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Ahh, brand premium. The holy grail of branders. We all seek it, yet few find it.

I’ve always been mildly intrigued by the difference in pricing between a woman’s stylist and a men’s barber. But today as I was getting my $15 haircut at the local barbershop, I decided to do some research. What I found, though, was that prices for men’s haircuts – in Manhattan anyway – can approach those for women.

What’s the difference between a $15 haircut and a $160 haircut? Turns, out, a lot. Stylist Antonio Gonzales writes that for $160,

most stylists in this price point will take the time to sit with you before each cut and discuss the look you are trying to achieve and will have the skill set to make recommendations on the various looks that will be best suited to your facial structure. They will also discuss with you how they envision the process unfolding to arrive at the end result.

They are able to make these recommendations based on extensive knowledge of the latest styles and techniques gained from training at the leading hair specialists, such as Vidal Sassoon or Mahogany.

In other words, these stylists invest heavily in building the skills and knowledge required to help you achieve exactly the look you seek. Antonio mentions other supporting elements, including head massages, the decor and soothing teas. But what creates value for both the customer and the salon is an obsessive focus on you, the client, and doing whatever it takes to create a superior experience that you are willing to pay for.

And that makes all the difference.

Experience matters.

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Last week I wrote about the brander’s paradise that is South Beach. This week, I spent some time in Manhattan, which most would think of as a brander’s paradise.

But right now I only feel fatigue. And I’m not just talking about Times Square.

Manhattan, everywhere, overloads the senses. Every possible square inch of space has a message, from the glitzy store fronts on 5th Avenue, to the small restaurants with only a few tables, to the apartment buildings offering “superb” rentals. You can’t walk even a block without being overwhelmed by logos for coffee shops!

How do you choose?

Clearly, a budding Manhattan brander must go WELL beyond the awareness – consideration – preference mantra that has been drilled into our heads since our first marketing classes. Yes, you must get the customer’s attention. But that is only the start. The product benefits must, of course, engender loyalty.

But survival requires commitment. And for that, the experience matters.

South Beach, where I live, is a brander’s paradise.Miami Beach

No, I’m not just talking about the ubiquitous retailers, including Sunglass Hut which opens its largest store in the nation tomorrow or the always-packed Apple store.

In an instant, even the untrained eye spots the sunburned tourists, the convention goers, the college students, the wealthy Brazilians, the homeless, the religious (the Miami Beach Community Church built in 1921 on Lincoln Road is a local institution) – yes, everything and everyone is branding themselves.

All vy for attention, using all the senses – the ever changing group of young women hired by restaurants to entice passersby to eat at their establishment, the wafts of perfume, the clothes, the feel of the just-ripe fruits, the DJs in the trendy stores, and, above all, the powerful logos.

But once they’ve got your attention, then what? Who hasn’t had a bad meal, even in a highly-rated restaurant? Or a terrible date? Or bought overripe fruit? Or walked out of a store because there is nothing in our size or the quality of the material is substandard? As my good friend, Chris Gammill and I constanty discuss, the experience matters.

What experience are you delivering?

Been to Home Depot lately? If not, go and see how a good HR strategy equals a good marketing strategy!  And no, they’re not paying me for this.

In the midst of this record heat wave, I got up early to replace a hose so my lawn doesn’t burn out, and some weed killer, and Home Depot is conveniently close by. Several years ago, I would drive elsewhere because, IF I could find a clerk, they might have known where these were, IF I could get their attention.

Today, I was greeted as if I were the only thing that mattered and, after describing my needs, I was introduced to a herbicide expert who helped me find exactly what I needed. Then he escorted me to the hoses, ensuring that I had the necessary help (none required, really…).

What changed? A couple of years ago HR chief Tim Crow renovated training programs, expanded cash bonuses and increased employee/customer face time. And they’re having an impact: after a 2-year slide in sales and profit, both were up last year.

If the goal of marketing is to attract and retain customers well, it’s working at Home Depot, with a huge assist from HR.

And my wife no longer minds going there.

Occasionally I get a sales letter that is so bad I can only scratch my head. Here are extracts from two that inspired me to write this post, in the hopes that none of you will similarly ever waste your resources.

The first was accompanied by a slick (expensive) brochure:

Dear David

In the vast world of information technology sourcing / outsourcing, it can be difficult and perhaps overwhelming when trying to find the right solution for your client’s business, needs and cost structures. Which so many choices, how can you be sure which solution is the right fit for your client’s business.

The XXXXX approach is simple: By consulting with you and your staff in a partnership manner, we can better understand your client’s goals, workflow, technology and business needs to create a meaningful solution which will meet those needs now and into the future at a price-pint and service level which is remarkable.

Our experience spans many industries, business sizes and technology systems. We work closely with you and your client to build and implement a solution that will exceed expectations… [It only gets worse, so I won’t test your patience with any more…]

Why was this sent me? I’m not the CIO. Worse, I couldn’t figure out exactly the offer was, other than to get us to give them a bunch of information…

Here’s the second, from my cable company:

Dear David Harkleroad,

With the YYYYY Price Guarantee you lock in low prices for two full years on TV, Internet, and Phone. So you can sit back and enjoy two full years of everyone’s favorite TV shows. Two years of surfing and streaming online. And two years of hellos and miss-yous with all your favorite people.

