PepperMill June 2019

Tim’s Spinnin’ the Wheel

Summer is a good time to sit outside with a good book. How about one that might help you navigate business with a little extra wisdom?

It’s the summer version of Bookshelf Roulette! This is where I pick a few books and identify in 60 seconds or less something that I think is worth sharing. Any of these whet your appetite?

To conquer fear and worry, keep busy!
Dale Carnegie’s Scrapbook, edited by Dorothy Carnegie

I’ve taken the position that there is no harder task for adults than changing our behavior. We are geniuses at coming up with reasons to avoid change. We make excuses. We rationalize. We harbor beliefs that trigger all manner of denial and resistance. As a result, we continually fail at becoming the person we want to be.
Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith

Many of the retiring CEOs reflect in hindsight that cultural change was by far the hardest and yet the most impactful change they had instilled in the business. They frequently wish they had placed more attention on the culture earlier.
The CEO Next Door, by Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell (buy this for your favorite CEO)

Principle 5: Obey your instincts.
Don’t just trust your instincts—obey them. Your radar screen works perfectly. It’s the operator who is in question. An intelligence agent is sending you messages every day, all day. Tune in. Pay attention. Share these thoughts with others. What we label as illusion is the scent of something real coming close.

Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott

Life’s Great Mystery
One of life’s great mysteries is how the boy who wasn’t good enough to marry your daughter can be the father of the smartest grandchild in the world.

All About Them, by Bruce Turkel

See if you can pick one of these as your Business Book of the Summer.

Tim Padgett

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
—Groucho Marx

Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.
—Al Franken

Client Spotlight: Ciorba Group Rebrand

Ciorba Group delivers engineering solutions that add value to communities.

They have vast expertise and provide top notch service and results. What they didn’t have—until recently—was a brand identity that truly represented just how good they are. So, they tapped Pepper Group to rebrand the 90+ year-old company and help them stand out from the competition.

Pepper Group conducted extensive research in the form of discovery sessions with the client and interviews with customers and employees. We also evaluated competitors’ messaging and graphic identities. With this knowledge, we went to work crafting a new brand platform including a brand promise, pillars, core values and mission statement.

Over the next few months, we partnered closely with Ciorba Group on all aspects of the rebrand. This included the development of a new logo and graphic identity, as well as marketing materials like proposal and report covers, project cut sheets, resumes and letterhead. To bring the new brand identity to life in a big way, Pepper Group developed office signage and décor including high-impact lobby designs, core values posters and a mission statement decal. The bold new identity and signage were dramatically unveiled to the employees on May 1 and received an enthusiastic response.

Pepper Group continues to partner with Ciorba Group on bringing their new brand to life with additional collateral and office décor projects currently in the works. To learn more about Ciorba Group, visit

Heather Austin

The 3 Key Elements of Talent Brand Messaging—The Core of the Talent Marketing Framework™

The Talent Marketing Framework is a strategic guide to building a stronger talent brand—improving your company’s ability to attract and retain the best talent.

At the core of the framework is “Talent Brand Messaging.” This is the heart and soul of your company and serves as the linchpin for your talent marketing efforts. It’s generated through interviews, research and input from employees and leaders. It’s part current reality and part aspirational, but it must be all yours and truly unique to your organization. In some organizations they may be called different things, but whatever you call them, these are the key elements.

A Higher Purpose
Millennials especially—but all employees really—want their work to have meaning, but your organization doesn’t have to be set up around a social good in order to have a higher purpose. For example, Coplan & Crane is a personal injury firm in Oak Park. Far from the “In a Wreck, Need a Check?” type ads you might associate with their profession, they are a team that truly makes a difference for their clients, their community and each other. They help those who have lost rebuild their lives and they make the world a safer place in the process.

Core Values
Most companies have a set of core values, but often they’re so generic they’re pretty much useless. Here’s a simple test. If your company’s core values could be lifted and directly applied to nearly any other company out there, they’re not performing for you. Core values should find the tone and style that matches your firm and they should support the culture you want to create. Each one should have a short explanation that really clarifies what it means to your company. Even if you already have a set of core values you don’t want to change, they can likely be improved.

Your DNA
What kind of people work here? What gets us excited? How do we behave? What do we believe? You can also answer the question “Who aren’t we?” It’s amazing how once we immerse ourselves in the discovery process with a new client, this DNA becomes evident. Uncovering it and defining the most positive aspects energizes teams because they can start to see it all around them. When done correctly, it will reinforce the values and purpose, and tie in to the overall strategic vision of the organization.

With a powerful core in place, you can implement marketing and communications initiatives that will help you build a culture by design. Learn more and take a self-assessment of your own organization’s effectiveness in this area by reading about the Talent Marketing Framework.

George Couris

Writing Great Web Copy, The Easy Way

Sometimes a client asks us to design a website but “we’ll write the copy.”

After all, designing and coding takes expertise, but everyone can write good enough, right? But is good enough, good enough? Great copy attracts search engines, it intrigues, disrupts, and converts prospects into clients. Meanwhile, your website competes with dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of other websites. Is your copy good enough to compete?

Hiring an experienced copy and design team, like we have at the Pepper Group, makes that question an emphatic, “yes!” But whether you’re writing copy, or you’re hiring an outside agency, here are some tips to make your web copy effective.

Know who you are, and be who you are.
What does your business stand for? What is its personality? How can you communicate not just what you do, but how you want to be perceived? First, establish your voice, and then make sure everything in your website (and all of your non-website copy such as collateral and print) all sounds like it comes from the same company. Even one page or paragraph with a different tone of voice can confuse the reader.

Write for people, not robots
Great copy has personality. Attitude. It’s conversational, but still professional. You’re not writing a tech paper for school; you’re inviting people into your website, and asking them to stay and poke around. Make it worth their while with copy that they’ll enjoy spending time with.

Don’t write for yourself
Lots of writers fall in the trap of using jargon their prospects don’t use, or assuming readers know things they don’t. Write for the person who might not know anything (you can always include additional information, such as a white paper, for those who want to dig deeper).

Show how you’re different
Your company is not like everyone else’s. There is something you do better, different, unique. It could be the product, or the service, or the approach, or all of those. Find out what you are, and make sure your users understand that from your copy. Provide evidence of what makes you special.

Don’t fall in the keyword trap
You want your website to come up on search engines, but that doesn’t mean you need to repeat a keyword 1,000 times on your site. The site should, first and foremost, be readable. And then look for ways to expand SEO optimization not only in your copy but in your metatags, photo naming conventions and more.

Write in the active voice.
Write “Order products on our website,” and not “Products can be ordered on our website.” Write, “We will solve that problem” and not “That problem will be solved by us.” An active voice propels you; a passive voice sounds weak.

Talk to the reader, not to everyone.
Skilled copywriters don’t write for masses, they picture one person, a singular reader, using words like “you” and “your” to draw him or her, in. Imagine a conversation; how can you engage the stranger standing next to you?

Close the deal.
Make sure the user knows what to do next. A concise, direct, call-to-action can propel your prospect to action; without that CTA, the user might go away and never come back. But don’t just rely on the same “read more” button. After a while, those links become invisible. Think outside the box with your language.

If you can do all that, congrats. I’m betting you’re converting your website visitors to customers. In fact, we might even hire you (we’re a fun group to work with). If you can’t write copy that does all the above or are uncertain how to … we’re ready to help.

Allan Woodrow


YouTubin’: Body Language

I see what you're feeling

Learning about someone without them saying a word is a fascinating study. This month’s YouTube video gives some great insights into body language from former FBI agent and body language expert Joe Navarro. With decades of experience, Joe points out some clever ways to observe the people you interact with and know whether they’re being honest with you, as well as ways to connect with them through non-verbal communication.

Got some YouTube videos of your own you’d like to share? Just send them my way!

Todd Underwood