Monday, December 17, 2007

Garbage as fashion

Getting back in touch with my friend Roy Tan was one of the most pleasant moments provided to me by technology this year. This for several reasons.

First because Roy, an ex-Citibanker who now lives in Indonesia, and his colleagues at Brandt International have developed a very effective sales performance management tool, which we are about to start marketing in the Caribbean. The premise: Just because someone is a good salesperson doesn't mean s/he can become a good sales manager. One needs different skills.

Second because Roy is involved in a project called XS Project Europe. They make artsy fashionable laptop and other tote bags from plastic garbage collected by poor trash pickers on Jakarta's streets. Each is one of a kind and artistically designed. Sometimes you can even recognize which brand the tube of toothpaste was from. It's well worth a visit.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Marketing, advertising, public relations. What's the difference part III

Marketing and MarkStra

This is the third of a series on the difference between marketing, advertising and public relations. People often use the terms as synonyms, or are not sure what the difference is. By doing so companies like yours fail to notice and make full use of the tools available to convince the customer to buy from you.

At one point companies realize that public relations, advertising and promotion alone will not convince customers to buy or remain loyal. While many companies arrive at "marketing" at a later stage in life, it is a function that is performed before (in time and planning) "advertising and public relations". Advertising and public relations are quite explicitly just a part of marketing.

Marketing theory has it that there are more aspects that influence buyers to buy and which companies can be unique in. Conveniently, we use four (or six) p's, as follows.

  • product itself (design, innovation, features, color, taste, etc.)
  • price
  • place. Meaning the way a product is distributed (in person, via mail, Internet, phone, etc.) and where it can be obtained. If it is a store, if the store is conducive to buying, or if products are well displayed
  • promotion. Meaning public relations, advertising as well as sales promotion.

I usually add two p's. Technically, they belong under "product" and/or "promotion". But their existence and usefulness may get lost when talking about product or promotion. And how useful and relevant they are in our times!

  • people. Meaning the customer care and sales potential of employees. Companies that provide a service are increasingly important. In addition, the level of service (customer care) can be an important distinguishing feature.

  • partnerships. Meaning alliances your company has with others to provide a product. Think about American Airlines with Visa, several hotel chains, car rentals, etc.

At MarkStra Marketing is what we do for a living. We assist the client with determining the right product content, price, distribution channels, promotional tools, people and partnerships.

We may work with other companies to create and execute advertising campaigns, but we ourselves are not equipped to design or write copy for them. The campaigns we may create together with our partner companies are better than the average, because we have considered thoroughly ALL the other aspects that influence a buyer.

In the next post more detail about the marketing process.

Marketing, advertising, public relations. What's the difference Part I

There is still a lot of confusion among non-marketers and some "marketers" alike about what the difference is between marketing, advertising and public relations. It is the marketer's own fault because we assume everyone knows. Even as I set out to write this post, I am wondering if it is useful. This is most definitely not a post for marketing professionals. But it may be helpful for their non-marketing colleagues.

Of special concern is the fact that marketing and advertising are used as synonyms, interchangeably. By doing so clients and their providers omit to consider some important aspects that influence buyer behavior and hence their bottom line.

Next the first of a three part series which overview in what I think may be the order in which an established company that is seeking to increase its marketing performance may arrive at each stage.

Public Relations

Public Relations is "building good relationships with the company's various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, building up a good corporate image and handling or heading off unfavorable rumors, stories and events" (Armstrong,Kotler).

There was a time when "public relations" was the only tool companies used to connect with their clients. Think of issues such as cutting ribbons and making donations, followed by press releases. This, primarily because competition was much less than it is today. Just appearing in the paper was enough for people to consider your product. In addition, often every company in the category provided almost the same good (a commodity). Banks are a good example. Prior to the US deregulation of banks in the mid 1980's, all banks had the same product, same interest, same branches, etc. They were only promoting their "corporate image", but not specific products. In addition, this "image" was just "a picture". It was not a "picture-with-a-meaning", which is what a "brand" is.

The public relations functions has changed through the years. In good hands, it is now being used more explicitly and more effectively to gain customers. This year Cura-Peska held workshops and appeared on talk shows to provide information about fishing in Curacao. While these activities can be classified as "public relations", they were most definitely meant to attract customers.

Read the next post for Advertising.

Branding Curacao's International Financial Sector

Some 18 months ago, out of pure interest, I started examining what could be the unique competitive advantages of Curacao's international financial sector. The many years of expertise suggest that a unique competitive advantage must exist. Only, I believe the sector has been promoting benefits that now exist in most jurisdictions.

Recently a picture of a beautiful Curacao monument used in a some promotional material for the sector, triggered a discussion and further thought. First about the image the sector really wants to portray. Second, about what potential clients are impressed by and therefore what image (brand) the sector should portray. And then we discussed what picture would best fit with what these clients look for in a Caribbean jurisdiction and therefore what picture we should use. A classic brand essence exercise, but done informally.

I do not know. As many Curacaoans I am proud of our monuments and the fact that our city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Monuments are classic and depict a proper conservatism. That image may very well be necessary. I also know that in at least some sub sectors of the industry, the people are young, risk-takers, educated at some of the premier schools of the world. Now everyone is connected 24/7, the world is fast, global. Unfortunately, in international business, we expect images to be the same wherever we are. That suggests a "seamless fit".

So, it merits further thought and discussion. Most people in the industry are accountants or lawyers, who are less inclined to truly "market". That is not their strength. Proper market research, followed by the appropriate strategy would be a good step to take.

Of Curacao Cantaloupe and rum

Brand and product development exercises for (alcoholic) beverages is one of our strong suits. So, I have taken to collecting cook books published by Caribbean producers of different liquor and have developed some recipes of my own as a result.

