We were doing Character Camp recently for one of my favorite professional sports teams, digging hard for the truth at the heart of the story that connects the team to its fans in bad seasons as well as in good ones. In the middle of one classic improv exercise–a process that helps us get to the conflict that gives the story energy and authenticity–the head of marketing for the team looked over at me and said, “If the guys running the league could see us now, they would think we were crazy. They think of marketing as a simple formula: Win games, sell tickets.”
And I thought, wow, that describes so many massive organizations that came into their own without ever taking on marketing as a strategic capability. They all seem to think of marketing as a kind of adjunct to sales, a way to boost traffic. Walmart before Stephen Quinn is an example of an organization that used to think this way. In the last six years it has worked hard to change.
What is interesting to me is how many companies that have built leading positions in their industry by mastering operations or merchandising or engineering or sales are now scrambling to build up their marketing muscle. Some are doing it well. Many are still picking low-hanging fruit in categories in which none of the competitors is particularly proficient at identifying an authentic story and bringing it to life in a compelling way. I’m thinking of insurance, for example, or even some car brands. In advertising cars, massive amounts of money are often spent telling stories built on category conflicts, like safety-versus-freedom or fantasy-versus-reality, which generally results in entertaining ads with rather weak brand linkage.
So I thought I would put this question to you: What brands do you think are largely stuck in the win games, sell tickets era? And what brands can you think of that turn the idea on its head–what we might frame as, Win the story, win the game?