Aired January 21, 2015
“The first thing I did was take TV off the table [when I arrived at Converse],” explains guest Geoff Cottrill, VP of Brand Segments for Converse, on the latest installment of WFoA on Marketing Matters. “We forced ourselves to say: ‘if you had this same money, what would you do with it?’”
This question—how to allocate resources that in the past would have been earmarked for media buys, and use them to strengthen a brand in other ways, has dominated Cottrill’s approach at Converse, and has helped the shoe company become the third most-liked brand on Facebook. Key to Cottrill’s philosophy is the idea that being useful to their key customers creates goodwill and organically joins the brand and its audience: “We don’t borrow equity from our concord consumer; we asked ‘what can we do to help you?’”
Converse has long enjoyed an association with the music and art communities, and to this end, Cottrill established Rubber Tracks, a recording studio in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn that offers free services to fledgling bands and which has been in operation for over three years, with a second location due to open in Boston. Converse assumes no ownership over the music produced at Rubber Tracks—as Cottrill says, “we aren’t in the content development business, really. It’s about us enabling others to create content for their networks.”
This sort of experiential marketing doesn’t necessarily focus on selling shoes, but as Cottrill observed, “Interacting with our fans when they’re not thinking of buying shoes…builds goodwill and community, and it absolutely has an effect on the brand and its perception and reputation. For the cost of a six-week flight of tv ads, we’re running a recording studio for five years. I would much rather drive deep relationships over five years than run six weeks of tv ads.”
Also joining WFoA Executive Director Catharine Hays and guest co-host Jenny Rooney, CMO Network Editor at Forbes, was Bruce Himelstein, CMO of Loews Hotels. Loews, which operates 22 hotels and resorts in the continental US, has made an effort to grow its customer base over the last three years with a mix of new services and messages. A recent partnership with Fiat allows guests to either test-drive, or be chauffeured in, Fiat automobiles during their stays at five of Lowes’ hotels.
Himelstein emphasized the importance of speed and experimentation to Loews’ reinvention efforts—recent innovations have included social reservations—the ability to book a hotel stay via Twitter. As Himelstein put it, “When you’re smaller you want to move faster. My team brought us the idea of doing reservations on Twitter, and ten days later we were on the Today show as the first hotel to do social reservations. In my old life that would’ve been three months of meetings.”
Guest Linda Boff, Executive Director of Global Brand Marketing at GE, likewise underlined the importance of experimentation in marketing. According to Boff, the recognition that GE’s name enjoys is a challenge: “it’s not being known, it’s being relevant and current…the idea is to have people see us in a new and unexpected way.”
One of the products of these efforts was the Missions high-top, an updated Moon Boot co-developed with sneaker label Android Homme and e-tailer jackthreads.com. The shoe was based on the original boots worn by astronauts during the moon landing, which were made from GE-developed plastics. The boots went on sale on the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, and sold out in seven minutes.
The boots themselves grew out of another GE marketing initiative—its social media presence. Boff has been a proponent of low-cost ways of showing off the inner operations of GE to its customers: “A lot of our stuff is invisible: you only notice it when it doesn’t work… when we got on Instagram 4 years ago, we just started taking beautiful pictures of our big majestic machines.” When a member of GE’s Snapchat team took a picture of Buzz Aldrin wearing his original moon boots, the idea for an updated moon boot took hold. The company has also been active on Vine, inviting users to submit “six-second science” lessons.
Boff echoes Cottrill’s sentiment that connecting with and being helpful to consumers is as important as selling a specific product. As she frames the company’s social media efforts, “We’re not gonna sell a jet engine on Snapchat, but what we will do is we’ll reach people who make some, if not all, of their decisions online… as people interact with the brand, we’re connecting the dots back to the things that we do.”
For guest Rishi Dave, CMO of Dun & Bradstreet, modernizing the business data company’s brand involved taking a step back from message optimization to re-evaluate how the company’s customers understood what it did and was capable of. Partnering with ad agency Droga5, Dave learned that customers often found D&B’s language to be “complex.”
“What they wanted to know,” says Dave, “was how to use the data. The way we talk to customers is going to be different.”
The Wharton Future of Advertising Program airs programs monthly onMarketing Matters, a weekly call-in show airing on Wednesdays from 5pm to 7pm on Sirius XM Channel 111, Business Radio powered by Wharton. Listeners can call in during the show at 1-844-WHARTON (1-844-842-7866). Programs will be rebroadcast throughout the month. Full channel information available here: http://businessradio.wharton.upenn.edu/
-Matt Wiegle, WFoA Program Assistant