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MIT Sloan Management Review
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Health care is an industry where innovation predominates and demands for greater accountability have intensified. In this enormous, complex, and highly regulated sector, there is much to measure to improve patient outcomes, lower costs, and maintain trust. Importantly, concerns over patient privacy increasingly dominate discussions about using first-party data. Organizations increasingly confront the challenge of keeping their key performance indicators (KPIs) from becoming unwieldy and unmanageable. Dr. John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, hints at the challenge when he observes that in a complex organization like Beth Israel — comprising tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, IT staff, and other employees, not to mention patients — KPIs vary from situation to situation. “For me, there may be four or five what I’ll call high-level key performance indicators,” he says. “But for the IT operation, there are over a hundred.” That kind of misaligned and conflicted KPI overflow is not sustainable.

This KPI overload — along with a tendency to rely on intuitive decision-making — may explain why health care companies have lower levels of engagement with machine learning (ML) than other industries we surveyed. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Machine Learning Across Industries: Belief, Investment, and Incentives


The research and analysis for this report was conducted under the direction of the authors as part of an MIT Sloan Management Review research initiative, sponsored by Google, in collaboration with Think with Google.

A Reliance on Intuition

In the winter of 2018, we surveyed 1,600 senior North American marketing executives and managers about their use of KPIs and the role of ML in their marketing activities; 425 were from the health care sector. Sixty-two percent of health care respondents say that their organizations are investing in new skills or training to make marketing more effective in using automation and ML; 63% of respondents in the overall sample responded this way. Seventy-two percent of health care respondents believe that their current functional (marketing-specific) KPIs could be better achieved with greater investment in automation and ML. In the overall sample, that figure was 74%. When asked to describe the proficiency of their organization’s marketing function in data-driven decision-making, 39% of health care respondents said they were more intuitive, while 29% said they were more data-driven (the remaining 32% claimed to be equally intuitive and data-driven).

About the Research

This report explores some of the key findings from the authors’ 2018 research study of KPIs and machine learning in today’s corporate landscape. The research, which involved a survey of 4,700 executives and managers (more than 1,600 in marketing) and interviews with more than a dozen corporate leaders and academics, has far-reaching implications for modern businesses. We focused our analysis for this industry brief on 425 marketing executives in the health care industry.

The study strongly suggests that data-driven organizations that align incentives, KPIs, and machine-learning capabilities have distinct advantages over those that move too slowly to develop their data capabilities. For business leaders serious about succeeding in digital market environments, these shifts offer a clear and urgent call to action.

To date, machine learning remains a point-solution approach rather than a comprehensive health care platform. Within the marketing function, little consensus exists among health care executives around which KPIs matter most for the industry, their organizations, and individual contributors.

This will surely change: In particular, the uncertain failures and successes of health care reform make a fundamental rethink of KPIs both inevitable and necessary. As in other industries, ML will drive that transformation. Health care marketers who recognize the opportunity to narrow their KPIs and to use KPIs as data sources for ML algorithms will be at an advantage, and health care companies already invested in ML will be poised to lead the way.

While health care is, overall, a more intuitive industry with less investment in ML, those companies that are committed to ML are deploying their investments in advantageous ways. For instance, they are significantly more likely to report that they can drill down to see the underlying data aggregated into their KPI components. Of health care companies investing in ML, 82% have this drill-down capacity, compared with only 58% of companies that are not investing.

With greater technological sophistication, however, comes the danger of “KPI creep” brought on by the proliferation of data: As one finds more things to measure, one risks being distracted by information that isn’t critical to organization strategy. When asked how many KPIs they directly manage, 44% of health care executives whose enterprises are investing in ML reported overseeing six or more. In contrast, of executives whose companies are not investing in ML, only 33% oversee as many KPIs. While other factors might be at play here, this data suggests that increased technological sophistication invites more opportunities to measure — an inclination that can work against the need to clearly align KPIs with enterprise goals.

Machine learning is an artificial intelligence discipline geared toward the technological development of human knowledge. Machine learning allows computers to handle new situations via analysis, self-training, observation, and experience.i

Transition to Data-Driven Decision-Making

Despite greater access to greater volumes and variety of data, health care marketers remain overreliant on intuition to make decisions. The transition to data-savvy decision-making is a basic but essential step. Greater use of ML and more sophisticated data-driven outreach to patients and other stakeholders are essential moves for the industry’s future health. There are no silver bullets here. Developing the will to innovate around data as an asset is crucial. This requires a cultural transformation, not just regulatory reform.

