Ah, September. Golden afternoons, crisp evenings, bone-chilling budget meetings. Wanda, my sales manager, and I were meeting to argue about marketing spending, so naturally we put that off by talking about what a funny summer it was.
First came Calgary’s brave Stanley Cup run that had the whole country cheering (except maybe Edmonton). Then the election set East against West. Next, the Olympics had us all dreaming of global unity, until the World Cup of Hockey made it okay to punch out Czechs and Swedes again. “Just think about it, Cumulo,” said Wanda. “All these big events were brought to us by TV and newspapers. The media set society’s agenda. They decide what everyone talks about.”
I saw exactly where she was heading, so I tried to cut her off at the pass: “We can’t afford to boost ad spending.”
“But our market share in consumer products is shrinking,” she said. “We need to blow our own horn.” I was about to remind her about the competitive pressures from the Far East when she said, “Don’t start whining about those Asian knockoffs. Strong brands stand up to the imposters. If my niece were caught drinking a house-brand soft drink in school, she’d be labeled a loser faster than you can say Joe Clark.”
Sliding my can of Commodity Cola behind my lunch bag, I said, “Building a brand costs millions. We can’t afford it.” “Then let’s team up with someone who can,” said Wanda.
“We used to do co-op marketing with lots of companies, like Eaton’s, Wardair, the Pop Shoppe and Pets.com,” I said. “But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that you have to partner with world-class brands.”
“Then let’s call McDonald’s right now,” said Wanda. “Not yet,” I said. “We have a budget to cut.”
That day, Wanda got marketing on the agenda for our weekly executive meeting, displacing our annual discussion of capital spending. But I didn’t mind. I’ve seen whole strategies disappear into the black hole of our executive committee.
The chair for this meeting was Kernel, our excitable vice-president (I read an article once on the importance of delegating; I’ve regretted it ever since). So Wanda had free rein to run things. “What we’re looking for,” she said, “is partners with complementary products, long reaches and big budgets.”
“I’ve been reading about a company called Nortel,” said Wirtz, our foreman. “They’re big and have lots of money to spend.” “They couldn’t sell ice cubes in hell,” snorted Scanelli, our director of strategic alliances. “I think you’re selling them short,” said Wirtz. “Not for the first time,” Scanelli replied.
“How about Kellogg’s?” said Kernel. “We’ll put coupons in every box of cereal. And I’ve always wanted to see Battle Creek.”
“That’s the flakiest idea I ever heard,” said Betty Cash, our controller. “We have to target our customers more tightly than that.” (It’s a sad day when an entrepreneur roots for accounting over his operations people. But as I say, it was budget time.)
“Let’s tie into a Disney movie,” said Kernel. “I’m sure they’ve got a blockbuster coming up on consumer appliances,” muttered Scanelli. “We could approach Super Drug Mart,” suggested Cash, “and give away Opti-mom points. Another 25,000 and I get a free lipstick.”
“This is getting us nowhere,” I said. “I was hoping we’d come up with prominent market partners, but we’re just arguing among ourselves.” “Sorry,” said Wirtz. “We’ve probably been watching too much hockey.”
“That’s it!” said Wanda. In a moment, people were nodding their heads like a roomful of Gretzky bobblehead dolls. That very day she called the National Hockey League. We may give away pucks with every purchase, print hockey cards on our packaging or auction Winnipeg Jets memorabilia online, but I’m sure something will pay off.
Either way, this exercise taught me a few things:
- Marketing is always more fun than capital budgets.
- Must find a way to make marketing meetings more accountable.
- There is no such a thing as a bad idea.
- Discussing marketing refocusses everyone on your brand and its objectives.
- Despite all the trash talk, roughing and elbowing, teamwork works.
Read more of Cumulo’s particular brand of wisdom.