Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Organic Growth from Earth-Friendly Books

No April Fools here. More books are going eco-friendly--sometimes in the extreme.

The colorful, award-winning kids' books from Priddy Books are going greener all the time. (This means the company's organic growth is due to going organic.) Now Priddy prints with eco-friendly soy ink, on paper that is partly recycled and partly from sustainable forests. The company extensively tests its products to be sure they're child-safe and meet strict safety standards for U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Barnes & Noble features a collection of earth-friendly books here, by iKids. And now on the way: iPhone and iPod versions of kids' books from iKids Play, which save paper in the extreme by going directly to the screen. Will kids be more interested in Kindles and eReaders if they learn to read on a small screen?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Brand Extensions Out on a Limb

When I saw the Disney Eggs commercial, I knew it was time for a new edition of "brand extensions beyond belief." Many companies prefer brand extensions to new-to-the-world products because of the perceived lower risk. But brand extensions (even when handled via licensing) don't always work out--and they can actually hurt the brand's identity if not handled properly.

Here are some unusual brand extensions that IMO seem too outlandish to last.

  • Disney Farm Fresh Eggs. This is the real commercial, not intended as an Easter promotion. Many people (incl me) pay extra for local farm eggs or organic eggs. But Mickey Mouse eggs? What does this do for the brand or how does the brand help the eggs?
  • Six Flags Roller Coaster Cuts. Sounds like fun but remember what Mom said about running with scissors? Another question: Why use the Six Flags brand when you can just call the company "Roller Coaster Cuts" and leave it at that?
  • Yankee Sod. Grass seed from the same company that supplies Yankee Stadium (DeLea Sod, pictured above). Will this fly with Mets or Seattle Mariners fans? At least the benefits have some relation to the brand. Does this mean your lawn won't last till the pennant championship?
Please add your least-favorite brand extensions to this list.

Friday, March 27, 2009

All Aboard National Train Day

Amtrak is advertising the second annual National Train Day, "the celebration of everything train." On May 9th, Amtrak will be offering train tours and lots more at events in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and dozens of other cities it serves.

Why May 9? The answer is in history: On May 10, 1869, the golden spike was driven into train tracks in Utah to complete America's first transcontinental railroad.

The marketing lesson: Trainiacs (as Amtrak calls train fans) can build a brand buzz faster than a speeding locomotive. Just for good measure, Amtrak points out all the earth-friendly reasons for taking a train, too. The National Train Day web site has the same retro graphics as the print ads (such as on back cover of April's Budget Travel). This being the era of social media, Amtrak has a Facebook page with 4,200 fans. It also has a Twitter account that seems to be dormant, at least as of today. All aboard!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blog Personality

Business Week recently mentioned Typealyzer, a site that classifies the persona of a blog writer according to personality types similar to the Myers-Briggs personality model.

I entered this blog's name and discovered that I'm classified as a Doer (see not-too-accurate illustration of Doer, from Typealyzer, at left). BW says that Bill Marriott is a Doer, as well, based on his blog. Here's the definition of Doer, from Typealyzer. What do you think?

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.
The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Skating under the Radar

Now less than a year away, the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics seem to be running under the radar--too bad. This week would be a good time to do some promotion, as the World Figure Skating Championships are underway in LA. But since the Olympics' early ticketing process is over and the next batch of tickets won't be released for several months, promotion is very low-key--too low-key, given the opportunity to reach core skating fans in LA.

Usually the ladies' figure skating competition is one of the highlights of the Worlds and the Olympics, grabbing much of the media attention. This year, with NBC owning the rights to air the Olympics and most of the skating competitions, it's chosen only to air the ladies' long program from Worlds on NBC on Saturday night, live. The rest of the Worlds coverage will be on Oxygen at weird times.

Shame on Oxygen for not even listing the skating programming on its online schedule page. Oxygen should take a break from the usual reality TV and show some reality on ice for a change. Bet there will be some plugs for NBC's Olympics coverage during the Oxygen coverage, however. I'll be watching.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Future Magic for Merlin

If you've been to Legoland or Madame Tussaud's or the London Eye, you've been to one of Merlin Entertainment Group's attractions. After Disney, it's the world's largest operator of theme parks and attractions, welcoming 32 million visitors annually.

Looking ahead, Merlin recently bought Underwater Adventures at Mall of America and is expanding with a new Seahorse Kingdom exhibit, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune (photo is from this news story). Merlin is also thinking about buying Busch Entertainment, which owns Busch Gardens and other U.S. amusement parks (oops, I meant theme parks).

