Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reinventing Reinventing The Wheel

The problem I have with most of the marketing blogs I read is that they seem to be geared for a marketing department whose CMO is Tinker Bell. And Ms. Bell must be in a bit of a rut, because she keeps touting the same solutions to all the world’s marketing problems.

For instance, “Anyone can use social media to build their brand – any brand -- into a powerhouse.” Oh, yeah? Start tweeting about Hardrock natural-gas nipples and see if anyone shows up but the crowd from outside FAO Schwanz.

Or here’s another one: “The key to effective marketing is to turn your best customers into brand evangelists.” Really? If a guy buys a million cubic yards of black dirt from me he’s going to become an Al Sharpton of my black dirt, and he’s going to tell all his competitors, who would disembowel him as much as look at him, to buy my black dirt, and they’re actually going to do it? Maybe if they’re just coming off of an acid trip, but otherwise they’re going to tell Rev. Al what he can do with his black dirt, and it’s going to be a stretch to fit a million cubic yards of topsoil in there.

Either that or the solutions sound like they were taken from that Monty Python sketch on how to rid the world of all known diseases: “Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again.” I can make a lot of marketing problems disappear by throwing a million dollars at them, but I guarantee the mill will disappear faster than the problem.

Where’s the real-world stuff – besides here, of course? Well, no matter, because it’s here and it’s going to stay here.

Now here’s a real real-world question: When is the right time to start from scratch?
You know what I mean. The workaday marketing challenges have nothing to do with the launch of an epochal new product, backed by barcode scans and mobile ads and celebrity appearances and product placement on Regis and Kelly and pre-rolls on YouTube and Super Bowl ads and ooh look skywriting. Instead, they’re questions like, “How do I communicate this subtle product change to a niche audience using the least amount of time and money?”

The easiest way is to rely on the past. If you communicated the change from a 1/8-inch flange to a 3/16-inch flange using a modified sell-sheet and an e-mail blast, chances are you can communicate the change from a ¾-inch washer to a 25/32-inch washer the same way. You can probably even use the same sell-sheet and e-mail templates. The world will forgive you for not hiring Cameron Diaz to get this point across.

However, overreliance on this tactic is a trap. If you treat nothing as truly special and new, eventually your audiences will get the idea that there is nothing special and new about you, that you are the K mart of your particular market and you deserve the K mart treatment, which ranges between derisive scorn and leper-like screaming avoidance. Unless chocolate-covered cherries are on sale.

The answer to this question is obviously somewhere between never reinventing and constantly reinventing, but the real answer is tied in with the answer to this rhetorical question: If you don’t believe in your product, how can you expect the outside world to believe?

I was the defacto marketing department for a company trying to build its cash coffers in advance of an IPO. As a green-grabbing tactic it was flooding the market with products that, in Dave Barry’s immortal words, were “clearly an industrial prank. It was all the people on the assembly line could do to not shoot rivets into each other, they were laughing so hard.”

When we rolled out the latest batch of sheet-iron one-liners to the sales force with all the straight faces and go-get-‘em enthusiasm we could muster on a weekly retainer, we were greeted with a universal message: “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Only they didn’t say “kidding.”

The products were worse than molybdenum on a stick. We knew it, but we had to put give them to the sales force anyway. The sales force knew it, and they had to put on their best sales face (i.e., lie) and tell their customers that these were the best thing since chocolate-covered bacon on a stick.

You can only ask your sales force to sell (i.e., lie) so much, and this was too much. This was lying of an immense scale not seen since the ads in this morning’s local newscast. Though the spirit was willing the flesh was weak, the products tanked, the company filed Chapter 11, and we moved on to a different weekly retainer called unemployment.

I’m not saying that none of this would have happened if the sales force had believed the howling mongrels we gave them were presents from Santa. I’m saying you need to market to maximize everyone’s belief in what you’re marketing.

So the answer to the question is a question: When do you reinvent the wheel? When it’s necessary for everyone to believe that this product or change or report or brochure really is special and important.

Let’s be honest: If you make embroidery floss, there’s not a lot that you can do to your product to make it more special and important, unless you put a vial of KISS blood in every red dye-lot. The status quo will probably do just fine.

However, there will come a time when sales have plateaued and enthusiasm likewise and you need to give the product a kick in the slats. That’s the time to put on the creativity hat, reach for the magic wand (I have one at my desk – doesn’t everyone?) and change things around.

Similarly, there are a number of reports I produce every year. They’re basic research that outlines our market, its demographics and competitors.

For four years I used one basic format for the reports, and things trucked along swimmingly. No one had any complaints, nor would they have if I had replaced all content back of the table of contents with plain paper.

This year I totally redid the format and went the extra step of replacing all content back of the table of contents with plain paper. And you should have heard the complements roll in.

Obviously, the crack about replacing content with plain paper is a lie – rather, a sales tool. But the rest is true. The content of the reports changed only in the sense that there was less of it. In the delightful phrase coined by the auto industry, the reports were decontented. However, they looked much more special and were treated that way by their audience.

There are many legitimate reasons for letting the status quo rule: time, money, marketing objectives, sales goals, even inertia. Understanding when those are no longer reasonable excuses requires sensitivity to organizational culture and external needs. Good marketers are doing that already.

The real marketing world is about nothing so much as decisions. What gets the attention, and what goes begging? The good news is that if you didn’t before, you now know the questions to ask to make your decisions. Now, good luck explaining that to your boss.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Le ROI Has No Clothes

Like everyone else in this wide wired world I spend a lot of time reading marketing blogs. Now I realize that reading marketing blogs is, to paraphrase the comedian Lewis Black, like videotaping yourself spewing about marketing in front of a mirror so later you can spew about marketing while watching the video (he didn't say "marketing" but something very close to marketing), but I do it anyway. It gives my boss something to hold against me at evaluation time.

Okay, so yesterday I was reading something that came through the marvelous life-giving portal known as which stated that marketers now have so many things they can measure to prove ROI that they can't prove ROI because they can't figure out which numbers are meaningful.

Well, whaddya know? Here’s the very quote:

"’What's making everything much more murky is the amount of data that's available today,’ said media consultant Erwin Ephron. ‘It just blows the mind. It's very hard to think constructively about media planning when you have 500 different research sources telling you what's going on, because you can prove anything you want. We need to get back to a simple set of measurements that in fact identify response.’”

And furthermore, “A fundamental problem across all metrics is settling for what actually can be measured rather than measuring what actually contributes to the ultimate goal: sales, Mr. Ephron said.”

Hear that? That's the sound of the pendulum swinging the other way.

You knew this was going to happen. You knew that the rise of Barack Obama would spawn the anti-Obama(s), you knew the NBA would jerry-rig the free-enterprise system until it resembled Baksheesh Sunday in Monrovia so that three of its biggest superstars would wind up on the gateway team to the largest international market in the Western Hemisphere, and you knew, you just knew that as soon as a marketing universe was created where everything could be measured someone would come along and say that none of it meant anything. It was as obvious as the repartee in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

Mr. Ephron is a smart man. His blog ( is one of my favorites. And he cuts like Dr. Kildare to the heart of the matter, which is: It’s about sales. It’s not about measuring the amount of oxygen consumed by consumers watching videos of focus groups discussing tweets related to your product. It’s not measuring the space in hectares occupied by all your Web pages printed out and laid end-to-end. It’s about figuring out what people want to buy and selling it to them.

And here’s the kicker to that, previously mentioned but worth repeated nonetheless: You know the lion’s share of that, without measuring as much as a single click-through.

In almost every case you know more about your business, and selling, than you give yourself credit for, in part because you’ve been conditioned to believe that if you can’t quantify it, it doesn’t exist.

If you know about your business and think about your business – the two aren’t the same -- you develop hunches, and you can’t quantify a hunch any more than you can quantify what makes my son love applesauce on his spaghetti. But your hunches are valid. Much as the numerologists would prefer otherwise, you know things about your business that defy quantification and measurement.

The problem is that someone at a level of biological development rivaling the slime mold will eventually demand that quantification and measurement, and when you say, “I know because I know the market,” they will tell you it’s not good enough and boot you down the stairs with their prehensile foot.

This has to stop, and if Mr. Ephron is right it will stop. People who know their business, their products and their markets need to once again be given credit for their knowledge. The outsourcing of credibility to a cockeyed phrenologist who claims to be able to establish a movable concept called “ROI” must stop.

After all, what is a reasonable return on investment? What constitutes a return? All sales, or only profitable sales? Sales plus inquiries? Increases in name recognition or brand awareness? A swell in social-media volume? Any and all of them have been measured under the guise of ROI – but are they equally valid?

And here we go again: What constitutes an investment? Spending of dollars? Expending of resources? Thought time? An idea might have percolated in someone’s brain for a decade before exiting relatively full-blown and ready for the market. How do you measure that as an investment?

