leadership dot #3627: awareness

The gift card display at Target offers the usual array of businesses: Apple, Starbucks, Amazon, etc. but it also features some unusual vendors such as MD Box and DAZN.

I had never heard of either until I saw their gift cards for sale on the rack at Target and I wonder what it took for them to receive national distribution and placement on a limited display. But it got me thinking: instead of a gift card being only for brands that you know, perhaps utilizing gift cards as an awareness vehicle is a new form of advertising.

Maybe you could work with a local retailer to offer gift cards to promote your organization or its fundraiser. Political candidates could have their own rack of gift cards to solicit donations. Instead of brochure racks, tourist areas could have gift cards for local restaurants and attractions. Think of the possibilities!

If the technology is not here yet it will be soon that will make gift card distribution economical and accessible. Start thinking of how you can capitalize on the pervasive use of this plastic to generate attention as well as business.

p.s. MD Box is a telehealth service that provides virtual doctor appointments for $49.95 each. You can buy a gift card for the equivalent of one visit — an interesting gift to give to a new graduate or someone without insurance. A DAZN gift card purchases you a month of the streaming service that covers sports you won’t find on broadcast television such as darts, extreme sports, boxing, and indoor football — a perfect gift for fans of those activities.

leadership dot #3621: café

Capital One may be best known for their “what’s in your wallet?” commercials, but in Harvard Square, they are also known for their coffee. In an effort to reach consumers where they are, the banking giant runs a community space and café where people are able to use wi-fi, get coffee, and relax. It has an ATM but is not a traditional bank branch (although there are Capital One ambassadors available to answer banking or financial literacy questions). And while non-customers are welcome, Capital One account holders receive 50% off café purchases — quite the incentive for regulars.

When Starbucks envisioned a “third space” between home and work, I don’t think they expected competition from Capital One. But a wise marketer realized Harvard Square was a mecca for young customers-to-be who like coffee and need a place to hang out and suddenly banking via a café setting emerged.

Think about where prospective clients of yours may be and consider whether there is an innovative way to reach them through an intermediary environment. If your audience doesn’t come to you directly, maybe you’d be wiser to go to them.

leadership dot #3620: smart cookie

Crumbl, a cookie and ice cream chain, recently opened in our town. The response has been crazy, with people waiting in lines outside the building to pay almost $5 per cookie. At first, I couldn’t understand it, but I succumbed and tried one and can now understand much of the buzz.

Some lessons I learned from my visit (besides the fact that their cookies are de-licious):

  • Quality matters. People are willing to pay more if they feel the product or service has value. Even though the cookies are expensive, they are also huge. The cookies also come heated or chilled as appropriate — a real bonus.
  • Presentation matters. The cookies come in a signature pink box, making them feel more special than eating them from a generic box or paper bag.
  • Focus matters. Each week, the store sells a collection of six cookie flavors and six flavored pints of ice cream. That’s it. They concentrate on what they do and do it well. They aren’t trying to be a bakery or even dessert capital — just cookies and cream.
  • Uniqueness matters. The standard chocolate chip version is the only staple on their menu. The other five flavors rotate weekly with flavors such as passion fruit, New York cheesecake, key lime pie, Kentucky butter cake, and piña colada. This isn’t “just another cookie,” but rather something you can’t get most places.

Crumbl is carry-out only so they aren’t trying to cultivate a “third place” as Starbucks did but they have followed much of the same business model as the beverage giant. Instead of trying to cut corners or make the cheapest product around, maybe you’d be one smart cookie to pursue the premium route instead.

leadership dot #3593: proliferation

For many, the quintessential Easter treats are those marshmallow confections known as Peeps. Back in the day, Peeps only were packaged as yellow chicks but since then they have morphed into multi-colors, multi-flavors, multi-shapes — and now, multi-products. It seems that Peeps have hopped on the brand extension bandwagon and now feature their iconic rabbit Peeps on cereal, stuffed animals, socks, stationery, and even bandages. Why, they have more products than rabbits have bunnies!

Is Peeps a marshmallow treat or a graphic rabbit? It becomes increasingly hard to tell. I’m sure there is financial logic in proliferating the Peeps but in the long run, I fear that overexposure outweighs the short-term gains.

It’s a fine line between extending your base and straying from it. Whether it be a product or nonprofit mission, think hard before changing direction from your core purpose, key capabilities, and competencies. As Asleep at the Wheel sang in the ’90s, “dance with the one who brung you.”

Happy Easter!

leadership dot #3592: misaligned

The ad caught my attention with the headline: “The celeb-loved sneakers that require no break-in period now come in pretty spring colors.” I’m a sucker for Pantone and love the color robin-egg blue, so when I saw the combination in a shoe I was ready to buy.

But when I clicked on the link, it showed the “pretty spring colors” as a pre-order that would be shipped by July 29! By then, I’m living in sandals and don’t need sneakers of any color.

