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  • December 9, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on The Definitive Version
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The Definitive Version

I love the holidays.

(A short disclaimer: I'm a Christian, so I celebrate Christmas. To those whom I know are Christians, I always wish a hearty Merry Christmas. To my Jewish friends, I give a Happy Hanukkah. To those for whom their faith is unknown to me, I offer a hearty (but just as genuine) Happy Holidays. I don't understand those for whom this becomes such a huge issue. I've traveled a lot, met a whole lot of people, lived in different places and cultures, worked with those of many ethnicities, nationalities and faiths. Meeting people where they are is something that comes pretty naturally to me. But, that is a different post for a different day.)

bing-crosby-white-christmas-628x628One reason I love the holidays is the music. Holiday music (including Christmas carols and songs) is its own genre. There are jazz, country, pop, hip-hop, rap and classical versions of almost every holiday song one can name. But that's secondary to the genre of the holiday song. I wait until after Thanksgiving, and then I listen to almost nothing but holiday music for a solid month. It's one of my guilty pleasures.

It's pretty obvious that if, as an artist, you can either write or perform a holiday song that becomes popular, you can expect a pretty good royalty check (as royalties go these days) around the first week of February. So everyone - everyone - seems to have a holiday offering.

Even so, there is always what I believe to be the definitive version of every song. It's the version that, if one names the title, I think of first. At one time, White Christmas was the most recorded song of all time. But no matter how many hundreds or thousands of artists record White Christmas, Bing Crosby's version is the definitive one for me.

There are others. Gene Autry's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Dean Martin's Let it Snow, Andy Williams' It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas is You, Bruce Springsteen's Santa Claus is Coming to Town and of course, Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song. The list could go on. All are, to me, the definitive versions of those songs.

What's my point? It's this: is there anything you do in your business that the industry would say, if you want X, you need to talk to ThisCompany. They define that product/service. If not, what should you be doing differently?

In The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, a book I still consider to be one of the greatest marketing books ever written, Jack Ries and Al Trout offer these as the first two rules:

  1. It is better to be first than to be better.
  2. If you cannot be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.

I've read articles proposing Ries and Trout's rules to be out of date. I'm not one of them. There is proof everywhere these rules (and the other 20) still apply.

Look at the songs again. Bing Crosby was the first person to record White Christmas. Rule 1, check. Springsteen was far from the first to record Santa Claus is Coming to Town. But he made it a rock song which had not been done before. Rule 2, check.

Even during the holiday season, it's good to do a gut check of what you're producing and how you might do it better.

You know, become your own definitive version.

 

  • December 4, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on Ideas and Scripts
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Ideas and Scripts

It's better to have an idea than a script. (Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations)

Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010)
RIchard Holbrooke (1941-2010)

By all accounts, and by apologists of every political ideology, Richard Holbrooke was one of the greatest diplomats in the history of the United States. Perhaps the world. He was known for many accomplishments throughout his career in the State Department, but none more important than being the point person in the tedious and complex negotiations that resulted in the end of the Bosnian War.

Holbrooke entered into every situation with one overriding principle: it's better to have an idea than a script. This is a fundamental means of operating that also happens to be the most effective principle to run a business in 2015. Things change. Every day. Technology, markets, competition...everything is in a state of constant change.

Scripts get outdated. Ideas never do.

  • December 2, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on Sealing the business
  • in Thinking

Sealing the business

We have a cat. His name is Boz, named after the incomparable Boz Scaggs. But most of the time, we call him Boz the Cat.

Chewy-logoBoz was a shelter cat, rescued by a friend and given to us during a weak moment. But Boz just celebrated his 4th anniversary with us, and he's in the fabric of the family now. Hard to imagine lift without him.

As with most shelters, strays and fosters, he gets special treatment, including special food—not because he needs it for health reasons or anything. Just because. His special food is not available locally. I have to order it and have it shipped to our home. I order it from Chewy.com.

I have had nothing but great experiences with Chewy.com. They have good pricing, prompt and free delivery, and an excellent selection of reduced/clearance items they're more than happy for me to tack on at the end of my order. Digital impulses. Usually when I place an order, I purchase dog food, too, so someone besides me (a ka the UPS driver!) can lug those 36 lb. bags to my front door.

