Translating: How the “Elite” of Charleston, WV, are Getting a February Tan

I’m fascinated with the idea of “Translating” – a marketing concept developed by Steve Stoute, the founder of Translation, a brand imaging consulting firm. Stoute’s firm specializes in forging connections between established corporate brands and the community of musicians, rappers, actors, and sports figures generally referred to as “urban.”  

Stoute says of his work, “What I do is contemporize a brand." But, he emphasizes, "I don't take the brand away from what it stands for. I don't change who they are in order to appeal to the next generation."

Stoute is the hip-but-safe go-to guy for large companies like Hewlett-Packard, Target, Samsung, and many more. I have to admit that just one short month ago, I had never heard of the guy. Never.

And then I started searching to understand why I was so uncomfortable with the idea of “diversity” marketing. It’s a genre I have been cast in, for reasons including the fact that I am one of few African Americans in my state working in the marketing industry and because I possess a passion for thinking about who has been forgotten in any given campaign.

I’ve always felt that “diversity” tactics seemed to simply swap out white faces for black ones or strive to target messages along racial lines. I wanted to develop an inclusive and holistic approach to “diversity.”  That’s when I came across Stoute’s book, The Tanning of America, and - eureka!  - there it was.

“Tanning” is the term Stoute uses to describe the blending of class, race, and culture in America, with a significance given to the reality that by 2020 America will no longer be majority white. Stoute’s basic point is that the demographic and social changes facing America are leading it to become more multi-hued and tolerant. This was the information I was looking for. At least information-in-progress; “tanning” and its tactics of translation are still evolving, in both Stoute’s theory and in mine.

I was first faced with the need for translation when working with our former client, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). It took the Boy Scouts’ project to really start challenging my thinking as we began to understand the desperate need to Translate BSA values (the “Scout Law”) to a new generation. How to be cool, yet maintain BSA core values? With the right Translation, BSA could usher in a new generation of Scouts as they seek to revitalize their 200 year-old organization and re-brand it to a “tanned” American generation.

The Boy Scouts know all about the demographic shifts in America. Many companies know this, too, and are also trying to simultaneously update their brands to reach new audiences while maintaining their core values.

It’s not an easy thing to do; in fact, I know this from experience, as I am experimenting with translation right now in my community life.

I am co-chair of the West Virginia Symphony League Fashion Show, a fifty-year tradition in Charleston, WV. Since its inception, this event has always pulled its models from a veritable “who’s who” list of prominent women in the community. Although I didn’t necessarily fit that mold, I did start modeling professionally at a very young age, and, because of my experience, I was always asked to be in the show.

This year is special. I’m not a model. The leadership of the show has decided that it’s time to change. They want to reach out to a broader sector of the community in direct and indirect ways, while staying true to their fifty year-old roots.

They asked for my help.  I understand the integrity and core values of the event. I also understand its vision and purpose. It has been a part of my life for twenty years and it’s not rocket science. Like Stoute says, first get “cool” and then you can succeed at making as many people as possible the show’s glamour and opportunity, in ways both direct and indirect. At its essence, what the Symphony Fashion Show needs is a translator to bridge the old and the new.

The show is March 14, 2012, and new sponsorships are coming in every day. We opened the door to new models by holding an open model call. We launched into social media and are utilizing a host of other tactics to re-brand the fashion show for a wider segment of the community.  

Check out the video.

Fashion from Ben Robinson on Vimeo.

Tanning?  Yes. We have black, white, and Asian models, in addition to a diversity of sizes, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds.

One thing Stoute’s book does is remind me how influential hip hop is, and will continue to be, in America. He makes this argument throughout the book, describing hip-hop’s rise and gradual commercialization, starting with the grassroots success of the first Sugar Hill record “Rappers Delight” and the legendary 1986 concert where the German executives of Adidas first heard Run-DMC’s “My Adidas” rap song.

That being said, I’m still working out the details for the show to feature its first ever DJ, International Core DJ Charlie Blac to be the 2012 WV Symphony Fashion Show’s maestro.

We’ll see how it goes.                                   

With a little luck and little open-minded support, even the elite of Charleston, WV, might be able to get a tan in the middle of February. 


Establishing Credibility to Earn Leadership

“A loyal constituency is won when the people, consciously or unconsciously, judge the leader to be capable of solving their problems and meeting their needs, when the leader is seen as symbolizing their norms, and when their image of the leader (whether or not it corresponds to reality) is congruent with their inner environment of myth and legend.” (Kouzes, Posner, pg. 3, 2011)

In a time when Social Media 2.0 is growing and the need for brand advocates is becoming more of a necessity in order to achieve “brand success,” it should be understood that being a leader in your field is not a right, but an earned privilege.

These days, consumers and potential clients are not limiting themselves to a company that can offer them products or services. Rather, they are looking to deal with businesses that come across as genuine and relatable.  In Credibility: How Leaders Gain it and Lose it, Why People Demand It, authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner note that  people are energized by values and visions that give their lives meaning and purpose.  These can be experienced in a single contact or conversation. 

I think of my grandmother, Mable Landis, and her loyalty to Sears, which dates back some 30 years now.  She always relates it to the fact that they show they care because “they always have the best sales going on and their employees are always so friendly no matter how you act towards them!”  She spreads the word as if it is the gospel because she lives by one simple rule: “Be nice no matter what and God will handle the rest.”

This is an example of a brand advocate.  She shops at Sears before looking anywhere else. She has no bad words to say about the company, and will defend the brand as if it were part of her bloodline.  It is this kind of earned credibility that drives one of the most powerful forms of marketing there is: word of mouth.

There are three qualities Kouzes and Posner say that you can find in every leader: Integrity, Competence and Leadership. 

For a brand leader, integrity does not stop at just being trustworthy; you must also display strength of character and conviction.  This may mean owning mistakes made due to a fault in your system during the return process and fixing them, or acknowledging that you did not offer the best products or services to a disgruntled customer and offering solutions to make it right. 

Those brand leaders that have been labeled “wise” – like Apple, for example - not only know themselves but have great competence in understanding their competition and surrounding environment. Typically, these “wise” companies are well aligned – both internally and externally. The employees know the company well, trust its decision-making and direction, and, therefore, have the credibility of believing what they say when speaking about the company’s product or services to others.  Brand leaders tend to inspire their followers, promote action, develop advocates, and provide direction to an improved lifestyle.

Achieving this status is simple.


Be consistent in all you do, believe in what you say, and know what you are saying is right for the one listening.  Get people to believe in you, and watch how effortlessly they will work with you to help grow your brand. 


Wishing You the Most Meaningful Myths 

We deal in storytelling and meaning every day here at Mythology. We have a deep belief that what we do each day should have significance beyond ourselves and add value to our shared experience in this crazy, mixed up world. 

That's why this time of year is so special. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or all three, it's a time to reflect on meaning and faith. Our team at Mythology, like the rest of our society, shares many common beliefs, and diverge on a few others. But we focus on the unifying beliefs of our team and our world so that we can make a difference. 

C.S. Lewis talks of "myth become fact." The stories we share, the stories we believe, lead to the good that changes our world. Myth becomes fact every day, if we let it. Beliefs matter. 

And since businesses and "work" are where we invest the majority of our days, shouldn't we make the most meaning there? 

We wish you the most amazing holiday season ever. And we look forward to working with you to build belief in all those things that matter. 

Have a belief-building holiday season and a truly mythical 2012! 



Multiplying Your Brand Impact with Internal Alignment

Internal alignment enables your organization to consistently live up to the promises you make to customers, and better yet, to deliver those “surprises” that turn customers into fans who share positive word-of-mouth with their peers. It’s a core pillar in our Ten Pillars of Meaningful Marketing.

As a marketing management consulting firm, we believe that for your company to flourish there must be proper internal alignment. Many companies tank when they reach a point where alignment is lost. This often happens when a company or division grows faster than its capacity to build internal processes or infrastructure to keep up.

