Monthly Archives: July 2014

Ordinary Beer? Or Something Special?

Craft brews. They’re taking imaginative possession of the beer category, crossing into new territory with new levels of appeal and taste.
Craft brews. They’re taking imaginative possession of the beer category, crossing into new territory with new levels of appeal and taste.

You’ve noticed, haven’t you?

Craft beer is on the rise.

Menus of new offerings are getting to be as involving as wine menus.

People are pouring over beer descriptions with the kind of intensity basketball fans devote to studying their March Madness brackets.

Watch for yourself … bar customers Google beer choices to see videos about how craft brews are made.

Provenance, varieties, ingredients, flavors, the nature of the hops, seasonal specialties … you name it, they’re interested.

With that interest a new model for beer products has emerged.

You have a stunning choice with the kind of drinkability that’s often richly merited.

We’re talking complex flavors and textures in everything from lagers to IPAs, porters and stouts.

There are undiscovered pleasures in the pint glass, so as they say in the UK, ‘get your laughing gear around that’.

The other day we visited a bar called Beer Study in a college town, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Our choice was ‘Siberian Night’, an 11.2% gulp of deliciousness.

In countless bars like this across the country craft brews are a cultural trend. A trend that must be creating headwinds for the big brewers.

One thing’s for sure, there’s a serious shortage of hops in this country as so many new companies are on the brewing bandwagon.

I used to think the best profession in the world was a light bulb salesman in Las Vegas. The ad writer, Dave Trott, pointed that out to me.

But now it could be a hops farmer; some have sold out their production for years to come at handsome prices.

Now, what about the big brewers?

The ones who produce what many describe as ‘ordinary stuff’; beer that can be thin and watery.

We know a structural expert for buildings who calls it under-engineered beer.

You don’t need an advanced commercial intelligence to wonder if execs from the big breweries are wide awake to the new beers. Are they going on tasting jaunts to understand the change that’s taking place?

More to that, we all know a boat usually rocks a bit when someone new steps on to it. So how is this affecting the giant brewing companies as new brewers enter the scene?

To answer that, start with a question … what’s empowering about staying the same?

As with beer, and all products, it’s too easy to set your focus on familiar thinking and the usual objectives.

It’s too comfortable to get accustomed to taking routes down the same paths in search of ideas and inspiration. You loose your compass that way.

Without some sort of move in the craft direction big brands risk being stuck in an eternal now.

Of course, you raise your game when the challenge is greatest, right? Let’s hope the huge brewers can respond.

But what complicates things for them is that with the turn to craft beers there’s a new interest in beer with food.

Microbreweries and restaurants go well together. Like wine, certain beers bring out the best in particular foods and it’s intriguing to experiment.

Craft beers cost more but customers don’t appear to be slow in opening their wallets.

Millennials may not be spending on cars, homes or costly holidays but there’s a fascination when it comes to sampling craft beers.

I think it was the famous English poet John Betjeman who described poetry as ‘language against which we have no defenses’.

I’m getting the feeling that in the beer category craft brews are developing the same power.


Because ‘thin, watery stuff’ isn’t exactly poetry.

Share with us. Tell us how you keep up with cultural trends. How do you ride those tends to connect with customers and prospects? Thanks, Steve Ulin



Can You Improve on a Good Idea? (Let’s Hope You Respond with a Resounding ‘Yes’.)

How appropriate in a flight flight museum. Because as we all know, Red Bull gives you wings. Photo courtesy of Gerhard Palnstorfer.
How appropriate to see this in an airport. Because as you know, Red Bull Gives You Wings.
Photo courtesy of Gerhard Palnstorfer.

We had a secret project the other day.

A marketing company asked for an opinion on the creative work their ad agency did on a project.

It was professional but not thrilling.

We say ‘it’ because there was just one idea to answer the brief.

Could they have gone further?

Depending on the kind of marketer you are, you might be tempted to put that question another way: ‘shouldn’t they have produced a number of ideas?’

The answer is ‘yes’.

It reminded us of an old joke about solutions.

‘A solution is when everyone in the room gets tired of thinking.’

Unhappily, that can often be the case.

Still, it made us think of a company in Thailand that didn’t stop thinking.

Their product was called Krathing Daeng, which translates as Red Water Buffalo.

You know it as Red Bull.

