~Marketing Insights to Help You Grow Your Business~

Please Stop Thinking Outside of the Box

Please Stop Thinking Outside of the Box

I don’t like to think outside of the box.

As a marketing guy, I get asked for “out of the box ideas”, and I must push back. Why don’t we figure out what our box is first (category rules, brand standards, guidelines, value proposition, vision, etc.) before we get lost in the outfield?

When you have constraints that require you to filter ideas, you must create some guardrails around an idea. Constraints, limits, and restrictions are creative gold. They help you define a problem.

I like to think along the edge of the box. 

Steps to Thinking Along the Edge of the Box

  • Define the rules of a category, so you are clear what everyone else does. For example, 90% of all wine gets packaged in 750 ml glass bottles and potato chips come in bags with air to protect the chips.
  • Examine where the edge of a category could create an opportunity. Wine in a box or can. Potato chips in a tube or individually wrapped.
  • Free yourself from the practical problems like we don’t have the machinery to package wine in cans or chips in tubes. Just imagine how customers in the category might react to your brand that straddles the edge of the category box. Renegade, avant-garde, forward thinker, idiot?
  • Generate several ideas that live at the edges. Draw a picture of those ideas and share it with a range of stakeholders like customers, critics, employees, distributors, etc.
  • Listen to their feedback. Just be quiet and let others criticize, ridicule and rip apart your ideas.
  • After you digest the comments from others, sit quietly and listen to your intuition. Ideas that challenge our current conventions about wine or potato chips aren’t going to be understood or accepted. You will be fighting the norms of a category – but that “blue ocean” is where you can help a category reimagine itself.

Caulipower Pizza lives along the edge of the frozen pizza category with their cauliflower crust. Uber and Lyft live just over the line of the taxi box. Airbnb lives along the line of a hotel room box.

Marketing is about getting noticed by being remarkable.

It is difficult to become noticed when you look and act like everyone else in your category. Wine in a 750 ml isn’t going to get noticed whereas wine in a can or box will stand out and straddle the edge of the box.

If you want customers to notice you, find some real estate along the edge of your category box to hang out.

You can find me hanging out at the edge of the marketing consulting box where I frequently cross the line. Text me at 919 720 0995 or email me at if you want to align and connect. Click here to contact me.

Photo courtesy



Do You Take One More Step?

Do You Take One More Step?

I wanted to buy Hillary Clinton’s book to read on vacation. As I wandered into a local, independent bookstore, the owner said that the book was sold out but would be back in stock in a few days.

He never said to me, let me text you when it comes in. That would have been an excellent way to remind me to buy the book from him and not online or at several competitors.

One More Step

Does your marketing effort take that next step to remove friction from a purchase? Do you make it that much easier for your customer to do business with you? You don’t expect a big chain to do something like text you – yet it is through automation that larger players are scaling those next steps.

What’s Your Next Step?

  • Do you call you call your customer after they receive their order to check in and make sure everything arrived perfectly?
  • Do you make it easy for satisfied customers to write a quick yelp review of your restaurant by texting or emailing a link?
  • Do you take the next step and tell customers about a new product that is a compliment to something they bought last month for their camping trip without feeling pushy?
  • Do you give your larger customers a special gift of thanks when they least expect it? Like sending an ice cream truck to their office in the summer versus just sending a box of chocolate during the holidays?

I ended up buying Hillary’s book somewhere else because it was convenient. I’m still waiting for a text from the first bookseller.

Are you unsure if your team takes one more step? Let’s talk. Text me at 919 720 0995 or email me at

Photo credit: Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash


A Cheetos Fine Dining Restaurant – No Really

A Cheetos Fine Dining Restaurant – No Really

Some of the best PR is often based on a wild and crazy idea. The folks who market Cheetos wondered what it would be like to open a restaurant based on their snack product. So they hired a well-known Food Network Chef (not my daughter) and created a temporary pop-up store to generate awareness and stories.

Traditional PR and stunt events can be powerfully effective ways to get a brand into your consciousness. You share the story (as I am doing here), and it quickly blows up the Internet. The social shares and increased awareness easily pay for the venture.

More than 1,000 people requested a reservation for The Spotted Cheetah. It was only opened for 3 days in August.

Watch this crazy video. Maybe there is a way for you to think laterally about your brand to help it break through the deluge of content. Cheetos played into its snacking fun brand character and leveraged existing assets like Chester Cheetah.

Ask yourself the question, what if my brand was a restaurant, ran an airline, was a sports team, made clothing,  created a non-profit or sold ice cream. Think sideways and have fun.

