Thursday, December 31, 2009

Levi Strauss Says: Wear Responsibly

A recent BusinessWeek blog post comments on Levi Strauss's addition of a new phrase to the care instructions for its jeans: "Donate to Goodwill when no longer needed and care for our planet."

This is sustainability in action from product cradle to grave (at least as far as the original purchaser is concerned). Levi Strauss devotes a page on its site to the idea that buyers should act responsibly by washing jeans in earth-friendly ways and donating unwanted jeans so they have new lives with other buyers, keeping landfills unclogged as long as possible.

Should brands preach sustainability? Well, why not? If it saves even one pair of jeans from prematurely entering a landfill, and someone else benefits from secondhand clothing, everybody wins. Buyers are free to do what they like, of course, but it makes sense to at least suggest a way to save the planet. Happy green new year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blu-ray Prices Plummet

Just in time for gift-giving season, prices of Blu-ray DVD players have plunged. Even industry insiders didn't expect prices this low.

The chart at left, by Envisioneering Group, shows that Blu-ray players are priced below regular DVD players at each point in the product life cycle--even though Blu-ray delivers better quality and the players have more functionality than ordinary DVD players. Consumers have more choices than ever before and retailers are enjoying the boom in demand for home entertainment products.

Now that Blu-ray players are low-priced and plentiful, brands that want to differentiate themselves as innovative and cutting-edge will look toward the next big thing in entertainment technology. Will it be 3D?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Visual Equity

Professor Pierre Chandon of INSEAD writes that unless a brand has the immediate eye-catching recognition of a Coca-Cola, "it's important to be visible on the shelves."

One item facing outward on the shelf (with extra stock lined up behind it) is a single facing. Two identical items displayed next to each other = two facings. A higher number of facings means more visual equity, leading to an increase in the product being noticed, and a higher likelihood that it will be purchased.

As basic as this sounds, it's even more challenging today, when retailers like Walmart are trying to lower inventory costs by stocking only the most popular items instead of every variety of every brand in every category. As a result, a very popular product might get more facings but less-popular items would get fewer facings or even be deleted from the merchandise mix.

According to Prof. Chandon, doubling shelf facings increases the percentage of people who notice the product by about 28 percent and increases the possibility that the product will be put into the shopping cart by about 10 percent. More facings will have an even more dramatic effect on purchases of low-market-share brands.

Slotting fees are one way to get more facings, but such fees (paid to retailers to get a product into a prime shelf location) are controversial. The ideal situation, of course, is for customers to be so eager for your product that retailers want to give it a prime position, without any additional payment for the added visual equity.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Got Despair?

Ray, a friend who appreciates irony, introduced me to Despair, Inc. and its droll humor. We marketing gurus (aka marketing divas) can order a calendar with this saying on the front cover:

Marketing: Because making it look good now is more important than providing adequate support later.

Or if you're tired of hearing execs endlessly chatting up the benefits of teamwork, how about this Despair quotation:

Teamwork: A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.

Tis the season to smile and poke a little fun at tired business truisms. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Home Page Advantage

A company's home page is its face to the world. And what a home page Patagonia has, at least today. This is a spectacular photo that communicates what the company stands for and what its customers aspire to. My hat (or helmet) is off to Patagonia, which has a visual home page advantage. This tiny image doesn't do it justice.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Time for a Tiger Apology

Imagine this statement:

"I apologize--to my wife, to my children, to my parents, to the PGA Tour, to sponsors, to the legion of Tiger Woods fans, who I know are stunned and disappointed. In the process of cheating on you, I have cheated myself."

William C. Rhoden, a New York Times columnist, suggests that the world's best and most disgraced golfer step up to the microphone and say exactly that, in person. I agree.

Already, some of Tiger's sponsors are stepping back (Gillette is limiting his involvement in its marketing activities and Accenture removed his image from the home page). Gatorade says it had already decided to discontinue Gatorade Tiger (image above), even before recent revelations. So far, Nike is sticking with Tiger.

It's time for a full and heart-felt apology. Nothing less will do.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Does Your App Measure Up?

So many apps, so little time. Does your app measure up as a marketing add-on?
  1. An app must deliver user value. Your app must be more than a one-time gimmick to retain the user's attention and be allowed to take up space on an electronic device. Think about the problem it will help users solve, the convenience it will offer, the time or money it will save users. Will your app help users compare products, check prices, save time, replace a phone call or a personal visit? Will it help users achieve a personal or professional goal? Of course apps must also be attractive, professional, and even entertaining, not just functional.
  2. An app must add value to your marketing. Don't jump on the app bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it. An app must help you achieve your marketing objectives, if only in some small way. Or it must help reduce/remove barriers to achieving your objectives. Your app should not create a lot of extra work for you and your staff, or increase costs without a corresponding increase in sales or customer relationships. The bottom line is that an app isn't right for you if it doesn't bring your business some benefits.
  3. Know what you want to achieve. Are you trying to boost traffic to your retail web site? Promote a specific offering? Increase referral business? Also define the ways in which you'll measure progress toward your objectives and how often you plan to check progress with appropriate metrics. Otherwise, your app will be a tactic in search of a strategy.
Small businesses are starting to leverage apps for marketing advantage. A recent WSJ article mentioned a Honda dealer in Ohio that offers an app for users to view photos and videos of cars for sale and to make service appointments. An app offered by the Founding Farmers restaurant in Washington, D.C., lets users reserve tables or book a party. These are only a few examples of apps that measure up.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas or Holiday Marketing?