Curacao Cantaloupe

  1. Peel a cantaloupe (melon) and cut it in wedges of 2-3 centimeters thick. You can use other fruit, especially those that are not tasty enough on their own.
  2. Make a thick syrup of equal parts of sugar and water. This means you would have to heat up the two
  3. Throw in the cantaloupe wedges and boil for a few minutes until the fruit is softened somewhat
  4. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, divide the wedges in sterilized (previously used) glass jars and fill up to 2/3 with the syrup
  5. Fill to the top with orange Curacao liqueur, preferably the authentic one
  6. Serve at room temperature with your best local ice cream
The recipe above is adapted from Edward Bottone’s Spirit of Bermuda (cooking with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum). It is absolutely delicious. I also have a love-hate relationship with the matter because cantaloupes are the one vine in my (organic) garden that lizards absolutely will not leave alone.

Colorful tropical fruit steeped in rum also makes for a nice gift, drink and fruit. Red hot peppers in rum makes for a nice hot gift. Both ideas are from Steven Raichlin’s The Caribbean Pantry Cookbook

Make your Holidays Caribbean Green

I suppose I am not an environmentalist in the true sense of the word, even though I do believe in giving all species, including our own, a fair chance of survival. Given the current oil prices, even a little bit of environmental action can produce great returns in our pockets.

A few months ago I made a pledge to include an aspect that has to do with the environment in everything MarkStra does. It's for the environment, but fortunately some environmental action also supports our small businesses and saves us money.

  1. Carry your own reusable shopping bag or crate when shopping. Refuse bags or accept only durable ones.

  2. Eco-friendly gifts? Energy saving light bulbs, shower heads, reusable shopping bags or crates.

  3. Buy nothing – give a gift certificate for a manicure, lunch, some lessons, a donation. They use no raw material and help our small businesses.

  4. Use simple wrapping paper. Use those colorful glossy folders marketers send you. Or use useful and reusable items: a bandanna, a nice towel, hand kerchief (remember those?), pillow case, or a storage box.

  5. In the Caribbean in December there is enough green outside to bring inside. Hibiscus (kayena) and West Indian Jasmine (faya lobi) provide the red.

  6. Give your Christmas ornaments a new look with a fresh coat of paint in this year's fashionable colors or with a collage of those direct mail pieces. Remember the kids.

  7. If you must buy new ornaments, buy durable ones which you can use next year. Store them well.

  8. Plan your meals around ingredients that are locally grown. It helps your local growers. It also uses less transportation. Did you know that in Curacao there are 24 types of fruits and vegetables that are produced locally year-round?

  9. Use durable table ware. China, metal and cloth are much nicer than paper and plastic anyway.

  10. If you must use paper, use plain white un-imprinted kitchen, bath, toilet tissue, cotton and the like. Why would you need design imprinted on it?

  11. Recycle your glass bottles. In Curacao there are glass bins at gas stations. Remember to tell your guests, caterers and cleaning lady.

  12. Turn those beautiful lights off if there is no one there to enjoy them.

Safe and Happy Holidays to all

Some of these ideas are our own. Others are from:

And tips for your office from Scotland

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Lecture Circuit

It seems like once you start lecturing, you keep on doing it. Besides lecturing at the University, I held two other presentations over the past 6 weeks:

For a group of marketing managers including several banks, fast food restaurants, home improvement stores on a short introductin to "Return on Marketing Investment" in September.

And for the Curacao chapter of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International on "What exactly is Branding?", a session to encourage smaller companies to brand themselves better last week

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

7 ways to use market research

Often we think of market research as a way to get insight from customers with regard to our own company. But, that's not its only use. Here are some ideas:

  1. measure, rank and score yourself on issues that are important to your organization (Key Performance Indicators) or the customer (Customer Core Values). Don't bother measuring things that are not important to either you or the customer.
  2. check out your competitors. So, you know who to copy (and in which way), whose customers to go after (because they are dissatisfied) or leave alone (because they are way too loyal). Maybe you are uncomfortable asking about your competitors, but an independent researcher is not. That's their job!
  3. find out if the perceptions that employees have of their organizations matches the perception of customers and make adjustments when and where necessary.
  4. establish a common starting point (a common data-backed assumption) in your organization with regard to opportunities. This, so that innovative ideas are not shot down or delayed just because of different suppositions. This is especially true when the decision-makers have varying degrees of experience with the issue or look at it from different angles. An example: the director and supervisor may have different assumptions. Whose is most likely to be correct? Whose is most likely to "win" without independent insight.
  5. determine desired ROI. For example: Based on the research data, can you gain 5% market share? What would be the source of this growth? How much would it cost? Is it worth the effort?
  6. If your organization is not yet into ROI, you can use the data to set quantifiable and realistic objectives. Example: if the research shows that you have a 50% market share, is it realistic to set an objective of 25% growth over the next 12 months? In other words, you need to know what your market share is. Otherwise you can't determine if your growth objective is realistic.
  7. create a unique value-added experience. Nowadays it's not just the product that is important. It is the experience when purchasing or perusing the product, online or offline, that is. Through research (mystery shopping) you can find out what customers find a "wow" experience.

Back to school: Market Research and Corporate Strategy

It's been back to school in two ways in the past few months:

First, later today I start teaching Marketing Research at the University of the Netherlands Antilles, using the same text book I had as an undergraduate student (Aaker/Day), albeit a much newer edition. It's a real pleasure to see the difference in the 2nd and 9th edition with regard to geographical scope. The chapters on secondary data sources are also expanded to reflect the abundance of timely, easily and inexpensively available secondary data that researchers now have access to. More emphasis on cost-benefit analysis before embarking on research is also a welcome addition, especially in our small markets. And lastly, obviously, the impact of the Internet on the market research function.

It will still be a challenge to translate the concepts to our smaller market and showing students how to be creative with their knowledge given the limitations. This while reminding them that we do live in a global world and they can more easily end up doing research for larger markets (while still sitting in Curacao) than ever before.

Back to (graduate business) school days also came in an assignment some time ago where we used Product Life Cycles, Boston Consulting Group Matrices and Ansoff growth models, the stuff specialization at The Wharton School was made up of. Now we used them to examine the existing and future potential of each brand as it relates to the client's bottom line and which marketing strategies to follow to realize that potential. Given the experience I have now, I could also develop some of my own strategies. Without doubt one of the more interesting assignments recently.

I realized the increased relevance of these concepts as marketing directors try to manage product portfolios that are ever expanding with new products and line extensions targeted to increasingly smaller segments.

