Archive for October, 2008

Great piece in the Telegraph about visionary inventor/entrepreneur Dean Kamen last week (hat tip to PSFK).

Aside from the fact that the article is filled with fascinating information about the amazing work Kamen’s company is working on (designing cybernetic limbs for amputees, high performance electric cars, water filtration units for 3rd world countries, etc.), the article also gives us a glimpse into the psyche of a particular breed among movers and shakers in the business world: the natural entrepreneur:

Kamen is almost entirely self-taught, and technically never even graduated from high school. At home in his parents’ basement, Kamen was tinkering with transistorised electronics. At 16, he produced a redesigned audiovisual system for the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan, and afterwards went into business, making automated lightshows and presentations. Before he left high school, he was earning $60,000 a year; every penny he made, he spent on new equipment; when all his friends went to Woodstock in 1969, he spent the weekend alone in the basement, finishing an order. But Kamen wanted to do something more, something that would change people’s lives for the better: ‘I knew that I didn’t want to make stupid, superfluous things,’ he says. ‘I wanted to make important things.’

He had his chance when his elder brother, a medical student at Harvard, complained of the need to administer automatically measured doses of intravenous drugs to hospital patients. As a result, Kamen experimented with off-the-shelf components, devised the world’s first drug-infusion pump – and formed a company to manufacture it. To meet demand, he needed more equipment, and a bigger workshop, so he hired an architect and a bulldozer, and surprised his parents by sending them on a Caribbean cruise. In their absence he had the house jacked up, the basement expanded into the backyard, filled with machinery so heavy it had to be lowered in by crane, and then covered with a new patio in time for his parents’ return. He carried on paying college tuition for five years, but in the end dropped out without graduating. In the years that followed, he continued to work on advances in medical technology, and produced a portable insulin pump for diabetics. In 1982, he sold the company he had developed, Autosyringe, for about $30 million; he was 30 years old. Shortly afterwards, he created Deka, named for the first letters of ‘Dean Kamen’, and offered the company’s services as inventors for hire.

One of the questions that has tugged at me these last few years has been this: What separates the majority of people from entrepreneurs? Or looking at it from another angle: what makes entrepreneurs different from everyone else?

I am not talking about entrepreneurial facilitators like access to capital (Daddy’s millions allow you to invest in real estate) or family connections (Daddy and Uncle Ted rub elbows with senators and CEOs). There are plenty of people like this in the business world, and while many are successful in their ventures, I would hardly call most of them true entrepreneurs.

Likewise, people driven to own their own businesses aren’t necessarily entrepreneurs either. Franchise owners, for example, work hard and can become extremely successful, but since they BUY into someone else’s business, fail to display two crucial characteristics of true entrepreneurial behavior: Innovation and vision. Franchisees are bound to follow corporate directives. From purchasing to trade dress, everything has already been outlined for them. This form of business ownership may be a form of entrepreneurship, but not in the same way that Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Loic Lemeur, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Dean Kamen define the term.

I guess that what I am trying to get at is this: A certain (and very small) percentage of people seem to have what I would call the innovative entrepreneurial gene: While other children construct by-the-numbers baking soda volcanoes or strung-up 3D models of the solar system as their 6th grade science fair project, these special kids instead show up with functional prototypes of completely original products – from energy efficient HC systems to clever medical devices they were inspired to develop for an ailing grandparent. These kids seem to be wired differently from the rest of the class. Just like some children seem to have a natural ability when it comes to music, math, chemistry or writing poetry, these future millionaires seem to have both a natural ability to generate brilliant ideas and and an inner drive to turn them into viable products or solutions.

There has to be an explanation behind what drives a 16 year old kid (Kamen) to start his own company from his parents’ basement, invest every bit of time and money into his work, and eventually send his parents on a cruise so he can hire highly specialized contractors to turn their basement into a giant underground laboratory. There is definitely something different going on there.

Kamen might be an extreme case, sure, but the principle is the same. Until a few years ago, most people I knew had an employee mindset: Go to school, get the right degree, get a job, work hard, move up the ladder, get your two weeks of vacation per year, contribute to your 401K, maybe move around every few years, and eventually retire. More recently though, I have been hanging out with people who instead decided to start their own businesses early on – in many cases right out of college – because… well, it was in their blood. These folks weren’t necessarily backed by family money or influence. They started out just like Kamen, working out of makeshift basement offices, small apartments or quiet coffee shop corners, landing clients, working hard, plugging away at their ideas until they worked well enough to necessitate getting larger digs, hiring more people, investing in new equipment, etc. They are indeed a very different breed.

In the most extreme cases, these are the types of people behind game-changing juggernauts like Napster, Google, Ning, Twitter, Flickr, Apple, Microsoft, Ford, McDonald’s, Nike, Starbucks, Pixar, Michelin and eBay, to name but a few. On a smaller scale (at least for now, and relatively speaking), they are the folks behind such companies as Six Apart, Orange Coat, Cervelo, Liquid Highway and Hybrid: Some may be inventors, designers or engineers while others may just be business-savvy visionaries who tapped into an idea they were passionate about early on and figured out a way to turn it into something valuable, adaptable, lucrative, and remarkable in some way.

