Customer service Engagement Marketing

Why I’m More Hopeful

Throughout my career there were times I felt like a tiny voice in the management void.

As an early advocate of internal marketing – a strategic blend of Marketing and Human Resources that focused on taking care of employees to take care of customers – I found companies bought into the concept but not its practice. A typical response: “It says right here in our annual report that employees are our most valuable asset, so we don’t need your services.”

Despite encountering executives unwilling to invest in internal marketing, my passion for employee-customer care kept me going. Perseverance also led me to business leaders who recognized internal marketing’s value and wanted me to help them do more.

My new favorite equation

Now I’m more hopeful than ever about internal marketing for two reasons:

  1. Thanks to the focus on the employee experience as a key competitive differentiator, there is continuing interest in applying internal marketing (also referred to as employer branding).
  2. I’m especially happy to share I’m no longer a voice in the wilderness as building a brand from the inside out is being embraced by a new generation of marketers that include Ron Johnson, co-founder and managing Director of Blueprint Creative.

Ron has taken my internal marketing approach of blending Marketing and HR further: he advocates a stronger, more formal integration of the two functions in “The Bhranding Equation: Branding + HR = Bhranding” that is reflected in his quote:

“Customers will never love a business that is hated by its employees.” Ron Johnson

My new favorite business book

Ron is also the author of Tighten Your Shoelaces: How the World’s Leading Companies Defend and Grow Their Brands During a Crisis (and How You Can, Too!), a book I recommend.

Along with explaining his Bhranding Equation, Ron shares real-life examples of how companies protected and strengthened their brands when faced with the global pandemic and other business, social, economic, and environmental crises. This book is insightful and easy to read as Ron writes in a way that makes readers feel as if he is speaking directly with them. I see “Tighten Your Shoelaces” becoming a classic that will stand the test of time in both crises and non-crises situations.

As internal marketing has evolved into Bhranding, it’s gratifying to know a new generation is carrying employee-customer care forward.

[Photo credit: image by Silvia from Pixabay]

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Sharing Experience to Pay It Forward

“With age comes wisdom” … and wrinkles.

As a long-time solopreneur with a start in the corporate world, I’m fortunate to have more wisdom than wrinkles.

I’m also fortunate to have the opportunity to share what I learned along the way with career coach and podcast host, Deborah Brown-Volkman.

We covered a lot of ground in our 23 minute conversation that included:

  • the backstory of how I came to focus on internal marketing as a niche
  • my framework to effectively engage employees to engage customers
  • how my work evolved to include LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.

I also shared one of the most important lessons I learned early on in my business – a lesson that can be helpful to any starting solopreneur.

Listen to our conversation here:

Special thanks to Deborah for the opportunity to share my experience as a way to “pay it forward to the next generation.”

[Photo by Ben White on Unsplash]
Customer service Engagement Marketing

A Scary Risk Worth Taking

2023 is a milestone year for me.

I started Quality Service Marketing 35 years ago after working in bank marketing for more than 10 years.

Going out on my own was scary, but job security was relative as the bank I worked for was being acquired by a larger bank and I had survived a previous merger. After extensive contemplation and networking, I made the decision to become a solopreneur in 1988.

Here are excerpts from notes I made when considering that momentous change. In working for myself, I wanted:

  • Less frustration from working in large organizations in an industry I was not happy with. (Reminder to self: Yes, it really was that bad!)
  • More control over my career
  • More opportunity for greater achievement
  • More time and flexibility to be with my family.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Among the challenges I faced was the reality that “everyday you’re self-employed, you wake up unemployed.” This pressure was more than offset by the fact that I worked for someone I respected: me. If you worked for even one bad boss, you understand how empowering it is to work on your own.

I also found myself in an uphill battle to build a business fostering workplace engagement with internal marketing, advocating for employee and customer satisfaction that was considered a “warm & fuzzy” concept back then (i.e., not very marketable). I persevered … and am gratified that the work I do still matters.

Happy 35th Anniversary, Quality Service Marketing!

[Image credit: Diego PH on Unsplash]
Engagement Marketing Musings

Special Mother’s Day Tribute from My Favorite Geek

[Note: I’m happy and humbled to re-post the following written many years ago by Jason Stershic, digital marketing professional, blogger, podcast producer, host of The Palmer Files Podcast, and (best of all!) my son. Thanks, kid!]

Sybil Stershic is my mother and, for most of my conscious life, she’s been the proprietor of Quality Service Marketing. When she founded the business, I was 5, and it has had a profound impact upon both my personal and professional life.

Personally, she was around more than most, as she worked from home. I was the audience for her as she practiced her material to a room of one, and she was there to take breaks and be a mom.

