Pumps: Alfani Step-N-Flex
Knit blazer: don’t remember, but they’re everywhere these days!
Bracelet: NY & Co.
Like the outfit? Click here to see more details! (We went a little picture crazy on this shoot, check out some random poses/facial expressions!)
This is another dress from Ross, and it fits the breezy, jersey dress that I’m loving for the summer. For those unfamiliar with Ross, it’s a discount store that offers name-brand styles at a lower price than the department stores. Competitors include Marshall’s and TJ Maxx, and I’m sure most regions have their own version of these types of stores. It’s always hit or miss in terms of selection and store atmosphere, but I’ve had great success in the past few months at the Ross just across the street from my office. One thing that Ross does on ALL items, is show the “Compare At” price, just above the substantially lower “Our Price”. As I’ve just completed my Buyer Behavior class, I’ve had comparative pricing on the brain, and this dress gave me a little push to write a post on it!
Comparative pricing is often ambiguous, as it generally doesn’t say where the “compare at” price comes from. Is it the suggested MSRP, the retail price at another store, or just some random dollar amount to make the “our price” look better? Part of me falls into the trap that the comparative amount is completely founded, and it does make me feel better about buying the item. But let’s be real here…. there’s a little marketing hype in this, as it’s highly unlikely that this EXACT item is currently selling elsewhere for triple the price. Granted, sometimes things go on sale because they have limited quantities, or they’re out of season. For Ross, it seems like it’s usually the former, as there’s only one dress in one size. Thus, a department store doesn’t want to carry a single piece in a single size at a single location, since it can hurt customer expectations of variety and availability. However, for stores like Ross, customers expect that they can’t find it at another Ross, and that there’s only one size.
All the pondering about why an item is priced one way at Ross and another way elsewhere is less important than what the comparative pricing does to a customer subconsciously. At first glance, in spite of the most logical argument to the contrary, our brains see the lower price and categorize the item differently. By giving you a benchmark, no matter how off-base or unfounded, the marketer for that retailer has effectively made the customer question their initial price point and evaluation of the product. It’s just like marking something for “sale” or calling something a “good deal”. Sure, most people will investigate it, but at least you’ve given them cause to further consider the product. Sometimes, the extra minute that someone thinks about the product is all that is needed to convince them of a sale.
I try to be wary of my fellow marketers’ mind tricks with “compare at” pricing, but sometimes, a piece really is a good deal! My recent jersey dress purchases from Ross have proved versatile, easy, and functional, and I don’t feel bad about the price tag either! Like the outfit? Click here for more details!
It’s been a wild ride the past few weeks, with class, work deadlines, travel and generally running around like a crazy lady! I’m long over-due for a good butt-kicking at the gym, to help me mitigate the stress I’ve been feeling recently. So, I figured, why not share some of my tips to handle stress, in exchange, hopefully, for some of your tips?
Leave it all on the track. I’ve found that when I’m stressed, I usually need a good, long run. Granted, about 3 miles in, I’m about done with the run, so it doesn’t have to be THAT long of a run. Either way, my motto is, “leave it all on the track”, meaning you should run, lift, cycle, swim, or generally exert yourself until you’re physically too tired to care about the stress of the day. I don’t mean hurt yourself, but get to the point that you’ve got to focus on your breathing, leaving you zero focus for your stress. Currently, I’m very wound up because I haven’t had a good work out in almost 2 weeks! I’m going to spend at least 4 nights in the gym during my two week hiatus from class before summer school starts.
Give yourself some space. You ever notice that you’ll stare at the same paper you wrote, trying to find typos and grammatical errors, only to have a peer take a quick glance and find a ton of mistakes? When you work on something for too long, you start to lose perspective. It seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to walk away, and give yourself time to focus on something else (like breathing while running, see point above!). Sometimes we just need to let our minds have a little room to work out a problem, like the “aha” moments in the shower. It’s not that the shower imbues magical analytical skills, but it does allow your mind to “roam”. During the “roaming” process, you might just stumble on a solution. I’ve found that when I’m stressed, it’s helpful to physically walk away from my work to allow my mind time to roam and re-focus for better productivity when I return to a project.
