Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Let The US Auto Industry Fail

Failure. It's the price General Motors, Ford and Chrysler will have to pay for decades of making what they wanted then trying to make us believe it was what we needed. Don't bail them out. Like children, they got what they wanted every time they asked and they never learned to fend for themselves. There is a book on this called Cornucopia Kids. It's about why so many college graduates end up living back at home.

Many times I presented what domestic and import car buyers said they wanted only to watch the Big 3 go in completely the opposite direction with their ad agencies as strategic partners. Before many a c-suite presentation the head of strategy would whisper in my ear how many friends I had in the room, but that no one was going to save these companies single-handedly. Now there's the death knell of an arrogant corporate culture.
Through many product launch failures these companies had plenty of opportunities to begin again more intelligently...isn't that what Henry Ford said? Instead, they just kept letting history repeat itself and loosing became a habit.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Could You Predict Obama's Victory?

Were you a pre-election McCain supporter yet working in new products, consumer insights or strategic innovation? My opinion? If you could not predict Obama's victory as clearly as Jedi Master Yoda can see the future you need to ask yourself if you are in the right business. If you needed polls to keep track of where either candidate ranked, you are definitely in the wrong business.

Friday, September 05, 2008

MARKETERS: You're SOLVING the WRONG problems?

Stop! You’re solving the wrong problem!

(A bed time tale) At one time you could create new products based on consumer want and need. Brand relevancy was easy. You were one of a kind. Then the pool of easy-to-see wants and needs dried up. Copy-cats tom, dick and harry converged on the same position doing the same thing with their own new products. Categories got crowded. Unable to better differentiate products, marketers resorted to pre-conceived strategies developed on their own. Boiler plate templates like price value propositions or recipe dissemination. Suddenly directly-connected consumers lost contact with original brands and became distant cousins. Heavily segmented price-driven commodity categories ensued due to self-inflicted wounds that sliced and diced categories until consumers strongly sought price-driven quality brands like Kirkland instead. The once powerful ‘brand’ began trading on price. As new generations of management moved in, consumer’s ability to relate weakened. We had so many things no one could put their finger on what they wanted. Purchases were not reasoned; with plenty of free credit people impulse-purchased even high ticket items. Brand equity sank so low it had to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom. As modern CMOs leveraged ever-proliferating media and networking solutions to reach smaller and smaller audiences to deliver watered down strategies generating only awareness and recognition, finding highly differentiated product-based growth solutions to secure sales took a back seat. But, doing the homework to find highly differentiated growth solutions to stir sincere consumer emotions, perceptions and purchase motivations remained easy. As more brands set up tents in categories crowding out older tenants we retained the original ability to find unique product-based selling solutions that create more space in densely populated neighborhoods. The only difference today, as then, is that the best new answers are so obvious they’re not obvious. They’re abstract, and exert a stronger pull on consumer’s hearts and minds than anything you could imagine. Since the dawn of categories, seeing unique business solutions requires Abstract Creativity®.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Relevance of Brand Relevance

Why is it that people running brands ranked 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th in a category can convince themselves that their brand is relevant. The same might also be asked if you were number two - say Anacin versus Tylenol or Advil. The same might be asked if you were a little brand like E.E. Dickenson's Witch Hazel or Gold Bond Powder. Why wouldn't they like to be a billion dollar brand instead of a couple of hundred million.

I never was one who thought much of that Avis, We try Harder shtick to justify being number two. Avis was just less relevant. Same goes for Adidas versus Nike or Maxwell House versus Folgers or Kraft Mayonnaise versus Hellman's/Best Foods, etc. So who wouldn't want to take that also ran brand and turn it into number one? When I used to run sales competitions first place would get a great prize, third place would get the same great prize and second place got a buck. Why? To drive home the point that no one remembers second place. In terms of relevance - that brand and the ones that followed were somehow wrongfully (or fatally) hitting the target between the eyes.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

IAC/InterActiveCorp (IAC) & Ask.Com To Close Bloglines?

For those of you who don't know Bloglines is a FREE online service for searching, subscribing, creating and sharing news feeds, blogs and rich web content. Bloglines offers (so they say) "the most features for people who like their online news to be fresh. It’s the most popular website of its kind, indexing millions of new online articles every day."

So many popular bloggers, including myself, submit their feeds to Bloglines making it easier for readers to find valuable content. But there is a catch. When submitting your feeds as a publisher you must "claim" your feeds and await "authentication" from bloglines. To date, my feed status for "authentication" has been "pending" for two years. You do so much work on a blog that you tend to let things like this go back burner. So recently, I checked in with Bloglines again only to have found the problem still unresolved. So I made it my mission to resolve this situation.

Within the last 48 hours I have discovered that no matter how hard you try to "claim" your feeds, you can't. The user id field is prepopulated with a user name that is not your own...so you can't log in...and you consequently never can receive or re-request the "verification" email required to complete the process. Checking with the online support links I did find someone say the situation could be resolved by using the new Bloglines beta, but that doesn't work either.

Since I couldn't log in I resubmitted the "lost my password" form. You don't get a response because they say they don't have your email address on file.

If you try to resubmit your blog with your email and password they say that account already exists (but as I said, it's inoperative).

So I started making calls to Barry Diller's office. He's the head of IAC in Manhattan. I found out a guy named Eric Engleman is Blogline's General Manager. Eric Engleman's phone number is 510 985 7744. (From my due diligence - trying to fix the problem on my own - I found lots of us are having the same problem - so hey guys, this number's for you!) Additionally, Bloglines general phone number for Oakland (they're apparently no longer in Campbell, CA as the web site says) is 510 985 7400. They also have a useless customer service number that practically says we won't call you back - 510 985 8119. I just called IAC HQ in Manhattan again learning there is another Bloglines customer support number 510 985 8114. I'll try that next. (oops. just tried it. don't waste your dime. just a recorded message that sends you back to the (useless) help forums).

I spent the day yesterday resolved to correct this situation. I called IAC HQ in New York at 212 314 7300. The reception operators generally draw a blank when you ask for Bloglines. They don't know what it is (are you getting the sense there's no leadership here?) ... so you have to tell them what it is and that it operates (to my knowledge) as part of ASK.com (which is having its own obvious problems). At least that generates some recognition. They give you an IAC Customer Applications & Portal help number...914 826 2000, but when you call (and they are nice people) they disavow any knowledge or assitance with Bloglines.

So kind of like Mission Impossible, that's what I've learned to date. Is Bloglines working or not working. I don't know. But I do know I tried it and didn't like it so I probably won't buy it again...and niether should you. If you have any knowledge, please contribute. Thanks! I thought this could have been a short-term Bloglines maintenance issue, but two years?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What do you think of the new Starbucks promotion

Here in my sunny southern California stores they don't sell the afternoon drink for $2. They give it to you for free after 2PM with a morning receipt. Observed net impact; a shift of consumer behavior; an influx of pairs-traffic at 1:55 followed by freebies delivered at 2:05 according to local Starbucks baristas. Not sure that helps. But it sure is hard to hold off that morning purchase until early afternoon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Power Of Mind

The power of one mind is magnificent. The power of multiple minds on the same problem is exponential.

Consultant's Trained Brains, Consumer Creatives and Brand Ambassadors

In how many ways do consultant's trained brains, pre-selected consumer creatives and brainstorming brand ambassadors provide false positives skewing direction and slowing the expansion of brands and the success of new products?


Of what good are questions if your mind is not inspired beyond those things of which you are already aware? Hence the saying, "You can't ask a question you don't already know the answer to." This is the classic consumer packaged goods bottleneck in strategic innovation, consumer insight, brand expansion and new products. To stop your ideas from going up in a cloud of smoke, such as what would it take to increase brand IKEA's relevancy, you must stimulate all minds, marketer and consumer, beyond all current frames of reference.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


If arch rival Best Foods/Hellmanns Mayo is so well entrenched as the "Real" Mayonaisse, why doesn't Kraft Mayo, long the category's also ran who uses Miracle Whip as its Halo-Crutch just stick their tongue in cheek? "Unreal" is such an exclamation of so many incredible things! I can see the spots now with hungry teenagers ripping into sandwiches slathered with Kraft Mayo nodding their approval, skateboards in tow. "Unreal dude." A sign of approval. And let's not forget, younger kids always want what the older kids have.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Automotive Agenda

Here would be an interesting metric for the auto industry.

I was thinking about ways using metrics creates job security and insulates one from doing anything that actually makes a significant impact on the business when I had this thought.

What percentage of a new car's price or value should go into its repair and maintanence over its lifetime?

