Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Power of Emotion

Dow Blues

Free falling stock market can't seem to fight through investor confidence issues. Proof positive that we purchase, or in this case sell, on the momentum of negative emotions. Companies like General Electric haven't become 50% less intelligent over the past six months. Their market share hasn't eroded. They continue to innovate while serving their various audiences brilliantly. But that's rational thinking, a poor substitute for fear, loathing, and stakeholder regret fueled by the free fall in stock value.

Once consumer emotions swell, logical argument's ability to persuade is indeed diminished.

Truth Well Told

Which isn't to suggest that we should counter emotion with emotion, or worse, allow others emotion to control our actions. My second agency job introduced me to the concept of 'Truth well Told'. Now is the time to be transparent, factual, forceful. No reason to retreat from the marketplace and rely on 'hope' to sell your product. Now is the time to sharpen the blade. Make your meaningful points of difference that much more clear. Not everyone is swept up in the negativity of the day. But consumers BS detectors are fine tuned. A brand story told well resonates true in all market conditions. The response at the cash register may be delayed, but it will not be denied.

Real Reasons to Cry

Say a prayer or two tonight for the families of the three NFL football players who lost their lives on the Gulf of Mexico this weekend caught by surprise in 20' swells.

The media is unable to stop fanning the flames of recession frenzy simply for fear of being accused of being soft on the Obama administration. Today, however, they have had to take a momentary nod towards the Coast Guard's heroic efforts to save these three young men. Alas, to no end.

My worst fear is waking up to the news that someone in my family has unexpectedly died. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have unexpectedly lost a loved one.

Reasons to be Thankful

The death of those young men turns my thoughts to the thousands of boys and girls who have given their life to protect our freedom ... most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Courage is possibly the most noble of all human emotions. The combination of courage, selflessness, and service forever reinforces that our military men are our 'best and brightest'. I sleep easy tonight in Louisville for the bravery of my friend Sam Torrey and others like him who are at this moment walking as they do in harms way.

A Final Note

My wife Mary frequently reminds me to step away from the emotional buffet and wait for sanity to return before taking an action. When it comes to our investments, we could all stand a few more moments of Spock-like objectivity. When considered vs the plight of a lost fisherman or a blooded soldier, the decline in our individual wealth finds an appropriate sounding space.

Building an influential pyramid

The beginner emulates the intermediate. The intermediate copies the advanced. And the advanced player incorporates elements of the professional’s game into their own in an effort to compete at a higher level.

Marketing through the pyramid of influence is now a time worn strategy that has proven effective for marketers as diverse as Nike, Gatorade and Tide.

I’ve had the privilege of working with each of the athletes highlighted here in bold. Through both failure and success, I’ve learned a bit about working with celebrity endorsers to help increase the cache for sunglasses, bowling balls, baseball bats, tournament wakeboard boats, beach destinations and golf equipment. It’s fun. It’s rewarding. It’s expensive. It’s risky.

Here are a few observations from my experiences.

Mark Messier, Josh Sanders, Jason Couch, Chip Beck, Lisa Fernandez, The University of Miami Hurricanes, Emily Copeland Durham, Craig Biggio, Rusty Wallace and Reed Hansen.

It’s fun hiring a pro staff. Getting to meet your sports heroes is pretty heady stuff. As a former athlete, it’s natural to get caught up in the moment when we meet with the best in the sport. It’s much like being the General Manager of a pro sports franchise. You need to buy the athlete when their star is beginning to shine, before the exposure cost becomes astronomical. The biggest mistake you can make is signing an athlete at the end of their career. Of course, neither the Marketing Director or the athlete can fully know if they are ascending, peaking, or declining.
Brian Fortini, the smartest Marketing Director I ever worked with missed on Chip Beck and it virtually hamstrung every other effort he made until Chip's contract ran its course. On the other hand, Rick Tinker nailed it with Josh Sanders when the future King of the Wake was barely wake worthy.

This is less science than magic.

Can you afford the relationship?

Hiring a pro staff commits you to incorporating them into your marketing efforts. Do you have the funds to activate their contract? Can they deliver your message effectively? Will they give you a strong enough time commitment to allow you to build a program around them? Is the camera their friend? It makes little sense to add a person to your staff that you are unwilling to incorporate into your marketing materials.

Will your pro staff get press coverage?

You have to a few team members who are consistently on the podium. I would rather invest $100 in one guy who consistently wins, than $10 in ten people that are competitive but not winners. Your credibility rides on their performance.

Will your pro staff get additional endorsements?

The more brands that sponsor your athletes, the more visibility your athlete will bring to your company. You want an exclusive in your category, but the last thing you want to be is the only sponsor for an athlete.

Does your pro staff have a passion for your product?

Not just use it, but are they on fire to tell people about it. Josh Sanders was so convinced that Supra built the best tow boat on the water that he opened a dealership in Australia to sell them.

Are your pro staff members willing self-promoters?

If a person is uncomfortable with public appearances, how will they possibly become comfortable hawking your product? Do they aggressively seek out additional brand relationships? Are they willing to help you link up with their other co-sponsors?

How much Teflon are your pro staff members wearing?

People make mistakes. When a member of your pro staff publicly missteps your brand reputation is at risk. Truth is that professional athletes mistakes are amplified by the public spotlight. Some earn almost instant forgiveness, while others get pinned with a scarlet letter and can’t shake themselves from the stigma. Try to assess the public goodwill a person has built prior to committing to them.

Are you team members time suckers?

Some pro athletes require virtually no hand-holding, while others require full-time companionship. Given today’s shorthanded marketing departments, make certain that you have the internal resources to adequately manage these external resources.

Here is how the process breaks down for those of you who are considering creating your own pro staff.

1. Identify appropriate athlete.

2. Recruit (it’s more than money, it’s relationship building)

3. Paper the deal. Make certain to buy both their time and their attention. Limit your exposure, both in terms of the length of the deal, and in terms of their personal responsibility to your company and their code of conduct.

4. Embed them in your product development, your marketing materials, and in your event strategy. Most athletes need you to help build their ‘brand profile’ while they lend credibility to your own. Don’t paper the deal unless you can fully utilize their talents.

