Tag Archives: marketing

Bull Reaches New Heights

On October 14th, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner set several records including:

  • the highest balloon ascent
  • the longest skydive
  • the first man to break the sound barrier in free fall

Baumgartner didn’t float silently into the Guinness World Records on his logoed parachute. The feat garnered front page mention in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and leading world newspapers. It was featured on major broadcasts, while some 8 million viewed the jump streaming live in some 50 countries. In PR speak, it got a lot of ink.

Don’t try this from home:

Felix Baumartner about to jump

The big jump was more than the work of a stuntman and a few of his buddies going for bragging rights. It was the joint effort of a sizable technical and scientific team, which has been working on the project since 2007.  Who funded this effort? Fellow Austrian company, Red Bull, the maker of the caffeinated and sugared “energy drink,” seen in skinny 8.4 oz. cans.

Privately held Red Bull, won’t disclose the cost of this project, but from the roster of equipment and experts, it would have had to been eight figures. Whatever the budget, it could have bought Red Bull could have bought a lot of traditional advertising and sales promotion.

Red Bull sponsors sports and games such as skate boarding, BMX biking, and surfing. Events it believes will appeal to its aspirational target – young, , cool, active, male. In this case, it both connected with core customers and transcended conventional marketing to creating a phenomenon. The positioning and messaging were as on target as Baumbartner’s flawless landing. No amount of advertising alone could have done so.

We may never have the resources to stage such an event. Instead of being yet another sponsor at yet another show, we can still strive for promotions, which are relevant and remarkable.


Forget B2B and B2C — it’s B2E

To judge by their messages, many firms make much of the dichotomy of business to business (B2B) vs. business to consumer (B2C) – be this in marketing, hiring, or packaging. Indeed B2B vs B2C can appear quite dissimilar. For example, in their choice of

  • Channels
  • Pricing
  • Media
  • Business Models

None of these differences is absolute. For marketers B2B vs. B2C is frequently not a useful perspective. Traditional hallmarks of B2B such as a high priced dedicated sales force, long selling cycles, or “rational” vs emotional appeals in branding, could apply to B2C.

Increasingly B2B vs B2C is a distinction without a difference. From the importance of social media to advertising, the two camps seem to be converging. Smart marketers seem to get that ultimately marketing is marketing. This is clearly illustrated by B2B campaigns executed in a distinctly B2C manner.

Consider the campaign from corporate IT services firm CDW. It features the redoubtable Charles Barkley. The commercial has a consumer look and feel but its message of outsourcing IT services to CDW is all business.


If CDW isn’t business enough, consider marketing by SAP, the “grey standard” of business to business.


In your next campaign, don’t fixate on B2B or B2C. Think about marketing B2E. E as in everybody.

Happiness in a Box

What business are you in? Phrased another way, what do your customers buy – really?

One of my vacation reads was Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness. The book is a widely ranging narrative of how a young programmer and frequent quaffer of Red Bull made an early bonanza, became an angel investor and gradually developed a notion of management. He distilled all of these through the school of hard knocks to transform his company, Zappos, into a leading direct apparel merchant and a brand which delivers more than the shoes and clothing it sells.

Hsieh and his team did not do this by running a lean, mean profit maximizing machine. They experimented continuously, paid well, staffed fully, rejected outsourcing, invested in a large domestic call center and abandoned a cost efficient out sourced drop-shipping model to take on the risk and expense of carrying a vast inventory.

Rather than use brute force marketing such as offering large discounts or spending heavily on advertising, SEO and promotion, Hsieh transformed Zappos into a customer service powerhouse. He marketed better by marketing less. The result in many cases is to deliver an experience, which not only satisfies but “Wows” the customer. Thus Zappos can claim to deliver “happiness” while also delivering profits. How does he do it?

Zappos has an excellent ecommerce website, but its core channel is, surprisingly for this day and age, the telephone. Zappos achieves customer intimacy through highly trained and carefully selected phone representatives and embedding them in a culture which honors their role. No minimum wage remote call centers in a low wage country here.

