Google+ The Marketing Survivalist: March 2009

AIG – What Would You Do?

Last week a poll was running on LinkedIn in which the question is asked, “Would you rebrand AIG?”

I responded to the question and then checked the current results. Frankly, I was amazed to see an even split between those who favored rebranding and those who didn’t. At the time I checked, it was 43% for each with a few “I don’t knows” tossed in to round it out.

My immediate reaction to this poll question was much more black and white. At first blush I couldn’t possibly imagine that rebranding AIG could be the right answer.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s put aside the history of how AIG got to where it is and whether or not the public reaction to AIG’s woes (and other companies like them) is justified or not. As all marketers know, perception is reality. This wouldn’t be the first company to be sacrificed, or at least wounded, at the altar of public opinion.

Anyway, what good would rebranding the company do? Did 43% of the people think that the public was stupid enough to be fooled by a new name and logo?

But later that evening I started thinking about my reaction. A company’s “brand” is not necessarily the same as their logo and name. Certainly that is one aspect of it, but it’s more about what that logo and name represent.

As one branding expert once explained to me, branding is all about a “promise of experience.” What do those that interact with AIG either as customers or shareholders expect to experience? (Should we include taxpayer’s in this?)

McDonald’s is the classic branding example used when I was back in school. The McDonald’s promise of experience is pretty much the same from Hong Kong to Hawaii. Yes, there is some variation in the menu based on local cultural tastes, but not much. Whether or not YOU care for the McDonald’s experience is irrelevant. This experience appeals to their core target market and it is the reason they have been successful for decades.

So back to AIG. Whether or not they need to rebrand depends on whether their promise of experience appeals to their target market. I’m not qualified to answer that since I’m not privy to their marketing strategy, but I can speculate that the brand has taken a hit with their core lately.

So, on second thought, I think they do need to rebrand. But, I would keep the name and logo. To change that while you’re changing the image of the company could easily appear deceptive. It’s the image of the company that needs to change and that’s a lot harder than changing a name and logo!

So what lessons can we learn from this? I could count on two hands the number of times someone in my career someone has suggested that we change the name of the product or the logo. (for clarification, not with my current employer) I think the AIG question emphasizes how irrelevant the name and logo is, when it comes to rebranding. If you don’t have a strategy for changing whatever perceptions need to be changed, rebranding won’t do a darn thing.

All the best!

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Champagne Taste, Beer Budget Part 2

Last week’s Friday Dilemma was about a marketer who leaves a well-funded company to take an executive level marketing position in a start-up. It’s a great opportunity for advancement, at least in title, for the individual. However, like many start-ups, marketing is not well-funded and the founders have unrealistic expectations about what they can expect from the marketing investments they have made.

Jack makes a couple of great points in his comment and I particularly want to call out the first one. It highlights a mistake that I see many marketers make when they join a smaller company.

Jack suggests a “dose of pragmatism” and to “have a realistic view of the financial condition.” I couldn’t agree more.

Even the largest companies have a limit to what they can spend on marketing. They may have more money, but they also have more places they need to spend it. Start-ups have it the hardest because the money tends to flow out faster than in. Even those with well-heeled investors aren’t usually given a blank check for marketing.

“How can I get the CEO to spend more on marketing” is a question I see asked all the time by marketers at all levels. While I think it’s a valid question, one has to realize that it has to be a realistic investment.

An executive at the level of the marketer in the story should understand how marketing ties into the P&L of the business and the need to balance priorities. Like a lot of tough situations that life throws at us, this is an excellent opportunity to learn.

If the marketer doesn’t have a good understanding of the P&L and business priorities, the regular meetings with the CEO that JML suggests may help. (CEOs tend to be big on the P&L!)

If you have another angle on Champagne Taste, Beer Budget, let us know.

All the best!

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No Need to Boil the Ocean

If you are continuously working on your craft, chances are you get a bit frustrated now and then with how far you are from perfection. Marketers who are honest with themselves could probably list a dozen things that they could do better. The perfectionist in most of us is tempted to try to work on everything at once – “to boil the ocean,” as they say.

While we should always try to do everything we do to the best of our ability, if you really want to make lasting improvements, I think you need to focus. Pick one thing that your organization, team, or even you can improve on and really work on it.

Let’s say your biggest weakness in your marketing strategy if your website. Taking a website from nothing more than a weak electronic brochure to the tool that is the centerpiece of your marketing strategy, is a monumental task for any marketer. To make matters more complicated, even though you rely on the website, it may not be under your control. Maybe it’s even the IT department that has ultimate responsibility for the site.

First learn everything you can about the area you have targeted for improvement – in this example you need to learn everything you can about what makes an effective website. Watch webinars. Read best practice white papers. Don’t be afraid to talk to marketing vendors who work on websites for a living. You can learn from them and you may even enlist one in your quest for the perfect website.