As I grew up in a world of advancing technology, I became her “Chief Technology Officer,” a title I still hold today. I came to set up computers, fax machines, modems, tablets, smartphones and introduce her to the world of social media – and I now jokingly take all credit for her social media success.

Professionally, I have to give her credit for my views on internal marketing. I assume I came to most of them by osmosis, due to the fact that I was her audience in the beginning and I don’t recall having great conversations about them until well after I established my own views. I’m fortunate – for several reasons – that they coincided with hers.

Those views have allowed me to be successful. I know to treat internal marketing and communication with the same importance as external. This was completely evident as I worked in retail for a company that had a good idea of internal marketing but horrible follow through.

Almost five years ago, I set upon my own business endeavor, Spectyr Media, Ltd. I do consulting for social media and internet marketing as well as branding, graphic design and website design (this one included).

My mother is now a treasured business associate, taking the time to answer any questions a small business owner may have and being supportive of my business. When I can, I urge those of my clients who could use her services to do so.

My mother has a great marketing mind and she is also a great mom! Happy Mother’s Day, to my mom and to yours. If you’ve learned and gained as much as I have personally and professionally from your mother as I have, then consider yourself fortunate. I know that I do!

[“Mothers Day” image credit: Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay]

How Marketing Makes Its Work More Difficult

I often hear marketing staff commiserate about how they struggle to get respect and buy-in for their programs. Several reasons account for this:

  • given its work with advertising agencies, media firms, and incentive and premium providers, marketing is primarily associated with creative (aka “fun”) processes to promote the brand
  • marketing teams typically work within functional silos such as research, market development, brand identity/management, marketing communications, etc.
  • marketers neglect to educate others in the organization on marketing’s fit in “the big picture” and how everyone’s individual and collective actions impact the brand.

Just because the Marketing Department is on the organizational chart doesn’t mean people know what it does and why it’s important

It’s hard to be taken seriously when people dismiss marketing as necessary “fluff.” By not taking action to correct this misperception, marketers make their work more difficult and compromise marketing’s effectiveness as every employee in the organization (not just those in the Marketing Department) play a role in delivering the brand promise.

From awareness to action: the missing link

What’s missing is marketing marketing’s purpose and role in the organization — not for its own glory or credit, but for strengthening its internal relationships and integral connection to the bottom line. Marketers have the requisite knowledge and skills to communicate marketing’s value, yet they’re so busy taking care of everyone else’s marketing needs that they neglect their own.

The solution isn’t difficult or complicated. It’s a matter of intentionally and proactively educating employees about marketing is, what it does, and why it matters to the organization by:

  • increasing awareness and visibility of marketing’s various roles as brand promoter and steward … collector and interpreter of market/consumer insight … product/service/brand communicator … customer advocate … etc.
  • increasing the perception of marketing’s value to the success of the organization
  • and strengthening relationships within the organization in the process.

Marketing marketing’s value is not a once-and-done campaign. It’s an on-going strategy that’s needed to build and maintain mutual understanding and respect between marketing and the rest of the organization.

Unless, of course, marketing is okay being known as the “Department of Fluff.”

[Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash]


Customer service Engagement Marketing

How to Better Engage Your Customers and Their Ideas

In the quest for product/service innovation, it’s easy to overlook an obvious source: your own customers. How to effectively involve and engage them – and make them feel valued in the process – can be found in Chip Bell‘s just-released book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions. Renowned customer service consultant, speaker, and author, Chip knows that customers can provide an “untapped resource for ideas and inspiration that can result in breakthroughs.” In this new book, he shares the secrets of “Curiosity, Grounding, Discovery, Trust, and Passion” that facilitate effective co-creation partnerships.

“Partnerships at their best are not about contracts, controls, and compromises; they are about respectful connections that enliven, ennoble, and enchant.” Chip R. Bell

Chip lays out the foundation of successful partnerships and illustrates them with applied examples from a variety of organizations. Equally important, he shares customer experiences from the customer’s perspective. (My favorites involve frustration with a computer part replacement and inconvenience at a fast food drive-thru window.) Examples also include employees and suppliers as important partners in the co-creation process.

“Breakthroughs come from an instinctive judgment of what customers might want if they knew to think about it.” Andrew Grove

Granted, customers may not always know what they want. It’s a poor excuse, however, to overlook them as partners in co-creation. Inside Your Customer’s Imagination gives you the insight and guidance needed to effectively engage both customers and employees in improving your products and services. Offering customers the opportunity to contribute their ideas and suggestions sends the message “we value you and want to know how we can better serve you.”