It’s another example that happens too frequently: an irrelevant advertising campaign due to a misalignment of messaging. Change the headline to read: “Pre-order pretty colors now” or wait until July to run your ads. Anything else is just wasted steps.

leadership dot #3585: vetted

During the Final Four tournaments, Buick ran a series of ads that showed just a sliver of a key moment in a woman’s sporting event with full audio describing the excitement of the contest. The punchline of the ads: women account for 40% of athletes but receive less than 10% of media coverage. The campaign was focused on helping people #seehergreatness — promoting women and the Buick brand which claims to have the largest percent share of female buyers.

I thought the ads were brilliant and made you realize you were missing record-breaking moments by not watching women’s sports. But the ads have been pulled — replaced on their website with clips of the full-screen version of those iconic moments — apparently after Buick received criticism for not showing the women’s heroics in their commercials.

I’m sure that dozens of people vetted those commercials and the campaign itself but I wonder if any of them were female athletes who might have a different perspective on the failure to ultimately show women shining. It’s so easy to become invested in a project or viewpoint and to surround yourself with people who reinforce your thinking. Wherever possible, gather input from those unlike yourself and seek out feedback that challenges you — before you finalize the output. It’s far better to hear from the critics when you can still address any valid concerns.

Screenshot of the original ad

leadership dot #3571: chocolate

A brown diamond is rare, but to many, they are less appealing than the traditional clear sparkling gems. In a marketing move that is as brilliant as the stone itself, LeVian jewelers branded their darker-toned diamonds as “chocolate diamonds.” To go even further, they partnered with Godiva chocolates and now offer The Godiva Truffle, the Strawberry Heart, and the Ganache Heart all adorned with the golden gems. Dazzling!

Two takeaways from this innovative partnership: 1) LeVian capitalized on the rarity of the dark color to turn a potential negative into a strength, and 2) while jewelry and chocolates are often given together as gifts, they are usually separate items. Kudos to the person who thought to combine them into one more appealing package.

I have said this before but think broadly when considering potential collaborators. A luxury food company may not see a diamond miner as a likely union, but the pairing may turn out to sparkle for both of them.

leadership dot #3568: evolve

There is a thought experiment in philosophy that asks “at what point is a ship no longer the same ship?” If many boards are replaced, is it still the same vessel? What if most or all of the boards are new?

The question occurred to me when I was attending The Lettermen concert. For those too young to know, The Lettermen was a chart-topping musical trio in the 1960s and 1970s. While two of the three original members have died and the other is semi-retired, new members still perform under The Lettermen name and even count their recorded albums as part of a continuous legacy. The modern group’s bio reads: “For more than 50 years, The Lettermen have kept the meaning of harmony alive…” yet one of these men has only been with the group for three years. Somehow, this seems like a tribute band and not THE Lettermen.

The same thing recently happened with a Duke Ellington Orchestra performance. Although the Duke himself has been dead since 1974, the orchestra bills itself as “carrying on the tradition” because relatives are involved in musical selection and conducting so they are adamant that it is an extension of the original. I guess only a few “boards” have been replaced on the Duke Ellington ship while The Lettermen have replaced them all. At what point is it misleading to call it the same ship?

Certainly, the products and services you offer will continue to evolve — but let the old name phase out and allow a new identity to occur. While it’s tempting to retain a beloved and profitable brand name, resist the temptation to call it the original when that no longer exists.

leadership dot #3529: endorsements

I recently came across two celebrity endorsements that got me thinking about personal branding. The first was a new line of eyeglasses sponsored by Elton John. The singer is known for his expressive eyewear — probably more flamboyant than the average patient would purchase, but Elton John + glasses is an aligned product endorsement.

Then I saw Dolly Parton’s partnership with Duncan Hines for baking kits. Maybe I don’t enough about her, but l think of Dolly as an amazing philanthropist and performer, but I don’t think of Dolly + baking — or homemaking or food or anything to do with Duncan Hines. To me, this is an off-brand use of Dolly’s image and she would be much more authentic endorsing makeup, wigs, or fashion.

While your organization may not feature celebrities, everything you offer is either in alignment or out of it. Before you extend your services into a new arena or venture into a new partnership, consider whether it is truly “you.”

leadership dot #3517: introducing

Southwest Airlines sent out an email to introduce its incoming CEO, Bob Jordan, to their Rewards members. Mr. Jordan wrote a traditional letter sharing his enthusiasm for the position — something that could be a template for the new CEO of any airline — but then Southwest took it a step further and helped people get acquainted in a very Southwest-like way.

True to their brand, the airline introduced Bob with informality and humor. In a 2-page infographic, they shared such trivia as what he eats for breakfast, his favorite Winter Olympic sport, whether or not he wants to scuba dive, and what he wanted to be when he grew up. They sprinkled in a few facts such as his degrees and family information but mostly it was irrelevant and irreverent. They made him human and made their message one that could only be used by Southwest.

We’ve all seen the boring bios that introduce new leadership to stakeholders. Maybe you can take a page from Southwest’s playbook to allow your next introduction to be one that makes people actually want to meet the guy.