Friday, May 29, 2009

Vulnerability reveals opportunities

Face it: People are pretty smart today. They can look up the specs of a product, they can follow the sales numbers of a public company, they can read Consumer Reports or follow other quality designations like J.D. Power & Associates.

If you're a car manufacturer, and J.D. Power reports that one of your models has too many initial quality issues, the best thing to do is fix your car or make it easier for people to operate it so they don't tell J. D. Power that the "variable-speed windshield wipers don't work."

Volkswagen had a decision to make when J. D. Power listed them as having a higher amount of initial quality problems (owners are surveyed shortly after buying a new car as to quality issues) in their cars: Do they live in denial ("our cars are great, nothing wrong with them, people just need to pay better attention"); do they dumb down the cars (take all the genius features that take a little getting used to) and lose their brand brilliance; or, do they embrace the issue at hand?

Before I share what Volkswagen did, I have to also stress that Volkswagen's product is fantastic. It, in reality, is a car that is brilliantly designed, well-made, safe and fun. Their issue wasn't product quality - it was product perception.

Here's what VW did: They embraced the issue and allowed us to educate new Volkswagen owners on the operation of their cars by entertaining them with vignettes of an obsessive, perfectionist Volkswagen engineer and a psychiatrist who tried to help that engineer come to grips with his over-the-top dedication to making the coolest car in the world. Along with the entertainment, the operation of the car was clearly laid out so the new owner "got it" - he or she could actuate the EOS hardtop, knew clearly how to work the windshield wipers, etc.

The result was that Volkswagen had the second greatest jump in Initial Quality Scores in the history of J. D. Power. All because they were willing to be vulnerable, poke a little fun at themselves and help their new owners understand how to work their four-wheeled pieces of art.

For Volkswagen, a little vulnerability helped create a lot of improvement.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It does hurt to ask sometimes

I saw a great blog of Seth Godin's on this topic recently and it inspired me to throw my two cents in. I'll set up the scenario:

Someone walks into your office and asks for something they don't deserve or something you feel is outlandish--certainly it's a request that you feel is out of line. As you look at them in shock, they add, "I thought I'd ask because it never hurts to ask, right?"

The answer to their question is: Wrong. It does hurt to ask sometimes. Making an outlandish request implies either the "asker" 1) is clueless, 2) is unappreciative of what they already have, or 3) thinks the "askee" is stupid enough to say "yes" just because he/she is asked.

I think it's best to avoid the outlandish requests by first looking inward and determining if you've done what is necessary to deserve it. If so, maybe the request isn't outlandish. If not, don't be surprised if you find it does indeed hurt to ask.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Note to Non-Profits

Non-profits are feeling the squeeze today. Less money being donated. Less volunteering.

There is one thing that a non-profit can do to help itself: learn how to solicit for pro bono work.

A newspaper interviewed me a couple years ago on this and afterwards I got overwhelming support for this from non-profits. I share the highlights here.

My marketing communications, LaBov and Beyond, had been solicited on a weekly basis from dozens of non-profits looking for free work from us. Most made a critical mistake:

The non-profits acted like clients offering a million dollar a year worth of work--they sent rfps (requests for proposals). In many cases, they asked for speculative creative. Big mistake.

If you're a non-profit and need help, do this instead:

Decide which firm you would ideally like to do the free work
Approach that firm one on one, telling them why and how much you appreciate their work
Promise to allow that firm a chance to do great work
Promise to promote the firm in any way possible for the great work
Promise to allow the firm to become part of your organization (attend Board meetings, events, etc.)
Promise not to pit the firm against other firms--demonstrate loyalty
Promise not to take them for granted

If non-profits do this, they may just get a great firm that will be excited to do great work for a great cause. And they can avoid the nonsense of bidding and rfp-ing and posturing, all of which is a waste for all involved--including the non-profit.

My firm will not participate in competitions to do free work--no matter the cause. We also review all our non-profit relationships on a yearly basis and will consider adding to (or changing) our list of pro bono work only once a year (we have a form that non-profits fill out as to their needs and dreams). We work with non-profits and have great relationships with them and we help their worthy causes, which is what it should be all about--not answering rfps and doing speculative work.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Problem with Balance

Talk to a doctor and he/she will tell you that one thing we all dislike--pain--is actually a good thing. Pain is our body's warning system that something needs to be attended to. Without it, we'd be in big trouble. That's why pain medications can be damaging--they diminish or mask our body's warning system.

