The Big Picture of Business – The Realities of Branding… Slogans that Mislead

It is both comical and sad to analyze certain promotional hype that one hears. Some companies claim that purchasing their product is the ‘be all, end all’ panacea for life’s dilemmas. If only you will buy their version of ‘The Answer,’ then you can surely fast-forward your way to instant riches, success and an easy life.

This is not written to take swipes at responsible branding, marketing and advertising. More than 80 percent of what one sees and hears is clever, informative, research-based, sensibly executed and intended to orient target audiences toward marketplaces. Advertising fulfills many essential niche needs. Branding is a sub-set of marketing, which is a sub-sub-set of corporate strategy. It needs to reflect and support strategy, not to deter from it.

This is written to address the bigger issue that some companies believe the hype that they are issuing. One most often hears inflated misrepresentations, false perceptions and over-statements via such contexts as:

  • Corporate image spots that appear on TV news shows.
  • Business-to-business publication advertising.
  • Self-promotional brochures.
  • Direct mailings to niche audiences.
  • Catalogs.
  • Cause-related marketing materials.

Some companies are downright parsimonious about themselves. Some either skillfully lie to get what they think they want, or may really believe themselves to be what they hype to publics who don’t know any better.

Many consumers are gullible, ‘name’ crazy and susceptible to grandiose claims. They take what is said at face value because they have not or don’t care to develop abilities to discern what is hyped by others. They believe distortions faster than they believe facts, logic and reason.

This negatively impacts our society, which continually seeks button-pushing answers for life’s complex problems without paying enough dues toward a truly successful life. Consumers naively believe misrepresentations, to the exclusion of organizations which are more conservative, yet substantive, in their informational offerings.

Many of the hucksterisms represent ‘copywriting’ by people who don’t know anything about corporate vision. Their words overstate, get into the media and are accepted by audiences as fact. By default, companies have the appearance of credibility based upon misrepresentations.

Companies put too much of their public persona in the hands of marketers and should examine more closely the distorted messages and partial images which they put into the cyberspace. Our culture hears and believes the hype, without looking beyond the obvious. People come to expect easy answers for questions they haven’t yet taken the time to formulate.

Here are some examples of the misleading and misrepresenting things one sees and hears in the Information Age:

‘Achieve Perfection.’
What they’re really selling: Computer software.
My analysis: There is no such thing in life as perfection, as anyone who had led a meaningful life has learned. Continuous Quality Improvement is a higher level of thinking. Computer software is merely one tool out of many. It cannot single-handedly create quality.

‘Solutions for a Small Planet.’
What they’re really selling: Internet access.
My analysis: It takes more than a keyboard to effect solutions. You need global thinkers, planning, visioning, human interaction, the ability to reason…and much more.

‘Problem Solvers.’
What they’re really selling: Computer technicians.
My analysis: Yes they are, for less than one tenth of one percent of business issues.

‘Helping You Achieve Your Future.’
What they’re really selling: Photocopying equipment.
My analysis: You achieve your own future, with the help of skilled advisors. Once you strategize your life’s plan, it is a good idea to share photocopies of it with others.

‘A Better Life for the People of ____.’
What they’re really selling: Electric power plants.
My analysis: Yes, but how community-responsive are the companies which sell equipment to public utilities. What is their commitment toward literacy, social services, health care, the environment, multicultural diversity and other key issues that really create a better life?

‘Work Smarter, Not Harder.’
What they’re really selling: Computer software.
My analysis: Productivity software does no good unless one commits to change, alters behavioral traits and commits to time management. Then, we move on toward the bigger issues which software is not capable of addressing: what you do with your time, what you contribute and how you grow-succeed.

‘Tap the potential of companies focused on the future.’
What they’re really selling: Stock investments.
My analysis: The stock market looks primarily at profits…one small part (1%) of the business picture. It must also focus upon people, products, processes, procedures and potential.

‘How the Fortune 1000 Made Their Fortune.’
What they’re really selling: Paging equipment.
My analysis: Pagers were not invented when they made their fortunes. Communications is fundamental to maintaining, but technology is only as good as the people using it. The bigger question is: how accessible are the executives, and how is company vision articulated and shared? That’s the kind of communications that really grows companies.

‘Products for Healthy Living.’
What they’re really selling: Skin cream.
My analysis: An overstatement. Health care professionals rank other things higher on the list of priorities.

‘Your Survival Could Depend On It.’
What they’re really selling: Home fire safety gear.
My analysis: Agreed, though I would include continuing education, self-fulfillment and the ability to plan one’s future life to the equation.

‘Change Your Hairstyle as Easily as You Change Your Mind.’
What they’re really selling: Ladies’ hairpieces.
My analysis: Many people (women and men) have trouble changing both…which still reflect the mindsets and self-images of their college days.

‘Speak the Language of Business Success.’
What they’re really selling: Foreign language lessons.
My analysis: English is the international business language, and most people do not use it to best advantage. Workplace illiteracy is much more rampant than people even understand. Many managers have poor people skills, as well as poor verbal-written communications skills. Business writing and public speaking classes should be mandatory. The ability to communicate must be taught to all who wish to attain business success.

‘Develop the Drive to Accomplish Anything.’
What they’re really selling: Motivational tapes.
My analysis: Agreed, in philosophy. They require human development, mentoring, knowledge enhancement and much more to be successful. Tapes alone are not enough. They may start or augment a path of self-growth and success. Tapes cannot take the place of reading.

‘Insightful Advice for a Complex World.’
What they’re really selling: Banking.
My analysis: Financial planning does not constitute global thought on life. It’s 1% of the total picture. Banks buy money wholesale and sell it to borrowers at retail rates. Banks are now trying to compete with financial planners and investment banking houses.

‘Getting you back to the way things once were.’
What they’re really selling: Home owners’ insurance.
My analysis: There is nothing more permanent and positive than change (which is 90% beneficial). Too many people spend much of their lives clinging to the past, fighting change and criticizing those who progress. While insurance is important, nothing should promise a return to the past. That plays into the hands of has-beens.

‘Enhancing Your Life at Home.’
What they’re really selling: Outdoor signage.
My analysis: To facilitate enhancement, focus upon quality time with the family, hobbies, reading, exercise, gardening and entertaining guests.

