Catching up with Ketchup



So, by this point I’m sure that many of you have seen the news.  McDonald’s is going away from Heinz, and looking to replace the ketchup brand with new suppliers in their stores worldwide.  Why?  Because Heinz’s new President comes from rival Burger King.  I guess that’s fair enough.

I was really upset about this, until it turned out that most McDonald’s stores in the US don’t even use Heinz ketchup.  I always assumed McDonald’s was using Heinz, but it turns out that their ketchup comes from a variety of suppliers, blended to their own special recipe.  Sort of like everything else you get at McDonald’s (especially the McNuggets).

Now I am very particular about my ketchup. I can tell the difference between Heinz (the gold standard) and imitators like Hunt’s.  Don’t even get me started on the grocery-store and private-label brands (although to be honest, some of them are close enough to Heinz to be acceptable – but the ones that are not are terrible).  [Side note:  If you’re really interested in ketchup, read this article from The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell (reprinted in his book “What the Dog Said”).  Unlike mustard which comes in dozens of varieties, it turns out that ketchup has pretty much one preferred flavor profile.  I found it fascinating.  But then again, I love ketchup.] 

This is all interesting news, but what’s it have to do with anything?  I’m glad you asked.  Most of the things we use every day are commodities.  Pens, toilet paper, bottled water, copy paper, salad dressing, milk.  Think about it – how often do you select a particular brand rather than the generic equivalent?  For me, I can count them on one hand:  Heinz, Charmin, Apple, Coke, Bush’s Baked Beans.  That may be it (and to be honest, I’ll take a Pepsi or RC Cola every once in a while). 

Which is what makes defining a brand so interesting – the amount of time and resources that goes into developing a brand is often wasted on consumers who could really care less.   While I may appreciate the difference between catsup and ketchup, not everyone does (in fact, most people don’t).  So, how can you make them care?  Get smart, for starters.  Find that single product attribute that is going to help you differentiate yourself from the others in your consideration set.  Devote the necessary resources on research and surveys, talk to people close to your brand and people who swear by the competition.  Look closely at your brand, product or service and figure out what makes it different – and if you can’t come up with anything, then trust a smart creative person to invent a “reason why”.  And then lean on that one attribute heavily across all of your marketing.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about ketchup, computers or a city – consumers don’t want a list of reasons why, they want one good reason why.

This is one of the reasons I love watching MadMen.  Once upon a time, you chose a cigarette because the tobacco was “toasted”, a ketchup because of “anticipation” or a slide projector because “it let you travel around and around and back home again.”  Brands are more complicated these days, but that doesn’t mean that a good ad man still can’t find a way to make yours unique.

Be Careful What You “Like”


ImageA good family friend of mine is running for Lt. Governor in the great state of Maryland.  We’ve literally known the family for a lifetime (our parents grew up together) and while we don’t get together as often as we like, it’s a wonderful relationship.  Which is why I was surprised a few weeks ago when I started seeing Facebook posts from my father supporting one of his challengers.

“Dad,” I asked.  “Is there something I should know?  Is there a reason you support the other guy?”

“What are you talking about?” he quickly shot back.  “I didn’t post anything on Facebook at all, much less a political message.  I keep those kinds of opinions private.”

Or does he??

Privacy is a loose term when it’s applied to Facebook.  My father found himself victim to a “Sponsored Story”.  At some point during his Facebook lifespan, my father did indeed choose to “Like” this particular candidate – probably during a previous campaign when running against a challenger from the other party (and because my mom told him to – she’s the politically active one in our family).  And when this candidate chose to run a Sponsored Story campaign (ads that appear as endorsements from your Facebook friends), lo and behold, my father told all of his friends how they should vote.

It’s a powerful thing, the social media endorsement.  Studies say that consumers are more than 70% more likely to make a purchase based on a social media referral.  Just think of your own habits – how often do you select something that has been recommended to you by others?  Word of mouth has always been a powerful marketing tool, and social media has merely amplified its power.

This article from the Chicago Tribune really puts the issue of “Sponsored Stories” in context.  By “liking” anything on Facebook, you’ve given them the implicit approval to use that endorsement in a marketing context.  And, people have lots of reasons for liking something – entering a contest, truly liking a product, having a positive experience, because it supports something that you support.  But it’s not always because you endorse whatever it may be that you are selling.

So, be careful what you like.  But also, be careful what you think your friends like.  Be sure to reach out and connect to make sure that endorsement is real, not marketing-driven.  Which is really what social networking is all about anyway – connecting.

“Keep your feet…


“Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars” — Casey Kasem

I’m going to share a personal story today, one that may resonate with some of you and have others of you ready to mock me (Mrs. JK, I’m thinking of you).  It’s a tale that takes me back to my youth, and I’ll eventually bring it back to the quote at the top of this blog post.  It’s all about following your dreams.

