The Real Scoop on “Authenticity” and What It Means to Your Customers

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By Red Slice on May 4, 2011Reprinted here by express permission of Red SliceType “authentic branding” into Bing and you’ll pull up 581,000 results. The advice to “be authentic” hits business owners and entrepreneurs more than gray skies hit Seattle from October to May. And, yes, I give this advice to my clients.

But what does being “authentic” really mean?

This term has been bastardized a bit in the intersection between entrepreneurship and personal development. Many coaches and consultants are advising people to “live their passion” and “live an authentic life” and to find careers and businesses that “authentically” play to their strengths. This is all great advice.

But some business owners confuse “authenticity” with “only the stuff I care about.” And that’s not really what we’re talking about from a branding perspective.

Having an authentic brand means that you deliver what you promise. Period. You do what you say, You walk your talk. When I go to Walmart, I don’t expect great service or quality fashion. I expect what they promise: low prices. That is authenticity. It has more to do with company values, service quality, product line and image. It means that if you advertise your brand as hip, sexy and cool, then your products, your company – heck, maybe even your people – need to walk that talk. It means if you are going to tout “Customer Service is our #1 Priority” that you authentically take care of your customers, go above and beyond, and empower your call center employees to do whatever it takes to solve their problems quickly and painlessly. It means that if you claim to be cheap and disposable, that you ARE cheap and disposable, because that what people want from you if you are promising that.



In A Surprise Move, Radio Gained Listeners Last Year


The “Statistical Abstract of the United States”, a weighty, riveting (that’s veiled sarcasm, its dry as dust) tome produced by the United States Census Bureau, states that the number of hours America spends with radio has fallen from 836 hours per year per person in 2003 (about 16 per week) to a projected 716 hours in 2009 per person (about 13.7 hours per week).

However, Arbitron, the media and marketing research company that tracks radio listening, among other things, released a study Monday (3/22/11) that states that listenership among people 12 years of age and older actually rose in 2010. Arbitron’s numbers say that an average of 241.6 million people in this group listened to conventional radio stations each week last year, an increase of 2.1 million over 2009.

Carol Hanley, Arbitron’s executive VP of Sales and Marketing, commented, “Radio is much stronger than the general perception of it has been”.

My response is: “Maybe”.

If you’re in charge of marketing somewhere, and you’re thinking about spending some money on radio spots, here are some things to consider:

The renewed vigor of radio listenership numbers is due in no small part to the increase in Hispanic radio stations and the Hispanic listeners that come with them. Radio added 1.1 million Hispanic listeners in the United States last year. As an industry analyst (not with Arbitron) pointed out recently, the state of Texas alone went from 25 Spanish-language stations in 2000 to 154 Spanish-language stations in 2009, and at least a few more were added in 2010, although those numbers are not yet out. That’s great if Hispanics is one of your target markets, but not so meaningful if this group is not in your target demographics.


Can Saab Be Turned Around?


There are turnarounds of an average degree of difficulty, and then there are turnarounds that might take a couple of years off of your life.

Bringing Saab, the Swedish automaker, back from near-death, is probably in the latter category.

Just a quick recap, for those unfamiliar with the Saab story:

Saab originally made airplanes (and a subsidiary spun off long ago still does), developed a prototype car in 1949, started selling cars in earnest in the Fifties, entered the U.S. market, and developed what could probably be accurately called a small but fanatical following in America. Saabs were quirky, front-wheel drive when almost nothing else was, extremely safe, very economical, and, last, but hardly least, had design that was truly innovative and different-looking.


Business Blog Primer



If you’re a business these days, you’re supposed to have a blog to go along with your company website. The reasons why?

Well, it can keep your customers informed, for one. It can provide a great platform for your customers to interact with the company, for two. Third, it’s a great way to keep talking about the company in a positive way. Fourth, it’s a good way for the company viewpoint on issues to be delineated, if that is important to the business. Fifth, people may actually come to your site just to read your blog, or, some other site may find something interesting on your blog and link to it, thereby driving potential customers to your site. Sixth, each new blog post (and each new comment, if you allow comments) is yet another reason for the search engine bots to crawl your site, thereby moving you up in the search engine rankings, which is always good for business.

Okay, so a lot of good reasons to have a company blog. The problem is, of course, just as with other things, the execution. Apropos of that execution, how do you get a blog, how do you get good, relevant content for the blog, and how do you keep it going?


Things Have Changed

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Yes, I am quoting a Bob Dylan song title on a business blog.

