retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

On Tuesday, Michael Sansolo wrote about how a visit to an aging major league baseball stadium, with its lack of basic amenities - like an out-of-town scoreboard and a dedicated display that tells you how fast pitches are being thrown - taught him a lesson about changed expectations. Sometimes you find yourself wanting or needing things that you didn’t know were important to you; such is the impact of technology, and it raises the bar for everyone.

I’d also like to look at marketing lessons that baseball can teach us ... but I want to do so from the other end of the scale. Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to the Carolinas Food Industry Council convention, and I was preceded by Mike Veeck, the son of baseball legend Bill Veeck, Jr., who was responsible for many of baseball’s more outrageous stunts, like sending a midget up to pinch it in one game. But he also was responsible for doing things like putting games on the radio and signing Larry Doby, the first black player to play in the American League.

Mike Veeck is no slouch himself. He currently owns six minor league baseball teams - with partners that include Bill Murray and Jimmy Buffett - and he has his own history of outrageous stunts. When he worked for the Chicago White Sox, for example, he was responsible for Disco Demolition Night, when the crowd was invited to bring disco records that would be destroyed in between games during a double header. The result was a riot, a forfeiture of the second game, and Mike Veeck being fired by ownership and being blacklisted from baseball for a decade.

Veeck is a big believer that “fun is good,” and he even wrote a book by that title - he believes that joy and irreverence in the workplace almost always leads to a better product, happier employees and more engaged and loyal customers. He makes an excellent case, and I will tell you this - if you can avoid it, you really don’t want to be in the position of following Mike Veeck on the stage.

The thing is, I’ve long thought that minor league baseball is an excellent template for retailers to look at as they develop marketing and promotion plans. Minor league baseball is different from major league ball because you can’t really market the players - if they’re any good, they’re leaving soon. So you have to market the experience - the ballpark, the employees, the food and drink ... whatever you can to lure people in. That’s what more retailers need to do ... create and market a distinctive store experience that goes beyond the products being sold on the shelves. After all, product is something that most stores have in common. What makes a retailer different is the place in which it is sold, and the people doing the selling.

One of the things that Mike Veeck seems to put a premium on is his capacity to surprise people - out of surprise comes delight, and out of delight comes satisfied customers.

That’s a good lesson, I think, for everyone in the marketing business. And like all of life’s great metaphors, it starts on the baseball diamond.

That’s what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I’d like to hear what is on your mind.
KC's View: