seemingly, truth in advertising is a misnomer. Misleading and deceptive advertising by many marketing and branding executives, give the entire industry a negative perception.

The food processing domain is no more honest with labels that claim to be healthy but without support with any concrete scientific facts. Food companies tout their devious label claims of organic, nutritious etc. – although an absurd amount of sugar and/or sodium is present in the ingredients along with unnatural artificial ingredients). Kelloggs even went as far as having to be ordered, by the courts, to discontinue all Rice Krispies dubious advertising which claimed to boost a child’s immunity system.

Then there is the “premium” orange juice from popular brands such as Tropicana, Simply Orange and others which are highly processed, and usually stored for several months before reaching consumers at the supermarket fridge aisles. This processing method is used to retain the juice from spoiling. However, during that process, it also strips the flavour which is injected back into the product, once it finally gets packaged, to give the juice its original orange flavour. Not surprisingly, the orange juice producers do not make any reference to this anywhere.

Informative and authentic eye-opener documentaries such as Food Inc. and Tapped have upped the ante in terms of the exposure shared with the public to what is wrong with the food processing/food chain and water bottling sectors respectively. Moreover, the GMO debate with the exceptionally well-connected and deep pocketed Monsanto (the St. Louis-based biotech giant and world’s biggest seed seller) will not be going away any time soon.

Other industries notorious for deceit are banks and cellphone/telecommunication companies with their hidden fees. These blatant revenue generators are sales at any cost – short-term gains, of course. These companies guilty of gouging seem to be testing the limits with consumers – as if the latter are ignorant. Those absurd fees evidently enrage the culprits’ customers.

Employees reflect the brand

First and foremost, trust begins with company employees. If they are well trained and treated with respect and transparency, the employees will trust their employer and radiate their enthusiasm, as well as loyalty to their customers by going the extra mile.

Along with a brand being a valuable asset for any business, people also fit into the equation as an important asset. This is where hiring the right people, on-boarding them, training them adequately and empowering them all create a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Many brands are myopic to the point that they unintentionally and unknowingly allow their dissatisfied customers to go away without a thought. Front-line staff is either not trained properly and/or lacks the proper attitude to handle clientele appropriately.

During the industrial era, consumers would simply purchase what was produced, shopping where that product was available and paying the price the retailer demanded. In essence, the manufacturer and the store were in position of strength. As products and consumers have changed over the years, the concept of ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘consumer insight’ came about. As we progressed into the new millennium, the transparency and unrestricted information available on the internet has changed all of that. Today consumers are not only better informed but they are also in control. They can make or break a brand through their actions. So what does this say about listening – and acting?

Consumers will no longer refrain from informing companies on what may have gone wrong ─ whether it’s a particular brand or a competitor’s. With the numerous platforms for consumers to make their voices heard online, brands have to be very reactive and not allow anything to chance. In an age when the consumer’s outcries and influences spread quickly, the results can signify lost sales and a deterioration of brand loyalty.

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When all is said and done

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.

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. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

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.

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Sex and Sensuality in Advertising: Why it is effective and how to refine it

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Tom Ford Ad

Does sex really sell? It seems to sell but commercially, not morally. Sex in the media has been around as long as media itself ‒ though these days at more extreme levels (from subtle to overt).

They’re not quite selling a product but rather an expression of desire – a lifestyle that can be envisioned with the product or service. It attracts the male audience much more than the female as women are objects of sensual desire for men. It’s no wonder that most sultry ads portray bodacious females.

Marketing and branding via sultry imagery and insinuation

Sex is a primitive instinct which qualifies it as an attention-grabbing technique in the media domain. It’s no wonder a weapon of choice for marketers. Sex also transcends product categories ‒ whether it’s a consumer product such as Axe antiperspirant, a recreational pharmaceutical drug like Viagra or an exotic sports car.

Sexually explicit ads can be controversial and some offensive. They are also subject to socio-cultural climate. As long as they don’t get carried away to borderline pornography, but rather refined, preferably subliminal and certainly not violent or masochistic, the sultry ads can be considered playful and memorable. Their original intent is to create an emotional effect on the viewer. This way, the viewer develops a closer bond with the brand and consequently, stronger recognition. Some ads intentionally incorporate a humorous element which generates further interest for its intended audience.

Fragrance ads by some fashion designers are intentionally created to sell a sultry elixir in a bottle. To succeed and spark emotional purchase desire, its creators have raised the stakes by provoking the visual (as well as the olfactory) senses and causing the consumer to believe that he or she will feel erogenous and desirable with those he or she cares to attract. However, there are few controversial ads which have been banned as they seemingly pushed pop-culture buttons a notch too far.

The benefits of sex in advertising

Businesses have found that sexy ads are a great method for “word-of-mouth” and viral publicity. Their attention grabbing messages have the ability to cut through the clutter of ads and command considerably more views. The intended viewers, however, are mesmerized even as they are absorbing the ad’s underlying subliminal messages.

A case in point: In 2000, Heineken launched the “It’s All About the Beer” campaign. One spot, called “The Premature Pour,” shows an attractive and alluring woman pouring Heineken into a glass. As a result, a guy across the bar reacts by pouring his own beer but nervously pours it too quickly and spills foam all over the table, as well as on himself. The sexual content is tacit, yet blunt. The insinuation in this, and other spots in the campaign, yielded a successful outcome causing sales to rise 13% in the first two quarters following their airing.

Popular men’s magazines like Maxim and FHM have experimented often with their covers. By placing a spicy, semi-naked woman on the cover, male readership spikes and outstrips an image of any popular male star whom men can readily relate to.

