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May 2012

Cropped 2011 head shotEnd of the First Quarter 


It's time for Mothers Day again! Last year I wrote pretty extensively about its origins and how the women who created it never expected it to be the marketing dream it has become for retailers. But think about how many jobs--not to mention new products and businesses--it has generated! Pretty impressive.


Many of us are also coming to the end of organizational "seasons," which generally take a hiatus in July and August. Time to start planning for September! As the song says, "Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future!"

Global Marketing

The Big Blue Marble Is Getting Smaller 


Yesterday, I had lunch with a fellow communicator I met in Poland about 18 months ago. He is in New York, partly on holiday (that's vacation, in American), and partly to explore career opportunities here. It reminded me of how cosmopolitan young people are these days, and how they truly consider the entire world to be open and available to them. It also reminded me of how much American culture is accessible across the globe.


During our lunch, we talked about American films and television shows, and I was surprised at how familiar my guest was, coming from Eastern Europe, with the references that are second nature to me. It is certainly true that the demise of Communism in Europe, and the consequent end of Russia's hegemony over Eastern Europe, has brought that part of the world into market-based economies and Western culture. The real consequence of this sea change is that communicators can speak a common language, world wide. It makes it that much easier to create global images when cultural references can resonate in far-flung places. It gives new meaning to the long-held thesis that global marketers must "think globally and act locally." 


I am not suggesting that the world has acquired some homogenized  culture and that there are no differences from one part of the world to another. However, I do believe that references are more widely recognized that ever before. No doubt, the Internet has a lot to do with that, but so does globally-marketed entertainment and fashion.


What should marketers of consumer products and services do when they want to expand to other countries?

  • First, make sure your language is correct. There are famous malapropisms like the Chevy Nova, which in Spanish-speaking countries infers that the car doesn't work ("No va").
  • Then, make sure that longstanding cultural norms or religious tenets are acknowledged and addressed.
  • If you want to use references to iconic pop culture (e.g., Snooky or Real Housewives), make sure there is a reasonable awareness level in the area in question.
  • Frame your references in a way that will resonate.
American culture has historically been one of our most successful exports--right after Coca Cola and jeans. In many places, it enhances the brand image of other products and services, so don't be shy about using it. Just be careful, and do it well. 
Customer Service and Customer Focus

Are They The Same?


We recently completed a study for a financial services company. One of the things about which they were very curious was why some people change from one provider to another while others stay with the same one. An obvious hypothesis is that "customer service" is an important factor in selecting financial service providers like banks and credit unions, and either staying or going someplace else.


One finding is that, indeed, customer service is important to people but it is a very broad term, so we needed to drill down. What came out of that is an understanding that surface behaviors such as smiling greeters and free coffee doesn't fool anyone. Customer service is not a synonym for being customer -focused. The former includes the more surface behaviors and niceties, but being customer-focused makes people say, "They really care about me and my financial needs." The latter is what people remember, and what keeps them loyal. It may include any of the following:

  • Flexible products and services to meet individual needs
  • Low or no administrative fees
  • Involvement with the community
  • Development of ongoing relationships between customers and bankers
  • Helping customers manage their finances better in order to avoid problems
  • Alerting customers to better rates or problems
Recently, Bank of America tried instituting a monthly fee for using its debit cards, resulting in an epic debacle for its image and the flight of many customers to other financial institutions. What annoys people is not so much the fee, itself, which amounted to about $60 per year. They don't like being charged to access their own money, and they don't like being "fee'd to death" (that's a quote). It's $5 here, and $2 there to use an ATM, and then what? People realize that banks are businesses and have to make money, but they want their banks to care more about them than about the bank's investors. They do not want to feel as if they are being pick-pocketed every time they turn around.
Being customer-focused can be time-consuming but it is a worthwhile investment. Another thing that came out of this study is the lack of brand loyalty for most banks. People do not feel that the banks even care if they stay, so they don't. Or they will respond to a promotion to open up an account, but then never do any other business with the bank. Anyone in financial services can tell you that acquiring new deposits is very nice, but it's not what pays the bills; loans and other services that bring in fees pay the bills. In order to move a customer from being a depositor only to being a loan customer (i.e., revenue producer) as well, focusing on that customer's needs and providing efficient and effective products and services are necessary.


 Upcoming Events
May 16, 11:30am-1:30pm


IABC/LI is presenting "A Look at Corporate Intranets," featuring a panel of experts from CA Technologies (formerly Computer Associates) and AMC Networks. This program is important for anyone involved with internal communications--either from inside a company or as a consultant to companies. The venue is FOUR Food Studios, 515 Broadhollow Rd, Melville, and you can register at the IABC website (to pre-pay) or by email to pay at the door.

May 17 , 4:00pm-6:00pm 


SMPS-LI is having an afternoon of fun and networking at 300 Long Island, a bowling alley with panache. You can bowl, chow down on some good food, and network with local businesspeople in the architecture, engineering, and contracting industries. For more information and to register, go to the website.


June 13, 11:30 am-2:00pm 


IABC/LI holds its annual Achievement Awards luncheon; this year it will be at Crest Hollow Country Club. This event lauds excellence in four categories: Achievement in Communications, Community Service Award, Achievement in Digital Communications, and Student Achievement Award. In addition, Communicator of the Year Award will be given to a chapter member who has done a lot for the group. The keynote speaker is Adrian Cropley, Chair of the Executive Board of IABC (International Association of Business Communicators), and President of Cropley Communications. Plan ahead and register through the website.
This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman