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  • Aspire » Marketing

    30 Jun


    How do people think about you?

    You hear business pundits talk about the importance of marketing and branding all the time – and if you happen to be a huge multi-national conglomerate you likely have a large team of people and a huge budget to help you with your ‘branding’.  For the rest of us, branding is really your reputation (what people think of you)…and marketing (or creating that brand / reputation) is all about influencing what people think about you.  It’s driven by how you interact with those around you – clients, customers, employees, vendors, partners, businesses in your building, anyone you come in contact with.

    So with all of that in mind – how do people think about you and your business? When’s the last time you gave that any thought?

    Maybe they don’t think of you. If that’s the case, you’re probably having a difficult time with lead generation and sales.

    Maybe they have a negative impression of you – it doesn’t take much…an employee who’s rude to someone, a bad review on social media for any reason or a miss on what you deliver versus what someone expected. Whatever the cause once you start having a negative reputation…a negative brand…it can be very difficult to overcome.  (Think about the last time you were considering trying a new restaurant and you saw a couple of negative reviews…were you excited to check it out?).

    Of course you don’t have to be perfect (which is a relief…because that’s not going to happen) but you do have to be purposely trying to build a positive reputation on an ongoing basis…or the negative stuff is likely to overwhelm you.

    How to build a better reputation

    There are lots of ways to build a great reputation – but here are 3 things that are worth considering as a starting point:

    1. Find a way to add value (in addition to your product or service)

    Presumably you have a great product or service – if not, then building a better reputation is going to be impossible. But beyond delivery of your core product and service, how could you add value to your potential clients (or to others)? A few quick thoughts:

    • Educate me – you’re an expert in your field…teach me (via blog, video, ebook, etc) stuff I don’t know but should know…or teach me how to solve related issues or simpler issues on my own.
    • Give me tools or resources – create an app that would be useful to me or a checklist to help me identify my problem…or a list of great books or articles I could read to become smarter about my challenges.
    • Show me what goes on behind the curtains – you don’t have to give away trade secrets, but let potential customers in on how you work your magic or do the cool stuff that you do.

    When you can help others, not only will they appreciate it but they will likely tell others…and you’ve also established yourself as a go-to expert / resource which is a great place to be when they are ready to buy.

    2. Be a connector

    You’ve likely heard the saying…”It’s not what you know, but who you know that makes the difference.”  Everyone is looking for the right connection – maybe they need a great banker…or CPA…or they’re looking for an investment to make…or they want to get in shape and lose some weight.

    You already know a lot of great people – through personal experiences or just meeting them along the way and if you make it something you focus on, you can actively start building up a very valuable list of people who are worth introducing. And from there it’s just a matter of trying to find ways to connect people you meet with others in situations that have potential to be a win-win.

    It seems like a straight forward thing to do – but very few people actually do it (so it’s a good opportunity to stand out).

    3. Always exceed expectations

    This is also a simple idea that can be challenging to pull off consistently. There are actually two components to exceeding expectations – you have to Under Promise…and Over Deliver.  Under promising is often very difficult because it’s human nature to want to say ‘Yes’ to things and to make people feel good up front.

    When a potential client asks if they can get that by next week – your instinct will be to tell them ‘yes’ and then scramble on how you might possibly achieve that.  Instead – tell them it will take 2 weeks but it will be great…and then surprise them by doing it in a week and a half.

    The best way to consistently exceed expectations is to make Under promising and over delivering part of your overall process. Hold regular brainstorming sessions on different ways you can surprise your customers and build that into your daily operations.

    At it’s core, marketing is all about building that better brand…that better reputation, but it doesn’t happen on it’s own – it has to be something you are doing on purpose and working on all the time.

    What other ideas do you have on building a better reputation? Do these make sense to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach


    14 Apr
    picture by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

    picture by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

    If you’re like most business owners I know, you would like to be more effective when it comes to marketing – and it turns out there is a recipe that can help you do just that if you’re willing to give it a try. I’ve had the “opportunity” to do a lot of travelling the last few weeks – spring break with the family, a couple of trips to Richmond VA to deliver training and down to Dallas for a nephew’s wedding. All of that airport / travel time has helped me realize 2 key things:

    1. Flying, especially if you have to make a connection somewhere, is a lot more like gambling than it should be. There are a lot of things that can and likely will go wrong. Especially if you’re on US Air…or if you’re flying through Charlotte…or Philadelphia…

    2. There’s a huge volume and variety of people out in the world. When you head out and spend some quality time at multiple airports you start to realize just how big our little corner of the world actually is – an average flight might have 130 or so people onboard…but in a 4 hour period of time (waiting for your flight that got bumped) you will literally see 1000’s of people from all walks of life and from all sorts of places.

    And – they all have a story.

    I’m not necessarily talking about an epic Hollywood blockbuster kind of story (although I guess that’s possible) – but simple stories – who they are, what they’re all about or even just why they’re travelling. Here are a couple of quick examples that I found:

    – the woman bringing her 8 week old puppy home for the first time after picking him up at the breeder (and the dozens of people nearby who were conflicted by how cute the puppy was and how they hoped they weren’t going to be sitting near her for the flight…).

    – the man who got rerouted at the last minute and ended up with a middle seat…but made up for that by spending the entire 2 hour flight talking about his family and how excited he was to catch up with his grandchildren.

    – the woman who explicitly detailed out her most recent romantic encounter with a guy she’s been wanting to go out with for a couple of years (she was talking to a friend of hers on the phone…and I wasn’t trying to listen, but she was over 20 feet away and clear as a bell with way too much information….).

    Stories are how we connect and engage…

    Anyway – the point is that all the people we see every single day have stories to tell. And it’s those stories that others relate to. It’s a story that grabs your attention and educates you, entertains you or informs you.

    Studies have shown that the single best way to get a point across to someone is in the form of a story. We are physically wired to relate to stories – in fact your brain can’t always tell the difference between what’s happening to you in real life vs. what’s happening to the main character in a story (which is why your body sometimes responds with adrenaline, higher heart rate, etc. to exciting movies and books).

    As a business owner one of your biggest challenges is getting the right people to engage with you…getting people to decide they want to buy your stuff. That’s where YOUR stories come in – and it’s a distinct lack of those stories (or any kind of personal engagement) that makes marketing a challenge for a lot of businesses.

    Does your About page have a story?

    If I’m checking out a new business one of the first things I’m likely to do is to go check out their About page (or the equivalent). There’s almost always something on their website that gives some background but rarely is there anything engaging. Going back to the story concept – I want to know who you are (give me some pictures or at least a background), I want to something what makes you tick…yes I want to know what you do, but I really am interested in why you’re doing it. If possible I’d like to have a story makes it all come together.

    Take a quick look at your About page. Is it possible that you could cut and paste your page into someone else’s website and no one would know the difference?  Does it look and feel corporate and too professional?

    I first saw this sentiment from Jeffrey Gitomer in his Little Black Book of Connections but I’m sure it’s been covered in a lot of other places:

    “People buy from people that they Know, Like and Trust”

    Based on your about page, can people start to get to Know, Like and Trust you? Are there other ways they can do that on your website (personal videos? blog posts? pod casts?).

    It’s a big world out there but everyone has a story to tell and the best way to get people to start engaging with you is to make sure you’re telling your story.

    What do you think? Are stories important? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach


    02 Jun
    picture by Magdalena Roeseler via Flickr

    picture by Magdalena Roeseler via Flickr

    A friend of mine and I went to a new restaurant the other day. It’s billed as a cool, new trendy place and we were both looking forward to checking it out. When we got there, there was a bit of a line…and we were thinking “great – it’s a popular place and they’re doing well”.  But a few minutes in line told a different story – here’s what we observed:

    • The place was kind of a mess, several tables hadn’t been cleaned and it just generally didn’t look tidy
    • It was loud, but not in an energizing way, more of an annoying I need to shout to be heard kind of loud
    • And the line? It turns out they weren’t really that busy, it was more that the counter staff didn’t know what they were doing (and on top of that, they were kind of rude).

