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Posts Tagged ‘Business development’

Business lessons from the back of a canoe

Monday, September 8, 2014 — 



Last weekend, I went canoeing. Although my family owned a canoe when I was a child and I had spent a lot of time canoeing, it was something I hadn’t done in years. I was excited and thought my canoe ride was going to be a lot of fun.

Boy was I wrong! It was a disaster. When the ride was finally over, I thought about what happened and realized that the mistakes we made on the water were a lot like the mistakes business owners make when trying to build their businesses.

Lesson #1 – You need to know where you are going.

When we started paddling, I thought we were going to go to the right because that was the way we had ridden around the lake on an earlier boat trip. The other person in the canoe wanted to go to the left to show me a hidden passageway through the reeds. Did we discuss this before we started paddling? No. Guess what? Much like your business, a canoe cannot go in two directions at once. Be sure to define your organizational goals and then make sure everyone on your team knows what these goals are. A team can’t work together if they aren’t reaching for the same goal.

Lesson #2 – Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

My father and the girl scouts taught me to paddle the canoe a certain way. My partner was holding the paddle differently and using a totally different stroke. We kept trying to correct each other. But guess what? Just like there are many ways to solve business problems, there are many ways to paddle a canoe. Did my stroke move the boat forward? Of course it did. (Those Girl Scouts know what they are doing.) But so did my partner’s stroke. Duh! Henry Ford once said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” That is very true in marketing. To succeed and be noticed, you have to be willing to try something new. That’s scary. Most people don’t like to try new things. So they settle by doing “new” but copying their competitors. To be successful, you have to be willing to try doing something completely new and nothing like your competitors. If you look like your competitors and sound like your competitors, in the minds of your prospects, you are your competitors.  Be brave. Try something new. If it actually is wrong, you can always go back and fix it. There are not too many things in life that can’t be corrected.

Lesson #3 – Recognize and take advantage of other peoples’ skills.  

When canoeing, it is best to have the stronger person sit in the back. We didn’t do that. Steering the canoe from the front is not very effective and we zigzagged all across the lake. We should’ve just agreed on who was going to steer and then let the other person do their job. Business owners and managers who try to do everything themselves and don’t trust others to do things correctly end up becoming overworked and making mistakes. You selected your employees, your advisors, and your marketing company for their skills. Now trust them. Your way isn’t the only way (see #2 above). Let go so they can do their jobs. The results will surprise you. (In a good way, I promise.)

And the next time I go canoeing, I’m sitting in the front.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Pinterest.

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Totally generic marketing doesn’t work, but in this case it’s funny

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 — 


We’ve often written about marketing by imitation. Check out this article, or this one.

Marketing by imitation happens because it feels safe. If another (generally more successful) business in the same industry is saying or doing something, than it seems like that must be the right thing to do.

So many people do it that we found this great video that spoofs the whole concept of unoriginal marketing.


Unfortunately, if you say the same things as your competitors and do the same things as your competitors, your prospective customers can’t tell you apart from your competitors. If a prospect can’t tell two companies apart, they will either go with their gut or make a choice based on what is probably the least relevant factor – price.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns.

Building a better workplace is similar to building a brand: it’s about believing in it


People engage in movements, places or ideas because they believe in them. They think the thing is important; they care about it.

They’re all in.

At least that’s the truth Chester Elton, founder of the global training and consulting firm The Culture Works and co-author of three New York Times bestsellers about workplace trends, believes. Elton was in town recently to speak at the 10th annual @TECMidwest Inspirational Leadership Conference. His presentation mostly focused on empowering managers to inspire a new level of commitment and performance and creating a culture of belief. He teaches leaders how to engage, enable and energize their workforces. The formula of E +E+E outlines how high-performance organizations deliver extraordinary results by creating a vibrant, productive culture where people believe what they do matters, and that they can make a difference. Elton says managers of high performing workgroups create a  culture of belief. In these distinctive workplaces people believe in their leaders and in the company’s vision, values and goals. Employees are not only engaged but also enabled.

After listening intently, laughing and crying at the lively and touching presentation, it occurred to me similar concepts are true when it comes to marketing a product or building brand awareness.

Believable brands generate buy-in. Marketers do this by showing and sharing features, benefits and advantages of the product. They get others to speak for it and commit to the culture; try it.

Why should you work to get your customers to believe you and what you’re trying to achieve? Because you are engaged in something important and something you care about. To have any hope of succeeding, you need to get in the corner with you. You need them to be all-in.

For the betterment of your brand, nonprofit, community, school or family you should remember there is great power in building a culture where people believe. When that element is there and when you show your heart, people will follow.

Jackie Costa is the director of content marketing at Clear Verve. She works with clients to communication more clearly and create smarter, better, channel-appropriate content. Listen for her on Twitter as @JackieMCosta.

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A movement – not a magic bullet


We are a culture of people who want magic bullets to solve our problems. Just look at all the commercials for diet products promising miraculous weight loss or ways “you can get rich flipping houses without using your own money.” If only!

