Thursday, October 31, 2002

The Marketing of Death & Other Vignettes

This morning's Press-Enterprise (The Inland Empire's newspaper) reports that some funeral homes are offering theme-related funeral services. Tie that in with my missive about funeral chic on the 20th and you can see that the $20 billion death industry is reshaping itself to handle the changes my boomer generation is still imposing on traditions.

The article cited a funeral home in St. Louis where services are held in one of the home's theme rooms called, "Big Mama's Kitchen." This is where the grieving come to play cards, sip ice tea and eat fried chicken next to the casket. The entire room is a kitchen motif with fake stove, fake pies cooling, a refrigerator and dishes in the sink. Another motif is a sports setting where the casket can repose under a basketball hoop or for the fisherman you can repose near a small fish-stocked pond (with a sign stating: "Fishing Season is Closed." There's even a couch potato motif with a recliner, remote control and TV. How's that for knowing what your customers want? Apparently business is good and reflects successful adaptive marketing strategies at work.

The marketing of death takes another tact with an ad campaign by Northrop Gruman Corporation that is meant to shape a new image of the technology and weapons system builder. The actor Val Kilmer is the voice over for the ads: "A troubled sky. Dark churning clouds. Will they bring sanctuary to the enemy? Not anymore. At Northrop Gruman, we developed advanced technology that allows precision targeting day or night, in any weather. So even when things turn ugly, the forecast remains strikingly clear." I love the copy imagery. Selling advanced weapons radar systems via ads is unique, but it's as unique as having a wake in couch potato heaven. And my point is that marketing takes many forms and is a creative process that attracts attention and awareness for products no matter how remote we are from it since it's not everyday that I want to buy a radar system. But regardless, it's another example of how marketing is all around us in suble and overt ways.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Hodge Podge

Hodge podge is what you get when I come home late from a busy day on the road and the familial demands exceed the quantity of time left. But take heart...I've got a few marketing truisms up my sleeve.

In an article published in FSB (Forbes Small Business) Dec.2001-Jan.2002, Verne Harnish, CEO of Gazelles, Inc., described as "a globetrotting consultant who helps little companies make it big," talks about when companies hit the growth wall and what it takes to leap over the hurdles. He believes that the problem with companies $1M-$10M is usually that the company founder who has had to be alll things for all people for so long doesn't know how to let go. As the business grows more complex the key is for the founder to let go of some things, especially the things he's good at. For example---and I like this one since it's marketing---he states, "The founder tends to hold on the things he's good at. It's hard to be the CEO and the vice president of sales and marketing at the same time. At some point you have to decide to be one or the other--otherwise you become the bottleneck--And then you have to bring in an executive team. You need to bring in a person who can sell better than you can. It's the most critical decision you'll ever make."

EXACTLY! But why is that so difficult to do? Because once people prove that they're smart enough to start a business and make it successful, they often believe they know everything. It's human nature and one I've witnessed with many of my clients. For some it's a control issue, but too often it's "if it's going to get done right I better do it myself." And for many, it's simply their baby and treat it gently. The smart ones are not afraid to get help and let them do their stuff. Consultants who are worth their salt understand this and deal with these "ownership" issues with persistence and sensitivity.

In the same series in FSB, an interview with Jakob Nielsen, of the Nielsen Norman Group, "a consulting firm focused entirely on making business websites easier to use," Nielsen states that all the bells and whistles one puts on a website may be fun, but they often interfere with useability and thus detract customer use. Think about your own experiences on the web; nothing more frustrating to have a "neato" site yield virtually nothing but frustration in terms of navigation, etc. Nielsen gives solid advice when he recommends you sit with several of your customers as they navigate your site. He feels that after you've tested five users, you'll have 80% of what you need to make your site successful. Great advice since too often websites are put up for the internal audience and egos versus the actual user or for the marketing impact it can have for a business.

So that's hodge podge for today. See you tomorrow'.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Everyday Leadership

I've had two significant discussions with friends that I trust and admire today, all about leadership or the lack thereof. One friend is writing her Master's thesis on a model that is based on leadership coming from the deeply rooted makeup of one's character. She believes that leadership is spiritual, not in the religious way, but in the genuine spiritual connection to the people the leader has a relationship with, all based upon the basic construct of a strong moral character, something innate, perhaps something that cannot be defined other than a presence that dwells within and guides the individual on the right course. In other words, you really cannot teach leadership, although some people can certainly fool you enough to make themselves look like leaders.

My other friend has worked for a large mid-west insurance company as an agent and has witnessed in the past 30 years the foibles of a distinct lack of leadership. From the folly of corporate edicts that have no clue about the real world to the business at all cost mentality without regards for the customer, he's seen it all. Still he endures, as I suspect most people do who have obligations and a little road wear. With his usual good humor and cutting edge puns, my friend continues to toil every day. But the distinct lack of leadership is something that he can barely tolerate, and it doesn't feed his spirit or motivate him other than to do what he can and move on with his life.

Whenever I do an assessment of an organization as part of developing a business, strategic or marketing plan, the lament I most commonly hear is the lack of leadership. There appears to be a terrific vacuum in the world of business in regards to genuine, everyday leadership. We too often put our money on the big guys like Jack Welch of GE or Andy Grove of Intel as role models. We grab up all their books, read their interviews, listen to their speeches, all in the hope that there is some kernel of truth that might anoint us to be as successful. And yet it often rings hollow because what works for the big guys is proportionally different. They can afford to be more "global" while the average guy has to be more "local" in his thinking and with his resources. If you figure that 80% of all businesses in this country provide a service vs a product, well, that's a formula for lots of local, one on one relationships that don't cotton all that well to global platitudes about leadership.

So back to the issue of everyday leadership. We all know people who are simply good at what they do, they have a passion for it, they dive into the work and make good, sensible, reasoned decisions. They don't always have the title of CEO or V.P. of Whatever. They often are everyday leaders in whatever capacity they work in. And that is the crux of marketing, everyday leadership in everything that is done within the business by everyday people. This type of leadership not only makes a company a winner, but it enriches the lives of those who because of their character and makeup can't do anything else.

It reminds me of a quote, which I cannot attribute to anyone at the moment and can only paraphrase: "Leadership is an army you have to enlist in. Anyone can get drafted into management." Ain't that the truth.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Weekend Marketing Foray

Mrs. Marketingdriven.com packed up the kid to his cousin's and treated me to the Paul McCartney concert at the Anaheim Pond Friday night. An amazing performance by Paul and his band, but more than anything it was the spiritual connection that was the most memorable. Nothing like nostalgia to stir one's soul. It was a rainy night and the crowd filtered in late, which worked well since there was an allegorical play on stage as we awaited Paul to join us. Characters dressed in 17th century fineries as well as if in Ancient Greece, Asia, etc. paraded before us with the message that art is timeless, the actors fragmented by an increasing drum tempo that built up the crowd's excitement. And then there he was, Paul McCartney, guitar held high in greeting, almost mythical yet so human and reachable, genuine, casual, sensitive, a part of us.

The concert went off without a hitch, and Paul entertained us for nearly 3 hours. What was equally as important was the way the crowd was handled by the staff at the Pond. There were people everywhere to help you find your way, courteous, organized, prepared, on top of everything to make the experience as goof proof as possible. And when we left, we were asked if we had a good time and to please come back. Imagine doing that for a nearly 30,000+ crowd! The brand that is Paul McCartney delivered and so did all his backup. The lesson for business is: Pay attention to details and treat your customers with all the respect you can give them; help them find their way and they'll be your loyal fans.

That night, we melted into the most comfortable bed at the Westin Costa Mesa and woke up to find the hotel under seige by a determined group of middle aged women, well dressed and eager for the world. This was the Weekenders 2002 Leadership Conference. Apparently this group sells clothing "a la tupperware"---I'm not all that clear how they are organized---and they were ready for action. They held a banquet in two large tents by the pool. I observed them from our room as they lined up gauntlet style to greet each special participant who were apparently being recognized at this event. What was amazing was the drama and ritual. The women whooped and clapped for at least 45 minutes non-stop as their colleagues streamed by. There was one person with a wand that she would use to tap each women on the shoulders as if she were the Queen of England bestowing knighthood.

