Specializing in bringing together all components necessary for long term business growth,
profitability and success; and ensuring
that they are working in harmony.

Archive for the ‘branding’ Category

A Matter of Perception

Monday, June 29th, 2015

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When driving through downtown I noticed a large sign that read “efficiency apartments here.”
Next the radio ad begins blurting out the great value of “pr-owned” vehicles. Continuing through the neighborhood I noticed the sign in front of the upscale home that read, “For lease.”

With all of this is a common thread about how a small name change for the same thing creates a different image.

Efficiency apartments use to be called Studio’s. But that alluded to perhaps more to – needing to be on a starving student on a budget instead of upscale, hipster and cool.
In zeroing into the increased value perception of apartments for rent, and the practical reason for charging tenants perhaps 30 – 50% more, apartment complexes began posting signs that say, “luxury apartments homes for lease!” Sounds more inviting – and no doubt more expensive doesn’t it?

Pr-owned originally meant “used”, but that alluded to old, dirty, stinky – and for the poor folks. So the term went to Pr-owned – representing a smart purchase by the “Millionaire next Door.” Sounds much more sophisticated doesn’t it? Finally, for lease, like pr-owned is simply a warmed over and updated version of “for rent.” Oh but the words leasing and pr-owned creates a more positive spin doesn’t it?

Words create a picture which motivates and prepares the buyer for whatever is being sold. It is a powerful way to enhance your advertising – but be sure that whoever is putting together your campaign truly understands the image the word is intended to create.

ARE YOU SERIOUS!? What’s the matter with this sign?

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

It looks like a Domino’s franchise near the UT campus has gone rogue. In their desperation to attract drivers, they have exposed themselves and their franchiser to massive liability and a public relations nightmare.

Consider this:
A high-school or college kid takes the job. Believing that he can make more money by driving fast until in a reckless tragedy, hits a pedestrian (someone else’s son or daughter) and kills them.

So what happens next?
The pedestrian’s family files and no doubt wins a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Domino’s.
The irresponsibly inspired delivery driver’s life is ruined and goes first to jail – and later, to be haunted with killing someone by accident simply to earn a few extra bucks.

On top of the lawsuit, Domino’s experiences a public relations nightmare.
Next time you advertise for new employees, remember that “what you advertise, could reap what you sow.” Be responsible.

The Obituary Assignment

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Several months ago I received an email from a U.T Business student who asked to meet with some thoughts regarding the “key to success.” This was part of an assignment and knowing that I had advised CEOs and senior business people through-out multiple sectors, knew that we would have a productive discussion. “Before we begin I said, I want to challenge you to write me two things:
“One is your obituary. What would it say if you were to be run over by a bus today after our meeting?”
“Second, assuming that you live another eighty years, what do you want it to say?”
He took his assignment to heart and the next day I received the following:

Obituary today:

University of Texas student Shehryar Siddiqui passed away yesterday after getting hit by the Forty Acres bus.
Shehryar was a senior, studying Biomedical Engineering, and getting ready to go to medical school. He was young for his grade, only 20, but showed a lot of promise and potential for the future. Although he had much to live for, he still had a lot of good times with his closest friends.
Shehryar is survived by his parents and two loving, but annoying, sisters. His roommates were devastated by the loss, but stated “at least we get free tuition and straight A’s for the rest of the year”

Preferred Obituary in 80 years:

Today the world mourns the loss of businessman, inventor, and philanthropist Shehryar Siddiqui. Best known for his work in healthcare, and his companies, Shehryar fought tirelessly to improve the global standard of living. His vision revolutionized the field of medicine, and brought care to some of the most remote parts of the world. His developments helped launch humanity into a new age of immortality, finding cures for countless diseases and almost doubling the average lifespan. As a student at The University of Texas, Shehryar studied biomedical engineering. He planned to go to medical school, but after narrowly avoiding getting hit by a bus one day; he decided he would rather do something bigger with his life.
He went to work with a local venture capital firm and learned about investing and business management. After a few years of work, he got an MBA, and used his experience to start up a company of his own. The research spawned from this company laid the groundwork for his future work.
Twenty years later, as the president of a multimillion dollar company, Shehryar did something very unusual. He quit. Leaving control of his company to someone else, he joined a volunteer program and spent the next five years traveling around the world, visiting small villages, experiencing new cultures, and “choosing to help people as directly as [he] could”. When he returned to the business world five years later, he used his newfound experience to once again change the world of healthcare. His new model rolled out a global initiative to provide services for those who most needed it and could least afford it. Shehryar firmly believed that if we could improve quality of life for the least privileged part of humanity, the whole world would benefit.
At the end of his life, Shehryar was surrounded by his friends and family, and the people he loved most. He stated that he could not have made it to this point in life without all of their help and support in everything he did. He also thanked all the people who had helped mentor and guide him throughout the years. Shehryar said that he had no regrets in life, and although he made a lot of mistakes, he never felt like he missed an opportunity. His one piece of advice to others, “don’t take yourself too seriously”
Impressed with his effort I agreed to meet with him to discuss why I had given him this assignment.
“You see I explained in order to be successful you need to have a purpose. (Elementary) but that purpose needs to transcend into whatever it is you are doing. Building a business, creating a corporate empire, whatever, it needs to be tied in with the larger set of objectives. How many CEOs have allowed their business to sail into uncharted waters because they lost their way? How many businesses have suffered needlessly because they failed to check their original plans and alter them when required?

