Measure success by results, not actions

Quick quiz: Which answer would you prefer if you were the one asking the question?


Did you get your grades up?

a) I studied more and spent more time at school.

b) Yes, my grades now all B’s or better, up from C’s and D’s.


Did you sell more of our company’s chocolate?

a) We spent $100,000 in advertising and had sales reps pitch over 100 grocery store chains a special chocolate package.

b) Our sales of chocolate are 50% higher this year than last year, increasing our profits by $500,000.


Have you impacted our school’s students with free textbooks?

a) We formed a committee that meets regularly. We also held a workshop and a webinar.

b) Compared to last year of 600 students using free textbooks, we now have 3,000 students using free textbooks, saving them approximately $300,000 this year. Our class drop rate has declined by 10%, and our students are doing as well or better in the courses with free textbooks.


Did you increase our employee retention?

a) We conducted a survey and found out why our employees are unhappy. We plan to have a forum to share the results. Then we will decide next steps.

b) Currently we’re losing 10% of our workforce each year. We conducted a survey and used those results to create the following next steps. Our goal in the next 12 months is to use these steps (including a forum) to reduce our employee turnover to 5% from the current 10%.


Actions (all a’s above) are important steps to results and they can be powerful goals on the way to results, but they aren’t results. To be truly successful in your initiative, decide what result (all b’s) you want to see, and measure your success by that.

Affiliate marketing vs. pyramid schemes

In mentoring a student last week, I did a deep dive on affiliate marketing. What I found was that there seemed to be a lot of confusion as to what was affiliated marketing and what was a pyramid scheme (especially when pyramid scheme operators use the term “affiliate”).


Why it’s an important distinction

Quite simply, pyramid schemes (also known as multi-level marketing) are bad news. Many who find themselves a part of a pyramid scheme end up losing money due to startup costs, quitting their jobs to work on the scheme, etc. They also end-up losing their friends and family because the schemes emphasize recruiting friends and family into the business, which usually backfires.

The promise is the potential for large gains in money, but the reality is much different. The Finance Guy did a great breakdown of costs and income on pyramid schemes. For example, in 2010, active Amway members made an average of $2,424 per year. Their costs? $3,600 per year. So, they lost $1,176 on average per year.

But the main reason to stay away from pyramid schemes is that they are a scam, and because you are recruiting others in the scam, you could be charged with conducting illegal behavior.

Affiliate marketing isn’t without faults (potentially poor products, ethical issues such as disclosing you are an affiliate, etc.) but as a general rule, affiliate marketing is considered legitimate.


The difference between affiliate marketing & pyramid schemes

The main question to ask is: What is the primary way you make money?

In affiliate marketing, the primary way you make money is selling a product or service. You refer people to the company and the company pays you based on the number of referrals or the sales from the people you referred. For example, if you have a blog with a link to company’s product and that company pays you a commission for any sales that come from the link on your blog, then that’s affiliate marketing.

In a pyramid scheme, the primary way you make money is recruiting others. You may make a little bit on sales of a product or service, but the real money is recruiting others to sell the product or service and for them to recruit others. Usually the pitch goes something like “If you recruit ten people and they each in turn recruit ten people, then you could make a lot of money!”


Why marketers still celebrate consumer-based holidays, such as Valentine’s Day

Why do people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.)? why people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). It’s a fair question, since we are supposed to be such “experts” on how product companies utilize these holidays to get consumers to buy things.There are three main reasons we still go out, buy things, and celebrate.

A white feather, chocolates arranged in the shape of a heart, rose petals
“Essence of love with sweet chocolate and Strawberries #1 [Happy Chocholate day]” by Kumar’s Edit, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

One of the questions I get often from friends is why people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). It’s a fair question, since we are supposed to be such “experts” on how product companies utilize these holidays to get consumers to buy things.

There are three main reasons we still go out, buy things, and celebrate:

The holiday & traditions are important to someone else in our lives

I first witnessed this when I was interning at the Kellogg Company in their snacks division. High-level marketing executives would rush out of their offices in the middle of the day for a chance to get their child the toy craze of that holiday season. Why? Because, even though these executives knew the techniques very well that made their child want the toy and made them willing to rush around to get it, their child didn’t care about those, their child wanted the toy, and sometimes, it’s not worth the battle to explain to the child why they shouldn’t want it.

If you want to test this theory, try telling your mother that you will no longer be celebrating Mother’s Day because it’s a “Hallmark holiday” and see what kind of reaction you get. Oh and email me about the experience, I’d love a good laugh.

Emotion and societal norms play a huge role

The vast majority of the consumer-based holidays are based around religion, cultural traditions, and personal relationships, which makes them highly emotional for the vast majority of us. This makes it difficult for anyone, even someone who is trained in the influential techniques, to not react emotionally to them.

