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166 posts categorized "Business Strategy-related"

May 30, 2011

Great Brands Inspire Customers

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a profile on Restoration Hardware and its reemergence as a great brand. Much of the article centered around the design and management style of Gary Friedman, Restoration Hardware ceo and chairman.

“Great brands don’t chase customers, customers chase great brands.” - Gary Friedman

The above quote was pulled from Gary explaining how Restoration Hardware, during the recession, resisted playing the low-price value game and instead, doubled-down its efforts to improve the company’s identity and uniqueness. Gary went on to say, “In bad economic times, quality becomes even more important, uniqueness becomes even more important—people need to be inspired to buy something.

Gary’s right.

Just like people need to be inspired to talk about brands... people also need to be inspired to buy something from brands.

What are you doing to inspire customers to buy something?

April 14, 2011

The Blessing of Simplicity

I recently happened upon a social media tip from an obviously knowledgeable person. Problem was, he had too much knowledge. “Too much knowledge, how could that be bad?,” you ask.

Too much knowledge becomes bad when it becomes a curse that prevents smart people from sharing smart advice that less knowledgeable people can understand. Case in point, this social media tip found online:

"Use the friendship paradox to identify the social brokers at opaque target markets. Identifying people closer to the center of the social graph delivers higher ROI when evangelizing.” [name withheld to protect the guilty]

Obviously, this social media expert has lots of knowledge. He unfortunately suffers from the "Curse of Knowledge."

Chip and Dan Heath wrote about the Curse of Knowledge in MADE TO STICK. Here’s how they explained it,

Here’s the great cruelty of the Curse of Knowledge: The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. But notice we said ‘unnatural,’ not ‘impossible.’ Experts just need to devote a little time to applying the basic principles of stickiness.

The antidote to the “Curse of Knowledge” is the Blessing of Simplicity. Using simple, easy-to-understand words will make you look smarter because you’ve communicated your complex advice in an easy-to-digest way.

Don’t confuse simple words with dumbing something down. It’s actually harder to use simple, jargon-free words than it is to use supposedly smart and knowledgeable words.

For example, here’s another social media tip I found online that probably says the same thing the “friendship paradox” quote was trying to say,

Remember that this is social. Don’t approach it as an opportunity to sell, sell, sell. It’s about building relationships and trust – things that take time and come from reliable and repeatable actions. Treat social media just as you would a social function in real life.” [name withheld to not make the guilty guy look guiltier]

Ahh ... much easier to understand.

March 28, 2011

Competing for Share of Consciousness

The Brand Autopsy Archive Project
1,400 posts since December of 2003. That’s a lot of HMOs (hot marketing opinions) served up on the Brand Autopsy blog. For this week, we’re going to revisit five vintage posts from the Brand Autopsy Archives. Enjoy...

BACKSTORY | March 28, 2011
I remember being homesick in March of 2004. It was just a few months after I had moved from Seattle to Austin to work with Whole Foods Market. Luckily, work travels brought me back home to Seattle. I stuck around a few extra days to visit some old haunts and finally got around to reading the excellent book, THE VISIONARY’S HANDBOOK. This post shares one of the many thought-provoking paradoxes that every marketer at a growth company should read and be inspired to think/act differently.

Originally posted on March 24, 2004

While on vacation in Seattle, I’m taking time to catch up on some reading and some thinking. Currently, I’m chewing on the paradoxical wisdom written by Watts Wacker and Jim Taylor in The Visionary’s Handbook. (Admittedly, I am a laggard in reading this book as it was first published in 2000. I really hate being a laggard!)

In one chapter, the authors talk about competing for "Share of Consciousness" with consumers.

“To win consciousness share, the message has to tie to the product to the experiences of the consumers you want to reach, so it can enter the full dimensionality of their lives. The message can’t just celebrate the product – products are everywhere.

You can also create consciousness share by never forgetting that all great consumers – the ones who set markets and launch new product lines – are acutely aware of themselves as markets of one. Fail to win a share of their attention by being innovative at the same time you are pursuing a share of the larger market consciousness, and you’ll be sacrificing the future for the present.

The largest percentage of the market you are ever going to attract occurs at the very moment you begin to lose the customer who made it happen.”

All marketers working for companies that are in full throttle growth mode should re-read and "chew" on this statement again: “The largest percentage of the market you are ever going to attract occurs at the very moment you begin to lose the customer who made it happen.”

WHOA!!! That is a “chewy” statement.

February 25, 2011

Revolutionary Political Change


Peggy Noonan was writing about political change but it applies to business change.

Almost all revolutionary change inside a business is a battle of internal politics pitting the young versus the old. Young ideas versus old ideas. Younger generation versus the older generation.

“All revolutions ... are about the young versus the old. The young want revolution and progress, the old are inclined toward stability and peace.” -- Peggy Noonan

January 25, 2011

A Lesson on Scale and Compromise


Looks like the Starbucks Petri Dish experiment has ended for 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea. According to reports, Starbucks is returning/rebranding this location to become a Starbucks Coffee, again.

When 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea opened up in July 2009, I was quick to call it a one-off experiment for Starbucks to relearn some of the personal touches it lost due to making so many compromises in order to grow to over 16,000 locations in 50-plus countries around the world. (We’ve gone over all these compromises on past Starbucks postings so read-up if need be.)

One of the comments
in my post about this petri dish experiment didn't understand why Starbucks couldn't scale the 15th Ave. Coffee concept. My response was a short Lesson on Scale and Compromise...

DATE: July 2009
Why Starbucks can't scale its 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea concept...

my original comment:
Starbucks already scaled this [concept] into becoming the Starbucks we know today. Problem with scaling is COMPROMISE. Anytime a business “mass produces” something, compromises occur.

Think of a recipe for homemade cookies. This recipe yields two dozen of the most delicious cookies ever. Scale that recipe to yield 80,000 dozen cookies every day and lots changes. Industrial ovens replace the household oven used. Bulk ingredients replace hand-picked ingredients. Complex systematic procedures insure each cookie is the same diameter, the same weight, the same everything when scale happens. After enough compromises and changes take place from scaling, the taste of the cookie changes. It just doesn’t taste the same.

I bet McDonald’s used to make a very good hamburger. Not today. Scale happened.
I bet Quiznos used to make a very good sandwich. Not today. Scale happened.
I bet Taco Bell used to make a very good taco. Not today. Scale happened.

Very few companies retain its specialness after it decides to scale. At some point, too many compromises are made for the sake of growth and all those nuanced compromises, when added together, result in a product that no longer resembles the original intent. That’s exactly where Starbucks is today. Maybe 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea will teach Starbucks all the compromises they’ve made to grow have truly changed the original intent of the company.

Business Wisdom from Drug Dealers

I recently gave a VSOP ... Very Special One-time Performance ... at the ProductCamp 6 event in Austin, TX.

ProductCamp, like its BarCamp relative, is an unconference gathering of marketers, mainly product marketers, who network and learn from each other. It's a free event but the price of admission is participation by either leading a session, talking shop with others, and or volunteering to make the event run smoothly. I highly recommend you learning more about ProductCamp and definitely participating in one happening near you.

My VSOP for ProductCamp was titled, BUSINESS WISDOM FROM DRUG DEALERS. Long-time Brand Autopsy readers know this is territory I've covered before. Fans of 37signals know its founders recommend emulating drug dealers to find business success. While the topic is oddball, the lessons to be learned from street corner sellers are practical.

No video was taken of my presentation. However, you can re-live this talk by watching the following reenactment. (To recreate this prezo, I recorded one-take audio of me giving color commentary to the slides and to the transitions for the previously recorded video ditties shown during the prezo. Click play and all will make sense.)


>> Direct link to the video
Business Wisdom from Drug Dealers
Before you dismiss this as outlandish and ridiculous – think for a second. To build a successful venture, drug dealers must design their business and develop their products in the same ways legitimate businesses do. Drug dealers, like marketers, must address issues ranging from Launching New Products to Customer Acquisition Strategies to Brand Dilution to Procurement. In this session, you'll learn vital and actionable marketing insights from a most unlikely source, drug dealers.
John Moore is a former "drug" dealer. For eight years he worked as a retail marketer with Starbucks Coffee selling an addictive drug, caffeine. These days, John leads Brand Autopsy, a marketing firm that consults with businesses aspiring to become a beloved brand. USA Today, Best Buy, Kraft, Little Caesars, and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association have all benefitted from John's past experience as a "drug" dealer.

January 16, 2011


Long-time readers know I read lots of business books. Over the years I've written reviews, shared "money quotes," and done kooky dramatic readings of interesting business books. In 2011, we're resurrecting the money quotes method of sharing worthwhile snippets.

First up are marketing-related money quotes from the recently published, NOW... BUILD A GREAT BUSINESS from Mark Thompson & Brain Tracy. Nothing in this book is groundbreaking. However, it serves as solid refresher material for owners and managers of emerging/enduring businesses.

