How We Change

Many years ago I found this quote:

“You will be the same person you are today, five years from now, with the exception of the books you read, the people you meet, the places you go and the risks you take”

In my experience, those are the things that change us. Certainly there is something to be said for experience but I find that in my experiences one of those factors is often at work. That old saw about teaching –  there is a difference between teaching 25 years and teaching one year twenty-five times – is true.

Recently, I read  what I believe is best book ever written about the subject of the three dynamics at work in trying to change everything from an organization to a bad habit. The book is called Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. Here is a review by the brilliant social marketing guru Chris Brogan: http://bit.ly/7tYseO   (Note: Their book “Made To Stick ” about why some ideas thrive and others die is another must read).

Of these personal change agents, one of these – taking risks – stands out the most to me personally. It has been said that the major regret of people who are dying is that they did not take enough risks.

I try to use some of my favorite quotes to motivate me to take more risks:

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time. It is regret for the things we didn’t do that is inconsolable

 Sidney Harris

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

Vincent Van Gogh

If you are never hurt, scared or embarrassed it means you never took enough chances

Jude Sobel

Courage is the human virtue that counts the most – courage to act on limited knowledge and insufficient evidence. Thats all we have.

Robert Frost                  

May all of us find and welcome into our lives the books,people,places and risks we need. 

I believe all those things are found in the wonderful philosophy of life that Dag  Hammarskjold shared years ago:

For all that has been THANKS. For all that will be YES.

The Power of Perspective

A buyer I called on at NAPA Auto Part’s headquarters in Atlanta Georgia had the following sign on his wall:

There is tragedy and there are burnt potatoes. You need to learn the difference between the two.

It was one of the most profound nuggets of wisdom I had stumbled upon in my career . From a buyer’s perspective, so much of what  is painted as tragedy  is not  in the grand scheme of things. This does not minimize the importance of striving for excellence as a team member or an organization. Nor does it minimize the critical actions that MUST take place.But it is easy to lose sight of what really is important and what can be overcome.

We all know people who run around acting as if everything is a tragedy. Those people have lost perspective. September 11th 2001 was a tragedy. An order that is going to arrive an hour late is not.

In pur personal lives we run into the same thing.

Robert Fulgham put it this way:” One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat,if your house is on fire – then you have a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is lumpy. A lump in your oatmeal, a lump in your throat and a lump in your breast are not all the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.”

An ad Don Draper of Mad Men would love to present

Mad Men – the award winng televison series on AMC – will be returning on July 25th for its fourth season.

Fans of the show ( like myself ) have been waiting for this moment the minute Season Three ended.

The show  tells the story of a fictional ad agency in the 1960s. It focuses on Don Draper – the creative director and a founding partner of the agency- and shows his life on and off the job.

Jon Hamm – the brilliant actor that plays Draper -is a master at pitching an idea in the show. I imagine he would have , in Mad Men terms, ” knocked the following ad out of the ball park”. It is as relevant now as it was then when it was published and should be framed and hung on every ad agency and marketing company’s wall today.

In the late 1960s, Time Inc. ran a contest in which ad agencies were invited to create an ad that was in the public interest concerning advertising. The prize was a bust of Gutenberg, $25,000 and a full page in the New York Times. ( a great prize even today).

The winning ad was conceived by Bob Levenson for Doyle,Dane and Bernbach Inc. It was all type- no photographs or images. It was two columns that ran side by side separated by a  thick line under the heading:

Do or Die

Is this ad some kind of a trick?

No. But it could have been.

And at exactly that point rests a do or die decision for American Business

We in advertising, together with our clients, have all the power and skill to trick people

Or so we think.

But we’re wrong. We can’t fool any of the people any of the time.

There is indeed a 12 year old mentality in this country; every 6 year old has one

We are a nation of smart people

And most smart people ignore most advertising because most advertising ignores smart people

Instead we talk to each other

We debate endlessly about the medium and the message

Nonsense. In advertising, the message itself  is the message.

A blank page and a blank television screen are one and the same.

And above all, the messages we put on these pages and on television screens

must be the truth

For if we play with the truth, we die

This was what was written on the other side:

Now. The other side of the coin.

