Is the Work Ethic Dead?

If so, maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

time-card.jpgIn the past, more/harder work was associated – somewhat accurately – with greater productivity. And there is no doubt that hard work brings rewards and results…to some degree. But should we any longer exalt the “work ethic”?

What’s the point of our work? Is it not results? Is it not getting something done? Is there any nobility in doing something in 20 hours of hard work, if one hour of a more creative approach accomplishes the same goal? Should we be measured by hours and effort, or by accomplishing the desired result?

What about replacing the work ethic mentality with something more results-focused: the Accomplishment Ethic?

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A Plug for Branding

Gavin Heaton has recently blogged (here and here) about the limits of the term/concept “engagement” when talking about brands and their customers.

He got me thinking. Like all branding/marketing types, I wrestle with words – how do you express that magical connection between brand and customer? Are words even adequate?

plug.gifWhat came to my mind was an image. A very common one. Bear with me a bit here, since this is a half-formed ramble based on an imperfect analogy!

If I’m a brand owner, what I want is for my customers to be “plugged in.” Call it being Connected to the Brand (not an original phrase, but it will do).

My brand is shaped for a specific type of customer. And my goal is to find that customer – or allow that customer to find the brand – and get connected. If I’m a 110V 3-prong brand outlet, I’m looking a customer that matches – there are other “outlets” for other customer types.

If there’s no “juice,” of course, there will be no enduring brand connection. But my brand provides something to the customer – in some way, it energizes the customer and helps him reach his potential. I want to provide a steady current of benefits to her – need fulfillment, pleasure, ego stroking, whatever – so that it becomes unthinkable to disconnect.

Many of life’s “toys” and necessities need a periodic, or steady, flow of something to make them go. I’ve reached true “engagement” when customers feel that they must “plug in” – they must have that special latte; they must have the latest iPod to show off; they must read Seth Godin and quote him if they are to be considered a serious marketing blogger (hmmm….this even descends down to our feed readers).

When people plug into our brands, and our brands plug into people, everybody wins. We get to show off our brands through our benefits which others display, or talk about – and maybe they ask for brand extension cords (OK, maybe this analogy is going to get stretched too far…).

What does your customer look like? Why should they plug into you? Is your brand outlet customer-ready, with a well-matched flow of benefits and energy that will power them up?

And, what other analogies can we use to portray the “end game” of branding – enduring customer connection?

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“Customer-Focused Selling”

Last week, I was sitting in a conference workshop where the theme was a customer-focused selling program.

Now I’m all for customer focus in every aspect of business – from product design to branding to marketing to customer support and service. But something was sticking in my craw as I sat through this session (which had to do with a customer-focused selling methodology in the pharmaceutical industry).

Here’s what it boils down to: is this “customer-focused” approach an end in itself? Or is it just a means to an end?

Let me explain. A pharmaceutical sales representative succeeds by promoting the usage (hopefully, by promoting the properly defined usage) of his/her company’s products. Fair enough. But how is success actually MEASURED? Is it customer satisfaction?

Actually, a few of the key tangible measures of success by which a sales rep is held accountable are the following:

    1. Increased prescription business
    2. Number of calls made per day
    3. Promotional actions correctly taken (samples delivered, dinner meetings set up, etc., etc.)

These are company-centric, quota-centric, performance-centric measures. And, in fact, these more tangible, objective activities and outcomes are more easily measured than something such as customer satisfaction.

I’m not saying that any of these are unimportant, or shouldn’t be tracked. What makes me uncomfortable is that the real goal ends up being what is measured. Teachers “teach to the test.” And reps perform to the yardstick to which they are accountable.customer-focus.jpg

All of which makes a “customer-focused” selling program seem like a means to an end, not an end in itself. There is the whiff of hypocrisy that seems to hover over the whole thing; an undercurrent of manipulation. Are companies rolling out these programs because of a core belief in being customer-centered? Or because they “work” better toward the real end, which is better numbers?

Is it a core commitment? Or just another technique?

I should conclude this post by saying that I have been in sales – in one form or another – for 20+ years. The times when I have been most uncomfortable as a salesman are when I’ve seriously questioned, in my own heart and conscience, whether what I was offering was really the best choice for the customer. Does slathering a “customer-focused” technique over that cognitive dissonance make one a better salesperson? Or just another peddlar, trying to make a buck any way possible?

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The Value(?) of “Bad” Brands

We talk a lot about good branding. But some individuals and groups deliberately set out to create a “bad” brand. They position themselves in the market as occupying the “bad” end of the spectrum of human behavior.

Why? Because “bad” gets attention.

Little children learn this rapidly. Bad behavior, at the very least, gets attention. And certain individuals maintain this brand identity as they grow up.

Paris Hilton is a “bad” girl. She cultivates it, with her pictures and videos and tantrums. And Brand Paris gets a ton of attention for it, as did Anna Nicole Smith and other “bad” girls before them.

Tort lawyers have managed to acquire a brand identity as sharks and greedy opportunists, and they get attention by suing for outrageous amounts and keeping large percentages of the haul. The lawyer/judge who sued for $54 million over a lost pair of pants is only the latest in a string of never-ending examples of “bad” behaviors by this brand.

