RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the social media & marketing agency that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service."

7.5 Surefire Ways to Drive Brand Hatred


Note: Found this cartoon after I wrote my post.

Recognizing that brands have sabotaged themselves since the days of Noah via a host of slowly eroding sins, the purpose of this article is to put the spotlight on the flash faux pas that instantaneously dissolve loyalty and ignite brand hatred. This hatred, often expressed with the exclamatory #EpicFail on social media, is typically motivated by one of the following sinful ineptitudes. Some of these might seem laughable unless, of course, they happen to you.

1. Sloth: “We care about you–your call will be answered in 600 minutes.”
Ignore me at your own risk.  I am not just one customer any more.  I am me AND my social media-empowered army of friends and associates.  Make us wait longer than we think we deserve at your bar or store or so-called hotline and our wrath will be heard faster than you can say, “may I help you.”  68% of us will leave and never comeback, but that’s just a fraction of your problem.  A mighty minority of us will attack you like ninjas on Yelp or TripAdvisor or some other rating service leaving a lingering trail of forewarning rage.  Yes, be afraid of sloth.

2. Avarice: “What exactly do you mean your service doesn’t work as expected?”
This one is as easy as 1-2-3. 1: Over promise. 2: Under-deliver. 3: Duck and cover.  I think I’m safe in saying that everyone hates feeling they’ve been ripped off.  This is less about the feeling that you paid too much for something.  Sure that hurts, but that’s usually on us for not doing our homework.  No, this is paying for what you think is a premium service only to find out it’s unreliable or doesn’t perform as advertised.  That tactic will guarantee recognition, however, on the list of the Most Hated Companies in America!

3. Wrath: “You’re pissed off? How do you think I feel?”
Chances are I wouldn’t last five minutes on a customer service desk especially when the 4th boneheaded caller/yeller in a row refuses to realize that his miniscule problem is, in fact, a user caused error.  Be that as it may, shouting back at your disgruntled customers in person, on the phone, or online is a shortcut up “Schlitz” creek without the proverbial paddle.  Just ask the folks at Amy’s Baking Company how their epic tirade on Facebook worked out (hint: not so well).  Even in the face of “wait until you hear this one” user incompetence, customer service interactions need to start with a bit of empathy AND be driven by the sincere goal of turning each and every detractor into a brand promoter.

4. Gluttony: “We’re so happy you’re our customer. Want fries with that?”
We get it.  Just about every business wants to sell more products especially to its existing customers.  And reaching out to your existing customers in person, via email, direct mail or phone can be beneficial to both parties, especially if the interaction coincides with a need cycle.  But there’s a line here where enough is way more than enough. It’s a line that once crossed, replaces receptivity with fervent animosity followed by a vitriolic tweet decrying the 13th contact by Brand X that particular week.

5. Pride: “Honestly, we’re too busy right now to care about your little problem.”
The flip side of overselling is acting disinterested.  This is especially the case in social media when brands have a presence but consciously or unconsciously ignore relevant conversations.  To label this behavior prideful may be a stretch, though it does send a message that the brand simply can’t be bothered to converse with the hoi polloi.  The big risk here is that you could unwittingly ignore a customer with influence; who responds by turning your cold shoulder into a hot topic.

6. Lust: “Nice to see you again Mr. Jones. You there, get back in line.”
Showing preference for one type of customer over another is tricky business. Airline reward programs come with a sense of fairness: Fly more and enjoy clearly defined perks. But treat one customer better or worse because of who they are and you’re begging for animosity. For example, the cable company that breaks protocol to respond faster to an outage at a celebrity’s house is likely to get an earful from the regular (and ignored) guy around the corner. The extreme case here is when Chick-fil-a’s CEO expressed preference for “traditional” families, generating a firestorm of brand hatred.

7. Envy: “Did I mention, we’re just like Apple only…”
Perhaps this has happened to you.  You’re shopping for something and the sales person says, “This is just like the leading brand, only many dollars cheaper.”  So you buy it, head home, and open the box only to discover that instead of saving money you wasted it on an inferior product.  Yeah, that pisses me off big time, especially since it’s so avoidable.  It’s okay to make cheaper products (in fact, thanks for giving us choices) as long as you manage our expectations and don’t pretend to be something you aren’t.

