Are You Playing Russian Roulette With your Brand by Keeping Obsolete Products in your Mix?


Our focus in business is to identify buyer problems and solve them in ways that create positive buying experiences. When we accomplish this we make the sale, and we build positive word of mouth. A poor buying experience and or an obsolete product that no longer reinforces your brand promise can quickly create negative word of mouth.


Keeping obsolete products in your mix is like playing Russian Roulette with your customers buying experience and ultimately your Brand.


As I have discussed I travel quite a bit. Some call it old school, but I need to be in the markets I serve. This requires air travel, rental cars, and a number of hotel stays. I was recently working with a customer in Indianapolis Indiana and needed a hotel room for the night. I booked a room with an airport hotel, however the Google maps instructions were not accurate and the person at the front desk of my hotel could not provide me directions. (Another post that needs to happen, but I will let it go for now). After two attempts to find my airport hotel I gave up, and pulled off the next exit to find a room. As I exited the highway I saw a number of hotels and one of which I recognized and had a good feeling about was the Ramada. I pulled into the Ramada as their brand has always meant; clean rooms at an affordable price. They often lack the frills of larger hotels but my understanding of their brand was clean, safe rooms at a completive price. Seeing as how I maybe was going to have seven hours of sleep, I thought the Ramada would be just fine.

What I experienced was the worst hotel stay I have experienced in the past 26 years of business travel.


It turns out a road rally was coming through town and they had a number of tired drivers checking in. Understaffed (although they had reservations) I waited over 20 minutes just to check in. I kept telling myself to lighten up, it’s just one night, and now for just 6 ½ hours. As I walked to my room I noticed the carpet in the hall was dirty and had little collections of food and dust in corners. Just as the restroom of a restaurant will tell you about the cleanliness of a food establishment, I have always found public areas of a hotel are a good indication of the cleanliness of your room.

I found my way to my room and as the door opened I was surprised how old and run down this room seemed. Again, self talk said…” it’s only one night and now only 6 hours…” I showered to calm down so I could fall asleep. I found the shower tub disgusting with stains. I found the towels were old and stained as well. As I brushed my teeth I was greeted with an old scratched sink with a rusted water stopper…” it’s only 5 ½ hours”…

As I walked to the bed my feet felt like they were sticking to the old dirty carpet. I turned down the covers and found the sheets too were stained and hopefully clean, but just stained. The pillow felt like someone bought a square piece of foam and cut pillow sized squares out of it. As I lay there, disgusted, my mind raced to the recent Animal planet I watched with my children about parasites and bed bugs.

I tried to relax but I could swear something was crawling on me. I turned on the light and could not find anything, .must just be in my mind. I tried to relax and eventually I must have fallen asleep. My alarm went off and still tired I quickly got ready and went to the lobby to check out.

What I found was a long line of people wanting to be checked in and checked out. I could tell one employee was experienced and one must have been new. Each time the new employee confirmed someone into a room, he would check with the experienced employee to see if it was a “good room”. Interesting, so they must have some old rooms like the one I slept in and others that were “good rooms”. Unfortunately you had to be an experienced employee to know which rooms were good or bad. New employees had no way of knowing with the tools provided what kind of a room they were checking guests into.

When it was my turn to check out, someone who checked in earlier returned to the desk demanding a better room. His room was quickly changed.

As I checked out the young lady did not ask how my stay was, but instead asked if I needed directions. Had she asked about my stayI would have said “disgusting and disappointing” but since they did not ask I felt they just did not care and were anxious to get me on my way.

So on to the next city and I checked into an amazing Comfort inn in Louisville KY that was clean, the person checking me in made me feel like I was his only guest. I went to my room that was very clean and Googled the Ramada to see if perhaps my understanding of their brand was wrong.

If you visit the Ramada web site, Mark F. Young promises;


You can rest easy knowing that we are expertly equipped to “create caring experiences for every person, every time.” We are committed to delivering excellent service. All of our properties feature modern amenities such as high speed Internet connectivity.


Tell ya what Mark F Young; I have a challenge for you. Visit your hotel on Thompson Ave in Indianapolis and stay in room 219 and tell me if you are living up to your brand promise…. NOT!

The more I thought about this the more convinced I became that businesses who keep products in their mix that are obsolete and do not reflect their brand promise are playing Russian Roulette with their customers’ buying experience, and their brand.