Health, it does a body good. I’m terrible about not sleeping enough or eating properly when I’m stressed, which makes me feel gross, which leads to lower productivity, which causes the cycle to start all over again! While you may think that using every minute of every day to finish your projects will reduce your stress, taking time to let your body rest will actually improve your productivity in the long run, which reduces your stress level. Also, drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced meal will improve your focus. Further, when your body feels good and operates efficiently, you’ll feel like you’re making more progress throughout the day. Good ‘ole sleep and nutrition do wonders for my stress level!
So, while I attempt to follow my own advice, maybe you have found some other helpful hints. I’ll be hitting the gym and going to bed early, will you?
I attended my brother’s college graduation this past weekend, and I had a few moments to remember back to my college graduation. I was looking forward at the adult life, career, getting married, going forward with a whole chapter…. then, I fell flat on my face in the career department. The marriage and the adult life worked out great, but the career was pretty much in the toilet! In the three years since graduation, the marriage and adult life are better than ever, and the career is finally on the up-swing. I’m gaining a lot of knowledge and experience in several different areas of marketing, and I’m well on my way to getting my MBA. So, how did I get here, and what did I learn along the way?
The paths we walk are winding. I never thought I’d end up where I am after the twisty path I took. I started out as a musical theater major at a small (think smaller than my high school!) liberal arts college in Arkansas. After a series of unfortunate events, and coming to terms with the fact that I was not, in reality, going to be a Broadway star, I transferred to a large state school and tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I finally found marketing, but when I moved to California just as the market crashed, I found out that no one really wanted to hire a marketer. I had recruiters and decision-makers tell me that I was in the worst possible geographic area for my skill set, that 3 years ago I would’ve been the perfect candidate, and that no one could afford to hire a marketer full-time. It was discouraging to say the least, and I ended up job-hunting in my home state of Texas, since we have a much more diversified business community. After all that, I’ve learned that there’s rarely a straight shot to the “dream job”. Sometimes you have to take jobs you don’t like, use skills you haven’t fully developed, and consider options that seem to come out of the blue.
Be flexible. Since the paths we walk are winding, you’ve got to be flexible! When I graduated college, I had it all planned out: the type of job and product, the size of the company, the dress code… basically, I thought I was going to get the dream job. Sure, I pretended to scale it down to “reality”, but the truth is, I had a rigid set of criteria that I HAD to follow. Wrong! I ended up working for a start-up (not my idea of a great environment), in a super casual office (not my idea of a good dress code), and the manufacturing industry (not my idea of of the perfect product). However, as ridiculous as that job was, I did learn a lot about how things probably shouldn’t go the next time around. I also took freelancing opportunities to dabble in some areas that I hadn’t learned about in school. In short, I finally decided to just walk the path that was available, instead of sitting still until I could go straight to my “destination”.
The new wears off. Now that I’m in a much more suitable job, pursuing my master’s, and living life like a normal person, I’ve come to realize that the “new” wears off. Everything isn’t a bright shiny toy like I thought it would be. And you know what? It’s kind of awesome being in a routine of productivity! I am starting to realize that the job isn’t all there is to life, and that sometimes a lazy weekend at home with my husband is just as good as the high from a crazy day at the office. Don’t get me wrong, I like to have a rush from a deadline at work, and I’m still striving to make those deadlines bigger and faster. But I think we all believe life is like a movie, and I’ve found that once the new wears off, you’ve got to have a strong foundation underneath to make life worthwhile.
Watching the graduates this weekend made me quite introspective about where I’ve been and where I’m going, and I think I’ve grown and matured a lot over the past 3 years. It also made me look forward to the day that I don another cap and gown to attend my graduation ceremony from the master’s program, and once again move forward with bright-eyed enthusiasm. I’m glad to say, though, that I’m pretty satisfied with the present!
Khaki Blazer: NY & Co.
Heels: Sam & Libby, via DSW Shoe Warehouse
Necklace: Forever 21
Like the outfit? See more details here!
I think we can all agree that sometimes you need to take a break from the corporate life! Granted, that break may only be a dinner date, but still, a break is needed. Now that summer is creeping in, I’m ready to enjoy some evenings with my husband. But, between work and class (and attempting to get to the gym!), sometimes the easiest thing is to meet at a restaurant right after work. I’ve found my new summer obsession to be jersey dresses, as they work well for my business casual office and for my after-work commitments. They’re comfortable and breathable, both essential qualities in the Texas heat. So, how do I take my new favorite items from day to dinner?
