Archive for May, 2004

Simple marketing works

Saturday, May 29th, 2004

Simplicity. So effective, yet so often bypassed in efforts to sound or appear smarter or more “in the know.” Thinking simple almost always pays off in the marketing world.

Here’s one that hits the mark: People like to imitate other people’s behavior. It’s a simple observation–but perhaps not so easy to translate into action steps that might grow your business.

B. Dalton Bookstores were the first to catch on that this principle could work for marketing books in their stores. Back in the 70s they began creating special displays of best-sellers in a successful bid to drive sales higher as customers began imitating other readers. This approach is now an industry model, says Eric Bonabeau in a recent issue of The Harvard Business Review.

Think about some of the simple, ordinary truths of life. With enough focus, one of those might just be the source of your next great marketing idea for your business.

More talk about simplicity in my GetMoreCustomers marketing tips newsletter sent out yesterday. If you’d like to subscribe, go here.

Tech notes – cool stuff…

Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

“This is too much,” says Billie (a hysterically funny Eddie Murphy) fauningly to his erstwhile ‘rescuers’ in the movie Trading Places. “Yeah, this kinda thang happens to me ever’ week.”

eWeek is so full of newsy stuff about technology. Sometimes it’s overwhelming…

BlackBerry–a technology I have not as yet managed to put on top of my priority list (though I see it coming)–has just announced a cool new feature: you can walk into MicroCenter, buy the thing, and get it connected and functioning before you walk out of the store. Now of course you need to have a pre-existing relationship with a BlackBerry Enterprise server (people like Eaton and E&Y have those). But also–and I think I love this one–they’re licensing the source code to Palm OS people (I’m the proud owner of a somewhat dated–10 months maybe?–Palm ZIRE 71). How will that work for us SMBs (the new acronym for small-to-mid-sized businesses)?

Okay, I think I’m excited. Then they say they’ve just launched SFA (sales force automation) software for Salesforce.com. Since I have become increasingly frustrated with ACT as a database/contact management program and I’ve already downloaded the free version of Salesforce, this might become the final nail in ACT’s coffin at this office…

And then I see that Microsoft (remind me to tell you how impressed I am with their service since I’ve signed up with them for webhosting and–as my Linux-based buddy Drew Holland says–”gone over to the dark side”) is introducing collaborative tools for application development. Man, I’m guessing the Flashline folks have probably been confabbing with them big-time since that’s their forte–shared code, etc.

The implications for SMBs (an increasingly large percentage of business people) are pretty exciting. The future is swarming with opportunities to “look big” even though you’re SMB. Can’t wait to see where these trends go…

…just gonna make blogging for business easier.

Psycho-match—Game: Pepsi

Tuesday, May 25th, 2004

Talk about brilliant psychology. On my way out to a meeting at Progressive to study web site usability issues, I had to take a break and watch one of my favorite shows for a few minutes. And lo and behold, a commercial came on that blew my marketer’s mind.

Diet Pepsi. Okay, we always think of Pepsi as the “we try harder” brand, right? I think I remember reading somewhere once that the diet version of Pepsi actually outsells the diet version of Coke. But never mind. That’s not what this is about.

This is about focusing all your power to study the human condition–as it relates to foibles in perception, etc.–and applying it to your marketing. First, they show a guy eating a sandwich while he’s doing his job–monitoring a robot crawling on the surface of another planet. He’s absorbed. Then he takes a swig of Diet Pepsi and hesitates, yeah, he’s clearly thinking, this is really good. He then takes a really long pull, leaning back in his chair as he does so.

When he returns to upright, the robot on his monitor has been “stripped” and put up on concrete blocks, and off in the distance you see little guys with high-pitched voices running off. The implication of course is Diet Pepsi is so good, you can become irresponsible from the pleasure of it (sound suspiciously like a sex-based ad?).

Well, okay, that’s good. But the end is the part that shot my brain into overdrive. Blah, blah, they’re saying stuff about Diet Pepsi–who cares? we’ve just seen the guy miss such an important part of his job that he’s a sure thing for the unemployment line in most companies–and on the screen flashes the Diet Pepsi logo.

