Friday, February 29, 2008

Influential business quotes

"You have to be from somewhere," Terrell Holland, GTE, 1984.
My boss at my first job out of college, Terrell was urging a group of new hires, me included, to develop deep skills in some part of the business before trying to branch out to other disciplines. And despite not having done any engineering work or software development for fifteen years, I still find that I approach problems with an engineer's mindset. That's where I'm from.

"Time kills deals," Gordon Adams, EDS, 1994.
I've talked about this before. And I've read criticism of this saying. What Gordon meant was, assuming a deal is worth doing for you and the customer--you can't wait for the deal to come to you. You have to go get it. And I still believe that.

"Ha-ha-ha-ha," Bruce Leonard, EDS, 1996.
Bruce ran our division at EDS and I went to him for some career advice. I was considering going back for a PhD, but wanted to talk about senior management as a possible pathway. I had told him that it seemed to be that there was a huge gap between my capabilities and what was needed to be a senior manager. That executives were somehow different in a quantum way from us midlevel folks. And he laughed.

"When I first started my own practice, I learned this: I was not in the law business; I was in the sales business," Don McFadden, 2006.
Don is my father-in-law. I've heard people say this about consulting: "I love it all except the selling part." Then you are in the wrong business, my friend.

"What I learned from Lenny Bruce was: You don't need the entire audience.... If you're too needy of that entire audience, you won't find your own style. [When I saw Lenny Bruce, he] had only a third of the audience with him. And he didn't mind that at all," comedian David Steinberg on Fresh Air, 2007.
I'm not a standup comedian, but this affected me. It's easy working in business to try to steer to the middle of the road--to try to make everyone happy. But it doesn't work, and worse it limits the value you have. To be all you can be, you have to say what you think, and accept the consequences that some people (maybe most people) won't agree.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

The new gamer: social and casual

The New York Times' astute video games columnist, Seth Schiesel, has written an article explaining the current state of the videogame industry, with insightful comments from speakers at the recent Game Developers Conference. Former leaders like Microsoft and Sony have lost ground due to their fixation with single-player games aimed at young men. The "new wave" including Nintendo and Activision (both companies with a lot of history) have brought out product that meets customers' desire for social gaming experiences--and less daunting, "casual" games.

Judging by our household, where the Wii is such an attraction to our seven- and five-year-old sons that we must ration access, and where playdates involve bringing your Wii remote to your friends' houses, I'd say we are right in the middle of that new market.

When winter breaks, we will see if my hours of swinging the remote on Tiger Woods PGA 2008 has any impact on my proper golf swing.

(Photo: a Nintendo Mii avatar in the image of Paul McCartney from

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Companies stall because they don't listen to customers

The Stall Points Initiative is an effort by the Corporate Executive Board, a business research group, to pinpoint why companies suddenly stop growing, then stagnate or decline for years thereafter. If you think that's a rare trend, think again: according to CEB, 87% of the companies they studied (all at one time members of the Fortune 100 or similarly sized non-US companies) had stalled once or more.

Matthew Olson, Seth Verry and Derek van Bever of the CEB describe their work in the March issue of the Harvard Business Review ("When Growth Stalls" - free link). The authors contend that most of the reasons for stalls are within the company's control (factors such as regulatory actions, macroeconomic issues, political shifts are responsible for only 13% of the stalls).

CEOs are advised to watch for "red flags" to see if their companies are headed for a stall. Here's the list:

  • Core assumptions about the marketplace and company capabilities to exploit it are undocumented
  • Market definition boundaries are out of date
  • Definition of core market is out of date
  • Infrequent testing of customers' valuation of product attributes
  • Ineffective translation of customer insights into products
  • Core customers no longer are willing to pay a premium for the product
Five out of the six reasons directly point to an inability to listen carefully to the market and compose a realistic picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the company's products.

So why do stalls happen? Companies point inward and lose contact with customers. Their internal focus leads them to overestimate their strengths and show overconfidence in their offerings.

Companies need to constantly question their value propositions to customers (this strategy approach can help) and guard against falling in love with their products. A little humility, a lot of listening, and never being satisfied.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Big Think Strategy" is a fun, inspiring read on reinventing business

Every CEO these days wants to reinvent her business. One problem is thinking big enough. Being part of an industry, a market, a sector tends to limit a company's peripheral vision. How do companies break out of their comfort zone and find strategies that take advantage of their unique strengths while opening up new markets?

