Friday, December 21, 2007

How Can We Bring Clarity to a Cluttered Media Picture?

There’s a lot of professional soul-searching going on among media types these days, and people in the public relations realm are joining in.

Whom to pitch to? Where to plug?

A decade or so ago, all you had to do was pick out your strategic targets from a list of trade pubs, major newspapers and TV stations. You nurtured relationships with a few VIPs, and spread your message to large swaths of target audiences through outlets those people generally trusted for credible information.

The game isn’t so simple anymore, mostly due to the Internet—blogs, social networking sites, etc. Today, the media landscape is dramatically more fragmented and commoditized. Meanwhile, the public’s trust in traditional, mainstream media appears to be waning.

This is not to say that traditional media are out of the picture. It’s just that the picture is a lot larger and more cluttered than before. Now, people can go just about anywhere to get their news, and they do. And we can go just about anywhere to share that news, and we must.

But how do we sift through all those blogs and websites and online communities to find the ones that are relevant to our clients’ objectives and credible to the people they need to reach?

The task may be considerably more convoluted, but it’s still all about the same due diligence we’ve always given to each client’s needs. Start with strategy, and keep working from there—because the days of measuring success in column inches in a newspaper, or sound bites in a newscast, are long gone.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The NFL Goes Global

This past Sunday (October 28), the NFL played its first regular season game outside of North America in London, England at Wembley Stadium. The game sold out in just a few hours to fill the 90,000 seats, and in the span of only three days, they had a half million ticket requests. Props go out to the NFL for this wildly successful move and one that’s sure to build a stronger global brand. And they did it the right way, by actually going global to do so.

Many of our clients are moving toward, or have already embraced, globalization. But it takes more than declaring yourself a global company or having a smattering of international customers. It takes the level of effort shown by the NFL in actually going global, immersing your company or brand in other cultures and letting global customers learn about you and embrace you on their own turf.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What Does It Really Mean to Be ‘Family Friendly’?

As a career mom, I always ask one thing when I interview for a new position: “Do you consider yourself a family-friendly company, and if so, why?”

I nearly always hear the same response: “Yes, we do. We have an excellent family medical package.” Or, “Of course. Many of our employees have children.”

However, once I’m in company, family friendliness is M.I.A.

Companies must understand that, more than ever, their recruits are looking for a family-friendly employer. And these days, that definition means much more than a good benefits package, as a recent Wall Street Journal column points out. Professionals are demanding the flexibility to balance work and family life. As competition increases for talented job candidates, family-friendly options are no longer a choice but a necessity for your business to succeed.

Scheibel Halaska, which was recently named a Family-Friendly Employer by Metroparent Magazine, has understood this reality from the firm’s inception. Mary Scheibel, the firm’s principal, started the company because she needed balance between work and her family.

Over a decade later, one reason SH has achieved success is because of its commitment to employees and their families. Just as a family works as a team, so do the employees at Scheibel Halaska. The firm’s team approach allows employees to achieve that balance between work and family.

Promoting your company as a family-friendly employer can help you recruit top talent. But you can’t just say you’re family-friendly; any employer can do that. As SH understands, you have to practice family friendliness consistently, and you have to do it as a team.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Building a Name in Blogging—without Your Own Blog

Having a web presence is critical. And lately, more and more companies are even taking the time to create their own corporate blogs. But starting and maintaining a successful blog is a substantial undertaking requiring a lot of time and commitment. A blog must feature engaging posts on compelling topics—consistently.

If your organization doesn’t have the resources to do justice to your own blog, there’s another way to build an online presence: contributing to other blogs. In Milwaukee, we have BizBlog, a blog updated daily as part of the The Small Business Times. Check out how John Scheibel, our CEO, is increasing Scheibel Halaska’s presence on the web.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Everything’s going “green.” What’s it mean?

“Green” is growing. In one week’s time, I got a marketing magazine that dedicated an entire issue to “green.” A printer sent me a direct marketing piece announcing that they now use all “green” materials. A client began work on a “green” product line. I’m sure you can add your own examples to this list.

Just a fad? I don’t think so. Cynical marketers can no longer dismiss the green demographic as a bunch of “tree-huggers.” Not when Wal-Mart is making a big push into the organic market. Consumers are turning toward organic foods, recycled packaging, hybrid cars and other more environmentally sound products.

What’s next?
Maybe it’s the B2B marketplace, where things are moving a little more slowly, but they are moving. Manufacturers of all shapes and sizes are beginning to look for ways they can go greener.

Some B2B companies are moving a lot faster toward products, services and marketing that emphasize a more eco-friendly approach. But according to this article in the aforementioned green issue of Deliver magazine, marketing your green initiatives comes with the risk that you’ll overshadow your brand and the other compelling aspects of your product or service. There’s also a chance that your audience will be skeptical of your efforts, as has been the case with Wal-Mart.

Does that mean you should shelve your green efforts?
Hardly. Just don’t be, um, green about them. You’ve got to know what you’re doing. And you’d better actually be doing something—not just talking about being green. Most importantly, keep an eye on your brand strategy. It takes careful thought to strike the right balance between the new positives of your environmentally conscious initiatives and the more traditional benefits of your products or services—the stuff that hooked your customers in the first place.

Your best green initiatives will be backed by your actions. They’ll be just one part of your marketing message. And they’ll complement, rather than overshadow, the essence of your brand.

I’d like to hear about your green efforts, and how you’re sharing them with the marketplace. So tell me, how’s going green going for you?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Stay True to Your Brand in Everything You Do

In the Internet Age, Keeping Promises Has Never Been More Important

Fifteen years ago, during my education in Total Quality Management, I was taught that satisfied customers generally tell two to four others that they’re satisfied, while dissatisfied customers tell, on average, seven others that they’re dissatisfied.

Fast-forward to the Internet Age. The avenues for an unhappy customer’s message to spread—and spread quickly—are much more plentiful. You’ve got to keep your promises, or you risk word getting around on the World Wide Web.

The record-keeper for our company’s 401(k) Plan might have done well to consider this new reality before they let our employees down. I won’t go into the specifics here, but let’s just say Associates in Excellence didn’t live up to its name.

My antennae begin wiggling whenever I confront a business that uses superlatives in their name—excellence, premier, perfect, etc. Definitions of “excellence” vary person to person. Therefore, in order for Associates in Excellence to be consistently “excellent,” every one of their products, services, transactions and interactions need to meet not only my definition of “excellence,” but everyone else’s, too. Absent that, they will not be “excellent”; they will disappoint.

If you’d like further details on the substandard service we experienced from Associates in, ahem, “Excellence,” I’d be happy to share them with you over email.

Do You Uphold Your Brand?

Take a moment to contemplate what your name stands for. What is YOUR brand promise? Compare that to what your every-day interactions demonstrate. Do they support the promise? At Scheibel Halaska, we believe powerful brands are always built from the inside out. Any inconsistency between what you say and how you act betrays your brand and, ultimately, your success.

Friday, August 17, 2007

To Increase the Power of Your PR, Try Multitasking

Does the following describe your PR plan? Send out a press release, hope someone runs it. If it runs, hope someone reads it.

If so, you’re missing out on numerous opportunities to expand the impact of your good news. In today’s communications arena, a broadening mix of new technology, traditional and non-traditional media and social networking is opening new avenues to reach and engage your target audiences.

One of our manufacturing clients has taken the lead in getting more productivity out of their PR. As part of a strategic initiative to integrate PR coverage into other marketing activities, they’re making their PR coverage multitask as content in a customer e-newsletter campaign, and with great results.

And our client doesn’t stop there. One win begets many more, in a chain reaction of PR productivity. It starts with the initial press coverage—an interview, byline article or news announcement (that’s one communications method). That gets turned around and used in an e-newsletter (that’s two). That e-newsletter is then aligned with the sales force through an e-mail sent out from the VP of sales explaining how to leverage this coverage in their sales efforts (we’re at three now). The newsletter may be posted on the company’s web site (do I hear four?). With a focus on informative, helpful content, the e-newsletter potentially becomes a pass- along, or viral, communications vehicle (that’s five). If done right, the content can even lead to word-of-mouth discussion around the customer’s office (six) and may open the door to future marketing communication uses down the road.

The point is, a PR campaign has great potential beyond the published, aired or posted initial coverage. Technology opens the doors to get more out of your budget dollars, increase brand awareness and further position your company as an expert in your industry.

Next time you see your company’s name in print, online or on the airwaves, don’t just clip it and forget it. Make it multitask for you. Get it out there any way you can for your customers and prospects to absorb.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

4 Key Trends in Lead Generation: How Will You Adapt?

Marketing Sherpa is a storehouse of always valuable, sometimes surprising business marketing knowledge. For example, I recently sat in on a Sherpa webinar showcasing some fascinating new research findings on “B2B Marketing Lead Generation, Nurturing & Conversion Stats & Tactics.”

The presentation was loaded with interesting tidbits:

“Marketing to a growing number of people involved in the buying process” is today’s biggest marketing challenge. More and more, we’re all marketing and selling to a “committee.” We’re struggling to appeal to and gain consensus among all the members at once.

Target audiences demand instant satisfaction. If you don’t make it available with a mouse click, they’re not interested. They don’t want to fill out your form and wait for you to mail them a whitepaper. This suggests that, in lead generation at the very least, whitepapers are outdated.

From a tactical perspective, the old meets the new. Telemarketing is still effective if done properly. At the same time, webinar traffic is increasing daily (case study: the Marketing Sherpa presentation discussed here).

Perhaps the most interesting finding:
80% of decision makers said THEY FOUND their key vendor(s), not the other way around.

As a marketing communications professional, I at first winced at this last revelation. Despite our best marketing communications, public relations and sales efforts, our customers are taking the credit for finding us—instead of us finding them!

But maybe it’s better that customers think that way, because then it means we’re doing our jobs without intruding. What’s important is that we get through to customers, one way or another.

The underlying lesson? It’s more important than ever that you know where your targets look for information. Industry publications, the Internet, trade shows ... You need to be there, where and when they’re searching. Just as important, you need to seize every contact opportunity by sharing a compelling, memorable message about why your target audiences should choose you over the competition.

If you’re not there in front of customer and prospects, sharing your powerful message, your competitors are likely to be.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Stay Silent or Take a Stand?

The leaders of the NFL and the NBA recently came upon two public relations minefields. Unless you never watch any TV news and have no access to, say,, you’re aware of the Michael Vick/Dog Fighting issue in the NFL and the Referee-in-the-Back-Pocket-of-the-Mob issue in the NBA.

These negative issues cut to the core of some fundamental social and professional ethics. How did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NBA Commissioner David Stern respond? Both commissioners, as the leaders of their respective organizations, had a small window of opportunity to demonstrate exactly where their organizations draw the line between right and wrong. But days went by before either leader made any semblance of a leadership move.

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, a leader of any organization – much less one as public as the NFL or the NBA – doesn’t have the luxury of days to formulate a response to scandal. Customers and employees are looking to the leader to “tell” them just what the organization stands for. To do this quickly, the organization and its leadership must have already-at-hand declarations of their core values. Any delay in publicly responding to these situations means one of two things: either the organization doesn’t really know what it stands for, or the organization is afraid to take this stand.

My father believed that you never get a true measure of a human being (or an organization, for purposes of this post) until you see how he or she (or it) performs during stressful situations. It’s easy to say you’re for or against something when nothing’s on the line. But how you speak and act in times of crisis is the real test that determines what customers, employees and the public think about your values.

It’s a pass/fail test, one that Goodell and Stern have failed. You can, and should, do better.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Truth in Advertising: A Refreshing Approach

With an enduring perception of consumer advertising as rife with exaggeration and half-truths, the American public has over time been desensitized. We’ve tolerated a certain degree of “dishonesty” because it has become commonplace in TV, radio, print and even electronic ads.

But what has contributed to this situation? Tobacco advertising has certainly had an impact. In the annals of advertising history, smoking was typically depicted as fun or seductive. Cigarette manufacturers continued their glamorous portrayal of smoking even as evidence mounted that it caused numerous ill effects—until, of course, they were forced to change their behavior.

The cosmetic industry has been even more blatant with their claims. Even with constant exposés on ineffective products and less than remarkable results, purchasers continue to view these products as the equivalent to the fountain of youth. So, while we know we are being tricked, we continue to buy and use these products thinking we’ll find the one that does work.

The pharmaceutical industry is another case and point. We continue to look for a magic pill, a panacea for what ails us. Many over-the-counter and prescription drug ads have come under fire for false or misleading claims. But the nearly $3 billion spent each year on prescription drug campaigns says that people are being influenced by this advertising. Truth in Advertising: Rx Drug Ads Come of Age

Earlier this month, we witnessed a new approach to product advertising. With the release of the much heralded, first FDA-approved, over the counter diet pill, Alli™ , consumers were given a harsh dose of reality instead of smoke and mirrors. They were told that this pill could prevent the body from absorbing fat in some foods if, and only if, they became active participants in the diet process.

In an advertising campaign that is expected to cost more than $150 million in the first year alone, GlaxoSmithKline’s ad agency says, “The campaign is aimed at a jaded consumer.” It doesn’t offer a magic bullet, or in this case, a magic pill. It encourages lifestyle changes. In order for the pill to be effective, people need to eat right and exercise more. A unique solution? No. But certainly an honest, refreshing approach to promoting the product!

On the mini-site created in conjunction with the product launch, GlaxoSmithKline boldly states, “It’s time for an honest voice. A promise kept.” Is this the beginning of a new era in advertising? We hope so.

