Voice of the Customer

In the Four Steps to the Epiphany – Successful Strategies for Products that Win book by Steve Blank, he talks a lot about the customers. I fact, he probably writes the word customer more than the word product. He knows that without finding and marketing to appropriate customer groups, even the best products are destined to fail. Blank walks through several aspects of engaging customers to include:

  • The customer discovery model
  • Discovery
  • Validation
  • And Creation
  • Additionally, he includes a comprehensive customer development checklist

This book is a great reference and guide for any entrepreneur who is trying to launch a business or product. Companies are doomed to fail without finding their tribe of devoted customers. And once you have those customers, it’s important not to let the brand voice dominate the voice of your best brand advocates: your customers. To drive home this point, I recommend checking out Jason Maynard’s article for Entrepreneur Magazine called, When Your Customers Are Talking, Quiet Your Brand Voice and Listen.

MacKenzie Bezos Deserves Some Credit

Last semester I interviewed Jeff Kaplan, Director for Venture Asheville. One thing he told me as advice for entrepreneurs has hung with me since that time. When asked about tactics for funding a start-up he said, “Personally, most of what I’ve done is bootstrapping, pinching pennies, and personal savings. It is really helpful to have a working spouse”.  That working spouse piece has really stuck with me. For someone in a partnership to be “all-in” and really go for their entrepreneurial dream, sacrifices have to be made. His words have especially been poignant as I keep seeing the ridiculous controversy over the divorce of MacKenzie and Jeff Bezos, billionaires and founders of Amazon. Many news outlets keep making comments about “how much MacKenzie will get in the divorce” evoking rage in every spouse who has ever silently, or not so silently supported the entrepreneurial endeavors of their significant other. I could write a laundry list of reasons why these one-sided, sexist headlines are an oversimplification of the back story of any entrepreneurial couple, but I don’t have to because Louise Matsakis, a writer for WIRED has written a brilliant piece called, MacKenzie Bezos and the Myth of the Lone Genius Founder.

For those of us who are entrepreneurs, love an entrepreneur, or find ourselves in an entrepreneurial partnership (business and/or romantic), it’s important to recognize the PARTNERSHIP. The myth of the lone genius founder is indeed farfetched and rare.

FINALLY! Someone Talks About Intrapreneurship

The name of my blog is The Strengths Focused Intrapreneur, and yet, for the past four semesters, the classes in my program at WCU have focused on entrepreneurial pursuits. Don’t get me wrong, the info is helpful, especially for managing the business side of my husband’s writing career. But what I do in my “day job” is live the life of an intrapreneur. I have lots of autonomy in what I do to manage the departments and functions that report to me, and I basically have little micro-businesses within a larger corporate structure.

So, imagine my delight when in our assigned text for the semester I found a whole chapter in Rogers’ Entrepreneurial Finance on Intrapreneurship!

Joseph Alois Schumpeter, himself, asserted that entrepreneurship did not have to be confined to start-ups. He said, “Innovation within the shell of existing corporations offers much more convenient access to the entrepreneurial functions than existed in the world of owner managed firms. Many a would- be entrepreneur of today does not found a firm, not because he could not do so, but simply because he prefers the other method.” (Rogers 269).

I feel the essence of Schumpeter’s conclusion every day. I am an intrapreneur, and I make the conscious choice to hustle within the corporate structure because I grew up in a family business. I want to know that my paycheck will be on-time, that the collections department is doing their job, that billing statement need not be stuffed around the kitchen table at the beginning of every month, and that my 403b/401k has a handsome match provided by my employer. I loved our life growing up, and also, being the family-owned business is HARD. That’s not to say my life as part of a larger company is easy, but it’s certainly not an 80+ hour a week job, either.

Rogers asserts there are two types of Intrapreneur. He even offers a nifty model (Rogers 270):

Intrapreneur Spectrum

Caretaker– the anti-intrapreneur; happy with the status quo. Not interested in anything outside moderate growth or development of a product.

Developer– looks at the status quo and finds growth opportunity in existing business lines; might find new markets or customers to facilitate growth.

Innovator– creates new products, services or business models outside of regular R&D.

Some days I wonder what it would be like to start my own company or leave my large company to head-up human resources for a growing entrepreneurial endeavor. And then I read articles like these that remind me why I harness the power of my entrepreneurial spirit for intrapreneurial good.

Here are a few articles that might help ground or propel the budding entrepreneur:

I hope you find these articles helpful for choosing your own path as an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or neither. As for me, my day job will mostly fulfill me in my intrapreneurial pursuits, and I’ll continue being an entrepreneur at home in helping manage my husband’s business and in the multiple side hustles I find myself involved in.

