Yearly Archives: 2009

Writers, writers everywhere.



I met with a friend yesterday who is with a very big magazine publishing company. She told me most magazines today are filled with editors but few, if any, staff writers. This approach keeps overhead down, plus the pool of writers out there is so vast, so talented, and so specialized, that the written product is often better. The pay for these writers is a dollar a word. Can you say “game changing business model?”

There are small countries of subject matter experts (SMEs) out in the ether who are ready, willing and able to write for your company at reasonable prices. These are not copywriters, they are writers. You wouldn’t want them to write an ad but they are great for your website or your brochure.

Millions of new and updated websites go live every day, and they all need to be professionally written. Who’s doing that? If a small business, it’s the business owner or her husband. If a mid-size company, it may be a newly minted journalism graduate in the marketing or sales department. At a large company? An ad or digital agency copywriter. Fail. Fail. You need a SME. It’s faster, cheaper and, likely, more effective.

If my company needs 800 words on solar power for my windfarm website, I’d prefer a writer who knows the market. I’ll provide a brand brief (or briefing) and let writer do his or her magic. The piece will be crafted by someone with contextual smarts and assembled by a true wordsmith. Did I mention it will cost a buck a word?   So where is the well filled with all these SMEs? Stay tuned.

Social Media Marketing. Finesse or Boor?



Neville Hobson offered some good advice yesterday regarding the use of Facebook and Twitter by brands:
So here’s some good headline advice to marketers:
1. Don’t act like “marketers”
2. Align with fans instead of selling to them
3. Be quick to listen and slow to speak
4. When it comes to positive comments, let your fans tell the story for you.
5. Direct consumers to other channels for marketing messages

Facebook created fan pages because it doesn’t want brands to act like humans and have the same communication capabilities as humans (friends). Some marketers are trying to bypass the algorithm and pretend to be humans so they can issue status updates for broadcast. They’ll be caught.

 What Mr. Hobson says is absolutely right — when networking, brands must not be boorish. They need to offer news and value. Customer service is okay, but not too proactive, and it must be light-handed way. If Twitter or Facebook are allowed to become the Sunday or Wednesday circular they’ll both get dinged. That will open the door for the next app to come along sans promo-land and win the hearts of the people. Finesse is the key here.

Hiring, Post-Recession


Though I suck at picking sports (every year I think the Jets are going to win the Super Bowl), I do have a knack for seeing the marketing future. Here’s a forward-looking view of hiring as we crawl out of the recession. When we emerge, which I believe will happen by the time the leaves grow back, there will be a pretty amazing sucking sound of employees being yanked back into the workforce. It won’t all be pretty, though.

You see, those currently with jobs have been working without raises for a couple of years. Many have seen their hours and wages cut. Bonus, what are they? A good deal of these workers – especially the younger ones – are pretty angry and disloyal. The anger has been exacerbated by the fact that they’ve been looking over their shoulders for months, living the nervous life. These employees are looking for someone to say “I love you” and they’re ready to move.

Those who have been out of work on the other hand, have been networking and reading and studying their asses. They are likely to be among the first to get called back when jobs open up. And if they start schlepping their boxes into offices before current employee salaries get back to par, the workplace will get testy. There will be even more churn.

Human resources people need to be getting ahead of the curve. They need to communicate with current employees about turnaround plans and efforts to correct salaries. Plus they need to be meeting and cherry-picking the best of the best who are currently on the beach before that big sucking sound begins. Peace!

American Express and Ogilvy. Charge!


“Take Charge” is the new campaign from American Express which eveyone by now should have seen. It uses a wonderful visual device of inanimate objects depicting smiley and “oh no!” faces — clothes lines, hand sinks, etc.   Ogilvy, American Express’s agency, has done an excellent job with this campaign replacing the irreplaceable “membership has it privileges.” Smiley faces is the visual idea.

The non-visual idea is about taking charge; a nice double entendre on controlling your finances and financial lot. The idea also pushes use of the American Express charge card – a card that must be paid off in full, not accruing dreaded interest. It also takes a swipe (sorry) at debit cards.

Now, American Express can give us all sorts of “take charge” tips and tutorials on not spending money or spending money smartly but the best way to take charge is to use a card that must be paid off in full. And Amex owns the paid in full card space.

There are still vestiges of “membership has it privileges” in the new campaign, but the muscle memory is about stepping up and “taking charge. The non-visual idea is brilliant, a no-brainer and has crazy long legs. The visual “facial” treatment, though a great creative launch may run out of steam. I hope not. I hope they find a way to keep it fresh, but it’s burning fast. Slow it down and take charge. Peace!

Brand Spanking and Ruby Tuesday



An article appeared in the New York Times this past weekend on Ruby Tuesday and the efforts of CEO Sandy Beall to remake the chain into a more upmarket restaurant enterprise in the midst of a recession. He appears to be doing all the right things: focusing on ingredients, menu, servers and the restaurant interiors. One statistic that stood out for me was the high rate of employee turnover.  The current rate, way down from 135%, is 100% — meaning, statistically, all Ruby Tuesday employees are replaced within one year. This crazy level of churn is being dealt with through training and other loyalty programs presumably, but it is a common phenomenon of the casual dining category.

