The “My Customers Aren’t Asking for It” Trap

PitfallHere’s something that I hear from business and marketing executives and, each time, I shake my head in disbelieve. Those words are “My customers aren’t asking for it.” Six words that are one of biggest marketing traps and why some organizations stop growing and lose customers to forward-thinking competitors.  In 1967, no customer said “You know what. I wish some company would make a machine that uses microwaves to cook food faster!”…yet the microwave oven was developed. Or said in 2003, “Why can’t a company invent a magazine-sized device to surf the web?”…yet the iPad and other tablets are now the rage.  And that’s the case the with the majority of new products, especially those that can help differentiate a business from competitors. Customers, meaning 99.999% of people, are not thinking like product developers, but that doesn’t for a nanosecond mean that when presented with a “WOW” product they won’t want it, tell their family and friends and their social media circles that they should get it as well.

“My customer isn’t asking for it” in essence says that your organization is one built on the idea that only after a number of customers come in asking for it, will you decide to create, utilize or stock the whatever-it-is. Which more times than not is after your competitors are already doing it.  We would agree that’s not how an organization should act if the object is to grow. And one of the tenets of growing means that you are leading customers. You’re bringing new ideas and solutions to them that either enriches their lives or drives future sales to your business or has them see you in a different light. “My customer isn’t asking for it” also suggests that the organization is a follower, a “me-too” and not an organization that people think of when they’re looking at viable alternatives, that wonders why customers aren’t doing business with them as they did many years ago.

“My customer isn’t asking for it” defines your organization on so many levels both to your internal staff as well as to the outside world. It speaks to how you view what customer service means; how you want your brand to be defined and compared to competitors; whether you’re seen as a progressive leader or a reactive follower in your industry or marketplace; if you’re a company that embraces new ideas or is the epitome of the status quo.

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” — Steve Jobs

So, was Steve Job’s right?

Well there’s certainly a number of organizations that say he isn’t.  A lot of firms wouldn’t feel comfortable pressing forward with a new product offering or service feature without doing significant customer research to determine all aspects of consumer interest, purchase intent, etc. Think about the expenses, the manpower allocation, the buy-in from internal resources; and so on. Yes, there is much at stake.   Any innovative company struggles with how much to listen to customers.

That said, there are many respected professionals who would say that, yes, he was right. There are hundreds and thousands of new products each year that find overwhelming customer acceptance with little or no consumer research being done.  These companies are successful because they push boundaries and do the unexpected. They’re about anticipation, instinct, insights—and, ultimately, curiosity and experience. Going back to Apple, if customers were asked how they’d like to improve the music listening experience back in a day where CD players ruled, they likely couldn’t have envisioned the iPod.

Consumers can’t think in abstractions. They cannot envision a new concept. They can only compare against their current frame of reference. When you rely on consumer input, it is inevitable that they will tell you to do what other popular companies are doing.  So you need to make the big leap for them. You need to provide them with a reason to buy, a reason to brag to their friends. Expect the “new-to-the-world” ideas to fall on deaf ears. Consumers will, however, change their tune when they can see, touch, and explore.  So, do customers really know what they want?

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” –Henry Ford

To avoid stepping in the “My customer isn’t asking for it” business trap, here are a few things to give thought to as you move forward:

  • Start with understanding your customer better than you now do. Whenever our firm calls customers of our clients to gain insight about why they purchased a particular product or service and we then share it with our clients, I can tell you that in each and every instance, the client has said something along the lines of “Really, they said that?” Or, “I would never have guessed that’s why…” Or, “This is going to cause us to change how we do business.” Every. Single. Time.
  • Successful, market-leading businesses hold a vision for their customers. These businesses use their unique insight into their customers’ day-to-day lives to see what tomorrow will look like and create the solutions that meet them at tomorrow and beyond. They understand that the customer is always changing. You have the opportunity to serve them as they change – or you can take a narrow-minded perspective and only sell to them that which you already have to sell.
  • Understanding the business that you’re really in helps you to see what kind of products and services your customer would be receptive too, or even crazy about, beyond your current product and service offerings.
  • Think about the sort of offerings that could have your customers react to emotionally.
  • Seeing your current and prospective customers as people who desire new products and services… the kind that others aren’t offering, means that you see your company as a never being just part of the herd.

