Category : Advertising

Has marketing become the screw aisle?

Lisa was cutting my hair and talking about how she fixed her own toilet.

“The worst thing about hiring guys is that they talk so much about the job,” she said. “They get to your house and start talking about all the things they need to check, all the things that could go wrong, and how the project is probably doing to stretch out over a few weeks  because the distributor might not have the right parts in stock.

“In the time it takes a guy to tell me all this I was able to go Home Depot, buy the toilet kit and finish the job.”

Empowered by her success with the toilet Lisa was now building a deck in her backyard.

“The standard sized boards made the project straightforward,” she said, “but the challenge was the screws. Have you ever walked down the screw aisle? There are hundreds, maybe thousands of different sized screws. To make matters worse you need different kinds of tools for different screws. I mean, c’mon, how many different kinds of screws do we need? Why can’t I build my deck with one or two types of screws? I really resent the screw aisle. Why do people make things so complicated?”

I closed my eyes as she started cutting again.

Screws. Financial investments. Health care plans. Government legislation. Business strategies. “Expert” advice. Diet plans.   15-step proven methodologies on everything from marketing to living a better life.

Over-complicated, over-thought and so overwhelming that most of us just freeze. The paralysis numbs us and dumbs us. Making us reliant on experts, products and services that we may or may not really need. Or, like Lisa, just making us resentful, angry and suspect.

Has marketing become the screw aisle?

I fear that it has.

While choice is a wonderful thing, have we gone too far in product extensions?

Have  ‘content marketing’ emails started to sound like the guys who drive us crazy yakking about how complicated the job will be, how tough it might be to find the right parts, how they’ll have to come back again to measure and that’s going to be tough because….”

Are too many preying on people’s fear, uncertainty and doubt? Exacerbating anxiety to sell more than a person really needs?

Is our marketing building a screw aisle or making it easy — and maybe even enjoyable — for Lisa to build a beautiful deck?


New study: Corporate reputation more important than ever

If people don’t like your company, they’re not going to buy from you.

In a new study by my old employer, Weber Shandwick, 69% of participants aid they frequently or regularly discuss how they fell about a product they bought. 70% said they avoid buying a product if they don’t like the company that makes it. And, no surprise, 88% said that word of mouth is still most  influences their opinion of a company.

More can be found here on the Forbes blog.

My take from the study: marketing (brand) and corporate communications (reputation) need to be one, or at least work a whole lot more closely than these organizations do in most large companies.

Herd or bird?

When it comes to attracting customers, engaging employees, and earning recognition, this one question may be the most important.

How can we move from this…..



To this….?

In today’s competitive world the most effective way to attract customers and talented employees  is to offer something special and different that attracts people to seek you out. You don’t have to be an Apple or a Google. You just need to be a company that knows and cares for its tribes so well that those tribes, be they customers or employees, seek you out.  Your passion for their success attracts their passion for your company.

The old way of pushing messages onto people is akin to herding cows.  It’s a lot of work, costs a lot of money,  you have to continually push, and the ROI stinks.

Here are some examples of why pushing and herding fails.

Most leadership training is failing

In a conversation last week Case Western business professor and author Richard Boyzatis said that most leadership development programs fail. Why?  Most companies require people  to take courses (herding), but they’re just not really into them. Without the attraction and motivation to learn, people don’t learn. You can require training (herding) but it’s unlikely to stick.

Most brands are becoming commodities

A study by marketing strategy firm Copernicus found that people buy on price because they view most product categories as commodities; there’s nothing attracting to them to one brand over another. None of the 51 product and service categories analyzed in the brand trends study are becoming more differentiated over time and 90 percent are declining in differentiation. So if nothing is attracting people to your brand,  marketers resort to the herding strategy of promoting cost savings.

Most employees are job hunting

In a recent workplace study by Monster, human resource managers reported that employee loyalty has decreased slightly this year. Yet 82 percent of the workers surveyed said they have updated their resume in the past six months, and 59% say they’re looking for a job all the time.  Challenge and inspiration trumps salary and status: When asked what they want this year, nearly half (41%) of respondents want to be challenged and inspired by their jobs; a subset also want to make a difference in their jobs (17%)

Creating an attraction strategy

So as you step back and evaluate your marketing, HR, leadership and organizational development strategies, ask “what will attract and inspire people?” A better customer experience? New ways to work that challenge people? Training that is completely out of the usual training box?

For more insights into the power of attraction, check out the book, “The Power of Pull.”  My summary of the book is here.


