Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hey Corporate America...The Model Ain't Working!

The Apple computer ads are great ads.

They feature the big, overweight business PC guy challenged by the smarter, hip, young and agile entrepreneur.

Besides the fact that I am an Apple addict, I personally identify with the ads.

Congrats go out to the Chiat/TBWA LA Team that is doing some cool stuff that propels the Apple brand.

Maybe it’s the Baby Boomer MBA mindset that fostered it, but somewhere the American business community got into glorifying being the BIG corporate star.

Here in Atlanta where BrandVenture is based, the good-old boy Atlanta Chamber of Commerce along with the Atlanta Business Chronicle (our only local business rag) seem to be top addicts of the BIG business glory ride.

Both organizations worship their brand icons like BellSouth, Georgia Pacific, Coca-Cola, UPS, Home Depot and Delta Airlines.

The corporation’s big time CEOs take center stage and the corporate names seem to litter each picture of an Atlanta chamber meeting and each weekly front page of the chronicle.

But as they have said in the past…a funny thing is happening today on the way to the bank!

A few of the news stories of the past couple of weeks paint the picture:

• Home Depot reports another horrible quarterly sales loss while Ace Hardware reports sales growth

• GE earnings are so bad that the corporation is selling off the appliance division and NBC might be on the block next (it is posting some of the worst ratings in the last 20 years)

• USAir announced that they would no longer serve any drinks or peanuts free to passengers and joined the ranks of the rest of the airlines in raising ticket prices and charging for baggage check-ins

• The operator of the Disney Stores filed for bankruptcy… Linens ‘n Things and Sharper Image are closing their doors as well

About an hour before writing this, I drank down a Red Bull. That brand is one super energizer…especially for someone like me that is ADHD.

By the way, Red Bull is not owned by Pepsi nor Coke.

A couple of years ago, BrandVenture spoke at a national marketing conference about “below the surface, counter-conventional brands”… brands that were being powered successfully by avoiding the conventional channels along with the thinking that bigger is better.

Facing economic instability, energy challenges and global economic shifts, businesses today have to be able to change…adapt…re-direct and re-energize FAST.

Just like in the Apple television ads… many of the BIG, bulky corporations in America are unable to take on the challenge.

And that hurdle goes all the way up to the office of top management that in many cases marches to the beat of the band.

What got me motivated to write this Blog was a cocktail meeting I had last night.

Back in the mid-1980s, I had an idea of a cool marketing tool for the healthcare industry that did not exist. In a nutshell, it involved the creation of a service like MRI and Simmons that tracked healthcare usage behaviors and was then further energized with an alignment with lifestyle, geodemographic profile information.

The new venture was a sweet success. It sold for $28 million in less than five years. Course, that was back in the 1980s and certainly cannot compete with the geek-entrepreneurs launching the hot sites that are being acquired today!

The company that bought the healthcare system we built was bought out and then that buyer was bought out again.

Today, the service is delivered as part of a BIG set of services and analytics offered, developed and marketed by a BIG “database” corporation.

About a year and a half ago, I met with the BIG “database” corporation to discuss why BrandVenture’s healthcare clients were becoming very dissatisfied with their product offering and found it too complex and difficult to use.

Needless to say, they really did not place much value on the dialogue.

Last year, I found out that the fifth hire of the original new venture group had started up a competitive service offering to the BIG “database” corporation. The name of the competitive service offering is Health Forecasts and the founder’s name is Tim Garton.

Through Tim’s contacts, resources and ingenuities, he has created a richer service offering that is less complex and best of all, costs about a third of the price of the BIG “database” corporation’s product offering.

Because that’s cool…and because BrandVenture is able to bring to the table a link into the same segmentation model used by the BIG “database” corporation also for about a third of the cost...Health Forecast and BrandVenture developed a joint product offering.

It turned out last night that the folks I met for drinks, really wanted to get the dirt on what was going on with Health Forecasts and my company. They spent much of the time at the bar telling me how questionable any other offering to their product would be.

When I told them that the competitive offering was flexible in application, more advanced in technology and cheaper in price, they literally went into a long discourse about how anything different could never be better.

Turns out that our product has just replaced the BIG “database” corporation’s product as the preferred service offering by one of the coveted statewide hospital associations in Pennsylvania.

Isn’t it interesting how innovation, flexibility and value seem to cause the corporations to hyperventilate?

Not all BIG corporations are bad.

P&G continues to do well because they believe in building individual and independent brands that capitalize on niche opportunities.

Emerson Electric Corporation is one of the top stock purchase offerings because the company re-engineered around energy and also is organized around a portfolio of independent companies.

Maybe its because I really am driven by my passion, conviction and entrepreneurial spirit that believes you must challenge conventions to build brand success.

But right now the writing is in BIG, bold, day-glow type.

The Conventional Model Of Corporate America Ain’t Working And Change Is Imminent!

If this keeps you up late at night… call me… 404.245.9378!

When you are small, flexible and innovative…it gets the mind churning 24/7…course being ADHD helps too!

Come…Let’s Journey!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Family Vacation Week...Over and OUT!

This blog posting may be up for more than a week before I am able to post the next one.

I head out this upcoming Tuesday for a family vacation trip.

Taking a vacation is not an easy thing when you run a small consultancy business. It’s hard for the work-a-holic/entrepreneur/ADHD to let go of the workplace in today’s virtual office 24/7 world.

But then again, we all need the time to simply “let go” and re-charge.

I leave on Wednesday for Seabrook Island, South Carolina. It’s an island that once was owned by the Episcopal Church. About a third of the island was sold and now contains cottages and single-family homes.

The other two-thirds of the island is protected as an “environmental preserve.”

Back about 25 years ago, my family purchased a small cluster cottage on Seabrook.

It was a place where my family would come together and hang.

We had a lot of great times on the island and I must admit, that some of my best ideas gelled there while walking on the beach in which it was just the tide and I.

I wish that more of my co-horts and clients took time to do things like walking the beach and letting ideas get in rhythm with the tide.

A couple of years ago, my parents sold it, but we are able to lease another place right around the corner from our old cottage.

Family time together is also important…especially when it is cross-generational.

All of my immediate family is gathering down there this week.

Events like this certainly reinforce the whole idea of family values.

The group gathering will include my father who turns 80 years old this year, my mother who is in her mid-70s, my sister, her partner, my 2 year old niece, my adopted uncle, his adopted son and me.

This past week, the California Supreme Court overturned the vote on banning Gay marriage.

Whatever your thoughts of marriage and gay rights might be, it was interesting watching those who celebrated and those who vowed to reverse the ruling with a state constitutional amendment.

Those seeking the state constitutional amendment are passionate about preserving their definition that marriage and family values center on a conventional husband, wife and kids.

Kind of like the “Leave it to Beaver” family portrait fifty years ago!

There is no debate that the family structure is a cultural icon that shapes how individuals relate with one another and the world around them.

Since my sister and her partner adopted my niece Thea, I have watched my parents celebrate their time together.

Thea, who just turned 2 years old, is pretty cool and spending time with her actually makes the right side of my brain tick.

Kids are cool because they have no real barriers that contain their great viewpoint of the world and the issues it presents.

Uncle Norm is pretty cool too. He never got married, but raised three adopted sons.

He adopted my “cousin” Chai while he was stationed in Vietnam. He raised Chai in Panama post-war.

I share all of this because the stereotypes and target audience labels so often used in marketing strategy, are not only generic, but archaic.

I hope that when Thea grows up, I am still around.

She will have seen a perspective of life that will be unique.

Even though she is only two years old, I can already tell that she is one smart cookie.

Thea is going to be successful. She is smart, she has been raised on the truest form of “family-values” and she already understands that thinking outside the box is not only okay, but the really cool thing to do!

Hopefully as you read this, she, my parents, her moms, my uncle, my cousin and me will be building some very cool sand castles on the beach!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Summer’s Here! Take An American Field Trip!

The pollsters are shifting into high gear this year.

It’s an election year. And in today’s electronic age, what more can we expect?

