Friday, September 28, 2007

Branding gets cleared up

Entrepreneur and author Tom Asacker began his presentation with one of those good-news, bad-news things. The bad news? He was going to take 45 minutes to talk about 30 years of bad marketing decisions. Gulp. The good news? “After 15 minutes your brain automatically starts thinking about sex.” Great. Because two minutes after that, I’ll be thinking about having a smoke.

Instead, before the first 15 minutes were up, Asacker had everyone thinking differently about branding… and whether or not New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra was a genius. Berra said, “The future aint what it used to be,” and Asacker set out to prove how right he was, particularly when it comes to understanding branding.

Today’s marketing realities go beyond the predictions. In 1974, consumers were drowning in 560 messages a day. Now it’s 3500. And that’s in addition to the “supersaturation of choice” everywhere we go: 16 varieties of eggs, 20 different Goldfish crackers, 175 pro sports teams, 2630 government-recognized religious groups... Then there’s the glut of info out there: Fifty billion web pages, 12 billion emails, hundreds of TV channels (and nothing on). And where has it gotten us? Right now, no one trusts businesses or the people who run them. After Enron, Worldcom, Tyco and Martha Stewart, you can’t blame them. So, what’s going on?

Tom Asacker says today’s marketers simply don’t understand branding. It’s not a logo, a promise or an experience; it’s consumers’ expectations of what a brand will do for them. The brand they choose is who they become. “Brands tell the world who they are and where they belong, “ Asacker explains. Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee, they sell identity. And they do it by building relationships with their customers. So, what are consumers looking for? We seek the perfect balance of value and happiness. Unquestionably, shopping at Wal-Mart saves you money but, more importantly, it makes you feel smart.

In Asacker’s book, A Clear Eye for Branding, he says marketing is about creating strong feelings for your brand. And those feelings are created through your customers’ experience with everything they sense about your company: the look and feel of your advertising, web site, email communications, products and, especially today, your people. “Person-to-person interaction will always be the most powerful creator of feelings. Your most powerful brand enhancer,” he writes.

The bottomline, Asacker stresses, is that you have to do more for your customers and establish an emotional attachment to your brand. They first experience your brand emotionally before rationalizing those feelings and making a decision. Before they know if they want what you’re offering, they’re deciding if they want to be identified with your brand. Asacker recommends taking a good look at the brands that appear to achieve that kind of powerful emotional connection: Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Geico, and the mother of them all, Harley Davidson. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blatant plug for

I am still relatively new to blogging. Somedays I just don't get it. Why do it? Who's watching? Don't I have better things to do? Then I take a look at other writer's blogs and, after enjoying some of their musings, I wonder if they have any paying work. I am very fortunate to have enough paid work to keep me up most nights of the week -- sometimes working on it and sometimes worrying about how I am going to find the time to get it done. So, not a lot of time to update my blog or read others... or exercise, but that's another sad story.

However, I do wander over to once in a while and often find something interesting, amusing or even inspiring. Today, I found a free offer! I can get 3 free ebooks if I promote their site. Thus this blatant, yet honest and without apology, plug for an info-packed website. I have even added it to my list of faves for your enjoyment. Bon appétit.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Are you preferred?

If you were a video machine, would you be VHS or Beta? Imagine you’re a computer, are you a PC or a Mac? Are you a Tim Horton’s or a Starbucks coffee? Being preferred doesn’t always have to do with the quality of your product — Beta videos, Mac computers and Starbucks coffee are superior to their more successful rivals — it’s all about your distinctive value. And author/entrepreneur Michael Vickers can do the math to show you how to become preferred.

Vickers entertained and educated a rapt crowd of pharmaceutical types at the last meeting of the PMCQ season, sending us out into the world with ideas, tips and mathematical formulas for Becoming Preferred, coincidentally the name of his latest book. First, he told us the truth: we are all the same, offering the same stuff, same science, same price, same people — just take a look around. See? Next, Vickers quizzed the audience: what makes your company/product so different? Is it the service? Yes, of course it is, came the response. Okay, let’s all agree on which global corporations are universally known for the highest service standards: FedEx, Disney, Four Seasons Hotels, Southwest Airlines, Porsche, Apple, Hertz… It’s a long and distinguished list that doesn’t include a single pharmaceutical company. Uh-oh.

