Mixed Messages

Jenny Craig’s change in marketing message has been good. Instead of focusing on people reaching some sort of ideal weight or size, they have taken a page from SlimFast, encouraging customers to reach a goal that is appropriate for them. They use messages like “a size healthier” to get the point across. Valerie Bertinelli proclaims that she is now “size surfer girl”, which apparently pleases her, even if she isn’t “size Gidget”.

Bravo! More self-empowering products and services need to take the same stance. Let’s spend less time talking in terms of absolutes, comparing ourselves to ideals.

Wait a minute. What’s that at the end of those commercials? A price promotion to “lose 20 pounds for $20 (plus the cost of food)”?

Why send that mixed message? You spend most of your 30-second spot talking about how it’s all about getting to a size or weight that is good for the individual. Then you end it by saying that to do so, that same person has to lose at least 20 pounds. Huh?

If you want to run an introductory price, then go right ahead. I urge you to do so. But make it consistent with your message. Have potential customers “get started now for $20 (plus the cost of food).”

Unless it really is about those 20 pounds, in which case you need to change your message back.

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Incomplete Execution

We are right in the middle of the 39th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Every year, for as long as I can remember, visitors have been subjected to the original banner advertising—an airplane circling the grounds with an ad attached to its tail. Normally, the ads are for area bars, encouraging people to continue partying at their establishment when the festivities end for the day around 7 PM.

On the opening day this year, first the first time I saw a banner ad for Pop-a-Lock (just to clarify: that doesn’t mean it’s the first time they advertised here, but it is the first time I recall seeing it). It is the perfect place to promote yourself. At an outdoor festival, when thousands of cars are parked in the surrounding neighborhoods, more than a few people are likely to lose their keys or lock them in the trunk.

My first thought upon seeing the beautifully made banner (most are pretty cheaply done) was the brilliance of the effort.

Then, I felt a deep sigh emerge.

For all of their brilliance and care in creating the banner, they failed to offer a way to contact them. No phone number, text number, e-mail or web address. Nothing.

The harder you make someone work to reach you, the less likely it is that they will even try.

If you have never experienced Jazz Fest, you should. The music is amazing, covering a wide spectrum of genres. Even more remarkable is the food, arts and crafts. You won’t find a better mix anywhere.

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Wanting and Wanting to Buy

Last Thursday, a story came on NPR’s All Things Considered titled “From Clunker to Cruiser, Ford Posts Quarterly Profit”. One of the interviewees stated that people didn’t want new cars right now. I quickly turned to my wife and said, “That’s not true. People want new cars, they just don’t want to buy them.”

That is a significant difference. Think about all of the things you want to have. If you are anything like me, you could probably make a list a mile long. Think of the things that you have or use at little to no monetary cost.

Of all the things on those lists, how many of them are you willing to purchase? Right now?

Your reasons may vary. It may be because of the cost. It may be because it’s not practical. Or it may be because you just don’t want it that badly.

Your customers feel the same way, even if the things on their lists are different. Your job is to create a compelling case for the right customers to buy the right product of yours that is going to meet their needs. And by compelling, I mean that the product must perform as advertised. Unless you don’t want them to repeat as a customer or to spread good word-of-mouth about you.

They might want what you’re selling. Give them a reason to buy it.

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True Brand Value Is Perceived

On Monday, Millward Brown released its BrandZ Ranking of the world’s Top 100 Most Powerful Brands. Besides the odd name, I have some issues with their methodology (found on page three of their release). It was thorough, to say the least, with claims of 1 million consumers interviewed about 50,000 global brands. But in the end, they still take some leaps of faith with respect to the values they assess.

Which means that the true value of any brand is perceived not real. Just witness the standoff between Microsoft and Yahoo! While this has been a bit of a public spectacle, it is not unique. It happens all the time when an acquisition is afoot.

Why? Because you can’t put a hard number to it. You can put a value to inventory, property, equipment and the like. When it comes to intangible assets, like a brand or associated patents, coming up with a dollar figure can be anyone’s guess. That’s why it all gets buried in what is called “goodwill”. It is that amount above all of the tangible assets that constitutes the total value.

But there are other ways to consider your brand’s value, even if you have no plans to sell.

  • What does the brand mean to your business? Does it allow other parts of the business to thrive that wouldn’t otherwise? Or does it inhibit growth?
  • What does it mean to you personally? Your brand may contribute significantly to your desired lifestyle, especially if you are a small business owner.
  • What trade-offs do you have to make with respect to your brand?

