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Posts tagged with Trade Associations

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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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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Clearing up a myth about politics and business

Posted on October 31, 2010 by Leave a comment

It’s been popularized by the media, pundits and pols (including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) that business in America does better when Republicans are in office.  It sounds good but rather than accept the platitudes, let’s let the data tell the story.

Since 1930, the average annual growth rate in GDP when Republicans held the White House (39 Years) is 1.82%. When Democrats have held the White House (41 Years), the average growth rate is 4.92%. During the Bush years, the average was 2.1%, Clinton 3.9%, Bush + Reagan 3%, Carter 3.3%, Nixon 2.8%, Kennedy + Johnson 4.9% and so on. While this does not reflect the party controlling Congress or the balance of the two, the data shows that Democratic party control of the White House has been better for GDP growth and consequently for business too. We often look at emotions or subjective arguments when facts tell a completely different story.

But why is just the opposite what so many believe?  There are several reasons, one being the Democrats own fault because they constantly accuse the Republican party of being the party that protects business in the U.S.  Republicans, for their part, like to say that Democrats have done nothing for jobs and that if we only reduce the tax burden placed on businesses, more jobs will be created.  The data, however, tells a different story and it’s hard to dispute facts.  There is another factor which should tell us that Democrats are better for business:  they tend to be protectionists, leaning against global, free trade.  This should translate to more jobs being kept in the U.S.  Republicans, however, can be expected to protect offshoring and outsourcing.  While I’m an ardent free trader, I still find it hard to understand why the myth exists about political parties and business.

There also is a third reason.  Republicans are much better at getting their message out there.  Democrats always seem to be the gang that can’t shoot straight.  The U.S. electorate likes simple messages and stories and Republicans are just better at telling them.

Finally, you might ask why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hasn’t pointed out the dramatic difference in business growth under different party rule.  The Chamber should be a champion for all businesses in the U.S., not just those that benefit most from tax cuts or free trade.  While difficult for us in many ways, free trade makes a lot of sense and ultimately forces U.S. businesses to do better in order to compete.  But when we’re talking about whether the economy, hence all U.S. businesses, do better under party rule, let’s make sure we know what has actually happened in the past.


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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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