Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Satan + President + UN = PR Crisis

That noise you hear is a Big Gulp from Citgo.

The next few days and weeks should be interesting for American employees of the Venezuelan-based petroleum giant. News broke today that 7-Eleven has cancelled Citgo's contract to provide gas at 2100 7-Eleven stores across the U.S. This, of course, comes in response to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's recent (and rather unflattering) UN remarks about W in particular and the U.S. in general.

It's a business crisis for Citgo, to be sure. But as business communications professionals, my colleagues and I will be watching closely to see how Citgo's U.S. operatives handle communications with their U.S. customers, retailers and suppliers. 7-Eleven showed the way by making a savvy, proactive PR move. Short-term, 7-Eleven's quick action may secure the mega-chain at least a stay-of-execution from American consumers. That's the PR part.

Read the coverage, though and you'll see that 7-Eleven was already seeking to private-label its gasonline; legally separating itself from Citgo sets the stage for them to solicit new providers. Meaning their PR tactic also doubles as a pretty slick business move

It's only a matter of time before patriotic fervor fuels (sorry!) a consumer boycott. Citgo's next move in the PR arena should be interesting, to say the least.

Friday, September 22, 2006

You Always Knew What To Do – Now Do It

How do you know? How DO you know?!?!

It’s decision time. You’ve heard from the people heading up the project. From the experts. From the agency. From the researchers. From others around the office.

You ran it by your wife and kids. Your old college friend who always did well in Vegas. Your mentor. Your pal from a previous job. Your dog.

You applied your usual methodic process for making decisions. Still…you’re looking for something more. What’s missing? What else can you do?

BLINK. That’s what.

Go back to the beginning. The very beginning. (No, not the book of Genesis – when you first saw the creative concepts) Remember what you thought in the first few seconds? It’s just a piece of advice that has served me well throughout my career. Incidentally, I am not the only one who has this philosophy. This is the subject of Blink—a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant - in the blink of an eye - that actually aren't as simple as they seem.

Click below for author Malcolm Gladwell’s rationale and decide for yourself if it’s worth the read….you’ll know in a blink.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mold Technology Provider Thwarts Alien Invasion

Look at any “newer” B to B marketing tactic—buzz, viral, one-to-one, etc. etc. etc.—and you’ll see the same gestation pattern. Consumer advertising incubates and validates new tactics while B to B advertisers watch and wait.

Is history repeating itself with the run-up of paid placements over the last 2-3 years? Today, companies like Apple retain specialists to secure conspicuous placements in hit shows like 24, CSI and The Office to connect with consumers. In one of the more celebrated (and questionable) product placements, HP paid a reported $200K for a subliminal placement in a Jessica Simpson video. (Lewis Black’s rant about this on The Daily Show was priceless.)

Which got me thinking about the inevitability of B to B product and service placements in entertainment media. If my co-workers and I lived in a world of gargantuan egos, bottomless budgets and a mandate to indulge both, where might some of our clients pay to play?

  • 24 - Jack Bauer chases a suspected terrorist into the boiler room of a Los Angeles hospital. Cornered, the suspect fires his Glock into a nearby boiler in an attempt to scald Jack in red hot steam. Sparks fly but the bullets fail to penetrate the boiler's outer hull. Cut to Jack flinching momentarily, then shaking his head and laughing. Cut to shaky cam closeup of the boiler's Cleaver-Brooks name plate, with tag line "The power of commitment" prominent. Plant managers, specifying engineers and end-users everywhere immediately recall what the terrorist now knows: nobody makes a better boiler than Cleaver-Brooks.
  • Madden NFL '07 - A middle aged man sits in front of his TV in horror as Tom Brady lies writhing in pain on the virtual gridiron. Madden—or is it Frank Caliendo?—says "that kind of knee injury is one of the hazards of the occupation." Suddenly, a team of medical specialists with jackets reading Sensia Health Care is on the field, attending to Brady. In seconds, Brady is back in the game. Says Madden/Caliendo, "Al, that's just further proof that the folks at Sensia go where other occupational medicine and wellness providers can't and don't. They treated Brady like no other. And they're Treating your business like no other."
  • War Of The Worlds - As alien killing machines rip through the Hudson Valley, Tom Cruise scurries into a nearly abandoned injection molding plant. Turns out Tim Robbins' creepy character is keeping the presses running, molding plastic squirt guns that can be used to shoot common cold virus at the aliens. But Cruise realizes the mold has reached the end of its life cycle. New tooling must be built—and fast. He calls D-M-E Company and uses D-M-E's QDS (Quick Delivery Specials). In days, Cruise has the mold base he needs to build replacement tooling. (Yes, somehow Cruise knows how to build plastic injection molds.) Using a 650-ton Milacron Powerline injection molding machine, Cruise and Robbins mold thousands of squirtguns. The Powerline's high efficiency power train ensures there are no hydraulic system losses—even as the aliens wreak havoc on the local power grid. Dissolve into slo-mo shot of Cruise and Robbins distributing squirtguns to humans across the northeastern U.S. Cut to Cruise in Boston, returning his kids to his ex-wife, squirt gun in holster, as Robbins looks on. Morgan Freeman's voiceover caps the scene, and the movie: "Just like D-M-E, they were there for us Every step of the way."
It wouldn't be any worse than a Jessica Simpson video, would it?

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Customer Testimonial: Does It Make You Nervous?

You might worry about the perceived hassle for your customer in the development of a testimonial or case study. Or you might be concerned about how it shifts the focus off your business.

Either way, you need to relax—because customer testimonials, when they’re done right, are mutually beneficial exercises for your customer and your company.

In BtoB, there’s always a kind of chain reaction to success. It’s about helping customers succeed—and helping them help their customers succeed. Your marketing should demonstrate both these elements in a way that also shows your company’s key points of differentiation.

That’s where a customer case study comes in. You can focus the story on the success of your customer (and of their customers), which is a win-win situation. Meanwhile, the story lends third-party credibility and powerfully validates your claims about the value you provide. And it does so much more subtly than just telling people how great you are.

As with any other marketing initiative, a case study or testimonial should play up a clear, consistent message about your company’s differentiating strengths. And you don’t have to wait for the biggest or most groundbreaking success story. You can be just as compelling—and possibly more so—by showcasing the ways you’re helping your customers win on any given day.
After all, whatever way you make your customer look good makes you look good, too.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Guerilla Graveyard?

It wasn't too long ago that guerilla marketing efforts focused on generating buzz at tradeshows had nothing but momentum. Think Bluetooth's notorious assault on the Consumer Electronics Show in which hundreds of models straight out of a Robert Palmer video swarmed the show floor.

But that was 2004. Today, we're seeing signs that trade show organizers and hosting venues are cracking down on guerilla marketing assaults on the floor.

It's no secret that organizers and hosting venues see every aspect of every event as a potential revenue stream. If they can't make a buck off something, they're loathe to allow it. And by their nature, guerilla marketing campaigns remove control over what happens on the floor from show organizers.

Which helps explain what happened as we recently prepared a client for an upcoming product launch at a large domestic trade show. I can't go into details about the client, product or guerilla tactics. Let's just say that the client is introducing a new product to U.S. media and distributors at the show. They've rented a small booth space. We came up with a campaign that involved actors walking the floor posing as something they're not (as actors are wont to do) in an effort to drive attendees to the client's booth and generate a buzz at the show.

As a courtesy to show organizers—and to protect the client—we contacted show organizers in advance to see if they'd be okay with the concept. The answer was, well, pretty clear: not a chance.

Now, since this is guerilla marketing, you'd be within reason to question why we went to the show organizers to begin with. Doesn't the politeness of this advance warning take the "guerilla" out of guerilla marketing? In the Bluetooth example cited above, the company contacted CES show organizers and got permission to move forward in advance. I know of other large companies that have taken the opposite approach, and staged guerilla/buzz stunts on the floor at industry expos without asking for permission first. These efforts produced great results and met with little or no flack from show organizers during or after the show. Safe to say, being a big, perennial exhibitor and spender can buy you forgiveness.

But smaller companies rarely have that big of a stick. Which brings us back to our client's upcoming show. The client loved our idea and agreed the buzz-generating potential was tremendous. But the client's relationships with the trade show and sponsoring organization were still in their infancy. They needed both to successfully launch their new product in the U.S. In the end, the risks outweighed the benefits—at least in Year One—and the idea was killed.

All of this raises an interesting question. Leading guerilla marketing practitioners will tell you that the real beauty of guerilla is its ability to produce big results for smaller companies with limited budgets. If that's true, is the window of opportunity closing for little guys looking to go guerilla at trade shows?

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Just in From BMA-Milwaukee: Stellar Programming Lineup

Just got a PDF of the brand new programs calendar for Business Marketing Association-Milwaukee. If you’re in Southeastern Wisconsin and serious about B to B marketing, I think you’ll find a host of events worth attending.

A few general highlights from this season’s BMA-Milwaukee lineup:

• Speakers from renowned national and international companies like Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson, Atlas Van Lines, InSinkErator and Eastman Kodak
• Afternoon seminars featuring a host of high-quality, national presenters
• A special March workshop for members on idea generation that promises to be valuable and entertaining

Congrats to BMA VP Karen Conrad of Johnson Controls and her committee for putting together such a compelling slate of programs.

More on BMA-Milwaukee—including how to become a member—is at

*Full disclosure footnote: Given my role as VP for BMA-Milwaukee, I’m definitely not a neutral third-party. But I can say with confidence that this is BMA-Milwaukee’s strongest programs roster in my 5+ years as a member.