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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.

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.

“…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 »

That’s what my bank – Peoples United Bank – is telling me.

Yesterday (Feb. 16, 2011), when I went to the portal (the link above) to log in to my account, I noticed an offer for free Kindle (if you click on the link to see this, you may have to do so a couple of times since the offer rotates with other offers for low mortgage rates and low home equity lines of credit). 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 »

My parents, who both grew up in the depression, instilled two values in me: hard work, and thrift. While we never felt we wanted for much growing up, there was never a lot of money to spend either, something we were blissfully unaware of. One thing I remember is mom cooking healthy dinners every night, using fresh ingredients bought daily from the supermarket. She was a good bargain hunter, and knew how to stretch her food dollar. We’d splurge occasionally on a hamburger out at the local A&W (remember those?), washed down with a root beer float.

Thus, I was struck by a vignette early on in the film Food, Inc., where a working family of four stops by a fast food restaurant for a dollar meal. The mother explains that because they are so busy, she doesn’t really have time to cook, but she does want to make sure her children get a ‘good’ meal to start the day… She goes on to say that because they don’t have a lot of money, they have to look for bargain ways to feed their family. But then we find that the father is suffering from diabetes, for which he is spending $200 a month on prescription medicine… 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 »

Lord Horatio Nelson

For several decades now, I’ve been a student, observer and participator in strategy (corporate, branding and marketing) and organization – getting these right is, of course, critical to success. But I’ve seen many cases where carefully prepared plans and their support structures have not resulted in the desired results.

Reading To Rule the Waves, a gripping history by Arthur Herman, I was struck by the role communications played in two Royal Navy engagements, 25 years apart, each of immense strategic consequences: Yorktown in 1781 and Trafalgar in 1805.

Communications dictated the outcome of each, one a failure that lost a continent and one a victory that established naval pre-eminence for more than a century. The lesson: everyone in the organization must understand what needs to be done for a plan to be successfully executed. Read the rest of this entry »

Hay Group‘s research on the Fortune Most Admired Companies shows that those who make the matrix work get results: better and faster decisions. The seemingly simple trick is getting managers to act in the best interests of the company as a whole, not just maximizing their own results.

But this has implications for jobs, rewards, behaviors, culture and structure. Most critical: command-and-control management styles must give way to collaboration and cooperation. To crack the matrix code, organizations must: Read the rest of this entry »

I was intrigued by an online discussion the other day about what marketing is – or isn’t. So I decided to find some giants’ shoulders to stand on, and herewith share some of my favorites:

Phil Kotler:  “Marketing is the social process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others.”

George Day: “Understanding, attracting, and keeping valuable customers.”

Sergio Zyman: “Selling more stuff to more people more often for more money more efficiently.” 

Peter Drucker: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him [or her! – DH] and sells itself.”

Theodore Levitt: “Marketing is a stepchild in most corporations because of an overemphasis on creating and selling products. But selling is not marketing. [Selling] is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about. And it does not, as marketing invariably does, view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs.”

What are your favorites? Leave a comment.

The reference post was really fun to write, and it generated a HUGE response.  It was a treat to read all the comments from various forums – a very sincere thanks to everyone who contributed! Here are some extracts that I found really compelling – I want to share these verbatim while I structure my thinking on what I think they mean – apologies for the length, but this is worth reading to the end:

More than one challenged my sanity, e.g.: Read the rest of this entry »

Listening to more doom and gloom from the financial pundits this morning risks becoming depressing; I’m going to try to focus on what’s next. Not only more cheerful, but if we’re lucky and can pool some good thinking, we might collectively prosper. This entry centers on organization structure; while technologies and offerings clearly will drive an economic renaissance, their creation requires organizing individuals and teams. Read the rest of this entry »

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