The ritual and drama of these women joining together for a common purpose was juxtaposed with my experience the night before, when at the concert Paul got us to sing Hey Jude. What a powerful experience to be a part of that! For these Weekenders participants, they were at their "concert", connected to each other in a unique way and celebrating their sense of life. From a marketing point of view, wouldn't it be great if that's what could happen to the "teams" we work with? Marketing is about drama, the telling of the story, the creation of the connection with a product or service or a particular brand. That's what exactly Paul did and whoever heads the Weekenders.

Our grand finale on Saturday night was a dinner at a friend's house whose husband is in the process of opening a barbecue place Memphis style. Our luck that night was to taste his chicken and all the trimmings, and provide honest critique. He periodically does this as he gets closer to his opening. This brought to mind another important marketing process...planning, rehearsing, double checking the details, pondering the what ifs, being prepared. Too often marketing is done as an after thought.

This weekend all my experiences reinforced how important attention to details is to a successful brand.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Please Make It Bigger

Vanity knows no gender as witnessed by an article about male cosmetic surgery in the health section of the Los Angeles Times on October 21. The increase in men getting cosmetic surgery is rising significantly especially with pectoral implants, which gives men that more "robust" and buffed look if the gym doesn't do it or the genetics just won't play along. It's estimated that approximately 1 million men have cosmetic surgery each year, or 15% of all such surgeries. Yes, this includes hair transplants. Sad to say that we men are falling prey to the marketing and media tsunami that soaks our existence on a daily basis. After a while, apparently enough of us start to believe that "real" men must look that way and that somehow we're failures if we don't fit the mold. It's a bit like in high school where how you looked and dressed determined your place in the pecking order but essentially had nothing to do with who you really were or how successful you would become in the "real" world. Just look at Bill Gates. All we have to do is look at what we've done to our vision of what beauty is for women and how they work so hard to fulfill that vision. We have definitely forgotten what our mothers said about beauty being only skin deep.

And it's not just the pecs we want bigger, the so-called penis enhancement surgery is also a favorite of the plastic set. Hey, get over it! This is what you've got so use it accordingly and feel good about yourself. But there's something bigger here (pun not intended), something about the way we are sold concepts and perceptions and made to feel inadequate if we don't rise (no pun here either) to the bait like everyone else. As my mother used to say when I wanted to do something stupid, "if everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you do it, too?"

So is marketing simply about creating a lemming-like response to the stimuli we marketers so carefully craft? Yes and no. As a long time healthcare marketer, I understand only too well the need to feel good about your emotional and physical health, and I think that's okay to talk about and to help inform people so that they can make rationale decisions that improve their well being. But the boom in cosmetic surgery unfortunately too often tells us more about our inadequacies and lack of self esteem than about true medical needs. We are victims of our fix it quick culture, which expects that we can make anything look and feel better if we throw enough drugs, or treatment, or therapies at our problems.

If marketing is really about information and shaping perception so that there is a ground swell of desire for that product or service, does the marketer have an obligation to the moral high road? Is what we are marketing and positioning in the marketplace a good thing or is it simply the means to our financial ends? There is no definitive answer other than a personal one. I believe in marketing as a discipline that helps a business thrive by offering genuine solutions to genuine needs and wants, but how I help that process along, and what product I market, is a matter of choice. I think we've oversold "beauty" in this culture to the point that men, and women, are putting themselves under the knife needlessly in search of something that is elusive in the first place. And for that you can also thank a marketer.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

After A Long & Tiring Day In The Marketing Trenches

fax spam: Just got back to my office to find the fax spammers at work again. Nine today. A new annoyance in the fight for my attention, as if unsolicited faxes with menus from restaurants I never heard of (but maybe the health department has) or a new diet system of the stars (people I never heard of) or a new marketing approach that is not a multilevel trap ("Get Rich! It's a Revolutionary System", says the fax) and refinancing offers ("Do it now before the rates go up!" Yes, Chicken Little) is going to stimulate my interest instead of my ire. No wonder we marketers are sometimes seen as less than savory. Talk about "interruption marketing", as Seth Godin calls it. And don't call the number that says you can disenroll, it only confirms you're a hot number and the hits keep on coming.

