Have marketers gone too far with segmentation?

Today’s consumer faces a bewildering choice of products on store shelves, and exponentially more online. Salad dressings and cereal brands as far as the eye can see. Cracker and cookie brands that could stretch across the Brooklyn Bridge. Add to that the unlimited varieties of deodorants, shampoos, cold medicines, sneakers, the list goes on infinitum. And so do the line extensions of each of these product categories. There seems to be no end to segmentation.

Exponential growth is impossible.

I had a college professor who spoke at length about the notion of exponential growth. Virtually every industry experiences a pattern of growth and expansion, that if left unheeded, creates havoc. For instance, what if the railroads were allowed to place tracks everywhere and anywhere throughout America to increase their distribution channels and transportation networks? It would be impossible. At some point in time, the professor argued, companies and industries must reach a “steady state.”

For decades General Motors manufactured the same chassis on 40 different car models with different brand names. It was only during the recession of 2008 that the company was forced to realize that they had too many brands with similar features, and today, with just Cadillac, Buick, Chevy and GMC, they have returned to a “steady state” of profitability.

Will hotels learn from General Motors?

Today’s traveler faces an outrageous choice of hotel brands with similar-sounding and confusing names. Want to stay at a Hyatt? There’s Hyatt Regency, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt House, Hyatt Place and, coming soon, Hyatt Centric.

The world’s 10 largest hotel chains now offer a combined 113 brands at various price points, 31 of which didn’t exist a decade ago. And hotel executives say more brands are on the way.

Yes. Thanks to high occupancy levels and cheap interest rates, developers are scrambling to build new properties, just like the railroad barons. With the opening of the West, railroad construction reached record proportions just after the Civil War and during the 1870’s and 1880’s. Railroad mileage rose from 35,000 miles in 1865 to over 163,000 in 1890, almost a fivefold increase.

And while the West has already been won, hotels are trying to win a new generation of travelers in search of authenticity by building a new batch of so-called “lifestyle hotels” designed to attract Millennials.

“The Internet has driven people to more niches. Everything is more segmented,” says Best Western CEO David Kong. “Our six brands are actually six different needs.”

Sounds like General Motors all over again.

It’s not a question of how many brands. It is a question of the right brands.

The last time the hotel industry saw so many new brands introduced was in 2006 and 2007, in the boom just before the Great Recession. Déjà vu?

Seriously, are there that many different customers out there that we need so many hotel brands, so many vodka brands, so many wines, so many watches, so many shampoos, so many fragrances and cosmetics? Will most of these brands still be around in five years? Ten years?

Surely, manufacturers strive to try new flavors, new formulas, new innovations, knowing full well that if the new products don’t capture a certain market share within a certain window of time, they’re eliminated. Unfortunately, with thousands of new products introduced every year, and an equal number eliminated every year, how long can America’s manufacturers continue to waste resources before they find happiness with a steady state? Should we blame Wall Street for this quest for more? Is the consumer really demanding more choices, more flavors, more varieties, or is the CEO, in his/her quest to show growth, the culprit? More ice cream flavors make way for the new Gelato line-up, more cereals make way for the Raisin Bran with Cranberries, more deodorants make way for the fresh scents, the spring scents, the summer scents, the desert scents, the nonsense!

Segmentation cannot be sustained anymore than exponential growth can. It makes no more sense than building railroad tracks into every city, town and hamlet. To me, and I suspect to many others, it makes little sense to build a hotel brand with just Millennials in mind anymore than creating a hotel chain with Boomers in mind. Segmentation for segmentation sake will not, and cannot, produce sustainable results. What’s next, JetBlue, American Airlines and Delta building planes for Boomers?

In a market filled with possibilities, there is power in constraint.

There’s a tendency in Corporate America (and Wall Street) to believe that more is better. For me, and I suspect millions upon millions of other consumers, it has reached a point of absurdity. Even overwhelming at times. All the talk of innovation and segmentation fuels product development and line extensions that have so little differences worthy of consideration. One brand of cough syrup makes 8 different kinds. Daytime, nighttime, 8 hour, 12 hour, with decongestant, without decongestant, for adults, for kids, in 4 flavors…why?

With so many brands, so many line extensions, products are introduced into the market so rapidly that they quickly outpace consumers’ ability to learn the subtle differences, or whether these differences even matter at all. Manufacturers must learn the power of focus and constraint. They must strive to keep brand ranges and extensions within confines that make sense. The challenge for brands is not in piling on layer upon layer of changes and new ideas. It is in finding a “steady state” with the right products that can take people with them.

STUART DORNFIELD is an award-winning freelance Creative Director/Copywriter who finds creative ways to grow businesses. He has worked with more than 200 clients in b2c and b2b industries across digital and traditional channels. www.stuartdornfield.com

New job security. Fire ad agency, go in house.

The announcement that Chobani fired Droga5 as its agency of record (AOR) and is taking most of its creative advertising activities in house, is certainly nothing new in the ad business.

Chobani’s marketing head, Peter McGuinness, is a seasoned advertising pro with previous jobs at DDB and McCann. And therein lies the reason why so many brands go in house. Former ad agency executives have found lucrative salaries and very desirable job security by migrating to the client side simply by convincing company CEO’s that it makes economic sense to move marketing and advertising in house.

