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Is your WOMM campaign ethical?

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Who are you most likely to believe:

a) An advertisement (print, TV, radio,point of purchase)?
b) A sales guy on a used car lot?
c) A dear and trusted friend or family member whose opinion you value?

It isn't a trick question.

Depending on what study you read, the numbers fluctuate, but the findings are pretty much always the same: Purchases influenced by traditional advertising: Less than 25%. Purchases influenced by recommendations from peers: 65% and above.

Moreover: Advertising can be expensive. Enthusiastic recommendations from happy users are generally free.

So let's see: Traditional advertising isn't all that effective and costs a bundle, but in comparison, word-of-mouth recommendations are incredibly effective and relatively inexpensive. Is it any surprise that WOMM (word-of-mouth marketing) became ond of the big marketing buzzwords in 2006?

The thing is... only companies with great products or something exceptional to offer can really benefit from positive word-of-mouth. If a product is great, easy to use, cool to play with, looks good, tastes good, smells good, fits well, performs better, etc., users will sing its praises.

"You HAVE to try ABCD's smoothies. They're incredible."

"It's the best sci-fi flick I've ever seen. You HAVE to see it."

"It's the most fun I've had driving a car."

"Read this book. It'll change your life."

Anything short of that kind of endorsement might sound a little like this:

"It tasted like concentrate."

"Yeah... It was okaaay, I guess."

"Whatever. My Prius corners better."

"I couldn't even get past the first chapter."

So what are companies with... average, or maybe not so great products to do?

Well, they have a few options:

a) Embrace a pricepoint/value leadership position.
b) Engage in a dialogue with your customers and let them help you make better stuff.
c) Lie your pants off.

We've looked at (a) and (b) before, but we haven't really spent a lot of time on (c). Why? Perhaps because our readership tends to be composed of execs and business professionals who "get it." And as a result, we focus most of our discussions on best practices and emerging trends and ideas... not so much on the dark underbelly of marketing, word-of-mouth or otherwise.

Yet here we are, still in WOMM's infancy as a Marketing discipline, and the field is already getting split: a) Those of us who understand WOM and WOMM and have a strong sense of ethics know how to make it work for the right clients. (We also know when WOMM will not work for specific clients, and we have the courage to tell them no.) b) The others, who don't understand it well and/or are more flexible when it comes to abiding by... ethical practices use deceptive practices in their doomed WOMM campaigns.

For a discussion on that subject, click here.

To be fair, I will concede that the use of deceptive practices may not always intentional. In some cases, someone, somewhere in the organization engaging in a WOMM campaign might not understand its mechanics... or may not live by their employer's code of ethics. Things happen. Sometimes, the best of intentions can get ruined by a few missed details or bad HR decisions. So there. We can agree to give a small percentage of deceptive WOMM marketers the benefit of the doubt.

But only a small percentage.

If you've reached the point in this discussion where you're asking yourself "is this going anywhere? Is there a point on the way?" then fret no more. We're here:

This week, WOMMA (The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association) released a list of 20 questions meant to be used by all organizations engaging in WOMM initiatives. These questions deal with seven basic precepts:

1. Honesty of relationship
2. Honesty of opinion
3. Honesty of identity
4. Taking responsibility
5. Respecting the rules
6. Hiring an agency
7. Probing your own soul

(Okay, I kind of made up that last one, but click here to find out why I added #7.)

If you are new to the world of WOMM, go ahead and read the Introduction to the twenty questions here before moving on to the full document.

In the end, the decision to engage in deceptive practices (when it comes to WOMM, any other Marketing projects or all aspects of business) is always a personal one. There is no magic pill out there that will make dishonest people honest. There is no way to ever completely make sure that companies you work for or deal with will always be 100% honest and ethical. There will always be people who try to cut corners, lie, cheat, steal, or otherwise exploit effective systems to their advantage. All that we can do is choose not to make unethical decisions, not do business with companies that engage in unethical practices, and have the courage to walk away when the folks who sign our paychecks turn out to be less than honest themselves.

For those of us who believe that great marketing can and should be honest marketing, the 20 questions are an invaluable tool... and an effective gut check. For us, scoring 19/20 isn't good enough. It's either 20/20 or nothing.

If you haven't already, make the choice to be one of us. (The good guys.) Print WOMMA's twenty questions and incorporate them into your best practices folder.

People respect and do business with companies they can trust. Don't ever lose sight of that. You don't ever want to be known as the guy (or the company) that lied or cheated. If you work in the world of marketing and business, you're in the business of building (not destroying) reputations.

Have a great weekend, everyone. :)




Where in the world is Crayonville?

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Corante contributors Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson are launching their joint venture with Joseph Jaffe and CC Chapman today. The company, christened "Crayon" promises to be a fantastic experiment in Marketing's evolution. (These guys are all brilliant, visionary, and very good at what they do.)

In Neville's own words:

"We’re not an agency nor a consulting practice as is traditionally defined. What we are is whatever you want or need us to be.

I like to think of us as a true mash-up that combines the best in traditional and new thinking about marketing, advertising and PR.

We’re a solution provider. We’re an extension of your team. Consider us a new breed of partner – one that keeps everyone honest and on the right path. Our client is not the consumer: our client is the truth.

Our methodology pivots around conversation and transformation above communication. Our value proposition is designed to activate passions, enthusiasm, organic dialogue and no-strings-attached referrals and recommendations."

Pretty cool. For Neville's complete post, go here.

To check out what Crayon is all about, click here:



Enter The Corporate Conning Tower

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Brilliant post by fellow Corante contributor Grant McCracken this week. Just brilliant. In Innovation for The Innovator, Grant spells out the fundamental shift (and struggle for survival) faced by corporations today:

"The corporation once had a "perfect world" scenario: create an extraordinary product in a blue ocean (i.e., new) category and defend a fountain of profit with good strategy and smart tactics.