So maybe the next time the words “my customer isn’t asking for it” cross your lips, regroup and think for a moment what that might say about you and your organization. And then think about what if the competitor down the street said, “Hmm. That’s an interesting product. Let’s see if we can make something new happen for our customers. They might just love it!”


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Self-Interest Is A Good Thing…When It’s Your Audience’s

Self InterestWhen you write a Facebook post, what are you thinking about at that moment?  Are you thinking, “I want my readers to know this!”?   Are you thinking, “We need to increase our call volume!”?  Or possibly, “We need more Facebook Likes!”?

Or are you thinking, “Why have my followers chosen to Like me?”  How about, “What are they interested in to which I can contribute?”  “What will they share with their friends?”

The first set of questions are just about you and your business.  The second set of questions puts the readers’ interests first.  That’s the way to win over their hearts and minds (and business), certainly far better than the first set.

We call this “Outside-In” thinking, looking at your business from the outside-in.  Unfortunately, too many marketers suffer from “Inside-Out” thinking, seeing things only from the inside, assuming that everybody is as excited about their business as they are.

The reasons you want to communicate with your prospects and customers are certainly going to be motivated by your business objectives. But what you say to them and how you say it has to come from what motivates them.  For all your marketing communications, be it posts, tweets, blasts, banners, commercials or exhibit booths, you have to use your audience’s self-interest as your starting point. Merely posting about your new business/manufacturing facilities or listing a series of feature-based bullet points is not going to be appealing to their self-interest.  (Would it be to yours if it came from, say, the local muffler store, especially if your car’s running smoothly?)

So what does your audience want to know? What excites and interests them?  What’s good enough for them to share or pass along or even simply pay attention to?  You need to ask that question with every marketing communication you generate.

This is one of the reasons we use a lot of humor or emotions in our own clients’ marketing, because good communication starts with human interest. Anything that makes a person laugh, smile, cry, wince or raise their eyebrows touches deeper human levels and transcends purely rational thinking.

Sponsoring contests, especially if they’re relevant to your message and brand – especially if the prize is big or unique – always has audience-appeal. Showing how your product or service solves your customers’ problems, eases their pain, saves them money or eliminates inconvenience, all speak to their self-interest.

Think of it this way, when you go fishing, what do you put on the hook: what you like or what the fish likes?  It’s the same thing in marketing.  Make sure the bait is what they like. You’ll like what happens next.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

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Marketing Lessons learned from “The Voice”

Voice ChairOver the years, there’s one TV show that I make a point of watching and it’s “The Voice.”  It has nothing to do with me fashioning myself as a singer and secretly wishing I was up there performing. In fact, I’m not a good singer at all. When our family goes to our annual vacation spot and the karaoke machine comes out, and I do my couple of songs, people just wince at how bad I am. Not to put too fine a point on it but when I was a kid, I was asked to leave (read: kicked out) of the kid’s church choir. Yeah, I’m that bad.

Anyway, as I was watching the show last week, I started wondering why I had come to like the show as I have. Was it the way that show was setup – from blind audition to knock-out rounds, or was it that the judges could steal a singer that was dropped by another coach, or was it the celebrity coaches, or the singers themselves, or something else.  And in doing so, out of the blue it occurred to me that there’s a few things that as marketers we could all learn and begin to apply to our individual marketing activities.

  1. The coaches’ (or prospective customers’) chairs turn around for a number of reasons, but the main one being that they’re listening for something that’s new, different and genuinely moves them. They’re looking to be fascinated with what they hear in order to push their button (buy the product). Alternatively, the singers (the product) don’t get to reveal themselves (the packaging) and only have their voice and song (message) to get the coaches to say to themselves “I like what I’m hearing.”
  2. The contestants/singers (the product), the one’s that get chosen to move ahead from the blind auditions forward, perform (do things) and have that “it” factor from the unchosen . They don’t sing similarly to the other contestants (the competitors). No siree… they have their own exclusive sound…voice …style…message. It’s distinctive…captivating… and sometimes magical.
  3. The best singers have a confidence that grabs the audience by the lapels and says, “listen to me” (my message). They show their range (their product line) by singing different types of genre’s to broaden their audience appeal. They want to be chosen (get the order) and they make sure you know that they want it. There’s a distinctive attitude with how they deliver the song that draws you to them like bees to honey. Their attitude.. their creativity… well, you’re almost envious of it.
  4. As well, these very talented individuals present their song (the message) with a high level of energy. They’re not timid nor do go through the motions. No, instead they use the stage (the channel/medium) to go for it!  They want the judges and the voting public to care about them.  They sing (present) from their hearts and guts so you can feeeeel them!
  5. And lastly, these singers have an amazing voice (the product attribute). It’s real…it’s who they are at their core…it resonates with their audience (their customers). There’s no pretense about what kind of singer they are or want to become.

