Business Inspiration for the New Year

January 5, 2009

As I was catching up on my RSS reading, two posts by Seth Godin and Fred Wilson really caught my attention as inspiration for the New Year.

In the first, Seth Godin posed the question, “Do ads work?” In particular, Seth is asking about digital ads where he feels the mindset of marketers should be “We have an unlimited budget for ads that work.”  In his own words:

Digital ads are different (or they should be). You should know cost per click and revenue per click and be able to make a smart guess about lifetime value of a click. And if that’s positive, buy, buy, buy.  And if you don’t know those things, why are you buying digital ads?

Seth goes on to give the example of Amazon during the Dot Com boom of the late ’90’s.  He says that during this time, the mantra at Amazon was $33. “They would buy unlimited ads, of any kind, as long as they generated new customers for $33 or less each.” Was $33 too high of a number to be sustainable?  Possibly.  But their internal ROI showed that $33 was the magic number and there was unlimited money to buy ads under that figure.

In other words, don’t use the excuse that you don’t have the budget.

Any idea that you have proven will build your sales and share should be invested in…and it should be invested in at the expense of ads that aren’t proven.

In the second thought-provoking post, Fred Wilson talked about creating a great business team in “Putting the Band Back Together.” Fred has noticed that as times get tough, many successful serial entrepreneurs are rejoining people they have worked with in the past.  Or as he puts it, “they are getting the band back together for awhile.”  Fred sees this as an encouraging sign because:

Teams that have worked together successfully before know the strengths and weaknesses of each other and they know how to get along, make hard decisions, and move the ball forward each and every day.

I think this is a brilliant insight and one that most businesses don’t think about often enough.  Think about your own brand team at work.  How long has the most junior person been on the team?  Or how long have the most senior members worked together?  What about your agency?  Have the same people been on the account as long as the Brand Manager or Marketing Director?  I’d be willing to bet that there has been considerable change over on both sides.

I think more brands need to follow the advice of Fred and “get the band back together.” 

If you have a successful brand and agency team, then practice continuity and keep them working together.

Business is a game of teamwork and it takes time to develop good working relationships.  In sports, All Star games are boring because the best players don’t practice together every day.  So when you throw them together, they don’t know how to work together.  Just look at what happened to the USA “Dream Team” in 2002 – 2004 when we lost to teams that had played together for years.

The same thing might be happening to your brand when you change the players every year.

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Seth Godin: The Marketer’s Attitude

November 12, 2008

Seth Godin remains one of my favorite writers.  He was the first “marketer” I ever read and I have promo copies of both Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside sitting on my desk at work.  Needless to say, I’m a big fan.  His latest post was one I had to share in its entirety. The bolds are the parts I liked the most.  I wish more marketers thought this way.

Here’s what I’d want if I were hiring a marketer:

You’re relentlessly positive. You can visualize complex projects and imagine alternative possible outcomes. It’s one thing to talk about thinking outside the box, it’s quite another to have a long history of doing it successfully. You can ride a unicycle, or can read ancient Greek.

Show me that you’ve taken on and completed audacious projects, and run them as the lead, not as a hanger on. I’m interested in whether you’ve become the best in the world at something, and completely unimpressed that you are good at following instructions (playing Little League baseball is worth far less than organizing a non-profit organization).

You have charisma in that you easily engage with strangers and actually enjoy selling ideas to others. You are comfortable with ambiguity, and rarely ask for detail or permission. Test, measure, repeat and go work just fine for you.

You like to tell stories and you’re good at it. You’re good at listening to stories, and using them to change your mind.

I’d prefer to hire someone who is largely self-motivated, who finds satisfaction in reaching self-imposed goals, and is willing to regularly raise the bar on those goals.

You’re intellectually restless. You care enough about new ideas to read plenty of blogs and books, and you’re curious enough about your own ideas that you blog or publish your thoughts for others to react to. You’re an engaging writer and speaker and you can demonstrate how the right visuals can change your story.

