Member Login


Marketing and Branding–When Less Is More: Harvard Business Journal Study Shows Importance of "Decision Simplicity"


Two issues (one belief, one fact) with marketing today:

Belief: Customers are less brand loyal.

Fact: With the internet, mobile, and social media, there are many more ways for brands to interact with consumers.

What if exploiting the fact is creating a vicious cycle that is making the belief more true? That just might be what's happening today.

According to a 2012 Harvard Business Journal study entitled "To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple", the increase in marketing messages "isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage."

The authors analyzed surveys and interview with thousands of consumers and hundreds of marketing experts to figure out what makes consumers "sticky"–i.e. "likely to follow through on an intended purchase, buy the product repeatedly, and recommend it to others."

The authors looked at over 40 variables, including pricing, brand perceptions, etc. and concluded that the biggest driver of stickiness was "decision simplicity".

Decision simplicity has three parts:

1. Ease of gathering information. Ideally web navigation will figure out where the consumer is in the buying decision, and only show him info relevant to the stage he or she is at.

2. Easy to determine trust. The best way is by giving access to user-generated reviews. Consumers put a lot of weight over peer reviews, versus expert, celebrity, or technical information.

3. Ease of comparison. It should be easy to see side-by-side comparisons and trade-offs between different products and options.

Decision simplicity is one of the four types of strategic simplicity that I assist clients with.

Lyft and Medical Trials: When You're #2, Find Niches to Serve


Yesterday, I saw an article in Crain's Chicago Business that Continuum Clinical, a company that recruits patients for drug trials, is launching a partnership with Lyft to transport patients to/from trials.

This is an example of innovation called win-win collaboration.

Continuum and the drug companies benefit because they need to make sure that patients make it reliably and safely to participate in the study, and not miss any treatments - which could affect the results.

Using a ride company makes sense since many drug trial volunteers are low-income or too sick to drive.

For Lyft, which is #2 behind Uber, this is their push into the health care niche. They will set up a special call center with trained people to assist the drug trial participants.

If you are not the leader in your wider field, it makes sense to take over and become #1 in sub-fields since, over time, leaders benefit from a positive feedback loop and distance themselves from the competition.

Thus, as Uber pulls away from Lyft for general rides, Lyft can stay around and be profitable because it can pull away in it's selected niches. 

Why Reality Will "Trump" Your Marketing Perceptions



It would seem at present that the perceptions being created by many of the current political candidates are, at least in their minds, more important than the reality of the results most of them have been responsible for throughout their career. To point out the obvious, Donald Trump has been bankrupt several times throughout his career and has invested heavily in numerous failed enterprises including (but not limited to!) Trump Airlines, Trump Vodka, Trump Mortgages, Trump: The Game, and on the list goes.

When you consider the number and extent of Donald’s failed business ventures (and the ensuing losses), the reality of his being highly successful may be less of a reality then he (and his PR team) suggests.

Of course I’m not suggesting that success comes without failure, but I’d like you to consider which is more important, perception or reality.

Before you answer this question, consider for a moment the “perception” your business creates or intends to create in the eyes of your customers. Here are some examples to put you on the right track:

  • Are you attempting to create the perception to potential customers that you have a company larger than it really is?
  • Are you suggesting to customers that they are your top priority, when in reality they are #201 in your customer database, falling behind several dozen other customers?
  • Do you market levels of value you provide to customers, when in reality this value is more a perception of your management team then a reality of your existing customer comments?

When it comes to business it’s not uncommon to use perceptions in an attempt to draw more customers and to sell more products. We call this “marketing.” Problem is if your claims can’t be substantiated or are proven wrong at some point, eventually you’ll loose credibility, market share and of course profits.

Why do I suggest this will happen “eventually?”

Let’s return to Mr. Trump. It’s been documented numerous times that Donald has made claims that may not be based on 100% reality. To this point he’s been able to move beyond these inconsistencies for a variety of reasons (the power of his brand, the “reality” that most of us have learned not to trust what any politician actually says), but mark my words, these misstatements will come back to haunt him some day.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere was caught lying to the EFF about slowing Internet speeds on specific videos.

Notre Dame head coach George O’Leary lied about having a master’s degree from NY University 

RadioShack’s CEO David Edmondson lied about having earned degrees in theology and psychology.