One other piece of advice – do something your competitors would never think about doing because they are fixated on your category. Cheetos doesn’t compete in restaurants yet that was where they decided to set up shop – if only for a few days.

Publicity is a way to emphasize an important aspect of your brand. It can solidify a position and help get you into the conversation. As long as your stunt is aligned with core brand values and attributes, PR stunts can help your brand grow.

If you can’t see the video below, click this link.

Need help thinking laterally about your marketing and promotion? Text me at 919 720 0995 or email me at

Video courtesy of Business Insider


Sound Marketing

Sound Marketing

So many companies come and go. They spend millions on marketing to no avail. They get lost trying to grow faster and faster, forgetting why they even started. There is no substitute for sound marketing.

They make promises they can’t keep, and they wonder why their marketing no longer works. The biggest marketing mistake many brands make is that can’t answer the simple question – what are we all about? The best marketing comes when people come to work each day and do their best and to make a superior product or service that they take pride in creating.

Grado Laboratories – All About The Sound 

For more than fifty years, a small, niche player in the world of headphones decided that nothing mattered except the quality of the sound. They didn’t care about packaging, distribution and the other issues associated with marketing a product. They haven’t advertised since 1964.

Grado believes in one core marketing principle. If you promise consumers something spectacular and deliver on it – they’ll tell other consumers. John Grado would be happy putting the headphones in plain, brown paper bags. He wants the brand to speak for itself.

Sound Comes First

In a non-descript Brooklyn location that the family has owned since 1918, a handful of people make the best headphones possible. Second generation John Grado, bought the business from his great uncle who founded the business decades ago making needles for record players at his kitchen table. He wants growth to be natural. He could get investors who would help him do what others do to accelerate– but he has no interest in spending his days pleasing financial-types. He is content and satisfied with his work and loves what he does. “I’m happy, why do I want others telling me what to do?”

John tells the story that his grandfather had a fruit stand in NY. He would go to the wholesale market an hour before everyone else at 330 AM so he could pick the best that was available. His philosophy was that if he had the best produce, customers would be happy and he would be successful. To this day, that is the guiding principle for Grado headphones.

Their filter for each decision is, how will it affect the sound?

John Mayer, Neil Young, and Steven Tyler are but a few of the artist who won’t use anything but their headphones for their work.

  • They refuse to advertise. They want happy customers to do their marketing for them.
  • They use the same, old equipment and fix it themselves to make components. Faster isn’t better. It is just faster.
  • They assemble their headphones by hand to allow a human being to craft the perfect listening device to maximize satisfaction.

Jonathan Grado is the third generation of Grado’s making headphones and manages their marketing. Their marketing consists of a focus on social media to engage and connect with users. To him, marketing is about the relationship he builds with customers who he knows will share their experience. He invests his time and energy in relationships to build word of mouth. It is slow, deliberative and effective one-on-one marketing effort.

Two sisters assemble the higher-end handmade headphones since 1994. The company keeps production to a level consistent with their vision that sound comes first. A little demand is a good thing, so they keep a slow and steady pace. They make about 20-30 headphones each day using cocobolo wood and lovingly send each pair out into the world.

Three Marketing Insights from Grado

  1. Growth can be a trap. Know what’s important to your daily business life. Business isn’t a race but has a rhythm.
  2. Use your real voice. They avoid a marketing team creating buzz words or language to entice consumers. Be authentic and human.
  3. Connect directly. Speaking through social media allows the brand to build relationships with each customer. The depth of that relationship can’t be bought with advertising, it takes patience and time.

What sound decision will you make for your brand?

This post was inspired by Jay Acunzo’s podcast UNTHINKABLE. Check it out on iTune for some great stories and inspirations.

Need help with tuning up your marketing efforts? Text me at 919 720 0995 or email me at jeffslater@themarketing

Photo Credit: Grado Laboratories







Bowling with Customers

Bowling with Customers

Conducting market research is a key component of marketing.

Without an empathetic understanding of who you are marketing to, the world they live in, and what they care about, your efforts can easily miss the mark. But getting to know your customers first-hand can be tricky.

Several years ago, I advised a client to use an odd technique to help them learn more about those who used their software program. It wasn’t a traditional quantitative approach to research. It broke many of the traditional laws of market research because it was subjective and lacked true objectivity.

My advice was to invite their existing customers bowling in several cities. Bowling with customers – a chance to learn about your target audience.

Yup. Bowling. Bowling for insights.

Striking Up a Conversation

The idea was simple. What happens when members of your team get to hang out in the real world with clients? You meet in a neutral and non-threatening environment without an agenda but to get to know one another. The research wasn’t watching customers bowl – this was hanging out with clients trying to do the 7-10 split.