Glenn Thomas, CMO of GE Healthcare, captures the potential: “Ultimately, we want to be massively relevant to our customer and create maximum value for that customer,” he says. “And there can be a tyranny of KPIs that drive you toward the average and to lose sight of the individual customer impact. I think that we’re moving toward a world where the availability of data, and the ability to manipulate and analyze that data, could move us toward the other direction: individual customer KPIs.” Health care marketers who are able to identify a few select KPI outcomes connected to these personalized offerings will have a distinct position, if not a distinct advantage, in their competitive environment.

Privacy concerns among consumers and regulatory limits on what can be shared and with whom will continue to pose key challenges, however. For instance, the desire to protect personal medical record privacy might conflict with the information sharing essential for predictive health care diagnostics.

In many large health care organizations, treating patients in a more holistic way requires internal partnerships, technological improvements, and data sharing between functions. Wider internal use of patient data increases the importance of data governance — how data is collected and used, what it means, and how it is shared. As marketers implement ML approaches to connect with patients and other stakeholders, they will need to be more aware of, and potentially contribute to, their organization’s data governance policies and practices. Data governance itself may well become part of the health care KPI portfolio.

As enterprises take these steps, it will be important to maintain focus on measuring what’s meaningful. Strengthening the connection between KPI parsimony and organizational performance among leaders and marketers is critical to their long-term success.

HBR.org
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The ability to collect and exploit consumers’ personal data has long been a source of competitive advantage in the digital economy. It is their control and use of this data that has enabled the likes of Google, Amazon, Alibaba, and Facebook to dominate online markets.

But consumers are increasingly concerned about the vulnerability that comes with surrendering data. A growing number of cyberattacks — the 2017 hacking of credit watch company Experian being a case in point, not to mention the likely interference by Russian government sponsored hackers in the 2016 US Presidential elections — have triggered something of a “techlash”.

Even without these scandals, it is likely that sooner or later every netizen will have suffered at some point from a bad data experience: from their credit card number being stolen, to their account getting hacked, or their personal details getting exposed; from suffering embarrassment from an inappropriate ad while at work, to realizing that their favorite airline is charging them more than they charge others for the same flight.

The most practical consequence of the concerns generated by data hacking has been the imposition of more stringent privacy regulation, of which the most obvious example is the European Union’s new GDPR. We can certainly expect this trend to continue around the world. And digital natives are likely to become more rather than less sensitive to the value of their data.

The obvious consequence from these trends is that the big tech firms will find it increasingly difficult to legally use the personal data they collect.  At the same time, that data can be a toxic asset as it is hard to keep safe and coveted by many. A company that collects more data than it really needs is unnecessarily generating more risk because each personal datum is the object of a potential leak or lawsuit.  And at least some of the personal data that companies gather generates little or no value for them — data that is inaccurate, out of date, unlawful, or simply irrelevant.

In this environment online merchants will have to find ways to do more with less data — whether through smarter application of analytics or because they introduce a business model that enables them to offer their services without collecting sensitive data.  But those changes do not really resolve the underlying challenge: how can consumers protect their digitized data?  Prior to the digital age, that data was kept on paper which meant it could be protected by physical means and was relatively difficult to share. Today, the IT skills needed to protect digitized data are beyond most consumers and even most of the traditional custodians of data.

This points to a business opportunity.  But whose?  One obvious possibility is that a few big tech companies — such as Apple, or maybe someone new — could become consumers’ data guardians.  Amazon, for instance, could offer an option on Prime in which it manages users’ personal data for them, liaising with other companies and platforms but remaining in control of the data.    There are problems with this approach.  If the company is new, users might be unwilling to give up their most sensitive information to an organization that has still to prove its trustworthiness. That would be less of a risk for a household name like Amazon, but in that instance, users might rightly hesitate to give an already hugely powerful digital corporation even more power over them.

Another option that consumers might take would be to follow the approach being explored by Solid, a project led by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.  Solid proposes that users store their personal data in virtual ‘pods’ that work like secure USBs through which users can share their data with whomever they want. It is uncertain whether the project will be able to garner enough support and resources to make it workable, widely available, and affordable. Users can store their pod with Solid — in which case we bump again into questions of trust and power — or keep it themselves. But if consumers keep the data themselves, that may not be as safe as it should be—a USB, physical or virtual, can easily get lost or stolen. It would be like keeping your money under your mattress.

This analogy brings me to perhaps the most likely scenario.  Maybe the best-suited institutions to manage digital data are banks. In a sense, banks are already data guardians. After all, most of the money in circulation is virtual, nothing but data. They also have a long history of being at the forefront of security methods, from the development of the vault to multi-factor authentication. Moreover, banks have experience in safeguarding privacy through their commitment to confidentiality. Finally, banks tend to have more local and personal relationships with their clients in ways that might make users feel safer than trusting their data to an international corporation. And if you’re unhappy with one bank, you can always switch to another. Banks’ business model and their experience give them a comparative advantage over other businesses to become our personal data guardians.

Of course, banks are far from perfect.  They are notoriously conservative, which may make them slower to roll out necessary updates to the technology involved. And regulatory hurdles might make it hard for them to expand their services. But given that governments have an interest in making sure their citizens can keep their personal data safe, and that banks may need to innovate and transform themselves in order to outlive fintech competition, these possible obstacles do not seem insurmountable. Maybe someday in the not so distant future we will keep our data where we keep our money.

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Benjamin Franklin knew he was smart — smarter than most of his peers — but he was also intelligent enough to understand that he couldn’t be right about everything. That’s why he said that whenever he was about to make an argument, he would open with something along the lines of, “I could be wrong, but…” Saying this put people at ease and helped them to take disagreements less personally. But it also helped him to psychologically prime himself to be open to new ideas.

History shows that we tend to choose political and business leaders who are stoic, predictable, and unflinching, but research indicates that the leadership we need is characterized by the opposite: creativity and flexibility. We need people who can be like Franklin — that is, smart and strong-willed enough to persuade people to do great things, but flexible enough to think differently, admit when they’re wrong, and adapt to dynamic conditions. Changing our methods and minds is hard, but it’s important in an era where threats of disruption are always on the horizon. In popular culture, we might call this kind of cognitive flexibility, “open-mindedness.” And with growing divisions in society, the survival of our businesses and communities may very well depend on our leaders having that flexibility — from Congress to the C-Suite.

Unfortunately, for decades academics have argued in circles about the definition of open-mindedness, and what might make a person become less or more open-minded, in part because there’s been no reliable way to measure these things. Recently, however, psychologists have given us a better way to think about open-mindedness — and quantify it.

The breakthrough happened when researchers started playing with a concept from religion called “intellectual humility.” Philosophers had been studying why some people stubbornly cling to spiritual beliefs even when presented with evidence that they should abandon them, and why others will instead quickly adopt new beliefs. Intellectual humility, the philosophers said, is the virtue that sits between those two excesses; it’s the willingness to change, plus the wisdom to know when you shouldn’t.

A few years ago, scientists from various universities started porting this idea into the realm of everyday psychology. Then in 2016, professors from Pepperdine University broke the concept of intellectual humility down into four components and published an assessment to measure them:

Having respect for other viewpoints Not being intellectually overconfident Separating one’s ego from one’s intellect Willingness to revise one’s own viewpoint

An intellectually humble person will score high on all of these counts. But by breaking it down like this, the Pepperdine professors came up with a clever way to help pinpoint what gets in the way when we’re not acting very open-minded. (I, for example, scored low on separating my ego from my intellect — ouch!)

Still, philosophers focused on these concepts think there is one more piece to the puzzle. “I’m fussy about this,” explains Jason Baehr of Loyola Marymount University. He defines open-mindedness as the characteristic of being “willing and within limits able to transcend a default cognitive standpoint in order to take up seriously the merits of a distinct cognitive standpoint.” His point is that you can be intellectual humble (open to changing your mind about things), but if you’re never curious enough to other viewpoints, you aren’t really that open-minded.

