Category Archives: Business

Why Many Businesses Earn a Paltry Profit, If Any: How to Turn This Dilemma Around

By James D. Roumeliotis   

10 Reasons Your Business Is Not Making Money – InsiderBLM

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” – Henry Ford

Every business launched should be infinite and earn a profit ─ unless, of course it is a non-profit organization. Profitability has an impact on whether a company can secure financing from a bank or attract investors to fund its operations and grow its business. Continuous prosperity is earned most notably by tightly controlled financial management, including cash flow/liquidity, a methodical and lean operation, and a policy with emphasis on employee, vendor, as well as on a customer focused environment.

However, many businesses are not earning a decent profit margin or produced one for some time. Those companies are at a stage where they can be profitable anytime, but they prefer to invest money back into the company to keep the growth steady. However, there are also scores of them where they cannot survive without external debt or they are operating at a highly unsustainable business model such as selling merely on price with no unique selling proposition (USP) and instead, paying more attention at how fast they are growing. 

How much profit should a business be earning?

A decent margin will vary considerably by industry and size of business, but as a general rule of thumb, a 10% net profit margin is considered average, a 20% margin is considered high, and a 5% margin is low. The industries with the highest average profit margins include:

Large Industries

  • Software publishing
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Database, Storage & Backup
  • Semiconductor industry
  • Financial services (non-bank)
  • Healthcare support services

Small to Mid-size Businesses (SMB/SME)

  • Accounting services
  • Lessors of real estate
  • Legal services 
  • Management companies including consulting
  • Orthodontic and dental offices
  • Computer software and hardware technical operations
If You're Only In Business To Make Money… You're Doing It Wrong – Call  Porter

Industries with low profit margins include airlines, grocery stores and automobile dealers as they are typical examples of low-margin businesses. Capital and labor intensive industries usually have low profit margins, due to massive investments with a low return or a long term return (ROI).

For a complete list of industries and average profit margins click here.

Popular newer companies with high values but no profit

Some notable relatively young companies across the tech and lifestyle sectors such as Airbnb, Uber, Wayfair and Peloton, to name a few, have yet to break even since their inception despite the justification for high valuations which are generally around the future prospect of earnings, among other factors. All highly hyped start-ups had great stories of scale, regardless of whether their stories have yet turned-out as predicted. In fact, many are actually losing millions every year during the first decade (think Amazon). Reasons for not making any profit include, in part, a large investment in sales and marketing, product development, technology and operations. Some are less efficient with scale. Consequently, to make money, they will need to re-engineer their business model and manage costs from running far ahead of revenues.

How to restore your business gains

There are several measures to take to make certain your business thrives, and profits are frequent, as well as attractive.

  • Your profit margins ought to be in line with your industry or better. Consider offering a premium product which will yield a better profit and reputation. Avoid markdowns as they are profit-killers. In addition, enhance your brand image and increase the perceived value of what you are selling.
  • Negotiate better pricing agreements with your suppliers to reduce the costs of goods and widen your margins. Negotiate for discounts. You may want to include free shipping or other offers such as receiving extra products for free. This works well when you are purchasing in bulk.
  • Reduce supply chain costs and inefficiencies. One way to accomplish this is by shipping product in less than a full truckload (LCL) as it is more costly when it is full (FCL). Making several deliveries each week is more expensive than just one. 
  • Streamline your operations and reduce operating expenses. Automate specific tasks in your business such as putting repetitive activities on autopilot. This way, you can reduce the time, manpower, and operating expenses required to run your business. Cut overtime and excess staffing as much as it is feasible and control other expenses by implementing rigid budgets and needless expenses. If the purchase does not contribute to the growth and improvement of the business, it should not be made in the first place.
  • Avoid over leveraging as this entails having a significant amount of debt in use along with a debt service strain. While debts used to generate revenue can increase revenue and profit over time, excessive debt can inhibit profitability. Keep your debt on the wise and strategic side of things.

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The New Retail Business Reality: Rethinking and Reinventing an Outdated Model

AW360 Interview with FITCH on the Future of Legacy Retail – Advertising  Week 360 • AW360

By James D. Roumeliotis

As far as many of us know, complacency does not offer any benefits. In fact, it is the enemy of progress and can be the single largest threat to any business. Any rational entrepreneur and business executive who is operating a business, any business, let alone a retail enterprise, should be savvy enough to understand that change is constant. Good times don’t last forever. You would think! Vision, creativity, and an element of innovation are key characteristics of a forward-thinking businessperson. Nothing in the world is static. This applies to business ─ any business. It’s an ongoing process.

What never ceases to amaze me is how at this day and age, you still have retail operators are in denial. They continue to focus on their bricks & mortar stores rather than witness the changes occurring around them in their sector and place additional focus on digital retail. Either stubbornness, short-shortsightedness or both are the culprit.

Legacy retailers embracing online or a hybrid channel

In 2019 more than $3 trillion dollars in global retail was transacted online which mainly comprised both tangible and intangible products including fashion items, airfares & tourism, tech products, books, music, and educational courses. If retailers, even in those sectors, for example, have not yet embraced eCommerce, they may not cease to exist in about 10 years’ time ─ or even sooner! The most successful retailers launched as upstart eCommerce sites rather than legacy bricks & mortar ones who transferred a big chunk of their business transactions online. The former includes Amazon, Wayfair, Zappos and Expedia to name a few prominent ones. Their purchase experience is seamless, their customer experience a delight, and their after sales service unmatched. Plenty of investment and reinvestment of funds in technology has catapulted and kept them in the forefront. The expression, “you snooze, you lose” applies fittingly in this circumstance.

The current role of physical stores

Despite brick and mortar remaining essential to retail, the purpose is evolving into using the stores as a means to attract customers by ways of a “media stage” in terms of experiential marketing, as well as another way to transact sales. Consequently, media is now a cost of sales and rent is now a cost of customer acquisition. This is the new retail business model. The old model relied almost exclusively on advertising to drive consumers to physical stores to purchase goods and/or services. Today, digital media and online sales are the drivers. Customers can purchase online and conveniently, in a timely manner, pick-up their order at one of the closest retail stores. This also saves the customer and retailer shipping costs.

Retailtainment: immersive retail experiences

Retail should be more than just products. It should be experiential, immersive and entertaining. It’s about bringing the products to life around the consumer rather than merely focusing on the features and benefits. With technology these days, it is possible to exploit those possibilities. According to The Freeman Company, 9 in 10 marketers believe that brand experiences provide engagement to that is more compelling for customers. EventTrack reports that 91% of consumers feel more positively towards brands after participating in events and experiences.

Experiential retail, or as it’s now coined as, Retailtainment is a marketing concept introduced by American sociologist George Ritzer in 1999. He defined it as “the use of sound, ambience, emotion and activity to get customers interested in the merchandise and in the mood to buy.” This translates to retail brands providing customers with fun, unique and in-person experiences that elevate shopping to new heights. This desirable retail experience can surely drive more traffic and as a result increase sales.

Examples of retailers who have implemented the Retailtainment concept in their stores include:

  • STORY at Macy’s
Retail therapy: Macy's Story shop comes to NorthPark, Office Depot wants to  charge you rent

This is a narrative-driven retail experience by the American department store, Macy’s, in partnership with brands like MAC Cosmetics, Crayola, Levi’s Kids and more than 70 other small businesses. STORY initially started as a unique retail store who operated on the idea of renewing its stock according to different themes every few months. Themes like ‘Love’, ‘Remember When’ and ‘Holidays’ acted as guidelines for every new wave of products. After seven years in business, STORY was acquired by Macy’s in 2018 and relaunched as STORY at Macy’s since then.

  • Estée Lauder’s Power of Night Pop-Up
The Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair and it's Key Benefits | Luxe Society  Luxe Society - Asia's Première Lifestyle Portal

The upscale cosmetics brand recently hosted their first Power of Night pop-up event at the Visual Arts Centre in Singapore. The focus of the event was on the Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum, a beauty favorite in Singapore to rejuvenate skin and boost complexion hydration levels. The brand took an interactive approach to educate guests about how modern life affects our skin and what the relation is between sleep and skincare while providing entertainment through a series of recreational activities aligned with the theme.

  • Uber luxury brand Hermès with Carré Club
At the Hermès Carré Club, the Silk Scarf Becomes an Artist's Canvas | Vogue

The French luxury fashion manufacturer, Hermès, launched the Carré Club much to the entertainment of glamorous Hollywood. The studio space located in Chelsea housed eight of Hermès’s talented crafters where their skills were put on display, allowing visitors a behind-the-scenes peak of the brand’s manufacturing magic. The New York club was only open for a limited period, but this pop-up concept is making its way across major cities like Toronto, Singapore, Los Angeles and Milan. The entire experience of the Carré Club screams exclusivity, treating every guest like a VIP client. The limited installments only add to the charm of temporary luxury.

In the end

Today and moving forward, retail physical stores are meant as a media stage and physical exposure at the “right” locations, whereby customers can make timely and convenient pick-up purchases ordered/purchased online. The stores should also consider designing them with the goal of providing an unconventional experience to its shoppers. The main goal here is not necessarily to sell products, but rather to make the shopping experience immersive and improve the brand image.

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How to Blemish Your Well Established and/or Prestigious Brand and How to Prevent It

By James D. Roumeliotis 

A business invests time, resources and money building a brand over the years. Its image and reputation are sensitive matters which should be kept top of mind as they form perceptions on the mind of the consumer. This in turn drives revenues and noteworthy profits. Thus, it goes without saying that a brand is core to a company’s success. Moreover, the leadership behind it should be making methodical decisions to retain the brand’s reputation through diligent decisions and actions. Surprisingly, this is not always the case with some brands ─ primarily the people behind it, the brand custodians, along with their organizational culture.

So, What Gives?

The main reasons why a company may be neglecting its brand image includes:

  • Bad products or service;
  • Below average post sale service;
  • Not delivering on promises or lying and over-hyping the features & benefits offered;
  • Mixing and associating politics, race, religion, sensitive causes, and rogue individuals;
  • Overexposure including not carefully vetting the licensees;
  • Not delivering on a positive and effortless total customer experience;
  • Lack of employee training, empowerment, motivation and not everyone being on the same page or common goal with customer centricity throughout the organization;
  • Paying little attention to the noise and discussions made about the company/brand over social media.

Classic Cases of Greed, Over-exposure, and Negligence

Pierre Cardin: When the late 98-year-old fashion designer with the eponymous name passed-away, he left behind a legacy mixed with unique creativity, yet his name was overexposed on hundreds of products, from accessories to home goods. From an icon to a blemished brand whose prestige waned to oblivion. For over seven decades, he designed unique and unconventional clothes which pushed the boundaries of the acceptable. For example, he introduced his “bubble dress,” a short-skirted, bubble-shaped dress made by bias-cutting over a stiffened base. He would experiment with synthetic materials such as vinyl, and Plexiglas among other avant-garde textiles. He also introduced unisex fashion which were indistinguishable between man and woman.

Later, Pierre Cardin developed licensing agreements with several industries which put his brand name on a vast number of consumer goods, including cosmetics, pens, even cigarettes. He once amused that, if given the opportunity, he may even put his name on a roll of toilet paper. As a result of his practice, he eventually cheapened his brand despite the wealth it afforded him. The overall effect of making Pierre Cardin appear on a variety of items was solely to make habitually non-fashionable products appear high-end.

By the mid 1990’s with about 904 licenses globally, his licensing overexposure led to the devaluation of the brand. In 2011, he attempted to sell his business. Despite discussions with several potential investors, he did not succeed in that endeavor.

So why did Pierre Cardin chase money to the detriment of his brand? He answered this question while defending his strategy by stating: “I don’t want to end up like Balenciaga and die without a nickel — then, 20 years after I’m dead, see others make a fortune from my name.

The moral of the story is that a fashion icon brand which wanted to exploit its reputation and expand beyond its in-house offerings, required a strategy of licensing with a selective and discerning manner.  

