On New Products: Making Big Leaps

For decades, companies have involved consumers in the product development process. Until recently, the preferred strategies for doing this consisted of qualitative and quantitative research — things like focus groups and central location testing.

Nowadays, companies are moving their research inside consumers’ homes, attempting to better understand how existing products fail to deliver the best experience possible. This practice is called ethnography, and it is here with a vengeance.

While ethnography has gotten a lot of press lately, it isn’t new. In truth, ethnography is as old as the practice of anthropology and has been in and out of favor among marketing researchers since at least the 1930s, according to Kellogg School of Management marketing professor John Sherry.

The shift from ethnography-focused research to qualitative and quantitative testing, and back again, can be traced to the evolution of consumer brands.

As consumer product companies evolved along with the categories in which they compete, they would develop “new and improved” versions as a means of creating differentiation.

These formulations would be developed with consumer input through qualitative research like focus groups or one-on-one interviews and later through quantitative testing like home use or central location tests. These approaches still work well when trying to add enhancements or refinements to existing product categories.

However, when you’re trying to make a bigger “leap,” looking for the insight that delivers more than a marginal gain, a different approach is necessary. That’s where ethnography shines.

Beyond simply identifying the horsepower needed to drive a mix master, ethnography can actually discover higher-level needs or problems to be solved, and that’s where breakthroughs begin.

This methodology can spot “work-arounds,” those compensating behaviors consumers unconsciously incorporate into their daily lives. For example, when the original kitchen mixers were introduced, they came with no lids. Someone noticed how often bakers would wipe the kitchen counter after using an electric mixer, although the baker didn’t think much of it.

A consumer-oriented business person recognized the compensating behavior and solved the equation by developing removable, washable lids. Instead of introducing a mixer in a new color or a slightly different size — actions which may have generated marginal revenue gain — someone changed the market by transforming the user experience.

When conducting ethnography, keep in mind these four elements:

1. You’re there to observe the consumer’s behavior. How is your product being used? What other factors contribute to your product’s success? What is it that your consumer is doing that’s making the activity more cumbersome or laborious than necessary?

2. Ask why? When you identify a potential “work-around,” ask “why are you doing that?” The goal is to understand both the pragmatic and the emotional issues. Perhaps the baker wanted a clean surface to keep his clothes clean, or maybe he’s a neat freak and gets stressed-out when the kitchen is messy.

3. Confirm your findings directly. This is easily done by saying, “So, you wipe the counter when you use the mix master because….” And follow up with “tell me more about that.”

4. Play “what if” with the participant. Once you’ve confirmed your findings, the fun begins. “What if the mix master had x, or did y or could z…”

In our experience, this process generates very rich results. Not only will you confirm or refine a new product opportunity (assuming you went into the research with an idea or two in mind), but you’re likely to come away with ideas to fuel second and third generation initiatives.

Some people wonder: “Will the consumer really let us in her home to talk about use of our product?” Yes! Considering how poor customer service has become in our society, consumers seem eager to jump at the chance to have their opinions heard. So, if you want to make your next new product introduction more than a line extension, invite yourself into your consumers’ home and watch what’s going on.

On New Products: Creativity

David Bowie. Annie Lennox. Jim Morrison. Prince. Gwen Stefani. Stevie Wonder. Peter Gabriel.

You can hear them in your mind’s ear, Bowie belting out “Suffragette City”; or Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass,” a masterpiece of heartache wrapped in a pop bow.

When thinking about these disparate artists as brands whose styles and identities created millions of loyal fans (consumers), there’s a core commonality. They realized for their work to be heard, their music and performing personas had to be different. Not just good or polished, but distinctive.

And that, dear marketer, is the essence of innovation and creativity — distinction with a purpose; being relevant yet different. Devotion to that cause can energize the marketing and new product process, and take us somewhere truly inspired.

Lest you think those crazy musicians have it easy and don’t have to answer to consumers the way we marketers do, think again. To be a successful recording artist you have to deliver the basics, the building blocks of a strong song. You’ll need a hooky zeitgeist phrase like “I ain’t no Holla Back, Girl!” And you’ll want a killer rhythm track like Prince’s “This is the Life of the Party”.

But in addition, the great performers know that everything they create must also be fresh and then filtered through their unique point of view (brand equity). Sometimes the result becomes Led Zeppelin IV or the Beatles White Album. How would you like to have a new product like that in your pipeline?

