Monday, March 29, 2004

On Vacation

In New York....see you next week. Alain

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Everyone is a Critic

An article in this morning's LA Times discusses how customer reviews on and other websites are now seriously affecting book sales. Publishers are beginning to realize this and "court" some of these so-called amateur reviewers with free books. One, Rebecca Johnson, is number 4 on Amazon's list and so publishers are sending her 40-60 free books per month. Amazon has built an online community that relies on these reviews from the "common folk" to sell books and authors are checking the reviews of their books on the site to make sure they stay on top of the marketing trends. What's also happening is that some people are pushing friend's books, etc. What's significant is that the Internet is continuing to change how marketing is done. It's what we used to hear in the 60s and 70s: Power to the People!

More on Been There, Done That

Troublesome clients as last night's entry talked about are also the responsibility of the marketer....I don't mean to assume that it's all the client's fault as we all have complicity in our fate. The reality is that temperament is as much a factor in a business relationship as it is in all relationships. Some people are simply not compatible. I've just gone through one of those experiences and I know it was probably as troubling to the client as it was to me. At that point, no one is on their best behavior. On the other hand, there are client relationships where the match is so good you feel you've known them forever. The dream client.

It really does boil down to setting expectations right up front. And even that doesn't work all the time. My partners and I have revised our proposal forms to clearly state what we offer, how we work and what to expect. I'm sure our approach will evolve with other clients as well since you can't anticipate every situation and communications is an ongoing process. Responsibility in relationships is a two-way road. Enough said.

Say It Ain't So NPR

I just read that Bob Edwards, the host of NPR's popular "Morning Edition" will leave the show after 25 years at the end of April. Feels like I almost know the guy as he basically put that program on the radio map. Life evolves and so Bob has to move on....he will now become a senior correspondent. We'll miss him.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Been There, Done That

Just read on the Fast Company blog regarding difficult clients. FC reported on a survey by Marcia Yudkin of Marketing For More and here's how it panned out:

Dealing With Troublesome Clients

Of 313 respondents who answered five questions about their most troublesome clients, here are the results.

When asked to think back on all of the clients who turned out to be far more trouble than they were worth, they named the following kinds:

Exhausting to deal with 63%
Impossible to please 51%
Kept trying to get free advice 46%
Whiny, complaining, always negative 41%
Asked for changes after project supposedly finished 40%
Emotionally unstable 28%
Verbally abusive or threatening 26%
Refused to pay for no good reason 25%
Couldn't deal with any criticism 21%
Inappropriately romantic or sexual 7%

When asked whether or not there were warning signs of trouble ahead, people responded:

Yes 65%
No 19%
Not sure/don't remember 17%

Those filling out the survey fell into these categories:

Solo professional 53%
Business owner with at least one employee 22%
Executive, manager or employee 25%

Expert commentary on the survey findings
For psychological perspective on why difficult clients may show up in our lives, how we can head them off by setting clear, sensible boundaries and what to do when the above-listed problems arise, register for our teleclass with psychotherapist Szifra Birke, which takes place at 4 p.m. Eastern time on March 24. If you missed the live session, you can receive the CD recording to listen to at your leisure.
Register or order the CD.

Comments, advice and perspective

A lot of wisdom showed up in our survey when we asked for questions and comments. Here are some selected pieces of advice and poignant experiences.

"The key is careful advance screening of potential clients, just as one would do with employees."

"My first rule of project management is 'Choose the right project.' Don't go for what appears to be easy money."

"Ask every question you think of. Get it in writing. Business is business. Be honorable in your dealings, and don't accept less from clients."

"Once in a while I have a difficult client who is coachable. If so, I am willing to coach them. However, if they exhibit any sign of true imbalance, abusiveness etc., the relationship must be terminated as quickly as possible. There are too many wonderful people out there who want assistance and are appreciative when they receive it to waste time, energy and sanity with the few who are truly difficult."

"Decision-making ability is something that I look for now. Clients that agonize for two weeks over which color blue tend to agonize over everything, and second-guess my advice and their own instincts."

"Whenever I take a client for the money against my better judgment, it never works out."

"A new service must expect to attract some 'misfits' who haven't been able to receive services elsewhere, and are somewhat desperate. The goal of admission or acceptance or continued service should be to help some of those who are difficult, while growing and recruiting to maintain a majority of stable, happy, regular clients."

"I've reached a point where I insist on a no obligation consult and a survey/self-assessment (due diligence if you will) to determine best I can if this is a fit with mutual reward potential. I have learned after 27 years to also factor in personal intuition (yes, we guys have/can develop it!)"

"My best way of dealing with poor clients is to raise my price. This forces the clients to place a value on my work. Sometimes they are not willing to pay the higher fee, other times they pay the fee and treat me better because they have reassessed my value. The first thing we discuss in the initial contact is the cost - not what they want. I can do what they want or they wouldn't call. It's not about being arrogant, it is about being valuable."

"I generally find that the worst customer/client problems are brought about by a misunderstanding of expectations on the part of the customer, which this business has fostered and allowed to flourish over the years. A store manager I worked with at Bloomingdale's remarked many times that customers have to be taught how to be good customers of that company. It often becomes necessary to 'fire' unprofitable customers, in order to devote time and resources to those who deserve them."

"You can do a lot to pre-empt client difficulties. If a client balks at paying hourly for any reason other than corporate bureaucracy requirements, I take that as a sign of distrust and wanting to gorge at the salad bar with unpaid professional services. I have a list of 'what you can expect from us' and 'what we expect from you' that has created many happy clients in the several years I've been using it."

"Is client homicide ever justifiable? Is there a special place in Dante's third circle of hell for clients who mistreat vendors?"

"When I was interviewing clients, I refused anyone I couldn't get to laugh at least twice in the first hour."

"Clients will zero in on your weak spots and get away with what they can get away with. As you increase your own confidence and strengthen your boundaries, you will find that you will begin to attract less troublesome clients."

"Sometimes difficult clients become good clients after you figure out how to work with them."

"I have a knack with difficult people, am able to maintain my integrity and usually get the client to come around. Therefore, when the situation is impossible, it is hard to make the call."

"Remember that the person who is most difficult may be acting out their problems rather than being a reflection of your inadequacies."

"The most difficult are long-time friends who become clients - a real source of potential conflicts of interest."

"The very few difficult clients that I've had have always come from thinking I needed the client out of a feeling of desperation. I should have just walked away."

"The abuse you may take is not worth the money you hope to make."

"You attract the difficult client to you. Since I don't visualize any difficult clients coming my way anymore, they have magically disappeared! And all the wonderful clients are beating a path to my door!"

"The more I niche, the less I deal with this problem."

Copyright © 2003-2004 Creative Ways. All Rights Reserved.

Let me add my own Amen to the above! Alain

The Creative Process

Marketing is about creativity, mainly the ability to understand many different aspects of a business, product or service and being able to effectively think through the process of positioning of such so that customers buy. That being said, creativity is at a premium in many businesses due to the incredibly fast pace with which we now work and the demands of a real time society going even faster. The fly in the ointment of creativity is email, once thought to be a freeing technology and now being held in increasingly low regard due to spam and the expectation that because someone has sent an email, communication has occurred. It creates in many already overworked and compulsive individuals more compulsiveness. I know for a fact that answering emails, particularly ones of a sensitive nature, takes time to think through the message---don't want to worsen the situation---and saps energy and time away from activities that are far more productive.

I mention this for two reasons: (1) My partners and I often spend considerable time trying to decipher mood and intent of the emails we receive from "sensitive" clients. We want to be respectful and attentive to their needs, at the same time we need to be up front and tell it like it is. That takes time and you're never really sure of the impact or whether you get it right. The only way to deal with is be honest and appropriate and then sometimes just pick up the damn phone and call. Need to do more of that. (2) The creativity that I sometimes put into emails should be channeled into my own writing and thinking...I've got enough to deal with on a daily basis that I'm also tired of people saying, "I sent you an email" as if that's the end of their responsibility.

Emails and the Internet overall can be a distraction. I recommend that if it gets in your way that you simply shut it off or take a hiatus so that you can have some creative thinking time and rejuvenate your energies towards better problem solving.

Thursday, March 18, 2004


Hard to imagine that the Donald is copyrighting the phrase, "You're fired," but that's what he's doing. Pretty soon we'll have to buy licenses to our favorite phrases. Amazing how this world works.

Fear Not My Boomer Cohorts

A report from the Rand Corp. for AARP out today shows that once again us former Hippies and every stripe in between are not going to go into retirement quietly. So what else is new? Many of us over the age of 50, including yours truly, are starting businesses at a rapid pace and are planning on staying into the workplace far longer than traditionally thought. I think it all has to do with the independence we fought so hard for in the 60s and 70s. But also, it shows that our view of the corporate world is evolving with our age...mainly that the corporate world is an insecure place so it's best if we think for ourselves and get creative in how we make a living. Also, we are healthier and living longer so the notion of retirement is changing as well. According to the report, 50-plus workers accounted for 40% of all people in business for themselves.

What's the marketing implication? They're going to need goods and services, such as marketing consulting, and their ability to create jobs and stay active means a ready market for those who don't simply look at us as have-beens.

Web Access Has Marketing Implications

A study released by Nielsen/Netratings and reported in this morning's Wall Street Journal shows that nearly 75% of the U.S. population----or 204.3 million people---access the Internet from home. That's very significant and shows that marketers who neglect the Internet as business channel are not thinking straight. Doesn't it amaze you that some very smart businesses have such lousy, unfriendly websites and don't use the full potential of their sites. So what does mean for us marketers? More business provided we creatively and strategically integrate the web in all aspects of our marketing efforts for our clients. Think about how often you use the yellow pages vs. the web to find out anything around your town or elsewhere.

Countering The Tivo Instinct

Echostar Communications has been hosting a show called BingoTV for most of its Dish Satellite customers. The show basically is a couple of yappy "personalities" who suck you into playing bingo while watching their spiel to win the very products they are touting. That way you get stuck trying to find out if you can win a trip on Southwest Airlines or Sirius Satellite Radio, etc. Very clever. It's only been around for about a month and the jury is still out, but it goes to show how marketers are finding ways around us zapping the commercials out of our lives. And this is especially true as the networks fade more and more in importance. The key is to find where the customers are more likely to listen to your message. Product placement works, like Simon on American Idol having a Coke cup in front of him throughout the show, but placing an airline is problematic. So stay tuned folks because marketers are creative types and they'll find a way to reach you and get you to buy their brands.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Elevator Pitch

Not the one you give when you've got an opportunity to give a brief pitch as to what you do, but the kind that further intrudes into your consciousness as an unwilling participant to advertising, namely an ad as you zoom up however many floors in an elevator. An article in the March 22 BusinessWeek discusses how a company called Captivate Network is showing ads on flat screen TVs in elevators. The article further states that "In six daily trips of one-minute each, a rider can soak up 24 hours of elevator ads annually." The Westford, Mass. start-up charges companies like General Motors and American Express up to $125K monthly for repeating 10-seconds ads in 450 building across the U.S. And has contracts for 650 more buildings. Amazing! From Musak to ads....which is worse? But goes to show you that marketers will leave no stones---or elevators, that is---unturned to get at our target audiences.

Have a great weekend. Alain

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Live From Spongebob Central

He's back! We saw him this morning when we learned that the tiff between Dish and Viacom was over and our favorite sponge was frolicking again in Bikini Bottom. Another crisis averted, but shows you how something like a contract dispute filters down to the most common denominator, our children. Now that Spongebob is back, do you think Elvis is waiting in the wings?

Far Out!

John Denver used to say that in the seventies and now we can actually use it to describe a new concept coming out of Russia where a spacecraft designer has said he has patented a device for putting advertising into space that can be seen from Earth. Talk about leaving no stone, or should I say no planet, unturned when it comes to marketing intrusions. Do you think perhaps this guy is a Marketing Hit Commisar? Truly amazing.

"Can You Hear Me Now?"

Talk about an innocuous message that has leaked into our culture. The Verizon message is everywhere, but I must admit that after switching to Verizon that I am not a happy camper. They claim to be the best in service, but they don't explain their contracts well when you come in and switch and their phones have an echo that is driving us crazy at the world Hq. So I went to the only retail and customer service outlet in our part of Paradise and waited in line for 45 minutes, met with someone who could certainly take lessons in how to talk effectively with customers, was told that I needed new software---which he then installed; he then tried the phone, declared healed and gave me the boot. Well, this morning, guess what? The echo is as loud as the Grand Canyon so I go back again and am treated with more lackluster service staff, was told they'd send me a new phone in a couple of days and goodbye. So, I am writing this blog as well as sending a message to The Powers That Be at Verizon and I hope they can hear me. This is as much fun as dealing with American Express which could not get my billing straight for three months before I said Adios. They heard me, too, although I know voting with my feet didn't affect their bottom line, only my satisfaction.

The lesson here is that marketing impacts us everyday. It can either enhance our lives or suck time away from a busy day, like Verizon has done. And there is no lack of imagination in how to get product messages into the customer sphere, even if it takes a rocket to do it so. The question for you is how is your marketing orbiting your customers? Is it as stellar as a starry night, or is it as dingy as my Verizon outlet?

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

We Want Spongebob!

What is life without Spongebob, says Jr. I agree, I miss the little guy and I'm trying to explain to Jr. that the reason he's not on this week or maybe not for a long time is because Echostar/Dish Network can't seem to work out a deal with DirecTV so it's off the air along with CBS and a few others. A big ad in this morning's LA Times pleaded DirecTV's cause and gave us a website to go find out what we can do. It's Clever, isn't it? Now contract disputes are more and more going the newspaper advertising route to plead directly to the consuming public. I don't think the impact is going to be that great at this stage since DirecTV only has about a million and a half customers. It's inconvenient, but then again, what did we do before we had a gazillion channels? Just the unusual things like have a conversation, read a book, go for a walk, just generally relate to each other. While Jr. misses Mr. Squarepants, I am looking forward to my $2 rebate on my next bill for not having those channels. Look out 401K, here comes another big investment for my retirement!

More On Responsibility

On the opposite page from announcing the loss of Spongebob was an ad by AARP letting us know that they are still fighting the big pharmas for affordable drug prices. Nothing like a political year to bring out the best in everyone. The gist of the message is that AARP is there fighting for us and, hint, hint, now would be a good time to join.

And now for something different. I heard on the radio this morning that Congress was debating whether to give consumers the right to sue fast food corporations for making us fat. Now there's a worthy cause that needs debate. How about debating a Responsiblity Act where people are made accountable for the choices they make. If you want to lard up at McD's or BK or anywhere else, then don't blame the companies that bring you those items. I agree that marketing plays a big factor with kids wanting all those "Happy Meals" but get real, no one is making us go there and buys the junk. We are a country that is fast become unaccountable and only in search of an excuse. As Flip Wilson used to say, for those of us who remember who he was, "The Devil made me do it." Amen.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Guilty As Charged

A client accused me today of being a "marketing hit man," as if I would take offense. He was implying that marketing---which he desperately needs and said he wants---and being a marketer are bad things. Consider me guilty as charged. Here's why I take no offense: I am an incurable marketer although I've never been called a hit man before. But if hit man I am labeled for taking the cause of my clients personally and working diligently to get their message out to the world and being their advocate, then double my sentence, Your Honor. The irony is that the former client wants to make money with his business and is constantly worried about it. Go figure. So it made me think as to what I can learn from this situation and here's what I think.

If it wasn't for marketing nothing would happen. No sales. No awareness of what a product or a service offers to the public. No jobs. No economy. No nothing. Nada. Zip. Marketing has been the fuel of many a dreamer who saw a better way to do something or build something better or simply provide a better service. Marketing is what people do on a daily basis when they apply for a job, meet their new neighbors, run for President, sell Girls Scout cookies, whatever. Marketing is everywhere and is in everything. To be sure anyone who has read this blog knows that I believe that we are over marketed to and hounded by unethical marketers who think only of cluttering up our lives---and email inboxes---with their messages to buy, buy, buy.

This incident also made me think of the students I've had the privilege of sharing the concepts of marketing with, mostly doctors who need to get a message out to their patients about who they are, what they stand for, what they can do for them, from life saving operations to immunizations. Many of our classes have been about the ethics of marketing and my role is to expose them to concepts that make them think. That's what I also do with and for my clients.

This incident today also made me think of my time in the Peace Corps in Kenya when we would go out to the villages to "market" better ways to manage their cattle and how to build water systems that brought clean, disease-free water to their villages for many years. Oh, and it makes me think of all the marketing the churches are doing now with Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ. So it goes.

When it comes to ethics and values, being honest with yourself and your clients are the most important attributes a marketer has. That plus passion for the craft of marketing and total interest in the client. If you get a marketer that doesn't have those, run for your life and keep your wallet secure. The difficulty with some clients is that they don't like to be told the truth. That, too, is a part of marketing and I've never shied away from it.