In the perfect world, change came in increments. Some competitors would enter the category with some variation on the theme. Others would look for "nook and cranny" weaknesses. The corporation would secure it's position with incremental responses...and profit poured forth.

The world changed."

Per Grant:

"Now, the corporation is subject to blind side hits. Now the problem is not incremental challenges, but fundamental shifts. For Time Warner, this was the rise of an advertising based revenue model. For The Coca-Cola Company, it was the rise of the non-corbonated soft drink. For Microsoft, it was the rise first of the internet and then server-based software. For Detroit, it was Japan. (The irony: while American corporations are being encouraged to set out in search of "blue oceans," the real challenge are the great masses of water that come looking for them.)"

And here's the rub:

"These changes require fundamental shifts in corporate assumption and practice. And this is hard. Corporations rise to greatness because they are good at, say, CSDs (carbonated soft drinks). The advent of Snapple and Gatorade forces them to take on the new, but often this feels like a betrayal of the very things that make the corporation exceptional. "Sure," goes the complaint, "we can make fruit juice, but what we exist to make CSDs!"

It is, finally, a cultural problem. CSD assumptions supply not just the "what" and the "why" of the corporation, but it's deepest, most powerful, and least visible assumptions, the "unknown knowns," we might call them (with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld).

The problem at corporations like Time Warner, the Coca-Cola Company, Microsoft and "Detroit," is not intellectual laziness, a failure of the imagination, or, God knows, a failure of will. The problem is that non-incremental change forces the corporation off its game, out of its competence, and away from its deepest understandings of the world. Adaptation is possible, but a voice of warning sounds in the head of the senior manager: that way lies the destruction of the extraordinary intellectual, strategic, and cultural capitals that make us who we are. That way lies chaos."

Fear? Say it isn't so! For young companies, fear of the unknown and an aversion to risk seemeasy to overcome, but an aversion to change is pretty much a survival mechanism for our larger, much older incumbent competitors and friends. That aversion to change, that conservative need to stick by core competencies, proven methodologies and core product lines are part of their corporate DNA. You can't fault them for holding on to what they know. For holding to to their core. To the very foundations of their brands.

Yet, in order to survive... no, to strive in this new and ever changing business landscape, a few changes need to be made, and Grant offers a few keen suggestions:

"There are lots of ways to rethink the corporation so that it can address the problem of non-incremental change. (...) The corporation is learning new tricks. The new corporation is being invented fitfully, gradually, and painfully. But it's coming.

Innovator's innovation 1

What I would like to see, for deeply self interested reasons, is the creation of an observation platform from which we can keep an eye out for the next new things. In keeping with our Tsunami references, let's call it a wheelhouse, a conning tower, or a ship's bridge.

The trick would be to find 5 or 6 really smart, well educated, well informed, well connected, deeply curious, utterly practical people. These qualifications create a tiny Venn intersection, but, hey, we only need 5 or 6 people.

Innovator's innovation 2

Once potential changes are identified, it is time to see what difference their difference will make. How will the corporation as it is presently constituted in these particular waters? This will help us to find, extract and replace the "unknown knowns" in the corporate culture.

Innovator's innovation 3

Ok, now we need to build a series of simulated corporations, fit them out, run them in a tub somewhere, and refit as necessary. (Will someone please scuttle the naval metaphor, please!) We can't wait till the future is here to start the work of adaptation. We want to have done the conceptual work for eventualities well before they eventuate."

This sounds dangerously like... another "think tank" but because of its focus on practical applications, it might actually have some merit. Only there are just too many industries and different kinds of companies making different kinds of products for a small team of brilliant Rennaissance men to cover anywhere near enough ground.

Perhaps another way to help transform the corporation into an adaptive, evolution-savvy entity is instead to rethink the way business management is taught and practiced around the world. The very structure of corporations may also need a healthy revision.

The key here is to incorporate into corporate cultures the very notion that change is not only inevitable, it is also the natural vehicle by which corporations evolve. (And yes, I am talking about evolution here, and not just growth. There is a difference.) Corporations, through their leadership and processes, should be energized by change instead of being paralyzed by it. The way to accomplish this is to make change easy to assimilate. In other words, corporations should learn to become more agile. More nimble. More flexible.

Grant's idea of creating corporate conning towers is excellent. Why not form an advisory group composed of trend-savvy multi-dimensional executives (or consumers) to help point the way and make course adjustments? Make these people completely independent from Senior management. Don't even pull them from the corporation's ranks. Set them up with offsite offices. Pay them as consultants instead of employees. Keep them completely outside of the sphere of influence exerted by the corporation's board and leadership. Make them accountable, sure, but protect their independence and insulate them from any unwanted political/financial influence.

More importantly - and for this to work - corporations must fill their ranks and executive suites with intellectually curious, practical, open-minded, men and women. Leaders instead of just managers. This requires a fundamental shift in corporate culture and HR practices. It also requires a fundamental shift in the way that Business management is taught in Universities and business schools. And lastly, it requires a certain measure of courage (and faith in our own abilities) on everyone's part. There are no failsafes. Proven methodologies only prove that they have worked in the past. The past is nice, but the present and future are a little more uncertain. Facing them both with the knowledge that fifty years of success are not enough to ensure the same success for another fifty, or twenty,or five takes huevos. It takes the wisdom and confidence to be able to readily admit that as a CEO, you have absolutely no idea if what you're doing now is the best way to address your company's goals.

Sure, everything might look good. The numbers and research might be supporting your hunch... but you really don't know. Plan A: Your Germans had better be better than their Germans. Plan B: You had better be at the helm of the kind of corporation that can make quick course adjustments when it turns out that their Germans were better than yours after all. (Plan C: Make sure you're hiring the right kinds of Germans... and that they have a great reason to stay.)

Safety in the world of business is an illusion. At best, it's a crutch. It's 4% growth. It's always being second or third to market. It's being a player but never a leader.

Wait... did I say "at best?" Darn.

I guess it depends how you choose to look at it.

Times, they're a-changing. The corporation that will adapt and evolve to the new market and business landscape will survive and grow. The corporation that doesn't evolve will simply wither away and die.

Welcome to the new jungle. Welcome to the real world. Welcome to the world of endless business and innovation possibilities.

Now... about that corporate conning tower team...



Innovation rhymes with "inspiration"

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Foghound and Corante's Lois Kelly posted a terrific set of quick observations inspired by the BIF2 Collaborative Innovation Summit held October 4-5 in Rhode Island. Here are the highlights:

Innovation is not a process. It’s creating an environment that helps teams of people quickly build trust and relationships. Then people have the right framework to create.
Ivy Ross, executive vice president, product design and development, Old Navy on the secret of quickly getting new ideas from teams

Innovation is often just looking at what you have and taking it somewhere new.

Diane Hessan, CEO, Communispace on the value of really knowing your customers

Whatever Budweiser does, we do the opposite.
Mark Hellendrung, CEO, Narragansett Beer, on the wisdom of NOT copying the market leader

Nothing happens without an innovation intent or point of view.
Larry Keeley, Doblin Group, on the most common obstacle to innovation

Just by making half a turn the whole world can change.
Liz Lerman, founder of the Dance Exchange on how taking a slightly different view can help us see new things

Sometimes doing research is an excuse for not doing anything else.

Jane Fulton Suri, chief creative officer, IDEO, on the need to rediscover the value of research – observing patterns and themes in new ways for inspiration, imagination, empathy

But I couldn’t let that stop me.

Josh Koppel on what he did when Apple iTunes 7.0 in effect killed his innovative TuneBooks products two weeks ago

There too much design research and process around creative beautiful objects and not enough on the customer experience.
Jeneanne Rae, president of Peer Insight, on the huge lack of understanding around services innovation and understanding a customer’s entire journey

A good marriage is about a conversation, not sex.
Day One moderator Richard Saul Wurman on how conversations connect people and ideas in meaningul ways

Execution is successful only if the author of the idea passionately embraces the execution team.

Mary Pat Ryan, executive vice president, Sirius Satellite Radio, on the critical need for passion to transcend the big idea and seep into everyone making the idea real

There’s more history under the sea than on the earth
Oceanographer Bob Ballard on the value of creating new technologies that can help children explore what’s under the ocean, from ocean exploring vessels right to the classroom

“They are us.”
Inventor Dean Kamen on the need for people to get more involved in helping kids realize what a blast science, engineering and technology can be, urging tech types to volunteer in the FIRST program

All new ideas are combinations of existing ideas.
Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, on the tremendous value of combining ideas from different fields and looking at the connections and intersections of those ideas

It was difficult to reconcile my desire to be an artist with the reality that I was an administrator.

Roger Mandle on how he came to see his role as president of RISD as one of an artist, creating an environment for creativity and innovation, like onoing performance art among talented people

If you suppress one factor too much it can lead to other problems.

Bill Tsiaris, surgeon-in-chief of Ophthalmology, Rhode Island Hospital, on the complexity of angionesis

Don’t be a star, be a galaxy.
Peter Gloor, MIT professor and author of Swarm Creativity, on the value of connecting talented people to achieve innovation

Social networks like MySpace have nothing to do with core relationships. They are impermanent really just advertising vehicles.

Wall St. Journal columnist and conference Day 2 moderator Walt Mossberg on the value of going to conferences like BIF2 and meeting people face to face

Theater is where civilizations throughout history have shaped their democracies. But make no mistake firends, Broadway is not a democratic place.
Trinity Rep artistic director Curt Columbus, on the value of regional theater as the vital public square for people to talk about ideas shaping their communities and lives.

What’s the next great idea for you? What is the next big chapter in your life?
Randy Antik, founder of Swat Team Partners, on the questions worth asking ourselves to stay passionate, engaged and innovative

The other day I was thinking that the brain is the most important organ in the body. Then I realized who was telling me this.

Several speakers paraphrasing comedian Emo Phillips, pointing to the need to consider the source and its intent when assessing information, and criticism.

And lastly, straight from the Corante Innovation Hub, Lois' observation on the need for recruiters to create or incorporate innovator-finding tools in their searches:

After digesting all the stories from BIF-2, there seems that innovators have one trait in common: they look at gnawing problems -- whether it's how to get more kids invovled in science and engineering like Dean Kamen's First program or how to get more innovative ideas from teams really fast like Ivy Ross at Old Navy -- and then figure out the problem. With two parts logic and analytical thinking and eight parts passion, determination and relenetlessness.

If organizations want to be more innovative maybe it's time to hardwire these qualities into more hiring practices, and performance and reward systems. Just because someone has experience in a field or industry with a a name organization doesn't mean that that person is a good hire -- or its the least bit creative, passionate or, well, innovative. Most hiring requirements are Neanderthal, and seem to be designed to eliminate risk-taking, problem solving types who could make a difference. Executive recruiters exacerbate the problem.

Case in point: Alph Bingham of InnoCentive remarked at the conference that many of the brilliant "solvers" in his network would never be hired by companies whose most difficult problems they just solved.

Not all recruiters fall into this category (I was recently contacted by two of them who were very much on top of their game,) but for the most part, yes: Far too many recruiters and HR departments still completely miss the mark when it comes to not hiring average people with safe but good resumes.

At the end of the day, the responsibility falls on both the leadership of a company AND the recruiters they employ to emphasize the fact that they are not just looking for someone with the right kind of experience, but rather... someone with the right kind of talents. Not everyone is good at math. Not everyone is good at writing copy. Not everyone is good at taking photos. Likewise, not everyone is good at helping companies innovate or challenge the status-quo, or bringing the next trillion dollar idea to fruition. Finding people who are takes more than letting software skim through piles of resumes, or using irrelevant keyword searches to sort through potential hire profiles.

