Small Business Marketing Mistakes-Trying to Build a Brand

I talk to business owners from time to time who get caught up in the idea of building a brand for their product or company.Most of them don’t really know what branding is. They believe it’s about repeatedly putting their company name in front of prospects in the hopes that those prospects will remember them when it comes time to buy.So they’ll create a fancy logo, letterhead or sign, and plaster it on their business card, in their advertising and in their customer communications.And, more often than not, the results are dismal, so they give up on advertising (and branding) altogether, figuring it’s a waste of time and money.When Branding Makes Sense… and When it Doesn’tThis is both a misunderstanding of branding and a lousy way to advertise your business.In the simplest terms, real branding involves building a market identity around your company name, logo or signage that immediately makes people think good things about their company and gets them to choose your product or service when it comes time to buy.And you cement this brand image into your prospects’ minds by hitting them again and again with your advertising – and then, of course, by delivering on your promise, which further cements the brand image in the prospect’s mind.For big, consumer companies with deep pockets brand building makes perfect sense. There’s probably no other approach that will work for the likes of Proctor and Gamble, McDonalds and Nike.Millions of people buy their products every single day and they’re more likely to buy from names they know and trust – which largely explains why brand-name products routinely outsell generic products, even when the generic is just as good.The Terrible Truth About BrandingThe problem for the small business owner is that building a brand that resonates the way McDonald’s does cost millions upon millions of dollars. And it’s not as if you can stop once you’ve built the brand. You have to spend millions more to sustain it.Worse yet, it takes time. I recently read an article on branding that lauded Nike’s branding strategy. The problem is, it took Nike 15 years to build the brand we know and love today. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t have that kind of time!Now, of course, to build a local brand you can probably get away with spending less money and a lot less time – but that doesn’t mean it’s time or money well spent.The Profitable Alternative to Building a BrandSo instead of using your advertising to build a brand, use it to drive sales – immediate sales. And that means crafting benefit-oriented direct response ads, sales letters, e-mails and landing pages.Direct response advertising reveals all the benefits your prospects will get from responding to your ad, make a specific offer (buy now, request more info, come in and save 10%, etc.) and ask them to take action immediately by calling you, going to your web site or stopping by your store.Direct response advertising may not be as romantic and exciting as building a brand, but for a small business owner, it’s more effective at making the cash register ring right now. And you don’t have to mortgage your kids to pay for it.

Politics And Politicians

I hate politics and politicians! What have they done for you lately?We need balance – not extremes. Our government is supposed to represent its citizens and “provide for the common good” – not focus on special interest groups that try to influence legislation and regulations that support their unique agenda. Libertarians have a lot of good points – such as smaller government – but not their extreme view of gun and drug “freedoms”. Progressives also have some good points – such as social “protections” – but not the extreme views on abortion and gay “rights.” Politicians often pay attention to irrelevant issues. Like when we are at war (2 or 3!) and have debt that our kids and grandkids will never be able to pay off, and 10% unemployment, etc., etc. What do they focus on? Trivial stuff – like when Congress considered banning shopping bags that are purchased to save plastic and paper bags – that were found to have some lead in them. Did anyone ever ask Congress to do something about the lead in the solder in your copper water pipes?But we have a kind of system of government that, in the long term, seems to work. Some things are bad and some are good – about the “greatest democracy in the world.” Winston Churchill once said “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” The U.S. is considered by many to have an ideal model of democracy, but it is imperfect and democracy itself has its own inherent problems and limitations. Some things are necessary – like Defense, Environment, Health and Safety, Civil Rights, etc. – which we need to do right at the national level because they can’t be done effectively at the individual or state level. The U.S. federal government’s organization and processes are archaic and inefficient – but sometimes it seems to work – for example, the “Stimulus Package/Bill” in 2009 actually did help the country recover from a serious recession (despite some its shortcomings and problems). Others don’t seem to work well or belong at the national level – like the unbelievably complex, convoluted and inequitable tax code (more on that separately).There are lots of examples of stupid, unproductive, and irrelevant political actions. Here are just a few of my favorites:• Earmarks – those projects for specific congressional districts or states that are funded by tacking them onto unrelated congressional bills in exchange for votes – so called “pork barrel.” So, if you look at a major funding bill – that may be essential, such as the Defense Department budget – you will find hundreds of earmarks attached to it to fund a lot of strange, arcane, and sometimes useless projects (like the famous “bridge to nowhere” or local airports with almost no passengers, etc.). These projects may bring some federal money back to their districts, but they are in many, if not most cases, funding pet projects of political contributors. The individual requests in many cases are relatively small (at least by Washington standards) – perhaps a few $ million – but there are thousands of them every year. Collectively they can amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. And without a line item veto by Congress or the President, these projects get funded automatically when the major bill passes. How’s that for representative government spending your money?


