Is accountability dead?

Sometimes, it feels like our world has turned into a giant game of tag. People and organizations are constantly pointing fingers to blame mistakes, gaffes and actions on someone else. The ink barely dry on headlines, and people are shouting, “Not it!” in an effort to get the spotlight off themselves.


  • GM uncovers ignition flaws on their Cobalt years ago, but instead of fixing the problem at the time (too much money and time) or recalling the vehicles immediately (or even now, doing a full recall to ease public concern, they blame the drivers:  “… the Cobalt and other recalled small cars were safe to drive as long as drivers used only a key and not a heavy key chain.” (WSJ)
  • Retailer West Elm backorders my table by over 2 months without notifying me. When I email to complain after checking my order status, there is no apology or offer to rectify – it’s simply “the manufacturer’s fault.”
  • An overnight dog boarding facility skips my dog’s dinner which I discover due to food being left over upon pick up. While they investigated the cause, the response? “We’re sure he was fed but it was probably another dog’s food.” Which is also not a good thing. No apology, no mea culpa, no offer to make it up to us, compensate us a free stay, etc.
  • An intern fails to report status of the work she’s doing. When asked to correct this going forward and work on improving her communication skills, she responds with, “But it’s not my fault. You never asked for a status update.”

Is apology a dirty word? When did accountability go out of style? Whatever happened to “The situation is what it is, for whatever reason. How can we now make it right?”

When it comes to your brand, how you respond to crisis says more about you in a louder fashion than the thousand heroic acts you may do when things are going right.

Explanation is not a substitute for accountability. Make things right to protect your brand. (Tweet this!)

It may indeed be factual to blame someone or something else for why you’ve disappointed your audience, client, or customer. Traffic, lost shipments, sudden illness a personal emergency that distracts you. All valid, all believable, all true.

But that doesn’t give you or your brand a free pass to disappoint and go back on your word. I can’t even count how many virtual assistants or interns I tried to hire who had something interfere with doing what they said they were going to do, leaving me and my business hanging.

Responsibility is defined as: the state of being the person who caused something to happen. Accountability is defined as: the quality or state of being accountable, especially :  an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions

Simply put, you may not be responsible, but you need to be accountable.

Hey, I get it. Life happens. Believe me, I know this better than anyone. I was in the middle of a client project when I had a brain aneurysm.  The firm under which I was subcontracted immediately sent in one of the principal partners to replace me so the client would not be left in the lurch.

I once gave an overseas client back a non-refundable deposit and lost money on the deal – after delivering all the work promised in the contract that she (allegedly) read and signed-  simply because she abusively claimed it was not at all what she needed or asked for. English was her second language, so I think there may have been a major communication gap. But at the end of the day, in her mind, she did not get what she asked for and it was not worth it to me to argue with a crazy person. So I took a loss: I still had to pay my subcontractor who did her part. I wished the client well and told her to use the work we’d delivered if she wanted.

You can be creative. You can find solutions. You can ask for patience as you honor your commitments. You can offer an alternative or line up a replacement. Or like a dedicated writer I know, you can go a night without sleep to deliver what you said you would if someone is counting on you.

What can you do to make things right? What can you do to turn disappointment into delight? What can you say to make the person feel heard and appreciated? It’s not enough to say, “Well, this is why it happened. So deal with it.” It’s YOUR responsibility to turn the situation around as best you can.

Epilogue: After a tweet, West Elm told me to contact elevated support, the woman personally located a comparable item from a sister company, credited me back the difference and added a 15% discount on top of it all to boot. Nice. I told her my biggest frustration was the cavalier attitude conveyed in the initial email exchanges. True, I didn’t get this service level until I took to Twitter to complain (that should not be the case) but in the end, she turned around my negative experience. It was not “Judith’s” fault this happened. It was not even West Elm’s. But they are the face of the transaction and they (finally) took care of it. Nice.

When have you bravely taken accountability for disappointing a client or customer even when it was “not your fault?” Would love to hear your heroic story in the Comments below!