If the economics are very good, these purchases will make magic for Merlin in the future, when shoppers start shopping again and families return to theme parks in droves. I'd like to see Disney have to compete for visitors.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Red Marketing for a Cause

Noticed those red products, red packaging, red ribbons, red credit cards in stores and online? It's time for (RED), the fundraiser to stamp out AIDS in Africa, a chance to do good by going shopping.

Here are some of the (RED) activities going on right now, linked to the JoinRed site.

In the UK, American Express offers (RED) Card. For every purchase on a (RED) Card, Amex donates to the Global Fund.Apple offers special PRODUCT (RED) iPods, iTunes gift cards, and other products. A portion of the purchase price is donated to the Global Fund. Put some purchasing power on your Starbucks (RED) card and every time you use it to buy a latte or breakfast at Starbucks US/Canada, 5 cents will go to the Global Fund.
Also red--for a slightly different cause--was Red Nose Day, held by Comic Relief every other year to raise money to fight poverty. Local Red Nose "Funny for Money" events culminate in a seven-hour star-studded telethon that this year raised more than 57 million pounds (about $80 million) for poverty charities. Go RED!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Crocs: On Its Last Legs?

Crocs--which makes those colorful plastic shoes with the big holes--is in trouble. Not just because of rampant knock-offs, but because fashion is fickle and money is tight. The company's auditor has expressed doubt about its ability to "continue as a going concern." Here's the management discussion from the Crocs annual report.

It's not an uncommon story: Ramp up to handle high demand while in style, then sit looking at unsold inventory when demand plummets. Without new styles to feed fashion appetites, Crocs can't build revenues and profits for a healthy future; without cash or credit to fuel product development and promotion, Crocs can't survive. By April 1, the company's credit facility will expire, possibly taking the company down with it.

Crocs doesn't stand alone. Jibbitz, which makes accessory charms that fit in the holes of Crocs shoes, might have a rough time if people can't buy Crocs. Some 5,000 stores worldwide won't be carrying Crocs if the company fails. Not a happy ripple effect, especially in this economy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Does Your Marketing Make a Difference?

Money is not the only measure of marketing success in today's challenging business climate. For peak long-term marketing performance, you actually need to set three objectives in your marketing plan:
  • Financial objectives involve the use of marketing to achieve specific financial results (such as sales revenue, profitability, or ROI). The Australian luxury retailer David Jones sets objectives for sales revenue, profit margin, inventory turns, and more—and it manages to those objectives while nurturing its customer relationships.
  • Marketing objectives involve the use of marketing to manage key relationships (such as customer or channel relationships) and key activities (such as product development or market share). Hormel Foods sets the market-share objective of ranking no lower than second in the product categories where it competes, as a way to build loyalty and combat private-label competitors.
  • Societal objectives involve the use of marketing to achieve social-responsibility results (such as improving the natural environment or helping the local community). Timberland sets objectives for making its products greener every year and uses Green Index labels to reflect the environmental impact of each product.

It's a mistake to ignore societal objectives in your marketing planning. Why? First, customers need a good reason to choose your offering or brand when they open their wallets. If you have a moral purpose behind your marketing, that may very well tip the balance in your favor. Second, differentiating yourself on the basis of social responsibility sends a more powerful message than competing on the basis of price. And third, by aligning yourself with ideas and movements that make a real difference, you earn the attention and admiration of customers, employees, suppliers, distributors, and other groups important to your organization's success.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The New World of Bowling

Between bumpers, snazzy electronic scoring screens, fancy lighting, and clean, modern lanes, today's bowling experience is nothing like the old days of smoke-filled alleys and scoring by stubby pencil. Neither is the marketing.

Here's AMF's home page, complete with fun offers for family bowling (such as the Madagascar cartoon character bowling club). For value, there's a dollar-off coupon for hamburgers at the snack bar. And for morale purpose, there's a breast cancer fundraising event linked to league bowling.

The U.S. Bowling Congress is doing its part to promote bowling for all ages, with discount coupons, awards, and Bowl for the Cure breast cancer tie-in. There's bowlTV and pages for youngsters, high school students, college teams, coaches, and more.

The bowling balls look more hip too, as this image from Storm Bowling shows. Even without this wonderful ball, my score was 130 today!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yanks and Red Sox Online

With baseball's opening day not far off, I took a look at the MLB sites of archrivals Yankees and Red Sox. Both operate off the MLB platform and are similarly busy, with video segments offered in top right corner and live coverage of preseason games in top left corner. Lots of options in the menu across the top of the screen, from the latest news to fantasy baseball info.

