Saturday, February 26, 2005

Applauding professionalism

Last week I was with a group of some of the most professional individuals with whom I've ever worked.

We had a tough assignment: follow a difficult customer's personal direction in an important demonstration that we could, in fact, meet his specific requirements for portraying his product. We had tried before, and the results were extremely successful, we believed, but the work had failed to reflect our customer's personal taste and preferences.

So this time around our team memberrs subjugated their considerable talents to meet a markedly different set of criteria.

Giving you details about the differences of opinion and all-'round (even my own) stubborness isn't the point of this post. Rather, I want to celebrate the professionalism Anne Cassity, Lyn Rollins and photographer Michael Back brought to the job.

Here's a photo from one of our end-of-day dinners.
Team Photo (PGAN)
That's Lyn front left; Anne is the third from the left; Mike is sitting directly across from me, his pinky in his mouth a la Dr. Evil. The entire team was great. But these three were remarkable.

As I said to them, far too often in our industry we celebrate "the work, the work, the work is all that matters."

No. Working with people you admire for both their talent and their professionalism is what really matters. I reminded them that we don't save lives; we create marketing communications. So it's really not the work. It's the spirit with which it is created that is important. And believe me, this was one good-spirited group.

Monday, February 21, 2005

"May I supersize that?"

Seth Godin's blog recently featured a brief, and humbling, primal marketing question, one of those big "why's" that make us smack our foreheads. You can find it here.

Here's a taste: "It's no accident that so many Americans are turning to life-threatening surgery to solve life-long weight problems.

"This is precisely the same mindset that leads marketers to buy more SuperBowl ads instead of investing to fix customer service or to intelligently do online marketing."

It's not just about thinking small. It's about thinking smart.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Golf Resorts

Many readers of the Burris Blog know that we do a lot of work in the golf industry. Over the years we have represented a manufacturer of golf cars and utility vehicles, marketers of plastic cleats, media entities, equipment makers - we've covered the spectrum of the golf business.

In our days working with Pinehurst I figured the target for a high end golf resort represented a very small part of the population. There are approximately 6.5 million "avid" golfers, those who play 25 or more rounds per year. And of those there are fewer than 2 million "affluent avid" golfers, those who play 25+ rounds and have household incomes in excess of $125,000. It's this smaller group that is the core marketing target for the better golf resort. And by "better," I mean the select company that includes Pinehurst, Pebble Beach, The American Club (Whistling Straits, etc.), Bandon Dunes, Kiawah, The Greenbrier, Sea Island and maybe one or two more.

My friend Frank Sanders at CSM could remind me how many of those "affluent avids" take golf trips every year, but, believe me, it's only a fraction of the total.

Now we work with PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, and we're all about trying to insert that resort into the select group I mentioned above. Today we still go after the affluent avids. We aim at golfers, of course, but I try to remind myself - and my client - that advertising and similar communications strategies can only get us included among the number of resorts a golf travel planner considers for his - or his group's - vacation. It's his experience, and that of those who may refer PGA National to him - it's these things that really matter. And if it's a small universe to begin with, it only gets smaller and more difficult to market to if you don't deliver the best experience each and every time, for each and every guest.

I take 3-5 golf trips per year. This year alone I'll visit Scotland (Royal Troon among other courses), Monterey (Pebble Beach, Spyglass and Cypress Point) and Bandon Dunes.

Bandon Dunes
(My brother Brad with me on our last trip to Bandon Dunes.)

Each of these trips will be memorable, but for what? The golf resort or destination that gets my business should want to know because they need me to come back and - more important - they need for me to recommend to those who may ask me that they, too, make a visit.

Monday, February 14, 2005

About Handicaps in Golf

Let's make this the year we eliminate the word "about" when referring to your golf handicap.

How many times have you heard - heck, how many times have you answered the question, "What's your handicap?" with "Oh, it's about three," or "eight, I think," or "maybe 21..."?

Say what you want about the USGA's handicap system, "about" doesn't figure into it. Your handicap is in black and white, a specific number, and your index is even more precise; it comes with a decimal and a digit to the right of that decimal.

So when we're framing up our matches, let's avoid the "about." Your handicap is +1, Jeff. And, Brad, a +2 means you give two to the field.

And, hey, what do you say we count the number of clubs in your bag before we begin?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Innovation at Work

The cover story in the current FORTUNE (Feb 21, 2005) asks "How Big Can Apple Get?"

First, a disclaimer. I'm a big fan of Apple's products, hardware and software, and my user experience combined with my admiration for how easy they are to use - and how productive I can be with them - make me incredibly loyal, almost groupie-like.

