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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ads Pull Gates from Behind Windows Curtain

It is not very often that we are allowed to see the wizard, so it is a breath of fresh air to see Bill Gates open his rainbow window to say hello to legions of users. The premiere of the Microsoft Windows commercial last week during the first NFL game of the season (Go Giants) gave us a look at how Microsoft plans to counteract (or attack) the infamous Apple vs. Windows commercials.

Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates - what a pair? Bill Gates, never really a showman, demonstrates a cooler side in this first commerical as he, one of the world's richest men, shops at a discount shoe store. Seinfeld plays it up well with Gates. But does all the nerd mocking and Gates shorts adjusting matter at the end of the dueling technology day? Microsoft seems to think so.

Although not a brilliant commericial, the fact that there is a Microsoft commercial featuring Gates and Seinfeld created all the buzz the dominating brand needed. The first of many anticipated commercials only showed the iconic Windows symbol once at the end, but the intrigue behind seeing Bill Gates shopping with Jerry Seinfeld was more than enough to peak curiosities.

One thing I did get out of the commercial is that Microsoft is finally feeling the pressure to compete in a world it has dominated for nearly three decades. Apple is a force to be reckoned with and finally Microsoft is waking up from a dreamy period of bliss to realize that its time to come out swinging.

As a devoted Microsoft user, I applaud these marketing efforts. There is nothing wrong with a little friendly competition (and salvation). I just hope that behind all of the hoopla of the advertising campaign that the geeks in Redmond are working very hard in the research and development department to innovate once again.

Shakira Brown is a partner with,Branding4newbies (B4N), a full service consulting firm providing marketing, communications, branding and web strategy services to small and emerging businesses. is an award-winning marketing and advice blog for entrepreneurs. B4N's team of professionals provide quality services at competitive prices to help support the advancement of small businesses. Its services include, but are not limited to: web strategy & development, graphic design, public relations, marketing, collateral material development, advertising, content development, search engine optimization, reputation management and business strategy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Big Business - Stop Telling Us About Surcharge Fees!

What ever happened to the good old days when companies raised their prices and didnt bother to tell us why or for what? What is with all the surcharge fee disclosure?

It seems that corporate America and a few enterprising local government authorities are disclosing that consumers are paying more for certain reasons. American Airlines and United Airlines have instituted checked baggage fees and some local police departments are adding fuel surchages to speeding tickets. Why are they giving names to new fees?

Has everyone forgotten how to raise prices? I remember when companies needed to make more profits they would raise prices in a way that Joe Consumer would accept without complaint. But adding fees for services that use to be free causes outrage and upoar. The whole checked baggage fee issue has created a public relations debacle.

It would have been a lot smarter if the eggheads over at American and United simply increased the cost of airfare across the board. Most people do not know how the cost of their airfare until they start searching for flights. An extra added $15 or $30 to a ticket would not have raised eyebrows. Anyone who flies at least once a year knows that the cost of an airline ticket varies based on the time of day, how far in advance you book etc.

Creating a new charge for checking bags only adds insult to injury. With over 40 years of free checked baggage, we all have an entitlement attitude about checked baggage. The same goes for food service on planes. Free beverages, snacks and meals have been a pleasant perk. No one wants to pay $2 for something that has been free for years. Like hotels charge "resort fees", airlines could have added a "hospitality fee" to the price of airfare and no one would have been the wiser.

I urge big business and police authorities to stop announcing new fees. Be smart, raise the cost of our tickets and keep all the reasons to yourself -- it is better for your brand and business.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sharon Stone Should Be More Careful of What She Says

Sharon Stone has ostracized an entire nation of people from seeing her movies. Her brash comments about the tragic earthquake in China in May has banned her from the country. Although she may have meant well in her comments alluding to the fact that the Chinese may have been getting their "come up-ins" because of the their treatment of Tibet it certainly didn't come out that way.

Ms. Stone is an experienced actresses,now in her 50's with a good 20 years of Hollywood under her belt. Why she thought such negative comments would be received well by the longtime Communist government of China is beyond me. She should have known that Chinese leadres are unforgiving.

Can she repair the damage? Not likely, with the Chinese. Should she learn from her mistakes? Absolutely!

Even small business leaders should learn from Ms. Stone's improper mincing of words. You have to be carefull what you say to the public. You always have to remember that your personal brand - is indeed yours- and you are the only one to protect it.

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Business leaders should watch what they say to their employees, customers/clients and the media. Always, have your guard up and never get caught with your hands in the cookie jar.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Miley Cyrus - If it walks like a duck...

Miley Cyrus is under fire for taking very risque photos for Vanity Fair magazine. She is posed NUDE with a sheet draping her underage body. My first question - who approved such a photo? Next Question - have the person(s) involved with approving the salacious photos been fired from her team of advisers?

Miley Cyrus is a franchise - a Disney frachise. Disney is batting zero with keeping its teen stars squeaky clean. Jamie-Lynn Spears is 16 years -old and pregnant and a star from High School Musical was embarassed by her own set of super sexy photos.

