Get-Started Action Tips to Evaluate How You Stack Up Versus Competition

The late New York City mayor Ed Koch created a personal, attention-getting mechanism for gaining input and feedback. He famously asked: How am I doing?

Business and marketing leaders have much to gain by utilizing a “How are we doing?” outside-in learning approach. One easy-to-implement way to get started is to conduct a regular program to compare your products and services versus other available options.

During my brand management days at Unilever, the marketing teams had scheduled “cuttings” during which they would compare their products to those of their competitors, review new products and/or generally explore options in the category. It was a cross-functional gathering including R&D and sometimes other colleagues. It fostered collaboration and led to productive and interesting conversations about the business, beyond the technical details.

It was also a fun part of the job, and vividly demonstrated why we all came to work each day: to provide great tasting products to consumers.

I remembered those product review sessions when reading about the keynote speech former Kroger and Harris Teeter executive Fred Morganthall gave during this month’s Private Label Manufacturers Association trade show. His advice has widespread relevance beyond the grocery business: Continue reading

How To Take a Fresh Look, Get New Ideas & Tackle A Challenging New Job

Let’s say you’re a new business unit leader or CMO.

You want to get an unvarnished, 360-degree view of the situation and challenge at-hand.  You have to get prepared to give your boss an action plan.

What do you do and how do you do it?

To demonstrate, let’s use a high-profile, global example that just happened.  I’ll tell you who it is at the end of the post.

Blackboard with words Look Listen Learn

Image: iStock

Here are some of the steps taken by the new leader:

* Invited a range of outside industry experts to a private dinner.  They represented views both consistent with, and alternate to, the company’s strategic direction.

* The guests had to earn their meal by commenting on the most pressing problems facing the company.  Specifically, they were asked:  “Tell me something I don’t know;” and “Give me a new way of thinking about things.”

Continue reading

Master of Disguise – Texas Roadhouse CEO Goes Incognito for External Learning

“It’s important that I not be recognized when scouting. I have Bubba teeth to dive to another level. The goofier you are, the more folks don’t care about telling you stuff.”  Kent Taylor, Texas Roadhouse CEO

Photo: Texas Roadhouse Facebook.

Photo: Texas Roadhouse Facebook.

Getting closer to your business operations, employees and even competitors doesn’t require a trip to your local pop-up costume store.  Save that for this year’s Halloween shopping.

Kent Taylor, the founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse provides a funny reminder that business leaders need to avoid the ivory tower syndrome and get out into the market for real learning. Continue reading

A Cure for We-know-it-itis

When is the last time you asked your customers:  How are we doing?

I’m thinking about the “voice of the customer” because I just received my latest newspaper survey, which seems to come about once a year.

The local paper boils its customer tracking down to six questions.

Click on image to Enlarge

While you may be tempted to dismiss the simplicity of the paper’s research focus, it’s clear they have prioritized what they want to know, and the questions have been structured to facilitate immediate customer service reinforcement or improvement.  Depending on the responses to the open-ended questions, they may get some bonus learning.

You may remember the old saying “the truth hurts,” which is sometimes the case.  Learn to embrace and use the truth to your advantage.  When it comes to operating your business and maximizing performance, relying on limited, assumption-based rather than fact-based knowledge has the potential to lead the organization astray (think the emperor with no clothes).  Regardless of your business, getting feedback and input from whomever buys and uses your products and services is vital.

One of the most debilitating phenomena in business is not embracing an “outside-in” mindset and succumbing to a bad case of  “we-know-it-itis.”  Yes, you do and should know a great deal about your business, and experience does count.  Make sure it stays that way by getting the scoop directly from your customers or consumers.  When I was a management consultant, we would, as part of our upfront work, interview and/or survey employees and customers.  By design, we always interviewed the most senior executives last.   Invariably, at some point during our conversations with these company leaders, we challenged ingrained and incorrect points-of-view with fact-based “voice of the employee” and “voice of the customer” data.

Your customer understanding and tracking initiative may be a bit more involved than the local newspaper, but, depending on your operation, it may not be!  As is often the case in marketing, there’s no substitute for thorough front-end thinking.  Make sure you and your extended team take the time to formulate the key information you need and prepare a written brief to guide your internal or research agency effort.  Based on my experience, I recommend you include at least the following sections in your brief:

  • Reason for the brief (why you need the research and how it will be used)
  • Research objectives and desired learning
  • Research targets
  • Geographic scope
  • Execution guidance and comments
  • Timing
  • Budget
  • Presentation format
  • Appendix for reference information/data

Headline For Marketers:  Ed Koch, the famous New York City Mayor, became renowned for going around the city asking people:  How’m I doing?  It’s a great lesson for the rest of us too.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.

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