Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What in the World is Woot?

Well, Woot is a hoot...actually, a deal-of-the-day site with community comments galore and attitude plus. Thanks to niece Heather for alerting me to Woot's unique marketing approach--namely, sassy to an extreme.

For example, here's how Woot describes itself in the FAQs: is an online store and community that focuses on selling cool stuff cheap. It started as an employee-store slash market-testing type of place for an electronics distributor, but it's taken on a life of its own. We anticipate profitability by 2043 – by then we should be retired; someone smarter might take over and jack up the prices. Until then, we're still the lovable scamps we've always been. But don't take our word for it: see what the online community has to say at this Wikipedia article.
Above is Woot's special value-free DIY gift certificate, to be printed and filled out by the user for self-use or for gifting to a friend or hapless stranger.

Woot (now owned by Amazon) is definitely a marketing phenom best experienced by clicking around its site. And for another laugh, see The Street's tongue-in-cheek story...Happy new year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

McDonald's: Hungry for Global Growth

How can McDonald's build top-line revenues and bottom-line profits around the world? The dollar menu strategy has been helpful in attracting and retaining US customers during challenging economic times...but that's mainly a top-line effect. What's next?

  • To build repeat visits and encourage trading up, some McDonald's US franchisees are testing fancier (and slightly more costly) menu items.
  • The corporation is trying new decor in refurbished US restaurants for an updated look.
  • Novelty and convenience may draw customers: one McDonald's in Huntington, W. Va is installing electric-car recharging stations, the first in the US chain to do so.
  • McDonald's is investing in China to increase its business there.

2011 is likely to see McDonald's extend its market share and its profitability, thanks to constant product innovation and an international perspective.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Billion Dollar Brands

How many billion dollar brands (worldwide) do you think Procter and Gamble has? Take a guess.


Too low. Guess again.


The answer: As of this year, 23. Here they are, in alpha order:

Ace, Always, Ariel, Bounty, Braun, Charmin, Crest, Dawn, Downy, Duracell, Fusion, Gain, Gillette, Head and Shoulders, Iams, Mach3, Olay, Oral B, Pampers, Pantene, Pringle, Tide, Wella.

Procter and Gamble is always looking for new ways to connect with consumers and stimulate trial of new brand and line extensions. 

It has a link on its home page (see bottom line of screen capture) to direct consumers to "member" pages where they can print coupons, read about new products, and click to request a sample. 

Watch for more billion dollar brands to join Procter and Gamble's portfolio during 2011. Merry marketing!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ask Not What Santa Can Bring You ...

Ask how you can help Santa bring something to others! In this season of giving, worthy causes are hoping for a last-minute contribution OR at least a piece of your gift-giving budget (if you buy gifts from people/organizations linked to worthy causes).

One year I "gave" beehives through Heifer International; another year I helped rebuild New Orleans through donations to Habitat for Humanity. This year and last, I helped small-scale entrepreneurs through microloans via Kiva.

Many worthy causes are competing for us to play Santa through them. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times suggests some that aren't well known but deserve consideration on your nonprofit donation list. Time magazine discusses a few that have good track records for putting donations to use.

Not sure which nonprofit to choose for your donations? Charity Navigator, among other sites, will help you figure out who does what and how efficiently the organizations use your money.

You still have a few more days to play Santa. What are you waiting for?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Will Emotion-Driven Ads Fuel FiatUSA Sales?

Don't let me keep you in suspense: IMHO, FiatUSA's new emotion-driven ads are not going to take it as far as the company would like.

Launching "feel good" ads (four artsy, full-color pages in the New York Times Sunday edition, for example) while the economy is still struggling seems like too much of an indirect approach for our times.

Yes, the ads are laser-sharp targeted at urban hipsters in selected metro areas. Yes, the car's Italian heritage and styling are appealing to the target market. The Fiat 500 definitely has the compact, stylish look that younger drivers, in particular, often crave (squint, and you might have a momentary vision of the Mini-Cooper crossed with a VW Bug). The new Fiat may even have good gas mileage (who knows? nothing in the ads tells us), another consideration for many buyers. 

Even with great targeting, a good product needs good communication to reach its audience. And that's where I believe that FiatUSA could improve. The ads are designed to reintroduce the brand to US buyers after a long absence. But the campaign kicks off during the holiday season, when noise from competing and non-competing ads are a big problem. And the tagline "Life is best when driven" doesn't tell buyers anything about Fiat, let alone offer a compelling reason to buy.

Give me something to think or feel about Fiat and the Fiat 500, please.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Can Clorox Clean Up in Other Countries?

Clorox, nearing its 100th birthday, is facing intense competitive pressure in the United States, where recession-weary consumers are still squeezing everything they can from every dollar they spend. To keep growing, the company sees increased profit potential in international markets, both close to home and halfway around the world. For example, it's launched an outreach initiative in Quebec, building on local interest in hockey.

Developing nations in Asia and elsewhere are another important target for Clorox. In a recent interview with McKinsey Quarterly, the company's EVP-International points to the rapid growth of demand in emerging economies and the firm's drive to become #1 or #2 in product categories where it can achieve price premiums.

However, P&G and Unilever have long histories of marketing in developing nations, where they've built strong brand images and solid distribution networks. Can Clorox wipe away the competition in emerging markets and profit from its international strategy?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Super Bowl Marketing, Social Media Style

Although the Super Bowl won't start until February 6, marketing efforts by advertisers are already kicking off. It's a risk to start this early, because marketing activities might get drowned out by the year-end holiday messages blaring from all media.

However, by getting the ball rolling in social media, marketers want to build the word of mouth to a crescendo that reaches its apex on Super Bowl Sunday.

For example, Audi and Mercedes-Benz are both launching contests in which the goal is to help the car companies spread the word by tweeting, etc.

Not everyone thinks that putting social media at the heart of Super Bowl marketing is a great idea. Jeremiah Owyang complained that Pepsi missed an opportunity when it bypassed the 2010 Super Bowl ad business in favor of social media to trumpet its innovative social responsibility program.

In fact, Pepsi has decided to buy 2011 Super Bowl ad time for its Max soft drink and Doritos snacks. Not that Pepsi is a slouch when it comes to social media: Its Twitter account has 50,000 followers. Its Facebook page has nearly 3 million "likes." That's a lot of word of mouth!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Do Grammar and Spelling Count in Marketing?

Pop quiz: Do grammar and spelling count in marketing?


Penelope Trunk, a career expert for Gen Y up-and-comers and a serial entrepreneur, recently posted a blog entry titled: "Good Grammar Is Old Fashioned, Unnecessary and Bad for Your Career."

That's a rather controversial assertion. It's not a very long piece, so please go ahead and click to read it, then return to my blog so we can discuss. I'll wait.