• Political Priorities – The Congress and the President are often involved in the absurdities and travesties of what they view as political priorities – at our expense. For example, pursuing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage while passing a law exempting gun manufacturers and dealers from all potential liabilities – including illegal sales to criminals! That’s just screwed up!! Who thinks up this stuff – and who do they think they are representing?• Gerrymandering – Our elected Congress works very hard to get re-elected – on our dime. From Wikipedia: “Gerrymandering is a practice of political corruption that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected, and neutral districts.” With the manipulation of election districts, it is possible for minority parties to win a majority of districts in an election – or neutralize a strong district of a majority party. This is a process that is facilitated by the mandated re-assessment of congressional representation after every 10 year census – and it can neutralize your vote! There are no uniform electoral districts. Your representatives design the election districts to protect incumbents. For example:o “In 2004, not one of California’s 173 state legislative and federal congressional seats changed party-hands.”
o “No House member from Tennessee ever lost a bid for re-election during 1980-2005.”Other developed countries have established processes for “defining constituency boundaries” by objective third-party organizations. But politics in the U.S. is not that progressive – so much for “one person, one vote.”• Subsidies – Our government, which we pay for, thanks to our politicians, provides substantial subsidies to some very profitable industries – at our expense. Here are a couple of examples:Agriculture – Agriculture is obviously very important to an economy, so what is wrong with federal programs to support it? First, a few facts (from The Cato Institute): “The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributes between $10 billion and $30 billion in cash subsidies to farmers and owners of farmland each year… More than 800,000 farmers and landowners receive subsidies, but the payments are heavily tilted toward the largest producers… Although policymakers love to discuss the plight of the small farmer, the bulk of federal farm subsidies goes to the largest farms. For example, the largest 10 percent of recipients have received 72 percent of all subsidy payments in recent years. Numerous large corporations and even some wealthy celebrities receive farm subsidies because they are the owners of farmland… In 2008, Congress overrode a presidential veto to enact farm legislation that extended existing supports and created new subsidy programs… The 2008 farm bill added a new sugar-to-ethanol program under which the government buys excess imported sugar that might put downward pressure on inflated domestic sugar prices. The program defends domestic sugar growers’ 85 percent of the U.S. sugar market, and it provides for the government to sell excess sugar, at a loss if need be, to ethanol producers… Since 2000 the USDA has paid $1.3 billion in farm subsidies to people who own land that is no longer used for farming.” Agricultural subsidies in the U.S. comprise 11% of farm production.So, why are subsidies to farmers bad? Simply, because they don’t achieve the intended results. Most of the money goes to large, profitable farms and corporations. They can upset the natural balance between supply and demand – by facilitating over-production – which can unrealistically affect the prices of food commodities and farm land. “Perhaps the biggest scandal with regard to farm subsidies is that congressional agriculture committees are loaded with members who are active farmers and farmland owners. Those members have a direct financial stake whenever Congress votes to increase subsidies, which is an obvious conflict of interest.”Other countries have experimented with eliminating agricultural subsidies – with some success. New Zealand is one example. “New Zealand’s farmers have cut costs, diversified their land use, sought nonfarm income, and developed niche markets such as kiwifruit… New Zealand farm productivity, profitability, and output have soared since the reforms.”Oil – The largest, most profitable industry in the U.S. – and worldwide – receives federal subsidies! Why?? Technically they are tax breaks, but only because of the way our Congress writes the rules and defines the terms. The subsidies/tax breaks to the U.S. oil industry amounts to about $4 billion each year. This includes a “depletion allowance” that treats oil reserves as capital equipment – in addition to very favorable terms for writing off exploration costs. But the major oil companies have been making more than 10 times that in profits each year. Do they really need incentives to explore for oil – when the world market price for oil has been in the neighborhood of 3-5 times the cost of production for decades? And what is the attitude of our politicians? – “we’re only talking about four billion dollars.”!!• Social Security – One of my pet peeves has been the most sacred of all federal government programs. For over 70 years, Social Security has been “an insurance program for everyone”. But up until 1984, government employees, including Members of Congress, did not pay into the Social Security program – when all of us “citizens” were required to by law. The Social Security program, which has been going broke for decades, was good enough for “the people”, but not for the government employees and politicians who are supposed to be serving them. So now it is an example of how a political abuse can be fixed. However, the benefits for federal employees are still very attractive – and not typical of industry jobs. In addition to now participating in Social Security, federal employees have a defined benefit pension plan (which no longer exists in most of industry today) as well as a “Thrift Savings Plan” – the equivalent of a 401K plan – with up to a 5% match. Members of Congress are eligible for full pension at age 62 after only five years of service – and they are eligible at age 50 if they’ve served 20 years. So our “public servants” have more rewarding benefits than most taxpayers receive.