Obviously, the best advertising advice is to tell the truth. Honesty is indeed the best policy. It creates a trust relationship with your target audience that outlives any immediate gain realized by quick-hit ads relying on half-truths and exaggeration. And while it may take some time for this approach to catch on, if you follow this bit of advice, you’ll at least enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a clear conscience.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Don’t Waste Visitors’ Time with Unrefined Web Copy

If you’re lucky, someone who visits your website has at least a vague interest in your company. Don’t take that interest for granted by overwhelming them with words.

Of course, you probably have plenty to say. B to B companies’ complex products and services often need explanation. But website visitors typically are seeking clear, specific information—answers they can find quickly and easily. A disorganized “information dump” won’t do. And yet, at many B to B corporate sites, that’s exactly what visitors get.

I’m not advocating a slash-and-burn approach to copy. But we do counsel our clients to leave as many of the technical details as possible to in-person meetings, where the vast majority of sales still get closed. As this recent ClickZ post points out, online copy should be relevant, credible and short.

In other words, show your website visitors everything they need to know—nothing more and nothing less. Click here to see an example of a new website we developed driven by that philosophy, for Poblocki Sign Company.

A clear, concise and compelling website requires difficult choices about content, strategic thinking about how to organize information and repeated refinement of copy until all that’s left is the brand and key details in an easy-to-scan format. Also, don’t forget to tell people to continue the conversation on the phone or in person.

All that takes time, but it’s time you’ll save your website visitors. They’ll find the initial information they want to know quickly … and they'll be more likely to pick up the phone to learn more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Transparency: If China Can Do It…

What can captains of capitalism learn from Maoist communists? Transparency is not impossible, and, in fact, it may have strategic value in advancing an agenda. As part of China being awarded the 2008 Olympics, reported National Public Radio, the communist government was required to lift bans on foreign journalists covering activity within the country. Academics speculate this is a strong signal China will loosen media regulations beyond the Olympics, creating a more open society.

Granted, media reforms are scheduled to end after the Olympics, and old habits of strong-arm tacticians are dying hard as media attempt to access more information. But if the communists see strategic value in opening a notoriously repressive society to media scrutiny—even for a short time—might there be value in private companies doing the same to advance their agendas?

Friday, June 1, 2007

A New Study Shows Many Are Beginning to Embrace Emerging Media Opportunities. Are You?

“Never before in history has innovation offered the promise of so much to so many in so short a time.” - Bill Gates

Although Mr. Microsoft’s words referred to today’s pace of technological innovation in general, they’re especially relevant in the specific context of new media opportunities. No other period in history has seen the emergence of as many distinctly new media options as the one we find ourselves in today.

But most major advertisers have been reluctant to leave the comfortable embrace of traditional media (TV, radio, newspaper, magazines, etc.). Sure… they’ve talked about and dabbled in new media, but their budgets have remained firmly entrenched in the old stand-bys. However, recent survey data shows that the major players may finally be ready to “put their money where their mouths are.”

According to the 2007 Media Investment Survey conducted by the American Advertising Federation (AAF)—on whose national board I serve—nearly three-quarters of respondents are reserving up to 20% of their media investment budgets for experimentation in the new media ecosystem. In fact, 52% say… “I am more likely to anticipate, prepare for, and get out in front of changes in the media landscape.”

Many recent developments in new media were long-anticipated (TV programs on the internet, text messaging, social media). However, the pace of innovation is such that there several also caught the industry by surprise, including:

  • The rush to Second Life-type virtual community space
  • The rise of YouTube
  • The popularity of mash-ups or Web applications that have more than one source

"Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement."
- William Pollard

All these new options are a boon for the creative output of the advertising industry. In fact, a full 87.4% of respondents believe that media innovations inspire creativity, and they’re willing to invest their budgets to harness that creativity.

When asked about approaches to media planning in the coming year, respondents ranked “I am always open to new ways to use traditional media” highest (at 78 percent), followed by “the right media mix almost always includes a balance of traditional and nontraditional media” (at 75.5 percent), and “the search for new media properties to grow my brand never stops” (at 57.7 percent).

The AAF survey makes it abundantly clear that there will never again be “business as usual” regarding media options available to the advertising and marketing industry. The pace of change is such that those that are not in a constant state of experimentation and will fast find themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage.

The AAF Media Investment Survey 2007 included nearly 1,000 advertising industry leaders, spread across agency (38 percent), media (26.9 percent), advertiser/client (13.6 percent) and other (21.4 percent, composed mostly of suppliers and academics) sectors, with the majority being at the director (19 percent), owner (18 percent) or manager (17.6 percent) level. Nearly 31 percent of participants are part of a team that makes the final media investment decision for their company. A full summary of the survey results can be found here (PowerPoint document, 891k).


The Small Business Times' BizBlog posted this entry on their daily blog. Check it out!

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Greatest Stories Never Told

North American manufacturing is a lost cause, right?

At least that’s what I was expecting to find during a major research project we conducted for a client recently on the state of the industry. But it turns out that the dark and dreary picture painted in most media isn’t all that accurate. There are, in fact, many North American manufacturers who are doing well.

They’re employing the latest in equipment and technologies and using Lean manufacturing to control costs. They’re diversifying with new offers such as product design and project management for overseas sourcing. At the same time, they’re developing market niches ranging from product specialization (miniaturization, high tolerance) to market specialization (medical, packaging). These differentiating moves exponentially increase their value to customers.

So why aren’t we all aware of this good news? Because most manufacturers—even those who are enjoying success—aren’t telling their story. There’s some truth to the old adage, “If you don’t tell your story, no one else will.” Perhaps more accurate is, “If you don’t tell your story, no one else will tell it the way you want it told.”

If you’re a manufacturer, what’s the story being told about you? Have you identified your value proposition? And are you communicating it? Brand-based marketing communications can help you tell the story of what your business does better than the rest. Time after time, you have to tell it to employees. To customers and prospects. To the media. Don’t miss the opportunity to exploit your value proposition … and to dispel the myth that North American manufacturing is on its way out.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

1 Million Ways to Succeed

I recently took the opportunity at the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo (sponsored by the Small Business Times) to hear Matthew May, senior advisor to the University of Toyota, offer insights from his new book, The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation.

As Toyota surpasses GM as the #1 U.S. automaker, we should all take note that Toyota implements one million new ideas a year. I’ll repeat: 1,000,000 new ideas! That’s an average of about 2,740 innovations every day!

There are a couple of key factors behind this astonishing success that are worth repeating:

  • Toyota’s people – every day, everywhere, throughout the organization – are looking for problems they can solve. Management doesn’t block them, but actively encourages these efforts. By recognizing that perfection is a pursuit and not a goal, they accept the fact that small failures (or skinning your knees as we call it at SH) are a natural part of the process.

  • Innovation The Toyota Way focuses on smaller, easy-to-implement ideas that, believe it or not, “respect the box.” In fact, “swinging for the fences” is something Toyota avoids like the plague. They reason that they can’t afford high strikeout rates in today’s highly competitive market. They also know that working within the system is important until it’s time for a new box. There’s a rhythm to change and innovation that has to fit.

