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Eiji Toyoda and Brand Leadership

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With the recent passing of Eiji Toyoda, it’s a good moment to look at a man who re-invented the Toyota brand. While he didn’t found the company (a cousin did), Eiji Toyoda took the Toyota brand from a low-budget also-ran to a global powerhouse. How? By focusing on systems and how to make them better. And by letting the people inside the company help him do it.

Toyoda created a process of labeling assembly line parts–a precursor to the bar code–that made Toyota plants  the model of efficiency. He also promoted “Kaizen”– a process of continuous improvement that, at least in his version of it, relied on the company’s own workers as the source of the best ideas to constantly improve quality and efficiency.  Toyoda understood that what would distinguish his family’s cars from other cars was to deliver quality for a price-point that worked for American customers –the ultimate Toyota target market. Today, it’s hard to imagine someone not knowing the name of the company that has brought us the Lexus, the Prius and the Camry.  

But when organizations talk about re-inventing their brand, they often think first about logos, websites, social media campaigns and marketing slogans. These are essential tools, don’t get me wrong. What’s often missing from the recipe for a better brand is, well, a better brand.  Toyoda’s secret ingredient was to focus on how people and processes delivered cheaper, better cars.  Translated for nonprofits, that means delivering on the mission in a way that is more consistent, with more impact.   Communicating about that terrific quality and impact is actually the last step in the process.

3 Ways Your Board Can Help Your Brand

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Blue Glass c B. DeLouise1.      Build in Time for Your Brand Story

Board members are obviously committed volunteers, but sometimes they are connected to your organization through only one pathway (i.e. a child with a disease that you are trying to cure, a son at your school, they are a member of your association, etc.)   So board members need to be briefed on your big picture “brand promise” to your customers and constituents. They also need to fully understand the experience you promote for your donors, your staff and your other volunteers.  A retreat is a great opportunity to build in time for board members to share their own experience of your brand, and to practice their “elevator pitch” – connecting your key brand talking points to their own personal experience with your organization.   Let them practice presenting, both one-on-one and to the full group.  This way, your board members can be better—and more comfortable—brand cheerleaders.

2.      Teach Board Members how to Share Their Passion Through Social Media

Many board members are not digital natives. They may need some help both understanding social media platforms and learning about the tools that make them effective. A retreat offers a unique time away from the bustle of everyday life to demonstrate how you are using social media to promote your organization, and how board members can help. For example, provide them with the hashtags of your upcoming fundraising events or keywords you want associated with your brand. Show them sample tweets, Facebook posts and Linked In updates. You can even break into smaller groups for working sessions with different social platforms. Finally, offer a link where board members can download approved photos or logos to use for such posts. And encourage them to share their personal stories about your organization. Your board members are ambassadors in the community both in person, and online—use them!

3.      Collect Stories of Your Brand in Action

People give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors as well as grassroots supporters. The best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube and other Web 3.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  Use your board retreat as an opportunity for sharing personal stories, and collecting those details that you can use in your next e-newsletter, Facebook posting or future web video.

How to Build Change and Innovation Into Your Brand

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I just attended the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), where I was speaking about how to engage stakeholders with a new approach to presenting an organization’s financials.  Again and again, I learned in other sessions about innovative models for education—both models to sustain institutions and also to engage young minds for 21st century challenges.

It got me thinking about my own business model and that of my clients. How innovative is our model? Is change built into our decision-making mechanisms, or is it hard to achieve?  Why?

All NAIS attendees received Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Switch” (they are the best-selling authors of “Made to Stick”), which discusses how to make lasting changes in our companies, our communities and our lives.  One of the core messages of the book is that change is hard not because people are lazy or uncreative, but because the self-supervision required for repeated behavior change is exhausting.  It’s like driving on a new route to work.  On the old route, you can be on “automatic” and not even remember certain miles of your trip. On a new route, you will need to constantly check road signs and cues to be sure you are going the right way.  That’s really tiring.  The Heaths discuss how “scripting” the critical moves for the people within an organization (not all the moves, just the key ones) can reduce this exhaustion and has helped many companies  successfully implement lasting change.

To create a reliable path for change, “Switch” looks at how to adjust the environment in which change needs to happen and build habits that lead to change, all through what they call “the humble checklist.” Atul Gawande has made waves—even on  The Daily Show—with his simple safe surgery checklist that has radically changed patient outcomes in hospitals around the world.  Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto shows how something as simple as a checklist empowers us—if we can overcome our belief that we already know the right way to do something–to put our knowledge to use more effectively, communicate with our team at the most critical points in a process, and get things done…right.