Here’s the reality.

Good marketing is built on great value, substantiated by your customers, employees and suppliers. Rather than invest in having a marketing company to tell you what your brand or value statement is, why not just ask what your employees say what customers tell them are the most important aspects of the value you offer (for more information on how to do this, check out this blog post). What your customers advise is most valuable to them or what your suppliers suggest are the greatest competitive advantages that your company has within the marketplace?

Don’t risk your repute for the sake of short-term profits and growth. Build a marketing platform that has a foundation in truth and reality, as the alternative simply isn’t worth the risk.


Make Money: Fill Your Dance Card


Corporate philanthropic giving generally flows in one of three directions. The “Fill Your Dance Card” option links giving back with growing revenue. You give, in part, to build new customers.

One common way to fill your dance card is to sponsor events. Event sponsorships persist because of thier success. Eighty-nine percent of U.S. consumers stated that given similar quality and price, they prefer brands linked with a cause. Dan Ariely writes about a study involving art and donations: “These results suggest that once someone (or some organization) does us a favor, we become partial to anything related to the giving party… the magnitude of this bias increases as the magnitude of the initial favor (in this case the amount of payment) increases.”

Event sponsorships, however, represent just one way to fill your dance card. You have a boat load of other choices.

You might also investigate operating sponsorships. Or “Introduce Yourself” options. Introduce yourself options include prizes, contests, scholarships, free tickets, etc. They help potential customers meet you. For instance, a plumbing supply business offers a competitive scholarship to a local tech school. The company welcomes classes of future plumbers and gains, as Ariely suggests, their favor. At a chamber presentation, a business introduces itself by raffling a free session and other prizes. A theme park offers a free ticket to a child who reads the most books in a year. This introduces the park, supports competitive reading, and creates park partiality among the school’s students, the teacher, and their parents.

To benefit from a full dance card, identify the specific customers with whom to dance. Explore nonprofits that interact with them. Don’t forget the potential value of connecting with a nonprofit's board members, donors, and volunteers. Luxury brands often align with high-end markets, i.e., a Bentley dealer engages with the symphony. Other businesses find their potential customers on Saturday at work-site volunteers at Habitat for Humanity.

Introduce yourself options, events, and operating sponsorships present three of many way to fill your dance card by partnering with nonprofits. What steps will you take to fill your dance card? Don't dance alone when you can dance with potential customers.

For more information about business-nonprofit opportunities subscribe to The Link. Or, contact Karen.


Cut The Administrative Crap


It’s the first week of January as I write this so let me ask you a question. When you look around at what you’re spending time on and more importantly what your employees are spending time on, how much of this time is invested in activities that will grow your business this year and how much of the time is spent on administrative crap?

Sorry for being blunt here, but hear me out. Despite what your accountants, customers and even shareholders might request of you, there is no amount of crossing Ts and dotting Is that will support business growth.

Business growth results from increasing your value, more specifically the value of your products or services, to the marketplace. That’s right, increased value equates to increased growth.

In my book Operational Empowerment I discuss a concept I call “The Value Connection”. The concept is something I often help clients discover in their business in order to ramp up their growth trajectory. In the simplest of forms, the value connection is the degree to which employees understand and operate in order to add value to customers.

I share the example of Dave Carroll who witnessed his $3500 Taylor guitar being tossed around like a rag doll by United Airlines employees during a stop over. Although luggage damage is not a new concept for those of us who travel frequently, Dave’s story is unique because despite his continued attempts to obtain assistance from various United Airlines employees (including executives) to resolve the issue, his requests went unheard. As a result, Dave went on to record a YouTube video about the event that as of today has somewhere north of 14 million views. How’s that for brand management?

So, I want to return to my comment earlier on. Administrative “busy-work” although seemingly necessary should take a backseat to activities that add value. Are your employees clear on how they do or can add value to your customers?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Are your employees empowered to quickly deal with customer concerns or do they have to escalate everything?
  • Do your employees recognize that their attitude, personality and demeanor can have a direct impact on your company’s brand?
  • Have you made an attempt to help each and everyone of your employees connect their role with bringing value (directly or indirectly) to your customers?

As the old saying goes, value is in the eye of the beholder. Does everyone on your team recognize what your customers value? Do you?