Up My Alley

  1. We got a chance to see customers as real people – not numbers, not revenue per click, but people.
  2. Through the natural flow of conversation, we got to hear them talk about our product (software apps/online service) without it being a forced discussion.
  3. Customers shared frustrations and passions about our products and services.
  4. We identified several opportunities and gaps in how we do business.
  5. At a modest cost, we could do this in the field research in five cities over a few weeks and gather some rich learning.

Whether it’s bowling, hanging at a winery or brewery or playing ping pong – market research can include a casual, lifestyle format for meeting customers. The research isn’t watching customers “in the wild” like P&G would do visiting family’s kitchens and watching them use products to clean a kitchen. But it does allow engineers, new product managers, and management a chance to rub shoulders with the people who pay their salaries.

Learning about your customer’s by playing together isn’t something to do in your spare time. It is real work that can provide rich benefits.

Could you use some non-traditional thinking about understanding your customers or clients? Let’s bowl? Or text me at 919 720 0995 or at




Organic Doritos: I’m Not Buying It

Organic Doritos: I’m Not Buying It

PepsiCo, the parent company of Frito-Lay, is introducing an organic Doritos product to try and penetrate Whole Foods and alternative, natural supermarkets. Under the name Simply (in large letters) Organic (smaller letters) Doritos (logo), this product launch makes little sense. It is like jumbo shrimp. Sort of an oxymoron.

  • It is like an inexpensive Cadillac, Lexus or Mercedes.
  • It is like natural Coke, or McDonald’s is a place for healthy foods.
  • Sorry, Snickers aren’t healthy, energy bars with natural ingredients. They are candy.
  • Hummers can’t be fuel efficient,
  • Ferrari’s can’t be family cars
  • Volvo’s can’t be sports cars
  • Four Seasons Hotels can’t offer cheap prices
  • Tiffany’s can’t sell fake diamonds

Sorry, branding doesn’t work that way.

Organic Doritos

A brand gets to stand for a promise to a consumer. Doritos are not healthy snacks and with over billions in sales, don’t need advice from me. But trying to stretch the brand name into Whole Foods and organics, misses the point.

Doritos are a highly processed junk food. For those who regularly consume them, they are celebrated and appreciated for exactly what they are. Doritos aren’t part of a balanced diet. They are salty and primarily artificially flavored and preserved snacks. I’m not judgmental – just describing what they are.

They can’t also be healthy and good for you.

The brand’s promise is junk food, snack, salt, and flavor.

It can’t be both things at the same time. By diluting the brand and slapping SIMPLY on the label, they aren’t fooling anyone.

Brands Need to Celebrate What they Represent

I have been fortunate to learn from some great marketers in my day. When I worked on Slim Jim’s brand, a consultant named Lew kept saying to me, stop trying to make Slim Jim’s something they aren’t. Celebrate their greasiness and artificial junk food quality. Don’t run from it. If you want a healthier snack food, create another brand that can fit in its place.

I learned this lesson again in the wine closure world where another advisor named Brad would tell me to stop running away from the plastic, synthetic nature of the cork. It’s okay for a segment of the market, and you can’t be everything to everybody. Brands must stand for someone not everyone.

Doritos aren’t Simply Organic

In my mind, Doritos are a processed junk food that I will admit to occasionally eating. When I indulge, I don’t kid myself into thinking I am eating something healthy. If I want healthy, I’m eating fruit and vegetables and non-processed foods.

Will Simply Organic Doritos come home with you?

Need help with a marketing challenge? Looking to increase leads, generate awareness or rethink brand strategy? I can help. Connect with me at 919 720 0995 or at

Photo: Frito-Lay




Thank You Fail

Thank You Fail

Is it possible to have a thank you fail?  This past year I had to spend over $10,000 to fix a broken water pipe and to replace an old air conditioning system in my home. Stuff happens – I get it, especially in my house built in 1989.

The company that did the work for me has been my HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) supplier for at least 15 years. 2016 – 2017 was a good year for them as I kept them very busy.

Thank You Fails

When a package came to me from them, my wife opened it up, and before she got to see what was inside,  I said, what do you expect a company will do to thank someone who has been a loyal customer for 15 years and who spent $10,000 last year?

Let’s see if they pass the marketing test of how to make your customer feel appreciated.

She said it is probably a gift card to a restaurant or something worth at least $100. I had the same idea – maybe they would consider $100 in some form as a token of their appreciation.

Inside was a cheap bag of candy and a preprinted note. It also included a survey and a business reply postcard from the company they hired to mail the bag of candy.

Really? Is this how you say thank you?

