3 Days of UNLearning at the Business Marketing Association Conference

“UNLearn” was the theme for last week’s national Business Marketing Association conference (quick disclosure, I’m a board member for BMA). The theme emphasized the importance in today’s environment of challenging existing knowledge, assumptions, and beliefs to lead & grow businesses more successfully.

The conference delivered on the theme in multiple ways, and each day, I challenged myself to articulate what I had “unlearned.” Here are the top unlearnings from each of the conference’s three days:

  • Day 1 – UNLearn Control: A major conference topic focused on how new communication channels have handed control to the audience for what have traditionally been company-driven messages. Operating successfully in this environment requires authenticity and openness to being part of the conversations taking place, irrespective of whether they are flattering or hurtful. For marketing & branding control freaks, it means learning new tools and means to engage in dialogue.
  • Day2 – UNLearn “Resources Before Results” Thinking: Everybody has fewer resources. One marketing VP said his budget was 25% of what it was in 2008. If defining your ability to make a positive, business-growing impact is based solely on budget & people resources, you’ll beat your head against a wall. The alternative is to realize key success factors for today’s market dialogue aren’t resource-driven. You can’t buy authenticity, experience, or passion, yet they all correlate strongly to creating results.
  • Day 3 – UNLearn “Piecemeal” Marketing: It was fascinating to hear other marketers wrestling with the expectation of delivering programs that are close – maybe 60-70% of what might traditionally be considered as ready for “prime time.” The push now is to introduce them early to try to drive sales while additional learning and tweaking go on once in market. A balance to this approach is to make as sure as possible on the front end an effort integrates with other things being done across the business. At least then the 30-40% uncertainty can be partially mitigated through strategic ties to other efforts and investments already in place.

Easy? No. Comfortable? Absolutely not!

To me though, the big learning is nearly all business marketers are facing comparable issues, and finding dramatically new ways to deal with them is what success is all about today.

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Taken at Water Tower Place last week while attending the Business Marketing Association Conference. Look for some other posts this week generated from the conference and the experience of producing its social media content team.

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Scott Davis of Prophet, author of “The Shift,” covered broad concepts from his new book on the changing perspectives visionary marketers are adopting in a business environment where senior marketers get about 2 years to make a business impact. His presentation was part of the 2009 Business Marketing Association Conference.

His underlying theme is dramatic changes in business within the past five years haven’t driven enough changes in marketing. The following list hits some of the significant observations from Scott’s fast-paced (and too short, due to scheduling) presentation:

  • The Shift is about replacing the old marketing mindset with an influence model and a clear focus on customer acquisition, loyalty, and retention.
  • With the rapid turnover among CMOs, the easiest place to signal near-term change has been through changes in marketing communications; this has reinforced a narrow view of marketing as not understanding fundamental business issues.
  • The dialogue in marketing changes when we start talking about growth, and being able to present solid trade-off decisions that tie marketing mix decisions to underlying business strategy issues.
  • Visionary marketers are creating strategic growth, balancing short and long term issues, advancing the reality that customers own the brand, driving revenue initiatives, coming to grips with moving ahead with 60% completed initiatives (that will be tweaked based on in-market learnings), and enabling collaboration across the business.
  • Five shifts are highlighted in Scott’s book:
    • Starting with business strategy (and working back to marketing strategy)
    • Galvanizing networks (with influence, pull, engagement, participation, transparency, & authenticity)
    • Driving pervasive innovation (it’s about experiences & business models, not products
    • Inspiring marketing excellence
    • Cultivating a relentless customer focus across the business (done through CEO strategic directives, clarity in positioning, and building tangible business cases).
  • Marketers have to display a P&L mindset, even if they don’t have direct P&L responsibility.
  • According to Scott, “A lot of great stuff happens in a downturn. Brands are getting scrappy, shifting budgets, and accepting more margin of error.”

- Mike Brown, Brainzooming, June 12, 2009

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This originally appeared on the Funny Eye for the Corporate Guy blog and is from an actual photograph of a Holiday Inn that was in the midst of changing its brand affilitation. Somewhere a brand manager should be dying a slow death.

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Joe Pine of Strategic Horizons opened the Business Marketing Association conference’s second day covering the fundamental economic shift resulting in “placemaking,” the concept (and actual implementation) of businesses using venues and events to create experiences. These experiences are becoming the predominant economic offering. Here are three key themes from his incredibly content-rich presentation: authenticity, place, and new variables.


According to Pine, “With every economic change, there’s a change in consumer sensibilities.” After explaining the move from a service to an experience economy, Pine highlighted authenticity as the new consumer sensibility, i.e. the criteria by which people are choosing what they buy. Being authentic ties to three rules:

1. If you’re authentic, you don’t have to say it.
2. If you say you’re authentic, you better be.
3. It’s easier to be authentic if you DON’T say you are.

