To flourish and remain relevant in this highly competitive and rapidly changing industry environment, you must be very clear about who you are, what you are and what you deliver in terms of value, meaning, leadership and professionalism. This requires a consistent, integrated message and experience with your brand for your clients, your employees, your industry partners and the community you serve.
Clarity and Consistency. You are called to be a leader. And leadership demands clarity and consistency. You need to demand NOT that you are consistently good. You must be consistently “world class.” You must consistently deliver great experiences. You need to change the dynamic so that you are the standard that your competitors aspire to and not the other way around.
You Are the Brand. You cannot be everything to everybody. You need to discover your purpose and live it. It is your reality. The reality of today’s economy demands that you react faster, deliver more consistently and never settle for “good enough.” The standards keep getting tougher and you may either chase them or set them. I challenge you to set them. It’s going to require creativity, innovation, and a consistent push for higher standards. You must work every moment of every day to make Brand You the standard of excellence not only in the promotional products industry, but also in the marketing, communications and recognition industries as well.
New Thinking. There are some very, very old standard operating procedures in this industry. Just because Jasper Meeks did it in the 19th century doesn’t mean you need to do it that way any more. You need to in the words of Steve Jobs, “put a dent in the universe.” You have an exciting, sensual, personal, engaging, interactive and lasting medium and you should be excited and see the possibilities that this brings to today’s marketplace.
Leadership is not about being liked. It’s about doing what’s right. That means being visionary and looking beyond your corners of the promotional products world. It means that as a distributor, you need to strengthen the supplier channel and vice versa. You must ruffle feathers or you’re probably not doing your job as a leader. You were hired or started your business to lead — not to be a caretaker. You need to have the courage to describe the current landscape and define the ways to strengthen your clients’ organizations in the context of today’s market realities.
Windows of Opportunity not only open and close, they get bricked over and disappear. Your destiny will be shaped by how you respond to opportunity when it presents itself. You cannot allow yourselves to be blinded by fear nor paralyzed by it. And if you want to look for opportunity, you need look no further than your fears. Usually, if you will just pick up your fears and turn them over, you will see the beautiful opportunity that it presents. We are currently living in a time of the most opportunity that we will ever see in our lifetimes. If you are in the business of solving problems and taking away pain, you are living in what should for you be – the best of times.
Commitment starts at 100%. Leadership begins at the extra mile. If you are to become the organization that your competitors will try to emulate rather than the other way around, you need to have skin in the game. You cannot fear failure. Tom Peters said, “Screw-ups are the mark of excellence." The most successful people on the planet have failed more than ordinary ones. The only failure is the failure to try and dream and dare. But not dreaming big, setting big hairy audacious goals, and not setting new standards of excellence and possibility would be the greatest failure of all. It is learning to be discerning enough to realize that when you say yes to something that is unimportant, that you have just said “no” to something that is.
Reinvent. What would you do if your very survival were at stake? What if you faced a challenge so enormous that immediate, drastic changes and shifts were needed and need now? Pressure and challenge will make you bigger, stronger and more relevant. It can be your catalyst to greatness. But you cannot afford to wait. The small, independent, mom and pop business landscape is littered with the corpses of those who failed to have a value proposition relevant to today’s world. Office supplies. Travel Agencies. Book Stores. The Internet demolished some. Giant competitors crushed others. Only a few who have differentiated themselves and created unique value have flourished. It may be time to burn your boats, and move with courage to completely overhaul your structure, your message, and your ways of doing business so that you can be an example to your employees and your clients and inspire them.
I do not believe that you can have relevance in this industry as a commodity business. I do not believe that you can survive if you fall into the price trap. And that means you need to educate, motivate, inspire and to identify and increase the value that inspires loyalty and builds brands. As a marketer, you need to create value for your clients. You need to lead by adding value to your offerings in ways that amaze your clients and create unique experiences. You will do that by being real, by touching them and allowing them to touch and move you. Yes, this is touchy-feely stuff, but I fully believe it. All business at its core is about love. It is that emotional. The CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, Kevin Roberts said, “By touching emotion you get the best people to work with, the best clients to inspire you, the best partners and the most devoted customers. The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.” Wouldn’t be wonderful if you could instill a culture where every employee woke up every day and asked, “What can I do today to add value and solve problems for our clients?”
More opportunity exists today than you have ever seen in your lifetime. This can be your reality. A promotional product is not a thing. It’s an idea. An emotion. A memory. An experience. A part of an identity — both the giver and the recipient’s. Sensual. Lasting. It is time for you to stake your rightful claim as an evangelist for today’s most relevant, measureable and impactful medium and communication tool. This is yours to make it so.
Paul Kiewiet MAS+ is an industry speaker, writer, consultant and coach. He serves as the executive director of MiPPA. Kiewiet was inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame and the MiPPA Hall of Fame. He served as Chairman of PPAI in 2007. A former distributor, he founded Promotion Concepts, Inc in 1982 and worked with some of America’s most valuable brands including Coca-Cola, Kelloggs, and Whirlpool.