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Right Brain Matters Is Moving!

After nearly 18 months with WordPress as my host, I have migrated my content to my own domain, and will be posting from there in the future. Find me at:

Thanks for reading here. I hope you continue with me.


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Voice of the Customer: Real or Artificial?

Thanks to Six Sigma, most companies, large and small, embrace the importance of the Voice of the Customer. As a right-brainer, most of Six Sigma just plain drives me crazy because it just seems so obvious. And the Voice of the Customer as a “break-through” concept really annoyed me. Learning insights from customers is what I (and every other decent marketer) have done throughout my career.

The silver lining was that when I worked with Six Sigma companies that adhered to the process, at least I could be assured of having SOME research instead of being told, “no need to do research–we won’t learn anything from it”. Or, “we’ll just focus-group it”. It turns out that in far too many cases, the Voice of the Customer efforts are perfunctory, watered-down, cheap, and follow the old way of companies having their own agenda and pressing it on their customers.

I have been working with a major technology company that is famous, admired and outstanding in many ways. The work focuses simplifying and improving the brand experience of a very specific group of customers who, in aggregate, generate large amounts of revenue. The company (like many other business-to-business marketers) has created an advisory board that consists of a cross-section of these customers, and they consult with them frequently and regularly. They used the advisory board to re-structure this particular business offering.  This counts as the “voice of the customer”, right?

Wrong. When we reached out to these customers on behalf of the client, the results were astonishing. Despite all the efforts of the company to elicit their opinions, it just is not the same as having a conversation with an independent third party. Sample comments:

“The fact that they have hired you to ask these questions gives me hope that they really will make changes…”

“[Company] does take feedback and act on it, but most of us are too shy to speak up…”

“You’re not from [Company] are you? Ok, now I can tell you what I think…”

Many people disagree, of course. Including past clients of mine. They want to do the interviews themselves. Or they want to listen in on the calls, and participate in asking the questions. At the end of the day, though, when they provide their notes and conclusions, real insights are often lacking.

My only regret is that we only had time and budget for a handful of interviews to speak for more than 100,000 customers.

Another client of mine who believes in the importance of classic marketing allowed me to interview prospects for their reactions to his business proposition. Every one of the prospects took the call. One called me from his vacation in Aspen. Another spent 90 minutes on the phone with us, detailing how my client could improve his presentation.

This just does not happen when the people inside do the asking. It’s an artificial Voice of the Customer. Hearing the real thing makes a big difference.

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The Toyota Train Wreck

It almost seems unfair to pile on criticism of Toyota, but for a company that has done so much that is right for so many years, it’s startling to see how badly they missed handling this crisis.

Toyota has been a shining star of the automobile industry for a very long time. Along with the Civic and Accord from Honda, with the Corolla and Camry, they built a mass market appreciation in the US for a high level of quality and styling that put US carmakers on the defense. As their market share and reputation grew, they took on the big boys–the European luxury cars like Mercedes and BMW through a new marque–the Lexus. More recently they won my particular admiration for the vision, courage, engineering and design prowess that resulted in the Prius. Ford, GMC and Chrysler were dolts in comparison.

Now Toyota is mired in a horrific reputational crisis that appears to worsen by the day. Every pundit on the planet has theories about what Toyota has done wrong and what, if anything, they should do to repair the damage.

Here is what I know about reputation. It’s like the stock market: it takes a long time for the market to rise enough to become a true bull market. Then the “market” or “reputation” becomes a sure thing with endless upside. But the descent into a bear market/sullied reputation happens so fast that one bears the scars of the “bear claws” for a long time.

My guess is that Toyota is a deer in the headlights and totally in the power of their legal department. Thus, no information is forthcoming because any statement could become fodder for lawsuits. I have worked in corporations like this. You know what else? They aren’t telling their employees anything either. It takes an unbelievably brave and self-confident CEO to take control of a situation like this and, if anything, OVERcommunicate, say mea culpas, and create a path forward.

Toyota simply has no experience in being a bad guy. But bad they have been, and they will carry the burden for a long time.

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How To Start A Business Without Really Trying

About two months ago, I was driving my car on my way to the garden store, and a little voice in my head said, “I don’t want to work for anyone anymore.” I don’t get urgent messages from my inner self all that often, so it seemed important that I think hard about that.

On the surface, I had a pretty flexible situation. I was a freelancer/contract worker at a small brand consultancy. Given the economic climate, I had recently been exploring alternative opportunities, both in consulting and corporate marketing. Nothing really inspired me. And the place where I worked had a cool name, and I had spent the past year doing nothing but represent myself behind that name. That had been a big, serious commitment. And I really liked the guy I was working with. But.