When Thank You Fails

As a marketing guy, I can’t help but provide some advice to my HVAC company.

  • Have you ever heard of segmenting your customers? Maybe those who have been with you a long time and spent a lot of money, should get something different than everyone else? Perhaps those customers who represent 20% of your income should have been sent something of more value than the other 80%.
  • What impression did you expect to send with a nickel bag of candy? Seriously, did you expect me to feel good about the work you did?
  • Both my wife and I felt let down. Had they sent a handwritten note, I would have felt better that they took the time to connect with me. But sending me a cheap gift makes things worse. My emotional connection to this company is less than not greater than after opening this bag.
  • The company in question isn’t a small company – they are one of the largest players in the world of HVAC in NC. Somebody must work in the customer service or marketing department and challenges this marketing fail.

By contrast, I had another experience with customer service this week. I went to complain at Whole Foods about a persistent issue I had with a certain type of salad greens. I explained my concern and they instantly gave me a gift card to reward me for helping them get better at what they do.

Their instincts weren’t to challenge me but to reward me. They had their assistant store manager call me to get even more details and to tell me to thank you for helping them learn from my experience. The most important difference between these two experience- is how they made me feel.

I felt Whole Foods cared about me and my issue. I felt let down by my HVAC company and their “thank you” was uncaring and insincere.

I felt let down by my HVAC company and their “thank you” was uncaring, insincere and I felt like “just a number.”

When you say thank you, the challenge is how a customer feels. Not the gift.

How are you saying thank you and how does it make your customers feel?

Need help rethinking how you say thank you? I have lots of ideas and experience with thoughtful, creative ways to show you care. Call me at 919 720 0995 or

Photo: Some guy named Jeffrey Slater




Just Half As Much – A Wedding Toast

Just Half As Much – A Wedding Toast

The following is the wedding toast I delivered to my daughter Fanny and son-in-law Tony on ~ September 3, 2017, in Wilmington, NC. Thanks for allowing me this personal moment to share a little story.


Just Half As Much


Welcome to everyone who has traveled from Hawaii, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, New York and all places in between. Today is a special day in our lives; It is an honor that you can share it with us.

Those of you who know me understand that when it comes to giving emotional speeches, I’m like Niagara Falls – nothing but tears.

So bear with me for a few moments and keep your tissues close at hand.

Today is almost 40 years to the day that Ra El and I walked down the aisle together on a crisp September 11th in 1977.

Fanny is wearing Ra El’s wedding dress, and it has sewn within it a small heart, that is from my 90-year-old mom Bea Slater’s dress she wore on June 16, 1948. Fanny also carried in her bride’s bouquet the lace from my mother’s wedding dress.

These dresses are part of the thread of a story about my family. This is a story about the fabric of love.

When our beautiful daughters Sarah and Fanny were little girls, Ra El and I gave them the advice any parent would give.

Don’t touch a hot stove.

Don’t cross the street alone.

Don’t ever leave home.

Sarah heeded most of our advice, and to this day she doesn’t touch a hot stove or cross the street alone.

She does, however, live 10,000 miles away on the beautiful island of Hawaii in Kailua Beach.

Fanny, on the other hand, never listened to any advice we gave her. When we told her not to do something, you could see in her eyes her course of action.

She would immediately do the opposite.

We couldn’t get her to brush her hair – or even her teeth for several years.

Fanny insisted that she could do her homework in the morning on the way to school.

She would tell me while eating her breakfast surprise that it was much more important that she finished watching the latest episode of Friends.

When we asked her to set the table, she put the fork on the right instead of the left because it made it special.

If I asked her if she studied for a test, she would change the subject and tell me how much she enjoyed dinner and that she liked how I reduced the sauce and added sage to bring out the essence of the flavor.

I knew she would either be a politician or a host on a Food Network show.

When we suggested to her that she shouldn’t expect Britney Spears to become her best friend when she grows up, she didn’t want any part of that foolishness.

Fanny did listen to one piece of advice that we gave her over and over and over again.

It wasn’t a lesson in how to roast the perfect chicken, caramelized onions till sweet or even how to bake a world-class brownie.

The lesson was simple. It was about the fabric of love. Ra El and I would tell Fanny –

“When you grow up, you should find someone who loves you HALF as much as mom, and I love you.”

Just half.

If you can do that, you’ll live a happy life.

One day, Fanny told us that she met a guy in Wilmington at the Goat & Compass. They were just friends, and if I have the language correct – they were just hanging out. Nothing serious.

She told us a few things about this guy. His family is from Virginia. He has a good sense of humor. And best of all, he loved the Mets.

As time passed, she told us that she is starting to date this guy – moving on from just hanging out.

