Jennifer B. Davis

In Portland there is a tile-lined tunnel leading out of downtown where exhaust grime collects. Often there will be "graffiti" on the wall that isn't graffiti at all, but rather someone writing a message by writing in the grime. Things like "Happy Birthday, Brittney" are common. It is a variation of "Wash Me" written on a dirty back windshield.

Now someone is making a business of this. Street Advertising Services uses high-pressure cleaning machines to wash advertisements and logos onto dirty pavements using a client-specified stencil.

The idea was born from a frustration of the founder of trying to find an inexpensive way to advertise in London. The company operates mainly in the UK, but it is open to projects elsewhere. This would be the easiest business to start. I expect it to take off in other markets.

Look for an ad in a tunnel near you!

P.S. Beyond advertising, why not sell standard stencils of reindeer to people for their driveways to deck them out for the holiday season?

Jennifer B. Davis
Robert Heinlein is credited with this great quote: “Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.”

This not only applies to inventors and product innovators. It applies to everyone.

No matter what we might try to get ourselves to believe about our customers (or ourselves), people are generally lazy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. People don't have time or interest to do hard things. They are busy. They are occupied with other important things. Your complex or difficult requests just might not be worth the effort. So, you have to raise your game. You have to make things easy.

Said another way, "Customers are not all early adopters. You must create easier ways for your customers to do something."
Jennifer B. Davis
Here is my theory: "Everything (every product or service sold) is a commodity."

How can I make such a bold statement? Isn't there a difference between bulk feed corn and a high-precision German sportscar?

Here is my rationale:

- Most goods and services are bought with cash (or the promise of cash, but that is a different post). Even those bought through barter arrangements often use the cash value as a medium for setting fair exchange rates.

- That cash could be used to buy any other good or service. Something marketers know as indirect or alternative competition. This is even more pronounced today than ever before because every local purchase is now competiting for resources with every purchase that can be made online.

- Cash is a commodity. It is ubiquitous. It has primary and secondary markets built around it. You can track its value (in terms of buying power) in a whole host of syndicated reports. The business of moving cash has hundreds of competitors.

- Because you buy with cash and cash is a commodity, then every good that you purchase ultimately competes against any other good and thus is a commodity.

So, the role of corporate strategy (and of course marketing and advertising, as Hugh Macleod's cartoon posted here so aptly describes) is to fight the gravity of commodification with its opposite...differentiation.

But rather than starting from a baseline of differentiation (and fighting the slippery slope downmarket), why not embrace the slippery slope? And challenge your organization to think about what makes a commodity successful? A simple selling proposition. Clean channels of distribution. A high-quality product that doesn't require a lot of post-sales support. A lean organization focused on taking cost out of the system.

Then from there, the business can decide how it wants to differentiate. Generally, this is accomplishing by competiting on more than a single commodity category. IKEA doesn't only distribute Swedish fiberboard, but also markets high-style Scandanavian design. Ferrari sells the ability to get from point A to point B, and style, and the ability to beat someone off the line.

Jennifer B. Davis
I hired a doula when my son was born and her published rate was a range. She encouraged her clients to pay whatever they felt fair within that range, based on the quality of the services provided. At the time it struck me as an interesting pricing model. Very collaborative. Very service-oriented. Horribly unpredictable.

The band Radiohead has made news recently by letting their fans pay whatever they want for the new album. The magazine Paste is following suit, allowing people to pick their own subscription price (at least for a couple of weeks).

Following Radiohead's 'pay what you want' pricing scheme for their latest album, In Rainbows, indie pop culture magazine Paste is giving its readers the option of paying whatever they like for a subscription. "We were curious to know what our customers thought we were worth. And what better way to find out, than to let them tell us?" explains Paste President/Publisher Tim Regan-Porter. "While it's certainly a bit unconventional, we also see it as a chance to get our product in the hands of people who could become lifelong fans."

So, part "puppy" strategy (as in, no one wants a dog, until they get a cute, little puppy) and part pricing research, this new tactic may be crazy or brilliant. I love the idea of getting real feedback on the pricing elasticity of a market by allowing people to set a price.

That said, so much of how we view pricing (both from a customer and company perspective) isn't absolute, but relative. If someone could pick their price of a Rolls Royce, would the brand have the same cache? If the marketplace decided that you could only charge $5, for something that costs $7 to deliver, is your marketing "bad" (feature/benefit positioning, awareness, channel coverage) or is your cost structure out of line?
Jennifer B. Davis
If you have worked in a corporate environment, you know how nice it is to have a library of documents that can be utilized. Whether they be standard non-disclosure agreements or worksheets that lead people through the copywriting process, it is often these documented "best practices" that help make companies successful.

Now, there is a library repository for the little guy: .docstoc. It literally should be called "" as that is what it is. A user generated community where people share professional documents. Today there is an NDA, a purchase agreement, a last will and testament, a list of jokes, and a white paper about the circulation of the blood, among the thousands of documents posted.
Jennifer B. Davis
I wanted to alert those loyal readers of this blog that the URL will be changing in the coming weeks. I am taking back for some new things I am working on. More details will follow about that later, but for now I must, sadly, leave you guessing.

This blog covering all things innovative, interesting, and ironic (at least to me) will still be available directly at Adjust your RSS readers and Favorites lists accordingly.

Do keep on your radar screen, however, as exciting things will be happening there soon! Stay tuned!

Jennifer B. Davis
Sometimes you read research reports and they change your mind. Other times, you read the summary of a multi-year, multi-billion dollar study and think "Did we really need a research study to tell us that eating fried foods leads to weigh gain?"

Then there is the 3rd category. The research reports you can't quite belief, or disprove. There was an interesting article in the New York Times about some research around the correlation between intelligence and physical height. It is strange research, that is hard to explain or justify. If it is true, I'd like to know why taller people are statistically smarter.

Are there other things you have read like this that just leave you scratching your head?
Jennifer B. Davis

In Tim Ferriss' provocative book, 4 Hour Workweek, he redefines what it means to be an expert and sets the threshold very low. He contends that if you have read 3 more books on the subject than the average person on the street, you can consider yourself an expert. The more you are asked for your opinion, the more people will ask for your opinion and so your celebrity (and implied expertise) grows.

So, although I don't agree with Mr. Ferriss about many things, it did make me think about what I knew better than the average person. The first thing that came to mind: air travel (probably because I was reading the book in the SFO terminal). Not just air travel in general, but business travel. Not just business travel, but how to travel for business when you are early in your career (some of the things that I have learned the hard way, but wished someone would have told me when I was just out of college). Perhaps, I will write a book (or a whole seminar series on CD with a workbook, as Tim recommends, that I will sell for $89).

In this book, I will have a whole chapter dedicated to the principle of "Never Pack More Than You Can Lift."
Jennifer B. Davis
Can that be true? According to the folks at Comscore it is.

How we take things for granted!
Jennifer B. Davis

Do a little experiment this next week. Keep track of how many hours you spend doing the following activities. All of your work hours must be sorted in the bucket which best describes the activity:
  • Internal Coordination and Alignment: those activities focused on status reporting, getting buy-in, getting updates, correcting misunderstandings, and setting priorities.
  • External Results: those activities which directly produce, execute, for fiinish something visible for the customer, which they value.
The Lean strategists would tell you the more things you do that are directly visible and valued by the customer, the leaner the organization overall. I am not sure who said it first, but you should never equate activity with results.
Jennifer B. Davis
I am reminded of a poem I once read when my youngest brother was small that read "Even when removed of all obvious confections, children are sticky."

To be sticky in a business concept is to have an idea, product, or website that keep people keep coming back to (in their actions, their words, etc). I have read that you need to be controversial and polarizing if you want to create buzz on the internet (as measured by trackbacks). I guess the adage is true that "bad publicity is still publicity," even on the internet.

In broader terms, businesses want to have sticky products to build customer loyalty. Marketers and campaign leaders want sticky ideas. Chip Heath author of "Made to Stick" contends that all sticky ideas share six principles:
1. Simple
2. Unexpected
3. Concrete
4. Credible
5. Emotional
6. Story

Perhaps that is why children are sticky afterall.

P.S. If you want to find out how sticky your ideas, products, or company might be, here is a link to some tools that you can use to monitor web buzz.
Jennifer B. Davis
I am a fan of enthusiasm. That said, I thought this was just too funny to pass up. Gotta love Hugh at GapingVoid.