Saturday, 31 May 2008

A Simple Technique For Prioritizing Brand Investments

What instantly comes to your mind when you hear IBM?

If you think “a really big company” you’re not alone. Most people cite IBM's sheer size in brand awareness surveys. Which is why IBM ad campaigns often picture small to midsize businesses. Or a bunch of IBMers sitting around thinking up creative solutions as if they are in the kitchen of a small startup. IBM can’t break it’s image of size, but they can counter the attributes that go with size (slow, and anything but agile) with image campaigns.

IBM is also a big believer in decentralization to fight the trappings of size. And they tend to empower their account teams to make decisions, another technique to make customers feel they aren’t dealing with a company the size of Jupiter with a bureaucracy that outdoes the Federal government.

If you hear Blue Coat Systems, you might think “that small company in the Valley.” Blue Coat has the opposite problem. All of the objections that go with doing business with a small company come to mind when an account team from Blue Coat walks in the door. So it’s no surprise Blue Coat tends to promote its big company successes.

But – when you hear BMW, what comes to mind? You probably don’t think about the size of the company; rather well-engineered automobiles that are fun to drive. When you hear Wal-Mart you might think of them as huge – but that thought probably comes after “cheap stuff.” When people hear General Mills, they think “cereal.” Like BMW and Wal-Mart, General Mills is a product driven brand.

What first response means
That “first response” a customer or prospect has is the essence of brand. Most brand managers are disappointed to learn that the customer’s first response is actually not the image they intended to create. Fret not. That gap tells you exactly exactly where you need to make additional investment.

Product versus experience
Brands such as Nordstrom, Nike and Starbucks sell products, but when customers are surveyed, a feeling comes to mind. That’s because these companies followed the Disneyland model – and they decided to invest in the integration of product and experience, especially Nordstorm who was one of the first companies to take cues from Disneyland marketers. As a result, they have developed a legendary service model that people love to talk about.

Then there’s the opposite situation. When Verizon says they are first in service, yet you can’t get someone on the phone when you call - who they are and how they behave and out of sync. And that bruises the brand.

Try the survey
Ask your customers or friends to give you their first response when you say your company’s name. Make sure you capture the immediate response. You can also capture the second and third response, but it’s that first one that is the most telling.

If your product comes to mind (and it's positive) you should think about investing in promotion that also underscores your services or experience. If the size of your firm (big or small) comes to mind, you’ve definitely got some issues. Dig deeper and see what size means to your customers, then plan appropriately. If your small size is followed by a response that is in the “great service” category, you’re in good shape. But it’s that “service orientation” you probably want to be known for, not your annual revenues.

If what you do comes to mind, that’s not bad. For example, when you hear SAP, you probably think global ERP systems, followed by "expensive" (Note SAP’s new ad campaign, My SAP focuses on small to mid-size companies not looking to spend a fortune on ERP).

SAP marketers, well aware of their image, are taking cues from IBM. Look at UPS ads. They focus on international delivery since their marketers are eager to move their image upstream to counteract images of the “neighborhood delivery truck.” Of course, UPS is lucky. They already have a good brand and a good experience. They are now trying to expand the reach of the brand, without disturbing it’s “down home” feeling.

If your intended image and the image that comes back from the survey are pretty much in the same ballpark, think about what else you can do. BMW does a great job on product and driving experience, but when you do this exercise using “BMW service” the responses are all over the map. That’s where BMW has opportunity.

The second BMW response is typically “high price” which is why BMW is investing in promotion about their “previously owned” financing program – showing how anyone can get into the finest car in the world if they really want to. Having saturated the luxury car buyer they are know looking at alternative growth strategies that focus on the middle income audience.

BMW’s strategy of “trading down” is not without risk since it’s counters it target demographic (namely, rich people). But note BMW marketers lead their promotion with “you don’t have to envy those people anymore.” Hence, they acknowledge their firm market position still aims at wealthy folks.

Of course, you can’t solve brand problems with advertising. It all comes back to the integration of "who you say you are" and "how you behave". When a company's ads show how easy it is to do business with them, yet their return policy is a nightmare, they have yet to operationalize their image.

To summarize:

  • The immediate response customers evoke when they hear your name, is the brand essence you should trust – not the one your advertising agency would have you believe.

