March 2012

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Just reading in The New York Times today that Charles de Gaulle Airport, Europe’s second most traveled, is number 34 out of 83 in flyer satisfaction. The culprit: “sprawling buildings with bewildering layouts, interminable waits, forgettable shops and restaurants, and often indifferent personnel.” 

Sounds like something that would take hundreds of millions of Euros to fix. But maybe not.  All big airports are sprawling — they have to be.  Think about it.  Planes can’t take off and land at a good pace without sprawl.  So what needs to change is the organization of that sprawl.  Bewildering is fixable.  Good communication, good signage, ergonomic re-laying out of buildings, better transportation design and a little compromise among the airlines are fixable. Some airlines may have to consolidate space or even switch buildings. The parties need to come together. The interminable waits may require some technology upgrades, even more compromise (unions/competitors/gov’t) and once again better communication.

And, as for forgettable shops and restaurants and indifferent personnel?  If the other fixes are made, these will fall into place.  Remember we are talking about one of the busiest locations in the world…with lots of wallets and lots of income in those wallets. And oh, it’s France. Paris, France.

Before I picked up a shovel or an architect’s rendering, I’d create a brand strategy for Charles de Gaulle: an idea and some organizing principles. Sell that to all parties, then start to think about how to spend the money. Not easy…hard.  But very doable. Peace!      

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Back in the day, okay back before the day, marketers learned how to market by selling one-at-a-time. You made something, let people try it — if they liked, you sold it.  What was learned from the first sales experience was parlayed into the next and so on until roll-out.  First limited, then as demand dictated.

Today, many small and mid-size company goods and services, especially of the tech variety, are incubated, venture-funded, business planned, social media-eyezed and launched without this up close and personal one-at-a-time process. Many nouveau markets go big using accelerated timeframes without allowing for an evolved sales immersion. Fall forward fast some call it.  If you are using other people’s money, it’s like going to college in reverse.

David Ogilvy once said, and I paraphrase, “Our business is infected with people who have never sold a thing in their lives.” He, of course, was referring to the ad business. 

My suggestion to start-ups today: It’s okay to incubate and code and pitch, but please, please, please don’t forget to sell.  Look into the eyes of your buyers. Feel them. Listen to them. Don’t be shined on by you uncle in the business. Don’t let the dream get in your way. Peace.

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We love symmetry in our lives. We love it on our design. In our music. Symmetry is balance. Order. Brand planners like order and symmetry yet they also know a strategy must not be replicable. It must be unique. Others can lay claim to the “refreshment” strategy, but when Coca-Cola says it, it has unique meaning. Why? Because nothing refreshes like a Coca-Cola. It’s doesn’t own the word, it owns the idea. That’s due to the coca bean and a special highly guarded recipe. 

Many brand ideas are replicable as are many products (there just aren’t that many Coke’s out there), so the notion of creating an organizing principles in the form of “one idea supported by 3 brand planks” allows for that differentiation. It also allows a brand flexibility and the ability to cover new ground. Sameness is not symmetry. Geico is beginning to realize that. 

Campaigns come and go, a powerful branding idea is indelible. And supported by symmetry and smart brand planks, a brand plan can last many lifetimes. Peace.

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My brand plans contain a call to arms brand promise, atop three business winning proof planks. The planks must support the promise. Separately the planks are business building, together they are business winning – market share winning.  This is the organizing principle behind banding and good marketing.  It helps define and decide the way forward.

I often say “Marketing is simple. It’s all about claim and proof.”  Organized proof. But sometimes brand planks are aspirational — there isn’t a lot of proof yet.  In those cases it’s important to share the plank theory as well as the proof, limited though it may be. The theory sets up the plank goals and guides development of how one might productize, develop and pursue the proof. This is especially helpful in a services business.    

Claim without proof is why advertising and marketing is often so porous. Claim and proof is how to win. See? Simple.  Peace!

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Acting is an interesting thing.  Big name actors who don’t have the luxury of being able to hang with “regular people” often have to study them, so they can get into character.  When in character, these actors become the regular people they mimic.  The more regular, the greater likelihood of acting awards. 

Have you ever seen a friend, acquaintance or family member act in a movie or on TV?  They come across as stilted, odd and, well, like high school actors.  Clearly, they are just not being themselves.  To the rest of the world they may be doing a fine job, but because you know them – they’re acting.

Marketers and their agents, when creating advertising, are like actors.  They create meta worlds for selling. Even when they are doing case studies or live consumer capture testimonials.  Ad agencies are good at telling stories, making people smile and warming a heart or two, but consumers know it is still a form of acting.  That’s why year after year, “word of mouth” and “advice from a friend” win out in terms of product influence.

Brand planners attempt to take acting out of the equation. We try to get to the real. The truth.  The closer the story teller gets to real, and away from acting, they closer the consumer can get to brand promise.  Keep it real, me friendlies!  Peace.