If you're a recruiter, start attending innovation conferences. Start attending major trade shows and talk to product managers and designers. Start spending time on the blogosphere. Extend your network beyond the realm of HR. And lastly, stay in touch with people you've helped recruit in the past. Chances are, they know a handful of spectacular people who could be your next client's dream. If you're any good, your address book should have hundreds of names in it. Each one of these names could generate decades-worth of contracts for you, and billions of dollars in profits for your clients. Don't just cast a net. Seek to meet these people. Find out where they congregate, and meet them there. Face to face. Find out who they are and what they're all about. 500+ to a room. How much better does it get? Football scouts don't just look at resumes and game stats. They go watch the players they're intrested in. They go watch them work. And it works.

Until recruiters start doing more than casting nets, until they start actually seeking to meet the kinds of talent they should be meeting with, companies will continue to struggle in their crawling search for their next batch of innovation commandos... And there is just no reason for that. Not anymore.

There's a problem that needs fixing here... and recruiters with the most innovative approaches to doing their jobs certainly stand to benefit the most - aside from their clients, of course.

Innovation is a choice. Either innovate or die. Like it or not, that is the reality of the world we live in.



Aligning employee experiences with customer experiences

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

John Moore recently wrote a piece on his Brand Autopsy blog in which he answered this question from a reader:

Judy: “Can you tell me what it means to create an employee experience? How do the best companies ensure that the employee experience is aligned to the customer experience?"

The question is as unusual as it is insightful - and considering the amount of posts recently that address the issue of employee morale and its impact on brands, it couldn't have come at a better time.

John answers "creating meaningful employee experiences revolves around making the company something employees can believe in (tribal truth #32). It’s also about a company realizing that its products do not make great brands but rather, its people make brands great (tribal truth #37)."


He continues:

"The best companies, namely those listed as one of Fortune Magazine’s "100 Best Companies to Work for in America," spend just as much time marketing to its employees as it does to its customers. In other words, these companies realize that happy, knowledgeable employees will usually translate into happy, knowledgeable customers."

Sound familiar? (I swear - and mea culpa, John - I had completely missed that post until now. Good to know we're all on the same page though. I feel all validated and stuff.) Here's more:

"For example … The Container Store is a Dallas-based privately held company specializing in selling boxes, bins, and everything in-between to help consumers organize all their stuff. They have been highly successful with sales in 2005 topping $425 million with just 37 locations in 12 states.

New Container Store employees are given more than 240 hours of training in their first year compared with the industry standard of 7 hours of training per new employee. Employees are paid two-to-three times more than the industry average. And employees are given a generous 40% discount for anything purchased at the Container Store. The company is renowned by retailers and customers as delivering great customer experiences which helps to explain why the company is so successful.

With its focus on making the employee experience matter (tribal truth #33), The Container Store astonishes its employees who in turn, astonish its customers with great customer service.

Given this Container Store example, one sure-fire way to ensure the employee experience is aligned with the customer experience is to treat employees like you would want employees to treat customers. Sounds simple. But if it was so simple, more companies would be doing it ... right?"

And why aren't they doing it? Mostly, because they just don't know any better. Because nobody told them. Because the concept of happy employees (and happy customers, for that matter) doesn't get much play when it comes to grown-up things like internal politics and maximizing shareholder return.

That's changing, but not nearly fast enough. Yet.

David Taylor (of the brilliantly named Where's The Sausage blog) picks up where John left off with his "brandwashing" concept:

The whole are of "brand engagement" is booming, with companies launching into big and expensive initiatives to help employees "live the brand". However, in my experience many of these are a total and utter waste of money, as they fail to address the basics of making a company a nice place to work. Many of them are more like exercises in "brandwashing".

Yeah. Pep rallies. "Go team" chants. "Brand Spirit" weeks. If you're a joiner, great. If, like me, you're a little more independent, good luck with that. The caffeine-induced exuberance, the forced propaganda and the attendance-required motivational meetings don't work. Thanks for trying though. Most of us are moderately intelligent, educated,well adjusted people. You aren't fooling anyone with your lame "let's talk about how awesome it is to work here in dingy cubicles for a fraction of what we should be making" meetings.

Please spare us.

And spare your employees. They aren't stupid.

David continues:

"One of the most successful companies at creating great and consistent customer service is sandwich shop chain Pret a Manger, and I wrote a little case on them for the new book, Brand Vision (out in Jan 07). This was inspired by the findings of an FT journalist who went to work at Pret to understand the secret of their success. And as you will see below, engaging people with the brand did not figure:

1. Managers are not over-qualified and embittered:
- 75% of mangers are promoted from within
- Other 25% have at least 2 years relevant experience
- Join in and help instead of ‘barking orders’

2. Staff are not ‘routinely humiliated’:
- Smart uniform, not polyester nightmare
- No dressing up for kiddie parties
- Most stores have no toilets, so no cleaning of the loo

3. Staff are paid well:
- Team member: average £6.58 vs. £5.68 for competition
- Team leader: average £8.39 vs. £7.52 for competition

4. Staff have a say in who joins:
- Candidates work in store for a day and team votes whether to hire them.

5. Hire nice people:
- Large number of well-educated international students

The other really important thing is that the product people are selling is 10 times better than your average fast-food of course. It reminds me of the story of a kid working at McDonald's who when asked where he worked preferred to say he was unemployed!

So let's see: Hire great people, treat them well, pay them well, give them the opportunity to move up if they so desire, make sure that they can be proud of the product they sell and the job they do, and let them have a say in who gets hired (or doesn't get hired).

Is it really that hard? Really? Does it still make more sense to treat employees like a commodity and treat them like children when it comes to motivating them? Is it really so hard or expensive to be genuine and caring? Are those words really not part of the business lexicon? Cynicism is an ugly thing, and it has no place in business. None.

One last question for you: If a company doesn't make the effort to treat its employees as well as it can, how do you think it will treat its customers?

