Please don’t make me explain this to you…

branding boo boosDespite the fact that I am definitely NOT your typical LOGO channel viewer, I recently discovered the reality television series RuPaul’s Drag Race.  It’s Project Runway meets America’s Next Top Model except RuPaul is everything Tyra should EVER hope to aspire to be!  (meow!)

I discovered the show at about the fourth episode and fortunately, LOGO is loving this show as much as I am, so the entire season has been replayed LIBERALLY and quickly filled up my DVR when I set it to “record all episodes at any time on this channel.”

In what may qualify as child abuse in the Midwest (but not in Florida where bestiality is still legal -as long as the animal in question doesn’t exhibit distress over the violation), I allowed my 14 year old son to watch the Drag on a Dime episode with me.

My two older children remember exactly where they were the first time they saw RuPaul in all her glory.  Somehow, my youngest didn’t know who this 6’4″ supermodel of the world was until he joined me in watching the show.

Thus the title of this blog post… because my son had a REALLY hard time wrapping his brain around exactly WHAT RuPaul and the other lovely drag queens were all about.

One question was, “Do they wish they were born with women’s bodies?”

My answer, “No, sweetie.  There is definitely the “change the make and model” option via surgery which is covered in GRAPHIC detail in an episode of South Park – but I’m pretty sure than none of these gentleman WANTS to be a woman all day, every day.”

This brings us to the branding/marketing portion of the program.

Branding Lessons from America’s Favorite Drag Queen

The RuPaul “brand” is a study in authenticity which is kind of ironic if you think about it.  I mean, I’m touting a DRAG QUEEN as a study in authenticity – but RuPaul has never claimed to be what he appears to be on stage.  He admits that he’s a master of illusion!

Because he is such a master of presentation (e.g. hair and makeup) and most importantly “illusion”, he became a spokesperson for MAC cosmetics in 1995.  Who better to demonstrate the transformational powers of the right make up than a drag queen?

However, there are several essential branding lessons every business owner can learn from RuPaul – but I think the most important one is:

Be consistent in your presentation and representation of your brand.

RuPaul has NEVER denied being a man in a drag.  Love it – hate it – he is what he is.

He’s a 6’4″ tall black drag queen sporting a platinum wig.  Take one look at him and you won’t be surprised when he opens his mouth and out spills something outrageous!  Mac cosmetics didn’t have to wonder if he would appeal to the middle aged housewife in the Midwest when they chose him as their spokeswoman – because that wasn’t the audience with whom he was supposed to connect!  He was voted Queen of Manhattan in 1990.  Mac wanted the ultimate urban socialite and they saw that in RuPaul.

As you peruse RuPaul’s site (click on the image above- it goes there) – you’ll notice that MOST of the time, RuPaul is in character and most of the time he’s in character, he’s sporting a platinum blond wig.  He may be wearing some of the most AMAZING fashions  – but his “look” never deviates.

Since the “real” RuPaul is bald, I don’t know his natural hair color but I’m pretty sure from his complexion that platinum blond is NOT what grows out of his head (or any other part) naturally.  He has complete control over his hair color – yet he almost always chooses to portray his character with platinum blond hair.

RuPaul COULD choose to appear with a dazzling and ever changing array of hair colors -yet  he chooses only one most of the time.  RuPaul has found a look that “works” and he’s stuck with it.

By choosing a look and sticking with it, RuPaul doesn’t have to “explain” himself and his brand over and over!

A HUGE problem many business owners encounter when it comes to “branding” and “advertising” is that they often get tired of a campaign at precisely the moment when the brand or the campaign is starting to make an impact on their audience.

If RuPaul were following the path of America’s largest retailer – he would have traded in his blond wig (a.k.a. fired his ad agency) of 20 years and “revamped” his image.  In my opinion, RuPaul trading in his platinum wig for a more sensible “brunette” is the moral equivalent of Walmart dumping the little smiley face guy.

RuPaul could choose a new hair color –  WHY WOULD HE?

