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Posts tagged with Creativity

The way slogans should be

Posted on May 15, 2014 by 1 Comment

WayLifeThere’s a great article today by Gail Collins in the NY Times (My State’s Prettier Than Yours) in which she tries to understand the promotional slogans of our 50 states.  Give up Gail.  It’s incomprehensible.  State and country slogans have always been a pet peeve of mine because they usually don’t relate to anything distinct or different about the state.  Collins gives plenty of examples.  They’re usually a result of the excesses of bad advertising agencies or over zealous economic development and tourism teams.

There’s a list of state slogans at Wikipedia (List of U.S. state slogans) and 105 country tourism slogans at a blog called Tourist vs. Traveller (105 tourism slogans from around the world) along with a nice little video to show them all with their logos (which a lot of tourism development folks think is a brand, but that’s another topic entirely).  Collins covers the states pretty well so I’ll focus on some of my favorite country slogans.

Did you know Albania is “A new Mediterranean love”?  And all this time, I thought it was a mysterious country that supplies pizza parlor chefs to New York restaurants.  Austria is “Arrive and revive”.  I’m sorry. I don’t know what that means, particularly since I’ll have jet lag for a day or two once I arrive.  Here’s one I like:  Belarus is “Hospitality beyond borders.”  Does that mean I have to leave the country for hospitality?  One of my favorites is Romania because I’ve been there twice:  “Explore the Carpathian garden.”  Now, I never saw the Carpathians on either of my trips (hint:  it’s a mountain range), but I suspect that slogan will mean a lot to the winner of any national geography bee.

You have to read the list yourself.  It’s full of surprises.  (Actually, I think that’s Connecticut’s slogan.)  You can travel from Pure Russia to 100% Pure New Zealand in a few lines.  (Maybe Russia only got to 90% so they didn’t want to tell us how pure they are.)  “Bolivia awaits you”, which is nice to know since I probably won’t make it there for a few years.  The “Dominican Republic has it all” so don’t confuse that with “Honduras, todo esta aqui.”  They have it all too but only in Spanish.  I also like “Paraguay, You have to feel it!”.  I’ve been there too and I suppose they’re talking about their vicious mosquitoes.

Τhe amazing thing about all of these slogans for states and countries (cities have them too; don’t get me started) is that they say absolutely nothing about the country, its culture and what makes it distinct and different.  Years ago, states had mottos or nicknames that said something about them and often appeared on auto license plates.  Alabama was “The Cotton State”, Florida was “The Everglade State”; Georgia – “The Peach State”; Hawaii – “The Aloha State”; Michigan – “Winter Water Wonderland” and so on.  Washington D.C. was “Nation’s Capital”, which tells me a lot and that no other state can say.  Now, it’s become “The American Experience”, which is ironic since it’s never been a place that Sarah Palin went looking for her “real Americans”.  As a child, I always loved the slogans on license plates and could recite a lot of them.  They told me something different about each state and I wanted to visit them all.  Now they all blend into a meaningless hodgepodge that I bet nobody but each state’s tourism employees can recite.  It’s bad for the state or country, self-aggrandizing and simply poor communication.

I used to live in Maine and often drive there for long weekends.  We have a house there and a car with Maine plates that says “Vacationland”.  I like that, although I also like that it’s been called “The Pine Tree State.”  Sure, there are pine trees in other states but drive into Maine and you’ll think there must be more of them there than anyplace else and it does give you a picture.  For many years, they had a slogan on a sign when you enter the state, “The way life should be.”  Yes, it’s another one of those silly slogans but I have to admit that as someone who lived there for 25 years, seeing that sign always made me feel like I was home.  It meant a way of life to me and I hoped for others visiting for the first time.

40937319A few years ago, they added another sign about a 100 feet further down the road that read, “Worth a visit, worth a lifetime”, which signaled to me that they hired a new ad agency that wanted to establish its own brand of creativity.  Then, a year or so ago, they plastered “Open for business” underneath “The way life should be.”  I suppose it’s nice that the state is trying but did anyone check to see that Forbes put Maine last in its best for business rankings?

OpenForBizAt its core, this is all about determining what a state or country’s marketing strategy is because slogans, if they have any purpose at all, should tell us why that place is worth our patronage for business, tourism or simply, aspirations. Anyone who pays attention to strategy knows that it must tell us why the product is both distinct and different from any other, and if that strategy is not true to what’s being delivered, it is totally meaningless.  Slogans, however, have become a tactic conjured up by advertising or public relations agencies without a thought to strategy and that’s why they are incomprehensible and instantly forgettable.

