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Bears Business Brief-The Importance of Perspective: Mine, Yours, Theirs

head shot Amy Stokes
Amy Stokes

By Amy Stokes, Ph.D. 

I remember growing up in church and thinking the people teaching my Sunday School classes were so old. Now, 25 years later I realize they were the age I am currently (not old!) and they are just now approaching old age. As a teenager, my mother constantly reminded me that perception is 99 percent the rule. Although her words stuck with me, it was a life lesson I could not fully appreciate at the time.

There’s an illustration that depicts a man and the descriptions of him given by a variety of people. A young boy describes him as old, an old man describes him as young, a short man describes him as tall, a tall man describes him as short, a burly cowboy describes him as from the east, a middle easterner describes him as from the west. They were all about the same guy, but if you were to compile the opposing descriptions in order to create a cohesive profile it would be nearly impossible. What matters as much as understanding the guy being described is understanding who is doing the describing. The same goes for your organization. Particularly when it comes to word-of-mouth, what you know to be true about your business doesn’t matter compared to what the ones doing the talking believe to be true. When talking about your business to friends and family, their perspective matters more than the facts in your annual report.

During the information search stage of the consumer decision making process, there are four ranked sources from which consumers seek information. The first place consumers look for information is their store house of personal experience. Obviously this will override all other sources as it is deemed the most credible. It doesn’t matter if you thought a restaurant was great if I went and had a horrible experience. The second information source is personal sources, which includes the opinions and experiences of friends, family, and coworkers. When we don’t have enough personal experience to guide our decision making, we look to those around us that we trust to help inform our decisions. Third is public sources, which includes government reports and findings from third-party organizations like the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Reports. It also includes online reviews from other customers and membership based forums like Angie’s List. Last is market sources, which includes advertising, company websites, and other company-controlled messaging done via newsletters or social media.

Out of the four information sources, you only have control over one of them, and it is the last source consumers incorporate into their decision making. While that may sound discouraging, you don’t have to have control over the other three sources in order to influence them. You have the ability to shape word-of-mouth, but it must be strategic and consistent. Your in-store experience must match the way you portray yourself in social media and paid advertising and you must repeatedly communicate your brand position across all media types. When consumers are repeatedly exposed to consistent messaging, even if they have never interacted with your brand personally, it creates a level of familiarity that shapes their view of your business. Not only will this familiarity help them form a positive opinion, it can potentially offset any negative word-of-mouth they hear that does not align with their exposure to other sources. In the instance that you find negative reviews online or through social media, try to engage with them and address the issue privately rather than in the public realm. And remember, perception is 99 percent the rule.

This article appeared in the July 25 issue of the Springfield News-Leader and be accessed online here.

Amy Stokes, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of marketing at Missouri State University and has experience as a media coordinator in private industry. Stokes has a specialty in advertising and media issues and writes about those areas as well as general consumer behavior. Email: amystokes@missouristate.edu.

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Bears Business Brief- A new definition of ‘nice’ in conflict situations

Elizabeth Rozell, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Rozell
Elizabeth Rozell

Effective leadership hinges on how you handle the tough stuff. Conflict doesn’t have to be stressful. Tense conversations carry a high emotional load and many people seek to avoid them. The fact of the matter is, avoiding a problem usually makes the issue or situation worse. Whether a manager or subordinate, difficult conversations and conflict must be managed. If you are one of those people that shy away from conflict, you just might be contributing to your organization’s dysfunction. Conflict is necessary for organizations to function effectively. It is a signal that members are engaged, able to synthesize diverse perspectives and seek consensus in the decision-making process. Conflict is a signal that the organization is vibrant and moving forward. However, it can also be a sign of a problem or destructive behaviors that must be addressed.

From a managerial perspective, delivering bad news is difficult for both parties. The deliverer is tense, and the listener is apprehensive. It is not always possible to be “nice” in conflict situations since the underlying causes of such issues are complex, nuanced and politically charged.

