(Non) Humblebrag

Hey, pals & gals!  I got someone else to publish my drivel for once.

Check out my article in Gamechangers, a publication of the Troyanos Group.

It’s my take on how rideshare companies like Uber and autonomous cars will create a passenger economy sooner rather than later.  Moreover, that passenger economy will have profound impact on retail, entertainment and even health and wellness brands.

Enjoy and tell your friends!

Tom Petty’s Death Signals Radio’s Approaching Sign-off

I don’t usually post about entertainment figures, because I don’t work in the industry.  However, the passing of Tom Petty brings up a salient point about marketing: he’s one of the last musicians from the era when radio mattered.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Commercially and critically successful, Tom Petty earned some scorn from rock cognoscenti because, they felt, radio had made him more popular than he deserved to be.  Whatever that means.

However, this criticism (fair or not), points to a conspicuous absence: radio can’t do that anymore.  Radio will no longer crown pop princesses like Madonna or Britney.  It will no longer unleash the Monsters of Rock.  Hip hop seems to have maintained a local radio tradition and maybe country has, too.

Sure, mass distribution of a sort exists in the form of YouTube and music streaming, not to mention satellite radio and alternate channels such as movie and TV soundtracks.  However, these channels have fragmented.  You never have to hear Tom Petty even if you like a lot of similar acts such as the Allman Brothers or Bruce Springsteen.  A high schooler today could live out the old joke of not realizing that Paul McCartney had been in a band before Wings.

We no longer have the social contract that radio wrote: you listen to music that someone else chooses and, every once in a while, you’ll be exposed to something new that you’ll like.  As marketers, Tom Petty’s death reminds us of a channel that offered distinctly emotional human connections for brands.

I offer apologies if this post comes off more as a Jeremiad than the usual “Everything Is Awesome” posts on LinkedIn (and, yes, I realize that in the world of “The Lego Movie,” that song was a radio hit).  I just want to call something out that we, as music lovers and marketers, have lost.

Marketing When Marketing Should be the Last Thing on Your Mind

We have had a rough time of it lately.

Hurricanes.  Riots.  Earthquakes.  Mass shootings.  Hardly a day goes by when a horrific event dominates the day’s news.

Times like these are the last times anyone should worry about marketing.  And that’s the point I’m going to make.

Outside the affected area, marketers still have jobs to do.  Would that we could back away from our laptops, don jumpsuits and go help the people who really need our help.  Outside of volunteer first aid squad members, National Guard personnel and the Cajun Navy, however, that means most of us still have to show up at the office.

Yet, as an ancient Rabbi told generations: “it is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

I think this statement has implications for marketers.

A large-scale disaster that takes the lives of dozens or destroys a community cannot simply breeze by the rest of the nation–or perhaps the world–like the closing Dow Jones Index.  Things aren’t normal and don’t proceed like business as usual.  Even when seeking escape by watching TV or browsing our social networks for cat pictures, these events lay heavily on our minds.  Marketers can’t ignore a pall like this.  Who can think about which brand of peanut butter to buy when watching people begging for food?

That said, marketers who choose to respond to disasters face criticism of taking advantage of people at a vulnerable moment.  I won’t name names here out of respect for past tragedies, but some marketers have gone so far as to attach a sales pitch to a solemn or even grim occasion.

Let’s look at one who did it right: Verizon (disclosure: I’ve worked on various parts of Verizon in that past and I’m currently working with one of their competitors).

 

By highlighting the efforts of first responders–and moreover by not including any sort of sales pitch–Verizon shows both that they can appreciate the stress many of us feel and also that they’re doing something about it.

It took a lot of effort by Verizon to script and edit a commercial in what must have been days.  More to the point, it took some leadership from somewhere in the organization to handle the situation with care and compassion.

I would like to see more marketers do the same, to show that they have the humanity to acknowledge the suffering of others and, where possible, to address their role in salving the wounds.

