Seth: "Do you mean a commission based salesperson who pretends to be a marketer? Do you mean a CMO who comes from ESPN or JetBlue? Or do youmean an advertising person?"
The Other Person: "A strict marketer who can take the existing biz, maximize both ends and find new revenue streams."
Once again: If Dunkin Donuts goes out to hire a "senior marketer" and gives that person traditional senior marketer duties, not much is going to change. (Seth Godin)
You have no idea how many companies fill out purchase orders by hand.
You have no idea how many companies still don't understand that the internet is their friend.
You have no idea how many companies still view the HR process as little more than "getting asses in seats".
The saddest thing I heard all year was this paraphrased comment (from both the VP Sales and the CEO of a major international company): "Our company was never an innovator and never will be. None of our products will ever be cool. Our customers don't care about our products. They just care about being able to buy them and knowing that they'll work."
This is from people who - between the two of them - probably had over 60 years of experience at that particular company.
What's interesting to note is that the company's immense success in its first twenty-thirty years was solely based on product innovation. Its ideas and proprietary products actually created whole new markets and changed the way an entire industry operates. (For the better, I might add.)
Having spoken to hundreds upon hundreds of their customers (and their competitors' customers), what we found was that innovation (in product development, packaging, customer service and access to information) was exactly what everyone wanted.
These people's customers were begging for cool new products. For a website that wouldn't be a hassle to work with. For better catalogs. For friendlier customer service.
But nobody was listening.
Ironically, the company (in spite of its uninspired management) experienced a burst of innovation this past year which will delay its inevitable demise by a good decade or so.
This isn't about being stubborn.
This isn't about egoism.
"This is the way we've always done it" really means "what you're suggesting sounds like extra work, and I really don't care enough to go there."
I guess there are two types of people in the world: Those who will spend their entire careers looking for ways to get better at what they do, and... everybody else.
Each group has its own DNA. While the first tends to be driven by passion, excellence, intellectual curiosity, altruism and the pursuit of evermore rewarding challenges, the second is a lot less... well, noteworthy.
What's interesting is that both groups can look, sound and act exactly the same. This is not about ambition. It isn't about greed. It isn't about pride.
It is about motivators.
That DNA thing.
In yesterday's Part 1, I promised you that I would give you some profiling tips so that next time you find yourself interviewing a potential client (or employer), you'll know when to cut your losses and try again with a company worthy of your talents. Since this post is already getting long, I'll put together a list in part 3. For today though, here's how to identify the folks who will meet with you and talk about "growth" and "market share" and "exposure" but won't actually follow your recommendations or do what needs to be done to turn their companies into extraordinary organizations:
1) Instinct. If you're any good at this, you should know within 5-10 minutes of meeting them if they fall into the first category or the second.
2) Ask them what companies or brands they admire the most. (Netflix, Starbucks, Apple, Virgin = Good. Enron, GM, Disney, Burger King = maybe not so good.)
3) Ask them what magazines they love to read. Fast Company, Wired, Id, Dwell = Good. "I just read the Wall Street Journal" = Maybe not so good. (Bonus: "I subscribe to your blog's RSS" = Very, very good.)
4) Ask them what they think their customers are saying about them now. Good and bad. Then ask them what they would like their customers to say about them a year from now. (If they don't seem to understand the question... maybe it's time to cut the meeting short.)
5) Ask them what their best customer service experience was. Movie theater, restaurant, hotel, airline, website, retail store, ad agency, whatever. Ask them what made it so great. Now ask them why they think that other companies they deal with on a daily basis don't provide the same level of excellence. (If they can articulate even a modicum of passion in their answer, you're probably okay. If not, well... you get the idea.)
A brand's DNA isn't something you'll find attached to a building or locked away in a password-protected file. It isn't a mission statement or a secret sauce. It isn't a logo. It isn't an ad. It isn't any single product. A brand's DNA lives inside the people who are at the core of what makes that brand breathe and grow, from its CEO to its executives to its staffers to its customers. I don't care how big a company's name is. I don't care how cool it was in its heyday. You're not dealing with ten years ago. You're dealing with now.
