Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Heretical Innovation...Now How Cool Is That!

Last week I got to see innovation in action.

I got invited to learn about how some of my new friends and clients are making some money selling their friends on signing up with a new gas company.

I know what you are thinking… none of that makes much sense.

There is an exercise that I take clients through during brainstorming and ideation sessions called “Dogma and Heresy.” It is an exercise that I passionately refer to as “Dog Poop and Hair Spray.”

As part of this exercise I have clients list out the Dogma strategy of the competition and the category. Dogma being the stuff that many of the clients are saying and doing over and over and over again.

For example, how many natural gas ads have you seen that feature that flickering flame and talk about natural gas as the clean energy source?

Next in the exercise, I have clients come up with ideas and strategies that their boss would label as heresy… a challenge of conventional truth.

Some of the client groups I have facilitated have difficulty doing this. Many participants are either afraid that their co-workers will think they are stupid; others go so far as to think they may even get fired if the ideas are too way out there.

This gas company I learned about is actually expanding from Texas to the state of Georgia.

Now the Dogma of this category is one where you probably figure it is mandatory to get on television with brand awareness ads so that people remember your name when they go to select their gas utility company.

How many people that you know can name their energy provider and at least one or two of their other options of choice?

Perhaps part of that is a left over from the public ownership days where most of the organizations were really not that accountable for advertising return because not many of the gas providers had much of a competitive marketplace.

With deregulation, times have changed… but the thinking set of most marketers remains the same.

And let me state right here that this scenario I am sharing today is not unique just to utility companies. It is true across most consumer product categories among many of what I term as the “MBA Leadership Breed.”

So what is this Texas gas provider doing to enter the marketplace and compete?

How are they spreading word about their brand and getting competitive gas customers to switch?

They are getting friends to call friends – ten of them to be exact – and asking them to switch and in doing so, making some cash along the way.

And if some of their friends find it interesting enough to go and convert over ten more of their friends, they make even more cash.

Some call it a pyramid scheme other call it “Tier Marketing”.

Others see it as just a new way to make some extra bucks. Some folks get so wrapped up in it that they believe they can cash in quickly like playing the lottery with a little more luck!

This type of making money is not much of a match with me, but I must admit I am damn impressed by the innovation of a utility company using it to gain market presence and market share.

This utility company has even branded their product around the sell-in method. The company is branded as Stream Energy and their sales team is branded as Ignite.

You may not get too excited pyramid selling.., and that’s okay because its not the tactic that matters, it is the heresy of even considering it that does.

If an energy company can use a heretical approach… just think what it can do for a CPG brand… a restaurant brand… a healthcare brand… a travel/tourism brand…

I know that this goes against what gas companies deliver, but is this cool or what!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Reality Of The Consumer -- You Can Bank On It!

I ended up having to start the day doing something that I absolutely hate doing.

Talking with my bank.

Why did I have to talk with them?

Because they did something absolutely stupid and I thought I had it resolved, but it wasn’t.

The bank where our business account is housed is Wachovia.

A friend of mine who also has a small business asked me where we had our company account and when I said Wachovia, he replied… “Oh, that is where my business accounts were at…the bank Walk-all-over-ya!”

My friend runs a successful small business.

About a year ago, Wachovia decided to stop offering small businesses business credit card services and transferred all the accounts to Bank of America.

The bank I had to call this morning was Bank of America.

I wish someone would come up with a new way of saying “Bank of America” that also translates into something more descriptive like “Walk-all-over-ya.”

What did Bank of America do?

They had a guy we let go a year ago that was an hourly clerical assistant listed on our corporate Visa account as the owner of the company.

I found out about this when I had questions concerning some charges on the account and was told that there was nothing I could do. Only the person that they had listed as the owner of the company could ask questions like I was asking.

When I told them I was the sole owner and the guy listed was laid-off more than a year ago, I was then told that I had to fill out forms and send them in with a witness also confirming me as the owner of the company.

I am not making this up.

After filling out the forms and getting the letters and witness confirmation all sent in two weeks ago, I received yet another set of forms in the mail yesterday.

I called the Bank of America 1-800 Customer Service and ended up getting a guy on the other end of the phone that proceeded to essentially lecture me and “help me understand” how business issues are handled and corrected.

When I further explained how stupid…and costly a mistake had taken place…he asked me not to be “negative” and “confrontational.”