The blond wig WORKS so why change it?

The same question can be asked of companies large and small.  Walmart isn’t the only huge company to suffer from this affliction.  From “new Coke” to the “new US Army” – why oh why change something that is WORKING?

If you follow local advertising – you’ll see examples of local businesses who change their branding on an almost daily basis – to the point of not HAVING a single cohesive branding thread upon which to hang a marketing message.

In the end, RuPaul has been very deliberate and equally consistent in crafting and delivering his own unique “brand” of entertainment.    The clothes change, but the character doesn’t.

If a drag queen who can change her hair color as quickly and easily as she changes her shoes can stick with a consistent hair color for more than 2 decades – why would your business want to change it’s branding essentials?

If your branding is broken – fix it!  However, just because you “can” doesn’t mean you SHOULD.  It could be that what’s broken is NOT the marketing – but something else.

Find out BEFORE you start fixing something that used to work!

When the Pest Control Company is your most Annoying Pest!

There are times when, if it wasn’t for the media telling me how HORRIBLE the economy is – I wouldn’t know it. This is not one of those times. This is a sad tale of a business obviously struggling to survive the great recession of 2008 and features my former pest control company – Truly Nolen.

Back in 2007, I contracted with Truly Nolen to provide pest protection for my home and yard.  I paid to have my yard treated despite the fact that I pay a monthly fee to my homeowner’s association and their guy rides around spraying what must be water on my lawn every 4 months.

My complaints about my homeowner’s association are legion but they can wait until another day.

Today, I’m telling the tale of Truly Nolen – how I came to choose them as “my” pest control provider – why I decided to NOT continue that relationship and most importantly, how I have become involved in almost a “Fatal Attraction” style “service provider breakup” with them.

Why I chose Truly Nolen as my Pest Control company

I chose Truly Nolen as my first provider of pest control in southern Florida because of the car. In a word – it’s ADORABLE!!! It’s a yellow VW Bug outfitted with ears and a tail.  You used to see it driving all over town. Looking back, I realize it probably wasn’t the most REASONED buying decision I’ve ever made.

Truly Nolen’s Performance as my Pest Control company

I signed a one year contract for pest control for my home and my yard – because I actually SAW a grub on the sidewalk. When I complained to the guys hired by my homeowner’s association – they told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. Those brown spots in my lawn weren’t from insect damage – they were because I needed to water more often.

I hate being lied to!

So I call Truly Nolen.  The Truly Nolen guy comes out and makes a BIG production about the infestation of cockroaches living behind my dishwasher.  EWWW!!!!  My home is less than 3 years old and I’ve got cockroaches!!!  EWWWW!!!!

I’m thinking, “Boy, am I glad I signed a year contract with these guys.”

As the Truly Nolen dude pokes, sprays and heads merrily upon his way –  I feel safe and protected.

Three days later, I am confronted with one of said cockroaches on my front door. EWWWW!!!

So I call and tell them to get someone out IMMEDIATELY!!!  They say they can’t get anyone out until next week.  

Wait – I’m not feeling so safe and protected anymore.

When the Truly Nolen guy finally arrives,  he is obviously having a bad day.  Obviously, Truly Nolen must not PAY their technicians when they have to go back out to retreat a house.  Or maybe they treat him as badly as they’re treating me.

This scenario plays out repeatedly over the next year.  I see bugs – I call – they apologize, stall and then give excuses.  I anxiously await the call to renew my contract.

Truly Nolen never calls. Instead, my doorbell rings as I’m getting ready for church one Sunday morning (yes – Sunday morning….) and my teenage son answers the door.  As I’m getting ready, I see a Truly Nolen guy walking the perimeter of my house.  Before I can get my clothes on, he’s gone.  I ask my son who was at the door and he told me it was the Truly Nolen guy.  He told me the guy had asked if it was ok for him to treat the house and my son said, “Sure.”

I am now officially upset and sure enough, they follow the treatment with a bill for ANOTHER year’s services.

