"Are you ready for more BJs?"
No, I Don’t Have “Category Experience”. And That’s A Good Thing.
This is a slightly edited version of something I wrote for Heart, almost a year ago. Been thinking about it a lot this week though, and wanted to re-post it.
In our first several months of existence, we’ve had a wide variety of conversations, with a wide variety of people, from a wide variety of industries.
And one thing I’ve noticed throughout, is a generally strong desire for founders, marketing directors, CMOs, etc, to hire people and agencies that have specific experience within a specific category.
Quick serve restaurant wants quick serve restaurant experience. (sweeping shots of steaming food!)
Automotive brand wants automotive experience. (dramatic footage of car driving on a windy mountain road!)
Luxury brand wants luxury experience. (implausible moment with impossibly good looking people - and a horse or other exotic animal!)
So on and so on.
But if you only look for category relevant experience as a filter, you will only get more of the category convention. You will get what an agency did for someone else (maybe even for a competitor), tinker-tailored and adjusted slightly for you.
You will get more of the same.
You will be another indistinguishable choice in a crowded space.
Because if you only work from what exists, how will you find what is yet to be imagined?
Apple didn’t hire the former head of Target or Best Buy to run their retail business. They hired Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of Burberry, an extra-category executive with a knack for transformation. Because as usual, Apple is looking to re-define a category, not operate within an existing paradigm.
Brave brands don’t give a shit about convention. They don’t care if you’ve done it before - they care if you can see what’s never been done before, and do it.
It’s about changing the game, not playing it.
Unpacking A Facebook Viral Hack
Spinning through my feed this morning, I saw this post from a radio station in Philadelphia.
I’ve seen this type of thing before, but this particular post caught my eye. My cellphone has a name? What kind of digital sorcery is this???
It also seems to have caught the eye of 1.2mm other people as well,
I started to scroll through the comments, and lo and behold, they all seemed to be legit names or real-sounding people (as well as some typos of numbers from people who can’t follow instructions).
A quick Google search on some of these names verified my hunch that these were all names of people who attended Harvard around the time that Facebook was launched. Meaning specifically, that they would have low Facebook user ID numbers.
More specifically, they would have three-digit Facebook user ID numbers, and when typed into a comment box preceded by an @ symbol, the corresponding real names would be spit back.
So it’s fairly safe to assume that Qhawekazi there, has a cell number ending in 197.
Same with Tiffany Egnaczyk Fisher, another Harvard alum, with a Facebook user ID of 547, which would map to Sherli’s input.
You get it.
Simple, but clever little hack to make this post go “viral”.
In an age where hashtag activism and information-free awareness campaigns are becoming more and more common, we should be very conscious of how to make viral trends as useful as possible.
I Was Wrong
It’s rare, but it happens.
But as Jeff Bezos said, consistency of thought isn’t a particularly positive trait, so I’ll own it.
Specifically I was wrong about the tangible impact of the seemingly silly ice bucket challenge that is overtaking our social media feeds right now. More precisely, I said this:
And then I went on to say this:
My initial reaction was that this was going to be another slacktivist routine where we mistook vanity and virality for actually making a difference (remember when we cured cancer with our profile photos?).
And the face-palming irony was only made more thick, when I’d see these videos sitting adjacent to posts from other people doing things to raise money for clean water (Charity Water, etc).
It made my head hurt.
But despite the empty vanity and social media virality (and there is plenty of both at play here) it turns out, this particular craze seems to be having a positive impact on the only metric that matters, donations.
The challenge, which has spread across the country the last several days, has raised $168,000 online nationally this week so far.
Last year, during the same time period, Newhouse said they had raised $14,000.
That’s a huge lift in giving over last year, which is almost entirely attributable (I’d gather) from this craze. And that’s fantastic.
So when I snarkily said that this wasn’t working, perhaps I was wrong.
Two parting thoughts on this though (for now).
I hope when this runs its course, that the ALS folks do a proper case study on this. Complete with detailed financials, an analysis of the program’s spread, ratio of participants to givers, etc.
