Big Pharma Outsources all “Bad Stuff” to Sri Lanka

The Pharma Side, August 30, 2007 

In a surprise move today, the heads of the Top Twenty Big Pharma companies announced that all mistakes, scandals, negative side effects, approval delays, and “other bad staff” would all be outsourced to the tiny country of Sri Lanka. “Frankly, we’re sick of dealing with it all,” said Hank McSpinnell, President and CEO of the new Offshoring Umbrella Union (OffUU)… more

[Having a little fun over at my Impactiviti (pharma consulting) blog…]

What’s Wrong with these Names?

Shopping for a projector? Take a look at these distinctive model names, straight out of the Alfred E. Neuman “What, me Worry?” guide to branding:

  • Sony VPL-FX40
  • Panasonic PT-DW10000U
  • NEC NP60
  • Sharp XR-30X
  • Toshiba TDP-FF1AU
  • Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080

Full article on the Small Business Branding blog here…

(Alfred E. Neuman copyright Mad Magazine)

Potential Work, if You’re Interested

Came across this RFP (Request for Proposal) today. These folks are looking for a marketing/advertising agency. I don’t know the group, and what they want is not in my sweet spot, but it looks interesting, and maybe one of my readers will want to pursue it…

A Pilot Customer Service Program

From today’s Wall Street Journal (may be subscription fee for on-line article):

[Danny Flanagan]Capt. Denny Flanagan is a rare bird in today’s frustration-filled air-travel world — a pilot who goes out of his way to make flying fun for passengers.

When pets travel in cargo compartments, the United Airlines veteran snaps pictures of them with his cellphone camera, then shows owners that their animals are on board. In the air, he has flight attendants raffle off 10% discount coupons and unopened bottles of wine. He writes notes to first-class passengers and elite-level frequent fliers on the back of his business cards, addressing them by name and thanking them for their business. If flights are delayed or diverted to other cities because of storms, Capt. Flanagan tries to find a McDonald’s where he can order 200 hamburgers, or a snack shop that has apples or bananas he can hand out.

And when unaccompanied children are on his flights, he personally calls parents with reassuring updates. “I picked up the phone and he said, ‘This is the captain from your son’s flight,’ ” said Kenneth Klein, whose 12-year-old son was delayed by thunderstorms in Chicago last month on a trip from Los Angeles to see his grandfather in Toronto. “It was unbelievable. One of the big problems is kids sit on planes and no one tells you what’s happening, and this was the exact opposite.”

So unusual is the service that Capt. Flanagan has been a subject of discussion on, an online community for road warriors.

Mark B. Lasser, a Denver advertising-sales executive, came off a Capt. Flanagan flight and posted a question on about why the pilot had been so friendly. “I don’t trust UA at all but can’t figure out what the ulterior motive is,” he wrote.

Others quickly came to Capt. Flanagan’s defense. “I’ve had this pilot before — what a great guy. He does the same thing on every flight,” said a FlyerTalk regular.

Mr. Lasser says he just wishes Capt. Flanagan weren’t such a rarity among United employees. “Every flight before and most flights since have been so poor in customer service that this guy really came across as representing his own standards more than the company’s. He’s an outlier within United,” Mr. Lasser said in an interview.

UAL Corp.’s United, which ranked in the middle of the airline pack in on-time arrivals and mishandled baggage in the first half of this year and next-to-worst in consumer complaints, has supported Capt. Flanagan’s efforts. The airline supplies the airplane trading-cards he hands out as passengers board, plus books, wine and discount coupons he has flight attendants give away. He goes through about 700 business cards a month, and the company reimburses him for the food he buys during prolonged delays.

“He’s a great ambassador for the company,” says Graham Atkinson, United’s executive vice president and “Chief Customer Officer,” who is leading an effort to boost customer service. He hopes more pilots and airport workers will adopt some of Capt. Flanagan’s techniques such as the frequent, detailed updates he gives to customers.