I call and tell them that not only do I NOT want their sub-standard services for another year but the services they provided were based on a verbal contract with a minor which is a HUGE problem for THEM not ME!

Truly Nolen becomes my most annoying pest

Actually, I think I’m being QUITE nice about this with the young lady from Truly Nolen.  She replies, “Oops!  Let me have you talk to my manager.”

She puts me on hold – 15 minutes later, I hang up and call back.  She answers, and I ask to speak with the manager.  I’m now told that the manager is on vacation and he’ll call me when he gets back.

A few weeks later, I get another bill from them – which I call and am told that the manager is STILL not available to talk to me.

I ignore said bill.

Yesterday, I got a collection notice in the mail.  I call the “collection” agency and get an answering machine that loops endlessly telling you to wait for the beep and it never does.

I feel extorted.  Of course I’ll pay the bill.  It’s not worth it to TRASH my good credit over this amount.  Truly Nolen will have won.  They will have gotten to a little bit MORE of my cash.  [NOTE:  After this blog post was published- Truly Nolen representatives contacted me.  Not only did they promptly remove me from collections and credited the account – they also assured me they would be making the auto renewal of the contract more visible in the future.]

The real pity here is Truly Nolen is selling a SERVICE.  They may think they’re selling pest control, but you know what – I can’t SEE pest control – all I see is the surly Truly Nolen tech.  In her post You May Not Be Doing as Badly as You Think, Cath Lawson writes:

Selling a service, especially a more costly service, to your first few customers is far harder than selling a product, because you’re selling the invisible – they can’t see what they’re going to get.

Truly Nolen “got me” the first time with clever branding and effective advertising.  They won’t get me again no matter how cute the mascot or how effective the marketing message.

That’s the way this whole “customer service” stuff works.

When you please a customer – if you’re lucky-  they’ll tell 3 people.  If they’re pissed or disappointed – they’ll tell 16.If they have a blog – they’ll tell thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – as long as the blog post stays “alive”.

Over at the Ignite Social Media blog there’s a GREAT post on Your Customer’s Hierarchy of Needs. You have to get  passed the “satisfied customers” tier – before you can begin to achieve customer advocacy.

So here I am – pissed off and feeling really abused.  It’s not the money – it’s how they’re GETTING my money – via extortion.   It’s the accumulation of multiple bad experiences with several different technicians with the final straw being a hidden renewal clause.

All I can do is wonder what in the world they’re thinking.

What are YOUR customers saying about you online?  Are your customers blogging about your piss poor customer service?  Are your customers pissed off enough to contact a blog which specializes in airing poor customer service?

You build your business reputation one customer service contact at a time.  If you’re a business owner – protecting your online reputation should be a high priority.  Is it?

Authors note:  Over the course of the past three years – this blog post as served as a “lightning rod”  for people who are upset with their pest control company – or looking to find a reputable pest control service. 

In response, I’ve finally launched Florida Pest Control Reviews. as a place where consumers can leave their authentic experiences with various pest control companies throughout Florida. I’m going to close comments on this post – and ask that you head over there to share your experiences.

Bugs are just a part of living in Florida – but they shouldn’t be the lesser of two evils when it comes to dealing with your pest control company.  Feel free to share your experience at

Florida Pest Control Reviews

Everything’s relative… setting your life thermostat

Today in my little corner of south eastern Florida – it’s 60 degrees today.

BRRR!!!

I don’t expect you to cry me a river – especially if you’re living in the path of the bitter cold that is blanketing much of the northern United States. However let me assure  you that temperatures in the 60’s feel positively FRIGID when you’ve spent a few summers surviving “surface of the sun” heat indexes in the mid to upper 120’s.

Meanwhile, a check of the weather back in my hometown in Indiana reveals that the current AIR temperature is currently -11 and the wind makes it feels like -29 … and those temps are °F by the way!   It’s even worse where my in-laws live.  It’s -20 and it feels like it’s -40 below just an hour north!  (Yes, I’m deeply concerned about the state of the plumbing in my Indiana property!)

