‘Tis the season so my wife and I stopped by the Christkindlmarket at the Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. Once a year following Thanksgiving the city sets up a traditional outdoor German themed holiday market with small food & drink stalls and a variety of gift, ornament, and knick-knack shops, and it’s almost always packed with people shopping, eating, and drinking. My wife spent a few years of her childhood in Germany, so this brings back a few memories for her, and even though the crowds are a bit intense everyone is usually in a pretty festive mood (maybe from enjoying an extra cup of Gluhwein—a mulled spiced wine that isn’t on my favorites list but at least here in Chicago people seem to love it!). Two things I observed while we were there really struck me as good reminders that we should constantly review at our business model and our products searching for ways to re-package and re-brand in an effort to grow.
The day we visited was just a few days after the shooting at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, so security was tighter than normal. The Chicago Police Department put some officers on horseback—which is a great tactical move and a true re-packaging of personnel. An officer on horseback is very visible to all in the crowd, sending a signal of increased security. The officers also have a sightline advantage over being on foot or in a squad car, so their ability to observe any issues or potential danger is heightened. And if there is any need to make a quick move through the crowd or to “herd” the crowd in a certain direction if there is an emergency, horseback patrols are extremely effective. But also having these officers and their horses in or near the crowd drove a personal connection with the folks that were there. Even though their size is intimidating (the security benefit) people are naturally drawn to horses—especially kids. I couldn’t count how many people would pick up their young ones and walk up to the officers to talk and ask if their kid could pet the horse. This is a different approach than having officers in tactical gear in and amongst the crowd. Anyone who lived in or visited New York post 9/11 saw this kind of military security display daily. The times were different, and a more aggressive display seemed called for, yet it certainly wasn’t relaxing. Almost 20 years later here at this market in Chicago, there was a great vibe, the officers were “humanized” because of their equine companion, and yet there was no doubt that people felt safer because of their presence. I was impressed by this excellent example of re-packaging that achieved exactly what was desired.
The other thing that caught my eye was the seeming variety of food and drink options spread throughout this fairly compact market. Pastries and sweets galore. Beer, wine, and the aforementioned gluhwein. Hot chocolate, eggnog, and cider. Brats, sausage, sauerkraut, cured meats, warm sugared nuts, and yummy raclette. There we little shops and stalls positioned everywhere selling these different treats, and you could sit inside where it was warm or stand at an outdoor table or just continue to walk the market. But the more we observed and walked, we began to see that most of the little food vendors were selling the same products—just packaged and promoted differently and often right across from each other or in fact right next to each other! The spot that featured brats and German sausage also had the same schnitzel you could get 20 feet away—and that very schnitzel stand could also sell you the brat from the other place. The beer tent had gluhwein, and if you were in line at one of the gluhwein stalls—well they just might be able to pour you the same beer as in the tent! Customers were all very happy and seemed well-served by the variety—even if it was just a bit of a marketing illusion. Reminded me of how Starbucks puts two shops within ½ block of each other in busy cities, with each store looking just a bit different and on a different side of the street, seeming to catch the eye (and win the $) of a completely different set of customers.
You should challenge your team to re-think, re-imagine, re-package, and re-brand your own products and services. Don’t use this exercise to completely re-make or completely alter your existing offerings. Rather challenge your team to follow the examples of the Chicago Police Department or the Christkindlmarket vendors. Could you package your product in larger or smaller formats to appeal to a new set of customers? Or sell your product through some new channels such as a distribution or broker network? Could you use a 3PL (Third Party Logistics) partner to make your products available in new geographic territories, or to put smaller quantities of a specific product into a warehouse in order to capture JIT orders? Are you marketing your product or service through social media channels? If not, then engage some of your younger more connected employees to drive a test social media campaign for a specific product line.
Get creative and have some fun with this exercise. And remember–don’t focus on making major changes to your core products or services—you’re just looking for new and different ways to package or market your existing offerings in order to capture new customers and grow your top line. This should be an ongoing exercise for your team and shouldn’t replace new product development efforts. But re-thinking, re-branding, and re-packaging should be a key aspect of your innovation and growth efforts.
Use the strength of your current products and services, what you already have, as a platform for growth. Invest in your own team and help them to re-think, re-brand, and re-package your offerings, making this exercise an integral part of your daily/weekly management routine. You’ll improve your top line and get happier, more relaxed and engaged customers and employees as a result, and your team will have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day. Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.
Photo: J. Carbine