Monday, October 27, 2008

More Musings on Leadership

On Leadership and the Moment of Truth

Back to my favorite topic - leadership. I was watching the press interview Ray’s rookie pitcher David Price after Tampa Bay’s Game 7 win in the ALCS. The reporter asked him if he was nervous when he entered the game in the 8th inning with the bases loaded and the clutch hitting JD Drew at the plate. Drew had already torched the Rays in Game 5 and the American League Championship that once seemed a lock was slowly slipping away. Price responded by striking out Drew and then retiring the Red Sox in the ninth. What was most impressive about his performance, which Price quickly relayed to the reporter, is that he wanted the ball. With the game on the line in the biggest game in franchise history, at arguably the defining moment of the franchise, a 23 year old rookie sought the spotlight.

Thus, another element of great leadership - Leaders relish the opportunity to perform at the highest level. They want the ball with the game on the line. They relish the spotlight. They’ve learned to take the pressure and nervous energy and focus it on achieving outcomes. They take charge when their environment is most chaotic. They have an odd sense of clarity and self-assuredness when others are in doubt. I’ve heard it many different ways, but what it comes down to is that leaders have a strong desire to be where the action is. Perhaps it is because they understand the magnitude of the outcome, perhaps it stems from a desire to grow and learn, or perhaps it is simply their ego that drives them. But for whatever reason, they are there.

On Leadership and Trust

I recently read a blog posting by one of my esteemed colleagues, Steve Bendt, who wrote about brands that he trusts and why that is important to him. It got me to thinking about the role that trust plays in leadership, and it’s an important one. The fact is, people trust leaders, not because they are in first place, but because leaders invest heavily in the people around them. The great leaders that I know spend as much time investing in people as they do investing in strategy. They create an environment in which others can be successful. It’s a bit of a quid-pro-quo, where each party is bound by a common interest – the success of the other party.

Trust is important because it creates an irrational loyalty. Leaders who have established trust naturally have teams that perform at a high level. Everyone pitches in for the good of the team because they know in the long run it will be good for the individual as well. I have seen trusted leaders who have developed a bit of a cult following, where employees will follow them no matter where they go, what they do or what projects they work on. Now, imagine if your brand had customers like that.

If we project this idea out to brands, it becomes abundantly clear that most brands fall short in creating this type of relationship, and thus fail to generate trust. If we placed trust at the center of our marketing strategy, I believe our marketing plans would look a lot different. We would spend a lot more time engaging directly with our customers on an individual basis and a lot less time pushing messages through mass media. I think this is where the power of social media comes into play. Brands that can engage consumers meaningfully through direct dialogue will have a significant advantage because of the trust factor. But, not every company will be able to do this. I have learned through the Insignia Open Principles test that culture will be the number one factor in determinging which companies will be successful. Those that embrace openness will win.

On Leaders and Ideas

I’ve been thinking recently more specifically about leadership in my organization and how it manifests itself. The conclusion I’ve come to is that leadership at all levels is more important at my employer than at any other organization I’ve been involved with. The reason is the organizational design employed by our CEO. The design principle is controlled chaos, which is aimed at two things – destroying bureaucracy and empowering our people.

First, the organizational design favors leaders because it emphasizes skill sets that leaders are inherently better at than the general population. Over the course of their careers, leaders have developed the skills related to vision and persuasion. Leaders are also accustomed to making tough, real-time decisions with minimal information in chaotic environments (why do you think the military places so much emphasis on leadership development?). Therefore, leaders are inherently better equipped to see the opportunity, evaluate it and act upon it with confidence and conviction.

Second, the organizational design encourages ideas, but discriminates against selection of any one idea. This actually creates a role and an opportunity for strong leaders. One of the principles of controlled chaos is the notion that ideas can come from anywhere in the organization. Therefore, there is no shortage of inputs, and frankly, I have found this a great way to expand my own thinking and to make my own ideas better. However, the organizational design also removes bureaucracy, the process by which ideas are vetted in most organizations. Hence, it is difficult for the organization to select any one idea over another. Therefore, it is imperative in this organizational design to have strong leaders because, again, leaders are practiced at the art of decision making and persuasion - the precise skills required to move an idea from concept to execution.

