Ambiguity Breeds Mediocrity

I have a friend who leads a Human Resources consultancy. He often uses the phrase: “Why don’t employees do what they are supposed to do?” to market his services.  I have often told him that he should add “Why don’t bosses explain what they really want?” to the mix.

When it comes to getting things done with people, ambiguity breeds mediocrity.  Employees and managers alike become frustrated when expectations are not met.  The problem often arises because of a breakdown in communication.  The more ambiguous goals and expectations are, the greater the chance for an average or worse outcome.

However, effective communication is a two way street.

In some cases, employees do not clearly understand goals and expectations and don’t take the time to clarify the situation with their boss.

In other instances, employees are consciously or subconsciously comfortable with the ambiguity.  They avoid clarity and are content to do what they think is necessary because when ambiguity exits, accountability is reduced or eliminated.

On the other hand, supervisors are often guilty of thinking they are on the same page as their team, when in reality they have not provided the necessary specifics to ensure success.  Or they do not empower employees to think and make decisions that could improve outcomes.

Leaders need to provide clear direction and ensure clarity of expectations. They should talk openly with team members about what the outcome of the project should be, when it will be completed, and what employees should do if help is needed or when they hit a road block.

Managers should involve the employees in setting deadlines as well.  Often, employees will offer a tighter deadline than the manager expected.  If they ask for a later deadline, you at least gain an understanding of why they think more time is necessary and you find out sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, leaders should use a combination of communication tactics, rather than just a meeting, email or telephone call.  Combining face-to-face and written correspondence gives team members the benefit of both verbal and non verbal communication, the chance to interact, and specific details in writing.

If you are the person receiving the instructions, you, too, have a responsibility to clearly define the expectations.  Repeat back to the leader what you think is expected and obtain agreement on goals, expectations and action steps to be completed.  Ask what you should do when you encounter a ‘bump in the road’ because you inevitably will.

Move off the path to mediocrity.  Communicate clearly, reduce ambiguity and make a commitment to excellence.

David M. Mastovich, MBA, is the president of Massolutions, a Pittsburgh based Integrated Marketing firm that focuses on improving the bottom line for client companies through creative marketing, selling, messaging and customer experience enhancement.

A Few Good Lines

In the movie “A Few Good Men,” Tom Cruise’s Lt. Daniel Kaffee and Harry Caesar as Luther the News Stand Guy have an ongoing battle to spout the best (or worst) cliché. These scenes resonated with some of us because we suffer from cliché overload—we’ve heard too many clichés, too many times.

I realize that clichés are clichés because more often than not they are true.  However, it still bugs me when people take the lazy way out and spout off tired phrases to explain a situation.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” 

I’ve heard this phrase at least a thousand times from marketers, salespeople, parents who want more playing time for their kids, people who aren’t as successful as they want to be and I’m sure a bunch of other groups that I’ve forgotten.

While this cliché is partially true, it only tells half the story.

Yes, who you know and who you surround yourself with will ultimately shape you and your successes.  But, you have a tremendous impact on ‘who you know.’

Relationships don’t just happen.  They are created by an intentional investment of time and effort.

I’m sure some of you are thinking: “Yeah, right.  So and so got the promotion because he knew so and so…”  There are indeed examples of situations where something like this has occurred. They fall under the Life Ain’t Fair cliché.

For every one of those situations, there are many relationships built by savvy people who understand investing in others is never a waste of time.

As you strive to build meaningful relationships, first try to understand yourself and figure out what you are looking to achieve.  If your goals are self serving, be ready to develop a bunch of superficial and nearly meaningless associations.  However, if you set out to genuinely understand the people you interact with, you could build long lasting and rewarding relationships.

Like most things, it’s simpler in theory than in practice.  The tried and true basics include focusing on others to meet their needs, clarifying expectations, showing personal integrity and making the relationship mutually beneficial.

Make the intentional investment and develop meaningful relationships that lead to success. And, always remember what Jo (Demi Moore) told Lt. Kaffee…wear matching socks.