We also see it at Clear Verve. We’re often asked about the magic formula for social media, direct mail, or keeping in touch with an important client. The truth is it all comes down to hard work. That’s the only way to get the job done. You have to send lots of emails. And make some phone calls. And get out from behind your desk and visit your client at his or her office.

Jackie and I recently had the opportunity to hear Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA speak. She talked about the goals of the Girl Scouts, the difference scouting makes, and Girl Scouts’ ambitious plans to create balanced leadership in our country in one generation. That’s a big, fat goal. When you hear statistics that show that women make up only 17 percent of the U.S. Congress, and claim only 3 percent of the top positions at Fortune 500 companies, you realize how challenging this goal is. But they’ve given themselves 10 years to do it. Not 10 minutes, not one email campaign, not one press release, 10 years. And they have the power of 59 million Girl Scout Alumnae to help. They’ve already started rallying these amazing women. They are organized, and they are working to reach their big goal knowing that it won’t be easy. They are measuring their progress and making adjustments along the way. Isn’t that the way we should all run our businesses?

You can learn more about the Girl Scouts’ campaign by visiting

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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2013 is the year of content marketing


According to a recent survey, 79 percent of marketers are now reporting that their companies are shifting into branded content either at a moderate or aggressive pace. The portion of the marketing budget dedicated to creating content is up 13 percent over the past two years.

Content marketing is using the creation of content as a marketing tool. It can take the form of blogs, social media, or website content. It can be video or email. It also includes traditional forms of content such as books, printed newsletters, or whitepapers. Anything your organization does to inform and educate your audience, with the exception of advertising, can be considered content marketing.

In the professional services world, content marketing is something that has always been done. Most accounting firms, insurance companies, health care organizations, and law firms have been producing newsletters for years. However, the number of mediums for distribution and the speed at which content must now be created is new. This poses a challenge for many organizations, as evidenced by the fact that 56 percent of brands are now outsourcing content creation. It is a necessity, but is outside the skill set of many professionals. If your organization can afford to outsource content, it provides many advantages. Content is created consistently and is of higher quality. However, if you can’t afford outside help, you can still participate. Here’s how:

  • Set realistic goals. You don’t have to blog every day. Shoot for once a week or twice a month. Just be consistent.
  • Produce the best content you can. Better to produce a smaller amount of high quality content than hundreds of gobbledygook posts nobody will read.
  • Remember, it’s not advertising. Inform, don’t sell. Your goal is not to make a sale, it is to educate your audience and demonstrate your knowledge.

Get multiple people at your organization involved. If everyone only needs to write one or two articles per year, it can get done.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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You need a niche


I attended the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association (WALA) last week. If you’re not familiar with WALA, its members work in independent living, assisted living, memory care communities, or nursing homes around the state of Wisconsin. One of the themes that cropped up over and over again during the conference is how members need to find and exploit a niche to market their community. This is advice that can benefit any business.

Often, there are certain things that everyone in a particular industry says about themselves. In the WALA world, members talk a lot about quality of care, compassion, dignity, and independence. Those things all sound great, don’t they? However, if you are thinking of moving your mother into an assisted living community and you visit three communities, and they all say the exact same things, how on earth are you supposed to choose which community is right for you? If people can’t understand what truly makes you different, they will judge you based upon all the things they can understand, which might have absolutely nothing to do with what you are actually selling.

Look at your business. There is probably something that you specialize in, either accidentally or on purpose. Make a lot of noise about that, especially if this service is something that is difficult to execute. If people know you can do something different, they will naturally assume that you can provide all the simpler related services. You will still get all the easier work and you will still get the work that is less interesting or not perfectly suited to you. But, you will get less of that kind of work and more of the kind of work you truly enjoy and are good at. That will make you and your clients a lot happier.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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Your solution is boring


We work with a lot of businesses (accountants, lawyers, financial consultants, banks, etc.) that take great pride in the quality of their services. And they should. Unfortunately, they also often take great pride in the level of boredom generated by the description of their services. They shouldn’t.

No matter what you do for a living, there is a way to make it interesting. The easiest solution is to tell a story. Stories are about people and people are interesting. The easiest way to develop these stories is to  interview clients and develop case studies. You can add these case studies to your website, use them during sales presentations, tweet them, put them on Facebook, and incorporate them into conversations. You can create written formats (like PDFs) that can be emailed, turn them into text-based or interview-style videos, or create powerpoint presentations. There are so many possibilities! The key is to find ways to make them interesting. Try adding small facts about your client’s business that may not be relevant to your case study but bring the situation to life. Can you use humor? Or an interesting photo? Or provide a statistic that shows the volume of work (1 million pages of documents generated, etc.) There are many ways to help people relate to your story.