For example, on page 21 the authors list vital questions businesses must ask to achieve ongoing success...

Leadership: "What results are expected of you, and what do your people need form you to contribute their full potential to you business?"

Strategic Plan: "What is your plan to generate sales and profitability, and how is it working? Could there be a better way?"

Team Building: "How do you attract and keep great people and inspire them to perform at their best in achieving business results?"

Product: "What are great at building, who are your ideal customers, and what product or service qualities will attract more of them?"

Marketing: "What is your competitive advantage--that factor that makes your product or service superior to anything else available, and how do you convey this message to your potential customers?"

Sales: "What must your potential customers be convinced of so that they want to buy from you rather than your competitor?" [SOURCE]

There are more knowledge nuggets from the book, including some marketing-related advice shared in this slideshare prezo ... enjoy.

[NOTE: I often receive free copies of biz books from publishers and publicists. I was sent a free copy of NOW... BUILD A GREAT BUSINESS to riffle, read, blog about, or use as kindling. The embedded amazon links are NOT affiliate links. That ain't how I roll, dig?]

January 06, 2011

Jack Welch on Competitive Advantage


"If you don't have a competitive advantage, don't compete." -- Jack Welch

December 28, 2010

2010 Novel Piece Prize for Business Strategy Luminance

The NOVEL PIECE PRIZE award recognizes excellence in business book writing. The first recipient was Youngme Moon. The second recipient is celebrated below...

Why do service firms ranging from ad agencies to consulting businesses to creative professionals succumb to the pitch process of giving away free ideas in order to win new business? This year's recipient of the Novel Piece Prize in Business Strategy Luminance answers that question as well as provides a framework for all types of businesses to use in order to profitably gain new business and new customers in the book, THE WIN WITHOUT PITCHING MANIFESTO.


Blair Enns, business development advisor to marketing communication firms, believes creative professionals have become addicted to the frenzied adrenaline rush of the pitch presentation. According to Enns, this is counter-productive to beginning working relationships with clients because "at a time when we should be conversing, we are instead cloistered away preparing for the one-way conversation called the presentation."

Writing in THE WIN WITHOUT PITCHING MANIFESTO, Enns derides the practice of service firms giving away free ideas in proposals and presentations to prospective clients as flawed. He equates such an arrangement to that of a doctor and a patient. "A client," writes Enns, "asking for unpaid ideas in a written proposal is like a patient asking for diagnosis and prescription from a doctor he refuses to pay."

Enns contends clients, in many instances, come to service firms with self-diagnosed problems and with surgical procedures already identified to help restore their business health. Unfortunately, Enns says, "[service firms] are far more likely to proceed with such a flawed approach than any medical practitioner." Enns urges services firms to "view the act of prescription without diagnosis for what it is: malpractice."

To orbit the new business pitch process hairball, Enns instructs service firms to develop a "Deep Expertise" by making "The Difficult Business Decision" of choosing a tightly-focused specialty. From there, firms must "articulate that focus via a claim of expertise" and "work to quickly add proof" to the claim. Then, service firms must diligently work to achieve a "true thought leadership position" and use its earned expertise to "trigger in the client the idea that perhaps his performance in a certain area could be improved."

Enns readily admits it isn't always possible to derail the pitch process. In those situations, Enns advises service firms to "gain the inside track" because the "default assumption should be that somebody always has the inside track." According to Enns' strong position, if a service firm cannot derail the pitch process nor gain the inside track, the firm should walk away from the potential business.

The most widely applicable business lesson from THE WIN WITHOUT PITCHING MANIFESTO involves pricing power. Undifferentiated services firms, like undifferentiated products, have no pricing power because abundant alternatives exist. The simple business rule is: the more crowded a market, the more likely low price becomes the differentiator.

According to Enns, "winning while charging more is the ultimate benefit of effective positioning." The more selective a firm is in what they do (positioning), whom they sell to (prospective clients/customers), and how they deliver services (proof of expertise), the greater pricing power a firm will enjoy.

Please join me in celebrating the work of Blair Enns as the recipient of the Novel Piece Prize in Business Strategy Luminance for 2010.

December 23, 2010

Walt Disney on Business Success

A huge hat tip to Drew McLellan for finding and sharing this tasty nugget of business wisdom from Walt Disney...


"Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends." - Walt Disney

November 20, 2010

Economics Lessons Learned from Seinfeld

This is cool. Economic professors from Eastern Illinois University are using classic scenes from the Seinfeld television show to teach us economic lessons.
(Hat tip: BusinessWeek article)

For example, we can learn about cost-benefit analysis and game theory from the episode titled, THE BARBER. From THE MUFFIN TOPS episode, we learn about economics bads and substitute goods.



Most of the episodes are listed. Have fun learning about economics at...

October 17, 2010

Frictionless Friction Theory

Three economists won a 2010 Nobel Prize for developing a theory based upon "markets with search frictions" to explain why people remain unemployed despite plenty of job vacancies.

For non-economists like me (and like most everyone reading this blog), I can't begin to understand "markets with search frictions."

Thankfully ... Justin Lahart and Jason Lee, from the Wall Street Journal, explain this with simple text and simple visuals. I found the following worthy of a just-created 2010 Novel Piece Prize for Luminance in Economic Explanation.

Justin writes...

"Peter Diamond on Monday shared the Nobel memorial prize in economies for research into the difficulty buyers and sellers face in finding each other and how that can disrupt a marketplace. The laureates showed that such 'search frictions' can lead to increases in unemployment, despite classic models of supply and demand.

For example, if your inability to sell your house keep s you from taking a job elsewhere, that can have an outsize effect on the job market. In a seminal 1982 paper, Mr. Diamond used a strikingly simple parable to illustrate the point — a parable that applies to today's unemployment problem." [source: Wall Street Journal, Oct. 16, 2010]

Jason draws...

Friction theory

Friction at work

Congratulations Justin and Jason on being 2010 Novel Piece Prize winners for Luminance in Economic Explanation.

October 09, 2010

Henry Ford Defines a "Poor Business"

Huge hat tip to @Laermer ... nice find Richard!


A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business." -- Henry Ford

October 04, 2010

THE MESH | in less than 300 words

The following continues my irregular postings of business book summaries. I’m striving to keep these summaries to less than 300 words.

The Mesh
THE MESH | summarized in about 300 words

How do you categorize upstart businesses like ThredUP, Zipcar, Crushpad, and Etsy? Lisa Gansky, founder and CEO of numerous Internet companies, gives these businesses the label of being a "Mesh" business.

In her just-published book, THE MESH: Why the Future of Business is Sharing, Lisa Gansky explains the characteristics guiding Mesh businesses. She uses "The Mesh" as a metaphor "to describe a whole new phase of information-based services" that "share information to facilitate access to new customers, customer preferences, and goods."

The four characteristics of Mesh businesses are: Sharable, Smartphone friendly, Tangible products, and Socially-networked.

The basic offering of a Mesh business is "something that can be shared, within a community, market, or value chain." For example, ThredUP is a kids clothes swapping business where members, on the ThredUP website, list shirts and blouses they want to swap and want to wear. You choose, you ship, you swap, and your child wears something new.


Smartphone friendly

Since Mesh businesses are designed for the web-savvy, being accessible to conduct transactions by a smartphone is a must. Zipcar, a car-sharing business operating in 49 states, makes it easy for its members to use smartphones to rent a car for a few hours.


Tangible products

The Mesh, according to Lisa Gansky, "enables businesses to profit handsomely by streamlining access to physical goods and services."

It's not easy to get into the wine-making business. Meticulously tending to grapevines isn't an option for most, nor is having all the wine-making equipment needed to make and bottle wine. Crushpad gives regular wine lovers access to high-quality grapes and the equipment plus expertise needed to make and bottle their own wine.



One of the more compelling characteristics of Mesh businesses is how they've baked social media into how they engage with customers. Etsy, an online seller of homemade arts, crafts, and goods, has thrived because it fosters a community of engaged buyers and sellers who use social media to tell others about the cool stuff for sale made by a passionate craftsman.


Of course, "many Mesh businesses are at the beginning of their life cycles" so time will tell if the Mesh recipe is truly characteristic of business success today and tomorrow.


[NOTE: I often receive free copies of biz books from publishers and publicists. The publisher, Portfolio, sent me a free copy of THE MESH to review.]

October 02, 2010

Advertising versus Advocating


People may talk about a brilliant advertising campaign, but they will never advocate an ad the way they advocate a product they love." --Douglas Rushkoff

September 20, 2010

Statistics are like a Bikini

Alan Murray has written a brilliant primer and an insightful reminder on what it takes to be a great manager. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO MANAGEMENT is a must-read for anyone in business.

Murray shares "lasting lessons from the best leadership minds of our time" by synthesizing, into bite-size chunks, business wisdom from Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, Clayton Christenson, Jim Collins, and many others. (My "dog-ear score" for this book is off the charts.)

I absolutely love the quote about statistics he shares from Aaron Levenstein, former Baruch College business professor. Brilliant, just brilliant.

"Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is interesting. But what they hide is vital." -- Aaron Levenstein

September 11, 2010

Best Quote on Strategy vs. Execution

In business, what’s more important … Strategy or Execution?

Books have been written about it.

Articles have sounded off on it.

Practitioners have pontificated about it.

But Morris Chang, CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, answers it in a mere 10 words.

Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.” — Morris Chang

August 25, 2010

Gary Hamel on Business Failure


The single biggest reason companies fail is they overinvest in what is, as opposed to what might be.” -- Gary Hamel

August 16, 2010

Unsuck Your Business Jargon

In 2005 a brilliant book, WHY BUSINESS PEOPLE SPEAK LIKE IDIOTS, skewered the overuse and reliance of business jargon. The gist of the book says...

“Jargon is not just about using big word to make small points. Sometimes it’s about using big words to make no point at all. For example, business idiots have figured about that when they don’t have a real strategy, they can just string together a bunch of nonsense and make one up.”

“One of the reasons business people use fifty-cent words to make a five-cent point is that they think using plain language makes them look less intelligent. That’s why we say things like ‘Initiate a project action plan’ rather than ‘Let’s get started.’ We fear that straightforward language might make us look dumb.”

To assist jargon-using business idiots in escaping vagary and verbosity for clarity and crispness is Unsuck It. It’s a crowdsourced app that offers everyday words to replace vapid business lexicon.

Try it. Contribute to it. And by all means ... USE IT!!!


Kudos to Humungo for the heads-up.

July 15, 2010

TOUGH LOVE | The Recipe for a Strong Brand

One of the more interesting scenes in the TOUGH LOVE screenplay is when Vivian Kane, Denny Williams, and John Coffey spend an afternoon talking with Galaxy Coffee customers and employees.

For Vivian, the company cheerleader who thinks Galaxy can do wrong, hearing first-hand opinions of disillusioned customers and front-line employees changed how she views Galaxy Coffee.

While enjoying beers and conversation at the Tophill Pub, Vivian and Denny start talking about the practice of branding. Vivian’s approach to building a brand is unique and steeped deep in the Galaxy Coffee culture.

Being strategies_pg77


July 13, 2010

TOUGH LOVE | No Business is Perfect

Vivian Kane is a principal character in the TOUGH LOVE screenplay. She has worked in the Galaxy Coffee marketing department for over a decade and the Galaxy Coffee company culture runs through her veins. She’s a company cheerleader all the way.

There’s a scene in TOUGH LOVE where Vivian chides a former employee, Denny Williams, for criticizing the actions of Galaxy Coffee. Denny responds back that no business is perfect and the reason he is giving the company “tough love” is because he still loves the company.

The idea of “no business is perfect” is a theme we’ve discussed before on the Brand Autopsy blog. It’s also discussed in the Marketer’s Notes section at the end of the TOUGH LOVE screenplay. Here’s a snippet from the business lessons section of the script:

#13 | Marketer's Notes -- "No business is perfect."

Let’s face it, no business is perfect. NONE. Business is a game of progress, not perfection. No business will be perfect. It's an impossibly unattainable goal. But while that goal is unattainable, the most endearing and enduring businesses seem to always aspire to reach perfection. They always make progressive steps to improve their business and how their business connects with people. Sure, they will stumble along the way. But the true measure of a company is how it recovers and forges ahead making progress along the way to overcome its mistakes.

source: Business Lesson #13 from TOUGH LOVE

July 12, 2010

You know you have a great marketing idea when...

In SAVE THE CAT! STRIKES BACK, Blake Snyder, accomplished screenwriter, shares “seven warnings signs” a writer has a great idea for a screenplay. It’s a good list and with a little massaging, Blake’s list also works for marketers. Here's my twist on Blake's list:

You know you have a great marketing idea when...

#1. You love talking about the idea with anyone, anywhere.

#2. You have no fear someone will steal your idea.

#3. You feel giddy knowing others view you as a smart marketer.

#4. You know the more you work on the idea, the better it gets.

#5. You poke at potential flaws in the idea, knowing it’s an opportunity to make the idea stronger.

#6. You have researched the idea and know no one has done it like you plan to do it.

#7. You know the idea is tactically doable and strategically reliable.

July 06, 2010

TOUGH LOVE | Harvard Business Review connection

I recently read the Howard Schultz interview in the July/August issue of the Harvard Business Review. The interview details the drive, decline, and resurrection of Starbucks. It’s an informative read that touches upon many business themes dramatized in my TOUGH LOVE screenplay about “Galaxy Coffee.”

Interesting quotes from Howard Schultz and TOUGH LOVE correlations include:

“Being the CEO of a public company over the past couple of years has been difficult. And lonely.” — Howard Schultz

David Pearl, the fictitious CEO of Galaxy Coffee, experienced the same difficult feelings of loneliness as he fought to reverse the decline of Galaxy. To help overcome those feelings of loneliness and self-doubt, David, during a few pivotal scenes, recites a saying his father instilled in him as a child, “Get up. Head up. Never give up.”

“The issues of social media, digital media, and getting smart about the rules of engagement emerged as a tremendous weakness for the company.” — Howard Schultz

Similar to Starbucks, Galaxy Coffee wasn’t smart about social media. Internal memos and videos were leaked and used by detractors to belittle the company. On numerous occasions, a Galaxy Coffee Public Relations Executive failed to properly coach David Pearl on the new rules of engagement when talking to the media about the company. The result was Galaxy’s reputation suffered greatly and the company was positioned as being out-of-touch.

“Everything we did more or less worked. And that produced a level of hubris that caused us to overlook what was coming.” — Howard Schultz

Galaxy suffered the same fate of egotism and neglect. The company never knew losing and when the losses started to mount, Galaxy didn’t know how to react. Worse yet, because of hubris, Galaxy didn’t realize how disconnected the company had become with its customers and employees. Ultimately, egotism led to the decline of Galaxy Coffee. (What exactly happens to Galaxy Coffee? Gotta read the TOUGH LOVE screenplay to find out.)

“The marketplace was saying, ‘Starbucks needs to undo all these company-owned stores and franchise the system.’ That would have given us a war chest and significantly increased return on capital. It’s a good argument economically. It’s a good argument for shareholder value.” — Howard Schultz

This is exactly the argument made by activist investor Conner Langley as he amassed Galaxy stock in hopes of gaining a position on the Galaxy Board of Directors. The “Langley Plan” called for turning 1,500 Galaxy locations into franchised stores. In the end, Galaxy’s Board of Directors decided not to pursue the “Langley Plan.” Instead, Galaxy went in a different direction, which increased shareholder value much more substantially and quickly. (I can’t reveal the specific direction Galaxy chose because that would spoil the TOUGH LOVE story for you.)

June 30, 2010

TOUGH LOVE | “Hiring Somebodies”

In the TOUGH LOVE business book screenplay, there’s a scene where two former Galaxy Coffee marketers, Denny Williams and John Coffey, make an observation about the importance of front-line employees. Their observation came after visiting various Galaxy Coffee locations and noticing how some locations were energetic and others were lifeless.

Turns out the quality of the employee is the difference-maker between an energetic store and a lifeless one. It can also make the difference between a loyal customer and an infrequent customer.

Here’s what Denny and John said in the TOUGH LOVE script...


NOTE: In writing this scene, I was inspired by the following quotes...

“HR should be every company's ‘killer app.’ What could possibly be more important than who gets hired, developed, promoted, or moved out the door?”Jack Welch [source]

“I have yet to find a company that earned high levels of customer loyalty without first earning high levels of employee loyalty.”Frederick Reichheld [source]

“Anybody can pour a cup of coffee, rent out cars, sell pairs of jeans. Except, of course, they can’t. The [businesses] that are the best at these things take ‘anybodies’ off the street and make them their own ‘somebodies.’”Alex Frankel [source]

June 27, 2010

SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE | in less than 300 words

The following continues my irregular postings of business book summaries. I’m striving to keep these summaries to less than 300 words. Sometimes its doable, other times not. This summary is closer to 400 words. Enjoy

SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE | summarized in nearly 300 words

The failure rate of new Amish businesses is astoundingly low. According to a recent study, less than 5% of Amish businesses fail within their first five years. That’s astounding considering 50% of small businesses fail within their first five years.

Why do Amish businesses succeed while others fail?

In SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive, Eric Wesner explains why. However, the answers are surprisingly unsurprising.

The Amish, as a way of background, are deeply religious and live a traditional lifestyle that avoids most modern technology. Their daily life focuses on family, faith, integrity, and simplicity. Those same virtues also guide the daily business practices of the Amish, here’s how:

Amish Vision Puts the Why Before the How
Growth and financial success are not why Amish businesses exist. Instead, sustaining a growing family and supporting their church community are the reasons why the Amish start businesses. According to Wesner, “… the WHY springs drive and ambition. The WHY checks a person who is in danger of overstepping limits or sacrificing integrity. And fulfilling the WHY is what brings real joy and contentment in the long run.