It also made me realize how even more relevant these strategic concepts are to small markets. Marketing Directors are inclined to take on all (or many) extensions of their brand owners in their portfolios in an effort to fulfil the desires of their customers, who have access to global information and just know there is a product "just for them" even if, in a small market, they may be the only one in the segment. What is the MD to do?

Have you stopped to evaluate:
  • the added benefit of a new extension to your clients
  • the added contribution of a line extension to your bottom line, given the sometimes really small segments.
  • how to duly support line extensions in the long run
  • how to support the growth of extensions that will be more relevant in the future with present "cash cows"

Wanted: Mystery shoppers

Because of our increased mystery shopping load, we are looking for more mystery shoppers.
A mystery shopper poses as a customer, visits an establishment, and later evaluates the product and service of the client establisment using a standard evaluation form.

Mystery shops take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to a few days, at varying times, depending on the client. Shoppers are paid for their efforts in cash and/or kind. It's a fun way to make extra money or get something free.

Mystery shopping, also known among others as shopper audits, and secret shops is an efficient way to:
  • measure is service is being performed according to the establishment's standards
  • determine training needs
  • compare competitors

Shoppers must have internet access every day and be over 21 years of age. Please send an email with: name, gender, age, telephone number to

4 Tips for Tradeshow Marketing

Ever stood at a trade show booth and wonder how to increase your return?

Selling at trade shows is particularly challenging because you have little time to assess the potential of a visitor and act on that assessment. In small markets you probably also know many of the visitors who are just there to browse around (and not to buy anything). This provides an additional challenge.

Here are some tips, assuming for a moment that you and your colleagues have already:

  • Determined that the show is a good place to get prospects and serious leads
  • Determined the expected ROI for your participation at the show and based your decision to participate on that
  • Have an attractive booth
  • Know the basics (no eating in the booth, no badmouthing the competitor, and ideally no sitting in the booth)

Now, how do you start a conversation and raise the chances that you do so with someone who is really looking to buy?

  1. Make eye-contact, introduce yourself and ask the prospects’ name
  2. Make your opening question a provocative and open one. Asking questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” is a no-no. Some good questions: “What has attracted you to our booth today?” , or “What specifically are you looking for at the show?” If the answer is “nothing”, then you know right away that she is not a hot prospect.
  3. Determine how much the prospect knows about your product so you don’t risk boring him with information he already knows. You can ask: “What do you already know about our product?”
  4. Have your talking points ready, so you know which to mention when it’s your turn to speak. Try to mention three. Remember that your talking points should be phrased as a benefit to the customer. Remember also that all your colleagues should have the same talking points in their arsenal. By the way, talking points are also known as “brand attributes” or “your brand’s promise” or “your brand’s unique selling points

The above is an excerpt of a workshop we do on “Trade Show Marketing”.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wanted: A parachute for Marketing Advertising Communication Service Providers

Some time has passed since about 40 Marketing, Advertising and Communication (MAC) Service Providers, representing 20 companies in Curacao got together for a happy hour. It was our first time and how fun it was.

Since I was the one to send the invitations, many people have asked what my expectations were and are. Really, I wanted to meet and chat informally with colleagues I already knew and meet those I did not know. My ultimate goal, however, is to find optimal ways to cooperate so we can offer our services internationally. It is more efficient and effective for us to do so together than alone, as I have been doing in the past 12 years.

I happen to believe that international service is cut out for us. We speak (or at the very least understand) all the languages of the Caribbean region (and the hemisphere): English, Spanish, Dutch, French, Papiamentu (and even Portuguese). Many of us can easily trace our ancestry (and customs) to one ore more of the 40-plus countries our parents or grandparents came and keep coming from. Most of us have studied abroad and adopted parts of the cultures of our host country. So, we also understand the "blends" that the world is increasingly made up off "naturally". Unfortunately, when something is so "natural" to you, you don't realize its value and you don't sell it.

Cooperation also enables us to provide a better product to the client, because every one can then market their true specialty and still get or keep the client (or at least a commission). The perils of selling something one cannot deliver are well-known: you risk losing all of it.

I believe in the efficiency of free markets (so I don't believe in setting prices), and in a Code of Ethics, similar general conditions and business improvement workshops for the sector. These strengthen our businesses and prepare us to meet greater challenges. A bit of publicity is not bad either. That's our business.

In addition, if we do all of the above, chances are local clients will realize our true potential and feel (even) more comfortable recommending us to their principals or brand owners for assignments that encompass the region. Because there is nothing better than word-of-mouth. So, since most readers of this blog are local clients, I may ask: "Will you be some one's parachute into another market?"

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Branding according to MarkStra

The word "branding" is in vogue by marketers and non-marketers alike to denot many things. Often it is to denote a "a not-independent" establishment (i.e. part of a global brand) or some major advertising effort.

But, what is branding really? The following is based among others on Jack Trout, Al Ries and Gerald Zaltman.

A brand is ONE word you own in the mind of the relevant consumer.
The key words are:
· One word (concept, belief, aspect)
· Ownership
· The relevant consumer
If done well that word enables you to differentiate yourself meaningfully from competitors in a way that consumers value and will pay for

That word and its ownership have value to you because they either:

  • Enable you to command a price premium
  • Drive volume
  • Increase the lifetime value of every customer (among others through loyalty)
  • Or a combination of these
  • With an acceptable ROI

The ultimate goal of a branding exercise is to determine:

  • what that word should be
  • how to achieve its ownership (in all aspects and by all means)
  • which consumer segment to weigh heaviest when seeking the above (because one cannot be all things to all people)

By this (true) definition of branding, every business, large or small, in a large market or a small market can embark on a branding excersize to "brand itself". For instance, even the smallest independent shoe store can brand itself as being the one with the most personal service. Let's assume that the customer values that. The store can achieve the ownership of this ONE word or concept for instance by remembering each customer's name, his sizes and preferences like no other shoe store does.