Another book that looks at innovation from the standpoint of a national case study is Dan Senor’s “Startup Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.” Senor looks at why Israel, a nation of 7 million people the size of New Jersey, has more startups than any other country outside the US, and more companies on the NASDAQ than India or China.  He looks at factors such as a history of overcoming obstacles, a culture of questioning group-think, a government policy of rapid integration of immigrants into society and education, and a willingness to integrate employees with military service (which virtually everyone in Israel has)  into the private sector.

Ultimately it is the willingness to dare, to take risks and try something new, which helps organizations—and students, and nations—succeed at change.  How can you create a culture that values risk-taking, and provides a path for success for the innovators in your organization?

Can Toyota’s Brand Recover?

Take the Short Poll at the End of this Post!

On February 1st Toyota announced its now-famous recall of eight models of 2005-2010 cars and trucks and stopped its production lines due to an accelerator pedal issue .  It had signalled the recall days earlier, in an announcement on January 21st.  By this Friday, February 5th, according to Toyota all dealers will have special parts to solve the issue and will handle free replacements.

Did Toyota react fast enough to save its name?

Some say no. Toyota should have known of the problem earlier, due to reports of acceleration-related accidents recorded by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) as early as 2002.  After four people in a Lexus were killed when their car accelerated into an intersection and hit an SUV last August, Toyota had already received more than 2,000 complaints of similar issues.   Toyota could have “connected the dots”  sooner, and saved lives and perhaps its stake in the auto market for years to come.  On the other hand, their fast response once they did issue the recall, and their ability to reach out to customers and the press through multiple channels–television, press conferences, social media and their own website–has helped the company’s image.  Crisis communications experts always cite the Tylenol poisoning case of 1982, when manufacturer Johnson & Johnson recalled more than 20 million bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol, destroyed them all, and developed new tamper-resistant packaging, and then communicated all of these steps to the public, early and often.

What can other brands learn from Toyota?

  1. Not Listening to Your Customers Can Kill Your Brand.
  2. Not Working with Others Who Serve Your Customer (i.e. NHSTA) Hurts Your Brand.
  3. Developing a Solution-Oriented Response Helps.
  4. Communicate Everything, Early, Often.
  5. If You Don’t Already Have Multiple Channels for Reaching Your Customer and Decision-Influencers (the press, experts), Put Them in Place Now!



What’s my online identity?

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Abstract in Green s.c.2By now you’ve probably read that after 44 staffers were laid off at CQ-Roll Call at the end of September,   veteran editor Brian Nutting e-mailed the entire editorial staff (and cc’d the newsroom) a letter demanding answers from management.  His email was immediately “leaked” online and a day later, he was fired for insubordination.

A few days later, The Washington Post released new social media guidelines for its writers which take a pretty dim view of journalists having social media lives. The rules have resulted in journalists closing twitter accounts. Post journalists must refrain from “writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.”

The Red Cross takes a different tack. It created—with input from employees—a Social Media Handbook that makes some common-sense recommendations. These include “Use disclaimers” “Respect work commitments” “Be a good blogger” “Be transparent” “Be accurate” “Be considerate” and one of my favorites “Be generous.”  (This particular recommendation is about being generous with links –that is, information–for your readers.)

These two approaches beg the question: who are we online? And can we be more than one person (the private and the public) at the same time?

Particularly if we work in a field where people pay us for our opinions and expertise (journalists, lawyers, doctors, consultants of various stripes), can we still express our personal views online and keep our jobs/clients?

What’s your SM policy? Can your employees make personal comments on their Facebook pages and still keep their jobs with you? What are the parameters? What is working and what isn’t?

I’d really like to hear from you on this one, so comment away!

Creating an Effective Brand Emergency Plan

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Red Berries - IMG_4552 sSeptember is coming and it’s time to dust off those emergency plans.  Schools have just mailed out their reminders of what to do during “code red.”  But does your organization have a brand emergency plan? Years of good work with customers and your community can be eclipsed very quickly by a few misspoken words by a board member, or a complaint floating around in social media.

Why Plan?

The simple answer is that you’ve spent years, perhaps decades or even centuries, building up your brand. And yet in an instant it can be destroyed. So when complicated issues arise, such as an unexpected firing, natural or man-made disasters, public health concerns, etc., it’s important to have a plan for how you will brief all staff, board members and volunteers on how to handle potential questions from customers, supporters, the community and the press. That might just mean responding with a very brief factual answer and then providing contact information to the questioner so they can refer additional questions to the communications liaison, CEO’s office, or the Chair of the Board.

