Category Archives: Business strategy

Managing Up

In business, we often coach our managers on how to manage people, projects, resources, expectations… We don’t usually coach our staff in how to manage their managers, but this is an important business (and life) skill. I liked this article, 8 Ways to Manage Upwards: Build Trust With the C-Suite and Help Your Marketing Team Succeed, by Sridhar Ramanathan of Aventi Group.

To me, #1 is the most important: “Think Like Your Leadership.”

If you think like your leadership, you are also thinking strategically, and that enhances your career possibilities, while serving the needs of the company and its customers. In a work context, that would look like this: You know (or should know) your company’s mission and elevator pitch. You also know (or should know) the mission and goals of your workgroup. So if you want to get something done, think about these missions and how you can serve them while moving your own program forward.

Hilarious brand mission video spoof. No, wait — what?

Because I work with clients on brand messaging and corporate missions, I was curious about a new brand, introduced with a full page ad in the business section of the newspaper. (Yes, I still read newspapers.) I couldn’t tell who they were or what they did — were they being deliberately coy?

What I found was amazing: A hilarious parody of corporate branding videos! Full of lofty but meaningless phrases, set to happy faces in corporate settings. Pretentious and phony, over the top! Clip-art-y graphics, fancy production. Someone spent a lot on this elaborate, beautifully executed joke. It was very funny — until the horror crept in.

It’s real.

Andeavor is the new corporate brand that combines Tesoro’s refining operations and their acquisition of Western  Refining Logistics. Visit and click play. Check it out right away because I wonder how long it will be available (so far, it’s been months). Surely, someone in the $38 billion, 13,000 employee company will realize how ridiculous this is.

Some excerpts:

“We are creating our future, building on our experiences to achieve more than we once thought possible.”

“We are more dynamic than ever.” (What does that even mean?)

“We are determined to be better today than yesterday; and better tomorrow than today.”

“We are strengthened by our diverse backgrounds and experiences, limitless in our combined talent. And we work as a team, sharing a belief that when we combine our knowledge, experiences, and drive to make a difference, we can create something better, in a spirit that celebrates where we’ve been and sees no limits to where we can go.”

I work on mission and values with most of my clients and the number one rule is authenticity. A cynical view of corporations is that they care only about profits but in my experience, most want to make the world better through what they do. A good mission statement honestly and humbly reveals who the company is at heart, what values move them through their days, and helps customers, employees, and partners know what matters. It guides everything.

I expect that Andeavor is run by well-meaning people who are proud of their company. It’s a shame that their fancy video got away from them because further down the page, they communicate some real values: They have a solid set of Strategic Priorities: “Operational efficiency and effectiveness; value chain optimization across our system; financial discipline; value-driven growth; and a High-Performing Culture built around collaboration.” They focus on safety, community, performance, customer relationships, and their workforce.

I wish they’d said all that in the video. Instead, they said: “Go for extraordinary.” I would say they achieved that today. Andeavor says to Go For Extraordinary

Managing Online Discussion Groups and Expert Communities

Social media is not just for hobbies!

Even experts in deeply technical, specialized areas are gathering online in discussion groups and expert forums. I have worked with discussion groups and forums for many companies in high-tech and consumer markets. It requires an investment and a long-term commitment but can return tremendous visibility and credibility with users and influencers.

discussion groups and expert forums exchange ideas

Here’s how you can be present, learn from your customers, establish credibility and authority, and be found by search engines. Some points to ponder:

  • Your users and potential users may already be using online communities to solve each others’ problems. They may already be talking about you! What are they saying, and how can you influence the conversation?
  • If you’re not part of the conversation, how do you become known? Can you become part of the community without seeming like a self-promoter?
  • You can offer support in public forums. Often, users will step in and do the support job for you.
  • Communities are a great place to see the voice of the customer first-hand. What are their problems and needs? What will they need in the near future?
  • If there are no communities, maybe you should start one!


