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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.

13 Reflections From 2013

As we close yet another year this week, reflection is a natural emotion for many of us. I thought of writing about lessons I’ve learned this year, or 14 business tips for 2014, or even sharing once again my likely-to-be-half-fulfilled resolutions, but I think I’ll simply share some personal and professional reflections from my year. Whether they become guiding principles, shared insights or merely tips of what to do – or not to do – for you, likely depends on your own situation as you enter 2014. In any event, I hope they prove to be helpful in some way or another. As always, thanks for reading.

13.  There is no fair fairy – I grew up with my mother telling me this. I hated it. But she’s right. Life simply isn’t fair, and you’ve got to learn to deal with it. Sitting around comparing the haves with the have nots doesn’t do much to change this fact. Instead, I’m trying to stay focused on what my blessings are, while at the same time recognizing things that aren’t going well, and creating plans to change whatever I can.

12. Two of the most screwed up things about America are our legal system and our health care system. Given the Obama Care challenges, I don’t think I need to explain the latter too much. But quite simply, health care should be something we work hard to ensure everyone has. I’ve seen too many unemployed friends struggle with no health care this year, or insurance agencies denying claims for people who really need help, and have faithfully paid into insurance month after month, year after year for decades – only to be denied help when they need it most. It’s quite despicable, actually, and it isn’t new. We need to work together to fix this longstanding issue in countries worldwide.

I loved law class in college. I dove into it with vigor, enjoyed arguing cases and received an A.  But as I’ve grown older, I’ve unfortunately been exposed to the intricacies of our legal system and the unnecessary billing of lawyers who jack up hours doing things they don’t really need to do. In addition, the entire “innocent until proven guilty” idea is a nice concept but they fail to mention that you have to come up with the money to prove your innocence. This is one of the reasons the rich get richer. They can afford to drag you around the legal system with appeal after appeal – even after you’ve won – and ultimately, you could run out of money and end up unable to defend yourself. If you’ve ever had to answer an interrogatory, you also know how much time and money is wasted – again, increasing bills for items that may never come into play in a case.

11. Divorce sucks. After a painful two-year separation, mine was finalized in early 2013. There’s no getting around it – it sucks. Even if you are the person who initiated the divorce, it still sucks. No one goes into a marriage planning this as the exit (at least no one I know) – but sometimes it’s the only way out of something that went South in a way that you never imagined. The only advice I have is to listen to yourself. Do a LOT of soul searching before making this decision, if you’re the one initiating it – actually, even if you’re not, and you’re the one being left, do a lot of soul searching. Take a sabbatical if you can, read Crazy Time, find a good therapist, and realize you’re not alone. Remember, everything gets better with time. It will never feel quite right no matter what – divorce is, after all, the death of a dream and a life that will not be. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be happy again, but you will likely always feel that loss – even if you’re so angry right now you can’t imagine ever feeling that way – trust me, it will always be a loss.

10.  I’m definitely getting old – I know this not only because of my age, drooping eyelids and new wrinkles, I know because I no longer care about reading celeb rags like US and People, I don’t watch reality TV, I get queasy on roller coasters and for the first time in my life, I have to really try hard to lose weight. But on the positive side, I am nicer to myself and others, I care less about getting everyone’s approval, I accept where my life is, I focus on the positive and am able to let go of the negative (most of the time) more easily than before. I appreciate the insights and internal peace that getting older brings to me.

9. You’re never too old. I read an article this year about entrepreneurs who began new careers or businesses at older ages. Folks like Arianna Huffington, who started Huffington Post at the age of 54, and Sam Walton, who was 44 when he started Walmart. My mother went back to college in her late 40s (I had classes with her!) and my grandfather, who just turned 90 in November, continues to tell jokes, remember birthdays, walk around with no problems and generally be an amazing man. These examples and more inspired me to try some new things near the end of this year – I met with two book publishers, I opened my heart and faced my biggest fear to become a part of the RAINN speakers bureau, and I took on several new career challenges, some of which are not yet public. I may even grab a copy of Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40, although since I’ve owned my first business for 15 years and counting, I don’t really consider myself a “late” bloomer – more of a “constant bloomer” because I always want to try new things. I’m hoping 2014 will be the year several of my new adventures come to fruition.

