5 Blind Spots that Get Entreprenuers

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You don’t really learn until you’ve studied both success and failure. I’ve had the privilege of being around a lot of winners in my career.  But I might have learned more from the failures – including a few of my own.

Being part of a start-up that is doing things right has inspired me to reflect on the blind spots that nail entrepreneurs.  Here are 5:
  1. Capitalism 101.  This is rampant with the over-educated entrepreneur with a corporate background.  Unless they receive other influences, they are taught that capitalism is just an economic model.  Then they get a corporate job and the paychecks magically appear every two weeks.  If/when they take the plunge in to the start-up pool, they  often are surprised to find that capitalism is economic REALITY; that capitalism is the math used by markets, investors, etc.    In short,  there has to be a transaction.  No transaction, no business model.  So to prevent “Solyndra Syndrome”, you need a sustainable revenue model fueled by a market that wants to buy your product.
  2. Failing to Prepare for Failure.  Mike Tyson once said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.  Those “punches” usually come from a funding source not coming through – or the market not responding the way you thought they would.  Mature entrepreneurs prepare for failure by hiring people that can take a punch, building flexibility in to the business / revenue plan and by building scalable products that can quickly adjust to the market’s response.
  3. No Shared Risk.  You’d be surprised how many so-called entrepreneurs don’t invest in their own ventures.  Unless you have a few successful start-ups under your belt, being an entrepreneur is a game of all-in.  When it’s your money (or house or 401k) at risk, you will behave differently.  You will watch expenses, you will have a budget and you will be extra choosy about who you hire.
  4. Lack of Conviction.  Do you believe?  I don’t mean “are you delusional?”.  I mean do you absolutely believe that the idea you are taking to market is viable?  This conviction is what will keep you warm at night (hat tip to the movie “Red Dawn”).  It prepares you to handle #2.  It prepares you to hear “no”.  It’s hard to do that if you have to keep re-reading your own business plan to remind yourself why you are doing this.
  5. Working Too Hard.  Consider blocking sleds in football practice.  Hitting the blocking sled is already hard work, but they are designed to be even harder if you use sloppy technique.  Small business ownership, start-ups, etc are like hitting the blocking sleds  – a lot of simply just grinding away and doing the dirty work necessary to make it all work.  Don’t make it harder by getting lazy or sloppy – or by over-working yourself.  If it seems extra hard, stop, take a break and check your technique.

A final thought …

Being physically and mentally fit will give you a competitive advantage as an entreprenuer.  Eating right, working out, resting the mind, etc give you endurance and clarity.  You will also look better in your suit when you are pitching to VCs.
Add any blind spots you’ve seen or experienced in the comments section.

5 Marketing Trends for 2012

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‘Tis the season for blog posts and articles on the “Best/Worst of 2011” and trend-watching for 2012.  I don’t know how many marriages Kim Kardashian will have or if Justin and Selena will tie the knot.  But I do believe these are the top 5 marketing trends that decision-makers should be watching in 2012:

  1. The Buy Local movement will grow.  American Express’s very well-executed “Small Business Saturday” campaign is just the tip of the iceberg for this trend.  Thanks to awareness campaigns, word-of-mouth, and the continued flat economy, buying local will be even hotter in 2012.  The lesson for locally-owned businesses is to not suck at branding.  This starts by actively participating in the Buy Local movement.  It also means investing in first impressions: logo, signage, web, etc.  People want to buy local, but they don’t want to buy local crap.
  2. “Indie” brands will stay hot.  Similar to the Buy Local movement, Indie brands are hot right now.  Indie brands are more about un-establishment rather than anti-establishment.  This means they are edgy and different, but still have some mass appeal.  These are small record labels, regional chains (i.e. Dutch Brothers), small clothing lines, etc.  The #1 goal for Indie brands (besides having great products) is to have a findable and usable web site – and making sure it is integrated with your social media efforts.
  3. Mobile web will (almost) reach small businesses.  Since the web is people-driven, it will evolve as people change their habits, new technologies emerge, etc.  One example is the rise of mobile web that has been fueled by smart phones, 4G, and greater access to wifi.  For smaller businesses, this means making sure your web site is mobile-enabled – and making sure that you have a good presence on Google Maps.  By mid to late 2012, I also think you will see more small business related mobile apps.  As the cost of app development drops, savvy small businesses will start do use apps to promote their brands and sell products.
  4. Integration is in.  This trend has emerged in larger brands the last few years.  In short, it means integrating your visual identity, message, offerings, etc through all mediums.  This is not a new concept. However, the fragmentation of old media and the emergence of all the new media platforms, it is certainly more difficult.  For small business owners, this means making sure that all of your marketing vendors are talking to each other.  This traditionally hasn’t happened, so be prepared for drama and push-back from each of them.  Or get them all in a room and post the video on YouTube!   The bottom-line: by not integrating your brand across all mediums, you will dilute your brand, confuse your audience, and look like an amateur.
  5. Interaction will be a requirement. Other than small pockets within certain demographics, the idea of “passive” branding is pretty much dead.  Passive branding is part of the old thinking about saturation – that enough people see your billboard or see/hear your ad, then it creates brand awareness.  And brand awareness leads to sells. In the words of Keyshawn Johnson, “C’mon Man!” The business owner in you wishes it works this way, but the consumer in you knows it doesn’t.  If you are going to do outbound marketing (radio, TV, billboard, print, direct mail, PPC, etc), you have to give something for people to DO!  This is why QR codes are hot right now.  I’m not sure this trend will continue, because 90% of where the scan takes you is boring or poorly executed.  However, the idea of getting your audience to do something is on the right track.  The same rule applies to e-mail marketing, text marketing, social media advertising, etc. – using these tools is not enough.  There has to be interaction – or at a minimum, a call to action or offer.
An over-arching trend that effects all brands is that the consumer is in charge.  Almost without exception, you need them far more than they need you.  So whatever medium or method you use, keep this in mind.  Treat your audience with respect.  Be clear in your offer.  Tell them what makes you different/better.  Then love ’em up when they buy from you.


Is your brand Oatmeal or Bacon?  Find out here.

How to Write a Bad Marketing Plan

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A typical task this time of year for small business owners or marketing decision-makers is to write a marketing plan.  There are plenty of articles and posts on how to write an effective marketing plan.  So here is one on how to NOT write an effective plan.


  1. Focus on how much money you will spend.  At some point, marketing became equated with spending money.  Of course, you need a budget – but focus on investing in results, not just spending a budget.  I recommend a “zero sum” approach.  Start with desired outcomes, then establish how much you need to spend to reach those goals.  Keep in mind that word-of-mouth is always free. 
  2. Create a punch list of tactics.  Of course, you need a plan for what you are going to do.  However, a “check box” mentality distracts from the true task at hand – producing results.  This will prevent you from measuring progress by what you’ve done instead of what you produced. 
  3. Establish a target demographic.  Demographic-based target audiences are a relic of media placement.  Unless you are selling to shut-ins and geriatrics, demographic models have mostly been fragmented.  Instead, focus on the psychographic profile of your ideal audience.  How do they think?  What do they believe?  What are their drivers? 
  4. Don’t worry about a message.   Marketing is all about saturation, right?  It doesn’t matter what your message is.  Just get a slogan, a jingle and get your brand in front of enough people and it will produce sales results.  Unfortunately, this happens enough times to perpetuate this myth.  For those of you that don’t believe that “luck” should be part of a marketing plan, your message is the single most important part of your plan.  Simply put, your message is what you would say to your ideal audience that establishes an emotional connection and creates the desired behavior.  Simple, right? 
  5. Don’t worry about quality. This bad marketing plan mistake is partially related to #2 and #4.  The focus on punch lists and saturation often leave a lack of funding on producing quality marketing materials and advertising.  A poorly shot TV ad, a poorly written radio ad, a poorly designed print piece, a poorly designed web site, etc are evidence of a poorly thought-out marketing plan. 
  6. Write your plan for the entire year.  Frankly, we shouldn’t have annual marketing plan.  It locks you in to a plan that has minimal flexibility.  One year in a brand is a long time.  New opportunities will arise, new threats will emerge, and markets/trends will shift.  And you will be stuck in Q3 of your plan using old data and old ideas.  Instead, focus on a strategic plan for the year with 4 – 5 measurable outcomes (i.e. revenue per customer) – then use quarterly marketing plans for the execution side of the plan. 
  7. Don’t establish benchmarks or outcomes.  I’ve used the term outcomes, benchmarks, measurables, and results enough times to sound like a real consultant.  Without them, you don’t have a plan.
So put down the egg nog, quit rooting through that gift basket of goodies your radio rep brought you, and get to work!


