A Share of Sunrise for 4 Bits?

What are we supposed to make of this Mature Market Experts?   What is arguably (forgive me, Erickson) the most dominate brand in senior housing is trading at less than 50 cents a share as of this writing.  That same share was trading north of $26 on the first trading day of this calendar year.

                For a bit of perspective on how Sunrise might emerge from these straits, I recommend long time industry analyst and skillful writer Steve Monroe’s blog www.levinassociates.com/dealmakersforum/dealmakers%20blog.htm.

                As a marketer, here is what I take away:

1.  Aging continues, as far as I can tell.  Although with all of the news being financial, it is possible someone has found a way to prevent it and the media hasn’t picked up on it yet.

2.  With aging, comes change.  I’d argue that a retiree experiences more change in a shorter period of time than any other age group, save perhaps infants to 3 year olds.

3.  These changes create specialized needs for a constellation of products and services.

4.  Unfortunately, most of the changes aging brings are negative – can’t drive at night, lost a spouse or a friend, grandkids are off to college, a health issue …

5.  We work for companies that provide services and products to meet the needs these changes create.

6.  Being in marketing, we are responsible for half of the most critical financial equation in the financial world – revenue.  Bringing in more revenue than expenses still carries the day.

 7.  Inspiring people to purchase your company’s products and services is, in most instances, a noble pursuit.  You improve people’s lives. 

                Now is the time to market like hell — write stronger copy … fight for that marketing budget … attend to the myriad of details … establish stronger relationships with prospects … dig deeper into that database … do more and do better.

                All in the name of inspiring more people to buy than ever before.  The times demand that we deliver extraordinary results for our customers, our companies, and ourselves. 

                That’s my two cents.  Add another 48 and you too can attend Sunrise’s next annual meeting.







Don’t let efficiency kill the brand

Fellow Mature Market Experts blogger Dan Rexford wrote about Lou Carbone’s book, Clued In, several weeks ago . . . well, here’s another recent article about Mr. Carbone that you might find interesting. The article raises some great points about an unhealthy fixation on efficiency — at the cost of the customer’s brand experience.

Most of what Lou talks about, we practice at TR Mann Consulting with our clients. I should also mention that our friend and fellow mature market blogger, David Wolfe, discusses many of the same issues in his excellent book Firms of Endearment.

The executive summary is simple, remember, you’re trying to build a strong relationship built on mutual trust (and dare I say, love). Sounds easy . . . but just watch how many companies screw this basic principal up during trying times.

10 Lessons Learned the Easy Way — Vicariously

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with five struggling companies and to review the files of a dozen others.  These companies are in serious financial distress and there are about 10 recurring pitfalls that all good mature market experts need to avoid.  

                Here are the lessons:

1.            Invest in sales and marketing – treat sales and marketing expenditures as an investment.  These expenditures are not costs; they are investments that yield returns.  Many of the struggling companies simply did not invest enough in sales and marketing.

2.            Insist on C-suite participation – if you are not in the C-suite or do not have participation from someone who is, watch out.  Sales and marketing was often way down on the list of priorities for top management in these companies.  It surprises me how many times top management didn’t really know what was going on in sales and marketing and consequently had no feel for their prospective customers.

3.            Befriend your CFO – she is the one watching the store and controlling the purse strings.  You want to be sure she knows everything she should know.

4.            Know your numbers – make a list of key indicators, statistics on responses to your sales and marketing program you should watch.   Don’t try to boil it down to four or five.  That is great management theory but the reality is that inspiring retirees to act is fairly complicated stuff and doesn’t often fit in with the four to five key indicators management dreams are made of.

Pay particular attention to any that are down.  Question why.  Is it a trend?  Not sure?  Assume it is and fix it.  Many of the ‘chief marketing officers’ of these distressed companies seemed surprised to be in such sad shape.  Disappointed, yes.  Frustrated, of course.  Surprised, no excuse.

5.            Innovate – if you are doing things the same way you did them 18 months ago, it is time to take a fresh look and adopt a fresh perspective.  Many of these managers were doing things the same way they always did because “they worked.”  I’d argue that retirees experience more change faster than any other age group, save children under the age of four.  You need to keep up with them.

6.            Don’t rest on your laurels, a little paranoia goes a long way – in hindsight, many people in these companies realize that they ignored the telltale signs that something was rotten in the state of Denmark.  Somebody is out to get you – your competitors who covet your customers and your customers who would rather keep their money ‘thank you very much’ than give it to you.

7.            More revenue cures all ills – you would be surprised at how many management teams try to reduce their way to financial success.  While cost control and investing your sales and marketing dollars wisely are requirements, don’t ever forget that more revenue can make everything better.

