Branding, Consulting, Marketing

When everyone else zigs, you zag.

Today, as dozens of major cities are submitting their bids for Amazon’s second headquarters, Little Rock Arkansas took out full page “break up” ads in national newspapers, gentlyly letting Amazon down, in the time honored cliches of a break up letter.  (Let’s face it, we’ve all gotten this message at some point in our lives!)

Check out Little Rock’s Break Up Letter:

This is brilliant.   Stepping out of a race they probably couldn’t win, they’ve differentiated themselves from other locations by making their drawbacks into attributes.

When everyone in the pack is going one way, it takes courage and smarts to go the opposite.

Now how to apply this lesson to my own dating life………………….

Branding, Consulting, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Quality Control

“I worry whoever thought up the term “quality control” thought if we didn’t control it, it would get out of hand.” –from “The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In the Universe”, Jane Wagner


A very smart friend of mine likes to explain to clients that a strategic choice is the choice between turning left OR turning right.  “Both” is neither strategic, nor physically possible.  Yet that is so often the choice made in so called strategic planning sessions.  And it’s why so little “strategy” ends up being effective.

One of the classic strategic choices most organizations face is between quantity and quality —  of customers, donors, or constituents.  And most make the wrong choice, for quantity.  Sure, quantity is easier to measure than quality, but that’s the wrong reason for choosing it.

A year ago I surveyed the membership of the major environmental organizations on behalf of a client.  I asked about their strategic choices, and frankly was stunned by how many opted for quantity, telling me things like “Our internal staff goal is to grow gross revenue” or “our goal is to mobilize millions of people.”

Some admitted that after years of acquiring a high volume of low value donors, they were beginning to rethink their goals.

But none of them said they had identified the donors with the highest lifetime value to the organization and were focusing entirely on them.  None.  Some had chosen the illusion they could pursue both, but none had opted for acquiring and stewarding only high quality donors.

For an opposite, and much happier example, visit Montana.  Seriously.  Visit Montana – it’s spectacular!  But I digress.

Tourism is the number one economic driver of the economy of Montana, having pulled ahead of ranching and mining.  Several years ago the leadership of the tourism industry took a hard look at their strategy, and acknowledged that success defined in terms of quantity — bringing in hordes more tourists — would threaten what was fundamental about Montana, spectacular unspoiled nature surrounded by charming and vibrant small towns.

Working with National Geographic, Montana identified a high value segment of the travel market, called “GeoTourists”— people who want to be somewhat off the beaten path, who want unspoiled places, and want their visit to support the preservation of the place, by buying local, eating local, staying local, etc.  Then they put all their marketing against this segment.  An act of courage and leadership, particularly by a government entity answerable to a range of political stakeholders

The results?  After four years of disciplined implementation, they’ve seen only incremental growth in the total quantity of tourists – 6%, but major growth in overall revenue – close to 40%!  Pursuing quality over quantity pays off, generating more revenue with existing capacity and preserving the fundamental Montana way of life.

So the next time you’re in a strategic planning meeting, as the group struggles to choose between quality and quantity, and someone argues for both, tell them to go to………………..Montana!

Consulting, Culture, Marketing

Special Sauce

Those of us who grew up in the 70’s can recite it by heart: “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions – on a sesame seed bun.”

That was how McDonald’s sold the Big Mac, how they differentiated their hamburger from everyone else’s almost identical hamburger.  Everyone had beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions.  But only the Big Mac had the “special sauce.”

I was thinking about “special sauce” a few weeks ago as I sat listening to a consulting firm deliver the most jargon laden pitch I’d ever heard,  finishing 90 minutes later having left a room full of very smart potential clients drenched in special sauce.

First off all, be warned when someone is introduced as a “futurist.”  Pull on your boots because the bullshit is about to flow! Second, when every process, program, product and workshop has its own painfully clever name ask yourself whether the intellectual energy has been focused on the packaging, or the product itself?

I’m critical of the special sauce approach to consulting for two reasons:  because I don’t believe in it and because I can’t manage to pull it off.  If I was spouting that much crap in a meeting, I’d hear myself, and dissolve in a fit of giggles.  Never a good scene.

But the problem here is two-fold.  First, consultants use special sauce — the jargon, the proprietary names, etc. — to differentiate themselves.  To make themselves seem intelligent and innovative.  To get new clients.

And too often clients are seeking that special sauce to help them differentiate between consultants.  Rather than really examining the quality of the beef, the freshness of the lettuce and tomato, the crunch of the onions, and the quality control of the cooking process, it’s easier and quicker to reach for the one with the special sauce.

Analysis. Experience.  Reflection.  Clarity.  Results.

Those don’t need new names.  Those don’t need repackaging.  It’s what we owe our clients.

Hold the sauce.

Oh and by the way?  In 2012, McDonald’s admitted that the special sauce ingredients were “not really a secret” because the recipe had been available online “for years” – store-bought mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish and yellow mustard whisked together with vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika.

So let’s have some fun – post the most egregious example of “consultant-speak” you’ve heard recently.

I can’t wait!