Share this learning with others in your organization, especially those whose help you will need to enlist in your quest for perfection. Share the learning not with an eye toward convincing them, but from learning together. Seek their opinions, not an opportunity to give them yours.

Then, together, map out a strategy that moves you to where you want to be. Sometimes small increments work best. Trying to do too much can wear out your colleagues and ensure that your efforts never get off the ground.
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Friday Dilemma - Champagne Taste, Beer Budget

I have to admit this is my favorite Friday Dilemma that I've come up with yet. I see a variation of this story over and over again on the marketing forums. I know I've personally faced a variation of this dilemma at least a couple times in my own career. Each time, I've handled things a little differently, but I'm never sure I handled it the best way I could.

I want to find out what you would do, so please respond.

Champagne Taste, Beer Budget

You’ve spent more than a decade working in the marketing department of a very well-known company with a reputation for outstanding marketing. Sure, they make mistakes, but for the most part you’ve learned a lot about how marketing should be done. Having worked in several different areas, you also have a well-rounded background in many aspects of marketing. It is the best start to a marketing career that you could possibly imagine.

Your one frustration is that you don’t seem to be able to move up within the organization. One day, opportunity knocks within a small start-up company looking to lead their marketing effort. You know that the company is strapped for cash as they are just getting the business off the ground. You’re even willing to take a pay cut and work longer hours just to be part of the management team. You’ll have a VP title and report directly to the CEO who is also one of the founders.

After you start in your new organization you begin to realize that the founders are engineers at heart. They really don’t have much experience with marketing, or much respect for the breadth and depth of the marketing function. However, they’ve also worked for large well-run organizations. In short, they understand what marketing can do, they just have no idea of the work it takes to get it done. They want all those glossy brochures, a snazzy logo, a top notch website, placement of your story in the best business publications, and more….they just don’t want to pay for it.

As you sit in your office contemplating your budget (which is about a tenth of what you need) and your staff of two hard-working marketers – fresh out of college, you wonder of you made the right choice.

What are your options? Should you look for a new position somewhere else? The job market isn’t looking too good right now. Should you try to get your old job back? You left on great terms with your former employer, but they aren’t hiring. Plus, you didn’t like your lack of advancement opportunities. Should you try to educate the CEO on what it takes to market a product in your industry? Should you just try to weather the storm and do your best?

What would you do?


P.S. You can still respond to my last two "Friday Dilemmas" if you're feeling like handing out a little career advice to the marketing world. As I mentioned in Wednesday's post, commenting on blogs is a great way to showcase your expertise!
Should You Say Something?
Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?

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7 Job-Hunting Strategies for Marketers - That Are Better Than Sending One More Resume

As of this writing we’re at roughly 8.1% unemployment. Sure seems higher, doesn’t it? As I look at my LinkedIn contacts, I would estimate that roughly 10% are actively looking for employment. Of course, many people don’t start working on their LinkedIn network until they need it. (Bad idea)

Beyond that, I estimate another 10% or so are nervous about the immediate future. Most companies are struggling to some extent and marketing cuts are often at the top of the list.

So, if you’re looking (or if you think you might soon be looking) chances are you have your resume ready. Hopefully, you have multiple resumes so that you can send the personal “brochure” that best fits. Maybe you even had them professionally prepared.

Aside from sending said resume(s) off to every single opening that you are mildly interested in (not always the best idea) what else can you do but sit and wait?

Here is a list of ten things you can do that would be far better than sending that resume off to jobs you don’t want or don’t stand a snowball’s chance of getting:

#1 Work on your LinkedIn network. Set a goal for yourself of expanding your network by at least one person a day. Have you sent invitations to all your current and former colleagues? Customers you’ve worked with? How about college roommates? I recently reconnected with two old friends that I haven’t spoken to in fifteen years. Their names just popped into my head one day and I said, “Hey, I wonder if they are on LinkedIn?” (Seriously, that was the first thing that came to mind!)

#2 Ask for references on LinkedIn. Ask the connections that have worked closely with you if they would be willing to write a reference for you on LinkedIn. Offer to do the same for them in return. Recruiters often check LinkedIn before they invite a candidate to interview. These references are crucial.

#3 Establish expert status on LinkedIn. Start answering questions on LinkedIn and eventually you will get enough people voting your answer as “best” to acquire expert status in the category. Candidates with expert status in two or three areas look far better than candidates with a generic LinkedIn presence.

Answering these questions has an added bonus. It makes you think about how you would handle various marketing challenges. These are the same sorts of questions that interviewers may ask. Answering questions on LinkedIn is almost like practicing for an interview.

Just remember that hiring managers can also see your answers to questions if they review your LinkedIn profile. It’s best to answer these questions every bit as carefully as you would a real interview question.

#4 Join a community on LinkedIn and get engaged in the discussion. LinkedIn discussion groups have come a long way in the last year. There is one on almost every conceivable marketing specialty. Joining is not enough, however. You need to actively participate in the discussions. If you can’t find the right group, you might want to consider starting one. (Groups that have nothing to do with your profession don’t count.)

#5 Blogging. If you have a hard time sticking to a regular schedule you might want to skip starting your own blog. A blog that has been neglected for weeks at a time may look worse than not having one at all. It could look like you have a hard time sticking to your projects.

Better yet, add comments to existing blogs. Bloggers really love it when people comment on their posts– personally, I am downright grateful. Just make sure that you clearly read the post that you are commenting on and that your comment is relevant. Again, you should also assume that any comments you make will be seen by future employers. You can sometimes comment anonymously if you have a nasty streak, but an anonymous post does nothing to improve your opportunities. Besides, why would you want to spread your issues to the internet?

#6 Other Forums. Participate in other forums such as Marketing Profs. It offers much of the same networking opportunities as LinkedIn plus some added educational resources. I believe that the depth of your involvement in forums like these counts far more than the number of forums you are involved in.

#7 Expand your network some more. As you expand your involvement in the online marketing community through forums like LinkedIn and MarketingProfs and through blogging, look for opportunities to expand your network on LinkedIn even further.

Personally, I don’t recommend sending an invitation to connect to everyone you see on a forum or every blogger who writes a decent post. The idea is to make a connection with these people by becoming a regular commenter on their blog or by reading their responses to questions on the forums. When you feel you have enough of a connection to invite them into your network on LinkedIn, send them an invitation. Make your invitation more inviting by writing your own personalized invitation instead of using LinkedIn’s standard invitation.

A final word to the wise
You’ll notice that none of these ideas have anything to do with asking anyone for a job. For example, I’m not suggesting that you send a LinkedIn invitation such as “Hi Bob! I’ve really enjoyed your answers on the PR forum on MarketingProfs and I’d really like to work for your company. Any openings?”

What these ideas will do is set you up to present yourself in a much more positive light the next time you send that resume to a post for a job that you really want in a company you really want to work for. Not only will the hiring manager have your carefully prepared resume, they’ll have LinkedIn references to review, responses to questions that help establish your expertise and carefully crafted comments on blog posts showing your deep engagement in your profession.

All the best!


P.S. If you have time, take a look at last week's "Friday Dilemma" and let us know what you would do. I think it is a particularly interesting and timely dilemma for many marketers. And, while I appreciate offline responses, I'd love to see some dialogue online as well!
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Friday Dilemma - Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?

As I mentioned last week, marketing is about more than mechanics. In my Friday Dilemma series, I will be presenting a series of situations that any marketer can easily find themself in. Often, these situations are less about marketing 101 and more about handling people. Sometimes, I'm hoping they have you asking, "where do I draw the line between right and wrong?" I think today's dilemma is one such situation and I hope the scenario makes you really think.

Before I introduce you to today's dilemma, I want to point out that these are not my scenarios. I got a very nice email after last week's post offering to talk with me offline to help me resolve my problem. Yes, I've certainly faced these scenarios in my career, but I have 20+ years of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly to draw from. These scenarios do not necessarily reflect my current situation. (thank goodness!)

Anyway, have some fun with this one. And please, share your thoughts and ideas if you are comfortable doing so.

Today’s Dilemma – Where do your loyalties lie?

You recently left one company to work for another. The company you left was down-sizing and, unfortunately, your number was up. But, you still left on good terms and remain friends with many of your former colleagues. You even get together with them for happy-hour every now and then.

Your former and current employers are head to head competitors. When you get together you’ve decided it’s best to avoid talking shop as much as possible. Your friends seem to feel the same way, although no one has ever really said so. There are certainly conversations about the industry and what’s going on with your mutual competitors, but usually no one talks about the inner workings of their own organizations – at least nothing that could potentially be damaging.

Then one day one of your friends has a rough day and lets it slip that one of the big accounts that he manages is shopping for a new vendor. He’s not sure he can save the account and, if they leave, it’s going to have an impact on him personally. He’s pretty bummed about it and is rambling on about why the customer is unhappy.

His admission leaves you speechless. You know your sales team would love to get into this account. You always thought the account was fairly satisfied with their current vendor so you had advised against targeting them. Now, based on what your friend has told you, you realize that the timing is perfect. You even know what buttons to push!

