I teach marketing principles for The University of Hartford’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. One particular class I was teaching today is part of a series that takes budding entrepreneurs through a business feasibility planning blitz over the course of three months. The course reviews the basic concepts in all aspects of business planning: marketing, product development, distribution, pricing, legal set-up, etc.

I am always stunned at how businesses get launched on the back of a napkin or start with just a “wing and a prayer. This course tries to impart to its participants how critical planning is and how early evaluation of competitive environments and deep consumer exploration can make drastic differences in how a start-up moves forward. But as I talk with these entrepreneurs, it occurs to me that the same review needs to take place in large, well-established companies. 

I talked earlier this week about understanding the changing consumer dynamics given the economic situation we all find ourselves in. So here are some questions for you to ponder in your world: 

  • What competitive advantages are emerging in this new marketplace?
  • Should you be offering more targeted discounts or prmotinal offers?
  • How does your product line need to change?
  • What advantages would you find by targeting the super wealthy? 
  • If your current marketing plan was slashed by 80%, what innovative, out-of-the box activities would you activate to continue to get your message out there?

If this line of questioning sparks some inspiration, let me know. I’m interested to hear what you are thinking about!


Who has the biggest personal brand in the US and arguably, the world, right now? 

Michael Phelps.

This is not just the winningest Olympian of all time; this is a super brand.

How does this happen?

Clarity. Consistency. Communication. Commitment. 

Let’s break it down. 

Clarity – Phelps knows what he is about. He is clear about his strengths, both physically and mentally. In various interviews over the past two weeks, he talked a lot about the tools he has and how he leverages those tools. At one point, he said, “I tried to use the tools that I have whenever I can. My big dolphin kick is one of those tools.”

At another time, he talked about how imagination helped him persevere. He imagined his victories, keeping them constantly in his mind and then translating that into physical reality. 

Consistency – Phelps is consistent. He wins again and again. His work ethic helped him win in Athens and again in Beijing, consistently delivering his brand over and over again. 

Communication – In a TV interview with Michael Phelps’s mother during NBC’s Olympic coverage, she talked about how Phelps wants to bring focus to the sport of swimming and how cognizant he is of his opportunities to raise that awareness. That shows that Phelps is expressing his brand on purpose. In interviews, he is consistent, humble, but very aware. They showed his schedule for a typical day in Beijing, which included press conferences in addition to practices and events. He is seeking out opportunities to express his brand to as wide an audience as possible. 

Commitment – In a feature played during their broadcast, NBC discussed how Michael Phelps eats, sleeps, and swims. That’s it. I’m guessing that will now change considerably, but commitment got him all those shiny gold medals. 

So what? 

This raises the question: How are you expressing your brand? You may not have to wear goggles and a second skin swimsuit for you to express your brand but the principles remain the same. Find out what unique gift you have to share with the world. Work hard to perfect those skills and create opportunities to communicate that brand. What do you imagine for yourself or your brand? How are you bringing that mental image into physical being? Be committed to your brand and express your brand consistently in order to achieve Olympic results. 



Michael Phelps on a Corn Flakes box!? I love it. 

He’s being unique, bold, different, going-left-when-everyone-else-has-gone-right, very un-Wheaties-like.

Michael Phelps on a Frosted Flakes box!? Many people don’t love it. 

There is a tremendous uproar about what kind of statement Phelps is making, endorsing sugary cereals and such. This is a guy who consumes over 12,000 calories a day. It seems a little late for people to be arguing over this sponsorship when McDonalds is posting YouTube videos of Phelps ordering double cheeseburgers in Beijing! 

I find it interesting to think about it from the perspective of the Frosted Flakes brand manager’s position. That guy just got promoted, I’m guessing. Frosted Flakes has sponsored the Little League World Series for several years and has been trying to tie themselves to fitness and kids wellness with various efforts. This is just the latest coup.

Congratulations, Kellogg’s, for finding a way to stay on strategy and capitalize on one of the world’s biggest brand names out there today.