The FORTUNE article (you can read it here) lays out much more than Apple's recent successes building on the iPod and the iTunes Music Store. It correctly points out that the software and hardware complement that is at the core of Apple's experience just makes everything work better. And it's cool when it works better.

Apple has been an outstanding innovator for the last five years. CEO Steve Jobs calls Apple "the most creatively advanced technical company." (Pixar, the studio behind "The Incredibles," "Toy Story," and other animated masterpieces - also behind CEO Steve Jobs - is "the most technically advanced creative company.")

It leads me to wonder: what if HP and Apple were to merge, or one were to acquire the other? HP is having big trouble competing against Dell in computers. By dropping Windows as its default OS - and picking up the Macintosh operating system - HP could live up to its "creative company" dream for itself. And Apple might benefit from HP's enterprise and services capabilities, maybe even establishing a foothold in the corporate world. I don't know. Just thinking...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Stuff - Why do we have so much?

I'm reading a fascinating book, "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It's about how the societies that rule today came to rule in the first place, but that's a long, two-volume story.

Anyway, in the prologue, Diamond tells a story about a long walk he took with a native of what is now Papua New Guinea, a guy named Yali. They're talking about how white civilization changed New Guinea centuries ago, "imposed centralized government, and brought material goods whose value New Guineans instantly recognized, ranging from steel axes, matches, and medicines to clothing, soft drinks, and umbrellas. In New Guinea all these goods were referred to collectively as 'cargo.'"

But Yali asked the question: "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?"

Well, Jared Diamond says the answer to Yali's question is his book's purpose. (And what a wonderful book it is.)

But this posting isn't about the book. It's about us. What about you? How much "cargo" do you have? And how valuable is most of it?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Managing brands today

BusinessWeek, which I've read for fifteen or more years, is not known for its insight, rather for its timely reporting of not just business news but also trends and analysis. But the current issue (February 14, 2005) has an insightful piece on the P&G / Gillette deal and what it says about brands in today's consumer marketplace.

Smart companies, the article says, "are thriving by managing brands differently than [they] did in the heyday of the mass market." The five branding lessons, I think, are right on the money. Here they are, with only a brief elaboration. (Go to the article for more detail.)

1. Innovate.
P&G combines technology with relevant consumer research to do more than milk existing products.

2. Move quickly.
Consumers are "hooked on innovation," so deliver it to them.

3. Minimize exposure to Wal-Mart.
You need to sell the big guy, and Wal-Mart represents 18% of P&G's volume. But more of it is in higher margin goods, not the easier to commoditize stuff like paper towels.

4. Pay attention to "the new media message."
"The goal is to both target specific customers and to fit the medium to the message."

5. Think broadly.
"P&G has expanded its mandate to become a solver of every problem in the home."

In other words, control your destiny before someone controls you.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Inspirator Revealed

We Burrisites have cogitated and studied and mulled over what we do, what we enjoy, and where we believe we make our greatest contributions. We concluded that we are - first and foremost - idea generators. We facilitate creative thinking, specifically the kind of creative thinking that helps overcome marketing problems.

For us it's a process that welcomes, even requires, discipline. Each day, Monday through Thursday, we stop whatever we're doing at 11:30a for what we call our "BrainSurge," 30 minutes of free-form ideating. Today's topic - if we can keep our resident Patriots fan from overbrimming with boastful exuberance - will likely be the merits of our new thinking aid: the Inspirator.

When we need to jump start our thinking, we have found that if we'll just turn on our little "Inspirator," just flip the switch on the simple device from "Off" to "On," the ideas start flowing.

If we're going to call ourselves a "laboratory for marketing inspiration," it's nice to know there's that little bit of extra help when we need it.
Inspirator 1.0

Friday, February 04, 2005

Swimming upstream

One of the things I'm working on is a way to change the paradigm in our business that calls for us to give away what's most valuable in order to earn compensation for what is, I believe, becoming increasingly commoditized.

Allow me to be specific. Typically, we - and companies such as ours - are asked to develop ideas that address specific (and sometimes not so specific) marketing problems. We crank up the inspiration engine, conceptualize and hope to sell the implementation of the idea that has value.

The idea is what's most valuable. It is a concept that, according to Encarta, exists in the mind only. The idea is what's being "bought," but what a customer is "paying for" is most often the implementation or execution of advertising, collateral and the like.

We at BURRIS are striving to establish a value for the idea. We can and will continue to offer to implement an action plan for the idea, but we're working to make that a separate transaction.

I know. We're swimming upstream on this. But I believe that's where the value is.