Monthly Archives: April 2007

Losing Trust in a Global Market

I have not been updating the blog lately because I have been working on a complete redesign for my website, as mentioned in the last post.

 

There has been some very interesting news in the world of marketing and business in general over the past week.  And no, I’m not talking about the Dow hitting 13,000.  Lou Dobbs did a great piece on the pet food scare and how this can happen to the human supply chain as well.  It is now known that the tainted ingredient in question came from
China and the substance used, helps to give a false reading on protein content to make it appear higher.  Of course with higher content reading, they can sell more without having to actually put more in.  The end result has been the deaths of countless animals and untold more suffering and playing Russian roulette every time you go to the supermarket to get pet food.

 

The fact that the product came from China, doesn’t surprise me, for Americans, this practice may be shocking but for anyone familiar with Chinese business practices, you certainly wouldn’t be as shocked as the average Canadian or American was.  As Lou Dobbs pointed out, the Chinese control over 80% of the vitamin C market in the
US, raising prices in the process 5 fold and with no quality checks. 

 

If I were an executive using food ingredients from
China, I’d be sweating bullets right now wondering if my company will be the next one with its name all over the news with pet or people dying because of a Chinese company seeking profits at our health or lives as the expense. 

 

This is the dark side of globalization few will even mention.  Yes the news talks about all the great things it brings, but there are risks.  We still have the same rules of reality in play as we did before globalization; everything has a risk element, especially something that is essentially a fail theory that has proven so for 10 years.  Don’t believe me, go back to the 70’s and read the original idea of globalization, lower taxes, lower debt, better jobs, more quality time for the average worker were all promises.  Not one promise has been met, so it has failed and now your health is at risk too. 

 

As a pet owner, I’m appalled at the way our system for pet food works.  As a business person I’m frankly disgusted that the ducks are lining up to show that corporate greed is most likely the real cause of this issue unfolding.  As a consumer, it makes me even more wary about the promises that everything will be ok with globalization, this is proving we should slow down and do better management.

 

This all relates to marketing because marketing is really the link between the promise you make and the way in which you deliver it to the customers.  In the pet food situation, everyone failed, it’s a classic example in which no one kept their promise and just hoped nobody figured it out.  Well, we did, and I will not be surprised when lawsuits are brought up.  This is a shameful event for business as a whole because this does highlight what many companies do.  It may not mean the life of an animal, but I can tell you, I won’t even touch a MenuFoods product now.  I saw the conferences, heard the time line and there is no way they did enough to gain my trust back.  And I’m not alone.

 

Think about your company and if it were you, are you keeping your brand promise on all levels?  Chances are there is a broken chain somewhere, fix it before you become the next MenuFoods.  They have lost half their stock value and are underperforming the S&P by over 40%.  I’m still waiting for the sales figures, but my guess is, it’s just as bad.

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Filed under Branding, Business, Customer Satisfaction, Globalization, Marketing

Web Overhaul and Going Beyond your Limits

I have not been updating the blog lately because I have been working on my website with a total overhaul.  The entire look, purpose and feel is going to be changing, so this is taking up a lot of my time as I try and understand what it is I want and how it all fits together.  But it is a great exercise; I am not a programmer.  I do know the basics, HTML, a little javascripting and XML, but it’s not my passion. 

 

As non-tech people in marketing try to market, we often get frustrated by the tech people and their constant telling us that we can’t do this or that.  I think every marketer should try and maintain their own website so they know what it is like to use code, even if just a little.  In fact, no matter what area of business you are in, I think it is important to spend time on the ground in the areas your work touches, directly or indirectly.

 

I remember when I started out back at my first job.  They sent me to the warehouse for my first week.  There I was, all dressed up to start in the office working logistics and I was in the warehouse packing orders.  It made sense when I got to my desk job how valuable that week in the warehouse was.  In that short time I learned how long it took for orders to get put together and how they were packaged in the warehouse.  So when a sales rep tried to sell one of something that came in bundles, I knew why they were bundled and why the customer had to buy the whole bundle.

 

I wish all companies did this, too often people get so fixed in their own little corner of the world, they don’t really understand how others are impacted by their actions.  For example, I was watching Fox News the other day and some guy from Capitalist Pig Investments was on TV talking about how great it is we have illegals in the US, how we are helping people out.  That’s one way to look at it, but we let in 1-2 million people each year, in that same time, 80 million replace them in the developing world.  We can’t help all of them with the current model.  Add to that, the infrastructure here gets used up at a faster rate and capital must be used to build more schools and repair roads, then you have the issue of inflation.  Not everyone lives by the bottom line of spreadsheets.  If this guy on Fox saw that, he’s realize his view causes more harm in the long run than it helps.  Do you think those 80 million in the developing world feel better?  I know they don’t.