Remarkably however, not one of these musical masterpieces was tested before it was aired. After Stevie Wonder wrote “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, his manager didn’t ramble off BASES scores to tell him about purchase intent, or to identify which verses didn’t connect with listeners. No, these pioneers write, refine, record and launch. Now, there’s a scary thought.

As business people eager for innovation, we acknowledge the need to “think outside the box,” to develop “blue oceans” where we can define our own product categories. We hold ideation sessions, attend focus groups, watch ethnography until we’re bleary eyed.

Yet our good intentions face the real pressures of next quarter’s earnings, shrinking shelf space, or hitting a price point. We experience corporate cultures that talk organic growth yet act incrementally. It’s real, normal and understandable.

But our customers don’t care about your board of directors, strategic plans or corporate politics. They simply demand that we offer them something uncommon, something they haven’t seen, heard, or tasted before. Otherwise, what’s their motivation to seek out our products? And happily, true creativity pointed in the right direction pays off Bigtime, “I’m on my way, I’m making it”, whether with a hit song or an iPod revolution.

To witness how creativity steals market share, ask Eric Burdon, the brilliant songwriter and lead singer of The Animals. Burdon was an influential force in The British Invasion, the 60’s tsunami that gave America the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among others.

During an A&E interview, Burdon told a story about Pete Townsend and Eric Clapton. They were competitors and not on speaking terms when Townsend suddenly called Clapton to suggest they go to the movies. Clapton agreed and found himself sitting for hours next to a silent Townsend. Finally, Clapton looked up and said, “Peter, is there a reason why you invited me here?”

Pale and shaken, Townsend looked at Clapton and replied, “Eric, there’s this black dude named Jimi Hendrix, and he’s going to put us both out of business.”

If we want to take some of our competition’s business, we might start by taking a page from the Jimi Hendrix songbook. Don’t fear creativity. Embrace it, nourish it, and guide it along. Then watch what it does for your bottom line.


Leadership Philadelphia Essay: Getting over my childhood at Girard College

A few years ago, on a cloudy Thursday in late September, anyone with a telescope in Center City might have spotted a rare blue moon over Market Street. Actually, they would have seen someone’s denim-clad butt sailing over the city.

Adjusting the viewfinder for a better look, they would have then seen the rest of me on the other end of the Air Derriere, terrified and pale as a cloud, but thoroughly enthralled.

And I do know exactly how I looked, because I saw myself reflected in the 61st story window of Liberty Place, harnessed into a helicopter.

The image horrified me: I could see my whole airborne body because there was no door on my side of the helicopter. NO DOOR, I TELL YOU!! The production crew needed to remove it (or so I was told) to squeeze our cameraman, a high-tech video rig, our pilot, and me into the big whirligig for a TV commercial I was producing for Jefferson Hospital.


Conceived to tout Jefferson as a top-ranked U.S. News and World Report Hospital right in Philadelphia, my concept began with an astronaut’s view of the world. Then we free fall, plunging toward earth and breaking through clouds. Just as we brace for impact, we recognize Philadelphia and level off, coasting above the Schuylkill River. Tilting left over Market Street, we then race toward City Hall. And just as we arrive, we stop … hover over Billy Penn … and then descend toward Jefferson.

To film the flight and connect it seamlessly to a separate shot zooming into the iconic Jefferson entrance would require precise cinematography. Who better to take us from outer space to 11th and Walnut Streets than Vilmos Zigmond, the director of photography for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, my co-passenger?

As this was my concept, my client, and my shoot, you could say my ass was on the line. It was also one of my company’s most visible projects to date, a proud moment in my career.
Earlier that week, I had to tell Liz Dow, President of LEADERSHIP, that due to the production I’d be missing a day of classes. When we busy movers and shakers were accepted into the program, we made a sacred pact to attend every class. But this required an exception. Gracious as always, Liz granted it.

“By the way, I wonder if you would do me a favor.” For Liz? For LEADERSHIP? Anything.

“We’re holding one of our final classes at Girard College. Since you went there, I was hoping you might talk about your experience. It could be very powerful. That is, if you’re comfortable discussing it.”

Her request caught me off guard. I was not comfortable talking about Girard. When I was 8, my mother sent me to the famed boarding school for fatherless boys. Mom was deaf, and struggled to support me after dad died. In theory, I’d get room and board, three squares and a prep-school education. In reality, I was subjected to abusive governesses, pedophile housemasters, anti-Semitism, and a few other wounds I’d carry into early adulthood. Much as I adored Liz and LEADERSHIP, I wasn’t eager to tug at that scab.

