Insights and observations for improving marketing.

Issue 06  


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Editor's Notes:

Insights to Action™ resumes with a redesigned format and some interesting new topics. Thanks to all who provided great feedback in our February survey. Let us know what you think of our new look by sending an email to us by clicking here.

Our new look gives you a glimpse into the new design of our website. Look for our new website May 1, 2002.

Mike Ellsworth joins our team and also becomes a contributing author, taking over the Technology Insights column. Mike's an expert in technology strategy and a natural to give insights into how to leverage technology for marketing success.



Are you making promises you can't keep?  [ Read ]
Dave Harkins examines how we break customer promises.

Using intelligence when selecting a Business Intelligence tool.  [ Read ]
Randy Taylor gives tips for selecting what can be one the most critical tools for your company.

A golden goose for marketers. [ Read ]
Mike Ellsworth explores how instant messaging could give us a competitive edge with customers.


Are you making promises you can't keep?

--Dave Harkins, Co-CEO

I’m sure you’ve all read the news about the few bad apples at one leading consulting firm who have cost the jobs and pensions hundreds, if not thousands of people. Both the consulting firm and its client have lost large numbers of customers, again, because of the actions of these few individuals.

To read some the press reports, we apparently should be surprised by the customer defections, but losing those customers isn’t unexpected is it? After all, a relationship with a customer is based on trust—trust that’s built on a series of promises that a company has kept. Break a big promise and you’re immediately history. Not unlike our consultant friends above, whose primary promise was to assure shareholders that their client was financially sound.

On the other hand, breaking a small promise usually doesn’t result in the immediate termination of a customer relationship. Rather, it takes breaking several small promises to erode the relationship to the point of no return. Why would anyone want to do business with a company that doesn’t keep it’s promises? As the television character Gomer Pyle says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

All it takes is a “wrong” word or inconsiderate action by one individual to start the ball rolling. How many customers have you lost due to broken promises brought upon by the actions of one or two individuals? Do you know? I would suggest you will not know many of them if you’re breaking the small promises. These customers aren’t going to complain, they’re just going to gradually slip away to your competitors. You’ll likely never know what promises you’ve broken or how often you’ve broken them, so repairing the relationship will be difficult, if not impossible.

Fortunately, fixing this mess will be easier for you and your company than it will be those firms we mentioned earlier in this article. But, before we talk about how to “make things right”, let’s look at some of the biggest causes of broken promises:

  1. External messages. What literal promises are you making in your advertising, marketing or customer service messages? Are you promising 24/7 service, or satisfaction guaranteed? Maybe your promises are more subjective, like State Farm’s “Like a good neighbor…” tagline. Are you fulfilling these promises? Can you fulfill these promises?

    Next, look at how your messages can be perceived by your target audiences or the public at large. Can an implied promise be read into your message that would lead someone to believe that you’re not keeping your promises? This can be especially true if your promise results from the ambiguity of a great tagline that is so subjective there’s little chance you’ll be able to fulfill everyone’s expectations.

  2. Actions of staff. More often than not, the reason for broken promises has more to do with the actions of people, rather than the message presented. In the case of State Farm’s neighbor tagline, it’s the subjective interpretation of “good neighbor” by the agent and the claims staff that play a large role in determining if the promise is kept…or not.

    Remember, neither messages nor taglines—implied nor literal—break promises. People break promises. Make sure your staff understands how their actions affect the fulfillment of your company’s promises.

  3. Misunderstanding customer NVEs. As always, understanding the Needs, Values and Expectations (NVEs) of your prospects and customers is very important. In this case, however, values and expectations are paramount. A business is not built solely on the products and services that it sells to meet the tangible needs of customers. It is perhaps more important that the company demonstrates value (and values) and delivers on expectations with each and every action.
Successful businesses deliver on promises each and every day and have the loyal customers to prove it. Those who break promises regularly—intentional or not—may find themselves waging a constant battle for new customers. It’s easy to know which of these businesses you’d rather be, the more important question is which business you are now.

