Greg Schumann on and Prosperity and Pitfalls: AMA October Signature Series Luncheon

Companies and careers are often shaped by their ups and downs – or, as Greg Schumann calls them, prosperity and pitfalls.

Schumann’s marketing career has been anything but conventional. He began his career in Chicago, but he’s lived and worked in a variety of cities across the country. He’s worked with publications like Teen People and Southern Living and even found himself with a seat at the table when Time, Inc., restructured its corporate framework. Today, he serves as the Vice President for local Birmingham agency Markstein.

Having gleaned such broad insight from a long and storied career, Schumann spoke candidly about the keys to prosperity, as well as what it takes to navigate (and in some cases even avoid) pitfalls.

Prosperity Tip No. 1: Master Effective Disruption

In talking about prosperity, Schumann led with a quote – one which many of you may know: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Famous words spoken by Charles Darwin.

Now, that seems chock full of wisdom as is, right? Well buckle your seatbelts because Schumann took things a step further.

That quote is about surviving. But what does it take to thrive? Because when we think about prosperity, aren’t we shooting for something a little more than mere survival?

According to Schumann, thriving is about anticipating the next wave of disruption and ideally being the disrupter, intentionally pushing for innovation and challenging the status quo.

Why? Technological disruption will only continue to accelerate.

Schumann’s exact words? “If you think this is fast, you ain’t see nothin’ yet.” If the rapid advance of technology has taught us anything, it’s that technology (and the disruption associated with it) is not slowing down anytime soon. Things like artificial intelligence and self-driving cars are on the horizon – can you imagine the disruption those will cause?

As the landscape continues to evolve and change, businesses must anticipate what Schumann calls an Etch-A-Sketch dynamic – when everything gets shaken up, erased and redrawn into something new. Companies that find success and prosperity are companies that are able to remain nimble.

Prosperity Tip No. 2: Carefully Position Your Brand

Another critical aspect of success is careful brand positioning. As marketers, this is something I’m sure we’ve all wrestled with. According to Schumann, a successful brand position must:

  1. Provide focus. It’s just as important to outline what a brand is NOT as it is to clarify what a brand IS.
  2. Illustrate differentiation. In order to be successful, a brand must specify what it offers consumers that other brands cannot or do not.
  3. Be easy to understand. Complex answers to a question about your brand’s position should be a red flag. Simplicity is key.
  4. Match perception. If public perception contradicts a brand’s intended position, then it’s likely not positioned well.

These concepts sound great on paper, but what does it look like when they’re actually applied? Schumann shared his first-hand experience with the marketers at our luncheon:

When Garden & Gun first began publishing, Southern Living quickly identified a need to outline its own differentiating factors and brand position. How did they do it? By creating a grid on which Schumann and his team could identify and plot their own brand position, as well as that of their competitors. Check it out:

The bottom line? Southern Living is for Southern Doers, while Garden & Gunn is for Southern Dreamers. Simple, easy to understand, focused and matching audience perception – Southern Living’s brand position demonstrates this close tie between careful positioning and company prosperity.

Prosperity Tip No. 3: Establish and Cultivate Company Culture

After outlining two tangible keys to success, Schuman offered one final piece of advice for achieving success: positive company culture.

Culture is so much more than a list of values or an eloquent mission statement. A company’s values must translate into authentic action and manifest themselves in operational, daily behavior—something that must begin at the top, with c-suite executives.

Schumann offered this not only as a key to success but as a preventative measure to avoid pitfalls. Positive company culture can facilitate success. However, Schumann also pointed out that crises often come as a biproduct of culture problems within an organization.

Which brings us to the antithesis of all this prosperity we’ve been discussing. What happens when things go south?

Pitfalls and Crises

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for the danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” – John F. Kennedy

It’s an interesting – and particularly optimistic – concept, really. Schumann asserts that if handled correctly, a crisis can present the opportunity to deepen trust, project and reinforce a company’s core values and even earn deepened respect. Not exactly the first thing we think of.

So why does it seem like so many crises accomplish just the opposite of that? It comes down to how the situation is handled. Schumann outlined the most common missteps in handling a crisis that prevent this more optimistic outcome:

  1. Lack of information and accountability. The perpetrator of a crisis cannot hide in the corner. Schumann even went so far as to say that absence in crisis is the kiss of death.
  2. Lack of contrition. It is absolutely critical – difficult though it may be – for the company or individual at fault to take responsibility and to authentically apologize for the situation. It seems simple, but empathy and humility go a long way.
  3. Lack of understanding of the implications. When navigating a crisis, one of the first steps is to identify your desired outcome—your goal in managing the crisis. However, what companies often fail to do is identify the repercussions and implications of their desired outcome.

If you navigate crisis with transparency, efficiency and integrity, Schumann is right – it can be an opportunity rather than a disaster.

At AMA, we have the privilege of gleaning wisdom from other marketing professionals (like Greg Schumann) who have both faced pitfalls and experienced great prosperity. Thanks to their insight, Birmingham’s marketing community can be better prepared—both as individuals and on behalf of the companies and organizations we serve—to weather the good days and the bad.

Interested in more marketing insights from successful executives in our community? Check out our next Signature Series Luncheon this November. Visit www.amabirmingham.org for more information. To find out more about Markstein and Greg Schumann, visit https://markstein.co/.

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