What I learned at Summer Brand Camp

The annual—slightly off-kilter—gathering of marketing, human resources and operations leaders known as Summer Brand Camp just finished up in Dallas. Put on by People Report and Black Box Intelligence, the conference stuck closely to its summer camp theme: attendees earned merit badges, there was a raucous talent show and our camp councilors taught us a lot to take home. Here are some of the lessons:

Purpose is everything

It was echoed again and again from the stage: the companies that are beating industry averages, that are inspiring employees and turning customers into evangelizers are the ones with a social purpose behind what they do.

“Companies that care about something bigger than selling their product, sell more of their product,” said Doug Levy, CEO of marketing agency MEplusYOU and author of “Can’t Buy Me Like.”

Levy walked the crowd through a brief history of marketing, showing how industries have moved from The Product Era—ads touted product qualities—to The Consumer Era, where ads talked instead about how much they knew their customer. And now we are in The Relationship Era.

Triggered by the internet and social media, The Relationship Era sees companies highlighting the values they share with their customers, their purpose.

“Profit is not an end in itself, but a product of a sustainable relationship,” said Levy. “What does your company stand for? That is the taking off point.”

We are in a golden age of advertising

Throughout camp, videos highlighted commercials and other marketing videos from companies highlighting their purpose in artful to other’s simply making a point.

Panera’s Live Consciously. Eat Deliciously spot

Taco Bell’s Operation Alaska spot

Dollar Shave Club’s intro spot

Le Trefle paper spot

Sometimes you just have to ask

Nick Sarillo, president of 2-unit, barn-sized Nick’s Pizza Pub in Illinois, was on top of the world. It was 2005, he’d just opened his second unit, and business was going gangbusters. The downturn hit Nick’s like everybody else, but it was soon followed in 2011 by some good news: a Walmart was going in across the street from that new unit, which would bring all kind of new traffic his way.

Little did Sarillo know he was on a rollercoaster ride. Quick on the heels of the good news, came more bad news: he hadn’t anticipated the disruption street maintenance associated with the new Walmart was going to cause him. For six months crews had the road outside his restaurant torn up.

“I wasn’t sure what to do,” Sarillo told the Summer Brand Camp crowd. “In four weeks I wasn’t going to be able to make payroll.”

Sarillo had built his restaurants as community gathering places. He had further ingrained himself in the fabric of the communities by hosting regular fundraisers.

Faced with his dire situation, he decided he was going to reach out to the community and let them know what he was up against. He drafted a letter and emailed it to 16,000 customers.

“I have never understood why owners or management of a failing company usually don’t give others close to the company–especially customers–fair warning about what is going on,” the letter started. You can read the rest here.

Sarillo was honest and transparent and the community response was immediate and sustained.

Speed round

Courtesy of Ryan Estis, business performance expert:

“How do you get values off the wall and into people’s hearts. You do that based on who gets hired, who gets promoted, who gets rewarded and who gets let go.”

“You need to invite healthy conflict in your organization to bring about transformation.”

“When you help people get to where they want to go, they’ll help you get to where you want to go.”

“Obsess over the experience. Starbucks can’t compete in the coffee business. They can compete and win in the experience business.”




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