Solution Driven Marketing Themes 

Solution driven marketing can reshape a firm’s view from product or money focus to  customer-needs’ focus. Solution driven marketing applies to every organization—profit, and not for profit. A key challenge is to change customers’ wants to valuable needs. In the long run, this will provide significant value to the firm, too.

Solution driven marketing has four distinct parts

Solution driven marketing changes wants to needs

Solution driven marketing
Solution driven marketing

First, the firm develops solutions or benefits based on its view of customers’ current or future wants or needs. To begin, the firm must learn about its customers and their wants and needs. It does this by highly targeted market research, and in focus groups.

The process starts with a clear vision and mission to define what the firm wants to be, and what it plans to do. The mission will appeal to certain groups only, not to everyone. Hence, the firm must decide the best approach to present its proposed solutions and benefits to help current and potential customers.

In solution driven marketing, the business does not “push” its services or products. Instead, it offers benefits, opportunities, and solutions it expects customers will find helpful. Look at Amazon, for example. It creates benefits for people to stay at home to shop for their wants and needs. As well,  it tries to change people’s wants to perceived needs. (more…)

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Are Students their Universities or Colleges’ Customers

Are university or college students customers of their institutions (subsequent references to college include university)? I am not referring to a student-as-customer’s movement that attempts to hike revenues by lowering standards and pandering students. That approach merely compromises the college’s mission, vision, and values while enabling entitlement-minded students. I disagree with it. Instead, I refer to a special partnership that exists between a college, delivering its vision and mission,  and college students, who do their best in the educational infrastructure that’s provided.

To answer the student-as-customers question properly, it’s crucial we understand essential traits of a customer, and the basic features of a business. That’s why I address the important customer and business relationship in such detail early in the paper.  Meanwhile, ninety-one percent of respondents to my survey (Bell, 2016) asking the captioned, said a college’s administration should treat college students as customers. Eighty-four percent said professors should be sensitive and responsive to students’ particular needs.

In this paper, I examine these areas:

  1. The customer and business exchange
  2. Anatomy of good customer relationships
  3. What the best college teachers do
  4. Perceptions of college students’ role as customers
  5. Treat college students as customers but don’t compromise values and standards
  6. Organizational structure of colleges
  7. Survey findings
  8. Conclusions

College Students Are Customers

The customer and business exchange

College Students Are Partners and Customers of Their Universities
College Students Are Partners and Customers of Their Universities

Who is a customer? Simply, a person or organization that buys goods or services from another person or organization is a customer or client. That’s it. You are a customer when you buy coffee from Starbucks, an iPhone from Apple, a case study from Harvard, or when you take a course from the University of Regina.

Is the customer always right? As a summer student at Selfridges, London, England, in the 1960s, that was the mantra I learned. Selfridges’ views were simple. Listen to the customer, understand the customer, and accept what the customer says about the product or service. Don’t argue with the customer. After the customer leaves, evaluate what she said, discuss it with your supervisor, and he or she will decide if change is needed. Does this attitude apply at a college today? Yes! Colleges must listen to students’ feedback, and where the college deems applicable, change. Even so, the context is different from a company selling pop. (more…)

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A Positive Brand Perception is Your Best Advertising

A positive brand perception is an important goal of many successful organizations. They understand that their brands are emotional links with customers. The deeper the link, the stronger the brand perception.

Brands are belief systems, not marketing tools. Many people think of the logo as the brand. However, the logo merely is the image that conjures up the brand perception.

The brand perception is in the person’s mind and evokes specifics such as quality, price, service.  It is the business’ brand identity.  To many people, the Apple brand means high quality, excellent packaging, and great service. Walmart’s brand conveys everyday low prices, and Costco’s brand brings to mind retail shopping at wholesale prices.

People pay extra for products or services when they identify with a firm’s brand. That’s why businesses spend significant time and resources developing and growing the right brand perception or brand identity. It’s counterintuitive to think anyone would pay to be a member of a firm to shop at that firm? Yet, membership fees are a major source of Costco’s continuing profitability.

Embed Brand Perception in Mission and Vision Statements

Positive brand perception key to progress
Positive brand perception key to progress

Organizations need to embed in their mission, vision, values, strategies, and goals, the brand perception or brand identity they want to convey.  These perceptions shouldn’t be general, but must be specific attributes that appeal to customers. Businesses must apply consistently, the values and other brand elements they wish to communicate. Consistency is the key. Folks should know they can trust the brand promise; not just what the firm says, but what it does. If actions do not match words, people will not trust the business or ministry. Still, unless what’s said and done connects with how people feel about what’s said and done, organizations will fail to convey the right brand perception.

Businesses find various ways to relate to customers on a deep level. Starbucks connects with clients at the Third Place (home, work, Starbucks). It does not push coffee sales. Starbucks wants people to come to its stores (the Third Place) to hang out, chat, work on computers, read a book. Starbucks understands that while people are at the Third Place they will buy coffee, and other products. When my wife and I travel abroad, although I don’t drink coffee, usually we stop at a Starbucks daily. I go on the internet, have a cool drink, and we plan the rest of our day.

Starbucks has no difficulty if people just hang out in the Third Place. It knows people will spend. But most of all, it wants its customers to know it’s fine to come to the Third Place just to meet friends and chat.

Starbucks knows the atmosphere it creates for customers at its stores gives customers peace of mind and make them feel like part of a family. Starbucks has figured out that the Third Place makes life easier for many customers—it is convenient, customers return, and they bring friends and colleagues. Have you seen a Starbucks advertisement on TV? On a billboard? You haven’t, because they don’t need to do this.

What’s Your Brand

Each of us has a brand? People form perceptions based on how we behave, not what we say. If you are a young entrepreneur beginning, how do you establish your brand? It starts with your mission and vision? What are you passionate about? How do you want this passion to be received? These are two key questions to answer. If you are an artist, what’s your genre? Who is your audience? What message do you want to convey to represent your work? What brand identity do you want to present?

Your message must be part of whom you are and what you do, and you must communicate it clearly, concisely, consistently, and passionately. The key to establishing your brand is to realize that it’s not what you say that people will relate to, it’s what you do well, and do consistently.

You need to establish at least three key elements to communicate and grow your brand:

  1. A simple message that illustrates what you stand for and what you want your brand to be known for–your brand identity. You should consider specific traits you want prospective customers, existing customers, employees, and others to use to describe your activities or business.
  2. A clear promise of consistent quality, reliability, and so on as outlined in your message in one above–your brand covenant. You want folks to know they can trust you to deliver what you say, consistently.
  3. A simple, unique, memorable logo that helps convey your message–your brand image. You want people to see your logo and recall your brand promise.

Are you Jesus’ brand ambassador

If you follow Jesus, you are His brand ambassador. What is the brand perception others have of you? What would they say is your brand? Would they see you as His disciple? I believe each of us as followers of Jesus should understand that we are His brand ambassador. We need to show brand elements that reflect Him—love, joy, peace, long suffering, patience, kindness, and traits that show we love others as we love us.

If you are an individual or a firm, you have a brand, formally or informally. Therefore, it is important you work to convey the perception you would like others to have of you, your firm, and your products or services. Afterwards, you must behave sincerely and consistently in line with your brand promise to protect the brand perception.

© 2016 Michel A. Bell

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Don’t Integrate Faith and Business – Live Your Faith

Christians, don’t integrate faith and business. Don’t integrate faith and anything. Live as followers of Messiah where you are.

Business is having the right people in the right slots headed in the right direction. It is all about people. Business is the largest mission field available to Christians, at home and abroad. Besides, it is the only wealth creating entity in society. Those of us whom God calls to be in business need to behave consistently as His stewards (Colossians 3:23-24), and His disciples (Luke 14:25-34).

Don’t Integrate Faith and Business

Don't Integrate Faith and Business: Seek First His Kingdom
Don’t Integrate Faith and Business: Seek First His Kingdom

Many Christian business leaders and pastors have not realized how much the church drifted into the world. Thus, they see a  need for Christians in business to integrate their faith and business principles. Christianity is a lifestyle. However, the integration idea suggests that Christianity is not a lifestyle, but a set of principles that apply situationally. So, in church and “Christian” settings, we live as Christ followers, but in business we integrate faith with business principles.


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Decision Making Process More Important Than Analyses

Your decision making process is more important to a successful result than your analyses to prove the validity of a decision. That’s what research shows consistently.

How do you decide? Do you follow a predictable process or do you let your emotions or situations lead you? I believe we are poor decision makers, generally. I think we need to follow a proven process before we decide matters in our private lives and in business. Let’s see what we can learn from three large, bad decisions.

Decisions Influenced By Today

Poor Decision Making Process
Poor Decision Making Process

First, in January 1, 1962, four youths in a rock-and-roll band auditioned for a major British record label, Decca Records. Later they got a letter from Decca saying: “We don’t like your sound; groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished.” Decca missed out on signing the Beetles!

Why did Decca miss this chance to sign one of the best groups in history? Decca assumed the future would resemble the present. Four piece groups were not in vogue then, so, Decca extended the present to the future. (more…)

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What Does Stewardship Mean Today For businesses?

Applying effective stewardship in business is key to its success. What does stewardship mean today for businesses? Since the Great Recession, executives are more aware of their trust roles. These days, there is greater protection for shareholders. But we have a long way to go before effective stewardship is widespread in businesses.

What Does Stewardship in Business Mean Today

Stewardship in business is essential? Stewardship means you accepting your responsibilities
Stewardship in business is essential? Stewardship means you accepting your responsibilities

What is stewardship? Stewardship is acting as a steward.  Who is a steward? A steward is someone who gets responsibility and authority from an owner to look after the owner’s property in the owner’s best interest. 

What does stewardship mean today for businesses?  This will vary from firm to firm. These days, many boards of directors and executives see the need to be more accountable. They see this partly because of new government rules. However, executives know the cost of poor stewardship is huge. It hurts their brands. Greed filled executives in good years leading up to the Great Recession. During this time, many managers made decisions that caused major damage to their firms.  (more…)

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Is Your Business Customer centric?

Customer centric businesses serve all stakeholders
Customer centric businesses serve all stakeholders

Customer centric firms are primed to create value for all stakeholders. Is your business customer centric? The late management guru, scholar, and author, Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” No customers, no business. No students, no school. No sports fans, no stadium! It’s that simple. If we believe this, why is poor customer service rife?

Oligopolies are not Customer centric

In Canada, two key industries, banking and telecommunications, are oligopolies. They are not customer centric. Yet, consumers accept the lack of effective competition, and are complacent. Often, firms in these industries provide poor services while hiking fees often. Ironically, when the government wanted more competition in telecommunications recently, companies played the patriotism card successfully. (more…)

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Why Target Canada Failed: Target Off The Mark To Start

Why Target Canada failed? Its poor start doomed it for failure. Target gave its rivals almost two years to respond to its entry in Canada. In 2011, Target announced it would buy Zellers’ leases, but only in 2013 did Target open its first store in Canada. Then, it tried to make up lost ground and ramped up too quickly. This two year delay alone is a valid reason why Target Canada failed. What was Target thinking?

It was no surprise when on January 15, Target said it was closing its Canadian operations. This will affect 17,600 workers and cost its owners over $6 billion pretax. What a waste!

Target saw a chance for its first venture outside the USA. It viewed struggling Canadian discount retailer, Zellers as a ready made vehicle. So, it bought Zellers’ store leases–not its business–for $1.8 billion. But, Target made basic missteps that led to its demise. These are three major blunders why Target Canada failed:

  1. Protracted entry, rapid ramp up
  2. Brand promise neglected
  3. Competitive advantage overlooked
Why Target Canada Failed? Target Was off the mark from the start
Why Target Canada Failed? Target Was off the mark from the start

Why Target Canada Failed: Protracted Entry, Rapid Ramp Up

Target gave its rivals almost two years to react to its entry in Canada. In 2011, it announced it would buy Zellers’ leases. However, it did not open its first store until 2013. No doubt Target realized it was late, and opened over 100 stores during 2013 in former Zellers’ locations! During this rapid ramp up, many stores had empty shelves. From the start, Target Canada did not connect with its customers. It built up massive losses. Yet, it continued to open more stores in 2013, even with supply chain problems.

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3 Areas Small Business Owners Should Address Regularly

A small business owner has several challenges. Often he or she must play every important role. This can be stressful. However, I have been mentoring a few small business owners for the past few years, and each small business owner I  coached was thrilled to be his and her own boss. Besides,  each understood that it’s normal in a small business to not employ full-time specialists in each major activity.

I gained gear insights in the workings of these small businesses. Though I worked mainly in a large multinational business in many countries, one fact is clear. Apart from the scale, most challenges small and large business issues face daily are similar. Still, I think there are three areas a small business owner should address regularly. And a new year is a perfect time to do it.

As a small business owner you have the joy of being your own boss. However, this brings responsibility for the entire business. Unless you pause regularly to examine how you are doing, you can burn out emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and financially. This happens gradually.


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Four Keys to Success in a Mission-Focussed Business

Article first appeared in Faith Today magazine, page forty two, as Four Keys to Success, Tips for executives at mission-focussed businesses.

Mission-Focussed Business Keys to Success
Mission-Focussed Business Keys to Success

Book publishers today will tell you business is tough. My American publisher recently emailed me to say their business was bankrupt. They couldn’t pay outstanding royalties from 2013, but would ship my inventory – at my expense – to any destination I chose. My first Canadian publisher trod a similar path five years earlier. Today I’m working with another publisher who could be headed in the same direction.

The eventual demise of these Christian-led businesses was obvious for several years in partial and delayed bill payments. However, many of us don’t heed such warnings and thus miss the opportunity to deal with structural challenges. Instead, we chase money-driven, unsustainable quick fixes.

But business executives who focus on relevant success factors will spot threats and opportunities early, and respond appropriately. I suggest these four keys to success in a mission-focussed business or organization:

  1. Clear vision and mission
  2. Careful attention to success factors
  3. Attitude that puts people first
  4. Simple strategy understood by the workforce.

Mission-focussed Business has Explicit Vision and Mission

For a Christian-led business, the vision and mission should satisfy needs or wants that honour God. (In business, “vision” defines an organization’s purpose in broad strokes, while “mission” expands and clarifies it.)

Highly visible and understood affirmations of the organizational vision and mission are essential to help a workforce remain engaged and motivated.

Unfortunately most organizations drift away from their mission. During boom times, new money-making ventures can seem too enticing to pass up. Leaders may hire and use loans to grab short-term benefits. But as the new business fades, debt grows, employees are laid off and a toxic environment develops.

Executives must never forget that the mission is the guiding light. Leaders must pursue it passionately, methodically and consistently. Doing so enables them to resist the temptation to follow every business opportunity that crops up.

Mission-focussed Business Explain and Track Success

Employees should know how their organization measures success, not only in their department, but overall. They should know the ingredients of success and understand it’s more than one bottom-line number.

I learned early at business school that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The challenge is to identify “it” – five to seven critical factors to track continually. Executives must monitor inputs that determine employee and customer satisfaction, and profitability.

Sadly, most people try to manage the wrong items. They may focus wrongly on outputs, when in fact only inputs (amount and quality of material, labour, and so on) are truly manageable.

Christian-led businesses must follow biblical principles while achieving reasonable returns. Executives must be unequivocal that the business will never compromise its values. When I served as vice-president at Alcan Inc. (now Rio Tinto Alcan), we had to submit a yearly letter to the president affirming we were unaware of violations of Alcan’s principles, objectives and policies. This formal process cascaded to front-line managers – each level submitting letters to the one immediately above.

Mission-focussed Business put People First

People are the greatest asset of any business. Motivated, passionate workers go beyond what’s needed. They lift productivity and provide superior services to customers – who in turn willingly share their positive experiences with others, thus benefiting the business.

Executives must invest time selecting, training and developing employees. They must value employees highly and treat them according to the Golden Rule.

Mission-focussed Business has a Clear Strategy

Vision, mission and strategy statements need to be simple and easily understood. A strategy should depict how the business intends to do its mission – essentially, how it will provide superior value to its customers.
Executives should explain the strategy to the workforce – especially managers who must build and work with congruent departmental strategies and budgets.

The Bible teaches that the Lord will guide us when we believe in Him, trust, obey and lean on Him. Fundamentally, for Jesus’ followers, success is developing and treading paths that glorify God while doing His mission. It is aligning our lives with His – and these four keys to success in a mission-focussed business can help serve as signposts on our journeys.

© Copyright 2014, Michel A. Bell

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