Marketing Genius from Maple Creative

Marketing tips, observations & philosophy, plus a few rants and random musings - from those who practice, preach and teach marketing, research, advertising, public relations and business strategy.

Monday, December 31, 2007

A to Z of Marketing: Z - the Z Factor

At the end of the year ... as we come to the end of our series A to Z of Marketing ... what a perfect time to tell you about the Z Factor. The photo at the left shows the scene at Maple Creative. Yes, the office is decorated for Christmas and the holidays. Sure, we sent cards to our clients, vendors and friends of the firm. We even had a party, as many of you did.

What about those snowflakes? They are 297 in number. Each one is unique. The snowflakes are handmade, then hung with care throughout the entire Maple office suite. Mind you, all of this is done on top of the normal workload and end-of-year rush. To understand why we do it, is to understand the Z Factor.

In truth, officially there is no Z Factor. I just made it up a few hours ago. But stay with me--there is a lesson here, I promise.

Say that the X Factor is about outworking one's competition. Try harder. Work longer. Be more determined than the other company. Not the most creative approach, but still a source of competitive advantage.

Now, let's attribute the Y Factor to outsmarting the competition. Be more clever. Utilize more of the latest, most powerful technologies. Hire more talented people than the other guys. Beat 'em with your brainpower. Indeed! I heartily recommend such an approach.

And that leads us to the Z Factor. It's what we call "the Maple difference." The Z Factor is the most intangible of those intangible attributes. It is about passion and caring. The Z Factor is your environment, your attitude and your heart. The Z Factor case in question is caring so much about what you do (and those you do it with) that your are driven to display your passion by creating a visibly different and inspired environment. It's the spirit and passion behind 297 snowflakes. Discover and harness your Z Factor and your competition doesn't stand a chance. This is as applicable to marketing as it is to macrame. It is the ultimate competitive advantage.

[Incidentally, I cannot begin to express how much I have enjoyed the snowflakes
and the resulting environment. They are such a light, cheerful visual reminder
of the season and of the Maple esprit de corps. It's hard to be in a bad mood
dashing about the office, dodging snowflakes.]

To all of you, our beloved readers, those marketing geniuses around the world ... I invite you to discover and act upon your Z Factor in 2008. Bring it! If you have it already, please take a moment and share (spread) your inspiration with all of us; post a comment and tell us all about your Z Factor.

PS - Special thanks to Lora Franco and Ashley Rees, our little elves who hung most of the flakes. And thanks to our artists, whose origami prowess is nothing short of amazing.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Hidden Logo Design Elements - Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

It has been way too long since we've had one of these fun, quizzical Hidden Logo Design Elements features. Let's see how good of an eye for detail you have. Can you see the hidden design elements in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (tm) logo?

Don't you just love these! Actually, this one is not too challenging. If you are new to these Hidden Logo Design teasers, use the search box or simply click to find more. Enjoy--and above all ... Let's Go Mountaineers!

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A to Z of Marketing: Y - Yuengling

Yes, I like a good beer, especially one with character. Nothing compares to an ice cold, complex ale with a great aroma and a long finish. But that's not why I am telling you about Yuengling.

This is America's oldest beer, brewed in a very humble (take that to mean real) location--Pottsville, Pennsylvania. It remains a family-owned business, dating back to 1829, and is run by a real, hands-on, shirtsleeves-rolled-up sort of owner, Dick Yuengling. He is not a paper-thin, glamorous PR superstar. How cool is that!

And that is a perfect segue into the marketing significance. The story here is that Yuengling is real. It is genuine. The brand and its products reflect the personality, commitment and style of its owners. Yeungling is a brand that is rooted in reality. And in today's over-hyped, glitz-and-glamour, built-to-flip world, real brands are refreshing. Yuengling has steadliy grown its sales over the past decade (more than 25% in fact) without flashy advertising and without hype.

