Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Customer Unrelationships

The ruling mantra for marketers and businesses is creating "relationships". There's not a day that goes by that some CEO is quoted as saying that this customer relationship management is one of the most important initiatives in his/her company. And then it all goes poof when a customer actually takes that to heart. Witness what is happening with some companies that are trying to get customers to pay online. In today's business report on NPR, this topic was discussed in length with examples of companies actually charging you to write a check to pay for services you use. Some pay as much as $2 per check, which may not sound like much but apparently it's another revenue generator for large firms...regardless of how the customer feels.

I've always been of the notion that having people pay you in whatever fashion is a good thing in business, although a truck load of pennies does push the limit. My own bank, Bank of America, actually promotes online banking at no charge, hoping that more of us will follow like lemmings. Part of the issue is a matter of trust and electronic connection. The other is that it's change and people still like touching paper and writing a check. Alas, the world is quickly evolving into an online reality and I suspect that we will all be paying our bills that way. But charging me to pay for what I buy from a company is definitely not user friendly and goes against the marketing driven philosophy that I espouse. Goodnight.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Toyota & BMW Go To The Movies

Product tie-ins are not new. Not that long ago, it was simply paying to have your product featured in a movie for that nanosecond of exposure that the advertising guys convinced the client was critical to their campaign. But, hey, it's a living. Now we have BMW films that have caught on, where the classic Beemer is a supporting actor; these films are actually drawing a cult following. In the latest Newsweek, there was a complete fold out of Toyota Goes To The Movies with the Get the Feeling theme.

Positioning their 18 models agains the all time best movies as decided by Zagat Survey, the reader is greeted with the movie guide to the ratings of the 50 "Top 'Feel Good' Movies Of All Time"...."Movies That Move Us" by "the maker of 18 star vehicles." Enough already. It's amazing how far marketers will go to break through the advertising clutter to pitch us something. While I do own a Toyota and think it's a great car, I'm not sure if this campaign is even worthy of my mention except that it also has a supporting cast of ABC, NBC, as well as Hollywood and Orlando City Walks. By logging on to www.toyotamovies.com, you can test your movie knowledge and enter to win a home theater and other goodies. It's a slick piece of advertising that is trying to emote the sensation of going to movies while selling you a car. If that helps sell more Toyotas then what I tell my class about the act of buying being an emotional response rather than a rational one is proving true yet again. And with such campaigns as this one, is it any wonder that the general public is overwhelmed with marketing messages that they increasingly don't trust and reject? A excellent car company like Toyota deserves a better advertising focus.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Courageous Conversations & Other Observations

Courageous conversations...I returned last Sunday from a very intensive weekend retreat with a client feeling elated, stuffed full of information and semi-formed strategies...and quite tired. When you're discussing seminal and behavioral issues of strategic importance for continued market domination, the stakes can become quite personal and visceral. To our rescue came one of the most gifted facilitators I've ever seen in action; he kept the flow moving, held our feet to the fire and allowed us to have the courageous conversations we vitally needed. I'm sure most of us have been there, where a certain team member needs "that talk" about behavior and performance,and how that behavior affects the overall welfare of the organization. It's not a mugging it just happens so you have to deal with it because it's been building for so long...and it is indeed a courageous conversation where what everyone has been feeling and experiencing for a very long time finally comes forth, first as a trickle and then as a gusher.

Do enough of us have those courageous conversations in our daily professional lives? Of course not, otherwise we wouldn't need all of us consultants to get to those festering core issues that people feel deep inside but are afraid to say because they could be career stoppers or hurt someone's feelings. While being courageous about what needs to be said is commendable, it must be done in an empathetic manner so that if the individual is still a valuable member of the team he can be salvaged. And that's what I witnessed last weekend.

So how is this part of marketing? Simply because how a team member performs and behaves is critical for a well functioning business. Solid interpersonal relationship skills are still the number 1 factor that drive a successful career---indeed a successful life----and relationships that are built on common standards of behavior enhance the marketing process by allowing a give and take that nurtures creativity, innovation and most of all trust. I hate the word synergy, but that's what it's all about. Clearing the air this weekend opened new channels of communications that still need to be worked on and only time will tell if this will succeed.

