Have you seen the recent commercial by Weight Watchers, dubbed My Butt? It’s a beauty. I admit, when I read about it in the USA Today article “Weight Watchers: Butts are in for 2015”, I was male-curious. Sorry, evolution gave my brain an instinctive admiration for the female derriere. But when you watch the ad and read about the strategy behind it, you realize there is much more than meets the eye behind the behinds.

The story of how Weight Watchers came about to run the ad featuring female butts through a woman’s life is instructive of how strategy changes take effect in real life. Weight Watchers was founded on the premise that people who want to diet will find a structured program both convenient and supportive and will therefore be less price-sensitive. That has been true for many years as WW became a successful giant. On the way it used celebrities as the face of diet. That marketing mindset comes naturally to consumer-oriented companies in this field. Nutrisystem did the same with Marie Osmond, and who among baby boomers doesn’t remember Jenny Craig’s Valerie Bertinelli with great fondness?

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When it comes to competing, marketers are missing the mark. A recent study reveals that most marketing professionals focus on customers over their competitors. 
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I have never thought of myself as a Luddite. I own a smartphone and a scanner, and I use them as needed (i.e., less often than every waking minute). Progress, science, and rigorous analysis are my guiding lights.

I wouldn’t bother you with such personal reflections if I hadn’t stumbled on an article in a prestigious academic marketing journal. The article made me feel, for the first time, a total Luddite, unable to understand progress and the contribution of science to humanity.

The article, “From academic research to marketing practice: Exploring the marketing science value chain” by John H. Roberts, Ujwal Kayande, and Stefan Stremersch, was published in the June 2014 issue of the International Journal of Research in Marketing. It is one of the most sophisticated, elaborate, careful studies I’ve seen in years. Its admirable objective was to test this question empirically: Does marketing-science research affect marketing practice?

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LG and Samsung recently made smart decisions in the emerging OLED TV industry. Good for them, because competitive advantage comes from smart decision-making. What’s remarkable is that their smart decisions take them in opposite directions.
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Remember the bitter VHS versus Betamax war? Of course you don’t. You’re too young. I remember, though. I even took a stand in favor of Betamax. Betamax lost.

Remember the more-civil Blu-ray versus HD-DVD war? Of course you don’t. You were too busy pecking at your new iPhone. The iPhone came out in 2007. Blu-ray beat HD-DVD in 2008. That time my favorite won. No, that doesn’t mean I got smarter. It means the rest of the world did.

Now we have a war that didn’t happen, sort of, if we can imagine such a thing. According to Scott Wilkinson, Editor of AVS, LG is “forging ahead” with its OLED products for 4K/UHD TVs.1 (Don’t panic. That just means really, really good TVs.) Mr. Wilkinson also says Samsung has decided not to build a new facility to manufacture OLED panels for TVs, thereby calling off the war with LG.

LG and Samsung took opposite strategies, and both made smart decisions. The decisions would be equally smart if it were Samsung that was forging ahead and LG that was, as AVS said, “hitting the pause button.” But one of those smart firms is sure to be denounced later on for making a bad decision.

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Search engine optimization (SEO) is the go-to business strategy for companies to attract people using sites like Google. Ranking number one on search engines is a competitive advantage, but can it happen without twisting both words and marketing strategy?

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“I don’t read the script. The script reads me.”

(a movie character played by Robert Downey, Jr.)

The first person to read this essay will be a machine. The machine will impudently, implacably, and insistently insert itself between you, human reader, and me, human writer.

Human writers who want to reach human readers need a strategy. That strategy must use a special language to pander to the machine. It is called SEO: search engine optimization. It is a dreadful language. It relies on keywords, i.e., words for which humans might search the Internet. It requires that I make heavy use of key phrases — I repeat, heavy use of key phrases — so that my essay appears particularly relevant, in the machine’s icy judgment, to those who are searching for those key phrases.

The more I please the machine with my heavy use of key phrases, the better my odds of reaching humans like you who want to know about heavy use of key phrases. On the other hand, the process of pleasing the machine with heavy use of key phrases makes my essay less attractive to you, due to its heavy use of key phrases. In other words, the way I help you find me might make you unhappy that you did.

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In an essay on the “shyness” of Finland, Professor Ira Kalb of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California makes a rather strong claim that brochures handed to him by his Finnish client were bad marketing because they did not focus on the benefits of doing business with Finnish companies. “Some good ‘things’ were in these brochures,” Prof. Kalb says, “but they were buried in the body text that most people (83.3% according to data) will not read.”

Behavioral economists have shown that specific claims, especially with precise numbers, are more convincing than general claims. So, I decided to bite. The word “data” in this quotation, following the suspiciously precise 83.3%, was a link. I took a deep breath and clicked.

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Ira Kalb is a marketing professor from The University of Southern California and a marketing consultant (Kalb & Associates). In a recent post on Business Insider, he describes his marketing insights after a trip to Finland. The heading of the post is “Finland has a shyness problem.”

The gist of Kalb’s insight is that many people do not know where Finland is, or they confuse it with Sweden or Denmark, and that hurts the ability of Finnish companies to compete in global markets. This confusion, advises Kalb, is the result of poor marketing on behalf of Finland. Sounds reasonable, right?

Not so fast. Kalb pulls a classic flawed reasoning described by Phil Rosenzweig in his seminal book, The Halo Effect. Kalb highlights Nokia, the most-famous and largest Finnish firm, which had a market cap of $250 billion in 2007, and last year was sold to Microsoft for peanuts and a bottle of mineral water. Why did Nokia fail? Here is a direct quote from Kalb’s post: “Nokia has been in business since 1885, but it hired its first CMO in January of 2011…While there are many reasons for Nokia’s sharp decline, experienced marketers know that Nokia had a great fall because it was a product-driven company dominated by engineers and a bureaucracy that missed the marketplace signals because of its lack of marketing expertise.”

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