7½. Control: “Press 0 as many times as you want, there are no humans here.”
Want to see unadulterated ire? Piece of cake–just make your customers feel helpless. For example, don’t bother telling the passengers in the terminal that their plane is delayed until an hour after its obvious and too late for them to do anything about it.  Or don’t offer a digital support center that empowers your customers to make adjustments to their accounts at any hour of the day from any device.  Or, my favorite, remove the hit “0” option from your customer service phone tree, setting up the opportunity for fruitless loops of avoidable anger.

Final Note: There is a silver lining within all this talk of hate and sin.  Customers that express brand hatred are a bit like the friend that tells you about the spinach in your teeth.  It’s embarrassing for sure but not as bad as the real enemy here—indifference. Vocally angry customers are creating the opportunity for you to address their issues. You just need to be listening and then try to remedy the situation.  Indifferent consumers are quietly unsalvageable.


Negative Ads: Politics versus Products


lincoln_attack_adv_web_copyOvertly negative advertising in which one brand attacks another has always seemed to me to be a failure of imagination. Truly creative people can find a way of telling a brand story without having to punch a competing product in the face.  I’m not saying that a challenger brand with an offering that is superior to the leading brand shouldn’t tout such facts, I’m just saying that in most cases they can do so without naming names.

Jeffrey Katz, a freelancer journalist, recently asked me why this was not the case for political campaigns which are often dominated by negative advertising.  Katz’s story does a great job explaining the fallout of such negativity while featuring some quotes from yours truly on the fundamental differences between political campaigns and product marketing. Here for your reading pleasure is our entire interview:

Katz: My fundamental question is if negative ads are generally (though not entirely) effective in the political realm, why are they avoided when selling goods and services?

Neisser: Let’s start with the fundamental difference between political campaigns and product campaigns. Political campaigns are zero sum gain battles in which there is only won winner. Political campaigns are also finite in that there is a voting day deadline so the pressure to be victorious shapes their approach. Thus politicians are willing to risk going negative even though it brings down the image of their category and this is just one of the many reasons consumers don’t trust politicians. There is a desperate urgency to political campaigns that often forces politicians to go negative and attack their opponents. Interestingly, most political campaigns start with positive ads to establish the candidates credibility and likeableness. The negative/attack ads start when one or the other candidate believes its the only way to make up lost ground and/or when they believe their bone fides have been sufficient established.

Conversely, product campaigns can result in category growth and rarely have deadlines (new movie releases being a notable exception). For example, when JetBlue started flying to Buffalo, NY from NYC and advertising that fact, they didn’t need to go negative against a competing airline like US Air since it turned out JetBlue could dramatically increase the number of passengers flying this route thus helping the category. It wasn’t JetBlue versus US Air, it was JetBlue to Buffalo versus other destinations and forms of transportation.

Also, product campaigns always have a different way of going negative by focusing on a problem that their product & category solves rather than having to single out a direct competitor. Keeping with the transportation analogies, Amtrak can campaign against air travel and all the hassles of getting to/from faraway airports.

Katz: In other words, why are brand fights “rarely positive for either brand,” as you put it, when that’s not generally true in politics?

Neisser: It’s really a question of efficacy and marketshare. On the efficacy front, if overtly competitive ad campaigns for products worked as a rule, then more would consider this approach. Leading brands have nothing to gain by picking on a direct [smaller] competitor so they are more likely to focus on growing their category. Second tiers brands are the ones that are more likely to consider overtly competitive ads. These folks have lots of options in terms of their approaches, a classic being “compared to the leading brand” without actually naming that brand. The risk of going negative for products is that consumers will associate your brand with negativity, the very opposite of the desired result. That’s why a brand like Pepsi will use a tongue in cheek approach versus an overtly negative approach when doing competitive ads versus Coke.