Who is protecting the brand of these stars? My guess - no one. Are there parents so caught in the paychecks of the young teen stars that they have forgotten how to be parents? Miley Cyrus sells out stadiums faster than established rockers who have been touring for 20 years. Why would anyone jeopardize the Hannah Montana franchise? My guess is that it was never in jeopardy.

Let's face it - if Jamie-lynn Spears still has a Disney contract with a 16 years old pregnant belly than Miley taking semi-nude kiddy porn labeled "artistic" is mild. Disney like the rest of nation realizes that family values are dead. But what happened to Disney's integrity? What happened to celebrity integrity and protecting a personal brand?

Recently, I heard Carol Alt - a former super model- talk about how she easily transitioned from the runway to being a entrepreneur with a niche in women's wellness. She said something that resonated with me. Alt cited her ability to keep the "Carol Alt name clean" throughout her 20 years of modeling as the reason she has been able to be an icon for women's health and fitness. Carol Alt made sure that she didn't do anything that would tarnish and ruin the Alt brand. Today, she benefits from keeping her personal brand clean and is able to get decent work and be respected.

Miley Cyrus might be able to come out of the public relations debacle, but she has broken the seal on her innocence. Perhaps, today's young rising stars can tear a page out of Carol Alt's book of personal branding. And I have one note of advice to Annie Leibowitz, the photographer that coaxed Cyrus in the provocative pose, the next time you photograph an underage teenager ... grab a teddy bear instead of a sheet.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Small Businesses: If You Have a Website – Make Sure it is Free of Errors

Recently, I put out a bid for a new printer. Within hours of posting my bid, I received dozens of estimates for my print job. One of the printers sent me a very reasonable price for my print job and because I am a savvy consumer , I was intrigued.

When I learn about a new company, the first thing I do is go the company website. So I clicked a link to the website from the email I received from the print shop. The company’s website looked modern, it was clean and looked good. Because I know a thing or two about websites, I determined that it was created from a template. But it was a decent template so that didn’t bother me so much.

Just as I was starting to feel good about the print company and its fabulous pricing, my eyes wandered to the upper right corner of the print company’s home page. There was a decently designed logo. But because I have an eye for detail, I looked closer. To my horror, I saw a typo in the tagline of the logo. The tagline said “Pint with Confidence. Print with Us” Pint? Is this also an ice cream shop? No – the word in the tagline should have been PRINT! Hello Printing – is the business. Obviously, I do not have any confidence in the printer that cannot produce a logo with confidence. Oh and this mistake is in the live text on the home page and appears as the first line of text that generates in search engine results.

How could this be? How could a business owner have a company website longer than a week and not notice that his very own logo and first line of text has typos?

My first reaction was that the owner of this small business entrusted the design of the website and logo to someone that he or she felt was capable. But why wouldn’t this owner not thoroughly examine the final website before launch or take a look at it once and a while? Or worse, that the owner employs people that are not detailed oriented haven’t noticed the typos either. The fact is many small business owners do not understand the value of a website. A website represents what your company is and what your company stands for.

As a buyer of print services, I look for a printer that produces an excellent final product. That means printed materials free of errors caused by the printer. I have had my share of horror stories with printers. My previous printer once sent me a proof to approve with half of my client’s company logo cutoff. When it comes to printed materials I am a stickler. (Well – anyone would be angry about a logo being cutoff!) But there is never an excuse for giving poor quality work to a customer to approve - never.

Obviously, I will not entrust my print job to a printer that has a serious typo in its own logo. If the owner or even the employees of the print shop haven’t noticed an error in its logo or tagline on the site how will they see errors in my print job? This is the rationale that any smart, detailed-oriented business leader would have in this situation.

Companies that have a website should follow these three simple rules:

1. Keep your site up-to-date: Don’t walk away from your website once it is built. Small businesses need not have fresh posts to the company website every day. However, a fresh customer testimonial, updates about services or new clients is nice to add to the home page.

2. Check for typos and misspellings: Have your websites reviewed for errors by fresh eyes. Your webmaster and designer will more than likely miss a few typos.

3. Treat your website as part of your brand: Your website is an extension of your business and brand. If you change the branding of your business make sure it is translated on your website. Most importantly, if you offer an email address on your site for customer comments and questions, make sure you respond promptly as you would if the customer walked into your establishment.

Nobody will ever say that running your own small business is easy. If you pay attention to the details in all aspects of your business and you will never lose a customer like myself. Don’t let website typographical errors or other nonsense not directly related to the quality of your product or service ruin a potential business relationship.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Lost Consumers - Ages 45-65 Are Ignored by Marketers

I live in the New York Metropolitan area so most of the radios stations I listen to in my car are based in New York. (For the record, I still listen to radio because it is free!) I am in my 30s and yes I like to listen to Top 40 like most people my age, but sometimes I just want to listen to easy listening music and jazz.

