GET OUT THERE: Using your free time to talk to customers

It’s summer, which means you are free from school, have time to hang out, and can get moving on your business. This time is particularly great for going out and talking with potential customers about your concept since more people are out and about. Engaging with potential customers is an involved and personal activity, so use this window where you have freedom to schedule time and put in that extra effort to reach out them.


The ability to introduce yourself and steal a few minutes of someone’s time is daunting but necessary. Approaching random person and asking them for an opinion on your concept can be awkward, but if they can provide you with actionable feedback, the exercise could be the most valuable thing you do. Here are some things to consider:

  • Realize that they are people, too. We interact with people every day, this time it’s just with someone you don’t have a previous connection to, and that’s okay.
  • There is always something to gain (more often than not). Meeting new people and talking to potential customers can provide insight, opinions from different background, and a new contact.
  • No harm, no fowl. Sometimes the conversation may get lead down a different path or you receive criticism. Still, these things are important to — but not let bring you down. if anything, you’ve improved your communication skills.


Now when going through this exercise, there are three types of people you need to be concerned about:

  1. Potential customers that do not yet know about your company (the vast majority of people)
  2. People that know about your company, but are not currently customers
  3. People that are already purchasing your product (if you are this far in the startup journey)

Consider these questions for each category. These will help you identify potential trends where you can make an immediate change to your concept:

  1. Why is this person unaware of my company? What are the best ways to reach them?
  2. Why are they not customers if I know I can help them and my product is better than what is currently available?
  3. Why do they continue to come back? What could make the product better?

Again, try not to get discouraged if the first couple people you approach ignore you, it will make the feedback you do get more valuable in the end, guaranteed.

A challenge to you: introduce yourself to five people you think could fit into your target customer profile and sell them on your concept and share your experience here. *

*This should be an exercise you are constantly practicing since things change so quickly. Having a pulse check on your customers will make the difference in being proactive with making decisions rather than reacting to an unexpected event.

GET OFF your ass this summer and work on your startup

Summer heat got you down? Putting textbooks away make you feel like productivity shouldn’t exist? Too tempted to chill with friends or take a road trip every other weekend?

What if I told you, you can work on your startup this summer, progress on your idea, and still get a good amount of adventure in? Well, believe it! Here are 5 tips to help you accomplish this!

1. PRIORITIZE
What needs to be completed for you to feel satisfied with your progress? Sometimes life and work can get overwhelming.

First, make a list of all the responsibilities you’ve got going on this summer like work, summer school, vacations (pft, responsibility…). Then, make a list of attainable milestones for your business you want to reach by the end of summer along with what you wish you could do for fun (examples: survey 50 potential customers, read a book each month, exercise more).

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Don’t forget that summer is a time where YOU get to choose what you will be doing and no one gets to tell you otherwise. Analyze your lists and find what is realistic for you to wholeheartedly complete. Maybe you take some things off your plate. Maybe you move some things from the wish list to the do-list. Keep in mind, just because you take something off your plate, doesn’t mean you can’t come back to it in a few months.

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Most importantly, make sure to leave room for friends and family and designated days where you don’t think about work at all, for your sanity!

2. DELEGATE YOUR TIME AND STICK TO IT

No matter what you’ve got going on, anything can be done with time management, dedication, and coffee.

Organizing your time at least a week in advance will help you identify and execute needs as well as give you the reins to decide when you work and when you play.

You’ll then find the nooks and crannies of time where you can squeeze chances to work on your startup, see the bigger picture, get more done, and maybe even have a good night’s rest.

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Here are two resources to help you hustle while making room to live life the same time:
Todoist– If you’re a solo startup, try this guy. It’s simple and easy to use, displaying daily and weekly to-dos. Premium features (like reminder alarms) can be added for a cost. Also, get productivity tips emailed to you when you subscribe to their newsletters!

Resource: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.todoist

Trello- A SPUR favorite! Make categories, set deadlines, attach teammates to the tasks and more. This is great for if you have a team and want everyone to be in the loop.

