Help Me Name My Book

I’m excited to announce that I’m writing an e-book and it will be available as a free download.  The book will document my experience as the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brand Manager/Director.  Here’s a synopsis:

In 2000, I up and moved to Austin, TX looking for a new career path.  I didn’t have a job or any money, so I was forced to live off a credit card until I found a gig.  I finally caught a break when the San Antonio-based Pabst Brewing Company had an opening for a Divisional Marketing Manager.  With my credit card maxed out and down to my last chance before I would have to swallow my pride and move back home, I caught a break and got the job.

Over the next 5 1/2 years I had the experience of a lifetime.  Shortly after being hired at Pabst, I was assigned the responsibility of managing the company’s flagship brand, Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Although PBR was one the country’s best-selling beer brands back in the 70’s, it had hit hard times in the 90’s and lost 90% of its volume from 1978 – 2001.

In the early 2000’s the brand was primed for a comeback.  Young adult consumers in the Northwest who hated the mass-marketing of the big brewers started to adopt and take ownership of the brand.  The brand was on fire in Portland, OR and Seattle, but how could we replicate this success when the thing that consumers liked about the brand was that we didn’t market the brand.

From 2001 – 2008, PBR doubled its volume and has reached almost ubiquitous status in urban markets around the country.  This book will dissect approximately 20 amazing things that helped Pabst Blue Ribbon make an epic comeback and help readers better understand the power of consumer influencers.

I need your help on one important piece of this project: I need a name for the book.  Please let me know if you have any ideas by leaving a comment.  If you’re more of an email kind of person, feel free to send it to me at nealdstewart (at) yahoo (dot) com.  If I choose your suggestion, I’ll send you a cool piece of breweriana.

I’m hoping to have the book finished by the end of February.


Naragannsett Really Wants to be Your Neighbor

Narragansett is a beer brand that has been around since 1888 and seen it’s highs and lows.  Most recently, Mark Hellendrung, who was one of the key players in building the Nantucket Nectars brand has brought ‘Gansett back.  He relaunched the brand in 2005 and has been doing things the right way.

Their website alone is a great example of building a strong brand on word of mouth and transparency.  In fact Mark isn’t building a brand, he’s on a mission.  He’s taken one of Naragannsett’s weaknesses of not owning a brewery and made it a strength by creating a cause for New Englanders to support so that they can grow the business, build a brewery and help the economy.  Brilliant.  My favorite part is the powerpoint they share on the “Support the Cause” (not website) home page. 100% transparency on numbers and vision.  If only employees of all companies could be so lucky!

The best part is that all of this is 100% real.  It’s not some phony “support the cause” that will go away when the campaign is over.  Mark and the rest of the folks at Gansett seriously want to be “your neighbor.”

Mark and I traded a couple emails and I asked him some questions on how he is positioning the brand and building it from scratch.

Neal: What are your thoughts on brands having a home base from an operational and marketing standpoint? How do you bring that local positioning to life without the use of big advertising campaigns?

Mark: I think localness is a differentiating idea, and the concept has been building for a while and has only accelerated in the last 18 months. You could see it starting a while ago with the re-emergence of things like local farmers markets and the backlash of corporate sell-outs and jobs going overseas. Then when the economy when south, I think you had people realizing that this model doesn’t work, and now the thought leaders are saying how can I create local jobs, support local businesses, etc.

I actually think the use of big advertising campaigns risks undermining your local authenticity in that you start to look like a big company, and consumers are pretty cynical right now. So you’re left with a path build on relationships (selling one account at a time), a lot of sampling, word of mouth marketing and use of social media.

Neal: How have you found your brand influencers or loyal consumers for Nantucket Nectars and for Gansett?

Mark: The thing about Narragansett Beer is that it’s built on 120 years of heritage, so while we work to contemporize our story it’s still fairly well-defined, i.e., there are only so many different ways it can go. Given that, we try to look at the beer drinking community and try to identify who would be most interested in our story and most likely to carry it on.

Neal: What was the best use of your limited marketing dollars since you relaunched Gansett a few years ago?

Mark: Investing in our street team (sales and marketing) is the best use of our dollars. It builds availability and distribution. The team does a lot of sampling, which is critical in that we’ve got a great beer, we just need people to try it. And the relationships that we create cement us into the community.

Neal: I assume you don’t spend a ton of money on consumer research to uncover opportunities or validate marketing campaigns, so can you give me a couple examples of how your gut instincts have worked or not worked?

Mark: One thought we had going into this that didn’t play out was that there were a whole lot of older guys who grew up on Gansett that would be interested in our comeback and switch back. What we learned though is that many (not all) of these guys were just too far gone and settled into their routine of current brand choice. We thought we could switch them because when we talked to them that weren’t overly excited about their brand. However, they weren’t necessarily dissatisfied either, so there was no real motivation to switch.

On the flip side, we had a feeling that the craft community would appreciate our beer, and it’s played out pretty well. For a lot of the craft guys, I find that they love their craft choices but when they find themselves in a higher usage occasion or are just looking for something a little lighter, they really didn’t enjoy settling for one of the mainstream domestics. Our beers have a little more flavor and our brand has a little more character and you can see us selling some Gansett in “craft bars” whereas the mainstream beers aren’t even on the menu.

Neal: Thanks Mark. Keep up the good work.

Brand Audit: Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta, you ask?  Yes, Ford Fiesta.  Ford is bringing it back.  It’s not like the Fiesta has the cache of the Mini, GTO or even the Thunderbird, but they’re bringing it back nonetheless.

Although I’m not such a fan of the name, I do like how they’re launching the brand.

Ford Screenshot

Here’s my take on how it works: Ford has found (maybe hired) 100 people to drive a Ford Fiesta for 6 months (free of charge, of course) and share their experiences via blogs, twitter and online video.  Through the 6 months, the Fiesta Movement website will gather all of this content and share with consumers.

The Fiesta Movement campaign combines all of the key elements from social media, word of mouth, ambassadors and transparency.

Social Media – they’ve created an environment for people to share and people to watch what being shared.

Word of Mouth – the campaign is built on talking, sharing opinions and insights.  Opinions from real people are much more likely to be shared than what a brand is forcing upon consumers via mass media.

Ambassadors – the campaign sought out people who were interested in participating and then narrowed it down to a select group.  This process allowed Ford to choose a group of consumers who wanted to be marketed to and wanted to be marketers.  In other words, they’re influencers.

Transparency – This partially remains to be seen, but it appears that Ford wants honest opinions from these “agents”.

Nice job, Ford.  Keep up the good work.

Do People Hate Marketing?

Seth’s blog post got me thinking about this today…

When I worked on PBR, we focused most of our efforts on word of mouth or “buzz marketing.”  Mostly because we didn’t have any money, but also because the young adult, hipster consumer resisted mainstream mainstream marketing and embraced brands that didn’t market.  The hipsters were the ones rediscovering, reinventing and advocating the brand.

Believe it or not, the concept of hipsters drinking PBR was a hard idea to sell internally back in 2001-2003.  You gotta remember that the brand was living on middle-aged, blue collar men who drank it because it was cheap.  It wasn’t sold on-premise and it was a forgotten brand.  So when it came to convincing all of the big shots that this brand had a chance with a new consumer base, we rationalized it by telling them that it was being embraced because these consumers resisted mainstream marketing.

Is that true?  Do even the most fickle and anti-establishment of consumers “hate” marketing?  Here we are, six years later and I say that it is totally false.  I think consumers LOVE marketing.  BUT, they only love it when it’s authentic and meaningful to them.  If it’s fake, consumers, whether they are cynical hipsters or not will REJECT it.

That’s the beauty of social media, sampling and experiential marketing programs.  All of these tactics are real because the consumer is interacting and having a conversation with a real person.

Coincedentally, when we scaled up the PBR program, we hired more people to go out there and have conversations.  Even the hipsters knew that these people were there to MARKET to them.  But they were totally fine with it. Why? Because it was REAL.

The Fan Based Economy

Bud Caddell posted a great presentation on SlideShare about what he calls “The Fan Economy.”

I’m a big fan of this philosophy and believe that it makes even more sense in the new economy.  Here’s why:

  • It’s a whole lot easier to get a current consumer to BUY MORE than it is to get a new consumer to BUY FOR THE FIRST TIME.
  • Awareness is nice, but does it sell stuff? Image is nice too, but does it sell stuff?  Yeah, sometimes – but fans making recommendations sells a whole lot more and on a much more consistent basis.
  • Does anyone have money to risk these days?  To me, advertising is a huge risk.  Strengthening the bond with loyal consumers is the safe play.

I found this thru my friend Owen Mack of CoBrandit on Facebook.

The True Meaning of Disruption

Disruption is popular word these days.  I hear a lot of marketers use it, but they tend to confuse “DISruption” with “INTERruption.”

This video from Harvard Business Publishing does a great job of showcasing a few examples of the TRUE meaning of disruption.

By the way, Harvard Business Publishing offers a bunch of really useful videos online.  Yes, they’re a little dry, but the people are smart and the content is good.  Check them out here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The True Meaning of Disruption“, posted with vodpod

The NHL Has Lost Their Way

W-S hockey fight, originally uploaded by ReyGuy.

Once upon a time there was a professional sports league that was on the rise and could potentially challenge the NFL and MLB in popularity. It was the early 90’s and some teams has such a public demand for their playoff tickets and watching their games on TV, that they actually implemented a “pay per view” model! Times were good for this league, indeed.

Then they started changing the fundamental way the game way played. You see, this game did some things that the mainstream thought of as taboo – like fighting. So, in an attempt to make EVERYONE like them, they tried to get rid of it.

Then the players went on strike and the league was gone for almost two years.

When they came back, they did a lot of good things to get the fans back in the seats. But all of that stuff is gone now and the league has gone back to being out of sight and out of mind.

The NHL has lost their way. Sure, the strike hurt – but other leagues have managed to rebound from those dark times. The real problem is that the NHL got greedy and changed how they did business. They got a taste of glory and thought they could get more by appealing to the mainstream. This didn’t work for Hockey and it usually doesn’t work for any brand.

Fighting was part of the NHL’s DNA. Fighting was part of the game. Instead of giving in to the activist groups and the big network advertisers and curtailing the fighting, the NHL should have educated the fringe fans on why fighting is part of the game and how it is part of the league’s long history.

They didn’t do that. They went for the BIG bucks and national TV deals. Now they find themselves on third tier network delivering ratings that are less than professional bowling!

Stick to your core identity. It’s the only thing that works.

Making Sense of Social Media

I love Social Media.  And if you’re here reading MY blog, you must too, because I’m not exactly at the top of them thar Google pages.

And, if you love social media, I’m willing to bet you’re on Facebook, Twitter, have posted some YouTube videos, occasionally save stuff to Delicious and maybe even write a blog of your own.  In other words, you understand social media and how it has become an important way to connect with consumers.

But how do you make sense of social media to other people?  How do you “sell” it as an important part of your marketing plan?  I think it’s totally fair for people to ask the question, and it’s our job to prove its value.  Here’s how I’m doing that:

  1. In the beginning, go rogue. It will take a little time to build a meaningful base of Twitter followers or Facebook fans, so do it on your own in your spare time.  Once you have some impressive numbers, start to share the story.
  2. Connect the online conversation with real-life events. Use social media to promote events or promotions and show your internal audience how you increased traffic by using social media.  A tweet-up is a great way to do this.
  3. Find and send out articles about brands using social media to grow sales. Duh, right? But the important part here is that you have to keep doing this.  You’re not going to convince anyone right away.
  4. Conduct your own training. You might have to tailor your training to the type of person you’re talking to.  The Common Craft videos are useful for a variety of audiences.
  5. Get people to dip their toe in the social media pool. Convince them to gign them up for various social networking platforms and see what sticks.  One person may love Facebook, another might love Twitter.  But if they’re not living it, they’re probably never going to get it.

The Art of Zigging

“We need to ZIG when they ZAG!”

I hate that phrase.  It’s a total over-simplification of differentiating your brand from the competition.  What does it really mean anyway?  Let’s do the opposite of what everyone else is doing?  If so, that’s stupid.

Isn’t more important to:

  • differentiate your brand in a compelling way?
  • develop set of brand values and a purpose that guides everything you do?
  • have more speed to market than your competition?
  • do something that is different AND interesting?
  • connect with consumers?
  • make an impact?

It’s ok to zig/something different, just have some rationale and strategy behind it.

Lennon and McCartney Knew Marketing

I found myself talking about “LOVE” a lot this week.

  • I was talking about how a meaningful conversation with a brand makes a consumer feel loved – which breeds loyalty.
  • I found myself training a new field marketing person by explaining that winning over customers in the trade was all about “spreading the love.”
  • I used some of the consumer network and communities discussion we had at SwomFest as an example of how people who have a common “love” leads to an even stronger loyalty to a brand.
  • We want to empower all of our employees so they can brag about our brand and spread the love.

As Kevin Roberts explains in his book, Lovemarks, (I’m a big fan of this book) it really is all about LOVE.  Giving it, spreading it and enabling it.

As you’re planning out your 09 marketing, all you need is love.