Marketing: The Song Remains The Same.

Posted on March 26th, 2014

The more marketing changes, the more it stays the same. Or, as the Talking Heads would say, “same as it ever was.”

Earlier this week, I gave a talk in an International Marketing class at Boston University’s Isenberg School of Management taught by former Reebok colleague + good friend, Pat Hambrick. Preparing for Monday morning’s class (MK 467 for those who sweat the details) by reading the syllabus (there’s a first time for everything)  I realized that I had taken the exact same class during my fun-filled stay at Villanova’s School Of Business over 25 years ago. Once I got over the bustle in my hedgerow about my age, it struck me that so much has changed in marketing over the past 25 years – yet the fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed at all.

The course description reads:

The principal objective of this course is to help you develop a critical appreciation of both the opportunities and challenges associated with the increasing globalization of markets.  During the semester, you will learn about the key environmental forces shaping consumer needs and preferences, the impact of foreign political and economic factors on U.S. companies, the influence of international competition, market segmentation and strategy decisions specific to international marketing.  You will:

  • Assess various foreign markets
  • Analyze the impact of cultural, social, political and economic factors on marketing strategies
  • Determine when to use different market entry and penetration strategies
  • Examine the different skills and systems required to implement marketing strategies across country borders

Since 1989 – a couple little things have irrevocably changed the marketing landscape thanks to Al Gore and his invention of the Internet:

Email. Even if you’re still Or you Yahoo! Websites. Ecommerce. Unless its of course. Social media. Whether you use it to organize an uprising or post a selfie or your entire Occupy movement Tebowing. Blogs. Tumblr. Mom blogs. Fashion blogs. Moms blogging about fashion on their Tumblr. YouTube. Cat videos. Cellphones. Smartphones. Laptops. Tablets. Chromebooks. MP3s. Napster. MP3 players. iPods. Pandora. Spotify. Kindle. Wal*Mart. Amazon. Infoseek. HotBot. Yahoo. SEO. AdWords. The Google. The world is flat. Everything is global. Brands can’t get away with anything. How’s that new Gap logo looking? The CMO has the shortest tenure of all executives.There’s no such thing as a one-company career. Unless your name is Zuckerberg, Gates or Brin. Google Analytics. Anyone can easily start a business now. Lean Startup. Squarespace. Amazon Web Services. Must See TV is now on DVRs + Netflix, only occasionally on NBC. Reviews aren’t in the paper, they’re on Amazon, Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes. Speed. Apple. 

And hundreds if not thousands of others. An innovation-driven economy never stops changing, evolving + moving forward.

But while the tools and mediums have evolved and been disrupted, the fundamentals of great marketing are the same:

  1. Product is king (or queen, depending on your orientation). Without a great product, marketing doesn’t matter.
  2. Customer understanding, insight and conversation is central + critical to building a great product.
  3. Understanding how to connect with them is both an art + a science. All of the tools listed above have changed the ways companies are able to connect with potential customers.
  4. Your brand is everything you do. Including your product + your people. Even more important now when you can’t have any weak links or the Twitterverse will not be shy about pointing out your flaws to the world. No matter how small you might be.
  5. We’re all in sales.

So as we wind on down the road, be current on major shifts in mediums, tactics and on never forget the fundamentals.

And remember, there is no finish line.

Lego just built the coolest brand in America.

Posted on February 21st, 2014

If you told me what I’m about to tell you, I would think you were an idiot with lowest common denominator taste and write you off as an arbiter of anything relevant, good and worthwhile in culture.

Gloves are off. Chin is out.

The Lego Movie is one of the best overall films I have seen in a long time. There. I said it. It was actually easier to say than when I acknowledged that One Direction’s Story of My Life was a pretty good song. I still have scars from that one. But like Ron Luciano behind the plate of a Yankees game, I call ‘em like I see ‘em, fully anticipating a full beer to rein down on my head from the 300 level.

