Category Archives: Business

Marketing Tips For Startups

I was lucky enough to be included in an article today, “25 Startup Marketing Tips To Get Traction,” at MediaLeaders.

Some of my favorite tips from the piece include:

Put up your marketing site and blog at least 6 months prior to launch. – @PlanPod

To get the product in front of your customers you have to work on distribution. – @HarriRautio

Startups should know who their target customers are and which publications they read.- @LydHow

I especially like that last one, because it’s a big part of what we provide at SeeDepth. Not only do we help you to easily measure and score your PR, but our Services team also helps companies – especially startups – understand why a certain publication might be more important than another, and to build a media target list that makes sense. Too many companies waste time and money just hoping to “get coverage” instead of securing coverage in the right places – those that their buying audience actually read.

Click through to read the other tips – here’s mine below (feel free to click and share!). What would you add?

Feature others on your blog so they will spread the news and link back to your site. – @missusP

6 Leadership Mistakes To Avoid

20th Century Fox/Office Space

20th Century Fox/Office Space

I founded my first company in 1998 and my second in 2013. I’ve worked with hundreds of companies as clients in my career – from startups and small businesses to large, enterprises – and have managed employees from coast to coast. So, I’ve seen a lot in regards to leadership, HR and management. I’m not perfect – I believe the best leaders are always learning, just like everyone else – but here are six mistakes I’ve seen leaders repeatedly make.

  1. Micro Managing – Especially at the C-level, leaders should have confidence to let the people they hired do their job (which often includes managing a team of their own). Hold employees accountable with specific goals and metrics – if they don’t meet them, figure out why, together. But if you have to micro manage your team (see their To Do list every day, ask the same questions over and over, etc.), you’ve either hired the wrong people or you’re not focused on the bigger picture.
  2. Being Too Hands-Off – it might seem contradictory to point #1, but you can’t disappear as a leader, either. There’s a difference between paying attention and ensuring everyone is meeting goals, vs stepping away and never checking in on progress towards those goals. It’s not good leadership form to ask, “Is it done?” the day something is due.
  3. Worrying About Everyone’s Feelings. On one hand, you need to lead in a positive manner. On the other hand, this is business. You can’t keep everyone happy, nor should you try. Avoiding conflict or tough decisions due to fear of hurting someone’s feelings is a good way to lead in the wrong direction.
  4. Failure to Dig Into Data. What’s working and what isn’t? If you know, great. But do you take it the next step to find out why something is working or isn’t? With all the data available in business today, smart leaders understand to dig in and analyze it both when things are great – and when they’re not so great. This allows you to repeat winning formulas, and understand the downfalls of your organization so that you can lead to improvement. This includes staff, resources, money, ideas – and all the combinations therein. (And don’t be naive enough to think you’re an organization with no downfalls.)
  5. Wasting Money.  I particularly see this in startups. Especially after said startups close funding. Although, I’ve also seen plenty of it in large enterprises where checks and balances get more difficult to track through multiple layers of spending. It’s always surprised me how many startup CEOs, specifically, don’ t really track where the money goes, and if the spending is wise in relation to where the company is in its lifecycle. It’s easy to get caught up in the visceral items – marketing, events, sponsorships, branding – cool business cards, hiring a big name PR firm, or sponsoring a popular tech publications’ startup event. These are all things I’ve seen (especially first time) founders get excited about because it brings cache and (temporary) attention, and makes things feel “real.” But are those the items that are going to close customers for your early on? Are they helping you to develop a better product? There’s a difference – a big one – between what a startup should be spending on vs a decade-old company with a solid customer base and revenue stream. Good leaders shoot down the more “fun” ideas in the early stages, and keep their teams focused on what’s going to bring in the right elements to the company – and continue to apply that insight during each of its lifecycle and growth stages.
  6. Bad Communication And Failure To Listen. It’s absolutely mind boggling how bad leaders can slow down the progress of a company simply by not listening. They don’t take notes in meetings, don’t record or remember outcomes, interrupt often, and forget what they’ve assigned to, or asked of, people. This results in employees, partners and even vendors having to repeat work, waste time explaining what they’re working on – for the 3rd time this week – and everyone feeling frustrated and misunderstood. Leaders listen. Leaders record. Leaders remember and leaders communicate clearly. Too many leaders think they don’t need to communicate clearly because everyone should just know what they want. This doesn’t work in personal relationships, and it doesn’t work between employer/employee relationships, either. Be clear, be concise, be consistent.