Let it all in and get everything you want at prices you can count on, for two full years. Sign up for the YYYYY Price Guarantee today.

Sincerely

Your friends at YYYYY

Put aside the assumption that I actually have friends at YYYYY, they didn’t check that I actually renewed the service two months ago!

Both companies wasted resources: costs, time and, worst of all, my good will.

Regardless of which side you are on, the US is clearly in one of the most fundamental debates on the role of government in a long, long time. Passions are high. Rhetoric is flying. Fears abound. Yet neither side wants to budge – ‘tough’ rules the day.

Which may be the only salvation.

There are no simple solutions left. And the realization is starting to sink in. Lou Gerstner once said, “No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive.” Andy Grove said it differently: “only the paranoid survive.”

Survival ruled the day at IBM. It did in Greece. And it will in the US.

The question is, does survival rule the day at your organization?

If not, get tough.

On my way home from a peer group session of CMOs (with a shout out to the Forbes CMO Network and gyro who sponsored the evening), I reflected on the commonalities between good networking and good marketing.

If you’ve ever been to a party (and most of us have), you’ve noticed there are those who “work the room” and seem to have met everyone there by the end of the evening. What do they do that makes them successful?

First, they engage. They don’t passively await someone to connect with them.

Second they question, and listen. They “always think in terms of what the other person wants,” to quote Korean war general James van Fleet.

And, third, the truly exceptional ones “arouse in the other person an eager want,” quoting Dale Carnegie.

A pretty good set of rules for marketers.

“…we’re realizing that the industrial revolution is fading. The 80 year long run that brought ever-increasing productivity (and along with it, well-paying jobs for an ever-expanding middle class) is ending,” writes Seth Godin in a provocative post, perhaps fittingly on this weekend symbolizing rebirth for one of the world’s major religions.

Only problem is his use of the word “ending” – the industrial run, as a driver of economic growth, actually ended a decade or so ago Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s another one: ‘work smarter, not harder!’

I hope you’ve never used this one in a misguided attempt to motivate a subordinate. If you have, you’ve just told the employee they’re dumb. Not very motivational, eh?

Personally, I don’t think employees are dumb (and if you have one, how did they get hired in the first place? And in the second place, why are they still with you?). Read the rest of this entry »

Who hasn’t heard at one time during their career, from a boss, ‘don’t bring me problems, bring me a solution?’

How silly is this? If all your boss does is ratify a solution, what good is s/he? Further, if you have a solution, why the heck aren’t you out there implementing it?

Worse, Read the rest of this entry »

After Food, Inc (see my prior post, immediately below) opened my eyes to how food production has rather radically changed over the past couple of decades, I’m now conscious of how much attention we are starting to pay to nutrition as a society.

And when society pays attention, markets pay attention. And when markets pay attention (assuming there are no distortions), the incentives created by demand drives increased supply cause change to happen, very quickly. Not only are individuals and organizations motivated by potential profits rewarded, with the most responsive and efficient reaping the highest returns, but society as a whole is better off.

For example, in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Read the rest of this entry »

Why do some companies consistently outperform their peers?

The debate on CEO pay may seem to be only simmering for the moment, while other events dominate the news cycle, but it has not gone away. Working where I do, one of the things we study is the value of, and how to recognize, effective leadership – now, the Best Companies for Leadership; later, the Most Admired Companies. Read the rest of this entry »

Innovation = invention + commercialization.

A couple of years ago, when my friend and colleague Chris Gammill and I were working on creating and then driving IBM‘s brand strategy, we narrowed in on innovation as one of not only IBM’s critical attributes, but also one of the US’s as well, as participants in the National Innovation Initiative that Sam Palmisano sponsored for the Council on Competitiveness.

One of our struggles was why IBM, which perennially leads the world in number of patents, was not seen as an innovator in our brand research, of which we had very, very detailed data. We researched and attended conferences and interviewed experts and debated incessantly, until we finally arrived at this formula. When we realized what we had, I called up the EVP for technology, Nick Donofrio, and said I needed to see him – his frustration with brand data was legendary. Read the rest of this entry »

From Hay Group:  

Winners and losers in the M&A game

After a period in the doldrums, M&A activity is beginning to bounce back, with rich rewards for those who make mergers and acquisitions work. So what should companies looking to conduct a merger or acquisition in a challenging economic climate be focusing on to ensure success?

Companies tend to concentrate on integrating tangible assets – such as IT systems – and on achieving cost synergies, to the detriment of their customers and this tendency is even stronger during tough economic conditions. The balance between these issues and the integration of intangible capital, such as people, processes and structures is often not planned for far enough in advance during the M&A process. Knowing where to start is half of the battle. For a merger to deliver on its promise, organizations must address these issues – while at the same time managing the risks of integration and extracting the maximum value from it. It’s a difficult balancing act. Read the rest of this entry »

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