In our businesses we strive for balance in workloads. If you have a ten person department and you have 60 hours of work for them that day, the temptation is to give each person approximately six hours of work. But is that smart?

Say that eight of those people are in demand and ideally would be the best people to do that 60 hours of work. Say that the other two people are not in demand and in reality have little to nothing to do.

Wouldn't it be better to learn why those two people were not in demand? Wouldn't it be best to put the best people on the projects that they're best suited (and in demand) for? I think so.

I've been guilty of trying to balance out the workload, but that's too much like pain medication--it masks the symptom: we have a couple of people that are not busy.

If we get off the medication--balance--and face the situation, we may find out why and do something about it. The two people that are not busy may be great performers, but their speciality is not needed at the moment (not their fault) or it could be that one or both of them are difficult to work with or simply don't perform as well as the others in the department (definitely something they have a hand in).

I'm off the "business pain meds" (balance), feeling the pain and doing something about it.

Barry LaBov
CEO, LaBov & Beyond

Saturday, May 23, 2009

CNBC Interview on Business Jets--Memorial Day Edition

I just had a great experience with CNBC. Thanks to LaBov & Beyond's crack PR ace, Sonya Beckley, I was given the opportunity to spend 60 seconds on CNBC's show "Street Signs" on why I believe that a business jet can be valuable.

CNBC provided an opponent that due to his broadcast talents, was given three times as much airtime - maybe I should have interrupted him? But, setting that aside, I spoke from my experience and feel good about the message.

To illustrate the real-life value of a business jet, when we were told CNBC wanted to interview me in the New York area, we set up two additional client appointments and took a total of five LaBov & Beyond employees. Our pilot checked to see how much commercial flights would have cost--it turns out we saved $3,ooo flying on our jet versus commercial.

The other thing I shared in the interview is that a business jet helps preserve the home life of your employees - they can be home with their family at night (after a business trip).

Here's the clip. Did I do okay?

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Friday, May 22, 2009

Send out more to get less results

When I was in college decades ago I learned something that sounds like a new principle in the electronic media world.

I was young punk on the student council. We drafted a letter to the Chancellor of the University. It was a well-worded response an issue (I can't remember what) that we demanded the University take action on. I had a great idea: let's send this letter to everyone at the University--faculty, students and the University Chancellor. More people seeing the letter meant more action--right?

Well, our Student Council President, an older, wiser guy (he had to be 21, 22 years old), stopped me in my tracks. He said, "LaBov, nice letter, but we're delivering it only to the Chancellor, because the more people it's sent to, the less progress we'll make." He was right. A generic letter mailed or posted to a thousand people would have watered down the issue and would have made it more difficult for the Chancellor to do anything.

Same thing with electronic media and marketing in general. want to get a result? Don't send a generic email. Don't send your company's newsletter to hundreds of unsuspecting people. Personalize each message if you want results.

My company's newsletter, PB & J (Passion, Bravery and Joy) is actually a collection inspiration stories about people and/or companies that show bravery and passion. We send it to friends, clients, and prospects one at a time. If the recipient likes it, they can subscribe to it, if not, they don't. But they first receive a personal message from one of us. It takes a lot more time, but it will get results.

Look at the marketing you do--how much of it is generic, impersonal? Look at those who market to you. How do you respond to it if it's generic? If your name is spelled wrong? If they have a "cut and paste" error in the message and accidentally have someone else's name in it? 'Nuff said.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The One Question Employees Ask

It's rough for company management to make the tough decisions in a difficult economy:
Where do you cut back on expenses?
Do you reduce head count?
Do you "let a customer go" because they're too unprofitable?
Do you eliminate perks?
Do you demand performance from personnel?

Those are the questions that run through your mind until you make the decisions. Then of course, after the decisions are made, the leaders of a company are concerned about employee morale: How will employees respond to these changes?

But we have to realize that most employees are pretty smart. They usually have one question after the decisions are made and changes happen. They ask:

Why didn't management do this sooner?

