...goes a long way, especially when I'm thinking about brands, brand management and the power of brands to build successful organizations and careers.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Branding at a different altitude

I found an insightful and valuable branding blog today so I thought I'd pass it along to you. Aaron Dignan is a brand evangelist, so I like him already. I like his focus. I like the questions he asks. I like the language he uses to invite you in and deliver relevance.

In a post titled "all sales final", he wrote "A good brand builder knows that all sales are eternal, the effect you have on that customer will ripple through time and space."

Wow, I wish I would have written that. It's emotional, stare-up-into-the-sky type of wordsmithing that digs much deeper than the how-big-should-we-make-the-logo thinking that often passes for branding. I think it's the kind of statement that should get brand warriors lathered up for battle.

Aaron is thinking on a much higher plain than am I. His bio says he's "an accidental brand evangelist, who came to the industry from a background in neuroscience and psychology."

Mike Wagner and I speak the same brand language, but with a different accent. Aaron and I, however, speak the same language, but at a different altitude.

Yeah, the comments suggest that he doesn't post constantly, but when he does, it's worth the climb.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Empowering brand managers give special treatment

I believe executives who give their employees the tools and the freedom to live the company's brand would be Jim Autry fans. They fully understand the first essay in his, Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership: a very simple edict that flies directly in the face of today's corporate culture of fear (i.e. Home Depot). He writes:

"I think I started maturing as a manager when I discovered that one of the oldest principles of organizational management was hogwash. That principle is stated in many ways, but the military guys used to put it best: 'Nobody gets special treatment around here.'"
Later in the essay he writes:

"Some people do good work but are slow; some people do fast work but are sloppy. Some are morning people; some do better in the afternoon. Some have children who cause schedule problems; some have elderly parents. Some need a lot of attention and affirmation; some want to be left alone to do their work. Some respond more to money, less to praise; some thrive on praise. Some are workaholics; some work only for the livelihood....Who in the world could believe that all those special needs could be accommodated without some special treatment?"

Autry saw it in the executive suites of large companies, environments where these kinds of notions grow like mold, thriving on fear and laziness. Employers fear being sued by the employees who feel slighted. Or they're too lazy to find trustworthy employees, so they let human resources write the rules and hope that the legal department signs off on them.

Like brand management, treating everybody special is hard work. It takes ingenuity and courage and time to discover and then implement strategies that address those needs in ways that don't encroach on other employee's needs.

For most of the last 20+ years, I've worked for people who treated me and my fellow employees feel special. They understood our needs. They understood what motivated us. And they created an environment of flexibility that allowed us to move the organization forward. We didn't suffocate under so-called "fairness."

I heard it formally addressed by an American Red Cross leader speaking at an International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) leadership conference in the late 1980s. He was talking about how to deal with volunteers by first understanding what motivates them. At the end of his presentation, I began to immediately apply his ideas to employees, and I began to wonder:

  • If an employee has children that can get sick or have school functions, why not give them flex time?
  • If the employee works better in the afternoon, why not shift his/her hours to later in the day?
  • If the employee works slower, why not reassign some of their workload?
  • If they thrive on public recognition, why not give them credit for a job well done in a public venue like a staff meeting? If they hate public recognition, why not give them a word of thanks in private?
  • If they like to travel or get involved in community events, why not provide additional vacation days in lieu of pure pay increases?

You know the answer. "Because then we'd have to do it for everyone!"

You know what I say to that? Then do it for everyone! Hire good people. Give them the tools to do the job. Give them clear expectations. Trust them to do it right. And get out of the way.

If they abuse the special treatment, fire them. Show them the door. Make them pay for taking advantage.

But don't make the rest of us pay. Leave that for the people at Home Depot.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

My good friend Jim Autry

The other day, I started thinking about my good friend Jim Autry. It's been a while since Jim and I got together.