Bad products always seem to find their way to someone.


Your team members who have been around a while will know not to sell them, however new employees do not know any better. Negative word of mouth seems to travel much faster than positive feedback particularly with social media. Very quickly one bad customer experience can be heard by over 2,000 people.

In today’s competitive economic times can any of our businesses risk playing customer Russian Roulette with obsolete products?


Do you have any products in your mix you do not want customers to ever experience? If so, why are they still there?


Does your company have a formal process to audit the quality of your product and your customers’ overall buying experience? If so who reads this data?


Have you asked any of your people if there are products you have that should never be sold to customers?


When was the last time, as a leader in your organization you bought (shopped) what you sell?


When was the last time you inspected what you expected?


When was the last time you called someone who just purchased your product or service and asked them about their overall experience?


I know I was hard on my terrible experience with Ramada. I guess what bothered me most is I felt they broke my trust. So now I will avoid Ramada hotels even though I had great experiences in the past.

Are any of your current or new customers buying one of your “bad products” this week? You sure?


#11 Follow the leader is a dangerous game, particularly when you follow Hippos…


Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of focusing the majority of their attention on what their competitors are doing instead of gaining first hand market data. When entrepreneurs play “follow the leader” they are playing a dangerous game that assumes the perceived market leading competitor is connected to the needs and pains of market buyers.

Market leaders are aware of competitor activity; however they plan their strategy with first hand market data.


Market losers set out to do what their competitors are doing…but better.


When you copy what your competitors are doing you are making one key erroneous assumption: that your competitor knows your market, your buyers, and your buyer’s buying process. ( which is often not the case)

If we recognize most marketing is developed at board room tables with gut , intuition and “back when I was in the market…” information following your competitor is a dangerous game to play.Or as David Daniels put it in his eBook : Is your Product Launch Doomed?…” Mimicing a competitor can lead to lost market opportunity, misdirection of resources, and loss of focus…”


More often than not marketing strategy is made by HIPPOS; the Highest Paid Person in marketing’s Opinions.


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For example, I had to run some errands in Mesa Saturday and imagine my surprise when I returned to my car and I saw a sea of purple windshield fliers in the parking lot creating marketing litter. In my recent post I discussed how we must make sure when we Chase new business we do so in a way consistent with our brand and our brand promise.

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I shared how Chase Bank used a purple windshield wiper flier to drive new accounts at month end in my last post. Do the leaders at TCF Bank think Purple windshield fliers ( Like Chase Bank) is an industry best practice since one of the market leaders does it? Or was the nimble , much smaller TCf Bank’s efforts the reason Chase Bank tried this strategy?

You have been in those meetings…everyone on the cross functional team share their views , and then the highest paid person in the room (hippo)  calls an audible from left field based on their gut and or what a market leading competitor is currently doing ( after they are real smart right?). The cross functional team is left scratching its collectives heads as strategy direction is made based on the gut and past experience of the highest paid person in the room.


Market leaders gather first hand market data and shape their strategy based on current information.


They say ; “rational people, if given the right data will make rational decisions” .What we learn in “rational choice theory” that people make decisions about how they should act by comparing the costs and benefits of different courses of action. Patterns of behavior will develop within the society those results from those choices. The society in this case is competing suppliers battling for market share each day.



Decisions made with first hand current market data drive successful strategies.



Strategies that are initiated based on what market leading competitors do often fail.



How about your organization….



Are Hippo’s calling an audible that lacks market data justification?



Does your marketing team kick off campaigns that mirror what market leaders in your industry are doing?


…how’s that working for you?



Are your sales tools built by corporate Hippos who have not met with a customer in over six months…twelve months?



Playing follow the leader is a dangerous game, particularly if your Hippos insist you mirror a competitor with the assumption the competitor must know what they are doing.


Smart entrepreneurs are aware of what the 800 lb gorilla in their market is doing, but do not blindly mirror their strategies and tactics.


Smaller competitors are often more connected to the needs of their market and more nimble.

Have you mirrored a competitor and it drove sales that surpassed your ROI goals?

Can you share a Hippo based initiative that mirrored a competitor and failed miserably?

Besides,when you choose  follow , competitor and or a Hippo,the view rarely changes, the outcome often stinks.