But this whole weather thing has got me thinking about how where we are (and who we’re with) affects us and how our experiences shape our view.  In other words – there’s more than one setting on your life thermostat.

For example, I know that the weather today at my house would have felt positively tropical in January when I was living in Indiana five years ago.  Unfortunately, KNOWING that doesn’t make it FEEL any more tropical today.  Living down here for four short years has reset my thermostat – without my “permission” I might add.

That’s right.  I didn’t make a conscious decision to TRY to reset my body’s  thermostat.   I didn’t attempt to use “positive thinking” to change my body’s physical reaction to temperature so 60 degrees would feel cold to me.   As a matter of fact,  the opposite is true.  I desperately didn’t WANT to be a “Flor-idiot” who complains about being cold when it’s 60 degrees outside.

It didn’t matter what I desired, by moving to southern Florida, I changed my physical environment and as a result, my body’s physical responses have been altered.

Setting your Life Thermostat

However, there are other aspects to setting and regulating your life thermostat – beyond that of your physical perceptions of hot and cold.  Call it self help, call it self awareness, call it authentic expression or call it creative productivity –  the input you allow into your mind greatly affects your life thermostat settings.  (Oh, and if you think you can separate your “business” from your “life” ….. good luck with that.)

Just as your body will get “adjusted” to your physical environment – your mind will also get “adjusted” to the environment you create there as well.

Way back in 1997, I taught myself to code in HTML.  When word got out around town that I had acquired this skill, local business people started hiring me to create websites for their businesses.  One day about a year later, a very progressive woman who called herself a “life coach”  hired me to create a website for her business.  This turned out to be a significant “life thermostat altering” event.

What you read – what you watch – and the people you choose to accompany you on this journey called life – all have a dramatic effect on where your “life thermostat” is set.

Because I started working with forwarding thinking, successful people, my life thermostat settings changed… to the point where I find it difficult to relate to people from my “previous” life.

I recently was contacted by a co-worker from my past.  She was laid off from a subsequent employer and worrying about what she would do when her unemployment ran out in a few weeks.  She contacted me in hopes of landing a “J-O-B”.  However, her passions don’t lie in administrative work – and as much as I would have LOVED to have a passionate virtual assistant, it was easy to see that she was not that person.  So, in the course of the conversation (which lasted less than 40 minutes), we came up with a plan for her to start her own business based on the very things she was passionately devoting her time to during her unemployment.

I was surprised at how blatantly OBVIOUS what she SHOULD be doing was – and then I realized that my life thermostat settings have changed DRAMATICALLY since we last worked together.  She’s been punching a time clock, rubbing elbows with other “wage slaves” over the past decade.  Meanwhile, I’ve been spending the last decade connecting with other people who breath “rarified air” on a daily basis.

I am honored and feel privileged to be surrounded by such an amazing group of successful business owners.

Don’t underestimate the power of your surroundings to impact your perceptions and thinking.   What changes have you made (or do you need to make) to change your life thermostat?

How Familiarity Breeds Business a.k.a. the power of word of mouth

When you talk about marketing your small business, what you’re really talking about is communicating what it is your small business does for prospective customers or clients.

However, marketing is MORE than just communication – it’s communication that inspires action.

Marketing = Communication that moves people to action

In my book, Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I spend a LOT of time covering how important it is for you to get to know your customers.    Getting to know your target audience is a vitally important part of creating a compelling and selling marketing message.  After all, if you don’t know to whom you are speaking – how can you communicate in a way that moves people to action?

One way some business owners try to “get around” this whole ugly “target market identification” is to rely upon the most coveted of marketing tactics to promote their business – word of mouth marketing.

While having your customers spreading the word about what your business does is every business owners idea of nirvana – word of mouth marketing doesn’t just “happen”.  In fact, a lot of thought goes into laying the proper foundation for a successful word of mouth marketing campaign.