A friend of mine who is a copywriter sent me an email with the subject line “No Wonder We are Cranky” with a link to a YouTube video. Anyone who has ever developed creative — an idea, an advertisement, copy for a brochure, a visual depiction of a process — has lived through this process. 

The video shows someone trying to develop creative, based on client specifications, consumer input, senior management desires and a whole host of other constraints that result in a creative mess. 

This should remind us not to over-think our communications. Clear, simple, communications should be the goal. In the age of over-segmented, super-researched, trying-to-please-all-people communications, remember the KISS principle that you heard about first in grade school: Keep It Simple Stupid. 

It doesn’t matter whether you are on the client side or the agency side, you will relate to this video. For a little lighthearted humor, check out the video HERE:



See the Principle Behind the Poster

Continental Airlines has a postering campaign that includes a headline that reads, “You’ve Got Suits Older Than Our Planes.” The fine print talks about how they have the “newest jet fleet.”

There are several basic advertising principles illustrated in that ad:

  1. Be timely. With all the bad press that Southwest has generated about the age and poor condition of some of its airplanes, Continental is taking advantage of topics that are top of mind with its customer base.
  2. Use emotion to your competitive advantage. The inherent implication is that everyone else’s fleet is old and therefore, scary to fly. This ad prays on the fear of flying and offers Continental as the alternative choice.
  3. Put it in context. By comparing the age of their planes to the age of a suit in someone’s closet, they have reframed the meaning of the word “old.” This classic technique can be found in many industries. “Ten Easy Payments of $19.99″ (versus $200.00) or “Less than the cost of dinner for two” (versus $100.00).

So the questions for today are: What negative press is your industry getting that you could flip to your advantage? What emotional triggers can you tap into? What frame of reference can you provide that allow someone to look at your offering from a whole different perspective?

What Value Signals are you Sending?

The economy is certainly impacting many areas of business. $4.00 for a gallon of gas has made people much more mindful of how they spend their money. This leads to businesses offering promotional programs and deeper discounts in order to woo money from the wallets of America.

These days, you may be considering lots of promotional programs in order to meet your sales goals. Be mindful of what impact promotions have. It is one thing to offer something on a short term basis in order to see a lift in sales. But if those promotional offers end up as standard, every day offers, they are no longer promotions. The danger in offering promotional programs is that you water down the value of your brand and you train your consumers as to what to the value is (or isn’t) for your brand. Even with this economy, the products or services that you provide do have value. Be sure you have a clear strategy for the promotional programs that you offer and try to change them often so that consumers don’t get convinced that your product or service is of lower value.

Consume Less Media to Increase Your Productivity

I’m reading Timothy Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week, and I am finding that, according to him, being clueless about the world around you is actually a measure of high productivity. Who knew? I wish he’d tell my husband that; he’s a news channel junkie. My husband thinks I should watch the news more often. I don’t really read the newspaper or watch a lot of news. My husband is addicted to MSNBC, Fox News and all the other news channels and keeps it on the background as he works all day. He is an architect and can somehow do that. Me, I need focus. 

In the book (which I highly recommend), Ferris talks about the fact about you should only be consuming information that you need. I thought that was an interesting concept. When I need news, I seek it out. I subscribe to several marketing e-newsletters to keep me informed about what’s going on the marketing and media world to understand others’ strategies and how changes in the business world will affect my clients. In addition, I have subscription to Inc, Fast Company, Business Week and a few other industry magazines that I can consume while I eat my lunch. Whenever I need information and inspiration for development of programs for one of my clients, I find that inspiration often comes from a combination of my background and experience mixed with fresh ideas found on-line. That’s one of the beauties of the internet. 

I must admit, there are days when I just need to get connected to the world. But for the most part, I’m happy not knowing all the garbage that goes on in the world. While I’m interested in how China reacts to an earthquake and what aid they may need, I’m not as concerned about what Obama’s minster said the day before yesterday. So if you’re looking for a way to add more time to your day, do what I do – don’t read the newspaper, don’t watch TV, just do whatever it is that you want to do. As Timothy Ferris states in his book, you’ll be surprised how little you’ll miss.