And to paraphrase Bill Clinton, what do we mean by “on”?

Have an aspirin; it’s good for your heart. And while it’s dissolving, a story.

My pal Carmen told me about a meeting she had with a marcomm manager/client that was looking for help launching a slightly modified version of one of its least popular products. Carmen told her, “The first thing we need to do is come up with internal and external communications plans for the product launch.”

The manager/client blanched –parboiled, maybe – and said, “Well, what’s the sales goal for that? There has to be something we can measure with this, if we’re going to do it.”

Carmen said, “It’s just a plan to create materials for a product launch. There’s nothing to measure. If the product takes off, is it because we did good telling your internal people what we’re going to say and who we’re going to say it to? It’s the things you do that matter, not the things you say you’re going to do.”

“Yeah, but how much more are we going to sell if we do this?” She still didn’t get it.

Let me make it easy for you. The three things you need to keep track of are your budget, your sales goal – overall, if you please -- and your actual sales. What are you spending money on? Does it line up with what and where you’re selling? And does what and where you’re selling line up with what and where you were planning on selling?

A budget tracks dollars, not time, and that’s as it should be. Everyone spends time on something at work – your projects, other people’s projects, eating, the Internet, Facebook, phone pranks, something. But fewer projects usually mean more time spent on each one, doing the same things to achieve the same end.

In other words, time is elastic. Dollars aren’t.

Even though sales goals may be created in a place somewhere south of Gumdrop Valley, they’re a number as firm as the calves of a Dancing With The Stars partner. Actual sales are harder than the payments on a BMW 7-series. And it’s easy to tell where sales are coming from.

So here you go: Three hard numbers that line up if things behave the way you think they should and don’t line up if they don’t behave. Measure away. And think of all the actual work you can do in the time you’re not spending measuring all that other junk.

Once you get off of Facebook, that is.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Which Came First: The Chicken, Or The Budget For The Chicken?

Every Monday I scratch my head and wonder what I’m going to write about this week, and usually by Tuesday it’s figured out for me.

This week no sooner had I raked the dandruff from my scalp when a marketing pal came despairing my way, crawling barelegged through the berber, his personal electronics trailing behind him, clutching his bewhiskered throat and gasping for air.

“Marketing-plan time again?” I asked, and he nodded. His throat and tongue were too parched and swollen for him to speak.

I gave him a swig of Diet Mountain Dew and he perked up imperceptibly. “What is it now?” I asked. “Budgets?” He nodded. “Projects – to-do list?” He nodded again. “Sales – as in, how does all this mesh with what sales wants to do?” He nodded one more time.

“Sit down,” I said, though he preferred to remain in a fetal position on the floor. “I know just what you’re going though.” And from there I proceeded to enlighten him thuswise:

Marketing plans are bigger minefields than the Afghan interstate system. They are the no-win document to end all no-win documents. If they’re detailed, they’re unreadably long. If they’re kept short, they’re vague and unsubstantiated. If they involve other departments they’re too ambitious. If they stick to marketing-department actions they ignore the intertwined reality. If they only focus on marketing tactics to achieve sales goals they ignore the broader picture. If they speak too much to achieving the corporate mission they ignore sales. If they’re designed to function within a budget they lack vision and creativity. If they reach for the moon they’re dismissed as pie-in-the-sky twaddle. And you’re gonna be held to what you say, unless we decide to hold you to something else – but if we do decide to hold you to something else, we’re not going to tell you.

And not only does a marketing department need to have one of these delightful documents, they need it done and on the CEO’s desk by Monday.

Here’s the deal: You’re not going to win with a marketing plan. You just aren’t. Five people are going to complain about strategy, three are going to rip on tactics, accounting is absolutely going to lay one down over the budget, and at least one yabbo is going to grouse over the cover design.

Confronted with all that, what do most marketing directors do? They say, “To heck with it,” and call in their cum laude graduate of the Garden Party School of Marketing (motto: “You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself”) to do the marketing plan.

Bad wrong, or as they say in Australia, wrong bad.

Okay, the first part is right. The essential first step in creating a minimally unsuccessful marketing plan is acknowledging that a marketing plan exists so people who aren’t in marketing can hold you accountable for things you shouldn’t be held accountable for. The success or failure of a product, for instance. Now, marketing is at the locus of taking a product from the lab to the market, but if the product is bad when R&D says it’s good, is it marketing’s fault? If the sales force treats the product the way a threatened senator treats a presidential visit, is it marketing’s fault?

You know the answer to this question. It is: Yes. You should have seen it coming. Acknowledge it and move on.

The second imperative is to treat the relationship among budget, tactics, and outcomes like you really understand it. Essentially, a marketing plan says, “I plan on doing x, costing y, to achieve z.” At some point you’ll be asked to defend each component as well as the logical string, and the circumstances which made this necessary in the first place, but that’s no surprise. You simply have to be prepared to answer the questions -- and it’s your choice whether you do it inside or outside of the marketing plan.

The nice thing about intertwining budget, tactics, and outcomes in a marketing plan is that you acknowledge that marketing costs money (which accounting loves), and that expenditures and tactics – “hard” tactics like products and “softer” ones like press releases – are going directly toward outcomes, which sometimes go by the sobriquet of “sales.” This makes Sales happy, though Sales is easily pleased. In the corporate menagerie Sales is the Poky Little Puppy.

To justify the title, this approach acknowledges that if you want a chicken you have to budget for one. You can’t simply hope that Product Development lays an egg.

The third point, which is less an imperative than a really strong suggestion, is to minimize numbers everywhere in a marketing plan, forward and background, hard numbers and projections, dollars and units. You can hide behind numbers; I get that. And so does everyone else. Besides, marketing departments come in two flavors: the kind where they believe your numbers and the kind where they don’t. If they believe your numbers you don’t have to put them in the marketing plan because if people believe your numbers they believe most everything else you say. If they don’t believe your numbers all you do by putting numbers in the marketing plan is open yourself up to ridicule.

You’re going to be questioned, so you might as well say, “This is the way it is,” using words (revolutionary, I know), and then haul up your numbers to answer a specific question.

I know it seems counterintuitive in the age of MEM (Measuring Everything Marketing) to eschew numbers in a marketing plan, but a marketing plan isn’t about hitting numbers; it’s about employing strategies to get to a point where the numbers will occur. It’s about doing to achieve; costs are a throughput. In the movie Chicken Run the nutty prisoner professor chicken lays out the mathematical case for a chicken flying, but when they actually launch the chicken according to the numbers, what happens? Chicken splat. The chickens don’t get off the ground until they ditch the math and devise strategies for getting off the ground.

Sweet philosophy, but you can’t abandon numbers entirely in a marketing plan. However, if you save the stats for costs and outcomes and let your vendors supply the former and Sales the latter, you can keep building the road. Math will tell you how fast to go in the corners.

Employ this strategy and you can get through a marketing plan in five pages – 10, tops. If you’re not there, try axing the season recap and the eight pages of market-share pie charts and the Post-It budget and five years of sales numbers and the SWOT analyses of competitors’ janitorial services and see where you are. You are not your organization’s Homer. You are not writing the definitive history of Wiffman’s Waffles. You’re starting at a spot and moving forward in a tightly defined direction, and describing the path as succinctly as possible.

“Yes,” my parched friend croaked. “Yes, but – what do you do when what you say you’re going to do next year doesn’t line up with what you’re doing now?”

“Choose,” I said. “Actually, you have to build in a change of direction, wrap up what you’re doing now if you need to, and then lay out where you need to go from there. You can’t ignore the present, but you also can’t spend so much time and effort documenting what got you to the present that you lose sight of what’s going to make for a better future.

“That do it for you?” I asked, but my friend, still curled in the fetal position, was unresponsive. Dead – or worse.

“Plumb tuckered out,” I whispered, leaving the office and closing the door softly behind me. “And the CEO still needs a plan on his desk by Monday.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tomorrow's Media Today

As Ira Gershwin noted, things have come to a pretty pass. My technologically backward friend Jim who would not tweet if his life were dependent on his being able to say “Help!” in less than 140 characters now has a blog.

Actually, it’s a sort of a blog. It’s blogesque, a demiblog. It may just be other people doing his blogging for him, if Jim’s first post is any indication. It’s a call for all his friends to submit their thoughts on the future of media.

In the words of Texas-swing fiddler Johnny Gimble, “Well, wind me up.” I haven’t written out much on the future of media, though it’s a subject that’s dear to my heart – and wallet. I used to make my living through the media and would like again to make my living through the media, in one form or another. I even have a plan in mind of how this might occur, which I am not sharing with anyone who is not willing to pay me for it, and the chances of that are less than the chances of me dressing up like Prince and playing a guitar shaped like an Egyptian fertility symbol. In church.