Laying the foundation for your Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign

When you start thinking of marketing less like “selling” and more like other forms of communication, a lot of factors start to fall easily into place.

Note: If you want to make a real MESS of social media – treat social networking tools like a sales call instead of a cocktail party!

Marketing communication is really not so very different than striking up a conversation at a cocktail party.  Part of cocktail party etiquette includes making a proper introduction of yourself.  However, in the case of marketing communications it’s not considered bad form to include an introduction of your services as well.

This introduction is called many things.  Some circles call it an elevator speech while authors would call it creating a great “back story”.  Whatever name you use, creating this introductory piece is an essential part of laying a foundation for your word of mouth campaign.

Brian Clark wrote a truly profound article on How Word of Mouth Marketing Really Works where he points out that the KEY to creating successful word of mouth marketing is to create a story that your customers want to tell.

An essential part of creating a story your customers want to tell is to give them a proper introduction to your business.

Let’s go back to the cocktail party.  You’re laughing, drinking and having a wonderful time when “that guy” corners you.  There’s no introduction – no pleasantries  – he thrusts his business card upon you and launches into his hard closing sales spiel.

EWWWW!!!!!

You want to run.  This guy doesn’t know you and you certainly don’t want to get to know him any better.  The same principle holds true when you’re striking up a conversation with prospective customers.  A natural part of the process is introducing yourself to your customers.

When you’re blogging, you do that on your “about” page.  The “about” page on any business website or blog is a very popular destination for prospective customers.

So while it’s important to become familiar with your customers -knowing who they are and what problems they need to solve, you must also be sure that they become just as familiar with you.

Jason Alba, the founder of Jibber Jobber, understands how important building familiarity is to building his business.  Meridith Levinson wrote about Jason in the article, How a Job Search Led Jason Alba to Start JibberJobber, and shares the story of how Jason went from aspiring CIO to unemployed “geek” to successful entrepreneur.  When the story is published, Jason notices that sign ups for Jibber Jobber have increased.

Word of mouth marketing is simply when people tell the story of your product or service for you. PR is what happens when the person telling the story is a journalist.

Jason has been building “familiarity” with his target audience ever since he launched his business.  One important tool he’s been using to tell this story is his blog.  The story of how Jibber Jobber came to be is told often in his posts such as, Happy January 13th! Guess what’s special about today?

Jason has carefully crafted a story that is easy for others to pick up and tell – whether they’re journalists, job seekers or career coaches. Notice how the story not only tells the problems Jibber Jobber helps to “solve” but how it also offers assurance to his target audience (job seekers)  that Jason “gets it”.  He knows what works – and what doesn’t in a job search and he has created a tool to make job searching better!

By creating such an appealing “back story”, he has laid the necessary foundation to create a powerful word of mouth marketing campaign.

Part of crafting your story is knowing who your target customers are.  Once you get familiar with your target audience, be sure that they become just as familiar with you.  Crafting your business introduction is perhaps one of the most important marketing tasks you’ll undertake.

If you don’t think your business has a “story”, try answering these questions:

  • How did your business get started?
  • If yours is a family business, why did your ancestors get into this line of work?
  • What problems were you trying to solve when you bought or launched your business?

To work as hard as you do, there must be a compelling reason for doing what you’ve chosen do for a living. The story of how your business came into existence can create a great foundation for a word of mouth marketing campaign.

What’s the story behind the launch of your business and/or blog?

Do Small Business Social Media Blunders = Small Business Marketing Blunders?

When you’re a small business owner, do social media blunders automatically translate into business marketing blunders.?

No matter what size business you run, business marketing blunders are what happens when we, as business owners, take our eyes of the road – and sometimes take our hands off the wheel.  (Ah – there it is again.  Another example of how marketing a business is like planning a trip. )  However, when you add social media into the marketing mix, the chances for missteps increases exponentially!