Modesty. My main concern is making sure that my “dinner” look doesn’t creep into my “day” look. I’ve found that some people think these looks are the same, but I must disagree. I’ve talked about buying into the illusion, and that modesty is one part of the reason to dress in “business” clothes. For this dress, I usually add a cardigan or blazer to make sure that the thinner straps are office-appropriate. I also make sure that my hemlines skim my knees in the front AND the back (checking the length in the back is critical!), to ensure that the casual fabric doesn’t overshadow an otherwise office-appropriate dress.
Balance. I also try to make sure that if I’m wearing a dress made of casual fabric, I raise the formality of my other pieces. For example, I’m wearing nude heels and a structured blazer to tone down the effect of the flowy, light-weight dress. If you’re wearing a more casual T-shirt, you might consider pairing it with a pencil skirt and conservative pumps to make sure that you balance out the casual feel of an outfit.
Conservative. For office looks, I think it’s best to stay conservative with jewelry and make-up, and then swap these out for bolder statements for dinner. Maybe you can plan to swap out a nude lip color for a bold red, or plain silver studs for long, bright pink earrings. The office isn’t about showing your most fun and crazy accessories, so I recommend using these items to take an otherwise toned-down office look into a dinner look.
While it may seem like business is your life, sometimes LIFE is your life! I love taking this dress from day to dinner… how do you make your office looks more versatile? Like the outfit? See more details here!
Wow, it’s been a fast and furious week! As I mentioned, I was on a business trip to one of our sister companies last week. I had a great inspiration for a blog post during a trip to Starbucks, and while contemplating this post, I made a connection to one of the theories we discussed in my Consumer Behavior class. I love making connections between my current academic pursuits and the real world! (Yes, I really am that much of a marketing nerd). We’ve been talking about the “scarcity effect” in my class, which basically states that when consumers feel like there is a limited amount of an item, the item must be more valuable. Think about collector’s items, or “limited edition” cars or toys. Everyone decides to stock up, because when the items run out, surely they’ll be worth more in the aftermarket.
Starbucks utilizes this effect all the time, particularly with their holiday offerings. Lots of customers wait in anticipation for the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice latte for the fall, and the Gingerbread latte for Christmas. This past year, Starbucks introduced the Caramel Brulee latte at Christmas, and it was a HIT. Personally, I LOVED this drink, and I would hit Starbucks a few extra times during the week to grab one, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it once the new year rolled around. I justified my additional purchases with the thought that I could only get it for a month, so I needed to stock up. The scarcity effect for these seasonal offerings has been marketing gold for Starbucks, as they’ve increased their sales when customers “stock up” on the limited edition product.
But what happens when you take the products off the market? During our trip last week, a barista mentioned that they STILL had customers asking for the Caramel Brulee latte. Upon hearing that they could not purchase this beverage, some customers abandoned the purchase altogether! Wait, Starbucks might be losing customers because they’ve stopped offering a popular product, that was known to be a limited time offering? Apparently so. This is where my marketing brain kicks in, and makes me ask, “Should Starbucks bring back the Caramel Brulee latte?” It doesn’t seem like customers have the same response to the Pumpkin Spice latte, so it would make sense to keep increasing short-term sales of each store by utilizing the scarcity effect for this beverage. But, if they’re losing customers after pulling a more popular seasonal offering, it might make sense to bring it back “for a limited time”, or add it to the menu as a regular offering. From my observation of one, I would be more likely to increase my purchases if they brought back the Caramel Brulee latte. I normally buy a Peppermint latte, which costs about $3.00. However, if Starbucks offered the Caramel Brulee latte, I would increase my purchase by $.75, at least every so often. I think it would be an interesting study for them to try bringing back the Caramel Brulee latte for a limited time this summer to see if it’s still got the clout that it had at Christmas. If it does, maybe Starbucks should consider the sales potential when the scarcity effect is NOT influencing the sales of this product.
So what do you think? Would you be willing to spend more, and spend often if they brought back a limited edition beverage? Are there seasonal offerings that you wish would be made available year-round?
Like the outfit? See more details here!
Alright, I know I just did two posts about presentations last week, but I’ve got speaking on the brain! We had case presentations in one of my classes last night, and unfortunately, it spurred me to post once more about presentations. I truly believe that public speaking is a non-negotiable skill in the corporate world, and it was a little disconcerting to see some of the presentation behavior from my MBA classmates. I started my presentation well by dressing the part, which many of classmates chose not to do. However, I want to get into a few more tips on the speaking, since I’ve already addressed appropriate presentation attire.