The secret to becoming preferred (and outselling your competition) is explained in Michael Vickers’ six guidelines, which include challenging your assumptions about your competitors, your customers and yourself. You may not be seeing your world as it really is and incorrect assumptions could be devastating. Becoming preferred is achievable if you can identify your customer’s stress and dissatisfaction better than your competitors and then remove that stress and dissatisfaction better than your competitors, while connecting with your customer in a meaningful way. It could be as simple as handwritten thank-you-for-your-business notes, which I believe is currently PAAB approved.

Even more intriguing is Vickers’ mathematical formula for becoming preferred: EV + DV x T = PS. That’s Expected Value plus Distinctive Value times Trust equals Preferred Status. In other words, preferred status can be attained by taking what your customers expect from your product, adding what truly differentiates you and your product from your competition and multiplying all of that by how much they trust you and your company. More trust equals more business. Simple math for a complex business.

But just like his new book, Michael Vickers’ Becoming Preferred presentation is so jam-packed with valuable information for businesspeople that I wish I had recorded it all… on VHS video, of course.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Anxious About Everything

When my friends and family heard I was going to see Dr. Joe Schwartz, they all had one question: Can I come too? The Director of McGill’s Office for Science & Society is a rock star and even usually cool, calm PMCQ members were all atwitter at meeting the man with all the answers. And rightly so.

The author of six books, CJAD talk show host and renowned guru of chemistry came to talk about the age of anxiety. Given the current state of the pharma industry, his timing couldn’t have been better.

Dr. Joe’s message is simple: people need to be more sceptical. The media teaches us science and everyone fervently wants to believe in miracle cures. Well, Canada’s greatest debunker was about to let us have it. We’re told to eat our fish because they’re filled with nutrients, then we’re warned not to touch fish because they’re filled with PCBs. Eat your fruit! No! Not the genetically modified ones! They’ll screw up your hormones. Have some spinach instead. Wait… e-coli. Okay, cool down, have some filtered water. What? The chlorinated stuff in those plastic jugs that leach bisphenol A? No thanks.

It’s a scary world out there and just a little bit of knowledge can go a long way to devastate or elevate any product—including pharmaceuticals. According to Dr. Joe, not only are most scientific studies wrong, the media blows those studies all out of proportion and we swallow it whole. He blames our naiveté on the failure of science education in North America and the easy success of powerful marketing messages. That’s a nice way of saying it’s our fault. We believe that natural products are good for us because they are, well, natural. But arsenic is natural. In fact, the world is full of natural toxins that, given the right conditions, combinations and quantities, will kill you. St. John’s Wort might be “nature’s Prozac” but it’s very bad for heart transplant patients. Nutritious and delicious grapefruit juice can have serious interactions with commonly prescribed medicines—so much so, that McGill’s teaching hospitals have banned the stuff TOTALLY.

Chinese medicine, placebo effect, ancient medicine men, Kevin Trudeau’s “natural cures ‘they’ don’t want you to know about…” Dr. Joe pulls no punches, takes no prisoners, tells it like it is (add your own cliché here)… and that’s exactly why I should have brought my gullible, hoodia-popping friends and relatives to see him. It would have been good for their health.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Six Pixels of Separation

We stood up and screamed. Twice. We were asked for “something guttural from deep inside” to loosen us up. And we didn’t quite get it on the first try, emitting a half-hearted “whoo” like a bunch of preschoolers who just found out they were getting free t-shirts. However, on our second shot we sounded like two hundred housewives who were just told they had won free makeovers from Oprah. Our guest speaker, with his hand over the mic, was louder than all of us both times. What’s the matter with us? We were about to find out, because Mitch Joel was going to give our “personal brands” a makeover.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Mitch Joel can be louder than a roomful of people. He’s bigger than a roomful of people. In fact, he’s big everywhere. After the meeting, I Googled Mitch and got 78,900 pages (in 0.03 seconds)—and every single page was about him! Does this guy know anything about “personal branding?”

Mitch Joel is the “President of Twist Image, a marketing and communications visionary, interactive expert, community leader, freelance journalist, blogger, podcaster and believer in doing the impossible” and he came to tell the PMCQ that “we don’t understand the power of our personal brand.” Mitch advises having an internal conversation to find the real you. What’s your story? Who are you? And, even more importantly for business purposes, what do you do? No, you are not “in marketing.” You help people improve their lives. Harley Davidson does not sell motorcycles, they sell the open road. Revenue Canada does not take your money, they provide peace of mind by not putting you in jail. I think you get the point.

