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I recently stumbled upon what can best be described as a “Master Class” session on building a people-first business. It’s an interview with Howard Behar, a highly influential and long-ago Starbucks executive.

During this interview at the 2015 Foodservice Technology Conference Trade Show, Behar shares fundamental business beliefs of what made Starbucks the beloved business it has become.

The fundamental beliefs are all about caring for people, both customers and employees. After all, it’s people who buy products and people who sell products. It’s people who fuel the engine of business.

When you watch the following six-minute interview snippet, listen carefully when Howard Behar shares the following perspectives and allow it to shape how you go about doing and being in business.

People, not Products.

The entrepreneur thinks their business is about the product or service they are selling. As soon as they hire one person, it becomes about people and people serving people.” — Howard Behar

Information, not Data.

We think we have to have data to make a decision. We don’t. We have to have information to make a decision. The best information still comes from one-on-one conversations.— Howard Behar

The Rules of Social Media Haven’t Changed

I stumbled upon a decade old video of me talking about how businesses can better use social media to connect more meaningfully with people.

We’re talking 2007 when Myspace was the place to be online. Twitter was the darling of the SXSWi 2007 conference. Facebook had recently extended beyond .edu addresses. People were digging Digg big time. Blogs were becoming mainstream.

All this to say that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But not that far away. The rules I shared ten years ago still ring true today.


Be everywhere your customers expect you to be.

Back then it was if your customers were listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and or using YouTube then your business should be there to connect with current (and future) customers. True today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.


Social media helps small companies look bigger and big companies get smaller.

Every business no matter its size has access to the same social media platforms and many of those platforms cost no money to use. This rule is about using social media to engage on a more personal and human level with people.

Then it was how a tailor on Savile Row was using video and blogging to look bigger and in the process, this tailor got more clients and was able to charge bigger fees.

It was also how massive Microsoft got smaller with its Microsoft’s Channel 9 project that gave PC peeps insider access to the engineers, programmers and designers behind Microsoft’s products through a series of online videos. (Amazingly, Microsoft’s Channel 9 project is still going.)

Today it’s small brands using Snapchat to look bigger and big brands using Instagram stories to get smaller.


If you lack confidence, don’t do social media.

The real issue here is how vulnerable is a brand willing to be. By sharing your brand’s voice online, you got to be prepared to hear from the haters just as much from people who love you.

A decade ago I used the example of Starbucks launching a podcast and quickly canceling it because so many people trashed it.

Recently, it was Cinnabon trying (and failing) to get in on the real-time marketing action of using Carrie Fisher’s death to post (and then delete) this unfortunate tweet.


If you hide the truth, someone will find the truth.

Transparency and truthfulness weren’t always top of mind for marketers in the early days of social media marketing. In 2006, a couple created a blog that chronicled their adventures RV’ing across America stopping at Walmart stores along the way. At these Walmart stores they would interview employees and share those stories on a blog called, Wal-Marting Across America. Online sleuths exposed this as a total fake. (Oops.)

Chipotle got stung recently by claiming their Chorizo burrito has only 300 calories. The real truth was hidden. Someone found the truth and Chipotle had to admit their Chorizo burrito has about 1,050 calories. (Oops.)


What happens online remains online.

Anything posted and shared online is a matter of permanent record. A decade ago, I used the example of an unhappy Dell customer posting a series of “Dell Hell” diatribes to shame the company for delivering horrible customer service. Uber today is reeling from dashboard video of its CEO arguing with an Uber driver over declining fares that hurt his ability to make money. This video will remain online for a very long time.

It’s a trip to revisit these old social media rules and see how they aren’t so old. However, it’s more of a trip to see me deliver this talk on video. What happens online remains online also pertains to me…

Cult Brands Fight Monsters

This week a few hundred marketers will be making a pilgrimage of sorts to attend The Gathering in Banff, AB. The Gathering is a conference that recognizes and celebrates the bravest brands in the land. Every year, since 2014, a handful of brands get honored as being a “cult” brand.