Resource: Trello.com
Now it’s your job to stick to it! The more you do, the more likely you’ll immensely make progress on your goals. Just becare to not to over work yourself (see number 1).

3. STAY MOTIVATED

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Surround yourself with like-minded people. Are they other entrepreneurs? Hobbyist? Your family? Keep these people close to you and converse with them frequently. They can help to fuel your interests, get your creative juices flowing, and keep you on track.
Follow motivational pages. You know the ones. They have the sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes cheesy quotes pasted on an aesthetically pleasing background. Search for the pages that speak to you and get you pumped!
Follow your dream companies. Keep tabs on the companies that you look up to. Whether it be for their success, what they stand for, or how they present themselves online. Remind yourself that you could be like them one day if you try hard enough

4. LEARN HOW TO START A CONVERSATION

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We are always looking for the right person to join our business who we click with and bring complementary skills to the table. A network is a group or system of interconnected people or things. But these connections don’t just happen.

HISTORY FLASHBACK: Steve Woznaik (co-founder of Apple) was introduced to Steve Jobs by a Bill Fernandez who went to highschool with Jobs. WHAT IF WOZANAIK NEVER SAID HELLO TO FERNANDEZ OR VISE VERSA? Wozanaik might not have ever met Jobs, and you wouldn’t be reading this on your smartphone or laptop.

Being out of school can make it harder to connect with others, so start that small talk with your neighbor at a coffee shop. Tell people what you are working on at any (appropriate) event. You never know where it could lead you! Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and no, they won’t steal your idea. This is a common fear between entrepreneurs among many others. Don’t let this hold you back from connecting with the right person to help you potentially making serious strides for your company.

5. GET OFF YOUR ASS

Very rarely does success fall into someone’s lap. You might be asking, how do I meet these potentially wonderful partners and make connections? Sure, it may be hard if you don’t know any industry-specific people you can turn to. But once you have the resources, the rest is up to you. So here we are…giving you the resources! Click here to find another posts that talks about finding groups of like-minds, organizing opportunities to connect with them, and what to do once you’re talking to them. Now the rest is up to you!

What it REALLY Takes to Put Your Customers First

To be honest, I’ve struggled figuring out where take SPURstartups content. How am I going to stand out to my audience, who’s bombarded with content every time they hop online?

Trendy blog content is laced with promises like, the “Do this ONE thing and you’ll be successful.” I was tired of reading post after post of empty promises and quick fixes. I thought, am I the only reader who feels like bloggers have completely forgotten about their reader? Since when was quantity better than quality?

That’s why when I heard about ConvertKit’s new Netflix-style blog structure, I had to reach out and thank them for bringing sustenance back into blogging.

ConvertKit publishes content in the form of magazine-style issues once a month. That content is launched Netflix-style in the middle of each month, every month. “Too many blogs are written for search engines, not humans. They lack focus on the reader, lack originality in the content, and generally leave something to be desired in the overall experience,” said the ConvertKit team.

I had an opportunity to pick the brain of Barrett Brooks, ConvertKit’s Director of Marketing. Not only did he give me some great advice for blogging, but also shared wisdom for being a successful business owner.

When I asked Barrett how to stand out in the digital marketplace and position yourself for long term success, his answer was simple: take time to understand what your customers want & tailor your content and product around that.

Easier said than done.

Here’s three takeaways from our conversation to remind you how to stay focused on what matters most in your business: your customers.

 

1. Stop thinking about yourself

You’ll naturally stand out to your customers if you are truly solving their needs, not your ideas about what they need. To do this, you have to stop putting yourself first.

“Part of what’s wrong with making digital products, what makes me sad about this industry, is that too many people just care about making money,” he said.

“As an entrepreneur, it’s important to know why you do what you do. How will starting a business change your life? How does your work connect to your own sense of purpose and meaning? What are your goals for your family and how will the business serve those goals? But your customers won’t buy from you because you want to put your kid through college. They won’t buy what you sell just because you love sports and decided to start a business around sports.”