Is your brand a “bad boy?” 3 signs you might be breaking hearts

You know the type. They knock you off your feet and you’re hooked. They come on all strong with promises of love. And yet, the reality of dating these bad boys (or gals, for that matter) falls so short of your dreams. They are always late. They never call when they say they will. And they continue to betray your trust and hurt you – but when they do, they always apologize in some grand style that you can’t help but falling for their charms once again. Stuck in this cycle, you begin to wonder if maybe it’s just easier to accept this unhealthy relationship because you’re tired, it’s comfortable and you just don’t want to be alone.

But did your mama ever warn you about those bad boy brands?

Oh, they exist. You know they do. And based on the last few years of bad experiences with United Airlines, an airline I used to adore, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to wake up one day and realize you’re in bed with a bad brand….and you know you’re going to come back again.

Here are 3 signs you are in a relationship with a bad brand. Or worse, that your business, organization or project is doing this to your poor customers:


  • You’re a smooth talker and sharp dresser – but you break your promises: United makes some pretty great ads and videos touting their renewed commitment to serving their customers. Each flight, you are forced to watch smiling, happy real-life employees talk about their job as more of a calling in caring for you like a mother hen. The CEO, with his silver-fox haircut and dazzling smiles reinforces how much United has improved in customer service over the years. Yes, they talk a good game, but after that screen goes dark, you are back to surly gate agents, chaotic ticket counters and a complete lack of respect of information. Good-hearted brands walk their talk. Recently, I witnessed a ticket counter worker refuse to help a poor non-English speaking passenger during a chaotic cancellation fiasco at SFO. She waved him away and barked quick and incoherent orders at him that even I, a native English speaker, couldn’t understand. It bordered on racism. And the other night, we had a horrendous experience with delayed flights at Orange County airport, where they kept making us go back and forth between gates, confused 2 SF-bound flights,  and had no clear information – and then the gate agents had the nerve to get snitty when people who had gone beyond the bounds of patience got anxious and frustrated. Like a bad boy, they made us feel like it was our fault. As if we had no right to be upset.
  • You make the grand gestures – but you keep breaking hearts: After my delayed flight fiasco last week, the crew and in-flight team finally apologized over and over again (“Baby, I’m so sorry. I swear I’ll never do it again!”). We received follow up emails routing us to a special website for our feedback and also offering some sort of compensation. Yes, I took them up on their offer for 3,000 bonus miles. But if this kind of behavior were not par for the course with them, I might be more willing to talk about how delightful was this gesture. Instead, I know they are just slapping a Band-Aid on the problems and that they tried to buy my loyalty and silence rather than earn it. Make-up gestures only work when they are rarely needed, not when they are the rule. Nice try, but too little too late.
  • You pretend you’re listening – but you’re not: Tweet @united if you ever get a chance. I’m not sure how they run their social media, but the first time I ever did this, I got a reply that was so obviously automated, it was laughable. It didn’t even address my original Tweet topic. Fast forward to sharing my fiasco last week and… silence. Not even the automated garbage this time. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Do the same thing with airlines like Jet Blue or Virgin America and real people with real personalities are there to serve, responding right away to see what they can do. And they actually DO SOMETHING. Don’t bother playing the social media game if you have bots replying to people’s issues. It takes more than opening a Twitter account to say you’re engaged effectively in social media. How do big brands with the kind of resources that United has still not get this?

I always had a special place in my heart for United, as they were my first airline loyalty program. When I was a consultant for a Big 6 firm right out of college, I traveled with them every single week and got to enjoy the status perks that came along with that. Plus, I live in San Francisco, which is one of their hubs. But that brand love has been eroded by their bad behavior over the last ten years to the point that I don’t believe a word their CEO says. Sure, heroic acts of kindness from individual workers over the years has helped keep me “on the hook” and that is why I just can’t seem to say goodbye – plus being in a hub city, I’m often forced to fly with them.

But is that really the brand you want? One in which your customers are just “hanging on” and settling for the abuse until a better option comes along?

Now it’s your turn! What “bad boy” brands have you experienced? What do you do to ensure your brand doesn’t turn into a bad boy itself? Please share in the Comments!

The upside of making mistakes….no, really, there is one

Today, a wonderful post from the vivacious Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades, founder of Power Chicks, a networking community for heart-centered women entrepreneurs and rockstars. I loved the lessons in this post so much, I asked her if we could share it. Enjoy!

Mistakes hurt.

Make one, and you get that yucky pit in your stomach. Often, it comes with a smack upside the noggin and a super-sized side of self-doubt.

Weird thing, though. Let those ouchy errors teach you and, amazingly, glitches become guidance. (Tweet this!)


When I expanded Power Chicks from a grassroots group to a business, I hired a consulting company to help me create a profit plan. Theirs was a “we decide the business model, you implement it” approach rather than a collaborative venture pairing their experience with my style.

This match unfortunately (yet logically) mirrored one of my crabbiest, most persistent inner critic’s voice: Other people know what to do better than you do.

Suckered in by Crabby Pants, I began to implement a business plan heaped with hard work, void of what felt easy and good (i.e., my natural talents and skills) and exhausting albeit in an exhilarating way. Pain was gain in my quest for success and the millions of dollars I would soon be making.

After many months of this, I was tired. Really tired. Exhilaration was out. Exhaustion was in.

Without being guided by my own inner strength and intuition, I had lost my way. Not only was the direction for my business one that bored me to tears, I was miserable.


Before I became an entrepreneur, I commuted 3 hours a day to a Fortune 500 company housed in a building called The Tower where I was cloistered in a gray cubical with a beige computer surrounded by pallid yellow walls. (Whew.) I left to create a life I loved.

This was not it.

With angst over thousands of wasted dollars seemingly burned in a bonfire quenched only by buckets of tears (oh, the drama!), I ended the consulting relationship.  With it, I scraped a year’s worth of work.

It took two months of radical self-care and many conversations with colleagues to begin to heal. But with that time came a fresh perspective on what I needed my business to look like.

Sustainable. Wholeheartedly sustainable. That meant money-wise, yes, of course. But viable in a much holistic way: a business congruent with who I am as a powerful woman with my own unique gifts, talents and desires. A business congruent with my energy on all levels — emotionally, mentally, even soulfully. A business congruent with strengths arising from the core of my being.

BAM. What a relief!

I saw where I’d gone wrong — I’d neglected myself to build something based on external input rather than allowing own values and wisdom to support my direction.

Fast forward to today.

Since then, I’ve found mentors who value collaborative planning as I move toward financial sustainability. This is a process, for sure! Yet this pathway is vastly more effective than disconnecting from myself. And when I step out of what deeply matters? Thanks to a commitment to myself and trusted allies to whom I turn again and again, I find my way back to center.

When someone recently asked on Facebook, “How do you stay so completely wholehearted and authentic in business?” my answer came lickety-split.

By making a mistake. (Tweet this!)


Photo credit: Peter Lindberg, Flikr

Do you agree? What is one big (or small) mistake you’ve made with your business, book or project that taught you more than you could ever imagine? Please share in the Comments!

How to (really) rock your brand with social media

Social media is now a core part of most any business marketing strategy. But it can get overwhelming. Red Slice partner Joy Moxley of YoDog Media helps clients incorporate social media and design into their business marketing strategy. She’s here to give you some tips and ideas about how to use social media most effectively– and she gives us her take on Pinterest for business brands. Her company’s mission is to “enhance and inject creativity, static and socially, into your business and life.”

Yeah, I want me some of that.

RS: Howdy, Joy! What do social media rockstars do that mere mortals do not?

JM: Here are some powerful tips if you want to rock:

  • Always try to one-up yourself! Stay active in the regular platforms but push your way into the new social “rooms” so you are always in the know.
  • Staying active within your social community, on and off the computer.
  • KISS it hello! “Keep It Simple Stupid” and use a third party social media publisher such as Hootsuite, Buffer, Seesmic, etc…to publish and analyze your content.
  • Have confidence and humility. It’s a great mix that will get you far. People love real people. Machines rust, but real people shine all the time. Tweet this!

RS: Sounds like if I could manage all of that, I’d be rocking, too! Now let’s get down and dirty. What 3 social media mistakes should business owners avoid?

JM: Don’t just make a page in Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest or Twitter, thinking people are going to just find you. You have to find and establish your customers first and then let the word of mouth flow in along with your marketing strategy. Tell people where to find you online and make sure to engage.

Secondly, avoid getting angry with unpleasant followers. There might be a good reason they aren’t satisfied and they might just like to pick fights. But whatever the reason, keep your cool and comment back to them in a professional manner. If that doesn’t work, take it off line.

Third, don’t skip good design for your online image. Again, social media is an important tool in your marketing toolbox. Consistency is key and you want your brand to look as fresh online as it does on your printed business collateral. Hire a pro.

And here’s a bonus one for you guys: Make sure to keep up to date with your page statistics and geotrack your followers. You need to understand who is viewing your page. (Tweet this!) Tools such as Facebook Insights will help guide you down that path. Our company helps clients with this all the time.

RS: Wise words. What are some ways people should integrate Twitter and Facebook for their social media campaigns?

JM Most if not all social media platforms are free. Use them to post about sales, contests / sweepstakes (make sure you know the difference) and get-togethers you might be having. More people will see these opportunities than if you were to just take out an ad in the newspaper.

Get “your people” involved. Ask your community to share photos or video of how they use your product, or simply how they are enjoying their day. Everyone loves to share and your business page can provide them with another outlet to show off their fun photos.

Use Twitter to start a scavenger hunt. Twitter is a fast paced medium and people want instant gratification. What better way than to send them off on a little scavenger hunt with new clues every 5 minutes or so?

Facebook is a great way to have company coupons listed for your new and current customers. It’s also a great way to keep them coming back to your page to see what’s new and grab that monthly coupon. Less than 1% of people, after liking a page, revisit. Keep them coming back with engaging dialogue and…freebies.

And don’t forget bragging rights! Let people know why you are the best and that you LOVE your customers. The stated love for “your people” will travel far. Especially if they aren’t at your place of business every day, they will see your online presence and be reminded of how awesome you are.

RS:  What are your thoughts on Pinterest for business brands?

JM: Pinterest has become the place to go to “Pin” your projects, favorite fashion statements, photos, recipes and more. It’s a platform for regular people and companies to show off their lifestyles and spark ideas and creativity in those viewing your pins.

Business brands can use this to their advantage by having a board for their new or featured products, but also what they love at the moment and even what organizations they support. This is a great way to show that you are a real company run by real people with personality. (Tweet this!) Post what people are eating during lunch,  favorite places employees have traveled or funky organization ideas your employees or you, the owner, have come up with in your down time outside of the office.

As with any new social media site, there will be ups and downs with how the site is run and how people use it to their advantage. I think it will get people excited about other photo sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram and allow people to choose to see all of your creativity and ambition in one area rather than flooding their Facebook timelines with photos.

Follow Joy @yodogmedia or Like YoDogMedia on Facebook.

What is one specific idea or success story you’ve had with social media promotion for your business? Are you using Pinterest? Please share in the Comments!

How to be your own Juliet with Alexandra Franzen

Storytelling and branding (PS, same thing) are all about articulation. The sublime act of phrasing something to evoke just the right reaction at just the right time from just the right people.

No one does this better than today’s Slice of Brilliance guest, writer Alexandra Franzen.

I’m biased, because this “Promotional Wordsmith & Personal Scribe” – her words – helps me with my own brand messaging and has helped my clients. She also delivers the juiciness for heavyweights like Danielle LaPorte and Marie Forleo. Through her writing services she channels entrepreneurial LOVE into unforgettable language—the kind that inspires an immediate “YES.”

I don’t know how this chick replenishes her constant well of innovation but it might have to do with her choosing a different mission or manifesto every year. Her 2012 manifesto is called “DEVOTION.”

Today we dish about self-expression and how she turned her passion into profit.

RS: Alexandra, you have a gift for articulating intent, vibe and mission into powerful copy for clients. When did your love for writing develop, what inspired you to build a business around it?

AF: Hmmm…y’know, even as a kidlet, I was a writerly little thing. My mom quickly noticed that I had a knack for rewriting song lyrics, and pretty soon she started giving me little ‘assignments’. First it was, “Write a song about Great Aunt Mimi, to the tune of ‘Tiny Dancer’.” Later it became, “Write this fundraiser invitation, and make it really hilarious” and eventually “Write a Regency-era novella about your father & I, except he’s a butler in disguise and I’m an impetuous damsel!” Eventually, I had to diversify my client pool.

I wrote all through high school, college & my early ‘real-world’ career, in public broadcasting. Everything from five-minute operettas, to poetry, to one-act plays, to humor columns, to a grant-funded research paper, to snippets of copy for on-air promotional spots. But writing was always a sideline gig, a passion project, a lightly-paid hobby. I never really believed I could make a living – let alone build a business – through my wit & words, alone.

That is, until I quit my job – in the midst of the Recession. And suddenly, making money as a writer was the only option. And a fairly urgent one, at that.

It took me about a year to really hit my stride, as an entrepreneur. I struggled to find the right offerings, the right packages, and of course – the right clients. But once I found my sweet-spot – as a copywriter & promotional strategist for quirky, brilliant & truly visionary ‘preneurs – everything dovetailed together. Suddenly, my eclectic background and ability to duck & dive into numerous voices & styles was a marketable skill. Who woulda thunk it? Well, my mom, probably. She always knows everything about seven years before I do.

RS: They always do. People think of entrepreneurship or “being in business” as very analytical, but it can also be a form for artistic expression. What’s your advice on how to express ourselves through our businesses?

AF: I really believe that building a business is an act of supreme self-expression – what could be more expressive than packaging & presenting your greatest talents for the world to adore? When we hop on Twitter, when we post a blog entry, when we launch a new offering, when we speak or teach or lead a workshop, we’re expressing ourselves…expressing what we love, what we loathe, and what matters to us. And when we see a brand or identity that really strikes a heart-chord, what we’re essentially seeing is someone’s full & unapologetic self-expression. “This is who I am. This is what I do. This is why it matters. You with me, or what?”

RS: What messaging “rules” drive you crazy and how can people unlearn these rules for better impact?

AF: There’s an interview that’s furrowed into my brain, for all time – it’s a conversation with the great prima ballerina Allessandra Ferri from the American Ballet Theater. When Ferri was preparing to play Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, she said – forgive my paraphrasing – “First, I memorize the play. Then, I watch all the films. Then, I listen to the music – again, and again. And then, I forget everything. I must forget everything. Or how will I become my own Juliet?”

Messaging, marketing & positioning your business is a lot like preparing to play Juliet. YES, you should learn all the rules & techniques. YES, you should take all the courses, and invest in the templates. YES, you should work with top consultants, masters & gurus. But at some point, you’ve got to forget…to come back to the beginner’s mind, keeping only the essentials. Or how will you become your own Juliet? How will find your own voice? How will you build your own business – and not a facsimile of someone else’s entrepreneurial performance?

Every great artist, innovator & entrepreneur knows this to be true: the world is waiting for your Juliet…not a microfiche of someone else’s, no matter how marvelous. The world is waiting for you…to decide to be you.

More about Alexandra Franzen:

Promotional wordsmith & personal scribe. Soul stenographer. Strumpet nerd. Recovering socialist. Geriatric raver. Captivated by heart-shaped crystals, Finnish power metal, anything chartreuse, and Leonard Cohen. Fix me a Madagascar vanilla tea latte, and I’ll tell you all my secrets. Except that one.