Donald J. Trump and the family owned Trump Organization: The former US President and once renowned NYC Real Estate developer went from a hyped-up and aspiring luxury lifestyle brand to one presently looked-upon with disdain. He spent four years treating politics, diplomacy, the climate, and the well-being of his people as trivial matters, and in the process, alienated more than half-the country’s voters. The final nail in the coffin was the backlash from the Capital riot that he incited on January 6th, 2021. Timothy O’Brien, Bloomberg opinion columnist and the author of Trump Nation, on MSNBC News declared: “Trump’s brand is associated with violence, insurrection and hatred.” The headline in an Ad Week January 8, 2020 article, states: “Exclusive: Trump’s Name, Once a Brand, Is Now a Banner of Extremism.”

According to several people close to him, winning the Presidency to the WH in 2016 came unexpectedly to Donald J. Trump. He wasn’t quite up to the task for the job, other than the prestige and power bestowed upon him. While moonlighting as President of the US, Trump spent four years destroying two brands: his own and his Republican party’s. Consequently, banks, business partners, his lawyers, and political allies have distanced themselves from the former president. Much of his licensing business, which grew somewhat following the popularity of The Apprentice TV show, has reached a low point since he became president. 

Outright Reject Creating Scams and Malfeasance

Moreover, as anyone who maintains an element of morals and ethics in the business world will acknowledge, scams and malfeasance are not a good brand-building strategy. Consider the extinct Trump University: an online education scam, the Trump Foundation: a scam-packed philanthropy, and Trump Network: a multi-level marketing and devious organization.

What Can You Do to Preserve Your Brand Reputation?

  • Have a viable plan in place to build and preserve your reputation: It is not a onetime event, or a serious of occasional events but rather an ongoing process. Constantly monitor your brand. Be proactive vs. reactive to prevent issues from turning into a crisis.
  • Develop an online strategy to spot increases in negative conversation before they reach bloggers and online media.
  • Use social media to clarify customer misunderstandings, reducing overall complaints and building brand fans simultaneously.
  • Keep an open-door policy and encourage dialogue with your employees to obtain any adverse issues before they get exacerbated.
  • Apologize to customer complaints in a timely manner. 
  • Be transparent when handling client issues and avoid using pretexts.
  • Use testimonials as these can help boost any image problems.
  • Reward loyal customers and supporters by making them feel appreciated.
  • Do not associate your brand with any rogue partners. Choose the charities, sponsorships and cause marketing affiliations carefully.

Finally, avoid being entangled with religion, politics or any other sensitive subject and institutions.

Complacency and insensitivity in your business should, by all means, be avoided let alone developing and retaining a stellar brand reputation.

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The Four T’s of Leadership: Truth, Trust, Transparency & Teamwork

By James D. Roumeliotis

Those, like myself, who are drawn to the discipline of “leadership” have read our share of articles, research papers and oodles of third-party opinions on the subject matter. However, most if not all of us, will agree that the definition arrives at the same conclusion: Leadership is a skill and talent, mainly by an individual, to lead, motivate, influence other individuals, teams, and entire organizations to act toward achieving a common goal. In business, this implies directing colleagues and workers with a strategy to meet the company’s attainable goals and objectives.

For leadership to possess credibility, it must earn three sacred principles: Truth, Trust and Transparency plus an additional and equally important one ─ Teamwork. These elements will be expounded below.

Leadership styles

Regardless of leadership style applied, the four T’s presence are not to be discounted.

Without going much into detail on the eight leadership styles, as this subject is an article or book unto itself, its effectiveness is summarized in the following table:

Leadership StyleCommonly EffectiveOccasionally EffectiveRarely Effective
DemocraticX  
Autocratic  X
Laissez-Faire X 
StrategicX  
Transformational X 
Transactional X 
Coach-StyleX  
Bureaucratic  X

The four T’s of leadership

The four “T’s” are considered the cornerstone to a leadership’s personality and long-term success. Those skills are all within reach and should be brought to the top of a leadership personality.  

Truth: Lack of truth expressed in any organization can take many forms. It could be departments not sharing information because it might put them in a bad situation with peers or it could be information not reaching a manager because no one wants to pass-on any bad news. Leaders need to know the truth to make intelligent business decisions and the employees at all levels should know the truth to do their jobs effectively. 

Trust: Without trust, a leader will not succeed instigating a productive team culture. Moreover, the most important attribute building trust is transparency. Leaders build up their team members’ trust by communicating transparently and truthfully – in other words, by being trustworthy. In addition to the importance of team members trusting their boss, it is essential that supervisors also trust their direct reports and facilitate their success by creating the conditions for it.

Transparency: A recent Forbes poll revealed that 50% of employees think their organizations were held back by a lack of transparency. When an individual or an organization is transparent, there are no hidden agendas and no information is being kept from people who need to know it. Transparency also promotes recognition of common goals. This is important because you are not stating one thing while covertly trying to achieve something else. Trust and transparency go hand-in-hand because transparency builds trust.

Teamwork: Teamwork is critical to success in any effort. Excellent leadership requires inspiring the people around them by empowering them, by enabling them to contribute their expertise as a collective and cohesive team, and ultimately trusting them.  Teamwork and leadership in tandem are important because they provide clarity for your team and have a direct impact on the vision of the company and its results.

The way these principles need to be applied will vary with each circumstance. However, the principles themselves remain the same. Therefore, leaders can and should apply these principles in an adaptable way.

The takeaway

Leaders must create the conditions in their organization to succeed, as well as trust their colleagues and workers to do so, and verify that they have done so ─ by keeping in consideration the proverb, “Trust but verify.” By applying the principles of trust, truth, transparency and teamwork, leaders will help ensure their teams’ success. I realize that helping others grow brings me fulfillment. I see how being an educator, mentor or coach and an advisor, as well as an employer are rewarding roles for me. 

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Four Forms of Business Capital: Trust Capital, First and Foremost

By James D. Roumeliotis

Businesses usually focus on three types of capital such as Financial, Human and Intellectual but you rarely hear about a fourth one ─ Trust Capital. This is when a business and its brand possess honesty and considered trustworthy by its clients, employees and stakeholders. A brand is mainly a symbol, mark, logo, name, word, and/or sentence that companies use to distinguish their product from others. However, it is a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, and/or organization which matters a great deal. For those reasons, a brand is considered a promise which is a value or experience a company’s customers can expect to receive every single time they interact with that company ─ also known as touch points. The more a company can deliver on that promise, the stronger the brand value in the mind of customers and employees.

Defining each business capital

Financial Capital can be defined as an investment asset whose value is derived from a contractual claim of what they represent. These are liquid assets as the economic resources or ownership can be converted into something of value, known as cash, financial instruments or securities. It is liquidity available its disposal to operate efficiently.

Human Capital, also known as human resources and manpower among other organizational division names/designations used, is the group of people who work for or are qualified to work for an organization—the “workforce.” Human Capital or “people talent” helps creates economic wealth for the business. Human capital also includes assets like education, training, intelligence, skills, health, and other things employers value.

Intellectual Capital also known as “IP” refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. IP is protected in law by, for example, patentscopyright and trademarks, which enable a business or individuals to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. 

As for Trust Capital, it is an intangible asset whereby confidence in the leadership, integrity, credibility and responsibility of a business to deliver its promises to its customers, employees and its stakeholders exists. Trust capital is what the business utilizes during a setback or crisis when it needs to defend itself in an unfortunate and unexpected circumstance. The trust capital the business has built over time can help to weather the crisis of character.

Additionally, some of the most important traits your customers associate with your brand are honesty and trustworthiness. Consequently, presenting a brand that is honest and trustworthy can make it easier to gain and retain your customers. It is something that takes time and plenty of effort to build but can also be scarred overnight.

Ways to build Trust Capital

1. Adopt a Trust Agenda within the organization, led by top management. Build a strong corporate brand with leadership, credibility, integrity and responsibility at the heart of its organizational values and behaviors. Do not just making empty promises. Failing to match behavior and expected results with merely talk results in loss of credibility and trust.

2. Recognize that trust is not the same as reputation – both are equally important and should be treated so. Reputation is the backward-facing evaluation of past experiences with a company or brand. Trust is the forward-facing evaluation of consumer expectations of future experiences.

3. Focus on customization and personalization but know your limits. Trust plays an important role in both. The more a consumer trusts a brand, the more the consumer will share, and then the more personal a brand can be. Differentiate between customization and personalization.

4. Acknowledge that every consumer is value conscious and that consumers determine value, not companies. Value as perceived by consumers is what matters. All consumers want to think of their purchase of a product or service as a good, fair value. Best value is more than merely low price, nowadays it is the total customer experience and how a brand makes them feel.

5. Create brand attributes. Those attributes are what you want to share with your customers. Part of discovering your brand attributes is also defining a brand tone. Every communication you have with your customers should display your brand attributes and tone. These communications should include website content, FAQ page language, and social media posts. What differentiates your brand? It can make a huge difference in how much information customers will trust your company with.

In addition, consider ways to build customer confidence by:

  1. Take ownership of customers’ concerns and complaints.
  2. Reassure customers by reviewing what they have stated and confirm you understood them before working on and providing an answer or solution.
  3. Keep customers posted in a timely manner.
  4. Always exude calmness, be tactful and remain professional.
  5. Encourage feedback.

In the end

The four Cs to build organizational value are Financial, Intellectual, Human and Trust. Many companies focus on the 3Cs of Capital, Financial Capital, Intellectual Capital and Human Capital. Now, they must add a fourth C, Trust Capital. Trust Capital creates value for the organization and helps protect the business when there is a credibility issue or a crisis. Trust Capital takes time to build but can be destroyed very quickly. Senior Management/Executives must think of themselves as the organization’s ‘Chief Trust Officer’.  Trust is earned over a long term. However, trust can be lost quickly. Facebook, We Work, Boeing and VW are good examples of how trust can dissipate over short sighted decisions and/or poor corporate decisions. How management behaves after a crisis is critical because actions speak louder than words. However, if a brand has plenty of prior trust capital, it can eventually help stabilizes and return the situation to their trusted relationships with customers, employees and stakeholders.

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Diffusion of Innovation: Getting past the first wave of innovators and early adopters to reach the tipping point

By James Roumeliotis

Diffusion of Innovation is a theory which explains how, why, and at what rate new ideas, including technology, spread. The concept was conceived by Everett Rogers, a professor of communication studies, which also inspired his book “Diffusion of Innovations” first published in 1962. It is considered one of the oldest theories in social science. Professor Rogers popularized the use of this premise with the intention of explaining how over time an idea or product gains momentum and grows in use and popularity among a specific population. Consequently, Diffusion is the process by which an Innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.

What is it?

Diffusion research examines how ideas are spread among groups of people and focuses on the conditions that increase or decrease the prospect that a new idea, an innovation, product or practice, will be embraced by a certain population or society.  This concept ought to be taken in consideration when launching a new product if it is to succeed because no matter how good and innovative a new product is, it is very likely that a few people will adopt it just because it is new or novel.  The initial trend of those who adopt the change or innovation are called the “Innovators.” They represent about 2.5% of the population.

The next level and surge of people represents about 13% who will adopt an innovation, and these are referred to as the “Early Adopters.” Beyond these first two waves is the next portion of the population who represent the tipping point for a system. The tipping point is the moment of truth, the breaking point, and highlight. These are not the easy ones, as the law of diffusion of innovation tells us that you have to comprise between 15% and 18% of a population to accept an idea before you hit the important tipping point. That said, you must get past the first wave of Innovators and Early Adopters so as to accomplish the tipping point. Within the organization, according to Simon Sinek, author of five books, including ‘Start With Why’ and ‘The Infinite Game’: “If you are trying to get employees to embrace a new direction or innovation, it is even more crucial to engage people in the why of the initiative and not just the how.

Why is this beneficial?

The Diffusion of Innovation theory benefits marketers by helping them understand how trends occur. Moreover, it benefits companies in assessing the likelihood of success or failure of their new product or service.

How is it applied?

For starters, it is essential to determine where the majority of the target audience falls as this will indicate their key motivators.  Those insights will help determine how the product is marketed toward them. 

1. Innovators: Innovators are a minor group of people that constantly explore new ideas including technology products. These are the people who are influential and responsible for the creation of products that will then go through diffusion of adoption.