David M. Mastovich, MBA, is the president of Massolutions, a Pittsburgh based Integrated Marketing firm that focuses on improving the bottom line for client companies through creative marketing, selling, messaging and customer experience enhancement.

Big Ben’s Big Day and Big Quote


Ben Roethlisberger joined nearly 600 students in a graduation ceremony at Miami (Ohio) University Sunday. The 30-year-old Steeler quarterback received his bachelor’s degree in education.

“I’m going to be sitting there thinking, ‘When I was in college, this person (next to him) was probably in middle school,’ ” Roethlisberger said to reporters before the ceremony. “I’m going to be the old man out there, but it’s worth it.’ “

It’s a good thing when athletes go back to finish their college requirements to earn a diploma. Big Ben was only 4 credits away from graduating and that led his Miami academic advisor to send him an email after this year’s playoff loss to Denver  urging him to complete the necessary work–nine years after leaving Miami.

Better late than never.

Ben is also known for his interesting and dramatic quotes. During interviews after the graduation ceremony he lived up to that reputation.

“To me, this is as just as big (as), if not bigger than, winning the Super Bowl. This is the Super Bowl in life.”

I’m a proponent of ongoing education and a thirst for knowledge throughout life. I agree that earning a diploma is a special event for anyone. However, less than 100 people win a Super Bowl every year so while the quote is nice, it’s a bit of an exaggeration.

Nonetheless, congrats Big Ben. Go for that Masters degree and a few more Super Bowls too.

Don’t Forget The Basic Eight

Solutions to help you grow…

“I know (Client or Prospect name). I’m ready.”
“I’ll just wing it.”
“I got this.”

Marketing and sales people rationalize the absence of Pre Call Prep with these and other spoken and unspoken beliefs.

When, how and why do we need to do Pre Call Prep?

You need to do Pre Call Prep before every marketing activity.

If you pick up the phone to call a client, you should’ve done some Pre Call Prep.

If you are dropping something off on a service call, you should’ve done some Pre Call Prep.

If you are heading into an internal meeting with peers and others in the organization, you should’ve done some Pre Call Prep.

Unfortunately, real Pre Call Prep is rarely done at all, let alone done well. Yet an investment of only 5 to 15 minutes dramatically improves the outcome of a meeting, telephone call or presentation.

Take the time to do the obvious–The Basic Eight–and make it part of your selling process:

  1. Review the prospect’s website. See if there’s any new company news. Check out the featured item on the Home Page. Scan the About Us section.
  2. Google both the client and your contact.
  3. Spend a few minutes on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media to move beyond the person behind the desk. Learn how they see themselves and what’s important to them.
  4. Talk to fellow employees and people in your network to see what they have heard or know about both the client and your contact.
  5. Review your notes from past marketing calls or meetings. The recap jogs your memory about important personal and business details.
  6. Map out your top call objectives. Be specific and realistic.
  7. Jot down fact and emotion based questions to ask. Think about how you’ll respond to verbal and non verbal cues with specific questions.
  8. Brainstorm about potential stalls or objections you might hear and how to respond to each. Role-play with someone you trust enough to tell you how you are really doing.

I know you got this-but invest a few minutes on Pre Call Prep anyway. Your post call smile (and sales numbers) will be bigger because of it.

David M. Mastovich, MBA, is the president of Massolutions, a Pittsburgh based Integrated Marketing firm that focuses on improving the bottom line for client companies through creative marketing, selling, messaging and customer experience enhancement.

“People are Strange” Sounds of Marketing

The Doors- Strange Days(1967)

Listen and Watch While you Read!

One of my college buddies recently campaigned for me to feature a Doors song in Sounds of Marketing. To keep him off my back, I’m bringing my Maz the DJ voice out of retirement: “Requested music from the Doors”…

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone  

Picture yourself walking into a networking event, making a presentation or meeting with a prospective client for the first time. Do you become nervous and worry about what others will think?

People seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

If you are off your game or doubting yourself, others will notice. Their initial impression is tainted and they subconsciously stiffen up. You react by becoming more nervous and end up talking too fast and too much. It is a vicious cycle that leads to a whole lot of tension.

When you’re strange
No one remembers your name

The key takeaways of your presentation or pitch (and possibly even your name) are forgotten while your nonverbal nonsense and how it made the audience uncomfortable are remembered for a long time.

When you’re strange…

Have you really thought about your audience and what they are looking for? While you’re worried what they might think, they’re hoping they can relate and get something of value from you. Do you have specific ideas to eliminate their pain points? Have you practiced your pitch both alone and in front of others?

If you answered ‘No,’ you aren’t adequately prepared and you’ll miss the opportunity. If you have prepared appropriately, then focus on being you—a confident, knowledgeable resource—and making it about them—your audience.

Faces come out of the rain

When someone is passionate and knows their stuff, strangers make eye contact, smile, or nod. They relate and see the value you bring and that there’s something in it for them.

Take the time to truly prepare. Do the hard work before the presentation or meeting. If you’re really nervous, boost your confidence by channeling Jim Morrison through another Doors lyric:

I am the Lizard King. I can do anything!

If you have a song suggestion for Sounds of Marketing, please let us know by emailing


The Announcement

Just watched the premier of The Announcement, ESPN’s film about Magic Johnson’s announcement that he tested positive for HIV and how the basketball star handled it.

While there could have been a greater focus on how his sexual promiscuity led to his acquiring the virus, the film is a must watch. Magic narrates it himself and tells a compelling story.

Sports fans have heard the phrase “the game within the game” describing the intricacies and details occurring within a specific game. The Announcement tells the many stories within the story: the lack of understanding and discrimination towards those with the disease, the impact on the Lakers, the NBA and the city of Los Angeles, and how Magic understood his potential positive impact on AIDS awareness and funding for treatment.

Many people remember his announcement, where they were when they heard it and the emotions they felt at the time. Magic’s handling of the situation changed perceptions of the disease, raised awareness and funding. The Announcement brings back those memories and even reminds us of how little we knew about HIV at the time which led to responses that seem difficult to believe now.

Check it out on ESPN.

Is the Traditional Business Card Dead?

In the online, connected world we live in today, is the traditional business card dead?

Company websites include About Us and Contact sections. Smart phones allow for real time exchange of personal info. Social media outlets like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter combine with search engines to make it easy to gather information about people.

Who needs a 2 X 3 inch piece of paper that might make you seem dated, uncool or out of touch, right?

Not so fast.

Business cards should still be a part of your marketing toolkit for a number of reasons.

  • The Touch: We place value in things we can touch, feel or hold. Sure, we might lose or misplace someone’s business card, but we rarely just throw the card away. The more we can see or hold the card, the more likely we are to follow up. Plus, exchanging business cards is a marketing touch that can lead to ongoing communication.
  • Credibility: While not as powerful as in the past or as important as your website, your business card still provides credibility that you and your company are “official” and serious about doing business.
  • Tradition: At the risk of sounding ancient to those twenty somethings who carry on conversations with their eyes glued to their phones, business cards are a part of business culture. We instinctively hand out and ask for cards when in a social, networking or selling situation.
  • It’s Easy: You take the card, glance at it, put it away. No entering data in a crowded, noisy room. No loss of eye contact with the person who gave you their business card. And, plenty of apps are available to make transferring the data to your contacts easy.
  • It Doesn’t Hurt: Some people might think you’re old or old school. But that’s probably the exception rather than the rule. Exchanging business cards typically doesn’t hurt and obviously can be a good thing.

Plus, your business card can leave a lasting impression with creative design, size, shape and printing. And you can include more than just the standard logo, name and contact info. Twitter and LinkedIn handles and QR codes linked to VCards and websites provide insight into you and your company.

Your business card should be part of your marketing and story telling efforts. Don’t leave home (or work) without it.

