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Posts tagged with Customers

Strategy? Why do we need that?

Posted on November 21, 2013 by 10 Comments

I went to a wine event today in New York for the Bordeaux wine region.  While there, I asked the representative of one of the wineries, “What’s your strategy for the U.S.?”  She responded, “Strategy?  Why do we need that?”  I gave her some reasons but the conversation didn’t go very far.

When I returned to my office, I got an email from the Pew Research Center titled “Experts rank the top 10 global trends.”  When I clicked on the link, I found a report from the World Economic Forum on the 10 most important global trends based on a poll of 1,592 leaders from academia, business, government and non-profits.  Here’s the list:

  1. Rising societal tensions in the Middle East and North Africa
  2. Widening income disparities
  3. Persistent structural unemployment
  4. Intensifying cyber threats
  5. Inaction on climate change
  6. Diminishing confidence in economic policies
  7. A lack of values in leadership
  8. The expanding middle class in Asia
  9. The growing importance of megacities
  10. The rapid spread of misinformation

So what do these trends have to do with something as everyday as buying a bottle of wine?  Plenty.

It’s great that a provider of any product or service believes theirs is the best but neither consumers nor b2b markets think in linear terms.  Every decision is made in relation to another.  If I’m nervous about the state of the world, that will effect how I make decisions, and what and when I buy.  If I’m an importer or distributor and concerned about unemployment and the impact of economic policies, I may want to hedge my bets with tighter inventory control.  As people focus on the macro trends that affect us all, how companies approach the environment, social responsibility and their own governance (ESG) effects our perceptions of their brands.  It goes on and on whether you’re a consumer or corporation (remember, somebody once said, “Corporations are people, my friend.”)

If you don’t have a strategy that helps you wind your way through this maze or a brand with values that reassure consumers and customers, you’re dead in the water and it won’t matter how many fancy events, e-newsletters or facebook followers you have.

5year copy copySomething else was interesting to me at today’s Bordeaux event.  As I went around and asked people about their wines and what makes their winery better than the rest (to which there were a lot of blank stares), nobody asked any questions about me, about my tastes, concerns, or needs.  They may as well have been Enomatic wine dispensers with an information rack underneath.  Most handed me a sheet of paper about their wines in answer to my questions anyway.

There was neither strategy present nor any attempt at customer engagement.  I imagine the woman who asked me why her company needs strategy poured a lot of wine today.  At the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me if at the end of the day, she moaned about some of the trends on the list and how they were making life more complicated.  That’s too bad.  Strategy is the direction that helps us wind our way through and around those trends and we all give our loyalty to those that help us do that.

FutureShift asks a lot of questions and listens carefully so that brands and strategy resonate with customers to increase their engagement and loyalty.  It works.

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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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Dancing on Michael Porter’s grave

Posted on January 15, 2013 by 3 Comments

No, Michael Porter is not dead.  Only the consulting firm that he co-founded in 1983 is gone.  Today, the global accounting giant, Deloitte, announced that it had completed its acquisition of Monitor, which had filed for bankruptcy this past November.  As reported in The Economist last November 14th, the once proud firm, was able to compete with the likes of much bigger McKinsey, the Boston Consulting Group and Bain.”

No mention was made in the announcement of what role Porter might play in the newly formed division of Deloitte but he remains a highly regarded professor at the Harvard Business School.

Businesses come and go all the time and acquisitions are a daily occurrence.  What is of note here is that Monitor was founded by a man acclaimed as one of the great business strategists of the past century, and more importantly by his principles, best known as “Porter’s Five Forces”.  Under the guidance of the Five Forces framework and Porter’s fame, Monitor’s legions of consultants found millions of dollars of billable work among foreign governments, multi-national corporations and commodity boards.  That work began to dwindle in 2008 when Monitor had to seek a series of loans from its partners and venture capital firms in order to stay afloat.

In the November issue of Forbes, contributor and business author, Steve Denning, uses his rapier-like writing skills to tear apart both Monitor and the philosophical approach behind it.  In other words, he does some dancing on Porter’s grave.  While the article is now two months old, it makes for compelling reading if you were a believer or doubter of Porter’s framework.  Put me in the latter camp.

I first read Porter’s seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy” in 1979. I was one year out of business school and a loan officer in a commercial bank.  My mantra was a phrase coined by another business guru, Peter Drucker, and known as “Managing by walking around.”  The idea is that by engaging with people both inside and outside an organization, managers can best understand how their companies, products and management styles are perceived, how they perform and what to do about them.  That’s a simple concept that one could explain in an elevator between the first and second floors.

It served me well then and has since as I’ve made the practice of engaging with both internal and external audiences to find the intersection between internal capabilities and external needs as the place to find the sweet spot for successful strategy.

Porter’s Five Forces, on the other hand, require a much longer elevator ride. The idea is that by managing a framework of five market forces, a company or industry could find sustainable competitive advantage.  “The state of competition in an industry depends on five basic forces…The collective strength of these forces determines the ultimate profit potential of an industry.”


I can’t say I fully understood it in 1979 and I can pretty much say the same today.  I looked at the model then as I do now and ask, “Why is the competition at the center?  Why not the customer?” Drucker taught that the only valid purpose of a business is to create a customer.  Yet, here was Porter, saying that it’s all about dominating the competition.

I had a memorable meeting at Monitor’s Cambridge headquarters in the early nineties.  At the time, I was doing some consulting for the government of Chile on export promotion, inbound investment and tourism development.  Monitor had built up a practice in consulting in these areas and proposed a partnership.  I felt this might add some prestige to the project.  At our meeting, one of their senior consultants explained how they would apply the discipline of the Five Forces to the project.  He drew lots of squares and circles on the board labeling them various types of competitive clusters and argued that it was winning against competing countries, not customer perceptions that would win the day for Chile.

I left there confused and unconvinced that the focus should be on “competitive clusters” rather than matching what Chile offered with customer needs.  If you spend your time focusing on rivalries, you’re losing time creating more innovation to meet growing market demands and before you know it, your competition will be your problem.  As the famous baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, said,  “Don’t look back.  Something might be gaining on you.”

As Steve Denning notes about Monitor, “Its consultants were not people with deep experience in understanding what customers might want or what is involved in actually making things or delivering services in particular industries or how to innovate and create new value.”

Today, factors such as globalization, the Internet, and the growth of social media have heightened the importance of building strategy around customers.  Now that the world is flat, customers decide who wins in every industry and political arena.  As Denning ends his article, “Monitor was crushed by the single dominant force in today’s marketplace:  the customer.”

It’s hard to argue against the man who is one of the most cited scholars in economics and business and whose ideas are widely used by business and government leaders around the world.  But we are in a different time where the key is satisfying customer needs for innovation, whether they be in features, quality, service, or value.  Companies like Apple, Amazon, Fresh Direct, and Kayak are just a few of the examples of how our flattened world has given power to customers.

Our consulting approach is to put customers at the center and to understand their frustrations.  After all, a frustration is simply an unmet need.  Find the innovation to serve that need, erase the frustration and you’ll find a successful business — that’s a short speech in any elevator.

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3 social media/research enhancements you’ve never seen before

Posted on October 25, 2012 by 3 Comments

In the mad dash to build Facebook and LinkedIn communities, something has been missing.  Companies have been campaigning for as many Facebook “likes” as possible but now, they’re asking, “How do we know if our message is getting through?” and “Is there any way to tell whether (1) awareness is being raised; (2) brand loyalty is increasing; and, (3) social media is having an effect on sales?”

They’re good questions to ask and now there is a way to answer them.  With a simple link on your social media page, you can gather comments and get key strategic questions answered by your social media network.  With our DirectLink™ software, you can ask them questions about their understanding of your brand, unmet needs and the information they’d really like to have from you.  They can be open-ended questions that allow people to write as much as they want and then you can apply these three new tools:

1. See what they’re writing in real time – as they write it!

Now, you can actually monitor what your community is saying about you and how they’re answering your questions.  Take a look at the example below for one of our clients that is a wine producer.  The question asked is “Please describe the qualities that you find in our wines that differentiate them from other wines at any given price level.” With one click on the button on the upper right that says “Get Verbatims”, everything written in answer to that question immediately appears.