These are folks who tend to reject common conventions in favor of a more personal vision of how things should be. They are fiercely independent, extremely focused on their work, amazingly creative (although not necessarily in the artistic sense), intellectually curious and although patient, they are driven by a sense of urgency when it comes to turning their ideas into reality. While by no means extraordinary, these traits are not commonly found together in the majority of people. This is what sets entrepreneurs apart from everyone else. (For more on common traits of entrepreneurs, go here, here, here, here and here. Fascinating stuff.)

I can’t help but think that there must be some kind of entrepreneurial gene out there – or perhaps a combination of genes that together create the ideal entrepreneurial personality: Intellectual curiosity, ingeniousness, wicked analytical skills, confidence, ambition, optimism, charisma, inspiration, discipline, a jedi-like technical aptitude, etc. Sure, nature and nurture are never completely disjointed, but in this case, we are talking almost exclusively about nature, aren’t we? (It would seem that nurture acts more as a facilitator in the sense that an environment that encourages an entrepreneurial child to pursue his/her interests will help them launch their companies earlier in life, while an environment which discourages entrepreneurial endeavors because of economic, political or ideological reasons may create some unfortunate delays.)

So parents, if your child is putting together business plans, strategic briefs or likes to build crazy inventions out of old car parts and discarded computer circuits, don’t blow them off. Encourage them to pursue their ideas and connect with universities, research labs, and yeah, even venture capitalists. Don’t ever push them, but support them every step of the way. Perhaps they won’t get to be the high school football stars or prom queens you wanted them to be, maybe they won’t get to go to law school or medical school either… but those aren’t necessarily bad things. Chances are, your kid’s idea will change the world. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow… maybe it won’t even be this idea or the next, or the one after that, but someday he or she is going to create something big. Something important. Something that will save lives or reduce pollution or help us reach new worlds or improve our quality of life somehow. Something that will also hopefully bring them tremendous wealth and happiness. Weigh that against the other option: Following the common path of unnecessarily getting on someone else’s payroll and never even coming close to reaching their full potential.

So what do you guys think? Could there be an entrepreneurial gene (or ideal combination of genes)? Are entrepreneurs truly wired differently than the majority of their human counterparts? Is this truly an example of nature eclipsing nurture? Or are entrepreneurs made rather than born? What has been your experience?

The comment section is open as is the voting in today’s poll (below). Let me know what you think.

Have a great day, everyone!

image by Carlye Calvin, ©UCAR

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Okay, so the question today is: If I were to write a horror novel or movie script, what should I go with:

A) Conflicted government assassin turned into an undead slave by an evil Haitian voodoo crime lord struggles to retain his humanity, avenge his own “death” and save the woman he loves before his enemies can get to her. Action adventure. (Above.)


B) Creepy claustrophobic psychological study of how unhinged people can get towards one another when confronted with absolute terror in a very confined space. (Below.)

Use the little poll gizmo (below) to vote for what you think would be the coolest (or least horrendous) of the two projects.

Have a fun and safe Halloween, everyone! (Yes, even zombies.)

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Someone sent me this today, and it made me laugh outloud. Funny and clever no matter what your political views.

Also a great little example of the power of a well executed viral campaign. (Even Fox News picked it up!)

Click on the image to see the video.

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In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what it takes for business managers and CMOs to come to accept that their brand is in trouble. We also discussed why it is often difficult for them to admit that they need help, and how to get over that fear-driven reflex.

Today, we are going to look at the next step in fixing a broken or distressed brand: Diagnosing the problem – which usually involves hiring a specialized firm, agency or individual with the skills, insight and experience to help you navigate through this crucial step. (If you screw this one up, everything that comes later is based on either false or incomplete assumptions – or both, so this isn’t a part of the process you want to entrust just anyone with.)

Priority Number One: Securing the right partnership.

How do you find the right person or firm? Well, once you’ve established that they aren’t in the yellow pages, you ask around. If that doesn’t work, hit the marketing and brand development blogs. Find out who the practitioners are. It’s a small community. There may only be 100 such individuals or organizations in North America, so you won’t be overwhelmed with choices. Once you’ve narrowed down your search to this level, read their blogs and e-books. Look into what they have done for other companies, who they’ve worked with, and what they are saying. If they strike a note with you, then it’s time to make contact.

Ideally, they will be in your part of the country, but if they aren’t, that’s okay too. Business travel is a part of life nowadays, and collaborative tools make it easier than ever to work remotely as well. As the world keeps getting flatter, distance becomes less relevant each day. What is most important is finding the right fit.