Maintain a Learner’s Attitude
The Amish businessman is always seeking knowledge. Their learner’s attitude begins early in their business life. The Amish gain hands-on experience in their chosen trade before they start their own business. From there, the Amish will seek out mentor relationships with respected community business leaders to continue their business education. The successful Amish entrepreneur views every learning opportunity, including learning from competitors and customers, as vital sources of business knowledge.

Follow Time-Honored Principles
Hard work. Providing quality goods at a fair price. Treating employees and customers with respect and dignity. Those are the basic principles that guide the daily business practices of the Amish. These principles may not be trendy today but they have stood the test of time and when practiced, these principles, as exemplified by the Amish, will guide a business to lasting success.

Slowly but Surely
Fast growth isn’t in the vocabulary of the Amish businessman. Growing slowly but surely is how the Amish approach business growth. Maintaining quality before growth is of upmost importance according to Amish businessman Dennis Miller, “I’m always looking to grow, and I’m always looking to … get into new specialty markets. But your employees have to be trained … and it’s real easy to overcommit, and then your quality starts lacking.

Eric Wesner details more principles guiding the successful Amish businessman in SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE. However, do not expect anything overly complicated because, as Wesner puts it, “the lessons of the Amish are simple [but] simple does not mean easy.


[NOTE: I often receive free copies of biz books from publishers and publicists. However, I spent my money for my copy of SUCCESS MADE SIMPLE.]

April 15, 2010

Emulate Drug Dealers (part 2)


The other day we looked at the advice from the founders of 37signals who write in their book, REWORK, “Emulate drug dealers. Make your product so good, so addictive, so 'can't miss’ that giving customers a small, free taste makes them come back with cash in hand.”

We also shared some more business wisdom from drug dealers on surpassing customer expectations, wholesale buying strategies, and selecting profitable customers.

If this idea of emulating drug dealers has you intrigued, reacquaint yourself with a vintage Brand Autopsy post sharing business lessons learned from the movie about a Harlem drug lord from the early 1970s, AMERICAN GANGTSER.


American Gangster synopsis:
Following the death of his employer and mentor, Bumpy Johnson, Frank Lucas establishes himself as the number one importer of heroin in the Harlem district of Manhattan. He does so by buying heroin directly from the source in South East Asia and he comes up with a unique way of importing the drugs into the United States. As a result, his product is superior to what is currently available on the street and his prices are lower. His alliance with the New York Mafia ensures his position. It is also the story of a dedicated and honest policeman, Richie Roberts, who heads up a joint narcotics task force with the Federal government. Based on a true story. [SOURCE]


Mentors Matter

Launching New Products
Brand Dilution
Leadership Qualities
The Loudest is the Weakest
Winners Can Quit

April 13, 2010

Emulate Drug Dealers


In the book REWORK, the authors, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson (co-founders of 37signals) recommend emulating drug dealers by offering free samples to customers. Drug dealers, as Jason and David point out, know by giving away free samples of a “product so good” and “so addictive,” customers will “come back with cash in hand.”

Businesses, according to the authors, shouldn’t “be afraid to give a little away for free” so long as they are confident in the products/services they sell. As cited in the book, ice cream shops confidently give away free samples knowing it will most likely result in a sale. Car dealers do the same by allowing potential buyers to test drive a car before buying it.

Why stop at emulating drug dealers by only giving away free samples?

Businesses have a lot more to learn from the business practices of drug dealers. From procurement of product to acquiring customers to satisfying customers, the parallels between a well-run drug dealing operation and a successful business run thick.

This is territory we’ve covered on the Brand Autopsy blog. In early 2004, we ran a 7-part series on “Street Corner Selling” which shared drug dealing business lessons from Bruce Jacobs' book, DEALING CRACK.

The lessons have held up well. Read for yourself...

Street Corner Selling Curriculum:

Lesson #1: Customer Acquisition
Don’t Act Desperate

Lesson #2: Ten Minute Rule
Surpassing Customer Expectations
Lesson #3: Procurement
Wholesale Buying Strategies
Lesson #4: Merchandising
Maximizing Sales Through Bundling
Lesson #5: Angel Customers and Demon Customers
Selecting Profitable Customers
Lesson #6: Developing Enthusiastically Satisfied Customers (pt. 1)
Generating Customer Referrals
Lesson #7: Developing Enthusiastically Satisfied Customers (pt. 2)
Making it Easier for Customers to Buy

March 24, 2010

Thought Starters from Tom Fishburne


By day, Tom Fishburne is a managing director with Method. By night, Tom is a cartoonist appealing to the “improbable audience of brand managers.” By way of SXSWi, I attended Tom’s session on Innovation Lessons from Cartooning. Excellent session with lots of chewy takeaways, including:

Deliberate Exclusivity
“It’s more meaningful to be provocative to a few than to be broadly boring to many.”

Innovation as Instigators
“Innovation when done right can spark conversations.”
“Truly innovative ideas require innovative business models.”
“How you share your innovative ideas is more important than the ideas themselves.”

New Ideas
“Unfortunately, most businesses are equipped with more ‘cutting tools’ than ‘growing tools’ and too many meaningful ideas never see the light of day.”

Recessionary Times
“Recessions are litmus tests for worthwhile brands. If your brand isn’t worthwhile, it won’t last.”

All quotes from TOM FISHBURNE.

March 09, 2010

Crisis as a Turning Point

In my readings far outside the business world, I read this yesterday:

Crisis is a word that is often mistaken to mean tragedy or threat. A truer understanding is that crisis means a turning point.

Nice. While not written for business, the implications for businesses are real and aplenty.

Dominos faced a crisis with the realization their pizza lacked zest. They responded and changed course by changing their pizza recipe.

Toyota is facing yet another crisis associated with quality issues. Clearly, Toyota is at a major turning point. Fingers are being pointed that Toyota must change the course of its company culture to emerge from this mess a stronger and healthier business.

Remember, a crisis isn’t a distraction. It’s an opportunity. An opportunity to question business practices and an opportunity to make decisions so that a company can become beloved again.

February 15, 2010

THE BUSINESS TREE | in less than 300 words

I love business analogies. Connecting familiar, yet very different, concepts helps to bring about greater understanding to complicated topics. For example, I compare my marketing services of “Second Opinions” to that of a doctor. I’ve also compared the growth problems Starbucks is having to that of a garden needing weeding and pruning before it can achieve healthy growth again.

A credit union I know uses an interesting analogy to describe how they prep for future growth of opening new branches by saying, “Before we put up branches, we put down roots.” In other words, they lay down a foundation of community involvement long before they build a new branch of their credit union.

Interestingly, at the time I heard that branches/roots line, I was reading THE BUSINESS TREE written by Hank Moore. In this book, Hank makes the analogy of growing a business to growing a tree.

It’s a smart perspective and perfect for inclusion in my on-going series of business book summaries in less than 300 words.


THE BUSINESS TREE | summarized in less than 300 words

A business is like a tree. The roots of a “business tree” symbolize the strategic focus and future direction the organization is designed to grow. The trunk stands for the entire body of knowledge a business possesses. Branches stand for each department within a business. Twigs represent outside suppliers. And leaves on each branch symbolize employees.

With proper nourishment, the “business tree” will achieve healthy growth by growing steadily, optimally, and profitably. With neglect, the “business tree” will never reach its potential and eventually die.

To “weather the forces of change” that naturally occur in the marketplace, the healthiest “business trees” have a management culture that takes the time “to understand how the company has grown” and analyzes “the relationship of each branch, twig, and leaf to the others.”

Healthy, nourished, and growing business trees always:

1. Give customers products/services they cannot get elsewhere

2. Offer products/services at reasonable prices

3. Have leaders whose can-do spirit seeps throughout the total organization

4. Create an employee culture based upon trust and empowerment

5. Respond to the always-shifting winds in the marketplace

6. Foster collaboration and knowledge-sharing between all departments

7. Realize success is not an entitlement, but rather the by-product of smart and ethical growth strategies

Just like all healthy trees grow, all healthy businesses will grow. Proper nourishment is the key and companies that “plan to grow and grow by the plan” will build strong roots with a dense trunk, creating a regenerative and expanding system of branches, twigs, and leaves.


[NOTE: I often receive free copies of biz books from publishers and publicists. However, I spent my money for my copy of THE BUSINESS TREE.]

February 08, 2010

Fit to Flexible (the skinny edition)

Todd Sattersten has written a smart ebook, FIT TO FLEXIBLE, about pricing strategy. He blends together research from economists, theories from businesses strategists, and writings from journalists to concisely share four lessons on how businesses have more flexibility in pricing than ever before.

FIXED TO FLEXIBLE is good lunchtime read. (Gotta love it when you can digest thought-provoking business knowledge in the time it takes to eat a turkey sandwich.)