 

If we actually cut the flood in and created a flood out to build industries in developing nations that compliment our industries, we would have a much better situation.  We could help those 80 million and keep our own country from falling behind due to the over burden of social services. 

 

So yeah, something like a simple website overhaul does connect to the greater picture of things.  If we choose to step back and really see the picture and not the hype.  And most news stories are more hype than reality.

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Shopping for Software

Today I’m taking a break from posting an article.  I’ve been doing research on new software.  I need a new web development software.  Frankly I do not enjoy coding, it’s not really for me.  So I need the less complex type.  I haven’t bought a package in nearly 5 years, so it is a lot like starting over again.  I bought the last package while in Arizona at Fry’s Electronics, which I completely loved shopping at because it was so much cheaper than Best Buy, which was the other main option in town.  But now I’m in
Minnesota and the pickings are slim, so I go online and find a few.  But to be honest, they don’t make it easy to find these programs.  Even on Amazon, it’s a bit of a chore.
 

There has to be a better way to find products.

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We are Not Happy Until You are Unhappy

Sometimes I wonder if this is the customer service policy at some places.  I have my own list of service nightmare stories just like everyone else.  Over the years I have gotten better at getting what I want by address the needs of the company or their fears.  I’ve learned that the best way to get better service is to really sell the company on why they should treat me nice, it’s a bit sad, customers shouldn’t have do that, but sometimes, that’s the best route to getting what I want.  In many ways, the issues of customer services is as much about marketing and brand performance as any and to really get to the heart of it, one has to look at the issue of perception and reality to fully understand where the misalignments often arise.

 

Seth Godin wrote a great book called All Marketers are Liars.  He’s right, if you are doing your job, you are probably lying.  Not to the customer but more to yourself.  No two people perceive reality in the same way, in order to sell, you need to adopt or understand the reality of the customer and master it.  A good marketer knows it is far less expensive to sell an idea, service or product that re-enforces the beliefs of a customer, than it is to change their beliefs or sense of reality to fit yours.  So you don’t sell them what you believe, but more or less you sell them what you perceive to be what they believe.  And that’s where the trouble starts.

 

Few companies can sell their idea of reality to customers and do so in a way that maximizes profit performance.  So we often go for the path of least resistance, sell them what they want.  There is nothing wrong with that, after all, the first rule of business is “the customer is always right.”  So if the customer is always right, sell them what they say they want.  Of course we are assuming the customer knows what they want, or that we know what the customer wants or that our data analysis was done in a non-bias way to allow us to really know what the customer wants.  Can you see how trouble can creep in?  There are many ways assumptions can enter the picture and assumptions are the bad guys of marketing.  Assumptions are lazy marketing because they are not based on real understand but our own perception, not the customer’s perception, which is where the real money is to be made.

 

Assumptions are filled with biases and half truths that lead to bad service, because we are assuming we know.  Best Buy sends me cards to go shop at their store all the time; they assume they have something I want.  I am in the market for a new business application software package, I went to Best Buy, and they didn’t have it.  They had a ton of games, but almost nothing in terms of business applications.  And this was at their flagship store.  I went to a restaurant where the waitress changed my order; she assumed I would want to try a different dish.  No, I ordered what I wanted because I like it.  Assumptions can really cost you, both the restaurant and Best Buy assumed wrong and lost my interest.  Best Buy uses stats and past purchase history and assumes what I want, but they don’t bother to ask.  The waitress, assumed (for reason’s I never did understand) that I wanted something other than what I ordered; she did ask for my order but ignored it.

 

But there are more pitfalls.  Often the corporate culture takes over and dominates the conversation between customer and provider.  A lot of people locally who drink coffee have moved away from Starbucks for local or regional coffee shops.  They felt the whole Starbucks culture was being forced upon them upon visiting a Starbucks.  When Starbucks started it was very good at creating a good link with customers, now it seems to have lost that edge a bit, at least in this market.  This can happen when the company forgets who the real customer is.  It’s not the brand it’s the people paying for the product or service.  When companies forget this a lot of problems take place.  This can be seen in different ways.

