Max and the Importance of Memorable Storytelling

A story: I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was 20 years old, cutting lawns on Cape Cod for a summer job with a college buddy.  It was 92 degrees in the shade, with the mid-day sun beating down we still had about a half-acre of Mr. Berman’s backyard grass still to mow.  My lawnmower sputtered to an unceremonious stop—and after unscrewing the knob at the machine’s base, I realized the gas tank had run dry.   I hurriedly refilled the mower with gasoline, over pouring the small tank a bit. Then it happened.  Mr. Berman’s cat, a small grey tabby named Max, somehow had escaped from the house and was licking the side of my lawn mower where I spilled the gas.  Max slurped at the mower for a while before I could stop him.  He pulled away from the mower and shifted into a faster gear than I had ever seen a cat run. Max sprinted up and down and across Mr. Berman’s property in a frenzied path that resembled a pattern a child using an Etch A Sketch toy would draw. He circled the house a few times, taunting us to chase, then came to an abrupt stop yards away.  Max took off before we could grab him, scooted up the trellis on the side of the house, scampered over the porch, then proceeded to make his way to the highest point of the roof.  He surveyed the chimney, glanced down at my friend, and me and decided to shimmy up the outside of the brick chimney to the very top. Max looked, pondered and waited.  Then he jumped…

Storytelling has been around forever in verbal and visual form.  We’ve all heard that it started with the cavemen who told of the dangers of mountain lions and bragged about their hunting conquests to their fellow dwellers.   And we learned in grade school of the ancient Egyptians using hieroglyphics to graphically chronicle the highlights of the era.  Today storytelling has evolved and the tools we use to share our tales are more sophisticated.  But the reasons why we tell the stories we tell are still very much the same.  We share our adventures, triumphs and tribulations to entertain others, to teach and to pass along our legacy.

From small start-ups to fortune 500 corporations, the importance of brand and business story telling is equally essential. Well-crafted business stories take shape in written, graphic and video forms. They are integrated across company presentations to customers, internal meetings for employees, landing pages on websites, copy on sides of packages and videos on social media platforms.  Stories help internal (employees) and external (customers) audiences formulate a response or reaction.   Corporate tales should be woven into the fabric of the company and answer among many questions, Why did the business get started?  What challenges had to be overcome? How did the passion of the founder guide the direction of the organization?  How and where is the product made? What is the problem or challenge that the entrepreneur was trying to solve?  Why does it matter that the product is produced?

As Paul Zak, professor of Economics, Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University wrote for the Harvard Business Review , business stories “make information persuasive and memorable.”   Zak studies brain activity and neural reactions and adds, “scientific work is putting a much finer point on just how stories change our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.”   There are many benefits to effective business storytelling:

  • Creates an emotional connection with customers and internal staff
  • Provides the essence of the product, brand and founder
  • More effective than boring bullet points on a power point presentation
  • Differentiates you from the competition
  • Makes for good content marketing (and isn’t a sales pitch)
  • Humans remember stories

Personal, informative and memorable stories are critical in this environment where our attention span is measured in seconds.  The well-told tale is invaluable in setting a strategic path, acquiring talent, building customer awareness, creating avid followers and ultimately making a sale!

And every good story has a beginning, middle and end….What happened to Max you might ask?  Did he fall to his demise?  No….He just ran out of gas!

About the Author

Matthew Golding

Matthew Golding is the principal and founder of GCI Marketing and partners with InSightPicture to develop memorable brand stories.

Branding Strategy Success: X Marks the Spot

Branding Strategy Success: X Marks the Spot

“X” is the spot only your brand occupies: it stands alone in terms of what you provide and to whom.

Before you start a new business or  or decide your current business needs a makeover and re-branding, it’s imperative to define your brand. Clearly being able to describe your brand, in words in visuals, so that others easily understand (and can tell others!) what your business does. Here is a simple branding strategy that will help you brand or re-brand your business.

Keep in mind that re-branding shouldn’t just be about a new logo; it’s really about a new way of doing business.

Before you brand your business, you should first determine why your business exists (its purpose on the planet) and how it can stand apart from other businesses in your same space…a.k.a. the competition.

If you don’t stand apart, you are a commodity and your only differentiator is price.

Step 1 – Develop a Branding Strategy:

  • How are you going to approach branding?
  • Who’s in charge of the branding initiative?
  • Will you hire a consultant, graphic designer, copywriter, brand strategist?
  • What’s your timeline?
  • Do you have a budget?

