Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's In A Name?

I'm sure this has been said by many people and many ways but...

There are goods and services in this world that can actually sell themselves. Everything else needs an ad agency...

I'm a beer snob and, thanks to my brother, whose brother-in-law owns Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City (they're married to sisters), I've had occasional inside access to what's become one of the largest microbreweries in the midwest. In addition to enjoying some of their beers before they hit the market from time to time, I've also had the opportunity to chat about their advertising and marketing strategies over the years. While of most of their efforts have been pitch perfect, one recent incident illustrates the importance of product naming, marketing, and market education.

First off, let me state that the "Boulevard" brand is now almost synonymous with "beer" in Kansas City. Their model has been to introduce a beer and let it ride until the market discovered it. Though their product was beer, their larger marketing effort was emphasizing the brand. With that, theirs was not an overnight success and it took a while for the beer, and the brand, to take hold. Now that it has taken hold, their sales have exploded.

In early 2008, the company introduced the Smokestack Series, a series of lesser known beer styles that had often been brewed in small batches and sold only from the brewery. The line consisted of Double Wide Pale Ale, Long Strange Tripel, Sixth Glass, and Saison. Now, look again at those titles and tell me which one doesn't fit. If you said "Saison" you're right, and the market agreed because, of the four, Saison was the worst seller.
("Saison" is the French word for "season" and saison beer was originally brewed in French speaking southern Belgium during the cool winter months for consumption during the warm working season on the farm. )

Undaunted, Boulevard then produced a short run of a variation called Saison Brett (Brett being short for Brettanomyces, a strain of yeast generally considered bad for wine and beer, but used for some Belgian style beers, such as Saison, to provide a gentle bitterness). This one, again while popular with beer snobs, didn't catch on with the general public.

When Boulevard decided to add still a third saison variation, they contacted their ad agency for research and marketing advice. What they found out was, though saison may be a familiar term and beer style to beer snobs, it's not so accessible to the average, midwestern beer drinker accustomed to being able to order a wheat beer or pale ale. In fact, Boulevard's market research showed part of the problem was no one knew how to even properly pronounce saison and hence, not many bothered to buy it.

So, with the help of their ad agency, Boulevard simply gave their third saison (though technically it's not a saison due to the way it's brewed, but that's another story) version a new, more accessible name, graphic theme and marketing campaign. The new variation became "Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale" and suddenly, it's one of their faster selling beers.

What have we learned (aside from some useless beer minutiae)? Well:
1) Name does matter

2) Lack of market education can easily lead to market confusion and/or indifference

3) Even the best product, service, and company can use the services of an advertising/marketing agency

Finally, my challenge to you is to look at the name and message of your company, product, or service. Does it help you sell? Is it memorable? Does it promote to and/or educate your market?

If you answered "no" to any of those questions, then take a lesson from Boulevard Brewing and remember that a customer can't name their poison if they can't say or even remember the name...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When The Best Intentions Create Bad Public Relations

Public Relations: Communication by a person or an organization with the purpose of creating a favorable public image

We've all heard that "friends don't let friends drive drunk." But should friends (who work in advertising and PR) let friends do their own public relations? Perhaps I'm not objective here but, two examples of bad PR of some friends' own making have me wondering....

We have some friends who own a specialty shop (their true product is being left vague to protect the innocent). They began their business renting their product out to parties, receptions, etc. When they first opened their retail shop, they admitted they did so as an experiment. Though immediately successful they closed up shop after nine months to move to a larger, more visible location with no notice and no explanation and didn't get open in the new space until three months later. This, of course, killed all their momentum, and left a good number of customers thinking they had closed. A bad PR move that meant they effectively had to start their marketing efforts from scratch when they reopened and requiring the dilution of their marketing message to win back those customers who had forgotten about them, thinking they'd closed.

More recently, an article appeared in the local newspaper's business section noting how my friends' were planning to open a location in Oklahoma City's Bricktown entertainment district. However the article was more about how the owners had stopped communicating with the writer and thus cast my friends and their business in a poor light. (That said, the article was pointless other than to say "these people stopped calling me back" and imply something's fishy since they aren't talking. Perhaps the writer's ego was bruised, but his article presented nothing of value other than to say that one local business stopped talking to him about a move they were considering.) When I asked one of my friends about her lack of response, she said they were still working out a lease and didn't want say or do anything publicly that would affect their negotiations nor did she want to say anything about a new store that wasn't a done deal. So instead, by saying nothing and apparently getting a local business writer in a snit, she let her message get out of her control and that created the business section story that cast their business and their motives in a bad light. The whole thing could have been headed off had she just spoken to the writer and told him what she told me.

I have another friend who owns a small, local performance hall and brings in some decent acts. To help promote his venue, he sends an email to people who have signed up on his list. This is a great way to market on the web, in that you're marketing to a receptive audience who is seeking your information while you control your message and how it is disseminated. The problem here? This friend also uses his email to point out poorly attended shows, air his political views, and to occasionally rail against his competition and even city zoning and code enforcement officials.

That is all well and good, except for the fact that, in this age of red state/blue state politics, airing your views and railing against those who don't share them is a sure-fire way to alienate at least half of your audience (especially in Oklahoma!). In addition, pointing out that a given show was poorly attended won't compel someone to come to another show, but will only validate their decision to not attend in the first place. ("An enthusiastic crowd saw a great show" paints a much brighter picture than "The 20 or so people who bothered to show up saw a great show.")

Both of my friends' examples violate rule number one of public relations: accentuate the positive!

So consider the messages your business sends out. Does your business have a positive public image? If not, remember that you have the power to change that. But, as the above stories have shown and to roughly paraphrase so many mothers and grandmothers, if you don't have anything positive to say, don't say anything at all.

Or, in other words, if you're going to relate publicly, remember to relate positively!