Finally, ideas are usually not strong enough to win on their own. Unless ideas are so self-evident that they are undeniable to a majority population, they will fall to the wayside without an organizational mechanism to support them.

So, what are the implications of this design? Here are some thoughts:

  • Developing leaders is an organizational imperative. As you probably know from some of my previous posts, I believe that this is important and that most organizations don’t place enough emphasis on this. I also believe it is doubly important in this environment.
  • Leaders will win over ideas every day. Or, perhaps ideas win because they have strong leaders who support them. Which leads to…
  • There will be times when a leader with a bad idea wins over a good idea with no champion.

Leadership in Difficult Times

One of my readers from South Minneapolis (okay, it was my wife) sent me this audio clip from MPR discussing the leadership qualities required of our next President. The speaker highlights several great qualities of leaders. It’s well worth the listen. Her hypothesis is that leaders possess:

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed today's musings.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Monster Dash

Today I ran my first 5k race, the Monster Dash. It is billed as the largest Halloween race in the Upper Midwest. A few friends of mine ran the half marathon, but that was a little beyond my modest goals. I had two objectives in running the race today. First, to get my feet wet as I prepare for the Twin Cities Marathon next year. Second, to finish in under 30 minutes. I did both, finishing in 27:41 by my accounts. I'm still waiting for the official time. Here's what I learned by running the race today:

1. Run to open space. There are so many people massed together at the starting line that it's actually hard to run. I think one of the reasons my pace was so fast (at least for me) is that I was too impatient to run in the pack. I could also see myself tripping over other runners.
2. When not running with my iPod, cow bell is a great motivator. This is funny not only because it's cowbell, but also because I love the SNL skit with Christopher Walken and Will Farrell.
3. Pace is king. It's not how fast you run, but rather how you sustain yourself over the course of the race. I think the adrenalin kicked in today, along with my competitive nature, and I ran a pace that I know I couldn't sustain over a longer distance.

Thank you to Polly, Addie, Mary and Michael for supporting me on this endeavor. I had a blast running today. This goal is not possible without you.

Congratulations to Allison, Gina, Hilary and Jeri for running the half today.

Finally, this is my last sports post on this blog. I will be moving all of my personal posts to the blog Fourth and Goal, which can be found in my blog list in the right column of this page. I will continue to use this blog to post all of my business and tech writings.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Power of Open Principles

Over the last several days, I have been seeking input on my approach to redesigning the Insignia website. I am basing our approach to the redesign on one core belief – that the employees and consumers of Insignia care deeply about the success of the brand and will lend their unique talents and perspective for the betterment of the brand. The events of the last couple of days have only solidified that view.

First of all, thank you to everyone who contacted me, publicly or privately, and offered me their perspective and support. In total, the number was small, but the impact was more far reaching than you can imagine. I encourage you to stay connected with the dialogue as I believe this is only the beginning. We are on a long journey.

Second, I’d like to thank Hanson, Inc., our digital agency, who took a huge leap with us today. I took the liberty of putting Hanson in front of people they had never met before and who's sole job was to provide input, critique and ask tough questions. They performed admirably. Embracing Open Principles is hard because first you have to make yourself vulnerable. This takes courage and trust. I think we have both now!

So, here’s what I’ve learned over the last three days:

  • There are a lot of people who care about Insignia and our work on the website. They mostly came from unexpected places.
  • Our vision is aggressive but necessary. Personally, I think this gets the most people excited while also making the most people nervous. With such an aggressive agenda, I become concerned with meeting expectations.
  • Our culture will allow great things to happen. I'm convinced that this could not happen at most large companies.
  • There is much to be done. I was impressed with the diversity of views. I was also impressed by the demand for a consumer electronics brand that would embrace the values of the community.
  • The core issue, from a branding perspective down to technical implementation, is how transparent we make the relationship between Insignia and Best Buy. If we want to be transparent and authentic, which I think you have to be online, I don’t think we should try to hide this relationship.
  • Based on the answer to the above question, what customer benefits are delivered on the Insignia site vs. Best Buy? For example, if Insignia is clearly a Best Buy brand, would we offer comparison shopping on the Insignia site or leave that to Best Buy and focus more on community and customer support at Insignia?

Given all of these learnings, here’s what I’d like your perspective on today. If Insignia is a brand that listens to its customers and openly embraces its community utilizing Open Principles, what is the best way for Insignia to signal that to its customers through its website?

That’s all for now. Thank you again and I look forward to continuing the journey.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Insignia Open Principles Test

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I am taking this opportunity to extend the open principles test to redesigning the Insignia website ( Insignia is a Best Buy Exclusive Brand that produces and sells TVs, MP3 players and various other consumer electronics in the US and Canada. We are in the process of redesigning our web site and are seeking input from those who have a point of view and passion around the Insignia and Best Buy brands. We believe that ownership and engagement from our customers and employees are the keys to our success. Therefore, I invite you to share your unique perspective as we set out on this journey. This is an experiment, so I don’t know what will work or what kind of feedback we will receive, but I do believe your voice will help us make a better product in the end. I also want to thank our digital agency for their openness in trying this experiment with us.

Here’s how to participate:

If you are a Best Buy corporate employee: On Wednesday, October 22nd, we invite you to join us in A5 Big Box to hear our digital agency present their Discovery findings and initial wireframes. The meeting is from 3:00 – 4:30 and you will need a Yammer account to participate ( Please sign up using your Best Buy e-mail address as it will be the only way for us to collect your feedback during the session.

If you are a Best Buy field employee: Go to BlueShirt nation to find this topic posted under General forums. Please leave your feedback there.

If you are an Insignia or Best Buy customer: Please leave your feedback directly here at this blog.

The Key Question we are addressing is how to make the Insignia web site more useful and relevant to our customers. What role should Insignia play in Best Buy's mission and how should that reflect on the web site?

Thanks in advance. I am looking forward to hearing what you all have to say.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Redskins 14 Browns 11

The Redskins squeaked out a win this week over the Browns and that's about all that can be said for this game today. As they say, a win is a win. Three things that can be taken away from today's game:

1. The Redskins beat a team at home that they should have beaten. The win is actually pretty big because it keeps them on pace with the Giants in the division and ahead of the pack in the wild card standings. After 7 weeks, the NFC playoff picture has yet to take hold with 9 teams posting winning records. 10 wins may not get you into the post-season in the NFC this year.
2. The Redskins stars made the plays. Clinton Portis was a horse running for 175 yards and 1 TD. That puts Portis on pace for 1,870 yards and 16 TDs, which would be a monster season. Moss wasn't quite as brilliant, but he made plays down the stretch when the Skins really needed him, including a nifty TD reception.
3. The kicking game was much improved, despite the missed FG. With the teams battling for field position for the first three quarters, improvement in this area was a critical component of victory. Zorn called the punting game "excellent" for perhaps the first time this season.

A few other observations:

1. Teams are adjusting to the Redskins offense and Coach Zorn's play calling. Offensive production and scoring opportunities are down while turnovers are up. Two downtrodden teams came into Fedex the last two weeks and found ways to get pressure on Campbell and to disrupt the Skins offensive flow. How the Skins and Coach Zorn adapt to defensive scheming will go a long way towards determining their fate this year.
2. My fantasy team is sunk. I took Braylon Edwards too high in the draft this year and am paying for his lack of production. I used to think it was his quarterback, but after listening to the game today, I know it's him. Edwards dropped at least 4 passes today.
3. I really like this Chris Horton guy. He seems to have a knack for the ball, plays hard and somehow seems to be in the right place a lot. Not bad for a 7th round draft pick.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Culture of Leadership

I recently read an article in my Michigan alumni magazine about a perspective on leadership. I thought I would share that with you.

