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Monthly Archive for October, 2011

Who is writing & telling your brand story?

The last time America had two grassroots protesting groups gaining critical mass simultaneously was when women’s suffrage and prohibition shared the national stage.

A hundred years later their 21st century successors are the “Tea Party” and “Occupy Wall Street.” And like their indignant forebears, the new kids on the block have just enough things in common that they’re often compared to each other, in spite of the fact that they’re really quite different, including, as you will see, in non-political ways.

Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street (OWS) believe that the objects of their indignation are broken and must be reformed. Essentially, the Tea Party wants to make the Federal government more fiscally responsible, while OWS demands that 21st century capitalism include elements of social justice. And in some cases both groups are itching for the same reform, like ending taxpayer bail-outs and restricting the influence of lobbyists. But here is where they diverge.

Protests by the Tea Party helped it resurrect and assume a legendary brand. But their actions were quickly polished into a cogent brand story that is being leveraged within the existing political process. As proof, in less than two years the Tea Party told their brand story sufficiently to elect enough members of Congress to significantly influence the national policy debate.

OWS protests have also created a compelling brand. Consequently, it has acquired one of the best forms of business serendipity – free PR. But, as reported in a recent article on PostAdvertising.com, the lack of a cohesive message – caused by demands that range from Tea Party-ish to Utopia – has prevented the crafting and delivery of a successful brand story. Unfortunately, as the article concludes, the OWS story is being written and told by others.

Our online research supports the foregoing appraisal. When we polled our audience about which group will have the greatest impact on the 2012 elections, Occupy Wall Street came in at 11%, while 89% thought the Tea Party would stir things up the most. A companion poll asked if either movement was “Good for America.” Over 80% said yes to the Tea Party, while only13% favored OWS.

Regardless of which ideals you align with politically, as a small business owner you must take a lesson from how the two groups manage their brands and brand stories. One is finding success by writing and telling their own story; the other one – not so much.

Who’s writing and telling your brand story?

I talked more about telling your small business’ brand story today on The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to download or listen.

For more great SBA content, click HERE!

The facts on small business and banks

Listening to pundits and politicians, you’d think banks were intentionally hurting small businesses and the economy. When a Senator or “Talking Head” says, “This economy needs banks to start lending to small businesses again,” you might think they know what they’re talking about. They don’t.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index is the gold standard of small business surveys. If you track the monthly results of Dr. Bill Dunkelberg’s work on his Index, as I have on my radio program for more than a decade, you will see that throughout the entire period since the Great Recession began in 2008, more than 90% of small business owners have consistently reported that their “credit needs are being met.”

It’s true that the big banks curtailed lending while getting their own balance sheets under control. But out here on Main Street USA, if your small business qualifies for credit and wants it, you can get it from either an independent community bank or credit union, if not from one of the national banks. The problem is not credit availability; it’s demand. Like everybody else on Planet Earth, small businesses are deleveraging.

We wanted to know a bit more about the banking relationships of small business owners, so recently, on our website and weekly e-newsletter, we asked this question: “What type of bank do you do business with?” Here’s what we learned:

Our respondents who do business with a “large regional or national bank,” were barely more than those who said they trade with a “local community bank,” coming in at 38% and 36%, respectively. The third option of our poll, “a local credit union” – which are increasingly proving their relevance to small businesses – was chosen by 15% of our sample. And finally, a little more than one-in-ten said they needed a bank.

A week later, in a companion poll, we asked our small business audience: “Are you happy with your current banking relationship?” Seven out of ten said yes and 17% said no. And the group who said they “would change banks if they could,” came in at 13%.

The results of our unscientific online polls are backed up by the findings of several highly regarded surveys, like Dunkelberg’s NFIB Index: Main Street small businesses are dealing with many challenges in this not-so-great recovery, but access to credit is not one of them.

Uncertainty is suppressing small business loan demand, not banks.

I talked more about banking relationships recently on The Small Business Advocate Show. Click here to listen or download my conversation on how happy small businesses are with their banks.

