Jeff Tobe

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

Marketing the Florida Keys

I am pondering whether to tell you that I am sitting in the Florida Keys, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, as Pittsburgh endures another mid-winter northerner.

I am not telling you this to be sadistic, but because the Florida Keys Tourism Board taught me a valuable marketing lesson that I must share. The only reason I’ve come to Florida recently is to visit my parents, who live here six months of the year, or because work brings me here.

I would never choose to come here for pleasure’s sake ... until now. My impression is that it is crowded, nobody knows how to drive, and the weather is unpredictable. So why go to Florida?

It was a 60-second commercial on television four months ago that convinced me that marketing works. It was a spoof of my stereotype of the Sunshine State.

The camera shot was from behind a car in Miami Beach. All you saw were two hands on the wheel and the car gliding along a four-lane road at about 15 miles per hour. The camera cut to Daytona Beach, where a teen-ager sitting atop a van toasted the camera with a beer as she turned away to vomit.

The caption (paraphrasing): “The Florida Keys ... Unlike what you would expect in the rest of the state.” It was funny, and it caught my attention and, ultimately, my pocketbook.

That same day, the Florida Keys Tourism Board had another, shorter ad. It showed a man sitting in a hole he had dug on the beach as if he were building sand castles. His wife and children played in the surf. He waved, then turned his attention to his building.

The camera pans behind him and displays a laptop and telephone in the hole. The caption: “Nobody needs to know you’re still open for business ... the Florida Keys.”

It doesn’t sound like a marketing coup, but I realized what the tourism board had done. It’s something we call the new age of marketing. No longer can we look at a one-size-fits-all marketing approach in our businesses. As these ads showed, we must consider that there are four distinct markets.

If your advertising, your business’s physical environment, and every marketing effort don’t appeal to every one of these styles — either individually or as a group — you are losing out on potential customers.

I have developed nicknames for the four groups of potential clients. Consider the following:

Factoid Fred

Fred wants just the facts. This potential customer simply wants to know the benefit of doing business with you or of using your product or service. He can’t be bothered with the details.

Remember the man building sand castles? This appeals to Factoid Fred because he can get away with his family and still be in touch when he needs to be. When you market to Fred, keep it short and to the point.

Entertain Me Edna

Edna is the prospect to whom most sales organizations appeal. She likes fun anyway you can package it. The spoof of the Florida stereotype appeals to all of your Entertain Me Ednas because of its lighthearted approach.

As with Factoid Fred, don’t bother Edna with details ... not because she can’t be bothered, but because she is less organized and more likely to forget. Give Edna a cute 800 number that spells out something. Let her know you will take care of the details.

Even Steven

Even Steven likes to know that everything will go smoothly in using what you are offering. He is a team player in his work environment and translates team to mean family. When marketing to Steven, consider his family values, as well as how your solution will help the team/organization.

Steven requires more details than the first two and an up-front plan if things should go wrong. Steven loves 1-800-HELP lines that are available 24 hours and money-back guarantees. Ensure him that things will go evenly.

Detail Doris

She is the one most marketing minds seem to ignore. Doris is so unlike you that you that you tend to isolate her. Detail Doris needs just that — details.

Like Factoid Fred, she is a no-bull, get-down-to-business type. But unlike Fred, she requires information overload. One of the most effective means of targeting her would be that final ad I observed on that cold November day.

The entire commercial simply showed a spreadsheet divided in two. On one side were the pros of taking a vacation to the Florida Keys, on the other, the cons. The camera then pulled back to show a woman in her office with her walls papered in graphs, charts and spreadsheets, all relating to the possibility of indulging in a Florida Keys vacation.

The voice-over: “All the facts point toward the Florida Keys for your next family vacation.” This hits at the very persona of Detail Doris.

I realize this is a superficial look at the four segments of our marketing population, but if I can get you to rethink your marketing focus for 2000, I will have achieved one of my New Year’s resolutions.

In the meantime ... Pass me another pina colada.

A certified speaking professional, Jeff Tobe thrives on helping businesses develop outside-the-lines marketing approaches to set them apart from the competition and build brand awareness. Reach him at (412) 373-6592 or visit

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

The Harvey Principle

This is the first in a two-part series.

Peter Drucker, management guru, once said, “The only way to predict the future is to create it.”

In these times of turbulent change, you have a unique challenge and a unique opportunity because you have the capacity to create your future from scratch — by reinventing your business. You have no choice but to reinvent what you do. In this crazy marketplace, you absolutely have to shatter old models of doing business.

The main principle of creating a more positive, productive and profitable future is, I would suggest, a notion that less than 1 percent of you really understand. I don’t mean to be condescending; I am simply observing that most of you have probably not taken the time to even consider this.