What’s in the Plan?

It’s not a question of hiding information, but rather of giving it out in a way that is unified and easy to understand. Most importantly, the way information is communicated, as well as the content of that information, contributes to how your brand is perceived. “No comment” is a deadly answer. And blogs and the 24-hour news cycle can make other voices louder than perhaps their numbers truly reflect. Your Brand Emergency Communications Plan should include how to respond to:

-traditional print media

-cable news and radio

-bloggers

You should also be able to proactively post information to your:

-website

-Twitter account

-Facebook or MySpace pages

And be prepared to send email announcements or texts to update your community of supporters.

Who Executes the Plan?

The days of the communications office controlling the message are over. The message is already out there, especially if it involves some catastrophe related to your brand. So you need to have well-briefed team to help you engage in the conversation and include your information and perspective. For a nonprofit, this team can include not just executive level and communications staff, but also board leadership and key volunteers. In for-profit organizations, important customers may be recruited to assist in disseminating the message. Government agencies need to engage their counterparts in the private sector, depending on the issue at hand, to ensure effective response to an emergency.

So just like your home or school, this fall your place of business should practice its emergency communications procedures on a regular basis, so that when the time comes, you are able to quickly implement your plan.

Have a recent brand crisis that put your plan into action? Please share!

Does Your Board Support Your Brand?

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This past week I spoke on a teleconference workshop about tools to engage boards to supporBarn in the Palouse- s.ct fundraising auctions. Many of the 50+ organizations who signed up indicated that their board members are not fully engaged in outreach events and fundraising. Does this mean they have the wrong board members? Do they need to define roles and expectations?  Or do board members actually need some training? I find it’s a bit of each. Whether you are a for-profit or nonprofit, your Board of Directors is a critical component of how you connect to the communities and constituencies you serve. They need to be supporting your brand in multiple ways. How can you help them do this?

Board members need to know their financial role.

As we all know from the recent financial meltdown, governing boards were blamed for taking their eye off the ball. What are you doing to be sure your board knows its role and its responsibilities when it comes to fundraising and financial oversight?  Prospective board members should be clear on the requirements of their role. They need to know the hours of the commitment, the dollars they will be expected to give or raise, and how they can help you propel the mission.  They also need to feel comfortable with nonprofit financial statements, which can look very different than corporate ones.  New board members should have an orientation to remind them of their roles and help them with tools in the areas where they are the least comfortable (i.e. making an “ask” for your organization). Even experienced board members need refreshers, especially if you have an important event coming up or a major campaign.

Board members need to see the goalposts.

Board members need more than the annual report. They need specifics.  If you’re holding an auction, what is your fundraising goal? What happens if you don’t meet it?  What are your most important programs? What outcomes will determine your success?

Board members need to learn about your brand.

Board members are obviously committed volunteers, but sometimes they are connected to your organization through only one pathway (i.e. a child with a disease that you are trying to cure, a son at your school, as a professional member of your association, etc.)   They need to be briefed on the big picture about your brand promise to all of your “customers,” including the experience you promote for your donors, your staff and your other volunteers.  They need to be able to easily talk about your “elevator pitch” and connect it to their own experience with your organization.   Give them talking points. Let them practice on one another.  This way, your board members can be better—and more comfortable—cheerleaders.

Board members need recognition.

Board members need more than their names on the masthead. They need to be publicly thanked when they do a good job of supporting your mission. When involved board members receive thanks and recognition—whether it’s for a report well-researched or getting out more volunteers for your walkathon—then other volunteers are more inclined to give you their time, talents and money.

Engaging boards can be a challenge, but it’s one worth the effort. When they are part of a team with staff, the winner is your mission.  Do you have a good story to share about supporting boards? Please share it!

Brand Mergers: What Nonprofits Can Learn from the Amazon-Zappos Deal

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Red Gerbera Daisy IMG_0149 s.cAmazon is known for efficiency. Zappos has built a customer-centered company. The marriage announced last week merges a $1 billion-a-year shoe-selling enterprise with a $20 billion behemoth online seller. Many industry watchers have been boo-hooing the deal, assuming that Amazon’s culture will subsume Zappos and, frankly, ruin it.

But I have another take. When one enterprise knows how to deliver What the Customer Wants, When She Wants it while the other one Builds Community and Brand Loyalty with customers, then it can be a match made in heaven.  That’s because we are in a world moving away from “hard brands”—i.e. what the PR and marketing people traditionally pushed towards the customer/media and towards “brands-in-conversation”—entities that evolve in a dialogue with their customers. The same goes for nonprofits struggling in this downturn.  Many of them are facing going out of business because they are just not making ends meet, even though they do great work.