The other day I pushed button #4 on the radio console of my car which is the favorite button I programmed for "Smooth Jazz" CD 101.9. I pushed the button and outcomes an electric guitar heavy rock song blaring out of my speakers. I thought - this can't be right, so I pushed it again. Same song. WHAT ? I looked at the tuner and it said 101.9. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! CD 101.9 changed formats? When did this happen? No more Kenny G or Michael McDonald? This can't be.

CD 101.9 as we know it has gone the way of the dinosaur folks. Do you know why? Because the people who pay the bills over at the radio station can't make top dollar on ads because the companies paying top dollar don't want to market to people over the age of 45. (Metamucil anyone?)

Here is the sad message left about the change in format on the OLD CD 101.9 website:

Dear CD101.9 Smooth Jazz Listeners,

The staff of CD101.9 would like to thank you for your support over these past 20 years of Smooth Jazz CD101.9. Due to a declining audience for Smooth Jazz over the past few years, we are sad to announce that Smooth Jazz will no longer be available on the 101.9 signal. On February 5th we launched an innovative new adult rock format on the 101.9 frequency called 101.9 RXP The New York Rock Experience. 101.9 RXP is a respectful and intelligent mix of new music, classic rock and alternative - we invite you to try it. If you are solely a Smooth Jazz lover, "Smooth Jazz CD101.9" will continue to exist on our HD2 channel. Just purchase an HD capable radio and you will be able to listen to your favorite Smooth Jazz artists for free as always! will continue to provide you with upcoming smooth jazz events in association with the HD2 channel, and if you are a member of the CD101.9 Loyal Listener Club you will continue to receive e-mail updates.

If you do not have an HD radio and are not a fan of Rock, we invite you to try 98.7 Kiss FM The Best Variety of Old School and Today's R&B as an alternative. Listen to 98.7 Kiss FM for your chance to pick up tickets to the "Concert In Red" Valentine's concert at the Beacon Theatre February 14th. It's one of the many amazing shows coming in 2008 that you can find out about on 98.7 Kiss FM.

We hope that this note finds you sharing the same excitement that we feel! We look forward to many more years of providing New York with Smooth Jazz in HD, and The New York Rock Experience on 101.9 RXP!

Please if you would like to leave a comment, email us at

Less people are listening to Jazz? There are more people age 55 and older than ever. There is a market for easy listening. Unfortunately, advertisers don't care to market to the folks that listen to this type of music. The worst part about this whole debacle is that they are asking people "of a certain age" to go out and buy a
HD2 channel capable radio without explaining what it is or why they need it. Now that's a way to confuse a non-tech savvy demographic.

I am a media professional and I read that traditional analog stations were going to start broadcasting on frequenicies that have never been used. It has been some time since I have seen anything written about it or discussed on news programs. Do the programming and communications folks at 101.9 REALLY think that their older listeners know what the HD capable radio stuff is all about? They do not bother to explain in the note why people need to buy a special radio to listen to their old station. Instead, there is a button on the top of the site called "The Future" which delves in to HD2. Good news - if you buy the HD2 radio - you can hear commercial free radio. Sounds like satellite radio WITHOUT the monthly fees folks! Woo hoo!

As a teenager, I shunned the easy listening and jazz for heavy metal (a phase) and hip hop. Now that I am approaching "a certain age" easy listening is a great compliment to the music I have been listening to for 20 years. The HD2 situation is not all bleak - I suppose after you purchase the HD2 radio you can hear other stations offering commercial free music. But there was nothing like pushing #4 on my radio console and getting smooth jazz without the hassle.

And a note to consumer product companies - people ages 45-65 like to spend money too and oh yeah the older demograhic is quite loyal - didn't you know?

HD Radio Tuners are available at Best Buy Car Electronics

Pioneer HD Radio Tuner for Select Pioneer Headunits

Sony HD Radio Tuner for Select Sony In-Dash Decks

Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama's Former Pastor Speaks Out - Again

Were Dr. Rev. Jeremiah Wright's miscontrued? Democratic candidate Barack Obama's former pastor claims that his words have been twisted. Wright,an alumnae of Howard University, provided copy of a letter to the editor he submitted to the New York Times Reporter, Jodi Kantor to his alma mater which in turn blasted it out to various people. I was one of those people. Here is a copy of the letter. Has the media twisted Wright's words to create a firestorm around Senator Obama? Read the letter and decide:

March 11, 2007
Jodi Kantor
The New York Times
9 West 43rd Street
New York,
New York 10036-3959

Dear Jodi:

Thank you for engaging in one of the biggest misrepresentations of the truth I have ever seen in sixty-five years. You sat and shared with me for two hours. You told me you were doing a “Spiritual Biography” of Senator Barack Obama. For two hours, I shared with you how I thought he was the most principled individual in public service that I have ever met.

For two hours, I talked with you about how idealistic he was. For two hours I shared with you what a genuine human being he was. I told you how incredible he was as a man who was an African American in public service, and as a man who refused to announce his candidacy for President until Carol Moseley Braun indicated one way or the other whether or not she was going to run.

I told you what a dreamer he was. I told you how idealistic he was. We talked about how refreshing it would be for someone who knew about Islam to be in the Oval Office. Your own question to me was, Didn’t I think it would be incredible to have somebody in the Oval Office who not only knew about Muslims, but had living and breathing Muslims in his own family? I told you how important it would be to have a man who not only knew the difference between Shiites and Sunnis prior to 9/11/01 in the Oval Office, but also how important it would be to have a man who knew what Sufism was; a man who understood that there were different branches of Judaism; a man who knew the difference between Hasidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews and Reformed Jews; and a man who was a devout Christian, but who did not prejudge others because they believed something other than what he believed.

I talked about how rare it was to meet a man whose Christianity was not just “in word only.” I talked about Barack being a person who lived his faith and did not argue his faith. I talked about Barack as a person who did not draw doctrinal lines in the sand nor consign other people to hell if they did not believe what he believed.

Out of a two-hour conversation with you about Barack’s spiritual journey and my protesting to you that I had not shaped him nor formed him, that I had not mentored him or made him the man he was, even though I would love to take that credit, you did not print any of that. When I told you, using one of your own Jewish stories from the Hebrew Bible as to how God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?,” that Barack was like that when I met him. Barack had it “in his hand.” Barack had in his grasp a uniqueness in terms of his spiritual development that one is hard put to find in the 21st century, and you did not print that.

As I was just starting to say a moment ago, Jodi, out of two hours of conversation I spent approximately five to seven minutes on Barack’s taking advice from one of his trusted campaign people and deeming it unwise to make me the media spotlight on the day of his announcing his candidacy for the Presidency and what do you print? You and your editor proceeded to present to the general public a snippet, a printed “sound byte” and a titillating and tantalizing article about his disinviting me to the Invocation on the day of his announcing his candidacy.

I have never been exposed to that kind of duplicitous behavior before, and I want to write you publicly to let you know that I do not approve of it and will not be party to any further smearing of the name, the reputation, the integrity or the character of perhaps this nation’s first (and maybe even only) honest candidate offering himself for public service as the person to occupy the Oval Office.

Your editor is a sensationalist. For you to even mention that makes me doubt your credibility, and I am looking forward to see how you are going to butcher what else I had to say concerning Senator Obama’s “Spiritual Biography.” Our Conference Minister, the Reverend Jane Fisler Hoffman, a white woman who belongs to a Black church that Hannity of “Hannity and Colmes” is trying to trash, set the record straight for you in terms of who I am and in terms of who we are as the church to which Barack has belonged for over twenty years.

The president of our denomination, the Reverend John Thomas, has offered to try to help you clarify in your confused head what Trinity Church is even though you spent the entire weekend with us setting me up to interview me for what turned out to be a smear of the Senator; and yet The New York Times continues to roll on making the truth what it wants to be the truth. I do not remember reading in your article that Barack had apologized for listening to that bad information and bad advice. Did I miss it? Or did your editor cut it out? Either way, you do not have to worry about hearing anything else from me for you to edit or “spin” because you are more interested in journalism than in truth.

Forgive me for having a momentary lapse. I forgot that The New York Times was leading the bandwagon in trumpeting why it is we should have gone into an illegal war. The New York Times became George Bush and the Republican Party’s national “blog.” The New York Times played a role in the outing of Valerie Plame. I do not know why I thought The New York Times had actually repented and was going to exhibit a different kind of behavior.

Maybe it was my faith in the Jewish Holy Day of Roshashana. Maybe it was my being caught up in the euphoria of the Season of Lent; but whatever it is or was, I was sadly mistaken. There is no repentance on the part of The New York Times. There is no integrity when it comes to The Times. You should do well with that paper, Jodi. You looked me straight in my face and told me a lie!

Sincerely and respectfully yours,
Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. ,
Senior Pastor
Trinity United Church of Christ

(end of letter)

What do you think - is Wright a victim of the media or has he said too much?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lessons Learned from Pfizer: Choose A Spokesperson Carefully

Having a spokesperson for your business is only a good idea if the spokesperson truly represents your message. Using a celebrity either of the hollywood or ground-breaking kind can really give your product or service a boost. But when the chosen spokesperson is scrutinized for not being all that your company purports, your company receives unintended negative attention.

That is what happened to Pfizer recently when its commercials featuring Robert Jarvik were scrutized for offering "misimpressions." You might remember Jarvik as the pioneer behind the artificial heart. In Pfizer commericals for Lipitor, Jarvik refers to himself as a physician. It is that reference that is under scrutiny.

You see Jarvik is not a practicing physician - anywhere at this time. I have seen the television commericals featuring Jarvik (prior to the scrutiny) and I wondered whether he was still a practicing physician myself. You see I remember all of the hubbub over the artificial heart and I know for a fact that I was just a little girl. It was at least 28 years ago. So when I saw the commerical for the first time, I said to myself "is this guy really still a doctor?" Obviously, that same thought came to the minds of the Federal Drug Administration officials - hence the removal of the ad campaign.