8. I still have a lot of work to do. I still have to work really hard to not let my problems overwhelm me into thinking everything is bad. I have to push myself to stand up to wrongful situations and negative people, and I have to learn to budget better. But that’s what life is – always improving and learning and moving forward, right?

7. Not everyone is capable of true love. You may not agree with me, but I feel like I finally understand the true definition of love. People are mostly inherently selfish. We want to do what we want to do, go where we want to go. Having a relationship or becoming a parent means compromise. And truly loving someone means that you put them first – that their needs always come before yours. Always. Some people simply are not capable of this. They may care for others, and act loving, but at the end of the day, they put themselves first and that is not love.

6. Being a parent is the most difficult job I’ve ever experienced. I love my boys! I do everything I can to make them feel loved, confident and important. It isn’t always easy because kids are selfish. They are self-centered. They want what they want, when they want it. It’s our job to teach them how to be responsible and loving human beings and to discover the joy of being good to others. But man, it is hard! Especially when they are ungrateful, or they get angry over silly things and call you “the meanest Mom in the world.” This happens. Usually it’s when they don’t get something they want – and although you know they don’t mean it, it still stings. And it also stings to watch them struggle through hard times – some of which are the natural rituals of growing up. You know they have to go through some of these things, and you can’t do it for them – and it’s hard to see them struggle and not be able to fix everything like you could when they were three. But it’s also the most rewarding and amazing job I’ve ever had. I pray every night for their protection and grace, and I thank God for the privilege of being their mother. I hope every parent sees it this way – and that they recognize just how blessed they are to be a Mom or a Dad.

5. You have more faith than you think you do. You might not consider yourself a religious person, but every day you are likely showing faith in one way or another by the choices you make. If you have been heart broken and choose to love again, or you keep driving when the gas tank is on “Empty,” or you borrow money promising to pay it back, or you start a company or take a new job. You don’t know how the story ends – you’re just taking a leap of faith that it will work out. I had a conversation with a family member recently about trust. He’s been hurt pretty badly in love, and he came to the conclusion that no one is trustworthy. It would be an easy train to jump on for most of us, but I have to believe that people are trustworthy most of the time (with some exceptions). We just make mistakes. All of us have made mistakes. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust again. I think we have to focus more on holding ourselves up when things go wrong, vs. avoiding ever being vulnerable. Vulnerability is a part of life – personal and professional. Even at work, you’re making yourself vulnerable if you offer a new idea, right? Just learn to accept that things aren’t perfect – but we can still have faith that in the end, things will somehow work out anyway.

4. Just ask. It’s amazing what can happen when you speak up and ask for what you want. Thank you to those who said “yes” this year – I’m pretty blown away by your kindness and support.

3. If you lie down with mongrel dogs, even for a short nap, you wake up with fleas — and they ride with you wherever you go. When I read this Chinese proverb in a recent article about negating toxic people from your life, I thought “Whew, easier said than done.” I’ve spent the last few years of my life ending a lot of relationships. It’s been hard, and at times very sad, but it’s vital to recognize when you’ve surrounded yourself with people who make you feel bad – and to step away from those people.

2. Let it go. Man, people are angry, huh? In the last week alone I’ve dealt with two incidents of road rage – and I don’t even commute every day, and it’s the holiday season! (And no, it’s not due to bad driving on my part – only one incident involved me at the wheel and was in dead stopped traffic.) Why are people so angry? Is someone pulling one car length ahead of you really worth blowing your top over? Is holding that grudge from five years ago doing anything to help you feel good? Like the adorable song in the movie Frozen says, just Let. It. Go. We’ve got one shot at this life thing, so spend your time trying to focus on the positive, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember you can’t control everything either, and when you let go a bit – it can be very freeing.