Because more often than not, when these programs are done, we’re only left with some fuzzy numbers and correlations, which only get fuzzier and more legendary the further away from the craze we get - hence my comments about this just being broadly and blindly labeled as a “success”.
It’d be great to have something that other charitable organizations can learn from, replicate, and even improve upon.
Not to be a glass-is-half-empty guy here, but given just how prolific this campaign seems to be, an additional $154,000 in donations doesn’t seem like much.
If we’re counting in $100 donations (and I’m sure the composition of that $154k is more varied), it’d only be 1,540 donations, which isn’t huge. In fact, if you guesstimate that…I don’t know….500,000 people have done this? It’s actually quite a small number of donations.
Which says something about the delicate balance between the ability to spread something fun and silly and viral, and the ability to connect that action to the actual desired output.
Either way, it’s interesting to watch, and will be even more interesting to look back on and understand further.
Craft Beer Marketing
Several weeks back, the folks at BevNET and Brewbound invited me to speak at their craft beer business conference in Boston, the Brewbound Session.
Specifically, they asked me to do a talk entitled “Evaluating, Shifting Marketing Priorities As You Grow”, which was meant to be my broad take on where craft brewers should spend their marketing time and money as they grow.
The first draft of this presentation, was actually 60 slides, and clocked in at almost an hour when I did a run through. But since I only had 20 minutes on stage, I had to dramatically cut this down to fit the format.
Which given how much I like to talk, was quite a challenge.
Below is the final presentation I gave at the event, cut down to 34 slides, along with my original speaker notes (which are written conversationally - as I presented).
The audience was a couple hundred brewers and beer industry folks, and despite the fact that I talked very quickly while on stage, and tried to cram as much content into the allotted time as possible, I think this was pretty well received.
Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for coming today, and thanks to BevNet and Brewbound for inviting me. My name is Andrew Teman, and I’m the founder of a creative agency here in Boston, called Heart.
I’m here today, to talk about how you (as craft brewers), can think about and prioritize your marketing efforts, as a means to breaking through in this increasingly competitive space.
Because just as a bit of a level set - and this is something I know you’re all acutely aware of - this is what the average consumer is facing today when buying beer.
The sheer amount of choice is simply overwhelming.
I actually snapped this picture a week or so ago, at a liquor store not far from here.
These are bottles in the craft beer section, literally covered in dust, because they’ve sat untouched for so long.
And these aren’t way down on the back bottom-shelf. These are left side, eye level - a prime spot.
So, it goes without saying that to even stand a chance, to even have a hope of being pulled off of the shelf, you need to stand out. You need to break through this clutter and noise.
And when I ask people in the beer industry how they are approaching marketing (especially those just starting out), what I hear most often, is this:
And I get it. I understand completely why this is the starting point for everyone.
There is a perception that it is free.
That it’s easy.
That you can do it effectively without any outside help.
There is a perception that beer is inherently social, and thusly, everyone will just naturally talk about you and your product organically.
And while some of this may be partially true, relying on just doing social media alone, will not get you very far - I promise.
Social media is a tactic (one of many) that’s part of a larger communication framework through which you tell your story.
It sits alongside things like PR, events, your packaging, the product…all of the ways you can communicate your brand to drinkers.
So what I want to do today, is get a bit broader. A bit higher level, and give you a framework that hopefully will allow you to better organize and prioritize how you market your brands and your products.
And to keep things really simple, I’ve broken the world down into four pieces. Four pieces that I think can work for everyone, regardless of whether you’re MillerCoors, or two guys in a garage. All things you can be thinking about, and doing today, regardless of your size or your stage.
And we’re going to talk a bit more about what each of those things means in practice.
Let’s start with making a great product.
This is my friend Todd - some of you may know Todd, he’s been around the industry for a while. Todd worked at Sam Adams with me and ran the customer relations end of the business.