At Montreal’s renowned steakhouse, Queue de Cheval (French for “horse’s tail”), its eccentric owner, Peter Morentzos ‒ who is known for pushing conventional advertising boundaries, came-up with the idea to host a “Food Porn” event for a charity event. The sold-out $250 per person event featured young hard-body waitresses in skimpy outfits along with shrimps hanging on them which resembled human trays. To promote it, he used the photo of a naked woman’s torso deemed too racy for print in the culinary magazine Gourmet.

What sexually overt ads should avoid

For sexually explicit ads to be effective, they should be created in good taste with respect to the following:

  • Provide a meaningful message through the images;
  • Avoid over-reliance on sex due to saturation as it may lose its intended impact;
  • Should not depict violence, aggression and/or masochism;
  • Shouldn’t be doing it with just any product merely to grab attention but with some relevance utilizing sexual ideas only.

If a brand is willing to risk taking a controversial position to gain attention amongst the crowded product landscape, it should not be excessively overt. It ought to target the brand’s specific market along with not offending its fans and best customers.

Marketers at times tend to step out of line ‒ though, today many consumers happen to be savvy and realize when they’re being manipulated by various media messages. The products touted in the ads may contain sensuous interplay but if they don’t stand-up to their promises and hype, those brands will disappoint and won’t be able to hold onto the customers for long. At the end of the day, the truth in advertising signifies the “trust” factor which is inherently crucial in attracting and retaining clients.

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Filed under controversial advertising, sensuality in advertising, sex and media, sex in advertising, sexy advertising

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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Filed under 1, brand refresh, brands with sex appeal, catering to picly clients, package design, product design, sexy brands, total customer experience

Education Branding: Adding a Distinct Personality to an Institution of Learning

By James D. Roumeliotis

Cleverbox, UK - integrated school branding example

Cleverbox, UK – integrated school branding example

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When we think of brands, we mainly think of companies. It is not often that we think of educational institutions. However, with competition amongst them, whether in the private or public sector, many have begun considering its importance and value. As a result, they are developing and implementing branding strategies so as to distinguish themselves. Branding is a powerful differentiator and creates top of mind with prospective students who are considering where to apply for college, university or a vocational/trade school/polytechnic institute. Private elementary schools and high schools also play into the equation but with the parents of the students primarily targeted.

As personal branding has become ever popular over the years – most notably for professionals in the job market, as well as practitioners in private practice (consider physicians, attorneys etc.), post-secondary schools in particular are also taking branding earnestly in consideration. To name a few that undertook a branding project at heart, and as a result have become renowned, are Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, which describes itself as “immersed in business, engaged in liberal arts” and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. with its tagline, “Why not change the world?”. The for-profit institution of higher learning University of Phoenix, in Phoenix, Arizona, boasts its innovation in higher education which helped pioneer many of the conveniences that students now enjoy — evening classes, flexible scheduling, a university-wide academic social network, and an immersive online classroom which it has been offering for nearly 20 years.

As one would expect, educational institutions target diverse markets worldwide via their various programs offered. This makes their marketing messages all the more challenging.

Understanding privileges of Ivy Leagues

Pedigree, along with established high standards, unmatched curriculum, elite professors and lecturers and prestige, compel the Ivy Leagues’ inclination to seek only the top students for entry in their programs. Fewer than one out of ten students are usually accepted at Harvard, Stanford and Princeton for example. Prestigious and sought after colleges, trade schools and high schools can also be counted in following similar ranks holding on to their place in the top echelon which are also reflected by their exorbitant tuition fees. Parsons School for Design in New York City, the Career Training Academy in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) and The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville (New Jersey), respectively, have their own stringent criteria so as to retain their stellar reputation and cache. It is hard for the public schools to make such claims. This phenomenon is also driven by the plethora of applications received but with limited available places. It can also be stated that artificially set low admission quotas is vital to retain the brand prestige ‒ akin to authentic luxury brands production limits.

As a side note of interest, Ivy League universities have the most loyal, as well as wealthy alumni which contribute large sums of money as indicated by the universities’ vast endowments. By the end of fiscal year 2013, U.S. News’ three highest-ranked National Universities were Yale, ranked No. 3 with more than $20.7 billion in endowment monies, Harvard University, ranked No. 2, with nearly $32.7 billion, and Princeton, ranked No. 1, had nearly $18.8 ​billion.

Branding through emotional attachment and the total student experience

As universities and other educational institutions are having to confront challenges such as student enrollment, rising tuition fees, third party school rankings, and disruptive online course offerings such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), their distinction and relevance, amongst their rivalry, is in dire need of a jolt.

For starters, many institutions lack a target segment and a strategy on how they intend to reach it. Education is a knowledge service, thus a school’s campus facilities reflect its identity, whereas its teaching staff, administrative people, board members and alumni are a significant brand asset.

Branding is critical for success in any organization. It begins with the idea of what the organization will be perceived as. What do you want it to represent? What do you want your learning center to stand for? What type of image are you aspiring to portray? What type of students are you seeking to attract?

This brand promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer ‒ in this case it’s the student. The brand should include the Unique Selling Proposition (USP), positioning (What should the brand stand for among its target group?), personality (Traits the brand possesses that consumers/students can relate to) and define the entire organization by touching every aspect of it. Those are crucial factors that will make it truly unique. Successful branding methods and results can also get the organization out of the commodity trap and attract value in terms of higher tuition fees ‒ or at least justify the value of existing fees. 

Articulating what the brand stands for and why it is better than the competition, is where a brand communications strategy and execution come into play. Commonly used methods of brand communications include advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management programs and public relations.

When students are delighted with their on-campus experiences, they begin to bond emotionally with the school. They become brand loyalists and advocates – transacting with the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the school’s reputation.

