Four Reasons Why I Bought a Ford This Weekend

This weekend, I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before.

I went to a Ford dealer and bought a Ford automobile.

We tried getting by with our two cars but, with 2 high-school age kids and the ever-growing list of places-to-go and people-to-see, we finally had to make an addition. The odd fact is, that I never even bothered seriously considering another make of car this time around. This, from someone whose last few business cars were all Mazdas and whose family van is currently a Toyota.

Why? Let me give you four simple reasons:

1. Quality. I don’t care what the item is, or what the argument for domestic production is, if you’re not high-quality, you don’t earn my business. Ford has been making great strides in this area, enough that they slowly but surely edged back onto my radar screen. When my 18-year old and I took a test drive in a gently used 2010 Fusion, we were quite impressed (at the top of his list: the sound system, and the cool blue vanity lighting in the cupholders!)

2. Scott Monty. Scott is Ford’s social media guru, though I became acquainted with him back in 2007 or 2008, before his tenure with Ford. Scott has done a great job putting a more human face on a venerable American institution, and that goodwill (earned over time) translated into, not only consideration, but strong leaning, when it was time to make a purchase. It pays to hire good people. If you’re keeping score, President and CEO Alan Mulally: +1, Scott Monty.

3. Principle. Ford had the guts to refuse the government bailout years ago. While Chrysler and General Motors decided to become state-run institutions (or facsimiles thereof), Ford held to free-market principles. Thousands of us Americans never forgot that, and when it was time to make a purchase this weekend, guess which two companies were not even in the running? Granted, Ford is not some perfect company filled with angelic beings, nor are the employees of GM and Chrysler the spawn of evil. I reserve the right to re-consider GM products in the future, of course – but only if and when they are no longer a ward of the federal government. It’s not personal – it’s principle.

4. Referral. My entire solopreneur business model is based on trusted referrals. When I reached out on Facebook about my upcoming decision, a good friend (thanks, Janice!) recommended that I deal with Tommy Garcia over at Wayne (NJ) Ford. They also said that the General Manager (Troy Mol) was great. I reached out on-line and got an immediate and friendly response from Milca Irizarry, and meeting each of them over at the dealership was a pleasure. Purchasing cars can be a dreadful experience. My time at Wayne Ford has, without a doubt, helped advance my view of the Ford brand. If you’re keeping score, Mr. Mulally: +3, Wayne Ford.

I am not going to change the world of business by one little car purchase, or through any of my social media rants about it (e.g., here and here). But this entire experience simply reinforces the power of what should be obvious, in any business. Make great stuff. Do the right thing. Hire the right people. Treat customers right. And the end result will be the vein of gold that every business seeks – enthusiastic referrals. And sometimes, very public commendations…

(lest there be fuel for cynics, so let me say up-front that I have received no financial or other consideration for writing this post. I just believe in telling it like it is – and that includes the good stuff when it is earned!)

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Fun for Some, and Some for Fun

In the Harvard Business Review this week, Grant McCracken takes on the concept of “forced fun” in a corporation, using the way Zappo’s treats visitors as an example. Here’s an extract of Mr. McCracken’s post:

Visitors touring the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas are greeted noisily. Staffers blow horns and ring cowbells to bid them welcome.

This sort of thing puts my teeth on edge. Call me a grinch. Call me a humorless, life-hating, stick in the mud, but commandeering personal emotions in the interest of forced conviviality seems to me wrong. I believe emotions are mostly a private matter and should not be controlled by the corporation.

I have never met Grant, and have no idea whether or not he is a grinch, but one thing I can say: his logic is flawed.

I get the point – who wants to be subject to inauthentic displays of emotion, either as the giver or recipient? But as many of the commentators point out, people choose to work where they will and do business where they will, and corporate culture is one of those aspects that draws or repels.

As our grandmothers would tell us, honey works better then lemons.

By using terms like “forced fun” and “commandeering personal emotions”, the author tries to portray the issue as one where employers are infringing on private freedoms, or encouraging insincerity, a place where an employer should not tread. But the freedom issue is really at the point of decision to work within a company that has a certain culture. And some companies choose to have a culture of fun, and excitement, and engagement.

People are complex and holistic beings, and emotions are woven into us, impacted by our surroundings, our co-workers, our behaviors, and yes, even our expectations and the expectations of others. Any business owner should not only own the tangible and financial aspects of the company, but also own the responsibility to develop (and model) a positive culture. Unless lemon juice is preferred. Take your pick. As a customer, I’ll take my pick as well. Guess what kind of climate I’ll seek out?

Mr. McCracken says, near the conclusion, “When we commandeer the emotional lives of our employees we waste a valuable resource.” I respectfully disagree (PLUS – read this article just published by WSJ Online, regarding happiness in the workplace). When we FAIL to commandeer the abilities of our employees, and don’t encourage self-control and productivity in all areas (including imagination, task performance, and emotional engagement), then we leave the company culture to drift. Leadership of people is not simply addressing 70% of who they are. It’s tapping the entire potential of each individual and making a much greater “whole” in the process.

I’m all for personal authenticity. And for corporate authenticity. If someone wants to be sour, moody, or emotionally fickle and/or disengaged, I’m sure there are plenty of places to go and be “authentic.” Please, however – don’t go to Zappo’s, and don’t try to work with me!

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Who’s Behind the Avatar?

My friend Toby Bloomberg is collaborating with John Cass to ask a question about transparency – namely, what sort of transparency needs to be in place if “outside” agents are feeding social media content for a client brand?

From Toby’s blog post:

Social media is a hungry beast that to succeed demands content…PR agencies, advertising agencies and social media consultants are seizing an opportunity to carve a service niche from their time pressed, staff starved clients. Yes, the agencies are stepping in and taking over the role and responsibilities of implementing social media initiatives….but unlike an ad campaign or dropping a media release where no one really cares what name you use, social media is supposed to be different. Tweets and posts are supposed to be from the real people who are working for the brand…However, since on Facebook and often on Twitter “no one knows your name” seems to be the acceptable norm, 2010 will see more. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just fact of social media marketing life? Does it really matter?

I’ll toss in a few brief thoughts:

1. Since there is an expectation set currently in place with social media (real people interacting with real people), and since violating that expectation leads to a lot of unwanted on-line attention, it’s not wise for a brand to play “let’s pretend” in social media platforms – at least, currently.

2. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing expertise to “feed the beast.” Life is full of outsourcing. Just be honest about it.

3. I’d recommend that brands who outsource the maintenance of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. establish a “brand” identity on those platforms instead of trying to pretend that there is one person behind the account. I’m OK with, say, TiVo having a brand account – as long as it is positioned as a brand account. I’m also OK with the TiVo account being TiVo Shanan if Shanan is for real (she is, apparently – and very nice!). If the platform is going to provide info and interactions from a team, fine – let’s just have accurate expectations.

4. These platforms are communication channels and we all have to take a deep breath and have a reasonable view of how companies will use them. I happen to think that the companies who advance with real personality in their social media endeavors will likely do best, but not every company is prepared out of the gate to have designated in-house personnel to “feed the beast.” We don’t need to beat these folks with a purist club and accuse them of being inauthentic – unless they’re being inauthentic! Let people get their feet wet, and outsource as they must. We should encourage brands to use social media responsibly, realizing that those who abuse it by a lack of transparency will be outed in time, and the lesson will be learned!

My 2 cents – your thoughts?

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Telling the Company Story

I’m going to tell you a story about a company telling its story. It’s…well, quite a story about networking, serendipity, and marketing!

This spring, while attending the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, I had the good fortune of sitting next to a pleasant young lady with whom I quickly found two things in common: 1) she was working at a company in central CT, only a few miles from where I grew up; 2) this company provided supplies to the radiation oncology community, a field in which I had a 10-year history in a prior professional role.

Beekley2Mary told me about this box of historical “stuff” that she had inherited, which contained a lot of archival material from the company’s multi-decade past. We talked about ways to tell the company story, and how those materials could be used. And life went on…

Fast forward to last week, just before I was scheduled to leave for Connecticut, for a quick visit with Mom before gathering together with my brothers for a New Hampshire adventure. Out of the blue, I get an e-mail from Mary Lang of Beekley Corporation, Bristol, CT – she had seen my recent post about how Ben & Jerry’s told their story on the HQ walls. Well, now the story-telling panels were done in Beekley’s new offices, and would I like to come by “some day” and see the end result?

I love the serendipity of social networking. I had a couple hours open after a lunch in western CT – how about TODAY, Mary – like, say, 2:00pm??

So I included Bristol on my drive up. And I was not disappointed.

Beekley1Not only was the series of panels (mounted on walls throughout the office) extremely attractive and well-designed, but they had a great story to tell. The story of a company that had a distinctive culture right from the get-go, with a strong focus on employee development and excellence in execution. This culture could be seen through the statements, news clippings, and historical documents that now “told the story” to every employee in the office. And the culture could be palpably felt in interactions with Beekley employees.

A consistent graphical design was woven throughout all the various pieces and panels, and the business philosophy of the founding family was also a common thread. Maybe a lot of people throughout the business world have never heard of Beekley (the company or its founders/leaders). But now visitors and employees certainly get an eyeful!

Beekley4This was a company that had evolved over time, starting with a printing business and moving, as customer needs manifested themselves, into medical supplies and other areas. However, with each change in direction, the company distinctives remained.

Beekley believes in exceeding expectations, in having the right people on the bus and developing them (10-15% of employee time is spend on professional development), and in creating an environment that is pleasant, professional, and supportive. Right down to the design of maximum window space to contribute to a cheerful feel in the office.

Beekley3

I walked out of there impressed by the internal marketing storytelling, but even more by the story itself. A little company, doing its thing in its niche, practicing excellence and growing steadily, hiring smart and telling its story.

May such companies increase in numbers and influence!

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The No Drone Zone at Netflix

Drone1I’d heard good things over the months about Netflix’s unique corporate culture, so my curiosity was piqued when someone linked to a Slideshare about it. I clicked on over.

Seeing that it was 128 slides, my interest in delving further wavered. I have a philosophical bias against mega-slide presentations! However, I started anyway, and soon found myself going through the entire thing. The idealist in me was astonished – here was a company actually adhering to (not just mouthing) many tremendous business principles that are the ingredients for long-term success. Count me impressed.

Here’s the bottom line: Netflix is determined to have only dedicated and talented employees. No drones.

Many companies tolerate sub-par performers as long as they don’t mess up too badly. In this way, companies end up with lots of deadwood – drones who muddle their way onward and upward, and serve as a source of discouragement and irritation for hard-working and creative employees who really want to make a difference.

Read it for yourself – yes, it’ll take a few minutes, but it’s well worth it for the inspiration given and example set: Freedom and Responsibility Culture

Is your company a No Drone Zone? Can it become one?

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Lipstick on the Management Pig

twomindsI had too much time in the car yesterday, so I was thinking about something that comes to mind a lot.

Cognitive dissonance.

Yes, I’m a little strange, but that’s not news anymore. I analyze a wide range of topics, which is both fun and confusing at times, and which can lead to…well, cognitive dissonance. When you see and/or believe things that don’t seem to go together.

Whether or not you’ve used the label, you’ve experienced cognitive dissonance. When your religious beliefs (or disbeliefs) seem to collide with real-life; when what you always thought about a person is suddenly proven untrue; when you find a PC easier to use than a Mac…all of that can create a sense that things don’t fit.

Then this morning Brad Farris forwards (via Twitter) this article from Harvard Business Review, entitled Why You Should Sell Only for the Company You Love. A few excerpts:

    There is no way you can effectively sell for a mismanaged company. A company that does a poor job of taking care of its people creates unhappy employees.

    Poor management is a deep problem that not even the best salesperson can overcome. It’s a pig that you can’t put lipstick on, and you shouldn’t waste your time trying.