I know it's tempting to try and help companies that obviously could use your talents, but if the people running them are like the proverbial horse, you'll just end up beating your head against the wall.
Don't waste your time. Learn to interview. Learn to profile. Learn to find the strength to say no when you know you should.
Learn to identify companies whose brand DNA, whose true potential isn't burried under layers of arrogance, bureaucratic nonsense and just plain ineptitude.
I don't care how talented and skilled you are. You can't help a company that doesn't want to change, or whose management will make it impossible for you to effectively do your job.
Give your prospective clients and employers the DNA litmus test. You'll be glad you did.
Where do you go once you've mastered the art of reading satellite maps on the NOAA website? You go here.
Thanks to Coca Cola, you can now check the world's current state of chillness... or bugness, along with weekly trends, % of change, etc.. The site also lets you zoom-in (Tom Clancy style) on whatever little corner of the planet you want, and find out more about unusual clusters of red or yellow (buggin' and freakin', respectively).
Cool site? Sure. Cool quantitative tool? Absolutely:
While the site doesn't actually track Coca Cola Zero drinkers (or Coca Cola drinkers, for that matter), it does geographically track the site's semi-viral spread. More interestingly, rather than showing you hits, it shows you where web surfers who choose to interract with the site are. Valuable info? In the right hands, you bet. The site literally maps out what you might call viral clusters... which... if you're into designing viral campaigns, is kind of important. (The lack of data on the map is at least as telling as the actual colorful points of data, by the way.)
For more cool quantitative visuals (but unrelated to Coca Cola), click here.
Graphic Courtesy of Feedburner
Yep. If you're in the business of getting noticed (or getting your clients noticed), you cannot afford not to become comfortable with RSS technology. Not anymore.
Before I begin, here is a cool little primer on re-branding that you probably should read. (Just don't forget to come back.)
Okay, now that you've read it, here's the skinny: Re-branding isn't really something you want to mess with. Yes, there's money in it for creatives and consultants and marketing firms. Yes, it's becoming more and more popular these days. And yes, it's easy. (Don't let anyone tell you it isn't. Any hack can put together a new logo, redesign your company's image and put together a whole new marketing strategy for you inside of a week.) But... just because it's all of these things - and growing in popularity about as fast as our deficit - doesn't mean it's a good idea.
Likewise, if you're a marketing firm, just because a misguided company is willing to pay you handsomely to spearhead a project that won't help them much in the end doesn't mean that you should take it on.
(Or as the often wise Mr. Frank Roth would say, "just because the teet is full doesn't mean you have to drink from it.")
Anyway. Welcome to the latest little fad. The next big empty promise. The next billion-dollar bubble. Yep, re-branding is going to be big.
Give it another six to eight months, and you won't be able to throw a stone without hitting an ad agency or marketing firm that preaches the benefits of updating or tweaking your brand. They'll make a good argument for renewed relevance and a dozen other cool buzzwords that'll make a lot of sense to you, especially if you've been hit by hard times.
Re-branding... Well, you know... it's your money. Live and learn, as they say. If after all these years, you still think that spending the equivalent of a third-world country's GNP to change your logo and tagline will pull your sales out of the gutter, be my guest. Throw money at it. Pat yourselves on the back. You'll get a few miles out of the whole thing, I'm sure.
When the numbers finally come in though, don't be surprised if your ROI isn't exactly what you had hoped for.
Spending obscene amounts of cash to change only the appearance or message of your business without actually doing anything to improve the business itself is kind of like putting a new coat of paint on a car that, instead, is desperately in need of a tuneup.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Your brand is not your logo. It isn't your mark. It isn't your tagline. Your brand is a little bit more complex than that. Changing it takes more than a few well-chosen words and the better part of a graphic designer's morning. (But more on that in a bit.)
Before we go on with this discussion, I want to establish what a brand really is at its core Without a logo. Without a website. Without a tagline. Without ads. Case in point: Chez Fifine.
(Okay, go pour yourself a cup of tea/coffee, because this one's going to take a few minutes.)
years ago, there was a restaurant in St. Tropez called Chez Fifine. It was in the old quarter, about a five-minute walk from the waterfront, where all of the cool, fancy restaurants shared some of the most valuable business-friendly real-estate in europe. But if you didn't know it was there, you might walk right past its five or six tables and miss it altogether.
First: Fifine didn't have a cool logo above her door.
Second: Fifine never spent one cent... err, centime on any advertising.
Third: Fifine didn't have a website or email or a blog... or even an answering machine.
As I recall, she even refused to be listed in the famous Guide Michelin, which... is pretty-much unheard of in the restaurant world. (She would have gotten five stars, hands down, but she refused to be rated. She wanted her customers to decide whether they liked her food or not. They didn't need a food critic to tell them.)
The point is that all Fifine had was a sliver of a two-story building in a narrow street, literally in the shadow of dozens upon dozens of very hip, well-financed and easily accessible restaurants that attracted millions of dollars in revenue every week. Fifine's kitchen was smaller than most master bathrooms in modern American homes. She didn't have a dishwasher. She didn't have a big commercial oven. She didn't have a chef. Fifine just had herself, her kitchen, her old building, and a narrow stretch of sidewalk she managed to fit five or six tables on.
For over thirty-five years, Fifine never had an empty table.
She never once had an unhappy customer.
Ages before WOM became a buzzword, Fifine built her restaurant's legend on word-of-mouth alone. Wealthy vacationers from all over Europe made an annual pilgrimage to her table and forked over some serious coin for the privilege.
What was so special about Fifine? Everything. Nothing. It's one of those "you have to experience it for yourself" deals.
I guess you could start with the fact that her fish and vegetables were bought every morning at the local market. Except maybe for butter, nothing ever spent the night in her fridge. Ever. The vegetables came from local farms. The fish came from the bay of St. Tropez. When she first opened her kitchen to customers, her husband, who was a fisherman, took care of catching what she needed. When he died, his friends took over the job. Yep, Fifine had the freshest food in all the kingdom, and if you didn't know that going in, it soon became obvious when you took your first bite... which brings us to the second really special thing about Fifine's kitchen: In a country that prides itself on the quality and flavor of its dishes, surrounded by some of the best restaurants in all of France, Fifine's cooking knew no equal.
Take Maxim's. Take La Tour D'Argent. Strip away the pretentious dining rooms and snooty Maitres d'Hotel. Take away the prestigious namesakes. The world-famous addresses. The decades spent at the very top of every culinary guide's list of the world's top 10 dining palaces. Take it all away except for the quality of the food, and Fifine would give their seven-figure master chefs a run for their money.
But you see, Fifine didn't turn her dishes into elaborate productions. There was no caviar or foie gras on her appetizer menu. You wouldn't find any rare wines in her cellar. She made fish soup. She made steamed fish and vegetable dishes. She made garlic butter sauces. That's it. None of it sounds all that fantastic, does it?
Maybe not. But once you sat at her table, once she limped out to explain the menu in her thick Varois accent, once the sauce cooking on her stove reached out to you through her tiny kitchen's open window, you felt like you had found a home away from home.
I kid you not. French, American, German, Japanese, it didn't matter.
And once you took your first bite, that little old lady had you hooked for life. You would never forget her name. You would never forget the sound of her voice. The way she wore her scarf on her head. The way she smiled when she asked you how you liked your dinner and you gave her an enthusiastic thumbs-up. You would never forget how absolutely amazing everything tasted. Most intriguing of all, even without an exact address, you would always be able to find your way back.
Chez Fifine was a temple of culinary perfection, of unquestionable authenticity... and of unapologetic simplicity.
If Fifine had a brand, she never knew it. And walking by her restaurant, you wouldn't know it either. No awning. No logo. No sign. Nothing to even indicate that there was a restaurant there, except for a few old tables and chairs. But man, did Fifine have a brand, in the purest sense of the term. Her brand lived in every little detail of your experience as one of her guests: The food. The street. The building itself. The stories she would share with you once the cooking was done. Fifine herself. It was a million little things.
A brand isn't a logo. A brand isn't a mark or a tagline. It isn't a color. It isn't a T-shirt.
A brand isn't what you say. It's what you do.
Your brand is your company's soul. It shapes the design of every single product you put out, of every single thing you do as a company, from the type of flooring in your main office to the way you answer the phone. Your brand flows outward from your core.