A businessman called Chaleo Yoovidhya invented Krathing Daeng in Bangkok in the 1970s.

It was a success from the start. A local success.

A favorite with truck drivers and factory workers, it kept them awake and alert through long shifts.

An Austrian marketing director for a toothpaste brand, Dietrich Mateschitz, tried Krathing Daeng when visiting Bangkok.

He liked it and it cured his jet lag. A pleasure and a remedy in one.

The story becomes a bit of a fairy tale at this point.

Mateschitz saw the energy drink as a promising seller on the international market.

So in 1984 Dietrich Mateschitz and Chaleo Yoovidhya signed a business agreement.

Mateschitz considered the Red Water Buffalo name and changed it to Red Bull.

He played with the flavor thinking of western tastes and added just the right amount of fizz.

As design drives desire he packaged Red Bull in a distinguishing silver and blue can. One that catches your eye with an unusual slimness.

A shining example of ‘less is more’.

Red Bull was launched in Austria in 1987.

No doubt you know the rest of the success story. I believe it stretches to 79 countries.

The brand purposely blurred the line between energy drinks, sports and entertainment.

So Red Bull has become something of a lifestyle event in itself.

It appears everywhere from cliff diving competitions in Portugal to Grand Prix Racing worldwide.

It involves alternative music, rock concerts, motocross, mountain biking, 3-on-3 basketball, air races, block parties, art parties, cricket, rallycross, festivals, snowboarding and fringe athletics like surfing in the Arctic.

Equally, you have flying contests over water in home-made aircraft.

As you no doubt know there’s a hint of danger and edginess to the brand.

It’s echoed in the alternative nature of sponsored events, guerilla marketing and the line, Red Bull Gives You Wings.

Millennials have little trouble identifying with that.

But more importantly, Red Bull has a lifestyle expression that’s hard to copy.

You can put that down to one fact. They have a strong disregard for the obvious.

An intelligent move, that.

Because the obvious usually gets you no further than the solutions your competitors adopt.

At that point things can go awry, consigning you to the title of ‘entreprenerror’ … if you’ll excuse the pun.

Both Dietrich Mateschitz and Chaleo Yoovidhya became billionaires.

Not bad as a ‘second career’ for a toothpaste marketer, eh?

Chaleo Yoovidhya passed away last year.

Today, according to Forbes Magazine, Dietrich Mateschitz has wings on his bank account. He’s reportedly worth $9.2 billion.

So how about you? Can you improve on a good idea? Have you got true teamwork ability in your company?

Can you and your people see a future nobody else can and capitalize on it?

Do your ideas go far enough to leave the competition behind?

To get working on all this, do one thing.

Start by finding that Dietrich Mateschitz spirit that resides in you.

Share with us. There’s often a big difference between borderline terrific and totally terrific. Tell us about your experience in tweaking a good idea to make it better. Thanks, Steve Ulin



Are You a Racehorse? Or a Donkey?

Racehorse. Donkey. Zebra. Which do you notice first? Photo courtesy of Eric Stevens.
A Racehorse. A Donkey. A Zebra. Which one do you notice first?
Photo courtesy of Eric Stevens.

Why be a thoroughbred galloper or a slowpoke donkey?

As a marketer in a rush for success, why trouble yourself with ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ when there’s ‘smarter’?

After all, isn’t it easier to win with differentiation?

A zebra wins merely by standing still because it stands out from the rest. It’s different.

Just like a strong idea.

That’s an idea you can’t put into a box. Thinking that isn’t like efforts that were hackneyed in 2012; solutions that are the opposite of scattered energy.

A retail marketing director we met says questioning good ideas regularly leads to something better, something that makes it easier for you to compete.

Of course, if we didn’t have competition, life would be much easier.

You wouldn’t have to kill yourself finding points of difference and we could all go home at 5PM.

In the real world fresh thinking works to give your customers and prospects the feeling you’re the right choice. It works to create the moment someone buys.

But you already know that, right?

Still, this carries more truth if you can take what’s familiar about your brand and turn it into something new.

Frito-Lay does that.

They know people feel guilty about things they eat.

So they’ve turned to using more natural ingredients.

Maybe that’s why Lay’s Potato Chips have a better ‘real vinegar’ taste than ______________________. (I did my taste test, now do your own and fill in the blank).

Plan B One-Step is another ‘stand apart’ product as it’s the first over-the-counter emergency contraceptive.

Here’s the Website headline that drives that home: The #1 OB/GYN Recommended Brand Has Moved To the Aisle.

Add to that a picture of a young woman and her 5-word response to the aisle position: ‘Right Where I Want It.’

It’s less advertising and more messaging with news value.

Next … a decades-old moneymaker.

We’re talking about the Monty Python reunion shows in London. The public craves the Flying Circus stand apart humor.

How do we know that? The first show sold out in 40 seconds.

Best of all is the approach of Volvo Trucks.

The Jean-Claude Van Damme ‘Split’ commercial stands out, not just in its category but among all commercials.

It’s engaging even if you have no interest in trucks.

Here’s the link if you haven’t seen it:

Van Damme’s V/O tells us about ‘a body crafted to perfection’.

Not his ripped physique, but the truck’s.

We get this message as he rides smoothly down the road, doing a split between two trucks.

Judging by a lot of unremarkable work in this category, too many industry professionals think the only tactics for sales are limited to the usual features of a truck.

But who says it has to be that way?

The Volvo marketing director who approved the Van Damme commercial knows one thing.

A zebra will catch your eye faster than a racehorse.

Content without strong ideas. It’s a bit like taking a photo with your smart phone and discovering your finger was over the flash. You get a result, but maybe not the best result. Share your comments about the power of ideas with us. Thanks, Steve Ulin


A Girl Who Was Just-a-Nobody. But …


Artificial like a doll or authentic? Young girls in their 'Am I Pretty? videos what to be recognized for who they are, not how they look
Artificial like a doll? Or  truly authentic? Young women on YouTube want to be recognized for who they are, not how they look.

Remember the Dove ‘Evolution’ commercial?

A  girl who is just-a-nobody is transformed.

She’s made-up, coiffured and photoshopped at super speed to show us how ideal beauty is manufactured.

Lank, lifeless hair becomes highlighted and lustrous with shape and body.

Then things change further with a click of a mouse.

Her neck is lengthened, her eyebrows gain a more aristocratic arch, her eyes and skin tones become good enough for an InStyle Magazine cover.

With further clicks they’re elevated to the level of a Vogue cover.

Thanks to those crafty studio artists this is the debut of perfection. Intensified perfection.

So after ‘ordinary’ is digitally turned into ‘extraordinary’, Dove makes its point: ‘No wonder our sense of beauty is distorted.’

Greeted with enthusiastic applause when it was first aired, we’re now even more keen on the Dove spot.

Because young women are trying urgently and desperately to be validated, supported and have a sense of worth in their own minds and in our culture.

A culture that all too often expects them to look a certain way.

A culture that says what you look like is more important than what’s inside.

‘Package yourself properly or get lost’ is a message young women frequently get.

You might want to see this for yourself on YouTube with the ‘Am I Pretty?’ videos.

There are more than a few of them.

Yes, they’re self-conscious, a bit me-obsessed, but they can’t be ignored as a social commentary about an inner life which can go unnoticed.

Even if you’re a marketer who isn’t in the beauty business, these personal statements should open your eyes.

Because they’re a call from young women who regularly feel like a nobody to be substantiated.

In that sense they are digital autobiographies about the need for authenticity and recognition that’s vital to everyone at every age.

Whatever you’re selling, these videos should remind you to be authentic as a brand.

Authenticity? It reveals a truth about your product or the lives of those you address. It uses emotion to make your message memorable.

Hopefully, the authentic qualities of the Am I Pretty? videos will stop you coming off as a huckster, merely spouting the features of your product.

They’ll encourage you to become more of a psychologist and an empathizer focused on the problems, opportunities, needs, obsessions, hates, loves and desires of your target audience.

With that, your messaging can shift from a conventional listing of product features to detailing product benefits for your customers.

As we are all told, it’s all about engagement.

You’re in charge of your brand, but as you well know, your brand’s perceptions are owned by the public. What they think matters – what you think matters less.

So why get bottled up in the cul-de-sac that is a brand without authenticity?

As a marketer you might want to take the soul-searching route of the Am I Pretty? videos and ask yourself, Am I Authentic?

If you’re not, one thing’s for sure.

You risk being just-a-nobody to your customers and prospects.

The power of authenticity. The appeal of benefits over features. What’s your take on these thoughts? Thanks, Steve Ulin.