Friday, September 24, 2004

Offline Again

I'm taking a much needed week off with my family, going up the Central Coast to watch waves and not answer phones.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Power of PR

For many years many of us in marketing have been biased against PR, thinking it was really soft stuff while we did the heavy lifting, not recognizing the incredible value that PR brings to the marketing mix. I must admit I've been guilty of it myself. I've been tasked in the past to get publicity and to manage numerous media crisis forthe organizations I've worked for. What I am noticing now is the increasing use of PR and media to position and repositiong companies in more favorable light. A case in point is this morning's LA Times in "A Letter from Wal-Mart to the People of California", a two-thirds page ad that restate the company's commitment to good paying jobs, tax revenues for the cities, charitable contributions and the like. Plus a note that the company plans to open 40 more Supercenters in California. Of course they tout the high average wage of $10.37/hr, that for every new Wal-Mart there are 15,000 applicants for 350 jobs and all the benefits they offer their employees and customers. That's on top of all the tv ads they're doing showing people who have moved up in the organization, feel good ads.

On the next page of the West's only real newspaper, the Saudi government had an ad about Saudi Arabia's National Day and how much they've been doing all along to combat terrorism, even before 9-11. And next to it a full page ad from Blue Cross of California warning us healhcare consumers that we have a choice on healthcare and that California Senate Bill 1555 that awaits Ahnold's signature will make healthcare cost more.

So it goes on a typical day. PR in action, working to change minds, shaping the environment and adding more hubris to the issues.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Leading The Questions

I have been immersed in reading the transcripts of four focus groups I moderated about three weeks ago, analyzing the trends and remembering each individual. I feel like I know these people by heart now. One disturbing thing was seeing how I sometimes lead the question and how that must influence the answer, which is why the guru I follow the most, Harry Beckwith, says to be careful about focus groups. How true. You often get what you think you're going to get and so while I still think there is value in doing these, other research is necessary...and ultimately the best research is simply doing what you need to do and seeing if it works. Your customers are your best focus group; just see what they do and what they buy and you'll understand what you need to know. Everything else is perhaps wishful thinking. I'd love to hear others about this. Email me @ Whew, I need a beer!

Friday, September 17, 2004

Intrusions With Courtesy

I believe that marketing is in everything we do and a case in point is happening right outside the window of world headquarters, directly below my corner office (of course I have a corner office, after all I'm the prez.) Verizon is digging up our streets to update broadband capabilities and the noise from the machines and crews has been constant and distracting for the past week. All to say that these intrusions came with a courteous letter from the contractor apologizing for any interference with our daily lives, and with certain rules that have gone a long way towards ameliorating any negative feelings me and my neighbors might have.

The workers start promptly at 7:30 a.m., are polite and wave to the kids, don't block our driveways, meticulously clean up whatever mess they dig up, wear clean uniforms and stop the noise at 5 p.m. Knowing that my neighbors and I can now have better and faster service makes it tolerable, but the point here is that customer service has been the hallmark of this company's relationship with us. Sometimes in order to bring better service and products you have to inconvenience the customers and how you do it says as much about you as the service.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


A colleague and I have been discussing what makes a business successful in the face of incredible changes in the marketplace. We both agree that the difference we see in the companies we work with is the resilience of the CEO coupled with the ability to make things happen. We both coach leaders and her resilience theory has resonated in my thoughts for the past couple of days. It brought me back to the field work I did in the 1970s, as a graduate anthropology student, with Native Americans for the noted California Indian expert and anthropologist, John Lowell Bean.

Lowell had a theory on persistence and the survival of Native American cultures. He posited that persistence is what allowed these cultures to cling to their traditional values, that the thread of the culture in Native American groups was so strong that it may have receded from view but it was very much alive, much like a seed deep in the ground dormant until a good rain. All one has to do is see how the Native Americans are now king of the hill with the casinos they have sprouted across the land.

Resilience is certainly a characteristic that you want in a leader. It's this true grit that allows leaders to take any situation on the chin and still keep a presence of mind to get people to do the right thing in any tough situation. It's been my experience that all the education in the world does one no good if it cannot be complemented by common sense, creativity, courage and resilience.

It's not simply the top leader that needs resilience, it's everyone in the organization, so to instill that into the culture means it goes back to the basic concept that you must first hire right. Marketing is much more than what people usually think it is, it's a lot like building a village out of legos, you do it one piece at a time and first you build the foundation. Is resilience a part of your marketing?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

To MBA or Not To MBA

In the past year or so, it seems that getting an MBA is not necessarily the passport to success, what with the diploma mills and everyone offering one. So here's a new growth industry, Homeland Security! Yes, folks you heard it here that this is a growth industry and now you can even get a degree in Homeland Security from places like Johns Hopkins. What does that tell us about where our world is going, and where the opportunities are.