But Chewy.com upped the ante significantly this holiday season. In my mail today, I received the normal collection of bills, flyers, statements and this. It's a hand addressed envelope with a holiday card inside. Had I opened the card to read just what was on the top portion—Warm winter wishes from our family to yours. Happy Holidays, Chewy.com—I would have been pleasantly surprised.

IMG_5693What followed blew me away, It was a three paragraph, handwritten message thanking me for my business, acknowledging me as a member of the Chewy.com family, and wishing me the best in the coming year. It was signed by Ryan Cohen and Michael Day, noted as Co-Founders.

IMG_5694There is concept known to moviemakers, playwrights and marketers: the willing suspension of disbelief. This is defined as a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe the unbelievable. I don't really believe long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away all those things really happened. And I don't believe the Co-Founders of this company took time to handwrite every customer a holiday greeting card. But I am willing to suspend my disbelief because I know this: someone did. Someone hand-addressed each and someone sent one to me, including a Dear Chuck. So whether or not the Co-Founders wrote the card or not is inconsequential. The company cares enough to take the time and the effort to express my value to it.

Between Boz the Cat's food and the extra dog food and treats I order each year, I spend several hundred dollars a year with Chewy.com. But I don't get cards like this from companies I spend thousands with. My utility companies, cable company, banks or insurance companies don't bother. Further, on the back of the card, they printed their phone number. Have you tried to reach someone on the phone lately to resolve a problem? Try sometime. No one wants to talk with you. Few want to help you at all. Chewy.com says call us, please! Here's our number. We'll answer anytime. 24/7.

IMG_5695It took some thinking, some planning, and some budget to pul this off. I've been a fan of Chewy.com. I've been a fan for a long time. Now, I am upping the ante to devotee, advocate and lifelong customer.

So kudos, Chewy.com. I'm happy I found you. And to think—I owe it all to Boz the Cat. (You should send him a card!)

  • December 1, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on “Gimme one of them barbecues…”
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“Gimme one of them barbecues…”

My grandfather was Charlie Jones. No middle name. Not short for Charles. Just Charlie.

He was born in 1903, and died in 1978. Even though he was alive for many of my early years, I didn't get to know him well enough.

I do know that, among other professions, he used to own a restaurant in the town where I grew up. Charlie's Drive-In (which my dad eventually bought and ran for a few years) was a typical 1950s establishment. You could eat inside. But most people drove cars into the parking lot and car hops (almost exclusively women in those days) came out, took orders and served the food. The fare was predictable: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, french fries. Picture Mel's in American Graffiti and you have a good sense for what Charlie's was (sans the roller skates on the staff).

When the county fair rolled around in September, Charlie's closed up shop and moved to a temporary spot at the fair. It was good business decision. Most of the people in the county would be be there anyway. Charlie's market moved, so Charlie's moved with it.

fried-onion-burgerMy dad tells the story of my grandfather cooking burgers at the fair. September in middle Tennessee is not always the coolest month. Sometimes, it's downright hot. Charlie cooked over an old slab grill, and he'd have a fan that blew fresh air from outside to keep it as bearable as possible.

When business would slow down, my grandfather had a trick. He'd dice some onions, put some butter on the hot grill and throw the onions on top. As the onions cooked, he'd turn the fan to blow into the main thoroughfare connecting the exhibits to the midway, filling the air with the aroma of frying onions. It wouldn't be long until someone would walk over and say, gimme one of them barbecues... Soon, the seats that rimmed the concrete block building would be filled.

My grandfather wasn't the smartest man I've ever known. But he did know this: demand sometimes needs to be created. Consumers go through life with wants and needs that go unmet, perhaps at times because life's so busy they don't even remember they have them. But throw a little butter and a few onions on a grill and that may be all they need.

What could you do today to juice up demand for a product or service your business offers?

 

  • December 1, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on The Illusion of Security
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The Illusion of Security

It's happened again. I read this in the news today:

Tyrone Siu/Reuters
Tyrone Siu/Reuters

NEW YORK. Vtech, a Hong-Kong based maker of digital toys for children said it had been hacked, putting the personal information of five million people, including children, at risk.

The article goes on to read:

Hackers were able to retrieve adults’ profile information, including names, email addresses and passwords. They also obtained secret questions and answers for password retrieval, I.P. addresses, mailing addresses and download histories.

Nothing news here. Security is an illusion in the online age. I'm continually amazed that people believe that names, email addresses, passwords, secret questions and answers are somehow, well, secret.