 *  *  *

Here's one quote from Ms. Trunk's message:
Are you writing the copy for a billboard in Times Square that is only three words? Don’t have a typo.
This last is the one point of Ms. Trunk's with which I agree. Here's what I think, in a nutshell:
  • Incorrect spelling, non-standard grammar, and plain old misteaks--oops, I mean mistakes--can distract your target audience. 
  • If your communication is sloppy, why should customers trust that your product will perform as expected or that your service will be satisfactory?
  • If marketing is all about communication, and you want your audience to understand what you're conveying, don't have a typo. Don't leave any room for misinterpretation by misusing words or punctuation.
In short, get it write...err, right.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Suzuki Races into Virtual Racing Promo

Suzuki Auto has just launched an iPad game/promotion to support the release of its latest Kizashi Sport  car. Available on Facebook as well, the Ring of Fire invites players to become virtual drivers of a Kizashi on four fantasy race tracks. The prize: A trip to a real racing school. 

By associating the Kizashi Sport with racing and technology, Suzuki is building its brand image among younger buyers who like gadgets/social media and have been brought up on racing videogames. Now the trick is to convert players into buyers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Do Not Track Kids - An Idea That's Overdue

A proposed law being formulated right now would block Web sites from tracking the online behavior of kids. Although the legislation is still being drafted--and its future possibilities are unclear--I think this is a good start toward protecting the privacy of children and their families.

Only yesterday, the FTC endorsed the idea of a "Do not track" online system, akin to the "Do not call" phone registry. In his public statement, the head of the FTC observed:
The FTC [recently] charged that EchoMetrix sold so-called “Sentry” software to enable parents to monitor their children online, but it failed to adequately disclose that it also sold information about the kids’ online activities to third-party marketers. The only – only – potential hint to parents was a vague statement buried 30 paragraphs down in the Sentry end user license agreement.
Hardly a transparent practice, is it? That's one reason the FTC wants to see a "Do not track" system, and I agree.

Also, I notice that the Wall Street Journal's story on the proposed anti-tracking legislation has 8 trackers on it (I know because I've installed Ghostery to count and block as many as possible). The New York Times's story on the FTC statement had only 3 trackers.

If adults want to consent to be tracked online, they can make an informed decision to opt in or out. Kids, however, aren't in the same category. Sorry, my opinion is that marketers should not be tracking what kids do online; businesses that value their reputation for customer-centric policies will welcome guidelines for preventing such tracking.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fiji Water Leaving Fiji?

Can Fiji Water maintain its pure image if the product is bottled outside of Fiji? The Wall Street Journal reports that a tax dispute with Fiji's government may result in Fiji Water leaving the country.

Fiji Water has built its brand image on the associations with Fiji's clean, clear water (see image above, from Fiji Water's Web site). The water is sold in 40 countries, and through product placement in movies and TV, the distinctive bottle is immediately identifiable.

Fiji Water's management is still leaving the door open for further talks, so the brand may not leave Fiji after all. If it does, however, management will have to decide whether to abandon the brand or change water sources without changing the brand. Either way, communication will be needed to explain the situation to loyal customers worldwide.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Coca-Cola Goes Freestyle for the Touch-Screen Generation

Introduced last year, Coca-Cola's Freestyle is a sleek, high-tech, self-serve vending machine for the touch-screen generation. (The above photo, downloaded from Coca-Cola's Freestyle media pages, shows how the machine echoes many of the iconic brand's visual elements, a smart marketing move.)

What's new about the Freestyle?
  • It can mix and dispense 106 different soft drinks on demand, customized to each buyer's individual preferences.
  • It's no larger than a conventional vending machine, which translates into more revenue productivity in the same space.
  • Its innovative touch-screen technology appeals to customers who enjoy interacting with cutting-edge gadgets.
  • It communicates customer buying patterns to the restaurant or venue where the machine is located, which helps in planning for future demand and ordering supplies on time.
My Google search for "Coca-Cola Freestyle" turned up more than 500,000 results, a lot of coverage and comments. As the Freestyle is rolled out across the country, it captures media attention and turns heads in venues where it's installed. For more about how the Freestyle looks and works, see this CNBC video segment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Groupon: Growing and Giving

Groupon--the site that offers a local daily discount deal to subscribers in 22 countries--is growing so quickly that highly popular deals have twice crashed its tech network. With the holiday shopping season in full swing next week, Groupon is going all out to attract bargain-hunting buyers and maintain the momentum it's achieved from word of mouth and media mentions, including a spotlight mention on Oprah Winfrey's TV show.

Even non-profit deals are available on Groupon: Kiva recently offered a 40% off deal in which consumers pay only $15 to make a $25 microloan to an entrepreneur in the US or abroad. A minimum of 500 buyers was needed to get this deal going and that minimum was quickly reached and far exceeded, with thousands of buyers taking advantage of the opportunity to do a good deed at a good price. Groupon and its sponsors made up the difference to ensure that the full $25 went toward each microloan. Great marketing for a good cause and a wonderful way to show that Groupon has a heart.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Panera's Loyalty Program

Panera Bread recently launched a loyalty program to reinforce brand choice and patronage. When I stopped in yesterday to get small decaf, I was handed a plastic card and keychain tag. "Just go online to register and you'll start earning rewards right away!" the cashier said--so I did. In some Panera locations, management has set up a computer to encourage immediate enrollment and allow members to check their accounts/rewards on the spot. Great idea to get customers registered and involved right away!

It's easy to click and check my offers earned, rewards waiting, etc. Apparently Panera will offer periodic surprise rewards, in addition to a sign-up reward and a freebie on each member's birthday. This is an example of intermittent reinforcement, which is effective because participants never know exactly when they'll receive a reward or what it will be, so they continue the desired behavior in hopes of obtaining the reward.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Slow Goodbye to Cig Marketing?

Marketing a product that can kill isn't easy--and it's getting harder year by year as countries curb the marketing options available to tobacco companies.

Not only is advertising severely limited or banned in many nations, labels are highly regulated and, in many cases, must include verbal and/or graphic warnings of the health consequences of smoking. Wikipedia offers an interesting roundup of tobacco package warnings. The American Lung Association discusses tobacco industry marketing here. Above is one of the highly graphic package labels proposed by the FDA, designed to highlight the health dangers in full color.