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The challenges of Christmas

Posted on December 20, 2013 by 2 Comments

Everybody knows Christmas can be a challenging time.  Gifts, parties, family, travel, decorations, cards all can present vexing problems to solve every year.  For me, an appropriate card is probably the toughest thing I face.  Every year, my friend George and I develop a cartoon to use as our card and it’s not easy.

You see on the side, we’re cartoonists or I should say a cartoon team.  George draws and I write except when he draws and write or I change his drawings with photoshop and write or he draws and his wife writes or my wife and kids make suggestions.  But however it’s done, we come up with a collaborative effort every year that goes on our website GigundoIndustries.com

No doubt you’ve heard of Gigundo Industries, the largest, non-existent, virtual company in the world.  If not, you better visit the website as soon as possible for there are hundreds of cartoons there for you to peruse and even buy.

In a way, creating cartoons is similar to writing strategy.  You take a complex set of facts and distill them down into something simple that cuts through the clutter.  Only with cartoons, you place that simple statement in an unusual setting such as a psychiatrist’s office, caveman times, a prison, the North Pole or Santa’s workshop.

There was so much news this year that was fodder for our a year-end card.  Off course, most prominent and recent in our minds was the malfunctioning of healthcare.gov and that led to an idea that really didn’t require any drawing at all.

ChristmasGov

But we quickly nixed that idea because who could possibly make jokes about their government failing at something, let alone Santa?  I mean nobody wants the government to fail. Right? Yeah, right.

So then we moved on to the saga and embarrassment of Edward Snowden and the NSA snooping and came up with this:

Snow_Done

But not exactly an uplifting story and we were looking for something more upbeat.  So we moved on to a couple of positive stories.  First, the extraordinary first-ever resignation of a Pope got us wondering if that could ever happen to Santa.

Dual Santas

Then came the idea that the battle for gay marriage might even have reached the North Pole.  (No, this is not for you people at Fox News who think gay marriage may as well allow us to marry a goat.  Who’d marry a goat anyway?)

Bucks

We just weren’t satisfied yet and then read the news that “Selfie” was the word of the year and would enter the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary.  Santa can get in on that too.

Selfie

Finally, we hit upon it, an idea that would really take us into the future but have that bit of mixed message that might cause us to wonder whether things are as they should be.  2013 also became the year of the drone, for both reasons that frighten us and, thanks to Amazon.com, frighten us.  Just think if Santa employed some new technology.

Amazon

That’s our holiday collection for 2013.  They’ll all go up on our site at GigundoIndustries.com soon.  Let me know which you like best.  Now, it’s back to my day job.  Everyone at Futureshift and GigundoIndustries.com wishes you the best of Christmas holidays and a great 2014.

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Where does good strategy begin?

Posted on November 11, 2013 by 1 Comment

There’s always a rush these days to get plans into action.  Action is what we value, just as we’re always looking for someone who “can hit the ground running”.  But what if they’re running in the wrong direction?  And how do you know in which direction to run?

The answer to that mistakenly comes in businesses doing what they’ve always been doing and whenever possible just running faster.  In the accelerated competitive environment of New York City, we’ve become accustomed to stores, restaurants, professional services and even hospitals suddenly disappearing.  These businesses failed even though they worked harder and ran faster than anyone around them.  Why did they fail?

Most likely, they never asked their customers whether the direction they were going, the products and services they were offering or the benefits they perceived internally met customer needs.  It’s the rare manager or entrepreneur who can intuit what the market is looking for.  Otherwise, there would be a lot more people like Steve Jobs around.  Businesses have to get feedback from their customers and understand how to match their offerings with what customers are seeking.

Not surprisingly, customers often see product plusses and minuses in completely different terms than the companies selling them.  The best advertising campaign in the world won’t convince customers that they should be seeking something different.  We’re just not in that linear world of the 1950s and 60s when we could be told what detergents make our clothing cleaner and then march in lockstep to the store to buy them.

Of course, businesses don’t always listen to their customers because internal beliefs are so strong as to refuse to change their strategy to meet customer needs.  Here are three examples to consider:

  1. Several years ago, we were asked by the Chilean Pisco industry to provide a strategy that would open up the U.S. market for them.  If you don’t know Pisco, it’s an eau de vie, somewhat like a refined grappa, that’s made in Chile and Peru.  Our research found that bartenders believed it made most vodka-based cocktails more interesting and one of our key strategic recommendations (futureshiftpisco.com) was to unleash the creativity of bartenders with a series of tactical programs that would challenge them to develop great Pisco-based cocktails that their customers would love. But Chile is a country where perfection in planning is highly valued and established.  That works when building bridges, tunnels and skyscrapers, of which you’ll see many in Santiago these days but not when variable decisions are involved as with bartenders and their customers.  The Chilean Pisco industry decided to design several “perfect cocktails” that they could then promote in the U.S.  The result?  Peruvian producers who gained a better understanding of the U.S. bartender now dominate the market.  There’s still time for Chile to adapt as Pisco still is not well known in the U.S.   They simply have to acknowledge that their customers have more power than they do.  Easy, right? Ad campaign #1
  2. While we’re on Chile, let’s move to technology.  This time the Chilean technology industry told us they wanted to sell their growing tech industry to U.S. companies.  Chile had already achieved tremendous success in establishing itself as a successful place to locate an offshore tech center.  Now, they wanted to have a presence inside the U.S. to provide SaaS and enterprise integration products. Again, we spoke to prospective customers for these talented Chilean companies and were told that if they could establish partnerships with Chilean companies in Latin America, a piece of their U.S. business would likely follow.  (FutureshiftChileIT.com)In other words, help us in your territory and then we’ll reward you in ours.  U.S. companies wanted to understand the Chilean miracle and how it had become an export powerhouse. But just as with Pisco, the forces that worked internally in Chile were too strong to persuade them to adopt a market-oriented strategy in the U.S.  Six Chilean IT companies came to the U.S. trying to sell their services based on low prices.  But why go to a company thousands of miles just for low prices when that can be found down the road?  Today, there is only a small amount of programming work going to Chilean companies, as talented as they are. Ad campaign #2
  3. Most recently, we conducted a research and strategy project for the Maine lobster industry.  Following 200+ interviews, there were a number of findings in that report that showed how Maine lobster possesses attributes to restaurant and hotel chefs that were not being considered within the industry.  There is ample opportunity for the Maine industry to differentiate its brand from all competitors.  However, lobstering is a traditional industry and change does not come easily.  Like the two Chilean examples, internal beliefs in Maine are strong.  Most lobstermen are focused on their first transaction with a dealer when they bring their catch to the dock.  The needs of restaurant and hotel chefs can be perceived as a distant concept and there is little patience for the time it takes to raise the foodservice market’s demand.  The local dealer and summer tourist who loves to sit at the water’s edge, even though they both pay rock bottom price, is more concrete.  It’s been that way for more than a hundred years so change, despite market feedback, isn’t easy.  There’s cause to remain optimistic but it remains to be seen whether Maine’s lobster industry adapts.

In each of the above cases, the right strategy began with listening to customers.  That helped set a direction for the industry to go.  But at that point, industry members often put up obstacles to change.  After all, it’s far more difficult to do something new than the things you’ve been doing for dozens of years, even though they may not be working.

FutureShift develops brands and rebranding programs by understanding how customer decisions can increase engagement and loyalty.

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A difficult year to create a holiday cartoon

Posted on December 20, 2012 by 1 Comment

As many of my friends and associates know, I create a holiday cartoon every year with my good friend and former business partner, George Hughes.  This is the twelfth year that we’ve created a cartoon as the centerpiece of our holiday card.  George and I used to own an advertising agency together and we began to create cartoons there as one of the agency’s creative teams.  Now, as owner of my strategy consultancy, Futureshift, and George, who has gone onto wherever old artists go, continue to take on this annual project.

George illustrates and I write, although our best work has always come from equal collaborations.  When I moved to New York in 2000, through a series of coincidences, the famous cartoonist, Jules Feiffer, saw a few of our cartoons, liked them and sent me to The New Yorker to meet with their cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff.  When I called Mankoff, I used Feiffer’s name, which I’m sure is the only reason he took my call.  He told me to come in the following Tuesday and bring a lot of work.

I showed up at the appointed time with around a hundred cartoons.  Mankoff went through about 30 of them, never cracked a smile, told me most of them were terrible and before I could run to the door, said, “Show up every Tuesday with new work.”  That’s the way of the The New Yorker, I suppose.

For the next six months, I showed up every Tuesday with 7 to 10 new cartoons.  However, being a cartoonist wasn’t my day job nor was it George’s.  Mankoff always would tell me how we weren’t funny or our jokes didn’t work and then he’d hold onto a couple to take into their final grouping of 50 to choose from for that week’s issue.  Our problem, he lectured me one week, is that we were a team and he didn’t like the idea of teams.  After a few months, he began to support our work more but eventually, we ran out of steam in the face of having other priorities.  Maybe he was right about teams.