door hangers: Our neighborhood Avon person (or is it lady? I want to be PC about this) leaves her little catalogs in a neat plastic bag perfect for a two point pitch into the round file. And the pizza places have given me enough coupons these past few months that I could literally wall paper my living room. I mean how much pizza can we possibly eat now that #1 son is away at college? Hang them on his door. I also love the local realtors who insist that I need another note pad with their smiling mugs and company logos so that the actual writing area is about the size of postage stamps...and no I don't need another "free" home value appraisal. Something else for the landfill. To be fair, I've used door hangers to great effect, but you've got to know your audience and have a specific goal and give something of value. We are simply too inundated by marketing messages to have to throw one more thing in the trash after a long day.

talking atms: Is it just me or do you also worry about an ATM that takes 10 seconds longer so you can listen to their jingle in order to sell you some service that you don't need when you're taking out your own money? Let's give the mugger 10 more seconds to get to you. It's almost as bad as the talking gas pumps at my local Shell that greet me like an old friend; I'm just getting gas, I don't want a relationship. Everything talks anymore thanks to the chip industry, but give it a rest. There isn't any free air space anymore, and God knows we do need some quiet time.

Thanks for the therapy!

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Funeral Chic

As a boomer I've had to face my mortality many times, most notably in Vietnam and in my travels around the world. I just read today that the last survivor from the WWI Royal Welsh Fusiliers died at age 106 so it's very clear that no one gets out alive. The inevitability of death is a subject that most of us prefer not to discuss although we are intrigued by it as witnessed by the popular HBO show Six Feet Under, which is quickly becoming a cult classic. And in death lies the final marketing challenge, which is why I am intrigued by two pieces of related societal and marketing news.

The first snippet comes from the September 2 issue of Fortune sharing the glorious news that you can now buy a theme casket to take you on that final ride. A former radio broadcaster in Dallas started a company called Whitelight four years ago that offers 40 models of ArtCaskets. From "Going Home" to the "Last Supper" computer generated photolaminated murals dress the casket in the theme you hanker for. Military models apparently are selling briskly right now. From the departed golfer to the hunter, Whitelight can accommodate you, all for only $2,995. I wonder if they'll ever have a model with hippies stoned beyond the great beyond, waving the peace symbol...if they do, maybe Mrs. Marketingdriven.com can give me a send off more reflective of my younger, blissful, irresponsible and less capitalist days.

Equally noteworthy on the death front is the article in Monday's Los Angeles Times, where urn manufacturers have hit a creative streak in where to put your cremains (that's what's left after they make you crispy critters.) Instead of the proverbial urn on the mantel you can be "poured" into a golf motif urn or one with dolphins or even into a special rock for your loved one's garden. The variety is endless...Imagine having to hear the weed whacker even in your final resting place.

And yet another unique approach to death is a company from Chicago that can convert the carbon of human ashes into diamonds that can be mounted and worn, each with its own certificate of authenticity from a gemologist. "Your ring is beautiful, darling." "Yes, it's my late Julius. See how he sparkles even now? No, really it is." Imagine that conversation while you wander the happy hunting grounds.

The bounds of marketing are endless from pre-birth to beyond death on earth---think Timothy Leary circling above us. In our neck of terra firma, Forest Lawn Cemetery offers celebrations instead of funerals, where the uniqueness of an individual's life can be remembered for the milestones and the people he or she touched. It's not that it's not sad anymore, it's just that it lets us memorialize the person from an emotional base that is more honest and reflective of the way our world has changed. And for that you can also thank a marketer.

footnote

If you want to contribute a few seconds in the fight against breast cancer, go to www.cignafoundation.org and click on the pink ribbon. With each click Cigna will contribute $1 to the Komen Foundation during the month of October. It's a small effort that could pay off in the long run. Thanks.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Payback For Bad Service

Branding is an ongoing commitment. Unfortunately, many companies work hard to build a brand name and reputation only to have it eroded by the one thing they can't control: people. This is especially true in the service industry, which accounts for an estimated 80% of businesses in the U.S. Whether that key person woke up on the right side of the bed or not can make a difference on their performance, and customer satisfaction. Having come from the healthcare industry where the variability of care is a continuous challenge--- and when those receiving the service are at their most vulnerable---I understand only too well how important consistent, quality service is.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could get your money back or not pay the full freight if the service was downright lousy? Having worked as a waiter in my struggling days, I am, according to Mrs. marketingdriven.com, a generous tipper who starts out with a 20% tip in mind and wants the waitperson (got to be PC) to get it. At least at this level I have some modicum of control. But usually customers have little recourse especially with healthcare---which has gotten to be a factory process---as well as in a variety of other consumer settings. And too often, customers don't fight for the right to be satisfied and simply vote with their feet, the worst kind of suffrage for a company.

