August 2009


How do you feel about the Cash for Clunkers program? Have you done any homework? The top choice for participants was Toyota. Now, mind you, many Toyotas are made here in America, and provide badly needed jobs. More on this program in a later posting.

But now there are rumors of a similar program for appliances, such as refrigerators, freezers, etc. And this industry, like many others, has been hit hard by the economy.

But let us all remember that the purpose of any well designed stimulus effort is to ultimately get American consumers buying again. And the critical apex is the individual consumer, who has a job.

One way to shape how this might pan out is to tell your elected officials that you are concerned that one of the main beneficiaries of such a progam, Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR), based in Benton Harbor, Mich., is eliminating its manufacturing plant in Evansville, Ind., destroying about 1,100 full-time jobs by mid-2010. These jobs will be moved to Mexico. There are another 300 jobs that are also up in the air. Let’s guess what Whirlpool executives will do to them?

This is what Al Holaday, vice president, North American Manufacturing Operations for Whirlpool, had to say.

“This was a difficult but necessary decision.  “To reduce excess capacity and improve costs, the decision was made to consolidate production within our existing North American manufacturing facilities. This will allow us to streamline our operations, improve our capacity utilization, reduce product overlap between plants, and meet future production requirements.”

“We are announcing this decision nearly one year in advance as part of our commitment to make the transition as smooth as possible.”

Nice work. But he says the same thing, every time they axe jobs. Nice gig, Mr. Holaday. Get your MarCom folks to write a shiny bit, practice it, make it your own. You can even say it while you are using your treadmill. Here is a quote from last year.

‘These decisions, while difficult, are an important part of our overall operating plans, and will help ensure that we remain competitive in North America,’ said Al Holaday, Vice President, Whirlpool North America manufacturing. ‘The changes are in no way a reflection on our employees at either the LaVergne or Reynosa facilities, whose contributions we greatly appreciate.’

Do you think Whirlpool will even pass on the incredible savings they’ll achieve in reduced labor costs to you, the American consumer? No way. Funny how that happens. Cheap foreign labor justified as a means of lowering the cost to the consumer. Show me some good examples of this in action. Good luck finding one.

Here is another good one. Rising costs. Steel is way down, Mr. Holaday. So is oil. Where are those lower costs to the consumer?

Tell your Congressman you want to see corporations that stand to benefit from such government sponsored giveaways to at least give something back to Americans. That is the ultimate goal of any stimulus program, right?

Like most people in America, I have been following the raging debate regarding healthcare reform. And as a marketer, I have been absolutely floored by the universally poor job both sides have been doing in articulating their game plans. Except for one camp. We should all give the insurance giants, and the pharmaceutical industry a big hand in how effectively they have positioned their businesses to profit regardless of the outcome.

You know something is fishy when big business is FOR reform. This is the first shell in the shell game. What does this so called reform mean for them?

Obama recently did a back room deal with the The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which promises to keep drug prices high, in spite of the $80 billion they say they will hand over. And concurrently, Congress moves to extend the patent protection on pharma to 12 years, since they say they can’t make a profit with five years of brand name exclusivity. Top that with the elimination of even a hint of price negotiations for Medicare and Medicaid, and you have Big Pharma laughing all the way to the bank.

America, you just got screwed by your president.

Now,  move on to the issue of the uninsured. This is a valid problem in America, and it is getting worse. With over 6 million Americans out of work in the past year, it is turning into a huge problem. But part of the real story, just under the surface, is that many of the same folks now uninsured, will be crushed with medical bills that will drive them to wipe out savings, lose homes, and erode the promise of the American Dream.

For the truly uninsured, they are now contributing a full one fifth of all ER visits, and the strain on our Federal coffers, as hospitals receive partial reimbursement from Uncle Sam.

But how many of those “one fifth” are undocumented aliens? In 2006, there were 120 million ER visits.

You have to understand a key difference between an ER visit for an uninsured American, and an undocumented alien. The American ER patient may still be liable for the bill, and as such, could go financially under. The undocumented alien, on the other hand, has their ER visit, as well as follow on care, paid for by the Federal government, via Program 93.784 Federal Reimbursement Of Emergency Health Services Furnished To Undocumented Aliens. Hospitals love this program.

America, you just got screwed again.

And the so called nonprofit hospitials (another follow on blog) love it even more.

Now, why would the big healthcare insurance providers like Wellpoint be all over Obama’s grand plan for reform? One reason is that they see a huge increase in the number of customers, since every American will be required to have insurance, and that single payer notion wil be killed before it is born. Do the math. Even with changes to pre-existing condition policies and rescissions, the insurnace companies will clean house.

 

Now I get to what I think is most important to most Americans, the ones with some insurance. We need insurance (or whatever) that is affordable, can’t be revoked because you or a family member gets really, really sick, and protects us from huge bills that take away our homes, our savings, and indeed, our lives.

So keep up those antics on both sides, America. Democrats, Republicans, and all in between, rant and rave all you want. Because the folks in power will come out of this smelling like a rose. Unless you start ranting about the real healthcare demons that keep us down.

Like many people involved in marketing, I am fascinated with the impact of social media on consumers, businesses, and all in between. Like many of my bretheren, I subscribe to a laundry list of RSS feeds, blogs, and newsletters, all revealing tales of how social media is the cure for our age, how some companies “get it”, how customers are taking control, how we will all, once and for all, get exactly what we deserve.

But enough is enough. We can’t expect Facebook, Twitter, or any electronic forum to guilt or shame any business into some semblance of social responsibility, if they are just too big, too powerful, to listen.

The Wellpoints and Goldman Sachs of the world don’t embrace any of our social media banter. Not one bit. These types of companies will use the time tested, good old fashioned sour mash mix of misinformation, newspeak, and PR bullshit that the marketing biz is so very good at providing.

No ladies and gentlemen, why don’t we all draw a line in the sand, and please admit that all this buzz is just that. Social media tools are great for organizations that truly enter into a social contract with their customers. Hence the “social” thing.

Even many of the worst corporate entities in America can stand to benefit. But to really do so, it takes a huge transformational effort internally. We all work under the rather animistic notion that companies have personalities. And what is the source of this illusion? The CEO perhaps? The customer service team? The PR and marketing folks?

The true personality of a company, or any organization, must ultimately reside with how it behaves to others. This must include its customers, vendors, distributors, local community, the ground it is built on. Everything.

Zappos recently came under fire for putting way too many ad agencies through the ringer by announcing an open casting call, so to speak. Many firms scrambled for the chance, not really understanding that it was really an embarassing situation for Zappos, and whoever ultimately got in the card game. Why? Because on the front end, Zappos has a reputation for being really nice to their customers, almost providing the illusion that they have your back, dude.

But man, on the backend, to set up a cattle call for ad agencies is just wrong. This is a good example of the actions of a psychopath, and the disease must be treated before any social media tools are handed out.

I don’t see any marketing or “new marketing” pundits out there even talking about corporate “personality profiles” or such as a major part of their makeover packages.

Chris Carfi, over at The Social Customer, created a few years back an excellent Manifesto that attempted to define the push to social media driven consumer power.

The complimentary piece needs to be a Consumer Bill of Rights. Now I have attempted to push such a concept at the last two companies I worked for, and it met dull ears. But I believe to rally around such a thing can and will help a company set itself on the right path, and help it define its “personality”.

I’m going to leave you to think about this, with a video of Wendell Berry. Do take the time to watch it. My point in this post is to get you thinking about connectedness.

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