Is this information something you should use to the benefit of the company and your career, but to the detriment of your friend?
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First, Study Your Salespeople, Then Study Sales

On January 30th I wrote a post called Know Thy Other Customer. The “other customers” for those of you who missed it, and don’t intend to go back to it, are the sales people that you work with – and on behalf of. (If you are in marketing and you don’t think you work on behalf of sales, then you may want to rethink your career choice.)

For those of you who understand that the purpose of marketing is to drive sales, and that in a complex sale that usually gets done through salespeople, this is part 2 of that line of thought.

As stated in the first post, to be good at marketing you need to have a good understanding of how your salespeople perform their roles – the processes they follow (or don’t follow but are supposed to), their strengths and weaknesses, what obstacles they face, and their world in general. That said, not all salespeople are what I would consider an “expert” in sales. I mean no disrespect. I don’t consider myself an expert either.

So, in order to produce tools that help your salespeople sell effectively, you first study your salespeople, and then you study sales.

I probably subscribe to as many sales blogs as I do marketing blogs. I also regularly visit sites that specialize in sales training – many of whom have resources such as white papers and recorded presentations on sales techniques. See No Training Budget? No Problem? for some thoughts on taking responsibility through your own professional development by taking advantage of freely available resources on the internet. The same applies to your on-going sales education.

Your first priority should be whatever sales philosophy your sales organization subscribes to e.g. Miller Heiman, Spin Selling or whatever. But, don't stop there. Here are a few sites with great free sales resources.

Miller Heiman
Spin Selling
SellingtoBigCompanies Jill Konrath also has a great book by the same name.
TheSalesWars - This is a blog I ran across not too long ago. I'm not sure it will help you with specific ideas for selling, but I think you'll find the writing enjoyable and it may help you get into the mind of a salesperson.

If any of you out there know of other great sites, let us know. I’ll check them out and if the site is legit, add your comment to this post.

All the best!

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Friday Dilemma

Marketing is about more than mechanics. As marketers, we face situations everyday that call on us to ask, “What is the right thing to do?” Sometimes, the answer is obvious. Sometimes it takes a little more introspection.

In this new series of posts, I will pose some of the most common dilemmas I’ve seen in my career. I hope to ask the types of questions where the right thing to do is not so obvious and to get your perspective on how you would handle these situations.

Today’s Dilemma -- Should You Say Something?

You report to the VP of Marketing who is, in your opinion, a fairly competent marketing leader. His background is in branding and he has a deep understanding of targeting markets and positioning products. He’s not as strong in demand generation, but he is supportive of your efforts.

Being in charge of generating leads, you also have the responsibility to work with the sales team. You believe your relationship with sales is strong, but, like a lot of companies the economy is taking a toll on everyone’s attitudes as the company struggles to meet its goals. It’s nothing serious yet, but it is a constant struggle to respond to the sales team’s suggestions for how more leads can be generated.

Some of the suggestions from the sales team are good, but none of them are cheap. In your opinion, they aren’t going to bring in as many opportunities as the programs you are already executing so it’s not worth the trade-off. It’s difficult to explain this diplomatically to the sales team, but so far showing the cost/benefit of the programs seems to be working.

Recently, the VP of Sales suggest a project to you. She’s always been a bit of an “abrasive” personality, but before the economic slowdown her team was meeting goals regularly. It seemed that executive management was willing to put up with her style.

You suspect she’s under a lot of pressure to meet goals as she is becoming increasingly adamant that you execute her program – even more so than usual. You’ve tried to show her the cost/benefit analysis, but she’s not giving up. In fact, she’s suggested (perhaps demanded is a better word) that you execute her program and if it takes more money then marketing should find a way to get it. In this organization, all marketing campaigns are budgeted by marketing so asking for funds from sales is not an option.

Since she’s the peer of your manager, the VP of Marketing, you’ve tried to arrange a connection between the two of them. He’s the one who manages the budget and would have to approve any additional funds allocation. With the threat of budget cuts looming you suspect it's not likely to happen, but you figure it doesn't hurt to have the discussion.

You’ve been in some of the meetings between the two of them, but not all of them. From what you’ve seen, the VP of Marketing and the VP of Sales just aren’t communicating. Admittedly, the VP of Marketing doesn’t speak “sales” and the VP of Sales can’t tone down her style so that she can really communicate with the more even-keel VP of Marketing.

Now the VP of Sales has started to criticize the VP of Marketing in your meetings with her. She’s even made a couple of comments in front of her sales team that made everyone uncomfortable.

All around it feels like a bad situation. You doubt the VP of Marketing really has a clue what is being said about him. You have no idea what she says to executive management, but you suspect it’s not good. And, you’re certain that her attitude is going to start affecting the relationship between sales and marketing – to everyone’s detriment.

What would you do?
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