So how has this brand become noteworthy? How has Yuengling grown? Why do I even know about it? (Aside from the fact that I have a couple good friends from Eastern Pa.) Why does my buddy Kerry refer to it as "that golden nectar"? Well, there are a few good reasons.

Primarily, the company has been consistently dedicated to making a great quality of beer. That's the first part. Secondly, Yuengling has had the courage and vision to innovate. No, they have not changed rapidly or whimsically; instead they have changed strategically. For example, to survive Prohibition, it switched production to "almost beer." And when competitors began mass producing lighter beers, Yuengling spotted an opening and filled the niche by introducing more flavorful, richer brews. Finally, Yuengling has benefited from some well-deserved and long overdue earned media coverage. The chart above shows the huge rise in awareness of this brand when a New York Times feature was published (May 2005).

So what's the lesson here? Reality reigns supreme. Consistently great brands prevail. Slow, steady growth sustains companies and brands over decades. That's real success. And that is real great beer!

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, December 21, 2007

C'mon, Gap! Give a Little Bit ...

Faced with a lackluster 2006, most especially an 8% decline in same-store-sales last December, The Gap has recently implemented various strategic solutions, most notably a CEO switch-out and the hire of a new lead designer. As a result, however, the clothing behemoth has apparently taken its own signature plea, "Fall into The Gap," to heart, and finds itself floundering between old and new brand positioning.

Remember the yuletide days of yore when Santa pulling-up the tail of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade wasn't the only sign of the approaching Christmas holiday? Personally, I always looked forward to The Gap's latest Christmas campaign. From the "Sleigh Ride/Ice, Ice, Baby" medley to Sheryl Crow, India.Arie, et. al. crooning Supertramp's "Give A Little Bit" in the season's latest styles - all, of course, on the mandatory, stark white background and closing with the on-cue Gap logo - the spots were my green light to haul out the Christmas decor. Well, bah humbug! I have yet to see a single Christmas-inspired Gap ad this year.

Is the company amidst so much strategic change that it opted to sacrifice a tradition? Granted, repositioning an established brand is extremely difficult, but it seems to me that The Gap should have cashed-in on its brand equity (read: pop culture references, the stark white background, on-cue logo closing) as they reposition behind-the-scenes, especially during the year's busiest shopping season! For The Gap's sake, I hope this strategy pays off and they don't find their earnings matching the color of Rudolph's nose.

Have you noticed "the gap?" Do you think the company made a wise decision this season?

Labels: , , , , ,

A Charitable Way to Support the Mountaineers

Hey folks - please check out the very cool project being organized by Paul White, Chris Brumley and Bob Coffield - some very kind-hearted, philanthropic West Virginia friends. The details of this plan are explained on Bob Coffield's blog:

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A to Z of Marketing: X is for Mulitply

Marketing is a system of strategic tactics and processes utilized to create an environment in which sales flourish.

Sales flourish. That's a phrase worth repeating. Sounds damn good, doesn't it!

Are your sales flourishing?

Sales is very often a one-to-one process. One sales call ... one order.

Same with word of mouth. One-to-one. It's a slow process. One person to the next. And so on.

Enter marketing. Marketing is the great multiplier. Good, smart marketing multiplies the sales results. Marketing accelerates the Word-of-Mouth referral process, like pouring kerosene on a fire. (I'll admit that I have never poured kerosene on anything.)

Marketing even has the power to compress the sales cycle. It can reduce the number of sales calls required to get from "Who are you?" to "Did you receive my purchase order on e-mail this morning?" Thus, marketing can also be a very welcome divisor. But there's not a letter from our alphabet that represents division, now is there. And then, after all, this is about the letter X.

Oh --- and while we're on X ...

Merry X-mas to marketing geniuses around the globe! We appreciate you and are glad to have you as part of our community.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, December 17, 2007

A to Z of Marketing – W is for “Wow” Factor

On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s the “Wow” Factor of your marketing? If you don’t know, here’s a test.

- Has someone approached you in the past four months to comment on one of your marketing touchpoints? (See T is for Touchpoints below)

- Have you been genuinely excited by your own marketing lately, i.e. the kind of rush that keeps you working until 4am and you love every minute of it?

- Have you embarked on a marketing idea lately that’s so unique, it’s bound to generate some buzz?

If you answered “No” to all of the above, think about this: Your message is just one of thousands your customers see every single day. If you want to rise above the noise, you’ve got to do something that makes them say “Wow!”

At Maple, our company Christmas card was a compilation CD of staff musings, quotes, a paranoid rant about monkeys and a ridiculous beat poem by yours truly. Yes, it’s out there, but it’s also making people talk. It’s “wow”.

I recently put wraps for one of our clients, an accountant and business advisory firm, on the elevator doors at our regional mall. An usual move for CPAs, sure, but one that has the holiday crowd stopping for a second look.

In the post below, Skip asked about your marketing flops. I want to know about your marketing “Wows”. Please share your most successful, over-the-top “Wow” stories. We’d love to hear them.

P.S. Marketing guru and “Wow” advocate Tom Peters encourages his readers to ask, “Is it Wow?” before sending ANY work off into the world. Food for thought....

Labels: , , ,

Urgent Plea to Media: Don't Publicize Suicide Notes

To the producers at CNN, MSNBC and the network news organizations, I am issuing this very sincere plea: do not publicize the suicide notes left behind by mass murderers.

As a communications professional, as a parent and as a human who inhabits this earth, I demand some decency and ethical behavior by those in charge of what gets on television. This is senseless, and it must come to an end.

About 10 days ago, when the networks aired the suicide note, I was running on the treadmill at my local YMCA. I hopped off the machine and shouted at the TV screen, "No way! How can they be doing this--again!" And they did more than just report it, they used the drama of a soon-to-be-reveal suicide note to tease the audience, hyping it at segment openings and closing. How utterly distasteful!

First with Cho at Virginia Tech and now with Hawkins at the shopping mall in Omaha, the national media is fulfilling the deranged desires of these murders by broadcasting their suicide messages to the world. The media is almost encouraging copycat behavior. Hawkins' note, as you probably know, hinted at the fact that his message would be broadcast worldwide, making him "famous."

Am I right or wrong here? Do we not deserve better!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What's Your Biggest Marketing Flop?

I usually ask my audience this question whenever I do a training seminar or speaking engagement: "What is your biggest marketing flop?"

Here's a snapshot of responses from a recent group--

I placed a single ad in the newspaper to promote an event. Received zero response.

Have not had any success from newspaper advertising.

We planned a private retail shopping party. From the RSVPs we thought we had 25 people coming and planned food, staff, etc., accordingly. Only two disinterested people showed up, and we did not sell one dollar's worth of merchandise.

When I was starting out in business, I got my first call from a reporter. I did not prepare, and the call caught me off guard. Needless to say, my message did not come across in the story as well as it should have.

I have not had any response to my "yellow page" ads.

Have you had any experiences like these? What could these folks have done differently? Let's hear from you marketing geniuses.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Welcome USA Today Readers

We extend a warm welcome to our new friends and visitors coming to us via the USA Today print edition or Web site. Thanks for visiting. While you are here, please post a comment and tell us what you think. Did you learn anything? Was our information helpful? Did we make you smile?

Thanks to Jay Ehret who got us involved in a really cool blog promotion that USA Today has launched. They have created a special print and Web directory called the "Blogger and Podcaster Guide."

We would be tickled pink if you would subscribe to the Marketing Genius blog. There are two easy ways to subscribe:

1- Use the "Subscribe Me" applet powered by FeedBurner. It's located in the RH column halfway down the page. Simply fill in the blank and click the button. All new content will automatically be delivered to the e-mail inbox of your choosing.

2- Or you can subscribe to our RSS feed. Just click on the "Subscribe in a reader" chicklet at the top of the RH column and follow the instructions of your RSS feed reader, whether IE 7.0 or other app.

Remember the six most important words in marketing: "How did you hear about us?" Won't you please tell us, if you've arrived here by way of the USA Today!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A to Z of Marketing: V is for Vision

As a marketing guy, I can take your business any place you want. But only if you have a vision. I can't take you there if you don't know where you want to go--if you lack vision. In our continuing, alphabetical and sequential exploration of marketing, "V" is for vision, as in Brand Vision.

Where is your brand today? Are you a newly launched upstart, striving to attain credibility? Is yours a mature, established brand seeking to become known for something new? It is important--in fact it is the very starting point--to determine this.

[What do your colleagues think? Do they agree with your assessment? Have you ever had such a conversation?]

Are you #1 in your space ... the clear market leader? Or are you #2 ... #3 or lower? Do you even know how to measure your market share? Naturally, the stewards of the leading brand will have a different brand vision (and corresponding strategy) than those who are coveting that spot.

[Would your top five and bottom five customers agree with your perceived ranking? How do you know?]

Where do you want your brand to be in two years from today? How about in five years? You will never get there if you avoid defining and articulating your brand vision. It's time for some thinking and time to make some choices.

Don't be fooled. A term like "Brand Vision" can sound esoteric, superfluous or "touchy-feely." It is nothing of the sort. It is strategic. The brand vision can and must be quantifiable, defensible and imperative.

Ask any marketing genius. Take care of the Vision and you will soon be dealing with another "V" ... Victory!

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A to Z of Marketing – U is for Universal

This year, one of West Virginia’s long-standing Christmas tree farms began offering their trees online. As a result, a business that had only sold within a small radius now had their first customer in Hawaii.

Isn’t that great? The world really is flat.

In fact, the more business becomes universal, the more opportunity is out there for organizations that are positioned correctly. Think about it: What would make someone from Hawaii, who has a perfectly adequate selection of Christmas trees in their home state, want to buy one from half a continent away?

Here’s a better question: Is there anything so unique about your product or service that someone from across the country would seek you out?

I read an article recently about a marketing firm in Colorado that made a strategic decision to specialize in “play”, i.e. outdoor products, resorts, sports centers, sports teams, etc. Rather than promote itself as the usual “integrated, full-service marketing agency that acts as a strategic partner” to a host of different clients, this firm was so aligned with their brand that (among other things) it had a rock wall in the office and only hired staff that were proven “play” enthusiasts. Now, clients from around the world are coming to Colorado to meet and hire this expert team of marketing talent.

So… where are your clients coming from? If it’s only your city, your state or your region, you are missing a huge opportunity. Anyone can be a player in their hometown. It takes focus (i.e., a willingness to be the expert in something) to become a player in your industry.

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 07, 2007

WV State Univ. Debuts Unique New Web Presence

Our friend and fellow PR colleague, Todd Beane is "calling all West Virginians to Join the Conversation!" Todd is the communications marketing specialist for WV State University's Gus R. Douglass Land Grant Institute. He and his colleagues have launched a new Web site. It's a fine example of how an institution or educational entity can incorporate social media, like blogs and chat rooms into its Web presence. I visited the new gorgeous, feature-rich Web site. Check it out. It's worth a visit!

If you do visit, you are welcome to share your feedback here, in the form of a comment. Or you can send feedback directly to Todd at He shares the following news release with us:

West Virginia State University Gus R. Douglass Institute’s (GRDI) new and completely redesigned web site at is now LIVE. Once online you can make posts to the GRDI blog or even join online chats taking place with GRDI staff and administrators. We welcome you to bring your own personal insight and experiences to the table.

We have podcasts available to share with you on current topics from our Extension programs. And if audio is just not enough, you can also click on the Extension Matters logo and watch the monthly television show on live streaming video.

Visitors can virtually step inside our programs and learn about the three divisions that make up the Douglass Institute: WVSU Extension; the Agricultural and Environmental Research Station (AERS); and the Center for the Advancement of Science, Technology, and Engineering (CASTEM). Also visit the Calendar of Events and Upcoming Events to see what activities are happening.

