March 25th, 2010 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

In brand management interviews, one typical question is “What is an example of a good brand?” This query also comes in other flavors, such as “What is a brand you can’t live without?” or “What’s your favorite brand?” All of these questions are really testing your ability to talk coherently about a brand, its value proposition, and how well it’s supported through marketing and product development. Although there is no right or wrong answer, whatever you do, don’t use Coke, Pepsi, Nike, or Apple as your example, unless you are striving to be forgettable.

Here’s one current example of a “good” brand that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about recently: Oral-B (a Proctor & Gamble brand). When I thought this morning of a product I couldn’t live without, my Oral-B CrossAction manual toothbrush came to mind. But just liking a product doesn’t make the brand great. Here’s what Oral-B seems to be doing very well:

PRODUCT INNOVATION – This is the area where P&G spends more money than any competitor. They study their target segments of the population, perform extensive market research, and engineer new products with precise detail. If you examine a CrossAction toothbrush, you see that it is truly different from any other toothbrush, in terms of the angles of the bristles and the varied bristle types. And it really does seem to remove more plaque from the teeth than a traditional toothbrush. Oh, and did I mention that it has a special texture on the back of the toothbrush head for scraping your tongue? Genius!

Oral-B

AWARENESS – The brand maintains great awareness. I imagine that if I performed an unaided survey asking “What is are some brands of toothbrush?”, Oral-B would be at the top of your list. That’s not just a fluke—it takes a lot of money and effort to gain that position.

FOLLOWS THE HUMAN LIFECYCLE – Oral-B can follow you throughout your life. There are products specifically tailored to babies, toddlers, youth, teenagers, and so on. They also make electric toothbrushes for the lazier stages of life.

MARKETING SUPPORT – TV commercials (especially outside the USA) and magazine ads are abundant. Oral-B and the good folks at P&G know that consumers need regular reminders of their brand in order to make them feel more comfortable when they spend $4+ on a toothbrush, so the messages will reach you frequently.

CHANNEL DEVELOPMENT – Why is it that your free toothbrush at the dentist’s office is always an Oral-B? It’s because the brand managers have developed those distribution channels very well over time. The company spends time with dentists, finding out what’s important to them, as well as building relationships with national organizations.

TRADE PROMOTIONS & COUPONS – The company uses frequent promotions, plus occasional BOGOs (buy-one-get-one-free deals) to maintain premium shelf space in retail stores. Because their product quality is so high, it’s almost impossible to go back to a straight-bristle brush after using a CrossAction, so the promo accomplishes its goal of winning a new loyal customer.

Even if you don’t share my delight in diagonal bristles, it’s hard not be impressed with Oral-B’s ability to brush away the competition and earn a mint in profits. Do you have an example of a brand you couldn’t live without?

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Class in the middle of a snowstorm

February 15th, 2010 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

What does a university do when record snowfalls hit the Washington DC area? They close, of course. In all, there were 5 class days cancelled last week at the College Park campus (more if you include weekends).

But, for one of my classes, we didn’t interrupt the learning because of weather. When I think of the word “professor”, it’s hard to get away from the visions of dusty jackets, old technology, and bookish ideas. This week, all of that was pretty much eliminated, at least in reference to my current professor for Data Mining for Business.

lg-shmueli

Prof. Shmueli, like many I’ve met at the Smith School, is very hip with modern technology. Instead of cancelling class last monday, we had class online. So, the idea of an online class is nothing new, but typically it’s limited to a little video screen and some slides. For this class, we used “Wimbio Classroom”, which is much more robust. There are functions for:
* raising your hand
* interactive chat
* whiteboard, where students/teacher can write or draw
* microphone button, where students can ask their question or answer a question via audio.
* allowing the teacher to share their desktop

Now, none of this software would be helpful if we didn’t have a dynamic professor. It also helped that she knows her lecture content extremely well, so she was able to constantly monitor student chat comments, hand raising, and other program features without delaying the action of the class.