Consider the benefits of online community participation. Online forums:

  • Foster learning and creates a loyal community.
  • Turn users into experts. They are especially good in fields where just a few people have expertise and many want to learn.
  • Can assist product definition. In three companies where I managed the online programs, developers were on the boards, hearing first hand from customers. One said they had a “fast measure of what customers want, motivated programmers. The design team … felt a calling to not let members down.” I often saw product development debates settled by talking to the online communities.
  • Help develop and enter new markets, by building reputation and establishing authority.
  • Lead to an intimate understanding of customer problems through close relationship with real customers. One R&D Director told me that their group “reaches (their technical customers) on their own time, in their passionate pursuits, where they are more available and have greater discretion.”
  • Bring up ideas that lead to new products. In hockey, you skate to “where the puck will be.”
  • Can serve as a technical support vehicle. These groups usually develop gurus who answer the bulk of the questions.
  • Can develop into an excellent loyalty vehicle: Members generally champion the company. Members who evangelize on our behalf have high credibility, as impartial third parties. When I led the marketing for a consumer electronics that produced video editing equipment, our forum was frequented by fans who jumped in and supported each other and championed our products.
  • Fosters company image as the expert.
  • Can deliver heavy reach into universities: A semiconductor company whose products required development and application found that “professors and students participated and created class projects.”
  • Provide a competitive edge. If your competitors are neglecting discussion groups, you become the leader and own the conversation. In one discussion group populated by influencers, our startup company dominated Sony, Canon, and Panasonic, because they weren’t there. Conversely, if they are present and you are not, you are operating at a disadvantage.


  • It is hard to demonstrate the value. It is easy to judge the costs (which can be considerable since we’re investing the time of some of our most valued employees) but depending on the business, may be hard to show revenue.
  • It’s definitely not for all products and businesses.
  • You are open to fire from disgruntled customers. Your mistakes (e.g. product issues) are fodder for public grumbling. However, consider that unhappy customers will vent one way or another and you can benefit from being present when it happens. I have good experience with controlling the conversation. In a well-managed forum, loyal list members generally defend the company and in the end, it generally ends up positive.
  • There is no way to keep competition out. You must assume they are present.
  • If it’s someone else’s forum, you need to obey the local customs and tread lightly, especially with commercialism and the forum operators’ egos or sense of ownership. The whole thing can backfire if you irritate the locals.

Where are the communities?

  • You can establish a presence on expert communities such as Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, Quora, Reddit, or industry-specific sites like StackExchange.
  • There are still web-based discussion groups and “bulletin boards.”
  • Many platforms and technology ecosystems have user groups associated with the product.
  • Some trade magazines maintain discussion boards.
  • You can use comment capabilities on your own content such as blogs or technical articles, using commenting platforms like Disqus.
  • You can also build your own. The infrastructure is pretty easy — the hard part is promoting and running it.

Running the Group

Running a group is probably easier than you think but it does require a commitment. You need two people (to provide coverage for vacations and such) who commit to visiting at least once a day. Once your presence becomes known, visitors will develop an expectation of response within a day.


Step one: Listen. Visit the group and just read for at least a week. Learn the cadence and tone. It’s an extremely bad idea to walk into a room and start talking.

Who’s in charge?

When you’re new to a discussion group, find out who the moderators are. It’s a good idea to introduce yourself and ask if there are any guidelines. Moderators can greatly support you (and if you do make a mistake, forgiveness will come much more readily if they know who you are.)

What (not) to say

General rule: Less is more. The less often your staff speaks, the more likely members will participate. If you jump in on every question, group members will almost never chime in. You want to avoid killing a thread by satisfying the question too quickly!

Members have an impartiality that gives them a special credibility. In the video editing forum I ran, we had a 24-hour rule and it worked perfectly. An interesting thing happened: Members responded to almost every new visitor or question.

Knowing that we were present, group members rarely said anything critical of the company and were quick to chime in if visitors were critical. Supportive comments from a third party always carry greater clout than anything company employees say.

Our guideline was that the company never answers unless:

  • Someone says something that is blazingly wrong and no member corrects it.
  • Something goes unanswered for 24 hours.
  • The question is specifically aimed at the company and no member answers. But we learned that even questions aimed at the company were usually better answered by members!


Remember that the group is public and archives mean you can never un-say anything. All communications must be professional, polite, and restricted to public information. Assume that everything you say will be read by customers, the press, your competitors, and your boss.