Those of us who deal in marketing products and services, particularly those that involve online transactions, employ the best security. And, our best is really good. +99% of transactions are safe and secure. We take pride in that. We should.

But the fact remains that online activity comes with a risk, and that risk is loss of personal data. Engage or don't engage. It's each of our choice. But we can no longer expect 100% security.

It's an illusion.

  • November 30, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on Real life.
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Real life.

I think I may be missing out on real life.

I should qualify this statement. I don't think I've changed. But somewhere along the line, real life seems to have changed. I get a sense of this every time I check my news feed.

Like today. I'm living life, going along my merry way when I read this:

People are NOT happy about Reese's Christmas Trees this year.

gallery-1448397752-reeses-christmas-treesThat's right. People are NOT happy. You can check out the entire article here if you want.

In today's real life, this is an outrage. One article read:

Basically, shoppers who've been buying the familiar Christmas tree snacks have been opening their candy packages expecting to be greeted with the holiday cheer of a tree-shaped peanut-buttery snack, only to be shocked with nothing but a blob of chocolate. A literal blob.

What's happening? What's going on? I'm seriously asking the question.

All this time, I've been eating candy bars wrong. It seems, in real life, you look at the candy bar. You gaze at it. You study it. You notice its fine lines, its edges, its shape. You contemplate whether or not its tooling was precise. Then, after careful study, you eat it.

Or, maybe you don't. I have to admit - the Reese's tree shape isn't very treelike. For one thing, it's very dense. Trees are not dense. Tree trunks are, but trees...not so much. I can see through almost every tree. I can't see through a Reese's tree. Maybe that's it.

Marshmallow-PeanutsOr maybe it's the color. Most trees are green. Chocolate isn't green. If it is, I don't eat it - not because it's not shaped like a tree, but because green chocolate would be moldy.

Perhaps it's the texture. Some people have texture issues with food. If you bite into a tree, it's gonna be hard. Tough. And it'll have splinters. The Reese's trees probably don't. My guess (I haven't had one...yet) is that they're soft, delicious and literally fall apart in your mouth.

That's not treelike.

All this time, I unwrap the candy bar, and I eat it.

Here's real life as I see it. Get a real life! Eat the candy or don't. But stop making everything an issue that needs correction. Here's why. If everyone doesn't shut up about things like this, pretty soon we won't be able to buy these. I mean, they look so much like peanuts, in real life I expect them to be salty.

  • November 30, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on Gray Friday
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Gray Friday

617581341_oI always get out in the middle of it. I don't always buy a lot. Sometimes, I don't buy anything. But I always venture out.

You see, I'm a marketer, and I've always believed it's important to spend time among those to whom you create marketing efforts. So Black Friday is an important day in my book.

For the past couple of years, I've noticed something. Black Friday seems to be evolving into, well, Gray Friday.

This year, we happened to be in Tennessee, and were in transit between family functions. So our stop was brief—not much more than darting in to pick up a gift and back out. I anticipated this would be a tremendous hassle. It was not. We easily found a parking place near the front door of the mall. In fact, we had a choice of spots. We walked in to find an easily navigable mall. No huge crowds. No long lines.

I have a theory why. Black Friday was never supposed to be Black Friday. It was just a day when families, gathered for Thanksgiving the day before, went shopping. That was it. A big shopping day, but nothing more. Someone somewhere called it Black Friday, and a phenomenon was manufactured, over-engineered (and over-promoted), reaching its apex and finally settling back into its appropriate place.

Another change is how people consume. Fewer people go outside. There is hardly a product that cannot be secured without ever leaving home. Buy it, have it shipped (sometimes free), receive it, keep or return it. It's very easy to not get out into the scrum at all.

Finally, Black Friday has lots of competition. Retail stores (who started Black Friday anyway) can't even wait for Friday anymore. Many open on Thursday. There is also Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. It's diluted. That's not a bad thing. But it's a thing.

Me? I think I'll keep the tradition a little longer, even if the tradition has begun to fade. Who knows. The craziness of Black Fridays Past may make Black Fridays Future to the most fun day of the year to shop. Again.

  • November 24, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on Thankful for Miscues Missed
  • in Thinking

Thankful for Miscues Missed

Without doing a search, what do you know about Patrick Peterson?

How about Cam Newton?

Chances are, even if you're not an avid football fan, you know the name Cam Newton. He's the starting quarterback for the (as yet) undefeated Carolina Panthers of the NFL. He is one of the most recognizable faces in the NFL, a major star and at this writing, probably the leading candidate for Most Valuable Player at the end of the season. He is a former Heisman Trophy winner (2010), and led his Auburn Tigers to the college football National Championship in 2010.

Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals was the 5th player chosen in the 2011 NFL draft.

Patrick Peterson is also an NFL player. He is a starting cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals. By all accounts, he is a solid player, even though 2015 is shaping up to be his least productive of his 5 seasons in the league.

What's the connection?

In 2011, the Carolina Panthers had the first pick in the NFL draft. Andrew Luck was the consensus choice to be the #1 pick if he decided to declare after his junior year at Stanford. He did not. It left the Panthers with a wide open field. When draft day came around, most thought the Panthers would choose one of two players: Cam Newton, or Patrick Peterson.

The Panthers chose Newton, and that choice has proven to have pivotal in the history of the franchise. The Panthers have arguably the best team in its history, and its potent offense is built around its Pro-Bowl quarterback.

With all due respect to Peterson (who was selected #5 in the same draft), choosing him with the first pick would have been a catastrophic miscue. Had the Panthers chosen Peterson, it is inconceivable that his impact would have anywhere near Newton's , and the team would not likely be 10-0 and one of the best teams in the league.

In business (as in life), we are more prone to beat ourselves up over the wrong decisions than to celebrate the right ones. So during this Thanksgiving season, I encourage you to dwell for a minute or two on good decisions you're thankful you made. Go ahead - I'll bet there are more of them than you think.

  • November 23, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on Comings and Goings
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Comings and Goings

In November, 1992, I drove to Atlanta, met my brother and dad, and we continued on to Hampton, Ga to watch the Hooters 500, the final race of the 1992 NASCAR season.

It was a pretty momentous race for a number of reasons. It was won by Bill Elliott - Million Dollar Bill - one of the sport's greatest drivers. It saw Alan Kulwicki achieve the sport's top honor - Cup Champion. (Tragically, Kulwicki would die the following season in a small plane crash en route to Bristol.) It had among its roster some of its all-time leaders in wins, including Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and The King, Richard Petty.

jeff-gordonIt marked the end of an era because it marked Petty's final NASCAR race after posting seven Cup Championships, seven Daytona 500s and 200 career wins. He was, and remains, the greatest driver the sport has ever had.

However, it was also the first race of a new driver, an up-and-comer named Jeff Gordon. Few at the time knew it was also a passing of the torch. A going, and a coming. Petty's last race, and Gordon's first.

Gordon would go on to become, in my opinion, the greatest driver of his generation—four Cup Championships, three Daytona 500s, 81 pole positions and 93 career wins (third all-time). He not only excelled in his sport, but also in the public eye. He became a celebrity outside the sport, a frequent visitor on late-night talk shows and a guest host of network morning shows. In many ways, he was the catalyst that brought the sport out of the small towns of the south and onto the national landscape.

I'm not quite the fan I was in 1992. I do know yesterday Gordon raced in his final NASCAR race, the Ford Ecoboost 400 in Homestead, Florida. He was in the running for a fifth Cup Championship, but came up just short, finishing 6th and walking off the stage. It is the end of another era.

One lesson to be learned is eras come and eras go. What (or in this case, who) is hot today will not be hot forever. Stars, trends, products and services each have their times in the limelight. Some become ingrained and have long runs. Others are brief flashes. No matter, each will run its course and will be replaced by something (or someone) else.

I'm not very familiar with the current slate of NASCAR drivers. So, I can't tell you if anyone made his or her first start yesterday. I do know this. In what was Jeff Gordon's final race, Britt Moffitt, a 23-year old driver from Grimes, Iowa locked up the NASCAR Rookie-of-the-Year Award for 2015.

So I naturally wonder—23 years from now will someone write the equivalent of that era's blog post about Moffitt's final race and yet another torch being passed?

 

  • November 20, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on Timely, Timeless or Time’s Up?
  • in Thinking

Timely, Timeless or Time’s Up?

Sometime around 1979, two of my friends (both named Scott) and I drove to Nashville for a day in the city. We did it every once in awhile. We'd usually time it around a concert, hit record and music stores, eat at some fast food chain we didn't have in our hometown, and drive home late. It was a full day of adventure, and I looked forward to every one.