This is a synopsis of what I wrote for Jim (which I haven’t written yet, but not for lack of want-to), spun towards marketing. Because while marketing is not media – a fact of which I must be continuously reminded – marketing cannot exist without media providing the conduits of information from seller to buyer (and, don’t forget, buyer to seller).

When considering the future of media, remember that media don’t die. True, the telegraph is dead, and there’s not a lot of traffic in jungle drums and smoke signals. But those media channels were highly content-poor and technologically backward, and there are modern channels that do what they do better. Text messaging, for instance.

So, in other words, in five years we will still have the opportunity to consume every form of media we currently consume. All the talk of media going away is hoohah. That’s not the way we behave. When it comes to communication we’re a civilization of ragpickers. We take what we like from here and there and build a sort of media lean-to that serves as our communication structure. I just bought a new turntable so I can record my vinyl onto a CD, which I send via USB to my phone, where I can share it via Facebook – though I may then turn around and write about the experience for a magazine.

What media could go away?

Not the magazine. The magazine will survive. An iPad app may offer more interactivity, but a printed magazine is a more engaging sensory experience. I read The Complete New Yorker on my computer, but I also check out the back issues from the library. The completeness of the DVDs is a plus, but the computer is unable to duplicate the experience of reading an actual 80-year-old magazine.

The newspaper will survive, but not all newspapers will survive. Most current newspapers sell a sort of immediacy, with a lack of interactivity, eye appeal, reporting depth, and writing skill as a tradeoff. That’s not good enough. For a newspaper to survive in print it’ll have to be better-looking and better-written than its online competition – more like a highly local magazine, in other words.

Television will survive as one of many screens. I ascribe to the theory that visual content will become more and more standardized and only the size of the screen will change. The distribution channels are working their kinks out, but how could you not bet on Apple, Amazon, and Google/YouTube being the winners, with Facebook coming up hard on the rail?

Media savants NRBQ are fond of reminding us that there ain’t no free, and we are bound to learn that all over again in the next five years. iTunes showed the way for iTV, and with a little help from Amazon and Microsoft the market has been established. Songs cost 99 cents. TV shows cost 99 cents. Books are $10 and the book reader is $100 and falling. It won’t be long before long-form journalism articles from content providers like are 99 cents, and a full magazine for the iPad stabilizes at around $3. Cats riding skateboards may still be free, but enjoy free concert footage, movie clips, and TV shows while you can. They’re not long for this world.

But what about the savior of us all, the game-changer of the epoch, user-generated content?

User-generated content is hardly a new thing. And not only that, but the readership numbers for old-school user-generated content are hardly worse than the numbers for new-school content. Blogs, tweets, texts, uploads, and postings are the new letters, sent to slightly more people with slightly less personalization, and with the middleman – the post office -- cut out. Bad time to be a mailman, business as usual for everyone else.

With blogs on the periphery and 90 percent of consumed content coming through controlled (and metered) channels, the crackpots are reduced to the status of crank letters, which is about where they are now, only we don’t see them that way because we’re so consumed by the newness of form that we miss the oldness of content. As the channels consolidate the need diminishes for search as we know it. Each channel will have its own dedicated search, and if it’s not coming through one of those tubes you probably don’t want it.

Advertising has a place because there will always be some organization wanting to own a piece of one or another channel and disinclined to believe it’s a total waste of money.

That leaves marketing. Marketing uses advertising as one of many tool groups, with each group made up of specific tools. Think of advertising as, oh, the chisels. What kinds of chisels – I mean, advertising – do I like? Pre-roll ads. Mobile ads. Crawls and banners on TV shows. Interstitials in e-books. Outdoor. In-hand. (Basically, anything you can hold in your hand.)

Then there’s public relations. There’s an article in today’s New York Times that public relations is more important than ever. I don’t doubt it. It ought to be.

Then there are the wide range of materials aimed at augmenting face-to-face meetings. More important than ever. As people consume more media and are increasingly bombarded with marketing messages as a result, the face-to-face meeting gains importance as an oasis of interpersonal interaction.

If my crystal ball shows the media model returning to a conventional form where a few big players control the most important channels, it does not show that it’s Turn Back The Clock Night all over the media firmament. Things have changed. Marketing through media has changed. But the advantage to the savvy marketer is in understanding how it’s changed.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's About Being The Best. Really It Is.

