Date archives "January 2010"

Book Review: Building Brand Value the Playboy Way

Marketing really fascinates me. The ability to get people to buy into your vision and what you are selling is something few people/companies pull off really well. The best way to equip yourself for this is to read about brands and their development. The Playboy story, narrated in this book, guides you through the brand being built to where it is today, along with key marketing principles they followed, and ignored. It walks you through the practical implementation of many concepts, which, if read in isolation are not as clear.

A core factor that led to the rise of Playboy in the 50’s, when it started, were the macro-economic conditions of the time. After the war, there was a burst in the population growth, along with higher sums of discretionary income available. However, at this time society was still reserved and topics such as sex were strictly taboo. Hugh Hefner saw this as an opportunity and built a magazine to address such topics. Being able to identify and provide for an under-served market niche is every entrepreneur’s goal! The only way to do this is to have your ears firmly plugged to the ground in an area that interests you. Hugh Hefner was able to do just this, and from the printing of his first magazine, he built a brand that is globally recognized today.

The book talks about Playboy’s brand extensions in much detail. Brand extensions such as Clubs, Casinos & Merchandise, enabled Playboy to reach their target audience and help them experience the brand at a much more personal level. This is another critical factor in building a brand, where your customers are engaged with what you have to offer. Someone who is extremely good at doing this is Apple. With their Macworld events etc, they are able to connect with their strongest brand promoters and share latest developments with them. A mistake Playboy made however, was that it extended it’s brand into far too many territories. This strongly diminished their positioning in the mind of the customer and lead to a downward slide of the brand in the 80’s & 90’s.

Another major component of the book deals with the importance of brand champions. Hugh Hefner is synonymous with the Playboy brand. He is their strongest marketing asset, very much like what Steve Jobs is to Apple. Without these central larger than life figures, the brand loses significant value. When Hugh Hefner got married in 89′ and removed himself from the spotlight, the brand suffered. Loyal fans were confused with the message that was being communicated by the brand’s iconic champion, and loyalty to the brand started to fade quickly. The book talks about some interesting ways to balance this situation, and how Playboy used them to avert this crisis.

The last point I found most interesting were the discussions on how the brand changed with time. In this last decade, the brand has had to explore online distribution strategies along with several acquisitions to retain it’s presence in the market. This aspect of the book will appeal to anyone with an interest in marketing, it shows how several of their fundamental marketing strategies remained constant, while tactics had to be adjusted to cope with the changing dynamics of the marketing place.

The book reads like a very long case study, and explains many key marketing fundamentals. It should be of help and benefit to those interested in marketing, and brand development.

Just Do It!

These words have been immortalized by the Nike slogan. They were also the first ones that came to mind this morning when I read Brad Feld’s post It’s So Hard When Contemplated In Advance And So Easy When You Do It. After a long time, I instantly connected with a post. The feeling he talks about is one I have been witnessing these last couple of weeks on account of a project that was just not going as planned. We had to finally take it into our own hands to get it done. In the beginning it seemed an insurmountable task. I had no idea how we would take it on. Nonetheless, we put our heads down, rolled up our sleeves, and just got to work. Sure it was more complicated than we had originally imagined, but changing mindsets to just getting it done, made it seem a whole lot simpler.

The realization came once again, that it all boils down to your ability to adjust your mindset to a condition where you will not accept anything as impossible, no matter how large the task. You have to tell yourself you will give it your best shot and nothing less. If you are not completely vested into the project or give it a half hearted shot, you are better off not doing it at all. This applies to everything we do in life. If we are unable to adjust our train of thought and align it to what we want to achieve, nothing will work out as planned.

Even when your mind is made up and you tell yourself, “Ok, I will get this done by a set date and no excuses!”, getting started is always a challenge. As the saying goes, every journey begins with a single step, and so, we have to ensure that the first steps we outline are simple ones, steps that will push us into the momentum of taking the next one. If we sideline this, we will often be left on the fringes, living life knowing we did not live up to our true potential.