2. Early Adopters: Early adopters are considered as opinion leaders or influencers. They are open minded to change, and often share positive testimonials and feedback about innovations that have left them satisfied, as well as feedback regarding how new products could be improved.

3. Early Majority: People that fall in the early majority category of adoption are basically followers of the early adopters. They take the opinions of the early adopters seriously. As a result, they are likely to perform behaviors such as reading reviews prior to purchasing a product. 

4. Late Majority: People in the late majority category of adoption are the skeptical ones who are not very familiar or comfortable with change. Quite often, those in this late majority category will only accept new products or innovations when they begin to feel pressure from those around them making them feel as if they would be left behind if they do not embrace the new products or innovations.

5. Laggards: They are the most conservative of the bunch. They only embrace new products or innovations when there is no alternative to doing so and often are persuaded to accept by facts found through their own research and reading reviews. Another common motivator for this group is the pressure felt by the other adopter groups.

If you are launching a new product, such as software, you can use the Diffusion of Innovation concept to help you identify the most ideal marketing strategy and approach for each group/category. Although the Adoption theory is beneficial when looking at new product launches, it can be equally useful when launching existing products or services into a new market.

The following is an example of how this concept can be applied to digital marketing strategies (credit: smartinsights.com)
Launching new software to the different groups.
  • Innovator: Show the software on key software sites such as Techcrunch, or Mashable. Providing marketing material on the website, with relevant information and lead to potential sales with downloads.
  • Early Adopter: Create guides and add to the major software sites, providing marketing material such as case studies, Guides and FAQs.
  • Early Majority: Blogger outreach with guest blog posts and provide links to social media pages, key facts and figures, and ‘how to’ YouTube videos.
  • Late Majority: Encourage reviews, comparisons and share press commentary on your website. Provide a press section and social proof with information and links to reviews, testimonials, third party review sites etc
  • Laggards: It’s probably not worth trying to appeal to this group!

The take-away

The diffusion of innovation is important to marketers and innovators because it considers adoption in context of a larger social system. The first two groups on the diagram (the “Innovators” and the “Early Adopters”) are the only ones willing to accept the risk of purchasing a product first, whereas, the other/subsequent groups are willing to wait and have others they trust try it first prior to making a purchase commitment themselves.

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Sources: Rogers, E.M. (1976). New Product Adoption and Diffusion. Journal of Consumer Research. (March). p290-301.

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The Inept Organization: Weak Leadership as the Culprit

by James D. Roumeliotis

Embarrasing Moment Photo - Pants down

How often do you come across a company, either as a consumer or at a business relationship level, and realize how frustrating it is to deal with?

To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is here that procedural decisions are shaped and executed. An entity’s leadership is expected to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth.
Moreover, there is a constant search for the “right” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.

We notice that in certain types of B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted by “disservice” during their business exchange. Shortsightedness might lend itself to make this underhanded approach appear “profitable” on paper. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are not conceived with trust or respect.

Success Breeds Success

Companies that foster the right attitudes and strategies put the firm on track for success. Examining their corporate histories, you can witness a trajectory of growth. They have a tendency to dominate their markets and “win” through competent talent, innovation, and an entrepreneurial mindset within the leadership at the executive level. These choices underscore the prosperity and rapid growth of the institution. An examination of Alphabet (Google) or Facebook shows this quite nicely. They are not built like “traditional” corporations nor do they act like them.

Organizational leadership is accountable for creating value for customers, employees and its owners/investors. When Bill Gates conceived Microsoft, he put the firm on track for providing constituent audiences with what nobody else could provide. Understanding “asset” management in an expanded meaning of the term guaranteed that Microsoft would succeed under Gates stewardship.

The opposite is equally true. When top executives lack knowledge or experience for board positions, they should not be promoted to these leadership roles. Some family owned firms run afoul here and this brings up the issues of sustainability and corporate governance. Another weakness in running an organization, in my view, is pushing for short-term profitability at the expense of solid planning. For example, with large organizations, competence is not the primary value but rather connections, politics, and clever tactics. Such “benefits” can usually compensate for incompetence.

No business can continue to prosper unless it attracts fresh and eager talent. Despite the dilemmas within the financial world, top organizations consistently lure new talent with lucrative compensation packages. It is easier for a firm such as Goldman to tap the “best” because of its reputation, size and success than a small local financial player. When Goldman recruits they know where to look, whether it is Harvard or the London Business School. Prospects will already contain the seeds of the corporate culture in their past. Given the “right” conditions, new talent blossoms. Qualifications are never enough. They are a starting point reinforced by attitude and values. The selection and screening process is designed by HR to weed out inappropriate candidates.

Established software companies’ interview process include quizzing candidates with challenging technical questions. This practice not only assesses problem-solving and knowledge ability, but also explores the ability to perform under pressure, which is a key skill required for software engineers to succeed in their intense work environment.

One thing is firmly certain ─ the best-managed companies have “one” factor in common:
They are constant achievers in their respective industries. These companies exude managerial excellence. Financial performance is the result of this style of management. Consider companies such as Amazon, Apple and Cisco, among others, which thrive and ranked in 2019 by the Drucker Institute as America’s largest publicly traded companies according to Peter Drucker’s principles of effectiveness—“doing the right things well.

Deeds Not Slogans

Companies with inept leadership usually fail in the first year or two, but even established companies can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6/10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Jeff Bezos. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges daily to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:
Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
No Unique Selling/Value Proposition – Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
Absence of or very little communication among staff and management – Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
No transparency – There is hardly any openness from management.
Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
Creativity is practically non-existent – An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo
No specific and/or stable channel strategy – Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/undercapitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy – A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
Lack or very little employee training & development.
Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

Top executives need to be accountable to the ownership or Board of Directors – whichever applies, or at least to an outside arm’s length and neutral party such as an adviser who can also play “devil’s advocate” when necessary.

Good Organizations Matter

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. For its clients to receive stellar service, the firm must have its house in order. Besides structure and an efficient operation, employees should be trained and empowered to do their jobs efficiently.

Seth Godin, a renowned marketing strategist, stated succinctly: “If you want to build a caring organization, you need to fill it with caring people and then get out of their way. When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring. When you free your employees to act like people (as opposed to cogs in a profit-maximizing efficient machine) then the caring can’t help but happen.”

Companies that disrespect their employees and shut-out clients get willfully isolated and have a short life span through an erosion of market share and significant loss of revenue. A company’s goal should place emphasis on serving its people properly and fairly. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities hinder that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.

In a nutshell: Well-run companies thrive no matter what by hiring the right people, taking good care of them, listening to customers and never ceasing to innovate and improve.

___________________________________________________

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Lifestyle Branding: Engagement and the Total Experience

By James D. Roumeliotis

How Is Technology Helping Fashion Lifestyle Brands Connect To Their Human  Side

When you visit your local Porsche dealership be prepared to engage. Staff will talk to you about the total experience. This will invariably include discussing the firm’s racing pedigree and performance. In your
mind, you will be able to feel the steering wheel, smell the leather seats, and hear the roar of the engine. This car represents to you an exclusive club and you desire to be part of the privileged few. The brand also added its own private race tracks in several parts of the world for its customers to have exhilarating moments testing various models. Clearly, one does not buy a Porsche simply to go from point A to point B. In practice, you might use this care to commute to work, but this is not the incentive to purchase a piece of automobile and racing history.

Porsche is clearly a brand with authenticity and heritage. The principles shaping the consumer’s buying behavior go beyond intention. There is a sense of engagement in fulfilling a dream. It can be to make
a social status statement or a personal style choice. Whatever it is, it is not an unconscious choice. The codifiers are clear: This is who I am, and what I believe in. Ultimately, it can also articulate your sense of
self-worth and your emotional aspirations.

The most important emotional benefit in my view is that a product of this caliber and class expresses itself when the consumer can declare, “It suits my lifestyle.”

Lifestyle Brands Matter
Not every brand is a lifestyle brand regardless of whether it strives to portray itself as such. A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote more than a product with key benefits and
attributes. Note however that lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life”. It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand. Think of Ralph Lauren and you can readily see it is not about the clothes. It becomes an attachment like Porsche to an exclusive club in which you can be a member through emotional identification through use of the products in question.

Savvy companies understand these principles and look to keep the customer engaged. By doing so, they clearly forge the sort of long term relationships, which become the envy of their designated sector. Financial benefits clearly follow, but the raison d’être of the firm must back up its promotion for this to work effectively. One reason so many firms want to enter the lifestyle arena is profitability and high profit margins. Established brands can tap economies of scale when they launch new products at a cheaper cost to the firm. Surplus revenue can then be channeled into extensive advertising and promotion costs.

Building a Lifestyle Brand
Generally speaking, a brand that is designed for the lifestyle segment should have more emotional value to consumers. Features, cost, and benefits do play a role but by themselves they would be insignificant. There are companies that become a lifestyle brand by tying their product ranges to a distinctive culture or group. Marketing guru, Seth Godin labels this with the key word as a “tribe”. A classic case is Harley Davidson, who sells branded merchandise to customers whether or not they own one of the firm’s motorcycles. Other key lifestyle brands include Nike, Wholefoods, Red Bull, Hackett, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton among others.

In the electronics and computer industries, it is uncommon to have lifestyle products. However, Apple has broken this “glass ceiling” by its unconventionality with products which come with its seamless eco-system. Even its ubiquitous white headphones have become a fashion accessory and, some would even argue, a status symbol. The people who follow Apple and its “lifestyle” are clearly all obsessed in a way that the firm intended when it embarked on this well-thought-through strategy.

Lifestyle brands have clearly impacted on luxury brand management. The usual suspects such as BMW, Armani, W Hotels, and Rolex — just to name a few, have fostered commitment and loyalty with their promotional campaigns. These have given consumers an “associate” status with all that is glamorous. Just think of Daniel Craig and James Bond. Sales at Omega thrive on this “Bond engagement”.

The methods to reach a target audience require an integrated marketing/communication strategy. They clearly require taking into consideration and harmonizing the following aspects:
• Experiential Marketing;
• Grassroots marketing;
• Promotional tours;
• Sponsorship of lifestyle events;
• Lifestyle marketing on the Web: think Facebook;
• Viral video marketing;
• Social media/networking (blogs, chat rooms & message boards);
• “Interactive” is key;
• Mobile phone media, text messaging & applications.

Not Every Brand Can be a “Lifestyle”
New research from Kellogg at Northwestern finds that the strategy of traditional brands to reposition themselves as a “lifestyle” brand may fail. The reason is not rocket science: they simply fail to “bond” with
their customer base. “The open vistas of lifestyle branding are an illusion,” said Alexander Chernev, lead author of the study and Associate Professor of Marketing at Kellogg. “By switching to lifestyle positioning, brands might be trading the traditional in-category competition for even fiercer cross-category competition. Now they have to compete not only with their direct rivals but also with brands from unrelated categories.”

The study reveals how brands serve as a means of self-expression along with the limitations of expressing a consumer’s identity through brands. Moreover, the study uncovers customers’ desire for self-expression through brands is finite.

Why Do Some Lifestyle Brands Become A Way Of Life?Fabrik Brands
Credit: Fabrik Brands

In Perspective
Forward-thinking brands are those which will continue to develop creative ideas and solutions that will allow people to interact with each other and explore, as well as share creative opportunities. Moreover,
those same brands will make it a strategic priority to add pleasure into the lives of their consumers.

To be sure, there are many excellent examples of lifestyle branding. Just examine the “hotel as lifestyle” creator, Ian Schrager. Since the 1970’s, as an entrepreneur, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of
Ian Schrager Company, he has achieved international recognition for concepts that have revolutionized both the entertainment and hospitality industries.

His passionate commitment to the modern lifestyle has been expressed through a series of pioneering concepts:
The hotel is no longer just a place to sleep. It is portrayed as your home away from home. This allows hotels to act like theater. Think of the boutique hotel or “cheap chic”, “lobby socializing”, the resort, or the spa.

His keen instincts for the mood and feel of popular culture were honed during the 1970s and 1980s, when he and his late business partner, Steve Rubell, created Studio 54 and Palladium. In 1984, they turned their attention to Morgan’s Hotel and introduced the concept of “boutique hotel” to the world, which is today one the hottest segments in hospitality.