 

Sometimes one department gets it and another doesn’t, this can be a real disaster.  As a customer when you go in and the sales person sells you the reality you already believe in and shows you how their product fits in, we get excited and are happy.  Then you have a mechanical problem and the service department doesn’t seem as excited as the sales people, wait a month, no two months to get service and the service guys act like they are doing you a favor and spend more time bragging about their skills than actually doing the job.  They just smashed your reality and it can cost them a sale in the future.  This happens a lot, more so than any other type.  It comes down to poor training, service reps are not trained well enough or motivated enough to really sell the customer the right way and this always costs a company in future sales.

 

How do you fix the problem then?

 

Perception is what branding is all about.  It is actually a very abstract area and selling customers what they want is the key.  Business is about serving others, doesn’t matter what you do.  If you serve others you will get what you want in return for your efforts.  Do it unique and better than anyone else and watch the profits come in. 

 

First, clear out all the assumptions, never let assumptions rule the day.  I am never happy when I hear a company says, “Our market are women between 18 and 64.”  Why not just say, “we want to sell to every woman we can talk into buying our stuff.”  That’s essentially what it means.  But that doesn’t translate into really addressing a woman’s needs or why they would want to even buy your product.  Target the belief system and then show how you fit in, that means actually asking and getting to know customers and setting up channels for real communications.  Not the suggestion box email that so many companies have, but a real dialog.  I used to have a message board on my site, I made a promise, anyone who asked me a direct question, and I would answer there.  The response was amazing and the loyalty factor went through the roof translating into higher profits.

 

Some people when I tell them of the message board they complain it would eat up too much time.  What else do you have to do other than selling to customers that you are the company to buy from?  What could be more important?  If you are doing paperwork or spending time in meetings, you are helping your competitor.  Train people to understand that their paycheck comes from serving the customer, demonstrate how they can really impact their own financial well being, by serving the customer in the way the customer wants to be served.

 

It’s really that simple, this isn’t rocket science.  People are people and business is just another form of human relationship.  You don’t need to get fancy to say hello and ask someone how you can help them.  Once you understand and they agree you understand, you’ll be able to close the perception and reality gap between yourself and the customer.  This helps you by serving them in way your competitors can’t, ensuring a customer for years to come.

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The Mondays

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Reputation Vs Brand – The Easter Experience

Well Easter is basically over for me, late at night and I’m getting ready for Monday.  I went out this year to a local restaurant for Easter; nobody really was in the mood for cooking this year.  So out we went to a steak house that is actually pretty good.  It has gained a great reputation for the food and service.

 

Today it was not so great on the food, the service was still great.  But everyone left feeling a little disappointed with the food.  The reputation suffered but did the brand?  That’s a hard question to answer because so often in businesses with limited brand lines, the reputation is so closely tied to the brand that there is often very little difference between the two.  The fact that the service was still top, helped to keep everyone saying, “well, maybe we should skip brunches there and just stick to dinners.”  So they didn’t really lose customers but the reputation did take a hit and as a result, the brand did as well.

 

It also really demonstrates why brands are such a hard thing to really nail down in terms of value.  You never know what is going to impact the brand in the eyes of the customer.  There is still a great deal of art in the brand process, an ability to really sense out your customers feelings and motives and being able to translate that into a tangible profitable brand.  This is going to be an issue facing anyone seeking to manage their brand.  Too much of the brand is in the mind of the consumer to really be able to pin point what a brand really means to someone and thus your bottom line and company reputation.

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Great Creative Commercials

It’s Good Friday and most people are settling in to the weekend holiday and probably not all that interested in a serious blog post.  So I thought I’d go light and just look at some ads I like from over the years.  I like them because they are funny or creative, but at the same time, they do show us something all marketers should focus on.  These ads get so creative that the brand and driver to get people to buy, gets a little lost in some of them.  It helps highlight the struggle between getting the customers attention and getting them to buy. 

In the 80’s, Wendy’s came out with this very funny ad.  It’s great at catching attention and kind of gets you to think about Wendy’s but not really.  But it is still a very funny ad even today.

 

Carlton Draught’s beer ad is next.  I mean wow!  What creativity, I love this ad, but honestly I don’t remember who they are after the ad and I don’t feel compelled to go out and buy some beer, actually I’d rather just watch the commercial than get the beer.

Honda has a great ad, it makes you want to see why this event is taking place, but at the end, there is zero compel factor to the commercial and the brand connection isn’t there either.  But it is still very creative.

Pro X Fade has a great commercial; frankly I think this is a great commercial.  If you understand the product they are selling, it makes a lot of sense and you get the brand connection.  If you don’t know, well then it just looks really cool.  But as an ad for a niche market, this one is not only creative, it works!

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