I was recently chatting with a friend who works for a large consumer brand that has been popular throughout the U.S. for decades. He was bemoaning the fact that his boss wouldn’t let him attend The Gathering because it’s too expensive. His company has enacted cost saving measures, like travel bans and discretionary expense reductions.
I struggled with how to respond. My friend’s company is rapidly losing relevance. They are struggling against formidable competitors that are transforming their entire category. My friend’s company had same store sales down 2.5% last year. Their stock price plummeted 33% in the past 12 months. And yet they still spend tens of millions each year on mass advertising trying to engage consumers and retain some brand preference.
Why do brand leaders rarely blink an eye at the millions of dollars spent on paid media channels that are losing viewership at unprecedented rates? Or why aren’t brand leaders more critical of the money spent on digital platforms proven to be fraudulent or misrepresentative? Why do they feel good about the huge sums of money spent on content creation for posts or stories few will see, and even fewer will remember? Somehow, someway, money spent on promotional budgets (markdowns and media), combined with agency fees and countless internal untracked hours spent review and approving campaign plans, are regarded as more sacred to the powers that be than allowing their marketing team – the very people responsible for driving their brand’s success – to spend a few days, and few thousand dollars, at The Gathering.
The Gathering is a 3-day Master Class in audience engagement. The most beloved, iconic brand leaders in the world share their marketing playbooks and prove there are better ways to attract customers and gain advocacy than relying on paid advertising or discounts. The Gathering is an exclusive ‘show & tell’ where enlightened brand leaders persuade others to believe and behave differently. It is a forum for emerging brands to learn how to compete more effectively against the Goliaths in their categories. It also challenges incumbent brands to wake up to new realities. Hundreds of previous attendees have reported back that the information gleaned from The Gathering has given them the insight, and courage, to compete differently by increasing both brand attachment and brand advocacy.
My friend could attend with his entire leadership team, and all their agency partners, for less than 1/10th of 1% of their annual mass media budget. For less than the cost of a couple billboards in one market for one month. That investment in learning would yield significantly more return than any individual advertisement ever could. They could hear a case study that causes them to optimize their media mix differently. They could spark a conversation with another brand leader that exposes them to an innovative approach to CRM. They could arm themselves with data that gives their Board the rationale necessary to attempt something new. Who knows what the ROI will be, but the bar is low on such a modest investment. And it’s at least as defendable as the suspect attribution models so many brands use to try and justify their mass media spend.
My point is this. If you belong to an organization that is failing to live up to its potential, more time thinking and less time doing can be a good thing. Any marketing department can be busy doing lots of stuff. But that doesn’t mean they’re working on the right stuff. Spending a few days with the world’s best and brightest brand champions and marketing thought leaders is good for business. It will force brand stewards to be more critical of their behaviors, and to avoid costly mistakes that got so many other brands into trouble. Best of all, it will provide motivation and confidence to try new things in hopes of achieving better results.
It doesn’t matter if your company spends much more, or much less, than the millions my friend’s company spends on promotions. What matters is you can optimize your marketing strategies and spend money smarter. If your budgets include paid media or discounts, talk with your boss, and help him/her understand there is an alternative way to go-to-market. Or, if your company is restricting access to new ideas in hopes of lowering professional development or travel expenses, tell him/her that it is impossible to save their way to success. Cost cutting measures pale in comparison to gaining access to information that can create sustainable competitive advantage.