 

2. Prioritize the outcome for the customer over the outcome for yourself convertkit-image-1

In college, one of my Entrepreneurship professors taught me that your bottom line mattered more than your customer’s experience. He believed that sacrificing customer service was worth it push came to shove for profitability. Something about that lecture was unsettling to me, and Barrett showed me how my professors theory couldn’t be more wrong.

He said, “If you’re so focused on you, you’re never going to make things that your customers benefit from. Think about how your customers want their lives to change and less about how you want your life to change. The outcome for the customer is more important than the outcome for you.”

“Yes, have goals for your life and your business. But don’t expect anyone to buy from you just because you want a better life. They’ll buy from you if you help them live a better life…The only thing that matters is what your customers want and need,” said Barrett

 

3. Know that success takes time, and that’s okay. 

Remember that success doesn’t happen overnight, or in a week, or a month. It can take years. Just remember that making progress on a small scale is the first step to making progress on a giant one.

Barrett reminded me that I can only move one step at a time. “You’ve got to get to 10 people before you get to one million. Before you can be the best in your state, you’ve got to be the best in your town,” he said.

Barrett’s mindset is what makes ConvertKit’s blog so fantastic. It and what inspires me to make our blog better than ever. They’ve taken a risk to change the way people interact with blog content. But that risk revolves around what they believed their customers wanted. Only time will tell if this strategy will work, but something inside me says it’s already a success.

Ready to start putting your customers first? Check out ConvertKit’s blog here and email marketing tools, here.

 

 

3 things you should know about fear of launching a startup

Halloween is a time to enjoy being scared. From scary movie marathons, to haunted houses, we seek the feeling of suspense and surprise.

But what happens when fear isn’t just fantasy anymore? Since I launched SPURstartup, anxiety, fear of the unknown, and suspense are emotions I’ve come to accept as normal.

I used to think I was going through something that most entrepreneurs don’t. After all, startup teams are always portrayed as optimistic, fearless risk-takers. Before I launched SPUR, I felt like I was at a disadvantage because I had all of this self-doubt.

I couldn’t of been more wrong. I asked student entrepreneurs to anonymously share their startup fears (if they had them!) and was surprised how many responded. Being afraid to go down a risky path is 100% normal, it’s just not talked about very much because it doesn’t go with the gutsy & bold startup narratives of famous entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are humans, too. We have fear, hesitations, and self-doubt. But we overcome these weaknesses, and you can, too. Here are three things you should know to overcome your fear of launching your startup.

1. Don’t confuse perseverance with fearlessness.
Our culture idolizes successful entrepreneurs. We expect them to be fearless risk-takers that radiate confidence 24/7. I think our culture has confused fearlessness with relentless perseverance. Entrepreneurs have to be more resilient, but that doesn’t mean fearless. It just means they face their fears head-on and overcome them.

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Entrepreneurs use bad experiences to grow stronger each day. Perseverance through the scariest of times is what will ultimately be the difference between success and failure.

2. Know things will get less scary overtime.
Think back to your first semester in college when figured out everything the hard way- by screwing up, getting lost, or making a mistake. After one semester, you got your bearings and were able to navigate everything on a slightly smoother path. The only reason it was so hard that first semester is because it was something new.

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This is like working on your first startup. You know less than you think you do, and, most of the time, you find out you’re wrong the hard way. But as you get more experience, you get more confidence. You do start to figure things out and things take on a different perspective overtime. What seems terrifying and overwhelming to you right now will feel like a breeze a few months from now.

3. Avoiding your fears makes matters worse.
We try to push fear in the back of our minds because we think that fear is related to weakness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. How you deal with your fears will determine if you’re strong. If you hide from your fears and stay away from all of the things that make you uncomfortable, you’ll never reach your full potential. Fear will define you if you avoid it. The moment you admit to yourself, “I’m afraid of ‘xyz’ happening” the moment you can start liberating yourself from your fears.

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I know launching a startup can be scary, but you don’t have to do it on your own! Join our community HERE and find support, guidance, and mentorship.

How to Find and Build a Network without Selling Your Soul

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re shuffling across a gym floor with a name badge around your neck and 2 dozen copies of your resume in a manila folder, hoping to make some good connections at a job fair…but secretly dreaming of getting home to watch Netflix as soon as possible.