Super Size That Wall

This just in to news desk that McDonald's is hiring a top graffiti crew, TATS CRU, to adorn their stores in the Latino part of the world with graffiti that will appeal to that market. Can't say they're not trying.

Waiting In Line

An article in this morning's LA Times about Kirk Kerkorian selling MGM to Sony. Besides the fact that he doesn't use limos and for years drove around in a Mercury station wagon and now drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee, it also noted that when one of his movies was released he'd wait in line to buy his ticket and experienced it as the audience did. Now that's a down on the ground marketer! Do you wait in line to see what your customers are experiencing? If a billionaire can do it, so can you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Where Were We?

Oh, yes, I was on the road to Albuquerque and all points of the marketing compass. Marketing is a part of life on a continual basis and a case in point is the cab driver who took me from the Albuquerque airport my hotel. He gave me a good overview of the changes in the city since I'd been there over 7 years ago, and his professionalism was exemplary. When I got to my destination, he gave me his personal business card with his cell phone. I guess the $5 tip was an incentive so I quizzed him and he told me that he was able to pick up far more business than other drivers because of this. Another marketer in our midst.

Both nights in the Land of Enchantment, I was wined and dined and both experiences were extraordinary in the service quality from both the waiters and the chefs. Each tried to make my visit exquisite through personal touches and total accommodation to my tastes and desires. It made long days thinking through marketing and business developments problems melt away.

The day after I arrived home, I went to a conference in Palm Springs, and yet again a stellar dining experience at a small Mexican restaurant where accommodation to me and my guest was the order of the day. And it has made me think that in a service economy it truly takes people whose affinity for service are what make them successful. When the wages one earns are at the mercy of those who partake, you'd think that service businesses would focus more on that than anything else. I think I've got some sort of halo around me these days....I hope it lasts.

A Door Hanger With A Purpose

There was a door hanger when I went out to get the mail today with a message that seemed destined for my weary eyes: Are you living a life on purpose or by chance? it went asked me. It's from a new church marketing for members. But it's a good message that applies directly to our workplace. I see many different situations in the companies I work with some just living by chance, not focused, afraid to risk, happy with the status quo, mired in indecision. It's about a purpose driven life that this new church beckons us, but it's about being marketing driven that I beckon you. So is there a purpose in your company?

Stop Wasting Your Time

The September issue of Harvard Business Review has an article that everyone needs to read if you're stuck in corporate business meetings that are as enticing as fingernails screeching across a blackboard: Stop Wasting Valuable Time, by Michael C. Mankins is a must read. Think about how much time you squander in those useless meetings. Mrs. just returned from one and it's discouraging, unmotivating and simply costly. Read this, please.

New Age Economics

A fascinating article in the New York Times last Thursday (9-9-04), byt Virginia Postrel about the New Age economics is not so much about owning more stuff, but about experiences. She states, "Products as well as services increasingly distinguish themselves through aesthetics, adding emotional value to practical use...." Indeed.

Nuff said, as my friend Jim would say. I'm back for a while anyway. Goodnight

Monday, September 06, 2004

On The Road Again

Greetings all...I am in Albuquerque and will not be back blogging until next week. Have a great week! Alain

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Welcome Back To Your Neighborhood Bank

Imagine that your bank actually wanted you to stop by and have a cup of coffee and maybe start on a fruitful relationship. Okay, you can pinch yourself because it's happening every day. I've been a Bank of America customer since forever after they bought out the previous bank and I was "grandfathered in" as a customer. After all the years of cutting staff and direct deposit and online banking and go to the ATM and don't bug us attitude, banks are finding that actually having a conversation with customers is good for business. Imagine that!

I have noticed that at my local B of A branch here in my part of Paradise, that there is actually a "concierge" who greets me and inquires how I can best be served. And I am now greeted like a long lost relative with a sizeable potential inheritance in tow. So it has changed. Banks have found that people want to connect to other people....we have enough anonymity in our lives that we crave the human touch. I know that in the Inland Empire, we have several small banks that are eating the big banks lunches simply by providing what they call "relationship banking."

As a marketer and consumer I'm pleased since I invested in one of those relationship banks and the stock has doubled and split within a year and still growing. Wow, banks have figured out that the longer one lingers in their buildings the more apt we are to be exposed to their "products" and maybe buy something, like a savings account or whatever.