Planning with the end in mind is not simply a cliche’, it is a requirement for a full and successful life – and a more profitable business.

What about you as a new year begins NOW? Have you sat down and revised your plans lately? Does your progress tie into what will be said about you in your own obituary? Only you know for sure.


Monday, September 8th, 2014

It is no wonder that McDonald’s and the like continue to lose market share. Several days ago I thought I would grab a quick bite to hold me over until dinner. Typical of previous experiences, I was greeted by a barrage of irritating beepers and buzzers reminding the employees of various tasked that needed to be tended to. “Why don’t they use chimes or even more pleasant sounding bells I asked?”   “They want it to gnaw on our nerves the counter person replied as he shrugged his shoulders.”

I went ahead and ordered a chicken sandwich. When I sat down to bite into it, I discovered that there was not much there – just two buns, a slab of deep fried chicken breast and a pickle. When I brought it back to the counter and requested that they please add tomato and lettuce, and “hey, how ‘bout some mayonnaise? “He returned with it (now dressed as I had originally anticipated and then said “.30 cents please?”

Years ago the famous add for a competing chain had the little old lady asking “where’s the beef!?” Today, we are asking, “where’s the rest?!”

Between beepers, buzzers and substance-less sandwiches, I’m not planning to return anytime soon.

John Russell, the Principal of the Russell Consulting Group  seeks solutions for companies interested in retaining or growing market share with a combination of common sense corporate and management decisions intended to improving brand awareness.

Outing naughty and irresponsible ads during cold and flu season

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013


It is time to out a couple of irresponsible ads from the makers of Tylenol and Alka Seltzer.

The woman stands in the middle of a library and surrounded by patrons as she looks sadly up to the camera. Her nose is so raw from her nasty cold that the viewer is almost tempted to offer her another Kleenex. She exclaims how miserable she is with her cold and congestion. Of course the undercurrent message is that if you have to come into work, and then at least be reasonably comfortable (as you infect everyone else with your nasty illness.)

Equally offensive is the sick mother in the Tylenol ad. After it is established how ill feels, she just takes some Tylenol for colds and flu and Walla! –  She is back to entertaining her children! However the real rub is when she high fives her young child. So let me get this straight, if you take Tylenol you are no longer contagious?

Still, another ad uncomfortably places a woman in the middle seat of an airplane. Logged between two unfortunate souls, she will take the medicine so she feels better during the flight. Never mind that by the time they land, those poor passengers have just had their trips ruined because no doubt they were infected by whatever ailed her!

It is time that the cold and flu people get the message: Stop encouraging irresponsible behavior when people are sick! Rather than the woman sitting in the library – infecting everyone around her (yes, she will also no doubt be touching books and keyboards) why not try a more contemporary and responsible approach.

Perhaps her boss could be offering her a bottle of Alka Seltzer as he ushers her out the door to go home and get some rest. She might even be holding a slip of paper which reads, “Authorized paid sick leave!”

Taking this approach encourages responsible company policy and common sense. In the long-run, we all know (and the facts support it) that when people don’t come to work sick then business actually lose less money in the long run.

As for the mom in the Tylenol ad, how about a similar gesture instead of actual hand to hand contact. Perhaps the voice-over might say, “Though taking Tylenol when you are sick may greatly diminish cold and flu symptoms, you should still avoid contact with others ….”

Finally, don’t even put a sick passenger on a plane – not even for an ad, the risk are simply too great!