But things have changed with the passage of the 2010 Tax Relief Act two weeks ago, and I thought it would be a good idea to highlight some of the provisions that might hold the greatest interest for small and medium-sized businesses.

So, here we go:

Small Business Investment: Section 760 of the Tax Relief Act amends section 1202 of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code), with the intent of increasing incentives to invest in small businesses. The Code now states that if an investment is made in 2011 in stock of a qualified small business and the stock is held for a minimum of five (5) years the gain is tax free. Prior to passage two weeks ago, the Code section 1202 incentive was a 50% gain. Some details: The investment must be in qualified small business stock. That means the investment must be in new shares of a “C” corporation. The investment must be made as an original issue of stock and can be granted for money, property or services performed, except for service of underwriting. To qualify, a company must be a domestic corporation with a cap of aggregate gross assets of $50,000,000 USD before AND after the issuance of the new shares. And, a minimum of 80% of the total assets must be used in an active trade or business. An active trade or business is defined by the IRS as a trade or business other than a personal service business like law, medicine, engineering, consulting, athletics, financial services, and includes other trades or businesses where the business is dependent on the reputation or skill of 1 or more of its employees.

Small Business Expensing: Businesses will be able to write off 100 percent of their equipment and machinery purchases, up to $500,000, that were placed in service after Sept. 8, 2010 but before Jan. 1, 2012. The cost of the equipment (up to $500,000) reduces the total taxable income of the business.

Estate Tax: The revised estate tax level was set at a $5 million exemption and 35 percent top rate through 2012.

Payroll Tax: Employees will receive a 2 percent reduction in their Social Security (FICA) payroll tax in 2011. The rate for employees will drop from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. It is important to note here that employers (no matter what size) will continue to pay the 6.2 percent rate. Self-employed individuals will pay 10.4 percent instead of 12.4 percent. The FICA tax rates for everyone will return to 2010 levels in 2012.

Research Tax Credit: The research tax credit had originally expired as of December 31, 2009. The Tax Relief Act has now extended this for 2010 and 2011.

That wraps it up on this end, and I hope this provides a quick overview of some of the changes in the recent tax legislation. We are not tax accountants (not even close), so if you have questions, it is in your best interests to contact a certified tax accountant, not us.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in marketing, sales, front-end operations, and strategy. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://cedarpointconsulting.com.

Will Your Business Need A Turnaround Soon?


Four times in my business career I have answered a telephone and someone else on the other end asked if I could help them turn their business around.

I accepted the challenge each time, and have a success rate of 75%. Three of those businesses were turned around successfully; one was not. Each business was at death’s door by the time the call was made to me. Each person in charge of those businesses waited until the last minute of the last hour before deciding that it was time to “do or die”, that it was finally the right time to accept the wrenching changes that would be necessary to give their respective business a fighting chance at survival.

I don’t wish to belabor the obvious here, but it sure would have been easier to bring back the commercial concerns in question if there had been earlier recognition of problems at those businesses, as well as an earlier willingness to act to fix the problems. Believe me, I would have been happy to come on the scene earlier, be given a set of more manageable problems concerning the health of the business, and, spared the client the experience of living inside the pressure cooker of uncertainty regarding the survival of the company, even if it meant far less billable hours.

But, that’s not how it usually works. Business owners are human beings, and human beings tend to develop inertia and be resistant to change. Business tails off, but it’s not off by a lot, and then it gets a little worse, but, you know, things are still okay, and then things are just okay for quite awhile, until they’re not.

I’m reminded of the passage in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which one character asks another, “How did you go bankrupt”?

“Two ways”, the other man says. “Gradually, and then suddenly”.

Yes, that’s how it usually happens. Businesses almost never explode and fail, a la the CFO running off to Bolivia with the company’s working capital, or an ugly public relations fiasco, or the CEO and founder perishing in a plane crash. Nope, most companies that die simply wither away slowly.

Will this happen to your business?

It’s possible; many businesses fold, and disappear under the waves of commerce every year. But, if you’re paying attention to the basics, your chances of sticking around get much, much better.

The basics include, but are not limited to:

•Paying attention to what your competitors are doing – not only does this give you a way to match/exceed their offerings, there might be something they have that you want to emulate.

•Paying attention to market trends – even if you’re not first with the product your customers desire most, a fast second will usually save the day (and sometimes rule the day).

•Being cognizant of overall economic trends – if all you sell is trucks that get 10 mpg and gasoline climbs up to $5 a gallon, there is trouble on the horizon.