5. Stay in close contact, or as close as they will allow. Show up at their events. Physically and emotionally support them. Treat them like family members, not like paid vendors.

The rewards from a solid 'higher authority' strategy are often immediate and tangible. Your pro staff creates leverage for you with your dealer network, creates a buzz around the marketing department, provides a 'cool' factor for your team ... all that before a single product is sold. Used appropriately your R&D efforts can benefit from their insight, your marketing materials get a fresh focus, and your events become attendance-worthy.

Used poorly your budget gets fragmented, your message becomes muddled, and your time gets diverted from building your brand to building their brand.

Love to hear your stories from the pyramid. Post me.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The world could use a little more Frank, Dean, and Sammy

Took my beautiful wife Mary to see the 'Rat Pack' Friday night. Phenomenal show. If you haven't seen it and were a fan of the Chairman its more than worth the price of admission.

I loved the music. But more than the music, I realized while watching the show that I missed the simple political incorrectness of the era. The boys fired up a cig, threw down a shot of bourbon, and romanced beautiful women. They stayed out too late and refused to accept the narrowly confined script of appropriateness. They didn't walk, they swaggered.

Before the Moral Majority and health fanaticism. Before HIV and the new moral puritanism, there was Frank and Dean and Sammy and JFK and the world just seemed a more sophisticated, fun, hip place.

Here's to the value of imperfection. The quality of a life well lived strikes me to be of more value than a wellness lived life. Drink. Eat. Love and be loved.

Cool should never be allowed to go out of style.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brand touch points

Seriously I love reaching out and touching customers and prospects in the most unexpected of ways. Unexpected, not inappropriate.

Here's a great Skier's Choice story. We positioned our premium brand as the performance leader in the category. The market didn't want to 'give us' that position, but in comparison to the other critical consumer beliefs (quality/reliability), performance was our most winnable option.

We attacked performance attributes in multiple ways. I'm going to go into each of these in detail in different posts Tonight I just want to share with you how we executed an event strategy to make the performance claim ring true.

Bottom line, it was important to us to be visible as a tow boat that pulled professional wakeboarders and wakeskaters at the highest level of competition. Frankly we were shocked and delighted when one of our largest competitors gave up their rights to pull the WWA World Wakeboard and Wakeskate championships. The event was special on two levels. It marked the culmination of the year's professional competitions. And it brought the best amatuer riders together with the best pro riders in an event that was both family-friendly and pro-worthy.

Sponsorhship of the event was expensive ... roughly 5% of our annual budget. But we knew we could maximize its impact and use it to give credence to our performance claim. Here's how Rick Tinker, Natalie Carrera, Brian Raymond, Matt Brown, Rob Loucks and I made it work.

1. Establish an activation budget at least 50% of the event cost. We didn't want to be a passive sponsor. We wanted to embrace our prospects, our customers, the contestants, and our competitors at the event. To meet that goal, we needed to fund our efforts.

2. Use other people's money to offset costs. God how I loved Toni Gunter in our purchasing department. She gently laid the wood to our aligned vendors. She was able to help twist some arms ... allowing us to play large on the center stage, without laying waste to the bulk of my marketing budget.

3. Return true value to those vendors on their investment. Natalie did a phenomenal job giving our vendors appropriate visibility and credibility at the event. Yes, we used their money. But we returned their investment by being wholly transparent about their contributions.

4. Extend the value of the event throughout the year. Our advertising, our website, all of our press releases always displayed the WWA World Championship logo. We made a special commemorative badge and put it on the transom of each boat. We designed a premium package that was available on every model in our product line-up, and branded it a 'World's Boat' limited edition. And we then used that limited edition boat to pull the World Championships, so that television coverage of the event reinforced our messaging throughout the year. If you make the decision to build your marketing program around a special event, then commit yourself to making that event ubiquitous with your brand.

5. Be hospitable. We had a VIP tent ... but we held it open for everyone. Natalie disagreed with me, but my goal was to make Supra the friendly alternative to the corporate, purportedly arrogant category leader. I didn't just want to embrace our customers, I wanted to embrace our industry. So when our tent was filled with people wearing MasterCraft t-shirts, I gritted my teeth and smiled through the frustration. In this case it was tough love ... tough for me, love for them.

6. Be memorable. We were the first company to film video of every amatuer run, and with the help of our very good web partner DMGx, we literally shot, edited, and distributed the video to every rider before they went home from the competition. A first in the industry.

Of course, we cheated. Before the event we shot an open with our President Rick Tinker and with our pro riding staff. So that when the family put the video in the DVD player to show their friends, the first thing they saw was a gentle message from their friends at Supra. Sweet.

We found additional funds to enable our media partner Bonnier Corporaton to webcast every hour of the event. It was an industry first. A further surprise that the company that innovated was Supra.

7. Be inclusive. Pros become accustomed to award ceremonies. But amatuer riders were blown away that we held a sit-down banquet for them, complete with riding videos shot at the event for each of the amatuer division winners. Natalie came up with the big idea of allowing the amatuer riders to choose a pro that they could sit with during the banquet. The feedback from the families after the event was simply amazing.

8. Be inventive. The competition lasted from 8:00am - 6:00pm. We weren't satisfied with that. We wanted people to have as good of an experience away from the competition as they did during the competition. So we hosted nighttime events that complimented the day time schedule. It was fun, but more than that, it was another opportunity for us to connect with the families of the competitors and make friends that we knew would eventually lead to sales. Again, Natalie was brilliant in using other people's money to make these events talk worthy.

9. Be there. It's amazing how many times a title sponsor simply is invisible in all ways other than the named sponsorship and the media placement. Big time missed opportunity.

The real value at the event was for myself, for our great guy sales manager Dan Miller and for the world's best company President Rick Tinker to walk the shore line shaking hands and kissing babies. This was our party ... and we intended to be known as the very best of hosts.

10. Be thankful. It's so easy to become arrogant when you are spending the money to make the event happen. We tried to go the other way. We constantly thanked the competitors for their attendance. We thanked the event organizers for their effort. We thanked the judges for their efforts. We thanked the local media for their coverage. We thanked our aligned vendors for their financial contribution. We thanked our pro staff for being visibile in wearing our gear, interacting with the amatuer riders, and hanging out in our hospitality tent. When one of our pro riders got hurt, we found the best orthopod in OKC and we stayed with her until she had been fully cared for. Then we thanked the doctor.

