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This week I’ve been working with Sheila on the questions for the anonymous online survey I’m conducting for Multi-Service Center. It’s a real pleasure to work with Sheila and Tricia, two professionals who have dedicated their careers to serving those in need. They really know their stuff. They are on-target with their approach and know what they are hoping to achieve, which, believe it or not, is often a mystery for some organizations.

Developing questions for surveys can be hard work and oftentimes numerous iterations are required before just the right semantics, tone and syntax are achieved. What makes it hard is first defining the goal of the question (why are you asking this question in the first place?) and then designing it in such a way so as not to influence the answer. Because what is wanted is truth as the audiences see it, not answers that simply support an organization’s position or reasonings for something.

We’re also working on the agenda for the focus groups I’ll be facilitating for them in a few weeks. These “assessment sessions” as I prefer to call them, are designed to achieve a higher level of understanding of the information that’s being culled.

In both the survey and assessment sessions, they are looking for information about what their varied audiences know of Multi-Service Center’s programs, how the organization impacts the communities they serve and the perceived value attributed to those programs. They are also seeking information on donor relations and giving strategies.

The end goal is to inform Multi-Service Center of the best way to position themselves and which messages they should communicate, and through which vehicles.

You may be included as a survey or assessment session participant, and I thank you in advance for your participation. I hope to provide a general overview of the results in late July.


In most cities and towns these days you see it on billboards and hear it in meetings. It’s on flyers and posters, too. But, what does “shop local” really mean?

To me it means keeping the economic vitality of the city I live and work in strong; strong enough to increase my margins but, more importantly to me, strong enough so my kids have access to the care they need, the shopping they “need” (yes, I have a teenage daughter!), the activities they enjoy, safety I can rely on, and more.

Also, as a business owner and resident, shop local means other businesses are strong and vibrant. When local businesses are meeting their revenues, it’s a lightening rod for other businesses to set up shop in our city, which in turn increases commercial real estate occupancy, which increases residential real estate sales. All of this helps drive how our city, police department, fire department, mall, health care facilities and other services are financed and run. Which, in the end, circles back to my business and my family.

That’s what shop local is all about.

I had an interesting conversation with a woman last night. She is the marketing director for an assisted living facility. The conversation centered around Federal Way First, the Chamber’s shop local program. She didn’t understand why she should sign the “commitment” form since she’s not retail. I tried to explain to her that it’s not just about educating consumers to shop here, it’s also about encouraging business-to-business business. In the end, she still didn’t grasp the concept, but that’s not her fault. Too often, shop local programs focus only on the consumer side.

Federal Way First is run by a small committee of volunteer business owners and representatives. They are giving all they have to try to make the program successful for the benefit of ALL Federal Way businesses and residents.

As a new program, it’s been slow getting started (did I mention it’s being run by  volunteers who are also really busy with their businesses?!), but we’re committed to making it work.

But, the ONLY WAY Federal Way First will “work” to YOUR benefit is if you participate. I don’t mean necessarily taking on activities or joining the committee (though we’d love that!), but you could do small things, like follow us on Twitter: because you’ll start receiving specials and announcements from member businesses.

And, download the commitment form from, sign it and fax it in. This only means you are committed to shopping local. There is no obligation beyond that.

As I said, we’re in the beginning stages, so there’s a lot left to do. Soon, we’ll be sending regular tweets with valuable announcements and savings, we’ll be updating the web site on a regular basis, and we’ll be in the community sending the message that shopping local–both by consumers and businesses–is the best thing for all of us.

Old company, new brand. New company, new brand.

I’m currently working on two branding initiatives. One is for a 39-year-old non-profit that serves the indigent in the South Sound of the Seattle area. The other is for a new for-profit organization that is national in scope and is expecting to have assets in the multi-millions.

And I’m not pulling my hair out.

Despite the obvious differences of longevity, scale, audiences, messaging, etc., the bottom line is the same–to make the brand essential and relevant.

For the non-profit, it’s going both quickly and slowly. We are moving forward at record speed toward specific goals. We’re developing surveys and focus groups to gain insight into perceptions and creating key messages. We’re scripting and doing story boards and directing videos….and then we’re waiting. We’re waiting for buy-in from the supporters of the old logo who believe a brand is a logo, who believe to change a logo is a bad thing. (It depends.) We’re waiting on time to pass and for time to educate. And we’re also holding off on updating the web site right now due to budget constraints, as can be expected. It’s not the way it should go, and we’ve discussed this. But it is the way it is, and it’s okay because we will get there…eventually.

The for-profit is a different story altogether. Within one week we’ve discussed and begun instituting the brand strategy; we’ve decided on a name; developed a logo and secondary logos; wrote the tag line; met with industry leaders and analysts, banks and investors; wrote the mission statement and strategy; have begun creating the web site; printed business cards; and, breather, discussed corporate structure; business plans; more brand strategy; and next steps. Again, it’s not the way it should go. There should be more time for surveys and assessments, industry best practices, aligning business objectives with brand strategy. But this is a private entity, driven by a respected and highly credentialed professional, and team of equally respected and highly credentialed professionals, all of whom are who are taking her idea to the next level in her industry. She knows people, and they are opening doors for her because they believe in her, and they believe in her concept. This meteoric ascent will be okay because the key players are all experts…including the person responsible for the brand.

For me, the excitement of branding is what makes me tick. I love working with the non-profit and working through the needs and discovering how to message to their constituents. I love working with the for-profit, creating everything from nothing.

And, however you look at it, the underlying goals are the same: build a genuine brand that offers value and an honest-to-goodness brand promise, and builds brand equity for the company.

I can’t wait to work on the next phase for each organization!

How’s business? The economy hitting you hard? I can just imagine.

So what are you doing about it?

Folks, if you’re just doing the same-ol-same-ol, you’re going to hit a brick wall. 

Mix it up, get creative, get uncomfortable, shoot for the moon.

You see, it’s times like these that make us who we are. What’s that old saying? Necessity is the mother invention. Now’s the time to approach things in a new way.

What the heck am I talking about? A good example is networking.

So, you’re a member of five or six networking groups….but they don’t usually net you anything. You find yourself complaining about them more often than not. Why is that? My guess is because you haven’t reached down, far down into the depths of your being, and pulled out the magic. You sit across the table from someone at a luncheon and hand them your business card. Great. Now what? 

You have to establish credibility. Depending on your business and circumstances, this could be played out in a variety of ways. If you have an upcoming seminar you’re attending you think they’ll be interested in, offer to email the information to them.

Better yet, if you are speaking somewhere and it’s relevant to them, give them an invitation (have them with you).

If you blog, give them a short overview of a topic of interest to them and then give them your blog URL.

If you have an idea you think is valid and would affect their business, tell them that. You don’t have to give away any proprietary information…just tease them enough to the point they are asking you to meet.

Or, tell them you’d like to learn more about what they do and mean it. This isn’t an excuse to meet with them and turn the attention to you. They will be much more interested in what you have to say if they truly believe you are on a mission to learn about what they do.

There are many, many ways to establish credibility beyond handing out a business card. 

The magic isn’t in the networking group–that’s just a conduit. The magic is within you. And the sooner you begin to showcase it, the sooner you’ll be thrilled with that networking group because it has put you in a position to meet a qualified lead.

A note: if you find the networking group you are in is only out for their own good, then maybe it is time to step away. And, if the group isn’t made up of anyone who meets your business criteria, you need to find another group.

You run the risk of confusing your customers and diluting your brand equity when you attempt to add a new service or product line to your current offerings. The risk increases incrementally the further away the new offering is from your core business.

Seth Godwin recently wrote about this. He’s a marketing guru that I recommend anyone interested in marketing and branding take a look at. But, there are times other marketers and branders occasionally disagree with him. This is one of those times for me.

Godwin suggests companies can extend their brand to other, unrelated services and products. He points to Virgin as an example. Virgin has an airline, a record company, a book company, a drink company, a health company…you get the picture.