Matching Ambition to Effort
All of us have different levels of ambition. Most entrepreneurs have large goals and visions for themselves. When setting these goals, be prepared to put in the effort required to achieve them. If you want to convert your tiny startup into the next Google, you have your work cut out for you! It is important to remember that every decision you take will require you to sacrifice something else. There will always be trade offs. Wanting to achieve a complete work life balance, at the same time wanting to take your company’s revenues from $1m to $100m or $1b will require sacrifice of time you may have wanted to spend elsewhere. It is hence important to get your priorities and goals in place, and decide whether this is what you really want.

Once you decide what you want, and chart a course on how to get there, it is time to….. just do it! No excuses and no complaining! Your ability to execute and get things done will be a true testament of your skill sets. If things do not go as planned, there is no one to blame but yourself. If you are not going to finish strong, it is best to choose something that you will be able to do more easily. The following video has always been a source of motivation and inspiration, it helps me get my head in the right place when I feel I am lagging. I hope it will provide you similar inspiration and motivation.

Book Review: Secrets of a Rut-Buster

Entrepreneurs as a whole, are a rut-busting community of individuals. We break away from the norms, challenge rules and more often than not, choose to walk down the path less traveled. This book intrigued me as it held the secrets of a woman who has achieved tremendous success in her life.

The book is Myra Janco Daniels biography. In it she lists eight secrets that have enabled her to become a life long rut-buster. She is an award winning entrepreneur, and ran one of the top boutique advertising agencies in America.

The book is an extremely easy read, I finished it in one sitting. It is full of stories from the authors life, in which she recounts how she came to uncover  secrets that have enabled her to achieve the level of success that she has had. The introductory chapter starts off with stories of her childhood, and how her parents and grandmother were able to impart lasting and valuable advice to her from a very young age. Another early chapter has one of my favorite stories in the entire book, it focuses around how she was taught the important lesson of giving. In the world we live in today, I believe there is an disproportionate emphasis on ‘taking’. Everyone looks at every given situation,  saying, what is in it for me, without taking into account any other person in the equation. The author says that the art of giving instilled in her at an early age brought about a way of thinking in her that greatly altered the path her life took.

Another very important lesson she mentions, is the importance of surrounding yourself with great teachers. This is another aspect I feel strongly about and am currently developing in my own life, it is one that everyone, no matter who you are, or what you do, should seriously be looking into. The ability to have access to a group of individuals, with years of experience, to guide you in difficult times can save you time, money and a great deal of pain. The author communicates these facts through some great stories from her life, which give one insight about their importance, and the consequences of not heeding to this particular piece of advice.

The final part of the book devotes an entire section to the importance of getting ‘lost’ every now and again. Sometimes, we become so ingrained into our job, way of life and thinking patterns, we get stuck in these ruts. In order to break free from them, we need to be able to take ‘breaks’  and go do something completely different from our daily routine. This could involve meeting and discussing people and things completely unrelated to our work, going for holidays and expeditions, or something as simple as cooking. The key has to be the ability to disconnect from our current thought patterns, and step back to take a look at the bigger picture.

A noteworthy aspect of the book is how one can sense the authors excitement and passion regarding advertising throughout the book. The manner in which she was able to come up with campaigns and artwork for her clients is an eye opener, and shows the power of hard work coupled with creative thinking. This book is perfect for someone who wants to bring about  major change in their life, and learn a little bit about advertising along the way. It is an extremely interesting and easy read, and definitely gave me many ideas on how to run a media agency successfully.

“Don’t try to sell something if you don’t understand it or if you don’t believe in it” Myra Janco Daniels

Feeling Overwhelmed Revisited

Feeling overwhelmed came up as a topic last week when I was talking to some friends. I had written about this topic earlier, but looking back at my series on 5 steps to a balanced lifestyle I felt I had missed a number of key points on how to deal effectively with the stress one faces as an entrepreneur. I think the points in that post outline several fundamental factors that need to be addressed and are a good primer for this post.