There is truly so much more. We involved our dealers throughout the year in World's promotion. We encouraged them to show the World's edition at boat shows, and to activate the event at their stores by awarding fantasy trips to customers to the event. When the event was over, we sent letters to every competitor and provided them with a cash incentive for purchasing a new Supra through their local dealer.

I have no doubt that executing an event strategy effectively bought us credibility for our brand and as importantly good will within our industry. Our efforts at the event led to a partnership with the hottest brand in watersport equipment. They selected us specifically because they liked the way we executed our efforts at the World's. That was gratifying. So was the standing ovation from the competitors and their families at our Dinner of Champions event.

That was a touch point that really touched me. Appropriately.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Living the Brand right down to the architectural drawing

The mantra is ‘live the brand’. In many companies that simply says that the advertising is a direct result of a strong positioning statement. But in the best of companies, the brand is so fundamentally aligned with the corporate mission that every area of the company is a reinforcement of the brand strategy.

The new Dairy Queen ‘Grill and Chill’ store concept is a brilliant example of brand positioning driving the fundamental of product delivery right down to the architecture of the restaurant. This past weekend’s drive to Knoxville afforded me the opportunity to visit a new prototype store in Frankfort, KY.

Key elements of the brand heritage have been preserved in the updated logo treatment of the Dairy Queen name. Appended to the logo is the designator ‘Grill and Chill’. Once inside the restaurant, the food prep area is now arrayed in a classic L shape… with dessert items on the short side of the L, and grill items on the long side of the L. Instead of hiding the dessert prep in the backroom, DQ chose to bring the blenders out center stage. Consequently, DQ’s real competitive advantage, the Blizzard mix bar, highlights the food presentation experience. SMART.

The restaurant interior feels different than the traditional quick feeder. By creating more ‘intimate’ personal sitting areas, guests can find a little privacy when eating alone, or can gather more comfortably when sitting in larger groups. Floor, counter, and wall spaces have also been upgraded, not to the point of leaving the general quick service experience, but clearly defining the experience as a cut above the average Burger King/Taco Bell experience. New menu board graphics are much more appetizing, while the brand has intuitively included heritage statements throughout the point of sale materials establishing a heightened expectation for the dining experience.

It all comes together at the new DQ. Environment, marketing materials, food prep, and store signage left me with a lasting positive impression. Enthusions core tenet is that magic occurs at point of sale and point of use. DQ soared past my expectation level at every level of ‘Chill and Grill’. I left happy with the intent to return on my next trip through Frankfort. The visit was great. The French Silk blizzard hold the whip cream was even better.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Little things at retail add up

I went to my local SuperCuts this morning. I bagged up to fight back the greying tide. This allowed me an hour or so of time to look/listen to the banter in the shop. Actually wandered the back rooms a bit reading sales goals on the walls. Clearly the push from management was 'cross-selling': a cut, a color, an upgraded shampoo, a wax, and at the end of the process purchase of 'products'.

There were three employees at the store. One of the three attempted to 'upsell' the purchase consistently. Neither of the other two did. They all were good at greeting customers as they walked through the door, but almost to the detriment of the customer in the chair. Meaning, 'who's next' was clearly more important than who is was already sitting in the chair. And when the phone rang, well, it was a mad dash of stylists to the phones. Again, current customers took second seat to 'who''s next'. In fact, as the waiting room filled, the speed of each hair cut seemingly increased to allow for 'who's next' to get into the chair that much faster.

Point of sale materials did nothing to improve the experience. They didn't cross-sell effectively. They didn't tell a story about the brand, about the people in the store, or set expectations for the experience. When the 'cross-selling' stylist attempted to sell product at the end of a purchase ... the discussion went "Would you like to purchase some products?" "No thank you."
"Well, ok, but we have this Biolage on sale this week." "Goodbye."

Let's relook at how management likely wishes that it had gone.

"Thanks for giving me the chance to work with you today." ... stylist

"I like what you did with my hair." ... customer

"You have such great hair. We have these Biolage products that are well formulated for your particular hair type. Should keep your hair looking like it does now for the next 6 weeks. "... stylist

"Really, never used them before." ... customer

"I think once you've tried them, you won't go back. Let me do something special for you on the price today. You'll love it, and I can save you a few dollars." ... stylist

In this scenario, the stylist shows interest in the customer and personalized the sale. She also presented the product at the proper time ... before the customer had completed the purchase.

Customer loyalty, repeat purchase, upselling ... each critical to the long term success of the salon, and in this case, each fumbled away ... not because of any major blunder ... but because of a lack of attention to detail by all parties involved.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Facts, Opinions, and Damnable Lies

When did our collective lose the ability to determine the distinctions between a fact,
an opinion, and an out and out lie?

Forcefulness and conviction are no substitute for knowledge and honor. Yet before the ink dries on a congressional bill, on a newspaper column, or on a print ad, we are bombarded with 'facts' about the value of the paper.

A few notes to myself. Self, when you don't know, don't state your support or disagreement as a fact. Self, facts are inalienable. The Holocaust happened. That's a fact. The North won the Civil war. That's a fact. The Canadian/Western European health care system is worse than the American system. That's an opinion. Obama wants to transform the United States economy into a socialist system. That's a lie.

My point is, a supposition, no matter how strongly stated or how convicted the speaker is in the belief does not make for factual evidence. Wanting something to be true doesn't make it true. I would like to be 35 years old, with a 32" waist, a square chin, with a small cleft in it. In my mind, that may well be a fact. Sadly, your eyes will bear witness to the falsehood.

It's incredibly important to have an opinion, a point of view, a perspective. It's even more important to base that perspective in facts. I don't know why I'm on this rant. Maybe its one too many Rush Limbaugh moments. Or too many postings about the lack of importance of keeping the best football player on the Titans on the team.

Call it a nagging observation. The truth will set you free. The opinion will set you free from friendships.

Don't fear transparency

One of the stronger marketing tools that we built at Skier's Choice was an active message board community for both of our brands. The ability for fellow owners to share their praise and frustration about their experience with our product proved invaluable to our efforts.