Tobacco marketers are fighting back with lawsuits in some countries and stepped-up marketing in nations that don't yet have as many restrictions. However, with the ongoing campaign by the World Health Organization to combat smoking, the days of prominent cigarette marketing are slowly coming to an end.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Free Shipping Offers Proliferate

Black Friday is still two weeks away, and the free shipping offers are bombarding consumers left and right. In fact, a Google search on "free shipping" turned up 4 million hits. Here are a few notable offers:

  • Walmart just announced free shipping on thousands of gift items, with no minimum purchase.(Walmart hasn't done this before, and it's a major wake-up call for online retailers--how will it affect margins?)
  • Amazon is offering free two-day shipping with a trial of its Amazon Prime premium service OR free shipping on its usual minimum of $25 or more. (I'd be interested to know how many buyers who try Prime stick with it when they have to pay for it.)
  • Blue Nile ships its fine jewelry free via FedEx throughout the US and in 42 countries. (Makes sense with big-ticket items like diamond rings.)
  • LL Bean's free shipping offer, with no minimum, expires just before Christmas (see above).
  • Toys 'R' Us offers free shipping on selected items, with a $49 minimum purchase. (Given Amazon's free shipping offer, I'm not sure how attractive this is.)
  • Macy's offers free shipping with $99 minimum (will that change as competitors increase promotional intensity during December?).
As NewEgg says, "Black November: Shop on!"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marketing Culture in HD

New York's Metropolitan Opera pioneered the idea of transmitting live opera performances in HD to theaters across the country. It added hosts (such as opera star Renee Fleming) and extras (such as on-screen behind-the-scenes tours during live opera intermissions) that delivered extra value at an affordable price to viewers sitting in theaters hundreds or thousands of miles away from the opera house.

With modestly-priced tickets (typically under $25 each), the "Live in HD" performances attract good crowds, often selling out quickly after the schedule is announced. In the 2009-2010 season, the Met attracted 2.4 million HD viewers. Above is an extremely popular Met free summer screening outdoors in Lincoln Center.

The Met has also been streaming opera live online for a fee, to reach far-flung fans who don't want to venture further than their computer screens.

Now other cultural organizations have jumped onto the HD/live-streaming bandwagon.
  • The Los Angeles Philharmonic has launched "LA Phil Live in HD," a 3-concert series in 2011 with extras such as rehearsal footage and Q and A with the conductor. Viewers at theaters around the U.S. will pay about $20 to see the Sunday concerts.
  • The Berlin Philharmonic has been streaming concerts to its Digital Concert Hall for about 18 months.
  • Emerging Pictures is beaming opera, ballet, and other cultural events from well-known companies to audiences in theaters worldwide.
Watch for more marketing experiments as cultural organizations find new ways to tap into demand for affordable events and deliver high-quality experiences using technology.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Marketing Company History

WalletPop has an interesting summary of the origins of 12 famous firms and how they've evolved to new meanings and new products/brands. Some of these evolutions aren't exactly news (Abercrombie & Fitch's earliest merchandise mix featured outdoor gear) but some of the roads these brands followed over the years were out of the ordinary (Nokia was involved in wood and rubber at first--its foray into cell phones began more than a century after the firm's founding).

Having a legacy positioning might seem like something to overcome, but companies with a long and proud heritage--even in an industry far removed from their current core offerings--can often leverage tradition and spin the history to reinforce their emphasis on innovation and demonstrate their continuity of service and experience. 

Nokia, for example, markets its past as "a century and a half of innovation." So the firm's message is: We're innovators.

John Deere, another company in the WalletPop listing, summarizes its history as reflecting its "core values of integrity, quality, commitment and innovation" (the I word again).

Companies such as Harley-Davidson (see photo above, from its Facebook page) are using museums to showcase their past accomplishments. On the other hand, when the economy was struggling, some firms made the economic decision to shut down their museums (Goodyear, for example, did this in 2009).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Timberland's "Moral Capitalism"

The UK newspaper Guardian recently ran an opinion piece by Jeffrey Swartz, CEO of Timberland, which is known for its tree-hugging environmentalism as much as for its rugged outdoor apparel and accessories. I was particularly struck by this passage in the piece:
I am an advocate for moral capitalism, for responsible consumerism. Moral capitalism embraces the dialectic of increasing profits and decreasing environmental destruction. Responsible consumerism requires that the CEO re-imagine the goods and services we offer, and the means by which we design and manufacture and deliver those goods and services.
Timberland has been doing this in all kinds of ways, large and small. But being green doesn't mean ignoring customer needs and failing to deliver benefits other than environmental protection. The CEO recognizes that the business side must be totally integrated with social responsibility for Timberland's objectives to be met and for the firm to be successful.

That's why the firm's marketing reflects its dual passions of social responsibility and quality for consumers. The Earthkeepers line of shoes, for example, is partly made from recycled materials and is specifically designed to be taken apart for recycling or reuse after the products have been discarded or are no longer wanted by the consumer. What's next for Timberland?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mobile Marketing Builds on Location, Location, Location

The three keys to retailing success are "location, location, location"--and that's the idea behind mobile apps that reward consumers for visiting stores when they're nearby.

Shopkick, for example, has created iPhone apps for Macy's, Best Buy, and other retail entities. As the above image shows, every time a consumer equipped with Shopkick enters a participating store, he or she is rewarded with "kickbucks" that can be used toward merchandise, plus exclusive price promotions to encourage shopping.

In this month's Stores magazine, Shopkick says its app can deliver physical store conversion rates from 20-95%. That's quite a kick, indeed.

Simon Malls, in partnership with Shopkick, now uses an iPhone app to direct shoppers to its local malls and help them find stores, special events, restaurants, etc. within particular malls.

Another way to look at Shopkick is that its mobile app helps to solve "the last inch problem"--namely, influencing consumer decisions at or near the point of purchase.

Friday, October 29, 2010

HTC Builds Its Brand

Taiwan's HTC was once a mostly-anonymous contract manufacturer, making PDAs (remember them?) for Compaq (remember them?). Today, it's gained prominence as the manufacturing brand behind the popular Android smart phones, which rely on Google's operating system.

Sales are going up, as are marketing costs, due to HTC's plans to maintain a world-class brand. Despite supply shortages, HTC forecasts 4Q global sales of as many as 8.5 million handsets, driven in part by the company's new Win 7 phones, not just Android OS handsets.

Want to see HTC's online brand-building activities? Click on its YouTube channel (nearly 21 million views to date), Twitter account (nearly 300,000 followers), Facebook page (which 282,000 people like), or its regular Web page.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ambitious Growth Goals - Audacious or Reasonable?

How audacious of Procter & Gamble to set a goal of adding 1 billion new customers worldwide by 2014! And yet during this past year, P&G says it added 200 new customers, hitting its short-term goal right on schedule, thanks to its ability to weave its well-known blockbuster brands into consumers' daily lives and habits. Introduce consumers to your brands, let them experience the competitively-superior benefits, and the result is additional sales and market share plus (eventually) profitability enhancement.