This was the first time I’ve taken an online class that was as interactive as really being there. Although I truly enjoy sitting in a classroom to learn, this proved to me that the technology is good enough that we can now have “virtual” classrooms without sacrificing the quality of the instruction. The problem, for me, is how do we get as many professors like Prof. Shmueli, who love and know their subject and their students so deeply.

(You can read Galit Shmueli’s blog here)

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The Big One

February 10th, 2010 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Gazebo

The web has already been plastered with photos from the recent snowstorms. We’ve seen titles such as “Snowpocalypse”, “Snowzapalooza”, and other silly names. The part that I find the most fascinating is that this was the most snow to fall in DC in any winter…ever. Now, to be sure, it’s possible that there was more snow in one of the winters prior to 126 years ago when they began measuring. But the chances are pretty slim, because if it only happens once in recorded history, it would be unusual for it to have occurred many times during the years before that. But, to tell the truth, I enjoyed the ridiculous amounts of snow for a few reasons:
– another winter break from school (it’s almost impossible to think about homework with 3-4 feet of snow coming down outside your window)
– cross-country skiing (the snow was too deep on the ground, so we skiied on the streets before they were fully plowed. sometimes we skiied the snowbanks in the middle of the road, which put us higher than the tops of the buried cars)
– time with kids (the enjoyment of this had its ebbs and flows, as any home-bound parent will attest)
– Psych (I spent two nights watching Season 3 of the show, which is a favorite among my siblings but something I rarely make time for)
– snow ice cream, in many flavors and varieties (I’ll have to post some of my more delicious varieties that I created)
– snowball fights with my kids and the neighbors

This picture was taken at my father-in-law’s house. It’s hard to imagine right now that this gazebo is a lovely place to eat meals and watermelon in the summertime.

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Powerpoint Presentations are so passe…

February 1st, 2010 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

animotoIf you haven’t seen it yet, you need to check out Animoto.com. It’s the coolest “slideshow” service I’ve seen. It produces professional-quality “music videos” for your photos and video clips.

(I promise, this is not a paid endorsement. I used it to make a first-year retrospective for Xander. If it didn’t contain things like birthdates, I’d publish it to the web.)

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We survived year 1

December 20th, 2009 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Xander1stIn all of our life pursuits, we seek to become skilled at our roles. In a job, I am always stressed about learning my duties, driving for success, keeping on top. After 6 months at a company, I’ve usually figured out the “big stuff” that I need to know to do my job well.

I thought the same thing was true for me as a parent. After three kids and six years, I thought I was a competent, if not talented, father. Our third son, however, has made me wonder if it was all luck before, or maybe I was just working so much that I wasn’t at home to see how hard it was. But Xander, who turned 1 this month (on the anniversary of my first semester final exams), reminds me that each child is different and requires a new set of skills, and some innovative thinking.

As a business man, this is an important lesson. Just because what you’re doing in business operatings is working doesn’t mean it will keep working. I was REALLY good at being the dad of two kids. I had no idea that the dynamic would change so drastically when I increased the brood to three. Completely changed things. Companies face this kind of faulty thinking when they open new business lines or expand to other countries. They assume that they will be successful in new arenas, simply based on their past success.
What they need is to be constantly challenged in ways that will make the reevaluate their processes and strategies. Maybe I should impel some company out there to improve by sending them a very lovable, very loud, and very needy one-year old…

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November 23rd, 2009 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

lovemarks_cover
A few weeks ago, I was too sick to get out of bed, and I certainly didn’t feel well enough to be working on homework or reading HBS case studies. What I really needed was some light reading. And so I pulled out my copy of Lovemarks, a book subtitled The Future Beyond Brands. It had been recommended by a guest speaker in my Brand Management class, who used it as part of his branding philosophy. It was the perfect book to read on a sick day—lots of pictures, lots of graphic design, and few sentences with more than eight words. The author is the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, an advertising agency that loftily calls itself an “ideas company.”

Here’s a brief synopsis of the book: brands will be dead, unless they can make people fall in love with them. People want an emotional connection with a brand (which we always knew) but the author suggests that successful marketers will need to make consumers feel like they’re in a love-based relationship with the brand. Now, he claims, that love may be romantic, parental, or even brotherly, but it must be deep and authentic.