‘The Spirit of Excellence.’
What they’re really selling: Residential real estate.
My analysis: Price and location are the deciding factors in real estate. Knowledge of the agents is the next factor. While all companies should achieve excellence in what they do, no single organization embodies it all.

‘Your opportunity of a lifetime is here. You owe it to yourself and your family to be successful.’
What they’re really selling: Multi-level marketing, home-based business.
My analysis: The language of infomercials often preys upon low-income and low-esteem people. It alleges that their scheme is the only true way to riches…which is a quick path toward a successful family life. Obviously, they are mixing messages to sell their programs. Life is a series of progressions, choices, dues-paying and self-earned successes. There is no substitution for diligence and hard work.

‘Has All the Trappings of a Box Office Sensation.’
What they’re really selling: Trucks.
My analysis: That means that it’s based upon flash, sizzle and hucksterism. This week’s box office sensation will be forgotten soon enough. There’s always another waiting to take its place. Why do TV newscasts devote so much valuable airtime to show box office grosses for movies? That’s not news. Further, it reinforces the erroneous message that sales rankings are the primary measure of a company or product. Anybody who hangs their hat upon changeable, temporary rankings is headed for a fall. The public also loves to see celebrities, products, trends and cultural icons fall just as quickly as they rise. It’s a sick phenomena. Nothing – not even reputable films – should be judged only by fickle box office ratings.

‘Accelerate Your Business.’
What they’re really selling: Computer software.
My analysis: Not every company grows at the same rate. Database software does not make a company grow. It is a tool of people who put thought, planning, products and processes into perspective. Computer ‘consultants’ are not business strategists. Their product is one out of hundreds of business tools and must, therefore, be kept into proper perspective.

‘Improving Health Care in America.’
What they’re really selling: Data processing systems.
My analysis: Managing data and managing doctors (which is tough to do) are not the same thing. Non-core vendors do not and cannot improve the quality of a client’s core business. Products and services assist the bureaucracy to do its job more efficiently but cannot claim credit for Big Picture success of a client’s entire industry. In the case of health care, it’s more of a societal phenomenon that goes beyond the controls of its industry, providers and vendors.

‘Brewing solutions for a better environment.’
What they’re really selling: Packaged beverages.
My analysis: It is misleading to list the charities one has supported in one’s history, especially to prove a deceiving point. When you’re in the business of manufacturing and marketing packaged beverages, it is misleading to suggest that you’re in the business of protecting the environment. Cause related marketing is wonderful, but a company that exploits one cause may paint a partial (and thus false) picture of itself.

‘The Internet is fast becoming the greatest business revolution ever.’
What they’re really selling: Computer software.
My analysis: The Internet is a vehicle for sales and marketing. History tells us that revolutions are never fast. For terms like ‘greatest,’ try practical experience, learning, planning and human communication with colleagues…qualities which a sales vehicle cannot provide.

‘The Bumpy Road to Success Made Smooth.’
What they’re really selling: Small business banking services.
My analysis: Banking, like computer hardware and software, is a tool of the trade…not a driving force. Success is a long process, based upon how well one takes the turns. There are no shortcuts to true success.

Red Flag Expressions: When You Hear, Beware of False Claims!

Family Tradition
Fastest Growing
In One Easy Lesson
#1 in Sales
World Class
Wealth and Riches
The Best
For All Your Needs

‘Our Mission.’
What they’re really selling: Retail merchandise.
My analysis: Beware of that phrase in advertising. It’s a sales ploy. Retailers are motivated by keeping the cash registers ringing. It’s unlikely that sales people know what a Mission Statement and the Strategic Planning process are. To confuse sales and Big Picture messages is a travesty.

‘Family Tradition.’
What they’re really selling: Usually retailers, restaurants, service companies.
My analysis: If the founder is still active in the business and is accessible to customers, then the reputation is upheld. Dysfunctional family-run businesses reflect dysfunctional families. Hiring blood relatives, in-laws and old friends is not always good business. A few pull their share, and others coast on the certainty of nepotism. Research shows the odds are against family businesses going past a second generation, for these and other reasons. Tradition is a red flag expression because it implies that change has not occurred. Nobody does things exactly as they did in the early days. To say they do is deceptive to customers, employees and the good family name. Tradition and maintaining the status quo are two different concepts. Real tradition is predicated upon change management and steady evolution of the business.

7 Defeating Signs for Growth Companies

When a company says they are the ‘Fastest Growing,’ beware! These circumstances are likely in place, each of which will defeat their claims:

  1. Systems are not in place to handle rapid growth…perhaps never were.
  2. Their only interest is in booking more new business, rather than taking care of what they’ve already got.
  3. Management is relying upon financial people as the primary source of advice, while ignoring the rest of the picture (90%).
  4. Team empowerment suffers. Morale is low or uneven. Commitment from workers drops because no corporate culture was created or sustained.
  5. Customer service suffers during fast-growth periods. They have to back-pedal and recover customer confidence by doing surveys. Even with results of deteriorating customer service, growth-track companies pay lip service to really fixing their own problems.
  6. People do not have the same Vision as the company founder…who has likely not taken enough time to fully develop a Vision and obtain buy-in from others.
  7. Company founder remains arrogant and complacent, losing touch with marketplace realities and changing conditions.

‘Caring for the Community.’
What they’re really selling: Perceived corporate self-image.
My analysis: Television stations are notorious about producing and airing self-serving promotional campaigns. They ‘care’ about the community. The bulk of their ‘caring’ is to promote local newscasts, which are their most lucrative sources of advertising revenue.

They say they are facilitating community dialog. Most available public service time, instead of going to non-profit organizations, is sold to corporations. Cause-related marketing packages have the ‘feel-good’ look of public service but are really disguised ad campaigns to promote corporate agendas and produce more revenues for the TV stations.

Newspapers brag about all they donate toward educating the community. What they’re really ‘donating’ is unsold ad space. They make up by increasing rates of advertisers…offering cause-related marketing packages as incentives.

When one media insists upon having exclusive name rights to a special event, that’s the kiss of death. For years, I’ve recommended to charities that they not put all their eggs in one basket. If one media is the ‘name sponsor,’ then that will negate coverage by other media. Charities rationalize that exclusivity gets them more intensive coverage than would a ‘shotgun publicity’ approach…which is not true and has never been proven so.