For more great SBA content, click HERE!

Small Business Advocate Poll: What type of bank do you do business with?

The Question: What type of bank do you do business with?

38% - A large or national bank, with branches in more than one state

36% - A local community bank

15% - A local credit union

1% - I need to find a good bank

My Commentary:

Whether you know it or not, your bank should be your business’ best friend. We wanted to know about the banking relationships of our audience, so last week we asked this question: “What type of bank do you do business with?” The responses were a little surprising.

A little more than one-in-ten said they needed a good bank. Of course, this could mean either they don’t’ have a bank but need one - preferably a good one, or it could mean they have a bad bank and want a better one. Either way, this week’s poll should shed more light on this issue. Be sure to check it out below.

Almost the same number of our sample - 38% - said they did business with “a large or national bank,” as those who said they banked with “a local community bank,” coming in at 36%. This was a little surprising, since after the financial meltdown of 2008, large banks took a pretty major hit with small businesses.

The other option we gave our respondents was “a local credit union.” It was a little surprising that 15% said they did their banking with this sector. Credit unions are definitely working hard to become relevant to entrepreneurs.

On The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about how small businesses feel about their current banking relationships. Click here to listen or download.

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Check out other great SBA content HERE!

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs; we’re glad you knew us

Peter Meyer is a global business consultant. In his work, and as a frequent guest on my radio program, my friend Peter has proposed that the highest possibility of entrepreneurial success comes from identifying a customer desire first and then creating a solution. Let’s call this the Meyer Model: Solution follows desire.

For almost all entrepreneurs, Peter’s idea about entrepreneurial pursuits is absolutely the right one. But in our universe there is a microbeam of entrepreneurial energy for which the Meyer Model just doesn’t work, and we should all thank our lucky stars for that.

You probably didn’t know Steve Jobs, but he knew you. The iconic co-founder of Apple, too soon taken from us, knew what you wanted before you knew you wanted it. Let’s call that the Jobs Model: Desire follows solution.

To be sure, there have been others like Jobs. Indeed, the Jobs Model could be named for geniuses like Bell, Edison or Marconi. But, as Peter points out in Creating and Dominating New Markets (Amacom 2002), for every one of these successful visionaries, there are thousands who failed with a solution in search of a problem. Their failure wasn’t because they weren’t entrepreneurial enough; they just used the wrong model. This will be on the test: For all but a tiny number of entrepreneurial geniuses, the Meyer Model – customer problem first, then solution – is the high-percentage play.

Understanding these odds, it’s easy to see that most of us should focus our entrepreneurial energy as Peter recommends, rather than try to be like Steve, Alexander, Thomas or Guglielmo. But here’s good news: You can follow the Meyer Model and still be like Steve.

Steve was an innovator. You are too, but to really be like Steve, you must never stop innovating. Steve was customer focused like you; it’s just that you ask customers what they want first. Steve was on an uncompromising quest for excellence. Of all the things we know about Jobs that you should and can emulate, this has to be on top of the list – always seek excellence.

The world is a better place for the entrepreneurial energy of Steve Jobs. But that doesn’t make your efforts any less important. In the aggregate, more success and contribution has been achieved because entrepreneurs like you followed the Meyer Model: Ask what customers want, then create and deliver that.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs; we’re glad you knew us.

I’ve talked with several guests on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show about Steve Jobs’ legacy from technology to entrepreneurship to medicine. Click here to listen to our tributes.

For more great SBA content, click HERE!

There’s an app for high tech, not high touch

“There’s an app for that.”

This marketing slogan refers to a mobile app. A mobile app converts content and resources that otherwise would have been consumed through a browser on a computer desktop, to the much smaller and variably shaped screens on the many different kinds of hand-held devices. Mobile apps are proliferating because they are almost always handier and sexier than their website counterparts.