The trend started in the 80’s and 90’s when large advertising firms were laying off seasoned ad execs (aged 50-60) who were comfortably making six-figure salaries. Since these execs were hard pressed to find jobs at other ad agencies, they migrated to the client side with one simple brand promise: “make me the head of your marketing and I’ll save you more money in the first year to more than pay for my six-figure salary twenty fold. I will take the media buying in-house and with the agency media commissions we save, we can hire an in-house marketing staff that I will supervise….and have millions left over to apply towards our marketing initiatives.” And so the die was cast.

In firing Droga5, Chobani issued a statement: “We’re fortunate to have great agencies who have partnered with us at different stages of our growth. Recently, we decided to change our approach and move from an AOR model to more in-house and project-based agency partners.”

Certainly, growth in the consumption of Chobani’s Greek-style yogurt has slowed after several years of rapid growth and amid fierce competition from players such as Danone and Yoplait, but that would only be more reason why Chobani would need the professional account planning guidance and research strength of an experienced (and creative) packaged goods agency to help it launch new yogurt pouches for kids and additions to its snack and dessert-oriented product lines.

It has been my experience that most in-house agencies (with a few exceptions) lack the strategic insights and creative excellence required to become category leaders or maintain category ownership for their brands.

If you look at the “new creativity” in the insurance category over the past several years with marketers such as Geico by The Martin Agency, or Farmer’s, Progressive and Allstate, these inventive campaigns were conceived and executed by AOR’s, not in-house departments.

I would also venture to say that 99% of highly creative and effective campaigns in retail (Walmart), automotive (Buick), travel/hospitality (Vegas), beverages (Gatorade), food service (Red Lobster) and many other industries are the work product of AORs, not in-house departments. Like the new Wake up with Bacon creative work by Grey New York for The American Egg Board.

And as I write this, Brian Brooker, the Chief Creative Officer at Bernstein-Rein is leaving to accept an ECD position at the in-house marketing department of Garmin Industries, best-known for its GPS and other navigational devices.

So, today it’s not just laid-off agency executives joining in-house operations, it’s veterans like Brooker with more than 30 years of ad industry experience, taking the leap for greener pastures…and I suspect, greater job security.

In the final analysis, if client side CMOs and Marketing Directors really want job security, they should search harder to find the right agency, make the agency a true partner in their business, jointly develop marketing strategies and creative briefs approved by the C-Suite, and give the agency the freedom to do what they do best…make brilliant ideas come to life.

STUART DORNFIELD is an award-winning freelance Creative Director/Copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in b2c and b2b industries across digital and traditional freechannels.www.stuartdornfield.com

Staying relevant is a matter of revival and survival.

Keeping up with the new consumer today is the biggest challenge facing product marketers, retailers and every industry from restaurants to hospitality.
For example, the meteoric rise of online shopping and the demise of big box retailing has heralded a new era in consumerism as we know it in terms of how we shop and where we shop. In fact, with the advent of mobile and the changing shopping habits of Millennials, retail has changed so dramatically that merchants in every category are struggling with how to reinvent themselves and stay relevant. The demise of book and music chains, Radio Shack, and the impending downsizing or closing of many Sears stores and other chains is only the tip of the iceberg.

Staying relevant means adapting, merging, repurposing, reinventing and rebranding.

To remain relevant, Dominos Pizza has changed its name to just Dominos to create a new platform for new products. To adapt to the new reality in movie watching on multiple online screens, AMC, the country’s second-largest movie theater chain, has partnered with Dolby to create Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime, a premium movie-going experience with Dolby Atmos immersive sound, Dolby Vision laser digital projection, and AMC Prime power reclining seats tricked out with transducers that vibrate with the on-screen action. But that’s only the tip of reinvention occurring throughout commerce today.

Only around 20% of African-Americans currently straighten their hair, down from as high as 70% at one point. So to stay relevant, companies like L’Oreal—who boasts that 80% of its current offerings on the shelf are either new innovations or renovations—are coming to market with new products like SoftSheen-Carson’s new Dark and Lovely Au Naturale line.

LinkedIn, the No. 1 social network for professionals, bought online learning company Lynda.com to allow LinkedIn’s 350 million users to refer to Lynda.com’s library of training videos for skill-building and education.

Walgreen’s is closing 200 stores with the goal of putting the right stores in the right places to stay relevant.

And while industries like hospitality are reinventing themselves with a new generation of hotels to appeal to a new generation of guests—brands like Andaz by Hyatt, Dream by Wyndham, and Edition by Marriott—this reinvention is dwarfed by the industry of mass media today that seems to be in a war of survival because of the changing consumer’s mobility and an array of new technologies.

Even powerhouse Google is looking to remain relevant by reacting to the growing population of Hispanics who spend 90 minutes more viewing video on a digital device than the average American. Google clearly sees U.S. digital opportunities across many industries by sharing the growth in Spanish language search queries, reporting that 66% of digital Hispanics pay attention to online ads vs. 47% of general market consumers.

And speaking of the new face of America, TV networks are staying relevant to the demographic changes in the country by creating an avalanche of new programming: the first Asian-American-centered comedy “Fresh Off the Boat,”; more than a handful of series that star African-American leads like “Empire” and “Black-ish”; plus series based on telenovelas and a host of other shows in development that portray a variety of ethnicities. The broadcast and cable networks see “multicultural” programming now as mainstream…and it has drawn big audiences and happy advertisers.

The explosive health and fitness movement is forcing food and beverage brands to become more relevant.

