Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stanford's Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability

As we talk about sustainability and global issues this week - and new product development later in the semester - I wanted to share a write-up and videos about a really cool class at Stanford Graduate School of Business: Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.

The class is very similar to the University of Illinois, Chicago's (UIC's) Interdisciplinary Product Development (IPD) class: it includes teams from the school of design, engineering, and the business school. It's a two semester offering at both universities.

What I love about Stanford's program is that the focus last year was on developing new products that really impact people's lives in developing countries. Rather than trying to explain it all, just take a look at some of the things they did! Their projects are exemplars for how to develop really cool products that make people's lives much better at "the bottom of the pyramid." I can not think of anything more noble for using the tools and techniques we learn in Marketing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Everyday Cases: Bing's Big Picture

Learning marketing is like learning anything else: to really learn it, you need to use it. One of the best ways is to pay attention to "everyday cases:" try to understand what companies are trying to do in everyday life in the context of tools we learn in the classroom.

This week, I received an interesting e-mail regarding, from Greg A, a participant in our Monday evening class.

First, here's the video Greg linked me to:

Second, here's what Greg wrote:
I saw this commercial this evening and I think it is a good example of The Big Picture. Considering Microsoft is going up against Google, which has such a large share of the search engine marketplace, it's a good example of share stealing I believe. I want to switch to bing but ugh, it's so hard to not automatically type Google when the need arises haha... "It's not just a search engine, it's the first ever decision engine.. From Microsoft." Great, great clincher.
I agree! To put this in Big Picture terms, I believe Microsoft's is looking to build a viable search engine that both realizes the revenue inherent in providing search, as well as challenges Google's hegemony in search and the cash flows that allow it to threaten Microsoft in the browser and operating system markets.

To do this, Bing's Marketing Objective is to Acquire new customers and their Source of Volume is to Steal Share. Their Segmentation scheme appears to be an internet search engine as the Main Variable (the ante to play in this game), with a superior "decision engine" as the Dynamic Variable differentiating from Google. Their target audience is (probably) something like "heavy internet search users who are frustrated with the amount of effort required to find fairly mundane things, like local restaurants, specific people, etc." Their positioning is all about the "Decision Engine," which actually ties in nicely to WHY people actually use search engines - to learn something and/or make a decision about something very specific. Their goal is NOT to search; it's to FIND! (Their 5-box positioning encompasses that thought - moving people from thinking they need to search to getting them to realize they want to find and, thus, using would be better than Google.)

Nice job Greg. This is a great everyday case!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What's GM's Angle?

bit in the New York Times today about General Motor's apparent reluctance to sell its German/European Opel Division to Magna Corporation in Canada.

While I agree that part of the Magna deal, where "G.M. might have to subsidize interest payments on Opel’s debts" is unacceptable, it seems that GM might be much more interested in either (a) keeping Opel or (b) selling it to a company that will screw it up worse. Actually, the article all but says as much.

I think GM is very worried that a well-run Opel could really hurt GM, not just worldwide, but particularly in North America (Canada and the US).

Magna is a very well-run international company that already participates extensively in the automotive market, providing products and services to automotive OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). The most interesting business of Magna - to me - and perhaps the most frightening part to GM is Manga's Complete Engineering & Assembly capability. For example, Magna currently produces all of the Chrysler 300M, Jeep Commander, and Jeep Grand Cherokee models to all non-NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) countries - including the right-hand driver versions sold internationally. So Magna could probably run Opel fairly well, it would also create a new entrant into the OEM category (same brand, but controlled by a different owner), therefore increasing competition internationally. Given some Opel cars have already been modified slightly for North American markets - Magna could conceivably consider moving into the North American markets and create yet another competitor for GM's (historically) most profitable market.

Although GM is making motions to sell Opel to the Germany, I'm guessing they believe that Germany will screw up the company worse. Perhaps part of that belief is grounded in the fact that Germany's unions are pushing hard for Germany to acquire Opel. But German unions are not the same as US unions and it's not clear that Germany will hold the company for very long before letting a group of investors take over primary management responsibilities along with the unions. That mirrors the relationship Germany has with most of the German-based automotive companies - except for Opel, since it is owned by GM.

At the end of the day, though, it looks like GM's primary goal is to keep Opel, if for no other reason than to make sure no one else gets it and competes with GM. This is a classic anti-competitive move, the only difference is that instead of buying Opel and shutting it down, GM can keep it and let it die a long, slow death - all the courtesy of the US Taxpayer that's now the majority shareholder of the company.

Yes, I agree that selling the company with "strings attached" to pay for future unseen financial changes is unacceptable. However, GM needs to sell Opel and focus on the core of GM's brands that it's keeping. Consumers around the world would be better off with a well-run Opel, German unions would be better off (and more secure) with a well-run Opel, and GM's majority stockholder - the American Taxpayer - would be better off selling Opel to a company that can run and realize more value from Opel going forward.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When customers attack!

Over the past week or so, I've run into an interesting confluence of things that all relate to the cultural meme of consumers rebelling against brands they were formally loyal to - or at least bought from.

The first of these was Whole Food's CEO John Mackey's rather ill-advised Wall Street Journal Editorial, titled "The Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare." Well, this caused quite the kerfuffle among Whole Foods customers. Why? Well, Whole Foods is positioned as a place that focuses on selling "whole food" and, basically, all kinds of good stuff, like sustainability, community involvement, best practices for employees, etc.

Their actual core values can be found here. Their core values are much longer and detailed than I've summarized and, quite honestly, I'm also stating how Whole Foods's customers perceive Whole Foods, which is really the important point of positioning - irrespective of how managers might wish consumers perceive them.

Which gets to my point. Who do you think shops at Whole Foods? I'm guessing the majority of customers are progressive people: people who value organics, have higher than average disposable income, have higher than average education levels, believe in social justice causes, vote democratic or progressive, and probably voted for Obama more than the average American. (Disclosure: I actually own Whole Foods stock and I have been Whole Foods Fan ever since I found them in Chicago more than a decade ago. I actually picked my apartment in Evanston based on the fact that there was a Whole Foods between Northwestern and the apartment. That also means I have a pretty good bead on their customer base.)

Anyway, CEO John Mackey writes the above op-ed piece and, no surprise had he been thinking, his customers REVOLT! Although citing every nasty, "let's have a boycott" piece in the blogosphere is beyond the scope of one posting, here's a sampling:
  • Facebook has a few "Boycott Whole Foods" groups, the biggest of which is up to 19,000+ members just more than one week after the WSJ op-ed appeared (the Whole Foods page has 115,000, has been up a lot longer, and has an incredible number of people posting who are pretty ticked off),
  • The Daily Kos wrote a scathing review of John Mackey's op-ed, and then an equally scathing satirical bit on Whole Food's PR team to address the ticked-off customers (the "annotated version" is pretty spot-on),
  • The Huffington Post ran a number of pieces, summarized here, and also had a poll showing that 58% of respondents planned on boycotting Whole Foods and another 20% disagreed with Mackey's views, but didn't think they were boycott-worthy.
Although some postings on Whole Foods website, Facebook, and various conservative blogs suggests that some people are "new" fans of Whole Foods, it's not really clear how long they'll stay once they've shopped there once or twice (or ever).

Instead, it seems that John Mackey really stepped in it. What's amazing to me is that John Mackey's ill-conceived op-ed piece ironically violated one of Whole Foods's Core Values: CREATING WEALTH THROUGH PROFITS & GROWTH.

Seriously, it shouldn't surprise anyone the op-ed piece ticked off a large portion of Whole Foods customers. Assuming John Mackey has any sense of what his customers are like, publishing that op-ed as CEO of Whole Foods was like flipping off a good chuck of his customers. Which is exactly what happened.

What may have surprised Mackey - and the point of this post - is that with today's technology, a CEO can no longer assume he/she can print something in the Wall Street Journal and have only business people see it. Quite the contrary. Various social networks - and Facebook in particular - allow for an incredibly easy way for consumers to communicate and organize very, very quickly. It's not clear when the largest "Boycott Whole Foods" page showed up on Facebook, but it was instigated by the op-ed piece and, therefore, it could not have been more than eight days before it hit 19,000+ fans. That's not good if you're Whole Foods.

Related to all this, Michaela Draganska (Northwestern, PhD) turned me on to Huggy Rao's (Case/Weatherhead Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior) book "Market Rebels: How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovations," via a nice little interview published by Stanford Business School.

One of Rao's points is that the social identity of customers, as the collective core of any market, are an important factor in explaining why some innovations take off and others do not. The challenge, of course, is when a company built on a collective identity has its CEO mouth off in a way that runs counter to that collective identity and the company's customers find out. Maybe as a Whole Foods Stockholder I should send John Mackey a copy of Huggy's book? Then again, that would only be helpful if I had a time machine....

Finally, yesterday I happened upon two anti-United Airlines music videos created by David Carroll, a musician whose guitar was broken by United baggage handlers. He wasn't able to get resolution through United, so he promised to make three videos about United. After the first one - which was a HUGE hit on YouTube and currently has 5M+ views - United changed its mind. Dave said "too late" and has since published a second video. When customers attack, indeed!

Here's the first:

And the second, which has better production values:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What Scholastic, Inc. Doesn't Understand About Their Brand

One of the participants in Basic Marketing asked me about the Scholastic fiasco. (See the link here if you don't know what we're talking about.)

Yea, this is a mess. On the one hand, the ethics are fuzzy. Schools approve having the book clubs and, in return, participating schools get a kickback/commission on sales. So although selling "crap" along with books is not the point of the club - the the schools are complicit by allowing it. One of my close friends, Dr. Bryant Hudson at FAU, used to have the following quote as part of his e-mail signature that seems particularly relevant for this situation: 
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."
Upton Sinclair, US novelist & socialist politician (1878 - 1968)
Pointedly, Scholastic has 75% of schools in the U.S. signed up for book clubs!! That's an amazing market share!! And since the schools get a kickback - particularly in such tough economic times - cash-strapped schools are the least likely to complain about selling more "stuff" so they get more money. (I am, however, a little surprised the teachers' unions didn't blow the whistle on this a while ago.) This is the same reason schools were so reticent to remove soda machines from schools, even though they were detrimental to students, learning, and family budgets: the schools got a cut of the action and didn't want to give it up!! So they rationalized that it was "OK."  

From a marketing standpoint, the concept is simple: Scholastic essentially has a monopoly distribution channel to target kids in school. The kids nag their parents for this stuff (both books and, more questionably, other stuff) and the school gives the whole thing legitimacy. Scholastic is trying to maximize their profits (and a review of investor information on their website confirms this) - and adding more things for the target market to buy only increases profits.....  

HOWEVER, I think Scholastic has monumentally screwed up! Their brand was probably one of the purest "good for kids" brands in the world. Literally. (Multiple puns intended.) Look, I still know the brand's been awhile since I've read a Scholastic book. Plus, access to 75% of K-8 classrooms in the U.S.? That's amazing!! But by putting junk into the channel (book clubs), Scholastic is sullying their brand meaning as valuing profit-seeking over reading! I think now that the "Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood" has released their assessment and gotten a ton of press, I think we'll be seeing a lot more schools, like The Bradford School referred to at the end of the article, terminating their relationship with Scholastic. This is going to be painful!! 

The bottom lines, from a marketing perspective, are to
1) ALWAYS understand how your target customers understand your brand, 
2) realize that brands are "living" constructs and a company's actions will change brand meaning, and
3) think of your brand as a reputation - which really is what most brands are - and ask yourself, "If I do X, how might that affect how customers view my brand/reputation."

By the way, lots of companies have made similar missteps. At one point Howard Schultz drank too much coffee and didn't realize what the "Starbucks" brand really meant. He announced that Starbucks could sell anything they put their name on and planned on selling furniture on-line. The stock promptly plummeted by more than 10%... It's never really recovered. The stock was at $11.20 in March 2000. Today, it's at $9.93.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Creating the T-Mobile Dance Advertisement

OK, first read the prior post and watch the T-Mobile advertisement. 

Then, watch this video on the making of the advert. 

What's really, truly amazing is that the advertisement was all real! The producers actually staged a live, unannounced event in the Liverpool Train Station and got passerby's to join in. I love the passerby interview clips at the end! How very, very cool!!

Cultural Trends Toward More Personal Marketing

Great article in Ad Age about cultural trends toward more personal marketing: "What T-Mobile's 'Dance' and Ikea's 'Du' Teach Us About Messaging," by Gunnar Brune.

Related to this week's Basic Marketing topic, the external environment, I think Gunnar's observation that cultures are moving away from a me-centric orientation to a we- or us-centric orientation is quite fascinating. And, let me (us) be completely honest: the videos are AWESOME!! 

In case you can't get to the link, here's the text and the youtube videos. 

In meetings with almost all our clients the same topic comes up: Will our relevant market be hit by the crisis and if so, how hard? While the specific answer differs according to the different scenarios, of course, there is one element all these discussions have in common. It is a growing sense of family, community, society or "We." It will be the most important positive word for 2009. While "We" values have always been elements of the messaging in certain markets (especially food), today it is a different story for two reasons. The first is the reflex of "bunching up" in times of uncertainty, crisis or danger, which elevates the importance of social values vs. individual benefits. The second reason is the opportunities of modern social media -- where the consumer is in control, not the brand. "We" communication does also mean communicating with the consumer on eye level.

This puts those brands that are already positioned as "We" brands at an advantage. Brands like Ikea, for example. Ikea's customer loyalty program focuses on eye-level contact: "IKEA FAMILY is different to regular loyalty schemes. We want to get to know you, our customers, and so we reward each purchasing visit you make to our stores, regardless of how much you spend" (that's an extract from the U.K. site). Some languages, like German and Spanish, offer a "We" approach in the way the brand speaks -- Ikea in Germany, for example, uses the "Du" instead of the formal "Sie" ("Sie" equals "Usted" in Spanish).

There is a recent trend for brands to go for this more personal language. Even the biggest German social campaign -- an initiative of a number of the biggest German companies -- says: "Du bist Deutschland." This would have been a great issue not long ago, as it would have been considered "improper language." A different -- but very exciting -- "We" approach is the much-discussed T-Mobile viral, which is taking the "We" beyond family into a completely new field of social interaction.

All of these are examples already in the market. We will see which brands are the first to go for "We" as a response to changing consumer behavior in the crisis. It will be an interesting thing to see which of them get this right in 2009. They will be the cases we talk about in 2010.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Really? Tasers are "great fun?" Really?

Amazingly disturbing video from Ad Age interviewing the Taser EVP of (not really all that) Strategic Communications. Most amazing thing to come out of his mouth - and there is a lot to choose from - Tasers are "great fun." Really? Considering we're discussing ethics this week in Basic Marketing, I can't imagine a more interesting case study regarding whether marketing a product is ethical or not. Calling Tasers "fun" just seems insanely irresponsible! Nick Papas, the EVP, has "worked for Taser for a year." I think it's time to let him go..... 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Want them to learn? Eliminate Mass Lecture Sections!!!!

Great article in the NYT today regarding how MIT (yes, that MIT) has done away with the large lecture section of basic physics and replaced it with smaller class sizes that utilize hands-on learning and a lot of small assignments. This article makes ME feel great because it reinforces a lot of my own beliefs about how to teach and what's wrong with trying to teach 440 people marketing by standing up and talking! My favorite quote in the article is:
“Just as you can’t become a marathon runner by watching marathons on TV,” Professor Mazur said, “likewise for science, you have to go through the thought processes of doing science and not just watch your instructor do it.”
Awesome metaphor!! I agree!!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

M U C H Better!!

Here is the REVISED poster for's Model Search! (This is an iPhone photo of the flier at Xtreme Health Club in South Tampa - so there's some degradation in quality compared to the original.)

MUCH, MUCH better!

Notice how much cleaner the entire poster/flier is? Notice how the POINT is clear.
What I find most interesting is that the new version uses the exact same models with flags - and it works because all of the confusing symbols related to Barack Obama's Inauguration are gone - as they should be, since that had NOTHING to do with the point and only confused things. And look! We now know that the event is happening at the Lime on South Howard! (Pretty important clarification for any USF community members who might want to try out. And don't worry, I'm not going to try out...LOL!!!)

Anyway, just another "everyday case" of marketing - what works, what doesn't, and why....

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Help David Norrie Create New Fliers

Basic Marketing participants: you saw this ad on Monday night or Wednesday day. When I asked David Norrie (who runs what was up with this ad, he said "It's a play on the Obama Inauguration." I said, "OK, I kinda got that -but what was the purpose of the ad?"

OUCH! To be clear, I really like David a lot and think he's a great guy. I just can't help myself when I see stuff like this - especially if I know the person and I'm worried that they won't get the outcome they desired.

So here's a challenge - if you're up to it.
Create a new flier (or perhaps a number of different fliers) given the goals that David stated he had for the event:
1. Get people to compete to be models for his website,
2. Get people to come to the venue (Lime - on south Howard, I'm assuming) to see the competition and patronize the co-sponsors of the event and, finally - and most importantly,
3. To increase awareness of and traffic on

David's e-mail is davidnorrie6 at A O L dot com....

Tell him Dr. G sent you;-)

UPDATE: I misspelled "flier" about five times in the original post as "flyer." UUGGHHH. But now it's fixed. (Ironically, Firefox web browser pointed out the misspelling - but I missed it originally.)