Our call did not last much longer.

When I tried to call the local Bank of America offices yesterday afternoon, I got routed back to the same 24/7 service number I had called earlier.

I later found out that the banks close down at 4:00pm. I guess the “9-to-5” jobs are history in the banking industry.

This morning, I did get through to a person in the local Athens office who listened and went on to say that she would get back with me later in the morning after she found out more details about the account.

I never heard back from the woman I spoke to this morning and it is now almost 8pm.

Why am I telling this story about the bank?

Tonight on the CBS Evening News, one of the featured stories was all about Bank of America.

What was the focus of the story?

A bank customer who tried repeatedly to get Bank of America to respond to questions and issues concerning her credit card and checking accounts, finally got so exasperated that she told her story in a video that she posted on YouTube.

Within days, more than 256,000 people watched the video and then posted similar Bank of America stories.

Here is the link to the story… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGC1mCS4OVo

Her commentary also got pushed through Facebook and Twitter postings.

In fact, the stories raised so many responses that Bank of America…along with some of the other large banks, finally responded back by changing some of the stupid things that they had been doing to customers.

The older I get, I realize that there are not too many things I can change, but then along comes stories like this that says…”Yes You Can!”

And while I personally feel refueled in the ability to correct stupid stuff, the learnings demonstrate further the importance, value and power of the consumer voice.

As I tell clients… what you define and market may appear to be reality, but it isn’t … and what consumers perceive and believe, how ever different from what you define, is reality.

Hello… And welcome to 2010!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The New Model Of Local Store Marketing

It’s hard for Big Boys to learn how to do things differently.

In some ways, I might even be a best-case scenario. Although, I am not sure I would call BrandVenture one of the Big Boys.

For a long time, I was one of those focus group addicts. Recruitment had to be just so…the facility had to be just so.

No question about it, those market research professors had drilled the proper way of doing statistical research in my headset.

But after doing nearly 300 of them across the globe in just one year, it dawned on me that maybe there was a better forum and a better way to get people talking.

Long story short … I found a different, less expensive, more effective way to get people sharing their deepest thoughts and perceptions. That’s what we call Coffee House and Pub Chats.

Trust me. Whether it is caffeine or a good cold brewsky, it gets folks chatting!

The showcase brand in this Blog-logue is Macy’s,

Macy’s is featured in the current issue of Business Week.

To survive in the current economic times Macy’s consolidated its seven regional offices for its 811 stores in one location. Along the way, it cut 5,600 jobs that altogether has saved the company $500 million in the last two years.

Sounds on paper that the mass market department store just became more centralized and Big Boy to me.

But…as the article quotes Macy’s CEO, Terry Lundgren as saying… “We can’t wait around for the environment to improve…you have to do something different.”

(Wonder if Terry carries a MacBook Pro?)

As the articles goes on…

“For Lundgren, this means catering to the local tastes of shoppers…with a new initiative called My Macy’s.”


“He’s stocking extra swimsuits in stores near water parks and more size 11 shoes in Chicago.”

So this Big Boy is learning how to say good-bye to the mass market, mass delivered department model and hello to what I will call the old school way retail used to work.

Will be interesting to see if Macy’s can extend “catering to local tastes” beyond the operational inventory and stocking mix to actually localize all touch-points of the brand experience to the local audience groups.

Perhaps you have to get more grass-roots than Big Boy corporate management to fully heed the calling.

This morning I attended a breakfast meeting of several QSR franchise owners. The topic of discussion was social media and how it can work on the Local Store Marketing level.

I give these guys (and gal) a bunch of credit. While only one of the guys regularly hit Facebook, nearly all saw social media as a great chance to build better customer service and better customer relationships.

The guy that serves as the facilitator of the group…also a franchise owner…talked about how his trade areas varied by store and how social media can be customized based on which market groups each store services.

Now how cool is that?

(And how cool are these Franchise owners?!!!)

The title of the section where the article is running in Business Week is called “Managing Forward.”

No question that forward thinking is our calling.

But it is interesting just how much of the forward thinking comes back to the past fundamentals of true personalized (versus mass) marketing!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why Television Needs Heretics!

In about an hour from now, I am going to be meeting with a group that recently purchased a television station.

They are not a network affiliate. And in some ways, that’s cool.

I am not sure that if I won the Lottery this week that I would take the dollars and invest in a television station.

