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Marketing is like Football

Marketing is like football. (Note: this is American football I’m talking about; not FIFA football). At least, football before the spread or Air Raid offenses of Texas Tech and Oregon became so popular.

Back in the days when a game in which an NCAA quarterback passed for over 300 yards was a memorable occasion (now that threshold is 500+), there was a saying that you ran to set up the pass.

By gaining yards successfully on the ground, you forced the defense to pinch in to increase its chances of stopping the next running play. Linebackers would play closer to the defensive linemen. Safeties and corners would play shallower so they could be closer to the running backs if they were successful getting past the line of scrimmage to the level of the linebackers (the so-called second level). Once the defense begins playing closer to the line of scrimmage, it provides more space to throw the ball. That’s how a successful ground game increases the chances of success through the air.

What’s Marketing Got to Do With Football?

Instead of running to set up the pass, your marketing helps to set up sales. It’s something far too many companies overlook. Without marketing, you can sell. Sure you can. But a sales process unsupported by a marketing program will be longer, more difficult, more expensive, require more skilled sales personnel, and most likely produce far less.

Market then Sell
You can play football and hardly ever pass. Some teams try that. And you can try to sell your product, service, or app without marketing. Some companies do that. They cold call and pitch and push prospects without having invested anything in marketing. Neither scenario is optimized for success.

You need marketing to sell. You need to shape the opinions of others before you engage in one-to-one sales contact. You need a good website. You need customer testimonials. You need to demonstrate whatever you’re selling. You need to present your product to people whose problems you can solve. You need to find customers and nurture them into interested prospects (often referred to as a Marketing Qualified Lead). You need to produce sales tools for the sales force. You need to produce FAQs and reseller kits if you use a channel. All of this is marketing.

Marketing is Like Football
Good marketing makes sales so much easier. Just as an effective ground game makes passing yards easier to come-by. Those teams that pass way more than run? Well, Texas Tech has probably led the nation in passing for at least ten years and has never won anything of note.

Why Crisis Communications Can’t Wait: Paula Deen and Ed Burkhardt

Crisis Communications Waits for no Man (or Woman)

The very recent experiences of celebrity chef Paula Deen and railway operator Ed Burkhardt illustrate why you can’t wait to implement crisis communications in our digital, 7/24 world. Both waited far too long to call in some crisis communications assistance, and are now paying the price.

Paula Deen: Celebrity Chef from the American South
In Deen’s case, her price is millions of dollars in personal income.

Until three weeks ago, she was best known for championing Southern American Cooking on three popular Food Network TV shows. For more than a decade, she’d steadily built a personal brand that combined sass, grits, butter, and homespun charm. She and her business team translated this popularity into almost $20M in earnings in 2012, thanks to her shows, multiple restaurants, and a ton of product merchandising and endorsements marketed to middle America.

Her downfall from this lofty peak has been brutally swift. The catalyst was a May court deposition that was part of a a former employee’s racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit. The plaintiff’s lawyer asked her if she had ever used the N-word. Deen admitted she had. The deposition became public. Deen remained silent while others seized and molded the narrative. It was an easy sell, given the history of White vs. Black racism in America. Completely overlooking ample proof that scandals involving race cause huge (often irrevocable) career harm, it took almost a week for Deen to try to recapture command. Way too late, the barn door was open and the horse’s tail was barely visible in the distance.

Food Network, WalMart, Target, Novo Nordisk, Home Depot, Caesars Entertainment and Smithfield Foods have all terminated business relationships with her. Eight days after her commercial downfall began, she hired Washington D.C. crisis firm Smith & Co, a contrary example to the adage that “good things come to those who wait.” Not when you’re faced with a scandal that can affect your career or business.

Ed Burkhardt: Contemporary Railroad Baron
Ed Burkhardt’s crisis situation is much more recent, and on the verge of spiraling really out of control, if he doesn’t get his PR department to dust off the CC plan. Burkhardt is the head of Rail World Inc. the parent company of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA), which owns the train that derailed and set fire to the downtown of Lac-Megantic, a small Quebec town shortly after midnight on July 6.

Note: It would be stunning if such crisis communications plans did not exist. The derailment was Canada’s 7th runaway train incident since 2006, so it is not as if the PR department would have been planning for something unforeseeable or statistically unlikely.

Lac-Megantic Train Disaster

The train derailment in Lac-Megantic illustrates the importance of putting crisis communications plans into action sooner than later

As the MMA crew slept in a nearby motel, the 73-car train of tank cars carrying North Dakota shale oil started to move along the downhill grade of the tracks, gaining speed until cars started jumping tracks in the town center. The YouTube videos are amazing, if you can ignore the fact that the flames are incinerating dozens of bodies.

It took something like 36 hours for firefighters to extinguish the flames. It took much longer for RailWorld to realize that “maybe we should send the boss over for a visit.” (I assume they have a PR or communications department?).

The visit finally took place yesterday (Wednesday). Burkhardt showed up, and found himself in the middle of a bi-lingual lesson on profanity, the residents–quite justifiably–more than a little hostile. My question to Rail World Inc. would be, “what the hell was more important on Monday and Tuesday than Burkhardt making a public apology in person in the town that just lost its downtown and 50 citizens, friends, co-workers, and family members?” All he needed to do was show up, sincerely apologize, and explain that the accident is under investigation.

What Not to Do: Throw A Scapegoat Publicly Under the Bus
Instead, he waited four days after the crisis began, finally appeared, made strangely unsympathetic proclamations such as “I guess it’s my role to collect all this criticism,” then threw the train’s engineer under the bus (to use a transportation metaphor) by suggesting the engineer’s culpability, while also noting that the man “had a completely clear safety record up until Saturday.”

This is going sideways really fast. Even overseas, the company is losing control of the narrative. This morning, Britain’s Guardian Newspaper published an editorial, “Quebec’s Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster not just tragedy, but corporate crime.”

It’s like watching the Paula Deen scandal all over again, except with 50 fatalities, and a previously picturesque town resembling a scene in a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Lesson to all: create a crisis communications plan and implement it sooner than later.

Bad Product Marketing from Glimmer Gear a good example of bad product marketing

Bad product marketing includes failing to answer the customer’s most important question. I give you Glimmer Gear.

I’m a runner. And a cyclist. I probably own a dozen bicycle lights, and even built my own megawatt strobe tail-light. I own several bikes, lots of lycra, and buy 4-6 pairs of running shoes every year. Behavior like this gets you on’s Daily Deals email list. Last week, I flipped through Active’s latest Groupon-like email. An offer for something called LED arm sleeves caught my attention. That’s cool. Maybe useful for both running and riding? Will make it safer at night.

Bad product marketing example:

Copy and paste Glimmer Gear into Google. I’m now at, the home of “LED sports apparel.” It’s unimpressive. Circa 2004 look and feel. Left nav bar with randomly ordered tabs. Nothing that can’t be overlooked because the product seems to promise more safety. And yet…..there’s no product to see.

True, there’s a splash screen of four jpegs. I can see that the sleeves have illuminated dots on them but how well do they work? That’s a question ideally answered by a video. Can you find a video on the website below?

Bad product marketing example: a good example of bad product marketing

Product Marketing Must Answer Your Prospect’s Most Important Questions
The most important question from a cyclist or runner considering a safety product is, “Will it make riding or running safer?” There are other questions about price, battery life, availability and durability, but “yes to more safety?” tops the list by a mile. Glimmer Gear doesn’t answer it at all.

The company could answer it pretty convincingly using a video. Just 90 seconds would be enough. Probably even 60 seconds would do it.

Video Should Be in Every Product Marketer’s Toolbox
You would think this would be pretty obvious now, wouldn’t you? After all, October 30, 2013 is the 7th anniversary of the launch of the Will It Blend? marketing campaign. The series of infomercials demonstrating the Blendtec line of blenders remains one of the most successful and highly publicized online marketing campaigns.

We’re not talking a Glimmer Gear campaign, though; just a simple clip that shows me how the sleeves work at night, their visibility from afar, and how well they work in both urban and rural situations. Their testimonials don’t help, either, as almost all of them are Facebook opinions on the product idea, (“It looks cool. It caught my eye”) rather than the execution. Plus, the sleeves are somewhat pricey at $75 so I want to see them in action before ordering.

Bad Product Marketing Forgets the Consumer
Whoever is doing Glimmer’s product marketing really needs to look at their products through the eyes of the prospect. Grab a video camera, a couple of riders, go out at night, and show the riding and running communities how it will make their nighttime workouts and commutes safer. Answer our most important question. That’s all.

Then replace that above-the-fold .jpeg combination with the video. You’ll make believers out of many, and customers out of some. Remember, don’t miss opportunities to use video to showcase your product. Glimmer Gear has, and it’s losing a lot of sales as a result.