Friday, December 7, 2012

In Praise of Small Data

I can't read anything these days without hearing about "big data." Just popped over to Google News today and learned that Cloudera, a company basically distributing an easier-to-use version of open-source Hadoop as I understand it, raised $65 million in a valuation pegging them as a $700 million company. Holy mackerel!

These crazy valuations put me in mind of what I call "small data." If big data means synthesizing meaning from a million different pieces of disparate information coming from a variety of sources, little data means synthesizing meaning from several thousand pieces of information. In the former case, think of my company Vocollect's wearable computers collecting thousands of bits of information about thousands of distribution center picks per day from hundreds of thousands of workers. In the latter case, think of my company's less than five thousand customers.

Of course there are exciting things to be discovered from the millions of interactions we see from the wearable computers. But there are even more valuable things we could learn from our existing customer base, and I have found that most companies--even gigantic, multi-billion dollar ones--are sorely lacking in the ability to aggregate, clean, and take meaning from these existing customers.

Back at one of my last jobs, we found after six months of aggregating and cleaning that 25% of our sales were coming from 300 customers out of 40,000. You might hear people talk about the "80/20" rule, but that's the "25/1" rule for those of you keeping track. As in, "25% of our revenue comes from 1% of our customer base"! You better bet that the sales leadership, marketing department, customer service team, and even the VP now know the names of every single one of those 300 customers and that the company treats them a lot better than they used to.

Little data is about making small investments in technology, process, and people power to get better information that you should already have access to today. The focus requires all three:

  1. Technology: This is the area everyone always thinks about when data analysis discussions bubble to the surface. Here, I advocate both investments in technology to store the data like, but also technology to clean the data so it's not completely worthless. How useful is it to sell your brand new freezer-rated wireless headset to current customers if you don't know which ones have freezers? Acquiring the information that's missing requires the second investment...
  2. Process: Great "little data" companies fix the problems of who is responsible for information-gathering, how the information gets into the system in the first place, how you compare it against other systems to ensure links and accuracy, and how it gets cleaned and updated over time. Each of these process fixes ensures that when marketing or sales or finance go to use the information, it gives an accurate and up-to-date picture of the business. That's not possible without...
  3. People power: Great companies assign responsibilities and ownership for the information and, yes, pay for it when necessary. The CEB, my first company, was better at this than any company for which I have ever worked. The way they ensured information was retained was to withhold sales commissions unless the information made its way into ELvIS, our Enterprise-Level Information System (precursor to a real CRM). ELvIS was, by the way, built on MS Access but worked just fine for a long time because of the people and process controls in place. Proving that you don't need a top-flight CRM until the body of data gets too large to manage.
Don't get me wrong. I am generally a huge fan of big data. That's one of the reasons I continue to be bullish on Google, the company with more data than possibly any other company in the world (and a company that understands its value). I'm just saying that small- to medium-sized companies can do amazing things with little data if they pay attention to it and manage it well. That's why you need to hire somebody with experience in this kind of "little data" program and then put serious management attention and focus around it.

A little self-promotion here: I have a lot of experience with "little data." If you ever want to get serious about selling to your existing customers and finding more customers that look like your existing ones, give me a call.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Eye Tracking Revisited

A few years ago, I looked at Tobii's cool eye tracking technology as a possible means of evaluating the effectiveness of paint color merchandisers. I ended up getting a new job before I could complete the project, which was a crying shame given the phenomenally stupid metrics the company was using at the time to determine effectiveness of the display, such as number of color chips pulled per year. Like discrete choice research or any of the other "real life" simulation tools gaining in popularity (has anyone seen the growth of Affinova lately?), eye tracking opened the potential for us to figure out what the consumer really wanted to see rather than what we thought we wanted the consumer to see.

So I was excited to see that one of the Next Gen Market Research 2012 award winners was a company I had never heard about called Eye Track Shop. They claim to have perfected the ability to perform eye tracking using a regular Webcam rather than using expensive equipment like Tobii requires. If market researchers on the client side got the tiniest bit creative with this technology and it really worked, this change in cost could offer a revolution in a huge number of businesses.

Even in our business making industrial hardware, the user interface is critical. We now have the potential to borrow a handful of users for short periods of time over the Web to get reactions to early prototypes before we spend millions on tooling for a product that wouldn't otherwise gain user acceptance. We could also easily test iterations of our asset management console to see what improvements made it more user-friendly. We could even present prospects with versions of our trade show displays to determine what grabbed the most attention.

Imagine the possibilities! What about A/B testing on physical packaging without ever having to ship the package? Store display pre-testing for seasonal merchandising? Improved impact testing of direct mail calls to action? All now possible with inexpensive eye tracking.

Makes me want to start a market research firm. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Simple Modeling

For all you people who thought I was going to talk about supermodels, you can stop reading now.

Today's post is about the kind of model you use to determine your forecasted sales or the effects of a future rebate or the effect of a new product introduction. I have been thinking a lot about this kind of modeling lately because of Nate Silver, the statistics genius who accurately predicted the election results two nights ago. Today, the Guardian had an awesome explanation of the likely content of Nate Silver's model which is worth reading in its entirety.

Although Silver apparently uses an advanced statistical technique called hierarchical modeling to perform his analysis, a manager needn't have a degree in statistics to use something more basic but still useful. I put together a similar but simpler model at Strategic Energy using Crystal Ball, an Excel spreadsheet plug-in now owned by Oracle. The software allowed me to build inputs that had an effect on energy prices and then run a series of simulations describing what would happen to electricity prices if my various inputs fluctuated. I chose how each input would fluctuate (for example, natural gas prices might fluctuate in a normal curve by plus or minus 10%) over a period of time, and the model told me the statistical likelihood that the electricity price would get into the range at which we could compete against the regulated utility price.

It's relatively easy to use this kind of modeling in all sorts of applications. I used it again at PPG to help forecast exterior paint sales, using simple inputs we knew to affect our sales such as temperature, rebates, competitor rebates, advertising, and price competition. This analysis helped to show how unprofitable our existing rebate program was and how dramatically temperature spikes increased our paint sales, both of which led to savings and greater on-shelf inventory at our retail customers.

