Saturday, June 23, 2018

Build Your Brand In Summer to Prepare for Winter

Yeah, they're kind of like that.
A recession is a bit like a forest fire. It causes great destruction, but it also serves to clear away debris and waste and make room for strong, healthy trees to thrive. In a recession, many businesses will fail, but the the strong ones will survive. The strongest will actually come out of the trial of a recession stronger than they went in, expanding market share and often having the opportunity to buy up their weaker competitors.

Proper work during the boom times on establishing a powerful and robust brand is crucial to being one of the companies that thrives in the downturn rather than being one of those that is forced to sell out.

In 1862, ClĂ©ment Juglar discovered that the Juglar Cycle, in which he found that the booms and busts of the economy tended to cycle every 7 to 11 years. It is a natural part of the business cycle. There are various factors that go into this: monetary policy, government policy, the need for the economy to correct itself, and more.

Of course, we see this borne out in the last few recessions. Here are years that the last seven recessions started in the United States.
It's been 11 years since the last
recession. On average they occur
every 6 years.


They are actually an average of 6 years apart, and the last one started 11 years ago.

We can discuss all kinds of complex economics and contentious politics when looking for reasons why the next recession will come, but it is simple math to see that the next recession is coming. Economists do not seem to believe that it is imminent, growth likely continuing into 2019, but whether it's in 2019 or 2022, now is the time for a business to prepare.

As the Bible says, "Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. (Proverbs 6:6-8)"

How do you prepare, and avoid King Solomon calling you "lazybones"? Naturally, you should make sure your business is on firm financial footing. Pay down debts. Maintain a cash reserve for unexpected downturns. But financial reserves enough are not enough to ensure that you are one of the businesses that will come out stronger rather than one of those that must sell out to a competitor.

The Most Valuable Investment
The most valuable investment that you can make today is in your brand reputation. I speak to many business owners who say, "I'm too busy. I'm turning away jobs. I don't need advertising right now."

This is an ad that runs for When your
brand is as well known as Amazon, you can think
about saying you are well enough known that
you don't need to advertise anymore.
They are correct that they do not need direct response advertising like coupons and special deals. What they do need right now, however, is sponsorship and brand marketing.

What's the difference? Direct response advertising is advertising that seeks an immediate result. It's almost like day trading. You are asking for something today. Use this coupon. Get that deal. Call now. Operators are standing by. You either get a result or do not in a very short period of time. This is your Google Ad Words, many TV and radio ads that call for immediate action, that sort of thing.

Branding and sponsorship advertising is more like making an investment in the future of your business, specifically in the reputation of your business. Branding is done by sponsoring events and organizations that people care about. It is done by supporting community publications that people are connected with. It is also done with advertising, whether TV, radio, print or online, that focuses on the values and value proposition of your business rather than an immediate call to action.

Coca-Cola is the most recognized brand on Earth, yet they
continue to use ads like this one to maintain their top of
mind awareness.
It's the difference between the friend who only calls you when they need something, and the friend who's always around occasionally asking for a favor. With branding and sponsorship, your business becomes that friend who is always around, not only there when they have their hand out.

Right now, the economy is hot, and the pie is large. Everyone has a slice. In the foreseeable future, in the next 1-4 years, that pie will shrink. Those businesses that have invested their profits wisely, especially in building their awareness and reputation in the community will be those that will thrive in the next recession. Those that do not will find themselves losing their market, and possibly their business, to those that have.

How to Do It?
Many small businesses only focus on direct response advertising, so they may not be familiar with what brand marketing is. There are three key aspects to look at: Sponsorship, Brand Marketing, and Content Marketing.

Sponsors at a local Little League field.
Sponsorship means putting your brand identity adjacent to things that people feel positive about. Putting your name on a Little League team, sponsoring a community magazine, or supporting a Rotary event are examples of this. It makes people think of your business as local and as a part of the community rather than simply as another business after their money.

Just because people know your business exists does not mean that their impression is positive. Placing your business adjacent to causes that they care about can move consumers from awareness of your business to appreciation for your business, a crucial improvement.

