Archive for February, 2011

Q&A with Boost Mobile’s Caralene Robinson

Caralene Robinson, Boost Mobile

An exclusive interview with Boost Mobile’s Brand and Marketing Director, Caralene Robinson. Ms. Robinson will lead a discussion at the Liquid Brand Summit on how brands are turning shoppers into buyers with new retail-experience centers.

Click here to learn more about the Summit and our other outstanding guest speakers and session leaders.

Caralene Robinson, director of Brand Marketing and Communications for Boost Mobile, has spent more than a decade producing advertising and marketing campaigns across a broad range of products and services. Known for delivering results and creating vanguard campaigns, she’s earned a reputation as a creative innovator. At Boost, Caralene is responsible for planning and executing the company’s consumer marketing. In addition to developing all advertising campaigns, she utilizes brand assets, media, merchandising, creative, sponsorships, and local planning to drive integrated marketing programs that engage Boost Mobile’s core customer base.

Q: Define today’s retail experience through the Boost Mobile lens.

A: The consumer exploration and decision sequence has changed. For significant purchases, consumers now typically research online and collect opinions prior to visiting retail locations. They often visit retail locations with a partial decision, utilizing several locations to compare prices, engage with the product and connect with a live salesperson. Therefore, it is critical to create an engaging informative experience at retail. As a result, while we very much value our retail partners, over the past two years we’ve worked hard to create brand-exclusive destinations designed to create a surround sound retail experience.

Q: How do you think retail experience centers will evolve in two to three years?

A: Retail centers will become more of a comprehensive brand experience, designed to drive acquisition, retention and up sell.

Q: How do you use your brand ambassadors (athletes, musicians and celebrity) to boost the retail experience. Do you have a specific example of a particular retail experience or event that utilized your brand ambassadors extremely effectively.

A: We use integrated marketing and local experiences in partnership with our retailers to drive traffic to retail locations. In partnership with a regional sponsor, we utilized radio and a promotional contest to drive customers to a retail location for an autograph signing with one of our brand ambassadors. There was an incredible turnout and significant increase in sales on that day.

Q: How can retail centers become “community centers” for their customers and how do you sell the experience of the brand through those centers?

A: Like Apple Stores, retail centers should become destinations for learning, socialization and experience. Every consumer engagement in this environment should epitomize the brand-product, collateral as well as employee look and feel.

Q: How can story be used to energize internal audiences like retail employees and partners? How do brand stories become part of the employee belief system?

A: A brand story, mantra and positioning should be organizationally socialized prior to consumer launch. We use a core team to engage with every corporate function and provide an assignment that requires each group to define how they will integrate, process and execute against the brand story. These assignments are presented to the larger core audience, ensuring alignment and consistency.

Send your questions and thoughts. We’ll include them in discussions at the Liquid Brand Summit. We look forward to hearing from you.


Q&A with method Soap Master Eric Ryan

Eric Ryan of method

An exclusive interview with method Co-Founder Eric Ryan. Mr. Ryan will lead a discussion on turning customers into brand advocates at the upcoming Liquid Brand Summit, held March 1 in Palo Alto.

Click here to learn more about the Summit and our other outstanding guest speakers and session leaders.

Eric Ryan is one-half of the “proud brain parents” of method, the leading innovator in eco-friendly household and personal care products. He started method in 2001 with his high school buddy Adam Lowry and has since built the company into a $150 million retail brand that was ranked the 7th fastest growing company in America by Inc magazine. He’s been named an eco-leader by Vanity Fair, a Food & Wine Tastemaker, an eco-revolutionary by Time Magazine, and PETA’s Person of the Year.

With method, Eric has successfully grown one of the world’s most loyal brand communities, the core of which is rooted in the company’s distinct values and brand culture.

Q: What were some of the initial challenges you faced in building a community of brand advocates for method? Can you describe the one or two things that were most successful in growing that community?

A: One of the biggest challenges for creating advocacy within method is the fact that we compete in very low-interest categories. While there are self proclaimed “clean freaks” in the world (think the character Monica in the TV show “Friends”), it is difficult to build a community around the act of cleaning, which most people consider a chore to be avoided at all cost.

