Zoom Zoom

Recently, one of our 3 cars (the one for the driving teens) blew an engine. Around the same time, I was ready to sell off the used car I’d been driving for business, and lease a new one. So, I had to sell one used car, buy another used car (hooray for Craig’s List!), and lease a new one.

Yes, it’s been a stressful few weeks (the car situation, along with work demands and some family/extracurricular pile-ons, did wonders for draining my creative impulses!).

mazda6.jpgSince the team over at BrandingWire recently did posts on the automobile dealership experience, I thought I’d describe my experience securing a lease on a 2007 Mazda6.

Basically, it was quite positive. The initial showroom experience was good – you never know what you’re going to get when you walk into a dealer and a random salesperson approaches you, but Fernando over at Wayne (NJ) Mazda was straightforward and professional. This is a high-volume Mazda dealer and they seem to have embraced some sound customer service principles (note to webmaster, however: your website ain’t that hot).

I had pretty much pre-selected the Mazda6 as my car of choice, but we went over the various options and packages, and I settled on a configuration I wanted. I then just wrote down what I was willing to offer on a piece of paper, handed it to Fernando, and with very little back-and-forth, the deal was done. It probably helped that this was on the last Saturday in September; the end-of-quarter is an ideal time to buy a car.

The pick-up experience was relatively painless, the follow-up has been good, and the car has been an absolute pleasure. Would I recommend this dealer? Based on my experience thus far, sure. And when it’s time to consider a new family-hauler, will I look at a Mazda over at Wayne? Sure. So far, so good…

(btw, the car is a 6-speed V6, and yes, it does Zoom Zoom when you need it!)

Steve’s Sticky Stuff 10_19

Breathtaking image of a lunar eclipse.Plants are apparently far more complex than we thought. First, they “talk” to one another. Now we find out that one plant species absorbed the lessons of Arsenic and Old Lace and poisons its neighbors with acid! And finally, Pinot Noir grapes are genetically more complex than we are!

Why didn’t anyone think of this before? How to keep from banging your thumb with a hammer.

Kids explain love. Hysterical.

From the Great Test Answers file:find-x.jpg


It’s now been one year – exactly – since launching the StickyFigure blog. One year, 212 posts.

one-candle.jpgI did not know what to expect when starting out. I knew that I had an insatiable desire to write about branding and marketing, and even if it wasn’t my main line of consulting work, I figured that I had to start somewhere.

I thought I’d just hang some posts out there, slog away, and maybe slowly establish some form of a reputation as the world’s next great marketing genius, well-concealed behind a veil of…well, lack of ability. Or something.

What I did not anticipate was finding friends, and being part of a community.

A supportive community of marketing bloggers who really didn’t care about my street creds, but who simply took me in as one of their own. Mike. CK. Drew. Matt. David. Kevin. Becky. Gavin. Lew. Patrick. Chris. Valeria. Luc. Derrick. Cam. Toby. Greg. Chip and Dan. Ann. Olivier. CB. Doug. Arun. Mack. William. Martin. Mario. The Small Business Branding crew. The BrandingWire posse. Curious George. I’m sure there are others I’m not remembering at the moment. Without the encouragement and company of such fine fellow travellers, I would never have endured. A big thanks to all of you.

Another thing that I’m thankful for – 15 months after launching my own pharmaceutical consulting business (Impactiviti – the blog which is central to my main business has 297 posts…no wonder I feel tired!), I can now report that it is officially “wheels up” and flying! It was a long roll down the runway getting it off the ground, but now I have a steady flow of client work and even had the privilege of turning down a potential project a couple weeks back! There has been a great community of supporters in that marketplace also that have helped me through when things looked stagnant and bleak.

Pharma is a great place to be, and I hope to diversify into more of a branding/marketing thrust, but even it does not become a full-time profession, it’s wonderful to just take part in the creative sword-sharpening and ideation. Thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, contributing, and “being there.”


Steve “StickyFigure” Woodruff

A Turkey of a Newspaper Ad

Reading the Wall Street Journal this morning, I caught a glimpse of an ad that caused me to do a serious double-take –ms-turkey.JPG well nigh unto whiplash (OK, a bit of a dramatization there…)

I could not believe the juxtaposition that I saw:

Only upon careful reading could one figure out that the division of Microsoft located in the country of Turkey was boasting about the corporate investment in that land.

I guess it got my attention, but by and large, I would not advise companies to associate a word like “turkey” with their image or their offerings.

Note to McDonald’s – if you make a big investment in Greece…

A Final Withdrawal

I had the painful responsibility this past weekend of seeking to support my teen-aged sons through the unexpected death of one of their friends.

This young man, only 18 years of age, began experiencing curious vision problems a couple of weeks ago. Quickly, he was diagnosed with a tumor behind his eye. The diagnosis and prognosis were uncertain, but the doctors needed to put him into a medically-induced coma in order to deal with the swelling in his brain.