    The problem of trying to sell around or in spite of poor management sometimes arises as a question about my advocating customer visits to our offices and plants. I’m asked: “What do you do if you have people in your offices you don’t want customers to meet? Or plants you don’t want them to see?” My response is that this isn’t a sales problem. It’s a management problem.

    Not only is it futile to try to put lipstick on the poor-management pig, it’s dishonorable and unethical even to try. Honesty is being truthful with others. Integrity is being truthful with ourselves. These are the essential ingredients of any sales-leadership program.

Amen to all of that. Many years ago, I sold equipment from manufacturers whose design and development processes, and whose deaf ears to the legitimate needs of customers, made selling a very “dissonant” chore. Fact is, any good and authentic salesperson wants to be a genuine and enthusiastic advocate for the offering and company he/she is representing. When the product or service is defective, or the management style is counter-productive, it absolutely cuts the heart out of the front-line sales staff. Then there are only three choices:

    1. Pretend enthusiasm anyway, for the sake of trying to make some money

    2. Tell potential customers the facts and deal with the consequences

    3. Leave

I’m a strong advocate of the third. It’s the only way to get rid of an energy-sapping, conscience-afflicting cognitive dissonance. I think the marketplace would evolve faster and better if more employees left poorly-run companies so that they run aground and better companies take their place. What do you think? How do you deal with cognitive dissonance in the workplace?

(Image credit)

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“Social Media” and Business, part 1

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a robust Twitter conversation with a few folks (thanks, @lizscherer, @kellyferrara, @lindabeth!) on how “social media” fits into the pre-existing business silos that we all know and love (Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)

Instead of putting out 140-character fragments of thought, it might be more valuable to sketch out some big-picture ideas about how this all, perhaps, fits together, and continue the discussion in the comments.

First, I’ll freely admit that I don’t much care for the term “Social Media.” I think it’s limiting. I tend to prefer either Community Networking (more on the inter-personal level), or Networked Communications (more on the business level). Take your pick; we’re talking about person-to-person or organization<–>person communications and connections mediated through on-line tools.

Let’s think about business. I think a lot of these legacy silos are not particularly helpful, so let’s imagine for a moment that they are swept off the table and everything is encompassed under one umbrella term: Communications. PR, Marketing, Social Media, etc. – it’s all about communicating to the world at large (people unaware of the company; prospective customers; imminent buyers; existing users; other stakeholders). These communications take various forms, including direct advertising, word of mouth (on- or off-line), press, or what have you, but it’s all communications, and it should all be strategically tied together.

For a business, then, let’s take this practice of communication and view it through the prism of the main goal: increased uptake of offerings and therefore, increased revenue. Business growth. From the perspective of the business, and using rather sterile terms, there are three main stages of this: Customer Awareness, Customer Acquisition, and Customer Retention.

What is the process – the pattern – that occurs to reach this goal of business growth, and how does the discipline of Communications fit? Here’s a suggested way to view it:

Awareness Communications – strategies and tactics that elevate some level of understanding of the company’s existence, offerings, and value. An analogy: this is walking into a party with an attractive, attention-getting outfit.

Qualification Communications – think pre-sales marketing here. Expressing, at some level, what the nature and benefits of the offering are. But this need not be one-way anymore – through networked communications, businesses can much more readily understand the needs and desires of potential customers. Ongoing analogy: chatting up at the party and gauging if there is interest in more than just a polite chat.

Commitment Communications – assuming that the potential customer is seeing genuine value, now the parties discuss how they might get together to meet mutual goals. This is a deeper dive into needs and offerings, and gaining a comfortable feel for overall compatibility. Ongoing analogy: entering into a committed dating relationship.

Satisfaction Communications – the company realizes that its best hope of gaining new customers is by keeping current customers not only pacified, but satisfied to the point of being advocates. Time and two-way communications are invested to build the relationship and improve the offerings. Ongoing analogy: the diligent care and feeding of a marriage relationship.

This is the typical linear process of how business is obtained and grown, and if we range our Communications options and methods along these lines, we can see how a strategic approach to the various legacy disciplines (PR, Marketing, Advertising, etc.) can now be achieved. Each stage of the continuum requires different types/mixes of communication, with differing levels of two-way exchange. “Social Media” plays a role throughout, not as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of two-way communication that should mark an entire process.

When you look at this continuum, ask yourself: does your business have a consistent message that is woven throughout the entire communications landscape? It should.

Oh, and for an interesting twist, swap out the word “Customer” for “Employee”. Sorta makes sense on the recruitment/retention side of things, doesn’t it?

Kind of a mind dump here and lots of loose ends. What do you think? Speak your mind in the comments!

:: So far, we’re attempting to define the landscape of business communications – but in a follow-up post, I want to take something implied here and make it more explicit. Successful business will increasingly be marked, not by a transactional view (I am using communications to persuade you to buy my product so I can make money and you can, maybe, gain a benefit), but by a more holistic relational view. That is, customers and companies will increasingly seek out ways to determine if they are right for each other, something networked communications truly helps enable. My consulting business is built on a “matchmaking” network model and I’ll share a few thoughts on why I think there is tremendous value in this approach…

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Peace of Mind, Guaranteed

billsavittYesterday, for no apparent discernible reason, I said something to my wife about “P.O.M.G.”

For those of us who grew up in Central Connecticut a few decades back, that’s “Peace of Mind, Guaranteed.” A tagline and acronym relentlessly pounded into our impressionable little brains in the 60′s and 70′s by Savitt Jeweler’s in Hartford (hey! – Google has just helped me discover that they’re still around!)

Bill Savitt rode that expression on the radio and TV airwaves for years. And here, many decades later, never having gone to Savitt’s for anything, or thought about them in forever, the tagline still sticks.

Do you doubt the power of a great tagline, reinforced through repetition? Don’t. Put your creative juices to work trying to create a hook that will endure. You’ll gain a piece of mind. Guaranteed.

