Slam-Dunk Marketing Advice from the Host of Lebron’s ‘Cleveland Hustles’ TV Show

B. Bonin Bough offers ways to grow your business by soliciting meaningful customer input.
'Cleveland Hustles' will help Ceveland entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. (Photo: Keith Allison/ Flickr)

B. Bonin Bough has some advice for up-and-coming small businesses, and you don’t need to tune in to his new show to get it.

Bough was tapped by basketball superstar LeBron James and his manager Maverick Carter to host “Cleveland Hustles,” a CNBC series premiering August 24. The show will help eight Cleveland entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses with the advice and investment of Bough and local leaders.

The idea, said Bough, who is chief media and ecommerce officer for snack food giant Mondelez International, is “to create a model for revitalizing neighborhoods across America.”

“Using entrepreneurs as the growth engine for neighborhoods is huge. I don’t think people realize how big of an impact small businesses have on neighborhoods. So we’re giving these entrepreneurs access to our networks, investments, and chances they wouldn’t otherwise have. A lot of people don’t have access to capital to help them grow and we’re giving them funding.”

Bough has managed ecommerce for such iconic brands as Pepsi, Gatorade, Trident, Oreo and Wheat Thins.

The show, he said, will also “help these entrepreneurs to think as big as possible. A lot of entrepreneurs get stuck in having to deliver the day-to-day cash flow and don’t think big enough. I help them scale it up.”

He noted a scary statistic: “Eighty percent of small businesses will go out of business in the first 18 months.”

How can you avoid that fate? “The biggest key is being able to test your concept and being able to pivot when you need to make changes.”

Bough shared this market research advice for NCR Silver readers.

Meet customers face to face

A big part of testing your concept should be talking to customers. Communication is key, said Bough, and it starts with “listening to what your customers care about are talking about, and connecting with them on a continuing basis.”

Bough said the tools available to businesses these days to talk to customers make it easier than ever.

On “Cleveland Hustles,” the owners of Old City Soda were deciding whether to pursue a family-friendly concept or an adult beverage theme. Bough and cohorts encouraged them to do in-person research to help them decide.

“We asked them to test both in a pop-up environment and talk to the customers. It became clear that the adult beverage platform was going to be much bigger, and they focused on that. We sat down and shaped that into a real concept.”

Ask customers what they want

Bough said he advises business owners to ask themselves, “What are you providing that matters to your customers, and how can you continue to add value?”

That value could be beauty tips for a beauty product maker, or savings and planning ideas for a financial services company.

“I’ve become relentless about asking customers for their feedback,” said Bough. Social media is a great way to do that. “Facebook is a huge platform. With the click of a button I can reach 50,000 people and the feedback is instant. Twenty years ago that wasn’t possible.”

Start texting

“Text messaging is a real direct form of communication that’s been overlooked,” said Bough. He believes texting with customers is “the next generation” of marketing.

He splashed his own cell phone number on the cover of his new book, “Txt Me,” inviting readers to do just that.

Aim to go viral

The attention that comes with viral exposure is priceless. Bough achieved it for Stride Gum with a skydiving stunt in which skydiver Luke Adkins jumped into a net, sans parachute, on behalf of the brand. The video got nearly 300,000 views on YouTube.

Going viral, said Bough, starts with “looking at what’s being talked about currently and figuring out how to participate in that stream.”

In his first book, “Perspectives on Social Media Marketing,” he wrote about lessons he learned from big corporations that can apply to any business, and “how to create content that’s relevant to culture, that’s viral and shareable. For example, I created a virtual room for Gatorade where we talked to consumers in real time. You tap into what people are talking about and respond in real time.”

Use what you learn

Once you get feedback, “you have to sit back and digest what you heard from your customers and figure out what to do. Do you have service challenges [to fix]? Is there something they love that you can heighten and do more of?” Bough said.

“You have to take that and turn it into action, go from asking the question to understanding the answer and the implications it has for my product or service, to putting that into action.”

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