1. I am so blessed. 2013 certainly hasn’t been my favorite year. I’ve faced a lot of personal and professional challenges and heartaches. I watched, along with many of you, our beloved city of Boston become a place of terror, and had to come to grips with the fact that nowhere is safe from the evils of bad men. I’ve experienced a lot of loss. I have had to go back and fight battles that I had already won but which my foes would not drop. And yet, I know how blessed I am. I have two wonderful, funny, healthy sons who I’ve grown closer to as they grow up. I have a new puppy – in addition to my existing two pups – who is hilarious and sweet and reminds me every day that happiness can be found in the simple moments of life (like watching a puppy bounce all around your house). I am loved. And I am strong. I haven’t lost my faith and – naively or not – I believe 2014 holds great promise for renewal. I hope yours does, too.

Find Your Quiet

The world is a noisy place. Ringing phones, beeping texts, demanding children, TV-in-your-face gyms, traffic-laden commutes and walks on city streets. And you can’t really go anywhere without some form of marketing in your face – even if, in the “age of content” – you may not realize that it is marketing (if it’s good, that is). From billboards to your phone, dressing rooms to grocery carts, it can be hard to turn it all off. Have you ever stopped to notice the amount of quiet time that you have? It’s probably not a whole lot.

Quiet time is important for our minds to settle on what we really need. Quiet time allows us to sit with ourselves and find the best answers to life’s variable challenges. It can make you a better worker, leader, friend, parent. It’s important to find your quiet, even when it seems impossible. Put down the phone, take the dog for a walk, sit on the beach alone or take a drive (turn off the GPS, the phone, the radio). Try a meditation/yoga class (even if it feels weird), cooking (alone) or jumping on a real bike for a spin.

You might be surprised at what you discover when you find your quiet.

CEOs give their take on @BarackObama’s #SOTU address – hearing more support for business, but execution Qs remain

“I heard a lot more about creating the right environment for business,” – yes, but when will we see the how – the execution – the reality?
I don’t think Americans suffer from a lack of competitiveness, but rather a support system of the best resources to execute on such a nature. We need real solutions, solid plans and workable timelines. Is there a follow up speech that can lay out all those for us? A follow up to the heart string-pulling struggle and success stories of the audience plants? A site that shows us the progress on plans for making each emotional, “go get ’em,” “let’s win the future” ideal idea that we can follow? (And not one that takes your name then promptly asks for a donation: http://bit.ly/geDboi)

Now *that* would be revolutionary and innovative.

What did you think? What would you have liked to hear more about from Obama?

Amplify’d from www.wallstreetjournal.com

CEOs React to State of the Union

President Barack Obama made some concessions to the business community in his State of the Union address Tuesday, saying he’d like to lower the corporate tax rate and foster U.S. job growth and innovation. Many CEOs reacted with skepticism as to the President’s ability to deliver on these areas, but noted positively the President’s changed tone in addressing the business community.

Obama Addresses the Nation

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

President Obama was applauded by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner prior to delivering his State of the Union address.

The Obama administration has been criticized by many U.S. chief executives for being anti-business. Business leaders have complained about the 35% corporate tax rate, the administration’s free trade stance and healthcare reform, all of which, they allege, make U.S. companies less globally competitive. Business leaders have also been unhappy with rhetoric coming from the White House following the financial crisis, when the president referred to “fat-cat bankers” and chided bankers for their “reckless practices.”

Since the November elections in which Democrats lost the House majority, Mr. Obama has made attempts to appeal to the political center. Last week, he appointed General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt to lead a new President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. During his address, Mr. Obama said the corporate tax rate “makes no sense and it has to change,” calling on both parties to lower the rate. He also said he’d work to eliminate “unnecessary burden[s] on business.”

