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.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Marketing to Germphobic Societies - Turning next generation men into residential mice.

Or should it be the other way around - turning today's residential mice into men. Years ago the Boy Scouts of America started watering down the Boy Scout Handbook, and in my mind easing qualifications for advancement in rank in an effort to remain competive with the abundance of activities competing for a share of young boy's time. This is not a condemnation. What I'm saying is that less information is provided in more detail in today's scout handbook than I had in mine related to sheer survival skills 40 years ago. Now granted I'm an Eagle Scout and can survive with just a knife in the wilderness, even caught and ate a squirrel on my Order of the Arrow Ordeal. But never have I seen this more in evidence than in a scout outing with my son's new troop this weekend. Granted all the boys in his patrol are young, and less than "experienced" scouts - all are still working on tenderfoot or second class requirements. But the first thing I saw plopped on a table as the tents went up was a bottle of Purell. Now that in itself is not bad, but what I found disturbing was the boy's need to pump that bottle every time they touched a dirty stick, played in the fire, picked up a rock or gathered firewood. More, rather than be the example of what the boys should be doing (ie: demonstrating the Boy Scout way to prepare meals over an open fire, one dad showed up with Lunchables in his knapsack to feed himself. Self reliance has gone to hell in a handbasket here and I'm going to turn it around! It isn't that the parents attending were doing anything wrong, admittedly they'd never been scouts. So I started teaching scout skills. When I was a scout the challenge was to be able to build and light a fire with just one match. And if that match went out, you were SOL - and in a real life situation probably dead. When done, I challenged the boys to gather their wood, build their fires and then we'd have a competition to see who could light a fire with one match. An indignant parent stepped forward suggesting that that was too much pressure on his child and that he should have all the matches and chances he wanted. I asked him if he thought if in a survival situation that was realistic? - I was trying to teach the boys that in a survival situation they needed food, shelter and warmth. What was his child to do to provide warmth, if he did not even have a match? This is the Boy Scouts for Christ sakes and I'm trying to teach the boys to BE PREPARED. One dad slept in the back of his mini van instead of his tent anyway - guess comfort is king. The demonstration went on without a hitch. I lit two fires, each with one match - still not too rusty after 37 years away from my scout experience. I admitted that it took me 20 campouts before I could light a fire with just one match. Just one problem. I assumed the boys knew how to use matches. They didn't. So it's back to square one on the next campout and before we move on to the different types of fires: cooking, signaling, etc. More on turning boys into men later. One thing for certain, those boys thought the challenge was cool, and they all had lots of questions. Good men!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

OraQuel ® - Lowers the incidence of heart disease

OraQuel ®
Toothbrush rinse lowers the likelihood of heart disease.

(OraQuel® is not a drug, over-the-counter or prescription pharmaceutical) Every time you brush your teeth you increase the liklihood of heart disease and arterial damage. The effects are cumulative over a lifetime. Medical studies link heart disease, arteriosclerosis and the oral plaque that accumulates in arteries and on heart valves (as a result) to poor oral care habits, gingivitis and periodontal infection. Deposited on arterial and heart valves and walls, the majority of oral plaque comes from gingivitis and periodontal gum infection.

OralQuel® lowers the incidence of daily gingivitis and periodontal infection by assuring you a clean toothbrush. Directions: To lower the incidence of reinfections, shake excess water from toothbrushes immediately after use. Pour approximately a half-ounce of OralQuel directly onto toothbrush bristles, assuring penetration to root of bristles. Wait 1 minute. Product may cause slight foam to form between bristles. Rinse and store your toothbrush as you would normally.

OraQuel®, is a new product from CalLabs, the research and development arm of Calle & Company. To order OraQuel® (16 oz.) send $19.95 (+$3.95 S&H) (cash, check or money order) to Greenwich Marketing, Inc. 18881 Patrician Drive, Villa Park, CA 92861. Make all checks payable to Greenwich Marketing, Inc. Please include your name, address, phone number and email address. Get 10% off orders of four or more. All transactions in USD. Returned and NSF checks subject to all fees and $15 handling charge. International customers please add $9.95 shipping and handling.

Find out more about OraQuel® at www.OraQuel.com

OUT OF GAS. How to Know We Are Really Out of Gas

I find Energy Marketing an interesting subject. With gas hovering near $4 per gallon and a barrel of crude running $111 consumer confidence hits an all time low every time one looks at the gas guage - your constant daily reminder of how things are. Now, the oil companies say that profiting $20 billion per company per quarter, or $120 billion over all last year is in line with what other companies make - and given the cost of exploration and development, it seems oil companies may not be making enough. So here I am on their side.

But where I am not on their side is when they raise the price of gas because they say they have a "fear" that something "might" happen - that we pay through the nose retail because of their lack of confidence. That's a leadership issue and it lands squarely on Washington's dinner plate. Of course the middle east enjoys the $111 a barrel scenario because it funds the massive infrastructure construction projects going on in Dubai and elsewhere. Is Washington building itself a retirement community, a VIP Leisure World in the middle east at American's expense?

But I'm off point. My point was, "How will you know when we're really out of gas?"

Back in the day I was brought in from outside to save several accounts at Leo Burnett. The term they used in my offer letter was to "bring a breath of fresh air" to accounts such as Kellogg, Philip Morris, Nestle and McDonald's. A rare opportunity given that Burnett is very well known for not hiring outside the company. Anyway, early on, I was asked what I thought about Philip Morris' pending purchase of Kraft by EVP Client Service William Lynch. I told him my read was that tobacco was becoming politically sensitive and that PM was preparing to reduce its dependency on tobacco profits. I was scoffed. But sure enough, within 5 month Philip Morris had acquired Kraft. Vindication sure tastes sweet. PM dependency on tobacco profits plummeted from 96 to 56 percent, with the acquisition of Miller dropping that figure to around 46 percent.

So how will you know when America is really out of gas? When the oil companies start buying other companies. They'll be in a scramble to reduce their dependency on oil profits.

But right now there is no sense of urgency. And that's because the oil companies know they have years of oil profit ahead. That's also why they've only dumped a paltry $3.5 billion into alternative energy. Just enough to keep the pliable liberals and global warmers happy. So what's the conclusion? Right now there is no gas shortage, we are overpaying at the pump, face time with Congress buys Big Oil a little more time while we idiot pawns feel vindicated Big Oil's getting its wrist slapped by Congress - they are the actors and we are the audience. Will you applaud, or ask for a refund?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Grand Unified Theory of Creativity

I am approaching 40 years of experience mumbling and working with Madison Avenue ad agencies and their clients, finding strategies that invigorate the sales of products, brands, categories and industries. Beneath the surface I've sought what I call The Grand Unified Theory of Creativity - what is it that would give a client the single most comprehensive yet concise view of all product and positioning potentials available to their business. While this search with my clients has allowed me to amass many career's worth of experience in less than a lifetime, I still wonder why more people don't get it - knowing as I do that they can go farther than where they are, expanding their product or strategy's Viability Envelope, by just tipping the creative tea cup a bit further - in the same way shifting from 'fit' and 'dryness' to 'development' dramatically expanded Pamper's industry footprint?

Letters back from companies such as Starbucks and their Senior Vice President of Category Management state they have plenty of specially designed resources available for the gathering and measurement of the required data - never realizing that you can never measure your way to where your business can go. Again I ask, "So why don't they get it?"

No one is talking to Starbucks (or any company) about The Grand Unified Theory of Creativity (google "the grand unified theory of creativity" in quotation marks and you will find I am one of only two people on the planet thinking about it, and the other guy wants to be a western writer.) And Starbuck's 'gathered' and 'measured' data is doing nothing to reverse the fact that the strategy that once made them most powerful is now being copied handily by every other Tom, Dick and Harry coffee purveyor.

Strategic Innovation, and The Grand Unified Theory of Creativity is about Multi-Dimensional Creativity. Another one of those terms that companies such as Starbucks tells me is provided by their ad agencies (really?...so if you google the term "muli-dimensional creativity" why don't any advertising agencies pop up in results?)? Multi-Dimensional Creativity is about that comprehensive/concise justaposition of which I spoke earlier - looking at fractions of millions of strategic options in the blink of an eye. That's just to get the linear thinkers out of the starting blocks. It doesn't come from the user-generated input websites touted by Chrysler to get them closer to their customers. It's the Abstract Creativity, The Abstract Dimensioning that ensues that makes the obvious special. (and that's not covered by any ad agencies or strategic innovators either).

So say you are Staples, and the strategy that once made you so powerful, and the first to consolidate office supply acquisition, is now so copied that you've become little more than a commodity; what do you need to shift your business strategy from strategy maintenance to strategic creation mode? You need to visit a fine tailor and get your new grand unified view of creativity custom tailored to fit you.