Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Small Business Saturday Is Almost Here

Small Business Saturday was started in 2010 by American Express to encourage shoppers to buy from small and local businesses.

By now, social media marketing is a standard for this themed holiday shopping day, which falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

On Twitter, @ShopSmall has nearly 50,000 followers. On Facebook, Small Business Saturday has nearly 3.5 million likes. On Instagram, it has nearly 12,000 followers.

Businesses and shoppers are encouraged to use #shopsmall and #SmallBizSat to identify social media posts related to Small Business Saturday.

Publicity is helping spread the word, as well. Search for "Small Business Saturday" and you'll see more than 229 million results. Some are links to small businesses and some are links to news stories, local commentaries, and more. The Small Business Administration is also spreading the word. I'm doing my part on Saturday!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hot Sauce Marketing Heats Up

Once upon a time--after the Civil War and into the dawn of the 20th century--Tabasco had the hot-sauce market to itself. Its famous concentrated pepper sauce spiced up bland foods drop by drop. Banker Edmund McIlhenny founded the firm, and his 2d great-grandson, the current head, sums up the original venture this way: "There was no commercially sold hot sauce before Tabasco. Edmund invented the category."

The now iconic Tabasco bottle is an example of early recycling in action: McIlhenny originally used discarded cologne bottles for his sauce because they were readily available, and users could dispense just one hot drop at a time. When he began marketing the sauce commercially, he ordered new "cologne" bottles because the size and shape made sense for his hot sauce. The bottle became so identified with the product that Tabasco trademarked the size/shape. You can see Tabasco on Facebook, where it has more than 3.2 million likes.

In recent years, new hot sauces have invaded grocery shelves, and competition continues to heat up. Huy Fong's chili-and-garlic sriracha sauce is a good example: It has become increasingly popular, especially among foodies, and also has a highly recognizable bottle profile and label, including the rooster.

Sriracha is such a "hot" food product that Tabasco now has its own version...as do other sauce marketers. Although Huy Fong's owner David Tran never trademarked the "sriracha" product name, he says the new-product activity in the sauce market increases awareness of sriracha and acts like free advertising for his, the original sauce of its kind. Check out Huy Fong on Facebook (240,000+ likes), where founder David Tran is the face of the brand. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Toms, Mission-Driven Marketing, and the Retail Experience

Stores are where brands sell. Retail experiences are how people buy. And that's why the footwear/eyeware firm Toms pays special attention to the nuances of atmospherics and community when opening its Toms Outpost retail spaces.

Toms is known for its "one for one" charitable program, an integral part of its mission-driven marketing strategy: every time shoppers buy one pair of shoes/eyewear, Toms donates one to someone in need, somewhere in the world.

When thinking about "stores," founder Blake Mycoskie focused on the firm's value-added strategy: "I didn't want to start with a store. I didn't feel like that added any value." His vision was that of a "community outpost" where people can meet, get information, enjoy activities, and--of course--view and purchase products.

The Toms Outpost in lower Manhattan, for example, encourages customers to hang up their coats or hats, sit and sip a latte, and browse branded eyewear and casual clothing or look at what community groups have posted on the bulletin board. It's low-key and allows browsers to explore the brand's values as presented in the retail experience.

The Toms store in Venice, California invites visitors to put on virtual reality glasses and see how purchases of Toms products make a real difference through the "one for one" program. In other words, the mission-driven marketing is on display as part of the retail experience.

By the way, Toms recently launched a line of shoes through a licensing deal with National Geographic Society. The Society's head of licensing stated: “Mission-driven products are more important than ever and this partnership celebrates a new way of thinking for brands and the good they can do through collaboration.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Newly Updated List of Marketing Resource Links

Looking for links to marketing definitions, trends, how-to ideas, and more? Check my newly updated List of Marketing Links.

You'll find more than 80 links to information about the marketing environment, social responsibility and ethics in marketing, mobile and digital marketing, marketing strategy and techniques, marketing channels, marketing competition, customer behavior, demographic shifts, and lots more.

