Commentary by Jonah Bloom

Best Buy Shows That Risking Failure is Recipe for Success

An Effie Winner Demonstrates What Makes a Good Marketer

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The Effies should be the most talked about ad awards in the U.S. Drafting an impressive cast of judges year after year, they aim to reward great ideas that get good results,
Jonah Bloom, executive editor of Advertising Age.
and are closer in that respect to celebrating good marketing than some slap-on-the-back-for-an-ad shows. It's just a shame that in recent years Effie night has taken place in the Dawn of the Dead Marriott in Midtown Manhattan and has been more epic than edited highlights.

Still, sitting through the long list of winners, which included the likes of eBay, Apple, Pepsi, UPS, Tractor Supply Company and Best Buy, is a chance to reflect on what makes a marketer a good marketer. A good agency never hurts, of course. But the most clearly recurrent theme uniting the winners is that they have simple, authentic guiding marketing principles that play out in everything the company does.

Taking chances
Increasingly, however, there is another common trait among the best marketers: the ability to fail. At least, the ability to try things without worrying about failure.

As burger burgher Larry Light explained in his insightful speech at AdWatch, the "positionistas are dead." You can't dictate to the consumer and there is no more mass market to be reached with a single message. In such a world, continuous innovation, testing a variety of messages and channels, becomes a necessity -- and that's going to mean misses as well as hits.

If you want to see what I

Best Buy's mintbrothers.com mini-film site is edgy but entertaining.
mean, take a closer look at one of those Effie winners, the $25 billion giant Best Buy. Despite the threat of commoditization of its core electronics products and despite a run of strong years, Best Buy's first-quarter results, posted last week, showed the market leader has continued to reap a healthy profit and has eked out an impressive 8.3% gain in same-store sales. In part, this success is due to good expense control, but more than anything else it is due to taking some (educated) risks in its marketing.

Thousands of possibilities
Best Buy takes an innovative approach to its marketing communications, melding an in-house team with a shifting cast of agency talent and an impressive array of top directors and photographers. It's an unconventional approach but last year yielded the solid, and apparently effective, "Thousands of Possibilities" campaign, as well as direct and promotional pieces that persuaded more than 2.5 million people to sign up for its loyalty program.

But what really impresses those who have worked with Best Buy is the company's willingness to "give it a try." Its edgy-for-the-category microsite and mini-film, mintbrothers.com, certainly reflects that philosophy.

'Lab' stores
It is also embodied by its approach to in-store marketing. Last year, for example, Best Buy identified 32 stores, some underperformers, some over-performers, that would be "lab" stores for new ideas. As the moniker suggests, the understanding was that sales and margins in these stores might suffer as it piloted programs such as new furnishings or personal shoppers for female consumers, but at least Best Buy would find out what works.

And they did, with same-store sales in the lab stores climbing some 14%. But that's not the point. The point is Best Buy risked failure -- and that, increasingly, will be a recipe for success.

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