It is time that the cold and flu people get the message: Stop encouraging irresponsible behavior when people are sick!Alka-seltzer

A Lifetime Supply of Loyalty

Thursday, September 26th, 2013


What is it like to win an unlimited supply of something?

“My grandfather ate Corn Flakes every single day of his life after he got back from WWII. He was a man of routine.

Every. Single. Day. If he was on vacation he’d bring it with him in the mini-packs.

Late in his life, he decided to write a letter to kellogg’s telling them just how much he loved their cereal and how appreciative he was to have enjoyed it his whole life. In return, they sent him (effectively) a lifetime supply”
This excerpt from a recent Quora post shows that for the winner, not much changes – the grandfather ate Corn Flakes all his life and after winning continued to do so. But more interesting is the lesson illustrated here. The money your most loyal customers spend is of secondary importance to the value they add to your brand by championing your business.

Why else would Kellogg’s give their product away for free to someone who otherwise would have kept spending money on Corn Flakes for the rest of his life? They must have known that the grandpa wouldn’t take his lifetime supply into a cave and tell no one. On the contrary, he told his family, his friends and all his colleagues around the water cooler. And now you are reading about it on the worlds largest watercooler – the Internet.

Now should you go ahead and start awarding your best restaurant customers lifetime supplies of free meals? Unless you’re McDonalds, hell no! The economics of a tactic like this don’t make sense for most restaurants. Instead ask yourself how you can elicit a lifetime of loyalty from these customers. The value of the people they tell, the love they show on social networks, positive reviews they give on sites like Yelp or even friends and new customers that they bring in with them, dwarfs the money that they spend themselves in your restaurant.

For example, a recent study done by UC Berkeley shows that a “a half star rating increase (1 to 5 scale) meant a 19 percent greater likelihood that a restaurant’s seats would fill up during peak hours.”

Even your less than fanatic customers present a tremendous marketing opportunity over otherwise anonymous marketing channels. In Jay Conrad Levinson’s authoritative book on small-business marketing tactics, “Guerrilla Marketing,” he states “it costs six times more to sell a product or a service to a new customer than it does to an existing customer.” The path of least resistance to increased profits for your restaurants lies in marketing to and nurturing your relationships with these existing customers.

The value of your existing customers lies in what you know about them. The more you can learn about them, the more valuable they become to you. In the story at the beginning Kellogg’s knew the grandpa already loved their product so giving him a lifetime supply would yield a good return on their investment. Imagine giving someone a lifetime supply of something that they hated. Like pouring money into a black hole. But there are still ways to valuably remarket to the customers that aren’t yet giving you 5 star Yelp reviews.

Remarketing provides a way to target a group of people who are willing to spend money eating out, already like a particular type of food and are driving distance away from your business. Worded this way, most restaurants would jump at the opportunity to throw their marketing dollars at such a segment, and yet marketing to their existing customers is so often overlooked!

Compare the targeted approach to a recently broadcast radio advertisement I heard for a steakhouse here in Austin, TX. We can use some back of the napkin math and assumptions to show how a lack of targeting bleeds value out of such a marketing activity. The funnel below illustrates how all the things that the steakhouse doesn’t know about the people listening to their ad (i.e. whether or not they eat meat), depreciates 99% of the value – right out the gates!


This isn’t to say that you don’t need marketing targeted at new customer acquisition, but it is foolish to think that your marketing relationship with your customer ends when you finally get them to step in the door. That is where it starts. Take a long term view of your restaurant’s success and nurture these relationships as they are your most valuable asset. In all your marketing and business activities you should consistently exude excellence and authenticity. Your customers will take note, and reward you tenfold.



About the Author

Brandon is the Chief Product Officer at TapSavvy, an Austin-based software company which offers restaurants tools to manage their reputation and grow their business.  Through the TapSavvy Web App restaurateurs get a real-time view of, and respond to what customers are saying in their restaurant – leveraging deep customer insight to improve operations, conduct staff evaluations and market their business more effectively. ”


Invisible Architecture: Encouraging design with all senses in mind

Monday, September 16th, 2013


Blog by Keith A. Simon, AIA, LEED AP, Owner of Ecotone Design Lab, LLC

Within the past few weeks I’ve experienced:

  • A pediatric doctor’s lobby that was so acoustically reverberant that it eliminated all privacy
  • A café that was so loud I had to raise my voice to speak with the person sitting next to me
  • A patient’s room where the unintelligible acoustics made it difficult for the nurse to articulate her recommendations
  • And a classroom where the sound experienced by the students varied from location to location.

