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Posts tagged with Due Diligence

My new friends

Posted on April 25, 2012 by Leave a comment

I’ve been receiving a lot of emails from people who say they know what I need and want and I never knew that they were so close to me.  The funny thing is none of them have ever asked me about what I need.  Actually, they’ve never asked me anything at all.  Well, that’s not true.  They’ve all asked for money.

Four years ago, I made a political contribution to Barack Obama’s campaign for President.  I expected that they would ask me again.  What I didn’t expect is that they would ask all their friends to ask me too.  I suppose that’s a good thing.  We can all use new friends.

During the past six months, not only have I received many, many emails and letters from President Obama but also from Michelle – that’s sweet, we’ve never met.  Also Joe and Jill Biden have written me, together and separately.  Obviously, I project a lot of charisma to attract all these important, new friends.  They told their friends about me too including Elizabeth Wilson, Patty Murray, Diane Feinstein, Debbie Stabenow, Sherrod Brown, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Charles Rangel and many more whose names I’ve forgotten, although I know none of them have forgotten me because they keep sending me emails and letters.

I know I probably sound overly suspicious but sometimes, I think the same person is doing all the writing.  They all say they know my needs, wants, dreams, aspirations and desires and it seems the same answer for all of them is mo’ money.

Yesterday, my son received a letter from Mitt Romney.  (I’m really upset that he didn’t write me.  After all, we went to the same elementary school in Detroit.)  But I guess he thinks my son likes him.  He must feel that way because he wrote, “you are one of America’s most notable Republicans.”  That’s something I didn’t know.  But never mind my son’s political persuasions, if that is indeed what they are.  I was really interested to read this letter because someone else had to have written it.  I don’t think the same writer who works for all the Democrats is writing letters for Mittens (my affectionate name for him – when you grow up nearby, you do those things).

So, I was really excited to see what gems Mittens was going to offer that might change my mind about the course of politics and all my political friends.  Here are a few tidbits:

  • “I believe in America.” – I feel so much better to know that.  I’m sick and tired of all these people who run for office and say they believe in Turkmenistan.
  • “Bigger government does not equal better government.”  That’s a tough one for me to take because I grew up singing, “The bigger the burger, the better the burger.  The burgers are bigger at Burger King.” And I thought Mittens believed in corporations.  That’s a rude awakening.
  • “I know how jobs are created.” And this is followed by his story of how he got the Olympics in great shape.  I guess we need more games in America.
  • “It could be worse.”  Now, he’s sounding like my grandmother although she usually followed with “You should be so lucky.”
  • Here’s my favorite:  “Washington is suffocating the American Dream.  We must save it.  How do we do that?  By believing in America…our future depends on it.”  Two quick flashbacks come to mind.  The first is Gerald Ford’s WIN (Whip Inflation Now) campaign where if we all came together and just believed, everything would get better.  He even wore a button that said “WIN” on it.  That helped.  I think I saw that in a movie once about a little girl who lived in Kansas.  She met a wizard who got her to believe but I don’t recall that his name was “Mittens”.  The second is Jimmy Carter’s famous “Malaise” speech.  His message of buck up sonny, stiff upper lip and all that never got off the launching pad.  All we had to do was be confident, he said.  Romney says all we have to do is believe.  I’m sure he can explain the difference.

Okay, so in many ways, the letter is a parody of itself.  Yet, it’s not much different than any other political letter, Republican, Democrat or Tea Party (yes, I got one of those.)  It ends with another request for money and you know what?  I know that money is the answer but it’s not money for anybody’s campaign.  It’s money for poor people, middle class people, education, research, healthcare, etc.  Oh, now I’m sounding like a Democrat.  I suppose I should toe the Republican line since I’m reading their letters and say that the solution is money for the moneyed few.

What’s most striking to me about this particular letter (and I’ll now have to start reading the others more closely) is that there is not one solution or proposal for how to actually make things better.  Not one.  Lots and lots of problems but no ideas, proposals or solutions, only a request for money.  They could at least get creative about it.  How about emailing me the Money song from Cabaret?  That certainly gets the point across with more élan than any of these politicians.

Or if you’re not a fan of Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, how about picking one of the top 20 rock songs about money. You can find them at http://power98fm.radio.com/2011/04/25/top-20-songs-about-money-money-money/.  I’ve got to believe that Mittens is an Abba fan.  How about this one:

I mean how can a Republican refuse Abba asking for money.  They’re white, clean-cut, at least in their day, and they’re Swedish…oh, never mind.

I guess there’s no hope.  You’d think that some fund raising genius (and remember that a percentage of what you give goes to them) would come up with the idea of “let’s ask people what they think, what ideas they may have and then, after we’ve listened to them, we’ll ask them for money.”  It’s funny how when you ask people what they think rather than telling them, how they often respond better.  It’s called human nature but why would we expect our politicians to be human?  Come to think of it, doesn’t Mittens often get criticized for being robotic?  I wonder.


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Marketing Mistake #6: False Assumptions

Posted on March 20, 2012 by Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  We’re internally focused.

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

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

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

2.  We’re less well educated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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Mistake #2: Has anyone seen Harold Hill?

Posted on July 21, 2010 by Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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