"Leaders have to be ready to adapt, to move, to forget yesterday." Tom Peters
[Our guest blogger is Ian Sanders. He runs an ideas consultancy where he creates and delivers ideas to solve challenges, facilitate growth, and help businesses stand out from the crowd. His new book Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen is due out in November 2011.]
It's the holy grail for every business, whether you're a freelancer, a start-up, or an established brand. How the heck do you stand out in a crowded market? Awesome product functionality or a niche specialty may only get you so far as a differentiator. So instead of marketing your product benefits, try communicating what you're thinking: your personality, your ideas, your attitude. Communicating your thinking—thought leadership marketing—can be really effective in resonating and engaging with your target audience.
Of course this is nothing new. We've always made brand choices based on what businesses think. That's why we fly Virgin, drink Starbucks, ride a Harley. We get what a brand stands for and we either line up behind it, or we run a mile.
Here's the opportunity. There's a long tail of small businesses right down to the one-person work-at-home enterprises that spring up by the hundreds every waking hour. This is where the marketplace is at its most abundant: similarly qualified, similarly positioned, similarly priced, smart boutique businesses. Creative agencies, digital companies, copywriters, web developers. Who do you pick if there's only a cigarette paper between their offerings? You pick the woman who demonstrates her expertise via her weekly blog; the business that provides a monthly video update of industry news; even the business owner who posts a daily picture of her products on Instagram. In sharing their expertise they're also giving an insight into their personality. So let's redefine the genre here: "thought leadership marketing" doesn't just have to be about publishing academic papers or writing posts for the Harvard Business Review. It's whatever content works for you, your business, and your audience. A blog post, a tweet, a newsletter, a video sharing your business tips, even a blackboard out on the street communicating your "Thought For The Day."
Back in 2008, Tom told the audience at the Inc. 5000 conference "If you're not blogging, you're an idiot". He was right. And he'd probably say the same today about Twitter. Because together with LinkedIn, Google+, (and whatever next month's hot new platform is) we have a bunch of tools available that provide a free platform for thought leadership.
The good news is that communicating your thinking does not discriminate on size: instead of s/he with the biggest budget wins, it's who can demonstrate the original ideas or the fresh thinking. So if you're a freelancer or small business, why aren't you blogging? Why don't you put your thoughts out there, why aren't you shining a spotlight on your DNA? Don't assume it doesn't matter—customers want to deal with experts and they need to see evidence of that. There's no point making claims about how innovative your business is if you can't back it up, if you can't prove you're living and breathing it.
King Of Shaves is a shaving brand that's become a success in the UK and is now entering the US market. Founder Will King may not have Gillette's ad spend but he plays out a David vs Goliath tale, competing with the big guys via Twitter and social media. Will is doing more than selling razors and shaving foam; he's engaging with his audience 1-to-1 through storytelling and giving advice to the entrepreneurial community. That's how he—and his business—stand out.
Don't miss out on the thought leadership marketing opportunity. Remember, you don't have to be the biggest or the best to stand out; you just need to have something interesting to say.
[Our guest blogger is Cool Friend Steve Yastrow. Find out more about Steve at Yastrow.com.]
A cover story in last Monday's New York Times describes the online advertising practice of "retargeting," also known by its euphemistic synonym, "remarketing." Retargeting is the cookie-enabled practice of showing people banner ads based on their past browsing behavior.
In one sense, retargeting is the panacea we all hoped for in the early days of the Internet boom. I remember giving speeches in the early '90s, describing how the "information superhighway" would make advertising less irritating to consumers because they would only see ads for products they want. I imagined my entire neighborhood all glued to the same TV show, but with different ads showing up on our screens during one commercial break. At the same moment a pizza delivery coupon from my favorite Italian restaurant was printing out of my TV set, a coupon for Children's Tylenol was printing out of my neighbor's because he had purchased a Robitussin formula for kids that morning at Walgreen's.
You can make a very good argument that retargeting is good for consumers because it reduces the unwanted advertising clutter thrown at them, and my interest in this topic has less to do with Internet privacy or any sort of need for government regulation of the tracking of online consumer behavior. I'm more interested in understanding where personalization crosses the line from customer convenience to customer turn-off.
Imagine if you got on an elevator and saw a slick salesman waiting for you. With a big smile and an outstretched hand, he greets you by name, comments on the hotel you stayed in last weekend, and starts talking about the relative merits of the three cameras you were considering during a shopping trip the previous day. He produces a chart showing a comparison of the three cameras, with the particular features you are interested in shaded to highlight them.
Would you be more likely to buy from this guy, because he understands your so well and knows what you've been doing, or would you be press the button of the nearest floor so you can escape quickly?
For all of the possibilities retargeting offers to benefit both customers and marketers, companies risk becoming "that sales guy" if they are not careful. I'd worry less about the ethics and more about the effectiveness.
Here's a simple rule of thumb: What would you think if a friend did it? We appreciate if our friends buy us personalized birthday presents or recommend particular books because they know us well. But even a friend can become a stalker if he starts to follow you too closely.
In video number 38 from The Little BIG Things Video Series, Tom describes just how powerful storytelling can be and argues that's why it's essential to turn your brand into a story.
You can find the video in the right column of the front page of tompeters.com or you can watch the video on YouTube. [Time: 1 minutes, 55 seconds] You can also download a PDF transcript of the video's content: Strategy: The Story is More Powerful than the Brand.
Howard-Hilton-Herb. Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder, visits 25 stores a week. Master hotelier Conrad Hilton says his only advice is "Don't forget to tuck the shower curtain into the bathtub." Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher says his only advice is "You have to treat your employees as your primary customers."
My translation, more or less "all you need to know to succeed":
Stay in touch. [Howard]
Sweat the details. [Hilton]
Put your people first. [Herb.]
K = R = P
Kindness = Repeat business = Profit
Say "Thank you."
If you can become a full-fledged "professional" listener and master the arts of appreciation and apology [accountability], you will be 75 yards down the 100-yard path to success.
"What do you think?" = Arguably the four most important words in business/leadership success.
The successful person's "top 2" key traits.
Vigorous action-relentless experimentation = [Only] effective foundation of progress, personal or organizational.
(This is RFA's necessary handmaiden.)
Return On Investment in Relationships.
Medium- to long-term: Relationships = Everything.
Hence: Purposeful investment in relationships is the most important "ROI."
Internal customers are more important than external customers when it comes to execution.
And, of course, always to be repeated in this space as my "signoff":
If not EXCELLENCE, what?
If not EXCELLENCE now, when?
I assume virtually all of you are familiar with Zappos—and its unusual and potent people practices. Nonetheless, I'm offering a reminder here from a great article I happened across in The Korn/Ferry Institiute mag, Q2.2010.
Zappos 10 Corporate Values
I suggest stealing intact!
I call it "Return On Investment in Relationships." It outstrips standard "ROI" by a mile in the long term—and, for that matter, the short term.
Here's a take on R.O.I.R. from Harry Markopolos, author of No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller:
"The financial industry is a business of contacts and relationships. No one ever buys a product and says, 'That product is the sexiest thing I've ever seen. I don't care who's selling it.' Generally people do business with people they trust and like, or people who are recommended by someone they trust."
This is not news.
But it always bears repeating.
So: Over the weekend, consider in detail your R.O.I.R. strategy for next week, the next month, maybe the rest of the year. This is an idea that deserves careful and continuous thought, not a catch-as-catch-can attitude. You'd work for months or years on a plan for a new bridge. Well, R.O.I.R. is your "bridge to success."
NB: Markopolos is the quintessential "quant"; i.e., this is a geek pushing relationship power, not a used car salesman.
(Above: Ice-tea season. Fresh mint.)
This, KRP, began as a 140-character Tweet:
K = R = P
(Kindness = Repeat business = Profit)
On time all the time.
Apologizes with dispatch for screw-ups.
"Over"-reacts to screw-ups of any magnitude.
"Professional" in all dealings.
Understands that kindness to staff begets kindness to others.
Applies throughout the "supply chain."
Applies to 100% of customer's staff.
Explicit part of values statement.
Basis for evaluation for 100% of our staff.
Starts with the boss/bosses.
(Above, after a long Vermont winter, there's nothing boring about a Dandelion.)
[Our guest blogger is Cool Friend Steve Yastrow. Find out more about Steve at Yastrow.com.]
No matter how good your product is, no matter how good your marketing and sales are, no matter how cool your ad agency is ...
Your external brand can never be stronger than your internal brand.
In other words, what your customers think of you can never be better than what your employees think of you. At least not for very long.
It's impossible to fake out your customers. Our world has become very transparent, and your customers can see, clearly, right into the soul of your company. If you want your customers to have clear, compelling, motivating beliefs about who you are and what you do for customers, you must ensure that your company's employees have those beliefs. Otherwise, your marketing and sales promises will not resonate with the reality of being your customer.
I often ask executives if they can name one person in their company who does have some effect on the customer experience, even if that effect is indirect. No one has ever been able to name one person. (Although someone did once mention the character in the movie Office Space who covets his stapler and is relegated to an office in the basement. 'Nuff said.) Yet few companies invest adequately in building the brand inside their company. They figure it's covered by the training budget or, more frequently, they just don't do anything about it.
There is a clear connection between what your employees believe about you and how much money you make. Are you investing enough in your internal brand?
[Our guest blogger is Cool Friend Steve Yastrow. Find out more about Steve at Yastrow.com.]
You have shopped at a local clothing store for twenty years, visiting the store about five times each year. Today, you walk in the store again—it's your 101st visit. A sales clerk approaches you and asks, "May I help you?"
In the 2004 movie, 50 First Dates, Henry (Adam Sandler) and Lucy (Drew Barrymore) meet, have a great first date, and plan to see each other again. But the next day Lucy acts like she doesn't know Henry. Lucy has a short-term memory loss problem, so each day is a new "first date," in which Henry has to attempt to rekindle the relationship.
Most people think of 50 First Dates as a romantic comedy. Not me. I think it is a business movie.
Isn't this what it is like to do business with most companies?
You can be a long-time customer of retail stores, restaurants, dental offices, and all other sorts of businesses, and still be greeted as a stranger each time you walk in.
We live in a "land of plenty," where it is increasingly difficult to differentiate your company solely on products and services. Want a customer to think you are different? Help her focus on her relationship with you, not just on your products, and she'll think you are unique in a meaningful way. Relationships are the best differentiators available in our crowded, competitive marketplace.
A relationship is like an ongoing conversation with a friend; each time you talk, you are able to pick up where you last left off, enabling each conversation to be a relationship-building encounter. If you have to reintroduce yourselves each time you meet, like Henry and Lucy, your relationship will go nowhere.
How many businesses focus on creating an ongoing conversation with you, as their customer? How many times, as a customer, do you feel like you're in 50 First Dates?
How well does your company create ongoing conversations with customers? Does your organization suffer from Lucy's memory problems? Do you go on thousands—or millions—of first dates every year?
We have been thinking a lot recently about the "permanent set" of changes that will remain when the world's major economies come out of recession. If you trust the statistics, Germany, France and Japan already have. One thing that is with us for the duration is the influence of social networking sites on business.
A case in point: the firestorm that has followed Whole Foods Market founder and CEO John Mackey's recent Wall Street Journal piece on heathcare reform. Whatever you think of the merits of President Obama's proposals, or the UK's National Health Service (please, no more folks!), you can't argue with the fact that over 16,000 people (and growing) have signed up to and are actively rubbishing the Whole Foods business on Facebook as a result. Using social networking sites to respond to the actions of businesses and their leaders is a phenomenon that is here to stay.
Goodness knows what it would have done to the career of the fledgling Sir Richard Branson when he was building his Virgin Group. Some of his public outpourings and political affiliations early on might have proved fatal to Virgin if Facebook, Twitter, and the like had been around at that time. I do think it is good to get insights into the personality of the people who are running our iconic businesses. Sadly, I suspect that Mr. Mackey and his ilk will be a bit more careful with their personal opinions in future.
European low fares/no frills airline Ryanair flew 5.8 million passengers in June, up a cool 13% on their June 2008 figures. A stunning performance in what we all hope is the bottom of this miserable recession! Meanwhile "the world's favourite airline" British Airways has struggled to attract 2.9 million passengers in June, down 5% over the same period.
The performance difference between these two benchmark airlines could not be clearer, and yet their media treatment belies this. Ryanair gets regularly pilloried for its relentless efforts to cut its operating costs, simplify its processes, and find novel ways to charge passengers for "extras"—like using the toilet in flight! BA, on the other hand, continues to get a largely sympathetic press as it tries to persuade its staff to take less pay, in one form or another, to offset their declining numbers and mounting losses.
So, which airline is setting the better example of contemporary business excellence? Which is doing the best overall job for its customers? Which of them gives the best indication of the way forward when it comes to leading businesses out of the current economic mire?
For those of you who haven't come across Ryanair yet, live wire CEO Michael O'Leary is certainly no Herb Kelleher and whilst they have copied much of Southwest's original business architecture, the airline has none of Southwest's personality and style and most people agree that their customer experience sucks.
Personally, I hate flying Ryanair. But there are no prizes for guessing with which airline my wife and I have chosen to fly when we go to Spain for our summer holiday in three weeks' time.
Rethinking the way you communicate with customers
Customers today have less money to spend, more choices, and more uncertainty that paralyzes their decision making.
How do you connect with your customers at a time like this, when they are spending less, scrutinizing more, and rationing the number of times they say "yes"?
The current economic havoc makes it more crucial than ever that you recalibrate your marketing process away from the marketer-centric, advertising-based, get-the-word-out, capture-eyeballs, chest-beating, "look at me" old world of marketing, and design your customer interactions around the way people actually evaluate you: by considering the way all interactions with your company blend to tell one, cumulative, clear, compelling story. I call this Brand Harmony.