So what lessons are to be learned in order to connect with your audience:

  1. When you make the pitch for people to hear your voice, it has to be impressive. It needs to make people stand up and take notice that you’re not like all the competitors. This can take place in creating marketing that is first rate….not as an after-thought. Marketing programs that are interconnected and build off one another. Messaging that makes people say “I’ve not heard that before,” or “Now that’s what I want to hear!” because it’s important to them.
  2. Connect in ways that shows your company understands what the customers want to hear. Make them want to listen to more of message in ways or through channels they haven’t in the past. How are you getting them to tell others about you? Is your social media presence what it should be to help them do that? Is your content (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) interesting, informative, or creatively communicated so that people will want to share within their own network’s network, i.e. your fan’s friends?
  3. Know that getting someone to initially like your “voice” is just the beginning. Reward these new fans by providing them with new offerings (products, services, information) that they don’t see or hear from your competitors. It takes more time, effort and financial resources to find a new fan than it does to keep them. So, to turn that new relationship into a lasting one, you must continuously remind them why they turned their chair and cast their vote for your brand in the first place.

While I can’t tell you who will win this season’s competition, I can tell you that the singers who have strategically given thought to the songs that they should sing and how they should perform those songs, will likely be the last ones standing. They understand that in order for people to buy into who they are and what they can become, they need to connect with the coaches and audiences in ways more powerful and moving than those they’re competing against. WOWing them is a must.

Because at the end of the day, what you tell prospective customers has to fascinate and captivate them – in a way that keeps them engaged and wanting to know more about you, which will lead to increased sales and revenue.  As advertising legend, Bill Bernbach, said: “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting until you say and do things imaginatively, originally, freshly.”  (NOTE: Now read it again but this time insert the name of your company every time you come to the words “you.”)

Those who always wish to sing will find a song.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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The Riskiest Choice: Playing it Safe

TightropeIf you’ve ever watched a sporting event, you or someone else with you probably have said “they’re not trying to win…they’re just trying not to lose.”  For me, there’s almost nothing more frustrating than seeing this approach take place, especially since it doesn’t need to be that way to succeed. And so is the case with oh-so-many companies who say one thing (i.e. we’re here to win) but act entirely differently. If you’ve spent any time in business meetings, from small companies to Fortune 100 as I have, you’ve heard gems like: “We’re not quite ready to take that step yet,” or “I just don’t know,” (reeking of indecisiveness) or my favorite “Let’s not go there just yet.” In short, these are all about the safe bet and not having the courage to step out and be different.

Speaking from experience, these verbal roadblocks are generally erected by people who have no involvement in the sales or marketing of the company. People who haven’t actually spoken to someone at the street-level (branch, store, dealership, etc.) in forever, and so what they “know” comes from what others may have told them or what they unfoundedly believe without any support.  These folks aren’t in the business of finding and pursuing new growth opportunities. Instead they’re the “glass half empty types.”

What I don’t get is how CMO’s and other executives in the marketing department allow the idea of “playing it safe” to become part of how the company does business. Playing it safe means trying to figure out how to please all the people all of the time (and protect one’s own butt in the process). It’s what happened to companies we once knew as solid brands and money makers…Radio Shack, Borders, and others. They became complacent with disregard (maybe arrogance) to the changing marketplace. From office politics (i.e., give the boss what he wants) to running the same ad month after month after month.  Wearing the clothing of “play it safe” doesn’t lead to standing out in a crowd. Nope, it’s more like being part of the herd.  You’ve heard the old saying: “safe bets never bring in the big money.”  You see it in Las Vegas.  When the odds are low, there’s not much money to be made. When the odds are high…well, that’s when the payout is high.  In business, it’s pretty much the same. If you play it safe you’ll probably make some money; but it’s those who are willing to venture out where the naysayers can’t be found who are more likely to come out on top again and again.

