Monday, November 30, 2009

General Motor's Cultural Autism and Intimacy-Deficiency Disorder

Is it any wonder that General Motors so dutifully displays it's intimacy-deficiency syndrome in ads for the Buick LaCrosse that claim IT is another reason for Lexus' relentless pursuit of perfection? Do you also find it laughingly unbelievable that Howie Long can schill for Chevy then throw in that in comparisons to Hondas Chevy doesn't make lawnmowers? Not to GM: When you are so far down a hole you have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom you don't go around parading your cultural autism: a complete disregard for the consumer's cultural intelligence. Socially awkward does not even begin to describe General Motor's turnaround face. Chevy's still called "the volume" brand with no hope of catching the brands that so better move consumer culture into and back out of their organization. General Motors was and is the kid in school everyone percieved to be an outcast. Mean yes. True? We'll, their the ones with the self-inflicted wounds. As GM sheds brands GM remains...completely delusional in the way it views itself.

I find the concept of Cultural Autism in business interesting. And with Google returning only 4,500 some odd results on the topic, it is not very well explored. With Grant McCracken's release of his new book, Chief Culture Officer, no book or subject could be more timely for GM.

I found this webcast on cultural autism. I hope it provides food for thought in your own business. Today human interaction has been reduced to text messages, Facebook pages, computer screens, and mindless television. Parents are merely chauffeurs for their children’s endless activities away from home. Neighbors are strangers on the other side of a high, strong fence. Many families don’t even share meals together. What is the price of this modern living? The price is deep loss -- of real connecting intimacy, of family cohesion, of social graces, of a sense of community. These are fading away into the distant memory of our collective psyche, replaced by sterile cultural autism (disregard for external reality), masquerading as genuine intimacy. We will be discussing the emotional deficiency disorder at the heart of our high-tech culture-- lack of deep, profound relating with one another.

Will the androids running GM ever feel real?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Move Over George Winston, Windam Hill. Make Room for Shannon Stephens.

Over at indie artist music site stereogum you'll not only find great free mp3 music downloads, you'll also find artsist Shannon Stephens and she's good. Really good. Like Carly Simon good. Like Carole King good. Like Joni Mitchell good. If you're in to artists like George Winston, especially his Autumn album and the entire Windam Hill record label Shannon Stephens is, was and forever will be one of your favorite artists. She's spent time in Holland, MI, like me. And I wonder if she's ever been to Pentwater? From The Breadwinner album on Asthmatic Kitty Records video by: Zack Bent additional support: Gala Bent featuring: Jillia Pessenda & Jim Bovino. Her release, In Summer In The Heat is what they say is to die for. Good stuff. Here it is. Courtesy of YouTube.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The World's Most Successful Marketer

He's not Bill Gates. He's not Steve Jobs. He doesn't even work for Procter & Gamble. But the world's most successful marketer thinks a lot like the executives at The Coca-Cola Company and Pepsi. The one thing these companies abhor is excess capacity. If you leave a bottler or fountain account with excess capacity your rival will rush in to fill it. And that's where the bulk of Coca-Cola and Pepsi's business lives. So sometime after WWII someone figured out that non-working housewives represented excess economic capacity. Potential wage earners that could, if nudged, dramatically increase the size of the US consumer economy. Ultimately, to migrate from a cash/gold standard based economy to one in which we lived on something yet introduced to be called "credit." Was the world's most successful marketer a politician, a staffer or a Madison Avenue guru? No one knows, but one thing's for sure. He or she was one smart cookie. In 1958 Diner's Club cards got a wobbly start then American Express checked into the market with a gold card that became the first green card - giving consumers permission, like a visa, to live beyond their means.

The tool? Slick positioning. The feminist movement. By mobilizing women out of the home children no longer had a strong family base. We called them latch key kids and consoled ourselves with advertising to women that said "I can bring home the bacon and cook it too." No. You couldn't. Divorce rates hit 50%. School performances dropped. Gangs rose. Families crumbled. Dual income families didn't raise..."families." Now we have single mothers. Things called alternative families. Made politically correct by children's shows such as Sesame Street. Worse. It's not right.

So who is the world's most successful marketer? Who is the man or woman responsible for Socially Engineering of the demise of American families and values? Who was it that could not leave well enough alone? Who was it who had to have America's excess capacity go to work (now, just to make ends meet)?

The world's most successful marketer brought on the financial crisis. The world's most successful marketer drove Wall Street to financial excess and put pressure on the short term gain. What did regular marketers do? They followed. They adapted to trends. They did not stand up and represent themselves. They bent. And helped the world's most successful marketer promote his or her evil. And so the world's most successful marketer launched a top-two box intent to purchase new product that brought America to its knees.

So who is the world's most successful marketer? Drop the blame on anyone you want here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Saturn: The Long Good Bye

What do Saturn and the movies "Ghost" and "The Sixth Sense" have in common? The stars (heros: Patrick Swayze, Bruce Willis, Saturn) were dead and didn't know it. Saturn wasn't born a brand with special needs. Saturn was stillborn. Conceived in 1985 to be "A different kind of car. A different kind of car company" Saturn never had a reason-for-being. (Go to CNN article) Former GM CEO Roger Smith (of Michael Moore movie "Roger & Me" fame) wanted to start over with Saturn. Instead he stuck the automaker with another dud. Disagree? Well let's split hairs and remember that no car buyer ever said they wanted "A different kind of car. A different kind of car company." They only said they didn't like "the US auto dealership experience." So GM, in typical fashion jumped to conclusions before they jumped to the facts. When consumers said they didn't like the dealership experience they didn't say they wanted a whole new car company. They said, "fix the dealerships." But that was hard to do because people cling to their ideas more tenaciously than their most prized material possessions. No one wanted to mess with the channel guys who also held sway over each year's advertising - and what do car sales guys know about strategy?!) So, to not piss off their prima donna dealer network GM just decided to start a whole new car company with no strings attached. Fatal mistake. The start of the long good bye.

What's the back story? San Francisco's Stouffer Hotel (the one right below the Mark Hopkins and across from the Fairmont) used to be a class act. It was the hotel that hung Maxfield Parrish's "The Oak" by the elevators. And if you're a creative and don't know Maxfield Parrish you've got a lot to learn. Anyway, the Stouffer is now a Renaissance Hotel and Parish's famous "The Oak" is gone.

But there I was in 1985, gliding past The Oak and entering the elevator with Saturn's agency head Hal Riney. Hal had just won the Saturn account with his touchy feely emotional strategy for the brand. Oh great! Now consumers had an even slipperier slope to cling to. A strategy with nothing they could sink their teeth into. No product-based selling solutions. No special user effects. Just buy us because we're warm and cuddly. A different kind of car (never defined). A different kind of car company (ill defined). Hal had pulled a page from research fueling Washington Mutual's here today and gone tomorrow customer base. "We're the nice guys that wear flannel shirts and blue jeans." We're not those take your money and run American auto dealers. Remember: early Saturn floor sales personnel always wore khaki pants and unbuttoned blue oxford shirts. They never approached you unless you approached them first. Very good on paper. Very trustworthy. Very...

