urban outfitters
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Urban Outfitters: Pushing the limits of disruption

One of Cult Marketing’s philosophies is to strategically disrupt markets. This is critical in getting attention with your target audience and is step one of any successful marketing effort – you must breakthrough the clutter. How do you decide where the boundaries are? When has a disruption strategy gone too far?

Most recently Urban Outfitters got into hot water with a vintage sweatshirt design featuring the Kent State logo and what appears to be spattered blood. Kent State officials publicly decried the tactic. “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” Kent State wrote in a statement on its website on Monday. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”

Urban Outfitters have struck before with items including a “Ghettopoly” board game; a T-shirt that resembled the clothing that Nazis forced Jews to wear; and a hat that labeled vomiting as “Irish Yoga.”

Other retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch have been famous for disruptive tactics. A&F featured naked teenagers in their catalogs, a t-shirt that agitated the Asian community (“Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs Can Make it White”), and had guest articles written by porn stars offering advice on oral sex and other sexual techniques. As expected, many conservatives and members of the religious right were outraged.

So where do you draw the line on disruption tactics?

The Cult view on disruption is based on one primary factor – a keen understanding of a company’s target audience and their attitudes, desires and motivations. One of the reasons that the A&F tactics worked so well is that it appealed to the teenager and college target audiences, not the religious right. In fact, the disapproval of the religious right gave the tactics validity with its target audience. And, while it was considered edgy and inappropriate, it was just about sex which is a hot topic among all consumers, especially the younger consumers experiencing those emotions for the first time.

In terms of the Kent State sweatshirt, our question would be to their millions of consumers that loyally shop the store: Were you outraged by the Kent State sweatshirt design? Will it stop you from shopping there in the future? Our guess is that while the sweatshirt itself may not sell very well, the publicity will create enough curiosity to actually increase traffic. After all, don’t most Americans love a good scandal?

Thirty-One Gifts Convention
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Thirty-One Gifts: How it became a cult brand

As I look out my office window in the Arena District in Columbus, more than 15,000 women are streaming out of Nationwide Arena. They are part of the annual national convention of a company called Thirty-One Gifts.

Thirty-One Gifts is a super-fast growing direct-sales company that has achieved explosive growth – and cult brand status. It began modestly in 2003 in the basement of founder and CEO Cindy Monroe.

Cult Marketing was engaged in 2010 to develop a deep understanding of the 31 Gifts “Consultant” as they call their independent sales representatives. At that time, the company had 23,000 consultants – now they have over 120,000.

Sales are projected to reach $1 billion in 2015. So, how has 31 Gifts done it? What are their secrets? Cult Marketing’s 13 Laws of Cult Branding can shed light on some of the keys to this phenomenal growth. Here are a few that apply:

Cult Law #1:

The Point Of View: Based on a strong story/rigid ideals and beliefs, often in opposition to some other “enemy”

The company was based on one immutable goal: to empower women. Even the name Thirty-One Gifts is based on a biblical proverb that “celebrates hard-working women who are compassionate, gracious and inspiring to their families and the people around them.”

The target consultant for Thirty-One is a woman who wants to improve her life and the lives of her family, while having the flexibility to maintain her traditional family role as mom and wife.

Who is the enemy here? During our interviews, the consultants told us that Thirty-One has given them a sense of self-worth, achievement, and the pride that comes with financial contribution and business success. The Thirty-One enemy is lack of self respect, low confidence and a diminished sense of personal value.

Cult Law #3:

The Community: Strong sense of belonging within the group. Members define themselves by this association.

Founder Cindy Monroe cites that Thirty-One provides two key benefits to consultants: community and relationships. These are powerful drivers in creating strong emotional connections to an organization.

Cult Law #4:

The Visionary: Defined leadership/Prophet/Visionary/Hierarchical structure

Many cult brands (think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Walt Disney) are based on the vision, power and personality of its leader. Cindy Monroe is the highly visible founder and vision-keeper of Thirty-One. She has deflected offers from financial investors because she wants the purity of her vision to remain intact, not to be influenced by ROI and other objectives. She claims she did not do this for the money – and she and her claim are authentic and believable.

Cindy is also the front person on the website and at their events, and has almost legendary status with the consultants.

