Tag Archives: Branding

True North Sports & Entertainment

Well, going to start off the month with one that very few people will have any sort of issue with. The local company that brought back our beloved Jets, which now that I’ve mentioned that’s all I’m going to say about the hockey club.

It wouldn’t be much of a post and there are thousands of people who could write it better than me. I’m also a huge fan of True North as a company for more reasons than just them bringing professional hockey back to the city, including what they did leading up and the process they went through in order to reach their goals.

The first thing that I’ve wanted to say, but haven’t had a post to do it before is that how much does every marketing / brand person watching a game salivate every time the crowd shouts “TRUE NORTH!” during the national anthem. I sure don’t remember that happening in Moose games, and while I can’t imagine a situation where when naming the company this possibility came up as a real consideration, it’s still pretty sweet.

Accidental branding perks aside, the lead up to getting the Jets back is what I like most about them. TNSE knew that there would have to be baby steps and waiting, as well as learning from the past Jets owners’s mistakes.

Starting years before the team was a possibility TNSE set the goal of getting professional hockey back and knew that they would need a facility. Enter the MTS Centre. Owning the building that the team would play in was a big lesson that they had learned.

Unfortunately, Winnipeg isn’t anywhere near wherever Field of Dreams is set, because once it was built it would be a while before it would come. So in the mean time the Moose were acquired and run with a great level of professionalism. Using the NHL’s farm system to show they had what it took to operate a pro sports team, like with players they hoped that it showed they had the skills to make it to the big leagues.

Not only that, since the Moose wasn’t enough of a draw to keep the MTS Centre profitable, True North worked to make it the busiest venue in North America. Acts which likely would have been passing Winnipeg over before were now selling out arena shows, and as a music fan I got to be one of the many to reap the benefits. It was of particular satisfaction when friends from other markets travelled into town to see an act they weren’t getting.

By proving that they could run a hockey club and could keep cash flows positive without relying on huge team revenue, True North Sports & Entertainment brought back the NHL in a very “Winnipeg” way: By quietly being better than anyone expected, waiting patiently and positioning themselves as the clear choice for the next opportunity to relocate a team.

Not only all of this, but the TNSE leadership seems to have always seen the best in Winnipeg, the Winnipeg the rest of us want our city to be. For that I salute them the most.

Scalable Skills

Being a business grad can be a tricky thing. Regardless of the program that you went through, the exact technical skills required for any job were not something that you likely learned in school. I’m sure it’s like this for all people starting jobs, but I like to write what I know.

What’s more is it seems like there’s a very strong bias to those who have done the exact thing that a company is hiring for when filling roles. Regardless of how well you did anything in the past, if you can somehow make your experience sound like it fits in the box that they are lumping things in, you’re the type of person that they want!

While I’m not saying that a level of proficiency related to the position being hired for is important, I do think that there is something to be said about a person who doesn’t have direct experience, but has a related skill set. That way you have someone who has obviously learned a similar job and your company gets the opportunity to train them. You’re not hiring some other company’s bad habits.

All of this, in my mind, is yet another reason that a side business is a great idea for any new grad. While you likely won’t get the exact experience that is needed for a job you’re applying for, there is a high likelihood that you will have done something related. The key is being able to communicate that your skills are scalable.

Talking about my experience (again, writing what I know), I’ve been intimately involved in the development, evolution and re-development of a product. In financial management, marketing, sales, project management, service delivery, customer interfacing, researching and now hiring. There’s likely more.

Would any of those experiences be to the same extent as if I was working in one of those functions at a larger company? Likely not. Are they still valuable and show that I’m not only able to learn what is needed, but identify what that need is? Yep.

I’m here to tell you, anyone can do this.

Even if you don’t want to start a business for yourself, there is always some crossover in your job or volunteer work. Just because you had a certain title doesn’t mean you weren’t exposed to other skill sets, so make sure that you really think about what they were and how it felt to perform those tasks. They may end up coming in handy in the future.

