Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Next big kiosk idea?

The parent of Redbox, which started the frenzy for DVD rentals via kiosk, is looking for that next big kiosk idea. Just click to Coinstar's The Next Big Idea Contest and write down the big idea you think will appeal to a $1 billion-plus market. Your reward: $10,000. Think fast! Deadline is October 8th.

Big blue movie box


Blockbuster Express's big blue movie box has arrived in local supermarkets, along with signage promoting its $1 per night DVD rentals. I took a moment to explore the touch-screen interface and found everything easy to use. The rental kiosk is co-branded by Blockbuster and NCR, by the way.

I noticed the prominent statement (at the kiosk and on the website) that no membership is needed to rent a DVD. That's reassuring to consumers who aren't Blockbuster members: They won't have any problem making impulse rentals and they don't need to register or make an ongoing commitment. Just choose a movie, swipe a credit card, and pick up the DVD from the kiosk's slot. Go home, watch the DVD, return it, and repeat as often as possible.

Or you can rent DVDs by mail from Blockbuster ("cancel anytime--we mean it!") or download from Blockbuster for immediate viewing. That is, unless you're a Netflix customer or you prefer renting from a Redbox kiosk closer to home. Let the movie rental wars begin. And the winner is . . . the consumer!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Should Product Placements Be Disclosed?

When Chef Jamie Oliver cooks with Barilla pasta as he plugs his cookware on HSN--a channel devoted to shopping--how much disclosure should viewers receive about the product placement deal? In this case, since the channel is explicitly selling stuff, would viewers be misled somehow if Barilla's didn't prominently disclose the product placement arrangement?

The WSJ looks at this issue today, quoting HSN's EVP of programming and marketing, who says:
"Remember, viewers come to us to learn about products."
Across the pond, UK commercial TV networks can now use product placement, although the BBC cannot, nor can Irish TV Networks. Yet. In China, product placement in online programming is ramping up, with entire plots that revolve around or feature branded products.

Last week, the FCC received a petition signed by 50 US groups (aligned as the Fairness and Integrity in Telecommunications Media) seeking stricter rules for product placement disclosure. According to a report in Broadcasting & Cable, the FCC only requires that the sponsorship ID appear once during a show and remain on long enough to be heard or read by the average viewer. Also, cable channels are largely exempt from the FCC's product placement rules.

What are the transparency issues in product placement? Do viewers expect that any brand featured in a program has paid for product placement? What are the implications for the effectiveness of product placement on consumers' perceptions and--most important to sponsors--consumers' buying behavior?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Google Insights for Search


Have you tried Google Insights for Search? The partial screen grab, above, shows a search I conducted to see the trend in search volume over the past months. There are lots of search options, but I happened to choose these as a test.

After I clicked to conduct the search, up came a graph showing month by month since Jan 2008. Not surprisingly, search volume for this topic has never been higher.

If I want, Google has a link to code so I can embed the results of my search (or any search on the Insights engine) into a webpage.

Wouldn't this be useful when doing research for a marketing plan? It's still in beta, but try it anyway.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who really owns your brand?

Attention, marketers: You think you own your brand? Actually, you should hope that your customers own it. My experience last night is a perfect example of who really owns a brand.

With five friends sitting around a neighbor's dining room table, one got the group's attention by telling how Moen lived up to its warranty by sending a replacement for her leaky kitchen faucet--via FedEx. Good thing she'd saved the receipt from the purchase 9 years before! Moen was her brand and she was proud to talk about her wonderful customer experience and urge all of us to buy Moen.

Another friend said she'd used Bank of America's bill payment service to pay her credit card bill. A few days later, when she tried to use the card, the charge wasn't approved and she didn't know why. Rushing home, she logged into her account and discovered that she'd authorized payment to the wrong card. She called B of A and the rep immediately applied the payment to the proper card and waived all fees. B of A was her brand, and she couldn't be happier with the way things turned out.

Clearly, these positive experiences had reinforced each friend's choice of brand--and just as clearly, we listeners were impressed at how well the companies had lived up to their brands' promises. No marketer can buy such enthusiastic and spontaneous word of mouth or think up testimonials as credible and compelling as these real-life experiences.

In brief, marketers: Give your customers the kinds of experiences that will make them want to own the brand.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Top 100 Global Brands

As reported in BusinessWeek and Marketing magazine, Interbrand has released its annual ranking of the top 100 global brands.

Coca-Cola remains at the top of the list for 2009, exactly where it has been for the past 9 years. The next four slots are occupied by the same companies that were #2, #3, #4, and #5 in 2008: IBM, Microsoft, GE, and Nokia. Of the top 10 on the Interbrand list, 8 are US corps and 2 (Nokia and Toyota) are based elsewhere.

In the top 10, Google enjoyed the biggest increase in brand value, according to Interbrand's calculations. Its 25% increase brought it from #10 in 2008 to #7 in 2009. Yet Google could also face anti-trust issues as it continues to grow so quickly, BW notes.

The Interbrand site has more analysis and detail, including a complex interactive chart tracking companies in the past decades' listing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Opting out of Yellow Book deliveries

Yesterday the Yellow Book people delivered a new county Yellowbook in yellow bags (of course) left by the mailbox at dinner time. Yet another unasked-for directory (see my YP entry from July)!

This time I opened the bag, looked at the title page, and found a prominent note about my "Directory Options"--I can order more directories or opt out of future deliveries by calling a toll-free number or visiting the Yellow Book site. I've just opted out to save trees and landfill space...and because I don't use YP directories any more.

I let my mouse do the walking...as I'm sure most tech-savvy consumers and businesspeople do. It's time to stop delivering unsolicited directories and use the opt-in approach to be sure a directory is welcome. Businesses who pay to be included would also be reassured because opt-in recipients really use the directories, which makes the advertising investment more worthwhile IMHO.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fast Co 144, Bus Week 080

The October issue of Fast Company just arrived via snail mail and I'm comparing it with the September 21st issue of Business Week. As the entry title shows, FC has 144 pages in this issue, compared with BW's 080 (that's how the designers styled the magazine's page numbering format so I'll respect their structure even though I think it's pretentious).

FC appears to have more ads plus an advertorial. Here's my quick list of the major display ads in each mag:

FC
Porsche, IBM, Xerox, Appleton rum, Lexus, Principal Financial Group, NEC, SCAD, University for Creative Careers; Michigan; UnitedHealthcare; Dell; Dish Network; Allstate; GM's Lincoln; Budweiser; Louisiana; MarriottRewards; Ad Tech NY; 3M; U of Chicago Booth School of Business; USPS; Las Vegas (2x); AIGA Design Conference; Verizon Wireless; Ally Bank; Library at Hudson in NYC; Panasonic Toughbook; AT&T Global; Dymo; GoToMeeting; Turkish Airlines; American Airlines; Morgans Hotel Group; 1&1; Alibaba.com; Mercedes-Benz.

BW
Ford; S.C. Johnson's Edge; NEC; Sprint; SkyTeam; Prudential; Wells Fargo Advisors; SAS; Yale-New Haven Hospital; International Monetary Systems; Kyocera; GrantThornton; Zurich HelpPoint; Xerox; Advertorial section on financial literacy; T. Rowe Price; USPS; Verizon Wireless; Bose; Salvation Army; Harvard Business School; U.C. Davis M.I.N.D. Institute; E*Trade; GEICO; IBM; Trend Micro.

For the record, I was a loyal BW subscriber for 25 years, dropped the mag last year but then started it again (this time using frequent flyer miles to buy). The editors and writers really know their stuff, they write well, they write concisely, and every issue has at least one story that I rip out and file for future reference. For an all-around review of what's happening in business and in-depth analysis of key firms/industries, BW is my go-to mag.

I started getting FC years ago when it debuted, stopped when I had difficulty differentiating between the ads and the articles because the design didn't clarify which was which. Thanks to frequent flyer miles, I'm again a subscriber and this time around, I like what I see. The cutting-edge coverage of social media and convergence is an important strength. This month's focus on Masters of Design was particularly interesting and such behind-the-scenes analyses of trends are an important reason why I look forward to FC.

Both mags have excellent, info-packed websites and blogs that deliver far more than the printed page can carry and more than any one subscriber could hope to read. Take a look at Fast Company and at BusinessWeek, then decide for yourself.

What will happen after BW is sold? I hope advertisers will clearly understand that there's a place for both mags. The challenge is to sharpen the differentiation, aim to build a particular audience for each mag with great editorial in every issue, and show advertisers that their messages will reach the targeted readers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sites that follow marketing trends

Looking for the latest news and views in social media, green marketing, and more? Here are three sites I check for reports on marketing trends:
  • Social Media Today. Thoughtful insights into latest in social media marketing via blogs, tweets, mobile devices, and more.
  • Environmental Leader. Daily dose of green marketing and related issues and trends from around the world.
  • Chief Marketer. Timely CMO interviews plus analyses and critiques of marketing trends and activities, digital and otherwise.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tuning into Product Placement

In the US, product placement has long been commonplace all over the TV dial, in broadcast and cable programs. American Idol's deal with Coke might be the most prominent example; Bravo's Top Chef is another good example, according to Product Placement News. Brands want the halo of being associated with popular programs and seen by millions of viewers.