More brands could do this if they thought about it.  Procter & Gamble dispatches mobile laundries and wifi service trucks to hard-hit areas.  What could a bank do to make emergency cash available?  How could a clothing retailer help those who have lost their homes and all the clothes inside?

I suppose I could also make the more bottom-line-oriented argument here.  I could show how programs like these have positive impacts on brand image.  However, I’ll leave that job to others.  For now, I’d just like to see more marketers think about how they can address audiences collectively waiting for the next big shoe to drop.

 

Amazon’s Customer Strategy: New HQ Edition

At the beginning of the summer, I posited that Amazon bought Whole Foods not as part of a distribution or merchandising strategy but rather because they wanted to cater to the mass affluent consumer.

Now that Amazon has begun the great HQ2 competition, I’d like to take a moment to extend the mass affluent factor to geography.  In other words, where would Amazon build its second headquarters if they wanted to keep the mass affluent consumer in mind?

At first glance, this question seems irrelevant.  After all, Amazon already sprawls across this country with major offices in places like Newark, NJ and Grand Forks, ND.  Myriad distribution centers fill spaces in between.  They once got me a router the same day I ordered it in NYC from Kentucky.

That said, companies often relocate to get in touch with an audience or a workforce.  Many car manufacturers have design HQs in Southern California to take advantage of the region’s car culture.  GE recently announced a move of their headquarters from Fairfield, CT to Boston to attract workers interested in a more cosmopolitan environment (or maybe because GE likes Harvard better than Yale).

So where would Amazon put HQ2 if they wanted to immerse themselves in mass affluence given that they want to avoid the West Coast and such wealthy citadels as Silicon Valley, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs?

Don’t try to make it here

I’ll cross New York City and environs off the list first.   Continue reading

Adventures in Biz Dev: Agile

I have to imagine that whoever named “Agile Development” may well regret it by now.  The approach of complementing a long-term roadmap with frequent, short-duration sprints has proliferated to marketing, retail and even urban development.  So I’m trying Agile business development, aka biz dev aka drumming up business.

In the name of transparency and in line with a lot of other Agile [x] practitioners, I’m simply stealing the name and the broadest outlines of Agile.  However, I have done some actual planning around Agile Biz Dev here that I’m sharing.

Step 1: The roadmap

As with everything, step one involves setting an objective and designing plans to meet it.  Not surprisingly, that objective takes the form of more business.  However, since “get more business” would result in simply dialing everyone in my contact list willy-nilly, I’ve refined the objective both to give clearer direction and to focus on specific measurements:

Drive leads (net new prospects and requests for proposal) with a focus on market research offerings

In service of this objective, the current roadmap includes units such foci on specific industries, branding and thinking big.

To accomplish the elements of the roadmap, I’ve created a series of two-week (-ish; lots of fall holidays may force me to extend timelines a bit) sprints.  Each sprint focuses on one unit to leave time for my business-as-usual work.

Step 2: Initial sprints

So far, I’ve got a few sprints already planned.  These initial sprints include a few units of specific industries, since it makes sense (to me, at any rate) to create a specific pitch for a specific industry and then rattle the cages of the appropriate contacts.  After that, I’m including one unit to review and revise key branding elements (website, LinkedIn, elevator speech) and another to dream up new opportunities.

Of course, management retains the right to change plans without further notice!

Step 3: Ready, fire, aim

Having defined what I want to achieve and how I will go about achieving it, I have begun executing the plan.  I really appreciate the built-in self-correction implied in an Agile methodology.  As much as I joke about making up the rules as I go along, I believe that flexibility underpins Agile.  If something ain’t workin’, it means going back to the drawing board and making adjustments rather than simply pushing ahead.

Accordingly, I’ve built in a measurement check-in at the end of each two-week sprint.  I’ll take time to tally up leads, to confirm next steps and to hone strategy and measurement.

I’ll keep you posted on how things work out.

 

A Field Guide to Untying Knots

Office workers of the world unite!  Just for a few minutes so we can get our act together!

Flat organizations and ad hocracy have, on the balance, helped organizations adjust to the ever-increasing speed of business.  However, they’ve also created more knots, or situations in which people with misaligned goals or approaches bring a project to a halt.

Some examples from my experience include:

  • A content tagging project that bogged down because the account manager and I didn’t interpret the second-hand instructions the same way
  • A social media production calendar that got messy because the creative team and the account team had different understandings of the approval process
  • An industry research project that went awry because the client changed the scope and the agency team never came to a consensus whether to push back or to attempt to complete the changed assignment

It hardly matters what business you work in; sure enough you will find yourself in a meeting in which the attendees all look at each other and say “well…now what?”

Here’s what.

I’ve got four basic tools that I use to untie process knots and get things moving again.

Get Everyone.

Continue reading

The Playbook for Terry Malloy Brands

You may not recognize the name Terry Malloy, but I bet you know his work:

 

I coulda been a contender!  I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum.

I’d like to apply “Terry Malloy” to brands, brands that have faded in popularity for any number of reasons including changing tastes, mishandled marketing or the relentless search for novelty*.  While we have a name for brands fighting their way up–Challenger Brands–I can’t think of any meaningful names for brands fighting to keep from falling down.  So I’ll enlist Marlon Brando’s iconic character from On the Waterfront.

Just to give a few quick examples, I’ll list some brands that enjoyed greater followings than they now have.  Mind you, I do this without malice; I like some of these brands, which is a point I’ll revisit presently:

Notice the lack of Fresca?  Fresca fans probably raided this Target’s meager supply already.

 

Aim relegated to the bottom shelf.  Perhaps a casualty of the 3,000 SKUs of Crest and Colgate.

 

Any number of spirits brands would fit here; I just watched an episode of The Sopranos where someone mentioned that J&B was Anthony’s favorite Scotch

 

Step 1: Admit the problem

Perhaps the greatest challenge for Terry Malloy brands lies in fessing up to being Terry Malloy.  Both client- and agency-side marketers work hard to reach positions of responsibility and, as a result, do not generally want to admit to problems in their kingdoms.  In my experience I can remember only one client who admitted “the old gray mare she ain’t what she used to be:” Blimpie.  In the mid-90s, Blimpie was still run by its founders, one of whom spoke openly about his business successes and failures.  To his credit, he knew when he had lost it and made every effort to get it back.

Every marketer needs to look at her brand and, in the matter of all Presidential candidates since Reagan, “are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  Or fourteen.  Or forty.

Step 2: Take a new look at old customers

Assuming that your brand still has sales, it stands to reason that somebody out there likes you.  Spend time with your customers to understand what keeps them with you.  If the answer is “it’s the cheapest,” then so be it.  At least you’ve learned something.

There is, perhaps, a temptation to take this learning and simply go retro–to present the brand as it exists in the minds of former customers.  However, I suspect that doing so limits the ongoing appeal of the brand.  How Pabst can anyone drink before realizing that it’s swill?

Whatever it is that keeps fans with your brand, firm though few they may be, will serve as a launchpad moving forward.

Step 3: Contemporize

To turn William Gibson’s famous quote on its head, “the past isn’t gone; it’s just not widely distributed anymore.”

While expression changes quickly, bedrock values change less so.  Almost no one can relate to Borax’s “20-mule team” strength these days, but we all want laundry soap strong enough to clean our clothes.  Instead, look for ways to update the meaning of the brand.

200-year-old Brooks Brothers might serve as a great example of a brand that contemporized without really changing all that much in terms of product.  It still sells essentially the same preppy polos and khakis that they always have.  However, instead of relying on the Nantucket set for sales, they’ve basically remade themselves as merchants of high-quality, reasonably priced and completely safe office wear.  They realized the same virtues that made them a favorite with the Groton crowd make them relevant to a much broader group of people today.

And if all else fails, be charming

Some brands just don’t make the transition to the modern world so easily, if at all.  However, they can still diffuse the situation with humor.  Arby’s has gotten a lot of mileage over its Twitter feed and quasi-feud with The Daily Show.  Oscar Meyer still has its Wienermobile.  And, dammit, Tad’s Steaks is still holding on, whorehouse moderne decor and all.


*I’m pointedly excluding brands that fell because of a failure to adapt to new technology, such as Kodak or Alta Vista.  Dying technologies rarely enjoy more than a niche following and helping companies recognize technology shifts is a road well traveled elsewhere.

I am also specifically excluding Sears because…wow, where do I begin?

Outdoor Event Marketing: Things to Consider

So last weekend in New York, this happened:

Obviously an out-of-towner.  A real New Yorker would have added two words to that sign

My son and I participated in the first of three Summer Streets Saturdays this year.  In an event started last year, the City shuts down Park Avenue from 72nd Street to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Cyclists and walkers can traverse the entire length with no cars and only a few stops at major cross streets.

Since the event attracted a lot of marketing participation, from lead sponsor Citi to relatively small brands such as GoGo Squeez and Nuun, I thought it might provide a good opportunity to discuss how marketers can get the most out of sponsorship and other types of participation in events like these.

Strike while the iron is hot & other cliches

It should come as no surprise that the Knicks missed what we can only call an easy layup. Continue reading

Baseball’s Foreign Policy: Where is It?

With baseball’s All-Star Game taking place next Tuesday, I wanted to weave together two frequent topics in my blog (baseball, social awareness) and ask a question: why doesn’t Major League Baseball speak up more about current events overseas?

For those of you keeping score at home, Venezuela has descended into near anarchy.  Violence has become a standard political tool.  Their free-falling economy threatens reach Weimar Republic levels.  A renegade policeman commandeered a helicopter to attack the Supreme Court with grenades, perhaps as a false flag attack.

Meanwhile, MLB, currently home to over 70 Venezuelan players, has not made any statements I can find to address the situation. Put another way, about one-in-twelve men who pull on an MLB uniform comes from Venezuela and, presumably, still has family there.

Miguel Cabrera, Venezuela’s top export now that oil prices are low

Just after President’s Trump’s inauguration, I wrote about the need for every business, even one as small as mine, to have a foreign policy.  Given MLB’s efforts to popularize the game overseas, you’d think that goes double for them.  Already, some Venezuelan players have spoken out via social media and other channels.

I realize that MLB does not dictate foreign policy in Latin America in the way that, say, the United Fruit Company did.  MLB clubs have largely closed their baseball scouting operations in the country, thus depriving them of on-the-ground influence.  However, they can still lead positive change in the country.  If I could share a nice, cold cerveza Polar with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, here’s what I’d suggest:

  • First and foremost, use the upcoming All-Star Game as a platform to talk about Venezuela.  The game will take place in Miami, the de-facto capital of Latin America, especially affluent Latin America.
  • Offer mediation help.  While it’s tempting to recommend that MLB support the disgruntled opposition, I can’t ignore the harm it might do to families left behind.  That said, MLB has deep experience in mediation both at the micro scale (negotiating player contracts) and the macro scale (labor agreements).  If she weren’t otherwise engaged, I’d recommend Justice Sonia Sotomayor, not just because she speaks Spanish, but because she settled the last baseball labor action.
  • Support players’ social media activities.  Consider using MLB and MLB TV resources to amplify what they have to say, especially in international channel.

I reached out to the Commissioner’s office to see if they had anything to say.  However, they’re rather busy with the All-Star Game festivities, so they didn’t get back to me.  I’ll share if they do.

Amazon’s Customer Strategy

When Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13,7 billion, pundits and punters alike weighed in on what drove the acquisition: technology, distribution or as a shareholder value play.  I don’t know enough about the business to tell you which of these opinions–or others–comes closest to Amazon’s actual logic.

However, I’d like to speculate on a much simpler organizing thought: enveloping mass-affluent consumers.

Yes, this lot.  Again.

Continue reading