Step 2 – “Decipher” Your Brand:

A Mission Statement:  in 100 words or less, says Who you are, What you do, Whom you do it for, Why you do it, Where you do it and most of all:  What’s your BIG IDEA? What do you do that no one else does? Why should they buy from you instead of someone else? This is also known as the differentiator. Your Mission Statement will be the “touchstone” for your business – use it as a guide to decide what work to pursue; what projects to take (and what projects not to take); all to keep the strength of your brand.

A Vision Statement – the sky’s the limit: an in-house document that describes where you’ll be in 1, 3, 5 or 10 years. How you’ll get there. How big is your staff? Where are you located? Do you want to sell your business? This document can evolve but it is Your Destination Roadmap.

A Value Statement – “the Guiding Principles” or “core beliefs” of your business (many companies want to buy from those with shared values). Words like sustainability, diversity, creativity, excellence, community, innovation, etc. are found in value statements.

Positioning works hand-in-hand with branding.

Step 3 – Your Positioning Statement sets out:

  • What Product or Service you offer
  • Who Your Ideal Client is (client profile) –  Know your audience before you ever begin to market!
  • What Benefits you offer those that work with you
  • What Needs your ideal client has

Brand positioning is crucial: clearly describe your product or service, define your ideal client and their needs and wants and finally, highlight the benefits of working with your company. Where those four factors intersect is at what’s called your “brand essence.”  Once you’ve determined your brand essence or “truth,” you can incorporate visuals, written content, testimonials, case studies and FAQ pages to convey the personality of your business, your industry knowledge and expertise and showcase your product or service solutions.

Spending the time on developing and executing branding strategy pays off in greater brand recognition, memorability and effectiveness. Definitely time well spent.

This article originally appeared on


Martha Spelman is a Los Angeles-based branding and marketing expert. She is the author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Easily Create, Publish & Promote Your Business Blog.

Recipe for Great Customer Experiences

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
Sam Walton

One of the keys to longevity for any business is repeatedly providing a good (or better yet, great) customer experience. Without customers, businesses fail – finding and engaging customers is lifeblood. Perhaps one of the greatest masters of customer experience, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin fame, said, “The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them — preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.” Sounds reasonable? Well it isn’t so easy to implement, so we’ll dig into it deeper and share our recipe for great customer experiences.

What is Customer Experience?

So that we have a clear idea of the goal, Customer Experience (sometimes abbreviated as CX) is where your customers’ desires intersect with the services you deliver.

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
Steve Jobs

One component of customer experience is customer service, which is what most customers associate to customer experience. Customer service typically involves an exchange with a company representative via email, chat, phone or in person. In the exchange, the representative has the opportunity to deliver excellent customer service and a memorable customer experience. But your business may have numerous touchpoints, from online conversations to phone calls to trade shows. Any place you interact with a customer contributes to that customer’s feeling about your business.

Why Does Customer Experience Matter?

In a nutshell, your service is your brand. A product or service only has to be 10% better than a competitor’s to generate 50% more sales and 100% more profit.

When you think of Four Seasons Hotels, you probably associate the brand with ultra-comfortable accommodations and four-star service. Contrast that with Motel 6, where your customer experience is no-frills but inexpensive. Expectations of customer experience are set in advance.

What you believe about customer experience may conflict with reality. A couple of years ago, Bain & Co. surveyed 362 leading companies, finding that 80% of those companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience. In reality, only 8% of their customers agree. Your actions speak louder than your words.

Recipe for Great Customer Experiences

Now that we have a better understanding of what customer experience is and why it matters, we can look at ways to improve our delivery. Here are some key ideas to consider.

  • Define your ideal customer personas

    We start with personas, which are fictional characters based on real customers (or desired customers). We typically write them up in short (1-2 page) documents. A good persona creates a narrative that describes their skills, attitudes, environment and goals. Having a persona document creates a foundation for mapping your planned customer experience and the language you want to speak to engage ideal customers.

  • Map your “normal” customer journey


    Where do you interact (visibly) with customers? Where do your employees interact with each other (e.g., handoffs) that affects the customer? Each touchpoint offers the opportunity to be successful (or not) in engaging customers. Factor in your website, social media, telephone calls, in-person meetings, advertising and other transaction points. Drilling down, for example, on your website, are the pathways to the most common tasks obvious?


    What would you expect to be the customer mood at each stage? Curious? Nervous? Mad? Happy? Like obstacles, setting up the challenges helps you manage the flow.


    It’s useful to document potential obstacles. For example, if you’re selling an expensive product, “trust” may be an obstacle, or if you’re selling flowers, “timeliness” may be a challenge. Knowing the hurdles will help you reduce friction during the customer journey. To overcome them, you could offer a money-back guarantee or provide testimonials about how great your products are.