Key points: a university with a well-respected brand has an enormous advantage

An article in The Guardian newspaper’s blog entitled, “What’s in a name? The value of a good university brand”, includes questions such as “In this rapidly changing marketplace, university branding is about much more than logos. But what does this mean for students and the role of branding in higher education in general? These queries formed the basis of a recent Guardian roundtable, held in association with brand communications consultancy Purpose. The debate was conducted under the Chatham House rule, which allows remarks to be reported without attribution to encourage a frank debate. Consequently, the discussion produced recommendations compelling enough that they should not be overlooked.

The roundtable heard that universities looking to brand themselves successfully should:

  • Focus on their core values, such as: academic integrity that links teaching, research and scholarship; business-friendly courses with employability appeal; and the positive student experience on offer.
  • Target communications at parents as well as students.
  • Involve academics as much as possible; their enthusiasm can often bring big dividends.
  • Highlight student testimony in university marketing materials.
  • Make the most of social media’s influence and reach.

Case Studies: a vocational education institute and a community college

New Frontier School Board Continuing Education (Montreal, Canada)

New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) Continuing Education, in a suburb in Montreal, Canada, wanted to bolster enrollment and student engagement. Over a period of 12 months, The Watershed Media conducted an extensive communications audit, developed the blueprint for an online and offline marketing plan, and executed an entirely new digital and social media strategy and brand outlook. From their discovery, they knew that the success of the brand hinged on fostering intimacy and dialogue between the school and its students. Whatever they did had to be honest, authentic and true to life.

  • The Watershed injected the brand with a very personal narrative that celebrated the common theme of overcoming adversity and breaking through despite obstacles; a story that so many of their students shared in common. “I Choose Me” and the “Journey begins with you” were conversational brand elements that nurtured the empathetic quality that were the hallmarks of a school that was very student centered.
  • They revitalized the school’s social media presence through staff training and engagement, strategic content direction and social media marketing.
  • The website was built from the ground up and focused on reflecting a modern image that gave its users clear information, helped them make informed decisions about their future, and then act on those decisions through online conversion tools. The Watershed complemented student tools with community resources that would make the NFSB a valued asset to the communities it services. Site analytics are used to help refine content and define user experience in increasingly meaningful ways.
  • Equally important was their work helping NFSB shift the marketing culture at the school and discover their shared capacity to influence change through everyday inter-actions.

AriannePeters_Sample

Ramapo College of New Jersey (Mahwah, NJ, U.S.A.)

The brand strategy conceived and implemented by Words & Pictures Creative Service was to create an image campaign (print and radio, separate from the recruitment campaign) that would feature successful, famous, historical people who “could have been” Ramapo students. Shakespeare, Marie Curie, Andrew Carnegie, and Booker T. Washington were some of the role models who represented different schools in the College. This campaign elevated the College to a place where “some of the greatest minds in history could have started their futures” and where “the great young minds of today could start their futures.”

Results: Ramapo College experienced the following benefits and improvements over four years resulting in part from the image-building ad campaign:

  • Follow-up Eagleton survey conducted four years after original survey revealed overall dramatic increase in public awareness and improved perception.
  • Ranking in S. News & World Report moved to #1 public comprehensive college in the North for these consecutive years.
  • Combined SAT scores rose from 1120 to 1180.
  • HS rankings moved from top 24% to top 17%.
  • Full-time residential undergrads increased from 52% to 60%.
  • Retention rate from first to second year increased from 82.4% to 89.4%.
  • Retention rate from second to third year increased from 68% to 74.8% to 80% currently.
  • Graduation rate increased from 42.75 to 62.3% (well over national average of 50%).
  • Numerous industry and CASE awards recognizing excellence in the advertising image campaign and other collateral materials.
  • First-time donors increased by 35%.

In the final analysis

Educational institutions, whether in the youth sector, college level, vocational sector or in higher education/university ought to brand themselves succinctly to differentiate when communicating with prospective students, and perhaps with parents of students too. Needless to say, in the educational sector, the student is both the product and the customer. The service is the education delivered by its qualified educators. A well-crafted and compelling unique selling proposition (UPS), which the institution will consistently deliver upon, can give it a leg-up over its competitors in the category ‒ as well as build its brand. This is how a school creates well-earned attention, prominence and perceived value. It does this through its meticulous execution of its marketing and operating strategies, by way of a positive total student experience coupled together with its high academic standards. The approach is no different from a company selling apparel, food or hospitality.

Branding is an investment which offers the educational institution a distinction in competitiveness, awareness, a professional image and its reputation whilst adding equity to the organization’s assets. However, it’s a long term resource because it takes time to build a brand.

The practice of education branding building includes positioning. In this day and age change is a necessity not solely reserved for companies but equally important for schools – whether a university, college, vocational center and even in the youth sector (elementary and high school). Some may have require repositioning and re-branding. In the same way as the USP, this necessitates a well-defined (positioning) strategy so that the institution can build a consistent and successful brand in the course of time.

In re-branding, a new brand platform, including the identity and messaging should be carefully studied and developed.

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Filed under Branding, branding schools, re-branding, rebranding

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

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Starting a Business Roadmap INFOGRAPHIC

Starting a business from the bottom up requires discipline, decisiveness, a roadmap along with structure from the get-go.

There is a plethora of advice on entrepreneurship and on launching a business out there but very little substance on a universal step-by-step guide or a turn-key resource.

The Roadmap

Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, a thorough research should be conducted, a meticulously plan set in place, and implementation performed flawlessly. Nothing should be taken for granted.

