Last week, I had the privilege of hosting Marketmix 2010, a marketing conference held in Seattle and co-sponsored by the Seattle Direct Marketing Association, of which I’m the current president and the Puget Sound chapter of the American Marketing Association. The theme was mixology, which was the creative expression of our idea of presenting content and topics bringing together the various marketing disciplines and channels covering online, offline and emerging channels like social and mobile.
The event itself was wildly successful. It was very close to a sold out crowd and most of the breakout session were standing room only. The three keynotes of the day were about as representative of Seattle as possible. The day kicked off with Steve Jarvis VP of Marketing at Alaska Airlines sharing the stage with Andrea Schwarzenbach who drives Alaska’s interactive efforts. And the day was rounded out with the closing keynote given by Tom Vogl, VP of Marketing for REI. Both keynotes showed how brands are grounded solidly in customer experience and that the ownership of those experiences goes far beyond the marketing department. The presentations were recorded and I’ll update this post as soon as they have been posted.
But it was the lunch keynote that surprisingly left me with the most to think about. The speaker was Tom Douglas, Seattle’s resident celebrity chef, owner of five successful restaurants, a line of kitchenware on Amazon, a dozen cookbooks and appearances just about everywhere. I had the chance to talk with Tom before his speech and he asked me why we had invited a chef to come speak to a bunch of marketers. I said something about his having built himself into a successful brand and was really thinking to myself that he served as a break from the more intense marketing subjects covered at the conference.
As soon as Tom began speaking, I realized that not only had we picked a good speaker, but that he also had something to teach all of us wizened marketing experts. “You have to live your brand,” Tom told the crowd. Every day you have to be true to your brand or it won’t have any credibility and it won’t last. He also was very proud to say that he linked himself very directly with the Seattle brand. He represents what makes us unique up here in the Pacific Northwest; from our salmon to our wine and of course our addiction to coffee. Tom finished his talk, taking lots of questions, getting wonderful applause and unabashedly telling us to go out and eat and his restaurants. After all, building a brand is just a way to grow the business.
The next day, I was walking down the street in downtown Bellevue, on the Eastside. For those of you who don’t know the geography, culture and snobbery of Seattle, Bellevue is a former bedroom community whose population, wealth and skyline has exploded in the last decade or so. Like so many prosperous suburbs, it residents are well educated, have higher than average incomes, are generally transplants from the suburbs of some other metropolitan area and tend to like the more fashionable brands. True Seattleites tend to look down on Bellevue and it wasn’t so many years ago, it was referred to as the Californication of the Northwest.
To be fair to Bellevue, which is where my office is and where I spend a lot of my waking hours, it has matured significantly over the years and while still run the risk of being run down by BMWs, Lexuses or the occasional Ferrari if you actually walk on the streets, it is no longer the cultural wasteland we Seattleites like to think it is.
But back to Tom Douglas and living you brand. As I was walking down the streets of Bellevue, I walked past an Italian restaurant, an Irish pub, a Mexican joint and several flavors of steak and seafood establishments. All are respectable and offer quite an assortment of cuisines. But then I realized what they all had in common; they were all parts of national chains.
I could think of at least a dozen neighborhoods in as many cities, where I could walk down a block and find the same set of choices. That was nothing that spoke with any authenticity to the Pacific Northwest, there wasn’t a real Mr. Maggiano, they don’t really manufacture cheesecakes and I doubt I will ever meet the real Joey. In fact the only place I could think of that really was real, was the Twisted Cork, located adjacent to the Bellevue Hyatt. (Irony of irony, since I wrote this post over the last couple of days, Twisted Cork has gone out of business)
So Tom, thanks for sharing with us your brand, thanks for living it and I hope that your authenticity will survive the onslaught of artificial brands that serve us plastic food, with plastic smiles and not so slowly turn our unique identities into a 21st century high-end strip mall.