Three Books to Help You Jumpstart Your Brand

Creating a relevant, strong, and trusted brand is one of the most fundamental aspects of developing a successful company. Many entrepreneurs find that it’s one of the hardest things to accomplish. Not because it’s unattainable, but because it takes long-term planning, strategy, and self-education, all of which require quite a lot of time. (Oh, and the belief that it’s worth the time.)

One of the reasons creating a successful brand is so difficult is that it’s confusing. Messaging, platforms, brand development—it’s all been rapidly changing for the better part of the last two decades. Keeping up is hard work! But if you put aside the technology and the data and all the fancy new platforms, there are some strategies any business can tap into that are evergreen and will last the lifetime of your business.

Aside from hiring a marketing company to help you, there are an overwhelming amount of resources out there for business leaders to tap into to help them grow and develop their brand. To help, we’ve narrowed it down to three books that will help you cover all the most important bases.

The Truth About Creating Brands People Love

Authors: Brian D. Till and Donna Heckler

This book is excellent for busy leaders who don’t have more than a handful of minutes a day to spend reading. The book is broken up into 51 short chapters, each teaching one specific lesson about marketing. Take your highlighter and go chapter by chapter, allowing each truth to sink in throughout your day. From positioning to strategy, Till and Heckler do a stellar job breaking down common marketing misconceptions and righting the common marketing ‘wrongs’ companies make every day. This book will help you avoid common mistakes and enable you to develop a better understanding of what marketing is and isn’t.

Start With Why

Author: Simon Sinek

Since his famous TED Talk, Sinek has been a household name among business leaders for the last decade—and for good reason. Start with Why breaks down one of the most fundamentally impactful messaging strategies out there. Detailing the same method that skyrocketed Apple into one of the leading brands of the 21st century and enabled Martin Luther King Jr. to move an entire generation, every entrepreneur should read this book—not just people interested in marketing their business. It will help you frame your brand and your vision and enable you to authentically connect with your audience in a lasting and impactful way.

Building A Story Brand

Author: Donald Miller

This bestseller offers a handy toolset designed to help you position your brand in a way that connects with the dreams and goals of your audience. In today’s world, the customer has never been more important, and many brands struggle to understand how to position themselves to their audience. This book takes you chapter-by-chapter, step-by-step, through a series of exercises to help you clarify your message into something your customers will want to listen to. It may even help you better understand your organization. When developing your website, your marketing materials—even your sales pitches, this book turns the traditional advertising storyline on its head in a refreshingly clear and effective way.

Take matters into your own hands 

Don’t let the feeling of overwhelm stop you from attacking the problem of your brand. And don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from learning something new. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a marketing organization to develop a successful brand. In fact, doing the learning yourself will help you develop a greater understanding of your brand, empowering you to take it farther than any external organization has the power to do. The information is at your fingertips; all you have to do is open the book.

 

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It’s Time to Expect More from Your Broker

For most employers, the story is the same every year. They don’t hear from their benefits broker until renewal starts to appear around the corner, and then it’s spreadsheets, rising premiums, and more spreadsheets. The world of insurance is confusing and frustrating, and for many employers, this leads them to seek out second opinions from multiple brokers. Why wouldn’t you? Even if your goal is just to keep your current broker honest, it’s only common sense to get second opinions on a purchase that large.

But here’s the problem. Almost without fail, the brokers you talk to will get the same numbers from the carriers, bring in the same spreadsheets, and will likely tell you about their services, which are the same as every other broker. Benefits admin support, compliance support, HR services—the list goes on, and it’s almost always the same.

You still have to make that gut-wrenching purchase come renewal time, and you still feel in the dark about your options.

So how do you decide which broker to go with if everything they’re offering is the same? That’s where many brokers and employers alike would point to the “relationship” part of the business. They would say it all comes down to who you like the best.

But we disagree. There is a different kind of broker out there—one that doesn’t look the same as the rest and can offer you something different—something better.