I'm sure the auto industry has that number, and wouldn't it be an interesting number to see on new and used car stickers. Bet it would drive down the cost of dealer repairs and shake other things up - and it should be there right next to the mpg sticker. But I'm still thinking of the benefits that would accrue to the end user - you and me.


Analytics and metrics are so popular in business because business men and women believe trends are things that stare up at you dead and lifeless from a slide on a microscope that's easy for us to move around. With the keyword being easy. It's dead. It doesn't move. Anyone can do it. And anyone who drives their business with this information is bound to end up roadkill, or existing on the artificial life support of today's media. Takes massive amounts of infusion to keep "the brand" out there.

So studying the past in a petri dish won't engage the future - otherwise every brand, manufacturer and ad agency would be doing a whole lot better. It's a hostile environment in which to create new products or turnaround brands not doing well. No matter what anyone says, you can't measure your way to a breakthrough. Trends that pop out of numbers are like studying an earthquake, by the time you analyze the data, the event will be long past.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Are you doping brands?
doping refers to the use of performance-enhancers forbidden by organizations that regulate competitions. Doping is mostly done to improve performance.

Increase in marketing performance for several brands triggers probe. Prosecutors widen investigation into use of illicit creative steroids; tampering with established CPG category brand positions.

Cincinnati (AP) Prosecutors investigating C-level brand management practices at Procter & Gamble today confirmed use of performance-enhancing creativity to dope brands. Use of Abstract Dimensioning® (known on the street as AD), and other forms of banned creative stimulants manufactured by Calle & Company under the names Multi-Dimensional Consumer-Creativity® and Culturally Influential Consumer Groups® are all practices forbidden by key trade organizations that regulate competition including the 4 As, Marketing Research Association and the Grocery Marketing Association. Each has denied the practice of brand doping exists despite unusual performance spikes attributed to many once flat-selling brands. Prosecutors said they would expand their search immediately to other high profile incidents in consumer packaged goods, auto, retail, restaurant, financial and pharmaceuticals. Facing stiff penalties for illicit tampering with category positioning and new product innovation, unnamed Procter & Gamble executives with a promise of immunity defended the company’s use of performance growth stimulants (such as BGH – brand growth hormone) citing dramatic increases in brand strength and rejuvenation of older slower moving brands.

In a stinging retort to allegations that his brand and team had been using the illegal creative steroids marketing superstar Lance Brandstrong said yesterday that all accusations are without foundation. "We had permission to bring every performance-enhancing product we could envision to use. We do it by the book. We get everything authorized. We seek only unique selling propositions and have no idea what that guy was talking about when he pitched us on identifying new Special User Effects® as the underpinning to every great breakthrough.” In addition he said, “I have never injected or ingested any consumer information that I didn’t already know and I have never engaged the services of Calle & Company’s Consumer-Creative® Assays® to audit something that I did already know or suspect. I would never do that.”

Prosecutors believe the practice of brand doping providing an unfair marketing advantage over rivals, in markets and with consumers to be widespread - but the practice is hard to pin down because brand people don’t apply the illegal creativity to all of their brands all at the same time. “You have to wait for one brand in one category to unexplainably make a significant leap forward overnight. That’s our first clue” said a high-ranking source wishing to remain anonymous.

Companies under investigation in the widespread brand doping and market position corruption scheme include Kraft Foods, Nestle, ConAgra, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Campbell Soup, Gerber Baby Foods, Pepperidge Farm, Entenmann’s Bakery, Brown-Forman, Miller Brewing, Ferrera USA, The Coca-Cola Company, Frito-Lay, Pepsi, Mead-Johnson. Janssen Pharmaceutica, Johnson & Johnson, McNeil, Schering-Plough, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, The Mennen Company, Chesebrough-Ponds, Clairol, L’Oreal, Noxell, General Foods, Lehn & Fink, The Drackett Company and more. And aggressive young prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves want to land indictments against other companies soon. A Federal Trade Commission spokesman said the agency is investigating the use of banned Abstract Dimensioning® and other forms of breakthrough creativity marketed by Calle & Company. (OK, I admit it. I've been doping brands with enhanced creativity for years. Like Nixon, I just got caught.)

To report suspected brand doping:
Brand Doping Hotline
714 244 9511
Category prosecutors are standing by to take your call.

Friday, August 08, 2008

OraQuel® Toothbrush Cleaner - Heart Smart Oral Care

Would you eat breakfast with a fork you only licked clean last night?

The Anacin Syndrome

Is your business suffering from The Anacin Syndrome? And what is The Anacin Syndrome? The Anacin Syndrome is my metaphore for all that has to do with the dropping of standards. During the 50's, when brands like Anacin were at their peak, words like "competent" meant that you were just one step above moron. Now the word competent means you practically own a Ph.D. Well these days being "average" has gotten so bad that you can go to the head of the class just by showing up. But why did things change? How did these lax standards come about? Well, about the time brands like Anacin were popular, moms had just started going into the workforce for the first time. They'd come home tired, stressed and hungry - and still faced a home and family to manage! Hence Anacin's most memorable ads. Moms snapping at little children! Close up on mom: hand to forehead: Voiceover: "Sure you have a headache. You're tense and irritable. But don't take it out on her!" Why if you ran that ad today you'd be accused of depicting child abuse. Back then it was just reality TV. Well, more moms and dads are working today than ever before. They don't have time for all this. Hell, I've even had marketers tell me I'm damn good. But the problem is, I make them think. Too hard. They don't have time for this. I maintain that all great minds like a good think. They just don't exercise the muscle often enough to maintain its competency.

Hence the current trend to hurry up the maturing of kids faster - or the growth of brands. As workers, we don't have the time to correctly nurture the majority of children or brands. Well nurtured children and brands are now in the minority. Hence, Vanessa Hudgins posing nude for Disney when just 18. Miley Cirus partially nude at 14 or 15. You get the picture. Pretty soon you could run the same Anacin ad depicting 13 year olds in place of mom! "Sure school's tough. You're tense, your irritable. But don't take it out on your little brother!" So many people self-prescribe, who would stop the kids? And that's why companies can't fix themselves.

And that's what's happened in marketing. We no longer sell brands. It's too hard to find an ownable brand specific reason for being that substantively differentiates one product from another. Though I have the know how I can't find a brand in any category that says anything different than their rival. They just say it in a different way. Guess it's called commoditization and it's the price brands pay for not taking the time to do their homework. As a result we are inundated with category sells and not brand sells. It's too hard to find something different to say about your product - so we invented branding - it's what you do when you don't have anything important to say. Sure Starbucks has a headache. Howard Schultz is tense and irritable, but don't take it out on the business! And that's The Anacin Syndrome.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


LEADERS ARE READERS So make certain you take the time to read the things that come in from people and companies you don't know. They're excited about what they do which is why they are calling with something you don't know. Don't have the time? Consider this. It takes General Motors five days just to acknowledge receipt of a letter to head honcho Rick Wagoner. Look at the shape General Motors is in. And casual indifference to new thinking is killing Starbucks.



Monday, August 04, 2008


Marketing strategy: Prune your thinking to promote new growth.

There is a saying among leaders (anywhere) that you have to give up to go up. And someone just asked me what that meant. The hardest things to give up are our ideas and beliefs; like what drives a business, but overall it means 'sacrifice' and in the broadest sense acting in others best interest before you act for yourself, "when you help others get what they want, you get what you want," which is sure a pure thought that it is like the perfectly cured medium rare T-bone steak because if you help more people buy your product, just by pruning your thoughts to promote new growth, you win!

In business to sacrifice and help others get what they want, like a higher stock price or more consumer traffic, it has always proven the most expedient and effective device to prune your thinking. Yes, you have to prune your thinking to promote new growth. Sounds easy, but in business, and in marketing that business, people don't like pruning their thinking to promote new growth. As sales guru Zig Ziglar said, "People cling to their ideas more tenaciously than their most prized material possessions. The Chairman or CEO of a company will get a new lease on a new vehicle or give up his or her home and move, but the thoughts stay in place.

Now there is a thought that you have to tell consumers the same thing over and over again to build a number of impressions, but in the case of brands like Folgers or categories like OTC remedies, the thoughts have remained the same for decades...while consumer thinking changes at the pace of the next internet article read.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Distilled Intelligence - What's your DQ?

I’ve always had a penchant for distilled intelligence, and now I have another reason, Sweden’s vodka. The latest to tickle the palate is Nordic Spirit, the first publicly owned vodka manufacturer to emerge in Sweden since the government's monopoly on the spirit’s production was disbanded. I want the account of a company that thinks this abstractly! What a great new product!

