Sunday, November 15, 2009

The "Envelope", The "Box" And Other Fictitious Boundaries Of Human Thought

Why Do We Relentessly Use Restrictive Metaphors To Explain Creativity?

By David Miranda

I am a big fan of the human race, particularly those members whose creativity have changed and shaped the lives of the rest of us in so many different and diverse areas - the arts, science, medicine, architecture, transportation, human rights, technology, and, yes, business.

The names of these people, past and present, are too many to list here, but they all have one thing in common - they were creative thinkers who had to battle the inertia and resistance of their ideas from those whose comfort zone was the status quo. History continues to repeat itself although we always hear rhetoric to the contrary.

I have attended countless marketing meetings, conferences and seminars where marketing executives and gurus have encouraged the attendees to "think outside the box" or "push the envelope" to create products and services that provide a strategic competitive advantage for their firms or clients.

What is this "box" or "envelope"? Simply stated, it is the sacred cow - the status quo. Here lies the hypocrisy. Encourage new thinking but hang on tightly to the way we currently do things.

In any successful enterprise today, there should be no status quo, no comfort zone. The status quo is a terminal illness if left untreated. Relentless innovation is the answer. Innovate or die.

Need some examples? Local newspapers, passenger trains, typewriters, vinyl records, barber shops, milkmen, travel agencies, local bookstores, mom and pop hardware stores, door-to-door sales, dial-up Internet services, etc. etc. etc. All represent businesses that clung to the status quo too long to save themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no "box" or "envelope". That's why they call it "thinking". So don't think outside "this" or try to "push" beyond "that". Just think and you'll find better solutions than those who play in "boxes".

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Love Means Never Having To Use An Asterisk

"Honey, I love you*" (*See below for more details, terms & conditions)

By David Miranda

Imagine sending a birthday card to, say, your significant other. The front of the card reads Happy Birthday, I love you* *(See details, terms & conditions inside)

Inside the card reads:

*This card in intended for your current birthday as shown on an official government ID which may be required to validate your date of birth, and not for birthdays you will have in the future. "I" refers to the sender and should not be confused with other persons with a similar first or last name. "You" refers to the recipient. As the recipient you are not permitted to resend this card to a third party, unless you have the expressed written permission of the sender. Permission will not be withheld unreasonably. This card is not accompanied by any money, gifts, or offer for dining. If you have any questions regarding these terms & conditions, please contact the sender between the hours of 9AM and 5PM EST, Monday through Friday."

Sound ridiculous? We, in marketing, become so paranoid of litigation and risk-averse that we cannot make a declarative statement about our brand, products, services, or offers that does not include an asterisk or footnote of disclaimers, terms and conditions written in microscopic point size.

Do we really need lawyers to compose this mouse print legalese and then other lawyers to translate in even more pages of legalese than the original?

Here's a real example? Want to take advantage of an airline fare sale where the headline boldly states "Atlanta to New York - From $99 Per Person* (*See details below)". Of course the "details below" states
*All fares are one-way. All fares are non-refundable and a $75 fee per person will apply to changes made after purchase, plus any applicable increase in airfare. Reservations may be obtained or changed through a Telephone Reservations Center for an additional $7.50 per person. Seats are limited, subject to availability, and may not be available on all flights. Fares, routes, and schedules are subject to change without notice. Fares do not include per-segment tax of $3.50. A segment is defined as one takeoff and one landing. The September 11th security fee of up to $10 is not included. Airport Passenger Facility Charges of up to $18 are not included.

Here's the English translation - "This is a "One-Way" fare offer. You are not going to get your money back if you have to cancel. If you do change we will charge you $7.50 per person plus a $75 per person change fee plus any increase in airfare. The fare does not include a per-segment tax of $3.50 per ticket. A September 11th security fee of up to $10 is not included and Airport Passenger Facility Charges of up to $18 is not included." So far, if you are fortunate enough to get a fare ("Seats are limited, subject to availability, and may not be available on all flights. Fares, routes, and schedules are subject to change without notice") the fare will be $99 times 2 ( I assume you want to return) plus $3.50 times 2 plus $10 times 2 plus $18 times 2 which comes to about $260 (assuming you don't have to change your reservation).

Why doesn't the airline simply state "Round Trip Airfare From Atlanta to New York From $260 including all fees and taxes. We have limited availability so book early"

Let's show our customers we really love them - keep the message simple, short, and sincere.