We took the approach of building advocacy around a diverse set of shared values which includes the emotional connection to our homes, caring for loved ones in our homes (i.e. pets and children) and the environment our homes sit on. The end result is that our advocates share our passion for design, sustainability and eliminating toxins from the home - and it’s these shared values that allow us to create advocacy in a low-interest category.

The core of growing this community starts with our culture. The team at method is truly passionate about our values and this comes through in everything we do as an authentic brand. We purposely blur the lines between who we are and who we serve under the belief that we are all “People Against Dirty.” This allows us to build the brand from the inside-out with a high level of transparency providing a lot of ways to connect with our advocates.

Q: How has your brand advocacy program grown over the years?

A: The way we see it, brand advocacy is just a nice side benefit of creating remarkable product experiences and building a brand with shared values that people want to be part of. Our job is to do things that actually get people to love our brand and want to become an advocate so we try not to obsess too much on building a specific number of advocates. It’s really about quality not quantity.

With the explosion of social media tools, there are so many ways for advocates to share their love of a brand, so building a database is less of a priority versus creating stuff worth talking about. Over the years, we have shifted towards launching marketing flares that fuel advocacy by ensuring all of our marketing invites participation. Examples include: our Detox Pop Shops, where advocates could trade in toxic cleaning products for non-toxic method products, our Shiny Suds Viral video to build support for Al Franken’s Household Label Act that would bring ingredient transparency to the industry, and our Laundry Smarts Campaign that asked people to ditch the laundry jug to end detergent over-dosing.

Q: Can you give examples of how your investment in brand advocates has paid off? How do you track and measure the success of your program?

A: This is a tough question for us to answer because advocacy is embedded in our DNA, so we don’t stop to measure it or separate from other marketing programs. As a mission-driven brand, advocacy is part of everything we do from product development to PR. Our company is founded on seven competitive advantages, and for us obsession #1 is “inspiring advocates.” As People Against Dirty, it’s what we do!

Q: Who is typically responsible for the brand advocacy program, and where is it housed?

A: First and foremost, everyone in the company is responsible for creating advocacy for our brand. We start each Monday with an all-company huddle, which opens by reading an advocate letter to remind ourselves of who we all work for . . . our advocates.

Everyone at method is encouraged to do everything they can to build advocacy from openly using social media tools to hugging strangers on the bus. However, at a practical level, it is led within the Brand Experience department and run by the fabulous Anna who ensures we are spreading the advocate love both internally and externally. Thanks to Anna, everything we do from the Friday beer cart to the latest product launch finds its way to our advocates while leveraging insights from this community to make our brand and products stronger.

Want to here more from Eric? Send us your questions and thoughts. We’ll include them in discussions at the Liquid Brand Summit. We look forward to hearing from you.


Q&A with Skullcandy Marketing Machine Tyson Andrus

Tyson Andrus of Skullcandy

An exclusive interview with Tyson Andrus. Mr. Andrus will lead a discussion on customer engagement at the upcoming Liquid Brand Summit, held March 1 in Palo Alto. Click here to learn more about the Summit and our guest speakers and session leaders.

When it comes to extreme-sports style, few companies have the street cred of Skullcandy, known for making the sickest headphones, earbuds, and iPod docks around. Tyson Andrus sits at the helm of the company’s Channel Marketing division where he leverages the brand’s authentic action-sports DNA with strategic retailer partners to drive growth that has landed the company on the “Inc 500″ list three years running. His career began at a boutique marketing consultancy and more recently led him to hone his brand management skills at General Mills before taking the plunge into the world of consumer electronics.

We asked him a few questions about what it takes to engage customers and build relationships that last.
Q. Skullcandy has been extremely successful at staying in front of its customers’ desires. What methods have you used to get to know your customers? How do you go about doing audience research?

A: In my past life this would be a complex and lengthy explanation, detailing focus groups through one-way mirrors, countless surveys, customer “shop-alongs” and product usage observation studies. While some marketers will shudder at this response, the roots and culture of Skullcandy allow me to answer this one very simply: We are our customers.

From the marketing department to the design team, clear over to sales, customer service and supply chain, we all live the brand every day.

Although strictly speaking, Skullcandy is a consumer electronics company, the brand is unique to the industry in that it was born on the [ski] slopes and embodies the action sports culture associated with surf, skate and snow. This was as true in the fledgling start-up years as it is today, despite the fact that the company has grown to be one of the largest headphone companies in the U.S.