Not sure its possible to condense Todd’s message further. I like a challenge... so here’s my attempt to share the gist of FIXED TO FLEXIBLE in the time it takes to swig a double shot of espresso.

“The space between price and cost is margin.”
Margin is everything. Without margins, a business fails to make a profit and is destined to die. With margins, a business can thrive and is certain to invite competitors.
“Margin is a choice.” A business can work to raise prices or lower prices. To raise prices requires a strategy where the experience a product/service delivers is worth paying more for and is so uniquely special, competitors cannot adequately replicate. To lower prices requires a strategy where the longer a business does business, the less it costs them to be in business.
source | FIT TO FLEXIBLE (Todd Sattersten)

January 08, 2010

Less Than 300 Project | TRADE-OFF

Business books have been a mainstay topic on the Brand Autopsy blog. We’ve done straight-up reviews, shared summaries, and done inane dramatic readings. This year, I plan to share concise summaries of most every business book I read. Concise as in... less than 300 words.

We kick off the Less Than 300 Project with Kevin Maney’s worthwhile book, TRADE-OFF: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t.


TRADE-OFF | summarized in less than 300 words

It’s common knowledge consumers make conscious decisions to trade up with some purchases and trade down with other purchases. Kevin Maney approaches this as a trade-off where consumers “make trade-offs between the fidelity of an experience and its convenience.”

Products and services with high "fidelity" have an aura about them and are valued as delivering remarkable experiences. Cost, in the broadest terms, for anything possessing high fidelity qualities becomes irrelevant. Benchmark example: anything from Apple and other brands with high margins.

On the other hand, "convenience" refers to products and services that are easily obtainable in every aspect from low cost to widespread availability. Benchmark example: McDonald’s and other low margin/big volume brands.

The worst place for a brand to be positioned is in what Maney calls the “fidelity belly.” In this spot, a brand is neither viewed as having fidelity nor being convenient, and thus has no marketability.

The best place for a brand to be positioned is either having “super-fidelity” or “super-convenience.” For those few brands fortunate to have such positioning, the difficulty comes in maintaining their “super-fidelity” or “super-convenience” status as competitors are eager to displace those winning products and services.


[NOTE: I often receive free copies of biz books from publishers and publicists. However, I spent my money for my copy of TRADE-OFF.]

November 22, 2009

WOMMA Conference: Recap Presentation

*** Note, my WOM Enthusiast hat is on with this post. ***

When you return from a conference chock-full of insights, it’s difficult to share everything you learned. Sure, you can transcribe your notes but your notes are bound to have some holes. You can also pull insights from summaries other attendees have posted on their blogs.

Or ... you whittle through the thousands of tweets from attendees to carve out a more complete list of insights. That’s the path I’ve chosen to take after returning from WOMMA’s Creating Talkable Brands conference.

Over 470 attendees shared 3,600+ tweets (.pdf download) with the #WOMMA hashtag during the three-day conference. I’ve whittled down the 3,600+ tweets to a more digestible collection of 165 tweets and compiled them into this SlideShare presentation. Enjoy.

November 11, 2009

Beloved Companies Make The Right Decisions

As a customer loyalty-focused marketer, Jeanne Bliss has been in the marketing game with some notable brands: Lands’ End, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Microsoft, and Mazda. She has seen how making the wrong decisions can lead to forging customer disloyalty and how making the right decisions lead to fostering customer loyalty.

I’ve known Jeanne for a couple years. Smart gal. And her latest book, I LOVE YOU MORE THAN MY DOG, is a smart read for businesses wanting to earn loyalty from customers. (Since Jeanne is a friend, she gave me a copy to read. Friends are nice that way. Thanks Jeanne.)

Jeanne is onto something worth reading by framing her book around exploring five decisions company’s make (or don’t make) to become a beloved brand.

To summarize key points from the book, let’s give it the Brand Autopsy "WHAT? – SO WHAT? – WHAT NOW?" treatment...


“When you make a decision, it results in action. And the accumulation of those decisions and actions become how people describe you and think of you. It becomes your ‘story.’”

“As customers and employees, we crave what beloved companies deliver. They enable people to decide and act from a corner of their brain that is congruent with doing the right thing. In doing so, they build an organization with energy and spirit that draws customers to them.”

“[There] are five decisions that set beloved companies apart. These five decisions reveal who they are and what they value.”

Decision #1:
Decide to Trust Customers and Employees

“By deciding to trust customers, [companies] are freed from extra rules, policies, and layers of bureaucracy that create a barrier between them and their customers. And by deciding to believe that employees can and will do the right thing, second-guessing ... is replaced with shared energy, ideas, and a desire to stick around.”

Decision #2:
Decide to be Guided by a Clarity of Purpose

“Beloved companies take their time to be clear about what their unique promise is for their customers’ lives. Clarity of purpose guides choices and united the organization. It elevates people’s work from executing tasks to delivering experiences customers will want to repeat and tell others about.”

Decision #3:
Decide to be Real, Genuine, and Personal

“... beloved companies shed their fancy packaging. Beloved companies strike a chord with customers. They decide to create a safe place where the personality and creativity of their people shine through.”

Decision #4:
Decide to Deliver Thoughtful Customer Experiences

“Beloved companies think and rethink how to conduct themselves, so they earn the right to their customers’ continued business. Their ‘experience’ is far more than the execution of an operating plan. [Beloved companies] leave customers thinking, ‘Who else would have done this?’ ‘Where else could I get this?’ ‘I want to do this again.’”

Decision #5:
Decide to Apologize

“When a beloved company apologizes for something that goes wrong, the intent and motivation is to make customers whole—to earn the right to continue the relationship. Many companies consider the apology as admitting defeat. In actuality, the reverse is true. A well-executed apology: one that is timely and delivered with humility and remorse ... often build a much stronger relationship. Both the customer and company win.”

Decision #6:

(This is a bonus decision you should make.)

November 08, 2009

Business Lessons from a Soda Jerk

John Nese is a modern day soda jerk. He’s passionate about “flavored water with a lot bubbles.” Soda makes him smile, makes him happy. He’s the proprietor of Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles. His store sells about 500 different sodas from small, independent-run soda makers. His business is a prototypical purple cow, worthy of word-of-mouth.

Watching the video below will not only make us smile and happy, it will make us smarter about business strategy and jealous we don’t have the same passion for what we do that John Nese does.

We’ll become smarter because we’ll see first-hand how passion propels performance, how being more selective makes a business more effective, and how sharing inspired expert knowledge will never go out of style.

We’ll become jealous because we’ll see someone who has made the necessary sacrifices in life to pursue their calling.

Enjoy. (Thanks Seth and Neal for bringing this video to my attention.)

RSS Readers ... click here to watch the video.

July 01, 2009

Refresher Course: BROKEN WINDOWS


Seeing this hideously dirty ceiling tile at my dentist’s office today reminded me of the Broken Windows theory and how it relates to businesses.

The Broken Windows theory hypothesizes higher crime rates occur in cities when broken windows are left unrepaired because people will conclude no one cares enough to fix them. More windows will become broken and attitudes of lawlessness will spread, resulting in higher crime rates. Michael Levine applied this theory to business in his book, BROKEN WINDOWS BROKEN BUSINESS.

According to Levine, broken windows are telltale signs to customers that a business doesn’t care, that it is poorly managed, and or it has become too big and arrogant to adequately deal with little details.

He warns businesses that customers draw wide-ranging conclusions based upon their perceptions of the broken windows they find. These negative perceptions will undermine a business as they can turn once highly-satisfied customers into very-dissatisfied customers who choose take their business elsewhere.

I’m not saying my Dentist poorly manages his business. I am saying his patients could draw wide-ranging conclusions based upon the fact he hasn’t replaced the severely water damaged ceiling tile.

Every business has broken windows. The easiest way to tell if your business has a broken window is when you find yourself saying, “A customer will never notice that.” Because chances are, they will … just as I did with the way too soiled ceiling tile at my Dentist’s office.

Learn more in this vintage Brand Autopsy post (Dec. 2005).

June 07, 2009

An Ethical Question … Please Comment

UPDATED (June 10): Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments. To avoid any question ... going forward, I will disclose how I receive business books reviewed on the blog.

Lots of great conversation is happening about the ethics of compensating bloggers with cash, in-kind gifts, and special access privileges in exchange for writing a post about the product/service a business provides them.

This conversation has me thinking about how I’ve been compensated for some posts on this blog.

Because I frequently write business book reviews, publishers and publicity firms send me free business books. I’m under no obligation to write anything (be it positive, negative, or nothing at all) in exchange. While not cash, this in-kind gift has a monetary value of about $25 per book.

I’ve probably written over 100 business book reviews on this blog. Some reviews have slammed the book as worthless and others have praised the book as worthwhile. In every case, my authentic opinion has been expressed.