What you really need

While every year you feel the same frustration and anxiety around having to make an extremely (and increasingly) expensive investment in your employees, how much do you really understand about why you’re making that particular purchase?

The reality is most employers simply don’t have enough real experience with the world of insurance other than that dreaded yearly renewal process. This leaves them at the mercy of their broker and relying on others to tell them what’s best for their business.

While this makes sense—the world of insurance is increasingly confusing and constantly changing—it’s simply not sustainable. What employers need is to have the power to make an informed and educated decision when it comes to their benefits plan. They need to have the kind of power only true understanding can bring.

How to differentiate

So it’s time to start looking for something different in your broker. Here’s how to spot it. While the benefits broker you’re used to will:

  • Only get in touch with you when it comes time to renew
  • Offer you the same spreadsheet and the same services every year
  • Assure you their service is the best and that’s what sets them apart
  • Hand you their non-insurance solutions and call it good
  • Completely fall off your radar once you’ve renewed

The benefits broker you want:

  • Shows up well before you have to start thinking about renewals
  • Starts off the conversation by uncovering your goals and challenges
  • Focuses on educating you about your options
  • Isn’t interested in forcing you to buy unless their solution improves your business
  • Continues to provide you with advice and education throughout the year
  • Supports the use of non-insurance solutions via training, communication, and education

The first type of broker wants you to buy from them and pick them out among the rest. While the second type also wants that, their first priority is to help you improve your business and make an impact in the lives of your employees. What you need isn’t a benefits broker—what you need is a benefits advisor.

Why?

So you can make the most informed decision for your business without blindly relying on a handful of brokers at renewal telling you the same thing over and over. So you won’t make the mistake of simply sticking to what you know just because you know it, passing over opportunities to make massive savings because you don’t understand them, and thus don’t trust them (yes, this really happens).

The world of insurance is growing and changing, and employers need to be able to grow and change along with it—and that requires employers to become educated about their situation and their options.

Expect more

The bottom line is you don’t have to settle for the same type of broker. In fact, you shouldn’t. You and the people your business supports deserve the best service and the best benefits available—and you can only get that by having the power to make informed decisions yourself.

Start expecting your broker to teach you. Start asking questions and expecting answers. Look for a broker who focuses on education, year-round communication, and who takes the time to help you fully understand all your options. You deserve more than the same old story. It’s time to expect a new one.

 

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Photo by Volodymyr Melnyk

Make It as Simple as PB&J

A few years ago, a comedian took a video of himself with his two children as he followed their written instructions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In the video, he follows his kids’ instructions exactly. As you might have guessed, it goes rather poorly.

Instruction: Put the peanut butter on the bread.

Dad: Puts the jar of peanut butter on the slice of bread.

Instruction: Take one piece of bread, spread it around with the butter knife.

Dad: Takes a plain piece of bread and spreads it around on the counter using a butter knife.

Instruction: Get some jelly, rub it on the other half of the bread.

Dad: Rubs the jar of jelly on the other slice of bread.

And so it goes. Complete chaos. While this video is hilarious, it speaks to a fairly common issue in the world of business. How often do we give or receive instructions that are lacking? If you’ve ever had to build a complicated piece of furniture from Ikea, you know the utter rage such things can incite. Despite the fact that Ikea does everything it can to make its instructions perfect—pictures and all.

It’s not that simple

How often do we leave gaps in our explanations, and send someone off with instructions made up of 50% assumptions that they think the same way we do or know the same things we do? It’s not surprising, really. Writing instructions—good instructions—is tedious. It’s boring. We already know what we’re asking for, leaving us inclined to leave out the obvious.

But not everyone has the same brain, the same frame of mind, or the same references. This means leaving out what’s obvious for you could be leaving out a key ingredient for the reader.