A countdown to opening day box is at center, so you know exactly how many days and hours AND minutes are left until the first pitch is thrown. These are unusually engaging sites with a wealth of interactivity so many clickable areas to entertain fans and tempt money out of their wallets.

At bottom left of both sites are blog corners, where the fans are invited to add their own blogs to the list of blogs rooting for Yankees or Red Sox. MLBlogs even have a bracket competition going, playing off the March Madness going on right now in college hoops.

Yanks are on Twitter, of course, tweeting the latest team news, as are Red Sox. Let the rivalry continue.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Heinz Toasts the Steelers

Heinz, which owns naming rights to Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh, has introduced a limited-edition commemorative 6-pk of ketchup celebrating the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl championships. Good idea for one of the world's best-known brands to make the most of its PA connections and link with the Steelers' victories in one of the world's best-known sports events. True fans will want the ketchup for BBQ season and beyond.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

83-yr-old Milorganite: Funny Name, Good Marketing

Milorganite is a funny name for an 83-yr-old natural fertilizer--but the stuff works, I know from personal experience. I was on the product's site today and noticed a new video about how the "stuff" is made. Here's a hint: Milorganite is marketed by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District. It was a green product before green was a good thing to be for marketing purposes.

Why do I like the Milorganite site? First, it's easy to navigate; when was the last time you could find the site map and understand it? Second, target audiences can quickly locate what they want. Homeowners can learn more about the product; retailers can download artwork and copy key phrases for their own advertising. Professionals who care for golf courses have their own pages to browse. And writers who cover gardening have their own pages to browse plus artwork to download.

Call to action: There's a store finder for those who want to know where to buy. The site's color and design echo the product packaging. It's Marketing 101 in action, a textbook example of how to promote a product's value.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ethics of Sponsored Conversations

Forrester Research recently wrote about the increased use of sponsored conversations (such as blogging)--and the post immediately provoked comments throughout the blogosphere and Twitterdom. If you read nothing else in Forrester's post, scroll down to the end and look at the excellent summary matrix of what constitutes a sponsored conversation, what constitutes advertising, and what constitutes PR.

Are sponsored conversations (in which bloggers are paid for writing or receive products or other considerations) ethical? Forrester says yes if (1) sponsorship is disclosed and (2) the blogger is free to say whatever he/she wants in his/her own words. Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang maintains a list of sponsored conversations in multiple media.

Other bloggers have added their thoughts to the discussion. Here's a Network World post against sponsored blogging; Conversation Agent rounded up a number of comments here; and here's a call, from the Intl Blogging & New Media Assn, for a summit on the issue.

IMHO, sponsored conversations are dicey. Transparency is paramount to credibility. That's why advertorials have to be clearly marked as such, letting readers know that they should be aware that a sponsor is involved--even if the sponsor hasn't seen or contributed to the content.

Same with blogging and tweeting. I follow some corporate blogs and Twitterers, always mindful of who they work for. If McDonald's or Starbucks or Dell sponsored my blog, it might influence what I say even if I'm not aware of that subtle influence. And it might influence what you think of what I say. Not worth it, is what I say.

Let me add that sponsored blogging/tweeting is distinctly different from posting on a blog that is sponsored by a corporation or brand.

To bloggers and tweeters who have no commercial sponsors, I say: Your independence and your unique views of the world are what I value. Let the conversations continue.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Crafts: Bright Spot in Dim Economy

Popping into Michael's or JoAnn's for batting, embellishments, and rotary cutter blades, the store traffic makes it clear that the craft business is alive and well. Entrepreneur confirms that crafting is doing fine despite the ailing economy.

In fact, at the arts marketplace Etsy.com, 100,000 independent craftspeople are selling crafts by, well, the basketful. The National Scrapbook Weekend draws hundreds of scrapbookers who swap tips, show off original designs, and enjoy each other's company as they put together keepsake photo and memorabilia albums.

The Craft & Hobby Association recently initiated Craft Night, encouraging people to gather with family and friends for a once-a-week craft evening. The CHA says "people can enjoy the financial, social as well as the emotional and extrinsic benefits of crafting, including sense of accomplishment, memory keeping, relaxation, and spending time with friends and family."

