Musts for the Marketing Bookshelf

Tom Peters

We have been blessed by the recent appearance of four provocative, readable marketing books.

1. Customers for Life: How to Turn that one-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer (Doubleday Currency). Car dealer Carl Sewell sells $250 million per year of Cadillacs and Lexuses, Chevrolets and Hyundais—by pursuing the likes of a “$332,000 customer,” the sum a “lifetime” Sewell Cadillac customer spends on cars and service.

Sewell wants all your business, and will spit nickels to get it. He’s thrown glamorous bashes for loyal customers (5,000 people turned up for one), purchased a street sweeper to keep the roads clean in front of his Dallas dealership (first impressions, he counsels, are all-important), and cajoled a local restaurant into opening a branch in one of his dealerships to serve the many customers who wait out the car-repair process.

But it’s hardly a case of mindlessly overwhelming the customers with perks: “Systems, not smiles,” touts Sewell, a computer-applications pioneer who measures everything, puts all employees on incentive plans, and was one of the first to apply rigorous Japanese statistical methods to a service business. Everyone can learn from this book’s exclusive focus on converting customers into lifelong assets.

2. Rethinking Business to Business Marketing (The Free Press). Paul Sherlock’s forte is high-tech, business-to-business marketing. The Raychem product developer draws our attention to the overlooked “soft” side of marketing. Sherlock insists that technical product success has more to do with irrationality than analysis: The most sophisticated customers, he observes, buy products that make them “glow” or “tingle.” (They subsequently gin up hyper-analytic rationales only to assuage their controllers’ demands.)

Sherlock offers tips galore—when to use independent sales reps instead of an internal sales force; how to write compelling product literature (the product champion should do the first draft, because only she or he understands the product “dream”). In the end, Sherlock leaves most conventional marketing dogma in tatters.

3. The Great Marketing Turnaround: The Age of the Individual—and How to Profit From It (Prentice Hall). Stan Rapp and Tom Collins declare that only those who figure out specifically who their customers are and learn to serve those customers with specificity will thrive in the years ahead.

A chapter titled “From Unknown to Identified Prospects and Customers” points out that identification of customers is becoming commonplace among mass marketers—airlines started the trend, but now firms such as Seagrams, RJR Nabisco, Bristol-Myers, Waldenbooks, Radio Shack, and a host of small businesses have gotten in on the act. Other revealing chapter titles: “From Advertising Monologue to Consumer Dialogue”; “From Bombarding the Marketplace to Building Relationships” (describing customer societies at Miller Lite and Hallmark); “From Passive Consumers to Involved Participants” including a detailed look at the Buick open).

My favorite is “The Best and the Boldest.” Nintendo takes the prize for mastering what the authors, given to biz-babble from time to time, call “the Big Double D of the turnaround era, Database and Dialogue.” A sweepstakes enclosed with warranty cards netted Nintendo a line on nearly 10 percent of its customers. More than one hundred “game counselors” handle 120,000 customer calls each week. Then there’s Nintendo’s subscription magazine, which the company calls “our secret weapon.” Add it up and by early 1990, Nintendo’s well-exercised database had grown to five million names!

4. Getting It Right the Second Time (Addison-Wesley). Michael Gershman jams 47 cases into 256 pages. All teach one lesson: Humility. And one credo: Try anything. Keep trying. Maybe you’ll get it right someday.

Gershman acknowledges that “some products become immediate successes,” but they are the rare exceptions. Most new products fail completely, and the few that do succeed were seldom marvels coming out of the starting gate. Did you realize, for instance, that Pepsi-Cola went bankrupt three times before it got rolling? or that the ultimate, macho consumer franchise, Marlboro cigarettes, started out in 1924 as a premium-priced, red-tipped brand aimed at women? Thirty years later after numerous reformulations, it took off. Others that got it wrong time and again before getting it right: 7-Up, Quaker State, Life Savers, Yoplait, Tupperware, L’eggs, Wrigley Gum, Cracker Jack, and Hoover Vacuums.

Gershman teaches that if you do become successful, it’s invariably at the “wrong” time, for the “wrong” reason. Pouring more money into failed approaches is almost always a mistake, he cautions; bum products can eventually succeed, usually under wildly altered circumstances—different timing, different features, different marketing, different distribution. Implied between the lines: You’d better have lots of products percolating at various stages of development—if you intend to succeed at anything.

(C)1991 TPG Communications.

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