The following link takes you to a step-by step start-up roadmap infographic.

https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/4766874-starting-a-business-roadmap

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Business Vitality: Preventing Adversities Before They Occur

by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman with telescope

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“Panic” and “chaos” are not what one should undergo in business. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are caught off guard more often than necessary when operating their business. In his book “The E-Myth Revisited”, dynamic author Michael Gerber states that a business person ought to work “on” his/her business, rather than “in” his/her business.

Start-ups have a leg-up if they launch and persevere on the “right track.” The appropriate definition of these two words together imply following a proper course of action. The analogy which can be applied to a business well-being is our own personal state of formidable health comprising of a healthy diet, frequent exercise and undergoing an annual physical. The objective is to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Remaining diligent and active as opposed to reactive

Entrepreneurs 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 prohibitive, thus solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Moreover, when drafting a business plan as the road-map, include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) matrix and “what if” scenarios — which will reveal and prepare one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, as well as coping with various challenges which can arise. In addition, consider plotting a business model as a prelude to the business plan. It makes you think through your business plan, which in turn communicates the business model. Both should synchronize. Make certain a short term (less than 12 months), medium term (13-30 month), as well as a long-term plan (30-60 month) have been conceived.

Savvy business people – whether new or seasoned entrepreneurs or CEOs of large corporations possess:

  • Insight and foresight;
  • Strategies and execution competence;
  • Alternative plans with an exit strategy in case situations turn awry;
  • The perception to take “calculated” risks rather than dive into the abyss;
  • Openness to third party advice;
  • Focus and consistency to achieve their goals and objectives;
  • The ability to see opportunity before their competition does and act upon it in a timely manner.

Negligence with current enterprises

Growing pains in any organization require a formidable administration to keep the business operating efficiently which includes customer front & center, profitability and more than adequate cash flow. Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:

  • Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
  • No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
  • Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
  • Absence of or very little communication amongst staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
  • No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
  • Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
  • Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
  • Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
  • Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
  • No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
  • A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
  • Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
  • Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
  • Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
  • High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
  • Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo.
  • No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
  • The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
  • Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
  • Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/under-capitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
  • Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
  • Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
  • Lack or very little employee training & development.
  • Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
  • Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to swiftly confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. It must also have preventive systems in place in anticipation of issues which may arise.

For its clients to receive stellar service, the enterprise must have its house in order. Besides structure and an efficient operation, employees should be trained and empowered to do their jobs efficiently.

Companies that disrespect their employees and shut-out clients get willfully isolated and have a short life span through an erosion of market share and significant loss of revenue. Thus, a company’s goal should place emphasis on serving its people properly and fairly. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities hinder that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives.

Superman Businessman

Operational prevention: Implementation of systems and risk management

To preventing operational problems before they even occur requires anticipating them through operational intelligence. The purpose of risk management is to identify potential problems before they occur. To do so entails early and in-depth risk analysis through the collaboration and involvement of all parties involved in running the business. It’s where brainstorming occurs about potential problems regarding the product(s), service(s), market(s) etc. to search for and foresee issues, as well as create solutions in advance – eluding the element of surprise at some point in time. Risk management is comprised of: 1) Identifying, outlining and analyzing potential risks; 2) A course of action in handling the identified risks, as well as the implementation of risk control/elimination plans when/where necessary.

Business leadership should contemplate allowing constant flexibility to adjust strategy when necessary if the initial one isn’t effective.

There should be continuous checks and balances – especially with regards to internal financial controls through various procedures implemented to reduce errors or possible embezzlement by staff. Trust but verify ought to be the organization’s mantra and actual implementation.

Perhaps you can consider a risk analysis software such as a SAS platform whose practical use offers best practices to help the company establish a risk-aware culture through various enterprise risk models and forecasting. We note examples of aircraft pilots who diligently prepare prior to a flight – or ship captains making their plans prior to voyages at sea.

When all is said and done – avoiding pitfalls

Companies with inept leadership usually fail in the first or second year, but even established companies can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. 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.

To be a successful and sustaining entrepreneur requires vision, strategy, execution and constant diligence – along with plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges on a daily basis to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

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.

Well-run companies thrive no matter what and learn from their mistakes – making certain they don’t repeat them. However, never give failures a second thought. There are no dress rehearsals in business either.

Onwards and upwards!

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An Inside Look at the Affluent Market (revisited)

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The Top 10 Most Read Articles in my Blog for 2014

Ten Most Popular image

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As we look back and close the year, I have rounded up the ten most read articles of 2014 by my readers. The following ten captured the most attention by numbers. See them all below in descending order.  Your views are always encouraged.

THANK YOU for your readership and look forward to feeding your mind with much more business practical food for thought 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 Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent
4| Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty
5| Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions
6| The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion
7| Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly
8| Pitfalls of Start-ups: How to Succeed Through the Initial Three Years and Beyond
9| Bold Leadership: 10 Ways to Eradicate Organizational Politics

10| Branding Essentials for Small Enterprises

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Exploring the Luxury British Automotive Total Customer Experience: Part 2 ‒ Jaguar Cars

Jaguar Lifestyle Image

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis and Petrona J. Joseph

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In part 1 of this 4 part series, the Aston Martin automotive brand was the star focus. In this part, the spotlight is on the customer expectations with the British luxury automaker Jaguar Motors. For over 90 years, this high-status marque has pushed the boundaries of what was once considered impossible in the automotive industry.

Sir William Lyons – founder of Jaguar Motors, combined performance and beauty in the designs and manufacturing of the ‘Jag’. A feat unprecedented of his time, his uncompromising vision set new benchmarks which is still followed by the manufacturer until today. Despite a tumultuous period during the Ford Motor Company ownership, its present owner (the Tata industrial conglomerate based in India) has invigorated a new model lineup together with a bold marketing strategy through a substantial cash infusion. It also acquired, from Ford, the Land Rover luxury SUV brand.