(Some interesting backstory on Bill Savitt, and image credit)

Five in the Morning 120308

Me Me Me Me Me Me Me. Maybe it should be called Social Usdia. Read a good one by Gennefer Snowfield. Then have a chuckle with Ike Pigott (who is one of my favorite tweeters of keen insight mixed with humor).

Yet another top marketing blogs list – but this one has some pretty neat-o caricatures, so well worth a scan!

Who are your yacht buyers? Interesting thoughts for difficult times, from the fun and friendly Steve Roesler (guest-posting on Drew McLellan’s blog). Oh, and if you missed it, some good stuff from Jason Falls on using social media for listening. Please, nobody tell Drew that while he’s been gone on vacation and having guests post, that THEY’re getting all the Five in the Morning traction…

Your Customer Really is King. From Inside-the-big-enterprise-company blogger Kelly Feller.

Dissing blogging – worth a thought-provoking read. However, this author has such a narrow view of the value of blogging (equating it with journalism), and such a lack of understanding of the connection-building power of blogging as a component of the various forms of social media, that I think it’s safe to say that he MISSES THE POINT. What think you? And, if dissing blogging isn’t enough for today, Valleywag disses Twitter (company and platform). Actually, some valid points are made here. We who are in the microblogging community have to be careful not to have an overly-inflated view of what we’re doing, and seek to avoid patting ourselves (and each other) on the back so much that we forget to add value to others…but here’s a brief business success story as counterbalance. And read about this upcoming series from fellow North Jersey blogger CB Whittemore, on bridging the New and the Old with Social Media.

FUN BONUS – Top 10 People to Unfollow on Twitter. From someone I’ve followed for a long time (and wouldn’t consider unfollowing unless he morphed into one of these clowns), Shannon Whitley.

And finally, a question for you readers. What are the blogs/sites you find most helpful, that perhaps would be Five-worthy? – and specifically, I’m thinking business/entrepreneur/inspirational sites that aren’t necessary known much inside our social media “bubble.” Would like to continue to expand our universe of worthy and helpful voices…(leave a comment with suggestions – thanks!)

(Image credit)

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Five in the Morning 112408

5-dotHow NOT to: Build your Twitter community. Good tips from Sarah Evans. Oh, and the other side of the coin – How TO.

Growing through delegation/outsourcing – valuable thoughts here from Chaitanya Sagar. I’ve walked this same path and probably have other decisions to make in the future…and I agree that outsourcing (rather than do-it-all-yourself or hiring) is a very valuable and important strategy. There is potential business strength and growth on both sides of this equation.

Drew McLellan on the Best Way to Grow your Business. You might be surprised at his answer – but then again, I hope you’re not. Plus, this poignant remembrance of an effective leader.

42 Content-building ways to Attract and Retain Customers. From Joe Pulizzi over at Junta 42 blog.

Building your Brand through Networking. Walter Akana interviews Liz Lynch, author of just-released book Smart Networking: Attract a Following in Person an Online.

(Image credit)

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A Return to Lowe’s – Strike 2, and a Home Run

A short while back, I wrote up a post about a very frustrating e-commerce (de-commerce) experience with the Lowes.com website, from which I tried to order a simple gift card. Let’s just say it was a total fail – you can read the backstory here.

I decided to write a follow-up post because of one very remarkable customer-service experience that I heard about from a fellow soccer coach. And that will be described below. But first…since one of the Lowe’s web developers had talked to me after my snarky original post, I decided to go back to their site and see if they’d fixed the problem.

Sure enough, the site design/navigation was re-vamped and better structured. Yay! Also, I went through the process of ordering a gift card, and sure enough, now it was talking about shipping the card to me or to the recipient, etc. etc. – Yay! But once again, at the final step, IT WOULDN’T LET ME ORDER ON-LINE – it insisted on directing me to local stores by asking for my zip code, and I could NOT, in fact, do the transaction on-line – GRRRRR!!!! C’mon folks, get this right!

OK, that’s the bad news. Strike 2. Now, here’s the home run. Last evening, a fellow was describing the fact that he had ordered cabinets from Lowe’s, and most of the order had come in right, but 4 times (that’s four – as in 1, 2, 3, 4) a specific piece was not ordered in correctly. OK, that’s not good. Talking to the manager about this repeat failure, he was asked if he was also looking for a grill (he was). She directed him to just pick one out and pointed to the section. He protested that this was too much for his trouble, so she said she’d take 50% off. When he selected a rather high-end model and brought it to the register, he found that he was only charged $1.00. Circling back to the manager, she smiled and said that she knew he wouldn’t go through with it if she said it was free, so she floated the 50% thing to help him over that hump – but in fact, he was going to get it free for his trouble. Sneaky! And very memorable.

Did she end up creating a customer for life? Probably. Did she have any inkling that the story would be told in a format like this, engendering good will toward Lowe’s across who knows how many time zones? I doubt it. But if we can use social media to point out the bad, we should also use it to highlight the good. And that’s what I just did.

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A Zin Moment: Case Study of a Brand Advocate

The dream goal for any brand is to create – somehow – a set of brand advocates who go out, on their own initiative, and “evangelize” the company’s product or service. Nothing is more powerful than having customers who sell for you – this is marketing nirvana.

And so here is a story of brand advocacy. This case study is one I’m intimately familiar, because I’m the one out there giving free exposure to the brand.

I’ve written previously on this blog about Ravenswood Winery, and how the way they’ve promoted their brand has made me (and others) a fan. As I speak, behind me on my bookshelves is a little “No Wimpy Wines” bumper sticker from Ravenswood, and when I work out at they gym, a t-shirt with the same message is part of my regular rotation of attire.

Ravenswood makes a variety of varietals but they specialize in Zinfandels – hence the No Wimpy Wines tagline. They also happen to make a killer BBQ sauce called Ragin’ Raven, and here is where the story gets richer. You see, I like their Zins, but I absolutely love Ragin’ Raven, and I tell people about it. I give it away. In fact, I just sent 58 bottles of it to my clients and partners, even creating a marketing campaign for my consulting business around the theme of: Are you Ragin’ or Ravin’? Ragin’ Raven BBQ sauce has received tremendous exposure within a very high-income and influential group…why? Because Ravenswood has bribed me? No. Because I’m an advocate. Ravenswood doesn’t even know (I think) about their unofficial East Coast marketing arm who has probably bought more bottles of their BBQ sauce than anyone on the planet. And, of course, via blog posts, now there is exposure to an even wider audience.

