August 2009

Be THE, not A

2017-03-01T11:56:22+00:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog|Tags: , |

So you are…

  • …A marketer.
  • …A sales person.
  • …A blogger.
  • …A [_ _ _ _ _ _ _].

But is that settling?

Why be A, when you could be…

  • …THE marketer?
  • …THE sales person?
  • …THE blogger?
  • …THE [_ _ _ _ _ _ _]?

There is a BBQ rib chain in the U.S. that bills themselves as “A Place for Ribs.”* If you wanted to take your family out for a great rib dinner, why would you choose to go to A place? A place is just one of many… Why not head to THE place for ribs?

“A” is random. “A” is generic. “A” is one of many. “A” is adequate.

“THE” is singular. “THE” is specific. “THE” is the only. “THE” is expert.

  • Do you want A (one of any) babysitter to watch your children, or THE (best) babysitter?
  • When your hard drive crashes, do you call seek A computer tech person, or THE computer guru?!
  • Do you want your hair cut/styled by A (random) stylist? Or THE (master) stylist?
  • Does your boss put A marketer on the big holiday promotion? No it goes to THE marketer.

You get THE point!

Being THE is about being remarkable. By being THE, you are standing out tall above the crowd.

So, I’ll ask again… are you A or THE?

More on Remarkability

So you want to be THE?

Here is a collection of blog posts from the Idea Sandbox blog featuring authors and their take on how to be remarkable. Enjoy!

*(I could have sworn they were once “THE” place for ribs, but I can’t find any proof of that online.)

You May Be Wrecking Your Own Innovation

2009-09-25T10:55:43+00:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , |

Innovative ideas – the kind that can transform your company – are inadvertently being demolished. When first presented, many ideas meet wrecking-ball comments such as…

  • “How’s that going to work?”
  • “Good luck getting that done!”
  • “We don’t have time for something like that.” And the classic,
  • “Doesn’t work… Trust me… We tried that years ago.”

We’ve all heard (or perhaps said) killer phrase comments like these. These are offered as a “public service” to the team to prevent us from going off track and wasting time.

But, what have we really accomplished?

  • Yes… we’ve kept the meeting on schedule.

But we also,

  • have made the suggester feel stupid,
  • are causing people to hold back their creativity, and
  • may have destroyed the next big idea.

Instead of immediately leveling them, what if we built on new ideas?

Ninety-nine percent of innovative ideas aren’t simply blurted out in their final form. They need development to reveal their full potential.

Instead of destruction, try construction. Use the idea as a foundation and see how tall we can build the framework. If we want to be as innovative as possible, instead of saying “Yeah, but…” try “And, if…”

What’s the worst that could happen?

We’ve wasted 120 seconds on a thought that, in the end, won’t work?

But what’s the best that could happen?

Perhaps we construct something that does solve the challenge. Even better, maybe it morphs into something completely different – something incredible!

As a bonus, we’ve made the suggester feel valued and perpetuate creative, open thinking – the stuff that leads to future innovative breakthroughs!

In these competitive times, when innovation is considered one of the single most important factors to the continued success of a company… Spare the “Yeah but…” wrecking ball, use “And if…” to construct your own innovation.

Marketing Lessons from School Lunch

2010-07-13T23:16:37+00:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , , |

“If you can successfully promote sloppy joe sandwiches, you can perform marketing for anything!” That was my motto, early in my career, as marketing director for a food service company. We were hired to manage the school district’s food program. The school district could then focus on teaching children.

Chicken nuggets, tater tots and a carton of milk served in a sectional tray, taught me a key marketing lesson: Understand and satisfy your customers in each section.

At first…

…it seemed my job would be easy. Other than trying to reduce the stigma associated with cafeteria food, the only other challenge was to keep my end user customer happy… the diner… the kids. It is a simple equation.

The (A) Audience, minus their (P) Problem = equals (S) Solution/Success.

However, I quickly found out… I didn’t have a single audience… but many. And each needed to be considered with every communication program and marketing promotion.

My audiences are illustrated in my pizza diagram* below. Each slice of USDA-inspected pepperoni represents a different audience I needed to think about, to be considerate of, and include in my marketing equation.