More on that in future posts. In the meantime, here are some other great posts on the subject:

- Kathy Sierra's "Knocking the exuberance out of employees"

- Dumb Little Man's "50+ Ways a Manager can get Employees to Quit."

- The BrandBuilder's "Exorcise your organization's inner dysfunctions today."

- Francois Gossieaux's "CEO's with big egos are always bad news."

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)

Category: Marketing Strategy



Monkey Business: A study in corporate behavior.

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

I know this is supposed to be an editorial piecem but once you read the piece below, you'll agree that it doesn't need to be bookmarked by commentary. It speaks for itself.

From Michael Wagner's Own Your Brand blog

Several scientists were studying a group of monkeys. It’s always the monkeys who get the attention.

In a large room the scientists had hung a climbing rope with a bunch of bananas at the top. When the monkeys were brought in, it was only a short time before one of them figured out that a short climb up the rope produced a great reward: a banana. However, when any of the other monkeys tried to follow his lead, they were sprayed with water. The first monkey up the rope was always allowed to climb to the reward, but others were always hosed down each time they tried to do the same.

Eventually, when the rope-climbing monkey would make a move to go for another banana, the others in the group would physically prevent him from climbing. Eventually he learned not to climb the rope.

The scientists then removed that “special monkey” and put a new one in the room. The moment the “new recruit” made a move for the rope, the other monkeys would beat him up. After several attempts, and several beatings, he too learned not to climb the rope.

New monkeys were periodically introduced into the group and each time the other monkeys made certain no one climbed the rope and got a banana.

Recently a friend told me he had left what appeared to be a super job with lots of potential, to be a night manager for Wal*Mart. He agreed the money and hours were better working for a giant in the financial service industry, but he was tired of getting beat up by his fellow employees every time he tried to get things done.

“Say what you want about Wal*Mart,” he affirmed, “but they expect you to perform and don’t stand in your way. I couldn’t handle the stress of being told to produce and being beaten up every time I tried.”

That’s what you get in some organizations when you reach for the banana – beaten up by the other monkeys!

I see businesses pursuing re-imagined brands and hitting their head on this reality all the time. New brand-critical standards arise as they discover and attempt to deliver on their brand difference. Frequently it’s been a long time since their team has had to welcome new definitions of success and new performers into their midst. It can get ugly at times; with those who want to live the new brand getting chased away.

Don’t let it happen!

The first requirement for creating a healthy re-imagined brand is a high demand on performance within the organization… regardless of what the other monkeys think. This is why brand ownership initiatives call for higher levels of leadership, if they are to succeed. We find commitment to growing a strong brand uncovers under-performing cultures that need to have their cage rattled. Otherwise you chase off the very people you need.

Banana, anyone?


Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

Category: Marketing



Trial & Error: Product Launches

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Our very own Mary Shmidt illustrates a point I touched on in a recent BrandBuilder post with her expose on Kraft's "innovative" Grate It Fresh parmesan: Sometimes, innovation isn't. And coming out with "new and improved" products that are neither new nor improved can sometimes be little more than a shot in the dark. Case in point: Kraft's new "Grated Fresh" parmesan cheese. Fresh parmesan and a grater, all in a convenient bag.

Cool idea? Lame idea? Well, I guess it depends who you are.

Per Mary:

Kraft is at it again, pitching their mass-produced product in a “new! convenient, improved” form. Which, of course, isn’t inherently a bad thing to do – businesses are supposed to make money, after all. The problem is that – well – there isn’t a problem. The people who really want freshly grated cheese aren’t going to buy this. They want – ahem, sniff! – real cheese.

Bottom Line: Kraft is pitching a “solution” their target market doesn’t want. (...) I don’t even want to think how much money Kraft poured into the “R&D” for this way over-packaged, under-desired product. Ouch.

“But wait!” you say, “What about the people who care more about convenience than taste?” Well, they’ll just grab a bag. Who has time to grate?

Me? I’ll keep buying the green can stuff as well as grating my own using real cheese and a cheap old hand grater.

Mary makes some good points: That stuff in the green can, it isn't bad. And it's convenient (as in fast and doesn't make a mess). I can also buy shredded parmesan in bags. If I realy wanted to enjoy the fresh flavor of just-grated parmesan, I would hop on over to a Whole Foods or other food store that carries the real thing, and grate it with my trusty old grater. I don't think I would waste my money (and my time) on Kraft's product.

But then again, neither Mary nor I may be Kraft's target customer when it comes to this particular product. (My question then, is "who is?" Either you're a grate-your-own-parmesan type, or you aren't. And if you are, it stands to reason that you enjoy real cheese.)

I can't help but wonder if Kraft's research uncovered a subculture of closet cheese-graters just waiting for a more accessible, mass-produced cheese product like this one to bring them out of the open.

Maybe this is a gateway cheese-grating product. One that will eventually lead thousands of folks to the wonderful world of gourmet cheese-grating.

Or maybe this is just a shot in the dark that may or may not hit its mark. Bear in mind that 95% of all new product launches fail.


But let's just look at this again:

Step 1 - The Assumption: Bagged grated cheese isn't as good as freshly grated cheese. x% of shoppers might want a convenient (and budget-friendly) way to get access to freshly-grated cheese anywhere, anytime.

Step 2 - The Idea: Create a highly portable, pricepoint-specific cheese-grating "kit".

Step 3 - Test it to see how people like it.

Seems like a good idea, right? If someone walked up to you in your favorite store's dairy aisle and showed you a prototype, you'dprobably go "wow, yeah, cool idea. I'd buy that!"

Only... would you? Really?

Just because it's a cool idea, just because it is well executed, will you really buy it?

Is there really a need for this product?

Is this the kind of "innovation" that Kraft should be bankrolling?