That is the question "Big Think Strategy" by Bernd Schmitt, professor at Columbia Business School, tries to answer. And the book does a good job of showing what is needed to "kill the sacred cows" of a business and imagine and invent a prosperous, growing future. Schmitt's focus is on nurturing creativity in the executive suite and in among the rank and file. And it's written in a fun style that complements the subject matter and inspires the readership to give the ideas a try.

The best parts of the book are around generating new ideas--from staff, customers or seemingly unrelated industries--creating a strategy from those ideas. In Chapter Four, Schmitt describes four "big think strategy" types--opposition, integration, essence and transcendence--and what competitive reaction each type is likely to spur.

Like more and more business books these days, Schmitt lets his personal story seep into the pages, whether it's his love of steak or a nice suit, or the opera. (I have to say my enjoyment of these anecdotes was offset somewhat by twinges of envy--Schmitt's life seems pretty posh for a consultant... perhaps he is hiring?)

"Big Think Strategy" is a companion piece to a couple of other recent books of importance: "The Opposable Mind" and "The Future of Management" (see posts on these books here and here). And it suffers a bit by comparison to each. Due to its brevity and fewer examples, and to some extent its breezy writing style, it feels less substantial than either book. Nonetheless, it's a good book on a crucial subject for today's leaders.

If you can only buy two books on reinventing your business this year, I'm afraid you'll have to skip "Big Think Strategy." Otherwise, it's a worthy addition to your bookshelf.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Stop studying the problem, and just try something!

Yesterday I tried to make the case that most business situations are complex and not predictable ahead of time. Time spent developing foolproof strategies, detailed plans, etc., is time wasted.

What to do? One answer is probes, or inexpensive experiments. I've already cited Boudewijn Bertsch's posts this week on the Cognitive Edge guest blog, and at the risk of going to the well too often, I'd like to discuss him again today.

He recently posted on the efforts by the Alexandra Hospital of Singapore to reduce waiting times for patients by offering a real-time webcam image of the emergency room waiting area on the web. People considering visiting the ER could view the image on the web and anticipate how long they might have to wait before seeing a doctor.

The webcam idea was a small, cheap solution. It might not have made any difference. But the hospital tried it, and found that waiting times improved. [One explanation: at times when the ER was already busy, patients with minor complaints either waited to come in, or found another hospital.]

If the webcam had not made an improvement--no problem, just take it down, and the hospital would have written off an investment totaling $400.

Boudewijn mentions that the Alexandra Hospital's continuous improvement program used elements of the Toyota Production System. There's a lot to the TPS, but one aspect that I find fascinating is that workers who propose ideas are asked to estimate the impact of the change. Then once the change is implemented the actual results are compared to the estimate and shared with the worker. Is it surprising that the estimates get better and better? [This Harvard Business Review article illuminated that feature very clearly.]

In a somewhat similar vein to the Singapore hospital, Google experiments with new products. They put them out there, without formal launches, people discover them, Google adjusts and tweaks, and the products develop a large following, or not. In the latter case, they retire the product, again with little fanfare.

Google has gotten some criticism about the frequency of their product failures, but what is being missed in this is that they are performing lots and lots of low-cost experiments. Their unconcern for media criticism allows them to put a lot of probes out there and "see what sticks," whereas many many competitors in the IT world stick with an approach of: develop for two years, study the market, then make a splashy launch.

Google gets a lot more at-bats than its competition. If they fail more, it doesn't matter, because they are cheap failures. The number of successful products, at least to my eyes, is much higher.

So if you've got a great idea, or even merely a good one, find a cheap way to try it out. If it doesn't measure up, kill it. Repeat often.

(Photo by svaziphil via stock.xchng)

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

What in hell is retrospective coherence?

It's perfectly clear why the dot-com bust happened. A bunch of internet startups all chased the same customer base, sought eyeballs instead of revenue, and tried to get big fast. Telecoms operators, hardware companies and software vendors all got fat on the investments of these startups. Then, when it became clear revenue wasn't forthcoming, the whole house of cards collapsed.

The problem is, that wasn't at all clear in March 2000, the top of the bubble. From my recollection, everyone owned stocks and checked Yahoo Finance throughout the day, calculating their (paper) net worth in real time. (Remember the book "Dow 36,000"? It's now available for $0.93 on Amazon.)

Our utter clarity on the events of the dot-com bust is an example of retrospective coherence. I first saw this term in the writings of Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge. Retrospective coherence means that, in hindsight, it's easy to explain why things happened in a complex environment. Yet it is impossible to predict them ahead of time. (The long-running Dartboard investment competition in the Wall Street Journal bears witness to this phenomenon.)