Actually, we've never gotten together. I first met Mr. Autry when he spoke to my graduate communications class at Drake University about 15 years ago, and I think I got to ask him a question. Even in that impersonal, public environment, I found the soft-spoken Mississippi native to be a friend worth listening to, following and emulating. He had just written another book, Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership and he was guest lecturer in an integrated marketing communications class. He gave his thoughts on the need for more caring, compassionate leadership in the American corporation.

During recent discussions with colleagues about the deteriorating brand management skills of corporations today, Jim's viewpoint came rushing back to me. I quickly found a copy of his book - a collection of short essays and poetry about compassion, love, caring and emotion in the executive suites - and started reading it. I'll be blogging on some of his topics in the near future, with, of course, an empasis on how this approach is necessary to make great brands. Jim's thoughts need to resonate throughout the executive suites if we're going to overcome low wages and production capabilities by the rest of the world with great brand management. I don't know how far these rantings will reach, but if I can change one organization by exposing its leaders to Jim's ideas, then I'll have made the world just a little better.

Jim was ahead of his time 15 years ago - probably always has been, but I didn't know him before then - and it's apparent in this paragraph from this introduction to his book:

"In case you haven't noticed, we're in the midst of a turning point in the history of business. The last chapter on management by fear is about to be written. I think it's time to wake up out there in the halls of traditional old-line management, time to wake up in the business-school classrooms. It's time to fully accept what's going on in the socieety, in the workplace, in the management-training pool, in the labor unions. It's time to re-examine the old notions about power."

I hope that the end of the turning point in history is here.

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Calm in the brand-speak battle

Jennifer Rice steps into the latest Laura Ries’ foot-in-mouth episode with a post that provides clarity and calm. Laura, unfortunately, has a habit of oversimplifying some of her points, and her detractors have a habit of piling on, often questioning her credentials.

Like Rice, I believe brand should be a foundation for all of an organization’s efforts, not just its marketing or, worse yet, its advertising. Therefore, a strong brand can overcome less-than-perfect product or zombie employees.
  • Saturn was a great example of a strong brand supporting a mediocre product.
  • The Betamax was a clearly superior product, from what I understand from history, but lost out to VHS as the video standard for a couple of decades.
  • McDonald’s has its share of zombies running the retail experience, but continues to be a pretty strong brand across the globe.
  • Wal-Mart is successful selling a lot of very average products and employing a lot of marginal employees.

These are just a few examples that debunk the myth that good product and good people are all it takes to be successful, and that you can't be successful without good products or good people.

Laura is also vilified because she often makes and defends oversimplified absolute statements and positions: check out her long-running battle with graphic designers after she supported an online logo factory. After all, she and her father used “immutable” in the title of their book that included many mutable laws. (Full disclosure: I really like 22 Immutable Laws of Branding because it's a great starting point for brand discussions, but only that: a starting point). Unfortunately, Ries' opponents often attack with equally absolute statements.

If you agree with Beyond Marketing Thought's Karl Speak’s definition for brand (“brand is the reputation an organization earns based on the audience’s experience with its product or services”) it’s easy to see that brand management is a company-wide task, not a marketing task. When one part of the system doesn’t get it – and doesn’t take ownership of the brand – it becomes an impotent too; not much more effective than a trademark, an ad or a tagline alone.

So Laura oversimplified the value of a great brand, and her opponents greatly underestimated it.

Let’s hope business owners reading all these comments don’t do the same.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

McDonald's gets healthy, again?

If you've been over at McDonald's "Open for discussion" blog, you might have read about the new new nutrition panel the golden arch people are considering.

First, I believe there's a huge brand disconnect between McDonald's and healthy eating - nobody goes to McDonald's if they're concerned about eating healthy! They tried and failed miserably with the Arch Deluxe sandwhich ten years ago.

Second, why are they recreating the label when the federal government is spending millions of dollars to create and promote a uniform label for our food products?

I'm just curious.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A most unique introduction

Today, I was honored with a most unique introduction. A client contact introduced me to his board of directors by saying "This is Mark True, and what I like about Mark is his last name: True. I've come to admire the work he and his firm does because he's not afraid to hurt someone's feelings if it reflects the truth and helps his clients."

I can live with that. That's my story.

As I said in an previous post, consultants have to be willing to stick their necks out. They have to be willing to tell the client what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. If your consultant or agency or design firm isn't willing to offend you once in awhile, fire them.

You deserve better.

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The fusion isn't DIRTY, it's only D'oh

My earlier post on the Fusion razor from Gillette only focused on the story being used to market the product. If we use the the D.I.R.T.Y. (different, inviting, relevant, truthful and yours) brand measurement model, it still comes way short of being a great brand.

Different - Yep, but not necessarily in a good way. It's got six blades and one of them is likely to inflict severe damage if you aren't careful. I'd say that's pretty different.

Inviting - Yep, if you believe the promise of a closer shave and the dubious story about the pressure created in the space between the three blades in other razors. Good try.

Relevant - Definitely. Who wants anything less than a close shave?

Truthful - This is where the brand falls flat on its five-o'clock-shadowed face. In my humble opinion, the promise is not the least bit believable.

So I'll be interested to see how many of these expensive razors actually are sold. I think you'd have to be pretty gullible to buy this story, or this razor.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cheney's got a PR problem

John Wagner's recent post asks "Is Dick Cheney's hunting accident newsworthy?"

Clearly, the vice-president's accident is newsworthy: it would be newsworthy if a local citizen shot another local citizen in the same manner. What makes it more newsworthy - growing bigger and lasting longer, perhaps - is the way it was handled. He didn't tell his story and the media filled in the blanks.

According to A Practical Guide to Planning for and Responding to a Crisis, by Wixted, Pope, Nora, Thompson and Associates' Ray Thompson and lawyer Christian Liipfert:

"Every incident - in any company, in any industry - that is handled poorly increases public skepticism. And every incident that is handled well only serves to increase public expectations."

This is a vice-president that fosters plenty of public skepticism whether or not he deserves it. And this is just the latest example of behavior that stirs the pot and raises questions about his character.

There are a number of really good sources for training executives to speak to the media - including the good people at JohnstonWells Public Relations and at Wixted, Pope, Nora, Thompson & Associates (WPNT), two firms with which I've worked in the past. I'd encourage any serious entrepreneur or CEO to contact one of these folks or a local pro in their area to learn how to increase expectations, not skepticism in your organization. In the meantime, I'd like to offer the vice president few tips:

  1. Be proactive - When you don't tell anybody about a shooting accident for 24 hours, it makes you look bad. It makes you look guilty. It makes you look like - gasp - Ted Kennedy. Being proactive, available and transparent is always better than reactive, hard to reach and paranoid.
  2. Be humble - Part of transparency is being humble about the situation. Show some humility and you'll receive mercy. That's in the Bible, Dick! There's nothing wrong with saying it was an accident, then show that you're human. Show some concern for the victim - your friend - and tell the public what's happening with him so they know you're involved, concerned.
  3. Smile, don't smirk - I know God gave you that face, Dick, but work on your on-camera posture, your facial expressions and your nonverbal communication. Those factors often communicate far more than words; just ask George H. W. Bush about looking at his watch during debate. (I found this out firsthand several years ago, when on camera, my standard, at-rest facial expressions and goatee made me look angry. Eileen Wixted, of WPNT, told me I had to smile just to look indifferent!)
  4. Stick to the talking points - There's nothing wrong with using talking points: they help keep you on track and out of trouble. It takes discipline, however, to be constant, and practice to use them with skill. If the talking points are built on the brand expectation, they'll come out sounding authentic. Dick is a strong defender of the second amendment and he needed to step up to the podium and, after explaining what happen, apologizing for the accident and showing some concern for the victim, be ready to defend the support of the citizens' right to bare arms when the questions come up.

Let me make it clear: this would have been newsworthy if it was Al Gore, Dan Quayle, George H. W. Bush, or any other modern era V.P. It would have been newsworthy if it was the local dog catcher! But because the vice president didn't step forward, make a statement and take charge of the story, the news media did it for him. There is currently a lot of information that may or may not be true circulating because he didn't step up right away and take charge.

The news media hates a vacuum.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Houston soccer team blinks

There's a ruckus being raised in Houston over the name of the new (relocated) MLS franchise there. John Wagner of Houston's Wagner Communications explains the situation in his blog post.

In short it goes like this: The owners of the franchise were in a hurry to get the marketing in place for the season, which begins in April. The team, formerly known as the San Jose Clash, then the Earthquakes, came up with the name "Houston 1836" which has a bit of a European soccer ring to it while celebrating the year Houston was founded. It's also the year Texas gained its independence from Mexico so team officials ran it by the Latino community's business and political leaders, got sign-off from them, and then announced the name and the logo. Wagner reports from Houston that, in fact, "City Councilman Adrian Garcia even appeared on stage at the news conference announcing the name, addressing the crowd in Spanish."

Then a few 'professional sensitives' - as Wagner calls them - started to raise a stsink. The Houston Chronicle story reports that "Many Hispanics have voiced their dislike for the controversial name" while Wagner reports "just a couple of very visible folks" wanted the name change. That was enough, apparently, to get the attention of sponsors.

Now, it seems, the owners are shaking in their cowboy boots and are reconsidering the name, less than seven weeks from the opening of the season. You can follow the blow-by-blow on the HoustonNet blog, too. The team is apparently, according to the Chronicle article, considering a tired and overused "Lone Star" or "Lonestar" as an alternative. How sad.

Wagner, a PR counselor, asks: "What would you do?" I wrote in his blog that they should stand strong so they don't look weak. In soccer-speak, the defense needs to "hold the line."

In my comment, I suggested that they address the Mexican-American audience with purposeful, brand-driven action, not to save face (pardon the mixed cultural reference there), but to do the smart thing because it's the smart thing. It should have been done before the name issue even came up. Specifically, I suggested the following:
"Tactically, I'd be encouraging the team to work with the Mexican-American community by supporting youth soccer leagues, literacy programs and families-in-need programs. Build the roster with more than a few Mexican league and Latino
players. Include authentic Mexican food on the concession stand menu. Hire a Latino to deliver Spanish language radio broadcasts on a Spanish language station."
Unfortunately, the franchise has blinked, and it may be too late, but this is another example of what happens when an organization doesn't lead with its brand! Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bobby's got a new brand and he's showing it off in Daytona

If you liked my earlier post about Bobby Labonte, or you're just a fan, you'll want to catch a glimpse of Bobby's new brand in this weekend's Daytona 500, the sports Super Bowl. He's starting in the eighth position.

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A PR firm where creativity is queen!

One of the most creative workspaces I've ever seen is at a PR firm. It's been more than three years since I hired Denver's JohnstonWells Public Relations at my last client-side job, but I thought of those ladies today while considering the value of a creative workspace. I was constantly amazed at the creativity, the fun and the energy that exuded from that place. Creativity was definitely a key brand component (and the almost all-female staff, but that's a subject for another post) at JohnstonWells.

When you walk in the door, you see art everywhere. JW holds monthly creativity seminars. And each employee's office or cubicle is identified with a small, hand-crafted totem rather than a name plate; the totem is made of elements that represent the person. JohnstonWells earned the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts 2003 Small Business Award and 2005 Creative Workspace Award. The staff - especially Kirsten Ritter and Ann Dickerson - oozed with enthusiasm borne of creativity. They approached every task as an opportunity to use their creative spirit to be relevant and to show the power of public relations.

Some might say the source of the creativity is the Rocky Mountains. It might be the city of Denver. I'm pretty sure, however, the creative vortex is in the office of Gwinavere Johnston, the CEO, the leader, the champion of all things creative at JW. Clearly, no firm invests that much in art, creative education and fun if the big cheese doesn't approve, encourage and embrace the effort.

Frankly, my organization was at the beginning of a marketing retrenchment, and we didn't allow the JW to sprint like we should have, but I always looked forward to interacting with the JohnstonWells staff. They brought something extra to the game every day. At JW, creativity is definitely queen!

Bobby Labonte gets rebranded: will fans follow?

Bobby Labonte made me a NASCAR fan a few years ago. After turning his expensive race car into a pile of scrap metal, he told an interviewer that he just screwed up and didn't drive the car very well. I liked that kind of honesty in a world of sponsor-laden gearhead speak by most of the stars of NASCAR.

For the past 11 years, he drove the green number 19 Interstate Batteries car for Joe Gibbs Racing. He was one of the top 10 or so stars of the sport, and won a championship in 2000, so his gear was everywhere. I have a small collection of 1:24 scale models of his car, micro models and foil wrapped chocolate cars on my desk at work.

Now, he's changing teams, he's changing numbers and he's changing color schemes which will be a true test of his star power. As Bobby changes, I wonder if his fans will goes with him.

NASCAR does a great job of managing its brand and the brands of its drivers. Drivers set unmatched standards for connecting with their fans, and the fans show their love by buying a lot of gear with their favorite driver's number and colors. Frankly, I don't have any doubt that the fans will follow the driver, but what will happen to their $100 leather jacket, the $30 football jersey or the $99 stained-glass table lamp?

The green and red color scheme of the number 18 was easy to spot in most races because it was the only green car on the track. Based on the amount of no. 18 gear that was for sale compared to other stars, I'm thinking the green and red color combination might have kept sales down even after he won the championship.

I'm thinking the new baby blue and yellow scheme of the no. 43 is not going to do a lot better. Early results are in on a fan poll on Bobby's official website, and the fans don't like it either. When last I looked, 94 percent voted for "I hate it." Ouch. There goes the stained-glass lamp sales.

What's worse: the story or that extra blade on the end?

I really get irritated when the critics say marketers create needs for their product. To some extent, that's true: do we really need iPods, cars that can go 100 miles per hour and Botox? For the most part, however, we create stories that help buyers fill wants, as Seth Godin writes in his book All Marketers Are Liars.

I believe the makers of the new Gillette Fusion razor, however, have gone too far in their story telling. I received one of these lethal weapons in the mail recently, and threw it away shortly after one use. And, as you can see by my profile picture, I know a thing or two about razors.

First of all, Gillette creates a problem by suggesting that the pressure that builds in the spaces between three blades causes discomfort, and that by adding two other blades, the pressure is eliminated! It doesn't matter that there's only a fraction of a fraction of an inch between those blades!


The lethal part of this instrument of death is the sixth blade - yes, I said sixth blade - on the end of the thing. They say it's for getting to those hard to reach places. I say it's a lawsuit waiting to happen. Who expects to have an exposed blade on the END OF THE RAZOR!

I'll stick to my old fashioned, save, cheap Good News razors. Remember, the first blade pulls the hair out while the second one cuts it off.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Olympic ads score bronze, at best

After reading Olivier Blanchard's post about advertising during the Olympics, I had to pay a little more attention. While I don't agree with Oliver's claim that the spots supporting the Olympics broadcast is proof that advertising agencies were still more than capable of producing really great ads, I did notice some elegant story telling. There were several good ones - bronze medal winners, at least - but there were also plenty of pretenders that should be happy to even be there.

I'm usually pretty hard on US automotive manufacturers' spots, but the one with the Chevy Tahoe horns playing the Olympic theme - parked in awe inspiring natural settings right out of the NBC bumpers - was truly elegant. It had a simple premise: saluting the Team USA. No vehicles on impossibly curvy roads. No nauseating list of features. No billboard at the end promoting the best prices ever.