Even when a company is part of a larger group (a multinational, a chain, etc.), a company can still brand itself further for its specific market. For instance, being a Ritz Carlton hotel in Curacao is different from being a Ritz Carlton hotel in Aruba. If for nothing else, in Aruba the guest is more likely to be an American than in Curacao. In the same way, a Ritz Carlton in the city is different from a Ritz Carlton at the beach. Each can and should brand itself further (within company guidelines, of course). Otherwise, there is no difference for the guest if he chooses Ritz Carlton in Curacao or Ritz Carlton in Aruba. And, we know what than can mean for your revenue.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

8 tips to increase marketing effectiveness in small markets

In a previous post I mentioned my small business client Cura-Peska, the fishing equipment specialty store. Most of my work is for larger companies in small markets. And most of it is "advising", not implementing. But, in this case I found myself planning and implementing marketing activities for a small business in a small market. The biggest challenge is scarce resources (time, energy, expertise and money) and the fact that after I am gone, the owner has to be able to do it himself.

Here is what I learnt:
  1. Forget advertisements in mass media. Small businesses do not have the funds to get past the saturation in mass media, or any media for that matter. The question is if big businesses do.
  2. Have a unique product and/or unique promotional event. That's Marketing 101. But, how often do we really consider what this can entail? A unique product and/or a unique promotional event is NEWS. That gains free publicity. Free publicity is more credible than your paid advertisement.
  3. Focus and when you think you are done, focus again. There are events that create/develop brand awareness. But, small businesses do not have the resources to create brand awareness, as some larger brands/companies (still) do. And, how do you measure if you have succeeded? The ULTIMATE goal is always to generate sales or good leads. That should be your focus. If in the process awareness is created, that's nice.
  4. Narrow down your target market and use that knowledge. What is needed to generate sales? People with an objectively verifiable interest. This means that they are already fishing, and not thinking about it (you know how long people can think and do nothing). They also have decision-making authority and money to buy. If people outside of this group catch on, that's nice.
  5. Know the lifestyle (psychographics) of your target market. Where do they go when they are not fishing? What time of day? Who and what do they listen to, read, watch? Which of those influences them most?
  6. Try different activities that fit our target market and goal. Keep rolling out innovative activities. Then you can see which is effective and which is not.
  7. Measure your return-on-investment. This is important for all businesses, but more so for the small business. There is little room to waste resources (time, energy and money). And, for a small business, it is easier to measure your ROI: just ask people which activity led them to you and write it down next the their purchase amount. I am driving my dad, the owner, mad with ROI measurement.
  8. Pay attention to quality. That is, quality of the customer. Please don't get me wrong. 10 people buying 100 dollars each yields the same as 100 people buying 10 dollars each. But, let's be honest, what you really want is more of the type that buys 100 dollars each. What is his profile? What led him to you? What keeps him with you?

5 Tips for back-up plans in a small market

In small markets such as Curacao and the Caribbean, even larger corporations are often small. There is "one of each". That is: one KEY person for each function. When that person is gone, the activities stop or go low profile. What to do?

Last month my most important client was Cura-Peska, a specialty store selling high quality fishing equipment, based in Curacao. It is my dad's post-retirement activity. So, it was a father's day gift and the plug above is well-deserved.
The store has existed since 1992. A few years ago my dad spent time helping my brother build his home and went low profile with the store. This is characteristic for small businesses: when the owner is sick, becomes a parent, divorces, breaks a few fingers, cares for children or parents, etc. the business goes low profile.

In most larger companies in small market, when the key person in a department is sick, becomes a parent, divorces, breaks a few fingers, etc. the department also goes low profile.

The key is to plan for it. I searched the web for tips and found nothing. Here is my own take:
  1. Face the reality. Know that there will be a moment that you (or your key person) cannot be there, planned or unplanned.
  2. Prepare for shut-down. What will you do when that moment arrives? Can you afford to "shut down" activities? Can the activities be reduced? How will customers react to reduced activities? Can or should you tell customers that activities will be reduced? Do you have your priorities for the next day, next week, next quarter listed on paper in a prominent place so that someone can take over, in an emergency, if needed?
  3. Prepare for come-back. What will you do to stage a come-back? What will it take to prepare? How long will it take to yield results?
  4. Reach out and share. Entrepreneurs are often independent spirits and live in relative isolation when it comes to business specifics. Employees of larger corporation live in their isolated "silo's" for whatever reasons. Reach out and share some of the specifics of your job. Interest someone in what you are doing, teach them what you are doing. Remember, if nothing else, you cannot be promoted if there is no one to do the job you want to leave.
  5. If you do not have a back-up in house, look for one outside. It can be someone who has time on his hands, or is flexible with her time. It can be someone who has previous experience in the industry or just with running a business. It can be someone you reach (or already have) an agreement with or just someone you have in mind (and whose whereabouts you follow). Someone to take over completely or just some responsibilities.

Social Media in Tourism

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Curacao Hotel and Tourism Association (CHATA), of which I am a member. There was a lot of discussion about the official Curacao website, and the plans for improvement. Online marketing & technologies and tourism are not (yet) my areas of expertise, but as I drove away, I realized how little talk there was about social media.

What is social media? Follow this link to Wikipedia: (I said I was not an expert)

"Social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media itself.[1]
Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video. The social media sites typically use tools like message boards, forums, podcasts, bookmarks, communities, wikis, weblogs etc."

We know that customers' attention and belief in "sponsored" advertisements online and offline is decreasing. Word-of-mouth, and social media is the ONLINE equivalent of word-of-mouth, is increasing more influential. I tried to remember when, if ever, word-of-mouth was not the primary reason that I chose a vacation destination.

So, maybe we should start talking about social media, for tourism as well as for other industries?

If you are still in the dark, here is a list of social media listed by Wikipedia.
A few prominent examples of social media applications are
Social networking:
MySpace and Facebook
Presence apps:
Twitter and Jaiku
Video sharing:
YouTube (video sharing)
Virtual Reality:
Second Life
News aggregation:
Digg and Reddit
Photo sharing:
Flickr and Zooomr
Episodic online video: Stickham, YourTrumanShow
Media sharing: Izimi and Pownce
Social bookmarking:
Online gaming: World of Warcraft

Monday, May 7, 2007

Do you know what your customer REALLY values?