Then suddenly, under the logo, onto the screen flashes the tagline–the new tagline–for Diet Pepsi.

“It’s the diet cola.”

Let us pause to catch our breath…

Because keep in mind, the war over supremacy rages around the world in hundreds of countries between Coke and Pepsi. And now Pepsi has glommed onto a human foible–particularly susceptible to the vagaries of translation into other languages–and taken possession of it.

When you ask for a Diet Coke nowadays and the establishment only carries Pepsi, they always say, “Pepsi okay?” Most people–not everyone, please don’t get upset, you loyal fans of one or the other–say yeah, sure.

Now as restaurants and fast food joints across the globe contract to distribute a diet cola, if they know that diet cola is a household word, they will be much more inclined to take the one that’s known by that name.

So in the future–unless Coke jumps on this immediately and fights–when you ask for a diet cola anywhere in the world, guess what you’ll be likely to get?

Whew. Wonder how much the agency got paid for that one?

Editing is not the same as censoring

Sunday, May 23rd, 2004

The influence of blogs goes far beyond what most business people imagine. Here’s a fascinating quote from a Pamela Parker article in ClickZ :

Pete Blackshaw, CMO at Intelliseek, said in a recent interview that marketers ignore blogs to their peril. Bloggers are “…outspoken, expressive, highly viral experts who offer a highly credible point of view…”

Blackshaw speaks from personal experience when he says that “entries such as product reviews, comments on products or services, and rants against brands frequently show up on search engines when people look for product information.” He apparently got carried away on his blog about his disappointment with his hybrid car’s mileage. The rant ended up in a Wired News story that is now showing up third in a Google search for “hybrid car mileage.”

So if you decide to set up a blog for your business, you might want to include a regular search process to see what outside blogs are saying about your company. And you may want to set up an editor, either a professional or a PR-oriented internal person–not to control what’s written, but rather to check and make sure that somebody having a bad day doesn’t say something he might want to say differently when he’s feeling better.

And if you should read something from your employee that has a negative slant, consider it a wake-up call to see if there’s a faulty process in your organization that’s causing bad feelings–unfair treatment, hidden agendas, etc. Processes are where most issues arise in organizations anyway. The person could just be in a bad mood, but it could be something deeper.

My blog is a perfect example. I wrote a post the other day while in a very negative frame of mind. I’ve edited it since because I realized that it came off more negatively than I really meant it to. So I apologize to the folks at REI for appearing to invalidate the hard work they’ve been doing. This whole region looks forward to seeing the promise of that work unfold.

Holding on to good people

Sunday, May 23rd, 2004

Holding on. It’s a simple expression that can mean a number of things. There’s the idea of “hanging on for dear life,” the idea of waiting until something else happens, the idea of clinging to an idea or a person or a situation beyond when you ought to be letting go.

But this context is about holding on to your employees. What’s the value of doing that? Well, maybe a lot more than we’ve have realized. Some contend that being able to do that effectively can impact your bottom line far beyond saving the significant amounts it costs to hire new people. In a recent article in the Growth Dynamics Corporation newsletter they present the idea that occupational injuries, which are statistically much lower than they used to be, might be due to the lower turnover rates that happen naturally in a down economy–and possibly not a direct result of all the extra money companies are investing in training, safety programs, etc.

In direct opposition to this idea, some companies churn a percentage of employees annually–possibly in an effort to gain greater consensus and a more homogeneous workforce. They always run the risk, though, that in getting rid of dissenters they could be killing the creativity that comes from difference. But the statistics quoted in this article offer a solid, quantifiable way to show that it pays to hold on to your employees.

Some of the biggest challenges of running a company well are related to dealing with people. Now is a good time, before the economy improves further–when some of your best people might choose to go elsewhere–to take stock of what you’re offering that will make them glad to stay. And remember: money is not the highest motivator for most people. Recognition and new challenges come way ahead of money.