Per Mary:

Even when we think we know and can see the target, we can still completely miss the dartboard. Kraft spends tons of money on research (1), development and marketing – and it’s still throwing darts in a dark room. You’ve got people who like cheese, but don’t like Kraft. You’ve got the people who like cheese and Kraft, but also want good parmesan cheese (not Kraft). Then there are the people who were raised on the powdered stuff in the green can and also grate their own (like me). Not to mention the people who “don’t have time to grate” and just grab can or bag. Oh, and then there are all those store brands (which I buy). So, what’s a mega-brand to do? Ay Yahhh!

(1) Research is dicey since people lie in focus groups, during product demos and on surveys. Yes, I know, another cherished illusion shattered.

Do I think that Kraft has a winner with this product? No, but let the market prove me wrong. Whether or not this product finds its niche is up to Kraft, retailers... and consumers. And that's the beauty of it. Sometimes, you just know... but most of the time, you don't. You might think you do, but you don't. Not really. (95%. I rest my case.)

So, while - overall - I would tend to side with Mary on this one, I have to applaud Kraft for giving this idea a shot. Whether Kraft looks at new product successes as a numbers game or just fosters a culture of innovation, they score points for trying new ideas and courageously launching products that are pretty likely to fall short of Kraft's market-penetration expectations. My advice, though, would be to stop wasting money on focus groups (which we know don't work), and go straight to market tests.

I say even if this one fails, keep trying. Keep giving product managers the freedom to try new ideas. To take you into new directions. Be daring. Be bold. Learn from your failures as much as you will from the successes. Use each product test and launch to gain a better understanding of (and appreciation for) your customers. You'll eventually get it right.

Shots in the dark may not be the most scientific or inspired way to get it done, but... it's still a whole lot better than playing it safe and doing nothing... And if you don't mind only getting big its 5% of the time, you'll be rolling in puppies in no time. As long as you make the most of that 5%, you'll always come out ahead. The other 95%, well, that's just the cost of getting there.

Fail often to succeed faster.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.




Branding Trough Employee Engagement?

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

BrandXPress recently published a piece that addressed the issue of employee engagement's role in the success of businesses. I could paraphrase, but the post is sort and well-written as it is, so here it is in its full glory:

A recent study by Standard Life shows that the employees the felt part of the business and understood its goals were willing and able to contribute their best to achieving those goals. Your internal communications plan and branding is a huge step toward employee engagement and here is a list of eight things to do about it:

1.Cultivate a culture that reinforces your Brand Contract and encourage employees to “live the brand”
2. Measure the effectiveness of your internal branding strategy to maximize the ROI on your internal branding initiatives
3.Insist that senior management models brand-focused behavior and cultural values
4. Set communication alignment goals (are you even measuring the effectiveness of your internal communications?)
5. Make positive examples of employee behavior that represents your values, mission, brand and business strategy
6. Reward employees for demonstrating their commitment to your brand contract and values
6. Show daily how commitment to mission and values is the touchstone that drives your decisions
7. Harness the entire creativity of every employee in bringing the brand to life
8. Involve all departments in branding, not just marketing – HR, operations, customer support, development, finance, and more.

I have no idea what #2 is about, but the other seven make a whole lot of sense.

(Okay... that's not true. I know what #2 is about... but I can't stand business-speak so I completely tuned it out.)

I particularly love #7 and #8:

"Harness the entire creativity of every employee in bringing the brand to life, and involve all departments in branding, not just marketing – HR, operations, customer support, development, finance, and more."

Wow. And yes. I've seen this in action, and it is absolutely magical. This isn't to say that every employee is creative or has something revolutionary to offer, but... well... wait a minute... Why not?

I guess it all depends on whom you are hiring, why you are hiring them, and how you are recruiting them to begin with.

Some of the questions you have to ask yourself is this: Are you hiring people who really click with you and your staff? Are you hiring people who were born to work for you? (Really.) Are you hiring people who embody your brand (or who at can at least rock it for you every day)? Are you hiring enthusiastic people? Brand embassadors? Creative problem-solvers? Project commandos?

If not, why not? I mean... really. Why not?

Is it that you can't find peoplelike this? (If so, you aren't looking very hard, because I run into two or three of them every week.) Is it that your HR/Recruiters can't find them? (Are they throwing safe choices at you instead of finding edgier candidates?) Or is it that you just choose to hire conservatively?

It's a question you really need to ask yourself... and answer truthfully.

Employee engagement is at the core of your business' success, and it starts with HR. It really does. Marketing and Sales might seem more important, but trust meon this: Get more involved with recruiting. At every level. Your employees are your most valuable investment. Don't lose sight of that.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. :)



Design Tendencies...

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Interesting post by Deron Bauman on the clusterflock blog

I'm not sure how familiar lay-people are with the term design language but design language is used to describe the family of physical attributes associated with a particular brand.

We can speak of the BMW design language, for instance, and although the phrase might be confusing, we can conjure an image of what a BMW looks like; we can remove the badging and see the car and know which company designed and made it.

The concept is fairly new, but the attributes are as old as Plato.

What I am beginning to suspect however is that contemporary designers are spending more time creating products that reflect the design language of the brand than are perpetuating beauty.

For instance, it seems more important to create a car that looks like a Pontiac than to create a Pontiac that is beautiful.

He continues:

"Looking at cars that were created in the sixties, for instance, it appears that the emphasis was on design rather than with branding.

For some companies (think Apple) the design language is beauty, to create extraordinarily aesthetically realized objects; in those instances, the design language of the company reaches for and achieves the exemplary. The design language of the brand becomes a byproduct of the beautiful forms rather than the master of them."

Deron has a point. There seem to be two very different schools at work here in the world ofproduct design: The first believes that great design will enhance or validate a brand (Apple is a great example), while the second believes that "design" is a branding tool that needs to be consistent.

A few years ago, when I was in charge of product development for a certain company, my design team (at my request) started presenting modern designs for a new line of products. The idea was to modernize the product line and bring the brand into the 21st century. The project was met with a lot of resistance from management because none of the designs "looked" like what "people" (our customers) were used to. In order to get the project approved, we had to make some design compromises. We ended up having to incorporate elements of the old design language into the new products so that they would still look like what "people" would expect.