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Or, if you’ve been out of school for a while, maybe this scene looks more like a conference center and you’re thinking of a way to hand out your pocket full of business cards so you can head back to the hotel.

To me, these kinds of formal networking settings have always felt artificial, and often pretty uncomfortable. It’s hard to connect in an honest way when you’re worried about making a good impression and talking to the “right” people.

And at the end of the day, you want to see the time and energy you put into networking pay off. Often after talking to dozens of people and attending hour after hour of panels, you aren’t sure if you’ll see any real career benefits for attending!

All this is frustrating when you consider just how important it is to your career to build relationships. (For reference: I haven’t applied for a job since graduate school, because they have ALL come about through personal and professional connections.)

Now, a formal networking event doesn’t have to be a gauntlet of social anxiety or feel like a waste of time. In fact, shifting the way you think about and prepare for these events can make them productive…and even fun! Here are a few strategies from the guide I put together that have worked for me:

3 Tips for Making the Most of Networking Events

1. Make a personal goal before every networking event so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Fact: Networking events are intimidating for virtually everyone. There’s nothing more awkward than entering a room full of people you don’t know and being forced to talk to them (while trying to make genuine connections). When you put pressure on yourself to meet every single person in the room and get to know all of them, that only makes you less likely to actually go to the event and have a good time.

To keep from psyching yourself out, create a personal goal for each networking event. Whether that’s simply talking to at least three people or meeting at least one person at your dream company, start small and manageable, then work your way up.

2. Give yourself a deadline.

You don’t need to stay for the entire event! Start by making an appearance for 20–30 minutes, and set a goal for how many people you’d like to meet. Once you start getting to know people in the same circles and run into them when you head to events, it gets easier to stay for longer periods of time.

The bottom line: No, you don’t have to stay for an entire two-hour event!

3. Check out niche networking events.

Going to gigantic tech meetups is one of the most intimidating and overwhelming experiences for people who are new to the industry. Instead, start small with a local tech meetup, or one that is specific to a particular part of the tech industry (for example, women in tech, or product managers or programmers).

A couple of networking series to check out that are available in several cities:

Be sure to check with friends or colleagues to see if other niche networking events are offered in your city.

This approach has really taken down the stress factor for me and helped me actually get something tangible out of networking events. That said, networking is a lot more than attending formal events and trying to make a good impression.

In fact, every professional encounter (and some personal ones too!) are opportunities to build the relationships that can make a real difference in your career.

Networking is More Than Conferences and Cocktail Hours

These days, in the tech industry in particular, networking happens online too. One of my coworkers at Skillcrush was hired because she left such a good impression on Twitter, and I’ve started long-term marketing partnerships with brands and influencers based on blog comments.

So that’s great! If you don’t want to brush elbows at cocktail hour to get your tech career or business started…you don’t have to! 

I created The Ultimate Guide to Networking in Tech to walk you through exactly what it looks like to network in the tech industry.

In the guide, you’ll get:

  • Tried and true tips for overcoming paralyzing networking jitters
  • 4 foolproof networking dos and don’ts
  • A complete plan of action for conquering networking events
  • 3 done-for-you email templates for following up with new connections
  • EXACTLY how to leverage social and other online networks in your favor
  • A roadmap to one-on-one networking that makes everyone happy, plus tips for keeping communication open for the long haul
  • The definitive list of how to (and NOT to) cash in on your connections

[DOWNLOAD THE PDF GUIDE]

 

7 things holding you back

We are all guilty of not maximizing our potential in some way. Take a look at the list below and think about how you can make yourself more productive in your startup/job and in your everyday life. Remember to keep winning and staying competitive in whatever you do. Do not let anything hold you back.

7 Things Holding You Back (and how to reach your full potential)

  1. Using simple words in emails

    When emailing people, it is important to be direct and to the point. Using filler words does not add value to the message, rather, it is viewed as clutter. Using “but” invalidates everything you said in the statement before and the word “just” is seen as validating your statement to yourself. Take a look at the next email you write and be conscious of where you use these words. This is a great start to writing more succinctly.