Based on how your brand supports what you do and how you do it, you can assess a rough value of what you would be willing to sell it for. Then, establish a range of values that represents the price you would like to get, intend to get and must get. If a suitor comes along and offers you a price within that range, you’ll be ready to sell or negotiate a better price. If that same suitor offers a price below your must, then hold on until the right offer comes along.

Remember, this brand value is in addition to the value of any physical assets you own.

The better job you do at managing your brand, the more value you create.

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A Brand’s Life Cycle

Every brand has a life cycle. It starts as an idea, gets developed and is born. It then grows, matures and dies. That process may last as little as a few months or as long as multiple centuries. Occasionally, brands will be on the brink of death before suddenly resurging. Other times, brands are brought back to life after an absence.

And a brand’s life cycle likely isn’t going to match that of the product(s) it represents. It may be longer or much shorter.

Now, here’s the kicker. Many times, you have no control over the situation. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t manage your brand(s) strategically.

You may be in an industry that has a long product cycle that thrives on fads and trends. In that case, you will want to develop brands that change with the times (or set the trends themselves). These may be sub-brands to a parent.

Suppose, instead, your industry thrives on longevity from a brand standpoint. Even if your product life cycle is short, customers associate with the brand more and look for that reassurance. That’s when you want to take the longer view.

The most important thing to remember when developing these strategies is to understand what it is the customer expects from the industry, how the product fits into the picture and what it will take to manage the process over the long-term.

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Do We Really Believe the Customer Is in Charge?

Wherever you look, more and more people are writing about how the customer is now in charge of the conversation between buyer and seller. We point to the internet in general and web 2.0 tools in particular. We note the range of choices for consumers and the intense competition that creates among companies. And we write that we must create great products, deliver on our brand promises and exceed our customers’ expectations.

All of that is true. But do we honestly and genuinely believe it? Yes, I’m sure that many of us do. Most of us, though, really aren’t walking the talk.

Here’s what I mean.

In order to give “them” a better online experience, we load their machines with our cookies, which enable us to push more of what we want customers to buy onto their screens. We place online ads based on keyword searches or browsing history. And it gets worse. Some of us stoop so low as to bait web surfers with what appears to be what they are seeking, when in fact it is nothing of the kind or little more than a glorified link farm.

We see it in other places as well. Software companies deciding to no longer support older software so that you must upgrade to the newer version. Products having new formulas or packaging that don’t work as well as before. Mobile phones and services coming in bundles with extra stuff we don’t want or need.

Don’t get me started on credit and mortgage companies.

Another prime example: our local newspaper has called on numerous occasions wanting us to buy a subscription. I asked them if I could get delivery on Sundays and major holidays only. I won’t read the paper the rest of the week. It would be a waste of paper, time and effort on their part. Politely, the person on the other side of the phone tells me that I can buy a Sunday subscription that will include the rest of the week at no extra cost.

I, the customer, offers the newspaper, the seller hemorrhaging money, an easy way to be more profitable. Charge me the same amount that you would anyway, just make about 200 fewer deliveries per year. Of course, they want to put a paper in my driveway daily. It improves their overall circulation, which they use to justify their ad revenue. Instead of delivering what I want, and changing their ad revenue model, they forgo the subscription in it entirety.

It’s time we stop talking about putting the customer in control and start actually doing it. You might find it to be a highly profitable proposition.

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Profiling for Talent

In a meeting I had with a client yesterday, we discussed two different ways to drive his business forward. Through that discussion, we also identified a pretty good psychographic profile of his clients (he’s in the service industry).

The reason the profile works so well for him—even though it just sort of happened that way—was because he connects with that type of person much better than others.

We brought the discussion back around to building his business, in particular by adding staff. This was the crux of our earlier conversation. Should he go in one direction that would lead to higher revenue with aggressive producers in a shorter time horizon? Or should he go in another direction that took a longer-term approach, was more deliberate and focused on establishing a relationship?

The answer: it depends. To make that decision, he has to understand the sacrifices he would have to make in either scenario. He must consider how it will affect his brand and his ability to deliver on the brand promise. And he should enjoy the people he works with, if at all possible. We shouldn’t have to merely tolerate our co-workers.

So we are working on a psychographic profile for potential staff and putting together a scouting plan to find them. We’re turning his marketing approach for building a client base into a recruiting plan for employees.

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