Check out her website at Love it? Aw, yeah! And guess what? Alexandra’s putting her brilliance on-loan to you with two mini-products on the shelf right now. More on the way.

—a lovingly-crafted collection of tried ‘n true e-mail scripts, for baby-preneurs who are just starting out…as well as established solopreneurs who’ve hit a dry patch, or never quite mastered the Art of the Ask.

—a copy ‘n pasteable collection of snappy scripts, for entrepreneurs who want to crank up their credibility with highly-persuasive, love-drenched and 100% TRUE client reviews.

The myth of the brand facade

Flying back from the Midwest this holiday season, we had some customer service issues with American Airlines.  Snarky flight attendants, a ridiculously understaffed gate (one poor soul checking in 3 flights – and re-routing passengers from a cancelled flight – but, wow, she was quite a trooper) Yes, they are going through Chapter 11, yes, the  industry in general is taking a beating, and yes, 98% of their competitors are not much better.

Makes it so easy for someone like Virgin America to come along and differentiate. When the bar is set so low by so many, it’s not hard to raise it even an inch.

I find it interesting to note that nowhere on American’s site can you find a statement of their philsopphy or what they stand for – not even in their About Us section. They just list a bunch of things they do. What the heck do the employees have to rally around? But it’s easy to find purpose and mission on Virgin America’s site….hmmmmm.

I started thinking about all the brand messages we see from airlines -and financial services institutions. These companies spend millions telling us they care about customers, they care about you as a person, their employees are committed, caring and sharp dressers.

Why do they bother?

We all know when we pull back the brand facade, we’ll experience delays, poor service, long telephone hold times and endless bureaucracy. Wells Fargo is our bank with whom we had our previous mortgage. When they declined to refiannce us (with excellent credit history, mind you) after a botched and complicated application process where the left hand did not know what the right was doing, we went elsewhere. Then we started getting marketing letters in the mail offering us a great – and easy – refinance process with them. WTF?!

When American Airlines shows TV commercials of smiling, calm people breezing on to the plane as if they were entering a spa, we know the reality is poor communication, delays, crowded gates and crying babies.

I’ve often called this ‘putting a coat of brand paint” on top of a flawed product/service/company. Do they really think we’re going to believe? Does the CEO really understand what it’s like to a be a frustrated customer? I don’t think so, or they would never spend million-dollar plus line items on something everyone knows is not reality. The emperor has no clothes, so why are you spending so much to tell us otherwise? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on actually delivering that level of service to begin with?

In your industry, such shenanigans offer a prime opportunity to step up and make a promise you can actually keep – that alone will differentiate you. Southwest Airlines does it by promising low prices and no bag fees (and a downhome, even funny, customer service persona) – and they deliver. Virgin America promises to make flying fun again – and everything from their calm and friendly staff to the  personalized in-flight entertainment system to funny safety video delivers.

Ally Bank has tried to make you think they are the quirky bank that is on your side. Their TV commercials are pretty funny. Now, I have no direct customer experience with them, so I’m not sure if they deliver. But did you know that Ally is simply GMAC, rebranded?

Some of my most interesting clients have been in what could be seen as unglamourous but as I said, when the bar is set so low to begin with, the opportunity to raise it up is huge. Wish these airline and bank CEO’s could open their eyes and see that. Maybe then they wouldn’t be filing for Chapter 11 but actually delivering on what they promise in their TV commercials.

Wow. What a concept.

How to solve marketing’s moral dilemma

I’m having a moral crisis right now about my chosen profession.

Reports are everywhere about how our current global economic crisis has impacted the way consumers spend/save money. Given the scares we’ve had with a volatile stock market, the collapse of the housing market and troubles overseas, consumers are now consuming less, saving more and paying off their debts.

That should be awesome, right? Well….

Like it or not, our economy’s health runs on consumerism: on spending and borrowing. When people start acting the way they should – meaning saving and living within their means – this causes a glitch in the Matrix.