So Pfizer has now pulled all of the ads featuring Jarvik. But I wonder who were the marketing and advertising executives that thought it was okay to have a non-practicing physician reference being a doctor or physcian in an advertisement? Had someone on the advertising team (external or internal) raised their hand and asked "Can we have Jarvik reference being a physician even though he is currently not?" I would not be writing about this topic. But alas, I am because someone on Pfizer's team failed to do their due diligence on the matter. Just think, if he had only referenced his experience in the medical field rather than calling himself a physician these ads would have been fine and still effective. Who would lik

The lesson here is to choose your celebrity carefully and conduct due diligence. Yes, it might be nice to have a local celebrity represent your car dealership in ads and commercials, but it will do your business no good if that same celebrity has a record of DUI's and perhaps one of them driving one of your cars.

Do your business and yourself a favor: when selecting a company spokesman make sure you ask the right questions of your spokesman and your marketing team. Avoid embarrassing moments like having to pull all of your advertising (which wastes money) and having to apologize to your customers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Industry Ticks Up and Down Can Yield Opportunities for Small Businesses

In the Wall Street Journal's Small Business section, a story ran about how a small cleaning company was reaping the benefits of the housing downturn/subprime fiasco. Because many homes have gone into foreclosure or people are simply walking away (leaving physical and financial messes behind), banks are left with homes that are not clean or presentable enough to put on the market. That is where the small business came in.

The small cleaning company was able to secure multiple contracts with realtors eager to put foreclosed homes on the market. The cleaning company actually got a surge in new business because of the housing crisis.

The above is a great example of how to innovate your business to keep pace with market trends. No matter what industry, you can create opportunities generate new business to establish an edge over your competition.

Eco-friendly products and services are huge. Is there a way for your business to take advantage of the green phenomenon? Examine your business for green opportunities. If you run a business that uses chemicals for various purposes, are there green products you can use or offer your customers? Can your use green office supplies or institute green policies to save energy at your company? Seize the opportunities and once you establish your green initiative, you market your efforts via your website or promotional materials.

Buy Green& Save Green on Earth Friendly Products at Office Depot!

In order to ride the wave of today's trends, your small business must constantly look for ways to leverage what's hot in the marketplace. Keep in mind your competitors might be looking for an edge up to, so be vigilant and leverage industry ups and downs to maximize your company's performance.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Maximize Holidays to Boost Your Brand and Sales

On the morning of Valentine's Day, as I neared my office in New York City I noticed a new street vendor. As I got closer, I noticed that it was a hotdog truck. I thought it was odd for a hotdog truck to be open for business at 7:45 am, but then I noticed that he wasn't selling hotdogs.

The truck had been transformed into a street-side Valentine's Day gift shop. He had large gift baskets wrapped in red cellophane with teddy bears and candy stuffed inside. The gift items were displayed in the customer window and he setup three tables in front of the truck that were stacked with Valentine items. Behind the woman in the customer window you can see the soft serve ice cream machine (obviously not running in 30 degree temperatures) which I am certain gets lots of use during the summer months. They even had roses for sale in a bucket of water.

The hotdog truck vendor made good use out of his truck to benefit and hopefully profit off of what I call a built-in marketing opportunity - Valentine's Day. Hate it or love it is here to stay. And as long as people are willing to spend money on flowers and candy, retailers will always promote it.

Obviously, this street vendor knows a thing or two about consumers. If you bring it, they will come. The spot where he was setup has thousands of professionals and tourists walking by. He is sure to sell his items to those who need a quick gift on the run.

Sometimes a simple idea can lead to big profts. When a high profile holiday comes around, consider doing a promotion of your own. For some businesses, it may not be appropriate to take advantage of a holiday. But for retailers and restaurants, leverage built-in marketing opportuntities such as President's Day, Christmas or Mother's Day can give your business a jolt.

I have noticed that more and more restaurants have "Mardi Gra" promotions. Who said it is only celebrated in New Orleans. For the last several years, chain restaurants all over the country now promote Mardi Gra by giving out beads, decorating and having special "Fat Tuesday" promotions. The idea is if you cannot make it to New Orleans you can still celebrate at INSERT YOUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT HERE.

Check the calendar for the next big holiday. Maybe there is a way for you to leverage the holiday and market your company.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Recession Proof Your Business with Steady Marketing

During down times, many large companies make cutbacks to departments that are considered excessive overhead. In many cases, the marketing department is the first to conduct layoffs and cutbacks in a down economy. For a large multi-million or billion dollar company that may mean releasing half of a 100 person marketing workforce and reducing advertising spending by 50%. Even with a reduction, large organizations can still have a decent amount of marketing to get the job done. Smaller firms should not follow this approach and actually do the complete opposite -keep spending.

Economists are forecasting that we are heading toward a recession (with some saying we are in one already.) Small competitive businesses should not look to cutback on their marketing and advertising. In fact, small businesses should be spending as much as money possible on marketing to keep new business opportunities coming in.

