Seinfeld on Marketing: Retooling

image source

It’s time for the Happy Friday Dance! (Step to the left, take a step back, now jump and click your heels….) Now that you have had your exercise, lets join Kramer and Newman as they try to run their own talk show out of Kramer’s apartment (my favorite episode if you are playing along at home). Kramer is the host and Newman is the sidekick:

NEWMAN: Lately, though, I’ve been, uh, – I’ve been buying the generic brand of waxed beans. You know, I rip off the label and I can hardly tell the difference.

KRAMER: Well, we’ve officially bottomed out. Who’s our next guest?

NEWMAN: We’ve got no one!

KRAMER: We need a new format. We should shut down and re-tool. [Kramer pulls the plug and the “set” goes dark.]

Sometimes talk shows, ideas and brands go stale like Aunt Mae’s potato salad after a hot August picnic (hard for me to fully grasp this mental image as I sit here in Utah and the mercury is now only rising to “tolerable.”) Staleness can occur from over use and a loss or “specialness” or simply from neglect. Whatever the reason, at times it’s best to stop what you are doing and re-tool.

Take Starbucks for example. By now you have probably read about (or experience firsthand) the early store closing a few days ago of all 7,100 U.S. Starbucks locations to take time to retrain their baristas. In setting up the event, Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, said:

We will close all of our U.S. company-operated stores to teach, educate and share our love of coffee, and the art of espresso. And in doing so, we will begin to elevate the Starbucks Experience for our customers. We are passionate about our coffee. And we will revisit our standards of quality that are the foundation for the trust that our customers have in our coffee and in all of us.

I think this was a brave (and needed) move. Sure, Howard could have simply sent a memo on a TPS Report Cover Sheet for all to read and sign off. But stopping what you are doing long enough to pause and re-tool is so much more powerful. As you know, this stoppage was not only for the employees (or partners as Starbucks calls them) to get in some training; it was equally (and maybe more so) for customers to take notice that there was a stoppage on the assembly line. Howard wants you to take notice that he also noticed the drop in quality and has pulled the chain to stop the advancing assembly line.

But ultimately, will it make a difference? Only time will tell. But here are some of the things we learned from Uncle Howard about shutting down and re-tooling:

  1. If the public has noticed the “watering down” of the customer experience, the process for change should be open to the public to experience as well.
  2. A loss in revenue during the time you shut down and re-tool can be made up by well planned and executed PR covering the change.
  3. Just like a lateral in football, sometimes you momentarily have to go backward to keep moving forwards.

Is time for you to shutdown and retool?

Happy Friday ya’ll!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

Groovin’ the experience

Sometimes we forget how things like your store’s overhead music can add to a customer’s experience. Just take a look at this Best Buy security tape:

[In reality, I have no idea what this dude is up to (or smoking). But you get the point.]

Strategic move, counter move

This evening, all 7,100 Starbucks locations across the US will shutdown for three hours as a time for training, educating and sharing how “to elevate the Starbucks Experience.” (I’ll talk more about this later this week). As a side note, there may be some especially crabby commuters this evening.

During the time that Starbucks is closed, many Dunkin Donuts will offer free (or cheap) lattés.

What are your thoughts on the Starbucks closures as well as Dunkin Donuts response?


Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail has an interesting article on how “free” will change the marketplace.

And if you are one of the first 10,000 people to sign up (US only), you get a free copy of Wired magazine delivered to your home.

Seinfeld on Marketing: Meaning

It’s that time again. This week, I will be adding to the conversation about being profound, or something that has a unique and deep sense of meaning that leads to action. We now join Kramer and George as they discuss life:

KRAMER (in disgust): Look at you.
GEORGE: Aw, Kramer, don’t start…
KRAMER: You’re wasting your life.
GEORGE: I am not! What you call wasting, I call living! I’m living my life!
KRAMER: O.K., like what? No, tell me! Do you have a job?
KRAMER: You got money?
KRAMER: Do you have a woman?
KRAMER: Do you have any prospects?
KRAMER: You got anything on the horizon?
GEORGE: Uh…no.
KRAMER: Do you have any action at all?
KRAMER: Do you have any conceivable reason for even getting up in the morning?
GEORGE: I like to get the Daily News!
KRAMER: George, it’s time for us to grow up – and be men. Not little boys.

Quite simply, George is lacking a unique and deep sense of meaning. Unfortunately, over the course of the nine seasons of Seinfeld, we saw that a lot from George. And just like George we see it all the time in today’s business world as well. Many businesses squeeze the lifeblood of passion out of its employees and customers by not offering a unique and deep sense of meaning or purpose for their company. The loss of potential is enough to make you scream in frustration. And yet, it happens all the time. To loosely quote Henry David Thoreau:

The mass of [companies] lead lives of quiet desperation.