The new emergence of organic foods and the consumers desire for healthier, hormone-free, pesticide free meats, produce and fish has certainly added fuel to the sales of Whole Foods and Fresh Market while bringing re-invention to conventional grocers around the country who are racing to add more organic, gluten-free, hormone-free products to their shelves and refrigerated counters to stay relevant.

Restaurants from McDonald’s to Applebee’s are also reviving their product offerings by following in the footsteps of more relevant brands like Chipotle and Panera who have not only captured more and more market share among consumers seeking healthier fare, but those now seeking fast casual instead of sit-down restaurants.

Giant beverage manufacturers like Coke and Pepsi are struggling to remain relevant in a world that is more educated about the perils of high fructose corn syrup—as are food manufacturers—as they try to reinvent themselves with new healthier beverages. Even their diet products are struggling to stay relevant in the wake of new studies touting the dangers of sugar-free drinks and the government’s insistence to remove the word “diet” from their labels.

Similarly, the cosmetics industry looks to reinvent themselves and regain consumer trust as the result of new FDA reports on the safety of parabens, which are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics. Even candy and confection companies are striving to become more relevant. For example, Americans are chewing 30% less gum than they did a few years ago. So gum companies’ latest innovations include gum that disappears after a few chews, gum packets designed to fit into car cup holders, and gums that taste like desserts.

More consumer information. More product choices. More consumer control.

Today, the consumer is in control, online information is widespread, and in this new era of consumerism, coupled with the seismic shift of technology, the whole relationship between brands and consumers is changing.

Gone are the days of marketing to a family with 2.3 children and a house in the suburbs. Consumer tastes, lifestyles and preferences are all across the board, as are media habits, mealtimes with Millennials, and the overwhelming emergence of single parent households and singles. And with an infinite amount of products available online, along with hundreds of customer reviews on each one, consumers now have the power to know more, shop smarter and buy better than ever before. And that’s affecting the entire retail landscape for both online and brick ‘n mortar merchants. Even doctors are reinventing themselves with concierge practices in the wake of low paying health insurance and Medicare.
Shifts in ethnicity, employment and demographics demand a new marketing reality.

No only has the family nucleus changed over the past 20, 30 years, so has the population’s ethnicity and lifestyles—from the emergence of LBGT as a powerful niche market, to growing numbers of Boomers and Millennials—creating a societal shift that has shaken the very foundation of retailing, marketing, housing, and product development. To stay relevant, these companies must revisit their target audiences and reinvent their offerings.
Certainly, as women have risen among the ranks of the employed and have earned better degrees than many of their male counterparts, and in some cases, better salaries, they are impacting many industries, least of not which is home building.

Today women make up the majority of first-time homebuyers in the U.S. Even the auto industry is realizing that the biggest opportunities to make sales gains is with female and Millennial buyers who will account for 70% of car sales by 2025.

So when you consider that men are becoming bigger food shoppers and lead the luxury and apparel markets in terms of purchases; Baby Boomers are aging differently than their predecessors and have an increased focus on wellness and foods that promote better health; and Millennials prefer living in cities than in suburbs, retailers have to figure out how to proximate themselves and companies need to acclimate themselves to this new marketing reality.

Invention. Innovation. Motivation.

Airbnb, the lodging website that is just 6 years old, will put more people in more rooms this year than Hilton Hotels. And Airbnb’s founders had no experience in the accommodations industry. Which means one thing, innovation, invention and motivation will be the ingredients to success across all industries in the years ahead. Companies will have to try things that are riskier, unproven and unknown.

STUART DORNFIELD is an award-winning freelance Creative Director/Copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in b2c and b2b industries across digital and traditional channels.www.stuartdornfield.com

Getting an agency divorce is painful.

Valvoline, which is in the late stages of a creative and media review, has put out calls for agencies that have experience marketing to guys in their late teens, 20s and 30s. In particular, guys who are passionate about their cars and like to do things themselves.

According to the brand’s Request for Proposal, Valvoline recognizes that it is difficult to prove differences between brands of motor oil. That’s a problem the new agency will need to solve. Of course, they would like an agency who has demonstrated the ability to overcome a similar problem before for other brands. And it would be helpful if the agency can prove that their problem-solving skills can also successfully build brand equity and increase sales. And since Valvoline will be celebrating their 150th anniversary next year and needs help in social media, they want an agency who is not just good at branding, but a firm that has a track record of generating a steady flow of digital content and ideas. Oh, one last thing, the brand doesn’t spend a lot of money in advertising and will require the agency to sign a contract with a 60-day out clause, just in case things don’t work out with the new marriage.

Valvoline’s current agency, Young & Rubicam (general market ads) and Grupo Gallegos (Hispanic market) are defending against a handful of other shops. I wish them luck.

