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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.


Here she is:

You are breaking my heart.


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


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!


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.


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.


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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How a Disaster can Help a Country’s Image

Posted on October 31, 2010 by Leave a comment

This blog post appeared last week in NearshoreAmericas.com

The August 5th mine collapse near Copiapo, Chile seemed like more bad luck for a country already hit by one of the largest earthquakes in history this past February.Media coverage of the mining disaster was constant and the way in which the Chilean government and miners handled the situation mesmerized the media and consumers alike. On October 13th, millions across the globe were riveted to their TV sets watching the dramatic rescue take place, almost two months before anticipated.  It was a stunningly inspirational scene – a disaster, rescue plan and successful result – seemingly in lockstep that even Hollywood writers couldn’t have improved upon.

A Silver Lining?

At the outset of the crisis, it was hard to imagine there could be a silver lining to the story, one that could provide an advantage for how Chile, as a country, is presented to the world. Can the outcome of natural or man-made disasters have a positive impact on a country’s competitiveness in growing exports, attracting investment or seeking outsourcing contracts?  The Chilean miners’ rescue offers some interesting lessons.

1. Leadership makes a difference

There is that old saying that “a fish rots from the head”.  Conversely, positive, focused leadership trickles down throughout an organization and effects planning, implementation and results.  Chile’s focused leadership from President Sebastian Piñera and particularly Mining Minister Laurence Golborne made a difference in how the rescue effort (managed more like a large construction project) was strategically planned and implemented.  The plan allowed for international cooperation, options, customer relations (i.e. miners’ families), and management of public expectations.

2. Emotion and egos get you nowhere; help moves you forward

Chile offers a diverse mix in its socio-economic strata.  Much of the country feels like a highly developed nation.  There is a thriving middle class, high literacy and education rates, advanced use of the Internet and telecommunications.  Yet, there are pockets of extreme poverty and underdevelopment that give a very different picture.  It’s certainly a very long way from Haiti to Chile but Chile still is not at the level of many developed countries which probably explains why the country ranks #30 in the Global Economic Forum’s World Competitiveness Report and not higher.  The Chileans didn’t ask for charitable contributions but did welcome cutting-edge technology and advice from other countries with the goals of beating the expected result of not getting the miners out until mid December.  The U.S. has not responded in as focused or timely a way when it has been hit by disasters.  American egos have gotten in the way of accepting foreign help.

3. Media needs to be managed but not catered to

While the media savvy crisis mangers in Chile worked with the international journalist community, platitudes and wild claims were avoided and the focus was kept on what needed to be done.

For example, the Wall Street Journal published a story “Chile Mining Minister Is Resourceful in Rescue” in which writer Matt Mofffett wrote about the response from the Chilean government, dominated by former business executives.  Centered around Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, a former retail executive, the story traces Golborne’s early missteps in the crisis to gaining the confidence of the miners and their families.  It praises Golborne’s communication skills in dealing “with people from lots of different social strata” and goes on to cite the oft repeated catchphrase for the current government, “Chile Inc.”

Then, on September 10th, an article appeared in Universal Knowledge@Wharton, the newsletter of the esteemed Wharton School of Business’, titled, Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork – from 700 Meters Below the Earth’s Surface.  The article is an interview with Francisco Javier Garrido, a professor of strategy at various MBA programs in Europe and the Americas.  Garrido talks glowingly of the miners and their leadership skills.

These are the types of stories, not the ones about mistresses or movie deals, that will be long lasting and have true value for Chile’s image and competitiveness.

4. Results can reveal societal traits

In the Wharton article, Garrido details the miners’ skills in situation analysis, overcoming elementary responses, viewing efforts as a function of goals, teamwork, ethical coherence and integrity and communication skills.  These 33 miners, he notes have taught “the business world that you need to act with flexibility when it comes to achieving your goals.”  He further points out, “There are lessons here that transcend the world of business instruction when it comes to [defining] such expressions as “decision making,” “leadership” and “teamwork.”

Since the successful rescue, there have been hundreds of articles and blogs adding to the comments on work skills of the miners and leadership of Chilean officials.

Given the positive results of managing this crisis, two questions arise:

First, is it ethical to use the story of the miners to profile or position Chile or Chilean businesses? If used in a tactical way, it seems inappropriate and opportunistic to promote such a story as saying something positive about a company, sector or country.  To those who read the media coverage, the lessons are there for us to see.  The story illustrates how leaders can respond to crises and victims can show behaviors and values that can teach us about disaster response.  Finally, it shows us how leadership can operate in the midst of crisis and media can respond positively to not overreact as so often takes place, but to manage for what everyone hopes will be positive outcomes.

Second, what real impact does crisis management have on a country’s image? Several months ago, in Nearshore Americas, Simon Anholt, a British branding consultant asserted that there is no evidence to show that marketing communications can change a country’s image (seeThe Latin America Image Issue:  Going Beyond the Superficial to Create a ‘Nation Brand’.”) Anholt said, “Influencing a country’s reputation is primarily a matter of policy, strategy, innovation and investment over a very long period – it has nothing to do with logos, slogans, advertising or PR campaigns.”

The World Watches

All of this is true but it ignores the impact of what happens when a country exercises strong management tools to solve a difficult problem while the world watches.  Few would dispute that Chile’s positive awareness is much higher today than it was before the mining accident.  It is a result of both what the Chileans did and what they said working with modern media and marketing communications as part of the overall management of the crisis.

The miners’ rescue won’t change Chile’s ranking on the global competitiveness index but it will open doors in the U.S. and elsewhere for Chilean businesses that never looked at the country before.  How long those doors stay open and whether they lead to new business will depend on how well Chile manages from this point forward.


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Mistake #3: “Tonight, we have a really big show.”

Posted on August 11, 2010 by Leave a comment

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

Those immortal words were heard in millions of American homes every Sunday night, during the 1950’s and 60’s, as they were spoken by television impresario, Ed Sullivan on his weekly variety show.  His show was so popular that it was common for children and adults to mimic Sullivan’s nasal accent saying, “Tonight we have a really big show.” A “really big show” for Sullivan fans meant an extravaganza of music and theatrical variety.  It wasn’t Elvis Presley’s first television appearance but certainly was his most famous.  It’s where the Beatles were first seen by most Americans and where viewers were introduced to opera and ballet.  If it was big in entertainment, it was on Ed Sullivan.

The idea of the big show continued into business where today, the really big shows are the Consumer Electronics Show, National Housewares Show, MacWorld Expo and many more.  Large trade shows have become prolific in the U.S. and around the world to the point where they are almost a commodity.  Their cost for exhibitors has increased rapidly placing a premium on those shows where one can see a clear rate of return.

Yet, despite the high costs of trade shows, the idea of the “really big show” has morphed into private, branded trade shows and has become a part of many marketing programs from foreign industries.   It has become common for foreign governments to come to the U.S. and hold large private events for their industries such as food, wine, textiles, technology and more.  An event company and PR firms are hired, hotel and exhibit space secured, visitors and prospective buyers are recruited, foreign companies provided with exhibit space and dignitaries flown in to cut the ribbon or give a keynote speech.

The expectation is that the U.S. media will show up (they rarely do), give the event, its organizers and the foreign industry the right amount of fawning coverage in newspapers and magazines and that buyers will attend with their wallets at the ready.  To ensure the event’s success, the media from the home country is brought in, photos are taken, ribbons cut, speeches made and the event is widely proclaimed to be a grand success…except that it’s often not.

What can’t be seen from abroad is that Americans have become jaded by the extraordinary amount of marketing clutter in their lives.  Surveys have suggested that Americans are exposed to more than 1,500 marketing messages a day.  From the time they wake up until they turn their lights out at night, Americans are bombarded with radio, TV, print, Internet, outdoor, mail, email, phone and tradeshow messaging.  Of course, this takes place in other countries but it has been going on for more years in the U.S.  What foreign visitors most comment on when they visit the U.S. is the number of choices that one has during the day, whether shopping, viewing, listening or traveling.  It all adds up and the bottom line is that the only thing that makes a difference in our lives is the value of our relationships.

When there are so many modes of marketing, word-of-mouth from people we trust has so much more influence than anything else on what we buy and the decisions we make.  Just as we trust our personal friends, business relationships are what influence us in the end.  With all the decisions we have to make, and features and benefits to evaluate, it’s the value we place on relationships and the people who make recommendations to us that makes a difference.

The problem with the “really big show” is that relationships are begun there but not developed or solidified.  We use shows for looking, evaluating, asking and considering but rarely for buying.  When considering any product that has a high cost or a long-term evaluation or testing phase, shows, at best, serve as introductions.  It’s the work that takes place afterward that makes a difference.  Small events or conferences are often better than big ones because they allow prospective buyers to ask more questions and conduct a give-and-take with the seller.  Prospective buyers considering a foreign supplier want to know that both the individual they’re dealing with and their company isn’t going to be in the U.S. for only a week here and there.  They want a commitment to a relationship, to being involved for the long-term, to possible risk sharing or even partnership.