Holistic Marketing and Social Media


In today's era of social media, marketing is now holistic throughout your firm.  All your employees - no matter what their job titles are - serve as de facto marketers.

A helpful sales clerk could get praised on Facebook, while a rude waiter experience might result in a Twitter rant. 

Your company needs to take advantage of this - especially since we are in an age of information overload.  Traditional ads are no longer effective and even potentially useful content (such as blog posts and articles) is frequently ignored.

To turn your employees into actual marketers, they must become producers/innovators and promote by creating actual products and services that give value. 

For example, as part of its marketing, a restaurant could get their chef to demonstrate simple recipes on its You Tube channel.  Then, they could expand on this by getting him/her to offer weekly cooking classes, for a nominal fee, at a time when the restaurant is closed or business is slow.  The classes could be promoted in the restaurant and online.




I’ve yet to encounter a CEO, president or business owner who isn’t constantly considering ways in which they can grow their business. When I ask what types of initiatives they are considering, the responses tend to focus on applying what has worked in the past rather than what might work today.

The most common approaches pursued typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Improve marketing to expand market reach (i.e. new brand, better website, new marketing materials)
  2. Increase the size and skill set of the sales force (i.e. more sales reps, increased skill sets)
  3. Investigate possible M&A opportunities (i.e. increase market share, expand into new markets)


If this is how you think growing a business should be approached, then there’s something wrong with your thinking because…

  • Historical marketing practices are lost amidst the expanding global marketplace
  • Customers are more educated than ever before and don’t respond to traditional sales tactics
  • M&A carries with it significant investment and risk at a time when the economy remains delicate

Put another way, seeking to grow your business by applying strategies that yielded success 10 – 20 years ago is asinine. The world, the economy and most importantly, your customers, have evolved.

Disagree? Well would you buy a car today with roll up windows just because they were once the most effective way to cool down the car? Or would you visit a teller at the bank to pay your bills rather than setup automatic payments online just because it was once considered the best way to ensure your transaction was secure? Of course not.

If you wouldn’t revert to how you used to do things personally, why would you ever revert to practicing old approaches to growing your business?

You need to think and be more customer centric – more people centric. Mass marketing and blanket approaches to selling are no longer relevant and anyone trying to tell you they are doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

The truth is, you can grow your business on a budget. To meet the needs of today’s customers and clients requires that you shift your attention from marketing and selling to empowering your customers. Today’s customer needs to feel valued.


When was the last time you asked your best customers where they seek out your products and services? That’s where you should market.

When was the last time your salesforce met with customers not to sell, but to learn how you can improve your product or service? That’s how you should sell.

It’s time to step out of the 1980s and stop treating customers like they’re all the same. Making meaningful connections and empowering customers is the key component of your customer attraction and retention strategy.


Are You Underwhelming Your Customers?

Have you ever purchased something only to realize shortly after that what you purchased was nothing special? Have you ever made a purchase and then realized that what you invested in was no different then something you owned previously? 

We've all been there. 

Most recently for me it was the purchase of something called an "ogoSport Sports Disk" which is supposed to combine the sports of Frisbee and badminton. My wife and I thought it would be a great game for the boys but in reality the disks are too heavy to fly and the lack of a handle makes badminton near impossible.

Just another underwhelming product with great marketing. I'm sure you had dozens of similar experiences with examples like "New Coke" and "Blu Ray" immediately coming to mind.

But what's the true cost of introducing an underwhelming product or service into the marketplace? Obviously a loss of revenue will occur, but what about the soft costs like lack of trust, loyalty, reputation or brand?

I often ask my strategy clients this very question and I'm curious about your business. Are you producing or delivering any underwhelming products or services?


Here are some questions for you to consider in order to assess the extent to which your products or services may be underwhelming your customers:

  1. Does our product or service deliver exactly what our marketing promises? Can we support this?
  2. Are our customers willing to provide testimonials of their experiences that align with our marketing promises?
  3. Is the demand of our products and services steadily increasing relative to our marketing investment?
  4. What kind of comments are being portrayed online relative to our products/services (i.e. social media)?
  5. Does our reputation with new prospective customers precede our presence?
The key message is this. Be absolutely sure that what you promise (aka your marketing) delivers the value customers expect. If it doesn't the results can be catastrophic.