Dave Harkins can be reached by email at:

Editors note: This is a new series of articles on The Customer Promise™. Beginning with the next issue, we’ll address what it takes to prevent broken promises and how to “make things right” when the inevitable happens.

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Using intelligence when selecting a Business Intelligence tool.

--Randy Taylor, Co-CEO

I’m often asked to identify the best business intelligence tool (B. I.) by business acquaintances. They are often surprised when I answer, “I don’t know!” But the reason for this response has everything to do with not yet having a full understanding my acquaintances’ business needs and not with my knowledge of the available tools.

The B. I. Tool
So what is a B. I. tool? While there are many definitions, most of us remember the old days when these were called query and reporting tools. If you were an analyst from a couple of decades ago, you might even think of B. I. as a hand-held calculator and a chalk board!

Either way, B. I. is the application that helps companies formulate, display and disseminate corporate or departmental measurements on an ad hoc or periodic basis. In most cases, B. I. tools make it easier for this information to be obtained, and in some cases, for novice analysts to gain knowledge previously only obtainable by someone with a doctorate in computer science or statistics.

There are many companies that make and sell B. I. tools. Some of these tools are stand alone applications (purchased and implemented as a separate system), while others are integrated with services or applications (such as with service bureaus, built into a general ledger or into a campaign management application). Regardless of type, most companies need B. I. to efficiently and effectively conduct business.

Steps for selecting the Tool for your company
There are several steps that one should take to fully evaluate B. I. tools and depending on the amount of time available certain steps can be overlooked. This process is based purely on a business user’s process for selection and does not address the level of details in which an IT person would be most interested.

  1. The first step is to identify the objective or objectives you are trying to accomplish as part of implementing a B. I.  Just the thought of considering a tool has probably been drawn from challenges or unpleasant experiences that currently occur within the company.

  2. Once you have determined the objective(s) you are trying to meet, map out the current process for gathering information and analyzing it.  For the purpose of this article when we discuss analysis we mean interpretation, which could be completed by simply reading a report and making a judgment call. However, there usually business processes or rules, written or unwritten, which will define how information is analyzed.

  3. After current processes are mapped, you’ll want to identify user desires, or needs and requirements for how the end users believe the process should work.  Hopefully, this doesn’t mean they want to talk to their computer and all of the answers are spit out at them using the voice of their favorite actor/actress. Undoubtedly, you will find at least two types of users for which you can define core needs.

    At this time, you’ll also need to find a list of companies that provide B.I. tools.  There are several means of discovery--search the Internet, talk to friends, hire a consultant, or call the psychic-friends network, are among the ways. Your goal is to find four or five tools that look like they might be able to support your list of needs.

  4. Now it’s time to get to work!  Call the companies, find the local sales representative and ask for a two-three hour demonstration for each tool. Once you have set up a demo schedule, take a knowledgeable peer or contributing team member to review the tools in each demo. You will want to have the list of core needs along with some real life examples of tasks you would do on the tool. Your primary objectives for conducting the demos at this stage are to 1) steer the demonstrator off the standard course just enough to see if the application is easy to use in an ad hoc manner, and 2) easily be able to eliminate all but two applications to really consider.
Once you’ve agreed internally on the two applications to consider, document your detailed needs and expectations. When you do this, you will want to describe examples of challenges and specific processes for which your tool will be used. This will not only help you evaluate the tools on an even playing field, but also help the demonstrator key in on the tools abilities to serve your specific needs.

After your documentation is complete, schedule the final two contenders to spend a day with you at your office. This will give you a chance to evaluate several areas revolving around the vendor and the tool. These areas are:

  • Demonstrate the application. Get demos to a broader range of potential users. Make sure they have evaluation sheets to make notes and provide accurate feedback to the decision team.

  • Obtain a higher comfort level. While no one ever wants to admit to this, many tool selection decisions come down to likeability and fit. Who wouldn’t want to make sure that the people who will be supporting you with a tool and helpdesk services are likeable and a match with your organization and culture.

