Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Field of Dreams Marketing Part 2

In the previous post, the focus was on "Field of Dreams" Marketing--where you build a nice company with nice products and people and expect customers to flock to it, only to be disappointed.

Here's a way to tell if you're engaged in a Field of Dreams Marketing approach. Are you surprised that a competitor of yours has mediocre or poor product yet does very well? Or that your customers don't understand how great your product is?

In our sound byte world, the customer will give you only a few moments to differentiate you versus the competition. The simplest answer is to develop your elevator speech so that any customer or prospect can quickly understand just how great you are.

If you can simply articulate what makes your company special, that's a start. That message needs to be repeated in every communication you do from internal marketing to your sales channel and on into your external advertising and marketing.

If you can't articulate what makes you special, why should we expect customers to do just that?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Field of Dreams Marketing Part 1

Remember the Kevin Costner movie where the guy was building a baseball field in his backyard so that his late father and other great baseball players would appear and play ball? The recurring line in the movie was "build it and he will come."

Field of Dreams Marketing or "Build it and they will come" is the marketing approach of too many companies. It's tempting to think that if you build a good company--good quality, good people, good pricing, etc.--that the customers will come.

No matter how good your people or product are, if customers can't succinctly understand what you do and aren't excited about it, they will not come.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Business Lessons in this Bailout Mess

AIG execs took huge bonuses, some other company that got bailout money threw a big party or entertained customers or flew a jet or sent money overseas...it goes on and on. The public is fed up and wants it stopped. Sounds simple: just have the government stop all that. The job of stopping all that becomes, well, a job. Energy is put into that. Those bailout companies now will add jobs for people to make sure that they are complying and won't get into more trouble. All that energy, time and investment will not be valuable in growing those companies or in making them profitable.

The business lesson - and I'm sure the bailout companies are thinking this - is don't get into that position in the first place.

Over the past several years, many companies were either doing wrong ethically or, more likely, were not running their businesses in a responsible manner. They were blindly acquiring, merging, expanding, and/or borrowing beyond reason as if the party would never end. The companies that were run correctly - quite often they were the fiscally conservative ones - looked less exciting or attractive.

But, during recessions, we start to value businesses that are run fiscally conservative and stable. As the saying goes, the worm has turned. A well run, healthy company is golden today. It looks quite beautiful.

A recession teaches us lessons in how to run a business. If we don't follow those lessons, our companies disappear or, if we're "lucky," someone else takes us over. (Which gives "luck" a bad name.)

Barry LaBov, CEO
LaBov and Beyond

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Technology--Good, Bad, or Both?

Way back when I was musician (I was once a songwriter--my songs sold well under one million copies), to be good enough to make a living at it, you had to have good rhythm so that you would be "tight" with the others playing with you. Otherwise, it was a mess. Then, technology stepped in. All you'd have to do is play your part into the computer, press the "quantize" button, and voila, your mistakes and sloppiness would disappear.

I'm not a graphic artist, but I have an agency full of them. In the old days, an artist actually would draw or sketch things. The artist would also have to know how to use a razor blade to cut up and paste the various parts of a layout. Today, the computer can draw for you and all you have to do is press "cut" or "paste" and the computer takes care of that, too.

Due to technology, things can be lost: accuracy in musicianship or artistic skills. By the same token, it can allow creativity to be focused on even more because the value on performance skills is no longer at a premium.This does a number of things. It opens up fields such as music, the arts, and even aviation to people more skilled in computers than in those fields themselves. It also allows people with those old skills to be valued for their old-world knowledge at companies that get it.

Ideally, a performer will have both the old world skills and a great grasp on technology. Fortunately, a good song still needs to be created by humans and a good ad still originates in the minds of the people creating it.

I like technology, but when a plane I'm flying in is experiencing bad weather, I hope my pilots have more than computer skills to fall back on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Call a spade a shovel

I couldn't believe it. I read that there's a PGA golf tournament coming called the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, NC. So what? Well until this year, it used to be called the "Wachovia Championship."

Oh, I get it (so I thought), Wachovia backed out and the locals decided to run the tourney anyway, right? No. The truth is that Wachovia is still sponsoring it and paying millions of bucks for it but they don't want their name promoted because it might be viewed negatively.

Is Wachovia right? Would there be bad press if the tourney remained The Wachovia Championship? Is it better that they still spend the money but don't have their name on it?

I am not making a judgment on Wachovia, rather I'm wondering if there is too much fear and not enough common sense. The idea is that sponsoring the tourney is good business for them, that it actually would help their sales and brand awareness. Taking their name off the title, won't help that.

Now, if the idea is that if they take their name off the title, that people may not know that they paid millions for the tournament, then that's another story.