One of my dreams has always to be in a rock band.  Now, to put that in context, you have to understand that music is not exactly one of my talents.  While I have a passion for live concerts and about 10,000 songs in my iTunes, I’ve never been able to play an instrument.  I gave up piano when I was 12, tried saxophone for a while but never really got over the whole “cleaning the spit valve” issue, and my tiny hands make it challenging to play a guitar.  When I was a kid, I sang in chorus and even had a chance in middle school to be the lead singer in a band – we played “On the Dark Side” by Eddie and the Cruisers, and I was the only one who sounded gritty enough at 13 years old to pull it off.  But my career in music pretty much ended before it began.

Life took me in other directions, and my dream to be the lead singer in a rock band looked like it may never come true.  Until last week, when I was talking with a friend about the band that he had started recently.  They were getting along fine, but really could use a lead singer instead of the “singer by committee” structure they’d been using.  Naturally, I quickly volunteered myself with the caveat that “I’m not much of a singer, so feel free to throw me out.”  He accepted, gave me a few songs to practice, and told me to be there in two days for a try-out.

The first practice was great – really liked the guys, build a nice chemistry and managed not to completely embarrass myself.  I was rated “decent to good” (which I’ll take any day) and was invited back for another attempt with the full band in attendance.  So, I spent the week singing every chance I got – the car, the shower, in the basement, outside in the garage.  My wife and kids were incredibly supporting (well, except for the constant mocking), and I eagerly prepared myself for the next practice soon to come.  Oh, and I also told EVERYONE I know that I was joining a band (big mistake, as you’ll soon read).

Last night was the second practice.  We tried the same few songs we worked on last week, and added a couple more.  In fairness, I’m not sure I got any better between weeks one and two.  Some of the songs flowed naturally, but others required a lot of background vocal support.  I got lost a couple of times in the middle of a song, and never found just the right balance between the high notes and the low notes.  I just need more practice, I thought to myself.  I’ll get better, just need a little more time.

Well, after I left last night, the band voted . . . and I’m out.  Turns out that I’m really not that much of a singer (although I got really positive marks in the “stage presence” and “fun to hang out with” categories).  The band decided to return to a singer-by-committee while they continue to look for a long-term lead. 

Am I disappointed?  Sure – it was a lot of fun.  It gave me something to focus on outside of my kids, my job and the routine we associate with life.  And does it likely put to a permanent end my dream of EVER fronting a band?  I’d have to say yes – if I couldn’t make it with these guys I’m not sure there’s going to be a “next” opportunity.

It’s times like these that I’m reminded of the way Casey Kasem signed off every single time he wrapped up on America’s Top 40.  “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”  Don’t forget about what’s right in front of you, but don’t ever stop dreaming.  I’m glad I gave singing in a band a shot, and while it didn’t work out the way I would have liked, it reminded me to keep looking for the next challenge.  Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.

So thanks “band still searching for their name” – I appreciated the opportunity, and can’t wait to be the drunk guy singing loudly from the front row at your first show.

Skating with Scott Hartnell



It’s always fun when you have a chance to create a real “moment” for someone.  Not a manufactured one, say a posed “grip and grab” photo with a famous celebrity where guests are hustled through the line quickly to get as many people through as you can.  (Although those photos and autographs are typically cherished by those who get them.)  But a real moment, where you know you’ve created a memory that someone will never forget.

We were lucky enough to help create some of these kinds of memories this past weekend.  One of our clients hosted an event at an ice rink in West Chester, PA, where Philadelphia Flyers star Scott Hartnell “dropped in” unexpectedly during a typical Saturday hockey day at a VERY busy rink.  While our client handed out seat cushions and engaged with mom and dad, Scott spent some time first skating around with 6 and 7 year olds in a clinic, and then giving a pep talk to some lucky 9 and 10 year olds before they took the ice for their game.


What really summed up the entire experience was when one of the kids pictured above took a step into the locker room, saw Scott and shouted “Holy S***! It’s Scott Hartnell!!”  Talk about an unscripted moment!  But it was a genuine one, and particularly for these kids.  Their coach told us before the team came in that the kids were off to a slow start and a little discouraged.  Well, the visit from Scott couldn’t have come at a better time.  He shared with them how sometimes your team does struggle (as any Flyers fan can attest this season), but that you’ve got to keep giving it your all and know that better times lie ahead.

It was great watching Scott on the ice with the kids.  Whether it was stopping one of his shots, feeding him for an assist, or getting fed for a goal, each one of the kids took home a special memory that I know they will never forget. 

Often times as a marketer, we’re focused on making a sale, converting a customer, finding new leads.  Saturday was all about creating positive impressions and brand affinity.  I know we accomplished our goals, while also making a lot of kids (and their parents) happy.  And that feels great.

The Theory of Furniture Design


I’ve just wrapped up a two-day speaking engagement at NeoCon East 2013.  I received great feedback on both social media sessions, and had a chance to meet some new friends. I learned that creative people are creative people – whether the medium of design is print, online or inside a space.  And I enjoyed it tremendously.

