Friday, September 24, 2010

The most important question in marketing

If you want to know what customers really think and want from you, channel your inner five-year old.

Ask "why?"

Not just once, but over and over again. Why? Let me give you and example.

You talk to a potential customer and he says, "I really want a fast car." If you stop there, you say "Great" then run off and make a two-seat sports car with a 500 hp motor and a tall gear box that goes 180 mph.

Ask why once and the customer says, "Well, I want to get up to speed on the interstate ramp faster."

"Great" you say, so you put in a lower gear box, giving up a few miles per hour on the top end, but picking up seconds on 0-60 acceleration.

Ask why once more, however, and the customer says "I worry about merging with all those big trucks on the interstate."

So you change the greenhouse on the car to increase visibility and add a blind spot sensing system to your sports car.

Ask why for a third time and he says, "I have two little kids and I want them to be safe."

Now you scrap plans for the sports car, add a back seat, air bags all around and develop integrated child safety seats that are much safer than buckle-in aftermarket seats. You also cut way back on the top end speed and focus on getting that car up to 65 by the end of a standard on-ramp.

Just talking to a customer isn't enough. Ask why three, four or five times to get at the real reasons for some of their behaviors.

They may find you annoying, but you'll better serve them in the long run.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is whitespace the next wave?

First there was dial up, then broadband, and now we have Wi-Fi. Each of these new technologies has led to huge leaps in innovation for how we communicate. From email, to instant messaging and video chat on smart phones. Now the next big thing in wireless technology is on the way.

Today the FCC is voting on whether or not to release the broadcast whitespace that was made available when broadcast television went from analog to digital. If approved, the whitespace will be available to anyone to develop wireless communications.

Why should you care?

Well, for one, this new spectrum operates at a much lower frequency, so it travels further and is not affected by walls, trees and other obstacles like our current Wi-Fi signals. Essentially with just a few transmitters, most cities could offer free Wi-Fi to their residents.

With 4 billion laptops, smartphones, iPods and other wirelessly connected devices this could change the game in how we communicate. But don't take my word for it, Google, Microsoft, Intel and Dell already have major R&D initiatives underway to figure out the best way to use the new spectrum.

Are you ready to catch this wave?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An easy answer, but the wrong one

Recently, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission banned alcohol advertising from college newspapers in the state.

Now I'm sure they had noble goals in mind such as curbing underage and binge drinking, but this is like banning condom ads and expecting kids to refrain from having sex. It's just not gonna happen.

This action is not only a violation of commercial free speech laws, but it will have minimal if any impact on the actual issue. And it robs the college newspapers of much needed revenue (as much as $30,000/year) from a legal product.

With two kids in college, I'm all for promoting responsible drinking. You're not going to do that by keeping Jack Daniels ads out of the student paper.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And you thought your idea was dumb.

Nearly 100 years ago, H. L. Mencken said "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the America public." Clearly not much has changed.

Here are two new product ideas that should give every inventor hope.

 Carstaches and Carlashes were created by two separate companies earlier this year to give people yet another option for personalizing their cars.

Here's the scary part. 3,000 people have already bought 'staches for their car.

So the next time someone tells you your idea is stupid and will never sell, show them your Carstache.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The big (dollar) game

It's Super Bowl upfront time and you to can buy a 30-second spot on the big game for the low, low price of $2.8 million dollars, but only if you hurry. The game is already 90% sold out according to Fox.

While season premieres for big hits like Mad Men, CSI and other popular shows draw respectable audiences, the Super Bowl continues to be the one true mass media event left on television. This year some big players are jumping back in the game, namely Pepsi and General Motors.

General Motors' return is not surprising as Joel Ewanick used the Super Bowl effectively to help change people's opinion about Hyundai. We'll see if he has the product and the strategy to do the same for Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC.

He'll certainly have the eyeballs, at least until the Packers blow the Steelers away in the third quarter...