Welcome to the Influency Group blog.

Here we will take up various topics related to developing a valuable business from 360 degrees, oranges are spherical after all (see our opening post for more on this). I like 360 degrees. It’s something I try to apply to all aspects of my life, but most especially in business—it makes it sustainable, spheres don’t fall in.

As you can tell, we’re a little different. So if you’re tired of peeling back the same old onion and are ready to talk orange peels, give us a call. We are ready to provide a fresh perspective and help you take your business to the next level.

Does Your Business say Male or Female?

September 22nd, 2015

Can you say orange peels or what? I talk about brand persona all the time (as you are aware). I tend to ask, “dusty, fresh, or bloody?” Loved this article in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News,  reprinted here for easy access, and commentary of course!

We frequently talk about buying being an emotional decision (unless talking commodities, then it’s all about price, and only price). People buy from people they like, how or why they like you is a sum that is much greater than any of the individual parts. Your branding, messaging, people, how they present themselves, the culture you create and, if done well, permeates your brand are all large components of this sum.

Read below for a different perspective on many of the orange peels we have taken up here, or in the classes I teach, or the clients with whom I have walked this pathway to success!!!

emotional decision

CHICAGO — Shortly after Jenny Niemann launched her office furniture dealership last year, a branding consultant asked her a question that put her back on her heels.

Is the brand male or female?

“That one really caught me by surprise,” said Niemann, CEO of Chicago-based Forward Space, a dealer for office furniture maker Steelcase.

Do cubicle walls and swivel chairs have a gender? What does that even mean?

It doesn’t mean what people might first assume: that if it’s a woman-owned company, which Forward Space is, or it caters to women, which it does not, then it must be a female brand.

Rather, branding consultant Bradley Peacock from Chicago-based Peacock Nine was helping Niemann craft the brand’s personality based on the feelings she wanted the brand to evoke in her customers. And in the process, her company underwent something of a sex change.

Declaring brands male or female can seem like a throwback to a Mad Men era. But gender can be a powerful part of shaping a brand’s story, and some in the field say shifting social norms are enabling traditionally masculine brands to embrace feminine characteristics, or mix the two, as they fight for shoppers’ attention.

“It’s interesting for brands to consider a gender reassignment,” said John Manley, senior vice president and group strategy director at ad agency DDB.

Not everyone sees it that way. Leo Burnett chief strategy officer Mick McCabe said gender rarely comes up in conversations about brands, especially those with mass audiences, like Coca-Cola, Samsung or McDonald’s.

But for Niemann, the male/female question inspired a moment of reflection.

Niemann formed her company after acquiring and merging two Chicago-area Steelcase dealers that were male-run and felt “a little more masculine,” she said, in part because of the hard-edged associations people have when they hear “steel.”

But Niemann wanted her company to be known for helping employers think strategically about their workspaces — more of a creative, counseling role.

“Jenny understood that people are buying furniture to help change culture,” Peacock said. “One of the keys to building culture is having empathy, listening first rather than solutions first, and that is generally more female.”

And so Forward Space embraced its feminine side, which informed a series of decisions, including its logo design (softer edges) and thematic color (purple). Its purple showroom sends the message that “we can help our customers to create innovative work environments that inspire people to excel wherever and however they work,” said Niemann.

Conflating empathy with femininity — and purple — may ring of stereotype. But brand genders are not about being pink or blue or skirt or pants, Peacock said. Rather they are archetypes — in the case of Forward Space, the caregiver/creator — that evoke an emotional response and help companies and their consumers understand where they fit in the broader story of their lives.

“If you don’t understand what your unique meaning is, then you can spend millions of dollars on advertising and it just won’t resonate,” Peacock said.

The importance of a brand’s gender depends on the category. Krissy Vanderwarker, art director and strategist at Chicago branding consultancy Seedhouse, which specializes in consumer packaged goods, said clients increasingly want their brands to be gender-neutral.

“Now a lot of people are doing the shopping because traditional gender roles are breaking down, so there is less of a target to moms,” she said.

