If at first you don't succeed...

We all know the value of persistence in business. President Calvin Coolidge once wrote, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than the unsuccessful man with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded (genius) is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent."

But persistence isn't just important in business. It's equally important in all of life's pursuits. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Thomas Edison tried more than 1,000 different filaments for his light bulb before finding one that worked. And Dr. Seuss's first book -- And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street -- was rejected by 27 publishers before he found one who would publish it.

Imagine if any of these three men had given up. The NBA would have been left without arguably its best player ever. We'd all be writing by candlelight (okay, maybe not, but it sounds more dramatic that way). And generations of children around the world would have been left without such classic tales as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to name just a few.

Any endeavor worth pursuing involves struggle. Those who persist are those who succeed. So don't give up. Success may be one jump shot, filament, or publisher away.

That's not what I meant

We've all been there. Something we write in an email, letter, or casual tweet gets misunderstood. Or perhaps, we're the ones who have misinterpreted something a friend or colleague wrote. No matter how clear we think we are in our writing, misunderstandings happen. When they do, open communication is vital to resolving the issue as quickly as possible.

But how can we keep misunderstandings to a minimum?

Context is key. When you compose an email or tweet, the recipient can't see your face or hear the tone and inflection of your voice. They must rely on your words alone to guide them in interpreting what you're trying to say. If the recipient knows you well, they may be able to infer meaning more easily, based on previous interactions, but even then, misunderstandings can occur.

To minimize miscommunication, keep your writing concise. Stick with the facts, and move on. Use humor cautiously, particularly dry humor that may be seen as being flip, curt, or rude. Save the jokes for face-to-face situations, when your body language and vocal inflections can help in interpreting your words. And try to craft questions that cannot be accidentally read and interpreted in a different way than you intended.

A humorous example of this occurred around the turn of the last century. William Randolph Hearst made a bid to purchase a competing newspaper. He asked his rival for a selling price, to which the man replied, "Three cents daily. Five cents Sunday." Obviously, the rival knew what Hearst meant by his question -- and by answering the way he did, basically let Hearst know the paper was not for sale -- but this does go to show that the same question can have more than one meaning if interpreted differently.

Of course, it's not just what you say that matters; it's how you say it. When communicating in writing, it's important to know the subtleties of the medium you're using. For example, most people now know that writing an email or Facebook post in all caps is often equated with yelling. For a medium like Twitter, with its 140 character limit, the challenge often comes in trying to say too much in such a confined space. When composing a tweet, it's easy to inadvertently gloss over some of the details, in an effort to save space. Make sure you're not losing meaning -- or raising confusion -- for brevity's sake. If you can't adequately say what you need to say in the space provided, choose a different medium.

Lessons from Google's new Chrome icon

This week, Google unveiled a new, simpler icon for its Chrome web browser. In a blog post explaining the change, Google designer Steve Rura wrote, "Since Chrome is all about making your web experience as easy and clutter-free as possible, we refreshed the Chrome icon to better represent these sentiments. A simpler icon embodies the Chrome spirit -- to make the web quicker, lighter, and easier for all."

Whether you love it or hate it, the new Chrome icon provides an important lesson to corporate marketers: When creating logos, color schemes, and icons to represent your brand, make sure those symbols represent the core values you want people to associate with you.

Another lesson comes in the way Google went about creating its new Chrome icon. "Redesigning the icon was very much a group effort," Rura continues. While you probably should put together a core team of designers and marketing people who will have the final say in creating your corporate brand, don't overlook ideas from "outsiders" in your organization (customer service people, salespeople, product developers, etc.) who might bring a different perspective to the discussion.

And finally, make sure your new identity translates well both online and off. "It was important to maintain consistency across all media," Rura concludes, "so we kept print, web, and other possible formats in mind."

One way to ensure a strong print-based presence for your new logo, icon, or color scheme is to involve a printing firm, like ours, early in the design process. As print professionals, we can help you choose colors that are attractive, cost-effective, and easy to reproduce, so you don't wind up spending more than you hoped to for less-than-ideal results.

How are we doing? Seriously, we want to know...

When was the last time you asked your customers their opinion? When was the last time you acted on it? I have seen it in grocery stores. A board with a place for PUBLIC customer comments and PUBLIC employee responses below.

"Hey, I don't like your new sodas. I want the old ones back!" -- Fred

"Hi Fred, we've had issues getting that soda from the supplier but we will work twice as hard now to get it" -- Soda Manager.

You know that YOU like to be listened to. Don't your customers? Throw away your old "Suggestion Box" and build one online or put up a board in your office and use those comments to make yourself better!

Trust-building tips for your next new product launch

You've just released a great new product you're sure will be a hit with customers... if only they'd give it a chance. So how do you convince skeptical buyers who may not know you or your business that your product is worth a chance? Here are a couple of ideas to help you put their minds at ease.

If practical, provide a free trial period of 30 or 60 days. Let the customer try your product, risk free, before committing to purchasing it. This may not be practical for all products or services, but if it is, it might be worth a try.

Offer a full money-back guarantee -- no strings attached. If, for any reason, a customer is not completely satisfied with their purchase, they can return your product -- no questions asked -- for a full refund. An airtight guarantee like this lets your customers know you believe in what you're selling and are willing to put your money where your mouth is. Sure, a few people might take advantage of your offer, but most will onl y return the item if they have legitimate concerns.

If something does go wrong and a customer returns your product, let them choose whether they'd like a refund or to have the item replaced. If they opt for a replacement, give them something extra as a free bonus for their troubles, as well. Remember, a happy customer is worth far more than the cost of the free item you're giving away.

First to market, lasting success? Not a guarantee.

Being first to market is no guarantee you'll succeed. The business annals are littered with tales of cutting-edge companies that eventually lost out to newcomers who built a better mousetrap that redefined the game.

Google is a great case in point. By 1998, when Google burst on the scene, search engines and directories such as Yahoo!, AltaVista, Excite, Lycos, and AskJeeves were already firmly entrenched. Many people wondered why a new search engine was even necessary.

Then they tried Google. Using a proprietary algorithm to generate its search results, Google quickly gained a foothold and the loyalty of users frustrated by the other brands. Word spread, Google's popularity grew, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Google powers more than two-thirds of all U.S. searches, according to the latest data from Experian Hitwise (February 2011). Yahoo! Search accounts for just a 15% market share, and many of the other search providers in existence when Google began have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Sure, many factors went into the success of Google as a brand, and Internet search is now just a part of what the company does.

But, generally speaking, what are some basic lessons we can all learn from Google and other Johnny-come-latelies who now dominate their fields (Facebook vs. MySpace, anyone)? Lots of things, really, but three really stick out in my mind....

1. Don't underestimate the competition.
2. Don't rest on your laurels.
3. Don't ignore the ever-evolving needs of your customers.

That's pretty sage advice for any company, no matter how big or small you might be.

When was the last time you Googled yourself?

I was looking for a potential customer phone number. Someone I haven't done a lot of work with (I think I talked to him a year ago). Let's call him Fred Fredson, and let's pretend he lives in Nashville. I couldn't remember his business name, so I did a quick Google search on his personal name: "fred fredson nashville" (it's Google -- no caps needed). I was shocked. People had been reviewing his business using his personal name and saying some not very nice things. I then Googled him by business name, and it was a different story. All I got was his nice business listing.

It made me realize that people are saying things about businesses in ways that had not occurred to me...and that while some of them are neutral or even flattering...some of them aren't. So I encourage you to Google yourself by name with your location and see if there are any surprises out there waiting for you!

Do you believe in your product?

Are you wearing clothes? Do you own clothes? If you do then you are like 100% of the people that you know! And every single item of clothing that you are wearing was bought somewhere, by someone. It was sold.

Ever get talked into going to a birthday party you weren't 100% thrilled about? You got sold. Ever feed a kid an ice cream cone before dinner because of a look on a face? You. Got. Sold.

Selling makes the world go 'round. It happens in just about every single transaction between people that you can think of. From your teenager talking you into staying out late to the car dealer convincing you that you need the expensive oil change.

What made that ice cream cone sale work? Well, a lot of things actually, but one part of it was the deep sincerity on the part of the seller. Same for the person trying to get you to go to the birthday party. Those people believed in the product they were selling.

So...can you bring the same sincerity? Take a moment to see where your passion is. If you find yourself bogged down in the details and feel like you've lost the feeling of the sale, then take a step back and look at a kid who wants an ice cream cone. Then make the sale!
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