When Commerce Met Art

As my readers know, I am a huge fan of marketing history (to the point of being supremely nerdy). Over the past few years, I went back through the centuries to find great stories for my book, Why Marketing Works. That research missed a very cool tale that I am happy now to share. It involves Walter Paepcke and his company, Container Corporation of America (CCA).

When just 25, Paepcke inherited his father’s Chicago-based wooden crate empire. Predicting the shift to a consumer goods economy requiring smaller, lighter packaging, he moved production from wooden crates to corrugated paperboard containers. He bought a bunch of other packaging suppliers along with paper mills to ensure vertical integration and founded CCA in 1926. One smart fellow…as you will learn (read to the end to see how he and his wife are responsible for the popularity of the town of Aspen).

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Marketing is a Human Activity

Marketing-Jeff-Swystun

This article originally appeared in WPP’s Sparksheet.

As bots become more and more prevalent, as brands take an aggressive approach to social media, and as everyone drowns in data, it’s worth remembering that successful marketing has always been about one thing only: a personal connection.

Every marketer is bombarded with overwhelming and conflicting information. Most companies (and marketers) can barely digest the data they produce let alone turn it into actionable insights and strategy. Add the utopian promise of Big Data and we have a real issue because the most sophisticated systems will never spit out a marketing roadmap. More importantly, we must never forget that marketing is an intensely human activity.

There are an ever-increasing raft of studies, rankings and surveys that pelt the marketing community every day. In branding alone there are now 294 studies tracked on the website, Ranking the Brands. Most of these are celebratory lists pitting brands against each other on one dimension or another. And the tech industry is an expert at producing reports that skew towards ‘technology-as-savior’ conclusions. Add on consumer and market research studies and marketers are now buried in elephant-size data dumps.

Marketers have forgotten how to segment and to clearly understand the wants and needs of consumers. Marketers know this but get distracted by shiny new toys and theories promising better performance.

The practice and profession of marketing has never changed. It has always been predicated on human behavior. It exists to understand consumer’s motives and give them justification for making a purchase. Everything else either supports or erodes this fact.

The relationship between brand and consumer was pretty much a fair relationship until the Mad Men, mass communication era. That marked a point when brands took the appearance of control through the ubiquity of advertising. This went on for a few decades then the balance of power shifted back towards consumers…but was then interrupted by the advent of social media.

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Losing Sleep: The Mattress Industry is Burning

There is an adage in the advertising business. Don’t sell the mattress, sell the sleep. The lesson being, showcase the benefit, not the features. It is a smart guidance for anyone selling anything. If you are an internet provider, you do not feature “speed” alone, you show the customer what they can do with that speed and the time saved.

Selling the sleep is something the exploding mattress industry has failed to take to heart. What prompted me to write this was a whopping 8-page ad in the latest issue of Entrepreneur magazine. This spread is from the Tomorrow mattress company. It is a curious piece of traditional advertising for an on-line disruptor. The print ad looks like a software seller’s website.

It starts by extolling a host of company virtues: expertise, innovation, commitment…and American made. When it comes to the product, the “hybrid mattress combines the pressure-relieving comfort of memory foam and the unbeatable support of individually wrapped coils for deep, uninterrupted sleep.” Tomorrow is selling a messy mix of features and benefits in lofty language (their strategy and copywriting need help).

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Palessi is an Indictment of Our Times

You may have seen this clever, compelling, and creative campaign from Payless, the discount shoe chain. Payless took over a former Armani store in a Santa Monica mall. The chain stocked it with an array of their $19.99 pumps and $39.99 boots. Then they invited groups of so-called “Influencers” to the grand opening of the faux retail brand, “Palessi”.

The event attracted tons of media…

AdWeek:Payless Opened a Fake Luxury Store, ‘Palessi,’ to See How Much People Would Pay for $20 Shoes, The answer? A hell of a lot

CNN:Payless dupes fashion influencers into buying $640 shoes

CTV News:Payless Tricks Social Media Influencers into Paying $600 for $20 shoes

Fortune:Payless Opened a Fake Luxury Store With $600 Shoes

USA Today: Payless marked up discount shoes to $600 at luxury event ‘Palessi’    

AdWeek reported, “Party goers, having no idea they were looking at discount staples from the mall scene, said they’d pay hundreds of dollars for the stylish shoes, praising the look, materials and workmanship. Top offer: $640, which translates to an 1,800 percent markup, and Palessi sold about $3,000 worth of product in the first few hours of the stunt.”

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Hiring the Right CMO

It has been called the most dangerous title in business and many pundits have suggested it does not work and should be banished. No role in the last fifteen years has been scrutinized and debated more than the Chief Marketing Officer. Businesses have struggled with the title and role since it was first coined not too long ago.