And if you want to see all of the text responses quantified, you simply close the verbatims screen and bar charts appear showing how all of the answers have been categorized.

In other words, we’re quantifying qualitative information – conversational text – and enabling you to see the actual words behind the data.  It’s like listening in to hundreds of conversations about all the questions you want answered about your brand.

2. See the key words they use while they’re using them.

When considering the key needs among your customers to address, it helps to know their top-of-mind thoughts.  Word clouds can provide a quick look at what any customer group is saying about your brand.  With one click on the “Word Cloud” button, you’ll see your word cloud develop before your eyes.

DirectLink™ automatically throws out the meaningless words such as articles, pronouns and other common words that might improperly skew the response.  Still, there will be words you’ll see in the word cloud that get through the screening process but don’t provide insights.  DirectLink™ enables you to quickly toss out those words.  For answers to the same question as above, “Please describe the qualities that you find in our wines that differentiate them from other wines at any given price level.”, we tossed out seven additional words to get the picture above.  It’s as easy as clicking on the words you don’t want and the word cloud quickly reforms.

With this feature, you see the top-of-mind thoughts your customers have and the descriptive words they use.  Every product or service creates its own lexicon of words that both the trade and consumers use.  Now, you can see what those are and use them to talk to your customers.

3. Segment your customers instantly and respond immediately.

A common reaction to seeing what people say about you is to think “if only I could talk directly to these people about their beliefs.  Then, I could convince them.” Now, you can!

To the same question above, we wondered if the media that follows the wine and spirits industry might have different topics on their minds.  So, we quickly selected only the media respondents, clicked on the Word Cloud button and this picture appeared: 

Whereas the top-of-mind words used by the larger audience were “food, fruit, price, friendly, oak, aging”, the media has prominently added “complex” and “smooth”.  If we were to speak about these wines to a journalist then, we might stress both the complexity and smoothness of the wines as being key factors that make them so good with food.  It’s this type of parsing that can enable you to tailor your response to any particular trade or consumer group based on factors that you define.

Now, let’s go a step further because DirectLink™ makes a seamless connection between survey responses and direct marketing.

Among the DirectLink™ features on the control panel, you’ll see that there is another button on the upper right that says “Get Emails”.  Clicking this button immediately downloads an email list of only those people who responded to the question or multiple-questions you selected.  You can send them an email using the words they’ve used in response to your question that is specific to their ideas, perceptions and beliefs.

Who can use these 3 features that come with DirectLink™?

  • Brand marketers trying to understand what people think about their products.
  • Sales managers who want to improve and tailor their sales pitches.
  • CEO’s who want to test a new strategy with their customers.
  • HR managers who want to assess employee morale or improve internal services.
  • Trade association managers who are seeking ways to raise awareness and open doors for their members.
  • Foreign trade development officers who want to better understand what makes their country attractive.
  • Tourism departments that want to know what will motivate consumers to visit.
  • PR and ad agency account executives who want to know what’s on their client’s customers’ minds so they can address them in marketing communications.
  • University and college administrators that want to understand and respond to student or alumni views.
  • Non-profit development directors seeking the keys to increased fund raising.
  • Political campaign managers who need to understand what voters want.

The list goes on and on.  All of the above have used DirectLink™ in the past and now these new features make it even more effective and faster.  We can make your social media programs more effective and improve the ROI of research or direct marketing programs.  If you’d like to know how DirectLink™ can help you and see an online demo, let us know.

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2 contrasting days in America

Posted on October 13, 2012 by Leave a comment

It has been several days now that we watched the Vice Presidential debate and have been subjected to a discussion that’s more about whose demeanor and facial expressions have been better than about their policies.

Depending on from which side you see things, President Obama has either brought the economy back to a place where it can now recover or he’s brought us to a Leninist-Marxist precipice.  Governor Romney is either the biggest liar that has ever run for president or he is just the man we need to help America get back to its revolutionary roots.  It’s that extreme and it’s that myopic.  We’re losing sight of the big picture.