BBM Backlash

Well, BBM is here for iPhones and Androids and there is a very predictable backlash going on: People are very publicly stating all their reasons for wanting to or not wanting to download the program. I really hope this doesn’t become a trend for all apps that are released…

But of course it won’t! The only reason that there is such a strong reaction is because it is a program that RIM put out there for non-Blackberry devices. I think that it is safe to say to all those who are posting passionate comments on Facebook about why they will absolutely never download BBM (even though they have never tried it), is that no one cares. I repeat NO ONE CARES.

I find it hard to believe that anyone has dozens of friends hounding them day in and day out to get on BBM, interrupting meals and keeping the individual up at night. Or strangers stopping them in public to spread the BBM good news. No, this is some oddly pressured decision you have put on yourself and anyone that you currently text with will likely continue to text with you in the future, regardless of your intent to download a free app or not.

What’s more, for some people and businesses, BBM is a program that really could have some use. If Apple or some other company came out with it, it would probably be lauded as the best communication and collaboration app out there, but since it was given to us by the easy-to-hate-for-no-reason RIM, that won’t happen. People’s weird, irrational belief that RIM is the devil and because they make phones that are deemed inferior it is good when the company does poorly and thousands of Canadians lose their jobs.

So if you have no need for a program that allows you to avoid international texting fees, or collaborate and share information with a number of people, then don’t download the program. Believe me, there’s no hard feelings.

What’s in a Title?

After my last LinkedIn post I’ve had a few conversations with people about the LI community in general. Something that keeps coming up in that conversation is the level of importance placed on titles, rather than the description of the jobs. This isn’t something I had thought too much of before, but after my friends mentioned it to me, it was hard not to notice.

Other than the person’s name and picture, the job title is the highest importance in a LinkedIn profile. Company, education and actual experience is all secondary or lower. While this may be appropriate when comparing apples to apples, considering every company has a different culture and titling standards, the title could be very misleading.

I can use myself as an example.

Having a side business means that I can make up any title I want. My dad once joked that I should call myself CEO, because all “real” companies have a CEO and there’s no one who could stop me.

When “giving” myself a title, which appears essentially only on LinkedIn and my resume (don’t have titles on our business cards because we’re progressive like that) I settled on President. I a little reluctant to admit, but I did this for essentially the reason that my dad joked about: A company should have a president and why the hell not?

I didn’t really give the decision a second thought, until I said the title out loud. It sounded fake to me and I felt like a phony even saying it, but since it came up so rarely I didn’t do anything about it and it stayed like that for years.

What got me thinking about it again was when I started getting LinkedIn solicitations for other president jobs and services a president of a company may consider. To me it’s just a joke, but at the same time I was getting irritated by the irrelevant information that was coming my way.

I’m happy to say that at the time of writing this I’ve changed my title on the all important LinkedIn to simple Co-Founder. While it may seem like a bit of a demotion, I can assure you I will be performing the exact same duties as I was as President. The other little victory in this one is that I have set a goal for the company before we give out official titles, so there is now something to work toward.

As a take-away from this is to take titles with a grain of salt. I’ve stated before that human relationships and interactions are complicated and short-hands like titles can make it easier to be able to classify people we meet, but if there is a possibility of this person coming to work for or do business for you, it’s probably a good idea to dig a little deeper than what it currently says on a business card.

Miley Marketing

That’s right, I’m writing a post about Miley’s performance at the VMAs. Everyone else on the internet is, why not me?

The disclaimer is that I honestly haven’t watched the performance from front to back, but I believe that I have seen enough news clips and memes to get the general picture.

To get it out there, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that what was done was pretty trashy and not the sort of thing that teen girls should be seeing. First off, the fact that a woman who is/was a role model to girls would perform that Robin Thicke song (which I hate and is the absolute wrong message that any little girl or boy should be hearing) is a tell-tale sign of what sort of statement is going to be made here.

Putting aside the actual content of the performance, though, it is hard to argue that it wasn’t effective. Here we are three days later and it’s still being talked about on news sites, social media and over water coolers. In the age where things are old news in roughly an hour, that is quite the feat.

Not only this, but the story has transcended channels, showing up not just as entertainment news, but a leading story. It was on the home page of CNN.com, for goodness’ sake. The same space that is used to announce Presidents, report tragedies and inform the world had Miley twerking on it.