The WSJ cites: “During the Great Depression, economist John Maynard Keynes warned of a so-called paradox of thrift: When everyone turns frugal, everyone suffers.” Why? Because there is less money changing hands, less demand for products and services and more people – and companies – hoarding cash. This leads to things like retailers not selling inventory, which means they lay off workers, and in turn stop ordering more from their suppliers, which leads to more of those companies going out of business and more layoffs, which leads to now-unemployed people defaulting on mortgages or not buying homes at all, which leads to the construction industry screeching to a halt and people not being able to sell their own homes fast enough…..etc, etc, ad nauseum. Note: I am not an economist but this is how I interpret things. I’m not even going to touch how this impacts financial markets, stock sales, Treasury bills, and the like.

So what is my moral dilemma?

I have chosen a profession – marketing – that, by it’s definition, is all about bringing products and services to market and convincing people and businesses to buy them.

For someone who gets so fed up with our culture of consumerisn, for how much we place on material possessions; for someone who hates the idea of people spending frivolously on things they can’t afford when that money could be used for so much good in the world for people, animals or the environment, you would think I would be thrilled that more people are saving and being smart with money.

And I am. Truly. I think we all needed a wake-up call. When mortgage brokers tried to convince me and my husband to get a house with no money down back in 2007, we briefly considered it and then thought those people were smoking crack. We decided we’d rather get a traditional loan with less risk and no surprises. And while our house is worth less than what we paid for it, thankfully our mortgage is not completely underwater.

So what is a marketer to do, when she’s happy people are saving money,paying down debt and spending more wisely? How can I continue to be a part of the machine that makes people spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need?

Then I thought about it some more. My branding philosophy is all about meeting needs and adding value. It’s not about lying to people, or targeting those who can’t afford a high-end product to go into debt to afford it. My advice is about meeting real needs that people have, not creating ones they don’t.  It’s about making their lives better or their jobs easier or their customers happy. It’s about being crystal clear on who your target audience is and if they can afford  – and benefit from – your products or services: if they can’t, you should not be talking to them or marketing to them. And if you can’t benefit anyone, you should not have a business.

I realized my philosophy is about puting more “honest” marketing out into the world. We can’t deny we live in an economy based around consumption. I can’t change that or make us go back to an agrarian society. But I can help clients be authentic, transparent and honest about the value they offer and to whom they offer it. I can try to convince that coach who wants to bill out at $400 an hour that maybe they shouldn’t spend their marketing dollars at events attracting people who only make $30,000 per year. If you want to sell $400,000 cars, then that is your right – as long as you market them to the people who can afford them and not low-income families. And if you meet a need for a fair, reasonable price to attract the budget-conscious, then fabulous: the point is to meet the needs of the right people with the right message.

Maybe, just maybe, if businesses were more responsible with who they target with their messages, we’d not only have less noise in the chaotic media landscape, but more people could get their needs met within their means and continue saving and paying down their debts where appropriate. And maybe, just maybe, the economic sky won’t have to fall just because people are finally acting responsibly with their money.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Photo credit:

What is your view of the economy? How do you think the culture of consumption has helped or hindered us? Are marketers to blame or not? I’d love your thoughts on this controversial topic below – share a comment and get some link love back to your site. And keep it respectful, folks! Thanks.

Reboot and reframe: Branding lesson for life #2: Be Authentic

Accepting who you are and what you can deliver is an essential part of building a strong brand. If you can’t walk your talk and deliver on your brand promise, then customers will see right through you and it will catch up to you eventually. Sure, you can create short-term spikes of interest, convince someone, somewhere that your company is something else – but brand loyalty is built brick by brick through consistently delivering what you promise, through everything you do, say and show.

Lesson #2 from my recent Women Business Owners chat is about embracing that authenticity. A brand should play to your strengths, but you need to get real about what your company can and will do (and what it can’t and won’t do). It’s all well and good to want to be hip, cool and cutting-edge, but if you can’t deliver that, then don’t try to dress things up. There are so many markets and needs out there – find what works for you and for your audience and deliver that with everything you’ve got.