Name media are also notorious about failing to give all the exposure that they promised, citing advertising commitments as the overriding factor. This is truthful because media companies are firstly in the business of running advertising. Running programming and local news coverage is just the ‘wrap-around’ to generate audiences for advertisers. At the bottom of the totem pole sits coverage of community activities…unless they can sell advertising around it.

‘In One Easy Lesson.’
What they’re really selling: A quick fix, or a quick way to get company buy-in.
My analysis: Meaningful strategy, improvement and change are not achieved via quick fixes. They also need not be long drawn-out processes. Reasonable timelines may be achieved. Company growth or success cannot be accomplished In One Easy Lesson because human beings require more than once to learn meaningful lessons…plus the time and attention necessary to put lessons learned to good use.

What they’re really selling: Their way of producing and selling.
My analysis: Human behavior training tells us that judgmental qualifiers like ‘good, bad, mean, evil and better’ are self-defeating. To be better is to slam someone else.

‘#1 in Sales.’
What they’re really selling: You should buy from them, since so many others do.
My analysis: #1 is for now. Sales rankings constantly change. To buy only because a company hypes that they are #1 is not a valid reason. Buy what you want…from a company that you respect. Also, if they’re #1, you’re just another sales statistic and customer service will suffer commensurately to the numbers behind whom you must stand in line.

‘World Class.’
What they’re really selling: If you want to be associated with a winner, buy from them.
My analysis: The organization that claims ‘world class’ is trying too hard to be put in the league of others. ‘World class’ is not self-bestowed…it is earned via a long track record.

‘Wealth and Riches.’
What they’re really selling: Their product is all that you need.
My analysis: There are no shortcuts to wealth and riches. Nobody will give away their secrets. Pyramid marketing schemes take advantage of failed hopes and ungrounded wishes. As P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

‘The Best.’
What they’re really selling: Temporary rankings.
My analysis: There are too many ups and downs in business, without proclaiming yourself in a position for others to dispute or attack. Being successful in the long-run is much more admirable than being temporarily ‘the best.’

‘For All Your Needs.’
What they’re really selling: Wanna-be syndrome.
My analysis: No product or service fulfills all of a customer’s needs. To suggest otherwise is narrow-minded. The more self-assured business makes long lists of what it doesn’t do. It knows and relishes its niche, without trying to be all things to all people.

Now, to Salute Good Examples of Slogans and, thus, Company Posturing

As many misleading statements and campaigns there are, I would like to cite some of the ones that I respect. These prove that marketing can be compelling, thought provoking and intriguing at the same time. Here are some that I salute:

Better Grades Are Just the Beginning. Sylvan Learning Centers. This illustrates that continuous quality improvement is a process, not a quick fix. I heartily agree that learning is the key to everything else in life and that it must be planned and nurtured.

The Difference is Planning. Merrill Lynch. Agreed, although financial planning (a subset of Branch 3 on The Business Tree) constitutes less than 1% of full-scope organizational planning. If every consultant and vendor would advocate a cohesive approach to planning, directed toward a Big Picture, then organizations would run better and individuals would lead quality lives.

It’s All in How You Look At It. The New York Times. Bravo. Very insightful. Perspective is everything…continually changing, reflective and powerful for our future.

Look and You See the World Around You. Investor Owned Light and Power Companies. If one ages gracefully, they become more perceptive and enjoy life better. Otherwise, they stagnate. The choice is up to the individual (and any organization, as well).

Silence is Acceptance. Public service campaign to facilitate discussions about drug abuse. Many families abdicate responsibilities for parenting to schools, the community or to anybody but themselves. Organizations reflect their own lack of training about people skills and management issues. They either cannot or won’t try to teach what they were not taught. Managers tell employees what not to do and criticize them for being wrong. Yet, it’s their fault because ground rules were not adequately communicated, nor has mentorship occurred. Doing nothing causes much more organizational damage than making mistakes while operating in good faith. Silence (followed by harsh criticism) is the worst way to communicate.

We Make Money the Old Fashioned Way. We Earn It. Smith Barney. Business is a process, not a sure thing. Companies which are prepared to ‘go the distance’ will reap greater rewards, including financial.

Touches the Lives of Just About Everybody. General Electric. If more companies thought of the implications of what they do upon multiple constituencies, they would do a better job. Don’t think in the ‘micro.’ Think more ‘macro’ about who decisions and policies affect.

Life Is About Learning. Depends undergarments. Absolutely. Maturity is a process. Too many young people don’t know that, or care. Too many ‘mature’ people have ceased to continue learning. The really wise ones learn each year… in a continuum of experiences.

The mantle of greatness cannot be earned in a single summer or in a decade. Greatness is earned over an entire career. Rolex Watches. Yes, indeed. Too many people want the acclaim of their seniors but are not willing to do the things that their seniors did to get there. Wanna-be’s generally will not go the distance because they don’t take the time to amass skills for success. Those who achieve long-term do so because of a plan to succeed, commitment to their profession, people skills, community stewardship, participation in mentorship, ongoing professional development, self-fulfillment and a positive attitude.

Characteristics of Good Slogans-Campaigns and, thus, Company Philosophy

Focus upon the customer.
Honor the employees.
Show life as a process, not a quick fix.
Portray their company as a contributor, not a savior.
Clearly defines their niche.
Say things that inspire you to think.
Compatible with the company’s other communications.
Remain consistent with their products, services and track record.

About the Author

Hank Moore has advised 5,000+ client organizations worldwide (including 100 of the Fortune 500, public sector agencies, small businesses and non-profit organizations). He has advised two U.S. Presidents and spoke at five Economic Summits. He guides companies through growth strategies, visioning, strategic planning, executive leadership development, Futurism and Big Picture issues which profoundly affect the business climate. He conducts company evaluations, creates the big ideas and anchors the enterprise to its next tier. The Business Tree™ is his trademarked approach to growing, strengthening and evolving business, while mastering change. To read Hank’s complete biography, click here.

The Big Picture of Business – Tribute to Dick Clark

First-ever article on Dick Clark, as a business case study. Motivating pop culture piece designed to foster better, more successful companies.

