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Wal-Mart is experimenting with not only delivering your groceries to your door, but with actually coming in your door, entering your kitchen, and stocking your fridge and pantry with your groceries. Seriously. I’m not making this up. You can read all the details for yourself here.

To be fair, this is a good idea not so much because of the specific approach they’re testing, but because of the thinking that Wal-Mart seems to be demonstrating in desperate response to the big chunk of their business they are losing to Amazon and the like. Kudos to them for asking how they can differentiate themselves by offering additional value for their customers.

It’s a bad idea because not only are there way too many moving parts in this approach, and not only because I predict it’s highly unlikely that there will be a big enough target market who will trust Wal-Mart with the “keys to their home”, but because they are getting too far outside what they know they can do well. Their core competencies if you prefer the fancy schmancy MBA term.

On the grocery side, Wal-Mart does a super job of using their buying power and the efficiency of how they operate to offer the consumer a vast selection and a remarkably low price. Bravo, Wal-Mart. Expanding the services they offer in that vein to include online ordering and curbside pickup makes excellent sense. Grocery delivery seems like a bit of a stretch and a gamble, but operationally that isn’t terribly far fetched, so that’s an idea worth a look. But to think that Wal-Mart will be able to cost-effectively field a team of competent delivery staff who their customers deem trustworthy enough to let into their homes I think will prove to be a promise they’ll have a hard time delivering on.

Whenever you chase after another target segment, chances are you’ll chase away your original customer. Whatever you do, you should not get greedy but stay true to your product type, your attribute, or your segment.” – Jack Trout and Steve Rivken, Differentiate or Die

 

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The great investing website, Seeking Alpha, ran this article about a lawsuit Procter and Gamble  has filed against a competitor in the razor category for patent infringement, deceptive practices, and a whole bunch of other stuff. You can read the article here if you like. 

What struck me as interesting was how they phrased their rationale for the lawsuit.

P&G’s chief legal officer, Deborah Mojoras, had this to say:

We invest heavily in innovation – and our scientists work tirelessly to provide men with one of the best, most reliable shaving experiences in the world. When a competitor makes false and misleading claims against one of our products and infringes our patents, it’s unfair to consumers, and to our employees and shareholders, and we will challenge those violations.”

 

I think some of this wording may be P&G’s attempt to avoid looking like Goliath picking on David. We all like to root for the underdog, after all, and competition is the thing that makes our beloved free market system work. But all that emotion aside, their point is logical and accurate. And justified. Companies of all size invest  lots of resources working to give their customers (that’s you and me!)  value, and they are rewarded with something of value in return. If companies can’t profitably serve customers, customers can’t be served for very long. The “win-win” of “value-for-value” turns to “lose-lose” pretty quickly. As Dr. Steven Covey liked to say, “No margin, no mission.” 

So in a way, P&G is just looking out for the customer. And no, I’m not being sarcastic!

 

 

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What, exactly, is a brand? Simply put, it’s anything and everything your customer can associate with you. Your brand is the window, any window, through which your organization can be viewed. It’s any word the customer uses to describe you, and it’s any touch point your customer has with your organization. It’s also any impression the customer takes with them after any interaction with you. The short answer is, the brand is whatever the customer says it is!

 Your brand is any association the customer has with the product.” – Phillip Kotler

 

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Christmas_Light.jpgChristmas lights have come a long way since I was a kid. In the days of old, Christmas lights were all on one circuit, so if one bulb…one itty bitty bulb… burned out, the whole strand of lights would stop working and you’d have to check each bulb to figure out which one to replace to get the strand of lights to light up again. I’m not kidding. Ask your grandparents if this isn’t true!

They fixed that problem several years ago and today there are a lot of really beautiful, high quality, durable, affordable Christmas lights to choose from. In fact,a person could probably make a nominal investment in one set of Christmas lights and basically be set for life thanks to the quality that is now engineered into even the least expensive ones. But, alas, for most of us, that won’t be the case.

What happens is that the makers of Christmas lights come out with newer, better, nicer, fancier versions of lights every year, causing us to look at the lights we used last year and wonder how in the world we could stand to adorn our house with that old stuff when a better, more eye-catching choice exists for just a few dollars more.

This is precisely the kind of innovation Drucker said every organization should practice. The organization should deliver a quality product offering for the customer, and constantly be working on ways to improve that product offering. Indeed, the lights most of us already have probably fit the bill in terms of functionality but the manufacturers of Christmas lights offer us more and better choices in terms of style each year, thus creating new demand. The customer gets more value, the organization has the opportunity to grow its bottom line via share of customer and additional market share, competitors are kept at bay, employees who are helping contribute to the innovation earn a degree of job security, and so on.

Marketing is all about facilitating a mutually-beneficial value exchange with the customer. Innovation is a way to continually enhance the value offered to the customer and enhance profits for the organization.

There is no such thing as an ‘average fighter pilot.’ You’re either an ace, or you’re a target.”Guiding Principle used by the Army Air Corps in WWII

 

 

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No, your monitor isn’t showing the picture upside down.Upside Down Christmas Tree_1.jpg

This is a real Christmas Tree, real people do buy it, and they eagerly pay real money for it, too! Really!

You can be the first on your block to have one of these babies for an investment of anywhere from $150 to over $700 bucks. Some even come pre-lit!

The “benefit” of this tree is that, because it’s narrow at the bottom instead of the top, there’s more room for presents underneath! That’s the supposed value proposition. At some level, that actually has a fair amount of practicality and suggests that this should be how all Christmas trees should be designed.