In the past, some of the most spectacular marketing blunders have happened when otherwise smart business owners agree to allow someone else  to take control of the marketing strategy. As a result, the business owner takes his or her hands off the wheel and leaves the driving up to a professional (or group of professionals).   Sometimes, that trust is horribly misplaced.  A case in point is the notable Motrin Viral Marketing Mess of 2008.  However, unfortunately this mess does not stand alone. There are a surprising collection of marketing blunders for 2008 – almost all are centered around companies with six figure monthly ad budgets being managed by marketing professionals who should have known better.

Collateral Damage has compiled a list of the top 10 marketing blunders of 2008 with the number 1 marketing blunder being declared a tie between John McCain and GM. (Personally, I don’t think John McCain’s marketing blunders can in any way compare with the scope and magnitude of GM’s mea culpa ad.  GM’s dedication to disappointing customers without remorse – until the handouts begin gives it TOP marketing blunder billing in my book!)  Meanwhile the Otherside Group has their own nominations in 8 Noteable Marketing Blunders.  Their top pick – the Microsoft’s ads which attempted to be “fun”and “cool” “just like Apple”.  Unfortunately, when Microsoft tried on that persona, the result was anything other than “fun and cool”.

It’s easy to sit back and feel smug as you watch the big guys go out and stub their toes as they attempt to build “a brand” for thei business – but what about the small business social media blunders that are going on every day?  Do those count as small marketing blunders?

Marketing Pilgrim touches upon this topic in a comic reminder to avoid social media blunders.  The post features an illustration which shows three unemployed people who confess that they are “unemployable” because of things they put on their social media profiles.  However, it’s not just the “wage slaves” who are making epic missteps in the world of social media.  From Facebook to Myspace to YouTube – small business owners are making social media blunders daily.

When you’re a small business, I don’t think it’s possible to separate the sharing and communication that goes on in social media from the marketing of your small business.  The two are just opposite sides of the same coin in my book. However,  Beth Harte in her post Is social media the same as marketing? respectfully disagrees.

I agree that social media plays a different role in the business where “marketing” is a department and the advertising budget is a six figure proposition than it does in a small business.  In the small business though, marketing is not a department and often it’s not even a job title.  More often than not, marketing in the small business is that thing that you do when you’re not busy doing what it is you do to make the mortgage payment every month.  (Try saying THAT ten times fast!)

However, there’s another important difference between the social media blunders of the “big boys” and the social media blunders small business owners make.

In the case of a small business – a social media blunder doesn’t have any possibility of an upside.

See, when a small business owner makes a social media or marketing blunder, it rarely generates the ensuing media coverage which accompanies larger scale social media and marketing blunders.  When Microsoft or GM makes a  blunder – everyone from Seth Godin to the most obscure blogger jumps on the bandwagon to report the tragic, misguided effort.   The ensuing public dissection creates a lot of activity and attention which brings to mind the axiom that there’s no such thing as bad press!

All those mentions – all those links – all that discussion usually end up doing little to do long term damage to the reputation of a well established business.  (The effect on a start-up is significantly different by the way – case in point – Cuil.  Turns out when you’re a startup there IS such a thing as bad pubilicity.)   When you’ve got a long track history in the public eye – a “negative” mention here or there only heightens your visibility and therefore reputation over the long run.

Meanwhile,  when we small business owners make a social media or small business marketing blunders – there is no upside.  More often than not, a botched attempt at shameless self promotion in a graceless age won’t end in a thrashing at TechCrunch and the accompanying increased links, buzz and notoriety.  On the contrary, when a small business owner makes a social media or business marketing blunder, there is no press coverage and therefore no positive effect.  Instead, potential customers and clients just quietly unsubscribe from our RSS feeds, stop following us on Twitter or simply ignore our message in the future and move on with their lives.  While they may forget about us, their search for another provider of the products and services we so lovingly provide will continue.

What do you think?  Is it possible for social media communications to be distinct from small business marketing communications?

Also, does the size  of the business matter when making that distinction?