    Visible & Internal Interactions

    Some touchpoints are visible, but others are not. For example, accounting sending an invoice or products being shipped are not entirely an interaction, but they affect customer experience greatly (e.g., what if the invoice is incorrect?). Mark touchpoints with their visibility.

Create Goals and Track Applicable Metrics

Getting things right at each customer touchpoint requires an adaptive, iterative approach. What works today may not work tomorrow, and one customer’s satisfactory is another customer’s unacceptable.

We’re proponents of capturing, measuring and analyzing data at each customer interaction, preferably from the start. Whether you are with an individual, small business, large corporation or multinational operation, chances are good that you can improve customer experience. You’re probably engaging customers through direct mail, phone calls, in-person meetings, your website and social media, which provides a checklist for measurement areas. You need to add in feedback loops to know what customers like or dislike.

  • What systems capture data?

    If you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, there are certainly reports you can tap to measure performance, such as leads captured, contacted and closed. Your website should have analytics baked into every page so you can track online performance. You may have other customer support systems, like help desks or return authorization tickets.

  • Is there a scorecard?

    Chances are you collect a great deal of data, but many companies do nothing with it. You should consider having a dashboard or reports that make it easy to understand what is happening. It’s a great idea to have varying levels of detail (high to low) for those who need to examine them. For example, the CEO needs high level information to make decisions, but frontline employees may need to know specific details.


Implementing Customer Experience Plans

Customer experience is best viewed as a continuous feedback loop. Set your plan, measure what’s happening, review the metrics, and adjust accordingly.

  • Set expectations with your customer (messaging)

    Before you ever officially interact with your customers, you’re creating the customer journey. Through your advertising, public relations and social media, customers develop an impression. That notion gets accentuated with any prior experience, word of mouth or events where they interact with your business.

  • Be consistent

    Be “Steady Eddy” with your customer experience practices. If one employee does things one way and others use their own philosophy, customers will feel it. It starts with your company’s culture and relies on regular internal communication.

  • Respond to mistakes

    Stuff happens. Own it. Respond with compassion and you can turn it around. It can actually work in your favor to do something unexpected and appropriate to a mistake.

  • How can you maximize good experiences? How do you communicate successes?

    Do more of what works! Let your team know that certain items are having positive impact so they can re-purpose ideas in other areas. For example, marketing sent a reminder email before a trade show that brought in many new visitors. Why? Find out and share.

  • How can you minimize bad experiences? How do you communicate problems?

    Fix issues as soon as possible and do less of what hurts customer experience. Share problems with your team (don’t blame, just explain). For example, shipping took longer than expected, which turned out because the order wasn’t processed before a holiday. How can you adjust to avoid this happening next time? Seek input and share ideas.

  • How can you reduce friction?

    If you can make it look easy, your customers will rave about you. Four Seasons Hotels keep a dossier on guests, and when they return, they use it to make the stay better, without anyone asking.

Customer Experience Is About Satisfaction

The result is either customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction (or ambivalence…). With metrics in place, adjustments can be made. In the past decade, the company that has “written the book” (literally) on customer experience is Zappos. The online retailer’s dedication to creating “wow” experiences has impacted many industries by showing what is possible. Their reputation sets a high expectation, and simply stated, they’re magnificent at each touchpoint in their customer journey. They measure, communicate, iterate and, as a result, prosper because of their CX. You can implement a recipe for customer experience that does that too.

About the Author

SBEC Director of IT: Scott HerringScott Herring is the SBEC’s Director of IT. He has been a software developer for almost 30 years and is a serial entrepreneur. Scott is currently focused on his digital agency Twisted Puppy, helping small to mid-sized businesses grow using ultramodern online marketing techniques.You can find out more about Scott’s business on his company website.

The Power of Branding [Martha Spelman]

A strong brand results from a clear definition of the strengths particular to you or your company and the audience that will benefit from working with you.

Someone will always be faster, stronger, more knowledgeable, younger, older or more experienced than you. But that doesn’t mean that they will necessarily “win out” over you. Because nobody has your particular combination of skills, talents, abilities, knowledge, experience or expertise. And maybe they don’t hustle, network, promote or communicate as well as you do. Maybe they haven’t as clearly identified what it is, with their particular mix of traits, they can offer a buyer.

The Power of BrandingThis is where branding–both personal and business–comes in. A strong, well-defined brand is a powerful marketing tool.

Branding is the process through which you objectively “decipher” what you offer and to whom. Ultimately, you want to determine what your specific strengths and weaknesses are and who the audience is for those strengths; who could benefit from working with or hiring you. A person or company with a strong brand continuously reinforces the value they offer and what differentiates them from the competition.