What mistakes have you seen by leaders, and how did it affect you or the company in the long run?

 

Greatness Is Just The Other Side Of Uncomfortable

greatness

This is what I tell myself when I’m in the middle of a tough run, defending myself in a dispute, or getting anxious about my startup and our progress. I think about how great it feels once I’ve pushed through the pain, the fear and the challenge. Accomplishing a goal when I was scared – and kept going anyway – is a reward like no other.

Keep going! You have to go through the challenge to get out on the other side – you can’t go around.

You can do it!

Content Fatigue – You Can’t Be Everything To Everyone, So Stop Trying

I was recently asked by a media outlet what I think is next in social. My answer: content fatigue.

Why?

Brands are trying desperately to push out content – a lot of content. And content is great, it really is. Blogs are a smart part of your content strategy, and it’s an exciting time compared to 15 years ago when most companies relied heavily on third party journalists to publish their key messages (and hope they came across accurately). To be able to post, share and spread our content in exactly the way we want, where we want and when we want is a great thing.

But lately some of the content overload has reminded me of being at a teenage dance, where kids who don’t quite know who they are yet bumble about awkwardly trying to be funny, cool, cute or smart. They wear too much makeup, have extreme hairstyles and wear clothing that they’re clearly uncomfortable in. They’re trying out everything because they’re still figuring out who they are.

dance

Photo original by Barbro Andersen. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Is your brand an awkward teenager still figuring things out, or do you know who you are? Are you a humorous company, so it makes sense to post cat memes? Or are you a serious B2B company for which informative and resourceful infographics make more sense? Is Vine really a network that will reach your audience, or are you just trying it out because it’s “hot” right now? Great, you’ve joined Instagram! How is it contributing to your bottom line success?

I stick to the advice I’ve been giving since brands started to catch on to the social media craze – don’t try to be everything to everyone. Don’t feel like you have to be on every single social network. Stop, calm down and look at your business goals. What are you really trying to accomplish? What other marketing channels are you using? What percent of those should be social? What really works for you, not just the brand next door? Who are you trying to reach and where do they spend their time online?

Too often, companies try to follow suite because “all the cool kids are doing it.” Facebook isn’t sensible for every brand. Twitter might not reach your customers. Some companies don’t have the right resources to use more than one social network, and do it well. Social isn’t a broadly applicable strategy – you’ve got to apply it like you would any other marketing initiative – is this [channel, campaign, update] right for us, what will it help us accomplish and how will we measure success?

No one can be everything to everyone. It’s more compelling to know who you are and be confident in that. Share content relevant to your area of expertise, and your credibility will stay intact while your awareness grows – among the right audience for your company. In the end, isn’t that what really matters – quality over quantity?

JetBlue’s SVP of Commercial on Marketing, Mission Statements & Humanity

It’s too soon to make light of the Bruins loss, that much is clear. I’m on the phone with Marty St. George, SVP of Commercial for JetBlue. Marty is a diehard Bruins fan, having grown up near where I now live, on the South Shore of Boston, Mass., and he’s not happy about their elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs. But regardless, Marty was gracious enough to give me some time to sit down to chat about the airline business, marketing and how a company’s mission ties to its brand. Here’s our chat.

MSG headshot

CP: Tell me about JetBlue’s mission

MSG: Our mission used to be “Bringing humanity back to travel,” but recently, it’s morphed into simply, “Inspire Humanity.” And that’s what we strive to do every day.  Our mission and values are an integral part of what we do at JetBlue – there are so many pieces of the process that we don’t control in the airline industry, but our customers don’t differentiate between what’s us, TSA, air traffic control, etc. – so our goal is to get crew members in this mindset – to own any issues, fix them even if they’re not our fault, and be emphatic and humane. Ultimately, to solve the problem to the best of our ability.