Company leaders can fret and fret, but it's obvious to most of the employees when things have to change and they expect it happen. And the longer the decisions are delayed, the more anxiety there is--for everybody.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We Don't Need More Opportunities

Need more business? More sales? More client work? More profit?

Common sense tells us that your company needs more opportunities...

I disagree.

The best way to increase sales, business, profit?

Stop passing by the opportunities in front of you.

Most companies have a small group of people that truly produce growth. Those
people are not smarter or friendlier or meaner or whatever. They also don't
naturally have more new business or networking contacts than the next person.
They just pay attention to those opportunities and do something--anything--with

A leader's goal is to get more of your people to do something with the
opportunities that are presented them.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reality Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be

As a former washed up, two bit musician, I like going to see "tribute bands"--those rock bands that dress up, act and play like the classic rock bands from the past. I've seen tribute bands cover the Beatles, the Doors and others.

I just saw a Doors tribute band and along with much of the audience, I was disappointed. The band was confused between songs, they played and sang sloppy at times and they didn't play the songs that we came to hear--they played some obscure songs that were better off not heard. My wife turned to me during one of those songs and asked, "What song is that, I've never heard it before." I answered her, "It's the least popular song from one of the Door's least successful albums."

It dawned on me what the problem was. The tribute band was too realistic--the original Doors would have behaved the same way--playing songs they liked as opposed to what the audience wanted, for example. Most of the audience wanted to hear the Doors greatest hits played and sung well note for note just like they did on their albums. Like the original Doors, this band didn't pay attention to what the audience wanted, it just wanted to be the "Doors."

Maybe this same holds true in business. People love a message that feels good. They don't want needless realism if it gets in the way of that message or that feeling.

Maybe reality ain't all it's cracked up to be...

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Monday, May 18, 2009

Return, Option, Control, Reset

Talk is cheap, you can say things are changing or promise to change but you know things are changing when:

Luxury seats in the new Yankee Stadium are going unsold. These seats go for thousands of dollars a game. A year ago that would have been unthinkable.

A beauty pageant contestant is caught in an uproar for a statement (regarding marriage) that the winning presidential candidate made a year ago.

Private jets, once a symbol of business success are being viewed as excessive.

Losing a billion dollars (as Ford just released it did) is good news. At least compared to the other members of the soon to be not so Big Three.

Cheap is chic instead of, well, cheap.

Vacation homes in California, Arizona and Florida are no longer increasing in value at a ridiculous pace, in fact, their prices are crashing.

Most employed people are thankful to have a job. As little as a year ago, that was not the case.

There is no return back to the old days. We'll have few options other than to control our response to all this. The world is being reset.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Friday, May 15, 2009

Share the Wealth and Share the Pain

When times are great, people feel that the wealth should be shared. You know, since the company's making a ton of money, why not share it with the "little people?" After all, when the economy is robust, it's almost like there's a bottomless pit of cash laying around. Remember the Lay's Potato Chip commercial--"Don't worry, we'll make more." That's why profit sharing, 401ks, bonuses and stock options were handed out like pamphlets at a Moonie convention.

Now that the economy is so tough, it's imperative that we share the pain. With your suppliers, why not ask for help or concessions? It's better than firing them or bidding them out. With employees, why not have everyone share in the cutbacks as opposed to just one group?

It means something to human beings to contribute, we like that. We'd rather give a concession and feel a part of the team than to be isolated and totally at the mercy of someone else.

Barry LaBov
CEO, LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Multi-tasking or a bunch of single-tasking?

Alright I'm probably going to irritate someone with this post, but here goes.

We all have to multi-task today, right? Here's the definition of it:

Multi-tasking: The ability of a person to perform more than one task at the same time

My question is: are we really, really multi-tasking or are we overloading our lives single-tasking? How many of us are booked back to back to back all day long? How many of us leave work every day feeling we have more on our plate than we did in the morning?

I submit that all too often we are single-tasking all day long until we are on the verge of collapse.

If you're really multi-tasking, you have multiple things being accomplished well, at the same time. Why doesn't this happen as often as we'd like? because to truly multi-task, you have to work with people, you have to motivate them, you have organize, to simplify--it takes some hard thinking and it takes inspiring someone to play a specific role. That can be uncomfortable. So, we tend to our stuff and plod through the day doing one thing, then another, then another and look up at the clock and pack up to go home.