Some clients, like Valvoline, have such specific requirements that even the best and biggest agencies wouldn’t qualify with their laundry list of demands. They want a bride that has all the attributes they have ever dreamed possible. Like 11 on a scale of 1 thru 10.
Perfume marketer Coty launched a global media agency review and has told potential candidates that it wants five months to pay its bills. According to sources, the client’s brief focuses in large part on efficiency, with little if any attention to effectiveness or consumer insights.
Omnicom’s OMD—which handles Coty media duties in the U.S. and other markets—is not participating in the review. Smart move on their part.
Let’s look at RFP’s a little differently. Imagine you’ve divorced your wife and a friend suggests you meet with a professional matchmaker to help you get back into the game. So the matchmaker asks you to prepare a Request for Proposal. And following in Valvoline’s footsteps, you ask for the following: “I want her to prove she has experience in living with a man like me who needs constant acknowledgement, a woman who is independent and likes doing things herself—especially fixing household plumbing and appliances. A woman who considers staying fit to be a lifelong mission, is always smiling, never argumentative, demonstrates an ability to genuinely laugh at all my jokes, keeps a beautiful home and is a wonderful host, makes friends easily, looks attractive, enjoys sex anytime of day or night, knows how to make a great martini, and will sign a pre-nuptial agreement in case things don’t work out.” God bless.
Yet, as difficult as it is to get married to a new agency, it seems equally difficult to get divorced.

Perhaps it’s much easier to lose an account outright than to pitch one like Valvoline or defend it. Many in the industry believe that even if the relationship is rock solid, an incumbent has a 1 in 4 chance of retaining an account that’s in review.

Point in case… the voice-over-IP service Vonage has recently named FCB Garfinkel in New York as its new agency of record, three months after parting ways with J. Walter Thompson. 3 months!!!

Vonage Chief Operating Officer Joe Redling said, “we’re excited to be working with FCB to build on the incredibly high awareness of the Vonage brand and extend the brand into business markets.” What he neglected to say is that the agency was awarded the business without a pitch because agency CEO Lee Garfinkel was able to leverage an existing relationship he had with the client.

Vita Coca also had a short run with Saatchi & Saatchi (its first agency of record), terminating their 6 month contract and moving the business in-house. So what changed? “We felt that what we needed were local (agency) partnerships rooted in (global) markets. You can say that an agency is global and has a bunch of global offices, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are as entrenched in those markets,” said Arthur Gallego, spokesman for Vita Coco. In other words, it’s cheaper for us to hire local agencies than to stay with Saatchi & Saatchi, even though we thank them for giving us a brand platform that can last us a long, long time!

So win or lose, for some agencies it’s what you know that can help you win business (Valvoline) and for others, it’s who you know that can help you win business (Vonage) and for still others, it’s all about the fees, not the quality of the work. Either way, getting divorced (and married) can be painful.

STUART DORNFIELD is an award-winning freelance Creative Director/Copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in b2c and b2b industries across digital and traditional channels.www.stuartdornfield.com

How the “organic movement” is changing the face of marketing.

The recent announcement by Elevation Burger to move into hormone-free and antibiotic-free chicken is just one more indication of how “organic” is changing the face of marketing today.

As a fast-casual chain with just 33 domestic locations and already the biggest fast-food seller of organic beef, Elevation Burger is forcing McDonald’s and other fast-food chains to change the way they operate. In fact, McDonald’s in early March announced that it will stop using chicken treated with antibiotics, responding to growing pressure from consumers who want healthier food options and have voted with their wallets by making brands like Chipotle and Whole Foods among the most successful in America.
Going organic isn’t easy. But losing customers is.

While other chains like Chick-fil-A have promised to drop antibiotics from their chicken within five years, and giant producers like Tyson and Perdue have ramped-up production of antibiotic-free chicken to meet growing demand, Elevation Burger is moving quickly to capture a greater share of wallet in this growing shift to organic by not only selling chicken free of antibiotics, but also without pesticides or hormones.
Considering that a recent Gallup Poll says that 45% of American’s say they actively try to include organic foods in their diets, it’s clear to see that the “organic movement” is here to stay and in fact, is starting to impact non-food categories seeking to make their brands more authentic.

The new “organic movement” is appearing throughout non-food marketing circles.
Every marketer should look at the “organic movement” in fast food restaurants and grocery shelves as a wake-up call to their own marketing. Marketers who view “organic” as something authentic, eliminating artificiality or hype from their advertising, and being truthful and honest with their customers, have the best chances for success.
For example, the lodging industry is making their modern hotels homier, roomier and more vacation-rentalized as a reaction to the among people choosing vacation rentals over hotels. Dry cleaning chains like OXXO have eliminated harsh chemicals. North Face’s latest marketing campaign is inviting customers to the mountains for a workout without ever leaving the store. Neutrogena claims that washing with soap and water wastes five gallons of water a day and urges people to switch out their usual skin care routines and use Neutrogena’s Naturals waterless wipes. And Aerie, American Eagle Outfitters’ retail brand devoted to intimates and swimwear, has pledged not to retouch images of its models and is encouraging young women to upload unretouched videos and images with their comments.

Matthew McConaughey’s campaign for Lincoln takes an organic approach.
In an industry known for pumping and plumping its brands with growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, the new Lincoln-Mercury campaign with Matthew McConaughey is a good example of this new “organic movement.” The Lincoln brand has not only reaped the kind of cultural awareness that marketers die for—blazing across the Internet and earning spoofs from Jim Carrey and Ellen DeGeneres— it has helped Lincoln boost sales by 16% in 2014 and has driven measurable traffic to dealers, tripled its website traffic, and helped the brand hit about 10% market share in the fourth quarter of 2014, which is about double its brand average.

Conventional thinking versus organic thinking.

