As I was scanning the paper and my online newsletters recently, a couple of unrelated news bits suddenly coalesced around 3 concepts that have served me well as I’ve sought to help companies grow lo these many years.

dunkin.jpgFirst, it was the Wall Street Journal with a story about Starbucks introducing new breakfast combo pricing.  Talk about being a follower:  this has been McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts turf for some time.  But while McDonald’s responded by saying the same old thing – that it’s confident consumers know where to go for value, blah blah – Dunkin Donuts quietly introduced a new consumer benefit that rose above the existing melee over pricing.  A Dunkin marketer said, “We believe we are the faster and more affordable alternative” to Starbucks.”

Faster?  Faster!  Where did come from??  Curses!  And what can Starbucks say, given that they’re firing baristas left and right and were painfully slow even before that?

Dunkin moved the game into open territory.  Let everyone else try to out-price each other:  we’ll just introduce an entirely new thought that matters to customers.  This reminded me of Life Concept #1:  Wayne Gretzky‘s famous line, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  I honestly use this thought frequently, when I am thinking about how to build a winning strategy.  Don’t just whack each other with sticks and tear up the ice: take the game into new territory where one of your own assets can be truly superior.stephanie-fierman-success-sign.jpg

Define the field:  don’t let it define you.

Next was a recent blip in the ongoing rift between Barron’s and CNBC’s Jim Cramer.  Apparently, Barron’s doesn’t like Cramer all that much and says (repeatedly, to anyone who will listen) that Cramer’s stock picks don’t live up to the size of his personality. 

Whatever.  A big part of Cramer’s whole shtick is that he’s tough, he’s outspoken, he’s gonna do what he wants and say what he wants.  CNBC should have brushed this off.  Instead, the network took the bait and issued what I thought was quite a surprising “let’s take this outside!” response:

You wrote a premeditated hatchet job to curry favor with your new bosses at News Corp.,” said CNBC’s [spokesman Brian] Steel. “[Cramer] doesn’t consider you a journalist.”

Yikes! So, wait: if CNBC actually cares enough about Barron’s commentary to issue this statement, maybe there is something to worry about here and I should pay a little more attention to Cramer’s recommendations… thinketh the consumer.  Apparently this spat has gone public before, with CNBC responding with lawyers, calls to Dow Jones execs and other temper tantrum-like behaviors.

Silicon Alley Reporter‘s Henry Blodget hit the nail on the head: CNBC played Barron’s game, instead of its own.  Jim Cramer’s entertainment value makes huge money for the network.  So why stoop to play Barron’s level? 

If I were in charge of CNBC’s brand and communications I would simply say (to my angry bosses, probably), “Who cares?  Who cares what Barron’s thinks?  Why are we giving Barron’s the time of day? Let’s issue a statement that says ‘We love Jim Cramer and his fans do, too,’ and that’s it.”  Over and out.   

Which brings me to Life Concepts #2 and #3…

lighthouse-stephanie-fierman.jpg#2 is an old Chiat|Day planning concept: you want to be a lighthouse brand.  You want to be the brand on the hill, whose certain features/benefits/emotional connections others can’t touch.  You want everyone looking up the hill at you.  Dunkin Donuts understood this with just one tiny statement and CNBC should have, as well.  Cramer is entertaining and fun.  Is Barron’s fun and exciting?  No?  Then use that.  Too much obsessing about the competition can cripple innovative thinking if it gets you all tangled in the other guy’s rules. 

What have you got that they don’t?

And finally, Concept #3 comes from the world of media training, and anyone who has trained (me) or been trained (by me) knows this critical rule:  regardless of what you might be asked, make sure you say what you came to say.  You are there to communicate certain points and you will do that regardless of whether it fits the other person’s/group’s agenda or not.  Have you noticed how well politicians do this?  Have you ever watched the Sunday morning news shows and thought that maybe you just missed something, because a commentator asked a question and the guest answered an entirely different question?  A new friend from Thomson Reuters just reminded me that Reagan was the master of this at press conferences.  You ask about the Middle East and – if he’s there to talk about the economy – that’s what you got.

Don’t let anyone else make you fuzzy, or pull you off course.

These concepts and their application are a big part of my passion for making brands, and businesses, and YOU a success.  They are timeless and true.  Whether you are a one-man shop or one of a zillion employees, change your thinking.  Be the lighthouse.  Set the agenda.  See what happens.  No one can respond to something you uniquely own.
So own it.


If you’d like to see more of Stephanie Fierman (and, really, who wouldn’t?), please check out my second (and more frequently updated) blog, Stephanie Fierman Marketing Daily.  Thank you.


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