There is however, Dr. Baehr points out, a trait from the time-tested Big 5 Personality Assessment that helps fill in that gap. The trait is “openness to experience,” or a willingness to try new things or take in new information. If openness to experience means you’re willing to try pickle-flavored ice cream, intellectual humility means you’re willing to admit you like it, even if you initially thought you wouldn’t. A person who scores high on both of these will be likely to listen to people, no matter who they are, and have a kind of Ben Franklin-like cognitive flexibility after listening.

For my recent book, Dream Teams, I combined these two assessments — the Pepperdine Intellectual Humility test and the Big 5 Openness to Experience test — and conducted a series of studies of thousands of American workers with it to find correlations between open-minded people and the way they live and work.  You can take that assessment here. The results indicated that most people overestimate themselves: 95 percent of people rated themselves as more open-minded than average, which, of course, cannot be true! But this suggests that most leaders don’t know how much of a blind spot intellectual humility is in their work.

My studies showed that certain activities generally correlate with higher intellectual humility across the board. Traveling a lot — or, even better, living for extended periods in foreign cultures — tends to make us more willing to revise our viewpoints. After all, if we know that it is perfectly valid to live a different way than we do, it makes sense that our brains would be better at accepting new approaches to problems at work. This aligns with recent research on the neuroscience of how storytelling helps us build empathy for other people. (Read neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s HBR article on this fascinating subject here.) Fiction readers tend to score higher in intellectual humility, perhaps because their brains are a little bit better trained to seek out stories that vary from their own, and see characters’ experiences and opinions as potentially valid. Preliminary research is also showing us that practicing mindfulness meditation, learning about the ins and outs of your own ego using a framework like the Enneagram, and learning about Moral Foundations Theory through programs like Open Mind Platform can each help us operate with more intellectual humility.

There’s a lot more work to be done exploring ways to increase our intellectual humility — including research on how to definitively increase scores on each of the factors — but in the meantime, Ben Franklin demonstrated at least one hack we can all use right away: Because he wanted to learn and grow, he worked to deflate his own intellectual confidence. That trick of saying, “I could be wrong, but…” wasn’t just a way to get his conversational opponents to be less defensive; it was also a way of forcing himself to be open to changing his mind. After all, if someone countered his argument and won, he could still say, “See! I was right! I said, ‘I could be wrong,’ and I was!”

Herminia Ibarra, a professor at the London Business School, argues that job transitions — even exciting ones that you’ve chosen — can come with all kinds of unexpected emotions. Going from a job that is known and helped define your identity to a new position brings all kinds of challenges. Ibarra says that it’s important to recognize how these changes are affecting you but to keep moving forward and even take the opportunity to reinvent yourself in your new role.

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How to Tackle Legal Issues (Without Going Broke) When You Run a Small Business

Setting up a business in any industry requires a great deal of research and a significant investment of time and money in order to improve the chances of survival.

Among a range of problems that startups and other small businesses face, legal issues pose a distinct challenge. Unlike large enterprises with a team of lawyers and big budgets, entrepreneurs must be aware of the possible legal issues they face for practically every business decision they make and how to best tackle any legal issues that arise all within a restrictive budget. 

The most common legal issues and how to tackle them

Some of the most common legal issues small businesses face include, but are not limited to, employee contracts, tax handling, customer legal action, property matters, expansion, mergers and restructuring of the business.

While it is important that these issues are tackled carefully, small businesses can't always afford the legal costs of attorneys. Below are five ways small business owners can safely and cost effectively deal with legal issues.

1. Gain a basic knowledge of laws and regulations.

Whether you hire an attorney or not, you must ensure that you have the basic knowledge of the laws that exist in your country and in your industry. These laws encompass hiring and employment, finance, marketing and insurance, intellectual property or expansion. 

If you are aware to some extent of these various issues, a minor legal issue that arises may not lead to severe consequences. However, it is still helpful (and advised) that you seek legal guidance, because laws are often complicated to grasp and misinterpretation can have significant long-term effects. 

2. Seek legal funding.

Hiring a legal advisor or attorney is still the safest way to ensure you get the legal representation your business requires. However, lawyers are not cheap, and many small businesses cannot always afford adequate counsel, at least through traditional financial sources. Legal funding is currently not a very common way of financing, but the demand is growing. 

