Senior marketer and brand enthusiast This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. leverages years of experience in....more

How Can They Rip Off Product Innovation?

While walking the floor at CES the other week, I was astonished at the blatant and apparently acceptable invention rip-offs that were being presented on the floor. One of my favorite brands, iRobot (robotic vacuum cleaners), had at least 3 competing companies selling products that looked and functioned almost exactly like their flagship “Roomba” product. The most well known rip-offed products on the floor, of course are the Apple iPhone and iPad products. There were TONS of mostly Asian companies showing multiple iPad and iPhone look-alikes for less money, including Samsung. Samsung won a most of a legal battle brought by Apple, which resulted in the U.S. government allowing copycat products even when there are patents in place. Apparently patent laws are much more relaxed than our trademark or copyright laws. It’s confusing for the marketplace.


In trademark law, you cannot have the same mark or product name for the same industry and sometimes that can be extremely vast (think industrial manufacturing). In copyright law, you cannot take any part of a written or designed piece of work and use it without permission. What trademark and copyright law protects is the confusion in the marketplace and of course, the originator’s work. In patents, confusion is fine… you just cannot make an EXACT copy of the innovator’s product. So a little tweak in the interface and a copycat product is ready for market. In terms of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, one of their competitors just added an additional sensor. The iPhone was copied by Samsung and the look and feel is exactly the same – they just use a similar but different operating system.


Has your competitor reversed-engineered your product, added a feature or two and then slapped on their logo and called it theirs? Just think of the money they saved to not have to create, design and launch! The only way to not have your market swallowed up by these competitors trying to drive your product down the commodity road is to champion continuous innovation. Always stay one step ahead of the game and go for the niche market with high margins. If that is not your forte and if the government isn’t going to have our back on innovation, then the only shot at eliminating this behavior is if the buyers of our products get angry and stop buying the knock-offs. Think about this and your personal behavior as you shop. Because every time you buy a ripped-off innovation, you are voting to continue to approve of this behavior. 

Strategic Alliances - Pitfalls and Perspectives

Have you ever been involved in a Strategic Alliance that wasn’t completely thought through on the part of one or more of the companies involved? Most “partnership” agreements in our industry leave something to be desired. To many manufacturing executives, forming a strategic alliance makes sense because their sales or service representatives call on the same customers and they see a way to optimize the costs of personal customer contact. For those involved in executing the partnership, there are a great number of things to consider and accomplish before moving forward. With hollow execution on either company’s end, there is a big risk in diluting the strength of companies brands and as well as diverting the sales and service representatives’ attention from making calls on their core business. For the customers, many times they are struggling to find the value-add.
Before joining forces with another company, think through the market strategies… from point of sale, through the sales process and then the service aspects.
Could Partnering with a Complimentary Supplier be Good for Your Business? Maybe. First, consider how the partnership will affect your customers from the first interaction. Does your approach make sense to them? Are your sales and service teams aligned with the decision, enthusiastic about the additional product offering? Do they consider it a great benefit to the customer? Will they be committed to training and be able to represent the additional technology to a point that it will be helpful to the customer? When they engage in the sale, will the customer be handed off to the other company or retain the original sales contact (and what would that mean in terms of quotes, purchase orders and invoices)? And finally, when it comes to shipping, installation, setup and maintenance… define where your sales representative is involved and where they are not and make it simple for the customer to understand.
Success Lies in the Implementation. If a strategic alliance is not communicated or executed well, it could become more harmful to your brand than helpful to your margins. From the customers’ point-of-view, does your decision to align help them and make sense to them? If not, don’t communicate it… just form a sales referral agreement. Tread cautiously when considering joining forces. Develop your agreement and plan with the long-term outcome in terms of the market, your brand and the customer in mind. 
When great care is taken in forming a strategic alliance and it is executed and communicated well, it can increase sales and provide you with happier, more satisfied customers.

On Leadership

Many responses I received from the “Marketing is Dead” post affirmed that changes required in marketing communication are critical to pump in leads and maintain market awareness, however the leaders in their organization just don’t "get it" and refuse to support the new tactics. This doesn’t surprise me and I will suggest that the lack of leadership behavior in most leading roles is the reason we have very few manufacturing companies (Apple excluded) experiencing explosive market growth. 