So, were we to take this as an example, it would seem the sky’s the limit. However, Virgin is an anomaly. The reason Virgin can extend its brand equity to vastly different market segments is not because it’s an easy thing to do. I contend it is because the true “genuine brand” isn’t the company itself, Virgin Group. Rather, it’s Richard Branson, the wizard behind the curtain. Branson has differentiated himself in the public eye to the point of being a genuine brand. His brand equity is tied to his uniqueness; his varied approach to taking on businesses that are unrelated; his divergent ways of bringing life to services and products. His brands succeed, in large part, because they are built on a genuine brand that is all about offering something different.

And that’s where any company wanting to emulate this approach could get in trouble. Unless their brand promise allows for this, they will have a hard time creating and sustaining a completely different offering from which they are known.

Much of this comes from credibility. If an organization is known for creating the best widget in town, and their brand promise is all about that it could be difficult for this same company, under the same name and executive team, to gain entry into an unrelated, already crowded market because they lack the expertise in that market.

Here’s a real example. About ten years ago I worked for an Independent Practice Association (IPA), which was an outgrowth of the managed care approach to health care. The IPA contracted with doctors, hospitals, health plans and ancillaries. 

There was a group of highly trained, prominent physicians who thought that since they were good at providing health care, they could also provide health care insurance. They were wrong, so wrong it eventually brought down the entire practice. 

They thought since they worked with health plans day in and day out, and understood how to navigate the plans on behalf of their patients, they could provide insurance to their patients. 

Here’s where they went wrong:

1) Credibility. They had some takers because they were offering significantly discounted health insurance. (Here they were already diluting their brand equity by giving so much away.) It was a “pay-as-you-go” type of plan. But most patients chose to stay with traditional health plans because they knew if they were struck with a catastrophic medical condition or accident, they would be covered. The physicians had no background or offering for these types of situations.

2) Expertise. They had only a working knowledge of how health plans do what they do. They weren’t experts in risk analysis or drug formularies or frequent flyers (those who go to the emergency room instead of going to their physician). 

3) Operations. They lacked direction and capacity. They thought their current office staff, who were trained in specific duties and were already overworked, could do their regular jobs as well as take on the new business.

4) Experience/Education: The only experience they had was as insurance consumers themselves and as a pass-through with their patients. 

The docs assumed since they had had success in this pass-through role, they could extend that success into a real business. Their patients thought otherwise. 

I’m not saying it can’t be done. But any company that wants to do this should think long and hard about what it really means. It’s essentially a new company, so they need to treat it as such. Trying to ride the coattails of their previous success in an entirely different space might get them a little attention initially, but could eventually mean such dilution of their brand that they can’t recover. It could mean they not only aren’t successful in their new venture, but also lose sight of and, eventually, success in their previous venture.

Federal_Way_ News_Program_Concept_Survey_Results

Last weekend an impromptu party sprang to life when a group of friends and I were having coffee. We decided the following night would be as good as any to “get the guys together” with the wives and have a few cocktails. We also quickly decided that the guys would appreciate turning the latter part of the evening into a poker night, a tradition of theirs that had been on the decline lately.

None of our husbands objected. In fact, they all readily agreed. It was a blast. The kids–older and younger–were there, running around, playing games, feeling the rush of freedom a warm spring night guarantees.

Amid the laughter, drinks and edibles, teasing ensued, stories were told, and business was discussed.

One of our friends is the COO and President of a major clothing brand that is actually doing pretty well in this economy, which in my mind is a testament to their marketing prowess and that they’ve achieved “genuine brand” status.

They have employed dynamic CRM in their marketing that results in a personalized experience for loyal customers and a 500% increase in e-commerce sales over the past year to $450 million. (This is why they are not crashing and burning.)

So, when our conversation turned to social media, it was a natural question: do you use it? “No.” he said. I understand this. There can be unintended consequences of utilizing a medium that is so new. But I still wanted to know why not. The bottom line was they couldn’t figure out exactly how it would fit into their existing marketing. With successes such as the ones they are experiencing, it’s understandable why they wouldn’t run to Twitter or sign up on Facebook, or take time to blog. 