May challenges business leaders to understand that innovation is not as much about new technologies as it is about opportunity and impact. We not only should expect good ideas to come from anywhere in our organization, we should also demand and reward it. In doing so, we’ll unleash the full potential of our organizations. In not doing so, we can expect the Toyotas of this world to pass us by.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

3 Media Myths We Need To Get Over

Recently, I attended a webinar that set out to bust the media myths we’ve all come to believe. Ketchum and the USC Annenberg Strategic PR Center presented survey results from a media study including 500 communications and marketing industry professionals and 1,490 adult Americans in seven major cities.

I’d like to share a few lessons from this seminar with anyone looking to get their message out in the B-to-B landscape.

Myth #1 – Traditional media is dead. After all, I’m speaking to you through a blog, right? The dominating Baby Boomer demographic still relies heavily on traditional media. Even 18-34-year-old consumers have one foot in new media and one in traditional, meaning your marketing communications plan must include a media mix for the most impact and best results.

Myth #2 – All you need is a good web site. If you build it, they will come. That may work in baseball fantasy movies, but not in corporate communications. It’s important to keep corporate sites up to date, but the amount customers rely on your site has more to do with the information they are seeking.

According to the research, a company web site ranks very high when searching for reputation/recommendation information or stock information. However, it’s ranked low among other forms of media for corporate announcements or crisis response.

Myth #3 – Fiscal calendar timing is important.
Too many companies coordinate communications around their schedules, such as the end of a quarter or fiscal year. But customers want information when they want it.

Remember to speak when your customers are listening, not just when you have something to say. Placing customer needs first will help you communicate with them when they’re open to hearing you … whether it’s a holiday season, industry event or a political debate.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Jargon be gone!

Today begins my battle against banal business-speak.

Hi, I’m Tom. I’m the new kid on the blog. It’s good to join the discussion as your copy-focused contributor. I’m looking forward to exploring what makes effective writing.

You’re meeting me while I’m in an unusually positive frame of mind, partly because it’s good to be a copywriter in general right now. Nevertheless, I’ll start things off with a bit of constructive criticism, in the form of listing a few business marketing clichés I never want to see or hear again. What’s wrong with these hackneyed bits? Their overuse bores readers. They add no meaning, only extra words. And they annoy me. So please, don’t test your audiences’ patience. Avoid:

  • Moving forward: That’s what I’m doing past any sentence with this phrase.

  • At the end of the day: The sun goes down. Get a new metaphor.

  • Think outside the box: You knew this had lost its impact when the Taco Bell folks tweaked it for their tagline.

  • Built from the ground up: Please tell me in which other order you would build it.

With all the information competing for attention these days, it’s hard enough to differentiate a company, even without getting bogged down in these same-old phrases. That’s why I’m keeping a running list of clichés to stay away from. This list to be continued …

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sorry Karl, There’s Evidence that Bad Publicity Does Exist in Hollywood

In case you missed last night’s episode of The Office on NBC, Dunder Mifflin office supply company was in crisis mode. A disgruntled paper mill employee inserted an obscene watermark into over 500 reams of paper delivered to customers. Responding to the controversy, Michael the manager decided to take charge of the situation by calling his own press conference…

The episode quickly becomes a case study into what not to do in a public relations crisis. This led me to recall Karl’s post from last week. Turns out there is such a thing as bad publicity in Hollywood—at least as far as fictional characters created there are concerned.

At a fictional company and in the real business world as well, anytime an unforeseen publicity problem pops up, there’s an urge to respond swiftly that can lead to further gaffes. It’s certainly a good idea to get right out there and control the message, contact important customers and share reliable information. But in the rush to respond, your organization’s overarching goals and strategies can be obscured.

Rather than trying to handle the pressure and confusion all on your own, it’ll always pay off to contact a professional who can provide expert, objective advice on how to proceed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

“No Such Thing As Bad Publicity” Applies Only In Hollywood

Anyone remember the Atkins diet craze and what happened when Dr. Atkins died? Since his death four years ago this month, the Atkins diet and its related consumer products have fallen into disfavor as if the diet guru had died of heart failure connected to his protein-heavy, fat-laced Atkins plan.

Media reports swirled linking his death to a heart attack. But, in fact, head trauma from a fall caused his demise. One could argue media scrutiny brought the diet approach to its knees. A statement released to the media by his wife suggests that there is such a thing as bad publicity for consumer products.

We counsel our clients that the adage “there is no such thing as bad publicity” applies only in Hollywood. Movies and TV programs may benefit from whatever coverage they or their stars can get—good or bad. Products and services sold in the B2B domain, however, rarely suffer the sensational publicity garnered by the rich and famous.

But B2B media efforts do frequently suffer from being off-strategy and off-message, and these misguided media efforts amount to “bad publicity.” In B2B-wood, not just any publicity, but publicity designed to reinforce overall brand positioning is the way to support blockbuster results at the home office and achieve a star on the B2B walk of fame.

Friday, April 13, 2007

How Strategic Is Your Media Coverage?

There’s media coverage and there’s strategic media coverage. Strategic coverage supports your brand. Staying on message and remaining mindful of the desired outcome of each interview differentiates successful coverage from a mere mention.

Consider a recent feature on D-M-E Company, one of our manufacturing clients, in Global Logistics & Supply Chain Strategies. Granted, D-M-E is a client, so I acknowledge this might smack of professional bias. But this is an excellent illustration of artfully weaving key messages into an interview to support brand positioning in the marketplace.

D-M-E President Dave Lawrence masterfully recites “every step of the way” and “essential resource” messages, resulting in page-one coverage in the feature. Market research conducted to strategically position the company for growth led to those messages and countless others, such as “speed-to-market,” which also are included in the article.

When you know what to say based on what drives the market and how to say it in ways not offensive to reporters’ sensibilities about including marketing speak in their stories, you are well on your way to producing strategic media coverage for your company.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

As far as I’m concerned, it’s all about over.

People over target audiences

Ideas over technology

Conversations over dialogue

Insights over information

Simplifying over intellectualizing

Brevity over verbosity

There's one exception: Never overdo it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Taking Your Message On The Road: Shell Oil Exec Turns Shell Answer Man

Executives often resist taking their message on the road, especially when their company is viewed negatively by stakeholders. But Shell Oil recently decided to send company president John Hofmeister on tour to share Shell’s vision for the future of the energy industry.

The purpose of Hofmeister’s 50 city tour was to re-establish a “social trust” in oil companies as providers of a secure, environmentally sound energy supply, rather than an industry at war with the American public.

“For too long oil companies have been perceived as the enemy,” Hofmeister said during a recent stop in Milwaukee, assigning blame to himself for not working to change that perception sooner.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, every state’s attorney general sent letters informing him that they would be watching his company for consumer price gouging. Invitations arrived from numerous states to testify in front of various committees concerned about the windfall profits of big oil. Even an invitation reached his desk to give testimony in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Audio from one of Hofmeister’s speeches and video from an appearance on MSNBC should give readers a sense of his message. In the links below, you get a sense of how a company under fire consistently takes its message out to important publics. Even though the tone of some of the media coverage is negative, I’d say Hofmeister accomplished his mission to ensure his on-message story is being told.