There was a span of time in my career when I was completely obsessed with the topic of leadership. I poured through all kinds of material about the topic and have resolved that there are very few leaders in our world - in our industry. I think most organizations promote people that are good at their craft (sales, engineering, etc.) into management positions without mentoring and training them to be real managers. Then they promote those same managers into leadership roles without regard to the massive difference in the roles. This disregard for true succession planning and vision is a big reason why there is such a huge plateau in our GNP. 


  • Employees are typically hired for their craft. Assembly worker, engineer, accountant, sales, etc.. Their role is to be highly productive with good quality work to support the organization’s objective. If they do well, they can be promoted to a supervisor role.
  • Supervisors watch what the employees do and micromanage to make sure the right activity is being done at the right time so their team can support the organization’s objectives. They track and measure the results and report to a manager. If they do well, they can then become a manager. 
  • Managers set goals to support the overarching organizational strategy and then communicate them and drive subordinates to achieve the goals. Ideally they are managing results and running reports to affirm that they are being achieved. If they do well, they can be promoted to a leadership role.
  • Leaders are responsible for setting and delivering the organization’s vision and high-level organizational objectives. Their day-to-day function is much more obscure than that of a manager, supervisor, or standard employee. A leader takes risks, exercises their “backbone” and connects with all levels of the organization, customers, competitors, sales channel and vendors to push and champion the organizations vision and strategies. They walk the walk and talk the talk... Over and over again. They are redundant in their message but it is the constant reinforcement of the vision and strategy - connected through all levels that drive managers to manage with passion and supervisors to supervise with purpose. When you have that kind of leadership in an organization, you will find market growth.


Most individuals in leadership roles today are reporting to share owners who prioritize short-term profits over long-term investments. Most likely they will not understand the disconnect happening when their organization continues to try to connect with the younger generation of customers through traditional marketing methods. The bleeding market share will eventually force them to make a change... unless they invest in and stand behind real leadership.

I Know Who Killed Marketing...

After a good 30-year run of leading marketing strategy, the "Traditional" Marketing tactics have been killed off by the "Social Era". I've had many follow-up discussions with readers of my recent blog post, "Marketing Is Dead", which reinforces that this change is in full swing.

What is most interesting to me is the divide in our industry. The younger generation, now in their mid-twenties and moving into purchasing & decision-making roles, have grown up using collaborative media and technology not only find information but also to provide reviews and feedback to their peers. Theirs is not the same frame of reference the leadership in our companies has.  CEOs, product marketing management, and marketing communication leaders have been recognizing that the rules of engagement for marketing communication are very different now. We are no longer successful solely positioning ourselves as a big branded company since big organizations are now perceived as "untrustworthy" and "slow to respond" by the younger market. Instead we need to find ways to make meaningful connections with customers in ways that they value so they can build a closer relationship with our organization and become a champion of our products and services (providing reviews, statement, recommendations, "Like's" and "Share" activity). It's in this connecting model that leadership is completely out in left field. There is no silver bullet for how to make those connections, and it is driving the developers of market strategy crazy!

Marketing in the new Social Era can be easy when using available technology such as iPhone's Twitter AppHere are a few steps you can take toward being successful in the Social Era. First, stop promoting yourself as an 800-pound gorilla and start enabling your team of fast, nimble gazelles (employees), and train them to communicate with your market.  It's the quick, small companies that are eating away at the larger proven brands because they are more responsive and able to connect with customers on a deeper, more meaningful level. Next, use new tactics to connect with customers. They can be as simple as posting more helpful videos, engaging customers in groups on LinkedIn, "Tweeting" valuable information (which can have multiple contributors such a Product Managers, Presidents or anyone with insight and/or a big personality), and adding helpful links on customer service emails to your web, groups, and interactive communities or portals. Finally, look for ways to be more transparent and "social" to enrich customer connections by offering online contributions from customers as Starbucks has done (though a business-to-consumer model, consider the concept) by including their customers in polls and discussions. Technology can make a lot of this as easy as text messaging (as in my photo example shown here). 

Of course, these rules of Marketing will change by culture and technology infrastructure. Companies with a strong presence in Asia, for example, will benefit from an equally 'traditional' and 'social' approach.

