Category Archives: smart people we know

Guo Jingjing’s lesson about ego

Last night we watched Guo Jingjing of China win her fourth gold medal for diving (shown in a prior competition above, the NBC breaking-news version is still under some form of IP protection…) and thought:

Man, what composure.

The pressure on Guo was intense, but at the end of her final dive, when she slipped into the water like an arrow from the sky and gold was assured, Guo climbed out of the pool, turned to the crowd and made a gracious bow, with no hint of pride on her face. She simply seemed a hard worker after a job well done.

We can’t imagine such restraint, being an American who competes with others every day over contracts and client work and results and credibility. In the United States, white-collar workers tend to drive themselves to 60 hour weeks trying to get ahead, or stay afloat, and in our off time we dally on Facebook and Twitter and blogs trying to make further names for ourselves. I’m not sure how much is driven by greed or demand for recognition, but seeing how many other bloggers send their own links around promoting their ideas, we bet a lot.

Ego is a scary trap and something we fall into. We were celebrating a minor PR success yesterday when we stumbled upon a Twitter message by brand visionary @darrylohrt, who wrote “people who only tweet about their own blog posts pretty much suck.” It sounds harsh, out of context, but as Darryl jotted this note to a friend, we felt the pang: Who hasn’t done this?

Maybe social media and business performance have more to do with achieving results than post-glory grandeur. Here’s to people like Jingjing, who hit the mark and take it in stride.

Big Brother Part 2: The profile you can’t update


When data profiling is everywhere, where will you go if there’s a mistake?

That was the question from Joe Turow, a professor at University of Pennsylvania who kindly called in re our recent BusinessWeek column The Real Threat to Google. Joe was intrigued by the report that Microsoft and comScore and other companies are using offline data to build ever-deepening profiles of consumers. Microsoft, for example, has a patent application to combine TV habits, cell phone locations, and credit card purchases to tailor ad messaging. So Joe asked: How can consumers check their own marketing profiles?

Well, you can’t.

A good analogy is financial services, which 30 years ago had siloed data systems about consumers. Eventually banks and lenders realized it would be wise to share data so they could manage the risk of giving consumers loans, and after 9/11, data profiling really picked up. Today, every consumer in the U.S. has a FICO score that ranks your credit risk, similar to SAT test results; and most shoppers realize that if they have a bad credit history, they may pay a higher interest rate or not get a loan at all.

The point: You pay different prices to borrow money, but that’s OK, because you understand you have a credit score — and you can check it for accuracy for $20 online.

Ah, but marketing. Every business in the world is building customer profiles, none of them are consistent, and that data is used to not only tailor messaging but to charge you different prices. Don’t be shocked; coupons do the same thing by offering some people discounts while others pay full boat. Airlines and theaters and hotels and home utilities and magazines have charged different rates for the same exact service for decades.

But data profiling will soon make differential pricing commonplace. The guy who must have the iPhone will pay $500 and the woman who needs to be convinced will pay $200 — but it won’t be in two separate years; it will be in the same store at the same time, based on the hidden profile.

Joe Turow suggests a central marketing data clearinghouse, similar to FICO credit scores; competition among marketers will make that type of data pooling difficult. Until then, expect marketing to get personal — and try to figure out what to do when a database calls you Dad instead of Sis.

Bill, rebrand it like this

A friend of ours is helping an ad agency rebrand itself, so he basically has to pitch ideas to black-clad creatives. Imagine that fun conversation: No, Pantone 19-1557 was the color of the year LAST year … and omigod you chose Arial over Helvetica!

Just kidding. Anyway, our advice when rebranding is to move out of category.

Let us explain. Back in the 1960s ad gurus Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote the landmark book on brand positioning, theorizing that every customer has an invisible ladder in his or her head for every product type. To “brand” your firm, you have to stake a claim on an empty rung. Think Avis: We try harder, which positioned Avis as better than No. 1 car renter Hertz, or Wendy’s Where’s the beef?, which knocked McDonald’s bready burgers.

Rebranding is even more complex, because it means changing to a new position in your customers’ already crowded heads. The exercise is tough, because it involves myriad factors such as competitor claims, emerging market trends, your own future product development — and usually a committee. The simplest route we’ve seen is to map competitors on three axes, product innovation, customer-focused total solution, or operational efficiency, and then look for the white space.

White space often exists, because companies and people tend to be ego-centric and so similar businesses cluster together. Home service companies, for example, work hard to provide service so may position their brand as the best customer solution company — leaving the efficient price rung open. Ad agencies, filled with award-winning creative, like to focus on their product innovation — leaving room in the customer solution department. You know. Like achieving concrete marketing results.

So here’s a quick exercise. Draw three arrows radiating from a common center point. Label the arrows “innovation,” “efficiency/results,” and “customer solutions.” Plot your competition. Then go where they aren’t.

White space exists even if you have to stretch to find it. Just ask the judges on American Idol.