1. Instantaneous product feedback: we were able to gather product use data first hand, not screened by our dealer network. Issues that recurred became brush fires at the factory. Every complaint gave us the gift of 'stop and fix it'. Product quality improved because of the feedback provided by our owners.

2. Customer satisfaction increased: our owners appreciated the sounding board. They appreciated the opportunity to get direct feedback from the factory when issues arose. They liked being able to provide insight into how we could build them a better boat. In turn, they supported us when NMMA surveys reached them inquiring as to their satisfaction levels.
For three consecutive years both of our brands won the CSI award indicating 90%+ approval rating from our customers.

Not particularly surprising when you consider that our customer's helped us design our product through their comments; helped us identify issues for our quality team to correct; and carried on an on-going conversation with people who they came to know at the factory through the boards.

3. Our owners became our best salespeople: often times prospective customers would visit our board to ask questions of our current owners. Invariably our owners would speak to both their satisfaction with our product and more importantly their connection to our company.

4. Events bubbled-up: our owners would organize local events where they could get together with other owners to enjoy their boats together. This sense of community became a bond that not only made their boating experience better, but also increased their loyalty to our brands leading to stronger repeat purchase patterns.

5. Marketing efforts became more focused: the feedback received not only changed our product and our customer service department, it also changed our marketing focus. We chose to nurture the growth of these branded communities. We built programs that furthered the connections. We partnered with brands that supported our owners and that our owners told us that they believed in. We were able to reduce our direct mail costs because we grew our message board communities to the point that when we wanted to speak with our customer base, we did so primarily through our message boards.

The one fly in the ointment was that we simply had to accept that our mistakes would be publicly discussed. When product issues arose, rather then trying to secretly quiet the quell, we lived with the transparency of failure.

Transparency appropriately managed and responded to built the bridge of TRUST. Our customers didn't demand perfection from our product. Rather, they demanded that we be honest, attentive, and responsive to their needs.

We were, and because of that, our brands were rewarded with market share gains. Transparency works.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The proverbial song book

For better or for worse, the fad of Mission Statement reengineering appears to have subsided. I've observed that fewer CEO's are handing out translucent bricks engraved with the company creed today than they did in the 1990's.

Which may indeed be a good thing. It was my experience that Mission Statements and Brand Positioning Statements were rarely in alignment. As any mom will tell you, 'there are consequences for your choices', and when those choices lead to misalignment, business results decline.


A good mission statement rallies the stakeholders to a common cause. Most frequently, that cause is centered on 'providing exceptional value for our customers' or 'meeting customer needs'. Mission Statements often are a strong reminder that business success is largely determined by the will of its customers.

Most brand positioning statements acknowledge a similar fact. As industry leader Microsoft says in their current ad campaign, 'our customers own our brand'. I might quibble with the semantics,
but for the sake of this discussion, the ownership ideal provides for perfect alignment between the Mission statement and the Positioning statement.

In truth, the brand positioning statement is a very different thing than a simple recognition of brand ownership. When we position, we choose a side. We are no longer ubiquitous in expressing customer satisfaction. Rather, we are deductive.

"For (x) group of people, (y) represents the best product/service value, because of (z)."

So Myrtle Beach's Mission Statement for the Visitor's bureau might read 'providing exceptional customer value for beach vacationers', while the brand positioning statement characterizes the destination as 'affordable fun in the sand for people living on a budget'. Again, alignment.

The challenge of course is that in declaring a side, the Marketing Director risks offending a constituency. For instance, what about the golf course managers, or the amusement ride operators, or the restaurant and retail establishments? Where is their skin in the game? So in an effort to be true to all of Myrtle Beach various stakeholders, the Marketing Director opens the door to a broader vacation platform through a new extended position: "An affordable family vacation that provides fun for everyone, even when the beach is only one part of your travel plans."

In turn, the Executive Director of MBVCB might alter the Mission Statement: "Providing exceptional vacation value for our visitors -- on the sand, or on the land."

This then suggests to the Marketing Director that a further refinement need be made to the brand positioning: "Myrtle Beach is an affordable family vacation destination that provides fun for every member in the family: from beach balls, to golf balls, to high balls."

Bottom line, your Mission Statement and your Positioning Statement should always remain in alignment. When they aren't, your internal actions are at risk of being out of step with your customers expectations.

If this misalignment occurred at Myrtle Beach, the result would be a very happy group of hotel owners ... in Daytona Beach.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mao Tse Tung -- The Secret Capitalist

Earl Littman is awesome, but Mao, now there was a guy who understood the notion of marketing. In 8 words, he told you all you needed to know about how to successfully market a product in any market condition.

Ready. Drum roll. Mao. The Communist. The Capitalist.

"Don't worry about the fish. Change the ocean."

Detroit, are you listening?

Put that one together with this from Jay Chiat ...

"One of the good things that advertising can do is speed up the inevitable. It can make something good happen faster."

About those Hybrid cars, um, what's the average fuel cost savings in a year?

"Don't force people to do what they are not good at."

Norman Grulich delivered that number. And what could be more true? As a nation, we gravitate towards our known skills. We exercize our option to 'soar on our stengths'.

If you were to go Seth Godin on this thing ... wouldn't you say three Brand Enthusion rules to live by would be:

1. Change the playing field. Redefine the sales category. Go 'ziggy' on it.

2. Once you've redefined the market, tell your stakeholders.

3. Make it easy on the stakeholders to participate.

Here's one last bonus notion from Julian Koenig.

"All ads don't have to have the same intensity. Chewing gum ads don't have to read like they are selling blood plasma."

I know, everything is critically important to someone. But really, does $1.00 for a diet Coke at McDonald's, or a 'professional fry cook' at every KFC rise to the level of nuclear physics?

Got thoughts on who gets this right. Love to hear back from you, provided that you are not calling to invite me to the local chapter meeting of American's for Mao. Love him as an ad guy, but never dug the threads.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Earl Littman and the secret science of 'Grandiosity'

I'm the son of a living Texas Advertising Legend. A member of the Texas Advertising Hall of Fame. The former Chairman of Goodwin, Dannenbaum, Littman & Wingfield advertising. The former Chair of multiple social work foundations, religious foundations, athletic foundations. I am the son of a marathon runner, a kayaker, a tennis player, a spinner. I am the son of a living legend, and I thank God every day that Earl is both living and legendary.

