Monday, May 25, 2009

Red Ball Jets: The Promise and Perils of Positioning

By Dan Wallace

When I was a child I saw TV commercials for sneakers called Red Ball Jets. They showed kids leaping over wagons, hurtling tall bushes and outrunning big dogs. I still remember the tag line: “Red Ball Jets. They make you run faster and jump higher.” The shoes obviously possessed supernatural powers. I had to have a pair!

After some polite cajoling, I gained these coveted shoes, tightened the laces, and attempted to vault a sturdy shrub. The plant won that contest. This was my introduction to the hazards of the marketplace. Caveat emptor!

Despite being duped at this early age, I entered the marketing profession. Through this career choice I find myself answering to others who’ve been shortchanged in the marketplace. Consequently, it’s no surprise to me that opinion polls show my profession is consistently held in low regard; the clergy typically hold top honors.

Awhile ago I went to dinner with an old friend and his wife, who is, in fact, a minister. His wife related how one of her seminary professors believed advertising is the one industry with no justification for being. She tended to agree with her professor, but wanted to hear my side of the story. I explained how advertising helps satisfy wants and needs, accelerates innovation, reduces cost, provides jobs, and finances the free press. Some of these ideas were new to her, but the chief issue seemed to be the mental and ecological disruption caused by unfettered commerce — true problems in my view.

Fortunately the marketplace provides some justice. Red Ball Jets are history. Products and services that don’t live up to their claims go away. On Main Street, every day is Election Day.

To garner votes in markets, opportunities must be presented or problems solved; products and services must be conveniently offered at competitive prices and then carefully positioned and promoted. For example, Red Ball Jets claimed to make kids run faster and jump higher. They failed to deliver on their promise. Nike said Just Do It — asking us to keep promises to ourselves — and went on to become number one in the athletic shoe market.

The comparison is illuminating. A position does not have to state a fact, offer a benefit, or be explicit. In fact, the best marketing messages give people room to draw their own conclusions. Crafting these messages requires a deep understanding of customers.

Learning about customers can result in surprising insights. For example, I’ve discovered that hardheaded electrical engineers value good-looking circuit boards, even though circuit boards are hidden inside electronic devices. I’ve learned that people go to upscale restaurants in part to feed their egos. And I found out that numbers-oriented market researchers seek creativity. These simple insights helped shape distinctive positions that became the basis for successful marketing campaigns.

In a perfect world, every product would be well positioned. Toward this end, here are three suggestions for people who market product or services:

  1. Uncover the non-obvious motivations of your customers.
  2. Differentiate your offering in a way that is meaningful to customers.
  3. Communicate a promise you can deliver on.

Free choice and open markets will correct any imbalances. If a product over-promises or fails to deliver what people want, it won’t last long. Every purchase is a vote. In the case of Red Ball Jets, people literally voted with their feet. This is the peril of positioning.

At the same time, the right position can tip the scales in your favor. This is the promise of positioning.

Dan Wallace is the principal at Idea Food, Inc. He works with leaders to increase sales through marketing. Dan is also a former VP of Programming for the Minnesota Chapter of the AMA.

Copyright 2009, Dan Wallace.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

What a TV Show Can Teach Us About Rebranding

By Philip Wocken

When so many businesses are deciding to close up shop due to the current economic conditions, some businesses are using the “economic crisis” as the perfect opportunity to recoil, retool, rebrand, and rebound.

My wife and I are huge foodies. We got caught up in a series on FOX called “Kitchen Nightmares.” The show features world famous and ultra-successful restaurateur Chef Gordon Ramsey. Chef Ramsey comes into failing restaurants and spends a week in the owners’ shoes to help save the business from bankruptcy. My wife and I tuned in late in the season, so we logged on to to watch full episodes of the show from the very beginning.

