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I’ve moved!

In the interests of simplicity — because after all that is the subject of this blog — I’ve moved to a self-hosted wordpress.org site.  My short time here generated more than 14,000 visitors, and I’ve given up both my Google visibility and a lot of traffic (in the short term, I hope) with this move but I thought it made more sense to consolidate my business site (which was getting very little traffic) with my blog, which was getting traffic but wasn’t generating business and put them together  in a place where I could do affiliate marketing, enhance my personal branding, and do a number of other things.

I invite you to come visit me at the new home of Bulldog Simplicity, hosted by Host Gator.

Thanks for giving me my start!

Peter

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Categories: Execution, Simplicity, Strategy

Rats! to taking a conservative approach to branding

In the midst of some new projects and designing a new website that has a real chance to impact people’s lives, I’ve gotten to thinking about whether my personal-branding materials go far enough to explain what makes me different, whether I’m adequately reinforcing the “bulldog” brand on my personal website and elsewhere.

I’m not sure I’m being in-your-face enough, because that’s one of the things that makes me different from other communicators.  So I’m taking a second look at my website to get away from trying to make my message appeal to everyone who visits my page (or my LinkedIn profile) and appeal to the people who are actually looking for what I have to sell.

It was with that mindset that I came across Dan Pink’s posting from earlier this week and realized that this ad for the DC Metro  truly reflects the “bulldog” mentality that I need to more fully embrace…

As way of background, the Washington, D.C. subway system bans eating on its trains.  There are many different ways you can reinforce this message, but this is about as visceral as it gets.

Pink (who wrote Drive and A Whole New Mind) notes that he likes to highlight advertising that is emotionally intelligent (i.e., it either encourages empathy on the part of the viewer or demonstrates empathy for his or her situation), this one falls into the category of advertising that just “shocks and awe(s) us into thinking — and occasionally into action.”

I view it from a slightly different perspective, as someone who has embraced a goal of identifying ways that we can “subtract the obvious and add the meaningful” in business and our personal lives.  I can imagine DC Metro officials listening to their agency pitch this ad and saying, “you want to use a picture of what?” in our new campaign.

It’s bold.  It eliminates the obvious (statistics or a reminder that there are rules against eating on the trains) and gets right to the meaningful.

We need more of that in our writing — visceral images that make a clear and compelling point.

‘Creative confidence’ trumps historical indicators of future career success

Photo: Associated Press

As one group of students prepare to leave college and another batch of high-school seniors prepare to take their place, the importance of technical knowledge takes center stage.  Whether you’re talking about undergraduate or post-grad admission offices or potential employers, GPAs and test scores that demonstrate students’ abilities to get the one “right” answer are seen as the primary determinant of future potential.

David Kelley — the IDEO chairman, not the legendary creator of great TV dramas — recently energized the Stanford d.school during the opening of the design school’s new building by arguing that while technical knowledge has its place, it is far more important to teach our future leaders how to work on solving challenging problems where nobody knows the answer.  As Bob Sutton, a Stanford d.school professor who attended the speech explains it, the Stanford d.school teaches creative confidence — “the ability to keep pushing forward, observing the world and the people in it, identifying unmet needs, brainstorming solutions, and trying to develop prototypes that work and failing forward through the disconcerting process.”   He went on to say that the d.school process — which I discussed in a January post on its publication of the Bootcamp Bootleg — encourages people to “have the energy and will to keep pushing forward, to be undaunted when ideas don’t work, to keep trying new ideas, and even when the deadline for the project comes and they do not have  a decent solution, to believe that if they just had another few days, they would have come up with a great solution.”

Kelley has added a great personal-branding phrase to our lexicon.  Even without the benefit of a Stanford d.school education, I think there are a lot of people with have struggled to describe a similar skill set on a resume or interview without the benefit of the “creative confidence” phrase.   It’s a skill that many displaced corporate executives are using as they look at consulting or 1099 contract work, whether they use the phrase in the sales process or not.

But Kelley’s Not Alone In This

Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel imagined what he’d say if asked to speak to this year’s class of graduating seniors in a posting on the Huffington Post.  He also speaks of looking beyond the GPA and the job that awaits and judging oneself on a different set of criteria that mirrors this concept of creative confidence:

“What matters, and this is the heart of what I want to say today, is not how I might assess what you have done, or how your professors graded you, or what your friends and family might say, or even how a professional school or employer is going to view you, but rather how you would now evaluate yourself.

I wonder if you have thought to do this as yet, to measure yourself by standards that you would have to justify and explain, not to us, but only to the man or woman in the mirror. Not only are you the only one in a position to make a full and candid assessment, but you are the one to whom the assessment ultimately matters.”