Speaking of fit, here are a few questions you will want to ask yourself during the interview process:

  1. Does this person or firm know what they are talking about? Do they know what they’re doing?
  2. Will this person be able to work with my staff, my bosses, and our outside agencies (PR, ad, etc.)?
  3. Does this person or firm fit into my budget?
  4. Does this person or firm have a specific method for measuring R.O.I. right from the start?
  5. Does this person appreciate the importance of delivering short term results, not just mid-to-long term results?

I can’t stress this enough: You want every question to be answered by a resounding YES. If your brand is in distress, 3 out of 5 won’t cut it. Not even 4 out of 5. You can’t afford to settle for “good enough” with this type of project. Not if you want to get your brand back on track now and… well, actually save it.

This is your litmus test for separating a good firm, agency or practitioner from the right one for your current situation.

And if you’re lucky, the one you pick won’t already be booked solid for the next six months. (Cross your fingers.)

Beginning the diagnostic process: Finding out what is actually eating away at your brand.

Okay. Now that you’ve partnered with the right talent and everyone has gotten acquainted, it’s time to get busy. The process typically begins with an immediate 360-degree analysis of your business and of your industry: Who buys your stuff and why? Who buys your competitors’ stuff and why? Who loves you and why? Who hates you and why? How do you engage with your customers? How are you not engaging with your customers? Which marketing tactics work for you and which ones don’t (and why)? If you used to be the market leader once, what changed? What do your employees think about your company and your products? How does this impact core aspects of your business like innovation, talent retention and sales? The list goes on, but you get the idea.

The trick here is two-fold: 1) You have to know what questions to ask, which isn’t always obvious when you are knee-deep in running a business every day, and 2) You have to understand exactly how to measure R.O.I. and put the data in the right context for each one of these elements. This type of brand mapping is one of the key components of the diagnostic step. We’ll get more into some of these in Part 3 of the series. (Like a puzzle, the analysis is composed of MANY parts, but don’t worry: It isn’t that hard to put it all together fast if you know how.)

For now, let’s tackle the first layer of the onion. The question here is simple: If you could boil down your brand’s problem to a thirty-second assessment, what would it be? To make it easy on you, I have listed the four most common answers below. (Most people nowadays respond better to a multiple choice format.

Here, then, are the four most common scenarios that lead to the distress and eventual death of a brand:

  1. Fading brand Relevance: Many companies either go through severe downturns in relevance. Maybe you were the “it” company in your market ten years ago, but fresh newcomers have shoved you aside. Maybe you’ve grown too big and complacent. Maybe you have lost touch with your customers’ needs and fans’ expectations. In these cases, a weakened brand can drag a business down and kill it.
  2. Failure to achieve brand relevance: Many companies simply never manage to transition from being a business with a logo to being an actual brand. They just haven’t found their voice yet. Their purpose. Their place. They are little more than an “also in” company. They manage to scrape by, but with budgets shrinking and new players gaining market share, time is running out.
  3. Brand implosion: You talked a good game, created inspiring and engaging marketing and PR, got people all excited about you… but you didn’t keep your promises. Customers are outraged. Your name is mud. Your customers are leaving you for your competitors. Game over?
  4. Brand-rich, cash-poor: Everyone loves your products and what you stand for. Your customers (fans) have made you part of their lifestyle and you get fantastic reviews across the board. Still, the balance sheet is in the red and you can’t keep your business afloat. Maybe you’re upside down on business loans, or your next round of funding dried up. Maybe your P&L is a disaster, or your parent company has lost interest in you. Whatever the case may be, your business is dying in spite of having created a true lovebrand. How do you save yourself?

In some cases, a sick brand may be looking at more than one of the above problems (most likely a coupling of either #1, #2, or #3 with #4).

More often than not, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out which of the above issues an ailing brand is dealing with. That being said, beware the hasty assumption: One symptom or scenario can hide another and distract you from your problem’s root cause. (One of the most immediate benefits of a properly administered 360 analysis is that it will either confirm or re-frame that initial assumption for you.)

Example: Company XYZ’s leadership is convinced that they are in situation #1 (fading brand relevance), and at first glance, they appear to be right. But as the 360 analysis starts to take shape, it becomes clear that the reason why the brand’s relevance has been fading for the last six years is because their customers are angry about a number of things, like inconsistent product quality, lousy customer service and frustrating warranty/exchange policies. Brand XYZ is actually in a #3 scenario (brand implosion), not a #1 scenario. The message got muddled because company XYZ hasn’t done a very good job at listening to its customers’ opinions (which is a topic we will revisit in the next couple of installments). The lesson here is obvious: One very nagging symptom can easily distract everyone and hide the true cause of a brand’s woes. Fail to render the correct diagnosis the first time, and your entire treatment will be worthless. This kind of mistake so late in the game can cost a brand a lot more than just time and money.

