In case you were just born or living under a rock, here's the backstory in a few bullets.
- Every fall the Iowa State Cyclones play the Iowa Hawkeyes and whoever wins the football game, wins the coveted Cy-Hawk trophy to have and hold until the next year's game.
- This year, they decided to update the trophy (the old one is on display in the Hall of Pride) and the Iowa Corn Association donated the new trophy, including its design.
- The new trophy was unveiled at the Iowa State Fair and instead of the old football themed trophy, it's a farm family huddling around a bushel of corn. (see photo)
- The public's reaction was swift, loud and mostly unfavorable.
- The Iowa Corn Growers announced the trophy will be re-designed with some public input.
So.... are there some marketing lessons to be learned here? You bet. Here are my top four:
Raving fans have an emotional connection to your brand
In this case, the Corn Growers got walloped by three groups of fans. Football fans, ISU fans and Iowa fans. We work hard to get our customers to have a preference. To be proud to do business with us and to be such loyal buyers that they tell their friends.
To get someone to make that level of investment means their heart is in it. Which means they're not just customers. They're stakeholders. And they believe (rightly so) that their opinion matters.
We love that when they agree with us and shout our praises. It's a tougher pill to swallow when we stub our toe and they loudly let us know.
Raving fans believe that your product or service and their support of it says as much about them as it does about you. (Check with a Harley owner if you think I'm crazy). Which means the choices you make matters a great deal to them. After all, it's about them.
If you don't know what your customers think -- ask them. Before it's too far along.
If you are inside the bottle, you can't accurately see or describe the outside of the bottle
In other words -- the Corn Growers love corn, farming and Iowa. As they should. So from their "inside the bottle" perspective, the corn family was a tribute to all that's Iowa. What better way to commemorate and celebrate an all Iowa tradition like the big game?
And who would begrudge them a nod to corn, after all, they're paying for the trophy and sponsoring the series.
But... it's a trophy that is going to be hoisted over the heads of some 300 lb linebacker. It's going to be the subject of fiery speeches from coaches about honor and not letting anyone take it away from us, and it's going to be in the dreams of 8 year-old boys who hope that someday they'll be able to fight for the glory of winning it.
None of that says farm family. But the Corn Growers couldn't see that.
This is common problem for business owners who can't see or understand their business from the customers' perspective. You need to find ways to always have a fresh and candid set of eyes.
There's no such thing as a quiet consumer today
Thanks to social media, access to reporters, and a demand for 24/7 news -- consumers have learned that they not only have a voice, but it's a pretty loud one. And not only is it loud, but it can bring about change.
The good side of this new marketing truth is that when you can inspire and encourage those voices, they can do a lot of good. They can elevate a brand, can answer a need or solve a problem.
The down side is -- you'd better have a good crisis communications plan in place because if you get sideways with them, the fury is going to come fast. As it did with the new trophy.
When the might of the many strikes, a business has to quickly decide how it's going to handle the uproar. It was never a good idea, but in today's world a "no comment" is taken as a "guilty as charged" so you'd better come ready to deal with the situation.
At the end of the day -- the Iowa Corn Growers got the message and to their credit, stood tall and took the criticism. Their decision to re-think the trophy took grace and I predict that by the time they've got some new designs and have engineered a way to let Iowans weigh in -- they'll come out of this storm pretty well.
And that's the final marketing lesson from this situation. A good brand can withstand a mistake or two. Consumers will forgive you the mistake as long as you own up to it and genuinely try to do it better the next time around.
~ Drew McLellan