Fostering Communication

Much more important than answering questions is fostering discussion. Leave answers incomplete, with room for others to chime in. Leave a hook for further discussion. Steer people to the website wherever possible (e.g.: “Good question. There is an technical note that covers that here: <list the web address>“).

Abuse and Problems

In case of technical issues, offer massive support — jump in with free replacements, a phone call from the right person, a private message from a company director — whatever it takes to make these people happy. Even if it’s just a college junior or small company engineer, what you do is in public view of an important community.

Most of the time, hot situations are best answered completely candidly and if appropriate, taking the detailed discussion off-list.

Credibility and authenticity

Having a company in a user community can feel like having a fox in the hen house. Your commercial interests may seem at odds with the community’s common interests. How do you become part of an online community in a way that enhances authority and credibility and makes the community a better place — all the while, avoiding the appearance of self-promotion?

Be very careful about anything promotional. Announce new products but keep in informational. Tie it into discussion topics if you can. You want to scrupulously avoid having people think this is an advertising forum.

I have had great success with an approach that sounds strange: Freely mention competition. For instance, if someone asks who makes a certain product, mention the competitors as well as your own offerings. This impresses people and makes them think you are confident of your products. And it really gives nothing away — you know they will find the competitors anyway.

If someone asks about your products, it’s perfectly ok to answer but avoid sounding like a pitchman.

Steering the Discussion

After the list has matured, feel free to toss in thought-grenades to stimulate discussion. Ask about what people would like in future products, how they have addressed certain challenges. Ask legitimate market attitude and product feature questions. You want to stimulate interest without appearing to manipulate or control.

Ho Ho Holiday Branding

A little cleverness from FedEx deftly makes the brand festive:

FedEx brand meets Santa: Clever use of holiday branding





Business hint: Right now, make repeating calendar entries prior to holidays that can have meaning for your brand. And have your content marketing crew do the same. When the holidays first appear on your radar, it’s usually past deadline for the really good ideas.

Holiday Marketing Opportunities: Does Your Customer Want Sleigh Bells?

How do the holidays affect your content marketing? Maybe the obvious ho-ho-ho themes are not for your business-to-business (B2B) audience.

I was running web marketing for a large B2B company that sold mainly to engineers and technical people. One November, we were in a meeting with the CEO and a couple of business managers. One of the business managers wondered whether we should introduce a new technology campaign until after the holidays, figuring it would miss a lot of audience if we ran it over the holiday break.

Holiday marketing? Santa knows, engineers are never off lineThe CEO was Jack Gifford, an outspoken exec who an uncanny marketing sense. I had learned to never disregard Jack, even if what he was suggesting sounded crazy. He claimed that engineers would be a better target during the holidays.

Jack explained that engineers don’t stop working on holidays and in fact, at family gatherings, you could bet that they were stealing away to poke around the websites to find things to read and learn.

I ran some stats from prior years and while overall traffic was down on holidays, we had plenty of traffic to technical articles. So we ran the campaign, geared it as an opportunity to learn about a new technology, and promoted in our weekly emails and on the home page.

It worked. Jack’s intuition was spot on.

The lesson for B2B companies is that if you are thinking of a holiday-focused theme, forget Santa, sleigh bells, and snowflakes. Think instead of your customer — maybe bored, maybe holidayed out, with a churning, analytic brain thirsting for a good tech story, or eager to learn a new skill.

Your competitors are probably not thinking the way Jack did, so this is your chance to do some targeted customer education and relationship-building.

Ho ho ho!

Illustration by Matti Mattila, CC BY 2.0

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a strategy

Great article by my friend, Erik Newton of Brightedge, on the importance of treating SEO — search engine optimization — as a strategy.

Anyone close to SEO work has heard the request: “We want to be on page one of Google for these 20 words.” It’s an innocent request but is guaranteed to propel the company into the wrong tactics. Erik explains how a strategic approach aligns with the rest of a company’s marketing strategy. Who are we, what are our goals as a business, and how do we make our content, budget, resources, and goals align? He goes on to talk about how search is part of a marketing program and in particular, how to include SEO as part of the content marketing program, so every piece of content works for you.