Coca-Cola has a 2020 Vision for long-term growth. The cornerstones are to live the brand's values, focus on the market (and its needs/behavior), work smart, act like owners, and "be the brand." Improving economic conditions are certainly part of the reason for Coke's recent growth achievements. But focusing on opportunities in Asian markets has also helped drive the company toward its ambitious global growth goals during the past year.

So are stretch goals, seemingly highly aggressive and possibly outrageous, good for a marketing plan? Yes, under these circumstances:
  • The organization has the resources and willpower to support strong, sustained growth.
  • The managers and employees are motivated and will be rewarded for stretching toward the new goals.
  • The organization will be able to measure interim results and make mid-course corrections if needed to stay on track toward each period's objectives leading up to the long-term goal.
  • The offers are competitively superior and the marketing environment presents suitable opportunities for communicating and delivering benefits to the target segment(s).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Old Marketing Rules Still Apply

Marketing's roots go back to one of Peter Drucker's most famous quotes:

“There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.”
Peter F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices

Even with all the business innovations, technological advances, and economic upheavals of the many decades since this was written, Prof. Drucker's observation is still a succinct description of what marketing should be doing.

In other words, no matter how the tools change, matter how the times change, no matter who the audience is and how it's changing, the old marketing rules still apply.

Video rental giant Blockbuster--now in bankruptcy--is a prime example of not moving quickly enough to keep up with snowballing shifts in customer behavior. In resisting the competitive onslaught of Netflix's online convenience and the instant-gratification benefit of Redbox's vending machines, Blockbuster took its eyes off the purpose of creating and retaining a loyal customer base, and thus lost its long-standing advantage.

Netflix wasn't substituting technology for a focus on the customer--it was using its insights into customer behavior to build a business based on creating and satisfying customers. The same holds true for Redbox, which didn't invent the vending machine but saw it as a cost-effective way to give movie-lovers access to recent releases at a low price and in convenient locations. Redbox created so many customers for its business model that vending machines are now seen as a prime way to distribute movie rentals.

The old marketing rules have not gone fact, they're more important than ever.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Opting Out of Online Tracking

Although advertisers use cookies, beacons, and other techniques to gather information so they can target messages to the audience's specific interests and behaviors, the idea that we're being followed around the Web electronically can be disconcerting. Privacy? Not online.

In the interest of transparency--and in the wake of a growing backlash--marketers and agencies are finally telling consumers more explicitly and prominently about how they can opt out of tracking. These systems aren't perfect, but they're a good start to helping consumers regain trust that truly private details might remain, well, private.
  • The Network Advertising Initiative invites consumers to opt out of cookies (see above graphic).
  • Yahoo recently discussed its privacy policies and opt-out options for consumers.
  • Rapleaf offers consumers a way to see what's been collected about them and opt out if they choose.
  • Google explains the data it collects for ad targeting, and offers opt-out choices for consumers who don't want to be tracked.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Marketing Takes on Cyberbullying

Adweek challenged a number of agencies to dream up campaigns against cyberbullying. The results are well worth a look. Arnold, for example, suggested a "Team Up" theme designed for social networking sites, an interesting approach in which teens get each other on board. The campaign would include what was once known as a "roadblock" (at least this was what the technique was called at the height of the broadcast TV era), with all major social media carrying the campaign splash page on sign-in. All the proposed campaigns are fascinating and well done.

Several online activities already advocate against cyberbullying, including the National Crime Prevention Council, McGruff (also NCPC), the Girl Scouts, and STOP cyberbullying. Marketing can and should add its voice to the fight against cyberbullying.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Marketing Gets Spooky

Southwest Airlines has a seasonal promo on its Web site right now, featuring "haunted hotels." The headline, as you can see below, reads: "Visit some of the most Spooktacular hotels in the U.S."

Given Southwest's reputation for tongue-in-cheek marketing, this fits right in with the brand image and just might give vacationers the push they need to click and reserve before the Halloween season is over.

Candy manufacturers, of course, are in their glory with the big trick-or-treat season coming to a peak very soon. Price promotions are rampant, but some marketers are getting into the Halloween spirit with themed commercials. Here's a link to the latest Halloween commercial for Snickers. Will it give buyers the frights or make them run to the store for a big bag of Snickers?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Smaller Stores for Big Cities

Walmart recently announced it will open smaller stories in big urban markets to take the competitive battle to the small-store competitors and grocery retailers in these areas of opportunity. This new strategy is not so different from what UK supermarket giant Tesco is doing by matching store size to neighborhood needs, real-estate realities, and competitive pressures.

This move will also allow Walmart to better tailor its merchandise mix according to highly local buying patterns, an important advantage for building shopper loyalty and increasing frequency of purchase. It could also add another dimension to Walmart's famously efficient distribution strategy by boosting buying from local suppliers for sale in local markets, rather than having to shift merchandise to and from regional distribution centers. In short, Walmart is showing yet again that it's got merchandising savvy. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Brands Align with Bands

Red Bull and Mountain Dew have for some time aligned themselves with up-and-coming musicians to reach out to their mutual audiences--with considerable success. And they're not the only brands putting marketing muscle behind bands. Sneaker marketer Converse has a very active music presence, for instance; the New York Times recently covered the subject with this photo of the brand's new recording studio:
Procter & Gamble tested the waters with a music label deal with Island Def Jam Music Group. The project, announced with fanfare in 2008, lasted only a year. Starbucks has its own label and sells music online as well as through its coffeehouses nationwide.

Music has long been part of the marketing package for many brands, but whether moving into the recording end of the business makes sense is still an open question. The answer probably has more to do with the product and the target market than the music and musicians themselves. Pop culture is not a controllable marketing element; corporations have to allow bands considerable freedom and think long-term for the connection to benefit the brand.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Louis Vuitton Teams Up with Bono and Ali

It's hard to miss the latest Louis Vuitton campaign, which features rock star/social activist Bono and his fashion designer wife, Ali Hewson, carrying one of the luxury company's signature bags. The photo, by well-known photographer Annie Leibowitz, is especially eye-catching because it lacks the static, posed look that usually characterizes an ad for an upscale brand.
The NY Daily News complains about the number of messages packed into this one ad. In addition to featuring the Vuitton luggage, the ad mentions Ali's Edun clothing line and also shows some Kenyan charms made by a Fairtrade company. Plus in tiny print, the ad says that profits from the Vuitton bag (as well as Ali and Bono's fees) will be donated to Conservation Cotton Initiative Uganda.

The Daily Mail notes that Bono and Ali are the latest celebrities to appear in Vuitton's Core Values campaign series, which revolve around the brand's iconic image in the world of travel. Vuitton discusses its campaign here.