Brand Marketing
An example of brand marketing.
No call to action, details, or even
contact information. Simply a
mention of the brand to maintain top
of mind awareness.
Brand Marketing, is marketing with the intention of increasing awareness and positive perception of your business. Awareness can be increased with sponsorship activity, and it can also be done by putting your brand, logo, slogan, jingle, or face in places where people will see it consistently (many times) and persistently (over a long period).

You can engage in brand marketing on any platform, but it is more cost effective on some platforms than other. Branding on television is prohibitively expensive for all but the largest companies. Branding on most online platforms like Google AdWords and Facebook is nearly impossible given their shifting algorithms. Community magazines can be very effective at branding to a targeted market. Billboards can also be effective, although it is more difficult to pinpoint the market.

High quality, high engagement community
magazines are one of the most powerful
platforms for content marketing to
reach a targeted audience.
Content Marketing
Content Marketing is a form of marketing that puts a deeper message than simply your brand and product or service offerings. It is sharing content such as expert advice and valuable resources. It can also take the form of giving people a deeper familiarity with your business, such as business history, employee biographies, and the like. Either way, the goal is to make the market see your company are more than just a logo and a quote, but to make it human, deep, and familiar to them.

Content can take a variety of forms: print articles, online writing, podcasts, video, audio, and more. It is important to realize that there are two key elements to content: the quality of the content itself and having a strategy to make sure that people actually consume the content. The greatest article in the world will bring no customers to your business if no one reads it. I have seen amazing videos on YouTube with 50 views on them.

Tools like blogs and newsletters can be a very effective method for driving content to your existing customers and those already familiar with your business.

How do you push that great content to the rest of the community? The best way to ensure that the broader public consumes your content is to place it in a platform which they are already engaging with. The ideal, although it can be difficult to achieve, is to become an expert contributor to a community publication that has high engagement or to have a show on local television or radio.

This article, for example, is an example of Content Marketing. I am using it to share important information, to build relationships with my readers, and to establish a reputation for expertise.

For More Information
Marketing is a complex and ever changing field. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me at or call 203-707-1245, and I'd be happy to help or discuss consulting options. I am also available to speak to your organization. Contact me for details.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Touching Lives

One day, a boy was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by a storm. As he walked he came upon a man  who was throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the boy looked at the man and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the man simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish.”

The boy chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The man picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the boy, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

Last night I got a message from someone I meet four years ago. She was working at an ice cream shop at the time, and, getting ice cream one day, I talked with her as I often do with people I meet. Turns out that she was just finishing high school and was getting interested in anime and conventions but didn't know where to start. At the time, I was running the Connecticon Info Desk Department, and I invited her to join my team and get to see the con from the center of it all.

We became friends and speak occasionally. Last night, she sent me a message in which she realized that when we met, she was just finishing high school, and now she has just graduated college. She said this:

"It seemed like such a small encounter, but your kindness to some random kid behind the counter stayed with me. You listened to me as i spouted off whatever high school angst I had and genuinely gave me advice and your time. Now I'm 22 and thinking about how incredible that was. You are the only stranger to ever be that kind to me."

Throughout our daily travels, rushing here and there, doing this and that, we brush up against so many other lives. I didn't think twice about chatting with the person behind the counter. It comes naturally, but it made a difference to her. Everyday, we have dozens of opportunities to make someone's life better, if only in a small way, but that small thing could mean everything to the right person at the right time.

Probably without intention, her words came to me at a time when they had great impact. The past half year has been very difficult for me. I have been in a place where I had to wonder who were truly my friends and who were not. I came to doubt myself and my contributions to the world.

This message (as well as many others I have received recently) was a powerful reminder that I have left a lot of good behind me, and that I have much more good to do.

In the past few months, I have seen the best of people and I have seen the worst. I have seen people whose goodness is so strong that the world is a brighter place because they exist in it. I have seen people with such darkness that they cannot help but to destroy that which others enjoy. It made me question my faith in humanity. But I have seen far more of the former kind of person than the later.

I have seen so many people step forward both behind and in front of the scenes to be the light in the world. Some did so because they were brave. Some because they didn't know what they were getting into. But all of them because they saw what the right thing to do was, and they knew that it was their time to do it.