For business-to-business companies the strategy is simple, invest in marketing and advertising to increase/maintain your company's brand awareness. In no way do I suggest that small businesses divert all dollars toward marketing and branding efforts. Instead, small firms should consider maintaining or stepping up existing marketing initiatives. This could mean taking out a few extra targeted ads in print publications or conducting a smart online ad campaign on high traffic website your customers might visit. It also means keeping your sales force strong and providing additional incentives to keep them motivated.

Business-to-consumer firms should offer more incentives to keep customers spending. Perhaps, offer reduced prices on slow moving inventory to generate more sales. Post new banners and signs in store front windows letting your customers know about deals you are offering. Start a Do-It-Yourself email marketing campaign to increase buzz. If you have a nice office or store space, offer your space for a charity event and draft a press release to send to local media.

When it comes to advertising, you may find that publishers might be willing to reduce advertising fees due to a decrease in advertising volume. You might be able to negotiate rates for a series of advertisements that meet your budget. Maximize your ad dollars by placing ads in programs or journals at business events in your area. There are many ways to advertise without breaking the bank, investigate the opportunities that best meet your business goals.

Brand awareness is essential to the ongoing success of your business. Make sure that when the economy is at its worst that you are poised to remain competitive and provide services as you always have. Stay top of mind and make it easy for your customers and clients to continue spending their dollars with your business.

About the Author:
Shakira Brown is an award-winning public relations and marketing professional with nearly 15 years of experience in radio, print, and television journalism and corporate communications. She has worked with high profile news broadcasters, entertainers, moguls, financial experts, small business owners and c-suite level executives in various industries. Learn more about Ms. Brown at and

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl Ads: The Smart, the Bold and the Funny

It was no doubt a great football game. The New York Giants gave it their all to beat the once thought unbeatable New England Patriots. But admidst all the excitement was the high price legendary Super Bowl advertising blitz. Some big brands spent their advertising dollars wiser than others, but there were some clear stand out favorites. But I must mention that those who did spend the millions to run their ad during the super bowl invested well since the ads will get even more exposure from where the ads can live on in infamy - at least for a little. This is due to FOX (which ran the game) and Myspace both being owned by News Corp. which is clever in leveraging its popular social networking site.

A few years ago, a little internet technology company named spent major bucks on its first television ad that ran during the Super Bowl. (Those who are fans might remember an attractive woman in a court scene in a skimpy outfit that few have forgotten.) It was a very sexy commercial which had everyone buzzing and talking about Godaddy. This year, instead of giving one of their sexy ads direct to Super Bowl viewers, they chose to use the ad to tease the sexy ad now appearing on the website. This ad was smart because there is no better way for an internet-based company to get consumers to its site than to have a sexy video running on that will no doubt become viral. Plus, they will more than likely convert many of the gawkers into paid clients. A smart move indeed.

Bridgestone over the last years has been marred by a tire scandal and definitely needs a fresh start with consumers. Two Bridgrstone commercials ran during the game that were quite humorous. One featured furry animals screaming in fright as a car with Bridestone tires came barreling toward them (no animals appeared to be harmed.) Another featured metal legend Alice Cooper and exercise guru Richard Simmons who escaped being run down by a car with Bridgestone tires. These were fun and light-hearted ads that appealed to animal lovers and Richard Simmons haters.

My favorite commercial was the Diet Pepsi Max (energy beverage) commercial featuring the song "What is love?" by 90's one hit wonder, Haddaway. You might recall a skit from Saturday Night Live (SNL) by Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan dressed in shiny suits going club hopping and incessantly bopping their head to the Haddaway tune. Well, the Pepsi Max commercial played on the head bop by showing actors and well-know celebrites needing a little boost of energy to get their heads bopping. Some of celebs featured included: Troy Aikman, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott and LL Cool J. After getting fueled with the beverage, everyone was shown bopping their heads to the tune just like the famous SNL skit. Chris Kattan made a cameo at the end yelling "stop it" - seeming annoyed that everyone was STILL doing his old routine. This commercial used an infamous tv skit to get its point across. Brilliant!

Audi used a memorable scene from The Godfather to introduce its new luxury muscle car the "R8". The commercial took The Godfather scene in which a movie executive wakes up screaming in horror to find that his sheets are wet with the blood of his thoroughbred horse's head that was lying at the foot of his bed. In the commercial, the actor wakes up to find oil all over his beautiful sheets and the front end of his luxury car (could it have been a Mercedes?) at the foot of his bed. The commercial ends with the R8 racing of the man's estate. I loved this commercial because it used the same intimidation The Godfather's Corleone family did to "send a message" to its foes. Of course, those who have never seen The Godfather were oblivious to this, but those few should check the movie out.

Fox was the biggest winner. The network intertwined its Super Bowl coverage with branding from its new show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The NFL on FOX has a big football player robot that jumps around during interstitials. During the game, the NFL robot still jumped around, but had a few encounters with the Terminator robot. They battled for three interstitials with the last one ending with the Terminator robot being approached by two other NFL robots. The use of these built-in interstitials to promote network programming was extremely clever and done quite effectively. Although, I do not watch the Terminator program (and I have no intention on watching it) I appreciated the co-branding and thought behind the promotion.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alcatel Lucent Allegedly Lays Off Employees via Email

When you fire employees via email it is information that will spread quickly. Unfortunately, I learned that Alcatel Lucent allegedly laid off some of its employees via an email. I actually met someone who was one of four Alcatel Lucent employees in New Jersey allegedly emailed that they were being let go on January 25. It was simple, they arrived at work, logged into their computer, checked their email and learned their fate.

