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New Home Protection Plan for the New Year

New Home Protection Plan for the New Year

The best time to look at what you need to do around the house is when the new year starts.  One of the things you might want to look at is pests, rodents, and insects. Certain rodents are more popular during the winter, while other insects come out in the summer. There is a company in St. Louis named Mick’s Exterminating that offers year-round home protection plans that provide treatments to your home and garage. Pests can cause major issues that may turn into large expenses, so the Home Protection Plan offers an alternative approach to keep your home pest free.

All of their plans start with inspections on the inside and outside of your home by their state-certified technicians to check for any pests. A lot of the issues you are experiencing will be eliminated by these long-lasting treatments. They can also place rodent traps in certain areas if needed.

With the Protection Plan, you get multiple visits where the technicians treat potential problems before they become an issue for you. In the warmer seasons, they provide a long-term treatment for the outside of your home, while treating the inside the same way in the winter. During every returning visit, their highly skilled technicians will keep an eye out for any pests that you may not have seen.

Not all Home Loans are the Same

Not all Home Loans are the Same

When buying a home, consider a loan that specifically matches your geographic location or employment history. This can help you save a significant amount of money. If you live in Missouri, make sure to ask yourself the following questions because Liberty Lending consultants might be able to help:

Was I in the military? If you are currently in the military or you served previously, you probably qualify for a VA loan. In St. Louis, current soldiers and veterans can get long-term financing for homes. Consider this option because a VA loan can be easier to get than a conventional home loan. Also, select spouses of current or former military members may qualify as well.

Do I live in a rural area? A Missouri USDA loan is also called a Rural Development Loan but is also applies to suburban areas. For most buyers it includes low rates, affordable payments, and no down payment.

Do I have bad credit? Don’t let a past bankruptcy or foreclosure stop you from applying for a loan. An FHA loan doesn’t have the strict requirements usually associated with applying for traditional financing. This is also an option for people who already have a loan but are looking for a lower rate.

Kimbal Musk | Crain’s St. Louis

Kimbal Musk | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder, The Kitchen


Kimbal Musk co-founded The Kitchen with Hugo Matheson in Boulder, Colorado, in 2004. In the 13 years since, they’ve expanded the restaurant with two separate concepts, Next Door and Hedge Row. Their restaurant group now includes 13 restaurants across three states.

In March, the Schwab Foundation included Musk on its list of Social Entrepreneurs in 2017 for his work with The Kitchen and The Kitchen Community, the restaurant group’s nonprofit arm, which promotes healthy, sustainable food systems in communities across the country.

Musk also co-founded and serves as the executive chair of Square Roots, an indoor farming accelerator. He serves on the boards of his brother Elon Musk’s companies, Tesla and SpaceX, as well as Chipotle Mexican Grill.

The Mistake:

I convinced myself that my business couldn’t scale.

Back in the 90s, I was working in the internet business with my brother. I wasn’t that excited about tech and when the bubble burst, I decided to follow my passion for food. I went to cooking school in New York. After graduation, I wanted to give the food industry a try and start a restaurant. So, I drove around the U.S., and I found Boulder. That’s when Hugo and I founded The Kitchen.

We worked with local farmers and served simple, real food. This was in the mid-2000s before the farm-to-table movement really took off, and what we were doing hit a nerve. It proved to be enormously successful.

This is where I made the mistake. I didn’t think you could scale something like The Kitchen. We worked with so many farmers, and we changed the menu every day. It was the definition of something that couldn’t scale.

I had this little business on the side that was my passion, that was resonating with people, but I didn’t see the opportunity. For about seven years, I went back to tech and was kind of miserable.

Had we scaled earlier, we could have really seized on the farm-to-table movement.

The Lesson:

If you can do something that you love, that can reach a lot of people, you should figure out how to do it. If you don’t, someone else will, and the opportunity will be lost.

I realized that after I went down a ski hill on an inner tube in 2010. The tube flipped, I landed on my head, and I broke my neck. I was paralyzed on my left side for about three days. I remember it was on a Tuesday night, just as I was about to go into surgery that I thought, “Forget this. I have all this experience in tech and all these skills related to scaling businesses; I should just apply it all to food.” I woke up the next morning, called my co-founder, and told him we needed to figure out how to scale The Kitchen.

That’s when we started work on what became Next Door, which is basically a more affordable version of The Kitchen. We now reach more than a million people per year in the Denver area alone, and we purchase food from all-local farmers. I think we’re doing great.

Basically, Hugo and I figured out how to do it. The problem was largely solved through automation. There’s an incredible amount of it in food now. We can empower an 18-year-old to cook like a two-star Michelin chef within an hour.

We’re catching back up, but I think we missed a business opportunity. Had we scaled earlier, we could have really seized on the farm-to-table movement. It’s its own category now. We have 13 restaurants, but if we scaled earlier, we could have had 30 at this point.

The food continues to be simple, real food prepared as close as possible to the farm where it was grown. It’s a beautiful blending of technology and cooking that only happened because I embraced scale.

Kimbal Musk is on Twitter at @kimbal and Instagram at @KimbalMusk.

Photo courtesy of The Kitchen.

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3 Top Influencer Marketing Campaigns 

3 Top Influencer Marketing Campaigns 

How can influencer marketing help get the word out about your business? This article explains.

The world of marketing continues to get flipped on its head — and businesses that are turning to celebrities, public figures or online personalities to market their products and services are attracting high-quality customers in a more widespread, efficient manner.

Not only does influencer marketing use — and primarily rely on — the power of social media, it also offers businesses the opportunity to be creative, target specific audiences, and build a strong brand following that can foster more meaningful relationships with consumers. That’s why most marketers are looking to double their investment in influencer marketing in 2017, according to research conducted by eMarketer.

Still not convinced influencers should be part of your marketing strategy? In a recent poll, marketing company Tomoson found that businesses make $6.50 for every $1 they spend on influencer marketing — a whopping 600 percent return on investment. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. So if you’re looking to get started, then take a look at these top influencer marketing campaigns to see which strategies would best suit your brand.

1. Gigi Hadid for Tommy Hilfiger

The partnership between Tommy Hilfiger and international supermodel Gigi Hadid exemplifies how influencer marketing provides countless opportunities for replication. If you’re unaware of Hadid’s appeal, perhaps the following will paint a clearer picture: She has a massive social media following, with more than 9.8 million Instagram followers, and is the face of fashion amongst millennial women, making her the perfect candidate for reaching Tommy Hilfiger’s key demographic.

After crowning Hadid as the global brand ambassador for its fall 2016 line, Tommy Hilfiger was able to reap the benefits of influencer marketing: reaching Hadid’s strong following, aligning the clothing retailer’s brand with her superstar status, and building the trust of consumers through the supermodel’s flawless reputation.

Tommy Hilfiger then further developed its business relationship with Hadid by collaborating with her to create a capsule collection, and then having the Los Angeles native tour the world to promote the company’s fashion line. In the end, not only is it important to partner with a personality who will complement your brand, it’s also incumbent for any business to build upon this relationship in order to promote more unique and creative marketing campaigns in the future.

2. Beats by Dre

What is Dr. Dre best known for? That all depends on whom you ask. But creating beats — both literally and figuratively — would be a solid answer. When it comes to producing music — and headphones — the hip-hop mogul’s millions of fans have complete trust in his name and brand appeal. And it’s this knowledge that made the influencer marketing tactics behind Beats by Dre so effective.

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But first, a little history: Before Beats By Dre was even a pipe dream — and much less a multi-million dollar business venture — Dr. Dre originally floated the idea by longtime associate Jimmy Iovine to get in the sneaker game. That’s when Iovine, a sharp, intuitive record producer and entrepreneur, who had already been in talks with Apple, kindly pushed back and convinced Dr. Dre to pursue a venture a little closer to his heart and passion. And voilà — Beats By Dre was born.

Candidly, why not use Dr. Dre’s renowned expertise and prowess in the studio to develop a pair of headphones that his already loyal followers would want to purchase? When finding influencers to partner with your brand, getting someone who already has considerable industry expertise and street cred is a great way to instantly win over a new, loyal fan base.

3. Ungrounded Campaign by British Airways

While traditional influencer marketing campaigns involve public figures endorsing your products, it can also be a great method of building a brand image and reputation that will help a company see an uptick in customers. British Airways’ “Ungrounded” campaign involved getting 100 of the top Silicon Valley innovators on a flight to London to discuss ideas about how technology can help solve world issues.

During the flight, 22 concepts were initiated, and the winning idea was eventually presented to the UN. So how did this help British Airways? Intuitively, the airliner’s executives noted how technology and innovation were hot topics at the time — and they knew they needed to get involved. Additionally, providing a means for some of the brightest minds in technology and innovation to exchange ideas would help showcase British Airlines as a progressive company looking to institute change.

Influencer marketing is a unique and valuable strategy for companies looking for new ways to shake things up in the hopes of creating a stronger brand appeal. Thus, if your company is looking to target new audiences — and build bigger industry cachet in the process — assess some of today’s current influencer marketing campaigns to see how this strategy could potentially benefit your bottom line.

Phil Bruno | Crain’s St. Louis

Phil Bruno | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder and president, Treat ‘Em Right


Treat ‘Em Right is a St. Louis-based consulting firm that provides training and other services to clients including the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, Destination Cleveland and Destination Niagara USA. Treat ‘Em Right founder Phil Bruno has more than three decades of experience in the tourism and hospitality industry, including 17 years in various hospitality management positions at Anheuser-Busch.

The Mistake:

My mistake was not recognizing red flags from situations where you just don’t fit or your product doesn’t fit the client’s culture or the client’s capacity to support the product you give them.

In the past, I was so excited about building the best product with all the bells and whistles. But, sometimes, it was not something the client could support when I walked away.

In one instance, I had a client who handed me money at the end of the year saying, “We have this money that we need to spend. Can you come up with something for us?”

It’s kind of a dream for an independent consultant to be handed money, so I developed an e-learning type of program very similar to programs I had been developing for other clients. I didn’t go to my regular process of feeling the client out for what they could support. It turned out the employees were not necessarily willing or able to help in the process. They just didn’t have the time or the feeling that it was important to participate.

I ignored those red flags and moved forward to make sure the product got designed and delivered. I found out in the course of time that those red flags were signals that, down the road, this client had absolutely no interest in implementing the product and didn’t really have the capacity to do so.

It was actually bad for my company’s reputation because this client was also influential in the industry I was working in. To design a product for a client that they didn’t use, wouldn’t use and didn’t appreciate didn’t do anybody any good.

Having more of a rifle-shot solution as opposed to a shotgun-blast solution actually  saves money and effort over the long haul.

The Lesson:

I learned a lot from that. Nowadays, I look for those red flags and I respect them more. I step in, stop and check, and go back if needed to make sure we don’t make the same mistake to build a product that’s not going to be supported down the road.

The lesson is: Design solutions that fit the competency level of your client. You can build and deliver a tremendous product, but if it is not the exact special thing a client needs, it’s not going to work. Now, I perform in-depth discovery visits to clients to define their needs. I get there to engage those involved in the process and seek buy-in for the project. While I’m there, I’m also gauging capacity.

It’s not like I don’t want more clients. But I have to find a fit that works best for the services and products I provide, the needs of the clients, and their desire and capacity to support sustainable change. It can take a little bit longer up front, but doing your homework and having more of a rifle-shot solution as opposed to a shotgun-blast solution actually saves money and effort over the long haul. The product is also much more attuned to and more effective for more people once it’s rolled out.

It took me some time to learn that it’s not about you. It’s not about how well you can design a tremendous product with all the bells and whistles. The consultant’s craft is to bring everyone along to the finish line, wherever that may be. So the best product for one client is not the best product for another client. You learn that customization of solutions is more of the challenge than building the best and biggest thing on the block.

Phil Bruno is on Twitter at @Phil_Bruno.

Photo courtesy of Treat ‘Em Right.

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10 Ways Voice-Activated Chatbots And Virtual Assistants Will Change Your Life

10 Ways Voice-Activated Chatbots And Virtual Assistants Will Change Your Life

Entrepreneurs today spend all their time in the office, working. They want to make their venture a success, reach the right customers and clients, build the right teams, and above all, see a return on their investment. However, the answer is not to simply work hard; you have to work smart to really achieve your goals. Thanks to voice-activated chatbots and virtual assistants (VAs), this is now possible.

What Are Virtual Assistants and Voice-Activated Chatbots?

Virtual assistants are people that help you with day-to-day tasks, remotely. While these have been around for years, new AI-powered versions have now appeared, allowing you to achieve the same levels of productivity while saving money. They are known as chatbots.

While these are not new to the tech world, the technology that powers them has improved significantly over the years, enabling them to undertake certain tasks as well, if not better than humans. Voice-activated chatbots offer the same services, but instead of typing in requests, you can simply voice them.

Because of their new abilities, chatbots can literally change your life. Here are 10 ways how:

1- Increasing Productivity

The idea behind chatbots is that they can maximize your productivity by taking on some of the more mundane and repetitive tasks with which you and your employees are faced. AI-powered virtual assistants allow you to link all aspects of your business. You can now ask your VA to email a colleague about a meeting or even update a specific section of your website through one interface.

Voice-activated chatbots, on the other hand, offer all the above, but with simple voice commands. You’ll no longer have to spend time searching for your phone or switching windows on your computer screen. Instead, you can simply say what you need done.

2- Automating Business Processes

Automating your business processes has never been easier thanks to the new and improved enterprise chatbots. Chatbots allow you to automate certain internal processes, such as arranging meetings, answering questions regarding payroll, scheduling time off, setting up reminders, and so on.

In addition to internal business processes, your chatbot can work as a lead generation and marketing campaign tool, a customer service interface, a payment tool, as well as a news and media content distribution tool, leaving you and your teams to focus on other tasks.

3- Cutting Costs

Nowadays, creating a chatbot, both text and voice-activated, doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, there is a number of chatbot-building platforms out there that don’t require you to have any coding knowledge.

Chatbot, for example, is an awesome way to create a Facebook Messenger chatbot…for free. With it, you can create a chatbot that:

  • Pushes personalized offers and promotions to your customers, on demand
  • Takes orders directly from Facebook Messenger and posts
  • Integrates with major payment systems
  • Recognizes variations on your keywords and trigger phrases

Investing in a chatbot to help your teams and automate your various business processes is significantly cheaper than hiring new employees, or even doing it yourself.

4- Offering Your Teams a Helping Hand

Virtual assistants and voice-activated chatbots not only cut costs, they also take some of the load off your teams. A chatbot can help answer frequently asked IT questions, help your HR teams organize holiday leave and payroll, take on some customer care questions, up-sell and cross-sell to customers, and even push personalized offers to consumers.

5- Giving You More Spare Time

By implementing a virtual assistant or a voice-activated chatbot for any of the above, you’ll be freeing up some time in your calendar to focus on more essential tasks. While your assistant focuses on the easier, more mundane and repetitive aspects of your business, you can focus on revenue-generating activities that will allow your business to grow.

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6- Managing Stress

Aside from offering you more time to spend on important business-related activities, your VA will give you a chance to repurpose time for yourself. In order for you to be as productive as possible, you need to be able to unwind, as well as spend time with your family and friends.

A voice-activated chatbot can also help you manage a stressful situation by cutting out the need for you to interact with a screen at any given time. You can organize yourself with simple voice commands while cooking, in the car, on your commute to work, or while writing up notes for a meeting.

7- Eliminating the Old Fashioned Funnel

While chatbots allow you to push customers through your sales funnel more quickly, voice-activated ones may be changing the system altogether. Through simple voice commands, customers are now able to search, browse, and make purchases without even looking at a device.

As the technology continues to grow, more consumers will expect actionable services as outputs. Having a voice-activated chatbot will offer a more seamless interaction between your brand and your audience.

8- Identifying Issues and Opportunities

Companies today are still very regimented. Most have a similar structure with various departments and job descriptions. While this is a good way for teams to stay organized, it may also make it difficult for you to identify any issues that arise.

VAs and voice-activated chatbots can be used to alert you when a problem occurs. For example, if you’re a web development company, your chatbot could alert you if one of your clients’ websites is down. On the other hand, if you are a marketing company managing various social media platforms, you could receive notifications when negative reviews are submitted.

The same goes for opportunities. You could set up alerts that tell you about market fluctuations so that you can adapt your pricing strategy. You could also set up alerts for when your company makes a sale or gets mentioned on social media. The alerts you choose will depend on your company’s aims and objectives.

9- Focusing on Quality SEO

Voice-activated chatbots, in particular, are expected to change the way we do our SEO. When a customer makes a voice search, assistants such as Apple’s Siri pull up information from the top-rated websites with the least noise (i.e., broken links and incorrect information).

With this in mind, it’s more important than ever that your online listings and websites are accurate and optimized to perfection. Make sure you prioritize the right keywords and consider voice search terms, as well as text-based ones, in order to capitalize on these new search methods.

10- Gathering Valuable Data

AI-powered virtual assistants and voice-activated chatbots automatically capture data. Chatbots can analyze huge volumes of data quickly while providing real-time effective use of it.

While analyzing this data is still tricky due to the sheer mound of it and the fact that people communicate in different ways, this opens up a whole new world of opportunities for businesses to better understand their customers, thus optimizing their processes for higher success rates.


Despite not having scratched the surface of the capabilities that these devices have in store, we do know that virtual assistants and voice-activated chatbots are here to stay. Implementing one into your internal and external operations will offer you all the benefits outlined above, and more in the very near future.

Local Tutors Don’t Get a Summer Break, Here’s Why

Local Tutors Don’t Get a Summer Break, Here’s Why

 Students and Teachers Aren’t In The Classroom But Tutors Are Still At It

It’s summer again in St. Louis.  The days are long, it’s hot and humid, and the local pools are filled to the brim with kids on summer break.  Each year towards the end of May, students and teachers receive the gift of a nearly three-month long vacation.  This annual occurrence goes by a few names: summer break, summer vacation, summer holiday.  Whatever you call it, for students and teachers, it’s the best time of the year.  Gone are the responsibilities of homework and grading papers.  Well, at least until August.

Many teachers, especially grade school teachers, choose to stay home or spend the summer laying low.  Middle school and high school students might find themselves teaching summer classes or filling in at other higher educational institutions.  However, for the most part, summer is one long vacation for teachers.  Of course were all know, the same goes for students.  Though teachers and students aren’t in the classroom, there are still classes going on and many kids and teens are still taking on coursework throughout the summer.

Tutors don’t get a summer break.  You’d think with school out, tutors also take some time for themselves.  That might be true to some degree, however, for the most part, tutors are still working with students throughout the summer.  Why is this?  How is this possible?  If students aren’t in class, it’s not like they have homework.  That’s true but, like many parents and most students, there’s one critical component you might be missing.  Just because it’s July doesn’t mean students shouldn’t be learning.  As a matter of fact, multiple studies and reports suggest the summer months are lethal to what students learned at school over the past year.

Tutors actually take the time and work with students one-on-one or in small groups to ensure students retain what they’ve learned over the past school year.  Students lose much of what they’ve learned in the past school year over the summer especially when it comes to new mathematical skills.  Tutors and small classes effectively keep that from happening.

While teachers enjoy their break and most students sit by the pool, tutors work with students and parents who are working to be proactive during the summer months.  Whether it’s preparing for pre-algebra or reviewing the difference between they’re, their, and there, tutors can work with students in a variety of subjects.  Small classes are also available at rec centers, private schools, and through tutors.  These small classes are very effective yet much cheaper compared to one-on-one sessions with a tutor.


In addition to reviewing coursework, tutors are also helping teenaged students prepare for the next stage in their life.  In the fall, many high school students will take placement or entrance exams.  Tests including the ACT, SAT, and PSAT are a major factor in determining where a student will be able to go to college.  These tests, or rather the schools that are the result of these tests, also determine scholarships and direct financial aid from colleges.  The ACT, SAT, and other tests like them are one of the most critical components of the high school experience.  Tutors spend the summer to work with high school students to prepare for these tests.  Additionally, the summer is also a fantastic opportunity to enroll students in small classes to prepare for college placement tests.

As you can see, learning doesn’t take a break.  There are always opportunities for kids and teens to learn more and build off of what they’ve learned over the past school year.  Additionally, the summer is a great time to find a tutor to help your high school student prepare for college placement tests.

Lee Applbaum | Crain’s St. Louis

Lee Applbaum | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CMO, Patrón Tequila


Patró​n Tequila is a luxury tequila and spirits brand crafted in Mexico. Lee Applbaum has served as its chief marketing officer since 2013.

The Mistake:

When I started in marketing after grad school in the mid-90s, there was a lot of emerging emphasis around consumer segmentation in marketing. I had a tendency to fall in love with this idea of really robust consumer segmentation. It wasn’t just gender, ethnicity, age or geography. It was all of those variables plus all of these behavioral variables. What is it that a consumer likes to do? What is the consumer clicking on, etc.?

[But] the fact of the matter is, what this intense amount of data and consumer segmentation did, is it forced me to forget the fact that we have far more in common than we are different. And [usually] we’re creating products and services that are unnecessary. Looking for the similarities in consumers, rather than the differences, in some ways is harder, but it is much more powerful.

Creating products and services with hyper-segmentation, you can generate sales. The question is, are those sales incremental? That’s really what the learning was, not that we introduced the wrong product for this consumer. It’s, if we didn’t have that product or service, did we already have something in our portfolio that could have addressed the needs of this consumer? We were just thinking about its appeal the wrong way.

I think so many marketers and so many organizations, when they’re driving for growth, think that they’ve just got to create another product, another service. It’s not necessarily about that. Sometimes it’s about re-framing that product or service in a way that the consumer understands. And it may be that the communication strategy has been off, rather than the product or service itself.

Consumers evolve very slowly and I think patience is really important.

The Lesson:

Simple is hard. We want to show early on in our careers how smart we are. I think we tend to believe that we show our intellectual prowess by showing how we can handle complexity and how we can make things bigger and richer. But what’s really skillful is to show how you can make the complex simple.

Marketers tend to be young, and we tend to be very impatient. Consumers evolve very slowly and I think patience is really important. Particularly when you’re a publicly traded enterprise. You have a lot of pressure from your shareholders to deliver quarterly results. When you’re a marketer at the sharp end of the stick, oftentimes there’s a knee-jerk reaction to ignore that patience is a virtue and change direction. But what I always preach to my team is patience. 

Also, know when to recognize failure and move on. It might sound contradictory that on one hand I’m preaching patience, but on the other hand, part of the ability to be patient is the ability to recognize … the fact that there are moments where for all the patience in the world, you’re not going to will something to work.


Follow Lee on Twitter @leeapplbaum and Patrón Tequila @Patron

Photo courtesy of Lee Applbaum

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The Pros and Cons of Unions

The Pros and Cons of Unions

Labor unions are a hot topic for debate.  So-called pro-business conservatives often pander to groups that are very pro-union, however, at the same time fiscally conservative politicians are typically anti.  Moreso, so-called anti-business liberals are very pro-union, however, liberals often consist of urban elites that have no use for labor unions.  Unions are constantly brought into politics, however, they shouldn’t be.  Labor unions effective two groups of individuals; those in unions and those employing union workers.  However, at the same time, unions can effective consumers.  This post evaluates the pros and cons of labor unions without the politics.

Note that all of these pros and cons are both pros and cons.  That sounds confusing, but it’s easy to see what that means in this first pro/con.

Pro/Con: Higher Wages

Higher wages are always a pro for union workers.  Higher wages mean that their union has effectively bargained with their employer to get them a better wage.  A better or higher wage means more money for union workers.  In some cases, high wages actually help the employer as well.  When wages are higher, workers often feel that they are valued and employee morale is boosted.  This means harder working and dedicated employees.  So, yes, occasionally a union getting employees higher wages also helps the employer.

Of course, humans are naturally inefficient and higher wages don’t always equal increased productivity or efficiency.  Unionized labor can occasionally take advantage of a union’s power to get them higher wages.  They merit the benefits of higher wages without increasing productivity.  This is burdensome for the employer and therefore the consumer.  Similarly, when wages are increased to an extent that the overall cost of a product or service increases, a business will see a decrease in revenue and possibly profit.  This could mean that the consumer pays the cost of higher wages.

Labor unions can result in higher wages but also reduced revenue.

Labor unions can result in higher wages but also reduced revenue.

Pro/Con: Better Working Conditions

Just like pay, better working conditions are always a positive result for workers.  Better working conditions can lead to happier, healthier, and more productive employees and therefore lead to more revenue and dedicated workers.  Yet, at the same time, when unions demand too much of employers, the result can be negative for the employer.  Some unions will demand very short hours, heavily regulated workplaces, and extensive benefits.  In the short-run, these benefits are great for employees, however, expensive benefits and workplace upkeep can result in an inefficient work environment and decreased revenue for the employees.  Often times, the employee will end up paying for their extensive benefits in some form or another.

Pro/Con: Union Determines Disciplinary Action

First off, most of the time, when a union gets to determine disciplinary action, it only hurts the employee and company.  The only positive result of a union determining disciplinary action is reduced HR costs and less stress on management to deal with employee problems.  However, when a union gets to determine the ways in which workers are disciplined, disciplinary actions can be far and in-between.  When workers aren’t disciplined and performance isn’t properly monitored, massive inefficiencies arise.  Most of the time, for workers, unions protect the employee ensuring employees don’t use aggressive and abusive punishment or disciplinary action.  When unions determine disciplinary action, it also ensures a higher level of job security.

Labor unions lead to better working conditions but also higher production costs.

Labor unions lead to better working conditions but also higher production costs.

Pro/Con: More Bargaining Power

When unions have more leverage over an employer or company, it means better protection for its employees and more benefits.  It’s important that workers have a voice in a company no matter how large.  Large unions are able to act as one major body that ensures the security, safety, well-being, and voice of a company’s employees.  While at the same time, groups like ANH point out that this bargaining power can lead to the abuse of a company or executives.

Top Coffee Shop Trends

Top Coffee Shop Trends

According to coffee connoisseurs, we’re now entering the fourth wave of coffee shops.  America’s obsession with coffee begun in the 1960s and 70s when big time coffee brands like Folgers and Maxwell House begun selling cheap and freshly grounded coffee.  Available in large quantities at a low price, coffee took off.  It wasn’t until Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks that the coffee shop took off.  Starbucks made a massive push in the late 1990s and early 2000s to grow into smaller and less trendy markets.  Soon, the mocha, cappuccino, latte, and frappe were household names.  Then, something interesting happened in the early to mid-2000s that changed the coffee shop.  Once dominated by Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, the coffee shop experienced a significant change.  Fueled by young people, the boutique coffee shop was born.  Those were the first three waves, however, it appears that we’re in the midst of the transition to the fourth wave.

The fourth wave will consist of uber-trendy cafes with locally sourced products, nitrogen infused java, and a focus on each individual beverage.  The fourth-wave is going to make it even harder to spot the trendiest and best coffee shops.  However, we’ve compiled a list of the top coffee shop trends emerging in 2017.  These trends could very well usher in the fourth wave of coffee.

(*List is not in any order)

Brands Built on Social Media

Sure, every coffee shop, restaurant, and brand that wants millennials and young people to buy their products or services understand the importance of social media.  However, the coffee shop is one establishment in which social media could be the deciding factor between success and failure.  Young people need something to share.  The next generation, the generation born from 1985 to 2000, loving showing off.  With Snapchat placing an importance on brand, location, and stories, trendy coffee shops need to take action and recognize that Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram are the easiest ways in which to promote their business.  There are multiple ways in which coffee shops and cafes can make their brands more shareable.  From custom coffee sleeves with cool designs and fun quotes to masterfully prepared food and drink, baristas and other employees need to stay creative.  Coffee shops that are unique and promote individualism will succeed in the fourth-wave.

Shareability will determine whether or not a coffee shop succeeds

Shareability will determine whether or not a coffee shop succeeds in the fourth-wave.

Social Values and Commitment to the Community

It’s not just a stereotype.  The trendiest coffee shops are socially progressive hotspots.  The patrons of fourth-wave coffee shops are socially conscience and committed to their communities.  Some coffee drinkers are so opposed to corporations and their unfair trade beans that they’ve boycotted Starbucks altogether.  If a coffee shop wants to succeed in the fourth-wave, they need to understand the importance of fair trade, organic, and non-GMO coffee.  Though people complain about the price of coffee, labeling coffee roasts as “fair trade” and “locally sourced” will often merit higher prices.  Not only can fair trade and organic beans generate more revenue and potentially more profit but they legitimately help alleviate unethical farming practices.  Coffee shops need to be invested in their communities and actively participate in local events.  Essentially, coffee shops and cafes need morals and ethics that reflect their customers.

Coffee shops need to show that they are committed to the community

Coffee shops need to show that they are committed to the community.

Cold and Nitro Brews

Cold brews, once thought to be a hipster-west coast fad, have withstood the test of time.  Cold brew coffee is taking the nation by storm.  Any coffee shop, cafe, or grocery that fails to embrace cold brew coffee will fail with consumers in the fourth wave of coffee.  Cold brew coffee involves brewing coffee slowly over a long period of time without heat.  The result is a very smooth and less acidic cold coffee.  Another emerging brew is nitro coffee.  Nitro brews are infused with nitrogen and brewed in a process similar to cold brew blends.  The result is a coffee with a Guinness-like consistency and bold flavor.

Nitrogen infused coffee is all the rage

Nitrogen infused coffee is all the rage.

RTD: Ready to Drink Coffee

Ready to drink coffee isn’t what you might think it means.  It doesn’t mean ditching pour-over brews for massive pots of coffee but rather, has to do with how coffee is packaged.  Typically, ready to drink coffee is a cold brew packaged in an aluminum can similar to an energy drink can.  Local cafes that manage to get their brand on their own line of ready to drink coffee will surely have an impact.  Not only is RTD effective branding but it saves the consumer time.

RTD or Ready to Drink Coffee is a major trend.

RTD or Ready to Drink Coffee is a major trend.


Before this article, you might not have even given any thought to the fact that there are time periods designating coffee trends.  We’re in the midst of the fourth wave of coffee.  It’s important that local coffee shops and cafes that were strong performers in the third wave take note.  Soon, indie music and pour over brews aren’t going to be enough.

How Loan Origination Works

How Loan Origination Works

Here’s How the Loan Origination Process Works

If you’re new to the whole home loan, car loan, or just the loan process in general, the entire experience can seem very intimidating.  After all, loans affect your credit worthiness and can either make or break your financial future.  That’s why it’s so important to understand not only how a loan will work (interest rate, maturity, etc.) but also how the process of getting a loan works.  This process is known as loan origination.  Loan origination begins the second you put in your application and ends with approval or denial.  Here’s the loan origination process step-by-step.

Step 1: Getting the Application

The first step in loan origination is to find the right loan and therefore, loan application, for you.  The loan origination arguably does begin when the borrower begins looking for a loan, however, most bankers and industry professionals would say that it begins with selecting the right application.  If you have a great credit score, you’ll typically have access to a wide variety of very attractive loans.  However, if you’re credit score is less than perfect, your options are greatly reduced.  It’s up to you to determine which loan fits you best and will likely result in approval.

Step 2: Filling Out the Application

Once you decided which bank or financial institution from which you hope to get a loan, its time to begin the application.  Very few banks allow you to fill out loan applications online while other financial institutions of lenders have online applications.  Always make sure the site is secure featuring not only HTTPS but also SSL.  Applications usually require additional documents.  You’ll be required to submit all of your personal information as well as your social security number and financial information.

Steps 1 and 2 in Loan Origination

Steps 1 and 2 in Loan Origination

Step 3: Submitting the Application

This part is fairly easy.  All you have to do is make sure you have the proper documents ready and the information is correct.  Then you submit.

Step 4: Approval or Denial

Once you’ve submitted your application, there’s pretty much nothing you can do.  It’s up to the bank and the bank’s computers to decide whether or not you’ll get the loan.  Big banks use not only its employees but also computers with complex algorithms that parse through your credit score, debt history, income, current debt, and various other factors.  If the banker and computer find what they’re looking for, you’ll get approved.  If something’s missing, you’ll get denied.

Approval or Denial in Loan Origination

Approval or Denial in Loan Origination

Step 5: Lots of Money or No Money at All

Now it’s time to either celebrate or go back to the drawing board.  However, keep in mind that even though you might have been approved, it’s not up to you to pay that loan off.  That’s where this process concludes and the next stressful process begins.

Learn more about loan origination and the loan origination software here.  We’d also like to thank our sponsor, Finanical Network Inc. (FNI).

Earned-Media Micro-Influencer Marketing Primer

Earned-Media Micro-Influencer Marketing Primer

Crowds in the Reflecting Pool in DC

In my humble opinion, modern influencer marketing is traditional public relations pitching corrupted by huge Madison Avenue advertising money. Big celebrities and even bigger bucks. It used to be thousands of dollars-per-post, but now brands and agencies are signing partner contracts with digital, social media, and online influencers. These partnerships can include multi-year contracts which are getting tighter and more exclusive the more these same influencers are being dropped by advertisers such as YouTube, Google AdWords, and Instagram.

Now there’s micro-influencer marketing.

Instead of swinging for the fences and spending thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars on only a handful of A-D-list celebrities with high Q-Scores, micro-influencer marketing is much more egalitarian. Prices are much more affordable at this level, from $50-$250-$2,500/post. If you’re bold and go into the very deep pool of influencers, then you not only find some amazing values on some very dark horse influencers but you might even be their very first! Their very first brand or agency! So many very influential people are just deep enough in the pool that they’ve never been kissed and are days, minutes, or hours away from calling it quits. They’re tired of blogging and tweeting and instagramming for only their grandparents, sisters, brother, sisters, and greater influence squad. One giant smooch from one agency or from one brand, can reset their very own Doomsday Clock.

And then there’s earned media marketing.

Let’s refer to public relations before the corruption by Madison Avenue. The good old fashioned PR pitch to the good old-fashioned, scruffy, died-in-the-wool, bourbon soused, reporter. That’s not over. It’s not. Seriously. Earned media micro-influencer marketing still works — it’s alive and well, but it isn’t easy and it always demands your awesome.

When I do my earned media micro-influencer campaigns, I do get a lot of rejection, and I also get a lot of outstretched hands. However, most of those money-grubbers actually used to say, “No, what you’re pitching isn’t a very good fit for me. Since I am a business person and a professional, it would be stupid to say no, so I would be more than willing to work together for $250.” Online influencers at all levels are smart, savvy, and clever. If you’re doing an amazing job doing earned media “long tail” micro-influencer marketing and your pitch — what you’re offering — meets whatever minimum cash or value equivalency threshold that shows them respect for their time, their energy, and the opportunity cost, then you’ll have success.

It’s called value marketing.

“Value in marketing, also known as customer-perceived value, is the difference between a prospective customer’s evaluation of the benefits and costs of one product when compared with others. Value may also be expressed as a straightforward relationship between perceived benefits and perceived costs.”

Skinny Coconut Oil Blogger AssortmentI always say, “give ’til it hurts.”

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Skinny Coconut Oil did a brilliant job at this. Kaylyn Easton, CMO of Skinny & Co., was endlessly generous with the hundreds of bloggers who responded to our outreach of thousands. She drop-shipped very generous assortments of products to everyone. If we made a notation that one particular influencer had exceptional celebrity appeal or a notable Klout score, then Kaylyn would send something extra special, like a box with an extra large bottle of their cold-processed, alkaline, organic coconut oil. With her support, we easily were able to meet everyone’s customer-perceived value. The product was exceptional, coconut oil is really hot, the brand is strong, and people felt they were getting a lot more than just a little individual squeeze pouch of sports gel or goo that you find at 5Ks and marathons.

In fact, the influencers oftentimes felt so spoiled and loved that we were able to get them to do YouTube unboxings for the first time and all sorts of other gifts to us.

All for value for value.

Yes, you heard me right, we pitch thousands of bloggers in search of the perfect match. We’re researching influencers now with the goal of collecting 6,000 long-tail micro-influencers for our next campaign at Gerris. This is pretty normal. In our outreaches, “pay me money” means no thank you but I’m nobody’s fool. While we at Gerris might ultimately end up paying for posts in the future, we take money requests as challenges to make the pitch and the gift/offer sweeter and better.

I have been doing micro-influencer marketing campaigns since Autumn 2006.

Back then we called it blogger outreach and blogger engagement. Even now, it’s still a little blogger marketing. Most YouTubers, Instagrammers, and the Twitterati worth their salt have their own online headquarters where they do their business, collect their best work (in the form of embeds and embedded streams), reveal their sponsors and brand-relationships, and offer their agency alliances, contact information, bios, and even pretty portraits.


Here’s a recent deck I put together for a guest lecture I did at Georgetown:

Micro-Influencer Marketing is 1% Inspiration, 99% Perspiration from Gerris

Peter Wyse Jackson | Crain’s St. Louis

Peter Wyse Jackson | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

President, Missouri Botanical Garden


The Missouri Botanical Garden, founded in 1859, is the nation’s oldest continuously operating botanical garden and today includes one of the largest Japanese gardens in North America. A National Historic Landmark, the Missouri Botanical Garden spans 79 acres in south St. Louis and serves as a center for science education and botanical research as well as a retreat from city life.

The Mistake:

Writing a proposal that showcased knowledge rather than addressing the audience’s needs.

When I was a research student, I was given a task to prepare a very complex, or at least I thought it was complex, funding proposal to get a large research grant. I worked for weeks and put in everything I knew about the project. I was very proud of it, but it didn’t get past the first stage of consideration.

I asked the reviewers why. They said, “It was not pitched to us.”

I was keen to show off my knowledge and, in fact, that was not what was needed to go forward.

The Lesson:

So I learned that you really have to know your audience. You have to tell a story that’s going to be effective in helping you gain the outcome you want. I was keen to show off my knowledge and, in fact, that was not what was needed to go forward. You have to compose in a way that keeps what you want to achieve in mind and in a way that will be appropriate for the audience that will receive it.

That often is an issue with scientists. As they do their work, they really have not learned to tell a story. And they really are not putting themselves in the seat of the receiver of the message they are trying to convey.

Occasionally, people will say the best way to go is for simplicity. That is sometimes true, but not always the case. You need to ensure you give the needed information. And you need to do it in a way that doesn’t presume the knowledge of the readers. You want to present it in a way that will engage them in what you hope will be the outcome you want.

I think there are several steps in that communication process. One is to know what you’re talking about. That sounds obvious, but don’t try to tell a story that you don’t fully understand yourself. Secondly, keep it straightforward. Build the story with information you want to provide. Finally, you need to be presenting in a way that is appropriate to that particular audience. If you want to tell a story about something, don’t have it full of acronyms people don’t understand. Don’t give them a lot of information that will take them off into dead ends they don’t need to explore. Provide the information in a way that shows that you really know what their needs are rather than just giving them what you want them to know.

I think that is often an issue in science communication. The public doesn’t always fully understand the information that some of us scientists are trying to put across, and so we end up with a disconnect between science opinion and the facts as scientists would like to present them.

I would advise people writing proposals to consider what they hope will be the outcome of the proposal. For example, explain how the the grant will make a difference or change something rather than describing in too much detail the tasks to be performed. Because what evaluators really want to know is what difference the support they give will make.

I suppose the thing I’ve learned most is to tell a good story. I’m an Irishman and telling a good story is generally something that comes naturally to the Irish. I think that was a good lesson for me to learn because I have followed it through in my life ever since. I think I’ve been more effective in terms of being an interface between the public, for example, at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and our own research team than if I hadn’t learned from that early mistake.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is on Twitter at @mobotgarden.

Photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

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What Are the Best Practices in B2B Public Relations That Will Drive Success?

What Are the Best Practices in B2B Public Relations That Will Drive Success?

What Are the Best Practices in B2B Public Relations That Will Drive Success

Sometimes changes in business are so profound that you don’t recognize the old ways. That’s the case with B2B PR, which on some level is a new profession. Yet, viewed from another lens, certain basic truths remain.

As we look across the B2B PR landscape, what are the best practices that will ensure success? Let’s look at 7 definitive best practices that are guaranteed to help:

  • Goal Setting
  • Education
  • Content Optimization
  • Social Media Amplification
  • Influencer Marketing
  • Storytelling
  • Measure and Readjust

What Are the Best Practices in B2B Public Relations, and How to Use Them Effectively

1. Set Clear, Attainable Goals

Setting goals is nothing new, but nonetheless, it’s essential to success — whether we’re talking about 10 years ago or today. How will you know if you’ve succeeded unless you have clear objectives from the start? They help you to map your progress, see what needs to change, and keeps you on track.

What goals would you like to reach with your B2B public relations? These could include:

  • Boost Brand Awareness
  • Generate and Nurture Leads
  • Establish Thought Leadership
  • Secure Key Media Placements
  • Establish a Solid Reputation

The goals you choose will determine your tactics going forward. For example, if your goal is to build awareness, then determine what people you want to reach and the best way to do so. This could be anything from media relations, to content marketing, to social media, to awards, to speaking engagements, to webinars…you get the idea.

The key is to understand what tactics will be most effective. You can only know that by analyzing your prospects. Ignore that, and you will be unfocused and ineffective. Take the same strategic approach with all of your goals.

2. Educate Your Audience with High Quality Content

Part of effective PR comes down to education. B2B buyers have strayed away from the traditional buyer’s journey. In fact, 94% of B2B buyers do their own research before making a purchase decision. The takeaway? For successful B2B public relations, you should make your website the go-to destination for information in your industry.

Your goal should be to craft blog posts and other content that will answer every possible question your readers could have. Consult with your sales team to find out what questions they receive in their daily communications with prospective buyers, and leverage those questions in your content. This kind of content will establish your credibility and reliability within your industry. When your audience is ready to make a purchase decision, you will more likely be top of mind.

While the educational quality of your content is most important, it will also help you to produce content in a variety of formats that satisfy a range of reading preferences. Your content formats could include:

  • Blog posts
  • Ebooks
  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Slideshares

Having a variety of content like this can be helpful in reaching prospects at every stage of the buyer’s journey — whether they’re browsing for information, or seriously looking to do business.

3. Optimize All of Your Content

You might have the best and most educational content, but if it’s not optimized for search engines, you’re missing out on a big chunk of potential readers. With a basic knowledge of SEO, and a little effort, your content can show up in organic search results. This will lead more people to your content, and increase your brand awareness.

While short-tail keywords may be easier to write about, there is much more competition to rank for these keywords. Instead, strive for long-tail keywords — perhaps a specific question that people often ask — that has less competition, and will place you higher in Google.


4. Spread Your Message on Social Media

B2B public relations has changed tremendously thanks to social media. Nowadays, you can connect and chat with reporters, send out press releases, and engage with clients all from Twitter or LinkedIn.

One of the main goals of PR is visibility, and social media is a helpful tool to get you there. You can attract more leads to your website by distributing your original content on your social networks. Especially on Twitter, labelling your content with hashtags can help more people to search for and find your content.

There are huge differences between the various social networks, and savvy entrepreneurs understand which ones are best suited for their business and style. –Mike Allton

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5. Bring In Influencers

Influencer marketing has blown up in recent years, and for good reason. More and more people are distrustful of brands in general, and are more likely to follow advice from a trusted source. Influencers have gained the trust of their audience. You can leverage that trust by working with influencers that believe in your product.

Start off by engaging with influencers in your industry over social media. Observe them at first to see what content interests them, and how they engage with their audience. Then start to engage with them — comment on and share their posts, and start conversations with them. Once you’ve built a relationship, you can approach them about working with your company in an influential capacity.

6. Implement Storytelling in Your Press Releases

While some believe that press releases have ceremoniously met their finish, we argue that press releases just need to be adapted for the modern, journalistic world.

With news outlets continually scaling back, and journalists under a crunch to find a great story, press releases need to get to the point, and pique a journalist’s interest. One key way that has emerged recently is storytelling. PR professionals are throwing out the rigid — ahem, boring — press release rule book that was commonly used, and creating stories that grip journalists from the first line. A good press release is brief, impactful, and includes visuals.

Stories have the potential to move us to tears, change our attitudes, opinions and behaviors, and can even change our brains. –Kim Garst

7. Measure Your Results, and Readjust When Needed

Sometimes metrics can mean all the difference to the success of your PR. Why? With the large volume of content and ads available across the internet, audiences are more selective than ever of their content. It takes time to find the right blend of content that will resonate with your brand’s audience.

New technology developments mean that you can measure virtually every aspect of your PR — from how many click-throughs you get to your landing pages, to how many likes and shares your social media posts receive. This allows you to see what is successful, and what parts of your B2B public relations would benefit from a slight tweak or replacement.

Whether you use a free program like Google Analytics or a paid program like Trendkite, it is imperative to measure what you are doing.


Key Points to Remember…

  • Create educational content that answers real questions that your audience has.
  • Embrace social media, and post original content that leads people back to your site.
  • Update your press release best practices with storytelling.
  • Measure your results, and be ready to adapt your approach when metrics show a need.

B2B PR is a large investment of time and energy. Make that investment count by adapting your approach when needed. Now that you know what are the best practices in B2B public relations, go out and embrace these changes.

Russ Preite | Crain’s St. Louis

Russ Preite | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

North Central Market President, Verizon Wireless


Verizon Wireless is the largest wireless telecommunications provider in the U.S. The company’s North Central market, which is based in Denver, covers 13 states in the West and Midwest and has around 4,400 employees.

The Mistake:

I’m guilty of micro-management.

When I was taking over as region president for upstate New York, I had a very green store director. This individual was very new to their role, and I happened to have just come from a similar position.

On day one, I decided to step in front and show this individual how to do it because I had found so much success in that role. It might seem to make sense when you have such a green leader like that, but I lost credibility within the organization by not being presidential.

I never gave her the opportunity to fail, learn from those failures and grow. She wasn’t able to gather experiences that could help her learn. I just had her watch me do the job.

It took me six months to back out of that and see what I was doing wrong.

I needed to let her make her own decisions, develop and lead her from a distance and only engage when I felt she was going to break the business. From that position, I was able to let her move forward, only coaching her after the fact.  

Six months later, things came back around. I was able to become more of a president. She was able to become more of a director. And today, she is actually my peer.

It all worked out down the road, but that was a big mistake. I had known this individual in the past. We had interacted as peers, so I know there was a mutual respect. We were excited to work together even, but I just handled it the wrong way.

You’ve got to take the time to stop, listen and take the right coaching.

The Lesson:

We lost those six months, but frankly, if I didn’t identify where I was going wrong, take feedback from this individual, I’m not sure I ever would have course-corrected. I’m glad I was able to get feedback from my superiors as well.

You’ve got to take the time to stop, listen and take the right coaching.

As I was righting the ship in upstate New York, I was moved out to be region president in Northern California. I was able to go out there and reinvent myself with this new perspective.

I approached the new team completely differently. Instead of making assumptions and acting aggressively on them, I took the time to observe what was working and not working. It took 60 to 90 days for me to understand the team, get buy-in from them as their new leader, and then implement change where it was necessary.

I manage today very similarly to how I did in Northern California. I tell my team to go out and try stuff, and I just ask that they fail fast. That’s a big change from how I acted in upstate New York.

Follow Russ Preite on Twitter at @russpreite and Verizon Wireless at @verizon.

Photo courtesy of Verizon Wireless

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3 Ways Doorstop Delivery Is Disrupting Grocery Shopping

3 Ways Doorstop Delivery Is Disrupting Grocery Shopping

Do you dream of the day when your groceries are delivered to your doorstep?

Whether it be via drone or driver, doorstep grocery delivery is the future.

Twenty-three percent of American households are already buying food online and, by 2025, it’s predicted that 70 percent of consumers will engage with online food shopping according to a new study by Nielson and FMI. Based on the current climate of technology adoption and evolution, The Digitally Engaged Food Shopper estimates consumer spend on online grocery shopping could reach $100 billion.

“The grocery business truly is at a digital tipping point, where every aspect of the shopper’s journey will soon be influenced by digital, and increasingly enabled by digital platforms.” — Chris Morley, President of U.S. Buy at Nielsen

New technology and innovation have enabled companies to disrupt the traditional grocery shopping experience. The companies that have succeeded so far have been hyper-focused on understanding and solving very specific consumer problems. By being the first to the market, technology startups have been able to deliver remarkable customer experiences by offering a new take on grocery shopping and home delivery.

However, as more competition enters the market, the real “disrupters” in the grocery shopping experience game will recognize that their Brand Story must make the customer the “hero” (not the Brand).

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A Brand Story that simply focuses on the functional and rational benefits of speed, convenience, service, value, etc. will be easy to copy and competitive advantages will be tough to sustain in any meaningful way.

Stories should be told from the perspective of target personas and try to tap into specific emotional benefits that build a stronger and more lasting bond between the target customer and the brand.

Here are 3 examples of brand stories that begin to transform the way we think about food delivery and grocery shopping (while making the customer the hero):

1. “Superhero Stephanie Feeds Family of Five”

As a busy mom of 5 teenage athletes, Stephanie’s days are filled with working her full-time job, providing transportation to kid’s activities, preparing lunches, washing laundry, paying bills, picking up dry cleaning, making sure everyone’s uniforms are clean, and keeping a kitchen (and van) stocked with food for five growing boys. Stephanie has been a superhero during her children’s entire hockey season always remembering snacks, bringing Gatorade, offering transportation. A project at work is making Stephanie make a hard decision — bring snacks and miss the championship hockey game or skip the snacks (and let down the team) to see her son play. She calls her oldest son to break the news and he laughs, “Mom! You can do both. Just use Instacart, duh.” Stephanie goes to Instacart’s website and instead of just placing the order for the hockey game snacks, she’s inspired to order the entire week’s groceries. This is a complete life-changer! Stephanie, like a true Superhero mom, decides to do something for herself. Determined to have Michelle Obama arms, she signs up for Pure Barre exercise classes and feels on top of the world.

2. “Nick’s Nightly Nosh and Netflix”

After working 12 hours a day, Sara comes home completely exhausted and starving. Nick, who arrives home shortly before, usually prepares himself for the million-dollar question while praying it doesn’t start an argument. “What do you want for dinner?” It’s a question that had become a nightly stress point since they are both too exhausted to cook dinner or go to a restaurant. Sara loathes eating unhealthy and has been more vocal about it than usual. Tonight is different — Nick is waiting at home with a fresh, chef-prepared meal that was delivered earlier that day by a cool new service he found called Freshly. When Sara arrives, she is completely blown away by the freshly-prepared dinner and they enjoy the first relaxing night together in a long time. Now, when Sara comes home, Nick has dinner waiting every night, there are no more arguments about what to eat, and they use their extra time together to watch a new series on Netflix. Sara is so impressed with Nick that she surprises him with Opening Day tickets to his favorite baseball team.

3. “Dolly and Dan Dodge Divorce”

Dolly and Dan love to cook together but they both have busy careers and they can never find time to grocery shop. It’s a real chore – and it’s become a point of stress in their lives. They frequently argue over the shopping duties and they end up spending a lot of money to eat out during the week. Dolly heard about a new service called Blue Apron from a friend of hers. Now, she and Dan sit down on Saturdays and plan out their menus together online for the coming week. All the fresh ingredients and recipes for 5 meals, everything they need, is delivered on Monday and then Dolly and Dan enjoy cooking together after work each night. They love to try different things and they find this is a great way for them to wind down and reconnect after their busy day. Dolly and Dan’s friends are so impressed that they are able to juggle such busy lives and still have quality time to spend together every day. Dan used to hate the fact that they wasted a lot of food each week because they often had to purchase larger quantities of ingredients than they needed. But Blue Apron’s portions and ingredient quantities are exactly what the couple needs. Dan feels like they’re saving a ton of money by eating at home, so he’s planning to surprise his wife with a weekend getaway to her favorite resort.

Before venturing into the world of ecommerce and on-demand delivery, it’s imperative that retailers master their brand story, align their brand strategy, and ensure the correct systems are in place. The brand story must be at the core of everything you do, and it must make the customer the hero.

“Analytics will be key for retailers and manufacturers to understand the digitally engaged food shopper on a deeper level. Beyond unified insights that connect the dots across consumer interaction and platforms, the winning strategy will turn metrics into action steps towards effective digital engagement.” — Chris Morley, President of U.S. Buy at Nielsen

Brick and mortar face significant challenges in identifying the differences in how consumers shop online versus in-store and then unifying the customer journey across all platforms. To learn how to use the Customer BuyWay and bring simplicity, clarity, and alignment to your brand’s story, strategy, and systems, download our latest ebook: Transformational Marketing: Moving to the TopRight.

Derrick Langeneckert | Crain’s St. Louis

Derrick Langeneckert | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Owner and head brewer, Alpha Brewing Company


Alpha Brewing Company is a St. Louis-based microbrewery launched in 2013 that specializes in barrel-aged and sour beers. Its downtown tasting room features a variety of bottled beers and around 14 brews on tap.

The Mistake:

Underestimating the power of the internet and social media platforms.

Alpha Brewing opened in April 2013. In February 2013, I opened a Twitter account for the brewery and immediately proceeded to get into a Twitter spat with some local home brew clubs and beer enthusiasts.

It was a really bad marketing decision. The biggest mistake was underestimating the power of the internet for good and for bad, I suppose. It’s funny to me now. But, for about a year and a half, every time I did anything, it was under a microscope.

The misstep was the first comment I made. I read this article titled “10 American Cities that Brew the Best Beer” and I retweeted it because St. Louis wasn’t included, but Chicago was. And one of the major breweries cited for craft brewing was Goose Island, which was an Anheuser-Busch brewery [as of 2011]. So I was saying that it’s not an accurate claim to say an Anheuser-Busch-owned brewery is a craft brewery.

I didn’t know at the time that a couple of brewers from Goose Island had come to St. Louis to start up a brewery called Perennial. And it grew from there. So I was immediately at odds with some local brewers in St. Louis before we even opened.

Maybe it’s about growing into your britches.

The Lesson:

Instead of focusing on putting out a good product and standing behind it, I was essentially just trashing other brewers in town. Making jokes on social media and being sarcastic on the internet in general are some of the worst ideas you could ever have. Our marketing now on social media essentially focuses on what beers we make, when they are available, taking pictures of them – being more positive about what we do instead of pointing out the errors in stories about other businesses or other businesses’ marketing.

I would tell any new entrepreneur that they should be really careful with what sort of marketing they put out, what sort of brand image they want. There is a fine line between being a little aggressive or even being the bad boy on the block and just being a [jerk], which is not going to get you many new customers.

It also depends on how long you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing. There are other breweries that do a lot of really aggressive marketing. But it’s a lot of self-deprecation and I didn’t see that at the time. I thought they were just being really sarcastic – sort of funny but aggressive. But, when I tried it, it did not work. I think it had something to do with the fact we weren’t even open yet. So maybe it’s about growing into your britches.

Shortly after the whole fiasco, the marketing department of another brewery in town had a meeting with me and set me straight on how to run a marketing campaign for a brewery, especially in St. Louis since they are here and they know the market well. Most of the brewers in town, we’re all in the St. Louis Brewers Guild, so we’re all friends and go to 100 festivals a year together. I think it was just a really nice professional courtesy they extended to me. I wrote an apology letter to all the people I offended, but it’s taken quite some time to repair our reputation.

Follow Derrick Langeneckert on Twitter at @DLangeneckert and Alpha Brewing Company at @AlphaBrewingCo.

Photo courtesy of Derrick Langeneckert.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

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5 Simple Ways To Boost Employee Morale

5 Simple Ways To Boost Employee Morale

And things to watch out for when you try them…

In this age of unlimited vacation policies, flexible hours and remote working, making sure that your employees are happy is an increasingly big task. Small business owners in particular, who may not be able to offer perks like those mentioned above, need to pay close attention to employee morale to avoid:

  1. Reduced productivity as a result of employee dissatisfaction
  2. High employee turnover due to more attractive offers elsewhere

Below I’ll be looking at some easy ways to boost staff morale, including some we use here in the AppInstitute office, as well as breaking down why a few common tips in this space actually require some extra thought before implementation.

Friday drinks

It’s an accepted fact of life (or at least it should be…) that very little work gets done after 3 or 4pm on Fridays. Even if your team is still beavering away on Friday afternoon, it’s highly likely that many of your clients/customers will have already clocked out. And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

On Fridays in the AppInstitute office we start to wind things down around 4.00pm, crack open some drinks and break out our Wheel of Fortune style app. Full of prizes like dinner vouchers and App Store credit employees can earn a spin on the wheel by winning at heads or tails, or receiving two nominations from colleagues for something kind/helpful/useful they did that week.

You have to be careful with this one since, whether for religious or personal reasons, you probably have some employees who don’t drink alcohol. Ordering pizza, subs or something else to go with drinks – or just calling it a day at 4pm altogether – allows these folks to join in without feeling left out for their alcohol-free lifestyle.

Use Slack instead of email

Intra-office communication is a tricky beast to tame. Email is overly formal and time-consuming but designers, marketers and developers – who regularly deal with tasks that demand periods of uninterrupted concentration – won’t thank you for shouting across the office either.

Using a tool like Slack or Skype is a nice compromise because it encourages a more casual exchange of ideas while still keeping a record of who said what, and when they said it. Slack is particularly useful because it allows you to host a number of different channels, here are a few channels that we use personally within our teams:

#feedback – It’s important for our entire team to know what our customers are saying so we use this channel to share feedback, both positive and negative.

#tech – From bug reporting to our platform updates, this channel is where it’s at.

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#marketing – We use this to share growth hacking ideas, awesome content we’ve published or awesome content we

#lunch – Whether you’re looking for a lunch buddy or you forget to bring in a packed lunch and want to crowdsource some ideas on what to eat or where to go, you’ll find it here.

