Monthly Archives: April 2014

Awkward. Disappointed. Strategically Upside Down. Isn’t That Your Prayer For Your Competition?

We’re all longing for success. Praying for it, even. Which is a reminder of The Bookie’s Prayer: ‘Send me loosers, dear Lord, a whole hapless grandstand full of them’.
The Bookie’s Prayer: ‘Send me losers, dear Lord, a whole hapless grandstand full of them’. Photo from Mark Lee.

Everyone is looking to do better. To surpass last years’ results and trounce the competition.

We’re all hoping for greater returns on our investment; we’re longing for it.

As to that longing, I’m reminded of The Bookie’s Prayer: ‘Send me losers, dear Lord, a whole hapless grandstand full of them’.

There’s a heartfelt desire for you, but while some  leave it all to divine intervention, you can’t.

Which is why you might want to look at your job differently when it comes to creating content.

As a marketer why skim the cream off the milk when you could be skimming the cream off the cream.

So raise your sights.

Instead of merely improving your content by increments, plan to create the most compelling, appealing and engaging digital messaging in your product category.

An approach to this starts with you asking yourself questions, questions and more questions.

So …

Are there insights you’ve overlooked when it comes to your customers? How about the customers of your competitors?

Are you digging deeper for new ideas? Are you pushing your version of your brand? Or  are you focusing on your customers’ take on it and what’s important to them?

Of course, the latter should be your route.

Are there new thoughts on your product or service and the way it performs?

If so, then improvements, customer experiences and reviews can be turned into news stories with email campaigns and videos to counter your competition.

Have you squeezed every nuance of information out of your research?

Can you create a better, more accurate collage of your marketplace? Is the picture changing? How quickly is it changing? And where is it going?

Have your agency planners turned over all the stones in researching your problems and opportunities? Is everything thoroughly considered?

Lots of questions and I’m a bit breathless with them. But to help you with the above 11 questions here are 11 more.

Could your positioning reflect a greater point of difference? Could it go further to separate you from the rest?

As to that ‘point of difference’, when you conform to the ideas of your category you become the same as everyone else.

In other terms that’s called being ‘just average’.

What about your strategy? Is it conformist or is it truly creative? You’re limiting your results when you expect breakthrough content from a direction that’s pedestrian.

How about the brief to your agency? Is there enough to energize them like a syringe full of vitamin B12?

Does your brief have the kind of objectivity and thinking that helps your creative teams challenge accepted notions and change market behavior to your advantage?

Is your messaging the opposite of so many of those under-imagined, lifeless efforts out there? Is it counter to formulaic solutions? Is it enough to change attitudes?

Does your content inspire a new interest in your product?

An example of this is the kitchen cleaner, Spray & Wipe, knocking the brand leader.

New interest was created with the line, ‘Mr Sheen Prefers Spray & Wipe’ in an ad that was a testimonial from Martin Sheen.

Are there fresh ideas on integrating delivery channels for your message? Are you thinking about mobile, videos, trade show presentations, pop up events, product placement?

Does your messaging make your brand more capable of competing?

I know what you must be thinking at this point.

Questions, questions and more questions – there are more than a few here.

But if just one helps you isn’t that better than prayers, prayers and more prayers?

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. How are you developing content against your competitions’ efforts? Thanks, Steve Ulin


Sudan Airways. Bulgaria Air. Ukraine International. Are the Airlines You Fly Any Better?

Here’s a memento from TWA. A baggage tag from the days when air travel had a bit charm, glamour and panache.
Here’s a memento from TWA. It’s  from the days when air travel had a bit charm, glamour and panache.

After reading this, you might want to go to to book future trips.

Train instead of plane.

At least there’s less chance your bag will go astray and the first thing you’ll be doing in your arrival city is buying underwear and a toothbrush.

To that point here are a few figures.

American Airlines: 205,060 baggage problems in 2013.

US Airways: 105,730 bags lost or damaged in 2013 according to the US Department of Transportation statistics.

United Airlines: 236,326 bags lost in a year. A Herculean effort in reverse.

Add to this … uh … hold on.

I was about to mention airlines turning away tens of thousands a year at the gate because of overbooking.

But as I write, the latest airline story is a gaffe involving porn.

Someone at US Airways sent a X-rated photo as a response to a passenger complaint.

Chances are you heard about it and wondered about one thing: how do you explain that away?

More to explanations, how do you spin iffy airline ratings on

The figures above come from that site with a list of 15 of the world’s worst airlines.

American, US Airways and United are listed here. Also a North Korean carrier, Sudan Airways, Bulgaria Air, Ukraine International and more.

Complaints sink them all. So what can marketers do to cope with unhappy customers?

Maybe each ticket should come with a downloadable pre-apology and premium coupon.

A fellow air passenger shared this with me. But then added that airlines would probably make a hash of it and the apology would somehow come out in Gaelic.

If you’ve read David Ogilvy you know that apologies can be an opportunity. Taking the right kind of responsibility for your actions can make all the difference.

Here’s a Virgin Airlines complaint letter CEO Richard Branson answered with a phone call.

Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation apologized to customers in Japan. He was contrite and reassuring.

It made a difference.

Steve Jobs headed off problems at the pass. At times he was known to personally take help line calls.

On more of a day-to-day level are you educating your frontline staff to handle the brickbats that come your way?