This is a story to show how sometimes companies emphasize some aspects of service that have no value to the customer and neglect the ones that do.

Two weeks ago on a Thursday morning, I called a company where I am a client to make, what I considered, a routine request for a document. I was in a session all afternoon, but my cell phone kept ringing off the hooks, showing a number I did not know. I came to the office to find several messages. My document was ready... already! This speed was way beyond my wildest expectations for I am not now (or will ever be) a VIP client.

"You can pick it up tomorrow", they said. "Well, thank you," I said, "but picking it up is quite inconvenient for me. Can you mail, fax or email it?" "No,", they said. "For xyz reason that's not possible."

So, a few days later I went to pick it up. It wasn't there! Actually, it was there, I later learnt, but it was with the person responsible for VIP's. And it just happened that that person had gone to the bathroom when I got there.

I picked up the document last Thursday: 2 weeks later!

The lessons?

  1. I didn't care to be treated like a VIP. I just wanted that document mailed, faxed, delivered, emailed to me. Or, if all else failed, not have to make the trip twice. That is what was "valuable" to me, what helps me. Do YOU know what your customer finds valuable? It's not always what you think.
  2. All this investment in "speed" at the front end, and the client still got the benefit two weeks later (and is "blogging about it), because you did not control the whole delivery process. What did it cost you to control that additional step? US$ 1.30 maximum?
  3. Make sure the "VIP client" knows what to do when the "employee-in-charge-of-VIP's goes to the bathroom.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bid on a mystery shop: support hospitality scholarships and outreach

The annual auction of CHATA, the Curacao Hospitality and Tourism Association, is open, with fabulous prizes. This year is also the association's 40th anniversary. If you haven't done so before, this is your opportunity to contribute to funds for scholarships and recognition activities such as the Curacao Culinary Team (which won Caribbean Gold last year), the Starts of the Industry Program and hospitality school activities.

MarkStra has donated two (2)
mystery shops: A two-day shop for hotels and one for other types of organizations. Sorry, shops can only be done in Curacao. A lot of the other prizes can be bought by anyone, though.

What can you use a mystery shop for?

  1. to find out if service standards are being adhered to. Are the phones being answered as agreed? Are customers greeted and thanked appropriately? Do they get the correct information? Are complaints handled in a way that customers would find pleasant? Do employees try to up-sell and cross-sell? Do customers feel that they got the product and quality that you advertised and they paid for? Do they get receipts, without asking for one? Etc.
  2. to find out what the customer's total experience is, if this is good enough or if it has that "wow" factor. Do your procedures make sense? Is the atmosphere pleasant to the customer? Do employees have a pleasant attitude? Do all these issues reflect your brand's attributes?
  3. to find out how your service and experience compares with the competitor. What do you do better? Can you use this as a selling point? What might you want to copy? You may not use the CHATA bid for this type of shop, though.

Who can benefit?

  • any organization with face-to-face contact, including retail stores, hotels, car rentals, banks, brokers, restaurants, airlines, touristic attractions, etc.
  • call centers: reservation, help desks, information
  • organizations with an online presence. How do prospects experience your site? Does it convince them to buy?

What are the "procedures" if you win?

Together with you we will:

  • determine what you want to know or improve
  • develop a questionnaire with ample space for comments
  • send a certified representative to your location, who will pose as a true customer or guest
  • within 5 to 10 days of the shop we will be ready to discuss the reports and comments with you

To clarify: if the shop involves a purchase, the deal is that we will advance the purchase and that you will reimburse us afterwards.

Hurry: Auction closes Wednesday, May 2, at 11am.

Diversity in communication: an anecdote

My boyfriend has lived in the Caribbean for several years now. He is a good sailor who has sailed the Caribbean Sea extensively. He is also an accountant who works in the international financial sector. A native Dutch speaker, he speaks good English.

I am a local Caribbean woman who had a proper undergraduate and graduate U.S. education in the North East. I too have travelled extensively in what I call "my Caribbean" for my roots lie in the Dutch as well as in the Spanish and English Caribbean. I am a marketer. A native Papiamentu speaker, I speak good English and Dutch. Spanish also, but that's not relevant now.

We are going on a sailing holiday with some friends: Canadians, New Yorkers and Californians.

The - admittedly not so original - idea of making caps for everybody befell us. So, for the past week the two of us have been thinking of a slogan that fits the following requirements. Probably also in this irrational order:

  • The captain (my boyfriend) should like it well enough to accept on his boat. Ahoy, captain!
  • I should like it well enough to arrange the production. A little sabotage goes a long way
  • The guests should find it appropriate both on vacation in the British Caribbean and when they return home, so that they will continue to wear it. At least, the two of us should think that they will
  • Our Anglo-Saxon friends and their friends should understand the humor, a humor that does not have Anglo-Saxon roots. Again, so that they will continue to wear it. Again, at least the two of us should think that they will

This all given:

  • our different ethnic and professional backgrounds
  • the hierarchy and our position in it
  • that it should remain a surprise for our friends. So, we cannot consult them. No, we are clairvoyant enough

In many ways it reminds me of the times that I have thought up or contributed to marketing communication efforts. Or of some of the efforts I see and hear today.

I have accepted that everything we think of with the caps will be "a bit off". But, on vacation, it doesn't matter. We will all still enjoy the experience.

But, what if it were important, as it usually is in a marketer's professional life? What if we didn't know if it is important? Or how important it is?

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How well does your organization handle internal diversity?
  • How well does it handle diversity as it relates to the customer? Do you just translate to different languages?
  • How do you ensure that you make and execute the right decisions, i.e. those that appeal to the customers and not necessarily to yourself? Or the boss? Or her husband?
  • Do you localize global campaigns? How? Based on what?
  • How do you convince headquarters that something won't work locally?

Yes, maybe your market is small. But, how much can you afford to get it wrong when you could and should have gotten it right?