In my opinion, as a friend of mine said, "You need to call a spade a shovel." Wachovia is living up to their promise to sponsor the tourney and they deserve to have their name on the tournament.

What's your opinion?

Barry LaBov, CEO
LaBov and Beyond

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Brand Elevation via the Elevator Speech

Companies spend millions of dollars on branding and advertising with the intent of elevating their Brand and having the consumer clearly differentiate it versus the competition.

Whether you have spent millions of dollars or not, your company's image or story is critical for your success.

Try this. Ask four or five people at your company to share their "elevator speech" describing what your company is all about in two or three sentences. Make sure you're sitting down when you do (or at least brace yourself).

You will most probably find that your fellow employees--whether they are execs or line workers--have very different and in some cases, very misguided views of your company's Brand.

I asked a top exec at a very high tech, environmental motor company what his company was all about. I imagined he'd explain how his company was saving the environment through his products or perhaps how they were helping the U.S. becoming energy independent. But instead he replied, "We make motors." So much for the efforts to persuade consumers that his product was superior--our first focus was to start internally and engage his employees and dealers on their Brand.

Want to elevate your Brand? Start first with those who represent it to customers and prospects every day.

Barry LaBov, CEO
LaBov & Beyond

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Best of Barry: The Most Important Person in the World

I walk into a Cessna Aircraft’s service area, it's teeming with activity. The receptionist greets me, asks how she can help me, if I need a ride, then asks...who am I here to see? She offers me a conference room to relax in. A shuttle arrives shortly to take me to the building my meeting is in. I arrive at my destination and that receptionist asks if I'd like a single or double espresso while I wait. Within minutes, the espresso arrives.

You might say that this is excellent customer treatment. Agreed. But neither receptionist knew if I was a customer, a prospect, a supplier, a former employee, a spouse of an employee, etc. It didn't matter: they treat everyone the same--like they are the most important person in the world.

To be fair I've met with others in the aviation industry and have been very impressed with them, too. It might be an industry thing, I don't know.

But I do know that there is only upside in treating everyone who comes through your doors (or your phone system or email system) as if they were the most important person in the world.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The new "haves versus the have-nots"

"Share the wealth" and "social engineering" are terms that we're hearing more today as there is a debate as to whether the U.S. is moving toward socialism. Let's take a different look at that--a non-political look--from a business standpoint.

I believe that companies will either be "haves" or "have-nots" based on this economy. It will be less possible everyday for companies to survive and there will be less of them fighting to do it as many disappear or give up.

That means that the old saying that you're either growing or dying is more true than ever. There will be less client orders, less demand, smaller budgets and fewer people at fewer clients making buying decisions.

A company has to be more aggressive, more entrepreneurial, more dedicated, more flexible and more nimble to survive and thrive. If your company can do that every day, every week, and in every transaction, you will "have" the opportunity to thrive. The vast majority of companies that can't, "have not" a chance.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An alternative to GM's demise

We read or hear daily that there two options for GM--either we pay billions of dollars to keep them afloat or they will file bankruptcy and most probably die.

There is one other reality that I have not heard mentioned once. Judge the quality of this idea by how you feel when you hear it--are you upbeat, depressed, lukewarm, etc?

What if, whether through bankruptcy or otherwise, the various brands such as Saturn, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and Pontiac were sold or split off? That means we would have a half dozen or so small American car companies. These companies would be entrepreneurial, they would have people with passion designing their product and their customer experience.

It might seem that these small companies would be too small--not true. They would be as large or larger in America than Suzuki, VW, Audi, Mercedes, Subaru, to mention just a few.

Somewhere we have made the assumption that America needs a huge conglomerate that has numerous car brands under its umbrella. We don't. We would be better off if many of those brands were able to live on and thrive on their own.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What if your client doesn't like or can't afford your idea?

When the economy was stronger, it was simple if you had a service business: a client asked for a price for you to do something. You gave them a price and if they approved, you got the business. If not, you waited for the next call.

Now, there are less calls from clients. Now, you have to actually consider bringing ideas to them to see if they have an interest. And they may like your idea but not have the money for it. So...

Now is the time to take entrepreneurialism to a higher level. If the client doesn't have the money but you're sure that your idea would be a real money maker--could you do it and make all the profit on a project? Or could you partner with the client and share costs and profits?

If we're entrepreneurs, shouldn't we be doing this?

Barry LaBov, CEO
LaBov and Beyond

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We have a working culture

In this economic environment, many people are finding out what has been kept quiet for years. Small businesses are the ones that are adding jobs. In fact over 80% of all new jobs are coming from small businesses.

It will be quite a culture shock for many former employees of large corporations applying and taking jobs at small companies. Those used to the big business style will be freaked out over the fast pace and the accountability that will be demanded at those small businesses.