#random – From funny GIFs to office banter, this channel is a place to share a few laughs.

mary berry wink gif

#ladies – A private group the women in our office created to talk about… well actually I’m not sure what they talk about, but I imagine it’s private for a reason.

Of course, it’s important to make sure that everyone has Slack installed on their work PCs and knows how to use it (good news: it’s super easy to get to grips with) so you don’t have anyone feeling left out!

Be transparent

Transparency is one of those things that many business owners talk a lot about then forget to actually put into practice. Ask any employee if they’ve ever seen the management team disappear into a meeting but had no idea what it was about, and pretty much all of them will say yes.

An easy to understand email breaking down the outcome of meetings etc. can help employees feel more in the loop but comes across as impersonal. It’s often better to let them hear it right from the horse’s mouth. Here at AppInstitute, I give an informal talk to the team every Friday during Beer o’clock covering what’s been going on that week and open up the room to questions so everyone is free to get clarification about whatever’s on their mind.

But being transparent requires context. Let’s say, for example, that you publish figures that appear to show the company losing money. Unless you qualify that data by explaining that the company is currently operating at a loss, maybe due to a heavy marketing spend for example, people will start to worry about their jobs.

Away days/nights

In a recent interview for a Midlands Business Insider article, I said that “work hard, play hard” is the best way to run a business and I really do believe that. We plan two corporate away days a year in advance and throw a surprise one into the mix, which 95% of our employees only find out about on the day. That surprise trip is particularly effective because, since people are already in the office, it means that we get 100% turnout as long as no-one’s ill.

Company events like this are most effective when as many people as possible attend. If you’re concerned about division or disunity in the office then run an event that only 50% of people can attend, it’s only going to make things worse. If your employees have partners, children and/or pets to think about, then it’s best to give them plenty of time to make arrangements.

Ideally, companies should pay the entire cost of events like these. In practice, when budgets are tight, that may not always be possible. Use your negotiating powers to secure group rates or discounts when you can – employees will probably be eager to attend if they know they’re getting a night in a hotel or a fantastic meal at a significantly reduced price. Or, try to find an effective compromise; in the past, we’ve had AppInstitute parties where we supply the alcohol and had staff bring in their favourite dishes.

Get employee feedback

There are all sorts of ways to do this, from anonymous suggestion boxes and polls to having a very obvious open door policy, but it really doesn’t matter which you choose as long as you find one that works for you.

Think about where you’d be without your employees: just one person sitting in a room alone trying to do ALL of the production, distribution, design, marketing and support your business requires without going completely crazy. It’s not a stretch to say that your employees are your business, and that’s why they should inform just about everything you do.

For example, if you’re looking to plan your next away day then come up with a few ideas and let your employees vote on them. There are tons of discount/sponsorship programmes out there for employees too, but be aware that some of these may have tax implications. If 80% of your staff say they’d be interested in corporate gym membership, that sounds like a slam dunk to me!

Final Thoughts

No-one said that keeping employee morale high was easy. If it was, then employee retention would be close to 100% just about everywhere (spoiler: it’s not). In fact, only 60% of non-millennials say that they plan to be working at their current company one year from now.

Even companies that offer the best perks in the world – Google probably ranks as one of these and has a median tenure of just one year – can struggle to hold onto staff, which tells us that employee morale is about more than just perks. It’s about pairing perks with meaningful work, opportunities for development and fostering an uplifting company culture.

Without those things, all the free beer in the world won’t boost employee morale!

Brandon Dempsey | Crain’s St. Louis

Brandon Dempsey | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-owner, goBRANDgo!


Founded in 2010, goBRANDgo! is a St. Louis-based marketing firm that develops advertising, branding, sales tactics and strategies with its partner companies. Its services include brand management, content development, web development and coaching. Brandon Dempsey is also a public speaker and the author of “Shut Up and Go!: A Millennial’s Guide to Figuring Out What You Want and How to Get It.”

The Mistake:

Not sticking to the company’s detailed sales process.

We developed a long time ago a sales process that has 13 steps. And, in that process, we identified three different meetings we needed to take with all clients to ensure that they saw the value in what we were providing and knew what all we could provide. So, in the first meeting, we would talk about what it is they need. Second meeting, we’d do a presentation and say, “Hey, here’s what we heard you need and here are our ideas to help you. And here are an additional three or four ideas.” In the third meeting, we gave them a proposal and walked them through it.

As we implemented the process, it was working so well that I got kind of cocky with clients who got so excited in the first meeting that they asked, “Well, what will this cost?” I didn’t follow the process. I just said, “If you are willing to pay this much, how about if we did this, this and this?”

They signed on the dotted line and we did the work. But what I realized later is that I actually lost what probably could have been a double- or triple-sized sale because I closed on the initial need without giving them the full assessment. We should have come back to them and said, “Here are all the things we could really do for you.”

I allowed myself to be pigeonholed into just being a specific type of provider. An example would be a client who came to us for a website and I quoted them a price on the spot and sold them when, in reality, I could have closed on a website, content writing, video and ongoing marketing and strategy work.

I allowed myself to be pigeonholed into just being a specific type of provider.

The Lesson:

Now, I take the time to make sure we stick to our process when we’re talking to prospects and go through all the steps to make sure that they know what we do and we fully understand what it is they’re after. That ensures that we both maximize the sale and they get the best product from us.

We have a lot of processes in our company now and we are seriously focused on sticking to them. We do not let anything take us off our processes because we find that we get burned every time we step off our processes. Something gets skipped or a deadline gets missed and the client gets upset, all because we didn’t stick to a process.

One example would be when we design a sales flyer. In the past, we would first talk about something, then design it. But a key stakeholder wouldn’t be there. So, once it was designed, they’d say, “Well, I don’t like it. Start over.” Then we’d go through 15 different revisions, which burns up a lot of time. Or, we’d not talk to a key stakeholder at all, get it printed and it would show up on the president’s desk and he would say, “I don’t like this. We’re not giving this to any of our clients. Start over.”

So it’s about really involving those key decision-makers early on to make sure we don’t miss the mark. It’s getting a series of small yeses as opposed to getting a big no that costs a lot to redo. It ensures a consistent client experience.

Follow Dempsey on Twitter at @BrandonDempsey and the company at @goBRANDgo.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Dempsey.

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Hashtags Are Dead. Long Live Hashtags! (… Sorta)

Hashtags Are Dead. Long Live Hashtags! (… Sorta)

Hashtags are dead. Long live hashtags! (sorta)

In the beginning, there was Twitter.

Now Twitter had a lot of stuff, and it all moved really fast. Frustrated tweeters asked, “How can we find and participate in discussions about stuff we care about in all this mess?”

And lo, in 2007 the hashtag was born. And it was good.

Hashtags gave us a handy stamp to designate our tweets as belonging to a certain conversation without taking up too much of our character count. Last week, for example, I had the pleasure of presenting at a conference in DC. Instead of tweeting that we were at the Social Media for Health Care Marketing Conference (49 characters), all of us attendees were invited to code our tweets with the hashtag #ali_hcmktg (11 characters) to get a lively conference-related conversation going.

So well did the Twitter hashtag catch on that other networks, unfettered by character limits, also desired its community- and conversation-building magic. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn — everybody wanted a piece of the action. Heck, even the super-smart folks at Oxford Dictionary bought into the buzz, adding the word “hashtag” to the OED in 2014.

Fast-forward to 2017, and the hashtag is arguably the most misunderstood, most horrifically abused convention in the socialverse, to the point where many marketers have abandoned it altogether. Just how did we get here? And what (if anything) can we do about it? Are hashtags just not worth the trouble anymore … or, even worse, do they cause more harm than good?

Search Got Smarter

Let’s face it: Part of the reason why hashtags became so popular was that for a long time, social search kinda sucked. Okay, it sucked a lot.

Over the last decade or so, social search has gotten much, much better. Type in a keyword or two related to a topic you care about, and you’ll probably find the posts you’re looking for. No hashtag necessary.

Not only has search within social platforms improved, but online search itself has jumped in on the social search scene. When the news broke about the Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas, I hopped over to Google, who was kind enough to present the latest tweets right there in my search results:

Google captures tweets about Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas

So part of the reason for the decline of the hashtag is that we just don’t need them like we used to. But there’s another reason, one far more distasteful …

Spammers Gonna Spam

Oh, spammers, must you ruin absolutely everything?

Answer: Yes.

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As use of and interest in hashtag conversations grew, spammers quickly recognized a new, untapped opportunity for perpetrating their nefarious craft. It was wickedly simple: Hop on Twitter, pick out a hashtag that’s trending (they give you a handy list right there in the left column), and plaster that puppy on every one of a barrage of tweets hawking whatever crap it is you’re selling. Sure, most of the clicks you’ll get will be accidental, but hey, clicks are clicks, right?

As I was researching the spam problem with hashtags, I came across the case of The Guardian’s 2012 Activate NYC conference, which had to change its hashtag mid-conference because of the deluge from spam bots:


I should mention that hashtag spamming is part of a larger spam problem that’s been plaguing Twitter for years, and that’s another story for another day. But suffice to say that spammers — as spammers are wont to do — have once again taken something good and useful and warped it into a tool of evil. Whether the hashtag can survive such abuse and remain a force for good, I can’t be certain.

The State of Hashtags in 2017

So where, exactly, does that leave us? Is it time to trudge up the slopes of Mount Doom and toss hashtags into the fiery pit of Mordor?

Not quite yet. Hashtags still have a legitimate place in our social media strategies in 2017 … if we use them wisely and appropriately. And that all begins with learning the norms and expectations for each social network.

Hashtags on Twitter

Hey, Twitter invented the hashtag, and it’s still the hub of most of the hashtag activity on the social web, for good and for ill — mostly ill. Yes, 99 percent of the hashtag activity on Twitter is crap. The one instance where hashtags still shine on Twitter is the live event: conferences, live broadcasts, and expert chats. Make sure to assign a hashtag to every live event you host, and promote the crap out of it, both before and during.

Hashtags on Facebook

Facebook has been doing the hashtag thing since 2013, and to be honest, it never really caught on. Today, not only will hashtags not help you build a Facebook following; they can actually hurt your engagement.

When Buzzsumo analyzed 1 billion Facebook posts (yes, that’s billion with a b), they made a shocking discovery: Facebook posts without hashtags got more engagement than posts with hashtags. Any hashtags. Like, at all.

Hashtags actually decrease engagement on Facebook

So if you’re looking to grow engagement on Facebook, you’re actually better off skipping hashtags altogether.

Hashtags on LinkedIn

Like Facebook, LinkedIn also jumped on the hashtag bandwagon in 2013, but later abandoned them due to “poor user response.” In an odd move, the network restored hashtag support in August 2016. Adoption among users seems to be slow and tentative, so file this one under “too soon to tell.”

Hashtags on Snapchat

Gotcha! Snapchat doesn’t support hashtags. You’re welcome to add one for irony or jaunty commentary on your snap, but tapping on it won’t do a damn thing. And of course, there’s no search whatsoever on Snapchat, so there you go.

Hashtags on Instagram

Instagram is the one environment where the hashtag question can be answered with an enthusiastic “yes — go for it.”

In a 2016 study, TrackMaven discovered that the optimal hashtag count for engagement on Instagram is … wait for it … nine. Yep, you read that right. Apparently Instagram audiences can’t get enough of hashtags. I’m guessing it goes back to the visual-only nature of Instagram content: images and videos need hashtags to make them more discoverable through search.

Bottom Line on Hashtags

Are hashtags really dead? If we’re talking the tired old approach of vomiting as many tags as possible — with varying degrees of relevance — into every post we publish, then the answer is yes.

But if we’re talking about the thoughtful use of strategically chosen hashtags to initiate and participate in focused conversations, then we can say with certainty that they are very much alive.

So how do we steer clear of the spam slum and use hashtags to our greatest benefit … without annoying our audiences? Forget the hype and approach hashtags like the savvy, strategic marketer you are.

  • Select your hashtags carefully. Steer clear of overly general terms and think about the “long tail” interests of your specific audience.
  • Be purposeful. Don’t just use hashtags to use them.
  • Leverage the power of hashtags to foster conversations around live events.
  • As always, track your results and determine the approaches that work best for your organization.

So, Mr. Hashtag, it looks like you’ve been given a new lease on life in the hands of the conscientious marketer. Don’t let the spammers blow it for you this time. Remember, we still know the way to Mordor.

Content Marketing Coach

Find out why Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, had this to say about The Content Marketing Coach: Everything You Need to Get in the Game … and WIN:

“A simple yet effective guide to an approach that most businesses get flat out wrong. Do yourself and your business a favor and take a deep dive into this book. You won’t regret it.”

Tom Rusin | Crain’s St. Louis

Tom Rusin | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, HomeServe USA


HomeServe USA, based in Norwalk, is part of British-based HomeServe plc. The U.S. arm has been operating since 2003 and covers 48 states. It has more than 3.5 million home repair service plans with 2.3 million customers, helping mitigate the costs of electrical, heating and cooling, and plumbing repairs. It partners with more than 50 utility companies in the U.S. and Canada.

Thomas J. “Tom” Rusin, who became CEO of HomeServe USA in July 2011, grew up in Stamford and is a 1986 graduate of Fairfield College Preparatory School. He received a bachelor’s of science degree in marketing from the University of Connecticut in 1990. He lives in Wilton.

The Mistake:

Not having a not-to-do list.

I think when you come into any business there’s the desire to branch out. It’s very easy to look at different opportunities just outside the core business and say “that makes sense for us” and “that’s going to give us faster growth.” But what those things really do is slow you down.

When you have a very strong core business with a high customer satisfaction rate like ours the temptation is very strong. You’re presented with opportunities and every one of those might work. Some of them might work very well. We could sell our services through banks and financial institutions. But it would require us to learn a new business and that takes time and diverts expertise.

It’s harder to say ‘no’ to something than to say ‘yes’ to something.

The Lesson:

Stick to your knitting. It’s harder to say “no” to something than to say “yes” to something. Initially, we did a lot of different tasks that spent a lot of management time. But it wasn’t productive in the ways that it should have been. They were successful but not as successful as our primary business.

The core partnerships with utilities and municipalities has been great for us but we could have gone with other arrangements that would not have worked so well.

There are so many great ideas. There are so many things we could do. You have to decide the phase of business that you’re in. Staying within our core business is a much less time-consuming and more profitable way for us to grow. But it takes discipline.

We have to sit around the table and ask the right questions and the first one is always, “Should this be on the not-to-do list?” If something doesn’t fall within the confines of our main business then we’re not doing it. Time is something you can’t get back and everything comes with an opportunity cost.

Follow HomeServe USA on Twitter at @HomeServeUSA.

Photo courtesy of Tom Rusin.

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Xbox One Malfunctioning And Ejecting Black Ops 3 Disc Killing Teenager Is Fake News

Xbox One Malfunctioning And Ejecting Black Ops 3 Disc Killing Teenager Is Fake News

Xbox One reportedly killing a teenager after the console forcefully ejected Black Ops 3 disc and slicing his throat is fake news. Rather, there is no truth to the graphic story that a teenager died from when a malfunctioning Xbox One violently ejected a disc and sliced his throat. Where did this fake news originate?

On July 25, 2015, the web site Newswatch33 published an article reporting that a teenager named Marcus Davenport had been killed after his XBox One gaming system malfunctioned and forcefully ejected a disk that sailed through the air and slashed his throat:

Marcus Davenport, 17, was found dead in his bedroom when police were called to the home after his mother discovered his body. According to reports, the Xbox One forcefully ejected a disc, slicing the teens throat.

According to authorities, Davenport was killed when his Xbox One malfunctioned, causing the system to eject a disc at a high rate of speed, striking the teen in the throat. His mother had discovered his body around 3:00 a.m. when she went to check on him.

However, there was no truth to this story, according to Snopes. Newswatch33 is one of many fake news sites created to publish fiction rather than legitimate news reports.

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The web site previously posted farces about a woman’s being electrocuted by her iPhone earbuds, NASA’s confirming 15 continuous days of darkness, and the rights to the Confederate flag being purchased by Jay-Z and Beyonce.

Moving away from its predecessor’s PowerPC-based architecture, the Xbox One marks a shift back to the x86 architecture used in the original Xbox; it features an AMD Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) built around the x86-64 instruction set. The console places an increased emphasis on cloud computing and the integration of entertainment applications and services, offering the ability to overlay live television programming from an existing set-top box or a digital tuner for digital terrestrial television with an enhanced program guide, split-screen multitasking of applications, and improved second-screen support. The console optionally includes a redesigned Kinect sensor, marketed as the “Kinect 2.0”, providing improved motion tracking and voice recognition for use in its graphical user interface (GUI) and games. The Xbox One offers the ability for users to record and share “clips” from gameplay or live-stream directly to Twitch, Ustream, and other streaming platforms. The console’s controller was redesigned over the Xbox 360’s, with a redesigned body, D-pad and triggers capable of delivering directional haptic feedback.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a first-person shooter video game, developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. Black Ops III takes place in 2065, 40 years after the events of Black Ops II, in a world facing upheaval from climate change and new technologies. Similar to its predecessors, the story follows a group of black ops soldiers. The game’s campaign is designed to support 4-player cooperative gameplay, allowing for bigger, more open level design and less corridor shooting. As the player character is cybernetically enhanced, players have access to various special activities.

What did you think of the fake news article? Did you see people sharing it falsely on social media? Let us know in the comments section.

Photo Credit: Source

Jonathan Johnson | Crain’s St. Louis

Jonathan Johnson | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.



In 16 years, has become an industry leader in giving customers “quality products at the best prices possible.” The Salt Lake City-based firm expects to book $2 billion in sales this year and is rapidly expanding its Utah operations. Chairman Jonathan Johnson deployed his marketing skills in an unsuccessful bid for the 2016 GOP nomination for governor of Utah, using the #HireJJ hashtag.

The Mistake:

Relatively early in my career, I was going from a job at one company to another. I had three competing offers for the next job, and I let the base salary weigh too much in the decision. The company I joined turned out not to be a great fit; they were willing to pay more, but had unreasonable expectations, and I ended up leaving them.

I faced a similar story early in my career: I was negotiating a deal where I had all the leverage. The other party was dying to do business with us, so I negotiated hard and won on every point. I thought I had done well, so I went back and talked to my boss about it. He said, “Jonathan, it is a horrible deal. We can’t take it.”

He said, “We’ll make money for a year and they’ll go out of business. Go back and negotiate a fair deal, a win-win deal.”

I negotiated hard and won on every point.

The Lesson:

I’ve taken into account with that every deal has to be a win-win deal. It’s how we hire employees. A product has to be a win for the customer and a win for us, a win with our suppliers and vendors. A deal’s got to work long term for all parties.

As a result, whenever I’m negotiating deals, I’m looking not for the best deal I could get, but a good deal for all the parties in the transaction.

I can think of the first contract Overstock negotiated with a fashion house on Seventh Avenue in New York City, to source some clothing. A year later, they came back and said the deal is not working for us, so we sat down and amended the contract. The year after that, we came back and they renegotiated. We’ve amended that contract 12 times. It’s finding win-win deals, and when they’re not win-win deals, adjusting them to become so.

Follow Jonathan Johnson on Twitter at @JJohnsonNow. Follow Overstock on Twitter at @Overstock.

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How to Write More Persuasive Copy

How to Write More Persuasive Copy

As a prospective client said to me last week, words matter.

She is absolutely correct. Words determine how people respond to your marketing: Whether they read or not… Whether they act or not… And ultimately, whether they buy or not.

Fortunately for marketers, some words are more powerful than others.

And while using these words doesn’t guarantee you complete success, it does increase the likelihood people will do what you want them to.

In fact, I’ve found that there are dozens of words, phrases and copy constructs that marketers can use to get people to notice and respond to their messages. Many of them take advantage of the human tendency to use decision defaults.

Decision defaults in copy? What exactly are those?”

Well here’s where things get interesting. Social scientists and behavioral economists have proven that people often rely on decision-making shortcuts – automatic, instinctive, reflexive behaviors. Humans have developed these over the millennia as a way to conserve mental energy. We couldn’t possibly weigh every bit of information available to us before making a decision or we’d never get around to making any.

So instead, when we encounter certain situations or stimuli, we default to these hardwired behaviors – giving them little to no thought.

And here’s the beautiful thing. If marketers are aware of the words and copy constructs that can trigger some of these automatic behaviors, we can use them to our advantage. We can tap into a scientifically proven way to persuade.

What follows are eight of my favorite examples.

Understand how surprisingly persuasive the word “because” is

Social scientists have found that people are more likely to do what you ask them to if you give them a reason why. And Harvard University researcher Ellen Langer proved that a powerful way to do this is to use the word because.

In her research, she sent someone to the head of a line of people waiting to use a photocopier. When the person asked to cut in front of the line, 60% of the time they were allowed to.

However, when Langer repeated the experiment and had the person ask if they could cut, but added “because I’m a hurry and have a few copies to make,” 94% of those asked said yes. And when she repeated it a third time and instructed the person asking to simply explain, “because I have a few copies to make” the person was stilled allowed to cut 93%.

Think about it. Everybody standing in that line was there because they had some copies to make. They weren’t waiting at the photocopier for a latte.

Langer’s research identified the word “because” as a compliance trigger. When we hear or see (because we pronounce the words we read in our heads) the word “because” we automatically start to agree without fully processing the words that come next. We just assume there’s a good, logical, rational reason coming.

So marketers should take advantage of the surprising power of the word “because.” Remember, your reason why doesn’t even have to be ironclad. It really just needs to be there. Because once people hit the word “because” they’re not really absorbing the rest of the sentence.


Discover the innate allure of anything new

Social scientists have found that the human brain craves the new and novel. When we find something new, it activates the pleasure center in our brains. That feels good. And, as a result, it sends us out looking for the next new thing.

So marketers can always count on the word “new” – in fact on the entire family of “new” words – to attract attention.

Here’s the best way to use them: Place these words in high-read pieces of real estate such as subject lines, headlines, and captions. These are places where people often enter your content make the decision to read further or not.

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So prominently feature “new” or any of the family of “new” words: new, now, announcing, introducing, finally, and soon. The human eye will be drawn to them, and they’ll persuade your target to read further.

If you’re in need of a verb, consider “discover,” which also hints of the new and novel. Plus, it feels like much less work than “learn,” which can take you back to the second grade in Sister Rosemary’s math class when you had to learn the multiplication table but you really wanted to be outside playing kickball.

Offer to fill an information gap

Neuroeconomist George Loewenstein coined the phrase “information gap theory.” What he found is that if there’s a gap between what people know and what they want to know, people will take action to fill that gap.

One of the best ways to set up an information gap is to use a tactic that journalists have relied on for years. In their stories, they’re taught to answer the 5 Ws and the 1 H: who, what, where, when, why and how.

When I was a journalism major at Boston University, it was one of the first things I learned. As a marketer, I now see the powerful implications for getting people to read our messages and our content.

Start your ad headlines, content titles, and subject lines using the words who, what, where, when, why and how. These words will prompt people to keep reading so they can find the answer they don’t know.

One word of caution here: Make sure you pay off what you promise. Don’t persuade someone to read further and then fail to give them what they came for. This will not put your prospect in the mood to receive your message.

Change a word and change your reader’s perspective

Framing can be a powerful persuasion tool for marketers. The words you use and the order in which you use them make a big difference in terms of how people perceive your message and respond to it.

For example, a Cornell University study found that students ate twice as many carrots when the cafeteria renamed them “X-ray Vision Carrots.”

Infomercial copywriter Colleen Szot made exercise equipment sales skyrocket when she reframed the spot’s typical call to action. Instead of saying “Operators are waiting, please call now,” she urged, “If operators are busy, please call again.”

And researcher Elizabeth Loftus proved the power of framing with her experiment using a video of a car accident. She had a group of people watch the video and then asked some of them to estimate how fast the cars were going when they “crashed.” Others were asked how fast the cars were going when they “contacted.”

The people who heard the verb “contacted” estimated the vehicles were traveling 31.8 miles per hour. The group that heard “crashed” estimated 40.8 miles per hour. That’s a full 28% faster! Remember, everyone saw the same video. The way the question was framed drove the difference.

So when writing copy that needs to persuade, frame your message and offer in the way most beneficial to you.


Challenge your reader’s expectations

This next example of a copy construct is one that allows you to double your messaging impact. And as someone who started her career as a copywriter, I also find it to be one of the most interesting techniques.

Researchers at University College London have found that our brains are hardwired to predict what should come next. So as we start to read a sentence, our brains leap ahead and fill in what we expect will follow. And here’s the real cool thing: If the sentence ends differently, our brain absorbs both messages – the one that is there and the one that we heard in our head.

One good example of this I saw recently was in the subject line of an email from a popular clothing retailer. The subject line read: Dressed to chill. However, the common phrase is “dressed to kill,” so that is how the reader would predict the sentence would end.

As a result, the brain receives two messages about the fashions featured in the email: They’re great for lazing around the house when you want to chill. And you’ll look “killer” doing so.

So as a marketer, occasionally surprise your readers by altering the words they predict will come next in a headline or subject line. It can be a savvy way to capture their attention and focus it on your message. And remember, when your readers’ attention is focused, they’re more likely to absorb and recall your message. That makes them more likely to act on it.

Set limits and watch people’s interest increase

People are funny. Oftentimes, we want we cannot have – including some things we’d be less interested in if they were readily available.

In fact, social scientists have proven that people place greater value on things that are scarce. These scientists even created a principle that describes this behavior: the scarcity principle.

Essentially what they discovered is that when something is available only for a certain time, or available only to a certain group of people, that makes us want it – and want it badly.

There are two sides to the scarcity coin: urgency and exclusivity.

To trigger urgency, marketers should use words and phrases such as: now, minutes, limited time, today only, last chance, and only X number remaining — as well as dates and deadlines.

To trigger exclusivity, choose words and phrases such as only, exclusive, especially for (group descriptor), just for you, be the first, and before anyone else.

According to the Email Institute, using the scarcity principle in your subject lines can drive a 22% increase in opening rates.

Speaking of email, Worldata research shows that including a countdown clock in your email can increase your click through rates by 17%. It can be very persuasive to see those seconds rolling by, underscoring how little time you have left. Similarly, Worldata found that emails featuring flash sales versus standard sales prompt an 18-22% lift in opening rates.


Know your targets and name them

I read a bit of trivia once that said if you hand someone a pen and ask them to write something, the first thing most people write is their name.

Frankly, that didn’t surprise me. We’re all more interested in ourselves than anyone else. And what reminds us of ourselves more than our names?

Research indicates you’re more likely to donate to a hurricane relief fund if the first letter of the hurricane’s name matches the first letter of your own. Studies have also proven people are more likely to do a favor for someone if the person asking shares the same first name — or even a similar first name. And data show that we’re more likely to marry someone whose first name starts with the same first letter as ours. The incidence is actually 12% greater than if chance alone were involved.

So what does this mean to marketers? Personalize.

Use your target’s name where it makes sense. It will pull their eyes right in. In fact, Experian found you can get a 23.9% increase in email opening rates just by personalizing the subject line.

Go old school and tell a story

Throughout history, and especially before the written word, stories were how information was transferred. Stories, fables, legends, and parables all played an important role in passing important data from person to person and generation to generation.

Fast-forward to today, and science can explain exactly why stories are so effective. And why marketers can use them to our advantage.

When people deal with facts and figures, it activates Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, the two parts of the brain where language is processed.

However, when we read or hear a story, something else happens. If we read about someone taking an action, it activates the brain’s motor cortex. If we read about how something smells, it activates the olfactory cortex. And if we read about how something feels, it activates the sensory cortex.

Why is this important? Because neuroscientists have found that the more parts of your brain that are activated, the better you understand and remember information.

Perhaps even more telling is an observation made by Joe Vitale, author of Hypnotic Writing. He explains that stories engage us and allow us to draw our own conclusions. And while we may doubt what someone else (like a marketer) tells us, we rarely argue with our own conclusions.

How’s that for persuasion?!

Choose your words with thought and intention

So clearly, words matter. In marketing, as in Scrabble, some are worth more than others. As you set out to persuade your customers and prospects, write your copy with care. Select the words and copy constructs that are most likely to prompt the automatic responses you seek. And watch your read and response rates soar.

Dominic Pandolfino | Crain’s St. Louis

Dominic Pandolfino | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, Nice Shoes Creative Studio


Founded in 1996 by Dominic Pandolfino, Nice Shoes is a New York-based post-production company that offers editing, color grading and visual effects services, among others. The company has helped produce commercials for such companies asGE, Pepsi, McDonald’s and American Express.

We started our first company [Manhattan Transfer] in 1983. By 1986 that company was in a free fall, because it had gone public, and it wasn’t about the content we were producing, it was about the numbers for the public. By ’96 it was apparent it was going in the wrong direction, and we felt New York deserved better than that. So we left and started Nice Shoes.  

Our goal was to show New York we could do a better job, but the mistake we made was that our only goal was to outdo our previous company. We fulfilled that within five years—we were by far the best post-production company in New York. The problem with doing that is it’s not a long-term goal, it’s not really a goal set in a positive way. It’s almost a negative goal. It’s like showing somebody up rather than showing how well you can do something. By 2001, there was an influx of companies from England and from the West Coast, and that competition made me realize we were not properly focused.  

When a business does really well, and money is plentiful, it covers up a myriad of sins. So from 2001 to 2008, even though we saw lots of competition come into New York and do really good work, financially we were doing so well we could almost ignore it. In order to get into my business, it costs a lot of money, millions of dollars, but by 2008 and the Great Recession, the price of entering it had really fallen dramatically. So we were getting competition at the highest level from these great companies from London and Los Angeles, and on the lower end from the young kids just graduating college who can do work for much less money. That was the beginning of my realization that we needed to compete.

And how did we want to compete? Did we want to compete on that low level, did we want to compete on that high level? We had to rediscover our core purpose. I realized that what got me up every morning was, I wanted to be part of a company that created really compelling content. 

Swing for the fences … and the score will take care of itself.

We have now spent almost three and a half years trying to hire the right people and put them in the right seats on the bus. It’s about hiring really great people who are also extremely talented, and it’s about having a great client experience. Nothing puts a smile on my face more than when I hear people talk about Nice Shoes, and what a great experience they had at the company. Every client that works here, I look at like it’s a partner of mine. I want them to trust completely that we are a company where not only will they have a great product, but they’ll have a great experience. That all starts with having the right people. This is New York City—there are tons of people who can do that work, but in order to work at Nice Shoes and be a part of the team, they have to be a really outstanding individual as well.  

Why do we get up in the morning, and who do we want to be with every day to be able to do the end-to-end production and post-production work at the highest levels possible? It’s not about the money. There’s a book by Bill Walsh, the old coach of the 49ers, called “The Score Takes Care of Itself.” That’s kind of how I run my business. I tell people all the time, swing for the fences. Sometimes you’re going to strike out, sometimes you’re going to pop out. But you’re great at what you do, just keep on doing what you do, and the score will take care of itself. You’re not going to win every game, but you’ll do really well.

Follow Nice Shoes on Twitter at @NiceShoesOnline.

Pictured: Dominic Pandolfino. | Photo courtesy of Nice Shoes.

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Social Media Reacts to Charo and Partner Keo Motsepe’s Elimination

Social Media Reacts to Charo and Partner Keo Motsepe’s Elimination


The second couple to go home in season 24 is Charo and Keo Motsepe. Nick Viall and partner Peta Murgatroyd were also in jeopardy. Charo said she had an incredible time and joked that she would see judge Bruno Tonioli in the parking lot, a nod to the little on-screen feud the duo has had since the premiere.

Tonight, the couple danced an entertaining foxtrot to “Chapel of Love” for Vegas Night, scoring a 24. Last week, they danced a fiery paso doble to “España Cani,” earning their highest score of 25. They started off the season with a spark in week one, dancing a lively salsa to “Cuban Pete.” Their score ultimately did not match Charo’s energy, starting her season with a 21 out of 40.

Charo and Partner Keo Motsepe Eliminated

According to E! News, Charo previously threatened to quit for being “scored very unfairly.” A source indicated that Charo was “seriously upset” after her first two weeks of poor scores. She clarified her statement on Twitter, indicating that she was not quitting. “I love the show and hope to stick around,” she wrote.

Social Media Reacts to Charo and Keo Motsepe’s Elimination

According to ABC, “Charo is an American music and pop culture icon.” She is “instantly recognizable by her trademark expression, ‘CUCHI-CUCHI,’ which has endeared her to millions around the world and made her name synonymous with music, fun and excitement.”

Now in its 24th season, “Dancing with the Stars” is hosted by Tom Bergeron and sports broadcaster Erin Andrews. The judging panel is composed of ballroom experts Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba, Julianne Hough and Bruno Tonioli. Their scores, along with America’s votes, determine who gets to stay and who is sent home each week as couples vie for the coveted Mirrorball trophy.

The current contestants include Olympic gold medalist gymnast Simone Biles with partner Sasha Farber, Fifth Harmony’s Normani Kordei with Val Chmerkovskiy and this season’s Bachelor Nick Viall with new mom Peta Murgatroyd. Other stars who will be competing include Heather Morris, Bonner Bolton, David Ross, Mr. T, Erika Jayne, Rashad Jennings and Nancy Kerrigan.

“Dancing with the Stars” airs every Monday night at 8 p.m. on ABC.

What did you think of their performance tonight? Sound off in the comments section below!

Photo credit: ABC

Sameer Dholakia | Crain’s St. Louis

Sameer Dholakia | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, SendGrid


SendGrid is a cloud-based email platform for delivering transactional emails and email marketing campaigns. The company sends 30 billion emails every month for 120,000 companies around the world.

The Mistake:

We had no plan to get on a path to profitability [at another company before joining SendGrid].

At my first CEO job back in 2007, the company was growing fast. We were executing our strategy well. Things were going great. We were “investing in the business,” as they say, at a fairly aggressive clip.

We didn’t even have a thought about profitability at that time, but it was the go-go days. The market was at its peak and things were rolling. In the fall of 2008, Lehman Brothers happened and we entered the Great Recession.

If you are not profitable, and you don’t have a self-sustaining business, you need to find money to cover your losses every year. During a recession, the people giving you money to run your business – through venture capital or access to debt – go away. It gets very difficult to raise that money. Unless you have a giant war chest or a plan to achieve profits in short order, a recession will put you in a very difficult place.

For us, in 2008 and 2009, there were some dark days. We had to cut costs, and we weren’t sure how to manage it. Ultimately, we were able to close a strategic deal, and we got through it.

There’s one mistake in business you can never come back from – running out of cash. Don’t assume good times will last forever. You have to prepare to weather the storm.

There’s one mistake in business you can never come back from – running out of cash.

The Lesson:

You want to control your own destiny.

Data from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that the average economic expansion period is five years. So if we mark, from the end of the last recession at the summer of 2009, we are two years overdue for another recession. Averages are just averages, but it’s not a question of it [happening], but when.

To all the 20-somethings in the workforce who have never worked through a recession, I would pass along a lesson I learned from one of my mentors: “Profitability is a choice – a decision – not an outcome.”

I didn’t learn that lesson well enough the first time. Maybe someone reading this will be able to learn it better than I did and get ahead of the curve. When I arrived at SendGrid, I assured myself I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

When I joined, we were burning through a lot of cash. We were very unprofitable. On a percentage basis, we were around 30 percent negative. In terms of absolutes, we were burning around $13 million per year. Going from losing $13 million per year to being profitable is hard. There were lots and lots of things we had to change.

I’m proud to say we are now profitable. We are not at the whims of the external markets or venture capital sentiments. We can continue to build this awesome company forever, and that’s pretty exciting. 

Follow Sameer on Twitter at @spdholakia and SendGrid at @SendGrid.

Photo courtesy of SendGrid

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Retailers Are Making a Huge Mistake; 7 Tips to Fix It

Retailers Are Making a Huge Mistake; 7 Tips to Fix It

It’s not a future trend anymore; shoppers are purchasing online and picking up products in a physical store. It’s an easy and convenient way for a brand to provide instant gratification. The e-commerce shopper is now present at your physical store. What is the next step? This is a golden opportunity for a retailer to initiate a relationship with their online customer. Retailers must seize the moment and not make their second biggest mistake. What was the first? Retailers created separate silos for online and brick and mortar. In my opinion, a huge tactical error. It is essential that the two businesses be fused together. The glue is the sales associate, creating a relationship with the customer. The sales associate should be the contact responsible for all channels, e-commerce and brick and mortar.

I recently met with the General Manager of a large and successful independent consumer electronics retailer that prides itself on delivering a great customer experience and exceeding customer expectations. This company instituted the protocol of ordering online and picking up the merchandise. We stood near the entrance where customers picked up their purchases. The customers wanted their items and they wanted them immediately. The General Manager shared that the company was outsourcing the pickup function to a third party. He shared it was difficult to staff the pickup window. Depending upon deliveries, there were some hours of the day where no customers were retrieving their purchases and at other times, there was a rush of people. He observed that the pickup process was lacking in many aspects and not comparable to the customer service in the store. That didn’t make sense to me.

You can never make a second first impression. In retail, equally as important is the last impression. Online shopping is the now not so new paradigm; the selection is great, prices are competitive, the checkout process is user friendly. Convenience is key. If a customer chooses the option of picking up their purchases at a physical store the easy experience should be enhanced by infusing the human connection. Why not have a human-to-human interaction that will turn the customer service experience from a series of dates into a romance?

I read that UPS is pitching a new service for online retailers to accommodate customers so they don’t have to come to the store for the pick-up. Customers can select a local UPS location that may be more geographically convenient than the store. While that might make sense in rural areas, it doesn’t make sense from a repeat business perspective. Retailers should use the pick-up as an opportunity to interact with the customers and create and build a relationship. It’s possible that the online shopper will take time to see what’s available in the store. The impression the associate makes with the customer who they are helping with their pickup is too valuable to be ignored.

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Below are 7 additional suggestions to create a more effective human-to-human connection for in-store pickups:

  1. Put caring and knowledgeable front-line associates at the pick-up counter; someone who can make a great first and lasting impression
  1. Add temporary stations if necessary to ensure that lines are kept to a minimum. Have a front-line associate with a great smile and attitude. Offer customers standing in line a drink or snack, etc. to make the experience more enjoyable. Engage customers in line – make them feel welcomed, important and appreciated even before they get to the pickup counter
  1. Have front-line associates communicate their names, even if it’s on their badge. “Hi, I’m Dawn, I will happy to help you today.”
  1. Find out the customer’s name upfront and use it as part of the conversation. Everyone likes to hear their name and saying it helps make the interaction seem more personable
  1. Find out if the customer has ever been in the store before. If they are a regular, thank them for being loyal. If they have never shopped before, tell them you hope they will return, reminding them that you truly appreciate your customers
  1. When the transaction is complete, end the interaction with something like, “Mr. Jones, it was so nice to help you today and we hope that you will continue to shop here. We appreciate our customers!”
  1. Send first time customers or ones who purchased expensive items, a personalized letter or email, thanking them for coming in and giving them the name of a specific person in the store who can assist them in the future for either an online or store purchase

Retailers were shortsighted when setting up e-commerce void of human contact and as an entirely separate business unit. That was a major blunder. Don’t underestimate the value of making the pickup counter for online purchases one of the most important functions in your brick & mortar store. Repeat business is all about creating and building relationships. That one customer pickup might be your only opportunity. At your next staff meeting brainstorm ways to make the experience at the pickup counter one that will entice the customer to return.

Luis von Ahn | Crain’s St. Louis

Luis von Ahn | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder and CEO, Duolingo


Duolingo is a free, science-based, language-learning app that offers 53 language courses for 23 different languages and has 120 million users around the world.

The Mistake:

We took a really long time to officially launch Duolingo in India because we were under a major misconception. We’d launched language courses all over the world and had so far been able to let them grow organically without paying much attention.

However, unlike most countries, Duolingo in India was not a hit. We had very few users and, moreover, it seemed like our few Indian users were learning French and Spanish rather than English, which is normally the most-coveted language in non-English speaking countries.

We asked around and were told by an Indian native in the tech field that people who owned smartphones in India were probably affluent and therefore likely to have some knowledge of English. This made sense at the time, and we had many priorities and put the issue to the side.

Finally, one of our investors, Google, said to us, “India is a huge and growing country. Go over to India and figure this out.” So five of us went in February [of 2016]. When we arrived, we began talking to people and realized right away that the original assumption was incorrect: Most people barely spoke English and were interested in learning it.

We’d also assumed, worldwide, that people’s phones were set to a language they were fluent in. Therefore, people whose phones are in English are offered courses made for English speakers on Duolingo such as French and Spanish, but not a course to learn English.

In India, however, most people’s phones are set to English because typing in Hindi is very difficult. Therefore, most people with smartphones did want to learn English but couldn’t access our English course at all. They were downloading our app, looking for English and that option was nowhere to be found.

Check all your assumptions.

The Lesson:

Once we realized this, we solved the problem right away. The key lesson we learned is to check all your assumptions. As soon as we made these changes, our business in India started to grow.

It may seem like a very small matter, but it was an important lesson that we will apply to other countries. If we hadn’t gone to India, we would have never known. We’ve spent two years ignoring India, a country with 300 million people who want to learn English. Now that we’ve gone to India and figured this out, our traffic will probably double.

As a result, we’re now starting to look at other countries and check our assumptions there.

Follow Luis von Ahn on Twitter at @luisvonahn and Duolingo at @duolingo.

Photo courtesy of Luis von Ahn

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6 Dos and Don’ts of Winback Campaigns

6 Dos and Don’ts of Winback Campaigns

It’s a marketer’s worst nightmare: for whatever reasons, a once active customer has stopped engaging with your brand entirely. Maybe it’s been over six months, or maybe even a year, but either way the relationship has gone cold and you weren’t able to save it – or, you didn’t know you needed to.

But there is still hope! Winback campaigns, when executed well, are proven to not only capture your customer’s attention, but also encourage your customer to start shopping again. In fact, a study conducted by Internet Retailer on 33 brands running winback campaigns revealed that 45% of customers who received a winback campaign opened a subsequent message from the brand. The key is crafting a winback campaign that addresses your customers’ individual needs.

Below are six do’s and don’ts of winback campaigns to help you successfully re-engage your inactive customers.

DO: Segment your customers to find out who needs a winback

While it varies from business to business, typically a customer is considered at-risk if they haven’t reached out in 30 days or more, and they’re considered in need of a winback if it’s been over 90 days since their last engagement. When you segment customers based on their level of engagement, you can more accurately determine who to reach out to and in what context. (And it’s worth mentioning that ideally, marketers would do well to reach out during the “at-risk” stage, rather than wait until the customer goes completely cold.)

DO: Ask what went wrong

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When all else fails, just ask! Using language like “What happened?” or “Where have you been?” invites your customers to reply describing any concrete reasons they had for leaving your brand – and, in turn, invites marketers to more actively solve those problems that caused disengagement. Not only will you be showing customers that their satisfaction is your top priority, you’ll be able to more directly uncover key insights to re-engaging a previously silent shopper.

DON’T: Treat them like any other customer

When customers haven’t engaged with your brand in over a year, your relationship is almost non-existent to the point where you might almost consider treating them like a new customer. However, the key difference here is that when you’re delivering a win-back campaign to a former customer, you’re reaching out to someone who has a history with your brand – however short. When you already have existing behavioral data on a shopper, you have an opportunity to personalize your win-back campaign based on what you already know about them, thus increasing the likelihood that they’ll respond.

DO: Consider reaching out on other channels

If the majority of your campaigns are being delivered via email, and customers aren’t responding, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re uninterested – it might just mean the medium you’re using for communication isn’t quite right based on where they are. Picture this: the customer who routinely ignores your emails has been regularly engaging via Facebook or Google. Consider delivering a campaign via some other channel to try and re-engage shoppers who are using a different channel or device to shop.

DON’T: Assume winbacks are “if need be”

Only about 1 in 26 unhappy customers – or about 4% – complain. The rest churn. If marketers wait for customers to actively reach out with negative feedback, they’re going to miss the vast majority of customers who don’t bother. Winback campaigns, rather than being “if need be,” are critical to learning more about what went wrong from the customers who otherwise wouldn’t tell you.

DO: Incentivize the decision to return with a discount or offer

A retailer we created an account with as part of our research on the marketing strategies of today’s top brands sent us an email when we hadn’t engaged with any of their campaigns in about 60-90 days: the subject line said “We’ve missed you – enjoy 30% off your next purchase” with a personalized discount code in the email copy. Not only was the brand reaching out while we were still considered at-risk, they were doing so by offering a clear-cut incentive for us to return. Offering customers something in return for revisiting your website works in both the short-term and the long-term, in terms of encouraging them to make a purchase and letting them know you care about their relationship with you.

Winback campaigns need to directly address what went wrong while incentivizing a customer’s return. When you can more directly address the elephant in the room – that your customer has stopped shopping with you – in a winback campaign, you can more actively figure out how to re-engage them. And don’t forget that these customers have shopped with you before – they have historic data that you can use to personalize your messaging and deliver campaigns that are uniquely targeted to them. When done in the right way, it’s not impossible to deliver effective campaigns that resonate with even the customers who’ve been cold for over a year.

This post originally appeared on the Zaius Blog.

Betsy Mikesell | Crain’s St. Louis

Betsy Mikesell | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, Beddy’s


Beddy’s, based in West Jordan, Utah, offers a “zip up” bedding that enables children (and adults) to make their beds quickly and easily. Betsy Mikesell came up with the idea after seeing, first hand, how difficult it was for her young sons to make up their bunk beds.

The Mistake:

When we were in the beginning, we were taking loans out on our cars and our houses. We were kind of maxing everything out. I was still working as a hairdresser and trying to get this started. Any extra is going to the business.

We had a person who was going to do work for us and help us with some product and they offered to do it – equivalent to about $50,000 – and they offered us a royalty deal in exchange for their services. We thought we would save money this way.

Flash forward about six months and we are growing like crazy. We funded $108,000 on Kickstarter and we did $250,000 in our first year. In order to continue growing, we had to buy more product and maxed out home loans. We looked at working with an investor, but the royalty deal scared them off. They thought it was basically like paying commission: If I say the bedding costs $100 to buy, I still owe the royalty to the vendor. I didn’t know there was a negative side to the royalty. It cost us several hundred thousand dollars to get out of the royalty deal. So we had to use this investor’s money to help us get out of it.

It was a painful thing to learn, but I now know I will never do a royalty deal again.

I will never do a royalty deal again.

The Lesson:

If a deal sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. There have definitely been times in my life when people have come to us at the right time. That’s what I thought this was. Had I consulted with other business people, I wouldn’t have done it. Had I consulted with attorneys … you think you don’t have the money, but it’s going to cost you more to not have an attorney in the end.

Maybe a royalty deal could be good for somebody else; our deal was in perpetuity, so we had to buy our way out of it. It might have been good to set an end date. Turned out she’d make money when I’m losing money. They got their money regardless.

Follow Beddy’s on Twitter at @Beddysbeds.

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How to Maintain Brand Consistency After Buying a Business

How to Maintain Brand Consistency After Buying a Business

If you’ve just purchased a business, you’re probably eager to get started putting your own unique stamp on it. But before you do, make sure you consider your messaging and the importance of maintaining consistency in the brand you’ve acquired. Whether you’re sticking to an existing business model or developing your own, brand consistency should be a priority.

Brand consistency increases the value of any business and those that stand the test of time share one commonality — consistency in design and messaging. According to Spellbrand, Beretta, Twinings Tea, The New York Times, Tiffany & Co. and Mercedes-Benz top the list of brands that have endured for many years. In Beretta’s case, the gun manufacturer — and its well-recognized trident logo — dates back some 500 years.

While the consistency of repetition may seem boring as a new business owner, it will actually ensure you’re getting the most traction for your marketing and sales efforts, and reinforce your spot in the marketplace. Incongruent or inconsistent branding, on the other hand, will convolute your message, confuse your customers, and ultimately detract from your business. If you want to attract high-quality, long-term customers, consistency is crucial.

Consistency also helps you establish a strong core foundation from which you can methodically grow your brand and your business.

Not just for your customers

It’s important to remember that brand consistency isn’t just about your customers. It also benefits your business internally. Managing change in a newly purchased business is important, too. Changing your messaging frequently necessitates retraining of staff, and amounts to lost time and efficiency. With consistency, everyone on the team will know what to expect and that will result in your business operating more smoothly.

In order to be truly effective, brand consistency must permeate every aspect of your business, from marketing and messaging through customer contact and product delivery.

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The following elements are integral to successfully maintaining brand consistency:

  1. Define your message

However you express your brand message, make sure it exemplifies your company’s core mission and values. The next step is to align your company’s behavior with that message to build trust with your customers. If you’re inconsistent or inauthentic, you will quickly lose trust in your marketplace.

  1. Display consistent, impactful design

The visual impact you make with clients is arguably your most important brand element. Think about the recognition of some of the brands mentioned earlier. Like them, you want your customers to instantly recognize your company by its logo and other imagery. Doing too many different things can be confusing to customers and damaging to your brand. Be strategic and thoughtful in your design, and once you’ve nailed it down, vary little from those design elements. Another benefit of consistent design: it will help your company legally secure its brand assets and prevent other companies from copying or reproducing logos, taglines, website addresses, and social media handles.

  1. Maintain consistency in tone

The best way to reinforce the message you’ve defined as integral to your company is with a consistent tone in all of your outward communication and customer contact. No matter how you’ve decided to position your company — helpful, authoritative, etc. — make sure your tone always reflects that. Your customers should know what tone and demeanor to expect, with little variation.

  1. Be rhythmic in your delivery

No matter where you’ve chosen to deliver your message to clients — through a newsletter, blog, or social media — there should be a cadence to it. Your delivery across channels should follow a rhythm on which your customers come to rely. For example, subscribers to Bon Appétit magazine’s website know they can expect a new recipe via email several times a week. They come to expect it and look forward to it.

  1. Make consistency a priority from the ground up

Every touchpoint in your business can impact brand consistency. Make sure that top-level marketing managers aren’t the only team members focusing on this. Instead, recognize that every employee in your organization can impact your brand. Empower them to do so by making sure they know the core message and mission of your company and can accurately and regularly promote it to customers. Every employee in your organization should be fluent with its taglines, social profiles, logos, and graphics.

Reinvention doesn’t equal relevancy

As a new business owner, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that you must constantly reinvent your brand to keep it relevant. The most popular brands with the longest histories prove time and again that this isn’t true.

If you’ve acquired a business that was doing it right, then keep up with its best practices. And once you’ve found your sweet spot, stick to it with little variation. That is not to say your company can’t grow and change, but with a solid foundation in place, it can do so methodically and to the benefit of your business.

Robert Rosen | Crain’s St. Louis

Robert Rosen | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Chairman, MPN Research Foundation


The MPN Research Foundation supports scientists who are looking for new ways to treat rare form of blood cancer that affects an estimated 300,000 people. Robert Rosen and a group of other patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms founded the organization in 1999. The foundation has raised more than $10 million for medical research.

I was in the commercial real estate business for 35 or 40 years. I became president of what, at the time, was the largest independently owned commercial real estate company in Chicago, called Frain, Camins & Swartchild 

When I was young in the business, I was always overly concerned about money and making sales, the bottom line. I was a smart, aggressive kid, but I had very little business experience. I was naïve about how relationships work in the business world. I didn’t really consider the feelings and the needs of other people, both in my business and in my personal life. It’s the old story of the pursuit of money at the expense of other things.  

One event has resonated with me for decades. I had a mentor, a boss who was wonderful to me. He cared about me in a way that I didn’t deserve as a young kid. He helped me find clients, and he helped me work through deal issues. He would bring in major development projects and major sales, and, from time to time, hwould include me in his projects, even though it was gratuitous on his part to do soThis was during the early years. I really owed him a lot.  

He came to me and asked me to make a charitable contribution to the building of a hospital that was being managed by a friend, both of mine and of the office. I turned down the request. It would have been easy to do it, but I was feeling cheap and also independent. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do.  

He asked me again. I said, “No, I’m not going to do it.  

It made a difference in the relationship—and not in a positive way. He started to look at me differently. He had been very good in helping me start my business, and he started to back off a bit. It took me a while to get it. I was just so focused on money and not on relationships.  

The cheapness is what resonates with me. I felt bad about that for years.  

I try to lead by example.

I’ve seen [my former mentor] on and off for most of my life. One day I took him for lunch and told him that I appreciate everything that he did and that I was sorry about that incident. It was a great lunch, a hard lunch. He looked away and didn’t know how to respond. But I said it to him twice, and I know he heard me 

Now I try to lead by example. 

I always wanted to do something in the nonprofit world. But I could never find an organization that operated with the metrics and efficiency that I was used to in the business world. So I started my own nonprofit, the MPN Research Foundation. It advocates and funds research in a little corner of the medical world. It’s become a very effective organization, and it’s a chance for me to change my priorities, my relationships with other people.  

I do everything. I founded the organization. I do fundraising and strategy, patient outreach. Relationships are just as important in the nonprofit world as in the business world. You’re dealing with donors who are like customers and pharmaceutical partners, associates and staff. [For fundraising] I do a soft sell, which is building relationships, finding areas of common interest and spending time to build confidence.  

Photo courtesy of Robert Rosen.

Follow the MPN Research Foundation on Twitter at @MPN_RF.

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This Online Review Site Has Captured the Attention of Consumers and Businesses (and It’s Not TripAdvisor)

This Online Review Site Has Captured the Attention of Consumers and Businesses (and It’s Not TripAdvisor)

A few years ago, social networking giant Facebook began to allow users to post online reviews and ratings of local businesses.

Since then, the volume of reviews on the site has rapidly increased, with more and more people using Facebook in the same way they use, say, Yelp and TripAdvisor: as a channel for reviewing businesses and sharing their own customer experiences.

Facebook outpacing other sites in restaurant reviews and ratings

Diners, for example, are using Facebook to review and talk about their trips to restaurants. In an analysis by customer feedback software company ReviewTrackers, which took into account reviews of 250 restaurants over a 6-month period, Facebook reflected the highest growth rate in reviews, outpacing other restaurant review sites like Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Zomato, and Foursquare.

These numbers echo findings previously made by Social Media Link, which reported that 2 in 3 consumers were more likely to share their thoughts, experiences, and opinions on Facebook after a purchase.

ReviewTrackers conducted further analysis — this time, of over 331,920 online reviews covering more than 1,300 restaurant locations — and found that customers are also likely to leave the highest ratings on Facebook, which has an average of 4.31 stars out of 5, compared to the industry average of 3.88 stars out of 5.

Yelp and TripAdvisor, two of the most popular review sites for restaurants, average 3.46 stars and 4.04 stars out of 5, respectively.

Why the surge in Facebook reviews?

Well, it’s worth noting that, unlike other sites that filter reviews posted by new users, Facebook makes it easy to rate a business. Its review feature has a familiar interface, and from a log-in perspective, users can get started simply by clicking the Review button on a business’ Facebook Page to start writing. For better or for worse, Facebook’s review filters are also less strict.

Harnessing the power of customer reviews

Given this growth in review activity, Facebook is increasing its focus on this area and rolling out features to make itself much more than a platform for liking cute dog photos posted by friends or live-broadcasting your trip to Machu Picchu.

Facebook’s Professional Services feature, launched in 2015, offers a list of local businesses with the best reviews and ratings, helping guide users as they look for products and services in a specific geographical area.

For business owners and marketers, getting listed in Professional Services can be a game-changer, with positive reviews, 5-star ratings, and high rankings having the power to create opportunities more meaningful than a dozen likes or a link to your new company blog post can.

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Last year, Facebook also introduced friend-based recommendations, which enables a user’s friends to comment on posts that seek information, advice, and feedback on local businesses and professional services. There is also a new Recommendations bookmark on Facebook, which lets users ask a new question, help friends, and map out recommendations in one place.

These new features factor in the social component and influence that friends and family have on consumers’ purchase decisions, allowing Facebook to make a case that traditional review websites are not typically able to: would you rather trust the opinions of anonymous online reviewers over the opinions of your friends and family?

Tips and tricks for managing online reviews on Facebook

With Facebook expanding the scope of what social media can do — while challenging our traditional notions of online review sites — businesses that incorporate Facebook reviews into their social media strategy can gain a much-needed edge over the competition.

Here are some tips to help you manage online reviews on Facebook in perfect harmony with your social media marketing efforts.

Enable the Reviews feature on your Facebook Business Page.

According to a study, 80 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase from local businesses with positive reviews on their Facebook Page.

It definitely makes sense to want to build out and encourage reviews on Facebook: if you can generate positive feedback from your happiest customers, your Page can attract more people, drive sales, and do wonders for your business.

To enable the Review feature:

  • Go to Settings located at the top of your page.
  • Click Page Info and choose Local Business as your Facebook Page category. (The Review feature isn’t yet available for, say, pages for singers or actors or authors.)
  • You’ll be given an option to make your business category more specific: restaurant, café, hospital or healthcare facility, hotel, etc.
  • Click Save changes. Next, you have to add your business’ physical address or location. Again, go to Settings and click Page Info.
  • Click Address and enter the information required, then tick the box next to Show map, check-ins, and star ratings.
  • Click Save changes.

Respond to online reviews.

There is no reason to be scared of reviews. Sure, negative social media comments and 1-star ratings can sometimes feel like a punch in the gut, but the world’s most successful brands know that, in order to succeed on social media, you have to embrace and respond to what customers are saying online, even if it comes from your harshest critics and haters.