Sue Ashford, associate dean for leadership programming is quoted as saying, "A favorite question people like to ask me is whether leadership can be taught. Here at Ross, we believe most certainly it can be. By putting students in experiences that demand leadership of them, they will develop as leaders. We also believe that leadership is an art, and if you want to learn the art, you better expand the ways you learn."

Based on my previous post, you know that I love that she has a point of view. But what this article really got me thinking about is why leadership training is successful and Michigan yet fails in so many other places. In my view, the key difference is that Michigan creates a culture of leadership. That is, they consistently demand it from their students in a way that not many other institutions or corporations do. And, the reason that it is sustaining is that it is woven into everything that they do.

In my experience, leadership is too often thought of as a class you take or something that you do when you get promoted to a certain level. That is, most organizations prepare leaders by putting them through an ad hoc series of events or promoting people who do "good work". Because these events are not deliberately tied to the essence of what makes a good leader, eventually randomness takes over. I believe that if organizations can create a culture of leadership, by having a point of view and deliberately orchestrating leadership development, then they will be much better off in the long run.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Twin Cities Marathon 2009

I am writing tonight to announce my decision to run in the Twin Cities Marathon in 2009. As I write this, I cannot believe the words that I am typing. That is because I am not much of a runner. I have not run an organized race since track in the 4th grade. Even then, distance wasn’t my strength. My legs still ache from my 5 mile run on Sunday.

However, I am inspired. I am inspired by the support and encouragement coming from Polly. I am inspired by her recent accomplishment. I am inspired by my friends who are going to run with me (my brother is still a hold out). And I am inspired to AIM HIGH.

It will be a long journey, but I figure if I commit now, I give myself the best chance for success. If I make a public commitment, I will have a tangible goal. If I invite others in, I will get the best advice from those who have experienced it. Therefore, I invite you to share your experiences here or directly with me. I will periodically post updates to my training, and hopefully a picture of me crossing the finish line in 2009.

What Makes a Great Leader

I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions recently about what makes a good leader, so I thought I’d share a few of my observations with you. I am very passionate about this subject. As always, I’d love your feedback.

First off, I subscribe to the Marcus Buckingham definition of a leader. That is, a leader is someone who rallies others to a better future. In order to deliver on this promise of leadership, I believe that great leaders must have incredible vision and the ability to rally others towards that vision. It just makes sense to me that you must know where you’re going in order to lead others there. It also makes sense to me that leaders require passion, persistence and an art of persuasion.

Leaders are irrationally optimistic about the future. The best way for me to describe this is that leaders must have the confidence and conviction to set out on a course of action that is not always apparent to others. They must have clarity in thought to stay the course when others sway. They must believe that they can change the future. They must have confidence in their own abilities. It’s a lesson I learned playing football as a kid. My coaches always said that if you don’t believe you can win, then you shouldn’t be on the field. That is, winning is 90% mental. It’s a lesson I’m glad that I mastered when I was young.

Great leaders think and talk about leadership all the time. The best way to identify a great leader is to find someone who has a point of view on it. That’s because they’ve practiced it, put their philosophies to use and learned from their mistakes. They're also not afraid to borrow ideas from others. The outcome of this is that great leaders instinctually handle the moments that matter.

Great leadership takes practice. It’s not something that can be taught in a seminar, but it is something that can learned over a lifetime. I am lucky to have had many experiences in my life that influenced my abilities as a leader, from the values my parents taught me, to the experiences on the football field to attending a military high school. I’m not sure I appreciated it at the time, but the leadership experiences that I had in high school have had a direct correlation to my success in business. And when it came time to go to business school, I must have instinctually followed leadership, because leadership development is a core part of the student experience at Michigan.