Yesterday, I attended the annual shareholders’ conference for The Baron Funds, a group of mutual funds led by Ron Baron who believes that it’s the quality of people who make great companies and that investing in them is a long-term bet on America.  The event is held each year at New York’s magnificent Lincoln Center. 4,000 shareholders attended.

During the morning, you get to listen to presentations from CEO’s of companies the funds have invested in.  Then at lunch, various entertainers perform in one of the many auditoriums at the Center.  Yesterday, the choices were British rock singer Joss Stone, Broadway star Kristin Chenowith, or jazz stylist Harry Connick Jr.  After returning from lunch, the senior analysts from each of the Baron Funds engages in a panel discussion about the past year’s performance and how they pick stocks.  When this ends, there’s a musical performance from a big name headliner.  In the past, it has been people like Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, Elton John and others who you’d pay a lot of money to see elsewhere.  Yesterday, the headliner was Celine Dion – more on Celine later.

I don’t know if Ron Baron chose the CEO’s who made their morning presentations to make a point about the country’s economic stewardship.  I want to believe he did.  Here’s a brief encapsulation:

  • David Rubenstein, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of The Carlyle Group showed a different set of values for private equity firms than we’ve seen during the past year from Governor Romney’s turn at Bain.  From its start in 1987, Carlyle now manages $160 billion in investments with the goal of supporting good companies that create jobs and prosper for their shareholders AND employees.  For all his success, Rubenstein exhibited an amazing self-deprecating sense of humor and stressed the importance of giving back to America.  He has put his money where his mouth is by joining Warren Buffet in giving his fortune away.  What came across more than anything is that good values build great companies.  By the way, he said he has no problem with the regulations imposed by Dodd-Frank, which some politicians want to remove.
  • Steven Spinner, CEO of United Natural Foods was a little more meat and potatoes in his presentation…well actually, more tofu and bulghur… but he expressed a need to be more conscious about our environment and both the chemicals we put into our environment and our bodies.  The company is now the largest distributor in the U.S. and Canada of natural and organic foods and has become a $4.5 billion company with 65,000 sku’s and 23,000 customers.  Healthy foods raise our awareness of our environment and build successful businesses – quite a contrast to the right wing preaching that the government (and in particular, Michelle Obama) is trying to force feed us healthy foods we don’t like.
  • Robert Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts showed how a sizable business ($1 billion +) dependent on nature can prosper when it focuses both on good environmental stewardship and helping people enjoy all the recreational possibilities that enables.  What’s interesting is that they don’t own the land their resorts sit on.  They lease it from the National Forest Service, and have to work with the Service to show they are deserving of both permits and leases – a great example of how government helps improve our lives, supports business and is worth the investment we all make in it.
  • Frank Coyne, CEO of Verisk Analytics is all about Big Data.  This company dominates the insurance risk assessment business.  I have no idea of his political leanings (or most of the others for that matter) but he’s a former Marine who grew up in a lower middle class family from Scranton, PA.  There was not a trace of ego in his presentation.  He is clearly an American success story who rose from the middle – no trickle down there.
  • Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO of Under Armour, a $2 billion company that began in his basement in 1996, told an amazing story of how his experience as a college football player took him on a search to find better performance athletic clothing.  He displayed optimism, competitiveness and personal charm in telling his success story.  There was not a hint of dismay in his approach to the future.
  • Rich Barton, Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Zillow, Inc. was the moderator of the analysts’ presentation so he wasn’t really focused on his or his company’s story.  However, he founded both online travel giant, Expedia, and Zillow, an online real estate search site.  He’s another American success story who displayed extraordinary optimism.

The last presentation of the day came from Ron Baron, CEO of Baron Capital Group.  Baron founded the funds in 1982.  Today his enormous success has made him a billionaire.  I’ve never met the man but in every conference I’ve attended, he always stresses his middle-class roots in New Jersey, his optimism about American business and his belief in America.  He doesn’t hesitate to mix patriotism into business.  As in past years, Broadway star Kelly O’Hara came out to sing America The Beautiful as everyone sang along.  This year, there was an additional treat of Kristin Chenowith singing the national anthem.  She raised the roof and 4,000 hearts with it.  (That girl has pipes!)