If someone is interested in what you have to say, they will ask questions. Whether or not you like it, what you say will be interesting to them because they answer their questions. So take pride in what you do. Realize that it may not really be boring after all. Don’t apologize for yourself. Your solution may be boring, but you don’t have to be.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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What the Future May Hold


Recently, Futurist David Zach spoke to the Milwaukee Rotary Club about trends that he feels will affect our lives in the future. Not surprisingly, many of these trends related to communications and design. As our world has become more technological, the amount of information we consume on a daily basis has made communication more important for all of us in our personal and business lives.

Trend #1 – Reality

People spend so much time in the virtual world, it could almost be considered a major world economy. In the virtual world, everything looks perfect and sounds perfect. We post the most exciting bits of our lives on Facebook. Every company seems uber-successful. What is happening to our perceptions and expectations of the real world?

Trend #2 – The Rise of Logistics

With technology, we know where things are and where they are going. We are bombarded with information. We can find out just about anything about anyone. How will this affect innovation? Think about it. If everything you do is known – are you willing to take risks? Try something and fail? Most successes are simply the last attempt that did not fail. Are we willing to fail in front of the world?

Trend #3 – The Age of Design

Design matters. It helps us solve problems and makes our tools more useful. David says that everyone needs to learn to think like a designer because designers see what others can’t. They help us solve problems. They are not passive. We can’t get complacent or we won’t innovate. Throughout history, it hasn’t been big companies that have saved us, it’s been amateurs. People who aren’t afraid to let things get messy. Have you ever heard the term “think outside the box?” David says we don’t need to think outside the box, we need to think into other boxes.

What can you learn from this? I think David points out that we need to challenge ourselves. Even though systems and processes are important, sometimes throwing them out the window is also important. As business owners, we need to look outside our own industries and get inspiration from others. Don’t just copy your competitors, surprise them by coming up with something they would never think of. Think like a designer, and succeed.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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What’s your plan?


This is the time of year when many of our clients are working on their plans for the coming year. Strategic business planning, and its accompanying marketing plan, are a crucial task at the beginning of each year. If you haven’t kicked off your planning process, here is a framework you can use to get started:

  • Set goals for your business. Your marketing plan should be tied to your overall business goals. It is impossible to know if your marketing efforts are paying off if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve. In addition, if you set overall business goals, your marketing efforts will be more focused. For some helpful tips on strategic planning, check out the ebook we published last year, 100 Ways to Build Your Business.
  • Based upon your business goals, identify the target audiences your marketing plan should address. For most businesses, these will include current customers/clients, specific industry segments, or specific demographic groups.
  • List the messages that you want to share with each group. Think about what they want to know and what will give them confidence in your business, not just what you want to tell them.
  • Next think about how you can communicate these messages. These are the tactics you’ll implement. Don’t just stick to the safe ideas or the tactics you’ve already used. Think beyond the stuff you normally do. Look at options that scare you. Your tactics should include multiple ways of reaching your audience, but your messages should be consistent. Be sure your expectations are realistic. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and your marketing results won’t come that quickly either.
  • Now calendar your events and assign tasks so that you know your plan will be implemented. Analyze everything you do, tweak as you go along, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

Good luck!

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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Turning mistakes into marketing opportunities


I recently experienced two instances where companies made mistakes that initially frustrated me, but handled them in a way that made me an even more loyal customer.

Mistake #1 – the M&I to BMO switch
I am a former M&I, current BMO, bank customer. I started banking with M&I because I had a great banker and enjoyed that relationship so much that both my personal and business accounts are there. Despite what you may have heard about M&I, I have always experienced great customer service. However, when M&I switched to BMO’s computer system, the transition did NOT go well. The switch occurred over a weekend. So, starting after work hours on Friday, there was no computer access to my bank accounts. This was not a problem because we were told to expect this downtime. The transition occurred on Saturday and Sunday, and Monday was a holiday. So, on Tuesday when the bank opened again, pretty much every M&I customer on earth tried to log into their account. This flooded the new computer system and nothing worked. Hold times for customer service were hours long, even in the middle of the night. This went on for days. How BMO did not anticipate this is beyond me. Eventually, it worked out and we gained access to our accounts. Then, last week, I received a letter of apology from BMO and a Starbucks gift card. I know it’s just a small token and if I divided the amount of the card by the hours we spent trying to straighten our online access out, we’d have earned about $0.02 per hour, but I appreciated it. At least they admitted they made a mistake.

Mistake #2 – a printing problem
A couple weeks ago, we had some brochures printed for a Clear Verve client in preparation for an event. It wasn’t exactly a rush, but the brochures were done with not much time to spare. Unfortunately, there was a mistake on one of the pages of the brochure, which we didn’t discover until the day before the event. The brochure had been cut incorrectly. Luckily, the printer brainstormed a solution, picked up the brochures, and delivered them the next day. Even though they made a mistake and (admittedly) caused us to panic, the way they jumped in and found a solution to the problem make me like working with them even more.

When you make a mistake, what do you do? Remember that sometimes making a mistake can be a great opportunity to showcase the amazing customer service skills we all like to brag about. Everyone makes mistakes, but those of us that handle them well can usually recover much more successfully.


Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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