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September 2013

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September 17, 2013

Lemmings Are Gluten Free

Food companies are rushing to slap gluten-free labels on almost everything they can—even products that never had gluten in them to begin with. It’s all part of the lemming-like behavior to get a gluten-free piece of the $4.2 billion pie that is estimated as the market for such products.

In fact, Ad Age reported that the market for gluten-free foods could reach $6.6 billion by 2017.

The gluten-free craze is a prime example of perception versus reality, as well as competitive market forces creating a rush of food companies to jump on the bandwagon—or, like lemmings, off a cliff.

The people who really need to avoid gluten are those with celiac disease, an estimated 3 million people in the United States. However, the perceived health benefits of being gluten-free, inspired in part by the book Wheat Belly, which indicts modified grain for everything from colds to cancer, are driving mainstream consumers to gobble up the products.

For food companies, what may have started out as an innovative marketing ploy is quickly becoming a me-too tactic. Just as companies jumped on the “lite” food craze, a new category gets created and becomes a norm, and what was once innovative (or at least somewhat distinct) becomes commonplace—which illustrates the need to be continually creating.

I hope that some of these companies are already planning for what comes after the gluten free-fad-turned-trend-turned-new normal, which it’s quickly becoming.

September 10, 2013

Get Serious About Conflict

If companies are serious about innovation, at some point along the way they’re going to have to deal with conflict. Not just conflict among team members with diverse backgrounds and cognitive thinking styles (because if you’re serious about innovation, you need to have that type of variety), but conflict between the ongoing business machine and the innovation engine.

There will inevitably be conflict between the two, which are in direct contrast to each other.

The ongoing business machine is built for predictability and operating efficiency, while the innovation engine is most often unpredictable, which is the nature of innovation. When colleagues say that they want to make innovation predictable and repeatable, well, that’s a nice thought, but the very nature of the beast is anything but those characteristics. Nothing against those folks, but it’s often the case that they’ve been plucked out of research and development and given a new title with “innovation” somewhere in it because it’s a new buzzword in business, and their mindset is still reflective of the core business, which is built for predictable, repeatable operation.

If you’re serious about innovation, you have to walk the fine line between operating in the business and outside the business, tapping the resources and expertise of the core operation while not getting sucked into the desired predictability and efficiency, which are the goals of ongoing operations. Leading the innovation process means understanding that the road isn’t going to be smooth, because the very nature of ongoing business functions and innovation are in conflict. How that conflict is melded and managed will determine how the innovation engine performs, and separating the innovation team is a necessary exercise, because at some point, serving the dual masters of predictability and unpredictability isn’t sustainable.

September 03, 2013

The “Official” End Of Summer, Beginning of Fall Blog

The headline above isn’t serious. While it may be true from a calendar perspective, it’s really meant to jab at all the self-proclaimed and paid-for “official” brands and products.

We’ve got more than enough official beers of whatever event you can think of, not to mention hotels, car rental companies, food products—the list goes on and on. Turn on any event and you’ll see them lined up, and don’t get me started on the parade of sponsors’ logos listed for events. We once had a client actually ask us what kind of exposure they could get for being one of 30 lowest-dollar-level sponsors of a running event. For starters, how about coming up with your own event so you’re not lost in a crowd? Of course, it’s always easier to write a check for $2,000 and be one of 30 logos in need-a-magnifying-glass type size. Cheap can be very expensive.

Maybe you’ve been shopping at an official back-to-school headquarters for the lists of specific items teachers send out. There may be some unexploited territory there for funding education. Don’t you think Elmer’s brand would pay big bucks to be the “official glue” for schools, especially if students wouldn’t be allowed in class if they didn’t have the smiling bull on their glue stick? How about Google Maps being the official sponsor of geography classes? And I bet the Koch brothers would pay enormous money to be the official sponsor of all civic/government classes, especially if they controlled the curriculum.

“Official” is one of those terms that has become so overused that it can be considered irrelevant beyond the boundaries of law enforcement. Anybody who got a speeding ticket this Labor Day weekend knows that the official speed limit is the official speed limit. Why don’t we challenge ourselves to see if we can come up with something more original and innovative than “the official” for brands and products as we start planning for 2014?

August 20, 2013

The Mediocrity Of Multitasking

I was talking to the chief information officer (CIO) of a large city recently, and we both agreed on an observation: Multitasking is making mediocrity acceptable. It’s becoming more important to get more done than it is to get fewer things done at a higher quality level. And we’re to blame, as the infamous Pogo cartoon said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Or, as many production people will tell you, you can have fast, good, or cheap—pick two. It seems like we’re picking fast and cheap, and convincing ourselves it’s good.

A client asked us the other day how inexpensively we could write a 250-word blog filled with terms that would drive search engine optimization (SEO). So, now we’re writing for algorithms and vomiting terms that may or may not be relevant to whatever cheap, fast content we’re supposed to produce. But the kicker is that the client thinks it’s good as long as the SEO score is high. Almost all “content marketing” is first and foremost being written to score high on SEO; never mind the real quality of the content, or whether the reader thinks the content has real value—just get the click-throughs fast and cheap and everything will be fine.

Our concern was in the service of doing more, more cheaply and faster—we’re creating a widespread dumbing down that lowers higher standards, making the good in service to the fast and cheap. So in essence, “C” is the new “A,” as long as it’s delivered quickly and inexpensively.

With the beginning of the 2014 planning season moving into high gear post-Labor Day, try something different. Slow down and raise your standards. Given the current business climate, that alone will set you apart from your competition, and the practice of doing so could be regarded as innovative these days.

August 13, 2013

Content Conversations

The next new old. From seminars and workshops to Webcasts, if you’re a marketer (and aren’t we all), there’s something that crosses your screen everyday about creating content. “Content” is the new black for brands when it comes to fashion-forward marketing-speak.

To save you all some valuable time and money by not having to attend all these workshops and seminars about content, here’s what you need to know: 1) Create interesting, engaging, meaningful information for your target audience. 2) Present the information in a conversational way—write the same way you would talk to someone; don't lecture or talk in brochure-ese. 3) Make the information accessible in formats where your audience wants to receive the information.

What’s amazing to me is how marketers are just now discovering the “secret” to relating to audiences, and we have social media to thank.

For decades, brands have talked at audiences rather than trying to engage them in conversation. Granted, the limitations of the 30-second commercial, 60-second radio spot, single-page print ad, and finite outdoor space made it difficult, but social media is providing an advanced degree on consumer behavior—and marketers are finally getting it.

With content creation becoming the new advertising, some people are calling for the labeling of such content as advertising, or at least non-editorial, lest it be confused with real editorial product. But do audiences really care, as long as they’re getting the information they want in a way that engages them and in a format they most desire?

I’d bet that the vast majority of us would rather have a conversation with somebody than be lectured to. It’s about time that marketers are getting the message about the message.