Where do nonprofits stand?

At last count, we had more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States (that’s according to The Urban Institute, National Center for Charitable Statistics, based on organizations that filed form 990’s with the IRS within the last 24 months). Thats a lot of brands competing for dollars and volunteers.  And unfortunately, many of these organizations have mission overlap.  In addition, some are better at delivering results, some are better at outreach and organizing, and some are better at promoting a great donor or volunteer or member experience. But few are good at all of these tasks.

So what can a nonprofit do? Consider a partnership or merger.

Considering a merger with another entity can be scary, as nonprofits are fiercely independent. But a merger/partnership can really strengthen your brand. That’s because your brand is all about delivering on mission.  When you share responsibilities with another entity, you can increase your “ROI” with the people you serve, while decreasing costs, overhead and inefficiencies.

A joint effort doesn’t have to happen overnight.  Here are some baby steps to creating a productive brand merger.

  • Introduce your boards to each other at a social, not business-oriented, “mixer.”
  • Engage staff of each organization in a brainstorming session—the goal is better meeting the mission.
  • Try a joint venture—a project with a measurable outcome consistent with both organizations’ goals.
  • Host an event together so you can share ideas, showcase strengths, and get feedback from attendees on how your two organizations worked together.
  • Share each other’s content—through your web and social media venues; Tweet about each other’s successes and events, for example.
  • Consider the donor’s point of view. What additional services or geographic reach would enable each organization to give a lead donor more bang for their buck?

These are just some of the ways you can increase brand impact and build trust between two enterprises. Remember that the goal is always delivering on the mission. If you can keep your staff and board mission-focused, then the ROI of a partnership or merger can bring great benefits to the people who need them most: those you serve.

Join Amy this Wednesday on a free teleconference about Engaging Boards for a More Successful Fundraising Auction. To register, click here.

The Good the Bad and the Ugly: Social Media Successes and Nightmares

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By now you have probably heard some of the more infamous stories of the brave new woRed Wheel s.c.rld of social media. From Jeff Jarvis’s famous “Dell Sucks” blog post in 2005 to the Motrin-Mommy-Blogger fiasco of late 2008.  But what results—good and bad—can inform your own personal or corporate social media strategy? Here are some I thought worth a look.

The Good

Have you checked out Bill Marriott’s Blog “Marriott on the Move”?  http://www.blogs.marriott.com/ Of course his most recent postings have been about the Jakarta suicide bombings that took place at a Marriott hotel there. Communicating with customers in times of crisis is a crucial part of communicating your brand identity—in this case, that Marriott management is caring and on top of the situation as much as can be expected. Bill  also reads the blog aloud in an audio file beneath each post, which makes for a much more personal experience of the story. According to Kathleen Matthews, former news anchor-turned-Marriott marketing executive, $3 million in reservations have come in through his blog. How’s that for an ROI?

Charity: Water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects.  On 12 February 2009, 200+ international cities hosted a Twestival (Twitter + festival) to bring Twitter communities together to raise money for charity: water. The Twestival raised $250,000+ and brought worldwide public awareness to the global water crisis. They also provided a live feed of a well drilling project in Ethiopia paid for by the funds, so donors felt instantly connected to an outcome of their donations. Charity: Water also cleverly provides “Tweet the Facts” resource so folks on Twitter can easily publish content relevant to the charity (“Women in Africa spend 15-17 hrs/week collecting water”).  Charities have been among the first to realize the power of social media, so why not retrace their steps and raise awareness for charities and causes you support?

Zappos, the internet shoe emporium just purchased by Amazon, has 436 employees on Twitter.  (Full disclosure: I love shoes.) In a recent interview for the Progressive Women’s Leadership Blog in a post called “All atwitter,” CEO Tony Hsieh said “For Twitter, we don’t really view it as a marketing channel so much as a way to connect on a more personal level — whether it’s with our employees or our existing customers.” Zappos has always stood out for its unique company culture, with a high level of customer service and a personalized, informal style. The company offers Twitter classes for employees to learn how to Tweet, but it does not have any restrictive requirements. Again, CEO Hsieh told interviewer Stephen Spencer “We’re not really looking at short-term ROI in terms of sales,” Hsieh says. “We’re looking to form lifelong relationships with our customers, and we think Twitter helps us do this.”  The company has also used Twitter as a recruiting tool, because it helps prospective employees see what it’s like to work there.