In fact, according to industry research, 78 percent of consumers feel that responsive businesses care more about their customers than those who do not respond at all to online reviews. Also, more than 50 percent of customers who have written online reviews expect a response in seven days or less. 1 in 4 have an even shorter time frame: they expect to hear back from the business within three days.

Staying highly engaged with reviewers on Facebook helps your business deliver better customer service, have more effective interactions, and achieve greater social media success. It may even pave the way for critics to give your business a second chance.

Here’s a pro tip: always remember to say thank you in your review responses. Too many reviews to respond to? You can save time by downloading these customizable review response templates.

Share your best reviews on Facebook.

If you’re consistently receiving 5-star ratings and reviews on Facebook as well as on other sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, don’t hesitate to show them off.

Share your best reviews on your Facebook Page. The impact of content generated by real people and real customers is more powerful and effective than loud sales messages or promotional brand content.

Sharing positive reviews on social media also drowns out negative noise, and it can even make a positive impact on your search visibility.


Facebook is no longer just today’s most popular social network; it’s also a legitimate business discovery engine and review platform with a unique ability to connect businesses with consumers. By managing reviews, responding to feedback, and engaging with customers on Facebook, businesses can support and enhance the effectiveness of their social media strategy — and leverage the word-of-mouth power of reviews in ways that make a positive impact on the bottom line.

Cortnie Purdy-Fausner | Crain’s St. Louis

Cortnie Purdy-Fausner | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder and creative director, The Venue Report


Launched out of San Diego, The Venue Report is a digital media platform and directory that acts as a guide to locations and event spaces around the globe.

The Mistake:

Our biggest mistake was hiring the wrong team for our product, which for us is our website. We were in a rush to fix the first situation which led us to hiring another bad web team to try and dig us out of it. We majorly skimped here.

When all was said and done we spent a fortune and we really had nothing like what we envisioned our website should be.

It was the most helpless hair pulling experience of my life. You really can’t do anything. You just have to sit through it, especially with a web team. Once you make that decision you are kind of stuck with that person or that team for a while.

We basically could have hired a great team for the same amount that we ended up spending on two teams. But, because we didn’t really vet the teams we were delayed and spent a crazy amount of money to have nothing that was usable in the end.

It was the most helpless hair pulling experience of my life.

The Lesson:

We have this whole interview formula that we follow now. We have a team of 12 internally and everyone has been with us for over a year. The one time we didn’t follow that formula we paid the piper again.

So, it has worked every single time. We have not been in a rush and sometimes we will do as many as five interviews if we need to. And we also make sure to find people that are a t-shaped hire.

At this stage of our startup we understand that we cannot do everything all at once. We hire people that can wear many hats.

We are hiring a team of t-shaped people that have multiple skillsets and can do different types of jobs.

The Venue Report is on Twitter at @thevenuereport.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

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The 6 Scientific Reasons Prospects Are Not Buying From You

The 6 Scientific Reasons Prospects Are Not Buying From You

There are six reasons why prospects don’t buy from you, but just one is enough to kill a sale. Preempt these objections and you’ll sell more.

why customers dont buy.jpg

Is your sales team meeting its quota?

Surveys show that nearly half of all salespeople fail to meet their quota every year. Why? Well, it could be related to some Harvard Business Review research indicating that 63% of the behaviors that salespeople exhibit actually drive down their performance. A big part of that is because the way most people sell is not aligned with how their customers make buying decisions.

In The Science of Selling: Proven Strategies to Make Your Pitch, Influence Decisions, and Close the Deal David Hoffeld draws on over 400 scientific studies that show how the human brain makes buying decisions.

David Hoffeld COMBO.png

(Click here to listen to a Marketing Book Podcast interview with David Hoffeld.)

The science affirms that there is a gaping disconnect between how people sell and how humans make buying decisions. And to make matters worse, the way most salespeople are taught to sell is grounded in selling, not buying.

To sell the way our brains make buying decisions, Hoffeld decodes the way buyers formulate buying decisions in a framework called “The Six Whys.” These are six specific questions that represent the mental steps all potential customers go through when making a purchase decision.

When salespeople structure their sales processes to answer and gain commitment to each of the Six Whys, they can guide potential customers through the buying process and into a positive decision.

But, if a buyer rejects one or more of the Six Whys, it will cause his or her decision-making process to break down, which can grind the sale to a halt, usually in the form of an objection.

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Hoffeld shows how the root of all objections are found in one of the Six Whys:

1. Why Change?

In physics, an object at rest stays that way, unless something happens. People act the same way unless there is some good reason to change.

This is what makes the status quo so alluring: people have a natural aversion to change. The brain is wired to associate a high level of risk with accepting a new idea or purchasing a product or service.

Ultimately, if you don’t give buyers a reason to change, they won’t. Hoffeld explains that the most compelling ways to incite change is to find problems by challenging the status quo with insights that compel your buyers to think about how they can improve themselves or their business.

But don’t stop there – dig for the cause and scope of the problems, and ask deeper questions that help buyers feel the painful outcomes of allowing those problems to continue. Make it hurt.

2. Why Now?

Once your buyer has committed to change, you need to help them understand why change must occur now. Why? Hoffeld explains that the more time it takes to get a buying decision, the lower the probability the sale will happen.

While you don’t want to become an overbearing hustler (that doesn’t work), you need to help your customer realize that embracing change now rather than later is in their best interest. Otherwise, our brains naturally procrastinate.

3. Why Your Industry Solution?

Hoffeld calls this “the silent sales assassin” because salespeople rarely see it coming. To be successful in answering this question you may need to rethink your definition of a competitor.

For instance, Hoffeld owns a sales training company. Sure, his competitors are other sales training companies, but he also competes with in-house sales trainers and companies that might hire a one-time motivational speaker or buy their sales team a book to read.

You need to make sure your potential customer understands the positive results your solution delivers that those outside of your industry cannot match. What are some of the problems that potential customers have experienced when they have chose a solution outside of your industry? Poison the well.

4. Why You and Your Company?

Numerous studies have revealed that the best way to reduce a buyer’s perception of risk is through trust. Think of trust and risk as opposite ends of a seesaw. When trust goes up, the perception of risk goes down.

The best way to increase trust is to position yourself as an expert and share meaningful insights. Cognitive science studies have shown that when the brain recognizes that someone is an expert, it is far more likely to comply with that person’s suggestions.

Showing experience is another way to communicate expertise. Also, displaying confidence plays a vital part in establishing trust, according to studies cited in the book.

5. Why Your Product or Service?

There are two types of primary advantage: 1) cost, and 2) differentiation. Unless you are Wal-Mart, don’t compete on cost – it is a short-lived advantage and a quick race to the bottom.

To differentiate, Hoffeld’s research showed that offering a concept he calls distinct value is most effective. Distinct value is a unique value that a buyer desires and will receive from your company, product or service.

But there’s a catch: your distinct value must matter to your buyer. It changes from buyer to buyer and most distinct value that salespeople offer is irrelevant to buyers. Your distinct value also needs to be unique. And by unique, Hoffeld means scarce. Think of the word “only.”

6. Why Spend The Money?

When you are asking buyers to purchase something from you, you are also asking them not to do something else. The most effective way to answer this question is to appeal to their dominant buying motives, which are the emotional reasons buyers will buy.

Dominant buying motives are highly influential on purchasing decisions and are comprised of two scientifically validated triggers of human behavior: 1) the desire for gain, and 2) the fear of loss.

Neuroscientists in several studies have proven that the fear of loss is a much, much bigger motivator on purchase decisions. But don’t evoke the fear of loss unless you reveal how the buyer can escape that fear through the benefits they will receive from your company, product, or service.


Tim Trotter | Crain’s St. Louis

Tim Trotter | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder and president, TROCO Custom Fabricators


Founded in 2002, TROCO specializes in architectural and sculptural metal fabrication while also working with glass and other materials. The St. Louis-based company creates custom architectural elements for residential and commercial applications, including customized stair and railing systems as well as large components for outdoor sculpture installations. Its client list includes Edward Jones, the St. Louis Blues and Panera Bread.

The Mistake:

Not paying enough attention to the accounting side of the business.

When I got into my business, my passion was building things and design. There were things I just didn’t look at as much as I should have, such as accounting and taxes. It was actually something that really had a heavy effect on me several years down the road as my business grew.

I had an accountant handling all my accounting and wasn’t paying much attention to it. I was handing everything over to him and things were not being handled properly. It was probably the biggest mistake I ever made with my business – not being more focused on the accounting aspects of the company.

It’s really important to know where every penny is spent. You can look at the end of the month and say, “Oh, I have so many dollars in the bank and I have these bills to pay.” But I wasn’t really gauging, from month to month, what I was doing. Without that, it’s really tough to forecast anything or look back at previous years.

You find out as you go along that accounting really is at the heart of your company.

The Lesson:

It all came down to making sure that accounting was handled properly and having the proper people working for me. It affected cash flow. It affected taxes. It was something that was really difficult for me to figure out because I had no experience with it. You find out as you go along that accounting really is at the heart of your company.

I was really fortunate to find somebody who grabbed me and said, “Hey, these are the things that have to be done now.” She put me on a schedule for things that had to be taken care of. We also started handling things differently in the shop and made sure that we knew everything was accounted for, everything that was coming in here and going out, down to paper towels for cleaning the office.

She’s moved on, but she did an awesome job as far as getting things set up properly. It’s something that business owners don’t want to talk about because no one wants people to know they weren’t taking care of their books properly. But the woman I worked with, that’s basically what she does. She moves from company to company helping businesses out.

I was always so in tune to making sure we build things properly and had the cool design work. You just feel as long as you’re getting paid and you’re paying your bills that you’re OK, but that’s not always the case. You have to make sure that you understand where all your money is going and where it’s coming from. I’ve just seen my company flow so much more efficiently since we’ve been able to look at our monthly and quarterly reports to see where we stand and we can project where we want to be next year.

If you had asked me seven or eight years ago about the most important part of the business, I probably would’ve said quality and design. All that’s really important, but really, the heart of the business comes from accounting. Now, I go over the books with a fine-tooth comb and I wish I would have back then because I think I would have gone a lot farther a lot faster.

Photo courtesy of TROCO Custom Fabricators.

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5 Working Examples for How to Interview Industry Experts [Infographic]

5 Working Examples for How to Interview Industry Experts [Infographic]

In the world of websites and blogging, the one common theme across all sites is a never-ending need for more content. In most cases, content creation isn’t the problem… it’s more about content promotion and giving something of value to your audience.

With all of this in mind, one of the best ways to accomplish both of these feats, is to create content based around industry experts. The benefits of creating content around authority figures in your space is vast, such as bringing recognizable authority names to your site, while also having the opportunity for such content to be shared by featured experts as well. The end result could create lots of great content for your site, while also bringing in a nice consistent supply of new traffic as well.

To help with this process of discovering what works best when it comes to interviewing experts online, Blog Reign has created a great infographic on this topic — giving five working examples of how to create authority and experts content on the internet today.

Try each of the content creation methods below and see which might work best with your audience or business model.

Individual Interviews

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Want to spotlight some of the best industry experts in your space, while also coming up with full-length articles in the process? If so, why not start creating weekly interview posts with different authorities in your niche. You can ask the same set of questions to all experts, or simply come up with new and original ones for each.

Expert Roundup Posts

A great way to bring a lot of authority and content to your site, is through the use of expert roundups. Ask one question to many different experts, then compile all of their responses into one big mega post. This is one of the best methods out there for getting social shares and massive content fast.

Co-Hosted Webinars

Webinars are a more advanced way to work with experts in your space, as you can co-host free webinars for your audience. At the same time, webinars can be a much more time consuming and costly process. Weigh your options to see if webinars and JV opportunities with other experts is right for you.

Podcast Interviews

If you ever wanted to start a podcast, but weren’t sure about what type of conversation or content you wanted to create, an interview-based show might be a great option for you. The best thing about podcast interviews is that your guest is going to be providing most of the content, while also likely sharing it with their audience as well. You can see a list of the top business podcasts doing this here.

Citations, Quotes and References

Another unique opportunity for including online experts and authorities within your content, is to simply reference their names, websites, quotes or best work right on your site. This type of name association and branding can do wonders for your own site, while also relating with your audience.

Try each of these methods and see which one is best for you and your online brand.

Maria Rodale | Crain’s St. Louis

Maria Rodale | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Chairman and CEO, Rodale Inc.


Based in Emmaus, Pa., and New York, N.Y., Rodale Inc. publishes several magazines, including Men’s Health, Prevention, Women’s Health, Runner’s World and Rodale’s Organic Life. The company also produces branded events, runs multiple healthy living websites and operates Rodale Books.

Maria Rodale got her start in the family business at age 13, driving a tractor on the farm during the summer and working in the mailroom during the winter. After a stint in progressive political public relations in Washington, D.C., she returned to work for Rodale in 1987, working her way up to become CEO in 2009. Rodale recently published her first cookbook, called Scratch. “I want people to just have fun and enjoy what they like to make,” she says. “If you screw up, just laugh. We all make mistakes.”

The Mistake:

I didn’t trust myself.

I launched a magazine in the early 2000s called Organic Style, and it was based in Pennsylvania. We had a business plan that was very conservative that showed modest growth but profitability after five years, which is typical for a magazine. I had attracted real, world-class talent there to do it. We were not only on plan, but ahead of plan.

At that point, a new president came in who had been more New York-based. … He said, “This magazine is great. We should grow the circulation super fast, make it really big, and bring the edit to New York.”

My background was in circulation; I had grown up in the magazine circulation world. Everything in my gut said, “That goes against everything I’ve ever learned.” But I had literally had senior male executives say things to me like, “Well, what do you know?” So I was questioning myself, even though my own experience and gut said, “Don’t do it, don’t do it. We’re on plan, we should just keep going and be happy with modest growth rather than shoot for the moon with massive but high-risk growth.”

When you grow a magazine fast, it’s really about getting circulation from an affordable, sustainable level to one that’s more on the radar of advertisers, more like a million-plus. Ironically, we were the first magazine at Rodale to have Apple advertise with us, because they liked what we were doing. We actually weren’t having problems with advertisers. But the mentality at the time was, if you’re not a big magazine, you won’t succeed. 

I gave in to all those changes even though I could have disagreed with them; I had enough power within the company to disagree. But I didn’t, and it proceeded to kill the magazine. It just destroyed it. It made it so financially unviable that I made the decision to shut it down. 

The mentality at the time was, if you’re not a big magazine, you won’t succeed.

The Lesson:

Always trust your gut. Trust your own intelligence; don’t believe other people just because they’re other people. It’s always important to get other perspectives and other opinions. But at the end of the day, especially as a leader, you have to be authentic and true to what you believe inside of yourself—and people will actually be happy and relieved when you make a decision based on that. 

Photo courtesy of Rodale Books.

Follow Maria Rodale on Twitter at @mariarodale.

Disrupt Yourself Before the Marketplace Does It for You

Disrupt Yourself Before the Marketplace Does It for You

disrupt yourself

“We need to go to New York and tell them two years. They should actually forecast us losing money for two years. That’s what it’s going to take to turn this around now. Let’s tell them their head count to revenue and cost containment plan is complete bullshit. If that’s the plan they can find other executives to execute it. We stand firm and we tell it to their face.”

I was fueled by plenty of vodka soda energy and I wasn’t holding back. The time for holding back had long passed. Our division was facing massive disruption and the great recession had us staring down a pretty significant gap between our performance expectations and actual numbers. In short, we were in a bad spot with no clear strategy for a course correction. That didn’t sit right with me, and over dinner I let my boss know.

Cost containment isn’t a growth strategy and our holding company wanted us to cut way too deep. When you work for a publicly traded company with C-suite executives incentivized purely on short-term earnings, thinking for the long term requires incredible discipline, integrity, humility and expertise. That wasn’t our move and I openly expressed my sentiment about the game plan. I didn’t believe and couldn’t buy in, so I wanted us to take our shot at going all-in, or going out in a blaze of glory.

My boss was a wise and patient man. He listened and offered his own perspective that was markedly different than my own. He was my mentor and the best boss I had ever known. His counsel offered real insight into our new reality. Bottom line, it was too late. We waited too long to confront the brutal facts. Without an action plan to reinvent, we now had to navigate the harsh reality of disruption.

I still have one of the final decks I prepared during my corporate career. I went with the following title slide:

A case study in large corporation bureaucracy, micro mismanagement, and practices that disengage talent leading to underperformance

We never had our blaze of glory standoff in New York, but I anticipated that the presentation could be my swan song. I still think it was a pretty epic presentation. My conclusion slide acknowledged one possible outcome:

I understand actions have consequences. I will accept mine.
Thank you.

I didn’t get fired. I did volunteer myself into our next round of layoffs. It was time. After a 17-year run, I was firing up a brand new Macbook Pro at my kitchen table, prepared to reinvent myself. Adversity is a powerful teacher and here is one of the most valuable lessons I learned:

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Success by its very nature breeds complacency.

It’s easy to fall in love with the formula for success. It’s understandable when we don’t want to deviate from what’s worked in the past. However, it’s also a recipe for getting disrupted. Past success is no longer a good indicator of future performance. The world is changing fast and if you aren’t changing with it, you run the risk of disruption. The list of successful, category dominant companies that no longer exist today is quite long.

Don’t get stuck in the status quo. Disrupt yourself before the marketplace does it for you.

This advice isn’t just for big business. It applies to every entrepreneur, engineer, educator, sales professional, architect, banker, insurance agent and the list goes on. When the world changes, we have to change with it. So, how can we futureproof our organizations and careers? Here are 5 ideas to consider.

Question Every Assumption

Stay unstuck by challenging the status quo consistently. Go ahead and break what’s working in favor of making it work better! Adopt a mindset of productive paranoia and make continuous improvement a mandate. Did you get a little bit better today?

Conduct Little Experiments

Test – Measure – Iterate. Notice I didn’t use the word failure because it’s not relevant. The goal of an experiment isn’t the outcome. It’s the education. Stay in the learning lane! What three experiments are you conducting right now that will deliver data you can use to move the business into the future?

Get Closer To Your Customers

Customers want to be understood. You can grow quickly when you’re not afraid to ask for feedback, listen to what customers want, and make decisions to serve customers from a place of deeper understanding and partnership. Learning from and evolving with your customers is a smart way to approach the future of work. Have you identified the client advisory board that is helping shape the next iteration of your strategy?

Disagree and Commit

Leaders driving decisions need to show up prepared to speak their mind freely, even if it means hard and heated discussion. Conflict, tension and debate are healthy as long as people focus on attacking the issues, and not one another. However, everyone must commit to the decisions once they’re made, regardless of whether they agree or disagree. Leadership alignment is critical to execution. You have to be all in or out. Does your culture invite people to challenge ideas and each other? Are you committed wholly to decisions once they are made?

DYOB Strategy

Amateurs react. Leaders anticipate and take aggressive action to advance the organization. The marketplace punishes an organization (and individual) that isn’t willing to evolve. Start now by working on a Disrupt Your Own Business strategy. Confront reality and understand where you are vulnerable. If you were going to start the business today, what would you do differently? If you had to compete directly with yourself, how would you do it?

I’ve lived through the consequences of failing to anticipate marketplace disruption once. I learned the hard way and I am better for it. It won’t happen again.

Adapt and thrive!

Gabe Lozano | Crain’s St. Louis

Gabe Lozano | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder and CEO, LockerDome


LockerDome embeds interactive widgets across the world’s top media properties, reaching more than 100 million people per month. For brands, LockerDome’s native ad platform delivers engaging content and transparent results. LockerDome packages and delivers real-time insights on conversion data, helping advertisers drive down cost-per-acquisition rates.

The Mistake:

We’ve made hires in the past that really cost us. So when we first started doing ad sales we hired someone directly from the industry.

We asked those hires to sell advertising for our platform. Now, what they knew is how people sell advertising on other platforms. It wasn’t based on where the market is going, it was how everyone else sells advertising, how I have done it for 20 years and I could do the same thing here.

That doesn’t really work.

We have used other peoples’ technology too – other peoples’ ad platforms. Again, that has you taking rule sets and things that are very different and then you are trying to apply them. You can’t use yesterday’s solutions to solve tomorrow’s problems. It generally doesn’t make sense.

And this happened on almost every team, where the assumption was outside people in the industry can bring preexisting knowledge into a company like this and help us do well.

Experience means nothing.

The Lesson:

The philosophy that we typically use at LockerDome is that experience means nothing.

We see a lot of people knock on our door that will market their own background, from the company that they came from to the type of education they have. But the only thing we care about is what you can actually get done.

One thing we talk about all the time now is don’t underestimate somebody’s ability to learn your entire skillset and learn your subject overnight. That happens all the time, because today when you look at the way people learn … information is a complete commodity. In the past, what was in your head was actually valuable, but it’s no longer valuable. You have more information on the internet than you could possibly consume in your entire lifetime.

The ability to regurgitate somebody else’s thoughts does not make you intelligent. The ability to process data better than the person sitting next to you and to apply it better than him – that’s what makes you intelligent.

What we started doing was taking people that were already working at LockerDome and shifting them. So, almost everybody that runs a team here started at the bottom. The person that runs our publisher development team, he was an intern two and half years ago. Our CTO was our second real employee and was just a developer when he started. Our head of media sales started as an intern with no experience in publishing or advertising three and half years ago.

Gabe Lozano is on Twitter at @gabelozano and LockerDome is at @lockerdome.

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Your 14-Point Email Copy Checklist

Your 14-Point Email Copy Checklist

Raise your hand if you enjoy proofreading.


Yeah, proofreading isn’t much fun; however, doing it carefully is critical to finalizing accurate and effective email marketing copy. Below are 14 useful tips to help you find those typos before you hit “send.”

1. Shift into reverse

“Catching errors can be challenging if you’ve read the document a few times already,” writes The Expert Editor. “That’s because your mind knows what’s coming next (or at least, what your brain thinks comes next). A trick to find a fresh perspective and see sentences anew is to reverse the order: read the last sentence, then the second-to-last sentence, then the third-to-last sentence, and so on.”

2. Take a break

“Especially if you’re proofreading your own work, give yourself a day (if possible) between when you finish writing and when you begin to proofread,” suggests the GrammarPhile blog. “That time will not only give your eyes a chance to rest but will give you some distance from – and, ideally, a more objective perspective on – your work.”

3. Check contractions/apostrophes

“People often mix their and they’re, its and it’s, your and you’re and so on,” according to Daily Writing Tips. “If there something that can hurt the credibility of your text, it is a similar mistake. Also, remember that the apostrophe is never used to form plurals.”

4. Hunt for your common mistakes

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“Use the search function of the computer to find mistakes you’re likely to make,” suggests The Writing Center of the University of Wisconsin. “Search for ‘it,’ for instance, if you confuse ‘its’ and ‘it’s;’ for ‘-ing’ if dangling modifiers are a problem; for opening parentheses or quote marks if you tend to leave out the closing ones.”

5. Zero in on one writing element per pass

“When you’re proofreading, choose one focus at a time,” advises Business 2 Community. “For example, focus only on formatting or only on grammar. By focusing on one element at a time, you can ensure that you find and fix every error in that area.”

6. Eliminate distractions and interruptions

“Shut down email and social media, hide the cell phone, shut off the TV, radio, or music, and close the door,” recommends WritetoDone.

7. Print it

“Print out your text and review it line by line: rereading your work in a different format may help you catch errors that you previously missed,” advises ThoughtCo.

8. Make it bigger

“View the text at 125 or 150 percent — or even at a larger size if you can do so comfortably on your screen,” suggests the GrammarPhile blog. “Using a 32-inch monitor (yes, it’s huge) with the text enlarged to 150 or 200 percent not only makes the text easier to see, but it has the effect of slowing my reading because my eyes can’t so easily skim the page.”

9. Allow plenty of time

“If you are trying to proofread a long article in one go, you are going to be left with some errors,” advises Just Publishing Advice. “Give yourself ample time to work through every common grammar and/or spelling mistake. Be sure to work enough time into your schedule when you are planning your days.”

10. Pay attention to the important ‘little things’

“Think about what the omission of one zero in a price could cost you,” suggests Paper Specs. “Your call-to-action is usually the most important thing that will be read. But how many times have you merely skimmed your phone number, web address and email? All it takes is one transposed number or letter, and all your efforts are for naught.”

11. Ask for help

“The beauty of most email marketing platforms is they offer the ability to preview your email before sending – and pointing out some possible mistakes!” writes Girlilla Marketing. “When in doubt, send to a colleague to take a look as a fresh pair of eyes.”

12. Re-check sentences or paragraphs after you make a change

“You know how when you paint a room in your home, the furniture looks shabby all of a sudden?” asks Super Copy Editors. “If you make a last-minute change to a sentence, double-check the sentence and maybe even the entire paragraph. That seemingly small change you made could have thrown off the flow of your work.”

13. Read your work out loud

“Reading out loud forces you to say (and hear) each word,” advises Poynter. “You’ll see whether you wrote ‘if’ rather than ‘is’ or ‘of.’ Or that you typed the word ‘and’ twice in a row.”

14. Double check your facts (and everything else!)

“Look up facts, figures, proper names, Twitter handles, website URLs, and anything else that you just ‘know for sure’ is right, because sometimes your memory isn’t what you think it is,” suggests Right Source Marketing.

Laurence Dryer | Crain’s St. Louis

Laurence Dryer | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

VP of product development and innovation, The Honest Company


Actress Jessica Alba co-founded The Honest Company in 2012. While it’s perhaps most famous for its line of baby products, The Honest Company also makes personal care products, home care products, vitamins and supplements, as well as skincare and makeup under the Honest Beauty logo.

The Mistake:

Probably the biggest mistake I made, early on in my career, is assuming that it was incumbent on my boss to set the rules and tone for the working relationship.

One of my first supervisors was a very hands-on guy who was very friendly. His relationship with me was very laid-back, so I assumed he had no issue with how I worked and how I communicated. What I missed completely—and discovered later, unfortunately—was that he expected me to drive those conversations, and own that relationship, and be more assertive. He actually interpreted my lack of assertion as a lack of interest and drive. 

I found that out during evaluation time, at the end of the year, when it’s always too late, because then damage has been done. I also found out around the water cooler, when people start to talk and you learn by indirect ways how you are actually seen. How you are seen by your peers, you can correct that fairly easily, but once you are seen in a dim light by your boss, it’s a lot harder to correct. So I found out too late, and that relationship was, essentially, compromised.

That was a hard lesson. Fortunately for me, this is how I learn best.

You are 100 percent responsible for the relationship you have with your boss.

The Lesson:

Your boss may be your manager, but you are supposed to be managing that relationship; you are 100 percent responsible for the relationship you have with your boss. You’re supposed to determine the ground rules directly and assertively. It’s really key to a good working relationship.

There’s this magic that happens when you trust someone enough just to lay it all out there. You’re not telling someone, “This is how we’re going to do it,” you’re telling them, “Here’s what I want out of this relationship,” and you’re building something. It’s a very positive experience, because it breeds trust. Once you have that, you’re free to fail.

I think it’s really important to realize that the fear that you’re going to offend is actually groundless. To this day, I have trepidations when I’m about to go and state the ground rules. You obviously cannot do that in any offensive way. [But] I’ve never had anybody react negatively. 

You do have to finesse it. Sometimes you have to be blunt; sometimes you have to be really subtle, but you make it clear that you’re driving. Instantly: credibility and respect, every time.

Follow The Honest Company on Twitter at @Honest.

Photo courtesy of The Honest Company.

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5 Ways to Improve Your Marketing Job Descriptions and Attract Better Talent

5 Ways to Improve Your Marketing Job Descriptions and Attract Better Talent

One of the most important–and most overlooked–ways to make sure you’re hiring marketing staff the most effective way possible is to sharpen up your job descriptions.

The job description is the face of your employer brand. It’s one of the most important ways for recruiters for marketing positions to market your job and your organization.

Great marketers are busy. They’re also picky. If you want to attract the best marketers at all levels to your department or agency (and of course you should), you must present your business and your opportunities in a way they’ll both notice and appreciate.

As important as they are, job descriptions rarely get enough love. They’re usually written by busy HR staff juggling a pile of other searches for the rest of the organization. Your internal recruiting team is no doubt comprised of very smart, hard-working professionals. But they probably have a limited understanding of your marketing needs and the trends that are impacting the marketing industry today.

Think of the job description as the “bait” for top marketing talent. You need to use the right bait to catch the right kind of fish. When you publish a bland, unclear description and invite applications, you can expect only generic, unqualified candidates (or none at all).

Here’s how you can improve your job descriptions to get greater quantities of better qualified and more engaged candidates.

1. Speak Marketing

recruiters for marketing positions

Using the appropriate terminology is essential for a productive marketing job description. Qualified applicants that actually have the skills you need will be looking for specific keywords in your skill and experience requirements. If your description doesn’t have the right content, most of them will never even see it. And those that do come across your job description will perceive your understanding of their ability as confused or archaic and will look for someone else who understands it better.

That means using accurate, up-to-date working from recruiters for marketing positions. Marketing moves fast, and its language is constantly changing. Skills and tactics that were commonplace a few years ago might well be obsolete today.

Recycling old job descriptions is a recipe for disaster when it comes to hiring marketing staff. Make sure you’re making major updates to old ones, or better yet; write a new one from scratch that’s customized for the new job opening.

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Oh, and get it looked at by a copy editor to make sure you don’t have any embarrassing spelling and grammar mistakes. Your job description doesn’t have to be an emotionally moving Shakespearean narrative. But if it looks like it was written by a 9-year-old you’re likely to scare off any qualified candidates that come across it.

2. Choose a Job Title Carefully

A job title isn’t just a description: it’s a sign of career growth, of prestige and responsibility. These are all things that matter to top marketing talent. And it only takes a small problem with the title assignment to completely misclassify the kind of role or the level of experience needed to execute it.

Every business has its own hierarchy and job title nomenclature. In the marketing world, titles and the responsibility that goes with them vary greatly.

For instance, a Director at Company A might be a low-level manager, but the effective Head of Marketing at Company B. Terms like “manager,” “specialist,” are vague, so make sure you specify just how this role fits into the organization.

Save yourself and applicants time by explaining just where this position falls in terms of authority and leadership requirements. Explain who they’ll be reporting to. If the job is part of a marketing executive search, give candidates an idea of the size of the team they’ll be managing and how much budget they’ll be responsible for.

3. Prominently Explain What Makes Your Company a Great Place to Work

hiring marketing staff job descriptions

Most job descriptions are focused entirely on the role itself, without providing any information on why a top marketer would actually want to join your business.

Ask yourself; what is in it for the candidate? Why would someone really talented want to come work here?

As recruiters for marketing positions, we’ve found that the best candidates are usually already employed. What can you tell them that could draw them away from their current job?

Sell the opportunity. The job description is often the firs impression a marketer will have on your employer brand; make it count. You don’t need to write a novel about your company. But a short introduction to what you have to offer and what makes the position interesting provides a strong foundation to build the rest of your description on.

4. Explain Growth Opportunities

The best marketers are always looking for ways to improve themselves personally and professionally from recruiters for marketing positions.

Mention ways the applicant will be able to gain new marketable skills, advance their career, be part of a growing organization, and earn more responsibility. If there’s opportunity for pay growth–through bonuses or performance-based raises, for instance–include that as well.

5. Make Use of External Resources

recruiters for marketing positions outsourcing

It can be difficult to draft a compelling job description that appeals to smart, cutting edge marketers when you’re caught in your own corporate bubble. Sometimes pulling inspiration from an outside perspective is just what you need to make your marketing job description a magnet for top talent.

Leverage your network

Run your job description draft by coworkers, friends, and professional connections (all the better if they’re marketers, too). Ask them for their first impression, and to point out anything that’s erroneous or absent.

Compare to others’ job descriptions

Search for open jobs similar to the one you’re hiring for. What are other companies, especially those similar to yours, saying in their job descriptions. What are they doing poorly that you can improve on? What are they doing well that you can “borrow?”

Whatever takeaways you glean from the descriptions others have written, be sure you put your own spin and personalize it to align with your employer brand.

Ask your marketing recruitment partner

Recruiters for marketing positions specialize in hiring marketers and have a holistic perspective of industry trends. A marketing recruiter creates and modifies marketing job descriptions on a daily basis, using their experience to effectively market the job to applicants that are most qualified for it.

Kevin Meuret | Crain’s St. Louis

Kevin Meuret | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder, Mantality Health


Mantality Health is a network of five medical clinics focused on treating low testosterone in men. In addition to offering treatments including hormone replacement therapy, Mantality’s board-certified physicians address underlying conditions that can cause testosterone deficiency, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. Kevin Meuret also founded ReVital Women’s Clinic, which treats women with hormone-related health issues, and the consulting firm Strategy Systems.

The Mistake:

Not identifying the ideal client.

With my medical consulting business, Strategy Systems, I was going after anyone who may want the services I was offering. What I didn’t do was first profile who my ideal client would be. So I had a certain percentage of customers who were high maintenance that we couldn’t make as much profit on and they were referring like-type individuals. Our staff was busy taking care of customers who were not our ideal clientele. That was eating up resources – time, money and personnel – that could be dedicated toward our ideal clients.

We would take any medical practice that was billing insurance companies. We found there were some that had a lot of revenue, but that revenue was made up of a lot of small transactions. We were paid a percentage of the collections total regardless of the number of transactions. Early on, we ended up taking on a lot of clients who had a lot of revenue, but it was made up of small transactions. So we needed to keep adding staff to maintain and sustain these clients. We found they were revenue neutral for us or even cost us money because they had so many transactions we needed to babysit from start to finish.

Instead, we should have been naming our ideal client as the client who has a certain ticket average and a certain number of transactions. That way, we could staff it with the appropriate number of people and we had enough resources left to be able to have a profit at the end of the day.

Somebody needs to step up and say, ‘We need to break up. This is not working for either one of us.’

The Lesson:

What we did was create three tiers of clients. We asked, “What is their specialty? What is their average ticket price? What is their average revenue? How much time does it take us to service this client?” Tier one is our ideal client. Tier two clients took more time. We made a little bit of money on them, but they could grow in to a tier one client over time. And tier three clients: those were people we were losing money on. The transactions were so small that they were actually eating up a lot of our resources. They were the hardest to deal with as well.

We changed our model by going after only tier one clients. We immediately fired all the tier three clients. We gave six months to our tier two clients to grow and become tier one clients or we would release them. And all new marketing efforts went after tier one clients and we only took on tier one clients going forward.

These were very easy conversations to have because, not only were we frustrated because we barely had the resources to service tier three clients, they felt like their accounts were being under-serviced. So it was the wrong fit for both. Most of the time, when there is a client that is troublesome for the business, that’s creating friction within the business, we’re creating equal friction in the client’s business. Somebody needs to step up and say, “We need to break up. This is not working for either one of us.”

For the tier two clients we talked to, many of them thought, “This is great. We can partner with you on this to grow to the next level.” Those who didn’t want to grow, we helped find somewhere else to go, which opened up our resources. After we cleared the deck, we had our best people taking care of our best clients and we were able to right-size our company for maximum profit.

Mantality Health is on Twitter at @MantalityHealth.

Photo courtesy of Mantality Health.

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400% Returns on Assets

400% Returns on Assets


Take a look at the chart of some sample industries and the multipliers on asset value (business). If you can get net income or profit to $100K in a business like plumbing, you can sell the business for $450K. Every thousand of profit increases the sales price by 4.5x.

You can try and hunt for such returns by finding a better stock at 8%, however, you can’t beat a business profit of 56 times that rate.

Or put your money in a piece of real estate. But finding multiples on asset value would be a rare homerun. You might eke out 15%, and miss out on 30 times the opportunity.

Paper assets, real estate and businesses are holders of value that have different scales of return that the market will bear.

And if you want to exit with a business liquidation event then you focus on the variables to increase the asset value:

  • Operational efficiency and cost savings
  • Expanded paying customers
  • Product pricing
  • Top line revenue
  • Cash flow predictability

The strategy is to maximize the value of your business asset.

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Of course, picking an industry that has a conventional return impacts your exit as well. Picking well creates a built-in multiplier effect with leverage.

Ultimately, strategy around leverage is the key component here when it comes to driving an exit that makes sense and the built-in variables govern your maximum upsides and opportunity.

Some leverage strategies to think about in the game you have chosen to play:

  • How much upside are you able to capitalize on?
  • How leveraged is the nature of the industry norms on value?
  • Where can you impact value the most?

If you are in a low leverage, low upside, small impact game (like employment or mutual funds), time will pass and you don’t have a shot converting your energy and time to something major.

If you’re going to have to work anyways, what about thinking a bit more strategically about what game you are in and what the end game looks like?

Chris Gero | Crain’s St. Louis

Chris Gero | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder and vice president, Yamaha Entertainment Group


Founded by Emmy Award-winning Chris Gero in 1993, Yamaha Entertainment Group has a hand in virtually every aspect of the music business. The company acts as a record label, album producer and manager of artist relations. Yamaha’s stars include Elton John, Josh Groban, Alicia Keys and Paul McCartney.

The Mistake:

In all honesty, I make mistakes every single day. I’m very fond of mistakes as long as they are recoverable. I’m a person who makes a lot of instinctual decisions, and many of them are mistakes, but as long as you act very quickly on that and take it as a positive, you end with the ability to get up and take a swing again.

A great component of what we do is about our brand being seen. When you see an instrument on TV and it says “Yamaha” on the side of it, that’s the payoff for us. So when big, massive events come along such as the Super Bowl, we get our label in front of millions of people.

We knew in advance that Paul McCartney was going to perform at the 2004 Super Bowl and we’ve obviously had a longstanding partnership with him. They needed a very special, modified piano for a 15-minute performance with the finale being “Hey Jude.” We were told by all directors that this would be a very poignant moment for us because the cameras typically block the artist and the logo together.

I had relatively new employees working for me including an individual who had only been working here a couple of months. We modified the piano and everything was in place, but on the Thursday before the Super Bowl, I got a call from the production company saying that there were no logos on the piano. I turned to this individual who was responsible for making sure that these things got done and told her it was imperative that those logos go out the door today so they would be on the piano on Sunday.

Everyone in Yamaha was watching for our logo during the Super Bowl. We knew this was going to be one of the biggest brand looks that we would ever have. I turned on the TV to catch the halftime show and lo and behold McCartney jumps over to the piano, but there’s no logos on either side of the piano.

Immediately after the Super Bowl my boss called me and asked what happened. At that moment, I wasn’t really sure what had gone wrong. But what went wrong had played out in front of the world. Although most viewers didn’t know any better, anyone associated with Yamaha knew, and immediately I was getting phone calls asking me to fire the individual. When I asked her what happened, she just said quite frankly she had forgotten about it.

The mistake wasn’t really that she forgot about it. My mistake was my reaction to her. I got so upset and started losing my mind.

What went wrong had played out in front of the world.

The Lesson:

I realized that although it was really horrible for us, it wasn’t the end of the world. As a result of that, it really kind of changed my own internal trajectory. My bosses were asking me to let her go, but I chose not to. She actually made an honest mistake, and she had just forgotten about it. It was nothing malicious, but because I’m such a perfectionist, I originally took it as malicious.

The lesson that I took from it was to always check and recheck and recheck, but do so very kindly. If you walk down the stairs of my office right now, the very last picture you see is this great big picture of Paul McCartney playing that piano with no logo. Every other picture in my office has an artist with our logo.

I learned to be true to the people around me and not treating bad situations as if it’s the last day of my life. It’s a very high-pressure business that we work in, and because I’m a perfectionist I have to constantly remodify my expectations of other people.

Be great for yourself, not for the company you work for. The company you work for will benefit from you being great for yourself. All the things that we do, we have to do together. Had I been a lot more diligent in that moment and much more forgiving in it, it would have made me a better person. That person went on to be a very successful employee for many years.

Yamaha Entertainment Group is on Twitter at @yamahaentertain.

Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media.

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What is Demand Generation and Why is it so Important?

What is Demand Generation and Why is it so Important?

You’ve heard the buzzwords “Demand Generation” a thousand times. But that doesn’t mean you have a clear handle on what it is, or why you should care about it. Given this, I thought it would be useful for business2community readers to explain what “Demand Generation” is, and how it should fit in with a small-to-medium-sized business’s overall marketing strategy.

Demand generation is any activity conducted by an organization’s marketing department that directly contributes to more revenue (and profit) generated for the company.

This is quite distinct from branding and awareness campaigns, where companies spend thousands (some even millions) of dollars on TV commercials, billboards, radio, or any other form of paid advertising that cannot directly be traced to sales.

Advertising is therefore split into two distinct activities (in reality many more). On the one hand, getting the word out about a company and sowing seeds for sales. While on the other one, generating active demand in the form of tangible leads or sales of goods.

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The demand generation marketing manager will be able to trace his or her budget to revenue and ROI.

While it is possible to draw a correlation between branding and awareness campaigns and sales – that is not their overarching goal, so it isn’t as necessary to determine a direct causal link.

As the famous adage goes – you know one half of your advertising budget worked – you just don’t know which half.

This is because it is virtually impossible to measure the impact of a TV, radio, or billboard campaign on your sales team’s pipeline and therefore on the company’s bottom line. Although there are some cases where a company used a special phone number or website to track sales from billboards, commercials or radio.

With demand generation campaigns, the marketing department is focused on generating interest and contactable leads for their sales team. At least in a b2b environment, which is where demand generation marketing staff are more common. This is because there’s an extra step required by sales to undertake in order to close a deal. In the case of b2c, if marketing has been effective, the consumer simply makes a purchase. A call from a salesperson isn’t generally required.

But in a b2b environment, marketing helps sales by enabling quotas to be met, which in turn helps to grow for the company. ROI is measured accurately via marketing automation systems, which plug into their existing CRMs. In this way, marketing – or demand generation – campaigns can be assessed as profitable. Or, if for some reason they are not profitable, staff can analyze the data produced and optimize accordingly.

The 80/20 rule applies here to your target audience. 80% will be conducting research before they make contact with you via your website or sales line. The remaining 20% have already done their research and are now in – or close to – buy mode. Buy mode means that I have ascertained what type of product I want and / or need, and I am now looking for the vendor that can give me:

  • The best customer service
  • The best overall experience

After all, purchasers do not buy based on spec sheets and bells and whistles; they buy on emotion.

Rob Acker | Crain’s St. Louis

Rob Acker | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.


Background: is the philanthropic arm of the cloud computing company Salesforce. Based in San Francisco, seeks to improve communities through technology, people and resources. Salesforce originated the 1-1-1 Model, which dedicates 1 percent of Salesforce’s equity, 1 percent of its products and 1 percent of its employees’ time to giving back to communities.

The Mistake:

When I was in high school, I was one of the best runners in the state. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to win. I was so afraid of losing, I’d stay up at night because my adrenaline was going.

This one race wasn’t that important. I probably had half a mile left in a three-mile race. I was in the top six, but I was so afraid of losing or disappointing my coach. I felt like I was losing steam—that happens in and out of a race.

I literally fake rolled my ankle, so I’d have an excuse to not lose.

My coach came over and said, “It looks OK to me.”

There was such a fear of losing and letting people down. When I look back, I take that back with me. I take it back to the office and I talk to my kids about it.

I was afraid of not winning, so I finished in last place. The irony of that is profound, once I pulled back. It’s so ironic. I was so afraid of not winning the race, that I actually did exactly that. I didn’t even finish the race.

I was afraid of not winning, so I finished in last place. 

The Lesson

In the business world, when I’m talking to my team … they’re under incredible amounts of stress. They’re asked to produce an output in a short timeframe. The way to get them to do their best is to take that focus off of being wrong or failing.

Just do your absolute best, and you can sleep at night. Even if you’re 80 percent right, that’s better than panic and failure. Literally, the whole team calms down and relaxes. It’s like, “I’m doing my best, doing 80 to 90 percent right. That’s the best I can do in the time constraint.”

I had two keynotes (at Dreamforce, the annual conference put on by Salesforce) with new messaging about what we’re doing, in front of an audience that’s critical. … You have to have a thick skin. People are going to criticize those who put your hat in the ring.

I think a lot of people allow their anxieties to overwhelm them or put pressure on themselves. So they don’t get in the ring at all. They’re afraid of not succeeding. Then by definition, you’ve set yourself to do what you feared.

Follow Rob Acker on Twitter at @Rob_M_Acker

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The Power of a Positive Word

The Power of a Positive Word

closeup of two people grasping hands to show the power of a positive word

A few weeks ago, during a two-day annual planning session, I witnessed a truly poignant moment. The leadership team was participating in the “One Thing” exercise, designed to improve trust and team health. It requires each leader to provide every other team member with two pieces of feedback – one positive and one constructive.

Having done this work for nine years, I’ve seen many amazing breakthroughs – each caused by people slowing down, looking one another in the eyes, and having the courage to be brutally open and honest. The exercise is often scary and emotional, though in the end most leaders are grateful for the feedback and respond well.

We conclude by asking everyone to turn one piece of constructive feedback into a commitment to improve – for the greater good of the team and the organization.

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The occasional drama caused by constructive feedback isn’t shocking. What surprises and delights me is just how often a simple kind word can take two people – or an entire team – to a whole new level of team health. Which brings me back to this annual session…

The Power of Positive Feedback

The provider of feedback was a young but experienced and respected leader in the company who had recently been promoted into the Integrator seat. He was speaking to his Sales Manager, a seasoned veteran who’d spent most of his career quietly producing great results as a salesman. He’d been an informal leader inside the company and a revered industry expert inside and out, but had never before wanted a leadership or management role.

When asked to share what he most admired about the sales manager, the young leader simply said, “For my whole career here, you’ve always been the guy I could look at and say – he just gets it. From the big picture all the way down to the tiniest detail, you’re the consummate salesperson, trainer, coach, leader – you just get it like nobody else I know.”

Now, this is a tough group of people running an industrial business full of tough people. They’ve got plenty of issues, and their sector has been struggling. There aren’t a lot of rainbows and unicorns on the wall in their facility. And yet, having heard these simple, genuine words, the sales manager smiled and choked up. For a good, long time. So did the rest of the team, and so did I.

You see, this guy had been working his butt off for the company for many years. He’d been compensated well, won his share of awards, and sincerely enjoyed his job most days. Like many great people, however, he’s been driven partly by a nagging feeling that he’s not quite good enough.

So, when his new boss took 15 seconds to share that simple compliment with him, it was like 30 years of pain and delusions of inferiority had been lifted from his shoulders. All his work and caring had been worth it, and now he could share his experience and knowledge and passion with others – confident that he’s got something really valuable to share. What a gift to this man – and to the people he leads.

Take Time to Encourage

I’ll never forget that moment. It’s reminded me how much seeing the real people in front of you, and speaking to them with kindness and compassion, really matters. I intend to get better at that. Please join me – perhaps just by sharing a simple, powerful, positive word with the people that matter most on your team.

Mark Carr | Crain’s St. Louis

Mark Carr | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder and CEO, Christian Brothers Automotive


Christian Brothers Automotive is a Houston-based auto care franchise that opened in 1982 and has 155 locations nationwide. 

The Mistake:

In 1982 when I first started Christian Brothers I had a partner that I ended up having to buy out because he was doing detrimental things to the business. 

At the time I was 28 and working for a company and doing pretty well,  but I was basically an order taker. A mechanic in my Bible studies class wanted to open his own garage and so I said, ‘Sure, let’s give it a whirl.’ I borrowed money, bought land and built a building. I figured if the business went south at least I’d have the real estate.

I wanted to be fair and split the business 50/50. My attorney at the time — who is still with the company today — advised me against that because I was putting all the money in. In the end he convinced me to divide the partnership 51/49, so I would be majority owner.

I still had another job so I was able to provide for my family. My father worked for me for a while and ran the business side and my partner ran the mechanical side. My father and my partner did not get along. I had lunch meetings with my father and partner at least once a week and I tried to help them work out their differences.

It got to a point where my partner was doing detrimental things to the business. For example, he would sell a product or service for half the price it was supposed to be. Eventually, I had to end the relationship and I ended up buying him out to gain full ownership of the company. 

If someone owns stock in the company and gets lazy and doesn’t want to pull their weight, you’re kind of in a bind. 

The Lesson:

Instead of giving stock away I could have structured the business so my partner received 50 percent of the profits. That’s fine. If someone owns stock in the company and gets lazy and doesn’t want to pull their weight, you’re kind of in a bind.

In all the things I’ve done, I’ve learned you have to be careful to investigate a person through and throughout. If you’re going to get into a relationship with someone do your due diligence. Dig in as deep as you can. If that person you get into business with is resistant to doing things formally and with proper documentation, then back up.

Not everyone is as lucky as I am. My attorney was my first friend in Houston and we’ve now known each other 35 years. In the beginning, when you’re starting a business you don’t have any money. You’re just broke. Finding a good lawyer in the beginning is tough to do. If you have friends that are attorneys ask for their help or ask other successful business people for advice.

Follow Christian Brothers on Twitter @ChristianBros.

Photo courtesy of Christian Brothers Automotive.

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Who Knows What Employees Really Want?

Who Knows What Employees Really Want?

For decades, articles, authors and studies have tried to help managers come to terms with how to motivate employees and drive optimal performance by understanding what employees really want and need from work. The list is long (and alphabetized for ease).

  • Achievement and accomplishment
  • Appreciation
  • Autonomy and self-direction
  • Being part of a team
  • Boss they respect and trust
  • Career advancement
  • Challenge
  • Clear goals and objectives
  • Coaching
  • Connections and relationships with each other
  • Decision-making authority
  • Empowerment
  • Fair compensation
  • Fair treatment
  • Freedom to innovate
  • Growth and learning
  • Influence and power
  • Interesting work
  • Job flexibility
  • Obstacle removal
  • Opportunity to make a difference
  • Pride in the work they do
  • Recognition
  • Respect
  • Responsibility and authority
  • Security
  • Support to do a good job
  • Time and attention from the manager
  • Transparent communication
  • Use of strengths and talents

And this is just the beginning. 30 possible desires and answers to the “what employees really want” question offer nearly unlimited unique combinations of employee expectations in today’s workplace. Yet, in an effort to simplify and streamline their understanding of this complex and expansive issue, busy managers make one of several common mistakes:

  • They pick the few that resonate most for them personally and assume that they resonate as well for their employees.
  • They pick the ones that are easiest to act on and deliver in their own organizations.
  • They pick the ones they read about most recently in an airline magazine or blog.

These managers earnestly go to work to transform these employee wishes into realities to the greatest extent possible. But rarely do these efforts pay off as intended. The reason is simple: A monolithic approach with a uniform set of priorities applied across the board cannot address the unique needs and wants that each individual brings to work.

As much as we’d like to believe the latest or hottest listing of employee motivators, it’s not that simple. Getting to the heart of this matter requires nothing less than understanding what’s most important to each individual and tailoring one’s management approach accordingly.

So, how do you do this? Through dialogue with employees. It doesn’t have to be hard — and it can actually be as fun as it is powerful. Consider a few different approaches:

  • Send out the list of 30 possible wants and ask employees to identify their top five in preparation for a one-on-one conversation to better understand each employee.
  • Write the 30 possible wants on cards (creating a couple of duplicate sets). During a team meeting, randomly distribute eight to 10 cards to employees, asking them to work together to review their colleagues’ cards and trade as necessary until they’ve put together a “hand” of cards that reflect their top five wants. Then engage in a group discussion so that everyone on the team understands and can help each other have the work experiences they want.
  • Present the list of 30 possible wants during a team meeting and ask employees to create a visual representation of their top five wants (using images, symbols, markers, etc.). After they share their “artwork” with the group, collect the pages and use them in future one-on-ones as a visual reminder and scorecard to review how well these wants are being met.

It all comes down to appreciating that all of the lists (even those that are research-based) are an amalgamation of the wants, desires and needs of some group of people. And while they might offer an interesting jumping-off point, they’ll never reflect exactly what matters most: what your employee wants. One size can’t fit all. The important task of motivating and engaging employees can’t be simplified into a follow-the-checklist or paint-by-number exercise.

So, who know what employees really want? Each employee does. And it’s time to go to the source to answer the question, personalize your response, and start seeing real shifts in engagement, motivation and results.

Image: (c) Can Stock Photo / mills21

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Shep Gordon | Crain’s St. Louis

Shep Gordon | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Talent manager, film agent and producer


Shep Gordon made his debut in the world of superstardom as manager of the rock band Alice Cooper. His Hollywood clients include Groucho Marx, Raquel Welch, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass and Kenny Loggins as well as celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck. Gordon recently published a memoir, “They Call Me Supermensch: A Backstage Pass to the Amazing Worlds of Film, Food, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.” 

The Mistake:

An opportunity presented itself to go into business with a fellow who had a very questionable reputation. One of his nicknames was “the baby-faced killer.” There was a joke in my industry that if you could find the heartbeat, you’d get a million dollars—and I was sort of naive in thinking that I might be different.

I went into business with him. … We got successful, and someone offered us a lot of money for the company. He really wanted all of it; he threatened to shut down the company, and he did shut down the company, so none of us got anything. Years of hard work went down the drain.

The contracts are a reflection of a human …

The Lesson:

He’s a very well-liked guy. I have no hostility toward him. He never hid anything; the fault’s on me, not him. But I learned a great lesson from it, which is, believe what you hear.

It’s really about the humans, not the contracts. The contracts are a reflection of a human, so if there’s someone who has a bad reputation and you have a strong contract with them, it doesn’t really matter. They’ll figure out a way around it. 

[Ever since then], I’ve listened to people’s reputations more than their voices. I started to vet everybody that I did business with.

The quality of a human is really the most important choice you have to make in your partners. All the other stuff will come along.

Follow Shep Gordon on Twitter at @SupermenschShep.

Photo courtesy of Shep Gordon.

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Sinbad Playing A Genie In ‘Shazaam’ Is Fake Footage From College Humor

Sinbad Playing A Genie In ‘Shazaam’ Is Fake Footage From College Humor

Sinbad playing a genie in the 1990s Movie “Shazaam” is false. Although many people recall the comedian starring as a genie in a movie called “Shazaam,” those memories are wrong. To add confusion to this, as an April Fool’s Day joke in 2017, the College Humor web site posted “lost footage” from the non-existent Shazaam film starring Sinbad. You can watch the video below.

Where did the idea that Sinbad starred in “Shazaam”? Based on countless testimonies found on internet message boards, a genie film titled Shazaam that starred Sinbad has been falsely implanted into the memories of thousands of 1990s kids. Although this movie does not actually exist, social media users have circulated an image in an attempt to fool viewers into believing the film is real which you can see below. However, that image is fake.

Rather, the “genie” in the above-displayed image actually features the chest and arms of WWE wrestler Chavo Guerrero, with Sinbad’s face digitally added to the scene.

There is a total lack of evidence that any such film starring Sinbad was ever made. Social media users will not be able to find any footage, still shots documenting its creation, news articles or any movie reviews mentioning it. Also, there is no entry in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), and Sinbad himself has stated that he never played a genie in a movie called Shazaam. Sinbad himself did once host a showing of the movie Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger on TNT in 1994:

According to Snopes, there is a simpler explanation is that some fans are misremembering the details of another movie from the 1990s that featured a popular actor playing a genie. In 1996, former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal portrayed the role of a genie in the film Kazaam.

In that film, a genie named Kazaam (O’Neal) has been sealed up for thousands of years, until one day he is accidentally freed by Max (Francis Capra), who is on the run from a local gang. Kazaam explains to the youth that he belongs to Max until he grants three wishes, but what Max really wants is to get to know his estranged father. When the genie, who considers trying his hand at a music career, forgets about his young master, Max is attacked by villainous club owner Malik (Marshall Manesh).

It appears that this Sinbad-genie phenomenon is another instance of the “Mandela Effect,” an informal term for a collective false memory. The term was coined by a woman who discovered that she and hundreds of other people believed, and remembered, that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s. Mandela actually died in 2013.

College Humor said in a statement, “Like most Americans, we had weird memories of this movie existing, but just thought we were confused. Then, one of our producers found this VHS in a box behind a shut-down Blockbuster. It’s quite damaged, and most of it has been recorded over, but what’s there is classic cinema and movie magic. We’re excited to share it with audiences at large.”

Photo Credit: Source

Lisa Druxman | Crain’s St. Louis

Lisa Druxman | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder, FIT4MOM


FIT4MOM is a San Diego-based wellness company that offers exercise programs and other activities that facilitate the wellbeing of mothers. There are currently over 1,300 Fit4MOM franchises around the country.

The Mistake:

I started Stroller Strides 15 years ago so I could be a mom, first and foremost. But in some of those early years, the company was growing so fast that I lost my way. I was focused so much on what we provided as a product that I forgot why I started the business.

I was doing what most people do every single day; I got my work done, but I was starting to neglect my kids and my spouse. The child care hours were increasing, and I felt empty inside. That wasn’t why I started the business. That was a defining moment.

Actually, it was my sister – a sister who often holds a mirror up to me – who said: “You started this business so you could be a mom, first and foremost. Look at you: You’re always stressed, you’re always working. You don’t have time for any friends, let alone family.”

That was the reflection I needed. Once I realized that, I changed. That day, I drew three circles for the three most important things in my life: my marriage, my business and my kids. Where the circles overlapped was me.

I realized – and this is what we preach – you need to take care of yourself first. You need to put on your own oxygen mask first. I wasn’t doing that.

Now, my to-do list includes time to meditate, time to exercise, a date night with my husband, and quality time with my kids. I learned to be truly present. When I’m at work, I’m 100 percent in work mode. When I’m with my kids, I’m 100 percent with my kids.

You need to put on your own oxygen mask first.