The press seems to have a hay day with it. Not that I have regularly tracked all the editorials, newscasts and prime time commentaries, but from what I have been exposed to, I think the press actually believes more of what they talk about than the true reality of the race.

The cover of this past week’s edition of Newsweek ran with the title, “Exclusive Excerpt: The Post-American World.”

The article is titled: “The Rise of the Rest.” The author of the article is Fareed Zakaria.


The article starts off noting, “a new poll revealed that 81% of the American people believe that the country is on the wrong track.” – note “wrong tracks” is in quotes.

It then goes on to say…”In the 25 years that the pollsters have asked this question, last month’s response was by far the most negative.”

Interesting use of the phrase “by far the most negative.”

The article highlights the great marvels taking place in the rest of the world while the US sits back doing little to contribute.

“The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. The largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. The largest refinery is in India. The largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund is in Abu Dhabi. The biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood.”

The article continues with a whole other set of the biggest, largest and tallest features found elsewhere around the world.

Isn’t it interesting how the press seems to be hell-bent on painting its picture of the American landscape?

Today is Sunday.

Starting last Thursday, I got into my car and drove off of the Interstates on some of the back-roads. And I was taken back by a couple of things I saw.

On Thursday, I stopped off at a small gas station to get gas and it turned out to be full-service.

An older man came out and walked around to the driver’s side window of my car and asked what type of gas I wanted and how much.

I told him to fill it up and away he went. He washed the windows and asked me if my oil was okay.


When I went in to pay the bill, I ran into the owner of the gas station. It was a woman that was probably in her early 30s.

I asked her what the drive was behind the station and this is what she said…

“People today need more personal service. I made a decision to find older folks who remember what service is all about. Older folks that could also use a few more dollars in their wallets. Especially now with the cost of gasoline, we have to generate a value-add to the gas we sell.”

Pretty cool.

On Friday morning, after driving for about an hour, I decided I had to get a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s that was in near an outlet mall.

As I drove up to the front of the store, I realized that the parking lot was jam-packed full. Cars, trucks and SUVs filling the lot and parking on the lawn.

Upon entering the store, I saw people both sitting around all the tables as well as standing up together talking. And there in the middle of it all was a five-person bluegrass band complete with banjo, guitars, mandolin and bass.

A live bluegrass band at a McDonald’s!

I met the store manager. He was in his late-20s.

The store manager went on to say that they had a band perform about a year ago and it was a hit. Last summer, the band came in once a month. Then, at the urging of its customers, the band increased its sessions to twice a month in the fall.

Since February, the band plays for about an hour every Friday morning and the same people keep coming back and bringing in more and more of their friends.

Pretty cool grassroots event marketing!

A lot of colleges are holding graduations this week.

The individuals graduating are the very peak of the Millenniums or Generation Y – a group of 71 million teens and 20-somethings that are driving a political showdown with their Boomer adversaries as I write this!

This morning, I ran into just-graduated college Millenniums at the local grocery store. They were in buying a punch of Red Bull to celebrate.

Besides their graduation, what else were they celebrating?

They went on to share how they each were planning to start up new companies…one that was around computer gaming, another one in the website design business, another in eco-friendly landscaping and another in organic plastics.


In my Generational Marketing presentation, I lead into the Millenniums section with a quote from American Demographics...

“Weaned on computers, consumer electronics and the high-octane programming of MTV, the Millenniums have shorter attention spans, stimulation overload, chronic boredom and even attention deficit disorder.”

Probably right.

Newsweek Magazine and CNN have great reach among the Boomers, but really bad reach among the Millenniums.

And that’s probably good.

Fareed Zakaria, the author of the Newsweek article is a graduate of both Harvard and Yale. According to his bio, he has traveled the world and lives with his wife and kids in New York.

Isn’t that nice.

The Generation Xers and the Baby Boomers really cannot grapple with just what is happening as the Millenniums emerge.

My perspective?

Tell your boss you have to take a field trip and won’t be coming in to work for the day. Then get in your car and go for a drive. Get out from the artificial urban cityscapes and go mingle among the people.

The MBAs call it “grass-roots marketing”… I like the phrase “tokin’ on the grass-roots.”