I started this year with about 1,675 friends on Facebook, and in the past six months, I have removed and blocked a considerable number of toxic people from that list. Today, after all of this, my list of friends stands at 1,701. I am deeply grateful for all the wonderful people I have been blessed to meet, both this year and before.

Not only can every single one of us change the world, but every single one of us does change the world every single day. The only question is whether you change it for the better.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Cons, Cogs and Steam

With last week's announcement of Steampunk Con, I have been speaking to a lot of confused and concerned steampunks. What's happening to COGS? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? What should I do? Who should I support?

If you just want to know my quick opinion, I believe that this proliferation of events is a good thing. I expect them all to be successful, fun, exciting events. COGS will have the opportunity to find a new and better venue. As for what you should do? You should attend steampunk events, have fun, bring your friends and make new friends. Who should you support? You should support the community and anyone who is working to make it better. It's not an election. You don't have to choose. You can support them all.

I'd like to discuss the addition of Steampunk Con to the calendar from a market and business perspective. I believe that most people have had enough of the drama and politics and just want to know if there will be events for them to flash their gears at, and this article is for them.

For those who are not familiar, Until 2017 Steampunk Worlds Fair was the 800 pound gorilla of steampunk events. 3000 attendees, 2 hotels, and a $200,000 budget. It dominated the steampunk scene and we are unlikely to see anything like it in the near future. However, with its failure in 2018, a successor event called Community Organized Gathering of Steampunks (or COGS) took over that weekend and ran a much smaller event at the Radisson Hotel in Piscataway, NJ where Steampunk Worlds Fair would have run.

While small, the event was very successful and an excellent opportunity for the steampunk community to show that it was ready to get the gears turning on big events again.

It was clear from the moment that Steampunk Worlds Fair collapsed that a proliferation of exciting new events would come to exist. SPWF, by virtue of its size, stifled the creation of other steampunk hotel conventions in the Northeast. There are numerous steampunk festivals, but very few indoor, hotel conventions. Those events require a much greater financial investment and risk, and it was simply not a good investment while SPWF was running.

There are behind the scenes politics that would make for an excellent HBO series, but you can learn about those else where. The current situation is this: in spring of 2019, there will be three great steampunk events in a 7 week period.

May 17-19 will bring us COGS Expo, June 7-9 will bring Steampunk Con, and there is also Blackthorne Steam at Blackthorne Resport. Blackthorne Steam is traditionally also June 7-9, but it is likely that either Blackthorne Steam or Steampunk Con will adjust their date so that there is not a direct conflict. For the purposes of this analysis, we'll assume that will happen.

Crowds of steampunks at this
month's Blackthorne Steam
The first concern I had heard from people is some variation of "splitting the community" or "splitting the market". This assumes that there is a finite market of steampunks with a finite budget. The actual economics of events is much more complex than that. The steampunk market is made up of a variety of different kinds of people from the absolute diehards to the causal tourist.

This is not to say that there will not be individual people who will have a budget constraint and find themselves having to choose between events, but there is more than enough of a market to go around. This is particularly true because Steampunk is such an open, welcoming, and inviting community, which facilitates the growth of the community as we see the growth of new events.

Room For Everyone
There are many examples that we can see where "competition" grows the market to the benefit of all. In the late 1980's, Boskone was the massive scifi convention in Boston, drawing over 7000 attendees every year. When they decided to reign in the event after a few tumultuous years and being kicked out of the city, there was a split between Boskone and Arisia. Arisia runs MLK Day weekend and Boskone runs a month later on Presidents Day weekend. Today, both events draw around 5000 people, one month apart, in the same city, sometimes at the hotel, and often sharing staff between the two events.

Connecticut has three large comiccon-type events, all during the same four month period, and they are all thriving.

Outside of conventions, Starbucks is a great example. Far from smothering locally run coffee shops, Starbucks created coffee culture in many markets, creating the circumstances in which locally run coffee shops could open in the first place.

To go back to the Arisia and Boskone example, when that split occurred, the two groups were not friendly. The very name Arisia is a reference to the good guys in the Lensman series, who fought the evil forces of Boskone.

Individual Economics
Let's start by looking at what an individual spends at a convention. People get very concerned about whether or an event ticket is $35 or $45, which is interesting when you consider that the average attendee spends a total of $500 to $1000 on their convention weekend.