Remember the whole ripple and pond thing.
Your logo, your tagline, your advertising, your packaging, your press releases, your website, your POP displays, all of these things are extensions of that core.
The folks at Brains On fire prefer to use the term identity. More firms should do the same.
Brand. Identity. Essence. Soul. Promise. Raison d'Etre. Once you understand that all of these terms are interchangeable, you're already half-way there.
So. Re-branding, you say?
I think that what you really mean is regrouping.
Think about your core competencies.
Think about what you are truly passionate about.
Think about what led you to start a company to begin with. Why are you here? Why are you in business? These are the first questions you have to ask yourselves before going in for a facelift.
Making a change isn't about doing something cool and creative just for the sake of doing something cool and creative. It is about doing something relevant. It is about reconnecting with who you are as a company. As a brand. As a company of talented, passionate people. That means understanding what you stand for. What your value is to the world that your customers live in.
In French, we call it a "retour aux sources".
A return to your source.
For the change to work, it has to come from the inside. Superficial changes don't work on their own.
You don't fix a car with a new coat of paint.
A few years ago, Burger King changed its logo. Wanna guess how much it cost them to do it? Wanna take a stab at how many digits ended up at the bottom of the bill for the ad campaign that came with the new identity? In the end, did anyone care? Did Burger King gain market share? Have the BK execs learned anything from that little endeavor?
Greenville's own baseball team just suffered a lousy rebranding too. New logo. New name. New "identity". Bleh. Why?
No, really, why? Okay, I know: New ownership. New team. New stadium. I get that. But instead of tying the team's identity to the community, to its future fans, to the people who will eventually come to call it their own, why did whomever came up with the Greenville Drive's identity choose instead to cater to the area's growing economic ties to the automotive industry? (The official story is that there is no connection whatsoever. Yeah. Uhuh.) Why did the logo have to be so ugly? Greenville's history has a lot more to do with textiles than cars. The Greenville Weavers might have been a little bit cooler, but whatever.
This is what happens when you don't understand the connection between brand and identity and raison d'etre.
Any hack came put together a new logo for you. A new tagline. A new gimmick.
Any hack can cash your check.
On the other hand, not everyone can actually help you find your way again. The kind of insight and wisdom that it takes to do this - and to do it right - is kind of rare. Think Tom Peters. Think Tom Asacker. Think John Moore and Kathy Sierra. Check out my blogroll and you'll find a fairly decent who's who of people who fall into that exclusive little group of talented brand strategists.
The problem is that we can't help everyone. There aren't enough of us. Someday maybe, but not yet. And for every one of us, there are easily dozens of outfits ready to deliver the next subservient chicken and Greenville Drive to an unexpecting client.
So look... For your own sake, before you start forking-over good money to a marketing firm that promises to deliver what seems to be an attractive re-branding package or ad campaign, give one of us a call. Shoot a couple of us an email. It really doesn't matter who you pick as long as you get a second opinion. A third opinion, even. With the money you're about to spend, you really owe it to yourself.
You owe it to your customers too.
And you know what? It may very well be that your logo needs to be tweaked a little. The design of your stores may have to change. A new tagline might be in order. A new advertising campaign may indeed be right for you. Every company is different. Every situation calls for its own remedy. The possibilities are endless, but you have to do the real work first. The core work.
The creative interpretation of your brand's message is something that grows out of this process. If you're lucky enough to have serious talent on your team, that process might only last a few days. If you're less lucky...Well, I guess you'll end up with, um... a new logo.
Maybe a new tagline or something.
An advertising gimmick.
Woohoo! Money well spent.
Okay. So, seriously. If an old fisherman's wife and her ratty kitchen can give the best restaurants in the world a run for their money - and do it without a logo, without PR, without advertising - surely, given your resources and your budget, you can do a whole lot better than you've been doing. Don't you think?
So... tell me again... What exactly do you think re-branding will do for you?
I keep running into this every few months or so. It always makes me smile because it's so true:
The master in the art of living makes little distinction
between his work and his play
his labor and his leisure
his mind and his body
his education and his recreation
his love and his religion
He hardly knows which is which...
