Archive | January, 2010

Yep, you can judge a book (or your oatmeal) by its cover

26 Jan

You can judge a book by its cover because it is what initially attracts you to even pick it up. In a bookstore with thousands if not millions of titles vying for your attention, a boring cover will make you pass it over. But the cover is also the title, and this is also why titles (and headlines) that grab your attention are so important.

However, I am not here to write about books today. What I want to talk about is packaging and how important it is.  Packaging helps sell a product, and yet, I bet, nine out of ten times, packaging design is NOT handled by the marketing department.

Sometimes, product packaging needs a redesign. Much has been written about Tropicana’s redesign (last year) where the familiar Tropicana interface was replaced with a minimalist approach, which some thought looked generic. Redesign is important, but companies need to be careful not to alienate their core buyers.

I am a huge McCann’s Irish Oatmeal fan. I have been eating it for years, and thus buying the boxes for a long time.  This is what I have always bought:

McCann's Irish Oatmeal Before Redesign

The other day, I was getting my supply of oatmeal, and I was momentarily confused when I saw this:

McCann's Irish Oatmeal Redesigned Packaging

Is this what I have always bought? It doesn’t look the same, nor does it tell me that it is a new packaging design anywhere. In fact, I think McCann’s not only redesigned the package but changed the contents slightly. And they did not bother to tell me. As I mentioned, I am a long time consumer of McCann’s and there was no indication of whether this was the same Quick Cooking Irish Oatmeal.

In any case, the moral is definitely, redesigns can be good, but tread carefully.  Don’t confuse your customers or you may lose them.

How you say it

20 Jan

We’ve all heard it before, “it is not what you say, but how you say it. ”  Well, in my opinion,  it is both. What you say is also important, but how you say it makes the difference in how it is received. One person who does not seem to understand or care about this is President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs.  Gibbs is forever being snarky, sarcastic and just plain unpleasant. I would lay bets that most, if not all, of the White House press corps despise his guts.

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In my opinion, Gibbs is one of the worst press secretaries I have ever seen. He can’t answer questions straight on, he uses big words he doesn’t seem to understand, but worst of all, he seems bored and above the job. This morning, I read a great column on Gibbs in the Washington Post, by Dana Milbank. Most of the time, Milbank’s own sarcasm and unpleasantness make his column a must-skip, so imagine my surprise when he points out his own apparent dislike of Gibbs’ snark. Here’s an excerpt from the column:

Gibbs acts as though he’s playing himself in the movie version of his job. In this imaginary film, he is the smart-alecky press secretary, offering zippy comebacks and cracking jokes to make his questioners look ridiculous. It’s no great feat to make reporters look bad, but this act also sends a televised image of a cocksure White House to ordinary Americans watching at home.

This is the most visible manifestation of a larger problem the Obama White House has. Many Obama loyalists from the 2008 race still seem, after a year on the job, to have trouble exiting campaign mode. They sometimes appear to be running a taxpayer-funded rapid-response operation

If Obama is sinking in the polls, and his agenda is failing (and now he has managed to lose a historically Democratic Senate seat, although that may have had more to do with the Democratic candidate’s lack of campaign skills –Read this great blog post on it by my friends over at Fresh Ground Communications). It may have something to do with HOW the White House is communicating its message, which is poorly.  Gibbs’ holier-than-thou approach to everything and everyone is not helping one bit. If Obama wants to regain some footing I would suggest he replace Gibbs with someone a bit kinder, a bit gentler.  Replace Gibbs with someone who gets that how you say things really does make a difference.

What are your thoughts? Do you like Gibbs? How about a poll:

Got clout?

18 Jan

I am not sure if it is just another way to establish your influence or another popularity measure on Twitter, but now there are several tools to measure your rank and influence on Twitter.

This post from CIO presents five options to measure your Twitter clout.:

Two other tools not mentioned in the article are:

I tested my score on a couple of these.  I liked both Twitter Grader and Klout,  although they do not coincide. According to Twitter Grader I have a 95 out of 100 whereas on Klout it is 25. Hmm…

I did not like Twitter Score.  Twinfluence tells you who has the most followers and does not really help you with your own effectiveness.

In my opinion, the most important measure for your communications effectiveness is how often you are being re-tweeted. If you share good material, people will share it.

Did you try any of the above? What is your take?

Is Twitter a High School for Adults?

14 Jan

There are followers and lists and getting many of each seems to be the focus for many people on Twitter.  Some people make pleas for more followers and then there is “Follow Friday” in which people recommend to their followers other people to follow.

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If this sounds a bit like a high school popularity contest, it is, for some people.  Many people use Twitter to give and get information and ideas, but there is a subset of people who use Twitter to prove their hotness/coolness/hipness/in-the-knowness.  These people go so far as to form cliques on Twitter, endlessly referencing their clique friends in every Tweet. They converse in public with each other and rarely engage with non-clique/inner circle people. Several of these people are “social media experts,” which is ironic since they are not being very social (I must credit Daria Steigman of Steigman Communications with this idea).

I have theories as to why Twitter becomes like a high school for these people but I won’t share them here.  It is important to remember what social networks are for, and that is to make it easy to create connection. If all you are doing on Twitter is sending shout-outs to your five closest buddies or endlessly promoting yourself, you are not using Twitter to its full potential. I can’t say that you are not using Twitter for what it is intended because I have no idea what its founder was thinking when he created the microblogging site.

Twitter is a great learning tool and it is a great sharing tool. It democratizes access and can really serve to mobilize people around causes. Eugene Robinson makes excellent observation in today’s Washington Post, saying:

Twitter and other networking sites are unfiltered by editors or other gatekeepers. They rely on the wisdom of the crowd to sort out what is accurate and what is not. To someone (like me) who has spent his career as a gatekeeper, this was tremendously unsettling — at first. During the Iran protests, I saw how quickly Twitter users identified misinformation that was being posted by government propagandists. The self-policing capability of the medium is impressive.

The other big difference is that social networking offers not just information, but also the opportunity to take action. Twitter users were able to work together to mask the identities of the Iranian demonstrators who were using the site to tell the world what was happening. Last night, along with the news from Haiti came suggestions for how the Twitter community could most effectively help the relief effort.

Is this “news” the way we used to think of it? No. But it’s news people can use.

Read complete article here.

To  those popularity hounds on Twitter I say put high school behind you.  If you have something worthwhile to say people will follow you no matter who your friends are or aren’t.

Personal marketing goals for 2010

11 Jan

Although I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I think January is a great time to set goals for oneself. You have a whole year ahead of you to meet those goals. And goals are tangible. You either meet them or not, whereas resolutions like “I want to be healthier” are vague.

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Here are some personal marketing goals:

  • Upload a headshot to LinkedIn
  • Answer at least one question a month on LinkedIn
  • Refine your LinkedIn headline
  • Increase your LinkedIn contacts by 25% (minimum)
  • Get business cards if you don’t have them
  • Update and polish your elevator speech and then practice it!
  • Attend networking events at least twice a month
  • Join a professional association
  • Join a committee or volunteer group
  • Start a blog if you don’t have one (Posterous is easy!) or post regularly on your existing blog

What goals are you setting for yourself?

The unmaking of Jay Leno/UPDATED

8 Jan

You may remember that back last spring a big announcement was made that Leno would be in prime time, every day at 10:00 p.m, and Conan O’Brien would have the Tonight Show. The idea seemed to be that Leno is pretty popular, and a variety show is cheaper to produce than say a quality show like Law & Order, so why not have Leno take up this real estate which had so long been the province of the good TV dramas.

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Well, the programming folks over at NBC are now discussing moving Jay Leno back to his original 11:35 p.m. spot, after the news.

Anyone could have told NBC that this would fail. In fact a TV station in Boston was going to refuse to run Leno, because they thought it would hurt their lead for the late night news. It did. They were right. NBC strong-armed their stations into accepting the Leno show by saying they would be dropped if they did not go along.

What this shows, in my opinion, is the isolated world that TV programming folks live in. It shows hubris. It shows lack of research and a lack of common sense. I think most people questioned whether Leno could succeed at the earlier hour. Especially, up against what ABC and CBS offer at that hour. Leno is about about late night humor. He is not Barbara Walters, up to interviewing all sorts of folks.

In the end, the Leno Show was not bringing in the viewers that the 11:00 p.m. news needed (a very profitable franchise). NBC was probably bleeding viewers at the 10:00 pm and 11:35 pm hours too (Conan was no Jay). Bottom line, it was costing money to produce a lower costing show.

What do you think?


Steven Pearlstein, columnist for the Washington Post hits the nail on the head regarding what NBC did in business terms. Read his column here.


6 Jan

We all have gone to see a movie that our best friend raved about only to find we thought it was just OK.  Same happens with restaurants that receive glowing reviews. What happens is that our expectations have been set too high and naturally, we are disappointed with reality.

It’s a like a present that is wrapped beautifully….what will be inside? Will it be better than its wrapping?

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Buzz is about forming expectations and then exploiting them.  Marketing people love buzz or WOM (word-of-mouth) because few things are as powerful as a recommendation from someone we know.

The down side of creating high expectations is having to deliver or even over-deliver on such expectations.  We can have stuff go very wrong when things don’t live up to expectations.

Lately, I have been paying attention to hotel websites and ratings. Usually, there is a picture of a perfect room. We don’t see anything wrong.  But what happens if we book this room, and show up at the hotel only to find that the bathroom is filthy, the carpets (which did not show up in the room picture) are grimy and the noise level is unbearable. What happens is that we are very unhappy. But what makes it worse is that we expected better.

Clearly there is a fine line to walk for marketing people. We have to create expectations  and we have to be able to meet them in a reasonable way.

Tastes differ of course, so what I absolutely love, you may hate. Humans are more forgiving of taste not being met, but with service and other issues that are quantifiable we are not so forgiving. For instance, I went to a restaurant with a friend. We both order the same thing, and I like it but she doesn’t. Taste  is at play (she prefers less spicy). However, we can both agree on the service (good), ambience (lovely), parking (difficult).

Marketing that succeeds creates high enough expectations to attract a customer without creating a situation that the customer may actually be upset. The latter happens a lot with sales. Stores run a sale, drawing customers expecting to get a great price on an item they really want. Expectations are not met and tempers are raised if the item is out of stock or is not as it appeared.

What do you do to create reasonable expectations? How do you navigate this  line?