IMHO, Vuitton's target market is smart, media-savvy, and able to absorb and interpret multiple messages. Just as important, the target market will understand and appreciate the social responsibility angle, which helps to differentiate Vuitton's brand. All in all, I like this campaign.

Monday, October 4, 2010

GM + SUVs = HUH?

General Motors recently announced that it will move quickly to bring big new SUVs to market. Why? Because these are GM's most profitable vehicles.

Even though high gas prices and sluggish economic conditions have put the brakes on SUV sales, and GM's smaller cars are helping the firm rebuild itself financially, management is looking ahead to better times and bigger profits that can come from high-ticket SUVs. But has anybody asked customers what they want?

Of course GM has to think years ahead, because gearing up for new vehicle launches takes time. By the time tomorrow becomes today, the economy is likely to be far better and unemployment much lower. I'm just not sure how quickly SUV demand will rebound, however.

Some customers will always want SUVs, regardless of gas price ups and downs. But will demand be high enough to justify GM's big investment in accelerating new vehicle intros?

Contrast GM's SUV push with Ford, which has been boosting global sales with smaller, fuel-efficient cars. James Farley, Ford's marketing chief, knows how to intro big vehicles: He was in on Toyota's Tundra pickup launch a few years ago.  And Farley is putting Ford's money into smaller vehicles these days, without starving the F-150s and F-250s for which the firm is known.

No matter how profitable SUVs and pickups may be, if they're not what customers want or need, they won't help anybody's bottom line. That's why I'm concerned that GM + SUV = marketing misstep.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Domino's Pizza, Anyone?

Since Domino's released its iPhone app, pizza orders in the UK and elsewhere have soared. In Australia, the app is creating buzz and increasing online orders.

In the US, Domino's is actively using social media to involve customers and encourage ordering. Its Twitter account has more than 15,000 followers.

Its FB page invites customers to snap a photo of a Domino's pizza and receive $500 if the photo is chosen as one of 8 winners.

In fact, after a customer submitted a photo of a mashed pizza he had received, Domino's responded by using the photo in an "apology" commercial and replaced the pizza in very public fashion. The apology campaign has carried over into social media, as well. In short, Domino's is using technology and humility to reach its target audience, polish its image, and beat competitors. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Will Marketing Buzz Boost Baby Carrots?

Baby carrots are getting a tiny bit of a marketing boost from a new campaign to encourage kids to "eat 'em like junk food." Here's one of the new commercials:

Given the packaging and marketing veneer, plus the eat-by-the-handful convenience, baby carrots might have at least a small possibility of interesting teens and preteens who ordinarily would grab a salty snack or choco treat.

It's a worthy effort, complete with app and branded vending machines and even seasonal "scarrots" for Halloween. However, with only a $25 million budget, I doubt baby carrots will make any significant gains in consumption, and that's too bad. Still, if other veggies follow this marketing path, their combined voices might make a difference.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Smartphone + Check = Banking Convenience

Have you noticed how slowly mainstream banks are adapting to the enhanced utility represented by smartphones? Not niche player USAA, of course: For the past 18 months, USAA's customers have been able to register for USAADeposit@Mobile, a service that allows them to download an app so they can make deposits of checks from home or office or anywhere.

The core of the service is the phone's camera. All USAA really needs to accept a deposit is the amount and the bank routing/checking account numbers at the bottom of the check. In seconds, USAA can process and confirm the deposit. Fast and easy. So why don't more banks offer this?

Chase is starting to offer such a service for iPhone users, as a matter of fact (see image above), and Bank of America is in the experimental stage. “We have to be very deliberate about how we test and how we would introduce this type of product into the marketplace,” a B of A executive tells the NY Times. As the technology gets better, and fraud detection systems improve, we'll see a lot more services like this.  Many businesses already enjoy the convenience of scanning checks to deposit, so consumer versions are not far behind.

One challenge the banks face is the multiplicity of tech platforms. After all, not everyone carries an iPhone. A second challenge is balancing costs with profit payback. How much is this convenience worth to a customer? How will adding this service enhancement affect competition? Right now the banks are weighing their options and tweaking their marketing plans in light of recent changes in financial services regulation.

In other words, we can bank on more change ahead.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Happens After Blockbuster's Bankruptcy?

Blockbuster finally filed for bankruptcy protection today. TechCrunch, the well-respected tech blog, started its post this way (and I couldn't have said it better myself):
It’s come to this: the success of Netflix and Redbox in the United States have driven Blockbuster, as expected, to file for bankruptcy protection after failing to adequately and swiftly adapt its movie-rental model from physical storefronts to mail-order and online technology pioneered by its aforementioned competitors.
Now the question is: Can Blockbuster, slow to change its strategy in the past despite clear and present competitive danger, market itself into a profitable future? First, a look at the numbers:
  • Blockbuster has 3,000 stores but will probably close hundreds and hundreds to cut its costs for bricks-based retailing and encourage customers to rent via electronic methods.
  • Redbox has 23,000 kiosks in retail stores across the US and is expanding every day. Its costs are far lower than bricks-based Blockbuster and its limited inventory also keeps costs under control.
  • Netflix has 15,000 subscribers and enjoys growth momentum. Its costs don't include storefronts, but renting DVDs by mail is more expensive than instant viewing (especially with a USPS rate increase in 2011). It must put more movies up for instant viewing to contain costs.
The next 6 months will be the real test. If Blockbuster (with its long-established brand) can convert customers to kiosks and online rental transactions by demonstrating a meaningful advantage or at best competitive parity with real benefits (such as first-release of movies, ahead of competitors), it could survive and ultimately reshape its destiny for a profitable future.

For an excellent analysis of Blockbuster's "blind spot," see this Fast Company post.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Marketing Richard Castle

First there was Heat Wave, now Naked Heat. Richard Castle has been busy writing mysteries. Well, the ghostwriter for the main character of ABC's Castle TV show has been busy. Richard Castle, fictional character, author, and amateur sleuth, even has his own author bio page on Amazon. 

Castle's first novel Heat Wave, made the NY Times best-seller list. As recently as this summer, its paperback version was still there. Heat Wave was reviewed more than 360 times by readers who posted thoughts on Barnes & Noble's site (composite rating is 4 stars out of a possible 5). And the follow-up novel is available for preorder on Amazon in hardcover or Kindle.

What's the marketing point? Well, in a multimedia world, presenting a TV character as a novelist popular enough to get his books into real stores and real best-seller lists is good cross-platform marketing. Posting chapters online to draw fans to the official web site of the TV series (where DVDs of previous seasons are also sold) is good cross-platform marketing.