Air travel isn’t easy for anybody, given problems ranging from storms to mechanical breakdowns to computer snafus and lost luggage. Airline workers have endured pay cuts and fights with management; travelers have suffered poor service and unreliable flights. Capt. Flanagan tries to deal with the cheerfulness challenge — at least on the flights he works. “I just treat everyone like it’s the first flight they’ve ever flown,” said the 56-year-old Navy veteran who lives on an Ohio farm and cuts the figure of a classic airline captain: trim and gray-haired. “The customer deserves a good travel experience,” he said.

Last Tuesday morning, Capt. Flanagan was at gate C19 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport an hour before the scheduled departure of Flight 831 to San Francisco and made his first announcement about the delay before the gate agent had shown up. The time posted for departure was 8:20, but that was optimistic, Capt. Flanagan told passengers, because the Boeing 767 they would fly wouldn’t land from São Paulo, Brazil, until 7:02 and then had to be emptied, cleaned, inspected and towed from the international terminal.

He tried to lighten the mood, using a joke he tells before every flight. “I almost forgot to tell you, this is my first flight,” Capt. Flanagan said. Wary eyes looked up from newspapers and BlackBerrys through a long pause, before he added, “today.”

Capt. Flanagan mingled in the lounge answering questions and using his cellphone to call United operations officials to ask about connections to Asia and to cities on the West Coast.

Ajoke Odumosu, a track star at the University of South Alabama who was on her way to Osaka, Japan, for a world-championship competition, realized that when she began her trip with US Airways Group Inc., her luggage had been checked only as far as San Francisco. With the delay, there wouldn’t be time to retrieve it and recheck it for Japan.

Capt. Flanagan called Chicago and learned that the luggage was already in metal containers ready for loading on the 767, and couldn’t be retagged. He called San Francisco and found a manager who agreed to pull Ms. Odumosu’s bags aside and retag them for Osaka. In all, he spent 15 minutes on the problem.

“I was glad he went out of his way, which he didn’t have to do,” Ms. Odumosu said.

Once the plane was ready for boarding, Capt. Flanagan passed out cards with information about the Boeing 767. On every flight, he signs two of the cards on the back and, if there is wine left over from first class, he announces that passengers with his signature have won bottles of wine.

When the movie ended, flight attendants passed out napkins and passengers were invited to write notes about experiences on United — good or bad. Fifteen were selected to receive a coupon for a 10% discount on a future United flight, and Capt. Flanagan posts the passengers’ notes in crew rooms or sends them on to airport managers when they raise specific issues.

Randall Levelle of Morgantown, W.Va., and his family were flying to San Francisco because his father-in-law had just died. Capt. Flanagan invited Mr. Levelle’s three children into the cockpit during boarding.

“If other folks in the airline industry had the same attitude, it would go a long way to mitigating some of the negative stuff that has come about in the last four or five years,” Mr. Levelle said.

Re-Sizing Graphics – a very cool approach

If you’re involved in graphic design – even if you’re not – check out this very cool demonstration of a technique for dynamically re-sizing graphics. Fascinating. (hat tip – TechCrunch)

Get Curious World Tour – Playing with Crayons!

crayon_sm.gifCurious George has managed to worm his way into another household, this time making himself right at home with the Verdino’s. Greg Verdino of Crayon is the current stop on the Get Curious World Tour, in which a Curious George plush toy is visiting all 103 of the Age of Conversation authors. However, the Tour Director is deeply concerned about some of the plans Mr. Verdino has for George, which are far less innocent than the wonderful readings our little monkey is enjoying with the adorable Verdino daughter…CK, can you help make sure our little mascot is not too corrupted by the crayonistas??

Steve’s Sticky Stuff 8_24

duct-tape.jpgSteve’s Sticky Stuff is a weekly collection of random interesting stuff I’ve found during my voyages hither and yon. Enjoy!

Is Steve Woodruff actually a Swedish policeman toting an AK-47 to work?

I wish I’d know about this sooner. Kids are now being diagnosed with Youthful Tendency Disorder.

Google Earth now expands to Google Sky. Very, very cool. UPDATE: They hid an “easter egg” flight simulator in there! Here is how to access it.

Truveo. May be the best interface/search engine yet for finding videos on the net (hat tip: Wall Street Journal). Here’s a very funny prank video that you may enjoy.

