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October 2012

Marketing = purposeful story telling

No one is drawn to boring marketing. That seems pretty easy to wrap our arms around. But what makes for interesting marketing that consumers (B2B and B2C) would choose to listen to and act upon?

Everyone from Forbes to Seth Godin has been telling us so often that they've created a buzzword status for the idea of storytelling. And you'll get no argument from me. We need to tell stories to:

  • Capture interest
  • Communicate our expertise and offerings
  • Create a sense of "they could help me" confidence
  • Move someone to act

The trick is understanding what kinds of stories to tell (hint: they should be all about you!), how to tell them and where to tell them. 

The first step is to appreciate the value of story telling.  Check out this infographic on the power of stories. (click it to see it full-sized)




In my next blog post -- we'll take a look at how and where to tell stories.  So stay tuned!


~ Drew

Toilets are a funny thing

It was 1991 when Kevin Nealon and Victoria Jackson debuted the “Love Toilet” on Saturday Night Live. I laughed and was amused at the riduculousness of such an idea. Funny how comedy can be a precursor to the future. 

Twenty years later Caroma from Australia makes a toilet with a sink on top of the tank. The simple idea uses waste water while washing your hands to help fill the tank for the next flush. After flushing, the toilet directs cold water to the faucet to wash yours hands. No faucet to mess with!

The toilet also features a dual flush system. Notice the buttons on either side of the faucet for “number one” or “number two”. The great thing about the toilet compared to other low flow toilets is a larger outlet that is touted to have less blockages than other toilets.

So this is a great idea to recycle water right at the fixture, but I laugh when I think of people using it sort of like the “Love Toilet”. I can visualize straddling the toilet after use to wash my hands and feeling yucky. What if I am not done washing my hands when the water goes off? Do I flush again? On the other hand it does limit my water use like those automatic faucets at the airport.

Or how about your three year old standing on the lid because they cannot yet reach the sink?  Let me know if this new sustainable design toilet works for you or if you think of Kevin and Victoria.

~Rob Smith, AIA, LEED AP rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Payroll taxes: Once is enough

The recent news about a local payroll tax provider falling behind on remitting client payroll taxes should be a wake-up call to businesses that outsource their payrolls. The good news is that the payroll service's attorney says that all taxes entrusted by the clients for transmission to the government will get to the government, eventually. 

Cases in other states have not had such a happy ending. In 2006, for example, clients of a New York payroll service learned that $3 million of payroll taxes sent to the service had not been remitted, and the money was gone. The firm's clients had to pay their payroll taxes a second time -- first to a thief, and then again to the government. That can be a ruinous expense.

Outsourcing payroll administration is common for good reasons, but most taxpayers don't realize how much risk they are taking when they make that decision. That's why even when you outsource your payroll taxes, you should still monitor the provider. 

Fortunately, you can do so. Taxpayers enrolled in the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) can go online and check that their payroll taxes are being remitted by the third-party payroll service. It looks like this (details obscured for obvious reasons):


















Is it a hassle? A little, but not compared to paying payroll taxes a second time. And if your payroll service provider says the way they do business doesn't let you check your deposits on EFTPS, you need to ask whether you are taking a risk that you can't afford.

-Joe Kristan


Are you building your "friend of mine" awareness?

Screen shot 2012-10-14 at 1.25.23 PMLast week, I was a speaker at the BOLO conference, which is a conference that focuses on helping agencies wrap their heads and hearts around all things digital.

It was a fascinating few days and one of the perks of being a speaker is that I got to listen to all of the other speakers.

One of the most thought-provoking was my friend Jay Baer, from Convince and Convert. Jay's presentation was sort of a mini preview of the book he's in the middle of writing on the power of  a phrase he coined -- Youtility.

If you've attended any of the MMG social media workshops or talks we've given over the last couple years -- you will recognize a common theme in Jay's thinking. We could not agree more!

Jay's core point was that as our personal and professional lives intertwine through social networks and our on and offline connections -- word of mouth becomes the new currency for buying market share. Jay suggested that we need to all have a strategy in place to move from top of mind awareness to what he calls "friend of mine" awareness.

