The Myth of the Green Millennials

A widely held belief about Millennials is that they are inclined to care about environmental issues and are more likely to engage in green behaviors than other generational groups. This characteristic has not been lost on companies that see market potential in targeting Millennials with green products. This generathtion is different, or so we have been led to believe. They care about the environment and feel a sense of duty to preserve it after the years of neglect by their parents’ generation.

Research by an expert on Millennials suggests that the view of a greener generation may be a myth. Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, conducted a longitudinal study that found concerns about the environment among Millennials have decreased over time. Moreover, Twenge’s research found that Millennials were not as inclined to engage in green behaviors like cutting back on energy consumption and participating in environmental clean up as generational counterpart Generation X. These findings are counter to the notion that environmentalism is a priority for Millennials.

This post is not intended to debate whether Twenge is right or wrong. Her research has been criticized before because it tends to put Millennials in a less than favorable light. The takeaway here is to be willing to challenge assumptions about your customers, competitors, internal capabilities… in other words, all areas that impact your business. Just as Twenge has evidence of diminished emphasis on the environment among Millennials, other research can be produced that suggests environmentalism is indeed important to this generation. Which side do you believe? Both and neither at the same time!

Are there long-held assumptions or generalizations that influence decision making in your organization? It may be time to challenge them, testing their generalizability to today’s turbulent business environment. Marketing strategy may be grounded in outdated beliefs about customers or the external environment. Put assumptions to the test to determine their veracity. Otherwise, you may be making marketing decisions that are based on outdated or incorrect facts.

eCampus News – “Study: Young People not so ‘Green’ After All”

Sell Dreams

As a professor who studies the marketing discipline as a passion and job requirement, I like to think that I am up on its fundamental tenets. However, it is always refreshing when I see marketing principles in action. A conversation with a business owner recently offered one of those moments.

I met the owner of a travel agency at a business networking meeting at which I made a presentation. As she told me about her business, she said that she owns a travel agency, but what she sells are dreams. Wow! What a powerful statement, but it is a mindset that is often lost on marketers and businesspeople in general.

We tend to define our business and careers by the industry sector or category in which we participate. I just realized I was guilty of it in my first sentence of this post! But, the value we add to the lives of customers and others does not reside in a sector or category label. Rather, the value comes from the impact we have on those people with whom we interact.

If any industry deserves sympathy for the rampant change that has taken place in the past 10-15 years, it is travel services. The transition of travel and lodging purchases to a self-service model online, 9/11 and resulting terrorism fears, and the recession have walloped virtually all businesses associated with travel. But, the travel agency owner said her business has succeeded for 20 years because she has never lost sight of what she does- selling dreams. Yes, travelers may be able to score lower prices buying directly (but not always). The agency’s expertise, network of contacts, and personal service bring comfort and assurance to the process of planning travel.

Define your business and personal brand by the value you deliver. It can be a differentiator between you and competitors stuck on defining themselves by industry and product. Sell dreams!

What it Takes to be Best in Business

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my position as a business school professor is interaction with the business community. Our mission is to prepare the next generation of business professionals, and I find a great deal of inspiration in learning about successful companies and leaders in the Nashville area. For seven years, I have worked with the Nashville Business Journal as a judge for its Best in Business Awards. In that time, I have had the good fortune of meeting entrepreneurs in health care, financial services, marketing services, and many other industries. Their accomplishments and vision are nothing short of amazing.

We have just concluded judging for this year, and I realized that companies named as finalists for Best in Business Awards share three common characteristics:

1. Passionate – Most of the companies were started by people who had worked in a corporate environment and saw unmet needs or a better way to solve customers’ problems. Rather than maintaining status quo, they ventured out on their own to make a difference.

2. Intentional – Strategic decisions and direction are the result of careful consideration of what the companies wanted to be… and not be. For some companies, being intentional meant not chasing business that would force them to stray from their strengths. All aspects of the business including branding, products and markets, and resource acquisition were carefully planned. Yes, mistakes were made occasionally, but the best companies learned from mistakes and overcame them.

