What clients never understand…
November 17, 2006, 2:30 pm
Filed under: guide to life, marketing

Brilliant explanation of the opportunity cost of little fixes that will take “only two hours” (at Agile Advice via Joelonsoftware):

“It just takes 2 hours. It can’t hurt!”
It can. We development managers learned it the hard way. We know how programmers think. We know how expensive switching their context is. If Sarah spends just two hours thinking of her old project, she loses a day of productive work on the new one. One day is 10% of a carefully planned iteration wasted if she spends 2 hours sidetracked.In the wild nature of software development shops, however, it never takes 2 hours. 2 hours is the time Sarah is on the phone trying to clarify the problem. 2 hours is the time she is waiting for this phone call, reluctant to get into anything serious. 2 hours is the time Sarah is tweaking her development environment to build her old project. 2 hours is the time Sarah is spending to see if she can come up with a very restricted workaround. 2 hours is the time Sarah is on another phone call, explaining the potential workaround. Not enough time for real solution, no time spent on actually resolving the problem. 10 hours of unplanned and unproductive time is spread out over 3 days. 30% of iteration wasted.

At this point the planning goes down the toilet. The iteration is dead. The new project is slipping late. The rush around the old project yields little results either: with no time for a real solution the best bet there is a quick and dirty fix.

But the harm goes further. Sarah was eager to spend time on programming – she wasted it. She is robbed of her professional satisfaction, the good feeling of achieving the iteration goal and releasing project on time. On the next iteration planning session Sarah can’t help thinking “Why kill time if we don’t stick to the plan anyways?” The team gets the message: “We are NOT seriously doing iterative development. We are going ad-hoc”.


What would Ann Do? Visualizing your market…
September 15, 2006, 6:53 pm
Filed under: candidates/campaigns/elections, marketing

Ann Taylor’s CEO is interviewed in today’s WSJ about how she differentiates between her flagship chain’s customers and the Ann Taylor Loft chain’s younger, “sportier” customers. It’s a useful read if you’re a candidate trying to differentiate between, say, soccer moms and “security” moms, or between NASCAR dads and cubicle dads.

These subtle differences add up to a market niche where a company can build a multi-million dollar business. But a candidate must do something harder: the candidate needs to be able to diferentiate between regular and “loft” customers at least as well as a clothing chain, and then also be able to unite those and all other constituencies to add up to a majority, and turn them out on election day.

But perhaps what’s most useful about this piece is how the CEO uses the differences between the customer bases to educate her staff— and a candidate has to do more educating of his/her troops than you’d imagine. Getting staff, contributors and surrogates on the same page during a campaign is an important, big challenge.

Here’s the interview.


Asking ‘What Would Ann Do?’
In Turning Around AnnTaylor,
CEO Kay Krill Got to Know
Her Customers, ‘Ann’ and ‘Loft’

September 15, 2006; Page B1

Eighteen months ago, AnnTaylor Stores Corp. faced a challenge that’s become increasingly common for retailers: how to revive a faded original brand without slowing the growth of an upstart division.

After a disastrous holiday season for the Ann Taylor brand in 2004, its turnaround was handed off to Kay Krill. Ms. Krill, who joined the company in 1994 as a vice president of merchandising, had presided over the success of Ann Taylor Loft, which started in 1995 with more-casual, less-expensive designs. She became president of the parent in November 2004, and was promoted to chief executive in October.
[Boss Talk]

The 51-year-old Ms. Krill had a history of predicting the tastes of working women. Before Ann Taylor, she worked in Macy’s management-training program, at women’s-clothing retailer Talbots Inc. and at suit-maker Hartmarx Corp.

A major step in differentiating the Ann Taylor and Loft brands involved carefully constructing, in words and images, the target customer for each division. (Ann Taylor is named not for a real person, but for a particular dress sold in its original store in 1954.) After so much research and debate, Ms. Krill envisions these composites so clearly that she often refers to them as people, “Ann” and “Loft.”

Ms. Krill has demonstrated that an old-line fashion brand can be revived without upsetting a newer counterpart. At AnnTaylor, second-quarter net income this year jumped more than 500%.

Ms. Krill discussed what she learned from her company’s turnaround, how she gauges customer opinion and what she thinks about when she decides what to wear each morning, during an interview at AnnTaylor’s new Times Square headquarters. Excerpts:

WSJ: What have you learned from Ann Taylor and Loft about how to ensure that a retailer’s divisions stay distinct?

Ms. Krill: The most important thing that we did was the branding work. In Ann Taylor, we focused on professional go-to-work and special occasions, because that was our heritage. We created branding books, and used imagery that we felt really was Ann, and started putting words to it. She’s “refined,” she’s “approachable,” she’s “sophisticated.” We showed her what “appropriate” looked like for each occasion. If she’s going to a client meeting, she wears a suit and a soft blouse.