The goal of a lifestyle brand is to get people to relate to one another through a “concept brand.” These brands successfully sell identity, image and status rather than a “product-service” in the traditional meaning of
the term.

If they are successful in capturing their audience, then they become legends in their own right. If you examine the published photographic testament to “Il Pelicano” in Tuscany you will understand perfectly the meaning of the lifestyle branding spirit.

________________________________________________________________________

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The Sensuous Brand: How to create allure with products and user experience

by James D. Roumeliotis  

Sky Vodka - Sexy Brand

Why are visually appealing products rare which make purchasing it a delight and worth talking about? Common sense dictates that product design should be attractive – perhaps possess sex appeal if the brand behind its product(s) seeks to make a sales impact. Although beauty is subjective, there are common standards of attractive packaging, which are smart and demonstrate the intrinsic value of the product’s attributes.

However, many will agree that smart design looks timeless, expresses character and is visually seductive.

Barring lingerie labels such Victoria’s Secret (now defunct) or Agent Provocateur – which in and of themselves will ooze with sexiness, most other brands and their products from non-seductive sectors can still create and possess a sense of styling along with desire.

A brand that caters to all the senses, begins with an appealing brand identity, followed by creative industrial design of its products – which are complemented with a positive customer experience in every touch point.

Artfully articulating what your brand and offering represent

Adding personality to objects and human interaction are quintessential to customer envy and desire.

There are brands that design and churn sensuous looking products. However, there is one that most will agree is top of mind for the refined consumer electronics market –- Apple. It’s all about the appealing logo, the attractively designed and “feel good” products, the alluring packaging, the intriguing ads, and the overall positive customer experience at their retail level, Needless to say, it’s a contemporary brand that undoubtedly gets it. It’s no wonder it created a strong following, or as marketing maven Seth Godin would describe as a “tribe.”

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying into the brand repeatedly and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s image and reputation.

Product design is key to a great brand. Design is the elemental differentiator with competitors. Allure builds the emotional bond and turns owners into enthusiasts.

“It’s all about integrating design and brand,” says Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet Studio.

We need to cease thinking of them as different disciplines. The essence of the Apple brand comes through its design. Take the logo off a BMW and you still know it’s a BMW.”

Design also needs to be part of the strategic plan from the start, embraced by the CEO and across the Board.

A brand is not your logo or ID system,” says Robert Brunner, founder of the design shop Ammunition and author of ‘Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company.’

It’s a gut feeling people have about you. When two or more people have the same feeling, you have a brand. You get that feeling via smart design, which creates the experiences people have with the brand. Everything you do creates the brand experience; ergo design is your brand.

The holistic approach to customer attraction and retention

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile – textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory  fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Creativity, quality, storytelling and above all, customer experience

Standard products and mundane user experiences don’t offer compelling reasons for consumers to do business with certain brands. If a business can’t articulate its USP (unique selling proposition) ‒ as to why anyone should do business with your brand, your product and/or service merely becomes a “commodity” whose price will be the sole determinant in any transaction.  Being formidable and considered top of mind in your B2C sector requires a philosophy – a certain culture which will develop a following by consumers who share your values.

Quality materials, assembly and final product look increase a company’s competitiveness. The quality of a product may be defined as “its ability to fulfil the customer’s needs and expectations”. If the characteristics and specifications of a brand’s product line are equal or superior to its competitors, along with a fair price-value equation, the brand will turn out to be a preferred choice.

Storytelling, on the other hand, builds relationships by the stories that are well told. Stories add personality and authenticity to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands tend to boast their pedigree since their discerning clientele desire a deeper level of involvement and understanding of the history and heritage of the brand when it comes to their luxury purchase. This is referred to as “experiential luxury.”

It is essential that the sales professional be product proficient and adept at assisting and guiding the client to the purchase making use of flattery, romance and showmanship. To illustrate, when selling a niche automobile such as a Porsche, the sales consultant can talk about racetracks, describe road-holding capabilities, build-up a fascinating story – after which time he/she can bring-up reliability and the technical details which confirm to the discerning client what he/she is already aware of.

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with it. They become brand loyalists and advocates – purchasing the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.

Be first, different & daring – above all, visually stimulating

Plan and execute flawlessly the following to differentiate and develop into, as well as remain an enviable brand through artistic design and function:

–       The brand logo and company presentations should possess flair, consistency and be memorable;

–       Focus on a specific target audience/niche market rather than divert to several markets or the general population;

–       Innovative and “feel good” product design (both visually and tactile): Get inspired by designs from Philippe StarckPininfarinaPorsche Design and Bang & Olufsen. Architecture by Frank Gehry and the late Zaha Hadid and automobile design trends by Audi, Tesla, and in the last few years, Hyundai with its entire model makeup. Kohler Group doesn’t simply design functional bathroom and kitchen sinks and faucets, but rather bold designs and technology to an otherwise lackluster plumbing product sector.

Perhaps product customization and personalization should be available as an additional offering.

–       As for service related domains, place emphasis on employee attitude/personality, empowerment, constant training, effortless accessibility for your clients, flexibility when solving issues and presentations with style, as well as finesse. Each and every customer should be treated with personal care – a sign of individuality;

–       The Total Customer Experience: Be easy to do business with – accessible – at every stage of a transaction from initial contact/pre-sale, during the sale and post-sale (follow-through and customer service). Zappos, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton Hotels and American Express (to name some of the finest examples) are renowned for their obsession with customer service and total customer experience;

–       Soothing sounds and striking visuals: Consider sound branding complimented with refined standout visuals (audio, images and video). Surround your brand and its products/services with fashion, beauty, design and attractive models – without any marks of tackiness;

–       Packaging design should be visually appealing, distinctive, tastefully decorated, and equally inviting to open.

–       Sponsor, collaborate and/or associate with a fashion related brand and/or the arts. Both brands can benefit from combined exposure (PR and advertising). Luxury goods brands such as Versace, Bulgari and Fendi have teamed up with property developers to offer upscale designer hotels. Their trademark at hotel properties, in a select number of affluent cities worldwide, offers their loyal clients something new to get excited about.  It’s a collaboration which celebrates a shared fondness in design and luxury experiences.

–       Create and own a captivating name and category for your product or product line. Luxottica, is the world’s largest eyewear company, controlling over 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands (eye glasses and prescription frames) including Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses, along with Chanel, Prada and many other designer labels. It re-invented eyewear which were once considered a “medical device” and developed them into a fashion statement. They no longer label their products as “glasses” but as “eyewear” and “face jewellery” (for a lack of a better term/descriptive);

–       Marketing collateral and ads should be: (i) slick, (ii) minimalistic, (iii) emotional, (iv) portray a lifestyle, and (v) apply the “less is more” mantra. Arouse curiosity. Effective marketing campaigns should also include elements of: Imagination, Mystery and Memory;

–       Be a visionary and innovate – anticipate what your sector will look like in 3-5 years and begin to plant the seeds/strategize in a timely manner. Avoid complacency. Blackberry is an excellent case study exemplifying what they should have done a few years ago to remain relevant amongst iPhone and the Android platform smartphones.

Lessons from luxury brands: creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market including prominent brands such as BMW (ultimate driving experience), W Hotels (avant garde designer hotels for a younger audience, along with whatever you want, whenever you want it, as long as it’s not illegal), Louis Vuitton (prestige and opulence), Rolex (representing the pinnacle of achievement; fulfilling and perfection in one’s life) and Aston Martin (power, beauty, soul and heritage). Those brands have given way to consumers to buy their products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol.

Hermes Equestrian Fashion Photo

The final take: Elegant & intelligent design

Beauty and design in all things is artistic, engaging, stimulating and creates a sense of comfort. It’s also a very personal thing. Creativity is beauty in art form. It starts from nothing, utilizes mind exploitation, imagination then something awe inspiring is produced which stimulates the mind and senses. The approach to creativity is the way an artist might stand before a new canvas, on which a beautiful painting can be crafted. Staff who work in a creative environment should be given plenty of leeway to utilize their full potential – the freedom to flourish. Not doing so limits their artistic talent and deprives the company from taking a leap at the competition. Apple has successfully unleashed the talent from their product engineers by creating a non-stifling work environment. As for architects and industrial designers, they should definitely possess the talent and imagination to create and turn extraordinary drawings into reality.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. When Apple releases a new consumer electronic device, people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This is a result of Apple constantly building an emotional attachment to its products by managing the total user experience.

“Total customer experience” is not an option but rather compulsory as part of an alluring brand. It takes savvy planning, execution and perpetual refinements to stand above the crowd. It’s how you get noticed and remain relevant. Luxury brand desirability is driven by standout design, craftsmanship, as well as what is felt.

It takes vision, creativity and intuition, along with unflagging discipline and a sense of style, to keep a consumer focused company relevant and its products on everyone’s must-have lists. No brand should be complacent.

______________________________________________________________

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How to Overcome Obstacles in Your Business During and Post Covid-19: Five Steps for Long-term Survival and Effective Results

By James D. Roumeliotis

Superman Businessman

Whether you own a restaurant, retail, manufacturing or in the services domain, each definitely has its own challenges. However, all have similar things in common including protocols that must be implemented to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, as well as cash flow, customer acquisition and marketing issues to deal with to name a few. COVID-19 is a systemic shock for every company around the world. The pandemic has changed not only economies but consumer behaviors and what customers value and demand moving forward. How should a savvy entrepreneur regain his or her best skills and eloquently move forward?  There are five recommendations which will be addressed below.

The “new” normal or “next” normal

McKinsey & Co., a renowned business consultancy firm, declares that due to the business disruption caused by Covid-19, regardless of industry and sector, it envisions 7 elements which will be crucial in the shaping of the new normal. This includes:

  • Distance (social/physical) is back (technology continues to shrink physical distance, but in other ways, it could be set for a return);
  • Resilience & efficiency (combined – to come out of the crisis better than the competition, as well as the key to survival and long-term prosperity);
  • The rise of the contact-free economy (especially in regards to making payments – but in three areas in particular—digital commerce/e-commerce, telemedicine/virtual health, and automation);
  • More government intervention in the economy (step up to serve, or save, the private sector from economic disaster);
  • More scrutiny for business (with public money offered, there will be real effects on the relations between government and business, and between business and society);
  • Changing industry structures, consumer behavior, market positions, and sector attractiveness (should question whether existing market positions will be ongoing without much effort to reposition and respond to changes confronting various sectors as a whole);
  • Finding the silver linings (an opportunity for some positive outcomes and lessons derived from the coronavirus crisis).

A

Don’t panic, reassess and execute

Preparation, agility and resilience are three key ingredients to weathering any business storm with “Threats” in your SWOT analysis. Although Covid-19 has caused more havoc than anyone would not possibly anticipate, for optimists and the determined, it has offered a silver lining in regards to being much better prepared for almost any other peril which comes along in the future.

Cash flow: Since we know that cash is a crucial aspect of any business, a focus should be on price, volume of products or/and services sold, cost of goods sold (COGS) or cost of services rendered, operational expenses, accounts receivable timing, inventory control and turnover, as well as accounts payable terms and payment timing.

New and refined business model and strategy: Get creative and brainstorm different ways you can readapt your business and still deliver your service and/or products, including methods to boost revenues not considered pre Covid-19. For example, dining restaurants and lounge cafes are operating home-delivery and pick-up, as well as downsizing their seating capacity. Other types of businesses are considering mainly online and considering weekly or monthly subscription-style deals and other incentives helps to stay ahead of the competition.

Execution: Once the viable strategy is in place, implementing it requires several variables including: a) Everyone is onboard and constant communication is key; b) Include a timeline to accomplish the tasks; c) Select which ones will create the greatest impact to the goals of the organization; d) Frequently monitor and evaluate ─ verify progress against plan and make any necessary adjustments if necessary.

Finally, don’t leave any strategic planning elements without clear “action steps.”