The company was very conservative in its business approach, and didn't see design as a way to innovate, solve user problems or bring aesthetics and utility together. It saw design simply as a way to visually affirm its brand.

The difference between the two schools is purely cultural. Some company cultures promote true design, while others prefer to use design as a means to remain consistent through an ever-evolving product offering.

Designers who are lucky enough to work for the first of the two get to design cultural icons like the iMac, the iPod, or something as old school as a Hermes scarf of a Birkin bag. Everyone else gets to design around a template. A set of rules and parameters. This isn't to say that the latter group isn't talented or doing "real" design. Not at all. In fact, you could argue that they have a tougher job since they have limitations to deal with. But though this type of design may not be earth-shattering or culture-shifting, it can be, nonetheless, at the core of a brand's strength. Think BMW. Think Cartier watches. Think Yves St. Laurent. Think Ralph Lauren. The idea here isn't to come up with revolutionary designs or works of art for the sake of coming up with a work of art, but when a brand concerns itself with aesthetics and impeccable style, you can be sure that designers don't mind having to work within the confines of a brand's framework.

The point here is this: There doesn't have to be a division between stale design language, and design for its own sake. Increasingly so, companies are becoming aware that being known for their consistently great designs fare better than those who are known for the consistency of their designs. Remember our last editorial on Kathy Sierra? The lesson there was "Be more provocative and interesting than the other guys." For companies like Apple, originality and boldness of design are the design language.

When it comes to Cartier, BMW and other luxury brands known for great design, what you get is a balanced mix of innovation and familiarity. A Cartier watch always looks like a Cartier watch. You don't really have to see the brand name on its face to know who made it. Same with BMW. Same with Porsche. Same with Ray Ban and Zippo and Harley Davidson. The difference, between the first group and this one, however, is that a revolutionary new Apple computer might not obviously look like an Apple product without the ubiquitous fruit logo glowing blue somewhere on its frame. Hence, when it comes to creating and perpetuating strong brands, going for a completely original design isn't always the smartest strategy in the great Marketing Book of Oz. Sometimes, pacing a brand's growth through sober design evolutions can be a whole lot more effective than re-inventing the wheel every two years. (Very few companies can sustain constant re-invention innovation, which is why Apple is so often used as the poster-boy corporation in these types of discussions.)

In the worst case scenario, a vicious cycle can begin when design and branding get tangled up in a sad little dance of stale and uninspired self-perpetuation. (The same design or look keeps coming back year after year after year, and stops striking anyone's fancy. Brand equity drops. Bad things ensue.)

In the best case scenario, design and branding complement each other. The brand incorporates Design (with a capital "D") in its identity and celebrates both innovation and tradition in a symbiotic package that is both reassuring and cool. This is an enlightened, fresh and energetic approach to branding that has never, ever, ever failed a single A-list brand.

Food for thought.



The continuing shift from "market share" to "attention share"

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Ah, Kathy Sierra... What can I say. Kathy writes one of the most consistently great blogs dealing with business, marketing, and all things related to them. One of her latest entries on Creating Passionate Users deals with capturing and keeping someone's attention. For the purposes of this discussion, that would be... your customers, or potential customers, but the concept can definitely be applied to other parts of your life as well. (Students, cute girls, managers, parents, readers, etc.) In her own words:

"When you want to get--and especially keep--someone's attention, what's your competition? What else could they choose to focus on at any given moment? The belief that we have 100% conscious control over what we pay attention to is a myth. The belief that users can and will choose to pay attention to our message/ad/docs/product/lesson, etc. is a mistake. So what can we do to up the odds of getting and keeping attention?"

In true Kathy form, the answer is never far from the question. Here, she quotes David Lichman:

"The secret is to be more provocative and interesting than anything else in their environment."

Aha. Okay. Nothing new there. We've already heard about Seth Godin's "be remarkable" argument, and the value of being a "purple cow."

But you know what? It's worth revisiting frequently, and Kathy does a great job of reminding us of this essential strategic ingredient.

I'll be lazy here and quote Kathy again (and again and again and again...):

"If we want our users (members, guests, students, potential customers, kids, co-workers, etc.) to pay attention, we have to be provocative. We can moan all we want about how the responsible person should pay attention to what's important rather than what's compelling. But it's not about responsibility or maturity. It's not even about interest. It's about the brain."

Here are some of her suggestions on how to capture the interest of our customers:

1. Be Visual

Pictures are more important to the brain than words, and unless you've already got their attention and are a good enough writer to paint pictures in their head, you'll do better with visuals. The more stimulating the better. Even graphs and charts are a huge help.

2. Be Different--Break Patterns and Expectations

As long as we're doing what everyone else is doing (or what we have always done), the brain can relax and think, "Nothing new here... whew... what a relief, that means I can now go back to scanning for something that is". Ways to be different include doing the opposite of what you normally do, or doing something expected in a different domain, but which is wildly unique in yours.

3. Be Daring

You know the story on this one--being safe is often incompatible with being provocative.

4. Change Things Regularly

This is about continually breaking your own patterns. Consistently shaking things up whether it's look and feel of your website to the product itself. (Obviously the definition of "regularly" and "things" varies dramatically depending on the type of product or service. MySpace can change daily to the delight of its core audience, while a financial app better keep its UI stable for a much longer time and find something else to change regularly (like the website, tutorial style, or online forums).

5. Inspire Curiosity

Humans often find puzzles and even questions irresistible. Just try to walk by a TV playing a quiz show and not think about the answer to the question you heard walking by. How many times have you watched to the end of a movie you didn't particularly like, just because you had to find out how the story ends? Our legacy brains love curiosity because it usually means more learning.

6. Pose a Challenge

The level and nature of the challenge work only if they're within boundaries that work for your audience, of course.

7. Be Controversial and Committed

Take a stand. Mediocrity is not a formula for holding attention.

