Monday, November 30, 2009

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks (born November 30, 1912) was an innovative African American. Best remembered for his Life magazine photo essays, journalist/activist, part-time musician and an early contributor to the Blaxploitation genre ( thus the first African American to write, direct and score a Hollywood film.

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Personally, Gordon Parks was one of my favorite 20th century photographers. I remember reading that he was asked to join the Black Panthers back in the 60’s. He refused and stated that he was not going to join a political group, but would make his political statements through the lens of his camera. I was saddened when he passed away in March of 2006. I read his obituary in the New York Times – what a life! The obituary also detailed his four secrets of being an authentic Renaissance Man. Sound advice for future leaders:

· Work Hard

· Challenge Conventional Wisdom

· Create

· Persevere

For you film trivia buffs, the original Shaft was the movie he directed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lessons from Airwalk

Airwalk, a board sport footwear company founded by two entrepreneurs out of California in 1986, capitalized on clever advertising to spread the buzz and build a formable, trendy brand during the evolution of board sports culture. Then in 1996, after great success, it decided to go mainstream.

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In the beginning, Airwalk’s core market was teenagers that embraced the beach and skate culture of Southern California. They marketed canvas shoes in bright colors and then a more durable skate shoe with thick soles and cushions. They sponsored professional skateboarders and developed a cult following – Airwalk was cool. In 1993, after building a small, comfortable $16 million company, they decided to target all the extreme sport enthusiasts: surfers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, etc. The company implemented a buzz marketing campaign where they placed dramatic photographic images/ads of Airwalk fans on billboards and postings on construction-site walls, utilized alternative magazines, even worked to get alternative rock bands to sport their footwear. Subsequently, they implemented a clever TV advertising campaign that incorporated the culture cues that innovators were exhibiting around the country as it related to the music, clothing and television. Boom, by 1996 their sales peaked to $175 million. Crash, in 1997, their sales faltered. Why? Two reasons:

1.) The classic case of a company growing too fast and not having the proper infrastructure in place similar to a case study I presented last December about Jones Soda in Show Me the Buzz Specifically, they experienced production problems, thus had difficulty filling their orders.

2.) Airwalk’s original strategy was to sell their products to their “cool” innovator customers distributed via boutique extreme sports stores around the country, an exclusive, more upscale product line, signature items retailing for $80 and up. Exclusivity is a proven marketing strategy since it makes everyone feel special Instead of sticking with their original strategy, Airwalk in its quest to expand their overall sales, also attempted to retail a line of less elaborate shoes for $60 distributed to Kinney’s, Champ’s, Foot Locker for the mainstream consumer.

Summarizing Lee Smith’s thoughts, their President at the time:
“In the world of cool, it all works on word of mouth. Cool brands treat people well, we didn’t. We should have paid attention to the details and listened to our innovators who began telling us, you guys are sellouts, you guys went mainstream, you guys s**k.”

Key Learning: Respect you niche.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Starbucks VIA™

Back in March, I addressed the introduction of Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew: I promised a progress report.

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The launch of VIA™ back in March marked a strategy by Starbucks to shift away from cost cutting and launch new products in an attempt to further reverse their revenue and earnings decline. VIA™ first appeared in Seattle and Chicago, but then rolled national this past September, complete with their clever buzz marketing campaign Starbucks Via taste tour:
In early November, Starbucks announced a strategic alliance with Acosta Sales & Marketing Company that will facilitate distribution of VIA™ to convenience, grocery and drug stores next year in the company’s quest to capture its share of the $21 billion soluble global coffee market. In Howard Schultz’s words; “The future of the company is not based solely on cost takeouts. It’s based on innovation and the emotional connection and trust we have with our customers.”

As of last week, Schultz’s blueprint called the “Transformational Agenda” has been working. Their stock tripled from a 52 week-low to $21.76 on the news of a strong quarter and a bullish outlook. Two contributing factors being improved store operational processes and an aggressive social media campaign which resulted in Starbucks being the number one brand on Facebook and Twitter.

VIA™ in its initial launch phase has outperformed its test plan. In spite of these results, it is too early to evaluate whether Starbucks instant coffee strategy will be effective long-term. Again I will go on record. Back in March, I suggested that instant coffee was too mainstream. As a result, Starbucks would lose its aura of an Italian espresso bar, the original emotional connection and trust it created with its guests. To further corroborate my point, in my next blog, Lessons from Airwalk, I will address how a brand can decline long-term when it decides to go mainstream.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Instant USA

I was eating my instant oatmeal this morning (a.k.a. wallpaper paste), when I realized America has totally transformed into an instant gratification, real time society. Made me think about a great blog I read yesterday written by my good friend, fellow blogger, Tom Rector about the absence of long term thinking (

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Instant USA – We are caught up in a tidal wave of convenience foods (frozen, shelf stable – a majority being microwaveable), fast foods restaurants (complete with drive thru windows), text messages, Twitter, Foursquare, Loopt, YouTube, Flickr, speed dating, speed networking, Ponzi schemes, etc.