Just like a good doctor makes sure to treat the disease rather than the symptoms, an experienced brand practitioner knows how to properly diagnose and treat the root cause of a distressed brand’s troubles as opposed to its more superficial problems.

Cause and Effect: Starting the process of connecting the dots.

As an added layer of complexity, brand practitioners don’t just have to concern themselves with the what and how questions, but also the why: “Why is this brand failing? Why are this company’s customers jumping ship? Why is its customer service so lousy? Why are its products not as popular as they once were? Why has the main topic of conversation shifted from design and user delight to price? This is the next layer of the 360 analysis: For every action, there is a reaction. If we can identify the reactions (sales slumping, customers switching to a competitor’s product, increases in returns or warranty claims), we can work our way back to the actions that brought them about. It takes a little bit of detective work, but the beauty of the 360 analysis mechanism is that it makes the process pretty swift.

As a bonus, the action-reaction relationships can be pretty easily mapped for the client. As we’ll see in Part 5 (making sure the brand doesn’t suffer a relapse), this mapping and clarifying process actually being delivered and taught to the client is absolutely fundamental to the success of any brand rescue endeavor: Once business managers fully understand the relationship between their customers’ behaviors and decisions made internally by their management team, they will be able to make inspired choices and effective course adjustments on their own once the brand practitioner is gone. A big part of helping a brand recover from a serious crisis involves teaching its stewards how to take better care of it in the future so it never happens again.

Far too many firms, agencies and consultants settle for a two step process in helping a client address a problem: Step 1 – Identify the problem. Step 2 – Address the problem with a specific solution: A new ad campaign. A new series of press releases. A new promotional campaign. Prettier packaging. A celebrity endorsement. This works well enough if you’re looking for a quick fix. A band-aid, if you will. But as soon as the campaign is over, as soon as the promotion ends, as soon as the big sale is over or the expensive celebrity spokesperson moves on to their next gig, what have you really gained? You may have enjoyed a spike in interest, a spike in sales, even, but you end up right where you started: Condemned to keep the campaign engine running constantly, which in your case may be little more than slapping lipstick on a pig. If your brand finds itself in a state of distress, chances are that you have already been playing this game for a while. We’ve already been over this in Part 1. More of the same isn’t what you want.

In order to see real traction, you have to go a step further in the process: Not just identifying a problem, but understanding what created it to begin with. Understanding the root cause. Understanding the why. Tracking the actual cause of that 7% drop in sales. That 12% drop in market share. That 30% drop in customer retention. You have to look deeper. You have to be able to map cause and effect, and answer not only what and how, but why. Then and only then, can you move on to the next step: Coming up with real solutions – the kind that will help your brand gain real momentum – rather than buying sales and influence for an all too finite amount of time.

Monday, Part 3 of this series will go over how to use the 360 analysis employed during the diagnostic phase of the process to a) develop a treatment to get your brand back on track, and b) prioritize the elements of this treatment to start enjoying results immediately.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 😉

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Ruh-roh! Some silly daytime burglar tried to break into our house yesterday. Fortunately, our very own criminal mastermind only had time to rearrange our patio furniture and tie our old Golden retriever to a remote tree before they were interrupted – probably by my wife and kids coming home.

No windows were smashed, nothing was stolen and everyone is okay, so no worries.

Unfortunately, we have to upgrade the house’s security measures now or we’ll stress out every time we go out for dinner: Hello security cameras, additional window and door sensors, motion sensors, lasers, attack alligators and robot lions. Grrrreat. I spent the better part of the evening cataloging serial numbers on every valuable in the house and mapping out the security upgrade. Today, we’re installing hardware and talking to a couple of remote monitoring services.

All of this to say that regular blogging (Part 2 of our “save your dying brand” series) will resume tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.  Have a great day, everyone.

PS: Be sure to participate in yesterday’s survey if you haven’t already.

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From Brand Building to Brand Rescue: What to do when things go very wrong.

Valeria Maltoni posed a great question on Conversation Agent last week: What happens when brands die?

The topic of the specter of brand death – which visits most companies in a state of distress – is one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention, methinks. (Look around. Distressed companies and lackluster brands are everywhere, and they certainly need help.) Symptoms of a dying brand may come in the form of customer attrition, declines in sales frequency or (volume per customer), eroding market share, a negative brand image (as reported through consumer reports, customer feedback and market studies), or even decreasing investor confidence.

The question I guess isn’t so much “how do I make sure my company doesn’t end up in this situation,” but “now that we’re in trouble, how do we keep our sick company or brand from actually dying?”

BrandBuilder conversations usually focus on helping businesses improve their position and reach the next level in their evolution, but what we are dealing with here is an intervention. Emergency care.

In our current economic downturn, this type of discussion might be more relevant than ever: From past experience, I know that helping successful companies become even more successful is great, but where folks like us can really make a difference is in seizing opportunities to partner with businesses that REALLY need expert help today. Especially if you can generate measurable results quickly.

