Keeping a sense of wonder is the opposite of being jaded and cynical.  It is about keeping an almost child-like view of your business and your market.  That sense of discovery and newness that allows you to think about what excites people who find your brand for the first time or what excites people about your products needs to remain with you no matter how long you work with a brand or product line.

Keeping a sense of wonder can be difficult.  You get overly familiar and too expert about your products and how to use them.  Things become old hat.  You downplay your competition.  You forget what got you excited in the first place about your product.  You forget who your consumer really is.

But that sense of wonder is what will allow you continue to keep your marketing fresh and find new products that delight your customers.

So how do you stay fresh?

  • Use your product the way your customers do (a lot of marketers never use the products they sell which I really don’t understand at all).  Or watch others use it.
  • Read business books and think about how you would apply that to your business.
  • Spend time at retail watching people shop for your product and listen to how they decide what to buy.
  • Listen, listen, listen – there are more ways than ever to listen to your customers.  Read what they are saying on Facebook and Twitter, read message boards, competitors’ websites, Twitter and Facebook pages.   Read blogs that matter in your industry or profession.
  • Pretend to be your customer.  Sometimes role playing, even in your head, helps you understand if you have overcomplicated or underestimated what your customer wants or needs.

A sense of wonder about your brand is really a gift.  It makes your job more fun and helps you be more successful.


There is a definite line between making products that delight your customers and going over the top.  Many times companies make Cadillacs when their customers would be more than thrilled with a really nice Chevrolet.

This is also true of things you do every day.  That presentation doesn’t need to be perfect; that spreadsheet doesn’t always need that extra feature; the house doesn’t have to be perfectly clean.  Sometimes good enough is just good enough!

As a perfectionist, I know it can be hard to let go.  But I have learned that 90%, and sometimes even 80%, is good enough to call something done.  You are the only one who will really notice what that missing bit is.  Does it serve the purpose?  Does it communicate what is needed?  Will it delight your customer?  Then it is good enough.

And those products?  It is really critical to understand what your customers really want and what will delight them (and what they are willing to pay for that widget you are developing).  Sometimes over-engineering your products alienates exactly those customers that you are trying to service.  And you can certainly be spending more in product and packaging costs than you need without adding to the perceived value of the product.  And let’s remember that it needs to ship too.

I am a big believer in getting things approximately right (back to that 90%) then going into an improvement cycle that allows for course correction and needed adjustments and improvements.  This is also where line extensions come in – get out what you can now then do the rest later.  Getting to shipping is more critical than perfection.  I think the last 10% is often wasted anyway.

At one company I worked for, they introduced a beautiful product.  Nice packaging with a reusable tray and really heavy cardstock.  But the competition was on lighter paper in shrink film and it was selling like hotcakes.  Why did this product fail?  Because the product we were offering was too expensive and way more than what the customers were really wanting for the purpose.  So this product line failed – it was too good for the market that was targeted.  Our competitor got it right – they gave the customer that nice Chevrolet that addressed the need; we made a Cadillac that most consumers didn’t see a need to buy and didn’t see as a significant improvement to the other products available (at a lower price of course!).

Just because you can make it better or more beautiful doesn’t mean that the market will appreciate it.  If you know who your customer is and what they really want and value, then stick to what they need and deliver that.

Yes I Am Still Here

Dear Readers:

It has been a while since I posted.  Sorry about that.  Sometimes life just gets in the way of a good marketing blog!

It all started with a National Sales Meeting in Chicago followed by Product Camp SoCal in the same week.  Both events were wonderful.  I strongly urge all of you to look for your local Product Camp and attend.  It is education and networking nirvana for marketing and product management people.  Product Camps are run all over the country.  If your area doesn’t have one, you can start one with your friends.  They are all run by the users and are a great way to develop new contacts and skills.

After that week I was interrupted by a really bad stomach flu (bad = emergency room and several days in bed).  Then it was Thanksgiving.

So somehow it gets to be a month later and here I am back to blogging and making a renewed commitment to show up every week.

To make up for the lack of posts, and at the suggestion of one of the readers, I have added the ability to share my posts via Twitter, Facebook etc.

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season.  We all need to take time to appreciate what we have including our family, our friends, our health and all the opportunities that come our way.  Marketing may be a passion but it is only one part of who we are as people.

Thanks for being a reader of my blog.  New posts coming starting next week!



It seems that every customer, channel or product category goes through cycles where private label becomes bigger than smaller (and then bigger again).  If you manage a brand, private label can be the bane of your existence since it is cheaper at retail and is a management driven initiative.

Retailers get into private label when they think their customers don’t care about brands, when they think your product is too expensive for what it is and/or when they think they can make a lot more profit by buying it themselves rather than by buying it from branded manufacturers.

The hidden truth is that it really isn’t cheaper for most retailers to buy product themselves although it often takes a long time for them to figure it out (if they ever do).  What it does do is promote their brand at the expense of your brand.