But should they? Would social media only help increase sales all the more?

As an outsider, I encouraged sending tweets about special promotions or to announce when new clothing lines come out, which is something they do via email now to select, loyal customers. In general, Twitter isn’t as targeted, but for very little effort it could reach a much wider audience. And, they also have the option of restricting those who receive their tweets, so personalization is possible. The value is it gives them the opportunity to consistently and repetitively keep their brand in front of their target audiences–those who have opted in to receive the messaging. It increases brand equity and drives brand loyalty. The key for anyone using Twitter, though, is to make sure their messages carry value for the  recipients.

Another possibility is to utilize PURLs (personal URLs). The retailer has a rich minefield of data from which they can create an extremely customized experience for their audiences. Utilizing this data of purchasing history and demographics, they could assign a personalized URL for each customer. When the customer logs onto their PURL, they receive information on items and brands that trend toward their interests. 

This company has secured itself in the marketplace as a genuine brand for good reason. In addition to differentiated and high-end products, they have marketed and strategized and provided optimal customer service. It will be interesting and fun to watch how they approach and possibly apply social media into their marketing mix. 

Stay tuned and I’ll update you should they decide to try it out.


*By the looks of it, there is a presence for this organization on Twitter, but it is not being used. I am uncertain whether this is an official extension of the company.

If you know me even remotely, you know I’ve been singing this song for a long time…let’s take action to change Federal Way’s image. Lately, there are a number of initiatives aimed at accomplishing this.

One that comes to mind is Federal Way First, a Chamber project that started as a grassroots movement of local businesses that wanted to institute a STRONG shop local campaign in which consumers and businesses made their purchases local; one in which local businesses purchased from other local businesses; and one in which non-FW consumers and businesses came to Federal Way for shopping and business opportunities.

According to the Chamber, “If everyone in Federal Way, including businesses, spent just 1 percent more in Federal Way than they currently do, it would equal $22 million. What would you do with $22 million? In Federal Way this $22 million could enhance city projects through taxes. It could support local non-profits such as the Boys and Girls Club, FUSION and the Multi-Service Center, and it could increase the success and prosperity of our community’s business owners.”

Another project, one I’m developing in collaboration with EVI Productions and The Federal Way Mirror, is to produce a news program specific to Federal Way to take control of our image back from the network news channels. 

If you haven’t stated it yourself, you’ve undoubtedly heard someone express frustration at the way the outside-FW-media portrays our city. It seems negative stories about FW are hot items, but positive news doesn’t make the cut. This has a huge impact on our community image results in a negative impact on our economy.

So, we’re launching a survey to validate our assumptions about whether a news program would be welcome and watched by Federal Way residents and business owners. (Please note, this is a REAL news program, not a magazine format program like Connections, which is on Ch. 21.) So far, without giving details about content results, I can say that the response rate is phenomenal. At present, it is at 30%, which far exceeds most survey response rates of between 2% and 5%.

Below is the concept overview that is on the online survey. If you would like to take the survey and haven’t received an invitation, please contact me at

Overview of the news program as stated in the survey:

This project is being created to increase the positive perception of Federal Way within and outside of our community and to have a positive impact on the economic vitality of the city. Combined with other measures that are underway, the increased positive image could result in more businesses moving to Federal Way, more consumers using their purchasing power at Federal Way businesses, and more businesses patronizing other local businesses. This, in turn, increases both commercial and residential real estate occupancy and the overall quality of life for city residents. Of course, there are many other intangible benefits of changing the perception of our city.

Utilizing the Journalistic Code of Ethics and balanced investigative reporting, the objectives are:

• To provide hard-hitting news and feature news about Federal Way and the community.

• To create a news program with the number one goal of increasing the positive perception of Federal Way within its own community, within surrounding communities, and within the larger, urban areas of Seattle and Tacoma.

 To increase the number of positive stories about Federal Way on network news programs and/or decrease the number of negative stories or the repetition of negative news stories by 10 percent.

 To provide Federal Way based businesses and the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce with a broadcast venue for disseminating NEWSWORTHY business related news to the community.