But before this type of rescue/turnaround partnership can take place, managers of distressed brands need to come to terms with reality: Accepting that their brand or company is in trouble. Most companies ultimately fail NOT because they couldn’t be saved, but because their leadership fails to admit that they are in trouble and need help before it is too late. This is the first step in the process.

How do you know when your company or brand is in trouble? Simple: When a preponderance of symptoms from the following list start popping up in your monthly or quarterly executive meetings. The short list:

  • Pricing pressures are eroding your market share (and you can’t seem to reverse the trend without lowering your prices).
  • Consumer preference data indicates that you are no longer either a contender for the top 1 or 2 choices in your product category.
  • Your quarterly net new customer count is either decreasing or stalled.
  • You are seriously contemplating eliminating 5-20% of your workforce to reduce costs.
  • Customer complaints about your brand are increasing. (Quality, service, delivery, etc.)
  • You have lost several of your best (historical) customers in the last 12 months.
  • Your competitors’ products are getting a lot of great press and attention. Yours are not.
  • Your best talent is starting to walk away.
  • You are having a very tough time recruiting talent.
  • You have cut costs by moving your call centers overseas, but now your customer service department is broken.
  • Despite spending an obscene amount of money on marketing, advertising or PR campaigns, your business barely matches your industry’s growth rate. (If you’re lucky.)
  • At least two out of the three cardinal measurements of your sales health (Frequency of sales, Reach of sales and average sales yield) show a flat or decreasing trend YoY.*

* Corporate lingo for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of working on the client side: QoQ = Quarter over Quarter. YoY = Year over Year.

Assuming anyone in your company is actually keeping an eye on any of this. You would be surprised how many companies’ sales managers don’t measure F.R.Y. or monitor historical new customer trending, how many marketing managers have absolutely no idea what is being said about their brands or where, and how many HR managers have their hands tied even when they it becomes clear that they are not winning the talent war.

Some of this can be attributed to managerial denial, sure, but a lot of the blame can also be attributed to two other factors: a) a lack of training or sophistication when it comes to establishing adequate, actionable metrics, and/or b) a lack of resources when it comes to managing these metrics with an eye towards regular course correction.

In order to connect the dots, you have to know how to identify the dots to begin with.

Getting help isn’t about admitting defeat, it is about getting results.

In order to climb out of a hole, you have to realize that you are indeed in a hole to begin with… and that you probably need help getting out. If you can’t think of a solution on your own, it’s time to get someone who knows how to help you dig your way out.

This topic reminds me of the scene in the 1998 movie “The Edge” (“The Wild” for my European readers) in which Anthony Hopkins’ character gets stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with two companions after a terrible plane crash. Alone in the wild, the three pampered city guys find themselves in an against-all-odds survival situation. The question the three characters keep asking each other – and themselves – is simple: How in the world are we going to survive out here? With no rations, no weapons or tools, no winter gear and chased by a relentless man-eating Grizzly, the three men have to rely on each other to make it back to civilization. About mid-way through the story, as their situation seems hopeless, Anthony Hopkins’ character explains to his lone surviving companion something that is absolutely relevant to today’s discussion of brand survival:

– You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.

– What?

– Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.

– And what is that, Charles?

The answer in the movie is “Thinking.” The answer in the case of of rescuing a brand is the same: Thinking. The one difference being that brands don’t die because they get lost in the wilderness. They die because their stewards create an imaginary wilderness around themselves. If you’re a CEO or CMO who hasn’t figured out how to rescue yourself or your brand by now, it’s time to break out the emergency radio or start sending smoke signals. If someone doesn’t come help you get back on track soon, your brand will die, along with your career, and the only reason will have been that you were too ashamed to admit that you needed help.

Yes, brands can and do die of shame as well.

Reaching out for help is a tough sale for a lot of managers and business leaders. It requires them to admit two things they would rather not: 1. This brand is in serious trouble, and 2. I can’t fix this on my own.

The trick is to realize that asking for help is not the same thing as admitting failure. Quite the contrary. Hiring someone to help you fix something for you – or with you – is no different from hiring the best copywriter, salesperson or office manager you can find.

Here’s the thing: We are all too happy to turn to specialists when we need help in every other area of our lives: If we are sick, we go to a doctor. If we have a tooth ache, we go to a dentist. If we are out of shape, we hire a personal trainer. If we have psychological or relationship problems, we hire a therapist. If our dog misbehaves, we hire a dog trainer. We all hire people who can help us improve our lives or who can somehow help us do things we can’t do on our own. Landscapers. Attorneys. Consultants. Mechanics. Dry-cleaners. Interior decorators. Plumbers. Electricians. Life coaches. Nutritionists. Masons. Carpenters. Party planners. Accountants. Financial planners. Repairmen. Whatever. Specialists are there to fill our knowledge and skill gaps. Helping you fix a brand in crisis is no different. It’s just that there isn’t a section in the yellow pages for “brand interventionists”.