Amidst all this usefulness, I'm constantly amazed when managers prefer to use experience and judgement rather than data to make decisions. Crystal Ball costs all of $995. Why leave your decisions up to chance when you can get fairly accurate help from a fairly simple model for a fairly cheap price (or free if you're willing to learn the R statistics package)? Alternatively, you could spend hundreds of millions of dollars and just ignore the models like this guy did. Good luck with that.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Read This Now

I was lucky to attend business school with some really smart folks. One is Kerry Edelstein, who founded Research Narrative a year ago today. She has a great post today about interesting questions in media research. It's worth reading particularly because of the emphasis on the business decisions made based on the research. You all know I'm a huge fan of determining the decision you're going to make before doing the research, so I couldn't agree more.

Attention to all full-service market research firms out there: don't forget the message! I always prefer you to come back with a viewpoint. If I don't like what the research said, I can dispute your interpretation with facts, but I (hopefully, if you have done good research) can't dispute the facts themselves. Now, it's up to you to present a story about the facts and help me understand what to do as a result. Then listen to me and help guide my restatement of the story in a way I can tell management.

If Kerry continues to do that for her clients, Research Narrative should go far.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Poll Watchers Beware

Every presidential election year, I find myself re-addicted to an awesome source of polling data, These guys aggregate the raw results of various independent polls and post them in a mostly unexpurgated format. I only wish I could do cross-tabs to break down the results further (e.g., by number of Democrats versus Republicans, age, sex, income, and so forth). Frankly, I find the raw data much more enlightening than much of the terrible commentary. [One notable exception to the usual polling pablum was today's excellent Dianne Rehm show with two experts breaking down the polling into the necessary detail.]

Particularly telling is the number of people who are "unsure" or "refused" as reported in some of these polls. The numbers are as high as 8% in some polls, suggesting that a lot of people are either still undecided, are dedicated to the old-fashioned privacy policy about politics, or are just sick of being asked. Nevertheless, one sees that Obama has quite a lead in a number of these polls when voters are given the option to be unsure.

I often find that business executives want to ignore the "don't know" responses in survey data. I believe they think the results are somehow less meaningful if a lot of respondents don't know the answers. On the contrary, I think executives can learn a lot when people are given the "don't know" option.

For example, when I was on the Paint Consumers Research Program board, we changed the survey to allow respondents to say "don't know" when asked what price they paid for paint. Not only did we get much more accurate results, we discovered that almost half of respondents don't know what they paid, even when the purchase was a month ago or less. From this, I learned that price is a lot less important than I think most paint industry executives think it is. In fact, I believe that price point (low, middle or high in the store's assortment) is probably much more critical in paint buyers' decisions than actual real price. This effect could explain in part why consumers are willing to pay $50 per gallon at Sherwin-Williams when they can get decent paint at $35 per gallon at Lowe's or Home Depot.

Some of the most important decisions in new product development fall to market research interpretation, so I believe everyone involved needs to take a closer look at the results. Surprisingly, for example, the products most likely to succeed are often the products with the most positive responses and the most negative responses. When respondents rate new product ideas, the lack of a strong visceral reaction usually indicates disinterest whereas a strong negative reaction can mean that they have a real interest in the product but are not willing to buy it themselves. A number of market research startups have popped up recently to capitalize on this idea by having respondents design products "for other people" instead of making decisions with themselves in mind.

Perhaps this could be good news for Mitt Romney, whose negative ratings have been going through the roof lately. But not if you subscribe to the idea that real money markets can predict presidential elections. If that is true, our next four years will be Obama's second term.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Globalization Dilemma

My present job includes "Pricing Manager" among the various job descriptions. Facing a challenge in getting IT time to fix our quoting tool (let's face it -- who hasn't had this problem at a company that is not Google?), I turned again as I have in the past to outsourcing. I have successfully used in the past to find someone to do the work, but this time I turned to oDesk due to the nature of the work. Within days, I had found a Ukrainian developer with an amazing command of English and 20 years of experience in Java and Visual Basic including extensive work on Excel applications.

As I symbolic analyst, I often find this kind of experience troubling. When it comes down to it, most of my job could be performed anywhere in the world. I often suspect that most of the companies that hire me could find someone in India with my exact qualifications plus a Ph.D. and a background in computer science for 70% of my salary. George, my new Ukranian developer, earns $25 an hour for doing work for which I would probably pay $45 an hour at a minimum in the U.S. His English is so good that he knew the idiomatic phrase, "The devil is in the details." [Funny note of the day: in Ukranian, the literal translation of their equivalent phrase would be, "If your head is stupid on details, your legs go this way and that."]

On the bright side, this kind of internationalization means that local understanding and specialized skills can be in demand anywhere. For the market research expert in me, I find the outsourcing experience liberating because I know that some of my expertise and specialization in the U.S. consumer and B2B research market cannot be matched by someone else. Moreover, the internationalization gives me the opportunity to apply these skills to companies interested in selling into the U.S.

As a sidebar, I am in love with oDesk's awesome contractor time tracking tool called "Work Diary." It takes snapshots of your contractor's work periodically to show what they have been doing with their time. From the client's perspective, this approach gives me confidence that the contractor is working on my job when he says he is working. From the contractor's perspective, Work Diary makes it easy to track billable hours to your client and provides proof that you are billing for legitimate work if the client questions what is taking so long on an hourly project.

I foresee a future in which the percentage of work done on this kind of contract basis goes up dramatically. I can imagine that a number of companies interested in entering the U.S. market would not want to hire a market research professional full-time to do the market entry due diligence and might not have the money (or knowledge or project management abilities) to employ a full-service market research firm. These firms might turn to someone like me for a time-limited engagement that would expand their knowledge as much as they need to take the first steps in the U.S.

Overall, I think I am looking forward to this future, working on varied engaging projects for a range of interesting companies. I just have to get over my natural fear of being replaced by someone less expensive.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Felix Baumgartner recently broke the world record for the highest skydive at 128,000 feet. The Guardian had an excellent story today about the partnership between Red Bull and Baumgartner. What I love about this idea is breaking the sound barrier... for the brand.

The "sound barrier" I'm talking about is the clutter of noise in today's multi-channel, multi-media environment. I was writing about this problem back in 1994 when I interned at advertising agency Ingalls, Quinn & Johnson in Boston before Facebook was even a twinkle in Zuckerberg's eye (I think he would have been getting his first pimple around that time). Media clutter has gotten so much worse in so many ways since then.