Growth and innovation: The successful development and implementation of new ideas and refinements is crucial to a business so as to improve its processes, increase its efficiency, introduce/launch new and improved products and/or services to market, in addition to, improving its profitability. Encouraging and brainstorming new ideas, with all staff involved for maximum feedback, is a savvy consideration. Some ideas to consider are: adapting the business to meet changing customer needs, changes that solicit changes due to a “new” normal, and new, refined or discontinued products and/or service offerings.

Use of technology: More than ever before, exploiting technology at your disposal brings an added advantage in running an efficient business, plus navigate the challenges from the contagion and aid their recovery. Businesses should make a mid to long-term plan on technology and digital strategy. For example, process automation can increase efficiency. There are likely to be more opportunities for companies, among others, in sectors such as remote offices, online education, online medical care and online entertainment. However, adopting new digital or mobile payment methods, earning revenue from online sales and using social media for business purposes should be top of mind.

At the end…

John F. Kennedy once stated that “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” The assumption is sufficiently genuine: that a calamity presents a choice. This is especially evident today. In business, regardless of industry, alternative yet practical ways to operate exist.

What is for certain, is that the upturn caused by Covid-19 will be a terrific opportunity for growth ─ but only for those who embrace it and make the required and meaningful changes. No one can predict risks such as a pandemic, but it would be foolish to think they, and other types of risks, will not occur and affect them in any way.

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The Authentic Brand: A Precious Asset Developed Through Transparency, Customer Experience and Ultimately, Loyalty

By James D. Roumeliotis

We want transparency in your corporation, not your pants: Why 2013 ...

Trust is a hard thing to come by these days whether between people or between people and brands. When the founders of a start-up build a brand from the ground-up or the executives of an established one are in modus operandi mode, taking a cautious approach to their brand image, in both scenarios, ought to be part of growing and preserving the business with a constant eye on the future.

Sadly, nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is advertising, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. With some brands, it is the tiny print in disclosure statements which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. The majority of consumers do not read small footnotes. Think of the worst offenders of this practice: the cellular phone/telecommunication providers, insurance companies, credit card providers, as well as the automobile manufacturer promotional offers and pharmaceutical advertisements – to name a few.

Deception concealed as sincerity: How to chip away at your brand

The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster.

In the 2018 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient®, published the reputations of the 100 most visible companies among the U.S. general public. What appears on the top five, among other notable brands as consumers perceive them, are Wegmans Food Markets, Amazon, Samsung, Costco and Johnson & Johnson respectively.

Consumers have high and explicit expectations from brands, thus anticipate what the brand promises via its marketing material and/or what is stated on the product packaging. What a brand actually delivers and how it behaves in the process is what consumers get to feel.

A brand which utilizes short-term sales and marketing tactics for quick short-term gain fails financially in the long-term by acting in an ethical way. As marketing maven Seth Godin rightfully proclaims, “In virtually every industry, the most trusted brand is the most profitable.” As with our personal lives, trust with branding is based on what one does, not what one says.

Boosting sales and market share via misleading and deceptive tactics

According to a 2018 Harris Poll, regarding the most and least trusted industries, Banks represented 4 of the top 8 companies by trust rating this year, with Supermarkets adding in another two of the top 8. The remaining companies in the top 8 were in the Credit Cards and Insurance industry, such that Supermarkets and Financial Services companies took all of the top 8 spots.

By contrast, TV and Internet Service Providers occupied each of the bottom 4 positions in the rankings, and 7 of the bottom 11 overall.

The food processing domain is no more honest with labels that claim to be healthy but without support with any concrete scientific facts. Food companies tout their devious label claims of organic, nutritious etc. – although an absurd amount of sugar and/or sodium is present in the ingredients along with unnatural artificial ingredients). Kelloggs even went as far as having to be ordered, by the courts, to discontinue all Rice Krispies dubious advertising which claimed to boost a child’s immunity system.

Then there is the “premium” orange juice from popular brands such as Tropicana, Simply Orange and others which are highly processed, and usually stored for several months before reaching consumers at the supermarket fridge aisles. This processing method is used to retain the juice from spoiling. However, during that process, it also strips the flavour which is injected back into the product, once it finally gets packaged, to give the juice its original orange flavour. Not surprisingly, the orange juice producers do not make any reference to this anywhere.

Informative and authentic eye-opener documentaries such as Food Inc. and Tapped have upped the ante in terms of the exposure shared with the public to what is wrong with the food processing/food chain and water bottling sectors respectively. Moreover, the GMO debate with the exceptionally well-connected and deep pocketed Monsanto (the St. Louis-based biotech giant and world’s biggest seed seller) will not be going away any time soon.

Other industries notorious for deceit are banks and cellphone/telecommunication companies with their hidden fees. These blatant revenue generators are sales at any cost – short-term gains, of course. These companies guilty of gouging seem to be testing the limits with consumers – as if the latter are ignorant. Those absurd fees evidently enrage the culprits’ customers.

Employees reflect the brand

First and foremost, trust begins with company employees. If they are well trained and treated with respect and transparency, the employees will trust their employer and radiate their enthusiasm, as well as loyalty to their customers by going the extra mile.

Along with a brand being a valuable asset for any business, people also fit into the equation as an important asset. This is where hiring the right people, on-boarding them, training them adequately and empowering them all create a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Many brands are myopic to the point that they unintentionally and unknowingly allow their dissatisfied customers to go away without a thought. Front-line staff is either not trained properly and/or lacks the proper attitude to handle clientele appropriately.

During the industrial era, consumers would simply purchase what was produced, shopping where that product was available and paying the price the retailer demanded. In essence, the manufacturer and the store were in position of strength. As products and consumers have changed over the years, the concept of ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘consumer insight’ came about. As we progressed into the new millennium, the transparency and unrestricted information available on the internet has changed all of that. Today consumers are not only better informed but they are also in control. They can make or break a brand through their actions. So what does this say about listening – and acting?

Consumers will no longer refrain from informing companies on what may have gone wrong ─ whether it’s a particular brand or a competitor’s. With the numerous platforms for consumers to make their voices heard online, brands have to be very reactive and not allow anything to chance. In an age when the consumer’s outcries and influences spread quickly, the results can signify lost sales and a deterioration of brand loyalty.

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When all is said and done

Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

A “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

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Why do Rolex Watches Retain Their Value? Quality, Savvy Marketing and Cachet are the Core Motives

By James D. Roumeliotis

Rolex Instagram image

The renowned Rolex brand is a precision Swiss manufacturer of prestigious wristwatches or “timepieces” (for a lack of a better word in the category) which possesses pedigree along with a stellar reputation. It was registered as a trademark in 1908 and as a company in 1915.  It is a privately held and independently run entity, as well as considered the single largest luxury watch brand in the world.

The brand is responsible for many innovations in the watch industry including the first self-winding watch, the first waterproof case, the first watch with a date on the dial, the first watch to show two time zones at the same time and the first brand to earn the chronometer certification for a wristwatch.

Rolex watches rarely lose their price value because it is one of the very few watch brands which has mastered five vital fundamentals as follows:

1) Superior Craftsmanship and Materials: Rolex makes virtually everything in-house as a totally vertically integrated manufacturer. The watchmaker is first rate in metallurgy and manages to produce incredibly accurate and reliable time pieces. For a Rolex watch to work seamlessly and maintain its beauty, even in the harshest environments, it uses Oystersteel, a steel alloy specific to the brand and belongs to the 904L steel family. It is particularly resistant to corrosion and acquires an exceptional sheen when polished. Rolex watches are also hand-made which is expected from a fine Swiss made watch. The movements and bracelets are assembled by hand, whereas a precision and high-tech proprietary machine or robot helps with doing things such as applying the right pressure when attaching pins, pressing down hands and aligning the parts. Moreover, all Rolex Oyster case watches are thoroughly tested for water resistance. This is performed with an air-pressure tank.

2) Artificial Scarcity: They are intentionally producing below the critical mass of watches that they can put into circulation. Going over would flood the market, but Rolex somehow manages to stay under that point by limiting its annual production output. This retains a lower supply and creates over-demand thus keeping prices above a certain level.

3) Perceived Value: Perceived value is the price that consumers are willing to pay for a product. In this area, Rolex manages to get their perceived value right in contrast to the actual value. Quite often the pre-owned or second hand price will indicate what consumers are willing to pay for the product, as opposed to the price that the manufacturer had initially decided to set.

4) Savvy Marketing: Rolex promotes itself predominantly high-end luxury brand that is the ultimate aspiration of the consumer…a fashionable alternative to using a cell phone to tell time and a status symbol. The brand has consistently sold to an upper class target market that consists of mainly men over the age of 35. The Rolex marketing approach has a subtle touch. Its clever marketing and PR tactics, along with its choice of sponsorships, portray a brand which represents sports, success and elitism. The brand’s iconic gold crown is prominent on scoreboards, banners, and timing clocks at high-profile sporting events around the world including golf, motor racing, tennis, yachting regattas and equestrian sports.

5) Structured After Sales Service: Rolex provides repairs on most of the products that they have released throughout the company’s history. This task is bestowed to a Rolex boutique or authorized service center throughout the globe. It has generated some controversy in the watch and jewelry domain because like the other prominent prestigious watchmakers, the brand has gradually limited access of spare parts to independent repairers.

How And Why Rolex Prices Have Increased - Business Insider

Therefore, in summary, with superior quality workmanship, the scarcity factor, ideal perceived value and savvy marketing, Rolex is one of the few watchmaking brands to have created a great value proposition and sought-after status. Not surprisingly, it is also well regarded and the most widely accepted premium watch brand, in terms of resale value and demand, at pawn shops and any other preowned watch retailer.

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The Notorious Cruise Industry: A Glorified and Reckless Offshore Business

By James D. Roumeliotis

Hiding from the Cruise ship

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry trade organization, the industry transported and hosted 30 million passengers in 2019 worth upwards of $117 billion in 2017. Traffic, since 2009, grew from 17.8 million with an annual growth rate of 5.4%.

Cruise ships, prior to the recent coronavirus pandemic, maintained a degree of glamour and opulence. Slick advertising and marketing projected images of fun and carefree times with a glorified onboard experience ─ a floating and carefree hotel resort. However, the dark side is best described as an industry which is rogue, careless along with insensitive behavior in international waters. According to a Conde Nast Traveler article, despite a relatively good safety record, the four most common cruise ship mishaps (icebergs is not one of them) are: Rough waves, storms, fires and collisions.

For the record, as a former yacht and passenger ship broker, who chartered entire ships to VIPs and for corporate events, this author possesses first-hand experience in the industry.

The Good…

To be fair, the safety aspect of passenger ships (specifically for those carrying more than 12  passengers) is regulated by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) and its convention known as SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea). It regulates basic safety aspects for ships on international voyages such as stability, machinery, electrical installations, fire protection and lifesaving appliances. The main objective of the SOLAS Convention is to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships. In addition, cruise ships are required to adhere to:

  • MARPOL (short for Maritime Pollution): It is the main international convention aimed at the prevention of pollution from ships caused by operational or accidental causes. It was also adopted at the IMO (International Maritime Organization). For cruise ships it includes pollution by sewage pollution by garbage.
  • Classification Society:  It is a non-governmental organization that establishes and maintains technical standards for the construction and operation of all categories of ships, as well as offshore structures such as an oil platform and offshore platform… in accordance with the published standards. Classification Societies certify that the construction of a ship complies with pertinent standards and perform regular surveys in service to ensure continuing compliance with the mandatory standards. A classification society’s workforce comprises of ship surveyors, mechanical engineers, material engineers, piping engineers, and electrical engineers.

Cruise ship good-ugly montage clips

…The Bad and the Ugly

The best way to describe the typical cruise experience is: cruise ship passengers (or guests as they are normally referred to) get ferried from port-to-port on a floating amusement park. However, as recent events have indicated, cruise ships with their confined spaces and close living quarters are ideal for various diseases including novel viruses such as Covid-19 as they may increase the amount of group contact. In addition, people joining the ship may bring the virus to other passengers and crew. ‘Stranded at sea’: cruise ships around the world are adrift as ports turn them away, read the unflattering headline (March 27, 2020) at The Guardian, an established British daily newspaper.