Have I got a story for you

“I’m so tired of  hearing about corporate storytelling,” a corporate communications manager confessed to me recently. “Really, what does “storytelling” mean for businesses? What am I suppose to do to create “stories.”

“There are nine story themes that people like hearing about from companies,” I explained. “If you create content  based on those themes you’ll  be turning your messages into stories.”

I introduced these nine story themes four years ago when I published the book Beyond Buzz. This simple model is used around the world by companies and agencies of all sizes to get unstuck and come up with fresh ways to connect with customers, employees and analysts.   Guy Kawasaki included these themes in his new book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions,” writing,

“These story lines from Lois Kelly, author of Beyond Buzz, will help you craft a story that does your cause justice.”

Sean Moffit and Mike Dover also include them in their excellent new book “Wikibrands: Reinventing Your Company in a Customer-Driven Economy,” saying:

“People love to tell stories. When repeated they reinforce a message; when told well they become viral. Lois Kelly suggests nine types of stories in her book Beyond Buzz that get talked about.”

The 9 themes

  1. Great aspirations (Patagonia believing a company can grow big and sustain the environment in innovative ways)
  2. David vs. Goliath (Southwest Airlines taking on the big, established players)
  3. Personal stories (Fred Smith on why he started FedEx, and why investors funded the company after they met the janitor)
  4. Contrarian/counterintuitive (BestBuy deciding to fire some of its customers. What? A company doesn’t fire customers?!)
  5. Avalanche about to roll (Spotting, forecasting early trends before they’re big and in the mainstream)
  6. Anxieties (Does your child have what it takes to get into a good college?)
  7. How-to (How to do things related to your service/product to help customers)
  8. Glitz and glam (What you can learn from Sara Jessica Parker about investing money)
  9. Seasonal/event related (Financial and tax advice leading up to April 15; vacation deals just before he summer)

Download the eBook, check out Guy Kawasaki’s post

Not in the mood for reading books to learn more?  Click here to visit the Foghound resource center, and download a copy of the eBook, “Beyond Buzz: Let’s Talk About Something Interesting.” Or check out Guy Kawasaki’s post, “How to Change the World: The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing.”



Putting words to why your company exists

A great company purpose  is a rallying cry that inspires employees and customers.  It moves people emotionally, creates a differentiation that has nothing to do with products or price, and can be explained by anyone in the company.

The best example is Nike. While most of us know the company’s 20 year-old “Just Do It” motto, there’s much more to why Nike exists. Simon Sinek, author of the great book “Start with Why” shares this story about Nike founder Phil Knight over on his re:Focus blog:

Looking across the audience, Knight asked those who run to stand up.  And a good percentage of the room stood up.  Then he asked those who run three or more times a week to keep standing; everyone else was asked to sit down.Looking out at the people left standing, Knight said, “we are for you.”

“When you get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go for a run,” he went on, “even if it’s cold and wet out, you go. And when you get to mile 4, we’re the one standing under the lamp post, out there in the cold and wet with you, cheering you on.  We’re the inner athlete.  We’re the inner champion.”

Without a single mention of their latest technologies or which athletes wear their products, Knight makes a vastly more compelling case for Why we want Nike in our lives. Nike may or may not be better, but we are drawn to them because they have a cause.

Nike doesn’t want to make products for everyone, they want to make products for champions.  Champions are not the ones who always win races, champions are the ones who get out there and try. And try harder the next time. And even harder the next time. Champion is a state of mind. They are devoted.  They compete to best themselves as much if not more than they compete to best others.  Champions are not just athletes.  Champions are entrepreneurs, politicians, nurses, soldiers, students and Hall of Famers.  Nike wants to make products for all champions.

Most companies have clever or meaningless tag lines (marketing) and bland, gobbledygook mission/vision statements (corporate communications). Few can express why they exist in a way that inspires.

Imagine what might happen if you could?  And you can.

A simple workshop exercise is to ask people, “If our company were a cause, what would our rallying cry be?”

Be prepared to be amazed at what your own people believe. And if they are stumped? Time for some corporate soul searching. If you don’t know why you exist — other than making money and improving shareholder value — you really can’t lead effectively. Manage, sure. Lead, no.


We’ve been around 50 years! Yawn.

No one cares how long your company or non-profit has been around. In fact, being “old” may work against you. So let’s stop all these campaigns and celebrations and non-profit fundraising case statements marking an organization’s, 10th, 25th, or 50th year of existence.

As the financial statements say, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

People don’t donate to non-profits because they’ve been around for a long time and done great work in the past.  They donate because the organization is providing value that is especially relevant NOW and in the forseeable future.