From the outset, Lincoln knew that if they treated their new campaign for the MKC model like a conventional car commercial, they would be lost in a sea of sameness.
Oddly enough, when Lincoln’s marketing team first started talking about how to market the new MKC model, a celebrity spokesperson wasn’t even part of the discussion. They weren’t looking for a celebrity face but a true collaborator. They didn’t want McConaughey to be some famous name catapulting in to create some immediate short-term buzz. They wanted their campaign to be more authentic, more organic if you will. They knew that if they treated this like a conventional spokesperson role, it would scream of borrowed interest and wouldn’t be very authentic to Matthew either.
It was a tough but conscious decision to remove the hormones, the antibiotics and the pesticides that are part of a loud, stereotypical car ad.

According to Lincoln, they agreed early on that they wanted to stand out and draw attention to the brand by doing things differently, and that meant having a quieter, more authentic approach with Matthew that could draw interest to the brand and recast it. And if you’ve seen the TV spot, you’ll agree that the tone, the direction, the copy, and the overall look and feel of the commercial is calming, natural, very “organic.”
Like Chipotle’s decision to go organic with beef and chicken before other fast-casual restaurants, Lincoln’s decision to go “organic” with McConaughey was a calculated risk with the power to significantly amplify their marketing and advertising effectiveness.
According to Lincoln, “at another point in the brand revitalization we might not have been willing to take that risk, but what we realized is as a challenger brand, we have to be open to doing that, because the upside is greater than any potential downside.”

STUART DORNFIELD is an award-winning freelance Creative Director/Copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in b2c and b2b industries across digital and traditional channels. www.stuartdornfield.com


With all the challenges facing companies today, it’s no surprise that when the going gets tough, the CEO job gets tougher. A quick look at the corporations who have changed CEO’s recently reveals some of the most significant changes in C-suites in decades. Both large and small companies have executed both planned and unplanned succession strategies that would leave any stockholder scratching his/her head, or smiling with joy, depending on which side of the boardroom or stock price you are sitting.

Here’s a list of companies who have appointed new CEO’s or on the hunt for one over the past few months:


Home Depot






Walmart U.S.


Sports Authority


Fred’s Super Dollar




Barnes & Noble


Deluth Trading Co.

So, if the turnover of CEO’s and Presidents in Corporate America today is so volatile, I make the case that it’s much better being the #2 person in the organization. Let’s face it, we are not all corporate or business visionaries. Yet there is nothing wrong in aspiring to be the “Great Second Guy/Gal” (GSG) in the organization.

  • The GSG is the person that drives the process and keeps the visionary on track
  • The GSG has the ability to recognize the potential of a vision and has the responsibility to turn vision into reality
  • The GSG is the key person ultimately responsible for the succes or failure or any vision.
  • Most importantly, the GSG doesn’t want to be the CEO.

 Here are “The 5 Tenets of the Successful GSG”

  1. Finding the right person

The first rule of playing successful tennis doubles is picking the right partner. Common goals, complimentary styles (not necessary like styles), affinity for one another. Finding the right GSG is the same as picking a tennis partner.

  1. Buying into the Vision

The GSG must be able buy into the vision, see its merit and visualize its execution. GSGs by nature are grounded in reality. This is their strength. Not only can the GSG recognize a great idea or concept but can see potential pitfalls and solutions, unlike the visionary, who deals in the abstract.

  1. Commit, Commit, Commit

Once the GSG has found the vision and visionary of his liking, the true GSG will take every step conceivable to bring the vision to successful completion. This dogged determination to succeed is a common trait of the GSG. Once the commitment has been made, the GSG will not accept failure. Failure is never contemplated.

  1. Thinking Outside of the Box

The beauty with working with a true visionary, and is inherent in the term, is that what is being tried has never been tried before. This is the thrill and challenge for the GSG. Finding ways and procedures to accomplish things, which have not been tried before, is what drives the GSG.

  1. Self Direction (Leave me alone I’m thinking)

The GSG is self-directed. Once the marching orders have been given the game begins. The GSG is writing the rules as he goes. He/she understands that the ultimate success is on his/her shoulders.

So forget all the stock options, all the recognition, all the stress of knowing your job is on the firing line. Be a great #2 and stick around a lot longer!



What’s wrong with the customer experience at hospitals?

by Stuart Dornfield

Having been in the marketing and advertising business since puberty, I have always been amazed at how certain categories of marketers, namely healthcare, have consistently missed the mark in providing products and services that consumers desire. One reason is that most hospitals have rarely considered patients as customers. They don’t teach that in medical school. Consequently, rarely do hospitals attempt (let alone think of) developing solutions or customer services that are consumer-friendly or consumer-centric.

And hospitals are not alone. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that healthcare consumers appear willing to dump the doctor’s office for cheaper and more convenient retail and remote alternatives that could amount to tens of billions of dollars in lost revenues for traditional providers if they fail to adapt. Despite controlling nearly 20% of the economy, the survey points out that traditional healthcare is years, if not decades, behind other industries when it comes to adopting consumer-centric models and technologies that assess and meet consumer needs.