What we marketers well know is you've got to get the customer to try your product or service in order to build a brand and to grow. Duh. But at least it's a change for the better. I am also reading that B of A has reached an agreement with Starbucks to operate coffee shops in selected branches. Will that be a venti latte with that home equity loan, Alain? Dream on.

Have A Mall Over

When they asked Willie Sutton, one of the world's greatest bank robbers, why he kept robbing banks, he said, "Because that's where the money is." Willie certainly knew his stuff and we can all take a lesson from him as marketers. We have to go where the customers are, and such is the concept of a company I just read about NUVO International Laser Skin Center, a company offering spa-like services for those who tire of wearing out their Nordstrom's card and want to smooth out the wrinkles of having the last 4 or 5 decades.

The company is now in 70% of California's malls and offers chemical peels, botox, collagen, microdermabrasion and tattoo removal among other services. Cosmetic service a la quick right where the customers are. Thanks to us Baby Boomers and the reality shows that makes us all want to be thin and forever young, NUVO's business has grown from $20 million in 2003 to an expected $60 million this year. Go to their website to learn more. I'm sure there will be competitor very soon breathing down their necks. Ain't capitalism great!

Leading Inside The Box

We've all been here: "Okay, folks. I need you guys to think outside the box on this one." And the entire room quietly thinks, "Yeah, right. As if anyone could bring a new idea in here and not get chopped to pieces. Anyway, I'm so incredibly busy trying to keep my head above water. So what in hell does he mean about thinking outside the box?"

It's one of those "been there and done that" moments. Thinking outside the box is really about being creative and looking at the world with fresh eyes, but how do you do that when you're buried with work and you operate in a culture that talks about change yet labels all those who believe that and act as "not team players"? There's the dilemma. Why does so often when you say thinking outside the box that people see it as negative?

So where I've been putting my energies lately has been with a rehashed concept of not only thinking outside the box but actually leading inside the box we find ourselves in at work...and in our personal lives as well. I remember the song from the sixties about little boxes and how we're all in them and in dealing with my clients I see many of them in boxes that they allow to constrain their creativity and their energies. To survive they often go along to get along far too much, further eroding their sense of worth and devaluing their leadership skills and experience that can actually make a difference. Welcome to the world of victimization

How people function inside the box says so much more about their abilities to change their mental models than to direct them to think outside of it. Here's why. It's a given that we see what we think. Call it brain washing but why is it that when someone is being wooed to come to work for a company they're the smartest person in the world and once inside the door they just become so much more cannon fodder...and stuck inside the box. They either conform or become unhappy very fast and either accept or leave...probably to find another box to victimize them yet again.

There are many seminal works on changing your mental models so that you can change your life. From Norman Vincent Peale to Covey, Seth Godin, et al. all are saying the same thing. How you think impacts how you see and respond to the world. Going back to leading inside the box, I am seeing that those who are successful dealing with the constraints of the corporate culture are those who redefine the box they are in, accept it as a gift for them to survive and thrive through being genuine, honest, creative and most importantly calculated risk takers. They are somehow able to bring forth the best of self-leadership, to stop being a victim to the system and actually do good work in spite of the boundaries.

Calculated risk takers are those who understand how to avoid the shoals of corporate constraints yet also understand their marketplace probably better than the corporate suits and what works in their situation. Taking a calculated risk means having an overall plan to achieve corporate mandates and going further than that. It's about figuring out which battles are worth fighting or how to lay low while doing right. If you don't draw attention to what you're doing you might actually have the luxury of asking for forgiveness for something that works rather than for permission----a process that often raises a lot of red flags to the power structure. I know a CEO that is successful exactly because of his calculated risks plus his total involvement in the marketing and business development activities in his shop. Everyone wants to know his secret as if there is some magic pill, but it's all in how he sees the world and his ability to lead inside the box. He has accepted what he can change and what he cannot and moved on to great achievements.

You're probably asking what does this have to do with marketing? Everything! Because the biggest challenge we have as marketers and consultants is to get the clients to actualize the marketing gene that resides in everyone and in every company. And that takes leadership from everyone. If you ask someone to think outside the box but don't let them lead their ideas to fruition, what's the point. That happens a lot with clients who ask for assistance in closing the barn door after the proverbial horse has left the barn and then don't follow the plan we've put together to get the horse back. As W. Edward Deming once noted, it's usuallly not the individual that fails the company, it's the company that fails him.

More on this subject later. Alain