Published on: February 17, 2010by Michael Sansolo
There are weeks when the number of topics presenting us with lessons overwhelms the “in” box. So even though I’m the guy with a non-functional snow thrower and four feet of snow, allow me to take a crack at two recent ones worth thinking about.
First there was the Super Bowl. It was a great game that for once was way better than the commercials. But for me, a long-time fan of The Who, halftime was a disappointment. All people age and voices age with them, but I prefer to keep my memories of Roger Daltry the way he used to be. Back to the IPod I guess.
My 23-year-old daughter had a different reaction. While she understands why the networks are skittish about halftime acts since the infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction,” she doesn’t understand why all the acts since then fall into the same category: old, white and male. (Somehow she missed the year Prince performed, but that aside from that she has a point.) Much as I love McCartney, Springsteen, the Stones and Tom Petty, they all do fall into the same group of performers and demographics.
As my daughter put it, having Beyonce instead might actually bring a new audience to the Super Bowl and no performer will make a wardrobe error ever again. And the lesson to us in marketing is clear. Let’s never forget the entire audience isn’t like us, which means we may have to stretch to find a new answer. And sometimes we have to consider those who are very, very different than us.
Second there is the stunning case of Toyota. As I have written before, I have a long and happy history with my Toyotas so the sudden rash of problems is really stunning. And by that I don’t mean the small number of acceleration or braking accidents. Rather it’s the company’s reaction. It seems stunningly competent, logical and complete, especially the decision to stop production of automobiles, which is no small matter. If you think about it logically, Toyota has done a great job responding.
So why does it seem so empty?
Do the words too little, too late mean anything? Once again Toyota is learning the terrible lesson that more problems come from the cover up, not the crime. What’s going to linger with people about Toyota is that they apparently had ample warnings in Japan and the US about the problems and failed to act. Plus once they acted, it seemed unemotional and uncaring.
The parallel to the food industry is stunning. This industry has the gold standard of lessons thanks to the reaction Tylenol offered the world in the early 1980s. Remember, that Tylenol did nothing wrong back then. The company was victimized by a lunatic intent on using a painkiller to cause pain and death. The lingering memory of that case is that Tylenol understood the reaction had to be swift, the words and feelings had to convey both sympathy and support. Tylenol pulled all its products from the shelves, created a whole new industry of tamper resistant and evident packaging that both annoy and protect us. And when the product returned a year later, its market share soared higher than ever.
Against that backdrop, Toyota presents a terribly different picture. Its problems are all of its own doing. No one tampered with the brakes or accelerators. And, in truth, the company took dramatic action, shutting down production and working overtime to fix everything.
But read the messages in Toyota’s ads on the problem. They remain unemotional, sober and completely lacking the compassion that seems so necessary at a time like this.
Ask yourself, as you always should, what would I do? What would I do if I ran the Super Bowl halftime show? What would I do if I ran Toyota? Odds are, you won’t do either one, but the lessons are guaranteed to come in handy. Sometimes we can pretend to stand in someone else’s shoes to learn a great lesson.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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