I remember working in Price Waterhouse’s Marketing and Customer Management practice when I first saw it referenced in the mid 1990’s. I think I danced a nerdy marketing jig. My excitement was shared by marketing practitioners who long thought our services were poorly understood, inaccurately recognized, and under valued.

The hope was this executive position would set the record straight and have uber impact within a business. What happened and continues to take place are huge assumptions and unrealistic expectations placed on the CMO that almost always result in disappointment. Of course, I have seen situations and models work but I have witnessed many more fail.

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The Branding Cannabis Series…#1

Welcome to the first in a series of three papers on Cannabis Branding.

It is as if the Gold Rush and the end of Prohibition crossed paths. The legalization of recreational cannabis use includes Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands, with all but Vermont and D.C. permitting its commercial sale. On October 17, 2018, Canada legalized recreational use from coast-to-coast.

If I can provide another historic reference, this has produced a Wild West when it comes to the branding and marketing of businesses in the blooming and growing cannabis industry. Policy makers can’t keep up with the ramifications. Everyone is confused about what can be said, how they say it and to whom.

This messiness is going to have long-term impact on how the industry is viewed and perceived. Further, the mostly juvenile attempts at branding cannabis-related companies has everyone veering into Cheech and Chong territory with an overuse of green leaves and big buds. The nascent industry is “stereotypicallying” itself to the point of comedy.

Download the paper SC_BrandingCannabis_1.

A Brand is Not a Way of Life

Recently, I met with a fashion technology startup. They are building an interesting secondhand marketplace whereby consumers can sell “lightly used” bespoke clothing. Perhaps you wore a Chanel dress once but have no call for it now or the Ralph Lauren tuxedo in the closet is gathering dust. You get the idea.

An additional service involves sending in your used expensive clothing and having it “re-imagined” by company designers. One example was a beautiful woman’s blue blouse that subsequently had one sleeve and the collar removed. These were replaced with a white lacey pattern. I must admit it looked stunning and was very unique. The company also accepts purses and bags that they will clean, restore and/or re-imagine. All in all, it is a cool concept.

Then came a very familiar probe from the founders. They told me they want to be a “lifestyle brand”. That means joining a very long list of brands with the same intent. In fact, I think every brand believes they are a lifestyle brand in some way.

Apple never claims to be anything. Ingeniously they let customers identify them in certain ways. Many suggest they are a lifestyle brand given their dominance in personal technologies. Plenty of apparel brands make the lifestyle claim especially those with a focused product set and defined market. Burton is for snowboarders, Quiksilver for surfers, Helly Hansen for sailors, Volcom for rebellious skateboarders, and Patagonia for environmentally friendly explorers.

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Retro Nostalgia

We we’re feeling nostalgic for the nostalgia of Mad Men.

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The Frenemies of Reading

There are a few confessions in the following paragraphs. The first is, I was a mediocre student. Prescribed reading and set curriculum fired up my rebellious nature. Unfortunately, that meant denying myself the love of reading until my twenties. When I had choice of what I wanted to read, when I wanted to read it, it became a passion.

It is hard to know for sure but I estimate that I have read over 2,000 books. Many blogs and articles state that successful executives read over 50 books a year. I am now north of age 50 so suffice it to say, that if I averaged reading 50 books a year for 30 years then I have hit 1,500. I know it is more.

But it is not quantity. And, let me be provocative, it is not quality. It is what you pull out of a beautiful page of prose and it is how tightly you have held your nose when you read a stinker. Both offer equal value, if you get my drift.

The value is in the reading. It is the practice. It is the fun. It is the discipline. It is the sense of discovery. It takes you light years beyond learning. It is fireworks of enlightenment and understanding. It is fierce debate and collective understanding. It is an unexpected tear rolling down a cheek and a surprising chuckle that you cannot control. What we read moves us, can change our minds.

Both fiction and nonfiction are powerful vehicles, extraordinary time machines, and streaking spaceships. They take us on journeys.

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Does KFC’s Marketing Work?

A press release from September 4thgot me thinking. And that is saying something, given press releases to me are an archaic form of communications. It proclaimed:

KFC is offering a college donation to the first child born on the Colonel’s birthday (Sept. 9, 2018) named Harland…. As a birthday gift from the Colonel and KFC, the first baby Harland will receive $11,000 (in honor of KFC’s 11 herbs and spices, of course!) to go towards their college education, setting them up for future success.

It got me thinking about KFC’s marketing. Is it just a series of goofy events and preposterous merchandise or is there a deeper strategy? And is any of this activity truly helping sell product? Before I answer those questions, I have a revealing confession.

I love KFC.

The brand I mean. I eat the product only once or twice a year. It is a tradition on one occasion at my namesake golf tournament, The Swystonian Institute Golf Classic. On the kick-off night, we order up more KFC than we possibly can finish, then we finish it. It tastes fantastic, but one gorge generally holds me over for the year. In my youth, it was the best damn hangover food. I treasured it cold the next day.

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