And I was trying to convince Riney and GM that this wasn't going to work. Remember: Saturn, as a division, has never turned a profit for GM. It has always operated in the red and has never been able to pay it's own way. So no wonder other car manufacturers wouldn't want to jump to the brand's rescue and no wonder Penske backed out of the deal. The house never had good bones to begin with. But how did I know this? The same way I knew that Philip Morris would reduce it's dependency on tobacco profit 56% by acquiring Kraft. The same way I knew Saturn would never make it. The same way Buick agency McCann-Erickson used to position and advertise the Buick Regal as "The fine line between sport and sedan." When was the last time you ever overheard the man on the street rub his chin and say aloud, "I want the car that's the fine line between sport and sedan." No one ever asked for it. People don't TALK like that! Advertising minds gone mad. As Hal Riney's pointless work for Saturn. Advertising? Yes. It aired. Success? No. The patient died. No today. At birth.

So how should the campaign have run? What reason for being should have been communicated? Something that provided a product-based reason for being. Something that differentiated the product based on it's attributes rather than the ill-directed hopes of a management whose cognitive bias created errors in judgement that led them astray.

“Today’s disappointing news comes at a time when we’d hoped for a successful launch of the Saturn brand into a new chapter,” G.M.’s chief executive, Fritz Henderson, said in a statement. What a pitty. Had Mr. Henderson stopped to consider the fact that his Division's reason-for-being had never been properly Socially Engineered? No! The company and it's strategic partners (dealers and ad agency) simply shot from the hip and ran with it never realizing that they'd first need to have their intended customers first sit down and match themselves to the brand based on over 500 dimensions of product compatibility that GM and Hal Riney did not possess. That process would have worked much like eHarmony for Saturn and would have done more to ensure the brands success. But GM and Hal Riney were much smarter than that. Instead of doing their homework they tried to wing it. Well, in all fairness, they did do their homework, with me. They just choose not to listen. Cognitive bias. They wanted to hear themselves speak. They didn't want to tell consumers what consumers said they wanted to hear about a new car brand.

They said they wanted products that "didn't look 10 years old before they were new." Good for Saturn but a definite slam to other GM divisions. So how would history be different today had GM played THAT hand and consequently forced the other divisions to shape up? Consumers wanted "To own a car that says smart things about me." Which is the reason why all those Honda Accord and Toyota Camry buyers say they buy Accords and Camrys. A far better tagline than a different kind of car, a different kind of company because it answers/answered the question, "What's in it for me?" That's important when you consider that Honda and Camry sell about a million vehicles a year while it would be a surprise if Saturn on whole ever sold more that 65,000 units a year. By the way, the two product-based advertising/positioning solutions we developed scored off the hook for top two box intent to purchase while Hal Riney's work never tested top two box intent to purchase above just below 12.3 percent probably/definitely would buy.

So there I was in the Stouffer Hotel elevator arguing logic with Hal Riney and GM executives who like Burger King wanted it their way. And look what they got. In closing I'd like to recall some emails I traded with Cultureby author Grant McCracken who reminded me that it's a shame that corporate memories of their histories and what they've learned or not learned are so short. Here's one more vote that GM add the position of Chief Culture Officer (Grant's group on Ning) before it's entirely too late. Because if they don't the words that I'd hear from the real change agents that hired me before they folded their hands at GM will ring true. "No one's going to save GM single handed."

In the end Saturns were too much the same and not enough "smart cars." And when GM found a savior in Marketing Director Mark Hans Richter what did they do? They let him go. Proof again that working to drive scads of traffic to your sites won't necessarily bode sell for your corporate career.  My predicted future again for GM? That GM sell it's brands to Toyota or Honda if they want them. Let Toyota or Honda build and sell the names. Then GM can just end the long good bye.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cadillac & General Motors: The limitations of needs based selling

Charles H. Green's Trust Matters blog is always a good read. And the relevance of his post on the limitations of needs based selling remains fresh two years later when you read it and contrast his views against the efforts of companies in financial crisis attempting to affect turnarounds. My case in point? General Motors.

A company's advertising is its mouthpiece. And no where else will one find greater expression of needs based selling than in a company's advertising. And nowhere else can one find greater evidence that absolutely nothing has changed within a company than in the way they express "our" needs - for this is how they "see" us.

Look at General Motor's advertising for Cadillac's SRX Crossover. It says this "is the Cadillac or crossover vehicles." IS THAT my need? I thought MY NEED, if I currently had one, was to see signs of life from General Motors! Proof that someone was listening! Not "proof" from Ed Whitacre that when he came to GM he "liked what he found." Ed's just not my "needs" barometer.

So once again GM offers evidence that even though someone is home no one is "listening!" Like the scene in The Hunt For Red October where the Soviet Navy is banging away with their sonar so hard they couldn't hear a submarine if it was right under them; GM isn't listening to my needs. As Charles Green says, GM is trying to drive me (like cattle) to my needs.

GM and Cadillac are still my grandfather's brands. Telling me I need "the Cadillac" of crossovers just doesn't cut it. I look at the vehicle and see a design that "looks 10 years old before it was even new." The SRX is not "a product that says smart things about me." And in all of the advanced strategy research I did for GM that GM ignored and continues to ignore, these two needs still rate higher in GM's turnaround efforts than do money back guarantees. Who wants a money back guarantee if I'm not going to consider buying the car anyway!?

Cadillac is not my gold standard. There are just soooo many other luxury crossover and SUV brands that anyone over and under the age of 54 would rather have. So how does Cadillac address this? General Motor's Cadillac Division must Socially Engineer® a reason-for-being - the posuitioning strategy - that proves the brand is once again relevant to me. Social Engineering® is a process that matches consumers via "Culturally Influential Consumer Groups®" to products based on over 500 dimensions of product compatibility GM does not possess. Social Enginnering® is not accomplished using judgement for here we see General Motor's and it's partner's cognitive bias at work: advertising based on errors in judgement brought on by the false positives of old thinking.

Being "The Cadillac of Crossovers" is a claim without substantiation. Like "branding," it's something the lawyers say you can say when you don't have anything to say. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden says, "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." So I'd welcome a fresh round of calls from executives at Cadillac and General Motors. Just don't ask me to wait 120 days to be paid like last time. Your needs are not being met by your existing roster of vendors and strategic suppliers. They have not helped you worship at the alter of effective needs based selling.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Personal Branding - The Companies Headhunters Blackball

Why no consumer packaged goods company has been able to market a new product more successful than the least successful new product ever created by product development expert Calle & Company and Martin Calle remains a mystery. Baked Lays Potato Chips, created by Calle & Company for Frito-Lay sold $319 million in it's first ten months. That's roughly double 2008's most successful new product conceived and developed some other way, Gatorade's $159 million G2. Can't compare salty snacks to beverages you say? Only if you want to close your eyes and believe "you" are the "knower of all things." And that's the problem with personal branding. You build alters to yourself.

Not to promote but Calle & Company's product developments have topped the charts at IRI, NPD and ACNielsen now for 57 consecutive years. And why? Because outward-looking forward-thinking executives reach out to them while straight-forward, linear-thinking problem-solvers do not. For example, while Calle & Company was working with highly talented cross functional teams at Frito-Lay to determine what consumers wanted next, others at Frito-Lay were busy pushing "supplier" concepts like Wow! Chips with Procter & Gamble's Olestra championed by Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. And Wow! Chips with Olestra was barely able to fill the pipeline with $29 million worth of product.

So how do you NOT end up behind the 8 ball while making your company one that headhunters respect? And what's the difference between hitting a home run and striking out? That's a good question. Many acquaintances in the human resources industry tell me they attend conferences where the main topic of conversation is the fact that even though they hire the top talent, top talent fails to deliver growth. Visiting McKinsey & Company's website one also finds in McKinsey's assessment of the consumer packaged goods industry that, "despite solid balance sheets and healthy bottom lines executives still wonder where growth will come from. So apparently, McKinsey's consultants don't have the answers either. On the internet, especially at sites like LinkedIn, one can find a host of professional organizations dealing with marketing, marketing research, innovation, social media, social networking and branding. Yet in the market research groups, especially the "Next Generation Market Research" group one finds post after post and discussion after discussion addressing my grandfather's market research techniques. If this is indeed "The Next Generation" then why are they using my father's and grandfather's marketing research tools? There's nothing "next generation" about it.

So having covered those three aspects, consider the impact of working in these companies on your efforts to personally brand yourself. Afterall, this is, was, has been and will continue to be the era of "brand me."

On September 3, 2009 Business Week published The Companies Headhunters Avoid: Recruiters are in surprising agreement as to which companies they avoid when looking for executive talent. Companies such as The Coca-Cola Company figured prominently in the article and were I The Coca-Cola Company's Senior Vice President of Human Resources Cynthia P. McCaque I'd be concerned. The Coca-Cola Company has not launched a new product that ranked in IRI, NPD or ACNielsen's top ten annual pace setters for at least the last 25 years. The article details the inability of longtime Coca-Cola veterans to manage other companies effectively, including some of The Coca-Cola Company's prior luminaries.

According to the Business Week article, "The conclusion among headhunters is that the very attributes that make Coke a great company—an iconic brand and an unmatched global distribution system—also make it too easy for young managers to rise without having to develop the entrepreneurial skills necessary to compete in other arenas." "Granted, working at Coke can make you comfortable—the stock has yielded a 24.8% total return over the past five years, vs. a 2.4% return for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index—but recruiters say it may not make you management material anywhere else."

But read the entire article at Business Week and remember two things. It's what you learn once you know it all that counts, and, stay humble, there's always someone better right behind you. Reach out!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A New Job for The Marlboro Man

I have been given the task to repurpose/retask/reinvent or otherwise Socially (Re)Engineer® the Marlboro Man. I can't tell you by whom but I can tell you that I always thought Ralph Lauren or Stetson should launch a new fragrance for men called "Smoke" just in time for the holidays. The ingredient? That "liquid smoke" you find in the grocery store.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Use of Images in Market Research

Over at I've been tracking an interesting discussion on the use of images in market research among members (myself included) of the Next Generation Market Research Group started by Ricardo Lopez, President of Hispanic Research, Inc. We've confronted the use of images in research since 1953 finding that whenever you use images you tend to cement images and emotions in place rather than promote discussion beyond those bounds and any advertising agency would agree; and so we switched to "written" creative and stimulative materials finding that they better enabled the respondent's mind to wonder/wander, the way reading a good book forces you to use your imagination and imagine a scene based on individual perceptions and frames of reference to discuss rather than have it presented as a done deal long ago. And with better business building results.

But what is the risk of using images to present ideas? Both Washington Mutual Bank (once the biggest bank west of the Rockies) and Kahn's/Hillshire Farms presented images to respondents to get a bead on how to present their brands to consumers. Both WAMU and Kahn's/Hillshire Farms showed people pictures of farmers dressed in blue jeans and flannel shirts, and scientists dressed in stached shirts and lab coats. There were a range of other images. Obviously, being based in Seattle with lots of rain, forest and hippies, WAMU was perceived to be the "friendly" bank while arch rivals Bank of America and Wells Fargo were perceived to be "those evil starched shirt corporate guys not to be trusted." Similarly, Kahn's/Hillshire Farms products were percieved to be made by honest "farmers" while Swift-Eckrich products were percieved "made and processed" by corporate food scientists in stainless steel by men wearing starched white lab coats." So which image is more appealing? And is this really insight? I think not.

Using this data, though accurate, did not move either business ahead. For friendly WAMU and Kahn's/Hillshire Farms; neither grew their customer base, sustain growth nor were they any more effective at retaining customers. That usually happens when you show people what they want to see. The wisdom of crowds it is not. WAMU got bought out by evil Chase due to its inability to weather a financial crisis and Kahns/Hillshire Farm was sold to the evil white coat guys - erasing all the research time, money and advertising spent on work that went down the drain. What a waste of career time.

Anyway, why does the practice of using images in research persist? And why do academics promote such? Because pictures in research promote what people in the medical community (doctors) call "SEARCH SATISFACTION." A condition where the care or answer givers simply stop looking for better answers when they find one that "works." So should images really be a part of Next Generation Market Research? Well?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Laura Ries Dishes on GM at Ries Pieces

If you haven't read Laura's posts at Ries' Pieces get a move on! Her current installment on GM, called "GM & The Implication of the Opposite" hits the mark and commenting readers are posting interesting follow ups. Now, my chief strategic problem with GM's promotional money back guarantee is that it doesn't build positive business OR brand perceptions, it tears them down due to one immutable law of marketing, advertising, branding and sales. When one trades on price, your brand equity sinks so low you have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom. This strategy is installing the "Kill Bits®" in people's minds and perceptions that depress their response to advertising, marketing, branding and sales efforts - a far cry from correctly Socially Engineering® the company and brand's turnaround. We're observing Fall of Rome calibre strategy at GM because they really don't understand their consumer and they are unwilling to listen in the ways required to give them what they want.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tired of High Fructose Banking

Pre or post financial crisis meltdown have you gotten tired of high fructose retail banking? You know the type of banking I mean. The one where all the ads say we're the bank for you and all the fees say the bank giveth and the bank taketh away. Well, why do I bring this up? Because the best answers in marketing, branding, advertising and generating the social influence that changes consumer habits and practices and changes consumer behavior and attitudes on a large scale are always "abstract." These solutions "are so obvious they're not obvious."

In 1971 The Coca-Cola Company commissioned me to "identify future consumption drivers in soft drinks" because no one knew what people really wanted next. By removing high fructose corn syrup from soft drinks we created a new category of beverages called New Age Soft Drinks technically defined as soft drinks with no corn syrup consumers perceived more healthful and thirst quenching aka today's Vitamin Water.

So, "abstractly," what would you have if you removed all the corn syrup from banking? Would Wells Fargo really be able to "take you to the next stage" (terrible "branding" and proof that branding is something you do when you don't really have anything important to say).