We didn’t view it as failure but as a call to take a different, more relaxed approach to cartooning and so we formed Gigundo Industries, the world’s largest, non-existent, virtual company, which is a subsidiary of an even larger, non-existent, virtual company called Enormco.  You can visit the websites for either company at gigundoindustries.com or enormco.com and there you’ll find dozens of cartoons to look at and even buy for your presentations, brochures, etc.  (A little crass commercialism doesn’t hurt now and then.)

The process of coming up with a good cartoon is not all that different from developing a marketing strategy.  Strategy formation requires taking a complex set of both internal and external inputs and distilling them down to a single direction that fulfills unmet needs.  Cartooning does the same but it ends with turning the situation upside down or placing it in a prison, doctor’s office, caveman times or some other real or unreal situation we can all envision.

Today, George and I come up with fewer cartoons but we always work on one for the holidays.  Typically, we talk about the year’s news and try to work up ideas based on what people have been talking about that is still current or top-of-mind.  Some years have been a lot tougher than others.  I think the most difficult year for us was 2001 following 9/11.  It was impossible to come up with an idea that would be funny or ironic.  I don’t recall now what triggered the idea of the cartoon below that was the result, but it seemed right for the times.  There was no caption.  There was nothing that needed to be said.

2002 was an extraordinarily tense year and you’ll recall the heightened security everywhere in New York and in other major cities around the world.  But at the same time, we began to laugh again and take ourselves a little less seriously.  That was the year we sent this cartoon out:

By 2004, the country was beginning to relax a bit more but still always conscious of our enemies around the world.  Santa, too, we thought, would have similar concerns and we came up with this.

By 2009, we felt we could move on to other topics and that was a year filled with the lunacy of the tabloids, or is that every year?  We decided that even Santa couldn’t be immune from tabloid scandal and this cartoon resulted:

We’ve moved around to a lot of different topics including the economy, labor, health and nutrition and last year, focused on the 1% who have become so wealthy during the last decade, even Santa.  All of our Christmas cartoons can be seen at the Gigundo Industries website and that brings me to 2012.

This has been a year in which we had a nasty and competitive Republican nomination race, a tough presidential campaign, the debt ceiling negotiations, President Obama’s re-election, the fiscal cliff and this past week, the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, CT of 20 young school children.  There simply is nothing but shock, dismay and sadness that can be expressed about losing these beautiful children and six of their teachers in such an awful incident.  The murders have been followed by outrage and arguing between defenders of gun rights and advocates of gun control.  While the majority of voices seem to be on the side of doing something about the seemingly endless stockade of automatic weapons in this country, we again seem so polarized in every societal issue that comes before us.  Where is there humor in that?  It’s hard to find but when you think about Santa’s world, you have to wonder how our times are affecting him.  Is his world as polarized as ours?  Of course, we’d like to think not, but then Santa has to decide whether we’ve been naughty or nice and you have to admit this has not been an easy year for him to make that decision.  That idea set our minds to wondering…and we came up with this for our 2012 holiday cartoon:

What else is there to say?  We’ll all find out on Christmas how Santa decided.  I hope that you and your families have a day filled with love, peace and joy.

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Free as a bird? That’s the idea.

Posted on December 7, 2012 by 1 Comment

In today’s NY Times, Anyone who liked swings as a child — and that should include quite a few of us — will probably feel a surprisingly visceral attraction to Ann Hamilton’s installation “the event of a thread” at the Park Avenue Armory.” The installation is open until Jan. 5th.  If you’re in New York, go there.  Don’t plan on any great revelation about art, creativity or the world at large.  Just ride a swing for an hour.

It’s odd having giant swings in a coliseum-like building that are connected to a large opaque curtain and other swings across the way.  I suppose the “event of a thread” is intended to remind us of the connections between us regardless of whether we’re near or far.  I’m sure there’s a deeper meaning here.  After all, the exhibit also includes homing pigeons caged and ready to fly about, dozens of radios in paper bags scattered around, two readers of poems at either end of the room and an operatic singer who comes out onto a balcony every hour to sing something incomprehensible.

Who knows what it all means?  The artist, probably, artsy types, perhaps.  But it doesn’t really matter.  The scene in the middle of the city is surreal and riding a swing is as freeing as being out on a sailboat or skiing down a mountain.  The objective as kids was always to swing as high as possible or get a friend to push you higher and while making that you’re goal, you tune out all the stress of the day, all the unimportant emails, tweets, blog posts and phone calls and just focus on getting that swing to go higher and higher.