8.            Make getting in the helicopter a priority – many leaders in these distressed businesses couldn’t see the forest for the trees or couldn’t see the trees for the forest.  Don’t let this happen.  Find time in your schedule every week to fly your helicopter up and down.  You want to be considering potential courses of action from at least four perspectives:  narrowly, broadly, within short time frames, and over the distant horizon.  Balancing these perspectives leads to short and long term success.  Ignore any at your peril.

9.            Adhere to Zyman’s Rule – Sergio Zyman of CocaCola (and, yes, New Coke) fame, instructs us that if your sales and marketing program isn’t impelling people to act now it is very unlikely to impel them to act in the future.  Very few sales and marketing programs have a cumulative impact that yields sales somewhere down the road.  If it isn’t working now, it probably isn’t going to get any better with age.  The ranks of these distressed businesses are filled with people who are still waiting for their sales and marketing programs to “kick in.”

10.          Be nimble – few of these managers of distressed businesses had prepared to change course if something didn’t work.  They simply were unprepared to shift resources, strategy or direction.  As marketing leaders, we should focus as much on being prepared to respond if we need to shift as we do on executing the current plan.

This may sound a bit preachy.  If so, I apologize but I don’t want to be working to find a financial solution for your company any time soon.

Worth Reading

You may have missed Clued In — How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again by Lewis Carbone. It is worth buying.

1.  The compelling premise of the book is: “The tangible attributes of a product or service have far less influence on consumer preference than the subconscious sensory and emotional elements derived from the total experience.”

2.  The book is chock full of real world examples that will resonate and inspire you (and you will need the inspiration because the work Carbone suggests is difficult but rewarding).

3.  He artfully compares the downfall of Howard Johnsons with the continuing dominance of Disney. While the Howard Johnson’s story will seem like something out of the history books to younger people, everyone can appreciate the point. (By the way: is there a family in the U.S. who hasn’t been to Disney, isn’t saving to go to Disney, or isn’t somewhat angry because they can’t afford Disney?)

4.  This bit resonated strongly with me: “In the aftermath of a transaction, the way people remember and value an experience emotionally will have everything to do with their ultimate commitment to an organization or brand, far more than what actually did or did not happen in the purely rational sense.”

5.  Carbone further explains: “It’s how customers feel about themselves that speaks to the unconscious perceptions they derive from the experience.”

6.  I agree. When we began to carefully manage our sales events with the aim of making prospective customers feel good about themselves rather than good about the company, more prospects scheduled visits with our salespeople. None of the tangible attributes of the product were changed; our paradigm shift produced the result.

7.  In Part 2. The Practice of Experience Management, Carbone provides a framework for approaching Experience Management as an engineering project. This is where the true value of the book lies (and the hard work). It is too much to try and summarize here, suffice to say in this section, Carbone lays out a pretty comprehensive approach your company can use to engineer experiences.

8.  Adopting Carbone’s methods is not a task to be taken lightly but the rewards of improving how your customers feel about themselves when they are with you — increased sales, loyalty, and word of mouth — will make the effort worthwhile for most organizations.

9.  While I have not specifically applied Carbone’s methods, my experience suggests that carefully managing the experiences your customers have when they are with you will pay off handsomely.

I have no relationship with Lewis Carbone, his company, or the purveyors of his book.

However, I agree with Carbone — systematically managing your customers’ experiences will pay off handsomely.

All I Really Need To Know I Could Learn From Southwest Airlines

     Since it became public a few weeks ago that Southwest had missed inspections, I’ve flown a number of times on their airline.  The gates are teeming and the center seats are usually filled.

     What accounts for this seemingly illogical popularity?  Certainly, some of that travel was booked before the press got the story.  Some is habit – ‘that’s how I always go.’  Some people are probably thinking ‘I’ll take my chances; they are probably as good as anybody.’

      But something else is going on here to inspire such loyalty.   It is this – Southwest deeply understands that their marketing job is to make people feel good about themselves, when they are with Southwest airlines.   Feeling good about themselves, not about the company or its services.

     A Southwest slogan is a strong example:  “You are now free to roam around the country.”  Truth be told, most of us will not roam freely around the country no matter how convenient or inexpensive it is.  Most of us are simply not that adventurous. 

     But, then why does the line work so well?  Because, it makes us feel good about ourselves to think of ourselves as carefree adventurers.  Simply to be put in the class of “adventurer” predisposes us to purchase.             

     It is universal, we all want to feel good about ourselves.  And, when people feel good about themselves, they are more likely to act, to follow our leads and take the action we want them to take. 

     As marketers, one of our top priorities is to make people feel good about themselves when they are with us.  And, think of with expansively – when they are seeing advertisements, searching Google, visiting the website, seeing a story about us on tv, seeing run of press, glancing through their mail stack, talking with our salespeople, etc., etc.

     This is easier said than done but the very fact that you are in this group indicates that you are a professional.  You are committed to getting better.  You do not rest on your laurels.  You take action.  You take every second of every day and wring everything you can out of it. 

     (You get the idea.  Everything in good measure, of course.)