Dad was not prone to discussing the marketing profession. But he did share with me purposefully and unintentionally his 'secrets'. After all, his brain drove branding campaigns for Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Midas Mufflers, Church's Fried Chicken, Grandy's, Foley's, the Houston Oilers, the Houston Chronicle, and literally hundreds of other clients large and small. Earl knows retail. Earl knows how to sell.

Dad once positioned his agency as a place to 'Up Your Ads'. He did it with jingles, with his famed 'creactivity', with a relentless curiousity and an obsession towards selling. If dad didn't teach me the phrase 'selling is telling' it somehow has become part of my vocabulary.

Jason Falls, who is Doe-Anderson's Social Media Specialist reminds me that the art of blogging often breaks down to a simple list of rules or learnings that a writer can impart on a reader.
So in that spirit, here are 10 thoughts on life and marketing that Earl Littman taught Michael Littman.

1. Dream Boldly. Why settle for a small dream when you can imagine something grandiose?
Why limit your horizons when possibilities are always abundant? Don't settle for a 3% market share gain. Imagine 70% share and brand dominance. Imagine the other Marketing Directors in your category cowering in the presense of your brand. Imagine success without despair, love without heartache, life without disappointment. Dream Boldly.

2. Live Beyond Your Means. I know, it flies in the face of current events. If I were to be more politically correct, this would simply say 'Go Big or Don't Bother Going'. But Earl would simply go. Somehow the financial details would take care of themselves with time.

Dad taught me that you can't save your way to prosperity. Invest in a big idea, and big things will happen.

3. Be different. Dad hates nothing more than doing what others have done. To his way of thinking, originality trumps all else. Bill Samuels said that a bad ad is like a bad haircut, it will grow back with time and soon be forgotten. If more Marketing Directors followed this formula marketing wouldn't be perceived as a nuisance and advertisers wouldn't fear the DVR.

4. First Impressions Are Lasting. Never would you catch my father five pounds over weight or wearing baggy sweats and a t-shirt. The suit must be well made and well cut. The hair must be combed and in place. Visually the office space must be bold, original, defining. Comfort is secondary to visual stimulus. Or as the Duke Brothers said in Trading Spaces: "Looking Good Lewis." "Feeling Good Billy Ray."

5. Nothing Happens Until The Cash Register Rings. Dad wasn't a big believer in the Awareness/Preference/Purchase Intent school of advertising. That stuff was for wimps. Earl's client roster was largely made up of hard charging retail clients. Dad knew that if they had a bad weekend, he had a bad Monday. I vividly recall his fielding client phone calls on weekends and at night when the big event had produced less than anticipated sales results. I've been a brand guy all my career, but in my mind, it's not a program unless the result produced is a monetary one. Awareness is simply an excuse for a failed marketing effort.

6. Love is the Ultimate Trump Card. 60 years of marriage to one person, even one as magnificent as my mom, is more than a miniscule accomplishment. Eccentric in many areas, Earl had one traditional triumph. Marriage. He found the right partner and he was smart enough to stick by her. He had the sideburns of a 60's player, but he knew when to go home.

7. There is No Substitute For Hard Work. Smart comes and goes. But now more than ever, outworking your competition has much to do with outlasting your competition. I was blessed with marketing instincts. But I'm at my best when I integrate a brand program, precisely because I am relentless in seeking out differentiating touch points with consumers.

8. Innovate. Originate. Differentiate. Saturate. It's not a brilliant idea unless someone other than your parents and children know about it. Create something unique. Make sure to differentiate it from its competition. Then tell enough people enough times to transform a thought into a purchase.

9. Don't Do Stupid Stuff. Don't overeat. Don't drink to excess. Don't smoke. Don't do drugs. Don't lie. Don't hold back. Don't wait. Don't procrastinate. Don't fit in. Don't stop believing in yourself. Don't cheat. Don't slow down. Don't settle. Dad has never been long on 'To Do's', but man, he has given me a life-long list of 'To Don't's'.

10. Conquer One Mountain. Time to Climb Another. The word 'relax' is not in Earl's vocabulary. To do is to live. To lay down is to die. I have no idea what pithy phrase dad has inscribed on his tombstone, but if I were to get a vote, it would simply be 'What's Next'. Because I can guarantee you this. Whatever is 'what's next', Earl will be leading the charge to do it.

You can find Earl Littman at 80+ years old running Point of Sale Broadcasting in Houston, Texas. You can find Michael Littman at Doe-Anderson Advertising in Louisville, Kentucky. I hope that wherever you find me, you will find at least a pale representation of the best ad man I ever met.

Refuse to Participate in the Recession

At the risk of sounding like George W. Bush, the best defense for a bad economy is simply a strong state of mind. Simply refuse to participate in the recession. Refuse to allow your business to participate in the recession. Refuse to get caught up in the guagmire of negativity and instead concentrate your energy, your partners energy, your employees energy on buoyancy.

Why do some float while others sink? Buoyant thinking.

Buoyant thinking will drive you to making long-term minded business decisions as opposed to short-term cost cutting tactics.

Buoyant thinking will allow you to invest in your best employees, your best developmental ideas, your best customers.

Buoyant thinking will encourage those with whom you come interact to share a positive spirit, provide better customer service, and be better resources to each other.

Buoyant thinking will keep your brand face forward, first to market, first off the shelf. Brand Managers that see the future will continue to build bridges. Brand Managers that fear today are unlikely to be shaping a brand's destiny tomorrow.

I'm not talking about putting on a brave face and keeping a stiff upper lip. That decries the message. I'm talking about refusing to believe that anything other than success is going to meet you as you go about your daily tasks.

Be buoyant. Refuse to participate in the blues, blahs, bahhumbugs. Stay the course. Invest for success. Share your wins, not your fears.

Declare your will to prosper, and prosperity will find you.

May I have an Amen to that?


