Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Power of Emotion

Dow Blues

Free falling stock market can't seem to fight through investor confidence issues. Proof positive that we purchase, or in this case sell, on the momentum of negative emotions. Companies like General Electric haven't become 50% less intelligent over the past six months. Their market share hasn't eroded. They continue to innovate while serving their various audiences brilliantly. But that's rational thinking, a poor substitute for fear, loathing, and stakeholder regret fueled by the free fall in stock value.

Once consumer emotions swell, logical argument's ability to persuade is indeed diminished.

Truth Well Told

Which isn't to suggest that we should counter emotion with emotion, or worse, allow others emotion to control our actions. My second agency job introduced me to the concept of 'Truth well Told'. Now is the time to be transparent, factual, forceful. No reason to retreat from the marketplace and rely on 'hope' to sell your product. Now is the time to sharpen the blade. Make your meaningful points of difference that much more clear. Not everyone is swept up in the negativity of the day. But consumers BS detectors are fine tuned. A brand story told well resonates true in all market conditions. The response at the cash register may be delayed, but it will not be denied.

Real Reasons to Cry

Say a prayer or two tonight for the families of the three NFL football players who lost their lives on the Gulf of Mexico this weekend caught by surprise in 20' swells.

The media is unable to stop fanning the flames of recession frenzy simply for fear of being accused of being soft on the Obama administration. Today, however, they have had to take a momentary nod towards the Coast Guard's heroic efforts to save these three young men. Alas, to no end.

My worst fear is waking up to the news that someone in my family has unexpectedly died. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have unexpectedly lost a loved one.

Reasons to be Thankful

The death of those young men turns my thoughts to the thousands of boys and girls who have given their life to protect our freedom ... most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Courage is possibly the most noble of all human emotions. The combination of courage, selflessness, and service forever reinforces that our military men are our 'best and brightest'. I sleep easy tonight in Louisville for the bravery of my friend Sam Torrey and others like him who are at this moment walking as they do in harms way.

A Final Note

My wife Mary frequently reminds me to step away from the emotional buffet and wait for sanity to return before taking an action. When it comes to our investments, we could all stand a few more moments of Spock-like objectivity. When considered vs the plight of a lost fisherman or a blooded soldier, the decline in our individual wealth finds an appropriate sounding space.

Building an influential pyramid

The beginner emulates the intermediate. The intermediate copies the advanced. And the advanced player incorporates elements of the professional’s game into their own in an effort to compete at a higher level.

Marketing through the pyramid of influence is now a time worn strategy that has proven effective for marketers as diverse as Nike, Gatorade and Tide.

I’ve had the privilege of working with each of the athletes highlighted here in bold. Through both failure and success, I’ve learned a bit about working with celebrity endorsers to help increase the cache for sunglasses, bowling balls, baseball bats, tournament wakeboard boats, beach destinations and golf equipment. It’s fun. It’s rewarding. It’s expensive. It’s risky.

Here are a few observations from my experiences.

Mark Messier, Josh Sanders, Jason Couch, Chip Beck, Lisa Fernandez, The University of Miami Hurricanes, Emily Copeland Durham, Craig Biggio, Rusty Wallace and Reed Hansen.

It’s fun hiring a pro staff. Getting to meet your sports heroes is pretty heady stuff. As a former athlete, it’s natural to get caught up in the moment when we meet with the best in the sport. It’s much like being the General Manager of a pro sports franchise. You need to buy the athlete when their star is beginning to shine, before the exposure cost becomes astronomical. The biggest mistake you can make is signing an athlete at the end of their career. Of course, neither the Marketing Director or the athlete can fully know if they are ascending, peaking, or declining.
Brian Fortini, the smartest Marketing Director I ever worked with missed on Chip Beck and it virtually hamstrung every other effort he made until Chip's contract ran its course. On the other hand, Rick Tinker nailed it with Josh Sanders when the future King of the Wake was barely wake worthy.

This is less science than magic.

Can you afford the relationship?

Hiring a pro staff commits you to incorporating them into your marketing efforts. Do you have the funds to activate their contract? Can they deliver your message effectively? Will they give you a strong enough time commitment to allow you to build a program around them? Is the camera their friend? It makes little sense to add a person to your staff that you are unwilling to incorporate into your marketing materials.

Will your pro staff get press coverage?

You have to a few team members who are consistently on the podium. I would rather invest $100 in one guy who consistently wins, than $10 in ten people that are competitive but not winners. Your credibility rides on their performance.

Will your pro staff get additional endorsements?

The more brands that sponsor your athletes, the more visibility your athlete will bring to your company. You want an exclusive in your category, but the last thing you want to be is the only sponsor for an athlete.