Some people stand on the sides seeming to wonder if they should drop all pretense and try the swings.  Others sit tentatively, moving slowly at first before gaining the courage or losing their self-awareness to move their swing faster.  It’s a great way to observe human behavior when presented with something unexpected.  And then there are those of us who jump right on and want to get themselves airborne.  That’s me, and it was great to feel free as a bird, however, short it lasted.

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10 ways to make your customer database work harder

Posted on September 18, 2012 by 2 Comments

It has become a standard part of every organization’s marketing plan to have a database of customer emails.  Millions of companies and institutions are sending out email newsletters, promotions and solicitations everyday, both for consumers and the trade.  You’re probably receiving many of them yourself and if you’re anything like me, you probably delete all but a few as soon as you see them land in your email box.  More often than not, these are emails from companies you know or may even have requested information from.  The others end up in your junk folder.

About 20% of these emails get opened but a much lower number are actually read — click through rates are about 5%.  Another way of saying that is 80% of these emails are never opened and 95% are never read.  When you think of it that way, you have to ask how you can improve?

At Futureshift, we have a different approach on how to make databases work harder and we put them to work for our clients.  Here are 10 tips for improving your database performance:

1.  Have a database strategy.

Think of it this way:  Would you advertise without an objective, creative strategy and message?  Database marketing is no different.  What do you want your database to do for you?  Who do you want to reach?  What do you know about them that tells you what they want to hear from you?  Do they all want to hear the same thing or should you segment them by interest or need and address them accordingly?  Think these things through and write a strategy that keeps your database use focused, disciplined and integrates it with your other marketing programs.  Otherwise, say hello to junk folders.

2.  Think of your database as a community.

If you think about databases as numbers of files and demographic fields, you’re working with an outdated framework.  Imagine that you’re the mayor of a town and each member of your database is a resident.  They live in separate areas that may have demographic and psychographic markers but more importantly, they have different needs.  Some areas may want better schools, some more security or different zoning.  Databases are no different.  They can be grouped by needs and then you can address your database members with just the information that they’re looking for.

3.  Don’t buy.  Build!

You can build your database more quickly by buying names from list brokers.  You also can alienate a lot of potential customers and get labeled as spam.  It’s better to build one by one, if necessary, even if you’re starting at zero.  There are a number of techniques that can raise awareness of your company and you’ll add prospective customers who actually are interested in learning more.  For one of our clients, we began at zero several years ago and now have 8,000 members of their trade and nearly 100,000 loyal consumers signed up.  Click-through and open rates are higher than industry averages and unsubscribes are lower.  The reason is that people want to be there.

4.  One size does not fit all

Perhaps the biggest mistake companies make with the information they send to their database members is that they send the same information to everyone.  That’s a fast way to increasing the number of unsubscribes.  People want information that pertains to their needs.  Email is similar to advertising in that you have only a few seconds to attract the reader’s attention.  It’s a quick trip to the delete key.  A singular approach, whether in e-newsletters, promotions or other announcements will speak to only one group.  Over the years, the amount of competition and market clutter has fragmented both trade and consumer markets.  You can think of it like cable TV.  We now have access to more than 1,000 channels with most focused on a specific area of programming to meet specific viewer needs (history, cooking, discovery, shopping, etc.) When programming doesn’t address needs, people change the channel…or they hit the delete key.

5. If you can only know one thing about your customers, know their frustrations.

A frustration is simply an unmet need.  If you can fulfill unmet needs, you’ll have a customer.  How do you learn what frustrates people about your product?  Ask.  Your first email to a prospective database member should be to ask questions about their frustrations and needs.  There are some easy ways to use either closed- or open-ended questions to do this.  Once you understand unmet needs, you’ll see that people can be moved into needs-based segments.  You’ll also learn that many of the demographic and psychographic markers you used to use are really not an accurate guide to predicting what customers and non-customers want to know.

6. Your job is to listen, not tell.

Most databases are used to broadcast information about companies and products, and the goal of most database acquisition programs is to build quantity rather than quality. The conventional wisdom goes that since conversion percentages run so low, you’ll need larger and larger databases so that very small number of customers will continue to grow.  But at the same time, you’re making yourself vulnerable to a competitor who is better at building database size than you and has more resources to offer incentives.  The old adage that it’s better to talk to people not at them is true with database marketing too.  Ask questions, find out what people need, and what they really want to hear from you.  We often ask “What is it about this product that companies tell you that is of no use to you?” and “What would you like to know that nobody has asked you in the past?”