Truly, a win-win situation. That’s why I recommend this gem of a book along with Chip’s other best-sellers I proudly include in my business library:

  • Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles
  • Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service
  • The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service
  • Wired and Dangerous (with John Patterson)
  • Take Their Breath Away (with John Patterson).



“Don’t Waste This Crisis: How Strong Values Improve Strategy” – Guest Post from Matthew Fenton

[Note: I’m pleased to share this timely post from Matthew Fenton, a Chicago-based marketing professional and founder of Three Deuce Branding that specializes in brand clarity. Here he offers a fundamental strategy to uncover the brand values a business needs to survive and thrive in these challenging times. More on Matthew’s work can be found at the end of this post.]

There’s a question that’s asked far too rarely as we develop brand and business strategies. It’s simple but extremely powerful, since it shapes everything that you’ll do as a team or organization.

The question: Who do we want to be?

It’s challenging to lead an organization in the best of times. In a time of scarcity – like the one we recently, abruptly entered – it can feel impossible.

But navigating difficulty is one of the roles of a leader. As FDR said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

Matthew Fenton
Matthew Fenton

I’ve been working with my clients to answer questions like “How can we serve our consumers in new ways?” and “What trade-offs must we make to get through this?” You’ve no doubt asked and answered similar questions. At some level, these are questions about what we value.

Think for a moment about the choices recently made by your teams, your leadership and your organization. Which choices are you most proud of? What values do these choices reflect? Take a moment – right now – to make note of these. We’re going to come back to this.

Our values are being tested, which is to say this is an opportunity for personal and organizational growth. So don’t waste this crisis. It brings the opportunity to rethink, reorder and solidify what we value – and who we want to be.

Brands Are Already Showing Us Who They Are

For years, brands have fallen all over themselves trying to convince us that they’re values-based and purpose-driven. Now we get to find out who was serious.

Some brands are failing miserably. For example, a brand I’d never heard of, Parlour H, took the opportunity to start spamming me with hair-care tips for the quarantine. Timely, yes, but also wholly unrequested. Parlour H, is this really who you want to be?

To be fair, there have also been plenty of examples to the good. Companies have repurposed manufacturing facilities to make respirators, ventilators, hand sanitizer and masks, or are donating goods and services within their communities. Major brands have earned the most PR, but I encourage you to look for examples of local businesses who are doing the right things. You won’t have to look too hard.

These businesses should be applauded today and remembered when this is all over. By taking positive action, they’ve shown us who they are (and who they want to be).

“Brand” Values Are Actually Personal

When I ask, “Who do we want to be?” I’m deliberately using the first-person plural. I’m talking about people, not brands.

Brands are sometimes seen as these detached entities that sit between a company and its consumers. But companies that rely heavily on front-line personnel – such as restaurants, retail and service providers – know that their people are the brand. (One potential positive outcome of this crisis is that front-line staff will be viewed not as cost centers, but as value creators.)

There’s been a lot of talk about brand purpose and values in recent years.  And, yes, you may associate a certain brand with certain values. But let’s be clear – brands don’t choose their own values. How could they?  Brands aren’t sentient beings.

A brand is simply the collective intent of the people behind it.

As Jim Stengel has said, “A brand is simply the collective intent of the people behind it.” As brand leaders, we decide which values our brands will exemplify.  This means choosing some things and not choosing others. Whenever a brand makes a move, remember that there’s a team of people that made it happen.

Also note that I’m asking, “Who do we want to be?” and not “How do we want to be perceived?” That’s because the latter question allows for the possibility of faking it.  nd you can only fake it for so long before the jig’s up.

This is one of the areas where old-school thinking on branding – that brands are “costumes” that are easily changed, or “shields” that hide our true inner workings from the world – falls tragically short in practice. In branding, as with people, we reveal who we are by what we do, not by what we say.

Your brand is not a shield between your company and your consumers.

Where Values Fit Within Strategy

My positioning and strategy workshops always include at least one module rooted in values. During these modules, there’s a noticeable shift in the energy in the room. People aren’t thinking about tasks to execute or positions to claim; they’re thinking about what they could be and do, as a team, pulling together.

Asking questions like “Where will we play?” and “How will we win?” are absolutely necessary to crafting a successful strategy. But if these aren’t guided by a clear sense of who you want to be, the answers may lack cohesion and grounding.

In short: Your values should outlast any strategic or tactical decisions. So ignoring your values while crafting strategy makes zero sense.

This is to say that your values are a necessary part of the diagnosis that precedes any smart strategy. You’re establishing a core aspect of your worldview: “This is who we are and what we stand for. This is what we won’t sell for any price.”

