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.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Perfect Souvenir for a Harry Potter Fan


My sister and I just visited the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour outside of London and we came back with the greatest souvenir these two Harry Potter fans could ever own: videos of ourselves flying on brooms, just like in the Harry Potter books and movies.

YES!!!!

Enjoy the video above. I've shown it to my wife and kids many, many times. It's time you saw it, too.

As a marketer, I love this souvenir because it's something that visitors will take and show to people after their trip. Maybe you didn't even know that Warner Brothers kept two of its Harry Potter studios open after filming ended and that you can now tour them if you can get to Watford, England. But now you do, and that's because I've shared this video with you.

I paid for a copy of this video and now I'm telling all my friends about the studio. Incredible. And this souvenir is so much better than just a t-shirt; it shows my friends exactly what they'll get to do if they visit for themselves. 

As a Harry Potter fan, I love this souvenir because it captured a wonderful experience that I could only have at the studio. Plus, it's fun to show people the video because my acting is clearly worthy of an Academy Award. It's almost like I had been preparing for this day for a long time, just in case the opportunity to ride a broom ever came up, don't you think? 

Perhaps I Inspired This Idea 
Five years ago, after visiting a Harry Potter exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, I wrote that the gift shop should have sold me a moving picture of myself and friends, in costumes, just like the books and movies reference. Maybe — just maybe — that thought inspired the flying broom souvenir experience that now exists in Watford.

Or maybe, not. But it's fun to think about.

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How can you send your customers home from your business with something they'll want to show all their friends? Give them an experience worth sharing and then give them an easy way to share about it. Of course, that's a lot easier said than done.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is it Time for RadioShack to Change Its Name?

What's the first thing you think of when you hear "RadioShack?" If you're like me, words like irrelevant and old come to mind.

So is it time for RadioShack to take the nuclear route of changing its name? Well, maybe. Certainly its name is not its only problem. But perhaps consumers just can't get past the outdated name and look any further into what the company is all about. I know I can't. And what was once a thriving business is now struggling to find ways to grow.

One Final Attempt
I admired RadioShack's attempt at making fun of itself in its SuperBowl ad this year. But that single effort isn't enough. It may be time to start from scratch and build a new brand.

Other Examples
If history has taught us anything, RadioShack could take a few different paths:
  • It could change its name and thrive. After its involvement in the Enron scandal in 2001, Arthur Andersen changed its name to Accenture and has done very well. Similarly, in 2003, cigarette maker Philip Morris changed its name to Altria Group and has done well since.  A new name doesn't solve everything, but could it help turn RadioShack around?
  • It could keep its name and thrive. Xerox was traditionally known as the company that made photocopiers, but it has completely changed its brand image over the past years. So has IBM. Could RadioShack do the same?
Up Next
RadioShack isn't the only brand that may need a new name. I think Blackberry is approaching the point of no return, too.  Many people associate the brand name with an outdated phone. While some think highly of the brand as a maker of secure devices, that may not be enough to sustain the company. In the next few years, we should know if the company can turn things around. If not, it may be time for a new name.

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Should RadioShack change its name? Should Blackberry? What other companies or products could use a new name to kick-start growth? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Happy Fifth Birthday to My Blog

Somehow, some way, I've managed to keep this blog going for five years. I've moved twice, changed jobs, completed grad school, published a book, and had two kids during that time. Thank you to all who have supported me, shared my writing, and contributed ideas throughout these years. I couldn't have done this without you.

My Favorite Posts
In an annual tradition, I'd like to highlight my favorite posts from the past year. Check them out:
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Enjoy my favorite posts!

There's Never a Lack of Ideas