Friday, January 8, 2010

Free Idea Friday

The doctor is in.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked if I wouldn't mind making his company the subject of Free Idea Friday. While I hadn't intended this forum to be anything other than a place to share some surplus ideas that had been rolling around in my head, I'm never one to shy away from a challenge. So, I read through his company's website and have been letting the information stew in my brain for a few weeks under the influence of eggnog, and now will take a shot at his specific request:

"How do I get more prospects in the pipeline?"

In a gross oversimplification, their product is health care software that tracks patient data to provide clinicians with the information they need to improve patient care and clinic operations. And their target includes chief medical officers and medical directors.

The first thing I'd do is simplify the message. Boil it down to a key phrase that they can own which encapsulates the benefit of their business. Something like "Knowledge Heals" or "Information is the Best Medicine." In my experience, physicians are a busy lot. It's hard to find much time to explain things to them. They're also pretty smart so you don't need too get to deep into the details to get them to see the benefits of a program like this.

The next thing I'd recommend is that they find a credible spokesperson and use him or her to help get their product in front of both the medical media and general press. As we all know, health care is front and center right now in the national conversation and two of the biggest issues are cost and quality. Develop a story that demonstrates how by using their product clinics have saved money and lives. Scale it up. If every clinic in the country adopted a program like this, we could save X thousand lives, and X million dollars a year. Pitch it as the private sector leading the way in solving one of the crises facing our nation right now. Use this spokesperson to get on television talk shows, radio news programs and interviews with leading print outlets like the Wall Street Journal to position the company as a leading voice in health care reform.

Concurrently, I'd revise the website to be less feature driven and more benefit oriented. And on a tactical level, maybe tie into the debate around health care. Have physicians who visit the site vote on specific parts of the reform package that relate to their product, and publicize the results. Or give them a way to easily communicate with their legislators. When they do this, they have to share basic contact information, email, geography, etc.

The key is to create a spark that gets people talking in a way that they see you as an advocate for their cause. Do that, and they might even be happy to share a little information with you.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Safest Ad In The World.

Yesterday a new billboard for a fashion company went up in Times Square with a rather unusual model wearing the product, President Obama. Now, even though the image on the board is from Obama's trip to China and shows him wearing the company's product, of course the White House has already asked the company to take the ad down. The president did not give his permission to use his likeness and never would have if asked. Was it wrong to use the president's image for this purpose? Yes. Was it risky? Not in the least.

There is a zero percent chance of the president or the administration suing the company for monetary damages (though I wouldn't be surprised if the IRS takes a closer look at their books this year) for the misappropriation of his image. And while there's a risk of offending people, I'd actually argue that this is the safest creative execution I've seen in years, because it does something most other billboards never do, gets noticed in a way that's relevant to the product. In fact, for the cost of the billboard this company has gained exposure in national and international newspapers, the web, and television.

Most advertisers would kill for this kind of buzz. But most will never get it because they're so afraid of offending just one person. That's why most ads are boring and lifeless. If you want to create buzz, you have to incite passion and passion comes in two flavors, love and hate. Successful marketers understand this and learn to live with it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's In A Name?

Yesterday I spent the day at Lambeau Field, home to the NFL's Green Bay Packers and along with Jerry Jones' tribute to his outsized ego, one of a handful of NFL stadiums that doesn't have a corporate name gracing it's facade. If you ever get the chance to make a pilgrimage to this shrine to football, take it. You won't be disappointed. (But that's not the point of this blog.)

Back in 2003 when they renovated the stadium, adding a 365-day-a-year entertainment, restaurant and meeting complex to the classic bowl, there was talk of selling the naming rights to help ease the taxpayers' burden. I'm not sure that anyone really wanted it to happen. I can't imagine the Packers running out of the tunnel onto turf at Kleenex Stadium.

As luck would have it, this article appeared in today's New York Times reporting on the trouble the Giants and Jets are having finding someone to sign a long-term deal for the naming rights to the new NFL stadium at the Meadowlands. I'm not surprised. And it's not because of the economy.