At the same point in time, we decided that Loft really needed to take a more relaxed and casual stance. For Loft, she’s more “lighthearted,” she’s “active,” she’s “spirited.”

It was really important as a senior team that we all agree on the words, and you can imagine how long that took. There was a lot of conversation around who owned “friendly.” We put it with Loft.

WSJ: You talk a lot about the word “appropriate.” How do you define that term?

Ms. Krill: Well, she tells us what’s appropriate. At the end of last summer, we went across the country and visited Ann and Loft girls; we went into their homes, we videoed them, we went to the mall with them, we went in their closets.

Ann mentioned the word “appropriate” all the time. Her house is very appropriate: neutral colors, dark woods, sconces, a foyer. No plastic toys in the living room in Ann’s house. There were in Loft’s house. The Loft girl’s house was painted happy colors and the cooking channel’s on.

One thing that really resonated with me was asking, “How do you get dressed in the morning? What do you think about?” Ann said, “I look at who I’m going to meet with today, and then I decide what’s appropriate to wear.” The Loft girl is in the closet going, “What do I feel like wearing today?”

The differentiation has become so crystal-clear in all of our minds, from the research, from the branding work, from going shopping with her. I don’t have to referee anymore. I used to have to say, “No, guys, that’s more Loft-appropriate,” or, “That belongs in Ann.”

WSJ: How do you balance learning what customers want with leading them to new styles?

Ms. Krill: We have an external client panel for both brands. We’re using [the Ann Taylor panel of 3,000 customers] a lot, because I think one of the keys to Ann Taylor’s turnaround is tapping into our internal and external bases. We put the new marketing campaign online for the Ann Taylor panel to look at — this was the first time we had done this.

We absolutely still believe in the creative process. And we absolutely believe that we can have appropriate fashion in the store — it just might be tempered for what Ann would want. Skinny pants are a big deal this fall, and a lot of people are scared to death of them. We might not have the skinny, skinny pants that are hugging your legs, but we have a slim silhouette which is very appropriate, and she looks current and stylish.

WSJ: Some specialty retailers get their brands distinct, but then, as they try to boost sales, the divisions start converging again. How do you avoid those problems?

Ms. Krill: I oversee all aspects of building the lines, still. I meet with each division at the very beginning to look at the concepts and approve the colors and what the mix is going to be. I step back in when the line review is done. I’m the one who’s racing back and forth, and it’s really good for me, because one’s so fresh in my mind when I see the next one. I’m the one that has to make sure they’re distinct.

I would not want to see a hoodie sweatshirt in Ann Taylor. But a little hoodie top in Loft would be okay.

WSJ: If something in a line is not working, how soon do you know?

Ms. Krill: I would say we know within the first 10 days. If something isn’t selling, we’re taking 40% off right away, because you can’t afford to have anything sitting for long in this environment. We have such a lean inventory now, which is one of our major accomplishments.

WSJ: After starting from such a low point, how did you rebuild morale?

Ms. Krill: Success has a lot to do with it, doesn’t it?

Someone criticized me when we first did the Ann Taylor action plan, because there were 54 things that we needed to fix. We fixed every one of them. All 54 were important to me, because there were process, product, marketing issues — they affected everybody at the company.

Every win that we had, we were celebratory of that win. Even through times during the year when I might have been a little nervous, no one ever knew it. I stayed as upbeat and positive and enthusiastic as I could. If they saw that I was nervous, they would get nervous, and it might spiral out.

WSJ: You’ve solicited input from employees throughout this turnaround. How do you encourage people to say what they really think?

Ms. Krill: By first sitting back and listening, and then adding my two cents, and always appreciating what they have to say. I might not always go with it, but I think I’m very respectful. I’m definitely not an ivory-tower CEO. I am out and about, everywhere in this building.

As a leader, you really have to stay on top of the morale and what’s going on out there. You have to fly at 50,000 feet, but you also have to come down and mow the lawn every now and again.

WSJ: What fashion trends will be important this fall?

Ms. Krill: At Ann Taylor, the black and ivory and red collection. The ladylike suit is very important for Ann, and I think that’s going to be a home run. There’s a lot of interest in pants this season, be it the wide-leg pants to the crop pants to city shorts to slim pants. Platform shoes, stacked-heel boots, a lot of long layering for jewelry. Accessories are very important for both brands for the fall season.

In Loft, it’s more about fun fashion. They actually did some winter shorts, whereas Ann did not. Boots, leggings with long sweaters. They also have a whole new focus on denim. We have a lot of vests coming in. This whole military influence is important for Loft; that would never be in Ann Taylor.

WSJ: How do you get dressed in the morning?