The phone experience is paramount for Zappos, such that every employee regardless of job goes through call center training. Unlike so many firms, the call center is not treated as just an expense to be minimized. Reps do not have a quota and can spend as much time as they wish on a call. They are empowered to deal with customer issues as they think appropriate and may dispense additional benefits such as upgrades to free overnight shipping. They can learn a great deal about customers and use this knowledge in growing their business. Their customers feel as if they’re being wooed. That’s delivering happiness.

The concepts which built Zappos are simple, so why don’t more organizations apply them to deliver happiness to their customers and profits to their stockholders? In essence, Zappos has a different business model: Dote on the customer, engage her in conversation and capture what you learn from these conversations. She will pay full price and tell her friends about it.

This approach requires the courage and commitment of making continuous long term risky investments and deferring short term profitability. It also requires dedicated leadership to build and maintain a culture of customer focus and continuous innovation.

Many firms, including some I’ve worked for and consulted to, have flirted with Zappos’ approach with clichés about how they value customers and staff. They abandon it with the first dip in quarterly earnings or the next article they read in a business magazine. It’s too hard and too disciplined for most companies.

If it can’t be like Zappos, what does your organization do to foster customer intimacy?

Lies, Damn Lies, and Bugs

Apple is the world’s most valuable technology company – $ 322 billion as of this writing. Despite threats, ranging from parts shortages to the health of its leader, it has had quite a run. It has done this by bucking conventional wisdom and marketing practices.

Apple doesn’t blog, tweet, have a Facebook page, issue forecasts, and in general refuses to announce what it is going to do. Its news releases have been invariably about what has already happened and regularly declines to comment on where it’s going.

Being secretive has served Apple well. It increases interest and reduces promotional expense. Yet there are times when stone walling won’t cut it. One of these is the recent revelation that its products such as iPhones and iPads have been storing users’ locations in a database. Moreover, contrary to Apple’s previous assurances, location information is collected even when the user has turned off location services.

After waiting a week, Apple attributed the persistent storage of location information to a “bug.” It then released a Q and A on its use of location data, which was neither clear nor reassuring.

“Bugs” typically refer to errors in design or code such that the system does not work as intended or has undesired side effects. One or even a series of bugs do not cause a database to be created and transmitted, so the explanation is unconvincing.

When I was in the software biz, use of the term “bug” – the B-word as it was euphemized – was taboo. Often it serves as an epithet – as when Apple declined to support Adobe Flash on its iPhone and iPad because they claimed it’s “buggy.”

Apparently, when caught with its corporate knickers down, Apple punted not with an apology but a self-deprecating, we too have bugs. This not only failed to alleviate privacy concerns, but was eerily familiar of another denial. The infamous “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

I’m shocked, shocked …

iCame iSaw iPad

Apple’s iPad is off to a very strong start – over a million units priced from $499  to $829  sold in its first month. The number would be even higher if Apple could produce more. There are long waiting lists at Apple’s retail and online stores.

A factor in the iPad’s run away success may be its marketing. The iPad’s marketing mix includes news releases, teasers, advertising, a Facebook page for iPad applications and a dedicated YouTube channel. Amid all the celebratory hype is something often missing in most product launches, including Apple’s. Namely the experience of using the product, as in the example below.

This ad doesn’t bombard the viewer with a classic Unique Selling Proposition or a straight list of – benefits so common in marketing of either technology or consumer products including Apples own iPod and flagship Mac computers. The iPad marketing doesn’t dwell on clichés such as that of Apple’s MacBook Pro ad, which proclaims that the “unibody enclosure is carved from a single piece of aluminum.” It’s a commercial, reminiscent of classic auto and watch ads, that focus on what goes into the product rather than what you get out of it.

In a sense, the iPad hearkens back to some of the early successes of personal computing. Back in the day, software was sold (not marketed) to customers, who more or less knew what they wanted. Along came Lotus and its spreadsheet program. There were other spreadsheets, but the category was not firmly established. What Lotus did to establish the category and its position as the leading brand in it, was to send squads of reps out to the field to show, in brief demos, how an average user could solve a useful problem in a few minutes.

Critics of the iPad ask what can you do with an iPad, that you couldn’t do with a laptop, smart phone or combination of the two. Apple’s reply is to show how it feels to use one. Here, for example, is what it’s like to use the iPad as an e-book reader.

The effect of this “show ’em don’t tell ’em” was once revolutionary  and appears to be so again.

BTW, I’m writing this on an iPad.