Category Archives: Branding

Blasingame’s Three Laws of Aggregation (or Two reasons your small business is like Sakrete)

Sakrete is one of the handiest products ever developed. It’s basically a bag of rocks and sand, but to a weekend warrior with a honey-do list, it can be a magic dust.

Packaged in small bags almost anyone can carry, Sakrete is an aggregation of Portland cement, sand and different size gravel. Just stir in water, apply it to your small construction project, wait a little while and, badabing badaboom, you’ve got real concrete supporting your project.

So, what does a small business have to do with a sack of rocks? Two things.

1. Chemistry.

When the components of Sakrete come in contact with water, a productive reaction occurs that, in a short time, manifests as a handy and enduring result. In the marketplace, productive chemistry between people and organizations is has long been known to be critical for sustaining successful performance. Whether Sakrete or your small business, the right chemistry is critical.

2. Aggregation.

Sakrete doesn’t just aggregate the correct combination of stuff, but also different sizes of masonry material. The larger pieces provide critical mass and structure, while the smaller ones bind everything together and nimbly fill in the gaps to eliminate weak spots. But unlike chemistry, aggregation is not as much of a natural law and requires more maintenance. Which is why there are no Blasingame Laws of Chemistry, but three Blasingame Laws of Aggregation.

Blasingame’s 1st Law of Aggregation

Find your success in aggregating the success of employees. 

Simply put, this is servant leadership, a term Robert Greenleaf coined in his book titled, you guessed it: Servant Leadership. But the concept goes back thousands of years to the ancient Chinese wisdom of I Ching, “The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.” And in his gospel, Mark quotes Jesus, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”

Leaders who sustain success, year after year, are those who subordinate their ego by helping their people to be successful professionals, and then aggregate those success stories for the benefit of the company. They celebrate others first.

Blasingame’s 2nd Law of Aggregation

Aggregation prevents aggravation.

In business, aggregation is also known as strategic alliances, which small businesses must build with other organizations, especially larger ones.

It’s aggravating at least, and dangerous at worst, to manage threats and take advantage of opportunities without strategic resources. Compare the merits of forming a strategic alliance with an organization that already has what you need before you risk the expense and possible delay of capitalizing the ownership of that resource. And if you prefer, you can call it strategic aggregation.

Blasingame’s 3rd Law of Aggregation

Associate your brands with those that are more established. 

I also call this the “Forrest Gump Strategy.” As you develop strategic alliances, look for partners with brands and influence that have a higher recognition factor than yours, and arrange for the relationship to include your brand being presented in the marketplace alongside theirs. Brand association is smart aggregation, but you have to step up your game to earn the right to that level of aggregation.

Write this on a rock … If you’re not having the level of success you want, perhaps you should take some lessons from Sakrete.

The wonderful world of small business niches

One of the things Sears Roebuck is famous for is their Craftsmen tools, especially their mechanical socket wrenches. Once, while buying one of these, I was confronted with the options of “Good,” “Better,” and “Best,” a strategy for which Sears is also famous. Asking about the difference, I was told that the Best model had more notches, or teeth, inside the mechanism, allowing for finer adjustments when tightening a bolt or nut.

For the past 30 years, the marketplace has increasingly become like that “Best” socket wrench: every year, it acquires more notches, except in the marketplace, notches are called niches (I prefer “nitch,” but some say “neesh” – tomato, tomahto). And just as more notches in a mechanical wrench allow for finer adjustments, niches create finer and more elegant ways to serve customers, which they like – a lot.

Webster (and Wikipedia) defines a niche as, “a place or position perfectly suited for the person or thing in it.” If ever a concept was perfectly suited for something, it is the niche and small business. Indeed, as one small business owner creates a new niche, another is creating a niche within a niche. It’s a beautiful thing.

Rebecca Boenigk is the president of Neutral Posture, Inc., a Texas company she and her mother founded in 1989. This small business manufactures REALLY comfortable and ergonomically correct office chairs. As a guest on my radio program, she told me they attribute their success to filling a niche: Their chairs aren’t for everyone, just those who are willing to pay a little more for a chair that promotes the best posture at work. Many small business fortunes have been made with the Neutral Posture model of being the best-in-niche, rather than trying to conquer the world.

The mother of niches is what Adam Smith called “the division of labor,” which today often manifests as outsourcing. Outsourcing is when individuals and businesses spend more time focusing on their core competencies and contract for the other stuff. For example, there are more professional lawn businesses today because folks are increasingly realizing they can earn more by sticking to their professional knitting, than it costs to hire their grass cut.

And across the marketplace, it’s become an article of faith that the best way to stay on track is by outsourcing non-core tasks to a contractor – often operating in a niche – whose core competency is that task. I’ve long said that the best thing that ever happened to small business – after the personal computer – is outsourcing, because it manufactures niches, which are pretty much the domain of small business.

