Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mentoring

I just found out one of my first mentors passed away. The sad thing is that it happened in November of 08. Life gets in the way and you lose touch with people you shouldn't. The world is definitely a lesser place today without her.

She was one that was always smiling, regardless of how late we had to work. She always had encouraging words to say. And she always wanted you to push the boundaries as a creative. She made it fun, but made sure you accomplished what you needed to. She also had a great naming system for her copy files, like "stupid stuff 1". It always cracked me up. 

As I reflect on this, it reminds me of why I've always taken mentoring so seriously throughout my career. It is a crucial part of what we do as creative thinkers and managers. We all know how a fragile a bunch us creatives are. We are in constant need of encouragement, gratitude and the feeling that we have the opportunity to push the boundaries.

She taught me many things that I have carried forward and used to mentor others when given the opportunity. I think too many people and businesses in the creative and marketing industry forget to do the simple things for their staff, employees and clients. I've come up with a list that I believe everyone should follow as they are put into a position of management and mentorship. I hope you find this helpful and you get to see just how important it is and the impact it makes on younger creatives. And, how simple it is to execute.

1. Encourage all to push the boundaries - because the farther you push, even though they (those clients of ours) always bring you back, you can usually get one step farther each time.

2. Offer opportunities for growth - seminars, expos, new projects… Because all creatives want more!

3. Say "Thank You" to someone that works for you or with you EVERY DAY! You'd be amazed at how far these two words go.

4. When critiquing, give guidance, but not answers. This allows them to think differently, to provide a new solution or approach if necessary. It also gives them the ownership and confidence when successful.

5. Leave the door open - ALWAYS. Communication is paramount. Anything and everything should be discussed. But set some guidelines so you can get your own work done.

6. Leave the politics to the politicians. Too many people in this industry, and any industry for that matter, want nothing more than to advance and will do anything they can to accomplish that. Everyone has to get up and go to work. It shouldn't be in an environment where we constantly have to look over our shoulders. Especially with the hours we put in.

7. Be honest. There's not much more that can be said about this.

8. Have fun. What other industry do you know that is as much fun and laid back as this?

9. Be nice. It makes working with/for you that much more enjoyable.

10. Sit back and watch. You'll be amazed at the change in attitude and the improvement of creative output this will create.

Hope you all have a great day.

- The Brand Man

Friday, January 15, 2010

Customer Connections

Indulge me for a moment while I set up my point here.

I started competing in triathlons a year ago and in doing so, I joined the Mid MD Tri Club. Which, if anyone is doing triathlons knows this is the best group in MD! The club has been a great group for support and training, not to mention learning about the right equipment. At our most recent meeting (at Princeton Sports - one of our great club sponsors), we were treated to a presentation by Mark Monnett, the region's Zipp wheels distributor. For those of you who don't know anything about Zipp wheels, they are the top of the line when it comes to wheels for bicyclists and triathletes. Not only are they the best wheels, but also the some of the most expensive. Those two usually go together - the old "you get what you pay for" rule. But that isn't a bad thing by any means.

After the presentation, when I finally stopped ooh'ing & ahh'ing over the wheels, I started thinking about it from a branding perspective. The presentation was exciting because of the product, the cool design, and how light-weight it is. But the talk was also very technical–talking about materials, shapes, dimples, watts… Are we triathletes interested in all that stuff? To a point, but what we really care about is posting faster times, and making sure we have the energy to do so. Now as someone who is in his target audience, he didn't fully have a customer connection with me until he started putting the technology in a perspective that any triathlete could understand - how much energy I would save (I think it was approximately 700 calories in a 1/2 Ironman distance) in the bike portion of the race by using these wheels. Since I started competing, I've learned how much energy it takes and how much nutrition you need to intake during a race in order to keep your energy level up. This type of information completely "wowed me" and the connection was made. Why? Because he "spoke to me". By that I mean, he put it in terms that are important to me, not ones that are important to the manufacturer or a different audience group.

As marketers, we all need to find that connection with our customers. The one bit of information that is more important than all others. The one bit of information that says "we completely understand your needs because we have the same needs".

So how do you do this - understand your target audience I mean? In Mark's case, he understands because he is the target audience. If you don't have that option, then what do you do? You research, interview, listen to social media, survey… anything and everything you can to find out what is important to your customers. Only then can you make that connection that will create new customers and keep your existing ones. Plus, (the big added bonus here) once that is done, this type of connection will begin to spread on it's own, creating the kind of marketing every company is looking for these days–customer driven and free.

What customer connection has your brand made lately? What was the outcome of such a connection. The Brand Man wants to hear your story.