As a student, it can be tough to get time to read above and beyond your course materials. I mean, it can be a challenge just to read everything that your professors prescribe for you, much less anything for pleasure or your own self-directed education.
But sometimes, you just have to explore a tangent that invites you, and you’re very glad you did.
One tangent for me this semester was to dabble a bit into the concept and history of positioning. I wish I could remember what pushed me in that direction, or who recommended this book to me, because I would love to give them credit! But I ended up reading the Al Ries and Jack Trout book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. In this straightforward and influential book from the early 1980s, the authors flesh out the concept of positioning, which they had begun to describe in the early 70s.
“Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do the mind of the prospect.”
Obviously there is a bit more to it, and you should read the book for some enlightening examples from the history of marketing and advertising (including a case study on the positioning of the Catholic Church), but the fundamentals are there in this quotation from the book. And isn’t that always the thing about brilliant concepts? They’re simple, but you could write a novel full of expostulations and corollaries.
I will leave the expostulating for Ries and Trout to execute, and for you to read. But I will say this — positioning is closely linked to a brand’s “one thing” that we keep talking about in my services marketing class. And it’s about the psychology and communication behind how you promote that one thing. You have to know where your competitors are in the consumer’s mind — their market position — so that you can “look for a hole” and sail through it.
I may be muddying the water already, inadvertently illustrating the genius and simplicity of the Ries and Trout book, so I highly recommend you get it straight from the horses’ mouths. There are some unexpected and funny lines, and the 2001 edition has delightful updates where they admit where they may have fallen short or gone too far. After all, the book first came out in 1981. But the lessons are just as important, and part of the joy of reading this book is to think for yourself what the implications are for social media, etc. Ries and Trout were already saying consumers were fatigued by too much communication then, before the communication stream became a river with the explosion of the internet. And now, social media has flooded the river’s banks.
It’s a classic, so I am confident this is one of those books I will come back to in my career when I feel stuck or suspect I’m beginning to fall into orbit around the dreaded black hole of marketing myopia.
Have you read this book? What books have you found that are indispensable for guidance in your profession or your career? Let’s talk in the comments below!
One of the things I love about getting a business education is that your classes progressively build on each other and the lines between them begin to blur. You start out with prerequisites like accounting, economics and statistics, and by the end you’re specializing in the function you want to practice — in my case, marketing. You finish with a capstone case-study seminar, which is basically an integration and application of all the disciplines you have studied since your first day of school. I love that it’s like one long project.
So the other night, my marketing and management courses collided in yet another “Aha! So that’s how they work together!” moment. Who knew that brand strategy and HR are destined to get married and have beautiful babies? Let me explain.
Adam Kleinberg recently took time out from his busy schedule as CEO/Founder of Traction to talk to my services marketing class about people strategy. Our instructor, Neil Cohen, is driving home the point that successful brands focus on “one thing.” Your brand can’t be all things to all people; you have to do one thing and own it. Every aspect of the business needs to support that one thing. And the one thing might not always be what you first think it is.
Adam was riffing on this, explaining how companies like Starbucks, Zappos and JetBlue are not coffee, shoe and air travel companies — they’re customer experience brands. (That’s a topic for a whole blog post in itself.) And then he said something I don’t think I will ever forget:
If you want to be a great customer experience company, you have to be a great employee experience company.
<harps and trumpets>
Yes. Just breathe that in for a second . . . okay.
Your internal brand is just as important as your external brand. Feels good to say that, doesn’t it? Maybe from the perspective of an employee?
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to invest in unlimited vacation days, 24-hour massage service and self-serve beer taps in a rooftop lunch area for employees — although it might. What it does mean is that you have to develop a brand that serenades your employees as sweetly as it sings to your clients. You have to determine what your “one thing” is and truthfully answer the question, “How do I assemble and retain a team who will support our ‘one thing’ and knock it out of the park every time, and then ask to do it again?”
Zappos answered those questions by “owning” customer service and implementing an incredibly unique hiring process that weeds people out by offering them money to leave. Who stays? People who are passionate about customer service and the somewhat zany Zappos brand.
Adam showed a slide demonstrating how his agency has to bridge the gap between sharp-suited clients and a brilliant team that makes videos about smashing Twinkies over their heads. His team figured out how to do just that by “owning” the intersection of psychology and technology and adopting five values:
- Great Work
Traction puts these values into practice on a daily basis, creating a cultural framework that empowers employees to make decisions that fulfill the agency’s brand promise and meet clients’ needs. Oh — and no request for time off to go to Burning Man ever gets denied at Traction. Hey, if you want buy-in from a creative, bleeding-edge group of people that’s ready to own the intersection of psychology and technology, you meet their needs wherever they are. And in return, they meet the needs of your clients.
And then, I saw the photo above this post posted by a friend on Facebook and I thought, “Well obviously I have to write about this now.” Isn’t it nuts how nicely that jibes with what I’m talking about? Your brand has to shine both inward and outward, and if you focus on your internal brand, you’re going to shine for your customers.
So we learn these theories behind branding in our marketing courses, and study organizational culture for management exams, and if we’re lucky, we get enlightened about the connection between the two by an awesome guest speaker in a great services marketing class. But do we put them into practice? It seems like once people get out in the real world, they either get jaded by the rigors of the day-to-day, or they get browbeaten into submission by the keepers of the status quo. Traction and Zappos seem to be exceptions to the rule. I don’t know about you, but I want to change that.
Or *are* these great brands exceptions to the rule? What is your experience? Does your brand own one thing, and does your people strategy support it? If not, can you imagine a difference if your brand were to step back and try?
Behold! The ever-elusive specimen of smart QR code use in its native environment!
So there’s lots of talk about QR codes from me lately, eh? Some people have already written them off as useless, some people love them, and some people apparently love to hate them.
Like a lot of people, it took me a while to understand what they are and how to use them, but now I’m impressed with QR codes’ potential for quickly linking the tangible with the digital. But as we are all painfully aware Read the rest of this entry »