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Mistake #2: Has anyone seen Harold Hill?

Posted on July 21, 2010 by

This is the second of a series on Mistakes Countries Make and How They Can Get It Right.

So you don’t know who Harold Hill is?  You should.  He’s the fictional con man who in the Broadway musical and later movie, The Music Man, poses as a boys’ band organizer and leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to naive townsfolk before skipping town with the cash.  He’s a part of American folklore and culture.  He’s the classic American dreamer.

If you don’t know the U.S. well, here’s the problem:  The U.S. is a society of individualists.  We’re people who say we can do anything.  In fact, a client from Romania wrote me today, “When I was in NY I was impressed by the can-do attitude of the people, you could feel it in the streets. What is going on now is revealing me another side of US. I can imagine it’s a big country, but we need to work only with people with a can-do attitude.”  The difficulty is that as he noted, everybody shows a “can-do” attitude.  We see it in politics, business, culture and social circles.  It’s part of our unique American DNA.  It’s our greatest strength and weakness at the same time.

A South African client tells of buying an event sponsorship with the promise that his buyers will be there only to find the attendees had no interest in his business at all but were only looking for a free party.  A Spanish client came close to spending several hundred thousand dollars on a sister-city promotion until we informed him that the city he had in mind already had more than 20 sister cities and that the designation is of little significance here, even though he had been told otherwise.

The Harold Hills are plentiful and there are five things to know when being presented with the “the most incredible marketing idea ever.”

  1. Due Diligence is required. Ask for references and call them.  Find out if the promise was fulfilled in the past.
  2. Don’t get fooled by big names. Big isn’t always better.  The reasoning goes, if they’re big they must be good and if their name is well known, no one will criticize your decision.  But big companies have to feed their machine and will often charge more than they’re worth.  Foreign suppliers and trade officials can be easy prey because they often think the big U.S. companies can’t be wrong.  How would they get so big otherwise?
  3. Don’t take things at face value. Dig deeper.  Ask “how”, “why” and “how do you know” when assertions are made.  If you don’t get answers that make sense, don’t buy in.
  4. Look for tactical neutrality. You should expect an advertising agency to tell you that the answer to your problems is more advertising, a social networking firm to say social media will solve your problems and so on.  It’s how they make money.  They may have a good point but chances are they only provide part of the answer.  We live in an integrated world where people no longer think in linear ways, but make their buying decisions in a relational way.  That means you’ll need a tactical program mix, all pursuing the same strategy.  A good marketing service provider is going to think about your goals and recommend the best mix to reach the business objective.
  5. Stick to your strategy. Make sure you have a market-based strategy but then adhere to the discipline that your strategy provides.  If an idea is off-strategy, say “no”.  And if it turns out that it was a good opportunity, you can know that others will come along soon.  We live in a dynamic market.

The American dreamer is out there.  He may make you rich or break your bank.  The five steps above will tell you which.  Finally, if you’ve never seen The Music Man, rent the movie.  It will tell you a lot about what makes us a country of dreamers.


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