Baron gave his outlook on the economy, the stock market and reminded us why a long-term investment philosophy in good people who build great companies pays off .  He praised Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, Ben Bernanke for his stewardship of the economy to a smattering of applause.  He showed how the stock market has climbed 60% since the days of doom and gloom four years ago to wild cheers.

Then, came the part that left me stunned.  He noted that we’re soon to have an election between President Barack Obama — maybe 20% of the audience applauded — and Mitt Romney to loud, enthusiastic applause that drowned out anything that had preceded it.  It left me wondering whether anybody had been paying attention all day.  The contrast to private equity investing with the Romney approach from David Rubenstein ‘s Carlyle Group couldn’t have been clearer.  Protection of our food sources and environment have helped businesses succeed, not fail due to over-bearing government regulation.  The economy never fell off the cliff.  Businesses and the stock market prospered and now they’re cheering for an uncertain change that promises to strip away a lot of the government support and regulation that has contributed to both success and fairness?  I don’t get it.

I grew up in a family that was firmly Democratic, although I believe I am more fiscally conservative than my parents.  While I live in New York, I continue to vote in Maine where I still own property.  There, like many Mainers, I’ve settled into a mode of independence, voting for moderate Republicans like Bill Cohen and Olympia Snowe, independents like Angus King and Democrats like George Mitchell.  The contrasts to me this year couldn’t be clearer.  While I’ve lost some of my love for President Obama, I think he provides a healthier direction for America.  We have serious problems to fix but I don’t believe those will come from cutting everything except defense and frankly, I have a problem with disingenuousness.  Neither party can claim sainthood in this regard but I saw Romney claim himself as “severely conservative”, heard his campaign manager say they could just take out the “etch a sketch” and remodel him once the Republican nomination was secure and now he’s transformed himself into a moderate.  It reminds me of that famous Lincoln quote:  “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

In the end, just like Ron Baron says and practices, it’s about people and their values.  Not only do good people build great companies but they also build great countries.  I left the conference a little dismayed at the shareholders’ reaction to the election but still optimistic about the long-term.  To that, I can thank Ron Baron for this annual event.

This brings me to Celine Dion.  I’m not a fan and never have been.  She’s too kitschy for me.  Yes, she’s talented and a professional song stylist who’s benefited from great writers but in one song, Kristin Chenowith blew her away.   After all the great rock stars I’ve seen at this event, I was surprised at her appearance.  “Las Vegas East”, Ron Baron called it.  It certainly was.  Her big band, violins, lots of costume changes and a self-aggrandizing video were all on display.  Like so many other successes — only in America.

I thought of staying for a few songs and then leaving but then I thought of my daughter.  She’s a fledgling comedy writer in LA and she loves Celine.  She’s dreamed of going to Las Vegas to see her and has even asked me to foot the bill for the $250 ticket.  You can imagine how far that went.  But as Celine came on, I texted her knowing that she would be excited.  It was only the texting banter between us that kept me there for the duration.

Here it is:

So the afternoon entertainment is Celine.

SHUT UP!

Here she is:


You are breaking my heart.

HOW IS IT THAT YOU GET TO SEE CELINE DION PERFORM AND I NEVER HAVE?

Tell me everything!  WHAT IS SHE WEARING?  How many costome changes?  How many times is she fake crying?  AHHHHH

Is she amazing????  OF COURSE SHE IS!!!!

I guess because I own $30K of Baron Funds.  I wish you were here.  She’s too sappy for me.  I don’t know how long I can last.

OMG omggggggg!!!  Just revel in it.

Oh, here come all the big hits!  ”I’m your lady” oooh la la

OMGgggg!!!!

Imagine her an alien from a special planet where the wind is always billowing her hair and dresses!

A lot of eyebrow action and the motions.  WAIT!  We have violins!  It’s a costume change!

AHHHHHHHH.  WHAT IS THE NEW COSTUME?

This is so unfair.

We’re waiting with bated breath.  Maybe she went out to pee.

Slinky, black and silver.