Entrepreneur Best Practices: #10 “How” you “CHASE” New Business Matters….Do you want pepperoni with that new checking account?

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I have heard entrepreneurs say; “any marketing is better than no marketing at all…” and they can say this…but they would be wrong! Entrepreneurial leaders must insure the marketing vehicles and tactics  they use support their brand and do not create an interruption.



Market leaders understand their buyers, their buying process and buying criteria.


Market leaders create sales velocity because everything they do has continuity with their brand.



Market losers create a variety of marketing tools and “throw them against the wall” of their market and wait to… “see what sticks”.


Market losers scare business away, and their energy and budgets are used to grow competitors’ businesses.


I Love being a Chase Bank customer.


I have used a number of banks over the years…Bank of America, Key Corp, and so on. However the service I get from Chase Bank seems to feel different, it’s as if they know me, and they answer my questions before I ask them. Just yesterday my wife and I met with Dennis at our local branch and he was obviously trained to serve his clients. When other banks have made us feel like we were putting their associates out , Dennis was like the Van’s Golf employees name tags that say “sure not problem” Even the experience of walking into one of their locations “feels” different in how you are greeted and guided to the right person to help you. So imagine my surprise after a doctor appointment to come out to my car and see a windshield flier under my wiper from Chase Bank. This was an interruption for me.

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Marketing interruptions make current customers pause…and bad things happen when customers pause.


For example, at first I smiled and threw their flier in my trunk to throw away later. As I drove to my next appointment however my mind wandered…

I have been reading about banks in trouble


Is my bank…Chase Bank, in trouble?


Should I maybe check out Wells Fargo or maybe open an account with Bank America again just to play it safe?


Didn’t I just read they were downsizing?…. ut oh

However my mind quickly came to terms with what has a higher probability of truth; It was the end of August ( end of the month race to hit numbers), and some salesperson , a hunter by nature ( which is awesome) needed business. So as opposed to sitting in the branch waiting for business to come to them, they took initiative and made some purple fliers and more than likely spent hours in the 104 degree Arizona heat stuffing them under windshield wipers in hopes this would drive new business. I had a pizza shop as a client years ago that could ramp up or down his sales by the number of windshield fliers he would have his drivers place. It became a predictable outcome for him over time.

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However, the way a pizza shop or even a gas station chases new business is significantly different than what I would expect from my trusted bank, and the two should never be confused.

As I discussed, entrepreneurial leaders have bad things happen when they “assume”. “Well if windshield fliers work for pizza shops and gas stations…why not…” The “why not” is whatever you do must be intentional and have continuity with your brand image, your brand promise in the minds of buyers in your market.

In defense of Chase Bank, I have had rogue sales guys and even sales managers do much worst over the years. As I said I have to smile that at least they tried! Leaders, no matter what the size of their organization, must remember;

If marketing does not create tools that help salespeople hit their objectives, sales will create their own…and although you appreciate their “be a part of the solution” attitude it may cause your market to pause. When markets experience a pause, an interruption in the brand image …bad things happens.



How about your company…..


Are your salespeople creating their own tools to hit their numbers?

…Are you sure?


What policies and procedures do you have in place to insure your brand image is protected and reinforced?


Have you ever had your salespeople create their own tools…tell me about it.



From the number of fliers blowing around in the parking lot now as “marketing litter” I could tell most of the people who had fliers under their wipers did not value this communication attempt by Chase Bank. I would be interested to know from Chase Bank if this tactic is a marketing approved new business program or if I was correct a local branch went off the marketing reservation. If this tactic does in fact drive needed new business at moth end that is greater the negative impact it has on their brand in the mind of the market.

2009 Health Care Reform Initiative Lesson #1: Without a Clear Definition of the Problem You Want to Solve, You Will Experience “Scope Creep” and Your Launch Plan Will Fail

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Without a clear definition of the problem(s) you solve with your new product or service you will experience scope creep and your team will thrash around. When you thrash around you have a number of starts and stops without completely solving each individual initiative. Not only is this behavior ineffective but it is costly and often dangerous.

Fundamentally I agree, if what the news media tells us is true regarding; the number of uninsured Americans, the rising costs of care, the rising costs of caring for uninsured Americans,… that there is a problem that needs to be solved. However I do not understand the problem, or problems we are trying to solve with the 2009 Health Care Reform Initiative, nor how the over 1,000 page proposal solves them.

