Realistic Product Placement

I got the Madden ’09 for the Wii this past week. It’s amazing that the franchise is 20 years old. It certainly has come a long way since I played the first version way back when. That includes the product placements.

At first, it seemed like it might only be music artists getting some extra exposure. However, in their attempt to make the game as real as possible, EA Sports has added sponsored segments, interspersed at key points in the game.

The move is somewhat brilliant. Our real NFL world is plastered with sponsorships. It only makes sense to translate that to the video games worshipping the sport. And make additional profit in the process.

The difference here is that we sort of expect it. We aren’t taken by that much of a surprise. It seems to fit. So there really isn’t much to complain about. We’re used to it. We’ve been conditioned to it. And it really doesn’t come off as overt.

I wonder, though, where else it might work in a seamless manner such as this.

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Losing that Loving Feeling

When an organization really connects with people, something special happens. A bond forms. A mutual respect and admiration drives the relationship. The organization is driven by its passion to deliver its product and exceed all expectations.

It does it so well, people talk. And their friends make a connection. And they talk. And their friends connect. And it continues.

The organization grows and expands. Then they find themselves facing a difficult choice: seek to appeal to an even broader audience and reap tremendous rewards or stay true to your roots and forgo the potentially big payoff.

Starbucks chose the former. Eight years ago, I wrote a case study advocating for free Wi-Fi in their shops and a focus on a music partnership. They did some of it (my case study was not the reason why) as well as several other things that diluted who they were. They even went so far as to print out customers’ orders on stickers and put them on the cup where the baristas’ scribbles are supposed to go. That was the true sign that the end was near.

The news surrounding the number of pending store closures and associated layoffs, then, comes as no surprise. They broke their connection to their core audience. And while they had a good run, they lost track of who they were and are paying for those sins.

When faced with the opportunity to grow and expand, look closely at what that will do to your identity. Does it fall in line with who you are? Is it the natural evolution of your business? Or is it an attempt at the quick score? Are you diluting your brand and what it stands for?

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Target Customer Intelligence

I’m stunned at the number of companies targeting fools and idiots in their commercials. Geico continues with its ridiculous caveman ads, Cox has their talk show ads, Dunkin Donuts introduced a new product recently with the same concept, and Staples reduces people’s intellect to pushing a red button.

Maybe they are seeing something in their market research that identifies the less intelligent as a significant potential market. Perhaps they don’t think their customers recognize the insult. Or it could be they are counting on their customers not caring about being equated with nincompoops.

Here’s a thought. Advertise the actual features and benefits of the product. And move away from attempting to sell based on the “only the dumbest of the dumb haven’t bought it yet” philosophy.

Of course, I am assuming that these products have features and benefits worth selling and that they aren’t using these tactics as a cover.

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Lessons from a Bike Saddle

I’ve come to realize that managing the life cycle of a product or brand is similar to riding a bike. It’s about shifting gears appropriately and making adjustments in rough terrain. Let me explain.

Starting your ride    

Start your ride in a comfortable gear. You’re warming up, getting the kinks out, checking to make sure you are ready for what lies ahead.


The secret to a successful climb is to keep pedaling. Keep yourself moving forward, in a lower gear, which allows you to pedal faster. You may lose a little speed on each revolution, but you will go further and with greater efficiency. The same is true for your brand. When you launch, you want something that is ready to go. It’s tempting, then, to wait until your growth starts to slow before making any real changes.

You are better off to make smaller tweaks as you grow, using that momentum to grow even more. Roll with the changes, not against them. It is much too difficult to restart up a hill when you are in that higher gear—making one large, sweeping change versus smaller ones along the way.


At some point, you’ll reach the peak, and sales will start to plateau. Here’s where you shift gears, again. This time, you are slowing down the pace of change, increasing the efficiency of your investments.


When you find your sales in a precipitous decline, just coast. Spend as little as possible. If you have an opportunity to change course and start back up a hill or along another plateau, start pedaling in that direction.

Rough Terrain

There may be times you find yourself going over some rough terrain. It is crucial to remain vigilant, making slight changes quickly so as not to lose your balance or veer too far off course (unless you got off course in the first place).

The real key is to remain in efficient control of what you are doing, not fighting against yourself or overusing resources. Because properly managing a brand is just like riding a bike.

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Recanting a Rant

Yesterday, I started to rant about the hoops I was jumping through to cancel an account. I am going to say that, on the surface, I was getting ahead of myself. Any company has a right…no, a duty…to know why a customer wants to leave. The best way to do that is to offer various avenues for the customer to offer feedback. Let them tell you via phone, e-mail, online response form, whatever makes them happy. Remember it is all about them.

So, getting back to my original rant, I called the company, as they required, to cancel my account. As I predicted, they tried to make me an offer to stay. Here’s the thing. The offer was a special deal for people that don’t really use the service that much. And it’s not offered as an option on their website. In other words, it’s an act of desperation to keep a customer on a continuity program.

When a customer wants to leave because they don’t see the value in your service, you either have to show them the actual value you are providing (which they didn’t) or make some other real change. But if the customer has to work harder than they deem necessary, there won’t be any value to them, regardless of what you do.

The customer comes first. And you have to meet his needs on his terms. Companies that are too strict in their one-sided agreements (like credit card companies and mobile phone providers) are going to see a high level of churn because the customer feels he is being screwed. That’s just the way it is. Treat the customer with respect and honor his wishes. If you wouldn’t put up with one of your policies, get rid of it. Chances are the people you serve won’t put up with it either.

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Unknown Is Just Fine

We are working on a project that could partner us with another company. It is quite exciting, to say the least! A small group of us met last week putting the structure together for an upcoming meeting. One of the questions that came up centered on the fact that, prior to this, neither company had heard of the other.

The implication, though unintended, was that if we didn’t know them before, how good could they really be? The reverse implication holds true, as well. And it is a valid concern.

But simply because you haven’t heard of a company doesn’t mean they aren’t good at what they do. They could be the absolute best in their industry. They might execute better than the competition, produce a better product and do it with more integrity and professionalism. That might be why you’ve never heard of them.

Or maybe you’ve never crossed paths. If your industries never intersect or they produce something you have not had the occasion to use or need, then you’d only know about them through reports.

That’s where due diligence comes in. Learn about them. Learn about their past and their key people. Meet with them. Get to know what they do and how they do it. Partner with someone because they will make a great partner and because, together, you’ll succeed.

It is perfectly OK to partner with someone you had never heard of before, so long as you take the time and make the effort to learn.

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Manufacturing Risks

A significant number, if not most, marketing organizations rely on others to manufacture their products for them. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Using quality contract manufacturing is perfectly acceptable. In fact, they most likely have competencies you, as a marketer, will never have.

But with that contract manufacturing comes real risks. Protecting yourself against those risks is not only possible, it’s necessary. Here are a few things to get you started:

  • Ensure you have sufficient testing that the product does exactly what it is supposed to do when produced
  • If your product is going to have a shelf life (a chance of spoilage or loss of efficacy) have the stability tested before you ever go to market
  • Establish an audit procedure and timeline for your manufacturer
  • Get certification that each production lot is produced to spec
  • Maintain samples from each production lot behind lock and key
  • Set these and any other expectations with your manufacturer at the outset of the relationship; if you already have the relationship, go back and redefine the expectations

Even though someone else is making the product, it’s your name that is on it. Protect it with all your might.

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