It seems the Shell Answer Man realized a public relations maxim: if you are not telling your story, someone else certainly will tell it for you—especially if it’s bad news. Regardless of the size or focus of your business, you could benefit from similarly persistent, on-message communication with those who influence outcomes in your industry.

Shell Exec Buffs Firm's Image

Shell President Discusses Oil Prices On Today Show

The Shell Answer Man And Peak Oil

Shell Oil President Raps Proposed Gov. Doyle Surcharge

Doyle Administration Responds To Shell Oil (Notice how Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle immediately responded to ensure his message was represented in the dialogue.)

One On One With Shell Oil President John Hofmeister

Shell Oil Chief: U.S. Needs Global Warming Plan

Energy Firms Come to Terms With Climate Change

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

When Crisis Hits Think Like KPMG, Not Arthur Andersen

KPMG’s near-fatal crisis involving the sale of allegedly illegal tax shelters provides a case study in crisis management. A front-page story in the Wall Street Journal takes readers inside the decision-making process as executives determined the best strategy for averting criminal indictment. Indictment—not conviction mind you—led to the mass exodus of Arthur Andersen clients as well as partners, and, ultimately, the accounting firm’s demise. The Journal story reveals how KPMG managed to keep its partners, clients, and, at the time of this entry, its doors open. (Client civil litigation looms.)

Unlike Andersen, KPMG executives—including a former federal judge—opted for a fall-on-the-sword strategy in front of the Justice Department. This strategy does have potential pitfalls, which also are described in the Journal story.

Most executives, I believe, think of the potential for a crisis as a low-probability, high-impact event. In fact, if executives take five minutes to list potential vulnerabilities that could sink their company, I believe the list would lead them to a different conclusion. The probability of crisis in any business is high. The probability of survival is low without being prepared and understanding how to deal with the different stakeholders during a crisis.

A few points to consider—with your attorneys and public relations counsel present—if faced with a crisis:

  • Dump the bad news: tell it all at once.
  • Admit wrong doing and apologize.
  • Fix the wrong.
  • Communicate plans to avoid it happening again.
  • Execute on those plans.
  • Provide stakeholders with progress reports along the way.

Friday, March 9, 2007

What ABC and the Geico Cavemen can learn from a chili cook-off.

Variety reports that ABC has green-lit a half-hour comedy series pilot featuring Geico’s famed Cavemen. Yup, our favorite cro-magnon, sensitive, metro-sexuals are going primetime network.

But will it work?

What made them famous (or infamous) was the over-the-top juxtaposition of being both cavemen and sophisticated. Being proud yet misunderstood. It all makes for some funny bits. …..BITS. These little bits are set up and played out within 10 seconds. Last I checked, a half-hour show is longer (not by much thanks to those pesky commercials).

So, what can ABC learn from a chili cook-off?

Most winning chili cook-off contestants will tell you that, to win, the judges have to be impressed in one or two spoonfuls. So, they concoct recipes so intense that you can only enjoy a little….BIT. Not a bowlful.

My sense of this comedy pilot is that while people enjoy a spoonful of the Cavemen, they won’t settle down for a bowlful.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Eastward Expansion of Capitalism

China impacts every business on the face of the planet. A billion people with the purchasing power of an evolving middle class create an economic frontier for B2B companies supporting the eastward expansion of capitalism.

At a recent China Business Council meeting of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Area Chamber of Commerce, the overwhelming consensus among business leaders who successfully execute in the communist country is finding a Chinese national you trust.

The ideal person to work with is what’s known as a “returnee” to China from study or employment in the United States. Both cultures and business environments are understood thoroughly by this person, allowing a team to be built on the ground in China around deep bilateral knowledge. The biggest mistake companies can make is hiring an American on the ground in China.

But how does one know who to trust? A couple of books have been receiving more attention of late in the quest to answer this question. The Art of War by Sun Tzu and 400 Million Customers by Carl Crow are becoming must-reads for corporate leaders who seek an understanding of the Middle Kingdom.

“Many authorities contend that the Chinese have a genius for misunderstanding which works to their advantage in many lines…,” according to an excerpt from Crow’s still-relevant book published in the 1930s.

Crow also observed, “It appears to be impossible to foresee all the twists and turns that force majeure or the acts of God may take, and they invariably turn out the disadvantage of the party to the contract whose function is to pay the money.”

Those attending the China Business Council meeting agreed cause for caution continues today, but echoed the Chinese are “dying to work with us.” It’s a matter of finding those who understand how to get things done in a culture and business climate very different from capitalist rules of engagement. Though, one lawyer in attendance did say he sees increased willingness to structure and operate business in ways consistent with capitalistic strictures. Some of the Chinese rules of engagement are outlined by Crow in a recent National Public Radio story.

Crow’s recount of business in China is consistent with a culture raised on and indoctrinated for millennia on the strategic philosophies presented in The Art of War. According to many scholars, this is an extraordinarily important book in Chinese culture and required reading by those who hope to successfully understand the mind of China.

The advice it offers extends beyond war to insights into Chinese philosophy of life. Popular culture continues to leverage Tzu’s mastery of strategy through television serializations, comic strips and a growing number of Chinese and English language websites dedicated to spreading his philosophy.

For more modern resources to understand China, visit Deloitte’s Focus on China. Executives interested in fair trade issues should visit U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission testimony recently presented by business professor and author of The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought, How They Can Be Won Peter Navarro. Deloitte has regular podcasts discussing trends in China and Navarro’s testimony, while lengthy and challenging, presents some eye-opening perspective.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Pssst! Manufacturing in North America Is Alive and Well … Pass It On!

“North American Manufacturing Still Haunted by Over Capacity”
“Domestic Automakers Move More Tooling to China”

Enough already. If you’re as tired of these headlines as I am, you might like to know that there’s another side to the story.

Lean manufacturing. Highly engineered design. Automation. Rapid prototyping. Global supply chain partnerships. Headline-worthy progress is in full swing at manufacturing facilities everywhere, but we aren’t reading about it enough. News coverage spotlights a success here and there, but it too often on focuses on negative generalizations.

This gloomy vision of the future is scaring away the next generation of manufacturing leaders—talented people whom resurgent manufacturers need to keep up with growth. That’s why I believe businesses, government and nonprofit organizations in the Greater Milwaukee region, where manufacturing remains so vital, must work together to shift the focus to what’s exciting in the industry … before a worker shortage fulfills the prophesy of doom.

The efforts of some technical colleges promoting careers in manufacturing are a good start, but to produce a lasting, far-reaching impact, we’ll need a more concerted, collaborative, well-financed effort. Most importantly, it’ll have to show how careers in manufacturing are vibrant and successful, right here and right now in the Milwaukee area.