Hmmm. What do you think of a blog as an interesting way to offer a little of both?

Oh, and PS, here’s a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt on a new blog for small business CEOs. Congratulations, Steve!

NEO as a med-tech center…

Wednesday, May 19th, 2004

Medical-technology, medical-biology, medical-related business. Those were the topics of today’s meeting at the City Club. Sponsored by Crain’s Cleveland Business–and introduced by the new editor of CrainTech, Jeff Stacklin–the meeting was a showcase for some serious businesses making jobs and causing money to move around. In some cases, it’s mainly venture capital moving into company coffers to support research and development, and in others, it’s money being exchanged between the company and its customers. All agreed they’d feel a lot more comfortable if there were already a bigger med-related company being successful in this area (see the Crain’s story here).

But maybe the most interesting tidbit of the occasion was Mike Burke’s revelation (he’s the big wig at TREK, a local med-tech company that conducts antibiotic-resistance testing) that he’d been courted at a trade show by a young Ph.D. whose mission was to recruit his med-tech company to move to North Carolina.

We can learn from this–and I’ve got an idea. Stay tuned…

REI at work

Tuesday, May 18th, 2004

Attended a large “Making Change” gathering at the Ritz Carlton yesterday that had come together to learn something and to make new connections. A lot of sincere people and a lot of ideas (principles of good training would suggest a slightly different approach to the meeting–people can’t go nearly 5 hours without a break and some interactivity–they simply stop absorbing information effectively). But clearly a lot of hard work had gone into bringing everyone together and preparing the program.

Participants heard many presentations and saw many PowerPoints. Susan Helper, a local manufacturing expert, gave a particularly informative presentation on the state of that industry. Then when the social networking software called InFlow (see it at Orgnet.com) came up, the day got very interesting.

I’ve already written about this mapping software, but at this meeting its creator Valdis Krebs conducted a live demonstration. Participants were asked to fill out a “connectors” survey before the meeting–and volunteer students from Case Weatherhead School (one of the chief organizers of the meeting) entered the survey data into the InFlow software while the presentations proceeded.

Valdis had explained that we can tell a great deal about how connected people are from simple data such as, in this case, the self-described top 5 people (from a list of 60 or 70 attendees) that you exchange information and ideas with. His brief but poignant presentation engendered quite a few questions–which he answered from the floor after having graciously yielded the podium. But the piece de resistance came when he got back up later (after a very large panel of maybe 16 folks had told in varying degrees of detail about their different civic groups working towards a variety of environmental, political and social goals) and turned on his live software to show us the results of the survey.

It was truly fascinating to watch the little nodes that represented each of the attendees (green, it turned out, indicated highly connected–four or more–attendees and blue, those who were less so) gradually move into their designated positions. A quick glance seemed to indicate that the green nodes constituted about a third to half of the attendees, many also speakers on the panel. There were lots of barely connected blue nodes.

It made me sad to see so much disconnection alongside all the tight connecting going on in the subgroup. If any group can overcome the natural human tendency to divide into groups and miss out on the power of some of its human capital, this one–composed of the area’s highly respected business educators and some of its passionate entrepreneurs–is it. That’s the challenge this meeting and this mapping create for REI (the Weatherhead coalition that’s behind this). Check out their wiki page and watch for real change to happen…

Logical conclusion

Friday, May 14th, 2004

Fascinating statistics. Companies that let the CEO use the corporate jet run a risk: when they first supply the CEO with a jet, their stock generally skyrockets–reflecting increased earnings?–the source doesn’t say. But when the CEO starts using the jet for personal purposes (golf treks to Atlanta country clubs, for example), the stock goes to hell. And according to the graph they drew on Wall Street Week & More (on PBS on Fridays), it really does plunge dramatically below the baseline.