So it really makes my day when I see what Sheraton Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is doing about lousy service or unmet expectations: Payback, the good kind. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal of September 6th, it looks like the entire organization is going to the reeducation camps on customer service. And for problems such as missing soap, etc. the customer will actually get money back. The more serious the problem the more you can get, up to a free night's stay for a stinker problem. That's putting your money where your mouth is.

The WSJ article also states that, "Every complaint will be entered into a database, so Sheraton can track chonic problems and chronic complainers." Is that a warning to the more demanding customers? Regardless, the attempt to create a customer satisfaction culture is difficult at best and I'm sure it's going to cost Sheraton some bucks to get it done, but it's a shining example that very often what distinguishes a brand from a commodity are the little details and being true to your word. The proof of Sheraton's initiative is still to be determined. All I know is that anyone who knows Mrs. Marketingdriven.com knows that her eye for detail and her demand for quality should make the hotel chain shudder. Methinks it's time to go to the Sheraton for a weekend jaunt... maybe it will be free.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Race For The Cure

I've just returned from the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at our local mall. It's a personal event for me in honor of my mother who is a breast cancer survivor of 5 years. And I know so many women and families who have been impacted by this dreadful disease. That being said, I also attended the event as a marketer.

What I found unique was the incredibly low-key, and tasteful, marketing being done at all the many booths set up to promote a company or organization. The companies which were there were truly supporting the event while creating visibility for themselves. But at many of the booths I visited the feelings about the purpose of the event was genuine. Several were attended by cancer survivors willing to share their spirit and hope with us all.

So how do you market at such an event? The answer is you don't...you just show up and unfurl your banner. That says it all. For example, we have a Guidant plant here (they make heart catheters) and there's not a whole lot they can market as it isn't as if you can go to your local store and buy their product. Guidant is a big supporter of local causes and one of the largest employers in our valley so their participation is a powerful anchor to any worthwhile event. And Guidant's tag line "It's a great time to be alive" certainly fits the celebration of life that the Race inspires.

There were also CPAs, food vendors (giving free food to all), newspapers, and a myriad of other large and small businesses. I asked a local CPA at his booth if such events were valuable to him in a business sense; he said the visibility and his commitment to the cause did more to reinforce his link to the larger community than having a business purpose. "Yes, we do get some business from this," he said, " but it's minimal and doesn't pay our cost. Then again that's not why we're here."

Did my son and I walk away with a bag full of freebies and balloons? You bet. For a five year old it's a fun deal. For the adults it's a way to connect with one another in a more meaningful and personal way; it's also about hope and renewal. And for the business community, it's a way to show that commerce is a lot more than simply making money and proves that cause marketing is important in a branding strategy.

For more information on the Susan G. Komen Foundation log on at www.komen.org.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Krispy Kreme Math

An insert in this morning's Los Angeles Times had an ad for the new children's movie Hansel and Gretel and product placement coupons linked to the movie for free goodies from Nestle, Mrs. Fields, Pretzel Time and Krispy Kreme (KK). I like the one from KK (seemingly everyone's favorite donut shop...and cult?) encouraging kids to bring their report cards to their local Krispy Kreme to receive a free donut for every A. The coupon titled Krispy Kreme Math motivated me to look at KK's math more in depth.

When KK came to the Inland Empire where I live (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties in Southern California) a couple of years ago, they created such a buzz that people drove many miles out of their way on crowded highways to sample the savory delights. Even I was called to that duty by Mrs. marketingdriven.com. In the course of their growth in our area, KK can now be gotten from my local grocer albeit not as fresh as from the "real" store but only a few minutes drive if my appetite alarm goes off.

KK math is revealing: 5 million donuts produced daily---2 billion per year in 248 stores in 37 states by 3,200 employees, with sales growth consistently exceeding each previous year. In fiscal 1999 growth was 9.7%; in 2000 it was 14.1% and in 2001 it was 17.1%. Not too shabby. In the second quarter of 2002, store sales were up 12.8%. So what's driving all this growth?

