“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” – from the Robert Burns poem, used for a novella title by John Steinbeck.

In marketing parlance, it means: sophisticated marketing plans undermined by an ill-advised comment from an associate. The perfect retail design butchered in the field. Product failures. Lousy service. Et cetera.

There is a corporate vision and then there is street reality. This gap is what we call the Steinbeck Factor. It has frustrated the corporate world for years. So, how do you fix it?

Cult Marketing has a process we call Cultification, defined as: The process by which a brand is optimized at all touchpoints in order to create customer fanatics.
The first phase of the cultification process solves a major piece of The Steinbeck Factor – understanding what really goes on at the consumer level. Cult has created a propriety method of assessing, measuring and evaluating the critical factors that undermine and weaken your brand. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken. These insights are then converted into actionable strategies, tactics and ideas for all the touchpoints that impact the consumer.

Give us a buzz and we’ll give you details on how we do it. 614-318-8012.

I suggested that Ford was toast in a blog from 2006. Now add Apple to the list. One of the great cult brands in history is turning it’s back on its core (excuse the pun) customers and pulling out of Macworld next year. Steve Jobs is not giving the keynote address. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing is. Wow, can you feel the excitement?

Imagine if Harley pulls out of Sturgis because it is not cost efficient.

Brands are all about connecting emotionally. No one connected more emotionally than Apple fanatics that stayed with the company when no one cared. These are the people that go to Macworld. I believe this marks a sad day in Apple’s history.

The debate between edgy and inappropriate creative has been hotly disputed over the years. Is any PR good PR? Does awareness of any kind justify the means?

It’s well known that most of the corporate world has suppressed the edgy type of creative that agencies love. It’s pretty rare that a client says “more cowbell.” A ton of bold and brilliant concepts that have landed on the cutting room floor.

We suggest that the time has come to change the way companies (or weak agencies) think about creative for a number of compelling reasons.

Reason #1: Without awareness, you just wasted your media dollars.
While this is pretty obvious, it is not often embraced. Companies are often content with bigger media budgets and lousy or lukewarm creative. It’s like the old joke “The food is terrible here. Yes, and the portions are so small.” For some reason more bad stuff has been acceptable.

Reason #2: The fragmentation of the media mix
We all know that consumers are zapping TV spots, self-editing with DVR/TiVo technology, listening to commercial free Sirius/XM radio and spending more time in the digital space. Creative needs to be targeted and emotionally engaging enough for people to want to watch it.

Reason #3: Big budgets do not equal good work
We would argue that the reverse is true. Too much of a grandiose TV or print budget gets agencies thinking in a different way. Big locations, special effects, etc. All sizzle, no steak. In today’s economy, it’s actually irresponsible. Ask the Big 3 in Detroit.

Reason #4: The Einstein Theory
Albert said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them.” We call this creeping incrementalism. Try something or someone new.

Reason #5: Loosen up and have fun
What is the worst that could happen? Let’s take a page out of Branson’s book and re-think everything. Create something someone will love, not something no one will hate.

Is it possible to create a viral campaign and measure its impact? We’re about to find out with an experiment in action called Shake the Curse.

Background: When the Columbus Blue Jackets came to town, the excitement levels were off the charts. There was buzz everywhere, the team had years worth of sellouts, and ESPN voted Nationwide Arena the best experience in all of major sports. Now, in 2008, the team is at the bottom of the barrel in attendance, and the in-arena experience is very quiet and almost somber. So what happened and how do you fix it?

For one, the team has been terrible since the beginning, having the worst record in the NHL over the past 7 years since its inaugural season in 2000. Two, the quirky, self-deprecating, funny marketing that was produced in the beginning (by my former agency) has turned into a fairly well produced but completely non-engaging effort called “Carry the Flag.” It absolutely does not connect with the fans on an emotional level.

Cult Marketing decided to take matters into its own hands. We initiated a viral campaign called Shake the Curse. The idea is to give fans something to latch on to, something to believe in.

Here’s how it works: We presented the notion that the CBJ is cursed and therefore cannot make the playoffs. We blame various insidious things such as the fact the arena was built on a state penitentiary site. So, how do you break the curse?
STCurse.jpg

We hired a spiritual releasement specialist to exorcise the evil spirits from the arena. We engaged in several cleansing rituals, created a web site (ShakeTheCurse.com) and created a method for shaking the curse which includes blue wigs and shakers. Instructions, viral videos, results and a community site are all online. So far, the team is 4-2-1 since the campaign started on November 5.

Can the effort go mainstream? Check back and see.

Every company wants more buzz through viral marketing. How do you approach it? Who can handle it for you? How do you measure success?

There are several key issues that must be addressed in the process.

#1. How do you define brand evangelism? What are the criteria that must be met to be considered a cult customer?

#2. How do you measure your level of Brand Evangelism?

#3. What techniques and ideas can you deploy to inspire and encourage your cult customers?

#4. How can evangelism translate into more sales?