The Lesson:

The realization I came to changed how we explain the program. It isn’t that we sell pre/post-natal classes or fitness classes. What’s more important is the why, which is to give women the strength for motherhood. The message became much more powerful once we started telling that story. If you focus on what’s important to you every day – Wow! – you can have a really powerful, passionate life.

In order to achieve my why, I started growing my team so I could do what only I could do, which is be a visionary. In building my team, I looked for balance. A team of only visionaries wouldn’t work. Instead, I look for integrators, people who can take my crazy ideas and make them happen. One thing that needs to be consistent for every team member is that they have to have a passion for the why. It has to vibrate when they talk about it.  Having this team lets me focus on being a mom. I still make my kids’ breakfasts every day and pick them up from school.

I spoke to some business coaches who said, “You can’t grow the business to what you want it to be while being a part-time mom.”

I said, “I want to grow this business because we’re a troop of moms, not despite it.”

We’ve created a feminine growth culture, and are supportive of women in their roles as moms. We believe in work with life rather than work vs. life. We’ve had year-after-year growth for 15 years, and that growth is because of the team I built. And I did that primarily with part-time moms.

When I started this business, I thought the franchisees would be for other fitness professionals like myself, but our franchisees come from a variety of careers. We’ve had accountants, attorneys, a crime scene investigator, and even a rocket scientist. They become franchisees or instructors because it’s life-giving. I wish more companies would realize that if you create a flexible work environment, you have the opportunity to tap into an incredibly talented, experienced group of women.

Follow FIT4MOM on Twitter at @FIT_4_MOM.

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Captivating App Users Through the Sense of Ownership

Captivating App Users Through the Sense of Ownership

Ownership is an interesting concept. If you have ever had any contact with a two-year-old, you realise within seconds that they have very strong opinions about what is theirs and how sharing does not sound like something they ever want to do. We all (or at least most of us) learn to conform to what society deems as normal behaviour as we grow up, but still, we all develop a relationship with our stuff and things that matter to us. This sense of ownership, the feeling that something is yours is well recognized in psychology. And is used in all types of interactions we have with things and people around us, including apps. Taking audience retention a step further, app developers are looking into how this attachment can be used to their advantage, helping them build a captivated audience. An audience that finds it difficult to let go of “their” app. How?

Developers try to find different ways to instil users with a sense of ownership, by using different techniques. From personalization, to progress saving, gathering and use of feedback to improve apps, to introduction of collection and loyalty schemes that will appeal to their audience and turn them into loyal app users.

Personalization – Make each user feel at home

Personalization or customization is, simply put, the tailoring of an app to the likes, dislikes and needs of each individual user. Giving each user control over the whole process of adjusting their experience within the app helps increase this sense of ownership. Moreover, the ability of an app to “learn” and adjust to the user’s experience, can turn the usage of that app to an integral part of a user’s everyday life. It’s the same feeling that you have when you get a new computer or mobile phone. It only feels like it’s really yours when you get to open it and set it up exactly the way you want to.

All the major social, news, video or blog networks like Facebook, Twitter, Medium and Youtube are using this approach, too. Adjusting your personal timeline with people or stories you want to follow is one of the main reasons you find yourself coming back to that specific app, multliple times a day.


Personalization can take several different forms. Even the ability to customize your app, like changing the background and theme of the app, is something that can change the whole user experience and eventually the user’s feelings toward that app. Looking at the bigger picture, something as simple as a “Settings” section can greatly improve user experience by providing the ability to further tailor the app, adding to that overall sense of ownership.


Spotify uses this basic notion that people express their self-identity through the things (and apps) around them by creating an environment that teaches itself how to evolve along with the user. Actually, it’s a great example of personalization. When using Spotify’s Daily Mix, you can listen to music that you will almost certainly enjoy, based on the genres of music you have listened to so far in the app. These lists are automatically created for you, loaded with artists of your preference and with the great addition of newly discovered tunes of the same vibe. But what is most important, is that the performance of the algorithm grows with the user. How easy is to tear yourself away from such a product and move on to one that does not know how you like to listen to something quiet when you first wake up, but also enjoy a bit of rock when you do your work out?


Google Now, an intelligent personal assistant created by Google, is also a great example of how personalization can create engagement. Google Now caters a list with several info and suggestions based on your previous search habits and location patterns. It also informs you about transportation, news, events, important emails or meetings making it hard to live without after you get an initial sense of the value it can offer.

goole now

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Keeping track of a user’s actions (history) is also a great way to create a sense of ownership. Letting the user see or track his previous actions or previous usage of the app subconsciously gives the feeling that the app knows him well. That’s a really strong feeling. Below you can see an example of how Airbnb tracks previous trips you took through the platform.


Save for later – Invest in commitment

Allowing users to take actions and save things of interest, progress, or status for later use, builds on a commitment that can reveal the true value of ownership.

For example, allowing users of a news feed app (like the CNN app you can see below) to bookmark or favorite an article to read on later during a future visit, provides the illusion of commitment; an illusion that will bring the user back to the app.


SkyScanner, a travel fare aggregator app, is based on the same concept. Users can use it to add and monitor flights with price alerts. By adding a price alert, or choosing to monitor a flight, user will definitely come back to the app in the near future.


Tracking a user’s progress within the app and giving him the option to save his progress also helps create this mood of commitment, and bring the user back to try and increase his status and achievements.


Runtastic, for example, allows a user to record his performance and activities and compare them with previous ones, as well as challenge those with new activities. This creates loyal users, directly connected with the app, since all this information is stored in-app. Being able to return and find this readily available, can be really valuable to a user.


Feedback – Turn a user into an active part of the process

Asking for feedback and eventually listening and building what users requested, is a great way to turn users into loyal visitors. When a user feels that he is part of the evolution of a product or app, he becomes highly engaged and this in turn, results to ongoing usage of the app.

Major apps have always provided users with a way to leave direct feedback on the app. Airbnb, for example, has a section dedicated to user feedback on a variety of different topics, all in an effort to improve the experience and usage of the app.


We have seen what giving users this option ultimately achieves at Pollfish, too. Pollfish is a DIY survey platform, where everyone can create a survey in minutes and and get responses from thousands of users through mobile apps, in as little as a couple of hours. When we were first building the platform, we were astonished by the number of people that were actually participating in our surveys. So much so, that we decided to run a survey of our own and ask them: “Why do you participate in surveys?”. Now we know that when users replied that they enjoyed doing surveys “Because I am providing feedback, I am an active participant in the process” and “That way I can really put my thoughts on products out there” we had tapped into that basic feeling, that sense of belonging to a select group of few. Those few that were part of the product development phase, just by giving feedback.


Seeing that users were only too eager to share what they liked or disliked about an app gave us an idea. And that was how giving app publishers the option to survey their own users for free came about. When a user came back to an app to find that the developer took into account one of their suggestions and made a change, that user was “hooked”. Occasional users turned to loyal customers and all this demonstrated a significant increase in retention, the end-goal of every app publisher.

You have to catch ’em all! – Introduce a collection or loyalty scheme

The famous tag line from Pokemon drives players into hunting down all the items of a collection. Owning all those rare Pokemon becomes all-consuming, and users do not stop until they DO catch them all. But the notion of “catching them all” is not actually all that new; we all have a collection of trading cards stashed somewhere. Pokemon Go was build upon this idea. Introducing a concept of a collection in the context of any app not just games can still achieve the same results.


Introducing loyalty schemes in apps can arouse the same feeling. For example, OpenTable, a popular reservation app, introduced a dining rewards program where users can receive points for honouring the reservations they made and redeem them at a later day. Killing two birds with one stone: active participants that leave feedback that helps others AND repeat dinners.


Time is money. Managing to create a user that has invested valuable personal time to an app, helping to make that app better by tailoring it to his needs is a sure-fire way to ensure that he keeps coming back, again and again. Allowing users to customize their experience within an app or even better, personalize the app based on their usage of it, will make it extremely hard for them to leave and move onto another app. Giving users a way to permeate an app with “pieces” of themselves, (like saving their progress or items for later use) gives a sense of belonging. And that drives users back to the app. Pretty much like asking users for feedback and showing them how you have acted on it does. Top things off with a loyalty scheme or a collection to complete and the impact on app retention and engagement is maximized. The feeling that we have as young children that we are what we own does not exactly diminish as we grow older. Basic human needs, like the sense of ownership and achievement, are at the heart of every successful app and are widely used in a mobile app’s design.

Brent Messenger | Crain’s St. Louis

Brent Messenger | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

global head of community, Fiverr


Fiverr is a marketplace for digital entrepreneurs which enables freelancers to deliver millions of different types of gigs.

Fiverr opened a San Francisco office in August and named Brent Messenger as the global head of community. Messenger previously worked as a battleground state field director for the Obama campaign in 2008 and worked as a consultant during his 2012 re-election campaign. He worked at 270 Strategies where he consulted with brands including Airbnb, Lyft and SolarCity.

The Mistake

The mistake was my mindset and my perception.

During my first [political] campaign right out of college, we did door-to-door campaigns. We held events for the campaigns and we waited passively till people said yes.

We won that campaign. I don’t think we won because we were disciplined or how we were reaching out to voters. I think it was a good candidate.

But I thought, I was a big operator and I found my way into the Obama campaign.

I got in on a call with Mitch Stewart, the state director of Iowa in 2007. I’m on the call to observe and he’s taking reports on events from the night before with statewide kick-offs.

Mitch asks the first person how many people he had.

The first person says, “About 50.”

There’s a huge pause. “About 50?”

“Yeah, 50.”

“So you had 50 people confirmed to come and you got 50 to come in? The hard count is 50?”

It was this awkward moment, I had to think about what’s going on. This person was being called out.

I realized, there’s more involved in this than executing an event. They had like seven metrics. I was going to have to get more disciplined in thinking about growing campaigns and engaging with the community.

You can’t get relationships at scale without operational discipline.

The Lesson

At Fiverr, we have mass communities of people that we’re trying to organize into teams. We’re trying to help and support each other. We can’t just start out by saying, “Hey everyone, go support each other!”

We have to create structure for them to engage, build them more towards enriching and beneficial activities. We’re moving towards deeper engagement. You need to think carefully about what it means to be scalable. There needs to be uniformity over what’s being asked and discipline that it’s being measured.

That’s the lesson embedded in the Iowa example. The reason why Mitch was calling him out, was not to be a jerk. He was being a funny guy actually.

We have language and a way of capturing data by doing things this way. Doing them in an ad-hoc, haphazard way is not sustainable, measurable or scalable.

What I do is wrap operational discipline around the soft art of community building. Things like having hard metrics around every activity, building an event, having one-on-ones with community members, even the way we’re sequencing things online, conversations on social media, we’re doing it for a purpose. We know how to measure the outcome. You can’t get relationships at scale without operational discipline.

Follow Brent Messenger on Twitter at @brentmessenger.

Photo courtesy of Brent Messenger.


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5 Valuable Employer Tips for Managing Teams in Different Time Zones

5 Valuable Employer Tips for Managing Teams in Different Time Zones

Handling teams that perform in various time zones and have different working days is challenging.

One team might begin work early in the day, whereas another might commence its work day several hours later, but the time difference between their zones can be misleading in terms of specific deadline dates and hours.

It’s really the lack of quality communication that causes this confusion about requirements, which often results in job complications and project shortcomings. There is also an additional complexity involved when management is on the move and the need to synch with teams while traveling.

Fortunately, there are several effective time management methods that use modern technology to transform these barriers into advantages.

How to Manage Remote Teams

Let’s look at some of the typical problems that occur when managing teams in multiple time zones, and then discuss some of the potential solutions:

  • A team in one zone hasn’t begun to work, while another one is already finished working.This results in delayed feedback exchanges that could become severe and result in major project dysfunction.
  • Slow update management and interactive tools cause weak communications on things like problem monitoring, status updates, and so on.
  • Trouble with scheduling conferences at times that are convenient for all workers and misunderstandings about specific meeting times.

It’s apparent that all of these problems can be traced back to inadequate communication from one time zone to another.

Even so, if tactfully used, time zone discrepancies can actually be advantageous.

The key is to foster timely and efficient project communications among distantly located teams.

Distributed Teams

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Here are five ways to accomplish this:

  1. Stay conscious of the time zones all of your far-off teams operate in and reference the matching time zone in communications with each team.If necessary, add the other team’s time to your email or text messages to prevent misunderstandings.Furthermore, give consideration to Daylight Saving Time changes, which may occur on different dates in other time zones. Making a calendar memo is a wise tactic to keep track of critical project changes and deadlines.
  2. Try to share some work hours by adjusting work schedules.Our work schedules are fine-tuned for each of our customers. This grants us a one to three-hour overlay for brief appointments with client teams and ensures that all workers are kept abreast of the project standing and development.
  3. Automate routine project management and interactive apps to ensure everyone is up-to-par.These resources permit workers to log what they’ve completed, what tasks are currently being worked on, which ones are scheduled, and to scan through updates and post messages for other workers to see later on once they return to work.The more synchronized these channels of communication are, the more successful the project will be.
  4. Establish well-defined objectives and develop clear work routines.That includes promptly announcing any upcoming travels or schedule modifications to maintain the team’s awareness in case of emergencies.
  5. Set up international teams to be as self-sufficient as possible.Doing this allows one team to finish its work in time for a team on a different continent to begin its workday, resulting in constant job support.Making your teams as independent as possible helps them to depend more on themselves and minimizes the necessity for constant collaboration.

Managing Teams in Different Time Zones With Technology

Managing teams scattered throughout different time zones can seem intimidating at first, but it can have its rewards if properly approached.

You should always confirm the time differentials and use all programs at your disposal to give you a hand, including resources like Skype or Slack, remote job management tools, time difference calculators, and virtual assistants.

Many modern companies, like Automattic for example, don’t even have offices and work fully distributed. They support home offices and co-working allowances.

Whether you are taking advantage of geo-arbitrage in your business by leveraging differentials in hourly rates or you managing a giant global company, the world has been shrinking for years and the tools and practices to work with teams anywhere on the planet have been improving to make location irrelevant for many digital based companies.

You don’t have to be 100% digital to make working across timezones a breeze.

Gary Kellmann | Crain’s St. Louis

Gary Kellmann | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Managing director, KDK Technology Ltd.


KDK Technology provides a wide range of clients with supply chain management services including project management, design and manufacturing coordination, and logistics services designed to help control or trim production costs. KDK has offices in suburban St. Louis and China. In addition to his role at KDK, Kellmann is the co-author of “White Ghost in China,” a novel inspired by some of his experiences doing business in Asia.

The Mistake:

Not respecting the business process and culture of China.

In my 20s, I had small businesses where I created and sold products. I thought of myself as a prolific inventor. I kept trying to create products, but I didn’t really find a pain point in the consumer’s mind. So I kept failing forward until I created a novelty product, wearable LED lights, with a partner, and they just took off. People were throwing money and orders at us. But I sold that company, moved to China in 2004, and lost most of what I’d made while learning how to deal with other cultures and people.

I was an overconfident American, like many Americans are when they go overseas. The Chinese taught me a lot of lessons about dealing with other cultures and respecting the value of people.

As Americans, we’re always busy and want to go in and get something done right away. Here’s a perfect example: At one point, I had this product I was developing and I went to this medium-sized factory. The people in charge wanted to sit down and have tea. I didn’t respect that and respect the process of how they did business. Instead, I went in there and said, “I need this. How much will it cost? I’ll give you money and be on my way.” I wasn’t wise enough to say to myself, “Sit down. Have tea. Get to know the people a little bit better.” We might sit there for an hour or two and maybe not even talk about what business I wanted to do, but just get to know each other.

I was an overconfident American, like many Americans are when they go overseas.

The Lesson:

I learned I needed to take the time to follow the process. When I didn’t respect the process, I really lost money with a factory because they didn’t care about my product. It took forever to finish a project and there were always a lot of mistakes along the way. They didn’t care about me because I didn’t show I cared about them and their culture. There were many instances where I did this before I realized I needed to slow down, stop being an impatient American and follow their process. There are a lot of factories that are more Westernized now. But, in 2004, the factories I worked with were very traditional. You had to show respect or you wouldn’t get it in return.

Today, when I’m over in China and starting a new project or building a new relationship with a supplier, I take the time to have tea or take them to lunch. You show that a relationship is important through actions, not just money. It makes a world of difference.

Even here in the U.S., and this gets people’s attention, when I hand people a business card, I hand it to them respectfully, with two hands – like you value the information you’re presenting or that you’re being presented. In China, you grab the bottom corners of your business card with two hands and respectfully hand it to someone. Then they take the time to look at it and analyze the information because you are presenting who you are.

I also try to take more time here to get to know people. It really helps me with investments, too. Taking time, being patient, learning about a person and how they work. That’s what it takes to learn what people are good at and what they love in order to put them in a position to succeed – including myself.

That is the biggest lesson that I learned. Once I did, I started to grow my company dramatically and now have enough cash to invest in other startups.

Gary Kellmann is on Twitter at @whiteghost.

Photo courtesy of Gary Kellmann.

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How to Create a Cinemagraph in Email?

How to Create a Cinemagraph in Email?

Cinemagraph is a unique tableau with meticulously added cinematic effects. It is truly a revolution among revolutions. Hope you have read about the popularity and potential of cinemagraphs in email in our previous post. Monks take you a step ahead now with insights on how to create a cinemagraph.

Let’s start!

Creating a Cinemagraph – The Prerequisites

cinemagraph requisites

Now, how will you proceed to prepare the cinemagraph?

1. Look for a great idea

  • An idea is the first step to creating a cinemagraph. Look around for an idea and craft a plan.
  • Choose your subject and the action that you want to capture in the video.
  • Figure out the parts that should move and the parts that should remain still.

Make sure you keep minimum movement in the cinemagraph and maintain its finesse.

An idea gives way to another idea. Here are some that can inspire you for more.

  1. Steam coming out of a mouthwatering dish: Food Industry
  2. Convey birthday wishes through a delicious cake with a candle flame in action: Retail/Ecommerce Industry.
  3. A particular scene from a show for promotion: Telecommunications Industry
  4. Shimmering on an accessory: Fashion Industry

2. Record the video

Once you have zeroed down on an idea, go ahead and record the video. So, how do you record a good video?

  • The primary requirement for recording a good video is having sufficient light. If you shoot out in the open, you’ll easily get good lighting.
  • Keep the recording stable with the help of a tripod. While you are recording the video, your subject should have the least possible movement.
  • You should record your video for 10 to 15 seconds to ensure that you can have a working space in the video with steady movements in the subject.

3. Import and clip

Import the video to Photoshop by choosing “Video Frames to Layers” in the “Import” option of “File” menu. Make sure you import only the necessary part of the video.

step 1 - make cinemagraph

step 2 - make cinemagraph

You will see a dialog box that lets you clip the video.

This is an important step because it allows you to cut down the number of video frames to work on. It will give you an option to limit the video frames too, but it is advisable that you do not limit the frame rate if you want enough frames to work on.

You should be able to see the Timeline when you choose “Timeline” in the “Window” menu. However, make sure that you do not mix it up with the Video Timeline of Photoshop.

step 3 - make cinemagraph

After the video is imported, all the imported frames in your Timeline will be visible to you at the bottom of the Photoshop window.

Go to the Timeline and select the speed at which you want your video to play. Make the right choice according to the kind of cinemagraph you wish to create. It should neither be too slow nor too fast.

step 4 - make cinemagraph

To create an infinite loop, set the Timeline to repeat “Forever”.

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step 5 - make cinemagraph

The next step is to play the video in Photoshop and delete the frames other than the ones you wish to show.

step 6 - make cinemagraph

4. Create a mask

Assuming that you have a video just the way you wanted it to be, let’s proceed to creating a cinemagraph.

You will need a layer to mask the layers on each frame and cover up all the areas except the one where you need movement.

Choose the first frame in your Timeline, and in the Layers panel, duplicate the layer that you can see in the frame. Bring it up above all the remaining layers ensuring that it’s visible. This is known as “layer mask”. You can rename it the way you want.

step 7 - make cinemagraph

At this point of time, your video will not show any movement as the “mask” has covered it. This implies that you have frozen your video. To create a cinemagraph, all you need to do is unfreeze the area.

5. Edit the mask

Go to the layer panel and select the mask layer. At the bottom of the panel, you will be able to see “Add Layer Mask” icon.

Just select the new white mask layer, and not the image layer.

Start to paint the areas where you wish to see movement. Use Brush tool rather than the Eraser tool. Contrary to using Eraser, you can easily edit masks if you have masked a wrong area by mistake.

6. Determine whether you want to reverse

After you are done with masking, you should decide whether you want to reverse the cinemagraph.

If you decide to reverse the cinemagraph, you can select the frames in your Timeline and then reverse them after duplicating the frames.

7. Export the cinemagraph

Go to “File” menu and choose the “Save for web” option to export the final cinemagraph. There are several options in the dialog box out of which the most important one is to save your file in GIF format. Before saving, resize the image so that it performs well on your website or blog from the “Image Size” option. In case you are unable to resize the image to an optimum level, you can even do so with the help of online GIF resizing tools.

You can preview the GIF in the dialog box and click “SAVE” only after you feel content with your creation.

Cinemagraph in email

BINGO! You can flaunt off your original cinemagraph now!

How to add the cinemagraph in email?

After you are ready with the cinemagraph, follow the steps given below to include it in your email.

  1. Upload the cinemagraph to the server that usually stores all your images.
  2. Copy the full URL of that file.
  3. Use the “img src” HTML code to insert the source code of HTML as below.

<img src=“/wp-content/uploads/yourfile.gif”>

  1. The last step is to make sure that your cinemagraph works well in the email by testing the email campaign.
  2. Keep in mind that Outlook and Lotus email clients display the first frame of the animation as fallback. You can include a “View in Browser” link in the email so that those subscribers don’t miss out on seeing your awesome cinemagraph.

Except Outlook and Lotus, all the email clients support cinemagraphs in email.

Sunny Schaefer | Crain’s St. Louis

Sunny Schaefer | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Executive director, Operation Food Search


Operation Food Search helps feed 200,000 individuals who struggle with hunger and food insecurity each month. The nonprofit works with more than 300 community partners in the city of St. Louis and 31 Missouri and Illinois counties to provide emergency food distribution, nutrition education and other services through programs including Cooking Matters and Operation Backpack.

The Mistake:

Not being more confident in championing the cause.

I wish I had a better sense of assuredness of our work earlier on and been bolder in demonstrating how pervasive the issue of hunger is. For example, about 15 years ago, we recognized that nutrition education was important in addressing the problem of hunger. I’m a very conservative, cautious person in a way. And, when we start a new program, I always like to make sure adequate funding is in place. So we started with one dietitian and the program has grown today to a staff of eight. Looking back, I would have tried to accelerate the expansion.

To give it context, when I started at Operation Food Search 20 years ago, there were many people who would have argued that hunger was not an issue in the St. Louis community. Now, there are scholars and universities, school districts and medical institutions studying hunger and its effects. It has been almost universally accepted that hunger eats at the very fabric of our community and, really, our country. We would all be better off if it was erased. That was not always the case. Particularly during the last recession, almost everybody knew somebody who had lost their job. It became more understood that these kinds of things can happen to anyone.

Hunger eats at the very fabric of our community.

The Lesson:

Now when I talk to people, I feel a sense of courage, for lack of a better term, simply because I think hunger is an issue worthy of an investment of money, time and talent. I ask for bigger things, a higher level of support and more far-reaching commitments to address the problem of hunger. Looking back, I should have reached out to more people in a more strategic way, had the confidence to know I was representing people with no voice and realized these people really did deserve to be heard.

I tell people I have an undeveloped sense of fear, so I was always quick to say “yes.” But now I have this sense of assuredness that has built over the years and makes me more effective. So, at Operation Food Search, we have a great culture in that we say “yes” to most opportunities and then figure out how we’re going to make it all work. It’s really all part of not giving up on an opportunity because it appears to be difficult or impossible to realize. I really encourage our staff and others to ask two questions: “How?” and “Why not?” How could we do this and why wouldn’t we do this? That really leads to more innovative solutions to operational issues or sometimes even complex problems.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one primary turning point. There have been many. For most of us, I think it takes time to get confidence and build on that. Confidence kind of begets more of the same.

As one illustration, probably 10 years ago, the organization made the move to take bolder steps to address childhood hunger. We started that with a program called Operation Backpack. We provide backpacks full of food to children who would probably go hungry over the weekend when they are not getting free or reduced-price meals at school. We started with 100 kids at one school and now we’re up to close to 60 schools and serving 10,000 children a week. Seeing the response of the children, seeing the importance of this program and the horrible effects of hunger in children – those kinds of things also propel us in the nonprofit world to take bolder steps.

Operation Food Search is on Twitter at at @OPFoodSearch.

Photo courtesy of Operation Food Search.

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The Epic Marketing Fail I Just Experienced (and How to Avoid Making the Same Mistake)

The Epic Marketing Fail I Just Experienced (and How to Avoid Making the Same Mistake)

Earlier this month I received what has to be one of the single worst marketing emails I’ve ever seen in my professional career.

It was like a train wreck: one long, rolling chain of marketing disasters that had me fixated until I could scroll no more. And as I experienced it, I had a sobering realization: a huge amount of businesses (including, potentially, yours) are probably just a single errant step from generating their own similar fiasco. This story will have you ringing up email marketing consultants in no time.

The Email

The guilty business in this case is (hopefully) already embarrassed enough about this situation, so I’ll refrain from calling them out by name. For the purposes of this story, I’ll refer to them as “Talent Agency X.”

Talent Agency X first crossed my radar when a pair of its sales associates stopped by the MarketPro office a few weeks back to introduce themselves and exchange business cards. A few days later, I received my first follow up from them.

The idea behind their message was sound enough. It was an email that featured certain professionals who were available for hire; outlining their skill sets and what they brought to the table. It’s a clever way to showcase work-ready talent to potential clients who might have an immediate need, and a tactic that’s quite common across the recruitment industry. This email even had a nice Valentines Day theme.

So far, so good, right?

But the execution was such a remarkable mess, I just had to share it as a cautionary tale of what happens when your digital marketing is put in the wrong hands:

A CC: Catastrophe

By far the biggest mistake Talent Agency X made with this email was to send it to a list of 300 hundred people…who were all named in the recipients line along with their email address.

Yep, my work email is now readily accessible to at least 299 other people I know nothing about–without my permission. And I likewise have their emails as well (we’ll get to that more later).

This is a hugely embarrassing mistake. It makes the business look completely amateur and inexperienced. More importantly, it betrays the implicit trust they have with their prospects to be good stewards of their private information.

This is a big breach in the security of their customer data, and one that would immediately discount them from any of my business if I had been previously considering them.

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It also indicates that this organization is probably still using a very primitive email marketing tool like Outlook or Gmail, which means no analytics and no way to tell how their efforts are performing!

Content Calamity

I could almost forgive the email address gaffe if the Talent Agency X sent me an email full of useful, valuable information. Instead, it was entirely useless to me. None of the talent showcased in the email had the slightest relevance to our business. It was all healthcare specialists; even though I’d specifically informed the sales visitors about our business focus.

This would be understandable if I had signed up for their emails myself. At that point, it’s my fault that I signed up for them.

But in this case they took the liberty to include me in their email list on their own.

That’s not the last of it; the email was bizarrely formatted and far longer than it needed to be. And it included personalization tokens of some kind that didn’t work.

email marketing staffing personalization

Pushing Legal Boundaries

This message was clearly a corporate marketing/sales email. Yet nowhere was there a link to opt out, a path to manage my email preferences, or directions to cease further communications.

This probably violates the Federal Trade Commission’s CAN-SPAM regulations:

Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand.”

That’s a huge risk for any business. Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. Can you afford letting the wrong people manage your marketing when the stakes are that high?

Showing Your Hand to Competitors

To make matters even more awkward, this business is a competitor–if an indirect one–to MarketPro. We both provide talent placement solutions for clients, and are based in the same region.

So it seemed strange to me that they were so eager to deliver marketing content directly to a competitor.

Obviously, no business with a robust marketing operation will be able to keep all of its efforts away from competitors’ eyes. After all, many campaigns involve aggressively blasting a brand across radio waves or plastering a messages on huge billboards. Not exactly subtle.

Still, there’s no need to be handing your competitors your marketing playbook–especially if you operate in an industry where personal connections and long-developing relationships are critical for success. And as mentioned before, I also got full access to their mailing list. So I not only know what prospects they’re targeting–I also have their contact info if I wanted to contact them on my own for any reason.

How to Avoid the Same Fate

Mistakes happen.

Even very advanced marketing operations stocked with top talent and equipped with all the resources they could ask for aren’t immune to missteps. I know I’m certainly no exception.

Ads end up in front of the wrong audience. Minor typos slip through editors’ review. Poorly-worded Tweets accidentally cause social media embarrassment.

Absolute perfection is impossible. But a well-developed brand and marketing team can overcome mistakes and work to avoid them in the future.

I have no idea how Talent Agency X is structured, or whether they even have a marketing team or digital strategy agency. But if I had to diagnose the core of the problem here, I’d guess that there was little to no oversight from marketing professionals or email marketing consultants on the design and deployment of this email.

This is a scenario that’s all-too-common among businesses everywhere, especially small-mid sized organizations without well-established marketing programs (though it’s not uncommon in larger businesses either).

They often lack a culture that defers to the marketing team when it comes to basic customer-facing subjects (like email). Or they lack the resources to build the marketing team needed to help the business avoid mistakes.

That’s why it’s so important to install powerful marketing leadership (perhaps with a marketing executive search) with influence across the entire organization as early as possible. Digitally fluent experts should at least be able to save your business from absolute disasters.

If you don’t have the ability to add a lot of marketing talent right away, there are still ways to put systems in place that will help you deliver powerful, clean marketing content. In a case like this, email marketing staffing or email marketing consultants could well be sufficient to set up more sophisticated email automation, ensure clean delivery and effective personalization, and protect your hard-earned data.

Josh Abramson | Crain’s St. Louis

Josh Abramson | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO and founder,


TeePublic is a curated community where designers host their own t-shirt shops. Abramson is also the co-founder of, a comedy website that posts daily videos and articles, the company is based in Los Angeles, CA.

I started when I was still in school and I ended up coming up with BustedTees and Vimeo in 2003 and 2004. In 2006 I sold the companies to IAC. 

While, I don’t want to say it was a mistake to do the deal or to sell my company…because I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t make that decision. But, I think the mistake that I made and what I didn’t understand then was the implications of not being aligned with your strategic partner—in this case it was a majority investor. 

There was moment when a top executive at IACsomeone who doesn’t hold punches, yelled at me for the first time. It was sort of like, you’re not doing a good enough job…it wasn’t just about the business, it was directed at me—maybe you’re not good enough to do this for us. It was that first moment of realizing, “Oh wait. Maybe I’m not actually the best person for this job anymore or maybe I am failing.” 

And it was because after we did our deal, the first few months we were continuing on a good trajectory. Everybody was giving us high-fives and we felt really good. And then, we missed our projections for a couple months here and there.  

I can remember walking out of the meeting and being like, “Oh wow. This got real.” And then, having to come to terms with that…and not being sure, is it him, is it me, is it the business? All the sudden having to question that, which is really hard.  

think the ambition I had for the business and what was going to make it a success or feel like a success to me was very different to what my new boss expectations were. And I think that having to work everyday in that organization where it is such a different ambition level takes its toll on you.  

Sell 40 percent or sell 80 percent, but don’t sell 51 percent. If you can.

Generally speaking if you can sell a minority or a vast majority do that. Sell 40 percent or sell 80 percent, but don’t sell 51 percent. If you can.  

I learned that through experience and doing that deal. And I will not put myself in that situation again. I would never sell 51 percent of my company. 100 percent guaranteed. I would never ever do that kind of a deal again. 

So while, it is not a mistake in that I still had a positive outcome as a result. I also had many years of feeling like I was failing at something that was objectively a success on a certain level. But, not exactly a success by my boss standards. So, I went from feeling like this successful entrepreneur to feeling like someone that was not successful, someone that was not doing a good job for a long time. 

Follow TeePublic on Twitter @TeePublic. 

Photo courtesy of Josh Abramson. 

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Data Gathers in a Cloud. It Takes off from the Edge

Data Gathers in a Cloud. It Takes off from the Edge

In a way, the exponential growth of machine-to-machine communications and connected sensors, what we call Internet of Things (IoT), is rapidly becoming an example of too much of a good thing.

Fortunately, edge computing can help make that wealth of data a good deal more usable.

IoT allows for communication between connected machines, devices and sensors that is creating data at levels never seen before, data volumes that are growing at such a rate that organizations, as well as government agencies, could have massive problems analyzing and using the data in an optimal way. At the same time, rapid IoT data growth is introducing new security and data volume issues that current cloud security and storage systems will have difficulty handling. The problem is, by the time the rapidly growing streams of data get to the cloud-based analytic systems and then circle back to the devices with instructions based on the analysis of the larger data ecosystem, the opportunity for instant analysis and appropriate action is greatly reduced.

Edge computing solves that problem by effectively putting processing power a good deal closer to where the action is happening. And in so doing, it can offer game-changing opportunities for organizations looking to leverage the advantages of IoT without many common constraints and drawbacks.

Edge Computing Defined

Edge computing is a type of information technology system in which data is processed as close to the original source as possible. It incorporates a horizontal architecture that distributes the resources and services of computing, storage, networking and communications closer to the actual data sources. In effect, rather than merely sending data elsewhere, any device with computing, storage and network connectivity can be attached to programmable automation controllers, which handle processing, communication and other tasks.

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The result is not limited just to faster processing and analysis of important data. Edge computing can also address bandwidth capacity and other communications challenges, particularly with the rapidly increasing amount of data that is produced and the increased demands of artificial intelligence and other systems to enable two-way instant intelligence and action.

The Advantages and Applications of Edge Computing

The potential of edge computing is both powerful and broad across any number of possible applications:

  • In industrial and manufacturing settings, edge devices, including machines and sensors, can capture streaming data that can be used to predict and prevent a part from failing. They can also reroute traffic or modify production for maximum productivity and head off product defects quickly and efficiently. As a result, you can increase speed and reduce costs while boosting revenue at a new and amazing rate.
  • Drones and computer-controlled drones need to, in effect, “phone home” to take any action on data that’s collected. Edge computing allows drones to analyze information and, from there, take appropriate steps. For instance, drones examining a remote forest fire, a collapsed building or hundreds of acres of farmland can pinpoint a problem and take action instantly. They can also pinpoint nearby human personnel and provide those people with valuable information and other analysis, enabling faster and more effective response time.
  • Edge computing can also benefit organizations that use a network of widely located branch or network offices. By installing intermediary micro data centers or high-performance servers at such remote locations—effectively replicating cloud services on a local level—employees and others working away from a centralized location or headquarters can have the ability to act on valuable information in a fraction of the time needed to first send the data to cloud storage.

Other Advantages

Given its decentralized nature, edge computing can also prove a boon to cybersecurity. Since computing and control occur near the original source of the data, it can be easier to identify any unusual or suspicious activity and take steps before any sort of security is breached. Additionally, since edge computing allows for communication, networking and other tasks without extensive routing, a higher level of containment is possible, providing fewer opportunities for cyber attacks.

It’s also important to bear in mind that edge computing is not unduly limiting. While edge computing offers remarkable opportunities, we’re certainly not going to stop using cloud services as we have come to know them. Rather, it’s a complementary relationship in which both parties boost the other’s value.

To that end, although one of edge computing’s advantages is the capacity to analyze and act upon data that requires a quick response, information that is less pressing in nature can always be moved to an intermediary. Particularly large or less time-sensitive data and information can be transferred to the cloud for comprehensive analytics or simply long-term storage.

Edge computing acknowledges the scope of IoT while addressing many of the challenges and drawbacks such a comprehensive network presents. What is your organization doing to investigate the game-changing potential of edge computing?

Stephanie Leffler | Crain’s St. Louis

Stephanie Leffler | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO and co-founder, OneSpace


OneSpace connects companies looking for on-demand employees with a pool of more than 94,000 pre-screened freelancers who provide a wide variety of services including transcription, copywriting and product research. OneSpace’s platform also provides a virtual workspace for freelancers and clients to communicate and collaborate while working on projects. To date, freelancers in its network have completed more than 125 million assignments for clients including eBay, Staples and Leffler co-founded OneSpace with business partner Ryan Noble.

The Mistake:

Trying to split time, attention and effort between multiple startups.

After we sold our first company and started a company called Juggle, we really had a vision that Juggle would be somewhat of an incubator for multiple companies. When we started, we had three different companies running under the Juggle umbrella.

One of those companies was called ClickableNames. We sold high-end domain names as well as the complete branding packages around those. The other was called ROImedia, which owned a network of websites focused around a number of topics. It was an ad-supported model. The third was what has now become OneSpace.

Where I believe we made a mistake was that we didn’t recognize each of those companies needed a singular leader as well as its own identity from a cultural standpoint. So we really tried to run the company as Juggle and it had these separate entities underneath it. Ultimately, what happened was, without leaders for each of those three areas, it kind of split attention across those companies and I don’t think people identified as strongly with the company they were working on because everything was branded as Juggle. Also, Juggle had a culture, but each of those three companies didn’t really have a culture.

So it ended up falling flat and, in the long run, we consolidated all of those companies into the one we felt like was the single biggest opportunity. When we did that, you could feel just a clear launch of momentum that I think took us to the next level. We haven’t looked back since.

You have to commit to an intense focus on a single objective as a startup.

The Lesson:

To take a startup from zero to a viable company takes every ounce of energy and focus that you have and it takes a team that’s incredibly tight-knit to make that happen. So diversifying the team and putting our attention on three separate companies detracted from our ability to deploy the level of focus and commitment required to make any one of those companies successful.

It was really a good lesson because our first company, MonsterCommerce, which we launched back in 2000, did very well. We grew it and sold that company to Network Solutions. With MonsterCommerce, it was always crystal clear where the opportunity was. I think it was short-sighted to think we could launch multiple companies and do it all well.

Culturally, once we made the move and told everybody what was happening, it was the singular focus that first brought us together. Secondarily, we went through a two-month process of having conversations about what we wanted our culture to be, what we wanted it to be like here, what our purpose was, what we wanted to achieve. We clearly defined those things and, of course, represented them around the office so that everybody — both legacy team members and new team members — would know our direction. Once we consolidated, the skeleton of that mission was there. We just had to articulate it.

When we consolidated our efforts and put everybody on a single mission, the uptick was palpable. You have to commit to an intense focus on a single objective as a startup because you absolutely require it in that particular situation. That may not be the case for a big company looking for the next opportunity, but when you are a startup and you are trying to make it, it takes everything that everybody has.

Stephanie Leffler is on Twitter at @S_Leffler and OneSpace is at @onespace_com.

Photo courtesy of OneSpace.

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21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

More than 600 million people use Instagram every month. It’s the second-most popular social media network out there, after Facebook, and offers your business a trendy and hip platform to communicate with prospective customers and increase brand awareness.

But simply throwing out a picture snapped on your smartphone and posting it isn’t going to get you very far. With 600 million other users on Instagram, you need to work to stand out.

This article will give you 21 actionable techniques, tips and strategies for promoting your business on Instagram.

Let’s get rolling!

#1: Be an Active Participant on the Platform

Rule #1 of any social media strategy is to be more than just a publisher of content. You need to be involved.

On Instagram, that means a few things:

  • Follow other people, brands and influencers
  • Engage in the comment section of your posts and other’s
  • Publish the awesome content of prospective customers and @mention them

Here’s an example from Pure Barre women’s gym (74.6k Instagram followers). Note the request for high-waisted leggings from one of their followers and the social media manager’s immediate response, “@Kristynellen all over it!” —

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

Also notice the “lifestyle” content here: “Fueling up with kombucha + salad with salmon.” I’ll get into lifestyle content a bit later in this guide.

#2: Use Testimonials

Let’s face it, you’re not the most unbiased source of information when it comes to your own business. You have a pretty damn vested interest in its success.

This is what makes testimonials as powerful as they are. And not just on social media. Testimonials are a powerful element of any marketing funnel, from landing pages to your homepage, advertisements and more.

Here’s an example from Beats by Dre (3.5 million Instagram followers)

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#3. Stick With One Branded Theme

Branding is a big part of content creation, and that goes for social media as much as it does your blog (maybe more).

People are more comfortable with your brand if they recognize it. You’ll grow more quickly, have better brand recognition and recall, and will come across as more professional than if you just throw out your posts willy-nilly.

Here’s an example from Converse (5.4 million Instagram followers)

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#4: Incorporate Trending Topics In Your Posts

Going with what’s trending is a best practice on social media in general. If you can tap into what people are already thinking about, you’ll get a serious leg up when it comes to social engagement.

The post below, from Ben & Jerry’s, was published on Valentine’s Day. Not only was the picture Valentine’s themed, but they created a specific “which flavor is your soulmate?” online quiz as well. Nice!

Here’s an example from Ben & Jerry’s (686k Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#5: Use a Hashtag Contest

Instagram Hashtag contests are one of the quickest and easiest ways to drive new Instagram followers as well as get user-generated content you can use down the line.

Essentially, Instagram users are given an incentive (the chance to win a prize) in return for Following your Instagram page and submitting a photo via the use of a hashtag.

All photos which are tagged with your contest hashtag are automatically populated into your contest page (this only works with a third-party contest builder, by the way). People who have submitted a photo then encourage their friends and social network to vote on their submission, and whoever gets the most votes wins the prize.

Here’s an example from High Society Free Ride (4,397 Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#6: Include Video Content

This is a bit of a delicate one, because the last thing I want you to do is recommend you upload video to Instagram if it’s not up to a certain standard. Nothing communicates unprofessionalism as fast as poor sound and video quality.

That said, if your business has invested in creating great videos (as you should), with a studio, green screen, lapel mic and good camera, then video is the way to go. It gets more engagement than images and, conversely to what I said above, nothing communicates legitimacy and professionalism as fast as great video.

Here’s an example from Red Bull (6.8 million Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#7: Use Brand and Campaign-specific Hashtags

You want your fans and prospective customers to be able to quickly recognize the campaigns or brands they’re interested in, and campaign-specific hashtags are a great way to do that. REI has #optoutside, Nike has (you guessed it) #justdoit, KitKat has #HaveaBreak and your brand needs its own campaign or brand hashtags.

Here’s an example from Forever 21 (12.5 million Instagram followers) from their NBA campaign:

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#8: Don’t Skimp on the Quality of Your Images

This should be obvious, but I can’t tell you how often I see people who don’t quite get it.

If you’re looking to promote your product on Instagram, you need to make it look as appealing as possible. The same product, shot in poor light with a not-so-great camera, won’t get a single Like.

Here’s an example from BonPuf (24.5k Instagram followers) of some of the most stylish cotton candy you’ve ever seen, and it’s all in the staging:

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#9: Give People a Behind-the-Scenes Look

Promoting your business on Instagram should be (depending on what industry you’re in) no more than 50% product-focused. The other 50% should be brand stuff: behind-the-scenes, lifestyle, outside-the-box and company milestones. I’ll cover all of that in the sections below, but let’s dive into behind-the-scenes just a bit.

People love to get a peek into how their favorite businesses are run. And if you don’t think that your business’ workings aren’t interesting, the example below is from IBM – a company which is up there with the blandest companies on earth.

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Here’s an example from IBM (124k Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#10: Use Cats and Dogs

There’s no master plan with this actionable strategy to promote your business on Instagram. It’s really very simple: people like seeing cute animals on the internet.

Do you have an office dog? If not, I’d recommend buying one just so you can take its photo and uploading it to social media.

And I’m only half joking.

Here’s an example from Hootsuite (43.7k Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

Here’s another example from Amazon (825k Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#11: Use Quotes

If you’re looking for the most shareable, engageable and Likeable content on social media, quotes have been in the top three since 2010.

People go to social media to be inspired, and share that inspiration with their own network.

Not all businesses will find success with quotes, as some target markets won’t respond particularly well. But if you’re in digital marketing or social media management, you’re missing out if you don’t try a few quote posts from time to time.

Here’s an example from PostPlanner (20.2k Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#12: Use Hashtags

People use hashtags to find the content they want to see. If your posts don’t show up when they search, that’s on you. You want to increase the reach of your Instagram posts? Use at least three hashtags in every post (and test using more).

A few hashtag best practices:

  • Use common hashtags which are searched most frequently: #tbt, #love, #nofilter, etc.
  • Use hashtags which are relevant exclusively to your target market. You’ll get fewer clicks, but they’ll be higher quality.
  • If you’re choosing a brand or campaign-specific hashtag, go with something which isn’t being used by someone else.
  • Use location-based hashtags to incorporate your brand into your local area.

Here’s an example from Keen Footwear (71.5k Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#13: Enable People to Buy What They See

If you want to get your money’s worth from Instagram, you need to make it possible for people to buy the visually-appealing and oh-so-desirable products they see in your posts.

There are a few strategies for this, as you can’t put links within your actual posts:

  • You can add a call-to-action and link within your bio which sends people to the product page in your website. This is a simple option.
  • A more optimized strategy is to engage with one of the Instagram monetization tools (like2buy,, etc). These tools will automatically populate a page of your website with the products you’re promoting on Instagram. People just click on the link in your bio and are sent to an Instagram-specific product page where they can buy what they see.

Here’s an example from Forever21 (12.5m Instagram followers) and Brooks Brothers (175k Instagram followers) :

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies
How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies


#14: Tap Into User-Generated Content

This is also in the Top 10 Instagram promotion best practices you’ll find everywhere. And for good reason.

Every time you feature the content of a prospective customer or existing Follower, you develop your brand’s community. People love that you’re featuring the content of real people. It helps to personalize your interaction.

And that’s not to mention the fact that there’s a lot of very popular and successful photographers out there. Featuring their photos (with an @mention) might just boost your brand’s reach as well. Keep reading for an example of that in Tip #20 below.

Here’s an example from REI (1.5m Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

Notice that REI hasn’t just @mentioned the photographer, they’ve also used a generic hashtag (#England) and a campaign-specific hashtag (#OptOutside). This is a powerful combination.

#15: Do More With the Time You Have

You could do it all yourself, maintaining Instagram on top of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and your other responsibilities, or you could get a hand.

And, more often than not, that hand will also boost your success while it helps you up.

I’m talking about Instagram’s social media management and content curation tools – primarily Iconosquare, INK361, Schedugram, and Olapic.

These tools don’t just allow you to schedule your Instagram efforts. They determine quickly and easily which of your posts are getting the best engagement, track your Followers, and (with some of them) help you find content similar to the content which is performing best for you.

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#16: Use Instagram Advertising

Best practices only get you so far. If you’re running out of ideas and have tried the other 20 strategies I’m giving you in this article, try Instagram advertising.

The targeting is the same as Facebook’s (and by that I mean unparalleled) and you can get really very reasonable costs per click.

Think about it, you can either spend the next 8 hours scheduling posts which align perfectly with the best practices and strategies you’re reading here. Or, and here’s where the magic happens, you can pay $10 and reach more prospective followers and customers.

So the question is, what’s your time worth to you?

Here’s an example from the Commodore Ballroom, a local music venue here in Vancouver (9.2k Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#17: Follow & Engage With Influencers

The best strategy for identifying influencers is to use a tool. I mean, you could use the search bar or “Explore People” feature within Instagram, but you’d still be scrolling next Thursday.

Instead, use one of the very reasonably-priced tools designed to make it all easier.

So many of the social media management platforms help you do this (see above). Alternatively you’ve got Gramfeed, Keyhole, Moju, Upfluence and many more.

Here’s an example from Beats by Dre, who’s recognized in Neymar Jr. a celebrity very influential on their target market:

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#18: Run a Simple Instagram Giveaway

You’ll get more engagement and prospective customers from a full-on hashtag contest, but you might want to start small, or perhaps only have a limited budget.

If that’s the case, try an in-post giveaway. They’re very straightforward. Here’s a simplification of walkthrough from Bon Puf example below…

How to enter:

  1. Follow @BonPuf
  2. Like this post and tag a friend

They then randomly choose one of the people who commented, reach out to them with a DM, and coordinate the prize delivery.

Here’s what an in-post Instagram giveaway looks like:

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#19. Record Company Milestones

People like to celebrate, and they like to be happy for people and brands as much as they like to be happy for themselves.

Every time your business hits a legitimate (I’ll repeat that, legitimate!) milestone, don’t be afraid to show your excitement on Instagram.

Here’s an example from Klientboost (349 Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#20. Think Outside the Box

Try things. I mean seriously, every social media platform’s newsfeed algorithm changes every half hour. What worked last week may not work next week. The best advice I can give you is to try something new, see if it works and then try something else if it doesn’t.

That only goes so far, of course. There are a few cardinal “boxes” you shouldn’t think outside of:

  • High-quality images
  • Engaging, friendly posts
  • On-brand content
  • User-generated content
  • Trending topics

Here’s an example from Buffer’s #BufferCommunity, which (as far as I can tell) is simply Buffer selecting photos from popular Instagram accounts, featuring them and @mentioning the original publisher:

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

#21. Feature your Lifestyle

Not every Instagram post has to be promotional, or even directly tied to your company.

Communicating your brand lifestyle is as big a part of Instagram marketing as taking beautiful shots of your product or showing how it’s made.

Here’s an example of a lifestyle post from Amazon (825k Instagram followers):

How to Promote Your Business On Instagram: 21 Techniques, Tips & Strategies

Wrapping it Up

Hopefully this article has given you a few actionable strategies for promoting your business on Instagram. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these before or find success from acting on these tips!

Merril Hoge | Crain’s St. Louis

Merril Hoge | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Ex-NFL player, football analyst, ESPN

  • Merril Hoge is an ESPN analyst, motivational speaker and ex-NFL player. | Photo courtesy of Keppler Speakers

    Merril Hoge is an ESPN analyst, motivational speaker and ex-NFL player. | Photo courtesy of Keppler Speakers

  • ESPN is based in Bristol, Connecticut. | Photo by Walter Williams/Crain's Connecticut

    ESPN is based in Bristol, Connecticut. | Photo by Walter Williams/Crain’s Connecticut


Merril Hoge, a retired professional football player, is now an analyst at Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN. He played seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and retired in 1994 after one season with the Chicago Bears. At the time of his retirement, forced by post-concussion syndrome, Hoge had the longest consecutive playing streak in the NFL.

Inspired partly by his drive to become a professional football player and partly by his recoveries from cancer and severe brain injuries, Hoge authored “Find a Way: Three Words That Changed and Saved My Life,” which was first published in 2010. He also has become a motivational speaker.

The Mistake:

I wouldn’t call it a mistake but being diagnosed with cancer at 38 was the thing that knocked me down the hardest in my life.

The doctor called with the result of the biopsy. I was told that I had a tumor in my back the shape of a football. I guess that’s appropriate for me but it was hardly welcome news.

I was told I would lose my hair because of the chemo but then I was told, “I can’t guarantee that this is going to work.” That was the most paralyzing thing and it took about two hours to overcome it and begin to move around normally again.

My daughter, Kori, then 9, came and put her arms around my neck and said, “Dad, find a way.” That was the moment of truth for me.

I’ve learned many lessons inside the white lines of the football field, where every Sunday is do or die.

The Lesson:

I called upon all my experiences in my recovery. I’m the product of a lot of people. I’ve learned many lessons inside the white lines of the football field, where every Sunday is do or die. The margin of error there is very small and you don’t get a do-over.

I’ve gotten great inspiration from Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll and Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton. Payton taught me that you’ve got to want it more than everybody else. From Noll, I learned that you have to be uncommon; that you can’t do the minimum, but you must do the maximum.

You need to create a plan. Where you start your day and end your day are very important. You have to focus on what you want to do. And you have to change your thought process.

Doing this instills belief, not just for sports but for life. The perspective of belief is a whole different world. I love this perspective. It makes me appreciate things more, including my family and friends. I don’t get overwhelmed by things. Be grateful for all your days because you can’t count on them always being there.

This perspective can be applied by all people in any organization and that’s why I enjoy speaking about it in public so much.

It took me seven years to write the book but I’m glad I did it. My diagnosis was 13 years ago but it still shapes my life. Part of what led to the book was a friend taking a video of me sitting in a chemo chair, talking about my kids. You have a lot of time to think during a nine-hour chemo session.

My third grandchild was born on my birthday. That strengthened me. You have to keep your body and mind strong but you end up doing it for your team, which are the people in your life.

Merril Hoge is on Twitter at @merrilhoge.

Photo courtesy of Keppler Speakers.

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Account Based Marketing – It’s All About the People

Account Based Marketing – It’s All About the People

ABM human interaction

The world as we live in it today is not the same as it was even ten years ago. We’ve experienced a technological revolution unlike any we’ve ever seen before. As we pursue the latest trends and technologies, we begin to forget that marketing is all about the people.

A rapidly growing trend is account-based marketing, a B2B marketing strategy that focuses sales and marketing resources on a clearly defined set of target accounts. The trick is to remember that the accounts are made of individuals. For our programs to be effective, they need to resonate.

So, the question becomes: How can we ensure our account based marketing programs are personal and relevant?

The answer comes in three parts:

  1. Understand the people
  2. Provide relevant, valuable content
  3. Build meaningful, interconnected relationships

Understand the People

Knowing who you’re marketing to seems like common sense, but despite this, marketing teams too often fall into the trap of using tactics that leverage generic messaging and content. Broad messages will not be as meaningful, and sadly your marketing results will reflect that.

To get positive results, being relevant and targeted is key. You need to first select the target accounts you want to market to, and only after that can you start to drive a deeper understanding of the stakeholders within that account.

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In many cases, you may have a user, buyer, and influencer. Make sure you know the key personas in your accounts and what matters to them at different stages of their journey. It is critical to know what their pain points are and what question they need answered. Prospects don’t care about what your product does – they care about how it can solve their problems. That’s how you build an effective ABM program.

Provide Relevant, Valuable Content

By now, you’ve done the work to understand the people who make up the buying committee of your target account and what matters to them. Now it’s time to use this information to craft your content. But content without purpose is easy to spot – it’s generic and full of unspecific actions with no real value and nothing new to offer. Don’t let your content fall into this definition.

Useful content should be served at the right time, be relevant, and personalized when possible. It should map to a buyer’s journey from awareness all the way to purchase and ideally loyalty. As you engage more regularly with these prospects, you can begin to introduce more product-specific offers as you guide them down the sales funnel to a buying decision. The further down you go, start thinking of topics that more closely align with your own services.

Content marketing is a key piece of your ABM program, and when it is done well, it will ensure you stand out. In addition to mapping content to the right buying stage, effective content is interesting! Get creative and think about different formats like video, tip sheets, guides, and infographics.

Build Meaningful, Interconnected Relationships

Now that you have content for your key personas in target accounts, it is time to run key programs to establish a relationship. Building relationships with your prospects takes time, and solidifying trust and mutual understanding takes even longer. If I could describe ABM in one word, it’d be “patience.” This stage is where your patience will really be put to the test. The worst thing you can do is rush a prospect into a buying decision before they are ready. A hard-sell too early in the game could cause future marketing efforts to be fruitless.

All buyers go through a journey, and this should be reflected in your programs. Remember you will want a mix of programs that drive awareness, engagement, and ultimately later stage programs to drive meetings. Make sure you have a set of orchestrated programs you can run for each of the stakeholders.

As more stakeholders see and respond to your programs, the easier it will become to generate consensus among them. Word of mouth among an internal buying committee can accelerate your ABM strategy immensely. Use this to your advantage and ensure that no one is left off your radar.

It’s All About the People

As you’ve seen, a successful ABM program depends on knowing your prospects and what matters most to them at different time points. Defining personas and offering relevant content is critical. The important thing to remember here is that ABM is all about the people. If you lack a firm understanding of who you’re marketing to, what you’re selling won’t make a difference.

People respond to people. In an age where we are reliant on technology and automation, the need for human interaction and interconnectedness only becomes more apparent. We’re not marketing to machines with preset responses based on trigger actions. We’re marketing to people – people who have their own sets of needs, wants, and pains they want solved, but not without first establishing a connection.

So take the time to regain your focus. Put down the spreadsheets and ROI calculators, and stop wasting resources creating content that isn’t bringing back anything in return. Remember that at the heart of it all, at the core of everything you do, are people. Understanding the people, providing unique, tangible value, and building meaningful, interconnected relationships – those are the fundamentals of an ABM program, and the pieces to completing your marketing puzzle as a whole.

Ben Miller | Crain’s St. Louis

Ben Miller | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder and CEO, Fundrise


Widely recognized as a pioneer in the crowdfunding industry, Fundrise lets individuals invest directly in commercial real estate online, whether or not they are accredited by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The minimum investment is $1,000.

The Mistake:

Generally, every time we hire an outside expert, they either fail or under-perform.

When my brother and I started Fundrise … we kept going to different lawyers. Over the course of a couple of months, we either interviewed or hired about eight law firms, trying to find a way to raise money for real estate on the internet.

Finally, we went to the top securities law firm in the country, which is in New York. Their office is on the top floor of the Conde Nast building, this epic building in the middle of Times Square. 

We’re thinking, these guys are the pinnacle of real estate and financial and security success; they’re going to know how to do this. And they may be really expensive, but we’ll finally get an answer.

At the end of it, there is dead silence … And then they proceeded to tell me, “Horrible idea, totally the worst thing ever.”

I remember me and my brother getting on the elevator and just being deflated. We spent nine months trying to figure this out. We’re thinking, “Now what are we going to do? This obviously doesn’t work. These guys know everything, and they told us it doesn’t work.”

We’d basically given up on this idea—after a year and about nine law firms—when I was talking to a friend of mine, and she said, “You know, my brother in law just retired from the SEC.” … Her brother-in-law told me how to get to this guru [at the SEC].