Balanced Bridge has provided a guide that explains how legal funding works. In simple terms, it is a form of specialty finance used by companies and law firms involved in commercial or consumer litigation. Payment is generally only required upon successful outcome to the litigation, making it a helpful cash flow option. 

3. Hire a lawyer with less experience.

The attorneys and lawyers working with multinational organizations have practiced law for many years and have a very strong knowledge of legal matters. If your business is small and does not require such a level of expertise, consider speaking with a lawyer with slightly less experience. Lawyers who have been practicing for a couple of years are looking for opportunities to practice more, and they do not demand a very high fee.

4. Seek legal advice regularly. 

In order to save yourself from major legal issues that could cost a fortune in legal fees, allocate part of your returns or budget to legal counsel. Whether it's every month or every few months, discuss current operations and future plans with an attorney. He or she will counsel you to make decisions that are in line with the law, and the lawyer only charges their consultancy fee, which might be a more affordable option. 

Try to hire an advisor according to previous point's suggestion so that you can fulfill your basic legal needs without overspending. Stick to one attorney if possible, because the more they understand your business structure, the better they are able to offer legal advice. Switching attorneys to save a small amount of money can be an inefficient move and may not benefit your business. 

5. Use personal references.

Finally, use personal connections to seek out a legal expert who can offer advice on basic entrepreneurial matters. For instance, you may have friends or know business associates who have studied law, so you can always talk to them about basic legal issues and leverage their expertise. 

Mobile Marketing: A Recipe for Success in a Mobile-First World

Running a business is like cooking a perfect dish: All the right ingredients have to be laid out in the right order. You have to have a good product or service, an address (physical or virtual) where you operate, well-laid-out logistics, payment methodologies in place, etc. 

But what about your marketing strategy? How do you get the right people to your doorstep? In an interconnected world flooded with brands and their content, how do you remain relevant? 

It's no simple task. The race to relevance has to be fueled by a desire to succeed and, sometimes, reinvent or revisit the wheel.

Before we dive into this topic, I would like to narrow the scope to one particular vehicle: the smartphone. We can't even imagine being disconnected from our mobile devices in this day and age – which means that, as a business owner looking to build a successful brand, you can't afford not to leverage mobile as a communications and marketing platform. 

Building up your basics

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a startup. The brand lead was struggling to define the right digital marketing strategy to maximize visibility to her customers. I asked her a simple question: "Can you define who your customers are?" She said the company was looking to onboard customers who have no digital footprint, which was why she needed a sound digital marketing strategy to acquire them. 

Next, I asked her, "In an Asian country with an internet penetration of around 18 to 20 percent, do you think it's a wise strategy to do a series of online campaigns to appeal to an offline customer?" 

Fortunately, she re-evaluated her plans and decided to do a little more digging to build up her brand's basics. This will pan out into a much better marketing strategy, one based on facts and not just gut feeling – a strategy where going digital is a journey, not a destination. 

 

Editor's note: Looking for online marketing services for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

 

 

The business of content

A good marketing strategy is nothing without good content to back it up. If we talked about the biggest content company out there, you would imagine that to be Netflix, right? The company has revolutionized the streaming content industry and evolved how we consume entertainment. 

Netflix is in the business of content, and it's doing amazing work. But it isn't the only model that relies on content. No brand can do well nowadays if it doesn't have the right content mix in its arsenal.

The point here is to write your story right. I've had the pleasure of working with firms that have launched region-first tech. We always made sure that the best-in-breed technology we launched had an even greater pitch. In the business of being the best, we always banked on a story that could grab consumers' and businesses' attention and help us make partnerships and inroads that mattered. 

Now, a good story is only as good as the medium it employs to get the message across. Netflix amplified its brand story through its availability; choosing to be where its customers are has taken the brand global. But since our objective today is to explore the handheld medium and how mobile is prime real estate, let's take this story further. 

The drive to mobile

When was the last time you sat down and watched television on cable? With the world moving toward much faster internet options and massive content services available across all devices, people are consuming content very differently. 

The number of smartphone users in the world is expected to pass 5 billion by 2019. These staggering numbers showcase just how much potential these digital screens hold for businesses looking to connect with their current and future consumers. 

However, not all mobile devices are smart or have access to an internet connection. To reach your market segment, you have to understand the mobile marketing medium that works for you right now. 