Katz: Are those who sell products and services more respectful of their industry than politicians tend to be of theirs?

Neisser: Not necessarily. If product managers thought overtly competitive advertising worked many more would undoubtedly make this choice.

Katz: Do consumers feel that choosing among candidates is an inherently different process than other choices they make when responding to advertising and marketing?

Yes. Selecting a candidate for office is a more of a considered “purchase” decision then say buying a plane ticket. Brand decisions can be corrected more easily than political decisions. Have a bad flight experience you can simply avoid that airline the next time you fly. Make a bad political choice and you live with the result for a minimum of two years but more often generations given the advantages of incumbency.

Q+A on Niche Social Networks w Gerry Regan


wild_geese_logo_betaGerry Regan, Co-Founder & Executive Producer of  The Wild Geese, was kind enough to not only join a panel on social media for Duke Alums earlier this summer but also to recap some of his observations in the Q+A below.  As you will soon discover Gerry brings a world of experience to his latest venture, a relatively new social network dedicated to the all things Irish.  (Side note: As a social media practitioner, I’m rooting for niche networks like The Wild Geese with the hope they can provide engagement opportunities beyond those currently offered on Facebook and Twitter). And with that bit of cheerleading, here’s Gerry:

Drew:  How did your end up in social media and what are your principal responsibilities?
I found my way into social media through my work as a journalist. After pursuing acting in Durham for a time after my Duke graduation, somewhat half-heartedly, and sampling other pursuits,  I decided to focus on journalism, and received a masters degree toward that end from NYU in 1985. I then worked for several years for Gannett Westchester Newspapers, was let go, and then joined the news team at Prodigy, with AOL a sort of proto-Web. From there I made my way to Newsday Direct, Newsday’s first foray into digital media and the forerunner of It was at that point, in 1996 or thereabouts, that a colleague at Newsday introduced us to HTML and promised us that, together with the burgeoning Internet, these technologies would revolutionize our work.

So in 1997, Joe Gannon, Micah Chandler and I, all three friends, devotees of history and fellow Civil War re-enactors, created, what we anticipated becoming the first of a series of websites designed to facilitate exploring the history that we relished. In the case of The Wild Geese, the focus was the dramatic history of the Ireland and the Irish diaspora. We hadn’t much understanding of how to sustain our efforts as a business, but thought we could figure that out as we went along. We kept our day jobs, though, and kept working on The Wild Geese, using our hand-coded website right till March 2013, when we determined that sustaining a social network held much greater chance for our success than our homespun online magazine. Plus, we saw great value in this opportunity to vastly multiply the voices we could thus bring into the conversations there. Hence, we re-launched The Wild Geese as the only social network focused on exploring and celebrating the epic heritage of the Irish worldwide.

My principal responsibilities these days are crafting and implementing a sustainable revenue model, a pursuit that engages me in building our team, researching digital marketing’s promise and capabilities, exploring our target market’s needs and wants and how to utilize both our team’s passion and technology to cost-effectively deliver on these. I also handle the bookkeeping; write the checks (I’m self-financed for now); write articles (occasionally); suggest and help implement content, community and marketing initiatives; sit in and often lead team meetings; and identify and assign spheres of responsibility, all in an effort to forge a foundation for our mission that will allow us to grow and prosper for years to come.

Drew:  What role if any did Duke prepare you for your future career?
I came to Duke as a world-class introvert, and dreaded public speaking and writing papers, and Duke certainly gave me plenty of opportunities to overcome those phobias. In fact, I chose to major in physics, all in an effort to steer clear of public speaking and paper-writing. When I headed off to Dublin for my third undergraduate year, though, I decided to pursue Irish and British history, along with physics. It was at Trinity College Dublin that I found my metier, discovering that though my perfectionism led to an aversion to writing, when I handed in research papers, I found them hugely satisfying. The storyteller in me emerged, as well as my passion for history and Irish culture. These all have stayed with me. During my final year at Duke, I joined Duke Players and studied public speaking, both, in prospect, very intimidating. But I particularly enjoyed acting and the bon homie it provided. So Duke essentially provided me two things, a vehicle for personal growth and a springboard for professional advancement, even though it took me quite a few years to understand that.

