AdWeek has released its list of "The 10 Best Ads of 2017."
I thought, this should be good. These kinds of lists always give the small-business owner a great lesson in what to do--or not to do, depending on the particular advertisement.
And the first ad shown, the tenth of the 10 ads represented, is one heck of a "how-to" lesson in advertising.
The very first thing that anyone who's ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey thinks is, Hey, that's the neoclassical bedroom from the end of the movie.
And it is. It's an actual recreation of that set with the furniture removed. But the room is still unmistakable in its antiseptic starkness and its under-lit white-tile floor.
BUT DR. DAVID BOWMAN IS NOT THERE
Instead, an elderly woman with short, white hair sits slumped in a chair in the middle of the room, wearing a white hospital gown. There is an odd, orbiting device above her head.
Who is she? Why is she there? What is the odd device above her head? Why does it look like a series of concentric lampshades, and what do the lampshades do as they slowly spin on their axis?
A creepy song plays, discordant and metallic sounding, a cheery voice singing disturbing words about ice cream.
A robot rolls into the frame. Its mechanical, emotionless voice says, "Good morning. It's time for ice cream." Its arm thrusts forward a spoonful of white ice cream.
She tastes it and says, "Oh, it's good! What's--"
"Eat the ice cream," says the robot.
IT FEEDS HER ANOTHER BITE
She takes it, then says, "Where am I?"
"Humans require ice cream."
"What is this place?"
"Eat the ice cream."
"I don't want any more!"
"Eat the ice cream."
"How long have I been here?"
"You're so hungry for delicious ice cream."
THE ROBOT CONTINUES THRUSTING THE ICE CREAM SPOON AT HER
"Get that away from me!" She knocks the spoon to the ground.
There's a shot of the spoon clattering on the floor. One vaguely recalls a similar image in Kubrick's movie.
She says, "Where...where's Steven?"
A door in the front of the robot's body opens, almost with apprehension.
Hesitation. Then, an arm slowly protrudes from the dark space within, holding out...
An ice cream cone.
It slides towards the woman. She regards it with trepidation and recoils ever so slightly.
THE ROBOT SWIVELS ITS HEAD TO ONE SIDE
"Everyone you love is gone. There is only ice cream."
The camera pulls back.
The woman begins to sob.
She slumps her head.
There is a dark and dissonant swoosh and "whump."
Following is a product shot.
The product is Halo Top ice cream.
PUTS YOU RIGHT IN THE MOOD, DOESN'T IT?
This is perhaps the best produced, hilariously dystopian, grimly satisfying, un-motivating advertisement for a food product ever.
And here's the one thing I really do appreciate about the reportage around this commercial.
I've read several stories that say basically same thing.
"Wow that's funny.
"And it does the product no favors."
Yes, earlier I did say that this ad would offer one heck of a "how-to" lesson in advertising.
The lesson is how to not do it.
NEVER COMMIT SACRIFICE
Never sacrifice your message or your product--or your brand--to the self-pleasuring comedy of a message driven by creative ego.
I've seen it constantly in small-business radio advertising.
But not like this epic horror.
Understand, this commercial was greenlit by the CEO of Halo Top.
It was also produced to play in movie theaters before Stephen King's It.
For that latter tactic, you can almost excuse it.
Except that, it lives on in YouTube land.
And plenty of people are seeing it.
And viewer reactions are things like, "That's hilarious. I'll never eat ice cream again."
The Fabulous Honey Parker, who came away from her career in big agency advertising with good rules, and good ways to break rules, has a simple rule about food advertising.
"YOU HAVE TO WANT TO EAT IT"
I showed her this video. She did something I've never seen. She watched with her mouth agape.
Her reaction was something like, "Oh, my God."
There is nothing tasty about the old woman in sinister limbo being tortured by a robot with a spoonful of ice cream.
Where it should be the hero, the product becomes evil.
Granted, "Got Milk" commercials cast the product as the hero absent. But nobody needs to be sold on milk being tasty. They merely need to be reminded to buy milk.
In those stories, the protagonists who were too careless to not buy milk end up paying the price. The lesson is, "Don't let this happen to you."
And it was hugely successful.
Except with the Spanish-speaking community.
Hispanic mothers found nothing quite as insulting as the idea that they would forget to buy milk for their families.
THERE WAS AN EMOTIONAL DISCONNECT
"Got Milk" was a huge failure with that demographic. Which is why Goodby-Silverstein launched a campaign called, "Familia, Amor Y Leche." Family, Love & Milk.
For that market, it reversed the emotional disconnect inherent in the sardonic message, "Got Milk?"
But the emotional disconnect of "Eat The Ice Cream" is stunning.
The product is malevolent. It is an antagonist. It is threatening and dangerous. Abandon all hope, ye who eat the ice cream!
Since the video does not appear on the Halo Top YouTube channel, it's safe to assume they really don't want it out there and that it was a publicity stunt designed to create buzz.
But the take away for the small-business advertiser: play to your core customer's needs, wants, desires, or even fears. But do not make your product fearsome and loathsome and sinister. It doesn't pay off.
To see "Eat The Ice Cream" and revel in its dysfunctionality, visit https://youtu.be/j4IFNKYmLa8
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Because beer always makes you smarter.
The Bud Light Real Men Of Genius radio campaign went away in 2008 after 7 inspired years.
It was epic, it made the brand a market leader, and was parodied endlessly (and badly) in small-business, local-radio advertising.
Since then, But Light has not had such a juggernaut--but today, they may be on the brink.
This morning, I was confronted with a video of a town crier standing inside a craft brewery in Minneapolis. He was reading a "Hear ye! Hear ye!" to everyone in the place.
It was a cease & desist letter from Bud Light to the craft brewer.
So, I thought, "Hold my beer. Watch this. I'm going to find out more."
The story is interesting, and it's a useful brand advertising lesson--even for the small-business owner.
Have you heard that? Have you said it?
I hadn't until this morning. I haven't been watching a lot of commercial TV lately.
But it seems that Bud Light and their agency, Wieden + Kennedy, is drafting off of the zeitgeist. In this particular case, it's the mania around Game of Thrones.
They've done it with a commercial that shows a royal banquet room, and a line of subjects paying obeisance to the king. As people step up and offer sixes and cases of Bud Light to the king, the king raises his own Bud Light and proclaims each person, "A true friend of the crown! Dilly, dilly!"
And everyone in the banquet room responds by raising their own Bud Lights and crying, "Dilly, dilly!"
This happens a couple of times, and then another gentleman steps up and offers a large brown bottle, without a label, and sealed with red wax. He puts it in front of the king, who says, "What, um, what is that?"
"This is a spiced honey mead wine that I have really been into lately."
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A LONG, UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE
Then, the king says to the gent, "Please follow Sir Brad. He's going to give you a private tour of the Pit of Misery."
The hapless fellow is hauled off while everyone happily toasts, "To the misery! Dilly, dilly!"
The announcer chimes in over a shot of the Bud Light logo rendered in rice, barley, hops, and the head of a beer: "Here's to the friends you can always count on. Bud Light, brewed to be America's favorite light lager."
Oh, boy. Ya know what's going on here?
This is an attack ad.
Very funny. Really well produced.
But it's an attack ad.
IT'S TAPPING INTO THE GAME OF THRONES ZEITGEIST AND ATTACKING CRAFT BREWING
If you don't know, craft brewing has become HUGE.
It's huge enough that there are now three fundamental problems.
One, craft brewers are having a hard time competing with one another because there's so much competition and a limited market.
Two, consumers are suffering from FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. When they look at a wall of craft beers in the liquor store, they become anxious and don't know what to buy, fearing they may be missing something better than what they'll choose.
And three, craft brewers are eating into big brewers' market share.
And I've got to be honest, as a guy who's been a fan of craft beers since they began bubbling up in the 1990s, even I'm over it. There are plenty of great beers out there. But the preciousness and the overtness and the slam-you-in-the-face-ness of so many of these beers is out of hand.
AND YES, I'M THE GUY WHO LAST WEEK THREW LAURELS TO A NANO-BREWER
Mad Fritz, the Napa Valley nano-brewery, is a brilliant brand.
It's not precious. It's intelligent and arcane and balanced and specialized and scarce.
But so many craft brewers are so clever and working so hard for people who are so pretentious about their beer.
I get it. This is the pendulum swinging the other way after decades of mega-brewery domination.
So...where's the attack?
One, the subject presents a precious bottle of spiced mead (which, if you don't know, is a honey wine).
Two, he presents the bottle with the cliché qualifier, "That I've really been into lately."
And three, the announcer says, "Here's to the friends you can always count on. Bud Light, brewed to be America's favorite light lager."
A POX ON CRAFT BREW HEADS!
Long live the light lager!
Can you imagine any big brewer even five years ago using a line like, "America's favorite light lager."
They'd say, "Beer."
They'd use modifiers like, "light," or "crisp," or "refreshing."
They might say something unqualified like, "Beechwood aged!" (I once read an article by a reporter who called Budweiser to find out what "Beachwood aged" actually meant. The reply from the person at the other end was essentially, "Well, you know, beechwood. It's beechwood aged!")
Beer has been a commodity product.
AND NOW, COMMODITY THINKING IS BEING UNDERMINED BY ARTISAN THINKING
Regardless of how you feel about craft beer (I feel it's a good thing), it's not hard to see how this happened.
A landscape of fizzy yellow beers was infected by variety and flavor and choice and surprise.
Yes, craft beers are surprising. Not always in a good way. A top-fermented, dry-hopped ale that tastes of rosebuds, garlic and old gym socks may not be a good surprise.
Nonetheless, it has become a pervasive threat to the market dominance of brands like Bud Light, a brand whose core, die-hard fan is intolerant of things like craft beer. I know people like this. They are single-beer fanatics and they are angry at craft brewing.
Bud Light is shooting fish in a barrel--and being really funny.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TOWN CRIER?
Back to the brewery in Minneapolis.
The brewery is called Modist. Not sure how you pronounce it.
Modist very recently released a brew called, "Dilly Dilly Mosaic Double IPA."
Mosiac is a strain of hops. It is known for its complex and broad aromas backed by a clean bittering. If you care.
Modist put this brew in their taproom only. They did not release it widely.
They created a logo that said, "Dilly Dilly" in a blatant rip-off of the Bud Light swirl logo.
ON NOVEMBER 28, THEY ANNOUNCED IT ON THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE
They posted that they were releasing it on December 1.
The same day they released it, they posted a video of the town crier standing in their lobby, reading the cease & desist "proclamation" aloud.
The town crier's message included a request to make sure this ale was a one-time-only occurrence, and offers the brewery two free tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
They next day, Modist posted a picture of the town crier's scroll and the "Dilly Dilly" ripoff logo, with the message, "Come drink this beer before we rename it 'Coat Tails.'"
I smell a publicity stunt cooked up by Anheuser Busch, whose parent company is not known for being so kind with its C&Ds.
Nonetheless, it's fun, it's well-crafted, it bears retelling, it's good advertising, and a good stunt for the press.
WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY FOR YOU?
One, no business of any size is too small for a publicity stunt. I've done it with a tiny business, getting them coverage in a major metropolitan daily. You need to be creative, relevant, and interesting.
Two, your business can be a threat to the bigger market leaders. You just need to understand how to be different and resonant and offer your core customer a better reality.
And three, never discount the value of making the prospect feel the right thing. "Here's to friends you can count on." That is a simple, unsophisticated, artless sentiment--and it's going to sell a lot more beer than it deserves. It's also part of the Famous Among Friends conceit that Bud Light has been using for over 30 years.
BUD LIGHT APPEARED AT MODIST WITH GREAT ALACRITY
The town crier was on the scene so quickly, and Modist was so on top of the situation, that it smacks of benign collusion.
And the fact that Bud Light is acknowledging Modist in this way (and likely partnering with them) demonstrates that they probably aren't as down on craft beer as their advertising might imply.
Instead, they could be preparing to invest in Modist, if not preparing to buy them outright.
Tell that to craft brewers Goose Island, Blue Point, Breckenridge, Golden Road, Four Peaks, 10 Barrel, Devils Backbone and Karbach--all of whom have been acquired by Anheuser Busch.
Your brand is also never too small to be acquired by a giant.
For a peek at "Dilly Dilly," Click here: https://youtu.be/D8Cb5Wk2t-8
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
SO, HOW MUCH WINE CAN YOU SELL OUT OF A GARAGE?
Answer: Not a lot.
But that's what Ryan was doing.
He was making wine in his garage. He was selling a few hundred cases a year. Legally. His landlord let him have the garage bonded as a winery by the Feds so it was all above board and he was paying his excise tax.
And understand, this is the Napa Valley.
Stories like this one are not that unusual.
Here's the problem: even if it's really good wine, nobody gets rich on a few hundred cases of wine a year.
IN A WAY, RYAN WAS THAT FABLED GUY WHO WOULD PERFORM BRAIN SURGERY ON HIMSELF
He just had to figure out how to stay awake during the operation.
That is one of the classic definitions of an entrepreneur.
The driven guy with the hyphenated job title who does it all himself.
Winemaker, Chief Bottle Washer & Brain Surgeon.
However, it seems that Ryan was not the egomaniac who insists on staying the brain surgeon.
One day, at a wine event he was running, Ryan met Crystal.
Crystal is a dynamo.
When she met Ryan, her career was vibrant and vigorous. She was getting on jets and going places. She was moving and shaking and making stuff happen for big companies.
CRYSTAL AND RYAN ALSO KNEW THEY HAD A CONNECTION
But they didn't hook up right away.
After the event, the Napa winemaker and the corporate shaker went their separate ways.
But that didn't last long.
Geography couldn't keep them apart, and good wine brought them together.
Crystal became the yin to Ryan's yang.
They married, and she joined the winery in the garage.
Fast forward to today. It's no longer in a garage. It's in a huge cave.
With Crystal's help, Ryan gets to focus on the winemaking instead of the brain surgery, so to speak. He focuses on the science and the art of turning grapes into liquid poetry.
Meanwhile, Crystal works a different kind of science and art: that of winning friends and influencing people. She handles the sales and marketing.
AND IN THE PROCESS, SHE DEVELOPED ANOTHER KIND OF POETRY
She has created the entrepreneurial poetry of building a desirable cult brand.
Through a combination of evocative personal touch and scarcity, she has helped attract legions of dedicated followers.
She also made it happen by doing something that would scare the pants off of a lot of business owners.
While Ryan began making more wine, and the hundreds of cases turned into thousands, Crystal made that wine harder to get.
No more retail.
No more restaurants.
Sales direct to the customer only.
And preferably, through a club-membership model.
YES, MEMBERSHIP DOES HAVE ITS PRIVILEGES
Make a better product.
Make it harder to get.
Make it available on a monthly subscription.
And you know what happens?
By cutting out the middleman and selling the product for what it's worth at retail, you double your margin. And boy are these wines worth far more than the retail price. Phenomenal.
By making it rare, it's made more desirable. They don't even sell it on their own website for the most part. As Crystal likes to say, "It feels like you need to know somebody to get it."
By making it available on a club basis, the worth of each sale is far more than just a single accidental retail purchase.
And by winning friends and influencing people, you create a steadfast and enthusiastic group of supporters who are there for you. Your die-hard fans help keep you in business and love your product.
THIS IS A FAMILY BUSINESS WHERE THE CUSTOMERS ARE LIKE FAMILY
Yes, it sounds like a cliché.
A cliché that yours truly has railed against.
Fortunately, in this case, it's true in the best way possible.
This was very much in evidence in the wake of the Napa fires.
Crystal says that she handles all the customer service, which means she handles a whole lot of email.
With the fires, the amount of email was overwhelming, all of it inquiring about the health and welfare of the family.
Crystal, who typically expedites such things, said that it was taking her weeks to catch up and let everyone know they were OK.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE IS A LOVE FOR THE BUSINESS MADE INDEED MADE MANFIEST IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE
Talk to Ryan, and it's clear that he has a love for people, and for the science and the art of making wine.
He also has a word for the kinds of wines he likes to make: "Balanced."
In an age when it seems like vintners are trying desperately to show the world they can make wines that punch you in the face with a particular quality, he's making wines that invite you in and seduce you.
Talk to Crystal, and it's clear that she has a love for people and for sharing her husband's craft with them.
Talk to Crystal and Ryan together, and it's clear they have a love for each other. It's also clear that the business is a labor of that love. And it has balance.
Ryan has another word, this one for the reason why the business and the brand work.
THAT WORD IS: "RESPECT"
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I interviewed the two of them for the CoupleCo podcast.
And more than once in previous CoupleCo interviews, the husband has said, unsolicited and in no uncertain terms, the reason why the relationship and the business work is because of respect.
Ryan was just the most recent.
Also, something else happens when we're recording these podcasts: Honey and I get the best seats in the house.
We get to watch two people who never expected to be hearing the things they're hearing, about their business and their marriage, from each other.
It has been revealing.
It's also humbling. As Honey repeatedly says, "It makes me want to be a better couple."
And the thing about being a better couple in business together is it makes for a better business.
WHY IS A COUPLE LIKE CRYSTAL AND RYAN SO FASCINATING?
We've been pondering this.
And we think the answer is in something another one of the CoupleCo couples said in their interview: "It's not just your business. It's your whole life."
And the woman who said that is dead on.
It's one of the reasons we've found couplepreneurs so interesting to interview, and why so many people who aren't in business with a spouse are enjoying the test podcasts we've given them.
It's not just about being in business together. It's about risking everything.
In a culture where the marriage ideal is to live happily ever after? Running a business together throws all of that into question.
Because it IS your whole life.
IT'S ABOUT TWO PEOPLE WANTING TO MAKE THEIR LIFE EXACTLY THE WAY THEY WANT IT
And the odds seem enormous.
The deck is stacked in the other guy's favor.
And if a husband and wife business goes down in flames (or up in flames, as has been happening in Napa), what does that mean for life, the universe and everything?
Looking at Crystal and Ryan, and the fabulous business that has grown from a rental garage a decade ago, there's fortunately no need to answer that question.
They've survived the fires, this epic challenge, and their business is as strong as ever.
It's pretty cool.
If you want to know more about Crystal and Ryan's winery, visitwww.waughfamilywines.com .
And if you want to visit Napa right now, the place is open for business. Honey and I spent an astonishing week there.
While you can see what the fires have done, you can also see the majority of the place, which is untouched and glorious, a joyful and thriving place full of entrepreneurs like Ryan and Crystal who are happy to welcome you.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
This week's visit to fire-ravaged Napa is an anti-climax. That is, if you're looking for evidence of what the fire has ravaged.
We've been here for just about 24 hours. The place does not stink of smoke. What little we've seen is very much a normal, everyday, business-as-usual rural town.
However, we did have a poignant experience last night that serves to remind one what a brand really is all about.
We've long banged the drum for the fact that a brand as not a logo, a color, a font, a tagline, a website, or any other manifestation that one usually associates with a brand.
Nope. A brand is Thing One: Your brand is the one way your core customer should feel about your business.
GET THAT PART RIGHT, AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW
Conversely, you can get the other stuff right--the logo, the color, the font, the tagline, the website--and if you haven't figured out Thing One, it's all for naught.
A great example is last night's foray into town.
We'd asked someone for a recommendation for a good, local's kind of joint. The kind of place where you meet the real people who make the community happen.
We took the recommendation, and followed it up--encouraged by the establishment's website. It delivered all kinds of glowing, simple language about how they're steeped in history, how they do so much so well, and how they're fun, friendly and down-to-earth.
The rightness of Thing One seemed to be in evidence.
MARKETING, MEET REALITY
The place had all the right accoutrements.
It was an old building with an old bar, lots of natural wood and plenty of historical funk.
That's where the authenticity ends.
Off the bartender's New York Giants jersey, The Fabulous Honey Parker says, "Wow, Giants? You a Giants fan?"
"What? Oh. No. We were told we had to wear football jerseys. Someone gave this to me."
As a Philly native and an Eagles fan, Honey faces a lifetime of disappointment. Being able to commiserate with a Giants fan over the latter's tragic record this season would have been a natural opening to conversation, rapport, service and eventually, a tips
It didn't work out.
We tried to have some conversation with the woman. She was borderline helpful and disinterested.
IN FACT, EVERYONE WORKING THERE SEEMED BORDERLINE HELPFUL AND DISINTERESTED
Everyone working there seemed to have other things on their mind.
There was someplace else they'd all rather be.
The house-brewed beer was mediocre. The menu was uninspiring.
This was not the local's joint that we had hoped for.
Nor was it the fun, friendly place the branding elements had promised.
They got the down-to-earth part right, if you take that to mean "ordinary."
But they had ultimately failed at Thing One.
NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELTY DIFFERENT
Understand, this is Sunday night in Napa. Things are not exactly jumping.
We left exited the hall of disappointment and turned left.
Across the street was a block of restaurants.
We stumbled across one that looked different and better than the others. A tapas joint.
It was appointed in dark hardwoods with soft, amber lighting. It looked and felt comfortable. A few people were dining.
We stepped inside, ambled back to the bar and took a seat.
Our bartender was welcoming and gregarious.
He was ready and willing to make conversation--despite being the busiest guy in the place. He had other customers at the bar and was also the service bar for the wait staff.
IN THE KITCHEN, A CREW OF FOUR WAS SHUFFLING AND CLANGING AND MAKING STUFF HAPPEN
It was a well-practiced improvisational ballet of small-portion cuisinieres.
We knew we had found our place.
We asked questions. He made recommendations.
We asked about his story. We got details.
A fifth-generation Napa-ite, he is a career food service guy.
When he started quoting Bukowski, it was evident the party had started.
By the end of the evening, we had moved to the end of the bar. A couple from Chicago had sat down next to us.
THE BARTENDER HAD BECOME OUR MASTER OF CEREMONIES
He was making smart recommendations.
He was letting us taste unusual wines.
He was involved in the conversation just enough.
He was the Thing One incarnate.
And he was a raging profit center for that tapas restaurant.
He knows how to make his customer feel welcome, knows how to engage and entertain, and knows how to figure out what next.
He was tipped well.
SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED WHILE WE WERE THERE
The place became packed.
It was alive and jumping.
The waiters were always moving through the room.
The kitchen was in constant motion.
People were waiting for tables.
All this on the slow night in Napa.
And you know what this restaurant's website promises?
None of this.
THE WEBSITE MIGHT AS WELL BE A BUSINESS CARD THAT SAYS, "FOOD"
It makes very little in the way of promises.
It says very little about what they serve.
It says nothing about who started it and why.
It doesn't say, "We're a fun, friendly, down-to-earth place where you're going to have a great time with our bartender who's been in the business for 35 years."
The website is just not good. It is in no way a reflection of the Thing One that's going on in there.
But without the branding accoutrements that help make for a solid manifestation of the brand's message to the world, it still has a better and more competent brand than the place that has a good website and makes all kinds of promises that it can't live up to.
A BRAND BENEFITS FROM BETTER MARKETING
A good logo and an engaging website and marketing that gets attention and drives response--all of these things are good for business.
But without Thing One, without the foundation of a good, honest and authentic brand behind it all, those other things are for naught.
As David Ogilvy famously said, nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.
We left a place whose advertising was loaded with brand promise that it failed to live up to.
Going online and reading the reviews for that place, it's clear that our experience is not unusual.
WE THEN WENT TO A PLACE WITH NO BRAND PROMISE
It delivered beyond any reasonable expectation.
Going online and reading the reviews for that second place, it's also clear that our experience at that restaurant is not unusual.
The difference is that the general manager isn't having to routinely apologize to customers who've left lousy reviews--as happens at the first place.
It's possible that the first joint will never be ruined by the lack of brand integrity. This is a bar and restaurant in a tourist town in a location with a lot of foot traffic.
It may well survive.
But it will never be great.
It simply isn't all that interested in how the customer feels about the place.
Be Thing One. Everything else is just stuff.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Yes, you heard the news.
The biggest brands in U.S. wine country, Napa and Sonoma, have been destroyed by wildfires.
Wineries, gone! Hotels, gone! Vineyards, gone! All gone, gone, gone!
Up there in California, it's like the dark side of the moon.
Maybe you've seen the news photo of the Malaysian gentleman who'd been visiting Santa Rosa.
He was staying at the Hilton Sonoma. In the photo, he's walking past a pile of charred rubble that used to be his hotel.
Gone! The Hilton is gone!
Who ever heard of losing a Hilton?
DEVASTATION, MAYHEM AND DEATH!
Yes, there are problems in Napa and Sonoma. Businesses have been destroyed. People have died. It has indeed been tragic.
And that's exactly why the Fabulous Honey Parker and I were planning on staying away.
We had business up there. We were planning on driving the CoupleCoach to Napa to interview couple entrepreneurs. We were gonna go all Charles Kerault on 'em.
We had delayed our plans in order to avoid hitting everyone during the harvest.
Then the fires hit. We saw the news. Oh, boy. We thought, Wow, let's just leave everybody alone. We'll go next year after they've cleaned up.
THEN, WE RECEIVED WORD THROUGH FRIENDS WHO ARE DEEPLY CONNECTED IN WINE COUNTRY
We were told in no uncertain terms, "Get up here!"
The person saying this has a business that supports tourists visiting wine country.
This person has lost all of her business. Visitors have cancelled their plans from now through February.
Because the news media in this country is vast and busy and immersive.
The 24-hour news cycle saturates the populous with ongoing stories and endless images of unimaginable devastation.
So what do you do?
You cancel your vacation to Devastation Land!
EXCEPT THAT, LIKE SANTA CLAUS, DEVASTATION LAND DOESN'T EXIST
"Despite the fires, the majority of businesses in both Napa and Sonoma remain open."
That quote is courtesy of the award-winning experiential travel magazine, AFAR.
It comes from an article they published online about two weeks ago. It's called, "What You Can Do to Help Wine Country Now--and Later."
Among their six tips, "Plan a visit."
And it made Honey and I say, "Of course. What were we thinking?"
It reminded us of the year that we changed our spring travel plans.
We are regular visitors to Jazz Fest, that immense and sonorous party on the New Orleans fairgrounds during the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May.
IN 2005, WE HAD DECIDED TO TAKE A HIATUS
We had an immediate about-face.
What better way to support a town we love, whose major industry is tourism, than to come back as a tourist and bring tourist dollars?
The welcome we received was extraordinary.
Never have we been any place where people were so happy to see us.
We were even exhorted to take a Devastation Tour in order to understand intimately what had happened there.
SO, WHAT IS THE NEWS MEDIA BRAND IN THE INFO-SATURATION AGE?
It seems that the one way we're supposed to feel about it is we're getting the absolute horrifying truth at any minute of any day.
Here's the problem: it's like a microscope.
The news focuses narrowly on minute details without the context of the larger picture.
Hilton Sonoma destroyed!
Man visiting from Malaysia loses everything!
You know what else?
Seven wineries in Sonoma destroyed!
You know that that means?
Approximately 418 more wineries in Sonoma are still standing.
THINK THERE'S STILL A PLACE TO TASTE WINE?
Two hotels in Santa Rosa were destroyed, one of them the Hilton.
Cursory research shows at least three more in the area are closed.
Trip Advisor lists 75 more hotel options in Sonoma.
Think maybe there are a few other places to sleep off a day's wine tasting?
The 24-hour news cycle is largely about spectacle.
The spectacle of flames, destruction and death play to the old journalism adage, "If it bleeds, it leads."
Ironically, there are plenty of stories about how California wine country needs to lure tourists back to Napa and Sonoma.
WOULD THESE SUBSEQUENT STORIES BE NECESSARY IF NOT FOR THE FIRST ONES?
And those stories don't bleed.
They certainly aren't going to lead.
There just isn't much news value in, "Most everything's OK! Whoo!"
It seems that one of the best things we can do for our sanity is to avoid 99% of the news.
It just isn't worthy.
I have preferred news sources, they are time-honored and reliable. They go in-depth and tell you all of the what, where, when, how and why.
There are details and context.
When the superficial news media are reporting things that leave me scratching my head, my preferred news sources fill in the blanks so the stories make sense.
IN THE MEANTIME, WE'RE GOING TO WINE COUNTRY
Honey and I will be on location for Hot Shots and for CoupleCo, and we will return with stories.
With any luck, you'll enjoy them.
They will be about the brands and the people behind them.
There will be no devastation, mayhem and death unless it's relevant.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with a teaser for CoupleCo.
It's fun, and the risky subtext of mayhem and devastation is certainly part of the allure. The stories these people tell are about how a business and a brand can survive--along with the marriage that launched it.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
In last week's screed, "How the Heck Did That Happen," there was talk of personal brand, ownership of a business by an employee, and making the customer feel welcome and comfortable.
To recap, I was on the road from the Uintas to the Ozarks (that would be Salt Lake to St. Louis if your geography is airport-centric), and was analyzing all of the customer-service touchpoints in that experience, from curbside at SLC to barside at a major chain hotel.
In conclusion, some of the day's experiences were excellent, others were fleeting and unmemorable.
But it had me thinking about something that impacts the way each of these people treated me during that day.
I had asked my surprising and interesting server in the bar, "What is the one way you want your core customer to feel about your business?"
She said, "I realize that my customer has been traveling, and I want them to feel comfortable and welcome."
Ultimately, it left me with a new question.
WHAT'S MY PERSONAL BRAND AS A CUSTOMER?
As a customer, what is the one way I want my service provider to feel about me?
This seems especially significant in light of the uniquely 21st century challenge of air travel.
Once, air travel was an idyllic and puffy-cloud land of women in pencil skirts and white gloves and men in hats and ties.
The experience has devolved to the level of bus travel.
People love to hate airlines.
They hate hate hate airlines.
And maybe it's worth starting this tale at my front door.
Last week, before I left for the Ozarks, a friend came knocking.
HE WAS THERE TO BORROW SOME DRIED BASIL
Yes, we have that kind of neighborhood.
Friends come around to borrow ingredients.
This fellow who came for the basil has an interesting personal brand.
Speaking superficially, he is the Jerry Garcia of high-school biology teachers.
He has long hair and a bushy beard, and wears a lot of tie-dyed clothing.
That's really the only resemblance to the late leader of the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia was a juvenile delinquent who grew up in San Francisco and was sent to the army for stealing his mother's car, and died of a heart attack while in an addiction recovery facility.
My friend grew up on an army base in rural Utah, is science-minded, and is dedicated to shaping young minds for tomorrow in the face of great odds.
THE HIPPY-ISH FAÇADE BELIES A DISCIPLINED AND RESPONSIBLE CHARACTER
So when he came knocking, dressed in a tie-dyed T-shirt and olive hiking pants, his long hair pulled back, I opened the door, he looked at me, and he said, "Fancy."
I had on khaki pants, loafers and a dress-shirt. I said, "I'm flying."
He said, "I know. I do the same thing when I fly."
Apparently, he understands that if he gets on a plane looking like a hippy, he will not experience the best service.
We both try to dress a little better than the rabble. In surveys, flight attendants admit that they treat passengers better if they're dressed better. And neither of us wants to be one of those people who gets on a plane wearing pajamas.
THERE MAY BE NO BETTER PLACE TO EXAMINE CUSTOMER BRAND THAN IN AIR TRAVEL
In a business that is hated by a great number of the people patronizing it, I have learned to enjoy it.
That's because I've learned how to do two things.
1) How to control the experience to my benefit.
2) How to be a desirable customer (even though people who know me may consider it an act).
And it really doesn't take that much.
Controlling the experience requires trying to always be early, understanding your options, and making a modest investment. In many respects, air travel is cheaper than ever. By paying a little more to obtain the conveniences, it's easy to mitigate the unpleasant, mass-transit aspects of the experience. TSA Pre-Check, Clear, purchasing certain upgrades, getting credit cards that afford benefits like premium lounges and early boarding, it all helps mitigate the stress.
BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, THING ONE INFORMS THING TWO
Not controlling the experience leads to stress.
Resistance is pain. Especially if one approaches air travel as an antagonistic experience, it can end up being antagonizing and painful.
Imagine walking into a retail store and saying, "I hate this place! Serve me now!"
How inclined is anyone going to be to serve you?
Just for fun, an exceptionally skilled salesperson may try to win you over.
Most will just try to stay away.
IMAGINE WALKING INTO THAT SAME STORE DRESSED IN PAJAMAS AND BEDROOM SLIPPERS, CARRYING A PILLOW AND SUCKING A PACIFIER
Yes, I've seen it.
And it sends a message.
Yes, I might sound elitist.
But in an overcrowded, over-busy, overbooked environment, snap judgments are inevitable. "Hey there, uncouth slob, what can I do for you?" You get what you give. When you're George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic, you can travel first class looking like a rainbow-haired wild man and people will love you. I've seen it happen. The rest of us? We have to work a little harder.
By going in dressed well (and that doesn't mean being dressed expensively or being over dressed, just dressed in clean, business casual or smart casual), a customer doesn't allow for anyone to make the same snap judgments as if one was dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt with a profane message about your mother.
By smiling and returning smiles, a rapport happens. Sure, there are times when it doesn't work. Gate agents can be nasty. Trying to win over those pissy people can be a challenge worth taking.
AND ULTIMATELY, ACTING LIKE YOU BELONG THERE SCORES BIG POINTS
Not acting entitled, acting appreciative, and making it clear that being locked together in an aluminum tube for 5 hours will be a pleasure, one becomes the Desirable Customer.
Yes, this probably sounds very Norman Vincent Peale.
So what? It works more often than it doesn't.
My core customer service professional is someone who works hard, is underpaid, and tries to keep a smile on her face despite enormous odds in an environment that is ever more like working in an urban bus station.
What is the one way I want my core customer service professional to feel about me?
That I'm going to make her job easier and more enjoyable.
YES, YOU'VE HEARD ME ADMIT TO BEING A CURMUDGEON
Yes, I can be a cantankerous lout.
I am able to wear a mask!
But, the Fabulous Honey Parker?
She is an ace at this.
She makes people love her.
One time, she got out of her seat to go to the lavatory.
She was gone for about 20 minutes.
When she finally returned, she was clutching a dozen little bottles of bourbon to her chest.
Seems she'd made friends with the flight attendant in the galley.
AND HEY, FREE BOURBON
The bottom line: both Honey and I have worked in service industries.
Maybe that gives us empathy for the people who serve us.
Yes, we both have the capacity to make a customer service agent cry.
But guaranteed, even if we do, neither of us will never be that person you see at the customer service counter yelling, "Do you know who I am?!"
Because nobody wants to know that person or who they are.
It's a brand that everyone has experienced, and feels one way about.
And it's never the good way.
Fly big. Fly with fun. Fly with a smile. And you become a customer brand that professionals enjoy serving. Or over-serving with a dozen bottles of bourbon.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
DID YOU TRY SOCIAL MEDIA ADVERTISING AND IT DIDN'T WORK?
Just a different twist on the old chestnut, "I tried radio advertising and it didn't work!"
Well, did you know what you were doing?
Or did you ram your own uninformed agenda down the throat of whoever was trying to help you?
That is meant in the nicest possible way, of course.
And it's a rhetorical question not meant to implicate you, personally. You, of course, would never do that.
It's meant as a cautionary note to people we all know who have all the answers despite having none the training, experience, or insight to have an actual, informed opinion.
SO, WHY ARE WE HERE?
Why am I beating on the "I tried it and it didn't work" drum?
Because I'm tired of hearing things like, "Social media advertising doesn't work!"
I was just reading an interesting story from AdWeek.
The headline: "What National Geographic Did to Earn 3 Million Snapchat Discover Subscribers in Just 3 Months."
Subhead: "A new streamlined design plays up more photos and less text."
OK. National Geographic. Talk about a chestnut.
Why on earth is one of the oldest, stodgiest, great-grandpa brands in the world mentioned in the same sentence as a frivolous, six-year-old social media nitwit platform that lost half a billion dollars last year?
BECAUSE MAYBE IT ISN'T AS MUCH FRIVOLOUS AS IT IS EFFECTIVE
The National Geographic Society is one of the world's oldest and largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions. (Thank you for that tidbit, Wikipedia, one of youngest and largest sources of potentially flawed information on the internet.)
The National Geographic Magazine, launched in 1888, has a global circulation of 6.5 million per month.
The National Geographic Channel is available to almost 90 million pay TV households in the US.
What the heck is National Geographic doing on Snapchat, a platform infamous for its use by disgraced US congressman Anthony Weiner as Weinervision?
Simple guess: National Geographic is looking for eyeballs and wants to be relevant to a younger generation.
And instead of being stodgy and poo-pooing social media, they are embracing Snapchat.
AND IT IS PROFITABLE
The article's subhead makes total sense in the age of the short attention span: "A new streamlined design plays up more photos and less text."
You're trying to reach people with no attention span who are watching a tiny screen in the palm of their hands.
More photos and less text just makes sense.
And it has to be pithy and intriguing.
Like the image of a purple microbe with the headline, "What are flesh-eating bacteria and how do you fight them?"
Yikes. Tell me more! Click.
But let's go back to the headline: "What National Geographic Did to Earn 3 Million Snapchat Discover Subscribers in Just 3 Months."
Are those 3 million Snapchat Discover subscribers actually doing them any good? It's Snapchat! A platform that loses more money than the territory of Guam has in its annual operating budget! More money than GEICO spends on their annual media buy!
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PEOPLE AREN'T STUPID
They hired an expert digital media executive away from digital giant Vox Media and did what needed to be done.
In a nutshell, Nat Geo's revenue from Snapchat is up by 58 percent.
Stephanie Atlas, who leads the Nat Geo digital team, says, "When you're competing against Cosmo and Kim Kardashian, you really have to think about a way to get people interested in what our value proposition is, which is strong visuals and piquing people's curiosity."
OK. My curiosity is piqued.
And I did something that, just 12 hours earlier, I swore to the Fabulous Honey Parker I would never do.
I downloaded Snapchat.
I created an account.
And I went in there.
AND I WAS COMPLETELY BAFFLED!
How do you use this thing?!
I fumbled around for a while. Then, lacking immediate access to a kid, I searched Google.
I found a blog post by one Emily Steck, who was a salve for my digitally frustrated self when she said, "For all the buzz and chatter around Snapchat, it's not a very intuitive platform. It's difficult to discover easily content or simply know where to find everything. Snapchat is a lot more complicated than it lets on."
Anyway, I stumbled through for a bit, and finally found National Geographic.
"Could The Remains Of Santa Claus Be In This Turkish Church?" Intriguing music. Video inside a grand cathedral.
"Is This The world's Most Venomous Fish?" Underwater footage and eerie, dark music.
"Why Are Some Dogs More Aggressive?" A dog bares his teeth as a busy techno track burbles away.
They are being pithy making money.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL-BUSINESS BRAND
Can Snapchat work for a local business with a brick & mortar location?
I did some digging.
Found some evidence that yes, it's possible--despite the fact that the typical monthly ad spend on Snapchat is $40,000.
Take a nitroglycerine pill. Using local geofilters, a small business like a coffee shop can get away with an ad spend as low as 5 bucks.
But how do you do this?
I have no idea.
Because I do two things really well.
I HELP SMALL BUSINESSES CREATE EVOCATIVE BRANDS THAT CAN ATTRACT CUSTOMERS
And I can help market those evocative brands in ways that are often considered "Traditional."
For anything else, I go to a specialist.
That's because I'm smart enough to know what I don't know.
I can dabble in digital.
But that's not my expertise.
And I don't want to become that fool who makes sweeping, uninformed judgments about new media platforms and sounds like the guy that used to make us crazy when I worked in a building full of radio experts: "I tried it and it didn't work!"
It didn't work because you are know-it-all whose fear- and ego-driven agenda is standing between you and advertising success.
NOT THAT I HAVE AN OPINION ON THIS
This is just fair warning to anyone who scoffs at social media advertising.
Since good radio advertising seems effortless, many people come at it and say, "How hard can it be?"
It's easy to just slap some random thing on the air. It's very hard to do well.
Social media advertising takes simplicity to a whole new level.
Never at any time in history has it been easier to place an advertisement.
And just because you can log on, open an account, and give them your credit card number and target your demographics to certain death doesn't mean you're doing it right.
In blog post entitled, "Snapchat marketing campaigns: 5 great case studies that produced results," Paul Roberts at Our Social Times says, "Success as a brand on Snapchat depends on knowing your audience, knowing the platform and knowing your product. Find the sweet-spot between all three and you could be onto a winner."
Want to be like a stodgy old heritage brand dating from the 19th century?
Find an expert and embrace social media.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
ARE YOU STUCK ON YOUR BRAND?
And if you were paying attention on or after September 25, you've seen the video.
It's ridiculous. Those of us who appreciate the value of brands and trademarks and intellectual property rights have been having a good laugh.
And judging from the near 400,000 views at YouTube over the last week, it seems there are a few of us.
The video is called simply, "Don't Say Velcro."
It features an ostensible cast of lawyers for Velcro explaining why you should not be using the registered trademark name "Velcro" for describing just any hook & loop fastener--and they're doing it with a big, goofy rock anthem that recalls "We Are The World."
HAVING TROUBLE RECALLING "WE ARE THE WORLD?"
It was the 1985 charity single for African famine relief.
Recorded by a vast supergroup of musical stars, it was a big, swelling rock song dreamed up by Harry Belafonte, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, produced by Quincy Jones, and featured almost anyone you can name.
It became famous for a note pinned to the entrance of the studio: "Please check your egos at the door."
And now, 30+ years later, Velcro is borrowing the conceit of the rock super anthem as an awareness tool to get you to stop saying "Velcro" every time you encounter a hook & loop fastener.
BECAUSE IT DILUTES THE POWER OF THEIR TRADEMARK
The patent for Velcro-brand fasteners expired many years ago, so there are plenty of other hook & loop fasteners out there.
Why does this matter to Velcro?
Every time the trade name "Velcro" is used to describe some other brand, it increases the risk of Velcro Companies losing its trademark--and that would be catastrophic.
Did you know the generic word "aspirin" used to be a trademark?
IT WAS A HUGE MONEYMAKER FOR THE GERMAN PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY, BAYER
But because the name fell into rampant use by other companies around the world, and Bayer didn't defend it sufficiently, they lost their trademark.
It means they lost the exclusive right to market their own creation under its brand name.
Bayer also trademarked the name, "Heroin," which was marketed as a morphine substitute lacking morphine's addictive side effects, but that's another story.
As is Bayer losing the heroin trademark in 1919 in the wake of World War I under the Treaty Of Versailles.
As we often do here in the weekly screed, we digress.
Because you, like us, appreciate ridiculous trivia.
So, back to the ridiculousness of this Velcro video.
THE ABSURD, ANTHEMIC POWER OF THE VIDEO IS CAPTIVATING
The over-the-top craziness of this band of lawyers is impressive.
As is the production value--and the sensibility that created all this.
As part of the song goes:
And we know that this is confusing,
because Velcro Brand is who we are.
But if you call it call 'velcro'...
we're gonna lose that circled 'R'.
This is called 'hook and loop,'
This part's a hook, this part's a loop.
You call it 'velcro,' but we're begging you,
This is (bleep)-ing 'hook and loop.'
And yes, the "bleeping" is part of the video, the word they bleep is never heard, and you know exactly what the word is.
And Velcro Companies claims to be doing this on behalf of all brand names that struggle to protect their trademark, like Rollerblade-branded inline skates, Xerox-branded photocopiers and Band-Aid-branded bandages.
BUT HOW DID THIS CRAZINESS HAPPEN, AND WHAT CAN WE GET FROM IT?
This is a perfect storm of cooperation, sensibility, creativity, and an overarching plan.
The video was created by a North Carolina digital agency called Walk West.
In the making-of video (yes, there really is one), a Walk West Creative Consultant named Penn Holderness says, "Velcro Companies came to us with this educational brand campaign. We had a blast just looking at their creative brief and we said, so what if we just really kind of turned this into a ridiculous 1980s 'We Are The World' style benefit but for something that really is a first world problem?"
OK, it started creative. But how did the actual lawyers feel about it?
In the video, Velcro Companies' Legal Consultant Alexandra DeNeve says, "When they came back with this concept it was, for me, it was just like 'Eureka!' That's it."
Mr. Holderness goes on to say, "Once we met them and saw not only how approachable, friendly, [and] real they were and they were bold and they wanted to...take some chances... Velcro Companies has a really good, close-knit relationship between marketing and legal. And you kind of needed that."
I queried a friend and business associate who happens to be a certifiable smart person. She's also a lawyer and an entrepreneur. She says of the Velcro effort, "It's so uncool it's cool! And that's a pretty massive triumph for an IP issue. I also like it that these lawyers come across as endearingly human in all their geekiness, especially the guy who points out hooks and loops."
BELYING THE CRAZINESS IS RELEVANCE AND COOPERATION
In all the years I have been doing this, lawyers are often referred to as the Advertising Prevention Department.
Here's the thing about lawyers: If you can talk to them before you start working, if you can make friends with them and understand where the lines are, you really can go to the edge.
Lawyers can be friends of creative work if you bring them in early.
And at the risk of coming off as a cockeyed sexist piglet, I'm going to note that the lawyer quoted earlier is a woman.
Many screeds ago, we discussed a hedge fund manager we know who likes investing in companies with female CFOs.
He says the female CFOs often have a better outlook, that their approach to the job and the company is more holistic and not just about the balance sheet.
Maybe that extends to female lawyers. I queried our friend and business associate on this. She replies, "Interesting and complicated question. I think it's generally true. I also think that because of the gender-related pressure (and racial, for that matter) that any such tendencies tend to get suppressed in larger firms. Which is a real shame. But there's tremendous unspoken pressure (against the backdrop of "we love diversity!") to be just like the power people, who are mostly WASPy men... and so it goes."
Speaking as a WASPy man, this latter challenge is disappointing. But again, I digress.
CARRYING THE CONCEIT THROUGH TO OTHER TOUCHPOINTS
One of the problems with stunts like this video is often, they aren't carried through to the rest of the advertiser's touch points.
Velcro Companies has thought this through.
Now, using the trade name "Google" as a verb us another trademark problem. Nonetheless...
If you go Google the phrase "Don't say velcro," there's a link to their website, with the video right there in the banner, under the headline, "We ®VELCRO® Brand."
Beneath that, there's the headline, "Never a Noun. Never a Verb. Always on Brand."
The copy says, "We know. You don't mean to be a serial verber, but we decided to clear a few things up about using the VELCRO® trademark correctly--because we're lawyers and that's what we do. When you use "velcro" as a noun or a verb (e.g., velcro shoes), you diminish the importance of our brand and us lawyers would lose our *insert unfastening sound.*"
AND, YOU'RE INVITED TO JOIN THE CAUSE
Another headline reads, "Take a Stand with our VELCRO® Brand."
"It's not about doing it for us, it's about doing the right thing. Successful brands around the world need your support to help protect trademark guidelines. Pledge to end the era of broken trademark laws."
And you can opt-in for an email list.
And oh, just by the way, you also have the opportunity to find out all about the various Velcro products and how they improve your life.
And yes, they're even down to the minutiae of hash-tagging #dontsayvelcro. And tweets from fans are embedded in the "Don't Say Velcro" page.
BUT CAN THE SMALL-BUSINESS BRAND REALLY DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
Maybe not as enormously production intensive.
But it's entirely possible to start a movement, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise.
Online videos can be produced fairly inexpensively. Big expensive production value often isn't a requirement--but being thoughtful and consistent is.
In an age of WYSIWIG, drag & drop web development platforms, a dedicated website for the movement can be created very quickly and inexpensively. But again: thoughtfulness and consistency.
Using Facebook to promote the message can be done fairly cheaply. With the right material, people will pay attention. (Presently, a video for one of our clients has reached 2,000 people, almost 25% of whom have watched it more than once, 70% of viewers are staying all the way through it, and almost all of them are watching it with the sound on. The media cost? 50 bucks.)
Conflict is engaging. Humor with a core of truth is engaging. Letting people in on the joke and letting them play is engaging.
But like anything else, it needs to be done thoughtfully and with planning. And with consistency.
And it needs to inspire the core customer to feel the right thing. Never just a joke for its own sake. Like, "This is bleeping hook and loop," always, always, the right thing.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN THE EMERGENT CRISIS HITS THE FAN?
You know that we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress are great admirers of breakthrough business models.
We will not use the phrase, "Outside the box." That phrase has become so overused, it is inside the box at the center.
That notwithstanding, one of those breakthrough business models hit me in the face in the wake of hurricane Irma.
I was sitting in my office, reading the news about the devastation in the Caribbean.
This was my old stomping grounds. During part of my misspent 20s, I worked aboard big boats that sailed the Caribbean, among other places.
So, as the news reports are rolling in, I'm wondering, What the heck?
WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT THIS?
Homes and businesses leveled.
A friend's parents' house in Tortola is one of the mere 20% of structures left standing on that island.
The little island of Barbuda is uninhabited for the first time in 4,000 years. The entire population just up and left. Civilization there is gone.
Luxury resorts and charter-yacht fleets that were the economic fuel for local populations have been blown apart and scattered like kindling.
What do you do? Where do you begin?
AND ALMOST AS A RABBIT FROM A STORM-BLOWN HAT...
The answer landed in my Facebook instant message feed.
A yacht captain who lives in Antigua, an affable Brit with whom I had sailed years ago, sent a link to a non-profit that blew my socks off.
Not that you wear socks in Antigua.
But I'm in the mountain west. I'm prepared to wear socks.
I was unprepared for something that was such a natural fit, it made me wonder, How the heck did this not happen decades earlier?
It took someone with the right connections, and a little bit of thinking outside the boat.
YES, THE BOAT
Or, more accurately, the boats, plural.
The big, private boats that often use the Caribbean islands as their cruising grounds.
We're talking about the boats of the superwealthy, known in the industry as Superyachts.
These enormous yachts are more than the stuff of luxury St. Tropez daydreams and Hollywood movies.
Superyachts are businesses, operated by people who earn salaries.
These vessels are also underutilized by the people who own them.
What it took was an entrepreneur who has a support business that serves Superyachts to look at these underutilized assets and think, Here's an opportunity to do a lot of good.
YACHTAID GLOBAL WAS BORN
Yacht owners volunteer their vessels.
Yacht crews volunteer their time.
And the result is a de facto worldwide fleet of boats, and a crew of volunteers, ready to deliver humanitarian aid at any time.
Since 2006, YachtAid Global (known as YAG) has delivered relief to 50 locations in 20 countries via 40 superyachts and 400 volunteer crew members.
They work with other non-profit organizations, in-country connections, and NGOs.
And the work in the Caribbean has begun.
The volunteers are contacting yachts, obtaining relief supplies, managing logistics, and getting stuff where it needs to be.
IT'S IMPRESSIVE AND INSPIRING
Last week, I spoke to the two people spearheading the operation out of Atlanta.
It was about 5pm their time.
One of them had just gotten around to eating breakfast.
While we were talking, the other volunteer had to put me on hold.
He was taking a call from a Disaster Aid Response Team, comprised of former special forces soldiers, who were on the ground in storm-thrashed Turks and Caicos.
People are volunteering their time, doing good and making stuff happen in short order.
THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM
Many people see a yacht, and they see conspicuous consumption gone wild.
Typically, aside from an extraordinary feat of marine architecture and engineering, I see a microeconomic system that fuels the livelihoods of hundreds of people.
There's easily a couple of million bucks a year spent on maintaining and staffing that vessel.
That's a whole lot of income feeding and housing a whole lot of families.
But now, that vision has been supplemented by the potential for a charitable juggernaut that can move aid quickly, getting food, water and shelter to families in need, and getting it to the hard-to-reach places where it needs to be.
Super yachts doing supergood? Mmm...maybe we'll work on that.
In the meantime, if you're interested in knowing more, you can find them at http://yachtaidglobal.org
AND WHILE WE'RE SPEAKING OF THE CARIBBEAN...
Back in the spring, we talked about a breakout small business brand in St. Thomas called Pizza Pi. (Yes, that's P-I, "pi," as in the mathematical constant. The owners are certifiably smart people, and one of them went to MIT.)
Ranked on Trip Advisor as the #1 restaurant in the U.S. Virgin islands, Pizza Pi is a boat that anchors in Christmas Cove, dispensing gourmet pizzas to boaters in the area.
Pizza Pi was closed for the summer season, and Chef Tara and Capt. Sasha were off St. Thomas when the storms ripped through.
Reports are that their vessel is alive. It had been hauled for the season, and despite some damage to the rig, the overall outlook is good.
Also, Chef Tara is one of the organizers of a GoFundMe campaign to aid residents of the Virgin Islands. Funds are directed specifically to the USVI. More info at https://www.gofundme.com/us-virgin-islands-irma-relief-fund
In the wake of the storms, no matter where you are, here's to plenty of water under your keel.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN TUSTIN?
You don't have to have been around Hot Shots or Slow Burn Marketing very long to know we bang the gong for the F-word.
Focus! Focus! Focus!
Yes, we love us the focus.
And as an adjunct to brand focus, I have long been a proponent of the focus-driven restaurant model.
For me, one of the finest such brands is the long-lost Killer Shrimp in Los Angeles.
CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THEY SERVED?
You got it: Shrimp.
It came one of two ways: as peel & eat shrimp simmered in a secret blend of herbs and spices, or as peeled shrimp simmered in a secret blend of herbs and spices.
Every time I was at the location in Marina del Rey, it was packed.
But, as with so many legendary favorites, it eventually closed. It went on to become merely a legend.
But not before a good, long run.
Recently, the name was resurrected for a chain of restaurants with a broad menu that seems to be doing its best to hang on, despite having closed two of three locations.
And if you read the reviews, it sounds as if Killer Shrimp lost its specialness in an attempt to become more things to more people.
IT SOUNDS LIKE THE LACK OF FOCUS UNDID THEM
Yet, as a student of the restaurant business, looking at it from the outside as a marketing guy, I remain fascinated by the single-item menu model.
It streamlines operations.
It keeps away anyone but a customer interested in the one thing you serve.
And done properly, it can be a gold mine.
Which is why, when the website FastCasual.com reported on Yang's Braised Chicken Rice opening a store in Southern California, I was intrigued.
YOU'VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF YANG'S BRAISED CHICKEN RICE
This chain has 6,000 units.
And their average unit in China serves an average of 400,000 dishes daily.
Yes, according to Fast Casual's report, that is 400,000 dishes per location every day .
But despite a presence in China, Singapore, Japan and Australia, they've never had a store in the US.
This has been news in the industry press for some time.
But the actual restaurant hadn't been open--until now.
HERE NOW, THE GOOD
This menu is everything you could possibly want in a simplistic, streamlined model of operational efficiency.
They sell exactly one dish: Mr. Xiao Lu Yang's secret family recipe for Huang Men braised chicken and rice.
He learned how to cook at his grandmother's knee, and her recipe, tweaked over the years, is the one that he serves.
This dish has helped him skyrocket to fame, opening those 6,000 locations in just six years.
For a relative barometer, California-based Panda Express is 33 years old, and has almost 2,000 restaurants in the US, Puerto Rico, Guam, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates.
Opening 6,000 restaurants in six years, Yang's Braised Chicken And Rice has been busy.
FAST CASUAL CALLS THE CHAIN A "ONE-DISH WONDER"
They say that the secrets to "Yang's gangbusters success is his one-dish model and the high quality of its sauce."
Mr. Yang is quoted in the article as saying, "Our innovative single-item menu is rooted in tradition, with our braised chicken recipe passed down and perfected over the years."
Fast Casual goes on to say, "While other concepts often juggle complicated menus and offer a variety of choices, Yang focuses on one dish only. The only other thing on the menu is soft drinks."
Says Mr. Yang, "With a single menu item and consistency in ingredients, we were able to quickly scale up operations across China to meet rising demand."
And according to reports, Yang's single US location is relying Yang's original secret sauce, which is being imported directly from China.
SO YOU'D THINK IT WOULD BE A HIT, RIGHT?
It's a global phenomenon.
People love it!
It contains Mr. Yang's proprietary sauce with Grandma's magic touch.
The limited menu is designed specifically for ease of replication and quick scaling up.
How hard can it be to create a huge splash?
Just ask Yelp.
THE OPENING IN TUSTIN DEMONSTRATES DISCONNECT AND DISAPPOINTMENT
After a soft open that doesn't sound like it went all that well, Yang's officially opened its doors to the public on September 10.
People stood in enormous lines to come and sample the world famous Chinese braised chicken.
And they left disappointed.
Many didn't care for what they described as a simple dish exhibiting none of the savory delight that has been described in glowing media reports.
Some diners described a fatty, skin-laden dish that required cherry-picking the meat from the fatty, unappetizing bits.
But far and away, the biggest complaints were about the long wait for mediocre food, the lousy communication, and the rampant disappointment.
Maybe a Chinese location can serve 400,000 bowls of chicken and rice daily.
THE TUSTIN LOCATION HAS HAD A PROBLEM TURNING OUT 1/10,000 OF THAT QUANTITY
There have been reports of volume limited to 40 portions.
There have been rampant complaints about published hours not coinciding with actual hours.
There have been complaints about mystery reservations being required.
There have been complaints of standing in line for two hours only to be told there's no food left.
The impending opening of Yang's Braised Chicken was big news.
The reality of the opening of Yang's Braised Chicken has been disappointment and anger.
ONE OF THE WORST THINGS A BRAND CAN DO IS WASTE YOUR TIME
Especially in a business model that's all about efficiency, speed and scalability, you'd think that the place could be better than inefficient, creeping and unattainable.
It really is a mystery.
Opening this store was a big deal. As Mr. Yang himself said in the Fast Casual story, "Our main focus right now is the first U.S. store. We want to make sure that the flavor is right, the service is right, our guests' feedback has been heard and we can perfect this store."
Maybe it's because they're so far removed from their home base in China.
But when you have a business that obviously isn't ready to serve people, why would you go ahead with the open?
Yes, I admit that I have been a proponent of the Mark Zuckerberg aphorism that "Done is better than perfect."
But I'm equally a proponent of another aphorism: "You get only one chance to make a first impression."
DONE MIGHT BE BETTER THAN PERFECT, BUT INEPT IS A FAR CRY FROM GOOD ENOUGH
And that 2.5-star average rating currently on Yelp, and the word-of-mouth accompanying it, are all going to hurt Yang's Braised Chicken and Rice in Tustin far more than delaying the opening would have.
Interestingly, the Yang's brand is a big brand. It's huge in China and Down Under.
And it's a big brand that has a lot of drive from small-business owners.
A lot of the people who've opened Yang's franchises are customers who fell in love with the product.
Mr. Yang himself has said that his business has helped thousands of people realize a dream of owning a business and creating job opportunities.
It seems, though, that such dream and opportunity is going to be on hold in the US for a bit.
They need to get it squared away.
I am hopeful.
BRAND FOCUS IS GOOD--BUT YOU NEED TO BE SURE YOU'RE ALSO FOCUSING ON YOUR CUSTOMER
If you're not ready to launch, don't launch.
If you're not ready to serve, don't try.
If you're going to publish your hours, don't change them on the fly.
If you want an event to be big, be sure you're big enough to make it so.
Wasting your customers' time is going to create ill will.
And in an age of instant online vitriol, word of disappointment is going to spread quickly.
Yang's may be big enough to survive this initial failure.
Their focus is intense, and their resources are vast.
But most small business owners will not have such luxury.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.