You cannot fake out today's customer with a clever promotion. You cannot wow them solely through advertising, except maybe in extreme Aflac Duck/Geico Gekko situations. Customers' antennae are up, searching and sensitive, and they will see around empty promises the way we saw that the old west town at the end of Blazing Saddles was just a movie set facade.
Examples of brand dissonance are in front of us every day. You see a Verizon TV commercial touting the network, and have a dropped call 10 minutes later. You receive mail from an airline telling you they "value your business," and then they charge you a $150 penalty to change your flight. After speaking to a salesperson at his tradeshow booth, you read his brochure and realize that the written message has very little in common with what he said.
You cannot move customers' minds, feet, and wallets unless your create Brand Harmony through the entire course of your interactions with them. You have to be more careful about your marketing investments, especially in the midst of this economic mayhem, as your customers are more careful with their purchase decisions.
Here's an easy way to improve the sense of Brand Harmony you create for your customers: Block off a conference room at your office for the next week. Cover the walls in paper. Next, grab your colleagues and a bunch of markers, and map out the touchpoints customers have with your company throughout the course of their relationships with you. Look for pockets of dissonance. Look for places where the story doesn't flow, or where it contradicts itself. Look for places to improve the way you communicate your story, with a focus on improved Brand Harmony. I'm confident you will have the same experience I have when I do this revealing exercise with my clients: You will quickly spot ways to reduce dissonance and increase harmony.
• Does the message your salespeople communicate during a sales call match the message in the brochure they leave behind at the end of the meeting?
• Does the purchase experience on the web complement the purchase experience on the phone or in a retail store?
• Do your collections people call customers and ask for money with the same brand values that your customer service people use when they talk to customers?
You'll also find opportunities to communicate better ... and, most likely, spend less, as you notice expensive efforts that really don't tell your story.
• Do you really have to advertise in that trade journal every quarter, "just to keep the editors happy"?
• Is the annual Christmas card mailing, where seven of you perfunctorily, hastily, and sloppily sign all the cards, the most effective way to touch your customers at the end of the year?
• Would there be great value in a personal call to customers the day after a product or service delivery to see how they feel about it?
Then, start making improvements—today. Brand Harmony is more like a dimmer switch than an on/off switch, and you can start readjusting the way your company interacts with customers, touchpoint by touchpoint, starting now.
Remember, "integrated marketing" is not something marketing people do. It's what your customers do. If you want your customers' attention—and love—create an entire set of experiences that they can "integrate" in their minds into one clear, compelling story.
Go ahead, recalibrate the way you interact with customers. Now, more than ever, in this time of economic discontinuity, uncertainty, and scrutiny.
So, what's your story?
Consider this: Your customers are living in a totally different world than they were a year ago. I donâ€™t care what business you're in, your customers have new things to deal with, new ways to make decisions, and new uncertainties in their lives. Their worlds have been reset.
So, (I ask again) whatâ€™s your story?
How has your brand story changed?
Have you assessed, with intense scrutiny, how your story has to evolve to match everything new in your customersâ€™ lives, the new ways they make decisions, the new things they care about, the new ways they behave?
Have you recalibrated your brand story so that it will interest and motivate your customers, with their new perspectives?
What compels and motivates your customers is different now, so let's discuss how your brand story must change.
Iâ€™ll start this discussion with a harsh, but true, point: Your customers donâ€™t care about your story. They care about their own stories. Now, more than ever, it is critical to elevate your branding perspective beyond the "Look at me" chest-beating that characterizes so much of marketing, and focus on a way to make it easy for your customers to bring your brand story into their lives.
For this reason, recalibrating your story requires you to address this incredibly important question: "What do I want customers to think about me, now, considering all the changes that have happened in my customers' lives?"
Imagine a customer raving to a friend or colleague about your company, saying how she needs you more than ever in this time of economic turmoil. What would you want to say? What do you want your customer to think about you, right now, that would compel her to do more business with you?
I did this exercise with a client last week. We had the top managers from the company in a room, with the purpose of recalibrating the company's approach to customers in these crazy times. This company sells a business-to-business service, and in recent months has noticed that its buying contacts have become paralyzed with fear, panicked that each purchase decision could lead to a job-losing disaster. We imagined one of these buyers raving to her boss about my client's company, describing the kind of results they were producing for her and why she needs them now, more than ever. We imagined what she could say, with passion and conviction, that would represent undying loyalty to this company at a time when her job has become difficult, challenged, and scary.
By doing this exercise, we quickly identified opportunities to recalibrate the company's brand story, focusing on issues that were much more important than last year's brochure headlines.
What do you want your customers to think about you? This is your most important branding question. My observation is that most companies aren't addressing it. They're "tweaking" last year's ads and sales pitches, ignoring one of the most important facts that faces us all:
Our customers are different, so our stories better be.
[This is Part 4 of a 6-part series. To read the other entries in the series, you can find them at these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. You can also read more by Cool Friend Steve Yastrow at his website, yastrow.com.]
How's this for a flip? Sunday's New York Times Magazine ran an article called "AntiPod," which speculates about what makes people buy Microsoft's Zune digital music player instead of an Apple iPod. The main thesis of the article is that many people are buying the Microsoft product simply because it isn't an iPod. Given the history of Apple and Microsoft, that's really ironic.
At 70% market share, the iPod is the big, bad marketplace monster, dwarfing the Zune with its 3% share. (SanDisk has a 10% share of digital music players.) The article quotes one Zune owner as saying, "I probably wouldn't buy an iPod," for that reason that she is "a little bit anti-Apple." Public radio host Jesse Thorn is quoted as saying that he was put off from owning an iPod by seeing so many "self-satisfied people carrying a ubiquitous object."
I have a great idea. Maybe Microsoft can take the film from Apple's famous 1984 IBM-bashing TV ad (Remember the days when "IBM Compatible" was synonymous with "It runs on Microsoft DOS?") and repurpose it into an anti-Apple ad. "Don't let those big bad guys at Apple take over your world. Be a rebel! Go with the cool, hip, anti-trend underdog ... Microsoft!"
Sorry. I have a hard time imagining people embracing a Microsoft product because it is the counter-culture, anti-trend answer to the imperial, controlling Apple monolith. Maybe Apple will become what Microsoft is, but Microsoft will never become what Apple was.
I have grown a little frustrated with business's current love affair with cost cutting. Increasingly, little thought is being given to the impact on the brand. Just this week, I observed four examples that come to mind.
First, a restaurant I frequent that earned a deserved reputation for its wine list was out of several popular reds. The manager's directive to the employees? "It doesn't matter, they [customers] will just order something else." My note: It does matter, and maybe they will order their wine somewhere else.
Second, my health club started using a cheaper detergent and the towels are scratchy. And they lowered the temperature of the pool by five degrees. Since the people who made those decision don't actually work out at the facility, or overhear the talk in the locker room, I can understand their belief that "it doesn't matter."
