retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s great news out of Akron, Ohio. This coming baseball season, the minor league Akron Aeros are featuring an array of hot dog choices that will live in baseball and gastronomy lore. At an Aeros game you can get a half-pound hot dog or, lord help you, a full one-pound variety. Incredibly, the story only begins there.

Once you have your dog, you can dress it with a choice of 40 toppings. No longer is the argument between mustard and ketchup. At an Aeros’ game you can get toppings like macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, kimche or wasabi. Seventh inning stretch in Akron will take on a whole new meaning.

Let’s forget about nutrition or heartburn for a second and focus on the array of choice. Is it possible that the Aeros are simply overloading their fans with too much, turning the simple, time honored “beer and a dog” order into a walk through a catalog? Or is this genius?

The issue of overload is everywhere. Newsweek featured a recent cover story examining brain freeze and what happens to consumers when they are overwhelmed by the choices facing them. It’s a powerful topic, especially in an industry like supermarkets that regularly confronts shoppers with a staggering array of products in each successive aisle. Somehow, though, the incredible choice offered by the Aeros seems different. This may be genius.

There is a point you read quite often here at MNB. As we’ve explained endlessly, Kevin Coupe and I wrote a book about how to use stories from movies to help business people with speeches, employee meetings, etc. (It’s called The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies and yes, it is available on Amazon.com, as well as for Kindle and iBooks.)

Think about it: a good story stays with you. It creates connection, emotion and memory. When companies tell a great story, it helps them stand out in the marketplace, which is something all of us would like to and need to do. In that context, we can view the Akron hot dog story in a different light.

You might think the hot dogs are insane, disgusting or worse, but they aren’t ordinary. Suddenly, the Aeros aren’t just another minor league franchise. Now there is a strange reason to make the Akron Aeros a destination. I know if I get anywhere close to Akron this year, I will be visiting that stadium even though I know I won’t eat a half-pound hot dog and I won’t even consider slathering it with feta cheese, marinara and chocolate chips (three more available choices.)

But I’ll be dying to see what happens around me, what people eat and whether this incredible promotion makes this Cleveland Indians’ farm team a tourist destination. Why? Because a narrative is a game changer, even if it’s just about hot dogs. A narrative makes the Aeros a destination, more than a collection of players on their way up or out of baseball aren’t always enough of a draw. (Personally, I can’t wait for antacid night!)

A narrative can even make overwhelming product choice a destination in itself. Visit Fairway stores in the New York City area and see how they treat olive oil. The choice is way beyond what anyone can consider, but it works to build image and sales. Or check out Coca-Cola’s new Freestyle machines, where the user can personalize a beverage to their own taste. In these special cases, the array changes the discussion from overload to theater. In these cases, choice creates a great story.

Ask yourself: what’s your story?


Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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