Archive | November, 2011

Best Buy’s Black Friday Game Changer

27 Nov

            On a day when Best Buy reluctantly followed the retail pack, they may have come out a leader and changed the rules.  When Wal-Mart, Target, and other big box competitors announced earlier this fall that they would open on midnight of Black Friday, Best Buy brought up the rear.  In the end, it may have been Best Buy that had an extra piece of Thanksgiving pie.

Figure 1 - Back Friday shoppers outside a Best Buy in Eden Prairie, MN. (Courtesy KMSP-TV)

            Best Buy not only changed its Black Friday tactics at the last moment, it brilliantly redefined the customer experience that may force its competitors to change how they too look at Black Friday.   What Best Buy did was to take a cold, mundane parking lot camp-out and turn it into a festival.  At its store in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, store employees set up a giant projection screen in the parking lot and showed Harry Potter-7 to entertain the hundreds of shoppers waiting in line.  But there was also another gift: Best Buy stocking caps and matching scarves.  And, in a classy move, Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn even arrived to greet customers and personally thank them for their loyalty.

            The tactics were not missed by Fox 9 News reporter Jody Ambroz.  “These shoppers are becoming big fans of Best Buy because of the way they’re getting treated out here,” Ambroz reported.

            The moves by Best Buy were strategic in three ways.  First, they let the customers know they were valued.  Second, the caps and scarves branded the entire line of campers for the television news cameras. (Figure 1)  Third, it let every news viewer at home know they were missing out on the fun, not just the deals.  Best Buy created a whole new value proposition.  The implicit message to consumers everywhere was this:  why camp out somewhere else, when you can party at Best Buy?

Figure 2 - YTD Stock Performance for Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Target, and DJIA

            In many respects Best Buy had no choice.  In a hyper-competitive market, Best Buy is fighting for every dollar—especially in a year when it closed its UK stores and is shifting its retail strategy to sell more mobile technology.  Its stock is down 25% for the year and performing well behind Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Target. (Figure 2)  Allowing even a small percentage of rabid shoppers to spend what little recession-shrunken dollars they have left at a competitor five hours before Best Buy traditionally opens on Black Friday was simply not an option.

            Dunn telegraphed as much in a recent blog post when he said, “It is the most important holiday selling season ever. And it will be the most hard-fought holiday season – maybe in our history.”

            There is one remarkable aspect to what Best Buy did for Black Friday.  Somewhere, someone deep inside headquarters said the customer experience was as important as profits.  Just as remarkable, someone else listened.  Both won.  Best Buy’s Black Friday competitors are now on notice.  Game on.

Natalie Strand and the Power of “I Can”

21 Nov

                Amazing things happen when you put your mind to it.  Natalie Strand has proven it for most of her life.  Diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes when she was just 12 years old, she didn’t let it hold her back.  At an age when most adolescents would view such a diagnosis as a barrier, Strand viewed it as an opportunity.   

             The changes to her body brought on by diabetes led to an intense curiosity about medicine.  That curiosity led to medical school.  Medical school led to Oxford.  Oxford eventually led to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and then to the faculty of UCLA.  These days most American television viewers don’t know Dr. Strand by her title, they know her by her victory—winner of The Amazing Race.   

             Dr. Strand shared her story and her secrets to success this weekend with the families connected to the MinnDakotas chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Each step along her journey Dr. Strand says she’s succeeded by eliminating the words “I can’t” from her vocabulary.

            “I think it’s a very simple thing.  You just have to decide to do it,” Strand said.  “Whatever it is that you are doing, if you decide at the onset that no matter what comes up, you’re going to do whatever it takes.  You’re never going to say I can’t.”

              For most of us, the keys to success are not that simple.  To be sure, they weren’t for Dr. Strand either.   Social psychologists have come up with a unique model to explain how we approach personal obstacles.  In their Theory of Trying, Richard Bagozzi and Paul Warshaw explained that people evaluate goals based upon their attitudes of success and their attitudes toward failure.  (Journal of Consumer Research, 1990)  Failure combined with fear can be powerful motivators—we are often more afraid of loss than we are motivated by success.  (Kahneman, 1979)  It’s all about framing.  Dr. Strand has succeeded by continuously framing her life in terms of success.  Failure is not an option. 

             How refreshing in an era of unemployment, stagnation, and polarization.   At a time when our economy and our political system prove “it can’t,” along comes an amazing winner who shows that as individuals “we can.”

Nixon and Vietnam, A Veterans Day Legacy

15 Nov

(UPDATE – 9-29-12: our documentary segment on Geoff Steiner has just won the 2012 Emmy Award for best single military story)

*          *          *


The past collided with the present this week and the crash reminds us of the tragedy that was Vietnam.

On the eve of Veterans Day, the Nixon Presidential Library released a recording of the former president dictating his account of talking to Vietnam War protestors at the Lincoln Memorial in the pre-dawn hours of May 9, 1970.  The president had a sleepless night after giving a nationally televised news conference a few hours earlier on the progress of the war.   By Nixon’s own account he went to the Lincoln sitting room in the White House to listen to some Rachmaninoff when he was approached by his personal attendant Manuel Sanchez.  Sanchez was a recently naturalized Cuban refugee and new to Washington and the White House.  Feeling melancholy, Nixon asked him if he had ever seen the Lincoln Memorial at night.  Sanchez admitted he hadn’t, so Nixon gathered a small group of secret service agents and off they went—into history.