Love means never having to use an asterisk.

Friday, November 13, 2009

In A Soft Market - Fill Up The Marketing "Tank" To Succeed

It's Not Just Good Times When Competitors Are Plotting Your Demise

By David Miranda

When the market softens, it is hard to believe that some brands' knee jerk reaction is to reduce marketing budgets. Just the contrary, in a soft economy it is paramount to relentlessly give people new reasons to prefer you over the competition.

Let's be clear. Potential and existing competition are relentlessly up to no good. In fact, they are constantly plotting your demise - looking for exploitable opportunities with consumers and customers. In a slow market, this challenge is exacerbated.

Today, brand preference is perishable. Consumers and customers enjoy a competitive marketplace of hyper-choice. A brand, therefore, must relentlessy communicate why it matters that they buy your stuff versus the other guy's, especially in soft times. Marketing is the branding guidance and navigation that leads consumers and customers to prefer your "stuff" and you need the budget to do it.

Starbucks convinced consumers that great coffee did not come from a jar or bag from a supermarket or from a fast food outlet. Great coffee came from Starbucks, according to Starbucks, and it was worth the premium and the wait in line to enjoy it. A softer economy and strong competition in the forms of McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, and others gave people new reasons to buy competitors' coffee. Starbucks found itself challenged. The result, they brought back its founder, closed unprofitable locations, reengineered its offerings, and even closed all stores for a day for retraining. One might conclude that became a little to complacent.

How about Apple and Steve Jobs? They did not invent the MP3 player or the mobile phone. As a matter of fact they came late to the game in each category. Few could argue the success of the iPod/iTunes or the iPhone. Steve Jobs continues to plot the demise of his competition. Apple's ad campaign (PC vs MAC) has caused untold aggravation for Microsoft who has now responded with their "I am a PC" campaign.

Reduce marketing in a slowdown is like deciding not to fill up your tank to go on a car trip to reduce travel expenses. In a down market, competitors do not go into hibernation. They become more aggressive and daring. A brand vulnerable with a reduced marketing budget, will sooner of later be "parked on the side of the road to success" while competitors speed by.

Keep your marketing "tank" full.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Marketing In Tough Times - The Relentless Pursuit Of Positive Outcomes

Because Business In Tough Times Is An Extreme Competition Where The Clock Is Against You

By David Miranda

Team sports is the most ubiquitous metaphor used in business to illustrate the similarities between a successful enterprise and a winning team. Examples abound such as "There's no 'I' in team" ; "We need to play our 'A' game"; and "Business is a contact sport". Even quotes from sports legends make their way into the boardrooms of corporate America such as the famous saying attributed to legendary Coach Vince Lombardi "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing".

Okay, we get it already. Business and team sports do have a lot in common, but sometimes we can take the team sports thing a little too far and forget the critical difference.

Let's consider that critical difference.

Unlike team sports, in business there are no time outs, no half times, no off season, no spring training. Business is a relentless 24/7 high stakes competition. If things are not going your way, you can't call a time-out to get your bearings. The competition goes on relentlessly and it's not just you versus another competitor - it's you against a world of competitors, all the time. The "season" is 24x7x365. Hard to imagine any team sport as gruelling.

Marketers, therefore, must understand that marketing, particularly in tough times, is a verb - an action verb. Successful marketing must embrace a culture of the relentless pursuit of positive outcomes. Gone are the days when a business had the luxury of spending months to develop a marketing plan with its strategic direction and tactical elements to be executed over the next fiscal year.

Today, marketers must employ a "stratactical approach" - a concept that conceives and executes the enterprise's strategy and tactics in tandem. Using a football sports analogy, this is like allowing the quarterback to call an audible - to change the originally called play at the line of scrimmage in order to exploit a defensive vulnerability or counter a defensive threat.

The ability to exploit opportunities and counter competitive threats as soon as they occur requires a new marketing perspective - one that is more agile, more athletic, more manueverable and less bureaucratic, less cumbersome, and less traditional in form and function. Old school marketers will find this approach uncomfortable and, maybe unnerving at times, but it's a brand new "game".

There is no "I" in team, but there is an "us" and "I" in business.

It takes bold leadership and strong teamwork to achieve positive outcomes in a relentlessly challenging world.