More search strategy:

Diversity: Not just the right thing; it’s the smart thing to do

Sheryl Sandberg is my hero but even if she were not, I would be trumpeting her latest stand, reaching out to men about fighting sexism.

It’s important. Members of the undiscriminated class have the greatest ability (and therefore, I would argue, the greatest responsibility) to speak out against discrimination. It’s not fair, but it is true, that it’s harder for a woman’s objections to be heard well.

Standing up is not without risk. But really, all we have to do is to tell the truth in a compassionate way, recognizing that not everyone sees discrimination. And as Sandberg says, it’s worth the risk.

Standing up for diversity is not just about moral or ethical responsibility. Every workgroup, company, country, is in competition. Why would any leader not leap at the chance to enhance the creativity and productivity of 30% of their potential workforce?

Championing diversity is not just the right thing, it’s the smart thing.

A DevOps Mindset for Marketing

Because many of my clients are in software development services and tools, I spend much time doing marketing for DevOps. Here’s an interesting article on DevOps for marketing!

Although it originated in software technology circles, DevOps is a culture, a methodology for high-speed progress in complex, IT-heavy areas. And now that marketing is so tech-heavy (in enterprises, marketing typically spends more on IT than IT does), they need great ops practices.

“DevOps is a cultural and professional movement that is focused on building and operating high velocity organizations.” Sounds perfect for today’s marketing.

Best business practice: Prefer phone to email or text

Great article in Fast Company about using the phone vs email/text/etc.:

What Happened When I Replied “Call Me” to Every Email for a Week

Photo: Flickr user M. Accarino
The author noticed that successful people would often reply to an email with a phone call, or an invitation to call. He wonders if being “phone-prone” and success are related. He experimented with a phone-prone approach to see what would happen…
I am email-prone myself but I know I’d be wiser to phone (or visit in person) more often. It’s not just that it’s more high-touch, not just the communication of tone of voice; the phone-prone maintain that a phone call is often faster. It’s also much harder for someone to say no to a live phoned request than to an email.
“The phone may not be the newest collaboration tool out there, but I was surprised at how effective I found it after a week of forcing myself to become more phone-prone.”

SEO for entrepreneurs

Search engine optimization (SEO) is something every business needs. Because no matter what your business is, your prospects are probably not coming to you when they are ready: they are going to Google. You need to be there.

Trustworthy search marketing information is hard to find. But good news: I have a new resource to get you there safely.

The problem with SEO is not that it’s difficult (though it is) or complicated (it is). After all, a lot of what modern businesses do is complicated and difficult — so we learn or hire the expertise. The problem with SEO is that hiring expertise may get you in trouble. It is full of danger. Sadly, competent, expert help is hard to find. The SEO industry is full of charlatans. Advice: If someone promises you the top page of Google for your 50 keywords, run.

Some SEO experts are out and out crooked; others are innocently incompetent. They are full of advice and knowledge that is wrong, spouted with great confidence. That’s because they learned what they “know” not from testing and experience, but from all the SEO information on the web, and much of that is blazingly wrong. It is parroted from each other so often that it becomes “common wisdom.” Like politics, but let’s not go there.

For this reason, I tell clients that SEO is not a service you can blindly hire. I will recommend SEO services I know (and offer an SEO and content marketing strategy workshop myself) but even if a client plans to hire experts, I recommend SEO gothey learn the basics themselves. You don’t need to be an expert in detailed SEO tech but you do need a solid grasp of the strategy. (See my article on whether to use agencies or do your SEO in-house.) It’s not unlike demand generation, lead management, or any other complex business area: Marketing and C-level business execs need a strategic grounding so you can know that your staff’s direction makes sense and matches the company’s direction.

Happy news: There’s a new resource I can recommend. The founder of Moz, Rand Fishkin is one of SEO’s shining lights and a gifted teacher. He’s just released a Skillshare class that’s free with your signup (Skillshare is free to new signups for 30 days.)  It’s my new recommended way to learn what you need to know.

Other recommendations are:

Also, please see my previous article, SEO: agency or in-house?