The Strategic Process

Getting (Back) to Your Values

So as you consider how you’ll lead your way out of this crisis, start with the values you and your team truly live and embody. Ask questions like:

  • In our response to COVID-19, what decisions did we make that we’re particularly proud of?  What do those decisions say about our values?  (Refer to the notes I asked you to make at the top of this piece.)
  • In our company’s history, what are some stories that we’re particularly proud of? Think about both “diving catches” and “everyday wins.” What values do these stories exemplify?
  • What core values do you personally bring to work?
  • What core values would you want your children to exemplify when they begin their careers?
  • If we were to start another business tomorrow, in a completely different line of work, what values would we take with us? (I borrowed this question wholesale from Jim Collins.)
  • What values (as opposed to traits) would you like to demonstrate to customers, clients, partners and each other?

You can answer these questions individually or in small groups. Then share the outputs, with an eye toward both sensible clusters and intriguing outliers. The end goal should be to align on a small set of core values. In practice, this means about three values, and never more than five.

If, like many companies, you already have a Values Statement, this crisis presents an opportunity to revisit it. Which values did you really stand on during this time? Which might be improved or replaced?

When you’ve answered the question of “Who do we want to be?” you’ll have a powerful set of boundaries for the rest of the strategic process. You’ll instantly discard some avenues, since they don’t get you closer to who you want to be. (In some cases, you’ll find yourself saying, “That’s a great idea, but not for us.”)  Other avenues will elevate in priority immediately.

Most importantly, you’ll set down markers for how you behave within your walls – which will greatly shape how you’re perceived beyond those walls.

When we respond to major challenges, we often reveal who we truly are. But we can also transcend old limits and grow new strengths.  During this crisis, I’ve been inspired by numerous examples of generosity, creativity and resilience. I’m sure you have too.

So, again: Don’t waste this crisis. Make decisions that Future You will be proud of. Identify the values that drove those decisions. And ensure that those values live within your organization for years to come.

Please reach out with questions about (re)defining your values or resetting your strategy. I’m happy to help.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew is a former CMO who helps brands to focus, grow and win. Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.” His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation. Contact Matthew here. He’s based in Chicago.

Copyright 2020 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. 


Customer service Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Building Connections and Engagement in “Smart Women Conversations”

Connecting and engaging people in the workplace with LEGO® … just one of many fascinating topics shared in my video discussion with Smart Women Conversations’ host Yvonne DiVita, respected blogger, serial entrepreneur, and my former publisher who remains a dear friend.

Yvonne launched Smart Women Conversations to “inform, educate, create laughter and share stories of reinvention” as part of her passion to “inspire and educate smart, talented women eager for business success today.”

I’m honored and humbled to be among the impressive women interviewed in this special series and invite you to read Yvonne’s introduction or just watch and listen to our conversation below.

To learn more, please visit Nurturing Big Ideas and check out these other Smart Women Conversations.


Engagement Marketing

Strengthening Your Company’s Brand from the Inside-Out – Podcast Interview

What a joy to be a guest on the “Profitable Happiness™” Podcast, hosted by bestselling author and musician, Dr. Pelè, who focuses on workplace happiness as a key to success.

In our engaging 30 minute conversation, we talk about what lead me to bridge marketing and human resources with internal marketing to create a positive workplace culture that values employees and customers. We also discuss interesting issues such as how to identify happy workplaces, how to save money on outside consultants, and how to have a positive impact in a toxic environment.

Listen here for our conversation on Internal Workplace Wellness Marketing.

To learn more and listen to Dr. Pelè’s other interviews with “successful workplace happiness experts, executive coaches, and entrepreneurs, check out his website.


Customer service Marketing

What I Learned About Marketing Before I Knew What It Was

This is the story (more of a tribute, actually) about my beloved father.

He was a tailor by trade who ran a small alterations and dry cleaning business. I used to visit his shop to watch him work on a treadle sewing machine surrounded by rainbows of thread neatly stacked on shelves. Sometimes I would also accompany him while he picked up and delivered his customers’ dry cleaning.

I learned a lot from my father amid the colored spools of thread and smells of dry cleaning solvent. I especially loved how customers loved him. Whenever customers came into the store, my father would warmly greet them, inquire about their family, and then get into the specifics of their clothing alteration needs. He took as much care with customers as he did with their clothes. And they kept coming back, while referring new customers to him.

My father was not only a craftsman when it came to sewing, he was a master of relationship marketing.

He had no formal business training; it was just an intuitive way of how he did business. I was blessed to be his daughter and learn from him.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, and thanks for a wonderful legacy.

[Image courtesy of Pixabay.]