At the top of this list are links to my glossary of marketing terms, a sample marketing plan, and a discussion of why competitors are stakeholders. Check back often because I update this list regularly.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Triumph of Multi-Channel Marketing

When Amazon tests physical stores, you know multi-channel marketing is here to stay. Left, the online pioneer's new store in Seattle University Village.

Unlike traditional stores, this one will stock only products that have been rated highly by customer reviews. (A "curated" merchandise assortment.)

With two decades of cutting-edge experience in Internet-based retailing, Amazon has a mountain of data and insights into customer behavior--so why have a bricks-and-mortar retail presence?

It's the next step in implementing a multi-channel marketing strategy, that's why. Here's a quote from the V.P. of Amazon Books:
"We've applied 20 years of online book-selling experience to build a store that integrates the benefits of offline and online book shopping."
Not coincidentally, the location of this bookstore is a few miles from Amazon's headquarters. Like all retail outlets located close to the mothership, this is likely to be a test-tube for experimentation and data collection. What sells well in a store may not sell as well online, and vice versa. If nothing else, it's an opportunity to see how shelf position and book characteristics (cover art, color, size) affect sales.

Naturally, Kindle products get ample space. And, naturally, customers have the option of browsing Amazon's online stock. So multi-channel marketing provides another channel for shopping and, in addition, another channel through which Amazon can observe customer behavior and hone its marketing techniques.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Micro-Moments and Mobile Marketing

It's official: When we want to check a price, find a coupon, or search for reviews, we use the ubiquitious smartphone more often than a desktop computer or tablet computer. These are "micro-moments" of consumer behavior when we have a need or want, seek information, or plan to buy--at that instant. And a large percentage of local searches using mobile devices results in a purchase.

All of which makes these micro-moments key opportunities for mobile marketing. 
  • Simply anticipating and having a presence ready for consumers who search on the spur of the moment can help a brand or product move into the consideration set
  • Planning marketing tactics that are quick and to the point for mobile interaction can be of benefit to consumers and brands.
  • Think of the customer's needs, wants, preferences and do what makes sense for them in their context. In that micro-moment, customer-friendly marketing makes the difference!
  • Speed is critical. If a marketing site doesn't load or a marketing app doesn't work in a micro-moment, consumers will move on.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Competitors as Stakeholders: Look at the Airline Industry

In my long-running series discussing the fact that competitors are stakeholders, this post looks at what happens to the airline industry when competitors make major changes.

The four largest carriers in the U.S. airline industry (an oligopoly because of the relatively few carriers who compete) are the target of a Department of Justice probe over "capacity discipline." Translation: Are American, Delta, Southwest, and United working together -- illegally -- to constrain expansion, which has the effect of increasing the pricing power of the airlines and therefore keeping up healthy profits? 

In the airline industry, "adding capacity" can lead to profit-sapping price wars as airline carriers seek to fill more seats by slashing prices to attract passengers (who in some cases might otherwise fly a different airline). During the Great Recession that followed the financial turmoil of 2008, most airlines found themselves with excess capacity as business and vacation travelers alike reduced their travel budgets. So for economic reasons, the carriers restricted capacity individually and, in that way, kept costs like fuel and payroll under control.

Clearly, if and when Southwest or American Airlines or another major airline adds flights, its competitors need to pay close attention. In fact, American's CEO recently said that although lower fuel costs are improving profit margins and can support more capacity, his airline won't aggressively add capacity in the near future. So America is maintaining capacity discipline on its own.

Yet Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said during an interview  that he's sticking to his plans to increase capacity: "Our competitors are always complaining about Southwest, and we're just going to continue to focus on running a great airline…" Not maintaining capacity discipline, in other words, which will inevitably affect the marketing strategies of other major competitors.

Meanwhile, airlines are looking at ways to increase productivity by increasing the number of seats crammed into every aircraft. This would boost per-flight profitability, but would be likely to decrease passenger satisfaction.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Open or Closed On Thanksgiving and Black Friday?

Bucking the retail trend, REI is purposely closing on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally serves as the kickoff to serious holiday shopping. Above is its announcement, shown on its home page.