Let’s be clear, I’m not at all advocating throwing smarts and due diligence out the window. We’ve seen dumb risky moves played out day after day, from reckless over-expansion in a turbulent marketplace to not taking cover in a tornado and finding that person a county over.   What we don’t see are news headlines that say, “Astonishingly risk-adverse solar panel company on verge of collapse.” Or, “Stunningly conservative business approach pushes technology company to the brink of failure.” Or “Manager retires after a run-of-the-mill career and regrets never having pushed the envelope to see what was possible.”  The dangers of playing it safe aren’t immediate, evident, and spectacular. They’re not headline makers. They develop slowly over time and are almost impossible to pinpoint. This makes them more dangerous than the prominent screw-ups that get written about because they’re like a nail in a tire that causes a slow leak and you don’t readily notice it as you go about your business on a daily basis. You only come to realize what’s going on when stuck and you’re not really sure how it happened. The dangers of playing it safe are hidden, silent killers.

I’m convinced that too many people put too much energy into playing it safe. There’s a fear that they might do something that everyone won’t like and as a result they’ll possibly lose customers (when instead they should be putting as more energy into getting more customers).  I get it…playing it safe, while dangerous in the long term, just feels better in the short term.  And so people naturally gravitate towards playing it safe. But I’m here to tell you that’s wrong because it leads to boring marketing and, last I checked, boring leads to ignoring.

The reason boring is something you company should avoid like the plague is because you don’t see the underlying harm it causes. You never see the customers who don’t show up. You have no idea of the business that you’re not getting because your marketing isn’t memorable or passed along person-to-person. It’s not fascinating or captivating. Now it’s easy to convince yourself or others throughout the organization that the problem is there’s too much competition, or that prospects are focusing on something else or that people have a short attention span. And while maybe some of that is true, it’s just easier to point the finger at others or other reasons to explain the lack of success you’re having.  So you see, playing it safe doesn’t keep you safe, and in fact, it’s the riskiest thing you can do.

I’ll leave you with a quote by the advertising legend, Bill Bernbach, who said: “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting until you say and do things imaginatively, originally, freshly.” To bring this home a bit more, insert that name of your company each time you come to the word “you.”

C’mon, life’s just too short to settle for “blah.” .


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.


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Ticking off the Competition

angerOne of the most challenging efforts in marketing is having any sense of whether or not a new campaign will work before it’s launched.

Even with the most scientific eye-movement copy-testing, focus group testing, or man-on-the-street intercepts, you never really know until the campaign hits.  Besides which, few marketers have the luxury of affording this kind of advanced reconnaissance.

So instead, what often happens is a proposed ad or website or commercial is passed along to others in the office and the matter is settled with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down by the aggregate.  Which isn’t much better in the end than tossing it into the wind and seeing where that takes it.  It could be nixed by the boss’s wife because she doesn’t like the color of the sweater worn by the model, or approved by the CEO because his son came up with the logo.

I propose an entirely new (albeit equally unscientific) way to evaluate a campaign before it launches that could serve your marketing efforts quite well.  And it costs you nothing!

It’s to imagine the launch of your new campaign and think about it through your competitors’ eye.  Ask yourself, will my competitors hate our new campaign?  Will one of their staff tear out the ad, run down the hall to his or her boss and say, “have you seen what these guys are running!”

Yep, simple as that.

If you can imagine that they’ll react with surprise and upset, you’ve got a potential winner on your hands.  If, on the other hand, you envision their merely noticing your new message and then moving on to other matters, it’s unlikely your sales needle will be jarred very much.  When we create a new campaign, our unwritten goal is to create advertising the client’s competitors will hate.

I’ve had the joyful experience more than once of speaking with a client’s competitor who didn’t know we did the very campaign they railed against, complaining that it was hurting their business.  Oh, the indescribable thrill of hearing them groan!

A variation on that theme is to imagine how you’d feel if the competition, rather than you, ran the marketing campaign you’re now considering.  When we recently presented a series of billboard concepts to the client, they seemed undecided on which concept to choose.  But the moment we asked them which one they hoped their competitors wouldn’t run, the answer was swift: “That one!”

Being able to step outside of your own shoes brings with it the objectivity you need to consider the good, the bad and the ugly in your own marketing activities.  But personally, I like adding to that the gamesmanship of competition – doing what will tick off the other guys – for that means it has a sharper edge on which to carve out more business for yourself.