Ms. Krill: I think I’m probably in the middle of Ann and Loft. I run through who I am seeing, but I also want to be me. I’ve gotten more relaxed, and maybe it’s because I’m a year into this. I wore a skirt and a top today instead of a suit.

The other thing that I’ve noticed lately is that I need to be very fashionable because of who I’m meeting with. You know, I’m 51 years old. I don’t want to look it! I want to look like I still know what’s going on, and I still want to be current and stylish — but “appropriate.”

Write to Amy Merrick at

Nick Hornby on “How to Read” applies to politics
August 26, 2006, 7:20 pm
Filed under: candidates/campaigns/elections, marketing, writing/language

Nick Hornby had a piece in the London Telegraph that displays compassion about readers who just can’t get through the latest biography of an early 20th century figure– and he’s right. Slogging through is overrated. The peice also held this nugget:

“If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity – and there are statistics that show that this is by no means assured – then we have to promote the joys of reading, rather than the (dubious) benefits.

“I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you’re reading a book that’s killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren’t enjoying a television programme…”

So many political practitioners are, frankly, humorless grinds– who are willing to do anything ANYTHING to win. That intensity obliterates their humanity, and renders them ill-suited to use humor and emotion to make their legitimate points. “Benefits” based appeals aren’t always enough to put you over the top.

Tech anecdote applies to politics, and marketing
August 24, 2006, 1:22 pm
Filed under: candidates/campaigns/elections, marketing

This from Tim O’Reilly’s blog describes a phenomenon that applies to politics:

In the meetings, there would be great developer debate, but from time to time, one of the representatives would (apologies to Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light) put on his “corporate aspect.” His posture would change, the timbre of his voice would deepen, and he would shift to the third person. Rather than “I think,” he would say “Apollo believes” or “Digital believes.”

This phenomenon manifests itself subtly, in different ways with different people…

When some people become candidates, they start projecting what they think candidates should sound like, rather than being more themselves AS a candidate…

When others run for the first time and win, and start holding office for a while, they get so enmeshed in jargon and insiderey-ness, that they start sounding like the “Digital believes” drone described above. (This also occurs because no one ever tells an incumbent officeholder to shut up when they start droning)

Less abstract examples are John Kerry and Al Gore, who are, by most accounts, smart and funny and ingratiating in person– but when put in a public-speaking role or in front of a camera, become stentorian (“And I say to you…”).

The American Experience could be described as a relentless drive toward informality where those in charge (or want to be) are judged by how much of a “regular” person they are– but the measure of “regularness” is moving.

Subtext in communications
August 9, 2006, 6:55 pm
Filed under: candidates/campaigns/elections, marketing, writing/language

Subtext exists in all media– but here’s a great description of exactly how much can be communicated “between the lines” even if the “lines” are just the beeps of a telegraph operator. (thanks to

Further proof, if any was needed, that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it, that communicates your point of view.

Especially important for first-time candidates to understand: don’t write off any element of your voter-contact media– as “just” a mailer, or “just” what the TV says. Everything the voter receives allows a voter to judge you. Mail out a grungy attack, and be judged as grungy. Put up a feel-good, contentless TV ad, and be prepared when someone else’s is more substantive, relevant, and thus more powerful.

To quote ad pro David Ogilvy (a long time ago): “The consumer is not an idiot; she is your wife.”

WSJ on small-biz marketing…
August 3, 2006, 1:25 am
Filed under: marketing

Posting this oldie but goodie here.

Where the Ad Dollars Go
As old media give way to new, small firms find more-productive ways to get their messages out
May 6, 2006; Page R4

The Internet is helping small businesses alter the way they sell themselves.

Some small-business owners are forsaking traditional advertising venues for online advertising — including ads in search engines Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc. and free listings in online classifieds sites like Craigslist. Others are using Internet firms like Spot Runner Inc., which help small businesses create affordable commercials and buy air time for those ads in local television markets — something that’s usually too costly for smaller firms.

“The Internet has really leveled the playing field for the little guys,” says Jason Hacker, owner of Tech Plummer, a computer-repair company in McLean, Va. “The Internet and new technology helps me to get the word out.” Mr. Hacker recently began doing some TV advertising with the help of Spot Runner.

Small companies spend about $30 billion annually on advertising, according to market-research firm Kelsey Group. And old advertising standbys — local newspapers, community bulletins and the yellow pages — will likely continue to receive a large chunk of those ad dollars. The yellow pages “remains the single largest vehicle for small businesses,” says Greg Sterling, a principal at Sterling Market Intelligence, a research and consulting firm in Oakland, Calif., that focuses on online consumers.