And there is more – much more!!So, how can the “greatest country in the world” be so screwed up (at least at times)? I blame it on the politicians and the uninformed/uninterested electorate. Other countries must just be worse. Part of the problem is that the public is often not well informed – or just doesn’t care. How do you communicate important political issues so that the general public really understands – the complete facts and truth? Most news and views are at too high a level (e.g., small “sound bites” – or talk show opinions) so that they leave either a limited or wrong impression. For example, issues like abortion and stem cell research are highly controversial and emotional and don’t really get covered objectively.Is there a solution? It would be nice if we could focus on real/important issues and attract intelligent, sincere people into politics. What kinds of people want to run for political office? – ego-centrics, power hungry, self promotional – are these the type of people we want to represent us?? Why would you trust a politician with your life and welfare? But that is what we have – at least in many cases. And what are the financial implications? How can really good political leaders afford to be politicians? Even with the elevated salaries and benefits for politicians (at least at the Congressional level), the cost of the life style in Washington, DC is far too expensive to be covered by federal payments. So, they must either be independently wealthy – or seek an opportunity to capitalize on their political position – either during or after their term in office. What would make a constituent think that their representative is working in their best interest?
I don’t have a solution. That’s why I hate politics and politicians.All Rights Reserved © 2011 Henry P. Mitchell

How To Make Sure The Toys You Buy Are Safe

There are some very strict safety regulations in the United States that attempt to insure the safety of toys that are sold. But even with the strict regulations there are occasions from time to time where unsafe toys make it into the market.As a whole the regulations that are in place to ensure toy safety have been very successful. When compared to the number of toys that are sold on the market each year there have been very few incidents which were caused by unsafe or defective toys. Most accidents are caused by improper usage or common accident such as tripping on them.In the few cases where defective or unsafe toys have actually made it into the market they were recalled fairly quickly. But this is no reason for parents not let their guard down when buying toys.Check The Label: Safety Labels Are A MustThe first thing that should be checked when buying a toy is whether or not is has the appropriate safety labels. The primary label in the United States would be that of the Consumer Product Safety Commission which signifies that the toy meets the minimum safety standards.The next important labels to look for when shopping for toys would be age labels. You should always follow age guidelines, as they are an essential part of toy safety.Most toys have age labels, even if they are not legally required. Any toy that is not suitable for children under 36 months must have a visible label stating so.