Startup teams usually bite off more than they can chew,  as a result, the reality of the enormity of what they want to achieve with a 1-3 person team often gets the best of them. I am sure a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to the emotional swings we deal with on a daily basis. They have the capability of completely neutralizing us from doing any work at all because the tasks at hand appear too big to determine where to actually start. This is when the feeling of being powerless starts to take over, and the days ahead are spent making half hearted attempts to start the project. In the end, what usually happens is deadlines come closer, customers start calling and investors start telling you to shape up. It is often then that we miraculously get a spurt of energy, and do something. The end product is hence not the result of our best capabilities. I have been through this cycle and have learned ways to drastically reduce that initial demobilizing feeling. Here are some steps I take:

Clearing your mind
Most of us, regardless of what we do, have far too much going on in our heads most of the time. All these factors add up very quickly. What I then do is, I take out an A4 sheet of blank paper. I close all communication devices, and then begin to write down everything that distracts me from focusing. Regardless of how many times a thought comes into my mind, I just write everything down. This is a sort of mind dump, where you want to get some clarity to everything that is distracting you, similar to the collection phase of GTD, for those who are familiar with it. Once I have all these thoughts down on a piece of paper in front of me, I start feeling a lot lighter.

Processing cluttered thoughts
The next thing I do is to take all the thoughts listed on this piece of paper and get them organized into one of three folders.

  • Do something about the action point right now. Something like making a phone call or sending an email.
  • Delegating it to someone else who can take responsibility for it, and setting a date when I could expect updates regarding the particular action.
  • Filing the action to my deferred to-do list, which I can reference at a a later date as it is not of vital importance right now. This requires saying “No” to a lot of tasks.

You will be surprised how good these two steps can actually make you feel. It also brings a much greater degree of focus into life and thought patterns.

Prioritization of tasks
It is important to make a list of tasks in accordance to their overall importance. The 80/20 principle is a powerful factor, unfortunately a lot of us fail to recognize it. By identifying tasks that result in greatest output for us, we enable ourselves to start acting on those items that will provide us greatest return, relative to the time and effort spent.

Setting top 3 action points
In this process, we identify action points that need to be taken to start making progress towards our primary goal or task at hand. However, these points are often still too big for us to handle on their own. What I then do is,  break them into smaller action points, I then give myself 3 action points to accomplish within the day. At the end of the day, I allocate the next 3 action points for the following day.

Rewarding oneself
When I record several days of achieving my top 3 action points, the accomplishment itself makes me feel like a million bucks. Other than that, you can set yourself rewards when you achieve set milestones . This is a really important part of the entire cycle. By rewarding yourself, and taking time out to actually enjoy yourself, gives you time to actually pull yourself out of the madness of your daily routine. This is a great time to reflect on bigger and broader issues.

I do hope this helps some readers of this blog. It has helped me tremendously in making noteworthy progress in getting things done, and breaking down initial barriers of procrastination for starting a new project, or getting a big task done.

What are some steps that you take to break the feeling of being overwhelmed? Would really like to hear your thoughts, suggestions and feedback.

Business Cycles

Every business goes through dry spells. This often leads to the team losing confidence in their product/service, or their ability to sell it effectively. It is a natural progression of how things work. We have two options when we  go through such spells :

1. Do nothing and hope things turn around.

2. Actively adjust strategy and keep plugging away with new approaches.

Option #1 is a no-brainer. However, I see way too many companies adopt this wait-and-see approach. The fear of actually making staff cuts, scaling back, and working out how to tell their investors, paralyzes executive teams from taking any sort of pro-active action that will yield results. At this point the management team only looks for quick fixes. The best being their ability to ramp up sales in a hurry to avoid any sort of backlash. Things however do not always work out so smoothly!

In the second option, the executive team realizes that a business does often go through cycles, and the best thing they can do for it is to continue plugging away, and focus on improving the value they provide their customers. The team must accept that quick fixes are not a long term viable strategy, and plugging away every single day will eventually yield larger upswing results when markets recover.

Unfortunately we live in a society which demands instant results and gratification. Taking paths that take months or years to realize their true potential are left to the side in lieu of faster get-rich schemes. The sooner we realize the wisdom in the ’slow and steady’ school of thought, the sooner we will end up achieving our goals and aspirations.

Have you used DropBox?

DropBox is simply a file sharing tool with a drag and drop interface similar to native OS applications. I heard about DropBox a while back, initially during their launch and inception and Y-Combinator, and then through the acclaim it won at Techcrunch 50. At first I thought I did not need a file storage service as I was already with a ton of services where my files were hosted, and I could share them fairly easily. However, that was the problem! I had my files in way too many places, and the notion of logging into those services, uploading the files and then making relevant changes to those files was becoming increasingly more challenging. This facility has however turned out to be one of those services whose utility you only find out about once you start using the application. I recently got onto DropBox, I have been blown away by its simplistic setup and its seamless syncing capabilities across multiple machines.

Here are some reasons why getting a dropbox will make your life easier.

1. Sharing photographs and large files with multiple family members just became a whole lot easier. Sure everyone uses facebook, flickr etc. However, downloading higher res photographs and simply uploading them, making the folder shareable over Dropbox, is truly amazing.

2. Working with multiple partners remotely on several documents one at a time is challenging, sending files over skype, time and time again, gets really irritating. Working with DropBox to collaboratively work together on projects has made life a lot easier.

3. DropBox essentially creates a central repository for your critical data. For instance, you could upload all your proposals, invoices and other critical documents to DropBox, and access them from multiple platforms, your pc, laptop and mobile phone. It also makes it really easy for the rest of your team to access the most up-to-date documents without worrying about using a USB stick etc.

These are just some of the advantages I recently experienced using this service. If you work remotely with a team that is geographically spread out, I would highly recommend getting yourself a DropBox.

Are you already using DropBox? How have you used the service to make your business more efficient?

Fighting Resistance

This is that time of year, when many of us set our New Year’s goals and resolutions. Those who have set their goals have been able to overcome the primary force of resistance we all experience in committing to a goal to be realized sometime in the future. However, many of us set audacious goals without any thought or plan for a follow-through during the course of the year. This is when procrastination sets in, we feel scared, or the goal was too ambitious for us, and we fail to figure out how to achieve it. In each case we face resistance, and this holds us back from achieving what we wanted to.

If there is any one goal you set for yourself this year, make sure it involves focusing on getting things done, rather than giving it a half baked shot. During the course of the year most of us will deviate in one way or other from what we have set for ourselves. That is just being human. However, when we see ourselves drifting, we need to have the self discipline to bring ourselves back on track, or have someone become your resistance fighting coach, to help bring you back on track.

This is undoubtedly always going to be a challenging journey. The resistance we feel is not created from an external force, it is a constant struggle within ourselves. In order to overcome it, we must break through our limiting beliefs and focus solely on hitting milestones until we achieve what we set out to. One last word of advice, resistance is greatest as you reach closer to the finish line. This is the reason so many projects are abandoned at 95% completion. The thought of completing what we set out to do often overwhelms and scares us. Remember, this is the time you need to be at your most alert and focused. Make sure you get whatever you set out to do..DONE.

By winning this internal struggle against resistance, there is very little we cannot achieve in this world. I wish you all the very best in the year 2010.

2nd Year Anniversary

It was in December 2007, when thinking about New Year’s resolutions, that I resolved to start a blog . Not quite knowing what I was getting myself into, I submitted my first blog entry on the 31st of Dec 2007 and set myself a goal to blog every single day, and then, I made a public commitment to the same effect on my blog ! Fast forward 2 years, December 2009, and I am so very happy that I started this journey. It has helped me grow by leaps and bounds in terms of my own knowledge, connections, and as a person. If you have not started writing a blog yet, and there is something in your life that you are truly passionate about, then a strong suggestion for a New Year’s resolution is….. start a blog! On the other hand, if you have not yet found something that you are passionate about, use a blog to discover your interests in greater detail. That is the beauty of writing regularly! Sooner or later, we start to zero in on the things that we care about and are most important in our lives.

Last year around this time, I published a post which outlined my top posts of 2008. To make this a tradition, here are my top 5  posts of 2009:

1. Do What You Love
2. Dark Berry Mocha Frappuccino
3. Designations & Startups
4. Do I need a Co-Founder?
5. 5 Mistakes to Avoid as an Entrepreneur

Wishing you all the very best for the year 2010. I hope to see many of you launch your own blogs, and achieve great success in all your future endeavors.