I went to have lunch with this expert, and he said, “That sounds fun. Let’s figure it out … I wrote this regulation in 1992 that maybe we could use.”

That opened the way for this idea to come back to life.

If you know how to do it, you’re not a consultant. If you know how to do it, you’re doing it.

The Lesson:

A lot of people pretend to be experts, and there’s very few people who really know. The whole consulting industry is built on that concept. Usually, if you know how to do it, you’re not a consultant. If you know how to do it, you’re doing it.

The SEC guy charged us three billable hours in a year. He really thought like a principal in the process … whereas the law firm almost didn’t take us on as a client, because their clients are billion-dollar companies, not nobodies.

The people who ended up helping us most, they always did it because they were really excited about the idea; they were passionate about it. They thought it would be fun and also interesting and maybe even change something. … Everybody who ended up really helping us did it as a passion project.

[Today,] we hire for passion. … Doing what you want and doing what you love is in and of itself valuable. Above a certain level of subsistence, the most important thing is a job that’s fulfilling and self-actualizing.  

Follow Ben Miller on Twitter at @BenMillerise​.

Photo courtesy of Fundrise. 

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How To Enable Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

How To Enable Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

On Thursday 23rd March, Instagram announced that they have rolled out Two-Factor Authentication to all users which they have been trialing for the past few months. It’s a relatively straightforward process to complete, and one that we’d recommend for all Instagram users. Particularly considering the increased level of hacks to social accounts over the past few months across numerous networks. So to help you prevent this happening, here’s our step by step guide on how to enable Instagram two-factor authentication that you can complete in less than 5 minutes.

Step 1

Open Instagram on your device and select your profile in the bottom right corner. When you land on your profile page, select “Settings” in the top-right corner of your screen.

Instagram-Settings How To Enable Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

Step 2

Scroll down to the “Account” section and tap on Two-Factor Authentication to begin the process.

instagram-two-factor-authentication How To Enable Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

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Step 3

If you haven’t already registered your phone number with your account, you’ll be prompted to do so at this stage. This is absolutely required in order to enable Two-Factor Authentication. So any reservations you might have about Instagram (& Facebook) having your phone number will have to be overcome I’m afraid if you want to avail of the security feature.

instagram-phone-number How To Enable Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

Step 4

Enter the mobile phone number you use Instagram with. This number will be used for all future correspondence with Two-Factor Authentication, so ensure it’s the correct one.

instagram-phone-number-entry How To Enable Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

Step 5

You’ll now receive a 6 digit security code by SMS. Open the text and enter the confirmation code (without the hyphen).

instagram-security-code How To Enable Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

Step 6

Once completed, Instagram will present you with a list of 5 Backup codes, that it will automatically screenshot for you. These are used for instances, where you can’t access your account or are unable to receive Instagram security codes by text. So it’s a good idea to move that screenshot to a folder for safe keeping, in the event you misplace your phone.

instagram-backup-security-codes How To Enable Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

That’s it. You now have Two-Factor Authentication active for your Instagram account.

Bert Lyles | Crain’s St. Louis

Bert Lyles | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, Showhomes


Launched in 1986, Showhomes carved out a niche in the real estate industry as the country’s largest home-staging provider. A management team headquartered in Nashville oversees a nationwide network of franchises that have staged and assisted in the sales of more than 25,000 homes with a total value topping $8 billion.

The Mistake:

I believe that I am never through making mistakes and never through learning.

I was coming from a career where I was investment-oriented rather than people-oriented. So when I got my hands on Showhomes, it took awhile to learn the importance of the power of your organization’s culture to really help drive performance and to create a cohesive, mutually supportive group of franchisees.

When I first bought Showhomes, we came in with more of a typical corporate attitude: We tell you how to run the business, and your responsibility is to run the business exactly how we tell you to. Legally, that’s what the documents say. But that did not work. I spent the first couple of years looking at franchisees that were just arms crossed and shaking their heads.

Early on, the franchisor was really not providing support to the franchisees. It was family-owned, and they were too busy running an individual market to staff up for the franchisees. Everyone called themselves Showhomes, but everyone did it their own way and set their own expectations. I bought it with the idea that with proper support from the home office, we could tremendously increase our revenues.

It would be foolish to expect that the home office is the only one that can come up with good ideas.

The Lesson:

It was only when we started communicating more and I started involving the franchisees that things started working. And even then, I learned I could not push it. What works far better is if I could get a couple of allies who would be early-adopters of some new technique or service. If I could get these early-adopters to test it out and validate it, then they could communicate to their peers what’s working for them. That peer influence ended up being far more powerful than anything I could command from the home office.

A lot of ideas come bottom up, and it would be foolish to expect that the home office is the only one that can come up with good ideas to improve the system.

A few years ago, we started doing client loyalty surveys, and I have been really proud of the results that have come out of that. Franchisees did not like it at first, and thought I was just checking up on them trying to find a problem. Instead, I was letting them know that everybody in our organization needs to own the customer experience. When they started getting raving customer reviews and paying more attention to what people liked, we improved greatly. We rank very high on our satisfaction scores.

We basically have a standard process now. We identify an idea and invite people who would like to be part of a beta test group. We don’t push it on anyone as we want people to be receptive. We ask them to go through the learning curve with us, collaborate and find out together how to improve it so it’s something that can benefit the rest of the system.

That approach has worked extremely well. For example, we are now beta testing an app. It’s beneficial because we have staff working remotely doing different staging jobs, and they can clock in to this app and it will geo-stamp where they are. Now, we don’t have to show up to check on them. I know when they’re there and how long they’re there, and I can hold people accountable.

Showhomes is on Twitter at @ShowhomesCorp.

Photo courtesy of Bert Lyles.

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3 Ways to Plug Your DevOps Cloud Into Your ITSM CAB

3 Ways to Plug Your DevOps Cloud Into Your ITSM CAB

DevOps and IT service management (ITSM) don’t mix, right? Wrong! DevOps and ITSM practices are part of the same spectrum of business and technology activities, with them connected by a continuous delivery pipeline. And it’s possible to integrate a DevOps pipeline and the ITSM change advisory board (CAB) without them getting in the way of each other.

By following this blog’s advice, DevOps and the CAB can amplify each other’s unique approaches to help create a high-performance IT organization.

DevOps vs. ITSM

DevOps is a culture and movement – less about the IT, more about applications and business – that’s focused on speed, agility, uptime, and resilience. It asks: “Why can’t you go faster, make more changes, AND have better uptime?” To DevOps practitioners, more change simply means better service, not more outages.

ITSM has been around since the 1980s and, just like DevOps, it’s not about IT – it’s about service and business. The comparisons with DevOps are obvious, the contrasts are in how DevOps and ITSM goes about their business. But they both want to create high-performing IT organizations.

If you look at good industry reports such as the Puppet State of DevOps 2016 you can find solid business reasons as how DevOps will transform your IT teams into a high-performing organization, that:

“High-performing organizations decisively outperform their lower-performing peers. They deploy 200 times more frequently, with 2,555 times faster lead times, recover 24 times faster, and have three times lower change failure rates.”


Rather than being at odds with one another, DevOps and ITSM practitioners have something in common – the provision of better service and outcomes to customers. But perhaps they approach it from opposite ends of the spectrum, and this confusion is where the DevOps vs. ITSM arguments start.

So this blog brings those two ends together using the CAB as a focal point, focusing on.

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  1. Understanding how the DevOps pipeline connects to ITSM change management
  2. Making DevOps more CAB-friendly
  3. Making the CAB more DevOps-friendly

1. Understanding How the DevOps Pipeline Connects to ITSM Change Management

If you visualize DevOps feeding into ITSM change management, then the product-based pipeline that connects them is a spectrum of activities – a value chain that feeds around clockwise.

The key to this working is to prevent the CAB being a speed-bump in the way of activities. And instead to give the CAB non-intrusive access to the DevOps pipeline while giving DevOps access the CAB perspective of the wider organization.

This is a juncture where DevOps can work well with ITSM. The CAB is aware of organization-wide change and knows about other activities outside of this single-product pipeline. If you need to know what other IT services this product can affect, the CAB can be that glue.

2. Making DevOps More CAB-Friendly

The phrase “Change is like the brakes on a car, it lets you go faster” was coined by the Visible Ops Handbook authors. And the CAB is the probably the most obvious example of a brake! There’s no CAB in DevOps, so why introduce one? Where would it fit?

The DevOps pipeline is a process focused on one thing: deploying an application while removing risk from the application delivery process. This is also what the CAB wants – quick delivery and less risk. The difference is that the CAB is aware of the business context outside of the DevOps pipeline.

The combination of DevOps and the CAB is of real business benefit, as long as one doesn’t negatively impact the other – such as the CAB blocking every DevOps pipeline run.

One way to connect DevOps and the CAB is by connecting DevOps automation tools with the ITSM ticketing and change management systems. DevOps pipelines are flexible, programmable, automated, and highly integrable; with typical integrations from DevOps pipeline to CAB tools including:

  1. Notifications to the CAB on specific steps of the pipeline. This can be visualized to show work moving through the system, helping the CAB to “see” what’s coming and to plan ahead.
  2. Inserting decision gates between significant steps such as “deploy to production” to wait for CAB authorization when appropriate.
  3. Reporting on the quality of the pipeline, increasing CAB confidence in the pipeline to reduce risk and raise quality.

3. Making the CAB More DevOps-Friendly

Nothing infuriates a DevOps practitioner more than working with an ITSM process that “doesn’t get it,” and impacts their ability to be agile and productive.

Putting a big, lumbering CAB (perception or reality) between a DevOps pipeline and production is a sure-fire way of antagonizing the DevOps crowd. Likewise, criticism of DevOps by ITSM teams (“It’s a fad,” “They don’t get it,” or “It’s OK for websites but not for real computing”) signifies a corrosive and toxic environment where clashes will be more frequent than production releases.

The CAB can change this outcome by altering their position, accepting the DevOps approach and recognizing its applicability (it might not work for all systems) as a complementary approach to ITSM. There are three ways this can be done:

  1. Integrating the DevOps tool chain and pipeline with ITSM tools. Integrating notifications, adding decision points that require an email acceptance, and working together.
  2. Recognizing that changes that come via the DevOps pipeline are inherently less risky by themselves and of a high quality.
  3. Focusing the CAB’s efforts – understanding how change by the DevOps pipeline (deploy to production) impacts the wider business, moving from a “stop” sign to a “give way” sign.

Ultimately, DevOps and ITSM have a common goal: improving the business by getting better products into customers’ hands faster. They can achieve this together by modifying their behavior to work better together, then making it happen by integrating their tools and collaborating in respectful manner – effectively proving that the whole can be so much more than the sum of the two parts.

Jordan Monroe | Crain’s St. Louis

Jordan Monroe | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder, chief product officer, Owlet


The Owlet is a little baby sock that alerts parents if their baby’s breathing or heart rate moves outside a safe range. The product uses the same technology as the devices that clip on fingers of patients at medical facilities. The Lehi, Utah-based firm started out at BYU about four years ago, and has grown from a garage to now operating at Thanksgiving Point with 60 employees.

The Mistake:

Some of the big mistakes we made early on were around not building in enough unknowns into our planning. The issue hit us mostly in budgeting. You think it’s going to cost this much money, but we learned we had to double it and it’s going to take twice as long, too

We work in a world where we deal with a lot of knowns. We’re used to having a known answer to this, or a known answer to that. You’re used to being in school and it’s either A, B, C, or D…

When it comes to timing and cost to bring something to market, you have to realize there’s a bunch of unknowns.

We started off thinking that with a $50,000 investment we could get the product to market. But $2.2 million later, we’re still looking at it and nearly getting it out. That was the final cost to get it out and into users’ hands, and it took us a year and a half longer.

We like to have firm beliefs held loosely.

The Lesson:

If it’s your first time doing this, build in some space for the fact that you just don’t know or the fact that you’ve never done it before.

There can be 10 elements to a project and if there’s three of them that we haven’t done before, you have to look at it and plan in some buffer. We like to have firm beliefs held loosely. We believe that we will hit this date, but we hold it loosely in case it doesn’t happen. You have backup plans.

Realize that if you’ve never done it before, you can’t 100 percent plan for it. Make sure you have plenty of buffer in case you don’t hit it.

We say, “OK, we’ve got this new variable in our new sock design and we’d like it to be done in time for this resale date, but we’re not going to order the components until as late as we can, until we have this element proven first.”

We kind of feel we have to prove it to ourselves before we make a financial decision around it. There’s certain parts you have to plan really well around. Once it gets to the assembly point, we hope things are pretty dialed in. But when we’re still in the prototyping stage, we’re making a decision to go with this retailer six months out, we say we can agree to this degree of confidence.

Owlet Baby Care is on Twitter at @owletbabycare.

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3 Reasons Your Email Marketing Doesn’t Work

3 Reasons Your Email Marketing Doesn’t Work

Email is an incredible and still-undervalued marketing tool—one that allows you to reach out to both past and potential clients directly with a personalized message and a tailored value proposition. It’s something we use for our own marketing here at Grammar Chic, Inc., and it’s something we recommend for our clients.

Sometimes, though, the best intentions for an email marketing campaign fall short, and emails are sent out without any kind of response coming back. Sometimes, email marketing just plain doesn’t work—and when that happens, it’s important to ask yourself why.

There are a number of possible reasons, but really three main ones—and today we want to look closer at each of them.

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You Haven’t Segmented Your List

Email is best used in a highly targeted way, with messages being tailored to segments of your subscription list. For example, here at Grammar Chic, we have some clients for our resume writing division and other clients within our marketing wing. If we’re sending out a promotion for content marketing services, it doesn’t make as much sense to send it to the resume crew. Instead, we’d tailor it to the part of our email list that comes to us for marketing expertise.

Make sure you work with your email list to divide it and segment it into different audiences—and that your message always mirrors the people you’re sending it to.

Your Headline Doesn’t Grab Attention

This is always the struggle with email marketing: How do you grab attention and make your email stand out within busy inboxes? The headline is everything—your best and only chance at a strong first impression.

Some basic tips for writing good email headlines:

  • Keep it brief—seven words or less!
  • Avoid words that will run you afoul of spam filters—Sale, Free, 50% Off, etc.
  • Be clear about your value proposition; how will the reader benefit from reading your email?

You’re Not Clear in Your Value Proposition

And that brings us to the final point: Some emails don’t work because they just don’t have much to say. Everything from your headline to your body text to your call to action should spell out the value you’re offering to readers—the “what’s in it for me” of reading your message and responding to your CTA at the bottom. If your value offer is unclear, readers just won’t know what to do with your message.

These are all potentially fatal blows to your email marketing campaign, but the good news is that all of them can be corrected.

Randy Hetrick | Crain’s St. Louis

Randy Hetrick | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Creator and CEO, TRX


TRX Training designs and sells Suspension Training® and Rip® Training equipment as well as exercise programing and education. The TRX Suspension Trainer is a tool that builds total body stability and strength by leveraging the user’s bodyweight through hundreds of functional exercises. The product was invented by Randy Hetrick, who graduated from Navy SEAL training in 1989.

The Mistake:

One of the big mistakes that I learned from was around hiring.

I made a hire for a head of marketing position and didn’t do my homework enough. I was desperate to fill the position. We had been trying to find a person and someone became available to us.

I ended up going through the interview process [and was] not as detailed as I should’ve been. It was an initial interview process and we made the hire. That was not the mistake.

The mistake was that pretty quickly, within three months, we realized this person was not a good hire. There were problems around work ethic and skill set. Some of the early initiatives that the person was advocating were not as effective.

Here’s where the mistake came in. I allowed my HR director at the time to get us too focused on the potential liability risks associated with the termination of this person because there were protected class issues involved. They weren’t trivial issues—particularly in San Francisco, where the city is incredibly litigious around employment law.

What I allowed to happen was for a longer process to theoretically carry out in order to get all the documentation right. But that snowballed, because another protected class issue came to the fore.

I ended up subjecting the company to close to two years of a loss of the chief person who was supposed to be driving our marketing strategies, tactics and brand demand generation. The cost of that in terms of reduced lead generation and missed revenue goals vastly exceeded the worst-case potential liability, which would have been frivolous litigation that we potentially would have had to settle for six months to a year of severance.

 You have to make the right decision for the business, particularly when executive positions are in question.

The Lesson:

The big lesson was you have to make the right decision for the business, particularly when executive positions are in question. Because the broader ramifications to the organization will also exceed your worst-case liability concerns.

If someone is not working out because they’re not delivering, you have to let them go regardless of whether they’re under a protected class in employment law. It’s better off to make a generous settlement offer upfront to get that position filled or deal with the ligation if that’s the threat.

The role was gapped the entire time this was going on … and we couldn’t fill the position because we hadn’t terminated the person.

It was a big lesson. It would’ve been so easily avoided, just to say, “Sorry, this isn’t working. We need to move you on. Whatever you’re threatening to do, you’re going to have to do. We’re going to move on.”

I’ve talked to several of my buddies who are CEOs. They’ve also said, as long as you’re confident and the claims are baseless, you should make the decision. Let the chips fall where they are.

Follow Randy Hetrick at @RandyHetrick.

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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga, “The Ghost in the Shell.”

Credit: Paramount Pictures

The original Ghost in the Shell (1995) is a movie that made me fall in love with Japanese animation back in the day, balancing a serious tone with groundbreaking themes. Focusing on massive elements of sexuality and gender identity which led to the film being studied by various film colleges. It influenced iconic filmmakers The Wachowskis – creators of The Matrix (1999) – taking several concepts from the anime – including the digital rain sequences.

2017 sees the long awaited live-action version of the classic anime/manga Ghost in the Shell (1996) making its way into cinemas, after a long-troubled development.

But does it work in giving the series a new life?

Ghost in the Shell (2017) is one visually striking remake that does many things right, with fantastic fight sequences and a solid soundtrack. Sadly, it just doesn’t transcend above the animated classic – as it fails to connect with a solid story-line or believable characters. Relying too heavily on the prior knowledge of the franchise, a choice that might annoy people who have just stumbled across the franchise with this Hollywood version.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) has a great deal of respect for the franchise, and with all the controversy around the casting does his best in producing one beautiful movie. But in his effort to be faithful, he forgets to add a cohesive story-line, and pull a stand out performance from Scarlett Johansson (Captain America: Civil War).

Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a fun ride, but without the depth found in the original; this just feels like another generic revenge story. Sanders throws in changes to the characters to better explain the backstory to Western Audiences who are not familiar with the manga version, but it falls flat in impact. Turning the remake into a simple revenge tale.

Scarlet Johansson is The Major, a human modified into a cyber super-solider who literally gets to kick ass for 2-hours on screen. Now with all the casting controversy Johansson delivers a decent enough performance, filled with the intrigue and grit. I enjoyed how relentlessly Scarlet Johansson embodies The Major, balancing what’s needed to portray the veteran solider with a confused memory perfectly.

The performance will not push racial barriers, but it was never intended to do that; Scarjo is not the overwhelming issue in this version.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Game of Throne‘s actor Pilou Asbaek is Batou, who sends in commands to The Major: he doesn’t fare well in channeling the iconic manga character. Being less faithful to the animated version, this character lacks most of the original’s likeable characteristics; including his subdued personality and less aggressive approach. He emotes the physicality needed in the role, but just comes across frozen next to his co-stars.

Pilou just comes across quite unlikable in the role. I would have preferred an older, more charismatic actor as Batou instead.

Micheal Pitt (Broadwalk Empire) as the hacker Kuze steals the show; with his menacing nature working in his favour during this take on the Laughing Man – an infused version of the classic villain. Sanders’ blends various baddies in the Ghost in the Shell franchise into one entity, creating a great adversary for The Major. I did feel like a more intuitive storyline could have made his motivation work better. In the end Pitt’s Kuze was great to watch on screen.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Ghost in the Shell (2017) is not an outright success, and that lies in the underwhelming plot points, which blend many generic scenes, and in turn ignores the complex elements from source material.

Screenwriters Jamie Moss and William Wheeler, condense everything fans loved about the original manga into a revenge tale – losing its more intriguing themes. Technology and sexuality commentary are thrown out for an overdone trope that does nothing in propelling the series forward. This wouldn’t be so bad if these twists were original, but instead Rupert Sanders relies on tried western-action cliche twists.

I enjoyed the adaption, but didn’t love how story was treated.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Ghost in The Shell (2017) action sequences are odd, in the sense that they look beautiful and expensive but lack much needed punch. The PG-13 rating is the obvious reason for this. You never get the sense The Major is any danger. Instead, the fights look totally staged, taking the intensity and brutality out of the character.

Green-screen is also used excessively, making most of Ghost in The Shell feel like it was recorded on a Paramount film lot. Better lighting would have reduced the over produced look, limiting closeups would have avoided the feel of everything being generated on a computer screen. On the other hand, The Major’s invisibility suit is a work of art. Sanders’ makes the ridiculous technology from the manga feel like real pieces of this universe. He should be commended for adapting the unique visuals into live-action, taking chances in this regard.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) succeeds in bringing the beloved franchise into the Hollywood circles. While it’s not perfect, it will provide a good time in the cinema, as it’s filled with visual treats and a sense of badassery for action fans.

This is the best live-action manga adaptation yet (Even though that’s not saying much)

Ghost in the Shell’s soundtrack is also a nice bonus, remixing themes from the original.

Go listen to it now!

Matthew Crisp | Crain’s St. Louis

Matthew Crisp | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

President and CEO, Benson Hill Biosystems


Benson Hill Biosystems, based in St. Louis with additional operations in Durham, N.C., is an agriculture technology company that optimizes plants’ genetic variations through breeding, trait development and genome editing to develop products and improve crops. One of its technology platforms, CropOS, pairs biological knowledge with data analytics to help users identify the most promising plant genetics in weeks instead of multiple growing seasons.

The Mistake:

Weighing down the company’s elevator pitch with too much technical detail.

We were telling a story that was very different than anything else in the marketplace. We were taking technologies that had never really been put together to solve a problem that other people had tackled in a very different way previously. I think, when telling that story early on, we focused heavily on the different technologies that we were pulling together from a biotech perspective and a data science perspective. We weren’t able to articulate as clearly what the outcome was and why it was really, really important.

Early in our company’s life cycle we talked about how we … improved photosynthetic efficiency through complex metabolic engineering … and most peoples’ heads were spinning by the time we finished two or three sentences. When you have that conversation with potential investors who don’t really understand an industry like agriculture or who have never made an investment in agriculture or who, for that matter, have never done due diligence in an industry like agriculture, I think we lost a lot of people trying to explain our story. We were focused far more on the technical than we should have been. It made conveying that message very complex.

Now, we talk more about why improving crops matters.

The Lesson:

I think we’ve done a good job recently of focusing on why we’re doing what we’re doing. And, I think our employees would agree that we, as of a year or so ago, began communicating first why what we’re doing matters, what impact it has environmentally and societally, and then talking about the how.

It’s not just telling that story to potential investors. I think it’s important we explain the story to potential customers, partners and new people we want to recruit. So it was a lesson that went far beyond how to raise capital. We’ve kind of changed the way we’re discussing Benson Hill and, because of that, had more success in fundraising, had more success in recruiting, had more success in developing new partnerships. And we’ve simplified, in large part, the message of what we’re doing such that a broad audience can understand it more clearly and it resonates with them.

Now, we talk more about why improving crops matters. You talk about the outcome, then you work your way backward. That’s helped us crystallize a message that resonates with a broader audience. If they are technically adept and want to dive in with the science, we are able to talk more specifically about how we are able to do what we do. They can ask about the technology and what the specific outcome might be. Is it better production? Is it better photosynthesis? Is it better nutrition or grain quality? All of the above may be applicable. But, if I led with that, it muddles the story.

The company description, as complicated as it sounds, is so much clearer than even a year ago. When we’re talking about that storyline and the elevator pitch, I wouldn’t even use some of those words – like genome editing. Simplifying it further, to say that we have this platform and it identifies ways to improve genetics and make better crops, that’s the most straightforward takeaway that helps people understand, “OK, you’re improving crop genetics.”

Benson Hill Biosystems is on Twitter at @BensonHillBio and Matthew Crisp is at @EnergyCrisp.

Photo courtesy of Benson Hill Biosystems.

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The Real Effect of Running a Facebook Ad Campaign in 5 Charts

The Real Effect of Running a Facebook Ad Campaign in 5 Charts

When we launched the Facebook Opportunity Calculator last summer, we knew two things:

  1. That Facebook advertising is growing in leaps and bounds (they more than DOUBLED their number of advertisers in the past 18 months).
  2. That organic reach on Facebook is dwindling.

What we didn’t know is exactly how much running Facebook ads can do for your business page. We dug into the data from our calculator to see what the real relationship between organic Facebook marketing and paid Facebook advertising is. And we were shocked by what we found. Shocked!

shocked about facebook ads impact on facebook organic metrics

What we found is that the Facebook pages of advertisers (and we’re using this term loosely: you only need a handful of active campaigns to reap the rewards) have dramatically better engagement metrics across the board than those who invest nothing in paid social.

facebook advertising organic relationship stats

Per our research, Facebook advertisers outperform businesses that aren’t advertising to the average tune of:

  • 77% more page fans
  • 96% more page clicks
  • 126% more page impressions
  • 225% more post impressions
  • 90% more fans reached
  • 111% more friends of page fans reached

Let’s dig into the data in a little more detail.

Chart #1: Running Ads Increases Facebook Page Fans By 77%

Advertisers on Facebook tend to see a massive increase in page fans.

Users with active ad campaigns saw their number of Facebook fans increase by an average of 77%, from 107 to 190.

facebook organic metrics total page fans

Fans are apparatuses with rotating blades that create a current of air. We aren’t talking about those fans.


Fans are also the metric by which popularity is judged. The New England Patriots have fans. I have fans. At one point, even Nickelback had fans. We aren’t talking about those fans today, either.

We’re talking about fans of your Facebook page.

What are Facebook Page Fans?

In short, fans are the people who have liked (and follow) your Facebook page. By default, users who like your page also follow your page (meaning they are eligible to see your posts based on myriad factors including time and previous engagement with your content).

There’s also another kind of users, though, a hyper-valuable subset of your audience called “See First Followers.”

facebook see first followers

See First Followers are those who have actively chosen to prioritize what you share. These are the people who adore your content, the ones who engage with your posts, boosted or otherwise.

These folks are your bread and butter, current and future brand evangelists. In fact, Facebook takes the “See First” designation so seriously that it overrides Edgerank (Facebook’s feed-management algorithm). This allows your content to take precedent over what other businesses (including your competitors), organizations, even your followers’ friends post.

It goes without saying that you want as many page fans as possible. Here’s where being an advertiser comes in.

Why should you care?

Because by running a handful of ads you can almost double your organic reach!

The boost in Facebook Page Fans you receive by running paid ads is akin to the gift card you receive when you drop a chunk of loot at an Applebee’s during the holiday season. You know, if that gift card was interactive, could make you money, and knew other gift cards that’d like to make your acquaintance as well.

It gets even better…

If you run Facebook ads and your total number of page fans increases, the size and quality of your lookalike audiences improve, too. Your ads are served to more qualified prospects even if you don’t increase your spend.


Chart #2: Running Ads Increases Facebook Page Clicks by 96%

You read that right: users with active Facebook ad campaigns saw an average increase in page clicks of 96%!

facebook organic metrics page clicks

Now, the relationship between paid and organic here is obvious: if more people are visiting your page (see benefit number one) when you advertise, it makes sense that clicks increase, too. And while Page Clicks are nowhere near as valuable as, say, a conversion, they are an indicator of engagement.

Facebook fans are great.

But if your legion of page-likers isn’t engaging with your content (organic or paid) after the initial follow, their usefulness to your business begins and ends with their ability to form new lookalike audiences.

So how do we measure engagement? One way is with the Page clicks metric.

What are Facebook Page Clicks?

Facebook page clicks refer to the number of times people clicked on any of your content outside of more nuanced, format-specific metrics like link clicks and video plays. If your content incites a user to take some “other action” on your page, like clicking a person’s name or the like counter or time, that’s a page click.

facebook advertising clicks influence organic performance

Clicks are a way for businesses to measure engagement in a broad sense.

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If a post encourages a page visitor to click anywhere else on your page, your content may not have done the job, but it did a job. Page clicks are an easy way to see how your posts perform without digging into overly complicated insights that probably mean nothing to the average advertiser.

facebook engagement metrics

Why should you care?

Because knowing that your organic Facebook posts are inciting activity of any kind is indicative of an engaged audience.

It can be easy to see low engagement metrics in more obvious categories (video plays, for example) and think your content is underperforming or, worse yet, going unnoticed. Page clicks gives you an aggregate of “other” actions taken by your fans that can provide insight into the types of content that work best with your audience.

If your image-centric posts incite more page clicks than your videos, post more images. Simple.

You can extrapolate further and leverage Page Click data from organic Facebook posts to influence your ad creative.

Chart #3: Running Ads Increases Facebook Page Impressions by 126%

On average, Facebook users with active ad campaigns see a 126% increase in page impressions.

facebook organic metrics total page impressions

While that number just sounds impressive, when you look at how that 126% increase in impressions works it verges on mind-meltingly neat.

Here’s where, semantically, things get tricky.

What are Facebook Page Impressions?

They’re called “page impressions” but it’s better to think of them as “content impressions.” That’s because page impressions refer to the total number of impressions seen of any content associated with your page.

Per Facebook, “Impressions are the number of times a post from your Page is displayed. People may see multiple impressions of the same post. For example, if someone sees a Page update in News Feed and then sees that same update when a friend shares it that would count as two impressions.”

facebook page impressions over 9k when you advertise

Page Impressions can be confusing because they’re not indicative of the number of fans your page has but rather, the number of times those specific individuals have been exposed to your content.

So why are they valuable, you ask?

Because more page impressions mean a) people are seeing your posts and b) they’re seeing them often. They’re becoming familiar with your brand and beginning to perceive your value.

Why should you care?

If you have higher-than-average page impressions, it could mean a handful of things:

  • Your fans share the hell out of your content
  • You’re got a ton of “See First Followers”
  • You’re boosting your posts

Now, in the event you have a relatively small number of fans but a ton of impressions, you likely fall into the second group: you’ve got an active audience. This is great for you, and for your paid efforts, because if people actively seek your free content, there’s a good chance they’ll gobble up what you’re paying to put in front of them, too.

Conversely, if your audience is large but page impressions aren’t particularly high, this could mean that your content simply doesn’t resonate with your followers. If this is the case, rethink your strategy and develop a new strategy for your Facebook offerings (both paid and organic).

Chart #4: Running Ads Increases Facebook Post Impressions by 225%


facebook organic metrics post impressions

Using the averages in the graph above, we can see that, while the average user who isn’t running Facebook ads has about 922 post impressions, those who have some semblance of a paid presence on Facebook see their post impressions leap to more than 3,000.

Knowing how many people see the content you post on Facebook matters. When it comes to measuring results from your paid efforts this is obvious, right? If you’re directly investing hard-earned greenbacks into campaigns (no matter the size and scope), understanding how many people are seeing those ads is a foundational component of your optimization efforts.

The same holds true for your organic Facebook posts: measuring their reach is key.

measuring facebook post impressions

If you’re unsure of how many people are seeing your organic posts, and how those people interact with said posts, and if they derive value from said posts, why post in the first place?

What are Facebook Post Impressions?

Simply put: the number of people who saw any of your Facebook page posts.

Post Impressions is a valuable reach metric. It gives you an idea as to the number of individuals who have seen what you posted.

If your post appears as an update in a user’s news feed and then they see it again shared by a friend, that’s still just a single post impression (whereas it would count as two page impressions).

Notice that I said “people” and not “fans.” This is an important distinction (more on that in a minute).

While fan-centric data is valuable, understanding how all people, including the ones who don’t know your business, engage with a piece of content, can provide insight as to how to optimize future organic (and paid) content on Facebook.

Why should you care?

Right out the gate, let’s be real with one another for a second: Who doesn’t want a 225% increase in any metric (outside of cost)?

As I mentioned before, Post impressions are a reach metric; they allow you to understand how many induvial, fan or otherwise, are seeing your organic posts. When it comes to your existing fans, this is helpful .But it’s with those additional viewers that you’ll glean real value.

When non-fan users see and engage with your posts, you’re ostensibly using your organic content on Facebook to function like the Google Display Network. You’re building brand awareness and providing value to potential prospects at no cost to you.

Free clout with your future customers ain’t a bad thing, people.

Chart #5: Running Ads Increases Unique Facebook Fans Reached by 90%

We just focused on overall reach, how your organic posts on Facebook are seen by more individuals when you advertise on the channel, too. Now we’re going to focus explicitly on the subset of people your organic content reaches who are already fans of your business page.

facebook organic metrics unique fans reached

Simply advertising on Facebook will give your organic posts a 90% increase in unique fans reached, even if you don’t boost them after posting.

The only thing better than an engaged fan is a boatload of engaged fans you didn’t have to pay for.

What are Unique Facebook Fans?

Drumroll please….

Unique Facebook fans are, well, individual fans of your page who are exposed to a given piece of content.

These are your people, the ones who see and share everything you post, from cat memes to product demos.

Kindly direct your attention to the actual and maximum free audience components in the image below:

facebook organic vs actual audience metrics

As you can see, there’s a massive disparity between the two and, per Facebook, boosting your posts is the only way to close the gap, right?


Why should you care?

Because the data we’ve gathered clearly indicates that, by advertising on Facebook, you can close the gap between your actual audience and your maximum free audience, without spending money to boost your posts.


In the same way that advertising across multiple networks improves performance, Facebook advertisers see a lift in organic performance when compared to businesses that don’t advertise.

If you actively post on your business’s Facebook page and aren’t advertising, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. By running just one simple campaign, you stand to enhance key organic metrics by upwards of 100%.

On the other side of that coin, if you’re currently advertising on Facebook but do little or no posting outside of what you’re already paying for, you’re losing out on significant brand-building opportunities and, more importantly, new, qualified Facebook users to whom you can advertise.

the zuck goes to college

If Zuck and co. are willing to give a little extra ju ju to those folks who pay (even just a little) to play (including but by no means limited to your direct competition), your business can’t afford to miss out!

A note on the data

wordstream facebook page example

We based our findings on the analysis of 6,439 unique Facebook pages. Some were advertisers, some simply had active pages but no discernable paid presence. Now, perhaps the most important caveat here is how we chose to define “advertiser.” An advertiser is someone with at least one active campaign within the last 90 days. Most of the Facebook accounts we analyzed and labeled “advertisers” had fewer than 5 active ad campaigns.

With Facebook, thanks to the relationship between organic and paid performance, to reap the overwhelmingly positive benefits all you need to do is get started.

You don’t even have to be a successful advertiser (though it certainly helps): you just need to be running Facebook ads and the boost to your organic reach metrics will materialize.

Your business’s reachable audience on Facebook is drastically impacted by advertising: it amplifies the hell out of your content, improving reach. But while the caps for “Actual Audience” and “Maximum Free Audience” in the example above are exponentially lower than the “Paid Audience Potential” (611; 28,975; 1,920,000 respectively), there’s still a ton of value on the organic side of things.

Greg Hewitt | Crain’s St. Louis

Greg Hewitt | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, DHL Express U.S.


DHL Express provides international shipping, among other services, to customers around the world. Its parent company is Deutsche Post DHL Group, which is based in Germany. 

The Mistake:

I’ve been lucky—from an experience standpoint—to be able to go through a couple of mergers and acquisitions within the same field. During the first one that I took part in … there’s a number of things we didn’t do well. We did a lot of damage to the business.

Back in 2002, 2003, I was the VP of sales, marketing and customer service for a business called Mayne Logistics Loomis. We were a big player in the Canadian domestic transportation world, and our parent company had decided they wanted to go in the direction of healthcare and IT, and were looking at divesting assets globally. … The people that came through and made the purchase are the place I work at today: DHL. 

I think the biggest thing that we did wrong was we became altogether focused on ourselves and on bringing the business together. I call it navel-gazing. And we forgot that the customer is the center of everything that you do and that the No. 1 thing you need to stay focused on is driving customer satisfaction, improving customer loyalty, listening to them and growing with them. 

I was shocked when I started to tour around the business and talk to customers. The old DHL International customers would express their frustration and anger that this domestic company, Mayne Logistics Loomis, had come in and “wrecked this service.” And then I would go to the domestic customers, I knew them well, and they’d say, “This DHL company’s come in and they’ve destroyed our service and they’ve changed what you are and now you’re not meeting my needs.”

We were actually eroding the confidence of both sets of customers. We weren’t meeting either of their needs, and that obviously has a big impact on your profit and loss. … Ultimately, what happened is the profitability of the two businesses declined. We lost market share, we lost revenue and we lost profitability.

I was shocked when I started to tour around the business and talk to customers.

The Lesson: 

That integration, despite being difficult to remember because we did so much wrong, really helped me learn about the way I would behave if I was in a leadership role—and the things that I would do differently if I were given the opportunity down the road.

Well, in 2011, I got that chance. … In Christmas 2010, I had been working in Europe with DHL and I got a call from Ken Allen, who’s the CEO of DHL Express globally. He told me that he had found a buyer for the domestic business in Canada. He wanted me to come back and lead the project to separate and sell the domestic business to a company called Transforce.

Once we got started on the transition, I really made sure we focused on customers. One of my key points to the board was, we are going to improve the service quality every month to our customers as we go through the transition. We will measure ourselves against that, and we will measure customer retention to make sure we don’t lose a single customer. That was the mindset.

I’m proud to say that we improved the service quality every month through the six month transition. Unfortunately, you do lose some clients, but it was not because we had lost sight of them. 

You can’t get too caught up worrying about yourself when you’re going through change. You have to look outside and you have to stay focused on customers.

Follow DHL Express U.S. on Twitter at @DHLUS.

Photo courtesy of DHL Express.

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Top Tips from 3 Social Media Experts [Podcast]

Top Tips from 3 Social Media Experts [Podcast]

Episode 57 of Landscape Digital Show reveals tips from 3 influential social media experts for live video marketing.

Live Video: Top Tips from 3 Social Media Experts

I just returned from Social Media Marketing World in San Diego, and one of my goals was to learn as much as possible about live video. What I discovered will not only give you the motivation to create live video marketing, it will make it easier.

#1. Don’t Be Perfect

David H Lawrence, XVII is a former film and television actor who knows what it’s like to deliver in front of the camera. His presentation on using video to build authority at a moment’s notice was both educational and entertaining.

David’s definition of authority includes being believable and trustworthy. And he noted that trust and believability are directly related to vulnerability because what happens in the moment when you allow yourself to be vulnerable is the authentic you.

Vulnerability engages audiences.

One reason live video is so hot is that connecting with real people is engaging. In contrast, highly edited and sanitized video is often boring.

To be clear, you have to know your material well and practice delivering it, because that helps to remove fears that can undermine your authority. When you trust your authority you know whatever you need at any moment will naturally come to you.

One of my roles at this event was introducing some of the biggest social media personalities to their audience.

I tried David’s advice and was pleased to discover that taking the risk of embracing little mistakes instead of trying to be perfect proved to be key to encouraging laughter and attention that engaged the audience.

Not being perfect will save time-consuming video editing time and will put you more at ease when creating live video.

#2 – Push Yourself

This tip from Facebook marketing expert Amy Porterfield was indirectly suggested by all of the marketing experts I had the pleasure to connect with.

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The way David Lawrence put it is to “set up quickly” so that you actually get in front of the camera and create video instead of planning to do it another day. He said this is actually a Hollywood trick for bringing out an actor’s best qualities.

One of the ways Amy pushes herself to do video is to schedule it. She will typically create 4 educational videos one week apart in advance of a product launch.

She also prepares opt-in and thank-you pages that describe what the videos will cover. They will say, “This is what I’m teaching. This is what you will learn. Please join us live.”

When you think about it, you can randomly show up on Facebook and do a live video, but if you plan for and promote it in advance you are more likely to attract a larger and more engaged audience.

So push yourself with video. Our next tip explains why.

#3. Facebook May Soon Be All Video

Mari Smith is sometimes referred to as the Queen of Facebook. And that designation is earned because Facebook itself has hired Mari to teach Facebook marketing to small business audiences across the country.

In her presentation on improving your Facebook marketing ROI at Social Media Marketing world, Mari mentioned a quote from Facebook VP Nicola Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn said, “If I was having a bet, it’d be video, video, video. Facebook live may be all video in half a decade”

That quote was made last June, by the way.

She went on to say that Facebook Live is “a bigger, faster phenomenon” than Facebook expected and that people “are loving the behind-the-scenes content.”

This is significant because Facebook’s algorithm is designed to show content in the newsfeed that people most want to see. This is video, especially live video, and it explains why that content is achieving far greater reach than static content.

It’s also important to remember that Facebook’s revenue is directly tied to advertising, and with 10 billion videos consumed daily on Facebook, it’s clear that video is how advertisers will choose to reach buyers.

You’ll want to do the same.

Live video is the next evolution in storytelling and Facebook is the current and potentially foreseeable leader because they have a massive, ready-made audience that loves video.

If your business wants to reach a greater audience, live video should be part of your marketing strategy for reaching your audience and engaging it to build believability and trust.

Show Notes

  • David H Lawrence, XVII recommends the AT2020+ mic for recording video because it includes a headphone jack so you can hear what you are recording. An inexpensive lavalier mic for on-camera work is the AT3350is. And David says Screenflow is the only video editing software you need.
  • To switch between her laptop and mobile devices with live video, Amy Porterfield and Mari Smith use Wirecast.

Call to Action

The call to action for this episode to push yourself to do video. While it’s unlikely Facebook will ever be 100% video, it’s clear that video is the future of marketing.

Video marketing is absolutely exploding, especially raw, unpolished, live video that assures us we are getting the real thing.

Marc Bowers | Crain’s St. Louis

Marc Bowers | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Executive director and founder, St. Louis Makes


St. Louis Makes is a nonprofit that aims to promote best practices in product innovation, product management and business development for the manufacturing sector. That goal is achieved through educational and training opportunities, networking and learning events, and market analysis. Its primary focus is small, cash flow-positive manufacturing companies looking to achieve double-digit sales growth.

The Mistake:

Following the conventional wisdom when writing a business plan and seeking startup investors.

When you have less experience, you tend to listen to people who have more. And I think that’s definitely a good thing to do as long as you are able to glean from the experience they have to offer. But when you are surrounded by other people who are all entrepreneurs from startup companies in that sort of pitch competition space, you might be getting a lot of advice from people who aren’t necessarily in the mechanically engineered product arena. So maybe you are listening to people talking about things that are influencing them in the tech space. That’s a totally different animal. Your startup costs are totally different.

I also think that when you are from a very traditional background – business school, a large corporation or whatever – there is always the sense that if you’re just starting a business, there’s a very defined process and that you have to write a business plan. The only thing that’s left to argue, it seems, is whether your business plan is a Word document, a PowerPoint or some other type of presentation.

When I started a company from scratch, I followed the traditional path and sort of got caught up in the only thing I was hearing, which was, “Write a business plan and shop it to angel investors.”

Get away from strict reliance on traditional angels or similar sources like venture capitalists.

The Lesson:

In hindsight, I should have gone to people who were already in the industry because, not only did they have the capital to fund the business, they had the resources to really accelerate our success. Angel investors aren’t necessarily from your industry. So when you go to them with an opportunity, these aren’t necessarily people who are going to be involved in that field day to day. They can’t give you any resources other than investment capital.

If you were to shop that to existing industry and find someone who was actually producing and manufacturing and found an alliance that fit – on the production side, or they already have distribution built out or they have something else that you’d have to replicate – you can save yourself a ton of time and also have a partner who essentially acts like an equity partner, like an angel investor, but who has a much, much greater value because they are already in the industry.

You’re also extending your startup runway in the process, which gives you a much greater chance at success. So, I would have shopped my business plan out to a much broader audience and I would have really gone outside the traditional group of people that is always cited as startup investors.

I’ve learned that you need to back off of conventional thinking, get out of that frame of mind and surround yourself with other people who can talk about what reality is in your specific niche or sector. There are more people who are talking about manufactured goods now, but we’re in the early stages of sharing this message to look outside those traditional avenues, look at people who have more industry experience, look at people who made their money in the space you’re trying to enter into for distribution alliances, engineering alliances and production alliances. Get away from strict reliance on traditional angels or similar sources like venture capitalists. They’re educated people, but they are not in your space day to day. So there is going to be a different worldview they bring to the table that could be limiting.

St. Louis Makes is on Twitter at @StLouisMakes and Marc Bowers is at @MBowers95.

Pictured: Marc Bowers. Photo credit: Charlene Oldham/Crain’s St. Louis.

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Call Control vs. Voice Processing in Computer Telephone Integration

Call Control vs. Voice Processing in Computer Telephone Integration

On the surface, a call center is just that — a central location where calls are made in hopes of corralling business, raising money, or soliciting information. For anyone immersed in the industry, however, it’s clear that call center efficiency depends on so much more. From tracking the right metrics to using a Computer Telephone Integration (CTI) system that has all the functionality required, there are numerous variables in the equation. What ultimately constitutes a successful call center?

Employees who have been involved in the day-to-day operations of a call center know how challenging it can be. Contending with customer emotions, wrath, suggestions, and feedback is enough to exhaust even the most tireless veterans. Call centers have a turnover rate of between 30 and 45 percent (compared to a 15.1 percent turnover rate in all industries combined). From the side of the customers, the feeling appears mutual; with thousands of complaints lodged each month against businesses that violate the Do Not Call Registry, it’s evident that the relationship between callers and customers is tenuous.

Technology Behind CTI

Fortunately, there are effective CTI solutions that reduce this frustration. Such technology not only makes the act of calling much easier but also the process of collecting call analytics much more efficient (a win-win for call service agents and business owners). Being able to do these things with ease not only empowers the call center managers; it also wins over the customer’s hearts and ultimately saves the company money.

There are two main components behind the technology for integrating computers and telephones: call control and voice processing. Here’s a look at both.

Call control vs. voice processing

Call control is the process of establishing and breaking down calls. Examples of call control functions include tasks as basic as making a call, to more complex functions such as merging calls, placing multi-party conference calls, and transferring calls to another person or department. Voice processing is the function of using voice technology in a messaging environment. It utilizes interactive voice response, converting text to speech, and speech recognition algorithms to control and access information.

Call control in CTI

In the past, call control was managed by telecommunication hardware, such as a central office switch or a key system. With these, the actual calling device sat in front of the calling agent. With the advent of CTI, this control shifted to a computer-based operation.

Now, the user clicks on an icon, and the computer sends a signal to the telephony server. An asynchronous communications stream is thereby opened between the agent’s workstation and the telephony server. When combined with a headset, a person doesn’t even have to touch the phone. Instead, they can initiate, transfer, answer, and mute calls with a simple click.

There are two main situations in which call control is useful:

  • Outbound calls: Using the computer system, a call center agent can easily place callers on hold, transfer calls to another extension, and set up conference calls. To place a call, the user simply clicks on a name in the database and then waits for the speakerphone to open so that they can begin a conversation. Using their mouse and keyboard, they can then select options for how to handle the call.
  • Inbound calls: Caller ID information is sent to the receiving private branch exchange (PBX), where it is then delivered to the telephony server and onward to the call center agent’s phone. A data record is then sent to the client workstation. Most programs that offer this service also allow the agent to control the call functioning using a computer, just as they would in an outbound call.

Whenever a call comes in, a notification message appears on the screen, thereby notifying the user of who is calling. With call control, the agent can either answer the call directly or transfer it. A call control system also notifies agents of missed calls and the timing of those calls.

A call control CTI is usually 100 percent web-browser based without the need to install additional software. Some programs allow users to send an automated email to a colleague so that all of the caller’s details pop up immediately when a call is transferred. They also have searchable phone books with click-dial functionality.

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The benefits of having a call control system are twofold: (1) increase user efficiency, and (2), reduce costs.

Voice processing in CTI

Voice processing in CTI is a broad term used to describe any functionality that uses a voice. While the umbrella term is vast, some of the technologies that use a voice processor include:

  • Voice messaging: The ability to receive, send, and respond to voice messages
  • Audiotext: The submission of pre-recorded messages to callers who make a request via a telephone keypad
  • Automated attendant: A system that receives and directs calls without human intervention based on a caller’s input via a telephone keypad or voice responses
  • Speech recognition: The ability to recognize voice commands and responses without the use of a telephone keypad
  • Interactive Voice Response: Interacting with a caller by providing specific information in response to a caller’s request

Voice processors allow companies to convey information, such as business hours and directions, without necessitating a human interaction.

While the benefits of a voice processing system are endless, some of the most commonly cited reasons for selecting this technology include:

  • Reduced costs to a company for personnel;
  • Ability to access and respond to messages from nearly anywhere;
  • Freedom to play pre-recorded messages to callers;
  • Ability to forward calls to their desired location without human involvement;
  • Communication between parties without regard for time or location.

Although advanced functionality is available, there are some noteworthy downsides to voice processing systems. For one, accessing the advanced capabilities can be a convoluted process, which leaves most of the functions unused. Additionally, a user who has 40 voice messages must listen to them all in chronological order or reverse chronological order. This may be undesirable when time is limited, or certain messages are urgent.

Another challenge to this technology is the inability to manage the messages easily. It is difficult to fast-forward, rewind, forward, or reply to messages. Doing so usually requires an action that is neither intuitive nor memorized.

Within the realm of CTI, call control and voice processing serve a distinct purpose. Combining a sophisticated call control system with a CTI-based voice messaging system elevates a call center’s overall capabilities immensely.

Barbara Liberatore Black | Crain’s St. Louis

Barbara Liberatore Black | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Managing Director, JLL


JLL is a financial and professional services firm that specializes in commercial real estate services and investment management.

The Mistake:

I made the mistake of not realizing that working in a team would help me maximize profits.

As a commercial real estate broker, I represent tenants and I get paid when a deal closes. You can do a lot of work, but if the deal doesn’t get closed you don’t get paid. That’s how the story is and you have to be a little creative to make sure you’re consistently bringing in what you have to make.

In our industry, we always worked in a silo. You just work on our own, and you work with a particular client, and you don’t share fees. You do that because you want the highest share of fees.

When we first started our firm, we were all coming from big commercial real estate firms and we decided we would go out and get our own business because we thought it would be working against us timewise to do it any other way. I had a specialization which happened to be working with law firms.

And it happened that through working with this one particular company that rapidly expanded and so now I was doing the work for 80 locations. I was flying constantly doing a lot of work on this one client, but when you do a lot of business with one client you share the fees.

What happened was I had built a lot of local business, but I couldn’t pay attention to the local market because I was tied up in the larger account. The larger account was about 80 percent of my time. So I had done all the work and I was making a decent amount of money when the stock market crashed, and only a few of those deals for that client had closed.

So that particular year, even though I was supposed to be the highest earner that year, I wound up being the lowest because none of my deals came through. And that was a wake-up call.

I realized I needed to leverage myself and start working with a team.

The Lesson:

I ended up hiring a person that I mentored, and I realized I needed to leverage myself and start working with a team. And it was kind of unusual because no one was used to that model, and my clients actually appreciated the idea that I was educating somebody.

So the person who was our managing director at the time started to notice that this model was really working. So he decided to join me on an account because he learned the business, and eventually I was able to leverage my time and myself and go back to earning my own business. But in the process, we started making more money because we were working together as a team.

What I realized – what we both learned – is that two people can make the income of three or four people, and we said, “Hey, we really should be creating more internal relationships and collaboration.”

So we decided to start doing this with all of us. We went from three people to 10 people in a four-year period and quadrupled our income. And because of our collaborative culture of getting and doing business together, the top team from a competing brokerage came over to us. From there within two years, we ended doubling our number of people to 32. We broke industry standard and changed our methodology, and it made a big shift for our company financially, culturally and collaboratively.

Follow JLL at @JLLFlorida on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Liberatore Black

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

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4 Proven SEO Strategies for Engaging Business Customers Online

4 Proven SEO Strategies for Engaging Business Customers Online

I still remember my first job out of grade-school. I needed some beer money for college, so I signed up to work at a local phone bank. It was an old-school “dial for dollars” operation. We grabbed a phone book and started dialing. I learned the art of quickly qualifying an individual over the phone for a product, building trust and closing the sale.

Fast-forward to today (a few more years away than I’d like to admit) and we have incredible tools at our disposal for targeting customers (corporate or individual) for our products and services online. Forget the phonebook; Google Analytics provides extremely valuable insights about the people that are already interested enough to visit your website.

Services like MOZ can give you insights into how your website is ranking and performing online. Then, you can use the knowledge it gives you about search trends to target your online presence and get your content in front of your target consumer.

For businesses marketing to other businesses, there are proven strategies that can help you reach decision makers online. B2B online marketing uses many of the same principles of B2C marketing, although the strategies are leveraged in a slightly different manner.

1. Remember the Purpose of SEO During Keyword Research

Too many small businesses focus on keywords that drive larger volume to their site. Their goal is to get as much traffic as possible.

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This is the wrong approach. You need to remember why SEO is important for your business. Your goal is to drive qualified traffic to your site, so you need to find keywords that users will be looking for when they want your services.

For starters, every website needs a blog. A blog is a place where new and updated information can be published that provides insights for your target customer. Place yourself in your customer’s shoes. Then, create a library of articles that can provide meaningful advice and help. If you were your customer, what would be the most valuable information you could read today?

As new resources are published on your blog, push updates and increase the reach of your content through social media channels. Most B2B internet marketing SEO experts identify blogging as a key aspect of building a reputation on the internet that attracts business clients.

3. Find Opportunities to Score Industry Endorsements

Google pays very close attention to how your site is mentioned and discussed online by other high-profile websites. When their bots crawl your website, they’re looking at the content you’ve published. Within this content, there need to be links to relevant organizations. Link-building is a two-way street.

Search engines recognize these links as a strong indicator of the type of issues and organizations your company is relevant to. For example, if you attain an A+ Better Business Bureau rating, proudly display that badge on your website. The bade, and more importantly, the hyperlink will signal to search engines that:

  • Your website is a business site that provides goods or services.
  • Your business has a relationship with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Customers will be more likely to trust the information on your site and the quality of your work.

4. Acquire other Websites and Brands

As your company grows and expands, it will become tempting to acquire the competition. Mergers and acquisitions can do wonders for your company’s website if you handle the process properly. Hopefully the company you’re merging with has a strong online presence. In the weeks leading up to the actual merger, your websites should begin sharing information about each other.

For example, Facebook posts could include shout-outs to the other brand. In addition, you can use the other company’s website to create strong backlinks to your website. Since you’ll have control over both sites, you can leave them operational. Search engines will think these are two, separate, reputable firms endorsing each other.

The challenge with B2B sales is reaching the decision maker. If you use the three strategies outlined above to target high-value keywords, you can build a relationship with the decision-maker when they use sites like Google, Bing and Yahoo.

Paul Emery | Crain’s St. Louis

Paul Emery | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder and president, Emery Entertainment


St. Louis-based Emery Entertainment is an independent production firm that develops integrated marketing strategies for a wide range of artists and productions. Its client list includes The Blue Man Group, among others. Locally, the company is one of the collaborators behind the reopening of the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Prior to founding Emery Entertainment, Paul Emery served in several roles within the entertainment industry, including vice president for national touring at Clear Channel Entertainment.

The Mistake:

Not assessing risk and managing my own emotions when evaluating business opportunities.

I got into the entertainment business out of a love for music. It seems very glamorous and you can tend to have a blue-sky mentality. You don’t always recognize the speed bumps in the road till you get to them.

I started out pretty well, doing a few concerts, selling enough tickets to make little money and having a good time. Then there was one concert I did with B.J. Thomas. It was a very expensive event to produce. I was excited about doing it in this mid-sized arena. Unfortunately, we didn’t sell enough tickets. I remember sitting in the office of the venue that night with this big stack of bills to pay and this little stack of money to pay them with. The thought never occurred to me that I might have to make up the difference.

I got into some significant debt as a result of that particular show. I was young, 20 or 21, so I had to figure out a way either to walk away from that debt and permanently damage relationships and never do business in that field or to make good on it. I worked hard and eventually did. That’s what earned me respect from a lot of people who later went out on a limb with me again.

It’s obviously a financial accounting thing, but managing risk is also ego-driven.

The Lesson:

I’ve learned now that it’s about risk management and not looking at everything with such a blue-sky mentality. It’s looking at the down side and what you potentially have at risk and then drawing the line somewhere in between. Where is that place you feel you can handle? If it doesn’t reach that number or that result, then you don’t do it. You just say no. As an entrepreneur, sometimes the hardest thing to do is look at an opportunity and recognize when it’s right to say no. Early on, when I experienced that particular kind of financial pain, it made me look much closer at the possible risks you don’t always see.

As time has gone on, I’ve worked with many people throughout the industry who have taught me how to do that better. You also learn about not burning bridges with people when things don’t go well because, a lot of times, those same people meet you on the path somewhere else. Relationships in any line of work are always the most important assets you have. I count on an enormous amount of great relationships I’ve developed over the years. People have gone on to become not only business associates, but friends.

It’s obviously a financial accounting thing, but managing risk is also ego-driven. You always believe you can do it better than the next guy, so you have to manage your own emotions in the process. There’s always competition. There’s always a chance that maybe your idea isn’t the best idea. You might think it’s the greatest idea since sliced bread and “How could this fail?” Yet, oftentimes, without perspective from friends and associates who might caution you, you can make emotional decisions that are very costly. On the other hand, sometimes emotional decisions are groundbreaking. But, usually, if you’re the only one chanting that cry to move forward, it’s probably not a great idea. But if you get a circle of people who support the idea and think it’s great, you’re odds are improved. It all circles back around to risk management, managing your emotions and being careful and thoughtful about the people you do business with.