Authenticity doesn’t come through a claim; it comes through “rendering” it within your organization and for your customers. It’s ultimately gauged by how true your offer is to itself and whether what your offer is what it says it is. Creating authenticity across thousands of customer interactions has to stem from imparting the brand within your employee base first.


Companies that really get the criticality of experience are effectively using place as a staging ground for events allowing prospects and customers to experience a brand in ways that make then want to pay attention. Pine offered several examples of businesses doing this very well:

  • ING Direct designed cafes to create a banking experience. All employees in the cafes are both trained baristas and financial professionals, playing a dual customer service role as they engage prospects. Its several locations have created $1 billion in new accounts since introduction.
  • Johnson Controls has an experience center to simulate power outages and allow b2b buyers to experience the impact of its products in these very real situations.
  • Case Construction has a huge “sandbox” to “play” with its construction equipment.
  • The US Army employs the concept online with its America’s Army website. It has games that engage potential recruits online. As they succeed at missions within the game, they qualify as recruits.

New Variables in Creating Experiences

Within experiences, efficacy metrics become much richer than those for more traditional marketing approaches. The reason? Variables at the marketer’s disposal to engage prospects and customers go beyond trying to reach the maximum number of people with an ad.
Experience efficacy is measured as:

(The impact of number of people x Duration of experience x Degree of attention x Intensity of experience x Memorability) divided by the Cost of the Experience.

An additional experience marketing element that impacts ROI comes from prospect and customer willingness to pay for experiences even before buying a product or service. Examples offered included:

  • The American Girl Place with its in-store events
  • Harvard Business School Conferences create interest in book sales of presenting authors
  • Starizon – Charges $10,000 for potential customers to visit and experience its location where it used its innovation approaches for the design.

The impact of this is the denominator in the Experience ROI equation offsets costs with admission fees. As a result, ROI could actually become infinite as a denominator goes to zero. In keeping with the conference theme, the challenge for marketers of all types is to unlearn the traditional approaches that have worked in a service economy, and be able to embrace new realities where experiences are the source of the value being created today. – Mike Brown

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This Thursday’s guest post is a first in that it was unsolicited, and it introduces an international perspective since its author is from the UK. It’s been cool how many people globally have been following Brainzooming, particularly because of Twitter. Next week’s guest post will originate from Australia.

Relative to the topic, we haven’t spent too much time on Brainzooming discussing branding and specifically how logos fit into marketing efforts. We’ll address some of that gap today with this guest post from Ben Johnson of Logoinn, a custom logo design service provider based in the UK. Here’s Ben’s take on integrating logos into branding efforts:

Branding is an early step in developing a company or product. Naturally, you want potential customers to recognize your brand from among the competition by showing you have something not being offered by anyone else. Yet, among all the introductory activities business leaders face, they may consider logo design a secondary matter. That’s not sound strategic thinking though if you’re trying to mount a successful marketing and branding effort.

For example, think of Nike. The “Swoosh” first comes to mind. What if there were no Swoosh? Would you as quickly recall the perceptions you have associated with the Nike brand? Most likely not.

Hence, before moving ahead with a marketing and branding effort, a well-designed, attractive logo is vital. A strong logo is necessary to directly impact the customers’ minds and convey your brand attitude and benefits to the target market.

Other reasons to place a deliberate emphasis on establishing an innovative, strategic logo design? Doing so:

Gives your brand a unique identity
One of the most important functions of a strong business logo is establishing a brand identity that’s easily recognized and remembered by customers. A person may not remember your business by name alone, so integrating a logo into your identity system makes it easier to create customer recognition of your business at a glance.

Shows stability, reliability, and credibility
If you don’t have a logo or have one that doesn’t accurately portray your business message, it can undermine customer confidence and desire to do business with you. A logo that accurately represents your business, however, contributes to leaving a lasting impression of stability, reliability, and credibility.

Can make your brand a personality
Think again about Nike and the brand impact it would lose without the Swoosh. Would its brand be as strong today if that image weren’t known by customers? Would the name work as well by itself? A unique logo gives a brand personality that can dramatically improve memorability over the long term.

Provides more polish for your brand
Having a logo is important, and having a professionally-designed one is vital. If a logo doesn’t look professional or is not well designed, it will reflect poorly on your business image. Customers may get the impression you don’t care about the way your business presents itself, which might signal you also don’t care about the quality of products or services you provide.

You can start the design process by brainstorming images you want to represent your business, engaging a logo design company for help, and ultimately working through the entire design process. Obviously, developing an appropriate logo takes time and effort, but getting a strategically sound logo in place is a crucial initial investment that will open the door to successful marketing and branding, which should contribute to your company’s long run success. - Ben Johnson

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Strategic Thought: Adaptability is a great thing to have when planning & implementing strategy, but at some point, you have to be able to depend on some degree of consistency for successful performance.

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