What the VA could learn from P&G


Delivery issues
Delivery issues

We were first told this in Marketing 101 eons ago, but the message continues to be reinforced by experience after experience:  “If you are a marketer, you can market anything”.  This means you can typically apply the “Four Ps” (positioning, product, price, promotion) to just about any industry without really knowing much about it.

But things can and do get lost in translation, or what we term “cross-overs”.   We have seen the industry crossover work well at Apple and disastrously at  J.C. Penny’s (JCP), and a few others.

It really depends on the industry and the immediate challenge being faced…which brings to mind another axiom, this one by sociologist Abraham Maslow:  “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail.”

We wonder if this will be the case with the most recent and arguably most interesting crossovers in quite a while: consumer packaged goods expert, Bob McDonald, former CEO of Procter & Gamble named head of the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs (known affectionately as “the VA”.)

While the VA appears to have both serious operational and marketing challenges, it will be interesting to see how a veteran of brand wars attacks them.  Since he is a “carpenter”, will he rely solely on his hammer?

In the interest of service to our nation, we have some lessons from our CPG colleagues that may cross over nicely to the VA:

  • DISTRACT FROM DELAYS.  What manufacturer has not experienced delays in getting product to a customer?  Savvy sales execs always have alternatives to soothe the savage beast.  Many times, atop that list is substitution.  In this case, offer something else that pleases or at least distracts while you work on your logistics issues.
  • SUBCONTRACT.  If you don’t have what it takes, let someone else provide the item or service while your company covers the cost.  If you do it in a seamless manner your customer may not even notice…but if they do chances are they will be impressed by your pluck.
  • FOSTER COMPETITION.  Healthy competition between brands has always been a cornerstone of P&G’s success.  The “umbrella” of products need to be complementary, with each brand manager working toward a common corporate vision and purpose, all infused with a healthy dose of friendly competition (and reward$, of course).
  • NIX WEAK EXTENSIONS.  This is one P&G knows well:  kill that dying SKU.  You don’t want too many flavors:  products, services and procedures that don’t add value but instead create customer confusion and erode core competency.
  • BUILD BRAND AMBASSADORS.  Perhaps the key issue for the VA in this case is that only the bad news got out.  What about the millions of satisfied customers?  Develop dozens — no, hundreds — of compelling stories from this group that will galvanize the nation.  In short, what the VA brand seems to be missing is a Marine-like formation that will cultivate media, blog, Tweet, Facebook and Pin, yelling from the mountaintops to the sea til death about how great the place is.

Best of luck, Bob!

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