According to recent studies (ASID, Oommen 2008, Lechner 2012), 70% of office workers believe their acoustic environment reduces their productivity, 60% of occupants in multi-family housing complexes complain about noise from their neighbors, and poorly designed acoustic environments reduce test scores, cause high blood pressure and stress levels, as well as increase conflict. These shocking statistics might not be so surprising when we consider that the majority of today’s architects could be described as occularcentric – that is, obsessed with aesthetics at the expense of performance and experience.

Sometimes users of a space complain enough and the Owner or stakeholders are sympathetic enough to address poor acoustics and remedy the situation. However, it is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit that most of the time – the users simply deal with a bad situation. Here’s the crazy part – it is typically a relatively easy fix to improve the acoustic environment! All of the negative situations I described in the first paragraph were caused because the volume and geometry of the space coupled with overly reflective material selection created a reverberation time that was too long for the desired use of the space: speech. The solution would be to run a few calculations, select materials with appropriate sound-absorption characteristics and figure out where to locate them. Acoustic remedies for spaces can, but do not need to affect the aesthetics of the space itself. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a beautiful, high-performance, and affordable space? The dream is tangible.

This blog entry is the first in a series on invisible architecture. Look for future blog posts to cover design with the sense of touch (no veneers, bare feet), design with a sense of smell (careful how you specify plywood, commercial secrets learned from bakeries), and reactions from a tour of the newly designed campus at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired – with universal lessons learned for architecture.

Note: Keith Simon is a preferred architect with the Russell Consulting Group because of his brilliant yet sensible approach toward building design.  As with any clients we work with, our mission is to help them make long-term decisions that will save money, increase market share and minimize the cost of employee turn-over. Smart architectural design which goes beyond good looks should always be a part of this success strategy. 


Lessons From JCP

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Recent business articles have covered the downward spiral of J.C Penney. A once dominant force in retail and consumer goods has been slipping in market share for several years. Thinking that they needed fresh direction they hired Ron Johnson, the former Senior VP in charge of retail operations with Apple. Applying the skills that worked for his former employer, he began by not only rebranding Penney’s but completely changed their marketing strategy and product lines.

Rather than a calendar full of sales events (as Penney customers had grown accustomed to), they began offering everyday low prices instead. Suddenly, the re-branded JCP found itself not only needing to attract new customers, but also maintaining the existing ones. At the end of Johnson’s disastrous experiment, JCP brought back their previous CEO whom he had originally replaced.

It seems that in spite of new branding, marketing and product strategies designed to attract younger buyers while retaining existing ones, nothing seemed to work. Why is this?

Twenty five years ago, when I was married to a JCP manager, she often fretted over how her company was making a grave mistake by having any excuse for a sale which was going to eventually come home to roost.
“They are setting themselves up to fail”, she would say, “because they are training the customers not to bother shopping until there is a sale.” “Nordstrom’s doesn’t do this she continued; and if they do, they won’t do it like this!” “Worst yet she added, with so many sales they are cheapening their brand.”

I could not have agreed with her more. As a result, I too became the kind of customer she dreaded because I never purchased anything until they had a sale. To me, the next nail was when they moved Christmas creep to the actual edge of summer! That was a big turn off and showed me a sort of desperation on their part.

Finally, I grew tired of not having adequate help. I call it the Sears – a –fying of Penney’s. No, help no buy. Simple as that JCP.
Too bad because many shoppers used to like them a lot!

So, what can be learned from this?

One, don’t offer customers something you cannot safely take away. Two, understand the difference between value shoppers and bottom feeders. Bottom feeders are never loyal, value shoppers are.
Three, if you’re going to get people in your store, then make sure you have an adequate trained staff to take care of them so they do have a great shopping experience and want to return.

Don’t play games with gimmicks. Be straight with your shoppers and either give them a price break without a gimmick or forget it.
Don’t appear to be desperate or greedy. This Christmas creep business annoys a lot of people. And finally, do a better job at finding out what your customers really want instead of thinking that you know what they want.

What is it I do? And, what is it I want to do?

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Recently I conferred with a friend where I suggested areas in her business strategy that I felt I could further advise her.
From issues in business culture to resolving expansion challenges, I shared stories of previous engagements. I then turned our conversation to a business model I had been developing with previous business partners (a model in her sector) that I had always believed that had we continued – would have been immensely successful.

