Sunday, January 31, 2010

Platforming Authenticity

I started rambling on the other day in a conversation with a marketing guy. It had to do with branding and/or the development of a new brand, and I am sure that the dude was an expert. I like going head to head with the experts in hopes of being brushed off as just another armchair know-it-all. I usually get a follow up call from these folks too, because they "want to help". I never waste my time and energy on somebody who wouldn't want hear how we apply unconventional marketing concepts to our business anyway. All conversations like this start with the word "distinction" and/or that which means: What is the point of difference of one brand over another? This dude got it.

Distinction, this is really where the mustard is. Branding has all to do with providing energy toward an idea or product and the distinction that is recognized by the consumer as a result of it--how the brand sticks out more than others, how a story unfolds so that they can relate, how imagery captures the attention and applies to an individuals condition in the most creative, authentic and purposeful way.

Let's face it, it ain't always about the product, rather the emotional button pushing by the marketing that gets the sale. When cultivating audiences, tribes, cultures, it is important to be a part of the emotional condition in order to engage. Social media marketing has changed this a bit. Because there is two way communication on consumer goods and services done by surveys in real time. There is a standard that can be communicated easily simply by commenting on the brands website, commenting on face book and twitter, both negative and positive. This has changed things a bit. This writing is not about social media marketing, per say, but it is important that we understand how people communicate and how advertising incorporates social media strategies as a method.

Bottom line, if you are going to be in business, you need a social platform. Because loyalty garners a lot of chatter and on the web this means feedback that is published for all to see. If you are an entrepreneur, you need to want to change the world somehow because nobody is going to argue with that. Change the world for the audience and the audience will change the sales for you. It is low hanging fruit really. The world is a mess.

This means identifying how your product or service relates to the greater good of society. There is a message in all marketing and if you don't screw up your authenticity, you will find that social groups attach if your mission and purpose provides value or enhancement to their understanding of the worlds brighter future. But you need to work it. In order to break through to these folks, you need to talk the talk and walk the walk. And lets also assume that you don't have a big bucket of money. The "Big Bucket" vs. the "Bootstrapping" concept can be studied and commented on by tons of experts and that is indeed another blog entry for the Ralph. For the record, I only know how to bootstrap and I certainly maintain a critical perspective on the Big Bucket concept.

What drives these groups are determined by the value (best product at a acceptable price and the cultural connection found in the product from the marketing). Lets assume that because we are all bootstrappers, we need to be on the edge, on the fringe, the edge of the abyss of paradigm fall over, because that is where the innovation is, we have to be. Big bucket folks steal our stuff, duplicate and come back to find out we are doing later, time and again.

Lets be real--everything has pretty well already been invented and, if you want to spread your entrepreneurial wings in an economy like this as a boots trapper, the only way to do it is to understand the intimate feelings/relationships that you have with your own culture, your own social meaning. Therein lies the potential to cultivate an audience. Identify it, cultivate it, service it and create loyalty for the real money later. This is the cycle.

Let's toss Lone Wolf in there for now as a case study. We have spent a year overcoming what we consider to be a less than optimal location with sales that have taken quite a while to stabilize. The idea to open Lone Wolf was really an expression of Pfoodman's ability to create and roll out a new brand and show our perspective food service clients that we indeed have a distinction from other Food Service Management Company standards. We actually own and operate retail restaurants and do so under the same standard as any other competitive retail business--that the customer chooses to patronize us vs. that which our captured audience (Pfoodman) operations have to patronize. A point of distinction is that we consider our customer to be that of the student and/or resident vs. that of the institution that hires us on a business to business deal. There is a difference.

So Pfoodman decided to develop six brands that would eventually set the stage, open the curtain to our daily performance standard--that which anyone can come and check out how we motivate our employees, prepare our food in relationship to our standards of quality. We are on display, always. Lone Wolf has indeed been a challenge to stabilize but suddenly things have changed. It has not been an easy road but suddenly we see change. Why?

My "Personal Culture" (among others) is the active living community. This, since getting fit and finding that, when healthy, I perform better at stuff. Because I am connected to the active living community and the culture of healthy, vibrant and active people who perform at a high level it is easy to recognize what I need to do to service this "like minded" group of people. Anyone who wants to see what active living is, and be active, see what it feels like, smells like....should come to Lone Wolf. It has been tweaked to optimize the relationship between culture and the product/services and marketing that it represents. It is an expression of what the culture looks like and the food, music, service and advocacy standards meet the demand of that culture. It tells a story and has no less than 500 images hanging from the walls; everyday people doing oxygen inspired activities (O-Sports). The people who do these things hang out in there, those wanting to embark start the process by surrounding themselves with the culture.

Early on, like with Pfoodman, we decided to go out in the community and build an active living audience as part of our marketing. During the early days of Pfoodman, it was food and beverages being donated to charities to help raise money. There was always an O-sport activity in relationship to the cause. This is how these charities raise money. We provided value and cultivated the audience to recognise Pfoodman for being the Active Living company to do business with. It was a win/win Guerrilla Marketing approach.

Lone Wolf is the same, however this time we actually have a retail operation to point to. This was part of the plan. And now people are making the correlation. They are finding their temple and things are getting quite busy. Could we have stabilized the concept earlier, yes, with buckets of money and with a different location and with fancy marketing executives, wham bam thank you sir, I am gonna need fitty grand to get this thing going.....nope, the journey is worth it.

We will continue to do Oxygen Inspired events to boast our authenticity and change the way our community thinks. Our advocacy is our branding, our position in the world, our social conscientiousness. We say that we will do it, then we do it, and then tell everybody what we just did--to help the community to be a better place and build sales. I think this is an important platform and it works. You can look for Pfoodman/Lone Wolf/Wapiti doing dozens of active living and O-sport events throughout the country this year. We will build a broader active living community for the sake of improving our business and the world we live in.

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