Telling the truth about a product demands a product worth telling the truth about.

Sadly; so many products aren’t.

So many products don’t do anything better. Or anything different.

So many products don’t work quite right. Or don’t last. Or simply don’t matter.

If we play this trick, we also die.

Because advertising only helps a bad product die faster.

No donkey chases the carrot forever. He catches on. And quits.

Thats the lesson to remember.

Unless we do, we die.

Unless we change, the tidal wave of consumer indifference will wallop the mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel.

That day we die.

We die in our marketplace. On our shelves. In our gleaming package of empty promises.

Not with a bang. Not with a whimper.

But by our own skilled hands.

( I found this in the book The Age of Persuasion by Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant – a book which looks at the history and impact advertising and marketing has had on modern society.Well worth reading if you find the topic interesting. And it might help  you keep your mind off the almost 3 months until Mad Men Season Four begins)

Keeping up with ” The Joneses”

I was fortunate to see an advance screening of the film ” The Joneses” several weeks ago.

The film is now out in the theaters and it is worth watching, especially if you are involved in the persuasion/influencing business.

My favorite movie website Rotten Tomatoes – a review aggregator website- gives it an average of 60%  or a fresh certification. That means 6.3 out of every 10 reviews for the film were positive.

Starring Demi Moore and David Duchovny as a married couple with their two wonderful children who move into a new suburban neighborhood, it is a black comedy on greed, materialism and the need we seem to  have as a society for the latest and greatest material possessions.It also features a new radical marketing strategy that doesn’t seem as far-fetched as the producers would have us believe. Ad man Derrick Borte co-wrote and directed the film so he has deep insight into what sells.

In a recent interview on the film in the New York Times,  Ms. Moore stated that ” Stuff is great-cars,homes,clothes – but those things are not the answer to finding fulfillment or happiness. The key to happiness is human connection with one another – none of that other stuff matters”. Certainly that is what the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes found in 250 BC –  all  things were vanity-meaningless.

Yet, those of us in the sales and marketing business are often charged with getting consumers or prospects to purchase products or services that they “can not live without” when,in reality, we know they probably can.  One of the freshest changes in selling has been the move from the ” us against them” model to the “win-win” model. As a customer centric salesperson I would never sell something if I felt is was not right for that person or their business.

The film will provide sales and marketers a wonderful number of discussion points after viewing it. It takes the issues of conspicuous consumption and selling products in directions that will make you think long after the final credits roll.

Doctor…I need Increased Revenue NOW …PLEASE HELP!

If you walked into a Doctor’s office complaining of headaches and he listened to you for a minute than announced he was going to schedule brain surgery for tomorrow, you would run from his office and report him to the American Medical Association as a quack.

Good selling and consulting starts with fully understanding the symptoms (please see my previous blog entry on listening for more on this subject) BEFORE prescribing a course of action as to how to increase a companies revenue.

I always like to start by looking at the key points of contact customers and prospects interact with a business at every level of distribution. Often that will expose an area that needs immediate attention such as the issues I shared in my first blog post with my internist’s terrible phone system and the lawyer who would not return calls.

In this process I particularly focus in on the sales team and their points of contact. What are the men and women on the front line experiencing? What are their biggest obstacles to increasing sales and customer satisfaction? What do they believe would lead to increased sales? What objections need to be overcome? What weaknesses keep coming up in the product or service? What buyer resistance do they keep running into? What is the competition doing resulting in a loss of business to us? I have been around salespeople long enough to know the price is never low enough and the product is not as good as the competitors and all the other excuses from the 80% who do not perform. I want to spend time with the top 20% to find out what they are doing and to replicate those activities in everyone.

I also want to examine in detail the market, the message and the media.

The market is what business you are in, who you are going after, your competitors, and your prospects. Your base can be broken down in three ways: they know about you and are your customer, they know about you and are not doing business with you and they do not know about you.

Your message encompasses your unique selling proposition – what makes you the compelling choice to come to and buy from? Marketing strategy can be broken down into one sentence: either you differentiate your companies products and services  on the things that matter most to your customers and prospects so they choose you over every other option or else you better be the lowest price alternative because you are a commodity.