As they say, though, sometimes the ends justify the means and this was a marketing success. We’re the ones that stay interested, so the entertainment world is going to keep giving us what we (apparently) want. No press is bad press and it would be hard to argue that with that performance Miley reached out to a new fan base, beyond teenage girls.

I fully realize that this is a small contribution to the problem. I’m just calling it as I see it, though, and from a purely marketing standpoint it’s hard to say that there wasn’t a level of success. Her having to deal with the fallout of being in what is basically an internationally broadcast strip show is a completely different matter.

So again, you may be like me and don’t personally agree with the style of performance or what this supposed “role model” is doing, but damn sure we’re all going to be watching to see what she does next.

Scary Social Media

Mainstream social media has been around for a few years and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere any time soon. Like all new communication mediums, there is both excitement and anxiety about your company marketing along this new channel. It’s best to step back, take a breath and tell yourself it’s all going to be ok.

First, although it is something new and different, the basic principles of selecting advertising mediums still apply. Every time there is a revolution in information consumption, there are marketing opportunities close behind. In that sense, the recent boom of social media can be likened to the first online advertising, television, radio and even print media. Social media is just the latest in a long line of innovations, but it’s not likely to be the last.

While there may be “marketers” out there using scare tactics to try and make business owners and marketing managers believe that if their company is not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, etc. they are dead in the water, in many (or even most) cases that simply isn’t true. It all comes down to whether or not your customers are using the medium or not.

To put it another way, if the customers you are targeting aren’t going to engage with your company on social media, it doesn’t really matter if you are on it or not. The same way a company doesn’t have to advertise on tv, or in the newspaper, or on the radio, and on and on. It’s that simple.

The thing that sucks people into thinking they need social media, if I were to take a guess, is two things:

  1. The fact it’s free, and;
  2. The fact your customers have the chance to interact with you.

Neither or those are particularly true, nor are they necessarily appealing as they seem.

First, posting online may be free in terms of dollars (though Facebook is trying hard to change this), but there is always a time cost associated with everything that you do as a business owner. If you’re taking the time to come up with meaningful posts, that is time taken away from other tasks, usually in the middle of the day. This time adds up and if none of your clients are on social media, it’s spinning your creative wheels while getting nowhere.

The second fallacy is customer interaction. While it may be true, unfortunately the interaction is usually negative. Few people will take the time to say something positive on a company’s Facebook page, but everyone will post a complaint. This is a public venue and you will want to deal with it quickly, taking up more time in your day.

At the end of they day you need to decide if social media is right for your brand. If you truly thing you will win loyal customers from it, then all the power to you. If you doubt that your market is even paying attention, focus on other efforts and don’t let some marketer bully you into it.

Brand Basics

In my job we’re fortunate enough to speak with a good number of people starting businesses. I actually can’t think of an extended period of time where we haven’t been speaking to a new entrepreneur.

It’s a very exciting time for them and there are a million and one things to worry about. Knowing that I’m completely ignoring everything logistic, there is one piece of marketing that should not be overlook, which is taking some time to think about the brand.

While branding can mean a hundred different things to one hundred different people, there are a few fundamentals that you should think about when starting a business that will save you time, heartache and money down the line

Name is number one.

Take time developing your company’s name. Understand what it means if it’s descriptive (Dan’s Hot Dog Stand) or not (Cerebral Inc.). If you’re going to use a real word or make one up. How the name translates (i.e. is if offensive in another language). Make sure it’s not complicated for people to say and if there is some awesome, deep meaning, assume people won’t know or care.

After considering these things RESERVE THE URL. Even if you’re not going to build a website just yet, do it. It’s like$15 for most addresses.

Get a pro to develop a visual look and feel. 

Don’t do it yourself, don’t go on Kijiji and find the cheapest rate possible. Just do it. I’m not saying that because I work in the industry, I’m saying that as a consumer. If I see a crappy logo / font treatment / colour scheme I assume the company sucks.

Think of a tone and personality for your communications.

Every company should have it’s own personality, and the tone that comes from that. If you’re starting a one-person consulting shop, this will likely come pretty easy. If you’re starting a baby food company, you likely don’t want to be communicating on “your” voice, the company needs it’s own.

