Unless you’ve been hibernating under a rock or stranded on another planet, you’re aware of the decline in Bud Light sales due to what initially seemed like a relatively harmless marketing alignment with an influencer. This marketing blunder will someday be a case study for Harvard Business School in how to alienate your customer and what happens when values become misaligned. Now, before I continue, this column is not about social issues. We are focusing on marketing and what floor covering suppliers and retailers can learn from this.
There have been other nightmarish marketing stories, but they didn’t alienate customers. For example, in 1996 McDonald’s launched Arch Deluxe, a poor attempt to sell special hamburgers to adults. After spending $100 million on branding—the largest advertising and promotional budget in fast food history at the time—it was soon discontinued. It is considered by many as one of the most expensive flops of all time. Similarly, Kellogg’s and Frito-Lay attempted to create a fat-free snack (Wow! made with olestra) but the initial excitement wore off quickly when consumers realized all it did was act as a laxative.
So now we are years into the future at Harvard, I am Professor Feldman, and school is in. Here is your marketing lesson:
- Understand your position in the market. Bud Light was the best-selling beer in America for more than two decades. But let’s be real: It doesn’t taste that much better than Miller Light or Coors Light, if it does at all. It doesn’t have fewer calories. Like so many brands, its ascension was attributed to marketing. So you know the one thing you don’t do? Screw with your marketing approach. You need not be a rocket scientist to figure that one out.
So what happens here? An Ivy League-educated woman named Alissa Heinerscheid comes in and wants to “shake things up” and move the brand away from its “fratty and out-of-touch humor.” Yes, the same fratty humor that propelled the brand to the top.
Word on the street is that younger executives these days are willing to sacrifice losing some clients to attract new ones. It is one thing to want to attract new customers but unrealistic to replace many of the existing ones. Now Mexican lager Modelo has unseated Bud Light as the top-selling beer. Lesson: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you are the market leader, or even if you’re just plain successful, there is no need to make wholesale changes to your approach. Tweaks are good enough.
- Your people must be aligned with your values. If you are going to hire someone, especially someone who is responsible for steering your brand promise, make sure that person’s values are in sync with yours. Ultimately, the buck stops with an owner or CEO. Here at Floor Covering News, Dustin and I worked hard to grow our brand into a leadership position. How? By ensuring we would be the best partner to the suppliers and the best source of information to the retailers to make them more profitable and professional. We focus on the positive. Anyone who joins our team must share those values.
- Understand your customers and their values. Bud Light is the “official beer” of the NFL; football is arguably the most masculine sport. Ideological opinions aside, it should not have been a surprise that this new spokesperson might not resonate with a sizable segment of the NFL audience. Your typical Bud Light drinker likes to shoot the breeze with their friends and drives a pickup. Switch now to flooring. For the most part, your customer is a woman, probably somewhere between 28 and 72. You understand the things most important to her: family, career, home, health, comfort, smart purchasing decisions, etc. Your marketing should address one or more of those. Resonate with her values. I’m sure frat parties or Monster Truck Jam is not part of your marketing strategy.
- Your marketing should never divide people. Bud Light exists to bring people together over a beer. At the very least, it exists to quench your thirst. Maybe help you get a buzz on. That’s it. All positives and nothing complicated. Your job is to sell flooring. Your job is help beautify consumers’ homes. Make their surroundings more comfortable. Again, all positives and nothing complicated. Your marketing should focus on that. Room scenes. Before and after photos of previous jobs. Promotions. Whatever. No need to get involved with controversial subjects. You’ll never win because you’re certain to upset or anger a segment of your customer base.
Check this out: Last week one of the founders of Ben & Jerry’s blasted the U.S. for existing on stolen land. On July 4, no less. You know what? Talk about your damn ice cream and how good it tastes. No one cares about your opinion on returning stolen land. You sell ice cream. That’s it. Now watch the backlash as people boycott the Ben & Jerry’s brand. Funny how they won’t give a rat’s ass how it tastes now.
- Your marketing decisions have a ripple effect. You owe it to those invested in your success to mitigate risks. Unfortunately for Budweiser, the impact is felt far beyond the billions in lost market share, unhappy shareholders and bad publicity. The effect is seen at bars, liquor stores and stadiums, affecting their distributors and revenue. A glass bottling company impacted by Bud Light’s promotion is closing two of its locations, laying off more than 600 employees. As well, Anheuser Busch InBev is a public company. The stock is down about 30%. Investors are not happy. Remember, you have employees and, in some instances, investors.