Now, imagine this party in a very different way. Instead of Elton John taking to the keyboard, it instead is the hosts’ 3 year-old son. He sits down and starts banging the keys, creating nothing but noise and utter annoyance -- this coming from this very same instrument that in the hands of Elton was made to sing like an angel. It is the same instrument, in different hands, creating a complete opposite outcomes. Please, make him stop!
Effective marketing campaigns are the handiwork of skilled and trained marketing professionals, not unlike Elton John playing the piano. Created in the hands of a marketing pro, campaigns can be joyous and wondrous – they engage the customer, showcase products and services in relevant yet unexpected ways, and communicate how different, better, and special they are versus the competition. They delight and drive the customer to purchase their products.
The strategies and skills used to develop these marketing plans – created in just the right way, and executed at just the right times -- are learned through the training received from a skilled marketing teacher and mentor, then built upon by individual practice that can only be gained over time and through experience.
Many business professionals and small business owners believe they possess the skills to execute their own marketing programs, despite having no formal marketing training or expertise. They underestimate the skills and knowledge required to plan and execute a meaningful and effective marketing plan. And, just like the 3 year-old on the piano, they end up making nothing but noise, annoying and potentially driving away potential customers, creating nothing of value and in fact, wasting both time and resources as well.
As we begin 2012, my hope is that more business managers and small business owners will reach out to trained and practiced marketing professionals to help create their marketing plans, so I can stop having to listen to all the useless and annoying noise I'm bombarded with everyday from so many irrelevant programs and campaigns.
That would make it a Happy New Year!
Imagine for a moment that you are at a friends’ home for a party, and to your amazement, in walks Elton John. After some brief introductions, he meanders over to the piano, sits down and starts playing a medley of his hits – an impromptu private concert. He doesn’t sing. He just plays the piano. Classics like Your Song, Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, Bennie & the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, and many, many more. You listen, absolutely amazed at the pureness of the sound coming from the instrument, the crispness of the notes, the flawless execution as he strokes the keys in just the right way, at just the right times, making the piano sing like an angels voice from heaven. You realize just what a unique and special talent Elton possesses in his ability at playing the piano and creating unique and memorable songs that stand the test of time.
A brand is a living, breathing thing – built over time. Brands, like people, have good days and bad days. Unfortunately, as the stunning revelations coming out of Penn State this week demonstrate, the power of a brand that took years and even decades to build can be destroyed in a matter of days.
Penn State and Joe Paterno are the definition of big-time college football. The image of Paterno – a football professor with a tie, thick glasses and Nike coaching shoes - has stalked the sidelines in Happy Valley since 1950. The success of the football program has driven the reputation of the university for decades. The Nittany Lions won national championships in 1982 and 1986.
Just how powerful is Joe Paterno? In 2004 the university president demanded his resignation. Paterno ignored him and kept on coaching. He and his wife Sue have donated over $4 million to the university. The school library bears his name, as does an ice cream flavor at the campus creamery.
In the past three days the reputation and brand of both the school and Paterno have been destroyed as quickly and completely as New York’s Twin Towers. In case you haven’t followed the news, a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, has been accused of sexually assaulting young boys over a 15-year period. In 2002, a graduate assistant witnessed a sexual assault by Sandusky on a 10-year old boy inside the football locker room showers and reported it to Paterno. Paterno in turn told his superior, school athletic director Tim Curley, who took it to the school’s senior vice president for finance and business, Gary Schultz (no relation to me, thank heaven).
All three decided that protecting the power and prestige of the brands of Penn State and Joe Paterno were more important than doing the right thing. They swept the information under the table and never reported it to police. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report to authorities what they knew in a Grand Jury investigation, but Paterno has not been charged (yet).
Regardless, the brand reputations of Penn State and Joe Paterno have lost their luster. The school will need to do some serious damage control. Their plight is similar to that which the Miss America pageant faced back in 1984 when nude photos – pics that had been taken back in 1982 -- surfaced of then Miss America Vanessa Williams (yes, THAT Vanessa Williams – the singer and actress, most recently seen on “Ugly Betty”.) The pageant had brushed with scandal before, and responded in 1985 by crowning the most squeaky – clean contestant they could find, Utah’s Sharlene Hawkes.
Penn State will need to sweep out their entire athletic department leadership, as well as their football coaching staff, and start over with a coach and new athletic director above reproach, never tainted or even hinted at by scandal or NCAA violation. If they do – and if the football team excels – they will be able to regain their luster quickly. Winning fixes everything in sports (unfortunately sometimes – as in Kobe Bryant / Ben Rothlesberger / Michael Vick cases). For Joe Pa however, there will be no redemption. The man who spent over 60 years building his reputation will need to slink off into retirement and stay away from Penn State forever. It's a shame, but when he walks away from his resignation press conference, that will be the last we will ever see of the winningest coach in football history.
The moral of this story is something all brands should take note of. No matter how big or powerful a brand you have stewardship over, morality trumps all. Do not try to “protect the brand” by actively doing, or ignoring, immoral acts. Don’t hide negative test results from the FDA or other government agencies in place to protect the public. Don’t – as auto companies are famous for doing – have “statistical” acceptability of product failures. A death due to your product is not acceptable under any circumstance.
When I was at Coke, I was standing alongside the Chief Marketing Officer, Sergio Zyman one day, when an international Coke brand manager approached him and started explaining the idea she had for a Coke brand consumer promotion in her country. His reply was the height of brand arrogance. He said “Let me ask you this. Do you think you have within your power the ability to destroy brand Coca-Cola?” “Of course not”, she replies. “Then do whatever you want”, he said.
Unfortunately, as was the case at Penn State, too many leaders think that way.
- Eric D. Schulz