7 ways to use market research

Often we think of market research as a way to get insight from customers with regard to our own company. But, that's not its only use. Here are some ideas:

  1. measure, rank and score yourself on issues that are important to your organization (Key Performance Indicators) or the customer (Customer Core Values). Don't bother measuring things that are not important to either you or the customer.
  2. check out your competitors. So, you know who to copy (and in which way), whose customers to go after (because they are dissatisfied) or leave alone (because they are way too loyal). Maybe you are uncomfortable asking about your competitors, but an independent researcher is not.
  3. find out if the perceptions that employees have of their organizations matches the perception of customers and make adjustments when and where necessary.
  4. establish a common starting point (a common data-backed assumption) in your organization with regard to opportunities. This, so that innovative ideas are not shot down or delayed just because of different suppositions. This is especially true when the decision-makers have varying degrees of experience with the issue or look at it from different angles. An example: the director and supervisor may have different assumptions. Whose is most likely to be correct? Whose is most likely to "win" without independent insight.
  5. determine desired ROI. For example: Based on the research data, can you gain 5% market share? What would be the source of this growth? How much would it cost? Is it worth the effort?
  6. If your organization is not yet into ROI, you can use the data to set quantifiable and realistic objectives. Example: if the research shows that you have a 50% market share, is it realistic to set an objective of 25% growth over the next 12 months? In other words, you need to know what your market share is. Otherwise you can't determine if your growth objective is realistic.
  7. create a unique value-added experience. Nowadays it's not just the product that is important. It is the experience when purchasing or perusing the product, online or offline, that is. Through research (mystery shopping) you can find out what customers find a "wow" experience.

Which market research method when? A quick guide

Often, when people think about market research, they tend to think about surveys (in Dutch: enquetes; in Papiamentu: enkuesta), with a few hundred interviews.
But, in reality there are several methods of research. In this post I will give a quick run-down of three methods and a quick guide on which to choose when.

In a small market when the incremental benefit/profit from the research findings for your organization may be limited, it is important to make the right choice. It is also important to know in advance how you are going to use the data and to make sure you have the resources to use the findings.

3 Basic Market Research methods
  1. quantitative research - mostly to measure in a numerical way. The result will be a score, a ranking. It will reflect issues such as frequency, (average) amount of usage, market share, preference.
  2. qualitative research - mostly to explore the breadth of opportunities, innovative ideas, possible service improvements, possible next trends. This can be done through questioning or observation (looking at how exactly customers use a product).
  3. desk (secondary research) - using existing data, public or private, local or international to extrapolate, draw inferences and make forecasts.

When to use quantitative research?

  1. when you already have some relevant specific information. For instance, if you already know what guests find important in a hotel (the core values), you can then measure how your hotel scores with regard to those core values.
  2. when you plan to do the same research regularly in the future. For instance, if you are going to invest in customer service training, you can measure over time if and how much this has improved service. Or, if you plan to increase your rates, you can measure, over time, how this affects your occupancy and guest satisfaction and perhaps that of your competitors.
  3. when producing a number, a score or a rank is important because "the boss" wants to see a number or the organizational culture expects to see a number. That's a quite valid reason.

When to use qualitative research?

  1. When you have no information at all. For instance, you have no idea how and based on what people choose a hotel, restaurant or car rental. Sometimes the reasons customers act the way they do are by no means obvious or rational.
  2. When you want some customer insight, feedback, suggestions, ideas with regard to innovative product or service improvements, branding, pricing.
  3. When you really want to understand the customer's deeper thought processes. Qualitative research is most often an interactive conversation, sometimes in a group. Ideas, reasons, perceptions and preconceptions can be challenged, probed, explained further, enhanced, struck down. As markets become more saturated, it is the deep understanding of the customer's motives that provide ideas as to how to target the customer better. Knowing this well and being the first to know, provides a competitive advantage.

When to use desk research?

  1. when you are in the orientation or initial phase of a new product or service idea. Often you have no information at all. And, since you are not sure whether the idea will fly, you may not want to make a large investment.
  2. When you know that a lot of data is already available, locally or internationally. You can always draw preliminary conclusions based on data that is not your own. The Internet is a tremendous help for you (and both a colleage and a competitor for us). An often overlooked source are market research agencies. They have insight into many industries based on previous work. Yes, MarkStra does too, especially with regard to (alcoholic) beverages, health care and pharmaceutics, banking and Caribbean markets in general.
  3. When, quite simply, you don't have the budget to collect your own primary data.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Don't worry, dear. We are open tomorrow too."

Last Saturday I made the rounds of home improvement and decor stores in Curacao. I had varying experiences, but the one I came home talking about was about the security guard at Building Depot.

As I was walking out of the store, empty-handed, I said to the guard: "I bought nothing." To which the guard answers: "Don't worry, dear. We are open tomorrow too."

In sales training sessions I often remind participants to tell clients when the "store is open", not when "the store closes". This, even when someone asks: "When does the store close?", as we often do in Curacao. This time someone used that line on me. What struck me was the invitation: "If you didn't spend money today, come spend money tomorrow." I'm sure that's what the Building Depot wants.

It's official: MarkStra strengthens alliance with Research & Research

We are happy to announce that our firm, marketing and strategy consulting firm, MarkStra, has strengthened our alliance with research specialists Research & Research of Puerto Rico, in order the provide more efficient quantitative market research to our clients.

We have provided market research services since our inception in 1995. Qualitative research (focus groups) and desk research have been our strong suits. In fact, I have been a Burke Certified Focus Group Moderator since 1998. But, our small market combined with rapidly developing technology and increasing customer expectations have made providing quantitative research at international standards a challenge.

Now we can meet that challenge. This alliance will allow us to tap into the expertise and technology of Research & Research whenever needed. We liaise with the local client. Being in Puerto Rico, Research & Research is used to doing research in the Caribbean and Latin America and to working with global brands because several Caribbean headquarters for global brands are established there. That's an added benefit.

I truly look forward to this new form of cooperation. We have worked with Research & Research and several other marketing research firms across the Caribbean for more than 10 years now. What is new is integrating our technology and knowledge to serve our clients and further our businesses. That's the strategic innovation.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What exactly is Return?

Return on investment is a relatively new term for marketers. At seminars it appears we are still trying to determine what the relevant indicators should be. But, there are some things we are certain about though.

I have heard marketeers speak of return in terms of:
"Our marketing investment was this amount and our marketing revenues (return) was this amount". Or, if it's a first effort to be accountable just "Our revenues were this amount.".