Drew:  You’ve built a very interesting niche business.  How many “members” do you have in your network now and how big would you like to see it?  What do you think it will take to get there?
We’re not a business yet, Drew, in that we’re far from profitable. I think we may need a year or even two to reach that point. We are closing in on 2,300 members, garnered in our 17 months as a network, with very little marketing spend to date. We understand that needs to change, and will. though. We need to grow dramatically if we are to achieve sustainability. We are about to launch our first marketing campaign, with the help of Facebook, and expect within a year to have close to 8,000 members and garner nearly half-a-million page views each month, an eight-fold increase. The page views are really more vital to our sustainability, at least in the short term, than the membership count. We believe that with this marketing thrust, and bringing additional revenue streams into line, such as premium memberships and innovative sponsorships, we have a shot at creating a viable business, and, to us, equally importantly, one that promotes and supports Irish culture ‘wherever green is worn.’

Drew: What are the advantages to potential marketing partners to working with The Wild Geese site?
We believe there is an underserved niche in the cultural space, and particularly in the realm of Irish culture, a space we know increasingly well. Small marketers have limited and cost-effective choices. These options include, most notably, Facebook and Google, but these platforms, while easily managed, lack one ingredient we feel is vital — the human touch. We believe that an engaged, dynamic community of potentially tens of thousands of cultural devotees around the globe affords a ready-made audience for purveyors of Irish culture, for artists, artisans, ‘solopreneurs’ cultural institutions, and businesses large and small who can and do support our members’ passions for exploring the Irish experience worldwide. Using the growing technological and human connections that we aim on our mission has powerful appeal, we’re learning, appeal that provides both reach and the personal touch that the mass social media seem to have no interest in providing. Ultimately, we believe we’re offering members — and marketers — a chance to claim and / or support this passion for their own, to in effect ‘get a piece of the rock.’ Connecting our growing membership with hundreds of Irish marketers in direct and personal ways we believe represents a distinct differential advantage in this space.

Drew: What’s the most exciting part about working at your company right now?
Most exciting to me is seeing our team step up and meet our day-to-day challenges, my work in helping forge this team, and seeing it respond to direction and innovate solutions to our challenges. And seeing The Wild Geese’s influence, along with our reach and revenue, grow!

Drew: Talk a little about your own involvement in social media.  How active are you and on what channels?
I use Facebook to communicate with friends and colleagues, and LinkedIn as a professional resource. I tend to limit my Facebook circle to people I either know or whom I’ve met or at least spoken to. Other colleagues and other networkers I steer to LinkedIn (or The Wild Geese). We auto post to Twitter from our Facebook page, so there’s quite a lot of Irish chatter on it that I don’t personally create. I am beginning to appreciate the potential of Twitter, though, as a fascinating real-time news roundup, and may use it more frequently in the months ahead. I’ve used Google+ least of all, but am finding that Google Hangouts are an increasingly important platform for multimedia content for us, so we’re using Google more and more, both for the Hangouts and for chat and talk. It’s become easier and more common for us to post for WG in Google+. I don’t use Google+ for personal use, at least not yet.

Drew: Relative to the other Dukies on the panel, you and I are on the “seasoned” side of our careers.  Do you encounter “agism” when presenting The Wild Geese to younger social media professionals?  Can you speak to the advantages of having more work experience when working in social media?
I’m not aware of age-ism, LOL, perhaps because I never act my age. I don’t have the technical grasp of social media that seems prevalent among our younger peers, and perhaps that’s a plus. I like to operate on a need-to-know basis, which helps keep me better-focused and my life simpler. I understand my limits, but won’t let a disinclination to reach out to those who can and want to help be one of those. These ‘whippersnappers’ inspire in me a sense that with technology (and passion) everything is possible. Drew, when you say ‘more work experience’ do you mean outside of social media? I’ll presume you do. I majored in mathematics at Duke, though  through my years as an undergrad I really found my passion in history and storytelling. I like the approach I stumbled into, that of learning how to think and problem solve as an undergrad, and then pursuing softer sciences and interests later. After all, if one wants to learn a trade, why spend tens of thousands of dollars. I find there’s real power in focusing on what I have in front of me — the challenges and the resources — and looking back for lessons, but not ‘staring’ back. After all, we each have but ‘one day at a time’ to move forward with our dreams and ambitions, no more and no less.