This probably wasn't supposed to happen, but today I saw the advertising agency's concepts for my company's national–advertising campaign. And all of a sudden I didn't have to worry about a column for this week.

The agency, which is a reasonable agency brain-wise and not so large that it's completely substituted billing for caring, delivered four concepts fleshed out into print advertisements.

Now you can argue convincingly that of all the promotional material an advertising agency could show a company which does not sell consumer packaged goods, full-page print ads are the least applicable to actual, you know, marketing. Our organization has a national print campaign, but neither myself nor my colleagues have seen any evidence of it, and that campaign isn't going more high-profile in 2011. Show us a sample Twitter feed, a Facebook page, a video, a banner, anything but a print ad. Or a direct-mail piece. But I digress.

The four concepts neatly sum up the prevailing approaches to advertising, both in graphic execution and in the fact that three of the four are completely wrong, and one is partially wrong.

The first concept was a continuation of the current campaign and slogan. Cover up the copy – and really, only about three words of the copy – and you can't tell whether the advertising is selling credit cards, feminine protection, or cheese. It’s all canvas and leather, made to look handmade and old when it’s really mass-produced and brand-new. And Chinese.

The second concept used graphics and small pictures in a late-'50s/early-'60s sort of way on a heavy solid-color background. The execution was semi-playful while remaining unfocused, and the copy once more was apropros of nothing. The complete concept could only be considered powerful if you sold orange ink.

I can't tell you anything about the third concept, because I can’t remember it.

The fourth concept got a little closer. While it shared the nondescript graphic look of the first campaign, its message had bite. We're the best, it said in so many words, and no one else can do what we do.

The message lacked fear, which made it seem so fresh and strong and atypical, because modern advertising and marketing lacks nothing so much as courage.

It takes zero intestinal fortitude to go the modern route and say, “Come to us for solutions,” because most of the problems these solutions purport to solve aren’t problems. Dancewear solutions? Final-expense solutions? Really? If you gotta dance, clothes aren’t a problem. Gene Kelly pulled it off as well in a tux as he did in a unitard as he did in a sopping-wet sack suit. And if you can’t afford a coffin with a USB port a pine box will suffice just fine. Trust me.

The moxie level takes a leap when you say, “We’re the best. Come get us,” yet that’s where the money is (and as anyone who’s matriculated at the Willie Sutton School of Marketing can tell you, you market where the money is).

Organizations invest vast sums in training and infrastructure. They hire the best people, provide them state-of-the-art tools, sweat every detail down to the molecular structure of Tab C, yet when it comes time to proclaim how wonderful and category-leading it all is, they can only muster enough courage to say, “We provide extruded-die solutions.”

Stop with the faux modesty already. People want to buy the best. They want to associate with the best. Your organization needs to find what it’s best at, and if it’s something that matters to its customers, your organization needs to proclaim that to the heavens.

There is no okay-right-fine-whatever in this statement. It needs to. Sales are at stake. Dollars are at stake.

The only company that ever got traction out of not being the best was Avis, and it actually took a roundabout way to bestness by saying, “We don’t sell the most, but our service is best.” Service is a tangible asset in the car-rental business, as anyone who’s stood in line at midnight in a stifling off-airport rental hovel can attest. Avis’ roundabout way worked, but try it again and prepare to have your lunch handed to you.

It’s like playing king-of-the-hill. The kid who sits at the bottom of the hill because he doesn’t want his stocking cap pulled off never gets his stocking cap pulled off, but he never gets to be king, either.

Some organizations need to sit at the bottom of the hill and guard their stocking cap. I get that. But they are one in a squillion. The rest of us need to be fighting for that hilltop, and once we’re there we need to shout, “We’re on top!” to the world.

The world will come and get you, and try to knock you off. The world always does. But the world’s coming to climb over you anyway. As long as they’re gunning for you, you may as well give them something real to shoot at.

If you’re good, say it. Say it in your ads, your e-mails, your mission statement, and your social-media marketing. (And, yeah, in your print ads, too.) Make sure your salespeople buy into it, and make sure they’re telling their customers.

Several lifetimes ago, in my packaged-product days, the sales VP handed out note pads and T-shirts with the slogan, “It’s About Being The Best.”

Now, “It’s About Being The Best” is no “Coke Adds Life,” but it’s truer. It is about being the best – and then when you get there, it’s about having the courage to say you’re the best. Say it, though, and you’ll discover that it’s the sales message that outsells all the rest, and always has.