I was fortunate enough to attend and speak at The Gathering last year and I’m jealous of those attending this year. I’m jealous because I took away so much from last year hearing from cult brands such as Lululemon, AirBnB and Movember Foundation. (Jealousy also oozes from me because Banff is beyond picturesque.)

The premise of the presentation I delivered at The Gathering in 2016 centered on how and why the boldest brands fight injustices. These rare air brands fight monsters in the marketplace. This fight is how they have been able to achieve greatness. And it’s how they have been able to gain an emotional connection with their customers and their employees.

Consider this video snippet of my FIGHT GAME talk from last year’s gathering as a #TBT (throwback Tuesday) nod to all the purpose-driven and passion-filled presentations sure to be delivered at The Gathering 2017.

Growing Beyond the Core of Your Business

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My wife is an account director at a company that supplies branded tools to automotive toolmakers. Once-a-quarter she and a few other company leaders meet to discuss ideas and strategies that can help them improve as a team and grow their business. Someone suggested they start a book club. Great idea… EXCEPT, they needed a business book to read for this club.

(This is where I, husband and business book junkie, enter the scene.)

My wife asked for my recommendation of a business strategy book that can help them think smarter about ways to grow their business into different markets and channels.

I immediately thought of Chris Zook’s brilliant book, BEYOND THE CORE: Expand Your Market Without Abandoning Your Roots.

Recommendation was made. Books were ordered. The book club now had a business book to read. And that’s where a problem surfaced—these people don’t enjoy reading business books.

(This is where I, the business book junkie, had a small conniption fit.)

Instead of letting my annoyance get out of control, I channeled my energy into writing a super short summary of BEYOND THE CORE for the book club.

And now, I’ve put together an even shorter super short summary of BEYOND THE CORE for you to gain new knowledge from. Enjoy.

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Most business growth initiatives fail. Research from Chris Zook, a Bain & Company consultant, indicates only 25% of growth initiatives succeed. The analysis reveals too many companies fail to grow because their growth strategies are not connected enough to their core business.

According to Zook, businesses can greatly improve their growth initiatives when they focus their efforts on one of six adjacencies:

PRODUCT – selling new products/services to current customers.

Apple has profited greatly by creating and selling new products (iPhone, iPad, etc.) to its core computer customers. Enterprise Rent-A-Car parlayed their core business of renting cars to people after having a car accident into the adjacent business/leisure rental market.

According to Zook’s research, this is the most commonly pursued and highest potential growth initiative.

GEOGRAPHY – selling current offerings in new domestic and international markets.

Uber started in 2009 by serving only the San Francisco market. It quickly applied its technology core competency to enter new cities in the US. Today, Uber operates in 60+ counties and 500+ cities around the world. Vodafone began as a UK-based cellphone business. It long ago expanded its core business outside of the UK and into Japan, Germany and many other international markets.

Zook warns that companies pursing growth this way have a lower than average success rate due to underestimating the complexities of entering domestic and international markets.

VALUE CHAIN – developing offerings up and down the value chain.

Apple used to sell its products solely through retailers. In 2001, Apple applied its user-friendly and design-rich approach to opening its own retail stores and today there are nearly 500 Apple stores in 20 countries around the world. Zingerman’s is a beloved deli in Ann Arbor, MI that opened in 1982. There is still only one Zingerman’s deli but the company operates 10 businesses up and down its value chain from a Bakehouse to a Coffee Roastery to a Creamery to ZingTrain, a consulting and customer training business.

Finding lasting business growth down this path is extremely difficult. Enter with caution.

CHANNEL – entering a new distribution channel.

Cranium, the family-friendly board game, found modest success when the game was sold in independent mom and pop stores. Cranium became a wild success when in 1999 it entered a new distribution channel, Starbucks stores. EAS, a sport-supplement company, used to only sell its Myoplex bars in nutrition stores. Sales of Myoplex bars really took off when EAS began selling the product in the Walmart distribution channel.