We’re so committed to this mission, that anyone who is hired – including our business partners (our terminology for vendors) – goes through two days of culture training solely focused on ensuring that everyone is clear on expectations for a successful crewmember. We don’t cover duties, but just focus on the mission of the company – how you fit in, how you’ll be evaluated – all in a very inspirational manner. Our CEO is personally in attendance at 90% of these trainings, as are many of our senior leaders, myself included (I teach a module about brand.  A lot of people know the word but they don’t understand what it means.) We’re in a service business so how you react in any situation affects the brand. Even with internal communications, you can’t be rude – it’s simply not good service.

CP: How does this mission tie into one of your most recent ad campaigns – “Air on the Side of Humanity”?

MSG: The “Air on the Side of Humanity” pigeons are really a metaphor that made sense to travelers. For many airlines, you may be an “elite customer” on paper but you don’t get any tangible benefits for that loyalty – no upgrades, etc. – so there is a big part of the traveling market that is underserved. Your fare gets you a cramped seat, but everything else you pay for: seat assignment, ability to bring a bag, to eat food, etc. Yes, you can find cheap flights – and for some, that’s the goal – but there’s a whole other segment that thinks it’s terrible – that the “cheap” airfare isn’t worth it, especially after you’ve paid for all the other “amenities.” The goal of this campaign was to get travelers to recognize this and to create a metaphor that made sense to them, and enlighten them that there’s another way. We had to break through the fact that customers have been made so numb to the airline industry’s downfalls – and view all airlines the same way – that they aren’t open to differences unless they’ve flown us.

And, like all of our campaigns, it had to be something that other airlines would never do. Our ads are distinct – they don’t get mistaken for others.

CP: What are three reasons you believe JetBlue has been able to build a highly respected brand in such a competitive industry?

MSG: There’s only one reason: we recognize it’s a service business. We’re in a service business. It’s not the product (airplane), it’s the service (airline). The industry has become commoditized and we’re building a better mousetrap and securing more business because of that. And of course, we use our mission and values as the North Star around service. That’s key.

CP: You’ve been known to talk about using a lot of data in your marketing strategies. What’s your #1 tip for merging the data side of marketing with the creative side? 

MSG:  Let me start by saying one thing: the CMO/CIO relationship is the most crucial one today and nobody is going to crack the data code without a strong relationship with their CIO.

Assuming you have worked with your CIO to build the right infrastructure, I always come back to one question – what is the problem that we are we trying to solve? The challenge on the data front is that you can go down a rabbit hole by chasing cool, interesting data– but you have to differentiate between insightful ways to solve a problem and a realistic search for the solution of a problem. We’re a small airline, but with 32 million customers a year and 10 million frequent fliers, we have plenty of data – so it’s crucial for us to focus on data that addresses the problems we have and not just the cool, fun sexy data.

CP: Thoughts on social media?

MSG: Brands don’t get to decide what “doing it wrong” means – the customers get to decide it.

A funny side note, in 2007 we were one of the first corporations on Twitter and a guy wrote this fantastic blog post saying “JetBlue is following me on Twitter” – and how ridiculous and wrong he felt it was. At that time, we had to defend ourselves and say, “We’re just trying to help.” Compare that to where we are today – if a brand like ours doesn’t answer someone on social in five minutes, it’s a travesty.

We have a reputation of being one of the top brands in social, and I think that only happened because we had that groundwork of a strong relationship with our customers. When social came around and we had a channel that enabled that one-to-one communication between customers and brands, we were lucky enough to have already built the kind of brand that people WANTED to connect with!

CP: What do you find to be your biggest daily challenge as a marketer?

MSG: Trying to keep a good balance between strategic and tactical. People get really excited about the big brand statements, sexy advertising, etc. but at the same time, I need to measure my ability to fill 100,000 seats a day. Both strategy and tactics are important, but depending on the revenue at any given time, strategy could be off the table and we’re just focusing on tactics, or vice versa. As a CMO, you’re a coach, and it’s your job to ensure that the team has a good balance between strategic vision and practical, tactical execution.

CP: So what’s the biggest goal of your marketing?

MSG: To drive revenue and bookings, period.