Leadership in the trenches...I read in the business section of the LA Times this morning about the Gap's comeback efforts under the leadership of a new CEO, Paul Pressler. Amazingly enough, this guy actually gets around and gets down to where the rubber meets the road by going to the stores and waiting on customers and stocking shelves. He actually wants to understand the emotional connection that customers have with products and services. Pressler, who came from Disney, states, "We were storytellers [at Disney]. The more I think about it, I think about this business no differently." Imagine that, telling a story that positions the company in the customer's mind in a positive manner. That's marketing intelligence from a very communicative leader. Good luck, Paul.

She Must Be Obeyed... In Rumpole of the Bailey, a series on PBS about an irreverent barrister in London, Rumpole calls his wife by the aforementioned sobriquet. I use it to emphasize the importance of understanding the power of women in purchasing decisions. It's estimated that 80+% of all healthcare decisions are made by women. It's women that have the babies, take care of them, take them to the doctor, push the guy to see a doctor and otherwise make those decisions as to which health plan is the best and which doc. She Who Must Be Obeyed is my marketing term of endearment to the female persuasion of the marketplace. A few years ago, I read where car dealers were starting to market to women since they figured out how important they were. They acted like it was a big deal that they finally "got it" and I guess it was. I bring this up because you've got to know your demographics and who controls the pocketbook. In one organization, the marketing agency I partnered with to make our programs zing was run by a woman and was 90% women. While I sometimes questioned the use of the color purple (Yes, it is a gender thing) I can tell you that the strategic thinking that came to the solutions was solid and effective. So you need to not only know your marketplace but also your vendors and apply the same marketing principle: It takes one to know one.

Governmental Customer Service...No, it's not an oxymoron, it is actually happening to me. We have a certain person on our street who has decided to park his huge RV on the street and use it as an adjunct living space, all against the wishes of his neighbors and local law enforcement. No amount of cajoling from the neighbors about blocking the road or tripping over extension cords seems to work so many of us have called the local constables. And so this person is amassing a significant number of tickets that will eventually lead to his vehicle being impounded. What I want to brag about here is that my little municipality "gets it" in that whenever we snitches call in to report that "he's back!" they actually return calls and let us know where they are with this situation. The customer service is exemplary...and that, too, is marketing at its best.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

There Is No Panacea

As a marketing consultant I can only bring a different perspective to my clients based on my experience and help them think through their particular business issues. Calling myself a marketing consultant is actually a misnomer since I view all business activities as part of the marketing process, and none more important than leadership. There's simply no panacea for leadership at all levels of the organization. And like all consultants, I have found that the leadership issue is so divisive that the very survival of a company generally relies on it. Obviously another duh.

What brings this duh to mind is that I am on my way to a client retreat this weekend, where most of the time will be spent on emotional intelligence and leadership. It's encouraging that I have a client so focused on making the right changes for the organization and realizing that individual and collective leadership is critical to their continued success. I can thank the Chairman of the Board for that, a lifelong learner. To prepare, I have been reading the retreat's required text Primal Leadership, by Richard Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. Powerful reading and not simply another theory du jour. Instinctively a good consultant and executive has always known that emotional intelligence---linking the heart and head---had as much to do with a company's success as any other factor. Now that has been codified, extracted, validated, well presented and should be required reading.

Whenever I do an assessment of a business, I invariably have to delve into internal relationships, territoriality, and leadership. When I am commissioned I am often initially asked "to do ads" and the ads from competitors are brought out to highlight this dire need. Where I usually start in my assessment always goes back to how the organization is led. What I often find is a mission statement and/or a vision statement and other window dressings that have become meaningless through time and attrition. That's when I find out how the organization acts versus what it says that makes the difference. And that's usually what employees will tell me right away in my interviews. Sure there are sour grapes and they're easy to ferret out, but leadership is usually top of mind even in the best run and beloved organizations.

So I often have to say, "You don't need to do ads, you need to ignite your organization's spirit through a top down-bottoms up reflection of how you are what you say, do and act. Let's work on that and then we'll see about promotions." And the next question usually is, "How is that marketing?"

That's because marketing is really about leadership in the most extreme and minor ways. It's about people invested in the company's future, and its products and services, through doing the right things for the right reasons; that means creating a company of leaders who are allowed to have the initiative to take calculated risks without fear of retribution. It means looking at all the details of how the company is running, finding how to better the process to solve customers' problems and satisfy their needs; and then starting all over again and again and again. It's seeking perfection with each encounter, a continual reinvention. But how often does that really happen? That's where the leadership comes in.

I've worked in organizations where how the executives felt and reacted was based on the CEO's mood at the time. All platitudes and no substance. A climate of fear. If you were swaying against the company breeze---not just to be obstinate but to promote a genuine business solution or opportunity---you were labeled "not a team player." Deadly for any career, and especially deadly in so-called "values-based" organizations, where the values proudly displayed on the wall are used to submit the dissidents into submission.

If emotional intelligence is so important to leadership, why is it not an important part of selecting leaders to run our businesses and organizations? I believe it's because we hang on to fleeting credentials such as advanced degrees, time in the job, etc. We don't seem to search out the successful leaders who have a knack for genuine human connections with those they are leading. It's also because there are few of them as witnessed by our currentt moral crisis in business. This isn't some New Age bs that we have to be liked by everyone, but it's about a common thread of life that we observe in not only ourselves but others. It's empathy, compassion and reality combined.

It's also why we gravitate to business books from leaders that have "done it all." We want to know how they did it and how can some to that rub off on us. It's a one size fits all approach, which I reject since most of the businesses in this country are not multi-billion dollar organizations with complex and divergent product lines and services. While there may be universal truths in those tomes, they don't always translate into a panacea for a business solution. That still has to come from individual leadership grounded in the day to day realities of the local marketplace or industry. You can read all the business, how-to and self improvement books in the world (and there are over 4,000 printed on those subjects each year!) and still not "get it." It goes back to your level of awareness and a willingness to honestly reflect upon your humanness and your business side. It's something that leaders can never stop doing.

Friday, November 01, 2002

The Duh Factor

My insurance friend let me know that my entry for October 30th had a bit of the duh factor since founders of organizations have always been reluctant to let go and it's old news. How so very true and a double duh! But as a marketing and strategy consultant, I am sure I speak for many others when I say this is one of the greatest inhibiting factors in moving an organization forward that we encounter. It's not only with the owner or founder of a business, it's also about the territorial instinct that seems to be part of an executive's DNA code as well as many employees, especially if they've been at it a long time.

I always preach ownership of an individual's process in a business to my students and clients---whether it's taking out the trash or being a mid-level manager or the CEO---but there also has to be a willingness to be open to new ideas and to reflect upon the fact that not all things that we know necessarily work well in all situations, and that sometimes when something works well you need to be rethinking the process anyway in order to stay ahead of the herd.

Another duh: It's all about change and it's a hard thing to accomplish, no matter what the rhetoric is about empowerment and all those other wonderful corporate window dressings. It's something I anticipate with every client no matter how enlightened they may be about bringing me in as a consultant. Some have it more than others, and refreshingly some have none---a rarity, I must admit.

But there is also an arrogance that we consultants have about the duh factor, mainly because what we know seems to be so simple and easy for us to access. And that means that when we get into the duh mode, we need to clearly understand that what we live and breathe is also scary for many of our clients, and that's why we're there in the first place. Fear and pain drive decisions. What people want most is to be happy and what they most want their consultants to do is help them find that happiness or at least a solution to the problem that is causing them pain. We marketers and strategists have to make our energy and knowledge accessible and palatable so that we can help our clients move forward. It's the same for the in-house marketing guy: Education is about freedom and consensus building and about keeping your job.

I have had to learn as a teacher of professionals over the past six years that yes, my enthusiasm and passion for my craft are powerful aspects of my teaching and professional success, but not everyone can access it nor do they always welcome it. That's another duh for me and it helps me be more humble as I approach a project or teach a class. While a strategist's job is to continuously ask "why?" it's also about listening to the answers, and sometimes the duh factor can get in the way.