In 1998, broadband Internet connection was in less than 4% of households and almost no businesses. Reporting on this emerging capability, I made the macro prediction that the world would change when broadband Internet became ubiquitous and broadly adopted. Well, broadband ubiquity, today thy name is mobile. The proliferation of WiFi and mobile networks we know as 3G and 4G, has spawned mobile apps which are at once exciting and disruptive.

In 1998, broadband Internet connection was in less than 4% of households and almost no businesses. Reporting on this emerging capability, I made the macro prediction that the world would change when broadband Internet became ubiquitous and broadly adopted. Well, broadband ubiquity, today thy name is mobile. The proliferation of WiFi and mobile networks we know as 3G and 4G, has spawned mobile apps which are at once exciting and disruptive.

A generation before my broadband prognostication, a real prophet, John Naisbitt, published his landmark book, Megatrends, in which he prophesied, “The more high tech we have, the more high touch we will want.” In the 21st century, Naisbitt’s Law, balance technology and humanity, must be the North Star for any successful small business strategy.

So, how does a small business maintain a competitive advantage in the face of pressure from high tech innovation and the primordial human desire for high touch connection? The answer, as with so many 21st century questions, is not either/or, but both/and.

If you want customers to keep your business at their fingertips wherever they are, there’s an app for that. If a customer relationship would benefit from a welcoming smile, there is no app for that.

If a product tutorial video posted on your YouTube channel would help a customer in the field, there’s an app for that. To be able to interpret the troubled look on the face of a customer as a clue that you haven’t yet healed their pain, there is no app for that.

If customers want to check the status of an order they placed with you, whenever and wherever they are, a mobile app can be built for that. If customers do business with you because you remember their face, name and what they like, there is no app for that.

Remember Naisbitt’s Law: Blend and balance the power of high-tech with the humanity of high-touch.

There’s an app for high tech, but there isn’t one for high touch.

Click here to listen to more about blending high tech and high touch.

Check out other great SBA content HERE!

Don’t be a “Killer App” victim

Do you know the term, “killer app?”

Initially coined in the 1990s, a killer app is computer jargon for an application that significantly enhances the value of a larger, host technology. An innovation would be dubbed with this moniker when it became so compelling that the subsequent high adoption rate might literally kill any product and associated businesses that it replaced.

Although no one called it that, perhaps the classic killer app is the internal combustion engine, delivered in its host technology, the automobile. Those invested in the horse-drawn carriage industry – including the proverbial buggy whip – were asphyxiated by that new technology.

Modern killer apps include the Web browser – delivered over the Internet – which changed how we consume media and painfully shifted the paradigms of traditional media – radio, television, newspapers, etc. And ask the U.S. Postal Service about the impact of that little app called the email client – served by the World Wide Web – like Outlook, Eudora, Thunderbird, etc.

Mobile apps – delivered over WiFi and mobile networks – convert content otherwise consumed with a browser on a computer desktop into handy forms developed for the much smaller and variably shaped screens on hand-held devices. Mobile apps are so sexy that they are progressively wounding the personal computer industry. Did IBM see this coming when they sold their global PC business to China’s Lenovo in 2005? Michael Dell, call your office.

In 1998, I began reporting on my radio program about the emerging alternative to Internet dial-up: broadband, aka, “big pipes.” I told my audience then that when broadband Internet becomes ubiquitous the world will change. With the proliferation of WiFi and mobile networks today, the world has changed. Ask any business in an industry that once depended on humans being tethered to a desk, in an office, inside of a building, downtown.

Today, “killer app” is part of the vernacular as a handy metaphor describing any slayer of an entrenched business model. So here are two questions to ask your team in your next meeting: Are we creative and innovative enough to produce a killer app? Or are we so hidebound that we could become the road-kill of someone else’s killer app?

If you’re not trending toward the former you’re slouching toward the latter.

It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but don’t fall in love with how you do it.

Click on one of the links below to listen or download more about small business killer apps.

Are you an innovator or a killer app victim? with Jim Blasingame

What killer apps are you developing? with Jim Blasingame

Check out other great SBA content HERE!