"Kitchen Nightmares" follows a predictable plot, but it is still amusing—and disgusting—to watch. The plot usually goes something like this:

Day 1 provides Chef Ramsey the opportunity to sample the restaurant’s menu, meet the chefs, the owners, and the staff. Chef Ramsey usually gives the chefs and the owners some scathing reviews of the food and the day typically ends with the stubborn owners unwilling to accept Chef Ramsey’s critique. Day 1 signifies the start of the recoil.

Day 2 is inspection day. Chef Ramsey tours the Back of the House (a restaurant term for any area of the restaurant besides the lobby, dining room, and bar) and frequently finds a kitchen with broken ovens, freezers that aren’t freezing, and coolers with rotting leftovers. For evening dinner service, Chef Ramsey observes the restaurant in action. Here he notices the inefficiencies from a third party perspective and hopes to gain insight into why the restaurant is failing.

Day 3 allows Chef Ramsey to retool the restaurant. In some episodes, he scans the neighborhood and checks out the competition. For example, one restaurant was suffering from an identity crisis. Their menu featured a wide variety of food and they failed to specialize in any particular area. Chef Ramsey noticed that there wasn’t a great steakhouse anywhere in the vicinity, so he decided that would be their new niche. In other episodes, Chef Ramsey strolls the sidewalks asking strangers about their impressions of the restaurant. This gives him a pulse for how the community views the restaurant. Day 3 is also spent sprucing up the front of the building and the inside of the dining room to create an intimate customer experience. Usually a new menu is introduced that will create a couple of signature dishes that will beg customers to come back.

Day 4 is the day of the rebrand. After Day 4 is complete, Chef Ramsey and the owners will have a pretty good idea of whether the restaurant will be able to turn the corner and rebound, or if they’ll be forced to resign. Some of these restaurants are $500,000 in debt, so marketing dollars for the rebrand are pretty scarce. Thanks to Chef Ramsey and some behind-the-scenes help that we’re not able to see (darn reality TV production tricks!), creative and low-budget public relations campaigns are launched to create buzz about the new restaurant, new menu, and new brand. A groundswell is created and the restaurant relaunch is a success.

Days 5-7 are rarely shown, but it is revealed in one of the episodes that Chef Ramsey sticks around for these last couple of days to monitor the progress and solidify the new brand.

So in conclusion, in only 4 days a restaurant is turned from a floundering business on the verge of failure, into the buzz-worthy hot spot in town with a new outlook on the future. It is during these days that, as a viewer, you see the transformation between owners and their staff, owners and their spouses, and owners and their guests. When you watch the owners begin to realize that there is hope in saving their restaurant, you can’t help but feel happy for them.

With all of the negative news out there, isn’t it refreshing to hear that some businesses are able to turn it around? At the same time, I’m able to glean a couple of unique rebranding tips from an unlikely source. And who said that TV wasn’t educational...?

Philip Wocken is an inventive marketing manager specializing in online marketing techniques. He can be reached at http://BuzzBrains.Biz and he can be followed on Twitter @BuzzBrains.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Global Marketing – Marketing to Customers Ready to Buy

By Rodney Hiel

In today’s economy, marketing expenses face great scrutiny in attempt to ring out the last sale of an anemic western consumer. With skyrocketing costs to acquire new business, companies are tempted to spend more to attract customers in their home market. But those companies which excel in difficult times locate new markets and find new customers who are buying.

Although western consumer markets continue to be the world’s largest, emerging markets, along with countries whose governments have defined stimulus packages, should be the first place to look. Through leveraging the purchasing power of both governments and consumers, this sets the stage for creating a healthy, dynamic consumption base for your products.

Getting to these new consumers in a cost effective manner may be easier said than done. Perhaps previous attempts at international development efforts were fruitless. Fortunately, today’s global business environment has changed immensely over the last few years and offers several new ways to market products abroad. World events are dramatically changing the rules of the game of international market development. When strategically managed, these changes can make reaching new consumers much easier.

Traditional methods to export have well defined expenses, risks, and development paths. By taking a strategic perspective of using your internal competencies and assets along with leveraging all global options to get to your international customer, this perspective can accomplish the same goal at a much lower cost and reduces risk.

