Archive for Business

Standing Out is One Way to Increase Margins

BNET recently posted a story about the success of Crumbs Bakery in New York City. The article is titled, “Startup Survival: How to Get Past the 3-Year Hump,” the point being that smart marketing makes for financial success.

The rational way to raise your gross margin is to differentiate your business by redefining your company as the only player in a specific niche, instead of being just another company among larger ones. Crumbs has distinguished itself by selling the world’s best cupcake. It leads with cupcakes, reserves the best merchandising space for cupcakes and displays cupcakes above the fold on its website.

If your company is the only one that can do what you do, then you can increase your margins. How can we help you solidify the idea that you are the only one who can do what you do?

Marketing Happiness

Perhaps this is one of the reasons we love marketing. Jennifer L. Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford University’s School of Business, Melanie Rudd, a Stanford MBA student, and Wharton marketing professor Cassie Mogilner, examined 60 academic studies looking at the way people spend their time and how that affects happiness. Their conclusions were recently summarized in a BNET post titled, “Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Happier”.

  • Spend time with the “right people.” Who are the right people? They’re generally not your office mates. The people that make you happiest will generally be friends, family, and romantic partners.
    • Avoid small talk. A related predictor of happiness is how much substantive discussion a person engages in, compared to small talk. Generally, small talk makes people unhappy. If you want to increase your happiness, it’s far better to find one or two people with whom you can have a real discussion than to engage in small talk.
  • Spend time on “socially connecting” activities, such as volunteering and spending time with friends.
    • Work doesn’t count. Work is not ’socially connecting’ and is generally one of the more unhappy parts of the day. Commuting is also gets high marks for making people unhappy.
    • Volunteering has been proven to be a good way to increase happiness.
    • Memory is important, because it helps us take an event that happened in the past and extend its ‘worth’ into the future. What are your happiest memories?
  • Day dream, or, enjoy the experience without spending the time. Research has shown that the part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure can be activated just by thinking about something pleasurable. And we often enjoy the anticipation of something pleasurable more than the actual experience that we think is going to be so great. The most common example is vacation planning, which some find more pleasurable than the vacation itself.
  • Expand your time. Focusing on the “here and now” slows down the perceived passage of time, allowing people to feel less rushed and hurried.
    • Breathe slowly. Just for a few minutes. “In one study, subjects who were instructed to take long and slow breaths (vs. short and quick ones) for 5 minutes not only felt there was more time available to get things done, but also perceived their day to be longer.”
    • Volunteering makes it seem like you have more time. In general, spending time on someone else makes people feel like they have more spare time and that their future is more expansive.
    • Pay people to do the chores you hate. Activities that we choose to do generally make us happier than those that are obligatory.
  • Be aware that aging changes the way people experience happiness. Youths tend to equate happiness with excitement, but as people get older, happiness is associated with feeling peaceful. Young people get more happiness from spending time with interesting new acquaintances, while older people get more enjoyment from spending time with close friends and family.

How You Say It May Make a Big Difference

To continue with our ideas about building confidence, BNET summarized an interview about building self-confidence and authority during presentations. The idea is that expansive poses (arms wide apart) practiced over a two-minute period before a presentation stimulates higher levels of testosterone, the dominance hormone, and lower levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. Poses, such as crossing your arms make us look smaller, weaker.

A supporting idea is the act of physically occupying more space conveys many of the same benefits. Similarly, we work with our customers to help them use the largest format possible while respecting financial constraints to make the most confident statement. This really makes sense when we compare postcards of different sizes and how they look in a mailbox.

We usually respond positively to confident speakers and find them more believable and credible. How can we help you translate your great speaking skills and presentation to your marketing and mailing?

Confidence Building Tips

Staying cool under performance pressure is a learnable skill. Psychology Today republished an article called, “Confidence: Stepping Out”.

