Archive for the ‘Business Strategy’ Category

Music Is Free–Let It Loose… and Reap the Benefits. PART 1

December 3, 2010

Intro: Back to the Future

I recently tee’d up final group projects for my Principles of Marketing classes this semester. Since I started doing classes in 2002, I have had students attack the music industry and break up into teams that represent major or independent record labels with the goal to create marketing strategies to grow their business from these two perspectives.

This is no small feat when you consider that the music industry was disrupted by peer-to-peer and other technologies that have empowered listeners with capabilities to distribute and secure music for FREE, and it committed suicide by suing customers and refusing to adapt. Who could have predicted in 2002 that a computer company, Apple, would operate the most successful legal digital distribution system, iTunes? Extraordinary!

How do you compete against FREE?, and make money at the same time?, is the knotty challenge, and there could be no conversation about this in class without taking a look at the visionary band that understood it all so long ago, and built a business and marketing model that made it happen, and happen on a grand scale.

A Bit of Historical Perspective

In 1969 I had the great good fortune to get a job at the best rock club in town called The Boston Tea Party. How I got the engagement is the story for another posting. It was a winter weekend in January that I started and the band, a little combo from Britain, was making their debut in Boston.

For the next year and a half or so, I had what I would describe as a front-row seat to one of the most creative periods in music, at least in my lifetime. Artists I was able to see, hear and hang out with ran the gamut from Ricky Nelson, The Who, Jeff Beck and Pink Floyd to B.B. King, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Big Mama Thornton, Eric Clapton and yes, the Grateful Dead, the band that redefined marketing for me.

Since one of my duties was to help these bands load in (up two flights of stairs!!!) and set up their gear, I would really get to know the roadies, road managers and other behind the scenes facilitator of the music, as well as the artists themselves.

The Dead were unusual even then. They were as far out as you can go… very smart and very unique, obviously. More than anyone else they embodied the “be ‘hear’ now” hippie spirit… and expressed many dimensions through the music.

Their road manager whom I got to know a bit was a fellow named Owsley, otherwise known as the Bear. Bear was also a world-famous chemist and from what I now know, an all around Renaissance man and resident genius.

Looking back I don’t know how The Dead could play sometimes, especially once Owsley had done his thing. And yes, there were moments when they really couldn’t, like the first they night they followed the The Bonzo Dog Band (another story) in the Fall of ‘69. There was no way to follow this rock and roll musical circus, which was part of the extended Monty Python family, that had the audience freaking out and running for the exits by the time they finished.

Then there were the nights, when it all came together… and the music, created on the fly just for and with the audience, transcended everything. Electrifying. So when it worked, it worked… and when it didn’t, oh well, there was always tomorrow.

Hippie’est to Highest Grossing Concert Band of All Time: An Amazing Transformation

So how did The Dead go from hippie’est of the 1960’s hippie bands, to the highest grossing concert attraction of its era well into the 1990’s?, an era of Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson dare I say Neil Diamond, another huge draw?

Leesons for us all, 40-years later!

Of course it’s the marketing!

David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan give us great insight into this with their recent book, Marketing Lessons from The Grateful Dead. They identified the genius level marketing developed and adopted by the band… best practice and learn’able lessons that are applicable to all products today.

I will argue that what The Grateful Dead understood, perhaps intuitively at first, was the sense of community they were a part of and had the power through the music to create, nurture and grow.

A 360-degree business perspective

As you can see from this pie chart, from the article in Rolling Stone*, A New Life for the Dead: Jerry Garcia is Checking Cash Flow Charts, from way back when in the November 22, 1973 issue, they were able to see themselves not only as a concert band, but as a business from a 360 degree perspective that included concerts, importantly, but also the totality of their business. They then created a variety of companies including a record label, a sound design and production company, a travel agency and much more to support the enterprise.

Building Demand

Around & Around It Goes: More demand = Larger Halls, More Equipment, More Gigs, Larger Overhead, Bigger Organization -- Repeat

At its center or core, was the live music itself, the concerts. As it turned out, this was where when the 60’s ended and the 70’s and beyond began, the overall Dead experience could be monetized as they played bigger and bigger concert halls.

They consciously realized that since each performance was basically improvised and different, it was possible that demand for tickets could be increased, where fans would come night after night, market after market, and invite their friends to share a unique musical experience each and every time.

The other, was the understanding that the music once played was no longer theirs alone. In other words, the notes once in the air, were no longer owned by the band or anyone for that matter. This was and still is counter-intuitive, in stark contrast to how the rest of the concert/music business views it – where the music in all forms is still considered the property of the artists themselves and fans are prohibited from “capturing” it in any and all forms, except for artist-authorized versions, and of course in our memories.

Live Music Creates a Connection between Artists and Audience

In creative terms, the one thing I learned by having had the opportunity to watch bands play multiple night engagements at the Tea Party over a two-year period was see how instrumental the audience is to the creative process.

There would invariably be a night, THE night when the connection between the artist and the audience would be at a more intense level. Bands were “on”, and we the audience didn’t just passively hear the music, we actively listened and a two-way connection was made that fed off and built on each other.