My hat (hand-embellished) is off to the CHA for a detailed explanation of the best reason crafts are doing well, which I can sum up in a word: FUN.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Marketing in Today's Economy

This week I noticed two views of how to reach out to consumers in terrible economic times. The fact that companies are changing their marketing indicates their understanding of the fundamental shifts going on in the business environment. Business-as-usual just isn't enough. Time for marketing change. But what kind of change?
  • FedEx Office (formerly known as FedEx Kinko's, a mouthful but at least it preserved the Kinko's brand equity) recently offered 25 free résumé photocopies to anyone looking for a job. The offer--with no strings attached--sprang from an employee's suggestion, according to Forbes. It's a good way to build goodwill and get a foot in the door for additional work when job-seekers are employed once again. At the very least, it's compassionate in a helpful way.
  • Quaker switched from a nutrition-oriented message for its oatmeal products to a positive “go humans go” message, says Stuart Elliott of NYT. Being upbeat might inspire consumers to view oatmeal in a different light and open their wallets. Maybe it's time for a change from those somber ads that offer price bargains or position brands as safe, secure, reliable.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Google Ads Go to College

Students at Luther College in Iowa are in charge of creating campaigns that use Google keyword search ads to draw attention to the college's academics, athletic programs, and music programs. Read the college's blog post here.

Rob Larson, executive director of communications and marketing and associate professor of management at Luther, says: “Our objective is to increase the ways we communicate with and extend the Luther community to not only prospective students but to alums, parents, friends of the college and other important stakeholders.”

Who better to design search-based campaigns for a college than its students? An A+ idea . . . and I hope the campaigns are getting great results.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Coupon Craze Changes Course

More consumers are redeeming more coupons to stretch their budgets as the economic crisis continues. Traditional printed coupons (such as the Valpak envelope shown above) haven't gone away, but marketers are experimenting to increase redemption and build brands with more than a "cents off" approach.

Example: Procter & Gamble is releasing a coupon booklet that supports three causes. Every time a consumer redeems one of these coupons, P&G donates to one of the designated charities. The idea is to appeal to consumers who are interested in getting the most value for their money. Restaurants are climbing on the coupon bandwagon too, hoping to bring customers back more often.

Some companies prefer electronic couponing, which has been around for some time, posting digital coupons to save on print/distribution costs and tap into online shopping momentum. Digital coupons reportedly enjoy a 13% redemption rate, compared with the paltry 1% redemption rate for traditional print coupons. Fast-food restaurants are especially interested in mobile couponing, reaching consumers who have opted-in to receive coupons via cell phone.

This is the time to experiment and see how coupons change customers' behavior. Depending on the product/service and customer base, mounting an e-coupon or mobile coupon program would be a small but key investment in tomorrow, despite today's economic squeeze. Target, target, target, and then test, test, test. Try for efficiency and effectiveness in this budget year. And stay true to the brand no matter what promotional technique you choose.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Circuit City's Last Weekend

This is it--the last weekend of Circuit City's life as an appliance and electronics retailer. Ten years ago, before the dot-com bust, Circuit City's home page featured a free e-machine PC (after rebates). Yesterday, as shown above from the Houston Chronicle, the shelves are bare and the pickings very slim.

BusinessWeek writes about the role of liquidators and the mountain of merchandise they have to sell to settle the affairs of failed retailers. So few shoppers, so little time to liquidate.

The list of once vibrant, now defunct retailers goes on and on and on, from Kresge's (which founded Kmart decades ago) to B. Altman to Zayre's to . . . Circuit City and beyond. As the textbooks say, the Wheel of Retailing never stops revolving. What new retail craze will come along? And which store will be the next to close its doors forever?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Baby-Boomer Barbie

To celebrate Barbie's 50th birthday (March 9), Mattel is sending the famous doll on an international expansion tour. It's opening a new Barbie store in Shanghai, a 6-story store that sounds something like the American Girl stores in NYC, Chicago, and other major US cities. Since Mattel bought American Girl in 1998, it makes sense for the toymaker to apply successful tactics to other product lines (like Barbie).

Forbes recently interviewed Barbie about her special birthday. The Economist thinks Barbie's conservative look and fashions may help Mattel weather the economic storms ahead. Fiat has even created a special Fiat 500 for the doll's birthday party, with Ken at the wheel.

Today's Barbie is tech-savvy, right at home in her online home. To see more of Barbie through the years, including this 1959 image, click here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Costco's Cost Plus Pricing

The March issue of Costco Connection includes a note from editor David Fuller, talking about the retailer's pricing policy (see bottom of p. 5). He notes that the company operates on a "cost plus" pricing basis, instead of a "what the market will bear" pricing basis. A quote:
The "cost plus" approach is based on the idea that a business can operate on a fair markup and still pay all of its bills; pricing is determined by carefully examining true costs, and profits are maintained by stringently controlling costs.
Fuller goes on to write that the pricing exemplifies a company that wants to be fair to all stakeholders, so "no need to be anything but transparent, to use a voguish word." Transparent pricing--new concept for my next textbook revision?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Getting Personal

More food marketers are offering personalized products via mass customization. Hershey invites customers to personalize a number of chocolate treats and gift baskets, as this Easter product shows; M&Ms can be personalized; and Jones Soda offers sodas with personalized labels.

