Friday, December 23, 2011

Winning is Super but…

The 2011 Super Bowl was held on Sunday, February 6th at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas and was played in front of a capacity of over 100,000 people - the largest attendance in Super Bowl history. The Super Bowl broadcast was viewed by more than 100 Million people. The winner of the game takes home the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The trophy is named for a great coach and a great man. Vince Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. He was head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers (1959–67). He imposed a strenuous regimen and led his team to five NFL championships (1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967). He won first two Super Bowls (1967, 1968). His success made him a symbol of single-minded determination to win.

The odds of winning a championship in any professional sport are always long. Maybe that is why we care so much about what makes a winning team. To be sure, we can learn a great deal about character, hard work, grit and determination from the individuals who win championships. But maybe there is even more inspiration inherent in the heroic efforts made in spite of falling short. Consider those individuals who find the courage to continue in a losing effort who bravely battle but ultimately do not win. They are unsung heroes and in many ways can be even more noble.

Vince Lombardi died of Cancer in September 1970. Surely he would be astounded at how big the game has become and would be most honored that the trophy is a constant reminder of what it takes to win. Yet, the trophy that bears his name might also be appropriately be awarded for battling against impossible odds. Lombardi deserves the fame he earned for winning but perhaps it is more notable that he is a role model for those driven to succeed – doing what it takes to win, in spite of never knowing for certain of the outcome.

Lombardi's success is legendary, and he is often associated with the maxim, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." It is uncertain if he actually ever even said it. However, he did say something that might be more important: “The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.”

There should be a trophy for all those people who do what it takes to win but bravely accept the outcome in spite of their best efforts to prevail. You are winners too!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Without Marketing, nothing happens.

Anyone who has studied marketing will tell you that the discipline of marketing is considerably more elusive than the body of knowledge a student of accounting, finance, or architecture might encounter. I mean you’re not going to hire an accountant who doesn’t know the principals of depreciating assets. You aren’t going to hire an estate planner who doesn’t know how explain various transfer taxes. You aren’t going to hire an architect who can’t show you a set of building plans.

I asked a group of students what attracted them to marketing. There was a range of answers. Some students wanted to pursue communications related fields (advertising, public relations or media) and they felt a grasp of marketing would be a good foundation for that career path. Others felt that marketing was basically “sales” and they felt that was where the money is in business. Still others had a combination of reasons why they thought marketing was a worthwhile major course of study that might prepare them for whatever road they ultimately chose.

Most marketing textbooks have two or three run-on sentences that define marketing. That’s okay. It’s even okay for students to feel that marketing is a way of thinking. It’s okay to have an open mind to the possibilities the future may hold. I don’t know when it happened but somewhere along the line people started getting the notion that the investment in education (especially college) must somehow be directly pointed in the direction of a specific job. That being said, it is important to note that, elusive or not: without marketing, nothing happens!

That’s because the fundamental reality is that marketing is part of nearly every career choice. It is in every single business transaction. Whatever framework or model you want to apply to your business, you are going to ultimately face the fact that some portion of your interactions are going to fall squarely in that fuzzy area called marketing. I have known engineers who have told me straight up that “marketing is soft” and that is isn’t scientific enough. Well, that may be true but try to sell something without it. Try to convince someone that your product is better than the competition based only on the "superior" engineering. (I know what you’re thinking – Mercedes Benz – only partially true. Status and prestige are not engineering and as important a reason for the purchase of a Mercedes.) Even engineers makes emotional choices about brands and what those brand choices say about the individual.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Customer Satisfaction and the CEO

We hear a lot about companies who strive to earn repeat business by exceeding customer expectations and delivering tremendous value. Still I wonder. Here are four Chief Executives. Tell me if you think they have happy and loyal customers.

Hard Goods Manufacturer & Company – Mighty Kwinn, CEO bends over backwards to listen to his customers. He has a panel of representatives on whom he depends for feedback. The meetings are routinely held in warm places with plenty of time for golf, deep sea fishing and/or tourism. The chosen ombudsmen for the industry are delighted to participate even if, at times, they aren’t sure action is really taken based on the intense discussions that cover price, product, service and ways improve everything from order processing to training support. “Be a good listener,” says Kwinn.

Four States and Texas GC - Sun-tzu, CEO believes winning is warfare. His family-owned high-growth company is looking to earn “clients for life” among the Fortune 500 elite. He believes the way to win is to excel in the trenches with a tough-as-nails hard-bid process. Furthermore, the company has a can-do culture of dedicated workers who will do whatever it takes to deliver on-time, under budget and work safely. Sadly, the margins are always pretty thin due to constant competitive bidding and employee burn out is common. Customer surveys reveal they are pleased with the work. This CEO doesn’t want to invest in any more research. Sun-tzu says “Kill the competition on price. Knock yourself out to deliver.”

Integrated A/E/C - The Top Kat CEO leads his company with flair. Customers like doing business with Top Kat because he has resources that allows him to offer full service from site selection and development all the way to financing and marketing. Top Kat is big and wants to work with others who think big. Top Kat want to “Run with the big dogs and be one.”