Dick ClarkThe passing of Dick Clark brought about widespread nostalgia and cultural interaction in our culture. Those of us who have known and worked with him will never forget his humor, his sense of fairness, his encouraging ways, the optimistic disposition, the gut instinct and the lasting impacts that he made on our later successes.

I started out my career by aspiring to be like Dick Clark. Thanks to great mentors, I learned to be my own best self, a visionary thinker and a repository of great case studies. I appeared on radio and TV with him, as well as on conference stages. It was he who encouraged your own leadership qualities, because your success ultimately honored him.

As a onetime radio disc jockey who evolved into a business guru, I offer this tribute to Dick Clark as a corporate and entrepreneurial study in excellence.

Dick Clark grew up working in a radio station in Utica, New York, perfecting the talk and the interest in music. He realized that music styles changed rapidly and that their cultural impact affected. When opportunity came calling, he was ready, willing and able. He replaced other DJ’s as host of a local bandstand show at WFIL-TV in Philadelphia, switching his musical emphasis from big bands and easy listening music to the emerging rock n’ roll. His bandstand show was a runaway hit and quickly was picked up by the ABC-TV network as a daily after-school show aimed at teens.

The success of ‘American Bandstand’ spawned a weekly TV music variety series from New York, ‘The Dick Clark Beechnut Show,’ which in turn inspired concert tours, ‘The Dick Clark Caravan of Stars.’ He appeared in movies, as a teacher in ‘Because They’re Young’ and a doctor in ‘The Young Doctors.’ He was clean-cut, respectful and mannerly, thus bringing legitimacy to rock n’ roll.

With the celebrity, he was hired to guest-star as an actor in TV shows such as ‘Stoney Burke,’ ‘Adam-12,’ ‘Honey West,’ ‘Branded,’ ‘Lassie,’ ‘Ben Casey,’ ‘Coronet Blue’ and ‘Burke’s Law.’ He played the last villain on the last episode of the ‘Perry Mason’ weekly TV series.

The 1963 move from Philadelphia to California launched Dick Clark Productions. Though ‘American Bandstand’ was owned by the network, he mounted what became a 50-year span of programs that he owned, produced and nurtured, including ‘The People’s Choice Awards,’ ‘Where the Action Is,’ ‘Live Wednesday,’ ‘American Dreams,’ ‘The Happening,’ ‘New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,’ ‘Academy of Country Music Awards,’ ‘Super Bloopers and Practical Jokes,’ ‘American Music Awards,’ specials, TV movies, game shows and more.

To go to his office and have meetings was like being in a museum. You sat at his desk in antique barber chairs, wrote on roll-top desks and enjoyed furnishings from nostalgic shops. Big band music played from a Wurlitzer juke box, and classic cars adorned the parking lot.

These are some of the principles that I developed myself but do credit being inspired by Dick Clark. I’ve taught them to others and shared with him as well:

  • As times change, the nature of ‘nostalgia’ changes. Each entertainment niche may not be your ‘cup of tea,’ but relating to others will create common bonds and exhibits leadership.
  • People are more products of the pop culture than they are of formal business training. They make strategic decisions based upon cultural memories. I would ask corporate executives to articulate core values, and they could only recite meaningful song lyrics, movie lines and quotes. That’s why I developed the Pop Culture Wisdom concept, to interpolate from the cultural icons into business jargon and workable policies.
  • Companies and industries need to embrace change sooner, rather than becoming a victim of it later. The entertainment industry is the best at being flexible, spotting new trends, changing with the times, packaging creative concepts and leading cultural charges. Other industries could well learn from the entertainment business practices.
  • Applying humility and humanity helps in bringing people together. Music is something that everyone relates to. Finding common ground about the zeal and joys inherent in running a company results in better buy-in and support of the goals.
  • A lot of people in show business asked Dick Clark for advice. He had a lot of wise business sense, and the best came from gut instincts. My gut is usually right. If something feels wrong, then it is. If it is a good move to make, then I cite precedents as to what led to that recommendation. Trusting your gut comes from long experience, for which there are no shortcuts.
  • Dick Clark was good about treating the teenagers as friends and with respect. He never came across as a scolding parent but rather as a friendly uncle. Long-term business success is a function of developing stakeholders and empowering them to do positive things with your company.
  • Dick Clark Productions had a select list of projects. The take-back for business is to grow in consistent fashion, sustaining the down times with realistic activities.
  • I recommend that organizations periodically revisit their earlier successes. Learn from case studies elsewhere in the marketplace. Review what you once did correctly and how your competitors failed. It is important to link nostalgia to the future. We can like and learn from the past without living in it.

Dick Clark liked to celebrate the successes of others. I’ve found that reciting precedents of successful strategy tends to inspire others to re-examine their own. Here are some other lessons that he taught us:

  • Be a mentor and inspire others.
  • Learn as you grow.
  • Periodically celebrate the heritage.
  • Be inclusive.
  • Be ethical.
  • Give the public more than you need to.

7 Levels of Mentoring and Lifelong Learning:

  1. Conveying Information. Initial exposure to the coaching process. One-time meeting or conference between mentors and mentees. The mentor is a resource for business trends, societal issues, opportunities. The coach is active listener, mentors on values, actions.
  2. Imparting Experiences. The mentor becomes a role model. Insight offered about own life-career. Reflection strengthens the mentor and shows mentee levels of thinking and perception which were not previously available to the mentee.
  3. Encouraging Actions. The mentor is an advocate for progress, change. Empowers the mentee to hear, accept, believe and get results. Sharing of feelings, trust, ideas, philosophies.
  4. Paving the Way. The mentor endorses the mentee…wants his-her success. Messages ways to approach issues, paths in life to take. Helps draw distinctions. Paints picture of success.
  5. Wanting the Best. Continuing relationship between the mentor and mentee. Progress is visioned, contextualized, seeded, benchmarked. Accountability-communication by both sides.
  6. Advocating, Facilitating. The mentor opens doors for the mentee. The mentor requests pro-active changes of mentee, evaluates realism of goals, offers truths about path to success and shortcomings of mentee’s approaches. Bonded collaboration toward each other’s success.
  7. Sharing Profound Wisdom. The mentor stands for mentees throughout careers, celebrates successes. Energy coaching and love-respect for each other continues throughout the relationship. Mentor actively recruits fellow business colleagues to become mentors. Lifelong dedication toward mentorship…in all aspects of one’s life.