James L. Garlow’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership - Tested by Time, puts businesses in two simple categories: “There were those who followed…and those who didn’t.”  While most entrepreneurs know their purpose and plan for their company, they do not know how to keep it consistently communicated among their employees at every level. 

First, it starts with selection: you need people who are bought into your brand values and company purpose and who are ready to work towards those goals.

Secondly, consecration (the “the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service “) is a necessity:  clearly state your expectations and stick to them. A good on-boarding process in partnership with HR can go a long way towards building this commitment from the beginning.

The next step is impartation and demonstration: it is critical to lead by example. Show your employees your successful habits so that they are “fully charged” and ready to do what is appointed to them.  This is also where the leader shows by “doing” or on-the-job training. A well-defined internal mentorship program can do wonders in this area.

Finally, delegation and supervision.  This is the time to trust your staff and empower them to work on their own.  While everything will not be perfect, this is where your staff will mature and grow the most.  Once your employees have finished their allotted tasks the manager will step in and “clean-up” or approve the work in ways to keep it aligned with your company’s mission and brand values.

In a business environment where employees are not allowed the opportunity to grow or contribute, the company itself suffers and cannot grow.  But when a company aligns its people with its goals, the business maximizes its opportunity to flourish.  The main principle of leadership, according to James L. Garlow, is “being able to multiply yourself.” 


Who’s Your Bestie? Customer Segmentation in a Non-Linear Social World 

The Bravo Network identifies their besties as Metro Competitors, Newborn Grown-Ups, Will and Graces, PTA Trendsetters and Better Me’s.

Do you know who your best friends are (from a business perspective)? Who are the pockets of customers who are most influential and valuable to you, and how should you engage them?

Bain & Co. defines customer segmentation as “the subdivision of a market into discrete customer groups that share similar characteristics.” Pretty straightforward, right?

Segmenting your customer and prospect base by logical, actionable criteria can turn marketing mayhem into a meaningful marketing. Rather than diluting yourself with a generic message and engagement approach, you can focus and magnify your impact.

This year was a big year for customer segmentation projects here at Mythology. We helped non-profits such as the National Boy Scouts of America identify priority segments for launching the Summit Bechtel Reserve and International Justice Mission prioritize key pockets of avid advocates to grow in their fight against human trafficking.

Corporations weren’t far behind. A major insurance firm needed to improve their emotional connection with their customers, so we helped map the right audience triggers. A gaming company needed to transition from good old coin-operated bar games to the fast-growing iPad consumer market, so we helped develop influencer audiences to target.

Unfortunately, there are many ways to segment and it can get pretty confusing. You could potentially target a group of similar customers by any number of criteria:

  • Demographic – Stuff you can easily find out about people such as age or income.
  • Geographic – It’s pretty easy to figure out who’s in your market region, if you’re limited to that.
  • Psychographic – Lifestyle preferences and core beliefs can be reliable predictors of response.
  • Behavioral – Identifying who and when the best targets are open to your value proposition based on recent or consistent things they do, such as visiting a web site or moving from one community to another.

So which do you pick, or which combinations do you concoct? The simplistic but true answer is, whichever helps you engage most effectively and generate the most return on investment (ROI).

In a world where people can gather around random topics instantly via social media, this can require some trial and error. But often you can eliminate more of the error by utilizing test campaigns, simple surveys or social media interaction to capture a relatively good idea of what will generate response and conversion.

We like to look at targeting in terms of emotional archetypes. What role do you play in filling an emotional need for your customers? The answer to that can go a long way in helping you target more people with that need.

At Mythology, we discovered that our best segmentation wasn’t necessarily by industry, or region, or even size of company. We found that the best predictor of whether a client was a “fit” or not was how ambitious they were and how much they recognized building an effective marketing system was key to their growth. Those types of clients value what Mythology brings to the table with our comprehensive approach to growing marketing ROI.

Everyone can’t be your best friend. But those special friendship connections can often last a lifetime.  

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