November 24, 2014
Talking Points

How Pop-Tarts, road trips, reducing praise can help your business succeed

Bernard L. Kavaler

Promoting your business successfully in a crowded marketplace has been described as threading a needle while riding a roller coaster. The odds of success seem insurmountable — and often the more persistent you are, the most frustrated you become. But success is possible spurred by new technologies and old-fashioned savvy. Along the way, these tactics can improve your chances:

Be ready to reduce praise

A recent study found increasingly favorable impressions of a cereal, restaurant, shampoo, ice cream store, and a politician as researchers raised the number of positive claims about each — but only up to a point. Beginning with the fourth positive claim, impressions became less favorable. Too much of a good thing, it turns out, isn't good at all.

The researchers, from UCLA and Georgetown University, concluded that when four or more positive claims are made about a product, firm or individual, people infer that the claimant is trying too hard and may have ulterior motives.

Have their findings in mind when you rebuild your website or draft your next brochure — and keep the endorsements in check. Less is more.

Be Pop-Tarts

Kellogg's really knows their target consumers for Pop-Tarts. What else could explain this remarkable fact: sales of Pop-Tarts have gone up each and every year for the past 32 years. Sales exceeded $800 million in 2013, up 3.9 percent from the previous year.

Pop-Tarts have grown against the grain, defying just about every food trend for decades. They're not gluten-free, all natural, protein packed or made with simple ingredients. They're not particularly healthy (30 percent sugar) and include an array of artificial ingredients. But they can be prepared quickly, and consumed even faster. And that, apparently, is enough. So, be Pop-Tarts; Determine what works and stick with it, deflecting trends that would push you off track. Understand your market, and keep delivering precisely what they expect.

Be patient

Carrie Kerpen, the co-founder and CEO of social media marketing agency Likable Media, points out that while it is counterintuitive for entrepreneurs to bide their time and wait their turn, at times that is what works best. Rather than being enveloped in a throng elbowing simultaneously for an attractive opportunity, stepping back long enough to survey the landscape and then acting strategically can prove more effective. That's true not only for entrepreneurs, but for businesses generally.

It is often imperative to be fastest and first, but not always. A single drop of water amidst the gallons blasting full throttle from a fire hose may be more powerful, but is not likely to be noticed. When the torrent subsides, the ripple produced by a single droplet can bring more perceptible and distinguishable results.

Be a strong road team

Play well on the other guy's turf. Understand the nuances of their world — the G-forces that buffet their daily business, the obstacles they need to overcome, and how you can help. The key is not how well you know your business, it is how well you know their business. Be comfortable in their shoes, speak their industry's language, turn their fans into your fans.

If you excel when you're away from home — figuratively and literally — you will boost confidence, diminish uncertainty and improve chances.

Be all about the brand

No, not the logo. The brand. Your brand is not what the consumer sees, it is what the consumer feels. It is those characteristics that instantly come to mind when they hear your company's name — the intangible as well as the tangible. It is what you stand for, and what you stand behind. It is how you conduct business and the experience that your customer expects.

Your brand should communicate — openly, consistently and directly — your priorities, standards, and ethics. Good value, for example, may be indispensable to your brand. But good values can help, too.

As the social media observations and opinions of friends and acquaintances routinely receive greater weight (and wider distribution) than the views of well-established experts we haven't met, it is more important than ever to provide customers with something worth noticing, and worth repeating. More than you might imagine, they will.

Bernard L. Kavaler is founding principal of Express Strategies, a Hartford-based public affairs and public policy consulting firm. He may be contacted at

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