Once you understand it, this principle goes far beyond positive thinking, goal setting and any of the traditional rules of success. If you understand — really understand — and apply this principle, you will never be afraid of the future. You will always know that, no matter what happens, you can come out of it profitably and productively.

The number one principle in creating a profitable, productive and positive outcome is what I refer to as the Harvey Principle. That wonderful 1950 movie, starring Jimmy Stewart and his imaginary rabbit friend, Harvey, suggested that perhaps the one with the imagination — the innovative one — was not the crazy one after all.

We have to learn to see the invisible. To see the invisible opportunities where others only see limitations. To see the invisible potential of the people with whom you work. To see the invisible ideas that change the world.

The building in which you work started as an invisible, intangible, idea in the mind of a single person. That person’s ability to see the invisible — what was not apparent in physical form — ultimately produced a structure.

Every great invention starts in the mind — in the invisible. Every great entrepreneur sees invisible possibilities — untapped needs — in a marketplace that needs to be served. The most important skill you can learn in creating your own future is the Harvey Principle.

Fortunately, many of your competitors are suffering from what may be an incurable and deadly disease. It is mental, not physical, and no one has been known to die from it physically ... only financially. It’s been known to be hazardous to the financial wealth of entrepreneurs and corporations alike.

But never fear. Consider the symptoms of the disease, which should help you arrest them in yourself and your organization ... so you won’t have to pay thousands to see a specialist after it’s too late for you or your company.

The symptoms are caused by a virus, BPID, or Business Professionals’ Innovation Deficiency. It is a mental affliction that will erode your profits very quickly and keep you office-bound while your competition is healthy and fit.

I’ve discovered seven symptoms, which are the primary reasons people are unable to see their “Harvey.”

1. Internal myopia — Myopia is near-sightedness, and those of you with internal myopia are so focused on the internal aspects of your organization that you can’t see what’s happening around you. You fail to see the big picture.

2. Ostrich syndrome — Ostriches bury their heads in the sand while they leave another part of themselves exposed, if you know what I mean. If you have the ostrich syndrome, you may not simply ignore reality, you may choose to deny it even exists. Some may even deny the fact that information technology will change the way you do business

3. Past-a-plegia — This means paralysis in the past, looking in your rear-view mirror. “What was good enough for the company in the ’80s is good enough nowadays!” In the words of a large automobile manufacturer, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” This is not the way business has been done in the past, yet I find so many organizations suffering from this syndrome. Little things hang around from the past to haunt us.

4. Psychosclerosis — That’s hardening of the attitudes. It’s also known as “My way or the highway.”

5. Feedback immunity — Do you know anyone who is immune to feedback? Sure. This doesn’t just mean feedback from a superior or peer but, more important, feedback from the marketplace. Some people ignore this symptom because they are so married to the success of the idea that they are unable to process the feedback of the marketplace when it doesn’t work.

6. Expertitis — Expertitis occurs when you know so much about one area that you become convinced that all the ideas in that area have been invented, so you might as well not think of any more. Take the guy in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office who, in 1899, went on a crusade to close the government agency because, he said, everything that was going to be invented already had been. Then he proceeded to ride home on his horse.

7. Failure-phobia — This is the fear of making mistakes. Tom Peters, in his book, “Surviving on Chaos,” says “successful businesses are those who can fail fast and often.” Although most people are afraid of making mistakes, you can never learn without making them. Most people aren’t comfortable with the idea of making mistakes —- of failing, but mistakes are a necessary bi-product of the creative process.

Mistakes are opportunities for learning. Part II of the series will discuss the cure to BPID. Jeff Tobe, Primary Colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Tips from an unabashed self-promoter

The second question (after "How much will it cost?") I field when proposing marketing consulting to a prospective client is, "How much time do we have to devote to marketing?"

I contend that everything you do in your business should be done with a marketing bent. Any stranger you meet, any business connection you have, any sports parent you meet at little Johnny's soccer game, should be a target of your marketing. You truly need to be an unabashed, self-promoter.

This was illustrated to me by Patricia Fripp, a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on the subjects of change, teamwork, customer service, promoting business and speaking skills. Author of "Get What You Want," Fripp (as everyone calls her) never misses an opportunity to market her services and/or her products. Right down to her outlandish dress, which typically includes a bright colored, wide-brimmed hat, she makes an undeniable statement.

Here's what she has to say about marketing yourself and your business.

Tobe: What's the best way for a small business to improve its marketing?

Fripp: If you want to improve your marketing efforts, you need to attend seminars, read books and articles on marketing. Talk to colleagues (professional friends with whom you share target markets but not the same product or service) about how they attract and retain their customers.