I told her I would think about it.

But that day in the chopper, calling out camera angles while flying with the man who also filmed The Deer Hunter, Girard was the furthest thing from my mind. Life was good. Frightening, challenging, but good.

After landing to refuel, we reviewed the rough footage. I was elated about what we’d shot. But I wanted another angle for the Billy Penn scene. It was a key moment, and I needed an alternate take for the edit, so I suggested shooting Billy’s left side as well.

But this was no drive around the block. Shifting the entry of the shot meant mapping and executing a whole new route. To peer over Penn’s left shoulder, we plotted a flight path starting a few streets north. From the Delaware River flight heliport, we levitated up and flew toward Spring Garden versus Vine Street.

The fear nearly gone, I could now look straight down from sky, with nothing between me and the Tonka-sized city below. Demarcating Broad Street was the tiny white steeple of the Inquirer building. A little farther down, a toy-scale community college. Then Eastern State Penitentiary. And then, just to the right of Eastern Penn, I saw an expanse of land that looked familiar and foreign at the same time.

From our height and distance, I couldn’t quite place it. But as we flew closer, I recognized a huge triangular building, and the whole scene came into focus. The mighty fortress was the spiritual compound anchoring the Girard College campus. On my joyous day of accomplishment, I was high in the sky, over Girard College. It took a second, but then I got the divine joke. I looked down and roared.

I was over Girard College. Literally. Emotionally.

I made a mental note to call Liz when we landed to tell her I’d be delighted to speak at her Girard class.

Alan Sharavsky
Sharavsky Communications

Sigma Sound building should have been a music history museum

Joe Tarsia, now retired, is shown standing at the mixing board in Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios in 2003. Sigma Sound, the source of the echoing, orchestral “Sound of Philadelphia” that topped the R&B charts in the 1970s changed hands last month after 35 years under founder and engineer Tarsia. (AP Photo/Mark Stehle)

Written by Alan Sharavsky, for NewsWorks/NPR  on Tuesday, February 24, 2015

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Once again, Philadelphia fails to recognize its own history.

When I saw the obituary in a Philadelphia Business Journal email, treated like just another real estate transaction, I did what anyone would do after learning about a death in the family: I posted the link on Facebook. Instantly the mourners assembled to pay their respects, a group of artists and creative talent so distinguished that if you saw them together in a room, you’d swear you were at the Grammys.

A brilliant composer and world-class guitarist whose music you’ve heard on jingles for McDonald’s, numerous casinos, WABC in New York, and in TV shows like ­­­­­”Dinner: Impossible.”

A gaffer and cameraman who’s lit the sets of your favorite TV dramas and was part of the crew when we shot with Vilmos Zsigmond, cinematographer for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

An accomplished sound and video engineer who’s mixed hit records, indie albums, films scores, and has edited TV spots for Dockers, Century 21 as well sound for numerous feature films.

A world-renowned saxophonist who’s played with everyone from Burt Bacharach to Rod Stewart to Diana Ross to Elton John to Tony Bennett to Michael Bublé.

Writers, directors, marketing types, musicians — they all attended the virtual funeral, paying tribute to a Philadelphia institution. Sigma Sound is officially dead. The building was sold to yet another real estate developer to become yet another Center City apartment building.The place that gave birth to the world-famous “Philly Sound,” that midwifed disco and blue-eyed soul, that inspired groundbreaking talent like Hall and Oats, that helped launch The O’Jays, The Delphonics, Patti LaBelle, Len Barry and Teddy Pendergrass, is just another brick and mortar tombstone with a “sold” sign.

Now, you might think that a city devoted to respecting, revering and re-marketing its history would buy and preserve that Sigma building, turning it into a studio-museum to draw another breed of tourists, music zealots. You know — the way Nashville or Memphis or New Orleans or Detroit does.

You might imagine conventioneers by the thousands walking that one lone block from the Convention Center to hear rare rough mixes of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “Could it be I’m Falling in Love,” “Betcha by Golly Wow,” and “If You Don’t Know me By Now.”

You might think they’d be spellbound while listening to tour guides tell the backstories of how David Bowie came to work with John Lennon on “Young Americans” and “Fame,” while standing in the very studio where they recorded those songs.

You might think that, but you would be wrong.

