Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Girl Scout Marketers

I'm waiting for the knock on the door from the young girl we've watched grow up and who in the past several years has sold us our yearly ration of Girl Scout cookies. But a disturbing article in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times details how life has indeed changed from simply selling cookies as a fun activity into a marketing campaign par excellence. As nearly 140,000 Girl Scouts in Southern California alone hit the streets it's now more than simply hitting up the neighbors and family, it's all about sales rallies and quotas and themes and email campaigns. Sheila Lewis, program advisor for Girls Scout USA, puts it all into marketing speak in this quote, "We look at the cookie sale as an educational opportunity rather than a selling activity." How's that?

The article touts the concepts of networking, goal setting, making decisions, planning, etc. I think that's fine but it also shows how pervasive marketing is in eveyone's life, even that cute youngster down the street who used to play with my jr. when he was a baby is now a marketer. To be fair, it's a good experience for the girls to learn a bit about how the world works and the money, so the article states, remains with the 317 local councils instead of going to HQ. Out of every $3 box, about 70 cents goes to the bakery, 50 cents to the troop and the rest to fund council-wide programs like camps.

So when little Suzie Q comes to your door, remember you're not just buying your favorite cookes, you're helping educate a young girl about how business works. At nearly 100 million boxes sold per year, that's a lot of education. But with some girls as young as 5 hitting the streets to make a sale, whatever happened to being a kid and having fun?

Monday, January 27, 2003


On my client relationship soap box again. Today, my friend and I went to a potential client who had no interest in givng us business, only to pick our brains. It became clear very early on in the conversation that he was looking for a magic pill to solve all his ills, which we quickly ascertained were many in his marketplace and with his business. So when does a business development call become a freebie? It can happen anytime because the game is to communicate, to show how you can help by asking the right questions and it means giving up information of value. But knowing what overall direction to go towards is a minute component of the process...that requires critical and strategic thinking and, most importantly, the ability to execute effectively and in a timely manner.

In my class, when I was still employed by a major health system, I often had students who worked for the competition. I remember once having a student ask me if I was not worried that what I said in class regarding strategy could actually help the competition of the organization I worked for. I replied that it didn't matter since understanding what to do and being able to do it were two different things. In a book called, The Knowing-Doing Gap, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, Harvard Business School Press, published in 2000, they clearly delineate that simply having knowledge is a fallacy of the highest order because of that gap. The ability to do is critically important to success as much as knowing what to do. It's all about action, baby.

Our suspect this morning (obviously he never went beyond the suspect stage to become a prospect), was looking for something that he couldn't articulate. Whenever we brought up something, he'd say, "We've tried that." Whenever we hear that we always know that the knowing-doing gap is at play in that business. Just trying something once or twice in a less than an integrated and thoughtful, long-term manner is rarely successful...and such a statement is usually the first indication that the suspect is looking for a fix that is operational and probably of his own doing.

When we left the suspect client this morning, he said, "Get in touch when you have something that works." While we'll write him a nice thank you letter, we'll certainly put him on our DNR list...Do Not Resuscitate.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Manna From Heaven

In my continuing saga of client relationships, my friend and I lose one one day and I gain two the next. So it goes and it's manna from heaven since that is the lifeblood of what I do. It brings to mind that attitude is indeed a determining factor of individual success and corporate success as well. Have you ever been in a company or shop or agency that just zinged, their attitude so strong and pervasive that it clung to your very soul and made you say, "I like this energy. I want to work with these folks?" Ain't it great when you find it?

I am not necessarily a proponent of all these posters that people buy for their offices, you know the ones that are about winning and attitude and fortitude, etc. The reason being is that if you've got to have a poster that pronounces it, chances are the folks that work there aren't doing it. A poster just doesn't cut it. Prove it. Attitude just shines through in its genuineness and is articulated through aware action. Sometimes it's a simple courteous response that sets the tone and defines the experience. If you go to an office and the receptionist is as cold as an iceberg (no gender implied, by the way), then whatever is waiting for you behind that door is already chilled.

Doesn't it just frost your ass when you go somewhere to get service and the attitude is so sloppy and non-caring that you wonder why those people bothered to get up in the morning? Small businesses and large corporations spend a gazillion dollars each year to train and effect positive change to their culture so that civility and sensitivity to the customer and each other is instilled. But can it be instilled if it's not already part of that person's upbringing and world view? I don't think so. That's why attitude in the business world is so important and hiring right is what it's all about.