It's important to accept that many of the tips and techniques may not be appropriate for you. However, if you open your mind, you'll come up with a version of the idea that may be perfect for you and your business.

Many small businesses don't have a large marketing budget. What has worked for you that didn't cost a lot of money?

Don't overlook the effectiveness of the "schmooze factor." That's just talking and having fun with customers. I don't ride in silence in elevators or taxis, unless I'm getting unusual vibes from passengers, so I always ask them if they're going or coming from somewhere fun.

Attend everything you can. Always say the name of your organization when you say your name. Make sure your little name tag says your name AND the name of your organization or your slogan.

What is the biggest mistake that companies make when it comes to marketing opportunities?

Too many organizations let their customers forget them. Keep in touch with them consistently. One or two months after a sale, write your customers a note and ask them how they are enjoying their purchase. Call or write again on the anniversary of their purchase.

If you see something in a periodical that you think your customers would be interested in, send them a copy of it, along with a note. Write a regular newsletter. Be sure to include information that will be of value to them, as well as news about you and your latest products/services and charges. If you've gone hi-tech, create (or have someone do it for you) a Web page on the Internet. You'll reach people you might not have expected.

Marketing and sales are often confused. At the time of the sale, what can someone do to further market his or her company or services?

When I had my hairstyling salon, I trained my stylists to ask their customers if they wanted to set their next haircut appointment. It was part of our service to keep their hair looking its best. What can you do to remind your customers when it's time to consider your service/product again? Have you ever given a stack of your business cards to friends or customers for them to distribute? How often do you think the cards actually get distributed?

I don't leave anything to chance. In the hairstyling business, with each haircut, I always gave my clients three of my business cards. "One for you, two for the next two people who tell you how good you look." Two to three cards are easier and more likely to be given out than a handful. You're asking your clients to give your card only to those who ask about his or her success with you.

Any final advice for our readers?

I cannot stress enough -- keep talking, reading, studying marketing till your head hurts. Don't expect to remember or even use all that you hear or read. However, you'll find a few of those ideas can be adapted successfully just for you and your business.

Remember, life is a series of sales situations. No matter how successful your business is, don't stop marketing. You have to keep convincing your customers that, with you, they will get the best deal and most memorable service.

In the meantime, the message is clear. Marketing your business is not something you do when you can fit it in. It's something you are always doing, whether you mean to or not. What image are your people giving of your firm every time they tell somebody what they do for a living? How is your phone answered? Do your self-promotions reflect your image, or were they just the special of the day?

Being an unabashed self-promoter can literally take your business to another plateau if you set aside your modesty and truly believe in what you're doing for a living. How to reach: Patricia Fripp,

Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

Igniting the brainspark

Second in a two-part series

Last month, we looked at the necessity of coming up with as many ideas as possible when "brainsparking" for innovation in your organization. Here are six techniques you can practice to draw out the creativity in your people.

1. Let your fingers do the solving. I often have clients turn to their Yellow Pages for great idea sparkers. Open the giant yellow book to a random page, then close your eyes and point to any listing or advertisement.

Open your eyes, study the ad or listing and explore the way this relates to your own challenge. Ask your employees what they have in common with the advertiser, or whether they are totally different. Create a list of similarities and differences and pin them up to see if they lead to solutions. You may be surprised.

While working with a small engineering firm, our concern was how to promote better customer service in what was often considered a pretty standardized profession. The senior partner opened the Yellow Pages and blindly pointed to an advertisement from a plumber. We began by asking how his company's service challenge was like plumbing, and the conversation turned to how a plumber without the proper tools would be useless to his customers.

It dawned him that his clients seldom saw his firm's tools of the trade, so his firm rarely achieved a good service perception. The client decided to implement the use of laptop computers in an effort to get clients involved directly on site, with a goal of leaving at least preliminary proposals and reports on each visit.

2. Connect your pictures to the challenge. Use symbolic metaphors to gain a new perspective on your challenge. Members of the group are asked to bring a picture or object that has personal meaning or that interests them.

The items don't have to relate to what you are working on, but they must be significant to the ones who bring them. Employees are asked to find the connection between their items and the challenge at hand.

At first, this may make no sense because the object and the challenge may seem to have nothing in common. But once employees are encouraged to find similarities, they naturally will go beneath the surface of both to find where they may connect.

You'll find that virtually everything is interrelated if it is considered deeply enough. Looking at the challenge from a new perspective may be the first step to finding a solution.

3. Jump, skip and hop. This technique puts everything in reverse and begins with the end foremost in our minds. Focus on the desired result or solution, then work backwards to determine the best path to get to this end.