Most socially confident people learn specific skills:

Understand Your Body’s Signals

Six studies compared two groups of people during a hair-raising event such as an impromptu speech: One group said that their bodies were freaking out and another group said they felt calm. In five of the six studies, there was no physiological difference between the two groups. Everyone showed similarly increased levels of autonomic activation, such as sweating and speeding heart rate. “People who are very socially anxious tend to pay attention to their bodies and magnify that response, perceiving it subjectively to be much greater than it actually is,” says James J. Gross, director of Stanford University’s Psychophysiology Laboratory.

You can calm yourself by reading the signals correctly. The irony of misreading your nervous system’s cues is that far from harming you, your natural excitement can enhance your performance. Increased activation is not a sign that you’re failing, but that you want to do well and your body is ready to help.

Focus on Others

When socially confident people start to feel anxious or awkward, they focus on putting their conversational partners at ease. Some people need to work at shedding their constant belief that they’re failing. Yet for most people, fluctuations in self-esteem provide information that’s useful in navigating social relationships. For example, if you’re talking and someone yawns, your self-esteem drops, signaling you to switch the topic. When you tell a joke and people laugh, your self-esteem rockets up. If we didn’t feel bad when we bore or offend—or gratified when we delight—we’d never be motivated to change course.

Mastering social skills requires tuning in to your self-esteem. But instead of being self-conscious and fixating on your anxiety, work on creating positive interactions that make the people around you feel engaged and happy. Focusing less on yourself and more on others will yield big payoffs in expanded social opportunities.

Immerse Yourself in Your Fears

The article told stories about how Conan O’Brien and Will Farrell forced themselves to do the things they feared the most. Then they figured out how to challenge and transform themselves. The lesson? Even exquisite discomfort has a silver lining.

Help your Brain be More Proactive

The Harvard Business Review shared some ideas in a blog post about “How Your Brain Connects the Future to the Past”.

A good memory can help you better navigate the future. In business, anticipating and negotiating future demands is an asset. A proactive brain uses details from past experiences to make analogies with your current surroundings. It then helps you determine where you are and envision future possibilities. We are all born with proactive brains, but these things can help improve brain performance:

  1. Give it a lot to work with. Create a richer pool of information to draw from. Expose your brain to diverse experiences and situations.
  2. Borrow from others. Find out as much as you can about others’ experiences by talking, interacting with, and reading about other peoples’ lives.
  3. Think about what you want from the future. Take time to reflect values and goals, both immediate and down the road. These will help guide your brain as it envisions future scenarios that may best help you achieve your objectives.
  4. Actively ponder future rewards or accomplishments. Emphasize rich, detailed thinking about long-term outcomes. This reduces the lure (and the danger) of instant gratification.
  5. Let your mind wander. Undisturbed time gives your brain the space it needs to recall and recombine past experiences in ways that help you anticipate the future.

The idea that letting your mind wander gives it time and space to help you recall and recombine is also supported in research we shared about learning and assimilating new experiences.

Proof of Why Large Committees Don’t Work

In decision making groups, 7 people could be the optimal number.

The Harvard Business Review’s Daily Stat shared the findings of Decide & Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization. Once you’ve got 7 people in a decision-making group, each additional member reduces decision effectiveness by 10%. Thus, a group of 17 or more rarely makes any decisions.

What about your marketing? Do you have many people participating in the process?

Tips to Create Opportunity

It is still January and many of us are still feeling fresh and optimistic about the New Year. Productivity author and expert David Allen offered some great advice and reasons to clear out your surroundings.

Want more business? Get rid of all the old energy in the business you’ve done. Are there any open loops left with any of your clients? Any agreements or disagreements that have not been completed or resolved? Any agendas and communications that need to be expressed?

Want more clothes? Go through your closets and storage areas and cart to your local donation center everything that you haven’t worn in the last 24 months or does not look or feel just right.

Want to be freer to go where you want to, when you want to, with new transportation? Clean out your glove compartments and trunks of your cars.

Do you want more wealth? Unhook from the investments and resources that have been nagging at you to change.

Do you want to feel more useful? Hand off anything that you are under-utilizing to someone who can employ it better.