On this particular day, we made one of our regular stops at a favorite audiophile store that stocked high-end stereo equipment. It had the best brands—brands we could touch but could not hold. And we saw something we had never seen, never even conceived. One of the sales guys who we'd made friends with through the years presented a small, shiny piece of plastic. It was a compact disc—a CD. He inserted it into a component about the size of a boot box, and Beethoven's 6th came out. Crisp. Clear. Loud.

CDMind. Blown. It was a seminal event in my life. I was a vinyl album collector. Remember those? Big, heavy, non-portable. Here was an alternative that was not only viable, but had so many advantages.

The CD was a timely replacement for the LP. Vinyl had a few advantages, but more disadvantages. When CDs were introduced to the market in 1982, sales were about 400,000 the first year. By the mid 2000s, sales were 30 billion a year.

CDs seemed timeless. They appeared to be the perfect medium.

CDs were tonning it when along came streaming. CDs went from timeless to time's up. CDs reduced the size of a music collection from huge to small, but streaming reduced it to nothing. There' was now no real reason to own a physical medium when you could get what you want anytime you wanted it wirelessly at the push of a button.

The fact is nothing is timeless, while everything is timeless. Vinyl is making a resurgence. And news broke this week that Adele's newest music will only be available for purchase (a la CDs) and won't be available for streaming immediately. No medium ever disappears entirely (although newspapers may be the first to defy this), but each has an ever-changing circle of influence. What is hot now will not be as hot tomorrow. What is hot tomorrow is likely not even known today.

Is there anything you are using in your business, or marketing mix, or advertising platform you have convinced yourself is timeless but that may be on the verge of time's up?

  • November 19, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on The pursuit of contentment.
  • in Thinking

The pursuit of contentment.

Several years ago, I had a pretty life-changing experience. Aprill and I made the decision to close our company, sell most of what we owned and move to Mexico to help out at a children's home for a year. If it worked out, we'd stay and become the next directors.

It didn't, and we didn't.

In the course of it all, I learned some valuable life lessons. Actually, I learned a lot of lessons. None of those lessons that I learned has had a broader or more impactful change in my life than this: seek and cultivate contentment.

A day at la Bufadora ("the blow hole") off the coast of Baja California, Mexico (2005)
A day at la Bufadora ("the blow hole") off the coast of Baja California, Mexico (2005)

If contentment isn't already a lost emotion, it is nearing extinction. It's a phenomenon we, as marketers, have to at least tip our hat to. There are very few needs in our society. There are countless wants, but few true needs. Marketers (and marketing communicators) live and die by the wants we can redefine as needs. Face it - it's what we're paid to do.

Even so, I don't want to lose sight of the ultimate power that only contentment can deliver. There are bigger houses, but mine serves me well. There are newer cars, but mine gets me where I need to go comfortably, safely and efficiently. Make your own list.

My thanks to Jeff Haden who posted this article on LinkedIn. I found it pretty fascinating, and recommend it.

 

  • November 18, 2015
  • By Chuck Jones
  • Comments Off on A Brief Primer on Features vs. Benefits
  • in Thinking

A Brief Primer on Features vs. Benefits

It's that time of year again - those weeks in November and December when I hire a company to rake up my shade, bag it and drag it to the curb for pickup.

Rake shade? Well not exactly.

DSC_1141I have lived in the same house for most of the last 20 years. One of the things that drew us to purchase this house was the trees. We have three gigantic oaks in our yard, along with another couple of maples. Our neighbor on one side has three more huge oaks, and our neighbor on the other has an enormous sweet gum. These eight or nine trees offer us cool shade all throughout the hot, Charlotte summers. (And they can be hot. This summer, we had 30 straight days over 90.)

One autumn, I counted the bags. I filled (and when I say filled, I mean pressed down and filled) 130 55-gallon bags of shade, I mean, leaves.

It's a classic features vs. benefits example. The leaves are features of the tree. Green, small, abundant. They do the tree a lot of good. Each leaf helps in the generation of food the tree lives on. A leaf does very little for me.

But a tree full of leaves generates shade, and that's the benefit. In July and August, I love that shade.

And the benefit of the shade far outweighs the trouble of bagging it in the autumn, well, the leaves. You get it.

 

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