Sunday, September 2, 2012

Golf Marketing – Do You Have The Balls?

Back in 1999, I had started working in Esat Digifone’s marketing department when a large package arrived on my desk. It took me less that a second of shaking it to realise the package contained golf balls…

… 144 brand-spanking-new golf balls to be precise. Goosebumps followed, as they always do with new golf balls (or perhaps that’s just me).

The European Open, at the K Club, was only a few weeks away and, as co-sponsors, the Digifone office was buzzing as the merchandise flowed in. Umbrellas (those crazy multi-coloured ones), towels, packets of tees, t-shirts, hats… I ripped open the packaging and my heart plummeted as I read the word across each box: Pinnacle.

Now, no offence to Pinnacle balls – I’m sure they have some merits (although I can’t think of any at the moment) – but this was catastrophic. At the time I had a wide variety of suppliers, many of whom played golf, but not in my wildest dreams was I going to hand them these balls.

You think I’m a golf ball snob, don’t you?

I probably am, but you’re missing the point. Esat Digifone was (and still is under its O2 guise) a premium brand and it was co-sponsoring a significant international golf tournament at a premier venue. Pinnacle does not say ‘premium’ to me – far from it – and my suppliers would not be impressed if I gave them a box of Pinnacles with the Esat Digifone logo stamped on each ball.

The person who had ordered them knew nothing about golf, decided not to ask (despite the company having an active golf society, several of whom were in the marketing department), and simply ordered the cheapest thing on the list. And that was the big mistake.

Brand Merchandise
This applies not just to golf balls, golf or sport – it applies across the entire toolkit that is “Marketing”. You simply DO NOT do cheap when your brand values are the opposite. When it comes to promotional tie-ins or merchandising, you find a brand that matches your own and speaks to your customers/suppliers in the same tone of voice.

Do you see Aston Martin tying in with Swatch, Marriott with Lidl, or Denon with Bic biros? No, you don’t, and brands that decide to milk the golf bandwagon need to pay attention when they want to promote themselves.

Teacher Teacher
Here’s a case in point… and the reason for this article:

I was at the Marriot St. Pierre resort outside Chepstow a few days ago and I found a brand new ball in the rough. The first thing I saw on the ball was ‘Teacher’s Scotch Whisky’.

… so, what does that say to you?

Are we talking a premium brand here, or is Teacher’s a cheap, nasty whisky? I didn’t know (although I have looked it up subsequently), but I know the name well enough and made the assumption that it was a strong, quality brand.

I picked up the ball and was genuinely surprised to find it was a Molitor 422 – a Topflite ball.

Again, what does that say to you?

For me, it says that Teacher’s is a cheap brand, a bottom-of-the-pile whisky… which it isn’t.

It’s only a golf ball,’ I hear you say.

Indeed, but where should a company draw the line in terms of its brand promise: Golf balls? Umbrellas? T-shirts? Pens? Wine? Cameras? Mobile phones? iPods? Nintendo DSs?... These are all products that get ‘branded’ and get handed out to customers/suppliers/the general public as freebies.

If you run or represent a business, then you’re probably proud of the product that you provide. If that product is as cheap as chips – a stack ‘em high-sell ‘em fast type thing – that’s fine… chances are you’re not going to have a big marketing budget. If, on the other hand, your product is top of the range, a market-leader and international brand (as Teacher’s would position itself in the blended whisky market), then you find a product with similar attributes and you don’t take the cheap route because that will devalue your brand. And if budget is a problem and you can’t afford the more expensive/appropriate option, then I suggest you don’t do it at all, because there simply isn't any point and you won't gain anything.

So, the next time you find a golf ball with a company logo on it, take a moment to consider what the make of ball says to you about the company name so proudly printed across it.

As an example, and right next to the Teacher’s ball, I found a Titleist DT So/Lo, with the logo Legg Mason on it. Any thoughts on what the company does or how it perceives itself in the market?

And nope, I still can’t think of any positive Pinnacle points.

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