Passenger ships can also be categorized as high-risk, with excessive sexual assault rates, frequent poisonings, and the ever-present possibility of falling overboard. Cruise ships are also infamous for the environment through their deliberate and/or careless disposal of sewage ─ and air pollution caused by their engines and generators burning away tons of heavy diesel fuel.

Although their head-offices are based in countries such as the U.S., the U.K. and other countries in Europe, cruise lines typically register their ships under so-called “flags of convenience.” The most popular countries with shipping registries include the Bahamas, Panama, Bermuda, Liberia and Malta. Those are chosen for their cheap registration fees, low wages, loose regulations and to take advantage of a taxation loophole that essentially shields them from paying any income tax in the countries the cruise liners are actually based and operate. Although the IMO (International Maritime Organization) makes the international rules that govern shipping, including the sea cruising sector, it has no enforcement power.

As for wages, the stark reality for many cruise ship workers is far from glamour work and pay to match. While the working conditions for officers such as the captain and his lower ranking bridge staff, as well as those working in the shops and casinos are adequate, if not better, the experience of those working in the dining room, in the galley, cleaning rooms, and below deck describes a different story. Those workers are often paid substandard wages, survive on inadequate food, have marginal accommodations ─ and basic medical care for injuries can be scant. Those employees also live under a system that is widespread with abuse and uncertainty. Cruise lines can get away with treating their lowest-paid workers poorly because they recruit them from countries with limited economic opportunities. In other words, people who either don’t know any better and/or see a cruise ship job as a better employment opportunity than what is available in their country.

In March 2019 the cruise ship Viking Sky, with More than 890 people onboard, experienced a loss of engine power off the coast of Norway near Molde. Unable to steer without power, the ship kept getting slammed by extreme waves. Consequently, passengers’ belongings were scattered everywhere in their cabins. The captain declared an emergency. Passengers put on life jackets and went to the muster stations. Eventually, evacuation began. Rescuers worked all night to airlift more than 400 passengers (about half the total) to shore by a fleet of five helicopters flying in the dark, slowly winching people up one-by-one from the heaving ship as the waves crashed and the winds shrieked.  The ship, aided by tow vessels, eventually wobbled into the Norwegian port of Molde freeing the remaining 436 passengers and crew of 458.

In 2013, an engine fire aboard the “Carnival Triumph” left its 4,000 passengers adrift with neither any power, nor running water and scarce food. A year later, Royal Caribbean International was bestowed with the unflattering distinction of breaking the record for the largest number of passengers ill onboard its ship from a norovirus plague — nearly 700 people.

In 2019, the behemoth cruise line Carnival Corporation and its Princess Cruise Lines subsidiary agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $20 million for environmental violations such as dumping plastic waste into the ocean. Princess had previously paid $40 million over other deliberate acts of pollution. Royal Caribbean Cruises, the world’s second largest cruise line, has paid an $18 million fine for illegally dumping a great deal of waste oil and chemicals into U.S. waters from its dry cleaning shops and its printing and photo processing equipment.  Moreover, the crew lied to the U.S. coast guard when asked about the slicks trailing its ships. Other companies have also paid high fines for causing environmental damage.

ONE TIME USE - DO NOT USE

Cruise ships also leave a tremendous amount of environmental footprint. In a year, 100 million gallons of petroleum products from the ships seep into the oceans. Then there’s the air pollution they create. They burn as much fuel as entire small towns and operate on low Sulphur fuel which is 100 times worse than road vehicle diesel.

In June 2019, the 13-deck MSC Opera cruise ship with over 2600 passengers onboard, crashed into a tourist boat and then into a dock in Venice, Italy, due to an engine failure. Video posted to social media showed passengers escaping from the tourist boat and frantically rushing down the dock as the cruise ship swiftly approached them.

Bailout Expectations

Sadly, cruise liners with no obvious plan in place were taken by surprise (reactive vs. proactive). As a result, they mishandled the coronavirus onboard their ships ─ beginning with the outbreak on the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan. Seven hundred people on board were infected with COVID-19 spreading through the ship’s corridors during its two weeks of quarantine, leading to seven deaths. According to passengers aboard the vessels, as well as outcry from health experts, in the weeks following the outbreak major cruise lines missed several opportunities to mitigate the crisis. Furthermore, according to one cruise line spokesperson, to avoid a panic that might collapse the industry, the cruise lines continued to mislead their passengers.

As expected, the news of the Covid-19, especially with many more cruise ships involved, caused a wave of cancellations and stock prices dropped significantly. Shares in Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line with several subsidiary brands in its portfolio, as well as its major competitors Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, have lost more than half of their value thus far this year. To reassure passengers, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents 90 percent of cruise liners worldwide, has issued sweeping restrictions and safety measures to be followed on ships. That reactive approach is too little too late and won’t make much of a difference in terms of reassuring booked passengers and potential ones.

The mere talk to inject billions to prop-up the cruise sector devastated by the pandemic, governments need to take this opportunity to come with strings attached such as implementing provisions, and by creating and enforcing legislation on the cruise ship industry to change its intolerable practices. If the industry along with its annoying lobbyists and greedy executives begin to balk, it will be time to take a hatchet and push the repulsive cruise line operators out to sea. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat in the State of Oregon and chairman of the Transportation Committee, firmly declared that he has no desire to bail-out the cruise industry. “They aren’t American,” he said. “They don’t pay taxes in the United States of America. If they want to re-flag their ships and pay U.S. wages and pay U.S. taxes, then maybe.” Other U.S. House Representatives echoed similar sentiments.

Alas, the mischievous cruise industry (the major ones are Royal CaribbeanCarnival Cruise Lines, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings) which insists on self-policing yet retains many holes in regulation and insulates itself by registering its ships in foreign countries (i.e. “Flags of convenience”).  Add to that its powerful lobby (spend approximately $3 M annually on lobbying) in the nation’s capital along with strong influence mainly in the tourism-dependent state of Florida.

In the End

The cruise industry has few fans at this time with many more losing interest. In addition, the elderly, are especially steering away of such voyages ─ perhaps for good. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Global Passenger Report, the median age has been between 60 and 69-year-olds, with a full 19% of cruisers falling under this demographic.

The only exception to the cruise industry worth applauding, with its premium ships, sustainable and exceptional consistent experiences, are the small luxury cruise vessels or boutique ships ─ many which resemble a yacht-like intimate atmosphere with accommodations for between 50 and 600 or so passengers along with a one-to-one ratio of crew members to passengers. Some top rated examples include Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, Variety Cruises, Seadream Yacht Club, Windstar Cruises, Silversea, Seabourn, and the recent newcomer RitzCarlton with its first-ever yacht christened Evrima accommodating up to 289 guests.

Disappointing pictures of what the mainstream massive cruise ships actually look like in the real world (glamour vs. reality) can be viewed at this link.

For all known illness outbreaks and additional unique news on cruise ships, refer to Cruise Junkie, an online information resource which tracks disasters at sea on the website based on news, passenger, and official accounts.

A full documentary of the cruise ship industry gone awry is linked here.

Finally, for some satire about the cruise industry by HBO comedian Bill Maher, click here for the link to the segment.

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Forget Price and Bring on The Product Experience: Justifying Price through CX and Value

by James D. Roumeliotis

Image result for customer experience

What is the difference between customer experience (CX) and product experience? The former is the result of every interaction a customer has with your business whereas, the latter is the overall value of the product and/or service provided to customers. Although the product experience is a factor of customer experience, it is mainly achieved through product design and service/product quality control. In both cases, the customer experience and the product experience require a customer-centric mindset and culture within the organization.

The most important elements of the product experience include:

  • Sensory Design/Shape & Form
  • Practicality/Usability
  • Ease of Use
  • Personalization & Customization (products & services)
  • Performance Element
  • Convenience (products and services)
  • Reliable (products and services)
  • Favorable Terms & Conditions (service)
  • Safe to Use/Environmentally Friendly
  • Identity/Social Status & Lifestyle (products and services)
  • Timely (service)
  • Easy to Do Business (products and services)

Customers’ holistic perception of their experience 

Products in the same class-categories struggle to differentiate themselves. Consumers often take brands for granted. Purchases are not so much conscious brand selection as choice by default. The two following examples highlight this. Going out for coffee in North America usually dictates a visit to Starbucks. When water premium bottled water comes to mind, Evian is usually top of mind. Evian’s focus on lifestyle including health and the environment is reflected in the marketing of its products to both women and men, as well as for its tie-in with Wimbledon.

The product and customer experience are the new marketing and competitive battleground. Today, quality of the product or service is not adequate. Consumers prefer to give their hard-earned money to businesses based on the value they receive along with the customer experience. The majority of millennials (72%) seek experiences over material objects and are willing to pay as much as an extra 21% for appositive experience. At Starbucks, people don’t go there only for the coffee, but also for the overall ambiance as a pleasant place to relish. Over the years, McDonald’s overhauled their store interiors for a more refined look, and in 2016, the global restaurant chain introduced digital self-order kiosks and table in order to cut waiting times for customers. As a result, the efforts and investments paid-off as same store sales growth and positive customer feedback increased by early 2018. McDonald’s initiative demonstrated how important responsiveness to customer needs and expectations is. The McDonald’s store upgrade helped differentiate it from a plethora of competitors in the fast food category, that the company is in tune with the times. Consequently, and most importantly, it elevated its overall customer experience.

In the digital age, it’s not enough to simply copy competitors’ products, marketing strategies, and overall business practices to name a few. It’s also not a good idea to merely compete on price alone. Anyone can lower prices. What begs the question is where you draw the line before your profit margins become eroded to the point of no return. Savvy marketers look beyond pricing and product features. Instead, they search for sustained ways to market their brand rather than their product.

Consumers today are also more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile – textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory – fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer-controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Image result for product experience

Creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market such as BMW, Nike, Zappos, Harley Davidson, Aman Resorts, Louis Vuitton and Rolex ‒ just to name a few. These have given way to consumers to buy products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol.

Combining high-quality products with equally high-quality customer experiences

Customers no longer base their buying decisions and loyalty on price or product. They prefer to do business…and constant repeat business with companies that offer them a holistic experience. This trend illustrates that shopping is not a need-based activity anymore. It’s about new experiences and one of the main reasons why clients keep returning to physical stores instead of only shopping online.

The benefits of delivering a great product, service and customer experience include:

  • increased customer loyalty
  • increased customer satisfaction
  • Increase of brand image and reputation
  • Increase in profit
  • better word-of-mouth marketing, positive reviews, and recommendations — a competitive advantage by converting more consumers with less advertising spend

Online, reviews are one of the best ways to strengthen a brand in the eyes of the potential customer. Therefore, through positive product and customer experience reviews, clients become  part of a company’s marketing team.

Walker study found that by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. This translates to:

  • 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience
  • 73% of buyers point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions
  • 65% of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising

Last but not least, think innovation. Almost every innovation implemented improves the way customer’s needs are fulfilled and improves the way they interact with the business. As such, seek customer feedback, understand what features and updates customers seek the most and if viable, implement changes which will yield enhanced results.

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Operating a Restaurant: How to Tackle the Challenges Effectively

By James D. Roumeliotis

Restauarant Operations Image

Whether you are considering starting or purchasing an existing restaurant or a turn-key national banner version known as a franchise, regardless whether a fast food, casual dining or fine dining, food service is a brutal business to get involved with which also requires long hours at the helm. There are many variables to contend with, let alone the primary one…staffing. What will make the operation additionally challenging is the lack of food service and/or hospitality experience. The food service business is quite competitive as you have to attract customers to dine and enjoy at your place more than they do in others restaurants so as to retain them.

From concept to reality and beyond

First and foremost, no one should consider embarking in the food service business, unless the person is a passionate about the business and a foodie. Once immersed, what is the business’s raison d’etre…its mission? The number one goal shouldn’t be profit. There are various types of restaurant concepts to consider. These include: 

  • Fast food;
  • Fast casual dining such as a café and a pub or a family style dining;
  • An upscale dining establishment;
  • Food trucks;
  • Open diverse portfolio of restaurants and/or bars in several strategic partnerships with hotels/resorts including event spaces.

Launching a restaurant methodically is crucial if it’s to succeed and survive in the long run. A study by Cornell University estimates that 60% of restaurants are closed in the first year.