*(forgive the inaccuracy, most school pizza is rectangle as it is cooked on large sheet pans).

Like the cafeteria tray…

…they’re all on the same plate, but divided by different needs.

  • Kids – Our “customer.” While mom and dad may provide money, ultimately the child chooses to buy or not.
  • School Board – My company was under contract with them, they’re our client. Keeping all the other groups happy keeps the board happy. Saving money makes them even happier.
  • School Principal – The boss of the school. They have to manage complaints from kids, parents and teachers. They report to the School Board.
  • Cafeteria Team (i.e., “lunch ladies”) – The front line workers. They make it all happen. While the school district employed them, we hired, let-go, trained, managed, and recognized their good work.
  • Parents – If the parents are uncomfortable with the food quality and/or get complaints from their child – we’re doing something wrong.
  • Teachers – Teachers themselves get tired of the same lunchroom food. Yet another customers.
  • US Government – Constant oversight and reporting to/from the government ensures quality for the kids.
  • Local Media – A slow news week often leads to a cafeteria pop-in visit to report, “What they are actually serving our town’s youth.”
  • Community – Unless you have kids of your own and join them once in a while in the lunchroom, you probably assume what’s served today is exactly what was served when you were in school. As does the rest of the community.
  • My Employer – Of course, I needed to keep my boss happy and manage with the resources provided by the company.

What’s more… there’s a tight communication link among these groups.

If one group is upset, news spreads to the rest… quickly.

So the lesson I learned was to always include these ten groups in all of my planning. If we launched a new program… Or re-worked the menu for healthier options… I had to consider how to best reach and communicate this information to a broad and skeptical group.

Quick realization of the simultaneous needs of all your audiences will lead to success.

This lesson has stuck and helped all through my career. So yes, promoting sloppy joes is a recipe for marketing success.

What experiences do you have to share?

This article is re-worked from an article I originally published on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog.

Two-By-Two Diagram: Simplifying the Complex

2011-04-14T01:50:58+00:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , |

Some call it a matrix, others a two-by-two diagram. I call ’em awesome.

Two-by-twos allow you to plot complex information in a matter that allows you not only to see the relationship between two things, but also to make better judgments and decisions. I often use these during brainstorming sessions with clients as a way to filter our stacks of great ideas to the fewer, bigger, and better solutions.

How to Use Them

    1. Determine the two important qualities you want to use to measure or filter your ideas.

    For example… We want to better understand the relationship between employee sales and their customer service scores. This two-by-two would begin something like this…

    2. Next, I’ll plot where each team member according to both their sales and their service score.

    We can see Julia ranks where we hope all of our employees would be… she is making high sales and earning a high customer service score.

We can also use two-by-twos as a diagnostic tool to understand where adjustments are needed. Looking at the diagram, we can see that Winston needs help with customer service. O’Brien needs both sales and service help.

You can plot anything… other measures you may find helpful include…

Product Measurement
Which products are profitable to which customers?
PLOT: Product Profitability -and- Customer Type

Customer Service
Which aspects of our service needs to be worked on?
PLOT: Degree of Importance to Customer -and- Satisfaction Levels

Television Ads Ranking
Which commercials are connecting with customers?
PLOT: How Memorable -and- Relevance

Marketing Promotion Logistics
Which marketing promotion is easiest to implement?
PLOT: Ease of Implementation -and- Investment

Innovation Gauge
Let’s prioritize our innovative ideas.
PLOT: Remarkability of Idea -and- Difficulty to Implement

Two-by-twos are not only for the board room, try them at home…

What dinner menu to prepare for your date
Ease of Preparation -and- How Delicious

Choosing a Daycare
Compassion of Staff -and- Distance from the Office

Inexpensive Sunny Vacation Destinations
Cost of Travel to Get There -and- Number of Days with Sun

Two-by-twos are simple, effective, and versatile – they make it possible to plot nearly anything. Give them a try…

This post was once published on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog.