    To be fair, this was a new place and hopefully they’ll turn things around. The food was good, but not great but more importantly the overall experience was certainly not something that would bring most people back.

    What does this have to do with marketing?


    This new restaurant had spent some solid money on branding, flyers, events and PR to get the word out – they were using several marketing tactics to get people talking and checking out their new restaurant.

    But the greatest flyer in the world, the greatest ad ever isn’t going to impact the experience people have when they actually come into your business or become a customer. What many business owners don’t understand is that every single touch point that you have with someone is marketing.

    Companies don’t get to define their own brand, the customers and the public will define it for them based on their experience (and then they’ll share it with hundreds of people via social media or sites like Yelp).

    That’s why Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) said:

    “Your culture is your brand”.

    And way before that David Packard (co-Founder of Hewlett Packard) said:

    “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department”.

    We’ve all been to that store that is immaculate, with clever displays, super friendly (and genuine) staff and an overall warm ambiance that makes you feel like you’re wanted there. It’s the type of store that you want to buy something in just because you appreciate what they stand for and how they operate.

    Or how about the online retail experiences that educate or entertain first with consistent style and attention to detail?  Sites like The Grommet with lots of informative ideas on new products or ManCrates.com, a company that seems to really enjoy what they’re doing and have a lot of fun sharing their products and ideas.

    The difference is in the details and as Andy Sernovitz said:

    “Marketing is what you do, not what you say”.

    How can you apply this to your marketing?

    The first step is counter-intuitive. You need to figure out who you really are. What do you stand for? What are your core values? That becomes the foundation for everything else.

    Once you’re clear on who you are (which includes ‘Why’ you do what you do), then you can define / re-define your products or services so they align with who you are.

    Also – while you’re reviewing your product or service, it’s a good time to do a pricing /revenue / profitability review.  You don’t want to ramp up your marketing for a product that’s not making money. That’s a sure way to accelerate going out of business.

    Finally – before you even consider creating any promotions, you need to spend some time designing and implementing the customer experience for your product or service. What are all of the touch points that potential customers and customers have with you? Are they positive and do they fit with your brand? Here’s a short list just to get you thinking:

    • How do you answer the phone? Do you do it consistently and does it fit with your culture and brand?
    • If you have a physical space, does it reflect who you are (or at least who you’re trying to be)?
    • Do your front line employees…anyone that talks to customers, really ‘get’ how they need to interact? Should you train them?
    • Does your packaging fit with your message and who you are?
    • How about the little things that aren’t directly tied to the product or service? Bathrooms? Parking Lots? Invoices? Website? Any mailings that go out for anything…? How people dress? How people talk?

    It’s not easy to build this kind of environment and it gets more difficult with larger businesses, but it’s critical if you want to be effective at marketing in the long run – it’s the only way to avoid an expensive marketing cycle (thanks to my friend Cindy Piva for this graphic):

    expensive marketing cycle

    Are you thinking about implementing a new marketing campaign? Maybe it’s time to review the little things first?

    What do you think of this idea? Is it something you’ve considered with your marketing before? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    03 Mar


    If you’re like most business owners, you didn’t start your business because you really liked marketing (unless of course you started a marketing business…).

    But if you’ve been in business for any time at all, you’ve probably realized that it’s pretty important to find ways to get people to hold up their hand and say “I’d like to learn more about your stuff.”.

    That’s marketing.

    And it can be really challenging (even for marketing professionals) to find a consistent, viable way to get people to hold up their hand and approach you.

    In Jay Baer’s book Youtility he makes a lot of great points, but it all starts with the observation that we are all being buried by promotions coming at us from every possible angle – the marketplace is really noisy and it can be almost impossible to be heard…especially if you sound just like everyone else.  The central point behind Youtility is that you have a choice when it comes to marketing in today’s environment.

    You can either be amazing or you can be useful – and it’s really difficult to be amazing, especially on a consistent basis (just ask those companies who are spending millions on clever ads or trying to go ‘viral’).

    Useful however, is a lot more straightforward. If your business solves problems (either as a product or a service), then you are already useful.  The question is how can you extend that usefulness and turn it into free marketing?  Side note – if your business isn’t really solving problems, you’re not going to be in business very long anyway…!

    Here a few examples that might get your mind moving towards how you could develop some Youtility type marketing:

    Taxi Mike’s Dining Guide

    If you ever go to Banff  (beautiful ski resort area in Canada) then you’re going to want to check out Taxi Mike. Although Banff is fairly small, it’s really busy and there are a lot of taxi companies you could choose from. However only one of them has created a really helpful dining guide to help you figure out what bar or restaurant you should check out while you’re in town. It’s a comprehensive listing that’s updated very few months and distributed out to places all over town (and on his website). So whatever you’re looking for, Taxi Mike’s guide can help you find it.  And if you’d like a ride to get there, his phone number is conveniently listed on the helpful guide as well.  Simple, useful and something any traveler will appreciate (which happens to be the group that Taxi Mike wants to be friends with).



    Kleenex Cold and Flu Predictor

    Obviously Kleenex knows a lot about cold and flu season – it’s a big driver for their primary product line. Using that expertise and data from the Centers for Disease Control, Kleenex has created a web app that can help you get ahead of when the next outbreak is coming to your area.  Check out My-achoo.com and enter in your zip code to get the forecast for your area in terms of how likely colds and flu are to be in your area over the next 3 weeks. On top of that, the site is loaded with tips and ideas to help you weather cold and flu season as well.  This one is a bit more gimmicky and it’s hard to say how useful it is in terms of predicting the flu for your family, but it is helpful and it’s a creative way to share their knowledge.


    Client Kudos Sunday Snippets

    Over the last couple of years, I’ve told everyone I know that they need to be signed up for John Stevenson’s Sunday Snippets. John is the founder of Client Kudos (and a friend of mine) and I don’t know that I could find a better example of how to add a ton of value to your potential clients (and lots of other people as well). Every Sunday John sends out a snippet…a short article that highlights great ideas that business owners and professionals would benefit from. They’re quick, easy to read and add a lot of value. They also highlight how John and his team think and indirectly illustrate a lot of the ways they help out their clients. Could your business have your own version of a Snippet like service that you could offer?



    Ikea Montreal Moving Day

    Another Canadian example (maybe they’re just inherently helpful…).  I’m not sure why, but in Montreal a large number of people end up moving to a new place on July 1st – those crazy Canadians call it Moving Day.  Over the last couple of years, the Ikea stores in Montreal have jumped on this bandwagon by giving away moving boxes to the 225,000 people who are moving. The boxes are 85% recycled material and printed with clever moving related phrases and also offer a discount to the Ikea stores. People who move are also likely in the market for new furniture and a good group for Ikea to make friends with.



    UTEC – Billboard that makes water

    This one is really cool. UTEC is a University in Lima, Peru that specializes in Engineering and Technology and they constantly need to be attracting smart students who want to learn to do cool things that matter. Lima is the capitol of Peru with about 7.6 million people…but it also happens to be located in a coastal desert region…they’re right on the ocean but they only get about 1/2 an inch of rain every year.  However because they’re right on the ocean, it’s incredibly humid there – close to 100% a lot of times. The end result – a lot of people struggle to get enough drinking water.  Enter UTEC and their new billboard – which is engineered to act as a water collector and creates drinkable water (with some electricity needed) and sends it to a faucet at the base of the sign.  This one sign has created 2500 gallons of water in just 3 months…according to UTEC that’s enough to support hundreds of families with drinking water.  There’s a much more in-depth explanation in this article. Or check out this great video:

    Click here if you can’t see the video.

