Sunday, May 8, 2016

Running, Coca Cola, Lands End and Politics

Yesterday morning was a Saturday morning.

Normally, I hang out with retired professors and corporate VPs.  Instead, I stayed in the city and went over to the Farmer’s Market – or a variation of a Farmer’s Market in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood in Atlanta.

Virginia-Highland is a neighborhood area that lies just to the East of Midtown Atlanta.  An historic eclectic mix of older folks, hippies and gay guys. Over the last 10-15 years, the ‘hood became gentrified and today, Virginia-Highland sports some of the highest incomes and home values found in greater Atlanta.

Before I journeyed over to the Farmer’s booths, I sipped a cup of basic medium roast coffee and read the Friday edition of the Wall Street Journal. 

There was an article buried on the back page of section “D” that caught my attention. The headline posted the statement that the running market is leveling off and further, that Millennials are not much into running any more.

More than 13 years ago, I actually teamed up with Jerry Cronin, the creative director from Wieden+Kennedy who drove Nike’s Just Do It campaign.

Then I quickly re-anchor that the Just Do It campaign back in 1988. Back when the Millennials were popping out.

The WSJ article went on to report that Millennials actually are much more involved today in non-competitive sports, self-defined goal achievement and group exercise programs. 

Walking today is much more hip than running.

Especially if you are sipping on your low-fat, medium-foam, lactose-free, double-espresso, cold-brewed, drip Venti Starbucks whole bean Latte.

The article went on to say that everyone from the running brands to the sporting good retailers to the community run organizers are scratching their heads in disbelief. 

What I found intriguing in the article is just the vast number of firms that believe they have their finger on the pulse when what they actually are reading is a micro beat of their own limited perspective world.

When I next journeyed over to the Virginia Highland Farmer’s Market, I ran into some Coke execs.  We talked a little bit about the major changes taking place at the corporate headquarters as Coke dramatically drops out of the bottling business and pares back its corporate staff.

Coke’s CEO was featured in the WSJ about three weeks ago. The article was all about further decline in Coke’s global sales as the population from China to India to Europe to Ohio shifts from colas to other options to quench their thirsts.

What struck me in the article was the CEO claim that better times were soon to hit with Coke’s newest ad campaign and increase in their ad spending.

Denial is a stage that many combating an addiction face.

Coca Cola is a mature brand facing declining demand.  And its Baby Boomer leadership believes that a re-birth is right around the corner.

Moving On.

As I was sipping coffee this morning, I read another interesting story in the weekend edition of the WSJ.  This article appears right on the front page.

Title of the article: “Land’s End Gets Refashioned.”

While some leadership stands in denial, there’s another pack of leadership that jumps right in and makes radical change. 

Now I am not necessarily critiquing radical change.  Sometimes radical change is what’s needed to move a brand forward. 

I read the article about Land’s End with great interest.

A struggling Land’s End board hired a new CEO about 18 months ago. 

Land’s End slept in the bed with Sears for about ten years and then was spun off as a separate company back in 2013. 

The CEO hired back in February 2015 is a young lady named Federica Marchionni.  She came on board from having served in top management at Ferrari and Dolce & Gabbana.

While I attempt that vast majority of time not to make gender discriminating remarks, I must speculate that some older members of the Land’s End board found the Italian dame to be rather charming. 

The article goes on to talk about how Ms. Marchionni essentially runs the company based up in Dodgeville Wisconsin, a little dinky city due west of Madison Wisconsin, from her Manhattan pier-de-tier CEO office.

I cannot see top management of Ferrari driving a Subaru across the Wisconsin country-side.

The article goes on to talk about how Ms. Marchionni has “strategically” attempted to move Lands End into the upper Westside fashion scene.  Out are the baggy flannels and in are new signature high heels.

As I read the article, I had to ponder if Ms. Marchionni just might be from the same lineage as Robbie Johnson, the past CEO of JCPenney that was hired away from Apple. 

Similar to Robbie, Ms. Marchionni made the front page of the WSJ because sales at Lands End continue to slide. 

Not too unlike Coke, I bet Ms. Marchionni has seldom, if ever, actually hung out and shared a cup of coffee with the Midwestern Boomers and GenXers who long sought out the those flannel shirts and baggy pants to balance the daily grind of their 24/7 work.

Similar to Robbie, Ms. Marchionni will likely not be CEO too much longer.  If any one wants to take a $50 bet that she will be job seeking next February, please let me know.

There is no question that the marketplace is radically changing. 

There are those who chose to move forward blindly marching to the beat of a drummer hidden deep in the inter-sanctums of their mind.

There are those who simply chose to ponder and expect that increasing the ad dollars will cause their Zombie perception of the market place to change.

Then there are those who decide to side step the historic framework of the marketplace and elect to craft a Madison Avenue (or Fifth Avenue) brand culture. 

And then there are those who get out from behind the desk and venture out and chat with people.  Listen to what people have to say.  Ask people to be a bit visionary themselves.  And listen… really listen to what people say… and people do not say. 

Over the weekend, I also heard that some ad agency folks are now living the resort-life of retirement.  These are the folks that worked at the high-brow, high-rise, higher-than-the-masses ad agencies. 

Not joking, a number actually worked at one of Coke’s ad agencies and apparently raked in the dough when the money was flowing.

God love them and I hope that they have a relaxing retirement. 

I am very glad that they are now gone.  It just clears the field for folks like me that actually do what we do because we actually thrive on getting out and dwelling with real people who make up the marketplace.

Ad agencies and the high-brow marketing teams are sitting there right now pondering just what next is going to rattle the marketplace.

They are not too unlike the political hierarchy that is sitting back stunned at the results of the primaries soon to close. 

GOP leadership just cannot figure out what has taken place.  The Dems are puzzled as to really who can be more electable.

Back in the fall last year, I posted a blog some broad observations and predictions of just what might be taking place in this election.

I was smack on target. 

About two weeks ago, I went and reviewed the EXPERIENCE website to make sure that it wasn’t dated and no longer capturing the true essence of what sets us apart from others. 

I wanted to make sure that it reflected what I write about in this blog and what I say when I am out representing the team.

Whether its tracking trends for categories like running or managing brands like Coke or Lands End or observing the political outcomes of candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, what we do at EXPERIENCE can actually be a blast.

Now in my late-50s, I have no plans to retire any time soon.  I also am not into kissing ass for the sake of securing sales.

In where we find business and brands today, sitting behind the walls of the high-rises and corporate campus locations is really not too productive. 

Shoot, even if I had been a member of the Ferrari executive team, I would have ditched the valet and gotten into a Subaru and journeyed out across the U.S.  That woman needs to ditch that Perrier and high heels too and go get her some Red Bull and a flannel button-down.