Desperate because they lack any real meaning. Quiet because they are never found and are irrelevant.

Why do so many companies miss the mark when it comes to having a deep sense of meaning or purpose? One reason, I think, is that we sometimes confuse busyness with meaning. Going back to Thoreau:

It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?

Busyness without a deep sense of meaning is quite simply exhausting and all together hollow. Meaning must always dive in the pool before busyness.

Another reason for companies not to have a deep sense of meaning is fear. We learned a long time ago that coloring outside the lines will get you a whack of the ruler on the back of the hand. (Okay. That’s old, cruel school. But you get the picture). We grow up with a sense of how to be successful by following what everyone else does. If we take this into our business lives, we’re surely to go unnoticed and unwanted.

Sure it’s scary to do something so profound it gets you found. But that’s the point; it’s supposed to be scary. If it weren’t, everyone would do it. Quiet your fears and move away from the quivering masses huddled together in the depths of obscurity to roam free and bask in the light of the profound.

And lastly, there may be some companies out there that have never been taught what it means to be profound and offer something deep and meaningful for their employees and their customers. They don’t know what its like to be a good to great purple cow that zags in the blue ocean (if you don’t know what I mean, follow the links, buy the books and start learning). If your company is not being found because it has never been taught what it means to be profound, you need to be the one that steps up and pushes for a deep sense of meaning. You owe it to yourself and your customers.

But maybe you have tried to instill a sense of meaning in your company only to have your suggestions ignored – or worse – to have your company turn its back on them. Don’t worry; I’ve been there too. If the alarm clock each Monday morning brings with it a sense of dread so palpable you can taste the distaste of another lemming-like day pounding away at your keyboard in your grey cube with a flickering fluorescent light overhead, I leave you with this parting thought from Mavericks At Work:

Does my company stand for something—anything—special? It’s hard to be thrilled with your job if the company you work for is struggling to succeed, or feels stuck and irrelevant. I’m not talking about obvious problems—red ink and layoffs. I mean the nagging sense that the company will never be anything more than okay, just another ho-hum player in its field. In this hyper-competitive age, you can’t do great things as a company if you’re just a little better than everybody else. Does the company you work for really stand out from the crowd? If not, why on earth are you working there?

It’s time to pump meaning back into our companies and our own lives and be found by being profound!

Happy Friday!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

A great reminder

While perusing some of the books on my shelf here at work, I came across this simple yet poignant reminder:

Rule #1: A successful company can only be built one satisfied customer at a time.

Rule #2: Rule #1 can only be done with happy, motivated employees.

Companies Don’t Succeed…People Do! by Mac Anderson (apparently out of print?)

In favor of being found, part 2

[This is a continuation of a previous post.]

Many companies that set off down the road of being “found” already have a rearview mirror full of attempts of trying to be incrementally better then what is already offered. You offer a non-stop flight from New York to Dallas so I offer a non-stop flight from New York to Dallas and a bag of peanuts (Woot! I win). You offer a flight from Colorado to Oregon for $129 so I offer the same flight for $119. Back and forth we go until someone like Southwest Airlines comes along and disrupts our “dance.”

Over time, most companies eventually realize that incremental changes or simply varying the shade of grey of what is now offered will only succeed in adding more noise to an already crowded marketplace. With this realization comes the awareness that they need to do something different to be seen.

stunt.pngOne way is to use eye-catching and surprising “marketing” stunts. When these stunts are used, it’s usually not the company that is remembered but the shocking stunt or the funny one liner that is remembered. Think Super Bowl ads. How many times have you heard in the last few weeks about a funny or surprising Super Bowl ad but the person telling you about it cannot remember the company behind the ad? I know that I am getting sick of this. (Side note: I couldn’t even remember the company that paid the lady in the photo to the right $10,000 to tattoo her forehead with their company logo, but luckily I remembered the stunt so I eventually found the photo).

The only to true way to be found is to realize that it’s very difficult to get a speeding ticket on the road to success. More often than not, being found means a slower approach that first involves developing a product or service worthy of being found and customers who are ready, willing and able to talk to others about you.

So when I state, “if you are in favor (or pro) being found, then be profound”, I’m not talking about the one time explosion (or stunt) to turn a few heads. What I am talking about is having a sustained relationship with your customers coupled with a sense of purpose that will turn hearts.