After all, isn’t that a necessity when your customers are more than customers? They’re online publishers with smart phones at the ready to send out verdicts on your brand.

Difficulties, misdeeds, inconveniences … they bring up two thoughts in your customers’ minds. You’re either  thoughtless or witless.

Over to you to correct that.

To that end, can you thoroughly trust those handling your social media? Is there corporate responsibility there?

Imagine the way US Airways would have blithely answered that question before their porn incident.

Are your people schooled to understand your customers’ problems and are they empowered to act to solve them?

Extra training can help.

So why not bolster your training program by getting in the experts on organizational improvement. Let them professionally educate your frontline troops, the people who color your customers’ impressions of your brand.

That way you’ll be forearmed to turn problems into opportunities.

Even if you are Sudan Airways, Bulgaria Air, Ukraine International … or US Airways.

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. Can the way you handle complaints give you an advantage against your competitors? Thanks, Steve Ulin


Two Headlines. Which One Would You Use To Kick Cancer’s Ass?

Let’s turn the tables on cancer and have more headlines like this. This photo is by kind permission of Linda Bowman who you see above. She’s a 9-year cancer survivor.
Let’s turn the tables on cancer with more headlines like this.
This photo is by kind permission of Linda Bowman who you see above.
She’s a 9-year cancer survivor.

We’d rather see you for regular mammograms than regular chemotherapy.


One of the best cancer centers in the Mid-West.

Both lines were presented to a marketer whose brief read: ‘the best for cancer care.’

But we’re not talking Indiana University Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic here.

His hospital wasn’t among widely known cancer care facilities.

Still, he went for the second headline because he said it hit the nail on the head of the brief.

It encapsulated everything his hospital hoped to be.

Yes, there’s a necessity for regular mammograms, he granted, but the headline that pressed the case for that was ominous.

He said it could scare his target audience.

So he ticked a box and eagerly moved on to the next business of the day.

A content assignment for his hospital’s largest revenue maker, the heart and vascular unit.

This story, related at a seminar last year, points up one fact.

An important ingredient for creating effective content is worry.

It’s worry that translates as a good neurosis when it comes to the details of doing better.

It’s the care you take with content to make sure it does its best to benefit your audience.

There are more than a few marketing solutions to a brief. But why skirt the fact you have a frightening subject in cancer.

The best cancer headline still sticks with me after a ridiculously long time. I’m thinking it goes back some 20-odd years.

It could have been done by the Martin Agency.

You have cancer. Let’s start by removing that lump in your throat.

Healthcare marketers and C-level people aren’t ‘Gatoraded’ on the football field like a triumphant coach. They’re not drenched in victory that way

But maybe they should be if came down to saving a life.

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. How can you be sure you’re doing the best you can do for your audience?  Thanks, Steve Ulin


Imagine Being Slapped With the Word ‘No’ 5,127 Times.


‘Very clever’. An overheard comment about James Dyson.
‘Very clever’. An overheard comment about Sir James Dyson and his products.

Recently at a marketing seminar the name, James Dyson, came up.

Oh, the vacuum cleaner guy? someone said.

Well, make that the radically different vacuum cleaner, fan, heater, and hand dryer guy and maybe the guy with several other innovations being developed under wraps.

Have you noticed? There’s a curious mind at work here. It’s actually Sir James Dyson and firing on his own instincts, he’s found his own way of doing things.

The result is what we now recognize as product revolutions in form and function.

The thought of a fan that’s more efficient without whirling blades is a bit of a wonder, not to mention something that has the visual appeal of a work of art.

Boof! – it hits you with its difference.

Will it become part of the Museum of Modern Art collection? Probably.

Like Steve Jobs, design is a Sir James thing.

But to get an idea of how hard it can be to succeed with new thinking, try this exercise at your next marketing meeting.

Buy enough Post-It Notes to overflow a shopping basket.

With a red marker write the word ‘NO’ on 5,127 sheets and stick them up on the wall.

That should get the attention of more than a few people in your group.

Sir James endured every one those ‘NO’ rejections with 5,127 vacuum cleaner prototypes before breaking through.

It’s fascinating to note … his stunning designs didn’t come from listening to the voice of the customer.

They came from curiosity, observation, research and a highly original mind.

Given Sir James’ current success, past rejections are a reminder of the Decca Records exec, Dick Rowe, who turned down the Beatles with the comment, ‘we don’t like their sound.’

Yeah right, Dick.

A visit to Sears yesterday confirmed that Dyson vacuum cleaners are so successful other manufacturers are copying them.

Typical, isn’t it?

But more on the subject of innovation … switch your focus from the 5,127 Sir James rejections on your wall to the paper they’re written on.

The Post-It Notes themselves.

A chemist at 3M invented them. He’s called Art Wall.

He created a glue that only ‘half-sticks’ which of course is a category contradiction in the age of super glue.

So nothing happened.

Wall’s project was stalled for 10 years while he searched for an application.

But the  eventual result, Post-It Notes, spurred 3M by becoming its biggest seller.

So much for the ‘failure’ of glue that only half-sticks.

If you happen to use these innovation examples at your next marketing meeting, don’t forget one thing.

Invite a group of people who are vital to you and your  team.

Those in your R&D department.

That way you can encourage a whole new level of integration in your company.

Share your take on innovation with us. As you no doubt know, another example of creating a new category is Chrysler’s Minivan. Here it is on day one of its existence. Thanks for reading Regards, Steve Ulin