The product is good, but let’s face it – there are lots of good wines and great BBQ sauces out there. But because their branding included the phrase “No Wimpy Wines” and a name like Ragin’ Raven, I’ve latched on and enjoy evangelizing them.

Are you trying market your product or services, and hoping to create the magnification effect of word-of-mouth advocates? Take a look at the fairly straightforward steps that Ravenswood has taken to distinguish themselves. Find a way to stand out in a crowded market, with a branding message that resonates. Can you make your brand rise above the others with a bit of fun, a dash of cheekiness, and a message that makes the customer feel like he found something special?

Later this week, we’ll look at a brand that has created something beyond advocacy, crossing the line into the cultivation of…well, a cult! (Here is the link – this post on the “cult” of Harley Davidson is published on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog!)

P.S. – here’s a review by someone who did a tasting at the Ravenswood winery…

(Image source – wine bottles)

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Tribal Marketing

Why are companies beginning to pay attention to the potential of social media?

It’s pretty simple. People believe people they have connections to. People are now trained not to trust traditional advertising.

Traditional advertising often tries to carpet-bomb a bunch of “strangers” with a message. However, these strangers now understand that they are viewed as wallets, not friends. Objects to be exploited, not collaborators in the product development process.

Social media allows us to interact with friendly tribes, and thus, we are armed to resist the overflights of one-way, exploitative marketers.

Kind of like…well, these folks who have been in the news this week. ->

How can you reach those who don’t trust you or your message?

Think about it.

(Here are some interesting related thoughts from Christopher Penn)

Photoshop Express – Ho-hum

photoshop-express-menu.pngI saw a press release about the new (free) web-based photo-editing service being made available by Adobe – Photoshop Express.

I do a fair amount of low-level image editing for my blogging efforts, so decided to sign up and give it a test drive.

Yawwwwnnn.

Very thin feature set. Not particularly intuitive. The tools are few and rudimentary. I’ll stick with Picnik, which has become my default free web-based tool (and which I highly recommend).  According to TechCrunch, the Picnikers aren’t very scared…

J&J and the American Red Cross – What’s a Symbol to do?

The recent legal spat between the American Red Cross (ARC) and Johnson and Johnson (J&J) (back story here, with more reportage and comment here, here, and here) brings to the surface a very important issue. While many have focused on the public relations aspect of this messy situation, and some see it as just another opportunity to jump on Big Pharma, what it really comes down to is this: will principle, or pragmatism, carry the day?

Symbols matter – as do their use. At the core, this is a legal dispute, having to do with intellectual property, copyright laws, and interpretation of agreements. J&J believes that there is an important legal precedent at stake here, and I have no doubt that they knew, going in, that a P.R. nightmare was going to be the cost of moving forward on principle. I respect that. Justice requires that there are no favorites – the small as well as the great are held to the same standard. Legal behavior and respect for property are bedrock principles of the rule of law, and we see multiplying examples around us of smaller, poorer nations casting aside such inconveniences as patent law in order to steal pharmaceutical formulations. Pharmaceutical companies, like any other companies, have every right to defend their property; intellectual, tangible, and whatever else.

When you compare the press releases of the 2 parties in this battle, you see a very clear differentiation. The Red Cross is claiming victim status, using the “big company is bullying us” argument, the pragmatic “we’re only trying to do good” argument, and the “they’re only doing it for the money” argument (note: the same type of arguments used by developing nations that break patents on drugs). In no instance do they actually seem to address the core legal principles. Here is their press release:

WASHINGTON, Wednesday, August 08, 2007Today, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) filed a lawsuit against the American Red Cross and four of its licensing partners for “unlawful conduct” related to the nonprofit’s use of the Red Cross emblem.

Specifically, J&J demands that the Red Cross:

  • Stop the Red Cross and its licensing partners from using the Red Cross emblem permanently on first aid, preparedness and related products sold to the public;
  • Surrender to J&J for destruction the Red Cross’ inventory of accused products;
  • Hand over to J&J all Red Cross proceeds from the sale of these products with interest; and
  • Pay punitive damages to J&J along with attorney fees related to its legal action against the Red Cross.

“For a multi-billion dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute that was created to protect the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross—simply so that J&J can make more money—is obscene,” said Mark W. Everson, President and CEO of the American Red Cross.

Research has found that only seven percent of Americans have taken the necessary steps to be prepared—and that more people would get prepared if preparedness products were more available, including at retail locations. Since 2004, the Red Cross has worked with several licensing partners to create first aid, preparedness and related products that bear the Red Cross emblem.

All money the Red Cross receives from the sale of these products to consumers is reinvested in its humanitarian programs and services.

“The Red Cross products that J&J wants to take away from consumers and have destroyed are those that help Americans get prepared for life’s emergencies,” said Everson. “I hope that the courts and Congress will not allow Johnson & Johnson to bully the American Red Cross.”

Translation: J&J is big, greedy, and bad; we’re victims just trying to do good here; and they want to hurt Americans. OK – nice job with the ad hominem attack…now, can we have your legal reasoning, please??

On the other hand, J&J appears to be focusing on the legal issues, with a concern for the long-term principles and the precedents that are at stake. Their press release:

Johnson & Johnson Statement on Civil Complaint Against The American National Red Cross and Commercial Licensees

Skillman, NJ (August 9, 2007) - Johnson & Johnson has great respect for the relief work of the American Red Cross (ARC) and over the decades has consistently supported the organization through cash donations, product donations and employee volunteering. The Company remains committed to supporting their mission through its philanthropic efforts.

Both Johnson &Johnson and the American Red Cross have long-held separate and distinct rights to the use of the Red Cross Design trademark.