But his true passion is (and always has been sake). His commitment to the product, to the liquid, is second to none. He pours all of his heart and energy into making the absolute best sake he can.
And this is where it all starts - with that passion and that determination and that commitment to making an amazing product.
And this part, this is something I can’t help you with. Because all of the marketing in the world, can’t save a bad product.
And I trust, just based on your presence here today, that you are all people that have this step knocked.
So let’s build off of that and get into what happens next.
Which is having a great story.
And when I think about story, I think about it in terms of how each of you, in this room, would answer this question.
If I grabbed any one of you, and said “What is Backlash Beer?” or “What is Portico Brewing?”
Would you have an answer that’s clear, differentiated, own-able, uniquely yours, and above all…interesting?
Some of you would, I’m sure. But lots of you would probably respond with a long pause. Or some rambling monologue that’s hard to follow and ultimately trails off into nowhere.
Or you’d talk to me about being small, and independent - or having quality ingredients. Which I hate to tell you, isn’t story - it’s cost of entry to the category.
And it certainly isn’t unique or interesting.
And the reason story is so important, is that it’s your story. YOUR story, that becomes the basis of that emotional connection you need to build with your drinker in order to break through the clutter we talked about.
Capturing people’s hearts is the first step to capturing their wallets. And capturing hearts, has everything to do with having a great story.
That one simple truth, that uniquely-yours thing that guides everything you do, make, or say.
And while we could do a full day conference on story and brand positioning, I wanted to give a couple of real quick examples of what story looks can begin to look like in its simplest form.
First, Toms - one of my favorite brands, is built on a simple principle. A simple story that guides everything that they do. Whether they get into footwear, or eyewear, or even coffee. Their story is about social entrepreneurship.
And industry example, a beer example - Clown Shoes.
While this is personally not the direction I’d go in if I started a brewery, I do have an enormous amount of respect for what they are creating with this brand.
It is what it is, and it’s unapologetic about what it is, and it’s origins.
And from my perspective, this story is pulled through beautifully in the products that they make - certainly in how they are named. It’s a great, simple story.
And frankly, so much of its strength comes from it’s polarizing effect. The fact that it’s unabashedly not for everyone, is a big part of what makes it resonant. It forces a decision to be with them or not. And there’s great power in that.
But regardless of the angle, regardless of what your story is, it needs to be rooted in an authenticity, an honesty, a heart that bleeds through and is undeniable.
It’s cliche, but it’s true.
So begin with what you believe. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What is that one simple thing that can guide everything underneath it?
Because once that story is defined and strong, the rest becomes so much easier. The advertising, social media, packaging…it all has something to be guided by.
But of course a great story poorly told, isn’t going to be of much impact.
Because it isn’t in the idea, it’s in the execution. It’s in how this story comes to life and begins to work hard for you.
So to that end, I want to go through some of the ways you can bring this story to life, in service of growth.
First, and maybe most importantly, is to tell great stories through your products themselves.
I know we are in a world where we’re all chasing the latest, hottest, most interesting, underground and extreme thing.
But there is enormous strength in having your brand and product stories map to one another.
I’ve always loved Dogfish, and while their portfolio is pretty eclectic, they (to me) are great at telling a brand story through their products. Product becomes a proof point for the stories they tell.
Next, package design - something I see far too many brands skimping on.
My advice is to invest in great design early on. The liquid inside is moot if no one pulls it off the shelf first.
And this matters more than you may think. Package design is key to what Proctor and Gamble called “First Moment of Truth” - which they described as the moment “when consumers stand in front of a store shelf … and decide whether to buy a P&G brand, or a competing product.”
Eyes lead people - colors, patterns, objects of beauty.
And trust me, designers are DYING to do beer branding work. I’m not saying exploit them, but know that they WANT to do this work. Engage them, and design something beautiful from day one.
Beyond just jumping out, design matters, because beautiful and interesting products become badges. They become social objects and vehicles through which people self-express.
This is Method, another brand I love.
Eric, one of the founders talks about how he knew people wanted cleaning products that they didn’t have to hide under their sinks. Genius. Totally upended the category style, and turned household cleaners into objects of desire.
What they’ve done with cleaning products (creating something beautiful) is going to quickly become a cost of entry - a necessity to compete, in the beer industry.
And I know so many of you may only have one or two styles in retail now, maybe a few more. But as you approach design, think in foundational systems. Think about creating a design system, that is consistent enough to create that retail billboarding effect, but also elastic enough to accommodate growth.
Because people pattern match.
This is Pastene. People may not know the brand name Pastene, but they damn sure know the Italian brand with the yellow label.
And this design makes it easy for Pastene to introduce new products and cross-sell existing ones. Because they’ve created a system of visual communications that works hard for them and makes it easy on shoppers.
And “system” by the way doesn’t mean bland and templated.
I look at Pretty Things for instance, and every label for each different style is so unique and so intricate. But there is an unmistakeable style that they have. So those individual parts, as unique as they are, sum to something greater when on a shelf together.
Social media and content - which to be clear, I don’t think is totally useless, I just don’t believe that it’s the ONLY thing.
What I absolutely do believe, is that we, as beer folk, create great content simply as a byproduct of what we do every day. And that these visuals, these simple, light content pieces are a great way to tell your story.
These are some examples of “content” that I “created” when I was with Sam Adams, and almost with no captions, they tell wonderful stories
Remember, that what you are doing is interesting. Most people sit in offices, and wear ties, and create TPS reports. You guys are making beer, and that’s cool in itself. Don’t complicate it, just own it and give people a window into your world. Share the awesomeness that is working in the beer industry, with those who don’t.
Lastly, another place I’d focus on and spend in if I were a brewer (in addition to design) is PR.
Aside from huge reach, these magazines like GQ, Women’s Health, etc…provide third party validation, which has great value. With these placements, you are able to borrow equity from other established vehicles as a means to build your own.
Same goes for awards and festivals. Enter and win.
My sister in law covets the Boston Magazine Best of Boston award for her day spa every year. And not just because winning is awesome. But that ability to badge, and get the press that comes along with winning. It’s such phenomenal validation - that borrowed equity is so strong.
But whatever the medium, and whatever the story, as Dan Weiden (one of the most famous advertising minds of our generation) says, “Just move me dude”.
Lastly, I want to talk about media.
Marketing with a capital “M” - giving all of this story a boost, and making sure people actually get a chance to see it and hear it and experience it.
Back to social media for a minute, and this idea of just “doing social media”.
Again, what I understand the logic path to be, is…
Social media is free
Social is about engagement
Engagement is good
Beer is social
We will get engagement, because beer.
Not sure if we have any South Park fans here, but most social media approaches I see, are a bit like the underpants gnomes from South Park.
But the harsh reality is, that Facebook and social media are now unambiguously paid platforms. Even Facebook themselves has said so.
Beer, no matter how inherently social, is not immune to this reality I’m afraid.
And the data proves this.
If you do not pay for ads on Facebook, you simply are not seen. You do not exist.
The latest data (this is from Ogilvy Social), says that only about 6% of a page’s fans are reached with its content.
So do the math. Without paying…
For every 1,000 fans you have, you’re going to be lucky if your posts even appear in the newsfeeds of 60 people.
And appearing is different still from being seen, or from having any impact.
The good news is, the targeting abilities on these platforms, are amazing.
For instance, here is a quick cut I ran.
Let’s say for instance, you make a stout and distribute in New England. This targeting segment would allow you to get content in front of people in New England, that have indicated they like Stout, and who have an upcoming birthday.
3,000 people now (that aren’t necessarily fans of yours) that you can reach with a specific message - like “celebrate your birthday with an XYZ stout” or something like that.
Getting WAY outside of social media, and going in a totally different direction….
One of the first things we did at Heart, was a billboard. I’ve been a digital guy for 15 years, the last thing I thought we’d do would be a billboard.
But we did, and they ran on Route 93 and the Mass Turnpike here, for 3 months. Total media cost was around $XX,XXX. The artwork and production end is not terribly expensive either. Maybe half that.
And from a pure reach + resonance standpoint, this actually outperformed everyone’s expectations. We STILL get mentions of this billboard, months after it’s come down.
Radio and TV, also tend to be overlooked, but are not nearly as crazy or expensive as you may think.
Sam Adams and Jim Koch did so many things well (they still do), but one of their smartest moves, was buying TV. It was a huge part of what allowed them to blow past the competition and become a category leader.
And recently we’ve seen folks like New Belgium and Kona start experimenting with TV also.
So to recap…
Make a great product - that’s all you
Have a great story - know your reason for being, why you exist, who you are and who you aren’t
Tell it well - take that story and be considerate of every touchpoint you have with a drinker, from product stories to content stories. And make sure they all build towards something greater.
Give it a boost - Don’t be afraid of paid media. You’re in an extremely crowded space, and for short money, you can start to force your way above the fray.
Lastly, I want to leave you with one more framework to help put all of this into a time and priority context.
And in the name of broad applicability, this is obviously grossly simplified.
But as I’ve mentioned, I’d start thinking about building relationships with three important partners sooner rather than later…
A creative partner
A PR partner
An advertising partner (media + creative)
And look at deploying those partners, roughly along this timeline.
Thanks a lot everyone, hope this was helpful.
Startup Marketing (Boston In Particular)
I was going to write a really thoughtful blog post (maybe someday I still will). Instead, I just went on a Twitter rampage.
Social media properties can often be like nightclubs. They’re cool while the trendy people are there, and they disappear without leaving a trace. The ones that last somehow transform themselves from a vehicle for entertainment to a utility. Even if users stop loving it, they still need it.
Beach baby. (at Surfside Beach)
World Cup Flopping And Diving
Without question, this year’s World Cup seems to have drawn in more of my casual sports fan friends to soccer, than any previous edition. Maybe soccer is getting a bit bigger, maybe the US team is getting a bit better, and maybe the time zones are just perfect this year for lunch time, late day break, and after work viewing.
Either way, it’s been a ton of fun, as my friends are not only watching, but are getting really into following the game, the rules, and the details, beyond just yelling “AMERICA, FUCK YEAH”.
BUT, as is the case every four years, the conversation always comes back to the flopping and diving.
No matter how much soccer advances, one of the casual fan’s chief complaints, is the over dramatic injury acting that seems to plague every match.
And while I get the frustration, as someone who’s played at a fairly high level for almost thirty years, I figured I could shed some light on the whats and whys of the dive.
- First, I generally share your aggravation and annoyance. Really lame flopping and diving is bad for the game and cheapens the appeal of an otherwise beautiful sport to watch.
There is however, a bit of a tactical element to a well-timed, well-executed, well-sold dive. When I played in college, I was a 5’8”, 135 pound center midfielder. I survived against lots of 6’2” 200 pound opponents with a mix of speed, quickness, and skill. But when I found myself in trouble, and in a spot where I couldn’t use those advantages, I could feign being fouled better than anyone on the field. I flopped in moderation, but I did so tactically and effectively. But I most certainly did so deliberately.
- I totally get that it’s a bit of the boy-who-cried-wolf, but I can promise you, that a lot of those bumps and nicks that look minor on TV, actually hurt like hell.
The shoes that pro soccer players wear are generally constructed of the lightest, thinnest material possible, and often the spikes are titanium. Additionally, the only padding that players wear, are shinguards - and most players (myself included) literally wear the minimum possible size allowed (for lightness). I actually wear kids shinguards, because they are the least obtrusive.
Couple all of this with the force and speed with which these guys move, and those bits of incidental contact (as they appear on TV) become extraordinarily painful moments.
Which leads me to the third point.
- In professional soccer, you cannot sub players in and out multiple times. If the manager takes you off the field, you are done for the game. Which means, that unlike in most other sports, if you are dazed from an errant elbow to the face, you can’t hit the bench for a few minutes to get your bearings. Your choices are…
Get back up and keep playing.
Sub off, and be done for the day.
Writhe around on the ground for a minute and recover there.
In certain instances - namely if the player is bleeding or needs quick treatment - he can go to the sideline for a moment, and be brought back on at the next play stoppage.
But generally speaking, those moments of rolling around in pain, are a player’s only chance to try and recover from the brutality of a 90 minute match, and those painful collisions as they happen.
There will always be awful and overly dramatic fake diving in soccer (as there is in the NBA too!), but hopefully this provides a little bit of insight into the situation.
I think the insistence on credentials at companies is such a huge mistake. I believe you should hire people based on who they are and what they’ve done, not because of something like what college they went to—or even whether they went to college. It turns out, the rigor that college requires often screens out the most creative people anyway.
(Source: Fast Company)
The Summer of Andrew
After a lot of thought and internal conflict, I’ve decided to step away from Heart and take the rest of the summer off. With no plans to return to the agency.
As I’ve begun to tell people about this plan, the first thing they ask me (unsurprisingly) is “why?”. So here is an attempt at an answer.
And let me state up front, that it has nothing to do with the health or prospects of the business. Heart is going to continue its ascent, and remain strong without me. Thomas (my partner at Heart) has always been the creative force behind the business, and he, along with the rest of the awesome team, are going continue to kill it.
The reason I am stepping away, has everything to do with where my heart (lowercase “h”) lies today.
Thomas has a great little framework that he always draws, which provides a really simple and smart way to prioritize one’s focus, as a means to happiness. It looks like this:
The essential idea here, is to demonstrate that if you start mapping all of life’s annoyances and problems onto this little spectrum, you begin to realize that most of your energy is largely spent worrying about shit that you can’t control, and that simply doesn’t matter.
And if you work in advertising, you’ll likely reach the even sadder realization that MOST of your stress and worry triggers tend to sit quite firmly in that lower left quadrant.
Which is where I’ve found myself living these days, and it’s making me rather unhappy.
I’ve become buried under the stresses of building a business, slugging through work I’m not excited about, arguing over what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea, and just generally trying to push a big rock up a steep hill as we try and change the advertising game from the inside.
It’s been bumming me out, it’s been exhausting me, and more importantly, I can’t control it (as much as I’d like to) and I’m not really sure any of it matters (to me, today).
Not compared with what’s on the other side - which is a new family that needs me to be a better husband and dad for a while, more than they need me to be a better ad guy.
Because for too long, work has been in competition with family, and for at least a little while, I need to let family win.
I need to look at the things that matter, that I can control, and shift my energy there.
So starting this week, I’m going to take some time off. Like, completely off. I’m taking the back half of June, all of July, and perhaps some of August too.
My central focus will be to spend some more time with my family, looking after my infant daughter and supporting my wife in her new job. And just generally doing things that make me (and hopefully my family) a lot happier.
At some point though, I’ll need to return to the working world (likely end of summer, beginning of fall). So I’ll be looking to stay sharp in my downtime.
I’m going to try and write/publish more, I’m going to read the stack of books I’ve been collecting, I’m going to seek out lots of beer/coffee conversations with interesting people (get in touch!), I’m going to tidy up some of my dusty tech skills, and I’m generally going to be really deliberate about getting setup for my next move, whatever that may be.
Because looking back, it’s clear that my entire career has been nothing if not some combination of luck, hustle, opportunism, timing, and a near frenetic changing-of-mind and continual re-shaping what I love and believe.
I’ve always led with my gut and my heart, and this time is no different.
It’s the right thing for me to do now.
See y’all out there.
Ad creatives are miserable and frustrated. They have spent so long now working in the mind gym trying to thread a needle with a pair of pliers while wearing a boxing glove that they have over-developed the wrong muscle. They have become technicians capable of servicing their client’s advertising boiler when they thought they were architects.