NYC – If You Can Make it Here…
I’ve lived in NYC for almost 20 years, and every year I fall a little harder for this city. For me, it’s all about the people. Every day you spend time with an unpredictable assortment of characters… in restaurants, on sidewalks – even our parks are teeming with things like drum circles and roller discos. But as diverse as we are, our close experience on this tiny island lends us a genuine underlying camaraderie. We’re New Yorkers. Call me crazy, but as long as the a/c is working, a crowded subway car on a Saturday night somehow makes me feel connected to humanity. Maybe all we need is a good bagel.
New York is also a city for visionaries. Anything is possible in this town of dreams, and every so often that old Frank Sinatra line pops into my head, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” And I smile, because that shit is true. If your business can survive (and thrive) in one of the world’s most competitive and unforgiving markets, then you can probably expand your footprint.
Over the past few years I’ve been duking it out with my own spirits business here in New York; knowing if we can make it a few more rounds we might have a shot at the title. In that time, we’ve taken some knocks and learned some real ‘New York lessons’ that I think entrepreneurs can borrow to take to market with them, no matter where they are. And although these concepts relate to our time in the spirits market, as someone who has worked in many CPG categories, I think they’re applicable in other industries as well. Here are a few things I know to be true from our time cultivating a brand in the big apple:
#1 – Relationships are more important than ever. As the saying goes, ‘people buy from people they like’. And with the proliferation of choice these days, having good relationships is one key to ‘cutting through the clutter’. In our business, some of the most successful marketing has been when we’ve done things in-person: staff trainings, consumer tastings, bartender competitions and sampling at events. A lot of our activity is focused on building relationships with people one palate at a time. My friend who built Loca Linda wines calls this ‘street work’. There’s nothing more important than having your brand in the right place at the right time, and relationships open the door for this to happen. For retail brands this is imperative, and without it, your brand doesn’t stand a chance.
#2 – Distribution IS Marketing – Steve Hindi uses this phrase in the excellent book, Beer School, and it’s apt for all CPG brands that depend on retail in today’s market. Shelf space is the best media money can buy, because you’re marketing to your consumers at the best time possible – when they’re buying. The last three feet, the point-of-purchase, whatever you call it, is the best ROI in the consumer journey.
#3 – Local is more important than ever – People have grown suspicious of corporations and mass-made products, and they also have a natural desire to cheer for the underdog. Crafting and honing our local story has been one of the biggest differentiators for us, and it’s only become more important over the years. This isn’t to say that your origin story can’t scale; I think it can, but it has to be tailored for the market. This is why so many national and global companies are using localized ads; companies know they need to tell stories that are relevant to specific consumers and markets. And these tactics work – our Jameson ‘Love Thy Neighborhood’ localized ads saw a 10x engagement rate, when compared to the evergreen versions. If you’re starting any brand that sells at retail, make sure you understand your local story and how it will evolve as you scale.
Marketing is changing fast: CMOs are being replaced with ‘chief growth officers’ who are responsible for more tangible metrics than their predecessors, and tying activity to results has become a top priority in today’s increasingly competitive and crowded markets. Although the three fundamental tenets listed above are examples that have been core to our success here in NYC, I believe they will be increasingly critical for any CPG brand no matter the market. So, however you feel about the glory that is thin crust pizza, and whether you prefer your ‘New York’ Sinatra-style, or a la Jay Z and Alicia Keys, sprinkle some of that NYC magic into your next planning meeting.