Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff


Gotta Love Low Rent Advertising

The back pages of auto magazines are famous for being loaded with advertisements for somewhat . . . let’s say, questionable, goods and services.  Pheromone supplements for your aftershave, slinky outfits for your [in]significant other, a variety of tools and chemicals to increase the length of certain body parts or the amount of time you put them to good use.  There are even some ads for crap for your car.

I used to skip the whole section, but the magazines have become wise to that and now put real content after the ads, forcing you to skim through them.  Very smart.  In any event, I enjoy scanning them.  Some of them are innovative and, for the car guy, merge all wants and needs together nicely.  Like this one . . .

Hard Brake Pedal Ad

I wish I were that creative.

 February 10th, 2009  
 Advertising, Marketing, Stuff with a Motor  
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Cannibalize Yourself

I recently read a story about how Volkswagen is considering NOT bringing the upcoming Scirocco (an updated version of their 80’s hatchback sports coupe) to the US market because it might take market share from their currently offered GTI hatchback.  While this may be an excuse masking other reasons for such a decision, if it is the real deal, it seems patently absurd to me.  Like any company, Volkswagen should be worried about how its competitors are planning to take market share away from them, not whether or not they will do it to themselves.  If you create better products for a market you serve you should use them to expand or, at least, solidify your position in the segment, not hold them back until your competition introduces product that threatens your position.  This is even true if you already are the leader in the segment.

I believe that if the new product is 100% of an overlap with an existing product and does nothing to expand the product’s market (this includes the case where there’s minimal expansion), then the original product should be replaced by the new one.  If there is overlap, with each product covering segments not addressed by the other, then keep both products and direct customers to your entire product offering regardless of their specific preferences – because you cover them with the breadth of your products.  Never wait.

Your market is full of competition, even if you don’t see it, it’s there, lurking in the shadows waiting to attack.  To make things worse, with almost no barriers to entry in any market these days (including capital equipment), a new competitor can spring up overnight.  Only by being aggressive – rolling out constant improvements and new, replacement products – can you retain or grow your market share and keep competitors at bay.  Always play offense.

Someone is always working to knock your products and services off their market perch.  To maximize your success, that should always be you.  Your biggest competitor should be . . . you.

 May 21st, 2007  
 General Business, Marketing  

What’s in a Product Name?

My son and I went to the New York International Auto Show last week (I’ll post on the show in the next few days).  While walking around the show floor, I was struck by how practical marketing has become in the automotive business.  Virtually everything related to promoting a vehicle has gotten so quantitative.  Car names have a letter indicating the body size and a number indicating the engine size.  We talk in liters of engine displacement, horsepower and torque measurements, gas mileage, cubic feet of storage space and number of cup holders.  Where’s the vision?  Where’s the passion and emotional connection?  Where’s the promise.

What happened to the days when car companies were in charge of promoting the promise of the future?  I’m thinking the celebration of winged flight, the space race or paving over a good portion of the planet so that we can get to the mall faster.  Fins, wings, nose cones  and rooftop windows all sent messages to the customer – be part of the amazing changes going on in the world.  Be part of the future.

The messages weren’t only embedded in product design.  Product names carried them as well.  I just ran across a list of The Ten Best Auto Marketing Names compiled by Car and Driver magazine way back in 1993.  What ever happened to great marketing labels like these?

  • Go-Devil Power – 1942 Willy’s
  • Velvet-Pressure Jumbo-Drum Brakes – 1953 Chevrolet
  • Gyro-Torque Drive with Scat Gear for Passing – 1953 Dodge
  • Kitten-Soft Seat Cushions – 1955 Chevrolet
  • Scene-O-Ramic Windshield – 1955 Nash
  • Trigger-Torque Engines – 1955 Ford
  • Roto-Flow Torque Tube Drive – 1958 Buick
  • Quadra-Poise Suspension – 1958 Pontiac
  • Sculpturamic Styling – 1958 Chevrolet
  • Roto-Matic Power Steering – 1959 Oldsmobile

I’ll add two of my all-time favorites to this list . . .

  • Turbo-Hydromatic Transmission – Many years for GM
  • Vista Cruiser – The Oldsmobile wagon with the side/roof windows

Kitten-Soft Seat Cushions.  Ya gotta love it.  OK, perhaps you can’t get away with that kind of schmaltz these days.  Have we gotten to the point where products can’t elicit dreams, though.  It seems like a real emotional attachment would provide great selling leverage.  Maybe it still exists, but like many, I’ve become jaded and ignore it.  Come to think of it, maybe I’m the guy being targeted with the H420-i GLX LWB Deluxe model name after all.

 April 19th, 2007  
 Marketing, Stuff with a Motor  

Innovative Marketing

Jordan’s Furniture, a small chain of four furniture stores in New England, has been a marketing powerhouse for decades.  While other chains and mom-and-pop stores advertising 30% off, everything must go, going out of business sales are commonplace, Jordan’s continues to expand and acquire new customers.  They’re not the cheapest stores (while they used to brag about their “underprices,” they’re not as cheap as the discount stores), or always the best located ones, people still travel from far and wide to have their Jordan’s experience and, of course, buy furniture.

To get people to come, the stores are open late every night and are virtual entertainment meccas.  One has a moving movie ride, another a trapeze school where visitors can try out their circus act.  Still another has an IMAX theater.  Each of the stores has a playful layout for young and old – our local store has a recreation of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, including Disney-esque robotics.  There are also restaurants in several of the stores.

The people who run Jordan’s, Barry and Eliot Tatelman, are household names in New England.  Their television ads run round-the-clock.  They’re witty and fun and people perk up when they see the ads air.  These two are the ones responsible from moving the one-store family furniture business (opened by their grandfather in 1918) into the powerhouse it is today.  Several years ago, Jordan’s attained the level of having the highest sales per square foot in the country.  They were then acquired by Berkshire Hathaway.

Barry and Eliot still run the show, apparently, and they remain as wacky and savvy as ever.  They continue to do all the far out, innovative stuff that you’d never expect from a furniture retailer and are constantly attracting more customers.  There new promotion is totally wild . . .

“Consumers purchasing a mattress, dining table, sofa, or bed at a Jordan’s store location between March 7, 2007 and April 16, 2007 will receive a rebate of the purchase price paid for the Deal Merchandise if (but only if) the Boston Red Sox® win the 2007 Major League Baseball World Series®.”

The television ads supporting this promotion feature Barry in a mock post-game interview.  Wearing Red Sox garb with microphones and reporters asking about the deal.  He explains it and is then asked by a reporter, “but how do you do it?”  Barry replies in deadpan, “insurance.”  Classic.

Of course, when you attach anything in New England to a potential Red Sox championship, it’s a winning combination.  People are crazy for the Red Sox in the Boston area.  Jordan’s uses this to garner loads of attention in what seems to be an absurdly great deal.  All without taking any real risk.  After all, the Red Sox have won the World Series only once since 1918 (the year Jordan’s Furniture opened).  But still, since all Boston fans have hope this early in the year, I’m sure people believe that they’ll get their furniture for free and it’s driving business to the stores.

What can we learn from Barry and Eliot of Jordan’s Furniture?  Even in a cutthroat, low margin, me-too industry like furniture retailing, unique and innovative marketing pays off big time.  Just think about what such tactics could do for your entrepreneurial business with its more apparent differentiation.  Be unconventional.  Marketing in your industry or market place doesn’t have to fit the rules laid down by everyone before you.  If you’re innovative, you can break through the noise and confusion and capture the attention of your customers and, even more importantly, of your competitor’s customers.  The only one who sets the rules to this game is you.

 March 15th, 2007  

Marketing on a Microscopic Budget

One of the big challenges that young companies face is how to let the world know about their great product or service.  When the company is well funded and the founding team has the wisdom to plan for their big marketing push, there are generally funds available to run all sorts of marketing programs.  Most often, though, the lion’s share of the money invested in the company is used for the creation of the product or service and there never seems to be enough left over to make potential customers aware of it.

Recently, a company that I am an investor in and director of, AccuRev, invested a couple of thousand dollars into creating a series of short videos that they placed on YouTube.  The videos mimic (rip off may be a better term), Apple’s “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” commercials.  As you’d expect, AccuRev is the ever-so-cool Mac and AccuRev’s biggest competitor, IBM’s Clearcase, is the stodgy, slow, un-hip and very un-cool PC.

The first video in the series has already had almost 3,000 views.  The company is tracking the lead data closely and will attempt to correlate leads and sales that are initiated by the videos.  At the very least, exposing 3,000 sets of eyeballs (clearly not all those of existing customers) to singular competitive messages, clearing stating a specific advantage of the company’s product against its biggest competitor raises awareness of the product and company and can lead to being considered for purchase later.

Pretty nice way of leveraging a small marketing budget.

Using an RSS reader?  Try: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msDuQoKqysw

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 February 8th, 2007  

Questioning Your Marketing Efforts and Abilities

As you’ve undoubtedly read a thousand times in the reams of pages of management books that you’ve consumed, it’s vitally important that when you build your management team, you don’t just pick good people, but instead, pick good people whose skills fill in for weaknesses in the team.  For this reason, the first person I look to add to any team that I’m on is a marketing person.

Try as I might, I can’t create marketing.  As every marketing person who has ever worked for me knows, though, once a marketing idea is brought forth or a program created, I have no trouble analyzing it and expressing my opinions about it.  Sometimes my analysis even has value.  I believe that I know good marketing when I see it.  Witnessing good marketing for me is an experience similar to what I have when in a gallery or art museum, I appreciate the beautiful works, fully recognizing that I struggle drawing a legible stick figure when playing hang-man.

I rationalize that one doesn’t have to have the ability to do something to appreciate the skill and beauty demonstrated when someone else does it.  Yet, as a business person and entrepreneur, I can’t quite get over why I suck so badly at marketing.

Rob over at Businesspundit, whose marketing ideas I find fascinating, has a terrific post titled, Marketing is Math: A Heretic Questions the Gods of Grassroots, Viral Messages and Sacred Purple Cows.  In his post, Rob exposes several marketing myths and popular errors.  While Rob doesn’t know me, I felt that he was shining a light on several of the reasons why I make the same marketing mistakes again and again.  This thought from his post, in particular, rang true for me:

“The first crack in the foundation of my marketing apotheosis came when my partner and I decided to advertise in a local business publication. It was expensive to advertise, but we both read it, so we assumed that other people like us read it as well. We committed a major chunk of our budget to a series of ads that ended up landing us… a single phone call. It was time to regroup. I had learned my first lesson – everyone’s behavior isn’t like mine. To this day it’s the hardest thing to do – to keep that in mind when I pursue new ideas. What I like, what my friends like, what my family likes, may end up being irrelevant.”

Doh!  You mean that not everyone likes what I like and thinks like me?  No wonder I can’t come up with a reasonable marketing program that attracts other people.

Rob ends his post explaining the mathematics of marketing.  In doing so, he gave me hope that a quantitative, left-brained guy like me can retain some hope that I’ll one day understand the art of marketing.  If you’re wondering why your current programs aren’t working or you’re betting the ranch on viral marketing, this post and the others on Businesspundit are definitely worth a look.

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 January 18th, 2007  
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Why Free Trials are Rarely Actually Free

Dharmesh Shah, fellow member of Feedburner’s My Way network, has a terrific post titled Selling Software: Why Free Trials Aren’t on his OnStartups blog.  In the post, Dharmesh makes excellent points about how free trials are far from a zero-cost decision from the customer’s standpoint.  He also points out that the success of a free trial depends on the developer putting extra work into both the product and its support.  Thus, the word, free, is a misnomer for both sides of the table.

In my experience, I have also found that free trials or, free products for that matter, are often perceived to have value equivalent to what was paid for them – nada.  Most people have a deep-seated belief that you get what you pay for and will often not invest the time or energy into making the implementation of a product successful if they did not pay for it. 

This is not to say that free trials or products are bad.  It just means that to make such a distribution device successful, you need to think of what your end-goal is – upgrades, add-on services, unseating the competition, seeding the market, or whatever.  The “free” part needs to be a piece of a much bigger strategy – one which includes making the customer successful with the “free” trial or product and a path to eventually getting revenue from that customer.  You’re just not going to make it up in volume.

Check it out.


 September 25th, 2006  
 General Business, Marketing, Selling  
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Does Anyone Else Think That BMW’s New Ad Campaign is Lame?

In the last few weeks, BMW has plastered the automotive journals with a new advertising campaign that professes their “independence.”

“As an independent company, we can build our [cars] exactly the way we want to – designed around a philosophy, not a bottom line.”

Yup, I’m sure that BMW’s Board never thinks about how much money the company lost on the Rover purchase debacle or on the amount it hemorrhages on Rolls Royce every day . . .

I don’t really understand the art and science of advertising, and that makes me curious about why I even noticed these ads.  Generally speaking, I completely ignore about 90% of all advertisements.  The other 10% get read (or glanced at) and maybe 0.5% (of the overall) actual elicit some response from me – like hitting a web site to follow up or making a mental note for the future.  I guess that BMW’s advertising agency should get kudos for getting my attention at all, even though the result is me thinking less of the company.

What happened to talking about the great cars the company makes or the myriad of awards it wins every year or the shear growth in sales volume?  I guess that this is about market expansion for the company.  Maybe they think that current customers are not independent and that this new tack will bring in new, lone-wolf thinkers?

I’m a fan of the company and its vehicles, but the new advertising campaign is truly stupid, IMO.  I just don’t get it.  But, then again, what do I know?

 June 11th, 2006  
 Advertising, Marketing, Stuff with a Motor  

You Know You’ve Made it When You’re Name Becomes a Verb

Few of us will ever obtain the notoriety that Homer Simpson (Matt Groening, The Simpsons creator) did in June, 2001 when his favorite phrase, “Doh!” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.  The inclusion of a word or term in the OED is globally recognized as its formal adoption into the lexicon of the English language.

Several companies and product brand names have achieved similar distinction over time.  Band-Aid, Kleenex, Xerox (although apparently diminishing), Ace Bandage, Jell-O, Q-Tips, Scotch Tape, Velcro, Post-It Notes and even Aspirin are all product or company names that can be found in the dictionary.  The reason that these brands achieved the status of being the de facto title for all similar products is that each of these products created the category that they are apart of.  This wasn’t always because they were the first to market, although they usually were, but sometimes because they were marketed better than competing products in their respective markets’ infancy.

Today, it’s more difficult for one’s brand to reach such lofty levels of recognition.  Barriers to entry are fairly low in virtually all markets and global competition from a larger range of industrialized countries means that there are more companies competing for recognition in almost all market segments.

My belief is that the next measure of true success for branding is when one’s brand is consistently and commonly used as a verb.  Google has achieved this, of course â€“ “I Googled my own name last night and discovered that I’m wanted by the police in five states.”  “Just Google my company name because I chose a stupid domain name that’s too hard to spell out on the phone.”  People like verbs.  They imply action and motion.  People from all walks of life like to attribute some level of effort to what they do.  The easier it is to use your brand as a verb, the more likely it is that it will be used as such.  Let’s face it, it’s much easier to say “I Googled it,” than it is to say “I opened my browser; went to the Google web site; typed in my search string; then read the results.”

So, as you’re contemplating the name of your new company or product, think about how it will be converted to a verb and what is the likelihood that your customers will use it that way.  Feel free to help them along by marketing the name as a verb and encouraging your customers to follow along.  Remember, only your customers can anoint your brand name as having verb status.  If it’s only you who uses it as a verb, it won’t mean anything.  Make it so they want to use it that way.

The world is full of nouns.  Why would you want to be just another noun?  Be a verb and stand out.  OK, pretty corny, but you get the point.

 May 31st, 2006  
 General Business, Marketing  
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