It’s all in the details

When you hire a new employee, change leadership, or implement a new piece of technology, how common is it for things to go awry? Think about how easy it is for roles to get mixed up or tasks to be incorrectly completed. This type of thing doesn’t just frustrate everyone—it wastes time and money. And the worst part is, it’s avoidable. If only you had prepared thorough instructions.

So next time you’re writing out instructions, follow these steps:

  1. Write down everything.
  2. Don’t skip anything.
  3. Walk yourself through the instructions after you’ve written them. Take them literally.
  4. Ask someone else to read through them and look for gaps.
  5. Treat it like you’re talking to an alien. Don’t assume they know what anything means.

This isn’t a flashy topic, but it’s an essential one. While you’ve been trained to do many things, you’ve probably never been trained to write instructions. We all just assume everyone knows how—but they don’t really. Because “common sense” is dependent on common experience—and those aren’t the same for everyone.

Next time you’re writing instructions, ask yourself: is it worth a short amount of tedium now to be as detailed as possible, or a more frustrated, repeated tedium later when you have to start over? The answer is obvious.

 

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Photo by Iurii Golub

What Marketing Stats Can Teach Us About Human Behavior

Whether you’re in HR, marketing, sales, the C-Suite, or customer service, you rely on people. You need them to listen, to purchase, to follow, to keep coming back to you. And while your audience might be different, people are generally the same.

As the world of marketing has boomed over the past decade, so has its reliance on data and its ability to derive knowledge from it. Some data is too specific, but some data speaks on a grander scale, tying into modern human behavior and sentiment that we can use to inform just about any part of business.

Stat: After a bad experience, 88% of visitors won’t return to a website.

We live in a world of abundance. Customers have seemingly endless choices when it comes to where they spend their money and time. If they don’t like their experience with you, they can return to Google and click the next link in their search.

What can this teach us? That you have to prioritize your customer’s experience—even if your product is the best on the market.

If you work in HR, this correlates to an employee’s onboarding or offboarding experience. If they have a bad one, their entire perception of the organization can be tainted. If you’re in sales, think about the experience your prospects have with you. Are you calling them once and then forgetting about them? Or are you only focusing on trying to sell them the product of the highest value despite whether it’s right for them?

Ultimately, your audience’s experience as they are introduced to you, your website, your product, or your organization, sets the tone for your entire relationship. If you’re not making your best effort to give them a quality experience, they won’t be inclined to stay for long.

Stat: Nearly 100% of first impressions of a website are based on aesthetics and design.

While we’ve all heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” these days, that’s how people decide whether you care about them. If you haven’t updated your sales presentation since 2015, no one will take you seriously because they won’t feel taken seriously. If your employee handbook is ten pages of technical language without text breaks, no one will take the time to read it. If you show up to your job interview in an old t-shirt and ripped jeans, they aren’t going to give you a chance.

The way you present your information, value proposition, business, or company values is just as important as the information you’re trying to convey.

Stat: Every dollar invested in user experience results in an ROI of up to $100.

Investing your time, energy, and money into the experience of your audience pays off. While this may be common sense, it’s still one of the most impactful concepts you can learn. If your business sells products online, have you taken the time to walk in your customers’ shoes? Do you know what it’s like to purchase something from your own site?

If you’re preparing for a sales meeting, do you research your lead? Do you know what their pain points are, what their values are, what their goals are? Have you role-played your presentation?

As an HR leader, have you reviewed your employee benefits usage? Do you know what their experience is during open enrollment? Have you tried to seek out ways to improve it?

The success of your venture rests upon the ease of engagement for your audience. The easier it is for them to say yes, make the purchase, and understand what you’re telling them, the more often you’re going to succeed.

The underlying truth

Ultimately, each of these statistics tells us one fundamental truth: it’s not about you—it’s about your audience. Suppose your first concern is impressing your audience with your experience or making sure they buy the most profitable product or hit all the boxes on your compliance checklist. In that case, you’re setting yourself up for building low-quality relationships that won’t last.