He goes on to list some questions that might help in that self-assessment; most focus on the intangible.  It’s a right-brain approach, which as Daniel Pink and others have argued in recent years is taking on increasing importance over the fact-based left-brain emphasis that has driven business for many decades.

All this resonated with me because I believe creative confidence is a more elegant way — with a bit more structure — of saying Bulldog Simplicity.  I believe schools and corporations both need to spend more time focusing on developing creative confidence.  And for those who have it, they need to spend more time documenting it as a skill and how it enables them to make a difference in their companies’ or clients’ success.

Follow eight simple strategies for marketing success

What tools are in your Marketing Swiss Army Knife?

A few days ago,  someone asked me to explain what made me a “good marketer.”  I had never heard the question phrased quite that way before and stumbled through an answer.

Later on, I realized I built a class around that very question 11 years ago.  So I headed down to the basement and pulled out the class handout.  We had spent more than three months asking that very question of some of the best marketing minds in the bank and organizing their answers into what turned out to be eight categories.

Times change; economies ebb and flow.  Millions of trees have died in the search for answers to that question.  But the answer never really changes.  I won’t list all the tactics that made up the bulk of the class, but here are the principles, tweaked a bit to apply to everyone:

  1. Always remember that we’re in business to (Fill in the Blank). In our case, it was Make Good Loans.  For others, it might be Sell Computers, Attract New Donors or Drive Traffic to Your Website.
  2. Be absolutely committed to knowing everything about your Target Audience. We were affinity marketers who worked with alumni associations, sports teams, professional groups, and a host of other partners.  The most successful marketers went beyond being credit-card experts to being experts on their groups and the group’s constituents.  That’s more difficult for marketers with a broader target audience, which makes No. 3 even more important.
  3. Everything begins with the “list” (or audience). Having a great product doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know where to find the buyer.  It’s OK to have multiple lists with different messages.
  4. Design compelling offers with a simple creative message. Two of the most important messages here were Offer is More Than Price and Your Great List Won’t Mean Much if the Offer Isn’t Clear and Valued by the Customer.
  5. Try lots of things.  Test in a disciplined manner… Basically, remember that if there’s no control there’s no test and behavior is more important than opinion.
  6. …And keep what works.  Measure your results. You need to share successes and failures.  I was reading a book the other night where the author was criticizing another author who had focused only on his big successes.  We often learn more from our big failures…and those lessons learned are even more important if we share them with others.
  7. Challenge everything. Never stop trying to make things better.  Pay attention to the details. Part of this is about a commitment to “publishing.”   I doubt there’s any such thing as the “perfect test.”   Get to market quickly.  Mail less more often.  Make sure the affinity is “in” the package.
  8. Spend wisely.  It’s real money. This may have been a bigger deal back in 1999 when marketing money flowed more freely, but this is really about putting some analysis behind your decision to test.  What do you hope to achieve and what’s the cost in your best-case and worst-case scenarios?

I have followed these principles over the years, and made sure that the people who worked for me did the same.  And that should have been my answer when I was asked what makes me a good marketer.  I’m disciplined and I make sure I know my audience.

Did we miss something that doesn’t fit into one of these categories?  Please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on these strategies in future posts.

Does Jos. Bank’s marketing strategy build trust and brand value?

Lurking questions: How do you make up for the "losses" from selling three items for the price of one?

I cancelled my subscription to the relentless Jos. A. Bank e-mail ads today.  This has nothing to do with the quality of their clothes (most of my business wardrobe is from there), my need for business suits and accessories, or with reducing my e-mail volume.

It has to do with trust.

Here are a few examples:

  • Same e-mail:  Buy One, Get Two Free off their entire stock of sportscoats, dress pants, and sportswear AND Buy One, Get Four Free (Buy one suit and get two dress shirts and two ties free).
  • Buy One, Get Two Free on Suits and Suit Separates.  That same e-mail also included 50% off all sportswear and dress pants and 40% off all dress shirts, ties, and accessories.
  • Today’s offer: Buy one suit, get a second suit free PLUS a sportcoat or blazer FREE!

The company’s FY 2009 earnings indicate this strategy continues to be effective (although growth from Internet sales (where pricing like this make more sense) is double that of store sales).  But as a longtime customer I’m finding it increasingly difficult to trust a company that stresses quality but undermines that position by using one huge sale after another to drive business.  Perhaps the goal is to get busy executives in the door and sell overpriced non-sales accessories (i.e., ties, shirts, belts) but I think the strategy cheapens the brand.

Some analysts say they’re the best of the best in terms of creating a sense of urgency that drives sales.  I say that knowing there will be another sale tomorrow eliminates any sense of urgency on the part of the buyer.  And maybe it doesn’t matter so long as the customer eventually lands at Jos. Bank.