Moms, dads, business execs, ministers--people from all walks of life fall into the single-task trap. If you're getting s lot done and feel fresh and inspired, you're probably multi-tasking. If not, read the definition above and re-think your approach.

Barry LaBov
CEO, LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


The biggest word in the wine business is terroir (pronounced ter wa'):

A " terroir " is a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine.

The idea is that if you own a vineyard that it has a special personality, taste, quality that makes it unique. I spoke with Claire DuCroq of Paul Hobbs Wines.

Claire told me that the French have determined that a wine's terroir is influenced by its soil, its weather, the grapes and its people - the people tending to the grapes.

A business has its own terroir, too. It has its industry, its niche, its technology and its people. These things make your product or service unique - it's your personality.

Are you enhancing and perfecting your terroir? Or are you diminishing it, stripping it down and making it like everyone else?

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The difference between $15 and $200 Wine

I toured several Sonoma and Napa Valley prestigious "cult" wineries and, in addition to tasting some fantastic wine, learned a "secret." I am not not a wine expert and have wondered exactly what makes a great tasting wine worth $200 a bottle. Now I know the secret.

I asked Daniel Ha of Vineyard 29 winery. His wines have won awards, they're highly rated by the wine gurus of the world, and his wines routinely sell for $85 to $200 a bottle. Daniel's a brilliant guy, so when I asked him what makes a wine worth $200 he smiled, leaned in and shared the secret in a soft voice.

A great-tasting wine that's rated, say 92, may cost $15. Then again, a great-tasting wine rated 92 may cost $200. The $15 wine will be made from the grapes of numerous vineyards in the region. The vintner will mix the grapes and determine the perfect recipe and voila, the wine is born.

The great-tasting $200 wine will be made exclusively of grapes from one vineyard, which the winemaker has complete control over. Every year, those grapes will be the exclusive grapes in that wine.

This is the true essence of quality control. The grapes are controlled in the $200 wine. In the $15 wine, the control is much lower and the quality/taste will vary year to year.

If you love the $15 wine this year, you may not love next year's vintage because it will be an entirely different mix of grapes. If you love the $200 wine this year, chances are, you'll love it every year because the very same grape vines are producing grapes with the flavor you love.

How can we apply this to our businesses?

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Monday, May 11, 2009

Passion, Bravery and Joy--PB&J

Not so long ago, a bunch of us at here at LaBov & Beyond were sitting around in a creative session. All of a sudden, the energy level rose - one of us talked about some gutsy thing a client did. A few minutes later, the energy rose again when one of us was talking about a cool idea from another client that she was passionate about. We got lost in the moment - it was great.

It quickly dawned on us that what inspires us is people or organizations that show passion and bravery in business. On our best day at LaBov and Beyond, we have passion, and we're courageous in our beliefs. On our not-so-great days, we're competent, if not a little fearful - probably not a whole lot of fun to be around. Which is why our goal now is to have every day be a "best day."

To inspire us toward that important goal - and to maybe help you do the same - we've created a monthly communication called pb+j - Passion, Bravery and Joy. Click here to read about some pretty impressive ideas and people who have, in our opinion, PB&J. Hope it inspires you as much as it does us.

Barry LaBov
CEO, LaBov and Beyond Marketing Communications

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Unusual Choice

So often it gets frustrating dealing with people issues. There seems to be a gap between what you may think of a person's performance and what they think of it.

I just dealt with that. I had to choose who would take charge of an important project. For some reason, I kept gravitating toward an unusual choice, a person who had not led a project before. My safest option was a veteran who always gets assignments like this one. As I analyzed my dilemma, it became clear to me.

The veteran was a safe choice and a good performer. But he hadn't grown in years, his passion and ideas were somewhat stale. The other person, was also a good performer, but he had grown, he was better than he was a year ago, better today than a month ago. And his ideas and passion reflected it.

I went with the unusual choice instead of the veteran. The veteran didn't really understand why, because after all, he was good and he knew it. But he didn't care enough to do anything about it.

The other bonus for going with the unusual choice? It's so much more fun and uplifting working with someone that is passionate and growing.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I wonder how the boss is going to make up for the sales we lost?