    Unfortunately there’s not a silver bullet when it comes to marketing, but a little creativity and a goal to make something really useful can take you a long way.  What useful marketing have you seen…or developed?  Share your thoughts below – we’d love to hear from you.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    Rock City Barn picture from Brent Moore via Flickr

    20 Jan
    Photo by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

    Photo by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

    It is really noisy out there…and I’m not talking about the kids on your street…although that may be true as well.

    I’m talking about the noise in the marketplace. You know the overwhelming avalanche of information that we’re all subjected to every single day. Being on the receiving end is difficult and we’ve mostly developed filtering strategies to keep us sane.

    But if you’re a small business owner trying to be heard over all that noise, you’ve got an even bigger challenge. People won’t buy your stuff if they can’t hear you and don’t know what you’re doing.

    And if you sound like everyone else, then you’re just part of the noise and it’s unlikely that you’re marketing is helping you.

    That’s the premise of Marty Neumeier’s book ‘Zag – the #1 Strategy of High Performance Brands‘. You can summarize the idea to a simple thought – if everyone else is zigging, you should be zagging.

    What’s your Brand?

    Most entrepreneurs and business owners don’t think much about branding – they’re too busy running their business, but it’s critical to your success, especially as Marty Neumeier defines it:

    “A Brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company.”

    Your brand isn’t your logo or your latest ad campaign, your brand is what your customers or potential customers feel about you. They get to decide, all you can do is educate them – think of it more as your reputation. A great reputation can push you to new heights with little effort…a bad reputation (or brand) will make it impossible for you to succeed.

    There’s a great infographic from the book that you may have seen before that really summarizes different aspects of marketing, including branding – which one seems most compelling to you.


    Aspects of Marketing from Zag by Marty Neumeier

    The problem that most business owners have is that they don’t really have a Brand…they don’t necessarily stand for anything or they sound like everyone else in their industry.

    What do you stand for? What’s the promise you’re making? Are you fulfilling that promise?

    One way to test this is to do an ONLY check…you need to be able to simply and concisely fill out the following sentence – the first blank is your industry / category and the second blank describes your Zag…what makes you different.

    The ONLY ___________ that __________.

    If you can’t come up with an ONLY that’s meaningful and fairly short, then you don’t have a Zag and you need to give it more thought (the majority of the book is a 17 step audit process that helps you think through how to develop your Zag).

    Your potential customers want to understand you. They want to know what makes you different from others in your industry – and that difference has to be meaningful and radical.  Something like: “The Only Bank on the corner of College and Metcalf.” doesn’t cut it. It may technically be true, but it’s not meaningful and certainly not radical.  Compare that to: “The Only bank in Kansas City that is proactively helping small business owners succeed.” If you’re a small business owner, which of those is going to be more intriguing to you?

    Note – having a great Only statement is critical, but it will backfire in a huge way if you don’t hold up the promise across all aspects of your business. It’s not just something you say, it must be what you do and who you are every single day.

    Some other possible examples:

    Chipotle – The Only fast food Mexican restaurant that uses organic, healthy ingredients and fresh food made right in front of you.

    Southwest Airlines – The Only major airline that puts the customer first and makes it fun to fly.

    ProCore Resources – The Only Salesforce.com consulting company that focuses on your business processes before considering the technology solution.

    What’s your Only?

    On the surface, it’s a simple exercise but for most it’s a huge challenge to come up with a meaningful Only statement…and without that you don’t have a Zag and you’re getting lost in the noise.

    What Only statements can you think of? What’s the Only statement for your business? Have you thought about it before?

    We’re still working on the Aspire Only statement (I don’t know that you’re ever completely done) but for now it’s something along the lines of:  “Aspire is the Only Business Consulting / Coaching firm that uses experienced, certified Professional Business Coaches to help Kansas City business owners win the game of business.

    Share your thoughts and examples in the comments below – we’d love to hear them.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach