Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Selling Lawn Ornaments, Fill Your Lawn with Ornaments

My wife took this picture while we were in western Illinois on vacation a few weeks ago. I had to do a few u-turns to get the perfect shot. It shows the sign in front of a business that sells lawn ornaments. But where are all the lawn ornaments?!

I commend the business for having a sign that is very easy to read. That's a big part of my first marketing must-have. But in this instance, the company owners need to fill their own lawn with tons of ornaments so we can see what they sell. Fill that thing with all the gnomes, birdbaths, orbs, fake flamingos, artificial deer, and metal art they can possible cram onto their lawn. They have the perfect opportunity to display their products in the exact way they are used.

The sign is fantastic. Just go one step further.

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Review the five marketing must-haves and ensure you're doing each one as well as possible before moving on to any other marketing tactics.

There's never a lack of ideas.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What’s the ROI of Sponsoring the Name of a Sports Stadium?

This should be named the
United Airlines Center
There's no easy answer to that question. Perhaps it doesn't even matter.

While there are a few published methods for calculating the brand value of buying the naming rights to a stadium (example), I'd argue that the decision to buy these rights is based more on emotions than any sort of rational return on investment calculation. It's much more likely that a CEO or CMO simply thinks their brand closely aligns with their local sports franchise and they want to see their name atop its stadium rather than a situation in which CEO or CMO estimates how much sales will increase as a result of their sponsorship.

Some research suggests much of the value from a stadium sponsorship actually comes in the included tickets a brand receives and can use to entertain its most important clients. So maybe those CEOs and CMOs really just want to go to events at the nearby stadium and they figure if they can also bring along some clients then in makes financial sense. And there's nothing wrong with that.

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The point of all of this is isn't to knock the business of stadium sponsorships — I happen to think there are a lot of stadium sponsorships that make a lot of sense. My point is to say that some decisions are based more on emotions than rational thoughts — even big, costly decisions. At the end of the day, executives and employees at Lucas Oil probably think it's really cool to see their name atop the Indianapolis Colts' stadium. They probably enjoy their luxury box for events in the stadium, too. And to them, that's worth a few million dollars a year. If you were trying to sell Lucas Oil on a "better" way to invest their money, there's probably not a rational argument you could make to change their mind. So why try?

There's never a lack of ideas.

I have always thought the most poorly named stadium is the United Center in Chicago. The stadium should be called the United Airlines Center, as I think many people who have never been to the stadium do not realize that the airline pays to sponsor the stadium and that it's not, in fact, named after a Kumbaya moment in which we are all united. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ultimate Warrior

Check out this picture. That's me all the way on the right. I was about eight years old and I was at my first World Wrestling Federation event with my cousin, dad, and uncles (left to right). Our faces are painted as the Ultimate Warrior, my favorite wrestler growing up.

I brought a sign to the event — I had a blast making it with my mom. There were a handful of other signs throughout the Rosemont Horizon, but none were as good as mine. The sign said, "The Macho Man is Not So Macho! The Warrior Rules!" I actually liked the Macho Man, but he was fighting the Ultimate Warrior so by default I was cheering against him that night.

I still remember the moment the Ultimate Warrior won the match. He climbed up the ropes like he always did, raised both arms in victory, and then he pointed right at us and gave us a thumbs up. He saw my sign. He saw our faces. And he appreciated it. We could tell.

I like to tell people that moment changed wrestling forever. It's what led to modern wrestling events in which practically every person brings a sign with them, hoping to get on tv. But there weren't any cameras at my first wrestling event — just us with our face paint and me with my sign. You could see our passion on our faces. And we started a movement that night.

Rest In Peace
The Ultimate Warrior passed away on April 8th. I was a little surprised at how sad that made me. But the more I think about it, the more I realize the sign I made for the Warrior was the first in a long line of signs I made and brought to sporting events. Thinking up ideas for creative signs and then drawing them up was something I loved doing with my mom, who is a very creative woman and a former art teacher. I think creating those signs contributed to my decision to pursue graphic design and marketing in college, and ultimately as a career.

I want to say thanks to the Ultimate Warrior for helping inspire my career. After he died, I asked my mom if she still had my Ultimate Warrior "Wrestling Buddy" doll. She did and she brought it to my house. I put it in my kids' playroom and we've been having fun with it ever since. The second picture here is a gif of my oldest son wrestling with my Wrestling Buddy.

I don't know what my kids will care about when they get older. But I hope that whatever it is, they have the confidence to tell the world about it — and maybe they'll paint it on their faces.

Rest in peace, Warrior. And thanks for the memories.

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If you'd like to make a gift in honor of the Ultimate Warrior, his family has asked that we support Operation Family Fund, a noble cause.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Perfect Invite to Harry Potter – Diagon Alley

Can't see the video? Click here.
See more photos here

Today is opening day at Universal Studio's new theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. I don't understand why this isn't a national holiday! While I'm sad I'm not there today, I know I'll get there soon. And I'm still coming off the high of doing this just a few months ago.

To promote the opening of the new park, Universal invited members of the media to an exclusive preview event a few weeks ago. A friend of mine scored an invite and she was kind enough to give me the invitation she received. Check it out in the video and photos. My friend was sad she couldn't make the event (and so was I!), but at least we have the cool invitation to drool over.

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Grand opening events are huge for generating word of mouth and PR. If you're going to have an event like this, go big. This invitation is the perfect example of getting the details perfect. Everything is just right, down to the heavy bar of "gold" from Gringotts.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas

PS Special thanks to Becky Thalmann for giving me the invitation.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hops for Flops: An Ad Campaign Idea for a Beer Brewer

Image from Wired.
A beer maker needs to create an ad campaign making fun of the worst part of soccer: the flops. Flopping has become an epidemic, rendering some games almost unwatchable. The Wall Street Journal even published an article (premium) analyzing the worst offenders so far in the 2014 World Cup. From the article: "During the first 32 games [of the World Cup], there were 302 players who could be seen at some point rolling around in pain, crumpling into a fetal position or lying lifeless on the pitch as the referee stopped the match."

There are two ways to make the flopping more bearable, and both could be combined into a great ad campaign for a beer maker. Let's call it "Hops for Flops."

  1. Turn all of the soccer flops into a drinking game. Buy your favorite brew and take a drink of your hops with every flop.
  2. What if flopping extended beyond soccer and into peoples' every day lives? Wouldn't that be ridiculous? I can see the ad campaign now:

    A guy spills a tiny bit of water near the water cooler and his friend slips and falls, clutching his ankle and writhing in pain. His friends yell, "Hops for Flops!" and they take a drink.

    A carpenter gets a small sliver in his thumb while working and then drops to the ground, crying out to a referee who doesn't exist. Several fellow workers haul him off on a stretcher while others at the construction site raise a beer and yell, "Hops for Flops!"

    The final example is one in which someone really gets hurt. Maybe a car backs over a woman's foot and she falls to the floor. But her friends think she's just faking it so they yell, "Hops for Flops!" and take a drink.
If the beer maker opened this campaign up to user-generated submissions, it could become something shared by millions of people. So which beer maker will seize this opportunity and run with it? I'm looking at Budweiser first because it's the official beer of the World Cup. But any beer maker could do it. Take the idea and run with it if you'd like.

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How would you flop for some hops? Would you get a paper cut and start to cry? Would you get pinched by a baby and hit the deck? I'd love your ideas.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Deep Inside the Shark Tank: 6 Questions with Kodiak Cakes

I love ABC's hit show Shark Tank. I also love making pancakes with Kodiak Cake mix because it's all-natural, made of whole grains, and tastes great. Imagine my surprise last month when Joel and Cameron from Kodiak Cakes walked onto Shark Tank and pitched the Sharks on investing in their business. I was thrilled!

Naturally, I had to track down Joel and Cameron and see if they'd share some insight into preparing for Shark Tank and what has happened since appearing on the show. Luckily for me, they were willing to jump on the phone for an interview. All Shark Tank fans are sure to enjoy this rare glimpse inside the minds of two people who stood in front of the Sharks and lived to tell their story.

President Joel and VP of Sales Cameron were seeking $500,000 for a 10% of their business. Ultimately, they chose not to make a deal with the Sharks.  Thank goodness. Here's their story:

  1. Tell us how you prepared for your time on Shark Tank.
    We prepared so much that it would be difficult to add up all the hours. From the time we heard in May 2013 that we'd be on the show to the time the show taped the next month, we prepared two to three times per day for the one-minute pitch.

    We even had a PR firm in Utah host us for a practice pitch ahead of time. The PR firm employees acted like the Sharks on Shark Tanks.

    We flew out to do the show on a Saturday. We pre-pitched on Sunday. The taping was on Wednesday and in the time between Sunday and Wednesday, we constantly hammered each other with questions that could come up. We felt very prepared going into the Tank.

  2. What didn't we see in your clip on the show?
    Joel: I actually got choked up at one point during the pitch. The producers encouraged us to tell personal stories and I told one about how I don't ever give up. In high school, I was kicked off the football team because my grades were so bad. I ended up turning things around and getting a college scholarship. So I know how to overcome adversity and I know how to stick with things until the end. I could feel my face looking a little weird while I was telling the Sharks my story, and I was worried they might edit the show to include that part and make me look bad, but I was happy that they didn't do that.

    Cameron: I told the story of my first Kodiak Cakes business trip by myself. At first, I was working with small gift shops and I asked Joel if I could step up to bigger accounts. I called Target and they agreed to meet with me. Joel couldn't come with me, so I went all by myself and landed a deal with them. I told the Sharks that we're just blazing trails on our own.  All of that was cut from the show, too.
  3. What would you have done differently in your appearance on Shark Tank?
    We received a counter offer for 15% equity, which wasn't shown on tv. We wish we had played more to the tv show aspect of things. Maybe we should have played the game a bit more.

    We remember thinking that the Sharks' initial offers were so low that we just wanted to leave. But maybe we could have negotiated a little more. Maybe we could have fought harder to justify our valuation. Maybe we should have walked out of the room and discussed the Sharks' offer. But you know how that can go.

    No single question in the Tank took us by surprise. But everything happened very fast. Three Sharks would ask questions at the same time and was tough to respond before more questions came our way.
  4. I loved the story of how you initially sold pancake mix out of your wagon as a kid. Do you have any plans to incorporate this story into your product marketing or packaging?
    Joel: While we contemplated having my 8-year old son Richie wheel a wagon full of Kodiak Cake mixes into our Shark Tank pitch, we ultimately decided against it. We haven't incorporated the wagon story into our communication strategy yet because we've been focusing on building the Kodiak brand. We haven't talked much about how the company started as a tiny business, but that's certainly an opportunity for us.

  5. What has happened since your appearance on the Shark Tank?
    The show's impact was much bigger than we expected. While the show focused on the fact that our products are in Target, they are in many other stores, too. But after the show, people clearly remembered they could get our products at Target. In the two days after the show, we sold 13 times more at Target than we normally do in a week and Targets across the country sold out of our products. We saw a lot of pictures on social media of empty shelves where our products normally sat.

    We had to scramble to produce more products and ship them to all of our Target stores. We've sent at least four shipments to Target since the show aired.

    Our website also crashed immediately after the show aired. We moved to our own dedicated server to fix that problem but that crashed, too. Luckily, we've resolved those issues now.

    We currently have products in 7,000 grocery stores and we are the number one selling whole-grain pancake mix in the US.

    A lot of grocery store buyers we work with saw us on Shark Tank and are really excited. 10-12 legitimate investors have reached out to us and none of them were our competitors.

  6. What's next?
    We just launched Power Cakes, a high protein pancake mix. Our first priority is to expand the pancake mix business. Our new product is rolling out in Target stores this month. We trademarked the name two years ago, and after a successful test in Northwestern Costcos, we're ready to take the brand national. We are also contemplating oatmeal and granola. We continue to grow very quickly.
Thanks to Joel and Cameron for spending time with me and sharing about their time on Shark Tank. 

There's never a lack of ideas.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

An Open Letter to the Next Owner of Portillo's

Portillo's is a terrific fast casual restaurant chain predominantly in the Chicagoland area. It's a true Chicago original, famous for its hot dogs, Italian beef, and chocolate cake. And it's reportedly for sale.

Since I don't have a spare hundred million dollars lying around to make a bid, I'd like to share a few big ideas for the next owner on how to take Portillo's to the next level. I spent three summer and winter breaks from school working at my local Portillo's. I loved working there and I still love eating there.

So to the next owner of Portillo Restaurant Group: here are three big ideas for you. We should chat sometime soon:
  1. Expand to Illinois' biggest college towns.
    Portillo's is extremely popular among young people — especially high school students. And 33 out of 38 Portillo's restaurants are in the Chicagoland area. Yet, Portillo's doesn't have a single restaurant in Illinois college towns like Urbana-Champaign, Carbondale, or Normal. That's where most Chicagoland high school students go after graduation, so this is a no-brainer.

  2. Bring the chocolate cake to grocery store aisles.
    Ask anyone in the Chicagoland area where to get the best chocolate cake, and I'll bet the majority says Portillo's. "Portillo's Famous Chocolate Cake" is a best-seller at the restaurant because it tastes so darn good. It's time to expand distribution to grocery stores and extend the product line by creating cupcakes, brownies, and other chocolate goodies.

  3. Franchise.
    Dick Portillo owns and operates every one of his restaurants. This has enabled him to maintain his high standards over time. But it has also limited his growth opportunities. It's time to place bets in some highly qualified franchisees and take this business across the country. Franchising has been done well by many restaurant brands and Portillo's is the next great franchise opportunity.
I have several other ideas for you, new owner. Send me an email and let's chat.

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What advice would you give to the next owner of Portillo's? Where am I wrong? Where am I right?

There's never a lack of ideas.