Are you selling what they need to hear?

Calculating ROI

Sure, you’ve got a great idea. What’s the ROI for them?

” It surprises me that most fashion buyers know everything there is to know about which trend and hemline we’ll be wearing in six months but can’t tell me what the density of their sales floor is, what the return is, what the dollars per square foot is, what their top-selling stock-keeping unit is and how many times they’ve reordered it in the season.  However fashionable the brand, we always start and finish with the numbers—the sell-throughs, the margins, the returns, the contributions—and then we talk about the pleasantries.” Marigay McKee, President Saks Fifth Avenue. From an interview in the Wall Street Journal.

How are you pitching your story? In business, your internal pitch needs to show the return on investment, not solely the brilliance of your vision or the cutting edge of your design.  Because vision and design can drive returns, but not if you can’t articulate them in a way to get your vision built in the first place.

At a recent workshop I listened to one female entrepreneur outline her next steps in growing her wellness business, which involved partnering with some other brick and mortar businesses. The first five minutes of the pitch outlined the wonderful community benefit, the sense of empowerment, the size of the mailing lists and the ambience of the event. Nowhere in the pitch was what the measurable benefit to her business would be, or the benefit to her brick and mortar partners.  A business coach kept probing, asking, “What is the benefit, where is the return?” and got more answers about wellness, community, and the overall specialness of the event. It took three tries for the business coach to get the entrepreneur to outline her plan for getting revenue from the event.

Lest any men be laughing and saying “typical female approach,” I’ve noticed many male-led pitches wax on endlessly about the speed of the technology, the sleekness of the interface, the inherent scalability of the product, while never addressing the paying market for the product.

At some point we all do it, fall so in love with our grand plan that we think everyone will buy in. And passion is a good thing.  Passion and drive keep you going at 3 am, when the 16th version is just not working the way you planned, and when you know in two hours the kids need to get up to get ready for school and you’re operating on no sleep. But we have to be mindful of our audience. Your significant other, your mom and your dog will love your idea, and think its brilliant, but unless they can finance it, eventually you have to sell it.

How are you pitching your vision? And are you selling it in a way that those who are buying can hear it?

book by Jeanne Goldie

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How are YOU telling your story? Sizzle, Steak or Rainbows?

baby pandas

Of course, sometimes you just need a really good distraction!


To be perfectly honest, I’m a numbers and facts girl.  Give me the numbers and the facts if you want to sell me something or get me to support your project. I appreciate a bit of finesse and style in the telling, but if you’re still spinning stories and playing on emotions five minutes in and I haven’t heard a single number or fact, you’re done.  

This can be a problem when I need to motivate people who prefer a more emotional, storytelling approach.  I always believe the numbers and facts speak for themselves…but the wrong approach can diminish enthusiasm for you and your project fast. If you don’t get “buy in” you’re a leader with no followers.

Learning to flex your storytelling style to meet the needs of your audience is a critical skill to master when you’re leading through complex changes. Some teams want to hear a “Rocky” type story (think of the countless sports coaches who lead with this sort of motivational speech), others prefer the “Rags to Riches” approach (“I grew up in poverty but I had a dream, and now I’m living it”), still others want a “Yes we can! Go Team Go!” hands in the middle type huddle. Some want to be wooed. Some want to be sold. And some, like me, just want the facts.

Word choice, tone, style and message for external messages keep giant marketing departments busy for years, and we need to think just as carefully about how we talk internally. You will need to carry a consistent, authentic message, but craft the delivery to meet your audiences needs.

Are you telling your story up the food chain? Generally as you are trying to persuade more senior executives, leaning heavily on facts and numbers will be the best option, but to truly sell it, put some passion and a bit of sparkle around the numbers (you want some passionate champions at the top too!). A general good ratio might be 75% facts wrapped in 25% sizzle, but you need to know your audience. If they’re like me you want to dial back the fluff and stick to the facts.

You may also have to tell your story to the world outside your company, customers, stockholders or regulators. How you craft that story will be a combination of understanding why the story needs to be told, what your audience currently understands about your business and what is important to them. Are you fixing a problem they knew about? Are you improving something that will bring better service, a new product option and what’s in it for them?

So today, take a minute and think about how you are telling your story.  Are you leaning heavily on an approach that always served you well with a different audience? And is it serving you with your current audience?  Do you need to flex your style?

P.S. As numbers focused as I am, if you play a video of cute baby pandas in the background while you’re talking I’ll probably sign anything.  I would start with this one.

P.P.S. Got some challenging news to deliver? Try our “Uncomfortable Conversations” Series for advice.  Working on your brand’s story? Learn from an expert here.


book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Uncomfortable Conversation #2: The Project has some Cost Overruns. Big Ones.

Uncomfortable conversations series 2

We’re over budget. Way, way over budget.

The Situation:

You’re three quarters of the way through your project and you’ve just had a major setback. You underestimated the costs to get to this phase but the project is useless if only partially finished. Your cost overruns will be more than 20% of your total project budget, even with the contingencies you built in your initial estimate.

What you would like to say:

  • Perhaps if we didn’t always have to hire the lowest bidder for subcontracted work we might have had a chance.
  • It’s Internal Technology’s fault! (Everybody’s favorite fallback.)
  • If any of the components weren’t already held together with duct tape our idea would have worked.

Needless to say, none of these approaches will win friends and influence people.  And waiting to have this conversation does you no favors. You can bet that those who opposed this project in the first place, or those who just aren’t fans of you or your team, are waiting with knives drawn and absolutely have gotten wind of the overruns. If you don’t “beat” them to the decision makers, you lose.  You want to be the one to tell the story first, because otherwise your detractors will be taking out a billboard to tell it for you.

What you need to be prepared with:

  • A carefully vetted budget for the remaining tasks.
  • Suggestions on the remaining steps which could be cut, created as beta versions or scaled back in order to try to recoup some costs. Would adding time to the expected completion points of various project segments allow you to cut costs? (i.e. reducing overtime costs etc.)
  • Your original cost benefit analysis of the project and a revised version with the new budget figured in.
  • Proof of any additional productivity, sales results, or cost consolidations that have already occurred during the project implementation (which are directly due to the project). Look for numbers, not just “feel good” stories.   Revert to “feel good” stories only if there aren’t any numbers yet.
  • A firm idea of the “why’s” and “how’s” of what happened. Was it a true miscalculation? Were there so many change orders that the project grew or changed in scope? Did you hire the wrong subcontractor or make a mistake in calculating what the cost of each element of the project would be? What steps have you taken to prevent this going forward or are you still moving forward on hope alone?
  • Create a “Lessons Learned” list, making sure you’ve taken all snark or emotion out of it. Do any of these lessons indicate a similar issue may arise as you move towards project completion? Have you identified any potential future risks?

Having the conversation:

  1. Have a meeting first with the Project Sponsor to go over what has happened. Make sure they are fully aware of what you’ve done to correct things, what the new budget looks like, and any wins you have had. Show them the wins on paper or better yet, live. You need a true believer when the going gets rough. If the project sponsor isn’t a true believer, try to locate some of your allies on the management committee and go over your plan with them.
  2. Ask for the meeting with the executive team to apprise them of the situation. Be Calm. Be Factual. Be Precise.  Here is where we are. Here is what went wrong. Here is what is working. Here is how we plan to get it back on track. Here is what we’ve learned and how we will prevent it from happening again. Here is our best estimate of the costs. Here is our expected benefit of this project. Here are some of the savings/revenue/positive changes already resulting from our work.
  3. Use visuals. Clear, simple visuals of the budget, the changes, and the new budget are key. Show the new cost/benefit analysis (with the new charges) as well.
  4. Take responsibility for not catching the issue sooner.  Ask for their support of the new budget.
  5. Shut up.