Third, standing at the counter of a premium-priced golf course, I overheard a customer complaining to the pro that the round was excessively slow and the rangers (whose job it is to police the pace of play on the course) didn't seem to feel they could do anything about it. The customer said he wouldn't be back. The pro just said, "Oh well, nothing we can do about that," as if losing one customer doesn't matter. But, it doesn't matter only if there is an endless supply of golfers waiting to get on this course. There aren't. By the way, don't expect to see that golfer's buddies at your course, either.
Lastly, perhaps a small thing, but it is a case of the disappearing amenities at hotels. Sure, I can carry my own Q-tips, and if I want more than one cup of coffee, I can call room service. But I notice they haven't lowered the price of the room. And pardon my cynicism, but I have to believe that the option they offer of not changing the linens every day is based more on a desire to cut costs rather than saving the earth.
In my mind, a brand is built on a historic value proposition that builds a certain loyalty. If you start messing with the perceived benefits, those adjustments can't do anything but hurt the long-term interest of the business. I understand the need to be frugal, but I wish decision-makers had a better sense of what matters in the customers' eyes.
Am I just feeling a little grouchy today? Or have you noticed this as well? At what point is the brand compromised?
My post "The Downturn Is a Rounding Error" and Tom's subsequent post on this topic generated some great discussion on the concept of forming long-term relationships with customers—what I call We relationships.
Here's how I define a We relationship: When your customer never thinks of you without thinking of both of you. A customer can think that your company is wonderful, as in "They do a great job." But, when your customer can't think of you without thinking of her relationship with you at the same time, then you've achieved a higher level of connectedness.
Example: There are 8 diners near my house that I can choose for a breakfast meeting. They're all pretty good. But I canâ€™t think of one of them, Rhapsody Café, without simultaneously thinking of my connection to this restaurant, and my relationship with Ramon Abarca, the owner. Early on, after I first started visiting Rhapsody with clients and associates for breakfast meetings, Ramon began to acknowledge me and offer to find me quiet tables for my business conversations. He showed interest in me, and, over time, we had conversations and got to know each other. These short conversations were relationship-building encounters, and, as I heard his stories, I became interested in his success. Now, it's impossible for me to think of Rhapsody Café on its own, without, at the same time, thinking of my good times there and how Ramon and his team have made me feel comfortable. Thatâ€™s a We relationship, and Rhapsody Café gets a disproportionate share of my business.
Consider that your customer thinks about your product only a small portion of the time. But she thinks of herself all day long. When she can't think of you without thinking of both of you, you have connected yourself to what she really cares about: herself.
How often do you experience this kind of We relationship?
[See Steve's book on this subject.—CM]
At Southwest Airlines' annual meeting in its hometown of Dallas a couple of weeks ago, founder Herb Kelleher retired after 37 years. The day of the meeting, a full-page ad appeared in USA Today thanking Herb for his devotion—paid for by the pilots union.
Across town, the same day, another Dallas-based airline, American, had its annual meeting. It was picketed by a clutch of its pilots union members.
Asked repeatedly about his success secrets at SWA, Kelleher has always had the same and sole reply: "You have to treat your employees like customers."
As many point out, it's a little more complicated than that. I'd hardly disagree. On the other hand, I know Mr K reasonably well, and I am convinced that he is dead serious, and that the spirit encompassed by his one-line answer is, indeed, the airline's most prominent point of differentiation. I remain to this day repeatedly surprised by the regularity with which my typically businessclass-flying friends praise Southwest, starting always with employee attitude.
Three, or 37, hearty cheers for Herb Kelleher—and for the pilots union as well.
(I am directing you to another Special Presentation previously posted: "Putting The Customer Second." You may recall that we had a hot and heavy discussion when I took this topic on.)
I urge you to read the cover story in the current Fortune Small Business: "Get Customers to Sell For You"
The article builds on the masterful work of Fred Reichheld, and features his invention, the "Net Promoter Score." There are numerous ways to measure it, but somehow one has to end up with a single number: NPS. In (very) short, the NPS is the percentage of customers who are wild about you (pretty damn happy or better) and would recommend you to others minus the percentage who are neutral or worse about you—and, hence, would not go out of their way to sing your praises to their pals.
There are a million twists—e.g., Brain Training—LearningRx, with 66 franchises, has developed an NPS for every employee—with high impact on their performance and pay.
In this video (just under four minutes long), filmed by Skillsoft, Tom exhorts that corporate social responsibility shouldn't just be an empty branding tactic. After all, organizations are groups of humans and he believes that CSR is about being a member of the community.
[If you'd like a PDF transcript of Tom's message, you can download it here: Corporate Social Responsibility]
It's (still) "mud season" in Vermont, courtesy this winter's abundance of snow. Cars and trucks, in particular, look like flying mud balls.
While on my speed walk yesterday, I passed through the Equinox Hotel parking lot—Manchester VT. They are undergoing, under new owners, a massive renovation. The contractor is Bread Loaf Construction, probably VT's best, out of Middlebury.
Bread Loaf folks aren't as smart as they think, as I see it. That is, they apparently don't know it's mud season. Every contractor's truck in the parking lot—and the FedEx and UPS trucks, too—confirmed the "mud ball" image I just pointed out.
Except for Bread Loaf's. There were two BL trucks in the lot, both sizeable pickups. Both, in BL tradition, painted fire engine red.
And neither—and here I do not exaggerate—had the tiniest trace of dirt or mud or even dust.
Later in the afternoon, I was having a long interview with a top dog at the ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, and, not surprisingly, the topic turned to branding. Out of my mouth, unbidden, popped "Branding is a squeaky clean bright red contractor's truck in mud season in Vermont." In fact, we talked about the fact that branding is, well, about ... Everything. On the one hand, that's not very helpful. On the other hand, it reminds us that nothing, absolutely nothing, is irrelevant to individual branding—or branding of a construction company in VT or Megacorp Inc. As a quote from David D'Alessandro, in Career Warfare, goes, "It's always showtime."
(I know, I know—I should have taken a picture. Sorry.)
This promotional video for (our Cool Friend) Dan Pink's new book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, is pitch-perfect. It's hip, it has a sense of humor, but most importantly it captures the energy and the message of the book. Dan might as well have thrown down the gauntlet. The challenge is not whether you can create a splashy video for your new book or product, it's whether you can communicate quickly and effectively the distilled essence of its brand. Don't forget, it has to be compelling enough for your friends to want to share it.
It's been generally believed that the Beatles brand has broad and enduring appeal, but now it's time to market test its "universality." At 7 p.m. EST (12 midnight GMT) NASA, the US space agency, is beaming the Beatles song, "Across the Universe," well, across the universe. It's the first song to be sent into outer space, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' recording of the tune, which appeared on their "Let It Be" album. (This year is also the 50th anniversary of NASA.) The song, one of John Lennon's finest, will be aimed towards the North Star, Polaris, where nearby residents can hear it in 431 years. (If they like it we should know by 2870.) Thousands of Beatles fans across the world are expected to play the song at precisely the time of launch or watch the send-off on NASA TV.
But what IS it about the Beatles brand that 40 years later it can still generate this kind of attention on Planet Earth?
What does a drumming gorilla have to do with chocolate? Well, the UK's mega-chocolate business with the salmonella-blemished brand, Cadbury, have certainly made a connection, given the iconic status of their current TV advert, in the UK at least. If you haven't seen the advert yet, Cadbury have posted it on the web after a million-plus hits on the various versions posted on YouTube.
At a seminar we presented this week, our client's marketing director asked his audience of twenty or so business-to-business bankers the above question at the start of his presentation on their brand. After several brave attempts from his audience, the presenter explained the answer he had got from Cadbury's advertising agency when he asked them how they had sold the drumming gorilla approach to Cadbury at their first pitch.
Their first point was that TV viewers these days won't and don't accept their viewing being interrupted by ads. They either don't watch them, or, worse, switch channels. So, to have any impact, the advert itself had to be entertaining. Secondly, this advert was focused on restoring the Cadbury brand reputation, not their chocolate. It shows a gorilla taking great pleasure from playing the drums, Phil Collins-style. Having got the audience's interest, and a full eighty or so seconds into the ad, they get to the tag line about the joy of eating Cadbury's chocolate.
This may be ho-hum stuff for many of the aficionados of this blog, but the advert (and the explanation thereof) certainly grabbed the attention of that seminar audience. It helped them think afresh about how their work brought their bank's brand to life in their dealings with staff and clients.
Has the approach worked? Well, it got my attention when I first saw it, and I bet I know what the last advert on Saturday night will be just before the whole English population watches the Rugby World Cup final—come on, England!
It's been a bumpy few weeks for the UK's public broadcaster, the BBC. Following a couple of rather unfortunate PR spats [http://media.guardian.co.uk, free registration required], the Director General has sent out an email to all employees encouraging them to be vigilant and to report any lapses in the high broadcast standards that they set for themselves.
What a double-edged sword the BBC's management faces. On the one hand, the integrity of the corporation must be one of its most precious assets and lapses of trust cannot be tolerated. Yet on the other hand, their people (employees and contractors alike) are facing unprecedented professional competition. Attracting audiences has never been tougher, and it is easy to see how such pressure drives people into situations of experimentation and risk-taking. Tom's axiom SAV (screw around vigorously!) comes to mind.
Whilst I am certainly not in favour of sloppiness or lax standards, I am in favour of innovation and creativity. My main worry in this situation is that anxiety about public criticism will lead talented people within the BBC to play safe. What a pity that would be, as I, for one, would hate to see the BBC marginalised.
But this double-edged sword applies to any organisation that can find the public spotlight trained on their actions. Risk assessment these days often seems to me to end up meaning that organisations play far too safe—for example, the ultra-cautious attitude that many schools in the UK now take towards children's venture expeditions. (Many of them simply don't offer such expeditions any longer.)
So, is it possible to have a risk-taking large organisation, or is that an oxymoron? Who knows of any large organisations that have grappled with this dilemma successfully?
Surely these are among the more stunning Branding-Worldchanging stories of the last 20 years:
How many are the product of careful market research?
How many are the results of visionary insaniac dreamers?
How many are at least partially the product of rather well-developed egos?
(Are there any market-research driven stories of a similar magnitude? Starbucks???)
A confession first ... I came late to the Apple brand and I fell hard. I love the design, and the products always work beyond my expectations! I have one iPod for running, one for biking, and a waterproof one for swimming! I didn't feel the need to stand in line for the iPhone on Friday, but I had one in my hands early Saturday nonetheless. It is as beautiful a design as I have come to expect from Cupertino.
Then things when south. My experience with AT&T/Cingular has not enamored me to their brand. The simple iTunes activation was just that—until we got to the AT&T part. Disaster. My pre-approved credit authorization at the store wasn't accepted online. I called the help line. Long wait only to be informed that I had to return to the store. (Seems the long wait had to do with them being overwhelmed with the volume of customers ... don't they read the business press? DUH.) People at the store told me to call AT&T support. I asked to speak with a supervisor at AT&T help desk. She had several calls in the cue for her. (Big surprise.) I hung up. The store tech called back with a workaround, but I would have to sign up with a Tennessee phone number (where I bought the phone) and I live in Michigan. No thanks. Eventually I just ignored all the pre-authorization work I had done at the store and started fresh with the activation. It worked. Final glitch: The AT&T/Cingular service map clearly showed I was in their service area. Well, my front room is, but the kitchen apparently isn't (I have a small house!). Signal strength is terrible. Enough bitching.
Here is the issue to me. By entering an insane agreement with AT&T as the sole carrier for the iPhone, the Apple brand is intimately connected to them. I believe after the early adopters, sales will fall if AT&T doesn't get their act together. I am greatly surprised at Apple, as I have found they are really careful not to release products before their time. I would have thought they would have made sure AT&T was ready. So now I will sum it up this way ... great iPod, lousy phone service.
When we work with clients on branding issues here at tompeters!company, we emphasize the importance of contacts between any member of an organization and the customer. We refer to them as "touchpoints." Since an organization's brand lives in the client's or customer's mind, the experience they have with members of the organization goes a long way in determining whether they ultimately buy the product or service again. In a world full of choices, the brand acts as a sorting device. Lately, I have noticed a new force in determining whether a buyer is attracted to the brand. A lot of the conversation among my friends lately is discussion of an organization's labor practices and executive compensation. The topic comes up often. For instance, many of my friends have abandoned the Circuit City store after their decision to fire all their sales associates and offer them the chance to reapply for their jobs at a lower wage. And here in Michigan, people frequently talk about Ford, as that company continues to ask for concessions from labor while compensating Mr. Mulally at astronomical levels ($28 million in the first four months of 2007) and provide Mark Fields expense money so he can commute from Florida to Dearborn weekly. Amazingly, he used to fly Ford corporate jets each week, and his flying commercially is seen as a concession! What a sacrifice!
I am not suggesting that sales will plummet for the companies in the above examples, but I do see the impression companies make with their treatment of employees as a new force in the brand wars. So tp.com bloggers, let me know. Is this a touchpoint for you? Do you consider or are you swayed by an organization's business practices when you make a brand choice? Have you ever chosen a different source or product because you don't like how a company acts in areas unrelated to the transaction itself? Any examples?
Richard Branson has a big ego, which can be off-putting. (My one contact with him was unpleasant; it gave new meaning to the word "condescending.")
But God bless him!
Branson has succeeded again and again, and is often on the side of the saints. For starters, his idea of fun is going head to head with someone who has him by 100,001 pounds. As the New Yorker explained in a wonderful profile ("Branson's Luck: The Business World's High Roller Is Betting Everything on Biofuels," by Michael Specter, May 14), "Branson likes to enter a market controlled by a giant ... British Airways, say, or Coke or Murdoch. Then he presents himself as hip alternative."
He gets pissed off at something stupid (pathetic airline customer "service") and on a dime starts an airline, or whatever. (NB: I happen to believe that all, as in ALL, successful innovation, product or process, is the product of pissed off people.) With a fortune measured in the billions, he commands a payroll of about 55,000 feisty folks in 200 very independent companies. (E.g., Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue of Australia, Virgin Limousines, Virgin Money, Virgin Active health clubs, Virgin Galactic space travel.)
Branson is his brand, but as told here he enjoys his nutty stunts, and engages in them even when out of camera range; going back to his hotel after a recent party that included the Google founders, half Branson's age, said car was full, so Sir Richard simply hopped in the trunk. The profile also calls him the "anti-Trump." Around the office, "Branson's nickname is Dr Yes, largely because he has never been able to bring himself to fire people, and often has trouble saying no to even the most ridiculous and unsolicited ideas."
As I read the Branson profile I not only let my mind wander to DaimlerChrysler (see immediately above), but also to Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder. I like Schultz and his company. But it seems to me that when one hears of its future, it's almost always in terms of Howard's goal of making it to 100,000 shops, or some such. Branson is surely happy when his businesses succeed and grow (though not awash in tears when one fails, as long as it was a good try), but his primary goal is the fun of doing something cool to twit a giant or, more recently, saving the world.
In short (and long), I wish there were many more like him.
Our friend, colleague, commenter, and blog post-er, Mike Neiss, is quoted in today's New York Times in Joe Nocera's column titled, "A Double Shot of Nostalgia for Starbucks." Mr. Nocera quotes from Mike's post titled, "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee." The Times article explores the two sides of Howard Schultz: the man nostalgic for the Starbucks past, and the man who only cares about opening more retail outlets than any other store in history. For me, though, the most damning fact for the ubiquitous coffee chain is a "survey of 20,000 people by phone and in person that showed that Dunkin' Donuts now had higher customer loyalty than Starbucks." Yikes.
Just when I was beginning to wonder whether another great experience was going to surrender to the short-term gains of operational excellence, Howard Schultz gave me faith. I love this memo to his executive team laying out his concerns that the Starbucks brand is in danger of commoditization. I started noticing this some time ago, and I often mentioned to my colleagues that Starbucks was beginning to feel a lot more like a fast food restaurant than a cool place to hang. I support being a good steward of the business by watching costs, but not at the expense of losing the brand equity gained by being distinctive. Starbucks recently took another hit when the coffee at fast food staple McDonald's won a taste test conducted by Consumer Reports. While I wouldn't argue that the Starbucks brand is in its death knell, I would argue that efficiencies and economies of scale have introduced a virus in need of serious care. And it looks like Howard Schulz just might be the healer they need.
As I make this note, I am sitting in my local coffee shop. The owner told me about a new shipment of Peru Norte Especial beans he just got in and how he had roasted it to City+ to bring out its subtleties. Like an expert sommelier, he described it in wonderfully delicious detail. I can smell the breads baked on site and hear the wonderful hissing of the espresso machines. Howard would like this place. Oh, and by the way, I am sending in this dispatch using the FREE wireless connection from this wonderful coffee shop. Now this feels like a third place! Go get 'em, Howard!
Clearly what happened last week with the JetBlue travelers was not fun. People were stuck, stranded—unable to get answers, to their destinations, or even off the planes! A lot of people were/are angry and upset. I understand all those sentiments. But I tip my hat to David Neeleman, founder and CEO. The letter he published to his flyers was authentic and forthright. I don't know of too many businesses that haven't made mistakes, some bigger than others. JetBlue is admitting their errors, putting in place methods and processes so that this doesn't happen again, and they are trying to do everything to bring their brand promise back to life.
JetBlue understands where they failed, but they are renewing the brand promise and owning the problem of improving the customer experience. I would love to hear your thoughts about this letter.
I admire Richard Branson. Actually, I am awed by his business savvy, drive, and style. This month's Fast Company (Sept '06) highlights his customer service mindset. [Subscription required.] My experiences with Virgin Airline have been above average. I believe the brand lives in the mind of the consumer and is based on these experiences we have and the dealings we have with the organizations' employees. Yesterday, Virgin brand took a real hit as I watched one of their employees in action at Logan airport.
I was sitting in the Northwest Airlines World Club with my dear friends and colleagues from tpc!UK, Richard King and Madeleine McGrath. Virgin apparently has some kind of agreement that allows them to share the space with Northwest. Overall, the World Clubs do a nice job. Open bar, cappuccino machines, free snacks, free wireless, and friendly staff. As we were enjoying the amenities, the Virgin hostess set up a hot buffet with a pretty good spread. There was no indication that this was for Virgin customers and was set up just a few feet from the NWA snacks. Rick and I stood up and got in line. Then the Virgin Food Police sprung into action. In a very stern voice, she let us know that the food was for Virgin customers only! She even physically grabbed a plate full of food from an NWA patron! Later she walked around with ice cream going table to table making sure that she only offered it to the right people. We openly wondered what Sir Richard would have thought about the display of Virgin hospitality. I even found myself watching how many Virgin customers were helping themselves to NWA crackers and stale cookies!
I certainly have no problem with Virgin's doing something exclusively for their customers. They paid for it, they are entitled to it. But a sign might have helped. Or perhaps a separate seating area. But not the food security force. The episode left me feeling that these are not pleasant people to do business with.
Also, a quick note to NWA execs. While sharing your World Club with another airline might help offset cost, your crackers and cheese looked pretty cheap compared to the other airline's buffet. That is not doing your brand any favors, either.
It'll certainly never compete with "Just Do It!" or even HP's "Invent." But I do take a shine to Northface's "Never Stop Exploring."
(Moreover, the quality and design of their stuff is phenomenally good and consistent, to my mind.)
Over at YouTube, someone named Chartreuse has grabbed three and half minutes from Tom's Re-imagine! video and posted it. It's a segment about how cable network TNT got rid of professional wrestling and re-branded itself as all drama all the time. Tom introduces the piece.
In a vaguely related vein, someone named Roxanne gets someone to videotape her as she walks along a Hawaiian beach and calls it Beach Walks with Rox. In episode #11 she references one of Tom's posts about competition. I'm not quite sure what I think about all of this but clearly there's something going on here. The beach, sound of the waves washing over the sand, palm trees. It's kind of mesmerizing. And she's up to episode #173, so she's not kidding around.
I had the opportunity to catch a true rock & roll legend when he played a local coffeehouse recently: Roger McGuinn, the multi-talented founder of the Byrds—the band that virtually invented "folk-rock" in the 60s with hit songs like Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," and Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn." McGuinn is currently on a mission to promote and preserve many of the great American and British folk songs by featuring his recordings of them on his "Folk Den," where you can download them for free.
But McGuinn's performance got me thinking how successfully the Byrds BRANDED themselves in their glory days of pop superstardom (before McGuinn took the band in a country rock direction). Few of the top bands over the years have created such a radically unique sound AND look. The Byrds' signature was McGuinn's "jingle-jangle" electric 12-string guitar sound and their ethereal harmonies, but they ALSO had that "8 Miles High" cosmic-cool image (highlighted by McGuinn's granny glasses). Their Brand Promise? "We will [fill in the blank] your mind!" (I can still smell the incense.) Too many modern bands create their brand exclusively through their music. But the design-savvy Byrds had the mysterious stage presence, trippy album covers, and psychedelic logo working for them, too. Check out their "Fifth Dimension" album jacket.