Sure, the manufacturing sector is still struggling. And shops that aren’t implementing the most advanced technology or exploiting a niche will probably have to close their doors. But at the same time, many manufacturers are on the upswing. For example, a recent Plante & Moran plastics processor survey shows that the top quartile of processors is definitely on the move. Many of these top performers utilized lean principles to help realize 2006 profitability increases of up to 40 percent. And this shift from lagging to leadership continues to accelerate.

People deserve to know the good news about these companies—especially our young people who are looking for a career. My hat’s off to those manufacturers who have successfully made the transition. There are a lot of them out there. Don’t keep it a secret. Pass it on!

Originally Appeared 2/22/07 on Milwaukee's BizBlog

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Who Changed My Job Description?!!

If you head up marketing efforts for a major corporation and you haven’t already asked yourself that question, trust me: you soon will. As noted in a recent New York Post article, today’s marketing executives are no longer judged solely on their ability to effectively promote a company’s products.

More and more, you’ve got to drive strategy and growth. Top marketing executives now must juggle demands that include functioning as an internal “change agent,” integrating internal and external communications, forecasting future trends and contributing to overall strategic direction.

As the Post article points out, companies are seeking chief marketing officers (CMOs) who can handle all the tasks while keeping an eye on overarching issues. “They’re not looking for an advertising person anymore,” Jane Stevenson, who heads Heidrick & Struggles’ global search practice for CMOs, told the Post. “They’re looking for a strategist.”

This expansion of CMO duties first appeared in the major consumer brands of the world. However, as with most trends in marketing communications, it’s only a matter of time before it takes over in the BtoB space. And the companies that embrace a more comprehensive approach to marketing will have a decided advantage over competitors who don’t.

Granted, tactical advertising and marketing initiatives still make up the lion’s share of marketers’ efforts, particularly in the BtoB space. But too many BtoB marketing executives are spending all their time and money running the same ads in the same trade publications and attending the same trade shows.

So who’s paying attention to the subtler but equally important strategic and marketing activities—particularly those directed at an internal audience? You should be.

Friday, February 23, 2007

JetBlue’s Brand Repair Genius

Just about every promise embodied by the JetBlue brand, namely unparalleled customer service, was broken last week by Mother Nature’s winter storm that grounded 1,000 flights in New York. When a brand promise is broken, the brand is broken—regardless of divine intervention or mere mortal mistakes.

Companies of every stripe can learn from JetBlue about repairing brands when adversity strikes. But executives also can learn what JetBlue should have been listening for from customers before problems arose.

JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights, for example, shows forward-thinking, differentiating industry leadership in the mind of this air traveler. Shortly after JetBlue issued what most travelers will view as a victory for those of us who suffer long tarmac delays without explanation or recourse, the headlines began to focus on brand repair efforts rather than disgruntled travelers with stories to tell of missed bar mitzvahs, weddings and birthdays.

Watch and listen to JetBlue CEO David Neeleman speak to customers about the issues. The lesson learned by JetBlue: don’t wait for a crisis to listen and act on what your customers want.

Ultimately, I believe JetBlue’s travelers’ travesty will become a triumphant case study in crisis management and communication. But it could also serve as an opportunity for other executives to place their companies in JetBlue’s cockpit to explore where brand vulnerabilities exist within their own organization.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Brand…the pending death of the word

Every other word today is “brand”. And I’m certain the meaning is always different. In fact, some influential marketing bloggers are no longer using the word. They think brand has joined the rank of words like “solutions” “value” and “quality”. Some now refer to it as a company’s reputation. Some say it’s an experience. Some say it’s a compellation of several components.

What say you?

While you’re mulling this over, consider having some fun with the attached marketing quiz. All credit goes to Copernicus Marketing. Who knows, depending how you do, you may not have to be concerned about the “B” word ever again.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Anna Nicole & TrimSpa: A Case for Brand Scenario Planning

B2B companies typically are insulated from the kind of multi-national, media onslaught being experienced by consumer-facing, diet company TrimSpa. B2B companies typically do not have celebrity endorsers either. But, B2B companies do have brand identities to protect and, at times, celebrity CEOs at the helm.

Anna Nicole Smith’s unexpected death serves as a reminder for businesses heavily dependent on a single person. Brand identity closely tied to an individual creates opportunity for chaos. Iacocca and Chrysler. Welch and GE. Kozlowski and Tyco (TYC).

Tyco is a B2B brand most notably tied to former CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski. His high-flying largesse with corporate funds and rapid deal making made him synonymous with the Tyco brand. That association led the company to a near-death experience when he was convicted of grand larceny, conspiracy and a spate of other charges.

The TrimSpa-Anna Nicole Smith relationship illustrates the need to plan for brand vulnerabilities, regardless of B2B or B2C designations. The most telling indication of this resonates in the following words of TrimSpa CEO Alex Goen during an interview with MSNBC discussing the future of his company.

“You know from a company perspective you want to be friendly to the media; you want to be treated well by the media, so you want to cooperate whatever you possibly can. So we’ve got, I’ve got an issue, that I have to deal with business-wise. My back is against a wall. I’m certainly concerned about whether or not we can make it. I think the odds are right now possibly against us. I mean we are going to give it all we have,” Goen said.

Sounds like a company unprepared for when celebrities fail, sputter or fall and the intense media scrutiny that affects nearly everyone and every entity associated with them. The bigger the star, the wider the impact. The same holds true for companies run by dominant, highly visible individuals. One misstep without the ability to effectively right the wrong and manage the fall out afterward, and the entire brand can go down with the individual’s reputation.

Companies such as TrimSpa, which led to the ebb in Anna’s yo-yo weight situation, discovered this firsthand. Subsequent media coverage discovered competing product Slimfast in her refrigerator and extended news reports of a Federal Trade Commission settlement of alleged unsubstantiated weight loss claims. Tie this with all the rest of her much publicized exploits, and I’d be curious to know if anyone took the time to think of all the what-ifs of having her as a spokesperson.

Through some quick web research, though, it seems TrimSpa and CEO Alex Goen are making moves indicative of sound scenario planning. But at this point it might only be fancy reactive footwork. The TrimSpa website quickly became a tribute to Anna. News reports indicate the company already was transitioning to find a new spokesperson with Anna’s help. This seems to conflict, however, with other reports citing TrimSpa President Tony Azzizzo, who said brand spokespersons now would focus on “your neighbors, friends, family members.” Does anyone know where the brand is headed?

Regardless of the whether TrimSpa planned for this scenario in advance and emerges from this tragedy in tact, or tap dances a reactionary waltz to obscurity, one thing is certain: brands tied closely to individuals require constant assessment of whether that person represents the appropriate image for a brand. One might argue Anna Nicole Smith did portray an appropriate brand image for TrimSpa. Nonetheless, a thorough assessment of brand vulnerabilities and how to save the brand, should those threats become reality, would have given TrimSpa a fighting chance.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Solutions Anyone?