Is the growth from a sound corporate strategy? They only open a store in a market that has at least 100,000 people. Is it the near cult status? The buzz that's created long before a store comes to a corner near you? Is it the secret recipe for the hot, glazed product people wait in line for? Is it longevity, since KK has been around since 1937? (I first ate a KK in the 1950s in the South.) I believe it's all of this and more.

If you've ever watched your fresh out of the fryer KK rolling towards you at one of the stores then you know the product does indeed exceed your mouth watering expectations. Straight sugar rush. After all in order to be successful in business you've got to have a good product and that they do. I believe there is an emotional attachment to KK, a return to something basic in American life that we all hanker for in our ever complex and scary world. The green and red KK logo simply says, "sit a spell and be good to yourself" and never mind your diet. It also reflects a connection to the communities in which KK enters, with promotional support for many local events and sponsorships...all links to the basic human connection of serving people where they live. True the corporate strategy of careful grooming of the brand and multiple sales channels has created a demand, even if the stock has taken a few hits with a year to date drop of 30.2%.

Still KK is an icon and symbol of well executed strategy, marketing and management. KK math is quite good: I just wish marketingdriven.com junior had better grades.

Friday, October 18, 2002

I Am Your Idea

I have been intrigued with Anderson Consulting changing their name to Accenture. Changing a brand name is not like changing your company's stationery, especially with such a major firm; it's a big deal and a risk. I'm sure Anderson did tons of research, including focus groups and the like, and here they are with the Accenture moniker.

At first they took out the standard ads announcing their new name, a ho hum sort of approach everyone is obliged to go through. But that was their first salvo. Now they've embarked on the I AM YOUR IDEA campaign. I like it and here's why. Business is about ideas that sparkle like stars across the night sky to be transformed into commerce and innovation and jobs and other atomized events celebrating the human enterprise. Anyone who has been in a large business organization has most likely clearly witnessed that ideas are also mishandled and suspect since they often upset the status quo. They bring change, something many executives will tell you they want and yet paradoxically often fear the most because it means slipping away from the tried and true.

Accenture's campaign strikes at the very heart of innovation and plants the message that "It's not how many ideas you have. It's how many you make happen." Right on! (Sorry for that saying, I'm still an unreconstructed hippie at heart.) The fold out ads offer the reader case studies from the company's illustrious client list such as Dell, Dow, Best Buy, Volvo, etc....and talks about an idea they helped deliver to fruition for each company: Accenture, Innovation Delivered. Nicely done and worthy of an MBA A+.

This all brings to mind that often with my clients, it's usually not a lack of ideas that they need help with but a lack of reality in context to their current situation. That's when good ideas are relegated to a limbo half-life from which they may never emerge. That's why Accenture's message of one powerful idea after another realized through focus, process and innovation is so strong and works well to create the new brand from the ashes of the old.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

What Marketers Know About You

As a marketer I always want to know as much about my customers and prospects as possible, but with the Internet and the incredibly deep databases that every organization appears to have it seems as if nothing is sacred anymore. I believe there is a fine ethical line we marketers have to watch for, and what brought it to mind today was the spam I received from the Internet Detective...the solicitation entices the recipient to get this "amazing tool" to find unlisted phone numbers and emails, information about your neighbors, friends, relatives or your boss, find debtors and locate hidden assets, social security records, etc. You get the drift. With identity theft on the increase due to these marvelous tools is it any wonder that you should be paranoid about anything that can be made public? Which, by the way, appears to be everything all the way down to your jock strap.

So the point is we are all living in a glass bowl...the very technology that I live by and greatly value is making it possible for anyone to be "outed" on a variety of issues, never mind the morality of it. And yet even with all this data floating around, marketers continuously try to find ways to get even more information about you in order to make the sale and to build a so-called relationship. Slicing and dicing the data is what it's all about in order to edge your marketing bet. Ironically, marketers have an ongoing struggle to find subniches within subniches in order to combat the very problem they have brought upon themselves: the commoditization of the world.

I remember when choices were a lot simpler, but now there are so many so-called brands within any product or service category that it's hard to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. And that's why customer loyalty is so precarious. As I tell my UCLA students, marketers are only renting space in the customer's consciousness...here today, gone tomorrow. Which brings us back to what marketers know about you; mainly that in the scheme of things and the increasing complexity of modern life, you'll make decisions based on emotion and comfort level, usually taking the easy way out with something you know. And that's why we marketers will always want to know more about you.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

The Meaning of a Mission Statement

A few weeks ago on my way to a business conference, I was running late and out of gas. When I stopped to fill up, my car wouldn't restart. Dead battery with no hope of revival. After a jump start from AAA, I went to the nearest battery source, a Firestone store, and told the manager I only had 15 minutes to make my appointment and what could he do to help me. He personally handled my business as a priority and 11 minutes later I was heading out the door: I made it to my destination right on time.

While waiting I surveyed the very clean store and noticed the prominently posted mission statement from John Lampe, CEO of Firestone: "We'll do whatever it takes, however long it takes, to gain your trust." Simple, straight to the point. My opinion of mission statements is that most are simply window dressings, feel goods from management that "by golly, we do believe that the customer is first" but too often with very little substance behind it. (A good example is yesterday's missive on my Amex experience.)

What's significant about this incident is that the mission statement was actualized in a manner that did indeed earn my trust. And it only took 11 minutes. Think about that next time you have a pressing need; measure the organization's mission statement against the results and your expectations. Mission statements should embody the soul of the business and if the business you are dealing with doesn't, then go somewhere else. Kudos to Firestone for making me a customer and reaffirming my faith that good customer service is indeed alive and well in the most unlikely situations.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Me And American Express

When I finally decided to get an American Express card for my business, it was for a very deeply imbedded reason that came from my childhood...mainly that getting an Amex card actually meant something, that somehow I'd "arrived". Never mind the naivete of the sentiment--and how the brand had an effect on me---it took me nearly 30 years before I got one and when I did the company didn't fulfill.

From the first, Amex could never get my wife's name right and no matter how many times I called them the scenario was always a grinding journey of phone hell, repeated entreaties to make it right and within days a new Fedex package with two new cards with the misspelled names and new account numbers. And when I finally used one of the cards, I was denied the credit while with a client!

So I cancelled. I relate this because no matter how good you think a product or service will be, it always depends on the people factor and that's the rub. Not everyone is playing with a full deck or has the same motivation for quality service that I feel my business, albeit not huge, deserves. I'm not at all surprised that Amex has a ways to go in today's marketplace because if my experience is replicated across the board, then the troubles are far from over.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Musings From A Journey East

Just returned yesterday from Sniper Alley in the Washington, D.C. area where we attended a wedding. Bizarre to be back in sunny California where the nuts here only shoot when you cut them off on the road and not from a half mile away with a sniper rifle and with only one shot. Sad commentary on the world we live in, already beaten up by the standard media so no more from me. Had to get it out of my head.

I will have more commentaries on marketing as I encountered it in the land of humidity via the local media, especially The Washington Post.

Friday, October 04, 2002

This Just In

The FTC finally gets two marketing firms to stop selling the names of high school students to credit card companies, advertising firms and direct marketers. The students gave them this primo info thinking that their personal information would get to colleges they were interested in. Wrong. And so marketers once again get a bad name. As the father of a college sophomore who gets more credit card solicitations in one week than I get in a month even though the only credit line he has (a tenuous one at that) is at the Bank of Mom and Dad, I am grateful for the FTC's action. Better late than never.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times confirmed my 10-2 missive regarding the smooth traffic situation since the noshoreman strike on our beautiful coast. Deja vu on how it used to be in Paradise by the Pacific.

And, according to the LA Times (The West's only real newspaper!) another one bites the dust with Veritas CFO Kenneth Longchar resigning because he fudged on the fact that he had a Stanford MBA when in fact he didn't. Seems like all of our business icons, large and small, are being stung by the truth squad.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

A Dilemma Helps Traffic!

The port strike on our beloved Left Coast is hurting the economy, but my wife's commute just got shorter. No trucks on our clogged roads, especially the infamous 91 going into Orange County. And they said strikes don't accomplish anything! Why do they call them longshoreman anyway? Perhaps we should call them noshoreman this week.

The key to this strike situation is that the PR on both sides is suffering. I don't think any of us clearly understand what the strike is about.

Test entry to a new way of connecting with the world.