In any case, I’m sure you’d rather develop marketing your competitors will hate than to hate the marketing they’re aiming at your customers.  Right?


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Put away the chisel and you’ll get a masterpiece

ChiselLike so many of us living in drought-ridden Southern California, my wife and I are looking to modify our home landscaping to soak up less water.  Some of my neighbors have simply ripped out their entire lawns and replaced them with gravel rock and cactus. That’s the cheap way out and it doesn’t beautify their homes one bit. Wanting to take a more aesthetic path, we called in two different landscape companies to quote on how they’d create a drought-resistant yard that still complements our house and neighborhood.

I had no idea what a good job might cost so we simply asked each company what they would do and what they’d charge for doing it.

The first quote came in from a company that did beautiful work and the owner really “got” what we wanted.  His quote was seventeen grand!  Eeyikes!  The second company came in at only eleven thousand, much more palatable, but I wasn’t as convinced about the artistry of their work.  I asked the first company how they could bring down their bid and the contractor said he could take this out and that out and it would reduce the bottom line some, but now I wasn’t getting what I wanted.

Given the initial six thousand dollar spread, my wife said it was a no-brainer: we should accept the lower bid…and I almost agreed.  Then it hit me.  I called up the first company again, the one I really wanted, and this time asked rather than bring down the initial bid, what could they do if I said create something wonderful for eleven thousand dollars?  This approach surprised the landscaper and he loved the challenge.  And needless to say, he came back with an entirely different design that was also wonderful while at the same time met our budget.

I realized that this is what happens to our agency all the time.  We get approached by a prospective client and are asked what it costs to work with us and develop a year’s marketing program.  If the prospective client hasn’t provided us a budget to start with, which is often the case, the moment we throw any number at them, they get sticker shock and that’s the end of the conversation.  What a shame. What usually happens after that is the company either takes some kind of budget approach and gets a poor outcome, or doesn’t make any change whatsoever and suffers all the more for it.

Why not do what I did with the landscapers?  Start by singling out the best talent possible and then, either on your own or together, arrive at a total budget that’s just below your pain threshold, one you can live with, and let the agency help you get the most bang for your buck.  Then you have the best of both worlds, the top talent and a budget to do the most effective job possible.

Taking the lowest bid or chiseling a good bid from the top only cuts down on possibilities.  Starting with a fixed amount and asking a supplier what’s the most you can get from it puts everybody in a creative mode, exactly where they all should be.

Whether you’re hiring a marketing agency, a freelance writer, a filmmaker or an engineering company, hiring based on talent, and budgeting based on your pain threshold (that only you alone can determine) will yield superior results.

In the meantime, I’m still praying for rain…


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

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When “Better” is not Better

Thumbs-Up-Thumbs-DownThis past week I had a phone conversation with a new business prospect and during our talk he kept saying “we’re just better than our competition.” After saying this about the 3rd or 4th time, I asked him what he meant. He then rattled off these next 4 points like he was just waiting for me to ask: better service, better features, better product, and the infamous…better price. Then I asked him the question that took the wind out of our discussion: OK, but how is what your business offers meaningfully different from the competition? After stammering for a bit and then saying the same thing 2 or 3 times (but saying nothing in the process) he let me know that he forgot about a meeting he had in just a few minutes and with that we hung up.

So, while this business owner couldn’t answer the question, I’m guessing you could. So, how is your company meaningfully different from competitors? Are you sure? According to the Harvard Business School, 99% of executives think their business is different from its competitors. Unfortunately, most customers can’t tell the difference between your business’ offerings and those of similar businesses because they often won’t take the time to understand the subtle differences that make one company’s products or services better. In the process you’ve spent considerable money and resources on educating them on why your company is “better” when all they want to know is what you have to offer that the others don’t and how does it benefit the customer.

Instead of trying to be better, build a strategy around a simple way that your company is different, even distinctive, from the pack. Being different makes you irreplaceable to your customers, and being irreplaceable leads to greater loyalty. And yet, many businesses are afraid to be different because that means taking a risk and walking a different path. Making matters more difficult is the fact that when businesses ask for customer feedback, customers can tell you how they want you to improve, but they can’t tell you how to be different.