Truisms of Careers and Business Success:

  • Whatever measure you give will be the measure that you get back.
  • There are no free lunches in life.
  • The joy is in the journey, not in the final destination.
  • The best destinations are not pre-determined in the beginning, but they evolve out of circumstances.
  • Most circumstances can be strategized, for maximum effectiveness.
  • You gotta give in order to get something of value back.
  • Getting and having are not the same thing.
  • One cannot live entirely through work.
  • One doesn’t just work to live.
  • As an integrated process of life skills, a career has its important place.
  • A body of work doesn’t just happen. It’s the culmination of a thoughtful, dedicated process…carefully strategized from some point forward.
  • The objective is to begin that strategizing point sooner rather than later

I’ll close this tribute to Dick Clark with some of the songs from American Bandstand that have applicability to business strategy:

“Did you ever have to make up your mind? It’s not often easy and not often kind. Did you ever have to finally decide? Say yes to one and let the other one ride? There’s so many changes and tears you must hide.” John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful (1965)

“Do you know the way to San Jose? In a week or two, they’ll make you a star. And all the stars that ever were are parking cars and pumping gas.” Sung by Dionne Warwick. Written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David (1968)

“Don’t you want me baby? You know I can’t believe it when I hear that you won’t see me. It’s much too late to find you think you’ve changed your mind. You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry.” The Human League (1982)

“How will I know if he really loves me? Tell me, is it real love? How will I know if he’s thinking of me? If he loves me… if he loves me not…” Whitney Houston (1986)

“See the girl with the diamond ring? She knows how to shake that thing. See the girl with the red dress on? She can dance all night long.” Ray Charles (1959)

“What is love? Five feet of heaven in a pony tail… the cutest pony tail that sways with a wiggle when she walks.” The Playmates (1958)

“What’s your name? Is it Mary or Sue? Do I stand a chance with you? It’s so hard to find a personality with charms like yours for me. Ooh wee.” Don and Juan (1962)

“Each night I ask the stars up above, why must I be a teenager in love?” Dion and the Belmonts (1959)

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in the kind of world where we belong? Happy times together, we’d be spending. Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true.” The Beach Boys (1966)

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now. Those bright illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all.” Judy Collins (1968)

“There ain’t no good guys. There ain’t no bad guys. There’s only you and me, and we just disagree.” Dave Mason

“Life goes on… after the thrill of living is gone.” John Mellencamp, “Jack and Diane” (1982)

“I’ve found the paradise that’s trouble-free. On the roof’s the only place I know, where you just have to wish to make it so.” Sung by The Drifters. Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin (1962)

About the Author

Hank Moore has advised 5,000+ client organizations worldwide (including 100 of the Fortune 500, public sector agencies, small businesses and non-profit organizations). He has advised two U.S. Presidents and spoke at five Economic Summits. He guides companies through growth strategies, visioning, strategic planning, executive leadership development, Futurism and Big Picture issues which profoundly affect the business climate. He conducts company evaluations, creates the big ideas and anchors the enterprise to its next tier. The Business Tree™ is his trademarked approach to growing, strengthening and evolving business, while mastering change. To read Hank’s complete biography, click here.

The Big Picture of Business: Been There, Done That

People Often Say They Have… But Really Haven’t! How to Pick the Right Consultants for Your Company

Selecting the most appropriate consultant for your company and optimizing their expertise is the greatest challenge facing a decision maker.

It’s lonely at the top. Certain kinds of objective information cannot come from within your own camp.

True expertise is a rare commodity, and the successful company utilizes it on the front end, rather than on the costly back end.

Matching consultants with actual and emerging company needs is the corporate leader’s quest. With a wealth of expertise available via outsourcing, one can quickly become a ‘kid in a candy shop,’ wanting whatever is readily available or craftily packaged.

Too many consultants mis-state and over-represent what they do, stemming from:

  • Eagerness to get business.
  • Short tenure in consulting, believing that recent corporate experience readily translates to the entrepreneurial marketplace.
  • Unfamiliarity with the actual practice of consulting at the executive level.
  • Lack of understanding about business needs, categories, subtleties and hierarchies.
  • Failure to create service area niches and target clients.
  • Professional rivalry with other consultants, resulting in the ‘I can do that’ syndrome.

Everyone knows that dentists, nurses, social workers and respiratory therapists are all health care professionals. Yet, distinctions in their expertise lead consumers to discern and seek out specialists… or at least ask a general practitioner physician to make referrals for necessary services.

Niche consultants place emphasis in the areas where they have training, expertise and staff support for implementation… and will market their services accordingly. An accounting firm may suggest that an economic forecast is a full-scope business plan (which it is not). A trainer may recommend courses for human behavior, believing that these constitute a Visioning process (of which they are a small part). Marketers might contend that the latest advertising campaign is equivalent to re-engineering the client company (though the two concepts are light years apart).

Niche consultants believe these things to be true, within their frames of reference. They sell what they need to sell, rather than what the client really needs. Let the buyer beware.

Consultants Are Not All Alike

Distinctions must be drawn into three consulting categories (and percentages of their occurrence in the marketplace):

  1. Vendors sell products which were produced by others. Those who sell their own multiply produced works are designated as subcontractors. (82.99 percent)
  2. Consultants conduct programs designed by their companies, in repetitive motion. Their work is off-the-shelf, conforms to an established mode of operation, contains original thought and draws precedents from experience. (17 percent)
  3. High level strategists create all knowledge in their consulting. It is original, customized to the client and contains creativity and insight not available elsewhere. (0.01 percent)

As one distinguishes past vendors and subcontractors, there are six types within the 18 percent which constitute consultants (with their percentages in the marketplace):

  1. Those who still lead in an industry and have specific niche expertise. (13.5 percent)
  2. Those who were downsized, out-placed or decided not to stay in the corporate fold and evolved into consulting. (28 percent)
  3. Out of work people who hang out consulting shingles in between jobs. (32 percent)
  4. Freelancers and moonlighters, whose consultancy may or may not relate to their day jobs. (16 percent)
  5. Veteran consultants who were trained for and have a track record in actual consulting. That’s what they have done for most of their careers. (2 percent)
  6. Sadly, there is another category… opportunists who masquerade as consultants, entrepreneurs who disguise their selling as consulting, people who routinely change niches as the dollars go. (8.5 percent)

99.99999 percent of actual management consultants come from five basic career orientations and fit onto one of the five branches of The Business Tree:

  1. Technical or niche industry orientation.
  2. Financial.
  3. Entrepreneurial, small business management.
  4. Academic, research.
  5. Human resources management.