However, I’ve never disclosed when a review is from a business book I received as a gift or from a book I purchased. (By the way, the vast majority of my book reviews are from books I've purchased.)

I’m curious … Do you expect me to disclose whether or not I was gifted the book or paid for the book? Would you trust my review more with this type of disclosure?

Thanks for sharing your feedback.

May 18, 2009

Recap: Yelp presentation

NOTE: crossposted on the ALL THINGS WOM blog
On May 13 & 14, WOMMA held its Word-of-Mouth Marketing University conference. Below is a recap of a presentation from the conference.

Yelp: Empowering Consumers with Local Knowledge

Presenter said:

In kicking-off the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s WOMM-U Conference, Geoff Donaker, chief operating officer at Yelp, said, "The Genie is out of the bottle. You’re better off joining the conversation, than not." Conversations about local restaurants and businesses fuel Yelp’s business. Donaker described Yelp as, "local search powered by community."

It is the online community that provides Yelp with over 6-million reviews of local restaurants and businesses. 21-million people last month used Yelp to decide which restaurant to visit, car mechanic to use, and spa to be pampered at. With its broad reach and deep reviews, Yelp is changing the game of small business marketing.

Donaker told the story of a local carpet cleaner who used to spend $100K on yellow page advertising. Thanks to all the new business generated by positive reviews on Yelp, this carpet cleaner no longer spends money on yellow page advertising. Instead, this business is spending much of its advertising budget on improving it’s customer service, resulting in more positive reviews on Yelp.

Donaker also discussed how businesses have a love/hate relationship with customer-driven reviews. Businesses love how great customer service is rewarded with positive reviews. However, they hate the loss of message control. That said, the positive to negative review ratio at Yelp stands at 6:1.

Audience tweeted:

@ErikNYC mentioned the beauty of Yelp’s customer-driven model is that "when the customer wins, the business wins." Echoing sentiments from the presentation, @gamedayjreau tweeted, "It’s always about customer service at the end of the day."

In response to a case study example of how negative reviews can become positive for businesses, @leslieforde commented, "It’s worth engaging vocal customers gently. Reaching out to angry customers can change negative perception."

WOMMA says:

The love/hate relationship with customer-driven conversations is real. Word-of-mouth offline and online can not be controlled, only sparked. A business cannot ethically control what customers say about them. One of the best ways to spark word-of-mouth conversations is through delivering outstanding customer service and providing remarkable products.

For any business wanting to spark word-of-mouth conversations, it must first spend time and money to gain utmost confidence in their services and products. This confidence will give a business thick enough skin to withstand negative reviews as well as a solid foundation from which a virtuous cycle of positive reviews will fuel business growth.


April 20, 2009

The Designful Company

... from the Post2Post tour highlighting THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY


Consider THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY from Marty Neumeier as a manifesto on building a company based upon the pillars of vision, culture, and innovation.

His earlier books, THE BRAND GAP and ZAG, were also manifestos. THE BRAND GAP discussed the importance of marketers and creatives working together within a company to bridge the gap between logic (marketing) and magic (design). ZAG expressed, in irrefutable fashion, how to best develop and apply differentiation strategies. Both books are brilliant.

And, THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY is also brilliant.

Neumeier makes a compelling case for “DESIGN” being more about performance than style. Being a designer, according to Neumeier, isn’t limited to being an artist, architect, composer, etc. Not at all. Anyone, and that means everyone, who tries to improve a given situation is a designer. Whenever you work through any creative process, you are doing design. Dig?

To give you some flavor for THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY, I designed a three-minute video ditty sharing smart tid-bits from the book. Enjoy…

RSS Readers ... click here to view the video.

March 26, 2009

Good Stuff from Tom Peters

Tom Peters kickstarts our go-get'em engine that may be sputtering in today's tough economy with this excellent rant. It's a MUST-READ.

Below is a tease...

SOURCE: Dealing with Recessionary Times |

March 22, 2009

salience AND sales

In January, Hyundai did a major ZAG. Other car companies decided to play the “Zero Down. Zero % Financing.” card as well as the “Employee Discount for Everyone” card to rescue drowning sales. Hyundai didn’t. Hyundai zagged while others zigged.

Hyundai introduced an alternative marketing program that didn’t rely on the same easy credit, wallet-stretching gimmickry that got us in this current dismal economic mess.

Understanding the lack of confidence consumers have with their job stability, Hyundai created a marketing program to reduce the risk in buying a car. The program was called the Hyundai Assurance plan. Its mechanics were simple: if you lost your job after buying a new Hyundai, you could walk away from your loan or lease and return the car to Hyundai.

In marketing, salience occurs when a business designs a marketing program that connects emotionally and rationally with consumers. In business, sales occur when people buy stuff.

The beauty of the Hyundai Assurance marketing plan is in its salience and its sales. With a 10.0% unemployment rate on the horizon, it’s no secret people lack confidence about when their next paycheck is coming. Sales results of the Hyundai Assurance marketing plan are astounding.

Overall car sales in the United States have declined about 40% from the same time last year. (Yikes!) Hyundai car sales aren’t in decline. Nope. So far this year, Hyundai has recorded an increase of nearly 5.0% from the year prior.

As marketers, we must applaud Hyundai for designing an effective marketing program that drives both salience and sales.

SOURCE: New York Times Magazine article (Rob Walker) | March 22, 2009

March 18, 2009

Field Notes | SXSWi 2009

Far too incomplete. Not enough context to fully digest. Way too inadequate. I know. I apologize. However, the following presentation shares some smart stuff I heard during SXSWi 2009. Other folks will give you more breadth and depth. I'm just giving ya snippets. Enjoy.

February 08, 2009

Mighty Fine Word-of-Mouth

Recently Ben McConnell (Church of the Customer) shared his perspective on the distinction between Word-of-Mouth (WOM) and Buzz. (It’s a good read.)

His post rekindled some of my thoughts on Creationist WOM vs. Evolutionist WOM (video clip). The Creationist WOM marketing mindset is about making the marketing activity something to talk about as in attention-grabbing stunts and gimmicks. The Evolutionist WOM mindset is about making a company’s products, services, and or experiences worth talking about.

Creationist WOM marketers believe Word-of-Mouth just a marketing issue. While, Evolutionist WOM marketers believe Word-of-Mouth is an everyday business issue.

We’ve seen Creationist WOM theory at work recently with Denny’s stunt of giving away 2-million Grand Slam breakfasts for free and all the gimmicky commercials shown during the Super Bowl.

Specific instances of Evolutionist WOM theory at work are more difficult to notice. That’s because these marketing activities are not supposed to be easily noticed by customers. These activities are simply how a business does business. It’s less about marketing and more about how an interesting business operates everyday.

There’s a burger joint in Austin, TX that brilliantly practices Evolutionist WOM thinking — Mighty Fine Hamburgers.

No stunts. No gimmicks. No one-off marketing ploys. All Mighty Fine does is earn opinions by serving up remarkable burgers in remarkable ways.

Let me count some of these remarkable ways.

#1 – The Queue
Total cattle call. I’ve never been to Mighty Fine when the queue wasn’t at least 10 people deep. You go expecting to wait in line. Anticipation heightens the senses. Besides, long lines that move fast mean a restaurant is doing something right, right?

#2 – Fun Language
If you want Mustard, you gotta say, “Yeller.” “Red” gets you Ketchup and “White” gets you Mayonnaise. Mighty Fine could have gone the common, boring route with Mustard, Ketchup, and Mayonnaise. They didn’t. They decided to make the common uncommon. So uncommon that it’s worth talking about.

#3 – Service
Ask a Mighty Fine employee behind the counter how they’re doing and you’ll likely hear, “Mighty Fine.” They smile. They laugh. They look like they are having fun. Which all benefits the customer experience. Mighty Fine prides itself on hiring only “A Players” who are positive, supportive, and cooperative. To attract “A Players,” they pay above-average wages and offer much better than expected benefits. Mighty Fine knows by astonishing employees, they in turn, will astonish customers.

#4 – Assurance
When placing your order, the Mighty Fine employee writes all your requests directly on the bag. To close the order, the employee again goes over everything with you to best ensure you get exactly the burger you ordered. This process takes time but I’m sure it cuts down on mistakes. As a customer, I appreciate the thoroughness because it brings about assurance.

#5 – Picnic Tables
Old-school family-style picnic tables. Nothing fancy. Nothing fancy needed at a burger joint. This family-style seating makes it comfortable for all ages and helps to encourage conversations between customers from different parties.

#6 – Theater
Taking a page from Krispy Kreme's doughnut theater, Mighty Fine lifts the veil on some of their prep work. The window is wide open for everyone to see the ground chuck getting hand-formed into patties. The krinkle-cut fry cutter is always-on with an employee shooting whole potatoes down the cutting chute. The hamburger cooking and shake-making stations are just behind the counter for everyone to see. Mighty Fine has nothing to hide. It’s operations are in full view of every customer. (Unlike most burger joints.)

