Monday, March 30, 2009

No time like the present to kill ideology

Wow, what a day. The President of the United States removes the CEO of General Motors. Not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, isn't that government interfering in private enterprise? On the other, this man is serious - he means change.

I sat and watched the story unfold and I could predict with what I would bet utmost precision what the reaction of certain people I know would be. Based solely on their ideological beliefs. I submit that we are in a very pivotal time, where ideology is a crutch and one that we need to leave at the side of the road. It is the easiest filter of all. If you are for free enterprise then the events of today will be horrific in their own right, and you will be blinded from any other causes or effects. If you are into taking care of the people, you may see this through the lens of not wanting to let a giant employer like this fail.

I submit that this is the time to try and cast aside the lenses we all tend to look through, no matter their tint or color, and see that to get out of this mess we are in we need to evaluate the issues of the day from a deeper perspective than just pure ideology. There can be no black and white - it is far too complex, and no one is right or wrong.

We are in a state of ideological flux, and with it comes the unusual freedom to improvise a fresh course forward. America can have universal health care and public schools unbound by the teachers unions of old. We can impose sensible regulatory mechanisms and enthusiastically promote free markets and free trade. With the economy in such a complicated mess we should recognize that towing the ideological party line and adhering to old political convictions won't pull us out of this.

We need deeper thinking, open ears and a commonsense approach to our future.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finding people in the data

So today we had some great presentations from market research firms about the US economy, and specifically the housing market. When will it recover? Will it recover? What does the data say?

One in particular (you know who you are) reduced the tale, and their predictions into a mathematical equation - vacant developed lot supply and housing starts. The theory being that the housing market and all its resulting impacts on the economy will not bounce back until the number of closings surpasses the number of starts - thus working off the excess inventory. Perfectly logical, and there is data back as far as 1977 to prove this is true.

But what about the people? Where do their preferences and their hopes and fears factor into this formula? For some, that's the squishy part. And we had good conversation among our team about what each of us think is going on in the consumer's mind today. Because we are all consumers ourselves the tendency sometimes is to interpret the data based upon our own behavior and project that to the market at large. Oh to have that crystal ball.

I love all the data, and the analysis of it. I love trying to determine what it tells us the best action should be.

And at the end of it all, it's my simple mind that takes me back to the most basic questions:
Who is our customer?
What do they want?
How and when do they want to buy it (this one is more complex than it sounds)?
What can we do to give it to them?

Tackling these questions is risky. It means stepping outside of ourselves, and our sometimes long-held beliefs about what matters to customers and why. And getting to that answer takes listening to your customers. Sometimes not an easy task for folks who have done the same thing for a long time and done it quite successfully in many cases.

Is the buyer really different today? Any different than the last major economic hurdle? I believe so, and not just because of pure demographics. The very fact we can have conversations like this, and that millions of others are doing the same thing everywhere has changed things forever.

That changed consumer today has different needs than they did last year.

So how do we find that consumer in among the data?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Marketing - an unnecesssary expense or a needed investment?

So the economy continues to twist and turn in the wind, and every responsible business, large or small, is looking for ways to conserve cash, do more with less, combine efforts, put things off, invest in only what matters. The title of today's post is provactive at best, and dangerous when you are sitting in my seat at worst.

One of the first areas to often be "cut" when things get tough is marketing. Proclamations get made like, "we don't need to be advertising right now because nobody's buying XYZ." or "Our competitors all cut back their media spend months ago, we don't need to be out there so much."

If marketing is seen as advertising, or promotion, this can be a logical argument. Though, when times are tough it's the right time to go after market share so when they are back your company is positioned to win.

This is the time, and the opportunity, for marketers everywhere to remember what their job really is, and to start practicing it with more conviction if they have gotten fat and lazy and spent time during the good years chasing the latest greatest creative application of their brand, or the newest media seen as the panacea.

When you are pushed to cut marketing, think of it this way...

Upstream marketing is the business of marketing that entails analyzing customers, competitors, and company characteristics; identifying strengths and opportunities as well as weaknesses and threats; and targeting the most profitable segments - thereby identifying potential sources of cash flow. Magic to every CFO's ears right?