Upgrade Your Brain’s RAM With An Idea Journal

2011-04-14T01:50:10+00:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , |

The first and best tip I can offer to anyone wanting to be more creative and innovative is to start carrying and Idea Journal… Something to write your ideas on 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

This could take any form ranging from 3×5 cards tucked into a pocket or purse, to a computer-based system. No matter which system you choose, the secret is selecting something you can keep with you at all times that allows you to quickly write down thoughts whenever they come to mind.

An Idea Journal will accomplish a few of things for you…

First… and the point of this post… It’s going to allow you to capture the things you think, hear, see, learn, and all sorts of raw material for ideas.

Using an Idea Journal will re-wire your senses to be more receptive to information you may have previously overlooked. These notes are building blocks for new ideas. After you’ve written them, review your notes at a later time. Write a specific challenge in your journal and let it just sit there and incubate. After a few days, come back to that problem and see what answers you have hatched in your mind.

Second… You can write and store important notes to free-up brainpower. Since you’ll always have your journal with you, you’ll always have your important lists as well. Remembering lists and random thoughts uses valuable brain RAM. Just like an application on your computer running in the background, it can cause the other apps to be sluggish. Your brain is processing “I’ve got to bring home a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, and a stick of butter,” when it could be working on something more critical. Write it down in your journal.

Finally… your journal will come in handy to capture and recall a phone number, book title, website, or other reminders. You will no longer need to frantically pat yourself down or hope to find an old receipt in your wallet.

So, which tool is best? Whatever is best for your style. Perhaps your current planner can work as your single tool, or maybe you need to add something new. There is something in the idea, if you want to think different, act different.


Here are thoughts from personal experience…

  • Use permanent ink or pencil… something that won’t wash away if your Idea Journal gets wet.
  • Use something as accessible as possible. As excited as I was to have a Tablet PC… It isn’t convenient if you need to jot something down, say, in a restaurant with your family. You won’t want to use it in the rain, and sometimes the 20 seconds it takes to wake from hibernation-mode is enough to lose that great idea nugget forever.
  • What do I use? My tool lately has been the pocket Moleskine* sketchbook. I use the larger sketchbook when I’m working on a specific project and need more space. There are no lines, which allows free-range writing, and the pages are think enough not to allow ink to bleed.
    *By the way, Moleskine is pronounced moe-lay-skee-nay, not mole-skin as I once thought.

No matter which format you select, if you stick with it, I guarantee you will impress yourself with the thoughts you capture and the new ideas that are sparked!


Do you use some form of Idea Journal now? How is it working? If you start an Idea Journal… Please share your experience! Questions or reactions? Please leave them in the comments section.


A list of tools ranging from simple paper-based to electronics…


  • 3×5 cards, Small Assignment Pad, Composition Notebook – you can find these everywhere from office supply store, drug stores, to the grocery aisle.
  • Planner Systems – of course you can use your current Franklin Planner, Daytimer, or other calendar/notebook tool. Just get in the habit of having it with you always. Alternatively, carry a smaller pad and tape or transcribe notes you gather back into your planner. (See also the DIY Planner option below…)
  • Levenger – If you like the 3×5 size, but want your system to look more professional, check out the Levenger Company. They have an entire system with pre-printed cards, “shirt pocket briefcase” leather cardholders, the works.
  • Moleskine – These small black notebooks have been around for centuries and have been carried by the likes of Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Hemingway. A plethora of sizes and formats to choose from. Get inspired by other passionate users at the Moleskinerie site and images on Flickr.
  • Hipster PDA – The Hipster PDA, introduced a few years ago on the 43 Folders website, a stack of 3×5 cards held together with a binder clip. It’s a PDA requiring no batteries, never crashes, and won’t shatter if dropped.
  • D.I.Y. Planner – The DIY Planner is a do-it-yourself system of templates for printing. Hundreds of templates have been created and are available free. Check out the Hipster PDA templates you can print on 3×5 cards.


  • Digital Voice Recorders – If you prefer to take voice notations use this selection found on Amazon as a guide, or a voice recording add-on for your iPod.
  • Computer Software – I don’t recommend software as capture tools because of the lack of quick accessibility. However, digital scanners, handheld PDAs, and software such as OneNote for the Tablet PC and Curio for the Mac are nice for transcribing written notes into digital format.

Friendly Falafel

2009-09-25T15:05:29+00:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , |

Maoz Logo

For lunch today, I popped into Maoz Vegetarian restaurant for falafel. It’s really good. (Seth Godin raves about the place – calls it the best falafel in the world!)

They serve fresh hot falafel, on warm pita bread, with delicious hummus, and let you slather on your own toppings. Always delicious.

An aside…

In Europe everyone takes cash, fewer vendors take check cards (or the ‘PIN card’ as they call it in Amsterdam), and even fewer take credit cards.

…back to the story.

When I ordered, I asked the guy at Maoz if they take the PIN card. I thought they did, but didn’t see the card reader. He said, “No, cash only.”

“Whoops!” I said, “I’ll be right back I need to get cash.” There is an ATM around the corner.

“No, no… don’t worry.” He said, like a caring mom… “Why don’t you eat first?” He didn’t want my hot falafel to get cold.

To me this was remarkable.

  • (A)He trusted me. He treated me like a person, not like a random customer or potential thief. He didn’t hold my food hostage until I paid him.
  • (B)He wanted me to have a great, hot lunch. Though I would only have taken two minutes to get the cash, he wanted me to eat it while it was hot.

So I ate, left, and haven’t gone back to pay!!!


As usual it was delicious. However, three additional things happened with this visit.

  • Lunch was tastier served by a “friend.” I felt welcome.
  • I’ll visit Maoz more than I otherwise would have.
  • And I’m telling you about it! Spreading the good word.

Keeping The “No” In Innovation: “Progress Is Overrated”

2015-11-05T10:00:22+00:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , |

The “Palace of Light” is the original Shredded Wheat factory and the boss, Frank Druffel, is keeping the ‘no’ in Innovation.

Post Cereals has a created a series of videos celebrating the fact they haven’t messed with their product since 1892… and the problems with progress and innovation.

“We can’t even find comfort in our food anymore. Progress has pushed molecules ahead of meals, hormones over home-grown, and our cattle have turned into clones…

Our reckless pursuit of progress is absurd. The foundation for our economic structure is reliant on one thing – an endless supply of resources. And you combine that with population grown and, well, you’ve just got global foolishness.”

He also ads…

“You can argue that we got it right the first time… or you can argue that a serious lack of innovation is why Post Shredded Wheat cereal is one of the best food choices you can make in today’s age. What you can’t deny is that we are doing something right… Nothing!”

Here’s a bit from the 5th episode called “The Pitch” where Frank slams advertising… and makes some great points.

“Advertising? …That’s the last thing we need. Advertising is why society is broke.

Ads show good looking, happy, successful people with stuff we can’t afford. So we borrow from the banks to buy these “happy makers” only to find ourselves less happy because we’re in debt and despair over the car that didn’t get us respect… Or the second story that didn’t make the neighbors jealous… Or the meal that just really didn’t bring the family together.

Advertising confuses affluence. Do you know what affluence is in some countries? It’s two cows and a really big wife. Not here… It is two sports cars and a wife so thin she just blows over in a 20-knot gust.

How the hell did our society get to the point where being malnourished was a goal?

I’ll tell you how… Advertising.”

Some of the episodes drag. I’m not really interested in a love interest between the characters… but there are some pretty clever nuggets.

Performance Chart: Your Company, Product, Life

2017-03-01T11:56:25+00:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog|Tags: |

I love tools that are simple to use, easy to learn, but offer profound impact. The performance chart is one of those tools. They consists of a group of continua (left-to-right axis) where you plot “where you are” versus “where you want to be.”

This can be helpful to create a visual report card for you at your job, for your company, or even personal goals.

