Thursday, January 26, 2017

Yogi Berra on Brand Management

A late night (in Malmo) Face Time call came in waking me from a peaceful slumber.  Clearly I need to figure out some sort of "out of office" message for that when I am out of the country ; )

Worrying that it could be Wendy and there might be something important, I picked up.  At first, relief as it was not Wendy but a fairly senior fellow who works for a company in Switzerland that produces, markets and sells watches.  We had not spoken in 11 months and he was unaware that I had moved to Salem, MA and was no longer in California (and clearly he did not know I was in Sweden).  This turned out the semi-annual call where X (no names, so don't ask!) was on his latest talent hunt.  It generally starts out with some pleasantries:

X:  "How's Mary?"
Me: "Who is Mary?"
X:  "Your wife!"
Me:  "Well, that's news to me as I've been calling her Wendy since 1992."

So let's just say that X is not good on some details ; )

X:  "We're looking for a brand manager for  (no names).  Any suggestions?"
Me:  "What happened to (no names)?  You were so sure they were perfect."
X:  "Well, it turns out that (no names) was not a good manager."

And then X split open like an over-stuffed piƱata.  And out it flowed.  X shared all of the problems and I listened.  And to quote that other great commentator on the luxury industry, Yogi Berra:
It's like deja-vu, all over again.
Read more at:
"It's like de-javu, all over again."

You see, X and I have a very similar conversation approximately every 18 months.  It is not always exactly the same date, but generally tends to fall between the close of the year and JCK.
And every 18 months I tend to ask the same thing:
"Why do you keep hiring the same type of person and expect different results?"
Long time readers will know that Moneyball is my default reference, and I even gave a copy to X as a gift a year or so back.  I don't think he ever read it and it's pages were probably used to start a fire in his swanky ski chalet.  So I thought I would dumb it down in the hopes that he might get it this time.  So without further delay, here's some hiring advice from Yogi Berra himself -

"We made too many wrong mistakes"
As an English teacher, I realize that this sentence makes no sense.  But look a little deeper and you will find a kernel of wisdom.  Essentially it reminds me of the anxiety and fear of looking foolish that compels recruiters, hiring managers and even CEOs to go with the same type of candidate again and again.  Simply put, the belief when hiring a brand manager in North America (I honestly can't speak to the other countries) is that they (usually he) must be a sales person.  Now, in and of itself this is good because, you know, you need to sell watches.  But there are several other elements that oftentimes get overlooked:
Management/coaching/mentoring.  Sales is, by its very nature, a fairly solitary pursuit.  While sales people get managed, it is very seldom that they have been called upon to manage the diverse group of personalities that typically make up a brand's office.
PR/Marketing/Media.  Again, frequently a lack of understanding of ROI vs. money actually spent.  If brand managers had a better understanding of this, then certain magazines and "influencers" would probably stop attending BaselWorld as the gravy train would clearly be shut down.  In addition, certain brands would not be the watch world equivalent of "Christmas/Easters" (i.e. people who only go to church two days a year).  Some of us call them Basel/Vegas.  You will only hear from these folks just prior to these two events.
Customer Service. Again, dealing with angry customers is an alien experience for a lot of these folks.

There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.
Simply put, X, and plenty of other shot-callers in the industry just can't bring themselves to believe that there might be a different way to approach things.  As a friend of mine who works behind the scenes as a very in-demand consultant in Switzerland put it -
"these guys at Richemont, Swatch, and a lot of the others?  They're like trains running on the tracks.  They only move one way, and that's because the 'station master' (i.e. senior management) is following the same schedule they always have.  Which works great in normal times, but quite differently in a heavy snow storm".  And that snow storm started a few years ago and is still screwing up traffic ; )  Perhaps it is time to invest in an alternative "vehicle"? 
Now X will probably go out and hire another big group loyalist who is expecting a base salary of 6 figures, business class travel, and a very deep marketing budget. 

X:  "But they worked for Cartier for 20 years!" 
Me: "So they are still with Cartier?"
X:  "No, but they were there from 92 - 2012."
Me: "So, essentially you are telling me that they have not worked for 4 - 5 years?"

At the risk of sounding mean, there is usually a reason why these people are available.

Nobody goes there anymore.  It's too crowded.
At the risk of sounding crass, X has a boner for big name, fancy retail partners.  The logic being that If you are in "so and so's" store in Las Vegas, LA or New York you will have made it big.  Sounds good, but the realities are something very, very different.  Those stores will most likely be MEMO. (Our old friend of the watch retailer meaning the brand provides the watches and waits for them to sell, and then maybe the retail partner will pay for them.  Then again, maybe not.)  So essentially the brand is acting as the bank, as well as the "supplier".  And if you think that is the only expense, consider the travel to visit the retail partner to do the safe count, the money that will be demanded for co-op advertising, the POS collateral materials that the retailer needs.  In other words, a shit-ton of money that the brand will be putting out there without any confirmed sale in sight.  And once the brand is in the store, they are fighting for case space, because frankly there are just too many brands.

So my strong advice for X after a few hours of sleep is this -
If you come to a fork in the road, take it.
This is a perfect opportunity to consider a different approach.  There are plenty of talented people (some of them are even female) who despite not being solo artist salesmen might have exactly the talents and more importantly, the temperament to steer the Good Ship Watch Brand through the stormy seas of North America. 

Or, you can go ahead do the same thing again, hoping for a different outcome -
Even Napoleon had his Watergate.
There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.
Read more at:
It's like deja-vu, all over again.
Read more at:
It's like deja-vu, all over again.
Read more at:

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