The Bad

The Washington Post today carried a story (“Online — and in the Loop — With D.C. Police “ washingtonpost.com http://bit.ly/y8rlP ) about how police are using email listserves to connect to community, inform the public about crimes, and help solve them.  The U.S. Park Police are blogging at http://uspppressroom.blogspot.com/ . Meanwhile, on the west coast, Los Angeles police Lt. Rick Banks is quoted saying his unit is looking at Twitter as a new opportunity.  What does it all mean? Federal and state agencies are embracing social media as a tool for connecting with the communities they serve.  Some of these postings function more as press release outlets than places for real conversations to emerge (see http://www.usda.gov/blog/usda/ ).  At least it’s a start for more transparency and faster communication in government.

The Ugly

As great as social media is, there is a dark side. Consider this story from the Better Business Bureau about major job scams on Twitter.  The BBB wants job hunters to be aware of the following red flags when searching for a work-at-home job online:

  • The “job” is actually a money-making scheme and doesn’t provide actual employment.
  • The work-at-home scheme claims that you can make lots of money with little effort and no experience.
  • You have to pay money up front in order to be considered for the job or receive more information.
  • The exact same tweet touting the program is posted by many different Twitterers. The links in such tweets could lead you to scam sites or install malware onto your computer.

These are just a few tales to help you consider the good, the bad and the ugly ways that social media is changing our communications landscape.  Do you have a social media success story or nightmare? Please share!

Choosing the Wrong Communications Tool Can Really Screw Up Your Brand

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Yellow Hibiscus, Red Center 7_IGP0786 s.cI was recently reminded of how important it is to choose the right communications medium when I opened my office email after the July 4th holiday weekend. To my surprise, my in-box was chock full of emails—more than 200 of them. This seemed odd. Could there have been some massive event I wasn’t aware of?  Then the culprit emerged. The university orchestra of my alma mater had sent out an email encouraging people to “chat” about their experiences in the group.  Hmmm. A group chat through email? Not an invitation to join a list-serve or a fan group on Facebook?

I trolled through the first handful of emails and realized that not only had the organization chosen a poor format for this lovely outreach idea, but that almost everyone contacted had responded “reply all” when asking to be removed from the list. Voila! 200 increasingly nasty emails were created, and were still replicating as I watched.  And one of the last ones I read reminded me of how badly your brand can be damaged by such a seemingly innocent mistake. An alumn said they couldn’t believe the university had sent such a missive and they wanted to be removed from all future lists and never hear from the place again.  Ouch!

I quickly sent off an email to the VP of Public Affairs saying, essentially, “your brand is on fire.”

Brand wound self-infliction isn’t as uncommon as you would think. The Washington Post recently produced marketing fliers promoting a series of private, sponsored off-the-record dinners between policymakers and journalists that set off a firestorm of controversy about whether or not the Post could maintain its brand of journalistic impartiality.

So, how to choose the correct medium for your message?

1. Know Your Audience. It’s important to know how your audience prefers to be communicated with.  I recently sat on a marketing panel at an independent schools conference and one audience member asked whether they should be sending out emails or Facebook invitations to their alumns. I responded with another question “have you ever asked them?”  It’s really important to periodically query your target audience(s) about how they like to be reached.  A quick email survey using a tool such as Survey Monkey can suffice.

2. Know Your Options. Trying to jump-start a conversation that goes on beyond your initial contact? A Facebook page or Linked In group might work best.  Trying to get customers to respond to something new? Offer a clickable coupon link that also takes them to other content you want viewed. Want to reach potential donors? Send them a link to a You-Tube video that tells a short but compelling story about real people benefiting from your organization’s work.  And be wary of e-newsletters. If you must send them, make sure they have easy navigation and clickable links to full articles (one group I support still sends a PDF–yuck!).

3. Know Your Limitations. Donors and customers don’t want to hear from you every day. Prospective donors and customers want to hear from you even less. So be thoughtful about your communications tool, and then the content you deliver with it.  Offer information and connectivity that is truly useful to them.

4. Know Your Internal Content Generators. Yes you have standards and best practices. Surely my alma mater does. But clearly not everyone knows them. That’s because users/content generators are everywhere, not just in the PR office. Educate early and often. Rinse and repeat.

5. Know Your Power. Electronic and social media, when used correctly, can greatly magnify and support your brand.  Use them well…or else.

COMING THIS MONTH (Wed, July 29th, 1PM EDT): Free Teleconference on Helping Your Board Support Your Auction Success. For more information/to register, click here.