The next time you encounter a difficult situation at work, remember these do’s and don’ts of being “nice”:

Do be clear but empathetic. You should have an idea of the outcome you desire but still try to understand the other person’s point of view. It will help to understand the others’ objectives and orientations toward the issue. However, if you have a good reason for saying no, stick with it.

Do keep your enemies close. Like the old adage says, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Although the tendency is to avoid those individuals that make us uncomfortable, you need to know what others are thinking and doing — whether you like them or not.

Do ask about the impact. The team should thoroughly think through the implications of their decisions. Demonstrate that you are open to listening to all ideas and their resulting impacts so that people know you are open-minded. But, in the end, if you are the leader, you will have to make the tough decisions.

Do be neutral and stay on topic. Provide sound reasoning for saying no. Keep your language neutral and noninflammatory, but make sure that you communicate that an open discussion is permissible.

Do restate your intentions. Stay focused on the most essential issues and objectives. It’s easy to become emotional and lose sight of the real issue.

Don’t be a cognitive miser. As human information processors, we are limited in our capacity to hold and process emotions and information. We have a tendency to preserve cognitive resources and allocate them to perceived significant matters. And these resources are spread thinner and thinner as demands on our time and attention increase. Our tendency is to focus on a few attributes of the person we are dealing with, not on the complicated entirety of the situation.

Don’t fight over things that don’t matter. Again, stay focused on the issues that really matter and let the rest go.

Don’t give false hope. If you know that you will not change your mind, then be honest. If you say no tentatively, then your counterpart may misinterpret and believe that things might change. Providing false hope can undermine trust and damage your relationship.

Above all, be true to your self. Use language that is natural for you. This requires forethought and lots of practice!

Elizabeth Rozell, Ph.D., is a professor of management and associate dean of the College of Business at Missouri State University. Rozell also holds the Kenneth E. Meyer Professorship and is director of the MBA program. Her specialties include organizational behavior, leadership and emotional intelligence. Email: erozell@missouristate.edu.

This article appeared in the June 18, 2015 issue of the Springfield News-Leader.  It is available online here.

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Bears Business Brief-Marketing From the Inside Out

By Ronald Clark, Ph.D. head shot of  Ronald

One of the truly exciting things about living in the Ozarks is discovering local businesses. Don’t misunderstand, I welcome corporations that want to invest in Springfield’s growing economy. Indeed, I think we have room in the Ozarks for both. However, I admit to making a special effort to support local businesses when I can.

Let’s face it, a small local business will seldom be able to go toe to toe with the marketing budget of a national chain. External marketing efforts (e.g., advertising, sales promotion, digital marketing, etc.) are expensive when you cannot spread the costs over multiple outlets through economies of scale.

Numerous strategies exist for local firms to decrease their external marketing costs (e.g., local search engines, local advertising, etc.). However, I’m going to suggest looking internally at a complimentary strategy for boosting the effectiveness of external marketing efforts.

Word-of-mouth has pointed me toward some of the best businesses in the Ozarks. However, traditional external marketing seldom generates word-of-mouth. What are these businesses doing differently? They are presumably taking care of their customers by providing customer satisfaction and quality service. It’s also likely, however, that they are really good at marketing internally. In other words, they treat their employees as if they were customers.

Employees may be your most important customers. Here’s what the research tells us: Happy (satisfied) customers result from employees who are happy (satisfied), empowered, and share the company’s vision. After all, how can we expect customers to buy goods and services from a business whose employees don’t believe in the company, the brand and the products?

To the external customer, your employees are the brand; they are the “face” of the business. Savvy business owners market internally to their employees. They don’t advertise to their employees in a traditional sense. Instead, they carefully recruit, hire and train employees who are inclined to believe in the company’s products and the benefits those products provide to the customer. So what is internal marketing?

Internal marketing means clearly communicating your company’s mission and purpose as well as how the products and services benefit customers. Moreover, your employees should understand how your firm contributes to the community it serves. It’s not surprising that employees are happiest when they believe in the company, its products and its commitment to serve both the customer and the community.