Oprah
A recent example that I read about in the news is the Oprah brand (which I believe qualifies as a “Lovemark”). Oprah recently announced that she would be discontinuing her talk show when the contract expires (in more than a year, I believe). The interesting thing about consumer reactions was that there was no outcry. Oprah’s viewers, who feel like she’s more a friend than a talk show host, were writing about how they are “proud of her, for taking a new step in her life” and so forth. It’s clear that their relationship with the Oprah brand goes beyond preference or loyalty.

It’s given me some food for thought as I pursue a career in marketing. How can I create a love affair between my brand and my target consumers? It’s not a matter about tricking them, it’s a matter of developing the brand as if it were a person, a loved and respected person, that the consumer can’t live without.

What are your Lovemarks?

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On the road again

November 1st, 2009 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

at the Marbles Children's Museum in Raleigh

at the Marbles Children's Museum in Raleigh

For the first time in over a year, we’ve taken a road trip! With our youngest child being almost a year old, we took the risk. During his first months, he was an unbearable car companion, screaming for hours straight, so we never attempted to go farther away than my sister’s house in Easton, Maryland (two hours away). But over Halloween we decided to make another attempt, and we drove to Raleigh, North Carolina to visit family and friends.

Xander survived the trip excellently! He slept for hours at a time, and was pleasant during his awake hours as well. My wife was smart enough to take long breaks at each stop, which made the 5 hour trip take more like 7 hours, but it was worth it. At one rest stop, we were playing Frisbee with our older boys, which was really a blast. Luckily they aren’t skilled enough to realize that I have almost NO skill in throwing a disc. I had a lot of fun just relaxing and doing nothing important all day. Quite a nice change from my usual MBA Friday, which is full of group meetings, writing papers, and answering emails.

We really enjoyed the Marbles Children’s Museum in downtown Raleigh, which is a sprawling, hands-on place for kids to play. The admission is only $5 per person, which is quite a change from the DC area, where any commercial museum costs around $13 minimum. The only children’s museum I’ve been to that’s better is the St. Louis City Museum (I’ve thought about moving my family to St. Louis just to be able to go there more often).

The only negative part about the trip was the return trip on Sunday night—when I finally started to think about the two papers I had to write for the next day.

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Little steps & big steps

October 21st, 2009 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

It’s been a busy fall for me and my family. I never considered how stressful it would be to send my son to school for Kindergarten. It helped that he was really excited about it–not ever a hesitation or clinging to mom and dad. Melissa insisted on walking him to his classroom for the first week, although Wesley would have found his way even without the accompaniment. It made his mom feel better, though.

The bigger surprise was a few weeks later, when the principal called us (first piece of weirdness) and suggested that Wesley move to the 1st grade. This shouldn’t have totally shocked us, since we knew he was reading at a high level. But we still felt it was better for him to progress through school with others at his own age level. And typically, parents who want to advance their children have to push hard against a reluctant administration.

But in this case, the school had evaluated Wesley, both academically and emotionally, and they decided he was ready for 1st grade. Suddenly, we had a slew of parental worries: what if he’s the shortest kid in school when he’s in high school? what if we move to another school district where he’s not so advanced? do we really want him to leave home a year earlier when he finishes high school? In the end, we felt that the school officials were right, and that it was better for him to be with people at his same level of performance, despite the fact that he’s a few months younger than most of them. This was a very individual decision. The hardest part about it was that we’re not the pushy kind of parents that insist on our child being #1 in everything. It just turned out that this was the best choice for Wesley.

XanderXander, who is now about 10 months old, is starting to walk (6 steps at a time), and he’s more mobile than ever. His favorite food is cardboard, and he’ll attack a cereal box with great ferocity. He screams when we try to remove the paper pieces from his mouth. If you’ve never tried to take something from an infant’s mouth (especially one who has teeth), I’d be happy to give you a chance to experience it.

Zach is adjusting to his big brother being away from home during the day. He’s in a preschool program a few times a day, and is also learning how to play with his younger brother in a less destructive way.

