Tuesday, March 30, 2010

JumpStart: IdeaExchange Blog » Blog Archive » 5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From the Cavs

JumpStart: IdeaExchange Blog » Blog Archive » 5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From the Cavs

Despite one of my teams still thriving in March Madness, I’m a bit less engaged than normal. I thought it was because my bracket is in shambles, but that’s not it; I think it’s because I have a new love. I never thought that this girl (with many formative years in North Carolina) would shrug off the ACC, but it’s just so much more fun to love the Cavs.Cavs

The thing is, it’s not because I’m turning into a huge pro sports fan, or because there’s more exciting basketball in Cleveland than you can generally find in the Big Dance. I think it’s because I’m being seduced. Every time I go to a Cavs game, see them on TV, visit the website, get a tweet, I’m pulled in more. The Cavs brand delivers, every time, the same attributes:

  • Aggressive
  • Wildly entertaining and fun
  • Extremely high potential for success
  • Risk-taking (in a smart way)
  • Energizing, pulse-pounding, blood-pressure-lifting (in a good way…)

(You probably have others…feel free to add them below).

So what have I learned from the Cavs that early-stage companies can consider as well?

5) Talent matters. Yes, a blinding flash of the obvious, but with big implications for cash-strapped high growth companies. It means you need the right Board of Directors who can balance your skills, make connections, and provide the strenuous, rigorous debate you’ll need. It means compensating that first critical new associate at market rates, even though that person is passionate, committed, and wants to take on the risk of working at a high growth company with you. It means paying for the very best that you can afford in partners, such as legal counsel.

4) Create expectations. At its essence, developing a brand is the creation of consistent expectations: of product or service performance, of how associates behave, or of how you feel when you interact with the brand, for example. With service organizations as big as the Cavs, it’s especially hard to deliver a consistent brand experience, but the fact that I can make a list of attributes I fully associate with their brand indicates how consistent they are. In this case, size does matter; early-stage companies can do this a bit more easily because they are smaller. Developing brand expectations can start with identifying key operating characteristics or values. Do you want to be known as incredibly professional? Entrepreneurial? Fun and energetic? Rigorous thinkers? Idea people? Reflective? Then figure out how your associates can make sure they bring those values to life in every interaction they have, and you are on your way.

3) Keep it fresh. Rituals are important for every brand, but so is freshness. Cavs games have familiar elements (such as the player introductions; LeBron is always last) but they also are always mixing it up with new brand activations. Remember Snuggie night, when all attendees came home with the Cavs burgundy Snuggie? The perfect promotion to activate the brand today (but would be too stale next year). It could be tempting for early-stage companies to think for a time about the brand, put together a few tools and work to bring them to life, then move on to other topics without revisiting the brand for months or years. Especially right now, brands need ongoing life. When opportunities to bring the brand to life appear, take a few minutes to think about them and see how you can take advantage of them right now.

2) Work with partners. How can you tap into the marketing work of partners or other entities to make your limited marketing investment go much further? The Cavs do this regularly with their active partner marketing program. For example, the CavFanatic website regularly gives some of its most loyal fans special rewards through its partners. At its anniversary last year, the 10,000 fans registered on the site were offered a free burrito at Qdoba. With over 3,000 burritos redeemed (>30% of its audience), both consumers and partners were happy. While all early-stage companies don’t have partnerships like these, they can all use small marketing resources to get bigger results by working with partners. You will learn more about this, among other things, by attending the Tai Chi Marketing Growing Bright Ideas lunch session at JumpStart on April 29, so be sure to register.

1) Have fun. We should all have as much fun in our work as the players — and the marketing dept — would appear to have!

Anything else you’d add to the list?

Cathy Belk is the Chief Marketing Officer of JumpStart. She specializes in branding, marketing communications, and business management. She brings 16+ years of experience in a variety of marketing and business roles, but gets her energy from working daily with entrepreneurs and their growing companies.


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