With the big news of Jaguar’s upcoming justDrive™ ‒ an industry-leading app technology that integrates multiple smartphone apps into a single, voice-activated in-car experience; it is now a leading contender amongst its competitors.

Jaguar Interior

The Jaguar driver profile

The Jaguar customer is typically a refined man or woman – for the most part, a university graduate with a dynamic presence, and status symbol visible. Moreover, the Jaguar driver can be classified on some levels to the “blue temperament” – which is an analytical, prudent, detail-oriented and precise personality. In serving a Jaguar customer, one must not sway into personal details on the onset. In addition, the sales consultants have been trained to not ask many open-ended questions but rather ask close-ended questions and listen attentively. I also suggest note-taking, because the majority of Jaguar drivers (most in Executive positions) do not like to repeat themselves. By taking notes, one demonstrates the prospective Jaguar owner that you are unconsciously like them by mirroring their behavior.

Following is an outline on how authorized Jaguar dealers respond to customers – from Sales to Service.

Initial Sales Consultation

– Greeted promptly by the receptionist

– The sales consultant must greet the potential Jaguar consumer with the appropriate handshake (particularly the dominant handshake)

– Ask close-ended questions to ensure need and quality prospect.

– Initiate test drive

– Review objectives & listen to this customer clearly while note-taking

– Warning- there is a fine line between explain the benefits to this customer versus being aggressive in your approach. Allow this customer time to review the advantages of owning a Jaguar.

– An overnight test drive is quite rare, however during the test drive, outline the benefits of the drive and the technology.

Sales Process

Allow the appropriate time for this customer to choose options, colors and technology combinations. At this point, once trust and careful attention has been established- then proceed with open-ended questions.

Delivery

– Short and succinct (keeping in mind that this customer is discerning and either a professional practitioner, executive or a successful entrepreneur who may have to return to the office for an important meeting.

– The customer should be shown the basic functionality of his or her new Jaguar

– The customer should be asked to reschedule a one hour detailed information session at his/her place and time of convenience.

Jaguar Convertible

The automobile which reflects a luxury lifestyle

Premium and luxury car owners seek the total package with the car brand they choose to be loyal to as they would when checking in to a luxury resort. They seek more than just a vehicle they can enjoy from point A to B. In practice, its owner might use this automobile to commute to work, but this is not sole incentive. Jaguar is clearly a brand with authenticity and heritage. The principals shaping the consumer’s buyer behavior go beyond intention. There is a sense of engagement in fulfilling a dream. It can be to make a social status statement or a personal style choice. Whatever it is, it is not an unconscious choice. The codifiers are clear: This is who I am, and what I believe in. Ultimately, it can also articulate the owners’ sense of self-worth and their emotional aspirations. The most important emotional benefit is that a product of this caliber and class expresses itself when the consumer can declare: “It suits my lifestyle.”

Discreet and unconventional selling approach

Jaguar in North America is testing, in several major cities in the U.S., a novel way it presents new vehicles by showing appreciation to its most loyal customers, which it labels as “super-loyalists” by hosting elaborate receptions in their homes. In turn, the “super-loyalists” invite friends and associates who may be interested, and can afford, one of Jaguar’s elegant models. This idea takes away the perception of any high pressure sales normally associated with auto sales at dealerships.

Jaguar Classic Car

Dealers of prestigious auto brands as custodians of heritage

A luxury dealership’s ultimate goal is to make an entire ownership experience a pleasure ‒ let alone a Jaguar. They strive to build relationships, which is why so many of their clients remain loyal. A luxury dealership serves as a guardian for the rich heritage of their prestigious brands thus make certain to continue their legacy.

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Exploring the “Super Luxury” British Automotive Total Customer Experience: Part 1 ‒ The Aston Martin

Aston Martin Prestige Image

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis and Petrona J. Joseph

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When we encounter the word “luxury”, images of: seamlessness, awe, the rarity factor, cache, opulence, aristocracy, supreme workmanship, stellar service and reverence come to mind, amongst others

Now, close your eyes for a moment. What images come to mind when you consider mention of the following vehicles: Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley and Range Rover? That’s what we will be analyzing in this four part series of the luxury British automotive icons and the above average expectations of consumers seeking such extravagant motor vehicles.

What qualifies the authors to give such commentary? Having worked and served — most notably with prestigious brands such as Gucci, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley and Range Rover, as well as with mega yachts and coupled with extensive research and consultations in this domain –, both can accurately define the exceptional treatment tendered to a HNWI (High Net Worth Individual) luxury seeking discerning consumer. Brands which qualify to serve this exclusive market provide attention to detail, a plethora of product knowledge/competence, and discretion along with an implementation of an anticipated flawless post-sale/follow-up policy.

Price aside, a luxury car brand should embody cache, exclusivity, pedigree, craftsmanship and limited production. R.L. Polk and Company, a global automotive information and marketing firm that provides solutions to automotive and related industries, has re-defined the term with the appellation, “super luxury”, ‒ i.e. cars that cost over $100K. This category includes brands such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Maserati as well as the Aston Martin being featured here.

Aston Martin Showroom

Aston Martin: License to thrill

We begin with the initial luxury automotive brand in this four part series: Aston Martin. This high valued motor car producer brings images of James Bond, a ladies gent, British heritage, sophisticated technology, sex appeal, speed, agility and soul.

Considering the above persona, the makeup of a typical Aston Martin customer.is a male (no gender discrimination intended), in his late 30’s early 40’s, handsome, successful, possibly with an attractive spouse (or if single, a striking companion), possesses a deep knowledge of refined luxury, knows what he wants virtually at any price level, and enjoys adventure, as well as thrives at constant new challenges.