Recently I worked with a group of top-level salespeople at a major soft drink company. Even though everyone had years of extensive sales training, they had a common challenge when it came to achieving specific goals for their units or departments.

Notice that I said achieving, not setting goals. They knew what results they needed; they just weren't sure how to get there. My job was to brainspark with them on a process for achieving their goals.

That's when it hit me. Sometimes, if you have the result in mind, you simply need to work backwards in small increments to see what is required. A two-year plan to increase sales by 13 percent may seem like a large task, but if you divide the time into three periods of eight months, the increase is less than 5 percent per period.

Ideas for programs and incentives to get to this smaller goal are a lot easier to generate than they are looking at the larger picture.

4. The Ben Franklin approach. This appeals to groups made up mainly of analytical professionals, such as engineers. Their creativity takes more of a step-by-step approach.

Use a series of lists on as many different topics as you can. It may look something like this:

  • What is the challenge?

  • Name five possible solutions.

  • List the pros of each possible answer.

  • List the cons of each possible answer.

  • What resources do we require?

  • What additional help will we need?

Put each list on a separate flipchart page and post them round the room -- but not in their original order. Take a break, and when the group reconvenes, give everyone time to study what you've done.

Ask each member to come up with one solution based on the group's discussion. This reshuffling may confuse most of us, but this allows those who like analysis to use their unique skills to be creative.

5. Build your dream team. Most people lose their inhibitions when they dream, so why not schedule nap time as a brainsparking exercise? You don't need pillows and "blankies," but you will need to get everyone to find a space for a 20-minute time out.

Their task will be to imagine what it would look like if their challenge were solved. Where would they be? Who would be around them? What would it feel like? How would they behave?

After the rest period, reconvene your employees and ask them to share what they dreamed. Perhaps the answers are a lot closer than anyone imagines, or perhaps the key person who can make the change isn't easily thought of in one's consciousness but may appear in the dream.

As with all the techniques, the goal is to get team members to go further than they normally do and explore new ideas and concepts. With the incentive of how success feels and looks, expect at least a few people to offer very creative solutions.

6. Turn values into words. This is a fun way to generate partial ideas and turn them into amazing solutions. Initially, the results can seem outlandish and unconnected, but they usually spark usable answers if you keep an open mind. Identify the values of your challenge and list them at the top of a sheet of paper.

For example, if you are trying to invent a new cereal, your values might include ingredients, characteristics, packaging and consistency. Next, brainspark all the values and list possibilities under each one. In our cereal challenge, your page may look like this.


raisins crunchy box flakes

nuts soft plastic container hard squares

wheat chewy tube oats

corn jaw-breaker bottle bunny-shaped

peppers stringy tin can spoon sized

Now, match and rematch -- straight across, on the diagonal, zig-zag and randomly. Generate all ideas based on the combinations you have selected. Our result might be a new hot pepper cereal that is very chewy and comes in a bottle, which enables you to see those bunny-shaped morsels. The possibilities are endless, and this technique encourages you to try a variety of solutions. How about coming up with 33?

This is only the beginning of the creative process. There's no such thing as a good idea unless you do something about it. Taking the ideas and solutions you develop and taking the risk of implementing them is a whole other story.

Creativity and coloring outside the lines are contagious. If you make creativity and an open mind a priority in your business life, those around you will likely try out new behaviors as well.

Practice what you preach and always look for that one extra solution that goes outside the lines a little bit. Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter by visiting or contact him at (412) 373-6592.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

The committed entrepreneur

In working as a marketing consultant to small businesses, I have found that whether or not the entity is family-owned, whether or not it is considered large or small, one common factor exists amongst all of them: Small business is synonymous with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Most of us have a definition or a stereotype of the typical entrepreneur. Many of us would never openly admit we are one (closet entrepreneurs are the worst kind). But I would like to suggest that it’s an honor — and a huge responsibility — which we all must acknowledge and accept.

Webster’s dictionary suggests that an entrepreneur is “one who undertakes, on his own account, an industrial enterprise in which new ideas are employed.” My definition is much simpler. An entrepreneur is “a lone ranger who accepts that failure is not an option — it’s just a nagging possibility that keeps them motivated.”

Whatever your definition, I believe that every entrepreneur must commit to 10 simple things to make their ventures successful.

1. Develop a workable business plan. If you decided to drive to Miami Beach, you can either start driving south or study a map to make sure you get to the right place efficiently and on time. A business plan focuses on where your company has been, where it is, where it’s going and how you’re doing along the way. This is a living document that changes on a regular basis with support from your entire company.