These were the nights we lived for and there was no doubt that the audience was integral to the creation of that night’s music. The Dead always understood and respected this connection and surrendered control.

Who Owns It?: Let “Remarkable Content” Loose…

Knowing this also allowed them to open up the concerts themselves freely to “tapers,” die-hard fans who wanted to record a living document of the show. These tapers, were then free to share the recording with friends and other fans as well, and in doing so foster and feed a community of friends and fans, who in turn would fuel more demand for the live, real thing and so on, round and round it goes, growing all the time.

Yikes!

You would think that considering their extraordinary success, other bands, and even products and services would surrender control and follow down this road. But sadly, this has not turned out to be the case, at least not yet.

…And a Community Flourishes

Today we need to understand that music is in a way like “information is free” (to quote Stewart Brand) and by that I mean not necessarily free relative to cost, but free in terms of being un-tethered by artificial restrictions. The marketer’s way is to let it loose, let the audience control it and in doing so give them a reason to share, to connect and then experience the real thing for themselves.

As the Dead proved with music, letting it loose unleashes the marketing power of the music (information), the more compelling and in today’s terms “remarkable”, the more the demand, the audience will grow and the more opportunities to monetize the total experience will emerge.

In today’s world with tools like social media where such a strategy based on collaboration with the audience aligns perfectly with transparency and customer control, who knows how much “further” the Dead could have and would have taken it!

Part II to come: How it all worked… From What I Could See, Owsley was The Guy who made it happen.

* I wanted to acknowledge the Rolling Stone: Cover to Cover, the DVD set that includes every issue, every page of Rolling Stone from 1967 to May 2007. You can read it all, as it happened, and see music and music journalism evolve from those heady days of the late 1960’s to today. If you love the music, you will love this!

I also wanted to call out the Grateful Dead Archive now housed at the University of California in Santa Cruz. They are in the process of digitizing massive amounts of the Dead’s memorabilia and making it available to all, in the same spirit that made this all happen to begin with.

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Doing Good… Is it Good Marketing?, Good Business?… or Just Crazy?

September 9, 2010

Knights Apparel is paying its workers in the Dominican Republic three and half times the going rate. Can they thrive when their shirts cost 20% more to produce than everyone else?

  • Introduction
  • Investing in better working conditions and worker salaries in Dominican Republic so that product costs are higher than the competition… are they crazy?
  • Why it can work… applying marketing principles to counter the drive to lower prices and commoditize the product
  • How “doing good” can be good business

Introduction

One of my roles is marketing professor at a great college in Boston. A foundation of all of my courses is to have students comb traditional and online media to find and share marketing-related stories in each and every class. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that business is dynamic and literally evolving on a minute by minute basis sometimes, a fact that no textbook, at least in the print format, can ever keep up with.

What this means for me as a teacher is that I have to “eat the dog food” as well, if I am to keep up, let alone lead such a research-based activity in a classroom.

So it is that earlier this summer I came across an article in the New York Times last month by Steven Greenhouse, Factory Defies Sweatshop Label, but Can It Thrive?

I was very excited when I read the article and have not been able to get it out of my mind since. This is because contrary to the implication that “doing good” cannot lead to business success as implied by the question “Can It Thrive?” in the headline, when looked at it through a marketing strategy and positioning lens, we can easily see it is very likely this business can and will survive, thrive and perhaps be a model that other more well known consumer brands can and should adopt.

Lowering Costs Drives Business, Doesn’t It?

No, I am not trying to buck the research that typically asserts doing good for its own sake does not necessarily move customers or prospects to act and buy a product or service. There was much discussion a few years back about “green” business initiatives and would customers pay extra for them, and if so how much. Was Green enough on it’s own to drive a marketing program and deliver results?

Perhaps not.

We may have, want and maybe even expect a “green sensibility”, but we see again and again that when it gets to the pocketbook, we don’t want to pay more, at least too much more. We may penalize a product for say a lack of “green-ness” but we don’t necessarily reward them for it either.

In this mindset, the negativity implied in “Can It Thrive?” may make some sense.

The answer however, is far different from a strategic marketing perspective when doing good is positioned as added value.

First a little background.

Introducing Knights Apparel

The company in question is Knights Apparel, based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Knights is, according to the article, “the leading supplier of college-logo apparel to American universities, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company.” The factory discussed in the article is in the Dominican Republic and produces high quality, college/university logo’d t-shirts for sale under the Alta Gracia label in campus bookstores across the US. The cost of the actual shirt is $4.80 with a wholesale price of $8 and retail cost of up to $18.

What is unusual here is that Knights pays workers a living wage. Where other factories may pay workers $147 a month in often harsh working conditions, the lucky workers at this factory earn $500 a month, up to 3 and a half times more. Not only this, workers are allowed to unionize and work in a clean, friendly, modern and safe environment, which is unheard of at most factory locations.

Shirts of this quality which may cost others $4 to produce, costs Knights $4.80, a 20% premium, so there is an added cost.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Whereas in today’s globalized manufacturing world companies are on a constant quest for countries and workers where they can pay ever lower wages and cut overhead costs in order to maximize profits and value to investors, here is a company bucking the trend and going in the opposite direction.

Plus if the research is to be believed, what customer in their right mind will pay a higher price for a commodity item like a T-shirt?

We do, and we do it all the time.

Positioning Can Be Used to Support Different Business Strategies

It comes down to positioning, brands and value. Using the product adoption lifecycle for a model, we can see the following:

The Early Majority supports leadership and works like a herd… if my friends and peers do it, so will I. And not only that, this audience will pay a premium for a leading product, for its perceived value. This is where brands come in and why they can be very successful. If my friends see value in Nike, so will I. And yes, we all know that cool little swoosh will cost me more, sometimes much more.

To the Late Majority, a t-shirt, is a t-shirt, is a t-shirt. Lowest price wins their purchase. And if we can get a branded shirt at a lowest price in say a discount store, we are not fools, we will buy it. But if it costs more, forget it. Cost, lowest cost is more important to here.

The game here is added value. If Alta Gracia shirts were focusing distribution on say Wal-Mart or other discount channel, the strategy would fail. Pennies matter to the cost of the product, and the higher production cost would not be able to play out in this arena.

But as we read, Knights strategy is to not play in that space. In fact, they are reverse positioning themselves to play in the Early Majority segment, and quite cleverly.

Reverse Positioning For Added Value

Here’s how.

1. The shirt is a high quality shirt. The facility is not manufacturing a commodity quality, no label generic t-shirt.
This alone is not enough.

2. Alta Gracia has not yet built awareness and value for itself as a stand-alone brand, although apparently there will be point of sale merchandising in college bookstores to raise awareness.
However, by providing the academic market with college/university branded product, they in effect are partnering with colleges and univerisites to offer a high quality, high value, co-branded product.

3. Students (and therefore their parents) are known to care about social concerns and they do support with their wallets.
These customers will pay a premium for products that they consider to fair traded, if the value is clear and the cost is in line.

Have you checked out the price for a Nike T-Shirt lately? Alta Garcia’s wholesale and retail pricing is well in line with other high value branded t-shirt products that can often cost $20 or more.

Add it all up and Knights has done its work to strategically position this product right where it needs to be, so it can, and I will argue almost certainly will meet its social and business objectives.

Does “Doing Good” Make Sense?

Are there lessons here for the Nike and Reebok’s of the world, whose logos have high brand value in their own right?

It seems like they have a choice.

A few years ago, Nike and others (remember Kathy Lee Gifford’s clothing line?) were slammed by the media, and customers for simply the appearance of allowing sweatshop conditions in some of their out-sourced, off-shore factory operations. They felt the pain of lost sales and as a result developed and imposed higher standards and better working conditions over time since then.

Left to balancing the quest for higher profits against the public’s expectation of social responsibility, it seems likely this kind of back and forth may continue. Companies will try to cut costs all they can, and consumers will respond if it appears they have crossed some ill-defined line and gone too far. At what is too far?

Is there a business value to a more pro-active posture like the one taken by Knights?

Costco Thinks So

As it turns out, there is a best practice we can look at here as well courtesy of Costco, the leader in the warehouse store category, outlined in a 2005 article in the New York Times, How Costco Became the Anti Wal-Mart.

For many years Costco has been a leader in the retail industry paying its workers “liveable” salaries well in excess of those paid by another leader, Wal Mart (and others) where associate salaries are pegged to the Minimum Wage.

At the same time Costco’s management has been under pressure to lower employee costs, something that Costco’s management has resisted. As noted in the article, one analyst even complained that with Costco “it is better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.”

Why then does Costco resist this pressure?

Costco has found that fairly compensated employees are loyal, honest and stay with the company longer. Churn is down, retention high, training costs reduced, and productivity enhanced. Throw in that Costco’s affluent customer base appreciates that lower costs do not come at employee expense, well we get the idea, there is a monetary benefit.

As Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal put it, “This is not altruistic, this is good business.”

Sound familiar?

Our marketing model shows that companies can do good, quantify its value, serve customers and in the deliver more value to customers, if they live in the right place on the Product Adoption Lifecycle.

The Marketing Lesson of the Product Lifecycle… You Can Choose Where You Live

Then think of the transformative impact this has on the actual workers. One of the workers at Alta Gracia put it this way, “We never had the opportunity to make wages like this before. I feel blessed.” Feel good now?

Here is the recipe that adds value and re- or reverse positions Alta Gracia T-Shirts from a commodity to value product:

1.    The higher quality of the product itself

2.    “Borrowed” Brand Value that leverages the affinity of the College/University

3.    Added Value of a Good Deed that in fact is also doing “Good Business”

4.    Opportunity to build Alta Gracia as a stand alone brand recognized by students

5.    Natural brand extensions to other intersecting markets (parents, etc)

6.    Other affinities, such as sports, music and others can build on model

Add it all up and it means higher value, the kind of higher value customers are willing to pay a premium for.