Another example from the US sporting world is the recent Super Bowl. From all the post-game coverage, it's perfectly sensible why the New York Giants beat the Patriots. Their defensive line was superior, their coaching was better, the players were tougher.

But--before the game, nearly everyone had picked the Patriots. And a couple of key plays affected the outcome--if Manning had gotten sacked, or Tyree not made the catch on the same play, the papers would have written a very different story.

Getting seduced by RC causes us to create foolproof strategies and riskless plans. Once these are exposed to the complexities of the business world, their usefulness quickly deteriorates. The real damage occurs when we hang onto them too long.

When we recognize this trap, we can approach problems in a different way. Rather than trying to find the one correct path to our goal, we can perhaps decide on the first few steps, take them, assess where we are and whether to change direction, and progress in that manner. Or we can attempt some experiments and see which path is working best for our objectives (see what Dave says on "safe-fail" probes).

But always we must be aware that the playing field is constantly changing, that today's "no lose" investment strategy is tomorrow's $0.93 Amazon special, and that, sometimes, when the championship is on the line, the Giants will beat the Patriots.

(Photo: Sports Illustrated's cover of the Giants' Super Bowl win)

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A quick skim covering innovation, marketing, and complexity

A quick skim through several important blog posts you should read right now.

John Quelch of Harvard Business School covers eight principles for marketing during a recession.

Glenn Gow of Crimson Consulting Group explains clearly that while great companies should perhaps "eat their own dog food," they should certainly become expert consumers and users of their competitors' products.

Roberto Verganti, visiting professor at Harvard, has a paper covering, among other topics, why cutting-edge design companies don't use focus groups and why innovation followers have more product variety than leaders. (See here and here for earlier posts for discussion of earlier Verganti work.)

In the Cognitive Edge guest blog, Boudewijn Bertsch relates a powerful story of how a company--which had tried and failed to improve workplace safety using directives and processes--finally made progress by using stories to give it "a human face." (Boudewijn's other superb posts are also required reading: "The forgtten whole and the flawed focus on the 'lonely' parts of the organization" and "'Improvement must be focused on what you want, not on what you don’t want.' Russell Ackoff.")

(Photo by zela via stock.xchng)

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Forgetting Organization

Many years ago, I took a series of courses adapted from Peter Senge's book "The Fifth Discipline." The hallmark of that book was a concept called "the learning organization," which posited that to be adaptable in an environment of constant change, companies had to nurture and support the learning impulses in all their employees.

While I really enjoyed the courses (and over the past decade have grown to appreciate them more), I grew frustrated by our company's inability to learn from our experiences. We made the same mistakes again and again.

With the gallows humor familiar to anyone who works for a very large, slowly-changing company, I started calling us "The Forgetting Organization."

Twelve years on, not much has changed. January's Harvard Business Review features "The Experience Trap" (link - $$) by Kishore Sengupta, Tarek K. Abdel-Hamid, and Luk N. Van Wassenhove. In simulations performed with software project managers, the authors discovered that even experienced project managers made similar mistakes--for example, bringing on staff too late in the project--again and again, in different projects. Rather than learning from what had gone wrong in Project 1, the PMs did much the same in Project 2, and 3, and so on.

Sengupta et. al. attribute this forgetting to several factors: (1) the disjoint and time-lagged relationship between cause and effect, (2) conflict between initial plan and long-term goal when conditions change and (3) the fallibility of initial estimates (and people's tendency to hang onto those far past their useful lives).

In other words, software projects, like so much of the high-value work in business today, operates in the complex domain. The authors prescribe a set of practices to help companies suffering from "the experience trap," but a simple recognition of the environment that people are working in, and training and reinforcing awareness of that fact, could help workers learn more.

Or, in other words, to forget less.

(Note: I also mentioned the above story in a previous post.)

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Celebrating 500 posts

According to Blogger, this is the 500th post for Shop Talk. Just about 600 calendar days have passed since June 13, 2006, when we first published on the net.

Among these posts have been:

As to readership, there have been over 20,000 readers and 30,000 pages viewed since inception. I thank them all.

And you, too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Garr Reynolds celebrates learning via narrative

You don't have to read this blog very often to learn that I love the work of Garr Reynolds on developing and delivering excellent presentations. I've bought his book and plan to read and review it in the next few weeks. In the meantime, however, Garr continues to give away his knowledge and learning via the Presentation Zen blog and today he touches on (among several other items) one of my favorite topics: learning via narrative.