General Motors killed the mood, however, with spots for the Silverado pick-up truck "with ThunderPack", the GMC Sierra and the GMC Envoy. Each spot included a long list of features, beauty shots of the vehicles in action and, in the case of the Silverado spot, ended with a billboard showing the rebates that are currently being offered (in effect, saying our product is so great, we'll give you money to buy it!) At least the two GMC spots hid the price in the context of a simple, old-school product comparison ad.

One of the most awesome examples was a short promotion for NBC's coverage of the Daytona 500 this Sunday, and used some great editing to show speed skaters being run down by Tony Stewart.

Another for an insurance company (I can't remember it so it wasn't a great example of brand building) told a beautiful story. A 50-something couple is inspired to go skating while watching the pairs figure skating. At the local pond, the man falls down, bumps the warming shed and a sheet of ice slides off the shed and crushes his car. Great story telling that was very well connected to the content of the program.

I'm going to keep watching the Olympics because there are a lot of great stories during the coverage, but I'll be watching the spots too, so see who scores well with the judges.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Governments have brands? Heck yes!

"Wait, just a minute here Mr. Brand Dude," I hear many of you saying. "I just read you last post and I hear you saying Iowa has a brand problem, but how can that be? How can Iowa - or any government - have a brand?"

Easily. Every person or organization or entity has a brand - aka reputation, perception, promise - based on the experience people have with said person, organization or entity. Just ready Adam Ash's post about New York City and you'll see it's a stronger brand - at least with this one person - that the whole darn U. S. of A!

Excrement in the aisle

My friend Ed doesn't know exactly what I do for a living. He's read this blog, however, and, yesterday, asked me a rather honest and - for me - invigorating question: "Does this branding stuff really mean anything to the average consumer?"

I gave him several examples of how organizations use their brand to support their business and how some simply ignore it, and pay the price, but there's a really good example in a front-page story in today's Des Moines Sunday Register. Evidently, Iowa's rivers and lakes are some of the most polluted in the state and it's going to take a billion dollars - plus or minus a half-billion- to get us in compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act. Yes, that's a law that's almost 35 years old!

So, Ed, here's an example where different people have different agendas, and there's no common brand driving the decisions. While the state's economic development people, the chambers of commerce, the tourism promoters, private developers, employers and others are trying to tell Iowa's great story (see my earlier post suggesting Iowa refocus its efforts on attracting families), the people responsible for keeping our lakes and rivers clean are asleep at the switch.

Iowa is one of the final six states to come into compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act, according to John Reyna of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Kansas City in the Register article. Worse yet, Albert Ettinger, a Chicago lawyer who follows Clean Water Act cases and represents Iowa environmental groups, says "To my knowledge, there is no state that is out of compliance like Iowa is."

If Iowa was a Target store, this would be the equivalent of an associate defecating in the sporting goods aisle.

Admittedly, getting everyone in a state together - regulators, political leaders, private businesses, citizens - focused on the same task, is a difficult one. It's certainly more challenging than getting everyone at the local coffee shop to smile pleasantly to the customers, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

It takes leadership from the top. It takes a vision. It takes a brand. And when that's absent, it just confuses people. Any questions, Ed?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Education as a business - part 2

Tom Lane is a businessman in a school superintendent's tie. He treats students and parents like customers, the school like a business. He listens and he leads. He owns his brand. Tom is superintendent of the Carlisle (Iowa) Community Schools and he actually refers to his students and their parents as patrons. In school board meetings I've attended and every one-on-one conversation I've ever had with the man, he has exhibited a real understanding that families have a choice, even of public schools. He realizes that he runs the most important business in Carlisle, Iowa, the bedroom community on the southeast corner of the Des Moines metro area. And he knows the school's brand is one the most important, if not the most important, element in a family's decision to move to Carlisle.

In just a few short years, he and the school board has lead his district from financial turmoil to the point where it's one of the most financially sound districts in the state. And it's preparing for a boom with an influx of students from a new development in town and in the eastern part of the school district.

He talks regularly with teachers, members of the community, students and their parents about the issues that affect them, like he did last summer in preparation for an upcoming bond issue vote for a new elementary school. The school board purposely timed the vote so that the new tax would take affect when the previous bond was retired and the tax bite would be almost painless. Then and now, he gathers his facts, engages the community in conversation using a robust and content-rich website; clear, concise articles in the local weekly newspaper; detailed articles in the district's weekly newsletter and in candid community forums. He regularly attends city council meetings to answer questions that always arise when the issue of taxes and development come up. The school is part of Carlisle's future, and Tom represents the school. He owns the brand.

He hires professional building administrators that share his business like approach and supports them with young, innovative teachers who connect with student-patrons and encourage parental involvement. They own the brand, too.

I've seen him and his team in action. I helped develop the school's website, ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Carlisle school board seat, have worked with the district on developing a long-term recreational plan for the community and I interact with teachers and staff members on visits to the school. I've talked with his patrons on the sidelines of soccer games.

By most counts, Tom's approach is working. Carlisle Schools are well-respected and growing rapidly. There are no "sales" figures available for this "business," but enrollment is rapidly increasing and, I bet if you asked a few patrons, you'd find customer satisfaction is up, way up!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Education as a business - part 1

"We're not in the business of trying to make money. We're in the business of trying to educate students, and that's a little different than selling cars," so says Rudy Fichtenbaum, a member of the American Association of University Professors and an economics professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, in a Des Moines Register article about marketing efforts at Iowa State University.

Fichtenbaum just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand that he has to sell the college experience - the brand - if he is to have a chance to educate students. He has to get noticed, be different, inviting, relevant and truthful if he wants to get paid.

Besides Iowa State and Wright State, there are 4,166 institutions of higher learning in the U.S. that a student may choose to attend and to whom they may write their tuition check. The ones making the best argument in the most meaningful way are the ones that students will choose.

The Register story (and this WHO-TV story) highlights a proposal to allocate marketing dollars to the various colleges based on enrollment. In other words, they want to give more support to the strong colleges. They are considering acting more like a business and less like the only game in town.

Critics of the plan believe professors might start taking short cuts to keep students (So much for academic integrity.) Supporters of the concept believe that most faculty members wouldn't tolerate a decline in academic quality. That's brand ownership in action!

Supporters say the proposal would actually make instructors and administrators improve the educational experience so that more students want to attend that school, pursue that major and take those classes. They may even add a few sections, as indicated in the article, so students don't have to wait for popular classes. They may integrate innovative teaching tools and methods and delivery channels.

Again, according to the article, Marc Harding, the admissions director at ISU, said colleges could attract new students by offering high-demand degree programs, and retain more students by creating learning communities and supplemental instruction. More brand ownership!

David Acker, the College of Agriculture associate dean says his enrollment budget has doubled in the last two years - reaching $53,000 - and enrollment is up - 10 percent - for the first time in four years!

It's not perfected, yet. The concept deserves more than Fichtenbaum's dismissive response. I hope the leadership of ISU will investigate this budgeting allocation issue within a brand framework. I hope they will take the time to understand ISU's story and how to leverage it to make the University more relevant to more students. If they discover their brand and use it to make all decisions - including marketing decisions - they'll be successful. They'll attract the students they need to attract. And they'll be able to buy a few marketing books for professor Fichtenbaum.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Different strokes...about McDonald's blog attempt

Shel Israel at Naked Conversations gave McDonald's a little tough love in his evaluation of the fast-food giant's first attempts at blogging. Check out his comments. They are very helpful to any new blogger, including this one! I said as much in my comment that it was clear, concise and just enough tough love to be helpful without being mean spirited. Kate at My Name is Kate, however, took offense to Shel's advice, or at least the tone of it. She said it was a case of an A-lister overflowing with arrogance.

She says the advice was unsolicited even though McDonald's senior director Bob Langert actually asked some very specific question - opening a conversation - in his post. And by the tone and content of his next post, Langert seemed to appreciate the comments, and has asked additional questions.

Kate also writes "I feel like 'A-listers' are often speaking out of both sides of their mouth. "Companies should be in the blogosphere. But they should stay out unless they are perfect." I didn't see that tone anywhere in Shel's post. In fact, he seemed to be saying "here are a few tips to make it better." And I think many of us on the sidelines are cheering on McDonald's (and other corporate brands interested in doing a better job).

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Let 'em go. They'll come back, to Iowa.

One of the most meaningful books I've ever read is Now Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham (He's the guy who wrote First, Break All The Rules). The easy-to-read book encourages individuals to enhance their strengths instead of focusing hours and hours on weaknesses and then finding you've made no progress.

I think the state of Iowa needs to read the book. I'm constantly reading newspaper accounts and hearing TV news stories about the Hawkeye State's efforts to keep young people here instead of letting them go off to the big city - Chicago or Kansas City or Minneapolis, in most cases. We keep trying to build entertainment districts of bars and restaurants and bring in big-time sports teams and more bars in attempt to keep 20-somethings between the Mississippi and the Missouri.

I think we should give every high school grad a state road map and tell them to go seek adventure, sow their oats, party 'till the cows come home. And then come home. If we raise them right, they'll come back to Iowa with some life experience, some work experience, a new expensive car that we can tax and a few kids that we can't. They'll come to appreciate what we offer: clean air, safe streets and good schools. And low insurance rates. You can't say that about Chicago, Kansas City or Minneapolis.

I think our state's strength is its family-friendly cities, towns and villages. You can walk the sidewalks at night. You can leave your keys in the car in the driveway. You know your neighbor's name. Our governor is not afraid to wear a Winnie the Pooh costume.

Yes, we have problems. We have more than our fair share of meth labs (what rural state doesn't have meth labs). People drive way too fast on the freeway (at least they can). And the family farmers don't get along with the big farmers (but you don't see driveby shootings to settle the issue).

But it's also true that this is a great place to raise kids and we need to quit being ashamed of it. We need to plaster it on the welcome to Iowa signs. Iowa needs to play to its strengths. It's a different, inviting, relevent and truthful brand.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The most fearful marketers on the planet..auto dealers?

Walter Koschnitzke has touched a nerve with me in his Branding Ad Vice blog. His latest post on auto advertising is basically what I've felt for more than 20 years. In my comment, I write that I feel automotive dealers, as a group, are the most fearful marketers on the planet.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But I can count on two fingers the number of auto retailers in central Iowa that have tried to be different, inviting and relevant in the past 20 years. And one of those was a one-time shot that was soon replaced by spots screaming prices.

The other is Karl Chevrolet. If you've seen a Karl Chevrolet television spot, you know it's a little like a lot of others because it features the owner, in this case Carl Moyer, and his family, but Karl spots look better than other car commercials. They focus on the Karl Chevrolet experience and the things the dealer does to make that experience something different. Sometimes the ads feature family members, like this one from this past Christmas season. Even it tells a story in an unexpected manner. The rest of the Karl experience is different, too. The company extended Chevy's "Like a rock" theme by placing a huge rock at its entrance and perching a vehicle at the top (see the website header). The dealership features a golf hole (bring your clubs) and a walking trail (bring your walking shoes) in case you need to think before you sign that paper for a $45,000 SUV. And, perhaps most important, they feature convenient services hours six days a week - Monday through Thursday, 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. - and have round-trip shuttle service! That's different, inviting and relevant.

Karl, the dealership, takes chances like its owner, Carl, a race car driver. Maybe more dealers ought to drive race cars before they try to sell sedans.