The last five days have been special.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the 800CEOREAD business authors “Pow-wow,” where I got to learn from and connect with other authors, along with top publicists, publishers, thought leaders, designers, et. al.  Very inspiring.

Wednesday night I flew out of Chicago to Zagreb, Croatia, arriving Thursday.  It’s now Sunday morning, and I’ve had a powerful three days here.  My speaking events on Friday, hosted by Josip Basic and his team at MPG Southeast Europe, included people from Sony Ericsson, P&G, Nestle, Phillip Morris, LG, among others.  Since the events were followed by a 7-hour Christmas party, I had the opportunity to interact with many of the audience members.  Joe and I spent the day yesterday exploring Zagreb, sharing ideas, brainstorming and learning from each other.

So, with the past five days devoted to great conversation and interaction, interspersed with time alone to write and think,  what has crossed my mind?  Here are a few highlights:

– Downturn notwithstanding, we all have untapped opportunities in our businesses. In fact, I’m convinced that most of our businesses have ripe opportunities, that have not yet been developed, which are of a scope greater than the negative effect of the downturn.   Think about that for a second … it’s like losing a quarter, but instead of worrying about the lost quarter you go find the dollar bill that you know has been lying under the couch.

– marketing is dead.  Long Live Marketing. I’m here in Croatia to talk about Brand Harmony and We Relationships with local representatives of global brands, many of which were built on old-school, brute-force marketing techniques.  MPG, my host, is a BTL (“Below The Line”) marketing company that helps clients engage 1-to-1 with customers at events, with sampling, in-store, etc., diverting marketing spending from one-way advertising to multi-faceted, integrated programs that tell a richer story about the brand.  Marketing success is contingent upon jettisoning the old advertising-based techniques, and recognizing that your challenge is to create a strong sense of Brand Harmony across many (all) touchpoints.  MPG is thriving, and their clients are reaping great benefits by focusing on Brand Harmony instead of Brute Force. These people “get it.”  (Croatia emerged from communism about 20 years ago, and emerged from war just over 10 years ago … maybe quick post-war development enabled creative marketing thinking, unburdened by decades of institutionalized advertising budgets.)

The downturn is a great opportunity not to waste resources. You know, all of those silly ideas you’ve wanted to pursue, that are even more likely to fail in this environment? Guess what? Now you have a great excuse not to pursue them!

– Customer loyalty is your best, highest-potential, asset. Ok, I’m sounding like a broken record on this one.  But are you focusing your biggest investments on building customer relationships?  Let me repeat:  For most companies, the best investment they can make in these times is in developing their existing customer relationships.

It’s not my style to write in lists, without summing those lists up into a theme.  (More a personality quirk than a philosophy)  But, hey, I’m enjoying my breakfast at the Hotel Allegra in Zagreb, thinking about the past few days.  I’m in the mood to ruminate. (Thoughts, not food)  I’m planning on developing some of these ideas a bit more, starting with my newsletter on Tuesday.

In the meantime, please share your comments.  (I love comments)


  • Eliot Weissberg
    Dec 14, 2008 - 11:31 am

    Steve, It is not only time to keep (cheaper to keep than acquire)clients, but with so much dissatisfied customers who are not hearing from thier vendors, NOW is the time to actually use that as a marketing tactic. It is working wonders for us. (Have you heard from your ____ lately?) Eliot

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 14, 2008 - 12:46 pm

      Thanks Elliot. Keep sharing your customer-relationship building successes with us.

  • Greg Balanko-Dickson
    Dec 14, 2008 - 12:13 pm

    Your list is great and affirms that what you do, the micro-economic decisions you make within your business that you have total control over will make the biggest impact – not worrying and ruminating about the macro economic picture.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 14, 2008 - 12:49 pm

      Greg – Thanks for the distinction between the micro-economic and macro-economic factors. It’s something else I’ve been thinking about, in this way: We’re hearing about macro-economic factors that we can’t control, and that affect us and our customers in different ways. However, if you focus (from a micro-economic perspective) on the utility that you provide your customer through your entire relationship with him/her, he/she will have more reasons to become more involved with you, no matter what the external factors are. (I’ll share more on this later … and I hope you’ll share of more thoughts also)

  • bonnieL
    Dec 14, 2008 - 13:54 pm

    *Downturn notwithstanding, we all have untapped opportunities in our businesses.*

    It’s so true Steve, it’s enough to make someone want to run out and buy a red shirt!

    *marketing is dead. Long Live Marketing.*
    A couple of questions Steve. Wondering why the one-on-one is taking there? What are Croatian demos?
    And media? Newspaper still big there? Mobile? Computer? Broadband penetration? Anyone have land lines? All I’ve heard about Croatia is that it’s a beautiful place!

    *The downturn is a great opportunity not to waste resources. *
    Ah yes, the beauty of social networking [prefer not to call it media]. Cost-effective and people- effective. That’s a hard combo to beat.

    *the best investment they can make in these times is in developing their existing customer relationships.*
    That about sums it.

    triiibe on!

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 14, 2008 - 14:08 pm

      Bonnie – Here’s why I think I’ve seen great examples of creative marketing thinking in Croatia on this visit: (Complementing what I said in the post)

      1. There’s definitely some self-selection, I’ll admit. MPG is a great marketing firm, offering results-oriented, Brand Harmony-oriented, integrated programs, and I saw clients who are smart enough to use them. So, I saw people who get it, and didn’t meet many who don’t get it.

      2. But … there is definitely a lot of fresh marketing thinking. I think there’s definitely something to be said for getting a fresh start in the late ’90’s, when the war ended. This was also a few years after communist rule was lifted, and there was not a long tradition of “Mad Men” marketing to hold them back. (To be sure, a lot of the global companies doing business there were brute-force branders, but local folks always have room to be smart, if they want to.)

      3. I spent today with Josip Basic and Illeana Cesarec of MPG, with their friend and client, Hrvoje Rendulic, Croatian Marketing Manager for Sony Ericsson. Hrvoje put it well: “People with limited budgets in their personal life have to be smart about how they spend. It’s the same with us.” I.e., he can’t afford not to be results-oriented, and focus on smart (as opposed to brute-force) marketing. Hrvoje was brimming with interesting marketing insights all day – I learned a lot hanging out with the three of them today.

      Maybe I can get Joe to weigh in with a comment.

  • JoeBasicMPG
    Dec 14, 2008 - 15:25 pm

    I am very happy to have had the opportunity to exchange ideas with Steve the last 4 days and his insight and direction will inspire and reinforce MPG objectives in 2009.

    I am sure many people will wonder what can be learned from a developing country in eastern europe like Croatia. However I can confirm that because this market is small and not constrained with a past burdened with old marketing techniques and methodology that we are free to develop solutions that are better suited for this day and age. We have minimal budgets in comparison to larger countries which forces us to be creative and in turn effective by always focusing on generating quantifiable positive results. In the end to achieve this the consumer is always in the forefront and we are required to always focus on his/her needs and expectations.

    As a result client and agency require to be smart together otherwise messages are lost and results do not occur. In a larger market this may at times be acceptable however in a small market this is not possible as you may only have one marketing window / year and results are critical for survival.

    For this reason “WE” connection with CLIENT and CUSTOMER are important and staying in touch with developments and activities on a daily basis not weekly or monthly allow us to always adapt in order to achieve this goal.

    Perhaps this suggests that large scale brute force marketing in the future will not be able to be the catalyst for increased sales or penetration in a market instead localized regional marketing for a manageable population base or target market is the approach as people seek more and more attention and demand on a daily basis requiring to be in touch with the products and services they consume. Globalization as a result may evolve to become even more localized then ever before.

    Maybe in this day and age of questions and turmoil answers to how to survive the glooming recession lye in a small developing country in Eastern Europe like Croatia. ????

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 14, 2008 - 16:35 pm

      Joe – I love your observation that “globalization as a result may evolve to become even more localized than ever before.” Every customer lives in a local market!

  • Jeff Pasquale
    Dec 16, 2008 - 10:46 am

    I come from the school of “get back to basics,” but continue to play with new strategies and tactics…and then pay attention to the results that you’re getting, or not getting.

    In my experience, one of our biggest challenges is not a lack of new ideas but our almost universal tendency to revert back to our comfortable (safe) habits even when we’re facing huge obstacles and we know we should be responding differently.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 16, 2008 - 11:26 am

      Jeff – And I’m sure you think this is a great time NOT to revert back to old habits, but to look for creative ways to overcome new obstacles, n’est pas?

      Thanks for your comment.

Leave A Reply