So are there lessons here if you want your brand to be a star? How about (1) distinguish the brand on as many "dimensions" (and sensory levels) as possible, and of course (2) "think design." Maybe we can all learn something from McGuinn and the Byrds.
I'm using Firefox's new "tabbed browsing" feature, which enables me to have multiple start pages every time I launch the browser. Each page loads, and can be accessed by a tab at the top.
One of my start pages has been—until 5 minutes ago—apple.com. I've had apple.com as one of my start pages so I can access Apple information and, I admit, because I feel affinity for the brand. But I recently started hearing voices every time I fired up Firefox, and I quickly discovered it was because Apple's start page now automatically plays their "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" TV ads.
This is pretty irritating, so I've removed apple.com from my array of start pages. The lesson: It's never a good idea to become so proud of your advertising that you think people will enjoy seeing it when they don't have to. It's like when people make their guests watch boring home videos.
A colleague was recently complaining about the powerful personalities on his sales team. He compared it to the Beatles, and contrasted it with the Rolling Stones. His point was that the Beatles were John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and the Rolling Stones were the Rolling Stones. He claimed that the powerful individual personalities in the Beatles were a major reason they broke up in 1970 and the Stones still play today.
I don't agree 100% with the analogy (after all, there are Mick and Keith), but the point is well taken. How do the individual personalities fit into the overall brand, and not overtake it?
I attended the Cubs' home opener at Wrigley Field today, and I couldn't help but think of this. The Cubs are my friend's definition of the Rolling Stones. In the energy at the park (despite the sub-40 degree temperature) I sensed a continuity with Cubs games I attended in the late 60s. The players change, but it's still the Cubs. When Matt Murton, in his first home game as a Cub, made an amazing double play throw from left field, the fans cheered as they would have cheered a Billy Williams throw from left in 1969 or a Moises Alou throw from left in 2003.
How does the brand transcend and outlive the players? (And then, ask yourself why the players make so much money!)
There's an article in today's business section of the New York Times describing Heavy.com, titled "A Web Site So Hip It Gets Laddies to Watch the Ads." Half of the appeal is that the community of users also contribute to the video-heavy content. But what was most interesting was the attitude of marketers at Burger King who have let these same users create ads (of a sort) for Burger King, without their control.
Gillian Smith, Burger King's senior director for media and interactive marketing, said the program with Heavy was 'a calculated risk.' Ultimately, the company concluded that people who were likely to be offended by this sort of video were not likely to spend much time on Heavy.com and besides, it no longer had the ability to control its brand imagery the way it had in the past. 'Anyone could have purchased a king mask, which we sell online, done exactly the same stuff and put it up on their own blog,' Ms Smith said.
Clearly the wave of the future. Let your customers create the advertising.
Would you buy a $500 bottle of wine from Wal*Mart? (Should you be the type, you could now do so at Wal*Mart's experimental high-end store in Plano.)
I fell in love with Tom Peters when I saw him on a webcast with Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi, back in December '04, talking about Lovemarks. I, too, am incredibly passionate about branding and delighted when I come across a company that "gets" the customer experience and knows how to have fun.
My new love is Graffiti Zoo, a chocolate and spice company. I discovered Graffiti Zoo while touring the chocolate exhibit at the History Museum in Atlanta a week ago. At the end of the exhibit, there was a room full of chocolate ... lots of different brands offering lots of different flavors. Not your everyday M&Ms, but unique products not sold in your typical grocery store. As I strolled with delight contemplating eating everything in sight, Graffiti Zoo jumped out at me—its name and packaging struck me in a unique way. Unlike most other chocolates that were in the form of bars, this chocolate was in a little white bag with simple black and white text. "Hmmmm, I wonder what's inside?" I thought. And, "Where does the name Graffiti Zoo come from?" Then, I saw that they "donate a percentage of [their] profits to The Conservation Endowment Fund of the American Zoo & Aquarium Association. ... the CEF has greatly advanced the mission to serve & protect the wonders of the natural world." Not only am I a certified chocoholic, but also a lover of animals and nature. It's a match made in heaven! Then I explored their different flavors: Zebras, Espresso Geckos, Barking Dogs, Bohemian Tree Frogs, Chilean Fire Ants, Moroccan Elephants, and, the one I picked, Pink Flamingos ("Crunchy Milk Chocolate, with the Tropical Flavors of Red Cherries & Fresh Coconut"). Mmmmmm ... those didn't last long.
I was so excited about the product, I decided to send some to my parents (I inherited my sweet tooth from my mother). I ordered several different flavors and had them shipped directly to their home (I considered stopping off at one of the local retailers, but I was afraid I'd eat it all before I could get it shipped). Two days later the box arrived at their doorstep. My mother couldn't wait to tell me it arrived ... packaged in a black bag with 3 different colors of tissue paper and a bright blue bow, each flavor of chocolate individually wrapped inside, each with its own story. I asked my mother to share her favorite, which it turns out is from the package of Moroccan Elephants (smooth milk chocolate with the passion of orange zest & spicy ginger):
The tree frog & elephant were an unlikely pair, as they traveled the world together. The elephant lumbering quietly along, with the frog riding high in the air. The tree frog would perch on the elephant's ear and whisper so softly, "go this way my dear" ... pointing out the trees & succulent leaves for the elephant to munch upon ... Because the poor elephant, as smart as she was, had misplaced her spectacles & could only see fuzz. Her world was a blur, but it didn't deter the elephant from exploring new lands. ... So off they went, to travel the world for they were the best of friends ...
I hope you'll discover Graffiti Zoo, too.
I was speaking yesterday morning to a group of HR-types about how to encourage employees throughout a company to support a brand strategy, i.e., how employees can "Be the Brand." One participant asked about how to deal with outside contractors who represent your company.
Then, later in the day I received a telephone call from Sears that really brought home how important this is.
A woman called saying she was from Sears, and that she could offer me a special deal if I would extend the service agreement on my hot water heater. I was actually interested, because it's 5 years old and I sense it's starting to have some problems.
I noticed that she started referring to Sears in the 3rd person—"they," "them," "they're," etc. Then she asked, "Is the hot water heater that thing in your basement that heats the water up?"
The answer to my audience member's question is simple: Help the contracted employees understand your brand and what it is you do for your customers. Your customers will not evaluate contracted employees with any less scrutiny than they evaluate your "real" employees.
With imagination, one can add value to, literally, anything. While we know that, we seem to ignore it when we fret ceaselessly over what happens as we lose our underwear factories to China. Answer: Turn to water! Consider this news item from AOL last night: "With 600 brands to choose from, bottled water now outsells soft drinks. However, instead of buying a beverage made from a secret formula (Coca-Cola), we're spending $100 billion annually worldwide to drink what pours from our own taps. ... In 2005, the Beverly Hills company Bling H20 introduced its limited edition spring water selling for $34 a liter that's become a Hollywood signature."