If you need to get a last minute Christmas gift for someone you really love, get them this.

5 Books that will Re-Wire Your Thinking

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I’m frequently asked what books I read – and what books I would recommend others read.  There are plenty of very helpful books on how to do something.  And plenty of books that will make you think.  But what if you wanted to fundamentally change your thinking? To re-wire your brain so that your thinking (and behavior) become a competitive advantage?
Here are my Top 5 for doing just that (in no particular order) …

Core concept:  “This fun little book will help you figure out if you’re in a Dip that’s worthy of your time, effort, and talents. If you are, The Dip will inspire you to hang tough. If not, it will help you find the courage to quit-so you can be number one at something else.”

Godin will always make you think – probably more than any modern business author.  His books always inspire “I’ve never thought about that before”.  However, a lot Godin’s stuff is not all that actionable – more theory and concepts than changing behavior.  The exception is “The Dip”.  My good friend and relevance filter Tac Anderson gave me a copy several years ago when I was in a transitionary phase in my career as a consultant.  Like many of the books on this list, it was a quick read.  However, it fundamentally changed my thinking on excellence and career fulfillment.  I use the principles in the book as part of any strategy-related discussion for my clients as well as my brand.


Core concept:  “Why do some ideas thrive while others die?  The brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the “human scale principle,” using the “Velcro Theory of Memory,” and creating “curiosity gaps.”

This is the best business book I’ve ever read.  I actually listened to it first – then bought the actual book.  It’s the only business book I’ve read more than twice.  This book caused me to shift my entire consulting methodology away from promoting products for my clients to promoting (and discovering) ideas.  This is because great brands are ultimately ideas.  As such, I use (with proper credit) their 7 elements of an idea in my consulting sessions.  A brilliant, yet simple read.


Core Concept:  In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way — and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. And it all starts with “why.”  

As friends and clients can attest to, this book is probably the one I quote the most.  Simon’s book is a profound blend of inspiration, communication, and behavior – all critical elements of effective branding.  Simon’s “Why?” principle gets at the heart of what creates a great brand.  Like bacon goes with eggs, it blends perfectly with “Made to Stick” – providing a robust set of concepts for discovering and promoting ideas.  


Core Concept:   The Go Giver tells the story of an ambitious young man named Joe who yearns for success.  Joe learns that changing his focus from getting to giving—putting others’ interests first and continually adding value to their lives—ultimately leads to unexpected returns.

Told in story format, “The Go Giver” risks being mis-positioned as being trite or cheesy because of it’s title.  It is most certainly neither.  Instead, “The Go Giver” uses a simple narrative to uncover what it truly takes to be successful.  Because of it’s story format, I enjoyed the audio version more than reading the book.  Joe’s story is similar to a situation we’ve all been in – the pressure to increase sales RIGHT NOW.  Through the narrative, the authors reveal 5 critical elements that Joe was missing in his search for success.  I use the concepts in this book every day.


Core Concept:   Bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman guides couples in identifying, understanding, and speaking their spouse’s primary love language—quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.

Although obviously written as a relationship/marriage book, this is also a business book.  More specifically, it is a book on how to create an internal culture that becomes a differentiator for your brand.  I’m sure that Dr Chapman didn’t write it with this intent, but the principles apply to branding, culture, customer experience, employee recruiting, etc.  Why?  Because all of these areas involve people – and how they relate to each other.  Each of the “Love Languages” are manifested in business settings as well – and when you understand this, it will fundamentally change how you interact with your employees, customers, and influencers.


I will also use this post to shamelessly and gladly promote two new books from two of my favorite people:
Corey Smith’s book “Do it Right: A CEO’s Guide to Web Strategy”.   This is the book that every CEO, small business owner, and lead executive must read.  Using humor, story-telling and practical advice, Corey has produced the first web book written specifically to help a CEO.
Ron Price’s book “Treasure Inside:  23 Unexpected Principles that Activate Greatness”.  Simply put, Ron has unlocked the secret to human potential.  This book is so profound that it needs to be absorbed a bit at a time.  It will help you understand your own “awesomeness” – and make you go digging through your own heart and mind to find these hidden treasures.

Of course, after you’ve read all of these books, don’t forget to read “Oatmeal v Bacon”.