What to expect:

  • As we’ve said before, once you have the conversation, you have to somewhat relinquish control of the results.
  • Understand that while there may be real consternation at the increased cost aspects of the project, you will also likely get reactions based on the internal politics between the members of the team you presented to.  If they are jockeying for political survival, they may overemphasize the “disastrous” aspects of the costs or may attack leadership or managerial skills, of you, your team or others that were part of the project. Others, surprisingly, may downplay the cost issue, perhaps because your project serves their needs for something they have planned for a later date.  It’s rare that you get a “pure” response in a meeting like this.
  • The best strategy is to have a firm strategy on how to go forward. After the team has had the time to absorb your initial message, ask for their support on the newly renegotiated timetable, budget and plan.
  • Increase communications on the project’s progress in relation to budget as part of your follow up to the committee. Determine if a weekly, monthly or daily update would be appropriate to the current scope of the project and develop a simple “at-a-glance” report that can be sent out.

How have you delivered this sort of bad news before? How did it go? Please share in the comments section!

Tim Ferris believes that “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” The Uncomfortable Conversations series on 52weekturnaround gives you the tools to have the difficult conversations that you encounter as a change agent. See the series here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Some great questions to ask yourself and your team about your group’s previous adventures in change are in our Free guide: Reading the Terrain – A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Organizational Landscape. You can get it just for subscribing in the box at right. We don’t share your contact info with anyone else, and you’ll get free updates when this site adds new content.


Five For Friday: Creating a New Brand, with Corey-Jan Albert of Relish Marketing

Corey-Jan Albert

Corey-Jan Albert

Today’s “Five for Friday” features Corey-Jan Albert, an innovative marketer who always gets to the heart of an audience’s needs, making her insanely effective for her clients. We recently had a discussion on  the “how and whys” of brand change for businesses and she was kind enough to share her thoughts with us here at Having known Corey-Jan for many years, and knowing the excitement and brilliance she brings to her work, I’m thrilled to be able to share her insights!

A Conversation with Corey-Jan Albert:

Before we even get into any of these excellent questions about change management and branding, we should be sure to be on the same page with what we mean by “Brand.” It’s much more than the company logo and tagline. When you think about a company’s brand, you’re talking about the visceral, emotional response we have as part of a total experience at every point of contact with the organization, its people, products and/or services. That experience is created in two parts: (1) The part created by the organization, its products and/or services and (2) The part that takes place in the mind of the person experiencing/interacting with the organization, its products and/or services. Obviously, the goal is to control the first part with logo, a well-defined messaging platform, an overall look/feel for materials, and appropriate communications – be they advertising, sales collateral, PR efforts, etc. If you do it right, you will influence the perceptions of key audiences.  

 Right, then – on to the five questions: 

1.  When should an organization consider making a brand change?

A rebranding effort can be successful under a lot of different circumstances. The most common time to rebrand is when an organization’s existing identity feels outdated, too generic or otherwise out of step with the reality of the business. For instance, the company’s brand feels like a small, “mom and pop” company – but they’ve actually transformed into a sizable business. The company may have started out as a brick-and-mortar business, but now, the bulk of its business takes place online – or vice versa. Maybe the company is entering a new market – and they want to look like they belong there. Or perhaps the original logo was developed a long time ago by the owner’s nephew and it feels outdated and/or amateurish.

Mergers and acquisitions also provide opportunities for rebranding. When a large company acquires a smaller one, the smaller company almost always adopts the larger organization’s brand. When two competitors merge, however, they may want to create a new company name and brand to reflect the new, united entity. Likewise, when a company acquires a business with a significant amount of brand recognition, it might not be wise to completely force an entirely new brand that would squander that equity.

An organization shouldn’t seriously consider rebranding if team members are not ready to embrace and reflect the new corporate identity, or if the company is experiencing dysfunctional, divisive behavior. Rebranding won’t fix any of that. On the contrary, serious issues like these are likely to undercut any new branding efforts.

Business leaders also should beware of the impulse to rebrand out of boredom. Yes, that sounds a bit crazy – who would do such a thing? – but here’s how I’ve seen it happen: A company develops a new brand identity, everyone embraces it. It’s a time of excitement and energy – and that’s great. Then, living and breathing the brand every day, it becomes ordinary. And shortly after that, it feels boring. Missing the thrill that came when the brand identity was new, executives may lament that the identity feels old and needs, “refreshing,” even if it’s only actually six months old.

I cannot emphasize this enough: It is critical for business leaders to make sure that they and their employees remember: Your audiences aren’t living and breathing the brand identity every day, 24 x 7, the way you are. About the time that internal team members become bored by the “new” brand, external audiences are probably just starting to get used to it. Indeed, it usually takes a year or more for a new brand identity to become firmly established in the minds of customers, investors, the media, etc. That’s the time when you can really start to build brand equity. It is not the time to change to something new.

2.  What are three key things to keep in mind while creating a brand identity?

  1. Be simple, clear and consistent. Don’t try to make your brand express too much. If you try to build too many different brand attributes and messaging components into your brand identity platform, it will be difficult for your audience to understand and it won’t sink in.
  2. Be realistic. There is value in establishing an aspirational brand, just as there is value in dressing for the job you want to have. But whether you’re dressing your business or yourself, the distance between where you are and where you want to be can’t be unattainably far. If your audiences feel like they’re being asked to believe something that simply isn’t part of their experience with the company, they won’t buy in. A successful brand reflects and reinforces your audience’s actual experience with the company and/or its products.
  3. Your people may be your most important brand element. If you create a brand identity that your team members can’t reflect in their demeanor, work and communications, they will accidentally – or, in some cases, deliberately – undercut your efforts.

3.  How do you prepare internally for a brand change? What do you need to have your team do?

One of the most important things to do internally is determine who has a stake in the new brand. Whose day to day business existence will the brand affect? Who are the “external-facing” members of the organization, who have their fingers on the pulse of each of your external audiences? Include these people in your process.

Equally significant, consider who else within the organization is positioned to influence internal adoption of the new identity – either positively or negatively. They may be executives. Often, however, they are admins, long-term employees and others who are looked up to and respected by other employees. You should incorporate these people at various levels of your process for two reasons. First, they are likely to be able to share perceptions, ideas and opinions that may not be part of your C-level leaders’ world view. Second, if these internal influencers feel like they are part of the building effort, they are more likely to become your champions, rather than your saboteurs.

Get perspective from someone who isn’t “drinking the Kool-Aid.” An outside consultant with relevant design and writing expertise, as well as brand strategy and development experience, can help you guide the process forward while rapidly and objectively identifying potential issues and opportunities. Full disclosure – Relish Marketing is an excellent brand strategy and creative consulting practice. That said, I advocated for this approach even when I was “in-house” talent for a large technology company. It’s simply smart business.

Finally, be open to unexpected input and ideas. You may think that everyone on your team is in agreement about how the company’s is perceived, both internally and externally. And your assumption is probably wrong. The question is: What do you do when you discover a disconnect between how you and your team see the company? I’ve seen some leaders take it as a cue to “correct” the perceptions of others on their team. And I’ve seen leaders use that same disconnect as an opportunity to broaden their own perceptions – of the company, of their team members, and of their customers. No question – leaders who respond in the latter way achieve better branding results.

4.  What works best in communicating a brand change to your external clients?

Clearly, there is no “magic wand” that will instantly grant identity adoption across all of your external audiences. Some members of your audience will “get it” right away – and say that this is what your company always should have been. Others may take longer. That said, I would say that there are three major keys to encouraging adoption:

  1. Demonstrate internal acceptance. Take the time to help team members learn how they are an essential element of the brand, and help them learn to incorporate the new brand at every point of contact – including not only the website, print materials and packaging, but also emails, social media, and day-to-day interactions.
  2. Test and listen – to others and to yourself. Before “going live” with a new brand, test it with trusted audience members – and listen carefully to their responses before finalizing the platform. At the same time, maintain the courage of your convictions to avoid letting an overly enthusiastic or ambitious customer or shareholder derail your process.
  3. Stay the course. Once you do go live, it may be tempting to try to “evolve” the brand – making changes to messaging, logo, look/feel, etc. as its newness wears off (see above under question 1 “…beware the impulse to rebrand out of boredom.”) But little shifts – either back toward an old comfort zone or forward toward untested positioning can undercut the results you want to achieve in the long term.

5.  What are some of the best brand change strategies you’ve seen (or you’ve worked on, if you’re comfortable sharing that). What made them particularly effective?

 My favorite brand change strategies? You may as well ask who my favorite children are!

I love how the Federal Express delivery company responded when they realized that most of the world shortened their name to Fedex. Many companies would have done a branding campaign to re-ingrain the full Federal Express name. This company embraced their customers’ abbreviation and changed to fit it. Their logo does a nice trick with the space between the E and the X forming a forward moving arrow, too. Essentially, rather than try to lead their audience, they caught up to their audience – to great effect.

When Kimberly-Clark wanted to encourage a corporate culture of innovation, collaboration, and personal responsibility for results among its employees, we helped them update a very corporate, internal employee- and recruit-facing brand to feel more open and creative. It uses sketchy, handwritten fonts and supportive imagery that feel collaborative and welcoming. And it’s coupled with messaging language that reinforces the organization’s People Philosophy and expected employee behaviors. The results have been tremendous, with high acceptance and soaring recruitment and retention numbers.

One of my other favorite rebranding efforts was on a much smaller – yet still highly complex scale. An interior designer was employed by a high-end furniture retailer with an uncertain future. He wanted to establish his own professional brand identity, which he could leverage in the event that his employer’s business did not remain viable. At the same time, he did not want to do anything to undercut his employer’s brand. In fact, was adamant about wanting to enhance it. We created a brand identity for the designer that both highlighted the designer and reinforced the retailer’s existing brand. We took care to design the logo and write the positioning language, however, in a way that would not require dramatic changes if the designer had to open his own business. The designer’s self-branded marketing efforts actually elevated the positioning of his employer, raising sales and visibility. Other issues ultimately forced company to close – but the designer was able to successfully take his interior design work forward independently.

Corey-Jan Albert can be reached at  She is also an accomplished author and playwright.

Rule # 9: Change Does Not Occur in a Vacuum

Shadows of change

Great Strategists understand they operate in the shadows of the history that came before.

Seth Godin said this so much more eloquently than I can; he calls it “The People Who Came Before You.”  When you begin to share your strategic plan with your team or your organization, you are standing in the shadow of all the ghosts who enacted change, or attempted to, with the same group. You are standing in the shadow of their experiences in other workplaces, at home and in past relationships.

If cost reduction strategies have always started with massive layoffs in the past, regardless of your words, the team will only hear “layoffs.”  If revenue growth meant giant sales goals that bore no relationship to reality, your “increase sales with our new strategy” will be reinterpreted as “We’re going to get some new scripting to take to the field and then they’ll raise our goal numbers.” Did the last strategic planning session feature a boring four day retreat followed by a zippy new mission statement and a binder that was shelved for all eternity the day after the retreat? Well, your call for a new focus on strategic planning will likely be met with some new mission statement suggestions and a request to vet the hotel location so everyone can set their tee times up front.

Ghosts take a heavy toll on team progress, especially when they are confronting change. Respect that the people you are asking to make that leap are carrying the baggage of many past adventures, the good, the bad, the awful and hopefully, the fantastic.  Having the right team in place before your unleash your plan is an important step. Asking that team about what has happened in the past, will help you unroll your plan to the larger audience in a way that can help people trust you enough to make the leap.

Want to get all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Click HERE

What Baggage have you had to address when rolling out new plans? How did you handle it? Please share in the comments below!

P.S. Think you covered all of that and your project still isn’t getting any love? Try here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Some great questions to ask yourself and your team about your group’s previous adventures in change are in our Free guide: Reading the Terrain – A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Organizational Landscape. You can get it just for subscribing in the box at right. We don’t share your contact info with anyone else, and you’ll get free updates when this site adds new content.

© Jeanne Goldie 2015