But shoppers seem to find comfort in easily recognizable gender cues. In a study of 140 brands, European researchers found that higher levels of perceived masculinity or femininity in a brand are associated with higher levels of brand equity, which translates to greater brand loyalty and ability to command a price premium, according a report last year in the journal Psychology and Marketing.

For example, highly feminine brands like Dove, Nivea and Chanel and highly masculine brands like Adidas, Audi and Mercedes scored better in brand equity among the 3,000-plus German consumers polled than brands that shift between genders (like Peugeot and H&M) or gender-neutral ones.

When a brand’s gender identity is not obvious, Peacock’s company surveys current and potential customers and asks what they want from the brand. If they seek empathy and patient counsel, it might send them into a more female space, whereas if they are driven more by price and efficiency, it might send them in a masculine direction.

“All of the great service companies are more female than male,” Peacock said, such as Zappos, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Johnson & Johnson.

The strategy does not come without risk. Several gendered branding attempts have “failed miserably,” said Linda Tuncay Zayer, associate professor of marketing at Loyola University’s Quinlan School of Business.

The 2012 launch of Bic for Her, “sleek” pens in pastel colors, was met with ridicule. And Under Armour has disavowed the “shrink it and pink it” strategy of a decade ago that assumed athletic brands could attract women by making products smaller and pinker.

“In today’s society, gender roles are increasingly fluid, so businesses and brands should not fall into old stereotypes,” Tuncay Zayer said.

A brand can be patient and caring without necessarily being female, she said, and labeling it as such is not a useful distinction. Better for marketers to define the brand personality as a whole rather than risk shilling to men or women and putting people off, she said.

Despite social strides toward gender equality, the prevailing theory in marketing has been that it’s easier to sell a masculine brand to men and women than a feminine brand to either sex, Manley said. With men making up the vast majority of the nation’s chief marketing officers, that approach still dominates, he said.

But there are signs of a shift. Manley points to McDonald’s Archenemies ad campaign, which launched earlier this year, in which historic antagonists — Batman and the Joker, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote — expressed affection for each other, sometimes by sharing a burger or offering a fry.

“That’s an interesting one that feels like it has more of a feminine sensibility,” Manley said. “Working out differences instead of just fighting over them.”

Anyone who teared up watching Dove’s Men + Care commercials during the Super Bowl, in which fathers were seen lovingly comforting their children, witnessed a strong female brand using a feminine characteristic — sensitivity — to appeal to a male audience, he said.

Younger generations are driving some of the rethinking. Manley described a focus group his firm did with young men last year as it was developing creative concepts for Miller Lite. One of the ideas presented was about “being with your bros, homeboys.” The young men said it felt like pandering.

“The interesting quote was, ‘Some of my bros are women,’” Manley recalled.

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune

Leaders – Charisma vs Character?

September 13th, 2015

Sometimes you come across a post you just have to share in its entirety.  This is such a post. The words could have come directly from my mouth…particularly orange peel, “Monkey See, Monkey Do,” a phrase I was raised on!

(Originally posted by Richard Stupple, Business Development Manager at Sewells, July 31, 2015)


Leaders – Charisma vs Character?

A criticalmistake that I made as a young leader was that I used to think that charisma was the most important aspect of leadership.

In the beginning, I focused on charisma because I knew that leadership attracts, and leadership influences people. Therefore I thought I would need to be Charismatic if I wanted to influence people.

I’ve been around enough boring leaders to say that developing some charisma is a desire that most of us should have!

What I’ve learned over the years is that character is the most important aspect of leadership, not charisma. Charisma attracts, but character sustains. In fact, I think charisma, in the area of leadership, is overrated.

Character is your DNA, it embodies who you really are. It’s the inner fibre of your being… your inner self in action. It reveals what you are truly made of, and what you stand for.

If you have charisma without character, it’s only a matter of time before people will find you out. Without character you cannot sustain meaningful relationships, and without relationships your ability to lead and influence others is seriously diminished.

So what is it about character that really makes a difference?