The remaining 1/100,000 of a percent of consultants is a rare breed… a Big Picture strategist, fitting onto Categories 6 and 7 (trunk and roots of The Business Tree). The Corporate Strategist is an idea person who has run businesses, knows about all other categories, deals in concepts and policies, and possesses sophisticated understanding and insight.

What They Claim They Do

When They Say They Provide They’re Usually
Growth strategies Sales trainers
Company turnaround Marketers
Information for business solutions Accountants

Choosing Consultants

These pointers are suggested in the selection of business advisors and consultants. Ask a true business strategist to help you to determine which consultants are needed, draft the requests for proposals, evaluate credentials and recommend contracting options.

Understand what your company really needs and why. Don’t pit one consultant against another, just to get free ideas. Don’t base the business on ‘apples to oranges’ comparisons.

Ask for case studies which were directly supervised by the person who will handle your business… not stock narratives from affiliate offices or a supervisor. Find out their expertise in creating and customizing for clients… rather than off-the-shelf programs which they simply implement. Determine their abilities to collaborate and interrelate with other consultants.

In budgeting for and pricing consulting services, budget for consulting at the start of the fiscal year, averaging 10 percent of gross sales. This does not include marketing, which should be another 10 percent.

See consulting as an investment (short-term and long-term), not to be short-changed. Every size of business needs consultants, just as your clients need your services. The company which makes the small investment on the front end (consulting) saves higher costs. Research shows that consulting fees foregone are multiplied six-fold in opportunity costs each year that action is put off.

Consulting fees are best compensated by the hour. The client who contracts a quantity of time may request a volume discounted fee. It is customary to pay for all consultations after the initial ‘get acquainted’ session.

Out-of-pocket expenses are customarily passed through to clients, without markup. For project purchases, such as printing, graphic production, video production and materials creation, consultants customarily mark up slightly, to cover bank financing and handling costs.

Questions to consider in evaluating consultants include:

  • Would you feel comfortable if they ran your company?
  • What is their longevity? Were they consultants 10-20 years ago? Real consultants must have at least a 10-year track record to be at all viable as a judgment resource.
  • What is their maturity level? Could they appear before a board of directors?
  • How do they meet deadlines, initiate projects and offer ideas beyond the obvious?
  • If one level of consultant sells the business, will this same professional service your account? Big firms usually bring in junior associates after the sale is made. Demand that consultants of seniority staff the project.
  • How consistent are they with specific industries, types of projects and clients?
  • How good a generalist are they? Consultants with too narrow a niche will not ultimately serve your best interests.

Professional status is important. Prospective clients should inquire about the consultant’s respect among current and recent clients and reputation among affected constituencies within the business community. Look at their activity in professional development and business education. If they do not pursue a program of ongoing knowledge progression, they are obsolete and not valuable to clients.

Also examine potential consultants regarding their own track record at mentoring other business professionals. Check to see that they give beyond the scope of billable hours. Pro-bono community involvement is a factor because it indicates character, ethics and integrity. If they have done little or none, they are not worth hiring. Top professionals know the value of giving back to the community that supports them, becoming better consultants as a result.

The ideal consultant:

  • Clearly differentiates what he/she does… and will not presume to ‘do it all.’
  • Is a tenured full-time consultant, not a recently down-sized corporate employee or somebody seeking your work to ‘tide themselves over.’
  • Has actually run a business.
  • Has consulted companies of comparable size and complexity as yours.
  • Has current references and case histories.
  • Gives ‘value-added’ insight… in contrast to simply performing tasks.
  • Sees the scope of work as a professional achievement…rather than just billable hours.
  • Pursues client relationship building…as opposed to just rendering a contract service.

About the Author

Hank Moore has advised 5,000+ client organizations worldwide (including 100 of the Fortune 500, public sector agencies, small businesses and non-profit organizations). He has advised two U.S. Presidents and spoke at five Economic Summits. He guides companies through growth strategies, visioning, strategic planning, executive leadership development, Futurism and Big Picture issues which profoundly affect the business climate. He conducts company evaluations, creates the big ideas and anchors the enterprise to its next tier. The Business Tree™ is his trademarked approach to growing, strengthening and evolving business, while mastering change. To read Hank’s complete biography, click here.

The Big Picture of Business: Corporate Communications – Correctly Positioning Your Company

Evolution of Corporate Communications Activity

In many professions, the idea of full-scope, sophisticated positioning has been foreign up until now. Business development has occurred primarily by accident or through market demand.

Because of economic realities and the increased numbers of firms providing comparable services, the notion of business development is now a necessity, rather than a luxury.

Competition for customers-clients is sharpening. The professions are no longer held on a pedestal… a condition which mandates them to portray or enhance public images.

As companies adjust comfort levels and acquire confidence in the arena of business development, there is a direct relationship to billings, client mix diversity, market share, competitive advantage, stock price and levels of business which enable other planned growth.

Public perceptions are called credence goods by economists. Every organization must educate outside publics about what they do… and how they do it.

This holds for corporate operating units and departments. You must always educate corporate opinion makers on how you function… and the skill with which you operate.

Gaining confidence is crucial… as business relationships with professionals are established to be long-term in duration.

Each organization or should determine and craft its own character and personality… seeking to differentiate from others. That appeals to professionals within your own staff, those professionals whom your firm would like to attract and clients.

Top management must endorse corporate imaging and other forms of practice development, if your company is to grow and prosper. Few companies can even sustain present levels of sales without some degree of business development.

Some people in your organization will devote much time to promotions, public relations, marketing and advertising. This quality should be recognized and rewarded… since professionals with a sense of business direction play an important part in company growth.

Be it a ‘necessary evil’ or not, corporate imaging activity can be accomplished with skill and success…provided that organizations follow the advice of professional communicators.

Companies must maintain a delicate balance between seeking new business, replacing lost clients and nurturing client relationships. Operating units and departments must schedule and follow a program to market their worth to their companies.

No matter what time allocation basis is selected by the organization, it is vital that some basis exists in writing and in execution.

Guidelines and Customs to be Observed in Corporate Communications

The professional organization that evokes a caring image – and backs it up with service – will prosper in today’s marketplace.

In image building, the following ideas should be considered:

  • Your company and profession fill essential needs of society.
  • Each key staff member represents a learned profession.
  • Qualities that denote your company include skill, expertise, objectivity and independence.
  • Work and abilities of your employees are diverse and creative.
  • Your key management team is dynamic, in terms of business issues.
  • The marketplace is rapidly expanding and is an excellent career choice for young people.
  • Your team encompasses multi-dimensional professionals…concerned with much more than the immediate responsibilities of the work at hand.
  • Recognize the role of professional communicators. Seek qualified counsel.

Corporate Communications Program – Essential Ingredients

Strategic Plan

  • Mission statement.
  • Visioning document.
  • Goals and objectives.
  • Tactics.
  • Timeline for implementation.
  • Benchmarks for measurement.

Policies and Procedures

Investor Relations Program

Public Relations Program

  • Complete generic press kits.
  • Guidelines on working with the media.
  • Pointers on training staff and volunteers as media spokespersons.
  • Company collateral literature system.
  • Guidelines on arranging speeches, seminars and town hall meetings.
  • Ways to improve local community and government relations.
  • Opinion pieces and bylined articles on key topics, suitable for placing in newspapers under local bylines.
  • Formula press releases and features, which can be locally customized.
  • Other components of a program which can and should be customized.

Marketing Program

  • Internet.
  • Sales support.
  • Business development.
  • Direct marketing.
  • Indirect marketing.
  • Advertising.
  • Business-to-business promotions.
  • Industry and professional marketing.
  • Point-of-purchase materials.
  • Collateral materials.

Job Descriptions (Position Results Oriented Descriptions)

Staff Training Program

Corporate Communications Manual

  • Overall Philosophy and Writing Style.
  • Statements to Make Publicly.
  • Letters.
  • Forms.
  • Statements.
  • Customer Comment Cards.
  • Customer Service Correspondence.
  • Sales Manual.
  • Graphics Standards.

Crisis Plan

  • Risk management team.
  • Preparedness.
  • Contact numbers.
  • Plan for emergencies.
  • Case studies.
  • Company profiles.
  • Preventive programs to keep crises from occurring.
  • Training and testing.
  • Timeline for implementation.
  • Benchmarks for measurement.

Compensation, Benefits and Other Financial Plans

Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable Plans

Continuous Quality Improvement Program

Ethics Statement

Literature and Audio Visual Programs Which Portray Company Image

Special Financial Publics Program

Internal Auditing and Assessment Program

Government Relations Program

Community Relations Program

Staff Development and Professional Enhancement Program

Conflict Resolution and Arbitration Plans

Corporate Philanthropy Program

Contingency Program for Specified and Unplanned Emergencies

About the Author

Hank Moore has advised 5,000+ client organizations worldwide (including 100 of the Fortune 500, public sector agencies, small businesses and non-profit organizations). He has advised two U.S. Presidents and spoke at five Economic Summits. He guides companies through growth strategies, visioning, strategic planning, executive leadership development, Futurism and Big Picture issues which profoundly affect the business climate. He conducts company evaluations, creates the big ideas and anchors the enterprise to its next tier. The Business Tree™ is his trademarked approach to growing, strengthening and evolving business, while mastering change. To read Hank’s complete biography, click here.

The Big Picture of Business: Lessons About Business Planning To Be Learned from the Y2K Bug

The U.S. economy spent between $800 billion and one trillion dollars fixing and treating the so-called Y2K Bug. Certainly, aspects of the bug were treated successfully, and troubles were averted because of professional actions. No doubt, public hype contributed to a ‘sky is falling’ situation that made computer consultants rich.

Technology constitutes less than 1% of any organization’s overall Big Picture. Computer activity constitutes less than 1% of the technology picture. Thus, efforts to treat a fraction of one percent took resources away from addressing the other 99.999% of companies’ full-scope planning.

My concern was that money was diverted from most other aspects of organizational wellness toward treating one symptom of one disease. I advocated a balanced approach toward planning, visioning and the Big Picture.

Rather than bash those who neglected other aspects of the organization in favor of Y2K Readiness, let’s refocus what we did and learned toward other future applications.

Among the lessons which we learned from the Y2K Bug exercise were:

  • When they want to do so, company leadership will provide sufficient resources to plan for the future, including crisis management and preparedness (of which computer glitches are one set of ‘what ifs.’)
  • When they want to do so, company leadership will provide leadership for change management and re-engineering… two of the many worthwhile concepts that should be advocated every business day.
  • People are the company’s most valuable resource, representing 28% of the Big Picture. Today’s work force will need three times the amount of training that it presently gets in order for the organization to be competitive in the millennium.
  • Change is good. Like change… don’t fear it. Change is 90% positive. Without always noticing it, individuals and organizations change 71% per year. The secret is to benefit from change, rather than become a victim of it.
  • Pro-active change involves the entire organization. When all departments are consulted and participate in the decisions, then the company is empowered.
  • Fear and failure are beneficial too. One learns three times more from failure than from success. Failures propel us toward our greatest future successes.
  • When we work with other companies and the public sector, we collaborate better. All benefit, learn from each other and prepare collectively for the future.
  • In the future and in order to successfully take advantage of the future, make planning a priority, not just a knee-jerk reaction.

Calculating Each Organization’s High Costs

People and organizations are wont to throw money at things that pop up at the moment or that look good at external publics. It is easier to tinker with machines than to admit that the organization has deep management and philosophical issues. After all, 92% of all organizational problems stem from poor management decisions.

Our society is infested with the band-aid surgery way of treating things as they come up. This approach costs six times that of doing things correctly on the front end… meaning planning, sequential execution and benchmarking progress.