Game on!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marketing Research - The Study Of Frog Jumping

Be Careful Not To "Jump" To the Wrong Conclusions

By David Miranda

I want to apologize to any animal activist groups in advance. No frogs were harmed in this story.

Some behavioral scientists were conducting a study on frog jumping to determine the relationship between a frog's physical characteristics and its ability and skill at jumping. A frog was placed on a lab table at a precise starting point. One of the scientists made a loud noise. A fellow scientist recorded the result: a frog with four legs jumped four feet. Another scientist removed one of the frog's legs and then the loud noise. Result? The frog with three legs jumped three feet. This sequence was repeated. Remove a leg, make a loud noise. Results? The frog with two legs jumped two feet and with one leg jumped one foot. Finally the frog's last leg was removed and the scientist made the the loud noise. Result? The legless frog did not move. The scientists' conclusion? Frogs with no legs go deaf.

Sometimes marketers view conclusions from research the same way. This happens more frequently than we like to admit. Here are some real life examples.

  • A company was pleased to see that calls to their customer service department were trending down until they discovered it was due to customers not being able to get through and finally giving up.

  • A company whose sales were trending down wrongly concluded their advertising agency needed to be changed when, in fact, it was due to poor product quality.

  • A company wrongly concluded that a new customer loyalty program would stem the tide of defecting customers when the real problem was inferior service.

Don't go "deaf" in what makes your business "jump".

Make your own conclusions on what the research is really telling you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Getting Out The Votes (Dollars) For Your Brand

How Marketers Can Learn From Politics

Marketers can learn a lot from their political campaign colleagues i.e. knowing one's constituencies, packaging the candidate, getting out the vote, and employing effective media to name a few.

The political campaign objective? Get your candidate more votes than the others on the ballot. The marketing campaign objective? Get more dollars than the others in the register.

Smart political campaign managers know the landscape. They know that the voters can be looked at as a spectrum from "strongly for" to "softly for" to "undecideds" to "softy against" to "strongly against". Where, therefore, should they wisely invest their limited resources? Logically it would be to convert the "softly for" to the "strongly for" and the "undecideds" to the "softly for". Next, albeit, a tougher task, to convert the "softly against" to "undecideds" and then have a shot at luring them to the "softly for". This is based on the premise that it is highly improbable to poach votes from another candidate's "strongly for" base.

The same can be said in today's consumer democracy where consumers vote with their dollars. When developing a marketing plan with limited resources, it is important to first define and understand the brand preference spectrum. One is more likely to have a better R.O.M.I. (return on marketing investment) with those consumers with a strong and soft preference for the brand. Next target - those consumers with no brand preference, followed by those who have a soft preference for competitors. The likely success of trying to convert consumers with a strong preference for your competitors is highly doubtful. It is also true that the stronger the consumer preference for your brand, the less marketing investment is required to retain their repeat business. Conversely, the stronger the preference for your competitor, the greater the marketing investment required for the benefit derived.

Know your brand preference spectrum, invest accordingly, and get out the vote for your brand.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Recognition Marketing - Blessed Are The Curious

For They Create A Better World

By David Miranda

All the great things in the world have come from the curious among us.

The enemies of curiosity? Arrogance, the status quo, complacency, incompetency, and envy to name a few.

Curiosity is the basis for all innovation. Someone, somewhere thinking "why isn't there a better way to do this or that?" All the great inventors and innovators had or have it - Da Vinci, Edison, Gates, Jobs, Page & Brin (Google founders), and Salk to name a few.

Curiosity, like other intangibles like passion and perseverence, cannot be taught, but it can be nurtured and it must be nurtured in every successful organization and valued by leadership. It creates wealth.

In our youth, the cradle of curiosity, we explored new things; relentlessly asked questions of our elders on why this and why that. We discovered in the answers new and exciting horizons. Curiosity led to learning and learning led to enlightenment.

Curiosity today, however, in many cases has been atrophied by the requirement to conform; to follow the company line; not to rock the boat. Asking too many questions has unfortunately become a trait of "not being a team player".

Curiosity, however, is not a team endeavor. It is a personal trait.

It needs to be recognized as critical to the success of an enterprise.

Be curious about your life, your surroundings, your business, your industry.

