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Erick Soderstrom

“I was the resident non-outdoors guy, and I was the resident skeptic of these kinds of manufactured events.”

Title: Vice President of Marketing
Previously: Director of advertising and consumer communications at Nintendo of America
The Impact: “Right after we got back from the river, we had a major meeting about Web site enhancements. As soon as we sat down, about four or five people looked around said, ‘I don’t need to be in on this.’ And they left. They realized that by leaving us along to hash out any problems, they were shortening the discussion by a factor or three.

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“That sort of awareness is the biggest insight that came out of the trip. There’s a time and a place for building consensus. But there’s also a time to let people with core competencies run their part of the process. We needed to learn that.”

What were your expectations for Altrec.com’s off-site?

I was the resident non-outdoors guy, and I was the resident skeptic of these kinds of manufactured events. I’ve been in marketing way too long and I’ve attended way too many of these. So, I was already looking through a filter on this thing when we got started. I had been with Altrec.com for maybe a month. So, I was trying to figure out everybody and I was trying to get a better handle on the internal workings of the Altrec.com brand.

When you create a brand, there are two sides to it: On is the external side, which is what you communicate to the consumers. And the only way to deliver that is from the internal side, which includes the mores, values, and principles of the people, the stakeholders inside the company who will make that vision happen.

At the time of the off-site, I knew the general business practice and what we were trying to accomplish, but I really didn’t have a good feel for the heart and soul of the company. I was interested in seeing what would come out in this environment.

I think it was effective in that we focused a lot on structure, vision, and strategy. People were pulling those out of their vision and feel for the company. What you got were very similar, yet different languages: technology, merchandising, Web design. The words are different, but the meanings are the same. That language was, to me, a big indicator of focus and synergy within the group, which means the brand can communicate itself effectively across all aspects of the company: the Web site, the products, the marketing, the technology, all the things that radiate back the vision. In that respect, the off-site was very educational, and very inspirational. We’ve got direction. Now we need to create the face of the brand for the consumer.

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How does Altrec.com plan to create that face?

During the off-site we discussed the things we, as a company, are going to hold in high esteem — our norms and values. A lot of those discussions have filtered back into the way we communicate and manage teams.

The biggest lessons we took away as a group was the need not to be parochial about things. We are a company and everybody has skill sets. We have to begin to divide up tasks and issues among people who can best manage those tasks and issues. We must kill the habit of saying, “Well, we have a small group of people. Let’s all work together on it.” You bring in people with certain skill sets because they can quickly cut to the core of the issue and the idea and solve the problem. I think the trip was helpful in the fact that people saw, for the first time, that some of us do some things better than others. And we should allow everyone to use their skills and abilities.

Do you have a better sense of where you fit into the big picture?

We’re a marketing-driven company. We’re consumer focused. Everything we do is about communicating and interacting with the consumer. That means that I must provide relevant input for almost every facet of the operation. During the trip, I tried to communicate with everybody that marketing is a strategic discipline, rather than a tactical execution. Marketing is a way of doing business, not something you do in business, like advertising.

The river trip didn’t make my job any easier or any more clear, but it broke down some barriers. There was the need for more interaction between the marketing side and everybody else. Altrec.com brought me on because they wanted someone who could help build, define, and manage the brand holistically, and then use tangible marketing skills to implement that brand in more of a vertical format. Getting in here was the biggest challenge. Successfully integrating that philosophy into the company during the trip helped accelerate the process.

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We’ve created an organizational chart that will allow better team interaction, and allow marketing folks with their specific disciplines to be integrated with merchandising and design so that there’s a lot of cross-functional interaction. The head of human resources is working with me and a couple other folks to create a culture “book,” which is not as actually a tangible thing, but a representation of the values and the mission. It’s kind like storytelling.

One of the things we implemented right away was regular team meetings. We bring the whole staff together, and we talk about what’s going on. We always reinforce the core ideas and goals, and discuss initiatives to grow them. Building the business is really important, but we know it’s critical to build the right infrastructure, so we’re spending as much time as we can on getting these things in place. It’s easier to begin traditions when you have 40 or 50 people than when you have 400 or 500.

You don’t get a chance very often to discuss the ideation process of building a business or a brand because of the hectic day-to-day business life. Sometimes, the best case scenario is you get an off-site where you’re in a conference room or some hotel for a day. To be able to site around and talk about stuff in a stream-of-consciousness environment was mentally relaxing. Most of us hadn’t had a vacation for quite some time, so to get away and do something we all enjoy and we all needed to do was very important.

What Did Happen on the Salmon River?

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