Johnson & Johnson began using the Red Cross design and “Red Cross” word trademarks in 1887, predating the formation of the American Red Cross. The Company has had exclusive rights to use the Red Cross trademark on commercial products within its longstanding product categories for over 100 years. Since its creation, the American Red Cross has at all times possessed only the rights to use the Red Cross trademark in connection with its non-profit relief services.

After more than a century of strong cooperation in the use of the Red Cross trademark, with both organizations respecting the legal boundaries for each others’ unique legal rights, we were very disappointed to find that the American Red Cross started a campaign to license the trademark to several businesses for commercial purposes on all types of products being sold in many different retail and other commercial outlets. These products include baby mitts, nail clippers, combs, toothbrushes and humidifiers. This action is in direct violation of a Federal statute protecting the mark as well as in violation of our longstanding trademark rights.

For the past several months, Johnson & Johnson has attempted to resolve this issue through cooperation and discussion with the ARC, and recently offered mediation, to no avail. The Company was left with no choice but to seek protection of our trademark rights through the courts.

On Wednesday, August 8th, 2007, a civil complaint was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York by JOHNSON & JOHNSON and JOHNSON & JOHNSON CONSUMER COMPANIES, INC against THE AMERICAN NATIONAL RED CROSS and its commercial licensees, LEARNING CURVE INTERNATIONAL, INC., MAGLA PRODUCTS, LLC, WATER-JEL TECHNOLOGIES, INC., and FIRST AID ONLY, INC.

The goal of this civil complaint is to restore the long-held legal boundaries surrounding the use of the Red Cross trademark.

I don’t know who will win this battle in the courts. If J&J is right, I hope that ARC’s case is crushed, and that they retreat with their tail between their legs – a very important legal precedent having been reinforced. After which, I hope J&J then turns around and makes a sizable donation to some tangible Red Cross humanitarian work (though perhaps not to their legal fund!). And, if J&J is in the wrong, then let’s hope they get a legal spanking, and volunteer to cover all costs for the proceedings.

But at least in this initial skirmish, I have to say that I think J&J’s reasons for going to battle are sound. They tried to resolve it behind the scenes. The stakes are high – matters of legal principle are in dispute, which have long-term consequences. They have the right to see it resolved in the courts. And I’d sure like, at some point, to see the Red Cross come out with a well-reasoned defense of their actions rather than this bald appeal to victim status.

Pragmatism will tend to justify the means by the end. Those driven by principle tend to be willing to pay a short-term price for the sake of seeing what is right triumph, for the long-term benefit of all. Count me among the latter.

Full disclosure: I have no financial relationship with J&J by way of investment or current contract work, nor do I have any financial relationship with ARC.

The Golden Rule – Pick One!

Golden Rule #1treat others the way you’d wish to be treated

Golden Rule #2do what’s necessary to maximize my gold

Business ethics can seem complicated. Frankly, I think most of it boils to down to a pretty straightforward choice:

Do I do what’s right? Or do I do what is expedient to try to ensure maximum (income/profitability/bonus/stock price/etc.)?

What is right? That’s a debate that can draw in threads from theology, philosophy, psychology, and other disciplines, but let’s not over-complicate it. How would you want to be treated in a similar circumstance?

You’re working on the clinical research side of a pharmaceutical company, and a promising drug candidate starts to show some anomalous results. Some potentially dangerous side effects. Not a whole lot, mind you, and just a bit of tweaking and data-scrubbing could get it below the threshold of statistical significance. The company has been investing millions into this product, and the pipeline is a bit thin. Do you report it? Do you “work the numbers”? Do you ignore and cover over the warning signs? How does all this impact your job?

Wrong questions. How about this – would I give this drug to my child?

You have a hot new product coming out, and a potentially large client is very interested. However, they have a short-term delivery need, and you know that you cannot meet it. A competitor has a product, which is adequate, but also has the virtue of being immediately available. If the client standardizes on the competitor’s offering, you lose out in the short-term and the long term. So, do you fudge the truth and figure it will all wash out in the end, or do you put the client’s interest first and speak the truth come what may? (this is not a theoretical case study – I was in this dilemma 15 years ago. Determining the right choice was a no-brainer, but it still hurt to make it!)

Which Golden Rule do you follow? Here are two simple tests: do you like what you see when you look yourself in the mirror? And how do you sleep at night?

One company that seems to embody this principle-centered approach to business is Johnson and Johnson. However imperfectly it is followed by any given individuals in the company, J&J’s one-page Credo is a marvelous example of how to flesh out the Golden Rule – Golden Rule #1, that is – in a business philosophy:

Our Credo

We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients,
to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.
In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality.
We must constantly strive to reduce our costs
in order to maintain reasonable prices.
Customers’ orders must be serviced promptly and accurately.
Our suppliers and distributors must have an opportunity
to make a fair profit.

We are responsible to our employees,
the men and women who work with us throughout the world.
Everyone must be considered as an individual.
We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit.
They must have a sense of security in their jobs.
Compensation must be fair and adequate,
and working conditions clean, orderly and safe.
We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill
their family responsibilities.
Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints.
There must be equal opportunity for employment, development
and advancement for those qualified.
We must provide competent management,
and their actions must be just and ethical.

We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work
and to the world community as well.
We must be good citizens – support good works and charities
and bear our fair share of taxes.
We must encourage civic improvements and better health and education.
We must maintain in good order
the property we are privileged to use,
protecting the environment and natural resources.

Our final responsibility is to our stockholders.
Business must make a sound profit.
We must experiment with new ideas.
Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed
and mistakes paid for.
New equipment must be purchased, new facilities provided
and new products launched.
Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times.
When we operate according to these principles,
the stockholders should realize a fair return.

Sure, J&J companies and employees fail to live up to this standard of excellence and fair play every day. But that doesn’t mean that the standard is wrong. Only that, at any given time, individuals choose themselves above others.

What is the root cause of the parade of scandals we see in so many industries? Most of the time, we need look no further than Golden Rule #2.

