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.