Want some new visions for your life and work? Clean up and organize your boxes of old photographs.

Want to know what to do with your life when you grow up? Start by cleaning the center drawer of your desk.

You have to clear and organize your stuff anyway, right? Narrowing what you see, use and interact with down to what is really wanted, useful and desired is better.

What about your marketing messages? Is it time to let go of what is not working so you can focus on what is working to bring new customers?

Engagement and Motivation, Illustrated

The Harvard Business Review’s Peter Bregman told a story of cooking with farm fresh produce in a blog post titled, The Farm-to-Table Secret to Motivating People.

He told of how having the experience of a few days at a farm with his family connected him in unexpected ways to food and led to him feeling very inspired to create some complex food with the produce they brought home. The conclusion he reached was that the earlier and sooner people get involved in a process, the more they become connected to it.

You want to try a new sales process? Don’t figure it all out yourself and then tell your sales people about it. Let them figure it out with you.

Want customers to buy your service or product? Involve them in the creation of it. They feel something deeper than the success of a project gone well. They feel pride of ownership. They feel satisfied by the journey that brought them to their success.


Because it is still January and many of us are still looking for ways to improve…

Perhaps looking around and asking questions like, “Is this as simple as it can be?” Or even, “Is this necessary at all?” A BNET post titled Do You Make Things Too Complicated? Take the Razor to Them, led us to search for more information about Occam’s Razor. Occam’s writing led to many scientific quotes and thoughts, but our favorite is: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

It’s so easy and so tempting to do too much. You can have a Facebook page, blog, Twitter page, YouTube channel, smartphone app, streaming video content, and cool icons on your Web site. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If you have a solid, well-executed online/media plan and a clear vision of how every element serves your business, go for it. But if you doing a lot of stuff just because others are or because it seems like you should. Is it doing anything for your business? Are you doing more than you need to?

Are your customers responding? What about sending a simple piece of mail to reconnect?

Ways to Turn Around a Bad Day

We all have awful days. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, shared many ways to deal with a terrible day.

  1. Resist the urge to “treat” yourself. Often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day.
  2. Do something nice for someone else. “Do good, feel good” – this really works. Be selfless, if only for selfish reasons.
  3. Distract yourself. You may be much better able to cope with the situation after having had a bit of relief. Watching a funny movie or TV show is a great way to take a break, or re-read beloved classics of children’s literature.
  4. Seek inner peace through outer order. Soothe yourself by tackling a messy closet, an untidy desk, or crowded countertops. The sense of tangible progress, control, and orderliness can be a comfort. This always works for me – and fortunately, my family is messy enough that I always have plenty of therapeutic clutter at hand.
  5. Tell yourself, “Well, at least I…” Get some things accomplished. Yes, you had a horrible day, but at least you went to the gym, or played with your kids, or walked the dog, or read your children a story, or recycled.
  6. Exercise is an extremely effective mood booster – but be careful of exercise that allows you to ruminate. For example, walking can provide uninterrupted time to dwell obsessively on your troubles.
  7. Stay in contact. When you’re having a lousy day, it’s tempting to retreat into isolation. Studies show, though, that contact with other people boosts mood. So try to see or talk to people, especially people you’re close to.
  8. Things really will look brighter in the morning. Go to bed early and start the next day anew. Also, sleep deprivation puts a drag on mood in the best of circumstances, so a little extra sleep will do you good.
  9. Remind yourself of your other identities. If you feel like a loser at work, send out a blast email to engage with college friends. If you think members of the PTA are mad at you, don’t miss the spinning class where everyone knows and likes you.
  10. Keep perspective. Ask yourself: “Will this matter in a month? In a year?”
  11. Write it down. When something horrible is consuming my mind, I find that if I write up a paragraph or two about the situation, I get immense relief.
  12. Be grateful. Remind yourself that a lousy day isn’t a catastrophic day. Be grateful that you’re still on the “lousy” spectrum. Probably, things could be worse.