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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Inside marketing: the 10 questions

If James Lipton, host of "Inside the Actor's Studio" BRAVO television program, were to interview a marketing person , here's how he'd probably adapt his famous 10 questions that he asks at the end of the show. How would you answer them? At next week's Corante/Columbia Marketing Innovation conference I plan to pose this questions to a number of outspoken people and share what they have to say.

In the meantime, here are my responses.

What’s your favorite marketing word?
Love. (Passion and emotion drive all decisions)

What is your least favorite marketing word?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally about marketing?
Finding point-of-views that spark conversations – especially when a company or its products are kind of boring.

What turns you off about marketing?
Alpha fraidy cats. Aggressive, persuasive, and scared to try new approaches.

What’s your favorite curse word when you see really bad marketing?
F…k. What are they thinking?

What sound or noise do marketers make that you love?
Absolute silence as they really listen to customers.

What sound or noise do marketers make that you hate?
Sucking up to the CEO even though they think he/she is diluting good ideas.

What profession other than marketing should marketers attempt to become better at marketing?
Teaching middle school kids or running a customer service department.

What profession should marketers never try?
Neurosurgery. Because most of us have ADD and don’t focus enough on details.

If marketing heaven exists, what would God say when a marketer arrives at the Pearly Gates?
Relax. We don’t measure anything up here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Talking marketing in Estonia

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the annual Parnu Marketing Conference where 550 of Estonia’s marketing professionals get together to learn and talk about new marketing ideas. The theme of the conference: “Marketing Without Advertising.”

See the blog postings by fellow presenters David Phillips and Robin Gurney of the Estonian internet marketing firm Altex for more.

Marketing Estonia
During a word of mouth marketing workshop 50 people came up with more than 300 ideas in 45 minutes about how to talk about Estonia to attract tourists and businesses to this Baltic country. A great testament to what can happen when you bring smart people together and remove all the traditional “branding” rules. Some of the ideas:

For toursim:

Estonia is like a fantasy land – beautiful old medieval architecture, Hansel & Gretel-like countryside, pristine beaches and forests with bears, wolves, wild mushrooms; and it’s safe, inexpensive, and almost everyone speaks English.

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is the largest and best preserved medieval capital in Europe. More beautiful than Prague.

The White Night winters in Estonia are magical, where you can really chill: pure silence amid the snow and ice; walking from island to island on the ice; barrel saunas.

And for the high testosterone crowd, Estonia is a great hunting spot – wolves, bears, wild boar; or you can tour former top-secret Soviet Union military bases.

Now here’s a sport you don’t find everywhere: While the Estonians did win Olympic medals for cross country skiing this year, they also took the gold medal in the world wife-carrying championship last summer.

For economic development:

Estonia is the Silicon Valley of the Baltic – totally E, and far less expensive than other European cities.

Estonia is the safe, friendly gateway for companies that want to do business with Russia, --- but be based in Europe and not Russia.

Estonia offers all the benefits of Scandinavia for businesses – educated population, high quality of life, great technology infrastructure -- with a MUCH lower flat tax rate.

Having spent two days as a tourist in Estonia, I can tell you that it is a gem of a country. Despite Soviet occupation until 1991, the country has preserved its national identity and the beauty of its environment and rich architectural history.

Aitäh Estonia!

Monday, May 08, 2006

New study on customer communities

Are online customer communities an undervalued marketing approach?

A new research study released today by Communispace, “What Companies Gain from Listening: The Effect of Community Membership on Members’ Attitudes and Behavior in Relation to the Sponsoring Company,” found that:
  • 82 percent of the surveyed community members said they were more likely to recommend a company’s products since joining its community.
  • 76 percent felt more positively about the company.
  • 75 percent felt more respect for the company.
  • 63 percent said that membership had increased their trust of the company.
  • 52 percent were more inclined to purchase products from the company.

Why do communities affect people so much? One reason may be that it provides a way for people to talk with a company and feel heard: 91 percent said they felt that their community allowed them to give candid feedback and suggestions to the company.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Marketing marginalizing marketing

Are marketers cannabalizing marketing? Finding and keeping customers is marketing's purpose. But a new study by the CMO Council shows that marketers are disconnected from customers.

More than half of the marketers surveyed rely on sales for customer conversations. Nearly 75% lack a customer advisory board.

Then how do marketers connect with customers? They don't, really. Approximately one third of the survey respondents rely on CRM systems as their primary customer information source -- and 40 percent said their CRM systems were weak or very weak. Mmmm....

