One of the cautionary tales for traditional brands in the Age of Digital has been the fear and delusion over new technology. At the Canadian Music Week conference last week in Toronto, a young broadcaster in the audience asked a panel of grizzled radio veterans why the radio industry has so often been reactive to tech, rather than grabbing it by the horns and finding ways to make it work.
Good question, and one that many people in legacy industries ask about their companies. Like the truck business.
And you cannot think of a more dyed-in-the-wool, American brand than Mack Trucks. Founded in 1900 in Brooklyn by John and Augustus Mack, this company is an American institution.
Interestingly, they've only been digitally active for a short time. Like many heritage companies, Mack has been slow to embrace technology, and the advantages and opportunities it brings in the 21st century.
Not anymore. Their VP/global marketing, John Walsh, recently talked about his company's new approach to digital, covered in a story by The Drum by Ginger Conlon:
“We're using every tool in the toolbox to amplify our message and sell more trucks.”
How's that for a mission statement?
So, what can radio learn from an industrial centenarian – an old, we've-always-done-it-this-way brand that was born back when William McKinley was president?
It starts with recognizing opportunities, as the Mack brothers did back in Brooklyn when Walsh calls digital a “marketing nirvana,” acknowledging how the truck buying process has changed. While most buyers purchase Mack trucks from a dealership, their “online research” has already started long before they walk into the store. Thus for a brand like Mack, website assets and search fundamentals need to be in place.
But Walsh is doing more than blocking and tacking. Mack has become a content marketer, serving up information and promotion, using a “central nervous system” – their email database – a topic we discussed in yesterday's post.
The analogies to the radio business are obvious. Ironically, Walsh's biggest obstacle is the sales department, often mired in word-0f-mouth rather than embracing the efficiency of a CRM system.
Using storytelling, Walsh is also building an arsenal of stories about people who spend a lot of time on the road. Mack isn't just selling trucks – they are glorifying life on the highways and byways of America.
Many radio stations simply don't collect and utilize success or listener stories, a lost opportunity.
Partnering with NASCAR, Mack now has a dedicated video pro who produces a TV series called “Roadlife,” now in its second season. (You have to wonder at what point it will also become a podcast.)
Walsh sees opportunities for digital to work on both a B2B and B2C level – connecting with both businesses and customers. He calls it B2P – or business to people – a clever way of expressing the ways in which digital can be used on multiple levels to achieve success.
Another area where radio can take pointers from this old-line industrial icon is in the area of personalization. Walsh says every contact point between customer and company is being addressed to ensure a consistent experience across all platforms. Mack has become a big believer in CX – the customer experience – another area where radio is often lacking or Missing In Action.
Mack uses the Oracle Eloqua platform to ensure their data identifies customer interests, allowing their marketing team to use AI to service up more content that's in their wheelhouse. Here's a :30 spot that lays out Mack and Oracle's integration:
But the story of Mack's digital transformation isn't just about swift, decisive, and strategic movement. Walsh's enthusiasm for digital, and what it can do for his traditional company, is infectious – an attribute that's become a prerequisite for legacy brands. He believes the more success he can demonstrate, the more support he'll earn from the executive team at Mack.
Here's how he frames it:
As we prove out this process over time, we’ll make a better argument for additional resources. And when we do, we’ll blow this thing up. There’s no reason you can’t be a 119-year-old brand, maintain your core from the past, and be a tech-forward company.
So, it comes down to 8 key lessons from Mack Trucks, an unusual teacher. But like radio, Mack's been around for over a century – an industry and a company that needs to adapt in order to thrive:
- It's about X's and O's – The basic need to be in place – the website, search – all the things many radio companies glaze over.
- Embrace content marketing – This is how the email database, social media, and other sharing assets can amplify the brand.
- Build success stories – When you've been around a long time, you've (hopefully) amassed some big wins. So, build on them and share them.
- Use storytelling – Mack's doing it with video. Others are using podcasts. Whatever the distribution outlet, storytelling builds audiences and advertisers.
- Partner wisely – Mack's collaboration with NASCAR is a perfect fit. Many radio companies are thinking along these lines – local clusters should, too.
- Think B2P – This is a great takeaway for radio. While managers must consider advertisers (B2B) and listeners (B2C), the concept of connecting with people is a universal.
- It's about personalization – Again, this is where the database comes into play, identifying your audience's tastes, preferences, and purchasing habits.
- Get pumped about digital – Perhaps Mack's biggest asset isn't its history or its budget – it's Walsh, a passion player on behalf of his company and the digital opportunities lie ahead.
In many ways, Walsh's passion echoes the company mascot, the bulldog, “signifying Mack's tenacity in getting the job done, no matter how tough the task.”
On the digital highway, Mack is definitely in-gear.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.