Again, the idea is contextually relevant messaging. For instance, do you feel your audience would benefit from in-app advertising, social media banners or proximity-based mobile marketing alerts? You need to understand what you're selling and who you're selling it to. Sometimes the best way to connect with people is simple, tried and tested, and right in front of you. 

Playing their turf

We have a plethora of tools and avenues to reach customers, including social media, search engine marketing, sponsored content and digital ads. Each one of these mediums offers its own benefit that helps marketers achieve their business goals. 

Reach, being one of the most important goals in marketing, is highly stressed in discussion of any advertising medium, but it doesn't end there. Your communications shouldn't be a one-way street of product videos, funny ads and sale banners. The mix of channels you use to reach your audience has to create interactions that keep you top of mind and customers engaged. 

When we talk about mobile, an often-overlooked medium is SMS (text message) marketing. Now, we've all heard that SMS marketing is old or doesn't work anymore, but it has the potential to really make the difference in reaching your audience. 

Here are four reasons why SMS marketing can enhance your marketing campaigns, boosting results across the board:

1. Over 5 billion people in the world have access to a cell phone. That's a huge number of people to whom you can have a direct line.
2. Text messages have an open rate of 99 percent. Compare that with email, whose 20-30 percent open rate is considered great. In this regard, SMS blows everything else out of the water. 
3. Of these messages, 90 percent are read within five seconds on average.
4. SMS also boasts a 45 percent response rate, significantly higher than email's 8 percent.

SMS marketing presents an effective opportunity to connect with your audience, make sure you've communicated your story properly, and engage the audience to reinforce your message.

With SMS marketing, businesses can boost these other channels for their brand:

Website: A simple shortened link in a text message can increase your page visits. With modern tracking techniques, you can see how effective your SMS campaign is.  In-store: Stores and retailers can really get the word out and attract additional footfall with SMS marketing.  Email: A simple SMS campaign to remind consumers about your promotional newsletters can yield higher open rates and conversions for your email campaigns.  Direct marketing: 1 in 5 email campaigns from commercial addresses end up in the junk folder, but SMS marketing offers the personal touch to engage customers directly if used properly. Summing up

Businesses that create a clear and relatable story around their brands, craft the necessary content, and use the proper channel mix to get it to their customers reach the top of the pile. The ecosystem you create for your brand needs the strong foundations of a relatable identity and effective communication channels. 

In the end, business is understanding the gaps that exist between supply and demand. Craft a communication strategy that lets people see the relevance of your brand in their lives. Happy selling! 

Intellectual Property Infringement: What Real Business Owners Need to Know

Intellectual property infringement is a hot topic among small business owners. Throughout the active Business.com community lots of entrepreneurs discuss strategies to avoid violating intellectual property laws and how to protect their own businesses by using such laws. To make the topic a little clearer we created this FAQ Guide to intellectual property infringement, inspired by questions from the Business.com community.

What is covered under the category of intellectual property?

Intellectual property can be a written work, a work of art, a discovery, invention, logo or anything else that can be protected by patents, trademarks and copyrights. To learn more about protecting your intellectual property check out our articles on patent filing FAQs and how to apply for a copyright online. For information on filling for a trademark, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website.

How can I seek out partnerships and collaborative opportunities without someone ripping off my idea?

First and foremost, you should consult with a lawyer. Do not leave anything to handshake deals or verbal promises. There are several ways to protect your business ideas during the collaboration phase, including patents, provisional patents, trademarks and non-disclosure agreements.

If you're outsourcing production of a product, especially overseas, take extra precautions. In addition to doing heavy duty research on the legitimacy of the production company, consult with a lawyer who specializes in helping protect American companies that produce overseas.

What is a Confidential Disclosure Agreement?

A Confidential Disclosure Agreement (CDA) may also be called a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or simply a Confidentiality Agreement (CA). A CDA is a contract between different parties who wish to share information with each other but want to restrict the sharing of such information to a specific group of people or organizations.

How can I get investors to sign a Confidential Disclosure Agreement?

There's a lot of buzz about CDAs in the Business.com community. One common question is how to get investors to sign a CDA, but perhaps a better question would be whether you should ask investors to sign a CDA in the first place.

If you are seeking investment from legitimate investors and established VCs you may face some backlash if you ask them to sign a CDA before even hearing your pitch. Active investors hear lots of pitches and asking for a CDA can be a bit like asking someone for a prenup on the first date; it implies not only that you think your idea is better than anything they've ever heard, but also that they might be people who would steal your idea. Do your homework on your investors before you get to the pitch, make sure there are no potential conflicts of interest, and when in doubt ask your attorney for their opinion.

Am I violating copyright laws by quoting an existing work?

If you're working on producing a written work and you want to include quotations or passages from other copyrighted pieces you are not necessarily violating copyright laws, but there are parameters. The right to quote is what allows individuals to incorporate quotations within their work, however to do so legally the quotations cannot make up the majority of the work; there still has to be original content that brings value to the work. Additionally, any quotations you include must be properly cited.

There's also something called fair use law, which is what allows creators to produce parodies, criticisms, and other derivative works without asking for permission from the original creator. It should be noted, though, that including images or audio clips as well as written words is a completely different ball game from exclusively using quotations. If you're at all concerned about infringing on a copyright consult a copyright lawyer before you shop your work around to publishers. 

3 Surefire Strategies to Help You Stand Out from the Competition

Business differentiation is what gives your brand the upper hand; it’s how you distinguish yourself from your competitors in a way that piques interest and keeps customers happy.

It’s important to know how to differentiate yourself from your competitors so that your brand stands out from all the rest in a positive way. If you find a way to distinguish your business from the next one that does something similar, you’re already on track for better success.

Here are a few key ways to stand out and be unlike all the rest.

1. Have unbeatable customer service

Fifty-two percent of marketers expect that customer service budgets will either decrease or stay the same in 2018, according to Gartner. This is a problem because it’s also expected that as time goes on, the correlation between customer service to a business’s success will only grow stronger. So the budgets for service should continue to go up as well.

How does this help you stand out from the crowd? Because you can put the focus of your company on your competitors’ pain points by having the best customer service possible. Do what the rest aren’t and attack the problems of your customers quickly and calmly.

Take customer feedback seriously. Treat each customer like their experience is a unique one; act like they’re your most important buyer. If you make it easier for your customers to do business with, you stand a foot taller than your competition.

Eighty percent of consumers are willing to spend more on a company if it means a better service experience, so why wouldn’t you want to make your business more customer-based?

You can check social media to see what people like and dislike about your brand, and what can be improved for a more positive overall experience. Socials have a great impact on how businesses fare, and a couple bad reviews could mean significantly less revenue.

2. Niche down

You can’t be the best at everything, and you shouldn’t want to be. It’s a waste of time. There’s no possible way you’ll be able to appeal to every single person out there. Everyone has different interests, needs, and reasons that drive them to buy. It’s not cost-effective to be so general in your approach that people are confused about your message.

Instead, you should niche down. Be the expert in a sea of generics.

Your niche market gives you the opportunity to market how your brand is different -- and better -- than your competitors. Do more for your customers than they expect from you. Go above and beyond to make sure their needs are met and that they’re happy.

To do this, identify what your customers need from you and what matters most to them. Whether that’s how quickly an issue gets resolved, a flexible return and exchange policy, or friendly engagement with employees, knowing these things will improve your ROI and get you positive reviews. The more emphasis you put on what you excel at, the happier your customers will be.

3. Add personal touch

Creating an emotional connection through your brand is critical to stand out. For every happy consumer, there are nine referrals that come out of it. That’s a lot of extra business.

It’s even better if you put extra focus on making your existing customers happy. It’s 14 times more likely that you’ll sell to an existing customer than a new one. They already have experience with your products and trust you as a brand, so it’s easier to convince them to buy. This emphasizes the importance of building a relationship with long-time customers because they can easily become the bulk of your profits.

You can do this by making their buying experience simpler, knowing what they need and are looking for, and making your brand’s message catered to them. Personalizing any aspect of your business is a step in the right direction to give your customers what they want.

There are many ways you can choose to be different from everyone else in the business world. These few should help you get started on a few things that really matter: your customers’ experiences, how you brand yourself, and personalization. If you go the extra mile to ensure your consumers are happy, it’ll do your business a whole lot of good.

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