Obviously, this is not the way to handle a lay off. Perhaps it is a cultural difference in the french company Alcatel and the american employees of Alcatel Lucent in New Jersey. Maybe it is standard to inform employees in France that they will be unemployed via email, but that is not the case in the United States.

I heard that all of the employees retained a copy of the alleged ill-fated email which is why this is a bad idea. Anything electronic can go mobile quickly. The employees receiving the bad emailed news can hit forward and send it to everyone in their department or the company. The worse case scenario is that the disgruntled former employees start forwarding the note outside the company. That is when the company at fault loses control of the situation causing a public relations fiasco.

A business should never provide negative news via electronic communications. In certain circumstances an email might be a solution to get important news out quickly. But there are few circumstance that should cause individuals to find out they are losing their jobs via an emotionless, remorseless email.

Emailing company news is only appropriate when it is not unique to an individual. Sometimes company news about merger and acquisitions can come via an email or letter and then later followed by a company-wide live meeting. Most large and small organizations handle individual employee news with care. It is unfortunate to hear that such a useful and effective tool such as email is being used to handle sensitive company business. Do yourself and your company a favor, dissemminate company and employee news with care.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Small Businesses Shouldn't Try to Be Something They are Not

Recently, I entered a small street level eatery which appeared to be your standard pizza shop. It had neon signs in the window with the name of the establishment "Joe's Italian Kitchen" and the word "pizza". Seeing a neon sign means to me this is a casual eatery where I can get fast food. (How many upscale restaurant's have you seen with neon signage? Not many I would guess.)

I entered the shop and went to a counter where two people stood. One was an older woman on the phone taking an order. I asked for two slices. The young lady said to me that they didn't have slices. I thought perhaps she meant there were no pizzas at the time for slices. The older woman (who I believe was an owner) got off the phone and explained that they do not sell slices, but rather individual thin crust pizzas for $5.95 each. Let me just say that this place looked like a regular fast food pizza joint. Two inexpensive tables, soda and juice fridges, and nondescript decor. No pizza slices? Remember the neon sign did say "pizza", usually an indication of very casual dining.

The thought in offering the individual pizzas I believe is that every customer will get their own fresh pie. But this was a shop on a busy street. What about those who want to just get a QUICK slice to go?

My issue is that is not easy to convert a $2 slice purchase that takes two mintutes into a $6 pie purchase that would probably take 10 - 15 minutes. So why bother? I have a feeling that this "Italian Kitchen" is trying to be something it is not - a nice italian restaurant. But it has all the looks and feel of a pizza shop. The best part of this is that there is a REAL PIZZA SHOP about 30 yards away on the same side of the street that sells slices. So that is where I ended up.

The average person walks into a pizza shop looking for a slice. So sell it to them. Most pizzeria's mark up the slices about 40% per slice. For instance you can buy a large cheese pie for $9.50 but purchase a slice for $2. This is a great revenue stream.

If you want to brand your restaurant as a fine italian restaurant don't use standard pizza shop branding like a neon sign and nondescript decor. Quite frankly, if they didnt have the neon sign that said pizza, I would not have wasted my time going in there. Make sure your storefront branding matches what you really are. This will prevent disappointed customers leaving your establishment to spend money elsewhere.

I do understand that it is up to indiviual proprietors to sell the merchandise they wish, but you have to be smart about it. When I walked into the restaurant I mentioned above, they were taking a phone order, but they were NOT bursting at the seam with customers. They lost my sale, I just wonder how many customers they lose each day to their competitor just 30 yards away because they have made the decision not to sell slices. I wish that the restaurant looked at selling pizza slices as a way to market their food and not a way to diminish it. Perhaps they could have converted me into a new customer. I sometimes drive 20 minutes away to buy A whole pizza pies from a place that I fell in love with when I purchased just a slice at lunch one day. Joe's Italian Kitchen won't get that from me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Virtual Small Businesses Can Thrive with the Right Technology

Office space and equipment can be very pricey. The decision to start a small business usually hinges on the start-up costs. Fortunately, high-speed internet connections and online business productivity tools can help you start-up and run a business that is both professional and efficient.

For instance, I run a small public relations consultancy. I originally started out using my cell phone number as my business number. On the website I created for free with Microsoft Office Live Basic, I wanted my website to be found easily, so I did a little search engine optimization (SEO) to make sure that those who needed my services could find me via search engines.

Well, I had done such a good job with my SEO, that my website was coming up when people were searching a certain Columbian singer who shares my first name. (I dare not mention her name with the fear that it will have consequences.) People from all over the world were calling me looking for the singer. I was getting calls from the Ukraine at 3 am! I was receiving emails from people professing that they were my biggest fans. It was terrible.

