Kinky Boots

We have seen some terrific musicals in Winnipeg over the past couple of years at Rainbow Stage. Last week, my wife and I went to see Kinky Boots at the Centennial Concert Hall.

I knew nothing about the show, other than the signs and advertising that featured bright red, high-heeled boots.

My brother and another good friend each told me that it was a terrific show. And they didn’t tell me anything more about it. All they did was smile.

The show was fabulous. But, I was not ready for the fact that it was actually about…


Forget the story of young men finding their own way, dealing with their feelings and beliefs, and trying to survive when others don’t want you to or they make it very tough on you.

This was, pure and simple, about marketing. A fourth generation, century old factory, making men’s shoes (brogues, and I really need a new pair), that were not wanted by their retail customers or men in general. What could they do to survive?

It was Charlie, son of the recently-deceased owner, that said, and I am paraphrasing, “we need to sell something that people need.” And the way to do it, according to Lola/Simon Jr., was to, “sell sex!”

There you have it. Marketing according to Kinky Boots. You are not just selling shoes, you are selling what customers want/need, and you are selling the emotion of what they desire the product to say about them.

Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads says, “win the heart and the mind will follow.”

Terry O’Reilly, of CBC “Under the Influence” fame was recently in Winnipeg and talked about the need to be different. Both in your product/service and in how you are telling your story.

Impactful messaging is what is necessary to break through the ad clutter we are exposed to every day. I see precious little digital advertising that I would consider truly impactful. Over 650 million people worldwide have installed ad blockers on their mobile devices, according to Doc Searls. People do not want to see ads on digital platforms – especially if they are just like the other ads on TV.

Hey digerati – Be different!

Professor Youngme Moon, Harvard, wrote a fascinatingly simple book about the importance of being different. The ability to not try to have everyone and everything homogenized. This holds for thinking, products, levels of service, etc. Build off your unique strengths to set your company apart.

People will notice. This was very true when our team at Canwest Specialty turned Prime TV into…TVtropolis “hit TV lives here.” Our team won 7 industry awards for various promos and campaigns that we created. The station had a lot of programming that had been on TV before. But we packaged, presented, scheduled and talked about it differently than anyone had before. The team was brilliant. In year one, working closely with our Sales teams we helped increase revenue from $18 to $30 million. I am sure everyone reading this would be thrilled with a 67% increase in revenue in one year.

I have also worked for companies that wanted to say what their competitors said. And that didn’t work very well. Enough said.

Think hard and deep about the job you are helping your customer to get done. This can be a physical task or something with an emotional component – like enjoying a special ice cream. Or reminding yourself about certain childhood memories, like Toad Hall Toys does in their radio ads.

Please do not make your customer have to perform mental gymnastics when they listen to your ad message, or view your website, or listen to your way-too-long on hold message, or visit your story only to be told what you are looking for is “either on aisle 4 or 17.” Every touchpoint you have with your customer provides an opportunity to showcase your differences in a positive way.

And visual differences can really help set you apart – as an individual or an organization.

In fashion, you are selling an emotion. In this show, you were selling sex. Sure, we all want to be comfortable when we slip on a pair of nice shoes. And there is very often a desire to be trendy.

Jimmy Choo, the famous shoe designer said, “The right shoe can make everything different.”

Oh yes, and keep your shoes clean. Zig Ziglar used to say, “make sure your heels are shiny, because that is what people will look at when you leave the room.”

I wonder if that holds true with Kinky Boots?

What are the chances?

To play in the best leagues of any sport entails some very long odds. The following chart shows how many players get drafted from college each year:

players that get drafted each year in major sports leagues_2018

And this does not tell you how many actually achieve a spot on a roster; a number that is far less.

Great teams require great players…and so much more. If we just look at the current NHL playoffs we have seen two early examples of the best players not winning the series, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.

How could these superstar-laden teams not even win one game of a best-of-seven series?

What were the odds?

To first get drafted, then make the team (or any team), and then win a championship, requires a number of actions on the part of individual players as well as the collective of the team and the entire organization to achieve that result.

If the challenge in sports is so great, what makes you think that you can simply create a company and then achieve overnight success?

Were you:

  • the top student? There can only be one “top.”
  • the only provider of your product or service? If you really believe you were, you probably got copied pretty quickly.
  • the most profitable company? If you are not publicly traded, you probably cannot compare profitability, other than with some industry averages.
  • the highest quality organization? There can only be one “highest.”

