Is your networking not working? Try this.



In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones’ Shattered, with apologies to Mr. Jagger and and Mr. Richards, “All this chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter ’bout
Shmatta, shmatta, shmatta! I can’t give it away on 7th Avenue. This town’s been wearing tatters (shattered, sha-ooobie, shattered).”

My town has been wearing tatters for years. Yours too, I bet. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you live in Upstate New York or Northeast Pennsylvania. Sha- oobie. We know what it’s like to be shattered, don’t we?

But we also know how to pick up the pieces. Rebuild. Reboot. Regenerate.

It comes with the territory. Momma and Daddy told me it wouldn’t be easy. Thankfully, they taught me to eat my P’s: persistence and perseverance. In marketing and sales, I have found they are invaluable resources.

One great thing I learned about persevering, from my father (a banker), and his father (a grocer) before him, is the importance of genuine, relationship-building networking, or put another, simpler way: reaching out to others. In life as in basketball, it’s important to keep your eye on the whole court and keep the ball moving. Nobody scores without a good set-up pass. (Ok, it’s March, give a guy a March madness analogy. Humor me.)

The dirty little secret I want to tell you about networking is that I used to hate it. Sometimes, when it’s forced, I still do. Maybe you do, too. But I’m learning that if it’s done right, in a way that honors everyone involved, it’s actually kind of fun to connect the dots between and among people. I do not pretend to be an expert networker. I simply enjoy bringing good people together. Some folks like to bake a cake. I enjoy making a good connection.

I have learned, mostly from doing it the wrong way, that doing it the right way means giving of myself to others and not expecting something in return. When I put positive energy into the world, it does tend to come back. It may take months. Heck, it may take several years or even decades. But I’ve seen it time and time again. When I give someone a hand, make an introduction, or facilitate a connection, it feels good. It’s exactly what I’d hope someone would do for me if they could. Plus, first and foremost, it is the right thing to do! Any good karma or ROI that I realize later is icing on the cake. But so many times I’ve seen it come through. Networking is not a zero-sum game. Everybody wins.

A colleague recently loaned me an excellent little NY TIMES bestseller called “Never Eat Alone.” It’s a book squarely in my sweet spot of self-help and business. Keith Ferrazzi, a guy you might call a serial entrepreneur, has done networking right and built multiple businesses into hugely successful enterprises before spinning them off and moving on (pick and roll, anyone?). He is now a successful author and speaker, spreading his “secrets of success built on the power of relationships, one relationship at a time.”

Building relationships with people is messy. It takes time and effort. It always has. Making connections in the digital era is faster, for example it’s a lot easier to “ping” connections with emails or texts to stay in touch than it is with hand-written notes and phone calls. But no matter what the tools, communicating and relationship cultivating still takes planning, intentionality and follow-through.

We all buy into the fact that we need to make connections to make the business world go ‘round. That is a given. Even if we rail against it, the overriding evidence still shows that who you know is always going to be important no matter how much you know, right? So what kind of relationships make a difference in business and how do we get busy building them? Well, what we’re not talking about right now is building deep, personal relationships, the kind reserved for loved ones and close friends. That’s a different blog and section in the bookstore. And we’re not talking about connecting with thousands of social-media friends or followers, though that may be part of the answer for some people. I tend to agree with Ferrazzi that it’s the relationships in the middle—those connections that are not overly deep but are strong enough to matter—where business people and professionals need to focus their efforts and grow if their businesses, careers and lives are going to flourish.

Want to learn more? I highly recommend the book. I’d also be happy to connect on Linkedin. Or better yet, let’s get together over a cup of coffee in one of the hip, new coffee shops sprouting up like daffodils all over our shattered but hopeful little town.

Now, get out there and connect. Create a better future. I’m pulling for you.

By Steve Johnson, Managing Partner

In branding, as in life, say what you mean and mean what you say

OpenHouseChecklist-Entry1-646x604Have you heard the one about the brand manager who said she wanted to rebrand, but what she meant was, “I’m bored with our logo.”

Your brand cuts way deeper than your logo. Just as a fresh coat of paint on a house may improve its curb appeal, a logo refresh may be something that is needed periodically for your brand. But, wait a second. Just as there’s more to a home’s value than its exterior, there’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to your brand. It’s the whole house!

Brands are 3-dimensional. In addition to your logo, your brand includes visual cues like your digital presence, sign, trucks, uniforms and forms. Your messaging matters. (Copy is important! You’re reading this and it’s not even that important. Or is it?) The third and arguably most important factor is the consistency of your brand. Many a logo/slogan that you may not think of as great, used consistently over time to establish a unique positioning in the minds of consumers, still works, still sells.

There’s equity in a good brand. According to Forbes magazine’s annual review, “Brands get their value from how customers perceive them,” says David Reibstein, a professor of marketing and branding expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “What makes it valuable from a company perspective is that customers are willing to pay a higher price or are more likely to buy.”

How much are the top five brands worth?

  1. Apple’s brand is valued at $154 billion
  2. Google $82.5 billion
  3. Microsoft $75.2 billion
  4. Coca-Cola $58.5 billion
  5. Facebook $52.6 billion

(Forbes, May 11, 2016).

Your brand is a promise. Do your products, your services, your organization and your people all deliver on that promise? Harmony is where the magic happens. When your mission and your message are singing the same song, there is strategic harmony. That is gold. Apple is the New York Philharmonic of brand harmony. Volkswagen, with its falsetto promise of German engineering being drowned out by news cycles filled with emissions-control corner-cutting, not so much. Customers don’t just hear brand harmony, they sense it. When you say what you mean and mean what you say, it’s only natural for customers to appreciate that harmony and reward you with their business and referrals. Conversely, if you don’t walk the walk, people won’t buy your talk.

Be careful what you promise. Avoid these four tired brand clichés like the plague:

  1. Trust in us (Aren’t all brands essentially about trust?)
  2. Our people make the difference (Can you prove it?)
  3. We solve problems (Who doesn’t?)
  4. We care (This is subjective and trite anyway.)

Instead of hackneyed hype, try showing people why they should trust your brand. Answer the question they’re all asking: “Why should I care about your brand, and what can it do for me to make me feel better about me?” That’s right, the real secret to branding brilliance is self-esteem. If the brand makes you feel good about yourself, you’ll buy into it.

Go beyond brand features. Make the effort to go beyond mere reasons people should buy your product or service. Take the brand to an emotional level that connects with basic human emotions such as self-esteem/guilt, altruism/narcissism or fulfillment/fear. You’ll quickly see that the real brand drivers are the feelings behind the features.

In the marketing communications world, seemingly contradictory emotions often reflect two sides of the same coin and drive an awful lot of consumer behavior. Consumers, we all, are equal parts dark and light.

So watch what your brand says. And mean it.

By Steve Johnson, Managing Partner

The business of banking in America is… business banking.


If 75% of a community bank’s revenue comes from small business customers, why not target more marketing at small businesses? Why not indeed. Marketing can and should support business banking. Here’s a handful of sure-fire ways to do it, along with a little candy.

* Allocate enough marketing resources to more closely align with that 75% revenue figure.

* Make sure relationship managers (RMs) are all-star performers, and empower them to succeed.

* Recognize what drives customers’ perceptions of an all-star performance. Companies asked to rate their banker (RM), say overwhelmingly that, “promptly follows up on my requests” is their number one criterion. Make sure RMs say what they’ll do and do what they say. Simple, yes. Easy, no.

* Develop expertise in the customer’s industry. Again, the RMs and their team members should not only learn the customer’s business, but also become known in that industry. They need to be seen by industry insiders as people who “get it done” and who are quoted in the press as experts in their industry. Again, not easy. But what a great way to break free from the pinstriped herd.

* Position the business banker as a trusted advisor within small business owners’ “circles of influence.” Yes, that means sowing referral seeds with business attorneys and accountants. But even more importantly, the RM wants to bring into the circle other business owners, peers of their customers, and friends and colleagues who also manage businesses. Becoming known as a problem solver for companies making tough decisions is the best single way for the RM to be seen as the go-to trusted advisor. The key is to make all those customers potential referrers of new customers to the bank—to have those folks want to help their friends and associates by recommending the bank to them. A testimonial, such as, “Bank B works for me; I think you should see what they can do for you,” is best delivered and well received by a peer or friend who’s walked a mile in a business owner’s shoes.


Last but not least, be sure to sweeten the deal by offering the business customer an incentive/reward for their personal business. Studies show that customer retention (sometimes called “stickiness”) and profitability rise dramatically when the bank holds both the business and personal banking relationships.


Sweet and sticky. Like candy. Who doesn’t like candy?


Written by Steve Johnson, Managing Partner

Note: Some of this material comes from the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA),via Riger’s membership in the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As).  

Logic and emotion: buyers need both!

imagesAs a marketer for both B2B and B2C clients, Riger found this research enlightening:

* Shaping your audience’s emotive response (how a product or service makes them FEEL) is a critical element to every marketing campaign, regardless of its industry category.

* Conventional wisdom tells us that B2B and B2C buying choices spring from different decision-making processes. However, upon closer inspection, it turns out both types of purchases stem from that SAME sense of confidence: that feeling that the purchaser is simply making the right choice.

* In B2B materials, marketers typically list their reasons for potential customers/clients to choose them among a pack of their competitors, but it turns out people don’t necessarily respond to pure information. They need the winning combination of logic and emotional intelligence to form their buying decision.

So, how do YOUR marketing materials cater to your customer’s gut instinct?


JC Penney: A big bully or just another smart advertiser?

When it comes to back-to-school fashion, retail marketers go head-to-head every year to showcase the latest trends for making a good impression.

JC Penney recently aired a commercial as part of its “First Day Look” campaign with what some considered a controversial message linking their clothing to popularity.

As you can see, the advertisement features the voice-over of a mom who explains she shops for her children at JC Penney because it carries name brands at affordable prices. Referring to her son’s wardrobe she says, “This stuff can make or break your entire year.” The commercial then shows the transition from her son being surrounded by other kids in a school cafeteria to being completely alone.

Some consumers haven’t bought into the department store’s statement claiming their intent was not to “trivialize or promote bullying.” They believe the ad blatantly suggests to impressionable young viewers that how you dress determines whether or not you have friends.

Others may agree that JC Penney assigned a social value and benefit to their brand, but would argue that all good marketing strategies do just that – and have since the beginning of time. Ya know, if you buy Nike, you’ll play basketball like Michael Jordan and if you drink SmartWater, you’ll be beautiful like Jennifer Anniston…  So how is this JC Penney ad any different?

Which side of the debate do you fall on?




Did you know: TV advertising is coming back strong?

According to the Wall Street Journal (8/5/10), advertisers are coming back to broadcast and cable TV, with Time Warner reporting an 11% increase in second-quarter ad revenue and News Corp.’s local stations posting a 29% increase over the same quarter last year. Local television had been the hardest-hit sector of media, in percentage terms, during the recession. But as automobile advertisers boost spending again, TV stations have also experienced the biggest lift.


Steve Johnson, VP, Client Services