Today is Veterans Day in the United States. It’s a day set aside to thank and honor living veterans who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. My son is a veteran. He served in the 4th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division and spent 12 months in the “red zone” in Baghdad where he was awarded the Close Combat Badge.
The 4th Brigade is the 3rd Infantry Division’s “Vanguard Brigade.” That means the 4th always takes the lead position. As a parent, I often wished my son was not part of a lead unit. However; as an American, I could not have been more proud of him. Today he has moved on to a new career and phase of his life.
The purpose of my story is not to debate the decisions of President Bush, the conflict in Iraq or whether or not I should have influenced his decision to join in the first place. What really got this started was today’s CBS Sunday Morning show. During that show I listened to a military recruiter address the challenges of recruiting in today’s environment. Looking at that challenge from a marketing perspective, how would you create a marketing strategy for the military? It would certainly be a challenging assignment.
As marketers, you’ve had challenging assignments in your past. When your product-service fell out of favor with your targeted audience how did you put the brakes on and change the direction? Or was your strategy just to hang-on until environmental factors shifted the winds for you? After all, military recruiters had people lining up shortly after Pearl Harbor and 9-11. Most marketers don’t like to wait, so I’ll bet that wasn’t your chosen option.
Once again, I’m only using the military angle to stir your marketing thoughts. The bottom line question is how do you turn around a product or brand that is falling out of favor with the intended target market? Does it mean you need to rethink how you are listening to your customer’s needs and desires? Or accept that your product has entered the decline phase of the product lifecycle and make adjustments accordingly?
Congratulations to your son for his unstinting service to his country. His sacrifice is an example to us all. I don’t need to remind you of JFK’s famous quote.
And here’s another famous marketing quote from Ted Levitt, “There no such thing as a commodity”… just an undifferentiated product. Levitt knew the answer to your question. In 1980!
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager
Graham’s reference to what Levitt knew in 1980 about undifferentiated products is on the money. Unfortunately for many companies that face commoditization it is hard for them to take a fresh view that leads to differentiation.
When a product starts suffering from commoditizing pressures it usually means that there has been a shift in context that makes them less meaningful to customers. One strategy that can be very effective is to put the product in the new context of the customer.
Between 2000 and 2004 Mimeo.com’s growth earned them a spot on INC magazines list of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the USA. Mimeo.com is a printing company. Printers have been experiencing commoditization for years. The period between 2000-2004 was particularly bad because to the economic turn down. In some markets 40% of printers were force out of business.
Mimeo.com thrived. To understand how you need to understand the context they put their service in. When someone is ready to order printing with Mimeo.com they simply select print and Mimeo as the printer in whatever graphic application they are using. This opens the Mimeo.com web site which lets them place their order online (somewhat novel in 2000). If the order was placed by 10 pm it would be delivered anywhere in the USA by 8 am the next morning, or at multiple location. (Mimeo.com is located adjacent to the Federal Express hub in Memphis).
This put their service into the context of millions of business people who need the latest material to in various locations. It also serves companies who want to co-ordinate multi-media campaigns nationwide. Other printers could print just as well as Mimeo.com but couldn’t deliver.
John I. Todor, Ph.D.
Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.