She said he was fun and silly and kind. Those are three adjectives we love. Best of all, she said he made her happy.

As things progressed along, we knew things were getting serious when Tony made two requests.

First, he wanted to meet Bea Bea.

Second, he wanted to go to Milburn Deli (an important landmark in my childhood from NJ)

(This is the part when you can take out a tissue)

We are blessed with two magnificent, intelligent, imaginative, healthy, compassionate, beautiful daughters, and they have filled us with infinite joy and happiness – beyond our wildest dreams.

But we never had a son, until today.

We didn’t understand what that meant since except for me, our house was all female. Well, we did have two special male cats named Lt. Mango and Shambhala.

A few summers ago, Tony joined us on one of our vacations to Hawaii, and we got a chance to get to know him. We saw how he watched over Fanny and was always willing to pitch in and help. We could see that he loved Fanny and we all quickly understood what Fanny saw in Tony.

Tony is a loving, kind and generous young man of impeccable character. He possesses a rare quality. He listens when people talk and gives his full attention. And he genuine loves to live in the moment.

His heart is open, loving and filled with an appreciation for the simple things in life.

We could see in his action, how caring he was with his siblings, their spouses, and his parents. He is a good friend and has a big heart.

When the time came to get engaged, Tony came to Raleigh from Wilmington to ask us for Fanny’s hand in marriage.

The smile on Ra El’s face and the tears from my eyes said it all.

So, with my Grandma Fannie’s wedding ring, Tony proposed.

It appears that Fanny had been listening to us all along.

Tony met our test, and we knew in our hearts, that he was in for the ride of a lifetime with Fanny.

Together they will be able to withstand the bumps and bubbles that come in any marriage. (Did you know that between Coleen and Lee, and Ra El and I, we have almost 80 years of marriage).

Tony wants Fanny to be everything she wants to be and was there to support and help her on her career path.

And Fanny wants the same for Tony, willing to nourish everything he dreams about too.

So please raise a glass to Fanny and Tony.

We wish for both of you joy and wild, crazy happiness, now and forever more.

May you love each other half as much as we love you wrapped in the fabric our family’s love.


Fanny and Tony were married on September 3, 2017, in front of friends and family in Wilmington, NC. It was truly a memorable day. To watch a tribute video that my wife put together of old photos of Fanny and Tony when they were little and then when they met, click here.




Vinebox – Wine by the Glass

Vinebox – Wine by the Glass

Have you ever brought home a bottle of wine and found that you didn’t like it – but you powered through it because you hate to waste it?

Vinebox has a new idea. What if you could receive a sample glass that enabled you to taste before you buy the bottle? has created this business model for whiskey – why not try it for wine?

Vinebox, 1,2, 3

You start by taking a quiz that helps to identify your favorite flavors like strong versus light coffee, deep berry versus subtle stone fruits like apricots, spicy stuff like siracha versus mild foods, etc. As they build up your profile, you receive what looks like little test tubes of wine that fill a glass. You can get, for example, three wines from the Rhone Valley to determine which wine you love best. Then you can order a bottle of the one you prefer.

Subscriptions cost about $25, and you get 3/3.4-ounce glass vials of wine. The quantity is a little less than a full glass of wine.

They have three plans, monthly, three months or yearly with varying prices. They only sell wines not found in retail, so you are bound to find some interesting wines that you won’t show up at your local grocer or specialty wine shop.

Vinebox protects the wine from becoming oxidized through a patented technology. From my past life at Nomacorc, I’m not sure if this might not lead to reductive tastes since wine does need a little bit of oxygen to develop full flavors. They also ship the samples via refrigeration to ensure that the wines are kept fresh in the heat.

Each wine comes with tasting notes as well as the wine’s graphics printed on the vial.

Marketing Wine – A Twist

Some important lessons for marketers to observe from Vinebox:

  • How can you shift the business model so consumers can sample a product before purchasing?
  • Can you curate hard to find products that don’t show up in stores, so consumers have an incentive to purchase?
  • Wine by the glass in a restaurant typically costs $10, so their pricing isn’t much more expensive than you would find at a restaurant. Of course, restaurant markups tend to be very high (sometimes 3X) what you’d pay at retail.
  • The quiz idea allows Vinebox to customize your selection. Something that is on trend with consumers who love their lattes with a dash of this and a splash of that.

Subscription business models are trending. Getting a sampling of wine by the glass may be an opportunity to get wine into the mouths of more consumers.

Do you need to find a way to disrupt your category? Can I offer you a taste of something new? Call me at 919 720 0995 or email me at to connect. Care for a pinot?

Photo courtesy of Vinebox






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