Get Curious World Tour – George Invades NYC!

curious-g.jpgThe first cross-border handoff of Curious George, the Age of Conversation mascot, occurred successfully when Steve Roesler made a visit to Greg Verdino to move George from the relative quiet of NJ into the bright lights of The City. Here is a pic of the handoff.

Steve Roesler had a fun time with George, as this post shows.

George is making a point of scouting out locations for the upcoming Blogger Social in NYC (early April) – since he may well be overseas at that point, he wants to give his input early on!

Marketing a Flop

20070821123022.jpgMy wife recently got something that’s a brilliant marketing move. What does Jelly Belly do with all their “defective” jelly beans? Well, they sell them – just packaged into 2-lb. bags called Belly Flops!

They taste just like regular Jelly Belly beans, but the shapes are somewhat…creative. I have a jar of them 3 feet behind me on a shelf right now, tasty little diet-busters that they are.

Turns out you can also order them on-line – here’s the site.

Some companies seem absolutely embarrassed by anything less than perfect – and, of course, this approach wouldn’t work for many products (“Come on down to our Ford Flops outlet!”). But I like the posture these folks have taken, having some fun with the inevitable imperfections of product manufacturing. This shows a company that is secure enough in their brand identity to poke a little fun at their own expense.

Blogger Social – Welcome to the Neighborhood (sort of)

The stage was set. We were going to pull off the heist of the still-young century.

Las Vegas, they thought. Maybe Arizona. Some been-there-done-that-what-happens-there-stays-there destination – a shoo-in for the very first Marketing Blogger Social.

bloggersocial.jpgBut the write-in campaign was all set. The survey software was hacked. Soon everyone would know that the vast majority of marketing bloggers had somehow concluded that the best place to be in early April was…Boonton, NJ! Now all we had to do was massage the survey results data before Drew and CK saw it and we’d have it in the bag…

But I underestimated the ingenuity of those New Yorkers. Maybe it was the aforementioned CK, or perhaps the innocent-looking David Reich. By implanting a reverse transcription geo-flex algorithm into the survey database middleware, they transformed all those “NJ” votes into “NY”. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s cheating…

So, the first Blogger Social will be in NYC in early April – just 1/2 hour away, so no complaints, really (plus, Boonton has no hotels – maybe holding the event in our local auction house wasn’t that great an idea anyway…).

All this virtual communication has been great. But now it’s time for face time!

All the info is here, including costs, registration, etc. Kudos to CK, Drew, and the team who have spearheaded this!

Curious George meets New Jersey

CB Whittemore, on her Flooring the Consumer blog, has put up an extensive post on the Curious George mascot handoff for the Age of Conversation Get Curious World Tour (CB also put up extra photos on the AoC wiki).

And she captures what this is all about – making connections.

George is now making his visit with Steve Roesler in South Jersey, then he leaves our fine state to begin his journey through New York.

Matt Dickman has volunteered to create a Google map tracing George’s progress as he tours – so if you are one of the AoC authors, be sure, once you receive the “George packet,” that you ping Matt so he can add your whistle stop on the tour map!

Ad Value or Adding Value?

Are you adding value to your target audience? Or just calculating the value of your ads?

Your comments welcome on a post just published over at the Small Business Branding blog.

Get Curious World Tour – George is Floored!

sw-and-cb-and-george.jpgFriday, Curious George, the mascot for the Age of Conversation project (and it really is more than a book now – it’s a project!), made his first stop on the Worldwide Author tour. This time, however, it was a face-to-face handoff – turns out that one of the authors, CB Whittemore (who blogs at Flooring the Consumer) only lives 20 minutes from my house. So CB and I used the occasion to actually meet for the first time, over lunch in a little north Jersey deli.

big-george.jpgAnd what a great time we had! It was as if we’d known each for a long time…conversation flowed freely and easily, and the time simply flew by. CB is warm, engaging, and has a very active and creative mind…as all those who read her blog would know. After we left, the floor was covered with ideas, carpeted with…OK, stop already. STOP with the bad puns!

