retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Usually we praise people for what they know and how they act. Today we have to salute Ron Cook of Niemann Foods for what he didn’t know and how he still managed to do all the right things.

Sounds weird doesn’t it? Yet it’s a great lesson in the importance of being open, trusting your team and, to paraphrase Star Trek, going where you have never gone before.

Two weeks ago, Cook and Niemann won the Best in Show award for marketing at the National Grocers Association’s Creative Choice awards in Las Vegas. As the moderator of that session, I had more than a little insight into what went on.

The promotion itself was both really simple and really clever. To build store traffic, sales and focus on social media and frequent shopper efforts, Niemann offered customers the chance to win two tickets to a concert by the pop group One Direction. The more a shopper bought, the more chances they had to win, especially when buying products from Mondelez, Niemann’s partner in the promotion.

The results were terrific. Among other things, sales of Oreos tripled and consumer use of Niemann’s social media sites doubled.

But that’s only a piece of the story.

When I quickly interviewed Cook on stage about the promotion, I stumbled into a completely unexpected nugget. In jest, I asked Cook to name his favorite member of One Direction. Personally, I only know of Harry Styles (the “cute” one).

Cook admitted he didn’t have a clue. He didn’t know any of the five band members and didn’t even know their ubiquitous mega-hit: “What Makes You Beautiful.” (We even played the song for him. He still didn’t know.)

That begged the follow up question of how he authorized such a large promotion without knowing anything about the focal point of the entire effort.

Cook explained it all came from a discussion with his team who assured him of the band’s popularity and the power the ticket promotion would have. With that input, Cook signed on.

For me, that is the real reason he deserved to win that Best in Show award - because his lesson is one that managers and executives everywhere need to consider. In our multi-generational, multi-racial and multi-ethnic society, none of us can be on top of every trend. No one of us can know every holiday, every hot boy band or every single current eating trend.

We need input from lots of sources and we need the courage that Cook showed to listen to suggestions about possible opportunities we could never have seen ourselves.

Two of the chapters in my new book, "Business Rules," focus on the importance of being open and listening. One chapter explains how a famous songwriter got the inspiration from something his daughter said in the car one day; while another details how a famous pilot reached out to his cockpit team for input just seconds before landing a stricken airplane. The song became a hit and while the crash landing wasn’t averted, no one perished in the accident.

When we listen and when we are open to the new and different, great things can happen. If nothing else, we learn something we never knew.

Ron Cook showed us how those very skills can be the one direction to success.

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 on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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