Additional Resources:

Rogers, S. (2014). Entrepreneurial Finance: Third Edition, Finance and Business Strategies for the Serious Entrepreneur. 269-278.

The Intersection of Crowdfunding and Traditional Debt Financing

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” – Oscar Wilde via Wisebread.com

Last week I wrote about crowdfunding and the many different platforms available for funding. I decided to explore the site Lending Club. I’ve since learned, this type of funding is called person-to-person or P2P lending. Think of it as crowdfunding meets an angel investing pool. I spent some time researching their model and writing some brief instructions on the steps to become approved with Lending Club. Here’s my screencast evaluation of their financing option:

And some more in-depth info on the steps for applying with Lending Club:

Now, let’s follow the (hypothetic) steps to apply from the borrower’s perspective:

Determine your eligibilitylending club eligibility

Click on this link for a dashboard of steps to follow (with access to the electronic platform):lending club small business dashboard

https://help.lendingclub.com/hc/en-us/categories/202523217-Small-Business

  1. Start by exploring the “How to Apply” button
  2. Check your rate
  3. Choose your offer, if given
  4. Watch as people invest in your loan
  5. Funding is sent directly to your bank account
  6. Set-up monthly auto-draft payments
  7. Pay off your loan early, if wanted, with no early pay-off penalty

 

Success and Key Questions (6/30/18 Stats):

https://www.lendingclub.com/info/statistics.action

  • How much does the Crowdfunding source take as a fee? Varies depending on the terms of the loan
  • How long will the process take until the money arrives and can be used? About 7 days for approval and a few more days for funds to be deposited (depending on bank rules). Need to use their check-list to avoid delays.
  • Restrictions? Varies depending on the terms of the loan
  • Reporting requirements? Lending Club wants to see your IRS tax return and requires a 4506-T form to do so. Borrowers would report funds as part of their tax return.

 

Raising Capital Might take More Than a Lucky Cat

“A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.” – Bob Hope via goodfinancetips.com

This week we are choosing topics to research that pertain to raising funds for entrepreneurial pursuits. We’ll be publishing an article in a few weeks about the topic we research, and I chose a pretty traditional form of funding to explore. My topic is “Loans & Lines of Credit (to include SBA guarantees)”.

So far, I’ve learned the Bob Hope comment about banks loaning money only to people who prove they don’t need it is entirely true. Most banks are pretty risk-averse. This explains the popularity of other non-traditional forms of funding for modern entrepreneurs; options like:

  • Angel Investors
  • Crowdfunding
  • & Business Incubators

For entrepreneurs who have collateral to offer and/or extremely great credit, traditional loans and lines of credit can still be a good option but are usually not the only option to pursue. As I conduct more research, I’ll post the whole article on my blog to share.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a couple of thought-provoking pieces about funding.

The first is a quick bit of advice posted on Entrepreneur.com from Amy Williams, CEO at Citizens of Humanity on choosing investors wisely: https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/310046

The second is an interesting article about the story you tell when pitching a start-up to investors. It’s an HBR piece called Startups That Seek to “Disrupt” Get More Funding Than Those That Seek to “Build” by Dana Kanze and Sheena S. Iyengar.

I hope this gives you some food for thought until my next post.

Marketing Through Case Study Videos

This summer semester I am starting a class called “Entrepreneurial Marketing,” and after reading the syllabus, I realized I have more experience than I initially thought with modern marketing tactics. So much of what I do every day is internal marketing and I partner with some great vendors to tell our stories more widely.

This past year, I was asked to be on camera with some other colleagues at Mission Health to tell the success story of how we helped transform performance and engagement through a tool called “StandOut.” The Marcus Buckingham Company powered by ADP captured our story to share with prospective clients. I want to share those videos here because they are excellent examples of compelling case study videos (of course I may be a little biased).

StandOut & Mission Case Study Video:

StandOut & Mission Strengths Video:

StandOut & Mission Leadership Video:

5 Outdoor or Stunt Ads

Outdoor ads have a long tradition in marketing. There are entire sites dedicated to unearthing vintage ads and collectors who buy up old signage. Most of us recognize billboards and outdoor signage as a part of our memories and current everyday lives. I have found some very creative outdoor ads for you, some that may cross over into a slightly different genre and be considered more of an advertising “stunt.” I hope you enjoy and learn from these great examples:

“Carbon Cloud”

carbon cloud

Link to Ad: http://www.adsoftheworld.com/collection/climate_change_awareness#showdelta=23

  • Firm: Ogilvy, Beijing, China
  • Company: World Wildlife Federation (WWF)
  • Title: Black Cloud
  • Event Date: January 2007

Objective: Show people how much carbon is released into the air for only one day of driving. Additionally, the WWF received a lot of press/news coverage in China and gained many new volunteers because of the balloon stunt.