7. Tell them what you heard.

Whether trade or consumer, the first question people ask is “What do other people like me think?”  B2B customers want to know how their peers are dealing with the same issues they have.  Consumers want to know how others, just like them, solved the same problems or used certain products.  This is why early chat rooms were immediately successful and led to the growth of social media.  After you ask your customers about their needs, report back to them on what you learned.  This says that you listened to them and that you have an understanding of who they are, how they are distinct and what they share with others like them.  It pays off.

8. Involvement = Loyalty

This is the payoff.  Build by asking, then listen, acknowledge and then ask again.  Stop giving a monologue to your customers and build a dialogue with them.  Do this enough and you’ll be able to get them to help you add qualified people to your database through friends and family or associates programs, join advisory boards or participate in regular feedback panels.  Over time, you can turn them into your brand ambassadors and expand your marketing reach.  Isn’t this the real goal of marketing?

Two other commonly misunderstood caveats need to be kept in mind:

9. Facebook likes are not a customer database.

Social media has its uses.  It’s a like a TV channel that goes out to the masses.  It can be great for raising awareness but it does not acquire an audience that you can always reach nor does it help you segment customer needs.  Social media is like shooting a shotgun and hoping you’ll hit your target.  They’re out there but you don’t know where they are nor when they’re paying attention to you.  Database marketing is a completely different marketing tactic and one is not a substitution for the other.

10. Using successive emails to qualify people.

Many companies capture emails from people who visit their websites.  Then they begin a series of successive emails and key future marketing based on which email garners a response.  However, it doesn’t work that way because customers don’t give you that many chances.  Keep in mind the environment in which your email is one of dozens or even hundreds your customers or prospects receive each day.  Your first email has to give them a reason to respond.  Draw them into a dialogue and then you can qualify them along the way.

Follow these ten tips and you’ll improve the performance of your database.  More importantly, you’ll get closer to your customers and create relationships that generate sales and referrals.  While I’m advocating asking a lot of questions of your database members, note that I didn’t mention market research once.   Market research will tell you what people think at a point in time and that information can be a good evaluative mechanism.  But this is about having a conversation and using some digital tools to allow you to engage your customers in very large numbers.  While we have our own proprietary tools for increasing customer involvement and loyalty, we can also help you do it on your own.  The important point is to stop looking at database marketing as a linear process and see it as a relational part of your marketing program.

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Marketing Mistake #6: False Assumptions

Posted on March 20, 2012 by Leave a comment

This is the sixth in a series on Mistakes Countries Make and How They Can Get It Right

We just began work for a client in our 18th country.  While that’s only 7% of all the countries in the world, they add up to over 30% of the top 50 countries in GDP.  That’s not a bad sample from which to draw some conclusions about foreign businesses that are marketing products in the U.S.  We’ve noticed a number of mistakes and major assumptions that seem to be common among all of the countries that our clients have come from.

One I’ve increasingly noticed is the assumption that Americans are waiting for foreign products with bated breath.

It’s always struck me as unusual that foreign marketers often think that just their presence in this country will create demand.  Yet, I’ve been stymied for an explanation as to why this is the case.  I think I’ve finally hit on it.

For decades, people in foreign countries have looked up at the U.S. as the bastion of top brands, particularly among consumers.  American brands have become a badge for people to show that they travel and have sophisticated and Western tastes.  This says nothing about whether they like the U.S. or about their sentiments on American government policies or even whether, more recently, the glow of American brands is wearing off.  It’s history.

From the time of the Cold War when a pair of Levis could buy you a hotel and meal in Russia to today when Nike shoes can be found on the feet of people in countries around the world, Coca-Cola at their tables and McDonalds around every corner, American brands have had a pretty good track record of coming into a foreign country and quickly generating sales.  True, there have been monumental mistakes like GM trying to sell the Chevy Nova in Latin America, but for the most part, U.S. brands have meant sales.

So, it might stand to reason to someone from outside the U.S. to ask if they buy our brands just because we’re there, won’t we buy their’s just because they’re here?  Foreign marketers often miss two key facts about the U.S. that can cause their sales efforts to fail:

1.  We’re internally focused.

The U.S. is a big country, no secret there (take a look at the maps in an earlier post, “Mistake #5:  Size Matters”) The point is that most Americans don’t think about the rest of the world.  With the exception of only two countries, Canada and Mexico, we don’t have countries next to us, just more Americans.  Many Americans don’t read the newspaper or watch the news on TV and if they do, it is often likely to be local news or something specific to their interest or vocation.  Products from countries like Chile, South Africa, Greece, Vietnam, even those that are successful,  just don’t have top-of-mind awareness here.  (A rude awakening has been coming to many American companies as they find American cachet diminishing, which means more hard work for us to sell abroad.)

