Thursday, 10 December 2015

Born to Sell; What Makes a Sales Champion

Written by Robyn T Braley

When the economy dips, it’s time to dig down deep and evaluate every area of your business. What works really well? What isn’t working well? 

What areas just get by because they have been ignored for years? 

Selling is the fuel that drives the engine of business. No sales, no revenue. No revenue ... well, you know the ending and its not pretty. 

Fuel for Champions

I started writing a single post with tips for honing sales skills. As I got into it, the article became longer and longer and evolved into 10 story ideas. Each is meant to be a quick read by people who’s livelihood depends on sales success.

If you are a sales or fund raising professional, the posts will help you review the fundamentals. If you are a Bootstrapper who is starting a new business with few resources, they will introduce you to basic sales knowledge and strategies. 

Finally, if your life is indirectly impacted by sales – which is everyone – these posts will help you understand sales and sales professionals

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Think As If There is no Box; 10 Marketing Tips for Tough Times

Think as if there is no box!

Written by Robyn T. Braley 

Business survival depends on producing results even when economies tank. To keep existing clients while trying to find new customers, the challenge is not to think outside the box. It is to think as if there is no box!

Every market segment is different. They just are. And, that is the fun in working with unique clients.

So, to suggest there are one-size-fits all solutions runs counter to the way we think at Unimark Creative. We like to walk beside our clients, learn more about their needs, and find ways to solve their marketing problems.

I always feel uncomfortable when asked to come up with lists of “must-have” marketing tools. The secret to business success is to identify your client’s needs and provide a solution that will meet them. Simple, right?

Hold on. When hit by an unpredictable economy, business owners are forced to consider programs they may not have considered previously. Some get back to the basics that helped them get started. Others do things they've never done before as they shore up existing business while also searching for new opportunities.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Happy Thanksgiving Canada! 10 Reasongs to Just Say Thanks

The turkey says it all. Thanks!

Get that instant lift … just say “thanks!”

Written by Meg Braley

Want a "right this second" way to lift your spirits? Very simple – smile and say thanks! Thank your family members, employees, neighbors and co-workers. 

Right now you’re probably thinking about specific people who are special to you. Call them up or text them. Just say thanks for being who you are and for what you do. 

Why not …

  1. Call a customer and thank them for their business
  2. Call a supplier and thank them for their service
  3. Say thanks to first responders for just being there
  4. Say thanks to armies of volunteers who make our communities richer
  5. Saying thanks to Canadian military for risking themselves to protect us
  6. Say thanks to people you seldom interact with
  7. Say thanks to people who you always interact with
  8. Lift someone's spirits with a thanks and a smile
  9. Give thanks for the amazing democracy and land of opportunity we live in
  10. Give thanks for the opportunity to give back to those who need help

Friday, 31 July 2015

10 Tips For Bootstrapping With Broken Laces

Tips for boot strapping a start-up

10 Tips for Starting a Business from Scratch

Written by Robyn T Braley

Now is not a great time to be thinking about starting a business. We are officially using the “R” word in Canada. 

In January, 2015, oil prices dropped like a rock into a thick puddle of porridge! 

Later that same year those who were laid-off were running out of their employment insurance benefits. Most have been diligently working their networks and submitting resume’s by the hundreds to no avail.

Some are able to find employment is other parts of the country or even the world where their skills and abilities are in demand. For others, reasons like family eliminate moving as an option.

So, what now? At this point some are deciding to start a business. They do it for one of two reasons
  1. As an act of desperation as there are no other income options.
  2. To seize an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Yahoo! What You Need to Know to Survive the Stampede 2015 Networking Marathon

Networking happens everywhere at the Calgary Stampede

By Robyn T. Braley 

Throwing up on the boss’s spouse during an awkward attempt to hit on him or her is not how you want Stampede 2015 to be remembered. It's just not!

It’s billed as the greatest outdoor show on earth. It's also a networking marathon. Stampede is hard to describe to people who have never been there. The Calgary Stampede is more of an all-encompassing fully engaged experience than an event confined to a geographic location.

While 1.3 million+ will pass through the Stampede Park turnstiles for the 10 day exhibition, all star rodeo and agricultural fair, a celebration of western heritage and community spirit will spread like wildfire through the city.

Unimark's Jessica Roy at a Stampede event with husband Jeff
Companies spend thousands of PR dollars to make their event one to remember. Being on the invite list gives access to people you would never otherwise meet.

Company presidents join 100’s of employees wearing cowboy hats, shirts, blue jeans and boots. Stampede is a time for building relationships with employees, clients, suppliers and the community.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Why Does My Company Website Suck?