But, that is not the appropriate measure. It's not even the most relevant measure.
More appropriate would be to report or consider:
  • Our marketing investment was this amount and our profit was this amount.
  • What would our profit be if we had not made this investment?
  • Would our profit be higher or lower had we made the investment in another vehicle?
I know, in a small market the figures might not always be encouraging. But, there lies our challenge. How do we allocate or re-allocate our marketing investments so that the figures become more encouraging?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Consistent Customer Care

People often wonder how some companies achieve consistently good service. One way is through careful recruiting. Another way is by setting standards for employees. This ensures that what they say, how and to whom are within what the company finds acceptable. This, in turn, ensures a consistent level of service every time. A consistent predictable level of service is also part of your brand.

Setting standards
Does your company have standards? Do your employees know how and how fast you expect phones to be answered and within which time limit to return calls or emails? When to speak to shoppers wandering in the store and what to say? How you expect them to deal with angry customers? To thank for the business and how to do so?

You can also set standards to ensure more up-selling and cross-selling. Some companies’ associates consistently ask: “Would you like dessert with that?” Do you realize that that dessert could add 25% to the sale?

Measure, reward or retrain
Setting standards or providing training without measuring if the standards or training lessons are being applied, is throwing money down the drain. Do you measure if employees are applying what they learnt? Mystery shopping is one way to measure. The results show if you must reward or retrain your employees.

Customer feedback forms
These are also extremely useful, if you use them consistently and with specific goals in mind. For instance, it is better to make sure every customer gets a card and most fill it in on a specific day, than to have 20 cards filled out by chance over a period when you no longer remember what was going on. Do it the first way and you will know where to make changes or which changes were effective. Do it the latter way and all you have is data you don’t really want to process and analyze.

MarkStra can help

  • Setting customer care and sales standards
  • Setting up and executing mystery shopping programs
  • Developing customer feedback programs and processing the forms

Cold calling

About 10 days ago, the "salesperson" in me had her very first true "cold call". That is, a business call to someone I did not know, who did not know me or my company, and whose specific needs I did not know, but who was kind enough to receive me. Obviously, I had my introduction ready and well-rehearsed. True to a small market, it soon appeared that we had several common acquaintances. Of course, that made the conversation go smoother. Since, I made another few relatively cold calls. These are the best practices I liked best:

  1. Send a short written introduction beforehand, perhaps by email, stating that you will be calling. By doing so, you will not catch your prospect totally off-guard. In addition, she may be able to refer you to someone else if for some reason she is not the appropriate one.
  2. Do some research on your prospect beforehand. It may give you an indication ofwhat to highlight in your introduction. It also shows your interest in the company.
  3. Prepare and deliver your short "introductory speech". "Short" is a key word. You want to reveal most of your information once your prospect has told you something about his challenges or needs. This enables you to tailor what you say to his needs and not put your foot in your mouth.
  4. Restrain yourself. If you just went for an introduction, don't try to close a sale right then and there. Unless, of course, the prospect states an explicit need which you can readily fulfil.
  5. Don't leave without asking who else might be a good person to talk to in the company or elsewhere.

Cold calls are never a lot of fun, necessary to grow your revenues. You see, the prospects that already know what your business offers are likely to consider you anyway when a need arises. It is those who do not know you that form the truly new opportunities.

I have also heard salespeople say that they don't cold call because prospects prefer to deal with providers whom they have a previous or personal relationship with. While this is true, it is also true tha potential customers are increasingly looking for the best possible product or service and are open to hearing about all there is on the market, regardless of previous or personal relationships. The challenge is up to you: start establishing those relationships!

Confidentiality and consultants in small markets

Having someone steal your idea is always a concern. This is especially so in small markets where everybody knows everybody and service providers are very likely to have worked for your competitors already (or do so in the near future).

I have had the good fortune of having clients who were rather trusting and the good sense to honor that trust. But some time ago I met a potential client who was less trusting than usual. It made me think of techniques I have seen applied and have applied myself to safeguard the client's confidentiality.

Of course you can register your idea at your bureau of intellectual properties or ask the consultant to sign a confidentiality agreement. But what if these are not appropriate at the time?
  1. Mention the broader product category rather than the product itself. Consultants, marketing consultants particularly, do need some information to be able to make a good proposal for you. How to give useful information, but not reveal all before you are really ready to do so? Mention the broader product category rather than the product itself. If you are going to sell "soap", say "personal care products". Generally all personal care products face the same competitive environment, as well distribution, pricing and marketing communication challenges. So, it's okay to refer to "personal care products".
  2. Give a comparison. If you need or want to be more specific, you can say "It's the Rolls Royce of soaps". That gives the consultant a better idea of the issues he may have to take into account when drawing up a proposal.
  3. Ask the referee. If you were referred to a consultant by someone, discuss your concerns with the referee first. She may not be able to answer all your questions, but her experience may give you an indication of the integrity of the consultant or his organization.
  4. Ask the standard question. When doing market research our first question is usually: "Does a close relative or friend work for such-and-such type of firm?" You can ask your consultant the same question.
  5. Voice your concern and wait for the reaction. You can say: "This is confidential, of course." and see how the consultant reacts. Many consultants, ourselves included, have a standard confidentiality clause in our contracts and on our website. It shows they appreciate your concern and have thought about ways to address it.
  6. Ask for disclosure. Ask if the consultant has done work in this area and the nature of the relationship with that previous client. You want to know if previous engagements where long-term or one-off deals. Be reasonable, though. The consultant must also honor the confidentiality of previous clients. So, you cannot insist on the previous client's name AND the type of engagement.
  7. Be prepared. Read up! If you know exactly what you need, you are more likely to know whether the consultant's questions are warranted or not. Not knowing makes you more vulnerable and more easily suspicious.
  8. Don't overkill. Consultants earn their living by providing good solutions AND by keeping their mouth shut. Most of us are not out to reveal client's confidential information. Data or methods that are publicly available or obtainable is not your property, even when you are the first to use them. It is also good to realize that after or even during your engagement, a consultant must be able to earn a living by solliciting and working for other clients. So, a non-compete clause cannot be as broad and exhaustive as you may want it to be.