Guard your brand carefully.

You don’t need to go through an extensive exercise, but make sure to keep a one-pager of brand attributes. Ensure that all your communications are in line with this document, and therefore the image of your company. Make sure to share this with all employees and anyone working on your marketing, to ensure that you are not the only keeper of the brand.

Also, make sure to revisit the brand as the company grows. If there are products or services that don’t fit with the initial structure, it may be time to reconsider the framework, or even split off into a new product line / company.

Put the “C” in Customer Service

In this case the “c” stands for crabby. You can let your imagination go on the word that I actually though of after the encounter I’m about to describe.

Normally I think I’m ok when it comes to useless customer service representatives. They usually have no power to make a real difference and are usually discouraged from using their brain, instead following narrow scripts that don’t really address the issue you have. Note: For an excellent book about the opposite of this method and how all customer service should be read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com.

For the reasons stated above I keep my cool and tend to let CSRs off the hook, but an encounter today (June 11) set me off and I’m now compelled to dissect it to come to some sort of peace. I’ll recount my story, marking the sections that pushed my buttons and explain why below. First some background:

I have two Visa cards. My primary and a secondary with the lowest limit possible. I use the secondary for parking meters, online purchases, etc. Basically any transaction that is higher risk, so if the card is compromised, I only have to worry about a $500 limit, not the one that’s higher than that and has all my bill payments coming off of it. The secondary card has been a bit spotty lately, but I use it so little that it didn’t bother me too much and I didn’t think much of it.

Today, however, I tried to make a purchase over the phone, which didn’t go through. I thought to myself, “enough is enough,” and tried calling CIBC Visa. The following recounts the call.

Started pleasent enough, getting my verification, asking what was wrong. As I started to explain I was interrupted (1) and asked if it was an issue with entering my PIN incorrectly. I said no and tried to explain, but was interrupted again with the same question (2). I said no again at which point I was told that I needed a new card, one was on the way and asked if I needed anything else (3).

At that point I was finally able to spit out that this happened with a telephone transaction. Taken aback I was told there were no notes on the card’s file and I was wrong (4). I’ll admit that at this point I was frustrated, I said goodbye quickly and not to worry about it. In my mind it was clear she was going to be no help, so I was just going to hang up.

As I was taking my phone away from my face I heard her yell that she was going to cancel my credit card (5). This obviously got my attention and I stayed on the line. I got yelled at that I’m not allowed to hang up (6) and if I did my card would be cancelled.

I, as calmly as possible, asked her what she was getting so upset about. She repeated that I can’t hang up and asked if I still wanted a replacement card. I declined and informed her that she essentially said that the card not working is my fault and there’s nothing she can do, so that’s why I was hanging up. At that point she said a quick “bye” and hung up on me (7).

So, here’s the way I see it:

  1.  This is the first time I was interrupted, but it wasn’t the last. A good CSR should hear the whole story before trying to help.
  2. Reasking the same question, especially when you haven’t allowed for me to tell the whole story AND the question implies fault on my end is a huge no-no for me. Never try to make the customer feel stupid. (Side note, this happened to me a month or so ago when I called 311 to report yard waste pick-up being days late on my street. I was asked no fewer than three times each if I put it in the right place [yes] and if my neighbour’s was still out [yes].)
  3. Jumped to an answer, still without fully understanding.
  4. Telling me I’m wrong about the issue I’m reporting. Again, don’t try to make the customer feel dumb.
  5. The customer can hang up at any time. There is no reason to make a threat, just chalk me up as an asshole and let it go.
  6. Yelling and again ordering me around didn’t help her cause.
  7. Hanging up on me, especially when I was told that “wasn’t allowed” isn’t the best way to finish a call.

Always trying to take some sort of positive from an experience, I think that I now know how not to treat people. Seriously, though, I think this is a case for better CSR training and allowing your people go go off script (but not in the way she did).

Being as this is a bank we’re talking about here, I’m guessing there isn’t a lot of empowerment of front-line staff. This person was likely doing everything she was allowed to, which is stay on a script and try to get me off the phone ASAP. I have to say this didn’t make me feel good as a client of over eight years, and a former employee for that matter.