CP: What kind of smart phone do you use? What are your “must have” apps?

MSG: iPhone, but I still use an old Microsoft Zune for music. My favorite apps: 1) Twitter (I’m addicted); 2) Google maps (not only does it have good traffic data, it has great transit functionality, which is key in New York) 3) I love Yahoo’s Weather app (in this business weather is important). Oh, and I was glued to the Bruins app until last Wednesday but we’re not talking about that.

CP: What are your “must read” outlets each day?

MSG: I have a long commute (1:45 each way), so I read a lot and I have a routine on the train: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Boston Globe. I also like Yahoo’s news aggregator – the industry module is good for airline news, and I enjoy AdAge and Digiday. I also get a great deal of information from links on Twitter and Facebook.

CP: How often do you travel and where are your favorite locations?

MSG: On average, one trip a week – sometimes less, sometimes more.  I love London, Hong Kong and Dublin. I’m always biased towards Boston, it’s home, and I love Austin, it’s a great city. I most recently discovered Charleston because we just started flying there.

CP: What’s one piece of advice that you would give to a college graduate entering the marketing industry today?

MSG: I’ve got two kids in high school and they roll their eyes when I talk in clichés, but please indulge me: “Find a job you love, and you never work a day in your life.” It’s so true. You can get the most exciting, sexy, lucrative job but if you don’t wake up every morning excited about it, you won’t be good at it.

After eight years at JetBlue, Marty is still excited to get up every day and go to work.

 

 

 

Everything is Everything – And Other Thoughts on Marketing

This month I’ve had the privilege of speaking with two college classes about marketing, PR, business ownership and entrepreneurship. The first two subjects were the plan, but the last two were natural extensions of the students’ questions.

Last week I spoke to undergraduates at Curry College, who were considering a career in PR or marketing and of joining the college’s PRSA chapter. I shared insights on both the positives and negatives of the 20 year career I’ve experienced, although in such a rapidly-changing world, I’m sure it will be very different for them, even as they graduate in the next few years.

This week I spoke to graduate students studying for their MS in Organizational and Professional Communication at Regis College. This group was comprised of both younger and older students, including those considering a second career as business owners, interested in learning how to market and promote their future companies.

What I found interesting about the experiences of speaking to these students was the questions that came from them during the Q&A. This is of course, the reason I enjoy speaking to college classes – there’s no denying the energy and hunger that comes from someone just beginning their career (or hungry enough to be changing it), wide-eyed and excited; sometimes a little nervous. In both cases I was asked to come speak about my career in marketing, although the questions naturally evolved to my experiences as a business owner, a working mother and an entrepreneur. Here are some of the insights I shared – I thought they might also be helpful to you, readers.

  • Take a public speaking class. I wish I had done more of this as a college student. I hated public speaking back then – but the truth is that in marketing, especially today, a great deal of what you do is speaking in front of groups. Whether it’s the Boardroom, a client’s executive team, VCs or the media, persuasive and entertaining speaking skills are a must.
  • You are in sales. Everything we do in marketing is selling something – our ideas, our skills, our stories. You are always selling. Study the psychological fundamentals of what makes a great salesperson.
  • Personal brand matters. A lot of older people want to avoid this topic – they struggle with the idea of a personal brand – but I get constant questions from younger executives on the topic of how I marry my personal and professional self. Your personal brand matters because – since we’re all in sales – it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, people still buy from people. It’s emotional. Even when someone says, “It’s just business” – purchases and decisions are emotionally-based. So building a personal brand that people like, engage with and listen to is crucial for success in today’s social world. (It’s hard to be social and impersonal.)
  • Work/life balance will always be an issue. Another hot topic from crowds I speak to – “How do you do it all?” “Do you ever sleep?” – are questions I’m often asked. The funny thing is that I constantly feel I’m not doing enough, so part of the reason I don’t [seem to] stop is simply personality-driven. But work/life balance is always a challenge – for men and women. The good news is that there is unprecedented opportunity today to create a flexible career – to establish your own company, work virtually or on “off” hours, and find companies who build entire cultures around the issue of work/life balance. Find one from the beginning, and enjoy your life and your career.
  • Everything is Everything. Everything you do matters. Everything you say, write, post, share, do and choose is marketing of some kind in the social media world in which we all now live. Everyone is a marketer (not all good at it), and everything reflects you, your brand, or your company – even if you have that little disclaimer that your thoughts are your own. In other words, you either help attract customers, or push them away. (Supporting the whole people buy from people theory.) Everything is connected – brands can no longer make outlandish claims in advertising or marketing without very public backlash. PR can’t promote exaggerated stories and brands can’t make false promises only to have customer service fail to keep them. Consumers and customers have the inside track now – so everything you do is everything to your company.

