All posts by Mary Trigiani

Senior executive: banking, technology, economic development, boards. Ethic: urgency, efficiency, candor, humor, spirit.

2006 — where the leaders can go

A happy new year?  Yes, definitely.  But how about a happy year?  Here’s where we can go in the contentment department for the next twelve months.  More about each in the coming weeks.

To character in business.  Self explanatory.

To romantic ideals in corporate positioning.  How we should be positioning, who should in charge of the creative thinking process.  Hint:  not ex-matadors with cigar complexes.

To the Internet in context.  Using technology to serve business and re-define process appropriately — not just for the sake of the technological ego.

To assimilation.  Integrating around a shared, unifying purpose — nations and companies — without sacrificing diversity.

To competitive differentiation.  Telling the corporate story in terms of what is different — and true — in products and services.

To editing.  Knowing what, and what not, to say.

To a sense of urgency.  About products, services, customers, corporate legacy, market value. 

To the certain return of the hero boss.  Taking up where THE ECONOMIST left us last summer.

Lighthouses in a foggy world

That great Frank Capra film, Meet John Doe, is memorable for many reasons.  Its timing:  1941.  The actors:  Edward Arnold,  Walter Brennan, Gary Cooper, James Gleason, Gene Lockhart, Barbara Stanwyck.  The themes:  the common man, democracy, individual freedom, avarice, true love, a redemptive Christmas event.

For me, one aspect stands out this year.  It is a phrase from the script:  “lighthouses in a foggy world.”  Whether it’s used to describe the people who gave voice and vigor to our country’s early days — as it does in the film — or to remind us of the figures around whom our religious holidays should revolve, to celebrate every lighthouse in our own foggy worlds might just be the best gift of all, today. 

Merry Christmas.

The market for framing

If you’ve ever brought a picture or photograph to a good framing shop, you know that the process of choosing a frame can be time-consuming — because a good frame provides a context for the subject without distracting from it or becoming the focus of attention.  The appropriate frame is about the image it surrounds.  A talented framer selects a product that serves the message of the image, if you will.

Framing has a whole new meaning this summer.  Political managers are working overtime to frame the image of their parties and figures, bound and determined to find exactly the right words to appeal to the populace and secure its support in coming elections, especially the far-off 2008 race.  For those of us who live and breathe in the target market, forewarned is forearmed.  But are we ready for the inevitable marketing of the framing concept in business circles?

Those of us who advise business leaders on the presentation of products and services — agencies, consultants, advisors, marketing officers — have performed for decades as the dictionaries and thesauri for our bosses, finding the words and phrases that best capture the ideas and yes, vision, these leaders must share in order to reach customers, build sales and achieve long-term profitability.  I’m waiting for the day I first hear someone ask me how to frame a product or service to the target market.  So, I’m hoping that there will be something to frame.  That’s where it must begin:  with the product, service, idea, competitive differentiation, benefit.  If these elements are clear and vivid and true, the framing will follow.  And the framing will serve them and the target audience, not the other way around.

Steve Jobs raises the bar on commencement speeches

This is dedicated to the colleague who had the timing and judgment to share this remarkable work with me.

If you haven’t read this speech in its entirety, do it now.  If you’re a fan of speechwriting and speech-giving, it covers every base:  in the person’s own voice, symmetry, focus, perfect length, power.  If you’re looking for inspiration, motivation and clarity, it has what you need.  If you want to understand why some of us came to Silicon Valley and why we stay, this gives you the answer.  If you need something to read from the world of business that captures why we should do business and what should be its fuel, this is your resource. 

New Kotler book coincides with more ROI research

Philip Kotler, the leading thinker on the subject of integrated marketing, has a new book out — According to Kotler:  The World’s Foremost Authority on Marketing Answers Your Questions [AMACOM] — and it arrives on the scene just as another survey on marketing ROI is emerging.

New research from the Association of National Advertisers, MMA and Forrester Research, set to be unveiled later this month, reports only 13 percent of marketing execs are confident that they can forecast the impact of the marketing investment on sales.  "The industry recognizes it has a problem," said John Nardone, MMA’s chief client officer.  "Part of the difficulty is that while companies are expending a lot of effort on accountability, the work isn’t organized from senior management on down and integrated within a company, but siloed within an individual department."

Have yet to read the Kotler book, but seeing this survey news on the same day I read an interview with Kotler, I believe a lot of solutions reside in the current gap between business strategy and marketing execution — something that Kotler has been exploring for years.  Many great marketing execs are working hard to establish sensible guidelines for measuring the impact of marketing on sales and market penetration.  The talented marketers can do this with the participation of the other CXOs.  First step:  CXOs must take marketing seriously and guide it to becoming, if not a profit center itself, a key success factor in the company’s profit centers. 