 To provide a platform through which the city of Federal Way can highlight positive, NEWSWORTHY information.

 To provide a platform through which the Federal Way School District can highlight positive, NEWSWORTHY information.

 To highlight NEWSWORTHY community events, community members, and community offerings. (Examples may include Knutzen Theater, FW Symphony, various charitable organizations, everyday volunteers, focus on students, sports features, etc.)

 To increase the marketability of Federal Way commercial real estate by establishing the value proposition of living and working in Federal Way, thus having a positive impact on economic development.

It’s not often your heart follows your work, but today is that day for me.

I’ve been volunteering on and off for the Multi-Service Center for several years, primarily working the CrabFeed and enjoying every minute (and taste) of it! As part of their Friends Group, I’ve actually made friends and feel as if I’ve contributed to society.


“Friends” is made up of about 20 professionals and community volunteers who believe in MSC’s mission. They contribute their time and energy to helping MSC raise money through this fun, annual event.

But now I’m working with them on a completely different level. I am working with Tricia and Sheila on branding. We’ll be conducting an online survey and holding focus groups, gaining insight into perceptions and developing messaging. With Mike Dziak on camera, we’re also creating a video to highlight all MSC does.

Our goal is to create messaging that makes various audiences feel an emotional connection to those MSC serves. In large part it will be done through the experiences of the people who have needed services. And, you have to wonder why not? Why not show how someone who has been on hard times (often through no fault of their own) is able to overcome his/her challenges through the compassion of a community of people who dared to care, and who dared to take action.

I hope you’ll read along with me as I write about the experience over the next few months. And feel free to post your input!

Branding your business is about creating unique experiences from which your varied audiences can draw perceptions. These perceptions are your brand.


That’s the gist of it, but were it only that simple.


Since opening its Federal Way branch in 2005, Red Canoe Credit Union has established itself as a community partner, sponsoring business, social and charitable events and activities that were important to their constituency. 


This community stewardship is an extension of their brand promise. “Banking should be friendly, easy and helpful,” said Amy Davis, vice president of marketing. “We’ve designed our brand to emulate that experience across all channels, especially the branch experience.”


To this end, Red Canoe’s employees are immersed in training that exemplifies this commitment, resulting in a unique customer experience and, in turn, an increase in brand equity for the financial institution. Brand equity is an intangible asset that can be measured through a customer’s willingness to choose one company’s product or service over another simply because of the brand. 


Many people get confused about what a brand is. It’s not a logo, though your logo is one component of your brand. It’s not a tag line, though your tag line is another brand component. It is the sum of all your offerings and all your organization does, internally and externally, from customer service to product lines, from quality to leadership, from how customers are greeted and treated to the company’s integrity. All of this and more rolls into your audiences’ perceptions of what you are. That is your brand.


And, now that you’ve established yourself as a brand, the goal is to become a “genuine brand.”


According to Duane Knapp, author of The Brand Mindset, “A Genuine Brand is the internalized sum of all impressions received by customers and consumers resulting in a distinctive position in their MIND’S EYE based on perceived emotional and functional benefits.”


As an example, when thinking of coffee houses, which company jumps to mind? Dunkin Donuts? Seattle’s Best? Starbucks? 


Though it’s almost cliche nowadays to use Starbucks as a branding icon, it’s the best example to show genuine brand in action.


It’s still too early to tell whether Red Canoe will develop into a genuine brand. But all indications are that it’s possible.


“Red Canoe is a name that tells our story of delivering a distinctly northwest style, which the canoe embodies,” said Bridget O’Connor, business development specialist. “The name reflects our commitment to being more caring, responsive and passionate (red) about our members’ dreams.”


Emotionally, Red Canoe reaches out to fulfill their customers’ dreams through their products and services, all the while consistently messaging their community stewardship and providing an overarching consistent brand experience. 


Now it’s up to the community to decide whether Red Canoe is  the “credit union Starbucks” of the South Sound.


They are well on their way.


–as printed in The Federal Way Mirror 5/30/09