As I often tell my clients, don't be caught in the overwhelm of business decline simply because you underwhelmed your customers.


How Successful Marketing Leaders (Like Arianna Huffington) Unplug

It takes a leap of faith to unplug. Several senior marketing leaders and CEOs whom I have met think of their lives as an “either/or” proposition where they are either relaxed and unplugged, OR overworked and hyper-connected. Today, I believe it’s about living a “both/and” life. We are human beings, not human doings.

I just attended the Washington Women’s Leadership Initiative conference, and spent some time discussing this topic with HuffingtonPost CEO and best selling author, Arianna Huffington. She invited me to become an expert blogger for HuffingtonPost last year, and I’m glad that I did. Their site attracts 24 million unique visitors every month. Her keynote, “The Third Metric,” resonated with the overachieving women (and two men!) in the audience. Huffington is promoting her newest book, Thrive, which launches in late March.

Arianna and Lisa, February 12 2014

Huffington asserts that we often live our lives measuring success through two metrics: money and power. She said the stool is missing a third leg: wisdom. She boldly claims that our world has become unmanageable., and that throughout our day, we move from crisis to crisis. She also believes that many of our challenges, such as sequestration and the fiscal cliff, are manufactured. “Many people with very high IQs are making very bad decisions.” She alluded to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former IMF Managing Director, whom she opines had all the qualities to become France’s next president prior to the accusations of adultery and his assaulting a hotel employee in New York City. What’s missing in these political and business luminaries’ drama-laden lives is wisdom.

Thousands of studies outlining the benefits of mindfulness, single tasking, and reflection can no longer be ignored. I will be featuring several of them in my upcoming book, The Mindful Marketer: How to Stay Present and Profitable in a Data-Driven World (launching in fall 2014). These practices are now mainstream.

Wisdom is cultivated by taking small steps. Arianna Huffington never brings any mobile devices or computers in her bedroom. During her keynote, she proudly announced that she uses an old fashioned alarm clock and a traditional phone. If her news staff needs to urgently reach her, they have her emergency phone number. Otherwise, the temptation to check emails during waking moments is too strong.

Eric Lecky, VP of Marketing at ICF International, is one of my mindful clients. He grew a stellar marketing team from 3 to 40 people within a few years. He reports that “in order to focus and be more ‘present’ in meetings and work activities, we occasionally host technology-free meetings. It may seem a bit counter intuitive, but shutting off smart phones, email, and even the conference call line creates a much more intimate experience and often spawns a different level of attention, and therefore creativity. I encourage my team to engage this way when possible. It has a certain liberating aspect to be able to block out the world and just focus. We have found this is especially helpful in creative brainstorming sessions–some of our best ideas emerge when we shut off the gadgets.”

Whether you are planning a live customer conference or an internal team meeting, create moments to unplug. Build a nap room (a practice which has gained popularity at HuffingtonPost, General Mills, and Google offices), a place for people to meditate, or practice yoga. Your constituents will initially be skeptical. Eventually, they will appreciate, if not love, the gesture.

Mindfulness cultivates wisdom. It creates a space for creativity to emerge. In today’s world, that is what feeds our souls, and what feeds sustainable companies.

copyright 2014, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of

This article originally appeared in CMO Council.


Big Data or Big Disappointment?

My first corporate job out of college opened my eyes to the power of computing. I never dreamed how much data would become a cornerstone of today’s modern marketing.

In 1984, I was appointed the International Marketing and Sales Director for one of the world’s first PC software companies. Rick, my boss, gave me a Compaq Portable computer to take home and use. I enjoyed 256K of RAM and two floppy disks to store my treasure trove of documents and spreadsheets. I felt like a member of the technology elite.

Today, we operate in a whole new realm of data, and marketing leaders are sometimes drowning in it. In 2012, authors Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson reported in the Harvard Business Review that big data “server farms” transmit more information across the Internet every second than the total amount of data stored in the entire Internet in 1992.

Click here to view the video.

Big data has re-shaped how we view account reporting, lead scoring and customer loyalty—not to mention the CMO scope of responsibility. How did big data become top of mind for many corporate directors, and how will it impact today’s marketers?