Don’t get me wrong… folks today still enjoy watching programming.

Shoot, it could be on their television, their PC, their portable video player, their iPhone or even a panel on their dashboard.

It could be transmitted live or playing from some source of stored programming.

No joke… I actually spend many a primetime viewing hour cruising through YouTube and with an average of 55,000 new videos launched on the site launch just that day. Needless to say, the choice is rather diverse.

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with my cable provider.

When I had called about why the monthly fee was going up, the rep I was speaking to quickly told me that in about three months, they will be offering their customers the option to select any 10 or 20 stations of choice for a reduced monthly fee.

That’s cool. Will be interesting to see how this new form of packaging will affect how the ratings will be calculated and how the advertising will be sold.

And while I am really not sure if I will include any of the original three nets (ABC, NBC & CBS) in my selected set of stations of choice, the main focus of this week’s blog-logue actually evolves around these three nets.

I strongly encourage any one reading this to take a day off from the work routine and turn on the tube around 11am and watch the programming through the afternoon.

While the programming is certainly an anthropological window into a culture set… the advertising is even better yet.

Something tells me that there’s a large inventory of daytime television that the ad reps have to unload. There’s a whole set of the ads you will see that I would wager to bet were scripted and filmed by the station affiliate.

There’s another set of ads in which the ad director and/or the media rep purchased one of those cost-savings/extra value frequency schedules. That terminology is actually fancy wording for what’s really called ROS… or run of station.

The best commercials are the ones that are truly targeting the regular audience groups that actually watch the daytime programming.

There’s a set of ads promoting the lawyers. Their copy lines are rather similar. They also all showcase a picture of the lawyers in the spots. It’s odd, but nearly all of the lawyers are men.

There’s a set of ads promoting places where you can go and get cash for your car title. It’s interesting how so many of the people in the ads who cash in their car titles are really wearing nice clothes. Maybe it’s that belief that seems to float among advertising agencies that lots of people aspire to be better looking than they really are.

There’s a bunch of ads for old people things. Things like wheel chairs, hearing aids, reading glasses, diabetes monitors, inconsonance padding and emergency alert devices. Now I know that there are others using these that may not be old, but so many of the folks in the ads are old.

Yes…there are pharmaceutical ads too, but from what I saw, there just didn’t seem to be as many as you see during the 6pm news. Maybe the ad agency for those pharma's has insight that most of those older folks watching the news at night are in the midst of taking there afternoon nap during daytime programming.

From my perspective of working with some of the cable nets, there's always a desire among the programmers to work on prime time programming.

Yet… there is actually three times as much of a time block to fill with daytime programming as there is with prime time programming.

When you look at the ratings numbers, these daytime programs don't generate the high double-digit ratings…but then again, very few shows in prime time generate double digit rating any more.

I did go into our mostly recently released Nielsen numbers along with our lifestyle groups and it looks like daytime network television is still popular with groups bearing the nicknames of “Country Music & Car Seats,” “Traditional Seniors,” “Main Street Patriots” and “Struggling Elders.”

Maybe the advertisers running the ads are actually right on target.

The interesting aspect is that I also flipped through the dial (how Boomer is that phrase?!) and watched some of the programming on ESPN2, HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network.

First of all… the programming on the cable nets wasn’t all too different from the same programming that airs during prime time at night

Second…I didn’t see many…actually if any…of those same advertisers running the ads on the nets…on the cable stations.

(Break… now have to go to the meeting… but will pick back up afterwards with the blog-logue)

I was very enlightened from our meeting with the television station team with whom we met.

They have a vision in their mindset of who they ultimately want to be. I must say that it is progressive, but interesting.

The journey of getting there may not be easy.

There is no question that if they do some things that need to be done, some of their colleagues will label them as industry heretics.

I remember when I started in the business; there was a guy down in Atlanta who just started up a cable network that was the talk of the town.

Many thought he was a nut case.

Later in my career, I actually had the opportunity to work for this guy. One day in a meeting he started talking about doing something I though was a very crazy thing to do.

I learned quickly that he was right on target with his thinking when I thought about it later that afternoon.

The guy starting that network was Ted Turner.

The network was CNN.

Some still think he is a crazy man. And they may actually be right.

But it is that type of thinking that generated what the three core networks have become today and what launched the cable nets that make up my top 10.