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plate_and_fork.jpgI was having lunch with a fellow consultant at a nice restaurant a while back. When my colleague was issued his white napkin, he politely asked if he could exchange it for a black one. The waitstaff eagerly complied. My colleague then explained that the white cloth napkins most restaurants use can shed very badly and if you have on dark slacks, you could leave the lunch looking like you plucked your own chicken! I did an aggie high five (that’s where you slap yourself in the forehead) recalling numerous times when I’d had that very experience and then asked to exchange my white napkin for a black one as well. Problem solved, your old buddy Dr. Burt learned something that day, and we went on to have a fine meal with the level of service we’d come to expect from this particular restaurant.

This little story may give readers a tip on how to safeguard their clothes, but by itself there’s nothing remarkable here regarding marketing. Since you and I want our brand to be about WOWing the customer rather than just solving their basic needs like everyone else we compete with seems only minimally interested in doing, let’s examine how the situation could have been better.

Wouldn’t it have been noteworthy if, when my colleague received his specially requested black napkin, the waiter had asked me if I wanted one too without my having to ask for it and his having to make a special trip?

Assuming the waiter didn’t know why we wanted the black napkins instead of white, wouldn’t it have been impressive if he had taken an interest in exactly what need that was fulfilling? Wouldn’t that have allowed him to serve future customers in the same way? How much profit could you derive from your existing systems by making sure your organization doesn’t make the same mistake? And would it really cost anything extra to do this?

Our customers want a better future. The experience they have with us helps determine what kind of future that will be. We can learn a great deal about how to deliver their preferred future by asking openly, honestly, and often through our customer research systems, and we can also train our people to be constantly on the lookout for latent or unexpressed, or unrealized needs customers may have. We’ll use this same example in a future BLOG to describe exactly how this restaurant (and you and I in our own businesses) can build systems that help us meet our customers needs better, faster, and more profitably than ANY competitor can hope to, while simultaneously making our organizations a more rewarding place for everyone to work.

For now, though, the simple lesson is this if we want to build a brand that reverberates:

The customer has the answer, and the customer IS the answer!

Show us a neat way to communicate an important but not that exciting concept in a clever but not terribly expensive way, that’s what!

UPS has the new and empowering goal of being THE distribution system for my business and yours. They want to become an extension of our business and they’re well on their way.

I was watching the Packers play Sunday and saw one of the commercials in the series UPS is using to spread the word about how they do what they do and why it’s of benefit to us . You can view it at 


The commercial I am referencing specifically is the second box from the left (Delivery Intercept 2), but they’re all good. You probably found a lot more lessons than I discuss in this post and you’re welcome and encouraged to share any other things we can learn from it. The main thing I noted was how they are taking a product about which we might either say “Huh?” or “So-what” and are explaining it in a clever but simple way, using a format that any of us could do! Plus there’s a little humor thrown in here and there. The target audience leaves the commercial complete with their “Oh yeah” moment and realizes that package intercept is a tool UPS offers that could be of great benefit should we have the need. 

Granted, buying television ad space during prime time on NFL Sunday may be beyond our grasp, but the straightforward visual way the concept is explained is something to which we can easily relate as customers and even potentially emulate in our own marketing.

Bravo, Brown!

Here’s Your Sign…

By Dr. Burt Smith October 13th, 2007


Use your vehicle as a moving billboard…Or Don’t

The idea of using signage on your organization’s vehicles isn’t new, but some new tools may make it worth taking a second look! You’ve likely seen how buses can be turned into moving billboards through the placement of several ads on the body of the bus, or by turning the outside of the bus into one huge billboard. Magnetic and static decal technology  today allows you to turn your vehicle into a moving billboard, too, and in a very professional-looking, eye-catching way. This can be a great way to get all kinds of exposure for your organization while leveraging an existing asset. Think about how much it would cost to put up billboards in all the places your vehicles travel, and this really becomes a promotional tool with exponential returns on its investment!

Once you decide to turn your vehicles into moving billboards, however, there are some things to consider. Chief among them is that EVERYTHING IS BRANDING! Everything that vehicle does, everywhere it goes, and so-on, are potential touch-points for your entire brand. This is something you and anyone who drives your moving billboard need to consider. ANYONE who drives a vehicle that has your message on it is literally driving your brand! So make sure they play nice on the highways and that they don’t park in handicapped zones and that your vehicles don’t end up parked anywhere else they shouldn’t be. I will leave specific examples to your imagination. Just imagine the worst, and counsel drivers accordingly!

It’s also a good idea to keep those vehicles CLEAN, regardless of what business you’re in. That’s obviously important to the business featured in the picture above. Barry Kelly, president and founder of Elite Mobile Wash, not only knows the value of using his vehicle as a rolling advertisement, he wisely recognizes that his vehicle is the window through which his services, and his BRAND, are viewed. So if you see an Elite truck, you’ll see a clean Elite truck! He has plenty of commercial clients who see the value in having a sparkling fleet and they use Elite to make sure what they drive is a positive component of their brand image. If you’d like to learn more about Elite Mobile Wash, you’ll see the web address right there on the truck.

On the other hand, sometimes NOT using your vehicle as a moving billboard is worth considering, and for the same reason: Everything is Branding!

A colleague of mine owns a growing business that does exceptional work. However, in his opinion, his current fleet of three company pickup trucks isn’t quite up to the high standards he has for his entire brand, so he has very wisely decided to forgo any signage or marketing messages on his vehicles until he has new trucks to put them on. In his case, this is a correct, big-picture decision! He realizes the importance of making sure his entire brand is built incrementally and managed correctly.

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Numbers.jpgYou’re not! Don’t fall into that trap! Don’t cut the price, build the brand! Competing on price is always a bad idea! I used to say that very few organizations can do it long-term. Then I said that only ONE organization has effectively done it for any extended period of time, and that was Wal-Mart. Now, I point out that even Wal-Mart, who redefined the game of competing by offering the lowest price, is hurting. They are learning the hard way what I hope you won’t have to experience personally to learn – That it is far better to build the brand than cut the price!

The simple reason why you want to avoid competing on price is that you cannot fully control your costs. Try as you may, your organization is part of a dynamic environment. What makes the environment dynamic is a set of environmental forces that are completely beyond your control. One of these forces is your competition. You’ll always have some overly eager or just plain foolish competitor who thinks they can beat you on price. Maybe they can, but they will in fact pay quite a price to do it in the long run.

A better strategy is to focus on value rather than price. Find out what is most valuable to customers and what they are willing to pay for, then be better at giving it to them than anyone else. That way, you are offering a true value proposition; something of value for something of value. A true win-win relationship then exists.

By taking the high ground, you may even find you create a premium image and subtly or not so subtly point out that there is a reason why your competitors’ prices are so low – Because what they offer is cheap!

A favorite example of mine was shared by marketers Jeff and Marc Slutsky. Their client owned a full-service hair salon. They had a nationally franchised competitor move into the market with its so-called economies of scale whose offer was a haircut that only set the customer back $5. Rather than get dragged into the mud and try to play the price game, even for a short enough time to keep the newcomer from getting a foothold, they helped their client simply restate their value proposition. They put up a sign in the window that said it all: “We fix $5 haircuts.”

Don’t cut the price, build the brand! Give serious and ongoing thought to how to promote how your offer provides the customer greater value and price suddenly becomes a non issue. In fact, you may even use the very thing the competitor thinks is an advantage to the competitor’s great disadvantage!

In strength, find weakness… and in weakness, find strength.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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