  1. Character sets you apart. There was a time when people who lacked integrity stood out from the crowd. Now the opposite is true–charisma can make people stand out for a moment, but character can set them apart for a lifetime.
  2. Character creates trust. Leadership functions only on the basis of trust. If you pull out trust, then you will lose your leadership foundation.
  3. Character promotes excellence.If you lead people, good character sets a standard for everyone who is following you. People will eventually become like their leader. If leaders compromise on their standards, cheat the company, or take shortcuts, so will their followers. Remember – monkey see, monkey do!
  4. Character gives staying power. During the tough times that all leaders face, character has the ability to carry you through, which is something that charisma can never do. When you are weary and inclined to quit, the self-discipline of character keeps you going.
  5. Character extends influence. Charisma, by its nature, doesn’t last long or extend very far. It’s like a flash of gunpowder – it produces a quick, blinding light, but then it’s gone. The only thing left is smoke. Character, on the other hand, is more like a bonfire. Its effects are long-lasting. It produces warmth and light, and as it continues to burn it gets hotter, giving fuel that burns brighter.

If you’re currently leading people, you probably have some measure of both charisma and character. The question is which one are you relying on to lead? The answer can be found in your response to this great question:

“As time goes by, does it get easier or harder to lead?”

Without character, leadership becomes harder to sustain and you constantly have to perform to get people to notice you. However, with character, as time goes by, leadership strengthens, builds, and continues to attract the people – and best of all, those who are attracted by your character will stay with you a lot longer than the ones who only want to see a show.

Hey, She’s All In with Orange Peels

February 23rd, 2015

Every now and then I just have to share when I come across orange peels in the world. Over my morning coffee, I was happy to read this gem. Lots of orange peels in there! Particularly love that bottom line…People like doing business with people they like!

Shared with you from the Kansas City Star, by Diane Stafford, posted 2/12/15.


Street smarts can beat book smarts

Once upon a time, you may have thrived in the workplace by being smart. But I.Q. smart may not be enough any more.

Furthermore, what you already know may not count as much as your willingness to acknowledge what you don’t know and your willingness to learn more.

Edward Hess, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, has done some interesting research into the need to be an “adaptive learner,” a person who honestly sees his or her shortcomings and asks the right questions.

I wrote Hess to ask if he’d found generational differences in the tendency to be more afraid of “looking dumb” by asking questions. (Conversely, is there an age group that tends to be false know-it-alls?)

Hess dodged any generational schism by answering that he hasn’t researched demographic differences. Rather, he wrote back, “Emotional defensiveness is part of our ‘human nature’— we all are insecure and fearful — it is just a matter of degree (how much) and how we manage it.”

Briefly, here are Hess’s seven main prescriptions for the learning skills needed in most workplaces today:

  1. Admit you’re not as smart as you think you are. Focus on continuous learning and develop your critical thinking skills.
  2. Listen and collaborate. Don’t get defensive when challenged. And don’t just look for information that confirms your existing thinking.
  3. Learn because you want to. In a world that requires innovation, you need to be driven by curiosity and love of learning, not by external requirements or rewards.
  4. Don’t fear mistakes. Mistakes help you learn. They’re good “stress tests” for your beliefs.
  5. Be willing to try. Believe you can succeed. That builds “self-efficacy,” or confidence that you can handle something well.
  6. Seek out feedback. Negative feedback can be constructive — and hard to get in some organizations.

This last bullet point deals with “emotional intelligence.” Scads of books address the topic. You can read more in Hess’s “Learn or Die” book or in those by Daniel Goleman, a pioneering thinker and author in the field.

Most workplace consultants will tell you that emotional intelligence can be as important as business location, financing, market need and innovation. Emotional intelligence is how leaders get followers, and how followers rise in the ranks.

“Today,” Hess said, “the 21st century learning skills require one to be good at thinking critically and innovatively and listening, collaborating and emotionally engaging with others.”

It’s a reminder that the human touch — rather than the next-generation software — sometimes makes the difference in getting the next client or contract or keeping the ones you have.

The truism no matter the industry or occupation: People like doing business with people they like.


To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com. Follow her online at kansascity.com/workplace and @kcstarstafford.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/business/workplace/article9810434.html#storylink=cpy