Downstream marketing involves differentiating your company's products and services in consumers' minds and delivering the unique value promised by those offerings - thereby harvesting cash flow. More magic right? Sometimes this is reduced to the pretty pictures stuff that is seen as the discretionary expense. If you don't do this "on purpose" that's a relegation you probably deserve.

So, for the few marketers who are giving me the pleasure of writing this post, and reading this perspective, think about it. Do what you can to contribute to these areas now, and show marketing to be the business discipline it is - beyond all the "expense" associated with advertising and promotion. This is about your best thinking, and using what you know about your customers, competitors and business to contribute to positive cash flow.

It's a fun time to try some new stuff, take some risks, and see just how much you know and can learn by thinking deeper.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big companies often seem to be from nowhere, while chains are perceived as the same everywhere

Think about the places you love that avoid that fate. How do they turn a generic space into a specific place? I avoid places that are generica.

It saddens me when all across the country a place full of chain stores, and chain restaurants is the same from city to city, state to state. They are inauthentic and you know they offer pretty much the same experience you could have anywhere. They are from nowhere.

What are the best examples in your world of authentic, crunchy, original experiences?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


It's the day when I begin to feel the weight of the week.
When I suggest we just go to our favorite restaurant to eat. Where Jim always has our table ready. And Megan says, "Will that be two Blue Fireflies"? as our drink of choice.

What is Thursday to you?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

World without religion

Tonight we had a discussion with a friend who started the conversation by saying she hates labels and boxes. Being labeled an African American so that must mean X. Or a single working mother so that must mean your financial situation is X. Or a lesbian so that must mean your relationships are all X. You get the point.

She lobbed the question - "Wouldn't it be great if there was no religion at all in the world?" If people just were free to be who they are and think what they think.

What about those who get comfort and belonging from religion? This, coming from me, who is not a religious person in the typical sense of the word.

Would it make the world a better place, or just a different place?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Design matters

There are a lot of gurus and jargon-laden books about the power of branding, the need for a consistent brand image, and clear brand identity guidelines. But what many of them miss is that brand is not a marketing exercise, it is a promise in everything you do, and to truly add value it needs to be intentionally and thoughfully designed "on purpose".

It's not a tactic to be managed, nor is it about the size and placement of a logo.

Design of every touch point establishes the relationship between you and your customers. That's what brand is about - a relationship and a promise between you and them. Complete design incorporates what they see, interact with and come in contact with - all the things they experience about your company and use to form opinions about it, and develop desire for your product. These touch points shouldn't just randomly be allowed to happen, they need to be designed and coordinated in a way that gets you where you want to be with your customers - to where you matter to them.

Why is this thought so simple in theory and so rarely practiced?
If we could figure this out, bottle it and sell it we'd have a lot more Apple Computer, Nike, BMW success stories.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What does TV say about life?

Last night saw the last episode of 70 (over 6 seasons) of the L Word. It was complete with a 60-minute retrospecticve with cast, commentators and media personalities like Hilary Rosen, CNN political commentator and contributor to the Huffington Post.

The show was credited with giving time and insight into this community. Others say it was too unreal. Real lesbians don't dress like that, or look like that. And c'mon... a pregnant tranny? No matter what you think, the final episode was the end of an era.

Tonight is the premiere episode of the next season of Dancing with the Stars. Football players, ex-con female hip-hop artists, old pop singers and more.

Given these 2 big TV events this week alone, what does TV say about life?

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Have you ever looked back through the years of your life so far and looked for patterns? I don't mean lessons you haven't learned, or may keep learning over and over, I mean just random patterns that don't end up being so random after all.

There are a number in my life, and each one explored is the stuff memoirs are made of:
Kid from Surrey --- CMO of large US company
Medical family --- Lover of words, art and images
Conservative corporate America --- Humanist realist liberal
American --- Canadian
Lucky the black cat --- Lucas the black dog
No kids --- Partner has four
Writer --- Writer

Ok the last one may not make sense at first. The act of typing words on a keyboard is the same no matter what is being written, but the part of my brain used could not be more different during workday writing and my writing.

So, opposites. They offer lots to explore, relationships to think about, connections to create.