Breaking through the clutter often requires doing something that has never been done before. For Red Bull, it means an outlandish partnership that could have landed the brand in some trouble if Felix Baumgartner had been injured or killed. But for your brand, the partnership doesn't have to be so outlandish. For example, Barack Obama in 2008 created the world's first true nationwide, cloud-based expert system for elections that targeted voters at the individual level with grass-roots (read: millions of volunteers) targeting. This effort was a huge risk although not to the brand itself. Rather, Obama risked misusing millions of campaign dollars that had traditionally been spent on TV.

I have spoken before about one of my favorite marketing books: Mark Stevens' Your Marketing Sucks. Underneath the unpleasant title are many great tales of how to create breakthrough marketing, like Red Bull's stunt, that push the limit of marketing. His premise, with which I heartily agree, is that if you're not making a spectacle of yourself for the sake of the brand, you're probably wasting your money. If nobody sees the marketing and nobody responds, you wasted the money. Period.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I have created market research and business intelligence functions in a variety of industries, but my current job is my first in a pure technology company. As such, this is my first direct experience outside of my consulting work that has to take into account timeframe in strategic planning.

Timeframe turns out not to be super important in most industries when you can create a sustainable competitive advantage. Theoretically, it should have been easy to create a great competitor to IKEA, Southwest Airlines, or any of the companies with truly integrated strategies. In practice, however, each of these companies has grown for decades without serious competition on the same business model.

This long period of unchallenged growth rarely exists in technology industries. Dell and Microsoft had a relatively long two decades of growth before their business models started to become outdated, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. I remember a survey we did at the Corporate Executive Board in 1998 asking what company would dominate the software world in 20 years, and the majority of respondents answered, "A company that we haven't heard of yet." It's getting close to 20 years later, and I believe few of those individuals would have guessed Google.

"Sustainable competitive advantage" simply means something different in technology businesses because of the speed of innovation, often from forces outside your own industry, which makes compromises underpinning your strategy no longer valid. Netflix is the classic example. In their heyday, DVD rentals by mail made a ton of sense and Internet-based delivery of movies sounded crazy. Fifteen years later, bandwidth explosion, Moore's Law, and the plummeting cost of hardware has made DVD rentals by mail almost quaint.

So what's a company to do? Follow the Netflix example (no, not pissing off your customers) by continuing to innovate. Netflix saw the future death of their sustainable competitive advantage before anyone else did and spent millions trying to make their own model obsolete. They recognized that if they failed to kill their own company, someone else would. Which is why I watch movies through Netflix on my Wii today.

You don't have to be a technology company to take this approach to heart. If Kaplan or Princeton Review had been a little more thoughtful and innovative, they might not be getting killed today by Revolution Prep, a startup college test prep company that changed the model from book-based learning to online, adaptive training. Should've been obvious to see that one coming.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Inspiration Versus Perspiration

You've heard that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? Well, I was interested to read a few months ago an insightful article on Wells Fargo and their success in retail and commercial banking. The relatively new CEO John Stumpf states that a good strategy flawlessly executed will always win versus a brilliant strategy poorly executed.

I would personally modify that statement a bit. I believe that a good strategy enables flawless execution but does not ensure it. In other words, a good strategy is necessary but not sufficient to win.  I would say that company success is 20% strategy and 80% execution. But you can't get the 80% right without the 20%.

I advocate the concept of "employee bandwidth" in management. The executive team has only a certain amount of time in the day, so anything that distracts their focus from work critical to the future of the company will ultimately help to sink the company. Having a single strategy, with elements that are mutually reinforcing and move towards a common goal, enables everyone to use their limited bandwidth to drive towards greater customer insight and profitability.

Where does market research come in to this equation? Done properly, the market researcher stands at the vanguard of understanding customer value. When communicated properly to executive management and the company at large, the market researcher has the unique responsibility to explain how to break value compromises that customers have endured in the past.

Take Southwest Airlines as an example again. The market researcher should have explained that pleasure travellers are willing to give up many perks of flying to get a better price. They are willing to give up free food, assigned seats, flight attendants in uniform, first class seating, entertainment options, non-stop flights, but not on-time arrival. Southwest Airlines could therefore orient their "value" offering to eliminate most perks as long as turning around the plane quickly (a key to their strategy) did not result in late departures.

Most of Southwest Airlines' approach helps to ensure that they can turn planes around quickly and still achieve one of the best on-time records in the industry. Nevertheless, their strategy has been devilishly difficult to implement. In fact, Herb Kelleher repeatedly has taunted his competitors to try his approach because he knows how difficult it is.

Difficult-to-execute strategies are not bad; in fact, they are excellent. "Difficult to replicate" equals "long-term competitive advantage." The history of companies attempting to copy Southwest Airlines is filled with failures, and I can only think of one partial success (Alaskan Airlines).

The great moment for the market research professional is the moment at which the strategy has been set, and the company is desperate for more information on what the customer is or is not willing to give up to get the benefit your company now offers. If you're offering a complete ecosystem of products that work seamlessly together, is the customer willing to give up in-person service? If you're offering the same product as competitors for half the price, is the customer willing to order direct instead of going through a distributor? If you're offering unparalleled service, is the target customer willing to pay a premium price and still give up ever going into a physical store? Market research can and should be spending money to find out these secrets.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Is Strategy?

Having just finished presentations for Vocollect's strategic planning efforts this year, I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite business articles, Michael Porter's "What Is Strategy?" (You can find a free copy here apparently.) In a nutshell, Porter argues that strategy is a set of inter-related and mutually reinforcing decisions about what to do and not to do. Companies that try to execute two strategies at once often pay a "straddling penalty" because the two strategies compete for resources and detract from each other. Take a look at the diagrams, in particular, which I have found wonderfully instructive for explaining how good strategy works.

Back when I was in the paint industry, Benjamin Moore had an excellent strategy:
  1. Target the residential repainter.
  2. Sell through dealers only (no home centers, no company-owned stores).
  3. Market to consumers as "high-design, high-fashion, color-forward."
Each of these decisions had implications and mutually reinforcing benefits. Targeting the residential repainter meant making the paint easy to apply, high coverage, and fast to dry. In fact, Benjamin Moore's highest-end paint dries so fast that regular consumers can't even use it because they paint too slowly. The company seems to have skimped a bit on the qualities that consumers value such as ability to wash the walls without leaving marks, but residential repainters don't care about these qualities. Selling through dealers enables full support for the design aspects that consumers value. The high-design positioning justifies the higher price at the dealer as well as making consumers tend to ignore the less appealing functional qualities of the paint in favor of the design knowledge.

I often look at technologies in our industry and wonder why nobody has tried to own a strategy in RF scanning devices. They are really just sold as commodities, but the supply chain market has room for a number of potential strategies:
  • The "Dell" strategy: go direct, reduce cost and inventory, become a "fast follower" on technology, customize orders prior to shipment, compete on price.
  • The "Apple" strategy: sell through proprietary network of high-value consultants, work really hard on the user interface, make the devices intuitive for users, solve problems in the supply chain with easy-to-download "apps" for the devices, provide a robust ecosystem of matching applications (printers, device management software, etc.), limit inter-operability to require the entire ecosystem and provide benefits for using all one vendor's ecosystem.
  • The "Sub-Zero" strategy: go super up-market, provide extraordinary value for a premium price, sell through a network of carefully chosen partners with only the best knowledge base, focus only on niche applications that cannot take a commodity scanner.
I would be hard-pressed to explain any RF scanner's strategy in this space although many have a positioning. Consequently, none of the vendors seem to be making lots of money with RF scanning. Fortunately, I believe that our parent company Intermec has some of the best technology and thinking in the field and has the ability to create a break-out strategy that could win some serious market share and profits. Maybe I'll send them the article.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Rethink Marketing

Immediately after watching Rebecca Soni's gold medal win on NBC that set the new world record in women's 200M breaststroke at 2:19.56, I saw an AT&T advertisement. A girl with wet hair walks out of her bedroom watching the same gold medal win on her mobile phone. She hears the new world record, pauses for a moment, and then writes on a whiteboard near the front door, "GOAL: 2:19.56."

AT&T's advertising agency must have figured out how to put this ad together between the NBC taping in the afternoon and the final in the evening, but from the viewer's perspective it seemed instantaneous. The tagline, "rethink possible," was a double entendre, talking about rethinking the goal and about rethinking what's possible in instantaneous media.

The genius of the ad was the fact that I am talking about it at all. In fact, I told my wife, my son and several people at work about it. Can you say that about any other advertisement you saw during the Olympics?

The first rule of advertising is to make sure people remember you. Without recall, the ad was a waste of money. Thinking creatively about how to get attention in this media-saturated era will grow in importance over time. Today, at least, AT&T seems to have figured it out.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The One Thing

What's the one thing that makes it as clear as day why your product or service blows away the competition? Today I discovered a great video we have at Vocollect that illustrates this idea. It's a side-by-side comparison of RF scanning versus Vocollect Voice(R). I'm planning to use this as a demonstration to an industry analyst who is not really familiar with our solution and what it can do for distribution center productivity, accuracy and labor management. Skip to the two-minute mark to get the meat.

Personally, I think we should feature this video in almost every interaction we have with prospects. It illustrates the beauty and simplicity of voice even against a proven, nearly ubiquitous technology. The video allows someone who has no experience with our technology to see immediately why we slaughter competitive technologies in most head-to-head comparisons.

I would challenge any brand, product or service to come up with a similar comparison. The best brands often do. I remember a series of great Jeep advertisements many years ago that showed a series of scenarios in which the only way to get to the location was in a Jeep (the best of which was the site of an SUV commercial in which the director wanted to get the SUV on top of a mountain, and the company was going to fly it in--following which the director drove back down the mountain in his Jeep).

If your company doesn't have a great side-by-side comparison, part of your marketing stratetgy needs to be finding the change that you can make that might illustrate the difference. We're going through such a strategy exercise right now to help us determine the next great comparison Vocollect will be able to make. Even though we own the market right now, it is never too soon to find the next great "one thing" that will destroy your competition. And we would rather find it ourselves than have our competitors do so.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Startup Marketing

Today, I'm super excited about Opera Theater of Pittsburgh's Summer Fest. We took my kids to The Magic Flute on Sunday afternoon. I wasn't expecting much, as this opera company is the smaller and lesser-known one in Pittsburgh. (Can you believe my awesome adopted city has not one but two opera companies?) I was blown away by the quality of the singing, the excellence of the orchestra, and the overall quality of the production and inventiveness of the staging.

Unfortunately, the house was perhaps one-third empty. This problem got me thinking about startup marketing. How would I have known about the terrific quality of this production except by word of mouth? This is the first summer that Opera Theater of Pittsburgh is performing a summer series, so that might explain the lack of knowledge. Their basic marketing was clearly on target; I found out about the performance by direct mail. I assume the opera company got my information from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's shared database. But what about other targets such as people who live in or near Fox Chapel where the performance took place?

These days, a lot of startups wishing to expand quickly are using social crowdsourcing deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social. If you have a business with expiring inventory, such as a theater with a limited number of seats or an event that can't make you money once the date has passed, these services can be an excellent option as long as they don't degrade the experience of higher-paying customers by making the large crowd an unpleasant experience. Startups have to take care that they are able to meet the demand, however. I had an experience with a lawn service recently that had to refund me the money because they could never make it out to mow. That's worse than no marketing at all.

A better potential approach is to rely on your existing best supporters. For Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, what about a campaign to give season ticket holders free tickets if they sign up a certain number of friends? Or for us, a discount on next weekend's performance of Candide if we bring four other friends? Or even just a simple plea to existing supporters to Facebook, blog or tweet about the summer series based on their loyalty to the brand?

Right now, we're trying to leverage these relationships at Vocollect. As the industry leader in voice-directed distribution center work, we have a lot of extremely happy customers who are willing to serve as references and/or refer us to other potential customers. It's a lot easier than finding and convincing companies who have never heard of us, and it tends to lead to more like-minded companies and therefore better sales close rates on new deals. All that's required is some database work, internal coordination and a commitment from the executive team that "share of wallet" matters.

For early-stage companies, that means getting a few great wins and wowing those customers with your service and abilities. It's not an easy task, but some of the fastest-growing companies that have survived for a long time seem to take this coddling of early customers to heart. That's an attitude even seasoned companies can use.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Free Advertising

I clicked on CNN this evening and saw Wolf Blitzer using a Mac and a custom light (to light him up in TV style) with an open back. In the opening, you can make out Energizer batteries. What great exposure for these two brands for free on a site with millions of daily exposures! I wondered casually whether Energizer had a deal with CNN because it looked like that light could use a battery cover.

We have a lot of debate within Vocollect about how prominent our logo should be on Talkman(R) wearable computers and our speech recognition headsets. My view is that the name and logo are free advertising anytime our partners (or even our competitors on occasion) show a mobile worker wearing the Vocollect Voice(R) solution. Why sacrifice this free exposure? Sometimes we even see our logo on customer equipment in their promotional materials or in news articles covering that customer, resulting in some free recognition even among customers who would otherwise decline to provide us a reference.

This thinking came to mind a few weeks ago when I saw that one of our competitors chose a distinctive color for their equipment recently. Now personally I would not have chosen pink for a user community that is at least two-thirds male, but I solute their valiant efforts to get their brand image out there, visible and recognizable. They just need a new brand image consultant. And maybe some improved speech recognition capabilities. And perhaps a product that integrates more easily with WMS software. Then they might have a viable brand on their hands!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Research Nobody Hears

I just returned from Gartner's 2012 supply chain conference, one of 63 of these kinds of events they will hold this year alone. It's a three-day slog that extends to five days when I added a Sunday night meeting with the analysts (requiring me to leave Pittsburgh at 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning) and a Thursday return flight to avoid the red-eye. Highlights: I met lots of interesting executives, talked to some potential prospects and danced to the hotel band's excellent renditions of Lady Gaga and the Black-Eyed Peas.

As for the meeting content itself... I was less than impressed. I averaged about two insights per hour, which does not nearly meet my goal number. Even the session on results of the "2011 End-User Wants and Needs Survey" underwhelmed me. Come on, Gartner analysts, you have an entire study with enough sample size to do interesting cross-tabs, and all you can produce for me is four data slides? Ultimately, the lack of data, combined with the persistent "talk at me" format of which Vocollect is as guilty as Gartner, got me to thinking about market research.

I have produced many studies with great insights over my ten years in market research and five years in consulting. Sometimes, I couldn't get people together to discuss the results. Other times, I couldn't interest the key decision-makers in implementing the clear recommendations from the research even when those same decision-makers requested the study in the first place. Still other times, someone else presented the results of the research in a way that obscured some significant findings.

In each of these cases, we were almost better off having not done the research at all because market research that does not get communicated or used is essentially just empty spending. The results stay hidden, so the company ends up failing to act based on customer wants and needs as opposed to acting on instinct and experience. Keeping those failures in mind (my own and others'), I humbly offer several suggestions for getting research noticed:
  1. Schedule several times to present the research to different audiences. One research presentation is not enough. Finance wants different insight from sales who want different insight from marketing. Cut the data several different ways and show it to each audience with cross-tabs that answer their particular questions.
  2. Bring up the research at every opportunity. Schedule meetings. Send out blast e-mails. Write internal white papers. Invite yourself to meetings on the same topic as the research even when you might not be welcome. Talk about the research at staff meetings. Promise custom cuts of the data based on hallway discussions. Be unavoidable until the insights stick.
  3. Help to operationalize the findings. Although it will be more difficult to present a case study or working group format, you will see much better implementation. Turn the research into a project in your meeting (e.g., "Let's break into three groups and brainstorm changes we're planning to make based on the findings. In 20 minutes, we'll regroup and discuss which ones we can implement right away and which ones we can change over the long term.")
  4. Revisit key questions. Did the research raise additional questions you can answer through informal qualitative work? Go do it yourself, use your staff or salesforce or current customers to do so, or leverage other past research to answer these questions. This strategy has the added benefit of gaining buy-in for future spending if necessary.
  5. Pester the senior executives. The division VP missed your briefing? Schedule one with her yourself as a one-on-one. If she's game, I guarantee that 30 minutes will go further to result in operationalizing results than many of the suggestions above.
  6. Archive the work in a public place. Make the research easy to refer back to, especially by the people who will be doing the groundwork later. If you can get them to attribute the reasoning by quoting or sourcing your study, it will be even better.
Speaking of which, I think I owe our new SVP and General Manager a call. I don't think he's seen my past year of work yet.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Allow me to toot my own horn for a minute. I completed the Pittsburgh Marathon last Sunday in 5 hours, 15 minutes and 22 seconds. (The last stretch of time-consuming training runs also partly explains my absence of posts for a bit.) I ran just about the speed I had planned.

Two things struck me about the run:

1. Outdoor advertising is really noticeable to the 25,000 running the race and probably to the thousands of people watching (thanks for the cheering--it really helped). Something makes me think this particular type of advertising is on the expensive side on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis, but the impact should not be underestimated.

2. Running a marathon for the first time is not unlike putting together a good marketing plan.

I took a lot of the same steps in preparing to run a marathon that I would in marketing. I started with a clear goal. I read about other people who had accomplished the goal and used existing tools to set my expectations and revise my goal for realism. I set out a schedule to accomplish the goal using existing templates from respected sources and adjusting them to my purposes instead of starting from scratch. I researched the best online tools to help me on my way, started with the free ones to save money, and adjusted my tool usage based on my needs along the way (such as paying for professional medical help for my knees about 80% of the way through the training). I purchased strategic assets necessary to move forward (such as toe caps to keep my toenails from falling off) and leveraged existing information online and from experts to solve problems (such as getting the best knee-strengthening training exercises).

It is amazing what one can accomplish with planning and a lot of effort. When all was said and done, the marathon was hard but a good match for my expectations at the start of the race. If I compare my approach to some of the flailing around I have witnessed in marketing departments I have consulted to in the past, I think matching expectations and achieving the goal is all you could ask of a big project.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Confusing Questionnaires

The new Disney movie Chimpanzee is out in theaters, and it got raves from CinemaScore, a market research firm that rates films based on feedback from opening night viewers. This approach ostensibly helps the studio decide how much additional money to put into advertising.

I saw a funny quote in a news article recently about the film:

On a curious note, 5 percent of CinemaScore participants said a main reason for attending the film was its "lead actor." Were they referring to the film's two lead apes? Or narrator Tim Allen? Even stranger, 1 percent listed "lead actress" as their reason for buying a ticket -- and that 1 percent gave the movie a harsh "B-" grade. Clearly those individuals were upset by the documentary's lack of actresses.

My take is this: this is a questionnaire problem, not a viewer confusion problem. Take a look at the CinemaScore questionnaire card as shown at Wikipedia. It reveals a very simple, paper-based form, the major features of which is a grade from "A" to "F" a la a student report card. From this card, I conclude the following things:
  • The focus of the card is on the overall rating, suggesting that the other data will be less than perfect. This approach is appropriate for the purpose of the card but also subject to misinterpretation by uneducated interpreters. Conclusion: always be wary of the potential misinterpretation of your data once it gets out of your hands.
  • The form of questionnaire and sampling technique (paper-based intercept survey) does not allow much flexibility for the interview, resulting in some strange question choices--hence the problem in the quote above about "lead actor." Conclusion: take survey results through the lens of how well the survey actually matches the customer behavior.
  • The CinemaScore system purportedly does a good job of its primary purpose: predicting the box office success of films. Conclusion: don't necessarily change your market research approach because the data look skewed.
I learned this last lesson in spades when I helped to revise the Paint Consumers Research Program questionnaire a few years ago. The previous questionnaire had asked "brand purchased" as an open-ended question, resulting in some people saying they purchased Behr paint at Lowe's, where the brand is not currently available. We tried to fix this problem by prompting respondents to answer the store first and then showing only brands that were available through that store.

The new approach helped, but I only realized after we launched the survey that we failed to add a "don't know" option to both the store list and the brand list. Thus, if you chose "Lowe's" when you really shopped at Home Depot, you would not see "Behr" and potentially have some of the same confusion the original survey had. My take-away was to take care in the future not to dismiss automatically the results of a survey just because some of the results were skewed. Because sometimes the "fix" can cause new problems as well.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

De Facto Standard

What do Google, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Xerox and Vocollect have in common? At some point in their brand history, each of these companies have become the de facto standard in their industry. Achieving this goal requires having a vastly superior product and/or some major network effects.

What can you do with this market position? One excellent strategy (shown at left) is to remind your prospects that you are the industry standard. This strategy works effectively in part because any customer, especially in the B2B setting, wants to mitigate risk. Customers are risk-averse for human reasons, not just business reasons. The average individual wants to be a hero for picking the right solution rather than a goat for picking the solution that doesn't work.

In essence, reminding customers that you are the industry standard is not inwardly-focused marketing (which would be a bad idea). Rather, the idea is to remind prospective buyers that nobody ever got fired for buying Vocollect Voice(R). That's not something our competitors can say, by the way.

Sometimes, the de facto standard occurs because there were not other options to choose, but I have found more often that the de facto standard is, frankly, better.

Monday, April 2, 2012

International Brand Names Redux

What did I say about careful international brand naming?

Powergen...a great name in the United States. Not so great in Italy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Visionary Thinking

Roger Byford founded Vocollect 25 years ago. Today, we look at the Talkman(R) device and think, "It's just another wearable computer." We have smart phones that do 100 times more than this little thing, cost less (albeit for much less rugged use) and work in such a user-friendly way. But imagine what it took to start this company 25 years ago.

Just to remind you, this was the age in which Steve Jobs was just leaving Apple to start NeXt Computer. In which Robert Tappan Morris was just unleashing the first major network-crashing virus. In which people were jazzed about IBM's new Silverlake line of midrange computers. In other words, not an era in which many people were thinking about wearables and the future of the supply chain.

In fact, I told Roger today that if he had come up to me in 1988 and described his business, I would have probably thought him a complete crackpot. "You're going to design a computer that you wear that listens to the worker in the middle of a noisy distribution center, understands what he says, and then tells him what to do and where to go on the basis of that speech recognition?"

The success of this company just shows me what "future vision" really means. I stopped by the third floor display case today that contains one of those first Mercury wearable device models. It's impressive, both because of its size and because of the audacity of its vision. And here we are two decades later talking about the shrinking market in our grocery business... because Vocollect already has 80% of the Supermarket Top 75 using our product.

What's your vision of the future? Automated guided vehicles that pick full truckloads and then drive them (driverless) to the store? Self-guiding packages that move themselves into position in the supply chain? Because if you're thinking about something like recently purchased Kiva Systems, I believe you that may be looking too near into the future. The big winners are going to be products from the visionaries like Roger who see the possibilities more than two decades ahead and then have the audacity, persistence, skills and sheer guts to fulfill those possibilities.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Category Management Bonanza!

I have had an unbelievable number of headhunter calls recently looking for category managers. It seems a lot of companies, especially in the B2B space, have finally gotten serious about getting the right portfolio of products set up at the right prices in the right channels.

If you're looking for someone like this, I have news for you: it's gonna cost you. My former employees are almost all making six-figure salaries or close to it, and they have 8-10 years less experience than I do. Talent in this particular category is just getting hard to find, and the value they bring is commanding some serious cash.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Another One Bites the Grass

Title of today's post comes from one of my favorite books from business school, Another One Bites the Grass: Making Sense of International Advertising by Simon Anholt, a former advertising exec. One of the points he makes in the book is the danger of problematic brand names in the international sphere. He mentions many famous stories such as the idea that Coca-Cola meant "bite the wax tadpole" in Mandarin and was therefore changed to sound more like "makes the mouth happy." But he also mentions a few I had never heard such as the Chevy Nova, which means "Chevy doesn't go" in Spanish.  A nice cold Pschitt, anyone?

I thought of this problem today when I saw a travel post including the product to the left. Wash your clothes in Barf! Smells clean and fresh!

We face this problem at Vocollect due to a name someone chose many years ago. Voice...collect...Vocollect. Makes sense in English, right? But in Spanish "colec" means "collective" (not bad) and "colect" means "garbage collector" (not so hot). In French, the sound is like "collection of calf" (also not so hot). Then there is the Talkman device. In Norwegian, the word "tok" means "building," which is not bad I guess considering that our product is used in large buildings.

When naming a product, some basic research on Google Translate might be in order. I personally favor made-up brand names. Google is a good example, an easier-to-spell bastardization of the number "googol." Alternatively, consider a brand name with positive associations in major romance languages if you ever plan to expand to Canada or Mexico, our largest trading partner in the U.S. The brand name "Liberto" would sound a little like "liberty" in English, Spanish, and French, and it would be fairly defensible trademark because it's a made-up word.

When I run the zoo, that's just what I'll do.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Employment Branding

Fortune magazine's most admired companies list for 2012 is out. Ever wonder why Disney is #13 on "most admired" but does not even appear on Fortune's list of best companies to work for in the United States? The reason is a gap between the corporate brand and the "employment brand."

Just as a brand helps make positive associations for the product for potential consumers and a corporate brand helps make positive associations for a company's products under the corporate umbrella, an employment brand makes positive associations for the consumers of the company's jobs. In this case, the "consumers" are potential employees, and the "product" is the jobs they are advertising at the time.

Just like a regular brand, your employment brand helps you with the four P's of marketing, in this case the product being the job itself and company culture, the price being pay and benefits, the place being the realms through which you promote jobs such as LinkedIn Jobs and, and the promotion being the materials you use to talk about the company (e.g., Website) and even ways you talk about the company during the interview process itself. Each item has a potentially significant impact on the talent you can attract.

Changes to these four areas don't just happen by accident. At Vocollect, for example, we have an innovative way to interview prospective candidates on the "visit day" that makes the process smoother and faster for applicants. This process helped me understand our collaborative and innovative culture and helped attract me to the company. Other elements of the "product" such as the game room with pinball and ping-pong tables helped position the company as still a cool tech company despite our relative maturity.

Employment branding is a critical consideration for HR in an era of competition for some of the most skilled positions. If you disagree with me, someday try hiring a skilled product manager with a degree in computer science and experience in a full cycle product development process from concept to launch. You'll find it's not as simple as just paying more than the competition. In fact, I know some engineers who just ignore the recruiter calls these days because, despite the potentially better pay, they just "can't be bothered" given how well-paid and happy they are right now.

Understanding where HR falls short requires some serious market research among the target hire population. To my amazement given this talent shortage, in my experience there are only a few research companies thinking seriously about this topic.  One is Gallup, the polling-organization-turned-consulting-firm, which has devoted an entire practice to employment branding. Another is Kenexa, a consulting firm that specializes in the topic. Global firms such as Ipsos seem to have pockets of interest in employment branding worldwide, most notably in the UK office.  Maritz Research has clearly done work in this area but doesn't highlight it very well.

So here's my challenge to some of the "big guns" out there: trumpet your employment branding market research better on the Web, in articles and even in the comments below. There is a latent market out there waiting to improve companies' hiring processes. And improving the interview processes and the jobs themselves for all of us who are occasionally in the job market.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Category Management in B2B

Lately, I am seeing a lot of advertisements (and hearing a fair amount from recruiters) for category manager positions at business-to-business companies. There seem to be a shortage of these folks with the kind of B2B experience I have; rather, the applicants all come out of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. I think many business marketing organizations have finally realized that the product proliferation and price confusion is neither helping them increase sales nor helping their customers find the right solution. One need only look for products on Motorola's website to see how hard it is to find the right products among the category clutter...and this from one of the companies in our industry that has it organized well.

The main differences in my mind between CPG category management and B2B category management are as follows:
  • Many B2B companies have multiple products that have to be sold as an integrated solution, making SKU rationalization more complicated;
  • So many different B2B deployment environments (compared with relatively few different retail formats) require countless variations of what would otherwise be almost exactly the same SKUs;
  • Configuration is de rigeur versus low configurability (except for private label goods) in CPG;
  • Declaring "end-of-life" for products is harder, as the installed base for products from the distant past may continue to be sizable and upgradability for these customers can be difficult;
and last but certainly not least:
  • Salespeople have much more influence over marketing than in CPG companies, in which marketing is general management.
This last point marks the crucial difference between the B2B category manager and the CPG category manager. The B2B category manager must constantly determine how to sell category changes to the distributors, systems integrators, channel partners, and even their own salesforce. In contrast, the CPG category manager largely relies on data from the retail channel and takes that data to the sales team to show them why they decided to make a change.

Ironically, both the lack of B2B end-user data and the relative power of the sales team means that B2B company category managers end up less focused on the actual end-user needs than in CPGs. Hopefully the emergence of demand for B2B category management experts indicates a change towards more end-user focus. I personally hope the rise of this group as a real discipline (already showing up years ago in industry leaders like W.W. Grainger and John Deere & Company) will mean that B2B product sets will become more user-friendly over time, which will be a real relief to those of us who have to order them, configure them, and use them on a daily basis.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The One P of Marketing

You remember the four P's of marketing: product, price, place, promotion. Increasingly, I believe that marketing will be about the one P of marketing: product. The increasing transparency of the Interwebs and such makes it much easier to find out, say, the top voice-directed distribution center company. And to find information about that product's benefits and downsides.

Witness my recent discovery of, the completely private search engine that has benefited immensely from Google's questionable decision to reduce privacy protections. How hard will it be for millions of Google customers to find this option? And how many people, like me, will direct friends and colleagues to competitors when they don't like a product decision their company has made?

These observations all lead me to my product experience today with Google, a day prior to the vaunted privacy policy changes. Today, I searched for "Barack Obama" and got in my top results a post from my brother-in-law on G+ that said, "Yum." and had nothing at all to do with Barack Obama. [I clicked on it out of curiosity, probably making my future results worse since Google is tracking my responses.]

Basically, Google has begun to fail me in the exact area that caused me to abandon AltaVista in the first place so many years ago: superior product. In an instant, I lost respect for my favorite search engine and began to question whether they have, in a nutshell, begun to make their product spew chunks. I probably won't abandon Google search right away, but I'll begin looking at DuckDuckGo more often and maybe hunt around for some other options. This reaction is just the kind of adverse loyalty behavior every brand wants to avoid.

On a brighter note, I'm more excited than ever about a product Vocollect has coming out later this year. I got to try it out today, and I'm a real believer. I think it's a game changer. If it is, you will be hearing a lot more about it (especially if you're in the distribution center business) because in this day and age, customers talk. In this day and age, great products only sometimes catch on, but poor products... and great products turned bad by poor marketing decisions... almost always fail.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Benchmarking Performance (AKA Why Vocollect Rocks)

I spent the first five years of my career at a company that purports to do benchmarking and best practices. Really a lot of what they do is profile innovative case studies of leading companies and then help other companies (their clients) understand how to replicate these practices. Nevertheless, I also did some real benchmarking as well, and I can tell you: it's a gigantic pain.

There's the problem of getting consistent responses over time. There's the problem of different customers not measuring the same things. There's the problem of customers measuring the same things differently. There's the problem of accounting properly for exogenous variables, such as equipment depreciation cost. There's the problem of aggregating the data in a way that's meaningful for the customers who gave you the data in the first place while still hiding specific participants' performance.

Often I have found that benchmarking is extremely valuable despite all the problems. Back when I worked on bank operations benchmarking, for example, we found out that productivity at check processing operations starts to decline somewhere around 250 million checks per year, probably due to the dominance of the three evil C's of operations (chaos, confusion, congestion) after that volume. We also found no practical limit to cost improvement in ACH operations at any scale, explaining why Norwest Bank (later Wells Fargo) dominated the ACH processing business.