Look at your audience. I was shocked to see members of several groups turn their back on the audience during yesterday’s presentations. I was also shocked to see people holding notes up in front of their face, or just looking straight down at the notes. Generally, there’s at least one friendly face in the crowd, so if nothing else, at least speak to that person. I don’t recommend looking people directly in the eye when you first start presenting, as it can be a distraction if you’re not used to such direct feedback. Rather, look at their hairline, as this will appear more like eye contact, without the harsh “staring into my soul” effect that can ensue with direct eye contact. Practice in front of a mirror to make sure that you’re not speaking into your notes.
Be cognizant of the time. We had a strict and short time limit for our presentations last night, and most groups managed to adhere to the cut-off time. However, one group had a huge faux pas during their presentation. A group member was plowing through their portion of the presentation, completely oblivious to the time keeper’s hand signals. Another group member saw the time keeper give the “wrap it up” signal. Seeing no end in sight, he politely and briefly interrupted the group member that was speaking to thank the class for their time. Instead of sitting down, as it was clear their time was up, the group member started speaking again to make their point! When informed that in fact, they were out of time, this person turned to the class and said, “Can I just say one more thing about The Subject?” Awkwardly, her other group members looked at the class. Don’t be this person… when your time is up, your time is up! Plan your presentation and make sure that you speak at a rate that will meet the time limit.
Practice the transitions. I generally prefer to speak with a clicking device, so that I can move the slides forward at the same rate at which I speak. However, this is not always possible, so make sure you practice the transitions with your team mates. Is one person going to move the slides forward, or will each member move to the keyboard to advance the slides? What order are you speaking in, and do you plan to introduce the next speaker, or just move aside to let the next speaker take over? Who will lead the question and answer session; will it be one speaker, or will each person answer based on their specific portion of the presentation? It’s the “little things” like transitions that take a group from disjointed to polished, and it makes a noticeable difference in the level of professionalism exuded by the team.
Utilize your visual aid. I saw full sentences and paragraphs written on some of the PowerPoint slides last night, and it makes the visual aid overwhelming and unclear, instead of helpful. Also, state your point up front! Several groups arrived at the end of their presentation, and I still had no idea about their stance on the issue at hand. Open the presentation with your stance, and then utilize bullet points, charts, and pictures through out the remainder of the presentation to support your stance. Don’t forget to proof-read! I saw typos and text running into graphics on some presentations, which distracts from the overall message that should be enhanced by the visual aid.
I know I’m picky, but years of public speaking have taught me that the seemingly unobtrusive quirks really hurt a person’s ability to convey their information during a presentation. I hope these tips will make your next presentation clear and compelling! Like the outfit? See more details here!
Can we just talk about the frustration of SEO “magic”? Maybe I’m the only one that finds this frustrating, but the insane amount of spam that’s been on my blog recently triggered my distaste for SEO link-building campaigns. I know that spamming it a black-hat version of SEO, but it does contribute to the overall view of SEO in general. Most people who know nothing about Search Engine Optimization think that you just pay some company a fee, and you end up at the top of the search engines the next day. It’s like magic! This, in fact, is not the case. Search engines are optimized using a number of criteria, including amount of relevant content, quality of content, links/trackbacks, and “secret algorithms” formulated by the search engines to offer the most useful results. In theory, companies can manipulate a lot of the factors, with the exception of the “secret algorithms”. The problem is that now EVERYONE is using optimization techniques, so there’s much less advantage to including key words and meta tags today than when SEO first gained popularity.
However, now that it’s mainstream, everyone seems to want it. And, since most people aren’t educated about how to get it, they end up with companies employing black hat techniques like spamming random bloggers for “link-building” campaigns. Others will advise putting a whole block of keywords in the footer of every page, so that the algorithms will think you have more relevant content. I’m no SEO expert, but I do know black hat when I see it. So, here’s a few quick guidelines when determining whether a certain SEO provider might be a profitable partner:
1) What kind of timeframe do they promise improvement? SEO is a long-term strategy, so any company that promises quick results may not be the best provider. I usually budget 6-8 months for maximum results.
2) Do they promise to make you #1 in all search engines? I’ve found that most reputable providers can promise improvement, but rarely promise to make you the first result, all the time, on all search engines. Because search engines use “secret algorithms”, it’s nearly impossible to influence all results all the time. Be wary of a company that over-promises.