Without empowerment there is frustration and that frustration may be directed at your clients, which is not a good thing for your company. Give people the tools to actually help.

Social Media Strength

For me, it was proven the past couple of weeks that social media (specifically Twitter) is no longer some interesting way to waste time. From crowd-sourcing information about the Boston bombers, to a hacked account that caused huge upset in the financial markets and around the world, there can be some very real results from information shared online.

I have to admit that I was one of the skeptics for a long time. When I was first on Twitter I was mostly following my friends and athletes, but then when I started focusing on news outlets and business people I respected, my entire opinion shifted. Rather than a bunch of random noise, Twitter was actually keeping me informed, to an extent. Not only that, but there was some real advice and insights coming down the tubes. Done were the days of knowing what everyone in my life was eating for breakfast.

Believe it or not, but the “I use it for my news,” explanation would still fall on deaf ears when I was asked by the non-believers why I was wasting my time on Twitter. They had a hard time wrapping their heads around how this micro-blogging site had any use. We now have some real-world examples of how powerful it really is.

The specific case that really does it for me is how the Associated Press’ Twitter account was hacked earlier this week and a prank had some very real concequences. For those of you who didn’t hear, the AP’s account put out a message on Tuesday that read, “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.” Also, just in case you didn’t hear, this wasn’t and still isn’t true.

That didn’t matter, though. This message was retweeted thousands of times and the world took notice. Other news outlets started reporting the “attack” and the stock market lost over $130 billion in value. That’s some real reaction.

This is a great example of how our old-world and new-world ways of gathering information are colliding. In today’s world information is instant and at our fingertips. That being said, the reliability is often questionable and more than ever you can’t take it at face value. In the past there was more investigation when a story broke, but we need to get out of this level of trust.

There are countless marketing lessons from this. First, the fact that Twitter use is very real and can have huge impacts. The untold story is how a brand can be damaged by bad information. The Associated Press lost as many as 95 % of their followers after the incident. That could represent a huge number of consumers to your business.

The two things I take from this is to make sure to check information, both that’s coming into your organization or being pushed out of it. Failure to do so could be damaging for many reasons.

Culture is Your Brand

Most small businesses don’t have huge marketing budgets. This makes sense considering all the different functions which are competing for the resources they need to help the company grow. These factors, along with others like time needing to be devoted to other tasks, means that branding exercises don’t typically happen, let alone full brand strategies.

Some would think that this is a major fault of the companies. Proponents for branding will tell you that it is on of the most important exercises that a young company can go through. There are obviously pros and cons to this, but I would contest that the process doesn’t have to be a large, draw-out, expensive process.

That isn’t to say that the brand isn’t important, quite the contrary. How your employees, customers, suppliers and everyone in-between sees your company could be vital to it’s success. There just doesn’t have to be a formal process or document stating what the brand attributes are, in fact, but focusing it on something that was produced nearly in a vacuum is not wise.

Instead, your company should live it’s brand every day. Not only that, but it should be come from the inside out, not just something that is pushed outward in marketing materials. In short, your culture should drive your brand.

This may not seem to make any sense, but if you consider how the brand of a small business is usually conveyed, it actually does. Without huge marketing plans, the primary point of branding is done through interaction with clients, suppliers and your network. How they see you, as a representative of your company, will directly translate into how they see the company itself.

This is not easy, though. It is all well and good to have lofty goals for culture, and it’s even possible to stick with that plan when things are good, but things will eventually take a turn for the worse and your will be tested. It is difficult to stay the course for the benefit of the long term, when making a short term impact is in your grasp, even if it goes against the culture of the company. Nothing is truly tested until times are tough.

Similarly, any focus you put into your culture likely won’t have an immediate impact on your company’s operations or brand. Both will lag behind, but if your reasoning is sound and you have the buy-in from other stakeholders that is needed, you will eventually see impactful change.

As with everything, your brand needs to develop from inside, then be promoted out to the world. Anything that is not done this way will eventually fail your company. Without making changes at the core, there is now way that you can successfully control how your company is perceived by others.