The Lego Movie is one part Toy Story, one part Bugs Bunny, one part Old School. It’s a movie for kids written on a subversive highbrow adult level with inside jokes on everything from the Showtime Lakers of the 80s to the smooveness of Billy Dee Williams to the questionable superpowers and sexuality of the Green Hornet. The only joke they missed was the construction worker suspended by his helmet from a girder with a single dab of Krazy Glue.

Suffering through the horrific similarly themed previews in the theater before the movie started and ready to barf my Junior Mints, I went on IMDB to get the backstory. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why nearly 15 major stars would sign up for such a script. Will Ferrell. Nick Offerman. Will Arnett. Jonah Hill. Will Forte. Guys I not only love as actors, but would have over for a barbecue. But as the story unfolded, I got it. The concept was brilliant. The writing was extraordinary. The movie was fun. And the revenue and merchandising opportunities were off the charts.

Sometimes brands make incredible mistakes getting out over their skis and pushing beyond what they are capable of supporting from a personality and believability standpoint. The $100,000 Volkswagen Phaeton rings a faint bell. The Pat Boone metal album had vultures circling his career before it was even released. But sometimes a brand gets just enough smart people around it to tease out the true DNA and reconfigure it into something original, creative and completely unexpected.

Just like playing with Legos.

Breakaway Roadshow Hits Salt Lake City

Posted on February 10th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago the B.I.G. crew hopped on a plane and headed off to the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show, a biannual product show held in Salt Lake City. A place where retailers, manufacturers, and suppliers from all over the world descend for a few jam-packed, inspired days to review and fall in love with products related to the outdoor recreation industry. The energy was high, the show was huge, flannels and beards were in full effect and we were stoked to be there.  Stoked even became a part of our vernacular for a few days.

But our main excitement wasn’t the gazillion garments, it was the show stopping presence of our client, Bemis‘ 30 x 50 booth. For the past few months, we have worked with Bemis to develop their brand expression and carry that through their marketing efforts. As one arm of these efforts, we partnered with an exhibit company to design the overall look and feel of the booth, making sure it exceeded their requirements for their upcoming show tour at ISPO Munich, and ISPO Beijing.

Our journey to Winter OR was our chance to see it all come to life, and to document the week. We interviewed some of their Premium partners, Project OR contestants and Bemis designers as well as President and CEO, Steve Howard, and Global Director of Marketing, Taylor Duffy, to talk Bemis, the future of bonding and what it takes to be a Partner to some of the world’s best brands.

Much more to come, stay tuned.

Bemis is a leading global manufacturer of heat-activated film adhesives, seam tapes and custom films who partners with some of the world’s greatest brands to design, create and construct cool stuff.  Their Sewfree® bonding solutions are in much of the technical outerwear apparel, performance wear, handbags, tablet covers you see today.  Basically if you’ve worn it, they’re probably in it. 


The buzz on Facebook Paper is well deserved. I just don’t use it.

Posted on February 7th, 2014

On Monday, Facebook unveiled their uber-hyped news and stories app Paper. Like Zite and Flipboard, Paper serves up content surfaced by your social network, but also offers curated news, videos and images from a handful of categories like tech, sports, and cooking.

Here is what I wrote that afternoon ….

“The buzz is well deserved. Paper is beautifully designed, and at the most basic level it’s simply a better Facebook. More visual, less busy, thumb friendly. Paper is built around a few simple gestures. You don’t scroll through Paper as much as you flick through it. You explore HD photos by titling your device to see what you want to see. It’s intuitive, ad-free (for now) and also something else that Facebook hasn’t been for a while. Cool.”

This is all true, but here’s the thing, I haven’t used it since. Not once.

There are a number of contributing factors as to why I haven’t even considered launching the app since that first day, despite the fact that I sent around a half-dozen emails to my co-workers when it launched proclaiming the app to be the second coming of Christ.

Here are the Top 5:

1. As an iPad owner, and a religious daily user of Zite, the small format of Paper is annoying for me. I think Facebook did a tremendous job with the touch gestures. I just don’t want to read anything that small. I think Facebook could have made a better play by leading with an iPad  and desktop app, even if that meant a smaller launch on fewer devices.

2. I don’t want Facebook to be my news source. I go to Facebook to see the cat photos and Chuck Norris memes that my friends seem to think are so funny. I like that my news comes in as part of that feed, but that my friend’s minutia is prioritized. I already have Zite, and Flipboard, so there is no real pull here.

3. Paper doesn’t navigate that well for the way I want to use it. It’s cool, and thumb friendly, and they figured out how to get a lot in a small space … but it’s a pain to flick through casually, and the lower panels are too small to be useful. Using the regular Facebook app and the continuous feed may be less visually interesting, but it’s easier and faster.

4. I’m limited to seeing content that has already been published within Facebook’s ecosystem. This covers a lot of ground obviously, but I’d rather not be limited in getting exposure to content from other platforms.

5. I don’t feel like I can customize and take control of my experience in the way I can with Zite or Flipboard. I can’t create a custom feed, or curate the feeds they give me.  Whether the sense of control I get from these other apps in an illusion or not, it does enhance the experience.

Are you using Paper? What do you think? Leave a comment below and drop some science on me.

New CEO Appointment Proves Culture Is Microsoft’s Real Problem

Posted on February 6th, 2014

Steve Ballmer announced his retirement as Microsoft CEO in late August, 2013. Satya Nadella – a 20+ year company veteran – was announced as his replacement this week.

To paraphrase the song in their Surface TV spots, we want to see him be brave. I wish him nothing but the best of luck. We need a strong Microsoft. (But clearly, no one needs or wants a Surface). And I have had a lot of friends that work there. Natella sounds like one of the smartest technology minds in an industry already full of scary smart minds, who should understand how to deliver against the vision he announced this week of  “Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.”

But until he cleans up the bureaucratic, slow, political culture at Microsoft, the company’s results won’t change.

For those of you keeping score at home, it took Microsoft five months between CEO announcements. For an internal candidate.

Getting slower is exactly what Microsoft cannot afford at this point in its life. The company has been defending its cash cow franchises against extremely formidable competition. Not just Apple, Google, Amazon and Salesforce, but upstarts like Dropbox, Box, and others specialized in the conception, creation, launch + iteration of disruptive technology.

These companies have cultures that are all about swift, decisive action.

Most reports from inside the company led us to believe that the company stagnated during that time. Critical decisions weren’t made. Bureaucratic inertia crept in. Internal politics were probably worse than Washington DC. Imagine the sclerosis in any leaderless organization for 5 days – let alone 5 months.

When your culture is all about speed and failing fast, you can topple giants. When you’re a giant who relies on consensus and politics to make decisions, you’d better watch out for the cloud, mobile, and disruptive companies that are the opposite of what you are.

And when your founder Bill Gates – one of the brightest technology minds in history and now your technology advisor – can’t manage to install your flagship software on his own PC, there are bigger issues to fix.

Good luck Satya. Burn the boats. Maybe Clippy can come back to help you (and your technology advisor).

Super Bowl Commercial, 48, Dies

Posted on February 3rd, 2014

The Super Bowl commercial, once the crown jewel of marketing and one of the most anticipated events in American society, has died of irrelevancy. It was 48.

The Super Bowl commercial had been suffering from a long, increasingly debilitating illness caused by focus groups, lack of creativity, and the tightening of sphincters brought on by marketing executives over-managing their careers and under-delivering ideas. It had been confined to a wheelchair since 2009 when Danica Patrick first appeared in a GoDaddy spot about plastic surgery and fake breasts with J. Cornflako. Its health, though, had been decreasing for years and was originally diagnosed when Budweiser began the puppy and frilly leg warmer horse pussification of what was once America’s greatest beer.

The Super Bowl commercial was once a powerful, awe-inspiring cultural behemoth. Its Mount Rushmore includes Mean Joe Green, George Orwell, cat wranglers, the E-Trade monkey and Betty White. But once crowd-sourcing, narcissistic patriotism and the USA Today Ad Meter entered its bloodstream, it was only a matter of time before it succumbed to John Stamos and a creepy blowjob reference.

The Super Bowl commercial is survived by the Academy Awards.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the advertising industry to make Bud Light funny again.

Good Morning Vietnam.

Posted on January 8th, 2014

It’s 1:13am on Wednesday morning and I’m humid-haired in this sweet ass bed in Hanoi, at the edge of a pier listening to fish jump in the lake behind my head and mini-motorcycle engines cutting and gunning in the distance.

It’s wild. It’s NYC on a weird herbal drug. It’s beautiful crazy.

Good morning Vietnam.

At this point, we’ve already traveled almost 20,000 miles on a video production shoot for our client. We’ve lain in more seats than beds, drank multiple glasses of sake, beer, wine and bloody mary’s – most of them on airplanes. We’ve chased the sun, ran to gates, stood in the world’s longest customs line, slept with our eyes open, drank with our eyes closed, sucked down water like it was our job and prayed that we’d finally, FINALLY arrive in Hanoi to do what we came to do: our job.

For the record, the JAL Dreamliner is literally amazing. We ate everything on the in-flight menu (Japanese NOT Western offerings, prepping ourselves as one should). We drank things. We drank water. We listened to Scott talk about his thick-skinned eyelids, and how eye masks don’t help him. We had impeccable service.

We saw some seriously phenomenal stuff outside the plane windows.

We missed our connecting flight and stayed over at the Narita Airport Hotel, ate at their small, top-of-the-hotel sushi restaurant (it was amazing), drank celebratory “We’re In Asia!!” drinks, went to the Sunset Lounge next door, tried to rally and then went to bed. We all woke up and did weird things at 3am. I went down in the lobby in the PJ’s they give you on your bed. It’s basically one long shirt. I needed bottled water. Tall Matt took a bath. Scott just went back to bed.

10am flight on Vietnam Airlines got us safely into Hanoi. The plane was definitely made in 1983 but we enjoyed it’s clunkiness and the sweet chocolate/fruit/cheese/wine we were given.

Also, one flight attendant asked Scott if he was the same man on the cover of the GQ he was reading. It was Matthew McConaughey. Don’t tell anyone.

It’s been non-stop from the moment we landed. We have just a few precious days here before heading to Hong Kong for the second part of our shoot. Our field producer in Hanoi is a real instigator. We love her.

She says before we leave Asia, we’ll get:

  1. Insanely drunk.
  2. In to some fetishy place that makes Kay uncomfortable.
  3. Smoking.
  4. Addicted to some Shisha.
  5. In jail.
  6. All of the above.

Stay tuned, more to come.

Convergent Dental – This is Big

Posted on November 27th, 2013

Remember that awesome time we had at the dentist? Said no one, ever.

There is no joy in dentistry. There are no fond memories. No can’t wait to see you’s. No I missed you’s. The dentist is a must, not a want and with that comes enough baggage to fill the underbelly of a jetliner. It hurts to go to the dentist. And that’s a pain to everyone.

But what if you could remove that hurt? What if you could remove all the anxiety? What if you could take that drill and all its creepy sounds and burning smells and stick it somewhere that the sun rarely shines? That would be a big deal.

This is a huge deal.

Breakaway helped Convergent Dental, a start-up company with a brilliant product, launch Solea – the first ever FDA cleared laser that does all the awesome things that lasers are supposed to do. If Captain Kirk had a dentist on the Enterprise, this is how he would fix that cavity brought on by too much Vulcan taffy.

Watch the Solea video, made in conjunction with Giant Ant Media. Then beam yourself up to a dentist who has one.