Significantly, the more educated the CEO, the less he (and yes every CEO with a corporate jet was male) tends to use the jet for personal purposes–except for lawyer CEOs. Lawyer CEOs used corporate jets for personal purposes about as often as the least-educated CEOs. Commentators on the program suggested perhaps that’s because CEOs-who-are-lawyers may have negotiated better contracts. But having lived with an incredibly smart lawyer for 18 years, I’d say it’s just as reasonable to view the situation in a less favorable light. But hey…

ANd here’s the killer: the stock prices never recover after their precipitous plunge following the CEO abuse of corporate privileges/funds. Which suggests that CEOs who aren’t open and honest enough to blog–or to support their employees’ blogging–will eventually cost their stockholders money.

How’s that for logic? ” ) Seems self-evident to me…

People are what it's all about

Thursday, May 13th, 2004

At last, Blogger.com (where this blog originates) is beginning to show signs that Google is actually paying attention. Not only did they ask regular bloggers to beta test their new Gmail (I personally can’t wait–Outlook has been a disaster lately), but they’ve now redone the entire look’n'feel of the site. A bit simpler, with some cute graphics not unlike the Google name displays on certain days. (Never noticed that cute stuff? Check it out on a holiday and see how some graphic artist has let him/herself dabble in whimsy…)

Met a guy the other day (oh, my, yesterday can seem so long ago sometimes) who’s really got the right idea: he’s repping a line of human development products and services that makes more sense than most you’ll see. Growth Dynamics Corporation, headed by Tom Sherman, deals in creating change in the most powerful part of any success equation: people. And yeah, you’re right. There are lots of catch phrases and lots of gimmicks and lots of good products… But I see a difference in Tom’s approach: powerful standardized tools and top-down accountability.

When a mandate comes from the top and is reinforced constantly, even the most talented procrastinators or slackers begin to get the message: I gotta do this or I ain’t gonna have a job for long. And of course managers have always known they need to do certain things; they simply haven’t known how to manipulate the dynamics of it–how do you control the process of making a difference?–or had the kind of tools that really make it practical.

Tom is not a “sales” person. He comes from the world of those managers who know but don’t really know the best way how… He’s got the fever of the convert–and his gospel rings true to me. Check the company out. More on this later…

The power and the glory: email marketing

Monday, May 10th, 2004

Are you taking advantage of email for your business? Its power for reaching people one-on-one at reasonable cost is undeniable. Its glory as a means of getting your messages across is considerable–though somewhat tarnished with the rash of viruses, worms, glitches and misuse-and-abuse riding in its wake lately.

But email is still strong. Even with its faults, it’s still the most efficient and inexpensive way ever invented to reach tons of the right people. Do your homework before you decide to sign up for a service, though.

Rich Fein, who represents TangoConnect email service–one that falls into the moderate-price category–says you should look for a good balance between functionality, reporting capabilities, ease of use, and high deliverability. “Figure out how valuable each function is for your business and then decide if the price is worth it. But be sure to check on how the system protects your messages from being black-listed and helps you filter them for spam filters.”

Some metrics to consider: who opens the message–and how many, who clicks on which of the links in your message, which links are the most clicked, and who opts out. Putting affordability first will mean you will probably have to sacrifice some of the niceties like your ability to easily manipulate your data and the flexibility of your reporting. But for a small company and a relatively small list–and here, size really does matter… –$5000 to $10000 a month is off the charts, whereas $50 to a couple of hundred looks affordable.

Think about what you want to accomplish, how much of your resources you’re willing to commit to actually reading, analyzing and making use of the data you get. If you pay for extensive reporting capabilities, make sure you’ll make use of them. Then make a matrix of the functions, ask for customers’ names you can talk to, and go for it.

BtoB, the Crain’s publication for marketers, publishes this list of vendors who offer strong analytics with their services (some are standalone software products, others are subscriber services):

BigfootInteractive.com, Britemoon, CheetahMail, CoolerEmail, Digital Impact, DoubleClick, EmailLabs, Responsys, Silverpop, StreamSend, SubscriberMail. (Just put “.com” after each of these names and you’re there.)

But please remember. It’s what you put in those emails that counts. Easy-to-read content that offers solid value for the people you send it to.

And don’t forget to put a link to your business blog in there…