Leaders volunteer. It’s just what they do. They are drawn to those experiences and challenges where they can apply their skills, add value and make a difference.

Just because you’re in a leadership position doesn’t mean you’re a leader. Leaders come at all levels of the organization.

When looking for leaders in your organization, the best thing to do is to ask their peers, direct reports and mentees. Don’t ask their bosses. They almost never can see the forest through the trees. This isn’t always true, but seems to be so more often than not.

Rams 19 Redskins 17

So, my concerns were well founded. The Redskins overlooked the Rams and lost one they shouldn’t have. Portis even said so after the game. You can blame it on turnovers, bad special teams play or the inability to mount one last defensive stand, but it really came down to one play. If Pete Kendall lets that ball drop to the ground, the Redskins win, despite all of their bad play. That was a 10 point swing at minimum, maybe more.

Interestingly, after the game, Clinton Portis talked a lot about learning to win when you’re supposed to, that the Redskins play better as underdogs. Hopefully, the Redskins learn from this loss and are more prepared for their next opponent. With the Browns looking resurgent, the schedule doesn’t look as clear as it did a week ago. The Redskins will need every ounce of focus they can muster this week. It’s probably a good thing the Browns pounded the Giants.

For those of you who know me, I am very interested in team dynamics and in how teams mature or progress through stages until ultimately they are highly functioning. I am also interested in how organizational structure impacts leadership effectiveness. I find sports teams to be interesting case studies not only because I am a fan, but because the analogy is so often applied to business. I am forming a POV that this is not always the best analogy because sports teams have shared outcomes, defined rules by which they play and shared tasks that they perform (plays) whereas most business "teams" do not. There is also this idea of significant negative outcomes in sports. If your team mate fails to peform their duty, then there can be a serious injury to someone else or the entire system fails (you lose the game). While businesses on a whole my experience this, I don't believe individual teams experience this in business.

I believe a better metaphor may be that of a legislature. In my view, my team resembles this structure more closely. We represent different constituencies, so we don't have shared outcomes; we compete for resources rather than collectively leverage them; our leadership group is too large to effectively operate as a team, but smaller committees can get a lot done; and we are part of one organization (marketing) that has a shared interest in stewarding resources for the common good, i.e., the performance of our company. I am still building out the metaphor, but I think there are enough similarities upon which an operating model can be built. Please let me know what you think.

Finally, one last note on the Redskins. I found a Twitter stream called "Redskins Insider" that provides regular team updates as well as in-game updates. I am hooked. I feel like I’m part of the team and “in the know” in a way that I haven’t felt before (despite being a fan for 30+ years). It's particularly compelling being an out-of-market fan that can't consume the in-market sports media. It’s a very transparent view into a business where timely and relevant information is in high demand by consumers. In other words, it satisfies a need for me that cannot otherwise be fulfilled. Today I learned about running back tryouts, the punter situation and much more. I think it's a great way for sports teams to connect with their customers and I recommend it for any rabid fan (and every sports owner).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Aim High

A good friend of mine recently sent me the following e-mail regarding the Redskins and their progression through this season. I am sharing it with you not only because I think it’s a great analysis, but because it has relevance in business and in life. The moral of the story is to set high goals because you just might achieve them. When you have the courage and conviction to aim high and pursue lofty goals, you give yourself the opportunity to achieve great things.

It also speaks to the progression and maturation of teams. I've been thinking about this a lot recently and how those lessons might be applied in the office as well as on the field. I'm not convinced it's the best metaphor yet, but there are a great deal of similarities. I'd love your thoughts/ideas on the topic.

And, without further ado, Brendan Emerson…

"Are we ready to get the Bandwagon out of the garage? After a 4-1 start, and wins at Dallas and Philadelphia, the Skins need to readjust their goals. Just making the playoffs is not sufficient enough now; especially with the way the schedule sets up the rest of the season, the NFC East title and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs needs to be the goal. Aim high. Why not the Skins?

Have you lost your mind, you might ask. No, my faculties are all there and firing. The key in analyzing the NFL is taking a present approach; a sense of recent history is fine, but with free agency, coaching changes, injuries, recent results, etc., the NFL is constantly fluid, even on a weekly basis.The Patriots, with an injury to Tom Brady in the opener, after a 16-0 regular season and a transcendent catch away from a Super Bowl title, will be lucky to make the playoffs. The offensive-challenged Titans, 4-0. Chargers, last year's AFC Championship game participants, 2-3 and reeling. The Colts, proposed Super Bowl contenders, a few questionable decisions by opponents from being 0-4. Questions arise about Dallas; two weeks away from a 3-0 start, but a defeat to the Skins and a shaky win over the hapless Bungles, are an imminent volcanic episode from T.O. away from possible internal implosion. And the Giants, who as recently as Week 15 of last year after the 22-10 defeat to the Skins, were said to be on the precipice of firing Tom Coughlin. Four playoff wins on the road, a Super Bowl title, a 4-0 start to this season, and they're now the present standard bearer of NFL stability and efficiency.

As children and adolescents weaned on Joe Gibbs 1.0 success, we all know how essential home field advantage throughout the playoffs can be. Every year the Skins have hosted the NFC Championship game ('82, '83,'87, '91) they've made the Super Bowl; their one NFC Championship game loss in that tenure: '86 to the Giants in the Meadowlands.

That's the key. Getting home field advantage away from the Giants and Cowboys. The Cowboys and Giants return trips to FedEx will be HUGE. Two guarantees: A) The NFC East winner will host the NFC Championship Game and B) If that winner is the Skins, no one will beat the Skins in January in FedEx with the Super Bowl on the line. Ain't gonna happen, even if it's the Giants or Cowboys.

As always, one game at a time, but AIM HIGH."

Observations on Sports this Weekend

Today’s Redskins game vs. the St. Louis Rams scares me. It’s the type of game that teams who are learning to win overlook. You’re at home, heavily favored and the opponent is winless. Every pundit is picking you to win easily. It’s the kind of game where you can get caught looking ahead.

The NHL season kicked off this weekend. I am very excited about the Capitals after last season’s run. Alex Ovechkin and the core of young stars have added an energy and excitement to the team that has not existed in the past. It's somewhat surreal to think that the best player in the NHL plays for my team. They split their first two and do not appear to have trouble scoring goals. But giving up 7 to Atlanta is a bit worrisome, even this early in the season. I’d like to see Ovechkin defend his MVP, especially if Crosby is the competition. I can’t wait until they visit the Wild on November 23rd. It will be my only chance to see them this season.

The Wild had a solid outing in their opener, defeating Boston 4-3. There was a great article Saturday in the Star-Tribune about the core of the Wild team. It provided some great perspective on selecting the right talent, not just the best talent, for your team. I had a chance to meet Doug Risebrough a couple years ago and was impressed with how thoughtful he was on the subject. I think the trap that most fans get into is becoming dazzled by talent. It’s all too tempting to do the same as a GM, but in the end, it’s about putting together the best team you can, not about putting together a collection of individuals. Doug has that perspective and I think he’s assembled a core of players that will have the Wild winning for awhile, even if Marian Gaborik doesn’t stick around.

I am at a loss for words with Michigan.

I haven't seen much baseball this postseason. With the Yankees missing the playoffs, I haven't had much to root against. I'm pulling for the Rays.

The Pony Jets, Addie's soccer team, finished their season yesterday. While they didn't win a lot of games, the kids had a lot of fun. It was really rewarding to coach them. I think I learned as much as they did and I got to spend quality time with my daughter. I am really proud of her. Check out Polly's blog for a picture.

Finally, Polly is trying to convince me to run the Twin Cities marathon next year. I've never thought of myself as a runner in that way, but the challenge is intriguing.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fast Food Delivered

I recently came across an interesting website for a company that is as unique for its business idea as it is for its approach to customers and employees.

Borders Food Companies, located in Golden Valley, MN, is a franchisee of multiple fast food concepts that target a similar audience. These restaurants are bound together by an online ordering system and loyalty club (the Extra Cravings Club). I love how they are leveraging across the properties to create a unique experience and drive loyalty for their locations vs. other franchisee locations. The approach is simple yet brilliant.

I also like their approach to their employees and consumers. I have not visited any of their restaurants, but based on the philosiphies espoused on their website, I can only imagine that the in-store experience is significantly different and better than most restaurants. It also sounds like a great place to work.

I will have to check out the customer experience sometime.

Tampa Bay Rays, Part II

Some of you have sent me e-mails about the Rays article making the case for why Tampa Bay is not a good baseball town. Many of the same arguements could be made about baseball in Minnesota. The summer is too short to sit inside and watch baseball games (although that is being fixed for the 2010 season). But somehow, the Twins are able to compete for division titles year after year. The reason is that they have gotten really good at identifying and developing talent. The entire Twins roster has turned over twice since I've lived here and they are still more competitive than most Major League franchises.

I agree whole heartedly that there are significant business challenges in the Tampa market for professional sports. That is exactly why the marketing approach is so brilliant. It is their response to the unique challenges facing their team. It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. The Tampa Bay Ray problem requires different thinking. All too often we are tempted to apply an approach universally across many types of problems. Think about the US cable industry. It grew out of the West where it was difficult to reliably broadcast TV signals over the air over great distances. The answer to this problem came from smart thinkers and pioneers that lived in the market. Today, the entire cable industry is heavily shaped and influenced by those individuals. What would have happened if we asked someone from New York to solve that problem? I'm sure the result would have looked much different.

The same is true for professional sports franchises. No two markets are the same just as no two teams are the same. Personally, I'd like to see more of these innovative approaches because for every New York Yankees there are 10 Tampa Bay Rays.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Manage a Sports Team Like a Brand

I read a great Ad Age article yesterday about how the Tampa Bay Rays are being managed like a brand and are employing many principles that company's like P&G do when creating the right brand experience for their customers.

As a marketer, I love to see the ideas of my profession being applied in an area where you wouldn't expect to see them. It seems that most sports franchises these days, no matter the sport, are managed for financial outcomes and/or the personal gratification of the owner. Neither of these are bad approaches because I'm sure they yield a great deal of enrichment for those who have taken great risks. But, seldom do you see such an intense focus on the fan and providing that fan with a consistent experience across all touch points of the brand. And it makes sense to me because I can't think of many other products that have such intense emotional brand engagement. They don't call them fanatics for nothing.

The brilliance of what the Tampa Bay Rays are doing is that it shows up on the field and in the financials. It's not just for the sake of marketing or brand building. Players are quoted as saying they have a significant home field advantage due to the fan engagement, even when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees visit. This is a result that many teams could only hope for. I know that growing up in Washington that even Redskins games have large contingencies of fans from the opposing teams. It's even worse at Capital and Wizard games where the front office actually courts fans of the opposing teams in order to fill the seats.

I also like the focus that the Rays are putting on their "best customers", those fans that invest in them year after year. It rewards the fans for their loyalty with access to unique experiences. At the same time, they are reinforcing the fanaticism by making those fans feel like they're part of the team. Essentially, this activity creates an extension of their brand with the people in the seats. It's easy to see why the Rays are harder to beat at home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Redskins 23 Eagles 17

Another great win for the Skins today to go to 4-1 on the season. A lot of the talk this week centered on how this was a must-win for the Eagles and that the Skins were heavy underdogs. Somehow, I just didn’t see it that way, but nobody pays me for my opinion. I think we can say that the Skins are a legitimate playoff contender now. Some things I liked about the game this week:

Resilience. The Redskins took the best that the Eagles had to offer and stood strong. Not only that, they punched the Eagles in the nose a couple of times.

Versatility. The Eagles totally shut down Santana Moss today. I know because I started him on my fantasy team. The Redskins responded with a healthy dose of Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley, which will make them much harder to defend in the future. Campbell, Portis, Moss, Cooley – gives the Skins at least 4 dependable weapons every week.

Commitment to the Run. The Redskins ran for over 200 yards on the league’s best rushing defense. Take that, George Washington! (Thank you Robot Chicken Star Wars).

Ball Control. The Redskins again controlled the clock, holding the ball for almost 35 minutes. They generated 5 scoring chances, converting them all. And, they held the ball for the last 7 minutes of the game, thwarting any hope of an Eagles comeback. I remember that this was a staple of the Emmitt Smith Cowboys and how demoralizing it was. I like being on the other side of the equation now.

No Turnovers. I really liked the way Jason Campbell avoided the costly mistake. Several times during the game, he threw the ball away or took a knee when the Redskins had a broken play.

Next opponent: vs. St. Louis Rams. The Redskins must avoid a let-down at home against a team they should beat.

Friday, October 3, 2008


A bunch of us here in the office have started using Twitter as means of rapidly sharing and responding to ideas. Twitter is a social networking site where you post what you’re working on in 140 characters or less. The trend was started by our CMO as a means to create dialogue around our brand directly with our employees and customers. It breaks through a lot of the barriers that traditionally surround a C-level executive while creating a high degree of transparency and authenticity around our brand. There are ongoing arguments for and against this, as it challenges a lot of the traditional orthodoxies of business from both a competitive and legal sense. I think that it is rather visionary and is consistent with the role that we might expect an executive in a forward looking company to play.

Well, the trend started slowly, but recently hit a critical mass of users within my circle at work. This has led to unexpected experiences where my virtual world collides with my real world. In a recent incident, I posted on Twitter that I was naming a project after my favorite beer – the Surly Furious ( Later that day, I was involved in a hallway conversation, where a colleague commented that he liked my new naming convention. Since I hadn’t discussed the project with him, I was a bit confused. Thankfully, he went on to say that he could think of a dozen beers after which he’d name projects. I recognized what he was talking about and immediately knew how he had gained that information.

At that moment, I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that in the new world of social networks, you are completely naked. You are vulnerable in a way that I’m not sure we could have imagined even just a few years ago. I’m not entirely sure of all the implications of this just yet. However, it does seem to me that in these forums you are subject to the ultimate market – the opinions and views of your peers and customers. I think this is where the transparency comes from. You just can’t hide anything, so you have to be completely honest and humble. By embracing this, it allows you to participate in the dialogue in a way that you cannot if you hide. I know that bearing yourself in this way, either as an individual or corporation, is not easy. It requires great courage and I applaud those who have it.

You can follow me on Twitter at

Napster Redux

So a few of you have been asking me about what to do about Napster. I recently read a great article in the Economist about the future of music (thanks Ken). It talks about how handset manufacturers – Nokia in particular – are bundling music services with their handset. Consumers get “free” music for one year and Nokia passes a royalty through to the Record Labels (cost of the subscription is included in the handset). It’s a win-win for consumers and the Labels. I’m not sure how Metallica fares, but let’s be honest. Anyone who is blaming the iPod for the sound quality of their music is just a little bit out of touch with reality - particularly with how people are consuming their product.

Now, what if Best Buy were able to do what Nokia did? They have a pretty robust private label capability, scale distribution in the US and Europe (Best Buy Mobile and Car Phone Warehouse), relationships with the carriers and a newly acquired music service. Combine that with the ability to collect and incorporate employee and consumer feedback for product development and I think they’ve got a decent shot grabbing some market share. All the pieces are there and it represents the type of forward looking point of view that I talked about before. What do you think?