Washington Mutual was advised by me to pursue a "Give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day, but teach a man to fish and he can feed himself, and others, for a lifetime" strategy to 1) address opportunities presenting themselves via pre-crisis banking industry deregulation, and 2) to attact depositors with higher disposable incomes to fuel growth. Because their free checking for life strategy only appealed to bottom feeders who didn't have disposable income to fuel the banks growth Washington Mutual fell to America's financial crisis - finally swallowed by Moby Chase. Score: Straight-forward, linear-thinking, problem solvers 1 / Forward-thinking, outward looking executives 0.

One hopes the current and post crisis banking industry will not pursue the airline industry's nickle and dime approach to serving customers. It's so PC - and that does not stand for  "politically correct." It stands for those great Apple ads where Apple lets Microsoft skewer itself with its own PC. One hopes retail banks will eliminate the corn syrup. Of course, if the banks regard their business as does The Coca-Cola Company, they really won't give a rats ass about you and me because the bulk of their business, like Coke's is in the commercial business, or high fructose corn syrup segment. Maybe that's why Coke's got a guy whose only claim to fame is launching his own $ 7 million frozen novelty line before he took over running Coke's global innovation business. How's this JV entrepreneur supposed to impact consumer behavior in a business where one share point is worth over half a billion dollars? Well, he doesn't - which is why the carbonated business has been in decline for 4 years and Coke outsources all of its innovation to the JV start up businesses they acquire. It's like setting up an inexperienced Tom Cruise to take on high powered Jack Nicholson in the movie "A Few Good Men." We're not supposed to win. But we can still rant like pawns.

A fructose free retail banking system would find me among their depositors in a heartbeat. I wouldn't look at their brick and mortar tellers like car salespeople. Why? Because their product, though a commodity, would remain unchanged, their "message" would exert greater social-cultural pull over my decision making processes. Of what benefit is this? The strategy, in computer programmer terms, would negate the "kill bits" that depress my response to their advertising, marketing and branding.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Grant McCracken & The Chief Culture Officer

What do you do when you find a gap in the way companies do business? Well if you're Grant McCracken, an exceptionally bright guy and publisher of the blog Cultureby, you do something about it. Much published Grant's written Chief Culture Officer due in December at Amazon. In Chief Culture Officer Grant argues for the position of CCO in the corporation and the role culture plays in how to create a living, breathing corporation shaping decisions that make companies more valuable. Or not. There are plenty of examples of how abscence of a chief culture officer, or the knowledge that outside, outsourced utility can bring, essentially signs death warrants for companies such as General Motors or Chrysler. I exclude Ford here for they did not need a bailout. Hence their collective culture officer must have made strikingly different decisions. That alone is enough to prove Grant's premise for billions of dollars are at stake to be won or lost by the US auto industry and the having, or not having, of a Chief Culture Officer. In my mind what is the greatest challenge for a newly installed Chief Culture Officer? Getting there and actually finding a mechanism in the company that will accept your input. How can you promote the concept of the Chief Culture Officer? Join Grant's Chief Culture Officer Community.

What's my personal spin on getting culture into and out of a corporation? Getting people to use it. I'd sold the use of our "Culturally Influential Consumer Groups®" for purposes in market research to corporations such as General Motors for years. My biggest supporters in GM's top tier strategic office promoting this work and their roles of Chief Culture Officers were on one assignment Paula Travenia who had communications research oversight of Buick and agency McCann-Erickson and Marina Shoemaker who had strategic communications oversight for all of GM's brands. They liked the work and hired me again and again...but alas, no one was going to save GM single handedly (and that caveate was provided time and again by Marina who kept building her arsenal of Cultural Influence Knowledge on her brands). Should their resume or CV cross your desk you will find yourself in contact with two of the sharpest Chief Culture Officers on the planet.

Another early adapter of getting cultures into and out of a corporation was Procter & Gamble's Paper Division President, Dick Nicolosi who hired us to get a better "cultural" handle on the Pampers brand.  Pampers thought the only reason people purchased disposable diapers were for reasons of ‘fit’ and ‘dryness.’ You had to ‘fit’ the baby better and keep the baby ‘drier.’ And as retailers began dropping Pampers from their shelves, P&G executives wondered what they could do to retain distribution and reverse the downward trend in the company's share of the disposable diaper market. Calle & Company’s proven Social Engineering® process enabled consumers to turn Pampers into the ‘developmental’ diaper brand. Pampers, re-launch as Pampers ‘Phases’ Developmental Diapers convinced moms that being a toddler was just another ‘step’ or ‘stage’ in the ‘development’ of their infants and newborns. By Socially Re-Engineering Pampers as “the developmental brand” Pampers arrested toddlers migrating to rival Kimberly-Clark’s Pull-Ups, sustaining distribution and gaining $11.2 billion ($1.2 billion per year) in diaper sales over the next ten years.

Now THAT'S being a Chief Culture Officer. And why do I single out THIS example? Because I always thought that a corporation's MOST effective CCO SHOULD be the CEO. How many times had I called a company asking for the person most interested in better understanding their product's customers; or asking for the person in charge of innovation driving the growth of their business in the "packaged goods" industry only to be shunted to some guy named Phil in packaging design? "Oh, I see. Phil in packaging design is the person in charge of innovation driving the growth of your business." Give me a break.

The concept for Chief Culture Officer has GREAT merit. My hat is OFF to Grant McCracken for so well hitting the nail on the head. Now, how do we drive it into the corporation? And more importantly, how do they put it to use for the only thing that matters? How to create more successful established brands rather than milking them with line extensions; and how to create more successful new products. I know Social Media's now all the rage, but it's not the communication channel that reaches consumers with the most import. It's the message that connects with the culture. Thanks Grant. You are a good think! I only hope the the homogenaity of the mob, the commoditization of social communities or the wisdom of crowds don't drown us out. Every crowd, mob or social community is still composed of hundreds of interactive "Socially Influential Consumer Groups®" (for a list of 500 SICGs® to consider for your business email me - use the link on the blog - if that fails, post a note here) who think their own thoughts regardless of overwhelming social pressure to conform. GM is good at ignoring cultures, making what they want then telling us it's what we need. That model no longer works. The working model is; find out what cultures want, and give it to them; and better, before they no they need it for if you only collect and gather data in real time, by the time you act you will only be reacting, a day late and pound short behind the consumer rather than the necessary procative step ahead.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Fly In General Motor's Ointment

I have no beef with General Motor's use of eBay as a means to move vehicles, but as a reason to buy vehicles the strategy misses the mark.

It's no secret GM wants to get rid of dealers. Work for GM's strategic top office confirmed the need to remove dealers from the loop as long ago as the late 70s and early 80s. Why? Because consumers hate the dealer experience and perceive interaction with a dealership's salesforce about as appealing as spending time with a brick and mortar bank teller. The experience really doesn't get your juices going. Bank and manage your accounts online. Also, dealers contracts are long and expensive to maintain. So, long ago, GM was clued in to pursue dealer free channels. Hell, here's my platinum card. Let me pick up my Accord or Camry at a Costco. And there's the rub.

Camry, Accord and Taurus are perceived commodities...and that's a good thing. For this strategy to work consumers need to perceive that purchasing a GM product means that you are going to receive a product that represents the coin of the realm...and consumer's benchmarks....still an Accord, Camry or Ford Taurus in the high volume bread and butter segments are not met by GM product perceptions. So casting your lot with social media maven will not impart a healthier glow to the troubled brands.

GM and it's brands need to be Socially re-engineered to change consumer habits and practices and consumer perceptions. This is not something accomplished simply by handing your account to a traditional, social or digital agency. It is a proprietary process that matches consumers to products based on over 500 deeper dimensions of product compatibility (almost like eHamony) we alone possess, coupled with interviewing or viewing these product dimensions of compatibility through the eyes of the correct Socially Influential Consumer Groups - not just demographic, attitudinal or behavioral segmentations. They are far too crude for even though we are twittering our ways to being one community the community is composed of Social Influence segments holding their own in this universe.

People say they want to purchase automobiles "that say smart things about me." A Honda does, a Buick does not. People say GM products "look like they're 10 years old before they're even new." And after seeing the new Transformers styled Bumble Bee Camaro I went out to look at a new Corvette. Did you know that in comparison, in my mind, that new Corvette now depresses me? It looks more like the last Generation of Camaro rather than next year's gotta have. Now Corvette looks 10 years old before it's new.

So if you don't have the product, no amount of new channel distribution or social media exposure is going to work...effectively. I'll bet I'm right. I mean, who wants to tweet up Cadillac? Ooppps, wrong audience, wrong generation. And Saturn? Those ads about "what pundits say (pundit is a social online word - get it?" ...and the fact that "they've gotten it right all along?" Then why does the ad follow up in the very next sentence state the company has 5 entirely new models, like the old models missed the mark? That silk shirt's kind of icky too. Not a TRUST builder. Gotta go. 1+1 doesn't equal 2 with new management at GM which is why the company still is not a member of my social economic forecasting index.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


I want to validate or claim my Blogger Blog. I understand that because it is a Blogger Blog this has to be done manually with Alexa. There's no way to provide an email address that will work or to place an info.txt file in my root. Would you mind helping me? My Blog is called MADISON AVENUE. The Journal of Social Influence Marketing & Branding. I'll repost this and title it Alexa on my blog. Here's the info:

site_owner: Martin Calle
address1: 18881 Patrician Drive
city: Villa Park
state: CA
country: USA
postal_code: 92861
phone_number: 714 244 9511

Thank you!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Is Your Brand Subject To " Phantom Relevancy Syndrome?"

In the medical world amputees are subject to phantom limb syndrome: The perception of sensations, usually including pain, in an arm or leg after the limb has been amputated. The brain still gets messages from the nerves that originally carried impulses from the missing limb. Phantom limb syndrome is relatively common in amputees, especially in the early months and years after limb loss.

So as your brand relevancy diminishes are you subjecting yourself to phantom brand relevancy: the perception that your brand is still relevant even though it is not? Now many businesses are facing diminished relevancy today and there isn't a lot of hope that they'll bounce back. So what is it that goes on in the mind of the people running these businesses that they refuse to admit their business is fading away? Is it the fact that the USPS still does over a trillion dollars a year even though it's relevancy can't compete with email and text messaging? Is it that newspapers still get away with charging people for subscriptions even when radio is free and the internet delivers the same news a day earlier? Why do these brands refuse to reengineer themselves socially even though they're following in the same steps of greatly diminished brands such as Polaroid or Kodak who became commodities in the age where we now capture and transmit our memories digitally? And what of Microsoft's Bing Search Engine or Zune MP3 player - also rans that are 10 years over the hill before they were even new. Like General Motors chasing that dying aging midwestern audience - only that audience still process images in a way that once gave these businesses the lion's share.

So is it that managers cling to their ideas more tenaciously than their most prized material possessions that prevents them from effecting change? Is that the syndicated knowledge from which they draw insights fails to accurately map the future...or continues to lead them down the path that if they just keep coming to work and doing their thing everything will be allright? Are they playing ostrich and just hoping for a sustained miracle turnaround? Or is it that a few hybrid vehicles, while still a brightspot at General Motors have not been enough to do the trick? Of course I've been preaching this is the flaw in GM's relevancy for years. Before people will respond to a cash for clunkers deal at GM, GM has to establish the bread and butter market currently dominated by Ford, Honda and others. In short, you have to build more quality into your product.

But now I drift from my purpose, to promote comment on phantom brand relevancy syndrom. K-Mart's on the cusp, as is Sears, as is Starbucks as was Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. One step in the grave and no one's willing to admit it. How do these managers console themselves for one more day that everything is all right?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Dominos Pizza Pasta Bread Bowl Promotion Contributes To American Obesity

What could be more fattening than a warm pasta bread bowl for $5.99 followed by a free lava crunch cake dessert. Is there another carbohydrate combination that could possibly pack more inches around America's middle? Domino's Pizza gets my nod as a brand butchering the health of Americans. Irresponsible social engineering.

Monday, August 10, 2009

General Motors Launches The MonteMaro

With the adolescent that good looks lacking the sophisticated styling most of the market seeks and expects today General Motors once again misses the mark with the new Camaro - a throwback to what looks like a combination of the uber salesman's rental Monte Carlo and the Duke's of Hazard's Dodge Challenger. When will GM ever pay attention to seminal research done on its behalf wherein consumers said, "I want a car that says smart things about me." The new Camaro it isn't. GM products are still fulfilling consumer perceptions that, "Their products look like they're 10 years old before they're even new!" Where are the "drifters" that would at least tell Japanese auto execs to look out and maintain a low profile? Pony cars like that category still alive? Nissan just repositioned a segment of its business as "MOBILE DEVICES." Now that's KEWL! Who's in charge of mobile devices at GM - or do we still think that title pertains only to cell phones, text messaging and On-Star?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

A New Found Respect For Ford

Just because Ford avoided making the decisions that led the other two American car companies down the wrong path. When people at the other two car companies picked directions to pursue someone at Ford must have said, "let's go the other direction."

Monday, June 08, 2009

Why New Products Fail To Make Big Money

Because new products that lack creativity are just line extensions. Case in point? 2008's most successful new product was Gatorade G2. It sold $159 million in the first 12 months. The last successful new product launched by anyone in the consumer packaged goods industry that sprinkled the effort with creative thinking was Frito-Lay's Baked Lays Potato Chips. It sold $310 million in it's first 10 months. No other new product has surpassed this level of first year sales in the consumer packaged goods industry for at least the past ten years. There's a lot of creativity not going around. But there sure are a heck of a lot of underperforming line extensions. You know Chunky Soup was going to be an extension of the Campbell's Brand. They were going to market it as a stew. Then creativity turned it into the soup you eat with a fork. It was the product that first pushed and sustained the Campbell Soup Company at over a billion dollars in sales way back in 1970. Why is this type of creativity so few and far between? Now there's a question.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Brand Me, Brand You and the Decline of New Products

In the days before all the self-promotion brand me and brand you gurus marketers were far more curious; and new products frequently topped half a billion in sales in their first year. Then came the rise of brand me and brand you; brought to you by all the self-promotion gurus who made killings while the companies in which all the mes and yous worked saw declines in new business. As McKinsey reports, CPG execs [still] wonder where new growth will come from. The rise of the MEs was about the time everyone at companies like General Motors replaced the title on their business card with a new title that read, "Knower of all things." Hence systems were devised in companies like General Motors that deflected all responsibility away from individuals. You couldn't put your thumb on anyone for being responsible for anything. Thus began the commoditization of syndicated knowledge. Let's hire the people who tell us the things we already know rather than the people who can tell us things we don't know. What I already know is just easier to manage. We're doing fine. Hell, even at the end General Motors still owned 20% of the market. Hell, nothing to worry about here. Even in failure we have a way to convince ourselves, the brand MEs that GM's stunning failure is a success. The bar for excellence has dropped so low we can go to the head of the class just by showing up...or keeping some dealerships open. Forget Bruce Almighty. It's GM Almighty. Failure is the new black. And that's what the rise of brand ME or Brand You has brought us. Anyway, with the rise of brand me and the decline in outward looking forward thinking the impact of new products began to dwindle. Hell, they've damn faded, and the guys running the companies are being conned by a new nemesis called social marketing. Now we're touting the success of new products brought to us by a new messenger: social media. Companies like P&G and Del Monte Pet Products have new products generated by social media. The "community" created it. I took no risks. Yet none of the growth topped $100 million and not one social media product will top this year's or next year's top 10 most successful new products. Guaranteed. In 2008 the most successful new product anyone launched was Gatorade G2 at $159 million. The least successful new product I've ever conceived working with those pre-ME curious execs was Baked Lays. It sold $310 million in its first 10 months. I'm fairely safe in my contention that Del Monte's Breakfast Snacks for Pets will not move the needle past $60 million. But that won't stop others from following suit. Just no original thinking left in those MEs and YOUs. That's the greatest risk to new products. Now I'm not pooh, poohing new channels for product development but without doping people's thoughts with creativity before they create something you're just not going to get that $400+ million winner that comes from creating new knowledge that's never previously existed to be perceived, mapped or measured.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Calle & Company New Products Top IRI, NPD & ACNielsen 2008 Most Successful New Product Pacesetters for 56th Year

I've said it before. My name is Martin Callé. I run Callé & Company, the most successful new products development company in the consumer packaged goods industry. Once again, our new products topped the best of IRI, NPD and ACNielsen’s most successful new product pacesetters for the 56th year. The least successful new product we ever conceived, Frito-Lay’s Baked Lays Potato Chips sold $310 million in its first 10 months. 2008’s most successful new product, Gatorade’s G2 sold only $159 million in its first year. So if our least successful new product beat their most successful new product conceived some other way, doesn’t that tell you that their best practices aren’t the best practices?

Data from market research companies like IRI, NPD and ACNielsen typically drive new product development in companies such as yours. And no one using that knowledge has been able to launch a more successful new product than ours in 56 years. In fact, ACNielsen has not launched a more successful new product since their founding in 1923. NPD has not launched a more successful new product since their founding in 1967. And IRI has not launched a more successful product since their founding in 1979.

We know companies want a better grip on consumer behavior than NPD provides. We know companies want new products to fly off the shelf faster than those piloted by IRI. We know you want to own and sustain a #1 position for ACNielsen to track. But IRI, NPD and ACNielsen data won’t take you there alone. For example, IRI, NPD and ACNielsen all thought Crock Pot Classics was a great opportunity for ConAgra. Slow-cooking was on the rise. More than 80 percent of US households owned slow cookers and 20 percent of families used slow cookers weekly. Yet Crock Pot Classics ended 2005 10th among 10 at only $71 million - well below Calle & Company’s average best in packaged goods benchmarks.

Higher functioning Calle & Company new products are ever present, yet never twice the same. They're creatively built upon consumer-conceived new knowledge that’s never existed to be mapped or measured. IRI, NPD and ACNielsen can’t do that. So when I say, “Callé & Company is the most successful new product development company in the consumer packaged goods industry,” I mean it. It’s true. So grab yourself one of our better performers. Let’s meet to discuss what everyone else is missing. Got 30 minutes? Let’s talk!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Southern California Sonic Boom

Big one! 12:17 PM this afternoon. Anyone know what it is/was?

Friday, April 03, 2009

How Marketers Define "Convenience"


Marketers, always ones predisposed to put a positive spin on things, define "Convenience" a major attribute in packaged goods categories as, "time saving." Sounds good and irrefutable right? Well, at least we've all been conditioned to believe that this is true.
As SIEMENS defines convenience: Convenience enables the automation of the routine functions around the home to improve your comfort and enhance your lifestyle. Sounds like Siemens intends robots to take over every humanly function so that our brain cases become gelatinous gobs of goo. Insidious.

The truth is, "convenience" has conditioned us all to become "lazy" and poor "time managers." Why exercise those muscles when I don't have to. I have these "convenience" items to get me over the hump?

Everyone that's truly good at what they do has a mentor that makes them better. Donald Trump found a mentor when he wanted to air The Apprentice in founder/director of Reality Series Survivor - Mark Burnett. Tiger Woods found a mentor in his father. Each was a time manager.

Hey consumer, you can't do it alone, so don't rely on marketers. If you are a consumer find products that make you work your physical, emotional and mental muscles, that make you manage your time. Make your family your mentors. Take time, make time to bake those cookies from scratch. By forgetting how to use these muscles, the products that champion convenience made us weaker time managers, weaker organizers, weaker, weaker. And that's what's ruined the American economy today. Weak Americans bred by America's spin doctoring convenience marketers. Bad medicine.

We don't have time to relax. We don't have time to relax because we don't use our time wisely. It's relaxing to mix up a cake batter - from scratch. It's relaxing to make a meatloaf. Buying it premade in the refrigerated section of the grocery store only makes you rush on like you don't have time to the next thing. Get convenience, get relaxed, make it from scratch. Quality living and time management is the best convenience. And it's not so hard once you try.
Marketers, look out for the trend against "convenience" in the growing age of responsibility and accountability. Time, is the only commodity we can't get back - consumers want to spend it wisely, so make it a quality time experience. A good opportunity if you're someone like Gold Medal Flour.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What's Wrong With Marketing

Perception. Self-Perception. Everyone has a way of convincing themselves they're number one in some way shape or form. But that's not true.

The managers managing brands think they're OK even if they're not number one. They think OK of themselves. They come to work today to do the same thing they did yesterday and what they will do tomorrow.