Visit the website frequently and often to join the conversation. While you’re there check out Extension Matters podcasts, Extension Matters Magazine, or watch Extension Matters the television show right here on our Web site!

Labels: , , , ,

What's Your Grinch Name?

Are you in the Holiday mood yet? Have you watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas yet this year? I am. And yes, I have.

If you are a fan of things Grinch, you'll get a kick out of this fun, quirky Web application that helps you determine your Grinch name. Recall Little Suzie WooHoo?

My Grinch name is Peevishfrown Rascalbottom, by the way. At least it is according to the Web site. I loved it. Hope you'll have a moment of fun with this in the midst of your busy day!

Yours faithfully,

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A to Z of Marketing: T is for Touchpoints

Tag! You've just been touched by our brand. The Marketing Genius blog is one of many touchpoints for Maple Creative. And hey- we are thrilled that you're here!

A touchpoint is any interaction that you audience has with your brand. Each touchpoint is an opportunity. It can be a great, positive experience. Conversely a touchpoint can be disappointing or harmful, serving to detract from your brand and its perceived value.

Sure, your Web site is a touchpoint. And quite obviously, your office (or store) is a touchpoint, too. Sales reps are touchpoints, no doubt.

Following are a few other touchpoints that are easy to overlook:

Invoices and billing statements - Are these confusing and intricate? are they consistent with your brand identity? do they say, "Thank you"?

Voicemail greeting - Is it dull, plain and void of emotion? or is it unique and energetic?

Sponsorship presence and community outreach - Are these helping you to touch potential clients in the right venues and at the right time?

Former employees - What are these folks saying about your company and its leadership?

Vendors and suppliers - Are you perceived as paying your bills on time? Vendors talk ... and they have tremendous reach.

Tech support line or help desk - Do these represent your business well? Do they consistently fulfill the front-end promises that you are making ... or do they tend to disappoint?

Touchpoints can work for you--or against you. The case for most businesses is that some touchpoints are winning customers, while others are turning people off. It's rarely all or none.

Take an hour or two and map all of the touchpoints for your business. Evaluate each and every one on the list. Be sure to put yourself in the customer's (or prospect's) shoes. Better yet--get some external (i.e., real live customer) feedback on each touchpoint. Figure out which touchpoints need some TLC. Then, apply the leader's touch to fix or reinvent.

You may even find that you are lacking some touchpoints. For example, one client of ours felt that they weren't converting enough sales opportunities. They believed they need to add a couple helpful marketing touchpoints on the pre-sale side of things. The goal was to warm up the prospects, so that they are more informed and more inclined to do business, prior to the first sales contact. We helped them create those additional, informative touchpoints and the success rate grew! That's the midas touch that good marketing can deliver.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Blogging Featured in Sunday Gazette-Mail in Charleston

Thanks to this great article by Sarah Winn, today 91,000 readers are learning more about the business potential for blogging. If you happen to be visiting for the first time as a result of the newspaper story on blogging, please take a minute to leave a comment below. It's fast and easy.

Beyond the wonderful story content, the beauty of this coverage is the underlying collaboration, several of us working with a very interested and talented reporter. My very talented colleague and frequent blogger Emily Bennington was the masterful coordinator behind this whole project. I am so happy that the article involves perspective from a number of friends and fellow bloggers, including Jason Keeling, Bob Coffield and Justin Seibert, a big supporter of the Create WV initiative. Kudos to Chuck Hamsher, too. His store, the Purple Moon, is way cool in its fine manner of rejuvenating retro design. And he's smart to utilized a dedicated, thematic blog as part of the overall marketing plan.

So, after all, there is a business lesson here: how can you take a small, specific, finite idea and expand it into something that serves a greater good and brings more perspectives? When you do, the story lines have broader appeal, the combined news/editorial impact is deeper and everyone wins! When you think with a collaborative, abundance mentality--as starkly opposed to a scarcity mentality--good things usually result.

Labels: , , , , , ,