A cornerstone of Philadelphia history, a cornerstone of music history, will vanish as if it didn’t alter the very DNA of popular culture. It will disappear, and the city won’t skip a beat.

To be sure, I don’t know whether the administration and our charitable organizations attempted to buy the building and recognize it. Maybe that happened, and if so, thank you for trying. But I heard nothing about it.

As Will Rogers said, “I only know what I read in the papers.” As Joni Mitchell sang, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Why brands still come up short with millennial women

From: https://www.campaignlive.com/article/why-brands-short-millennial-women/1320918


Women expect a lot from their brand relationships, and millennials expect even more.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study by Harmelin Media and Womenkind (a marketing and communications company that helps brands strengthen their relationships with women). It found that millennial women — those born between 1980 and 1995 — are far more demanding in their relationships with brands than previous generations.

That’s not a problem, but this is: The study also found that big brands aren’t very engaging to female consumers.

The study surveyed approximately 450 men and women about their expectations of brands in the snack category. It measured brand health through the eyes of women by surveying their relationship with the Oreo, Little Debbie, Entenmann’s and Blue Diamond Brands. Its conclusion was that marketers are wasting millions of dollars in media and creative by not building stronger relationships with women.

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Buyer Beware: Political Advertising And Local Media in 2014

From https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/230537/buyer-beware-political-advertising-and-local-medi.html?edition=


Brace yourself, as we enter the 2014 mid-term election cycle, for the larger impact political advertising will have on local media markets. Now that those high-profile court cases have removed many restrictions on spending, there will be no shortage of deep-pocketed advertisers fighting it out for media inventory this year.

“How bad can it be?” you may be thinking. “After all, it’s not a presidential election year.” Expect a crowd. A big crowd.

There will be U.S. Senate races in 33 states. If it’s an open race, both parties will be selecting a candidate during the primary – creating more competition for inventory.  As usual, all 435 Congressional seats will also be in play. And there will be gubernatorial elections in 38 states, many coinciding with Senate races.

To complicate matters further, nearly 60% of all funding is coming from out-of-state sources. Case in point: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-TN) battle to neutralize Tea Party attacks during the primary drew over $10 million of out-of-state money.

What’s more, Harmelin’s Media’s analysis of TV data from Kantar Media shows that political advertising accounts for nearly 50% of all spot expenditures in the final weeks of an election.

All of which indicates that media buyers and clients can expect serious challenges once the mudslinging begins:

  • Rate increases (between 12%-18% for local broadcast TV)
  • Inventory squeezes on all TV dayparts, and especially in early morning, early news, late news, early fringe and prime access
  • Pre-emptions of existing schedules
  • Issue advertisers paying premiums to guarantee their placement, bumping your clients from their ideal slots
  • New pressures on targeted digital media too, now that it’s not the best kept secret
  • Viewer fatigue from the political barrage

What can we do to mitigate the effect of political spending on spot TV? Here are some practical ways to lessen the impact.

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What to Expect From a Career in Advertising


If it’s Monday, you’re shooting a big-budget TV spot for a Super Bowl advertising campaign. Wednesday, you design a geek-sleek website with apps out the wazoo for a world-famous beer brand. Friday has you rubbing shoulders with Aerosmith, who’s about to record your snappy jingle.

Ah, a career in advertising. Inspiration, affirmation, glitz and glam all day long. Or so the movies and TV shows would have you believe.

In truth, if you plan to succeed as something other than the owner’s nephew, expect to work harder than you ever have in your life. But as advertising legend and former ad agency owner Mary Wells once said, it might be “the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Whether you’re a recent college grad or you’ve been in the workforce a few years, and you’re wondering whether a career in advertising is right for you, here’s a preview of what to expect as one of the Mad Men or Mad Women.

Where You’ll Work

One of the great things about a gig in advertising is the number of places it can take you. With the proper credentials, you could work in a variety of settings:

  • Advertising agencies
  • Media buying service firms
  • In-house creative services departments
  • Consumer package goods companies
  • Industrial firms
  • Hospitals
  • Banks
  • Professional sports teams
  • Television and radio stations
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Web and digital media houses
  • Your house, in your own business

That’s because there’s far more going on behind the scenes than what appears in a magazine ad or a TV commercial. Not just the domain of “creative geniuses,” there’s a role for every skill set, serving all kinds of businesses. And thus a job for every aptitude.