In the UK, however, product placement was outlawed in TV programs, because of concerns about 'editorial independence' and quality. Now that ban is expected to be lifted (except for BBC programming and all kids' shows on all channels), which could lead to lots of new placement deals in UK entertainment.

Some consumer advocates on both sides of the Atlantic worry that product placement may interfere with program integrity...or be misunderstood. The creator of the UK reality program Big Brother says that product placement should be done in a transparent way, adding:
"But you have to trust the consumer. If it's overdone or tasteless, viewers will switch off."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Retailing 2009: Everything old is new again

BusinessWeek quotes the CEO of Macy's saying: "You have to do something different." For Macy's, that means starting to tailor the merchandise assortments in its 811 US stores to local tastes.

Now it wasn't so very long ago that department stores did just that--before the days when mega-retail corporate parents bought up local chains and homogenized the buying process.

The local chains were as close to their customers as it was possible to be, and they knew how to compete through distinctive merchandising. In other words, they were merchants and were in tune with their shoppers' lifestyles, preferences, and buying habits. Customers understood what retail brands stood for, and they made their choices accordingly.

Davison's, in Atlanta, was a part of Macy's long before the parent erased the local name in a move to give Macy's a national brand identity. Shoppers in Atlanta could tell the difference between department store rivals Davison's and Rich's, not just because of the names but also because of the way the stores looked, the merchandise they carried, the services they offered. (Wikipedia chronicles the history that led to Rich's and Davison's becoming part of Macy's and eventually losing their separate identities, if you're interested.)

Similar retail dramas played out in Chicago, in Philadelphia, in Cleveland, all over the country. Local brands and local approaches to merchandising went away as national retail chains sought efficiencies of scale through centralization.

Now, in the retailing world of 2009, everything old is new again, with Macy's trying to give local shoppers what they want. Looking at the big picture, sales help is scarce in most stores. Price promotions are prominent. And too many malls have empty storefronts.

Retailers absolutely must return to their merchant roots by responding to and even anticipating nuances in customer wants, needs, and buying patterns. Retail brands have to stand for something meaningful to local shoppers. If every store offers the same brands at approximately the same prices, why would customers buy on the basis of anything other than price and convenient location?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ad Break messages "sell you something"

If you haven't noticed "Ad Break" or similar notices on brand-related websites that attract kids (not to be confused with spyware AdBreak), take a moment to check these out:

From Postopia....and here's the warning in context, at bottom of the Postopia home page...and a warning at the bottom of the home page on Oreo from NabiscoWorld. To quote the NabiscoWorld Ad Break in its entirety:
Hi kids, when you see "Ad Break" it means you are viewing a commercial message designed to sell you something. Remember, if you are under 18 years old, you should get a parent's permission before you submit any information about yourself or try to buy anything online.
Research indicates that young children have difficulty distinguishing between "information" and "advertising" so this kind of warning is a start.

Still, the Postopia games seem very integrated with cereal brands and spokescharacters, and include special extras for kids who enter codes from cereal boxes; the entire experience therefore seems to be one big marketing message (well, we were warned).

I noticed the Ad Break warning on the bottom of every Oreo and ChipsAhoy page I happened to check on NabiscoWorld, including pages where TV ads are posted. Again, we were warned. But how much do kids understand about the reason for the warning and what the warning means?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Take Back the Beep: Customers Call for Action

David Pogue's "Take back the beep" campaign has been around for a month now, as I write this. The New York Times tech columnist started the campaign to get the big wireless companies to stop giving those "time-wasting, redundant, airtime-eating, 15-second recorded instructions that you hear every time you leave a message for someone." There's a big-as-life website at takebackthebeep.org.

AT&T replied that it's making changes; Sprint replied with details on how customers can turn off the recorded instructions; T-Mobile said all the feedback had gotten its attention. And Verizon said very little, as of Aug. 13, according to Pogue.

Searching for "take back the beep" on Google, I found more than 860,000 hits. No, I didn't read every hit, but I did browse the first few pages. Pogue has definitely struck a nerve. I found a Fox News story about how to get rid of the instructions; a Gizmodo blog saying that Pogue's campaign was having an effect; many--many!--blog entries from people who supported the campaign; even a T-Mobile forum entry and a Sprint community page inviting comments.

Here's the bottom line: Companies crow about crowdsourcing (some say they're inviting customers to "co-design" goods and services) but when they get clear feedback, they don't always know what to do with it. Pogue's campaign was a grass-roots call for action from an unusually high-profile customer. It led to a Groundswell (yes, just like the book) of support from other customers. Calling all wireless carriers: This calls for action, right now. Take back the beep!