I’m taking some little steps in life, too, applying to full-time jobs across the country. I have no idea where we might end up, since geographic mobility is pretty much required if you’re looking for a job right now. Also, we’re ready to take our family on a new adventure, if we get that opportunity. It’s just starting to sink in that our life will be really different in about 6-7 months, no matter what happens. I’ve really enjoyed the hard work of school. Many days I’m gone from home for more than 12 hours, and the whole day is filled with group meetings, work, and classes. Other days, however, I can stay home for my son’s birthday party, and I can walk Wesley to school a few times a week. I will certainly miss that flexibility, but I’m also looking forward to discovering a new environment for my family. Oh, and it would also be nice to have an income again. (Not that I’m not grateful for the subsidized student loan, Uncle Sam!)

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What is marketing?

October 5th, 2009 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

The answer to this question seemed much easier when I was working in DC area theatre companies. I would have responded, “Selling tickets and promoting the theatre”. Little did I realize at the time that marketing can have such a wide range of employment roles, some creative, some strategic, and some very logistical.

Tonight I made good on one of my campaign promises as co-president of the Graduate Marketing Association: to help students figure out more quickly what the heck they want to do within the realm of marketing. One of my frustrations last year was that I really enjoyed talking to companies about their marketing roles, but I had a hard time understanding what they really did on a day-to-day basis without actually being at the company. Also, I wanted to know what marketing opportunities existed for MBA’s outside of brand management, although that is certainly a major interest of mine.

To figure out this big mess, I invited speakers from several different companies to come and share their experiences with the students, focusing on the range of marketing roles in the field. Having already had a club meeting related to Brand Management, we honed in this time on marketing/database analytics and social media marketing. And then to top it off with some real life experience, we introduced our case competition with Wedding Wire. So, beyond hearing about marketing opportunities, the 1st year students have the opportunity to address a real marketing problem with some creative solutions. The students will form teams and then have to work together to come up with a solution in less than two weeks! (And during midterms, which makes it even harder). I’m excited to see what they come up with.

Overall, I think it was a very successful event. One 2nd year student was clearly excited about the analytical/CRM side of marketing, and I’m hoping that others went away with a similar concept of what they’d like to do within the marketing realm.

What do I want to do within marketing? That’s a question for another day.

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Big man on campus

September 17th, 2009 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Despite the title, this post is not about being a 2nd year MBA student (although it is nice to start this school year feeling much more “in control” than last year). We had a visit from the real “big man” today–President Obama. obama
He spoke to the entire University of Maryland campus and community about his healthcare proposals.

I was really amazed by the showmanship and personal feeling of the event, despite the fact that there were thousands of people gathered in the stadium. President Obama personalized the entire message, so that every story was relevant to college life, parties, and drinking. He was introduced, in fact, by a UMD student who dealt with a major medical crisis during the last year. Her message was, in essence, “without my parents’ health plan, under which I will soon lose coverage, I would have been without means to pay for my condition.” Obama quickly referred back to the story she told, promising college students coverage under their parents’ plan until age 25.

He also told the story behind his rallying cry of “fired up–ready to go”. Although the story was told very casually, with lots of personal touches, by the time President Obama finished the speech, he was able to get the entire stadium (including me, the political skeptic) to chant the phrase with him.

There was one heckler during the speech, but the president was nonplussed. He continued speaking witht the same, eventone manner. The crowd began reacting to the heckler, but Obama told them “Don’t worry about him. We’re doing fine.” The distraction was then ignored while he was taken out of the stadium by security. It was a brilliant move by Obama. Not only was his problem solved, but he also came across as open-minded, patient, and considerate.

(I have some videos of the event, which I’ll hopefully figure out how to post very soon.)

In the end, I feel really grateful to be going to school so close to the nation’s capital, where I can take advantage of amazing opportunities like this. Going to b-school is not just about salary increase for me–I want to be using this time to learn and grow. And this was not only a boost to me political education. Obama is also an award-winning marketing communications manager, having won the Grand Prix marketing award at Cannes this year for his election campaign. Since I’m moving into a marketing position after school, I wouldn’t mind having a little bit of his marketing and PR success rub off on me.

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