Messages Made to Stick

Solutions to help you grow…

Halloween traditions changed in the 1960’s and ’70′s when rumors circulated about strangers putting razor blades in apples and candy. Halloween events were held at schools and parents warned children not to eat snacks that weren’t pre-packaged.

In 1985, researchers studied every reported Halloween incident since 1958 and found no instances where strangers caused children harm by tampering with their candy.

How did the candy tampering story spread across the country despite a lack of evidence? Why was it remembered and believed by millions? The story had what Chip and Dan Heath call stickiness. In their book Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors detail the formula for sticky messages:

S implicity—Strip an idea to its core
U nexpectedness—Capture people’s attention
C oncreteness—Explain ideas in human terms
C redibility—Make ideas believable
E motions—Get people to feel something
S tories—People remember and act on stories
S ix Principles of Stickiness

The principles make sense and we have all probably heard similar suggestions before. Yet most of our messages aren’t remembered and communication problems impact organizations, teams and families on a regular basis.

Why? It could be because we rarely apply the Six Principles of Stickiness.

Here’s a real life example:

“We are a multinational corporation engaged in socially responsible operations, worldwide. We’re dedicated to providing products and services of such quality that our customers receive superior value while employees and business partners share in our success and our stockholders receive a sustained superior return on their investment.”

Simple? Unexpected? Concrete? No, No, No. Does it stir emotions? Tell a story? What’s the product? Why should we care?

How about this one:

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
– Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple, Fortune, Nov. 9, 1998

The message captures your attention in human terms. The statistic is memorable and the story resonates. You feel something. The message is SUCCESSfully sticky.

But you don’t have to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company to reach and influence your target audiences. Apply the six principles and you, too, can make your messages stick.

David M. Mastovich, MBA, is the president of Massolutions, a Pittsburgh based Integrated Marketing firm that focuses on improving the bottom line for client companies through creative marketing, selling, messaging and customer experience enhancement.

Will Ferrell’s Super Win

I enjoyed the Business Week article Did Will Ferrell Win the Super Bowl which focused on the Old Milwaukee marketing strategy around the big game.

Instead of producing and paying for a high end Super Bowl ad to run in the game alongside Budweiser’s many ads, Old Milwaukee ran its ad featuring Ferrell in only one tiny market–those watching the Super Bowl on NBC affiliate KNOP-TV2 in North Platte, Nebraska.

The 30-second ad is simple. Ferrell is in a t-shirt and shorts walking through a field toward the camera. He catches a can of Old Mil and begins to open it when the commercial ends abruptly. Despite airing to a small audience estimated by Nielsen as around 15,000 homes, the ad managed to outperform some of the commercials broadcast nationally during the Super Bowl in the key area of social media chatter.

Boston-based ad agency Mullen reported that Ferrell’s ad generated 1,640 mentions on Twitter which is way more than what other ads in the national broadcast garnered.

Old Milwaukee executed a successful campaign without spending millions. Just one more example of the increasing impact of social media on the marketing landscape.

Inaccurate Paterno Report Another Example of “Get It First” Media Culture Gone Awry

It seems another case of the “Get it first no matter what” internet media mentality led to the premature announcement that Joe Paterno had died yesterday. While the legendary Penn State football coach did indeed pass away this morning, Onward State, a Penn State blog, announced Saturday evening that he had died. then reported the same story, resulting in nationwide coverage of the inaccurate report. later said it was relying on the information from Onward State. The blog retracted its report saying “We were confident when we ran with it and are still trying to figure out where our process failed. We apologize sincerely for our error.” Onward State’s managing editor, Devon Edwards, announced his resignation Saturday as well.

Paterno’s family released a statement this morning: “His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled. He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”

Onward State and indeed “got it first” but didn’t get it right. Unfortunately, the combination of the immediacy of internet news and the continually reduced standards of internet journalists has made erroneous or just plain false reports far too common. We owe it to ourselves and our readers to do more to get it right regardless of whether or not we get it first.