Friday, February 13, 2009

Joe Grieco, The City of Hope & Product/User/Maker

As a 23 year-old I had the distinct pleasure of working at McCann Erickson while Joe Grieco ran the strategic planning department. Back in the day, strategic planning was called research, though Jeff Blish (at that time another McCann employee), America's fist account planner, had started to redefine the role of research inside of an ad agency.

I was just a fresh-faced assistant account manager with a little too much time on my hands ... so I determined that my best hope for learning while at ME was to hang around these two guys offices and soak in whatever knowledge that they chose to impart.

My most treasured memory from the time was when Joe and Jeff explained to me that all ads could be categorized into one of three categories: fabrications, lies, and damnable lies. Nah, not really. That's my observation of how consumers view ads, not what Joe and Jeff were selling.

On that day, I learned that every ad comes from one of three perspectives: from the perspective of the PRODUCT, from the perspective of the USER, or from the perspective of the MAKER.

PRODUCT ads typically focus on a specific feature or benefit that a particular product provides. Notably Hardee's has used this strategy effectively in the recent past through their introduction of 'Thick Burgers'. The PRODUCT focus is most powerful when your brand has a clear, distinct, and most important a consumer-worthy point of distinction from its competitors. Sheet metal on cars tend to drive product messaging. Technology manufacturers often fall back to this area when their widget is demonstrably faster, smarter, more user friendly, etc. The downside here is that if your product distinction is of little value to a consumer, your advertising dollar has been poorly spent.

USER ads reflect either the rational or emotional benefit that use of a product satisfies. They deliver the outcome of the product use from the perspective of 'what's in it for you'. In today's environment USER ads most easily allow for the 'transaparency' that consumers prefer. Consumer voyuerism of captured seemingly unscripted moments fueled by the 'reality tv' rage has brought USER advertising to the level of overexposure. The current wave of 'User/Transparency' messaging is evidenced beautifully in the 'Above the Influence' campaign.
Nike developed the penultimate in USER advertising through their decade long paeon to the athlete: 'Just Do It'.

But remember that when you are are trying to live inside the head of a consumer, you need to be thinking affinity groups, not demographic groups. If you don't refine your targeting strategy, your message can actually diminish your brand credibility by framing your user motivations incorrectly.

MAKER advertising has been largely on the outside looking since the 1950's, though it remains an incredibly powerful tool when delivered appropriately. MAKER advertising delivers a message about the company that makes/offers the product. What's in it for you is the company's knowledge/experience/longevity/security or other benefit associated with the company's manner of doing business. Next time you call 'Jack Daniel's' at a bar, you have called a MAKER brand story line. So what's the downside? If the message doesn't ring true, you've beaten your chest, appeared self-absorbed and out-of-tune with your prospects needs.

Joe framed this for me in this manner:

MAKER: Proctor & Gamble has made Tide soap for 75 years. Clean, gentle cleaning of your whites and colors make's P&G's Tide soap the clean choice for you.

PRODUCT: Tide's new enzyme xyz assures that your whites will be white and your colors will be brighter. Enzyme XYZ, only in Tide.

USER: Your family will notice the difference when you put Tide soap in your washing machine. Whiter whites. Brighter brights. More thanks in every load.

For me, the first step in approaching a brand repositioning assignment is to develop a complete storyline for the brand from each perspective. I align the rational and emotional benefits that a brand delivers under each category. Then I do an internal 'credibility' check. In short, which perspective delivers the truth of the brand in the most meaningful and memorable manner.

If more than one perspective appears credible, I test it with loyalists to discover which perspective rings most true with the people who most frequently use and most greatly value the brand. In short, the brand owners.

Even the best marketing messages can wear thin over time. Assuming that the fundamental truth of the product has remained constant and that primary drivers of product selection are unchanged, one way to freshen your message is by simply redirecting it through a different perspective.

For instance, if you have been telling your story through the PRODUCT perspective, spin it to a USER or MAKER perspective. In this way, your underlying marketing truth remains the same, but the perspective shifts leading to a fresh new executions.

One day Joe and I were on a plane together flying to Las Vegas. I shared with him that I thought it was the saddest city in the world. In my mind it was a place where people went to lose their hard earned money. I saw rows and rows of blue hairs dipping deeper and deeper into their change purses lining the coffers of Vegas casino operators. Joe saw it differently.

As it happened, Joe's dad lived in a single-wide near the casinos. It was a city he had come to love. Rather than seeing it as a city of loss, Joe saw Vegas as the city of hope. It was a place where dreams came to fruition. Where a year's worth of savings delivered 362 days of sunshine in people's lives. That in Las Vegas, all was possible, particularly as future visitors sit huddled in front of a fireplace somewhere in a midwestern home buried under January snows. Joe would say that it mattered less what happened on your Vegas vacation and more what happened through your year's worth of planning for it.

A whack on the side of the head. A shift in perspective. A gift given to me by Joe and opened day after day for 25+ years. Thanks, Joe.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Relationships Relationship to Marketing

Recently I asked the 70 people I work with to tell me 'what makes your interpersonal relationships work'. Consider a pool of people that is evenly split male to female, largely under the age of 40, some married, some single, some widowed, some divorced. While we live in Kentucky, most of us are from somewhere else, so that the idea that the average Kentuckian is likely to be married to his brother or sister does not apply here. In short, we are wholly normal, and through that normalcy, have found common ground on how to make a relationship work.

The first notion, and one that I found particularly intriguing, is that all relationships are a work in progress, not a finished piece of art. Cyncially, a relationship is the ultimate 'what have you done for me lately' experience. Once we stop working at the relationship, the relationship is likely to stop working.

Communication is an underlying theme of my peers review. The need to speak freely, honestly, with complete transparency becomes central to relationship developmet. Positive reinforcement, thankfulness, listening not only to what is said but also to what goes unsaid all make for effective communication.

Trust is a notion that is consistently addressed. Both emotional and physical fidelity are the bonds that make and break trust. In the absense of trust, the relationship can no longer provide a safeplace that both parties require.

Mutual Attaction and physical contact are both inherant to a sound relationship. I'm not here to champion or denegrate lust ... but on both sides of the gender divide, the need for some form of touch comes as a natural outgrowth of attraction.

There are a number of seemingly contrary throughts that appear all to be important in this relationship game.

-- Spontaneous Consistency. We loathe boredom, but we need predictability. To keep our relationships fresh, a magic moment or two sprinked in between the every day every day makes for a healthy partnership.

-- Freedom Constraint. Both parties must be allowed room to grow within their own personal space, while at the same time being respectful of the strictly drawn lines that empower trust.

-- Laughter Tears. Somehow we want our partners to share equally in our bright and shiny as we do in our darkness and despair. We need to be able to laugh with and occassionally at our partners. We require their understanding and support when we are overburdened by the day.

Relationships blossom when we discover that we share enthusiasms for similar actions, activities, people and places. Shared enthusiasms are no more important than shared dislikes. When 'I love Lucy' but you hate her ... well, we won't be covering chocolates together let alone driving across the country in our Airstream.

There are multiple other components. The ability to forgive and forget. The willingness to be fair, not just right. Remaining open to new ideas, all the while working together in the spirit of compromise to be attentive to the others needs.

These are the fundamental building blocks of strong interpersonal realtionships. And of the relationships between a brand and its customers.

Next blog ... I'll cross that bridge

My Proudest Moment

I was blessed with two fantastic sons. For all of the heartbreak and disappointment that life can hand out, my boys have been the equalizer. Yesterday was another shining example of my son Robert's amazing heart and soul.

Since he was 7, Robert has been a soccer player. He's played rec. He's played club. He's played indoor. This is a kid who never misses a practise. Would cut off his arm if keeping it meant he would miss a game.

At 15 Robert is probably 5'8, 120 pounds. Not exactly an imposing physical specimen. That said, he attends a high school that won the mythical national championship two years ago, and is a perennial front runner for state championships.

Robert knew the task of making his high school team would be daunting. So since June of 2008, he committed himself to a street and weight room training program. Four days a week he lifts. Seven days a week he runs. Five days a week he works his footskills. And yet, to be honest, Robert is still best defined by the size of his heart, not the size of his biceps. In fact, if Robert's body parts could be individually weighed, my guess is that his heart would be 118 of his 120 pounds.

I'm not going to tell you that he has the greatest soccer skills. I'm just going to tell you that he left the Urgent Care filled with anti-biotics so that he could make it to first day of try-outs. He was to run 3 miles in 21 minutes. Since he had been routinely doing that for the past several months, no issue. Other than that he coughed up blood at the 1-3/4 mile spot and had to stop.

The next two days of tryouts were indoors. He's a midfielder, but because he was ill, he had to play defense to conserve his lung power. He thought he had played pretty well. But as these things go, he was not selected for the team.

Some kids would be bitter. Not Robert. He posted on Facebook that he was happy for the other kids that made it. And he woke up this morning with a new plan rededicating himself to the training so that when he moves to Ballard High School this upcoming year his game, his body, his soul will be undeniable.

They have a name for people like Robert. Winners. That's what they are. I could not be more proud of the kid. Thank you God for entrusting him to me and his mom.

Miggy, there is no crying in baseball

Another day, another baseball hero brought down by the steroid scandal. Some of us might say that the true scandal was that while our economy was breaking and while our bravest were laying down their lives in a pointless war, our President and our Congress focused their attention on performance enhancing drugs in sports. Magician like, they fiddled while Rome burned. Fortunately for our national security Miquel Tejada, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and the like will spend time in some low security jail. I will certainly rest better at night knowing that the GNC posse has been rounded up and are soon to be behind bars.

Save us from the Puritans one and all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Welcome to my head

Ten years or so back, Ed Neary wrote a campaign for Duckead khakis. The visual was the pocket of the pants, turned inside out ... with all the contents spilled out. The headline "What's inside your head?".

That's my inspiration today. I'm going to take what's inside my head, and put it out there for the world to see. Sports, marketing, current events, my family ... it will all be out here.

If transparency is the new watchword in social media, this then is my experiment in the same.

Kinkaid ... I love you for very different reasons

My wife Mary was blessed. She loved high school. And high school loved her back. She had literally hundreds of friends. She excelled in the class room. She has friends from 20+ years ago who have tracked her down on Facebook and revere her as royalty. These friends are setting a particulalry high bar for my short legs to jump over ... but I digress.

For me high school evokes very few lithium-like memories. I was the kid who just couldn't quite fit in. I had friends, but I also felt that painful loneliness that teenage kids can get lost in. When I heard about Columbine, I didn't think, 'man, that could have been me'. But I admit that a part of me knew exactly how it felt to be the outsider kid looking in.

It's been more than 30 years since I joyfully fled from the Kinkaid campus on San Felipe. Despite the time and distance past, lessons painfully learned guide my actions through this very day.

1. Only you can define yourself. People can label you. People can pidgeon hole and treat you as if you were part of a different caste. But in truth, you are only who you choose to be. And if you choose to change that person, you become someone else the moment you change, regardless of others institutional memories about you.

2. It's not a failure until you quit. Life throws punches. I got knocked down in those hallways. Frequently. But I was the kid that wasn't going to allow someone else to keep me down. I might not have gotten invited to the party, but I wasn't going to lose sleep at night fretting over it. I simply chose acceptance on my own terms. Which made me a true believer of the Vince Lombardi quote ... winners never quit, and quitters never win.

3. Sometimes you get scared. And that's ok. One day we were playing football in gym. I intercepted a pass and was returning it. A kid named Johnny Parker, who at that time I didn't know particularly well tagged me pretty good from behind. A few plays later he caught a pass. I would like to tell you that I intentionally returned the favor. Truth is that I knocked him down, completely accidentally. Johnny found me in the locker room afterwards and made it clear that I was now on notice for a severe butt kicking. We never became friends, but despite scaring the stuffing out of me at the moment, John was always decent to me. I was scared. Held my ground. We both moved on. Have no idea where John is today or what he is doing. I hope he is doing well.

4. If you like someone, you have to risk letting them know it. I loved Alison Crooker. Never was going to be her boyfriend. Never asked her out on a date. But she was a friend to me when others weren't. Whenever I hear Elvis Costello sing 'Alison, my aim is true' I immediately flash to Allison's face. Alli was the cool girl who gave up a little popular power to befriend me. As my career moved on and I got into a 'popular' position, I always applied the Crooker rule. Simply, when you like someone, let them know it. It's a little thing but it has made a big difference throughout my life.

5. Greatness isn't a destination, it's an on-going lifestyle choice. I didn't choose to be great at Kinkaid. I went for somewhere between invisible and average. I had a moment or two. Had a great history teacher who made me want to stand out. Coach Hunter gave me a chance to kiss his ring in class ... which in turn bought me some much needed street cred with some guys who had never given me much due. But in large part, I wasn't ready to be the nail that stood out from the board. At Kinkaid, I simply wanted to fit in. At the University of Texas I learned the value of standing out.

Fifteen years after graduation I went to a reunion. By that time I was a Senior Vice President in my company. I had produced over $20,000,000 in billings. I had a beautiful wife. Two healthy boys. Lived in a community surrounded by friends and associates who respected my skills. But none of that was readily apparent to either my fellow classmates or the school's headmaster.

I vividly recall putting myself in front of Barry Moss, then headmaster. While I knew that I had been an underachiever at Kinkaid, I was anxious to share with him how I had turned it around after graduation. Mr. Moss asked me one question ... what did I do for a living? I said 'advertising'. He said 'your father was in advertising, wasn't he'? I nodded yes. And with that, he ended the conversation.

"No one can define you other than you" I told myself. A friend Robert Koelsch and I drove home that night together. Just for a moment I was 17 years old, a little scared, quietly defiant once again.

As I said in my title, Kinkaid, I love you, but for very different reasons.

Can I lie to you baby?

I'm a baseball nut. Huge. Love the Houston Astros, the Houston Cougars, the Texas Longhorns, and the Farragut High School Admirals. But more than the teams, I'm a fan of the game and the men who play it.

Couldn't help but feel sick to my stomach watching Alex Rodriguez, without a doubt the best player in the game, be forced to admit to having used performance enhancement drugs.

I know this. No amount of Human Growth Hormone would have helped me to pick up the spin of a curve ball. No steroid would have increased my courage to stand in on a 95 mph heater. I have no doubt that power is increased by getting on the juice, but since when did baseball become a game of brute strength?

But here's the question on my mind. If the pitcher is on juice, and the batter is on the juice, and the fielders are all on the juice, is anybody truly benefitting from becoming a juice junkie? Seems to me like it all cancels itself out, or at least mitigates the unfair advantage that juicing would appear to create.

As a marketer, I'm curous to see how crowds respond to Alex. He appeared truthful and contrite in his apology. He threw no one else under the bus, and he wholly accepted responsibility for his decision. Looked like a stand-up guy who stepped in a pile of ugly and was simply doing his best to prove that his career largely exists on its own merits.

Here's the contrarian view. A-Rod's admission actually has increased my love for the game. We are all in some way flawed. We have all in some way fallen. When I'm next at a park where Mr. Rodriguez is playing, I promise that I will rise to my feet and cheer him as if he were my own son. E-5. Absolutely. But the bigger mistake is made when we don't offer support to those who stumble and through their shortcomings prove that the human spirit ever rises.

Marketing from a Fetal Position

Imagine the job of the Marketing Director who is living in an environment in which category sales are down 50% in the past year. Fortunately sales were down only 20% in the market segment the prior year.

Exactly, total unit sales off roughly 70% in two short years.

Worse yet, your 2007 model year product remains on the retail floor, blocking orders for 2009 models. Need it to be a bit more challenging? Exit the two primary lendors to the business niche from the market space, one permanently, the other on hiatus until its own credit line clears.

Who can blame that poor soul for curling up in a fetal position nourished by a glass of Maker's and a gallon of Dreyer's finest?

Clearly, the good answers have all been taken.

1. Find new markets ... exceptional call ... but today the international market placefor this line of products is as nasty as the North American market. No one could argue with the logic. Implimentation unfortunately is another problem.

2. Slash and burn. Of course the marketing budget has been cut. As has the marketing staff. Devilishly, so has management support.

The question is not so much whether to cut, it's what to cut. Should customer acquisition be supplanted by customer retention? Is brand relevance/credibility as important in this environment as activation efforts? And with the shorter staff, do current customer added-value efforts become not only unaffordable but also unmanageable?

3. Innovate. There is a prevailing myth that product innovation directly translates into product sales. Not necessarily. Hot new features may generate interest, but in a bottomless market, new gets lost in the bloodbath of prospect inattentiveness.

This isn't a nightmare scenario. This is today's Marine market. Of the top 6 manufacturers in the specialty tournament tow boat segment, 3 Marketing Director positions have been eliminated from their positions in the past six months. The other three people? Reference the fetal position.

This isn't a pithy blog post offering an easy answer. There are none. This simply acknowledges that there are times when as the Chief Marketing Officer of a company there will be times when the sense of aloneness is stifling. For those of us who have lived in those shoes, the search for the silver bullet is a shared grail quest.

My learning:

1. Forget the Silver Bullet. When customers leave the market in droves, no cleverly crafted headline or brilliantly executed event will overcome a larger macro issue.

2. Keep the gunpowder dry. There are simply times when you can't spend yourself out of a tough spot. There will come a day when the funds you save will be able to be put back into play and will make a meaningful difference.

3. Circle the wagons. Sales and marketing can not wander off into separate camps. Self-preservation can not come at the expense of mutual trust.

4. Invite your best friends to the campfire. Your retail distribution network can't be allowed to fall into disrepair. No, they aren't ordering products from you at the level needed to maintain factory volumes. But then again, they aren't selling enough products to keep their creditors at bay. This is precisely the time when the Marine pledge of 'no man left behind' has to dictate your actions.

5. Prepare to come out fighting. Regardless of our friends in Washington desire to stimulate the market, economic reality is simply that our economy is cyclical. Today's lows will give way to tomorrow's highs. No one has ever failed by planning (though many have failed when they lost the courage to execute the plan).

Now is the time to think through new distribution strategies, new pricing strategies, shifts in the product strategy, and of course changes to the promotional mix. Focus on the 'trigger points' for spending. When (x) happens, (y) follows. And if (y) doesn't prove to be a follow-through rally, then understand that (z) must be in place.

Today ... not so nice. Tomorrow ... Pamela Anderson.