February 09, 2016

A Brand Response Team

When I bring up the topic of Brand Response Marketing, I am occasionally greeted with the expression seen here.

It's an expression of doubt and "we've tried this before, and it didn't work, so please give me a great idea, for free of course, that is guaranteed to work, because my entire career is now dependent upon free advice from outsiders and $1,795 reports from Woodside Research."

When I worked at Eddie Bauer, circa 1995 - 2000, I was part of what was called a "Catalog Business Team". It was the "Triple-A" of Management, and I mean that in the most positive way possible.

This team had at least a half-dozen key members.
  • Me - Director of Circulation / Analytics.
  • Inventory Director.
  • Merchandising Director.
  • E-Commerce Director.
  • Call Center Director.
  • Finance Director.
  • Creative Director.
The team met for two hours every Wednesday. The team went over current business. The team had three or four VP "mentors" who occasionally attended ... especially when business was bad or when we were taking risks. Once a quarter, we presented where we were taking the business to the Executive Team. We were pummeled, we were questioned, we were praised.

What a training ground!

Now, don't get me wrong. There were four layers of Management above me ... a DVP of Marketing, an SVP of Marketing, a EVP of Global Brand Direction, and the CEO. Anything we wanted to do could (and was) vetoed by our VP mentors, or by the four layers of leadership above me. That's life.

Regardless, we largely came up with the tactics and strategies that were implemented. Even when folks disagreed with me, I still mostly did what I wanted ... I mailed who I wanted, I forecast the business the way I wanted, I applied discounts/promotions the way I wanted, I assigned page counts per mailing the way I wanted, I created edited/smaller catalog versions the way I wanted. Tactics were modified, discussions happened, angst occurred. In the end, we posted the most profitable year in the division of the catalog / e-commerce channel (back in 1999), best results in 50+ years.

In other words, the org structure worked.

Fast forward to today. What a mess. I keep seeing situations where classic direct marketers hold our businesses hostage by demanding immediate return on investment. Similarly, I keep seeing situations where brand marketers swing for the fences, spending millions "building a brand" with no return on investment whatsoever. I see digital experts who have no idea how business works. I see business experts with no idea how digital works. I see tepid sales growth. I see frustration.

What we need today is a Brand Response Team. Here's what I recommend.
  1. Only employees age 30-39 are eligible. When an employee hits 40, the employee must move on. This keeps modern marketing concepts at the forefront. Your mileage will vary. But the last thing you need is a crusty fifty year old like me holding the company back.
  2. Cross-Functional ... make sure Finance, Merchandising, Creative, Online Operations, Classic Direct Marketing, Digital / Online Marketing, IT, Inventory, Social Media, Mobile are all represented.
  3. Director-Level Recommended. Make sure that this is the training ground for future leadership positions.
  4. Authority. This team gets to make real decisions, they are not pawns on the Executive Chess Board. Otherwise, why do this at all?
  5. Accountability. This team owns Customer Acquisition, pure and simple. They OWN it. They are given a budget, they are given a customer acquisition count target, and they are given a profit target. When they succeed, they are promoted. When they fail, they are booted off the team.
  6. Bonus. This team earns at least a 50% annual bonus if customer acquisition targets are met. I know, you hate this. Tough. Pay people for outstanding performance.
Now, when you have a team with the six (6) criteria above, do you think this team will blindly allow a paid search vendor to own customer acquisition? Do you think this team will let the co-ops be responsible for 85% of new names? Never!! This team will approach Customer Acquisition with the necessary zeal required to grow a modern business.

This team is called a "Brand Response Team". 

Their number one job is to profitably grow new customer counts. By doing this, the Brand Response Team guarantees the future success of the business.

I know, I know. You sell widgets. Your Executive Team has an iron-fisted approach to Management - they tell people what to do, not the other way around. Ok, then, good luck to you. 

But for the rest of you, those of you with open minds and an appreciation for future success ... what would stop you from forming a Brand Response Team?