In order to buy product themselves, retailers need to create a whole infrastructure to support buying.  They need purchasing, engineers, designers, maybe an office China, QA; they need to maintain inventory and they may have to buy larger quantities; and if the product isn’t successful, they have no one to go to for a return or mark down money.   All these people and supporting infrastructure is overhead that is added to their fixed costs.  Inventory affects their balance sheet.  And markdowns affect their profitability.  So they may be making bigger margins but are they really making more at the bottom line?  Very often, not really; they just fall in love with those really big margins!

And their management wants to promote their brand instead of yours.  They want consumers to see them as the supplier and retailer and be more loyal to where they buy than branded products that they happen to carry.

Not everyone will buy private label.  Depending on the category, this can be a large percentage of buyers.  Or it can be very small – there are some things where brand really doesn’t matter; do you really care who makes your paper clips?  And customer experience with private label can change the dynamics over time.  How many returns?  How many repeat purchases?

My experience is that for many categories this is about a 5 year cycle.  It takes that long for retailers to get into private label, experience the costs of being a manufacturer, really understand their hidden costs then scale back their large private label initiatives to something more modest.

Of course this isn’t true for all retailers.  Wal-Mart is not going to stop being a private label manufacturer – although they will adjust what is in the mix.  Most grocery chains have figured out what categories give them the best return for private label and they devote more or less space accordingly.

So as a branded marketer, what do you do?  First (and obviously), make sure that your product is better than private label.  It needs to perform better, look better and have a clear, compelling quality advantage that you can communicate to consumers.  You also need to have a perceived value which means a fair price as perceived by the consumer not by your management.  The more consumers think you are overpriced, the more likely private label becomes.  Finally, you need to make sure consumers know who you are.  They need to ask for you by name and demand that the retailer carry your product.  If they don’t know who you are or don’t care, then private label will become dominant.

Private label is a fact of life.  How you manage your brand to create an advantage is up to you.

There has been a lot written about hearing the voice of the consumer in your product development and marketing programs.  And the amount of “ink” is well spent because clearly many companies still aren’t listening or maybe not really hearing (or wanting to hear) what is being said.

Your consumer (or customer) is the most important thing to consider when developing products and programs.  More important than management (heresy I know), more important than what your consulting company says and more important than the comfort of your sales department.

Without consumers, you aren’t making money and if you aren’t making money nothing else matters (a statement of the obvious but often missed in many companies who are totally focused on themselves).  Consumers will tell you what they don’t like, what their expectations are and where they expect to find you.  They will tell you how they want you to talk to them and how they feel about you company.  It gets trickier if you are looking at totally new concepts – people can’t articulate what they don’t know they need but if you show them something, they can certainly tell you if it “speaks” to them.  You can also start to gauge how much explaining you are going to have to do (this is really important when it comes to advertising).

I went through this issue a few years ago.  We spent a lot of money doing consumer research for a new product launch.  We specifically asked the consumers where they would expect to find our new product line and they told us.  Then the consultants, the sales department and management wanted to do something else.  We kept pointing to the research and everyone kept ignoring us – they were in love with an internal strategy to create a “power aisle” within stores and didn’t want to hear what the consumer wanted.   We persisted, we begged, we fell on our swords and finally got the company to follow the research.

The result?  A very successful product launch that generated millions in sales.  I am sure that this would not have been the case if we hadn’t listened and given the consumer what they wanted.

I don’t recommend falling on your sword, but not listening to your customer will make you fail – even if you have a really great product.  Price it wrong, put in the wrong place, have the wrong packaging or don’t advertise and promote in the right places and your targeted customers won’t find you or won’t like what you are offering them.  And this assumes that you listened about your product in the first place.

Always stop and ask: what would my customers think?  Would this delight them?  Is it relevant?  What are they willing to pay for this?

The voice of the customer has to be present!

Many leading consumer goods companies have definite profiles of consumers for their various brands.  They can describe them both demographically and psychographically; some even name their consumers and write biographies for them.

For example, they may have a consumer profile named “Mary”.   Mary is 35 years old and married, has 2 children, lives in the suburbs, has a college degree and drives and minivan because her children are very involved in sports.  Mary works full time for a large company as a manager and her husband also works at the mid management level.  Mary takes pride in her house and likes to entertain.  She gardens and belongs to a book group.  Mary isn’t as involved in her community as she would like because she is just too busy.  Mary is addicted to a few reality programs and records these programs when she misses them.  She is on Facebook every day and texts her family frequently to stay on top of schedules.  Mary has a few brands that she is very loyal to but also buys private label.  She like coupons and looks for them on her favorite brands to save money.  This could go on and further describe her interests and feelings about things.

This is a fully developed personality profile of a brand consumer.  It allows this marketing team to really focus their programs and their products and judge what they do against what Mary would want and what would interest her.  It allows them to say, “Mary wouldn’t care about this feature.  Or Mary follows us on Facebook so let’s ask her about XYZ there”.

Not every company or brand can describe their customer to this level.  But you should be able to describe your customer to some degree.  If you can’t then who are you marketing to?  Who is buying your products and why?  What do they want (or not want)?  What do they care about?

