Friday, April 2, 2010

Free Idea Friday

Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth. 

Selling The Future
Just like banks and homeowners, local governments were seduced by the housing bubble and built a financial future predicated on ever increasing home prices.

Now falling property values have cut revenues for local governments as much as 20% over the past two years. And believe it or not, there's just not that much waste in your typical municipal budget.

This is the case in Beverly Hills, Michigan where my brother is a village councilman. Seeing the impending financial crisis, they've already frozen salaries, cut health care benefits, not replaced retiring workers an yet they're still forecasting a $1.5 million dollar deficit.

So they now have two choices: cut essential services or raise taxes. And that's the challenge.

When people who would rather not have their taxes increased (my guess is that's most people) are confronted with losing 5 to 6 public safety officers, 2 village staff members, the closing of the local library and cuts in other services, they feel they are being threatened.

How do you get people to hold their noses and vote for a tax increase so they can still enjoy free books, safety and weekly garbage collection?

First, realize that this is an argument that won't be won with facts. We're talking about core values here. Deeply held beliefs. It's almost religious. So no rational argument will change peoples' minds.

Second, the problem stems from a co-dependent relationship that lacks fundamental trust. People need government to do a lot of things but they don't trust it to do anything well and efficiently. The council needs the people to provide it with the funding to provide services, but feel that the people don't value those services appropriately.

So here's what I'd do.

I'd take a page out of Ronald Reagan's playbook and sell the future. Don't make the argument about how bad things are and how much worse they'll be if you don't vote for a tax increase. Make it about how good the future can be. Then tie that future directly to their wallets.

"While other communities are willing to let their streets and communities fall apart, Beverly Hills will invest in the future so our property values will remain the strongest in the Metro Detroit area."

Put it together in a comprehensive plan with all the facts and reasons to believe it will work and brand it with a name that people can't argue with. That was the brilliance of "The Patriot Act" and "No Child Left Behind".

People follow leaders and leaders inspire with a vision for the future. That's what the council needs to present to the citizens of Beverly Hills if they want them to approve a millage increase to save police and firefighters jobs.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Life is an open book test

A lot of people think they have to have all the answers.

Not me. I'm happy to use any tool to my advantage, especially when it comes to naming.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of trying to name a new product or service, let me boil the experience down for you in one phrase: it's a bitch.

Basically, you have to come up with a memorable word or two that capture the essence of the product's function, brand promise, and personality. Oh, and make sure it's dotcomable (how's that for a word). Add to this challenge that the final selection process is totally subjective and you can spend hours, days, weeks and months and still not be satisfied.

That's why I was excited to stumble across this tool: It's not going to instantly help you find a great name, but it will generate some more options of made up words using any root you choose to put into the search field. More importantly, it tells you if the results are available as dot-com domain names. Pretty cool.

For example if I were to create a brand using my first name, and are not available, but Wordoid let me know that such words as harvation, harveyors, harvelled, harvatist, and harveyed are. I'm not sure if any of these are great names, but at least it's a start.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Accelerated development

Racing has always served as the ultimate proving ground for new automotive technologies. Anything to make cars go faster, handle better, more reliably has been developed and tested on the track.

That's why I found this car from World First Racing so interesting. It's a Formula 3 racer, made from sustainable materials and powered by renewable fuels.

Scheduled to make its debut last fall at Brands Hatch, it didn't race because of a technicality, but this begs the question. Other than burning ethanol at Indy and Audi's diesel fueled GP cars, why haven't the auto companies used racing to develop alternative fuel technologies?

A few years ago Peter Delorenzo tried to form the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation. I'm sure Detroit's economic woes put a crimp in those plans. But it's an idea worth reconsidering.

If we want our hybrid and electric cars to go farther, faster and more reliably, lets put them in the hands of the guys who are used to tinkering under tight timelines and developing new solutions to get them into victory lane.

It just might make auto racing relevant again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This is not an idea.

Giving your customers a rebate is not an idea.

"New and improved" is not an idea.

Having George Takei say "Oh my!" is not an idea.

Telling people that they'll love your beer is not an idea.

Hiring those guys from This is Spinal Tap is not an idea.

Copying Apple is not an idea.

Offering more for less is not an idea.

Being on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is not an idea.

An idea is original. An idea inspires. An idea makes you slap your palm to your forehead and say, "Damn, why didn't I think of that?"

Too often today in marketing and product development we employ tactics in search of an idea rather than in service of an idea.

If you're a client, make your agency sell you the idea before they sell you the TV spot, website or print ad.

If you're an agency and you're not selling ideas, go sell shoes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The end of Volvo as we know it

For years the brand Volvo has been synonymous with "Safety". So when it was announced that Volvo was sold to Geely Holding Group in China my first thought was, it may be time to find a new position.

How credible is it that the safest car in the world now comes to us from a country whose corrupt regulatory system allowed toys to go to market covered with lead-based paint; milk laced with melamine to cause over 300,000 illnesses killing 6 children; and over 68,000 of its citizens to perish in an earthquake two years ago because schools and office buildings weren't built to established codes?

I know that the Chinese company is purchasing designs and technology from Ford, and the Swedish deputy prime minister, said on Sunday. “Regardless of who owns Volvo Cars, its brand will still be Swedish.” But what happens when a new model they're introducing starts to run behind schedule?

Does the culture of corruption in China encourage someone to take a shortcut?

If I had to slam on my breaks to avoid a collision, I'm not sure I'd have 100% confidence in a Chinese designed and built anti-lock braking system. And even a flash of doubt undermines Volvo's brand position completely.

I'm probably wrong about this since millions of people blithely buy Chinese products at WalMart everyday. But if Volvo has a safety issue after this sale, it won't be able to recover the way Toyota has.