Trade associations and their government partners who have the mandate to promote industries, should consider:

  • More small events are better than a few large ones.
  • Teach your people to engage with Americans.  Too often foreign business visitors to the U.S. stay back and don’t approach Americans.  We like you to reach out to us.  In fact, events that are built around networking are likely to be more effective than those built around display.
  • Events, big or small, will be more successful with both pre and post event follow-up programs.  Prospective sales are most often lost because of poor or slow follow-up.
  • You should have an active online social media program that reaches out to prospective buyers.  You’ll know the difference when your social media site has far more Americans or customers on it than your domestic friends and associates.  It’s incredible how many companies and industries tout their facebook and linkedin pages that are filled with people from their own country.  Where are the buyers?  Who’s building relationships with who?  To what end?
  • Remember that social media sites like facebook and linkedin are closed systems and have their limitations.  There are no lists to download nor will you have access to anybody’s email address.  At futureshift, we build private communities that support events but more importantly build and support relationships because members self-subscribe and willingly give you their private contact information.
  • Rather than think about events, think about building communities.  Community members gain trust for each other and that’s what builds brand loyalty and sales.

So given all this, what made Ed Sullivan such a successful icon?  Sullivan spoke to American audiences in the 1950’s and 60’s when modern marketing was in its nascent stages.  He spoke to us every week, his way of building a relationship with us, and he always showed us things we had rarely seen before.  If you’re a modern day business version of Ed Sullivan, which probably means your name is Steve Jobs, go ahead have the “really big show”.  Otherwise, do something that makes sense and works in today’s U.S. marketplace.


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A funny thing happened on the way to Romania

Posted on August 5, 2010 by Leave a comment

I spent last week in Romania, not exactly where most people I know travel, but it was a business trip.  It hadn’t been on my list of places to go but I’m glad I went for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s different and different is good.  We need to see places and meet people who are unlike us, who have a different view and see the world from a different angle of the world.  In the U.S. we tend to be too internally focused and while we make a pretty big impression on earth, it’s good for us to see that the planets don’t revolve around the good old US of A.  I know that’s anathema to some, but more about that in a later post.

First, before I got to Romania a funny thing happened on the way.  As I was walking through the aisle for my flight from London to Bucharest, I looked to my right and saw someone who looked familiar.  I looked again and was sure that it was Rich Hodapp, a consultant I had seen…oh…maybe fifteen years ago.  Now, what are the chances on that particular flight, on that day, heading to Bucharest of all places that we would be on the same flight…after fifteen years?  I don’t know how or why these things happen.  Is it fate?  I doubt it.  More likely, it can be explained by statistics and probabilities, but still, it is mighty strange when these things happen.  (Rich later said to me, “I was waiting for you to show up.”)

Now, why is meeting Rich important to a blog called Corporate Myopia?  Well, Rich, who remembered me right away, is the inventor/creator of Decision MAPping® (http://www.decisionmapping.com/) and when I met him fifteen or more years ago, I had the good fortune to be trained in Decision MAPping® by Rich.  I can say that it has influenced me ever since and it’s principles are pretty much part of my way of thinking about the world and how we work with clients.  You could say that Decision MAPping® teaches you to see the forest for the trees.  It is a myopia prevention machine.

We wander through our daily lives passing all kinds of signs that tell us what’s important to our co-workers, friends and family and to our clients and customers, and we often don’t see them.  They are signs that tell us what’s important to them in making their decisions about us, and all of our clients, customers and constituencies make important decisions that affect us everyday.  They decide whether to listen to our sales pitches, sign and renew contracts, monitor our progress and evaluate whether to continue to work with us.  It’s not about showing them all the great features we offer but about what concerns them and what keeps them awake at night.

Decision MAPping® teaches you to turn the telescope around and learn how they see you.  It also teaches you that there are two components in every decision that they make about us.  They look at both the content or tangible benefits of what a relationship offers and at the process or nature of our relationship.  Like every good marriage, how we engage with each other and manage our processes with others determines whether the relationship will last, but remember it’s they, not us who make that determination.  The decisions that others are going to make about us can be put on a map.  The map tells us where we are, where we’re headed and how best to get there.  For those who learn this process from Rich, it is a sure course to winning and has been used by successful companies and countries for years.  You should check it out.

At futureshift, we’ve taken the general principles of Decision MAPping® and added our DirectLink® system that enables us to learn what is keeping thousands of people awake at night.  Our strategic planning process asks both what your internal capabilities are and matches them with what your target market says it’s looking for.  It provides you with insights that either could not be obtained or were just cost prohibitive to do so.  We don’t put decisions on a map.  You need to see Rich for that but we give you an understanding of what your customers’ and non-customers’ frustrations are.  A frustration is simply an unmet need.  Meet the need and you’ll have a loyal customer.

That flight to Bucharest and seeing Rich was a good reminder to me of what’s important in our business — meeting the needs and solving the business problems of others.  Rich and I have begun to exchange ideas and maybe we’ll solve some problems for each other without having to wait another fifteen years for a mutual flight to some far-flung place.


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