A by-product of internal focus is the notion of “American exceptionalism”.  Personally, I find this to be both arrogant and naïve on the part of Americans but it has been aggressively promulgated by one of our political parties, and is associated with blind religious faith that promotes a strong belief that God has chosen America to lead the world.  What many Americans forget is that Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” as a musical prayer to God to please bless us and this has been turned around so that many people believe it to imply that God does bless America at the exclusion of others.

The U.S. State Department recently announced that more than one-third of Americans now hold a passport.  Approximately two-thirds of those have traveled abroad.  Whichever number you pick, it means that the vast majority of Americans have never been out of this country.  Many of them operate on old beliefs about life elsewhere and simply don’t know how strong the middle class is and how good life can be in other countries.  Many of the cheerleaders for American exceptionalism condemn “European socialism” in the same sentence without noting that most Europeans pay far less for health care and education and take more vacation time off from work.

2.  We’re less well educated

This is closely related to point number one but consider these facts:

  • The U.S. ranks 33rd in student reading performance; 27th in math; and, 22nd in science. (OECD Education at a Glance, 2009)
  • The ratio of teachers to students in the U.S. is just below average in pre-primary education when compared to other developed countries; also just below average in post-high school education.  We do rank slightly above average at the lower and secondary education levels. (OECD, 2005)
  • We rank 9th in national IQ scores but 21 other countries including Mongolia, Estonia and Poland.  (We can take pride in tying Latvia and just narrowly beating out Belarus, Malta and the Ukraine.) (Lynn/VAnhanen Study)
  • The U.S. ranks 27th in gender equality, a key sign of both education and modernity. (WEF, 2008)
  • In the recent WEF 2011/2012 rankings, the U.S. finds itself 13th in higher education and training, 20th in technological readiness, 10th in business sophistication, and 26th in overall education,
  • We rank 12th in overall human development (UN Development Program, 2008)

I’ll never forget walking into a neighborhood restaurant in the town of An Giang, Vietnam, near the border of Cambodia, truly a different world, and seeing about 15 patrons riveted to the TV over the bar as they watched clips from the PBS Nightly News hour and then debated an interview with Donald Rumsfeld that they just saw.  Can you imagine the reverse in a similar scene in the U.S.?  Not likely.  It’s a generalization but foreigners tend to know more about the world and even about the U.S. than Americans do.

A Norwegian pharmaceutical executive told me a story about looking for a U.S. marketing partner.  While driving along the Delaware River near Trenton, New Jersey, he asked his prospective partner, “Isn’t this near where Washington made his famous crossing?” to which the chief marketing officer replied, “I don’t know.  I don’t follow that stuff.”  The Norwegian decided that if the man didn’t know the history of his own country that he didn’t want him as a business partner.

So what does this mean for foreign marketers wanting to enter the U.S. and expand their market?

First, don’t assume we know anything about you or your products.  Despite our flaws, we live in the most competitive market in the world and largest developed market.  You’ll need to educate us and that will take some time.

Second, there are so many competing products in the U.S., both domestic and foreign, that the quality of your products often matters less than the relationships you build with us.  We always say, “all things being equal, we’d rather do business with friends.”  Become friends with us.  Develop relationships.  Become a part of our networks and communities and like the first, that doesn’t happen overnight.

Third, find ways to link your values and experiences with ours.  What do you have in common with us?  Do you play baseball or basketball?  Fine, so do we.  Talk about it and you’ll connect more often.  Are you troubled by high taxes, inconsistent investments or supporting the elderly?  These trouble us too.  Show us how we’re alike and we’ll be more accepting of you and your products.

Finally and most important, think strategically, not tactically.  You need a consistent direction here in order to break through the clutter and to be successful, it should be based on the unmet needs of the U.S. market, not your perceptions of who you think you are (if you’re not convinced, start from the beginning of this article again).  A strategy based on market needs will trump tactics every time.  A set of ad hoc tactics that are not integrated or tied to a strategy won’t cut it.

And if you’re confused about market needs, adapting or developing your strategy or what kind of tactics work, all you need to do is ask us.

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¿Como es su español?