Not the basis for a "sound economy," you rebut! Well, it has been for about the last 60 or so years as branding of mundane stuff has become the main engine of value-added. Perhaps the only news is not water, but the fact that, in a wildly competitive global economy, we now have to brand ourselves to survive. You know, the "brand you" bit.
How frequently the payoff pales next to the promise! You hear of a product, from an ad or a referral, and then you're let down when you actually experience it.
I've been hearing about the Galapagos Islands for years, building up a fabulous image in my mind. Ecuador and Celebrity Cruises had a tall order to fill, living up to my expectations. They did it!
Ecuador has preserved the national park in an admirable way, and I can't rave enough about this as a vacation destination. You are inches from sea lions, penguins, giant tortoises, iguanas, countless birds, etc. My son and I snorkeled by a (safe) shark and played with a sea lion in the water. Of the 80 people on the ship, half were kids, and I never saw one kid who looked bored or distracted, even while hearing an explanation of how marine iguanas protect their territories.
And, in a great example of "symbiotic" branding, Celebrity Cruises created an experience that perfectly complemented the nature experience. The cruise experience perfectly fit into the character of the destination. Great Brand Harmony. Highly recommended. Their naturalists were some of the best guides I've ever seen.
I've marketed some of the world's best vacation destinations in my career. Galapagos (and Celebrity) should be a model for all. Go there!
Anyone else witness some great vacation brands over the past few weeks?
Don't think of your brand as being about the relationship your company (or product) has with the marketplace.
Instead, think of your brand in terms of the relationship your company (or product) has with individual customers.
For most of us, this is a much more useful perspective.
Ok, I may be 46, but this post does not prove I am guilty of Ted Nugent's "If it's too loud, you're too old" comment. I have played music at all volumes for 34 years, used to be a recording engineer, currently have a recording studio in my basement, and play in a band that includes two 17-year olds (my son and nephew) and a 20-year old. So I can credibly make this point without being accused of being too old to "get it."
Guitar Center is a chain with 151 stores. Although I prefer the local "boutique" I've shopped at since age 15, there are numerous occasions where it makes sense to shop at Guitar Center. I bought a guitar amplifier there about 6 months ago, and it was difficult to audition the amp since the store had a radio station blaring so loud over their mega-sound system, with ceiling speakers all over the store. But, I managed, and bought the amp, because I really wanted it.
Recently I was in Guitar Center, trying out this very cool effect called a "looper" that lets you make instant digital recording loops of your playing and layer phrases on top of each other in real time. However, unlike with a basic guitar amp, I really had to be able to hear this piece of equipment, which was once again difficult with the uber-loud radio getting in the way. I mentioned to one of the store managers that it was hard to hear the looper with all the noise, and he looked at me like I was crazy. (Even though we practically had to shout over the radio to hear each other.) I asked him if it was hard to sell guitars when it's so hard to hear them, and he curtly said, "no, we do it all day long."
So, what does this tell me about Guitar Center? In addition to the obvious (it's hard to shop there), it signals to me that they are more interested in superficial rock and roll "culture" than helping real rock and rollers make music. There are 200 guitars hanging on the wall (most of them out of tune) and you can't really hear the subtleties of any of them. The cacophony in their store does a lot to spoil their brand for me. Am I reading too much into the noise? I don't think so.
What's really funny is that my son says he heard a radio ad for Sam Ash, a major Guitar Center competitor, coming out of the Guitar Center sound system one day. Serves them right.
Think I bought the looper?
"The Good Goliath," an Op-ed column loudly applauding Wal*Mart appeared in the ... New York Times! By John Tierney, 11.29. Consider: Wal*Mart is arguably the #1 lubricant for the welfare-to-work revolution, offering 1st jobs to many, many, many under-skilled workers. (W*M has 5 to 10 applicants per job.) Wal*Mart pays less than Costco, but the average W*M shopper has an income of $35,000 vs $74,000 (!) at Costco—thence, to sell higher-end stuff, Tierney argues, one needs higher skilled workers. Wal*Mart saves the average regular shopper $800 a year on groceries alone. Tierney says he obviously "gets it" that union critics and local merchants have big problems with the giant, but concludes, "Why would anyone who claims to be fighting for social justice be so determined to take money out of the pockets of the poor?"
(As a long time/continuing fan of Wal*Mart, though not a mindless defender, I was delighted to see this piece, especially in the gray lady.)
A few months back, I asked this question on a post:
When thinking about themselves and you, how many of your customers think "We," and how many think "Us" and "Them?"
The readers of tompeters.com had some great comments and insights about this concept. I've spent a lot of time since then thinking about the idea of a "We" relationship. I've had hundreds of conversations with people, integrated the idea of "We" into my client work, and I'm deep into the first draft of a new book on the subject.
What do you think? What are the features of a "We" relationship?
John O'Leary, who didn't play with the Beatles, but DID play with some of their contemporaries, gives us this entry:
40 years ago this month the Beatles—already the biggest rock & roll band in the universe—recorded the song "Yesterday." This sweet, melancholic tune—featuring Paul McCartney's plaintive voice accompanied only by acoustic guitar and string quartet—was such a radical change in musical direction for the Beatles that they were afraid to release it as a single in the UK, fearing it would compromise their rock & roll image. Eventually, they released it as a single in the US, and it became a #1 hit, one of the most critically acclaimed ballads in pop music history, and the most recorded song of all time! Interesting turn of events: the group had mixed feelings about releasing a new product, fearing it might dilute the brand, yet it wound up extending the brand. This and subsequent Beatles songs—many of them exquisitely crafted and stunningly creative—earned the band new fans who saw them not so much as cute mop-top rockers, but as pop art Picassos. Pretty good story line here. "A mega-successful organization at the top of its game throws caution to the wind and breaks its own mold with a revolutionary line of new products." One question: why is this the exception in business? A better question: what can your company learn from this?
Tom Friedman (New York Times) is, I believe, our best opinion writer by a country mile. He's also author, most recently, of The World Is Flat. (He's no knee-jerk liberal; TF strongly supported the war in Iraq, though he's less keen on the subsequent nation-building bit.) In a June 17 column [subscription required], he suggests, with tongue apparently nowhere near cheek, that to save America, Toyota must buy GM: "Indeed I think the only hope for GM's auto workers, and maybe even our country, is with Toyota. Because let's face it, as Toyota goes, so goes America." Among other things, Friedman points out that while GM has doggedly stuck with gas-guzzling SUVs and Hummers in the face of surging gas prices, Toyota is championing major moves toward fuel efficiency, including a strategic (not cosmetic) push into the likes of hybrids.
Agree or hoot, it makes for provocative reading.
Tom shared his "Power of We" presentation with us a few days ago. Here's something I've been thinking about for a while—ponder this:
How many of your customers would regularly talk about themselves and you as "We," as opposed to "Us" and "Them?"
What we're talking about on the front page.
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.
What we're talking about
on the front page.