2. Have a written sales plan. Without a sales plan, there’s no serious way to gauge the financial growth and progress of your firm. You need a realistic map for where sales will come from, how they will be achieved, by whom they will be accomplished, etc. How much selling is needed daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually?

Included in this sales plan should be a sales system, which gives you and your sales people immediate feedback. This is a customized scoring sheet that you and your sales force should develop together.

3. Have a realistic marketing plan. A marketing plan is not the same as a business or strategic plan. Do simple market research by asking five questions:

a) Who is your target audience? This sounds easy, but when was the last time you really defined your market?

b) What do your clients really want? Remember this simple rhyme: “See the world through your client’s eyes and see the way your client buys.”

c) What does the competition offer them? Shop your competition to see what benefits they offer your clients.

d) What else can we offer?

e) What do they think we offer?

Once you’ve done your research, examine every marketing effort you employ against this research and ask if it is consistent with your findings.

4. Create a mastermind group. A mastermind group is like an unpaid board of advisers who have similar, related, successful businesses, but which are noncompetitive. These professionals are positive, somewhat like-minded, and very open-minded. They are an excellent resource, brain trust and support system. Eventually, they can provide introductions and endorsements. They become part of your team.

5. Make sure you have plenty of cash. Many who claim to be entrepreneurs are not the anticipators they need to be for survival. It’s easy to overlook the gap between making the first few sales and banking the money. Often, the wait can be too long. Without cash reserves, many companies stall or fail without any planned cash flow coming in.

6. Don’t ignore the numbers. As an entrepreneur-business owner, your primary goal is to make a profit. If this is foreign to you, then I suggest another line of work. You need to know where you stand on a regular basis when it comes to your income vs. expenses.

If you don’t have a timely system — manual or computerized — by which you can quickly analyze the information you need, get one.

7. Get automated. Many companies with which I work consider themselves automated. My challenge to you is to stay ahead of the pack. With the low cost of personal computers and the ease of use, you shouldn’t just stay current.

8. Train yourself to be creative. Creativity is not something that can lie stagnant. You must constantly challenge your mind, looking for new ways of doing old tasks or tackling old challenges. Accept that there is always more than one right answer to your internal and external clients’ challenges.

Challenge yourself to set aside your first solution — even though it may seem easier, quicker and more cost efficient — in search of a more creative one.

9. Listen between the lines. Don’t forget your internal customers. Creating an environment in which your staff is motivated is probably one of the toughest challenges a true entrepreneur faces.

Without your patience, persistence and people skills, your challenges can multiply quickly. Be sure to get help if you assess objectively that these are not your strengths.

10. Don’t do it by yourself. You might be the key to everything, but you cannot possibly do everything and grow at the same time. Even modest success can overwhelm you unless you do the following:

a) Hire the right people.

b) Delegate responsibility.

c) Work with a business coach or mentor.

d) Keep fit physically and mentally.

e) Have fun.

Perhaps you’re a follower of some of the great philosophers. Let me share the words of my favorite philosopher and my motto when it comes to running a business: “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain!” — Dolly Parton.

Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592. To receive a free report on how to combat your clients’ silence, write your name on your letterhead with the words “Sounds of Silence” and fax it to (412) 373-8773.

Creativity is divided into two parts. The first — CREATe — is to come up with new and innovative ways to do something.

The second and most difficult part of the word is IVITY. It’s taking action on what you’ve created. Nobody cares about a great idea unless you do something about it.

I liken it to when I visit the small town in which I grew up in Canada. I get into the car with my dad, and, inevitably, we stop at the same corner in town. There, he proudly points out two large buildings and proclaims, “I could have bought those properties in 1947 for $1,500.00.”

Not to be rude, dad, but who cares?

It’s the same when you see a product on the market and slap your forehead in admonishment saying to yourself, “I thought of that years ago. I can’t believe somebody is making money from that!”

Again, who cares?

I recently had one of those ‘I thought of that’ experiences. I have a literary agent who has been on me for two years to write a marketing book for small businesses. I have had every excuse in the world not to do it, and this week, my procrastination came back to haunt me. I purchased a marketing book, and there, in the first 50 pages, were the exact thoughts I have had — seemingly forever — on marketing.

Don’t get me wrong. The author didn’t plagiarize my words or my concepts; they are his own, and he has far more credibility than I. It was just one of those eye-opening experiences that sends a wake-up call to all of us at some time in our careers. I know what you’re thinking: Who cares?

The book? “The End of Marketing As We Know It,” by Sergio Zyman, former chief marketing officer, The Coca-Cola Co. It’s rare that I promote a book in my column, but I can’t give this one any higher accolades.