Zook says this adjacency can either bring massive results or become a significant burden to a company’s resources.

CUSTOMER – altering proven products/services to reach new customer segments.

J.Crew began as a men’s and women’s clothing catalog retailer and then opened J.Crew retail stores. The company has since modified its products and services to enter a variety of new customer markets: children’s apparel (crewcuts), trendy/artsy women’s wear (Madewell) and cost-conscious shoppers (J.Crew Factory). Dell famously began as a direct-to-consumer computer maker in 1984. Dell found greater success when it entered the corporate sales market. From there, Dell began to develop its IT services business to serve new customers in new ways. Today, Dell generates a significant amount of its total revenue from its IT services business.

The customer adjacency path is a very common way for businesses to find new growth.

BUSINESS – building an entirely new business from the core.

Amazon is an online retail behemoth. In the process, Amazon realized they had become uniquely skilled at running reliable, scalable and cost effective cloud storage centers. In 2006 Amazon started selling cloud storage to other businesses under the name of Amazon Web Services and today this new business contributes about 30% of Amazon’s total revenue. American Airlines created a major competitive advantage when the airlines developed its proprietary SABRE reservation system. SABRE was eventually spun-off into an entirely new business and interestingly, SABRE created a business adjacency of its own by developing Travelocity.

Zook’s research findings reveal this is the most difficult growth initiative to undertake.


So there you have it. A way too short of a summary to BEYOND THE CORE. My wife’s book club at work has a slightly longer summary. I hope she and her co-workers will read and discuss the 1,000-word summary.

I also hope that you found this summary thought-provoking enough to share it and discuss it within your company.

Obsess over Customers

A few weeks ago I talked to a roomful of marketers and operators at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Summit. I delivered a version of my GRANDE GROWTH presentation that shares the importance of small businesses needing to look bigger and big businesses needing to act smaller in order to find long-lasting success. This 3-minute video ditty discusses why businesses should Obsess over Customers. Enjoy…

The Remedy to Maintain the Founder’s Mentality

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Chris Zook has done it again. He’s written another smart book on business growth. This time, Chris and James Allen turn their attention to the importance of maintaining the business soul that the founder instilled when the business began in order to achieve lasting success.

THE FOUNDER’S MENTALITY: How to Overcome the Predictable Crisis of Growth is a worthy summer read.

Zook and Allen’s research shows that public companies where the founder is still active in day-to-day activities outperform other companies threefold. Unfortunately, too many businesses stop succeeding as they grow bigger because they get overrun by complexity/systems and in the process, lose the “founder’s mentality.”

The remedy to maintain the founder’s mentality involves these business behaviors:

1. Following an Insurgent Mission
A sharp insurgent mission should provide a company with its focus and purpose, both inside and out. Companies run in this way have the special ability to foster employees’ deep feelings of personal responsibility.”

2. Obsessing over the Front-Line Experience
Most founders were their company’s first salesperson, its first product developer, or both. They lived and breathed the front-line, driven by an intellectual curiosity about every detail of the customer experience and of how everything in the business works. An obsession with the front-line is fundamental to the founder’s mentality.”

3. Maintaining the Owner’s Mindset
Three ingredients make up the essence of the owner’s mindset and establish it as a source of competitive advantage. The first is a strong cost focus—treating both expenses and investments as though they are your own money. The second advantage is a bias to action. The third advantage is an aversion to bureaucracy—an aversion to the layers of organization, headquarters departments, and hordes of corporate staff that can accumulate, capture power, and create complex decision processes that clog the arteries of a business and slow it down.”

Of course, growing a business in this way is more complicated than just following these three behaviors. Thankfully Zook and Allen provide a detailed playbook for how to makes these ideas happen in your business even if the founder left the scene eons ago. You’ll be a smarter businessperson for reading THE FOUNDER’S MENTALITY.

Branding Made Easy

The headline is misleading.

