About Kate

 

I’m a scrappy, southern marketer loving the west coast and all things related to branding, marketing, startups, mobile, and technology. Art, music, and pop culture fuel me. I love Twitter, finding viral videos first, dresses, and design thinking. See what inspires mehere and please reach out and say “hi!”

Anything written in this blog is strictly my opinion and not the opinion of my employer.

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Thursday
Sep222011

10-4 Good Buddy: A Lesson in Branding

Several years ago a friend recommended this book:

Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands

The book did not enter my mind again until ten months ago when I started working on my new “startup” which centers around the principles of my current consulting practice.

I have found out in recent years that building a business is like planning a wedding. You cannot afford to do everything you want (either due to time or budget), and it is easy to get bogged down in minutia. It is best to chose a few priorities to stay on track. For my wedding last year, we chose two major priorities – a big band and a beautiful dress. All other decisions were made from there. And now with this startup, I have decided that the best use of funds are people and branding… and I am sticking with it.

Zag is a wonderful guide when you start out on a branding journey.

I followed the exercises in the book, and by the time I got through them, I knew my brand. I knew what “his” personality was like, and I had a strong idea of what “he” should look like and what “his” purpose was for this business.  (Obviously it’s a masculine brand!) And my team has used this information to carry the brand through everything that we are building.

To help you find your passion and purpose, Zag encourages you to write an obituary for your company 25 years into the future. I found this exercise difficult for a couple of reasons. First, I am a strong believer in iteration. I build with as much feedback as possible and change my plan according to this feedback, market conditions, and the status of my team. Because I build this way, I often do not think long term. I follow a purpose and see where things go. Secondly, I am a nontraditional girl. I do not associate my value based on awards or associations – and when you think of an obituary it usually comes down to traditional achievements.

But I did the exercise anyway. It came out weak. I worked on it some more and then decided to hell with it. And today I am finally coming around to understand my feelings on this.

Last night my grandmother, Lois Walling, passed away. She was 88 years old and “a tough old bird” as she called herself. The woman was my biggest cheerleader and probably the toughest woman I know. And this morning when we sat down to write her obituary, we struggled to find the right words that would tell the world how great this woman was in the traditional obituary format.

Let me tell you a little about Lois.

She was as unique as her name. And yes, even the grandchildren – all seven of us- called her Lois. I realize that everyone thinks that his/her grandmother is unique. And you know what – you should think that. But I am telling you that this woman was an incredible character.

Lois was a people person to an extreme. She talked to people anywhere and everywhere and laughed with strangers all the time. She was proud of being Southern and let everyone know. And like most small town grandmothers, she knew everything going on. She followed ambulances, listened to her CB radio, and she knew what you were going to do before you did it.

Lois loved food. She would call our family at night to see what we were eating for dinner. When you saw her, she wanted to know what you ate last, what you would like to eat now, and what you're going to eat tomorrow. She loved pickled foods and butterscotch pie. She hated salad and chicken (though she ate it anyway) and she would judge your cooking and tell you how to make things more to her taste.

Lois watched the Food Network and Fox News. She read mysteries and knew every lyric to any Broadway musical. She shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor on her trips to the Big Apple, but at home she ordered from QVC and the Vermont General Store. She was forever bringing us weird gifts like weather sticks, bra glue, and shoe stretchers. And often she would send her grandchildren thoughtful packages for no reason.

She was proud of herself and her family. She claims to never have had any issues while raising three young boys back to back. She had everyone's favorite candy bars in stock, and she hosted weekly family dinners for all fifteen of us. She told us when our hair needed to be cut or if our clothes were not a flattering fit. And she claimed to have never been sick a day in her life.

What to Learn from Lois

Instead of writing an obituary about your company, write about the impression you want to leave with people. How you want your business to make people feel. What problems you want to solve for people and how far you want to take your purpose. After all, this is the most important part of life – and a very important part of your business.

And one more lesson…

You should know your customer as well as I described Lois. And not in a clinical way. Get to know who they are, what they stand for, and what matters to them. Learn their language and preferences and why they are the way they are.

10-4 Good Buddy

Lois always gave me a big “10-4 good buddy” every time we got off the phone. And now it is time for me to say it one more time for her.  

Go hug your loved ones and remember that who you are and how you make people feel is the most important thing in life!

Thank you, Lois, for being my rock.