Why Does My Company Website Suck?
Websites can be a real head scratcher!

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Does your company website effectively tell your story? Can you answer the question, 
“What makes an effective website?”

Regardless of how new, powerful, dynamic or successful your website is, you will soon be contacted by an “expert” who will tell you, “It sucks!”


The challenge is to sort out what is fact and what is fiction.  A few weeks ago a client told me how frustrated he was with the number of email and telephone contacts he receives from people who speak an unfamiliar language.
What did he say?

Monday, 4 May 2015

Why Do I Need a Responsive Website?

Responsive websites adapt to a variety of  formats

Written by Meg Braley 

You may be scratching your head saying “I don’t even know what a responsive website is. How do I know if I need one?"

"Further, how do I know if my current website is responsive?"

Here is the test. When you look at your website on a smartphone, is it just an extremely tiny version of what you would see on your PC? Do you have to zoom in and then move it around until you can read the text and click on links? 

Meg Braley, senior web designer

If that’s what you see, your website is not responsive. In a nutshell, a responsive website automatically resizes to fit the screen of whatever media you are using to view it whether it’s a desktop, tablet or smartphone. When a website is responsive, it gives the user a much better viewing experience. It makes it easier to get to the information they are looking for – the information you want them to have! Using responsive design integrates interaction such as touch screens and makes for a more enjoyable experience for users.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Photo Tips for Shooting the Best Possible Pictures for Your Business '

Written by Robyn T. Braley 

Photographs are a highly effective way to tell your story through websites, social media, brochures, advertising and other media. They speak directly to potential customers by providing a window into your brand. 

Photos provide a great way to start building relationships with potential customers. But, as we have discovered at Unimark Creative, they don't just happen by accident!

We have been blessed with exceptional still photo talent. My intention was to include a photo credit with each picture used in this post but space doesn't allow it. So I have to acknowledge Peter Fleck, Roy Ooms, Dave Lazarowych, John Dean, Meg Braley and Laureen Braley for their exceptional work in helping Unimark rise above the competition.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Rick Hanson, Bearcat Murray, and Peter Maher Lead by Example

Chief Rick Hanson interviewed by Jill Belland of City TV
Written by Robyn T. Braley

Since this post was written, Chief Hanson resigned to pursue other career options. Peter Maher retired after a distinguished career as a sports broadcaster. Bearcat Murray just goes on being Bearcat. Each is still involved in the community.

Three men built strong personal brands through hard work and demonstrating a passion for what they do. 

Leaders are busy. Schedules are overloaded by the demands of fulfilling job and career commitments. Add family and recreation time and many leaders reach a schedule saturation point. 

When asked to find time to volunteer in the community, many leaders are thrown into a spasm caused by busyness fatigue.

Leaders Who Lead

In spite of this, every community has leaders who stand out through the gift of their time. They understand the importance of making a difference in the community. 

Calgary is blessed with a long list of men and women who are examples of what it means to be extraordinary leaders in every area of their lives. Somehow, within their frenetic schedules, they find time to give back, to pay it forward. 

Three such men were recently in the news on the same day. They share common values by…
  • Giving selflessly of themselves without any expectation of return
  • Demonstrating leadership by how they live their lives
  • Showing compassion and caring for others

Friday, 30 January 2015

How to Grow Your Brand in Uncertain Times

The Perfect Time to Analyze Your Brand is When Times are Tough

Written by Robyn T. Braley

When economies are threatened by international trade uncertainty, unexpected natural disasters, pandemics, domestic unrest or the threat of war, it's time to reassess and realign your brand. 

Canada's economy has been impacted by a decline in our petroleum industry. Government, industry and climate change interest groups can't seem to find a compromise that will allow all parties to move forward for the common good.
That has drastically impacted the economies of Canada's prairie provinces in particular. The Alberta government was forced to regulate production in order to protect market prices. Government interference in any market at any time is heresy to the entrepreneurs. 

In a free enterprise driven province, that speaks to the severity of the situation. Many companies will make it through this time. They will adapt, adjust and carefully manage their operations as they find ways to survive by finding new markets. 

Others will not be so lucky. One of my clients, which manufactured $5,000,000 products for the petroleum industry, couldn't realign themselves to find new products to make and markets to sell them in. 

The bottom line is that small business can do little to influence such uncontrollable forces. It is what it is and will be what it will be for the foreseeable future. 

Threats or Opportunities 

As a leader, it is difficult to stay positive when your company is faced with a potential crisis. How you approach the challenge is a personal choice. You either shrink back and let the market forces prevail or you fight back, adjust your focus and find new opportunities. If the latter, you must be prepared to do whatever it takes to survive. Plain and simple.  

While the economy is a threat to some, it provides opportunity for others.Thinking 'We can' rather than 'We can't' will cause you see possibilities where you thought none existed. 

I spoke at a recent Real Estate Conference where I met two Rental Property Owners who had traveled from a neighboring province to look for rental properties. They had cash in hand ready to buy rental properties at distressed prices.

I know what you're thinking! That is a positive for the buyers but a negative for the sellers. Not necessarily. 

The sellers may be eager to be free of the obligations associated with operating in a depressed economy. They may welcome the opportunity to pursue new avenues of business.

Revisit Your Vision 

When was the last time you thought about your vision for the company? Is it as vivid today as it was when you started it? 

When I begin working with new clients, I take them through a discovery process to help me learn about them and to clearly identify their needs. One of the last questions I ask is, 

What will your company look like in 5 years?

Some clients were taken off guard. They could not describe their company 5 years out. I'm sure they had an idea, but when I asked the question most drew a blank. 

If you can't verbalize your vision in a few short sentences, ask yourself that question! Then, write down your answer. 

Expand and refine it until your vision statement becomes laser-focused. It should be crystal clear, relevant, authentic and future-looking. Most of all, it should be easy to communicate to others. 

What’s My Brand

Once you have clarified your vision it is time to analyze your brand. Ask these questions!.

What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? 

You've often heard me say or post my definition of a brand. "Your brand is what others think it is." Ask yourself these questions. 

  • What do clients, employees and collaborative partners think your brand is?
  • Is your brand as relevant today as yesterday?
  • How can it be adjusted to meet current conditions?
The process of analyzing your brand doesn't have to be hard. Just ask your customers and other stakeholders.

I have created and manged many surveys on behalf of large and small businesses. 

All involved person-to-person telephone calls or meeting one-on-one with people we had never met. Some included cold calls to a control list. 

Some required nation-wide research while others were localized. Each looked for solutions to a problem. 

In each project, we asked hard questions. With some, we identified problems our client didn't know about. That resulted in some difficult discussions when reporting back. 

Each provided information that led to solving my client's problem. 

Just Talk to Your Customers

When you ask the right questions, you get the right answers. I craft 8-10 questions that included open and closed questions. I lead from those requiring simple answers to more complex. The last question I ask is this. 

If our roles were reversed, what question would you ask?

This always produces gold. I've prompted highly sensitive information based on the high-trust relationships built with complete strangers (to me) through the first questions. 

In most situations, the clients 

Who Ya Gonna' Call!

While I'd welcome the opportunity to work with you, it may be beneficial for you to undertake the project on your own. Contact 10-15 key customers and go through the questions by telephone or in-person meetings. For this kind of information gathering, I recommend live conversations rather than online programs like SurveyMonkey or even email. Voice inflections, pauses, tone of voice all contribute to meaning.    

Listen carefully to their answers. What exactly are they saying? What are the key word phrases? Are they skirting around issues by giving non answers. Be prepared to dig down asking additional questions. 

Select a cross-section of employees and ask the same questions.

Trapped in Your Head

You’d be amazed at how many small business owners have never gone through even a simple branding exercise. Don't get me wrong! They usually have a clear definition of what their brand means in their minds. 

Simply put, 'need to know' thinking is old school thinking in today's business world. Real growth happens when others employees, customers, potential customers, suppliers - have a clear idea of what your passion and purpose is. 

To be honest, some of these business people have enjoyed early success in living out their big idea. But, they seldom get around to putting their brand descriptions on paper in a way that can be explained to others. 

As the company grows, that eventually leads to conflicts, misunderstandings and lost customers. 

Brand affinity strengthens resulting on customer and employee loyalty. Quality products and exceptional after-sales service is the outward evidence of living out your brand. 

What Does It Mean?

The word brand is thrown around in different ways and contexts. Marketers offer complicated explanations that often clouds the real meaning. This is my more complex definition.

Your brand is what others think it is. It reflects the soul of an organization. It communicates vision, values and principles. It works from the inside out to connect with customers at an emotional level.

A brand defines the characteristics that set your company apart from the competition. It makes a promise that customers can believe in. It tells the story of who you are, what you stand for, and the unique selling proposition you deliver on.

When you think about it, successful brands are built around a central idea that is compelling. They offer real as well as perceived value to all stakeholders. A distinctive brand positions a company and gives it a competitive advantage.

