Steve Kaplan's Blog

November 28, 2011

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Smart Shoppers, and Smarter Companies

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 1:41 pm

Today- on what the retail industry calls “Cyber Monday”- I came across this article from Forbes. Due to Black Friday success, many retailers lifted retail stocks today to “extend the promotional environment to direct-to-consumer sales online.” For many companies- especially big, smart companies- this has become a tradition. And a tactical one. Just because most of the world goes back to work on Monday and can’t spend their mornings in line fighting over merchandise, it doesn’t mean people can’t spend big money- on big deals- online.  So the online space needs to cater to that with calculated discounts and robust campaigns to let their consumers know about them. And this year it worked really well.

Unsurprising, according to comScore, Apple was the 5th most-visited online retail store on Black Friday, behind Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Target.

One reason Apple probably succeeded so much this year is because this Black Friday was particularly aggressive when it comes to online shopping. According to a report from comScore, Black Friday saw $816 million in online sales, a 26-percent increase over last year. IBM’s data suggests a similar surge, with Black Friday online sales rising 24.3% compared to last year.

In today’s world where most companies already offer online shopping with strong email campaigns to let consumers know about promotions and deals, it only makes sense that the online component will boom on the days of the year that are already branded as the biggest “Deal-Days” of the year.  As a consumer and a business owner, it’s really about using these days as smartly as possible.

What do you think of Black Friday and Cyber Monday?


November 1, 2011

Marketing to Millenials

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 12:40 pm

Attention small business owners:

I came across this article today, and I think it raises some great points. Check it out.

A few takeaways to get you thinking:

  • “Technology hasn’t just changed how Millennials access information, it’s actually changed the way they think. ‘Technology has altered cognitive functioning for everybody, but nobody more so than youth,” said Kit Yarrow, a business professor and chair of the psychology department at Golden Gate University and author of Gen BuY(Jossey-Bass, 2009). “Our brains are forming when we’re young, and because they’re so immersed in technology, their brains are literally different than other people’s.'”
  • “Millenials have shorter attention spans, are better at multitasking, and get bored more easily.”
  • “Constantly keeping in touch with each other via text messages, Twitter, and Facebook has made Millennials feel more powerful, Yarrow added. ‘They know they can get people to support a brand they love, and they know they can really damage a retailer they hate,’ Yarrow said. ‘All this is relevant to marketers.'”
  • “‘More than 85 percent of Millennials link commitment to a cause to their purchasing decisions and their willingness to recommend a company’s brand to others,” Winograd said.
  • “Millennials are likely to switch brands of equal price and quality if one is tied to a good cause.”
  • “Yarrow said Millennials have been more thoroughly doted upon by their parents than any generation in history. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that Matthews describes them as uncompromisingly demanding when it comes to products and services. ‘They have very high expectations, possibly unrealistic expectations,’ he said.”
  • “‘They’re turning marketing efforts upside down because they’ve created two-way marketing,’ Wells said. “It’s no longer just companies putting out a message.”

According to, here are 5 things that work for millenial marketing. I agree.

1. Use innovative technology in effective ways. Matthews points to a Nucleus campaign that used interactive videos to support the launch of a new luxury hotel in London. The technology, from Los Angeles-based ClikThrough, allows companies to tag videos so viewers can get more information by clicking or hovering over objects and places in the video.

“Using this ClikThrough video, we were able to not just show the location, but show what you could do within five minutes of the hotel on foot,” Matthews said. “Every restaurant, every shop is actually tagged within the video so you can hover over the video and get more information.”

2. Be interactive. That means more than letting users click on videos. It means listening to customers and involving them in everything from product design to marketing. It’s especially effective in building recommendation generators that turn consumers into marketers so companies don’t have to churn out one-way messages. Yarrow points to a Kleenex promotion that allowed consumers to go to a website and Facebook page to request a free sample of tissue to be delivered to someone else. “That’s brilliant,” she said.

3. Move fast and hit hard. Millennials want their information now and their products just as soon, and they want to be intensely entertained and engaged. One way to grab attention and create an impression of speed and urgency, Yarrow said, is to promote limited-time offers, such as discount coupons that must be redeemed that day.

4. Find and engage influencers. Even the smallest company can recruit Millennial ambassadors, Wells said. “If you’re a pizza place, figure out who’s important in the community and give them free coupons to bring in their friends,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge, over-the-top campaign. And it’s never been easier or cheaper to do than now.”

