Mash Up Your Marketing

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a whale!

A whale?

Nineteen years ago, Austin, TX, advertising agency GSD&M brokered a deal that made history: it simultaneously convinced Southwest Airlines to repaint one of its planes, and sold SeaWorld on the idea of teaching Shamu to fly. The resulting media coverage, worth an estimated $12 million, together with the subsequent boost in awareness for both brands, drove one of most storied marketing partnerships of all time.

The same concept applies to e-marketing.

Consider Gold’s Gym. I’m a regular. True to its brand statement, Gold’s changed my life. I mention this because one of the primary requirements of effective, long-lived marketing is brand integrity and authenticity. Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld both deliver on what they promise. GSD&M tapped that, the rest was history. Behind every great tagline is a great brand. Nowhere is that more essential than online, where the truth — be it in a blog, a product review, or an online video — is just a click away.

Gold’s offers a great member experience. It’s long been known for its muscleman image, something it’s trying to move away from to appeal to more mainstream members. As you walk into the gym for the first time, you’ll likely see some guy (or gal!) lifting 800 pounds. That can be intimidating. So Gold’s is trying to preserve the authentic aspect of a real gym while saying, “Whether you want to start with 80 or 8 pounds, you’re welcome here.”

One way Gold’s accomplishes this is through fitness classes developed by Les Mills. To make classes more enjoyable, most feature music to set an overall pace. At Gold’s, each new mix plays about four weeks. This is done across the chain of over 600 locations in 25 countries. Older mixes are often requested. Hold that thought.

Next up is Napster. Not the old “music is free” Napster, but the new, easy-to-use, legal Napster. One thing I like about the service is it’s user-driven: Napster makes it easy to request music be added to the catalog. A lot of the music got there this way.

Napster differentiates its business from a dozen other music-selling sites by licensing and selling music customers request that isn’t available elsewhere. You’d think adding a track to Napster’s catalog based on a customer request would be a simple matter: press a few buttons, and poof! the track appears in the catalog and the customer gets a notice it’s been added. This is actually complicated by licensing, cross-selling, distribution deals, exclusives, and the like. Nothing’s ever simple in the music business. More than a few requests are never fulfilled. This is Napster’s core challenge.

Now consider the marketing challenge Gold’s faces: increasing its relevance and social bond with a broader range of fitness enthusiasts. Every class has a CD and playlist listing every track. After nearly every class I attend, at least one person asks the instructor, “What was the track we heard during squats [the hill climb, jump kicks, etc.]?”

This includes me. During a class, I heard a track I liked. It was Evermore, a band from New Zealand (not coincidentally, the home of Les Mills). I’ve since requested Napster add it. I got a personal e-mail back from a senior manager at Napster’s customer unit thanking me for the request and letting me know they were working on it. It took the time to let me know, expensive as that personal e-mail probably was.

So here’s the partnership idea: branded playlists available exclusively on Napster. Les Mills already went to the trouble of licensing the music, and Gold’s is most definitely promoting it. Close the marketing loop by listing the tracks on the Gold’s Web site, while Napster handles fulfillment. Everyone wins.

By listing the tracks on its site, Gold’s could help its members develop a brand-based lifestyle bond built around music they like and associate with the gym. It could strengthen its partnership with Les Mills by connecting customers with the “suggest a song” feature that already exists on the Les Mills site. Napster gets not only the fulfillment but also an immediate basketful of low-hanging fruit: a list of already identified and licensed tracks people want. All that’s missing is a license for sale on Napster: that could be as simple as a condition for being included in the mix in the first place. On top of that, Napster gets a direct link to a whole new customer base. Gold’s alone has 3 million members worldwide. I’ll bet 99 percent of them buy music.

So here’s your assignment: look at your online campaigns, and find new partnerships that increase effectiveness without costing you a dime to implement. The era of marketing mash-up is here. Find yourself a whale of an idea.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.