No commodities

Lance Dublin and I are going to be giving a free webinar on change management and marketing of eLearning on Wednesday, October 8th, at 11:00 am Pacific time. (Sign up here.)

If you've heard Lance and me speak on these topics at a conference, this one's probably not worth your time -- only about 20% of the material will be new.

If you haven't heard (or read) our thoughts on these matters, by all means, tune in. Also, the following riff on marketing may interest you:

  • I often see the world through a marketing filter, asking myself "What need does this fill?" and "How can we add value here?"
  • A commodity is something so plain-vanilla and undifferentiated that it only competes on price.
  • When a product commands a premium price, it's called a brand.
  • A core tenet of marketing is that there need be no commodities. Marketers convert commodities into brands with advertising, promotion, packaging, positioning, association, features, claims, add-ons, "chrome," and personal selling.

The J. Peterman Company uses compelling stories to create its brand. For example, Peterman starts with a plain (commodity) canvas shirt and adds value through this story:
    Perhaps you recognize this shirt? It's the design worn by Mr. Quentin Grogran when he guided Teddy Rossevelt on safari in 1910.

    ("A good hunter and a capital fellow," said TR. "We became great friends.")

    All I'm doing here is to serve it up in new colors and a softly brushed, garment-washed cotton canvas. Otherwise, the shirt is Grogran's own original stripped-down version of a safari shirt.

    Same big, expandable chest pockets and tse-tse proof long sleeves, Same button-down collar (won't flap distractingly when you aim at charging rhinos or exit helicopters). Pragmatic and dashing, without coming on too strong.


How about this story about a suede jacket?

    In 1825, a Hapsburg courtier named Josef Kyselak* started the first recorded fitness craze.

    Wandern, his book called it. The sport of tromping vigorously through the forests and mountains of Austria.

    This antidote for sachertorte swept though the Viennese aristocracy, who created the first recorded sports chic. Tyrolean styles reinterpreted in rich materials, very understated.

    That's how Kisl explained it, anyway.

    I met her at the Tiergarten in the Vienna Woods. She was breaking off pieces of chocolate with slim fingers and feed9ing them to a stag.

    That morning she wore perhaps the most beautiful leather jacket I had ever seen. When I asked her about it she only laughed.


If your change management project or eLearning initiative doesn't have people clamoring to participate, maybe it's perceived as a commodity. Brand it! Perhaps what you need is a good story to buff up its image. Treat your learners as your customers. You've got to sell them what you have to offer.


Peterman has amply demonstrated that the story need not be true to deliver the message.

*Josef Kyselak was actually Western civilization's first street artist. To win a bet, he "tagged" every wall in his native Biedemeyer. The Sticker Nation website claims, "The cultural impact of Kyselak’s work was the genesis of an artistic tradition which continued and grew through the Mexican mural movement of the 1930s, the political scrawlings of the Hunagarian revolution in 1956, and the Situationist-influenced student uprisings in Paris, right up to the advent of turf graffiti in New York and Los Angeles in the 1970s."

Finally, a word of warning. A good story will not be sufficient to sell a poor product. (I sent back the shirt.)

Posted by Jay Cross at September 29, 2003 07:02 PM | TrackBack

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