Mitch Joel’s lively, entertaining and certainly thought-provoking presentation focuses on you because that’s where your focus should be. He wants you to “be the mental tattoo on people’s minds” and he cites his “Six Pixels of Separation” as the tool to do it. The power of the Internet as a personal marketing tool has never been more evident. The power of your mouth as a sales tool is only drowned out by the power of your ears. You need to listen more than you speak. But when you do talk, always talk to strangers—in person and via technology, where you can have one-to-many conversations through blogs, podcasts, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace… Six Pixels of Separation proves that it’s “no longer all about who you know. It’s all about who knows you.” Now, I’m going to post this article on my blog because it mentions Mitch Joel’s name four times, which means when anyone Googles Mitch, they’ll also find me. That’s personal branding.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


A couple of years ago, I had the honour of covering a presentation by Bob Garfield. Here's what I thought back then:

The good news is that Bob Garfield's "Advertrocities" presentation did not include any Canadian pharmaceutical ads. The bad news is that Bob Garfield's "Advertrocities" presentation did not include any Canadian pharmaceutical ads. Just because it would have been even more fun. Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun to see some of the world's worst TV commercials. Like train wrecks, you really can't look away. The laughs were plentiful, the eyeball rolling was dizzying, and the I-would-have-known-better nods made you think you had crashed a bobble-head convention. However, it did make you think, which has always been Garfield's point.

As the columnist for Advertising Age's Ad Review, Bob Garfield's job is either the world's coolest or most dangerous. He gets paid to trash or triumph advertising creative. He does it with a wry sense of humour and intelligence. He tells it like it is, much to the chagrin of the citizens of creative-ville, where pony-tailed, all-in-black natives covet awards large and small. According to Garfield, too many copywriters and art directors are just too darn smart for the rest of us. Their objective appears to be winning awards for themselves not sales for their clients. Well, awards can help win new business for ad agencies-often at the expense of their existing clients.

After several reels of entertaining, hilarious and insulting airline, toilet paper, running shoe and Calvin Klein advertrocities, a question from the audience finally got Garfield on a pharmaceutical rant. While he believes that regulation is good for advertising and for consumers, and that ethical advertising really is ethical, Garfield's beef is with OTC ads. Calling them "the most consistently dishonest," he accuses OTC ads of confusing consumers about product ingredients. As a result, more consumers are overmedicating themselves.

That trend of overmedicated consumers is explainable, if you believe what Garfield says about consumers in general in his newest book, And Now a Few Words from Me, "It has become commonplace to suggest that advertising insults people's intelligence, and that is sometimes true. More often, though, exactly the opposite is the case. Advertising gives more credit for brains, judgment, and sophistication than is reasonably due… bear in mind that you have to impress the target audience even if, in all likelihood, the target audience doesn't impress you."

The 21st Century Court Jester

(a May 2006 article for the PMCQ)

At the last PMCQ meeting a couple of hundred people got Lipkinized. Here’s hoping it tides us over until next season. We all need a boost. Perhaps the effects will show early—in the scores from the golf tournament. Or maybe they will reveal themselves at your next marketing meeting. Here’s what to look for: clarity, action, decisiveness, courage, connectivity, outspokenness, generosity, brilliance and discipline.

Mike Lipkin calls himself a 21st Century court jester. Was he brought in to cheer everyone up? Brilliant! Because that’s what Mike did—he cheered everyone up. And then gave us a good talking to.

After joking that pharma is the new tobacco industry, Mike advised, “you are the company.” In other words, you are the company. You Inc. You must become the brand that others want to be around. It must be a pleasure working with you. They must salivate when they think of your face. (Would that be a good thing?)

The president of Environics and author of numerous books, Mike Lipkin often shares the stage with the likes of Bill Clinton and Dr. Phil, motivating millions of people around the world with his fast-paced, entertaining and enlightening dissertations on how we can—must!—be happier, healthier and more successful. Mike’s high energy is infectious and his truisms, which he calls “Lipkinisms,” have never been truer: You are only as good as your last conversation. Embrace instead of accept. Be realistic by becoming idealistic. The future is now. There were more but he talks faster than I can write.