Each year, one-third of the U.S. Gross National Product goes toward cleaning up problems, damages and otherwise high costs of doing either nothing or doing the wrong things.

On the average, it costs six times the investment of preventive strategies to correct business problems (compounded per annum and exponentially increasing each year). In some industries, the figure is as high as 30 times…six is the mean average.

The old adage says: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” One pound equals 16 ounces. In that scenario, one pound of cure is 16 times more mostly than an ounce of prevention.

Human beings as we are, none of us do everything perfectly on the front end. There always must exist a learning curve. Research shows that we learn three times more from failures than from successes. The mark of a quality organization is how it corrects mistakes and prevents them from recurring.

“They can’t hang you for saying nothing,” quipped President Calvin Coolidge in the 1920’s. He spent more time doing chores at his farm and taking long naps than taking care of the nation’s business. Coolidge prided himself upon doing little and, thus, failed to see crises brewing during his presidency. This ‘keep your head in the sand’ mentality is prevalent of people who move on and let others clean up the damage.

Doing nothing becomes a way of life. It’s amazing how many individuals and companies live with their heads in the sand. Never mind planning for tomorrow… we’ll just deal with problems as they occur. This mindset, of course, invites and tends to multiply trouble.

7 Categories of High Costs

  1. Cleaning Up Problems. Waste, Spoilage. Poor controls. Down-time. Lack of employee motivation and activity. Back orders because they were not properly stocked. Supervisory involvement in retracing problems and effecting solutions.
  2. Rework. Product recalls. Make-good for shoddy or inferior work. Poor location. Regulatory red tape. Excess overhead.
  3. Missed Marks. Poor controls on quality. Fallout damage from employees with problems. Undercapitalization. Unsuccessful marketing. Unprofitable pricing.
  4. Damage Control. Crisis management. Lawsuits incurred because procedures were not upheld. Affirmative action violations. Violations of OSHA, ADA, EEOC, EPA and other codes. Disasters due to employee carelessness, safety violations, oversights, etc. Factors outside your company that still impede your ability to do business.
  5. Recovery and Restoration. Repairing ethically wrong actions. Empty activities. Mandated cleanups, corrections and adaptations. Employee turnover, rehiring and retraining. Isolated or unrealistic management. Bad advice from the wrong consultants. Repairing a damaged company reputation.
  6. Retooling and Restarting. Mis-use of company resources, notably its people. Converting to existing codes and standards. Chasing the wrong leads, prospects or markets. Damage caused by inertia or lack of progress. The anti-change ‘business as usual’ philosophy. Long-term expenses incurred by adopting quick fixes.
  7. Opportunity Costs. Failure to understand what business they’re really in. Inability to read the warning signs or understand external influences. Failure to change. Inability to plan. Over-dependence upon one product or service line. Diversifying beyond the scope of company expertise. Lack of an articulated, well-implemented vision.

Remediating the High Costs

7 Primary Factors of The High Cost of Doing Nothing™:

  1. Failure to value and optimize true company resources.
  2. Poor premises, policies, processes, procedures, precedents and planning.
  3. Opportunities not heeded or capitalized.
  4. The wrong people, in the wrong jobs. Under-trained employees.
  5. The wrong consultants (miscast, untrained, improperly used).
  6. Lack of articulated focus and vision. With no plan, no journey will be completed.
  7. Lack of movement really means falling behind the pack and eventually losing ground.

What Could Have Reduced These High Costs:

  1. Effective policies and procedures.
  2. Setting and respecting boundaries.
  3. Realistic expectations and measurements.
  4. Training and development of people.
  5. Commitments to quality at all links in the chain.
  6. Planning.
  7. Organizational vision.

7 Levels of Handling Problems, Determining Effectiveness

  1. Do Nothing. Think that things will work themselves out or that causes of problems will go away. Research shows that doing nothing results in creating 3-6 more affiliated problems.
  2. Deny, Actively Avoid. Don’t see problems as such. Keep one’s head in the sand and remain impervious to warning signs of trouble. Go to great lengths to put positive spins on anything that may point back to one’s self, department or organization as being problematic.
  3. Cover Up. Cover-ups cost 6-12 times that of addressing problems upfront. In addition to financial, cover-up costs can include the effects upon morale, activity levels, productivity, decision making, creativity, adaptation and innovation. Even after the cover-up has fully played out, there is an additional cost: the period of recovery and restoration of confidence.
  4. Partially Address. Perform band-aid surgery, at such time as action is demanded. Address signs and symptoms, without addressing root causes. This shows that something is being done, but it is often the wrong thing at the wrong time.
  5. Handle in Politically Correct Terms. Some problems are addressed, partially or fully, because bosses, regulators or stakeholders expect it. Some are handled for fear of repercussion. This motive results in tentative actions, with lip service paid to deep solutions.
  6. Address Head-On. Problems are, of course, opportunities to take action. Everyone makes mistakes, and success lies in the way that problems are recognized, solved and learned from. The mark of a true manager is to recognize problems sooner, rather than later. The mark of an effective leader is the ability and willingness to take swift and definitive actions. The mark of an empowered team is its participation in this process. The mark of a successful organization is its endorsement and insistence upon this method of action.
  7. Address in Advance, Preparing for Situations. Pro-actively study for patterns. 85% of the time, crises which are predicted, pre-addressed and strategized are averted. The skill in pre-managing problems is a fundamental tenet of a quality-oriented organization.

If postured properly, the process of planning and visioning remediates opportunity costs before they occur. Running a profitable and efficient organization means effectively remediating damage before it accrues. Processes and methodologies for researching, planning, executing and benchmarking activities will reduce that pile of costly coins from stacking up.

About the Author

Hank Moore has advised 5,000+ client organizations worldwide (including 100 of the Fortune 500, public sector agencies, small businesses and non-profit organizations). He has advised two U.S. Presidents and spoke at five Economic Summits. He guides companies through growth strategies, visioning, strategic planning, executive leadership development, Futurism and Big Picture issues which profoundly affect the business climate. He conducts company evaluations, creates the big ideas and anchors the enterprise to its next tier. The Business Tree™ is his trademarked approach to growing, strengthening and evolving business, while mastering change. To read Hank’s complete biography, click here.