Paul Emery is on Twitter at @jpauliewalnut.

Photo courtesy of Emery Entertainment.

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Google Penguin 4.0 – Real Time Penguin Part of Google Core Algorithm

Google Penguin 4.0 – Real Time Penguin Part of Google Core Algorithm

The Google Penguin algorithm, first unleashed in April 2012, is a webspam algorithm designed to target websites that use low-quality link schemes to rank high in Google SERPs. Penguin had an immediate impact when it launched in 2012.

Penguin Impact Was Widely Felt

The original Penguin update in 2012 targeted ‘webspam’ and impacted many websites and businesses that were ignorant of the risks of web spam.

There were numerous complaints on the actual post from Google about the first Penguin Update.

Here’s one:

I built a public benefit website that for 8 years has helped thousands and thousands of addicts find addiction treatment for free… We were able to provide the service through the industry paying for featured status for their centers in our directory of treatment centers… Harvard’s addiction hospital links to us, as well as a number of super picky super high-quality websites… A few years back I started to notice crap links pointing at the site… Then Panda came and the site lost half its traffic… We submitted reinclusion requests, we sent notices for sites to remove links to us and informed Google, and now this! Now our site is nowhere to be found, and competitors (who are no doubt paying link companies to take down certain competitors thanks to the algorithms changes) have won! Well done Google… You took a true public benefit site out of the rankings (one with a database of treatment centers more complete than the U.S. government’s), and replaced it with referral sites (of course, the exact keyword match .com) and individual treatment centers that charge people in dire need of help (and usually broke) scores of thousands of dollars for treatment, because they can afford to bring down the real good guys that have been helping people for years by pointing links at them. Well done Google.

The Relationship between Penguin & Panda

Google’s algorithms seem focused on quality, as Google defines it, and Google has published advice on creating a high-quality website that will rank high in SERPs:

What counts as a high-quality site?

Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content. The recent “Panda” change tackles the difficult task of algorithmically assessing website quality. Taking a step back, we wanted to explain some of the ideas and research that drive the development of our algorithms.

Below are some questions that one could use to assess the “quality” of a page or an article. These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality. Think of it as our take at encoding what we think our users want.

Of course, we aren’t disclosing the actual ranking signals used in our algorithms because we don’t want folks to game our search results; but if you want to step into Google’s mindset, the questions below provide some guidance on how we’ve been looking at the issue:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much is quality control done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

It’s time for Penguin 4.0

Google updates Penguin, says it now runs in real time within the core search algorithm

After a nearly two-year wait, Google’s Penguin algorithm has finally been updated again. It’s the fourth major release, making this Penguin 4.0. It’s also the last release of this type, as Google now says Penguin is a real-time signal processed within its core search algorithm. The special penguin 4.0 algorithm infographic that gives an introduction to the algorithm updates and recommended SEO techniques.

Penguin goes real-time

Penguin is a filter designed to capture sites that are spamming Google’s search results in ways that Google’s regular spamming systems might not detect. Introduced in 2012, it has operated on a periodic basis.

In other words, the Penguin filter would run and catch sites deemed spammy. Those sites would remain penalized even if they improved and changed until the next time the filter ran, which could take months.

The last Penguin update, Penguin 3.0, happened on October 17, 2014. Any sites hit by it have waited nearly two years for the chance to be free.

Those long delays are now to be a thing of the past, according to Google. With this latest release, Penguin becomes real-time. As Google recrawls and reindexes pages — which happens constantly — those pages will be assessed by the Penguin filter. Pages will be caught and/or freed by Penguin as part of this regular process.

As Google said in its post:

With this change, Penguin’s data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page.

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Penguin Update History Dates:

  • Penguin 1.0 – April 24, 2012 (3.1% of searches)
  • Penguin 1.2 – May 26, 2012 (0.1% of searches)
  • Penguin 1.3 – October 5, 2012 (0.3% of searches)
  • Penguin 2.0 – May 22, 2013 (2.3% of searches)
  • Penguin 2.1 – Oct. 4, 2013 ( 1% of searches)
  • Penguin 3 – Oct. 17, 2014 (LESS THAN 1%)
  • Penguin 4.0 – Sept 23, 2016

Penguin 4.0, Google would not give a specific number of the percentage of queries it impacted, mostly because the update is constantly happening and the percentage will constantly be changing.

Anna Zornosa | Crain’s St. Louis

Anna Zornosa | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

founder and CEO, Ruby Ribbon


Ruby Ribbon is a California-based social-commerce apparel company that provides size-agnostic compression shapewear for women. The company’s products are sold through a nationwide network of stylists who introduce the products via one-on-one experiences in the home.

The Mistake:

My mistake was underestimating the complexities of running a gig-economy company.

My experience before I started Ruby Ribbon was as a typical Silicon Valley high-tech kind of entrepreneur. I did many internet startups and my companies normally provided internet services or software products.

So, I thought I was really experienced as an entrepreneur. I knew how to raise money. I knew how to put together teams.

I created a situation where a woman who sells our product works for herself. She is an entrepreneur. She runs her own Ruby Ribbon business.

The mistake I made in starting Ruby Ribbon was to assume it would be like the other companies I started, where I ran the company and I could control everything—or more or less everything.

When we first went to market with this product, I decided that we would do a controlled beta. I had done this with many companies in the past. I thought we could decide exactly how to go to market, that we could have a period of time where we studied and made sure we were ready, and we had the benefit of rolling the things out over time.

We proceeded with this tidy little notion that we would try to enlist 15 women in the Bay Area and 15 women in northern New Jersey to be our prototype sellers. And within about 30 days we had the 30 women we wanted. 

We never thought of telling them, “No, you can’t recruit others.”

So we went out and found those first sellers, and we got them started.  And about two weeks later I turned around and we were in 13 states.

I vividly remember, it was early December, and I had set a goal for the team that if we had 88 women by Dec. 31, we would all get an extra bottle of champagne to take home on New Year’s Eve.  And I showed up on Dec. 1 and I saw we had nearly 90 registrations in 13 states.

At the beginning that looks like just a quality problem to have. But from the time we went from our picture of 15 all the way up to 88 it was pretty clear that we weren’t ready for that many stylists and we were going to have to run to catch up with them. We realized we were going to have to do some self-reflection on exactly what we needed to do to be successful.

The company’s success means taking on an army that works for itself.

The Lesson:

At that point it was clear that in this business, it wasn’t about what we did, it was about what the women did.

So we began to focus on what we needed to do to make our stylists successful, regardless of the skill-set they brought to the company.

They needed to know how to find a customer base; they needed basic skills in being customer relationship management (CRM) managers. They have to know which customers have bought the product in the past and be able to reach out to them through email and their websites, and tell them that there is a new product that they will like.

They have to be able to mentor other women and manage women and teach them their skill sets.  They have to know how to style a woman and understand all the different body types.

So, there are some specific skill sets that will allow them to earn money that they need to earn and run the kind of business they want to have.

And we now have systems, training, multimedia to do all that. 

The gig-economy companies are today, some of the fastest growing companies. For me, I learned that the company’s success means taking on an army that works for itself, and harnessing that power. It also means you have to make good on the promise that the individuals in that army can get what they are seeking to achieve.

Follow Ruby Ribbon on Twitter at @RubyRibbonHQ.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email 

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5 Ways to Improve Your Ecommerce Website

5 Ways to Improve Your Ecommerce Website

There are two main problems that plague all ecommerce merchants: lack of traffic, and lack of conversions. If you’ve been having trouble with either—or want to improve both…here are five awesome tips for you.

First off, let’s make sure everyone knows the difference between traffic and conversion. We know it’s probably a trifling point for most of you, but just in case:

  • Traffic: Generally speaking, the number of hits you get on your page. You can further qualify it as unique hits, and also define how long someone has to spend on your page to be a unique hit.
  • Conversion: In the most general of terms, conversion is the ratio/percentage based on the number of people who visit your store and the number who make a purchase.

So with that being said, let’s look at how you can improve things overall for the betterment of the two.

#1. Your Pictures Aren’t Worth a Thousand Words

If you’ve grown tired of hearing how often taking amazing pictures is one of your top priorities as a merchant, bear with us for just one more time. Consumers are incredibly visual and drawn to images first and foremost.

If you don’t have a top-notch picture for your product, chances are incredibly slim they’ll go on to the next portion of your page (i.e. the product description).

#2. How Do I Pay For Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Raise your hand if you’ve ever walked past a shop and seen those little ‘Visa’ and ‘MasterCard’ stickers on the front door. It’s a super handy way to know exactly which methods of payment the merchant offers (other than cash), and you’ll want to do the same with your online store.

It doesn’t take much to include it, just a couple of credit card logo icons at the top or bottom of your page. And if you offer PayPal as well, include a link gateway to make things even easier for people to pay for their purchases.

#3. Signed, Sealed, Delivered – It’s On Its Way

If you’ve managed to get people to the buying stage where the tipping factor is the method of delivery you offer, do what you can to seal the deal.

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If this means free shipping, make that loud and clear.

If free shipping isn’t possible, you don’t have to explain why — just write a few words about how cheap it is. You might also want to think about offering a number of postage/delivery selections so people can choose how much they want to pay.

Just make sure to check with various postal services so your time-frames are as accurate as possible.

#4. Eliminate All Unnecessary Words

E.B. White and William Strunk, Jr. had some very wise words when they advised to ‘omit needless words’. Just as most people prefer images to the written version, those who do make it past your fancy pictures don’t want a Dostoyevsky-like product description. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it’s also the spirit of content, too.

Conversely, don’t chop words at the expense of adequate description. To get the right balance, use only verbs and nouns in point form sentences. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Add ‘filler’ words (like connectors and the like) to form complete sentences, relying on the notion that a product should speak for itself.

You’ll want to sell its features, of course, but use the technique of story-telling rather than wasteful fluff.

#5. It’s All About User Interface/Experience

If you’ve spent any time designing your own site, no doubt you’ve come across the acronyms ‘UX’ and/or ‘UI’, which stand for ‘user experience’ and ‘user interface’, respectively. They refer to how easy or difficult it is for a person to navigate a site on various devices.

Google is an excellent example of how the adage ‘less is more’ is a good one to follow. You never want to burden your visitors with poor design and layout, such as a background cluttered with words/icons/images/links/boxes etc.

Keep the background simple and light, display your most important information at the top and work down, try not to use more than six categories, and tinker with A/B testing about where your logo should go (we generally like top-left, with slight CSS padding to so it’s not sharply in the corner).

Get your FREE 30-day trial of FeedbackExpress, Amazon feedback software.

*A version of this article first appeared on the FeedbackExpress blog

Mollie Spilman | Crain’s St. Louis

Mollie Spilman | Crain’s St. Louis

I didn’t take care of myself. 

When I got pregnant, everybody told me that it was going to be hard. I was commuting into New York from Connecticut every day. I was at a startup and only the fifth employee. I ran the whole publishing side of the business. I had all these people reporting to me, and I was like, “I can do it all. Are you kidding? I am fit. I can handle all this. No problem.”  

I literally got up at 5 in the morning, worked all day and took an 8 o’clock train home. This was 15 to 16 years ago, and there weren’t smartphones. There wasn’t Wi-Fi on trains. It was dial-up. So I would get on the train at 8 and freak out all that way thinking, “Oh my God. Oh my God. I don’t know what’s going on with my accounts.”  

When I got home I would dial up and it took forever to connect, and literally, I should have gone to bed because I was getting up at 5, and I was pregnant. But I would wait for the dial-up even if it took me four times to connect. And if I got home and, God forbid, my husband was on the phone, I would be like, “Get off the phone!”  

I was not eating like I should because I would just grab a big salt pretzel before getting on the train and that would be my dinner. And I was like, “I am superwoman!” And, “Just watch me!” And people said, “You really need to slow down.” Even my boss was like, “Maybe you should work from home one day a week.” 

And the more people said that to me, I felt like it was a challenge; somehow I was being looked at as handicapped because I was pregnant. So I did the opposite. I worked harder, and I ended up in the hospital for [several] weeks before I gave birth. 

Your career does not define your life and doesn’t define who you are.  

Your job is not all you are.  

To this day I look back and I am like, “Who was that person? How did that happen?” There was nothing wrong with taking care of myself … and still doing my job. People were telling me to work a day from home or, “Don’t take the 8 o’clock train. Why don’t you take the 5 o’clock train?” I really took it as an insult, and that was so naïve and so stupid.  

When I was sitting in the hospital—after everything was fine—I was like, “Oh my God! I am the biggest idiot! I did this to myself. This was preventable.” 

That [experience] really helped me have a better sense of balance and priority and what’s really important in the world and your life. 

I came back to work after that, and people were like, “There is no way you are going to go back to work after that experience.” And I was like, “No, I am. I am just going to be different about it.”  

I had lost touch with my priorities and overemphasized work. These were in the days where you would see pictures of people sleeping in the office and that was perception of what it was to be a startup and be super cool. And I just, somehow, got lost in wanting to live in that false world and lost touch with reality.  

Your life isn’t about your job. Your career does not define your life and doesn’t define who you are. If you make your life your job, then look, you can make a big mistake like I did and totally focus on the wrong priorities in your life. I had put my career and my job ahead of my life, and it should have been the reverse.   

I share that story with people who work with me when I see them being stupid like I was. I make it clear to everybody that works for me that your personal life comes first, without a doubt. I don’t care what our goals are. I don’t care about anything else. You have to take care of those things first. That’s what life is all about.  

Follow Mollie Spilman on Twitter at @mspilman. 

Photo courtesy of Mollie Spilman

Brad Pitt Considered Out As Cable In Deadpool 2 As Michael Shannon Remains Frontrunner

Brad Pitt Considered Out As Cable In Deadpool 2 As Michael Shannon Remains Frontrunner

Brad Pitt is out of the running to play Cable in the upcoming “Deadpool” sequel. Four names have been linked to play the time-travelling, cybernetically-enhanced Cable, including Pitt. The other names suggested for the role are Michael Shannon, David Harbour and Russell Crowe.

Pitt’s name is no longer on that list according to director David Leitch who tells

“We had a great meeting with Brad, he was incredibly interested in the property. Things didn’t work out schedule-wise. He’s a fan, and we love him, and I think he would’ve made an amazing Cable.”

Shannon is currently the frontrunner. The film’s writer Rhett Reese recently told Coming Soon that they will play up the relationship between Cable and Deadpool in a specific way:

“Ryan plays Deadpool with a hint of femininity, and I think that can be funny opposite a Cable who’s uber-masculine. That’ll come into casting and performance and the character design and his wardrobe and things like that too. I think we’ll definitely play into that.”

Even though Shannon initially passed on the role, it appears as though there is a strong possibility that he could land the role due to some shifting in his schedule. Stranger Things‘ David Harbour should also not be counted out just yet. He may have played a part in one of 2016’s biggest television successes, but Harbour is not quite as recognizable as Shannon and could grow with Cable for years to come.

Deadpool 2 will also introduce Cable, the time-traveling son of the X-Men’s Cyclops. The character has one of the comic book medium’s more complicated origin stories, so it remains to be seen what will go into the backstory of the big screen Cable.

In the first Deadpool film, Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is a former Special Forces operative who now works as a mercenary. His world comes crashing down when evil scientist Ajax (Ed Skrein) tortures, disfigures and transforms him into Deadpool. The rogue experiment leaves Deadpool with accelerated healing powers and a twisted sense of humor. With help from mutant allies Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Deadpool uses his new skills to hunt down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

Deadpool 2, directed by David Leitch after original helmer Tim Miller dropped out, will be released on March 2, 2018.

What do you think about Pitt being out of the running for Cable? Who is on your list to play the character? Let us know in the comments section.

Photo Credit: SourceSource

Dave Duke | Crain’s St. Louis

Dave Duke | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Vice president of customer success, Sigstr


The email signature services and templates from Indianapolis-based Sigstr are tools for marketing and employee engagement.

The Mistake:

As I look back it wasn’t necessarily one event, but as I have gotten older I have started to really appreciate the value of reading. I did not read as much as I should have in my mid-20s.

I didn’t invest the time and I didn’t like the idea of reading.

You have a little bit of a head start the more you read.

The Lesson:

In my early 30s, I started to find business books more interesting and I started to appreciate the nuggets of applicable knowledge that I could extract from the titles. More specifically, the topics that are related to my career path and the type of work I am doing in customer success started to become more interesting.

If I had to do it over again I would have taken reading more seriously after college and in my mid-20s. It’s a little dramatic to call it an MBA, but by reading more I have up-leveled my knowledge relative to the work I am doing day in and day out.

I lean toward leadership books or subject-matter books related to my career in customer success. There are a lot of buzzwords out there, but to really understand the concepts and the strategies, you have to study them. Through reading a handful of books, I felt like I was really able to turn a corner and get my arms around some of those strategies and concepts.

The trick is the execution, the exercise of taking it from a page and applying it to everyday life. For me, anyway, it feels like you have a little bit of a head start the more you read.

Dave Duke is on Twitter at @djdukeiu and Sigstr is at @SigstrApp.

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The Second Revenue Ops Pillar: Process Optimization

The Second Revenue Ops Pillar: Process Optimization

In the first post of this series, we unveiled our new Revenue Ops framework – a cross-functional approach to leverage marketing ops and sales ops together with an increased focus on driving revenue.

While we strongly believe in the concept of Revenue Ops as a whole, to fully leverage this model we need to understand what it looks like in practice.

Revenue Ops Framework

With the help of one of our partners, we outlined the first pillar in this framework focused on Management & Strategy. Next, we’ll look at the second pillar – Process Optimization.

4 questions on Process Optimization with Engagio

After outlining management decisions and planning out strategy, Revenue Ops needs to help define key workflows and execute marketing & sales processes. The goal here is to make go-to-market teams more productive and effective – this can be achieved by finding ways to remove or automate steps, streamline processes, and reduce friction between cross-functional tasks.

In order to fully understand how ops can optimize processes across both the marketing and sales function, we interviewed Charlie Liang, Director of Marketing at Engagio.

1) Why is Process Optimization a core pillar for Revenue Ops teams?

Process optimization is fundamentally important to operations because it’s the definition of good ops. Good process = good ops.

It manifests itself in many forms, but in general, it’s the art of getting rid of excess fat in things that you need to repeat, such as finding your next customer, loading lists from a tradeshow, converting CRM leads to opportunities, or something as simple as bucketing job titles. Truth is, if it saves you time and can get the job done as good or better, it’s good optimizing the process.

2) What kind of processes can help ops practitioners improve their B2B marketing and sales efforts?

Operations professionals should take inventory of how they spend their time and break out activities into two categories: one-time processes and recurring processes. You can certainly optimize both, but in general, you should spend time focusing on improving recurring processes.

There are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to try to improve a given process:

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Engagio - Process Optimization Workflow

Source: Charlie Liang, Engagio, Feb 2017

3) What are some indicators ops can use to define success in their optimization efforts?

When asked to evaluate the team leading the process optimization project, the more you answer yes to the questions below, the more successful the project will be.


  • Does the person(s) in charge of improving the process have the appropriate domain expertise?
  • Is the person(s) leading the project in touch with the right people?
  • Do they have clearance + support to work on the given process?
  • Can the person or team execute well?


  • Are the goals of the project defined clearly?
  • Do you have a good way of measuring the success of the project?
  • Have there been clear timelines established?
  • Does the project have visibility & support from key executives?

4) How do you see Process Optimization affecting ops practitioners in the future?

As long as there are organizations, there will be process improvement. But the failure to continue to streamline processes can be a big risk to companies if they don’t execute well. The larger the company, the more important process optimization is, but also the harder it is.

The larger your company is, the more business processes it has, the more it makes sense to streamline. But no need to reinvent the wheel – many businesses have similar processes, so ask around to see if a solution already exists for what you’re trying to solve. Build things for processes unique to your business – use industry-standard tools and methodologies for all else.

Charlie Liang, Director of Marketing, Engagio

Wrapping it up

Optimizing cross-functional efforts is one of the cornerstones of the ops function. As Charlie mentions, Revenue Ops teams should focus on improving recurring processes, ensuring the right people are leading optimization efforts, and defining KPIs to identify & measure the success of the project.

In the next part of our framework, we’ll look at the third pillar from our framework – Technology & Project Management – with the help of our partner Heinz Marketing.

Marie Chandoha | Crain’s St. Louis

Marie Chandoha | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

president and CEO, Charles Schwab Investment Management, Inc


Marie Chandoha is president and CEO of Charles Schwab Investment Management, Inc., the investment advisor to Schwab Funds, Laudus Funds and Schwab ETFs™ and one of the largest money market and index fund providers in the industry.

The Mistake:

My story happened very early in my career. I was working at a Wall Street firm. I was part of a small group, sitting in a meeting when my boss said, “I’m going to be putting Neal (another person) in charge of this group.”

I remember sitting in that meeting very disappointed because I wanted that job. It felt like a gut punch. I thought I’d been doing a really good job. I thought I was more effective than the colleague who got it.

The job was never posted. It happened through a conversation between the boss and Neal.

I thought about it. It did take a few days of mulling over. I was really disappointed. [I tried to figure out] a constructive way of at least letting him know?

I called my boss and said, “The next time that job opens up, I’d like to be considered for the job.”

Neal left after about a year. My boss called me and said, “You mentioned you’d be interested in the job.” I said yes, and I got it. The job was never posted.

Raising your hand creates opportunities.

The Lesson:

It was a great lesson early on: Taking control of your career and making it clear to your boss about what you’re interested in doing. Raising your hand creates opportunities.

I thought I was doing a really good job. I felt like if I did a good job, I’d be tapped on the shoulder. I do see this with women. They’re waiting to be tapped on shoulder, to be recognized and be given opportunities. 

It’s something I’ve seen in my 30 years of leading teams. I do see men more likely to raise their hands, express interest in a bigger role, while women [are] more quiet about that, waiting to be tapped on the shoulder for a bigger role.

I try to encourage all employees to take control of their careers. You have to express what you’re looking for, have those conversations with leaders.

What I realize now being a manager, many times a job opens up and you’re really thinking about who could be good for the role? It’s those conversations with those employees [that help]. It makes it easier for managers to think who’s good for the job, and who’s already expressed interest in the role.

Follow Charles Schwab on Twitter at @CharlesSchwab

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Pearl Mackie Playing Openly Gay Companion On Doctor Who With Peter Capaldi To Delight Of Fans

Pearl Mackie Playing Openly Gay Companion On Doctor Who With Peter Capaldi To Delight Of Fans


Pearl Mackie will be playing the first openly gay companion on Doctor Who. For more than 50 years Doctor Who has treated fans and viewers to adventures across space and time, to impossible worlds to defeat unfathomable enemies. Now, it is looking to move progressively with its characters.

Since its 2005 reboot, The BBC’s “Doctor Who” has been quite good about LGBTQ inclusion. From 51st century pansexual space adventurer Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), to numerous guest characters, the series’ nonchalanat gay character inclusion has been mostly welcome even if limited to recurring roles or regular parts on the spin-offs (ala “Torchwood”).

“It shouldn’t be a big deal in the 21st Century. It’s about time isn’t it?” Mackie, who plays Bill, told the BBC. “That representation is important, especially on a mainstream show.”

She added: “It’s important to say people are gay, people are black – there are also aliens in the world as well so watch out for them. I remember watching TV as a young mixed race girl not seeing many people who looked like me, so I think being able to visually recognise yourself on screen is important. [Being gay] is not the main thing that defines her character – it’s something that’s part of her and something that she’s very happy and very comfortable with.”

Now though, it has been revealed that Mackie’s Bill Potts in the upcoming tenth season will be the show’s first ongoing, permanent openly gay companion. In fact the character will have her sexuality revealed in her first scene.

Here are some reactions on social media.

Filming for the next series of the long-running science fiction show will start this year but air in 2017. Mackie, who graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2010, played Anne-Marie Frasier in Doctors in 2014 and is currently performing in the National Theatre’s West End production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, according to BBC News.

“Doctor Who” is a classic science-fiction series with a cult following. The Doctor is called a “Time Lord,” a time-traveling scientist from a far off planet, who travels through time and space in a shop known by the acronym TARDIS. A TARDIS is a machine that is larger on the inside than the outside and is supposed to change its appearance based on its surroundings. The Doctor is also able to evolve his biology, so he appears as many different people throughout the series. The Doctor loves Earth, so he makes many trips here to save the planet, or to enlist earthlings to help him with tasks in the galaxy.

“Doctor Who” returns April 15th.

What do you think about Macke’s character being openly gay? Are you exciting for the new developments in the series? Let us know in the comments section.

Ross Toohey | Crain’s St. Louis

Ross Toohey | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

President and CEO, 2e Creative


St. Louis-based 2e Creative is a brand communications agency with services that include marketing plan development, content marketing services, app development, and media and government relations. Its client list includes Abbott, Ascension Health and Siemens, among others. In 2014, Ad Age and Modern Healthcare named 2e Creative the agency of the year in the supplier campaign category of the Healthcare Marketing IMPACT Awards.

The Mistake:

Not recognizing the importance of company and team culture early on.

We are a creative agency and we are in what we refer to as the business of ideas. The big mistake I made early on in my career was believing too deeply in the fallacy that an idea is the product of an individual, and misunderstanding what that means. Ideas can come from one person, but they’re influenced by teams.

Going back 10 years, I was sitting in a meeting with executives from a Fortune 100 company talking about the trajectory of their company. When executives in the room ask you for your personal opinion, you realize what you are responding with is the product of the environment and the people you have back at the office.

That was a major turning point for me; that someone so far beyond me in tenure and title would be willing to hear what I had to say, much less absorb it and act on it. That was inspiring to me.

Culturally, it meant me going back to the office and creating an environment where people could learn from each other.

Culture isn’t just happy hours and being able to wear jeans.

The Lesson:

That experience genuinely opened my heart and my mind to listening to a 20-something intern straight out of college, even in my role as CEO. Maybe some idea they have would influence me. It was important to realize that, regardless of what age you are, the experiences you’ve had or where you’ve come from, there’s something you can learn from everyone.

Step one is being able to actually articulate that and other values important to the culture of the business in words and concepts people can embrace. For us, that was a major genesis for our culture.

Seven or eight years ago, we had a identity crisis. We were successful, but didn’t know why. We were growing and worried about us losing what was great in our business as we continued to grow. So we sat the entire company down and said, “Let’s talk about what makes this thing great, what we would be sad about losing, and what we want to cherish moving forward.”

We distilled that into six items we call our code. They are things like respect for each other and our clients, and challenging ourselves to never stop learning from the world around us. Articulating those values in a way that people could rally behind and believe in is where culture starts, I think. Culture isn’t just happy hours and being able to wear jeans. Those are manifestations of culture. Where it really starts is that belief set.

These were all things we were doing, but we didn’t know we were doing them, or at least didn’t recognize it. The challenge was that, as you grow the business, you can’t just assume that people are going to absorb culture. You can’t assume that you’re going to hire someone and they are going to instantly recognize what’s important to the people and to the business and to the clients. You can give them the handbook and point them toward the posters on the wall, but that’s not how people learn and that’s not how people decide if they are interested in being part of something.

At first, we made a lot of mistakes, a lot of bad hires and kept a lot of people on for too long. But once we were able to articulate what was important to us, almost like a constitution, it was a lot easier to evaluate someone as they were coming in and evaluate ourselves on whether we were staying true to those promises.

Ross Toohey is on Twitter at @ross2e and 2e Creative is at @2eCreative.

Photo courtesy of 2e Creative.

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“Just the Facts, Ma’am…”

“Just the Facts, Ma’am…”

The phrase, “Just the facts, Ma’am, ” is attributed to Detective Sergeant Joe Friday (played by Jack Webb) in the series, Dragnet. (Search YouTube or some of the TV Classics channels for episodes. As a bit of trivia, he actually never said that, but it is very frequently attributed to him).

Detective Joe Friday was a hard-nosed investigator, refusing to be swayed by emotion, guesses, opinions. Fortunately, his partner and foil, Officer Bill Gannon (played by Harry Morgan) tended to look at these non-factual issues.

Too often, our sales efforts are focused on finding, “Just The Facts.” We search for the data, we do the analysis, we go through the mechanics of getting information from our customers about making a buying decision.

Many marketers, sellers, content advocates revel in letting customers self-educate on the web, thinking buying is just about getting the facts, evaluating the alternatives, and making a rational decision.

If buying were that simple, clearly there is eventually no need for sales people. After all, AI and other technologies, as well as many of our current content strategies offer prospects and customers data, opinion disguised as facts, and endless reams of information to satisfy the craving for the facts.

But if buying, consequently selling, is only about the facts, why is it that over 60% of buying decisions end in no decision made? Why do buying groups implode roughly 37% into their buying process–possibly before they’ve even started their digital research?

Clearly, buying is much more than just presenting the facts and data. Regardless the volumes of digital data we provide, we will only address a small part of what causes people to buy.

While emerging machine intelligence and AI technologies will help us better understand the facts and data that impact buying behaviors, they may even understand some of the emotions that impact buying behaviors. complex B2B buying is never about the facts.

Buying is really about complex interactions between people. Lots of them! In fact, with the CEB 6.8, just among themselves, there are 19.72 interaction paths (for those of us who struggle dealing with parts of decisionmakers, for 7 there are 21 interaction paths between these.

These interactions with the buying group alone isn’t about the facts. In fact, there may be differing views of the relevant facts. But each person is a human being, driven by emotions, opinions, personal goals.

Complex B2B buying is really about people dealing with each other—within the buying group, with sales people, with others. Any time we have people dealing with each other, all the “messiness” of being human intervenes. It’s recognizing this messiness, not avoiding it, but addressing it head on that’s ultimately most critical about sales.

Lest some take this to extremes, thinking selling is all about emotions and relationships, the facts and data are important.

We have to pay attention and balance each, just like our customers.

Jordan Cram | Crain’s St. Louis

Jordan Cram | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, Enstoa


Enstoa is a professional services company that helps organizations with capital spending for engineering and construction. The industries it focuses on are healthcare, energy and real estate. 

The Mistake:  

If you have great ideas and they are disruptive, people will not believe in you if you don’t go out on a soapbox and spread that message outside the walls of your company. If you really want people to believe in you, if you really want them to get on board and row in the same direction, authenticity is paramount. Because I didn’t make [my value proposition] public, people doubted my authenticity.

I had pushed internally, very aggressively, on our need to meet diversity targets. I had been adamant about our need to hire five men and five women across functions. I never wanted to walk into a meeting and see a dominant majority on either side.  

For three years, I did this, and I was unsuccessful internally to get people to take me seriously. I tried metrics. I tried processes. I tried all-hand meetings. I tried propaganda. I tried absolutely everything that a leader uses to win over the hearts and minds of people. But internally, no one took me seriously.  

We would be out at happy hours, people would loosen up and I would hear people say, “Bullshit.” “That’s not true.” And that doubt was very damaging, even if it was in only a minority of people’s minds, and not front and center. That little residue of doubt was extremely destabilizing. I had an executive leave me in around 2013, 2014, in disbelief that all these great philosophical things that I had been promoting were not just a bunch of horse shit.  

So I went out and made a public statement. I wrote a blog post and I hit Twitter saying that Enstoa would be at gender parity by the time we hit 100 people. I thought, “OK. If you don’t believe me, I am going to tell the whole world,” and once I start telling the whole world, you are going to believe me. Now you are going to believe that I am very serious about this.   

Once I went public with that [statement] a year ago, my staff of about 60 people also hit social media about six months behind me. We moved from being introverted to extroverted. We moved from sitting on this treasure to promoting this treasure publicly.  

As a leader, my team would have had more belief in me if I had more confidence. 

The Lesson:  

The onus is on a company to be crystal clear about who they are and what they stand for. It should come out in their blogs. It should be visible in all their social media. It should be visible in how they treat partners and how they treat competitors. It should just be visible in everything.  

If you look at Zappos, it infuses its values into everything that it does. Then, if you look at another company and you can tell that its values were created by shareholders, it’s not what the people are. It’s what the shareholders want them to be. Zappos doesn’t have that problem. Zappos’s values are a reflection of who the people actually are, and you see it in everything that they do.  

As a leader, my team would have had more belief in me if I had more confidence. They would have been more confident that I actually meant what I said. All that energy I was putting in to keeping the team together and continuing to reinforce those values and philosophy could have been repurposed.  

Once you get up and make the statement externally, people no longer doubt that you are inauthentic. It’s like when someone says, “I love you,” but it’s just a secret and only those two people know it. Those two people are going to doubt the authenticity of the other. Now when one of the two or both of them start to tell their friends and families, “I love this person,” there is less doubt in the authenticity of that love.   

Follow Jordan Cram on Twitter at @jordancram 

Photo courtesy of Jordan Cram.

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Justin Trudeau Challenges Matthew Perry To Elementary School Rematch As Social Media Picks Sides

Justin Trudeau Challenges Matthew Perry To Elementary School Rematch As Social Media Picks Sides

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

In a proposed rematch from elementary school, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau challenged to throw a punch at former Friends actor Matthew Perry in response to his earlier statement about beating up Trudeau in elementary school at Rockcliffe Park Public School in Ottawa. Perry, who is “half-Canadian,” recounted their original fight during a visit to Jimmy Kimmel Live on March 15. Of course, the threat was just a humorous response and nothing more but still people on social media had fun at the idea of a rematch.

Although Perry was in fifth grade at the time and a few years ahead of Trudeau he was apparently envious of the boy which led to some bullying.

“My friend Chris Murray, who was also in the fifth grade in Canada, reminded me that we actually beat up Justin Trudeau,” he told Kimmel, 49. “We both beat him up. I think he was excelling in a sport that we weren’t so it was pure jealousy.”

Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, was then-prime minister of Canada but Perry insisted that was not the reason he attacked him. Still, it would make for a good story.

“I think he was the only kid in school that we could beat up,” he said, adding, “You know, I’m not bragging about this, this is terrible. I was a stupid kid, I didn’t want to beat him up. In fact, I think at one point I tried to turn it into love play.”

Here are some reactions to a potential rematch between the two.

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Perry may have been bigger than Trudeau in elementary school, but much has changed since then. Trudeau is a boxer, and hits above his weight. He famously defeated Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in a charity match in 2012.

Would you like to see the two have a rematch? Let us know in the comments section.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

David K. Williams | Crain’s St. Louis

David K. Williams | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, Fishbowl Inventory


Orem, Utah-based Fishbowl creates software for inventory and asset management. Aimed at small- to medium-size businesses, Fishbowl’s software has also been sold to NASA and Mercedes-Benz. CEO David Williams said the software, which integrates with QuickBooks and other accounting platforms, is designed for “anybody that has anything that needs to be tracked.”

The Mistake:

I was not a good delegator for most of my career. I was a tough, driving manager who expected everyone to move at the pace I did.

I couldn’t retain people; they would be dissatisfied. I found out I was driving them too hard, that when I’d delegate something, I wasn’t really delegating.

This was while I was at big companies. They taught leadership principles but I wasn’t very good at picking them up.

When people fail, it’s one of the most beautiful things.

The Lesson:

I came to Fishbowl with those things in mind. If I know how to delegate, our team will have failures and also have successes.

I will now give a major assignment to one of our lead programmers. After we decide the direction they want to take, I don’t want to hear from them unless they need me as a resource. If you fail along the way, just pick yourself up and try again. In fact, when people fail, it’s one of the most beautiful things that can happen. They then try to improve.

I don’t lose people anymore — maybe one a year out of 150 people, and with our mean age of 26-27 and a male demographic, that’s phenomenal. They send in a report once a week of what is happening in their area. We have strategy meetings, but after that, it’s up to them to deploy.

I truly have let go, and it’s been hard, but it’s also been beautiful. It’s only been the last two or three months of my life that I feel I’ve really done it.

David Williams is on Twitter at @DavidKWilliams and Fishbowl is at @fishbowl.

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Tips for Tightening Up Your Cover Letter

Tips for Tightening Up Your Cover Letter

Though the debate rages on regarding resume length, many people are in agreement that your cover letter should be short and sweet – no more than one page. There are always exceptions, but this is the general rule of thumb. If you’re onto a second page and still have more to add, chances are you’re missing the point. Furthermore, employers don’t want to read a novel. A cover letter is your way to quickly and succinctly grab their attention. It is not an autobiography, nor should it rehash your entire career or resume.

Start by carefully reading the job description and determining what the top two or three skills or abilities the employer is seeking. What would make the greatest impact in that role? Then consider how your own experience aligns with these targets. While you may want to recount all of the vast accomplishments you’ve achieved, zero in on those which will have the strongest influence. What makes you stand out from others and shows that you have what it takes to succeed in the role?

Don’t forget, the employer will have a copy of your resume too. You’re not ignoring other accomplishments in your cover letter, simply focusing on those that will entice the employer to want to learn more because they see how you may be a great fit. Figure out what makes you pop and what value you would add.

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Avoid the temptation to use miniscule margins and microscopic fonts. Stick with the standards. Cramming more information in but making it harder to read is not going to motivate an employer to keep reading. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. If you’re having trouble deciding what to keep and what to cut, have someone else read the job description, cover letter, and resume. See what aspects jump out to them regarding what you bring to the table.

Before you send it off, don’t forget to:

  • Proofread and then proofread again. You don’t want simple spelling or grammar errors to send the wrong impression.
  • Double check your contact information to ensure that it is 100% correct. One missing letter in your email address or a wrong digit in your phone number can mean the difference between hearing from a potential employer and not.
  • Double check the company’s contact information. If you’re updating a previous cover letter for a different job, make sure you’ve changed all of the pertinent information such as company name, contact person, position, and date.

A well-written, targeted cover letter can be an asset to your application package. Unless the job opening expressly notes not to send a cover letter, take the time to create one. You never know when an employer will read it.

Cindy Heston | Crain’s St. Louis

Cindy Heston | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Director of Travel and Events, Anthem Inc.


Indianapolis-based Anthem is one of the nation’s largest health benefits companies, with more than 73 million customers.

The Mistake:

Business travel is a very service-oriented industry.

I was challenged with complex situations, such as setting up a global travel agency in multiple countries, in multiple languages. I was also tasked with looking at an expense system for major projects in deployment and execution. I was very detailed as far as wanting to make sure that it was executed almost flawlessly.

Every different minutia, from the product itself to efforts behind the scenes, mattered. And it really limited deployment and limited the ability to progress in a faster manner because I was focusing on the big picture.

The biggest aha moment I had was in asking, “What are the main pillars in identifying the high-level objectives that we have to achieve?”

And in our case for travel, it’s a service. The objective is really about that customer engagement, that customer service. It’s making sure the customer doesn’t see anything but a good solution, a best-in-class solution.

I was very detailed as far as wanting to make sure that it was executed almost flawlessly.

The Lesson:

What I’ve learned is it’s very acceptable to break projects into phases, to have a more dynamic approach.

Let’s say, in phase one, we’re going to focus on these four pillars. These are going to be what we need to achieve to launch or to execute. And then let’s go back and look at phase two, phase three. Let’s continually take that input from those users, from my internal customers, and use it to improve that particular service or that particular platform or product.

It actually helps with speed to execute. What you find is that some of the things we were focusing on behind the scenes were more in the weeds versus the issues that are really important to the success. I would lead suppliers down this path, whereas they really needed to be focused and forward-facing.

It’s helped to partner with my suppliers. Because when I engage with them, we are really focused on the things that we have to execute on. Later, we can look at all the other items on the list.

But we’re also going to review customer feedback and look at that, first and foremost, as far as what we want to achieve.

I think when the understanding really came to me was with more experience. I had confidence in what we were trying to grasp or what we were trying to execute. It really helped me set those pillars up as far as my goals and my objectives. 

With age comes wisdom, right? I think it’s all about confidence. Confidence in “these are the solutions I want to provide, here’s the main objective, what we need to achieve before we can execute.”

Then, you continually go back to add additional options for travelers or support behind the scenes, whether it be data-reporting or capturing information that we might need. And then we continue and progress and improve.

It also helps from a leadership standpoint to tell your staff to break any task down to the top three things. It allows them to focus on what’s important and add real return on investment to the organization and customer experience.

Anthem Inc. is on Twitter at @antheminc.

Photo courtesy of Anthem Inc.

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Neuroscience Confirms We Buy on Emotion & Justify with Logic & yet We Sell to Mr. Rational & Ignore Mr. Intuitive

Neuroscience Confirms We Buy on Emotion & Justify with Logic & yet We Sell to Mr. Rational & Ignore Mr. Intuitive

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman[i] says that 95% of our purchase decision making takes place subconsciously (aka System 1).[ii] Despite widespread agreement amongst neuroscientists that our conscious rational mind plays a minor role in decision making, why do our sales messages to buyers focus almost exclusively on facts and figures? Doesn’t all of this data flood customers with too much information, and result in paralysis for analysis? Why do we largely ignore the emotional subconscious, the real star of decision making? If we really want to reduce the number of sales opportunities lost to no decision, shouldn’t we also be directing our sales message to Mr. Intuitive, and not just Mr. Rational?

Why we revert to rational persuasion

We default to selling to Mr. Rational because, when we think of ourselves, we identify with our conscious rational mind. We can’t imagine that serious executives would make decisions based on emotion, because we view our emotional decisions as irrational and irresponsible- a vestigial legacy of our animal past. This distain for emotion is backed by 2,500 years of conditioning, beginning with Plato’s view that man is rational and that it is our emotions that interfere with rational decisions.

But emotional decisions are neither bad nor irrational

Thanks to new research, we now understand that our emotional decisions are not irrational or bad. In fact, our unconscious decisions have logic of their own. They are based on a deeply empirical mental processing system that is capable of processing effortlessly millions of bits of data without getting overwhelmed. Our conscious mind, on the other hand, has a strict bottleneck, because it can only process 3-4 new pieces of information at a time due to the limitation of our working memory.[iii]

But what makes our unconscious so intelligent is that it has spent a lifetime learning from our successes and failures. It has evolved to make decisions for us according to rules of thumb. It works most of the time,[iv] which is why experts believe in “trusting their gut.”

The Iowa Gambling Task study,[v] for example, best highlights how effective the emotional brain is at effortlessly figuring out the probability of success for maximum gain. Subjects were given an imaginary budget, and four decks of cards. They could draw any cards they wanted, and the objective of the game was to win as much money as possible.

The subjects were not aware that the decks were carefully prepared: 1) drawing from two of the decks led to consistent wins, and 2) the other two had high payouts, but carried oversized punishments. The logical choice was to avoid the dangerous deck, and after about 50 cards, people did stop drawing from the risky deck. It wasn’t until the 80th card, however, that people could explain why. Logic is slow.

But the experiment was just getting started. Because the subjects were hooked up with a device that measured the electrical conductance of their skin, the scientists were able to track the subjects’ anxiety. This allowed the scientists to discover that after only drawing 10 cards, the subject’s hand got nervous when it reached for the risky deck. In effect, their emotion of anxiety sensed which deck was dangerous in only 10 cards versus 80 for the logical mind. Intuition is fast.

Although we buy on emotion, we don’t decide on emotion

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So, it’s our unconscious mental processing that makes decisions, and these decisions are communicated to our conscious mind via an emotion. Reasoning from studies on monkeys,[vi] for example, neuroscientists have been able to see how dopamine levels increase or decrease based on the success or failure of unconsciously anticipating rewards. These positive/negative emotions are then transported to your conscious mind well in advance of a conscious decision. That’s why the risky deck felt emotionally dangerous by the 10th card versus the 80th card for the logical mind.

So where’s the proof that we make emotional decisions?

If it’s true that 95% of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously, then why are we not able to look back through our decision history, and find countless examples of emotional decisions? The answer is that our conscious mind will always make up reasons to justify our unconscious decisions. It does this to maintain the illusion that our conscious mind is in charge. We know this to be true, because neuroscientists have been able to catch the conscious mind red handed in this act of deception. The split brain subjects for this study[vii] were ideal, because they allowed the scientists to trick the brain. The subjects, for example, had the left and right hemisphere of their brains severed in order to prevent future epileptic seizures. Because the left and right side of the brain could no longer communicate, the scientists were able to deliver a message to the right side of the brain to “Go to the water fountain down the hall and get a drink.” After seeing the message, the subject would get up and start to leave the room, and that’s when the scientist would trick the brain and deliver a message to the opposite left side of the brain asking “Where are you going?” Now remember, the left side of the brain never saw the message about the fountain. But did the left brain admit it didn’t know the answer, or say here’s my best guess? No, instead it shamelessly fabricated a rational reason, and said “It’s cold in here. I’m going to get my jacket.”

Sell to Mr. Rational for simple sales, and Mr. Intuitive for complex sales

While the science of decision making remains a relatively young science, and more research needs to be done, there are some guidelines that salespeople can use to help buyers make better decisions. For simple products, it’s better to sell more to Mr. Rational, and for more complex products, it’s better to sell to Mr. Intuitive. This conclusion is backed by a 2011 study[viii] based on subjects selecting the best used car from a selection of four cars. Each car was rated in four different categories. Car 1, for example, was described as getting good mileage, shoddy transmission, etc. Car 2 handled poorly etc. But one car had the best attributes, and choosing the best car was how their decisions were measured. In this “easy” situation with only 4 variables, the conscious decisions were 15% better than the unconscious decisions at selecting the best used car. But for complex decisions with 12 variables, unconscious decisions were 42% better than conscious decisions at selecting the best used car.

How do you sell to Mr. Intuitive?

Admittedly, the evidence for the unconscious advantage in decision making for complex products is far from conclusive; however, it’s now becoming clear that selling exclusively to Mr. Rational for complex products is limited. If you believe this argument has some merit, then you may wonder how to position your complex product to the unconscious mind?

Although people buy on emotion and justify with logic, a customer’s decision to buy is not based on emotion. An emotion is simply the way the unconscious communicates its decision to the conscious mind. So, if you want to influence how a customer feels about your product, instead of appealing to emotions, you must provide the experience that creates the desired emotion.

Experiential Selling: Don’t deliberate– simulate

One of the best ways for a customer to experience your complex product is by sharing a customer story. Studies[ix] have proven that a story activates the region of the brain that processes sights, sounds, tastes, and movement.

Using customer scenarios/stories works for precisely the same reasons that flight simulators are better for pilot training than stacks of instructional cue cards. In fact, the shift in pilot training from deliberate to simulate was one of the reasons why the number of accidents due to poor decision making declined by 71% in the 1990s.[x] Because simulators target the dopamine system that improves itself by studying its errors, this system takes advantage of the way the brain naturally learns from experience.

Thus, a salesperson can share a story with a customer, and due to the transportation effect of story, it feels real. It’s the next best thing to experiencing it live. It’s as if Mr. Intuitive is able to take the salesperson’s product out for a virtual test drive, and discover for themselves the unique value of your product . Contrast this approach to a salesperson delivering a factual data dump to Mr. Rational in the form of an 85-slide power point presentation.

[i] Interview Mahoney & Zaltman, “The Subconscious Mind of the Consumer (And How To Reach It)” Harvard Business Review, Jan 13th, 2003.

[ii] Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” p. 13, 2011.

[iii] Cowan, Nelson “The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity”. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, (2001).

[iv] Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” p. 109-255, 2011.

[v] Bechara, A., Damásio, A. R., Damásio, H., Anderson, S. W. “Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex,” Cognition, (1994)

[vi] W Schultz, P Apicella, and T Ljungberg, “Responses of monkey dopamine neurons to reward and conditioned stimuli during successive steps of learning a delayed response task” The Journal of Neuroscience, 1 March 1993

[vii] Michael Gazzaniga, “The Split Brain Revisited, Scientific American,” Inc. 1998.

[viii] Mikels, Joseph A.; Maglio, Sam J.; Reed, Andrew E.; Kaplowitz, Lee J., “Should I go with my gut? Investigating the benefits of emotion-focused decision making,” Emotion, Vol 11(4), Aug 2011.

[ix] Gerry Everding, “Readers build vivid mental simulations of narrative situations, brain scans suggest,”, Jan 26, 2009

[x] Susan P. Baker, Yandong Qiang, George W. Rebok, and Guohua Li, “Pilot Error in Air Carrier Mishaps: Longitudinal Trends Among 558 Reports, 1983–2002” Aviat Space Environ Med, Apr 3, 2009.

Winslow Swart | Crain’s St. Louis

Winslow Swart | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Chief Inspiration Officer, Winslow Consulting


Winslow Consulting is an organizational development consulting practice. As an applied social science, organizational development has roots in organizational behavior and psychology, but has evolved over the decades. The firm specializes in strategic planning facilitation, leadership development, team-building and culture-building, and a wide range of business consulting services. 

The Mistake:

From a business standpoint, there were times when I have had very deep consulting engagements, and I got so involved and so committed to doing what I do for the client that I forgot about my own business development.

In other words, I forgot to have clients lined up when that project was done. You get so focused on the work, and on the needs of the client, and delivering on promises, that you lose sight of other issues. But you can’t forget to do your outward-facing tasks and duties when servicing your current customers.

Nowadays, social media is helpful in this process since it can help perpetuate your visibility.

Meanwhile, over the years, the more clients you have served, and have done a good job for, the more referral business you will have and the less you have to go out and make it rain. After a while you will have predominately return customers and referrals.

Doing the best work that you can do for you clients is your best advertising and marketing, but it takes years for that to build up. Until you have a big enough footprint, you will very likely go from feast to famine.

Being generous with your time and talent will never harm you.

The Lesson:

Early on, before you do have a big footprint, there are a lot of things that we can do in the community, and for organizations, that are not billable. Some people worry about giving it away since their time is their inventory. But don’t be afraid to present for free, to forgive and forget.

I’ve been told you need to charge any time you are on your feet, but I find that’s nonsense. Its goodwill, and it gives people an opportunity to test you out at no charge and risk to them. It’s better than advertising.

Don’t be afraid to give it away.

There was a time many years ago when I was cautious about giving free gigs. But, what I see now, is that is how I got business. Being generous with your time and talent will never harm you. You will be rewarded.

If you work with integrity, professionalism, diligence, commitment and passion, then you never have to worry about creating competition for yourself, or about sharing what you know, because there can never be enough of those commodities. 

Finally, don’t be afraid to charge enough for what you are doing. Especially when starting out, some are afraid that if they charge enough they will price themselves out of the market. But you can always negotiate. Remember, if you don’t value what you are doing, how will anyone else value it?

 Follow Winslow Swart on Twitter at: @OrgDevSensei.

 Photo courtesy of Winslow Swart

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5 Ways to Ensure Your Employee Training Program Isn’t a Waste of Time

5 Ways to Ensure Your Employee Training Program Isn’t a Waste of Time

Employee training is frequently an afterthought in strategic planning, treated as a formality without the foundational importance it should have. As a result, training does not drive engagement nor provide end usefulness, with surveys showing 70% of employees forget what they learned in training after just 24 hours. Fortunately, there are steps to take in order to enact a better employee training program.

Start at the Top

The effectiveness of an organization’s employee training program is greatly determined by the level of upper management support it has. As only 25% of senior management find learning and development to be critical to business outcomes, it’s no wonder that many companies struggle in this area. Executive buy-in is essential, and training programs can flourish when upper management recognizes the value of training, provides support, and participates in creating concrete objectives.

Moreover, it’s sometimes forgotten that senior management are employees too. Executive coaching and development training can evaluate and identify areas to refine in their skill set. Management decisions and actions directly shape the entire employee base, and as a result, proper training begins at the top.

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Take Your Time

While technology has greatly improved efficiency in business, it has also created a culture seeking instant gratification and results. However, an employee training program is no place to cut corners for the sake of speed. Once a year training programs that cram everything into a single day do little to help employees retain knowledge. In fact, 45% of workers spend 15 minutes each week looking up information covered in employee trainings. Multiply that by each employee and the cost of failed training adds up quickly.

Setting a clear schedule of regular trainings throughout the year is one way to alleviate this challenge. It’s essential to adjust expectations to understand that an employee training program is a practice that improves end processes in small increments and, over time, can make a large impact.

Not limited to job-related-tasks, this mentality is also vital when training to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Such a topic is far too important to rush through, and one training every other year is not enough to reflect the severity of the matter. Old methods of addressing this and similar topics will only result in the same old results.

Provide One-on-One Training

An employee training program provides maximum effect on a worker when they can receive one-on-one, individualized training. While it is usually unfeasible to fully train every single employee separately, online/digital training is a cost-effective way to inject this strategy into a program. Only 16% of companies use online training methods that allow employees to work at their own pace. Supporting any amount of individualized training possible, even if trainings are broken down to the departmental level, will help increase effectiveness and raise comfort levels in employees.

Consider Safety & Wellness

Safety training should not be limited to manufacturing environments. IT and office settings contain subtle dangers that must be addressed. Extensive work at a computer can strain the back, wrists, and eyes, and training in appropriate ergonomics can guard against these hazards. Simply put, employees cannot be productive if they are unhealthy. Combined with legal requirements surrounding safety including OSHA changes and workman’s comp, employee wellness is a delicate area that all of the best employee training programs include. In addition to physical safety, instruction on staying safe online and protecting information in digital environments can assist in maintaining a healthy business environment.

Conduct Employee Surveys

Organizations tend to find it hard to evaluate the effectiveness of an employee training program. In an effort to gauge this and to also identify future areas of training focus, employee surveys hold tremendous value. Understanding employee engagement levels and workplace culture is an important gauge of what’s currently working or not working and can determine the effectiveness of all the above areas. When the value of the employee perspective is overlooked, training and subsequent performance suffer.

Enacting a Better Employee Training Program

The desire to improve an existing employee training program or implement a brand new one is a great start, but following through on every step can still prove difficult. Turning to training experts can help you achieve business growth by bringing effective methods, technology, and surveys into your organization.

Stacey Bone | Crain’s St. Louis

Stacey Bone | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder, Pawtology


Pawtology’s flagship product, PawFriction, is a paw pad coating system designed to increase dogs’ traction on slippery surfaces, boosting mobility and decreasing injury risk for older dogs or dogs with orthopedic or neurological conditions. Stacey Bone, a practicing small animal veterinarian, co-founded the St. Louis-area startup with medical device engineer Jeff Harms in 2015 and soon plans another product launch aimed at addressing the needs of geriatric pets.

The Mistake:

Convincing myself that a product is too difficult to develop and launch.

I graduated from veterinary school and never really had aspirations of being a businessperson. I always assumed I was going to be a practicing veterinarian for the rest of my career and was pretty comfortable with that. I took my first job in Las Vegas in 2008. Within the first month, it seemed every client I talked to asked the same questions. Multiple people were saying, “My dog slips all over the floor. I go to work and come home to find my dog can’t get out of the kitchen. Is there anything out there that can help with this?”

I started doing research into what was out there. There were only a couple of products. They worked, but all had individual flaws. I really started to develop the idea for PawFriction eight years ago, but convinced myself that this wasn’t something I could do. I got in my own way. I allowed my own self doubt to keep this product under wraps.

I’d sit down and talk with friends, colleagues or even clients and they would say, “This is a great idea. Why don’t you do this?” I would convince myself it was too difficult to do, that there was really no way I could get the science to work. It became a whispers of the past kind of thing, a great idea I once had. But that was all it ever was – an idea.

I had moved back to St. Louis a few years earlier and was talking to some very good clients in 2014. I told them about this idea that had been marinating for years. It just so happened that one said, “You really need to meet our son. He’s an engineer and he could probably help you.”

After a couple of weeks, I finally decided to talk with him. I reached out to Jeff, now my business partner, in an email. He said, “Absolutely. Let’s meet and talk.” And I almost canceled it. I thought, “I’m happy where I’m at as a veterinarian. This just seems like a lot of stress and it probably wouldn’t work out anyway.” But I met with Jeff and it was like an instant click. After talking with him for maybe 45 minutes, I was just suddenly invigorated with the idea that this could happen. I think it really took meeting with somebody else to set that fire in me and put together our expertise and knowledge to get this launched.

I got in my own way. I allowed my own self doubt to keep this product under wraps.

The Lesson:

I learned that if you have an idea you think has legs, it’s possible. It may take finding somebody who maybe has a little bit more expertise on one side of it or another, but just about anything can be done.

My second realization was that, if you have an idea or are in a startup, surround yourself with people who are like-minded. Anyone in your life or in your business who tells you this can’t be done – get those people out. I think someone offering advice versus someone hindering your ability to grow is completely different.

The third thing is the old saying: “Don’t create a problem, then create a business to fix it. Create a business that solves an existing problem.” So, if you’re hearing the same thing over and over again, listen to people around you talk about the problems that exist. Look for a solution. If there is one, then look for flaws. If you can create a better solution for that problem, you will instantly serve a market that already exists in the world.

Pawtology is on Twitter at @PawFriction.

Photo courtesy of Stacey Bone.

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What Is Thought Leadership and How to Attain It

What Is Thought Leadership and How to Attain It

People will often call us for our PR services because they have the goal of becoming thought leaders. Thought leadership is one of those terms that is liberally sprinkled about but often lacks a clear definition.

I thought I’d use this blog post to provide a clear answer to the question, “What is thought leadership — and how do you become a thought leader?”

What Is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership means being an expert source and a reliable industry authority. Thought leaders have their finger on the pulse of trending issues, and contribute meaningfully to their industry. They are known to deliver consistent and exceptional results that build them a solid reputation as the go-to aficionados of their field. As a result, they have loyal fans and followers and are sought after for their insights.

Thought leadership does not happen overnight, with the publication of an article or the achievement of hundreds of new social media followers. It’s a gradual process that involves a steady buildup of credibility. Think of it as It as a lifetime journey that is fueled by industry passion and patience.