You see “Better is not better; Different is better” and here’s why. Aside from being difficult to prove, being the best is largely subjective. Would you say a pair of Nike shoes is better than Adidas? Perhaps to you but the other person may not think so. Second, being different gets you noticed, and in our ever-crowded marketplace, being noticed is the all-important first step for standing out from the competition. What’s more, being different creates marketing advantages that “being better” just cannot compete with.

With business ever-changing, it’s critical that growth-oriented companies think differently not only in terms of the products that are developed for the various customer segments but also how they go about marketing those in ways that captivate the attention of the customer.  People want interesting products and they want them marketed in interesting ways.  You see, it’s not about being better or the best.  It’s about finding a way to take who you are, what you make or what you offer and create a relationship with prospects and current customers that they find instantly fascinating.

Think of it like this. Imagine that on the other side of the door from where you are is where relationships happen, loyalty happens, sales happen, and profits happen.  That is the side of the door where your prospective customers are.  But get through the door, you have to knock.  And if you can knock in a compelling, persuasive and interesting way and introduce yourselves, and if you provide people with messaging and content that is instantly captivating, then they will open the door and you get to go through to the side where all the good stuff lives.  Ask yourself why it is that you remember certain brands or specific marketing messages from various companies …maybe even your competitors.  It’s not because they look or sound like every other company. Not a chance. You remember them because they had a strong brand and distinctive message. Captivating one’s attention is the shortcut to persuasion and selling more. And in a competitive environment, the most fascinating option ALWAYS wins. Always.

So here are three ways that your company can start setting themselves apart from competitors:

  1. Adopt the idea of marching to your own drummer. Don’t be afraid to do something that people within your company, and even a few of your customers, may not initially like. Experience teaches that it’s OK to have some detractors. In fact, having a few critics is essential. The undeniable reality is that if you’re not eliciting a negative response from someone somewhere, then you’re probably not that fascinating to anyone. No one remembers lukewarm!
  2. Have an idea for how you will be different. Any idea can be a good one, even the crazy-sounding ones. Unfortunately, most ideas that are deemed crazy are often dismissed. If you want to be different, you need to embrace a culture where any idea can be tried. More on this at
  3. Don’t over-listen to customers. I think we would all agree that asking customers for feedback is always valuable. But you can’t let your customers drive every aspect of what you do. Take your own lead.

I’ll leave you with two questions to ask yourself to help start the process of being seen as different: what can we offer that’s REALLY different from what our competitors are doing? What are we doing just like our competitors that we can change for our customer’s benefit. Then set up your product or service in a way that delivers on those needs in a way that your competitors don’t or won’t.

That can make all the difference.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.


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You’re acting like a child. Good for you!

fingerpaitingAt the beginning of my career, I was fortunate enough to have taken a class at UCLA taught by two great names in Los Angeles advertising, Jean Craig and Jack Foster.  Some of the most innovative, freshest advertising in the 1980’s and 90’s came out of these two remarkable creative leaders.  Jack, especially, inspired me because he was a Student (capital S) of creativity.  He explored – and later wrote about – what it takes to become more idea-prone, in other words, Creative.

No matter if you are a Sales Manager, an Accountant or a Marketing Director, everyone needs ideas. Not every idea needs to be earth-shattering or ingenious.  But good ideas break new ground and often generate better results than taking the well-worn path.  Jack, in his book “How to get Ideas,” quotes the Italian philosopher Vilfredo Pareto who defined creativity perfectly as “nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.”

As you look around the marketing/advertising activities within your industry, you may come to the opinion that it may be sorely in need of new ideas!  And the market is wide open for new possibilities.  So it behooves anyone in marketing to think creatively and help bring about positive changes.  Here are some of Jack’s great insights into developing the mindset to think outside the box.

Have Fun

The best ideas usually come from people who are having FUN! Serious people don’t usually come up with innovative ideas. With humor and fun as the basis for creativity, you are more open to the unexpected. When we are having fun, we open ourselves up to new, unanticipated ideas and experiences.  Consider jokes: they are funny because they put a spin on something that seems illogical. I can always tell when I’ve come up with a winning idea because I find myself giggling.  Allow yourself to be playful!

Know that the idea is out there.

Jack believes that the ones who come up with ideas know that the ideas are out there; the ones who don’t come up with ideas don’t know that the ideas exist and therefore don’t pursue them.  Creativity, like so many other things is a self-fulfilling prophesy…just like telling yourself you’re not creative.  That’s a load of hooey!  We were all born creative but were taught not to be.