In earlier discussions, we also entertained the idea of utilizing my firm’s services to the benefit of her marketing and funding strategies. Therefore, I confidently assumed that she was already aware of “what I do.” However, as we broadened our discussion to other possible areas of strengths I could offer her she looked at me and simply asked, “What is it you want to do?” “I mean”, she continued, “you have shared stories about what you have done, but you have never told me what you really want to do?”

For a few minutes, I was dumb founded by the question. “Why doesn’t she understand what I do I asked myself?” Who else is there that still doesn’t get it? “Or is the question specific to “what is it I want to do” in the immediate case of the conversation?”

Ironically, later that afternoon I received a call from a respected business colleague who conveyed his own frustration with the same dilemma. “I am good at technology, analytics, problem solving and have a large roller-dx of investors.” But it seems like everybody just wants to put me in a box” he exclaimed.”
To his point, I suggested that he clarify his list of deliverables which are tied in with his love for what he does.

So here is what I want to do:
Bring my specific skills and talents to the benefit of engagements, which allows me to enjoy and profit from using them. Once again, my skills and talents include long and short-term business strategies, which are complemented through marketing and creative advertising.
Building on these attributes include, the capacity to assess employee morale/performance as well as increasing customer retention. (Remember, no advertising or growth strategies are meaningful unless both employees and customers are happy.) Finally, a qualified list of contacts and resources are also available/when required –as part of services provided.

Engagement requirements are not just the amount the financial reward, but that I stand to truly benefit clients objectives from the use of my skills and talents. If not, then I am not interested.
Having multiple business skills does not make me a Jack-Of-All-Trades. I am not. I am not claiming to be a plumber also or software designer too. Nor do I repair cars or build electrical grids. I am however, an expert at taking a full and complete look at a business so that one piece of the flywheel supports the other.

Marketing needs to bring market share. However, when the market share is realized then the company must be ready for the growth that follows – and this is the philosophy I have built my practice on.

As indicated on our website, the mission is:
“Specializing in bringing together all components necessary for long-term business growth, profitability and success; and ensuring that they are working in harmony”.
What part of that do I love? All of it! Because it is all-inclusive for a company’s success!

So what about you? What are the things you are good at? Are their additional services your business can offer which are truly co-complementary? Are you really good at it, or do you need to take some time to further develop it? Whatever you chose to offer, be sure that it diversifies your services in a positive way, which is consistent to providing the best resources available.

Getting all of the ingredients for an effective ad campaign

Friday, March 1st, 2013

How many of us have visited a great restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal that tasted just perfect? Contrary to this experience, how many times have you been disappointed with an order that “you know,” just did not taste right? Perhaps because, it seemed “that something was missing?”

There are many similarities between creating a great dish of food and a developing an effective ad campaign.
Yesterday’s advertising tended to emphasize the use of TV, radio, print or outdoor media.
A careful review of the intended demographics being considered needed to be conducted prior to implementing a marketing strategy. Focus groups were also a part of this research. The result would see to it that a strategy would take into consideration the habits, preferences, and true needs of the intended buyer (the consumer)

For some companies, a specific media was preferable, however, most successful campaigns called for a careful blend of mediums.

Today’s interactive technology offers new and exciting vehicles for reaching the intended audiences. The digital age has ushered in exciting ways to do this. Websites, you tube, social media and phone apps are part of the ever-evolving new normal of advertising. Businesses and prospective customers alike are rewarded with the instant gratification, which comes with digital media.

However, under the veneer of the new normal lies a potential problem. The assumption, particularly amongst smaller companies, is that a website or social media campaign is all that is required to bring in the intended customers. True, there is merit to part of this; however, one size still does not fit all. In the old days of advertising, TV ads were not necessarily the only or best way to reach an intended audience. Nor were print ads, radio or billboards. It all came down to who the campaign was intended to reach. However now this equation includes other forms of interaction technology. When, where and how to use, include or incorporate into the mix?

Just as incorporating a great mix of ingredients to make for a scrumptious dish of food, the same holds true for advertising.

Want better results? Next time, don’t always assume that you are supposed to do what everyone else is doing.

Want to really be successful, and get your name and brand out? Then as they say, think outside the box – and in some cases incorporate some of the old approaches with the new. Remember, it is all about whom you are trying to reach and delivering a way to demonstrate that you are truly unique.