Kate

Friday
Mar112011

Put Things Where Your Customers Need Them To Be

Last year, my husband and I moved to a new neighborhood in Seattle. It was a very busy time in our lives, and we had to move and get settled in quickly. Finding a new gym was on my "get settled" list, and in my eagerness to get this task completed and dive back into my normal routine, I made a bad decision.

Everyone who has signed up for a couple gym memberships knows the golden rule of finding the right gym: Choose the gym that is closest to your house. Period.

folded white towels

I looked at two gyms in my neighborhood. One was only four blocks away, but it seemed a little musty and the equipment was older. The second gym was beautiful- views of the water, the latest and greatest equipment, and exceptionally clean. I signed up at the second gym.

Before last year, I was very committed to my workout routines. You could find me at the gym at least four mornings a week burning it up. But not last year. And while simultaneously starting a new business and planning a wedding can definitely put a hamper on routines such as this one, I look back and realize my gym selection did too.  

See the gym I selected was seven blocks downhill from my house. The dreaded trip home kept me from walking there. Driving was an option, but parking was not convenient. And after parking, it was an obstacle course getting to the front door. I had to cross a busy road with fast traffic, few red lights, and no crosswalk. Just the hassle of getting to the gym and back in the mornings left me feeling put out. And I doubt I was the only member with this issue. The gym is located near the water leaving most of the gym's patrons to deal with crossing that busy street.

At the one year mark, I canceled my contract. The other musty gym gave me a free seven day pass. And the first day I was there, I realized that this gym saved me fifteen minutes and made life easier. It is closer, they have ample parking next to the building, and there is no need to dodge cars to get inside.

The second day, I noticed that they play great workout music, and most of the time I like it better than listening to my iPod. I also found a room just for stretching, how handy! It is awkward finding a good place to stretch in most gyms. 

Throughout the next couple weeks I noticed even more perks. There are clean, nicely folded white towels waiting for me when I arrive. I get an email every month with healthy recipes and exercise tips from a trainer. And they have cleaning supplies next to every machine, so you never have to walk more than a step out of your way at the end of your workout.

The owner of this gym put everything exactly where I needed it! 

She clearly gets what it is like to workout at a gym often and made this gym incredibly user-friendly. There are no beautiful views nor state of the art equipment at this place, but who cares! The equipment is current enough, and to me, the stretching room and other perks completely outweigh the age of the building. I bet most people on cardio machines will tell you that music, tv screens, and magazines matter more than having a view. And parking and towel service make the days when you really have to push yourself to get there easier.

It is clear that there is a more loyal member base here. And for most of us it began with that seven day free trial. The trial gets you in the door to figure out that this gym has a lot more to offer than you may think at first glance. 

And now to the point.

When it comes to providing your customers with the best experience, you have to jump into their skin and see the experience you are offering through their eyes.

This is not a simple task. It is easy to project what you think their needs are or to fulfill your own personal desires and vision instead. The reward of doing an outstanding job empathizing with your customers and putting things where they need them to be is incredibly valuable. In return, you receive loyal, happy customers saying great things about you and wanting more from you.

What more could you want?

Thank you to Seth Godin for teaching marketers and entrepreneurs the importance of being remarkable. While you think of ways to empathize more with your customers, read more about The Fun Theory too. They can go hand in hand.

Photo by davco9200

Wednesday
Mar022011

Get Over Getting Burned

Relationships are one of the most important parts of entrepreneurship. In order to build or grow any business, you have to trust people. Think of the people you trust every day: contractors, employees, vendors, partners, advisors, customers. You rely on these people to communicate with you so that you can do your part- run your business and make everyone happy.

But sometimes relationships go south. Deliverables are not delivered on time or at all. Work product is poor quality. Someone misunderstands their role in the big picture, does not value the opportunity, or simply is unethical. And if there is big deal on the table and one of these things happens, you find yourself in a bad place with fewer resources to turn things around.

These situations can leave us bitter and jaded. Walls go up quickly.

circle of matches one match with burned tip

And sadly it can take years for these walls to come back down if we are not careful. Trust becomes difficult which, in turn, impedes the growth of your business and your professional development.

But how is this different from a natural disaster or an unexpected event? What if your backup failed? Your office flooded or your office computers were stolen? Would it feel the same if an employee embezzled or stole your ideas?

Probably not.

Of course all situations have their own scale and consequences. And natural disasters and major technical issues can add incredible distress to a business. (Just remember how last year's oil spil affected small businesses in Louisiana.) But while situations like these can leave us angry, in a bad place, and feeling down on our luck, it is somewhat less personal than when we lose trust or feel burned by another human being.

