Filling Gaps in Commerce Department Leadership

President Obama has filled two vital leadership posts in the US Department of Commerce, announcing the appointment of a new Under Secretary for International Trade, and a new Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration and head of the Bureau of Industry and Security.

Eric L. Hirschhorn, the nominee for Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration and head of the Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce; and Francisco J. Sánchez, Nominee for Under Secretary for International Trade, Department of Commerce, are both among a group of 15 or so candidate appointees who’ve been in a holding pattern for as long as 14 months, waiting to lead the charge on expanding global trade for the US.

Read more about the duties and challenges that await both appointees.

Natural Product Expo West: Health & Humor Abound

Working this show makes me glad I’m a marketing consultant who is blessed with clients in diverse industries who make a range of products, from natural foods to wireless telecomm. I get to attend and work at such events as Natural Product Expo West, to see and taste all things healthy. As at any trade event, some products hit the sweet spot of the market, while others land with a dull thud and a “heh”?! Some notes from a couple of categories follow, plus some “out there” ventures:

Salts, Sweeteners
The makers of NutraSalt maintain a “health-oriented” website to introduce their line of Mediterranean-origin, low-sodium sea salts. They’re taking a different tack than most leading sea salt providers by de- emphasizing the pure, healthy allure of the salt’s origins. (yes, some parts of the Mediterranean are a bit dodgy!) Rather, they’ve branded their products in much the same way as do the makers of non-sugar sweeteners … think Splenda with its light, über-healthy brand image.

In my opinion, NutraSalt’s brand image and website messages position the company very well for an effective, global viral marketing campaign; which in turn should attract the retailers they still seek.

Providers of natural sugar substitutes have added retail shelf space since the 2009 Expo. The booth messages have gone from preachy/greeny to product-focused, value-based marketing messages that signal growing retail sell-through (and acceptance in the ingredients sector, too). Emerald Forest Sugar‘s Xylitol brand scores high in vital benchmarks: extremely low on the glycemic index table vs. sucrose and honey, making it ideal for diabetic management. Prevents dental cavities, FDA-approved, has 45% fewer calories than sugar. Found in the fibers of many fruits, trees, and vegetables. (in the US, from hardwoods like birch). Taste, healthy benefits, low-calories… what are we waiting for? Price adjustment… as with all specialty-natural foods, sprinkle with caution until makers of this and similar products can cost-reduce!

The Xylitol brand ranges from bulk, ingredients-based supplies; to products like gums, mints, and “coffee shots”. I don’t know of any other supplier in this space who’s made so much progress. I’d drop that clinical-sounding Xylitol brand pronto for any consumer-facing messages, and find a new one that’s airier and friendlier.

Every year, new brands stake the claim as “world’s purest”. Bottling at the source – Norway, Australia, France, Hawaii – creates pricing challenges due to hefty transport costs that usually can’t be overcome without much heftier government subsidies at the source. I tasted Glacia Ice Box from Norway — in freezable, eco-friendly cartons — and another fine product from Hawaii, Hawaiian Springs Artesian Water. Now, find both lines in an impressive array of retailers throughout the western US and Asia.

Just Zany
CocoPop Smasher-Heater-Flinger. Retailers seeking a way to entice and amuse shoppers, look no further than this point-of-sale machine that smashes wafer-sized rice cake patties, quick-bakes them, and flings them into a bin at warp speed. As the company’s tag line says, “Flying Thin, Make You Thin.” Heh?
Performance-Enhancing Meat Snack. Perky Jerky, caffeinated beef jerky. Started up by two guys who went skiing one morning, their story goes like this: “Hey, you spilled your energy drink on my jerky!” “Hey, you dropped your jerky in my energy drink!” And, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the rest (they hope) is history. Visit the website and read the packaging, and you just know these guys are having a blast.
“Must Eat” Superfood for 2010? Chia seeds, we’re told. Aztec Warriors used them as a kind of Red Bull. But my friend who’s challenged up there in the hair department plans to sprinkle some on his dome before showering.
Sharks & Jellyfish Got Your Back. Collagen-based treatments are touted as the healthiest of ocean-based products, for topical and internal use. Trout mouth, anyone? I’d say this is a good use of by-products from the seafood industry… but you try it first!
Marketing Foul. How’s this for a mashed-up web address? The sign was longer than the booth. Pity the marketing ace who’s leading this product launch!

Export Promotion Cabinet To Convene in April

The inaugural session for our nation’s new Export Promotion Cabinet will convene next month, under the direction of Pres. Obama. The Cabinet, according to the president, is “made up of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor, along with our USTR, our Small Business Administrator, the Export-Import Bank President, and other senior U.S. officials whose work impacts exports.”

And, to help prod momentum of this grand undertaking, the president has also re-launched the President’s Export Council, a private-sector national advisory committee headed up by Fortune 100 CEOs.

These two big steps are part of the new National Export Initiative, announced by the president in the recent State of the Union address as the catalyst to reach the goal of “doubling America’s exports over the next five years -– an increase that will support 2 million American jobs”.

Speaking at today’s gathering of the Export-Import Bank’s Annual Conference, Pres. Obama pledged that “we’ll continue to increase the amount of trade financing Ex-Im offers, including a new $2 billion per year effort to increase support for our small and medium-sized businesses.” And that’s where the true value of this executive-level effort will hit home. We all know independent businesses who are on the verge of international growth, but are hampered by lack of affordable funding.

The president’s very public and direct pledges these past few weeks are the best way to hold lenders and government export agencies accountable and to support them to quickly help their constituents who, collectively, employ a vast majority of Americans.

The number one challenge of these government agencies will be to keep in lock-step with the innovative and energetic American entrepreneurs, acting to break down barriers, provide timely assets and incentives, and to think like an entrepreneur working at break-neck speed. That’s what the International Trade Administration of the Department of Commerce is so good at already. Stand back!!!

Industrial Design Awards That Win Market Share

Extraordinary industrial design for ordinary products: it’s what propels manufacturers toward world domination of their market sectors. When I worked on the team that launched a wearable, stylish, durable Bluetooth headset for mobile phone users into the consumer electronics retail market, we paid close attention to the upfront industrial design cycle.

Award-winning, Innovative Product Design Wins Shelf Space

Validation for our marketing and sales team was the product’s sell-through rate by every leading wireless carrier in the US and Europe, not to mention the shelf space we won at the best electronics retailers in every market. It’s a sweet feeling to spot your product tucked around ears in a crowd, and know your hard work paid off.

Before that, though, the team was especially proud about winning a reddot design award. Herewith, find more recent award-winning products that turn ordinary tasks into the sublime (thanks to iF Design).

5 Quick Tips for Community Marketing

My friend Peter owns a silkscreen, graphic design and embroidery shop, and does 80% of his business with community schools, non-profits, and businesses situated within 5 freeway exits from his shop. These happy customers are neighbors, fellow booster club parents, or members of his church. The quality of Peter’s goods and services seal the deal for repeat business, and customers’ word of mouth recommendations are spreading throughout his metro area and into the next counties.

When asked by Peter for advice on how to boost repeat sales and traffic both online and in-person, while staving off hungry out of town or online competitors, I suggested these 5 quick tips. Read on!

1. Gather Testimonials. Can’t say enough about ’em… pepper all of your outbound communication liberally with tales from happy customers. Thank you notes posted in auto mechanic’s waiting rooms are one of the most cost-effective uses of wall space. The most reliable form of promotion is word of mouth. Add testimonials to your Facebook Fan Page or LinkedIn company profile, too.
2. Inform and Motivate Customers. In our visits to stores, coffee shops, even doctor’s offices, we find free books that inform and entertain waiting customers. Now there’s an equivalent for your website: free, online publications, from libraries such as Free Select from among thousands of free, professionally published books; your site’s viewers can in turn download the titles right off of your site. There’s nothing wrong with adding fun subjects, either … poetry, travel, short stories might be a good diversion for your customers! Printed titles are an option for your company’s public premises, too. Customers feel better informed and cared for, and will thank you for it in the form of referrals.
3. Show Up in Local Search Results. It takes about 20 minutes to get on the boards with Google, Yahoo, and Bing local search engines. These listing and search services are very friendly for small, community businesses. Get started: Google Local. Yahoo! Local. And Bing! Local.
4. Be Seen and Heard. Not only should you attend community and trade business meetings, you should take charge of a particularly challenging chair or organizing role to raise your “expert” profile. By helping organizations for free, your relationships and workload will grow in repute. Be very selective, though; support just one highly-regarded group where customers most often gather, to avoid Volunteer Scatter-shot and loss of focus on your paying work.
5. Strengthen Communities. You and your employees are the first to benefit from happy customers and repeat business when payday rolls around. Remind customers that not only your company, but those who serve you — providers of goods and services, wholesale and retail partners — feel the love too. And who works for said partners? Those very customers, and their friends and neighbors. While you are walking the walk of integrity, quality, and pride, remind everyone who will listen how productive it is to keep it local. Feature “locally operated” and similar themes prominently in all outbound messages.

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