One important factor is choosing the location wisely. This plays a pivotal role in your restaurant’s traffic and revenue achievements. An easily accessible area that is visible to the customers helps draw in customers with less effort. However, it begins with proper market research prior to finalizing the choice of location. The location should not only rely on the local community for diners. It should become a destination. That will be accomplished more by excellent reviews and word-of-mouth, with great food and commitment to service.

Operating a restaurant is difficult physically and emotionally, but especially in the beginning. It is also financially challenging. In a start-up, a good chunk of capital goes most into leasehold improvements, as well as equipment and furnishing. On-going expenses incurred include various fixed (rent, staff salary) and variable costs such as utilities, food ingredients, beverages, supplies and much more. Watching yields and food costs optimize margins to reduce these costs, though, without compromising on the quality of the food service offered. Strict fiscal discipline should be practiced and staff well trained to assist in this all important endeavor. Along with food cost, payroll costs should be carefully scrutinized with timely adjustments in staffing made taking into consideration the days and times of traffic patterns (peak and non-peak hours) but without compromising service. It’s a delicate balance to deal with. With inventory, a list of fast and slow moving food items should be well noted so as not to overstock any rarely used ingredients and other stocked items. Supplier payment terms or COD, with attractive discounts, should be taken into account for additional savings.

Expectations should be clearly communicated, following through and being organized are additional restaurant secrets to success. In addition, having systems in place for everything and continually enforcing them. Most importantly, adequate cash flow, the lifeblood of any business.

Management/Ownership and Staffing: Culture and value

A multi-talented ownership is imperative. If, for example, there are solely two partners, one should complement the other with one looking after the kitchen, while the other works in the dining room, acting as the Maître D and making certain food is properly and timely served. If there is no partner with much kitchen experience, one ought to be hired, paid well (perhaps offer some shares for loyalty). The menu should be creative and frequently updated.

Regardless if the food, decor and seating arrangement are impressive, it’s the staff that complete the entire dining experience. Hire for attitude and train for additional skills necessary to make a positive impact on the customers and colleagues alike. Front-line staff, must be courteous and dressed, as well as look impressive. Moreover, proper onboarding and frequent training of staff is a worthwhile investment. This should include a clear list of duties and instructions for each activity, educating staff to make the guests feel welcome through a polite behavior, neat dressing, and to know how to handle minor customer complaints, such as a soiled napkin or dirty glass, without always seeking management intervention.

Management should intervene when a customer is not happy with his or her dining experience. Displeasure may have been made on the spot, through a feedback form, or a negative review posted on social media. In those instances, addressing the issue(s) promptly can be done by actually speaking with the customer and getting to the bottom of his or her grievance(s) including apologizing and rectifying the missteps immediately. Compensation may include waiving off the bill, offering a free meal on the next visit, and/or sending a bouquet of roses or a box of chocolates.

Embracing Technology and Social Media

At this day and age, food service owners/managers should integrate their restaurant with technology if to remain on the top and run a successful operation. Expected by many clientele, this includes online reservations, available and complimentary Wi-Fi, and online/mobile ordering and payment or at least accepting orders via food delivery app services such as Uber Eats and Grubhub.

Today, every restaurant and bar should possess and fully utilize a POS (Restaurant Management System). It’s the hub of the business as it handles orders, tracks payments and cash flow, manages inventory, and provides robust reporting to assist in making decisions for front and back of house (i.e. kitchen). The POS is packed with data such as sales metrics, reports on the hours your staff have worked, and inventory counts. Knowing how to interpret this POS data, along with the powerful insights within it, can help make better, more informed business decisions for the restaurant. Furthermore, the system can and should integrated with accounting software, such as Quickbooks, a merchant payment system like Chase, and reservations systems such as OpenTable to name a few.

Along with a memorable name and attractive logo, a strong social media presence is more important than ever before. Prospective and existing guests use it before they decide where to dine as they want to see the food and much more before.  The look and ambiance of the restaurant should be “Instagrammable,” whether it’s a piece of decor or a place setting. It should catch the eye and look interesting.

Restaurants Highest Costs

In the final analysis

Be your own best critic. Never take anything for granted. Just step into the shoes of customers. Due to possible bias, invite mystery customers to do incognito visits and have a trusting third party do occasional audits of your books. You never know what may be uncovered.

To operate a business successfully, strategic and methodical steps should be in place. Rather than view and approach it merely as a family business, the food establishment should be run professionally like a lean corporate business entity.

A good and busy location, preferably with available parking should be well thought-out, as should well trained staff with a pleasant attitude and dress code. A talented chef and a creative menu will undoubtedly satisfy diners’ taste buds.

Finally, cash flow is king. Without it, financial issues can arise affecting the overall business achievements, but most importantly, its survival.

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This Blog’s Top 10 Most Read Articles of 2019

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Once again, the ten most read/popular articles have been rounded-up — this time for 2019.

Thank you for your readership and much success to you this year.

Much success this year and beyond.

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What Products and Services Must Do to Flourish: Increasing the Odds at Profiting in a Competitive Market

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Following three decades of personal business experience in three countries, as well as through constant observation of successful businesses, for products or services to increase the rate of triumph, they should perform at least one of the following:

  • Solve a problem: Whether for the B2C or B2B market, focus should be on building a “must” have not a nice to have product. Consumers are overwhelmed with a plethora choice on daily basis. Attention spans are getting shorter and only few products are getting noticed. As a result, a product or service should be doing something different and better to succeed by being in demand.

Examples: Amazon simplified online buying and selling. Poo-Pourri solved the stinky bathroom problem, Spanx solved the comfort of leggings.

Also consider inventing any product in the health & wellness sector which diagnosis and prevents any potential diseases such as colon cancer etc., or in the privacy & security domain protecting consumer data on personal devices.

  • Make lives easier – offer convenience

Examples: The invention of the GPS (replace paper maps), wireless charging (did away with power cords), voice-command devices such as the TV command remote (eliminated having to use a plethora of buttons), smart wireless home (remotely control various factors of the home environment), Blue Apron (a meal experience that customers create with the original recipes and fresh, seasonal ingredients that are included in every box.)

Fintech: “Computer programs and other technology used to support or enable banking and financial services.” It is “one of the fastest-growing areas for venture capitalists.” According to Forbes,  examples of Fintech-related companies or products include: Payment infrastructure, processing and issuance such as services provided by Square and Stripe; Stock trading apps from TD Ameritrade and Schwab; Alternative lending marketplaces such as LendingClub, and OnDeck.

Also, urban farming — growing commercial ready fresh, sustainable and local vegetables with no pesticides. Examples are La Caverne in Paris, Badia Farms in Dubai or Lufa Farms in Montreal to name a few.

  • Disrupt an existing well-established business/product/service. Disruptors create a way of doing things which displaces the existing market leaders (a product or service), and eventually replace the original players in their sector.

Consider Uber (taxi industry), Airbnb (hotel space), iRobot (vacuum cleaning chores), Beyond the Meat (looks like and tastes like real meat though plant based).

  • Sell hope – after using these products and services, lives will be easier, better, and changed somehow.

Examples: Cosmetics, skin enhancement injection services and products such as Botox, financial planning products for a comfortable retirement.

  • Offer a lifestyle enhancement

Examples: Red Bull (“gives you wings”/vigor), Vans sneakers, Apple products, and recreational lifestyle pharmaceutical products such as Viagra and Cialis.

  • Provides a social status: Think (authentic) luxury products and services or green products.

Examples: American Express Platinum charge card, Business and First-Class on airlines etc.

Green status products may include the Prius hybrid automobile and the Tesla (ditching the ubiquitous internal combustion engine with its use of fossil fuel).

  • Offer a better version of an existing (generic) product or service (“Premium”) – upper mid-to high price range appealing to discerning/very demanding consumers. This business model seeks a higher profit margin on a lower sales volume. Services and subscription models are a much more sustainable than physical products.

Example: Nestlé has its Nescafé line (various types) of coffee but also offers its top of the line Nespresso line (a separate company division).

  • Sell niche, exclusive or viral products online:

-Reach an audience with a shared identity regardless of location.

-Exclusivity has its devotees and offers the illusion of scarcity.

-There are several factors that influence the virality of a product and they range from the emotional impact to the visibility that the product delivers.

Examples: Keto(genic) foods, vegan foods, Matcha tea, all natural pet food and/or accessories with a fashion statement, bamboo toothbrushes, yoga/health retreats, specific branded apparel and footwear are just a few good ideas mentioned.

In addition, if choosing to deal strictly with B2B, what is recommended as businesses are:

  • Act in a capacity of a Consultant or Broker (services, with no inventory to purchase, store and sell) but preferably with unique knowledge and exclusivity respectively;
  • Be a wholesale supplier of specialized raw materials, parts or ingredients rather than focus on the retail space (CPG or CE domain). Building a brand in the mind of a consumer is a lengthy and costly affair.

In the end…

…with any or several categories of the above recommendations, as an entrepreneur, your product or service  has a great shot at profiting in a competitive market. A contrarian with  innovation tendencies can make a difference. Never think short term and always consider adding value if you want to truly succeed in business.

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EIGHT Crucial Questions Aspiring Entrepreneurs Should Be Asking Prior to Launching

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Potential entrepreneurs and inventors are individuals motivated primarily by the desire to create something new, the desire for autonomy, and financial independence who are equally convinced that their product or service idea possesses tremendous potential. However, without a structure in place and vital concerns to honestly deliberate, as well as confront, the prospective entrepreneur may be diving into an unfamiliar commitment prematurely.

Asking the right questions to prepare the road map ahead, along with predicting the worst-case scenarios, will place the aspiring businessperson in a superior proactive rather than in a totally capricious and reactive position.

As a serial entrepreneur stretching over 35 years and in three countries, I have developed a series of questions to asses prior to engaging in a new enterprise. The self-evaluation questions which should be addressed are as follows:

1)      Will my product or service idea be viable, and does it solve a problem?

  • Do an adequate/in-depth research of your target market(s) and your competition (if any).
  • Know your potential size of your target market(s).
  • Be familiar with your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Can you articulate
  • Establish a business model to identify the products or services the business will sell (whether B2C, B2B or both), and among other elements to ponder such as the target market it has identified, and the expenses it anticipates.
  • If what you are planning to offer is considered disruptive and will make people’s lives easier, than your chances of acceptance and sales will be significantly higher than the average existing competition.

2)      Do I have adequate funding to launch it and keep the business going?

  • There should be sufficient start-up funds, as well as funding available to keep the business active for cash-flow purposes, as well as to grow the company. Every type of business has different funding requirements.
  • Sources of funding are bootstrapping/own funds, debt (line of credit, credit cards, traditional and alternative bank loans) and/or equity (friends, family, potential investors, etc.)

3)      Do I possess the characteristics required to deal with entrepreneurial            hardships?

  • An effective businessperson has an inquiring mind and should never stop learning. Familiarize himself or herself with the barriers and challenges an entrepreneur is often confronted with.
  • Possess tenacity and able to think clearly. Intense emotions from pressure should be restrained. Cool heads prevail and easier to undertake problems.
  • Organizational skills are critical along with an open mind and fiscal discipline.
  • Should not feel uneasy delegating tedious tasks (whether in-house or outsourced) and focusing on the core business operations.

4)      How much do I know about the industry I’m seeking to embark in?

A clear understanding of the business is imperative. The entrepreneur should be a perpetual student of the business and constantly seeking ways to innovate and improve oneself and the operations.

5)      Can I succinctly address all 4P’s of marketing (a.k.a “the marketing mix”) for the product(s) or service(s) I desire launching?

Every entrepreneur should be familiar with the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place & Promotion) and how each one applies to his or her product(s) or service(s).

6)      What are my financial projections (3 to 5 years)?

  • Achievable? Adequate? What about profit and cash flow?
  • Number of employees planning to hire (payroll costs), amount needed to spend on R&D, equipment, etc.

7)      What is my exit strategy?     

a) If things go awry.

An entrepreneur should know when to walk away if his or her business is floundering with little chance of turning it around. Perhaps sell it if someone else can salvage it. It is not a good idea to keep injecting good money after bad.

b) If the business is thriving in 5-7 years?