Avis tried harder for a long long time. Never made it past number two. And rifled through managements faster than you can shake a stick at. So, unable to come up with a better idea (lack of abstract problem-solving skills) the linear thinking problem solvers simply buzzed their We Try Harder into a famous campaign. Famous? Yes. Memorable? Yes. But that never translated into enough rental units moved to become #1. Memorability does not always equal more SUSTAINED sales. Neither does generating impressions, celebrity endorsements by Oprah or Tiger, etc.
Apple is not a brand name that slithers off the tongue. The Ps get in the way. But Avis is even more a brand name that slithers off your tongue. A man, and most travelers were men back in the heyday of car rental advertising ordered a almost sounded like a beer. Shemales rented an Avis. Now, the industry is so dominated by linear thinking cost cutting problem solving managements that it's a heavily price driven loyalty driven category that spends relatively little on advertising.
Well, when someone at one of these companies comes up with something important to say I guess they'll stop "branding" (It's what you do when you don't have anything important to say) and start "differentiating" themselves with a product-based reason-for-being communicated via traditional and electronic advertising.
Hell, General Motors wasted billions on shemalish advertising every year. All those people thought well of themselves and that they were doing the right thing everyday. Now look at 'em. Problem is/was, they design(ed) and build(t) products to rental car fleet standards. So what did that say about the people who bought their sedans on their own? Not much. I can hear what the neighbors are thinking. "Jesus! He/She bought a rental car." Bye bye GM.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How To Create A Brand Name

Forget who you're targeting. Say what you do. That appeals to the broadest audience with a call-to-action AND a reason-for-being. Vaseline INTENSIVE CARE Lotion, COLD-FILTERED Miller Genuine Draft, BAKED Lays. Well. You get the point. Drop the letters, V, S, A, Z and any other letters that slither off your tongue. They make your name sound soft like a shemale. "What do you drive?" "I drive a Venza." Sounds like you have an STD. "What do you drive." "I drive a Versa." Brand names with soft letters (V & A) just don't sound like they work or would last a long time. Use lots of strong letters like R, M, L, F, G, D, C, N, etc. Folgers sounds like coffee that will wake you up. It's also the #1 brand of ground roast coffee. MGD; Miller Genuine Draft is the most successful brand launched by Miller Brewing in the last 25 years. Chanel just sounds like it will make you sexy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty. General Motors is free at last.

It's not that General Motors product management ignores new product ideas that have a 97% top two box intent to purchase score among import-minded and domestic car buyers in bread and butter and higher margin luxury segments. It's not that they ignore those ideas even though they were presented with enough lead time to address current market conditions. You knew General Motors is/was really in trouble when letters on the subject sent to CEO Rick Wagoner went totally ignored. When those letters never reached his desk. When those letters were redirected by staff to underlings powerless to do anything about them - and who didn't have a care in the world about addressing company saving information further. But more importantly, you knew Genberal Motors is/was really in trouble when you followed up on those letters and you were told to call back because it takes Rick Wagoner's or any staffer's office five days just to acknowledge receipt of that letter. Way too slow in the information age and marketplace. If it takes five days just to log in a letter, imagine how slowly the organization responds to doing important work - like developing and properly marketing the products people want.

The answer isn't cost-cutting, delaying health benefit and pension plan disbursements or renegotiating union contracts and worker pay. Those are all the solution of linear thinking managements. The answer, rather than ignoring what people want and making what GM wants is to make what people want, not what trend forecasters say will sell. That's how GM and Detroit got stuck with all those SUVs. The problem is the results are , well, just too general. Not creative. Not abstract and interesting. Like one ex-head of GM strategy told me time and time again, "No one was/is going to save General Motors single handedly." Wagoner's ouster verifies that; but does it? He's been with the firm since 1977; steeped in the corporations culture so deeply that he never stood a chance. And that's the problem for other insiders. So if I were President Barak Obama, I'd bring in an outsider like Jim Sinegal who knows how to get things done at the speed of Kirkland as the CEO of Costco. Humble, efficient, a cracker-jack manager and he knows how to sell pallets of product everyday. Just the kind of volume General Motors needs. And you know what? American consumers are predisposed to want to buy cars a new way. We knew that 20 years ago. And GM didn't like the dealers either - always looking for new ways to eliminate those lengthy obligations, Abandon the dealers, streamline the pipeline and let people just order cars the way they shop for any other consumer good. Here's my credit card. Here's my down payment and my permission to automatically deduct each payment over the next 36 month. Kind of gets rid of the people with the bad credit and the whole finance infrastructure. Not needed to make the second most expensive purchase in your life today.

Why not take Saturn and make it the Kirkland brand. That'd be an interesting test! Then of course, there's my other solution for GM. Stop building cars altogether, lease the brand names to Toyota and let Toyota make the products in exchange for a payment on each and every sale to GM. What then to do with GM? Easy! Clean slate. Start over. Invent new product lines and brands. Sound hard? Not at all. At one time American's only had sticky paste and roll-ons as antiperspirants and deodorants. Then we invented a new form; Mennen Speed Stick; the first solid antiperspirant and still the most popular item in the category today. Just takes a little abstract thinking to determine what people want before they know they need it; then give it to them. Plenty of people happy to get paid $48 an hour to build cars since receiving their pink slips from the Japanese auto companies too.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Relevance of Motown

Not the record company. The Motor City. That's the question Detroit and the Big Three General Motors, Ford and Chrysler need to ask. What's the relevance of Motown? Obviously, their ridgid adherence to styling queues didn't do enough to set Oldsmobile apart. Oldsmobile's now extinct. So why'd they stick to portholes at Buick? Same reason. Dogma. Which is why portholes are still potholes at Buick. And when you see those portholes glued to the front quarter panels of some old import car you know they've given your brand equity the kiss of death. So what is the relevancy of brands such as Buick? Hopefully, the news of the auto maker's brands demise is premature. But the answer isn't in price. Once you trade on price your brand equity sinks so low you have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom. And the US auto industry habitually throws promotions all the time - further decreasing their value. Now we can't get the credit even if we wanted to make a purchase. Quality, dependability, design and styling, J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Surveys, Road & Track, Car & Driver and other media recognition, annual auto shows, all hype. And the only junkie who's hooked is our own US auto industry who continue to believe they can make what they want and use advertising to continue to convince us it's what we need.

Detroit's real salvation is in the identification of a Product Potential so relevant and meaningful to consumers that we'd mortgage our homes to buy their products. It's merely not sufficient to trot the "buy American" motto back out of mothballs. We've been there and done that. But as Procter & Gamble learned through Folgers it is possible to kick the habit. As all food and beverage manufacturers believe, we buy their products for taste, or flavor and aroma. Sometimes convenience. But that bar's too low. Of course you taste good. Otherwise I'll become a trier/rejector. But what is more relevant to heavy ground roast coffee consumers is "control." The best part of waking up is that stimulant in their cup. It helps them think earlier. They take flavor for granted.

And that's what Detroit needs to do. Realize that everything it says and does is taken for granted. Now give us a selling dimension that's more relevant to the US car buyer. It's all a matter of seeking out and finding that answer through the process of Perceptual Innovation. How you change the way we all think. Another "halo" new product just won't cut the mustard. We take 'em for granted.

And if they can't do it maybe they should hire Motown Record's founder Barry Gordy. At least he can identify a hit. He didn't make black music. As he said the other night, he makes music for everyone.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Problem With Advertising

The problem with advertising today is that it informs rather than sells. And there is a difference. Every time an ad informs it conveys the manufacturer's or provider's thoughts on a subject. A slice of thinking or tangent not relevant to all. As Simon Cowell would say on AMerican Idol; "an indulgence." That is different than focusing on a well-reasoned and highly differentiating reason-for-being for a product or service. The information ad only appeals to those who think like a minority - you - the ad or marketing manager. The ad that sells a reason-for-being makes the product or service relevant to a much larger audience. Examples on request.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Does MyStarbucksIdea.Com actually make Starbucks a more valuable company or materially improve the value of the company's stock? Or is this just another self-pat on the back by those who email us singing the site's praises. It says it's been a year and 70,000 ideas later. But other than oatmeal for breakfast we have seen little. The company value/stock meter has not moved anywhere near the $22 lows it would hover before rebounding to thye $40s during the company's rapid growth phase. So who's still working on the real problem Starbuck's needs to address? "What do you do when the strategy that at one time made you all powerful has now rendered you a commodity? Obviously the solution will not be found by incumbent straight forward linear thinking problem solvers. As always in these situations the answer will be found in the realm of Perceptual Innovation that once again changes consumer habits and practices. A new product won't fix this. It's a consumer perception/positioning issue where the best answers are always abstract and so obvious they're just not obvious.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Memo from General Motors

I received a note the other day from Maria at General Motors asking me to go visit GM Dealer showrooms and see if that doesn't cause me to reassess my position on the troubled car company, at present, living solely on borrowed time. Here is Maria's letter:

I work for GM, and wonder if you've visited a GM dealership recently? If not, I encourage you to test-drive award-winning vehicles like the Chevy Malibu, Buick Enclave and Cadillac CTS. Take a look at the photos of the upcoming Buick LaCrosse, Chevy Equinox, Cadillac SRX and the Cadillac Converj concept shown at the Detroit auto show last week. Vehicles like these have been extremely well received by the media and consumers, and are created for people who care deeply about beautiful design, reliable performance and fuel efficiency.Your reasoning suggests that if you're not number one, why bother. So should Pepsi slink away into oblivion because it hasn't caught up to Coke? By the way, GM led the U.S. auto industry by 750,000 vehicles in 2008, and is No. 1 in China, the world’s fastest growing market. But, eh, who’s counting, right?

So Maria, it sounds like you are another one of those corporate "younglings" (isn't that what George Lucas dubbed young Jedi in training in Star Wars - heads down, eyes covered, weilding light sabers blindly?). Maria, save yourself and don't deliver the same line I've heard from every generation of management at GM, and many other companies, for each of the last 40 years. The cars are no different and the ads all sound the same - perfect evidence that nothing's changing at GM, Ford or Chrysler. Yesterday I heard an ad about how I should buy a Cadillac because it's the product President Barak Obama is driven in.

Maria, do you have one of those coffee cups on your desk with the handle inside the mug? If you do, you will find the words "bass ackwards" imprinted on the inside bottom when you finish your coffee or tea. GM (and Ford and Chrysler) you've got it all (as Sean Connery would say in the Hunt for Red October) all wrong. You don't make what YOU want then use dealers, PR and advertising to tell us it's what we want. It's bass ackwards and all wrong.

How easy it is to turn potentially bright minds to the dark side and away from the force (known as Common Sense)

Thanks Maria. But I did visit GM dealerships yesterday anyway, and what I found did nothing to change my mind. I am what you now call a trier rejector. All I found was this year's version of last year's news - which for example is why portholes remain potholes at Buick and why Pontiac's positioning continues to suffer from pubescent development lag disease. (Pontiac is still making cars for adult teenagers who never matured mentally. In terms of age they may be adults but in terms of what appeals to them, they are old tweens. The experience? Completely uneventful. And no wonder. It takes about 5 years to get a car from concept to production/3 years on the fast track. Since GM was on the skids, a position well hidden back then, what's on the floor now and for the next couple of years will be, well, ho hum. Guaranteeing that the government bailout money will run out well before GM effects a turnaround - making it even dumber for ex-President Bush to give them some pocket change in the first place. I'd start sending out my resume Maria.

What's GM's best option? Stop manufacturing cars. License the names Toyota wants to Toyota. Let Toyota manufacture and market the cars and GM can collect a fee. This way, GM can cancel all the union contracts and the workers can earn a decent $48 an hour working for Toyota rather than the $78 at GM. Let GM and Mr. Goodwrench snap up hundreds of Jiffy Lube locations across the country and provide maintenance services. Like the name says, General Motors products are well, just too general, but I think they can do repairs on commodity vehicles very well. I've always liked their service and parts people anyway. GM hasn't done much to devastate my perception of them.

What's my solution for the US auto industry Ford, GM and Chrysler? Lump the three companies together in one company, get rid of the CEOs and Boards, bring in Costco's Jim Sinegal to manage the companies and make certain that the products offered meet Kirkland's brand standards. Sell the cars through Costco as well. No one likes dealerships anymore. By the way, Sinegal isn't a payroll hog either. He's quite humble and effective. And no, I'm not Jim Sinegal's talent agent.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

General Motors Pisses On Consumers Again

As part of the agreement made by Ex-President Bush to give General Motors part of an industry $17 billion bailout The Associate Press reports General Motors has yet to clean house of dunderheads who forget to engage brains before opening mouth.

According to an Associated Press article which sites GM's loss of the number one auto sales position to Toyota GM's Executive Director of global market and industry analysis Mike DiGiovanni downplayed the significance of the drop to number two saying the automaker is focused on profitability rather than sales volume. "I don't think being number one in vehicle sales means all that much at all to the American consumer. I think what matters most to the is consumer is strong brands and strong products..."

Jesus Mike! How do you have strong products and brands if you're not number one? Those are the strong products and brands! This statement is about as intelligent a move as your CEO flying to DC on a private jet asking for a handout. Seriously. It's in the same league. Did your PR department approve this statement before you let fly? Are your advertising agencies reviving an Avis like "We try harder" campaign? Mike, this type of thinking is why GM stock was trading around $3.50 yesterday. Oh, that's right Mike, I forgot. It's OK to say stupid things that influence consumer perception by telling us being a winner isn't important. Or did you never learn that Americans love winners? Your excuse for being stuck on stupid? ...GM is a penny stock company and penny stock companies don't employ the best, the brightest or those with much common sense. That's why they're penny stocks instead of corporate leaders. I won't even have to look today to know GM stock selling even lower.

But this type of gaff reminds me of another GM story years ago when GM hired a Deputy Director of the US Census named Vince Barabba to come in and give the company "a voice of the consumer." Vince met me in his office to explain he believed there was "a market for people who wanted cars that didn't look good." I had to ask Vince to repeat the objective of that new product assignment before I graciously declined to participate. I left. Vince stayed. Vince didn't last long at General Motors and neither did his Chevy Lumina.

If GM was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz do you think they and CEO Rick Wagner wake up each morning tapping their heels together saying, "It's not about sales. It's not about sales."