Lesson of Lowe’s: Your Competitor Royally Screwed Up. Don’t Just Sit There.

Attention, Head Media Buyer for The Home Depot. Can we talk? You’ve got an opportunity for yourself handed to you on a silver platter if you’re intelligent and I’ll bet you are. So here’s what I want you to do.

I want you to pick up the phone and start placing ads on “All-American Muslim” like no tomorrow.

Don’t overthink. Don’t overanalyze. Just do it. I don’t care what your demographics are. I don’t care what marketing research tells you. I’m as big a fan as anybody of market research but when your competitor shoots themselves in the foot so badly by blowing their nose on an entire race of people, you’ve got to seize the moment and welcome those people with open arms.

For those who haven’t heard, Lowe’s did a royal screw-up by caving to outside pressure and pulling its advertising from TLC’s program featuring the lives of five Muslim families in Michigan. The backlash has been swift and the outrage intense, not just from Muslim groups but many others. Russell Simmons even offered to buy up all the airtime on the program that advertisers voided.

To me, the danger isn’t so much associations like the Florida Family Association, which urged people to engage in an email campaign to pressure brands like Lowe’s that advertised on the program to pull their advertising.

The danger is when brands actually listen to these fringe groups, tuck their tail between their legs and run for the hills instead of acting like intelligent brands that weren’t born yesterday.

Lowe’s justified the move like so: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result, we did pull our advertising.”

Ah. I get it. So the loudest voice in the room wins, no matter how bigoted and divisive their opinion may be. Just making sure that’s how you make your decisions.

Lowe’s acts like this came out of the blue and caught them by surprise. Nice try but I don’t buy it. Running from lightning rods is what big companies tend to do when they want to appeal to everyone under the sun. Ironically, that’s the opposite of what Lowe’s did anyway in the end. But why does controversy have to be a bad thing? I don’t think it has to be and can be a good thing. Lady Gaga is controversial. And massively successful. I doubt she’s hurting from controversy.

Let me replace all of the official public statements from Lowe’s, probably written by their PR firm or internal marketing people with the only two words that people really hear: We’re afraid.

Memo to brands of America: Beyond what you see on marketing analytics, the people who buy your stuff will be gay, Muslim and mixed racial couples.

And last I checked, their money is still as good in this country as a white person’s.

It’s too bad that showing these types of groups in advertising or advertising on programs featuring such groups beyond the white American family is seen as “progressive.” It shouldn’t be. It should be off the table as something advanced for us to talk about as a brand differentiator. It should be common sense that this reflects modern reality, so we can make marketing decisions based on deeper, more important factors.

But I digress from my mountaintop to speak purely on a marketing level so you can apply the lessons learned from this situation to your own:When you have a scenario like the Lowe’s one where a competitor does something stupid, you have two choices:

1) You can be lazy and have a nice laugh at your competitor’s expense. You may say you’re not going anywhere near the situation with a 10-foot pole and believe the customers will naturally trickle over to you.

2) You can get off your butt and move quickly to cater to the disenchanted audience. It’s called being proactive because it’s the right thing to do marketing-wise and in some cases, morally as well.

You buy media where they dropped media. You use social media to target the voices that are angry. You issue releases and blog posts speaking to the pains people are expressing. And it’s not really about the competitor at all as much as heavily amplifying how much stronger YOUR principles are. Don’t waste any time retelling their story – the disenfranchised are already doing that for you. Tell yours in a way that helps the audience connect the dots easily on how you’re different regarding that particular issue.

This window of opportunity can happen at the most basic local level too. Not all that long ago, a auto dealership in the Chicagoland area fired a man for coming into work wearing a Green Bay Packers tie. Now, I bleed Bear blue and orange, but obviously that’s just a dumb move. The media picked up on the story and the auto dealership that formerly employed him got some massive and unwanted attention.

At this point, other dealerships nearby could have just reveled in a competitor screwing up. But one had the initiative to seize the moment while the story was still hot. They hired the Packer-wearing tie salesman almost immediately. Not only was that the right thing to do, but the focus shifted from one stupid dealership to how the new dealership did something heroic. THEY became the new focus of the story.

My point is, when events like this happen to a competitor, don’t run from the chatter. Dive into it. You want to talk about how you can engage a community? You’re looking at it. Put up or shut up time.

There’s one thing Lowe’s got right in separating itself from a program with the words “All American” in it: When brands are this easily swayed by the agendas of extreme groups that they forget their own values, whatever it is they’re building together is anything but All American.

Have you ever capitalized on a competitor’s mistake to acquire new customers and become the hero? If so, how did it happen and what did you do? Share away, hero.

You’ll Never Have Enough Time. Thank Goodness.

This blog post would be better if only I had more time to write it. But the window I have to write it is now. And I like that. Because it mirrors the nature of a crazy, fun and manic business we chose to be a part of. The “Hurry Up and Wait” state of advertising agencies and marketing firms is something I’ve had to deal with in every culture I’ve been a part of, including my own.

Agency people like to imagine a perfect scenario like so:

Agency creates product. Client approves product. Product goes out into the world. Everything is on time. On to the next project.

Gosh, that was a fun daydream. Now let’s see what happens in the real world.

Rounds and rounds and rounds of tweeking and honing the creative product in the eyes of the Creative Directors, Account Executives, Executive Creative Director, Head Account person, etc.

The creative product gets beaten up more than Rocky Balboa before it even goes out the door.

Then it goes to the client. Client has to take it to their boss. Product sits on boss’ desk for a while. It’s a priority, but there are even bigger priorities to attend to. Agency waits and gets antsy – “Why haven’t we heard from them?”

Hours pass. Days pass. Then…BOOM! Client gets feedback back from their boss and tells agency to change A, B and C before the end of the day.

It’s here that the measure of a creative person is taken. They’ll complain right off the bat with a “What? Now? Before what time? You’ve got to be #$@*ing kidding me with this.”

But then, they’ll settle down, realize that the impossible is actually possible, come together and come back with, lo and behold, a better product than last time.

I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again. It does no good to complain about the pattern or try to wish for a more efficient production path. Instead, we have to embrace the beast, not fight it. And realize that yes, things don’t hit our desks exactly when we’d like them to, but it also gives us an opportunity to shine in the eyes of our client once more. Many of them do realize that the time they have to give us what’s required can be somewhere between tight and insane. They’re not clueless. But they’re also looking for partners who can make them look good in the eyes of their bosses, their peers, their board. The last thing they need is a group of whiners who lecture them by saying, “We could that better if only we had more time.”

We all wish we had more time in business and in life to do the things we want to do on our terms. But the funny thing is, when we are given more boundaries, we find ways to excel within those boundaries.

I truly empathize with any creative person who has to be suddenly brilliant on the spot. It’s not ideal and there’s a great deal of pressure involved with that. I suppose that’s why I’ve always favored teams brainstorming concepts rather than forcing one person or one partnership into their corners and telling them to bring me their deliverables like I’m the king of the throne. When we can be fighting the clock together instead of individuals, we can beat the clock, create a smart solution and go with the flow as our clients need us to be.

There will never be enough time. But we have to accept that fact and consequently set the table for an environment where one writer or one designer can have the reinforcements they need to take on Father Time. This kind of efficiency is good for the individual, it’s good for the agency from a business perspective (hello, we do have to bill sometime!) and it’s good for the client.

When it comes to prioritizing what to do, my friend and colleague Rob Jager from Hedgehog Consulting looks at it this way – “There are 6 things that can be done in a day. List them out in advance and put the least important thing 6th. That way, you don’t feel so bad if you have to kick it to the next day, but make that thing #1 the following day.”

Time’s up. Gotta run.

The “Word of Mouth” Trap

Let’s get this out of the way: Positive word of mouth is terrific. I can think of nothing more powerful than an instance where one reliable source tells another person how great a product or service is. It’s instant credibility for your brand.