We moan and groan about Sarbanes-Oxley, shareholder lawsuits, regulatory meddling, and all the other thorny features of rules and disclosures that address wrongdoing. But who is to blame? All those who lead their companies, their teams, and themselves by Golden Rule #2.

I’d love to see some major CEOs take a stand squarely on Golden Rule #1 and drive it throughout the entire organization, come whatever may. The short-term disruption would pale compared to the long-term benefit of a brand that puts others first on a consistent basis. And, of course, following Golden Rule #1 is likely to be the best way of attaining that other kind of gold anyway!

Another Logo from the Zzzzzzz…List

I noticed a big advertisement today in the Wall Street Journal for Covidien, the medical device company recently spun off from its former Tyco Healthcare identity.

I think it was good to separate Covidien from Tyco (which had a number of unrelated businesses under its umbrella), and the name Covidien, if not all that inspired and memorable, is at least acceptable. After all, it is a difficult challenge these days coming up with new names.

But the logo and tagline left me frowning with disappointment.

covidien.jpgI believe there is a virtue in simplicity, when it comes to logo design. But this treatment is tired. Yet another uninspired takeoff on the medical Red Cross look. Yawwwwwnnn. A company in the pharmaceutical training space that I know quite well, MedSN, did something similar a while back. At least they used a few colors. The Covidien treatment, with a few variations of blue, looks like it never got beyond a Powerpoint storyboard.

And the tagline, Positive Results for Life, is yet another retread from the pharma/healthcare/biotech bargain bin. Some of the most uninspired and insipid taglines have been adopted by these companies, all vaguely promising health/life/goodness in a way that is utterly non-differentiating. I’m reminded of a phrase from A Christmas Carol, where young Ebenezer Scrooge gives a response that is “terribly safe.” That’s what these taglines are. With an emphasis on both words.

I don’t yet know who came up with this logo. Maybe, after I finish this post, I’ll look it up. But let’s take a flight of fancy here, and imagine we’re in the boardroom, as the agency gives its explanation/rationalization for this look:

“The background field of blue represents the universal desire for long life and health, tapping into the singular global aspirations that a healthcare provider such as Covidien will be a premier provider of positive results toward that end. Since the earth is mostly water, and water represents life, we encased the logo in the uplifting presence of a sea of calming ocean blue. Of course, the medical cross symbol is recognized across the universe as a positive and aspirational symbol of well-being, and now it is softened and yet heightened by being re-stylized in enriching shades of health-inducing blue, leading the thoughts and feelings of the onlooking world to pleasant deliberations of the intersection of medical devices and ongoing health. The merging of life-giving blue, the subtly blatant medical undercurrent, and modern encapsulations of individual aspirations will create the inevitable conclusion that Covidien creates positive results for life.”

And now, rewind a day into the design studio as the logo and tagline are being feverishly finished off for the next day’s presentation:

“Did you whip that thing up in Powerpoint?”

“Yeah…took me about an hour and a half. I billed 45 days of creative time for the team, however.”

“Looks like a couple of colorized Band-Aids to me.”

“Ain’t life grand? I came up with that this morning while fixing a shaving nick.”

“And did you pump something out of that funky ObviousTaglines.com website?”

“Oh, yeah – it was great! I just told it ‘healthcare’, selected a couple standard keywords, and out came Positive Results for Life. It’s a beautiful thing. And, I now have 10 others we can use for our next client.”

All right, I made all that up. I’m sure a bit more effort went into this. But I wonder…how much did this branding cost? And why is it so…undistinguished?

Pharma Web Branding, Part 4 – Novartis

A visit to Novartis.com is relatively pleasant, visually, from an initial impression point of view. Decent use of white space. Nice color palette (although I am not sure how the mocha color fits in with standard Novartis branding). Information and graphics presented in a way that is not overwhelming. This site, at least, does not chase the visitor away with visual overload.

novartis_home2.jpgThe first element that stands out is an animated rectangle which presents, via words and pictures, stories about people and/or treatments with a Novartis focus. One of these talks about their drug, and treatment program, for Malaria. Another is about LaDonna, a cancer survivor. These tangible stories about the true “deliverable” of a pharma company – changed lives through medication – are the best way to introduce the company to the public. Well done.

There is the pretty standard navigation bar (Products \ Disease & Conditions \ R&D \ About Novartis \ Investors \ Newsroom \ Career) along the top, then on the right side, some graphically pleasant boxes with key highlights (Careers, Corporate Citizenship, etc.) – a nice way to make important “destinations” easily accessible.

Beneath the animated panel, there are only four main sections – for Investors (with updated stock chart); Novartis feature (currently, an account about treating dengue fever); a place for selecting various worldwide site (drop-down navigation); and finally, Latest News, with a few hotlinks. For a major global company (which includes pharma, vaccines, consumer products, generics, and more), I’d say this is just about right – the information design shows admirable restraint in not jamming a thousand things onto the home page, but it brings forward enough up-to-date and useful information to draw the visitor in.

A click onto the U.S. site shows good consistency with the web branding and navigation scheme.

Of the pharma websites I’ve reviewed thus far, the Novartis home page is clearly the best designed of the bunch.

Getting it Done

I have a new post up on the Small Business Branding site, focusing on a new marketing campaign by Citi (“Let’s Get it Done”). Your comments and insights would be welcome…

Pharma Web Branding, Part 2 – GlaxoSmithKline

In my continuing series on how pharmaceutical companies engage the public with their brand on their website homepages, this week we’ll take a look at http://www.gsk.com (last week was Pfizer’s turn!)

gsk-logo.jpgGlaxo became a Top-5 pharma company through a merger strategy. SmithKline Beecham joined Glaxo Wellcome to create…well, you know the tale. Merger mouthful. Most people now find it easier to refer to the company as “Glaxo” or as “GSK” – my bias is well-known about munging together a bunch of legacy names to come up with a run-on-sentence for a name.

And, I will admit, that when the merger occurred and the new GSK logo was unveiled, I found it to be an underwhelming moment in marketing. My first impression: an orange guitar pick. And to this day, that is all I see.

Turning to the public website, in the browser title bar we see this tagline: “Improving health and quality of life.” As with so many pharma companies, absolutely bland, obvious, and non-distinguishing. That phrase could be used about bottled water, vitamins, exercise machines, and a book on therapeutic massage. Sigh.

Nonetheless, the website itself has some reasonably engaging design features. Unlike Pfizer’s, panned last week for trying to say too much, the current GSK site presents a compelling “story” front-and-center: The Menace of Malaria. The two brief blurbs, with accompanying graphics (the mosquito is very effective), draw the reader in to explore further. By focusing on ONE thing that GSK is actively working on, the site makes it easier to dig in.

Of necessity, for a major pharmaceutical company, there are many links and potential destinations, and this site does a pretty good job using smaller navigational areas to direct the users to various areas of interest. The drop-down boxes toward the bottom right are a particularly effective way to give choices without an overwhelming, in-your-face list. Since there are so many choices, it might be a good idea to use simple rollover technology to provide brief snippets of information when people mouse-over the menu items (for instance, why would I want to take the survey?)

Below the graphic shown here are some other helpful links, including recent news releases, Quick Links, up-to-the-minute stock prices, and an RSS feed for newsreaders (every company should be doing this nowadays).

Yes, the site is a bit busy, and the type quite small in many places, but for a company this size, it’s difficult to know what to leave out on the home page. GSK has done an admirable job making a large amount of information accessible without it being overwhelming.

Disruptive Innovations

Great post by Rob Marsh over at Brand Story, about how companies enter the market and disrupt it with innovations that address unmet needs. Highly recommended!

Pharma Web Branding, Part 1 – Pfizer

I’ve spent a good portion of my career working with pharmaceutical companies on training and marketing initiatives, often including elements of web design.

Since a public website is a major opportunity to express one’s brand, I thought I’d examine the websites of a number of the larger pharma companies and critique how effectively they brand themselves – through logo, tagline, web interface structural design, and look/feel.

Today – Pfizer.

Pfizer has managed, over the last 10 years, to emerge as the largest pharmaceutical company through aggressive and disciplined marketing and sales (as well as strategic acquisitions). Their logo is well-known and is reasonably effective – the design is simple, easy on the eyes, and, if not inspired, certainly inoffensive. The current tagline, however – “Working for a healthier world” – is a snoozer. It could easily be swapped out with most of the other pharma taglines, all of which sound pretty much the same. They all tend to transmit the same safe themes – but I guess none of them would gain fans if they came out with “Medical Advances that Maximize Profits,” so we’re going to be stuck with the altruistic buzzwords.

The public website suffers from boring busy-ness. There is simply too much information up front. The interface uses the “Boxes and Bullet Points” structure, with so many choices that it does not draw in the visitor. This website is an attempt to give people the maximum number of destinations, but by putting Who We Are / What We Do / How We Help boxes (each with 4 choices underneath), ranged next to an imposing list of all their prescription products, visual overload is inevitable. The approach with this site design is: Here’s Pfizer! All of us! Take your pick! It’s a company-centric, not user-centric interface.

While the site does have some human faces, they don’t draw in, because the graphic is not being used to tell a story. It’s actually more of a boast (See? We help people who don’t have coverage!), which is a turn-off instead of a come-hither.

The use of color – particular, various shades of blue – is pretty boring, and the site does not cohere well on look/feel. It feels chopped-up instead of integrated. There’s no clear message, and no elements that really make me want to explore.

If I were to recommend a re-design for this site, I’d say bury the names of the medicines, and focus instead on the conditions treated. Put a patient story right up front. Figure out one or two main, engaging messages, and give them prominence. Find a way to have news and features, but not in the poorly formatted and tiresome list fashion shown at the bottom of the page. And change the navigation structure, so that choices can be made in a more natural sequence. The site needs an interface weight-loss program – simplicity is better than showing everything at once.

Hilton should go to Prison

Hilton Hotels, that is. Crime: introducing a new campaign with a tagline that says nothing.

Travel should take you places

Hmmm…never quite thought of it that way!

I hate this kind of meaninglessness in marketing (does that make it a “hate crime”?) What does a statement like that have to do with distinguishing Hilton from say, Priceline? Or Hertz? Or Paris Hilton, for that matter?

Here are a few other highly descriptive taglines I’d suggest for other companies wanting to be so creative:

“Bathing should make you clean” (soap company)

“Picture-taking should create images” (camera company)

“Houses should be lived in” (real estate company)

Can you imagine some poor soul on eHarmony.com, marketing him or herself to a prospective love interest with the line, “Dating should make you happy”? How does this kind of phrase distinguish anyone?

I’ll probably never be able to forget Motel 6′s tagline, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” It’s a shame that a higher-end hotel can’t come up with a more sticky campaign than its downmarket rival!

Euro-Engineered Car Advertising

Today, the Wall Street Journal has an article about Audi, seeking to get beyond its relative brand anonymity in the U.S. by introducing a new tagline.

“Truth in Engineering”

Clunk. This reminds me of a similar effort, now underway by Saab – “Born from Jets”

Clunk.

Maybe I’m missing something here. Do you really hope to get my blood pumping about engineering, or about the fact that a car company was started by a bunch of guys that made jets? Does that draw me closer to the brand?

Not at all. I’ve worked with European companies in the past (particularly Nordic and Germanic), and there seems to be a cultural tendency to glorify the colder, more cerebral attributes of precision, accuracy, engineering design, etc. But those things should be subordinate to a theme that grabs my heart, and makes me want to have the brand experience.

Of course, it’s a great thing to have precision engineering. BMW certainly does – but they market their car as the “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Ah – they’ve tapped into two important things – the aspirational desire to have the “ultimate,” and the desire to experience the main point of this technological package – driving!

I don’t care if you’re born from jets, from rocket ships, or from barges (well, maybe I would care about the barge pedigree). The point it, why should I WANT to drive your car?

Image credit: Flickr

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