It’s cabaret time.

She’s magnificent!

I’ll record Titanic if she goes there.

OH SHE WILL AND YOU  BETTER.

She tucks her 3 little ones into bed and there’s video to prove it.

Stop it.

I think I’m going to throw up.

Me too.

It’s “Beauty & The Beast” time.

Oh, I love that one.  This is so unfair, it hurts.

I feel your pain.

It’s another costume change.

What will it be?  There’s James Bond music.

Ughhhhhhhhh

No, she just went to pee.  She’s singing “Goldfinger.”

A medley of 007 songs.  She’s got her fist in the air.  The audience is in a state of rapture.

Now, she’s patting her hip and swaying.  This Québécois lady knows how to have a good time.

She sure does.

This all sounds glorious!

A little piece of heaven.

I’ve run out of responses.

I’m just really jealous.

It’s “All by myself” now.  I know how she feels.  Carla left to go to a meeting.  So sad.

Double fist pounding on her chest.  Serious stuff.

Now, she’s singing “Spinning Wheel”.  Am I back in college?

Costume change!


This is amazing.  Never forget how amazing she is.

Elvis is in the building!

Here we go:  I’m sinking.  There’s an iceberg and the ship is going down.  I’m recording this.


It’s over.  I’m exhausted.

Holy crap!  Me too.

The Baron Funds Annual Conference is one of my favorite days of the year.  I am reminded of why I am in business and what I tell my clients through my consulting business.  I’m entertained in this incredible city and my belief in America is always restored.  This year, it also provided some fun with my daughter.  Is there anything better?

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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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CRM Systems are a form of corporate myopia…but they don’t have to be

Posted on July 19, 2012 by 2 Comments

Investment management firms always warn that “past performance does not necessarily predict future results.”  It makes sense.  Just because an investment manager has hit it big in the past doesn’t mean that he or she will know when the next big rise or fall in the market will come.

So why doesn’t that same caveat go with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems?  Companies spend millions of dollars with companies like Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, Microsoft and many others (and what’s a small to medium size company to do when faced with the investment and difficult implementation?).  These systems work off of customer “touchpoints” to make relationships and customer management easier.  A “touchpoint” is any past interaction with a customer whether it is a sale where product purchase and customer demographics are acquired, a complaint, inquiry or field contact (assuming the field rep enters the information properly and accurately).

Have you ever gotten upset that you can’t understand the foreign accented customer center rep when you call to ask a question about your bill?  Some of us don’t care but others find it annoying.  It’s because the company using the CRM system didn’t note that your call should be routed to a U.S. based call center and decided it’s cheaper to have your call go to someone they’re paying only several dollars a day, customer satisfaction be damned.  CRM didn’t help there.

Or do you get annoyed when political campaigns send you two or three fund raising requests a day while never asking about your beliefs?   They use CRM too but the systems don’t gather your opinions and beliefs.  They only note where you live, how you voted last time, whether you gave before and possibly what type of car you drive and magazines you read so they can create a profile they believe is predictive.

How about coming home to find the post office has delivered four L.L.Bean catalogs?  Waste of paper?  Absolutely, but blame their CRM system for the confusion.  Amazon is quite sure that because you bought a book about wine, you’ll absolutely want to purchase a new wine cooler they’re carrying.  You may not have even noticed but their CRM system says you’re a prospect.  Millions of customers, sales, inquiries, complaints equals billions of data points so inaccurate interpretations, solicitations, mail and email deliveries are bound to happen, right?

Not necessarily.  What if something like “forward-looking CRM” were available and affordable?  Imagine if companies or politicians asked you what your needs and frustrations are and once they knew, could use that information to tailor responses to you and provide better products, services and build their overall customer relationships.  Imagine politicians asking what his or her constituents believe – the massive Town Hall that Ross Perot used to rant about – and adjusting their positions to truly be representative of what voters are telling them.  Sound impossible?

It exists

Futureshift’s DirectLink™ system enables you to ask any group what they believe and why, what their needs are and why, and most importantly, what their frustrations are and why.  You can ask in an open-ended way questions that begin with “why”, “what” and “tell us about” and people write like they’ve never been asked these questions before.  Then, CALCAT™ software takes over and helps tag ideas and beliefs so that qualitative information can be shown quantitatively in bars and graphs just like people are used to.