You’d be hard pressed to find many employees not wearing one of our 100 plus flavors of headphones on any given day, but it doesn’t end there. Every employee in the Park city office gets a season pass to the ski resort down the road and is encouraged to use it. In our San Clemente office, the “board room” contains just that - surf boards. And, while the offices have their own half pipe ramps, you’re just as likely to see people using their skateboards as transportation between their desk and the copy machine.

Q. How do you keep your hands on the pulse of your customer base as it evolves and changes? i.e. How do you find out what they are thinking; what they’re interested in?

A: An expression comes to mind: “Fads are bad, but the trend is your friend.”

Although sales numbers don’t lie, they’re only a snapshot of the past. Solely reacting to those numbers is just that: reactionary. We strive to align ourselves with the tastemakers and stay on the forefront of meaningful trends.

How exactly do we do that? The original success of Skullcandy was achieved through selling stylish, colorful headphones geared towards active usage in the very stores where our customers bought all their other equipment: board shops. You got it-surf, skate and snow! And, because that’s still at the heart of our business, we have a great relationship with those iconic shops from coast-to-coast, as well as the small business owners that continue to make them successful. We have many customer feedback mechanisms, but I would credit this as one of the most critical in not only following our customers’ evolving tastes, but being a part of the evolution itself.

Q. How are you using social media as a listening channel for getting to know your customer?

A: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare . . . it seems like you can’t go anywhere to escape them. Social media is both pervasive and potentially very persuasive. Being that social media [channels] are great communication tools - and communication should be a two-way street- they are also great feedback mechanisms to tap into our customers’ minds.

The insights customers are willing to share when they are safe and sound behind their social profile are nuggets of gold that you simply couldn’t coax out of them through traditional mediums. Spark a little bit of conversation and watch the frenzy ensue . . . we call it”social chumming” minus the fishy smell. From there, it’s pretty formulaic: monitor the dialogues, identify key findings, craft a plan and execute!

Q. What led you to decide the channels you are using were the best way to influence your customers?

A: I’ll have to be painfully honest here and say trial and error. What might work for Coca Cola may not work for us, and what works well for us now may not be as effective a couple years down the road. I think it’s crucial to have an array of tools in the tool belt to connect with customers - and just as importantly, not be afraid to experiment with new ones. Just as the customer is evolving, the methods by which you influence them need to continually evolve as well.

Want more from the Skullcandy Marketing Machine? Send us your questions and thoughts. We’ll include them in discussions at the Liquid Brand Summit. We look forward to hearing from you.


Q&A with Robert Richman of Zappos Insights

Zappos Insights-Liquid Brand Summit

An exclusive interview with Zappos Insights guru Robert Richman. Mr. Richman is one of the Session Leaders at the upcoming Liquid Brand Summit, taking place on March 1, 2011 in Palo Alto.

Robert Richman lives in Las Vegas, where he works for Zappos Insights, an off-shoot of that was started by CEO Tony Hsieh to show other companies how to create a workplace people love and a service customers rave about. Robert began his career in 1996 creating sites for U.S. Senators and co-founding the web strategy company Articulated Impact. He co-wrote the business plan for a new online venture from the Tony Robbins companies and has developed digital media strategies for The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard Magazine, and The National Leadership Institute. When Tony met Rob, he asked him to re-launch the Zappos Insights program - then a small web site with a staff of one. Rob has grown the program to a 12-person company, offering a range of experiences and services to educate companies about culture and to give insight into “what” and “how” has built such an amazing culture and brand.

Q: How do you define brand culture?
A: Brand and culture are two sides of the same coin. One faces inside the company; the other faces outside. It is made up of the values, stories and rituals that a company engages, and it all starts from within, so the brand is usually a lagging indicator of the true state of the culture.

Q: How is a company’s overall performance influenced by its brand culture - for example, its management, growth, innovation, customer relationships, etc.?
A: The culture influences everything because it is everything. Said simply, the culture is the way of being. Or to be even more literal: In biology, you use a culture to grow something - it’s the environment that creates the context for growth, interactions, and relationships.