Comments welcome. This is always an interesting topic in small markets.

What if personal relationships are the experience?

Last Saturday we celebrated the birthday of my friend Angelique with breakfast in Cafe Barista.

We arrived early, at 9 am. Within an hour the small cafe was buzzing with the happy chatter and laughter across tables of dine-in and take-away customers who all seemed to know each other and be part of the same party. I did not know that this was the Saturday morning ritual of "the regulars". But what an experience!

It also made me realize how easy it is to create (or have) a great experience in a small market, just because everybody knows everybody. It reminded me of why I preferred the Curacao carnival to the Trinidad carnival: in Curacao I knew lots of people standing at the roadside, people you danced with a little bit, posed for, or had a little chat with. That is a big part of the experience for me. In Trinidad I knew no one.

It made me wonder if a tourist or someone visiting alone or as a couple would have the same experience in our bars and cafe's or in our carnival. If not, how do we create it for them also?
How about that first-time customer, who does not know anyone and who is not yet loyal, what is his first experience? After you have invested money to lure him, after he has taken the plunge, is his experience good enough for him to come again and become a regular with a good lifetime return for your company?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Strategy and marketing in small markets?

On the internet there are many ideas for small businesses and for big businesses.
But few ideas deal specifically with marketing and strategy challenges in small markets such as Curacao and the Caribbean.
That, while we know that, because of consumer demands and expectations, the future lies in “niche markets” and even “localized” strategy (adapted to preferences of specific cities, neighborhoods, etc.). In our small markets we may easily literally end up with a “market of one”.
How can we overcome these challenges? How can we use and adapt existing tools for our small markets to make it worth our while?

These are the issues I wish to discuss in this blog. It is a thought that I am developing, hopefully assisted by your comments. So, not all posts deal with small markets.

How do you use the Internet?

Last semester I taught a marketing course at Curises. That was one of the issues that encouraged me to start exploring the possibilities of the Internet again. The last time I was really involved with Internet opportunities was in 2000, just before the bust.
What amazes me is how the Internet has evolved, how users and providers have found so many ways to use the technology. I counted 24 "basic" things.
What I would really like to know is what my colleagues, friends and business relations, use the internet for and how much.

Please visit and fill out the short questionnaire before February 15th. I will post the results as soon as available.
If you have usage alternatives I have missed, please let me know

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mystery shopping and the customer experience

The year has started with several requests for mystery or secret shops. I could or should have expected it. Why? Because aside from being used for measuring quality, mystery shops are an excellent tool for developing customer experiences. And, the focus on unique customer experiences is increasing, also outside of the hospitality and entertainment industries.

While mystery shops are great for checking out the competitor, auditing prices, and checking the integrity of team members, I believe the thrust has been to measure quality and whether team members adhere to certain standards when providing service.

But now, companies are going a step further, to use mystery shops to help them develop a unique experience or to measure if they have been successful in providing the experience they sought to create.

An example: Some time ago I walked into the lobby of a hotel. One of the first things my eyes rested on was a garbage can: a clean, empty and neatly placed garbage can. In traditional mystery shops that would not necessarily be counted as a negative. After all, nothing was done wrong and nothing was filthy. But when trying to map (or create) the customer journey, it certainly will because who wants to have a view of a garbage can.

And, by the way, creating a unique experience is as easy in a small market and for a small business as it is in a large market and for big business.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Return on Marketing Investment in Small Markets

In 2006 I attended the Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) Seminar of the Institute on International Research in Fort Myers. I will be posting a bunch of ideas discussed at that seminar. This is the first.

For some time now “branding” has been a focus for many brand teams. But it’s being challenged by the quest for a responsible ROI, a pressure to achieve better returns on marketing spending. The statement that I most remember from the ROMI seminar was this:

Branding has value if it:
· Enables you to command a price premium
· Drives volume
· Increases the average lifetime value of your customers
· Or a combination of these
All with an acceptable ROI. That’s a serious challenge in markets as small as ours. How can we go about it?

  1. To understand how to face the challenge, we have to remind ourselves what a brand is. A brand is one word you own in the mind of the relevant consumer and which provides value to that consumer. The key words are: one word, ownership, value and the relevant consumer. Often, brand teams try to achieve ownership of that one word through advertising. This often involves highfixed costs (and therefore makes it harder to achieve an acceptable ROI). So, the larger the market, the better. But, what to do if you serve a small market?
  2. We must realize that advertising is not the only way to achieve ownership of that one word. There are more tools in a marketing mix which can be used to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

So, we should ask ourselves the following questions.

  1. Are we unique (or different) in the way we: Conduct our direct selling, Manage and nurture our relationships, Provide customer care, Conduct our public relations, Are involved with our community, Price or distribute our products?
  2. Does this uniqueness provide value to the consumer, which in turn will provide revenues for us, in the short or long run?
  3. If we are not unique or different,is there a way we can be? In which area will this “uniqueness” provide the best return for us?

So, when you are next thinking about "branding", think further than "advertising"

I look forward to your comments.

Marketing and strategy for not-for-profits

There are now so many not-for-profit organizations, both governmental and otherwise, trying to raise funds, get members, attract “share of attention” of the same people. All are having a harder time doing so.

How can your organization stand out?
By taking the same strategy and marketing approach as successful businesses do.

Many years ago I developed the program “Charity is no longer” in an endeavor to share strategy and marketing thinking with not-for-profit organizations. I held presentations and workshops for, among others, the Rotary Club of Curacao and several chapters and national congress of the Jaycees International.

The issue recently came up again, inspiring me to revive that program in 2007.

In the session of your choice we can discuss your biggest challenges from a business point of view.

  • Attracting and retaining active board members and general members
  • New approaches to raising funds
  • How can the internet help you
  • Asking for and giving support other than money
  • Advertising your projects, programs, cause or club
  • What else can we do, where else can we help? Brainstorming for new project ideas
  • Capturing your ideas in a strategic plan

All topics can be tailored to your needs and delivered in Papiamento, English, Spanish or Dutch. Contact me at or (599-9) 767-3085.