Go for the numbers.

One way to make it easier to get good ideas is to believe that there are many of them.  Never stop at “the first right idea.”  You have to muscle past that and go for idea quantity, no matter how silly some of the ideas seem at first.  Continuing to play after you think you’ve landed on an idea may produce a better one, or one that may combine with the “first right idea” and make it better.  Only after generating lots of good ideas is it time to be judgmental.

Set Your Mind on Goals

Free-thinking without knowing where you want to go will take you nowhere in particular.  Even within the idea of “playing around,” creativity must be a goal-oriented activity, just as with any other problem-solving effort. Start out by declaring what it is you want to achieve and then get playful on the road to getting there.

Be More Like a Child

Have you noticed that children play without worrying that their efforts are silly or childish? They don’t fret about painting outside the lines or making the sky orange. Jack points out that this is every adult’s problem: we think too much! Adults have too many boundaries, too many rules, preconceptions, assumptions, and restrictions. A child on the other hand, is innocent and free. They do not know what they cannot or should not do. Every situation is looked at with fresh eyes.  To be more like a child is to forget what was done before. Break the rules. Be illogical. Be silly. Be free. Then watch out, because the ideas that will flow.

Rethink your Thinking

There’s an old agency joke about how many art directors it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is, “why does it have to be a light bulb?’  That’s because creative people are always challenging basic assumptions and by thinking about the problems differently they often arrive at different solutions. So…why does a car have to be shaped like a car?  Or how can you double your income on a product you were ready to discontinue?  Make sure to ask the question “What assumptions am I making that I don’t have to? What unnecessary limitations am I putting on myself?”

The two most damaging phrases in business are “We’ve always done it this way” and “We’ve never done it that way.”  But, my friends and readers, give into your inner child as Jack Foster advises and say “What if…?” See where it can take you.  Like death itself, it may take you to a far better place.

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By Dan Katz, president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts on this blog or any marketing matters, email Rolf Gutknecht, vice president, director of account services, via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Super Bowl Advertising with Socks Appeal

First, a cork-popping congratulations to the Broncos, and condolences to all the Panthers fans. Now comes the Monday-morning quarterbacking and all the after-game analyses, almost as much fun as following this year’s election season!

But personally, I think the big winner in the game was Kia Motors, whose “Walken Closet” commercial was one of the truly great moments in Super Bowl advertising.  Feel free to click here to watch the spot and then come right back for the play-by-play.


Welcome back!

For a commercial – or any advertising, for that matter – to be effective, it has to accomplish several critical feats:  It has to break through and attract attention, it has to be clear in its fundamental selling message, the message has to be compelling, and it has to be memorable when you walk away from it.

I’ve argued for years that most Super Bowl commercials only accomplish the first and last requirements. You watch and enjoy them, you may laugh at their gags and you talk about them after the game.  But on the selling-side, most hardly make it past the scrimmage line.  They don’t leave you wanting to know more about the product or even “get” the product’s unique selling proposition (USP), the thing that makes the product unique among its competitors.  That surely can’t be said of the Kia spot.

First off, who can’t be drawn into Christopher Walken’s creepily intense performance no matter what he does? And the gag about the “Walken closet” is hilarious. But when Walken metaphorically compares most mid-sized sedans to uninspired beige socks and the Optima to the “world’s most exciting pair of socks,” in a way only he can deliver, he absolutely nails the Optima’s unique selling proposition: a car with “pizzazzzzz” in a world of otherwise boring mid-sized competitors.  If you’re thinking about buying a mid-size after watching this commercial, you’re compelled to at least check out the Optima. (After all, who wants to be boring and beige?)

Our lives are way too busy for us to be attracted to “beige” things.  Yet, too many marketers don’t project that same line of thinking toward attracting customers. Decisions are made daily to keep producing and running the same run-of-the-mill, uninspiring stuff…week after week, year after year.