Other retailers are resisting the competitive urge to open on Thanksgiving. In some years, the trend toward store openings on Thanksgiving sparked a bit of a consumer backlash, but online retailers recognize that shopping takes place any time, anywhere, and that's what store retailers are up against.

As of October 28, here are some of the highlights of who's doing what on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
  • REI has announced it will not only be closed for Black Friday, it wants to encourage customers and employees to enjoy nature with its #OptOutside campaign. An REI exec explains: "This is a unique moment to extend that period of thanks and really be thankful for all that the outdoor world gives to us." You can see the CEO talking about this decision here. Oh, and REI's employees will be paid for Black Friday.
  • Costco, Nordstrom, and TJ Maxx will remain closed on Thanksgiving but will welcome shoppers on Black Friday. 
  • Staples was open on some previous Thanksgivings but not this year. Black Friday (starting at 6 am) is time enough to pick up a new printer or toner cartridge or whatever.
  • GameStop is closed on Thanksgiving. But if you want to line up for Black Friday specials, the doors open at 5 am on Friday.
  • Dollar General will open at 7 am on Thanksgiving (and, for the holiday, close 2 hours earlier than usual).
Will REI's new movement encourage consumers to change their behavior on one of the busiest shopping days of the year? Maybe not, but #OptOutside is a fresh message and puts a halo around the brand to boot.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Robots in the Warehouse

Robots have been in warehouses for some years--but what's new is how robots are streamlining physical distribution and speeding customer order delivery by participating in the Internet of Things.

As shown above, robots are working side-by-side with Amazon employees to handle heavy, tedious, repetitive tasks. MIT Technology Review calls this human-robot symbiosis. Here's how that works at Amazon: "To encourage workers to see robots as companions, each unit is given a different name by an Amazon employee, and the name is entered into the system, so workstation workers can refer to them by name instead of a serial number."

Amazon recently awarded cash prizes for robots that (on their own) can read customer orders, gather and pack the merchandise, and have everything ready for shipment. Given the company's huge throughput and seasonal peaks, warehouse automation is needed to supplement traditional employee activities. That's one reason why Amazon acquired Kiva Systems in 2012 and renamed it Amazon Robotics.

Here's the vision of Amazon Robotics:
Amazon Robotics automates fulfilment center operations using various methods of robotic technology including autonomous mobile robots, sophisticated control software, language perception, power management, computer vision, depth sensing, machine learning, object recognition, and semantic understanding of commands.
Amazon isn't the only firm working on robots to collect orders and send them on their way. Fetch Robotics makes robots that carry bins and help warehouse workers retrieve merchandise to complete customer orders. Once a bin is filled, that robot peels away and another rolls up to continue helping the worker.

Clearpath Robotics is another firm marketing robots. It originally developed robots for dirty, dangerous jobs like mining. Now it has robots for warehouse use. An executive explains: "Our robots operate in collaboration with what human beings are already doing, meaning you can implement them within operations in facilities that already exist."

With customer satisfaction as the ultimate priority, what's next for robots in the warehouse? And how will businesses tighten tech security as the Internet of Things expands into more domains?

Friday, October 23, 2015

McDonald's Starts Its Turnaround

McDonald's reported good quarterly earnings for a change. Competition from other casual dining chains has been a problem. Also helping the turnaround: new menu items and revamped favorites with quality ingredients (like using butter in the Egg McMuffin instead of non-butter). Not to mention that McDonald's also figured out (finally) how to meet demand for all-day breakfast (promoted with #AllDayBreakfast)--results that should show up in the next earnings report.

The venerable burger chain is testing "customizable burgers" in particular locations--and also testing sweet potato fries and Monster energy drinks. The Value Menu (needed during the recent recession) could very well be the next revamp. Meanwhile, with ethical sourcing and sustainability on the menu, McDonald's is moving toward using only eggs from cage-free chickens little by little in the US and Canada.

For smartphone users, the McDonald's app provides directions to the nearest location and, of course, weekly specials.