As niches have increased in number, so have entrepreneurial opportunities, resulting in the most dramatic expansion of the small business sector in history. It’s difficult to say which one is the egg and which is the chicken: Have entrepreneurs taken advantage of niche opportunities presented to them, or have they carved out niches while pushing the envelope of an industry? The answer is not either/or, it’s both/and.

In the future, there won’t be more mass marketing, mass media or mass distribution, but there will be more niches – lots of new niches. Even niches of niches. And that’s good news, because more niches means a healthier small business sector, which I happen to believe is good for the world.

Write this on a rock … Most small businesses will find more success by creating and serving niches.

Leave the Age of the Seller behind for the Age of the Customer.

Your customers kn

Small business brand value is more than the Q factor

Have you noticed that every new on-air person hired by a TV network looks like a soap opera actor? They’re all young and pretty. We’re left to think that non-beautiful people need not apply. That is, unless you’re familiar with a certain marketing measurement.

Marketing Evaluations Inc. is the proprietor of a marketing metric used extensively to hire on-air talent.  It’s called the Q Score, and it’s as rude as it is simple.

A prospective anchor is presented to an audience who is asked to give one of two answers: I like or I don’t like. Responses are graded based on the numeric Q Score.  Above 19 means you’ve “got Q.”

Never mind credentials, if you can read a teleprompter and have Q, you’re hired.  Below 19—fuggedaboutit.

Could the Q factor be involved in perpetuating the marketplace myth that owning a brand is the exclusive domain of big business?  After all, if only the young and beautiful possess the best TV journalism credentials, why wouldn’t we believe you can only have a brand if you have a sexy national television campaign?

Since most of us would be guilty of giving an “I like” score to a pretty face, it follows that we would also be foreclosed from thinking a dowdy small business could actually own a real brand.  But here’s the truth about branding, and it’s good news for small business: Owning a brand is more than having Q.

Most experts will testify that a brand is established when a product delivers a desirable feeling.  Pleasure, happiness, security and yes, even pretty are examples of how a brand might make us feel. A brand’s value and power are established when it consistently delivers on our feelings and, increasingly in the Age of the Customer, on our expectations.

If people were influenced only by things that have Q, churchgoers would only attend big, beautiful churches, and yet tiny churches abound. Like religion, brand loyalty is also a very personal thing, which is more good news for small business. Getting close enough to customers to discover their individual expectations is one of the many things small businesses do better than big businesses.

So it’s resolved: Owning a brand is not the exclusive domain of big business. And when it comes to actually building brand value, small businesses have the edge.

Big businesses may be good at brand Q, but small businesses are better at what really counts: building brand value. Our challenge is in believing this truth about ourselves.

Write this on a rock… Your small business’s Q is measured in brand value as defined by customer expectations.

Customers now co-own your brand message

As previously revealed in this space, the Age of the Seller is succumbing to what I’ve named The Age of the Customer®. In this new Age, control of the relationship between Seller and Customer has shifted to the latter.

This paradigm shift is largely caused by online platforms that are: 1) increasing the access customers have to information about Sellers and their products; 2) allowing customers to express and share what they’ve learned about and experienced with a business.

Your-Brand-Lives-Here1The first element above has created what I call, the “Moment of Relevance™,” where customers have access to virtually all the information they need before you know they’re interested, and prospects are similarly informed before you even know they exist. Such access to information is changing—or disrupting—the way you market to and connect with customers, as well as how you train sales people. Plus it demonstrates why your greatest danger in The Age of the Customer isn’t being uncompetitive, it’s becoming irrelevant.

To some, the second element looks like the new kid on the block. But it’s actually the new iteration of an ancient marketplace maxim that describes the practice of word-of-mouth: “If you make customers happy they will tell someone; if you make them unhappy they will tell 10 people.” The theory behind the 1:10 ratio is that all businesses, regardless of size, are motivated to perform, or risk a marketplace indictment by the judge and jury of word-of-mouth.

In the new Age, online platforms have caused word-of-mouth to transmogrify into a powerful dynamic called “user generated content,” aka UGC. This is when customers post their experiences, questions, praise or condemnation about a seller’s products, services, and general behavior in the marketplace. In the vernacular, it’s word-of-mouth on steroids.

Indeed, if the word-of-mouth maxim were coined today it would sound like this: “Customers may post their opinions online—positive or otherwise—about your business, making it available potentially to millions.” To paraphrase Mark Twain, comparing word-of-mouth to UGC is like comparing a lightning bug to lightning.

In The Age of the Customer, two of the new things every business must do are: 1) anticipate that customers are already well informed; 2) track and respond to UGC about your business. And how well you do these two will influence whether the new customer control becomes a handy lever to growth, or a disruptor that makes you irrelevant.

It’s the Age of the Customer—are you prepared for the Moment of Relevance?