Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy New Year

“In a wireless world, personal contact takes a back seat.” - Thomas Friedman. We have become too reliant on technology communication tools 24/7 to connect with people. We need to revert back to when we were kids and allocate the time needed to forge strong interpersonal relationships.

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I would like to share a little story to help kick in the New Year. I was sitting in a playground in Cannes, when I witnessed four little girls of different ethnic backgrounds playing. One was French with a doll & doll carriage; there were Brazilian twins and an Asian tag along. They set up an imaginary house under the slide and began cavorting around the playground, each taking turns pushing the doll carriage. For that short span of time they were totally connected. No cell phones, no computer, no Crackberries, etc. The language differences were not a barrier. The playground transformed them into their own personal Global Village.

My point? Today thanks to all our technology to stay connected, we have actually become disconnected in the process. Reminds me of a great New York Times op-ed that I read years ago by Thomas Friedman titled Taxi Driver. Friedman wrote –
“Technology is dividing us as much as uniting us. Yes, technology can make the far feel near. But it can also make the near feel very far. We’re so accessible, we’re inaccessible. We can’t find the off switches on our devices or on ourselves.”

I advocate that what is getting diluted thanks to our wireless world is our ability to truly connect with people. We are so engrossed with all our technological toys, that we don’t allocate the time, the incubation period needed to forge strong interpersonal relationships. We all talk about being networked, but how many people are we truly linked to in our network beyond their contact information? Maybe it is time to take a break from our 24/7 connectedness and revert back to the days when we were kids. The days we played more freely utilizing our best playground kid skills. By doing so, we will become more connected to one another, thus have more fun as we cavort in our network.

Bonne année.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Innovation in the foodservice industry has been minimal because organizations continue to do the same old thing. One way the industry can cure its stale thinking is to practice deconstruction. Organizations need to tear themselves apart and begin reconstructing key elements.

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Back in April 2008 I addressed the topic of “Morph Marketing” in a Nation’s Restaurant News opinion piece. I advocated that marketers have been developing business plans the same old way, year after year after year. As a result, the foodservice industry has witnessed minimal innovation. Now I am beginning to realize there is a greater symptom for the lack of innovation. Organizations in total are stale because every internal department is doing the same old thing. Time to steal a page from the philosopher, Jacques Derrida. Practice deconstruction. Derrida believed:
Every structure that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained by exclusion. In the process of creating something, something inevitably gets left out. Exclusive structures become repressive, thus take things apart and reconstruct.

English, English. Blow your organization up and start over from scratch. Okay, maybe that is totally unrealistic, but a good place to start is to answer the three tough questions detailed below:

Who are we? Better known as a positioning statement that identifies your company’s target audience, frame of reference and point of difference.

What do we want to be when we grow up? Answering this question is a team effort that should reflect your company’s vision communicated in a clear, concise statement so everyone beats to the same drum.

How are we going to get there? Once again a team effort that will best describe the principles and guiding values your company will exercise to achieve its vision. In laymen’s terms, your company’s mission statement.

Trust me, once your organization has re-examined its positioning, vision and mission statements, your team will be re-energized and the innovative juices will start flowing again.

Time to reconstruct.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Show Me The Buzz

Buzz marketing is like a virus that changes to meet the challenge of a new environment. There are three distinct stages: inoculation, incubation, infection – the final stage enables the widespread usage of a product/service amongst the mainstream.

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Last week I brushed off the dust on an old speech, “Show Me The Buzz”, that I debuted back in 2006 at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show. Buzz marketing is a topic about which I am extremely passionate. Anytime I have an opportunity to present the speech, I get very excited, especially to a new crowd that affords me the prospects of expanding my business network. Last night the audience at Philadelphia’s Independence Visitors Center (
was composed of members of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of HSMAI (Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International).

When I address buzz marketing principles, I draw metaphor to a virus. True buzz is like a virus that changes to meet the challenge of a new environment. There are three distinct stages: inoculation, or the introduction of a product; incubation, or the use of the product by a few innovative trendsetters; and infection, or the widespread usage of the product amongst the mainstream. I then provide actual case studies to further drill down my point as it relates to viral marketing, the popular term that is often used in lieu of buzz marketing.

One of my personal favorite case studies is Jones Soda ( Vancouver native Peter Van Stolk, a former ski instructor, founded the innovative Seattle-based company originally in 1987. In recognition that Jones soda did not have the deep pockets or distribution network similar to the mega beverage companies, Stolk positioned his company as the anti-Coke alternative. He introduced non-traditional flavors (e.g., Blue Bubble Gum, FuFu Berry, Jelly Doughnut) and decided to utilize a viral marketing campaign to build a cult following. Inoculation began when Stolk’s team drove across the country in two RV’s distributing free sodas to teenagers in malls and schoolyards. They also placed signature coolers in surf shops, bike shops, and tattoo parlors, even bookstores that targeted the younger, non-traditional crowd who favored extreme lifestyles. This strategy added to the brand’s mystique. Incubation followed when the company via its website made an emotional connection with its consumers by soliciting photos for customized labeling on their bottles. Bam! Revenues reached $39 million by 2006 – the viral infection was in place. In 2007, Jones decided to introduce a line of canned soft drinks to Target and Wal-Mart, a move that placed them in direct competition with Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Sound good? Not really. All sorts of problems ensued – production, distribution and finance. The company did not have the infrastructure to compete with all the beverage brands stocked on the supermarket shelves in America. Stolk stepped down as CEO and was replaced by the former Coca-Cola CMO Stephen Jones who is still trying to stop the financial hemorrhaging of Stolk’s grandiose expansion plan.

I share this story, because it is a classic example of how a viral infection can backfire if a company does not take timeout to plan accordingly for rampant growth. I compliment Peter Van Stolk as a true innovator two-fold: A.) He benchmarked outside the beverage industry by looking at what worked in fashion, sports, music, etc. to take the beverage industry by storm; and B.) He listened to his customers, thus connected with his customers. What he failed to do was create the infrastructure needed to continue Jones Soda’s run as a leading alternative beverage company. In my next posting, I will address a process called Deconstruction, which is a potential solution for companies that find themselves in a similar position to Jones Soda.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I want to share with everyone a classic op-ed I read back in 2006, a fun piece written by Rick Moranis entitled: My Days are Numbered

The average American home now has more television sets than people ... according to Nielsen Media Research. There are 2.73 TV sets in the typical home and 2.55 people, the researchers said. — The Associated Press, Sept. 21.

I have two kids. Both are away at college.
I have five television sets. (I like to think of them as a set of five televisions.) I have two DVR boxes, three DVD players, two VHS machines and four stereos.
I have nineteen remote controls, mostly in one drawer.
I have three computers, four printers and two non-working faxes.
I have three phone lines, three cell phones and two answering machines.
I have no messages.
I have forty-six cookbooks.
I have sixty-eight takeout menus from four restaurants.
I have one hundred and sixteen soy sauce packets.
I have three hundred and eighty-two dishes, bowls, cups, saucers, mugs and glasses.
I eat over the sink.
I have five sinks, two with a view.
I try to keep a positive view.
I have two refrigerators.
It’s very hard to count ice cubes.
I have thirty-nine pairs of golf, tennis, squash, running, walking, hiking, casual and formal shoes, ice skates and rollerblades.
I’m wearing slippers.
I have forty-one 37-cent stamps.
I have no 2-cent stamps.
I read three dailies, four weeklies, five monthlies and no annual reports.
I have five hundred and six CD, cassette, vinyl and eight-track recordings.
I listen to the same radio station all day.
I have twenty-six sets of linen for four regular, three foldout and two inflatable beds.
I don’t like having houseguests.
I have one hundred and eighty-four thousand frequent flier miles on six airlines, three of which no longer exist.
I have “101 Dalmatians” on tape.
I have fourteen digital clocks flashing relatively similar times.
I have twenty-two minutes to listen to the news.
I have nine armchairs from which I can be critical.
I have a laundry list of things that need cleaning.
I have lost more than one thousand golf balls.
I am missing thirty-seven umbrellas.
I have over four hundred yards of dental floss.
I have a lot of time on my hands.
I have two kids coming home for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Color Me Green

The green economy will provide a stimulus for job growth, but equally important is a nationwide green outreach program to curb America’s profligate energy consumption behavior.

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I attended AASHE 2008, a conference for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education ( Attendees were all energized by Obama’s mantra for hope and change, which was a perfect platform for keynote speakers addressing the conference's theme: Working Together for Sustainability On Campus and Beyond. One keynote speaker that especially piqued my interest was Van Jones, an environmental activist whom I first became aware of in Thomas Friedman’s 2007 op-ed entitled The Green-Collar Solution. Mr. Jones is the founding leader of Green for All ( In his own words: “The green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people – while honoring the Earth.”

Mr. Jones’s energizing speech clearly outlined the key pillars it will take to build a green economy. Good stuff, especially how we need to repower America with clean energy. Van Jones is a strong supporter of eco-visionary Al Gore’s challenge for 100% renewable and clean energy within a decade. Yet it suddenly occurred to me that all the green economy solutions being proposed today are reactive in nature to an intolerable environmental situation. Equal focus needs to be placed on our profligate energy consumption behavior. One starting point would be to create community outreach programs complete with educational materials on how each one of us can reduce our daily consumption of energy. Think of what an economic stimulus this would be to our economy – trainers, implementation of educational materials (web-based or old fashion printed materials) and community centers that would conduct workshops. Sounds like job creation that would also helps us achieve Al Gore’s renewable energy vision.

