June 26, 2012

Final article in a three-part series on marketing basics

by Joy Parr Drach, Entira

That headline conjures up a pretty bizarre image, doesn't it? Imagine what school would be like with Jimmy at the helm: Flip flops as part of a required dress code, margaritas and sponge cake for lunch, and spring break year-round.  But seriously, we can all learn a lot about positioning food and ag products from Jimmy's successes and missteps. After all, he's not really a great singer; for most of his career he's had only one Billboard Top 10 hit, "Margaritaville," and that was way back in 1977. But he is great at positioning. And he has an estimated annual income of more than $40 million to prove it.

Learning from Jimmy Buffett's successes ...

  • Zig where others zag. If you've segmented your audience and selected your targets (our two previous articles in the series), positioning is mainly connecting the dots between what your targets want and what you have to offer - and having a unique position you can legitimately "own" in the minds of the right prospects. It took Jimmy most of the '60s to figure this out. When he first landed in Nashville, he tried to make it singing the same stuff as the chart-toppers of the day. But his career was going nowhere fast - until he developed his own brand of tropical island-folk-rock. This new style was the perfect positioning because it fit his beach bum style and was narrow enough to be meaningful, yet broad enough to appeal to a large attitudinal segment. (After all, who couldn't use a little escape to the islands?) Plus, no one else occupied that space in the market.
  • Some agri-marketers have also figured out how to stand out from the pack. For example, in the '90s, Counter insecticide took an "I am responsible" position at a time when all the competition focused on performance. Some thought Counter was taking a risk addressing safety concerns head-on, but that's what separated the brand and fueled its success. For agri-marketers, the challenge is that you have to be willing to give up something in order to own a position. Simply put, this means you can't try to be all things to all people. That just results in a watered-down, easy-to-forget position.
  • Leverage your success with line extensions. Once you've established your brand and your positioning is right, cross-sell and extend your success. Jimmy's the master of maximizing profitability with line extensions beyond albums and concerts. He started with restaurants - à la Margaritaville. The chain has grown from its first location in 1987 to 16 today, including Margaritaville Café in Las Vegas, reportedly America's top grossing restaurant. Jimmy's also authored books, co-developed the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chain, created Radio Margaritaville on Sirius, designed clothing and drink blenders, and launched Landshark Lager with then Anheuser Busch and Margaritaville Tequila by Seagram. Now, even hotels and casinos are in the works. 

And Jimmy's lapses in judgment ...

Stay true to your position. This is one place where Jimmy stumbled, but even his "failure" provides a valuable lesson. You see, Jimmy never got over Nashville spurning him at the start of his career, and some 40 years later, he released a country album, "License to Chill." Being a savvy businessman, he pulled in all-star line-up of popular country talent for duets, a move that helped with album sales - on the Country and Western charts. But Jimmy's brand stands for the average Joe's island vacation without ever leaving home, not lousy country vocals, and the album just didn't match his core customers' expectations. It's a little like a seed company trying to hang onto a "technology that yields" position when theirs doesn't anymore.

So, the next time you hear a tropical island-folk-rock song, think about Jimmy Buffett's positioning lessons for agribusiness. Better yet, email mkarst@entira.net. Let's put our "parrotheads" together to come up with the best positioning strategy for your company.

This article appeared in the March 2009 issue of Strategic Agribusiness Review.