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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


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.


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 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.

Beyond Thinking Different to Doing Different


Bruce Mau is a designer, thinker, articulator, and massive change provocateur. In 1998, at a conference for design-types, he shared 43 quick-hit ideas ripe for rumination to inspire people to go beyond thinking different to doing different.

I first learned of Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” while reading the October 2000 issue of Fast Company. At that time I was a young and eager Starbucks marketer who found Mau’s advice to be unsettling… but in a good way. It changed me.

Fifteen years later I’m no longer young but my eagerness is still there. However, I find myself needing to heed Mau’s calling to go beyond thinking different to doing different.

As 2015 turns to 2016, the message of doing differently is one we should all heed. Happy New Year (and happy new you).

Bruce Mau’s

#1 – Allow events to change you.
You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

#2 – Forget about good.
Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.

#3 – Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

#4 – Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).

Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

Continue reading the remaining 39 points.

Business Wisdom from Chuck D

Business Wisdom from Chuck D

“Before people buy from you, they’ve got to buy into you.”Chuck D of Public Enemy

People Still Buy Things in Stores


Stop the train.
Listen up.

People still buy things in stores.

I know. I know. It’s not sexy to say we actually bought a book in a bookstore. Nor is it cool to buy shoes, snacks, socks and so much other stuff from a retailer that exists in the physical world. All the excitement out there today is for whiz-bang digital/mobile stores and startups.

I get it. But, get this.

According to US Census data, the total amount of retail dollars Americans are expected to spend this year is approximately $4.5T. That’s $4.5 trillion retail dollars spent in physical places (stores, restaurants, etc.) and in digital spaces (online, mobile, etc.).

Of that $4.5T dollars spent on retail goods and services, 93% of is being spent in physical places with only 7% being spent in digital spaces.



I’m not saying people aren’t beginning their purchase journey online. I’m also not saying people aren’t being influenced by what others are saying about stores and brands online.

What I am saying is… there’s a lot of hubris for all things digital but the retail reality is, for the predictable future, when people buy goods and services; they are still disproportionately spending their money in physical places.

[/END_RANT from old guy]

The Low Road or the High Road? You Decide.


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


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


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

Being Good by Doing Good

b the change 600Conscious Capitalism is a relatively new concept of doing business by leading with empathy, not authority. Sadly, too many businesses are led by fear and stress where bosses lead with fear and inflict stress on employees to get stuff done. Businesses that practice Conscious Capitalism are run with love and care (not fear and stress.)

Another way to view Conscious Capitalism is to think of it as Servant Leadership meets Mindfulness meets Environmentalism. It’s about doing business under the golden rule of treating your stakeholders (customers, employees, investors, communities, suppliers, and environment) like you’d want to be treated. It’s about using business to be a force for good in the world.

Raj Sisodia, a Babson marketing professor, has been tracking this business trend for the past 20 years. His studies reveal companies that follow Conscious Capitalism vastly outperform the market, citing a 1025% return over the past 10 years, compared to only 122% for companies listed in the S&P 500.

Whole Foods Market and The Container Store have been the torchbearers for the Conscious Capitalism movement and it is starting to truly gain momentum. Patagonia, New Belgium Brewery, Etsy, Ben & Jerry’s and Which Wich are a few other companies actively following Conscious Capitalism business practices.

However, despite reading a lot about Conscious Capitalism and spending a good part of my working career at companies that instinctively follow this approach, I’ve not been able to learn how businesses know they are “doing good by being good.”

Earlier thus year I attended the 2015 Conscious Capitalism Conference and learned exactly how a business knows they are doing good by being good. They become a certified B Corporation.

In order to become a certified B Corporation, a business must operate under certain standards of accountability and transparency with employees, vendors, local community and global community.

For example, as it relates to employees, a B Corporation business should offer lower-level workers the same benefits given to executives. The business should also be structured to openly share basic financial information with all employees and help cover costs for professional development of workers.

A certified B Corporation should also have a process in place to select vendors and suppliers up and down the supply chain that are committed to practicing “doing good by being good” business values.

Locally, a B Corporation should have an established partnership with a community charity and be committed to banking with either an independent bank or a credit union.

With regards to the global community, a B Corporation business should conduct an annual environmental audit of energy, water and waste efficiency and publicly share the results of the environmental audit.

Think your business is game to measuring its consciousness? If so, start by taking this short assessment tool (reg. req’d). It will take you less than 20-minutes to complete but the results of the quick audit will help you to understand if your business is on the path to “doing good by being good.”