Branding isn’t easy but it can be made easy.

How? By being simple. Yes, simple.

The most simplistic brands give people what they want at the moment they want it without complication. And in the process, these brands earn devotion (and dollars) from customers.

According to the Siegel+Gale’s Global Brand Simplicity Index, 69% of consumers “are more likely to recommend a brand because it provides simpler experiences.” Dollar-wise, 63% of consumers are “willing to pay more for simpler experiences.

A lighthouse brand that is following the simple path to branding success is Netflix. The company gives people the shows they want at the precise moment they want it with a simple click of button. A totally hassle-free customer experience.

Amazon is another successful simple brand. Yes, their diverse offerings are anything but simple but the nearly anything you want to buy and one-click buying experience makes Amazon simple.

Another way to look at “Branding Made Easy” is through something I call The Aspirational Gap.

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A gap exists between a consumer’s aspirations and their actual lifestyle. All consumers aspire to live a certain lifestyle but most times they settle for living a life below their aspirations. Successful brands make it easy for people to actualize their aspirations.

Customers who shop at Whole Foods Market aspire to live a healthier and more flavorful life by avoiding foods complicated with artificial ingredients and with genetically modified organisms. Whole Foods simplifies the lives of people by only selling natural and organic products. The company makes it easy for people to actualize their aspirations of living the good life.

People aspire to support charities beyond writing a check. But it’s difficult to volunteer one’s time to a charity because… that, takes time. The Movember Foundation makes it easy for men to raise money and volunteer their time to support men’s health charities. All a guy has to do is answer the challenge of growing a moustache for 30 days (starting Nov. 1) by registering at Movember.org. Then, for the month of November, men become walking (and talking) billboards for the Movember cause and they encourage friends/family to make a donation online.

The branding takeaway here is simple:

Create a customer experience that is ruthlessly easy.

Make it so simple for people to do business with you that you become their only choice. The world is already complex enough. The last thing people need is to be burdened with hassles and obstacles in order to support your business and actualize their aspirations.

The Low Road or the High Road? You Decide.

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Businesses have a choice in how they treat employees to make profits. They can choose the low road by offering employees low wages, basic benefits and uninspiring, menial job responsibilities. Or, they can choose the high road by offering employees a living wage, better benefits and a job that motivates them to do great work. Unfortunately, too many businesses choose the low road.

Zeynep Ton, MIT professor and operations management expert, has been studying businesses and has learned that retailers, even the low-price players, do not have to choose the low road to find the pathway to lasting profits.

GoodJobs_175In her book, THE GOOD JOBS STRATEGY, Zeynep upends conventional business wisdom and outlines a practical vision for how companies can profit without taking advantage of front-line employees.

According to Zeynep, “There are companies in business today that [follow] the good jobs strategy. These companies provide jobs with decent pay, decent benefits, and stable work schedules. But more than that, these companies design jobs so that their employees can perform well and find meaning in their work.”

For many businesses, especially retail chains, labor is their biggest controllable cost. So when sales decline, store managers quickly turn to reducing employee work hours, shifting full-time employees to part-time, cutting back on training and slicing benefits in order to rein in costs. These drastic cuts can negatively impact employee morale, which can further erode sales.

Model businesses featured in the book following Zeynep Ton’s good jobs strategy include Costco, QuickTrip and Trader Joe’s. All three businesses compete on offering customers low prices but each business has chosen the high road pathway to profits. Zeynep profiles each of these companies in the book and explains how they make greater profits than their competitors all the while treating their employees better.

The good jobs strategy recipe that these model businesses follow is a combination of investing in great employees and making smart operational choices.

Investing in employees starts with hiring somebodies and not warm bodies. Somebodies are cultural fits that display a willingness to learn and eagerness to help. (Warm bodies are just people to fill a hole on the daily labor sheet.) Once a great person is hired, pay them a living wage and offer them benefits that can sustain a family.