As Robert Cialdini, best-selling author and professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, humbly points out in his best-selling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, even he falls prey to the subtle, but powerful influences of his emotions, societal norms, and cues in his environment. In many cases, it’s because we’ve developed patterns of behavior that become routine and thus we don’t question them. For example Valentine’s Day=buy a card and chocolates for your loved one (which yes, I did this year).

The holidays are rooted in a positive intention

Is it wrong to take a day and celebrate the love we have in our lives? Is it wrong to show appreciation to the people who raised us? Most definitely not. We should be celebrating these things. And I would argue that most of us need an external reminder to take some time to do so, such as a designated societal day.

What this doesn’t mean, however, is that it needs to be celebrated in a consumer-centric way. This may be something as simple as not having your Valentine’s Day dinner on the actual day, or it may mean something more, such as not exchanging gifts on major gift-giving holidays. As long as the other people involved are on board (see the first heading), then you can choose to retain the positive intention of these holidays and celebrate them another way.

The advertising diversity conundrum: Balancing diversity, accuracy and sales

Four people holding up eyes and mouths of other races over their own face to mask their race
Photo:”Diversity Mask” by George A. Spiva Center for the Arts is licensed under CC BY 2.0

On a recent trip to London, I entertained myself on long tube rides by analyzing their advertisements. What struck me most was the lack of diversity in their ads. Here I was, in one of the top 10 most diverse cities in the world, and about 90% of the people featured in ads where Caucasian. This reminded me of the advertising diversity conundrum that we all face:

Do we utilize people who will sell the most for us and not worry about representing who buys our product?

Adore Me uses A/B testing to decide which models to feature based on sales. The result is great sales and all of the models are very similar in look: olive skin, dark hair.

Do we accurately represent the population where we are advertising?

This stance usually means, if 33% percent of people in the population are one group and 40% another, then 33% of the people in your ads should be of the first group and 40% of the people in your ads should represent the second group.

Do you make sure and represent as many diverse groups as you can in each communication?

An example of this stance in execution: a college recruiting brochure should have one person from each racial group, one person that is a non-traditional age, one person with a disability, etc. Another recruiting brochure should have a similar mix.

Do we do some form of combination of the above? Or something else?

But it gets even more complicated than that. Some particular diversity in advertising conundrum questions I’ve faced in my career:

– Where is the line as to which groups should be represented? By putting one student, who was Native American, in one ad over the course of one year, we were over-representing the number of Native Americans who attended the college I worked at. But if we hadn’t included him, the Native American population would have been underrepresented.

– “Non-traditional” age students don’t respond less to ads with only “traditional age” (18-24) students in them. But traditional age students are less likely to respond to ads of non-traditional students. So, should we still put non-traditional age students in ads?

– I once conducted a focus group at a university where a student complained that, by representing every group in all of the recruiting brochures, the university had falsely given the impression that the campus was incredibly diverse. He was very disappointed when he arrived and found the campus a lot less diverse than he thought based on the brochures. Should the university stop this practice?

– It’s hard enough to get students to show up to photo shoots, how do you responsibly and ethically get a diverse mix of students to show up?

– What about other forms of diversity that are valuable, but hard to see in a five second ad? For example, veterans are an important part of every college campus, but usually don’t go to class wearing their uniform from when they were in the service. How do you accurately represent them in your ads?

These are not easy questions, but they are questions we all grapple with. How do you handle representing diversity in your ads? Which philosophy do you think is best?

Photo:“Diversity Mask” by George A. Spiva Center for the Arts is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Effectively Networking with a Conference Speaker

A woman giving a presentation in front of a crowd
“MozCon Day 2 – 2013” by Thos Ballantyne is licensed under CC BY 4.0

You just watched an amazing presentation by a speaker and you want to discuss their presentation, or something else, in further detail with them. Based on my experiences as both a speaker and a fellow presentation attendee, here is the best way to effectively approach a conference speaker for networking:


  1. Approach the speaker by standing a few feet away but obviously waiting for them, wait patiently for them to acknowledge you.
  2. Approach
  3. Shake their hand while introducing yourself
  4. Give them your short (1 minute) compelling reason you two should speak further at a later date. Examples:
    1. That was a great presentation! I have a couple of follow-up questions related to what you said about x. I’d like to schedule a time with you to discuss.
    2. I’m really interested in what you said about small business marketing and I’d like to discuss how I’ve used similar techniques successfully. I’d like to set-up a time with you to discuss.
    3. My company is doing something very similar to your organization and I think we could be great partners.
  5. Let them know you will be following-up via email to schedule a time to speak with them. Most speakers will hand you a business card at this time, but if they don’t and you think it’s going to be hard to find that information on your own, ask for one.
  6. Follow-up within a few days.