“Marketers face the danger of rapidly marginalizing their own operations. They rely on sales to engage the customer and they rely on customer support to satisfy the customer," according to Christopher Kenton, senior vice president of the CMO Council .

It seems to me that marketing still has too much of a manufacuring mentality -- producing ads, Web sites, press releases and other stuff. Maybe it's time to make customer conversations as important a marketing responsibility as creating marketing materials.

As my friend Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace, says, "Marketers need to learn how to shut up and listen."

Innovation conferences

Interested in getting some fresh perspectives and practical know-how about innovation? Two upcoming conferences promise to be out of the box while also providing ideas to use when we have to get back in the box.

The 2006 Marketing Innovation Conference: Building a New Marketing To Meet a Changing Market will be held June 8-9 at Columbia Business School in New York City. Corante and The Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia are sponsoring the event.

BIF2, sponsored by the Business Innovation Factory, will be held on October 4-5 in Providence, RI. The 30 speakers are really eclectic, from big company executives, successful entrepreneurs and university presidents and professors to scientists, entertainment executives, writers and journalists. (Each speaker gets just 15 minutes to tell a personal story.)

What I like about these conferences is that there won’t be any talking heads going through PowerPoint decks promoting their companies. Both are about provoking thinking and providing a forum for talking with interesting people we don’t meet in our usual business circles.

Hope to see you in NY or Providence…

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Profits and purpose

During a recent strategic planning meeting, directors of a publicly traded company got into a heated discussion about goal setting for the organization. I suggested that we step back and clarify the company’s purpose and mission.

“Well that’s easy,” said one director, who then highlighted revenue and profitability targets.

But there’s a difference between purpose and profits.

Joan Magretta’s great book, “What Management Is: How It Works and Why I'ts Everone;s Business,” explains why understanding the difference is important if we want everyone in the organization to “pull in the right direction.”

“Now that we’ve become a nation of shareholders and investors, we are more likely than ever to think that the purpose of a business is to generate profits,” she writes. “But the real purpose of any business is to create value for its customers and to generate profits as a result.

“While the distinction between purpose and results may sound like hair splitting, it’s not. It goes to the heart of how managers get organizations to perform.”

In the book Magretta uses Fidelity Investment’s retirement business as an example. Fidelity doesn’t define mission and purpose in terms of profitability or number of retirement accounts. Its purpose? “Make sure people who invest with Fidelity have enough money to retire.”

Such a clear purpose then helps us create the goals and strategies to achieve the greater purpose. And to measure the right performance benchmarks.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Behind eBay soul selling: provoking conversation

Michael Esordi of Connecticut is selling his soul on eBay, and so far there are 13 bidders, with the highest bid being $47. The auction ends tomorrow.

What’s up with this guy? Is he some kind of religious nut? Apparently not. His real purpose is to provoke discussion, and get more people thinking about spirituality. Another example of just how much people want to have a say and engage with others to understand ideas. The more complex a concept, service or product, the more people want a dialog to make their own meaning of the idea. That’s why effective marketing is a conversation, not a one-way lecture, advertisement or sales presentation. We need to talk to make sense of many ideas, perhaps none more so than existential understanding.

“My idea is to put the idea out there and step back,” Esordi told Providence Journal writer Bryan Rourke. “It gets people to think and maybe believe in something. Souls are sold in small and large ways every day. Often, it’s something that happens little by little, almost unconsciously because we’ve become inured. ”

Aside from buying a certificate of Esordi’s soul, the winning bidder gets the opportunity to explain the reason for wanting to buy a soul certificate on Esordi’s web site, aptly named canitbesouled.com.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Going postal: USPS’ "Deliver" magazine

Should the United States Post Office be in the business of promoting direct mail?

Yesterday I received a copy of “Deliver,” the USPS’ expensively produced, 32 page magazine. USPS sends the free bi-monthly magazine to 350,000 marketers.

The business world is moving to a paper-less, digital world, but the Postal Service is trying to promote the value of direct mail and other “innovative marketing tools.”

“Finding innovative marketing tools is a must for any company that needs to promote its brand and products to the consumer,” according to USPS press release announcing the magazine last winter. “Today the U.S. Postal Service is Deliver-ing a magazine for marketers about strategies and trends that are shaping the world of marketing and advertising.”

My view is that the USPS has no business trying to be in the marketing advice business, especially as their advice is grounded in the old print world, which is hardly innovative. That's just a bad use of our tax dollars. Not as bad as the USPS' huge sports sponsorship spends a few years ago, but still rather irresponsible.

USPS should take the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on the magazine and address its real issue: how to create a new USPS business model for a world with less and less mail.

Now, back to getting my tax returns completed....