Jay shared some great facts/stats that showed how "friend of mine awareness" is built on these truths:

  • Our personal and professional lives are now woven together
  • We are more distrustful of marketing spin than ever before
  • We have lots of tools/tricks for tuning out advertising if we want to
  • We now access 10.4 pieces of information before we make a buying decision
  • We talk to a real person as a last resort (60% of a B2B buying decision is made by the time a sales rep is contacted)
  • We act on the word of our "friends," be they people we've met or people we're just connected to online

I think it's time for you to look at your marketing plan. Which tactics help you connect to and share information (useful info… not sales info) with potential buyers?

If you can't rattle off a pretty good list, it sounds like it is time to revisit that marketing plan and start building in elements that will take you from top of mind to friend of mine status.


~ Drew

Breaking the numbers barrier

Before the recession, I would ask the audience in my presentations how many people shared financial information with their employees. Typically I would get a yes response from around 40% of the audience. Today when I ask the question I get around a 90% yes response.

Why the difference? The great recession forced owners, managers, and leaders of companies to share financial information with the employees to survive. When the company's back was put to the wall they looked to the employees for help. A sinking ship can sometimes be the best way to initiate new ideas and tactics. The real fear of going out of business replaced the many false fears that have been in place about sharing financial information with employees like the following:

  • They do not have the knowledge to understand the financials
  • They will share it with competitors
  • It will create issues because of compensation related numbers

These false fears are easily discounted:

  • They know how to spend their own paycheck to survive
  • A good competitor knows your numbers
  • People talk about wages all the time. There are multiple ways to share the information without sharing individual salaries

In the new economy, companies that do not share financial information will find it even more difficult to compete against companies that do. Sharing financial information with your employees allows them to understand why the company makes the choices it does. It is not about complete agreement; it is about sharing the action behind the numbers. Everyone likes to know why - the two year old still exists in all of us!

-Victor Aspengren

What is this "Fiscal Cliff," and why are we in this handbasket?

20121001iabizThe financial press says we are heading to the edge of a fiscal cliff at year-end. Is there any way to keep from going over it, and if not, is there any way to soften the landing?

The "Fiscal Cliff" is the potential expiration of a series of federal tax breaks that will occur absent new legislation on January 1, 2013, combined with the Obamacare tax increases that take effect then. There are dozens of tax rules affected; the biggest include:

- An increase in the top rate on ordinary income -- the rate on most income passing through on shareholder and partner K-1s -- from 35% to 39.6%.  For "passive" investors, the top rate will be 43.4%.

- An increase in the top rate on most capital gains from 15% to 23.8%. 

- An increase in the top rate on dividends from 15% to 43.4% -- nearly tripling the second tax on C corporation earnings.

- A reduction in the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption from $5 million to $1 million, combined with an increase in the top estate tax rate from 35% to 55%. 

There will also be a new .9% tax on single W-2 income over $200,000 or joint W-2 income over $250,000, as well as a 3.8% tax on "passive" or "investment" income (this tax is included in the top rates listed above). 

What to do?  Everybody's situation is different. It's unwise to take action ahead of the fiscal cliff without talking to your tax advisor. Here are some of the ideas that advisors will be discussing with their clients in the coming months:

  • Pre-emptive dividends. Some taxpayers may consider paying dividends out of their corporations by December 31 to take advantage of the current 15% federal rate. Some of these taxpayers will be S corporations purging old C corporation earnings.
  • Close out some capital gains. If you are going to be selling an asset soon anyway, selling this year may save some some money.
  • Make large family gifts.  For taxpayers with enough assets to make where the diffence between a $5 million, this is an obvious thing to look at. Not everybody can or should make gifts that big, but if you are ever going to do so, this is a good time to do it.
  • Accelerate income and defer expenses. This reverses the usual strategy of deferring income and accelerating expenses, but if rates go up, it makes sense. It's silly to defer income just to see it taxed at a higher rate, and deductible expenses are worth more as deductions when rates are higher.

Of course, all of this is contingent on politics. In general terms, an Obama victory makes a trip over the fiscal falls much more likely, while a Romney victory increases the chances of an extension of the current tax rates. Of course, the composition of Congress also matters. The politicians may extend some provisions while letting others expire.  Whatever happens, it makes sense to stay flexible pending the election outcome, but to start to prepare for a big tax increase. 

-Joe Kristan


A step away from the fiscal cliff?

Journal of Accountacy Tax and fiscal cliff resources

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