Posted on July 26, 2011 by Leave a comment

How is your Spanish?  If it’s at reading comprehension level, you can read the article below about our recent work with the Pisco industry in Chile. Otherwise, you can go here and click on the English translation.   In another week, we’ll be sending out our own report of our work in Chile.  If you buy a bottle of Chilean Pisco, make a cocktail (as simple as Pisco, tonic, lemon or lime and a drop or two of bitters), it will be much more enjoyable.  If you’re not already on our list to receive this report (meaning that you participated in a market research survey about Pisco), send in an email and we’ll make sure you receive the link as soon as it’s published.  It will have some great information about the cocktail market.

Salud!

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Thinker outside the box

Posted on March 9, 2011 by Leave a comment

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the lack of creativity in business.  People are simply risk averse and don’t want to stick their necks out.  Is it the economy?  Our culture where you’re likely to be under attack for whatever view you espouse?  Or simply the age old CYA corporate mentality?  Tried and true seems to win out every time.  Better safe than sorry, as they say.

Advertising is but one example where creativity has declined.  I’ve now begun to put the TV on mute when I see that National Car Rental ad come on knowing I’m about to hear, “just like you business pro, just like you.”  I’m turned off by the Geico Gecko and if that once good actor, Michael McGlone, asks me one more time if it’s true that Geico could save me money, well…gag me with a spoon, as they say.

I used to teach an advertising course at a local university.  On the first night of class, I’d ask, “who saw, read or heard an ad today?”  The students would look incredulously at me thinking that I don’t know anything and, of course, every arm went up.

Then I’d ask, “What are the ads about?”

“Oh, there’s the one where the guy spills his beer all over the girl….”

And

“Have you seen the one where the girl is talking on her blue tooth but the guy across the room thinks she’s talking to him.”

“But, what’s the product?” I would always ask.

Silence.

Two problems with advertising today:  (1) the stories don’t connect to the product or brand strategy so we often remember the story but not the product; (2) they’re told to us over and over again, incessantly so that we do make a connection but end up hating the product.  Oftentimes in print ads, particularly in trade publications, there’s no strategic message nor is there a story.  For example, look through any trade publication for the alcoholic beverage business and you’ll find ads that show a bottle and make a statement like “Try the ultimate sipping rum.”  One of my favorites is a wine ad with a photo of the bottle and the headline, “It starts with an idea.”  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one.

Ad agencies use forms called “creative briefs” to avoid this problem because they force you to think in a way that makes a connection between the idea and the brand strategy.  But many of these ads are produced by agencies, so something isn’t working.  It’s why we pester our clients and their agencies to make a strategic connection in their ads.  Yes, it’s important to get outside the box but if you’re trying to sell something, please connect the story to your strategy.  Otherwise, don’t be surprised when prospective customers turn off the volume on their TV or their ears.

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If you read nothing else, read this

Posted on February 22, 2011 by Leave a comment

Yes, it’s been a two month hiatus, wiped out by the holidays and start of the new year, but we’re back in force.

Every so often, an article comes along that everyone should read.  Whether you’re in business, a blogger, twitterer or just find yourself hanging out on the Internet, some authors writing for The McKinsey Quarterly have come up with one you shouldn’t pass up.  I hesitate to tell you the title because I’m afraid it might it scare some of you off.  But let’s plunge in and I’ll explain why it’s important.  The article, “Clouds, big data, and smart assets:  Ten tech-enabled business trends to watch” sounds both techie and ominous but it’s really neither.

You can download it here and to make things simpler, I’ve highlighted the important parts, at least as I see them.  It’s written in McKinsey business speak but don’t let that intimidate you.  Of course, if your idea of fun is to skip the latest episode of 30 Rock or pass up The Daily Show and settle down with the Harvard Business Review, you’ll feel right at home (I speak with experience in this.)

The article is particularly important if you’re in the information technology business, but the trends that the authors cite are effecting all of us in both the way we go to work and the way we live.  It’s time to rethink your priorities, how you’re marketing, selling, or using technology to walk, run or keyboard your way through life.

It speaks to the importance of web-based communities and their pervasiveness in our work and home lives.  Yes, web-based communities can be about marketing to corporations and the latest episode of your favorite TV show to consumers, or the latest revolution abroad, but it also highlights the growth in co-creation and collaborative work and ideation that’s taking place.  Organizations, corporations and countries are expanding in their depth and breadth through cross-boundary networked organizations.

Small countries and corporations can rapidly become bigger than large ones by managing global knowledge and using communities to create, test and provide feedback.  Scaling up is no longer limited by your own resources.  Simply use those that belong to others but are waiting for you to stop by.  Innovation and creativity now and increasingly in the future are coming from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top.

This is a very thought provoking article that will get you asking whether you’re taking advantage of these trends or spending too much time watching “Jersey Shore.”

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