Drew: Finally, how important do you think it is for our peers to be active in social media?  What are they missing if anything?
The average age of a member of The Wild Geese is now 54, and I find that both gratifying and amazing, that is to see how these boomers are increasingly finding their way into not only The Wild Geese, but also Facebook, which is clearly pacing the trend. We have members in their 80s, a few of whom complain that they are having trouble figuring out how our platform works, but, Drew, it’s the individuals who complain that we relish, it’s those who walk away without a word or with a bad word or two to others that we fear. I’m not sure boomers ARE, in fact, missing anything — I sense they are joining the social media revolution in increasing numbers. In the case of The Wild Geese, it would seem many are only waiting for a reason to join. For us at The Wild Geese, that would be ‘coming home’ to our Irish roots,  the satisfaction of looking back, getting answers about our past and our ancestry, and saying, yea, we’ve got a few years on us, and what a journey it continues to be!

Q+A on Social Media w Susan Hammes, American Express


Every once in a while one’s past and present collide in fun and unexpected ways.  Such was the case when several Duke alums gathered for a conversation on social media in front of a crowd of about 150 fellow Dukies.  With the ambitious title, “Like it Or Not: The Pervasive Influence of Social Media,” representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, The Wild Geese and American Express faced the challenge of connecting their time at Duke with their current careers along with the more daunting task of dealing with yours truly as their moderator.  Happily, it turned out to be a vibrant, informative and thought provoking conversation that concluded with an extensive audience Q+A.

susan_hammes_AMEX_MR48407-008Since many more people wanted to attend than the space allowed, I thought follow up interviews with the panelists would be of interest (to at least some of you). First up is Susan Hammes, Vice President, Digital Brand & Social Media Development at American Express. Susan has been in the middle of some truly noteworthy social campaigns at AmEx, a company that in my humble opinion leads the way in social & content marketing (as you’ve read about before on this blog — see interview with AmEx CMO John Hayes).

Drew: How did your end up in working in social media in content marketing?
Started working at traditional Advertising Agencies and over time discovered a passion for digital marketing.  In particular, I’ve always been passionate about finding right person, right message, right context, something that is critically important to social media and content marketing.

Drew: What role if any did Duke prepare you for your future career?
Duke taught me the importance of curiosity, empathy, and passion – the three keys for just about any career, but particularly essential in marketing.  Duke also taught me importance of working hard and playing hard.  These are ingredients that are necessary as a marketing professional.

Drew: What program or programs that you’ve touched at AmEx are you particularly proud of?
Most recently, I worked on a social content program called #PassionProject.  This was a program designed to put the customer at the center and provide them with a tools to help them realize their dreams.  I’m particularly proud of this as not only did it far exceed our business objectives, we also truly impacted the lives of the participants of the programs.  I regularly received notes from the participants that said we had changed their lives – given them the tools, the compass, and confidence to take their passions to the next level.

Drew: What’s the most exciting part about working in SM/Content marketing right now?
The ability to forge a new path forward and to use technology to create stories and experiences for people.

Drew: What’s the most frustrating part?
Measurement.. and not having enough time to experiment and learn all the things we need to learn.

Drew: Do you see a future for “organic” social media (vs. paid) and if so, what does that look like?
Yes. Influencer marketing and Social influencer marketing will continue to be a critical role.  However, like the past, paid social will continue to play a huge rule (although it will continue to evolve as the platforms and users shift their social platforms to an ever broader set of platforms).

Drew: Zeroing in on content, what are some tips you can provide to others about creating successful programs? Feel free to provide pitfalls as well.
Customer First is the most important aspect.  It is critical that you start with what the customer is looking for – which is to be entertained, informed, inspired.

Identify the emotion that you want to elicit.

And finally, ensure that if you’re doing branded content- that there is a clear and authentic role or enablement role for the brand/product.

Pitfall – don’t think that content will just be discovered- need to think through the owned/earned/paid ecosystem of distribution to help the content be searched/discovered.

Drew: Finally, how import do you think it is for marketers to be active in social media themselves?
It is critical that marketers use and follow social media – this is to understand your consumer.

10 Refreshingly Useful Ideas That Also Sell Wine & Beer


In the world of wine and beer marketing, sexy, clever and or entertaining ads are the headline grabbers. The purpose of this article is to reveal another framework in which the promotional activity of these beverages also provides intrinsic value—an approach we Renegades call “Marketing as Service.” Here are 10 refreshing examples that hopefully will inspire you to bring more utility to your marketing regardless of the product category. (FYI–if this article seems familiar, then you read it first on

Packaging that does more than pop

1. Nothing says, “drink me now” like a wine bottle that also doubles as a glass.  Caps off to the folks at Copa Divino or making a re-sealable container called The Copa Glass. Zipz Wine is taking a similarly picnic chic approach and is now available in six-cup-packs at major ballparks.

Copa Glass

2. Heineken has found a way to help its fans light up the night, literally, with its prototype “Ignite” bottles that respond to toasting, drinking and even pulsing music at coolly dim events, the first of which was the Milan Design Fair.

Heineken lights up

Heineken Ignite bottle

3. In a bid to attract millennials away from cocktails and craft beers, Uproot Wines is trying a whole new type of labeling system that describes its “Flavor Palette” with a color coded guides versus traditional grape-type descriptors.

Encouraging social and antisocial media behavior

4.Brazil’s AmBev offered Rio carnival partiers a free train ride home simply by scanning their Antarctica beer and then handing in the can at a specially designed turnstile, simultaneously limiting drunk driving and freeing the grounds from the usual post-revelry rubbish piles. What’s not to love?

5. New Castle Brown, a brand distinguished by ads with attitude, brought its tongue in cheeky approach to Twitter, offering $1 for its first 50,000 followers. While one buck won’t buy brand love, it does start the conversation, one that New Castle can continue online and offline with its new address book (the checks are sent by mail!).

Camera blocker

Norte photo blocker

6. Norte beer recognized that every night out need not be recorded for posterity and thusly created a beer cooler that doubles as a Photoblocker , providing both utility and distinctive on-premise signage.

7. Another clever brand, Sol beer set up a recycling bin for neck ties next to the ones for paper & cans at commuter stations, offering a free beer to anyone who got into the spirit, which I guess we could call “tying one off.”


Tie recycle bin

Sol Tie Recycling Bin

Inspiring online, offline and mobile

8. From the savvy folks who created a Book of World Records as a means of inspiring fun pub conversations, comes the Guinness pub finder app, which is another quintessential example of Marketing as Service. The app does exactly what you’d expect helping even Android users find the nearest pints of their beloved Irish dry stout.

9. At a music festival in South Africa, beer sponsor Windhoek delighted attendees by enabling them to order a free beer via their smartphones, which was then promptly delivered via specially designed drones to their GPS-identified location. Now that’s service with a smile.

Beer drone

10. Surrounding brand marketers are a number of apps designed to help connect consumers with the right place or product. The offers a personalized wine finder based on your preferences while the TapHunter helps you locate the nearest Craft Beer venue.

Final Note: Admittedly some of these ideas seem more like PR-chasing stunts than genuine efforts to deliver a service of value but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.  For more thought-provoking ideas, join me for a panel discussion on innovative marketing at the upcoming Wine/Beer Technology Symposium in Napa on June 30th.

Q + A on Relaunching Brands w Kyle Schlegel, CMO of Louisville Slugger


kyle schlegel

Relaunching an old and established brand is tricky business.  There’s always the risk that you will alienate your long-time customers as you try to appeal to appeal to a new generation of potential buyers. Knowing this, the marketing team at Hillerich & Bradsby Co. (the parent of Louisville Slugger) decided that rather than steer away from the brand’s illustrious past, they would embrace it while finding fresh ways to engage a new generation of consumers. Coming from Procter & Gamble, H&B’s new CMO Kyle Schlegel had to figure out how to put this plan into effect despite working with a modest budget (by P&G standards) and an entirely different corporate structure.

In the interview below, you will learn how Schlegel and the H&B team revitalized the Louisville Slugger brand by taking a “grass roots” approach, listening to their customers and engaging consistently in social media.  You will also quickly understand why Schlegel was voted a Rising Star at last year’s CMO Awards.

Drew: You face a similar challenge with the Louisville Slugger brand that you faced with Old Spice: younger, “hipper” brands are infringing on your market share. What do you think Old Spice did in terms of marketing that made its resurgence so successful and how do you plan to apply those same lessons to Louisville Slugger?

On Old Spice, the team realized three critical dynamics to the future success of the brand.   The future of the brand had to be rooted in its past in some way, it wasn’t going to happen overnight. We also had to be comfortable with a generation of consumers that may have been lost and focus instead on the entry point consumer that would be the lifeblood of the brand for decades to come.  In restaging the brand around 2000, we explored the full history of the brand and worked closely with consumers on which, if any, of those elements were relevant moving forward.  We next laid out a multi-year plan that would help get us get ever closer to the goal of the #1 brand in the market and, more specifically, the #1 brand with young men.   Finally, we identified a couple of programs that helped expose and sample the brand to the next generation of consumers, including a sampling program in middle schools, where more than 90% of 5th and 6th grade boys received a sample.   These choices set in motion the changes over the next decade and the global success that followed.

On Louisville Slugger, we are taking a very similar approach.  Our team explored the history of the brand and the sport to understand exactly which elements of the foundation would stay in place and where evolution – or even revolution – was necessary.   Next, we looked at a plan over a 3-5 year window where relevance could be regained, consumer by consumer.  Finally, the team had to make changes to the brand and focus in ways that wouldn’t allow us to attempt to regain the “lost generation”, a necessary but difficult choice to instead focus on the next generation of players. 

Drew: You just updated the Louisville Slugger logo for the first time since 1979. How do you balance modernization with respecting the traditions and history of the brand?
We did not take the change and steps to get there lightly.  Throughout the journey, we engaged with every key stakeholder, from pros to amateurs, from retailers to employees and from ages 8 to 80.   Each of these people are “players” when we think about our brand purpose…”we exist to make players great”.    We quickly learned which elements of the brand were sacred (i.e. the oval within the logo) and which elements could cease to be used (i.e. TPX & TPS sub-brands) in service to the ultimate goal of rebuilding relevance with today’s players.

Drew: A CMO has a lot of choices in terms of where they invest their time.  What have been your top priorities in the last 12 months?
I joined a company and team that had not placed a significant focus and investment on marketing in past years.  My first 18 months in the role have really focused on building marketing fundamentals, clarifying strategies and helping to narrow these strategies on the most impactful activities.   The brand restage was job #1 and took energy from everyone in the organization, leading into market in April 2013.  Last fall, the full impact of capability building and the restage took center stage as the brand launched the first fully integrated marketing plan across retailers, grassroots, media and PR, supporting the 2014 product line launch.

Drew: Have there been any big surprises in terms of what’s worked really well and what hasn’t?
Going from Procter & Gamble to Hillerich & Bradsby, Co. has come with a learning curve for sure.  Overnight, the structure, funding, scale and capability of P&G went away.  In its place, a new set of circumstances took its place.  While the reduced scale and funding are certainly challenges, the autonomy, flexibility and focus are refreshing.  This biggest positive surprise was in the restage.  We were able to pull off the biggest change in the history of a 129 year old brand, supported fully by a new campaign, and do so in less than 12 months; an incredible achievement by the full organization.  On the flip side, we have made a choice or two that I anticipated would work better.   One example was email marketing with top young players.   Through our grassroots relationships, we thought access to databases of thousands of young players would allow great scalability in communication but we learned quickly that this generation of player was not receptive to email marketing campaigns and we had to quickly shift to more one-on-one communication.

Drew: You operate in a relationship-based business. How do you improve loyalty among your customers?
Quite simply…show them you’re listening.  We are working more and more with young athletes and reaching them in more channels.  Each time, this gives us an opportunity to cede some control for where the brand is going and give them a say.  When we show them we’ve heard them by baking their ideas into our brand, loyalty comes with it.  This will be a bigger focus for us going forward.

Drew: One of the big challenges a CMO faces is organizational given all the different marketing channels.  How are you addressing these organizational challenges?
We’ve taken a long look at our marketing organization and how the roles are split, leading to an evolution in the team and the responsibilities.  We increased our staffing by nearly 40%, better clarified tasks (especially things like social media) and worked to provide the right training and the right time to help folks succeed.  Our industry has some natural segmentation and we’ve addressed that within the organization but then, on top, gotten people into new roles that allow for future focus areas, like social media, graphic design and retailer marketing.

Drew: Innovation is a sexy word but not as sexy to a CEO as ROI.  Have you been able to link your innovative marketing activities to the kinds of business metrics favored by CEOs?
The other big surprise, going from CPG to sporting goods, is the relative lack of timely, in-market data.  At P&G, ROI could be broken down to every element of the marketing plan and was available within 2-3 months of execution.   In my new life, shares cover only a portion of the market and often trail my more than 12 months.  We’ve sought to offset some of these challenges by trying to triangulate around some of our biggest spending areas, including working closely with our field sales reps to help provide insight into what is happening at the store level and how that is being influenced by our marketing efforts.  We have also shifted dollars into more digital programs (SEO, social) that allow us to better connect those activities with conversion data to aid judgment and future planning.   Transparently, we’re not there yet, but we’re attempting to add new tools each quarter.

Drew: Marketing seems to be getting increasingly complex in terms of ways to spend and ways to monitor. Has it gotten more complex for you and if so, how are you dealing with that complexity?
My change from P&G to H&B has come with a good balance of increased and decreased complexity.   The significantly smaller budgets led to a reduction of touchpoints (i.e. TV not possible) but the introduction of a robust grassroots focus comes with new challenges and decisions.  So far as grassroots are concerned, we are a part of nearly 400 individual events but limit this complexity by working with partners in this space that work closely with our team to preplan, execute and track.

Drew: How are you integrating social media into marketing efforts at Hillerich & Bradsby? Have social platforms proved to be a valuable channel for your brands?
Social media was not part of the marketing focus 18 months ago but has become one of our top two marketing priorities, including our #1 media investment.   In that period of time, we have increased our social following by more than 30X to nearly 500,000 fans across channels.   With our limited media budget, we’ve used the majority of that spending in SEO and in driving increased engagement in social media.   We now have an incredible audience and, in a sport where something newsworthy happens every day, we have a treasure chest of content and the highest engagement rate of any brand in the industry.

Drew: Do you agree with that notion “that marketing is everything and everything is marketing”  if so how have you extended the boundaries of your job beyond the normal purview of the CMO?  Asked differently, as CMO, have you been able to address the entire customer experience?  
I completely agree with the sentiment.  Anywhere and everywhere someone comes in contact with the brand should reinforce the brand purpose, the identity and should help get someone closer to demonstrating their allegiance.    Beyond the marketing department, we’ve worked very closely with all other functions.   The two where the most energy has been spent are with Sales and the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.   With Sales, we now have strategic marketing discussions with each retailer and have increased our priority here by creating the new position of Director of Retail Marketing.   In the Museum & Factory, we have a built-in competitive advantage.  With over 270,000 guests per year, this provides us with an opportunity to tell the history of the brand and provide a sense of the sport and where the brand is going next.  With consumers from 8 to 80 “in house” every day, we’ve worked closely with the Museum staff to ensure the customer experience is complementary and additive to everything else we do.

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