Be Timely

So I’m standing in front of my house this weekend, watching the kids scooter around, when we’re suddenly accosted by various people passing out flyers. One gentleman asked me if he can share some information about a local candidate. I shuffled some papers around so I could grab the brochure. Once I had it, I noticed that another candidate’s flyer was tucked inside. There was no mention of a two-for-one from the guy. I just chuckled and turned away.

As I made my way inside, I looked at the tag-along and noticed that the date stamped on the back was 2006. I get the efficiency, since it was a re-election campaign. In fact, I almost applaud it. There’s only one (major) problem. A lot has changed in the last two years—far too much to just recycle what you’ve already done. By simply reusing your old stuff you are saying one of two things: either you are too out-of-touch to recognize that things have changed, or you haven’t done what you said you were going to do the first time, so you just say it again.

The same goes for any business. A consistent message is key. Beat it like a rented mule, especially if it is good and on target. But also recognize that as you produce, address issues and evolve, you move along and tackle the next set of problems.

I don’t, by any means, advocate that you should craft your message around the latest trends. Doing so would signal that you aren’t committed to who you really are. And if you’re not committed, why should anyone else be? Being timely and consistent with your message reinforces your brand. It shows your audience that you are focused on addressing the needs of your constituents (customers, consumers, employees, etc.).

Constant reinforcement of your message is necessary for solidifying your brand. Incorporating timely needs into that message is critical to building a long-term brand.

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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.

Uphill

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.

Plateau

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.

Downhill

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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Knowing Your History versus Holding on to the Past

I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of my best friends from high school. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years and spoken in about five. He still had family in the New Orleans area when Hurricane Katrina hit, and he told me about his grandfather having to give up his house, which was my old neighborhood. His grandfather had owned the house for 48 years.

At that point I was reminded that the longest I had ever lived in one place was the 16 years I spent in my parents house in that neighborhood. Outside of that, I hadn’t remained in the same place for more than about 5 years. That includes schools and jobs.

My friend commented that while he cherishes his memories, he has come to understand that home is where you are, not some physical location. His history has made him who he is today, and losing a physical manifestation of that history doesn’t really change that.

There is a brand management lesson in here, too. Understanding where you’ve been and knowing how you got to where you are today are key to mapping your future. Holding on to successes long past greatly inhibits your ability to innovate, evolve and grow.

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Should GE Sell or Partner Appliance Unit?

GE announced last week that it is considering selling, spinning off or partnering its appliance unit. My first thought went to why they would want to dump it at all. GE has a long history of dumping underperformers (units and people). In December they put their finance unit (or at least some of the individual divisions) up for sale, and many have called on them to sell NBC Universal. NBC makes some sense as ad revenue is declining, and, frankly, the network has had better success with its cable programming than its scripted broadcast offerings.

That leaves three major drivers for GE: medical devices and equipment, aircraft, and alternative energy such as solar and wind. Solar and wind power is a growing industry, deserving of additional investment. Medical devices and equipment is somewhat of a reach and soon may start to lag. While GE innovation in this area is top-notch, the associated rise in health care costs will push down sales over the next few years. A similar situation exists for aircraft as the increased costs have forced airlines to reduce their capacity.

The other issue is what happens to the brand itself. If GE sells or spins off the unit, the ultimate value hinges on whether the GE name goes with it. Many suitors may want the brand for continuity, even though IBM and Lenovo were successful in the change. In that case, however, Lenovo was already producing the computers for IBM, so it was little more than a name change. GE isn’t in the same boat.

Allowing the GE brand name to accompany the sale exposes GE to a diluted value in the name as well as the risk of a negative association with the ultimate owner.

A partnership, in my humble opinion makes much more sense. Part of the reasoning behind the underperformance is because GE Appliances have not penetrated the international market, making them reliant on home sales, particularly new homes, in the United States. The housing market will rebound (new housing starts rose in last month, thanks mostly to apartment construction), and a strong international production partnership will give them the market exposure in other countries they so desperately desire. Then, in time, if they still wish to sell the division, they have ready-made partner (assuming the relationship goes well) and could command a higher price.

Shedding poor performers and investing in higher ones is a smart business move. But it should be done when other efforts to increase performance fall short or the organization decides it must go in a completely different direction.

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Jumping Someone Else’s Train

Not only do we like our lines, we enjoy hopping on bandwagons as well (with a tip of the hat to The Cure for the title). The explosion of “green” everything is the simplest example. But there are several others such as mini PCs, widget/gadget design templates, content management companies, weight loss formulas and plans, and social networking and bookmarking sites.

Sure, each tends to put its own spin on the idea and often jumps into the game either to avoid being left behind or to siphon off some of the business. Heck, we saw the same thing in the mid- to late-1990s with malternative beverages and hard ciders. Only a few of those remain, mostly as novelties.

Bandwagon brand management leads you down one of two paths: either you are going to the quick, short-term hit or you are little more than a “me too!” Regardless, you are failing the brand if your moves are not based solidly in deliberate strategy. And chances are, unless you are doing it better and more effectively than everyone else, you are going to invest a lot of time and money for little, if any, payoff.

When you’re managing your brand, beware of whose (which) train you are jumping on. Because they are doing it simply is not reason enough. Put together a solid business case with solid, verifiable data to support it. Do the work up front, and it will save you wasted resources down the road.

Now, excuse me while I pop open a Zima.

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Your Product Mix Depends on Your Sales Channel

In a meeting with a CEO earlier this week, we discussed changes happening at his company. One coming changes involved his sales presence on the internet. Like most products that sell through retailers, his ended up on various internet stores beyond his control. Instead of fighting it, he’s looking at how to best use the channel without diminishing his overall brand promise.

Among other considerations, he wants to get the product mix right. Many of the products in the portfolio require a specialist’s assessment. Others, however, are appropriate for the general market. That is the first place to start with defining the mix. But there are other opportunities as well.

For example:

  • If a product is appropriate for the general market, but would primarily be used in combination with a specialty product, it may make more sense to keep it out of the mix.
  • Suppose, though, you have a general market product that stands alone. Consider offering it exclusively online.
  • Investigate putting together special kits or trial packs for online sales.
  • Maybe sell higher volume, lower profit products through the internet to save on some costs.

There are several product mix scenarios we can develop. Here we’ve focused on modifying your mix for online sales, but the same thought process works regardless of the channel. The key is avoiding cannibalization of your own sales or of those of your partners.

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