More than 8 years ago when I was Sr. VP-Creative Director at a leading Omnicom agency, I met with the president and his staff at Cleveland Clinic Florida. Aside from their desire to be the hospital of “first choice” for those needing surgery, they felt they were not getting their fair share of patients in South Florida. Their new hospital (the newest in South Florida) was well appointed and state-of-the-art. And during several meetings, I threw out many suggestions that I felt would re-define their brand and create a unique selling proposition that went beyond a reputation for great healthcare. I felt they could build category ownership behind some other innovative and forward-thinking ideas that could impact the marketplace dramatically and make people want to drive an extra 20 miles instead of choosing the older and more established hospitals further east. Since their facility looked and felt like a Nordstrom or Ritz-Carlton, I suggested they follow the “Ladies & Gentlemen serving Ladies & Gentlemen” model and develop medical and non-medical services that could differentiate their brand as being “customer-centric,” and at the same time, put more heads in beds. One idea was to hire a first-rate, well-known South Beach chef to prepare healthy and tasty meals for a large percentage of patients who were in the hospital for care that was not of a serious “life or death” nature. Patients requiring such procedures as hernia operations, cosmetic surgeries, herniated discs, eye disorders, neurological conditions, broken limbs, migraines, etc. I also suggested they could develop a new and different Executive Health Program (also targeting South Americans) with “surprise and delight” services like massages and manicures, thereby stealing market share from ordinary hospitals. It could also offer a few “luxury” floors with better patient to staff ratios, more single rooms, large flat screen TVs, thicker towels, top brand shampoos, and other consumer-centric conveniences for private pay patients who want more creature comforts. The president’s reaction to ALL my suggestions was No, No, and No. “That’s not who we are,” he replied.

I can’t blame him. He was like many healthcare providers who follow what they learned in medical school without any education in marketing, branding or customer experience. He was not forward-thinking. Not consumer-centric. Not capable of seeing his hospital as more than, well, a hospital. But today, new players in healthcare are gaining a toehold with frustrated consumers who are ready to abandon traditional care models for ones that echo experiences in retail and entertainment.

Baptist Health South Florida has seen tremendous success with the opening of more than 14 Urgent Care and Diagnostic Centers. Six years ago I helped them realize that they were not in the healthcare business, they were in the retail business. And fortunately, they had a savvy CEO who recognized the logic in that and they now model their outpatient facilities like Nordstrom, selling healthcare services instead of Cole Hahn shoes. Healthcare services delivered in a retail environment that is both medical-centric and consumer-centric with a customer experience that is caring, professional and accessible.

I want to experience things in healthcare like I experience everywhere else.

Increasingly, consumers are forcing providers to try new things, because as I witnessed with Cleveland Health Florida, providers are not going try new things on their own. This is because providers think the old way is just fine and they don’t know how to do it a new way. Or they don’t want to spend the time (or money) to figure it out.

When I buy something from an online retailer they know me and they provide recommendations to me and I never have to input the same information twice. Whereas in healthcare I have to give the same information every time I see them. Ridiculous!

When I stay in a nice hotel for 4 or 5 days, I expect restaurants to serve exceptional cuisine, I expect hotel staff to treat me like a guest, and I expect soft Egyptian cotton linens, room service, and someone to respond to my requests quickly. Why should that be any different when I stay in a hospital for a week and I’m paying upwards of $6,000 or more a day? Why must I endure the lousy institutional food, the poor customer service, the impersonal nature of customer care and nursing staff that is overworked and mechanical?

At the end of the day, it’s consumers who must pressure hospitals and physicians to try something new. Getting them to be more consumer-driven, not just medically-driven or physician-driven.

Figuring out how to do things better can help hospitals gain market share.

Nothing can kill a marketer faster than resistance to change and improvement. And while healthcare institutions are willing to accept new proven protocols in medicine, most are afraid of what might happen if they try something new in terms of customer experience. Will they alienate their doctors and nurses? How much more work will this mean for their staff? It is this hesitation that can be fatal to a hospital’s brand and bottom line. Many will stagnate, lose loyalty, and eventually, lose market share to their competitors. In fact, the notion of market share is as alien to hospitals as eastern medicine is, and yet it is so vital because most medical facilities won’t gain market share if they’re not constantly figuring out how to do things better. Hospital are such left-brained institutions, and by and large, they don’t have a large track record of doing great external marketing or being consumer-centric. Many have an even harder time of shaping their own brand story, let alone figuring out who their customers are and how they think. Some hospitals may want to become more consumer friendly but don’t really have the ability to make the leap. Frustrating as it seems, hospitals won’t do something simply because an ad agency or strategic marketing firm says so, or thinks it’s the right thing to do. Hospitals are the kind of corporate structure that requires too much buy-in across too many layers staff by medical people, not business people. And certainly not entrepreneurs. Even when you show them data to reinforce the creative solutions you want to put forward, it’s hard to get buy-in.

One tactic that continues to gain traction is proving to them that marketing with an emotional, human element is more effective than the traditional healthcare marketing most hospitals currently embrace. Let’s face it, showing photos of your new cardiovascular team or your new robotic surgical machine is like Macy’s talking about their new lighting fixtures, escalators or new store manager. And while some hospitals have launched more consumer-facing campaigns, many still just show photos of their new team of cancer doctors, a new facility, or promote new services like bariatric surgery with equally sterile creative. Perhaps they would be better serviced spending their money on creating a better customer experience before touting products.

Fighting complacency with real change.

The reality is that few hospitals will ever be doing as well as they should be. There is always room for hospitals to improve their customer experience and their marketing campaigns, and make them even more effective in capturing their audience and motivating people to act.  Merely improving brand preference and word-of-mouth can go a long way to improving their ROI. It all starts with a strong brand DNA that is well communicated across all channels (internal and external) and all stakeholders: Doctors, CEOs, marketing executives, hospital staff, agency and PR staff. When you have this in place, developing both passive and active marketing tactics come easier. My suggestion is to make every board member, every C-suite executive, everyone in the hospital with the power to make change happen become a patient for 5 days in their own hospital. Kind of like “Undercover Boss.” They’ll witness first-hand how when they ring the call button it takes forever to get an answer. Or when they do answer, they get a sour “why are you bothering me” tone of voice on the other end of the intercom. They’ll see how poorly groomed many of the hospital staff members are; how they have to try 3 times to find a vein to draw blood; or how lousy and institutional the food is. They will see how they are left in freezing hallways waiting for an MRI or cat scan. Most of all, they’ll find out how poor the customer experience really is.

Moving forward without band aids.

Getting too comfortable with ‘business as usual’ eventually yields diminishing returns for any business. Your competition will get smarter, new hospitals and healthcare providers will enter your market, and suddenly the same rules won’t apply anymore. Embracing innovation and creativity, improving the customer experience, and viewing the healthcare business like a retail or hospitality business is key to moving forward. Funny how the word hospitality has the word hospital in it, but rarely is that a priority. If a hospital doesn’t believe in the customer experience, then you won’t have customer experience people working for you. You must hire people that believe that customer experience is as important as the quality of care. And I would assert, “bedside manner” is often a more important component. Hospitals who get complacent don’t belong in the business. Nurses and aides that get complacent don’t belong in the business. Doctors who get complacent don’t belong in the business.

Sure, most hospitals are understaffed and can’t keep up with all the paperwork and regulations being pushed at them. But other industries such as banking can say the same thing and many of them like TD Bank have succeeded in creating a new level of customer service. And if you’re charging $4.50 for one aspirin, don’t you think you can pay your people better or hire more people?

Customer satisfaction has been a mantra in retail and hospitality industries for as long as I can remember. So why is it such a challenge in healthcare?

One reason healthcare performs so poorly in customer satisfaction is that they don’t hire enough people from other industries in C-suite positions who can bring new ways of thinking to an old business model. Bankers hire bankers. Teachers hire teachers. Doctors hire doctors. And so it goes.

Maybe it’s time that hospitals started hiring COOs from luxury hotel chains. CEOs from luxury retail chains. And CMOs from consumer-centric companies that have achieved high marks for the customer experience.

Another factor is that half of all doctors (and the hospitals they’re affiliated with) are over the age of 50. They’re saying ‘just give me 10 more years to do it the way I’ve always done it and then I’m done.’ So you have a significant portion of the healthcare industry that is saying ‘get me to the finish line so I don’t have to learn anything new or do anything differently.’ That is a big issue.

Yes, it’s all too often about the money. We continue to pay for the old way. Until we change the flow of money we are not going to change the practice of medicine or any other company that cares more about the stock price than the customer. When will they realize that if you treat the customer better, the stock price will be better? If you treat the customer better, they will tell 10 other people about their great experience. And that’s the cheapest marketing on the planet!

A brand is going to be more valuable to consumers if it creates some sort of new value that did not exist before.

Apple invented more than great technology products. They re-invented retail. Netflix re-invented home entertainment. Chipotle re-invented fast-casual. Tesla re-invented the car business. They are among the companies that embrace forward thinking with leaders who recognize that by giving consumers new ideas, new ways of doing things, or a better customer experience, they can grow their business exponentially.

In most industries, CMO’s and CEOs come up with solutions to save the consumers’ time, give them greater conveniences, more comfort, more fun, more reliability. They differentiate themselves with new services never before seen within their category. Like movie theaters opting for larger seats and sofas so customers can dine and enjoy a cocktail while viewing the film. Menswear retailers like Indochino that provide custom tailoring to men online. And restaurants like Seasons 52 that offer wines by the glass, but with one exception. They bring the bottle of wine to the customer’s table to sample before pouring. It’s a little thing, but to a wine drinker, it means a lot.

Let’s face it, how many new healthcare solutions do you see that say “we can decrease the time it takes to get an appointment or the amount of time it takes to visit the doctor or the time in the waiting room?” Not enough healthcare providers care about the customer experience enough to change things in a big way.

Stuart Dornfield is a leading creative director, senior copywriter, marketing strategist and winner of more than 200 awards for creative excellence in digital, print, direct, radio, television and out-of-home. You can view his credentials and online portfolio on his website.

Slow down you move too fast

When I was Sr.VP-Creative Director of a $1.8 billion Omnicom agency responsible for not only supervising four creative teams but traveling the country to produce commercials, writing scripts and returning emails at 10:30 at night from my hotel room, attending back-to-back meetings in the office on weekdays and working on new business presentations on weekends, teaching young account executives about creative briefs and mentoring young writers and designers, I soon realized that my world was spinning too fast. If truth be told,
I could rarely spend 20 minutes in any one meeting for fear that I would not get to “touch” everything that was necessary throughout the day.

Surely, I’m not alone. Managers, small business owners, supervisors, even my ultra-busy, always moving wife (who runs the household, cares for her aging mother, doctor’s appointments, shopping, caring for our Bichon Riley, and doing pro-bono work as president of our homeowners association) can attest to, many of us seem to be running out of time to do all the things we need to do. Or we’re moving so fast, we don’t know any other speed.

Have we become a multi-tasking society incapable of slowing down?

Let’s face it. Between all the personal and business tasks we tackle on a daily basis — all the emails, texts, phone calls, Facebook- LinkedIn-Twitter-Pinterest socializing, and face-to-face meetings (remember those?) — we all need to slow down. If not for our own health and well-being, but for our customers and colleagues.

How often do you use your customer’s name in conversation? Slow down and start building a stronger connection with them. Stop selling your customer all the time. Slow down and start working as a team to solve his/her challenges together. And while you’re at it, be more realistic about the time limits you set. Customers don’t mind a few days delay just so long as they know it up front. It’s okay to slow down and deliver 110% rather than an acceptable 85%.

For some people, running out of time is chronic. Perhaps it’s a severe lack of time management or follow up. Some people have so many plates spinning that it’s virtually impossible to give clients, colleagues, kids and spouses the proper attention they deserve. And we all know what happens when you can’t keep plates spinning? They come crashing down.

Whether it’s running out of time, or running too fast all the time, both situations can lead to greater anxiety. That, in and of itself, can lead to other problems.

For instance, a study by Fraley suggests that anxious people may have problems in their relationships because they jump to conclusions too quickly about facial expressions. This ‘hair trigger’ style of perceptual sensitivity, according to the study, may be one reason why highly anxious people experience greater conflict in their relationships. The irony is that they have the ability to make their judgments more accurately than less-anxious people, but, because they are so quick to make judgments about others’ emotions, they tend to mistakenly infer other people’s emotional states and intentions.

People who speed through the day, consuming large amounts of caffeine, going from meeting to meeting, texting while in meetings, texting while driving, multi-tasking at every turn, are experiencing more severe levels of anxiety, whether they realize it or not. Doctors say that this can often lead to problems with balance, with many people reporting they sometimes feel dizzy for no apparent reason and sway more than others while standing normally.

Recent studies found that four 20-minute meditation classes were enough to reduce anxiety by up to 39%. Other research has found that meditation can help people fight the ‘negativity bias’: people’s natural tendency to focus too much on negative information. If this is the kind of improvement that can be seen after just 15 minutes of meditation, just imagine how much consistent, regular meditation can improve thinking and decision-making skills.

Admittedly, I am not the meditation type. But before anxiety and stress overtake you, perhaps you should find other ways to slow down. Before your blood pressure hits 220 over 110, slow down. Before you get acid reflux and put on 20 extra pounds from stress eating, slow down. Before you miss your kid’s third soccer match, slow down. Before you cut a 30 minute meeting down to 10, slow down. And guess what, in the process, you may find that by doing so, you get to finish what you started rather than leaving it partially undone. Your job will be less stressful. You’ll feel less anxious. Your life will be richer. Your health will be better. Your clients will appreciate the extra time you are taking with them. Your spouse will get to reconnect with you again. Your kids will rediscover what’s it’s like to have “non 24/7 working” parents in their lives. And your colleagues and employees won’t feel like they’re being minimized.

Little tricks you can start today to help you slow down.

Slow down and re-read your emails before pushing the send button. You’ll be amazed at how many spelling errors you’ll catch. Slow down and think about what you really want to say in an email instead of just putting just anything down because you have 40 more emails to return. Take a 15 minute break during the day. Close your door and listen to your favorite Pandora music. No emails. No phone calls. Just disconnect (wow, there’s a concept!) for 15 minutes. Take lunch every day. Religiously. Don’t skip it. And yes, it’s okay to leave your phone in the office for 45 minutes and just be human again. Have a few laughs (very therapeutic) with colleagues. Slow down on the road. Stop texting and driving. Stop checking your emails while you’re out to dinner with your spouse. Slow down and see how much more you can accomplish completely during the day. You may be surprised how much better you’ll feel.

Stuart Dornfield is a leading freelance senior copywriter, creative director and marketing strategist who left the 9 to 9 grind of the agency world to give himself, and his clients, more time to accomplish more things, more completely. A winner of more than 200 awards for creative excellence in web, print, radio, tv and direct response, you can view Stuart’s credentials and copywriting services here website.


Family Dollar is among several chains who have attempted to combat the economic recession in recent years by carrying new and different product categories in their stores. Among them are so-called “sin” items such as cigarettes, wine and beer. Many of the dollar stores point to the fact that they are facing increased competition from new retail formats like Walmart’s Neighborhood Market Stores. However, if truth be told, these “sin” items generate higher profit margins and tend to drive increased traffic.

What if Walgreens and CVS were more “health minded” in the products they sold?

In fact, Family Dollar has reported that by adding cigarettes to 6,000 stores over the summer they were able to generate frequent purchases among is customer base that over indexes in tobacco use. According Bryn Winburn, public relations manager for Family Dollar,”our goal is to be relevant to our customer and meet her needs every day… our target customer is the one that previously had to purchase those products elsewhere.”
Dollar General, on the other hand, does not offer cigarettes in their stores, however, they have successfully tested liquor and wine sales in a limited number of stores and expect to expand this “sin” category to almost half of their stores.

Which begs the question. What if stores like Walgreens and CVS were to be more “health minded” and eliminated the sale of cigarettes in their stores?


Speaking at the Women in Film’s 2012 Crystal and Lucy Awards, Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep pointed out that 13 years ago the gender breakdown for behind-the-scenes employment in the top 250 films was 85% men and 17% women. Not much has changed in those 14 years according to a San Diego State University study. Because in 2011, the division of labor in the same number of movies was 82% men and 18 percent women.