Zeynep also observed that these model companies view overstaffing as a good thing because customer service will improve, stores will be cleaner, re-stocking will happen and employee morale will be higher.

Making smart operational choices is about simplifying everything from the number of products on the shelves to the amount of promotions needed to be implemented by employees. Zeynep’s research revealed that each layer of complexity a business adds on, the more an employee has to manage. And the more an employee has to manage can result in increased mistakes, less time to spend with customers and greater inefficiency on all levels.

It’s easy for businesses to fall into the trap of offering customers more variety and more services because they believe customers want that. Zeynep’s good jobs strategy approach disagrees. She explains, “It is as if the store hasn’t taken the time to really figure out what its customers want or which products will best satisfy their needs, so instead, it just offers everything.”

Why don’t more companies follow the “good jobs strategy”? The answer is simple: it’s difficult.

It’s difficult because the culture of company has to be centered around designing their entire business around employees. Zeynep writes, “The good jobs strategy requires more than providing decent wages and benefits, stability, training and opportunities for success and growth. Companies pursuing it also need to think carefully about their offering of products and services, their work design, their staffing, the allocation of work among employees, and how employees will actively engage in improvement.”

Which path are you choosing to find business success?

If you choose the high road, the good jobs strategy way, then make sure your company culture is focused supremely on your employees and treating with respect and dignity. This road will not be easy but it will be meaningful to everyone connected to your business.

The Patagonia Way to Customer Loyalty

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Patagonia is a revered brand not only for its products, but also for its purpose-driven environmental ways. The brand has cultivated a deeply loyal following. Craig Wilson spent eight years at Patagonia in various upper-level marketing roles and shares his perspective on the Patagonia loyalty model in the just-published book, The Compass and the Nail.

While the author outlines a fancy (but utterly confusing) diagram on how to forge customer loyalty the Patagonia way, the best advice he shares is this:

Share your beliefs. Demonstrate how they integrate into your product, design, and presentation. Communicate what inspires your particular esthetic. Those that believe what you believe will become part of your tribe.

Patagonia’s beliefs are rooted in the love for the outdoors. For over 30 years, Patagonia has run its business with a strong point of view about protecting and preserving the environment. The company knows that pollution is a by-product of how the business does business even when it makes conscious choices to reduce its impact on the environment.

The company has gone so far in its environmental mission by encouraging its customers NOT to buy new clothing but instead, to reconsider their purchase and/or repair their current Patagonia products.

By voicing its strong point of view, Patagonia is able to attract like-minded customers that aren’t tied to functional marketing triggers of price, promotion, or distribution. Instead, Patagonia endears itself to customers through emotional triggers. Michael Crooke, former Patagonia CEO explains…

Customers become advocates of brands because they develop an emotional connection with their core purpose. Brands that elicit advocacy provide a value beyond just product quality and experience. This connection is something that deserves analysis, as it is the foundation of true loyalty.

Creating loyal customers should be the goal of any business.

Unfortunately, according to Craig Wilson:

The term ‘loyalty’ and its associated meaning has been dumbed down to effectively mean giving your customers something, or paying them in some way, to stick around and keep buying from you. It’s disconcerting. Rarely is the word loyalty used to refer to a relationship, and more rarely is the word loyalty used to describe advocates.

The Patagonia way to foster customer loyalty that leads to brand advocacy is based upon doing business “from a place of trust and inspiration.” When customers trust your business stands for something far greater than making money, then a loyal tribe of believers will be emotionally inspired to support your business.

This is what Patagonia has been doing for the past 30 years. It’s what your business should be doing for the next 30 years.

The Stuttering Presenter

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It’s funny. I stutter but I make a living speaking at conferences. A stutterer isn’t supposed to get up in front of people and talk. Yet, that’s what I do.

One of the most rewarding experiences I have is when someone from the audience comes up to me afterwards and tells me their story about overcoming stuttering or their story about how they still struggle with stuttering. It’s always a tearful moment for me when a parent shares that their son or daughter stutters and that I have given them hope of a more fluent life for their child.