I have been surprised by the number of these stories I have heard from small business owners this year - embezzlement, bad agreements, employee scandal. I get most worried when an entrepreneur has repeated stories of relationships turned negative.

As a young entrepreneur in my first startup, I experienced too many of these situations. I chalked it up to inexperience and immaturity (I started at 23) and was forced to stomach the lost momentum and money. And finally my last bad deal left me promising myself to not let this happen again. Since then, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience with bad relationships and creating an environment where these things can not happen.

  • Write agreements from the get go - Hand shake deals are rarely successful. Think through the terms of a relationship and commit it to paper before working with someone- even if you are starting with a small project. You can always create a new agreement later.

    This is most difficult for tech startups where determining value for business versus technical skills is challenging and boundaries of roles can be unclear. Be smart and get legal help with this from an experienced attorney. Each day you put it off, the more complicated and awkward it will get.

  • Err on the side of overcommunication. Communicate your needs, concerns, and goals very clearly and make sure that you are heard. Let people know if you are uncomfortable with something, and if you feel like the other person is uncomfortable, ask them about it.

  • Ask Why often.

  • Learn how to call people out if you need to.

Most of all, realize that you can prevent these things from happening and decide not to be damaged by business relationships that have failed. This is a tall order, but it is important.

I usually add a "thank you" to every blog post. This time I will simply say thank goodness I am mostly past the "getting burned" learning curve in my life. Unexpected challenges continue to pop up on my entrepreneurial path, but I I know where more of the red flags are and how to avoid them.

And be sure to read Kyle Durand's blog post, "What Is Your Plan When It Hits the Fan?"

Photo by Harshit Sekhon

Wednesday
Feb092011

Look for Doors & Get Some Perspective 

Sometimes life puts things in perspective for you. 

Maturity and major life phases have a way of guiding us into new perspective, of changing our priorities, and intensifying purpose. And unexpected events and tender moments can instantly change the way we view the world.

When these things happen, it is uncomfortable. We are less confident and sure-footed. We need time for our new feelings to manifest at our core and to shine through our being. Smaller steps, tasks, and conversations have greater importance, and you have to work with yourself just as you are.

But there are times when you need to seek new perspective.

The more responsibilities you have in life, the easier it is to get sucked into the daily grind and to feel pressure.  And as entrepreneurs and business owners, there is plenty of pressure. Our to do lists feel endless, and often milestones do not come fast enough. We work hard toward our vision and that keeps us going.

Is it easy to tell when you need a change in attitude, environment, or within a relationship?

Not always. And it is more difficult to realize that it is time to do something differently when you are drinking your own juice. You are focused on putting everything you have into reaching a large milestone, or you have reached a place in life that feels under and overwhelming at the same time.  In other words, you are too busy doing what you do not want to be doing.

Our actions are largely based on rational thinking, and in times of stress, we rationalize things based on what is easiest:

“I do not like working with this person… but I have no other option right now. I can fix this in several months.” 

“In several months I will be less busy and can figure out what I need to do then.”

And sometimes we get so used to this that we fail to realize that we are more stressed than we should be.

Look for doors.

The last year, particularly the last several months, has given me one monster dose of perspective. Marriage and moving gave me a new start and a greater understanding of family and the importance of strong personal relationships. Unexpected events made me realize the significance of each day and confirmed my new appreciation and desire for a strong personal community.  And working determinedly on a new business has taught me to always seek perspective. 

A colleague of mine recently spoke with me about how I oscillate between a 30,000 mile above and a ground level viewpoint. We discussed how important it is as an entrepreneur to keep an eye on all the options and to always find new doors to walk through. And I think that is the best way to visually understand what I am alluding to.

There are many doors of opportunity. You do not have to wait for one door to close for another to open. And while you may not know where a door will take you, it is worth it to find out.

If you are unsatisfied with something in your life or business, find a start.  Look for a door. If you do not know exactly what you need, do some research. Read a book. Ask someone you know. Just do something.

And if you really do not have a clue what to do, do something completely different. Go to an exotic place. Take a dance lesson. Do something you never thought you could or would do. By doing that, you are walking down a hallway where many doors will open.

But, most of all, be open to a change in perspective. Look for it. It will make you feel alive and keep you at your best.

Thank you to Andy and Sarah for sharing conversations with me about perspective and how to find it.