And you understand that the system is intertwined, that your actions have side effects and you not only care about them but work to make those side effects good ones.

The cool thing about this list is that it’s not dependent on what you were born with or who you know. Or how much you can lift.

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Visual Map of Walmart’s Growth

November 7, 2008

I have never seen a Flowing Data map in action before but this is very cool.  It shows the growth of Walmart from 1 store in 1962 to 3,176 stores in 2007.

10 bloggers who inspire Hard Knox Life

October 29, 2008

At last count, I read around 150 blogs every day through my RSS.  Of course this includes the A-Listers like Seth Godin, Mashable, Jeremiah Owyang, Guy Kawasaki and ReadWriteWeb.  But it also includes several others who I find to be real inspiration for what I write on Hard Knox Life.  If you are looking for some great new reads, you should check these guys out (in no particular order):

Pete Blackshaw – Consumer Generated Media: I’m lucky enough to call Pete a good friend and mentor.  But he is also one of the best voices in Social Media today.  This guy is bursting with energy and it shows with his writing.  Cincinnati is lucky to have him as an adopted son.

Alan Wolk – The Toad Stool: I think Alan has managed to be one of the most referenced people here on Hard Knox Life thanks to his terming of “NASCAR Blindness.”  He is self-described “tradigitalist”– an advertising creative director and social media consultant with the rare ability to speak Web 2.0 and TV 101 – often in the same sentence.

Bob Gilbreath – Marketing with Meaning and The Challenge Dividend: Bob is another guy doing Cincinnati proud with his writing.  As Chief Marketing Strategist for Bridge Worldwide, Bob is a P&G Brand guy who made the switch to the agency world.  He’s been writing The Challenge Dividend since 2006 but just started Marketing with Meaning as a platform for some of the work he is leading at Bridge.

Ian Schafer: Ian is the CEO of Deep Focus, a digital shop who is doing some of the most amazing work I have seen (just check out their latest with Entourage).  Ian is always willing to push the envelope.  For instance, a couple of months ago he auctioned off the sponsorship of his Twitter profile to anyone willing to bid.  Keep an eye on what he is going to do next.

Peter Kim – Being Peter Kim: Former Forrester Analyst and current Commissioner of the Social Media Fantasy Football League, Peter is a guy that just gets it.  When he was at Forrester, he wrote several reports on the future of Marketing that are dead on.  I’m talking stuff that could shake up the industry if we are brave enough to follow his advice.  I can’t wait to see what he does in his newest venture.

Kevin Dugan – Strategic Public Relations: The 3rd Cincinnati resident on the list, Kevin is a guy who is really making things happen in our city.  He’s been blogging since 2002 and is one of the driving forces behind the Cincinnati Social Media Breakfast.  In his most recent post, he says he is feeling a little burned out…let’s hope that passes quickly.

Paul Isakson: Paul’s day job is Senior Strategic Planner for space 150 and he puts together some of my favorite presenations on marketing.  My only knock against Paul is that he doesn’t blog enough.  His site has the tagline of “Provoke, Prod, Inspire – Building a better future for brands” and he does just that every time he writes.

Darren Herman: I first came across Darren when I picked up his book “Coloring Outside the Lines: Confession of a Digital Native.”  He’s a guy that walks the talk, having founded IGA Worldwide, where BusinessWeek named him one of the top entrepreneurs under 25.

Matt Dickman – Techno//Marketer: Matt is a VP, Digital Marketing at Fleishman-Hillard in Cleveland.  Though he isn’t exactly based in a city that is a technology hotbed, I would argue he is more in tune with where technology and the consumer will meet than any Silicon Valley/Alley based blogger.

David Armano – Logic + Emotion: Armano nearly makes the “A-List” classificaton but I decided to keep him humble.  I have been following Dave’s writing for awhile and have been fortunate enough to get to know him over the past several months since his agency (Critical Mass) works with P&G.  Dave is a true visual thinking and he is able to use pictures to simple get across concepts that most of us need hundreds of words to explain.

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Why design should matter for Brand Managers

October 28, 2008

Thanks to Chris Brogan, I stumbled across this amazing presentation on the importance of design.  Over the past several years, design has emerged as a powerful force at P&G.  This presentation does a great job capturing why design is an important element for every Brand Manager to consider.

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Why the Digital Shopping Experience should matter to Brand Managers

October 9, 2008

Digital has emerged as a dramatic influence of both online AND offline purchases over the past year according to Resource Interactive.  In an extremely engaging and though provoking presentation on the importance of the Digital Shopping Experience, Resource outlines what brands needs to pay attention to in this channel.  They also go into deeper detail in the White Paper they wrote for that went along with this presentation.  Both are worth spending some time with.

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October 3, 2008

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Jared Meisel, Management Director, Shopper Marketing at DraftFCB.  Jared is an old friend who I worked closely with while on P&G’s Walmart Customer Team and one of the biggest proponent’s of putting the consumer first.

Earlier this month, Brian Reich spoke at the New York Media Information Exchange Group and argued that ad agencies needed to disappear. (A three-minute clip of his speech is available here). Brian’s point was that media companies (experts in connection) and product companies (experts in products) no longer need a middle man (ad agencies) to reach consumers. They can partner and develop advertising programs by combining their knowledge of products and media.

In principle, this seems to be a sound argument. We all want to eliminate the middle man—for cost savings, simplicity and efficiency. It is certainly true that product companies know the most about their products, and media companies about media. I would even agree that the old ad agency model is no longer relevant—if an agency is not bringing its clients creative ways to reach consumers, the agency is not doing its job.

Brian claimed that a media-centric and product-centric approach would reach consumers. But as I thought about this, a question stuck in my head: Who represents the consumer? There is plenty of new media available, and yet most is not effective in reaching consumers. There are plenty of new products being launched in the market, and yet many are not successfully resonating with consumers.

Media-centric and product-centric approaches are no longer effective. Marketers must take a more consumer-centric approach. Here are three specific ways in which we as marketers are failing to represent the consumer in our approach to marketing:

  1. We are not clearly defining the true business issues or problems: Of course we want to increase sales, build awareness, and drive trial. But why isn’t that currently working?  What about the product, target, or marketplace (competition, retailers, etc.) is keeping us from delivering the results we need? We all agree that it is important to define the business issue, and yet it is amazing to me just how little time is actually put toward this. Looking at the data, knowing the product, and understanding the target can enable marketers to take a very creative approach to framing up a business challenge. This will not only help us and our partners think differently about the issue, but it will also result in a creative approach to solving the problem. Be warned—to do this right, you need to take an honest, consumer-centric look at your product. More on that point later.
  2. We are incrementalizing on the incremental: In an effort to continue delivering new products and product news, companies have begun to drive in the well worn ruts of the incrementialized road. This happens with products and it happens with marketing. By simply applying the Logic of More—one is good, two is better and three is best—we have created an environment in which we are handcuffed into force-feeding more and more products into the market, creating more noise for consumers to ignore. And not so ironically, the percentage of new products that succeed continues to decline.
  3. We take the wrong approach to delivering products: Said another way, we are letting the tail wag the dog. Forgive the pun, but if success for all products ultimately means getting it into consumers’ hands, how do we not let those who use and buy our products drive our plans? Said another way, why do we take such an R&D (or existing technology-centric) approach to developing new products instead of letting the need or consumer drive our approach?  The answer is a complicated one, filled with corporate structure and departments, but then again, how many times must we fail before we start to question the approaches that lead us to creating the wrong products?

So, who will be bold enough to take a more consumer-centric approach to do this?  It is a challenge to us as marketers to be more creative—not just in our output, but in our input and in our approach.

Disclaimer:  This posting reflects my own thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of my employer or its clients.

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