In reviewing a Google Talk of Cornell economist Robert Frank, he highlighted some of Frank's thinking about learning, and in particular two remarkable quotes:

At its core, the narrative perspective holds that human beings have a universal predisposition to "story" their experience; that is, to impose a narrative interpretation on information and experience.
Walter Doyle and Kathy Carter, University of Arizona


[children] turn things into stories, and when they try to make sense of their life they use the storied version of their experience as the basis for further reflection.... If they don't catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn't get remembered very well, and it's not very accessible for further kinds of mulling over.
Jerome Bruner, "Narrative and Paradigmatic Modes of Thought"

Exactly right. This is about the most straightforward and commonsense explanation for the value of narrative in the businessplace that I can imagine. Given that, everyone involved in business leadership should work on understanding and using these concepts to teach their staff--and to learn from them.

It starts now.

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The full Robert Frank speech is below:

Executing your strategy is a good idea

The new book “Executing Your Strategy: How To Break It Down And Get It Done,” by Mark Morgan, William Malek and Raymond Levitt, is an invaluable resource for leaders seeking to plot a course for the future.

The authors accurately accuse most leaders of vision by default—setting management priorities based solely on the issues confronting them rather than looking ahead, and deciding what to do next. At the same time, Morgan, Malek and Levitt put forth a systematic approach for companies to decide “who they are, where they want to go and how to get there” and illustrate the means to implement those ideas. They also cover the key elements linking vision, strategy and operations--and how to connect them together into a coherent operating model for a company.

“Executing Your Strategy” is not a breezy read, and probably works best digested a bit at a time, and thereafter as a reference. Yet its density is welcome when the issue at hand—as the authors state, “The global business landscape is littered with expensive, well-intentioned strategies that failed in the execution phase”—is so important.

By contrast, “The New Leader’s Guide to Diagnosing the Business” (link - $$) in the February Harvard Business Review sets out a complete menu of activities for the new CEO in ten pages. While the tools to diagnose the current state of the business are fine and useful, “The New Leader’s Guide” goes awry when it tries to convert those findings to a working strategy (perhaps suffering from the consultant’s detachment from the complexities of actual business management). Here is a sample strategy they propose for a new CEO:

  • Reduce costs by $200 million to move relative cost position from 110% of best competitor to 90%.
  • Increase relative market share from 0.9 to 1.2 [i.e., from second in market share to first]….
  • Increase share of profit pool from 40% of $2 billion to 70% of $2.8 billion
  • Cut SKUs from 100,000 to 2,000; reduce organizational layers in SG&A from five to three; outsource 20% of all SG&A costs.

These consultants will remain nameless (their firm’s name rhymes with main), but they are in effect proposing a strategy to become a cost leader, a market share leader, and a profitability leader--all at the same time.

The authors of “Executing Your Strategy” say this:

We have worked with many companies whose strategies seem to ask them to do it all…. This type of multifront strategy is almost always a nonstarter…. What differentiates one organization from another in terms of strategic execution is the discipline of engaging the strategy with the tailored portfolio of projects and programs that will bring it to life. In a world of limited resources, it is as much about choosing what not to do as about deciding which strategic projects and programs to invest in. (p. 141)

Makes sense to me. If I needed strategy consulting help, I think I’d bypass the …ain guys and talk to Morgan, Levitt and Malek.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Influentials--or lots of bloggers--affect music sales

This week's release of a study concluding that more blog mentions increase music sales has caused me to think about the work of Duncan Watts, which has garnered a lot of notice based on this Fast Company article. (Shop Talk readers were alerted to Watts' work in February and May of 2007.)

The study mentioned above, by Vasant Dhar and Elaine Chang of NYU's Stern School of Business, found that the volume of blog posts was correlated with increased sales. In other words, controlling for other factors, a record mentioned in 250 blog posts would sell more than one mentioned in 25.

Which brings me back to Watts' thinking. He taunts Gladwell about the assertion that a small number of influentials can drive product adoption. From the "Fast Company" article:

He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. He has written computer models of rumor spreading and found that your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend. And last year, Watts demonstrated that even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random. Any attempt to engineer success through Influentials, he argues, is almost certainly doomed to failure.

Yet as I look at the NYU data, I can interpret it Watts' way or Gladwell's.