In the book, Zyman claims that “the job of marketing is to sell lots of stuff and to make lots of money. It is to get more people to buy more of your products, more often, at higher prices ... That’s what it’s about, what it has always been about, and what it will always be about.

“In fact, although some marketers will tell you it’s impossible, the real job of a marketer is to sell everything that a company can profitably make, to be the ultimate stewards of return on investment and assets employed.”

That’s exactly what I would have said ... but who cares?

Zyman continues, “One of the biggest reasons that [businesses] often lack the discipline that they need to achieve their desired results is that they do not do a good job of defining what those results should be ... Marketers focus too much on tasks and not enough on results ... a clear and objective result for the effort and money that gets allocated to marketing.”

This is why I always say a small business needs a good marketing plan. WHO CARES what I say?

Zyman discusses doing research to support your marketing efforts, focusing on results rather than on your market, and he stresses that we sometimes need to suck it up and admit, “‘It ain’t working’ and change our strategy mid-stream.”

Even more potent is his concept that you can expand your market by redefining it. He claims that “ ... any time someone starts understanding your product or service, it’s time to reinvent it!”

Does this sound familiar? I have been saying this for years. But I know, I know. Who cares?

Finally, “The End of Marketing As We Know It” scolds readers who think advertising and marketing are completely separate strategies. Zyman claims that advertising used to be one part of the marketing plan, but in today’s business dynamic, a savvy organization recognizes that it is so intertwined that it no longer has separate advertising and marketing departments or responsibilities.

This is exactly what I tell our clients. OK! OK! Say it with me. “Who cares?”

Things would be different, however, if I had followed through with my idea when I first had it. Indeed, I would have, could have, should have. But Zyman did.

Free by fax: “The 10 commandments of effective leadership in small business today.” Fax your letterhead with your name and the words “10 Commandments” to (412) 373-8773.

Jeff Tobe, CSP, is the Primary Colorer at Monroeville-based, Coloring Outside the Lines, which works with businesses on how to be more creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Reach his Web site at or at (412) 373-6592.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:59

Lessons from a gas station attendant

On a business trip to Washington, D.C., I experienced one of those days where everything went wrong from beginning to end. Not only were the day’s business dealings a complete flop, but the 250-mile drive back to Pittsburgh looked like it was going to be a disaster as well.

The rain poured as I approached the halfway point, the Breezewood exchange on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There I glanced at my gas gauge and realized it read empty. So I pulled into a full-serve bay at the nearest gas station; a luxury of which I rarely partake.

Before I could even get my car into park, a young man of about 20 years threw open the service station door and ran to my car in the rain. I repeat—he ran to my car. From under the brim of his oil-stained and rain-soaked ball cap, his eyes gleamed, and he smiled as he asked, “Hiya sir! What can I do for you today?”

My reply was not so cordial as I ordered him to “fill it up.”

As he approached the rear of my car, he began to whistle loudly, and I panicked, watching him from my side mirror as he proceeded to jam the nozzle into my gas tank to make the gas empty into my car on its own. Why the horror? I realized that this left him free to come back up to converse with me. And he did.

“So, havin’ a bad day, are ya?” he deduced. “What do ya do for a livin’?”

I thought about a dozen smart-aleck replies, but opted for the shortest truth.

“I’m a motivational speaker,” I said.

He smiled a knowing smile and proclaimed, “So am I.”

Now he had my attention. So I asked, “How are you a motivational speaker?”

He looked me straight in the eye and explained, “Isn’t your job to get in front of people and get them up and going?” I nodded in agreement. He continued, “My job is to stick the nozzle in and keep them going!”

Think about that for a moment.

To this day, every time I go through Breezewood, I stop at the gas station in hopes of getting that young man to pump my gas.

Do people go out of their way to do business with you? To work with you? This young kid taught me two very valuable lessons. The first is simply to look at what you do from a different, more creative perspective. The second, and most important, is that people want to do business with others who seem to enjoy what they do for a living.

This kid obviously enjoyed what he did for a living, and I will go out of my way to get gas at his station whenever I’m in the neighborhood.

So, do you want to be a hero to a young kid? Next time you’re in Breezewood, stop at Scullio’s Exxon, and when Mick runs out to your car, ask him if he isn’t that famous motivator you have heard so much about.

Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:57

Are your bagels hot?

The other morning, I was sitting in my local bagel shop enjoying my coffee, bagel and newspaper. I’m not sure what prompted me to look up, but the first thing that struck me was that this establishment did a booming morning business. People stood in line 15 deep and didn’t seem to mind the wait.

As I pondered people stand in line for what I have to offer, another curiosity struck me. It had nothing to do with the customers or even the counter personnel. It was the bagel maker who got my attention. I watched as he carefully manipulated a tray of steaming hot bagels into the metal bins with labeling according to flavor.