I think we all know this kind of tree will never become the “standard,” but that’s not to say that there isn’t a decent, if not respectable-sized market, for it! There are consumers who think this is a neat idea and one worth paying a premium for. And what they’re buying isn’t the utility of being able to put more presents under the tree, but the bragging rights associated with having something different from their neighbors. The real value they’re buying is the “buzz” of beating the Joneses not by keeping up, but by being different! In a playful sort of way, of course.

A very important marketing lesson we need to remember is that when seeking a target market for our product, we don’t necessarily have to serve the biggest market segment to have a very lucrative business. Recall that for a market to exist, there must be enough who have the ability, willingness, and desire to buy. If you’ve got enough prospects who meet that criteria, whom you can serve profitably you’ve got yourself a market.

As long as the numbers work, there can be success in taking so-called “conventional wisdom” and turning it upside down!

 

Dr. Burt CHRISTMAS BANNER

 

Steve Jobs Book PicY’know, I hate to name any one book as my “favorite” on any subject, be it business or entertainment, but if I had to pick ONE that I think everyone alive today should read, one that was so inspiring to me I found myself wishing I could get YOU and everyone you care about a copy of, it’d be Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs. I’ve been saying that for three years now!

The book is written in such a compelling fashion that it almost reads like a novel! Like some tall tale of a folk hero from days gone by. Yet Steve Jobs lived in our time and this book tells the story of the impact he had on the world during his half century on this earth. It is also very candid in its portrayal of Jobs, showcasing both his brilliance and his imperfections. According to the author, and to the great credit of Jobs himself, the no-holds-barred look at Jobs’ life was endorsed by Jobs.

Anyhow, my bet is once you pick it up you won’t want to put it down. If you don’t like to read, get it on audio and listen to it in the car on a long trip. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Plus, now that it’s a year older, you can get it for a lot less! Or heck, forget buying it, just grab a copy from the library.

Rumor has it there’s a new movie in the works based on THIS book, so keep your fingers crossed!

 

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Ready…FIRE…aim?

By Dr. Burt Smith September 30th, 2014

Ready..fire…aim isn’t such a bad approach to strategy. Sometimes you simply don’t know if something’s going to work or not unless you try it. Trying, then, gives you FEEDBACK you can use to adjust the PLAN and get better next time.

Remember, it’s a process: Plan, Organize, Implement, and Control.

For some, the really hard part is the implementation. That fear of “launching” before everything is perfect, which often means not launching at all. For others, the hard part is objectively going back and examining the outcomes so the lessons derived can be used to get better next time. What simply can’t be stated strongly enough is that it is a PROCESS!

Make a point of embracing that and I think you’ll be amazed at how much sooner you make forward progress, and how much faster you get the ultimate, longer-term RESULTS you’re looking for.

A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” – Wag the Dog (Movie)

 

 

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Amazon is using its packing tape to promote its new product! (Click to enlarge)

Amazon does a lot of things right when it comes to delivering value.

Just as a full disclaimer, as I’ve noted here before, I’m a satisfied customer to such a degree that I don’t mind being an ambassador for their brand.

Their new venture into the Kindle Fire phone will be interesting to watch, but what’s already caught my eye is one of the many ways they’ve chosen to promote it. Take a look to the left and you’ll see how  they’re using packing tape as a promotional tool.  Not too shabby.

No sense letting that valuable marketing real estate go to waste, I reckon!

Reminds me of this quote:

Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use the dollar for the bookmark?” – Steven Spielberg

 

 

It’s often tempting to simply list “features and benefits” when writing copy. It’s often appropriate, or even necessary, to talk about how what you have is better than what the other guys have. If that’s the best way for you to make your case, go for it.

On the other hand, you might also want to consider how something you DON’T have may be the EXACT reason why the prospect should become your customer.

For example, in their commercials, Nationwide Insurance talks about the fact that they don’t have shareholders. The implied benefit is that they are focused on taking care of YOU, the customer, not shortchanging policyholders in an effort to maximize shareholder returns. The fact that they are not some huge, publicly traded company is presented as having VALUE for you.

Even having fewer customers than the other guys can be a benefit to your customers. The benefit is that you can assure your customers they won’t get lost in the shuffle. You can promise your customers more intimacy than the other guys. Or more customized service. Or more tailored solutions based on how well you know and understand their business as a result of working so closely with them without having an enormous customer base distracting your attention.

Avis Car Rental did this superbly many years ago when it stopped trying to compete with Hertz for the #1 position and instead proclaimed, “We’re #2, so we try harder.” They came right out and said, yep, as the “little guy,” we know we NEED your business, which means we can’t afford to make mistakes. So we’re going to work to keep you happy and keep you coming back. The whole “underdog” story resonated well with the marketplace.

Next time you’re thinking something like a smaller footprint in the marketplace is a drawback, try saying to yourself “That’s exactly why you should hire us,” then put yourself in the shoes of your customer and figure out how what may appear to be a disadvantage could indeed be the very reason why they should do business with you.

What you “don’t have” could turn out to be your biggest asset!

 The winner ain’t the one with the fastest car, its the one who refuses to lose” – Dale Earnhardt

 

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You’ve probably heard this one before, but like a lot of good stories, it bears repeating.

Two sales people from an American shoe company visit Aboriginal Australia. One reports back, somewhat despondently, “There is no market here…nobody wears shoes.” The other reports back, excitedly, “There are tons of customers here…nobody wears shoes! Send inventory immediately!”

Both could be proven right based on their interpretation of data. A key difference between success and failure is often going to be VISION, which is why even though “big data” and all these other tools sound so great, there will never be anything that replaces entrepreneurial instinct and enthusiasm.

The artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer in his whole life. The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

 

 

 

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