The price tag for personalization is relatively low for a very memorable impact, as I found out when I ordered Jones Soda with a special label for a cousin's birthday. And I suspect that the profit margin is healthy enough to make personalization worthwhile for the marketers (not to mention the boost to brand liking and loyalty). Who will be the next food marketer to get personal?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Are Competitors Stakeholders?

Traditionally, the definition of a company's stakeholder is something like: "Individuals, groups, or organizations that are affected by or can affect the company's performance." The usual suspects are customers, special interest groups, regulators, the media, suppliers, bankers, distributors.

I like to add competitors to that list, because they can be directly affected by a company's performance and, in turn, directly affect their competitors' performance. For example, Nortel's competitors are specifically targeting its customers while the company is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, according to BusinessWeek. Doesn't that make Nortel's competitors its stakeholders?

Another example: Volkswagen is a key stakeholder of its auto rivals, and the reverse is also true. Quoting from MotorAuthority: "VW hasn't been shy about proclaiming its intentions - in 2007 it said that Toyota was its only real competitor on the world stage, and later that year set a goal of catching Toyota in terms of overall sales and financial success within a decade."

One last point: The traditional definition assumes that a company should consider how its decisions and actions will affect stakeholders. Of course, competitors are legally forbidden to discuss and coordinate pricing plans and activities (at least in the U.S. and Europe). But that doesn't mean a company can't target a rival's customers or set a goal of dethroning the market leader. Both situations would certainly have an effect on the performance of the company and its rivals. In both situations, competitors would be stakeholders of each other.

Do you agree? See my update on this topic here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Look Back to Plan Ahead in Marketing

If everything old is new again, then the Internet Archive is a great resources for marketers. One of the collections highlighted at this link shows pages from web pioneers of the mid-1990s (Yahoo! for instance). It's more than a lesson in the evolution of web page design--it's a great way to think about how people's use of the web has changed, how expectations of functionality and formatting have changed, how we as users have grown accustomed to certain conventions. Logos, web sites, products, all blasts from the past may become inspirations for the future.

And that's why I think "old news" can be "new news" when viewed through the lens of situational analysis as you prepare a marketing plan:
  • Know the history of your brands; know what worked spectacularly well and what failed miserably. This gives you background about how your brand came to be what it is today and the trajectory it has followed. In the process, you could rediscover an insight that will help you market tomorrow.
  • Don't change for the sake of change. A wise boss once reminded me that marketers tire of campaigns and packaging far more quickly than our customers because we spend months planning, months executing, months evaluating. Who wouldn't be sick of seeing the same thing for so long? Resist the urge to tinker because you want a change. Your attitude may not be your market's attitude.
  • Look at what's happening beyond your brand and your industry. Browse today's web, browse yesterday's web, wander through stores and malls, read and listen widely. You never know when or where you'll get a germ of a great idea as you analyze the current situation.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Twitter Economy

Twitter is the phenomenon du jour. A Google search on "Twitter" turns up 229 million results. "Twitter services" results: 45 million hits.

Clearly, Twitter has inspired a huge amount of entrepreneurial activity. It's also attracting a growing number of corporate users who see the Twitter base as an opportunity to get customer feedback, provide customer service, sell goods and services, or just plain polish their brands. (Directory of biz tweets here.) Twitter is becoming a center of economic activity around the world.

One example: Tweet Later, a site that helps Twitter users automate their "welcome" messages to new followers, track keywords in the fast-moving Twitter stream, and schedule release of future tweets (like time-release capsules). Fee-based services go beyond the free services and help Tweet Later's founders cash in on Twitter's popularity.

In the corporate arena, Best Buy's CMO uses Twitter to float ideas and drive traffic to his blog, where he posts thoughts and requests input. A few days ago, he blogged about Best Buy getting into the market for used/refurbished electronics. Last year he asked for feedback on a SWOT analysis he was preparing for the retailer--and received a number of thoughtful, serious replies. Now this is how to use social media for business advantage.

Will Twitter be overtaken by some new social media tsunami in 2009? Stay tuned.