#7 – Quality
100% natural beef. Ground in-store. Hand-formed in-store. Fresh cut crinkle-cut fries. Sea Salt is the only salt used. Custom-made beef franks. Hand-dipped and hand-spun milkshakes. Quality is everything to Mighty Fine because they believe quality ingredients produce the tastiest food. (Hard to argue with Mighty Fine here.)

#8 – Smiles
Everywhere you look customers are having a good time. I’m a touch cynical; however, my cynicism subsides when inside Mighty Fine. A good hamburger in a family-friendly setting appeals to young, old, and everyone in-between. (Including this hardened marketer.)

#9 – Mighty Tasty
My Dad is a burger aficionado. In his nearly 75 years, Al Moore has cooked and eaten a lot of burgers. He’s burger expert if there could be one. After visiting Mighty Fine in January, he’s been talking about it with his circle of friends. I asked him what he tells people about Mighty Fine and this is what he says, “The place is awesome. Lots of production people, each knowing their job. The product is even more awesome — a top-notch hamburger. To my surprise, the family-style works. I’ll be back.” That’s one helluva endorsement.

#10 – Job Recruitment
Instead of a pamphlet by the soda machine to attract new hires, Mighty Fine uses a classic grocery store number dispenser like we used to use at the butcher counter. This dispenser is prominently located in the entry/exit way area for potential new hires to see going in and going out. A sign above the dispenser says, “Apply Now.” You pull the ticket and it directs you to a website to learn more information and to apply online. Again, Mighty Fine is simply making the common uncommon. Nice touch.

#11 – Clean Hands
It’s a “jacuzzi for your hands.” That’s what the hand washer says used at Mighty Fine. It’s the same hand washer employees use, so you know it is more sanitary than the common hand sink washer. Kids clamor to use this hand jacuzzi. Parents are always seen lifting up their kids in order for their hands to fit inside the washer. Of course, parents use it too because it’s just so unique you have to use it. Yet again … another way Mighty Fine takes something common and makes it so uncommon it's worth talking about.

Every one of these 11 examples are WOM-worthy. Each one showcases how Mighty Fine turns mundane business matters into something so special that they earn opinions from customers. Because these activities earn opinions, people talk. And because people talk, there is always a line at Mighty Fine. And because there is always a line, Mighty Fine has opened a second location.

Mighty Fine doesn’t need gimmicks to get customers talking. It just does business every day in such a way that people gladly talk about it.

Mighty Fine understands the importance of Word of Mouth. How do I know? This sign displayed in the exit way tells me...


February 05, 2009

Riffing on a MarketingProfs Post

Writing for the MarketingProfs blog, Ted Mininni posted his take on a recent McDonald’s ad for their McCafe coffee drinks. His post begins …

”Score one for McDonald’s... at the expense of Starbucks and all of the other high-brow coffee shops peddling pricey lattes, cappuccino, espresso and all manner of caffeinated concoctions.”

His post continues by declaring pretentious coffee is out and affordable coffee is in. Right on, I agree with his point given today’s dismal economy.

The comments to his post are lively and run wild. Definitely worth reading.

In the comments, Ted mentions how “Eight O'Clock beat out Starbucks. Go figure.” This triggered a long-dormant thought that is no longer dormant. Read below for my comment to Ted on this.

Ted … I gotta chime in again. You mentioned how 8 o’Clock Coffee beat Starbucks Coffee on taste. True. And Dunkin’ Donuts is touting the taste of its coffee is preferred over Starbucks. Yep. Got it.

Starbucks has never fared well in taste tests. That’s because the taste of Starbucks coffee is too polarizing. Many people say Starbucks coffee tastes too bitter, too burnt, too bold. Starbucks has always had a strong point-of-view about what coffee should taste like. That strong point-of-view about coffee has helped to build its brand.

In the book PURPLE COW, Seth Godin smartly writes … “In almost every market, the boring slot is filled. The product designed to appeal to the largest possible audience already exists, and displacing it is awfully difficult. The real growth comes with products that annoy, offend, don't appeal, are too expensive, too cheap, too heavy, too complicated, too simple — too something."

8 o’Clock Coffee makes boring coffee. Boring coffee is not going to annoy, nor will it offend people. Conversely, non-boring coffee will annoy and offend people. 8 o’Clock Coffee has never been a growth brand. Starbucks, with its non-boring taste profile, has been a growth brand. HAS BEEN, being emphasized.

I offer up that Starbucks has been slouching towards boring coffee for years. The biggest coffee push from the company recently has been behind Pike Place Roast. This is a mild coffee meant to appeal to the masses, which means it’s meant to be boring. Problem is, the Starbucks brand was built on strong, polarizing coffee … not boring coffee.

As Starbucks has grown to over 16,000 locations worldwide, it has tried to tone down its strong point-of-view on coffee in order to appeal to even more people. In my opinion, that’s hurt more than it has helped.

The company has abandoned its strong point-of-view about how “good” coffee should taste. This abandonment has wrecked havoc on its brand. In its attempt to appeal to everyone, Starbucks has lost those someones who enjoyed a coffee taste profile that isn’t watered down to a milder, more palatable and less offending taste.

Back in the day, the coffee Starbucks served earned an opinion from people because it wasn’t boring. These days, the company serves boring coffee (Pike Place Roast) and it no longer has a strong point of view about how good coffee should taste.

It’s my take … focusing on boring coffee has, more than the dismal economy, positioned Starbucks for the steep decline its experiencing.

January 29, 2009

The Marginalized will be Squeezed Out

No matter how you look at it, these are tough times for retailers. High-priced and low-priced retailers have been thrown off-balance from the intense category five strength winds of this economic downturn.

It has been reported nearly 150,000 retail stores ceased operations in 2008. Projections say 78,000 retail stores will be shuttered in the first-half of 2009. Yikes.

To withstand these torrential winds, retailers are cutting costs by laying off employees, closing locations, and pruning any expense not directly related to sustaining business life.

Many retailers are on life-support, hoping for a swift uptick in consumer confidence to revive the health of their company. Some brands will not survive and some brands that will survive, may look and act totally different from what they once were. Unfortunately, some brands have already been declared dead.


All of these brands have either disappeared, or are in the process of disappearing from today’s retail landscape.

To help bring understanding to this mess, I'm reminded of business wisdom from Peter Drucker

A Business that Fails to Lead Will Become Marginalized

Genuine market leaders, according to Drucker, must achieve their leadership results in an area that is meaningful to a customer or market. Such as, leadership in product development, leadership in customer service, leadership in distribution, or leadership in bringing ideas to market faster.

Achieving a leadership position is imperative for a business to stave off becoming marginalized or commoditized.

Drucker argues a business “… may seem to be a leader, may supply a large share of the market, may have the full weight of momentum, history, and tradition behind it. But the marginal is incapable of survival in the long run, let alone of producing profits. It lives on borrowed time. It exists on sufferance and through the inertia of others. Sooner or later, whenever boom conditions abate, it will be squeezed out.”

I love this thinking: Marginalized companies live on borrowed time and live through the inertia of others. When the economic winds change, the marginalized will be squeezed out.

The brands featured above share something in common, they all became marginalized in the marketplace and as a result, have been squeezed out.

The warning signs of becoming marginalized are clear:

When a business becomes an afterthought, not a forethoughtit becomes marginalized.

When a business fails to be included in a consumer’s consideration setit becomes marginalized.

When a business is viewed as dispensable, not indispensableit becomes marginalized.

When a business loses its uniquenessit becomes marginalized.

When a business no longer mattersit becomes marginalized.

When you, as a customer, would not miss the brand if it went out-of-businessit becomes marginalized.

The takeaway from all this is complicated: If a business cannot claim a leadership position, then it is either too small to meaningfully compete or too big to effectively compete. Failing to lead results in becoming marginalized. A marginalized company lives on borrowed time.

And time has run out for marginalized retailers like Circuit City, CompUSA, Mervyns, Bombay Company, etc.

January 07, 2009

Career Ponzi Schemes

We’ve all become familiar with the $50-billion Bernard Madoff investment ponzi scheme. Through a mix of deft misdirection and communication savviness, Madoff was able to convince discerning clients his investment strategies consistently delivered high-returns. It was all a fraud.

The design of Madoff’s fraudulent plan was simple: he used new investments to pay existing investors. It was only when he couldn’t find new investors to pay off existing investors that his Ponzi scheme collapsed.

Reading Paul Williams’ post about Measuring Your Comparable Job Performance triggered an odd, but related, thought. There’s a different type of ponzi scheme that happens at large companies. It’s called the Career Ponzi Scheme. I’ve seen it happen, maybe you have too.

Do you work with someone who transitions into a different role within the company every year? Is this someone asked to lead high-profile projects, yet leaves the project before it’s implemented? And is this someone you’ve often wondered how they continue to have favorable sway with upper-management?

