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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Marketing development to communities: taking a new point-of-view

What can real estate developers do to avoid negative media coverage and protests by community and environmental groups?

First and foremost understand the opposition’s point-of-view: they believe that real estate development projects are the community’s projects, not the developers’ projects. Without understanding this perspective, developers are highly likely to face delays, protests or have a project killed altogether.

This was one finding from a study, “This Land Is My Land…But Could Be our Land: Developing Influencer Relationships to Accelerate Developer Success,” that Northeastern University communications professor Walter Carl and I recently completed for the NAIOP Foundation. We interviewed 30 commercial real estate developers and representatives from environmental, community, government and Smart Growth organizations to learn what it takes for developers to build effective relationships with influencers.

We also uncovered the seven most common characteristics of effective relationships between developers and those influential people who can affect a development project, positively or negatively. Here are highlights, most of which apply to all businesses that must build effective working relationships with external constituencies.

1. Early engagement: for most influencers the most irritating practice of developers was not involving the community early enough in the project process.

2. Effective listening: people want their viewpoints to be acknowledged and respected, even if those viewpoints can’t be accommodated. They need to feel listened to.

3. Education & understanding: educating friends and potential foes pays off. The more knowledgeable people are, the more likely they are to have realistic expectations, engage in construction discussions, and brainstorm ways to work around sticky points.

4. Trust and credibility: trust is based on the principle that each person feels like the other person truly understands their point of view. To build trust, present the whole picture, candidly discussing drawbacks as well as benefits. And always deliver on promises.

5. Accommodation: Be flexible and willing to give up some control. Adopt the 3Rs: respond to criticisms, redesign if necessary, and reach accommodations. If you can’t accommodate all requests, explain why.

6. Adapting: Adapt your communication style to the other party to foster understanding. Avoid industry jargon. Adapt the professional skills of coalition builders and educators.

7. Transparency: Always communicate in an open, direct and honest way.

A final point to note: building relationships isn’t about asking for influencers’ approval, but creating understanding. Similarly, it’s not about getting 100% consensus, but determining whether people can live with the proposed project.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The bland merging with the blind: What will Sears & Kmart promise the consumer?

I shop at Target because I understand its point-of-view – cool stuff at good prices. While I don’t choose to shop at Wal-Mart, I understand what the retailer is all about. Wal-Mart is successful because it, too, has a point-of-view that people understand: almost everything you need at really low prices.

But Kmart and Sears? Neither company has a point-of-view. The merger announced last week is like the bland (Sears) following the blind (Kmart). What do these retailers stand for? What’s the shorthand reason to shop there? Beats me.

I’ve seen many new Kmart television ads this fall but they confused me more than helped me understand Kmart. Why exactly would I shop there? The ads seemed disconnected from any bigger positioning. And Sears? Aside from buying Craftsman tools, I’m not sure why I’d shop there.

A point-of-view helps we consumers understand what a brand is all about. It’s the promise that helps us understand why to buy. Done right, it drives brand communications so it all adds up to set the brand apart. (And it makes it easier for marketing managers to plan, prioritize and really integrate different marekting communications techniques.)

Staples gets this. Its promise is to “make buying office products easy.” And they do. Last week I bought cartridges for my home office printers and received a rebate. Rather than having to fill out forms and mail them, which I never get around to doing, Staples let me go to a Web site, fill in a couple of numbers, and presto, the rebate process was complete. That was easy.

But merging two dying brands rarely succeeds. It would have been far smarter to resuscitate K-Mart or Sears with some real marketing. I tend to agree with retail consultant Howard Davidowitz who says that the Kmart and Sears merger will produce one thing: a cadaver.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Travelocity's marketing needs to connect the dots

Who knew that Travelocity is much better than competitors like Expedia and Hotels.com? Not me. All the big online travel sites' marketing sound alike to me.

A couple of weeks ago I sat in on an excellent presentation by Jeffrey Gulleck, CMO of Travelocity, at the Sales and Marketing Leaders Summit in Desert Springs, CA. Gulleck explained that most of the online travel sites confirm our hotel reservations with, hold on now, faxes back and forth to the hotels. Travelocity’s technology is far more advanced, which helps the service provide better deals, better service, more reliability. “The complexity of the travel industry is our friend,” explained Gulleck. “It provides a barrier to small companies entering the category, and helps us compete against the other major players.”

Most interesting was the strategic work Gulleck has done to create a new positioning: “Travelocity is the advocate for travelers,” a position that Travelocity can deliver on better than any of their competitors.

Most disappointing, however, was seeing Travelocity’s new gnome ads, which don’t pay off the positioning.

Why, we wonder, don’t companies use their positioning points-of-view to drive all of their brand communications, from advertising and public relations to sales presentations and Web marketing? If Travelocity really wants to be an advocate for travelers, it might think about trading in the gnomes for a Gert Boyle-like campaign. (I’d trust Columbia Sportswear’s “Mother Boyle” ads before the gnome.) Or allocate more to a content-driven advertorial campaign. Or get more from PR.

With my work schedule, I really want a travel advocate. Travelocity needs to prove that it is one.