  • Get a flavor of the vendor’s personnel. Find the extent of their experience and knowledge, and be sure that they relate to your situation well.
The results of this effort are truly beneficial. By following these steps, you will ensure that you have sufficiently evaluated tools and chosen the one right for your company’s needs.

Randy Taylor can be reached by email at:

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A golden goose for marketers.

--Mike Ellsworth, Executive Consultant

What if you had a marketing venue in which you could directly target users, knowing for certain that they’re interested in your product? What if there was a built-in community function in the venue that allowed users to ask you questions about your product in real-time. And what if you could create an automated response service to answer the most frequently asked questions 24/7?

What would you do if you could find such a golden goose?

The record industry has discovered such an animal, but may not yet realize its good fortune. Do you know what the record industry is doing? It’s trying to kill its golden goose—which you may know better as Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa, or any of the music file trading services currently popular.

Think about it. If you’re sharing your music collection using one of these services, a marketer can tell an awful lot about you. For example, let’s say I’m sharing music by Bela Fleck, Dave Mathews, Paul Simon, and Sting. Already you know I’m much more likely to be a boomer than a GenXer or a preadolescent. You know not to target messages about the newest Britney Spears video to me. You can be fairly confident I’ll be interested in the latest Tom Petty CD.

The music file-sharing services typically have a very powerful marketing tool built right in: Instant Messaging (IM). Any user of Napster can IM another, ostensibly to discuss music. Last year, marketer BigChampagne ran a couple of campaigns to target messages to Napster users who were fans of Aimee Mann and Glen Phillips, the singer of the now-defunct band, Toad the Wet Sprocket. Their technique was to search the hard drives of music trading users and send targeted Instant Messages to fans of an artist/client. For example, at the beginning of the year, BigChampagne sent more than 100,000 music sharing Aimee Mann fans IMs advertising a free download at Mann’s Web site. Mann got 1,700 new email addresses for her mailing list as a result. BigChampagne also did a promotion for Phillips, which yielded 20,000 new fan registrations on his Web site. Many fans were delighted to find out that Phillips was still making music.

With the demise of Napster and the fragmentation of free music file-sharing services, this technique has become less effective. But other marketers are seizing the opportunity IM provides, using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) service to promote products as diverse as Intel’s Pentium 4 processor, Cheez-It crackers, and Sprint phone services.

These clients used a service called ActiveBuddy (, an automated IM software agent that answers users’ questions via AIM. For example, eBay users can use AIM to ask questions and get English responses. Naturally, the agent’s question repertoire is limited:

  1.   eBay How To
  2.   Cool Stuff
  3.   Register
  4.   Item Search
  5.   Games
  6.   Tidbits
  7.   Help
You can see an actual transcript of an ActiveBuddy session here.

Unlike BigChampagne’s IM push service, ActiveBuddy is a permission-based, pull service; users must be aware of the service and take an action to use it. Thus, although traditional promotion techniques must be used to build awareness, if the ActiveBuddy is truly useful, users will help spread the word (dare we say it) virally.

What would you do if you could reach qualified prospects using Instant Messaging? More important: are there golden geese in your market headed for the slaughter? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Drop me a line at my email address below and I’ll address your comments in next month’s issue.

Mike Ellsworth can be reached by e-mail at:

Additional reading on this topic:
Read more about peer-to-peer technology and marketing in CTOMentor’s white paper, Peer-to-Peer Computing and Business Networks: More Than Meets the Ear, available at

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Insights to Action™ is a bi-monthly publication of Taylor Harkins Group.
Copyright © 2002, Taylor-Harkins Group. All Rights Reserved.

About Taylor-Harkins Group
Taylor-Harkins Group is a professional services firm specializing in revenue acceleration through improved marketing effectiveness. Using structured, time-tested proprietary frameworks and best practices, we produce high-impact results by leveraging the optimum mix of people, process, and technology in refocusing marketing toward activities that generate results.

For more information about Taylor-Harkins Group, visit our website http:/// or call Dave Harkins at 630.820.2087
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Dave Harkins is speaking at the Chicago AMA's CRM Essentials 2002 on May 21.

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