Nordic Spirit professes to be one of the purest premium vodka on the international market. Under the moniker, DQ (meaning ‘distilled intelligence’), this luxury spirit has been in development for the last 10 years. What a great positioning; like that short lived 'think earlier' print campaign for Starbucks which sold caffiene, just like the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup..

DQ is distilled in the government-protected Malmköping springs, a feature which formed almost two million years ago. The water is naturally soft, filtered and fortified. In the Nordic Spirit bottling plant, a connecting pipeline to the natural springs allows them to blend their distilled DQ spirit with this purified water, close to the source.

Even the method of wheat production is steeped in tradition, with seeds planted in autumn and allowed to mature during the eight winter months, making the grains of superior quality.
The result is an ultra smooth, complex vodka that slips down as gently as a shot of pure spring water. The bottle is an appropriately sleek mix of Italian glass and brushed aluminium, topped off with a specially developed nozzle that maintains the quality and freshness within. A must for any discerning drinker. What's your DQ?

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Marketing. knowledge and earthquakes have a lot in common. By the time you model and analyze the data the event has already happened. Working after the fact, reactions are behind the curve. And no matter how hard you study the past, it will not give you all that you need to know for the present. You can plan and anticipate, but it can not predict the next event. You can only fall back on everything you know about earthquakes and/or your business - and that resides within knowledge of established habits and practices. In marketing to consumers, only the ability to create new knowledge, that which does not yet exist (so it can not be gathered and measured) can put you in control and position you ahead of the curve to jolt an industry, business, category, segment or brand like the image here.


I allocate a lot of time to Starbucks because it is a classic example of the rise and fall of a great brand - and because I was one of the company's early adapters in terms of product usage and portfolio holdings. And it all happened in one of the shortest times on record, so it is a great example of what not to do. Time was, you could go into Starbucks with a buck or a buck twenty five and get a great cup of coffee, then expenses and overhead went up as the brand "grew" to become more things to more people. Rather than a great place to go for some quality time that didn't cost an arm and a leg Starbucks became a planned distination for which one had to determine if a stop at an ATM was necessary before dropping by. The beginning of the end.

Now no one believes that recipe dissemination, a few novelty fro-yo drinks, closing stores, trimming the payroll and soliciting user-generated input via an online portal will affect Starbuck's turnaround. The cost reductions are a technical mandate, but the rebuild of unit sales and dollar volume requires the creation of new consumer knowledge (as in tell me something new about yourself) to raise the bar and get foot traffic flowing in the door again. Why not target a number like 400 customers per hour on any given average hour? Why not? That's what Costco does. And why do this? Because every decision Starbucks now makes is based on established consumer habits and practice. And Starbucks already knows what that gets them. I think their stock is trading around $14 a share.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


With every cut more water is pouring into the hold of the Titanic. Why would you want to fire all those people and let all that experience go to a competitor - just because you couldn't find a better answer?

Everything the past, present and future team at Starbucks knows about its business is based on established consumer habits and practices and no matter how hard you study the past it will never tell you all you need to know for the present. The demand to create new consumer knowledge, that which has never existed to be gathered and measured is essential for Starbucks to immediately generate significant incremental unit and dollar volume sales. And I'd like to demonstrate how that worked at P&G on Folgers and Pampers, just to prove it works everytime to those who think it's impossible to generate incremental AM usage occassions. It is the most immediate way to impact a brand and business. No layoffs, no store closures. Nobody quits when you're making money. So what's to loose?


Yes, as the name implies, the new American super segment to target is the Budgeteers. Much like Disney's original Mouseketeers these current financial American innocents are adults in age only when it comes to managing money. And what would you expect? Since the invention of the credit card in 1958 these financial innocents have been encourage to constantly indulge and dip their hand in the financial cookie jar (it's irresistible) to live far beyond their means so the credit pimp (finance industry) could live well. Hence, America's current financial crisis.

To put a positive spin on Budgeteers would be to think that they are frugal people and manage money well, reading Money Magazine and always putting their money in the accounts that pay the most interest and employ credit cards with the lowest interest rates. But that's not true. That is the minority. The Budgeteers are a much larger vaster segment..."Cornucopia Kids" bred by campaigns like "Life Takes Visa" (and decades of similar before) to consume more than they bring in. They live at the intersection of "can just barely get a credit card" and "I'll never be able to pay all this back." Hooked by the purchase pimp these finance-children, with their hands in the credit and finance cookie jar take out jumbo loans with no doc or easy doc applications, they lease vehicles to have more than they can actually afford, and when they turn leased vehicles in, (more than 70% of the vehicles on the road are leased) the auto industry finds it difficult to dispose of them, which hurts the auto industry. And these are the people who came from the homes that run our finance and mortgage industry today! No wonder it finally got all fouled up. The day of reckoning arrived and it's time to go to the woodshed. It's all illusionary wealth and we blanket ourselves each night in the illusion of financial security while the simmering financial stress drives us to seek Tylenol PM and therapy for attention deficit disorder children unhinged by little more than watching their parents create a daily atmosphere of monetary paranoia and financial misery. That's insecurity. It would be hard for me to pay attention in such a household too.

The smart Budgeteers will learn from this experience and adjust their priorities advancing to middle school. They are the minority. The rest of America's Budgeteers, captured by the financial pimp will continue to be held back in financial elementary school earning their C- and D+ on their report cards. We're a long way from Ray Bradbury's blissful 24th Century Star Trek utopia where human-kind no longer needs money and lives in pursuit of improvement.
We would have a much kinder, gentler and more fiscally responsive America if retailers did away with credit cards and loyalty programs. Just offer good products and friendly service. That would be an incentive for management to get back in touch with employees. Would these businesses, like Home Depot shrink? Of course they would. Down to their "reality" size rather than their credit inflated illusionary bottom lines.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Hi. I was just working in my office and an enormous earthquake just hit here in Villa Park, CA in central Orange County, just by the City of Orange, south of Los Angeles. My entire office shook! No camera to play video but the walls rocked. It was a back and forth. Went on for almost 30 seconds. Going to inspect for damage now. Real biggy. More updates if aftershocks occure. Thanks. Sure scared me. Floor moved enough that I stumbled trying to get out. Aftershocks happening now. Dogs barking before. They sense it. Deep. Continuing.


Did I die at Starbucks and wake up in Aunt Gloria Jeans Tea Room? Selling frozen novelty yogurt drinks called Sorbetto at Starbucks is a clear signal the coffee purveyor's brand equity compass is way off track. This isn't even making Howrd Schultz look good if he's trying to stabilize the company for a sale. Selling non coffee drinks at Starbucks, especially frozen yogurt novelties is like Campbells Soup Company selling Chunky Soup as a stew in a can instead of "the soup you eat with a fork." That's how you biuld the equity of a soup company as a soup company. Starbucks. Desperate. The company hasn't even taken coffee 20% of where it can go, and they're already turning in non-coffee directions. And, not to be critical, but those Pepto-Bismol colored splats placed on Starbuck's store floors look like some sick kid yakked. Then people walk on it and it's even more revolting and unappetizing. Looks like some stores in-need-of-repair restrooms. Rating: Thumbs down. Coffee loyalists, Turn around and walk out. Newly [re] appointed marketing head Michelle Gass has her work cut out.

Monday, July 28, 2008


As commodities, heavily price driven US airline brands are going the way of the old Greyhound Bus Lines and dodo bird. What needs are actually served by physical travel save sentiment? If an airline's overhead is so great that it cannot sustain itself, then what should or could an airline become without its hardware and overhead...and what prescient Chairman or CEO is asking this question? With baggage fees bringing in no more than beer money airline marketing seems missing in action. Sure airlines stand for travel, but what does travel stand for? Communication? Enrichment? and how can that be served by communication without travel? Who would be the first airline to compete with Google? And how unlikely would that be? With the first chinks appearing in Google's armour, could an airline remold itself into the next travel/search/communication engine? Is it more likely that this new business entity replace the Face Book? And with a slight twist of wrist revolutionize social marketing and networking? And how would that occur? Where are the Special User Effects that are the underpinnings of great unique selling propositions? (like the identification of 'development' that took Pampers $1.6 billion in annual sales beyond 'fit' and 'dryness') Where are the reasons to try an airline, and if I try it and like it to fly it again? When the industry needs direction most Madison Avenue too seems MIA. Awareness and recognition pap like Fly the friendly skies isn't going to cut the mustard here or impact consumer habits and practices. There is a clear need now for a market share war and not based on price. Two things, 1) when you talk price it spooks those already facing shaky personal and professional budgets; 2) when you talk price (like Chrysler's $2.99 a gallon gas promotion) your brand equity sinks so low you have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom. Christ! Sell your cars based on their substantiated reason's for being. Cars, airlines = modes of transportation = for business or pleasure. Tell me something I don't know. That's what the brand doctor orders here!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Innovation starts in the mind, not in the laboratory - so without stimulating R&D and innovation execs minds beyond their current frames of reference, innovation becomes the next best thing - supplier or vendor ideas, packaging and delivery system evolutions, etc. You can't start in the lab and work backward. You have to start in the mind and go forward.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


One of the fun things about my job is that I get to have new product thoughts no one else has ever had; And the best part about the best ideas is that they always seem to draw connections between two things that have never been connected before, or that have no reason to be connected in the first place...like toilet paper and dieters. Knowledge is the by product (no pun intended) of my unique job in the consumer packaged goods industry (and believe me, I've learned more from the crappy ideas than from the billion dollar winners) - while everyone else is busy scurrying around gathering and measuring data, I create new knowledge for purposes of strategic innovation, consumer insights and new product concept development - quite a number of which have fallen into the 'heavy-hitter' category over the years, and more into the toilet bowl.