So, other than a select few, you have had to grind it out to achieve your success.

The same holds true with most athletes who were not selected first overall, and never played for a championship team. You worked hard and never had a chance at the ultimate prize in your sport. Even though you were well-respected in your league. There are Hall of Fame athletes that never got to hoist the trophy and celebrate the ultimate victory.

That is OK. There is only one champion each year. There is only one top company each year. There is only one top sales person each year…and so on.

But that doesn’t mean you give up.

As an individual it means you try harder. You adjust. You get outside coaching. As a company you might look outside your industry for a new approach (think how Disney shaped customer experience expectations around the world because of their service delivery excellence). Or you seek an outside consultant or advisor to offer additional insight, expertise, or a sober second thought.

And you continue to push forward.


Because we must push through, around, or over. Just 1% better each day means we are doubling our current position in about 70 days. Now, to be clear, you cannot realistically gain a 1% improvement on the same item each day. Some days you may not have any improvement and another day you will get a 3 or 5 % increase. The key is to aim for better.

James Clear, a wonderful author of the book “Atomic Habits,” writes about the coach of the British Cycling team, Dave Brailsford, who took over the team in 2010. He was an advocate for small and focused improvement. Bear in mind that no Brit had ever won the Tour de France, so his task was massive. Riders from Brailsford’s team won the Tour de France in 2012 and 2013, and dominated the 2012 Olympics. The sum of their small improvements was the difference in the success the team achieved; individually and collectively.

What are you doing in your business to get better each day, week, or month? Do you cut marketing money when results are not as forecast? You know, marketing being the area that knows the most about the customer – the group that keeps your doors open by buying your product or service? Do you cut training? You know, the focused improvement of your team to deliver what you sell to your customers?

I have worked in situations where these two investments were always the first to be cut. And the rationale eluded me then, and still does today.

Now, you must be prudent. But, you must be looking into the future.

If you have the best talent available and cannot be a successful company, you best look in the mirror first as the leader. And then each employee must do the same to determine what else each person can be doing to help improve the results.

You will get better results from your top talent if you have a plan and a consistent approach to getting better. Even if it means starting with a smile to each other as you pass in the hallways – and not looking at your iPhone as you walk around.

Do this and I’d say your chances for success just got a bit better.

Steal and You Will be Caught

Driving home the other day I spied an ad on a bus shelter that read, “Steal And You Will Be Caught.” The ad was for the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation that has been dealing with a recent, and disturbing, uptick in brazen thefts from liquor stores. People are just walking in, loading backpacks or just grabbing a bottle or two, and simply walking out. The security guards are instructed to just let them do this.

The irony is that just below the ad is a small basket from Wal-Mart, which was obviously stolen.Steal and you will be caught

So, will these new ads stop the thieves? My guess is…not!

The bigger challenge is that the messaging is important and should be part of a larger overall initiative to stop the thefts. Recent news stories have pegged the problem at several million dollars annually, and rising. I am not concerned with the actual number because it is large. Don’t argue the number, argue that the problem has persisted for years  AND NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE ABOUT IT! I am quite certain that a private store would have dealt with the issue a lot sooner and with more than an ad.

What other organization allows such a large problem to go unchecked? Other retailers have loss prevention and security measures in place. While they still have losses, only in exceptional circumstances will thieves act the way they do with the liquor stores. And this is taxpayer money because it is a crown corporation.

I am not a security or loss prevention expert, but I am quite certain there are enough experts (see our Winnipeg Police or RCMP) that can help with this problem. My concern is that leadership, including two different political parties, have not deemed this important.

Customers lose trust in organizations and leadership in situations like this where no action is taken.

And if it occurs in one area, then it might occur in other areas as well. Leaders must lead and fix the problem.

Here are a couple of other examples where organizations say one thing and their actions portray a different position:

  • Facebook wants to be seen as the “good guy” now after they have been caught lying about data collection, sharing (even selling) with other companies, and lying before the U. S. Congress. And then they want us to believe it “is for my own good to customize the ads I see.” I don’t want you telling me what you think I want to see. you have never talked to me, you don’t sell anything but a social connection platform. “Farcebook,” as Bob Hoffman calls them, is slimy and I don’t trust them. Based on how many non-human accounts they had to delete in the past  (around 1.5 billion in the last 6 months of 2018) plus the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I do not trust this company at all.
  • Automakers like Toyota with their braking scandal, and VW with their fuel emissions scandal, both lost substantial customer trust. Years of being solid corporate citizens and building trust likely played key roles in allowing both companies to take the actions necessary to recover, and remain fairly truted brands. They actually dealt with their issues immediately, unlike MLL and Facebook.
  • On the food front, and there always seems to be some kind of recall, Peanut Corp. was hit with a major recall in 2009 that eventually led to its bankruptcy because they were found to have knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella to U.S. and Canadian retailers.

In all cases, who does these things knowingly or willingly? It is not the “company” because that is just a thing. It is the people, leaders, or those with decision-making authority that make such heinous or stupid decisions.

People need to be held accountable. And corrective action must take place immediately. You can make the right decision, always, by asking yourself if what you do will result in a good news or bad news front page story.

Organizations must look at the situation from the customer’s perspective and ensure that safe decisions are made for them and your employees. Ultimately, everyone needs to be safe, too.

Facebook, this means ensuring people are safe in a digital world when they use your platform.

Changing behaviour through powerful messaging is a terrific step. It is usually a lot easier than changing attitudes on a major topic or issue. For example, it is easier for  me to get you to try a Big Mac, than it is to convince you that eating a Big Mac is good for you (thanks again to Bob Hoffman for this gem).

A great message can be part of the solution if it supports a thorough, safe, and practical correction to the problem that the organization is dealing with. And in the case of the MLL, until thieves start getting caught, your message is meaningless.

What is your Q1 report card?

In my elementary school days, if I planned my time and effort for my class assignments, tests, and completing my homework I never worried about my report card. When I spent too much time as “the class clown,” well, I was less thrilled to bring it home for my parents to see.

We do a lot of planning in business, too. This includes daily tests with our customer interactions. We have to do our training (homework) to ensure we are trying to be our best each day. And our report card tends to be just the financial results that are posted or the annual performance review.

Revenue is a sign of opportunity and demand for your product or service. Profitability is the engine that drives your company’s long-term success. What are you doing to understand how your customers are reacting to your offerings and understanding what their unmet needs might be? While this should be a regular activity, you must take a deep dive at least on a quarterly basis. And I am not just talking about sending a survey monkey questionnaire with some questions that are designed to stroke your ego.

I am talking about really taking a close look at the people (yes, individual customers plus those economic buyers in companies that many call B2B) . Do you conduct, with discipline, any of the following activities each quarter:

  • Senior executive visit with key customers? More than just a “meet and greet” this is a chance for the CEO to see how your product or service is used with key clients
  • Conduct competitive market intelligence. A thorough process is more than doing a couple of Google searches. In addition to an assessment of the actions of your direct competitors, you must assess the PESTLE factors to see what might be impacting you or your customers.
  • Assess the factors that have enabled you to win sales and also how you lost sales. Dive deep and question people with vigor if they answer “price” is why you lost. If price is the reason, it is the ONLY reason. It is almost always something else. And if not, do you want customers that just grind on price of you cannot differentiate?
  • Is your messaging consistent across all modes of communication and channel? What are you saying and how is it being perceived?
  • Do you meet with any key business partners, such as ad agencies, to assess what they see and what they are learning as they talk to clients in different industries? For example, few companies ever thought they would be compared to Disney for customer service. Yet, because so many people have had an amazing personal experience with Disney, they have a new standard by which they compare all their customer service interactions.
  • Do you have to make any adjustments to your strategy? Or do you continue with the specific tactics of your 4 P’s because you are achieving solid results?
  • Do you know the key drivers and inhibitors of your brand(s)? Do you have a plan to leverage resources and a specific course of action to address each point?

The marketer’s responsibilities to the business are extensive and essential. You likely need to cooperate with Finance to get the current and correct financial information to conduct your analysis. You also need to work with IT to ensure you get the data on a consistent basis and that it can be properly tracked and trended.

Please remember that you are analyzing people. Your customers. They are real people. They are not just an account number. While they may share some similar characteristics, a persona of sorts, be careful not to group them too much or you will miss the details that are part of each unique customer. And that can lead to deepening your understanding of why you are selected.

Your customers are different. And you are different from your competitors. Or at least you say you are.

Don’t be the class clown. Do your homework and bring home an A.

Do this consistently each quarter and the year-end bonus is worth the effort.