While I had a Ragin’ Cajun sandwich, CB made the perfect choice of a hero called The Big George. You can’t make that stuff up…

Apart from the marketing blogger community, would I ever have come to know CB? Probably not. But as I stated in my chapter (The Lowered Fence of Collaboration) in Age of Conversation:

    Back in the “old days”, the neighborhood consisted of a few blocks in a well-defined geographical area. Some folks never moved away, and their best (and perhaps only!) friends were those delivered to them by circumstances of habitat. While we still have nearby families and friends for support and fellowship, we now have a neighborhood far greater in scope. Collaboration and communication via the web means that I can now find others of shared interest — wherever they may be. I can create my own neighborhood, based on common professional interests, shared life experiences and mutual hobbies. The common space has no boundaries.

And that is why, in such a short time, we can have over 100 people collaborating on a project, and even participating in a “world tour” together. While most of you will “snail mail” Curious George on to his next destination, maybe his arrival into your area can provide you with an excuse to get together with other bloggers in your geographical neighborhood.

If you’re one of the authors, George is on his way! He will be making his way through the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic states first, then head to the Midwest, the South, the West Coast, on up through Canada, then across the pond to Europe and the Middle East. The plan is to end the tour in Australia, with a final destination back at the HQ of Variety, the Children’s Charity.

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.

Love Technology? Check this out…

I have a pretty good grasp of technology, in general. But this…I’m not sure I can parallel-process all the implications. In fact, I’m not even sure I can explain what this is. How would this be used for some emergent marketing approaches that have only been dreamed of thus far?

Watch and wonder.

Paul Potts – now on CD-ROM!

You remember Paul Potts, the winner this spring of Britain’s Got Talent? His astounding performance of opera captured many hearts, certainly including my own.

His first CD is now out. We just got it in from Amazon. I am not, natively, an opera fan, but if you enjoyed Paul’s performances from BGT, you’ll like this disk – very good stuff on it!

Web 3.0 – What is it?

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, attempts a brief thumbnail (90 second) overview, with some compelling concepts.

What do you think?

Get Curious! – Announcing the AOC Worldwide Tour

A short while back, I contacted the 103 authors of the Age of Conversation book about the possibility of a worldwide tour, by a famous figure who has “volunteered” (well, I found him at Wal-Mart…) to be our mascot.

The goal is for this mascot to visit every one of the authors on their “home turf,” completing a global circuit within one year’s time or less. At the end, he takes up permanent residence at the HQ of Variety, the Children’s Charity, to which the Age of Conversation book proceeds are being donated.

And who better to represent such a charitable effort than the favorite of children everywhere, Curious George??

c-george-1.jpgSo, if you are an AOC author, George is on the way! A number of you expressed a good bit of interest in this promotion, before the actual mascot was unveiled. I think you’ll enjoy George’s visit when he arrives at your doorstep!

The process is quite simple. The Get Curious Worldwide Tour package will arrive at your office or domicile after you have been contacted by a previous recipient, who will (via e-mail) request your mailing address. All that George asks is that you take a picture with him if you’re able (posting it on your blog, of course), and quickly send him on to someone else on the list (if you want to be prepared in advance, you’ll want to have a #5 padded shipping envelope, 10.5 x 15 in./26.67 x 38.1 cm).

Oh – and sign the author sheet, of course.

Full directions are included in the Get Curious packet, including all names and locations of authors (with e-mails), arranged in a roughly logical geographical pattern. George will begin his venture in New Jersey, wander across the United States and into Canada, leap across the pond to Europe and the Middle East, and end his adventure “down under” with our friends in Australia. Then on to Variety HQ for a much-deserved rest!

sw-and-george.jpgSo, to begin, here is George at the starting point with Tour Director Steve Woodruff. This photo will also be uploaded into Flickr, at the AOC group started by Matt Dickman (you’re encouraged to do the same). There has also been a rumor that George may end up in a race with something else that is hankering for a tour…we’ll have to stay tuned for that. If there’s a contest, George knows all the tricks.

Here is a picture of the Get Curious packet. Be ready…George can’t wait to meet you!


Driving Away Customers

The title of this post pretty well sums up how I view the typical auto dealer experience. I think that entire sales/service model is on a downhill slide.

cars.jpgNot that every single experience I have had has been negative. I can think of a couple semi-positive ones, actually. And they were good strictly because the individual I was dealing with was low-pressure, informative, and pretty straightforward.