But you want to argue with the notion that no one has ever had the idea of "toilet paper for dieters" before? Maybe someone has - so go ahead and Google it because I couldn't find it. And why shouldn't Americans have the right to purchase "toilet paper for dieters." There's an obesity epidemic in America, so a lot of solid material from over consumption is getting flushed down the bowl while we simultaneously try to eat less. It's like a daily good cop bad cop routine. I stuff my face, then feel guilty about it convincing myself that one less leg of fried chicken or one less Pillsbury dinner roll is going to make a difference. I've been drinking Lite beer for years and it hasn't changed my waistline. I flog myself for a lifetime. Yes, one of my clients has been Jenny Craig.

But back to TP for Dieters. You snicker it's a silly idea. Oh yeah!? You wouldn't if you saw it rolled out by P&G and Charmin or KC and Scott Paper. After all it's been A LONG TIME since anyone innovated in the toilet tissue category. A roll of paper has been a roll of paper for since before your grandfather. People used to laugh at the idea of just having a second cold symptom remedy relief product. Everyone used Dristan and incredulously asked why they might need something else. Then we turned their tablet into a liquid. Prototypes were perceived to do a better job of providing night time tranquility. The day before every Consumer Packaged Goods executive laughed at the idea of segmenting the cold symptom relief category. The day after, they had NyQuil. They stopped laughing because NyQuil took nearly 70 share from Dristan overnight and opened the door for the flood of symptom relievers that followed. We just blazed the trail.

So is TP for Dieters a worthwhile idea? Probably not. Because it is the byproduct of my own mind and not that of consumers, and unless consumers say "make it so" the product has no reason-for-being. But if they did want it what might it be like? Would it be slippery or coarse, thick of thin, smooth like Lays or ridged like Ruffles? And why does it have to be flat? Can it be inserted? Would it change color like pregnancy tests to indicate carbohydrate versus protein metabolizing. How about indicating stool moisture content? (And they said I'd be embarrassed speaking with women about their daily hygiene needs for Maxi Pads and Tampons.) I THINK TOILET PAPER SHOULD BECOME DIAGNOSTIC. There'd be a great market in hospitals alone. Would there be different TP segments for people with different weight loss goals? People who want to loose 20 pounds this year versus 40. Is there a competitive segmentation for dieters on TV - Reality Shows like America's Biggest Loser? And then again, there isn't a single toilet paper that gives me a sensual pleasure. Why shouldn't there be one? Sure would make me feel better about over eating. I wonder if the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex ever looked into this? Probably not because that's not where young executive minds go. But if a guy from IU can go there I'm sure P&G can too. But maybe again, the idea isn't worth the paper it's written on, and then again, maybe it is. Sure are a few technology patent ideas here if someone in innovation at Procter & Gamble or Kimberly-Clark isn't too busy. Googled that too. No patent filings to date. And they say agency creatives have all the fun creative ideas - or the humanists at companies like Ideo or Frog Design. How many've gone here? I bet zero. Because it's not something you can observe by observing existing consumer habits and practices - so that's where they and Clayton Christiansen's theories of disruptive technologies fall short. You have to be able to envision behaviors that have never previously existed and that is what we alone do with our Abstract Dimensioning Mental Processing.

Let's go on. Please help. Comment!

Friday, July 18, 2008


Most marketers are busy crunching numbers today, like they did yesterday, and the day before, and as they will tomorrow. What they are analysing are minute changes in business performance based on standards driving businesses that have not changed in decades. We all drink beer, wine, ale and spirits to address the need states of "to party" or "to relax." There are no other reasons. When our wives had babies we bought disposable diapers that had to "fit" the baby better and keep the baby "dryer." The entire industry remained flat until the revelation that a diaper brand such as Pampers could actually capture toddlers by extending its foot print to "development" sold an incremental $1.6 billion worth of Pampers that year while all the nay sayers suggested there was no way to generate an incremental disposable diaper consumption occasion - but those were not the forward-thinking outward-looking execs.

So to what frequency do consumers tune when dialing in your business? Are you broadcasting a frequency only they can hear? That sure would cut clutter! Why ask this question? Because we all operate with our own definitions of positioning, insight, branding, ad nauseum. And they can't all be correct. There is an overburden of clutter, commoditization and desensitization to ad messages in the marketplace. So how do you tune into that one frequency that reaches that one person (thought leader, early adapter, whatever) that you want to hear your message?

About 24 million consumers ago (that's about how many consumer panelists we've intereacted with face-to-face/not online in the last 40 years) we determined that the insight you want to target is called a Special User Effect. It is not a generic emotion of the sort generated by Hal Riney for Saturn. That division still operates in the red. A Special User Effect is consumer-created (not Madison Avenue or client created) and it is the result of a process that creates new consumer knowledge that has never previously existed to be mapped, gathered or measured. It is not the product of your own mind, my own mind or insight either.

This places the bar higher. That's where "development" came from for Pampers, which grew the business by $1.6 billion that year (now that's an insight). It's also the way the oral care business determined the five category attributes that account for all consumer perceptions in oral care. So I don't really care which agency you are or you hire. Every insight they have will in some way shape or form be somehow inextricably tied to one or more of these five attributes unless you create new breakthrough knowledge. We only brush our teeth for reasons of whitening, breath freshening (includes germ killing), gum care, tartar control and cavity prevention.

Why do I make such a hard line stance and draw my line in the sand here? Because my goal is higher. I don't just sell more product with garden variety insights. I control the definition of categories with the proprietary ability to create new knowledge from the minds of consumers. That's consumer-creativity and it is not the same as merely soliciting user generated input from websites where provided input comes only from consumer's existing frames of reference. Companies only do that because it's cheap. No matter how hard you study the past [that way] it can never give you everything you need for the present.

A brand IS fewer things to fewer people. That is what causes the early adapters to glom on. The novelty is what gives a brand an allure. Then they 9the numbers crunchers and insight hounds) try to make it more things to more people and you can kiss it goodbye. Everyone else is just a follower. A brand IS something that someone started that caught on. The rest of us are merely members of the herd. How do you resurrect a company like GM or a brand like Starbucks? It can only come from the creation of new knowledge. Closing 600 stores, recipe dissemination, a few novelty fro-yo drinks and a MyStarbucksIdea website will not improve Starbucks fortune. They are merely stabilizers and are only preparatory moves to Howard Schultz making another kind of decision, like cashing out.

The frequencies of insights are deafening. There are so many so inconsequential insights echoing against the fundamental building blocks of categories - any category - that we tune them out - noise - commodities we take for granted - which is why agencies and managers get hired and fired all the time. The insights that matter are those that fundamentally change perception in a category and substantively alter consumer habits and practices to a desired goal, solving problems. To that end, there can only be one insight - the rest are all peasants.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


So if a brand is something that a rancher puts on his cattle so that other ranchers or rustlers don't steal them why do CPG companies brand their products? So competitors or brand rustlers won't steal them. Yet in many ways products (cattle) in most categories (pastures) are the same - commodities - and like cattle heavily price driven categories at that, ground roast coffees, disposable diapers, edible oils, etc.) So if the rancher (cattle owner) wants to sell more of his cattle (brand) at auction (chain grocery and drug stores for example) what must he or she do? Make a better product? A steer is a steer. Meat on the hoof is meat on the hoof. And a better product would screw up the margins. I believe that legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had it right when he said, "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." These ranchers (marketers) have been raising cattle (brands) the same way year after year. The feed (gathered and measured data) comes from the same vendors year after year. It seems to me that the only thing that would make a difference would be to create new knowledge - knowledge that has never previously existed to be gathered and measured. After all, most gathered and measured (cattle/brand feed) data comes from consumer survey panelists who answer questions for points and prizes - they don't even get cash anymore. And if it's done online, you can't even look the panelist in the eye to see if he or she is telling the truth (suspect data). That feed could be anything! I believe creating new knowledge, that which is yet to exist to gather and measure would sire an uber brand. (It made Folgers worth $1.6 billion when auctioned to a brand rancher in Orrville, Ohio. Then everyone else could once again rush to converge on the same position (pasture) saying the same things about themselves (branding) their own way. The symbol (brand) might look different, but the meat inside is pretty much the same (commoditization). To continue doing things the same way would be illogical because no matter how much you study the past (entrenched or shifting consumer habits and practices or beliefs) it will never give you everything you need for the present. Does anyone actually believe that closing a thousand stores, recipe dissemination, a few novelty fro-you drinks and user generated input from MyStarbucksIdea.Com is going to turn Starbucks around? No. It's just trimming the fat to get ready for an auction where Starbucks is the cattle and rancher Schultz can cash out. “A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do.” That way the auctioneer (Costco) can't tell the rancher (P&G) how to breed the cattle (Tide). It's called differentiation, which today, can only come from new knowledge. Jeez, I think I've been hanging around CPG companies too long. Starting to sound cynical.

Is making the customer "Believe" in your marketing proposition, a necessary and sufficient condition of a successful sales pitch?

No. You need to identify a Special User Effect which is consumer-created and the by-product of a new knowledge creation process. That way, the belief is already built in. Everything that has come before, via the utilization of assumptions and old knowledge is contrived and less effective.


Did you know that the New York Times is written at an elementary school level? That's because that's the average intelligence level of an adult in America today. They've already forgotten more than they've learned simply because they don't use it every day. And for that reason the muscle gets flabby and weak. Have you ever actually seem a contestant win the Jeff Foxworthy game show Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? Not in my memory. So why are you entrusting the future growth of your business or brand to the input and responses of Americans? To Americans who answer the countless questions and who provide the user-generated input solicited by corporations? Even worse, the use of online research where companies get panelists to respond for points and prizes. You can't even look them in the eye to see if they're telling the truth! Smarter people would only respond for cash! Obviously the airlines, Starbucks and General Motors are listening, and look at the results. And that's the problem. No one is creating new knowledge to take your fifth grade customers to the next level - the level where you want them to be.

By creating new knowledge that has never previously existed to be gathered and measured you could gain a proprietary advantage over rivals and markets in the areas of strategic innovation, consumer insight and new product concept development to invigorate struggling brands and businesses. Does anyone actually think that recipe dissemination, a few novelty fro-yo beverages, closing a thousand stores and a http://www.mystarbucksidea.com/ website that does not give consumers the latitude to respond beyond their current frames of reference is going to solve Starbuck's problems? (every question or category in which to respond mimics a store as it exists today. How is starbucks to improve if the existing model is the baseline? All that can be expected are very small incremental...not even evolutionary steps. And that's not the material of a turnaround.) Why create new knowledge? Because no matter how hard you study the past, by asking consumers and customers questions, it can never tell you all you need for the present. How would you expect them to respond? They can only respond within their current frames of reference within long established habits and practices. Without the stimulation required to identify new product potentials and the bigger consumer persuasions beyond, companies have no recourse but to look for bailouts and new merger and acquisition suitors as solutions. That's strike 1,2 and 3 against inbound organic growth. No forward-thinking, outward-looking executives here. Just Pavlov's respondents running large businesses. Knowledge creation is why our clients hit more home runs in more categories than any other.
What's wrong with struggling companies and brands? They know everything there is to know about their business...and nothing new.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

GM's TurnaWhat

Do you remember that old Hot Tuna rock album You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tune A Fish (or was that REO Speedwagon)? Any way - Wagoneer GM CEO Rick Wagoner is up to his same old tricks again slashing jobs and cutting costs in a bid to save GM and keep his "turnawhat" on track. Isn't this what Wagoner does everytime GM's "turnawhat" hits a speedbump? Does he not know that doing the same things the same way and expecting different results is the definition of insanity? Calls to Rick's office went unreturned soliciting the company's need and ability to create new knowledge rather than gather and measure information regarding GM's future new product development efforts. (Hint: unless you come up with bread and butter vehicles like Camrys and Accords GM is going to be SOL. Gone are the days when a Corvette's or Solstice "halo" could save you. And you can also forget the goodwill or excitement of auto shows and good press. That's just stuff you're supposed to do.) Based on latest inquiries we were able to ascertain that it takes GM at least 5 days just to acknowledge receipt of an email or letter to Rick Wagoner. Apparently the earth is slow, but the oxen are patient. I did not invent that line - I stole it from Tom Selick and Bess Armstrong in the movie High Road To China. Well, insider wisdom has it that no one at GM is going to save GM single handedly. How's that for an insider unity statement. When Wagoner turns around to look I'd like to know who he sees following.

Now I've been waiting for GM's turnaround throughout CEO Wagoner's reign, but like the problems facing Starbuck's head Howard Schultz, all I've seen are a lot of "turnawhats". Closing stores, recipe dissemination and throwing a few fro-yo new drinks into the equation will not quite cut the mustard at Starbuck's "turnawhat" either. There's got to be a sale or merger discussion going on in there somewhere - that's what these leaders always do. Just no inventiveness or creativity can be seen galloping to the rescue. (No pun intended with George Gallop or all the other pollsters and information harvesters currently selling data to GM and Starbucks.) Without the ability to create new knowledge to lead the company away from the brink what else are the straight forward linear thinking problem solvers to do? Can I trademark that term (TURNAWHAT) like Pat Riley's "Threepeat?"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Join Scour - Get Paid for Searching & Googling

Join Scour and get paid for search. Scour is a peer-to-peer file sharing exchange that aggregates Google, Yahoo and MSN results. By adding the social component or ranking - you - get paid for doing something you already do dozens of times a day. Scour aggregates the search results of Google, Yahoo and MSN - the big 3 - all on one page. Scour is a new search engine working to evolve search and deliver a much greater value to the User. Make Scour your home page and start using it.


While Google, Yahoo, and MSN are incredible search engines, Scour brings all of their greatness together! With Scour, all three engines are searched all at once for you, with the results returned quickly on one page. Every Scour member is able to vote each listing up or down based on its relevance to their keyword as well as comment on their experiences with the site. By blending user feedback with proven search algorithms the Scour community helps shapes the Scour brand of results. Why would you want this aggregation? Because different search engines deliver different results.


Ever spend time searching only to find that the results you need are buried under irrelevant ones? With the Scour voting and comment system, the goal is to introduce the human element of searching allowing you and all other Scour members to speak up and help shape the results with every search. See a result that doesn't match your search? Vote it down? See a site that is exactly what you wanted? Vote it up and tell us all why you liked it. After enough votes, the listings will move down in rank, placing the relevant ones where they should be, at the top! When using Scour you can read user reviews about websites based on your keyword taking a lot of the guesswork out of searching and getting to you destination quicker.

The top search engines make billions of dollars a year in advertising revenue, wouldn't it be cool if the users got a piece of that too? Enter Scour Points! Every member is awarded one point for every search, two for a vote and three for a comment with a maximum of 4 points a search. Once you aggregate at least 6,500 points you can cash them out for a $25 Visa gift card... it's more than you currently make from searching, right? On top of that, we offer referral points for the friends you introduce to Scour where you can earn 25% of the points they make. So if you invited 25 friends that used scour regularly in addition to yourself, that's an easy $125 in your pocket for a year of what you already do! Check out how much you could earn with the Scour Points Calculator. This isn't a pyramid scheme and we're not trying to get you rich quick, we just think it's a good idea to share our success with those who help make it possible.

Play a part in the Scour community and get rewarded for what you already do!

(This copy - for the most part - borrowed from the Scour.com site. They said it better than I could.) Go to MarketWatch for more information. http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/search-socially----social-search/story.aspx?guid=%7B700B5CFC-3651-41D2-892F-EA8D4F508E10%7D&dist=hppr
My closing comment...the first chink in Google's armour. Time to cash in your stock. Scour is not "it" but the next breakthrough in online search is coming. Scour is a transition - evolutionary. If Microsoft and Yahoo can wait out their merger the affair might become meaningless. The next great thing will happen while they sit on the sidelines like two injured all stars.

Bush - Capades

Why is the United States (or General Motors) a country of people who like to run with scissors? Because there is no adult to tell their leaders not to.

I read an article in this morning's Nation/World section of the Orange County Register suggesting that President Bush will blame the Democratic Congress for continued high gas prices if Congress does not approve his bid to open offshore drilling. Why is this wrong? And what's wrong in general today?

Lack of leadership. Just because execs like Bush or Wagoner have the title doesn't mean they are the leaders. Leadership guru John Maxwell calls this "the myth of position". There is no gas or oil shortage. Lack of confidence in President Bush's National/Global leadership is what is fueling rampant oil price speculation. There is no gas/oil shortage (we don't need any new wells) because if we were running out of oil you'd see oil and gas companies diversifying into non-oil and gas businesses. That's what Philip Morris did when tobacco became taboo and they acquired Kraft. That isn't happening.
What's wrong with companies like GM? Simple. It takes 5 days for GM just to acknowledge receipt of a letter to company head Rick Wagoner. Small things like this add up into a behavior pattern that caused one writer yesterday to call GM a "pointless" company. How is a company to reap the benefits of becoming forward-thinking and outward looking if receptionists at companies like GM and Starbucks are not even allowed to identify decision makers when asked? The knowledge conduit gets capped by the operator.

Regarding business intelligence in America. It is as suspect as the no doc/easy doc loans that got the mortgage/credit industry in trouble. Any research that does not cause an executive to make direct eye contact with an end customer should be suspect.

George Bush, Rick Wagoner. They have a lot in common. What is America's stock price right now? That is what fuels speculation and high gas prices - so if you are a Democrat or Nancy Pelosi (and I'm Republican) don't fall when running with these scissors.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why are good insights so hard to find?

You know, I just love LinkedIn - the professional online community. Not only is a great place to connect with colleagues, but it is also a great place where smart people ask incredibly interesting questions like, "What is an insight?" Which got me thinking - what is an insight and why are great insights so hard to find given that in my industry - consumer packaged goods - there are thousands of experts looking for them. Are they finding them? I don't know. Based on McKinsey & Company's assessment I think not. McKinsey says, "Despite solid balance sheets and healthy bottom lines CPG executives wonder where their new growth will come from." Since CPG companies are probably most active in the insight field, I then wonder why important insights are so rarely discovered. A while back the rumor circulated that men around the age of 34 shopping for diapers in grocery stores after 8 pm also purchased Budweiser - but that was no biggie. InBev just swallowed them up without even chewing.

Very often, managers view any product, service, idea, technology, or process that is new (to them) or different as an insight or innovation. (Well just because it's new to you doesn't mean it's new to the rest of us) (An old mentor tipped me off to this type of behavior chastising me for being too busy learning everything all over again for the first time) So I think quality insights are so hard to find because we don't know how to find them. Most companies have reliable resources in place to 'gather' and 'measure' data, but gathering and mining data is only a reflection of current consumer habits and practices and no matter how hard you look at the past it will not deliver what you need for the present. So what do you need instead? Why a knowledge creation process of course! Something that can create new consumer knowledge that has not yet existed to be gathered and measured. That's how you improve consumer behavior and take your highly saturated and penetrated category and take it another quantum leap forward - the same way Pampers learned to take disposable diaper's 'fit' and 'dryness' for granted and put the brand on the much larger 'development' footprint back in the early 1980s. Or the same way Folgers went from generic 'sensory' advertising (Mountain Grown/Richest Kind) to 'control's' best part of waking up is caffiene in my cup - recently sold to JM Smucker for $1.6 billion. That stuff sure does help me work and play well with others - especially in the AM! Now that was an insight!

Why else are good insights so hard to find? It's a matter of exposure. The rule of thumb is "The more you expose yourself too the more likely you are to succeed." But apparently you can't expose yourself to a whole lot by gathering and measuring data. And companies don't want to take on additional external resources. Sounds penny wise and pound foolish!

So if business managers are running businesses and making decisions based on gathered and measured data and have not exposed themselved to knowledge creation processes could that be the reason so much of American business is only managed to meet the numbers? Kraft can predict it's sales based on predicted birth rates over the next 5 to 10 years. Doesn't take many if any profound insights to pull that off. Is that the kind of business management that's going to bail Starbucks or General Motors out of a jam? Is this why technology is king in the new creativity economy? Well, lets forget about technology and product design. It's too easy to reverse engineer and copy.

So what is an insight?

An insight is the realization of value from a new solution to a problem that rewrites the rules of the game. In order for something to qualify as a true insight
  • It must engage a creative process,
  • It must be distinctive,
  • And it must yield a measurable impact.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chrysler's $2.99 Gas Guarantee

People want to buy products that say smart things about them - but how can American car manufacturers address that need when the price of a company's stock, like General Motors, sells for less than $10 a share? That's not smart - and I don't care how many sharp looking "strivers" and "achievers" you throw into those Cadillac ads and positioning statements under the heading "brand character." Do you want proof that a company's management jumps to conclusions before they jump to the facts? Do you want proof that a company's management does no homework before engaging their mouth? Just look at Chrysler's $2.99 Gas Guarantee promotion. Not only does Chrysler find it difficult to sell cars. Now they're selling gas instead. And once you've sold price your brand equity sinks so low you have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom. But wait. That's where Chrysler already is. Where is the dramatic turnaround shift? Talking about Chrsler's wonderkind CMO let's quote Casey Stengel who once asked, "Is this all there is, or is this all you got?" Why doesn't each product line have a unique selling proposition instead of generic segmentation? Is it not true that doing the same things the same way and expecting different results is the definition of insanity? Do basics, adventurers and other socio-economic classes of consumers actually see themselves in Wranglers and Cherokees when the stock of American car companies like GM sell for less than $10 a share? The purchase just says, "You're dumb." Years ago my research for GM found people want "to buy products that say smart things about me." Sure, the economy and the housing/mortgage/credit crunch are excuses in combination with the high price of gas - but it's only an excuse - and excuses have to be corrected. I am certain that everything management knows about how to market its vehicles and leverage its brands comes from fine market research processes that gather and measure data. But the trouble with quantifying yesterday is that it does not tell you anything a company needs to know today - at present. As Captain Kirk did in the Kobiashi Maru simulation at Starfleet Academy - Chrysler needs to create new knowledge that does not yet exist to be measured to alter consumer habits and practices and to change the rules of the simulation to win. Except slow moving inventories are not a simulation. Look at this lot. Everyday, we drive past auto malls jam packed with slow moving inventories. Banners proclaim fantastic deals, yet day after day we see the same lots. Why doesn't a dealer get smart and one night after closing remove 80% of his inventory from sight. The next day most of us would think, "Wow! Something's going on. Either there is a blow out clearance sale or the dealer's going bankrupt." The sharks would swim in looking for the deals smelling blood in the water. What a perfect environment and buyer mindset to close the sale. That's what sales people call Jonesing people.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

When a good business goes bad

What are the outwardly visible warning signs that a good business is going bad? How can you tell when a rapid growth company is turning the corner to becoming a mature earnings company and you can kiss all those lucrative stock splits goodbye?

Hired by Leo Burnett, the EVP Client Service asked me what I thought of rumors that Philip Morris might buy Kraft. I said I thought Philip Morris was preparing to reduce their dependency on tobacco profits from 96% to something in the range of 46%. No one believed me, so no one went after Kraft's new business except me, landing the Kraft BBQ sauce business for myself and not Leo Burnett. And there followed a string of Kraft account work resulting in Kraft's most successful growth period with brands turning in results well beyond anticipated category norms. I made a bundle and so did Kraft.

During that time Starbucks also took off. It was time to buy stock. I'd buy at $22, watch it rise to $44, split, then repeat the process again and again. So how did I know when to get out? When Starbucks launched milder dimensions coffees in a bid to become more things to more people. That was the beginning of the demise of Starbuck's brand equity. It was also the last time the stock grew and split. Starbucks had actually succeeded by being fewer things to fewer people. You had to love that dark roast taste or you didn't. Today my broker told me Starbucks dropped to $14. That's off $4 from four days ago.

What brings my attention to these matters? The price of gas. At nearly $5 a gallon I've come to realize that there's actually no gas shortage. How do I know this? Because when we are really out of gas, the oil companies will begin to diversify into non oil and gas businesses. Then it will be time to worry. Sounds like Philip Morris all over again.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

My Top Ten Brands

The other day I recieved a poll question from a leading advertising industry trade magazine asking "What is the most genuine brand." I was given the choices J&J, Google and UPS. And I thought "Christ! What's the point of THIS question? Is someone feeling uncertain as to their authenticity (which is just another flavor of the "genuine" selling dimension)?

So I got to thinking. This question is irrelevant to these three, but in my lifetime, what have been my Top 10 Brands? That is, over the last 40 years, when I look back at every consumer good I've ever purchased, which 10 brands have I always purchased - and never purchased a rival? Interesting question right? Well here are my 10 based on product performance profiles.
  1. Q-Tips (feel as good as sex when you use them)

  2. Band-Aids (they stick well)

  3. Neosporin/Polysporin (never bought anything else for scrapes)

  4. Hellmann's Mayo (thank Laura Ries for pointing out REAL)

  5. Coke (and only Coke) (never tried Diet/Zero/New/Vanilla, etc.)

  6. NPR (National Public Radio is the best)(The Christian Science Monitor was a close second)

  7. The Beatles (ok, I do like other bands, but not with the same total immersion)

  8. Walter Cronkite/Chet Huntley/David Brinkley (great news anchor brands - after them, the news became, well, not news)

  9. Acura (biggest bang for the buck - my 91 Legend is over a quarter million miles without a single repair issue. Have only changed the fluids, tires and brakes - still runs like new)

  10. Maxfield Parrish (one of a kind great graphic artist)

As far as any other consumer good or category goes, I must admit, I have accepted substitutes, misplaced my loyalty and shopped on price percieving your brand to be a commodity.

So what's your top ten brand list? Post it here. Do you have an imaginary brand list for new products not yet invented? Mine starts off with Vel-Close and ends with OraQuel. What are they? I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

About those airline baggage charges

Ever hear the saying about someone being so far down a hole they have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom? How about the rule that once you trade on price your brand equity sinks so low it has to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom? Once you go price consumers think thrice! Nothing like training another generation of price sensitive travelers! P&G learned that with EDLP (everyday low pricing for the layman). Now Costco tells them how to make Tide or they'll plug the pipeline. So who is in charge of brand equity innovation at American, United, Delta and all the other price wielding baggage charger busways of the skies? If on Madison Avenue "it's all about the strategy" as Eduardo Bottger says at Hispanic agency of note al punto - What ad agency is riding to the rescue with a strategy that gives one of these brands a reason-for-being (that matters)? (Please no more platitudes that failed to move me in the first place) What evidence is there that straight forward problem solvers might listen to an abstract thinker that pinpoints new selling dimensions that are more relevant and resonant to core travelers? And how does that strategy resolve the newly forming habits of meeting online instead? Sounds like a job for Superman. Or maybe American should just sell all of its hardware assets and operations and become the world's first motive conference or motive visit network. Move into Kodak's memory space. What can be logged and filed solely on line. Can I charge for information transfer by the pound? Isn't that what business travel is for? How about tiered pricing for travel purposes? Do we charge a lot less for a trip to grandmas and a lot more to discuss Kraft's brand management? Now that would be some exploratory qualitative answering the questions what could an airline become. What are the future consumption drivers in "travel?" Does travel mean I have to "go" somewhere physically. And how would one "own" that? Just musing. Apologize for incomplete, incoherent or disconnected thoughts. Where's a good no baggage airline when you need one? This is all just taking shape. At some point it will just be cheaper to buy a couple hundred dollars worth of clothes and toiletries once I get to the other end. Could spur whole new terminal retail. And of course, what hotel chain is going to win me over with baggage charge rebates or credits? And why aren't they doing this instead of me writing about it? Get Tom Boddett or those guys from freecredit.com to sing a song and solve the travel woes.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Closed-Minded Innovator

Being an innovator and being closed-minded seem to be an oxymoron don't they? Yet that's what I just ran into...an innovator who says their company innovates all the time...so I ask, "on what level is your company innovating all the time?" It's about a $307 million company according to Hoovers.com. "Wouldn't you like to grow it by $300 million?" I ask. I've created new product concepts like Baked Lays that did at least that well in their first 10 months for Frito-Lay. So maybe I should go knock on the door of Marvel Mystery Oil instead. Maybe they're hungrier. So back to the flippant comment, "Our company innovates all the time." (Interpreted as, "We don't need you.") I'd like to quote leadership guru John Maxwell, and I quote; "You can find plenty of smart, talented people who can only take their business so far due to the limitations of their leadership and vision." So if all that is required to grow the business is to change the way you think (which costs nothing) why wouldn't you want to employ (or learn about) a proven innovation thought-leadership system of creative invention that could double or triple the size of your company? The ego of a young territorial executive too busy learning everything all over again for the first time muddies the water. But as the National Enquirer used to say, "Inquiring minds want to know!"


Pharmaceutical companies today are developing hundreds if not investigating thousands of new products each year - many of which go OTC. So I began thinking, "How many would ultimately converge on the same positions, just saying the same things about themselves the way their different advertising agencies want to?" Now the agencies like to say, "It's all about the strategy!" lol So just what does it mean to think outside of the box in oral care where there are only five category attributes that account for all consumer perceptions in oral care: whitening, cavity prevention, breath freshening, tartar control and gum care?" I can hear the advertising exec selecting the new advertising agency now! "I don't care what you talk about, just talk about one of those five things." So when it comes to new product development, the same thing happens. Consequently, there is no thinking outside of the box. which is why McKinsey & Company reports that over the last 45 years, despite solid balance sheets and healthy bottom lines CPG execs wonder where their new growth will come from. New technologies still converging on the same positions? Withdrawn FDA approvals?

The same happens in all categories. Show me a laundry detergent or household cleanser that doesn't promise to do the cleansing job better and faster. Show me a shampoo and conditioner that doesn't promise model-perfect hair. Show me an allergy technology that doesn't promise to relieve symptoms better and faster. Show me an orange juice that doesn't promise to taste most like the orange.

Yes. Commoditizations besets every new product launch like the plague. Hastening copy cats and capping each new technology's rapid growth phase because they do not insultate their businesses by discovering and communicating the proprietary Special User Effect no other rival can own.

Tell me about other categories in which "thinking outside of the box" beats or sucumbs to commoditiztion - but be careful before you dispute me - you can't be in "a category" unless you are converging on the same position as your rivals. So here's how you'll get a leg up on first place, or get there if you didn't launch first.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

My beef with online research

You can't quick and dirty half billion dollar ideas. Plus the fact that none of the information collected elevates brands beyond current laddering study data arresting the additional growth of product and brand sales.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

My innovation beef with market research

Why don't I like asking consumers questions? Because I've been exposed to almost forty years of the best and brightest market researchers at companies from Procter & Gamble to Pizza Hut who ask questions. In all that time, the answer to every question only reconfirmed things we already knew - basically reinventing the wheel, which, if I was to focus on advertising is why so much advertising bores or desensitizes us. I found that no one could ask a question they didn't already know the answer to. When new generations of managers asked questions at these companies it was so they could learn everything again for the first time. In companies like Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago, I've actually seen senior client service executives collect, secret and destroy the work of predecessors to protect their current position from better answers found before their time. I found that when you ask questions, you don't get the voice of the consumer, you get the voice of the inquirer through the question being asked - a form of bias that has led companies from General Mills to General Motors astray, or at least slowed or reduced their innovation return on investment. The root of all this doom and gloom? The fact that none of this question-asking ever stimulated respondent's minds - be they client or consumer - so that they could respond in surprising ways beyond their current frames of reference to hasten the pace of successful innovation and generate a consistent stream of important new disruptive technology and manufacturing patents and consumer new product concepts. So where's the beef? That is, where is the answer found? In processes that proactively stimulate consumer and client minds rather than those methodologies that reactively collect and measure data. In processes that create new knowledge, rather than in those that pre-ordain and then sell syndicated or predefined trends (i.e. Cocooning - let's write a book as a self proclaimed guru then go sell the answer to everyone so they can pull the trigger at a target at point blank range and go nowhere) data such as the existence of new subcultures of our population such as Thrivals or Basics or Adventurers - all those psychobabble social and behavioral target audience definitions that have put the brakes and blinders on so many brands by limiting their appeal through their contrived application (i.e.: Type A Strivers shilling for Cadillac). Or all those touchy-feeley product design firms who observe the here and now creating new Swiffers that do nothing more than replace old mops and refrigerators. Making the old look new. That's not innovation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Creation's Conundrum: The Qualitative Quantitative Conflict

What is it about clients that insist on the use of qualitative firms who also quantify their own work? Way back in the early days of pioneering qualitative research this was considered a big no no - you were letting the fox watch the hen house - if you did this no one would hire you. Now, clients want convenient one stop places to shop and don't care about this conflict of interest - let alone the burden to objectivity. Maybe this is just another reason why McKinsey & Company reports that despite solid balance sheets and healthy bottom lines consumer packaged goods executives worry where their growth will come from. How long can you stand the target wherever you want it, and then fire at point blank range? It's like predefining a new trend or psychographic/attitudinal/social marketing target audience, then telling everyone to go shoot at it. You artificially arrest the extent of your business. Hitting the bulls eye becomes a no brainer - with sales results that match. Do yourself a favor and learn all of the tricks you you can skip the mistakes.