Chances are you’ve worked with someone like this.

This someone is using a Career Ponzi Scheme to advance their position within a company. These “Ponzi People” are savvy communicators, masterful at misdirection, and selectively connected.

Savvy communicators know what to say, when to say it, and whom to say it to. This talent works well in politically-charged and bureaucratic-heavy organizations.

Their misdirection mastery comes into play when something goes wrong with a project they are managing. To avoid scrutiny, “Ponzi People” deftly divert attention away from their mismanaged project to another person’s mismanaged project. They know exactly what to say, when to say it, and whom to say it to for corporate firefighters to swarm in and rescue someone else’s project. Misdirection complete. That is, until the next time they need to misdirect attention away from their poorly managed project.

“Ponzi People” are not the most well-connected. However, they are the most selectively connected people within an organization. Meaning, they purposely buddy-up to only those who are well-connected and on a career trajectory to the top of the org chart. They seek to have sway with only those who have sway. Dig?

Because they nurture their tight network of company influentials, “Ponzi People” are made aware of job opportunities in adjacent departments before anyone else. Through their savvy communication skills, “Ponzi People” position themselves as the best option for the open position.

People who use Career Ponzi Scheme tactics receive pay raises from frequent promotions and they receive the priceless veil of being a vital ingredient in the company’s success recipe.

However, they never benefit from measuring their comparable job performance because they never stay in the same role for more than a year. They laterally bounce from position to position too often to measure their year-over-year contribution to the company.

Eventually, “Ponzi People” get caught. Their Career Ponzi Scheme collapses when they fail to find new admirers with corporate sway to replace those old admirers who have caught on to their misdirection, smooth talking, and networking games. When this happens, their fraud is uncovered and their career freefalls.

The moral of this story is a warning … DO NOT GET CAUGHT IN A CAREER PONZI SCHEME. You are cheating yourself if you use ponzi schemes to advance your career. And if you are someone who enables a ponzi scheme to continue, then you are just cheating your company. Don’t do it.

December 22, 2008

Bad Apple Behavior


Can one person in a workplace ruin a workplace? In other words, can one bad apple spoil the whole bunch?

That’s the question Dr. Will Felps, Rotterdam Business School professor, sought to answer. His findings were published under the title of, How, When, and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel. [preview available].

This American Life brought to life Felps’ work in a recent episode. It’s a fascinating piece, worthy of spending a few minutes listening to. (Listen here.)

The gist is this … Felps’ study indicates the spillover effect of Bad Apple behavior can undermine the success of a group. Groups in this study infected with a Bad Apple, performed 30%-to-40% worse than similar groups without a Bad Apple.

This study identified three personality types linked to Bad Apple behavior. I’m sure we’ve all experienced one of these personalities in our group project work:

This personality will make rude and insulting comments directed at others. He’ll criticize other people’s ideas without offering up alternative ideas of his own.

The attitude of indifference persists within this person. Verbally and non-verbally, he’ll convey feelings of “whatever” and “who cares.”

The Debbie Downer of the group. This person will complain about how unenjoyable the project is and openly doubts the group will succeed.

(Interestingly, these represent some of the same destructive on-the-job personalities Dr. Bob Sutton wrote about in THE NO ASSHOLE RULE.)

What’s a group to do if they are burdened with a Bad Apple?

Sure, you could confront and try to reform the Bad Apple. However, a better approach could be to follow Jim Collins’ advice from BUILT TO LAST and have the virus, that is the miserable person, ejected before the spillover effect happens.

Mucho kudos to the My Curate's Egg blog for some super-sleuthing link finds.

December 19, 2008

The IDB Project | Chapter 15

The IDB Project is a series of posts sharing summaries, snippets, and takeaways from INSIDE DRUCKER’S BRAIN (Jeffrey Krames)


A Short Course on Innovation

“Tomorrow always arrives. It is always different. And then even the mightiest company is in trouble if it has not worked on the future.”Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker infused all his teachings with thoughts of tomorrow and change. As we learned earlier, any decision gets old the second it gets made. And, as managers, we are “not to impose yesterday’s normal on a changed today; but to change the business, its behavior, its attitudes, its expectations—as well as its products, its markets, and its distributive channels—to fit the new realities.” (MANAGING FOR RESULTS, 1964)

If we are to believe Drucker, which we should, the purpose of a business is to create a customer. And since a customer is always changing their needs and wants, a business must always evolve to deliver upon the needs and wants of a customer. Making changes to better appeal to customer is INNOVATION.

Providing more desirable products, services, and customer experiences is vital to the continued existence of any business. And that is INNOVATION.

However, complacency of any degree will stifle the ability of a business to innovate. And, fostering an insular corporate culture that thinks and acts more for the company than for the customer, will also cripple innovation.

With the publication of THE PRACTICE OF MANAGEMENT in 1954, Peter Drucker outlined a recipe for business innovation that is still relevant and actionable. This recipe involves answering three questions, which “will provide the foundation upon which goals, objectives, and strategies can be formulated.

Question #1: “What is our business?"

Question #2: “What will our business be?”

Question #3: “What should our business be?"

Regularly asking and answering these three questions will spark important conversations about the purpose of your business. It will also keep your business laser-focused on the reason your business exists: to create a customer.

After all, if your business is not innovating to better appeal to customers tomorrow, then your business starts dying today.

This concludes The IDB Project. (Phew. Thanks for reading.)

December 18, 2008

The IDB Project | Chapter 14

The IDB Project is a series of posts sharing summaries, snippets, and takeaways from INSIDE DRUCKER’S BRAIN (Jeffrey Krames)


The Leader’s Most Important Job

“The most important task of an organization’s leader is to anticipate crisis. Perhaps not to avert it, but to anticipate it. To wait until the crisis hits is already abdication.”Peter Drucker

In MANAGING THE NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION (1990), Peter Drucker wrote in-depth how “leadership is a foul-weather job.” Meaning, a leader must be “capable of anticipating the storm, weathering it, and being ahead of it." To Drucker, when a leader successfully guides the business out of foul-weather situations, the result is “innovation, constant renewal.”

According to Drucker, managers need four leadership skills to effectively guide a business out of foul-weather.

The first skill is “the willingness, ability, and self-discipline to listen.”

Second is having the patient fortitude to over-communicate to ensure everyone understands what is happening when and why during a crisis.

The third leadership trait managers must have is to insist on perfect execution, yet have the ability to take responsibility for when imperfection happens.

Fourth is to never lose sight of “how unimportant you [the leader] are to the task.” A leader’s job is to serve his company and his team. Their job is never to serve themselves.

Next, Chapter FIFTEEN of the The IDB Project.

The IDB Project | Chapter 13

The IDB Project is a series of posts sharing summaries, snippets, and takeaways from INSIDE DRUCKER’S BRAIN (Jeffrey Krames)


The Fourth Information Revolution

“For top management tasks, information technology so far has been a producer of data rather than a product of information—let alone a producer of new and different questions and new and different strategies.”Peter Drucker, Forbes ASAP article (1998)

Jeffrey Krames expertly chronicled Peter Drucker’s evolving opinion on the importance of computer-driven information within a business. As a business consultant for nearly six decades, Drucker experienced the technology revolution from mainframes to personal computers to the Internet to Google. Just as the technology evolved, so did Drucker’s opinion.

“Each manager should have the information he needs to measure his own performance and should receive it soon enough to make any changes necessary for the desired results.”

“The computer, being a mechanical moron, can handle only quantifiable data.”

1973 | MANAGEMENT: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices
“When the new computer arrives, a frantic search begins to find things for it to do. In the end, it is being used to turn out endless reams of information that nobody wants, nobody needs, and nobody can use. Keeping the tool going becomes and end. As a result, nobody has information.”

1999 | Beyond the Information Revolution (Atlantic Monthly article)
“The truly revolutionary impact of the Information Revolution is just beginning to be felt. But it is not ‘information’ that fuels this impact. It is not "artificial intelligence." It is not the effect of computers and data processing on decision-making, policymaking, or strategy. It is something that practically no one foresaw or, indeed, even talked about ten or fifteen years ago: e-commerce—that is, the explosive emergence of the Internet as a major, perhaps eventually the major, worldwide distribution channel for goods, for services, and, surprisingly, for managerial and professional jobs.”

Clearly, Drucker was a strong believer in giving employees access to information. Yet, he was skeptical about having technology interpret data (information). He also warned as technology advances, employees are given access to an ever-increasing amount of information — maybe too much information.

Drucker was a strong believer in making decisions. Unfortunately, the abundance of information can inhibit decision-making and lead to analysis by paralysis. As we learned earlier, Drucker was all about making decisions to the extent that failure to make a decision is worse than making the wrong decision.

While Peter Drucker was skeptical about the reliance of technology for decision-making purposes, he was a strong proponent of using technology to revolutionize how companies ultimately connect with customers.

Next, Chapter FOURTEEN of the The IDB Project.