It will, curiously, pay big dividends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Art Of Managing "Yes"

Sometimes Agreement Can Turn Out To Be Bad

By David Miranda

The Yes man (or woman) has gotten a bad rap in business circles - and rightfully deserved. These bobble heads of assent, particularly when its viral, aid and abet in allowing a bad idea to be disguised as a good idea.

The higher a bad idea rises on an organizational hierarchry, the greater the potential damage. How does this happen? People in the enterprise not knowing how to manage "yes". We all know how to manage "no". We stop. We rethink. We revise. "Yes", however, gains momentum in the organization and, unless tested by constructive dissent, is like a snowball rolling down hill. It eventually becomes an unstoppable force. When a bad idea disguised as a good idea attains this kind of organization momentum, without constructive dissent, a disaster is waiting to happen.

Yes people whose little voice told them "this is a bad idea, but everyone else including the boss likes it, so I'll keep my opinions to myself" are accessories to the crime. These are the same people who comment after the disaster "I knew all along that that was a bad idea". It's like the old adage "success has many fathers (mothers), but failure is an orphan".

Bad ideas disguised as good ideas? There are many historic examples. Here's two.

Where were the voices within Coca-Cola during the creation of New Coke? Didn't somebody speak up in one of those many meetings and say "hey, what if we upset all those millions of people that like Coke just the way it is? Think any of them might care?" New Coke has too much momentum and senior management support of "yes".

How about IBM thinking it was a good idea to out-source the operating system for the IBM PC to an unknown firm called Microsoft? It's the hardware that's more important. Bad idea disguised as a good idea.

The moral of these story is that there is an art in managing "yes". Here are some guidelines

  1. The higher you are on the org chart the more weight your "yes" carries. Be careful and prudent on your influential vote. Other people are watching and listening.

  2. Trust your initial gut reaction. It's probably the most honest.

  3. Speak out and be vocal of your opinions particularly if dissenting. Silence translates into tacit approval.

  4. Don't dissent just to dissent or approve just to approve. Have good solid foundations for your opinion or you will just be considered just negative or a yes person.

  5. Collaborate, listen, create dialogue with others in your organization - not to build consensus but to build confidence in the process and the ultimate decision whether it is yes or no.

  6. Don't be afraid to expose a bad idea regardless of its maturity in the planning cycle. Saying its gone too far or its too late to stop is a cop out and implies corporate cowardice.

  7. If everyone is agreeing, there is a problem. No one agrees on everything.
Bottom line? Don't take yes for an answer.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Capt. Sully Sullenberger - The Three Minute Manager

Crisis Management Lessons From The Pilot Of USAirways Flight 1549

By David Miranda

It was a remarkable feat. Now known as the "Miracle on the Hudson".

Listening to Capt. Sullenberger with Katie Couric on 60 Minutes, one could only be amazed at the pilot's calm demeanor as he recounted details of the incident. Hearing his play-by-play and his interaction with air traffic control from the cockpit voice recorder, it was obvious he was a professional in control of life-or-death situation.

What is most amazing is that it all happened in a period of about three minutes. Bird strike, both engines fail, taking command of the plane, trying to restart the engines, communicating with air traffic control, determination that return to LaGuardia or to alternative airport was not feasible, gliding the plane over the George Washington Bridge, wanting to land near boats for best chance of rescue, keeping the nose up, wings level, announcing "Brace for impact" optimizing air speed and finally landing the plane on the Hudson River.

All this within three, yes three, minutes.

He said to Katie Couric - "I was sure I could do it" not in an arrogant tone, but one whose lifetime of training had prepared him to make all the right decisions.

What can we learn from Sully in crisis situations?

  • As the leader, he took immediate control.

  • He did not panic.

  • He did not call a meeting to get everyone's input.

  • He communicated to his team and stakeholders.

  • He quickly considered all his options and their potential consequences.

  • He made split-second decisions

  • He ensured that those he was responsible for were all safe and accounted for at his risk of his own peril.
Sully had three minutes to make the right decisions. Those of us in business that have more time to consider potential actions in a crisis should learn from him.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Marie Antoinette Revisited - The American People Continue To Get Royally "F?#%d"

The Shameful, Arrogant, Unfathomable Behavior Of The Self-Entitled

By David Miranda

The past and (yes) continued behavior of the self-entitled on Wall Street and their enablers in the Washington and the State Capitols make the fictional Gordon Gecko in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" look like Mr. Rogers (with no disrespect to Fred Rogers' memory).