The Cost of Clarity

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We have all watched brands lose their way.  We’ve seen established brands take the slow walk to irrelevance.  We’ve seen start-ups that crashed on take-off.  We’ve seen vibrant brands that were all the rage suddenly become as popular as cold gravy.
How does this happen?

Of course, there are many causes: lack of funding, internal cultural issues, market shifts, etc.  But I would venture to say that even those issues are more symptoms than causes.   I believe the true cause of failure is lack of clarity.  More specifically, a lack of clarity in three areas:

  1. Lack of Strategic Clarity:  This is manifested in an organization’s inability (or unwillingness) to answer this question: “Why are we here?”  I refer to this as the “spiritual” side of a brand.  This is the core element that creates the aroma of the “bacon-ness” of a brand that attracts audiences – both internally and externally.  Brands that have answered this question always have a starting point for making decisions, selecting the right people, etc.  Without this answer, companies tend to drift – from executive to executive, message to message, and audience to audience.  The issue of Strategic Clarity becomes even more apparent when the top decision-makers in a brand have vastly different answers to this question.  This issue can’t be fixed with an ad campaign (it might actually make it worse).  Instead, it requires an awareness of the problem from the top executives – and the willingness to change.
  2. Lack of Role Clarity:  Ron Price speaks often of this regarding internal cultures.  The question to answer is “What are we doing and who is doing it?”.  While primarily an internal efficiency and productivity issue, role clarity extends to the brand – primarily via customer experience.  When your employees don’t know their role, this is manifested on to customers – creating language like “That’s not our policy”.  Lack of role clarity leads to quality control problems, theft, mis-use of the system and more.  This issue extends to directly to customers as well.  Brand that tend to have purely transactional relationships with their audiences create a role for their customers that severely limits word-of-mouth. When customers don’t have the role of brand evangelist, at best you simply have their loyalty – that’s not enough.
  3. Lack of Market Clarity:  While lack of Strategic Clarity and Role Clarity issues may be the primary cause of brand failure, both tend to be more subtle and longer-term issues.  Lack of Market Clarity is usually obvious to everyone.  This is manifested in the question “What are we selling and who are we selling to?”   This is the world of reactive marketing, poorly executed marketing efforts, and squishy messaging – and an obsession with finding the right message.  Surprisingly, lack of Market Clarity affects brands that often have a good product and good people.  They tend to believe too much in the “Field of Dreams” – build it and they will come.  They tend to view marketing as “icky” – primarily because they see their less honest competition using marketing to out-hustle them.  Regardless, you need to present the right image, the right message, and the right offering – all to the right people.
When you think of “Bacon” brands such as Under Armour, Southwest, Starbucks, Apple, SAP, Victoria Secret and others you can see that they do well in all areas of clarity.  Conversely, you can see the brands that are struggling because of a lack of clarity:  AOL, GM, Burger King, and many, many more.

We know what doesn’t fix lack of clarity.  Ad campaigns don’t fix clarity.  More investment money doesn’t fix clarity.  Casual Fridays don’t fix clarity. 

So what does fix clarity?  Leadership.

If you are the primary decision-maker in your organization, it starts with you.  All three of these clarity issues can be solved with leadership.  As a leader, you must first face the truth, clearly define the problem – then lead the effort to change and improve.

Is your brand Oatmeal or Bacon?  Find out here.

For social links, view my About.Me Profile: http://about.me/fosterthinking

The Cost of Boring

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Advertising is expensive.  When advertising does not produce measurable results (sales), it is even more expensive.   What’s really expensive is having a boring brand. Word-of-mouth provocateur Andy Sernovtiz says it best:

“Advertising is the price you pay for being boring”.
Being boring is one of the hidden costs of business.  It means that you have to bludgeon/advertise to generate response from the marketplace.  It usually means you have to provide discounts or deals to move people to buy.  It means you have to work unnecessarily hard to find and keep the right people (both employees and customers).
Beneath all of that is the most potentially fatal hidden cost of being boring … it means you probably have a product/service/idea that people don’t want.  As such, you have to create a false demand in the marketplace.  You have to over-promote.  You have to over-inflate value (or need).  Even worse, it means no word-of-mouth.  No excitement.
That’s why a brand starts not with your message or your marketing plan but your core idea.  Bottom line: Make stuff people want.  Solve a problem.  Create something truly different.  Deliver an amazing experience.  Then maybe you can consider advertising.