While CEOs welcomed the idea of lowering the corporate tax rate, many were unclear on how Mr. Obama would do so given the sparse details. “He said it would pretty much have to be budget neutral and I don’t know how they can reconcile that,” says Alan Miller, CEO of Universal Health Systems, a hospital management company. Mr. Miller says he’d be more encouraged had the president specified a new, lower rate. “A lot of things he says don’t ever come to pass,” he says.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea but there’s no free lunch,” says John Chen, CEO of Sybase Inc., a Dublin, Calif.-based software developer bought by SAP in July. Mr. Chen says the measure will depend on what Mr. Obama meant when referring to “corporate tax loopholes.” Anthony Guzzi, CEO of Emcor Group Inc., a construction and facilities service provider, also says he’d like to see Mr. Obama provide more details on lowering the corporate tax rate. “He gave a sound bite but should have been more specific,” he says. “For two and a half years now, capital has been afraid to invest in the U.S. in any substantial way,” he says.

CEOs did note a change in tone during Tuesday’s address, after years of Mr. Obama being criticized for being anti-business. “I heard a lot more about creating the right environment for business,” says Eric Spiegel, CEO of Siemens USA. “I think he got the message that business is where jobs will be created, not the government.” Mr. Guzzi said Mr. Obama was “more moderate” in his address.

“I think the tone of his speech was excellent,” says Brent Saunders, CEO of Bausch and Lomb Inc. But, he adds, “we’ve seen so much fighting in Washington I am skeptical of Washington’s ability to execute.”

Marc Benioff, chief executive of San Francisco business-software company Salesforce.com Inc., says he was encouraged by Mr. Obama’s call for increased government spending on basic research.

“The number one thing the government needs to do is increase its research funding …This is where the government adds tremendous value,” Mr. Benioff says, adding that his company is based on technology—the Internet—that was spurred by research commissioned by the U.S. government in the 1960s. Greater spending on research “is critical for us in every area, in cyber-security, in computational sciences, even in health information technologies,” he says.

Greg Babe, CEO of Bayer North America, was encouraged by President Obama’s mentions of innovation. Bayer’s North American operations spent $700 million on research and development in 2010, and Mr. Babe says the yearly uncertainty on whether R&D tax credits will be renewed is a stress to the company. Mr. Obama didn’t specifically mention these credits.

Mr. Babe says he would have liked President Obama to speak more on free trade. “A lot of other free trade agreements are in the queue waiting for [Korea] to move,” he says. Mr. Babe says the lack of agreements negatively affects the company’s business globally.

Bausch & Lomb’s Mr. Saunders said President Obama’s focus on innovation resonated with him, as well. The contact lens and solutions maker has been working to innovate products for customers in Brazil, India and China, but Mr. Saunders says the industry is highly regulated. Mr. Saunders says he’d like to see the government “support and nurture” innovation. “Now, we’re somewhere in between letting companies fed for themselves and creating barriers for free trade,” he says.

The president did not mention free trade or suggest he would give corporations a tax holiday on earnings outside the U.S., two major issues for business leaders over the last two years. Mr. Obama has been criticized for not enacting free trade agreements during his term, limiting the amount of business U.S. corporations can do with other countries.

Mr. Chen said he would have liked to see the U.S.’s export policy brought up during the address. He says because of “outdated” restrictions to exporting certain technology, Sybase’s ability to sell into China has been restricted. Mr. Obama mentioned improving business conditions in the U.S. and increasing competitiveness by eliminating unnecessary burdens. Mr. Spiegel says a burden Siemens faces is regulatory red tape that delays projects. For example, he says the company was just recently awarded a contract for an offshore wind project that has been in the works for years. “A lot of the regulations in the U.S. are very burdensome,” he says.

In a press release, Business Roundtable, a trade group of corporate CEOs, said it was “heartened by President Obama’s focus on American competitiveness.” But, it said the priorities laid out in the address “must now be analyzed closely to ensure they will promote, rather than stifle, an environment where the private sector can create jobs and expand the economy.”