You don’t need to spend lots of money to develop this profile.  Ask your customers, ask your sales people, ask your friends if your brand is public.  Go to a consumer show if they have them for your industry and see who is there (and get a booth if you really want to see who your consumer or customer is).  Stop people in stores who are buying your product (or your competitor’s product) if you sell at retail and talk to them (my husband does this all the time in grocery stores).

Knowing who your customer is and what makes them tick will make you and your company more successful.  Without this, you are generating “stuff” and throwing it against a wall to see what will stick without strategy or understanding of what your consumer base really wants.  Given scarce resources and time, especially in this economy, know who your consumer is more important than ever.


This is a list worth sharing.  According to Indeed.com, this is the list of traits most often mentioned in job postings.

I think marketers are expected to be all these things even more than other departments. (OK – I know that is a biased view but I am sticking to it!)  This list is about personal attributes not marketing skills & expertise but, to me, is the more important list.  You can learn marketing skills, it is much harder to change personal attributes.

Here is the list:

  1. Leadership
  2. Interpersonal
  3. Problem solving
  4. Motivated
  5. Efficient
  6. Detail oriented
  7. Prioritize
  8. Teamwork
  9. Reliable
  10. Multi-task
  11. Time management
  12. Passionate
  13. Listening
  14. Outgoing
  15. Honesty

So do you exhibit these 15 traits in your working (and not working) day?

Not every customer is profitable.  Not every idea is worth pursuing.  Not every marketing or sales program works.  Not every product line is profitable.  Sometimes what did work stops working.  Or that customer that used to be large and profitable isn’t anymore.   Sometimes that product line ends up with a cost structure that just doesn’t make sense anymore.

So are you willing to walk away from the tried and true?  Are you willing to stop doing something that isn’t working?  Have you even acknowledged that things need to change?

Walking away is a really hard thing for everyone.   It is really hard to walk away from that deal, that customer or that program.  It creates real pain in the organization and may also impact your ability to absorb overhead and support your fixed costs.  It can affect jobs and Wall Street if you are public.  But absorbing overhead and supporting jobs, while important, doesn’t address the impact of an un-profitable customer or product line.  These things have huge impacts on the organization and the P&L that often aren’t recognized.

If you have the opportunity to analyze your business at the customer, product line and/or unit level, then you need to make sure that what you are doing is actually positively contributing to the organization.  There are times when companies knowingly lose money and that is fine if there is a strategic reason, but for the most part, not making money is not why the company exists.

So if it isn’t working anymore, if it isn’t profitable, then you need take walk away and walk away now.  You are only kidding yourself if you don’t.

Strategy First

Tactics without strategy is a waste of energy.  I’ve talked about this before but it is worth repeating.   This is a pet peeve and something that frustrates me when I see it.  And I see it in companies that are struggling which may lend to the struggle.

I am always amazed by the amount of work companies do without a clear idea of what they are really trying to accomplish.  And that probably means that the work is wasted because it wasn’t focused on any particular objective or strategy and therefore didn’t accomplish anything that significantly moved the company forward.

Too many companies have forgotten that activities need a clearly defined purpose.  In the current economic climate, they have their employees doing lots of things in an effort to raise short term sales or save money or get that new product out the door – they are totally focused on tactics.  But if the activity doesn’t tie to any strategy, it may not work and may hurt the company in the short term and, most especially, in the long term.  You may get one step forward, but the company is really two steps back in terms of real growth or profitability; and you may be really confusing your customers in the process.  You have a lot of activity for the sake of activity without clear purpose.

So why are you doing _(fill in the blank)_?  Do you know?  Do you know what this activity is supposed to accomplish and how it is going to contribute to growing the business?  If you don’t …ask first.

Designers often rip their hair out when they work with marketing people and company management on packaging and advertising.  Managers and owners of businesses want to fill up all available space with copy and images.  It seems to be human nature to want to fill empty space (and if you have any question about that, look around your living space or work space – we all expand to fill our available space!).  The reality is that this is counter-productive – more counter-productive than they realize.  When ads and packages get too busy, people’s eyes don’t know where to go and where to rest so they don’t focus on anything.  The result?  A lost opportunity to sell.

White space is really your friend.  It allows your eye to find the important stuff and ignore what you deem as non-essential.   It guides your customers through your selling proposition and allows them to process what you have to say.  It allows them to focus on the main visual and headline and your tag line.

You don’t want an ad so busy or a package so busy that your customer can’t differentiate between the truly important and the additional things that you would like them to know (but aren’t essential to the key selling proposition).

Think about what ads and product packages attract you – odds are that they are clean and have a lot of “white space”; that is space that is blank or a background color that allows you to see the key elements.

As a marketing person, it has been hard to explain to an owner or manager that not every piece of a package or ad (or website or catalog or mailer) needs to be filled.  They see blank space as an opportunity to say more.  But the reality is that saying less so people focus on the most important is really better.

So here’s an exercise for you.  The next time you are critiquing that piece of advertising or your webpage or catalog, think about what you could take out and still get your message across …then take it out.