MEplusYOU’s Mark McKinney Creates Brand and Consumer Partnerships

Mark McKinney is the Chief Strategy Officer at MEplusYOU, a strategic and creative agency – previously imc2 – that works with digital and emerging media. Before getting into the digital advertising industry at Tribal DDB in 2004, Mark worked in technology consulting. We recently spoke with Mark about his current role.

The Makegood: Mark, you didn’t take the usual career path to work in marketing and advertising, having completed a Ph.D. in psychology and then working in management consulting before joining Tribal DDB. What was it that motivated you to make the move?

MM: When people hear “psychology,” they often think mental health, or mental illness. But, in truth, the study of psychology is the study of human behavior, and I was raised an experimental psychologist. I like to take situations apart and see what makes people tick. I have always been fascinated by why people make impulse decisions, and what the factors are that lead them to “take the plunge.” Marketing seemed like a great place to think about why people choose the brands they do.

When a good friend of mine joined Tribal DDB, he told me about the exciting work being done in digital marketing, where there was a much deeper connection with the consumer. That sounded interesting, so I joined as the head of Account Services for the Dallas office. Believe me, marketing provides a great place to study human behavior, both the consumers and the people who work in agencies.

The Makegood: Currently, you are the Chief Strategy Officer of MEplusYOU. Where does your role begin and end?

MM: In our agency, I really wear two hats: that of helping to plan the strategy of the agency, and the head of the discipline we call Strategy. The former means I work with the other C-level officers to develop our purpose-inspired value proposition (something we call the Purpose Proposition™) and our go-to-market messaging. Simply stated, we believe that marketing has entered a new era, The Relationship Era, where brands will win by creating sustainable relationships with all stakeholders, including consumers. The most recent strategic activity was the re-launching of the part of imc² that works with our consumer goods and retail clients. This agency is now known as MEplusYOU. We felt this name better reflects our belief that the brand (ME) and the consumer (YOU) are a partnership that creates benefits for all stakeholders. Behind this name change is a deep, well-thought out business strategy that we have been working on for several years.

As the head of the Strategy discipline, it is my job to help create the processes, tools, and templates that allow our strategists to bring our unique approach to their accounts. We have examined all the typical planning tools such as the creative brief, brainstorming techniques, consumer personae, experience mapping, brand positioning hierarchies, measurement planning, and such, and have updated these typical tools to reflect our belief that the brand’s purpose has to be pulled through every bit of the messaging and engagement the brand offers. It has been an interesting couple of years – we typically have to show clients that our approach and tools do yield good outcomes – but it has been rewarding to see our people and our clients adopt the language of the Relationship Era of marketing.

The Makegood: MEplusYou focuses on the relationships and how brands should be real and transparent with consumers. Can you tell us how this is done with MEplusYOU‘s client Louisville Slugger?

MM: Louisville Slugger is an iconic brand. Almost every kid growing up learns to turn the label up when swinging the bat, thus seeing the Louisville Slugger. Slugger was bringing a new product to the market, the BBCOR bat (simply, a bat that reduces the speed at which the ball leaves the bat, thus reducing the chance of injury from a batted ball striking you). Both college and high school teams were moving to this new regulation, so the market for the product was going to be large, but every major bat manufacturer was bringing out its own BBCOR line.

We discussed with Louisville Slugger how it could bring it purpose, to make players great, and its belief in the value of team and competition to life in a way that would build relationships. Not just with the brand, but relationships between fathers and sons, since we know that choice of athletic equipment is highly influenced by teachers, mentors, coaches, professional athletes and parents.

We developed an idea for Slugger to create commemorative bats for the winning team of the 2011 World Series. We then had a team at the ready in both cities. When St. Louis won the Game 7, our team set out on a social-media fueled scavenger hunt, hiding 45 commemorative bats in the “sweetest spots” in St. Louis (extending our in-market campaign of The Sweetest Spot, touting the Louisville Slugger BBCOR bats). The day progressed, and fans swarmed potential drop sites by following clues sent out on Facebook and Twitter. Not only did 45 lucky fans get this one of a kind bat, but the Slugger wall on Facebook was inundated by people thanking Louisville Slugger, and telling how great it was for them to work with their kids to chase after these bats. One father noted how, although he and his son never even got close to getting a bat, they spent the best day together they ever had, working as a team to try and decipher the clues.

The level of engagement between the brand and people was off the charts that day, and it seemed to have carried over, as fans by the thousands liked the Facebook page, signed up to follow the Twitter feed, and posted their own experiences. Louisville Slugger became a friend to the fans of the St. Louis Cardinals, and really the entire city, directly.

The Makegood: Building a relationship with a deodorant brand may seem to be difficult. Can you tell us MEplusYou’s strategy to make that happen for P&G’s Secret? 

MM: What? You don’t think about how your deodorant makes you feel in the morning? It’s true, something like a deodorant is a low involvement product. Secret is a market leader, but was not seeing an increase in share and, frankly, was seeing sales flatten out a bit. Being a Procter & Gamble brand, Secret had uncovered the brand’s purpose, to help women of all ages be more fearless, but they were not sure what to do with that. They continued to drive sales through product innovation (sparkles, new scents, mineral-based products) but this was not getting the involvement, and market lift, they craved.

Along with their other agencies, we suggested they think about bringing the purpose to life, as a way to engage women around issues that were very important and emotionally charged. At this time, social media was just emerging, so we helped them create a Facebook centered ignition to support inclusion of women’s ski jumping in the Winter Olympics. Not only did enough women sign the online petition that it is now an event, but Secret saw a modest lift in sales and purchase intent, all with only a small investment in a social movement.

This seemed interesting, so we helped them follow up with a couple of social ignitions supporting fearless women such as Dyana Nyad, who attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida at age 61. With each ignition, they saw a lift in brand equity and sales of certain products, so this idea of purpose-centered messaging, rather than product-centered messaging, seemed to be working well.

This led to the most ambitious ignition to date, Mean Stinks. Secret decided to take on bullying in teenage girls, offering a place on, again, Facebook, for girls to apologize for being mean, and to say nice things about other girls. This ignition was supported by media in print and online, and even recruited Amber Riley from the TV show, “Glee,” to do YouTube spots about the effects of bullying. The ignition was a roaring success; over 70,000 apologies and pieces of “good graffiti” were offered. On the day of launch 203,000 new fans of the brand liked the Facebook page. And in the first 26 weeks of 2011, Secret saw a 9% increase in sales across portfolio, with increases in market share, as reported in Ad Age.

These days, over a million and a half fans interact with the brand on Facebook, sometimes getting a random gift just for being a fan. No quid pro quo, they don’t have to do anything, but if the brand (meaning our community managers) finds a comment provocative or interesting, they will surprise and delight the poster with an offer of something free.

Supporting important causes for women, offering a real ear to consumers rather than just shouting product messages, posting product reviews right on site – both good and not so good- all demonstrate how the brand wants to care about women and their issues, as well as create transactional relationships. Secret wants to earn the trust of their customers and build longer-term sustainable realtionships.

The Makegood: Thanks, Mark.

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