Giving the "author" Richard Castle his own slightly tongue-in-cheek Facebook page and Twitter account is good cross-platform marketing. Plus these elements encourage engagement and dialogue with fans. No mystery there! The only mystery is who actually wrote the two Castle novels...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Forecasting via Crowdsourcing

This week's Fortune has an article about how David's Bridal and other (unnamed) retailers are using or testing online games to forecast hot styles and plan purchasing. The company behind the Sold game (shown above) is FirstInsight, which is leveraging consumers' enthusiasm for such online activities to crowdsource reaction to potential or actual products. Soon FirstInsight will have its forecasting games on Facebook so consumers who are avid Farmville or Frontierville players will be able to play in ways that help marketers forecast demand.

This is a variation on the online prediction market (shown in Exhibit 10.7 on p. 180 of my new US edition) that more marketers are using to tap the collective wisdom of customers or employees or a combination of stakeholders who can "bet" on the outcome of events such as the date when a new store is likely to open. Although such tools are high profile in the political world, they're less well-known in mainstream marketing.

Want to see how Sold works? Try the demo here. Maybe the game won't allow retailers to precisely forecast demand, but it has potential to indicate relative demand (which item is likely to be among the most popular within a given product line, for instance). 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can Newspapers Prove Their Advertising Worth?

According to the Newspaper National Network, which is majority-owned by the top US papers, advertisers spent $28 billion in newspaper advertising last year (about 10% of that was advertising with online news outlets).

Looking at trends in newspaper/online news advertising expenditures compiled by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), ad spending was down 27% in 2009 compared with 2008, down 16.6% in 2008 compared with 2007, and down 7.9% in 2007 compared with 2006. According to the NAA, the last time print/online newspaper ad spending was up was in 2005.

Now the Newspaper National Network wants to show that print/online news ads can boost sales by 10% or more (as measured by IRI's InfoScan). In fact, it will guarantee this kind of sales gain and, if the results don't measure up, the advertisers will receive a rebate on some of their ad expenses (in the form of free ads, for instance).

There's a lot of small print attached to this offer, but it's a good start on the path to demonstrating efficacy. In many cases, advertising results are measured in terms of brand awareness and recognition. However, this program is geared toward sales results, a bottom-line measure that's vital in today's challenging economy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Challenges of Market Forecasts

By this time, the planning process for 2011 marketing activities should be well underway at most companies. High-tech firms often examine analysts' forecasts when sizing up the market for hardware/peripherals/software and related goods and services. But Matthew Miller's recent post on ZDNet asks a very important and intriguing question that can be generalized beyond smartphones:
Is there really any value to 3-year smartphone forecasts?
Miller comments on a Gartner prediction that the Android smartphone operating system will gain share over the next few years as Symbian, Windows Phone, and RIM lose share. He points out that Apple's iOS skyrocketed in popularity as the iPhone became a best-seller, coming seemingly from nowhere to capture significant share in a hurry. Symbian is far from dead, he notes, and is likely to gain because of its ties to Nokia. Android is also likely to gain, but Miller doesn't think it will win to the degree that Gartner suggests.

His bottom line: the next three years will be a "wild ride" and analysts can only guess at how the market will look that far out. And that's probably true in any number of electronics categories. Even experienced forecasters examining non-tech markets have difficulty looking a year out--just consider the real estate market, for instance, and how its ups and downs (mostly downs) have confounded analysts. There are lots of complex elements to factor into any forecast, and tech markets generally move faster than non-tech markets.

So what's a marketing planner to do? My thoughts:
  1. Look at multiple analyst reports to tease out insights into and ideas about how buyers in your target market think, feel, behave, and buy.
  2. Think of analysts' reports as a starting point. They're no substitute for doing your own research into buying behavior and market trends.
  3. Examine both micro- and macroenvironmental forces. What role do suppliers and distributors play in your target market? How are global economic issues and governmental standards/regs influencing tech developments? What is the competitive situation and how is that likely to change? What do all these developments mean for your market?
  4. Be prepared to adjust your forecasts and activities during the planning process and after implementing your plan. Some markets can change so rapidly and evolve in such unexpected ways that you may need to think in terms of months rather than years.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Retailers Test Christmas Club Savings Cards

Remember Christmas Club savings accounts? You'd get a book with weekly tickets to have punched, stamped, or removed as you deposited into the club account at a local savings bank (saving 50 cents or $1 or even $10 per week). Then in late October or early November, the bank would mail you a check or allow you to bring the completed account book in to withdraw your savings to spend on holiday stuff.

Now this old idea is back in a new way, thanks to retailers like Sears and Toys 'R' Us, which are both inviting shoppers to load a debit card as a "holiday savings card" and receive a 3% bonus on their money. Although the 3% is considerably more than most banks are paying on savings accounts these days, customers have to spend the entire debit card amount at the one chain. In other words, any customer who loads a Sears debit card for the holidays gets a 3% bonus but can use this card to pay for purchases only at Sears.

Toys 'R' Us is trying this for the first time in 2010, following in the footsteps of Sears, which debuted its holiday savings card in 2009 in Sears and Kmart. Money cannot be added to a Toys 'R' Us club card online, although the card can be used for online purchases.

The Sears club card, available in stores and online, has no fees and no expiration date, nor can it be used to pay a Sears credit account or buy a debit card.

Will budget-conscious consumers embrace this old idea in its new form?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

I haven't read Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, but it's a wonderful book idea that I wish I'd thought of first. I agree with the authors, David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan, that every business can learn from the marketing successes of this band.

One lesson is that sampling (in this case, allowing concert attendees to record the band--just the opposite of the usual concert policies) can, if done properly, lead to word-of-mouth referrals, more ticket sales, and bigger profits. This is the basis of the freemium strategy that so many businesses are adopting today.

Another lesson is that the marketer (here, the Dead) should build a customer database and take the initiative to maintain contact, nurturing a long-term relationship with fans and reinforcing loyalty.

Despite the change in personnel over the years, the Dead have continued their marketing success by embracing the latest technology to stay in touch with customers, including offering an iPhone app with streaming audio of performances.

The bottom line: Look outside your own industry for good marketing ideas that can help you strengthen customer bonds and widen your circle of customer influence.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Marketing Libraries in the Digital Age

At the height of the dot-com boom--a decade ago, in other words--some observers couldn't see a real role for public libraries in a world of digitized media. By now libraries have found their place, assuming new roles and new importance in the digital age, with Internet access and electronic resources that bring the world's knowledge, history, and new ideas to users' fingertips.

Many market themselves on the basis of multimedia collections that include print, audio, and video materials. The Playaway audiobook (shown above) is a good example. Instead of borrowing audio books on cassette tape or CD, library patrons can borrow a tiny preloaded Playaway, smaller than an MP3 player. Just plug in a headphone or speaker and listen while on the go or doing something else. Local libraries often have extensive DVD collections, including how-to videos, PBS dramas, Hollywood movies, and much more. Often these multimedia collections are as popular as or more popular than books in the collection.

Valuable ideas for library marketing come from vendors such as ProQuest and Gale, which supply information and databases, plus newsletters such as those by Information Today. Many blogs offer advice about and share best practices of library marketing, including The M Word and Bubble Room from Library Journal. Libraries are taking up social media marketing and using every tool at their disposal to serve their "customers," including pre-school kids, students, adults, job-seekers, entrepreneurs, and businesses.

Today libraries are successfully positioning themselves as hubs of intellectual and cultural life, not as mere repositories of books. They deliver educational programs, reading clubs, fun-filled kids' events, and much more. No matter how the technology changes, libraries will continue to evolve to serve the needs of their communities--which is, in the end, the essence of marketing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mars Direct Says Thank You

I ordered custom-printed M&Ms and the package came pronto, along with this nice note of thanks (note personalized M&M with photo of the customer care manager). The reverse side has signatures of the employees who work there. Everything worked exactly as it should in this mass customization strategy--I ordered online from My M&Ms and two days later, the M&Ms were at my door, safe and sound in special packaging to resist the summer heat. Now that's customer care!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Uncommon Carriers: John McPhee's Adventures in Distribution

Distribution is fascinating--at least if you read the very readable Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee (or listen to it, as I did).

McPhee gives readers an entertaining insider's view of transportation in all its glory: Watching millions of packages move by in orderly fashion inside the UPS Air sorting hub in Louisville; riding along with a trucker hauling hazmat; on the bridge of a towboat handling a string of barges longer than the Titanic; following lobsters from water to restaurant; and on and on. McPhee criss-crossed the continent researching this book to show how everything from coal to chemicals gets from one place to another, efficiently and effectively.

I didn't know that UPS planes sometimes carry Fort Knox gold in their cargo holds. That's only one of the interesting and timeless factoids I gained from Uncommon Carriers. My least favorite chapter was the one where the author and his son-in-law follow Thoreau's river journey from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, but that's a minor quibble. I agree with the reviewer who said this book could have been titled: Hmm, I Didn't Know That. McPhee packs a lot of entertainment into his discussions of how distribution works. Highly recommended!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Transparency and Digital Reputations

Marketing has been on fast-forward for some time--but social media is forcing companies to pick up the pace or be seen as less than transparent. Take recalls, for instance. Today's Ad Age reports that Toyota, J&J, and other companies may be announcing recalls more quickly than in the past because they don't want to hurt their digital reputations. It's just too easy for negative info to spread worldwide via the blogosphere or tweetosphere.

Announcements about product or packaging changes also have to be super-speedy. Early this year, after P&G developed a new "Dry Max" Pampers diaper, it put the new product in existing Pampers Cruisers packaging just until the rollout campaign could get underway. However, P&G didn't let Cruisers customers know about the change. Many Cruisers customers vented their displeasure online even before P&G's introductory campaign began--not the best way to lay the groundwork for a new product.

Showing that the firm both listens and responds will go a long way toward repairing customer relationships. Tropicana reversed course on new packaging for its orange juice last year after receiving a tsunami of negative customer reactions, via the Internet as well as through traditional feedback mechanisms. “You write an e-mail and in an hour, you’ve got a fan base agreeing with you,” a PR executive told the New York Times, explaining the speed at which customer reaction can spread. When the president of Tropicana North America announced the return of the original packaging, he said: “Those consumers are very important to us, so we responded.” Quickly.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Marketing Electric Cars: All Charged Up

According to a Consumer Electronics Association survey, 40% of US adults want to test-drive an electric car. No wonder Nissan has set the marketing objective of delivering 50,000 test-drives for its new electric Leaf (above) over the next year.

Competition in electric cars is all charged up, with various marketing partnerships laying the foundation for future sales. The state of Oregon, for example, has teamed up with Nissan and Portland General Electric to promote electric cars for green reasons.

The Chevy Volt has been in the news lately, with much speculation about how its $41,000 price tag will be received by the target market. Demand might initially outstrip supply, and one report says dealers appear to be getting a premium for their Volts.

The most upscale and elegant of the electric cars are made by Tesla, which has attracted investment from both Daimler and Toyota. Enthusiasts can join the conversation on the brand's forum or on the Tesla Twitter community.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fan Your Mall

Malls don't just want your business, they want you to be social with them and interact. The humongous Mall of America has more than 100,000 people who've clicked to "like" it on Facebook. This is a busy Facebook account, with lots of wall posts, info, even a special surprise on the "exclusive" tab. And the mall asks for e-mail addresses to join its mailing list. Two tweeters manage its Twitter account, which has nearly 4,000 followers.

The Hanes Mall in Winston Salem, NC, welcomes Facebook fans with a colorful splash screen and links to coupons, Twitter, etc. It puts its e-newsletter signup right on the welcome page to encourage participation. Although its Twitter account is not as active as Mall of America's, I like that this mall's web site has a "coupons" page for bargain hunters.

Oakbrook Center (Illinois) is currently gearing up its social media strategy. Its Facebook page isn't active as of today, but it's started to tweet and, even better, it links to Yelp so shoppers can get unbiased peer reviews of its stores, a smart move.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, the industry group for malls, is represented on Facebook and Twitter, as well. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gift Cards: Big Business, New Rules

There's a gift card for almost everything, from flu shots to charitable donations to Major League Baseball seats and merchandise. Now the rules of the gift-card game are changing.

In the past, marketers set various expiration dates and fees for their gift cards. Effective August 22nd, however, gift cards must comply with a number of new federal rules. The biggest change is the expiration date: gift cards must be valid for at least 5 years. Where issuers charge a fee (for lack of activity, for example), only one fee may be assessed per month (not counting any fee charged at the time of purchase). And for transparency, issuers must provide clear disclosure of terms and conditions on each gift card.

Some of these rules don't apply to gift cards produced before April 1, 2010, but all gift cards will have to be in compliance by January 31, 2011. Until then, retailers and other gift-card issuers will be posting in-store signs or links on their web pages to appropriate disclosures.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Price Wars

Procter & Gamble is defending its market share with price cuts in batteries, shampoos, liquid detergent, and other categories. To get ahead of rival Energizer, it added more batteries to its Duracell battery packages, which meant customers were paying less per battery. Then Energizer fought back with lower prices, which drew P&G more deeply into what has become a battery price war.