8. Be Fun

Remember, brains love fun because fun=play, and play=practicing-to-survive. (And as we've said many times here, fun does not have to mean funny.

9. Be Stimulating. Be Exciting. Be Seductive

Keep in mind that seduction does not have to mean sexual. A good storyteller can seduce me into sticking with the story. A good teacher can seduce me into learning. A good software app can seduce me into getting better and better.

10. Help them have Hi-Res Experiences

This gets back to the notion of being-better-is-better. The more your users know and can do, the higher resolution experience they have. Whatever you can do to give them more expertise will help keep them interested in wanting to know and do more. But they need to be up the skill curve a ways before this really kicks in, so we must do whatever we can to help get new users past the rough spots (i.e. the "suck threshold").

See? I told you she was good!

The theory of "attention share" ("wallet share's" right-brain twin) has been earning serious points with me for the better part of a year now. By the way, for a great little article on the shift from "mind share" to -and relationship with - "wallet share," click here. It's pretty basic, but that's okay.)

Kathy's post also echoes John Moore's post this week about the Ann Taylor brand, which introduces us to Ann Taylor's Kay Krill, and her five tips on reviving a fashion brand:

1: Know your client—not only what she wears, but how she lives. 2: Have an action plan, and have total agreement from the senior leaders who need to execute the plan. 3: Evolve. Retail is not a static business; there’s great danger in staying still. 4: Constantly communicate with employees at all levels. 5: Stay positive and optimistic.

Compared to Kathy's fresh and energy-infused list, Kay's fabulous five list may seem a little... sober, but it is equally important. Kathy's tips deal with being remarkable. Kay's tips deal with not only staying relevant, but also making your organization get from the strategy phase to the execution phase. The two go hand in hand. Being remarkable without being relevant basically equates to just grabbing people's attention. Likewise, being relevant without being remarkable is just boring. I may be stating the obvious here, but... hey, that's not always a bad thing: When looking for potent ingredients to add to your brand's magic recipe, equal doses of remarkable and relevant work best when used together... and preferably in large quantities.

Have a great Friday, everyone. :)



The Thing About Success...

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

John Winsor points us to this post by Seth Godin today in which he poses this astute question: "What is success?"

Per Seth:

"It's a serious question. How do you know when you're successful--when you have enough market share or profit or respect or money? How do you decide what success is?"

I've run into my share of people for whom success was simply owning a Porsche, a few great sets of golf clubs, and having a 6,000 sq.ft. house on the right golf course. I've met a few for whom success meant designing products or ads that would be used or seen by millions of people. For some, success is being on the cover of Vogue or Elle. It's winning the Tour De France. It's having your own sitcom. It's celebrating 50 years of profitable business. It's getting 5,000 hits per day... or 500,000. It's hearing yourself on the radio three times an hour. It's a title on your business card. It's the corner office. It's a 75-year wedding anniversary. It's an award. It's a 4.0 average. It's the size of your garage or of your yacht or of your third home. It's how much you can bench press. It's beating the S&P. It's being able to spend your own weight in cash every day for the rest of your life. It's beating cancer. It's winning a war. It's curing Polio. It's watching your kids grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. It's serving 500 plates in an hour without making any mistakes. It's getting a big fat check from a VC. It's increasing profits or expanding operations to Asia. It's rescuing every hostage. It's fixing Social Security. It's winning a Gold medal at The Games. It's winning the election. It's getting that promotion. It's graduating. It's getting the account. It's breaking a record. It's kicking heroin. It's getting her to say yes. It's winning the lottery. It's walking on the Moon. It's making your first dollar.

The thing is that every single one of those definitions of success is personal. These are all individual measures of success. They don't involve other people's expectations. They don't involve the success of groups or organizations. And that's precisely the rub.

Per Seth:

"Too often, we let someone else define success. Critics, for example, want a movie to be only modestly popular and modestly approachable. Geeks want your brand to be new and edgy. Alexa-watchers want you to be bigger than MySpace. Stock analysts want you to beat the numbers that they told you they wanted you to meet. Your boss wants you to show up a lot and work late, regardless of what you actually do for her... A lot of organizational conflict comes from mismatched expecations of success."

More often than not, the definition of success is not well defined at the start of a project (which could be as simple as the design of a print ad or as complex as... well, I'll just let your imagination fill-in the blank there). The project manager or CEO typically goes straight to the "goals" but forgets to take a few minutes to go around the room and poll his team (and/or his bosses) to a) find out how they all define success as it oertains to the project, and b) make sure everyone associated with it understands the many different elements that will either make the project successful, or not.

(Sales and profits are usually pretty important on the ROI list, but they aren't always the end-all, be-all.)

Some measures of success may very well be "having the best _________ on the market," or "having the coolest ______________ on the market," or having "the most user friendly ______________ on the market," or having "the most durable ______________ on the market." The smallest digital camera. The flattest phone. The fastest assembly line in the world. The fastest flash card on the market. The most arresting ad campaign of the decade. It could be getting the most out of every penny in the budget, or getting designers and accountants to speak the same language. It could be a side-effect, like creating a cultural phenomenon, or giving birth to a fashion icon.

It can be hundreds of things. Thousands.

The point is that all of these things must be 1) communicated at the project's launch, and 2) agreed upon by all relevant parties.

This is not something you can afford to skip.

"As we launch this new company, we will measure success thus..."

"As we launch this new product, we will measure success thus..."

"As you begin your new career, you will measure success thus..."

Simple concept, yet too often overlooked.

Related reading:

Grant McCracken's "Postrel vs. Florida", which will introduce you to China's struggle to create a cultural industry.

My own piece on "How To Kill Creativity," which touches on the cultural difference between creatives and non-creatives having to work together in traditional organizations.

Tom Asacker's "Anna Quindlen on becoming yourself," which can best be summed up thus: "The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself." (A. Quindlen)

That ought to do it for today. Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)


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