The Jos. A Bank tagline is The Expert in Men’s Apparel.  But ask prospective customers what they think of when you say the company’s name and I’ll bet you the vast majority focus on the sales.  Seems like a disconnect to me, although you might argue the relentless promotions keep them at the top of the buyer’s mind.

I get Walmart:  Spend Less.  Live Better. Setting aside all the Walmart issues that some readers will quickly point out, everyday low pricing works because it’s Simple.  You wonder why a company like Jos. Bank that sells clothes that are long lasting, always appropriate, and not flashy wouldn’t embrace a similar simple pricing strategy.  As a seller of private label clothes, Bank has a pricing advantage because they’ve eliminated the middleman and one layer of price markups.  But the marketing strategy doesn’t feel simple.

Aggressive promotional pricing detracts from the quality image that Bank is trying to cultivate.  And that’s not the prescription for an enduring long-term relationship, even in the face of an existing long-term relationship.  Jos. Bank has done promotions that promise customers their money back if they bought a suit and got laid off (although that one had “potential abuse” written all over it).  That’s how long-term relationships are built.

What do you think?  Am I missing something here?  Are there other examples of companies who marketing strategy seems to be working, potentially at the cost of long-term trust?

How I’d spend my first few months in a new job

Can you demonstrate your ability to meet the challenges of your new job and hit the ground running?

I was recently asked to write a plan outlining how I’d approach my first few months in the job I’m interviewing for.  A few people (a couple of recruiters among them) commented on how unusual the request was, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

The interview process can be a beauty contest, with its emphasis on scripted answers and connecting with the interviewer.  This task requires the writer to demonstrate an understanding of the role (which probably requires that he or she did a good job asking questions during interviews) and of organizational needs and priorities.  It also tests your writing and organizational skills and also provides some insight into your leadership and management style that may not come out through your scripted responses.  I kept mine to two pages, so I was forced to balance the creation of a simple, easy-to-understand strategy with the desire to give the hiring manager a sense that I understand the scope of the challenge and will hit the ground running.

The process will also help me in future interviews with this employer — assuming I get one — because I now have additional questions that I will bring to the table, because I’ve thought through ways I’d approach different problems the organization faces, and because I will have better examples of ways I’ve resolved similar challenges that I might not have come up with in a conference-room setting.

One tip:  There aren’t many good templates for this task, but Harvard professor Michael Watkins has written a great book on this subject called The First 90 Days, which provided me with a great starting point. 

All in all, I will use this in the future when I’m trying to choose between qualified job applicants who want to demonstrate their ability to help us achieve our goals.

Readers, how about you?  Have you been asked to do a 90- or 100-day plan?  How did you approach it and what impact did it have on your candidacy?

Nike’s Tiger Ad: Simplicity with an edge

I just finished The Art of Simplicity by John Maeda, who boils simplicity down to being about “subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” 

Nike “relaunched” its sponsorship of Tiger Woods today with an ad that subtracts any mention of its footwear or clothing, color video, music, or sight of Tiger hitting one of his extraordinary golf shots.  It instead uses a single zoom shot of Tiger looking incredibly sad with background audio of his dead father talking about responsibility.

So there’s no question the ad is simple.  But is it effective?  For those who haven’t seen it yet,  Tiger’s dad (who likely wasn’t talking about his son’s sexual indiscretions when he was recorded) is heard saying, “Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?”

I’d like to know Tiger’s answer to the question.  Based on his decision to approve using his father’s voice in this way I’d say no.  Did Nike achieve its goals?  Everyone’s talking about the ad, so the answer there is probably yes.  And it’s consistent with some of its previous ads focused on the personal branding of their spokespersons.  Remember Charles Barkley and his “I am not a role model” ad?  That was Nike too.

Tiger said during a press conference on Monday that he was just looking forward to getting back and playing golf.  This ad undermines that goal and leaves many thinking it’s all about the press coverage for Tiger and Nike.

The ad is simple.  The motives are not.  I doubt many of Nike’s target audience will change their buying habits as a result of this ad.  But the consistency of the brand message and subtly reminding people they didn’t drop Tiger may be enough. Not that it matters all that much, but I don’t see this ad as helping Tiger’s efforts to restore his brand, unless you want to view it as further penance.

Getting back to John Maeda and his Laws of Simplicity, I don’t believe Tiger and Nike satisfied the second half of his core law.  The obvious was subtracted, but very little meaning was added.  Perhaps a simple shot of Tiger juggling a golf ball at the end of a club, apologizing to fans and saying he’s back and committed to re-earning the trust of his family and fans would have been more appropriate…and more consistent with the Just Do It brand.