I spent a lot of time checking out the convention floor to see how furniture manufacturers marketed themselves to the design community in attendance.  The two leading players in the industry are Herman Miller and Steelcase.  And they couldn’t have marketed themselves any differently, while both advocating for very similar concepts.

First – the Herman Miller space.  Rather than focus on the furniture they build, they developed an entire theory of the workplace and how it has evolved over time.  With wall-sized graphics they showed how offices have gone from hierarchical communities to ones now defined by cross-functionality and collaboration.  And, how that influences how we like to work (both alone and in groups) and the atmosphere that provides a platform for doing so. Image


Steelcase, on the other hand, focused more on how technology has transformed the workplace, and specifically how they have adapted their furniture design.  By focusing more on the products than the theory, they provided potential customers with inspiration for ideas.  In particular, I was impressed with the video-conference workstation, and the technology-enabled conference table/workspace.


I was impressed at the very different approaches the companies each took, and I’m sure it pointed to philosophical differences in how they operated.  (I was also impressed at the white carpet all along the show-room floor – only a design conference could pull that off.)

If you were at the show, let me know what your highlight was.


NeoCon East – Here I come!



Tomorrow I start a two-day speaking engagement at NeoCon East in Baltimore.  The conference bills itself as “The premier design expo and conference for commercial interiors on the East Coast,” and I couldn’t be more excited to attend.  I’m giving two lectures – one on “Demystifying Social Media” and one on Blogging.

Two goals I have set for myself at this show:  1)  Meet at least one potential new business opportunity and 2) Learn something new.  Two goals I have set for my presentations:  1)  Teach something new and 2) Launch at least one new blogger.  Hopefully, I’ll accomplish both sets of goals and make some new friends along the way.

I always enjoy speaking to professionals outside the field of marketing about social media.  Their perspective is often refreshing, as elements that I may find commonplace they find incredibly new and exciting.  I often learn something myself, by looking at social media through a fresh set of eyes without any preconceived notions.  And they usually ask the best questions, making me reflect on my own experience in the field to help develop the best answers.  I enjoy and appreciate the challenges.

I’ll do a recap of my experience on Friday, and share some of the new office furniture items I have the opportunity to experience.  (I’m looking forward to sitting in a lot of chairs and seeing some exciting new concepts.  I’m expecting Ikea, but on a much grander scale.)

Let me know if you’re going to be there – I know I have a lot of friends who are designers, architects, building planners, etc.  Hope to see a few of you this week.



The Solution to a Problem I Didn’t Know I Had



My kids keep locking themselves out of the house.  It’s because we have those crazy locks, the ones where the door always turns on the inside whether it’s locked or unlocked?  So, about half the time when they take the dogs out in the morning, Mrs. JK and I would find ourselves being woken up to a banging at the garage or a doorbell being run out front.  So, we needed a solution.

Like many of you out there, we quickly came up with the old “Hide A Key” solution.  I won’t divulge where or how it’s hidden (although it probably doesn’t matter, given that I have a tendency to forget to lock the doors anyhow from time to time), but suffice to say it’s a place the kids can find but a typically burglar may not look.  The only problem is we can’t find the key (I think my Dad may have it, but that’s a whole separate issue).

So, I went this weekend to get new housekeys.  Two of them, in fact.  And, I had two VERY different experiences.  First stop – The Home Depot.  I had to find someone to tell me where to go (the tool department), then someone to help me, and then waited about 10 minutes while he made the keys.  Combined with a 10-minute checkout line (it’s busy at those places on a Saturday afternoon – who knew?), it ended up being about a 20 minute experience and cost me about $4.  Which proved to be incredibly disappointing when I came home and the keys didn’t work.  Upon closer review, it appears that a similar but not exact template was used to copy the keys, and it was therefore not a match. 

So, on Sunday I tried again.  This time I went to Lowe’s.  Where I was immediately greeted by MinuteKey (pictured above).  I inserted my key, and within 5 minutes (and for about the same $4) I had two keys – and this time they actually worked.  The machine took my credit card, and send me a receipt via email (or text, if you prefer).  I didn’t have to talk to a single person or wait in a single line.  Problem solved.

Two very different solutions to the same problem, and it made me wonder why The Home Depot doesn’t have the same solution in place?  I would guess that there may be a number of different business reasons for not having MinuteKey (maybe it’s expensive to lease, or maybe that company gets the revenue, or it could have an exclusive deal with Lowe’s) but all of them can likely be overcome when you’re talking about a business at the size and scale of a Home Depot. 

Not sure exactly what the lesson is here, but it’s one more reason that I’m more likely these days to shop at Lowe’s over Home Depot.   Maybe the lesson is “when all things are equal, I’ll go with the more convenient solution”.  And as a marketer, that’s a good lesson to keep in mind.