One last thought. Listening to Van Jones’s speech in a room full of academics reminded me of a great line from Adam Gopnik’s book, Paris to the Moon. “Institutions instruct, parents teach.” My apologies for being candid, but it all begins in the home.

Remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Premium Choices

Despite the roller coaster economy we are experiencing this year, the rise of the luxury market in the next decade will breed an “elitist” consumer who will pay premium dollars for a status experience. Consequently menuing will change to target these consumers.

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A wine lovers package at the Hilton Arc De Triomphe in Paris starting at 290 Euros per night (the equivalent of $375 at today’s exchange rate) complete with two tickets to the Paris Wine Museum and a wine tasting. Don’t forget to add in airfare and transportation to and from the hotel if you are only planning on spending one night in Paris. Sounds like a bargain for the individual who recently paid $34,350 for Lot 87, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982 in its original wooden case at Zachy’s ( inaugural Hong Kong auction. Here in Philadelphia, the Cheese Steak capital of the World, you can get a $100 Kobe Beef Cheese steak. A little too rich for your tastes? How about something simple like candy? Mars Inc. just jumped into the $2 billion plus premium chocolate market and introduced Premium M&M’s. “A little luxury with each bite,” according to their spokesperson Eva Longoria Parker. The six-ounce package retails for $3.99. I still hope they melt in your mouth, not your hands: (

Despite all the economic turmoil we have been experiencing, the market for luxury goods continues to grow in leaps and bounds. By the year 2012 it is expected to exceed $450 billion in Global sales. Who is fueling this affluent consumption boom? The “elitist” consumer, individuals who seek to buy premium products/services thanks to the experience factor, but also as a status symbol to flaunt their new wealth. Some market researchers believe the core of these consumers is the emerging “middle-class millionaires” – people who have total assets (hopefully real assets) between $1 million and $5 million.

How is this currently impacting the foodservice industry? As I stated earlier in this post, exotic white tablecloth experiences are surfacing as I write. Dining in the dark at Opaque in California where patrons definitely don’t have to worry about watching their calories since they are unable to read any calorie postings. Don’t forget to make a reservation at Masa, the 26-seat sushi bar in Manhattan for a $300 per person sushi dinner. Not ready for an over the top eating experience? Maybe you just want to settle for a premium cocktail – try the $3,000 Sapphire Martini at Mezz, the “ultralounge” at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, complete with a sterling silver pick holding a pair of platinum-mounted diamond and sapphire earrings.
Sound outrageous? Definitely, but look for this trend to continue, not just for the emerging “middle-class millionaires” that frequent fine dining establishments, but also for mainstream consumers whose profligate spending behavior will lessen their probability of making logical versus image choices. In foodservice, menuing will change as follows:

1.) More specialty menus in a majority of all commercial segments with QSR being the exception, will be utilized for premium beverages (everything from alcohol to signature coffees, teas or hot chocolates), desserts made with exotic ingredients, etc.

2.) Branding the source of origin for proteins including sustainable seafood, will command premium prices for entrees, a trend pioneered by Bill Niman and Orville Schell with their nationally recognized brand, Niman Ranch. They publicized how their animals were raised under humane conditions, all the ways from their feed to the time they were dispatched: (

3.) Operators, in response to the economy will realize that price and value are two different concepts. Price is simple; it is the amount of money a patron is willing to pay for a meal. Value is dependent on price, but far more complicated in that it also takes into account subjective criteria like tastes and preferences that equate to experience. As a result, more priced fixed or special tasting menus will evolve that will deliver the status experience being sought out by “elitist” consumers.

Premium choices will become the badge for the 21st century consumer. Consumers everywhere will be motivated by status brands and symbols. This is a good time for foodservice operators to jump on the bandwagon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Forever Young

Thanks to over 100 million adult “active gamers” with an average age of 35, video sales in the U.S., an estimated $9.5 billion reported by NPD in 2007, are bigger than movie sales worldwide.

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A recent article in Nation’s Restaurant News ( written by Gregg Cebrzynski ( piqued my interest.
The piece indicated that chains in their quest to seize a larger share of the 18-to-34 year-old demographic are targeting video games for ad placements to build brand awareness and loyalty. Pizza Hut pioneered the strategy back in 2005 with a limited time promotion that achieved great success – online gamers were able to order pizza via the EverQuest II game they were playing ( Numerous chain leaders like Burger King, Sonic, Subway and McDonald’s have also jumped on the bandwagon. Some have gone to the extent to partake in advergaming, the practice of using a video game, usually in the form of a free online game to advertise a product like Taco Bell’s “Taco Fu” ( On the whole, marketing research has confirmed that gamers, especially the targeted 18-to-34 year-old crowds are responding positively to video game ad placements.