Either lots of people found the music and talked about it separately, and through lots of small interactions (what Watts would attribute to marketers' "big-seeding"), people discovered and bought the music.

Or a few Gladwellian "influencers" touted the music, causing other bloggers to discover the music and tout it as well, adding up to a large volume of blog posts, and thus sales.

Who's right?

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Monday, February 11, 2008

LEGO knows partnering

My two sons, ages 7 and 5, are all about Star Wars. They know every episode, every character, every spaceship. It amazes me that a 30-year-old film (and its successors) could have a hold on little imaginations as strong as if it were released last year.

They also love Legos. And what could be better than combining these two obsessions?

(Well, nothing actually.)

Legos have come a long way since I was a kid. Then they were basic building blocks--eights, sixes, fours, twos, a few windows and wheels. That was it. Now Lego has morphed into a modeling architecture--like the plastic models of my youth, without the nasty glue and paint. It's a nightmare if you want to sort parts, but for a kid, being able to build an exact replica of an AT-AP is priceless.

Going even further, there's a Lego Star Wars web site, as well as a video game, which is permanently installed in our Wii.

In order for Lego to enter this new phase, they had to get comfortable with partnering up. They worked with Lucasfilm Ltd. to license the Star Wars characters, scenarios, etc. (This is one of several licensing projects that Lego is involved in: have you seen the Lego Hogwarts Castle?) In so doing, they extended their brand and made it relevant to an entire new generation of customers--without losing what was distinctive and different about Legos.

(And if you're not a kid anymore, like I am, you can still construct a house with eights, sixes, fours and a few windows.)

(Photo: LEGO Star Wars Yoda, from the web site)

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Friday, February 08, 2008

The new midlife crisis--it's an "existential necessity"

I've been working through my midlife crisis (profiled in this earlier post)--not buying a sports car or seeking a trophy wife (I have one of those already), but confronting this: since retiring at fifty is neither practical nor desirable, working 2000 hours or so per year better be fun and have some meaning in it.

For me, that means working for myself, engaging in lots of different projects with different clients, working with folks from different countries (UK, Brazil, Japan, Northern Ireland in the past year), reading and researching, and playing with some new product ideas that may never earn a dime. (And being able to spend time with the family guilt-free.)

It may not be a house on the Maui beachfront, but it's a bit of paradise to me.

I have found that I have company in this new midlife crisis. I just caught up with a colleague from the '80s who left the rat race to develop a business combining his passions of marketing and auto racing. Very cool.

And now I learn that it is not only desirable, but necessary, to go through this change. Carlo Strenger and Arie Ruttenberg write in the February Harvard Business Review about "The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change" (link - $$). Strenger and Ruttenberg recognize that the midlife years often bring a need for career transition--boredom with the "same old job," lack of promotion opportunities, corporate restructuring or even being fired during our forties and fifties. Yet our assumptions of what we have left to offer are hopelessly out of date:

The myth of midlife as the onset of decline is rooted in historically outdated conceptions. According to this myth, people end their productive lives and retire at age 65. Sixty-five is not a magical number, however. It was introduced as the retirement age in Germany in 1916. Twenty-seven years earlier, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had established 70 as the age to begin receiving a pension. When asked how the state could afford such largesse, Bismarck replied that almost nobody would reach this age anyway. He was right. According to one source, life expectancy in Germany at the time was 49.

Since life expectancy in much of the developed world exceeds 80 years, retiring at 65 is a decade or more too early (ask my 83-year-old dad, who is completing his seventeenth year of work at the local elementary school, a job he took after retirement).

But for those forty-somethings who are looking at how to spend their next thirty years' productivity, there's another trap, write the authors: the myth of magical transformations:

This myth, the fruit of the past few decades, has been fed by countless self-help books and magazine articles, and by a general cultural atmosphere. The myth tries to sell the illusion that if people have enough vision and willpower, they can be anything or anybody they want to be. Paradoxically, this doesn’t make midlife career changes easier—it makes them more frightening. Faced with stories of doctors who get up one morning knowing that they want to become chefs, housewives who have a sudden vision of the business empires they are about to build, and lawyers who one day have crystal clear plans for high-tech businesses, real-life human beings are bound to feel inadequate. They have fears, doubts, and vague ideas at best, so they’d better stick to their knitting.

To sidestep this trap, the article gives us some commonsense advice: "To be productive, dreams must be connected to our potential. Otherwise, they are idle fantasies."

So, there's a prescription. Dream your future--as connected to your capabilities and strengths. Then go do it.