First, let’s define it. Big data is the process of analyzing and implementing actionable intelligence that helps companies achieve new levels of efficiency, profit and customer relationships. Big data-driven decision making is different from traditional data analytics in three ways: the volume of data (analyzing petabytes of data at one time); velocity (such as dramatically reducing time to detect fraud); and variety (synthesizing customer information from a multitude of sources).

Big data initiatives promise to improve the customer experience and marketing ROI. For example, in product development, marketers can gather disparate data, such as voice, survey summaries, social media commentary and free-form commentary (also known as unstructured data). By organizing these data into groups, marketers can uncover themes. These themes help them discover unmet customer needs. Companies such as Vision Critical use big data to personalize customer interactions. They gather and manage surveys and peer-to-peer discussions for more than 600 customers and manage more than 2.5 million customer survey initiations per month.

In their Harvard Business Review article, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson delineated other positive business results that data-driven firms can typically generate. Their 2012 study included 330 public North American company interviews. They reported that “The more companies characterized themselves as data-driven, the better they performed on objective measures of financial and operational results…companies in the top third of their industry in the use of data-driven decision making were, on average, 5 percent more productive and 6 percent more profitable than their competitors."

With results like these, how could anyone possibly argue against the merits of big data? Analyst firm Gartner Group has. Jackie Fenn, a Gartner fellow, publishes an annual “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” report. In the 2013 edition, she declared that big data has reached a stage that she called “the peak of inflated expectations.” In other words, she considers big data to be hype. Gartner predicts that another 5–10 years will pass before big data reaches a “plateau of productivity.” This represents the time required until a technology can be readily and easily adopted.

Here is one more reason to be wary of big data's inflated promises. Big data server farms could be missing more than half of the information you need about your customers. Alexis Madrigal, a contributor to The Atlantic, reported in October 2012 that, in The Atlantic’s case, 56.5 percent of social traffic sources remained invisible to data analytics programs. She named this the “dark social” phenomenon and says, “[Dark social] shows up variously in programs as ‘direct’ or ‘typed/bookmarked’ traffic, which implies to many site owners that you actually have a bookmark or typed in into your browser. But that’s not what’s actually happening a lot of the time. Most of the time, someone Gchatted someone the link, or it came in on a big email distribution list, or your dad sent it to you…Dark social is even more important across this broader set of [media] sites. Almost 69 percent of social referrals were dark!”

I am not suggesting that marketing leaders should abandon big data initiatives designed to accelerate growth initiatives. In lieu of viewing big data as the holy grail of customer insight and engagement, consider that big data is a tool with a finite set of benefits within a larger toolbox. Today's most seasoned neuromorphic engineers have not yet designed a computer that works in ways that emulate the human brain. Our brains have high fault tolerances; they adapt to changing demands, stimuli and environments; and they do not operate from fixed algorithms.

The ability to clone human consciousness—which I define as our awareness of the human experience—is still elusive to us mere mortals. Our brains hold 86 billion nerve cells (neurons), and that's where human consciousness performs its magic. Big data initiatives do not imitate these intuitive realms.

If you are using big data with any of your marketing initiatives, find a way to simultaneously fine-tune and apply your intuition. Jill Richards, former CMO of Terracotta Technologies, reminds us that “The answer is not always in the data; it’s based on what you know about how people and markets work. In the end, people buy from people. There is still a ‘trust your gut’ factor. Sometimes the market timing may be off. Maybe the market or internal team is just not ready to hear it.”

In my newest book, The Mindful Marketer, I explain this concept as your “inner marketing guru” (IMG). Seasoned marketers use their IMG regularly to express sensations, emotions and feelings in response to experiences and to communicate how we are inextricably linked to something greater than our skeletal bodies. Our human experiences are the fuel that enriches our lives, our human relationships, our marketing strategies and our customer interactions.

As I reflect on the pivotal moments when I first turned on that Compaq personal computer, walked down the aisle on my wedding day and launched my first successful global marketing program, I realize how these events significantly contributed to my own body of wisdom. No Hadoop server farm will ever reproduce or replace those moments.

This article originally appeared in CMO Council

Copyright 2014, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.



Box 1009, East Greenwich, RI 02818
Phone: 401-884-2778
Fax: 401-884-5068
© Society for the Advancement of Consulting. All Rights Reserved. Web Site Design and Hosting by
WebEditor Design Services, Inc.