Hint: Looking for a brand specialist or marketing firm in the yellow pages is a lot like looking for a job in the wanted ads. Unless you happen to live in 1986, you are looking in the wrong place.

Likewise, looking for traditional marketing firms and ad agencies to fill your needs when it comes to the relatively new problem of brand erosion in today’s complex business world can be a risky endeavor. Old tactics don’t necessarily address new problems – at least not on their own. The toolkit has evolved. If your new advisor’s “ideas” sound awfully familiar, it’s okay to get a second opinion. Even a third. We’ll go into what to look for tomorrow.

Okay, so my brand is failing. I have to do “something.” What are my options?

While many marketing firms and departments are great at building strong brands, many fall short of expectations. It happens. Sometimes, they get too close to the company or the product and lose their ability to look at the big picture. Sometimes, they have been doing the same things for so long that they have lost touch with their customers, with new marketing tools at their disposal, or with consumer trends and tastes. These things happen. It’s just part of doing business. If – not when – this happens to your company and you find yourself in trouble, you basically have four options at your disposal:

  1. Fire your CMO or Marketing department (pretty drastic and rarely the right solution).
  2. Spend more money on the same tactics that have failed, but pretend that you are doing something different (the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time).
  3. Drastically cut your marketing budget. Marketing doesn’t work anyway, right? (You might as well update your resume while you’re at it. This is the worst possible thing you can do in times of crisis. Even worse than firing your CMO.)
  4. Seek professional help to assist your CMO. Not just from a firm or agency that will gladly take your money to take approach #2, but from a firm, agency or specialist who will actually focus on getting measurable and immediate results for you, AND educate you in the process. Rescuing a brand needs to be as much a learning experience for your organization as it is an intervention.

The correct answer, of course, is option #4.

I cannot stress this enough: Do not hire a specialist, firm or agency that will take option #2 to get you back on track. I have seen it happen too many times, and it is the easiest trap to fall into. This will solve nothing, and waste precious resources on your end. Don’t do it.

Tomorrow, we will go over the second step in your brand intervention: Hiring a practitioner or specialized firm, and letting them help you diagnose and clarify the problems facing your brand.

Part 3 of this series will focus on developing a treatment for your brand.

In Part 4, we will go over how to best administer the treatment, and we will wrap it all up in Part 5 with long term strategies to kill the possibility of a relapse.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2: Methods for diagnosing and understanding what is killing your brand.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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Hey everyone, I have been working on a presentation which outlines how to identify and rescue distressed brands, and I figured with the economy being a little scary right now, the timing might be right for me to turn the concept into a series of blog posts. I will be posting part 1 tomorrow, which will touch on two essential topics: Identifying symptoms of a distressed brand… and most importantly ACCEPTING that a brand is indeed in a state of distress.

All too often, brands fail not because their problems are too complex to fix or their obstacles too great to overcome, but because their stewards fail to accept that they are in serious trouble and need help.

Fact: Distressed brands – like countries, like sports teams, like economies, like people – can be nursed back to health. Under the right care, they can make complete recoveries. They can even come out stronger than they would have been had it not been for the crisis.

This type of rescue can be done quickly, fairly painlessly, and even on a budget… But the first step in the process is acknowledging that a) treatment is necessary, and b) that this treatment needs to begin immediately, not three or six months from now.

Let’s see if we can spend this week going over the process of saving a distressed brand. I invite everyone to comment, offer suggestions, share past experiences, and weigh in with whatever opinions you may have. If we do this right, this series of posts alone might help a few companies come up with ways to improve their condition and get their brands back on track. (If we can collectively accomplish that with just a few blog posts, we’ll have accomplished something pretty special.)

Have a great evening, everyone. We’ll see you guys here tomorrow. 🙂

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Great news! Kenzie has been found, safe and sound. Everything is going to be okay now. Thank you so much for your help. Your response was overwhelming. 🙂

Now that the ordeal is over, let’s help the Church family move on with their lives by taking down the “missing” and “come home” posters we all posted this week. It would be a pretty nice gesture.

Thanks, everyone!

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UK-based cScape has just released the results of their 2008 online customer engagement survey. Fantastic data and insight from people who obviously know what they are talking about.

Per Richard Sedley, director of cScape’s Customer Engagement Unit:

A starting point for any online customer engagement strategy is gathering data. It is crucial to find out what your customers do when they visit your site – and not base it on guesswork. So how do you know what to look for? The first step, before measurement and analysis, is to identify which data you can act on in a way that will actually benefit your customers and yourself.

Many businesses suffer from ‘metric paralysis’; they collect too much data which they just don’t have the time or know-how to learn from. While this mass of data can look impressive, it is hardly ever used effectively to improve the customer’s online experience, or overall business performance.