Here is an example of what one might spend at a convention, and this applies to any kind of fandom weekend convention from steampunk to scifi to motorcycles:
Ticket: $50
Hotel: $250
Food: $120
Drink: $50
Travel: $50
Buying Stuff: $250
Total: $770

But if someone is local, not staying in the hotel, doesn't spend a great deal with the vendors, and a bit more frugal on the eating and drinking, they can keep their visit under $100. Thus there is no reason that local steampunks, of which there are many in the greater New York area, could not attend both events.

Separate Markets
The first hit on Google
for "Goth Steampunk"
There is not simply one population of steampunks who live in Steampunk Town, New Jersey and choose which events they will attend. In fact, most steampunks have other identities beyond steampunks. Some are scifi geeks, some are goths, some are metalheads, some are mechanics, some are politicians, some train monkeys at the zoo.

Like everyone, different steampunks have different levels of dedication. Some are so steampunk that their heart is actually a clockwork machine. Others are vaguely aware of this thing with the gears but they've seen Eternal Frontier perform and they think they're pretty cool so they'd like to check it out again.

Vampire Freaks, the company that, in association with the owner of the host hotel, is running Steampunk Con, has been running events in the goth community for 15 years. They have a large following in the goth community, but are relatively unknown in the steampunk community. This has an interesting and positive connotation. They have a great reach into a community of casual steampunks for whom Steampunk Con will be their first steampunk event.

COGS Expo, on the other hand, has deep roots in the mainline steampunk community, and will draw the more devoted steampunks. However, the most devoted steampunks will attend both events. "Most devoted" means attending all the events as long as they're not on the same weekend (or shuttling back and forth if they are close enough).

Vampire Freaks
Rather than splitting the community, I expect that the existence of this new event will grow the community. COGS Expo will continue to draw the fans it drew last year. Steampunk Con will draw new people, and those people will have the chance to meet the devotees.

Blackthorne Steam, which has an event capacity of about 120 or so people, will continue to sell to capacity as it always has.

Can Goths Run Steampunk?
While they have never run a steampunk event, they have run Dark Side of the Con for a number of years, and Steampunk Con will likely be structurally similar. They had the opportunity to run Dark Side of the Con this year without the support of Jeff Mach Events and demonstrate their ability to run a good con on their own, so I have no doubt that they can run a great event.

But Wait There's More!
COGS Expo and Steampunk Con are not the two successor events to Steampunk Worlds Fair. They are the first two successor events. There is talk of an event in Connecticut and another in Massachusetts that I have heard. As event organizers realize the opportunity that now exists, I would not be surprised if we see as many steampunk conventions in the Northeast as there are scifi conventions.

We are at the start of a very exciting time in steampunk.

So, what should you do?
You should attend steampunk events. As many as your wallet and calendar allow. And you should play Concardia there.

Whom should you support?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Graturday - Great Professional Support

I work with a fantastic company called Best Version Media, and it is unique in a number of ways. Much of this comes of the fact that the founders realized that true success is not born of a single minded obsessive focus on money but from a desire to do good with an eye towards a strong business in the process. This is how a company that produces local print publications in the age of Facebook has been able to go from zero to $100,000,000 in annual revenues in ten short years.

What I am truly grateful for today, however, is the quality of character and compassion of the people I work with through this company. One of the pillars of the culture of BVM is that of a "compassionate heart." In short, it means that as a company we are encouraged to think of people as people and not simply a means to an end.

It manifests in the way that we think about our prospects and clients, desiring to do what is best for them rather than simply what is most profitable for us. It also manifests in the way that every single level of management and home office works with the publishers in the field.

I have worked for many sales organizations. While it varied somewhat from company to company, there was always a sense that your value as a person was tied to your most recent sales results. Best Version Media treats every single person on the team as a person of great value, regardless of the results they can achieve. When I hit a slump or when my head is not right, I know that I can be honest with those who are there to support me. I will find support, encouragement, and advice. I will not find judgement or snark.

I am blessed to work for a company of good, honest, humble people who seek nothing more than the betterment of their community and the people they work with, and for that, this Gratitude Saturday, I am sincerely grateful.