This image courtesy of Dee's Liberature. http://bdee.wordpress.com.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Airline Marketing Hits Rock Bottom

Didn't yo momma tell you that the instant you trade on price your brand equity's so low you'd have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom? Has average gotten so bad that an airline thinks it can get to the head of the class by charging for your baggage? I don't know about you, but given the choice of no baggage charge versus a baggage charge, I'll choose free. Still sitting smug thinking their positioning strategies and messaging reaches captive business travelers, how long will it be before some airline wakes up to the magic of abstract creativity? Of positioning their stew as a soup you eat with a fork (Chunky Soup); of finding abstract selling solutions the way Pampers took 'fit & dryness' for granted (business travelers) and found that more diapers (and airline seats) can be sold on a 'developmental' brand platform? Hmmmm? United, "the developmental airline." What could they develop as a campaignable idea that would make all the charges worth it? Business relationships, personal relationships? There are so may Special User Effects still to fulfill - an airline (like American Airlines) could go a lot longer on one tank of creativity.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Topping Google

You know the word "topping" has a lot of connotations. If you're 'topping' someone you could be going them one better; you could also be holding them down, like topping a tree. It cuts them down - like the Hickory Hilltopper's in that great Gene Hackman movie Hoosiers. But I am writing this post because I am tired of all the talk about Microsoft's attempt to buy Yahoo in a bid to, dare I say, 'top' Google? - Or is it more 'just to keep pace and stay abreast so that Google does not get too far ahead. To slow them down.

Google, like Starbucks is starting to show frays in it's cuffs. So let time take its toll. Now all the talk is about investor Carl Icahn (sure has the name for it - iCahn, iKahn, ICON-great new brand name for a Google topping search engine) and cronies such as Microsoft's Steve Balmer reigniting their takeover bid. Hey guys, listen up. All of this takeover action is proof that the guys working the problem don't have the ability to out-invent a new Google. Something better that grows not from pure technology, but from the creation of new knowledge from consumer minds, that by perceptual innovation would discover that knowledge required to change consumer habits and practices with ideas rather than ownership of a rival.

It sure is a lot cheaper , and only takes about six weeks to find that breakthrough idea that would snuff Google's mass appeal. I've done it before. Why not just treat the problem like a new product concept development exercise and invent a real google competitor from scratch for $200,000 or so rather than the $37 billion it would take to buy a Yahoo that's always going to be, like Avis, number 2. Of course, this advice comes from someone who knows how to do this type of problem solving strategic innovation. I don't do those garden variety line extensions.

I think the real problem believes this can't be done. "The cost of pioneering" would bee too high." But it would still be far, far less than what would go into Yahoo's acquisition. Imagine just what you could do if you were a successful new product person with several multi-billion home runs under your belt and someone gave you $37 billion to play with. I'd reinvent the entire consumer packaged goods industry including it's distribution channels.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Banality of Selling Consumer Products

I like the saying, "Branding is something you do when you don't have anything important to say." However, the banality of advertising today, what products and brands are saying about themselves, to sell themselves, borders on absurdity. Now I know that marketers don't want to stick their necks too far out on the line. And they'd rather be safe than sorry, especially in a rough economy. But it also reminds me of the saying, "Ships in a harbor are safe, but that's not what ships were made for."

I make special note here of the new advertising being done to sell 7-Up. Now with real, natural flavors. Who cares! It's a soft drink. I got through all these years with artificial flavors, so what strategic rocket scientist at Cadbury-Schweppes decided this was the best way to go? Reminds me of Procter & Gamble days where the soaps and surfactants division toyed around with the idea that washing your clothes "sanitized" them. DOH! Who cared? My clothes were clean.

Last year, Cadbury Schweppes beverage division, including Snapple and 7-Up was up for sale. And nobody bought. So there's been little growth in the division, and no one wants to buy the division. Don't you think it would be time for a little creative thinking and strategic innovation? This effort isn't picking the high fruit from the tree. As a matter of fact, it isn't even picking up the dead fruit from the ground.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reality Vesus Actuality: A Construction of The Truth

Reality has swept America. Reality TV that is. Is it real? So quickly the lines blur in one night's viewing. I no more need watch The Apprentice to know that I can make better decisions. But I do not get a better job, or a raise. And gas still costs $4 a gallon. An expense to my quality of life that is needless. That's Actuality. Disney was the first painter of reality. He is the grandfather of reality. He did not paint actuality. No one would watch - no one would come. Disneyland is a study in an idealized America that never existed. But now we watch shows and immerse ourselves in a reality that is not actuality. I do not want to escape. I do not want a shot at love with Tia Tequila.

So those of us who are not so numbed by the barage of reality - wonder about actuality. Are you marketing to actuality? Because that's where the people with disposable incomes are in a crappy economy. They're dealing with Actuality. They're not frittering away their dreams on reality.

Washington Mutual is marketing to reality. They've borrowed billions to remain solvent, and to mask the actuality, tell us they are the bank that makes you say, "Whoo Hoo!" The Germans call that "dreck." Please don't deposit your marketing waste in my Actuality bin. WaMu is using "reality" strategy to mask the fact that it is really the bank that lacks actuality management, and could very well make depositors cry Boo Hoo - if they had a run on the bank and had to lock the doors. Yes actuality fans, disaster at WaMu is really that close.

But as long as we can immerse ouselves in reality, know one will take accountability. And as soon as the credit crunch is averted - because that's what reality helps us do - we'll have dodged actuality again and life will go on taking Visa.

What happened to gold standards.

So in what camp are you placing the future growth of your company, your strategic innovation? Reality or Actuality?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Advertising Campaigns with Zero Thought Profiles

So absurd. Why do companies take their names, shorten them, then use rhymes as advertising campaigns? Washington Mutual. WaMu. Whoo Hooo. Adult minds actually concieve and sign off on this crap. What is it's intent other than to misdirect depositors to think that everything's OK at the bank in spite of having to borrow $10 billion to keep its doors open these past few weeks. Sure they don't want a run on the bank - BUT - There isn't any problem at a company that can't be fixed by a good product, and standards. And I'm not talking about free checking from those friendly, flannel shirt clad bankers in Seattle. It just doesn't sell. Why redirect consumers fears? Why not do something that brings in sound money during a crappy economy? That works. That's marketing. But they told me it hurts their heads to think that hard. That's not smart.

Mitsubishi. Mitsu. Trying not to be Japanese. What's next, Mhoo Shoo?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why Not Ask Questions?

Everyone else is doing it. Asking questions that is - in focus groups, quantitative research, qualitative research, strategic planning and innovation. So why not ask questions? Because if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. Which is answers that do not substantively move your business forward. Answers that confirm the things that you already know. Answers that move you closer, like gravity, to the same strategies all of your competitors are using coverging on exactly the same positions, only saying the same things differently. No gain.

So what do you do if you are Staples and the strategy that once made you all powerful now threatens to turn you into a commodity. Kodak, Starbucks can all ask the same thing. But the last thing they'd want to do is ask their customers questions. Sounds ridiculous right? Opps, that's a question.

You don't want to ask your customers questions because without additional positive mental stimulation, they will be unable to answer your questions from beyond their current traditional frame of reference and knowledge, They will only say what you and they already know. Further, you can't ask any questions you don't already know the answer to. It's kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why should Starbucks introduce $1 cups of coffee and who said that would impact their business? Are they doing it because there are now so many competitors Starbucks is becoming that commodity? So why respond with a dollar cup of coffee? It's not like going to Starbucks is out of the way, they're everywhere. They're not going to steal share and they're not going to stem trial of rivals products - so the move is an example of Starbucks running scared. I never heard of a Starbucks customer complaining about the price of a cup of coffee. Starbucks price is what made their product part of one of my aspirations. So now you're ripping the guts out of your brand by trading on price!? When you trade on price you go so low in terms of perception and brand equity (P&G learned with it's EDLP - everyday low price strategy) that you later have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottome or is that bottom? (I knew that)

And lastly, when you ask questions you don't get the voice of your customer, you get the voice of the inquirer through the question being asked - a form of bias that will lead you astray. So questions are dead you say? Yes! OK smarty pants - so why do attorneys ask questions and win cases with them? Because they are trying to prove a point in law, a static point, that already exists. It does not move. And to grow business you must. And why don't more people stop asking questions and start probing minds with proactive materials that stimulate activity to a higher level? Because they don't know how. They were bred from birth to ask questions. It's as easy as breathing - which is why everyone does it. Getting ahead without questions is much harder. It is the road less taken - which is why it wil take you farther than you need to go.
So don't ask questions. Look what happened to the joker.