Check out the juicy video for Lesson #2 here.

What is your authentic strength or mission that guides your brand and marketing efforts?

BACKSTORY TO THE SEVEN LESSONS: What do recovering from a  brain aneurysm and branding have in common? Quite a bit, it turns out. Recently, I got the wonderful opportunity to share my dramatic story at a Women Business Owners luncheon and I promised I’d post the lessons here for everyone. This will be a seven-post series. Click here to learn more and view Lesson #1: FOCUS.

The real scoop on “authenticity” and what it means to your customers

Type “authentic branding” into Bing and you’ll pull up 581,000 results. The advice to “be authentic” hits business owners and entrepreneurs more than gray skies hit Seattle from October to May. And, yes, I give this advice to my clients.

But what does being “authentic” really mean?

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

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

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

It means don’t write brand checks your business can’t cash, to use a phrase I love.

Too often I hear the battle cry of “authenticity” used to defend an unprofitable business. “But I’m following my passion, I’m doing what I want to do.” Great. But if customers don’t care about that – or are not willing to pay for it – you don’t have a business: you have a hobby.

Having an authentic brand means starting with the values and practices you believe in and delivering on that promise to customers – but it only matters if your target customers care and respond.  Personal preference is great and should be your foundation. After all, it’s your business – you should do what you like. But if you’re not making any money, you need to evolve or adapt to still play to your strengths but in a way that offers value for which customers are willing to pay.

Southwest shows us how to handle a PR crisis

Southwest Airlines turned a safety nightmare into a PR coup that proves the brand really does care about its customers.

We’ve all seen the amazingly campy Southwest Airlines ads that tell us they love our bags so much, they get to fly free. Southwest is trying to prove they are the airline that cares about true service, and it’s an incredibly powerful differentiator in an industry that feels like it will eventually charge us for cups of water. And instead of unrealistic visions of clouds and comfortable passengers with miles of legroom  that other airlines show in their ads, Southwest uses humor and personality to say, “Look, we know flying sucks these days. We’re going to try to make it as fun an experience for you as we can.”

This is carried through down to the employee level. I recently flew Southwest and the flight attendant, upon landing, joked, “How many of you checked bags today?” Many of us raised our hands. Then she asked, “And how much did you pay for those bags?” The answer was a resounding shout of “Nothing!” “That’s right!” she said, “Here at Southwest, we love you and we love your bags, too!”

Recently, Southwest was in the news for a large gash that expectantly tore through a 737 fuselage mid-flight. The plane made an emergency landing and everyone was unharmed. This could have caused a brand fiasco, a PR nightmare. But Southwest stepped up and showed why they are a power brand.

How?  According to this WSJ article, by doing the right thing: being proactive and transparent and putting their passengers before profits. The article reads like a 24 episode, a blow by blow of what happened as the PR crisis unfolded. Every action Southwest took makes you love this brand even more.

They transparently kept press and passengers in the loop on the situation. They also stepped out in front of it by  cancelling hundreds of flights and grounding their entire fleet of 737’s until the cause of the tear could be determined. They walked their talk and showed they really do care about their customers.

Turns out Boeing, the manufacturer, said their models were flawed in terms of wear and tear and are working through tests and investigations with the NTSB. The article states they may have created a  new standard for the industry by being so proactive. “The move allayed passenger concerns and helped the carrier adhere to its aggressive inspection timeline with more control over its own destiny..”

The NTSB praised them for taking action before the government forced them to. That is how you control your brand, even thought it ultimately lives in the minds of your customers. You control all the aspects within your power to ensure people will form the right brand impression.

That’s the thing about brand. It’s all well and good to say you stand for something. But its what you do when the going gets tough that either increases your brand loyalty or completely destroys it. This is one of the marks of a Power Brand: to be able to elegantly recover from a crisis, not just intact, but as a way to prove yourself even more.