—Cari Tuna contributed to this article

Read more at www.wallstreetjournal.com

 

“You have to be strong to avoid buying things you don’t need or can’t afford.” LOL, isn’t that always the case?!

Fashionistas, will you be checking out Boutiques.com? I will but am skeptical at Google analyzing my fashion tastes. I like to think I’m not that predictable.

Amplify’d from www.wallstreetjournal.com

A Shopping Site Customized to Your Tastes

Shopping is on everyone’s mind this time of year. And with many of us opting to shop from the comfort of our homes on the Web, there have been various services popping up that cater to online shoppers.

I decided to test out Boutiques.com, a personalized shopping site recently launched by Google that analyzes your fashion style and creates a customized “boutique” that suggests a list of clothes, shoes and accessories you might like.

To set up your account, you have to answer a series of questions about your fashion preferences. First you’re presented a series of outfits, two at a time, and you have to select which of the two you like the most. Then you can be more specific about your style by saying which patterns and silhouettes you love or hate when it comes to shirts, pants, dresses and skirts. You also give your sizes and name your favorite designers.

Jonnelle Marte checks out the services offered by Google’s personalized shopping site, Boutiques.com.

According to Boutiques.com, my style is “Casual Chic,” which the site illustrated with brown leather boots, a loose-fitting striped tee and a black cardigan—pretty similar to things I own and wear a lot. But thankfully, I wasn’t limited to this category and could search under other styles, including “Edgy,” “Bohemian” or “Classic” when browsing the site.

For Google’s first fashion foray, the search company has created Boutiques.com, which features curated boutiques by tastemakers and bloggers. One of the hurdles the site faces is how to engineer for taste, WSJ’s Elva Ramirez reports.

I mainly enjoyed the site because the merchandise spanned across a wide range of retailers, and it was pretty easy to sort through it all. I could filter items by price, brand, store, color or designer, among other categories—and there was never a shortage of options. Hovering over an item created a pop-up window with similar items, which I sometimes liked more than the original suggestions. Still I sometimes would have liked a little more flexibility with the filtering options. For example, it would have been nice to be able to browse for multiple colors, but you could only search for one color at a time.

I also really liked that I could be specific about why I loved or hated an item and the site would adapt. If I pointed out that I really loved the color of a pair of boots, I would see more suggestions of shoes in that color. Likewise, if I hated something I could eliminate similar items from future suggestions.

I found the suggestions the site gave me were fairly accurate and for the most part, were things I would wear. But some of the items did not fit my style at all, or I found them to be too plain or too similar. I went back once and adjusted my preferences for styles just to increase the variety of clothing styles in my search results.

It’s pretty easy to go from browsing to shopping because every item is linked directly to a retailer that sells it. Though sometimes I clicked on an item only to find out it was sold out or to be directed to a similar item, that wasn’t identical to the one pictured on Boutiques.com.

Boutiques.com introduced me to some new brands that I liked, something I was hoping it would do because I think I always stick with the same stores and styles when I go shopping. And it also suggested some colorful dresses with funkier patterns than what I would normally go for but that I actually really enjoyed once it showed up in my boutique. The website is good if you are looking for outfit ideas but I wouldn’t make it my main shopping website. If you know exactly what brand or style you’re looking for it might be more efficient to go to a more specialized site, say one for shoes, or directly to a retailer.

I went to a store to try on some of the suggestions to see if they would look as good on me as they did on the site. Not all of the items were a perfect fit, but I did find some items I would buy. I was also reminded that while online shopping is really convenient, sometimes the best deals are still found in the store. One dress I tried on cost about 30% less in the store then it did on the retailer’s website.

So, is Boutiques.com worth it? You have to be strong to avoid buying things you don’t need or can’t afford. And I wouldn’t rule out other shopping sites, since retailers pay to be featured on this website. Still, it’s a fun free service that is easy to use and can get you thinking out of the box when it comes to fashion.

Write to Jonnelle Marte at jonnelle.marte@wsj.com

Read more at www.wallstreetjournal.com