Unfortunately, there are people who don’t know how to make word of mouth all that it could be. Word of mouth can build business but it can also build complacency in people that benefit from it because those same people believe they don’t need to do anything else or that everything they’re doing currently is just fine. But in time, that kind of philosophy can result in decreased market share or worse.

Still, maybe you don’t see the big deal. All is right with your world. Good things are being said about you, customers seem to be consistent…so who needs anything else when word of mouth is pulling in people for you and the numbers are up?

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’d rather have more money than less of it. Which is why I offer forth this little scenario about two companies for you.

Company A has 200 customers. Company A provides great service and a great product but does nothing to encourage its customers to put in a good word about Company A to someone else, like a friend or family member. Still, let’s say that every single customer tells 1 other person about how great Company A is. Those people become customers too.

Company A’s year-end total: 400 customers.

Company B has 200 customers as well. They provide great service and a great product. But they implement a referral program that rewards its customers for referring three friends to become qualified customers – Company B offers a pretty good-sized prize for doing so, but then, the return on investment in getting three new customers for every one is well worth it. PLUS for every successful referral, the customer gets a smaller, intermediate prize. PLUS Company B’s program allows each successful referral to count as one entry into a grand prize drawing, which means the more referrals you make, the better your chances to win.

Company B’s year-end total: 600 customers (at least).

I’d say the difference between doubling your customer base and tripling it can be mighty big, wouldn’t you? Everybody’s company is different, but my point is that while both companies shown here use word of mouth, one chose to cultivate its customer relationships off of that word of mouth with far better results than the one that stuck to the status quo and did nothing.

And by the way, the referral program idea is only one potential way of building on what you have.

Remember, word of mouth is a foundation, not the end result. It’s a springboard for even better results to occur because what you have is a happy customer base – however, just because that’s something that many other businesses would be jealous of doesn’t mean you should sit still.

Specifically, think about two things:

1) Where does your audience interact with your brand?

2) What will your reward for making a successful referral be when you get in front of them?

A better reward does not have to equal more money either. It can be a discount off of one of your products or services (perhaps a discount off of a new product or service you’d like to introduce?).

Word of mouth gives you the opportunity to be proactive and make that goodwill work for you even further. Otherwise, there’s only going to be so many words about you passing through so many mouths.

Maybe You Don’t Need a “Tricked-Out” Office.

I’m writing this post from a Starbucks, where I just had a meeting. Tomorrow, I’m having a one-on-one at a Panera. When not at either of those, I can be seen at Caribou Coffee or Einstein Bagels.

Seriously, I should just replace my regular office address with those 4 logos.

I know it’s a cool talking point to have an office with a basketball court, foosball tables, tiki bars (I’ve had that one before) and more. But do we really need it to be creative? I’m not suggesting everything has to be steel and grey in our workspaces. Far from it. I’m just wondering if we need so much excess in order to 1) impress clients and 2) come up with good ideas.

More often than not, I find myself going to their turf, not mine. Or I find us meeting on a neutral turf, like the aforementioned coffee/bagel places. And the more I’m going to their place or a neutral place, the more I’m wondering about the importance of having an office that’s “sick,” “tricked out” or whatever else you want to describe an office beyond belief. It may not matter as much because lately, I’ve noticed business is really becoming an Away Game, not a Home Game.

All of which leads me to put some things in perspective. Seems to me that when they do come to our place, they should see the work, the work, the work. In all its splendor. First and foremost. Yet some agencies are hiding behind it in their toys.

I don’t doubt that fun items aren’t good conversation pieces either. But consider this: If you had to pick one thing they talk about later, do you want them telling their peers about the ultra cool and swanky (whatever item here) in the lobby or the cool campaign/ideas/brainstorming session the agency had with that client?

The former is nice, but the latter is killer.

It’s entirely possible I’m just in a Monday sort of mood but sometimes it feels a little too fluffy for our own good. I’m not talking about small items that show personality here and there. I’m talking about items worth thousands and thousands that are more distracting. A conference table that used to be the wing of a jet plane is cool to look at, but again, do we need it to be successful? I like seeing and sharing pictures of fun office environments as much as the next person because it’s not my money on that overhead and in the back of my mind I’m wondering – what if that money was used on something more practical that people could benefit/learn from?

The ideas we come up with are worth far more. All I’m saying is let’s make those the star more often. That’s what helps build trust. Not the 50 foot lava lamp.

Agree? Disagree? Looking forward to your thoughts either way.

NBA’s Hammer Will Fall Hardest On Midwest

Welcome to the 2022 NBA Season. We’re 10 years removed from the lockout that claimed the 2011-2012 season and the landscape sure looks different. It should be an exciting season in the East/Central Division, which of course, is comprised of:

Chicago
Detroit
Miami
Orlando
Washington

What’s that, you say? Where’s Milwaukee, Indiana and Cleveland? Why, they fell victim to contraction. But so did Atlanta and Charlotte. Yet the Eastern Conference wasn’t the only conference affected by the Stalemate of 2011. The West was forever changed too, with the disappearance of Memphis, New Orleans, Minnesota and Sacramento.

Bulls fans will notice a lot of Midwestern teams in that mix for good reason.

For all the talk we hear from Commissioner David Stern about a brand that’s becoming global, the NBA is killing its small markets here at home with silly ping pong ball draft luck and revenue that isn’t spread to small markets that need it most.

Drive through the Heartland and you’ll see nice towns like this all along the way. Minneapolis. Milwaukee. Indianapolis. Cleveland. The big name free agents aren’t coming there and they’re not going to go there. Their stadiums are not in the best condition, yet owners want financing to come from a taxpayer population that’s hurting economically as it is. But if Jay-Z and a Russian billionaire want a stadium built in Brooklyn, it gets done in a couple years.

I don’t always understand the words coming out of ESPN’s Jalen Rose, but he made an astute point recently in saying that, in other leagues such as the NFL and MLB, you are traditionally compensated for bad seasons with the opportunity to draft the very best players coming out of college (or high school). There is no such opportunity in the NBA. If you have the worst record in the league, you have a better chance of drafting the best player, but not guaranteed. When your team is based in New York and it doesn’t work out, that’s not the end of the world. When your team is Indiana, that’s devastating.

Once in a while, the dumb luck works out. You’re San Antonio and your ping pong ball comes up in a year where Tim Duncan is available. You’re Cleveland and you get to draft LeBron James. And what happened even then? Tim Duncan came thisclose to leaving San Antonio for Orlando and well, we all know where LeBron went (sorry, don’t mean to reopen old wounds, Clevelanders).

Here’s the thing – the above scenario happens once in a decade at best. Big market teams have an opportunity to replenish their roster with free agents EVERY YEAR. Therefore, the NBA becomes a league that’s wonderful if you live in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Miami, Dallas, Houston and Philadelphia. If you’re bad this year, you can get better next year or soon enough, regardless of which way the ping pong balls bounce.

Besides drafting changes, there’s the revenue sharing issue that should’ve been discussed so long ago, it’s amazing we’ve waited to do it now. Think about this: According to league sources, 8 teams in the league made $150 million in profit combined. The other 22 teams lost a combined $450 million. The argument I’ve heard here against revenue sharing is that it rewards underperforming teams and punishes overachieving teams. I don’t see it as a reward as much as leveling an unbalanced field. And let’s look at the NBA from a season ticket holder perspective – obviously if you’re a team, you’d like to have long-term commitments from fans than single game sales. But how in the world can you ask economically challenged markets to make this commitment when owners are trying to get those same budget-strapped fans to finance the new home for a perpetually mediocre team or when fans can watch a game from their big screen/laptop/smartphone instead?

For a long time, the poster child of consistent small market success in the NBA was Utah. Each year in a bygone era, Stockton and Malone would keep the Jazz competitive and even get them to the Finals a few times. Later, the heirs apparent to that duo were Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Neither are in Utah and longtime Coach Jerry Sloan finally stepped down. Maybe it was time and he was tired. Or maybe he realized that without big changes, it will be much harder for any small market to be a consistent contender in the NBA.

How do we fix it and keep a more level playing field so the brand of NBA basketball survives in the Midwest? Besides ditching a ping pong ball draft and implementing greater revenue sharing, I think Bill Simmons has some pretty great ideas on how to fix the NBA and he foresaw all this happening last year.

I know some of us who are fortunate enough to live in big cities may not care. But if we care about not only the brand of the NBA going forward but the continued economic viability of major American sports in general, we can’t have leagues where the Haves are defined by the number of skyscrapers and the Have Nots by the number of cornfields.

What a Shoplifter Taught Me About Branding

Today’s post is brought to you by guest blogger Rob Jager of Hedgehog Consulting. Rob is an incredibly gifted management consultant and I’ve personally used his services to help channel my agency’s vision into tangible results. I’ll be co-presenting with him on how you can do the same next Thursday the 3rd at the Chicagoland Chamber at 7:45am. The event is free.

I used to work in retail. In retail, it’s no secret people steal. Sometimes it’s the employees; sometimes it’s the customer. It really doesn’t matter, they both taught me something I didn’t know before.

First, most shoplifters have a look or habits they have. Talk to any Asset or Loss Prevention department and they’ll give you a name or a description of each specific person they’re watching for. In fact, they’ll tell you that the thief behaves the same way every time.

Second, I found out that if you approach a shoplifter, greet them, ask if you can help them with anything at all, they will usually dump what they’ve taken because they know you know…and once they’re found out, they want out (the only exceptions being the absolute pros, who will lie to your face and then take some more).

So what does that have to do with branding?

Well, every business attempts to brand itself in some way of another – through logos, slogans, and other visible things. What you don’t see are the things that are internal as well. This is the part we refer to as culture. How the company behaves in varying situations. This is just as much a part of brand as any message a business puts out. When I think of shoplifters, I think of how consistent their habits are between visits to different locations and how it’s their brand. Their style. Their culture.

So I would ask you, what is your brand? Your culture? Your style? If you have employees, as many do, will they behave in as consistent a manner as you? If not, it’s time to give them some stories to help them better understand you. And that’s what a shoplifter taught me about branding.

About The Author:

Rob Jager started Hedgehog Consulting to help business owners get the tools they need to make more money. He has worked in the retail industry for 14 years and three years in the Quick Serve Restaurant industry. His experience in retail and restaurant operations taught him techniques in management, profit and loss accountability, logistics, budgeting and planning, increasing sales, creating consistency in operations, and maximizing profitability.

His accomplishments include turning a losing business into a profitable business within 1 year; a significant feat considering the loss was $1M per year.  Other accomplishments include improving work environments, fixing broken systems, assisting in leadership development, and improving overall clarity of business.

Using his MBA, Rob has both the experience and the academic knowledge to understand how to make things happen. Rob is currently working on his PhD to further his knowledge in the area of Leadership and Organizational Change.

Take A Really Tiny Page From Urban Outfitters

As I was in Urban Outfitters yesterday buying some fridge magnets I didn’t really need (c’mon, they were those iPhone button magnets, how could I resist?), I was waiting for my receipt and found that instead of providing a paper receipt, they took down my e-mail address. I’d get the receipt e-mailed to me.

A little move but actually quite brilliant when you think about it. They now captured my e-mail address and had a new way to connect with someone who had clearly shopped at the store. As long as they don’t bombard me with daily messages, it’s a smart maneuver on their part.

Not to mention it’s environmentally friendly. If we did away with all paper receipts and did them all electronically, we’d save a few more trees for sure.

Whether yours is a retail environment or not, consider how you can convert from paper receipts to electronic receipts to connect with them. It might be a more natural way to market to people vs. hitting them up to open a card/account that demands more of the money they just spent with you already.

What’s not to like here? Have some simple ways like this that you set the table for a relationship online with customers during their buying transactions in an offline setting that you’d like to share?