Q: Brand culture can be a fairly abstract concept. Name two or three concrete things that Zappos does on a regular basis to maintain and even strengthen its culture.
A: The most important ingredient to a strong culture is people, so we take a very long time to recruit the right people and we interview them based on our core values. Then, we spend four weeks training them so that they have the right mindset, connections and tools to succeed and grow our culture. Lastly, we encourage people to express themselves so they can bring all of their talents to the office. If you get the right people, empower them and set them free, we find that people take responsibility for growing the culture.

Q: Can you give an example of a company and/or companies whose brand culture you admire? If so, what is it that you admire most?
A: I admire companies that are not afraid to commit to their core values and also share what they’ve learned with others. I believe companies that share their culture learn the fastest - examples include IDEO, 37 Signals, and Ritz Carlton.

Please feel free to send us comments or questions, and we will make sure that we include them in the discussions during the Liquid Brand Summit. We look forward to hearing from you.


Building an Army of Brand Advocates, One Shoe at a Time


There are brand advocates . . . and then there are super hero brand advocates. TOMS Shoes, a company that started just four short years ago, knows how to attract super hero brand advocates - they’ve been able to very quickly build a community that includes millions of followers worldwide. How did they do it? With a unique offering that positioned TOMS outside the reach of other shoe companies and a very compelling brand story.

That story started in 2006 when TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie traveled to Argentina and found that an astounding number of children didn’t have shoes to protect their feet. He then created TOMS, with the promise of matching every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. They coined the phrase “One for One,” to describe their business model and began calling it a movement, and they’ve been using it ever since to help strengthen their brand and excite customers into becoming “super” brand advocates.

Their simple message resonated with the fashionably trendy, yet socially-conscious Gen Y and Gen X set - but its not just messaging that sells their shoes. Among those who love TOMS, they are considered as essentially hip, stylish and “must hav” as an iPhone. That’s because TOMS very smartly used their brand story to help build an internal and external brand culture that attracts fresh, hipster-type creative talent to the company, talent that has helped TOMS stay “in the know” with their customer base and ahead of the design curve.

Today, TOMS is selling not just hundreds-of-thousands, but millions of shoes around the world, with retail locations in Asia, Europe, the Americas and Australia. Celebrities like Demi Moore and Jay Leno and high profile brands like Nordstrom, AT&T and Element Skateboards have bought into the TOMS “One for One” movement.

The company has definitely found its “onliness,” that unique space of differentiation that separates it from others in the market. And, its been wildly successful in leveraging that uniqueness to build and strengthen their brand community, which is made up of brand advocates who are near religious in their loyalty to TOMS and willingness to go out and evangelize its mission.

From college campus clubs to”Style Your Sole” shoes parties to a global “One Day Without Shoes” event, TOMS is using its status as a company that does good to expand its “movement” worldwide. And it’s working. Go to the TOMS Facebook page, and you’ll find more than 700,000 followers. Their Twitter page has nearly 600,00. And the TOMS YouTube channel? Well, it has had nearly 2 million upload views.

TOMS has also been brilliant in using documentary filmmaking to share their brand story with customers. The power of the images they capture and the story that supports them, paired with the power of social media to push them viral, has been instrumental in spreading their message.

When it comes to building customer communities that are practically cults, TOMS has found their magic formula. But can they sustain their momentum? The fashion industry is notorious for throwing today’s “must haves” out with tomorrow’s trends. Is TOMS brand story strong enough and its community loyal enough to carry it through being the current trend of the moment? Perhaps, that depends on how the company evolves as the market changes. Will TOMS be able to remain relevant in the long run? What are your thoughts?

Also, if brand advocacy is something you’re challenged with or are interested in, then join us for the Liquid Brand Summit on March 1 to discuss this and other issues associated with “transformation” and how brands and brand marketers stay relevant and competitive.


Q&A with Chuck Eichten, Design Director of Nike DNA


An exclusive interview with Chuck Eichten, Design Director for the Department of Nike Archives.

Chuck Eichten started at Nike as an apparel designer in 1996 and later moved to Nike Brand Design where he led the packaging, the logos, the books, the posters, the retail spaces and event experiences. Chuck is currently the Design Director for the Department of Nike Archives (DNA). In DNA he helps gather and preserve the Nike stories, and find fresh new ways of telling them again. The story of how the first best-selling Nike shoe was born of a waffle iron. How Phil Knight, when he first saw the swoosh mark, said reluctantly, “Well, I guess I’ll get used to it.” Why Michael Jordan wanted to sign with adidas out of college.

Q: Why do you think the concept of “story” is so compelling to people, and how does story influence the brand?

A: Stories are compelling because that’s how our lives unfold. Stories provide context to what happens in our lives. You have a story to accompany anything that happens in your life. When brands tell stories, it makes them feel more real, more alive, more honest…more like us.

Stories influence brands the same way stories influence our lives. Grandma tells us a story and it becomes a part of who we are. It explains something about us. Stories are something we share as families, and as employees. Our stories make us unique, and help us imagine the traits that set us apart - and likely way above all the rest.

Stories of strength, of obstacles overcome, of passion, and belief, mistakes made and hard work that paid off (maybe even when no one else believed it would), that’s something to build a family or a brand around.

Q: How should a company decide who should be in charge of the brand’s story? And what is the responsibility of that person / group in maintaining the story?

A: Passion for the stories - that’s how a company should decide who should be in charge of a brand’s story. Everybody can tell the stories, but look for the people who have the passion to be in charge of it [storytelling]. Ask them to participate in developing ways to protect, build and gather the story. There’s no other way to do it. You can’t assign it to someone who doesn’t believe in it. If the people with the passion about the brand stories don’t sit in marketing, for God’s sakes don’t give brand story responsibility to marketing.

The group charged with managing the stories has to develop a plan to maintain, gather and tell the stories within the company. If you tell the stories to your employees first, they will figure out ways to amplify those stories to others who will care, which in turn will strengthen the brand and the business.

The one other thing that group has to have is the power to protect the stories. That usually has to come from pretty far up the chain of command. Every group will have their reason for compromising the stories. Groups can, and should, tell the story in their unique way, in the way that works for their needs. But storytelling should always be considered in light of the long-term, not the short term.

Q: What are some of the best ways to continue to build a story and disseminate it, and what are some of the best channels to use?

A: At Nike, we can go new school or we can go old school - there are different solutions for different situations; different audiences. One thing we love is books - actual, physical, printed books. Most people love the feel of a book in their hands. There’s a weight and permanence and a sense of authority and old-fashioned storytelling with a book that can’t be matched.

The other thing that good stories need is good storytellers. Some people got it; some don’t. Hire good writers. Nike is known for good advertising. Most people figure it’s because we have had good ad agencies or good athletes…or even good product. Hopefully, that is all true, but good advertising (like good novels, good movies and good love letters) requires good writers. Hire the best you can find and let them develop your storytelling voice. Tell them about your company, and let them experience it. Don’t tell them how to write.

The channel you use to distribute the stories matters less when the voice and stories are absolutely compelling.

Q: How can story be used to energize internal audiences like employees and partners? How do brand stories become part of the employee belief system?

A: Every company has stories. Anyone who has ever started a company or run a company or worked at a company can tell stories about the experience.

Ask employees to share their stories. Hire a good writer to interview a bunch of employees. Everyone has stories, but there is something powerful about hearing a longtime employee tell a story about the way it was and how they made it happen before they knew any better - back in the day before they had cell phones or expense accounts…or even desks to work from.

The good old stories aren’t the only good stories. What happened yesterday? Maintain, gather and tell those stories too.

Tell the truth. Don’t make stuff up to polish the brand or fit some pre-determined company line. The best stories are the real stories. Tell a story about how your company f*&%^* up and lived to tell about it. You can change the names later if you want to go public.

Repeat the stories. Look for interesting ways to tell the stories again. Relate the old stories to the new stories. Have the chairman tell the stories. Have the CFO tell the stories. Have the Chief Maintenance officer tell the stories.

Drag out old relics. Nothing gets people engaged, and inspires them to tell their own stories, like some old funny looking thing from their past.

Brand stories become part of the employee belief system because they’re real and it’s something employees feel they can trust, no matter what corporate crap they lived through that day. Employees feel like they’re building on something solid.

Chuck will be leading a discussion about brand storytelling at the Liquid Brand Summit March 1, 2011 in Palo Alto. Meet Chuck in person, be a part of the conversation, and find out how companies are transforming to meet today’s market demands. Feel free to post any questions about the brand summit, or about the discussion here. Read more

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