It seems like every day a new Congressional hearing, a New York Times or WSJ article, or investigative television journalist exposes yet another of the self-entitled's evidence of a total disregard for anything but their own self-interest. Clueless comes to mind, but using that word is an insult to the naive and uninformed.

Someone once said that the difference between ignorance and stupidity is this - ignorance means you don't know; stupid means you'll never know. The self-entitled are not ignorant people. They are shamefully, arrogantly, and unfathomably stupid of the plight of anyone and anything other than their own self-interest.

Each day new members are added to this "Marie Antionette Rogue's Gallery". On the public side examples abound - auto execs flying corporate jets to DC to ask for a handout; Merrill-Lynch rushing through $18 billion in bonuses (the firm lost $34 billion for the bonus year) just before begging for a bailout; AIG, after receiving bailout funds, hosting a $400K junket to a 4-star golf resort and spa; Merrill-Lynch CEO spending $1.2 million to redecorate his office; CitiGroup ordering a $50 million corporate jet (since canceled after the news got out); Bernie Madoff, the $50 billion Ponzi man, under house arrest at his $7 million NY apartment where he attempted to send $1 million in jewelry and $173 million in checks to friends and family.

On the political front, more examples of the self-entitled - Louisiana Congressman caught in a sting with $100K in his freezer; the impeached Governor of Illinois wanting to sell the vacant seat of President Obama to benefit himself and his wife in rather vivid and vulgar taped conversations; the former senior Senator from Alaska indicted for having undeclared renovations done to his home, and on and on and on.

Marie Antionette didn't get it and it seems neither have the entrenched self-entitled. President Obama ran on a platform of bringing hope and change to America - "Yes We Can".

It is now time to change aspiration for change to action - embracing "Yes We Will" both in the public and private corridors of power. If not, voters, shareholders and consumers will storm the Bastille and demand for their heads.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

People Should Have Warning Labels!

It Would Make Business So Much Easier For All Of Us

By David Miranda

It's high time that everyone in the business world (and maybe the personal world as well) had warning labels. It would save a lot of time and frustration.

For example, I was held hostage in a recent marketing meeting by several attendees who, if they had warning labels, I could have been better prepared.

There was one male participant at the meeting whose warning label should have been "I like to hear myself talk and I seldom, if ever, get to the point." One of his colleague's label should have been "I ask a lot of dumb questions demonstrating I have little grasp of the subject we are discussing." Another's should have been "I have no opinions of my own". And finally, the person who wasted the most time's label should have been "I create long and boring powerpoint presentations designed to show how smart I am and how dumb I think you are."

These labels would go far in making meetings (and business) more productive. Imagine how great it would be if these labels were noted next to each person's name on the agenda.

How about a label on the supposed "decision maker" at the meeting that says "I know I am supposed to be a decision maker, but actually I cannot make decisions."? Or another for a boss that says "I encourage my people to be innovative, but I really prefer the status quo".

Now let's all get out those label makers!

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Contact Us" On Web Sites Really Means "Please Don't"

If You Really Mean It, Post Your Personal Email Address And Answer Your Phones.

By David Miranda

Every web site has the obiligatory "Contact Us" on the "nav bar" and corporate telephone numbers, but don't really mean it.

It really means "send an email to a generic email account that one or more people have access to and one of these people may get back to you or you may get a programmed response like 'Thank you for your email. We appreciate your feedback. Someone will be back to you within the next 24 to 48 hours.' "

The telephone version is the 1-800 number, as in,

"Thank you for calling, X Company, press 'one' for English or 'two for Spanish'."

"Thank you".

"For billing, press 'one'. To open a new account, press 'two'. To cancel an account, press 'three'. For all other requests, press 'four'.

"Thank you".

"Your call is important to us. We are experiencing an unusual level of call volume. Please stay on the line for the next available operator."


"Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available operator"

More music.

"Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available operator"

Recommendation: "Contact us" should mean "we really mean it". Put real people's email addresses on web sites and have real people answer the phone. If real people can't, then have the call go to a recording - and not vice versa.

If people at the company are too busy to respond to existing or potential customers via email or phone, what the hell are they too busy doing?

If you can't personally respond to emails or have humans answer the phone, change "Contact Us" to "Just buy our stuff and leave us alone".

"Contact me" with your comments.