The good news is that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room or an all-time expert to become a thought leader. There are specific steps you can take to get on the thought leader track.

Let’s examine the 6 essential steps you will need to take in order to become a thought leader.

It’s not pedigree. It’s not where you went to school. Thought Leadership means you provide the best and deepest answers, to your customers’ biggest questions. –Michael Brenner

How to Attain Thought Leadership Status in Your Industry

Step 1: Establish Your Own Personal Brand

Your personal brand is what sets you apart from everyone else. It is a combination of your personality, reputation, history, and expertise. Your personal brand needs to be separate from your company brand — remember, you want to establish your own expertise and reputation.

A robust social media presence goes a long way to developing your personal brand. Leverage your social networks to showcase your unique personality, start conversations around hot-button topics, and share educational content that differentiates you from your peers.

Step 2: Start a Blog

A blog is one of the best ways to establish and maintain thought leadership. It is an ideal place to write and share content about industry news, events, and trends. A blog builds confidence in your readers that you are an expert, and that your products and services are built upon your expertise.

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The key to a thought-leadership-quality blog is to be on the cusp of trending issues when they occur, and be ready to offer your point of view on each. To that end, you can use content sites like Alltop and BuzzSumo to see what is currently on the minds of people in your industry.

Long-form content also contributes to thought leadership. Create longer posts of 1600-1800 words that showcase an in-depth knowledge of your industry. Be sure to create various forms of content, such as eBooks, infographics, and videos to satisfy the diverse needs of your audience.

In order to consistently deliver high-quality content, develop a content strategy that leverages several different types of content and broaches a wide variety of topics. Once you have an established, insightful blog, you can widen your audience by guest blogging for popular industry publications.

Many B2B buyers will read thought leader content in trade publications and then Google people, companies and topics to drill down. –Lee Odden

Step 3: Get Involved on Social Media

A solid social media presence is at the core of modern thought leadership. Social networks give you the stage you need to share your content, create conversations and amplifies your voice across the globe.

Don’t forget about social sites like Quora where people search for answers to specific questions. It’s a ready platform to provide your own expert point of view. Not only can you answer questions there but also direct people to your blog for more expert advice on similar industry topics.

Step 4: Accept Speaking Engagements

The prominence associated with public speaking engagements provide a degree of street cred that lends itself nicely to thought leadership.

Are you not yet on the radar for speaking engagements? You can change that with a few simple steps. Choose the industry events or workshops that you would like to speak at — start local and small at first for the best chance of success. Then suggest a compelling topic that you’ 3comfortable speaking about at the event.

As soon as you accept a speaking engagement, start spreading the word. Share the event and your role in it across your social networks, and invite people to join you there. When the day finally arrives, be prepared to market your speaking. Get a video of it, and afterwards upload that video to YouTube and your other social networks.

Step 5: Get Mentioned in the Press

Media mentions can tremendously boost your ranking as a thought leader. So how can you get the attention of the media? One way is to sign up for an online service like HARO (Help A Reporter Out), which connects you with journalists who are interested in talking to people in your industry. If you want to truly break out of the gate, consider hiring a PR agency or a consultant.

Step 6: Be a Genuine, Giving, and Helpful Person

Thought leadership is not a one-way street. If you approach it with the single-minded idea of what you can get out of it, you won’t succeed. Instead, plan to give as much as you receive. Don’t forget the “leadership” portion of thought leadership. Offer your audience real value in every interaction — whether it’s during a speaking engagement, on your social networks, or in your blog.

Knowledge and expertise are only part of the puzzle. A true thought leader will also engender loyalty and respect through his or her authenticity, generosity, and helpfulness.

Thought leadership is an earned status. You should never call yourself a thought leader. Allow others to attribute that title to you. Give yourself a chance to earn that title through your knowledge and innovations. People will most likely reject you as a thought leader if you presumptuously assume that role too soon.

It’s not having access to the information that gives you the edge, it’s your ability to convert information into wisdom that does. –Peter Winick

Key Points to Remember…

  • Thought leadership means being a trustworthy source and the go-to authority in your industry.
  • A regular B2B blog with consistently helpful, expert information can help establish thought leadership.
  • Social media networks are an essential place to share thought leadership material.
  • Never underestimate the power of being genuinely helpful in all your dealings, online and off.

So, what is thought leadership in your industry? Form your own strategy, and patiently work toward this worthy goal.

Joe Fischer | Crain’s St. Louis

Joe Fischer | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder and CEO, Greetabl


Launched out of St. Louis, Greetabl is an online shop that offers a collection of small gifts, packaged in colorfully patterned boxes that double as greeting cards ready to be customized and delivered directly to the recipient. Boxes can be personalized with photos and messages, and available gifts include everything from candies to candles to miniature music boxes that play “Happy Birthday.”

The Mistake:

Getting distracted by too many different business opportunities.

In the early days of founding Greetabl, we were completely scattered. We lacked focus. The next shiny object that walked into the room, we would be all over. That ended up costing us a lot of time running down these different tracks that ultimately didn’t reach anything productive other than our own learning.

There was a situation with a Fortune 100 company. They were interested in working with us and we ultimately did a deal. But it took a long time to get to that point. It was maybe our third or fourth meeting. They had four or five people at this meeting. We had three. We were having a productive conversation, but we weren’t really moving the ball forward. So I stopped the meeting and said, “Do you guys realize we have our entire company in this meeting?” It was kind of drawing a line in the sand and saying, “We need to keep going here.”

I don’t want to seem anti-corporate, because I’m certainly not. But they were kind of looking for reasons to get out of the office and all we wanted to do was get back to the office. Even a scenario that ended up being productive from a business standpoint was somewhat detrimental from a bigger-picture standpoint because it took our eye off the ball in such a big way.

The next shiny object that walked into the room, we would be all over.

The Lesson:

At a pivotal point, we realized there was a kernel of something interesting in what we were offering. We really drilled down and came up with this really specific kind of target customer and shifted everything else down to focus on this one segment of the market. In May 2015, we put a flag in the ground and started saying no to anything that wasn’t exactly our focus.

Learning to say no is probably one of the most important things we figured out. It seems like such a simple thing, but it allowed us as a small company to go deep into one area and create something that really resonates with our customer. Our ideal customer is a young woman in her 20s or 30s. She’s very social. She’s very close with her family. She’s got friends all over the country and loves showing them how much she cares. She sends more than 20 gifts a year and, when she does, it’s really important the gift is beautiful and personal. Because of the demands on her time, it also has to be convenient. So we’ve worked to create something that’s beautiful, personal and painless.

Looking back on that phase when we were saying yes to anything that came along, I think there’s some value to having that attitude early in a startup. But that phase can’t last forever. You ultimately have to decide what you want to do and what your own rules are. Of course, that can change over time, but you really have to narrow it down.

As we got laser-focused, we decided what we wanted to do. We started saying no to anything that didn’t fit with that. Now we say, “Here’s how we can work with you.” Setting parameters and learning when to say no saves time. It’s more aligned with our mission and it’s ultimately more profitable for us. It’s really just taking the time to decide what you’re focused on and having the confidence to say no to things that don’t fit within that. In our experience, it ends up being kind of a win-win for everyone involved.

Greetabl is on Twitter at @greetabl and Joe Fischer is at @TheJoeFischer.

Photo courtesy of Joe Fischer.

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Increase Your Business Sales With 4 CRM Tools

Increase Your Business Sales With 4 CRM Tools

4 Business CRM Tools You Can Use to Increase Your Sales

4 Business CRM Tools You Can Use to Increase Your SalesToday I have some business CRM resources that can truly increase your leads and sales.

Creating great relationships with your customers is a vital component to increasing conversion rates. Your business needs the best tracking tools in order to accomplish this. Do you need to improve your bottom line? Take advantage of these great resources, and let me know how these work for you!

1) Improved sales efficiency – Zoho

You have a great product or service, but need to reach more potential customers in your niche faster. Zoho CRM software is a great tool that will streamline your engagement and tracking so that you can close your deals with the right information. Reach multiple channels and connect with leads on social media, live chat, by phone, etc. Automation and advanced reporting will help you achieve your sales goals much faster.

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2) Grow and manage your sales pipeline – Hubspot

If you need a better way to organize, track, and grow your business sales then you will enjoy this smart tool. Hubspot‘s free CRM software provides insights on your leads along with monitoring features on your current deals. Ditch the spreadsheets and over-full email inboxes with this thorough tool — both free and paid options are available.

3) Robust CRM for sales teams – Freshsales

Bring your entire sales team and current projects together in one place. Freshsales includes email integration, user behavior tracking, lead scoring, and sales management in a user-friendly interface. This will help save you both time and embarrassment before your next prospect contacts you and your team as all of you will be on the same page with the best information to better serve your leads.

4) Improve your selling capabilities – SalesforceIQ

Would you like to attract new prospects and make a sale from anywhere? SalesforceIQ CRM integrates all of your email and other important communications so that you can capture deals quickly before they’re gone. The tool also provides insights on customer data and how your sales team is performing to maximize your efforts.

Hopefully, you will find these business CRM tools helpful to building more sales. Are there any that you would like to add as well?

Ashley Nell Tipton | Crain’s St. Louis

Ashley Nell Tipton | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Designer, Ashley Nell Tipton


Ashley Nell Tipton is a fashion designer who created a plus-sized clothing line. The native San Diegan was the winner of Season 14 of the “Project Runway” reality TV show.

The Mistake:

When I first started my business, I did it all on my own. I had no experience; I was straight out of college.

I decided that I wanted to show the world what I could do. I had the support of my family, and I wanted to see how far I could push myself.

As soon as I launched my line, orders began to come in online. I had more than 50 orders during the first week. People had learned about me through word of mouth, social media and my appearance on Full Figured Fashion Week, so people who were plus-sized knew about me.

But I didn’t have enough funds to get the collection produced. As a result, I had to make each item by hand. This went on for three or four weeks. My family members helped me, including my sister, who didn’t even know how to sew. I taught her.

This experience was really tough. At the same time, I was still promoting my line through any avenue that was free.

I couldn’t enjoy the fact that people were so excited about my clothes and that I had all of these orders. I thought I could do it all on my own, but it was exhausting, repetitive, and I got burned out.

When I started making money, I hired a production team, but all the money I made from orders I invested in production for those orders and additional inventory. I felt like I was going backwards. I just wanted to create, and not have to worry about production.

I thought I could do it all on my own, but it was exhausting, repetitive, and I got burned out.

The Lesson:

I went on “Project Runway,” and while the season aired, even before anyone knew I had won, J.C. Penney saw what I was doing and contacted me. They wanted me to create a plus-sized line for them. Working with J.C. Penney allows me to create without having to worry about production. I also create patterns for Simplicity.

What I would advise a young designer just starting out is to, ideally, work under someone. But there were no plus-size designers in San Diego for me to work under. I felt that I had a niche, and I could take it on. I can be hard-headed, but I’m passionate and have drive. A designer needs to do research. Contact people in your niche to get advice.

Ashley Nell Tipton is on Twitter at @byashley_nell.

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Donald Trump Considering Resignation As Option Is Unproven Claim Based On Hearsay

Donald Trump Considering Resignation As Option Is Unproven Claim Based On Hearsay



Is President Donald Trump considering resignation as an option to escape the investigation concerning a possible collusion with Russia? This question is raised because a number of liberal leaning websites are citing a tweet which contains only hearsay about a Trump resignation. Where did this idea that Trump would be open to resigning?

On 31 March 2017, a number of web sites including Opposing Views and Proud Liberal posted articles suggesting that Trump was considering resigning. Of course, being April Fool’s Day, there is obvious uncertain to any truth in the story. The source for these stories is a tweet posted by Claude Taylor, a travel photographer who says he worked as a staffer in the Clinton White House:

Because the claim is hearsay, based on an unnamed source quoting other unnamed sources, it is very hard to verify without further information. No major media outlet has reported on his resignation thought plenty of people on social media have talked about the idea.

Here are some reactions to Trump and resignation on social media. The topic saw even more discussion on April Fool’s Day as Trump advocates would very much like to see him resign.

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Snopes suggested that the rumor appears to be based on the current developments regarding Trump’s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, who resigned after 24 days in office over revelations he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his meetings with a Russian envoy. Flynn recently offered authorities and intelligence officials an interview in exchange for immunity against prosecution. However, immunity did not seem likely as of right now. The Senate Intelligence Committee turned down the request.

Discussion about Trump’s removal from political office are not new. On March 17, 2017, Sen. Diane Feinstein told activists in her home state of California who asked how Trump could be removed from office: ““We have a lot of people looking at this, technical people. And I think he is going to get himself out.” Feinstein went on to state that Trump’s adult children traveling overseas for private business purposes while spending taxpayer money to do so should be illegal.

Trump has made no public indication of any intent to resign.

What do you think about the possibility of Trump resigning from the presidency? Would you like to see him consider that option? Let us know in the comments section.

David Novak | Crain’s St. Louis

David Novak | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder, OGO (O Great One!)


OGO (O Great One!) is a consumer brand based on the principles of David Novak’s 2016 book “O Great One!: A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition.” Novak is co-founder and former CEO of Yum! Brands, which operates KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. He has written two other books, “The Education of an Accidental CEO” and the New York Times bestseller “Taking People With You.” 

The Mistake:

Too often people are so focused on what their weaknesses are that they don’t really take advantage of what makes them great or gives them capability for the greatest impact at their organization. When you come up in your career, you have a tendency to focus a lot on what you don’t have or what you need to do to get better.

One of the first times I ever had to make a major presentation, I was so nervous, I must’ve said “you know” a hundred times, and when it was over I was devastated. It was a very important presentation, and  I didn’t do as well as I thought I would do.

I had this fear of speaking—fear of presenting—probably for the next six or seven years. Every time I went to give a presentation or give a speech, I was nervous about it, I had all this anxiety about it.

I knew this was something I wanted to conquer when I got put into a job where I had to speak all the time, [as] chief operating officer of PepsiCo. This was back at the time when I was running marketing and sales for Pepsi, and we had just launched this marketing campaign [with the tagline,] “You got the right one, baby, uh huh!”

One of the big presentations I had [to make for this campaign] was to 7,000 people in Dallas … So I worked on the presentation, got some professional help on it, and right in the middle of the speech, after I said what I was going to do, everybody started chanting, “uh huh.” And it was like all of a sudden, everything just fell into place. I played to the crowd, and I had more fun speaking than I’ve ever had in my life.

From that point on, I was in jobs where I had to speak all the time. I became a lot less focused on how I was sounding and what I was saying, and much more focused on the audience. When I first started out, when I had all those “you knows,” I was so worried about how I was going to do. I could almost hear myself talk when I was presenting because I was so focused on not making a mistake and saying everything the right way that it created nerves and anxiety that I didn’t need to have.

I realized that by just being true to myself, being spontaneous, speaking from the heart, and letting myself go and freeing myself up and focus on the audience, I could actually become a really good speaker. And now I love speaking to large audiences! When I think back on the past, I would have never ever envisioned myself getting paid to give speeches.

… you can’t underestimate the power of just time and experience.

The Lesson:

It’s very hard to be successful in your life by focusing constantly on your weaknesses. When you start getting success and getting confidence, I think that’s when you really start to achieve potential.

What I know now is that you can’t underestimate the power of just time and experience. Work hard at getting better at something, get professional help to help you get better at something, and learn how to truly be comfortable in your own skin and be yourself. [Don’t] try to be focused on how you come off, but be more focused on who you’re trying to communicate with and motivate.

What I tried to do was start focusing on what my strengths were and leveraging all the strengths that I had, making sure that my weaknesses couldn’t derail me. But the thing that helped me the most was being comfortable in my own skin and being an authentic leader. Too many people in business try to be what everybody thinks they should be versus being who they really are. Once you become who you are and project that, people really believe you and people will follow you.

Follow David Novak on Twitter at @DavidNovakOGO

Photo courtesy of David Novak

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5 Ways to Get Your Customers to Generate Traffic for You

5 Ways to Get Your Customers to Generate Traffic for You

How much time do you spend on marketing designed solely to drive website traffic? Implementing a strong SEO strategy, running PPC campaigns, building landing pages and keeping up with social media can be overwhelming and take up precious hours you could be using to grow your business in other ways. On top of these tasks, you also have to monitor customer data to see if your efforts are paying off.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have the very same customers you’ve worked so hard to acquire do some of the marketing for you? Advertising has become a two-way street, and today’s consumers are more than happy to interact with and speak up about their favorite brands. Your customers expect an engaging experience, and there are several ways you can make use of this collaborative mindset to get more website traffic.Affiliate Marketing
Instead of running new ad campaigns yourself every season, consider recruiting customers to act as affiliates. You can set up a program through your own site or on a platform such as LinkShare.

Customers sign up and are given a trackable link or selection of link types to share on their websites, in blog posts, through emails or on social media. Each time someone makes a purchase or signs up for your services using these links, the affiliate receives a small commission. These programs allow you to harness the marketing power of a diverse customer base and reach a much wider audience than is possible through your own campaigns.

On-site Reviews
Sixty-four percent of customers seek out reviews during the buying process, and most feel more comfortable making purchases after reading opinions from their peers. Featuring reviews on your site, especially next to products, not only increases conversions but also encourages new customers to leave reviews of their own. This ongoing cycle creates more content for search engine robots to crawl and can help bump your site up in search results for greater visibility.

Sharing these reviews on social media creates a positive conversation around your brand. When you highlight customers’ reactions to your products or services, you create a sense of community and trust and show you’re committed to providing the quality your audience has come to expect from businesses in your industry.

There’s no better way to create buzz around your brand and bring people to your site than running a contest. Choose a deadline, come up with a prize and ask for entries accompanied by a custom hashtag. Prompt customers to post photos and videos featuring your products in relevant ways, such as:

• Wearing your most popular clothing to an event
• Using your fitness tracker during a workout
• Cooking with a specialty ingredient you produce

Use the deadline to create a sense of urgency, and feature winning entries on your site or social media once prizes have been awarded.

Leverage User-Generated Content
Entries collected during contests can be used to create continued interest in your brand and bring more traffic to your site. Make sure you specify in the rules of the contest how this user-generated content (UGC) may be distributed in future advertising campaigns, and make the most of what your customers provide.

Post UGC on your company’s social media feeds, or feature it on the appropriate product pages on your website. With 93 percent of consumers reporting they find UGC helpful in their purchasing decisions, highlighting customer content not only drives traffic but also has the potential to significantly increase conversions.

Create a Brand Advocate Community
All forms of customer marketing build awareness for your brand. Chances are you already have a loyal customer base willing to talk about your products and services to their audiences. Get in touch with these potential brand advocates to establish meaningful relationships. Consider creating a loyalty program to bring these and other repeat customers back to your site. Consumers enjoy earning bonuses from brands they love, and the enthusiasm these programs generate creates more visibility for your brand.

Influential content creators in your industry may also be willing to review your products if you send free samples. Identify the strongest voices, and send personalized messages with your offers. Even a few reviews from well-respected sources can translate into a great deal more traffic for your site.

Staying active and engaged in the community surrounding your brand helps ensure these tactics will work. As long as you continue to deliver the quality and experience your customers want, they’ll keep giving back in the form of reviews, word-of-mouth advertising and other user-driven marketing.

These contributions increase awareness and generate trust, creating long-term positive effects for your company. The marketing your customers do today will continue to drive traffic to your site, making this a cost-effective way to invest in business growth.

Sal Cincotta | Crain’s St. Louis

Sal Cincotta | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder, Cincotta & Company


Cincotta & Company, named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in 2015 and 2016, provides photography services to clients worldwide through Salvatore Cincotta Photography in O’Fallon, Ill., as well as educational resources for professional photographers, including its annual ShutterFest conference. Cincotta also produces the professional photography publication Shutter Magazine.

The Mistake:

Not planning for success.

As business owners, we tend to sometimes come up with an idea and plan small. When we launched Shutter Magazine, we launched it as a little bit of a niche play, thinking it would be quarterly, not monthly. Within the first 90 days, we’d signed up over 40,000 subscribers. We were not ready for that. We were not ready for the influx of people because, at the time, the publication was just digital. So we were not ready for that traffic on the website. There were all sorts of user experience issues because of the volume of people going to the magazine all at once. And people wanted more than digital. They wanted something that was tangible, tactile, in their hands. But it took us almost two years to bring that publication to print, which we have done today.

That lack of planning, that lack of vision, can end up costing a company hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. It can also end up costing you your business. It sounds counterintuitive that a business can fail because it’s too successful. But a business can implode on itself because founders are not looking at the market correctly. They are not planning for success. All too often, we think on a scale of 10 when the reality is success could be 100 or 1,000.

We didn’t have enough staff to handle the demand for content. The web servers weren’t set up to handle that volume, and we missed out on a huge opportunity to capture more revenue because we were not ready to even go to print. We did not do our due diligence. We had an idea and we went from idea to market very quickly because I think we were not properly planning for success. If I look at where the magazine is today, four years in, and where it was in my head four years ago, they are in completely different places.

My second mistake is not understanding how many things can go wrong. I think that’s also the Achilles’ heel of a lot of business owners. We tend to be in love with our own ideas and not look at what’s wrong with them, or what could go wrong, even on the upside. I call it being skeptimistic. You have to be skeptically optimistic, optimistic in the sense that you’re going to market with this idea you think will work. But it can’t be just you. You need to build a network of people around you, trusted advisors, who are going to set you straight and help you poke holes in an idea and also visualize what success will look like.

All too often, we think on a scale of 10 when the reality is success could be 100 or 1,000.

The Lesson:

Sometimes planning for success is easier said than done. For example, you can’t just go out and hire people and think, “If I build it they will come.” I’m looking at a new project right now. It’s a marketing agency that we built because we own eight different companies we started from the ground up. We realized we already have all these resources in house — marketing, social media, video production and photography. We already know we’re going to need more videographers, graphic designers, copywriters, copy editors. I can’t afford to staff all these people now, but I’m interviewing so I’ve got my list of trusted vendors and partners ready for when the business does take off. That’s me putting into practice a very, very difficult lesson learned from previous ventures. I think preparation is what it comes down to – that, and being skeptically optimistic.

Sal Cincotta is on Twitter at @salcincotta.

Photo Courtesy of Sal Cincotta.

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Train Like a Ninja for Your Next Presentation

Train Like a Ninja for Your Next Presentation

Ninja Presenter

Giving an educational and entertaining presentation isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would do it and you’d have sat through far less depressing speeches. The reason most presentations are… how do we say … dull and uninspired, is because the presenter didn’t prepare nearly enough for the big day.

If you want to figuratively kick some butt during your next presentation, you’re going to have to train like a ninja. Here’s how:

Know Your Audience

Before you even begin to craft your presentation, you’ve got to know exactly WHO you’re crafting it for. The more you know about your audience, the more relevant you can make your message.

What are they hoping to learn from you? What are their problems? What do they fear the most? The goal of your presentation is NOT to share a bunch of data with your audience – it’s to HELP them in some way.

So, figure out what they need help with and craft your presentation around that. You can contact the people hosting the presentation to get some background information on attendees.

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Practice the Right Way

Most people practice their presentation the wrong way. They sit down and write their speech, then they memorize it word for word like they’re an actor in a play.

This is presentation death for two reasons:

1) A memorized speech comes across as, well, memorized. Presenters who do this can appear stiff and robotic instead of relaxed and just having a normal conversation.

2) When you memorize your speech, you spend the entire time worried you will forget something, or that you’ll skip ahead or say things out of sequence. This makes you far more anxious than you need be, and inevitably you forget words or skip ahead and say things out of sequence. Hello self-fulfilling prophecy.

A ninja doesn’t write and then memorize his/her speech, he/she develops some main talking points and simply practices talking out loud about those points. How you say it the first time may not be exactly how you say it the second time, and that’s fine – it’s great in fact. You’re simply trying to get comfortable with the flow of information you intend to share with your audience.

Note that I said “say it the first time.” A ninja doesn’t practice their presentation in their head, they say it out loud and preferably in front of a few people to get their reaction and feedback.

Get Their Attention Immediately

You’ve spent time developing a presentation tailored to your specific audience and practicing it out loud, and now you definitely want your listeners to give you their full attention. How do you do this? A few different ways:

  • Tell them your main talking points up front – Remember, you’ve crafted these points with THEM in mind. When they hear at the very top of your presentation that you are going to help them with a particular problem or to achieve a specific goal, they are going to listen!
  • Start with something unique or interesting – You can generally hook someone’s attention by telling a story. Human beings are hardwired to listen to stories. You can also try opening with a joke (be sure to practice it out on others first!) or a really cool fact that no one knows. For instance, “If you started with $0.01 and doubled your money every day, it would take 27 days to become a millionaire.” I’d pay attention to what that person had to say!

Get Your Body Moving

You rarely see a ninja stand still, but you see plenty of bad presenters stand still. Stillness can equal death in both cases, one literally and one figuratively. Great presenters move around the stage and use gestures. Not only will you seem more confident moving around, commanding your space, but moving forces your audiences to really pay attention to you.

You have a much greater chance of naturally moving around stage if you move your body before taking the stage. Don’t sit there waiting for your turn – do some jumping jacks or squats or pushups. March in place, anything to get your energy up and your limbs loose.

Public speaking is not easy. Some people seem to be born with a certain knack for it while others have to practice, practice and practice some more. And that’s okay, as long as you practice like a ninja.

Chuck Cohn | Crain’s St. Louis

Chuck Cohn | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder and CEO, Varsity Tutors


Varsity Tutors is an online learning platform that connects students and professionals with tutors who provide live, personalized instruction. Users have accessed more than 1 million hours of live instruction on the platform. The St. Louis-based company also offers free online learning tools including diagnostic tests, practice exams, flashcards and questions of the day in more than 200 subjects.

The Mistake:

Not devoting myself full time to my business earlier on.

When I started Varsity Tutors, I was a college student. After graduation, I went to work in investment banking, then in venture capital. So I worked four years full time while running Varsity Tutors on nights and weekends. I was putting in 10, 20, 30 hours a week and I waited for a long time to quit my day job out of concern over making the leap.

Eventually, I made the plunge. Then, I realized how many more things needed to improve. I wasn’t aware of them because I was running Varsity Tutors only a handful of hours a day and leaving a lot to my staff. I wasn’t conscious of all the different levers I could pull to grow the business. I really wish I had given it my full attention much, much earlier on and believed in myself to a greater extent and just quit my job.

From my perspective, if I had done so, we would have grown much faster. A lot of issues had to do with the technology. Because I wasn’t devoting my full attention to it, I didn’t have a good appreciation for all the problems customers and tutors were experiencing.

As a result of really immersing myself in the business after quitting my other job, I realized all the changes we had to make to the technological infrastructure to ensure we could do a better job and keep our customers and tutors happy. When we fixed these issues and invested in a system and platform that made our users happy, the net result was a substantially better growth rate because people were more likely to reward us with their business.

In my heart of hearts, I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

The Lesson:

Now, as a company, when we have an important problem that needs to be solved, we have people totally devoted to that problem. For example, when we’re designing a product, we have a leader who is designated with building a solution because, when everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.

Personally, when an opportunity presents itself, I put far more energy into understanding the opportunity and risks than I did in the past. And my overall risk tolerance has gone up considerably because I have a better understanding of how to solve problems. To a large extent, I believe in myself and I believe in the analytical process as a way to mitigate risks. Early on, despite all the data I had that the business was going well, I didn’t really believe in my own abilities. As I developed better analytical powers, it’s kind of made me believe in data and analysis as a way to prove out different strategies.

Part of my hesitation was the fact I had a really good job that paid well where I got to do cool work. I knew it was a hard job to get and felt bad about the idea of giving it up, despite the fact that, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be an entrepreneur. You’ll always do a better job when you’re focused on something you’re passionate about than on something you’re not, and I was much more passionate about being an entrepreneur than I was being an investor.

The real learning was that, if you don’t give something 100 percent, you’re going to get a markedly different outcome than if you wade into the water. If you give something your full attention and dedication and brain power, you’re going to get a dramatically better result.

Chuck Cohn is on Twitter at @ChuckCohn and Varsity Tutors is at @varsitytutors.

Photo courtesy of Varsity Tutors.

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White-box Testing vs. Black-box Testing

White-box Testing vs. Black-box Testing

red mary jane shoes on black and white checkered floor

In the field of software testing, there are various methods used all with the end goal of creating error- and bug-free code. You’ve probably heard of white-box testing and black-box testing—so what are these types of testing used for, and how are they different?

The difference between these two types of testing boils down to one thing: whether or not the software tester knows the inner workings of the software they’re testing. This key difference is important because it can have a direct effect on the results of the test.

White-box Testing

If a tester is intimately familiar with the implementation, design, and structural aspects of the software they’re testing, they can “see inside the box” and see how the software is put together, hence the name white-box, or “clear box.” Because they engineered or understand the desired inputs and outputs, they can test the outcomes against their expectations.

White-box testing also differs in that it focuses on the inner workings and structure of software, not its functionality for the user. It’s more like looking under the hood of a car and testing the engine’s workings. While it most commonly happens during the unit testing phase, white-box testing can occur during regression testing, integration testing, or systems testing.

White-box testing is generally considered to be low-level testing and can be performed on software before the user interface (UI) is developed, making it a wise measure to take in earlier phases of a software’s development. It makes it possible to test a software’s inner workings thoroughly before the UI has been created, which ensures testing is happening more often, and more early on—all good things for having the most sound code possible when it comes time to launch.

Note that, with all unit testing, writing the testing scripts can be time consuming and the scripts need to be maintained and updated as the software’s implementations change. Testing is a commitment, but a very valuable one.

Black-box Testing

If a tester is not familiar with the implementation, design, and structural aspects of the software they’re testing, they cannot “see inside the box” to know exactly how the software executes input into output, hence the name black-box. This makes black-box testing more functional testing, by design—a tester is not looking at the structural elements, but rather if the software performs how it’s supposed to. The results of black-box testing can uncover behavioral or performance errors in the interface, issues with data retrieval, problems with launch or crashing, and functions that don’t perform properly vs. expectations. In this respect, it’s a more broad testing than white-box, and requires a tester to interact with the software in order to verify if inputs and outputs are working properly—without knowing exactly how it’s being executed inside “the black box.”

Black box testing is more high-level testing vs. white-box, and is often used in penetration testing, an arm of security engineering that involves attempting to (safely) hack into software to find potential vulnerabilities with the end goal of patching them up, but can also be implemented during integration testing and system testing.

There are a few advantages to black-box testing, one of which is the fresh perspective a tester who isn’t intimately familiar with a project can provide. Also, your black-box tester doesn’t have to have a lot of programming experience—the test cases they’re focusing on are more user-based. With white-box testing, the testers are always software developers.

Learn more about the different types of testing, or read up on the difference between manual testing and automated testing.

Stephen Francis Jones | Crain’s St. Louis

Stephen Francis Jones | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

architect and owner, SFJones Architects


SFJones Architects is the firm founded by American architect, Stephen Francis Jones. Jones previously worked as an in-house architect for Wolfgang Puck Food Company and helped develop the fine dining ambiance at Spago Beverly Hills. He has worked on projects including renovating the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, site of the Academy Awards’ Governors Ball, and designing Lucky Strike Lanes in Hollywood. He recently completed a work-play amenities facility called Foundry & Lux in South San Francisco. 

The Mistake:

My big springboard was being Wolfgang Puck’s in-house architect. As I started getting into it and understanding the restaurant business, I was intrigued by it.

I got Spago. It was like the most anticipated restaurant in LA coming out in ’96. For a person starting their own business, having Spago as their first business, it was quite a fortunate thing for me. It catapulted me. I did another project in Hawaii and a couple of other restaurants.

Working for a restaurant company was a cool job, but I didn’t think that’s where my future was going. I wanted to do more buildings.

My big mistake in 1999, was that I started thinking I needed to branch out. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into restaurants. I basically started focusing on trying to get more residential work. I wasn’t downplaying the restaurant work. I had this niche, but I didn’t realize how valuable that was.

When I started going after residential work, I showed clients the restaurant I did. They would be like, “You did a great project. Why would you want to do my little house?”

Part of it is that restaurants are more interior type projects as opposed to buildings. I wanted to be able to design buildings and I wanted to do high-end residential stuff. I was hell-bent on doing architecture and doing housing.

The timing was in late 1990s, we were going into a recession. I almost went out of business because I had been focusing so much on redirecting myself and not taking full advantage of what I had started with.

You build upon building blocks. You progress. Restaurants turn into bowling alleys…

The Lesson:

I decided that I have to stick to my niche, to where I made myself successful. I really started to go and look for projects that I would be able to sell my clients on the type of work I do.

The experience I had working with Wolfgang Puck as an in-house architect, that translated to the type of projects that I would have – it was an advantage.

I learned from that mistake.

The restaurants and projects I do are more complex than most architectural projects because of heavy mechanical, plumbing and complexities that go in restaurants. It’s like building a sports car, a Ferrari that has a big engine that has to look stylish and beautiful.

In 2000, I landed the remodel of the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City. It was a huge project that basically righted the ship again and gave me a lot of work.

It expanded my work beyond restaurants and I did a spa over there. It was more of the social spaces that I’ve been honing in on. I learned to build upon that. I’ve since been able to take it to another level, to incorporate architectural design with the branding. We did Lucky Strike bowling lane, so it was an offshoot of a restaurant into a bowling alley in the early 2000’s.

The lesson learned is you build upon building blocks. You progress. Restaurants turn into bowling alleys, into amenities facilities and that turns into branding. Those opportunities allow you to grow instead of thinking you need to find housing.

Now my focus is all related to social spaces. It’s a good thing I didn’t end up building houses. 

Photo credit: Weldon Brewster

Follow SFJones Architects on Twitter @SFJ_Architects. 

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The Big Secret Nobody Talks About

The Big Secret Nobody Talks About

Do you make money from Instagram, or do you just post pictures day after day? Do you want to know how to make money on Instagram?

In this article, you are going to learn the secret formula used to make six figures or more from your Instagram account.

Granted, it is enjoyable to receive accolades for a great looking shot on your profile, but when you consider that Kim Kardashian makes up to $500,000 for those same kinds of shots, learning how to make money online with Instagram doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Can you learn how to make money on Instagram?

Absolutely. Let’s go through the Instagram money secrets that nobody tells you.

How to Make Money on Instagram Step-by-Step

  1. Create an Instagram Account
  2. Come up with a theme or motif for your Instagram channel
  3. Take high-quality HD pictures
  4. Tell a story with your Instagram channel
  5. Create a blog to monetize your Instagram following
  6. Create an e-book and sell it on your blog
  7. The math: 400k followers 10% buy $20 eBook = $800,000

The first step to a financially successful Instagram profile is choosing a theme or motif.

The definition of motif being used here is “A distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition.”

Wikipedia definition of motifKeep reading to find out why this is so important.

People need to know what kind of photos they can expect when they come to your profile.

If you have many interests, then you may want to set up multiple Instagram accounts for each interest. For instance, mixing pictures of Mayan artwork with fitness photos will only confuse your audience.

You will not be able to move forward into the other steps of your financial program without first choosing a motif for your Instagram channel.

A thematic Instagram also helps your profile perform more efficiently in the platform search engines.

Coming up first in Instagram feeds and hashtag indexes is essential to driving new viewers to your content.

These new viewers mean new followers, which will drive advertisers to your platform. This is when you can start really making money from Instagram.

Can I Make Money from Instagram With Low-Quality Pictures?

The simple answer? No.

Once you have chosen your theme, you must dedicate yourself to taking the highest quality pictures possible.

No one is going to pay for inclusion in or exposure from an Instagram profile that has less-than-professional content!

Keep in mind that the advertisers who will eventually pay you rely on content creators to uphold the professional nature of the brand. With this in mind, you may want to invest in a high-quality camera with 4K capabilities.

You may also want to familiarize yourself with a few basic photo techniques that you can use to really make your content shine. Lighting is very important, as is angling the photograph to create a single focal point in each image.

Creating a Story

Now that you have the quality of your photographs in check, you must give your viewers a reason to return day after day.

Having a financially successful Instagram profile relies on loyal viewers and new visitors.

The quality of your photographs will help to bring in new viewers. However, the stories that you tell with your photographs will keep them there.

Earthy Andy’s Instagram profile provides a perfect example of how to tell a story with pictures, she has over 400k followers on Instagram. Her channel is centered around her Vegan lifestyle including what they do for fun, what they eat, and adventures they have.

How to make money on Instagram creating a motif

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Make use of the new outlets such as Instagram Stories – a Snapchat-like feature that allows you to create a short timeline of pictures and videos, adding funny artwork to each piece.

You have the ability to create a narrative that keeps viewers wondering what you will post next.

People will naturally become engaged in your profile in the same way that a traditional TV drama leaves a cliffhanger at the end of each episode.

What does this mean for the financial well-being of your Instagram page?

It means that you make money on Instagram much more quickly, as advertisers will see you have a talent for creating a need in your audience.

But the secret to creating wealth on Instagram is not found in acquiring advertisers.

The most powerful and easiest way to make a ton of money on Instagram is covered in the next section.

Can I Make Money on Instagram by Itself?

Making money on Instagram goes faster when you connect your Instagram profile to a blog and other social media sites.

Your blog is especially important because it allows you to expand on the ideas that you introduce to your audience in your Instagram pictures.

Although you can leave incredibly long captions in Instagram, it is not recommended.

Whet the appetite of your audience and send them out to your blog for more information. When you have them here, you can diverse them towards many additional revenue options, including an online store, a donation page or a partnership with your brand.

Setting up a blog is super easy when done through a web hosting company. I recommend choosing a WordPress web hosting provider.

lucky for you I have done a comprehensive review of the best WordPress hosting providers who will install your blog for free.

On your blog, make sure that you are continuing the theme of your Instagram profile. It is very important to expand upon the story that your Instagram page creates.

Blogs should be very informational and bring up to the minute, dynamic content that centers around your theme. Do not use this space to try to introduce irrelevant concepts to your audience – remember why they began to click on your pictures in the first place.

You can also lead your audience to other social media platforms with more room to express a narrative.

For instance, if your audience is business-to-business, diverting them to a LinkedIn profile with longer articles may help your cause.

If you are selling a service, people are more likely to engage you after they understand your expertise on the subject matter.

Get a Big Audience to Make Money Using Instagram

All of the movement that you are creating between your Instagram profile and your blog is to increase the amount of time that viewers spend with your brand.

Eventually, these viewers will begin to follow your Instagram profile, and your follow count will begin to grow.

You know you have hit a sweet spot when you have between 200,000 and 500,000 followers.

At this point, you can take your direct revenue streams to a new level.

Here comes the big secret!

Many popular personalities and brands on Instagram will create an e-book at this point, again, focusing on some aspect of the theme that the Instagram profile targets.

Take a look at Loni Jane’s Instagram profile, she has over 400k loyal followers.

Gain followers on instagram to make money

When you have an audience this big, people will naturally view you as an expert source. They will come to you for inside information on your industry, and they will take your opinions more seriously.

You will likely also have greater access to other top personalities in your industry. They will be attracted to you because of your audience, and you may be able to leverage these connections for more financial opportunities.

Your Instagram photos also have a greater value to advertisers at this point.

If an advertiser can get in front of 500,000 people just because you post a picture, many of them will be willing to pay for that privilege.

But you are not building your Instagram following for advertisers or their money the real money comes from creating an e-book and selling it on your blog to your loyal fan base.

Let’s take a look at Loni Jane’s blog to get a better understanding of the monetization model.

Make money on instagram by creating a blog

This is a numbers game. If you have 400k loyal followers on Instagram and only 10% of them buy your $20 ebook you just made $800,000

Set your price according to your industry standards, and make sure that you are receiving fair value for your services.

Do not allow yourself to be undercharged just because the work of taking a photo is “simple” or “easy.”

Taking the picture may have been simple, but the business behind it is quite complex. At this point, you have put in a great deal of work, and you deserve to be compensated for it.

How to Make Money From Your Instagram Photos When You Have an E-Book and Blog

Now that you have other products on the market, your Instagram profile now becomes a marketing outlet for you even if no advertisers bite at your page.

For instance, if you have an e-book for sale, what better way to promote it then through the Instagram profile that you yourself built? You know for certain that the audience coming to your page will be interested in the topic.

They already know your brand, and they will likely be excited to hear about any new initiatives that you have created.

The industry of content creation on Instagram is a multi-billion dollar industry and still growing.

The opportunity for a dedicated and focused individual to create a brand starting from Instagram is better than ever.

So break out that phone and create an Instagram channel then find the best WordPress hosting provider for your blog to sell your eBook.

Never let anyone tell you that you cannot make money from Instagram. You have the secrets of how to drive revenue in this space – the rest is up to you!

Rick Leach | Crain’s St. Louis

Rick Leach | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, World Food Program USA


World Food Program USA is a 501 (c)(3) charity based out of Washington, D.C. It operates independently of the UN’s World Food Program. The nonprofit supports the mission of the World Food Program. Unlike the UN agency, it can fundraise and advocate for global movement to end hunger. The WFP USA also works with lawmakers and businesses to enhance understanding of the WFP and builds coalitions and policy campaigns to improve access to nutritious food. 

The Mistake:

My mistake was not realizing you have to build a sustainable system, not a short-term campaign, to address an issue. 

I had been appointed by the Clinton administration in 1992 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

There was a realization that the American immunization coverage rate among birth to age 2 was about 50 percent. That’s when they’re most vulnerable. The problem I was confronting was, how do we increase immunization cover rates?

I wanted to get it done immediately. I thought we should be able to [quickly] immunize kids aged 12 to 18 months. But I realized that was the first step.

What do you do [after that cohort is immunized]? There are kids born right afterward. It’s not a short-term campaign. There’s a need to put a system in place, so you can sustain it.

We needed to build systems to ensure whatever increases we achieved [were] sustained over long periods of time.

What we needed to do is create doubt in parents’ minds. Did you realize they needed all these shots? The tagline developed for us was,  “At least 11 shots by 2. How sure are you? Call this 1-800 number.”

We set up a system to help [parents] find a clinic where they lived. We made it easy and partnered with places that helped us direct assistance to families.

With the understanding of what the basic facts were and what we needed to do, and by involving sectors of the community, immunization rates went from 50 to 80 percent over three years.

There is an African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.’

The Lesson:

One of the things that I learned is that you need to have more patience and build systems if you truly want to sustainably address a problem.

I’m still impatient. My impatience is tempered by understanding that if you want something to continue, you need to build a system to maintain what that objective may be.

There is an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”

It was a shift in thinking. While not decreasing the sense of urgency, it’s an understanding that you need to look at building systems.

Going back to immunizations, it’s not about today, but building a whole system so kids born tomorrow are receiving proper vaccinations.

That tempers how we look at efforts to end hunger. It’s not about bringing in food to feed someone today, but building systems in governance, creating the capacity of people to care for themselves—making sure that hunger doesn’t arise the day after your feeding operation ends.

Follow World Food Program USA on Twitter at @WFPUSA.

Photo credit: WFP

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The 3 R’s of Content Marketing

The 3 R’s of Content Marketing

reuse refresh reimagine

As a kid, the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) were grilled into my brain. This ensured that I would not pollute the earth with more garbage. That lesson also applies to content marketing. By Using the R’s of content marketing: Reuse, Refresh, and Reimagine, you can reduce marketing polution, and improve lead generation.

Reuse your evergreen content

Evergreen content answers the core questions and pains of your buyer personas — and it can reach a whole new audience if repurposed properly. Share it on social channels and promote it to key buyers via email marketing. Nurturing email campaigns are a great way to reuse content, and send buyers to relevant blogs or content offers. The best part is, you don’t have to create anything new.

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Refresh and repost content with greater potential

What about that one blog post that aligned perfectly to your buyer persona, but stil fell flat? Maybe it just needs a little love, and a repost. Revive it with some quick copy and formatting improvements, new images or video, and some focused keywords. Throw in some relevant CTAs too.

Next, tie in any lead generation content you created since that post was first pubished. Find the relevant spot in the post, and put it in. To Google, this gentle update looks like a new post, and will be shared to your subscribers. This will help drive some new conversions.

Reimagine that content in a different format

That amazing case study (on which you spent countless hours, made rounds of revisions and enhanced with quotes from subject matter experts) can be deconstructed and recylced into new content.

Consider that case study reborn as a How-To blog post. In fact, it could be a series of blog posts. Or, turn it into a Checklist, eBook or How-To Guide. The point is, with a simple format change, the same information can be repurposed to farm more leads.

Get more miles out of your content

Don’t recreate the wheel everytime you need more leads. Instead, take inventory of the content you have, and apply the three R’s. It will save you time, and increase traffic and leads with less effort. You spend a lot of effort to create your content. It should (and can) work hard for you.

Patty Stroup | Crain’s St. Louis

Patty Stroup | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Chief Procurement Officer, Nestle

  • A headshot of Patty Stroup, chief procurement officer of Nestle USA. Courtesy of Patty Stroup

  • Patty Stroup on her diary farm in Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Patty Stroup


Nestlé USA is a part of Nestlé’s global empire. The 150-year-old company sells baby food, drinks and confectionery and researches how certain foods impact chronic medical conditions. It has 87 factories in the U.S. and 436 factories worldwide. Nestlé reported global annual sales of $88.8 billion in 2015. 

The mistake was that I wasn’t looking at it from their perspective. I was only looking at an issue from my perspective and how I could explain it and how I understood it. I wasn’t thinking about how the other person in the transaction came from a completely different perspective.  

At the time, I lived in Pennsylvania on a farm and we were in Washington, D.C., working with legislatures. I was [a member relations specialist] for a milk farming cooperative. In the early ’90s, we had a farm bill that we wanted to pass and we needed votes from some more urban congressmen.  

I remember I walked into a congressman’s office with all my facts and news and I knew the topic really well. Getting all the data took weeks. The more we talked, the more apparent it became that he had no idea what I was talking about. 

I was trying to explain to him how this [bill] was going to impact farmers and he didn’t have a lot of farmers in his district. The arguments that I was using weren’t the ones that mattered to him.  

[My team and I] all walked out and looked at each other like, “Wow. We don’t know anything about that person.” None of us lived in the city. None of us had that background or experience. None of us had worked in any kind of urban policy before. We didn’t have a lot of experience in our careers either.  

I don’t think any of us at the time were armed with the information we needed to really address it from that person’s perspective. I think it was a learning experience for all of us.   

In the end, the bill did pass, but he specifically did not support it. 

The arguments that I was using weren’t the ones that mattered to him. 

[Now] I do things with the perspective of, I know what my position is and why, but what is that person’s position going to be and why? What’s their background? What are they passionate about? What are the things that are most important to them?  

Unless you understand what the impact to that person is or what their history and their perspective and their understanding of the topic is, it’s not really going to help you to just know the facts.   

I have worked overseas in both Europe and Southeast Asia and the cultural difference are something that you have to take into account when you are working there. When I was in Europe, in the beginning, I was like, “Let’s go! Let’s get things done. Let’s move forward,” [but] the culture there is much more collaborative. 

I remember one very specific meeting where we were trying to procure some material to go into one of the companies in Europe. There were some questions on what some of the specifications should look like and how much they should spend for the materials. The answer was obvious to me as to how we should move forward. Rather than just try to go forward with that push as I normally would have done, I took a step back and said, “Wait a minute. The culture is different. They are not looking at it from the same perspective or the same ways that I am.”  

I think it just comes down to empathy. I know that is not something you can really teach—that is something you more have to feel and have that experience to grow.  

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

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4 Ways To Help Drive More Traffic To Your Store

4 Ways To Help Drive More Traffic To Your Store

The retail world is more technologically driven than ever before. With the rise of online shopping and the convenience it brings, more customers are opting to shop from the comfort of their own homes rather than going to physical stores.

As such, footfall levels have declined in recent years, with stores now using a number of methods to try and drive their audiences from online to offline.

Here, we show you the most effective ways to drive your online traffic to stores.

Store Locator

The first step is to ensure your audience knows where to go for an offline experience. Store locators are essential for this, especially for stores that have multiple locations. Customers often search for this on the go, aiming to look for the closest store to where they are at a given time. A good store locator needs to include key information, such as an address, opening times, and a phone number.

Each individual store locator page should also include imagery of the store, as well as an interactive map showcasing the different locations. A good store locator can work wonders for a website with an optimal design for both desktop and mobile, ensuring that customers who are looking online are aware of where to go.

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Social Media

Brands are still treating their online and offline channels as separate entities, but a truly integrated approach is beneficial to both channels for the majority of brands. Social media, in particular, plays a large part in helping brands speak to their customers on an informal level, and letting them know about activities to drive them to stores.

The tone of voice for social media should be aligned with other online and offline channels so customers see everything as one channel. Social media can then be used to share updates to help drive in-store footfall. For example, Twitter can be used to post about upcoming in-store events or exclusive offers that can only be redeemed if customers visit a store. Facebook can be used in paid social campaigns to target new audiences based on geographical location and let them know about in-store promotions so that they are more encouraged to visit.

Social channels can also be used as a means to incentivise loyal fans. Long-term followers can sign up to get exclusive in-store promotions, or sharing their most recent purchases can get them an exclusive in-store only offer.

In Store Technology

To keep up with ever-changing technological advances, more brands are now updating their stores to make them more appealing to customers. This allows customers to have a much more engaging experience that they would not have if they were to only shop online.

One good example is the Burberry London flagship store, which is designed to imitate the online Burberry site. The store brings digital technology alive with a multimedia experience. Key features include digital changing room mirrors that showcase catwalk looks, audio-visual content on chips on selected products transferring images and information to changing room screens, and ‘digital showers’ that take over all screens with visual and audio content. With 100 screens and speakers around the store, customers are kept constantly engaged, with a reason to come in and stay.

Turning the store into an experience such as this, or what Apple or Disney stores have done, maintains the need for people to come into stores – it allows them to enjoy going and spending time there, rather than just shopping online.


In-store events are a tactful way to get customers into stores. By sharing details of an event on the website and across social channels, it encourages them to go from online to offline. The event can be a one-off sale, the launch of an exclusive new line, a workshop, or just for your customers to get to know your brand. Whatever the reason, this will allow customers to be aware of the store itself and encourage them to purchase during the event, or come back again. This brings together the notion of a community, and allows customers to be a part of something.

Bearing these tips in mind and implementing them across channels should help to increase

Stan Soderstrom | Crain’s St. Louis

Stan Soderstrom | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Executive director, Kiwanis International


Indianapolis-based Kiwanis International has clubs serving the needs of children in 80 countries. The organization also operates Circle K International, which offers university students service, leadership and fellowship opportunities.

The Mistake:

We have members from around the world and it’s critical to make a good first impression. Over the years, there have been meetings where we didn’t do so well.

One example is when I greeted some delegates at the airport. We had a gentleman from Iceland who brought his interpreter with him. I made sure they knew where the luggage was, and the transportation.

They asked me, “Aren’t you going to come with us?” I told them no, because I had a pickup truck parked in the garage. Their eyes were wide open. They must not have been used to pickup trucks. They said, “No, we’d rather ride in your pickup truck.”

You have one chance to make a good first impression.

The Lesson:

The one thing I keep learning is that you have one chance to make a good first impression. And I’ve learned and relearned that lesson numerous times over the years.

We are a membership organization, and first impressions are critical when you’re recruiting members or when you’re trying to make a good public impression in the community. Those skills are also important when you work with your members in meetings or in leadership development.

Meetings are a very good example. When people arrive in the city for a meeting you really have three opportunities for a good first impression. The first is when you arrive at the airport. That city needs to make a good first impression. And there needs to be someone that greets them when they arrive at the airport.

The second is when they arrive at your hotel. You need to make a good impression at the hotel. And it’s really valuable to greet somebody and make sure they feel welcome and that their room is ready and that they can check right in.

And the third is when you get to the meeting itself, whether it’s at a convention center or wherever. The last thing you want to do is stand in a long line to pick up your meeting materials. You want to be greeted and you want to get your stuff right away.

Over the years there have been meetings where we didn’t do so well. But that lesson plays out in so many ways and in so many different situations. It’s all about making a first impression and making sure it’s a good one.

We have members from around the world; people who arrive that don’t speak the language. It’s important that you have someone there who can speak their language, and have materials in their language.

A year and a half ago, we celebrated our 100th anniversary, here in Indianapolis. We had a convention. We had one of our best turnouts in years and we worked really hard to make sure we were welcoming at the airport with signage. We even had a hopscotch as they come down the escalators at the airport with the message: “You know you want to.”

We greeted people, knowing they just had a very long flight to get here. And it was amazing how many people would stop before they picked up their luggage and did the hopscotch. It’s that kind of fun stuff that I love to do when you’re making a good first impression. It’s so much more fun to be casual and fun rather than the situation be staid and boring.

That’s important. That first impression for an organization that serves the needs of children and communities is all the more important.

Kiwanis International is on Twitter at @kiwanis.

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No, You Shouldn’t Include References on Your Resume

No, You Shouldn’t Include References on Your Resume

Often, the things you don’t include on your resume are just as important as the ones you do.

Case in point: We blogged just a few days ago about the Career Objective, and how it really has no place on a resume.

Today, we’ve got another resume element you’re better off ditching—and that’s your list of references.

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Why References Are Out

Our resume team still sees a lot of resumes that come with reference lists—but in truth these lists are unnecessary, and in some cases, can be harmful.

The main reason why we recommend against reference lists is that they simply aren’t in keeping with modern resume trends. When you include one, it makes you look older, out of touch. Of course, what you want is a resume that does just the opposite.

An alternative to listing resumes is to say that references are available upon request—but we’re not big on this, either. The reason is that this is redundant. Employers know that you’re willing to offer references if they ask for them—if you’re serious about the job, anyway. No job candidate is going to deny a request to provide a few references. There’s just no need to state your willingness on the resume, and doing so wastes invaluable real estate.

The bottom line is that your resume should be about you. That’s what hiring managers care about—and a list of other people’s names isn’t going to tell them much.

Rethinking the Reference List

Does this mean you should delete your reference list altogether?

Not necessarily. We still recommend keeping a reference list. We’d just advise that you make it a separate document—not part of your resume.

Have a file where you have references on hand, so that when a hiring manager does request to see them, you can provide them quickly and easily.

Make sure that, when you hand out a reference sheet, you let your references know; nothing good can come of them being caught off guard by a request from a potential employer, and besides, it’s just good manners to fill them in.

Devin Turner | Crain’s St. Louis

Devin Turner | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder and CEO, FocalCast


FocalCast is a cloud-based platform that can turn an Apple or Android device into a live, interactive whiteboard, allowing people to share presentations with an audience. The platform includes annotation tools that facilitate real-time collaboration on shared presentations. FocalCast, based in St. Louis, also works with video conference providers and other technology partners to provide additional collaborative tools for teams in business and educational settings.

The Mistake:

Not thinking all the way through the business side of launching a technology-driven product.

Three years ago, when Chromecast and AppleTV and other ways to connect your smartphone or tablet to your TV didn’t exist, we wanted to create something like that. We were initially going to build a device you could plug into your screen, then connect to your phone wirelessly. In the research we did, we found some patents from Google and Microsoft that looked exactly like what we were going to build. We didn’t want to compete with them. So, we thought, “What if we create a presentation application for your phone to give presentations wirelessly using your phone in a classroom or similar setting using that new technology?” Three weeks later, Google Chromecast came out, so we were right on and we were the first wireless presentation application for Android.

We got tens of thousands of downloads. Depending on the permissions users give you, you get a really good picture of how people are using your software. So we could see things like where people were using it and whether it was working properly. In the first version of the application, users just downloaded, opened it and started using it. It’s great from the user perspective. But from our perspective, we didn’t have the contact information for any of those thousands of people using the software. We knew everything about our users – where they were, their usage, what screens they were on – except who they were. When we went to release the full application with new capabilities and extra features, we thought, “Wait a minute. How do we contact all of our users and tell them?”

That was a huge learning moment for us. If a million people are using your software, but you don’t know who they are and you can’t talk to them, that’s a huge, huge challenge. So we immediately initiated a login feature. But, because users had to manually update software before the days of automatic updates, only about half the beta users updated it to the full version.

Our background is engineering, so we were very excited about creating an innovative new product. We just didn’t think all the way through the business side of it. We didn’t ask ourselves, “When I want to talk to someone about new features, or a contract, or talk to them about how they are going to pay for this innovative product, how do I do that?”

If a million people are using your software, but you don’t know who they are and you can’t talk to them, that’s a huge, huge challenge.

The Lesson:

Probably the biggest lesson is always be thinking about the business workflow. Be able to get out of your chair, metaphorically speaking, for a moment and sit in the customer’s chair or sit in your support or sales team member’s chair and think, “What do they need before I do something new like launch a new product or support platform or enter a new market?”

Get out of your own mindset, get to the customer’s shoes and put yourself mentally in different positions. Make sure you understand all the angles of a decision before you do it, especially all the angles that aren’t about you. It could mean something as simple as hiring customer support staff who speak Chinese if a lot of users are in China.

We’ve implemented that as much as we can since then. Before we do anything like a product launch, we try to get as much feedback as possible and also try to look ahead as much as possible to make sure we don’t accidentally back ourselves into another corner.

FocalCast is on Twitter at @FocalCast.

Photo courtesy of Devin Turner.

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Public Relations Can Help Kickstart a Crowdfunding Campaign

Public Relations Can Help Kickstart a Crowdfunding Campaign

By now, we all have been asked to contribute to some Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe or other crowdfunding campaign. Just yesterday I contributed to a fund to help my Boston-based nephew get himself and peers to a national trumpet competition in Denver. With most crowdfunding the basic approach is outreach to friends, family, customers, and individual investors to help raise money for a specific project. This approach taps into the collective efforts of a large pool of individuals primarily online, through social media and crowdfunding platforms, and leverages those networks for greater reach and exposure.