Here’s how it works…

  • (1)Make a list of important qualities (qualities important to customers, to you)
    • Style, Approach, Intelligence, Focus, Attitude, Sophistication, Gender-bias, Magic, etc.
  • (2)Add the superlatives – the low and high ends of this quality.
    • Style: modern → traditional
    • Approach: unconventional → conventional
    • Intelligence: easy → academic
    • Focus: people-centric → tech-centric
    • Attitude: excited → laid back
    • Sophistication: upscale → lowest denominator
    • Gender-bias: feminine → masculine
    • Magic: reality → fantasy
  • (3)Plot where you want to be on each continuum.
  • (4)Plot where you actually are. (This could also be your perceived status, as in… what customers, your boss, the media think).

Here’s a sample of what this could look like…


Here are just a few ways to use this tool:

  • Product/Marketing Development – Use this when creating a new product to outline your choices before it is created. Make this part of your brief and refer to it during the production process.
  • Decision Making – Before you brainstorm, create a performance chart plotting what the optimal solution should be. After you have finished brainstorming use this as a way to filter out ideas that do not rank where you need them.
  • Personal Development – Use the characteristics outlined on your company’s performance evaluation as the high end of the scale, put the opposite on the low end. Map where you feel you fall on this chart. Where do you think your boss and colleagues perceive you?

The Template

In the spirit of saving you 20-minutes time in formatting, I’ve included a blank Performance Chart template. Enjoy. Performance Chart Template [Microsoft Word document, 180kb]

I originally published this article on 13 July 2007 at the Marketing Profs Daily Fix Blog.

M-I-C… K-E-Y… T-H-O-N-G: A Brief About Being Brand Appropriate

2017-07-12T23:09:50+00:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog|Tags: , , , |

This past weekend I visited Disneyland Paris.


Sleeping Beauty Castle

[Fig. 1 – Sleeping Beauty Castle]In addition to themepark attractions and constant entertainment while browsing the merchandise/souvenir stores… among the mugs, hats, and shirts I came across the display pictured below…


[Fig. 2 – Mickey Knickers]

Sure, Walt Disney’s dream for the original Disneyland in California was to create an amusement park where kids and parents can have fun – but I don’t think he had this type of fun in mind.

I’m not a prude, but Mickey thongs are not brand appropriate.

Disney is all about family and magic. Mickey knickers say “if you’re not careful with these you’ll end up creating a family.”

With National Underwear Day upon us (Wednesday 5 August), this post seems all that more fitting.

Of course, the Disney branded apparel Product Manager would make the argument that European Guests have a high propensity to purchase souvenir lingerie and that Disney is simply offering legendary service by “giving the Guest what they want.”

However, one of the keys to a great brand is the discipline to not simply give the customer everything they want… To put a product in place where a sale can be made… But, to also ensure the item is within brand guidelines and guardrails.

Starbucks Connection

There was once a whole lotta hubbub at Starbucks when the merchandise team decided to play to the interests of dog-loving customers and created a line of Starbucks dog toys. In addition to water bowls and typical dog toys… the clincher was a chew ball with the Starbucks logo on it.

[Fig. 3 – Recreation of Product]

Starbucks Animal Finger Puppet

When company head, Howard Schultz found out about these products, he flipped out and had the line immediately dropped. Unfortunately, the merch team’s filters weren’t in sync with Howard’s. A bummer… as time and money were wasted on Starbucks chews when they could have been put to work elsewhere.

Although, at the same time Starbucks was carrying a line of candystick-mounted finger-puppets to ‘make the kids happy.’

These sold extremely well… which justified the reason they kept making more versions. “Customers were voting with their wallets” was the argument.

The finger puppets stuck around for years until CMO Anne Saunders had the moxie to finally kill the product line.

They were a great, quality product – just not appropriate at Starbucks.


Disney: France – Built in 1992, originally called Euro Disney – the resort was rebranded Disneyland Paris in 1995 in an effort to shake off poor attendance and some of the protests associated with the parks opening.

The re-branding must have worked as of last year Disneyland Paris was Europe’s most popular attraction – with more visitors than the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre combined. In ’07 14.5 million guests visited Disneyland Paris.

Starbucks: France – The French protested Starbucks when they were opening their first location in 2004. Now it is one of the most successful European markets for Starbucks and Parisians line-up to enjoy the coffee and American-style Starbucks service.

Last month Starbucks opened their first location at Disneyland Paris… and the first “green” cafe in Europe.