Hope is what people who stutter and parents of stutterers need because all too often people affected by stuttering feel hopeless. This feeling of hopelessness comes in the form of shame and guilt. The stutterer feels shame because she gets laughed at, rejected, deserted, and riddled with unworthiness. And parents of stutterers experience guilt by thinking they somehow caused it or perpetuated it. It’s a vicious and traumatic cycle that leaves deep, emotional scars for everyone.

TP_175TURNING POINTS, a just-published book, shares 15 life-changing stories of courage and perseverance from people deeply affected by the shame and guilt of stuttering. (My story is included in this short anthology.) Collectively, our voices give hope to people who think stuttering will forever compromise their life.

If you know anyone affected by stuttering, please let them know about the book and share this excerpt.

So how can I, as a person who stutters, make a living as a keynote speaker?

The TURNING POINTS excerpt shares my story of how I faced a do or die situation in my early twenties that forced me to make a major decision. The result of that decision ultimately led to me becoming a public speaker.

For too many years, stuttering stifled my voice and stunted my growth. It wasn’t until I reached a very low point in my life that I decided stuttering wasn’t going to manage me. Instead, I was going to manage my stuttering. Meaning, I wasn’t going to allow the shame and guilt of stuttering to silence my voice. I was going to use every tool I had learned to minimize my disfluency and actively seek opportunities to speak, even if I stuttered. It was simple. For me to stop stuttering, I had to start talking.

Over the years my wicked good stutter has become less wicked good. I still stutter. A lot. Every day is an exercise in failure whenever I open my mouth to speak. However, on stage giving presentations, my stutter is greatly minimized.

A few years ago I gave some advice for how I, as a stutterer, approach giving presentations. This advice can help people who stutter and people who are reluctant to give speeches.

5 Tips for More Fluent Presentations

1. Advertise your stutter.
Stutterers know that stuttering happens as a result of trying not to stutter. We focus so much of our mental and physical energy to not stutter that it only heightens our anxiety when speaking. And that results in stuttering. I’ve found it very helpful to mention my stutter at the start of every presentation I give. Not only does it disarm the audience, it also allows me, the stutterer, the freedom to stutter without shame.

2. You are in control.
Out in the wild of impromptu conversations, there are many unexpected pitfalls that can prompt stuttering. Delivering a presentation on-stage is most times a planned conversation. You, the stutterer, are in complete control. You have the microphone. You have the floor. Being in control of the speaking situation can free us stutterers from the fear of the unknown. The unknown can cause us stutterers to not feel comfortable and thus, stutter more often.

3. The audience wants you to succeed.
Stutterers need to remember when giving a presentation on-stage, the audience isn’t there to heckle you or laugh at you. The audience wants you to succeed. The graciousness of the audience is something too many presenters forget exists.

4. The audience will pay more attention to you.
The audience recognizes the importance of your presentation. A stutterer must have something important to say; otherwise, they wouldn’t be on stage risking so much. The audience understands this and I’ve found people pay more attention to my message solely because I stutter.

5. It’s less what you say and more how you say it.
Too many times stutterers focus on sticking word for word to the presentation script they’ve written. That’s a recipe for failure. If you, the stutterer, get off track from the script, it can prompt even more stuttering because you scramble to get back on script. That scrambling can increase anxiety, resulting in more stuttering. Instead, I’ve found success by focusing more on commanding a confident stage presence and less on the words I use. When I keep eye contact with the audience, display good posture, make purposeful hand movements, etc.) I experience greater fluency on stage.

Those are a few ways I approach giving more fluent presentations despite my disfluency. If you have other tips, please leave them in the comments section.

And again, if you know a person who stutters or a parent of a child who stutters, please share the following TURNING POINTS excerpt with them. Thanks.

EXCERPT of Turning Points: Inspiring Stories of Personal Change from the National Stuttering Association by Mona Maali