There has been some debate about whether public relations can add value to these type of funding campaigns and I am here to say that yes, PR can help to spread the word and drive traffic to the site. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you tackle the public relations component of a crowdfunding campaign.

K is for kick it into high gear. Kickstarter campaigns require all hands on deck. You and your team will need to put in more time than usual in advance of a campaign going live. While media relations tends to be an activity where the heavy lifting happens in advance of a launch or special event, this is more so with crowdfunding initiatives. And it will be all hands on deck for the length of the campaign. Researching reporters, developing story ideas, pitching, follow-up, updating, it’s an intense 30 days (on average) so be prepared.

I is for integration. Neither crowdfunding campaigns or media relation efforts should stand-alone. From messaging and timing to new features and stretch goals, all of this should be discussed with PR in mind. As the campaign unfolds, it’s PR’s job to spread the word about funding, positive reviews and stretch goals so it’s imperative PR is integrated into the decision-making loop.

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C is for chatter: From Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and Instagram, you want people from all corners talking and writing about the campaign and then talking some more. Take time to post positive quotes and funding goals throughout the campaign to keep the chatter current.

K is for killing it on social media. (See chatter.) Also consider ads on Facebook or sponsored posts on Twitter that can help boost exposure for relevant audiences in appropriate industry verticals.

S is for stretch goals. Stretch goal milestones give reasons to go back to the media, reach out to new outlets and energize backers.

T is for timing: Timing is everything with crowdfunding. Carefully plan the release of information (embargoed and public), the campaign kick-off and subsequent stretch goals to make sure all campaign components sync-up in order to capture the most traffic.

A is for advice: Don’t go into a campaign blindly. Talk to peers that have had PR success with crowdfunding. Pick their brain about timing, strategies and tactics. This is not the time to be a know it all.

R is for being reasonable. The PR team should make it clear that press coverage is not a guarantee of increased donations. Press will bring more exposure and brand awareness, but locking in donations requires a sustained effort on many fronts.

T is for target. Public Relation practitioners know whom to target. In addition to targeting the usual suspects of friends and family to gain early momentum, PR can target key media outlets to gain visibility. Dream big with national outlets but don’t forget that local press can lead to bigger opportunities. Local press tend to root for the hometown kid does good angle so make sure not to overlook these outlets.

E is for embargo: Getting details out to the media in advance can help them develop their story. Ideally, the story then releases when the campaign goes live, and boom, there should be some campaign noise.

R is for resilience. Honestly crowdfunding campaigns can kick even the most seasoned PR butt. Running in high gear for the duration of the campaign can be stressful. As the campaign continues to grow, stretch goals keep getting crushed and the media begins to hit and move the needle, remember to breathe and reward yourself for your hard work.

Tamara Keefe | Crain’s St. Louis

Tamara Keefe | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO, Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery


Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery is classified as a microcreamery because its small-batch ice cream is handcrafted with all-natural ingredients and the product is made with over 16 percent butterfat and made with less than 30 percent overrun. Clementine’s uses premium, local and natural ingredients, including milk from grass-fed and pasture-raised cows. Clementine’s supplies restaurants, provides catering services and serves up both boozy and non-boozy ice creams via mail order and at its scoop shop in St. Louis. Before founding Clementine’s, Keefe worked as the senior brand manager at Abbott Nutrition and as senior marketing manager at DuPont.

The Mistake:

Not planning ahead when it came to production and storage capacity needs.

When I started the ice cream company, I wasn’t prepared for success as fast as we had it. So it was a lot of hustling when we did get the orders. We were like, “Oh, crap. Now we have to go build capacity and make sure we have it in time to fulfill all the orders.” So I really did learn about taking a little bit of risk and, from a production capacity standpoint, planning ahead.

We had one specific big order that came in last-minute about a year ago from a new customer because a competitor of ours had an issue with their product. So this customer had to find an alternative source. We obviously weren’t prepared for that order coming in the door. We had to respond really fast with a whole lot of quantity.

We basically had to contact every single person we knew – friends, family, neighbors – and get them to work for like a week and a half, almost 20 hours a day, to fulfill the order. So it was very daunting for my team. We were able to do it. But, if I’d had better, longer-term planning in those days, we would have had more freezer space and we would have had more manufacturing and production capacity knowing that those opportunities may come up.

I wasn’t prepared for success as fast as we had it.

The Lesson:

Now, we’re prepared for it. We’ve purchased a 5,000-square-foot production facility and have more than enough freezer space, more than enough production capacity and have learned to be prepared for anything.

We had confidence in the business in the beginning, but I think our central concept has proven itself and so many opportunities keep coming our way that it gave us the reassurance we needed to go out and get that manufacturing space and production capability. And it’s actually helped us quite a bit because we’re able to respond and jump on those opportunities that other people probably wouldn’t because they don’t have the capacity, time, equipment or resources. We’ve been able to capture and take advantage of opportunities because we made that investment. In other words, build it, and they will come.

I think it’s about truly understanding what the market opportunity is and being prepared to go after it in whatever way that means for your business. So you have your eye on the goal and say, “That is where I’m going to get to.” Know you’re going to get there and just appropriately plan, budget and build for it.

Also, move forward thinking it’s always going to take you twice as long and twice as much money. Know that when you’re starting a business, be prepared to work harder than you ever have. I approach everything like that now, like something is going to happen, because it probably will. And, if it doesn’t, then it’s a nice surprise. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Then, you’re much more well-seated and able too take advantage of opportunities when they come your way.

Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery is on Twitter at @ClementinesSTL.

Photo courtesy of Tamara Keefe.

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Inbound Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

Inbound Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

Inbound Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

Inbound marketing is an effective strategy designed to draw your ideal client to you when they are already actively looking for a solution. If you are implementing inbound marketing and are curious as to why you are not seeing the results you expect, you may be guilty of making some (or all) of the following inbound marketing mistakes.

Not developing an inbound marketing plan

Many folks want to go straight to the fun stuff like websites and content creation without first having a solid plan. Without a simple inbound marketing plan, you are more likely to wander aimlessly instead of being focused on what will attract and convert your ideal client. Remember that inbound marketing is about knowing your audience and providing them with the right content at the right time. Make sure you can answer at least the following questions before you begin executing tactics:

  • Have you clearly defined your ideal target audience?
  • Do you know how to reach them and where?
  • Do you understand their challenges so your content will get their attention?

Don’t skip the plan and head straight to tactics. It will waste time and money.

Not setting realistic goals and measuring results

A very common inbound marketing mistake is not setting specific goals you wish to achieve. Without setting goals, it is difficult to examine the effectiveness of each campaign. Reviewing results against your goals helps you to determine whether you continue on with that activity, modify it for better results or ditch it entirely.

For each inbound marketing campaign, make sure you have some way to track the results. Most online channels have some type of analytics capability that gives you the opportunity to understand what is going on and make adjustments.

By tracking and then reviewing your results, you will be able to see what marketing efforts are more effective than others or if something isn’t working at all. Don’t get caught up in the idea that ‘things will get better’. If you keep doing the same things, you can expect the same results and waste a lot of time and money.

Not creating an editorial calendar

One of the most common inbound marketing mistakes small businesses make is creating content haphazardly without an editorial calendar. This practice will most likely result in content that doesn’t have a purpose. Using an editorial calendar enables you to map your content to the needs of the customer, answering questions your ideal clients have so they can make an informed purchase decision.

Included in a useful editorial calendar are the content topics, draft titles, keywords, publish dates, media type (video, audio, text or some combination) plus your channels of distribution and call to action.

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Thinking your outdated, non-responsive website is good enough

Whether you are doing inbound marketing or traditional offline marketing, everything you do should drive people to your website. No matter what type of business you are in, people will go to your website to check you out. It must project your best brand image on all devices to make your business look current and professional.

Your website is also the only property you “own” on the Internet. Posting original, useful content for every stage in the buyer’s journey should be on your website first so that you retain control of the content and where and how it gets distributed. Plus blogging helps increase your digital footprint, giving search engines additional pages to index in the search results pages.

But finally, your website must be optimized for mobile viewing so that when your awesome content is found, the visitor doesn’t hit the back button because it is impossible to read on their mobile device.

Hiring an SEO agency that uses cringe worthy tactics

Optimizing your website content is an art and a science. If you see:

  • Blog posts ending in with town names and that town scattered throughout the post
  • Titles of pages with keyword phrases like an about page that says “Local SEO Company” rather than “About Company Name”
  • Links with town names at the bottom of the page linking to duplicate content that only changes its title
  • Publishing blog posts that are less than 200 words and don’t say anything

You should quickly take your business and marketing dollars elsewhere.

Content needs to be written for the human and optimized naturally. Low quality, useless content and unnatural search engine optimization techniques are unprofessional and may hurt your visibility in the search engines. You are not fooling anyone as to why the content is written as it is.

Copying your competitor’s tactics

Just because it worked for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Review what your competitors are doing so you can learn from them. Find a better way to market your business based on your strengths and resources. Don’t assume what they are doing is working or is the right way to do marketing.

If you choose to work with a marketing agency to outsource your inbound marketing activities, be sure that they develop a marketing action plan that is specific for your business. Too many agencies use a cookie cutter approach to marketing, using the exact same set of tactics for every client they take on. Every business deserves its own strategy based on their vision and goals and what fits into their budget.

Not having the patience to let marketing work

Marketing is not a magic bullet where results happen overnight. Set realistic expectations and understand that results may take 6 months or more to really kick in. People looking for a solution need the time to research and analyze their options before reaching out. If you quit before they have narrowed down their purchase decision between you and your competitor, guess who wins? Inbound marketing is a marathon, not a sprint so plan accordingly. It takes consistent effort and time to see results.

These are common inbound marketing mistakes and can be costly to your business. A solid marketing effort takes a combination of planning, creativity, execution and patience. Develop a creative inbound marketing plan that works your business, execute and measure the right strategies and have patience to let your marketing efforts deliver results.

What inbound marketing mistakes have you seen that small businesses should avoid?

Debbie Sterling | Crain’s St. Louis

Debbie Sterling | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CEO and inventor, GoldieBlox


GoldieBlox is an award-winning children’s multimedia company that challenges gender stereotypes with a girl engineer character. GoldieBlox integrates toys, storytelling and STEM principles to develop young girls’ interests in engineering and problem-solving skills. 

The Mistake:

Basically back in 2012, when I was first starting GoldieBlox, I quit my day job and didn’t know how to start. I found myself alone in my apartment in San Francisco, trying to figure out what to do.

At the beginning, I just started sketching ideas in my notebook, trying to develop prototypes of toys that would get girls interested in engineering. Early on, I was so paranoid about sharing my ideas with anyone. I was afraid someone might steal my idea and a big toy company would steal it. I became reclusive. I’d spend hours by myself, tinkering and building prototypes.

I was so paranoid about someone stealing my idea, I’d make them sign an NDA. I even made my mom sign a NDA.

It’s funny to think back on it. On the one hand, I was living my dream. I had an Aha moment, where I discovered this thing I was born to do. [But] I wasn’t having fun because I was all alone.

How I ended up breaking out of the spell was a friend encouraged me to go to an entrepreneur conference. (The conference) encouraged every attendee to share what they were working on. I asked the conference organizers if I could get attendees to sign an NDA. But they told me, “You don’t need to do that. It’s a welcoming crowd.”

For the first time ever, I publicly shared my idea for GoldieBlox and everyone got to their feet and gave me a standing ovation. After the presentation, there was a line of people who wanted to get involved and help.

I switched from being secretive to talking to anyone, like a waitress or flight attendant. It gave me energy.

The Lesson:

I learned at the conference the difference between inventors and entrepreneurs. Inventors sounded like what I had been doing. They work alone for months on an idea.

Entrepreneurs puts themselves out there. They hustle and talk to people about it. You get that line of people who want to get involved. That’s how you build that company.

It seemed so obvious. I laugh at myself, at how I behaved at the beginning.

After that conference, I switched from being secretive to talking to anyone, like a waitress or flight attendant. It gave me energy. I was passionate about it. When I talked to people about it, the passion would transfer. You never know – the waiter at a restaurant could have a cousin who’s a brilliant toymaker and he could connect me, and then that would just snowball.

The takeaway was more about putting yourself out there, reaching out to as many people as you can and sharing your thoughts. That’s what enabled me to make my first hire and find advisory board members. I really just benefited from the free advice. The cost of the cup of coffee was beyond what I was able to do alone, to grow [GoldieBlox] into something much bigger. 

Follow Debbie Sterling on Twitter at @DebbieBlox

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How They Work & When to Use Them

How They Work & When to Use Them

It cannot be bought, forced, or demanded. You can have it, but not hold it. It can take years to gain, and can be lost in seconds – and it’s the single most important element of any transaction or relationship.

What am I talking about?


Trust signals and how to use them

Although technology and shifts in how we do business has made it easier to buy and sell without fear of being ripped off (or offer some sort of recourse in the event you are), most transactions we engage in every day are based primarily on trust.

Many websites and ecommerce retailers use trust signals to put prospective customers at ease, but what are trust signals? How do they work? What makes them so effective? And – perhaps most importantly – how and when should you use them?

These are all questions we’ll be answering in today’s post.

What Are Trust Signals?

Trust signals are elements that are often displayed on websites and at physical points-of-sale in brick-and-mortar businesses to help customers feel more secure in their decision to patronize a specific business or buy a specific product or service.

Trust signal logos

Some trust signals are little more than logos that offer reassurances that a retailer or site belongs to a certain trade organization, whereas others are proof of a business’ conduct or trustworthiness. Trust signals can and do vary widely in form, but they all perform the same function – making prospective customers feel better about doing business with a company. As such, trust signals are an element of conversion rate optimization.

What Are Some Different Types of Trust Signals?

Some trust signals are instantly recognizable, whereas others are more subtly implied. It all depends on the type of business in question, the industry or vertical that business is in, and dozens of other factors. As a result, there are many different types of trust signals.

Guarantee Trust Signals

Among the most common type of trust signal is the guarantee.

Trust signals guarantee logo

These trust signals can be immensely powerful (and even expected, in some industries), as they offer peace of mind to the consumer. They assure prospective customers that, in the event a retailer or website turns out to be unscrupulous, or the customer changes their mind or is dissatisfied with their purchase, their money or investment is protected. This can be something as unique to your business as a specific refund or returns policy, to the inclusion of the Visa or MasterCard logo on your website.

These trust signals are everywhere in the financial services market, and for good reason. These are also among the most commonplace and recognizable symbols in the world, simply because we’re so used to seeing them. In fact, they’re so common, it’s often more jarring or suspicious if we don’t see them.

Social Proof Trust Signals

The meteoric rise of social media brought with it many things, not least of which was the explosive growth in “social proof” as a trust signal.

Trust signals customer testimonials examples

Example of a “social proof” trust signal in the form of customer testimonials, as used by email marketing firm AWeber

This category of trust signal includes everything from customer reviews such as those seen on sites like Yelp, to word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied customers and industry experts.

Like guarantees, social proof trust signals can be powerfully persuasive, as few things are more compelling to prospective customers than positive feedback, great reviews, and general positivity about a product or brand from “real” people.

Some sites favor industry-insider recommendations, as seen in the example from email marketing firm AWeber above. Other sites opt to include customer feedback via social media. If you’re considering using this type of trust signal, be sure that the individual’s name and identity are easily verifiable – don’t use anonymized reviews that anybody could have written, and don’t use composites of several people. Authenticity is key to the success of this kind of trust signal.

Trust by Association Trust Signals

This type of trust signal is very broad and encompasses several different types of trust signal, each of which can help prospects feel better about doing business with you.

Trust signals client list

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The first “trust by association” signal you’ve probably seen is the client list, as in the example above. Many companies feature the logos of well-known brands on their websites as an implied indicator of their trustworthiness. The logic behind this type of trust signal lies in the implication that if a company can land a household-name brand client, they must be trustworthy, right?

Similarly, media mentions can also be used as a trust signal. Some companies (WordStream included) choose to use their media coverage as a trust signal:

Trust signals media mentions

Media mentions as a trust signal, as seen on the WordStream homepage

This is especially common among startups and young tech companies that are still growing. Their association with well-known media brands serves as an implied trust signal, hopefully reassuring prospective customers that they’re making a good choice.

Membership Trust Signals

Although this type of trust signal is closely related to the “trust by association” signals above, they’re worth a mention in their own right.

Trust signals Better Business Bureau logo

Memberships to professional organizations is often leveraged as a trust signal. In the United States, this is perhaps best exemplified by membership to the Better Business Bureau, whose logo is a familiar sight for millions of people at thousands of businesses across the country.

This type of trust signal also includes memberships to local chambers of commerce, workers’ unions, artisanal guilds, and other professional organizations.

What Makes Trust Signals So Effective?

Understandably, the primary focus of most analyses of trust signals is the comfort and familiarity that many common trust signals offer. However, another reason for trust signals’ power that’s discussed far less frequently is that we want to find – and believe – them.

Trust Signals and Cognitive Biases

We’ve talked about cognitive biases before, but their relationship to our behavior when it comes to transactions and trust is unique.

Trust signals cognitive bias

Image via Kris Straub/Chainsawsuit

If we’ve already decided to buy something, anything that will make us feel better about our decision can be a powerful motivator, especially for big-ticket items. This can be illustrated by an effect known as “zero-risk bias,” a cognitive bias that makes people prefer scenarios and situations in which there is the complete elimination of all risk, such as ironclad money-back guarantees and no-obligation free trials, even if other available choices actually offer less risk, such as buying the desired item from another more established, trusted retailer for a slightly higher price.

Confirmation bias is another powerful motivator that can be amplified by trust signals. Let’s say you really want to buy something – a new leather jacket, a video game console, a vacation package, whatever. These purchases are often relatively expensive, meaning that prospective customers may experience at least some hesitation before committing to such a considerable investment.

Trust signals Verified by Visa logo

Now let’s say that, upon visiting a website that sells whatever you’re thinking of buying, you discover a Verified by Visa trust signal on the checkout page (the point at which many online shopping carts are abandoned). The Verified by Visa logo signifies that the transaction will be protected from fraud by one of the largest financial services providers in the world – but that’s it. This trust signal merely tells you that you won’t be ripped off when purchasing that big-ticket item, yet it’s still very compelling to someone who’s already made up their mind to drop several hundred dollars on a luxury item.

Consumer Trust Varies Widely by Demographic

Another vital element to consider when asking what makes trust signals so effective is that of demographics.

According to data from Nielsen, millennial consumers tend to be much more trusting of brands than any other age range. (I was personally surprised to see that this trust also applies, for the most part, to traditional media such as TV and newspapers).

Trust signals Millennial consumer trust in the media Nielsen report

Image/data via Nielsen

With millennials making up a significant proportion of the workforce, it comes as little surprise that the most trusting demographic has had a considerable impact on the importance of trust in today’s transactions. This is among the many reasons why “social proof” and earned media have become such powerful tools for brands and marketers.

How and When to Use Trust Signals

So, now that we’ve covered what trust signals are, some of the different types of trust signal you’ve probably seen, and what makes them so effective, let’s get to the real meat – how trust signals can improve your conversion rates, and when to use them.

Tell Your Customers They’re Safe

As we’ve established, one of the primary reasons to use trust signals on your site is to help prospective customers feel good about their decision. Oftentimes, this directly equates to putting the customer’s mind at ease that their money is safe and that they’ll actually get what they’re paying for, and trust signals offer prospects the peace of mind they need to cross the line and convert.

Trust signals most trusted logos

When it comes to which specific trust signals to use, this will vary widely depending on your business. If you run an ecommerce site, you may want to look into joining the Verified by Visa program to protect your customers’ credit card transactions. If your company offers software downloads or a similar product, you might want to think about implementing some sort of encryption protocol (such as https for secure web connections) or brand-name virus protection.

Where to Use Security or Guarantee Trust Signals

Security emblems, transaction protection symbols, and other similar trust signals can and should be placed on web pages that ask users for sensitive information such as credit card details or on checkout pages. These trust signals can also be placed strategically on product pages, particularly if your company offers software or online services that rely on the integrity of user data or privacy.

A Brief Note on Google Trusted Stores

If you’ve ever bought something online, you’ve probably seen the “Google Trusted Store” trust signal on certain transactional pages or websites, particularly among Google Shopping results.

Trust signals Google Trusted Stores

If you were thinking about registering to become a Google Trusted Store, you should know that Google is retiring this program in the near future. Google Trusted Stores will be replaced/merged with Google Customer Reviews. Virtually everything about the program will remain the same, with the notable exception that Google Customer Reviews – unlike Trusted Stores – will not offer purchase protection coverage to consumers. Check out the official Google documentation to learn more about the two programs.

Be Transparent with User Reviews and Customer Feedback

One of the best ways to build trust in your brand is by including satisfied customer feedback, such as reviews, on your site.

One of the fastest ways to tank that trust and credibility is by trying to pull the proverbial wool over your prospects’ eyes.

Trust signals bad customer review example

Sooner or later, somebody will have a beef with either you or your company, and they will vent about it, either on your own site or a third-party site. There is literally nothing you can do to avoid this situation, and trying to “bury” a bad review is as sleazy as it sounds.

If someone leaves negative feedback or a bad review, think of it as an opportunity to demonstrate superior customer service. Be honest with yourself – does the disgruntled customer have a fair point? Is there something you could have done better? Was it your fault? Whatever the situation, be sure to handle it promptly, honestly, and transparently. This might mean responding to a poorly written comment on a Facebook post, or sharing your side of the story with a third-party side or organization, such as the Better Business Bureau.

Trust signals fake customer testimonials example

Openness and transparency work similarly to trust signals; they make people feel better about doing business with you. This means you shouldn’t buy falsified reviews – EVER – including “sponsored reviews” or whatever else they’re trying to pass them off as these days. Same goes for those semi-anonymous testimonials by “Jon S. of Tucson, AZ” and the like, which are about as trustworthy as a Ponzi scheme.

If people can’t trust the reviews on your site, they can’t trust you – period.

Where to Use Customer Testimonials and Social Review Trust Signals

One of the best things about customer testimonials and social media recommendations is that they can be used almost anywhere on your website – even your homepage. You could include them in a “See what our customers love about us” section on your homepage, feature them alongside product feature information or specification pages, or as part of special offers.

Exercise Restraint When Using Trust Signals

The inclusion of trust signals can and does improve conversion rates. However, as with virtually everything in life, moderation is key.

Put another way, you don’t want your site to have so many logos on it that it’d put a NASCAR driver to shame.

Trust signals too many logos

Choose one or two strong, recognizable trust signals to include on your site – then leave it alone. Don’t clutter your site with dozens of logos that could confuse or deter prospective customers from converting.

Oh, and be sure to A/B test your signal placement to ensure that it’s not actually hurting your conversion rates. You know what they say about assumptions!

A Matter of Trust

Trust signals are a powerful way to put your visitors at ease and – hopefully – increase conversion rates. As potentially impactful as they are, however, they’re no substitute for good customer service, a commitment to ethical business practices, and offering the best products or services at the best possible price. Remember that what works like gangbusters for one business may not do anything for another, so be sure to test the inclusion of trust signals to see what your visitors are actually doing, not just what you think they’re doing.

What have your experiences using trust signals been like? Share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions below!

Kate Canada Obregon | Crain’s St. Louis

Kate Canada Obregon | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

CSO and co-founder, Oishii Creative


Oishii Creative is a marketing and branding strategy agency. Obregon heads strategy and research for Oishii Creative, with clients including NFL Network, E! Entertainment, and Discovery. 

The Mistake:

I have a Ph. D in political economics and I had a career in academia [before I worked at my first agency], so I was used to doing a lot of research. In academia our gain was basically to solve a problem, research it well and be very forceful in our argument and have lots of data.

So, we held one of our first brainstorming sessions for this client [without the client present]. I came to this meeting with my academic, introverted self and basically had an 89 -page research document. I had laid out the problem, solved the problem and basically overwhelmed my team with all of my optimization.

My team was feeling very left out of the process and were very unhappy. Luckily, they were smart and savvy enough to speak up and say, “Hey, well, how can we fit into this strategy? How can we brainstorm with you?”

I remember one person in particular, he was an intern, and his job was to support me and learn how this process works and he jumped up and said,  “Well, wait a minute, you’re just making me look bad!”

When he said that I just looked at him and thought, “Oh my god, you’re right!” In hindsight, I unintentionally made him look bad because he wasn’t able to be part of the process.

It was very interesting because I had to learn that the creative process is very much a give and take. I did it too quickly, too forcefully and I didn’t give everyone enough room to play.

I always thought that being smart and being quiet was enough and I really had to learn how to engage with extroverts and help everyone lead together.

Solving a problem for a client happens because many people contribute.


The Lesson:

The big lesson [was learning to ] lead with a sense of balance.

I try to get a good team of people that are extroverts. I like to bring in my research and my data and I look for extrovert types to actually help tell that story and present it to clients in a way that feels seamless.

Creative brainstorming and solving a problem for a client happens because many people contribute. Now, I’m usually one of the last people to speak. I’m still very much invested in solving a problem, but now I enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives.

You don’t have to solve it all in the first five minutes. Enjoy the process, hear what everyone has to say. 


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5 Effective Ways Your Business Can Sell on Pinterest

5 Effective Ways Your Business Can Sell on Pinterest

sell on pinterest ft image

When shoppers search for the perfect item, they’re not doing it on foot anymore.

Consumers are researching products online — on the go or in the comfort of their homes — and they’re using Pinterest. A lot.

73 percent of Pinterest users have purchased something they’ve found on the site. They’ve also stopped using other traditional researching methods like magazines and catalogs.

And they’re going directly to the websites of their favorite stores. Two-thirds of all pins created are from business websites.

If you’re not using Pinterest to promote your products, you are potentially losing out on a lot of sales.

But if you’re late to the Pinterest game, don’t worry. Now is a great time to start because Pinterest has developed a lot of great tools and features that will help get your products found.

Here are five ways your business can sell with Pinterest:

1. Buyable Pins

If your online store uses e-commerce platforms such as BigCommerce, Demandware, and Shopify, you qualify to use Pinterest’s Buyable Pins.

Once your account is set up, pins created from items on your online store will be marked with a bright blue “Buy it” or “Add to bag” button and the price is listed right underneath the image of your item.

Buyable Pins are easy to spot and make it simple for pinners to purchase. Shoppers can add items from multiple businesses to their Pinterest shopping cart and check out on mobile or desktop.

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Sell on Pinterest -- Buyable Pins

2. Rich Pins

Connecting Pinterest’s Rich Pins code to your Pinterest account and website makes pinning your products easier for you and your customers.

The Product Pin pulls in information on images pinned from your website, such as real-time price information, availability, location, and description. It guarantees that anyone who pins your products will automatically have the most up-to-date information on the pin.

Sell on Pinterest -- Rich Pins

3. Promoted Pins

Businesses can purchase ads on Pinterest, which are known as Promoted Pins.

You can purchase ads based on one of three different marketing goals: awareness, engagement, and driving traffic to your website. Choose to put your pins in front of the audience most likely to purchase your products by targeting relevant keywords, interests, and locations.

Sell on Pinterest -- Promoted Pins

4. Keywords

Using Pinterest’s tools will give your business an advantage in the Pinterest feed, but there are a few things you can do to give you even more of an edge, starting with keywords.

Remember, people are using Pinterest to do research on things they want to buy. Use the keywords that you already may be using in your email marketing, social media marketing, and search engine optimization in your website product descriptions and pins.

Test these keywords by looking them up yourself on Pinterest — what products come up in searches for these terms? Are there other keywords being used on those pins that you can add to your list?

Sell on Pinterest -- Keywords

Tip: Not sure what keywords are right for your business? Use these keyword research tips!

5. Visuals

Think carefully about the visuals you use on your website that could be pinned and the pins you’re creating.

Pinners have certain preferences when it comes to the visuals they save on their boards. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Sell on Pinterest -- Visuals

It’s time to pin and win!

Now you have the tools and tips you need to use Pinterest to sell your products. Set yourself up for success, get your products in front of pinners, and watch your business grow!

Need more Pinterest help?

Check out our Social Media Quickstarter resources on Pinterest — you’ll learn how to create the perfect pin, how to get found on Pinterest, and much more.

Sonita Lontoh | Crain’s St. Louis

Sonita Lontoh | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

vice president of marketing , Siemens AG


Siemens AG, headquartered in Germany, is a leading manufacturing and electronics company. Siemens has operations throughout the world, including Foster City, California.

The Mistake:

My mistake was that I thought my passion for my work was enough to make me happy on its own.

I came from a family that had a lot of expectations. Education was one of those expectations. And it wasn’t just education. You had to get into the right schools and the right major. 

I got my bachelor’s in engineering at Berkeley. Then I went to MIT to get my master’s in engineering. And then of course I had to get an MBA. So, I was doing all of these things because that was what was expected from me.

After that I thought I would just focus on my passion, the things I wanted to do. So, after school, I had a series of careers. I did consulting. I was a technology entrepreneur for a while, and then I went to a Silicon Valley venture-backed company.

When I first got into a job, I would be happy. But then soon after I would be unhappy. I would start thinking, this is not my passion, I really don’t want to do this and I need to find the next thing that will really serve my passion.

That’s when I had an epiphany. I got into the world of smart energy and the industrial internet of things. This is a world, where I kind of felt a little more sense of purpose.

This work still serves my passion, because I’m working at the intersection of technology, business and policy, and this definitely serves that need. But I also found an industry that serves a purpose, because when you do this, you are not just producing a product or selling a product to someone, where there’s no higher purpose in it.

When you work in smart energy, you affect climate change, and you are helping people in the industry move forward into the 21st century. So, I just felt like I found a purpose.

From there, interestingly, I started getting invited to speak and to write about my work and I met many people. I just found that was very fulfilling.

I thought if I kept looking and I found what I really love to do, I’d be happy.

The Lesson:

My mistake was really just focusing on myself, just the passion part. That’s because I thought if I kept looking and I found what I really love to do, I’d be happy.

I learned that wasn’t really the right way to think about it. I found that once I changed the focus from what I want to do, my passion, to actually marrying that with the skills that I have—and most importantly finding a purpose—I was happy. I feel my work is affecting bigger things other than just selling a product or getting revenue and profit for my company.

I’ve also had a chance to mentor the younger generation.

A lot of young people I talk to, especially the millennials, focus so much on what they want to do—on passion. Some of them say, “I’m not that happy in my work right now. I’m in finance now, but what I want to do is in strategy.”

They keep focusing on what they want to do.

That’s great—and a lot of young people are still trying to find their sweet spot in their career, but I would advise them to [focus on] what you think you want to do. I ask them, do you have the skill set to do what you think you want to do? And more importantly, what is your purpose?

Follow Sonita Lontoh on Twitter at @slontoh.

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Shark Tank Update: PetPlate

Shark Tank Update: PetPlate


Company: PetPlate

Founder: Renaldo Webb

Season: Appeared on season 8 in the week 10 episode

PetPlate delivers high-quality, human-grade pet food straight to pet parents’ doorsteps. The fresh meals can be selected through a subscription plan that takes into account the pet’s weight and age. Their meals feature farmhouse beef or oven-roasted turkey and are made from natural ingredients. According to their website, their mission is rooted in the belief “that all pets deserve real food that nourishes the body, mind and soul.”

When Webb originally appeared on “Shark Tank,” he came in asking for $100,000 for 10 percent equity. The sharks believed there were too many difficulties in scaling the business and Robert Herjavec questioned the delivery model and low subscription numbers. Guest shark Chris Sacca called Webb “a dream partner” but went out because he viewed the business as a potential competitor to one of his existing investments. Ultimately, the sharks found that there were too many issues in the company and Webb left without a deal.

Webb spoke with Business 2 Community about PetPlate’s experience on the show and what their next steps are. Take a look at the Q&A below:

Q&A with PetPlate’s Founder Renaldo Webb

What was your strategy for navigating “Shark Tank”?

My major goal for navigating “Shark Tank” was to get as much feedback as possible on our business model from the Sharks. I knew regardless of a deal, PetPlate at its core had the potential to be a $100M business, and I wanted their thoughts on how to get there.

How has PetPlate changed since the episode was first recorded? Since it aired?

PetPlate has changed dramatically, but we’ve kept true to our promise of delivering high-quality, human-grade food to pet parents. When we first recorded the show we were just in NYC and had barely 100 customers. Since it aired, we’re now shipping hundreds of boxes a week to pet parents across the country. We’ve had to scale up our operation to handle the extra demand and to ship across the country, but our team has also grown to help with the additional complexity.

Is there anything you would have changed about your time spent in the tank, including your pitch and valuation?

I would have worked to convince the Sharks more on the viability of the business at scale. I think it was a mistake for them to equate our customers at that point with the overall demand for this in the marketplace.

Who’s your favorite shark?

I’d have to say it was either Robert or Lori. They were both super engaged and asked the best questions.

Despite not getting a deal, do you think “Shark Tank” was the right move for your business?

Of course! The feedback is golden. We’ve used that to remodel PetPlate and now we have an exciting business that pet parents love.

What are PetPlate’s next steps?

Right now, we’re focused on growing and spreading the word that there is a better way to feed your dog. We’re also working on new flavors, packaging, and cat food.

Where do you see this industry in 5-10 years?

Pet parents are becoming as concerned about their pet’s food as they are their own. This year alone has seen numerous recalls due to euthanasia drugs being in popular foods. Pet parents are learning these issues and 60 percent of dogs being overweight are linked to how the food is made and processed, and they are looking for healthier alternatives.

I expect pet parents to start demanding fresher food, with real ingredients. I also see a huge increase in online and direct to consumer pet food sales. I’m glad PetPlate is on the cutting edge of those trends.

What would you say to people who want to start their own business?

Really think if you are ready to make the personal sacrifice it takes to run a business. It is far less glamorous than social media will make it seem. You’ll have to dig deep to overcome the daily hurdles and failures. If you’re ready for that great, but if you’re not that’s fine too.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to make it on “Shark Tank”?

Know your business inside and out, and enjoy the experience!

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length

Kim Jordan | Crain’s St. Louis

Kim Jordan | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Co-founder and executive chair, New Belgium Brewing Company


New Belgium Brewing is the fourth-largest craft brewery in the United States. It is based in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The Mistake:

My words had an impact that I failed to understand.

It wasn’t until I had done this for a while that I realized how much people really look to the boss for insights. When you are really casual about something or flippant, it’s taken more seriously than it would in other contexts.

I’ve had experiences like that. There have been times when I was just wandering through something, not necessarily complaining, but unpacking a dynamic and there’s a judgment in there. I have said things where I thought I was thinking out loud, but I heard later that so-and-so was concerned. It’s kind of a telephone game, and it lead to miscommunications that I regret.

I had a learning moment on this years ago. Back when we had a different kind of review process, I got feedback from a coworker. It was something to the effect of this: “Kim should be more careful about what she says. I don’t think she realizes the impact.” I don’t remember the specifics of the situation, but I do remember how incisive that insight was.

This was not a peer or even a direct report; it was further removed. I remember thinking, “Wow, that was really brave of that person to tell me that.” The stakes were high, but it was really good feedback. That person took a chance, and I needed to honor that.

The stakes were high, but it was really good feedback.

The Lesson

On one hand, judgment is a part of understanding. You have to know if someone dropped the ball or if they were not able to be in control based on circumstances. On the other, I’ve learned that it’s just part of the process and that it’s best to do privately or with a tight circle of trusted advisors.

You have to think, “Is this a good time to be casual?” Sometimes you’re thinking out loud with someone, and they’ll take your words for the truth.

This is especially timely now with the never-ending parade of people saying things you just can’t believe at the leadership level in our country.

The other thing that is really important is to not assume that you know all the questions and all the answers. Rather than assuming you have all the aspects of the dynamic, you can let others tell you what happened to influence the outcome. That helps people unpack things with you, and you are not in a position to dole out judgment that may not be appropriate.

Helping people unpack things with you is really important.

New Belgium Brewing is on Twitter at @newbelgium.

Photo courtesy of New Belgium.

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Tips For Creating A Return Policy for Your Business

Tips For Creating A Return Policy for Your Business

return policy

A return policy outlines the details that allow your customers to return items that they’re not satisfied with or have changed their minds about. Establishing a fair return policy for your business is part of providing great customer service and shows customers that you genuinely care about nurturing customer relationships and not just the bottom line. It comes down to deciding on a return policy that’s both reasonable for your customers and makes sense for your business.

Why do you need a return policy?

In an ideal world, consumers would never need to return their purchases. But returns are inevitable, especially with online purchases because customers can’t interact with the product in person. 9% of goods purchased are returned to stores, while at least 30% of online orders are returned.

Convenient and easy return policies sway customers to purchase. 2/3 online shoppers say they would buy more if returns were free, and 63% of online shoppers check the return policy before buying.

Because the return policy is a factor when consumers are deciding to purchase, if you don’t have a proper one in place to refer to, you could lose potential customers. There are many reasons why customers return items purchased online — the item is damaged, it’s not what they expected, or if it doesn’t fit. Regardless of the reason, if consumers can’t return the items to you, they may initiate a chargeback and go straight to their credit card company to request their money back, which translates to lost sales, potential fees, and brand damage for you.

What to consider when crafting your return policy

Time period

Consider the time period that you want to allow for returns with your product in mind. The common return policy period ranges anywhere from two weeks to three months but items like perishables, intimates, or sale items are usually final sale.

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There are different return policies across the retail industry. On one end of the spectrum are retailers that allow for returns without restrictions – anywhere, anytime, and in any condition. On the other end are retailers that have a 14-day “exchange only” policy.

If you have an online and offline presence, consider whether it makes sense to unify your return policies for both channels; it can help you provide a cohesive overall experience.

Proof of purchase

Next, you have to decide whether you will only accept returns that are accompanied with the original receipt. Some retailers don’t require them at all, while others not only require receipts but photo ID as well. Asking for a receipt gives you a way to verify if it’s your merchandise, the date, and the cost. This requirement prevents thieves from stealing merchandise and returning it for money (return fraud).

State of item

Determine the condition that you’ll accept returns. Most retailers only accept items back if they’re unopened and with original tags. However, keep in mind the nature of the products that you’re selling as some products like makeup and electronics need to be used before the customer decides if they want to exchange it.


You have the option to charge customers restocking, reshipping, or repacking fees when they return an item. For online purchases, decide whether the customer will pay for return shipping or if you’ll provide a shipping label. If you do decide to charge these fees, ensure that the customer knows.

Ease of return

Online returns are often trickier than in-store ones. If you’re an eCommerce merchant, make sure you state the procedure to return items clearly and succinctly on your website. Do they have to fill out a form with their reason for return? Do they have to print out a shipping label? Make it as easy as possible for customers to return items – remember, it’s a contributing factor to whether or not they’ll purchase from you. If you’re a multichannel merchant, consider allowing customers who bought products online to return them to their local store. Another option is to offer a loyalty card, much like beauty behemoth Sephora, that records your customers’ transactions, eliminating the need to keep their physical receipts.

Method of refund

Lastly, you have to decide how you will issue the refund. Often, businesses issue the return in the same method that it was purchased, others only offer store credit.

Implementing your return policy

Be clear

Use succinct language when it comes to writing your return policy. Think about your brand voice and ensure your return policy aligns. It can be serious or quirky – just so long as it’s clear and concise.

Publicize your return policy

Once you’ve finalized your return policy, make sure it gets read. Put it on your front counter and on customer receipts. For eCommerce stores, make sure it’s in your navigation menu, emails, and even social media pages. Include printed copies of your return policies and shipping labels if needed in packages.

Train your staff

It’s good practice to train your staff to let people know about the return policy and whether the item they’re purchasing is final sale at checkout. This preemptive measure on top of making sure your policy is visible helps make sure customers know what they’re getting into when they buy.

Taking these steps to crafting your return policy will help you reduce resources spent on customer service, save you from potential chargebacks, and increase your loyal customer base.

Tim Barklage | Crain’s St. Louis

Tim Barklage | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

President and co-founder, Better Life


St. Louis-based Better Life offers a line of plant-derived, non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products. In 2013, Tim Barklage and company co-founder Kevin Tibbs made a successful appearance on ABC TV’s “Shark Tank,” where they landed a deal with inventor and QVC personality Lori Greiner.

The Mistake:

My biggest mistake was spending too much time trying to compensate for my weaknesses versus embracing my strengths. The first time the issue really slapped me in the face was when a former boss was doing my annual review and the feedback was: “Tim, you spend way too much time trying to be great at everything and not enough time doing the things you are great at and that come naturally to you. Why don’t you just really work at the things you know you’re good at? Spend your time doing those and see what happens.”

That was a huge turning point for me because, when I focused on doing what I really enjoyed and delegated the rest, magic really started to happen. I was getting more done in less time. I think, for the first time ever, I was finding a sense of satisfaction from my work that was beyond just getting the job done. For me, that was what work had always been about. But I started to realize I could express my creativity through work.

When I focused on doing what I really enjoyed and delegated the rest, magic really started to happen.

The Lesson:

That’s when the seeds for my entrepreneurial journey were planted. As I embraced this new philosophy, I started to realize I was really good at creating new approaches to solving problems and building departments from the ground up. I was getting energy from the work. I also realized what robbed me of energy was the endless schedule of meetings and internal politics, which are the realities of what a lot of big companies have to deal with. That’s when the idea that maybe I should start some kind of business began crawling around in my head.

These were all really foreign concepts to me because I grew up in a family where my dad retired from the same company he’d started with when he was 19 or 20. My mom also worked at the same company for 20 years. So this life of an entrepreneur was not something that was in my comfort zone.

But, when my wife Nancy and I had children, we started thinking about chemicals in cleaning products and that products on the market really weren’t meeting our needs as new parents. We happened to have our neighbor Kevin over for dinner. Kevin is a formulation chemist and that’s really how Better Life began. But I would have never been able to run with the idea and become an entrepreneur without recognizing I had to be able to embrace my strengths and do the things I was good at and not be too worried about things I couldn’t do well.

Where the irony and the beauty all comes into it as an entrepreneur is that I would have never thought I would get my fingers into so many areas of the business, and that’s one of the things I love doing. But I recognize where I can add value and where I can’t. I also know I can’t take charge of every aspect of our business. I don’t have all the answers and I have to rely on the people who work for us to do those things. I trust them to do those things now.

The lesson was learning to listen to yourself, learning to trust yourself and really embrace who you are. At the same time, it’s important to recognize you do have weakness in order to see where you can add value and make good decisions without blinders on.

Better Life is on Twitter at @CleanHappens.

Photo courtesy Tim Barklage.

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Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling via Email

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling via Email

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling via Email

Simply put, understanding the psychology of sales can lead you to learning how to master the art of selling.

Let me point out one important fact – We are all human beings and our minds function in a similar way.

What triggers me will likely trigger you, and so forth.

Most of our decisions are not completely rational. We don’t have that much time to consider every aspect of information, so we leave this hard work to our subconscious mind to process it.

On one hand, you might be born talented and use these techniques naturally in order to move people in your direction.

And on the other hand, to be a successful communicator you might need knowledge of science that will show you what lies beneath the decisions people make.

Knowing the psychology of sales and these triggers will help you master the art of selling.

I will show you how to understand and implement this psychology of sales science into your email communication.

Persuasion Not Manipulation

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling

Before we start, let’s make one essential distinction.

Using these social techniques as manipulation won’t bring you any good. You might succeed at first, but people will find out soon that they are being deceived and provided with false information.

To persuade is to inform and educate.

And you do that by pointing out something that moves people in directions that are good and beneficial to them.

Similarities Bring Us Together

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling

Studies show that we are more likely to connect with a stranger who shares some similarities with us, rather than with someone who doesn’t.

We like the people who are like us, even if those characteristics are incidental, and we more often say yes to them.

Psychologist Jerry Burger and his colleagues conducted a research about the effect of an incidental similarity on compliance to a request. They showed how incidental similarities, for example having the same name or birthday, can lead to a positive effect.

In these experiments participants were also more likely to agree to a request from participants, who shared similar personality traits with this person than the ones who didn’t.

In other studies they found that even sitting in the same room with the requester or sharing a conversation can change how we respond to their request.

Investigators conclude that these “manipulations resulted in short-lived feelings of attraction, which caused participants to mindlessly respond to the requesters as if they were dealing with friends.”

How to Implement It into an Email

Research your leads.

The more you know about them, the easier it will be to connect with them. You are maybe fans of the same sports club, you like the same music, or you are both environmental activists.

Point out some of the similarities to start a conversation. This can be very helpful if you are reaching out to them for the first time.

Check out this amazing cold email that Dave Daily sent to Noah Kagan, and got to meet him. He even mentioned that they wear the same size shoes.

Subject: How I lost your Sperry’s.. and apt. And why you should meet with me.

I kept bidding them up.. to $600. Then I stopped with 3 seconds left and the other person won. I didn’t want the apartment. I was going to use it as an expensive excuse to get an App idea in front of you…and we wear the same size shoes. I have since bought a pair of Sperry’ Sperries? Size 11 – they fit!

Another thing that could be very useful is to try to connect to your leads in person.

Meet them at conferences, exchange ideas, and later make sure you mention that in your email when you reach out to them.

Mutual Exchange

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling

Reciprocity is one of the 6 principles of influence that Robert Cialdini, professor of psychology and marketing, explains in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

People will be more willing to say yes if you have given them something that benefits them, something that will help them be better at what they do. If you help them or give them positive experiences they will feel obligated to return the favor.

If you offer them something free they will later more likely choose to buy your product.

How to Implement It into an Email

Offer your customers help and guidance when they start using your product.

Provide content that will help them achieve their goals.

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Teach them what you know.

Segment your prospects and send them emails that will help them stay on track with necessary knowledge.

And in the end, you can also offer them a free trial or free usage for one part of your product or service. If they don’t have money to invest in it now, they will remember you when the time comes.

In Search of Social Proof

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling

Another principle of influence that Robert Cialdini mentions is called Social Proof. His research shows that when people are uncertain, they will more likely do what others are doing.

If people you like and trust are using some product or service, it will be easier for you to make the same decision.

How to Implement It into an Email

Make sure you mention the companies or people that are using your product or service. Point out how you’ve helped them grow.

Use positive feedback from customers and companies on your website. You can implement this into an email in the way that will be relevant to your recipient.

Positive Labels

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling

We want to be perceived in the best way and what others think of us plays a big role.

Positive labels are not just compliments — they are something that is important to us, encourage us and we want to nurture them.

When you assign someone a positive label, like having high intelligence or being a good person, that actually cues them up to live up to that label.” – Vanessa Van Edwards

How to Implement It into an Email

When you are talking to your leads or prospects, appoint them genuinely positive labels.

Fake labels have no power. Be honest.

You can tell them:

  • “You are a pleasure to work with.”
  • “You are our most valuable client.”

To Commit or Not to Commit?

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling

That is the question.

Robert Cialdini states that if we say yes, we will be committed to follow through with our previous statements.

There were studies conducted with voters who committed to vote on elections in a phone survey.

Potential voters, who received the phone call and said they would vote on the upcoming elections, later voted significantly more often than the ones that didn’t receive the phone call.

How to Implement It into an Email

If your clients said yes to your proposal once and then somehow disappeared, make sure you follow up. They were probably distracted with other work and didn’t have time to proceed with your offer.

Have this principle in mind and be persistent. Their disappearance should not discourage you.

As Christoph Engelhardt says in his book SaaS Email Marketing Handbook, you should follow up until you get another yes or no. “Most of the people will be excited that you follow up.”

Check out his follow up email correspondence. This is his 6th follow up. He also added a bit of humor.

Hi Patrick,

Did you trip and aren’t able to get up?

Do you want me to call 911?

I’m getting a bit worried over here since you didn’t reply to my previous emails.

This is what his recipient replied:

Hey, Christoph, completely my fault and thank you for staying on top of me. I fell behind on a few things with a recent job transition. I scheduled a time for Tuesday.

Relying on Authority

To be sure that we are making the right decision we want to know what the experts are saying.

We need the proof for products or services we are considering.

To even start a business relationship with someone, we want to know if they collaborated in the past with people or companies that we or others look up to.

How to Implement It into an Email

If you want to pitch someone for the first time, prove them why you are valuable.

Mentioning your past achievements and pointing out relevant companies you worked with will make you stand out.

If one authority company or person can guarantee for your skills, you can later aim even higher.

This cold email pitch that Bryan Harris sent to HubSpot is a perfect example.

Check out how he pointed out his collaboration with KISSmetrics along with other valuable content. KISSmetrics is a great blog, a great authority to rely on, but it is also very relevant to HubSpot.

I work with companies like KISSmetrics and make weekly videos for their blog. Here is one that got published earlier this week on their site: 4 Critical Facebook Reports.

When Things Are Scarce

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling

Another one of Cialdini’s principles of influence is Scarcity. He says that when things are less available they are more valuable.

Products or services can be limited in number or available for a limited amount of time.

These kinds of campaigns influence our brains to make an instant decision, so we buy because we are afraid of missing out on an opportunity, and not because we really need something.

How to Implement It into an Email

Inform your customers how rare and uncommon the features of your product or service are. Offer special features that they will be getting once they become your users.

Make a time-limited email campaign to offer an upgrade for your users for a lower price. Or make special discounts for a limited number of users.

Check out this email that I received from Hootsuite. This is how they used scarcity to upgrade new users:

Subject: Give us 60 days. We’ll make you amazing at social media.

To prove it, we’re giving you 60 days to try Hootsuite Professional, absolutely FREE.

The only catch? This offer expires in three days. So click the button below and start your free 60-day trial now!

Avoiding a Loss Instead of Gaining Benefits

Psychology of Sales and How to Master the Art of Selling

Kahneman and Tversky in their Prospect Theory pointed out that losses are more powerful than gains, in other words, people are more likely to avoid losses than they are to gain benefits.

Even when the losses and gains are equal, we are more motivated to consider the potential loss than a potential gain.

This kind of irrational decision making was also proven by Laurie Santos in her monkeynomics experiments where she showed that primates make the same silly decisions as we do when it comes to choosing between loss or gain.

Cialdini, in his book Influence: Science and Practice, talks about one experiment in which two different approaches were made to the similar customers.

Changing what they were told from “If you insulate your home, you will save X cents per day.” to a sentence that implies the loss “If you fail to insulate your home, you will lose X cents per day.” made a big difference.

How to Implement It into an Email

Send an email with an offer to customers that are using free or basic service to upgrade to a pro version for two weeks.

Show them all the benefits they can get and later when that period expires they will be more likely to continue using it as a paying customer.

The other thing you can do is change the way you are presenting your products or services.

Try a different approach that states that they will lose something beneficial. For example:

  • “If you sign up to the basic version, you will miss out X benefits that a pro version can provide you.”

And instead of saying how much money they will save by paying annually, try this:

  • “If you pay monthly, you will lose X in a year.”


Now as you know what influences people to make their decisions, you can try conducting an experiment on yourself.

Knowing what lies beneath your decisions and leads you in a certain direction will help you understand others as well.

It will take some time and practice to master these techniques, but after a while you will find yourself doing it naturally.

Tell me, have you ever thought about the psychology of sales triggers and are you already using them? I would love to hear your opinion.

Tina Vonderhaar | Crain’s St. Louis

Tina Vonderhaar | Crain’s St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

President and CEO, Brighton Agency


St. Louis-based Brighton is an integrated marketing and communications agency that offers brand development, market research, analytics, and digital marketing to clients including Monsanto and Mars Petcare. Brighton aims to combine the best aspects of a consulting firm and an ad agency in a philosophy it calls “Applied Imagination” to help its clients connect their brands and customers in creative ways.

The Mistake:

Not being open to different viewpoints earlier on.

When I came out of school, I went to work for the professional services company Accenture. It has a phenomenal business model. Accenture’s training helped make me successful. However, it is a different model than what works in the industry I’m in today.

At least at that time, Accenture took people who had certain types of degrees from certain schools with certain backgrounds and put them through the same training. So, when you came out, you all thought, acted, dressed the same and your thinking was very process-driven, which, for that model, was great.

Now, I run a marketing and advertising agency. It took time in this marketing and advertising space to adapt to and appreciate everybody’s differences. In this space, it’s important to have those differences and to let go of the desire to have everybody think the same.

Getting there is what’s helped Brighton evolve to where it is. Now, we could be sitting in a room and have an engineer and an artist and a musician and an accountant – people with all these different skills. And everybody has a story about how they got to where they are.

So someone might have an idea that makes you step back and say, “That’s not the way I would do it. And I maybe don’t even maybe agree with it. But, wow, that’s an interesting perspective.” At the end of the day, having an appreciation for different viewpoints is what our clients need.

You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

The Lesson:

There are two ways it’s manifested. One is when I lost talent who left because maybe they felt stifled. In hindsight, if I had been more open to what they were bringing to the table, I would have held onto that talent. From a client pitch side, I’m sure we lost pitches where we went in with a narrow focus. Now, when we have a meeting, we don’t just meet to solve the problem at hand. We step back and say, “Let’s get one person from each department in a room and talk about what we’re trying to solve for and let the conversation drive where we’re going.”

From a client perspective, it’s a huge win because they’re getting creative thinking they didn’t even know they needed. They’re getting solutions that may not have been on their minds. That doesn’t mean they have to use them, but at least they are exposed to that broader thinking.

Internally, it makes us much stronger with our recommendations and makes it much more fun. The most fun to me is walking into a meeting with a blank sheet of paper. In that meeting, you are going to have people with so many different viewpoints. If you go in without setting where you’re going to land and you’re open to listen, it’s a fun journey to see what will be on that sheet of paper when you leave.

But it’s important to have the right people in the room. It doesn’t work when you have someone in the mix who comes in with an ego or comes in with all the answers. I think one of the best pieces of advice I got early on was that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should listen twice as much as you speak. It takes an element of sitting back, listening, appreciating all the different viewpoints from all the different people because, in our environment, we add value by bringing together the analytics person, the artist, the musician and the engineer and seeing what comes out on the other end.

Brighton Agency is on Twitter at @BrightonAgency.

Photo courtesy of Brighton Agency.

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Rules for Increasing Retention and Creating Growth Within Existing Accounts

Rules for Increasing Retention and Creating Growth Within Existing Accounts

My Rules for Increasing Retention and Creating Growth Within Existing Accounts.

If you’re in business today with a recurring revenue model, of the biggest questions you must ask is “where are the gaps in my revenue engine?”

You may also be seeing an all-too-common trend: customer churn and/or a slowing trajectory of revenue growth.

I talk to CEOs about this topic all the time, and the patterns have proven to be pretty consistent. Most companies have revenue engines that run on delicately intertwined gears of new logos, retention and upsell/cross-sell.

If one gear isn’t working effectively, the others have to work harder and exude more effort in order to make up the difference.

How We Did this at Influitive

I spent over five years on an amazing journey with Influitive where I had the privilege of seeing this process in action. And let’s be honest, Influitive isn’t the exception – it’s the rule.

Companies all over the map have experienced retention issues that cause new logo teams to have to push harder and close more revenue in order to close the gap. This is the kind of problem that everyone in Customer Success stays up all night thinking about how to avoid.

It’s one of the worst problems to have – an old leaky bucket with holes you have to close up to stay afloat.

My goal at Influitive was to systematically increase retention and to create growth opportunities within existing accounts. I also wanted to find a better way to help customers see value and quantify what they were receiving.

The real mission here was to ensure that the incredible effort and dollars that were put towards winning new logos were not only worthwhile, but were returned at an even higher multiplier.

Here’s how we tackled the problem:

First, a few of us got together began to scrutinize the problem. We did this until we fully understood our customer segments, our typical customer journey, and the critical touch-points at which we needed to engage a customer. It was critical for us to take a step back and understand the big picture of our entire customer base and it’s unique “personalities” in order to best manage them.

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Pro tip: Once you reach 30+ customers you can no longer afford an ad hoc approach, you must look at as much data as possible (i.e. customer growth metrics, on-boarding times, retention metrics, company sizes, customer LTV, overall time spent in support and managing customers) so start tracking data now! One major goal is to find common stages that every customer must follow along your customer lifecycle. For example with on-boarding, you may find 6 key steps that every successful customer has gone through. While timing might vary, these 6 steps don’t. This is an exercise that needs be done once you reach about 120+ customers again for the purpose of segmentation and becoming more efficient and focused when managing your customers.

The more you can track and learn from real data, the better outcomes and confidence you’ll get from experiments and changes.

Armed with this info, we began to formalize the key questions we would need to ask customers as soon as they became customers, 2-3 weeks post-launch and 6 months before they renewed.

It’s important to note here, that while we looked at a huge bag of clients, we paid special attention to both our most successful clients, and those that were struggling the most. The key was discovering the trends that correlated with success and failure.

Learning from Our Process

Along the way, we uncovered a few core factors that every Customer Success and Account Management team should have as part of their process:

1. Get executive buy-in early and often within your customer base. Loop in the executive sponsor/decision maker/influencer with key metrics as much as possible. Even if it’s just an email update, any touchpoint is better than nothing.

2. Make your main user feel like a superstar. When your administrator does something awesome – share that with as many people in their company as possible. Their wins are your wins.

3. Ask about the renewal early and often, even if you know the answer is “no.” Get the “no” and work from there. If you know there’s a risk of non-renewal when there is still months left on the contract, you have a long time to re-focus their goals and change their outlook.

4. Seek to understand your customers’ company goals, and how your pr