3. Caring – In addition to being good at what they do, the best companies have a culture of caring for people- customers, employees, and communities. It begins at the top of the organization with leaders who are advocates for caring, and practices such as donating a percentage of profits to charities or giving employees paid time off for volunteerism reflect a commitment to the world outside their organizations.

Awards are presented in five categories: 1-25 employees, 26-100 employees, 101-500 employees, 500+ employees, and non-profits. While the winners will not be named until April 19, it is evident to me that all companies named as finalists are winning in their respective industries. When passion, intention, and caring are prevalent in an organization, being Best in Business is an attainable destination.

10 Ideas for Small Biz Marketing in the New Year

I spend a lot of time at hockey rinks serving as taxi driver, equipment manager, and cheerleader for my 11-year-old goalie, Ethan. Recently, hockey took us to a goalie camp in the Atlanta area. Besides Ethan having a good experience at the camp, I ran across an interesting article in the Gwinnett Business Journal. It was a list of 10 small business trends for 2012. Marketing advice is plentiful, even if not always useful. However, I thought the 10 items on the list was excellent food for thought. The ideas may not be a perfect fit for every small business, but they can be taken as a challenge to refresh approaches taken to marketing in the coming year.

Below are 3 highlights from the list. The complete list can be viewed here.

Listen to customers differently. Take advantage of social media for listening, but face-to-face communication remains vital.

Offer bigger value propositions. Be able to clearly articulate your point of difference and why someone should buy from you.

Identify and pursue new growth opportunities. Whether it is new products or new customer segments, how can you expand your footprint?

Here is hoping that 2012 is your best yet, professionally and personally.

Be Constructively Discontent

I am a fan of quotes- they can be inspiring, disconcerting, and challenging… all at once. Quotes are like a snack for the mind, giving a mental boost or sparking thought that can lead to personal growth. One such quote caught my eye this week, and it came from an unlikely source. In a press release discussing financial performance in the most recent quarter, a company’s CEO said that despite a strong quarter and year-to-date performance that his company is “constructively discontent and resolutely focused on our future…”

What a challenging way to manage a business! The thought of being constructively discontent has gripped me ever since. The quote struck a nerve with me as I have always approached teaching with a similar mindset. The prospect of becoming outdated and stale is disturbing enough that I challenge myself regularly to become a better teacher and scholar. Complacency is the enemy; if you are not growing you are dying.

Who said his company was constructively discontent? It was Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola. What makes his remarks interesting is the company had a good quarter by all accounts – international sales volume up 5%, net revenue up 45%, and operating income up 17%. These figures coupled with the brand stature of Coca-Cola would make it a prime candidate for complacency, but that is not the case. The company has a long-range plan called 2020 Vision that outlines goals to pursue between now and 2020, a strategy that falls in line with being constructively discontent.

It is easy to be discontent; it can also be destructive. But, when constructive discontent is encouraged, discontent with status quo and exploring avenues for growth keeps an organization and its employees hungry to accomplish more. However, adopting a mindset of being constructively discontent must be a conscious choice- you have to work at it. Don’t settle – I refuse to accept self-imposed limitations – and I hope you will join me in being constructively discontent.

What Do You Want to be Known for?

The headline poses a deep question, one that we are asked from time to time. What do you want to be known for? People can’t remember everything about you, so what is the one salient characteristic that should resonate with them? Businesses try to articulate this reason for being in their mission statements. Unfortunately, many mission statements devolve into a literary exercise. Their value often resides in contributing to the décor of an office. The mission looks splendid in a frame, but its contribution may end there.

The problem with many mission statements is that they are too wordy and ambiguous for front-line employees to recall, much less execute. The remedy for this problem is to express your purpose in a simple, straightforward way. I saw a sign on the outside of a convenience store today that drove home this point. The sign said:

“To be known for… Making the lives of our customers easier.”

This no-nonsense statement is one that every employee can grasp- this is why we are in business! The store is Kangaroo Express, the primary brand of The Pantry, Inc. The company’s mission statement is a bit more elaborate:

“To become an indispensable part of our customers’ daily lives by always satisfying their on-the-go needs in a fast, friendly and clean environment.”

Mission statements are important pronouncements that define the existence and priorities of an organization. I am a fan of the idea to simplify the mission, as Kangaroo Express has done. The guideline for crafting a mission statement should be to make an impression, not to impress.

Disruption: Be the Protagonist, not the Victim

Managing a business is challenging enough- balancing customers’ needs with organizational priorities in the pursuit of profitability. The day-to-day tasks tend to put the focus on the short-term. All the while, winds of change are swirling outside the walls of the organization. Change is inevitable, and many firms that are successful today will encounter turbulent times ahead because they were not prepared for disruptions to their business models.

Marketing expert Martin Lindstrom raises this issue in a recent Fast Company article. He points to two companies as examples of how disruptions can blindside an unprepared company: Polaroid and Blockbuster. Polaroid was riding high in the 1970s and 1980s with its instant camera. Of course, digital imaging technology has rendered Polaroid irrelevant in meeting that particular customer need. More recently, Blockbuster went from the dominant movie rental retailer to a bankrupt entity that was acquired this week by Dish Network for slightly more than $300 million. That figure is more than 90% off of Blockbuster’s market value in 2002.

Polaroid and Blockbuster were taken down by disruptions- changes from outside the organization for which they were unprepared to adapt. Like death and taxes, change is a certainty. Whether it is new competitors, emerging technologies, or shifts in customer desires, change will happen. Having foresight to sense potential disruptions to the business model is a trait that sets apart successful firms from struggling ones.

Sometimes disruptions blindside a company; in other cases the disruption is observed but resistance in the form of maintaining status quo prevents adapting to the disruption. I have observed the latter in higher education. Greater interest in online education and intense competition from for-profit institutions has propelled many traditional colleges and universities to debate the need to adapt to the disruptions. As the debate continues, the disruptions further threaten the competitiveness of traditional institutions.

While managing the here and now, keep an eye toward the future to spot the next disruption that will impact your business. Be out front and turn the disruption into an opportunity. The alternative is to follow in the footsteps of Polaroid and Blockbuster, companies that did not adapt to disruptions and became victims of change.

Fast Company – “The Anti-Blockbuster Way: Disrupt Your Business Rituals Before Someone Else Does”

Being Better More Important than Being First

In my last post, the challenges of being late to market were discussed, with the demise of Microsoft’s Zune music player being the latest example of how failure to differentiate can doom a product. Now, another situation in which a well heeled brand is coming to market with a new product is examined; this time it is from the perspective of an entrenched competitor. Groupon is a social media success story, going from start-up to an estimated $3 billion in revenues in less than three years. In that time, Groupon has established itself as the dominant social couponing brand. Nothing will be able to derail Groupon given its position as the early-to-market king… right?

Should Groupon executives be losing sleep over Facebook’s push into the social couponing category? The social network giant is launching Facebook Deals, which resembles Groupon’s offering of discounts on local dining, services, and entertainment. Facebook Deals has been available in some foreign markets for several months, and it will debut in five U.S. cities soon (Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, San Diego, and San Francisco). With more than 500,000,000 users worldwide, Facebook is a ubiquitous distribution channel that holds appeal for businesses in markets large and small.

Facebook may be bigger than Groupon, but is it better? Market presence and success give a brand like Facebook an upper hand when introducing extensions but do not guarantee success. Other brands have struggled with breaking into new categories. For example, Google’s enormous market share in search and search engine advertising were not enough to make Google Buzz a viable product, nor has it exactly translated to success for its Chrome browser.