Thank you to both Regis College and Curry College for hosting me. It was a pleasure to meet the students, an honor to be able to share my experiences, and a breath of fresh air to hear their enthusiasm for the future of marketing and beyond.

Thinking of Turning That Hobby Into a Small Business? 3 “Can’t Ignore” Things To Consider

When we’re young, it seems we are asked very early on what we want to be when we grow up. I was never married to just one image of my adult self – as most kids aren’t at a young age. We want to be a lot of things – dancer, doctor, vet, Olympic champion, lawyer, horse trainer – the list goes on and on. Yet as we grow up, we are expected to choose just one thing and stick with it. We study it in college or train for it as an apprentice. We toil away to an entry level job in our chosen profession so we can spend years climbing the ladder. Once we get up there, sometimes we stop and remember all those other cool things we wanted to try, often turning them into hobbies that we find play around with from time to time.

But what if you want to reignite your love for something and pursue that dream after all? You find yourself pulled in the entrepreneurial direction to turn your hobby – jewelry design, singing and songwriting, hairdressing, photography, or whatever your passion is – into a business. You’ve found people are interested enough in what you have to offer, and you believe you can make a living this way – so now what?

I can speak from experience that creating a successful business takes a lot more than love for your hobby. You’ll find yourself wearing many hats and you’ve got to prepare to fulfill multiple roles and responsibilities in making the business a success. While you can always hire experts as you grow, be prepared in the early years to think about – and manage – these other elements as well.

Marketing

Although many people feel they are smart enough about their core audience to execute marketing and PR on their own – after all, who knows your story better than you do – they forget the time and resources it takes to do marketing well. How will you develop content that breaks through the noise? Where will you put it – online or off? How will you manage interactions and engagements? Will you have time to maximize your marketing investments to ensure ROI?

As a solo or even partner act, it will be crucial to clearly identify who you want to sell to (who do you believe is going to buy – not just admire – your work?) and choose a few select ways to market intelligently. This includes identifying a strategy to fit your budget and to scale with your ability to meet the needs of any incoming business as a result. The good news is that there are a lot of marketing consultants out there. The bad news is that you have to filter through the myriad of self-proclaimed experts to find the best fit. Don’t just hire someone based on what they say, but on their reputation – because you’re putting your reputation in their hands as well. Check references, ask for case studies and do some easy preliminary online searches. Any great marketer today will have a strong and credible online presence. And that doesn’t just mean numbers of connections – it means having quality connections with influencers, so be sure you’re looking through who they engage with, are linked to or followed by in social networks.

Legal

Ah, the government. There’s a lot to know about owning a business, including state and federal tax filing requirements, personal risk and liability of each type of business (S Corp, LLC? Etc.), rules around hiring contractors vs full time employees and more. Make sure you invest in a great accountant and if possible, a good business and legal advisor who can help make sure you understand and adhere to the ever-changing laws. In addition, each state is different, as are cities. Sometimes, for example, if you’re selling good or services in a state outside of where your business is based, you can be required to pay taxes for the privilege of doing business in that city or state – or both.

In addition, you’ll want help with someone who can crank out appropriate contracts, manage vendor or customers requirements and more. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the myriad of legal requirements in running a business – but they can’t be ignored. So get some good help. Ask other small business owners in your area who they’ve worked with, and ensure you ask for references. Too often, legal counsel takes control and you end up feeling like you work for them. Remember, it’s the opposite – you’re paying them – so find someone smart, assertive and trustworthy that has you and your business’ best interests at heart. And that includes understanding your financial abilities, and working with you in a manner consistent with such.