Happy Wednesday!

Seinfeld on Marketing: People and Branding

It feels like a Friday! This Seinfeld on Marketing is a little different. Instead of the usual interaction between characters, this is from the standup that Jerry does at the beginning and end of each episode of Seinfeld. Enjoy!

Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city, you’re actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You know what I mean, you are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt, they *hate* him now. Boo! Different shirt!! Boo.

In sports, we most often hold up the team (and their clothes) in higher regard than the individual players. We could cheer for our favorite player on our team, maybe even buy a jersey with his number on it. But if he leave the team, we still root for the clothes and the jersey gets a first class ticket to the back of the closet (or downgraded to “chore-doing-clothes”).

The interesting thing is, this is the exact opposite when we talk about brands. Through the good and bad experiences, we associate our relationship with the people inside the company as the brand, usually more so than even the products themselves.

Take my father-in-law and Sears, for example. More than two decades ago he had a bad experience with someone in one of the Sears stores and he has never gone back since. I’m sure that the employees involved in this “situation” have long since left Sears, yet the memory (and the consequences) still live on. Contrast this to the fact that he has been a fan of a certain collegiate team for more than four decades (and there have been many, many changes in players throughout the years).

Why are brands so different than sports teams? I think it is because employees of a company are the brand, or at least a very big part of it. While the clothes of a sports team often transcend the players, the people inside a company are the living soul of the brand. So who you have representing your brand matters.

Have Friday!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

In favor of being found, part I

I am often asked, “how can I stand out and get noticed?” The wording sometimes differs but the underlying question of how to be discovered in a sea of “me-too” competition is the same.

Many companies feel like they are playing an unwanted game of hide-and-seek with their customers and are trying desperately to be found, but have yet to be truly discovered.

For those that feel this way, here’s my advice…if you want to be discovered, try being profound. Said a different way:

If you are ‘pro’ being found, then be profound.

What do I mean?

Think of something that is profound. Something that is profound has a unique and deep sense of meaning that leads to action. It could be a profound sense of respect and honor felt by a black belt martial artist that leads her to find her inner strength. Or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s profound understanding of the human race that lead him to share his “dream.”

The same goes for businesses. To be found, you must offer something that is profound. You could provide profound customer service like or Rackspace (though they call it “Fanatical Support”). Or you could provide a profound experience, like Build-A-Bear.

But before you set off to strategize the profoundness that is your company, you need to break apart the definition of “profound” to learn and apply its true meaning:

Unique and deep
First, to be found you must offer something that is unique. It cannot be a re-run that everyone in your industry has seen before (a company in syndication has lost its uniqueness). Nor can your profound offering be average or simply maintain the status quo. Profound is the opposite of profane – the everyday, ordinary things.

But it is not enough to be unique. A needle is uniquely different from a haystack; yet it is still difficult to find it in a haystack because it so closely resembles a single piece of straw that makes up the haystack (I think you would be much better off finding a spear in a haystack because the difference is not limited to materials but also differs in size). Your uniqueness should not be one-dimensional. It must be a deep and penetrating difference from anything else that is already offered in your industry.

Sense of meaning
Meaning inspires passion. It is a reason to get up in the morning. Meaning more closely resembles a hobby than a chore. Harley Davison’s sense of rugged adventure and Apple’s sense of style and user friendliness brings a sense of meaning to their employees and loyal followers just as Southwest Airlines’ sense of fun and customer service instills meaning into its employees and fans.

That leads to action
Your profound offering must be something that acts as a guiding force for the company, illuminates your course of action and inspires passion in employees and your customers. Being average or maintaining the status quo never inspires (just like your drab grey cubicle kingdom doesn’t stimulate the office energy).

All three of these interlocking parts must come into play in order to produce profound change and results. To represent it visually:


How can you be profound?

Happy Tuesday!

Seinfeld on Marketing: Condensing it down

A shout out and a “Happy Friday” to all the Monday Haters out there! In this very, very condensed Seinfeld on Marketing moment, George ponders his life:

You know, if you take everything I’ve ever done in my entire life and condense it down into one day…it looks decent!

Hopefully you don’t have to condense your whole life down just to find something that looks decent. Nevertheless, this is worthy advice from George Lewis Costanza.

After your next project that seems to go horribly wrong (whether it be a blog, a marketing campaign or your attempt at running for President on the United States), it’s wise to pause, condense it all down and look for the “decent.” Now, build on that and turn the “decent” into something great (we’ll save turning it into something truly remarkable for a later time).

Happy Friday everyone!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.