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly study (4/16/09), 80% of executives state their strategic-planning processes are significantly changing this year. Many will place a heavier reliance on scenario planning, and conduct a more rigorous approach to approving projects and capital spending. Other significant changes include the creation of strategies that are more dynamic, focus on the short term, and include more analyses.

With the current business environment commonly described as a sour lemon, a strategic perspective to global marketing can create the lemonade to refresh your organization and sustain your operations until western markets rebound.

See part two for the next step...

Rodney Hiel is the Managing Director for Asia Business Consulting. Minnesota based Asia Business Consulting strategically researches, develops, and tactically executes a proven process to create cost effective strategies for market entry in today’s Southeast Asia and China.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Mobile Marketing/Advertising, Hang On - We’re Just Getting Started

By Drew Dahms

Mobile marketing. Maybe you’re starting to hear more about it. Maybe the possibilities excite you. Maybe the thought of brands reaching out to you through your mobile device scares you. But the one thing is certain- the dawn of mobile is here and the landscape of marketing and advertising are changing; slowly, but surely.

Two decades ago, the Internet was strange and confusing. But brands and advertisers quickly adopted the technology and consumers embraced their messages. Today, in 2009, mobile is the new Internet; strange and confusing, yet exciting. The main contrast between the early days of Internet and mobile is that not many people owned computers or had Internet connections when the “web” rolled out. Today, over 80% of people in the U.S. own a cell phone and the mobile revolution is just getting started. The people are ready!

There are a lot of exciting mobile technologies that are developing; mobi sites, Image Recognition, QR codes, mobile video, m-commerce, plus a multitude of iPhone & Android apps. Whew. It’s mind numbing, and there are a lot of variables involved with each. Thankfully, for the moment, text message (or SMS) marketing is where everyone is starting. It’s simple, reliable, low cost, and works on every phone.

Text messaging is the single biggest feature that is used by cell phone owners besides making phone calls. In the United States, 123 million people send and receive text messages at a rate of 2 billion messages per day.

Looks at these recent statistics from the Mobile Entertainment Forum:

  • 89% of US workers have a cell phone, 19% have a Blackberry
  • 59% of cell phone or Blackberry owners use text messaging
  • 66% of Americans aged 30-49 use text messaging
  • 76% of Internet users watched video on their PCs
  • 44.7% of US mobile users looking for a phone with better Internet
  • 78% of Americans own cell phones
  • 65% of unemployed Americans have cell phones
  • 17% of US wireless subscribers are prepaid customers
  • 23% of all mobile users to use mobile social networks by 2012
  • Mobile marketing budget percentages to grow 150% by 2013

Marketers are beginning to understand the need to integrate mobile into their multichannel branding, customer acquisition and customer retention plans. The emphasis, however, should be on mobile’s complementary nature- it gives legs to other channels including retail, television, print, coupons, radio, outdoor, direct mail, e-mail and insert media. Marketers must remember that mobile cannot, and must not, be treated like other mass mediums out there. Mobile is a highly personal channel with double opt-in permission requirements. So it’s not the quantity that should matter for marketers looking to incorporate mobile into their multichannel marketing plans. It’s the quality, and that’s where mobile excels.

Right now the biggest obstacle facing mobile marketing (besides being so new) is consistency. The way mobile campaigns can be launched and tracked has not been consistent across vendors. Everyone does it a little differently. Outside of text messaging, there is still very little that can be done in the area of consistency. User experience is dependent on what was viewed on what device. There are hundreds of different mobile phones currently in use and many different operating systems and configurations. What looks good on an iPhone may look stretched on a Blackberry or over-sized on a flip phone. But let’s cut everyone a little slack here.

Like I said, it’s all just getting started and it’s going to be very exciting.

Drew Dahms is a Relationship Manager with Sumotext who provides SMS campaign solutions for marketers and business owners. Sumotext is a CSCA approved short code provider and member of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA).

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