Once you’ve deciphered your “brand positioning” — the products or services that best fit with an audience who has the need and budget for your offering? You develop a marketing strategy that will effectively reach that audience.

And if you think you’re weak in certain areas? Don’t make excuses, make improvements. Take classes, sign up for webcasts and podcasts; read, watch and listen. Use volunteering as an opportunity to learn new skills or tackle new projects. Research the competition, join a mastermind group, find a mentor willing to help. Do what it takes to build your brand, improve your position and hone your “expert” niche.

If it’s difficult for you to objectively decipher your personal or business brand, you can ask others — interview your friends (ask them to be honest), clients or customers and colleagues. Find out what their perception is of you — and your strengths. Work with an outside consultant who will provide a professional, objective assessment and strategy.

Be rigorous in your examination. You ultimately want to clearly distill what it is that “makes you different.” Then publish content that sets out your particular strengths, preferably focusing on a defined “expert” niche that can be illustrated with representative testimonials, recommendations, case studies and “success stories.”

The clearer you are on your particular strengths and how those strengths can be deployed to benefit potential customers…the more powerful your brand and the bigger the return on your marketing.

Read More on Branding from This Author

Brand Message: WIIFM or WIIFT?

The Brand Experience: Feeling is Believing


About the Author

Martha Spelman: SBEC MentorMartha Spelman is an SBEC mentor. She is a Los Angeles-based branding and marketing expert and author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Easily Create, Publish & Promote Your Business Blog. You can find out more about Ms. Spelman on her website.




3 Steps for Building Brand Recognition [Allan Colman]

Building brand recognition is the first of 12 essential practices we use to help companies accelerate revenue. Branding combines your purpose, vision, mission and values all into a strategy and implementation tactics. In my role as a Senior Business Accelerator Adviser with 36ixty, we find 3 steps to help clients become the best at one thing. This is critical in building brand recognition. There is a Russian proverb which clarifies this approach, “If you chase 2 rabbits, you will not catch either one.”

Step #1 – M:
Get your message right.

Clarity addresses questions such as why do we exist? Who are we serving? How do we behave? What values will we adhere to? What is it that we actually do?

Step #2 – A:
Leverage the appropriate amplifiers.

Once you get the message right, this is where you use all the marketing tools available, from social media, to press releases, to advertising, to collateral, to speeches, etc.

Step #3 – P:

Over time you need to be seen as credible, expert and a master.

Questions for Defining Your Brand

Answering the following questions will help get you your brand:

  • What do you do when providing your product or service that is different than what everyone else does?
  • Why do your clients/customers return to you and your product/services?
  • When people refer business to you, what do they tell others about you? (Ask if you don’t know)
  • What skills to you have that people find interesting and helpful?

As the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos said, “Your brand is what stays in a room after you leave the room.”


About the Author

Allan Colman: SBEC MentorDr. Allan Colman is an SBEC mentor, a top business development executive, and a leader in helping law firms strengthen their business development productivity. For over 2 decades, he has helped law firms and professional service firms step into the current business culture and economic climate and generate more revenue. The business development structures he has put into place with clients continue to perform and produce measurable results. You can find out more about Dr. Colman on his website.



Martha Spelman: Always Be Marketing

If anybody knows anything about marketing, it is Martha Spelman. As a successful marketing consultant, author and entrepreneur, Martha knows exactly what she is talking about. Here are her words on marketing for businesses to keep in mind:

For any business, it is imperative to ALWAYS BE MARKETING. Market when you’re not busy but especially when you are…because inevitably, the calm comes after the storm.

We’ve all heard the line: “I really don’t market – my work comes from referrals.”
Three times in the last week, I’ve had meetings in which the business owner said, “My company used to survive on ‘word-of-mouth’ and now, that’s not happening.” Friends of friends, client referrals or industry colleagues — used to fuel their work pipeline. The business owners I spoke with weren’t executing an active marketing strategy but still the phone rang; somebody always knocked on their door.
Apparently that is no longer the case. The referrals have stopped. And with no other marketing plan in place, the well is running dry.
There are several reasons that your referrals might have slowed down or stopped (aside from your work or product quality heading severely downhill…which is doubtful):
1) The economy is down and your previous referral sources aren’t getting work or coming in contact with potential clients to send your way

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Martha Spelman: SBEC Mentor

Martha Spelman
Marketing Consultant
Co-Founder Newzful -subscription-based site that provides useful facts, stats and data for content marketing
Author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Create, Publish and Promote Your Business Blog

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