A positive, helpful, concerned and extraordinary attitude is indeed manna from heaven. When I experience it, the whole world shines brighter and the possibilities of life become infinite. It's indeed a creative life force. Would you rather be around grumpy, lifeless people who are simply automatons in responding to your needs or around vibrant, engaged people? It's obviously a rhetorical question. I had the distinction last week of meeting a young man who knows his product so well and is so attuned to his clients and surroundings that I asked him to be a guest speaker at my class. While he'll be talking about CRM, he'll also be demonstrating attitude.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

When To Cut A Potential Client Loose

It happens to everyone of us in the consulting field, a client who continues to lead you into thinking that there is something down the road, cancelling one appointment with an allegedly good reason and then cancelling again on the eve of the project. This just occurred to me and another friend on a joint project. We agonized over letting potential business go, but in the long run we made the decision that this was a squirrelly situation that we couldn't quite read so we cut our losses, in spite of a contract (it's not worth the effort, money or negative energy to do anyting about it anyway, and it's a small world we live in and our professional standing is worth much more than a reputation as ball breakers.) So we politely, professionally and quickly sent word that it's okay---we understand and best of luck---our instinct telling us that there are probably some dynamics within that organization that we can't discern and probably have nothing to do with us. That's known as not burning our bridge.

Such is the life of a consultant. The lesson here is that if you expect nothing, then you won't be surprised. And it's all part of the biz. It brings to mind that business is not personal, although my approach is to develop a personal and confidential relationship with my clients. It's simply business and it's unpredictable. My friend and I are secure with the fact that we are professionals with a lot to offer so we move on, knowing that there are other clients out there we can help. That's why marketing is as much about hope as it is about solutions.

Say goodnight, Alain. Goodnight, Alain.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Welcome to

Unhappy Meals

As a father of a 5 year old, I am into the so-called Happy Meal Syndrome, that is I am constantly battling my own parental instincts that feeding my kid too many fatty foods is not in his best interest, at the same time I fight the McDonald's marketing machine through a very determined young chap with a quickness of mind and the ability to break down many of the best defenses. But all is not lost at the household in that Happy Meals are sometimes occurences as part of a larger employee incentive program for jr. Please don't email me with parental advice, I'm only making a point by exploiting my own son's situation (Just like a marketer!)

When questioned about the quality of the food or the reason for a McDonald's visit, little Skeezix is quick to point out that he wants the toy. With McDonald's in the earnings tank, news comes from McBurger HQ that a new Happy Meal prize will be Betty Spaghetty, a popular doll a la Beanie Babies (I must have been out of the country when this doll's popularity erupted on the Rug Rats set), as well as Tonka trucks. Will that make everyone McHappy? Not at this household, and probably not at many others with the Syndrome.

McDonald's and Burger King have been in a pricing war that is doing very little to improve the bottom line nor anyone else's waist size. I must admit that the $1 Big and Tasty burger is a genuine, fairly tasty bargain. Does it drive more business into the store? Hard to say as McDonald's continues to waffle. And it brings to mind that the marketplace is never static, it changes and morphs in many different ways. Brands become irrelevant and burn out like fading stars; what often happens is a reliance on old thinking to revive an old and tired brand. Such may be the case with McDo (as they are so fondly called in my home country of France). The demographics are changing and with it marketing strategy must also change. We boomers who basically put McDo on the map are beginning to fade, getting a little long in the tooth and wide in the waist and thinking about living longer so burgers are a no, no.

Is the pricing strategy that McFat and the others are taking good for business. Only the next quarter's figures will tell us. Is price really an issue for a burger and fries, or is it the "dining & fun" experience? For me it is neither. And that brings me to competition for your food dollar.

With all the changes in the marketplace, there is also evolving a vast array of food choices unheard of before. A recent addition to our fare in my neck of the woods, is Daphne's, a local Greek restaurant firm that is expanding and providing a great alternative to the usual burgers and fries (although they, too, have fries with the gyros). Still McDonald's has a strong pull and don't count them out. I just questions whether the new Happy Meals toys will be an unhappy boost to corporate losses. I know that I don't need Betty Spaghetty visiting my house....we're already overrun with crates of fast food toys that have faded in my son's memory as quickly as water soaking through sand.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Tell Me A Story, Part Deux

Actually this is about telling the truth. In an article in Fast Company a couple of years ago, CEO's and thought leaders of major organizations were asked about telling the truth in a business environment. The article was titled, "The Truth Is, The Truth Hurts". All to make a point that telling the truth is a hard to find commodity in business, yet it needs telling. Alas, sometimes we marketer are called upon to shave a few points off the truth and that's the reason why so many people equate us as less as honest. I hear all the time the refrain that what we tell the world is only to "sell" and not grounded in fact. In other words, gasp, people think we lie about the products or services we tout as beneficial to the world. Imagine that!