Does your pro staff have a passion for your product?

Not just use it, but are they on fire to tell people about it. Josh Sanders was so convinced that Supra built the best tow boat on the water that he opened a dealership in Australia to sell them.

Are your pro staff members willing self-promoters?

If a person is uncomfortable with public appearances, how will they possibly become comfortable hawking your product? Do they aggressively seek out additional brand relationships? Are they willing to help you link up with their other co-sponsors?

How much Teflon are your pro staff members wearing?

People make mistakes. When a member of your pro staff publicly missteps your brand reputation is at risk. Truth is that professional athletes mistakes are amplified by the public spotlight. Some earn almost instant forgiveness, while others get pinned with a scarlet letter and can’t shake themselves from the stigma. Try to assess the public goodwill a person has built prior to committing to them.

Are you team members time suckers?

Some pro athletes require virtually no hand-holding, while others require full-time companionship. Given today’s shorthanded marketing departments, make certain that you have the internal resources to adequately manage these external resources.

Here is how the process breaks down for those of you who are considering creating your own pro staff.

1. Identify appropriate athlete.

2. Recruit (it’s more than money, it’s relationship building)

3. Paper the deal. Make certain to buy both their time and their attention. Limit your exposure, both in terms of the length of the deal, and in terms of their personal responsibility to your company and their code of conduct.

4. Embed them in your product development, your marketing materials, and in your event strategy. Most athletes need you to help build their ‘brand profile’ while they lend credibility to your own. Don’t paper the deal unless you can fully utilize their talents.

5. Stay in close contact, or as close as they will allow. Show up at their events. Physically and emotionally support them. Treat them like family members, not like paid vendors.

The rewards from a solid 'higher authority' strategy are often immediate and tangible. Your pro staff creates leverage for you with your dealer network, creates a buzz around the marketing department, provides a 'cool' factor for your team ... all that before a single product is sold. Used appropriately your R&D efforts can benefit from their insight, your marketing materials get a fresh focus, and your events become attendance-worthy.

Used poorly your budget gets fragmented, your message becomes muddled, and your time gets diverted from building your brand to building their brand.

Love to hear your stories from the pyramid. Post me.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The world could use a little more Frank, Dean, and Sammy

Took my beautiful wife Mary to see the 'Rat Pack' Friday night. Phenomenal show. If you haven't seen it and were a fan of the Chairman its more than worth the price of admission.

I loved the music. But more than the music, I realized while watching the show that I missed the simple political incorrectness of the era. The boys fired up a cig, threw down a shot of bourbon, and romanced beautiful women. They stayed out too late and refused to accept the narrowly confined script of appropriateness. They didn't walk, they swaggered.

Before the Moral Majority and health fanaticism. Before HIV and the new moral puritanism, there was Frank and Dean and Sammy and JFK and the world just seemed a more sophisticated, fun, hip place.

Here's to the value of imperfection. The quality of a life well lived strikes me to be of more value than a wellness lived life. Drink. Eat. Love and be loved.

Cool should never be allowed to go out of style.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brand touch points

Seriously I love reaching out and touching customers and prospects in the most unexpected of ways. Unexpected, not inappropriate.

Here's a great Skier's Choice story. We positioned our premium brand as the performance leader in the category. The market didn't want to 'give us' that position, but in comparison to the other critical consumer beliefs (quality/reliability), performance was our most winnable option.

We attacked performance attributes in multiple ways. I'm going to go into each of these in detail in different posts Tonight I just want to share with you how we executed an event strategy to make the performance claim ring true.

Bottom line, it was important to us to be visible as a tow boat that pulled professional wakeboarders and wakeskaters at the highest level of competition. Frankly we were shocked and delighted when one of our largest competitors gave up their rights to pull the WWA World Wakeboard and Wakeskate championships. The event was special on two levels. It marked the culmination of the year's professional competitions. And it brought the best amatuer riders together with the best pro riders in an event that was both family-friendly and pro-worthy.

Sponsorhship of the event was expensive ... roughly 5% of our annual budget. But we knew we could maximize its impact and use it to give credence to our performance claim. Here's how Rick Tinker, Natalie Carrera, Brian Raymond, Matt Brown, Rob Loucks and I made it work.

1. Establish an activation budget at least 50% of the event cost. We didn't want to be a passive sponsor. We wanted to embrace our prospects, our customers, the contestants, and our competitors at the event. To meet that goal, we needed to fund our efforts.

2. Use other people's money to offset costs. God how I loved Toni Gunter in our purchasing department. She gently laid the wood to our aligned vendors. She was able to help twist some arms ... allowing us to play large on the center stage, without laying waste to the bulk of my marketing budget.

