Acquire, Synergize, Dominate
The old Banana Republic catalogs from the 1980s used to feature several vignettes about the adventures of co-founders Mel and Patricia Ziegler, where they talked about how they found this neat, safari-esque stuff on recent journeys. These were classics. They’re bound for some yet-to-be-founded catalog Hall of Fame. Personally, I looked forward to getting those catalogs and always spent at least an hour with each.
Around that same time, PaperDirect also was mailing catalogs. They had vignettes in them, too, but they were from PaperDirect product users — people who were employing the products you were looking at in the catalog. If your vignette was printed, you may have received lots of free PaperDirect stuff. These, too, were cool catalogs. Back when PCs were new and we were all learning the myriad uses of them, PaperDirect was there to help with neat letterhead, trifolds, envelopes, postcards and more.
Both of these catalogs were as cool as Duran Duran and big hair back then. They stood out because they had noteworthy editorial differences. Namely, the storytelling.
Another story from the same time period with perhaps an even stronger message, in part because it’s ongoing, is the Franklin Quest Co. Founded around 1981, Franklin Quest, with its Franklin Planner line, was one of several companies competing in the diary/planner space then dominated by Day-Timers and its Day-Timer product line. There were, and still are, several companies in this business.
But Franklin Planner surged ahead of the pack, primarily because of a move the company made in 1997. Until this time, Franklin was simply another player in the field. But then it bought Covey Leadership Center, merging the daily/weekly planner concept with the man who gave it all purpose in the 1980s — Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and subsequent works along the same lines.
Works for B-to-C, B-to-B
This particular merger offers several contemporary lessons, not the least of which is that it pays to cross B-to-C and B-to-B. Although the catalog doesn’t use Covey’s messages in the actual catalog, it has helped Franklin Covey become a leader in paper-based planning calendars.
Even by not incorporating Stephen Covey’s material, this growth has occurred. Why? The combined companies produce books, audio products, classroom and on-site instruction on productivity, “what matters most,” how to live a better life and related topics.
Franklin Covey also offers leadership and organizational alignment consulting services for B-to-B customers. On the B-to-C side, there were Franklin Covey stores in malls around the country, until recently. But overall, the company’s approach was to provide many ways to maximize the value of the planner product, and Franklin became pervasive in its niche.
The merged Franklin Planner and Covey Leadership became and remains a niche powerhouse. The synergies between these companies was good to begin with and has only gotten better with time. It didn’t hurt that Day-Timers underwent an ownership change and some other shifts during that same period.
But the result wouldn’t have changed if Day-Timers hadn’t been sold to ACCO Brands Corp. The momentum had already swung to Franklin Covey and remains that way due to the constant adding of pertinent content and services.
Franklin Covey’s success illustrates the need for extensive content. Becoming and remaining a leader in a niche always means added value via content. Look at American Girl. Pleasant Rowland (certainly a visionary) did a whole lot more than create dolls from various periods in American history. She commissioned writers to develop stories for each girl and published historically accurate books to go along with the dolls, creating an experience rather than simply a toy.
1. Franklin Covey co-founder Hyrum Smith saw natural synergies between Franklin Quest Co. and Covey Leadership Center, which led him to buy Covey. One such synergy was to offer a course based on Covey’s best-seller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” through Franklin Covey stores, catalogs and the Web site. Lesson learned: Any marketer should determine what content can help sell more of its products.
2. What Franklin Covey missed was using content from “The 7 Habits” and other Covey books in the catalog itself to give the book more shelf life. Lesson learned: If you own it, incorporate some branded content into your catalog and Web site.
3. The courses offered by Franklin Covey are designed to cross-sell the planner product and the Covey messages. All the activity helped Stephen Covey stay visible between books. Lesson learned: Have a content source with legs, a source that can keep on producing. Then help that source maintain a level of visibility with the target audience.
4. When Franklin Covey became a market leader, it said so. But before it was the market leader, it became the niche thought leader and also said so. Lesson learned: Develop enough content to claim the high ground in your niche as the thought leader; then say so.
Mark Amtower is a consultant and author in Highland, Md. You can find him at www.federaldirect.com.