  • Analyzing the gap between first response – and the image you want – reveals image issues (and investment opportunities).

  • Advertising and public relations might be a first step, but hardly the last. If you don’t operationalize your image, you actually bruise your brand. As brand managers don’t thing your job ends with image campaigns. Make sure you're in a position to influence operations issues or at least make recommendations that will be heard.

  • It’s easier to trade down than trade up. BMW is successfully penetrating markets of lower income buyers. But imagine Wal-Mart trading into luxury goods. Doable? Yes. Would it be successful? Probably not.

Posted by Richard Fouts at 10:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Selling to Big Companies: An Interview With Jill Konrath (Part 1)

Jill_konrath2 After a sales initiation at Xerox, Jill Konrath followed her entrepreneurial dream and went out on her own. When she’s not engaged in workshops or speaking gigs, she consults in sales effectiveness. Her popular blog (named after her best selling book) Selling to Big Companies has become a destination for anyone who thinks it would be easier to find Osama bin Laden that set up a meeting with decision makers in a big company. In this interview, she shares her insight into how the sales profession has changed.

Jill, I just listened to veteran sales person pitch his company, without once acknowledging what any of it could to for his prospect. How do even the most seasoned salespeople make this mistake?
The person you describe is on autopilot – and isn’t thinking. He learned how to sell years ago when sellers possessed valuable product information that customers couldn't get anywhere else. But, with the Internet, the whole game has changed. Unless these sellers change their ways, they'll soon be dinosaurs.

What does today’s successful salesperson look like?
They’ve thrown out the old pabulum about what it takes to be successful in sales. They realize it’s not about the "pitch" or the "presentation." It's not about schmoozing or taking prospects to lunch. It's not about making a ton of phone calls.

Successful salespeople invest lots of time researching prospective customers, searching for business issues or challenges, determining how they can impact the targeted account and then, finally, initiating contact. They're smart, savvy and strategic.

What about the salesperson that likes to wing it?
You can't "wing it" today when you meet with corporate decision makers. They expect you to know about their company. They expect you to come prepared. They expect you to bring ideas. They expect you to make the meeting a valuable use of their time. If not, you won't have another opportunity to meet with them.

[Sales] is not about schmoozing or taking prospects to lunch. It's not about making a ton of phone calls.

Do men  talk about themselves and their offerings far more than women?
Yes. It's part of their ingrained behavior patterns. Linguist Deborah Tannin, author of You Just Don't Understand, has studied how men and women communicate differently. Even at the pre-school level, little boys were focused on hierarchical communications making comments such as: "My daddy is bigger than your daddy." Preschool girls were focused on connecting & sharing related stories such as: "That happened to me too."

What happens when boys and girls grow up?
If you extend that behavior thirty years out, you'll see male sellers dominating conversations with prospects. It's their natural style, but it's working against them when they're selling. To improve their sales effectiveness, they need to recognize what they're doing and then focus on changing their behavior.

Women tend to be much more customer-centric and establish stronger relationships upfront. They're really good at engaging customers in discussions about critical business issues, challenges, strategic plans, perceptions of value and much more. Their ability to ask insightful questions is primary skill that contributes to their strong consultative relationships with clients.

Linguist Deborah Tannin, author of You Just Don't Understand, has studied how men and women communicate differently.

So it’s really about being a good listener?
No. Lots of people think that listening skills are what makes the difference. In actuality, it's really a person's interviewing skills that contribute to their success. Prior to a meeting, every salesperson should prepare a list of the top ten questions they want to ask the decision maker – and bring it to the call with them.

You see, the human mind can only do one thing at a time. It can't think of good questions at the same time it listens. That's why a seller who has questions prepared is more effective. They can direct the conversation where they want it to go, then relax and listen to the prospect's response.

Lots of people think that listening skills are what makes the difference. In actuality, it's a person's interviewing skills that contribute to their success.


For more ideas on landing big customers:

Stayed tuned for Part 2, when Jill differentiates big company sales with other types of selling.

Posted by Richard Fouts at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Another Anniversary of the New Economy

Last week marked the 30-year anniversary of one of the things we love to hate: spam. Everyone assumes spam started with the likes of some shameless consumer marketer.

