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BrainTrust Query: Note to Marketers - Remember your Grandmother

March 23, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Hanifin Loyalty blog.

The latest viral internet storm caught my attention, but not for the reasons 85-year-old grandmother Marilyn Hagerty is making the rounds of morning network news shows.

The story, in case you missed it, is that Ms. Hagerty, a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald for the past 30 years, wrote an innocent yet generally-positive review of newly opened Olive Garden in her North Dakota town. The gatekeepers of the digisphere picked it up and decided she had violated some unwritten rule known only to them. Hence the viral coverage, as some made fun of her small town nature while others have stood up to defend her perspective.

The case of Ms. Hagerty provides a great example of how we can outwit ourselves: The criticism started on Gawker and spread throughout the new media world. More than likely, the authors of these outlets are housed in highly urbanized metroplex locations like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami.

A quick view of census statistics shows that the top 50 cities represent about 15 percent of the total population. Of this, the critical "gateway" cities are about half of that.

The point: not all of us are chasing technology at the same pace and even fewer of us have interest in the many individual technologies that are becoming part of social loyalty schemes.

Tactics and technologies that lead to consumer engagement in New York and Miami may not merit a whisper in interior sections of our nation. And just like in political elections, we are reminded that every person's vote counts the same. That's why politicians campaign in places where they are neither comfortable or interested in outside of the campaign, and that's why retailers and others should adapt marketing strategy by region and population segment.

If there's one lesson I remember from the early days of loyalty marketing, it's that "not all customers are the same nor are they created equal." To be successful, you have to keep your audience in mind and be willing to go all-in with technology in some markets while sending out catalogs in others.

It's a wonderful world.


Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: What lessons should Marilyn Hagerty's viral experience offer to retailers and marketers? What might this say about tailoring marketing messages to consumers living outside of large metro areas in America?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

To what degree are many of the emerging social and technological marketing approaches irrelevant to the majority of Americans?


There are a lot more Marilyn Haggertys out there than the so-hip-it-hurts crowd wants to admit. And there are a lot more Grand Forks out there than there are gateway cities. And, in Not Gateway City, America the opening of a new place to eat -- chain or five star independent chef -- is big news.

I grew up in a decidedly non-Gateway city in Utah where the big news each month was when the gun display rotated in the lobby of the Bank of Utah. It isn't all triple foam peppermint lattes out there.

So ... there are two lessons for marketers. There are a lot of Marilyns out there leading ordinary predictable lives and, in aggregate, they've got a ton of money to spend so they shouldn't be ignored. And, oh yeah ... they don't share your bleedy edge tastes or values, that bottomless salad bowl is good enough for them as long as the lettuce is fresh.

The other lesson is that discrimination comes in many forms. It's easy to ridicule what you don't understand ... the other; the one who is different. Of course that makes it hard to sell them anything, so the last laugh is usually with them, at your product's expense.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

This incident will eventually be a case study for marketers, but I'm not sure what it will end up saying in total. For now, the best I can figure is that things are often a lot simpler than they seem for marketers. Give people a place to eat that has decent service and food, and the odds are many people will like it, even if it is a chain. The other thing is that there are many outspoken individuals on blogs, news sites, Twitter, etc., and many of them seem to have a snide or rude comment about any and all topics and people. And, they usually go by names like "Anon Y Mos." With the level of discourse so low on social media, should marketers take another look at how great a marketing vehicle SM really is?

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Al McClain, CEO, Founder, RetailWire.com

Good manners and inclusionary behavior can be found in both the country and the city. But their opposites can also be found everywhere. Having grown up on a rural dairy farm, then spending about 30 years in NYC and environs, and now back in rural Vermont, I've seen it from both sides. It can get ugly, and it all stems from an underlying fear of someone perhaps being better than you or having power over you. As a kid, I egged cars with NY plates; as a young fresh arrival in NYC, I ridiculed country bumpkins. (Sigh.) Few of these fearful folk respond well to hugs; the others, it's just best to ignore them and let them go on their way. I would have dinner with Marilyn anytime.

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

Good one Bill ... I am certain the operations and design folks at Olive Garden truly appreciated Marilyn's very apt descriptions of the "store" and dining experience. You certainly got an accurate picture of the place. She has her 15 minutes of fame and now a following. Not quite sure what will follow, but if she wanted to get out of the newsroom and become a spokesperson for Olive Garden I wouldn't be surprised if they haven't already approached her. One personal note, I understand why Marilyn didn't throw any kudos to the chef; never been impressed with the flavor or presentation of their food, but if you are a big-eater, it is a great value for the money!

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

This is a great example demonstrating that consumers are not the same, have different values, and uses different criteria for making decisions. One size does not fit all. "Walk a mile in their shoes" does not seem to apply as a way to understand the perspective of others. Disdain and ridicule of others seems to be the quick response rather than trying to understand. If retailers skip the understanding part they will lose sales. Local understanding of consumers is important.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

Ryan's remarks are insightful. Marilyn Hagerty, like millions of "other" Americans, lives and spends her income in a world that is ignored in New York, Miami, LA and much of the national media. Nonetheless it exists solidly as steel even if it isn't trying to mold the changing American culture.

Judging from her age and location, Marilyn grew up during the Great Depression in a location without any Tiffanys. Back then, many people lived by multi-tasking other things than is done today.

Why ... even saving string was fashionable in many places. Gratification depended on patience not immediacy. So, without repeating them here, I agree with Ryan's messages on tailoring to the millions of consumers living in today's overlooked tundras. And, yes, the Olive Garden probably is the best restaurant in Grand Forks, N.D. and the people there appreciate it. So kudos to Olive Garden.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

While this matter was treated as humorous among the elite restaurant critics, Marilyn Hagerty should be taken very seriously by retailers and marketers.

I remember when I first heard this -- her review of the Olive Garden was genuine and honestly descriptive of how she felt! Second, she has the knack to connect with her age demographic and let's be honest -- these are the ones who like to go out and eat during the day while the young people are at work.

In today's society, we keep looking for "young and fresh," who do not connect with persons such as Marilyn Hagerty, who are loyal and easy to please customers that can add to the bottom line.

The moral of the story is marketing firms and retailers probably need to start recruiting talent like Marilyn Hagerty to reach a wider audience than the 18-35....

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

Case in point about "chasing technology." Many companies are pushing mobile almost to the point of ignoring everything else, yet where I live only about 10% of the phone users have smart phones.

Print is still very powerful up here. Many Internet users are still on dial-up or DSL and barely read email, let alone "media rich" websites.

Paul Sikkema, Owner, Todaysmower.com

The Marilyn story and its message about inclusivity and "real America" juxtaposed against the Macy's millennial story on RetailWire today is quite interesting. Did you guys do that on purpose to challenge our thinking?

Also, I agree with the many other commenters who have focused on the snideness and rudeness which too often borders on cruelty -- and unfortunately seems to infest so many social networking and blog sites. This is absolutely killing the opportunities for social and technological marketing approaches to many adults who refuse to put up with the static and nonsense.


Never been to Grand Forks, but on Yelp there are many restaurants listed, some chain, some local.

That being said, I can remember when Walmart meant a town had "arrived," before it was known as a "Main Street" killer. When the Bennigans's opened in my college town it was great because there was a "fancy restaurant" to go to.

Bottom line, marketers and "comment leavers" need to keep in mind that there are many definitions of "good" depending on location, personal experiences and timing. Doesn't a Bud taste really good after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day? Also, a lot of style and eating out is aspirational. Getting the "chains" just like the "big city" is a big deal in some "small towns."


Regardless of what the pundits, analysts, marketers, and consultants say about how today's consumers are shopping, bottom line, the vast majority of consumers are not eating healthy, nor are they technologically savvy so much so that they are using their mobile devices for everything from shopping lists to location based services. US consumers are just looking for satisfying products (good food, fashionable clothes, dependable appliances, etc.) at prices that represent good value. I think it is less an issue of metro areas vs. rural.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

Good to see that there is "heart" in the heartland of RetailWire contributors.

I read just today in a study that Millennials are enamored with research of the items they buy somewhat out of necessity. They've grown up in tougher economic times and the technology allows them to gather more info and make more considered decisions.

If I were researching a place to eat in Grand Forks, the honest "no agenda" review by Mrs. Haggerty would get my attention, no matter how small-townish it may appear on the surface.

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Bill Hanifin, CEO, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

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