The February 12 issue of BtoB magazine includes a piece I authored on (big shock) branding. The article looks at the perils of positioning B2B companies as "solutions providers"—something that's still far too common in our beloved B2B space.

You can find the article here.

While you're at it, visit Industry Week's site to see a sidebar piece I contributed to on (ready for this?) branding. For some reason, the editors saw fit to include my photo in the print edition. Fortunately, reason prevailed on the online side.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Let’s not fall b-to-behind on UGC

Remember when web video used to be a real drag—like a year and a half ago?

We’ve come a long way, baby, thanks to rapidly expanding bandwidth, vastly improved video compression, easy-to-use editing software (see Apple’s iMovie, for example), video search capability on Google and Yahoo, the proliferation of video sharing sites like YouTube … and whatever else you want to blame for the changing times. Today, just about anybody has the wherewithal to record, edit, upload and explore the wonderful world of web video content

The emergence of all these technological developments at once has quickly ushered in a new era of user-generated content, or UGC. It’s what the folks at Time were talking about when they named “You” their Person of the Year for 2006.

And if Time knows about it, well, it’s surely entered the mainstream. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that the Super Bowl broadcast featured some high-profile UGC endeavors, but I will anyway: Doritos, Alka-Seltzer and Chevrolet.

OK, those are all high-profile consumer brands. So what about UGC in B2B? Based on some recent—and, I believe, unique and effective—video work we did for a client’s website, I’ve been thinking a lot more about that. A fellow b-to-b blogger, Rick Short, recently posted a video ad for the company he works for, and it’s quite funny. On another recent post, Rick also comments on whether UGC makes any sense in the b-to-b realm.

There’s still the typical “our clients aren’t ready for this” attitude in many b-to-b circles. It seems we’re always lagging on these fronts, and I understand the reluctance to spend a lot of resources on *unproven* tactics. (Caveat emptor: Always evaluate your video tactics against the overall company brand, goals and objectives.)

But as fast as the UGC phenomenon is moving, we had better do the “Is this right for us?” soul-searching concurrently with some experimentation. All marketing professionals, consumer and b-to-b alike, should be exploring the possibilities. Easily and affordably created and integrated into existing communications, UGC (as well as related web video content such as vlogs and video press releases, etc.) represents an unprecedented, nearly boundless opportunity for company brands to interact with customers, prospects, employees and recruits.

This isn’t a “now UGC it, now you don’t” situation (ouch!). UGC is here to stay, and it’s time to join the fray.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Well City, Let’s Go!

If a committee I’ve recently joined is successful, here’s something you’ll be hearing a lot more about: Milwaukee’s Well City initiative. For now, I’ll just start with this post.

The Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce have come together to spearhead an initiative that could earn Milwaukee boasting rights as one of the healthiest cities in America. Right now we’re designing a marketing program that makes sure the initiative gains momentum.

Well City USA is a program developed by the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA), an organization dedicated to helping businesses lower health care costs by cutting the demand for health care services. We are trying to help Milwaukee join the nine cities nationwide that have received the Well City designation and the six cities with projects under way. We’ve already achieved the prerequisite that at least 20 companies covering a combined minimum of 52,000 employees must commit to meeting WELCOA’s Well Workplace certification criteria. We’re now awaiting approval on the recently submitted application for Milwaukee to enter Well City’s three-year certification period.

So why is all this worthwhile? We believe it’s essential not just for the sake of encouraging us all to live healthier lives (although that’s pretty worthy in itself), but for the economic health of the entire Milwaukee region.

For one thing, I’m sure you’re familiar with Milwaukee’s comparatively high health care costs. Reducing demand on the health care system through wellness programs is one way to lower those costs. In addition, healthier people make more productive employees. Finally, the Well City designation could do wonders for marketing our region and our companies—helping us all to recruit the healthy, talented and productive workers we need.

But first, businesses of all sizes have to get on board to make Well City happen in our town. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to act now by getting your company to commit to being a Well Workplace.

WELCOA is making it easy. It’s not that expensive. And the ROI can benefit your company, your people and our region as a whole.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Image Matters, Ask Home Depot’s Former CEO Bob Nardelli

Former Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt provide a case study in divergent approaches to running a company post Enron.

One strategy depends on numbers alone to trump all. The other balances the scales of capitalism with image.

The styles of these CEOs and others are contrasted in a recent Wall Street Journal column in the context of what caused Nardelli’s ultimate unraveling. Columnist Alan Murray characterizes Nardelli’s extravagant compensation package as his “biggest problem.”

But how did his compensation become a problem? Presumably it was not a problem for Home Depot board members who hired him after Immelt beat out Nardelli for the top spot at GE. Compensation became a problem only after his image—weakened by his own inaction, miscalculations and incommunicado—left him vulnerable to stakeholder action on a number of fronts.

Shareholder return suffered prompting protests despite doubling sales and earnings. Strategic shifts sparked a proxy fight for board seats. And, writes Murray, Nardelli didn’t apologize for his pay package, nor did he reduce it.

Obviously the numbers played a role in Nardelli’s exit, but his lack of initiative and communication about issues important to influential audiences provided the path to his ouster. Hind sight is 20/20, but there is more than a fighting chance that Nardelli never would have had to apologize for his salary, nor reduce it, if he had taken better care of his image.

Image, contrary to popular wisdom, is more than a glossy photograph. Immelt, whose image graces plenty of magazine covers, understands this concept.

Immelt, according to the column, also generates sound operating results and a languishing stock price. Yet he is perceived as one of America’s leading CEOs. Granted, he has taken initiatives that Nardelli did not take, such as tying his salary to performance. But he also took action and communicated to his stakeholders about other important issues, such as the environment.

Effective, forward-thinking executives of both public and private companies understand the scales of capitalism are balanced with image and performance, not one over the other.

P.S. One other note for those who aspire to the top exec seat, Nardelli did attempt to improve his image, but too late into his tenure. Aspiring c-level execs would do well to consider image as part of their strategy from the start. And, existing CEOs would do well to start paying attention to image before most consider it necessary—when trouble starts.

For more on how CEOs from Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart and Citigroup handle the modern image demands of CEO-ship, order a back copy of the January 4 Wall Street Journal. Or, if you already subscribe, access the online archives. It will be time well spent.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Five Keys to Transitioning or Consolidating the B2B Brand

How do we transition our business from one brand identity to another? From two or more brands to a single brand? Since we're doing it to spur growth, how do we add new customers without losing the old ones along the way?

If you're not asking these questions now, don’t get too comfortable. A number of marketplace realities are conspiring to make brand transition and consolidation inevitable for increasing numbers of B2B companies. These factors include:
So what are some of the considerations for marketing leaders faced with the task of communicating a new or consolidated B2B brand? Once you've determined what the new entity should be called (and why), and how you'll position the new brand, consider the following:

1) Audit your touch points - Launching a marcom campaign to introduce the change and communicate its value is a no-brainer. But it’s just as important for companies to audit every recurring touch point with its key audiences—customers, prospects, investors, employees, recruits, suppliers, etc.—to consider whether that touch can also be a vehicle for communicating the change. E-mail sign-offs, invoices, quotes, paycheck envelopes, call centers, mailing envelopes and the like all present opportunities to reinforce the new brand.