  2. Too responsive to email

    Most emails are not time critical. If you cannot answer an email in less than 2 minutes, and you are busy, come back to it. A key thing I have learned is if it truly is important you will receive a follow up.

  3. Doing what is required

    There are base things you have to do in order to get the job done. Do those. However, there is so much more you can expand on. The best ideas come out of digging a little deeper into something. You will impress yourself with how much you can accomplish and learn.


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  4. Not valuing your time or others

    Make it a point to be on time and start things at exact times (a 2:30 meeting means 2:30 NOT 2:32 or 2:35), no more waiting on others that are late without anything said. If you make it a point to be on time, others will follow. This will create a sense of leadership.

  5. Overanalyzing situations

    This is inefficient and limits the amount of work that can get done. If you have all the information in front of you and you understand it, do not walk away without making a decision. The material will never be fresher on your mind than it is in that moment.

  6. Staying silent in a meeting

    I know that when you are in a room with older and “wiser” people you may feel intimidated, forget about that. You need to make an impact and staying silent will not help your cause. Have ideas and share them, it is your job to get noticed by the more experienced and ultimately your fault if you are not.


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  7. Ignoring others

    I see this every day in the hall or in meetings. Some people feel like they are better than others. And you know what, that is ok. Do not let that be you. You can learn so much from small interactions with people. I mentioned this before in a previous post, a simple Good Morning can really go a long way. New relationships cannot form unless you interact with others.

 

-Jeff B.

5 Ways to Work Smarter This Semester

With school getting back into gear, we realize just how valuable every minute of the day can be, especially when you have to sit in on classes that can be a total time-suck.

Good time management is the difference between smooth sailing and total chaos. Below are five ways to help you save time and accomplish more in the day. I want you to try at least one of these today!

1. The Morning Workout

This is a no brainer in my mind, but sometimes very hard to do. Wake up early and go for a run or a nice workout. By the time you get to your desk you are ready to go. I am well aware that sleep is much needed in the world of being an entrepreneur (and student!), but even if it comes to waking up 30 minutes earlier you will see a direct impact on the quality and quantity of the work you’ll produce from it.

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2. Time Boxing

I learned this one from something I read in school. It is a simple but powerful way to get a lot done in a compressed amount of time. Essentially once you start your day, plan out what you need to accomplish and then prioritize it. Associate a time period in which you want to accomplish each task (try to limit yourself to a one hour maximum or you’ll lose focus) and jump to the next. This allows you to accomplish more in your day, faster. If you do not finish a task then you can go back to it after you finish your list.

3. Ergo Breaks

This has saved me from losing my mind at my desk many times. Take a break after working for a few hours. You need to relax and focus on something that requires very little brain power from time to time. Maybe it’s taking a walk around the office (or your dog) or reading up on the news of the day. Those few minutes you spend on something other than work will pay off later in your day.

4. The 80/20 Rule

We have all heard of this, but how many of us actually put it into action? Things will never be perfect, but if you are able to get 80% there in half the time it’ll take you to get to that full 100% perfection, then you need to move on. It is ok if something is “good enough”. Many times if you are 100% on something it is too late and the opportunity is no longer there. Always do good work and know when its time to shift your focus.

5. Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Task List

This is something you will have to continuously update but can help keep track of your accomplishments. Simply knowing what you have done and what you have left to do will force you to be efficient with your time. It can be as simple as a sticky note on your desk to be a constant reminder.

There’s tons of tricks you can use to make time management this semester a breeze. What are your favorite time saving hacks? Share yours and find tricks from other SPUR students in our community HERE

Why asking for help makes you a startup rockstar

Image: you’re on a stage, with the spotlight shining on your super suave outfit and a crowd of hungry eyes laser-focused on you. You’re getting recognized for your booming business that has the whole world buzzing. You are a startup rock star.

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Most of us have had this daydream before. Want in on a something not-so-secret? You have what it takes to get there with the help of the right people.

Okay, truth time. Have you ever discouraged help from others?  Sometimes the internal bragging rights to feel like the next Chance The Rapper makes too many entrepreneurs too proud to ask for help.

