Lessons Learned From the Client Side

Doug Poppen, senior brand strategist, shared insights into marketing successes at his past employers including Lowe’s and Bojangles’. Photo provided

By Amanda Long, senior account director, Hughes Agency

Endeavor hosted senior brand strategist Doug Poppen at its August Collaborators & Cocktails professional development series. Poppen, who has worked for challenger brands including Bojangles’ and home improvement retailer Lowe’s, shared insights into the marketing successes these companies achieved – often with fewer resources than their competitors.

Lesson 1: Sometimes, a great creative execution can help crystallize, or even evolve, your strategy.

At the same time that millennials were starting to enter the workforce, Carl’s Jr. was getting ready to launch the $6 Jalapeño Burger. In the creative strategy session with their agency, Poppen, recognizing that millennial males were especially high-frequency quick-service restaurant customers, wrote Paris Hilton’s popular catchphrase “That’s hot!” on a piece of paper and handed it to the creative director. Almost two years later, Carl’s Jr. launched the infamous spot featuring Hilton washing a sports car while eating that burger. While Poppen had left the company by then, he played a small part in one of the most controversial advertising campaigns of the decade, which landed on the cover of Brand Week. “You think about how creative impacts a brand. We had a strategy to reach what became ‘young hungry guys.’ The creative helped evolved the strategy to go beyond what it had been with less provocative creative,” Poppen said.

Lesson 2: Macro influences can create emotional and psychological states that should be considered and even leveraged.

During the six years Poppen worked for Lowe’s, the housing market contracted, and consumers spent less investing in their homes. “Macro influences, like the economy in 2008, were important for us to leverage,” Poppen said. In 2009, going green was a very hot topic, and former First Lady Michelle Obama was very vocal about health and wellness. Marketing research showed that 15 percent of people reduced their energy consumption or went organic on those values alone. The majority would only change their behavior if it would improve their fiscal well-being or health.

With a deep recession mindset, Lowe’s content marketing strategy’s messaging focused on energy savings that delivered financial savings and the benefits of a having a healthy home. They placed content from WebMD.com on how to maintain a healthy home throughout the store, online, and in other marketing materials. Lowe’s also partnered with Money to showcase statistics on Energy Star or Water Sense products as money wisely spent. They weaved in utility company rebates and government tax credits into their messaging to provide further third-party endorsements.

Lesson 3: Maintaining a genuine, authentic brand voice is more important than ever.

Poppen’s most recent post was as Bojangles’ vice president of marketing and corporate communications. A year into launching tailgate special packaging, sales started to level off and QSR in general began to decline. Bojangles’ changed their brand positioning to a home meal replacement. They encouraged customers to post how they were tailgating at nonsporting events and used Bojangles’ as a recipe ingredient through user-generated videos and posts on Pinterest. “The more we could get out of the way and let people share the love of our food, the better off we were,” Poppen said. “We were trying to tell people how good our food was, and it was not authentic. It is less effective than letting customers tell each other.”

Summing It Up: Thoughts on a successful client/agency relationship

As a career client-side marketer, Poppen shared what he thought made the agencies he worked with successful: “Demonstrating up front that you know the client’s customers as well as, if not better than, them is the best business development tactic you could possibly make.” One of the best retention tools is frequently challenging clients on and holding them accountable to the parameters of their brand’s message and voice. “Lead the charge to take an audit of all creative, put it up on a wall, and give it a grade for continuity and consistency,” Poppen said. “The agency that does that will be well-received.”

Endeavor, a creative, collaborative coworking community, presents a monthly professional development speaker series called Collaborators & Cocktails, where marketing chiefs from brands like Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton, and Nike share their marketing strategies.

Next Collaborators & Cocktails

Presentation by Tom Merritt and Mike Pereyo, OOBE

Sept. 12, 5–7:15 PM

Members: Free

Pre-registered Guests: $30

Email [email protected] for info


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