There’s been a back and forth on Fast Company of late, regarding corporate culture versus strategy. In our humble opinion, it’s neither culture nor strategy that’s important in the marketing challenge; it’s the possibility of magic. This happens fully when culture and strategy meet creative execution. We are not talking the kind magic that resides in Never-never land but magic that inspires, giving something back to the culture it is serving.
Here are two examples of organizations that got both the culture and the strategy—and the magic that ensues—right.
Enhancing Cowboy Culture With Authenticity
Hood River Distillers (HRD) is the largest independent distiller in the West. Since the repeal of Prohibition, they have become known for value brand spirits, the kind often found in the well of your favorite corner bar or on the bottom shelf of your liquor store.
An enterprising member of the HRD sales team noticed how cowboys at the rodeo preferred drinking Canadian whisky. A conversation with a member of Oregon’s nationally known Pendleton Round-Up rodeo led to a new partnership that would have lasting and positive consequences.
HRD engaged marketers Leopold Ketel & Partners. "We looked at the category and it was clear that the mid-priced range was very crowded, while only one premium priced spirit dominated: Crown Royal," said Managing Director Terra Spencer. "But its gaudy design and purple bag didn’t seem very masculine. We saw an opportunity. We recommended HRD make a premium Canadian whisky, created for a proud cowboy culture, and strongly associate it with the Pendleton Round-Up."
Thinking now as a leadership brand, the marketing team set the bar high, and designed the product from the ground up, including taste, color, look, and feel. The whisky is bottled in a heavy, clear, masculine glass—modern, attractive, simple, and humble. The name Pendleton Whisky signals a close association with the Round-Up—and a percentage of the profit on every bottle goes to the rodeo itself.
The marketing of Pendleton Whisky was done with extreme care, to respect the authenticity of the cowboy culture. A marketing model of "neighborly conversations" included tastings and word of mouth. Rodeos across the country were attended and trust was gained without intrusive media channels. Striking posters featuring real cowboys and cowgirls were given away; authentic and respectful ambassadors were deployed as a part of the cultural dialogue.
The results: more magic
Pendleton is one of the fastest-growing whiskies in the country. It now represents the largest share of the HRD business by far. The Pendleton Round-Up recently rebuilt its stadium, something they never thought possible. And Pendleton is a respected national brand among core audiences and beyond.
Ending Petlessness And Finding Your Furry Soulmate
It is an understatement to say the culture of pet lovers is passionate. A dog lover will stop the most intense conversation with their significant other to greet a canine on the street. Cat lovers will ignore the highly idiosyncratic behavior of their feline companions—and all the while gladly clean the cat box. In other words, pet lovers are unconditional lovers. This is especially true in Portland, a city voted the best city for dogs and cats (gerbils will have to wait).
The Oregon Humane Society lives by the dictum of Mahatma Gandhi, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Their facility is a palace for animals in transition: The air circulates six times an hour to prevent disease, and the units are cleaned twice daily, if not more. The shelter is a happy place staffed by hundreds of friendly volunteers.
And yet, animal shelters are perceived as a waiting room for death. Over the years, this meme has been drilled into the public by advertising. But that kind of communication has the opposite of the intended effect—it makes one feel guilty for not rescuing abandoned animals. And as any psychologist will tell you, guilt breeds depression and inaction.
The Oregon Humane Society's communication strategy has always been one of optimism. "Feel the Love," celebrates the connection between companions. But the team felt a need to drill deeper. The strategic questioning began, "How do we flip the switch? How do we change the perception of guilt to one of empowerment?" An opportunity to create a movement based on love emerged.
The Leopold Ketel creative team provided a creative/strategic answer: What if, instead of saving animals, the Humane Society was saving pet lovers from a life without pets? Thus, the Oregon Humane Society’s signature campaign was born: "End Petlessness."
End Petlessness turns the tables on the pet-rescue paradigm: Those being saved are pet lovers who are lonely, instead of pets who need a home.
The Oregon Humane Society is now one of the top three shelters in the United States. The adoption rate for dogs is near 99%. The adoption rate for cats is an astonishing 96%. The national averages are 50% for dogs and 22% for cats. And while the ad agency can’t take full credit for saving the lives of these companion animals, the Oregon Humane Society gives the End Petlessness campaign significant due. It was magic borne from a synergistic relationship, an understanding of the culture and of strategic need.
Culture is what it is. We are part of it, we can change it, and it can change us. Strategy is applied to culture for largely subjective and at times selfish reasons. But nothing happens without creative execution of strategy as applied to culture. We are not the only ones to come to this conclusion. Steve Jobs and Walt Disney are two fine examples. Like them, we believe in creating magic. Because it works.
Jody Turner is a future trends strategist who works with companies, conferences, and organizations in bringing forth thriving and relevant futures. Turner is CEO and founder of the global insights group CultureofFuture.com, a trend innovation group working with companies such as BMW, Munich, and is associated with Trendwatching, London. (@cultureoffuture). Coauthor Jerry Ketel is Culture of Future’s strategist. He is also the founder/creative director of Leopold Ketel & Partners, a West Coast branding and innovation firm. His clients and partners have included Pendleton Whisky, Benchmade Knives, Tillamook Cheese, The Humane Society, and Microsoft. Join his unedited mind @jerryketel.
[Top image: Amaren Colosi]