So, I tried to envision the elements of a radically different car dealership that would make me change my mind. What would it be like?

First, there would be an entirely different view of the role of the dealership, and the dealer-customer relationship. The standard method now in use is The Pressured Immediate Transaction Success model (The PITS), whereby all focus is getting the “victim” to make some kind of transaction decision now. That’s not a customer relationship – it’s manipulation. So that has to go – but with what to replace it?

Here would be my dream car-buying experience. I’d walk in the dealership, and be immediately greeted by someone (very warm, very professional) at a reception desk whose role it is to find out what exactly I need there today. Am I browsing? Am I looking to make a purchase? What kind of car? Do I have serious technical questions? This person sets a friendly, upbeat tone – instead of the typical wandering into a showroom, either ignored by overly busy salespeople hunched over cheesy-looking desks, or descended on by some shark that has marked me out as his personal victim by virtue of having claimed me first when I came in (I’ve experienced both of these first-hand).

I am directed to where the coffee is, and invited to make myself comfortable. There is a corner with literature on all the models, plus touch screen video displays where I can learn more about each car. The receptionist introduces me to the right person who, as a first step, sits down with me on some comfortable furniture and asks basic questions about what my needs and desires are. A real sales consultant, who listens, and even asks me questions that I didn’t think of myself. Someone who assumes that I am a person, not a means to the end of meeting his quota of victims that day.

That person then introduces me to the potential model(s) that might fit my needs. There is always a technical specialist available in the area, so that if my questions go into realms of engine and transmission design, detailed comparisons with other models, and other specifications, instead having to tolerate a babbling salesperson who only wants to avoid such distractions in order to make a sale, I’m treated with respect by interacting with someone knowledgeable.

car-salesman.jpgThen, with a nod of the head to the Saturn approach that went so well in its earlier years, we go over the price. Since dealer cost is now readily available with very little on-line effort, there’s no sense playing the game anymore. The price sheet has a list of all the desired options, and two totals at the bottom – the dealer’s cost, and the selling price. One price, same for all, no haggling. I will pay a reasonable mark-up, if I know it’s fair and I’m not being lied to. And no stupid game of going to the backroom and pretending to convince the mysterious sales manager that we really got to make a deal here today. Whoever came up with that customer-hostile model anyway? The whole “deal” mentality should be thrown overboard.

And how about seeing that customer – that adopter – as a long-term client, whose friends and children and professional colleagues all will become adopters as well? What about providing an entire life-cycle of services in a customer-focused way that will build incredible loyalty?

For instance, the general reputation of auto dealer service departments is that they’re the place to go if you want to overpay. Again, the maximize-revenue-from-each-transaction model. And, although I am certain there are many exceptions, my experience has, unfortunately, reinforced that impression. I go to a dealer as a LAST resort, not as a first choice – and that is exactly backwards. Can’t an innovative dealership seek to provide such good, honest, reliable, and affordable service, that I wouldn’t want to entrust my car to anyone else? And since cars are so reliable now, with maintenance more to the fore than repairs, can dealers become more like the Jiffy Lubes of the world, with rapid, predictable and affordable maintenance services? Why give all that steady business and good-will away?

If I had the luxury of re-inventing the entire automobile distribution business from scratch, here is how I would do it, taking into account the disintermediation of the web that really removes a lot of the necessity of the legacy dealership model:

1. Auto manufacturers have a small number of vast regional inventory centers, where cars are available for distribution. This inventory is owned by the manufacturer, thereby removing that overhang of financial pressure from dealers, and ensuring that manufacturers will make the models and configurations that actually sell.

2. Micro-dealers have a limited number of demo models, along with multimedia kiosks that have the ability to fully display configurations, and place orders. These local outposts are where prospective buyers can actually try out models by test-driving and talking with sales consultants. But rarely do they buy “off-the-lot” – the normal procedure is a delivery from the regional center a day or two later, where a far richer inventory of models, colors, and configurations are available. This removes the pressure to move sheet metal off the dealer’s “lot,” since that is no longer the goal. The goal is to get the customer the model they want.

3. Micro-dealers may also encompass, or be affiliated with, used-car sales, quick-maintenance facilities, and/or full repair services.