Putting your name on a stadium gets you only one thing, awareness. This means it's a great strategy for a brand that's ready to introduce itself to a wider audience. Who outside of a few techno geeks knew what 3Com was before they bought the naming rights to Candlestick Park? It also means buying naming rights is a terrible long term investment as it only takes a few years of that kind of exposure to build your awareness. Plus, it's a lousy deal for brands that are already deeply ingrained in the national psyche.

If they really want to sell the naming rights to the Meadowlands stadium, they need to change their strategy, focus on shorter deals and look for emerging national brands as their target.

Very few companies with the assets to pay $25 million dollars a year for 20 years need the awareness that comes with that deal and those marketing dollars could be spent a lot more effectively building preference and differentiation in other media. That's why the deal that Anheuser-Busch signed with the Dolphins for Landshark Stadium (distasteful as it is) makes some sense, and the deal that Citi made with the Mets is just plain dumb.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Different Is Better

You can see it everyday on store shelves, over the air waves and on the world wide interweb. Companies are struggling to differentiate; to offer products and communicate in a way that sets them apart from their competitors. There's a rash of mass commoditization going on in every industry. We've let our brands become homogeneous so all that customers have to go on is price. And the fact that we're in a tough economy isn't making things any easier. If you listen to consumers all they'll tell you is they want more of the same for less money. If you look at competitors, you'll follow them over the cliff. So how do you break out of this rut? Ask yourself one simple question.

"What do you want to be famous for?"

Great brands are famous for something. Apple is famous for ease of use, while others like Dell, Vostro, and Toshiba battle over functional territory like speed, memory and price. Volvo is famous for safety, while others like Chevrolet, Nissan, and Dodge clash over style, features and price. Walmart is famous for low prices, while Sears, Target and Kmart struggle to compete on service, style and low prices.

The key is to be famous for one thing. Find something that's important to your customers, makes you different from your competitors and then own it completely. Your fame factor should drive everything about your business, not just your marketing. Everything about Apple from its product design, operating systems, stores and communication is about being easy to use. Does that mean their computers aren't fast? That the iPhone doesn't have a lot of ring tones? That iTunes doesn't have an extensive catalog of songs? No. It just means that easy to use is front and center.

Once you figure out what you want to be famous for, you have to be true to it every step along the way. Volvo stumbled in the 80s when they produced a commercial that faked a demonstration of safety. Tiger Woods' brand has been decimated because his actions are so at odds with the in control, family man image he projected. Ben & Jerry's struggles to maintain its quirky, hippy, counter-culture image now that it's owned by Unilever.

Successful strategy is knowing what to excel at, what to be good at, and what to ignore. Finding your fame factor is the first step in achieving this.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The New Face Of Television

While everyone was enjoying their champagne and football over the holiday weekend, a cataclysmic event occurred in the world of television. In case you missed it, here's what went down and what it means.

Once upon a time there was a pretty simple deal for television users: you watch our ads and we'll pay for your shows. In the early days of television this worked great when it wasn't unheard of for shows to get ratings of 50 or higher. When Elvis Presley took the stage on the Ed Sullivan Show, 81% of the TVs in the US were on and tuned to his performance. This meant you could get your message out a great percentage of the viewing public by purchasing just one or two shows so the networks had great economies of scale. Today with the proliferation of channels via cable and satellite, a ratings for hit network primetime shows hovers in the mid teens. And ratings of 30 or more are considered blockbusters. Lower ratings mean less money. And less money means the people who own those stations need to look elsewhere to generate revenue.

Enter Rupert Murdoch.

On top of the advertising fees that he gets for selling shows like The Simpsons, House and American Idol, he will now receive payment from Time Warner for the right to carry those shows over their cable system. And while we've always paid fees to subsidize the lower rated cable networks, this new development signifies a major shift that will affect viewers, networks, production companies, and advertisers. Ultimately given our current system where we have very little choice over the networks we receive, it all boils down to how much are we willing to pay for the programs we're NOT watching.

The only thing I watch on Fox are the Packers, Baseball and the occasional Nascar race. Why should I pay for Idol, Bones and Doll House? And that's the next tipping point. As costs continue to rise and become untenable, someone will change the game again. I'm guessing it won't be long before we will be able to a la carte our favorite networks or purchase all programming on demand.

Stay tuned.