Cult Law #7:

Love Bombing: A network that is supportive, uplifting, and forgiving

Celebrate. Encourage. Reward. These are the core values that Thirty-One embraces. These three words are critical in delivering the company mission to empower women. These values have helped develop a strong culture that supports and encourages women to achieve their dreams.
During the annual convention this cult law is seen in full force. Achievements are wildly applauded, consultants are encouraged to succeed, and prizes and awards are publicly given for special recognition.

Cult Law #11:

The Buzz: Built virally, largely on word of mouth

For many years, cult brands like Starbuck’s and Harley-Davidson never advertised. They grew organically through the most credible of all marketing techniques – word of mouth. This is not surprising when you consider that cult brands create brand evangelists who are passionate about their affiliations and want to spread the word to others. Thirty-One is a perfect example of a brand that is spreading virally.
How can your company use some of the Laws of Cult Marketing to grow the business? We’d relish the opportunity to help you figure that out. Contact Cult now.

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Why Ad Agencies should not be allowed to develop brand strategies

 

[Burger King, please read this!]
This week’s news from Burger King perfectly highlights why the brand has been struggling for so long – Burger King engages ad agencies in a shoot-out to look for a new brand positioning strategy. This is an egregious mistake on the part of the Burger King management team. It’s brand suicide.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. The brand is way bigger than just advertising.  A true brand is holistic – it impacts everything: shopper marketing, product design and innovation, social media, promotions, associate behaviors, mobile, digital, the retail experience, package design, e-commerce, channel strategy, sales, PR, loyalty, advertising – and the list goes on.
  2. “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Ad agencies have a limited focus and purpose.  Agency folks are paid for developing creative executions (i.e. television commercials) NOT holistic brand strategies. Even the agency brand/account planners are charged with the responsibility of helping produce better creative work, not defining the brand.
  3. Many companies use multiple agencies. If you have an advertising, digital, direct, social, promotions, media, PR, mobile, and shopper marketing agency, which one is in charge of the brand?  Is anyone even taking into consideration the needs of the brand?
  4. When an ad agency creates the brand position, the internal corporate brand team doesn’t own the brand. That’s why many sophisticated companies such as Kraft have taken brand strategy and planning in-house. Internal brand teams have access to information, goals, objectives and discussions that no agency can have. And, it allows companies to become agency-independent so they can work with whatever outside partners they want.
  5. Often, agencies are selected in a pitch process. This is the fastest way to guarantee that your brand will be a hit or miss proposition. In most cases, the agencies are left to their own devices to find the golden nugget that will resonate with consumers. This means whichever agency has the best creative wins, and creativity is subjective, not based on a sound and tested strategic platform – or even what consumers actuall want and need.
  6. As Deep Throat advised Bob Woodward,“Follow the money. Always follow the money.” What do you pay your agencies for? Not a holistic brand strategy, that’s for sure.

So how should Burger King and other companies manage their brand positioning? First, they should engage an independent brand strategy firm (call Doug McIntyre at Cult Marketing) to conduct a deep strategic dive, develop key insights, and define the brand strategy.  Then that brand platform can be provided to all the agencies they want to work with to develop creative executions across the various media channels. It will help the brand, the agencies, will produce better and more effective work, and help eliminate the abusive process of agency shoot-outs.

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The JCP Mistake

The departure of JCP President Michael Francis after just eight months on the job is the latest fallout from the retailer’s questionable new marketing strategy and ad campaign. Factor in other indicators – including JCP’s well-publicized 20 percent sales decline in the first quarter and the onslaught of negative customer feedback on its social media accounts – and it’s clear the consumers have spoken.

But why the reaction? After all, the ads are fun and memorable and they certainly had plenty of media weight.

In a word – strategy.

Let’s say you had a creative brief for the campaign, and it contained the old standby “What are we trying to convince consumers of?” In this case, JCP believed that eliminating sales, discounts and price promotions in exchange for an everyday low price structure would convince customers that they needn’t wait for a coupon in the mail to get the best deal.

Here’s the rub – CEO Ron Johnson publicly admitted that they didn’t perform any concept testing with consumers. Had they done so, I think they would have discovered that:

JCP customers like sales, discounts, and price promotions. The new strategy was disincentive to them.
Non-JCP customers don’t embrace the new pricing philosophy as a reason to shop there.

Using myself as an example, I have not been in a JCP for years, which means I should be a target consumer for this new campaign. But there are two big problems. One, an ELP strategy doesn’t resonate with me, largely because as a non customer, I didn’t know they didn’t have an ELP philosophy in the first place. Two, the reasons I don’t go there – my perception of old ugly stores, a boring selection of goods, and a brand I do not want to associate with – were not initially adequately addressed (although JCP recently announced plans to better explain its “merchandise initiatives,” including new and transformed brands and a reinvented in-store experience).

Too little too late? Maybe. This is definitely a case where some consumer investigation using a small sample of loyal, marginal and non consumers would have exposed the problems with the strategy well before the numbers did. Cult just initiated an insights “sample pack” in which we demonstrate our entire process with a limited number of consumers.  After the initial insights and findings are presented, the client can choose to green-light the complete process to validate the findings and insights.

Hey JCP, that would have saved you a few hundred million large.

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Event: Brand Story Telling
– Facts, Not Fairytales

In every culture throughout the world, people communicate through stories or “narratives.”  Join Cult Marketing’s Internationally recognized brand strategist, Jim Driscoll, PhD,  and learn how Narratology-based research can drive brand and marketing strategies, consumer segmentation, brand positioning, and new product development.

You’ll learn:

  1. How to execute an innovative process for developing breakthrough consumer and market insights
  2. How to define the optimal brand position
  3. How to develop the right messages to your customers

 

Date: September 20, 2012
Time: 11:30am – 1pm
Location:
Dublin Community Hall, Talla 2 Room
Located in the Dublin Community Recreation Center
5600 Post Road
Dublin, OH 43017
Get Directions

Non Members: $20
Enjoy a lunch provided by Mojo Tago – Gourmet made-from-scratch tacos.
This event is open to all professionals and students seeking a forum to network and discuss topics relevant to area marketing professionals.

About the Speaker:

Jim Driscoll is a strategy consultant specializing in marketing, branding and competitive strategy. Jim has worked in a variety of industries including consumer products, construction, high technology, financial services and the automotive after-markets, where he has advised clients on brand and marketing strategy, competitive positioning, new product development, and brand portfolio management.  Jim’s passion lies in combining qualitative and quantitative expertise that helps to inform actionable strategies to grow brands and businesses.
Jim has led a series of major initiatives for many clients including a global brand equity study in Europe, Asia, and the America’s for Honeywell, Grace Ice and Water Shield, Uvex, Sperian Fire, Mobil Motor Oil, Pounce Cat Treats, and Masco among others.  Over the last five years he has served as a major advisor to Sperian Protection, the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial safety equipment.  In 2005, Jim served as a primary advisor to DelMonte foods and was responsible for the strategic recommendation to double the size of the business by purchasing both the Meow Mix and Milkbone biscuit brands.  DelMonte executed the proposed strategy and completed these transactions in 2006 for an estimated $1.3 billion.
Jim received his B.A. from Stanford University, where he graduated valedictorian of his class. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He began his consulting career at Braxton Associates, the strategy consulting division of Deloitte and Touche. At Braxton Jim worked on a number of major brands including Heinz ketchup and Dial soap and on international marketing strategy projects for Citibank and Aetna. In 1990 he was one of five expatriates to launch the Russian practice of Deloitte and Touche.  He is currently one of 30 “Higher Order of Excellence” professors at Northwestern University where he researches the cultural history of market societies.

Consumer Insights Team Recruits Participants for Personal Study

The Cult Marketing consumer insights ethnography research team is on the road again, this time in search of the perfect smile whitening system (SWS). Our client, a luxury teeth whitening company, asked us to evaluate several top-secret new product concepts as well as to obtain more information and uncover refinements to their current 7-day smile whitening system. The client’s current SWS is distributed in Sephora, Neiman-Marcus and other retail stores nationwide, as well as through direct sales on HSN and the client’s Web site.

To get real and useful information for our client, we are digging deep into the psychology and emotions surrounding teeth whitening, perceptions of beauty, and the various rituals and practices associated with this deeply personal topic.

We are constantly asked how we are able to recruit people to participate in brand research studies that deal with personal issues. Basically, here’s our recruiting pitch:

“We want you to let a few market researchers come into your home, watch you brush and whiten your teeth, dig around in your bathroom drawers and delve into your deepest emotions around dating, beauty, and self-confidence.”

“Oh, and by the way, we’d like you to create a collage, use the product for 7 days and attend a concept brainstorm session.”

No, we are not kidding. This pitch actually works. But why do people do this?

Surprisingly, compensation is not necessarily the reason many people opt to participate in these types of market research studies. The fact of the matter is people want a voice. They want to feel important and are excited that we – an important market research company – value their opinions and thoughts. After the camera is up and rolling, we have had many people exclaim, “I feel like I’m on the Barbara Walters Special!”

At Cult Marketing, we want our research subjects to feel special and important – because they are. One inspired person can give us the breakthrough insight we need to spawn an idea that will have a huge impact on branding and marketing. It is a unique and mutually beneficial relationship that exists between the Cult Marketing and our research subjects; we rely on them for information while they count on us to voice their opinions.

So we pack our bags and video cameras and travel across the country in search of the breakthrough insight that could mean millions of dollars to our clients. In this case, there was never a “dull” moment.

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Ethnography: Insights from the Road

The Cult Marketing ethnography team has been on the road for months delving into America’s consumer subcultures in search of information and insights. We get many questions about how the ethnography research process works. So, here’s a glimpse at a week in the life of a Cult ethnographer.

Day 1, Charlotte, NC: The two Cult field teams are greeted by snow in Charlotte. Usually not a problem for the teams, but Charlotte is completely unprepared for snow. Except for the main highways, the streets are not cleared and quickly turn to ice. Team #2 goes on an interview in the boonies, follows the GPS to a dead-end road that looks like something out of Deliverance. They get stuck on an ice patch near a secluded, run-down shack with a “Trespassers Will be Shot” sign on the front fence. They eventually made it to the interview and had fun with a big, burly, engaging guy with the name of Ashley.

Day 2, Charlotte: Team #1 drives 50 miles through the snow to visit a really cool outdoor store in the middle of nowhere. If you like the smell of guns, you’d love this place. Got some great insights from the store owner on the decision-making process for outdoor and work apparel and footwear. That night, we begin the data download process. We have new hi-tech cameras with 120 gig hard drives. No more video tapes. We are able to download the interview video files online so our analysts can start processing information right away. Isn’t technology cool?

Day 3, Houston, TX: The Cult team #1 finds itself in a terrible neighborhood. The team is questioning whether or not they should go into the house for safety reasons. The neighborhood appears to be a drug dealer’s paradise. [Cult prefers to send teams of two into the field for safety reasons – usually a male and a female.] After some discussion the team knocks on the door and is welcomed by the research subject, a well-educated, articulate, fanatical brand person who ended up to be a great interview. Team #2 is conducting a shop-along in a mom-and-pop store in the Houston burbs when they find out that their rental car was sideswiped by a dually truck driven by a man with one arm and a prosthetic hook. His honesty is appreciated. Later that night the teams compare notes at Beavers Ice Haus, an upbeat gastropub.

Day 4, Houston, TX: Superbowl Sunday! The teams got in two interviews each. One of the team #2 members is allergic to dogs, so naturally every house she goes into has one, including a 3-legged dog that had its leg surgically removed due to cancer. The interviewee tearfully accepted the incentive check and said it would go to chemo treatments for her beloved golden retriever. Both teams finished early enough to watch the Superbowl game from a pub downtown.

Day 5, Minneapolis, MN: Minneapolis in February is interesting. People here love the winter activities like ice fishing, snowmobiling, and skating. The high temperature was 7 degrees. There were scenes right out of Fargo, but in general the people of Minneapolis are as happy as clams. One young interviewee was excited too be going out later at night to shoot coyotes with his buddies. We learned that you must wear white winter gear and have a clear night with a prominent moon.

Day 6, Minneapolis: After a fascinating interview with a large, energetic woman with a classic Minnesota accent, we were invited to join her ice fishing. We had to run to the airport, but it would have been fun to check out. People have ice fishing houses with heaters, beer coolers, TVs, and plush chairs. It’s like a living room on ice. Maybe next time…

Day 7, Las Vegas, NV: The teams split up. One team went home to Columbus to start working on the key strategic insights; the other to the desert to attend a big trade show. One of the challenges of ethnography is packing for 10-day trips that include frigid temperatures and desert sun. Maybe our next project will be for a luggage company?