Keep in mind that when you as a consumer see anything from a company, either your opinion of that company is enhanced or it’s not. There’s no middle ground. You either like them a bit more or you go in the other direction.  So why do so many marketers turn that compelling, money-making value proposition into a beige and uninteresting “me-too” message that each and every one of their competitors could say.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been bored into buying anything. And I’m even going to say that 99% of your customers are with me on this. The marketing you do for your company should be an extension of you. You’re the person who’s responsible for communicating the passion of your company. When you talk about your business with others, hopefully your eyes twinkle, your heart begins to race, your voice becomes more dynamic and people are instantly attracted to you. When that show of enthusiasm and excitement happens, no one would confuse you with being boring, right? Of course not. So look at your marketing and see if it reflects that same level of specialness.  (Or you could always ask friends, colleagues or suppliers who will be candid with you, “Does this marketing make you want to pick up the phone or know more about us?”  If the answer is not an enthusiastic “yes,” then it’s time to start over.)

In a world of “beige” mid-size sedans, there’s the Kia Optima. In your competitive world where there’s so much beigeness, where do you stand?  C’mon, punch it!


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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What’s your company’s Achilles Heel?

AchillesHere’s an interesting question that you don’t ask yourself every day: If you left your present organization and went to work for a competitor, knowing what you know about your present firm, what would you then do from a marketing standpoint to grow market share at your old company’s expense?

As marketers, the tendency is to look at what your competitors are doing and saying and, if important enough, figure out how to mitigate it so it does no harm to your firm. BUT, when you take a look at your own organization through the lens of someone who has inside knowledge about your firm’s “Achilles heel,” as well as the plans you have in place for the future, an entirely different set of issues present themselves. And, that’s a good thing if you do it as part of a healthy review of your business and its marketing activities.

I’ve had business dealings with lots of marketing folks who have left one company to join another whose insights on their past employer have played an important part in the growth of their new firm. Now I know you’re saying, “Well, that isn’t right. People should keep what they know to themselves and not share that at the expense of their past firm.” I hear you, but I have a different view on that. If my job performance and my family and career prospects depend on my being successful, then knowing what I know is going to come into play either consciously or on some other level. And that, my friends, happens all-day every-day in this “new normal” business environment. Putting a company’s marketing efforts on auto-pilot and then playing the “Woe is me” card isn’t going to cut it as an excuse.  (NOTE: I’m NOT talking about a former employee illegally or immorally appropriating a company’s passwords or passing along genuine trade secrets or violating terms of an NDA, just to be clear.)

Maybe the best example of what I’m talking about takes place in competitive team sports.  Coaches, managers and players are always looking to fine tune areas that they feel the other team could exploit for their benefit.  Teams watch films of games and their own practices to identify things that they could be doing better before the other team can identify those problem areas. They talk to players who have come from another team to get some inside intelligence on what other teams see as limitations or flaws. Only taking this knowledge into account and addressing it can the team feel confident that they’re prepared for what lies ahead. It shouldn’t be any different for your company. Taking an introspective look at how or whether your marketing initiatives and business approach is susceptible to a counter attack is something that should be done before current and future plans are placed in jeopardy.

So now the question is, “how do we as an organization start the process?” I’d suggest the first place to start is the good-old, time-tested SWOT analysis, something that can be implemented almost immediately.  To begin the process, have those associated with your firm’s marketing functions put together their own SWOT analysis on the specific marketing activities that the company is engaged with, i.e., PR, Tradeshow/Events, Advertising, Social Media, Pricing, Promotion, etc. Then, assemble the team to discuss, review and make decisions on the input with an eye towards creating a next-steps plan to shore up marketing functions and activities that are critical to the success of the company’s integrated marketing program.

Remember, the idea of performing a SWOT analysis is to accomplish two primary things:

One:  Reduce Risk.  Improve the viability of your company by pairing up external threats with internal weaknesses to highlight the most serious issues faced by your company.

Two: Improve Performance. What actions you should consider to improve the performance of your business by pairing up internal strengths with the external opportunities.

With everything on Marketing’s plate today and the urgency in which it needs to get done, there’s a real danger of losing sight of the basics. Who has the time, right? Well, if we lose sight of the need to regularly and carefully look at what we think our company is (warts and all), particularly in light of all the resources we use or spend in the ever-evolving marketplace – not just our guesses about it – we risk losing all that we work so hard to achieve: increasing revenues and market share.

The time-tested marketing adage has never been more true: If you don’t really know where you are, it is much more difficult to get where you want to be.  And knowing what your company’s particular “Achilles Heel” is and taking moves to protect it will go a long way toward your winning the race.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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