5. Make cause-related marketing mean something. Millennials are unimpressed with superficial support of causes, Winograd said. They want commitment to the cause to permeate your entire company. One good example is TOMS Shoes, a 5-year-old Santa Monica, Calif., company that has sold more than a million pairs of shoes on the premise that for every pair a customer buys, it will donate a pair to a child in need.

August 2, 2011

What makes you so special?

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 10:31 am

Throughout my career, I’ve always strived to find out exactly why people purchased or rejected my products and services. I’ve learned a lot.  I recognize that sometimes I made a sale because the buyer felt there was little risk. At other times, it was because my product seemed innovative and different from those offered by our competitors. Sometimes it was because the buyer liked the salesperson. Whatever the reason, I always tried to have my sales force tailor its presentations to fit my understanding of what my potential customers were looking for.

Your task now is to help your customers come to this value conclusion by creating one or more unique selling Propositions (USPs).  Then, through branding, you can communicate the value to your customers in order to entice them to buy your product. USPs and branding give your sales force ways to objectify and quantify value. There are no better sales tools available.

What’s a USP?

The unique selling proposition is the quality that makes your product or service rise above the rest. It can be something tangible- higher-quality ingredients, lower pricing, overnight delivery- or an abstraction, like a promise to make your life more fulfilling or your face younger-looking.

The perception of your USP is your reality. That’s right- the way it’s perceived is the reality. What matters is that your USP motivates customers to put their hands in their wallets by appealing deeply, even unconsciously, to one or more of their needs.  It is likely that within your products or services you need in order to develop and communicate effective USPs.  What you have to do is uncover these hidden USPs, package them, and use branding to present them to the prospect. The more creatively you can do  this, the better your chances of making the sale and growing your business. USPs are all around you.

For example:

Nike’s USP is inner strength and motivation. How does Nike use their USP? “Just do it.” Burget King’s USP is customer choice, and it’s presented as “Have it your way.”

What company’s USP do you find impacttful?

Tune in for five reasons to create a USP.

May 27, 2011

The Ten Second-Rule

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 1:16 pm

…Not just a food-safety strategy, but a way to keep your cool.

Make it a practice to pause for ten long seconds before you react to new information, whether positive or negative- employee complaints, unhappy clients, potential big contracts, or anything else.  This grace period helps ensure that your responses are well considered.  It also trickles down to the employee, who may emulate your behavior and respect you for assessing the news carefully rather than flying off the handle.

Not long ago I was sitting in my office after a three-hour client negotiation, my head threatening to explode and my patience worn thin enough to see through. Suddenly, an employee burst in to announce that she had a brilliant idea: Turn off all the office lights for 15 minutes twice a day. She thought it would be a great way to relieve stress; I thought it was a great way to make us the laughingstock of the industry.  Still, I resisted the urge to reject her idea as ludicrous, and, most likely, offend her in the process.  Instead, I left the room to compose myself- for a whole series of ten-second pauses. When I returned, she proceeded to elaborate on the theory behind the lights-out proposal, I politely suggested that as intriguing as her idea might be, we just couldn’t risk losing thirty minutes of productivity a day, especially since we were growing like crazy and could barely handle things in the time available. Rather than leaving in a huff feeling berated or belittled, she saw my point and left feeling good about herself and  her role in the company. She also appreciated having face time with the person in charge.

May 18, 2011

Excel During Adversity

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 11:36 am

This is my fifth of my five keys to leadership.

Excel during adversity. It’s easy to be a strong leader when everything’s growing according to plan, but what do you do when the business environment hands you a lemon? Do you head for the door? Scream at your employees? Or do you roll up your sleeves? When handled properly, adversity can bring your team together in ways that winning never could.

For instance, suppose you’ve just learned than an employee stole from you or your biggest client took a walk. Here’s how you should handle it:

Remain calm. The entire company is watching you and will take its cues from your initial reaction. Keep a cool head.

Stall. Whatever the bad news , you need time to craft an appropriate response. Make clear that you’re troubled by the news and intend to make the matter your top priority. Then act.

Dig. In all crises I’ve faced, the bearer of the bad news rarely knew the whole story. If a client is bailing on your company, for example, find out exactly why. Perhaps the client is merely flexing his muscles over a disagreement with one of your employees and can still be saved. If not, you’ll still need to explain the situation to your employees.

Analyze. After you have all the facts, consider them from as many angles as possible. Put yourself in the shoes of whoever is unhappy or causing your trouble.

Plan. Now develop a plan of action. Is the client truly thinking of leaving? Suppose you learn that this client ran roughshod over your employees. If you still need the business, then find a way for the client to save face without disciplining employees who may have done nothing wrong.

Execute. After choosing a course of action, implement your plan.  When you call the client back, be deferential.  Let her know that you looked into the problem and removed the employee in question from the account.  That will make the client feel valued.

Communicate. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do, inform everyone who needs to know.

May 17, 2011

Maintain the Homefront

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 11:30 am

This is the fourth of my five keys to leadership.

Maintain the homefront. Nurture and support employees’ personal lives. No, I’m not suggesting that you run a dating service- just share the wealth a little and do what you can do to make your employees’ home and social lives easier. Once in a while, spring for an inexpensive lunch. Plan for an open house for employees, suppliers, even clients. Let your employees bring a spouse or date to holiday parties; excluding significant others can generate animosity toward the company and stress in the home.  When in doubt or under budget constraints, opt for less extravagant but no less inclusive celebrations.

May 16, 2011

Be Approachable

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 3:25 pm

This is the third of my five keys to leadership.

Be approachable. Whether you have one employee or one thousand, it’s a huge mistake to isolate yourself. Every Monday, I would wander down to the mail room and strike up a conversation with Phil, the mail room clerk, about sports, weather or current events- just small talk. Phil’s job took him to all departments, all employees. He was very social, turned into the pulse of the company; everybody liked him and enjoyed chatting with him.  I enjoyed Phil’s company too, but aside from that, I learned more about my employees’ concerns during those impromptu five minute sitdowns than I ever could from an hour-long meeting with my managers. What Phil knew about the concerns of the rank and file simply would not have filtered up the management chain on its own.

I once asked a renowned Chicago surgeon the secret to his success. His answer: great pizza. He knows that even the best  surgeon in the world wouldn’t get far without a crack team in the operating room, particularly first-rate nurses. So every month, he orders pizza for his entire staff. In December, he throws them a lavish holiday lunch. The rewards come back in spades. Nurses claw over one another to work with him, and he’s the one surgeon who has no trouble getting overtime help.

A little goes a long way. I’m always amazed at how much mileage you can get from a dozen doughnuts, a five-dollar box of chocolates, or letting an employee go home early once in a while.

May 5, 2011

Be Consistent

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 11:47 am

This is the second of my five keys to leadership.

Be consistent. Your employees need to know what to expect from you. If you’re rational one day and volatile the next, or if you change the rules of the game without warning or apparent reason, those you’re trying to lead may become confused and ineffective. Being consistent calms the anxiety that builds up under pressure of growth. If they know how you’re going to react, they can adjust their actions to meet your expectations.

How are you consistent? Or better yet, what have been the consequences you’ve faced for being inconsistent?

May 4, 2011

Lead by Example

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 12:45 pm

This is one of my five keys to leadership.

Lead by example: Your employees will take their cues from what you do, not what you say. If you demand long hours, yet walk out the door at noon, how seriously will people take you? When I was running my businesses hands-on, I often left e-mails or voicemails for employees after midnight and on weekends. I also let it be known that when I wasn’t at work, I spent plenty of time with my family. They got the message- and soon followed my lead. The result was a culture of hard work in a family environment.

Leading by example goes far beyond the hours you keep; it defines your company’s personality. Do you treat your employees with respect or suspicion?  Do your employees hear you working out how to best serve your customers or how to chisel a few extra bucks out of them?  Do you make fun of employees behind their backs or praise them to their peers? Do you follow up on your plans and orders or issue and forget? Do you keep your promises or look for loopholes? Your employees, for their part, will mirror your tone and demeanor when interacting with other employees, clients, suppliers, and customers.

How do you lead by example?

May 3, 2011

Five Keys to Leadership in a Growing Company

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 9:19 am

Entrepreneurs, almost by definition, are driven, but the truly successful are those who motivate and inspire others to push beyond their limits. From my own experience and that of other successful leaders I’ve known, I’ve distilled the following keys to effective leadership during times of company growth. Although leadership styles may vary, following these precepts will keep your train on the tracks.

1. Lead by Example

2. Be Consistent

3. Be Approachable

4. Maintain the Home Front

5. Excel During Adversity

Over the next few days, I will elaborate on each of the five keys to leadership. These 5 leadership precepts are CRUCIAL to running a company, and I hope you find these tips helpful.

Anything you think I’m missing? How do you lead effectively?

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