I see this frequently with entrepreneurs. They discover what they perceive to be an unresolved market problem and the solution is crystal clear (to them) so they launch. They take out 2nd mortgages, they cash in their 401k, and they ask family and friends for support. (Money) They share their brilliant idea with their buddies on the golf course to validate their idea and everyone says… ”brilliant idea”. However very quickly they learn an expensive lesson when they expect (and have created the support) to sell 60,000 units and only sell 2.

Without a clear definition of the Problem you solve your New Product Launch Plan will fail.

Instead of clearly defining the problem, quantifying the need, making sure people want and will pay money to solve that problem they broaden their scope. Now they have a number of messages floating in their market that are Luke warm at best and none clearly articulate how you solve any problems for buyers in your marketplace. None are connecting with anyone.

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More Big-Money-Wasted by BMW in new ad campaign? We will have to wait and see…

I read an article on BrandWeek today by Anthony Crupi titled: BMW Pumps Diesel and Anthony did a particularly good job in grasping BMW’s objectives behind what we are about to see in a new BMW ad;

“For us, it’s about changing the perception that diesel is still that noisy and smelly [technology] many people remember from the ‘70s.” “For us, it’s about changing the perception that diesel is still that noisy and smelly [technology] many people remember from the ‘70s.”

The trouble is, as a potential consumer of one of your driving machines…I really do not care Patrick (the guy in charge at BMW) what it is about “for you”.

What problem are you solving for me?

Affluent Americans don’t want to sacrifice performance for fuel efficiency,” McKenna said. “The 335d can go from 0-60 [mph] in 6 seconds flat …That’s immediate power.”

Now you are talking!

But what about starting my diesel car at the Cleveland airport in the winters…did you solve this?

Although not as focused on the environment and fuel efficiency as I should be, I do follow the cost per gallon of fuel, and if I am not mistaken, one of the historical advantages of why consumers chose diesel vehicles was the lower cost per gallon.

On the one side you have Mercedes, who did a great job of connecting their product to; Luxury, power and torch, and longevity (they run forever)

On the other side you have VW who have raving fans of their economical diesel vehicles that are fun to drive and last forever as well. VW too is tapping consumers on the shoulder today with a message of ““Better performance AND higher gas mileage than a Prius”.

From my days in international sales I still have relationships with past JV partners in Germany that are now friends and they openly share how fun their BMW 3 series are to drive.


What this “feels” like is you are trying to win the hearts and pocket books of “potentials” those people who are not current customers, and are not currently shopping, but thinking about diesel vehicles? So you are actively attacking their perceived problems with your solution. Your current raving fans in the US who own M5’s will pass on your new offering.

So who is your targeted buyer persona?

New buyers of diesel vehicles are more likely to swing into VW’s camp as their position is clearly defined if their need is; fun to drive, economical, and longevity. If what they want is performance and Luxury, they will swing to Mercedes who currently owns this position.

Is this Product Launch (re launch really as you are one of the leaders in diesel vehicles in Europe) an example of “Right idea but late?” We will see…

I am looking forward to see this ad, as I am a huge fan of your vehicles, engineering, fit and finish, just not a fan of your execution of marketing “messaging” as of late as I discussed in my blog post : The Expression of Joy Ad campaign by BMW; May be an Expression of Big Money Wasted . Business leaders follow you “Big Guys” and I would hate to see smaller businesses clouding their messaging with “creative that requires an interpreter”. (But there I go again being a ROI driven Neanderthal)

Again Patrick, you make amazing vehicles, but because of that my expectation is your messaging will also be amazing. To be amazing I want to “get it” when I see it, and not be like everyone else in a packed movie theater and groan when your ad is played.

I want you to clearly state the problem you solve for me. I do not want some “foo foo marketing creative” that requires an interpreter, because then BMW means Big – Money- Wasted to me.


How about your business….


Does a big expensive ad add value in your business?


Or do they send a message you are disconnected to the market’s true needs?


Or worst, do these big budget ads and media buys make you, as a loyal customer feel you must have over paid for their product if they can afford such Big Money Wasted?


I predict this campaign will be a flop if I need an art director to explain it to me and they do not explain their distinctive competence clearly with an emotional attachment  that resonates with me.