So what's going to happen? I believe that as time passes, the companies that choose to "wait & see" or continue to drag their feet and believe that the Social Era is a fad will be the ones to bleed and loose market share. Don't wait until the Death of Marketing kills your company too. Be quick, be nimble, try things and enable your teams to connect. You'll make mistakes; there are no home runs, but I implore you to step up to the plate and stay in the game. 

Marketing is Dead

The changes our industry has seen in the last five years may suggest that marketing is dead. But is it?

Based on this popular topic in a Harvard Business Review blog, traditional marketing communications is no longer effective. Our market has a massive global reach with new competitors popping up seemingly daily. Buyers exhibit very little brand loyalty and the avenues for getting leads, which used to be through a few select industry sources (magazines, tradeshows, direct mail), now are handled in multiple locations online for customers to find you based on keywords ( and if you are not listed on their keyword search results, for example, it’s as if you don’t exist).

To some, marketing really does seem “dead.” But it is not.

Marketing is still very much alive. And, it is the communication method that has been turned upside down! Traditional marketing in the past has been an outbound communications exercise of print advertising, announcements, product tear-sheets, direct mail, and brochures. Today, these traditional marketing tactics have changed significantly because of a little thing called the Internet and a major movement called social media (case in point--see how PFFC has changed!). 

Today, marketing communications is about transparency, two-way interaction, and public connections with customers. It’s about being current and relevant online. Here are three big changes to focus on to stay alive and thrive in the game:

1.    Digital – Commit to being strong in your digital communications. Update your site so it is always current (consider agile development and cloud-based content management), and become digital in how you send information. This may seem obvious, but I’m amazed at how many companies still need to mail me packets of information, OR they email me a large PDFs that take up space in my email server and I have to download to open! Make your content available online. Convert your documents into public or password protected printable webpages and offer links. Only email or snail mail data if requested.
2.    Post – designate a group of people in your organization who can post reviews and interact with customers. Have them develop groups and join sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter as well as contribute to targeted sites like trade show blogs, MFG and directories such as Thomasnet. Make sure your team is aligned with your market message. Have them tell stories to support your brand messages.

3.    Use video. In 2014, 77% of visitors online will view video at least once a month. To engage customers and properly tell your story, invest in video. Even if you sell parts that go into OEM products, tell the story about your offering as Corning did in my example video where they painted a picture of the way their products will influence the future. This delivers huge brand credibility. Simple video can be fairly inexpensive, just make sure it reinforces your messages and engages your customers with something that is relevant and helps them connect with you.
Marketing is very much alive. It has changed from an outbound communication methodology to a movement of connecting with customers digitally. Leadership in our industry has been slow to adopt.
It takes executives with foresight to champion this communications change and move their marketing resources to more human expenses (labor) to support social media and online design and less in print communications of yesteryear. They will know to expect push-back, both internally and externally because leadership and vision is always met with reluctance to change. But true leadership embraces change and that is how to stay very much alive in the marketplace!

Your Best Trade Show Signs... A 4-Point Guide

Do you remember the statistic that two-thirds of what you communicate is nonverbal? This couldn’t be truer in the tradeshow environment. Make your booth do the heavy-lifing in communicating your company and offerings. Spend a little energy in thinking through your messaging for the visitor and reap the benefits of your customers being able to find you on the show floor and have a clear understanding of what you offer.


To think this through, you need to take away the human interaction in your booth and just focus on what the booth is communicating. I have found that the best way to communicate your message as an exhibitor is to follow this 4-point guide to graphic messaging.


  1. From a distance: Let customers find you by putting your brand name up high above the crowd and viewable from one, two even three aisles away. Make sure that sign is also viewable when they are down the aisle from your booth. It is very frustrating for visitors to look for your booth by booth number (as the numbers are not viewable while you are in the aisle), so make your brand name simple, bold and large enough to see from far-away.
  2. From 10-20 feet away: Not only should they see your brand name (as the master message), but at this distance they should see your product categories. Such as "Cutting" or "Sheeting". Let the visitor understand from this perspective what you provide to the industry. Have headings of your major product lines, categories or industries served, if that is how your organize your product portfolio.
  3. From within the booth: Product Name and Benefits. As they walk up to the different demonstration areas, they should know the name of the product being demonstrated and the benefit it provides (faster throughput, best quality, etc.).
  4. As they are at the product, list the features and provide the technical details. It would be optimal if you can tie those features to the benefits that the customer will receive by owning your product or service offering.