Brandweek notes that no matter which way brands turn, they may very well be criticized for wishing buyers a hearty "Merry Christmas" or a neutral "Happy Holidays" or whatever.

The Gap is being especially inclusive with its Gap Cheer Factory, where you can click to personalize an e-mail card for Happywhateveryouwannakah. A little humor might go a long way, but of course what makes me smile might make someone else frown or boycott.

A few years ago, Walmart began to reinsert the word "Christmas" back into its year-end holiday marketing. I just checked its web site and I notice that "holiday" is as prominent as "Christmas" on many pages, such as here. Kmart has a "Christmas Countdown" and the phrase "Bring Home the Holidays with Kmart" on its site. Costco offers "Toys for the Holidays" as shown in the graphic above, but no mention of Christmas on its home page (as of today). Target, on the other hand, features a "Christmas Delivered" tag line and graphics on its home page.

It's beginning to feel a lot like . . . holiday time. Hanukkah starts this weekend, and Christmas is coming up quickly. Will shoppers make buying decisions based on holiday slogans or will price and convenience win out?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Are Your Competitors Actually Company Stakeholders?

First, a quick definition: Stakeholders are people and groups that can directly or indirectly affect a company's performance OR that are directly or indirectly affected by a company's performance.

The usual suspects listed as stakeholders are: customers, employees/managers, owners/shareholders, government (regulators etc), members of the media, securities analysts, suppliers, special interest groups, and labor groups.

The idea is that when you make a company decision, you should consider how that decision will influence or be influenced by your stakeholders. Makes sense, especially in this age of increasing transparency and with stakeholders finding new ways to make sure their voices are heard online and off-line.

Now consider whether your list should include competitors. Every company's performance is affected by what its competitors do...and every company affects, however indirectly, the performance of its competitors.

Of course it's illegal to cooperate and collaborate with competitors in the case of decisions such as pricing, and I'm definitely not advocating such actions.

Yet smart marketers do think about probable competitive responses to actions such as introducing a new product, changing prices, changing channel relationships, changing suppliers, and so on. Clearly, the point is not to satisfy the needs of competitors but to understand how competitors act and react to your company's moves. Remember, the best competitors are thinking about how your firm will react to its new products and channel moves--ideally, looking ahead two or three moves to achieve goals such as growing sales and share to overtake the market leader.

For a 2015 update on this topic, read about Target's withdrawal in Canada here.

IMHO, it makes sense to consider competitors to be stakeholders of your company, for these reasons:
  1. A healthy industry is in the best interest of all stakeholders--including customers and suppliers. As a customer, I once doubted the wisdom of this concept. But in recent years, with so many companies bleeding red ink and other big, established firms gone forever, I've come to realize that an ailing industry actually reduces my choices as a buyer. That's not a good thing. Also, desperate industries do desperate things, like cutting corners on quality and service, ultimately hurting customers.
  2. A little respect goes a long way. Viewing competitors as stakeholders is a way of acknowledging their ability to affect your performance--making it more likely that you won't underestimate them. That little upstart start-up firm you might brush off as a flash-in-the-pan could grow up to be the next Zappos or Netflix. That lumbering corp giant seemingly ready for the scrapheap might pull off a stunning turnaround and eat your lunch tomorrow. Accord competitors the respect of stakeholders, and you won't be tempted to dismiss them.
What do you think? Should competitors be considered stakeholders? Read my UPDATE to this post here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Updating Puerto Rico's Advertising

Today's New York Times ad column by Stuart Elliott focuses on the new ad campaign for Puerto Rico, which revisits and updates the classic tourism campaign from 50 years ago.

At top is the old ad, photographed by Elliott Erwitt and with lots of copy about the renaissance of Puerto Rico and the island's highlights. The bottom ad is Erwitt's current take on the island, with fresh copy and a fresh new look.

The accompanying See Puerto Rico microsite features the new photos, categorized to grab the attention of vacationers who care about romance, cuisine, history, culture, beaches, and other activities. Click the videos link to see more.

This is a refreshing and welcome break from the usual sun, sea, and sand tourism campaigns for sunny destinations. It's classy and artistic without being stuffy, and--most important--it differentiates Puerto Rico from all of its neighbors. In short, smart marketing.