He added a little sign — bright red with white letters — to those bins. The sign stated, “HOT.” Nothing extraordinary, but the reaction was immediate. The very next patron demanded some of the “hot” bagels. So did the next. And the next. Soon, the bagel maker re-appeared with another tray and followed the same routine with another flavor.

Guess what? The same results. Customers switched their “flavor-of-the-minute” and their attention to the new bin labeled “HOT.” This went on for the next 45 minutes, and I felt I had discovered the marketing idea of the century.

During a lull in the action (there were a few minutes when there were no “hot” bagels available) and approached the young lady donning the manager nametag. When I inquired about this phenomenon, she threw back her head and laughed.

“You caught us,” she said. “You uncovered our entire marketing strategy.”

My new marketing guru explained that the powers-that-be in her company subscribed to the idea that to market, one must appeal to as many of the customers’, or prospective customers’, senses as possible.

“Sense of smell and taste were taken care of in this environment,” she explained. “But bagels are bagels and they all pretty much look the same.” She said they had discovered the “HOT” strategy by mistake. Originally, they had put the signs on to warn store personnel of the danger in handling steaming hot bagels.

What they discovered was a huge increase in demand for any bagel flavor that bore the little sign at any given time. She finished rather defensively by explaining that they did not manipulate their customers, but rather just appealed to their sense of sight.

I suddenly understood the reason the shop didn’t seem to anticipate daily consumption by baking bagels in advance of the rush. The obvious lesson is that we must figure out ways to appeal to all of our customers’ senses. Some have it easier than others. A restaurateur, a caterer or a florist have a great “one-up” on the banker, insurance broker or accountant.

The “outside-the-lines” marketing idea that occurred to me was this: How can I entice my customers with the “HOT” item or service of the moment? I can’t use a little red sign, but I could do it a little more tactfully to give the same impression. The possibilities seem endless.

Take a look at your product, your service and yourself and ask, “Do my customers perceive my “bagels” as being HOT?”

Jeff Tobe, “primary colorer” at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be more creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Step into my office ...

I was driving my rental car in Dallas and had three hours before my flight home. As I turned a corner, there in front of me was a building with a sign, “DALLAS FINE CARS ... Luxury Automobiles at Their Best.”

I have never stopped to look at these high-priced indulgences, but I hear this mid-life crisis thing is coming, so my wife tells me it’s OK to look at sports cars ... as long as that’s all I do.

I pulled into the lot, got out of my car and peered through the showroom window. In the middle of the floor, was the biggest, reddest, most beautiful Mercedes Benz I have ever seen. All I wanted to do was sit behind the wheel of that car and fantasize that I owned it.

But there’s that issue of the stereotypical car salesperson. You may have had a great experience with one, but overall, we still have a stereotype of a car salesperson. Adjectives such as sleazy, slick, dishonest, aggressive, pushy and Herb Tarlick still roll off of most peoples’ tongues. And I admit, I had the same stereotype as I pushed open the door of that dealership. But before I even got through the door, my stereotype was completely shattered.

A woman approached me. Now, I would venture to guess that you wouldn’t have thought of a woman when I asked you to stereotype a car salesperson. But then she asked me what most people ask in any retail situation: “Can I help you?”

It’s a pet peeve of mine, so I responded defensively, “No thanks. Just looking.”

Without another word, the woman looked me in the eye and ordered, “Step into my office!”

I thought I was hearing things. I could have sworn she had just ordered me into her office. Then, without hesitation, she repeated, “Step into my office,” as she turned her back and walked away. After the shock wore off, I decided it was time to hightail it out of there. But as I turned to leave, she had walked swiftly to the back door of that red Mercedes, opened the back door and slid into the back seat. With a smile, she yelled at me once more.

“Step into my office!”

Before I knew it, I found myself sitting in the back seat of the car with this salesperson, when she barked another order. “Shut the door.” I complied.

My new friend told me to smell.

“Shouldn’t we introduce ourselves first?” I tried to stall. “Just smell.” She was getting impatient.

I did, and I found myself overwhelmed with the smell of leather. “That’s what your kids are going to smell when they are sitting in these seats,” she explained.

All I could say was a very profound, “Wow.”

She asked me to look around the front seat. I observed a leather-bound steering wheel and wood paneling

“That’s what your kids are going to see when you are driving this car,” she said. Again, all I could utter was, “Wow.”

“Sir, do you like to go fast?” she teased. “Yeah, really fast,” I mumbled.

“This car is the fastest car on the lot,” she boasted. Another, “Wow.” Next came an invitation.

“Imagine your hand on that stick shift; shifting from fourth into fifth at 80 to 85 miles per hour.”


Then came the kicker. “Do you have the money?”

I replied honestly, “No.” “Bye,” is the last word I remember.

Do your clients have a stereotype of the experience they are going to have with you? Whether it’s an internal client or an external one, we must constantly figure out ways to shatter the stereotypes our clients have of us or our product or service, or of doing business with us.

Perhaps it’s physically changing the environment or surroundings. Maybe it means holding that weekly meeting in a different venue. You could simply change your voice-mail message.

Do whatever it takes to understand the stereotypes that exist in your business — and then shatter them ... creatively.

Jeff Tobe, a certified speaking professional, thrives on helping businesses develop an outside-the-lines marketing approach to set them apart from the competition and build brand awareness. Reach him at (412) 373-6592 or visit

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Don't 86 the onions

Part one of a two-part series.In discussing creativity with entrepreneurs around the country, I have found a real need to get back to basics in working with the "internal client" in brainstorming new and innovative approaches to their specific industries.

Let's clear up some misconceptions about the word brainstorm. I have never felt comfortable with this terminology. We are all familiar with one definition of the word storm, an atmospheric disturbance of some kind. Perhaps this isn't far off for some people's minds, but I don't think this is what lexicologists had in mind.

I think they were referring to the definition of storm as "a violent outburst," "to attack or assault." Perhaps it's my nonviolent nature, but this seems a little extreme. For our purposes, let's consider ways to brainspark. We are in search of methods and techniques to spark that part of our brains which ultimately will help us develop new approaches to old challenges.

Every time you brainspark, force your group to come up with at least 33 options. Thirty-three different ideas? You don't have the time? Where are you going to find people with whom to brainspark? And how do you do this if you can only come up with 10? Relax.

Human nature prevents us from having an open mind all of the time. We tend to play our own worst critic. If you've worked in a restaurant, you know the term "86." You may have heard the short order cook screaming, "Order's up! Burger deluxe, 86 the onions."

It means to get rid of or to scratch. It's no different in our business lives. We tend to 86 ideas before they have a chance to develop. This is the first reason to force yourself to come up with at least 33 ideas when brainsparking. We don't have time to 86 our ideas.

I like to think we all walk around with two little, make-believe beings on our shoulders. On one side, we have our internal artist, whispering things like, "Go for it," "Give it a try," or "What if ..." On the other shoulder is our internal judge, whispering in the other ear, "Don't take the risk ...," "You're an idiot to try it ..." or "But, it's never been done before."

The problem is that too many of us end up listening to our judge before our artist ever has a chance to finish playing. When it comes to brainsparking for innovative approaches to our challenges, we have to allow the artist inside to play with ideas rather than 86 them.

I first discovered this concept while working as an outside consultant to an architectural design firm in Singapore. One of my challenges was to come up with a simple name for a small fabric company the firm was starting as a sideline. While conducting a two-day program with 10 executives on creativity and vision issues, I asked everyone before the lunch break on the first day to bring back suggestions for a new name for this company.

When we reconvened, I brought out my pen and positioned my flipchart to record a series of great suggestions. What I heard instead were 10 individual ideas, one per person, even though I hadn't set any limits. All were similar to the company's current name or, worse, a competitor's. At first, I prevailed on the group to come up with just one more suggestion, and with a little struggle, someone did. Better? Yes, but not nearly good enough.

I started the process over again with the rule that the first 11 suggested names were off limits. I gave everyone a few minutes and asked for a second series of 10. With some struggling, we achieved our goal. Then I challenged the group to find the 11th, and it did. This was the best of the group.

At the end of the day, I assigned the group the task of coming up with a third group of 10. They had all night to think about it. By morning, we had 10 new names, although a few were a bit bizarre.

What I learned is what it takes to stretch the mind so that a brainspark turns into new and creative solutions. The first 10 are easy -- the 11th requires effort. The first round is painless, the second a challenge, and the third demands expansion into new territory. That's how we get 33: 10 + 1 x 3.

Think of the Rule of 33 as a road trip to a new destination. The first third of your trip will be very comfortable. It's territory you know. The second third may not be quite as familiar but likely won't represent any unusual challenge.

But the last third likely will take you to a place you haven't been before, the uncharted territory that represents the unknown, that presents the challenge. This can be the most exciting part of the trip -- so don't stop until you get there. And don't stop brainsparking until you get to the place you've not yet explored.

Keep in mind that creativity is a one-on-one sport, and innovation is a team sport. Allow your team members to come up with ideas, but remember that it takes the entire team to implement them.

Next month, we'll explore six techniques to getting to the ideas you seek as you brainspark. Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592.

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