Once you know the message you want to share with the market about your company you need to choose the media to  get that message out in the marketplace (please read the social media panel notes posted in this blog on word of mouth marketing).

So much has changed regarding tactics in the last 20 years:

E Mail Blasts – hurt thanks to Spam filter

Telemarketing – hurt with the Do Not Call Registry and Caller ID

Television Advertising – hurt with Tivo / DVRs and the internet with many choices

Radio Ads- hurt with XM/Sirius, iPods, iPhones, and MP3 Players     

Newspaper Ads – hurt with declining readership and increase of on line readers

Trade Publications – print is declining

Trade Shows – hurt due to high costs and on-line alternatives

Trending Upward are such things as:

Search Marketing- people using Google to find businesses

Blogging – where experts can be found in every business  

Social Media such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin

Internet Marketing – your website, e newsletters etc.

Referral and Customer Rewards Programs

Joint Ventures and Co-Promotions

This is not an all inclusive list but you get the idea. There are so many courses of action a company can choose from.  I use the key contact points analysis as my guide as to where I will spend resourses. You often need to be doing many of these things simultaneously as well.

This takes us to the most important part of the process – your strategic direction and setting a plan to execute.

The reason to produce a plan is not to produce a plan – it is to produce results. You need a clear vision and mission. I prefer a simple yet compelling one – what will it take for us to be the best in our industry or market? There must be a value proposition that matters (that differentiation thing again). A  SWOT analysis is a wonderful tool to use in setting direction : Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats.

Found at the heart and soul of this process is leadership. At the top,hopefully, you have a leader who understands that marketing is about growing a business. It is not a department in a company – it is your business and everyone is on the marketing team.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and need help, contact me before it is too late at tom.elmer@yahoo.com.

After all, lack of revenue to a business is often fatal.

When Industries Commit Evil

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”

                                                                             

Natural Gas. The Clean Burning Alternative to Coal.

 So Warm. Fuzzy. Positive.

Yet, after watching the award winning documentary Gasland on Saturday and talking with the writer and producer Josh Fox, different words come to mind. Words like Shock.Anger.Disgust. Fear.

Can the Natural Gas Industry tell me what is positive about tap water that can be set on fire right out of the sink? Why chronically ill people from different parts of the country suddenly become so unhealthy and share only one thing in common – they live in close proximity to wells that draw natural gas out of the earth? How this process that is causing pools of toxic waste that kills cattle and vegetation is a good one? Why well blow outs and gas explosions  are covered up by state and federal agencies?

Five years ago the natural gas industry championed a process called hydrofracking (great name, isn’t it?) as a method to extract natural gas deep in the earth. It involves injecting chemicals in the ground to extract the natural gas – over 500 different ones with most of them toxic and non-biodegradable that do collateral damage to people, communities, water supply and the environment. And NO ONE knows what the long term effects will be once the liquid is left behind in the earth after the gas has dried up.

Where is our government in this to protect us? Good question. Years ago Dick Chaney was the point man to successfully get shale gas extraction exempt from the environmental protections that might stop this evil. (Also as you might expect Halliburton is one of the leading companies in the fracking industry).

One of the reasons I believe Google is such a powerful and successful company is its mission to “Don’t Be Evil”. Even though  that stance has come under attack, most recently with the issue of censorship in China,  overall they have worked hard to live up to that motto and people appreciate it. Halliburton seems to have a different mission. To me profit at all costs is a practice straight from the pits of hell.

Before Saturday night I was totally ignorant of this issue. See the movie. Visit the website for resources and interviews. Look for this to be shown on HBO in 2 weeks.

http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/

Mr Burke is right. I must do something to stop this evil from spreading, from letting it triumph reguardless of who gets hurt. And I plan to. I have no other choice.

The Tiger Woods Ad and the Problem with Marketing

Have you seen the ad everyone is talking about?

Below are just two opinion pieces about it with clips in both for you to view:

Here is the link to Yahoo’s take on exploiting his dead Father:

  http://bit.ly/btRDWM

Here is why the ad will backfire:

http://tinyurl.com/y9mmh88

The Tiger ad is one that is provoking more opinion than any Super Bowl ad in years which deserves applause in an environment consisting mostly of boring, ineffective, uninspiring clutter.

Many of the people I have spoken with about it are strongly on one side or the other with ANTIs leading the PROs 2 to 1.  (It does not help that the voice of Dad/god in the commercial– Earl Woods – was exposed as drunken womanizer in the most recent Vanity Fair magazine making one ask why a hypocrite should be giving any advice?).

What I love about this ad is people are talking about it and telling you why they love it or hate it. They might not have any idea as to what the 4 Ps of marketing are or branding and damage control but that have formed opinions and are sharing them freely. That is an interesting and frightening thing for me.

I have studied marketing my entire life. I hold a BS degree in Marketing and Communication Arts. I have my MBA in Marketing. I have read thousands of books and thousands of articles about this subject. I have spent years in the field putting this knowledge to test to find out what works in the real world. I am put off to a certain degree that people who have no understanding of the field  think they are experts but that happens all the time in Consumer Marketing.( I do not give my opinions on quantum physics or financial planning for that reason) Loving an ad does not translate to success. The great “Where’s the Beef” Burger King Campaign was pulled because it didn’t increase sales despite the fact everyone loved it.

But it is the people who sit in executive offices and judge marketing and its importance to their companies that are the ones that scare me the most. Their opinions on marketing range from ignorant to misinformed. Rarely have I found one who appreciates and esteems marketing and its power.What is the first thing that is cut when times get hard? Marketing. These executives see no value in the very thing they need to increase when times get hard. Marketing produces increased revenue. Isn’t that what a company needs especially during these times?

In my experience, many of these executive’s opinions about marketing have no validation in anything relevant today: they come from people who have never studied marketing deeply or are aware of what is going on now in the field and on the streets. To them is just about sales. These opinions are not research based. They have no current understanding of consumer behavior or the principals of influence. To me, marketing strength comes from the bottom up and it is at the bottom you must be most connected and aware yet I have been forced to run ad campaigns and programs that were ego driven to please a boss at the top knowing full well that these were a waste of money and effort. John LeCarre wrote that a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world and I agree.

Companies need to put great marketing people in charge of marketing and let them go at it and watch good things happen. I define these type of people as those who immerse themselves in the customer and the market. They have a through understanding of the customer, and they act on that feeling once they get the opportunity. They know what their customers are afraid of, what they are angry about, what their daily frustrations are , what trends are occurring and will occur. Customers only care about their wants, their needs, their problems. Your quarterly sales forecast, factory efficiency or employee benefit plans mean nothing to them. Great marketing people know what you need to do to connect to them and to increase sales and revenues through their satisfaction.

As Joseph Plumeri put it “I think that marketing is an art, marketing is a feeling. There are certainly pieces of marketing that are scientific such as the evaluation of the marketplace, the demographics, the matrices, the cost of acquisition and all these kind of things. But the ultimate marketer has to have feel, to have warmth, and guts. And you can’t teach that: you either have it or you don’t. You have got to feel what other people feel so you can make them feel good about what you can do for them, how you can help them. It is like life. If you don’t understand other people’s feelings you are going to go around hurting people all the time. Marketing is the same thing. You can’t do it unless you understand people. I don’t care what you are selling – a nail or financial services – ultimately you are dealing with somebody’s feelings.”

Marketing is the whole firm taken from the customer’s point of view as Peter Drucker wrote. Nike has upped the ante with this new Tiger Woods ad which to me will mean nothing if Tiger can win the Masters and  help people realize he is a good golfer but a troubled, fallible human being. More importantly, what has this ad taught you about what you need to do as far as marketing and your business?  Marketing  should be the principal driver in your company along with innovation. It should be the most creative and logical part as well but it probably isn’t. It should start with top leadership, leadership found in the form of the owner or the person sitting at the top of the organizational chart. And it should be directed by someone who knows what they are doing so opinions are not what count, results are.