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Catching the Mail Truck: What to Do When Your Big Break Comes

We’ve all seen it: the breakout exercise gadget, the fitness craze out of nowhere, the low-carb, fat-burning workout everyone seems to have ignored. And overnight, they’re on talk TV, in stores, and everyone has one.

Except it doesn’t work that way. When big sales and marketing breaks come, it’s because those it came to were prepared.

“Lights Out” Marketing

In 2013, the SuperBowl was plagued by an embarrassingly long blackout. No video feed from the football game was available for 34 minutes to catch those eyeballs that were glued to the screen, rooting for their favorite teams. Instead, addled viewers retreated to the kitchen to check on nachos, took restroom breaks, and generally ignored the TV until the game came back on.

In other words, a national sponsor’s worst nightmare.

Not so for Oreo. The cookie maker’s parent company, Nabisco, jumped on the marketing opportunity with its “You can still dunk in the dark” Twitter campaign, cashing in on a “cultural moment” and creating what’s known as “lights out marketing”, a form of marketing that relies on agile business practices, social resonance, and a let’s-not-overthink-this marketing mentality.

What You Need to Know Right Now

The moment your big break comes, you must be absolutely certain:

  1. Who you are

    People dunk Oreos. What do they do with YOUR product?

    Is your karate dojo “Smithville’s confidence builder for introverted kids”? The triathlon club for people who can’t hock their car to buy a bike? Joe Ordinary’s door to Extraordinary

    You have 10 seconds to answer, and it better sound good.

  2. What you’ll do next

    This can be as simple as having talking points ready for a radio interview or as complex as sketching out a “Just in case of” marketing plan. The point is that in knowing what to do next, you buy yourself some time to consider how to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. It may be just a few hours, but it’s time to think straight while not scrambling to find the number of that marketing agency you once talked to.

    Take an act-fast lesson from Ronald Zweig, who published a historical book about Nazi “gold trains” just as the discovery of such a find was hitting the news. Coincidence? Hardly. Clever marketing? For sure.

    The trick is to move as quickly as possible out of “react” mode and into “instant planning” mode. You still have to think fast, but it’s the difference between knowing who to pass the ball to and getting double-teamed under the basket.

    If you’re not up to improvising, or if you’re not good at it (and most people aren’t), your best bet is to run through scenarios in your head for the opportunities you’re most likely to run into. Then stow them away and review them every so often in case over time, the opportunities you anticipated are no longer really that realistic, or possibly misfit to your business.

  3. Whether this is really your big break

    Bumping into a celebrity or being asked to do a radio interview is a great thing. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s exciting. Go ahead and take down contact info, and set a time for a follow-up call.

    Then take a breath. The truth is you both need to get ready for the next step. But while you’re thinking about it, ask yourself what your business could actually DO over the long term with the fact that you were interviewed on NPR.

    Does it add to your credentials as a health and wellness expert? Does an interview create an aura of authority, implying that you MUST know more than the average Jane since reporters bothered to ask your opinion? Is it a chance for you to speak up on a pet cause tied closely to your brand, such as diabetes, self-defense, or the importance of a healthy diet and physical activity to future brain health?

    The interview will probably be scripted, and you won’t always get to say what you want. But if you can’t tell your role in the overall picture — why the interview is taking place, why they’re talking to you, and why NOW –you’ll almost certainly ramble aimlessly and blather away your 5 minutes of celebrity (nobody gets 15 minutes any more… sorry, Andy Warhol).

    What’s worse, you won’t know if it could have done you any good anyway.

Preparing for Your Big Break

We’ve talked before about how long-term “expeditionary” thinking, combined with being ready for opportunity, can lead to better outcomes for fitness and wellness businesses. But preparing for a big break is different. It’s like planning for it to rain diamonds from the sky. The chances are almost zero. You can’t waste 6 weeks of strategic thinking and half a year’s marketing budget planning to be talked about on The View. In fact, committing serious resources to pie-in-the-sky marketing ideas is the WORST mistake you could make, because the costs are high and the payoff, while substantial, is very unlikely.