Mentor Moment #5: Brand with Intention or the Market will “Brand you by Default”


The reason I wrote my first book in 2007 was to solve a problem a number of businesses had; they did not intentionally brand their product or service in the minds of those in their market(s) and the net result was the market” branded them by default”.Branding_Backwards_-_thumb

After I workout in the morning I like to relax in the steam room. Today I entered the misty dim lit room to wind down after my workout and noticed someone else sitting in the far corner. We exchanged pleasantries and very quickly he asked the common question; “So what do you do for a living?” I answered as I have done for years and then it was my turn…”what do you do?” His answer was symptomatic of why I wrote my first book titled: Branding Backwards; a Brand’s Odyssey Toward Self-Discovery. He stated … “I am in real-estate” and he stopped there. I try not to engage in what could be long conversations in the steam room, particularly days like today when someone had jimmied the thermostat and it was excessively hot.

Do I tell him that what he just said really does not help me understand the problems he solves? Ah …what the heck (I did bring my water bottle)…. So I asked some additional questions and found he was not someone who helped homeowners sell their personal property, but someone who owned a real-estate development company that develops commercial real-estate throughout North America in a very specific niche.

This quick conversation reminded me how critical it is for businesses to clearly articulate their brand, and the problems they solve for their market. (Even more so in this economic climate) Fail to do so and the market will “brand you by default”, and there is a high probability they will get it wrong.

As in this example, very quickly when he said he was in real-estate, I mentally branded him as someone who helps consumers sell their personal property. I mentally logged his name in my referral database in the event someone I know may need that service. It was not until after my additional questions I understood what his company does.

I offer 10 tips to avoid Branding Backwards in my book,  the first is;

“If you do not state who you are, others in the marketplace will create a mental image of how you may or may not be able to meet their needs”

If you would like to download a free copy of my book you can do so here.

(I want to warn you, I wrote it in the form of a story. I find stories seem to stick with people much more than just stating facts.)

How about your company? Can your targeted new customers and or existing customers clearly articulate the problems your product or service can solve for them, or are you branding by default? Over the years I have found it disturbing when I engage with a new sales team how quickly and concisely the salespeople can explain what problems their competitors products solve and do not solve, and yet when asked to describe the products that fill their own commission rice bowls each week they ramble on and on with features, benefits, and how their company is the market leader…and better than….that is not what I asked!

Is your company Branding with intention, or by default?

If I were to ask one of your customers what problems you solve, would they get it right? Would they clearly understand all you solve?

Ask your one of your salespeople today; “What problem does our competitor ________’s product solve for our customers? “

Now ask them “what problem do our products solve?”

Ask people in your market you have never sold to tell you what problems they think you solve…what did they say?

Can you afford for your market to get what problems your company or its specific products and or services solve for them?

Are interruptions “transforming “your customers into shoppers again?


I am a big fan of action movies and the more Sci-Fi the better. I really enjoyed the first Transformers movie and I was anxiously awaiting the second: Revenge of the Fallen…how will they top the first? New villains, maybe 3-D special effects, and so on? I was convinced, based on the first movie I would be captivated again. They helped me establish a brand for the Transformer experience from the cartoons I would watch with my son years ago to their recent special effects of their last release. They set an expectation of a story line that flowed. I expected a great deal of action and special effects and some humor to give me a chance to catch my breath.

However what I experienced was a painful interruption. Unlike the first movie, this one threw in characters that did not support the story line and were actually a painful interruption for me. Interruptions are those elements thrown in to cause a response that add no value other than shock. They create a momentary interruption to grab your attention like a bikini clad model in an ad for spark plugs. Yes, your attention is momentarily grabbed, but for the wrong reason. At one point when one of the transformers were “humping” Megan Fox’s leg they lost me. They lost me because they did not live up to the brand they so carefully established in their cartoons and the first movie when I became a customer, and a fan. They lost me when they tried to get too cute, too funny,” because they could and not because they should”. They lost me when they added adult humor in a movie theater full of young children holding their favorite transformer toys.


How about your company…has the desperation to make your numbers caused you to compromise who you are?


Can you think of other examples of companies that strayed and could make a comeback?…not made a comeback?


What brand broke its promise to you?


What are the best ways to find out if you are transforming your loyal customers now shopping for another partner?


If you find out your interruptions are transforming your customer base to shoppers, what can you do, if anything to bounce back?