Initial impressions and consultative sales process

When a prospective owner, or existing customer of an Aston Martin walks into any impressive looking Aston Martin showroom, the total experience should normally result as follows:

– To be greeted initially by the attractive receptionist/hostess (brand ambassadors) by the owner or General Manager of the dealership;

– Introduce the prospective client to an Aston Martin specialist;

– Offer a hot or cold fine beverage;

– Be given a tour of the impressive premises;

– Exhibit the various models and a test drive initiated during which time rapport is being built;

– Offer of an overnight test drive to create the feel and experience of the automobile and its performance characteristics;

– Thank and greet the prospect by the dealership owner or GM upon returning the vehicle followed by the sales specialist;

– Customer’s contact information should be entered into the dealer database (CRM);

– If a sale is initiated – the sales process should ensue. However, if a sale does not occur, effort should be exerted in a discreet and pragmatic manner (consider “consultative” selling) to close the sale. Statistics show that 60% of car purchases have been consummated on the spot when they received what they considered was an excellent presentation and demonstration. Either way, a follow-up is imperative within 24 hours.

Sale & delivery

– An appointment should be set for delivery;

– Upon arrival to pick-up the vehicle, customer should be congratulated by owner and/or GM;

– Explanation of vehicle model should be thorough along with a post-sale follow-up the following day;

– Customer should be offered a token appreciation for his/her business. This can be in the form of champagne from a strategic partnership for example, Moët & Chandon and/or an additional gift in good taste.

Aston Martin Showroom Lounge

Exceeding customer expectations for the discerning client-driver

To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, a high-end organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
– Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
– Consider exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
– Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
– Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
– Utilizing a hands-on approach;
– Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – recognizing their motivations – reading their body language;;
– Earning their trust and respect by exuding confidence, empathy and transparency;
– Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions – It’s all about the customer;
– Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
– Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
– Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
– Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
– Offering customer loyalty programs through joint collaborations with other luxury purveyors – a great way to make them feel special by receiving something extra;
– Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences for ways to improve those experiences. Discerning clientele are typically strongly opinionated and relish giving their views.
– Implementing the latest technology with all touch points.

The Aston Martin automotive brand with its power, beauty, soul and heritage as its tagline delivers to a specific and limited market segment by giving way to its consumer target to acquire their models they associate with a “luxurious and sporty lifestyle.” The brand is essentially a status symbol.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. “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.

A typical Aston Martin showroom portrays a super luxury car brand able to offer a “wow” factor to its intended customers with an unconventional retail experience which exploits the five senses. This includes a showroom floor with ideal lighting, the various models well positioned/presented, impeccably dressed/groomed staff, and an upscale lounge ‒ overall, presenting sight, sound, smell, touch sensorial experiences and creating a feeling of lavishness. Some will go as far as offer art exhibitions on the premises, five star dining events and wine tasting to name a few. It’s what its type of clientele crave.

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CUSTOMER/LIFESTYLE EXPERIENCES — in IMAGES

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Images depicting various customer and lifestyle experiences along with some of life’s little luxuries.

Read articles about this subject matter in this blog, as well as in the following book —

Request your TWO FREE chapters of this popular book with no obligation.

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November 8, 2014 · 2:30 pm

Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

By James D. Roumeliotis

What is in it for me - features vs benefits

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There was a time when brands and their sales staff would tout the features of their products. This was most notable with consumer products and automobiles amongst other goods. “Our product has this and that” and “Our product will do this and that for you.” sound alike, but are distinctly different. In this day and age, the second one wins over customers by a long-shot.

Take the case of buying a watch. The function of a watch is to tell time. All watches do this. To differentiate, a watchmaker must bring something else to the table. For example, the Rolex Submariner has many outstanding features. Watch fanatics can recite the details like kids cite stats of baseball players. However, most clients want to feel elegant. They already know that a Swiss watch means high quality. The benefit of wearing a Rolex is to make the wearer feel like James Bond or Gianni Agnelli. The benefits are is style, class, and self-esteem.

People Buy Benefits Rather Than Features

Features of a product are considered a ‘good to know’, whereas its benefits are deemed more relevant to its users as “what I can relate to and need to contributes positively to my sense of self” sell not only the product, but the “idea” of the product. Since there is competition with virtually every product, brands should create interest to more than practical needs of potential customers. The brand’s product(s) must persuade customers to think that it/they perform better and offer a much better value than the competition. For example, Hyundai’s Genesis, through its advertising and sales consultants, stress ‘intelligent value’ when compared to the established premium auto brands like Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Lexus. The emotional benefits are what a brand/product ought to be targeting and appealing to. This would make the driver feel as if he/she has made financially and emotionally a wise decision.

As marketers are quite familiar with the term “sell the sizzle, not the steak”, in layman terms, it signifies that you’re not only selling the product, but the idea of the product.

What is Your Brand USP? Benefits Must Be Tangible

To begin with, a “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. A brand promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. A major part of this is what’s called the “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP.

Prior to launching or invigorating an existing product, the questions which should be asked are:

  • What is our purpose?” and as a result: How is our target market going to benefit from our product?
  • What will the brand and product stand for? How are they going to be positioned?
  • What is the product’s intrinsic value? Perceived value?
  • Is it going to be a lifestyle product?

Simon Sinek takes the aforementioned a step further with thought provoking questions. 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.”

Alternatively – Sell a Lifestyle and an Experience

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. Brands also build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands boast their pedigree and craftsmanship, amongst others.

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 any new product launch such as the imminent iWatch. 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.

Features vs Benefits

The Final Take

If your product stands-out on its own because it functions splendidly and enhances its intended purpose, then it can’t help but be embraced by consumers without the artificial hype. It’s what they will talk about to others which is the most candid endorsement the product can earn. It’s equally important to sell the idea of a product as it’s to sell the actual product.