Internal marketing means empowering employees. Well-trained employees should be empowered (i.e.; given decision making authority) to serve the customer, because a well-trained employee can be trusted to make decisions that are mutually beneficial to both the firm and the customer. Studies show that customer satisfaction is higher when customers are served by empowered employees.

Finally, internal marketing means making sure that your company’s vision is shared by its employees. That means that employee input on how to best serve customers must be continually solicited and considered. Research shows that employees whose opinions are sought for strategic purposes will feel invested in serving the customer.

Ultimately, internal marketing should be aimed at all employees, not just those with marketing titles. After all, marketing is too important to be left entirely to the marketing department.

Ronald Clark is an associate professor in the Marketing Department at Missouri State University.

This article appeared in the June 12, 2015 issue of the Springfield News-Leader.  It is available online here.

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Missouri State fashion program among the top in the U.S.

The Missouri State fashion design program, housed within the College of Business, has been ranked both regionally and nationally for a third consecutive year by Fashion-Schools.org.fashion show models

“We are honored to be recognized for providing exceptional fashion design education for a third year.  Our faculty, staff and leadership in these programs go above and beyond for our students each day,” states Dr. Stephanie Bryant, Dean of the College of Business.

The Fashion Design program was ranked among the Top 50 Fashion Design Schools and Colleges in the US at number 40 when compared to other public and private universities and colleges.  The Design program was also ranked twentieth among public universities and colleges and tenth overall in the Midwest region.

“The inspiration for our rankings comes from the emails we receive nearly every day from young people or their parents inquiring about the “best” school to attend for fashion design, merchandising and related fields. Often these students aren’t familiar with great fashion programs -like Missouri State- available in their very own state or region of the country. Missouri State is a fine example of a good, affordable fashion program of which students may not be aware,” states Brad Prescott founder of Fashion-Schools.org.

Ranking criteria included: academic reputation, admission selectivity, depth and breadth of the program and faculty, value as it relates to tuition and indebtedness, and geographic location.  Publically available information and school surveys were used to gather the data.  For more information visit http://www.fashion-schools.org/

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Alumni Spotlight: Joshua Davis

Bright Lights, Big City: 2013 alum living and working in Shanghai, China

Joshua Davis was ready to get outside his comfort zone and explore the world during his time as an undergraduate student in the College of Business.  Joshua, a 2013 alum with a degree in International Business and Administration and a minor in Mandarin Chinese, says that the decision to study for a semester at Qingdao University in China was one of the best decisions he’s ever made. headshot of Joshua

COB faculty member Michelle Hulett, “definitely had an impact on me when I initially decided to come to China. It was comforting how supportive and enthusiastic she and Tami Sutton (Executive Assistant in Research and Economic Development) were about the whole program, ”  states Joshua.

After his early experiences in China, Joshua decided to look for permanent placement somewhere in the region.  Currently, he serves as the Business Development Manager for SIP Project Management in Shanghai, China.  He oversees a US team for the British engineering consultancy.  The primary goal of his position is to assist, “Fortune 1,000 companies to build their manufacturing facilities and expand their presence in China. What I do in the business development is a combination of sales, strategy and marketing. On a daily basis, I reach out to potential clients and manage the existing accounts that we have…I have learned a lot from meeting senior level representatives from these top global firms,” states Joshua.

When Joshua first began with SIP he was an intern but within a year he had moved up to a manager level position.  His hard work and dedication really paid off and he would recommend the same to current students and recent alumni, “…do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. This is where you will learn the most and develop the essential skills to succeed. The top 3 skills I find to be the key to success are dedication, humility, and adaptability. Also, it is never too early to start networking.”

In his spare time, Joshua enjoys the never ending opportunities for activity in Shanghai.  He likes meeting new people from all over the world who also find themselves in the area, exploring local cuisine with friends and playing basketball on the weekends.

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