He simply pursues his vision of excellence
in whatever he does
leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing
To him he is always doing both.
- Zen Buddhist Text
If you're any good at what you do, and by good, I mean really good, work is play.
You don't build anything worthwhile by copying other people. Yeah, sure, it may seem like the safe thing to do, but it isn't.
Welcome to the fabulous world of the "also in".
Welcome to the wonderful world of the "why bother".
Okay, sure, not every product needs to be extraordinary. Not every product needs to be unique. I guess you could set out to publish a magazine that's a lot like Newsweek or Men's Health or Fast Company... only more "average". You could set out to produce a movie that's a lot like Titanic or Sling Blade or Gladiator, but... you know... more "average". You could set out to copy Subway or Jersey Mike's or Quizno's and make a subway sandwich, but... just a little bit more bland. A little bit less special. A little bit cheaper too, while you're at it. I guess that would be swell.
To make up for the blandness, you could always pay an ad agency to try and pick up the slack for you and miraculously come up with a brilliant viral campaign that may or may not have people flocking to your stores.
Yep, you could do that.
I guess you could wake up one morning and decide that your work, the fruit of your labors, could be just... um... average. No more, no less. As long as your business makes money, who cares, right?
Forget the great American novel. Forget the Chrystler Building. Forget the iPod. Forget the Canon EOS 1D. Release your movies straight to video and your books directly to the bargain house. Tell your kids to shoot for a C+. It's okay. Average is good enough.
Instead of designing your own products, find cheaper ones already being manufactured by someone else and pass them off as your own. Hope that no one will notice. As long as the profits are good, why not? Yep, I guess you could convince yourself that it's okay to go that route.
It isn't like you need to actually think about where your company is going. It isn't like you need to give any thought to the relationship you have with your customers. What role you play in their world. Instead, you can just watch what your competitors are doing, and copy their every move. You can keep cutting corners. You can keep telling yourself that's the safe thing to do. The smart thing to do.
You can keep telling yourself that if you make your products cheaper, you will sell more of them. After all, that's how your competitors are stealing your customers, isn't it?
Or is it better design?
Or is it because their stores have red walls?
Why be relevant, after all? Why be relevant when you can just play it safe and follow the leaders?
Is that what we learned to do in business school? Is that what we learned about in History class? In English comp.? Is that the lesson we've learned from watching millions of hours of sports on TV? Succeed by waiting to see what someone else will do to see if it's safe to try it too?
Is that what a a CEO or a CMO is paid to do?
You don't have to answer that.
Not if you don't want to.
Instead, think fast and tell me how many skyscrapers there are in New York City.
(For the sake of expediency, let's just say that there are LOTS.)
How many of those skyscrapers can you actually name?
Only a handfull?
Why is that?
Of the thousands of companies you'll encounter in your lifetime, how many will you actually remember as being worthy of mention? Of having been a pleasure to deal with? A few dozen at most?
Why is that?
Of the tens of thousands of people you will meet in your lifetime, how many will you end up being truly impressed by? How many will you come to count as friends?
Again, why is that?
What does that tell you about average?
What does that tell you about the value of average?
Consider a few names: Starbucks. Target. BMW. Apple. Pixar. Ben & Jerry. Kenneth Cole. Nike.
What is it about these brands that makes them so special?
Is it their ability to crunch numbers? Nope.
is it their ability to copy the guys who came before them? (Um... who would that be?)
Are their products the best in the world? Again, no.
Reality check: Most of your local coffee bars make much better coffee than Starbucks. Target's clothes are no better than old Navy's. BMW arguably isn't Porsche. Apple is nowhere near Microsoft's sales. Pixar doesn't always hit the mark. Haagen-Dazs makes the best Rum Raisin ice cream and Mayfield is pretty awesome too. DKNY, Express Men and Banana Republic give Kenneth Cole a run for his money. Most real runners wear Mizuno, Asics or new Balance on their feet, not Nike.
So what is it?
Is it their ability to stand out? Sure, but that's only a symptom of their success.
What's key is their ability to a) create something special that their customers won't be able to find anywhere else, and b) do it over and over again.
