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Posts tagged with Positioning

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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Marketing Mistake #6: False Assumptions

Posted on March 20, 2012 by Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  We’re internally focused.

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

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

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

2.  We’re less well educated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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¿Como es su español?

Posted on July 26, 2011 by Leave a comment

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

Salud!

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Thinker outside the box

Posted on March 9, 2011 by Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

Silence.

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

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

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If you read nothing else, read this

Posted on February 22, 2011 by Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Country Branding Interview with Nearshore Americas

Posted on December 22, 2010 by 1 Comment

I recently was interviewed by Kirk Laughlin of Nearshore Americas about nation branding with particular focus on Latin America.  The interview can be seen here or at this link.

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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 #4: If we build it, they will come

Posted on September 29, 2010 by 1 Comment

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

There are consultants out there who advise foreign governments to make everything they do perfect for their target markets.  They go internal to focus on changing policy, strategy, innovation and investment over a very long period of time.  The result is that governments invest their time on getting their house in order and the problem with that is that the people walking by the house have no idea what’s going on inside.  It’s simply not a case of building the perfect country so that all the investors come running.

There’s no question that real change only takes place when countries change what they do, not just what they say.  But in our marketing driven world, it’s not enough to simply make those changes and expect the world to notice.  In the 90’s we ran national image development campaigns in the U.S. for both Norway and Chile and saw ample evidence that perceptions were changed through use of marketing tools that often are used for common everyday products.

Marketing tools play a key role as long as they represent changes that are real.  Years ago, Michael Porter wrote that strategy is only valid if it represents real operations.  In other words, you can’t sell the store without knowing the goods are on the shelves.

Countries can change policy, strategy, innovation and investment over a very long period but if no one knows about it, export development and FDI will come at a much slower pace than if there is a coordinated marketing campaign that represents the real situation.

Over the years, we’ve done a considerable amount of country positioning work (our preferred term) and continue to do so today. We’ve found governments often make three major mistakes when considering their image or brand abroad:

    1. Too many internal assumptions about what foreign markets think and want. For example, New Yorkers will often talk about garbage in the streets while foreigners exalt the skyline, energy of the city and multiple entertainment options. When Americans return from Chile, they can’t stop talking about the beauty of the Andes and the perfect manners of the people who live there.  Chileans on the other hand will talk about smoggy days and can be quite self-critical.  It’s human nature.  We see things in the mirror everyday that others around us see differently.  Countries have to adjust their marketing by what others think.  Effective strategy is found at the intersection of internal capabilities and external needs.
    2. Failure to conduct sufficient open-ended research to determine what’s really on people’s minds in other countries. It’s not difficult to give thousands of people closed-ended questions with multiple choice responses or agreement scales and then make our own interpretations based on internal assumptions. The problem is that closed-ended questions create bias because they predefine the range of answers.  As to agreement scales, what’s the difference between one person’s 3 and another’s 4 and why?  Nobody knows but everybody has an opinion.  Real perceptions come by asking open-ended questions that begin with “What”, “Why” and “How”.  Effective positioning campaigns cannot be conducted without knowing what people really think on an unaided basis.
    3. Perfect the model before showing it to the public. There is a lot in this blog about this for good reason.  Too many countries invest too much money into defining what they are before going out to the market.  What they often find is that the market has changed and their perfected “image” model is no longer relevant.  It’s better to move earlier into the market and get feed back on what you’re doing and saying so that you can adjust as you go. Today’s online marketing tools enable incredible capabilities to gather communities of interest and shared needs that will provide feedback and become brand advocates.  Nation marketing is now about building relationships through communities, both those that are publicly available and private ones too.

        Change has to be real and long-term but I don’t know of any entity, that after instituting real change, didn’t benefit from a well-conceived marketing plan.

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