Anyone else out there giving it a go? Let me know.

(Photo by outrequin)

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Shop Talk Podcast #5 - Todd Mittleman of Honda on Green Automobiles

On this edition of the Shop Talk Podcast, I talk to Todd Mittleman, Director of Environmental & Safety Public Relations for Honda, about environmentally-friendly vehicles.

I confess that all the "green" options make me a bit dizzy--hybrid, E85, fuel cell, all-electric, clean diesel. Todd helps put the various environmental considerations--fuel efficiency, emissions, carbon footprint--into context for us. And, of course, he talks about the cars Honda has now and in the future for the environmentally-conscious driver. It's a very interesting conversation.

Please right-click and save here to download the podcast.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Taste trumps distribution (finally) in the beer market

Distribution prowess has ruled the US beer market at least since the '70's. (I recall a Harvard case talking about the downfall of Schlitz, focusing on Anheuser-Busch's building a nationwide distribution network.) As a result, most consumers have had to scan shelf after shelf of Bud Light and Michelob Ultra to find a good-tasting, fuller beer.

How things have changed. The craft beer movement, starting with Sierra Nevada in the '70s and blossoming with Samuel Adams in the '80s, is now a full-fledged market trend. People are buying Sea Dog, Cape Cod Beer, Yuengling, Brooklyn Lager, and hundreds of other small brands. Anheuser's market share is down, despite deals to distribute Stella Artois and Beck's.

And now, finally, the distribution monopoly that helped Anheuser crowd out rivals in the past is crumbling. In today's Wall Street Journal, David Kesmodel reports that distributors who had signed exclusivity agreements with A-B in exchange for promotional and cash incentives are beginning to turn away from those agreements ("Beer Distributors Want More Than One Best Bud" link - $$). Writes Kesmodel:

In recent years, some of Anheuser's 560 independent distributors became frustrated as craft brands such as New Belgium Brewing Co.'s Fat Tire Amber Ale surged in popularity and competing distributors snatched them up. Often, the distributors adding such high-margin brews were the same ones that peddled the beers of Anheuser's top rivals, SABMiller PLC's Miller Brewing and Molson Coors Brewing Co.

Anheuser wholesalers "are realizing that we have made the competition stronger by basically forfeiting these brands to them," says Chris Monroe, vice president of D. Canale Beverages Inc., a Memphis, Tenn., distributor that carried only Anheuser products until last fall.

It's a total reversal of where we've been. For years, large beer companies have relied on investment in non-product-related marketing, such as advertising and distribution, for sales growth--traditional "push" marketing techniques. Now, customer demands for better tasting, more-distinctive product are forcing distributors to carry what customers want.

Sounds like progress to me.

(Photo courtesy of Cape Cod Beer)

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Bowl Stories

People who aren't football fans tune into the Super Bowl to watch the advertisements. You've probably seen them, and read about them, already. The talking stain, Shaquille O'Neal as a race jockey, and so forth.

I was fascinated by another ad, part of a fascinating project by the National Football League which gathered stories from over 200 NFL players, and had fans vote on their favorites. The winner was made into a 60-second film, broadcast during the Super Bowl. It's a narrated story, partially dramatized, about an NFL player who meets a large man working at the grocery store. He convinces the man to try out for the college football team. You'll have to watch the video for the rest of the story.

The final product is excellent. But it's also interesting to view the original story, told one-on-one by the Houston Texans' Ephraim Salaam, and see how it changed in the more polished retelling. I love the final ad, but I think I like the original story even better.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Extracting value from a failed cold call

A few days ago l got a cold call from Pitney Bowes, the postage meter company. And they wanted to sell me a new postage meter that they had scaled down for small & medium size businesses. It was an interesting machine but looking at the price of it and the value it had to me I wasn't really interested.

In the course of the conversation, though, I gave them quite a bit of information about what I really wanted. Here's the price point I could accept, here was the no. of letters that I mail per month and packages and so forth.

Eventually the conversation ended but it occurred to me that there would be a lot of information in those types of calls that could be used for marketing research. The feedback from various prospects could be assembled and made sense of, narrative-wise, and convey a lot of information to the marketing group. (This is in the spirit of getting value out of, for example, "unsuccessful" product development efforts and "failed" scientific experiments.)

All marketing calls are recorded of course, but my sense is that sales call recordings go into the archives, especially failures, and are not dealt with again.

Which seems like a lost opportunity for the product manager to learn more about an untapped customer segment.

spoken through SpinVox

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