2) Don’t rush the transition - It will take long enough for people to get that the company and brand they’re used to will now be known as something else. It may take even longer to convince people there’s a good reason to stick around—especially as your comeptitors use the change to create doubt in the minds of your customers. Plan on spending at least a year reinforcing not only the name and brand narrative of the new entity, but the fact that the new entity includes the best parts of the old.

3) Bridge the gap - As is so often the case, B2B practitioners can learn much by observing their counterparts on the consumer side. AT&T’s marcom plan for its forthcoming absorption of Cingular may provide a wealth of lessons over time. For now, it’s helpful to see how AT&T is deploying communications that bridge the gap between audiences’ understanding of the two brands today, and how AT&T wants them to think about the new brand tomorrow.

4) Don’t skimp on the employee communications – Painful ubiquity of the term “brand ambassadors” notwithstanding, it’s essential that employees understand and support the transition to a new name and brand. If they don’t understand the reasons for and benefits of the change, or are in a foul mood about it, they’ll probably share as much with your customers and prospects. Use every means at your disposal to reinforce for employees why the new brand is good for them and customers (assuming it is). And make sure your audit (see #1, above) includes employee touches, so you can use those to reinforce the strategy and benefits of the consolidation/transition.

5) Listen, measure, adapt - Create a transition plan, but be willing to adapt the timeline based on results. Use employee and marketplace surveys to assess whether audiences are getting both messages about the change: 1) that it’s happening; and 2) what they stand to gain. Be willing to move implementation timelines up or back depending on what you’re seeing.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Recruitment Site Done Right

I've posted before about my assessment that Accenture represents the very best in brand-based marketing communications in the B2B space.

Further proof comes by way of a recruitment site you'll find here. The site appears to be aimed at recruits in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.

Accenture's site is fun without being goofy. The "Tell a friend" link offers a quick and easy way to leverage the site's obvious viral potential. On the whole, the site is a great example of what so many B2B companies should do but don't: create a standalone, online recruiting environment that provides prospects with an engaging, memorable experience.

Given the ever-increasing importance of recruiting and retaining top people, others would be wise to follow Accenture's lead.

Speaking of viral--kudos to Bob Rosswaag at JWT Specialized Communications in NYC for the tip.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Searching for a Cause

Last week, I received an email from someone I volunteer with at a local non-profit. Turns out our charity has been registered with a new free-search engine called GoodSearch. Powered by Yahoo, GoodSearch donates an average of $.01 to the charity of your choice for every search you make.

You can either associate your search with your charity --- there is minimal setup that goes into it if you are the first to register a particular nonprofit --- or you can choose the “Charity of the day” in the upper-left corner of the site.

After learning about this new concept, I have a few observations: first – another great Web 2.0 idea!; second – how can I get more people to use it?; and third – what a simple, engaging way to apply the principles of cause marketing. (See also Motorola’s (Product) Red campaign.)

We’ll use this blog as an example. I’m giving props to GoodSearch and linking you to the site: By promoting GoodSearch on our blog, we create an actual, measurable result for the cause—while showing our compassionate side as corporate bloggers. With sensitivity to everyone’s differing opinions and beliefs, it’s a no-cost, non-partisan move that gets us out of the muck about “what we support” but answers a confident yes to the question of “whether we support charitable causes.” It’s clearly a cause marketing win-win scenario.

So click through to GoodSearch, find a charity you support, do a search to learn more about your cause and share it with friends. Better yet, if you really love GoodSearch, make our blog your home page and then click to GoodSearch.

GoodSearch cause banner

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Power to Say "No"

“The biggest single mistake companies make is trying to appeal to everybody.” So wrote Al Ries and Jack Trout in their landmark book Positioning, written two decades ago. Today, the wisdom behind that line is as sage as ever—whether in branding, or in business.

Ries and Trout’s message for companies was at once simple, profound and frustrating: the most compelling identities limit the way audiences can think about you by saying as much about who you’re not as who you are. But sacrificing peripheral possibilities—markets, recruits, alliances, revenue channels, messages and customers that don’t fit the go-to-market strategy—is a tough move for many companies to make.

That’s especially true for companies owned and operated by their founders. Saying “no” to possibilities runs counter to the entrepreneurial principle that if you can dream it, you can—and should—do it. Or at least try to do it.

B2B leaders willing to say “no” for the sake of staying on strategy often find it not only profitable from a business standpoint, but personally liberating. No longer do the company and its people have to worry about trying to be all things to all people. Resources from Sales, Marketing, HR or Operations are no longer expended on things that fall outside the company’s focus. The market for said things may be strong. But if the company can’t do it as well as or better than competitors, the company doesn’t do it at all. For employees, that can come as a relief, since it frees people up to focus on what they know.

Say "No" For The Brand's Sake
For B2B companies, saying “no” can also help protect the brand. Clients of ours who’ve had the courage to position themselves at a specific point on the continuum have reaped the business rewards of defensible differentiation. That includes clearer, more compelling identities in the minds of customers and prospects. Sustainable revenue increases. A better story for top recruits. And greater enterprise value.

That’s because branding a B2B company—like running a successful business—is in part about amassing the power to say “no.” By resisting the urge to increase short-term sales by depicting themselves as generalists, companies win in the long-run. And so do their customers.

It’s not easy. It takes time to build the financial strength and reputation that are prerequisites to turning down new revenue opportunities. But life is better when you know who you are, and who you’re not—and act accordingly.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How believing in a brand can keep the paparazzi from your doorstep.

This is a story about Miss U.S.A., Rosie and Donald Trump. Stay with me here, there is a brand lesson.

Recently Miss U.S.A. made a few bad choices in the New York City bar scene. So much so, that it came to the attention of Donald Trump. The Donald, being a part owner in the Miss U.S.A. pageant, had to make a judgment call, which he did. He reviewed the allegations, interviewed the reigning Miss U.S.A. and decided she deserved a second chance. Great.

Rosie, star of…well…I’m not sure, pops off with this salvo: “Who is Donald Trump to be the moral compass of this young girl?”

The Donald reacts instinctively and goes on the attack. A nasty war is played out in the media.

Seems to me, if the Donald truly understood that he owned The Miss U.S.A. brand and what the brand means to so many, his instinctive reaction would have been different. Perhaps something like this:

“….I am the guardian of a time honored institution—Miss U.S.A. Out of respect for all those who have competed in the past and will compete in the future, it’s important to hold all Miss U.S.A.’s to a high standard. That’s why I reviewed this case with particular interest and have determined that she deserves a second chance.”

If the Donald truly understood that this was a brand with deep roots-- not a dormant, non-dimensional asset to be bought and sold, he may have given an answer that put Rosie in her place and elevated the brand.