Commentary

The CMO's Slam Dunk

After putting up numbers in February for the ages, Jeremy Lin may now be the man who fell to earth. Still an aggressive and eminently watchable player on the court, Lin’s time in the spotlight has cooled and his bench is getting warmer. He scored just six of 121 points in the Knicks' first win in March against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Other teams have figured him out, and while he might rebound, this dynamic gives us pause when considering celebrity endorsements. How do we know when an athlete has staying power? Can we predict the transactional value of that athlete toward the bottom line?

As a brand himself, Lin has three winning attributes that create equity: value in terms of services and products (Lin’s surprising skill and branded sportswear); content (Lin is a self-effacing, Ivy League-educated and religious man who credits his teammates and managers); and word-of-mouth (that all-powerful multiplier, which in his case, started with mass media and mushroomed on social media.) Lin’s Twitter following alone has 650,000 followers.

But we’re still missing part of the equation. We have not yet gotten to the heart of what really matters: monetary returns.

On one hand we have an instant hero -- let’s recall that he was unheard of when he played at Harvard -- who has powerful athletic and marketable attributes combined with some element of surprise. On the other hand, brands working with him are managing against a spike in time -- Lin simply hasn’t been recognized long enough to show that he has staying power (although Nike is making a big bet that he does.)

Indeed, time is what any brand needs to multiply the power of value, content and word of mouth. And when a brand has all four factors, it is on its way to creating reoccurring behaviors in people’s lives, i.e. all that engagement, builds loyalty, and keeps them coming back for their favorite products.

So does adding a celebrity layer to advertising and promotions add any value?  

A 2011 study by research company Ace Metrics concluded that ads with celebrity endorsers often have incredibly low effectiveness scores.  In fact, consumers often cited "confusion" about what product the celebrity was endorsing!

With that in mind, I’d like to recommend that CMOs ask themselves the following questions when evaluating any star performer for a possible celebrity endorsement that will deliver to the bottom line:

*   Do her/his attributes lend themselves to my corporate brand?

*   How can I transfer this person's equity legitimately to my brand and vice versa?

*   What types of content can we produce around him/her that will help our brand engage with our most valuable         customers?

*   Does my organization have the analytical tools to know when this celebrity is driving transactions and when he/she isn’t, and then act on that information?

*   Does this guy help me tell a short story for my brand—is he only good for the short term? Or is she a novel with cliff-hanging chapters that keep my customers coming back?

*   Does this person add life-enhancing value to my customers beyond his/her breakout moment?

*   Does this celebrity flow through the entire customer journey in a way that does not seem forced? In a way that makes people feel good and rewarded for their purchases?

*   Can experiences with the celebrity lead to loyalty, and again, more purchases?

When the investment level is this high, CMOs need to think about long-term, hard-core business results. That’s the only slam dunk that matters.

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