Below is an example of how DirectLink™ can reveal more about customers.  The topic is wine but it could be any product or service.  The question in the chart below (“What one piece of information could a winery give you that you would find valuable when selecting a wine?”) was answered by 3,119 people and you can see the array of responses.

But now, let’s say you want to know more.  How did people write about some of their answers because you might want to refine the way you give them information.  So let’s say you select the response “Flavor/Tasting notes”.  You can click that response and then one button, called “Get Verbatims”, which instantly shows a screen like below.

Now, you can read how all of the respondents talked about “Flavor/Tasting notes” and you can see the descriptive language they use or even create word clouds so the most common terms stand out and then you’ll know what the customer’s lexicon is so you can know just what language to use to talk back to them.

Now, it gets more interesting because you’ll want to talk back to them in a way that is specifically tailored to their needs.  This group has indicated that they want better flavor and tasting notes from wine marketers.  What if you have something to say to them about this?  Is there a way you can reach them immediately?  Easy!  All you do is click the button at the side that says “Get Emails” and an email list of all the people who are looking for better flavor and tasting notes downloads to your computer, or for that matter, to your mobile device if you’re on the road.  Now, you can email them something specific to their needs.  This ease in immediate implementation makes it both practical and effective for small businesses to target market.

It gets better

Typically, with most products, marketers want to get more specific in regards to addressing consumer or customer beliefs.  They might have three, four or five variables they want to combine together and this can take days to obtain multi-variable analysis, let alone find the people behind those beliefs.  Not any more.  Multi-variable analysis and grabbing the people in that specific multi-variable segment is now instantaneous and automatic.

Above, four variables have been selected:  (1) women; (2) age 50 – 59; (3) want Flavor/Tasting notes; and (4) prefer to get recommendations from the sommelier.  Now, you can look at every question you’ve asked for that group or you can quickly download a list of email addresses for this refined segment so you can send them a message tailored to their needs.  The result is a personalized response tailored to your customer’s needs.  This creates more customer awareness, interest and loyalty because you’ve shown you’ve listened and are responsive, which is the point of CRM to begin with.  Perhaps of more note, however, is how easy it is to operate the system yourself without a bevy of expensive consultants descending to your business and drowning you with minutiae.

Making CRM work better

DirectLink™ can act as a “look-forward CRM” system for small to medium sized companies with databases of several hundred thousand.  Groups can be defined by a series of responses to questions and messaging can be tailored to the language they use, beliefs they hold or frustrations they’re holding.  In this way, marketing can address the current and future needs of consumers and customers and be truly predictive at a cost that makes it more approachable than those big CRM systems.  With larger databases, DirectLink™ information can be appended to databases to make those systems “needs-based” and ultimately more effective.

DirectLink™ and its underlying software platform, CALCAT©, are proprietary products owned by Futureshift, Inc.  DirectLink™ is fully functional for both English and Spanish speaking markets.  For more information Forward-Looking CRM, write strategy@futureshiftnow.com

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Value vs. Values

Posted on May 17, 2011 by Leave a comment

I’ve been holding onto this one since last month.  I came across an article on Bnet.com, titled “Should we advertise on Glenn Beck?” by the CEO of Blinds.com an online store that sells all types of window blinds.  You can read the story for yourself but in short, he thought a good place to find a demographic for his company’s products would be consumers who listen to Glenn Beck’s radio show.

Within a week, he received a boatload of hate mail.  In his words, “It took all of about 6 days before the vitriolic verbal attacks against me and my company rolled in via Twitter. And they’ve been nasty — I’ve been called everything from a Nazi and a homophobe to a slew of other names that if published here my editor would surely censor….One day last week, within 24 hours alone, I received hundreds, if not thousands, of tweets along these lines.”  He went on to say that he never had any intention of endorsing Gleen Beck’s views.  In fact, he said he never listened to the guy.  All he was doing was looking for a demographic.