#5. Who will manage and oversee the process of developing cult customers?
Interested in more information? Call Doug at Cult Marketing at 614-318-8012.

Most everyone has heard that the U.S. has a weight problem. But, it’s more than just a health care problem, it’s also a big issue for retailers. Cult Marketing just wrapped up a customer study for Tweens Brands (Justice and Limited too stores, girls 7-14) and this issue popped up to the forefront of the strategic discussions.

Let’s recap the latest statistics on the U.S. weight trends. According to a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg study released in July, 2007, in just 8 years (2015), 75% of adults and 24% of kids will be overweight – with a significant number of those being obese. Women 20-34 are the fastest growing members of the overweight club.

How does this impact retailers? As we know, many retailers, clothing designers and the fashion industry in general has eschewed the beefy customer. The fact is clothes look a hell of a lot better on skinny celebrities or models than they do on the average overweight customer. Many retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret limit their sizing because they do not want to ruin their brand image. They only want good-looking thin people wearing their stuff. But, where is the “Tipping-the-scale-point?”

Maybe these “thin” retailers have it right. Maybe we need to hold the ideal figure up there as a target to shoot for. Why give up the fight? A&F shows teens and twenty-somethings who are healthy and active. What’s wrong with that? It is aspirational. It certainly is part of a brand strategy.

Or maybe it’s not smart retailing, and they are missing out on a ton of sales while not being socially responsible and sensitive. Brands like Oprah and Chicos have made a bunch of money being inclusive and supportive. Kellogg’s, McDonald’s and others are changing their entire strategies due to the obesity pressures.

So, what are your brand values as it relates to the weight issues? Interesting topic to debate within your retail world.

Let the schmoozing begin!

The drop in TV upfront spending is another sure sign that the traditional mass model is in trouble.

Return on Investment: the ratio of money gained or lost on an investment relative to the amount of money invested. Pretty easy to measure in a controlled financial environment. Impossible – and potentially dangerous – to measure in a marketing environment.
The long-standing quote from Wanamaker – “I know that half of my marketing is wasted, I just don’t know which half” – is really a brilliant insight.

Issue #1: The core of the problem is that numerous variables that impact the marketing success of an organization cannot be directly measured. Therefore, if you develop a marketing plan based on the concept of ROI, it forces you to focus on measurable tactics like direct response, couponing, and sales promotions. In the meantime, key factors that most strongly influence the brand are ignored. For instance, how do you measure word-of-mouth and buzz, associate behaviors, consumer-generated marketing initiatives, PR, store or product design, product quality, location, cultural differences, innovation, and customer service? In the new age of consumerism, the ROI approach is the wrong approach.

Issue #2: Advertising agencies and most marketing departments don’t really get involved with all this stuff anyway. Agencies can’t make any money on most of this stuff. Marketing departments are too “siloed” to look at the big picture. They get involved with how to spend (waste) money on expensive initiatives like TV advertising. A recent visit to a prestigious European car maker was typical. The head of customer and loyalty marketing has no influence over the service department. Yet, after purchase, the service department is the main point of contact for the car customer. Is this crazy or what??

Solution: Call Cult Marketing and we’ll explain how our approach breaks down the corporate silos and helps you understand and create a holistic brand experience that enhances the entire customer brand experience.

First there was the Blair Witch project. Then Napolean Dynamite. Now Borat.

The one thing they all have in common is a non-traditional marketing approach. All three have created a significant amount of buzz and hype.

Pontiac announced recently that they were launching a car only via the internet. No TV, print or anything else. Pretty big news if you’re an ad agency. Every day you can read about the changing landscape of marketing. TV ad viewership is way down, media is fragmenting, new media channels are popping up, advertising clutter is at an all-time high, experiential marketing departments have formed, there is buzz and guerilla marketing, direct, etc.

What’s a company to do?

In regards to his forthcoming book, Pat Fallon made the statement, “The future of advertising,” Mr. Fallon said, “is to become experts on how media is consumed, and by whom.”

Sounds like a good idea, but it demonstrates the limited perspective we’ve come to expect from ad agencies. They still only think about the world in terms of media because that is how they get paid. The real marketing story of the next decade will revolve around the individual consumer experience. Factors like customer service, associate behaviors, the retail experience, packaging, customer intimacy, PR, internal branding, and other non-mass factors will be the hot topics of discussion.

The issues around the non-mass marketing variables are numerous. One biggie is the marketing organizations within companies. Departments are too siloed, usually by function. The CRM person has a budget and an agenda, and so does the web person, the advertising/media group, product development and training departments.

Customers, on the other hand, see a company holistically. Every facet of the operations is in play. So who is responsible for pulling all of it together?

The CEO has to have a role in the entire customer experience. Companies that have done it well include Abercrombie & Fitch, where Michael Jeffries controls virtually every aspect of the brand personally. Even their corporate campus is a living testament to the brand lifestyle. The reason the CEO must be involved is that no one else has the clout to drive it through the organization. Too many chiefs in most companies. So, if you’re a marketing guy, now’s the time to get the big boss involved.