3. Return true value to those vendors on their investment. Natalie did a phenomenal job giving our vendors appropriate visibility and credibility at the event. Yes, we used their money. But we returned their investment by being wholly transparent about their contributions.

4. Extend the value of the event throughout the year. Our advertising, our website, all of our press releases always displayed the WWA World Championship logo. We made a special commemorative badge and put it on the transom of each boat. We designed a premium package that was available on every model in our product line-up, and branded it a 'World's Boat' limited edition. And we then used that limited edition boat to pull the World Championships, so that television coverage of the event reinforced our messaging throughout the year. If you make the decision to build your marketing program around a special event, then commit yourself to making that event ubiquitous with your brand.

5. Be hospitable. We had a VIP tent ... but we held it open for everyone. Natalie disagreed with me, but my goal was to make Supra the friendly alternative to the corporate, purportedly arrogant category leader. I didn't just want to embrace our customers, I wanted to embrace our industry. So when our tent was filled with people wearing MasterCraft t-shirts, I gritted my teeth and smiled through the frustration. In this case it was tough love ... tough for me, love for them.

6. Be memorable. We were the first company to film video of every amatuer run, and with the help of our very good web partner DMGx, we literally shot, edited, and distributed the video to every rider before they went home from the competition. A first in the industry.

Of course, we cheated. Before the event we shot an open with our President Rick Tinker and with our pro riding staff. So that when the family put the video in the DVD player to show their friends, the first thing they saw was a gentle message from their friends at Supra. Sweet.

We found additional funds to enable our media partner Bonnier Corporaton to webcast every hour of the event. It was an industry first. A further surprise that the company that innovated was Supra.

7. Be inclusive. Pros become accustomed to award ceremonies. But amatuer riders were blown away that we held a sit-down banquet for them, complete with riding videos shot at the event for each of the amatuer division winners. Natalie came up with the big idea of allowing the amatuer riders to choose a pro that they could sit with during the banquet. The feedback from the families after the event was simply amazing.

8. Be inventive. The competition lasted from 8:00am - 6:00pm. We weren't satisfied with that. We wanted people to have as good of an experience away from the competition as they did during the competition. So we hosted nighttime events that complimented the day time schedule. It was fun, but more than that, it was another opportunity for us to connect with the families of the competitors and make friends that we knew would eventually lead to sales. Again, Natalie was brilliant in using other people's money to make these events talk worthy.

9. Be there. It's amazing how many times a title sponsor simply is invisible in all ways other than the named sponsorship and the media placement. Big time missed opportunity.

The real value at the event was for myself, for our great guy sales manager Dan Miller and for the world's best company President Rick Tinker to walk the shore line shaking hands and kissing babies. This was our party ... and we intended to be known as the very best of hosts.

10. Be thankful. It's so easy to become arrogant when you are spending the money to make the event happen. We tried to go the other way. We constantly thanked the competitors for their attendance. We thanked the event organizers for their effort. We thanked the judges for their efforts. We thanked the local media for their coverage. We thanked our aligned vendors for their financial contribution. We thanked our pro staff for being visibile in wearing our gear, interacting with the amatuer riders, and hanging out in our hospitality tent. When one of our pro riders got hurt, we found the best orthopod in OKC and we stayed with her until she had been fully cared for. Then we thanked the doctor.

There is truly so much more. We involved our dealers throughout the year in World's promotion. We encouraged them to show the World's edition at boat shows, and to activate the event at their stores by awarding fantasy trips to customers to the event. When the event was over, we sent letters to every competitor and provided them with a cash incentive for purchasing a new Supra through their local dealer.

I have no doubt that executing an event strategy effectively bought us credibility for our brand and as importantly good will within our industry. Our efforts at the event led to a partnership with the hottest brand in watersport equipment. They selected us specifically because they liked the way we executed our efforts at the World's. That was gratifying. So was the standing ovation from the competitors and their families at our Dinner of Champions event.

That was a touch point that really touched me. Appropriately.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Living the Brand right down to the architectural drawing

The mantra is ‘live the brand’. In many companies that simply says that the advertising is a direct result of a strong positioning statement. But in the best of companies, the brand is so fundamentally aligned with the corporate mission that every area of the company is a reinforcement of the brand strategy.

The new Dairy Queen ‘Grill and Chill’ store concept is a brilliant example of brand positioning driving the fundamental of product delivery right down to the architecture of the restaurant. This past weekend’s drive to Knoxville afforded me the opportunity to visit a new prototype store in Frankfort, KY.

Key elements of the brand heritage have been preserved in the updated logo treatment of the Dairy Queen name. Appended to the logo is the designator ‘Grill and Chill’. Once inside the restaurant, the food prep area is now arrayed in a classic L shape… with dessert items on the short side of the L, and grill items on the long side of the L. Instead of hiding the dessert prep in the backroom, DQ chose to bring the blenders out center stage. Consequently, DQ’s real competitive advantage, the Blizzard mix bar, highlights the food presentation experience. SMART.

The restaurant interior feels different than the traditional quick feeder. By creating more ‘intimate’ personal sitting areas, guests can find a little privacy when eating alone, or can gather more comfortably when sitting in larger groups. Floor, counter, and wall spaces have also been upgraded, not to the point of leaving the general quick service experience, but clearly defining the experience as a cut above the average Burger King/Taco Bell experience. New menu board graphics are much more appetizing, while the brand has intuitively included heritage statements throughout the point of sale materials establishing a heightened expectation for the dining experience.

It all comes together at the new DQ. Environment, marketing materials, food prep, and store signage left me with a lasting positive impression. Enthusions core tenet is that magic occurs at point of sale and point of use. DQ soared past my expectation level at every level of ‘Chill and Grill’. I left happy with the intent to return on my next trip through Frankfort. The visit was great. The French Silk blizzard hold the whip cream was even better.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Little things at retail add up

I went to my local SuperCuts this morning. I bagged up to fight back the greying tide. This allowed me an hour or so of time to look/listen to the banter in the shop. Actually wandered the back rooms a bit reading sales goals on the walls. Clearly the push from management was 'cross-selling': a cut, a color, an upgraded shampoo, a wax, and at the end of the process purchase of 'products'.

There were three employees at the store. One of the three attempted to 'upsell' the purchase consistently. Neither of the other two did. They all were good at greeting customers as they walked through the door, but almost to the detriment of the customer in the chair. Meaning, 'who's next' was clearly more important than who is was already sitting in the chair. And when the phone rang, well, it was a mad dash of stylists to the phones. Again, current customers took second seat to 'who''s next'. In fact, as the waiting room filled, the speed of each hair cut seemingly increased to allow for 'who's next' to get into the chair that much faster.

Point of sale materials did nothing to improve the experience. They didn't cross-sell effectively. They didn't tell a story about the brand, about the people in the store, or set expectations for the experience. When the 'cross-selling' stylist attempted to sell product at the end of a purchase ... the discussion went "Would you like to purchase some products?" "No thank you."
"Well, ok, but we have this Biolage on sale this week." "Goodbye."

Let's relook at how management likely wishes that it had gone.

"Thanks for giving me the chance to work with you today." ... stylist

"I like what you did with my hair." ... customer

"You have such great hair. We have these Biolage products that are well formulated for your particular hair type. Should keep your hair looking like it does now for the next 6 weeks. "... stylist

"Really, never used them before." ... customer

"I think once you've tried them, you won't go back. Let me do something special for you on the price today. You'll love it, and I can save you a few dollars." ... stylist

In this scenario, the stylist shows interest in the customer and personalized the sale. She also presented the product at the proper time ... before the customer had completed the purchase.

Customer loyalty, repeat purchase, upselling ... each critical to the long term success of the salon, and in this case, each fumbled away ... not because of any major blunder ... but because of a lack of attention to detail by all parties involved.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Facts, Opinions, and Damnable Lies

When did our collective lose the ability to determine the distinctions between a fact,
an opinion, and an out and out lie?

Forcefulness and conviction are no substitute for knowledge and honor. Yet before the ink dries on a congressional bill, on a newspaper column, or on a print ad, we are bombarded with 'facts' about the value of the paper.

A few notes to myself. Self, when you don't know, don't state your support or disagreement as a fact. Self, facts are inalienable. The Holocaust happened. That's a fact. The North won the Civil war. That's a fact. The Canadian/Western European health care system is worse than the American system. That's an opinion. Obama wants to transform the United States economy into a socialist system. That's a lie.

My point is, a supposition, no matter how strongly stated or how convicted the speaker is in the belief does not make for factual evidence. Wanting something to be true doesn't make it true. I would like to be 35 years old, with a 32" waist, a square chin, with a small cleft in it. In my mind, that may well be a fact. Sadly, your eyes will bear witness to the falsehood.

It's incredibly important to have an opinion, a point of view, a perspective. It's even more important to base that perspective in facts. I don't know why I'm on this rant. Maybe its one too many Rush Limbaugh moments. Or too many postings about the lack of importance of keeping the best football player on the Titans on the team.

Call it a nagging observation. The truth will set you free. The opinion will set you free from friendships.