•Making it as easy as possible for customers to buy what you’re selling – Example 1: Client had the national distribution rights to a product (machinery) that the target market definitely wants and needs, but the acquisition cost was high and many customers could not afford the one-time expense. The solution was to find a small-ticket lessor that would offer lease financing to prospective buyers on a private-label basis (leasing branded with the client’s name). The client not only moved more product at higher margins, they also made fee income from the leases generated through the arrangement. Example 2: Client that does custom web development wanted to sell website templates of their own design to customers that want a different look than most sites, but do not have the budget for custom work. Unfortunately, many of these prospective customers have little or no technological expertise. The solution was to offer different packages with different degrees of required customer involvement at different price points. There was no “take it or leave it” attitude in terms of the product being offered; in fact, our client offered enough different levels of “do it yourself” packages so that it the average prospect found it highly likely that they would find a package that suited their skill/desire level.

•Conducting regular business strategy sessions – If you’re a very small company, this may seem almost laughable to you, but replacing those conversations you have after hours with your three employees over take-out food with a scheduled strategy session led by someone with experience in business strategy can usually produce better results. And, if you’re a large company, and you’re doing okay in the market, and nothing (product, competitors, size of market, etc.) has changed in five years, there probably doesn’t seem to be a pressing need for business strategy at corporate headquarters, but again, it can prove to be quite valuable to put a day aside and sit in a room with your peers and talk about just where you want the business to go in the next couple of years.

•Always thinking about a strategic alliance – it’s a cold, brutal business environment out there, and having another ally when facing off against your competitors always helps.

•Reviewing your marketing assets on a regular basis – there may be value in data or relationships you already have. I had a client that acquired a much larger, poorly-run competitor in order to get their retail locations and their commercial contracts, and ignored the list of 45,000+ consumer customers that came with the acquisition for over two years, despite the fact that it was a higher margin business that that the client was then trying to build up in a separate business unit. I was told, “They’re not our customers. There are some very unhappy campers in that portfolio”. Meanwhile, good money was being spent to send out direct mail pieces to new prospects.

•Constantly improving your business processes – reducing costs, reducing cycle times, increasing profits and increasing customer satisfaction are all very good things that should be done on an ongoing basis, not just when a crisis is looming.

•Having business financing always available – don’t wait until the moment it starts raining to get an umbrella, have one ready. Establish lines of credit before an emergency situation, not as a result of – the terms will be better, and access to the funding is immediate.

Now, all of this may seem pretty basic to all of you. It is. And, as I noted above, this isn’t even a complete list, there are more basic things businesses should do in order to not need a turnaround specialist in the future. But I think you would be surprised at how many businesses, large and small, ignore the basic blocking and tackling that they should be doing on a daily basis. Lethargy creeps in; the living organism that is the business is fat and happy, and habit takes over in terms of day-to-day activities.

Let this serve as your alarm clock if your business is one of the sleepy ones, and your senior managers are conducting their duties in a soporific trance. I’m happy to come over to your place and help you with a turnaround, but really, I think you would be happier if you didn’t need a turnaround in the first place.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in marketing, sales, front-end operations, and strategy. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com/.

Cedar Point Consulting Opens New York City Office

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To serve its financial services and technology clients, Cedar Point Consulting LLC has announced that the company has opened a new office in New York City. The new office, on the 26th floor of the beautiful and iconic Chrysler Building, is located at 405 Lexington Avenue, in the middle of New York City’s vibrant business district.

Brendan Moore, one of the principals at Cedar Point Consulting, stated, “We have a focus on financial services firms in our practice, so it’s only natural that we would want to secure some new Class A space in New York City, the financial capital of the United States. We’re quite pleased with our new office, and the location thereof, and look forward to servicing Cedar Point’s clients from there in the future.”

Based in Washington, DC, Cedar Point Consulting provides consulting services in these areas:

•Business Planning, which includes business plan development, e-business planning and e-marketing planning
•Strategic Planning, which covers strategic plan development, strategic plan review and strategic planning support services
•Marketing and Sales, which includes traditional marketing and advertising, Internet and new media marketing and sales management
•Management, which consists of project management, program management, project methodology selection, and project governance, including tough project turnarounds
•Operations, which encompasses customer/member acquisition, technology support staff, call center units and their technology support staff, customer service, underwriters, processors, fulfillment, as well as specific issues like efficiency and quality management
•Process Improvement using Six Sigma, Lean Process Improvement Tools and Business Process Re-engineering, and
•General management consulting advice, including vendor selection, off-shore teaming and other unstructured or general business analysis, including business turnarounds.

Interested parties can learn more about Cedar Point Consulting at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com, or reach the firm at 1-866-CEDAR-34 or via our contact page.

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