Though, in general most toys give guidance as to what age group they are designed for. These guidelines let you know what age group will benefit the most from the toy, in terms of development, fun, and understanding. Here is a brief guide of different kinds of toys and what age group they are intended for:Under three yearsFor this age group the greatest threat that toys pose is a choking hazard. Most everything a baby or toddler gets their hands on, ends up in their mouth. For this reason, very small toys or toys with small parts are especially unsuitable. Be sure to keep marbles and small balls or buttons out of their reach; be careful with inflatable toys and balloons; and avoid toys with pointy or sharp edges.Three to five yearsChildren of this age are full of discovery and are capable of playing with more sophisticated toys. However, you should still be cautious as certain toys could still pose a risk to them. Avoid toys made with thin plastic that might break and cause injury and still watch for small parts that they may still be tempted to put in their mouth.Six to twelve yearsBy this age children will be able to safely play with almost any toy they are given. However, always read hazard warnings and instruction pamphlets for maintenance guides. For example, if you buy a trampoline you will need to carry out maintenance on it on a regular basis. If you buy a bike or skateboard for your child, you should also buy appropriate protective equipment. Always make sure you get the right size ride on toy for your child, so he/she can handle and enjoy what he/she is given.Things can get a little complicated when you have children of varying ages. When you have lots of different toys that are suitable for varying ages you have to stay vigilant. For starters, you should teach older children to keep their toys out of reach of younger children, especially when they contain small parts and/or are breakable. It is also best if you do not put different age appropriate toys into one toy bin. Have a separate box for each child and make sure they do not swap out toys. To help keep organized, you should follow and separate based on the age labels on the toys.In general it is a good idea to be organized and keep toys in order. Having toys lying around the house is a common cause of accidents. If you have children of varying ages, this can be dangerous and allow smaller children to get to toys not intended for their age group. Keep in mind that children are intended to play with the toys, but all maintenance, such as changing of batteries should be carried out by an adult.


Toy safety labels offer an important safeguard against dangerous toys reaching our children, but it is just as important to use your own common sense. Before purchasing a toy, examine it thoroughly yourself to make sure that it is sturdy and well constructed. Check for any sharp edges or pointy corners, especially when buying toys for younger children. For example, if you are buying a stuffed animal make sure all stitching is secure and small items like the eyes or nose will not come off easily.If your child has an accident with a toy or you suspect a toy is potentially harmful, you should take immediate action. The first step is to take the toy out of the reach of all children. Once the child is cared for and the immediate danger has passed, you should report the toy to the appropriate authorities. You will need to keep the toy safe for examination and you should also try to provide details of where and when you bought the toy. It is important to regularly check online for toy recalls. This way you can remove a potentially dangerous toy before any incident occurs.

Teaching About the Election to Elementary Students Using Literature and Technology

Teaching about the election can be an interesting process. Of course the best way is to hold a mock election, or even better, a school election with children running for various offices. As with all curricular areas, experiencing the learning by participation cements the concepts.Other ideas for teaching about the election include:For Kindergarten and Grade 1Read a book about an election and discuss the elements of election. Books I choose to use are “Duck for President” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (2004) and “My Teacher for President” by Kay Winters and Denise Brunkus (2008.)After discussing the election process we make campaign posters. Students use a drawing program on the computer (I use KidPix) and type “Vote for ______” in huge letters. They add decorations to complete the poster. We print in color and staple to construction paper. Hanging this campaign poster on their bedroom doors will remind them of what they learned about the election.


For Grades 2 and 3I read an election book such as “Pete for President” by Daisy Alberto (2004). We discuss election procedures but also emphasize telling the truth during the election process. During the story there is a page where there is a debate. I stop the story, have two kids join me up front, and simulate a debate. Sometimes I even tell one of the students to make outlandish claims about what he or she would do if they were to win. We finish reading the book and then discuss ways that students can improve the school.The second graders make campaign posters just like the younger students but they add four ways they can make the school/world a better place. Examples might be: Eliminate bullies from the playground, Pick up Litter on the Playground, Be Nice to All People, Help Raise Money for New Library Books, etc.In Grades 3 through 5As the children get older I begin to teach about the electoral college. The best book I’ve found for this is “Grace for President” by Kelly Dipucchio and Leuyen Pham (2008.) After reading this story I send the students to explore an online simulation game at the Scholastic News website.


Grade 6: By the time students are in grade 6 they are ready to explore the issues of the candidates. To do this I ask the students to choose six issues to research on the websites of the candidates. The information that they gather can be presented in any manner; for instance, a 2-column display comparing the issues or using an organizing software such as Inspiration to create a web of information.Overall, the more concrete examples you can give to students about the election will assist them in learning about the process that we embrace within our country.