Um…ok…..where did that come from?? Well, wanting feedback when I started this blog, I did what marketing people do: I created a mini “test market” with friends. I got great feedback, but one comment confounded me. “Be careful calling yourself a ‘marketing professional’ - people might not understand.” an astute and insightful friend offered.
What? Not understand? Is there something wrong with being a marketer? Then it hit me...oh…. ”spin doctor”, gimmicks, t-shirts and golf balls, high pressure. Shallow. I Googled “criticisms of marketing” and was dismayed. “Marketing Encourages People to Purchase What They Do Not Need”, “Marketers Embellish Product Claims”. There in all its Google-glory was public condemnation of my profession. I felt a little like lawyers must feel. Off to law school with lofty aspirations of justice, believing their mission was of a higher calling. But 700 million “bad lawyer” jokes later, it has to sting.
Oh boy. I’m going to talk about marketing alot in this blog. I better get this cleared up from the git-go.
The truth is, there are bad lawyers….and there are good lawyers. To wit, there are bad marketers…and there are good marketers. I like to think of myself as one of the good ones – and though I’ve seen a few mis-guided apples in the barrel, most work hard to understand the customer and offer them great value.
So what the heck is “good marketing”?
Anyone who’s ever thought of marketing as “spin” - or worse? Listen up.
Marketing and sales professionals? Prepare to be exonerated.
Great marketing is the process of listening to your customer, digging below the surface to find real insights into needs or desires, creating a product to meet those needs, offering it at a fair price/value, and “serving it up” in a way that engages the customer. Bad marketers “encourage consumers to buy products they don’t need”. Good marketers start from the customer need, and meet it.
I like stories, so to make my point here’s a simple one: “Pizza Rolls and Video night”.
- Product: Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Hot frozen snack stuffed with ooey-gooey pizza goodness.
- Marketing problem: High profit margins, stagnant sales.
- Me: Perplexed marketing VP circa 1995.
- Lesson: Good marketers listen - I mean, really listen to their customers.
Any-hoo, Jeno sold his Chun-King business in 1966 but being the clever entrepreneur he was, created yet another company. Using Chun King frozen egg roll technology, he invented “Pizza Rolls” - egg roll crust with pizza stuffed inside, marketing that and a frozen pizza under the “Jeno’s” brand. Love it!
To make a verrrrry long story short, in 1985 Jeno sold the whole kit and kaboodle to Pillsbury who was already in the pizza business with “Totino’s”. Faced with marketing two pizza brands, Pillsbury had to make a choice. Totino’s won, and “Jeno’s Pizza Rolls” became “Totino’s Pizza Rolls”. Overnight.
Pizza Rolls were like little nuggets of pizza gold…insane profit margins, “on-trend” with snacking and changing eating habits…a golden opportunity. But perplexingly, sales were declining - every year.
That’s where I come in – VP of marketing on Totino’s. The situation wasn’t good. It’s hard to make your profit number when your golden goose isn’t laying any eggs, or in this case, rolls. More advertising? Didn’t work. Price promotions? Didn’t work. So when all else fails, maybe it’s time to ask consumers “Why don’t you eat more Pizza Rolls?” Focus group time!
Since we couldn’t invent another Super Bowl, we had to think up an occasion that like the Super Bowl, was a little more special. The real trick to turning around the sales decline however, was finding one that unlike the Super Bowl, happens more than once a year. Yikes!!
Enter “Video Night”. Ok, for those of you < age 30, you’re probably thinking “what is video night?” Well in 1995, renting a video to watch a movie at home was still….a little special. Family night. Blockbuster. You had to drive to the video store, hope your movie was in stock, load it into the VCR, return it in 2 days… (Netflix wasn't even founded till ‘97.) It was special enough to make you want to turn on your oven and get out the cookie sheet. Pizza Rolls. The perfect “video night” snack. They just hadn't thought of it.
We put the commercial on TV. It wasn’t a great ad, but it was a spectacular idea. Consumers thought it was such a good idea they bought three months of inventory in 2 weeks. They bought so much, we ran out of product…..for Super Bowl. Ironic? You bet. True story. Here’s the ad – just for fun: (If you try to view this video on any Apple device, it won't play. To play it, download a "Windows to Mac" video translator by going to: www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/player/WMcomponents.mspx and follow the prompts for installation).
Which brings us back to Jeno. During the inventory debacle, his (third) company Luigino’s, produced Rolls for us on a contract basis, to help us catch up. He wanted to know who was behind the Pizza Rolls fever – and even offered me a job. But as you know - "small-co" not for me!
He quipped once when asked about selling Jeno’s, “I should've kept the pizza roll. It’s something that'll
damn near live forever.” Jeno listened to customers….enough to build three companies from scratch. And yes, Pizza Rolls are still on the shelf.
One more thing. Try as I did, I couldn't find a musical selection to match this week's story - but I did find a classic hit to take us all back to 1995! Enjoy!