But are price wars worth fighting? One classic Harvard Business Review article by Rao, Bergen, and Davis suggests that marketing managers pick their battles carefully:

It is generally wise to not stir a hornet's nest by starting a price war with a competitor that has a significantly larger resource base or a reputation for being a fierce price warrior.
Ralcorp, which owns the Post cereal brands, touched off a breakfast cereal price war earlier this year by cutting prices. Now Post's profits are hurting, as are Kellogg's profits.

Marketers of e-book readers have become embroiled in a price war that is bringing the category into the mainstream and pushing profits down, down, down. Only three years ago, Amazon's Kindle debuted at $399 and today there's a $139 Wi-Fi-only model. All the players in this price war are big enough to keep it going strong through the holiday selling season.

Watch for more price wars as the economy remains sluggish and marketers fight for every customer, dollar by dollar.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Expanding Archie's Brand

Archie, Veronica, Jughead, Betty, and the whole gang in Riverdale are part of an ambitious plan to expand the Archie brand into new media and new product possibilities. The buzz started last year, with news that Archie might wed one of his long-time girlfriends (actually, there were two "weddings" but neither was real). When these story lines appeared, Archie's comic book sales soared, and sales have remained higher than before the "weddings."

Parodies of Twilight and other pop-culture phenomena--starring Archie, of course--have been previewed on MTV's site. Now the Archie brand is on Facebook and Twitter and the characters star in online games and other digital fun. All of this is part of a broader strategy for updating Archie and his pals for 21st-century marketing by showcasing the brand for new audiences.

Coincidentally, the USPS recently released a new series of stamps honoring classic comics, including Archie (see above). Yes, the stamps show the old Archie, but they also raise awareness of the brand's authenticity and longevity, not to mention pushing nostalgia buttons.

Comics are a big and tough business. Archie the brand competes with a spectrum of characters and corporate owners, including those under the Marvel umbrella (part of deep-pocketed Walt Disney).

How far can Archie's brand extend?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Retailing E-books and E-readers--Welcome to the Revolution

E-book readers are becoming the trendy gadget du jour. Remember when hotels furnished iPods along with hiply-decorated suites? Now Fairmont Hotels offer Kobo e-readers to their best guests. Plus, when guests check out, they receive coupons for discounts on Random House titles.

Welcome to the revolution. The rapid rise of popular e-book readers such as Amazon's Kindle and multifunction devices such as Apple's iPad, accompanied by a sharp increase in e-book sales volume, has publishers and retailers thinking hard about the future. The price war in e-book readers such as the Barnes & Noble Nook (above) is helping to drive sales volume higher and faster. Which products and retailers will reinvent themselves and thrive--and which will dive?

Barnes & Noble, the largest US book retailer, tells the New York Times: "The growth in our e-books business is about nine months ahead of our plan." To cope with the unexpected timing of this shift in consumer buying patterns, the retailer is retooling its merchandise mix by adding games and other non-book products. Remember, Barnes & Noble stores have lots of shelves to fill, and the peak holiday buying season is just ahead.

Holiday buying brings up one more revolution spreading across the retail world: Gift cards. Lance Ulanoff, writing in PC Mag, suggests that Amazon create a mechanism for people to gift specific Kindle e-books. He also wants Barnes & Noble to create a similar card for Nook users. With consumers changing their buying habits and Black Friday still 15 weeks away, the retailers have time to follow up on Ulanoff's idea.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The State of State Marketing

With so many consumers choosing staycations or close-to-home getaways instead of overseas summer travel, states are investing in marketing to attract visitors interested in unique experiences, beautiful vistas, or specific activities.

  • Michigan's campaign, Pure Michigan, focuses not on Detroit or industrial centers but, as you'd expect, on its "unspoiled nature and authentic character." The campaign includes the Web site plus social media such as a blog (vacationers are invited to "guest blog"), Twitter posts, YouTube videos, and Flickr photos.
  • Massachusetts tells vacationers: It's All Here. There's something for everyone (fun, romance, exploration, experiences, family time/activities, a bit of luxury, and play opportunities). Both Facebook and Twitter are part of this campaign.
  • Not the official campaign of New Jersey but worth mentioning is Jersey Doesn't Stink, which wants to counteract the negative perceptions that many vacationers have of this "Garden State." The campaign is on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube as well.
  • Hawaii showcases its alluring scenery to highlight its strength as a vacation destination on Go Hawaii. Each island has its own tab on the home page, and interestingly, Hawaii links to the independent TripAdvisor site, urging vacationers to "get advice from real travelers," a great way to let opinion leaders share their ideas and recommendations.
  • Louisiana wants to reassure vacationers that there are still many opportunities to enjoy the state's natural wonders, music, food, and more. In addition to videos, the official tourism site has an "update" section with the latest news about the oil spill. Social media connections include Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, Vimeo, Flickr, blogging, and Youtube. The state has also created a mobile-friendly version of its tourism site for smartphone users. Very smart.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pop-up Stores Fill the Void

Pop-up stores have been coming on strong for the past decade. (Even longer if you count Christmas tree markets and other temporary stores that pop up seasonally.) During the current economic difficulties, with many vacant storefronts seeking tenants, pop-ups have become even more popular.
  • Inc. recently reported on how to use pop-ups to (1) get the word out, (2) unload inventory, (3) test new markets, and (4) vet new retail ideas.
  • The Wall Street Journal just did an article about pop-ups for (1) generating buzz, (2) testing new concepts (especially niche businesses), and (3) testing new markets. 
  • The New York Times reports that pop-ups may be open for a few days or a few months, depending on the product and the marketing objective.
  • The Denver Post reports that a pop-up store recently opened to serve as "an incubator of creative ideas" by featuring local artists.
  • Target is one of the largest US retailers using pop-ups to build excitement about specific products, brands, and new markets. 

What will be the next pop-up trend to pop up?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tracking What We Do Online

The Wall Street Journal has started a fascinating series, "What They Know," about how advertisers and companies that offer Internet services gather info on online consumer behavior. It's no secret that privacy is, sadly, either non-existent or very difficult to protect. Although many marketers are listening more closely to consumers' concerns about privacy, this series shows why the issue has become so controversial.

The first article explained the background and extent of the tracking, with a sidebar showing, in detail, how consumers can try to block tracking technology.

Today's article discusses how Microsoft could have turned privacy protection on in its Internet Explorer 8 software as the default setting (as product planners intended). Instead, thinking of the future advertising revenue to be gained by tracking users' behavior and serving up ads as appropriate, the firm ultimately released the software with protection set to "off" by default; users must turn on the privacy protection every time they start the software. Not a user-friendly decision, IMHO.

This is a must-read series for marketers that want a multidimensional view of online privacy. The stakes are high--and if marketers don't do more to disclose and to give customers easy ways to restrict some tracking, the backlash will get ugly.

You can get updates from the Twitter feed based on the series.