A fun exercise you and your team can do at the next show is to walk around and look at other exhibitors. What are they doing right and what are they doing wrong? Sometimes there are so many designed graphics in a booth that I know their name but I don't understand what they do. Other times, they have so few signs and their company name is an acronym and I think, "who are they and what do they do?".


Without good thought about what you are communicating, you are leaving money on the table by not optimizing your messaging. Signs are important to pull customers in to your booth and if you do it right, they will represent you as an easy-to-understand business. After all, who doesn't want to do business with someone who is clear and easy-to-understand?

#1 Tip for Tradeshow Success

If you are like many manufacturers I know, you are busy preparing for CPP Expo, Drupa, Labelexpo Americas, Pack Expo, ICE Asia and/or others. If so, there is one thing that I would urge you to consider before getting to the show floor… 


“What will your visitors experience while visiting your booth?”


Participating in a tradeshow is one of the most expensive marketing and sales investments we incur, and yet it boggles my mind that so many exhibitors have the “build-it-and-they-will-come” mentality. 


Give your booth visitors a memorable experience that connects with your company’s products and services. You can do this by engaging your customer with a low-risk, possibly fun activity that creates an opportunity to discuss your featured products and services. Some ideas that have been successful in the past have been…

  1. Give visitors a T-Shirt/Hat/Tumbler in exchange for watching your new product demonstrations. It takes them 2 minutes to get exposure to what you do and then you collect their information for follow-up (if they are real prospects, they will stop and talk… if not, you need to mark them as “not a prospect” so you don’t waste your time in following-up). 
  2. Hire a ‘personality’ to pull people into your booth. I hired a very talented shoe shiner in Montreal that got the prospects talking about their business while in the chair. It was a slow show and he did a good job of pulling in some business. Professional talent (models) that have the right approach can be a wonderful attraction to your booth; however, make sure you see how they engage with customers before hiring ‘blind’ since they do represent your brand on the show floor.
  3. Give visitors a game they can win, but tie that game into what you are promoting. For example, Green Bay Packaging used to tie football into their booth and made an excellent environment with a toss and popcorn! I’ve seen darts used to demonstrate how market research targets your investment.


Provide your customers an engaging reason to be in your booth, and make sure your activity or ‘theme’ is easy to understand and ties in with your offering. This one tip will help significantly to maximize your trade show investment… simply by considering your visitor’s experience.




World Record! Now that’s NEWS!

Upgrade Breaks Record!World Record! Now that’s NEWS!

I came across this article on how an industry supplier helped one of their customers increase the speed on their line so much that it broke a record. “Wow,” I thought, “How did they do that?” I’m sure many people scanning the headline had the same curiosity. This example brings up an emotional topic to many marketers and editors and I would like to address the topic, “What is Newsworthy?"

Read more ...

Got Bad News? YOU Tell It!

In the news today Coca-Cola announced that they found fungicides in their products containing orange juice and they were the first to break the news. Instead of denying involvement, waiting for someone else to prove it, or pointing the finger, they came out immediately and broadcasted the possible risk to the press and have been communicating openly with them. What would you do if you found an issue in your product that might either cause harm or erupt on the factory floor at your customer's site?

Legally, you have an obligation to inform your customers of any potential harm your product could cause. A low-risk method of informing your customers is to send them a letter. But there is a H-U-G-E brand opportunity you would be stepping over. What would happen if you informed the press and worked with your association and customers to alleviate any risks and problems? The answer is that most likely, your brand credibility will increase significantly. You will be perceived in the marketplace as accountable, trustworthy, strong and open. Think about the airline industry and how studies have shown that airplane crashes -- despite potentially tragic consequences-- most commonly increase the brand recognition of a company...

Think this through and consider the next time you have some bad news (hopefully nothing catastrophic) to turn it into a branding opportunity.

The Source of Your Mojo, Step Two

In my last post, I described how your brand is the center of your Marketing Mojo--what people think and feel about your brand every time they encounter it. I challenged you to take the first step and hone in on four words that designate what your brand represents. This first step in defining your core market messages is critical to developing a brand strategy. Now let’s look into the second step.

Read more ...

Subscribe to PFFC's EClips Newsletter