Guide is the operative concept.  For the investment in marketing to be measured, CXOs must avoid what I call "throwing me in the pool and telling me to swim."  If a function has never had accountability for sales or profitability, the company has to help define the path.  And it’s going to be a different path for every organization — because Marketing, while shaped by basic tenets and standards, has the responsibility for creating a differentiation strategy out of what a company owns authentically and, with luck, uniquely.  What works in one situation may fall flat in another.  Kotler is a good source to consult on the question of what’s needed internally — in the way of relationships and focus — to make Marketing succeed — to help the function contribute differentiation strategies and actions that make sales happen and create impenetrable competitive barriers.

Marketing’s human resource

CPRI, the firm that provides interim marketing and creative insourcing professionals to FORTUNE 500 clients, today announced the results of a study it conducted.  The subject:  the communications gap between the corporate HR and marketing functions. 

Some highlights.  45 percent of the marketing execs believe that their biggest challenge is having HR unearth qualified candidates.  50 percent of the marketing execs are planning to hire this year.  And 52 percent of the marketing execs believe that HR does not understand the skill sets Marketing needs on its team.

Scary.  So I want to help close the communication gap. 

First, HR functionaries must become more open to what CPRI calls contingent players — getting advice and support on an as-needed basis without staffing-up unnecessarily.  And second, whatever the nature of the hire — permanent or contingent — I believe there are five qualities, above and beyond industry and project experience, that HR should seek when filling a marketing position.

A sense of urgency.  As soon as marketing types act as if their work is mission-critical, the rest of the organization will start paying attention.  Look for people who think their work is too important to lolly gag over.

A dedication to selling.  Marketing is only as good as the support it offers to the sales force.  The reason marketing exists in an organization is to help sell product and inspire all stakeholders — that means customers and employees — to appreciate what the literature and talking points say is so different about the company’s product or service.

Writing ability.  If the organization can’t decide between two equally qualified candidates, and the only difference is writing ability, pick the one with writing ability.  It means he or she can think — and thinking means they have the ability to strategize as well as execute.

Work ethic.  A business school professor once said that the hardest working business majors went into the accounting and finance programs, not marketing.  That was one professor’s experience, and I’ve seen many hardworking marketers, but this should be enough to make anyone double-check.

An aversion to waste.  Years ago, I happened upon a staffer, MBA in marketing, clearing out his files.  The papers were held together with tons of expensive binder clips.  He was not removing them.  The papers were in expensive file and hanging folders.  He was tossing them, too.  I often wonder whether this individual can read an agency invoice or evaluate work product or tell the difference between powerful copy and superfluous verbiage.  Because at that time, he wasn’t thinking about the cost of anything.  When you’re not worried about the waste, you’re not worried about the cost.

Meatballs and differentiation

The assignment of co-writing and project-managing Cooking with My Sisters has moved into the completed column, making room for more recent gigs.  Yet the comments of colleagues who have read the book and are using the stories and recipes remind me — almost daily — of the synergy that abides between every endeavor.

Take meatballs.  My mother’s and grandmother’s meatballs-and-sauce have been known to change lives.  I am not exaggerating.  Folks who have dined at their tables report that this dish forges a connection between the old world and the new.  And it prompts not just compliments but questions.  How my mother learned to make the dish from her mother-in-law, what role it has in the family cuisine, whether they make it differently from other women in the family, the secret ingredients [there are none — the secret is cooking the meatballs and the sauce together — we don’t make the meatballs without the sauce and vice versa].  The answers given by my mother and grandmother are the factors that distinguish our family from the folks next door.

As a result, meatballs really did change one life.  Mine.

In working with my family to articulate the recipe that had never been written down, I came full circle to the realization of where and when my professional life began.  The support and counsel I’ve been offering to great clients have always been centered in helping them discover and deploy what is authentically, richly their own — in the way of intellectual capital as well as product or service features.  Along comes this book project, and I am reminded that the theme of differentiation played in my life long before I shepherded some slides for Michael Porter and my boss, Victor Millar, through the audiovisual department at Andersen Worldwide.  It began in the family kitchen, watching my mother concoct the sauce while absorbing her guidance to "be different — don’t try to be like everyone else — show them who you are — everyone will be better for it."

So it was satisfying when a colleague in the M&A sphere reminded me that when he backs a company or combines organizations, he is looking for the secret sauce [see May 31 post, too] that will sustain the new entity.  And he’s not even Italian.