It may be a good time to pass on the reins to a capable family member, sell the shares to the partner(s), go public, or negotiate a buy-out from an established brand or competitor. If seeking funds from an Angel Investor or Venture Capital firm, this will need to be addressed.

8)   Do I have a circle of outside support such as a mentor/coach, attorney, accountant etc.?

A savvy businessperson surrounds himself or herself with mentors and knowledgeable advisors, who will nurture the executive to become a better and successful entrepreneur.

Ultimately

The aspiring businessperson should be honest with himself or herself of the challenges that lurk in launching and operating an enterprise — it is not all rosy and glory. Start-ups do not occur in theory. These questions, when answered wisely and truthfully, ensure the would-be entrepreneur does not get caught in a sensual dream that turns into a living nightmare.

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Preparing a Business Plan for its Applicable Audience: Bank, Investor or Other

By James D. Roumeliotis

Business Plan Image 2

Often, the initial task expected from an aspiring entrepreneur is to prepare a business plan. A comprehensive business plan, when concisely written, is a tool that conveys in detail the short and mid-term (1 to 5 years) goals and objectives comprising the projected sales strategies, the marketing, operational and financial plans. This document should include in-depth research conducted regarding the industry and the competition. Moreover, it describes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats/risks (known as a SWOT assessment) along with a financial analysis, and assumptions on growth. The average 25-50 page document also lays out a map of where your company will be and how it will get there – also known as the “vision.”

Pitch Deck vs Business Model vs Business Plan

A typical question normally asked is: which one comes first? It depends on which of the three is being requested. However, the pitch deck is generally sent early in the discussion. The business model is created for internal purposes and can be comprised within the business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) refers to the business model as “a company’s foundation and the business plan as its structure. The foundation, or business model, is the original idea for your business and a general description of how it functions. The structure, or business plan, elaborates on the details of your business idea.”

Artizan Fine Foods Pitch Deck Cover

A pitch deck is a presentation − a deck of between 10 to 20 pages slides that is shared to potential investors and/or used as a visual during a live presentation to either investors or other audiences. The pitch deck is an effective summary of the key items in the business plan and includes information about the business, who it serves and why, the size of the market, the unique selling proposition (USP) and how the business will win in that space. It also lays-out the details about what the entrepreneur intends on doing with the funds sought from an investor.

The pitch deck is created in a Microsoft Powerpoint format and converted to PDF prior to being sent-out via email.

Business Model Canvas Explanation

The business model, more specifically, a Business Model Canvas is a company’s plan for making a profit − a design for the successful operation of a business. It’s how you create value/make money while delivering products or services to your customers.  It’s in a form of a visual chart with nine building blocks describing, among other elements, a business’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers and finances. It can be used to understand your own business model or that of a competitor. The business model canvas was created by Alexander Osterwalder, of Strategyzer.

Business Plan Content - Sections - Image

The business plan is a non-static document (usually in MS WORD and sent in a PDF format) which describes in detail, what the business does, and how it’s going to achieve its goals and objectives. It also incorporates the business model, the financial projections, and all other details about customer interaction/engagement, customer service, operations including management capabilities.

The business plan is first and foremost used by a business as a reference guide and shared when requested by the bank for a possible loan and/or funding considered by the potential investor.

What a banker or private lender seeks

For debt financing, which is either provided by a bank or an alternative loan source, the business plan should contain a convincing reason why the money is needed and how it is going to be used in the business. Being the least risk adverse, as compared to an equity investor, a money lender’s main concern is the possibility of a business failure/bankruptcy. Its main focus is on the ability to make the loan payments and eventually repay the entire loan. As such, much emphasis is on the cash-flow analysis. Likewise, bankers are interested in the business background of the management team. The marketing plan provides information on how the business plans to cope with competition.

A lender’s additional information sought is other sources of finance the business presently has in its books along with a list of potential collateral which the bank can have readily access to (business and personal assets), in case the business is unable to repay the loan. Likewise, the borrower’s financial track record is carefully evaluated.

What an investor seeks

When writing a business plan specifically to raise capital to fund a new business or take an existing company to the next growth stage, an Investor — whether an angel investor, private equity or venture capital, seeks certain vital information and requirements. The business plan should include a detailed use of funds, a descriptive growth strategy, a list and profile of the competent management team, and credible, reasonable yet ambitious financial projections. An Investor will also look for a unique competitive advantage that enables the business to be more effective than its competitors, as well as whether the business will be making a profit and how long it may take to do so.  The business plan should also state an exit strategy since the investor needs to know how quickly he or she will achieve any gains on his or her investment.

Other specific uses of a business plan

Immigration officials (referring to U.S. & Canada) require those applying for an Entrepreneur or Investor visa to submit a business plan which states that the proposed business has the potential to create the required number of jobs (economic benefits for the country) to qualify him or her for business related immigration visa. Furthermore, the business is being invested meets the monetary requirements and is irrevocably committed (wire transfers, cancelled money orders etc.), an itemized list of goods and materials purchased for the start-up, as well as the lease agreement. The source of funds must be stated, as well as convincing information on the ability to develop and operate the business.

A Government agency may request the business plan to issue a grant. One of the components that simply must be present in the plan is to show that, as the business owner, you are investing your own money. The bureaucrat wants to know that there will be skin in the game. Additionally, what needs to be in the business plan to increase the chances of receiving a grant is how much money is sought, how the funds will be used  and how soon required (perhaps include a timeline). The plan must be written in a form which takes into account the economic benefits for a legitimate and viable business.

A Strategic Business Plan differs from other business plans as it exclusively centers around on the company’s vision and places emphasis on a particular objective. For example, to focus on a particular niche in the marketplace. What would follow is to makes sales, marketing and customer strategy more effective.

What follows is an ideal description and comparison, from the BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada), between the Business Plan and Strategic Plan.

Business Plan. Strategic plan. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, but there are also some crucial differences you should understand.

A business plan answers “what do I want to do?” questions. It includes your company’s organizational structure, marketing plan and financial projections. Its purpose is to define where you want to take your business. It’s often the founding document of a new business.

A strategic plan, on the other hand, answers “how will I do it?” questions. It includes a detailed action plan for the next few years to achieve your company’s goals.

Both should include a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and be reviewed regularly so that they’re up to date.

In the final analysis

In essence, the business plan is a document not solely for the entrepreneur to spell out strategy and to implement it. Its purpose is also to make a pitch to a banker, potential investor, and prospective partner, or for other (rare) purposes such as immigration. As such, the information should be tailored to what is sought by the specific reader. It ought to provide clarity of thought and purpose, by clarifying strategy, introduce the Business Model, the company, its “raison d’être”, as well as the management team.  It attempts to persuade investors in raising funds, as well as honestly highlighting risks and challenges. The business plan serves as an entry point for further discussions. Besides the management team and its competencies, banks are concerned that their loan gets repaid at a defined point in time so they place emphasis on the projected cash flow statement. An equity investor prefers a business plan which is realistic yet ambitious, their focus being on growth, a return which will yield at least a 10x return on their investment along with an exit strategy in approximately five to seven years.

Key Elements of a Business Plan:

  • Explain the business model in simple terms;
  • Fit the plan to the company;
  • Be credible and informative;
  • Demonstration of knowledge of the market and competitors;
  • Stressing the risks and steps to overcome the risks;
  • Using clear and concise language.

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I deliver comprehensive Strategic Business Plans, Market & Industry Analysis, Marketing Strategies, and Business Models that get your business going and growing. Quick turnaround time and assistance with executing plan (optional). Contact me here.

In addition, I offer alternative working capital (minimum $5000 and six months in business)  based on your cash flow and receivables…not your personal credit score. Upon approval, funds deposited within 48 hours. You may fill-out this online form: https://armanikhoury.typeform.com/to/OBrv5r

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Superior Customer Service: An Investment with Ample Return

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Much is touted by companies about customer satisfaction but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. Prominent brands are not immune either. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy and strategy. Inadequate staff training and stifling policies, amongst other factors, further aggravate the problem.  The frontline customer service, staff entrusted with and consented to solving various customer irks and issues, lack the empowerment to use critical thinking and initiative to offer satisfactory results – rather, the results are disappointing.

Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. Moreover, people love to hate the phone tree where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. This is totally unacceptable!

The executives who are in charge of finance and operations respectively (consider the CFO, COO including the leader of the pack, the CEO) consider customer service as an expensive, time-consuming obligation. Those leaders – most notably in public companies are under pressure to cut costs with the intention of delivering quarterly results for their shareholders.

Consequently, they will measure the calls answered per minute – regardless of the outcome. In contrast, a customer focused executive will reward those who take their time to listen, engage and solve customer issues.

The customer centric organization: solving issues before they occur

“Customer Service” is the set of behaviours which an organization undertakes during its interaction with its customers and how customers perceive the behaviours.

Going above and beyond customer expectations is focusing on customer centricity. This entails being proactive rather than reactive. It begins by developing, implementing and continuously delivering a total positive customer experience at every touch point and beyond. The costs and benefits of this practice are equally beneficial for the customers and the business. A University of Michigan study revealed that companies which received high scores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) consistently outperform the S&P 500. Those companies include Walt Disney and Amazon, amongst others. Those are most certainly organizations that focus on quality over quantity and measure what truly make them remarkable.

The after sales service department should be designed with an efficient infrastructure in place so as to make the entire experience an effortless task for both the customers and employees who are assigned with the responsibility. It should be easy for the client to reach a customer service agent and/or online agent to chat with. Moreover, the client should not have to be placed on hold for more than 5 minutes. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, there should be an option to offer a simple way to be called back. The organization’s mindset should be to constantly think of ways to release tensions and give solutions to the client promptly.

Since many of the inbound calls normally concern frequently asked questions, why not have them prominently displayed on the website and/or printed on the product insert. Having them recorded as an option on your phone line, in a clear English voice (and second or even third most popular language relevant to the region’s business demographics), can eliminate unnecessary calls and waiting times with a live person.

Staff tasked with customer service should:

  • Possess a positive attitude under duress;
  • Be initially trained and occasionally re-trained,
  • Treated with respect, and
  • Be empowered to make timely customer satisfaction decisions on their own.

There is no better example to illustrate this than online shoe retailer Zappos.  What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
– 24/7 1-800 number on every page
– Free shipping
– Free return shipping
– 365-day return policy

What customers will experience:
– Fast, accurate fulfillment
– Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
– Creating a “WOW” factor
– Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
– Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites

What’s done behind the scenes?
– No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
– The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
– Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
– Five weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
– A Culture Book
– Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

Empathy, strategy, training and empowerment

Any business, regardless of industry, should be concerned about keeping customers content. It is their fundamental responsibility to retain them. Rather than treat them as a cost, the customers should be treated as an asset as it costs more to attract a new customer than to keep them loyal.  Think about it! A customer who feels snubbed and disrespected, may take his or her business elsewhere, receive a better experience and never return. What would be the ultimate cost of this outcome?

Four nouns applied can make a difference.

Empathy: This takes into account a focal job in making a palatable client experience by exercising genuine sympathy to the needs and concerns of the client, front and center.

Strategy: A plan is a start in defining the standards of service and customer care that is offered to customers and sets the requirements for meeting those standards.

Training: It is the act of educating employees what “customer service” means, the standards it comprises and how to offer a confrontational-free customer support and satisfaction. It is a process which comprises of teaching the competencies, necessary skills, and tools required to better serve customers so they derive more value from products and services which create the positive customer experience.

Empowerment: This means giving your front-line staff the proper training, tools and encouragement to use their instinct and critical thinking skills to do the right thing for customers without much delay. This entails not waiting for management to give approval. For example, the the Ritz-Carlton Hotel group, the gold standard in hospitality service empowers its employees to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems without asking for a manager.

Customer centricity should be everyone’s job in an organization. It’s to be embedded in the internal culture. It begins with the top leadership and permeates through the entire organization. Implementation of new and refined strategies and tactics equate to daily and long-term success in building profitable customer relationships. Been helpful with your customers, even if there’s no immediate profit in it, is simply a good business practice with pragmatic thinking for the long-haul.

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