Lipkin showed why he is one of the world’s leading motivators. He practices what he preaches. He kept it simple when he advised we have to keep it simple. But he also warned that “Nothing is more complex than keeping it simple.” However, he was able to simplify his new book, “Keeper of the Flame,” down to 10 bullet points in a pocketsize booklet for everyone to take home (along with a free copy of the 230-page version).

As far as being motivated? Mike Lipkin’s self-promotional style is all the inspiration you need and he sums it up best in my favourite Lipkinism: “Life is a pitch and then you die.”

Public Speaking

(from a March 2006 article for the Pharmceutical Marketer's Club of Quebec)

Here’s the good news: If you can master all of the tricks, tips, hints, instructions, suggestions, ideas, beliefs and theories presented by Tom Mucciolo, you could sell tickets to your next big sales presentation. Seriously. You’d have scalpers outside the meeting room getting big bucks from ordinary people who want to see you perform. Because that’s what a presentation is supposed be—a performance.

Mucciolo’s own presentation on presentation skills is a tour de force. He’s funny. He’s serious. He’s entertaining. He’s informative. He’s animated. He’s interesting. In short, he’s a pretty good presenter. The question is: Are your presentations worth the entry fee? Since most of us present for free, the answer is yes. But we could be a heck of a lot better. If we listen to Tom Mucciolo.

Consider this: For any size audience, your presentation is 55% about how you look, 38% about how you present and 7% about what you say. What makes you believable? It’s not your content; it’s your delivery. So forget about being nervous and concentrate on your look, your attitude and your gestures because, together, they are going to make your presentations highly presentable.

First, get rid of the podium and get into the presenter’s triangle—the front, the middle and the back of the stage. Not working from a stage? Use your head. Literally. Tilt forward, go to the centre and tilt back. Every position gives meaning to what you are saying. When your body language changes, your audience pays more attention. You’re forcing them to watch. And they’re watching and listening to you, not your PowerPoint presentation.

Next, just about everyone uses PowerPoint and just about everyone mis-uses it. That moving type we all love? Ditch it. Whether it’s flying in from the top, sliding in from the sides or popping up from the bottom, it’s distracting at best and annoying at worst. Text is the anchor that supports what you are saying. Keep it brief; never more than one-line bullets. The attention should always be on you. So pay attention to what you are wearing, always work with the screen on your left, use your hands to emphasize a point, show your palms to earn their trust, look people in the eye or, if that makes you uncomfortable, the bridge of their nose, smile, and to increase memory, preface your serious message with something funny. After all, you need to give your audience their money’s worth.

Robin Sharma's Important Lessons

Occasionally, I will upload past articles I have written for various clients... here's one from March 2005:

The first client I hugged looked confused. And he seemed more perplexed when I explained that, damn it, I loved him. But that’s just how I felt after spending an hour with author, visionary CEO, elite-performance expert, and former lawyer, Robin Sharma. And why not? It was nine-thirty in the morning on a beautifully warm, brilliantly blue spring day, I just got a free book and I was hopped up on coffee… and life.

It’s easy to dismiss today’s millionaire self-help gurus. That’s probably why so many cynics do. The philosophy seems so cookie-cutter perfect and the advice appears to lack any truly deep meaning. Don’t we already know this stuff? That we are all basically good. That we don’t live our lives to the fullest. That we should run towards the things we fear most. Evidently not. Because Mr. Sharma’s PMCQ breakfast presentation was packed with educated, successful professionals hanging on his every word and publicly sharing their beliefs and desires—albeit with the raising of a hand.

Originally from Cape Breton, Sharma gave up practicing law because his life felt hollow. He confesses that he “cobbled together” his own philosophy and wrote a book. His mom did the editing and Kinko’s did the printing. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari became a worldwide bestseller, sold millions of copies, gave birth to Sharma Leadership International, and rocketed Robin into the stratosphere of sought-after speakers like Dr. Phil, Bill Clinton, Deepak Chopra, Christopher Reeve, and Wayne Dyer.

Mr. Sharma’s advice to business people is simple. We need to value what business is all about: relationships. We need to be more real, be nicer, and be more ethical. We need to have more fun. We need to commit to a work/life balance and stop taking our good health for granted. We need to find our inner child; the one that’s creative, loving, persistent, always moving forward and living in the moment. In Sharma’s words, “Your days are your life in miniature.” So every day is a new beginning and a new chance to improve yourself even by one percent. My client says I should start by cutting back on the coffee.