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I’d like to advance a hypothesis. Working in the educational development space as I am, I often wonder about creating learning environments (K-12 in particular) that are more conducive to student engagement and lesson retention.  The latest theory – and there are many – is that “student-centered, teacher-facilitated” is the winning approach.   In the vein of the Khan Academy (a kind of a YouTube for lessons) what if for low performing urban kids, the videos were offered in the patois of the street – complete with appropriate urban music beds?  Perhaps a naughty word once in a while for emphasis.

The culture of learning has always been so counter to some kids.  Why not wean those with difficulty learning into more conventional environments by using the familiar?  Get these students attention, win them over through exploration and context, then begin to slowly exfiltrate them towards more mainstream teaching. If teaching is to be student-centered, needn’t we meet students of all kinds half way, yo? 

Silly perhaps. Probably been tried in real life, with a smidgen of success.  But I bet a Khan Academy-like video might do it.  Brand planners understand the importance of “feeling” the audience. Is it time for eduators to do the same?

 Peace!

PS.  The views here expressed are not the views of Teq, Inc.  They are simply the thoughts and crumbs of a marketing blogger with his head above the clouds.

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Edward T. Hall wrote a book in 1976 entitled “Beyond Culture” in which he coined the phrase “Extension Transference.”  Wikipedia defines it thusly:

“Extension transference is a phenomenon that occurs when we create systems to help us do things more efficiently and effectively an in ways that we can measure and control. Often these are processes that we once did quite naturally on our own.”

The global economy with worldwide pricing and manufacturing for pennies on the other side of the planet, allows Americans to consume like there’s no tomorrow. This is bad for planet earth… and bad for its inhabitants.

Mass production, low price points, laziness, package directions and extension transferences based upon technology are hurting out hearts and brains. Some people literally and figuratively don’t know where they’re going…without Google Maps.

I’ve been a proponent of a cultural trend in America I like to call “Roots.” Roots brings us back closer to sanity.  We learn how things work (science), we become more self-sufficient yet communal, we use our leisure time to do and learn rather than play.  As Carlota Perez says, we need to stop messing up the planet and start an economy based on durable goods, servicing those goods rather than tossing them into the landfill; we need to live our lives in ways that leave the trail cleaner than when we found it.

This is the craft economy. And it will contain a lot less extension transferences and a lot more self-determination.  We will understand how to keep out bodies healthy rather than create a GDP where 15+% is healthcare related (a figure that doesn’t even count pharmaceuticals or insurance.)  Roots and the craft economy.  It’s the way forward. Peace!  

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A colleague sent me a nice post on social media curation — all the points of which I agree with.  (See my SlideShare preso from a year ago.)  The one point I could take some issue with is the first point suggesting we use the media each demographic group is most comfortable with. It cites Baby Boomers, who more comfortable having content shared via newsletters containing embedded URLs.  Quite logical but not particularly media-forward. I’d prefer to find Boomer “Posters” with my curated content and let them reach the Pasters.  Those Posters are typically not reading newsletters with the voraciousness they take on social.

That said, check out the Linked Media Group article, heed its advice then practice, practice, practice.  Peace. 

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Goldman Sachs took a big punch yesterday in the form of an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times by resigning middle manager Greg Smith. Mr. Smith aired quite a bit of dirty laundry. As I was reading the piece I wondered how a PR person would handle the poop storm.

After a night to sleep on it, here’s what I’d suggest. Do not deny the allegation. Take it very seriously.  (No apparent laws were broken, mind you, but the piece implied traders cared more about making themselves and the firm money than putting custies first.) Do not deny — the piece is very believable.  Step two Isolate. Suggest this behavior is isolated and was blown way out of proportion. Celebrate the other 95% of Goldman Sachs traders who go to work each day with no money lust in their hearts. Be indignant on their behalf.

Put into place the ability to report the type of Goldman people (the 5%) whom Mr. Smith spotlighted so they can correct their behavior. Suggest they go to “money lust anonymous.”  It’s not a personality flaw it’s a disease. And I’m not being flip.

Acknowledge. Isolate. And Explain the behavior as maladaptive…a negative byproduct of the culture.  Then turn the page. Peace.

 

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When developing brand strategy I look for the claim then search for 3 business-building planks that support that claim. Proof planks, in other words. Proof can be tangible or it can be developmental and additive.  What do I mean by developmental and additive? Let’s just say it’s a goal and we may not be there yet — it’s under development. From a messaging point of view we may not have the scientific proof yet, but we know how to talk about it. Sympathize with it. And celebrate it.

Were I selling for Taco Bell and had a proof plank about using ingredients imported from South and Latin America, I might talk about the qualities of those ingredients that make for a uniquely South American taste (soil, sun, mountains).  In the meantime, while that proof is under development, the company had better be looking for real sources. Proof under development is a little like working at a start-up, it’s about what you know, not what you make – about what your mission is, not what you can deliver right now.

This may sounds disingenuous, but it’s not. I would never suggest lying or misleading. In the Taco Bell example it would have to be known that, say, the peppers were from the arid southwestern US – but the story has a beginning, a direction and a motivation.  Peace.

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