A couple of years ago, I asked the owner of a 60-person accounting firm to consider hiring a friend of mine. She had been working at a huge multi-national. The owner of the accounting firm told me, "I'm not interested in your friend because we've hired people from that firm and have found we have different, incompatible cultures."

Fascinated, I asked what was the difference. The owner of the small firm replied, "At our company we have a WORKING culture." His point was that his small company had a hands-on style. Everyone was expected to pitch in, to do what it took to get things done now. It was a fast paced and energized place; very different from a slower moving, more formal conglomerate.

For those going from a large corporation to a small one, strap yourself in; you'll be expected to make decisions quicker, get results, and take complete ownership. But also note that a WORKING culture could be more fun than you imagine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Collaboration makes all the difference

Real greatness, tremendous breakthroughs and fantastic relationships have something in common: collaboration.

When Lennon and McCartney were at their peak writing those phenomenal Beatles songs, their focus was on making great music, not on whose job it was to write the words and whose responsibility it was to write the music. Sometimes they'd share both the words and music, sometimes one of them would write most or all of a song. It didn't matter who took the credit or who did what. What mattered was the song.

In business it's much the same. We can tell who the great performers are in the workplace. They're the people that work with others, that ask others for their input, that share their own ideas freely--they don't pull rank on those below them. And they don't play victim and sulk because they don't have the authority to tell others what to do. They purely focus on doing great work, no matter who gets the credit or whose job it theoretically should be.

A collaborator, whether he or she is a boss or a part of the team, brings people together and gets the best out of them. This is a rarity in business. That's why we hear things like, "It's not my responsibility" or "The powers that be want such and such to be done" or "It's my client and this what we're going to do." These statements are polarizing and they stifle creativity and teamwork.

If our focus was on collaboration and not org charts, imagine what could happen.

Barry LaBov, CEO
LaBov and Beyond

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Well, I left a message"

We need to grow business, it's tough out there. We all know that. That's why we reach out to prospective customers.

Do you really want to grow business? If so, do yourself a favor and analyze where your customers came from and how you got them.

Most will come from referrals, very probably.

Look at the success stories you've had and how long and how often you talked with that person until they became a full fledged customer. Was it after one phone call? Was it within a week or two of meeting them? Probably not. Did they initially return your message? Or did you have to pursue them?

I just met with a Fortune 500 prospect that we may end up working with. I began talking with the gentleman six months ago. We've spoken dozens of times. I've gotten to know him. He's helped guide me on how to break through and get inside their company. By the time we met in-person for the first time just recently, I felt he was an old friend.

If we want to grow business--I mean really want to, the excuse "well, I left a message" is not enough, it will require numerous follow-ups just to have a chance to materialize.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A New Option for Ideas

It used to be, a customer calls you up, they give you an order and you fulfill it. That described 90%+ of all businesses a year ago.

Now the customer calls less, if at all. The order is smaller, if there is one.

An pretty good option is to bring ideas to your customer, see if they'll buy-in. It may work. But, then again, there probably is less money and most probably they'll say, "sorry, but no thanks."

Here's an exciting option: take that idea and sell it yourself--create your own start-up division, market your ideas and make money off them. If your ideas are that good, why not invest in them yourself?

I'm doing that and I have to tell you it's as exciting as anything else we're doing. We just might make a little money, my people feel their work may have a chance to live and who knows, we just may end up creating something big.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The New Chic

In addition to running LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications, I am an owner of a great private golf club, Sycamore Hills Golf Club.

My club's general manager just met with a couple of the most prestigious country club managers in the nation and learned that it's now becoming chic to save money, to get more for less--even at private clubs.

No longer are the country clubs bragging about dropping $ millions on a bunker renovation. Now, they're promoting their $10 All You Can Eat Taco Night.

As Bob Dylan sang, The times they are a changin'.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Allocation of Unique Resources

In business, we have to use of our resources wisely, otherwise they can be abused, wasted or under-utilized.

I know we have a challenging economy, but I'd like to focus on one massive resource that's being wasted: our leaders' focus.

I meet with business people daily and I have to tell you, some of us are crying in our soup for a living. I am not making light of the situation at all.

As leaders, we are resources, too. We have to lead, we have to try something to make a difference to help our company. A little complaining here or there is understandable, but can't we spend the bulk of our time trying to get out of this mess instead of describing it?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Intensity versus Passion--Same thing?

Have you ever been told you're "too intense?" I have. Being an entrepreneur, from time to time, I've been real black and white about things that I thought were crucial. I pushed our company to do better, to not accept defeat, etc. Sometimes I was right, sometimes not.

The people that felt I was too intense, were telling me to lighten up, to lay back, to go easy. (By the way, I love many of those people and greatly value them.)

Fast forward to the times when my company has won awards for entrepreneurialism or for ethics, the same people from my company would introduce me at the award ceremony and talk glowingly about my passion. Much appreciated.