There are a lot of cool things happening that we need to embrace!

Just remember this…

• College degrees from the fancy schools make nice wall hangings.

• Bollywood might be nice, but with over 55,000 new videos posted every day on YouTube and more than 100 million plays a day, I don’t think that it or Hollywood is where the action is.

• The last I heard, the Malls are has-beens.

• Biggest, largest and tallest are similar word terms used in the Viagra Email blasts I get.

Fareed…loosen up!

Go put on a pair of those Adidas, text message your sweetheart on that iPhone, grab lunch at an In-and-Out Burger, go shop at Target and then grab a Ben & Jerry’s to snack on while you and your Avatar connect with other Millenniums to chat about the next Bluegrass group to download as the hottest of the ring-tones!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The 2008 Emergence of The Magic Dragon

I was born and raised part of my youth in an immigrant neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio.

Both sets of my grandparents immigrated to America from Europe in the 1920s.

By the time I was born in 1959, my relatives had deep suspicions about Japan, China and Korea. We were also right in the midst of the Cold War and many thought the Soviets were plotting with China to take over the US.

I remember my father telling me that if our dog kept digging holes in the yard that she would wide up digging her way to China.

One of the trends in the 2008 BrandVenture Trendcast is titled “The Chinese Revolution.” It talks about how the Chinese economy is driving global change.

Depending upon your cultural roots, the 2008 Summer Olympics are like China’s Debutante Ball, Bar Mitzvah, First Communion and Coming Out Party all wrapped in one.

Get a load of these stats:

• 1,350,000,000 people in China vs. 301,0000 in US

• China contributed more to global growth than the US…First time another country has done so since the 1930s

• China passed US as the world’s largest consumer in four of the five basic food, energy and industrial commodities

• China now ranks third globally in ad spending behind US and Japan

• 450 Starbucks in China…coffee now equal to tea!

Even if you do not subscribe to it, the current issue of National Geographic is a must read.

The issue is titled “China. Inside The Dragon.”

As we tell our clients constantly, while the economics of the market are important, cultural dynamics are really what drives business.

Here is some of what is reported in the National Geographic issue:

• China has the world’s largest number of Internet users – 220 million surpassing Web surfers in the US

• Authorities have added 171 new pop culture phrases to China’s national language registry

• 31% of Chinese 16 or older say they are religious, four times the official estimate a decade ago

• Cell phones in China have grown from 87 million in 2000 to 432 million today

• 32% of Chinese say the Internet broadens their sex life compared with 11% in the US

When I turned 12 years old, my father was transferred to Georgia to take over the management of a manufacturing plant.

Coming to Georgia from Cleveland was like moving into another country.

One of the things I remember my father telling me about on my first visit down to house hunt was this thing called Kudzu… this vine that was brought over to the US from China.

He told me that it grew faster than any plant in the US and it was taking over the Southern landscape. Most of all, no one had really figured out how to even kill it.

China is radically transforming.

For three decades of peace, the Chinese economy has grown at an average annual rate of nearly 10% and more people have been lifted out of poverty than in any other country, at any other time in human history.

The Kudzu that is driving the radical transformation is called Individuality.

Two of the cultural changes we cite in the BrandVenture Trendcast presentation illustrate just how much individuality is fueling the change.

One involves “Flash Competition” in which kids, teens and 20-somethings are taking popular music videos and adding new voice and music and then using their mobile phones to launch them on YouTube and similar sites.

The second involves both Mobile Phones and Ring Tones. Mobile Numbers are hot and communicate a lot about a person…many pay money to get rid of the unlikely “13s” and instead, get phone numbers that include the magic “8’s”. And over 40% of the Chinese change their ring-tones to be different and distinctive every week.

The US right now is going through an interesting presidential campaign.

Regardless of whether you listen to Hillary, Obama or McCain, the US seems to be hung up on defining “common ground” and “shared responsibility.”

Maybe we can learn some lessons just by observing how the hard-earned grass-roots entrepreneurial Chinese Dollar (Yuan) is radically changing the economic and cultural landscape of 1.3 billion people…and the entire world around them.