Strategic Positioning Statement – the Iceberg of your Marketing Plan

One of the great things about teaching is that you also learn when you teach something. I teach a Branding and Positioning class at the University of Hartford’s Center for Entrepreneurial studies. We were talking the other day about strategic positioning.

Strategic positioning statements are usually only one or two sentences, but they are one of the most important one or two sentences for your business. All of your marketing flows out of your positioning statement. Earlier in my career, I was taught to picture the positioning statement as the iceberg. The positioning statement was, for the most part, unseen, but it is that which everything is built upon. The marketing materials are just what you see as a result of the positioning statement.

So the position statement is critically important. It has several critical elements in it: competitive advantage, focus on who your customer is, what your key benefits are and why one should believe you.

When was the last time you look at your positioning statement? Do you use it in every creative brief? Is it something that drives all of your marketing?

What is your iceberg?

Dead Industries or Technological Possibilities?

I read an article that called Steve Jobs on the carpet for a (rather stupid) comment he made about how reading is dead. As one who buys about 100 books every year, I cannot agree with Mr. Jobs. However, I would not like to have everything I have ever said dissected, so I will leave that commentary to someone else: http://egan.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/20/book-lust/index.html

However, it did raise for me the marketing question of obsolescence. Everyone said the radio would be dead when TV entered the market, and everyone said books and newspapers would be dead when the internet came along. Anyone who grew up in the eighties understands the song phrase, “Video killed the radio star” because they remember when MTV showed music videos. I work with a premium paper company that, by all rights, ought to be dead due to the paperless office…but it’s not.

People still buy books, listen to the radio, print their resumes out on paper, send mail through the post office, and read the newspaper. I’m not saying that the newspaper industry isn’t seriously struggling, but it is still delivered to millions of homes.

Steve Jobs’ comment simply makes me think, “What would I do? If I were in charge of that company or industry, how would I grow sales?” At its core, it’s the same answer that any smart marketer would give: find ways to remain relevant. Offer your product or service in new ways. Look at what your core competencies are and find new ways to deliver those competencies. After all, newspapers are not really in the business of selling sheets of newsprint; they are in the business of informing, selling the latest and greatest information available anywhere. New technology may present new challenges, but it also produces new opportunities. Are you taking advantage of those opportunities? Potentially, those new technologies just offer more choices to consumers. When MTV started airing videos, it became a monumental marketing vehicle to promote record label sales. Newspapers need to reinvent themselves to deliver content to someone’s iPhone and grow revenues digitally.

Maybe you are in that situation, working in a company whose core product line is threatened by emerging technology. Try to turn it around. What possibilities does this new opportunity bring? Is there anything that you could provide or do that could change your business model for the better because of this new technology?

Stretch your thinking to see where change can take you, and take heart in the fact that, despite Steve Jobs prediction, there will always be people like me that defy the “trends.”

Well, gotta run. I think I’ll stop by the bookstore!.

“Creative” “Process”

I’m an art history major, so process has never really been big in my world. I’m much more of a “creative” thinker. However, even within the creative process, there are two aspects of that phrase: “creative” and “process,” the implication being that there is a logical process to creativity. Some people may argue that this is not the case, but I have enough experience with creativity to know that this is true.
One of the things I have been looking at recently is, how does the creative process really work? If you break it down into steps, can you “map” it, or is it just “free-flow” thinking? I believe the answer is, “Yes. It’s both.”

There is a software package that I have been playing with called, “MindManager,” which is available at www.mindjet.com Great for thinking through strategies, it allows you to easily sort through thoughts, establish processes, develop hierarchies, see patterns, prioritize workload and make your life more organized. I certainly haven’t mastered it yet, but even for this art history major, this seems like a good thing. Check it out and tell me what you think.