I mention this value because I found out this week how Vocollect's superior speech recognition for distribution centers has been effective in replacing our competitors in a number of installations in Australia. Although the engineering team has been resisting putting our speech engine up to a benchmark test versus the competition due to the difficulty of benchmarking, I believe it's time to do so. We are really the only speech recognition engine that works in a loud distribution center environment. Perhaps it's time to prove it despite the pain.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nobody Knows Your Product Exists

Periodically, I am asked to find out how much prospective customers of the companies for which I'm working know about the company's products. I'm always amazed at how little they typically know. I am also typically astounded how much the executive team thinks our customers and prospects know about us.

After so many years, however, this knowledge chasm no longer surprises me. It's natural for us to imagine our market knows about us and follows our every move--after all, we spend all of our time thinking about our company. Why shouldn't the prospect or customer do so too?

Put yourself in the customer's shoes for a moment. If you're reading this blog, you probably work at a company and perhaps have a say in some of the things that company buys. How much do you really know about any of your vendors? Does it come near to the amount you know about your own product or service?

Years ago, I worked at Dollar Bank, a regional bank with a fairly large customer base among small businesses. My boss talked about a particular small business owner who was also a private banking customer. He called his Relationship Manager one way to rail against us for not being available by phone on the weekends. He hadn't realized that we had phone banking, despite the fact that we had implemented weekend hours in the telephone banking center fifteen years earlier. And touted those hours on marketing materials. And on the website. And in every single bank statement. And in mailing inserts. And in TV commercials.

I believe that many companies think that if they have a great product, it will eventually sell itself the way Google and Facebook have done. I disagree. Google and Facebook are the exceptions that prove the rule: almost nobody knows your product exists. Proving the rule are companies like my current company Vocollect, which has a proven product that has saved money at almost every single one of the thousands of user sites where we have implemented and yet continues to face prospect skepticism. It's a proven solution that will boost productivity at any distribution center at least 10% and usually more like 20-30%, and yet I hear every day from prospects and even some current customers about objections to sale that are just plain wrong, as proven at the >80% of the top 75 US/Canada grocery retailers who are Vocollect customers.

I thought about this lack of prospect knowledge recently when I heard about Asana, the company former Facebook founder Dustin Moskovitz started. By all accounts, when I go to the Website, it looks like a pretty cool company. Whether it will be successful, I think, depends at least partly on whether anybody ever learns that it exists. Based on a cursory look at their staffing in the marketing area and from their apparent marketing efforts, I think they believe in the Google/Facebook non-model for marketing.

Good luck, Dustin.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Beware Vendor Metrics

I was reading about the end of the TV show House earlier today, and I saw this little tidbit in the article:
House‘s current eighth season ratings have remained solid, particularly for a drama airing at 8 p.m. The Monday night show averaged 9.8 million viewers and a 3.9 rating in the adult demo this season through early January when including seven days of DVR playback.
Since when should advertisers consider DVR playback? The DVR portion of the of audience adds only 16% to raw in-time viewing Gross Rating Points (GRP) according to this Nielsen study of DVR usage (as quoted in the New York Times). Let's say for the sake of argument that this particular show, like others, has 40% of the audience using a DVR. If that's the case, the real viewership was:

9.8 million * (1 - 40%) = 5.9 million * (1 + 16%) = 6.8 million

If (as an advertising buyer) you based your effective cost per thousand viewers (CPM) on the 9.8 million, you were over-paying by over 44%.

The misrepresentation probably stems from the network's presentation of their own overblown statistics. I have learned over the years to be highly skeptical of any vendor's own statistics, and in my own work for Vocollect, Inc. I try hard to provide our own customers an independent validation of statistics we quote on our truly superior products. The article mentioned above offers just one more reminder to smart market research analysts and marketing data consumers: examine the sources and rely on your own brain when using external data.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Don't Forget the Benefits

I'm weighing in with my favorite Super Bowl spot. I liked the commercial featuring the car buyer with an extra head sprouted out of his back. "Sorry, that's my confidence. It's been coming out a lot lately ever since I compared prices on"

There's not a lot of mumbo-jumbo here. Ability to compare cars and prices = greater confidence in the buying decision. The funny and catchy imagery (not to mention the singing head) get our attention, and the setup delivers the product benefit.

I can barely name the benefits in some of the other ads. Dependable Chevy trucks and... now I'm coming up short. It seems that many of the companies forgot either to make the ads memorable or to remind us of the chief product benefit.

I have seen lots of criticism of the ad, which leads me to my main point: once you have an ad that delivers some audience attention and the product benefit, you're about halfway done. It may be tempting in the research to eliminate ads that score very high on positives but also very high on negatives, but these polarizing ideas in the market research are often the best in delivering outcomes. A salute to for ignoring the potential detractors and delivering a commercial that makes me want to use to shop for cars.

A last note: one key measure of an advertisement's success is its repeatability. Judging how much that annoying singing head's music got into my brain, the repeatability measure may be a problem here. I'll tell you in a few weeks whenever I stop hearing , "I wanna buy that car!" over and over in my head.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Romney Vs. Perry Vs. Santorum

It has been quite interesting following the Republican nomination contest in Iowa... from a marketing analytics perspective.

In marketing terms, Mitt Romney ran a traditional advertising campaign, which in politics involves local fieldwork, TV advertising, typical campaign stops and a focus on comparing yourself with the leading brand (in this case, President Obama). Rick Santorum ran a contrarian campaign, doing lots of local events and little organizing, spending very little on advertising, focusing on a highly differentiated message and generally avoiding the traditional political marketing. Rick Perry, I can only assume, ran my kind of campaign based on statistics and advanced analytics. (If Perry missed in Iowa, I will be interested to see if the lack of analytical rigor has anything to do with it.)

In my inexpert opinion, both the Romney and the Santorum approaches worked for exactly the reasons we would expect in marketing. In Romney's case, the #2 brand can benefit with a traditional approach if the focus is on beating down the #1 brand. In Santorum's case, a little-known brand can often benefit even more by going against the grain, making a spectacle in a very different style than the industry leaders and using more guerrilla-style tactics to gain advantage.

I'll be interested to see if Santorum can adapt to the #3 brand position quickly. And whether either the Romney or Santorum brands can withstand a Microsoft-like onslaught of money from the leading Obama brand.