Common errors:

  • Don’t monopolize the speaker’s time. Give your 1 minute compelling reason to speak to them further. No more. If you try to ask any in-depth questions you have then or try to have an in-depth discussion right then, you’ll risk leaving a bad impression with not only the speaker, but other conference attendees who would also like the opportunity to say something (I’ve been behind a few of you in line).
  • Be ready with your compelling reason. Often, someone will approach a speaker without a cohesive thought on what they’d like to discuss. This takes up time and also can leave a bad impression.
  • Don’t sell your product. This is what the follow-up call is for. See the example above on how to pre-sell your product or service by saying you’d make a great partnership.

What advice would you add? What works best for you?

Attributing costs in marketing is essential

A calculator, a cost sheet, and a hand and pen writing on it
From Flickr: Dave Dugdale

More than once, I’ve been accused of being too strict in how I attribute marketing costs to projects. I am very strict, but for good reasons:

Reason 1: Attributing costs allows for leadership and owners to understand and budget for costs

A couple of years ago, I began working on a project. The leadership for the organization I was working for looked at what was spent on the project in years past and gave us that amount to work with. The issue? It was less than 1/5 the actual cost of the project. Why so? Because people weren’t attributing the costs they incurred back to the project. Instead, they were absorbing them into their own budget.

This might seem like an OK thing to do, but it really isn’t. First, it “hid” the actual cost of the project so the organization’s leadership weren’t able to critically assess the project using actual cost numbers. At the cost they thought was correct, the project was a great deal. At the actual cost, the project became questionable. Second, it created a lot of difficulties for our committee because, since the other departments had their budgets cut and could no longer afford to absorb the costs of the project, we had to back to our leadership, ask for money, and justify why we needed it.

Reason 2: Critical business decisions are made based on costs and budgets

One department I worked with once said that their department was losing sales because of a reduction we’d made in their marketing budget. I decided to do an analysis to see if that was true by looking at a variety of variables and looking for correlations. I could not find a correlation between the drop in their sales and marketing expenditures no matter how I ran the numbers. But, I found that the particular division was down to making a profit of  $15,000 per year. The problem? Because their marketing budget was being charged back to my account, their profit and loss statement didn’t include their marketing costs ($25,000). With all their costs accounted for, the department was losing $10,000 per year. Critical business decisions about this department we being made based on incorrect numbers because not all costs were accounted for.

Reason 3: Shareholder/taxpayer accountability

Working for community colleges for the past nine years has made me very cognizant of being very transparent with all projects and their costs. The taxpayers should be able to ask and receive a correct answer about any project they so choose. So should shareholders. Assigning costs to the correct project is essential, and ethically necessary, for public and shareholder accountability.

So call me too strict if you will, but I think it’s absolutely critical to attribute costs correctly.

What do you think? How do you feel marketing dollars should be attributed


Lessons from sales series: Words of wisdom from Adams Outdoor Advertising

"We Must Become the Change We Want to See" employee handbook from Adams Outdoor



When I began working for Adams Outdoor Advertising, they gave me my employee handbook, titled “We must become the change we want to see.” But it wasn’t an ordinary employee handbook. First, it was made out of billboard materials.  But more importantly, many sections of the book relate not only to outdoor, or sales, but all aspects of life.  With permission from Adams Outdoor Advertising, here are a few of my favorite sections and quotes from the book:

Section: No knuckleheads on the bus

“Hell is other people” – Jean Paul Sartre

Nothing kills fun faster than someone acting like a knucklehead. So if you find yourself acting like a knucklehead at any point during the day, stop. If you see someone else acting like a knucklehead – help them stop. But don’t be a knucklehead about it. That would defeat the purpose.

Section: The difficult truth about growth

All things in the world are growing or dying.

Adams Outdoor Handbook section on "The Difficult Truth About Growth"

Section: Accountability

…But to be accountable to our clients, we must first and foremost be accountable to ourselves. We must be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of every day and say “I stand by what I did.” If we can’t do that, action must be taken.

Section: Mistakes [in the book, it’s a mirror image of the word]

“Do not fear mistakes, there are none.” – Miles Davis.

If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. Be sure to screw up wildly, creatively, and originally. So long as you have a good rationale for the chances you take and the mistakes that result, and you spend more time being right than wrong, you are doing your job.

Honest mistakes are welcome. But if you make a mistake due to laziness or stupidity and try to use this section as a defense, you’re going to be fired.

Section: The secret to developing a trusting relationship

…It’s so simple that it seems silly to write it down. To have a trusting relationship, you must first be worthy of trust.

Section: The secret to being creative

Orville Wright did not have a pilot’s license.