It occurs to me: passion and intensity are really the same thing. It's just that they're labeled differently based on the situation. If you're pushing your team or company and some feel you're too demanding, you will may be labeled as being "too intense." After you win the battle, your team will remark about your passion.

The goals are 1) to be reasonable in your intensity, not ugly or demotivating and 2) to push, to fight, to inspire enough to win. You'll probably need (1) to get to (2).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Congrats on being an American, Chela!

My sister-in-law is Mexican. She's been in the U.S. for a couple decades. Always a hard worker, she has three or four jobs at a time, putting in 60 or so hours a week.

She loves Mexico. But the big news with her is that today she will be a citizen of the United States of America. As she told me, on March 6, she will become a "gringa!"

She's planning a party, her relatives from all over will be joining in to celebrate her achievement.

While I take being an American for granted, she is thrilled at joining the "club." I thank her for putting things in perspective for me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Time to face the invisible elephants

It's a fact that employees don't trust the management at their companies. I think that's a shame, but in many cases, it's deserved.

Most companies have less employees today than a year ago. Do the math, those employees are more important than ever. They need to be on the same page as the leaders of the company.

The first step to achieve this is for the leaders of a company to face the "invisible elephants"--those sensitive issues that are usually avoided. These invisible elephants are a barrier to progress in your company. Every company has "IEs".

Most execs avoid addressing these issues because they feel their answers will not make everyone happy. Well, they won't. But addressing them will be one less thing in the way of a company performing at a high level.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When compromise is bad

Peter Gabriel. Colonel Sanders. Two success stories that show that some things should not be compromised.

Recently Peter Gabriel (recording artist) refused to perform at the Oscars because they were going to drastically shorten the length and lose the integrity of a song of his. He politely refused to perform it that way.

Colonel Sanders (founder of KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken) used to visit KFC restaurants all over the nation to see if they were following his recipe. A friend of mine, Elliot Neubauer, told me he would tour with the Colonel and it was quite common to hear pots and pans being thrown about the restaurant when the Colonel's standards weren't being met.

Both Gabriel and Sanders wanted it "right." They saw no reason to compromise their product.

It's one thing to find common ground on issues or to play peacemaker, which can be good. It's another to reduce the quality or meaning of your life's work.

Neither Gabriel or Sanders did that and their work lives on.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Thank the Big Three for Destroying the image of Biz Jets: Part Three

With all the bad press about private jets, I believe we need to think rationally before deciding that a business jet is evil.

My company, like thousands of others, uses a business jet. Why?

  • The business jet can be a money maker, a business grower, a business saver. We use it to visit prospects as well as serve clients. It builds business.
  • The business jet can allow a business to be located in a small city and still do business nationwide. My company is located in the 85th largest metro area in the country, Fort Wayne, Indiana. How in the world are we going to be able to work for great clients like VW, Audi, Ferrari, Freightliner, Suzuki, Schwab, and U.S. Trust without being able to serve them ASAP or whenever needed? We use our jet to help.
  • We use our business jet to help protect our employees' family lives. If we used commercial flights, my employees would spend hundreds of days and nights away from their families a year. Instead they hop in the jet, spend a day with the clients and are home for dinner with family. Families are happy, employees are happy, clients are happy - and all of that makes me happy.
The current bad press press won't dissuade us from flying our business jet. There is only one thing that has changed in the six months that affects our business jet: Jet fuel is cheaper. That makes me happy, too.

For those of you who may have missed these yesterday, below are a couple of ads we felt inspired to create to help people better understand how our business jet plays a crucial role in our business operations. It's not an extravagance; it's a necessity. I'd love for you to view the ads and offer any thoughts you may have on them.

Barry LaBov, CEO
LaBov and Beyond

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thank the Big Three for Destroying the image of Biz Jets: Part Two

In my previous post, I focused on the current private jet "feeding frenzy." This is part two.

Thanks to the Big Three, Congress now has a rallying cry against corporate greed - "Down with the Private Jet."

First of all: For most, it's not a private jet. It's a business jet. Here are some facts:

  • Most fliers on business jets are non-executives (85%)
  • Most owners of business jets (over 80%) are small- to medium- size businesses
  • Most business jet flights utilize smaller airports, not the main, commercial ones - they reduce congestion and give companies out of small towns an option to fly direct to clients
It's an American success story - the US makes the bulk of aircraft and is the worldwide leader.
There are millions of miles flown on business jets yearly for charitable causes ranging from "Make a Wish" to the Special Olympics.

In my next post, I'll share the reasons why my company invested in a business jet and view it as a smart investment.

Please review the ads that my company created from the standpoint of a business jet owner, I'd love your feedback on them - they are shown below.