Photo by rianpie

Thursday
Jan272011

Tasting and Front Running on my domain & a letter from "Will Malone"

property lines

I am fired up, and I am hoping you can help me shed some light on a particular topic in the domain space. This continues my conversations on exploitation and the boundaries of profiting from someone else's ideas. And it is a barrier to entry that is affecting us all, small businesses and tech startups alike, and I think that this challenge is only going to get more powerful.

My first lesson in domain purchasing came in 2003 when I purchased TheSecretIngredients.com for my first tech startup. I would have loved the more attractive SecretIngredients.com, but the domain squatter sitting on the domain wanted many thousands for the name. I did not have the budget for that, and I could understand why he was holding out for that price tag. The name has potential to attract a large corporate buyer.  

Running a customer service email account on a domain consisting of the word "Secret" did not prove to be effective. I learned early on that spam filters were gobbling up emails to my customers. Customer service was key to my business model, and so I established HeirloomCookbook.com and routed mail through the new domain for communication. It worked well.

After closing Secret Ingredients, I let HeirloomCookbook.com expire. And that was stupid. Domain companies jump on expired domains (especially those that have received publicity), throw up some ads, and start making money immediately. And that's exactly what happened minutes after the name expired. 

Flash forward to 2009. Secret Ingredients is closed, and I have to figure out what to do with myself. I play with several business concepts and start buying some domains. It was much more difficult to come up with brandable business names that had .com availability, and it pushed my ability to get creative with naming. In my play with the dating scene, I registered GetYourChick.com and GetYourChuck.com. Not perfect names but they were definitely brandable and complimentary for sister sites. 

My system for purchasing domains has always been the same. I go to NetworkSolutions to check availability, think about it for an hour or day, and then go to one of my preferred registrars and get the domains. I have never had a problem with this system until last week.

I have mentioned that I am preparing the launch of the "underground" business that I have been operating for about a year and a half. Brand is hugely important to me, and so domains and naming have been very well thought out. In choosing a business name, I decided to register two domains- one is the business name and the other has a different purpose. I checked Network Solutions for availability and immediately bought the business name as .com. I decided to wait a day or two to purchase the second domain.

BAD IDEA. I went to register the domain two days later, and it was gone. I panicked, talked to my team, and we decided "screw it" the .us and .net are more important to us, and we can deal with the .com later.

REALLY BAD IDEA. I did not know better.

In a meeting with my advisor Michael two days later, I admitted that I felt like I had been watched. That someone saw my domain search and bought it before I could get to it. Michael nodded his head and confirmed that these lists are sold.  I went back to the office and started researching. I learned about domain front running and that domains can be purchased before you hit the Checkout button.

From Wikipedia: "Domain name front running is the practice whereby a domain name registrar uses insider information to register domains for the purpose of re-selling them or earning revenue via ads placed on the domain's landing page. By registering the domains, the registrar locks out other potential registrars from selling the domain to a customer."

And that night I got an email from Will Malone of Better Domains Bureau. I have copy and pasted the email below - removing only the domain and links to information about it:

Hi, I'm Will Malone with Better Domains Bureau.
xxxxx.com
 will be available for purchase soon. Since you possess xxxxx.us, I think you may be interested in xxxxx.com.
There is only a one time fee for the domain with a year of registration on us. You also can forward 
xxxxx.com to xxxxx.us at no cost.After purchasing xxxxx.com you will never be charged again by Better Domains Bureau.

If you do have an interest in purchasing 
xxxxx.com, please visit: [removed]
Once 
xxxxxx.com is ready for purchase, one of my account representatives will contact you.

Thank you and have a great day.
Better Domains Bureau
1128 Royal Palm Beach Blvd, Suite 243, Royal Palm Beach, Florida 33411
954-518-4349 (Please use code: [removed] when calling our customer support) 
Skype: globaldomainsellers
betterdomainsbureau.com 

---------------

You scumbags!

Please learn from this story and do not check the availability of a domain until you are ready to purchase it. And click the Checkout button as fast as you can.

I understand that this is a free market, and that there are many incentives for registrars and ad vendors (especially Google) and that large profits are to be made from domain squatting. But I do not think that what happened in this scenario is right, and I want everyone to be well-informed. And I am disappointed in the well reputed Network Solutions. I understand that they have tried to institute ways to prevent front running; yet, they have not informed us well enough and therefore it is not working.

I am not an expert on this, so if you are, please leave a comment and explain what is happening. If you have experiences, share them please.

And read Nathan Parcells recent blog post, "How Domain Hoarding is Killing Innovation," on Seattle 2.0. Thank you for a great post, Nathan.

Photo by The Pack