HR

Time after time, I sit down with business owners, leaders and operators, and HR is always one of the biggest headaches listed. It’s complicated – because people are complicated. But it’s impossible to grow a company without growing staff, so it’s inevitable that managing HR will become a good chunk of how you spend your time. It’s certainly complex enough to be job all on its own – but it isn’t what you set out to do with your life, so get help. From time-intensive recruiting and hiring to emotionally- and sometimes legally-complicated management, I recommend doing your homework and finding an expert (or two) from the get go. This will enable you to focus on your core business, and can often help you to have a better relationship with the people you work with because there’s a conduit to handle tough conversations, keep up with legal requirements and handle the mountains of paperwork involved.

Whether you’re just thinking about starting your own business, or are in the throes of planning and execution, thinking about these core areas will help you get started off on the right foot. I also recommend following small business experts and entities on social networks like Twitter, and reading through the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

Yes, Your Small Business or Startup Can Easily Deploy A Full Marketing Team

I’ve spent the last 20+ years counseling hundreds of startups and small businesses on how to market their business on a very minimal – if existent at all – marketing budget. Too often, I see founders or small business owners wasting valuable time and resources either cobbling together marketing experts, paying ridiculous retainers for a big agency, or trying a DIY approach.

Marketing may seem easy but there is a science to connecting all the dots and choosing the best programs for your company at its current lifecycle. Can you create your own website? Should you take the time to send an email newsletter? Is email outdated and you should focus on digital content or social media instead? How do you drive traffic to your website – and how do you find the right audiences to engage with? And what’s with all this Google Analytics stuff? It can be a lot to take on and keep up with.

There are a few options that can align with your startup budget. You can find an individual marketing expert on sites such as Guru.com (or here, like me!) or multiple experts with different talents at 99Designs.  The challenge here is that you may have to spend more time reviewing resumes and proposals, as well as managing multiple people in various locations and at different levels of expertise.

If your needs are bigger – say, you need everything from a new website to SEO to ongoing marketing management – a third option is to hire a full virtual marketing team to kick off your marketing. Midsize companies, for example Nowspeed – a digital marketing agency here in Boston – can deliver end-to-end online marketing solutions, and require less hands-on management than freelancers at a reasonable cost. In addition, you’ll receive a full team to handle all elements of the most crucial marketing needs of any company:

  • Website design and development – make a great first impression and receive a site that’s easily managed by your team in the long run
  • SEO – drive, manage and audit the right traffic
  • Social media services – cross promote your messages, website, webinars and news; engage with influencers and ensure that your social media strategy is created and executed by experts

One advantage to using an agency like Nowspeed – disclosure, I personally know Founder David Reske and he’s a great guy – is knowing that everything is integrated – providing a consistent and persistent brand image and messaging. That alone is worth the investment – even if in the long run you build an internal team. Using an external agency of senior and seasoned executives can be just the right investment to kick your marketing efforts off on the right foot – and serve as a great training ground for you to manage a future Marketing team.

(Sponsored)

Expectation Is A Killer Of Creation – Breaking The Rules For Success

Last week I wrote this post for Forbes, asking 13 successful women what one attribute helped get them where they are today. Their answers vary, and I encourage you to read through them for inspiration. I didn’t include my answer – it felt a little too unwarranted for the venue – but since many folks have asked me about my one attribute, I thought I’d share it here.

The one trait that has helped me get to where I am today (other attributes have helped me stay) is ignoring the rules. I don’t always ignore all the rules but like my religion, I use them more as a guideline. Often, I purposely won’t look up how something is typically accomplished, because I don’t want to be restricted by the doubts, expectations or opinions that other people’s experiences can put in my mind. If I had followed some of life’s more obvious rules, I wouldn’t have moved to Boston, I wouldn’t have started my own companies and I wouldn’t have worked with some of the really great people I have the privilege of calling colleagues. Sometimes people will say to me, for example, “You can’t ask that,” or “You contacted who?!” – because their own fears of failure, or ego, would have held them back from doing so. Sometimes, expectation is a killer of creation.

What’s one attribute that’s helped you achieve success? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.