Metrics should be actionable. They should give you specific insights into your visitors’ behaviour so that you can take appropriate action based on that information. But even metrics that are actionable don’t do anything in and of themselves to improve a site. They simply bring out positive and negative indicators. To change things for the better requires an organisational structure whereby appropriate measures can be taken.

Even if you don’t have the time to read the entire thing, you will at least get some great insight from the many charts used to illustrate some of the study’s findings. Some examples:

Be sure to read and share this thorough, insightful and infinitely valuable report here. (Or click on the top image.)

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Robert Killick on the need for intellectual curiosity and courage in the face of “unknowns” in today’s business leaders:

Risk was once seen as a catalyst for competitiveness, innovation and change in enterprise culture. Now it is seen as a negative barrier to be avoided with all sorts of precautionary measures. ‘Risk consciousness’ is the order of the day, but the preference to always dig up the dark side of humanity betrays a lack of faith in human reason. Curiosity and foolhardiness are often derided as irresponsible and egotistical traits, but the great heroes of the past have taken personal risks that benefit all of us.

Today, research and experimentation that does not have a measurable ‘positive effect’ is seen as irresponsible. Yet it is precisely through experimentation, risk – and, yes, mistakes – that some of the major scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions have come about. Without risky experimentation, and without individuals willing to take those risks in the pursuit of knowledge, we wouldn’t have aeroplanes, penicillin, MRI scans or X-rays.

The ability to handle risk – though technology, human ingenuity, reason and resilience – is a measure of modernity and it can only be achieved through more experimentation, not less. The hard won freedoms to creative expression, communication and to technological innovation should be treasured, and the twenty-first century should be when we take them even further.

Risk-adverse/risk-paralyzed leaders aren’t leaders at all. At best, they are followers promoted or appointed to positions they should have had enough common sense, integrity and professionalism to turn down.

Fact: Leaders “lead.” They take their companies in a specific direction and make sure that course corrections occur as needed along the way. Standing still, ignoring emerging market trends, rewarding business-as-usual strategies, waiting for competitors to make a move before testing the waters, or building protective walls around organizations are not examples of leadership.

No one is advocating making rash decisions of course, but in order for companies to be successful, their leaders must possess certain key personality traits – among them the essential combination of vision, courage and an unbreakable pioneering streak.

Bear this in mine when placing your bets on a company, new boss or potential candidates for an executive-level position.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Okay, so while the Dow hangs out at around 10,000 points, here’s some advice on how to give your business a serious boost without increasing your marketing expenditures (and maybe even reducing them): “Perkonomics: Why perks and privileges are the new currency” over at TrendWatching.com (hat tip to AdPulp) is a pretty interesting take on how to increase customer loyalty and create a buzz for your brand even in tough economic times.

“What in blue blazes is perkanomics,” I hear you cry? Hold your horses there Tonto. We’re getting there. According to the folks at TrendWatching.com, perkonomics can be explained thus:

“A new breed of perks and privileges, added to brands’ regular offerings, [which satisfies] consumers’ ever-growing desire for novel forms of status and/or convenience, across all industries. The benefits for brands are equally promising: from escaping commoditization, to showing empathy in turbulent times. One to have firmly on your radar in 2009.”

Did you catch that part about escaping commoditization (not falling into the BOGO trap)? Good. Let’s continue.

TW continues with this:

“Consumer infatuation with perks and privileges isn’t new. For years, airlines, hotels, credit card companies and private banks have been cleverly rewarding their most valuable customers with surprises, status symbols and convenience.

But as we move towards a consumer society that’s based more on experiences, on status stories, on the ephemeral—and in which, for many, time is now the only true scarcity—expect perks and privileges to become an integral part of every B2C industry and sector.”

Perks you might already be familiar with: Frequent flier miles, preferred customer clubs, discount cards, special pricing, express delivery, concierge service, complementary XYZ, free upgrades, shorter checkout lines, convenient parking, etc. Essentially, the perkonomics idea takes the simple concept of “loyalty rewards” to the next step: Brand-related social elevation (however ephemeral it may be). The dot-connect end-to-end: “My loyalty to Brand ABC makes me more special than people who don’t share the same relationship with the brand.”

The result (if done right):

  • Perks bring much-needed love (if not FREE LOVE), in upturns and downturns, potentially leading to more ‘brand love’. (I hate to call it brand loyalty, but at the very least, it encourages a very strong brand preference.)
  • Perks help commodity-like industries stand out by conferring a (renewed) sense of uniqueness. Adding perks often requires the ability to partner with other products or services, so brands with the best partnering skills—and therefore access to the best exclusive offers—will win.
  • Perks can give you the leading edge when it comes to attracting first-time customers.
  • Perks can make for great if not invaluable PR [and positive WOM]; customers will tell others—perks are excellent conversation starters—while the media (trend watchers included) love a good perk story.
  • Perks can help make boring companies interesting again, and thus more desirable.
  • Perks can help cultivate more desirable brand perceptions and associations—think anything from showing you actually care about your customers (gasp!) to showing you care about the environment, offering eco-perks.