But it was actually the former Digital Equipment Corporation that launched the first spam when it announced its DEC-20 computer in 1978.

Digital’s announcement was sent to all ARPANET addresses on the west coast inviting them to attend one of its many launch parties taking place all over California. DEC was later chastised for breaking the ARPANET appropriate use policy, and a notice was sent out reminding others of the rule.

In 1978 nobody called this a spam - and the rule was never fully respected (having a captive audience is just too tempting for promoters). The good news (and the bad): the anti-spam industry was born. (BTW, if you know the origins of “opt-in and “opt-out” please let us know.)

But why the word, spam?

Some say spam’s roots originate in a Monty Python skit, in which a restaurant serves all its food with lots of spam. When a waitress takes orders from patrons, she mercilessly repeats the word spam in describing how much spam is in the spam-infused menu items, especially on spam days (and of course, it turns out that every day is spam day).

A group of Vikings (don’t ask) hear this and are inspired to write a song called Wonderful Spam – that is even more annoying than the waitress, The patrons (who are apparently not intimidated by the singers' Viking status) demand they shut up.

Hence, spam took on the meaning of repetitive annoyance. 

Who at Hormel Foods, maker of the canned "Shoulder Pork And Ham" lunch meat would have predicted such an outcome? 

Posted by Richard Fouts at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Communicating With Credibility: An Interview with Executive Coach Michael Barr

Barr What I like most about Michael Barr is his command of history. He's shown me that history is really about people and relationships, not dates and events. One listens to his ideas and wishes he would become our Secretary of State. But in the meantime, we can benefit from his insight about making communications credible, by not re-inventing the wheel. Mike has an ability to draw ancient teachings into modern times with such great ease, you'll wonder why we repeat mistakes so much and so often.

Tell me about the type of work you do.
I help executives excel.  2,300 years ago Aristotle taught that persuasive leadership was built on three pillars: Ethos - Credibility; Logos - Reasoning; and Pathos - Emotional Impact. 

I have always urged my executive clients to excel at Logos. My feedback to them looks at Ethos (credibility) and Pathos (emotional impact).

Cynics call what I do "charm school." But very successful people remember that Aristotle taught Alexander the Great, who quite literally conquered the world by combining military genius and advanced weaponry with an articulate appeal to reason. That and his personal bravery were legendary even among his enemies. 

"2,300 years ago Aristotle taught that persuasive leadership was built on three pillars: Ethos - Credibility; Logos - Reasoning; and Pathos - Emotional Impact."

What do you like most about what you do?
I believe that business leaders today wield enormous power.  One of my clients is a marketing genius with a short fuse. He reminded me of a king who, when angry, wished all his subjects to have one neck so that he could cut it. After working with the CEO he became a listener and a motivator. His people bloomed and the business is thriving. Real transformation, built on respect - that's what I like. 

Why are IT executives still challenged in getting a seat at the executive table?
They are getting closer, but in corporate symbolism when you report to the CFO you are still considered a cost center. Many senior executives pay public homage to the importance of IT to the business. Yet in private they heatedly politicize IT issues such has who ought to do it, where, and for how much. Interestingly, as technology-savvy executives take over, these questions become more urgent - and IT leaders have to address them credibly.

" .... in corporate symbolism when you report to the CFO you are still considered a cost center."

You've said "it's never the content" that holds IT executives back. Can you explain?
Knowing your stuff will always be important. But today, IT leaders need to actively participate in their companies'  global citizenship, which brings up new challenges in managing wages, benefits, ethics, and environmental impact. IT executives don't see themselves playing a role in managing these issues, but they can and they must.

IT executives are expected to understand the work of their C-level peers in marketing, finance and operations. But what about the reverse? Should the CFO, CMO and COO be more zealous in their IT education?
Every executive in the company should know enough of every function to be able to ask questions and smart enough to  welcome the answers.

Executives are slowly realizing that the frontiers of their respective functions are blurring.  Technology is right there in the mix. IT execs should be able to translate technology into clear, applicable, and  thought-provoking language that non-IT people will absorb, believe and imitate. When IT executives speak with people, not at people, the entire company benefits.

"Executives are slowly realizing that the frontiers of their respective functions are blurring."

How do you articulate the business value of IT?
IT is an enabler.  When seamlessly woven into the fabric of the company it enhances the company's ability to meet present and future challenges. It's really that simple, and that complex.

What's the first thing you do to help IT managers migrate their image from geek to business person?
I work with IT managers one-to-one so that they can talk confidently and powerfully to their various business constituencies.  I create a safe, thoughtful environment for the managers so that they can improve their specific stories.  Image is a very important issue, but it's highly sensitive. Addressing it requires trust, patience and experience.

Do IT executives need a better storyline? If so, what is it?
Transformation is the real story of IT. It's is a challenging story to tell because change occurs slowly and business wants quarterly results. 

IT has been clamoring for respect for as long as there has been IT. The power of Microsoft, Oracle and Google has transformed business globally and managers who grew up with computers will bring about greater transformation still: virtual companies are but one example.

Your blog has become an integral and important part of my coaching conversation with managers seeking to incorporate, as you suggest, relevant stories addressing the needs and strengths of their companies.   

"Image is a very important issue, but it's highly sensitive. Addressing it requires trust, patience and experience."

What 's the first thing a new CIO should do during his or her first 90 days?
Read Michael Watkins' excellent The First 90 Days.  (HBS Press, 2003)  Listen to stories and tell stories. Alexander the Great would sometimes wear Persian robes when listening to envoys of his Persian enemies. He showed respect and interest.  The symbolism of this reverberated from Macedonia to India.

Mahatma Gandhi said "Be the change you seek."

600 years ago Chaucer said this of one of the Canterbury pilgrims: "Gladly wold he lerne, and gladly teche."

Great advice for a CIO - and for every manager in every field.

More on Michael Barr
Mike Barr was born to parents who survived the Holocaust by leveraging their ability to speak many languages and blend into different cultures. His upbringing taught him early on that our only real safety, security, and opportunity lies in what we know. Studies in the Middle East, Canada, the US, Cuba, and Mexico enhanced his sensitivity to global cross-cultural challenges.

Contact Barr at

Posted by Richard Fouts at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

It Was Good for Me, Was It Good for You?

“Nobody cares about your product, service or solution. That's the hardest thing for sellers to realize."  - Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies.

We couldn’t agree more. Because, as marketing consultants, we at Comunicado tell our clients, “Marketing is not about you and it never will be.”

Why would Jill Konrath and I say such things? Especially to people in marketing and sales? Because it’s true. All your prospects care about is the difference you can make for their organization.

A fascinating phenomenon that reinforces this idea that customers don’t care about you – occurs when we find renegade customers using our products in ways we never intended. When I was with Hewlett Packard, I sold a materials management software package to an oil company.

The package was built to manage discrete manufacturing processes, but after a bit of tweaking, this customer adapted it to an indiscrete refining process. I just happened to find this out during some chitchat with my customer at a football game.

When I informed the product manager, she quickly told me, “Well, I will have to pull their contract. I can’t support an installation that isn’t doing what we intended the product to do.” My parents had the same reaction when I tried to adapt my bicycle as a ceiling fan for our living room on a warm summer day.

Okay, there are reasons to push back when things like this occur. But there’s a way to do it. I have a client that recently got caught in the “customers bending the rules” game. His clients are using one of his services in ways that help them, but in ways that he considers "off brand". He's not entirely wrong. The customer is using his service in a way that doesn't produce the usual research residual their business model calls for, so his solution is to either stop taking orders, or bury the story as much as possible so others don't pick up on it. But in these cases:

  • Spin the customer-developed adaptation into a new offering (and charge more money for it if it doesn't deliver the margins you normally produce).
  • Bundle it into another offering  (to preserve margin if the customer’s implementation doesn’t support your cost structure very well). This is also a way to make products that are "off brand" less visible.
  • Start a joint venture. This of course, is a big undertaking, but when I was with a web development firm, we partnered with our client, Lincoln Center, to re-market the site we’d built for them to other performing arts centers.

You can also use the opportunity to:

  • Give the customer an innovation award (as a recognition opportunity that could go a long way in fostering loyalty).
  • Pitch the story to one of the trades (if the story is a bit crazy, editors love it and your client with love the publicity).

Resist the product manager’s knee-jerk reaction to blame the “naughty customer” and find a win-win solution. It’s definitely out there.

Posted by Richard Fouts at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)