Celebrating a milestone may be a wonderful idea for those people who have been with an organization for 25 or 50 years. But no one else cares that much. Make it a small, intimate party and keep the costs down.

We don’t buy from a company because it’s been in business a long time. We buy if they fulfill our current needs better than any other company.  In fact, I believe companies with a longer history –think Sears, GM — have to work harder to stay relevant with their customers.  One reason: it’s hard stop doing what was so successful and innovate. The second: it’s hard to change big, old companies.

And third? Did you know that there are more billionaires under the age of 40 than any time in our history?  They’re innovators, upsetting the old dogs. Stealing your market share and redefining your industry while you celebrate your history.  Spend more money envisioning how you can provide more value to customers in the future, and far, far less on banners and celebrations marking longevity.

The past is good for history books. But not for making and raising money.

Social media chaos: the customer is confused

What a social mess in big companies. Every organization seems to be creating their own social media strategy. Advertising. PR. Customer service. Direct marketing.  Sales. Product marketing. Market research. Oy veh.

Here’s the problem. The customer is getting confused. So many different company Twitter handles, Facebook pages, multiplying blogs.  Customers feel like they’re hearing from five different companies rather than one.  That’s because your five different organizations have only been thinking about their organizational strategy — without thinking about the customer strategy.

You’re not alone. I could name five big companies who this month are sitting down to try to make sense of how they’re engaging with customers. Things have gotten out of hand amid the social media exuberance. Every organization wants a “social media presence.”  And every ambitious marketing and communications professional wants social media accomplishments on their resume.

But what do customers want? If you keep one marketing New Year’s resolution, make sure you lay down an enterprise strategy for how your company/brand will connect with customers based on building a valuable relationship with the customer.

Then establish the processes, workflow, and internal rules of engagement. Keep it clear and succinct, make sure it’s easy to follow, and honor it as you honor the revenue that comes from each customer.

Then everyone can succeed.

Ghost tweeting? Remember 80/20 Twitter rule

There’s been much debate over whether companies should outsource their Twitter accounts to their advertising and public relations agencies.  Discussions have largely focused on whether an outsider speaking on behalf of the company expresses authenticity and transparency.

That’s a good point, but here’s the real issue for companies to think about.  Approximately 80 percent of Twitter is about retweeting and having “conversations” with others.  Just 20 percent is about posting your own tweets. Your agency can probably do a fine job on that 20 percent. But are they trained and steeped in company issues enough to respond to the 80% of questions, complaints, and off-topic musings?  Probably not.

As Twitter goes mainstream now is the time for companies to create an enterprise strategy for Twitter, addressing such issues as:

  • Own your name: Make sure your company has its Twitter domain, e.g.,  If you’re too late, you may have to get involved with name squatters. Here’s a helpful Wall St. Journal piece on the topic.
  • What do customers want: Think about what your customers want to be able to do/get from your company on Twitter, and then create Twitter strategies to support those wants. Pay special attention to areas  like customer service, training, product news, areas where people are beginning to expect to be able to get help via Twitter.
  • Managed by business functions vs. social media dept.: Rather than have a separate social media function managing Twitter, I highly recommend incorporating Twitter into  business functions.  Doing so makes sure that the  80 % “conversations” are staffed by he people who can provide the most helpful and valuable information, and that they support business objectives.
  • Put an enterprise listening platform in place, with specialized keywords and accounts for each business area involved in social media.  Make sure the platform helps your people be responsive, e.g, storing answers to commonly asked questions, featuring flagging capabilities so you rate the urgency of the Tweet and know if someone is addressing it.
  • Have escalation guidelines: Develop  guidelines on how emerging trends, positive and negative, will be escalated — what are the criteria, who in the company will be alerted to what within what time frame, and what kind of action should be taken and then noted in the system so others in the company know the issue is being addressed.
  • Find the insights: Lastly, create a strategy for mining social media conversations about your company, industry and competitors to uncover insights that the business can act on. I’ve seen clients find ideas for new products, new customers, and new brand building programs.  This is a rich, rich market research opportunity that few companies are fully taking advantage of.

Remember the 80/20 rule

The  number of Tweets or Twitter followers does not help build a  brand or the business — especially if the Tweets are randomly pushing out information, or the company Twitter is  trying to follow as many people as possible. I know this sounds so obvious. But every day I hear about companies who are being advised by agencies to “hire someone (meaning the agency) and pump up their Twitter volume.”

Pushing out that 20 percent is easy to “pump up the volume.”  The real value of Twitter comes from the other 80 percent, where people are getting useful and responsive information from a company that they can trust.