Facebook Deals may be a smash hit, but it will not be because Facebook has a large number of users. In order to be adopted, it will have to offer points of difference relative to Groupon. Are the deals more attractive? Are coupons easier to redeem? Is the interaction with retailers or service providers different in some way? Groupon can win the battle by being better; being first will be helpful but not as much as a providing a better experience for customers.

In the long run, being better will be more profitable than being first. To borrow an ad tag line from Nike, Groupon will have to show “My better is better than your better” when it comes to competing with Facebook or anyone else. If the customer experience is positive and enjoyable, almost any brand can compete.

Do You Need Marketing Partners?

As the new year begins, one of the most common resolutions people make is to lose weight. And, it s might be a good time for businesses to consider whether they need to shed weight, too. That is, weight in the form of marketing partners. The parallel to weight loss came to mind as recent events unfolded involving American Airlines. First, American ended its partnership with online travel service Orbitz, no longer allowing Orbitz to list American’s flight schedules or sell tickets. In response, Expedia, one of Orbitz’s competitors, pulled the plug on its partnership with American for what Expedia viewed as a “anti-consumer” and “anti-choice” decision by American.

The end of the American-Orbitz and American-Expedia partnerships invite evaluation of how marketing partners add value to a business. Three considerations come to mind:

1. Do partners enhance or detract from the brand experience? American Airlines appears to be interested in having consumers engage in a direct relationship with American, not travel websites. But, if consumers value the convenience of shopping and buying from partners, denying them the option may do more harm than good.

2. Can your company deliver the value your partners bring to the relationship? Shedding marketing partners has financial implications in terms of reducing marketing expense via no revenue sharing, but can your business take on additional customers that were served by partners? Customers may have come to your brand because of the partner, and if you are no longer associated with the partner, will customers still be attracted to you… or was your partner the attraction all along?

3. Will lost revenue from a partnership be offset by cost savings or acquisition of new customers? Despite statements by American Airlines executives about strengthening brand relationships with customers, the move away from Orbitz is driven by financial considerations. The concept of building more direct connections between customer and brand is great, but if visions of dollar signs overshadow creating brand relevance, then the decision to divorce a partner may be a misguided one.

Business relationships are like personal relationships – even the strongest partnerships hit rough times and experience conflict. And, it is not uncommon for a business relationship to end for many of the same reasons that mark the demise of personal friendships: changing priorities, unmet needs, or a different way of looking at things. A marketing partner is not a permanent appendage but rather a strategic partner that should add value not only to your customers, but to your business.

As for American Airlines, this blogger has flown the airline occasionally… thanks to Orbitz. I wonder how many customers like me will no longer fly American because it has ended its relationship with Orbitz.

Look Beyond the Norm for Customers

A study conducted recently by Scarborough Research yielded interesting insights about a segment of sports fans often taken for granted: females. A tendency exists to automatically think of 18-34 year-old men as a lucrative market, but women are often lumped into the family segment rather than viewed as a distinct customer group. The Scarborough study examined the demographic and consumption characteristics of female college football fans. The Southeastern Conference garnered the most interest among females who are avid college football fans; 19% of this group has attended an SEC game.

Scarborough’s indexing methodology compares a customer segment to the population. Among the findings that compared avid female SEC fans to the general population, they are more likely to be African-American, hold white collar positions, own their own home, have HDTV, and installed a home security system. Companies in many different product categories that use sports as a marketing vehicle may be surprised by the opportunities to reach women through college football.

While the findings of the Scarborough study may not give definitive direction to marketers in terms of keys to success for reaching avid female college football fans, the results should serve as a reminder to look beyond preconceived notions about who your customer is. In the case of college football, the number of women who are avid fans may be smaller than men, but their passion for the sport and buying power should not be overlooked. It is not always a men-women or young-old issue; the point is there may be a group of customers for which you do not fully recognize or appreciate their potential. Look beyond the usual ways customer segments are defined; what you may find could surprise you!

Center for Media Research – “Avid Female College Football Fans”