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Reality check! There is not ONE successful business person that has never openly searched for criticism. They all asked questions and utilized their networks to get as much feedback as possible. The very process of refining your idea and making progress is based solely on the input and help of others. So not only is it totally okay to ask for help, it is ESSENTIAL to do if you ever want to make progress on your business.

The badass musicians we see on our screens today have all, at some point, gotten input from friends on songs, had a team produce their music, and another team to prepare their press and concerts. So what looks like a one-man band killin’ the show, is actually more like this:

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Sometimes it’s a little intimidating, but everyone gets stage fright… Getting better takes practice, and every rocker knows that. The best way to get help is to simply speak up and ask around for what you need. Be forward and you’ll find you get put in touch with the right people. You will be surprised what resources are right under your nose if you opened up and got a little out of your comfort zone.

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Still need help with something? Join our free mentorship community HERE and tell us what you need. We’ll help you navigate the best way forward.  

 

Tackling Summer Burnout

This summer my brain has really been in a funk. We’ve grown up taught that summer is a time to take a break in life to have fun. It’s hard to shake the mentality.

When you’re working around the clock and balancing school, it’s easy to get stuck in a mental rut. You need a mental tune up. Here are my three favorite tricks to feel rejuvenated and accomplished during the dog days of summer. (Spoiler alert: Netflix & chill is NOT one of them).

1. Make a reverse to-do list. You may feel like you are being unproductive, but you’re accomplishing more than you think. Stop thinking about what all you need to get done and start thinking about what all you have done (glass half full kind of thing). Write down what you accomplished at the end of each day to track your progress.

2. Meditate (really!). This one is coming from personal experience. When you’re running at a bazillion miles an hour, it’s no wonder you get stuck in a rut. Meditation does ~wonders~ for my brain that never seems to calm down. Peace is Every Step is my favorite book to learn about meditation. It’s a quick read and transformed the way I work!  

3. Pick up a new hobby. Push your brain to a new limit and channel your creative flow. When I’m not working on SPUR, I spray paint murals and play the drums. This keeps me sane and makes me more productive. When there’s a day I can’t seem to get anything done, I take it off to work on my art and music. This lets me refresh my brain and my soul.

Incorporate things that challenge your brain in new ways into your daily life. You’ll avoid exhaustion, mental fog, and, most importantly, burnout.

 

 

So, your brand walks into a bar…

By now, you’ve already heard how important your brand is to your startup.  It’s what defines you.  It’s what you stand behind. It’s the fuel that feeds the beast.

But where do you start when you begin to develop your brand? I have a fun way to define what your brand stands for. Ask your team, “If our brand walked into a bar, what would it look like?  How would it act?  How would it sound?”

Let’s look at a couple of examples and give them a name:

Veronica

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Veronica is the girl that only goes to the most high-end bars in town and never pays for her own drinks. She’s dressed in a sleek dress, high heels, and hair that’s defying gravity. This chick drinks cranberry and vodkas and marches to the beat of her own drum.

Example Brands:  Aston Martin, Christian Louboutin

Brian

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Brian is like your drunk uncle who loves forcing having conversations with anybody and everybody in the bar. He’s dressed in a t-shirt with moccasins that barely pass as loafers. If a conversation goes on for long enough, he will likely buy the whole group a round of shots. Brian wants to make sure that everyone is having a good time and that he comes off as very accommodating.

 Example Brands:  Amazon, Zappos

Charles

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Charles is the typical humble bragger who can kind of get away with it. He’s dressed in a perfectly tailored suit, drinks scotch, and kicks back in the cigar lounge. Charles only wants to have conversations with people that are “on the same level” as him when it comes to sophistication and educational background.

 Example Brands: Jaguar, Louis Vuitton

This is always a fun whiteboard session with the team. This will help the entire team get on the same page and help you when determining where to position your brand in the marketplace.

This is always a fun whiteboard session with the team. This will help the entire team get on the same page and help you when determining where to position your brand in the marketplace. Ready to define your brand? Click CLICK HERE to download our brand persona worksheet and share your results in our community!