Still, online companies like Spot Runner and small advertisers themselves see the potential for real growth for these newer ad venues — especially since the Internet allows small companies to more easily reach a wider swath of consumers. Here’s a look at where some of the small-business ad dollars are starting to shift:


For many small businesses, marketing products on television has long been a pipe dream. “It’s very expensive to do TV,” says Bonnie Manjura, co-founder of Gilbert & Manjura, a small marketing firm in Longwood, Fla. “You can’t just buy one TV ad and reach the market.”

And small businesses that do buy air time on a local station usually can’t afford to spend a lot on the production — ending up with cheesy ads that run late at night.

But companies like Los Angeles-based Spot Runner are now making TV advertising more accessible. For less than $500, Spot Runner will customize one of several thousands of commercials it has created for specific industry segments. The advertiser can then book time in local TV markets through the Web site, and Spot Runner will deliver the commercial electronically to the TV broadcaster or cable company for insertion into the programming. Spot Runner takes a commission on the sale of the ad.
[online ad chart]

Barkinglot Inc., a Chicago pet-boarding service, ran a commercial in November in several local markets through Spot Runner. The ad featured a group of dogs talking about their time at Barkinglot. While the spot was a far cry from the elaborate commercials produced by marketing giants like PepsiCo Inc., it was still much better than the typical local ad fare that has lackluster graphics and a shakey camera feel.

Barkinglot paid $299 to create the ad and purchased $1,400 in ad time, which included having its ad run 144 times over a two-week period on Chicago cable systems. Barkinglot owner Brad Kriser says customer phone calls jumped by 20% during those two weeks.

To fund the move into TV, Mr. Kriser, who has a $40,000 annual marketing budget and has used it largely on local newspaper and yellow pages advertising, says he is cutting his newspaper advertising.


Gary Ettore, co-owner of Ettore Salon & Spa in Philadelphia, had always been fascinated by online advertising. But like many small-business owners, Mr. Ettore says he believed he needed to be a “computer whiz” or “computer programmer” to figure out how to do Internet advertising.

Then about a year ago, a sales representative from Yahoo’s marketing group called Mr. Ettore about placing local search ads on the search engine. Both Yahoo and Google have been making a big push to woo local businesses by offering local search services, which can help surfers locate businesses in specific cities.

In a matter of days, Ettore executives were working with Yahoo representatives to come up with a local search ad — a detailed Web page about the salon that the search ad would link to. The page has a description of the business, photos of the salon, a customer review section, a link for directions to the store and one to the company’s own Web site. The monthly ad package, which also includes search ad listings that appear on Yahoo’s home page, cost about $250 to $300 a month. Mr. Ettore subsequently bought a similar ad package on Google, which costs roughly the same.

Before Mr. Ettore put his ads on the two search engines, his Web site was getting about 20,000 hits a quarter. Today, he says his site gets on average 280,000 hits a quarter. More important, he says, about 80% of his new customers say they found the salon on the Internet.

The foray into online advertising has affected the salon’s use of other ad venues. The company has eliminated its use of radio advertising and national magazine advertising. These old-media options don’t bring in the business, says Mr. Ettore, adding that he now relies largely on search advertising and some local newspaper ads.

“My ad budget has been cut,” he says. “I used to spend $60,000 to $70,000 a year on marketing. Now I only spend $20,000 to $30,000.”


Over the past few years, many small businesses have turned to popular free online classified-ads sites such as Craigslist, a privately held company. While these sites are known for their personal and jobs classifieds, they also offer a listing of services that is increasingly being used by small businesses.

In February, the services section of Craigslist had 672,404 ads, up from 132,257 ads in February 2004.

About a year ago, Perrone Maintenance Corp., a carpet-cleaning business in Brooklyn, N.Y., was running weekly print ads in several local newspapers. “I was spending a lot of money,” says Don Perrone, the company’s owner.

In July, the company, which does about $100,000 in annual revenue, began posting an ad on Craigslist New York City. Mr. Perrone, who is also a New York City detective, posted an ad that contained several photos, including one of the cleaning machine and another of a living room displaying a clean carpet. The listing also contained the company’s telephone number and a link to its Web site. Today, Mr. Perrone says, he gets about 90% of his business from Craigslist. “I stopped the newspaper ads after a week on Craigslist,” he says, “because I was getting about 15 calls [a day] from Craigslist, and half of them led to steady service contracts.”

Andrea Lawson Grey, a 47-year-old San Francisco resident, uses Craigslist to promote her painting and drywall company. Her ad reads: “Call for kitchen, baths, additions and decks, drywall and tile… woman-owned company.” The listing also includes her phone number.

Ms. Grey relies solely on referrals and Craigslist to get business. Today, “Craigslist represents 75% of my business,” she says. “It seems to give me enough contacts that I don’t need to do anything else.”

One caveat: Each listing lasts only one week. So businesses have to repost their ads every seven days.