That's the promise of these brands.
When you buy me, I promise that...
You will look hip.
You will sleep better.
You will save time.
You will smell fantastic.
Your cold symptoms will vanish.
You won't have to worry about quality.
Without a promise, a brand isn't a brand. It's just a mark.
There is no such thing as an "also in" brand.
Okay, now that you've read it, say it.
Really. Say it outloud:
"There is no such thing as an also in brand."
When you're an "also in," what is your promise? What is your purpose?
"We're kind of like Subway."
"We're kind of like Power Bar."
"We're kind of like CNN."
Think about it.
I don't care if you're a mechanic or a graphic designer, a chain of dry-cleaners or a rental car service. If you aren't there for a reason (other than just making money), you're doomed. It may not be today or tomorrow or next week, but someone with a purpose will come along to eat you up. A real brand. A real business.
It's just a matter of time.
If you're going to be a mechanic, be the best damn mechanic in your zip code. Or the most honest. Or the friendliest.
If you're going to design logos and layouts for clients, be the edgiest in your field. Or the fastest. Or the most pleasant to work with.
If you're going to open up a dry-cleaning business, either offer the best quality pressing or the fastest turnaround. Make drop-offs and pickups velvet-smooth. Make your customers want to come back and recommend you to their friends.
I could talk to you about the role that pride plays in building a brand, but I'll save that for another day.
The point is that being an "also in" company doesn't cut it. Not if you want to grow. Not if you want your company to go anywhere.
Not if you want to survive.
Copying other companies isn't a strategy, it's a death sentence.
Word to the wise: Don't be a follower. There's no safety in being second.
Hop on over to buzzdoodle for a short but sweet little post about the simplicity of word of mouth marketing. Because... yeah, it's simple.
Here's how it works:
You make a great product.
You get people to use it.
They love your product so much that they tell their family and friends about it.
They try it.
They love it.
They tell their family and friends about it.
It starts with the great product though. Always. No exceptions. That product can be a piece of software, a car, a bike helmet, a customer service department, a window display, a story, a photograph, an ad, whatever.
I can't tell you how many times I've bought stuff based on recommendations from people I trust. As a matter of fact, I hardly ever buy anything now without asking someone what they think of it. A new triathlon bike. A pair of running shoes. A digital camera. A movie ticket. A video game. A cell phone.
Sometimes, those recommendations come unexpectedly:
"Oh my god. You HAVE to try a bite of this apple pie."
"You HAVE to see this movie!"
"Don't buy that bird food. This one's much better (and it costs $2 less)."
Every lasting relationship I have ever had with a brand or a product has either been an accident or the result of a recommendation by someone I trust. My favorite restaurants. My favorite books. My favorite bath soap. My favorite wetsuit.
If you want customers for life, that's the approach you need to consider. Again, without a really great product, forget it.
You can't fake word-of-mouth marketing (well, you can, but it doesn't work for very long, and it is sure to come back to haunt you). You can't force word-of-mouth marketing. And you can't really buy it either.
You can only facilitate it.
How? From Buzzdoodle, here is a list of things that are helpful (and in some cases vital) to a word-of-mouth friendly environment. Think of it as the building blocks of a WOMM/WOM ecosystem:
- Help other people be successful
- Superior Customer Service
- Superior Product with unexpected benefits
- Do the unexpected and make someone's day
- Publicly recognize other people
- Introduce people that you know that should know each other
- Be open, honest and human
- Ask people what it would take to have them recommend you or introduce you to their friends
- Constantly perfect your networking and communication efforts
Recap: Be helpful, be friendly, be transparent, and dedicate yourself to making people's lives better. Always.
One last thing: Your product isn't there to make money. Your product is there to fill a need (and do so better than anyone else's). Making money is just one of many positive side effects.
If you ever want WOM (and WOMM) to work for you, that's the attitude you need to adopt. If you see WOMM solely as a means to an end, you're probably better off spending your marketing budget elsewhere. (Not everyone can be the best at what they do. That's okay.)
For anyone out there who isn't content to be successful as an "also in" company, there's your ticket to a bright and exciting future.
PS: Follow this discussion thread down into the marketing trenches.