So perhaps I am taking the long view of the meaning of being a hit man further than the originator of that phrase meant, but for now I'll wear it as a badge of honor. Signing off as The Marketing Hit Man, I appreciate your attention to this important message from your sponsor.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

The Team Members Are Back!

It's true, the "team members" from the grocery strike are going back to their aisles and registers and boy, are the grocery companies happy. I heard a radio ad for one the big grocers where the HR person was welcoming the strikers back "because we can't do it without you." And then more blather about team work and serving the customer, but I'd bet it will take more than a few radio ads to make everyone feel good about this or even financially whole.

We've also noticed that more 'Savers" clubs are being offered to lure us back into the stores, away from the new patterns we've established over the past four months. The lesson here is that time does heal all wounds and people will go back to the most convenient and timely places to buy groceries. It will be interesting to note how the business rebounds for the major grocers. Trying to be competitive with Walmart was one of the reasons they put before the public as a reason for holding their ground on benefits, especially with healthcare, but Walmart isn't going to go away and maybe they should look at how they do business and find ways to compete on those grounds instead of on the back of their "team members." Oops, I showed my true colors, but I read in this morning's paper that it will take a clerk's helper 18 months of work before they are eligible for healthcare coverage and then it's at hardly a living wage for California (around $8.00/hr after 18 months) and no coverage for their families. Go figure.

The public's memory will be short on this one once the stores start to gear up their marketing machines and get the folks back in the door. That's the power of marketing and advertising. In the long run as the old saying goes "money talks and bullshit walks." It certainly seems that way about this strike.

Signing Out AMA

When a patient doesn't want to follow a doctor's course of treatment in the hospital and just walks out the door, that's called signing out Against Medical Advice. When a client does that in my practice that's also called signing out AMA: Against Marketing Advice. We've all had this happen when the client sees a different priority---sometimes due to information you may not be privy to---and the marketing goes out the door. The marketing budget gets diverted into another part of the business, or simply evaporates, and marketing withers. And then there's the call a bit later to resuscitate the process. This stop-start cycle happens too often even with major companies.

We've just had a client sign out AMA although we're still working on website refinements. It's all a question of priorities, mostly money issues, and also because of a lack of understanding how important the marketing effort in their particular situation. And it's not about the fee, it's about doing the right thing for the client, although the fee situation could have been worked out. It's also about what I feel is the most important component of hiring a marketer: the match between marketer and client. If that's not aligned then no matter how great the marketing is, it's never going to work as it should.

The lesson here is that when a client signs out AMA, we marketers have to assess our roles in that occurrence. If you don't learn from it, then what's the point. It's all about living the reality and not just talking a good game.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Creativity Is Life

Catching up on my readings and the July 2003 issue of Wired magazine has an interesting article by Virginia Postrel, "The Aesthetic Imperative: Why the creative shall inherit the economy." Why I mention it is that I've discussed in the past how marketing is as much a creative process as a discipline with rules of engagement, etc.

The creative imperative is why we had the revolution, where many ideas took root and blossomed even though most died a merciless death. What ultimately remained is the foundation of the Internet as we know it today and new ways of thinking about the possibilities each day brings. Grandiose thoughts, I know, but real all the same. We know that we essentially want three things from the Internet: the ability to find what we're searching for, easy access and fast responses. The Internet changed all the rules on those three fronts. And it was a creative process that brought us here.

Creativity is even more important to marketing now that we are inundated with so many messages on every conceivable bland canvas we see everyday. From innocuous t-shirts with logos and messages, to cities selling naming rights to parks, stadiums and the like, to even ski slopes having advertising as you speed down the mountain at breakneck speed. Nothing is sacred. That's why marketers and companies need to sharpen their creative skills and think how to distinctly position their products and services---from hospitals to shoes you need to own your position and back it up.

The next creative frontier is in the delivery of the promise once you've gotten through the clutter and made an impact. Yesterday when Mrs., Jr. and I went to Target we didn't find one "team member" who was friendly, understanding, knowledgeable or interested in our search for particular products. Therein lies the problem. While creativity in getting the word out is still a paramount activity for marketers, the operational imperative is critical to the proposition. Execution seems to be the mantra of the day---and it should be---but it's always been there. Marketing is operational and that's where many organizations fail....they don't connect those dots. Part of that is the fault of marketers and our business education format for not instilling this in our business leaders minds. In a very real sense it's business malpractice....and to get out of it will take creativity.