From a business opportunity standpoint, focusing on perks can absolutely give you an edge when it comes to differentiating your brand from others even if your products are not superior, and by doing so may be the only way to elevate a brand without actually making improvements outside of “delighting” loyal customers. The trick is to do it in such a way that doesn’t come across either as a ploy to get more information out of them, and two, in a way that doesn’t require them to jump through hoops. Perks are perks. If perks start to become hassles, they stop being perks. A “delight the customer” mentality and focus across all touch points is absolutely vital to the success of such a program. The second a customer expecting a perk gets the runaround from a disgruntled or less-than-ready-to-serve company brand ambassador, you’re done for. (Managing human touch points well is one of the trickiest aspects of delivering on the promise of perkonomics.)


PERKONOMICS is an aspirational trend; i.e. a trend that generously offers you—marketer, entrepreneur, brand manager—the chance to be a trendsetter, especially if you work in a sector or industry not yet big on perks.

And as perks are about delighting and surprising consumers, you should have no trouble coming up with a few quick ideas that can be implemented immediately and cost-efficiently. Talking about costs: as perks are an integral part of your marketing strategy, shifting a part of your mass-advertising budget to get some PERKONOMICS innovations off the ground is more than justified.

Check out the entire report here. And please, please, please, when you start looking into ways to incorporate some of these ideas into your marketing plan, don’t end up settling for 5% discount coupons and dime-store “prizes” with your logo printed on them. (Trade show giveaway pens, decals and buttons don’t even come close to perks.) Take this as seriously as you take the success of your brand.

If you need help figuring out how to do this, give me a call or shoot me an email. I’ll be happy to help or hook you up with someone who can.

Have a great Tuesday!

Photo by Chris Wray-McCann

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Every year, I try to end my summer with a half Ironman or some other 5+ hour endurance race. There are several reasons for that little bit of annual madness (like, believe it or not, fun), but perhaps the most important one is to make sure that I don’t fall off the fitness wagon half way through the summer.

Occasionally, I am as serious about performance at these late season events as I am about shorter, more focused races, but most of the time, nope. For me, the most important part of doing a half or full iron distance triathlon is participating. (And finishing.) This past weekend was no exception. Setting up my transition area under a beautiful pre-dawn sky surrounded by some of the fittest people in the US’ South East, my plan was simple: Have fun, take it easy, and enjoy every minute of this race. That is precisely what I did.

Not that I would call mile nine of the half Marathon all that enjoyable… but you get the picture.

Towards the end of the race, I did something that I seldom ever do in athletic competitions: I stopped and waited for a friend who wasn’t having a great day. Instead of running the final few miles to the finish, I walked alongside him and we had a great conversation – something we hadn’t had a chance to do in a very long time. Sure, it didn’t help my run split, but this race – like so many of these late season mile fests – wasn’t about setting personal bests or placing in my age group. This race, perhaps more than any before it, reminded me how much I enjoy the multisport lifestyle I chose to be a part of. How much I enjoy mixing an early morning mass swim, a rugged time trial and a long group run. How much I enjoy the sun’s warmth on my shoulders, the comforting southern wind against my face, and the sights and sounds of hundreds of fellow citizen athletes break a sweat for a few hours.

In nine years of competition I have yet to meet a triathlete I don’t like. There is just something refreshing about the can-do, no bullshit, let’s get it done attitude displayed by this great family of fitness hobbyists. You aren’t likely to hear a whole lot of excuses or “poor me” stories come out of this bunch. What you are likely to hear though is “Good job! Way to go! Looking good, number 123! Hang in there, number 345!” These folks give you a thumbs up and a smile when they pass you, and shout encouragements when you pass them. What other sport generates that kind of positive attitude? The smiles stretching across people’s faces before the gun goes off and once they’ve crossed the finish line tells you volumes about who they are. There are no game faces here. There is no posturing. No political maneuvering. What you see is humanity at its best. Humanity at its most humble. Its most caring. Its most honest. Its most respectful. And yet at its most confident.

I’ve never met a dumb, lazy or mean triathlete. I’ve never met a dishonest one either. I guess there’s something about the psychology of a person who would spend months preparing their body and their mind for a battle against the miles and the desire to quit that just doesn’t click with petty self-serving behaviors. Counting myself among the ranks of these fine men and women is something I am more grateful for than words can convey. I am very lucky to be part of such a wonderful community of human beings.

Here’s to an all too short but memorable triathlon season with the Finish Line-Hincapie Sportswear Triathlon Team. Looking forward to getting even fitter and faster over the cold months ahead. (Spring will be back before we know it.)

Have a great weekend, everyone. 😉

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Congrats on your new gig, Mark. 🙂

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You are here.

Let’s keep it light today.  🙂  Hat tip to Steve Woodruff for this one. (Click on the image to see a bigger version.)

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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