On a Monday, I “quit”. And then I started to think that I didn’t want to be one of those people who just had a business card with my name on it. I’m a brand consultant, after all! I wanted to look–and be–professional.

So I started thinking about setting up an LLC. The web, as always, provided a massive amount of information, especially about the relative merits of the LLC versus being simply “self employed”. And there were lots of companies out there that would do the paperwork for me, for what seemed to be not a lot of money. After some comparison price checking, I selected Incorporate Fast. They lived up to their name!

The major challenge, of course, was the name. Naming is terribly hard because it seems like every real word has been taken. But my little voice reminded me that the word “synthesis” was representative of what I do, and kind of intriguing. I tried to register “Synthesis Group”. Sadly, although it was clear in New York State, the US Tradmark Office said it was too close to “Synthesis International Group”. Happens all the time. Not to be deterred, I decided to amend it slightly to “Synthesis Plus”. Bingo! A real word that wasn’t just my name, that could be registered!

A friend of mine, who has had his own business for years, told me that I now needed a “hosting service” that would give me an email address and domain. He recommended Network Solutions. I found them online, and once again, after putting yet another significant charge on my credit card, we were underway. Then, the dreaded search for a domain name. Can you believe it? Both and were totally available for the princely sum of $9 each. Needless to say, I scooped them up.

Upward and onward to the need for a computer. We have four computers in the house, but not one of them could really be used exclusively for my work. Plus I had been working on a Mac for 8 years, and our best computers were PCs. Thanks to my husband’s research, I found a great company in Oregon, PowerMax, that sells used Macs. I managed to find one that didn’t totally break the bank, and put in the order.

I will not bore you with the horror of trying to install an upgrade of our existing Windows for Mac software. Suffice it to say that it didn’t work, and if I wanted help from Microsoft, then I would have to pay to even speak to a human being. Since I had ordered iWork with my Mac, I decided to try to live Microsoft free. Yes, it can be done!

While all this was happening, I was suddenly getting calls about some potential work. I had a name, but no logo, and no templates for documents, and no existing boilerplate credentials, and no past proposals that I could turn to. The Mac Pages, which is their version of Word, was a lifesaver. It lacks some of the technical functionality of Word, but (of course), it creates much more beautiful documents. It’s also very easy to save as Word or Powerpoint so that those trapped in Microsoft can read my documents, and when they send their docs to me, it’s a breeze to swap them out to iWork.

It’s exactly 4 weeks since I first decided to create an LLC, and I have three proposals outstanding. I have some fabulous logo designs to choose from, and a sense of accomplishment and new-found energy that surprises and delights me.

There is much more to be done, of course, like get a website up and running, decide how long I want to work from home, and if I want to hire people to work with me, but that will come in time. Now, excuse me, I have to get back to work.


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Tropicana Redux: 20% Sales Drop Gives New Meaning to Negative ROI

Well, it’s one thing to go out in the blogosphere and sound off on my personal opinion, even if it’s shared by so many. It’s quite another to see the actual impact on sales that Tropicana experienced after Arnell redesigned the pack. According to Ad Age, Tropicana’s sales dropped 20% in a 7 week period, when the category was essentially flat.

Anyone who questions the agony involved in tweaking a package design should take note.

A lot of people are comparing this to New Coke and I think that’s rubbish. New Coke was a new product introduction, not a package redesign. It involved a new formulation, a new name and a new package. Tropicana was ostensibly doing what CPG marketers do every day, namely, updating the pack.

I have also read comments that question whether market research was done at all or if it was badly flawed. My sources tell me that the research was done, it was done thoroughly, the design tested dismally, and the recommendation was not to adopt the new design. Whose ego overpowered the voice of the customer? Or were the research results “reinterpreted” in a different way prior to being presented to the client?

Some graphic designers consider package design to be a lesser art form. It may not be as glamorous as corporate identity, but it’s far more complex, much less theoretical and, in terms of generating true consumer response, it is where the rubber meets the road.

Tropicana will recover from this. It will be interesting to see if there are any consequences for those who recommended the wrong path.


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Yet Another Brand Blog?

The internet and blogosphere are awash in brand mumbo jumbo. Why impose another voice into the clutter? Because I cannot always find what I want, or exchange ideas with like-minded people and maybe others feel that same way. And because I truly love the work that I do in developing and crafting brands. I suppose that makes me a brand nerd.


There are others like me out there, I know it.

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