If, however, you’re concerned with what they see when they first meet you, if you’re careful about how they receive the information you’re communicating, and if you’re bent on making it as easy as humanly possible to engage with you, then you’re setting yourself up for success. It’s that simple.

 

 

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You Should Nurture Relationships with Past Employees

It’s a fact that losing good employees is a major pain point for business owners. Not only is it hard (and expensive) to replace a quality employee, but replacing institutional knowledge, relationships, and experience takes a lot of time. But this doesn’t mean employers should avoid thinking about or preparing for the eventual departure of an employee. In fact, employee alumni networks and strong networking communities comprised of ex-employees may make the next step of hiring much, much easier.

While onboarding programs are all the rage among HR professionals and business leaders, it’s sadly common for employees to leave a company in a very different manner. New employees are greeted with training, communication, and team engagement, but an employee leaving a company may be met with an exit interview, a pat on the back, or in some cases, outright hostility, resentment, scrambling and confusion on behalf of their managers.

But this doesn’t make sense for both the business and the departing employee. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average job retention rate in the United States consistently hovers at around four years. In fact, business professionals have been noted to advise against staying in a job for too long to avoid damaging your career. So why do exiting employees so often get ignored or treated poorly?

The short answer? A lack of foresight. Previous employees can have a dramatic impact on a business even after they leave. They may come back in the form of clients, business referrals, vendors, brand ambassadors, and boomerang employees. The fact of the matter is that employees are almost never going to stay with your company for their entire career, so it makes sense for organizations to prepare—well in advance—for their eventual departure and subsequent post-departure impact on the business.

But how do you nurture relationships with previous employees?

Corporate alumni programs

These programs are popular among corporate industries, including legal, consulting, and financial services. They are designed to create a network for former employees to stay connected with their old colleagues and organizations, providing a space for them to continue growing and nurturing their relationships long-term.

According to a report by Conenza Inc. in conjunction with Cornell University, there are four main motivations people have for joining alumni programs:

  • Mission-driven
  • Career-minded
  • Pragmatic
  • Social-focused

With that in mind, it seems like a major loss for organizations to miss out on staying connected with people driven by these traits. After all, they all point to growth-driven mindsets that positively impact both the alumni and the organization.

Offboarding strategies

If you’re a smaller business or simply not a fit for an alumni program, there’s plenty you can do to maintain mutually beneficial relationships with employees after they’ve left your organization. The basics of offboarding aren’t complicated—it’s simply a step-by-step process that allows for clear communication and preparation as an employee arranges to depart, ensuring the employee and the organization have everything they need before the final day. Here are some simple steps you can take to help the process along:

  • Begin preparing for their eventual departure long before you expect them to leave by creating an offboarding program that matches your organization’s values, mission, and culture. You want employees to have a cohesive experience throughout their entire lifecycle. This will help you manage expectations and maintain trust even as an employee begins the exit process.
  • Create an ongoing dialog around career development that starts the moment an employee enters your ranks. Make it clear that while you hope employees will stay forever, you understand most employees change jobs every handful of years and you’ve created opportunities and resources for them to develop within your organization and stay connected with you after they leave.

Offboarding programs will help leaders not to go into chaotic damage control by creating a clear process for each step of the departure. It allows organizations to say, “We’ve prepared for this and made it simple and easy, so we can all continue on without anxiety.” It allows the employee to leave in a measured, calm way, and the organization to be prepared to handle their leaving without confusion or missed steps that would end up frustrating both the organization and the departing employee.

A mutual investment

For both individuals and organizations alike, the relationships developed, both externally and internally, are the foundation of success. They drive investment, engagement, reputation, and networking power. It’s simply common sense to get the best value out of the most intimate of these relationships—with your employees themselves. Remember, how you treat your employees—both current and past—has a determining effect on your reputation within your industry. Handle these relationships with intentionality and care, and reap the benefits of a robust, engaged, and long-lasting network.

 

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