Interestingly, it presents a brand planning opportunity.

The opportunity is to research people who have worked at a number of competing restaurant chains.  Were I doing the planning work, I’d conduct focus groups on like-titled employees with experience working at a minimum of 3 stores: Applebee’s, Friday’s, Chili’s and/or a regional player. Focus groups offer a degree of panelist pile-on that can only happen in a small group dynamic and would quickly help to identify the underbelly of operational strengths and weaknesses. Employees love to kvetch and when they start spanking brands around (a practice I call brand spanking) good insights happen. Peace!.

HSBC, On The Right RAQ.



HSBC, the bank, and its ad agency JWT are really beginning to carve out a nice brand space. Though customer service has long been the battlefield in banking, no one bank has really delivered. It’s the age old marketing conundrum of showing vs. telling. Most banks tell customers about great customer service, few actually show or do something about it.

The muscle memory behind HSBC’s work, which is specifically commercial but has consumer implications, is the act of asking real business questions. HSBC’s premise is that every business has its own unique set of circumstances and needs and that only by really listening can a banker help. HSBC’s proof of this is called RAQs (rarely asked questions). Most banks ask questions such as  “Have you ever thought about using a Chase credit card for your small business?”  Sales questions not thoughtful “listening to the pain” questions. Copy in an HSBC ad today suggests “knowledge is the new currency,” a word-string that works for both employees and customers.

I’ve said this before about HSBC’s work, they must actually deliver on what they promise for it to work. Rare or thoughtful questions must pass the lips of its relationship manager. Were I the head of marketing, I’d script these questions and retrain my people to listen and hear real cues.  Though customer service is a marketing strategy advertised for decades, there really has been little product change. HSBC appears to be taking it seriously and they should. It’s a business-winning idea. Peace!

Open Your Eyes Chrysler Fiat.


Quick, close your eyes. Conjure up an image of a Chrysler car. Got it? Now, next to it, plop down a Fiat. (Is it red?) Okay using your brain processor, morph the two cars together. Not a bad car.

Wipe that image clean and think of a typical GM car. Put an Opel next to it. (Is the Opel lime green?) Okay morph the two together. A little funkier, but probably no worse than a Hyundai. (Did you know Hyundai sales are up 49%?)

This simple  exercise demostrates what is happening in the auto world today. GM decided to keep Opel and Chrysler is hoping its takeover by Fiat will create some compelling new cars designs. These aren’t marriages of geography or global penetration, they’re about big cars vs. little cars. These big car-little car discussions should have been taking place 5 years ago.

The combination of Chrysler and Fiat has great design and engineering upside. Fuel efficient, sporty, Italian-influenced designs make a nice brand bed for the combined company to lie in. Build the new brand around these qualities (think baby Sebring rag top not Town and Country) and you begin to see some serious light. Meep meep. Open your eyes now. Peace!fiat-linea-titel



scaleROS stands for Return on Strategy. It’s a chop block on the pop marketing term ROI which stands for Return On Investment (for members of the clan of the cave bear).  ROI is an important marketing measure but way more tactical and transitory than ROS. ROI without a strong understanding of Return On Strategy can do more harm than good – prolonging a misguided marketing plan. (“Weeee, our cost per customer is down!”)

In order to measure marketing strategy one must first have a strategy. Make more money is not a marketing strategy, nor is sell more products. For a hospital system, I once arrayed a number of measures that would positively impact the bottom line: patients per year, percentage of beds occupied, recruitment of excellent physicians, reduction in number of in-hospital infections, out-migration to the city, consumer perception of clinical excellence. The marketing director and even the ad agency principals pushed back “Advertising can’t do all these things.”

My response? “Sure it can — if we articulate the right strategy.” One needs to know all the important measures of success before developing a brand or marketing strategy. The next step is to prioritize those measures. Some will be at odds with others and decisions must be made. Others will be tougher to move based on competitor entrenchment. However, once all of the key performance indicators (KPI) or measures are known and prioritized based on product and marketing realities and brand vision, the strategy can be determined. And over time — measured. That’s the real weeee. Peace!

Personal Brand Journalism.


People read blogs for the same reason they read magazines. Good content. The best place to find good reporting, news and analysis used to be in newspapers and magazines. If you could write, that’s what you wanted to be. A journalist. If you could think, analyze and persuade, journalism was your career path.

A few years ago a new class of journalist entered the scene: the blogger. Many started on LiveJournal as public diarists then branched out posting about what they loved: music, technology, sports, etc.   Lo and behold they developed followings. Even without formal journalism training, these bloggers connected with readers. The language used in these blogs changed — got more fun and conversational — and newspaper columns slowly began to followed suit. (No rolling over Mr. Safire.) This new class of journalism became a popular, free and immediate option for readers.

And now with newspaper and magazines closing bureaus and shedding writing staff, where are all the once-bylined writers going? To the web. To their own branded sites. And once they smell the success of their own personal brands, once they start fielding speaking engagement requests, once they have their million hit days, there will be no going back. Personal brand journalism is here to stay.