The key to success is to market your brand, not your product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with your customers. Branding positively adds value to your company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value.

A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote a more than a product with key benefits and attributes. Note however that 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 brand.

One way to overcome the ‘price only’ differentiation, which erodes profits and does not generate loyalty, is for a company to consider building a lifelong relationship with each customer. To do so, requires that each customer enjoys a positive and hassle-free transaction with each touch point consistently every time.

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The Genuine Luxury Domain and Its Country of Origin: Why the Latter Matters

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

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Made in Italy - NO in China Tag

With the proliferation of Italian and French luxury brands bearing the ‘Made in China”, ‘Made in Turkey’ or made elsewhere remote from their land of origin, it makes one ponder whether the brands are diluting their image for the sake of lower prices and higher profits. This begs us to revisit the question of what constitutes an “authentic” luxury product and whether manufacturing in a country unknown and unfamiliar for evoking luxury is a good long term strategy for the brand with heritage.

Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

Definitions of “luxury” vary enormously and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “Luxury” has never been something easy to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

The proliferation and marketing misuse of the word “luxury” on many products across sectors is quite evident. Brands either do it out of ignorance or to enhance the desire for the consumer to purchase their products.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, affirmed:

A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test:

  • Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
  • Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
  • Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle?
  • Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals can purchase without question?
  • Does the brand offer authenticity?
  • Does it implement an absolutely no discounting policy?
  • Is the product (and at least most of its materials/parts) manufactured only in its country of origin?

Luxury is not premium – and premium is not luxury. They are two dissimilar categories catering to different market segments.

France - Italy Cufflinks

Luxury Product Roots and Perception: Key Factors of Authentic Luxury

A luxury product is rooted in a culture and comes along with a small fragment of its native soil, of its heritage. This proposes that in order for a “luxury” product to remain true to its origins, as one of its main criteria, its production shall remain in the country of origin ‒ whether that is France, Italy or elsewhere (most notably in Europe). Tempting to relocate production elsewhere can cause the brand to lose its lustre and character.

Professor Jean-Noël Kapferer, an author and lecturer at the Kellogg Business School (Northwestern University, USA), as well as at HEC Paris, Europe’s premier academic research center on Luxury, clarified his views on this subject matter by stating that:

Looking at luxury companies’ own attitudes, there is a clear segmentation, based on their brand positioning and business model. A first group (such as Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Chanel) emphasize quality and heritage as the main sources of their incomparability. They are patriots. For them, a country of origin is a homeland, much like the soil in a vineyard – a miracle made of earth, nature, sun, rain, and sophisticated human labor, loaded with culture. For them, ‘made in…’ tells a whole story, tying production to a long heritage.

He further affirmed that:

“To remain a true luxury brand, following the luxury business model, entails sticking to local production. This is not an easy task for many luxury brands. Those that comply must create the conditions that are necessary to sustain this production. This is why they often buy their local sub-contractors in case the latter go bankrupt, to be sure to keep alive a historical know-how that might otherwise disappear.”

France and Italy are considered the leading countries for luxury and trend setters for clothing and accessories. Luxury watches (better known as “timepieces”) are manufactured in Switzerland ‒ the undisputed leader in this category. London, is considered to be the luxury spirit capital of the world with Burberry as the most prominent luxury brand. Whereas, Germany Italy, as well as the UK are for luxury automobiles. However, what they do produce elsewhere in the world are not ‘luxury’ but rather their lower priced “premium” derivatives (think BMW, Mercedes and Audi). Other illustrious automotive names, such as Ferrari and Rolls Royce, continue to manufacture solely in their native country.

Private vs. Public Luxury Purveyors

For the good of their distinguished image and cache, top-tier luxury brands should remain small privately held, with no pressure to sell and family run beyond the reach of speculators. These companies are managed, and their equity held, by those families. Consequently, management of brands, people and profits are done with the long term in mind, not necessarily the next quarter, which most investors would not have the patience to deal with if the luxury brand was publicly traded. In essence, the privately held have the luxury of taking risks as they desire and staying the course when they don’t. They have the freedom to invest for 5-10 years without receiving a financial return. In comparison, the publicly traded ones, which are accountable to their shareholders, are constantly under pressure to trim production costs and increase revenues and profits which lead them to cater to a larger audience ‒ the mass affluent. So much for all the elements of ‘genuine’ luxury purveyors which are doing away with scarcity and exclusivity.

The most prominent smaller and privately held ‘authentic’ luxury brands which fulfill every criteria ‘luxury’ truly exudes are as follows:

Soft Luxury Goods (high-end apparel, leather goods and exclusive fragrances) include: Hermès (70% owned/controlled by the Dumas family ‒ the descendants of its founder), Chanel (100% ownership by the Wertheimer family) and the niche perfume house, Creed Fragrance Company founded in 1760 (100% ownership by the Creed family ‒ descendants of its founder).

Hard Luxury Goods (products such as watches, jewellery and pens) include: Rolex, Chopard, Patek Philippe amongst others.

According to the Millward Brown luxury brand survey, which includes the large luxury groups, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Chanel, LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), Rolex, Cartier, Fendi and Tiffany & Co. respectively, are the most successful family owned luxury brands. Moreover, research done by SDA Bocconi, renowned for providing world class luxury education, revealed that unique characteristics of most family-owned or managed business fit almost perfectly with the competitive logic of hard and soft luxury approaches. Needless to say, their management culture, retaining the mystique (crucial in the ultra-luxury domain), and long-term decision approach are all instrumental for cultivating and preserving their brand heritage.

