Tag Archives: brunner

Who Will Become the Tesla or AirBnB of the Home Category?

September 4, 2015

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This post originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Hardware + Building Supply Dealer. 

Tower Records Goes Out of Business

Rethinking your relationship with your customers might be what’s needed to avoid becoming the Tower Records of the home category.

As much as I hate shoveling snow, I can’t possibly justify spending upwards of $500 on a snow blower that I might use five days a year and would take up space in my garage for the remaining 360.

According to a recent PwC study, 43% of consumers agree that “owning feels like a burden.” When you consider the cost, maintenance and storage requirements, buying things is kind of a pain. It’s no wonder, then, that the “sharing economy” is estimated to be $110 billion (and growing fast), according to a November 2014 Leo Burnett study. Whether it’s Netflix, Spotify, Zipcar, TaskRabbit, Uber or Rent the Runway, there’s another, arguably better, alternative to ownership for virtually every aspect of our lives.

In a world where people don’t aspire to own their own homes or even openly despise the idea of owning a car, where does that leave the tool, yard care and appliance markets?

Brands in the home category have responded to this seismic shift the same way media companies responded to the shift in digital music – slowly and badly. The most established brands merely did what they know best – build a better mousetrap. In truth, rethinking one’s relationship to one’s customers might be what’s needed to avoid becoming the Tower Records of the home category.

People don’t want a snow blower; they want their driveway clear of snow. People don’t want a car; they want a reliable way to get from Point A to Point B.

BMW, the ultimate driving machine, is now trying to become the ultimate carsharing service. As Richard Steinberg, CEO of DriveNow at BMW said, “we used to be the provider of premium cars, and now we’re the provider of premium mobility as well as premium cars.”

For the home category, too, there are ways to create an ecosystem around your product versus creating a product that has to earn its place in some other network.

  • Implement a program where customers can trade in used products toward the purchase of a new one. Milwaukee Tools has a program where you can trade in old tools and get $100 off new ones. This not only helps customers who are looking to declutter, but also gets them to buy a new product as well.
  • Give customers the ability to rent your products directly. Sites like RentMyItems allow people to rent recreational equipment, tools and appliances from other people. What if you were able to keep that customer within your branded ecosystem by facilitating those rentals directly?
  • Give life to used or recycled tools by creating a branded tool library. Tool libraries are popping up all over the country and will only become more popular as the trends of urbanization, sharing and downsizing continue. A branded tool library would minimize waste, introduce more people to your brand and extend the life of your products.
  • Create a platform for customers to connect and share with each other. Think about what the NFL did with its Ticket Exchange. Recognizing that people were buying and selling tickets outside of the official properties, the NFL created a safe and secure platform that engaged its customers and gave the League a cut of the profit too. What if a tool brand created a branded online community where customers were able to buy, sell and share their tools with a very targeted and engaged group of people?

Far be it from the smaller players to help usher in a seachange of this magnitude. In another PwC survey of 1,322 global CEOs, half of the U.S. CEOs surveyed believe a significant competitor is emerging, or could emerge, from the technology sector. Take one look at what Tesla is doing to the automobile market, or what AirBnB is doing to the hotel market. Small technology startups are coming in and revolutionizing entire industries of big, established brands. Ford or Hilton could have just as easily assumed these roles, but now they’re all playing catchup to the smaller guys. Viewed through that lens, these ideas not only become more realistic for brands in the home category — they’re mandatory for survival.

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Is Our PR Community Part of the New Pittsburgh or the Old One?

February 3, 2015

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This post originally appeared on PRSA Pittsburgh’s blog. 

Kayaks on the Allegheny

Creative Commons image from Flickr user Slackley

In this month’s Pittsburgh Magazine, there’s a story highlighting how millennials are literally and figuratively transforming my hometown.

Where there once existed the attitude that young people had to leave Pittsburgh to find a career, there’s now a sizable part of our city that feels is staying in Pittsburgh to create their career. And people around the country are taking notice.

From startup incubators to entrepreneurs to civil activists, Pittsburgh is attracting a demographic I grew used to being surrounded by over the last 12 years in both Washington D.C. and Chicago. People who care more about making an impact rather than getting a promotion. People who volunteer alongside competitors and clients to advance a cause they believe in. People who go to as many networking events, conferences, and happy hours as they could just to be a part of the energy around them.

When I moved back here in August, my friends and colleagues all asked if I’d miss that feeling, that energy. They said that atmosphere doesn’t exist here because if you’re talented and ambitious, you know better than to stay in Pittsburgh. They said I’d miss that vibe and that I’d wish I didn’t move. They said Pittsburgh is where you go if you can’t hack it in a bigger city or when you’re ready to slow down and take it easy.

I want to prove them wrong.

Pittsburgh and other mid-size cities get a bad rap in the PR and marketing industry. “You need to be in NYC to get access to the media,” they say. “The most creative work comes out of the big agencies because they can afford the talent,” they say. There’s a hell of a lot of talent outside of New York and Chicago that tends to get lost because, paradoxically, PR people generally do an awful job at promoting themselves. Even in our own city, it’s the startups in the East End, or the CMU engineers, or the foodie restaurants that are opening up who get all the attention for the “new Pittsburgh.” Where’s the PR, advertising, and marketing community in all of that?

I want to show them that we’ve got some cool things up our sleeves too.

And I think there’s a whole lot people here in the Pittsburgh PR community who feel the same way. Whether it’s the wonderful team that I have at my agency or the enthusiastic PRSA Pittsburgh Board members or the people I met last night at the PRSA Pittsburgh Renaissance Awards, I’ve seen that ambition and desire to make an impact, to be at the tip of the spear of something big. The potential is there.

This year, let’s show the rest of this city and the country what we’ve got here.

Let’s commit to never saying “because that’s how things have been done before.”

Let’s do a better job at educating the people in our organization about the value we bring.

Let’s collaborate and come together more often (virtually and physically) to learn from and push each other to do big things.

Let’s think bigger.

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PR Pros: Start Thinking Bigger Before It’s Too Late

November 24, 2014

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This article originally appeared in PR Daily.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at PRSA Pittsburgh’s Professional Development Day  where I spoke about some of the changes that integrated marketing is having on the PR industry. The part of my presentation that drew the greatest reaction from the mostly entry level and student attendees was when I said that the industry has to stop the incessant whining about how PR doesn’t have a seat at the table or how people just don’t “get PR.” I even shared a great quote from my friend Rick Rice that raised some eyebrows –

“The PR industry is in need of disruptive change and none of this generation are even willing to try.”

All of the issues with today’s PR industry – that we’re an afterthought, that people don’t understand what we do or the value we bring, that anyone can do what we do – are nobody’s fault but our own. For years decades, many public relations professionals have chosen to complain about their lack of participation in the big picture rather than taking charge and forcing their way into it. Here’s a hint for all you young PR pros out there:

Kids Table

Image courtesy of Flickr user terren in Virginia

If you want to sit at the big kid table, start acting like one of the big kids.

What does this mean? Well, to start, it means that you have to start speaking their language. Stop talking about hits, placements, and impressions and start talking about share points, aided and unaided awareness, conversions, leads, and sales. That doesn’t mean that PR is going to be directly responsible for any of these, but it does show that you are invested in the whole of the business, not just your specific workstream. It shows that you can add value beyond the PR section of a deck. Every time a PR pro says “I hate math – that’s why I went into PR,” the industry gets pushed further and further down the ladder.

It means that you have to stop talking about how the sausage is made and start focusing on the impact to the larger business. Have you ever watched a presentation from a brand planner? Compare that to a PR guy’s presentation. The brand planner focuses on the big picture. She gets everyone excited about the insights, the winning strategy and how it leads to the overall end result – the impact that it’s going to have on the business. It’s quick. It’s to the point. It’s visual. But most of all, it’s interesting throughout. The PR guy, on the other hand, will feel the need to justify his existence by diving into the nuts and bolts of each individual tactic. He includes all kinds of bullets and charts and graphs. By the time he’s on phase 3 on slide 14, all of the excitement has been sucked out of the room. He’s now trained everyone in the room to believe that PR is small and tactical rather than big and impactful.

It also means that you have to stop rushing to quick wins and slow down. Before launching into your PR ideas, strategies and tactics, ask to see the overall marketing plan. Ask to see the brand’s business objectives. Ask to see the proof behind the copy points in the ads. Ask if you can talk with customers and employees to learn more about what makes the brand unique. Stop trying to rush around so that you can get some results, any results. Slow down, do your research, understand the business. Make it a required part of the PR process. Don’t give in. As an industry, we have to stop asking “how high?” anytime a client or account manager says jump or we’re never going to get the respect we deserve.

Now that brands can pay to secure native content in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal that achieves similar (if not better) statistics as traditional editorial content, the value proposition of a PR pro has to change. As publishers get better and better at integrating native advertising both effectively and ethically, the PR pro’s old standby – “earned coverage has a lot more credibility paid media” – starts to erode. Given the choice between reallocating some of my paid media dollars to native advertising content, where my impressions, message, and CTAs are guaranteed, in a format that is achieving similar traffic, what’s the incentive to trying to earn editorial coverage where I have none of those guarantees and potentially open my brand up to a negative article? Saving a few dollars? That might work for smaller brands without a large media budget, but what about the big brands with millions of dollars?

Some of us have added things like social media, content marketing, media buying, and SEO/SEM to our resumes to try to stay ahead of the curve but these are short-term, tactical solutions. We have to think bigger, beyond the execution of these roles. We have to understand consumer’s entire journey with the the brand’s category and what, if any role, the brand should play at each stage. In a world where transparency and authenticity have become marketing hallmarks, PR has to think of itself less as a workstream and more as a mindset that’s integrated across everything a brand does.

Someone needs to understand how all of these different parts work together. Why can’t PR assume the role of multi-channel quarterback?

What if PR served as a kind of corporate ombudsman, there to call bullshit on the hyperbolic marketing language and “hit you over the head” marketing tactics?

What if (gasp!) PR led your creative?

What if PR, the people who know the public better than anyone, helped shape a brand’s products and services?

What would happen if we started thinking bigger?

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