In The 29th Day, the blog I referenced above, Tom alluded to how American corporations, primarily those that are publicly-owned, focus on the short-term versus the long-term. Instead he encourages companies to steal a page from Ford’s recent turnaround. In addition to reorganizing (and reduce) their plants and workforce, Ford redoubled their research, design and marketing efforts to build products that better fit the marketplace long-term.

I too support and continually promote the need for more long-term strategic planning and investment, a topic I addressed back in September: A Lesson from Charlie

In my next blog, I will address how Starbucks in an attempt to further reverse their recent revenue and earnings decline, introduced an instant coffee. I have my reservations whether this is a sound long-term strategy. However, sounds like a great short-term co-promotion: Quaker Instant Oatmeal and Starbucks VIA™.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Speed Networking

In my blog titled ATP posted November 1st (,
I disclosed that when it comes to networking, I subscribe to the philosophy of going deep versus wide. Consequently, I had the curiosity to attend my first speed networking event in Philadelphia last night to learn more about this new phenomenon.

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Speed networking is a structured event where professionals can meet a large number of people in a relatively short period of time (usually less than five minutes per attendee interaction). Detailed below are some of the benefits:

Reach a larger audience.
2. Connect with like minded professionals.
3. Exponentially expand your relationship capital.

Key learning last night:



Scary stuff. My apologies, I could not resist since I am posting on Friday the 13th. Seriously, the speed networking event reminded me of the times I played musical chairs when I was a kid. I believe I will stay with my philosophy of going deep versus wide.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good Thinking

Innovation is essentially about making unexpected connections between things (looking for new places to make connections). Good thinking!

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Thanks to today’s current economic environment, innovation is the hot topic. Every industry is pushing their people to be innovative, think of new processes, products or services to compete on the cutting edge. Companies are searching for that “Big” break through, the guaranteed home run. This way of thinking was challenged in a great article written in Fast Company back in 2007 by Seth Godin ( The article titled “Slowly I Turned…Step by Step….Inch by Inch…” advocated the benefit of gradual change. In Godin’s words: “Every great company, every great brand, and every great career has been built in exactly the same way: bit by bit, step by step, little by little. If every element of an organization gets a little better every day, then that organization will become unstoppable. An organization that builds that kind of momentum will soon evolve into a market leader.”

Sometimes small can be big. Last week in Chicago, I witnessed innovation at its best at the Hotel Allegro. When I checked into my room there was a card for me to fill out – “Let US Print Your Boarding Pass! Guests that drop off their completed card at the front desk 24 hours before departure receive their printed boarding pass delivered to their room three hours before or by noon the day of their flight (whichever comes first). Good thinking Kimpton Hotels! Convenience spelled with a capital “C” for all your loyal “road warriors”.

Remember, innovation is all about making unexpected connections between things.

FYI: Monday night I met Emanuel Rosen, author of The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited, the sequel to his national best seller, The Anatomy of Buzz (
Interesting dinner! I have now added a link to Emanuel’s blog under suggested reading in the upper left hand margin.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


LinkedIn, launched in 2003 with more than 50 million worldwide business-oriented registered users; has evolved into a great contact management tool. Thanks to connections, people can find jobs or business opportunities. However, people have become too reliant on LinkedIn.

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Back in May, in a blog titled 148.7, I challenged the authenticity of social media connections (
Robin Dunbar a British anthropologist researched primate groups to predict human behavior. He theorized that communication and behavior attributed to direct connections remained under control at 150. Meltdown occurred above 150. Weekly I field LinkedIn invitations. I notice that numerous people have 150 plus connections. Personally I believe in Dunbar’s theory, thus subscribe to the philosophy of going deep vs. wide when it comes to networking. Consequently, pre-dating social media I developed some personalized networking tactics to deeply connect with my connections. I call these tactics ATP – “Authenticity Touch Points." Here are some ATP tips:

1. When in direct dialogue with an individual drill down by asking numerous questions, listen and remember something personally unique about that individual – familial situation, educational background, special interest, etc. In later communications (e.g., direct conversations, email, etc.), reference what you remembered.

2. Position yourself as a Maven; a title given to an individual who is willing to share knowledge. Continually seed your connections with information that will be of interest to them. For example, if you read an article in a magazine or online about California wines, think of whom in your network would be interested in the article, then make it a point to forward the article with a reference – thinking of you.

3. Handwritten notes. In this Internet age, break through the clutter with a handwritten note delivered via snail mail. A thank you note acknowledging a dinner, a gift, etc. communicates the value of being a friend. Notes attached to articles or funny cartoons have always been effective for me. Top of the list are birthday cards.

4. Never waste a networking opportunity when traveling. Going to be in Chicago? Reach out to a connection to meet for a cup of coffee, a drink or a meal.

A little ATP in conjunction with LinkedIn is a great way to truly be/stay connected.