3) How do they do link-building? Are they setting up a special website for the sole purpose of trackbacks? While this isn’t the biggest red flag, it might raise concerns. Imagine, if a friend or family member ONLY recommended one brand for EVERYTHING, wouldn’t you begin to wonder if they were paid to endorse that brand? And, wouldn’t it make you a little less trusting of their opinion if they were endorsed? It’s a similar feeling with link-building… if all links on a site point to the same website that is selling something, potential customers might not trust the “recommendation”.
4) Do they recommend on-going services, or just a one-time outlay fairly often? SEO is an ever-evolving process, so most reputable companies will offer some sort of maintenance plan. You might want to dig a little deeper on companies that offer a one-time “foundation”, and then require a huge payment to “update” it every few months. Again, SEO is a slow and steady race, not a series of sprints to the #1 spot on a search engine.
As I said, I’m no expert, but I’ve had enough experience to know poor SEO when I see it. The “link-building” attempts by spamming my blog sparked my frustration once more, so I hope you will use the afore-mentioned guidelines to ensure that your company is not employing black hat SEO techniques that result in angry bloggers!
I talked about presentation attire in yesterday’s post, so today I want to talk about actually giving the presentation. What makes a great presentation, and how do you ensure that you give a stellar performance? Great presentation are engaging, informative, and provide clarity for an idea or strategy. Speakers should not distract from the message by fidgeting or using vocal fillers (those pesky “um” and “er” words), and visual aids should be clean, clear, and concise. Today’s post will address the speaker’s role in creating and giving a great presentation.
Stop fidgeting! When I was in high school, I wore rings on 4 fingers, and I played with them constantly. People were always commenting on the fact that I was fiddling with my rings, and that slight movement of my hands distracted my companions in nearly every conversation I had. My mom always worried that I would be messing with my rings during a singing performance, but that was the one place I managed to quell the incessant fidgeting. How did I do it? I kept my hands at my sides, loosely hanging straight down. I made a point to just leave them there, at all times. Granted, it turned out to be a little boring, but it helped me learn to keep my hands still while performing. Effective presenters use hand motions with purpose. I recommend letting your hands and arms remain at your sides, and practicing use of hand motions only to make a point. It might even be helpful to over-exaggerate until you are comfortable that your hands aren’t distracting, but strategically placed during a presentation. Practice not touching your clothes or accessories, but only touching either your other hand or a specific point in the air (for example, directing toward your visual aid).
Stop shifting listlessly! I mentioned wearing comfortable shoes to avoid shifting and moving aimlessly. To further prevent random movement, I suggest planting your feet firmly on the floor, about shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other. This forces you to move intentionally, as swaying or shifting is difficult in this stance. If your weight is balanced as it should be, it will take more effort to move it off balance, making your movements more intentional. I also recommend picking a path and a rhythm. For example, practice saying point number 1 to the middle of the room, turning to the left, walking 3 steps, and saying point number 2 to the left side of the room. Repeat this process back to the center, to the right of the room, and back to center. With enough practice, it will be more natural to move during your presentation.
Stop “presenting”! I’m always annoyed when people “act” like a presenter. It’s as if they woke up and decided to “play pretend” presenter today, just like we’d play house or high-school when we were younger. You don’t have to alter your voice to “sound like a presenter”. If you speak slowly and clearly, your message will be understood. Fake confidence is almost worse than no confidence, so “playing” enthusiastic presenter just looks cheesy. To avoid acting like a presenter, I don’t think you should over-practice. Don’t memorize a speech or read directly from note cards, but tell your colleagues about your idea in the way that you discussed it among your team. You know the information… you wrote it! You’re the expert, so practice flexibility within structure when presenting.
Stop using “vocal fillers”! I was taught that silence is better than “um”, so I do my best to weed out the vocal fillers during my presentation. You may not realize how often you use these types of words, including, “er”, “you know”, “ok”, “uh”, “soooo”, and the list goes on. It’s eye-opening to ask someone to count the use of these types of words during a presentation, and I highly recommend making that request during your practice sessions. If you need a moment to think, simply stand quietly until you are ready to speak again. It seems awkward at first, but it’s much better to let other process during the silence than annoying them with vocal fillers.
Public speaking is often cited as one of the most prevalent fears, but it can be overcome with practice. Using the afore-mentioned tips will help you become a confident, engaging presenter.