For many people, access to the Internet means that information is no longer needed from a traditional dealer. Frankly, I simply don’t need a car salesman. Information on models, pricing, availability, etc. is openly accessible, as are customer reviews. If people really know what they want, they can simply order it on-line, have it delivered from the regional facility to the nearest micro-dealer outpost, and be done with it. Unrealistic? Maybe. But as a customer, I’d move to that model in a heartbeat!

Get more high-voltage ideas from the entire posse at

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff

Marketing R.I.P.? Consumer R.I.P.?

consumer-rip.jpgA post over at Brandflakes for Breakfast linked to a provocative article at This blog sits at the site, with the slightly self-important title of Death of Marketing? The issue being addressed is whether the term Marketing is truly relevant and accurate anymore. Should it be replaced? The discussion in the comments is lively and thoughtful.

A couple of the comments resurrected one of my pet peeves – not so much regarding the term Marketing, but the far more offensive (to me, anyway) term Consumer. I’ve posted on that in the past – including the difficulty of finding a substitute.

Maybe there’s hope, however. Here’s a summary of my comments on the Death of Marketing post:

    I, too, have despised the term “consumer” (finding it to be demeaning, and lacking in the crucial emphasis on choice) for quite a while, and wracked my brain for a suitable substitute…with little success. However, revisiting the challenge today, how about the word ADOPTER – which emphasizes two important truths:
    1. it contains the word “opt” – and all promotion must recognize that the potential customer is one who opts, or makes choices.
    2. it implies the ongoing relationship to a brand/offering – if I, as a customer, adopt an offering, that means I may well be a continual user, and an influencer of others.
    As for marketing – I agree that that term has to be driven by a change of view regarding the first term. If my efforts are targeting a potential “adopter,” not a “consumer,” does that change how I view my role and the nature of my work?

What are your thoughts on these terms? Are they still useful? Should we “adopt” new ones?

(The idea of the customized tombstone I shamelessly ripped off from the Brandflakes folks. You can have lots of fun making custom-generated signs here.)

Next up on BrandingWire…(tune in Monday)

bw_logo_no_tag-med.jpgYep, it’s the beginning of another month, and that means another posting on BrandingWire, coming Monday.

The BrandingWire posse will be commenting on an experience that most or all of us have had…usually, an unpleasant one.

Any guesses?

A New Face on Facebook

OK, I finally decided to hop on Facebook, and noticed this morning that Luc (Mindblob) Debaisieux just did as well.

For all of you “veteran” Facebookers…what are the three most important things to do on this platform to make the experience worthwhile?

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!

BrandDad and BrandMom

All brands ultimately want to create an enduring relationship with you. They seek to create a lot of positive experiences so that you’ll always be attached, and return to the brand. The ultimate brand attachment can easily be called a form of love.

Which leads me to think about BrandDad and BrandMom.

What is the most enduring branding exercise of all, if it is not parenting? By loving our little ones unconditionally, providing for their needs, and hopefully creating an image of yourself in the mind and heart of your child that is positive and warm and even (at least when they’re young!) heroic, we seek to make BrandMom and BrandDad a potent force in our children’s life; enough, hopefully, to counteract the bad stuff. And there’s plenty of bad stuff out there.

I’m a parent (of 5 boys) and it’s a joy, a privilege, and a constant source of angst. At times, I look at my tribe and feel enormous pride as they emerge into young manhood, then I look into the mirror of my own inadequacies and failures and tremble that I just might blow this whole Dad thing big time. What will they think of me when they’re off on their own? Will BrandDad be just an overly-critical Cop, or will he be a for-real guy that sought to come alongside and love despite his many shortcomings? What will stand out in their memories – will they want to return, or flee?

I doubt that I’m alone in feeling this way.

parents2.jpgSo, how did BrandDad and BrandMom leave their mark with you? What are one or two positive parental brand memories that are seared into your heart, and how did they get there? What good things are you doing (if you’re a parent) to drip BrandYou into the veins of your kids?

It’s not an idle question – I really want to have a conversation about this! And with all the poisons seeking to enter into the minds and hearts of our kids, it’s more important than ever that we seek to bring good influences to our most important customers…

(Image credit)