Target Market: Young commuters (Millennials and Gen X) who understand their environmental impact but need concrete tips and facts on how to change their behaviors.

Action: Convince drivers to refrain from driving one day per week to reduce carbon emissions.

Value Proposition: By reducing the number of days you drive, you will reduce the amount of pollution in the air. Drive less, breath better.

 

“Exam in Progress: Please Talk”

Exams

Link to Ad: https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/ambient/papyrus_dont_be_silent

  • Firm: TBWA\Manchester, UK
  • Company: Papyrus
  • Title: Don’t be Silent
  • Publish/Event Date: April 2017

Objective: Papyrus, a mostly paper and stationery company, decided to use their name to help bring attention to stress and anxiety among students.

Target Market: Students who bottle up their stress and anxiety during exam/finals time each year.

Action: Papyrus urges students to talk about their stress rather than remaining silent. They posted these flyers around schools with information at the bottom of each on how to seek help.

Value Proposition: Companies who extend goodwill and help are remembered as “good” companies. For a student who isn’t stressed, it’s a sweet gesture. To a student who uses the referenced resources, Papyrus will forever be a name they trust.

 

“Prius Launch”

Prius

Link to Ad: https://www.effie.org/case_database/case/NA_2011_5329

  • Firm: Saatchi & Saatchi LA
  • Company: Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc.
  • Title: Harmony Installations
  • Publish/Event Date: 2011
  • Awards: Effie-2011 BRONZE MEDIA INNOVATION

Objective: Relaunch the Prius brand as a “mainstream” environmental alternative in a down market.

Target Market: Expand their demographic to be wider than just the “environmental crowd.” Market to all car consumers by proving a commitment to their local businesses and communities.

Action: Allow consumers to interact with the lovely displays and widen their demographic through the interactive traveling show that looked more like art and less like a car ad.

Value Proposition: To the consumer, this approach said, “Prius isn’t just a car brand, it’s a commitment to a lifestyle and Prius is committed to that lifestyle beyond just the car.”

 

“This is not a billboard.”

Royal Cruise

Link to Ad: https://www.effie.org/case_database/case/ME_2017_E-1617-529

  • Firm: MullenLowe Mediahub U.S. *Lead Agency
  • Company: Royal Caribbean International
  • Title: #ComeSeekLive
  • Publish/Event Date: 2017
  • Awards: Effie- 2017 Silver

Objective: Combine digital outdoor advertising boards with a new technology, Periscope, that allows specific preselected passengers of the Royal Caribbean to show live adventures aboard the cruise ship.

Target Market: Adults in New York City who were considering a vacation and who had never considered a cruise as an option. Reportedly, due to these ads, Royal Caribbean saw a 19% increase in bookings from New York from passengers who had never previously cruised.

Action: Passers-by of these live billboards had a hard time looking away. The real-time feed showed beautiful blue water, fun in the sun, and it was easy to relate to the selected “influencers” who were broadcasting from the cruise.

Value Proposition: The value to the consumer was a real-life glimpse into what a Royal Caribbean cruise was like. Many people view cruises in a certain stereotypical light, but the live feed to the New York billboards showed a younger, more fun and adventurous side of cruising.

 

“Cardinals have flown away.”

Cardinals.PNG

Cardinals 1

Cardinals 2

cardinals 3

Link to Ad: https://www.effie.org/case_database/case/NA_2007_33

  • Firm: Schupp Company, Inc. *Lead Agency
  • Company: KTRS
  • Title: Missing Birds
  • Publish/Event Date: 2007
  • Awards: Effie- 2007 SILVER MEDIA IDEA

Objective: Creatively get the point across that the broadcast of the Cardinals baseball games would be moving to a different station after 52 years at a different station.

Target Market: Adult men (and some women) in St. Louis who typically listen to baseball games while driving in their cars.

Action: The Cardinals on the billboards physically “flew” to a different sign to signify that they had moved to a 550 KTRS radio station. This creatively informed the consumer to tune into a new station.

Value Proposition: The value to the consumer is they were informed of the change in the station in a clever and fun way.

 

**Cover Photo Credit: http://www.vintageadoftheweek.com/1971-mercury-cougar-xr-7-billboard/ follow them for a vintage ad of the week**