Innovative marketing strategy! However, chain marketers need to open their eyes and realize that they are reaching a broader target market. Time to debunk the myth that a majority of the gamers are 18-to-34 year-olds. Here are some quick facts:

· Entertainment Software Association reports that the gamers average age is 35, up from age 24, the number they reported back in 2002. The original gamers have been playing video games for 13 years and are maturing.

· The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is now 40 years old.

People over 50 comprise 26% of all gamers!

· One of the fastest growing groups is Moms over 45. Why? They have time on their hands, plus it has become a great way to bond with their kids. They are a major contributor to the fact that over 100 million adults are now considered active “gamers.”

Since the target audience is broader and more mature than the coveted 18-to-34 year old prospective diners, chains need to re-evaluate their messaging and product offerings to fully capitalize on the gamer community. The older, video gamers are not going to be interested in conquering other worlds, the ongoing battle between good vs. evil, etc. They are going to demand real world skill building situations. Sims a game that simulates a family’s daily living; worldwide is the leading selling PC game in history. Chain advertising messaging should mirror real world challenges. Healthier eating comes to mind. What a great opportunity to devise a game that also communicates healthier menu options like salads, vegetarian product offerings (e.g., veggie burgers) or even organic foods.

Bottomline: Gaming has expanded its demographic boundaries into the mainstream. As a result American grown-ups are staying Forever Young.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Outsourcing Makes $en$e

Outsourcing sales and marketing is a cost effective option for businesses that are on overload to implement key strategic initiatives – new product introductions, segment marketing, etc. A seasoned professional contracted from the outside has the expertise and business network to get the job done in a timely, focused manner.

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“I’m so swamped.”
“There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”
“Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’ve been traveling like crazy and haven’t been able to get caught up.”

Do these lines sound familiar to you? Probably. Because of the demands being placed on corporate America, stress is at an all time high. Yet the result is BS, what I call “Busy Slow.” Little is getting done, long-term execution is nominal at best, and everyone appears to be on a treadmill.

Why is this happening? For starters, corporations are trained in performing financial gymnastics to make their numbers. Staffing is lean and mean. We’re being asked to do more with less, especially those of us in sales or marketing. Make two more calls per day. Identify and implement double-digit market opportunities. And while you’re at it, I need you to cut your operating budget by 25%.

Another impediment is overconnectedness, a term first coined by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times – the growing cultural obsession with being connected everywhere, all the time. This obsession started in the business world. Witness the times you’ve been on a plane when as soon as it lands, all the business people whip out their cell phones to make contact. Then witness how often those same people complain (sometimes practically boast) about the number of emails they receive in a day.

Last of all, there are the common time-wasters incurred in our day-to-day business lives. In a survey I read of the top time-wasters among executives, some of the leading responses were: a shift in priorities, a lack of priorities, ineffective delegation, lack of self-discipline and The Big Black Hole – meetings.

Let these phenomena be your window of opportunity! Change the BS from “Busy Slow” to “Busy Smart” by outsourcing to the next generation of consultants. The old school told you what to do, collected your money and half the time never followed up. You never knew whether their work was even executed. The new breed of outsourced professionals not only advises you on what to do, they work alongside you through the final execution of their efforts.

Why does outsourcing make sense?

Say you’re trying to introduce a new product to the market and you need a reliable professional to get the job done. Compared to the usual options available to you – bringing in resources from another part of your company or recruiting new talent –
outsourced professionals can offer the following:

Expertise. A seasoned professional contracted from the outside has the knowledge and experience to jump right in and make an immediate difference. New people have to be trained and the learning curve will cost you in time and resources.

A valuable industry network. Outsourced professionals have years of networking and industry affiliations under their belts. By hiring them you automatically tap into and benefit from their rich supply of resources. They are your prime connectors for expanding your business network.

Objectivity. As outsiders, outsourced professionals can be completely objective and often provide “a breath of fresh air” to a sometimes stale climate. They can stay focused on the project without getting buried in the routine of corporate culture.

Cost benefits. Think about it. Most new products take somewhere from 18 to 24 months from origin to introduction. Figure the cost of an experienced individual’s salary plus benefits to be approximately $300,000 for a two-year period. Outsourcing would reduce this cost by a minimum of 33%.

Ultimately, you have to find a solution that works best for your organization. Outsourcing isn’t the end to all means, but it is a way to eliminate the BS – and get “Busy Smart.”