His article piqued my interest because we do so much consulting to clients about aligning corporate values with those of customers.  We know value is important but today’s consumer still wants more.  So I looked him up and sent him this email:

Dear Jay,

I consult on these types of issues with a lot of clients that are foreign countries and their industries.  As a large part of our business is foreign, I think it gives us some 30,000 foot level perspective on the U.S..

One thing I tell them, that you’ve discovered, is that Americans don’t just want value, they want values.  It’s both a negative symptom of our political and media polarization and a positive manifestation of our increasing awareness of globalism and multi-culturalism.

It’s not enough to buy an audience or demographic any more.  You have to consider how your values and those you espouse through your company relate to or resonate with a marketing vehicle’s audience.  Due to our extreme polarization, we have as many rabid against-anythings as we do pro-anythings and they will readily take action in opposition to the other.  This is a tough needle to thread for any marketer.

Personally, I probably wouldn’t buy from a company that advertised on Glenn Beck, although the only way I’d find out is from someone writing about it and the fact that they would and do tells you something about the environment we’re in right there.  Professionally, I’d be unlikely to recommend it because I know and you now know what would ensue.

There are so many ways to reach your target customers that are likely to be more effective, non-controversial and much more economical.  While I want to impart some good advice to you, I’d also like to sell some of those ways too.  You may get a hint of that from our website, but I can be more specific if you contact me through our website.

Good luck and best regards,

Well, I got a form email response back.  It was polite enough but no further dialogue ensued.  That’s okay though because I thought it was the perfect example of what a treacherous marketing world we’re all in.  It also tells us who’s really in control.  We have to decide where we stand, not just in business but personally, define our values and then adhere to them in the way we conduct ourselves personally and through work.  Otherwise, many of the people we’d like as customers, friends or associates will drop us like…well, as quickly as they can drop the blinds on their windows.

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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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Mistake #5: Size matters

Posted on November 11, 2010 by Leave a comment

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

With all the research resources available around the world, foreign companies and business sectors still can make two mistakes about the U.S. regarding its size.  The first mistake is misunderstanding or under appreciating the distances from market to market.  The best way to say it is that it takes about the same time to fly from New York to Los Angeles as it does to go from New York to London.  That’s been said many times but until you have to set up meetings on opposite coasts on a frequent basis, the wear and tear on personnel and resources doesn’t really sink in.  Enough said about that.  It’s a big country.  We all know that but market planning from abroad needs to look at the practical daily impact of the America’s size.

The second mistake is to think that one needs to cover the entire country or most major metropolitan areas at once.  Of course, it depends on what industry companies are in but the size of individual state and region economies is larger than that of many countries.  A number of people have illustrated this with maps showing the GDP of states as equivalent to countries.

For example, the map below shows the economy of California as equivalent to that of France, Canada to Texas, Brazil to New York.

Another version shows Brazil as Texas, New York as Russia and California as Italy.

Still another, has compared California into Russia, Texas to India and New York to Mexico.

Obviously, the year in which the comparison is made is going to make a difference and one can draw these maps in different versions over and over.  But the point hits home when you’re a small company in a foreign country that each state of the U.S. represents a major market and opportunity.  If a foreign producer is asked if they can muster up the resources to sell their product in a country such as Denmark, they may say yes without hesitation.  But if asked to focus their efforts on the state of Washington, they’ll quickly say they want to go to Oregon and California too.  That could require the resources equivalent to blanketing Denmark, Malaysia and Italy at the same time.

Proximity of states makes a difference but is not that much different than selling in three neighboring countries.  For many products, state laws can also make a difference.  For example, we have 50 different sets of laws governing alcoholic beverage sales.  The nature of the sector also has an impact but does it really make sense for a foreign IT company to think of Silicon Valley, New York’s Silicon Alley, North Carolina’s Research Triangle, and the tech centers around Austin, Seattle and Boston at the same time?  It happens.

Part of our job at Futureshift is to guide clients to the geographical areas that enable them to focus their resources to attain the best possible return on investment.  It’s less about the map than it is your capabilities and where there are market needs but the point of market size often is not well appreciated or understood.

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