I consult a corporation undergoing a massive downsizing. Their product is no longer in demand, customers have defected and their industry is in despair.

One of their employees was bemoaning all this, and asked, "I wonder how they (the boss and execs) are going to overcome all this?"

Well, the truth is if you leave it all up to the execs, they'll be pressured to find the most efficient way to save money - laying-off employees. There is a fundamental shift that will need to take place, and we will all be seeing it firsthand: No longer will jobs be entitlements. No longer will order-taking be a secure position in a company.

The sooner we all understand this, the sooner we can save jobs by increasing sales or by expanding client relationships or by cutting waste. But if we wait for the boss to do it, the quickest way to savings will be massive job cuts.

The best thing for each of us to do is not wait. Act now to be a resource in your company to grow business, to expand customer relations and to reduce unnecessary spending. The alternative is not as pleasant.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Buggy Whips

Before the automobile was the dominant mode of transportation, horse-drawn travel ruled. Buggy whips were a huge industry. But, as the horseless carriage, or car, began to flourish, buggy whip companies have all but disappeared.

What are the Buggy Whip companies or industries of today? Which ones will not be around in a couple years?

Will there really be a huge automobile manufacturer with countless numbers of brands? Or will there be a number of small auto manufacturers creating their own product?

Will there be as many half-million-dollar RVs on the road, or will they become the exception to the rule?

Will printed newspapers exist in five years, or will they be online?

Will there be many small, upstart non-profit organizations in the future, or will they tend to be larger and better capitalized?

Is your business a buggy whip, or is it ready for the future?

Barry LaBov
CEO, LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Time

A recent post from Seth Godin stated the case against taking too long to make decisions.

Taking too long robs you of your most valuable resource - time itself. Unless you're going to get more information to base your decision on, waiting too long just increases the anxiety surrounding the decision you need to make.

I'd add that taking too long robs you of an inspired decision. Inspiration wanes with time. It also robs you of focus and, if anything, it makes things worse. It exacerbates bad situations.

If you have the information you need, if you've bounced the idea off people you respect, and if you have other things to do with your time, why wait?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sales Culture

"We need a sales culture." That's a quote from an exec of one of the nation's great corporations.

It seems that over the years this corporate icon took its eye off the ball and forgot that it needs to sell product. It worked for years; but now, everything has changed.

What are they going to do? Well, as I shared in the previous post, like most of corporate America, they made huge cuts in employees. That will only help reduce expenses, though.

They need to get hungry again. Hungry for the first time in decades. And they need to be humble. Humble to ask for help, humble enough to be vulnerable and open up.

Cutting expenses is only part of the answer; in fact, it's a part of the answer that will not increase sales. This applies to huge corporations, to small companies and to individuals.

Are you hungry? Are you willing to be open to new ideas to grow? If not, there's only so much you can cut. If so, you have a chance.

Barry LaBov
CEO, LaBov and Beyond

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Umbrella Story, Part Two--the forgotten

Yesterday, our post was focused on our business parable, The Umbrella Story--the story of an umbrella manufacturer (named Joe) and the store owner (named Bill). They at first forged a partnership that allowed each to focus on their strengths. As time rolled on, their relationship deteriorated to the point that they were almost enemies.

In the book, the biggest challenge they faced was a character named "Dawn." Dawn ran a communication company called the "Loudspeaker" which enabled her to sell product to the masses. Look at Dawn as, for example, the Internet. A disruptive technology.

This new technology formed a wedge between Joe and Bill. To sell the product this way changed everything. Both Joe and Bill were threatened and this drew them to meet.

They both realized that throughout the years they focused on selfish interests--their profit, their expansions, their gamesmanship with each other. During this time of impending doom, they both realized they had forgotten the most important issue:

The customer.

The redoubled their efforts to work together and to work with Dawn and her new technology. They couldn't go back to the old way of business, but they could still enjoy success together and make the customer happy.

Isn't that where we are today? Manufacturers are making decisions, dealers and other small businesses are making decisions to cut back or reduce offerings. Shouldn't we be focusing on what the customer wants and what they'd be happy to pay money for?

Barry LaBov, CEO
LaBov and Beyond