Friday, April 1, 2011

Corporate idea killers

In my checkered career, I've been lucky enough to facilitate brainstorming sessions for medical products, breakfast foods, electric shavers, car names, even water. I've seen great ideas, half-baked ideas, and some really bad ideas. I've seen teams select ideas I would never recommend while leaving what I thought were sure winners on the wall.

What keeps great ideas from rising to the top and making it to market? Here are a few thoughts.
  1. Expecting perfection. Brainstorming does not produce complete product concepts, only the seed ideas for those products. The hard work begins after the session.
  2. Pet projects. Someone (usually a senior executive) walks into the room with 'the answer' and other ideas aren't given a chance.
  3. Not invented here. A lot of ideas are rejected because they're too similar to a competitor's successful product. Instead of tossing them out try to beat them. Make it faster, lighter, smaller, more useful, more of anything that the customer is asking for. (If you don't know what the customer is asking for you shouldn't be brainstorming)
  4. It's too easy. The answer is so obvious it can't possibly be right. If it were, someone else would have done it already.
  5. It's too hard. How do you make it? How do you market it? It might take a lot of work to get your product design, positioning, and manufacturing just right. Get over it and get started.
  6. It's not my job. No one is responsible for championing the ideas once the session is over.
  7. Impatience. I've seen companies reject ideas big enough to start a new company with because they didn't meet their minimum volume requirements at launch. Not every $100,000,000 idea is a $100,000,000 in year one.
  8. Complacency. "The business is going well. We don't need new products now. We can take our time." No you can't. Successful companies innovate their current products out of existence before their competition does. There are no more cash cows.
  9. Too much fuzz at the fuzzy front end. What are the objectives? Who's the target? Where's the pain or friction in the marketplace? What are the opportunities? Before you put a lot of people in a room, make sure you have the answer to these and a lot of other questions. You can't think outside the box unless you have a well defined box.
  10. We tried that already. Corporate memory is a blessing and a curse. It keeps you from repeating the mistakes of the past, but it prevents you from revisiting ideas that were ahead their time. Markets change, technology improves, attitudes evolve. 
I post this not in the spirit of making fun of corporate innovation, but in an attempt to help make it better. After all, you can't fix a problem until you acknowledge its existence.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

No nonsense marketing

Red Wing boots are not flashy. They're not hip like Doc Martens. They're not trendy like Uggs. They're no nonsense, blue collar, and American made.

It's nice to see a brand with so much confidence and self awareness that they can just tell their story and know it will resonate with a large enough segment of the population to keep them going. That's why I like the new video series they've just created. 

These videos are hard working. Just like their boots. 

Well done.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mmmmm, bacon

It seems that bacon is the new, um, bacon. It's the trendy food item that as Ted Allen says, "makes everything taste better."

I whole-heartedly agree. And so, apparently, does Denny's.

Denny's continues its marketing renaissance with this month's promotion, "Baconalia, the sacred festival of bacon." It's a smart campaign for a lot of reasons.

It celebrates and elevates Denny's diner heritage. It's built around a food that just about everyone loves (yes, I know certain religious sects are on the outside looking in on this one). They've created some nice products around their featured ingredient, including one that's sure to turn some heads, the maple bacon sundae. They've come up with a name that warms this old Latin major's heart, one that's much more interesting and memorable than bacon-fest, baconmania or bacon-palooza.

And they produced a nice spot to promote the event.

My only question is, how good is that bacon?

I'm sure it's as good as anything else that comes off the back of the Sysco truck, but I doubt it's the kind of bacon that made Ari Weinzweig wax rhapsodic in his paean to porcine perfection. And that's the one thing they could have done to make this promotion better, co-brand with a specialty bacon brand.

So in honor of Baconalia, I think I'll get out the skillet and fry up some bacon from Neuske's or Willow Creek.

I'm not even going to tell you what I'm planning to do with the bacon grease after it cools.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TV anywhere? How about nowhere.

Does where I watch television matter just as much as what I watch?

If you're Viacom or Scripps, the answer is apparently yes.

There's a huge fight going on now over whether or not the cable companies have the right to create apps that stream video content that subscribers have already paid for onto iPads and other mobile devices. Content providers see this is a violation of their existing contracts and want the cable companies to pay them more. I have just one question, why?

Why should I pay more to watch The Daily Show on an iPad at the breakfast table rather than sitting on a couch in my living room at 10 P.M.?

In fact, I'd say the cable companies are doing the content owners a favor by creating these apps. Their allowing their content to be seen by more people who've already paid for it.

Even with a DVR there are more shows on that I can possibly watch. I've paid for every single one of the 160+ channels that are brought into my home by the cable. Why should I pay again if I want to watch them more conveniently somewhere else? After all, that just provides me with more opportunities to be exposed to the advertising messages, which should theoretically make the programming more valuable.

My advice to Scripps, Viacom and the cable companies, embrace this new behavior and find a way to use to add value to your advertisers, rather than trying to squeeze more out of customers who already are wondering whether that monthly bill is really worth the money.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Goodnight, good sir.

Yesterday, we lost a great one. A legend. A man who defined his very craft. And a man who influenced the lives of many including mine.

David E. Davis, Jr. was the editor/publisher of Car and Driver Magazine and, thanks to his then recent marriage to my aunt Jeannie, my new uncle when I first met him in 1976. They had come over for a family 4th of July celebration and I was about four shades of green after a night of revelry with friends. David took one look at me and knew exactly what I needed; a large bowl of Carroll Shelby's chili with extra onions which he happened to have on hand for the party. Over the years, he taught me a lot more than how to cure a hangover.

I was lucky enough to serve as the gopher/road warrior/token nepote for Car and Driver during my four undergraduate years in Ann Arbor. In between making sure the cars were clean for photo shoots and breaking in his snake boots, I got to do some very cool things. 

David commissioned my first professional piece of writing, a book review in the pages of Car and Driver for The Complete Car Car Manual. He also sent me to pick up a Harley from the factory in Milwaukee which served as the subject of my first vehicle review. 

Always one to offer sage advice, after I rearranged the fascia of a Nissan 200SX on the side of a building in a snowstorm while driving for an Aaron Kiley photo shoot he asked, "What did you learn about friction?"

His next piece of advice came a few month's prior to my graduation. Working at Car and Driver was not an option for me because the new owners, CBS, had a rule against nepotism and as long as David was there, I couldn't be. During a night of pizza and beer at Dominick's, David, the man who as Creative Director championed the campaign, "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet" suggested, "Have you ever thought about advertising? You might be good at it." 

Damned if he wasn't right.

After I got myself fired from J. Walter Thompson three years later, a job for which he'd recommended me, I called to apologize and he said "Don't worry about it. I made a career out of being fired when I was your age. You'll find something better." 

He was right again. I had a job at his alma mater, Campbell-Ewald two days later.

Over the next 30 years, Lisa, my kids and I were blessed to have spent time hunting, fishing, driving, dining and drinking with him and his family. It has been an honor to be a part of his remarkable life and I will miss him dearly. 

I know he is where the roads are free from left lane bandits and Nixon's 55 mph speed limit, where the dogs always find birds, where the whisky is neat and where friends gather around a table of incredible food each night to share unforgettable stories.

Freedom and Whisky