Hermes 2014 Ad Campaign

Hermes 2013 Ad Campaign

In the Final Analysis

There should be no confusion between luxury and premium or even a fashion category. When someone buys a luxury object, he/she purchases craftsmanship, cache, pedigree, made in limited quantities, a special place in the world of lifestyle and exclusivity (made for the few). The premium business model is based on the manufacturing of best-in-class products, with an image of style. Fashion is a general term for a popular style or practice, especially in clothing, foot wear, and accessories. Fashion references to anything that is the current trend in look and dress up of a person. Usually not timeless. A “luxury” and a ‘premium” product can be both – as in a tailored made fine wool suit for example.

Therein lies the major differences between a luxury product and a premium product. It’s legitimate for a premium product to seek out the most suitable and most economical manufacturing location, so long as quality and service levels can be maintained.

Brands such as Nike, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, amongst others, are doing an exceptional job of selling solely an image to the masses. Indeed, far from being a genuine ‘luxury’ brand, most of their products are manufactured in low labor countries such as China.

The ‘made in’ label plays a significant role for luxury aficionados who hold higher expectations including a value added quotient to ‘luxury’ brands who produce their products in their respective country of origin – mainly France, Italy and the U.K. For categories other than apparel and accessories, production should be elsewhere in Western Europe.

In the article “Building a Luxury Brand Image in a Digital World” by David Dubois, INSEAD Assistant Professor of Marketing and Debbie Teo, INSEAD MBA, they quote the following:

Hermès has no desire to become ‘masstige’ (a mass producer of prestige goods) the company’s CEO Patrick Thomas stated in 2009. In essence, he asserted that his brand was not in a position to dilute its image and compromise on quality in the interest of short-term results. This is truly one of very few authentic “luxury” brands befitting the model and criteria in the sense of the word.

Privately held luxury brands are prone to view business with long-term vision and remain rigid with quality over quantity. Comparatively, their publicly traded counterparts go out of their way to please their shareholders which may dilute their “luxury” status for the sake of volume and short–term gains.

Good business decisions are not the domain of tactical “bean counters” — exploiting the luxury brands for all their worth. They may also come from strategic planning and overall financial leadership.

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Why Sales & Marketing Should Coexist: Uniting the Two

by James D. Roumeliotis

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 Linking sales & marketing

In larger companies, how often do we witness bickering between the sales and marketing departments? Too often it seems. In well-informed B2C and B2B markets, especially in a highly competitive sphere, businesses would be wise to make certain that their sales staff and marketing practitioners coexist rather than allow one side to blame the other for a lack of sales. This situation has long been a challenge — although it is not hopeless to rectify. Ignoring this situation certainly affects company performance amongst other adverse factors.

Sales and marketing complementing each other

Marketing as a function supports Sales. Marketing’s function is demand creation, which includes advertising, public relations, trade shows, white papers, and point-of-sales-materials.

The Sales function is to generate revenue. Neither exists without the support of the other. Peter Drucker,  considered the top management thinker of his time, once wrote in The Practice of Management that “the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. If the marketing is well done, the products, and its features, sell themselves.” Despite this, sales staff don’t fully comprehend the role and value of Marketers and feel that their needs are being neglected, whereas, Marketers look down at Sales and consider them as merely a function, as well as short-sighted for the sale. In reality, Sales rely on Marketing for the tools to facilitate the sales process. If Marketing understands what the customer wants, then the prospect will purchase the product or service with less effort to sell.

Working in sync has benefits for everyone involved

To work together as a well-oiled team requires each side to contribute to the other, as well as clearly understanding each other’s role and the benefits of teamwork. This works by focusing on aligning sales and marketing to the same vision of how customers’ needs are addressed. This way they will reach a common ground. These days, marketing practices consider their sales force as “customers.” Since the sales force is the front-line, if they believe, they will be able to attract and retain a client base organically.

Collaboration and fusion of sales & marketing

Collaboration and fusion of sales & marketing

The way forward: How do you unite the two plus the customer service department?

The way forward initially requires a strategy with an appropriate execution which stresses communication, understanding and collaboration. The elements to integrate Sales, Marketing, as well as Customer Survive into the equation should include:

  • Conduct one to two training sessions (as necessary) with all 3 sides/departments (Sales, Marketing & Customer Service) to clarify the importance of their roles, along with the company’s values and objectives – keeping in consideration the customer as the key figure in all this and sales performance as a major KPI.
  • A sales & marketing plan should be devised with the input of Sales and Marketing. There should be a common agreement along with management. This compels all sides to be on the same page, creates direction and synergy. It also allows the 3 to define how each one may impact the plan.
  • Establish a committee with Sales, Marketing and Customer Service to meet once a month to continually provide feedback to each other, as well as iron out any issues they may be encountering with one another. This way, any misunderstanding is dealt with and out aside in the same room.
  • When creating marketing campaigns and tools, the entire sales process should be emphasized. Marketing is serving two people – Sales and the Customer.
  • Implement a CRM system. Data sharing technology integrates Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, as well as management/operations and ensures they’re in sync working with the same customer data, both internal and on social media. The CRM also helps manage the sales cycle and track marketing efforts. For the Customer Service side, it provides service cycles, customer preferences and other pertinent information with data retrieval a seamless task.

Sales ought be coached to understand what the purpose and work of Marketing is, whereas Marketing should understand the sales process and helping the sales staff make sales rather than merely focusing on creating fancy promotional tools – whether physical or digital. Working with each other alongside can’t help but excel in their functions which will come to fruition through the company’s increased sales performance, improved morale, sales/marketing ROI, increase accountability and enhance customer experiences, thus retention.

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Maestros of Ambiance: The Art of the Hotel & Food Establishment Experience — in visuals

by James D. Roumeliotis

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