A brand is your story. Whether you own a small business, a Fortune 500 company, a not-for-profit agency or are a lone wolf entrepreneur bootstrapping your company into existence, the success of your brand strategy will be measured by how well it tells your story. It must engage customers and compel them to buy what you are selling. 

More Than a Logo

A brand is much more than a logo. To torment our designers at Unimark Creative, I love looking over their shoulder when they are creating a new logo.

After a moment of feigned reflection I’ll say, “WOW, that is amazing art. But, does it have meaning?” Then I walk away having ruined their day.

Logos, corporate colours, websites, social media, sales strategies, customer service programs and every other brand delivery method “puts a face” on the inner meaning of your company. That's all. 

It Must Mean Something

Putting lipstick on a pig or a mask on a cow doesn't make apork chop into steak or vice versa. Neither the lipstick nor the mask will cover up the truth of what is on the inside. The pig will still be the pig and the cow will still be the cow.

I often tell the story about the dog food company that invested millions into a national marketing campaign. They hired the best research firm, the biggest advertising agency, a world-class PR company and social media gurus. They rolled out an amazing marketing program.

The weeks passed. Sales continued to slump. Panic set in! 

The company increased the budget. Sales slumped further, so they increased it again.

Taking Action 

To the upper management and their army of consultants, the reason was obvious. The company sales force didn't understand how to leverage their brilliant marketing ideas.
In desperation, the company flew their regional managers and sales champions back to head office. There was tension in the air in the presentation theatre as the President took the stage. 

He launched into his presentation with an air of confidence sharing motivational sales quotes and stories. Of course he backed up what he was saying with engaging PowerPoint slides with compelling videos embedded. He explained the brilliance of the campaign and how each part had been carefully crafted to integrate with the other.  

Throughout the presentation, he dropped comments and observations that made it obvious to all in the room that he felt the root of the problem was the sales team. 

They just weren’t doing their jobs! They weren't meeting their quotas in spite of all the help they'd been given. 

At the end of his talk, he threw out a rhetorical question with a threatening tone, “So, why isn’t this working?”

The room was silent. Noone wanted to be the one to go on record stating what each of them had discovered from months being on the ground in the front lines. 

Finally, an older, grizzled, salesman at the back of the room sprang to his feet. He cleared his throat with a grating sound. His voice echoed through the hall as he shouted his opinion of what the root of the problem was. He said it slowly and clearly!

“Sir, the dogs won’t eat the dammed dog food!”

To state the obvious, the core of your brand must be the quality of your product.

What’s in a Name

The essence of the brand – its quality, relevance, and value must be at the core. The ideal name will reflect the meaning of your brand.

When I mention Nike, Fedex, Starbucks, Disney, NHL, Sony, Walmart or IBM, most reading this will have an immediate image of what those brands represent.

Finding Truth

To determine where you want to go, you must know where you’ve come from. Analyzing your brand requires honesty and transparency. 

Leaders of successful brands clearly understand what their brand is, who their customers are and why it matters. They know their brands strengths and weaknesses. 
When analyzing your brand, warts and blemishes are often revealed along with those moments of extreme brilliance that moved your company to a new level. 

In the search for truth, it is important to recognize corporate failures so that the lessons learned can be instructive when shaping the future. Most often, careful analysis will also reveal many things your company has and is doing well in building its brand. 

Your Opinion Matters

Please share your comments below. What have I missed? What caused you to think differently?  

Thursday, 29 January 2015

How to Build a Multi-Million Dollar Brand

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Brands are built by delivering on promises to customers. Delivering on promises with continuity, consistency and predictability earns customer loyalty. It's at that point that a brand becomes sustainable.  

However, being predictable doesn't mean you are rigid and don’t adapt or respond to new opportunities or threats. Doing the same thing in the same way for too long can put you into a rut. And, a rut, as they say, is a grave with the ends kicked out. 

While a brand has meaning, it must also remain relevant year after year. As customer needs change, so must your company. Building your brand requires flexibility in order to stay relevant.

It's Not Always About the Logo

Your brand is what customers think it is! It's defined by how they feel about your company, product or service.

Our company, Unimark Creativedid marketing projects for an Alberta based drilling tool company. It was a startup in the true sense of the word. 

Two young men founded the company out of the back of an old half-ton truck. They stored  product on one side of a two-car garage. 

Forty years later the business had grown to become the dominant supplier within the Canadian and US drilling industry. The company was worth many millions of dollars.