Job Titles and Functions in Advertising

There are many different roles in advertising. Your skills and interests will guide you to the career path that is a perfect fit for you. Here are some of the key players:

  • CopywriterAre you wildly creative and wonderfully witty? Do you like a little alliteration? Then you would fare well as a copywriter, the brainchild who helps develop the ideas for ads and websites, and then writes the text.
  • Art Director: You love illustration, photography and design. You don’t just read headlines; you wonder whether they would look better in a different font. Visual masters of the marketing universe, art directors work directly with copywriters to design the websites, ads and the brochures that make us buy stuff.
  • Media Buyer/Planner: Yes, there IS a conspiracy behind why commercials for your favorite products appear during your favorite shows. Or why websites seem to know what you’ve searched for in the past. Blame the media buyer — part CPA, part Machiavelli.
  • Account Executive/Account SupervisorAlthough advertising agencies often combine roles, one person usually handles contact with the client and guides their projects. The account executive is the captain of the client’s ship. If you’re a control freak and a detail person, you could be a client’s best ally.
  • Creative DirectorAfter a few years as copywriter or art director, you might rise to the role of creative director and become a Don Draper doppelganger. As the title implies, you’ll nurture all things creative, inspiring and evaluating ideas for TV spots, websites and ad campaigns, and working with account execs to keep the client happy.
  • User Experience (UX) Designer: You have strong opinions about how a website should work. In fact, you’d like to engineer the very way people interact with them. You, organized and computerized soul, might make a great UX designer.

But let’s say you’re a corporate type who can’t see himself working in a wild and crazy advertising agency. Consider a path to director of communications, acting as the liaison to the ad agency, or setting up an in-house agency.

Or maybe you’d rather be on the media side. If you can sell, you’ll be getting a swell commission to persuade media buyers and clients to place their advertising on your TV station, newspaper or website.

Love and Know Your Computer

No matter what you want to do in advertising, it pays to be tech-savvy. The more self-sufficient you are with a computer, the more valuable you’ll be. Naturally, the software you need to understand will vary by your area of focus. But the price of admission to advertising is comfort with programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. And familiarity with design programs such as InDesign, Quark, Photoshop or Dreamweaver, may be helpful, depending on your job.

In just the last few years, technology has changed the advertising business dramatically. Once a staple of any ad plan, newspapers are indeed yesterday’s news and failing daily. In their place, social media is a rising marketing tool. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging have gone from being fun activities to the media many companies now use to promote. When McDonald’s has a Facebook page (with over 62.5 million fans), you know the world has changed. And that leads nicely into…


Digital Skills are Becoming the Norm

The ad business is constantly evolving. As the last section indicates, the use of a computer as a staple in advertising is relatively new. Indeed, just 30 years ago many ad agencies had a “computer room,” which housed Macs and PCs for the sole purpose of creating visuals. Copywriters and account teams would have a basic PC on which to write copy and creative briefs. Now, everyone has a very powerful Mac or PC in front of them all day. And thanks to smartphones, the need for digital skills is growing rapidly.

If you are an art director, designer, or creative director, you need to get at least a basic knowledge of coding. That means HTML, Javascript, Java, XML, and perhaps Linux. This is the future of the industry, and employers want to know that your skills will translate seamlessly into the digital space. Sure, you can rely on agency webmasters and programmers to do it for you, but that will not last long.

The “jack of all trades” creative employee is becoming king. An art director with a superb knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite, and a firm grasp of HTML will be much more attractive to an agency that just an art director. And copywriters, do not think you are off the hook. If you want to advance your career and eventually become a creative director, lacking these skills will put you at a huge disadvantage. If it comes down to you and a designer with coding, you’ll be out of luck. Fortunately, it’s quick and easy to get a basic grasp of these skills, with many outlets online teaching them free.

Check out CodeAcademy for starters.

Show Me the Money

All of this leads to the ultimate question: “What can I earn in advertising?”

As with any field, the answer is, it depends — on your years of experience, where you live and your title. Indeed.com, the search engine that aggregates company career sites and job boards, posted a suggested salary of $40,000 for an entry-level job in advertising in Philadelphia, PA. The same title in NYC gets you $60,000 a year, while a starting spot in Chicago pays $43,000. Of course, you should do your own research, as salaries are changing all the time.

Should you attain Don Draper status, and become a creative director in NYC, Salary.com says you can expect to earn a base salary of about $132,000, but after benefits and bonuses, that can easily top $190,000 a year.

Advertising is great (and hard) work… if you can get it.