John McEnroe was a very good tennis player. But why did he get so much ink? He was a “bad” boy on the court. Brand McEnroe was yelling, pouting, and losing control – as well as good shotmaking. He differentiated himself – and gained market attention – not by being wholesome, or nice, or fitting in with those that respected the “rules.” People came to see him because he was a bad boy.

wreck.jpgWe all decry the slowdown on the highway as an accident is passed. But we find it hard to resist the urge to slow down and look ourselves. Because there is something in us that is drawn to looking at disaster. And, seeing “bad” behavior and the disasters that ensue, we find ourselves clucking our tongues at outrageousness, and condemning bad-ness (while somewhere deep inside, feeling just a twinge of envy, and longing to be a bit “bad” ourselves).

“Bad” brands know this. And they get outsized attention. Because “bad” sells itself. It seems to be the cheap and easy way to gain notoriety, though it usually ends up with the same results experienced by the reckless and daring driver – a wreck on the side of the road. “Bad” brands try to shortcut their way to fame, sometimes succeeding dramatically – but generally, leaving a lot of wreckage in their wake.

What are some of the “bad” corporate and personal brands that you have seen?

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Customer-centric??

I saw this billboard in town and it made me laugh – in a “you’ve got to be kidding me” sort-of way. In fact, I couldn’t get it out of my mind until I took a photo and blog-blasted them.

These folks (I have mercifully cropped out the company responsible) are highlighting their customer service. Which, in my book, means being customer-centric. It’s not about you, the company, right? It’s about me.

And so what is most prominent on this banner of brag-dom? Is it the customer? Noooo…it’s OURSELVES!

Geeeez. Glad you think so highly of yourselves. I’ll go elsewhere…where someone is more centered on me.

Actually, that reminds me. Here’s a real customer-service story. The only billboard for these “service so good” folks will be this blog:

Last week, I was driving to an evening networking meeting which was an hour away. Halfway there, I heard this very loud rumbling sound nearby, as I got off the highway onto a crowded feeder route. Aha, thinks I, there must be a Harley around here, about to pass me. However, a quick glance around indicates that no loud motorcycles are in sight – curious, thinks I, putting my foot back down on the gas pedal and suddenly realizing that the awful sound was emanating from – my car!

Grim. I pull off and realize that I have a very sick vehicle on my hands, and that the evening meeting will surely go on without me. I manage to limp the car to a gas station and call my wife to come and get me there – it wasn’t going any further. This station has no car repair capabilities, but a gas attendant very kindly tells me about a station down the road a few miles that does. That station, in turn, tells me that they cannot take it then (it’s 5:00 pm), but give me a phone number for a towing service, and tell me that they’ll slot me in tomorrow.

The towing service people were super-friendly and ready to help – sure, they’ll come and tow the car in the morning. Then the gas station attendant PERSONALLY takes my key, assures me that he comes in to work at 6:30 am (plenty of margin for the tow truck), and allows me to leave my stricken car locked up there overnight.

I’m in the hands of strangers, 30 miles from home. I’ve handed my car key to a complete stranger. It’s uncomfortable. And this is New Jersey, remember.

However, the car gets to the garage the next morning without incident. I’m in touch that day, back and forth with the service guy at the garage, and they fix what turned out to be damage from a blown spark plug. The charges were surprisingly reasonable. And all for someone they might not see again, who broke down on the side of the road among strangers.

So, Surjit at Pluckemin Exxon – you give me hope that there are decent people everywhere. George’s Towing – you have one nice person helping distressed people over the phone! And Mike Pine at Martinsville Auto – you rock! Here’s YOUR billboard – one that I will remember fondly, unlike the braggarts shown above!

Thinking Blogger…I Think

thinkingblogger1.jpgMy blogging friend Becky Carroll over at Customers Rock! has been kind enough designate me as a “thinking blogger” award winner – that is, one of the bloggers that makes her think. And I really appreciate the mention, because Becky has the same effect on me!

This meme was launched by Ilker Yoldas to highlight blogs that are truly “meaty” with great content. He started the Thinking Blogs Award to help publicize great blogs.

Now part of this meme is that I’m supposed to name 5 bloggers who make me think! Problem is, I think all the bloggers that I regularly read have already been designated for this award! Which means one of three things:

- I need to get out more and read a wider selection of blogs

- I read the best blogs on the planet already

- I got picked last (like grammar school kickball games) after all the A-listers were already named! Waaahhh – I’m just going to take my blog and go home!

Let’s be generous and assume #2….

Thanks, Becky!

(And now Mario Vellandi has done the same, with words far too kind…but thanks for the encouragement! Makes me want to keep writing! Great new design on Mario’s blog, by the way…check it out!)

Latest Small Business Branding Post

I recently had a post published on the Small Business Branding blog, my 10th post on that site thus far.

It is on the theme of Branding at a Trade Show – a theme fresh on my mind, having just returned from a conference with an exhibit hall last week.

All of my posts on the SBB site can be accessed here.

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