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.

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