Bang for Your Buck
The new look of marketing
By Alyse Vordermark

Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, movies, billboards, buses. Ads. Ads. Ads. We are bombarded. The average person is confronted with close to 3,000 marketing messages every day. How does one company differentiate itself from another?

Innovation is the name of the game, and local companies are making a play. Traditional advertising obviously isn’t dead — look at any magazine or television show and you can see that — but businesses also need bold new ideas that catch customers’ attention and imprint the company’s brand or product name.

A surprise beer breakthrough

In the summer of 2005, BridgePort Brewing Company went to Ricochet Partners, a Portland-based marketing firm, for creative help developing a new brand and a new beer. “We sought an outside group, Ricochet, to help us identify flavor trends and future opportunities,” explains Paula Johnston, marketing manager for BridgePort. “We asked for their insights on ‘pie in the sky’ launch ideas through to tactical support.”

The result was Supris, a blonde, Belgian-style ale. The name…clever. They say it reflects the fact that “the beer itself is a surprise, unlike any other Belgian-style beer.” But the cleverness doesn’t stop there.

BridgePort, like many beverage companies, often uses outdoor advertising to promote new products, but after looking at options like a $35,000 per month painted wall on I-84 in Portland, Ricochet made the suggestion to try something different. “We wanted to actively remove messages from static billboards and take the message to the audience,” says Peter Charlton, Ricochet’s chief creative officer.

“How do we make outdoor work better and smarter? We can do sign boards, handouts, stick flyers on people’s windshields, but that’s annoying,” says Charlton. “And it’s not brand consistent with the level of brand personality that BridgePort has,” adds Jeanne McKirchy-Spencer, Ricochet’s chief strategy officer.

They decided to go where people were already thinking and drinking beer. Who better to promote to than those already consuming? And that’s how the “human billboard” was born.

Ricochet hired teams of four people to wear T-shirts promoting Supris and sent them to very diverse locations — Trail Blazers games, Portland’s Saturday Market, Mariners games, Seattle’s Pike Place Market, concerts — all places with high concentrations of beer drinkers, the target audience.

“The great part about the human billboards is the pre-selected audience. You’ve already prescreened by the events that you are participating in. Rather than have a static media type that is waiting for them to walk by, we’ll go to where they are,” explains McKirchy- Spencer. “And we can pre-select that audience so we have a higher number of people who are already interested in the product and then we can communicate with them on that basis. So, from a return on investment standpoint, it’s pretty high.”

To be effective, they felt the message should be divided across four people, “so that it was different and people would take notice…and it panned out in actual implementation,” says McKirchy-Spencer. “People would come up, and they would see one and then they’d see that the other wasn’t the same, and they would stand and read the whole thing — that was our intention.”

“We wanted to get people’s attention but not be intrusive,” says Charleton. “If people came up to the human billboards, they were allowed to talk about the product, but they weren’t allowed to engage anybody freely,” adds McKirchy-Spencer. “Let the customer start the conversation,” continues Charleton.

The human billboards passed out cards directing people to the BridgePort Brewing website. The cards had secret decoders attached that could be held up to a page on the brewer’s website to see if a trip to Belgium or other prizes had been won.

Decoder cards were also inserted into magazines with an accompanying full page ad, and they were available in retail environments. Radio ads were used to drive customers to the magazine inserts and to the BridgePort website.

Two hundred thousand decoder cards were printed for this promotion. According to Johnston, for the sweepstakes promotion that was driven through their website, BridgePort earned more than 1.4 million hits, a 70 percent increase in activity.

“The promotion was a success…we were able to leverage incremental ad feature and display activity with our retailers,” says Johnston. “The multi-layered campaign — using resources like human billboards — was a first for us. It provided an opportunity to engage consumers and play a leadership role utilizing a new medium.”

“It was the most successful promotion they have ever done,” Charleton says.

Portland Picks a product

Kathi O’Neil knows product placement like the back of her hand. Her company, Westover Media, a full-service marketing company, works with many of the major publishing houses — including Hearst, Conde Nast and Rodale — to fulfill the marketing obligations that national advertisers receive as part of their ad buys. According to O’Neil, today national advertisers often base their ad placement decisions on the innovative, added-value promotions a magazine offers, rather than strictly on ad rates. “Everyone expects it now,” O’Neil says.

It’s has come to the point where national magazines are acting like marketing firms and creating integrated media plans for their advertisers, she says. And that’s where O’Neil steps in. For example, magazines often contract her services to find unique sampling locations for advertisers’ products. “It’s important to find the influencers in an environment that makes sense,” says O’Neil. “Often we’ll do multi-brand programs that include gift bags of advertisers samples. Usually with retail, we combine an e-blast and in-book promotion page that features the retailer and drives traffic there. This way the retailer gets a nice benefit, the advertisers get additional exposure, and the sampling is a better success.”

Pria, nutrition bars for women, is an advertiser frequently contracted out to O’Neil. Her turnkey operation proposes the sampling locations — usually health clubs and yoga centers in major markets — sells to the venues, fulfills and ships. It seems like obvious placement, but timing is everything. Samples are distributed at the clubs to women who are just finishing classes — the target audience most in need of a little pick-me-up.

Another recent promotion under O’Neil’s belt was “swag bags” for Fitness magazine, which were distributed to sorority members at major universities across the country. Fitness offered advertisers who placed ads in multiple issues the opportunity to include their products or special offers inside the bag. Lipton tea, Schick Intuition razors, New Balance socks, and Clean & Clear facial cleanser were a few of the advertisers who took advantage of the program. Fitness included health and exercise tips and, of course, subscription cards. Integrating the magazine’s healthy brand with products that young women want matched the marketing goals of the advertisers and helped brand Fitness as a magazine for young women.

As if O’Neil’s successful marketing firm weren’t enough, about two and a half years ago, O’Neil decided to bring her expertise working with the “big guys” to the local level by creating Portland Picks, a weekly email newsletter that features insider information on the best shopping, dining, music, and style in Portland. “I want it to be a breath of fresh air,” offers O’Neil. “We made a conscious decision to keep it casual, like talking to a girlfriend.”

The opt-in only newsletter, which started among a small group of close friends, rolled out entirely word of mouth and now has approximately 10,000 subscribers, mainly high- income, highly educated women. Advertisers are beating down the door. “They cannot believe the number of website hits they get in the first hours after the email goes out,” O’Neil says.

O’Neil likes to stay focused on the small business community, so prices for advertising on Portland Picks start as low as $175 for a one-time listing in the Hip Happening section and only go up to $1,000 for a dedicated email to all 10,000 readers. So the return on investment is high.

Shoefly, a Portland shoe retailer, announced the grand opening of a second location through a dedicated Portland Picks email. “Our event was a bigger success than we could have ever imagined,” says Margaux Rathburn, a marketing representative for Shoefly. “The place was packed. At 6:30, you couldn't even move inside the store. They sold over $8,000 worth of merchandise in three was insane. The food and swag bags were gone in 30 minutes. I asked a lot of the ladies how they heard about the event, and they all said Portland Picks.”

O’Neil continues the added-value concept for her Portland Picks clients too. She offers to act as marketing firm for all Portland Picks advertisers by creating and implementing mini-marketing plans for them. With a plethora of Portland Picks advertisers to choose from, O’Neil is also in the unique position to pair advertisers up for their mutual benefit.

In early October, Portland Picks coordinated with Meringue, a retail boutique in Lake Oswego, to hold a “fall shopping soiree,” advertised through Portland Picks weekly newsletter and a dedicated email. Hip Chicks Do Wine, Saint Cupcake and Urbane Zen were among the other advertisers who joined in the event, contributed to swag bags given to the first 100 guests, and reaped the benefits of reaching a highly targeted audience — the right audience.

Be a Rockstar

Coming off the success of the Supris promotion, Ricochet Partners got a call, this time from Mt. Hood Beverage asking for assistance promoting Rockstar Energy Drink.

“Last year I expressed my desire to really take Rockstar to an entirely new level. We were number one then and knew we hadn’t even started tapping the potential,” explains Andy Lytle, vice president of sales for Mt. Hood Beverage. “So last year we decided to do a year-to-year campaign, starting with a major outdoor campaign in ’05 — a là the I- 84 wall for eight months. For ’06, we decided to take it off the walls and hit the street with some kind of guerilla campaign. And voila, Rockstar ‘Mix it Up.’”

Starting with the premise that Rockstar makes a great mixer, Ricochet created a music- themed contest, Mix It Up — blending the cocktail mixer with music elements.

“The idea behind the name Mix it Up was this: If you ask five people what it means, they should all give you different answers—answers that are relevant to them personally. The name Rockstar lends itself to all kinds of interpretations, all positive in perspective,” explains Lytle.

“It became — let’s do posters and print ads and banners and get local musicians to create mixes, and then as a finale, we’ll do this great event,” says Charleton. “The concept of doing a contest isn’t remarkable, but then you look at what the contest is about and how you are getting that information across and what the pay off for it is. Having Storm Large (a Portland contestant on the reality show ‘Rock Star: Supernova’) be the headliner at the end is the big wow,” explains Charleton.

Simply put, the Rockstar contest consists of professional and amateur musicians creating “mixes”—compositions made up of multiple pieces of songs. The musicians submit their mixes on CD to a panel of judges who choose performers to play at each of the four Mix it Up events held in Portland during October and November.

Audience members at the events vote for their favorite mix (and at the same time enter to win prizes), and the top three finalists from each venue will play at the finale on Nov. 18. The grand prize winner will receive 10 days of recording time with a producer and five studio musicians.

So it’s a cool contest, but how does this translate into sales for Mt. Hood Beverage?

The promotions goal is to have Rockstar viewed as a cocktail mixer. In the event venues, menu cards offer cocktail choices all made with Rockstar, and wait staff will sport Rockstar wearables and suggest Rockstar drinks. They have even used Portland Picks as a venue to get the message out.

But Mt. Hood’s goal goes beyond just numbers. “I personally believe this (beverage) category is still very young in its life cycle. There is tremendous upside not only in different channels of business but in the consumer’s drinking occasions,” Lytle says. “Compare the possibility of something like Starbucks. The reason you see one on every corner of America is simply to extend the drinking occasion.

“This is exactly the same potential with Rockstar and the energy category. The sky is the limit. When you think about it, some generations drink Coke, some Starbucks for breakfast. Then they decide to drink it all day and all night. We think Rockstar and this category will be the next generation’s choice product that could actually participate in any drinking occasion. At Mt. Hood Beverage, we don’t look for the quick return on numbers or ROI; we think generationally. It’s our job to create a wave that future generations can ride.”

It’s also a way to increase the drink’s “cool factor,” says Charleton. “Rockstar continues to be the number one selling energy drink in Portland, and now it’s an opportunity to continue to grow that and have a broader appeal.”

Corporate matchmaking

Everyone knows that relationships are a key to sales success, but few take the art of relationship building to the same high level as Mike Paul, president and CEO of The Commerce Bank of Oregon. “One thing banks are rich in is information. We’ve been building a contact database for over a year, and I’ve been building one for 29 years. So that’s one thing we can normally say: ‘Yeah, we might know so and so.’” The Commerce Bank’s concentration on gaining business from professional firms, nonprofit organizations and commercial businesses, rather than consumer deposits, lends itself to Paul’s overall philosophy, which he attributes to Mark McCormack’s book, “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School.” “Before I ask for anything, I want to be able to do some favors and provide some value before we expect to get anything in return. And that tends to work.”

Case in point: After learning that New Avenues for Youth, a nonprofit that helps homeless youth in Oregon and Southwest Washington, owns the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop in downtown Portland, Paul wanted to help spread the word to professional firms in the surrounding area.

He and his team came up with a weekly letter campaign to newly named partners and associates at local firms. The Commerce Bank sends letters of congratulations to those individuals. Included with the letter is a coupon for a free sundae at the downtown Ben & Jerry’s — a way for Commerce Bank to open the door for discussion about New Avenues for Youth.

“I guess we’re a sweet tooth operation. But what we’re really trying to do is connect the professional world to the nonprofit world,” says Paul. And it seems to be working. Paul says that the bank has earned seven nonprofit and nine professional firm clients since starting this type of networking. “I can’t say they came from ice cream, but some did.”

The bank’s greatest need, like all businesses, is to differentiate itself from the competition. “There is no bank that truly specializes in nonprofit,” explains Paul. “To us, nonprofits are a primary potential source of business, and we’re not going to throw it in the corner somewhere. Most banks fail to recognize that a nonprofit organization is a business first, it just happens to have a social mission versus shareholder-driven purpose.”

Part of Paul’s relationship building includes serving as a partner rather than a vendor by encouraging nonprofits to do the same bridge building with people. “Not that we are experts by any means on how to cultivate your vendor relations and to cross relationships, but it’s an idea that some nonprofits haven’t heard of.”

As sponsor of the Technical Assistance for Community Services’ (TACS) monthly executive directors networking meetings, Commerce Bank reaches 140 executive directors, the nonprofit decision makers, at every meeting. The bank is the first sponsor of this series, and Paul says that for the small sponsorship fee, they are getting outstanding results. By moderating, presenting, being a panelist, or just sitting in the audience, they meet dozens of potential clients every month. Paul is full of unique ideas that are sure to make an impression on the bank’s target market and leave their mark on the community. Don’t be surprised to hear about a progressive dinner or literary night at The Commerce Bank. “I don’t think there is a better way to build relationships than being seen as ‘one of the gang,’” says Paul.

Marketing isn’t rocket science, and companies don’t have to have million dollar budgets to execute solid plans. Marketing takes common sense and a little know how. Whether it’s done in-house or contracted out to the professionals, marketing a product or service can be successful if a company knows their audience and goes directly to them.

“We look to have a connection with our audience,” Ricochet’s Charleton sums up. “It’s about ways we can interact with the audience—ways that will elevate the brand and also the experience.”

BrainstormNW - November 2006

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