A Marketing Reminder From Johnny on the Streets of Montreal

  |  January 30, 2012   |  Comments

Industry lessons can come from anywhere - not just career advertisers.

Last week, I was in Montreal to deliver a speech to a group of web analytics specialists. My message was, if you are not focused on the cross-channel mix, you are not seeing the full picture. However, the lesson I returned home with is that advertising takes many forms and comes from many places. So, as advertisers, ensure you are stopping to see the whole picture.

This lesson hit me in the face like the cold Canadian wind I was greeted with upon my arrival, and it came via the unexpected form of the day's driver, Johnny. Johnny, who runs his own transportation service, was responsible for getting me from my presentation location, back to the airport. During the half-hour drive, we discussed the city and he educated me on Montreal's unique structure as an island and where in the area people lived and worked. And he spoke of his own interaction with "advertising."

As it turns out, Johnny, in a prior life, owned a sandwich shop in Montreal. He was an affiliate of a mid-sized quick service restaurant who one day awoke to find a new Subway franchise moving in down the street. At the time, Johnny had a loyal customer base, but soon found himself in direct competition with a bigger and more resource-rich competitor. His first reaction was to call corporate for guidance. To his dismay, guidance (in this instance) came in the form of a recommendation to "Read the franchisee manuals and spend $1,000 to market the business."

Johnny astutely recognized that he could not afford to engage in a spending war with a Subway franchise owner whose network afforded them TV, radio, and print support and coupons at their disposal. So after great consideration, Johnny got to work using two assets he had at his disposal - his store and his loyal customers. Johnny knew his customers were not getting better subs down the street, but a better deal. But, and as you'll soon see (and to his advantage), to get to the new sandwich shop, those same customers would pass his store every time. So, Johnny spent $100 on a large sign he would place outside of his building that simply read, "All Coupons Honored."

With that, Johnny used his owned asset (the store building) and his earned assets (his customers) to completely change the dynamic. In the fast-paced digital environment, we operate by attaching catchy names to our actions. We call it "conquesting" when we ride the wind of competitors, and many have (more often than we would like to admit) gone the "spend the $1,000" route to fight the fight. What fascinated me with Johnny was that he was able to stop, step back, and assess the options when the easy answer of spend more was not an option. In that moment, when the option was eliminated, Johnny found a way to compete and let his valued customers find their way back to him, which furthered business growth by leveraging the paid efforts of another bigger player to his own benefit.

I spent less than 24 hours in Montreal last week, which wasn't enough time to see the city. But in my brief interaction with Johnny, I found that there are industry lessons to be learned by people who aren't career advertisers. As in the case of Johnny, through their lives, they can help you see different ways to paint a rich and vibrant picture worthy to be shared.



Chris Copeland

Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next.

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