That means you’ll have to come up with your big plan on the back of a Starbucks napkin, over an afternoon coffee. Or on the spur of the moment.

Earlier I said that not many people are good at improvising, so here’s a quick lesson in how to think on your feet, based on a recent and very real success in personal brand marketing.

Let’s say that your local CBS affiliate is doing a health piece on diabetes, and you’re a diabetic strongman. You’ve gotten a surprise call from a reporter who heard from a friend that you like to flip tractor tires and lift 300-pound rocks, and you need something amazing to demonstrate for her, plus call attention to your cause.

She’s not inviting you to do a free advertisement. But it is an opportunity. How do you advertise without advertising!?

  1. Ask yourself what this is really about.

    In the example above, f you’re honest with yourself, you know that November is National Diabetes Month, the reporter has a deadline, and you’re an amazing AND diabetic guy who makes a great personal interest story. After all, not everyone drags trucks around for fun. The reporter needs to fill about 3-5 minutes with a positive, entertaining story that’s about helping people help themselves get healthier.

  2. Write down every idea that comes to mind.

    Don’t second guess yourself, and don’t force things. Get the ideas rolling first. What will grab people’s attention right off the bat? Is it lifting Atlas stones? Pulling a semi truck? Deadlifting a car? Which one’s most amazing? Which one’s most possible?

  3. Let your mind go where it wants to.

    The obvious Big Reveal is that it’s not just another strongman. After all, there are hundreds of those to be had. But not diabetic ones.

    You know it would be wicked to deadlift a car on live TV. Think about what that would involve. Can you get your hands on the resources to pull it off? If you can, what then? Let your mind follow where the viewer would go. First, the fascination with deadlifting the car, not once, but 10 times. Then the reporter mentioning that November is National Diabetes Month and by the way, you’re diabetic. You know, the kind of person most folks think is a self-indulgent couch potato. And you know, you’re there deadlifting a Subaru. You have their attention, and about 30 seconds to say something about why you’re doing it.

    If you feel it “building”, chances are you’ve got something. If it feels forced or “wheels off”, don’t discard the idea outright; just let it rest a bit while the wheels keep turning. Your own natural sense of your abilities and those of your team will draw you toward the doable and away from abject fantasy.

  4. Let others help you.

    In the example above, suppose your buddy is the sales manager at a Subaru dealership, One of your other friends at the gym has a lifting rack for cars. Your local chapter of the American Diabetes Association needs a headliner for their fundraising campaign. If you’re going to deadlift that car, you need to make some phone calls and get past any resistance to leaning on friends and business partners. Besides, chances are fairly good they’ll be interested in something epic as long as there’s no chance they’ll be subject to litigation.

  5. Don’t stop at “no.”

    The one exception to this rule is if what you’re considering would be illegal (or violate a written agreement), immoral, unethical, or offensive. That aside, if somebody’s telling you something’s impossible — to paraphrase Wesley / The Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride — that’s only because it’s never been done. Instead, keep asking how your business can take advantage of compelling and unique opportunities.

You don’t have to deadlift a Subaru on live TV to draw attention to your wellness business. Just having a solid idea of who you are, what you or your business cares passionately about, and what you’d say if you had a chance to speak up are key elements in the success of ANY big break marketing you do. Being able to tell if it’s a real opportunity you can sink your teeth into, and having the skills and wherewithal to improvise a plan in short order are also necessary.

Getting ready for your big break doesn’t mean wasting resources on pipe dreams, nor does it mean sitting back and waiting for a call from Oprah. Instead, what you want is to quickly come up with a reasonable sense of what your team can (and will) do fast if fortune smiles on you, and when that moment comes, do it without looking back and asking questions.

The good news is that (for once!) this is very short term business planning. In 3 months, your NPR interview will be something you did, not something you’re still doing. Your Subaru deadlift will be part of your brand. And any planning you need to do will be centered around making the most of your effort to raise your business’s profile, improve your professional credentials, or champion your favorite cause.