Builder of Hospitals, Inc. – John Doe, CEO is an engineer who is convinced he can bludgeon the average healthcare administrator with logic. His company offers a single source design and construction method and you assume no risk until you agree with the proposed solution. An occasional hospital executive might be embarrassed at having mismanaged the process of planning the design and construction of their facility, but the Doe team is ready to come to the rescue. “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,” he thinks.

Could it be that: Kwinn isn't really listening? Sun-tzu is doing battle at the expense of building relationships and isn't driving for the right things? Top Kat may never really be a Big Dog and thereby fall short in the long run? Doe is completely inflexible with regard to the solution he provides and is perceived as insensitivity?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Remembering Kent Swart

Kent Swart was a great addition to the Thermadyne culture. He had dedication and a work ethic that he downplayed routinely. He had a sense of humor and was instantly likable to those who met him. He liked to call me "an enabler of excellence" because I found myself attracted to any project Kent was involved with simply because I knew there was a higher probability of success when he was on the case. Kent was instrumental in the updating of the Victor Catalogue. (He and Michelle stopped counting at 3,000 edits made to the critical source of our flagship brand product offerings.) Kent was published in several publications about Thermal Dynamics plasma cutting systems and was a key guy when it came to adding real substance to marketing materials (new and existing)..

Over stake burgers at Stake N Shake, on more than one occasion, Kent shared some of his concerns about his career path. The truth is Kent was a quality player who fit in many scenarios. He could be a product manager, marketing manager, team leader and without a doubt A ROLE MODEL. His passing should remind us all how lucky we are to have each other. The planet THMD is a sadder and diminished place due to his absence.

Swart, Shephard, Cox and Morgan managed to play a round of golf as a foursome before he had hip surgery. Kent was also a participant in the AMA golf outings (in July of 2009 and 2010). Golfers know you learn a lot about a guy by the way they approach the game. Cheerfully accepting adversity while trying to excel every step of the way, He was an inspiration. Kent was active in Junior football and participated in a Monday night golf league. In each case, he accepted leadership roles.

Kent's computer screen-saver in his office was a reminder of the love and affection he had for those darling daughters of his. He also often spoke of his wife and how lucky he was. He was proud of the relationship he had developed later in life with his own father. (That alone speaks volumes of his character.) When you lose someone like Kent, your heart immediately goes out to his family. But in a larger sense, you feel a giant void that will not be filled. If you are a spiritual person, you know Kent is in a better place and you know he would want all of us to go on with a smile.

As we stumble over our own human frailty in such times, we cannot adequately identify what Kent meant to us. Suffice it to say, we loved him and he will be missed.

Kent Swart died of a heart attack on September 21, 2010.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Proposal Points to Consider

Proposals are more likely to result in elimination than winning. Sorry to say, but your prospects are going to be looking for losers first in a process that starts with a request for proposal (RFP). Let’s face it, it is a challenging economic environment and the buyers have an advantage now. If you must submit a proposal, think about winning strategies for putting your best foot forward. Remember the reviewers are looking for losers more than the winner in the opening round.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should respond to a request for proposal. You need to have a GO/NO GO decision criteria. Sometimes an off-the-shelf response is okay but most of the time it makes sense to ask: What is specific to this project that we should include in our response?

Consider an executive summary. Take the time up-front to plan your strategy.Take the time to make it shorter. It takes more time to write shorter and more efficiently.” Mark Twain said “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

The number one reason for not winning is inadequate knowledge of the customer. 80% of wins are, at least in part, a result of a previous relationship. So don’t wait to learn about the customer and the specifics of their needs. It could be too late. Studies have shown that odds of winning increase with the number of people involved. So get people in your company involved in responding to proposals.

The average cost of preparing a proposal (in the construction field) is around $2,000-$4,000 per million bid. You need to quantify the costs. Your response to an RFP is for a client to BUY THEIR PROJECT not your capabilities. This is important to remember. A lot of companies fall into the trap of trying to tell te reader how great they are. They say things like: “We can deliver safely, on time and within budget. These are the things your competition will be saying too. How will you differentiate yourself?

Happy Hunting.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

12 Reasons Why Marketing Has Lost Its Dazzle.

The marketing profession has lost some of its mystique lately. If you take the time to read this list, you probably care about marketing and allied professions that include product, brand, advertising, public relations, communications and business development. Here are a dozen observations I offer as contributing the new realities of being a marketer.

1. Media is not about mass marketing anymore. In fact, success stories from Lady Gaga to political elections are living proof that it ain’t about buying primetime TV anymore. To move people you need to think about grass roots and social media.
2. Advertising Agencies have lost their grip on clients. Mad Men are no longer cornering the market on unique selling propositions and brand strategy. It can happen much more organically now and it does.
3. Public Relations might be more actively leading marketers. Flacks have a much better handle on measuring web content and contributing to the frenetic world of instant gratification of information. It doesn’t feel like marketing as much as it is swimming in a sea of Likes, Tweets and Blogs.
4. Marketing is the new “undecided” major in college. Marketing students are too often unclear about what it really means to study marketing. Unfortunately, a marketing major has absolutely no edge over a smart finance, accounting or economics major in the job market – even for so called marketing jobs.
5. Companies are reluctant to invest in Marketing. In tough times, Marketers are not making a strong enough case for the longer term equity and payback.
6. Marketing Communications is too often an afterthought. Instead of planning and maintaining an integrated marketing communications program the tail is wagging the dog. The marketing department is playing catch up instead of leading.
7. Marketers are generally pretty bad at measuring results. In a tough economy, the CEO wants a return on an investment THIS YEAR. (Sad but true and the marketing maven isn’t ready to defend him/herself.) The quest for market share is being replaced by the much more one-to-one interface with consumers.
8. Market Research and the discipline of studying consumer buying behavior is losing too. Research methodology isn’t funded and analytics are coming from web activity and pop culture instead.
9. The sales function is finally getting some respect. The new hero in business is the impresario who can understand the market and match it with customer services and a bundle of value that starts with (drum roll) personal selling. Sales. Marketing isn’t fighting with Sales anymore. The sales function is now leading the way with data to support its quick reactions to the marketplace.
10. No more bandwagon. People are able to be much more selective about products that meet their preferences and needs. Being an individual is much cooler than being a conformist. So now it’s not about keeping up with the Jones’ but rather about having your own personal brand.
11. Culture trumps marketing. Southwest Airlines, Starbuck’s, Apple and Google are just a few companies that show us that living the brand is much more powerful than trying to apply a sort of ivory tower and remote marketing function.
12. Marketing isn’t magic. It can’t reverse an economic downturn or invent a breakthrough in a vacuum.

Still I hope there are marketers out there who believe the principles of marketing still apply. I hope a few enlightened companies understand that a systematic and routine application of marketing programming can and should be a part of a winning and profitable corporate strategy. Go Team.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Rant About Advertising Copy and Design

I’ve spend a good portion of my career in advertising. I was inspired by my father early on. He owned and operated a successful design studio. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some tremendous creative talent in New York, LA, Miami, Raleigh and St. Louis. Along the way, I’ve been a part of efforts to effectively communicate on behalf of cars, toys, frozen food, electronics and more. So I am perhaps more persnickety than most when it comes to evaluating advertising executions.

To give you an idea how I look at the art and craft of advertising allow me to share a critique of a real ad I encountered. It doesn’t matter what the product is – because it is in my judgment an utter failure as a piece of communication. It illustrates a bunch of violations to my own advertising sensibilities.

For starters:
The headline: “ABSOLUTELY THE BEST...PERIOD!” is meaningless puffery with ALL CAPS and Exclamation point! This empty claim in all capital letters with an exclamation point suggests that the speaker is screaming something urgent or important. The capital letters and the punctuation do nothing to reinforce a position, a brand promise or even a reason to read further. I hate ellipses - especially in a headline. It means something is going unsaid. When a copywriter starts using the exclamation point as a crutch, he usually can't stop. Sure enough in this particular ad a lame tag line is offered: “Home of the Brands You Trust!” The tagline has caps too but fewer. Should we assume the speaker is still screaming at us but not as loudly? Is this unsupported puffery less important that the headline puffery?

The body copy: The body copy is not body copy at all, it's catalogue copy. It just describes physical attributes and contents of the product. The copy begins with “Introducing” which is one of my least favorite words in ad copy. If the product is new and exciting you don’t need a drum roll. Phrases that begin "And Now," and "For extreme safety" are poorly structured. (Extreme safety? Really?) Advertising is supposed to offer information and help a prospective consumer differentiate a product. This ad fails again and again.

Logos and Marks: Companies sometimes become overwhelmed by legal issues, such as trade mark infringement and patent encroachments. It can sometimes result in wrecking the chances of telling a story. In the ad, we see no less than 13 registered trademarks. It has no less than nine logos. It might make the lawyers happy, but a page with that many logos and trademarks, is a communication that is crowded with client-directed mandatory elements. It reduces chances of getting a message across. To make matters worse, do we really need the five year warranty mark stamped in the sky?

The ad unit: The ad has too much going on. Most of it offers the reader nothing. Trade publication ads run into thousands of dollars invested. The creative team should be the first to beg for a smarter use of the space.

Product Photography: In this ad the product is shown in a static tabletop shot displaying the parts and pieces. The layout gets further cramped as it looks like the advertiser required an additional image of the product in use (an application shot). The product is for metalworking and offers dramatic sparks while in use. It could have been so much more engaging and dramatic. Unfortunately, the art direction is now completely hopeless. This ad is the quintessential attempt to “put ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag.” Of course, the toll free 800 number and website are included. (Will the people who answer the phone be ready and trained? Will the website really offer added value? Will the communications in those channels be a jumbled as this ad? I wonder.)

So many of these problems would have been avoided with a better process of thinking about the strategy and communication up-front. Responsible creative direction and respect for the reader are keys. The problems are a pretty good indicator that the advertiser is just going through the motions. The agency is just taking directives from the client. There is no fun, no passion and no energy. It’s no wonder advertising is getting a bad rap. It is no wonder that companies are not challenging there agencies to do breakthrough work. It is a shame and a waste of money. Fire the agency. Fire the product manager. Fire the stakeholders. Is everyone is asleep?