He never woke up.

The loss of this young man was devastating to his friends, most of whom, at their age, had never yet had to deal with such a sudden withdrawal from their account. In the initial shock, the hole left behind, the painful flood of memories, seem like they will never end. But, eventually, time and necessity help us to cope and move forward.

A few months ago, a friend about my age had a sudden heart attack while driving his car – no warning – and departed this life almost instantly. And some years ago, a dear friend in a faraway state suddenly had an aneurysm burst in her brain, and she was gone…no preparation, no good-byes, only that large hole from the final withdrawal.

But why was that hole there? Only because these friends made deposits over the years – deposits of love, friendship, kindness, and a positive example. They contributed much, such that when their account suddenly closed, their funeral services were packed with grateful mourners. People who had received deposits. People who had been touched. People who would not forget.

When we feel the pain of loss, it is almost instinctive to withdraw. To try to avoid feeling such pain again. But that is the time to continue to make deposits. To come alongside. To show up. And, in fact, it is a reminder that we are to continuously live that way. We never know when our last deposit will be made. We may not even have a chance to say good-bye to loved ones. But if we have loved, and been loved, then the sorrow of the parting will be lessened by the remembrance of what was given.

How gratifying it has been to see my boys, in the midst of their own sorrow, seek to comfort others (their relationship skills, I freely confess, are light years ahead of what mine were at that age). None of us is going to escape pain, sorrow, or death. But we can continue to invest, continue to make deposits, continue to love, in spite of it.

How would Branding Consultants brand…consultants?

The posse of marketing experts at BrandingWire are taking on, this month, the challenge of branding and positioning a B2B consulting firm.

Here’s the outline of the situation:

A profile of the ideal client/customer for the consulting firm:

    Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
    Employees: 150 or fewer
    Verticals: High-tech and health care
    Location: North America

The challenges facing these client/customers: consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses (as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals) are experiencing stagnant growth, or even losing market share. Many of these clients don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

The consulting firm’s challenge: as a small marketing firm, they are losing contracts to lower pricing and to bigger firms. The consultancy after three years has stopped growing and most of its clients buy one project and don’t return for more assistance for several years, if at all. How do they position and brand themselves in order to return to greater marketplace success?

I would approach a situation like this with a number of questions, a sample of which are below:

  1. Why are they in these 2 markets? Is one of them more profitable, and more promising, than the other?
  2. What makes their target clients feel more comfortable with a “big” consulting firm?
  3. Why would a client engage them for only one project? Is there dissatisfaction, or are they simply not presenting themselves as a strategic partner for ongoing work?
  4. What are the main ways a client company could distinguish themselves in the marketplace…and how can the consulting firm specialize in capitalizing on those themes?

I find that, by and large, “big” consulting firms are vulnerable in two areas – high prices to support their massive overhead, and a lack of very specific and deep expertise in certain markets. On the surface, I’d advise this consulting outfit to take a deep look at whether they should be in one market (instead of two), and to re-structure their offerings so that they position themselves as long-term strategic partners. This will require highlighting some “success stories” from the past, and educating their clientele that accomplishing market differentiation is not a function of one-shot projects.

Consultants that become “embedded” with customers as ongoing resources provide the most value, and the most ongoing profit. It may well be worthwhile to shrink the firm temporarily in order to bring focus, and to implement a longer-term strategic approach (including messaging). They can hardly be expected to distinguish their client/customers in the marketplace if they cannot distinguish themselves!

See what the other experts at BrandingWire have to say about this challenge! The BrandingWire posse of pundits includes: Martin Jelsema, Lewis Green, Kevin Dugan, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Gavin Heaton, Becky Carroll, and Olivier Blanchard.

(Finally, I cannot resist adding the very funny poster from despair.com about consulting – an approach that , if followed, will surely lead to market differentiation of some sort!)


Greetings…done right

Today, I am at a Hyatt hotel in Chicago, which (apparently) has had a major renovation recently. I guess that must have meant big-time improvements, but one very simple thing has impressed me more than anything.

When I arrived to check in, instead of a monolithic counter behind which employees are half-hidden and walled-off from customers, this hotel has little individual counters, and those responsible for check in stand in front. They come out to greet you, find out what you need, and only then go behind the (warmly-decorated) counters to look up the room reservation, etc.

This one little change in the user experience was delightful. I saw something similar at a Westin recently. These hotels latched on to something – a warm personal experience for a FIRST IMPRESSION can outweigh all the other aspects that perhaps cost far more.

How does this relate to your receptionist? Your website or blog? Your business card? The greeters at your house of worship (which reminds me…I’m up this Sunday!)? Think about the first interaction people have with you, or your organization. Are you hiding behind a wall? Or out front with your guests?

Avoiding Ad Fatigue

An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal yesterday (on-line article here; subscription may be required) about creative ways companies try to stave off ad fatigue:

Marketers get Creative to Stave of Ad Fatigue 

When the same ad runs too often, consumers grow bored, annoyed or hostile. But some marketing executives are finding new ways around the problem, by varying their messages and media.

Overexposure of individual ads was a frequent concern when Mark Addicks joined General Mills Inc. in 1988 and television dominated the food company’s advertising. These days, though, the Internet lets him target loyal customers with messages related to General Mills brands without offending casual buyers with repetitive ads.

“You can use the same piece of creative work in so many different ways,” says Mr. Addicks, now General Mills’s chief marketing officer. When he sought maximum impact from a Cheerios ad showing two newly adopted children and their new parents, he aired one version on television, a longer version in movie theaters and a third version on the Internet. That variety helped General Mills reach a bigger, more diverse audience without taxing viewers’ patience, he says.

dvertising wear-out has fascinated researchers since the 1970s. Studies, generally focusing on television commercials, have suggested ads can be viewed anywhere from three to 25 times before losing effectiveness. After that, says Brian Sternthal, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, people “dismiss the information as old news.”

More recently, analysts have examined which ads show greater longevity. In a 2003 study of 3,000 households, Starcom MediaVest Group found that ads with storylines wore out more slowly than ads with an aggressive call to action. Putting humor and music together helped, too. And ads that went off air for at least 12 weeks could restart with their original effectiveness.

Starcom’s analysis is borne out by one of the most durable campaigns of modern times: Anheuser-Busch Cos.’ “Real Men of Genius” radio ads for its Bud Light brand. The ads combine a bombastic announcer, sappy 1980s rock music and outlandish tributes to trivial achievements, such as the invention of the foot-long hot dog. They leave male audiences giggling. And they have been a staple of sports-radio broadcasts since 1999.

Bob Lachky, an Anheuser-Busch executive vice president, says he knew the ad format could stretch a ways. But he didn’t expect it to generate more than 100 sequels, saluting everyone from “Mr. Toupee Wearer” to “Mr. Fantasy Football Manager Guy.”

“Part of my job is to keep new brand managers from killing it,” says Mr. Lachky. “We want to own the idea of having fun, and this helps us do it.”

Bud Light rotates the ads so no one spot plays incessantly. But Mr. Lachky says he doesn’t mind if ardent baseball fans hear some of the Bud Light ads more often than researchers say is effective. “Consultants make big money by telling people stuff that has no application to real life,” he quips.

For Bud Light devotees who can’t get enough of these ads, Anheuser-Busch is marketing three music CDs filled with 20 commercials apiece. The company says it has sold 200,000 of those discs.

Anheuser-Busch doesn’t rely solely on the radio ads to support Bud Light. Its biggest spending for the brand is on television; radio ranks second, but the company also spends heavily on stadium advertising, outdoor signage and other forms of marketing.

In an article in the Journal of Marketing Science published earlier this year, University of Texas, Dallas, researchers examined advertising and customer data from a European telecom company and found that using different advertising themes reduced wear-out risks.

Co-author Norris Bruce, a UT-Dallas assistant professor of marketing, says the finding is important because most studies of ad fatigue have assumed that companies are projecting only one message. That makes it seem as if ads wear out faster than they actually do; in reality, he says, viewers often reset their expectations as they encounter various messages from the same advertiser.

Sprint Nextel Corp. is using the Internet to connect with its most prized customers. It is running ads on football telecasts this fall, promoting a sports-trivia game that it offers as a premium service to mobile-phone customers. Ardent users are encouraged to visit a Web site where they can test wits against quarterback Peyton Manning.

Most TV viewers won’t go to the Web site, says Michael Goff, Sprint Nextel’s vice president for advertising and marketing. But the ones that do are likely to be the wireless carrier’s best customers. “You can take a message and really blow it out this way,” Mr. Goff says. He declines to share Web traffic data but says results so far are good.

New digital technology also makes it easier to customize ads slightly without having to incur the time and expense of recreating them from scratch. Rajeev Batra, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says such modest alterations can slow down the process of ad fatigue.

And in some cases, a simple ad takes on timeless appeal for reasons that even its own creators can’t fully understand. For the past 10 years, General Mills has been featuring the same Cheerios ad on television, showing a grandmother at Christmas time making an imaginary map on the tray of a baby’s high chair. She uses Cheerios to show the infant where various relatives live in the U.S.

“We wanted to show that Cheerios were an intergenerational food, connecting families,” says Mr. Addicks. “But it’s become iconic for the people who like our brand most, the brand champions. We get testimonials from them saying: ‘I saw your ad. Now I know that it’s the holidays.’ So we show it every year.”