I needed to remove my cell phone number and email address pronto. Because I do not like overhead, so I started searching for free voicemail services online. I lucked in when I found NetZero’s Private Phone. Basically, you can have a phone number and area code from your business area ring directly to a voicemail – all for free. The best part is you can set it to ring a number of times, rather than go straight to voicemail. It is really a great free way to have a telephone number for a small business. I also set it up to send me an email and text message to my cell when I have a new voicemail. This solved the problem with the crazy phone calls. I solved the problem with the emails by setting up an email contact form on my website rather than provide my direct email. (Unfortunately, I just learned that Private Phone will be discontinued as of February 19, 2008, so I will need to find a new service.)

For small businesses that have employees that work remotely, services such as WebEx MeetMeNow can help your remote employees better collaborate with each other. MeetMeNowallows small business owners to engage clients and customers in a formal setting. MeetMeNow gives you unlimited, cost-effective, and easy-to-use web meetings on demand.

Ring Central is a communications productivity tool that can help you run a smoother virtual business. It can give you all the appearances of running a brick and mortar business. Basically you can have a virtual phone system from $9.99/mo. Ring Central takes the hassle out of communications and allows small business owners to focus on their business.

If you are running a small business, I highly recommend you utilize online productivity tools. For one they will help you and your staff work more efficiently. But they also help to give your company a feel of it being a professional establishment, which is important to your overall branding. Go the extra mile with your business to make it great for your employees as well as your clients and/or customers.

Here is another helpful productivity tool:

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    Find out for yourself how GoToMeeting can change the way you do business.

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  • Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Selling A Lifestyle Rather Than A Product Can Be Your Next Innovation

    Recently, I walked through Penn Station train station in New York and noticed a theme with regard to the display advertising. Kellogg's had purchased every display ad area on two levels (at least) to promote its Special K brand. Special K is a cereal, but Kelloggs has reinvented this cereal brand into a lifestyle product.

    Each ad displayed another Special K product which is not only a cereal now, but a line of protein meal bars, protein water, waffles, protein water mix, protein snack bars and cereal bars. Kelloggs has turned a breakfast cereal into a way of life. It's campaign "Re Solution" clearly promotes the weight management use of the products. I think this is a smart direction to move from the breakfast table into the lives of the diet conscious everywhere.

    Small businesses can take this strategy and make it work. Think of new ways to promote your brand. Is there a way to increase the use of your service to meet the needs of more people? Can your product line expand to reach other consumers. These are all questions business leaders should ask themselves regularly.

    You never know where your next competitor will come from, so you must always be on the edge of innovation. Get a team of your best thought leaders together and figure out how to take your product or service to the next level.

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    Abandoning A Dying Trade Might Leave a Monopoly

    Recently, I was looking into ordering reprints made for an article that a client was featured in. When my assistant called the company we worked with last year, she found that they had been bought buy a larger provider. The estimate the larger company gave her for a one page color reprint was twice the amount we paid for a 4 page color reprint purchased just under six months ago. When we tried to negotiate, they dismissed us without trying to win our business. The fact is they have a monopoly.

    As we later found out, almost all of the reprint companies we called six month ago had been gobbled up by bigger players. I remember getting estimates from several companies and they were all willing to low-ball each other. Now, with only the big boys left, there is no more negotiating, just outrageous prices.

    Hot Offer (1.6-1.12) (2)Should the smaller reprint companies have sold-out? For some it might have been the only alternative for others, I think they just gave up. The print business is re-invention mode and maybe the owners of reprint companies felt they didn't stand a chance in the digital world. But the smaller reprinters who were willing to negotiate pricing for companies with small marketing budgets has helped the larger print publishing companies become monolopolies.

    Being the last one standing is a benefit in this case. The larger reprinters now are getting all of the business without competitive pricing. I am now trying to help my client negotiate with the magazine directly for reprint permission, so they can have them printed up themselves. It is a small magazine so it shouldn't be a problem. In the end, the larger reprinters might find that reprints will become less popular due to the enormous cost to produce them.

    I also noticed that one hour photo desks at large retailers are disappearing. In Pennsylvania Station in NYC, there is a K-mart that used to have a one hour photo desk on the main aisle where commuters walked by. You didn't even have to go in the store, it was right there on the aisle for commuters to dip in and out on their way home.

    Kodak EasyShare Gallery Today, I walked by and notcied that the one hour photo has been replaced with a quickie pharmacy department. Now commuters can dip in and out for their favorite meds. With more than 50% of Americans printing their own digital photos, one hour photo shops are becoming a thing of the past. But I am sure for the precious few that hang on, they will be compelled to charge outrageous prices at some point, just because they can.

    But I know one thing for sure, there is no chance that precription drugs will disappear anytime soon. For every ache and pain there is a medicine. The quickie pharmacy department at the train station is a brilliant idea. As long as there are still diseases, ailments and illness, pharmaceutical retail sales will remain a safe bet.