Let me take you to where I've been watching the "truth in advertising" unfurl in my own life lately. Mrs. has been---to put it mildly---petitioning me to consider buying a new house for at least two years. Truth be (there's that concept again) we could use more space since jr. is an active boy who seems to have taken over every part of the house, even some of my office. So, after much looking and waiting for an opportunity to entice me to be a willing partner to this venture, we found a development a couple of miles from us that seems to fit us perfectly.

The models were, of course, tastefully done, with the lighting perfect, the ambiance soothing and brimming with possiblities. You can actually visualize being there. All the latest in appliances, creature comforts that say you've arrived, the whole gambit. However, when you get down to the final decisions as to "upgrades" it does make you wonder about the truth. Not that the builder and his henchmen are untruthful, it's just that the story they tell has a few minor details that do not totally come to light until you bring the checkbook out...then it's, "No, that's not standard carpet, or tile or lighting or an electrical outlet or whatever, it's an upgrade item." Which means it costs a hell of a lot more than if you got it done by an independent guy. But you're there in the office and you've got the new house fever---somewhat below the new car smell that throws caution to the wind---but you get the drift.

So tell me a story, part deux, is about marketers telling the story so that it wakes up the buying instinct. Is that being untruthful or is it selling hope and possibilities and excitement? Marketers know that people generally buy for emotional reasons...forget about the rational thinking process. Great marketers tell stories that bring all of the emotions to light and there's nothing wrong with it. The question remains: how far do we go? More on that later.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Tell Me A Story

When I was a kid in France, we didn't have television then---remember this was the dark ages just after WWII---I used to sit in my grandmother's cafe and listen to the stories of the people who came in to socialize and play cards. Stories carried me to worlds I never imagined I would have a chance to see. And the stories gave me a solid connection to my culture, to the myths and nuances that define a society. If you think that story telling is no longer an option, all you have to do is look at the success of the movie theaters with such epic stories like Lord of the Rings. All you have to do is be around a young child like my 5 year old and stories become common place occurrences that help shape his mind and thirst for adventure.

I relate this because as a marketer I am always looking to find out what do people want? How do they want to know about what I am positioning in the marketplace? As a marketing teacher I am always telling stories as examples, making the material come alive with something other than a bunch of blah, blah, blah about concepts and theories. I implore my students that when they write their business and marketing plans to, "Tell me a story." Give me a beginning, a middle and an end. Aren't case studies simply business stories, if somewhat dry at times?

So what do people want more than anything else? They want to connect with one another as more than passersby on the road of life. They want substance and a way to relate to their own lives. Sadly, we are bombarded with so many messages each day that the concept of telling stories has been lost. Yet, think back on the most memorable ads you can recall...I'll bet they told a story in a unique way. After all, are we waiting for the Super Bowl for the football or the ads?

So, tell your story about what your business is, build the fabric that is memorable for those who look to you for products and services that solve their problems. It's what people want and what your marketer should be doing.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Back To School

I am back at teaching my marketing class at UCLA and it's always an inspiring process of getting to know my students, all healthcare professionals eager to understand this mistress of mine, marketing. In my sixth year, I have learned to expect everything from this class of highly educated professionals with a wide range of expertise. What is essential is that they are there because they want to learn, to be better consumers of marketing and to understand the impact that marketing has in their personal lives and in their jobs.

As a class starter I usually bring in marketing examples that I have gathered between classes, everything from direct mail pieces to unsolicited faxes. It is truly enlightening when my class begins to see how pervasive marketing is...from intrusions via telemarketing to the plastic wrap of your morning newspaper. This show and tell does more to get the message across that marketing is far more than promotions---even though what I bring to them are promotional in nature---and about strategy, the strategy of targeted messaging and of creating choice. Trying to break through the clutter of over 3000 marketing messages per person per day is a tough endeavor, and it does wear one down, but think what would happen without new products or services being touted by us marketers. Whether you love us or hate us, we marketers have the same half life as cockroaches...we'll be around long after the planet disintegrates, just waiting for our time to rise again.

It's a late night from the marketing trenches tonight. Let me wax philosophical before I amble to bed.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

It's A Happy Marketing Driven New Year

As I walk through my thoughts of this Christmas past, I am absolutely wondrous at the creativity of human beings---from all the toys and gizmos that came from China to what individuals are doing for world peace and overall betterment of the world. While it seems that the world is going to blow itself up any day, there is still a lot more good being done that continues to build what we call our lives, civilization, etc. Marketing is a part of that and here's why:

You can market to yourself this new year that you will make the necessary changes in your life to begin the road to achieving your goal, or you can also market to yourself that there are too many obstacles, or the time isn't right, or whatever. Good marketing comes from making a decision. It's your have a great marketing driven 2003.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by!