What Nixon didn’t anticipate was running into a group of wide-eyed college students who had driven all night from upstate New York to protest against the war.  Just five days earlier National Guard troops opened fire on a similar group of protestors at Kent State University and killed four students.   In his Dictabelt recording Nixon admits he awkwardly tried to make small talk, but it quickly turned to the war:

“As I tried to explain in my press conference that my goal in Vietnam was the same as theirs, to stop the killing and the war, to bring peace… I know most of you, that probably most of you think I’m an S.O.B., but I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.”  – Richard Nixon, 1970


On the very morning Nixon was trying to justify the war, a 19 year old Marine from Minnesota was performing his duty to carry it out.  Geoff Steiner landed in Vietnam prior to the Tet Offensive in 1968.  Sixteen thousand U.S. soldiers lost their lives that year.   By 1970, he was a battle scarred survivor of a war with seemingly no end.   Coming home was hardly any easier.   Like many Vietnam veterans Steiner suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.   The scars ran too long and the pain too deep.   Finally, one day he put a gun to his head, but instead of finding a bullet, he found God.

Vietnam Veteran Geoff Steiner with producers Rod Rassman and Mark Anderson

Today, Steiner is a Chaplain who quietly passes the time on 40 acres of land near Cushing, Minnesota.   He is a loner who is hardly alone.  Several times a week Steiner walks through the early morning mist with a shovel, a seedling, and a prayer.   He plants trees in honor of the men who never came home and those who did come home but never found their inner peace.

“When I bought this land, there wasn’t a tree in sight,” said Steiner.   “Now, I have thousands of them.”

This is exactly where Nixon and Steiner collide.  Nixon wanted to end the Vietnam War through “peace with honor.”  Steiner simply wants honor with peace.   He lives it every day.

And that’s exactly why we met on Veterans Day among the living memorial now growing on his rolling Minnesota land.  I teamed up with producers Mark Anderson and Rod Rassman to profile Steiner for part of an upcoming film on veterans called “11-11-11.”  The film will portray a day-in-the-life of veterans on the very day that we honor their service.   We think Steiner not only has a great story to tell, but is an American worth knowing.

That’s why it’s so ironic that on Veterans Day this year we heard two voices on Vietnam, one from the present and one from the past.  The oxides on Nixon’s tape recording have faded with time, the scratchy audio a reminder of a reel that only plays in the echo chamber of history.   Geoff Steiner needs no recording; the legacy of Vietnam is on permanent replay in his mind.  He has his trees, but they will never completely hide the horrors of war.

*               *               *


Changing Plays: The Vikings New Stadium Strategy

8 Nov

                The game is called football.  But what the Minnesota legislature is playing is closer to hardball.  With no stadium bill gaining traction for the Minnesota Vikings, no agreement on a public funding mechanism, and with the clock ticking on the Metrodome lease, the Vikings are about as suspended as a slow motion replay of Gary Anderson’s field goal kick in the ’99 NFC Championship game.   This time they need a better outcome. 

                After 11 months of failing to gain a first down in the legislature, the Vikings are calling an audible.  Instead of running straight at their opponents, they’re taking a page out of the Packer’s playbook and leaping into the stands.  For the first time in their quest for a new stadium, they’re making their appeal directly to Viking’s fans.   The new strategy has just been unveiled in a two-minute web video. 

                The video is not only slick and likeable, but a very strategic communication move on the part of the Vikings.  The strategy jumps from the screen in a very logical and smart manner.  Their main strategic objective is to use both nostalgia and jobs as the touch points for talking directly to Minnesotans. 

Figure 1 - Vikings Video Strategy

               The chart at the right diagrams exactly how the video achieves this. (See Figure1) The Vikings competition at the moment is apathy among fans and people who oppose building a new stadium.  What the Vikings clearly need to accomplish is to change attitudes about the team’s commitment to Minnesota in addition to convincing the public that a new stadium will be good for the economy.  The video cleverly uses old highlight reels to make an emotional appeal and then collides it against the rational appeal of job creation.   The result is a communication message that is enjoyable and smart.

                So too is the channel.  A two-minute video is too long and too expensive for a TV advertising flight, but as a web video it targets the very audience the Vikings most need—their own fans. 

Figure 2 - Duncan Watts, Journal of Consumer Research, Dec. 2007

               In today’s world of social media, the genius of such a release invites Vikings fans and loyalists to become stadium evangelists and spread the message themselves.  Rather than a direct one-way message from a traditional ad campaign, marketing researcher Duncan Watts observes that it flows dynamically among many sources and doesn’t have to originate from thought leaders or authority figures. (Figure 2)  In this model the most important influencers are friends. 

                According to Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs Lester Bagley, that’s exactly the rationale behind the new strategy.   “This video signals the launch of a broader communications campaign where we want to take the case for a new stadium more directly to the public,” said Bagley.  “The goal is to deliver accurate information, dispel misinformation and arm and mobilize our supporters.”

                The Vikings are clearly running out of time.  It’s late in the fourth quarter, the team is now hoping their fans can not only catch the ball, but lateral it to others to run into the end zone.

%d bloggers like this: